He rounded the corner where cornstalks still stood, tattered heroes of the garden patch. Late-afternoon sunlight filtered through a canopy of bare branches, laying down a grid of shadows. Underfoot, the crunch of dry, caramel-colored leaves sounded the music of a Colorado autumn.
It was the season for "after harvest." Or, what Emma called their "time of plenty." A time to count their many blessings. Long after the last sun-ripened tomato was picked, the last of the autumn raspberries eaten and the garden put to bed for the winter, his wife always insisted on seeking out the later gifts of nature.
Fred knew the best places to start. Hadn't he searched and gathered on every square foot of this property for forty-four years now? Planted it? Tended it? If Emma were here, she'd be out here with him.
But Emma wasn't here. So he would do alone what they had always rejoiced in doing together.
At the grape arbor, Fred took out his pocketknife and cut away aged vines, careful to take only the overgrowth. When he had enough, he tucked and plaited, wove and wrapped, shaping the supple lengths to form a wreath.
At the lip of their hand-dug pond, Fred pawed through the disheveled heads of cattails. Finding two still nappy and whole, he snapped them from their stalks and laced them through one side of the circle.
At the fence line, Fred clipped a few twigs of juniper berries and harvested two feathery plumes from the towering pampas grass. Thick fingers knew automatically where to put them, how to secure them.
He paused beneath a flaming mountain ash. Its clumps of jack-o'-lantern orange berries added a festive touch. Satisfied, he studied the wreath, inspecting it for soundness. For balance. For beauty.
The drive to the Alzheimer's unit was short and pleasant. Humming under his breath, Fred nodded a greeting at the nurses' station and walked into the day room.
Emma stared unseeingly out the bank of windows while her veined hand plucked rhythmically at her blouse. Fred laid his offering on a round table and leaned to kiss her.
"Look what I made today, sweetheart. It's 'after harvest,' and the property is brimming with all your favorite things." Fred pointed to the circle. Emma's bleached blue eyes focused on the wreath.
"Just see how thick and sound the grapevines are now, Emma. Remember how you insisted we plant those spindly things the very first year we moved to the farm?" Stilling her hand with his own, he guided her fingers around the broad circle.
"Why, looky here. Pampas grass. And cattails, two of them. One for you and one for me." Her tentative finger traced the velvety lengths.
"And, oh, sweetie, these beauties are clustered thick on the mountain ash. Nearly had to fight off the grackles to get to them this year!"
Emma was smiling. Fred squeezed her hand and grinned back. If she couldn't tromp through the seasons herself, then he would bring these blessings to her. After all, it was a "time of plenty" - plenty of memories.
And Fred had gathered
enough for both of them.