Notes at the End of Summer

by Maria Theresa Maggi on September 22, 2014

original plein air watercolor "Horses, Polk Extension," by Maria Theresa Maggi 2014

Out west, September is often a warm (hot), dry and (sadly) smoky month. The dry heat torches forest and field fires. Air quality can suffer. But it is also a time of end of season magic. The days do get noticably shorter, especially here up north, but oh, the slant of the evening light turns everything golden, or rose. Even on days when there isn’t a cloud in the sky, there’s something palpable about the air at sunset, as if it’s been spun and softly draped over the whole landscape. And even though it’s mostly hot, we’ve had our first hard frost. Tomato plants and squash droop here and there, but also there’s still gems of red, yellow and orange to be harvested. The last of the high summer veggies. Pears. Apples. Plums. And right next door to me, two kinds of grapes. There is such an overabundance, my neighbor assures me I am welcome to help myself any time I want.


I’ve always wanted to grow grapes. I used to dream about seeing them all along the south fence of the star garden at the Asbury Street house. I tenderly nursed 3 cuttings given to me by my former neighbor Keith. They sprouted, but have not grown any grapes so far. Now I live next door to a mini-vineyard, and without doing a thing, I just fall out my front door and pick a bunch of grapes.


This has been the summer of spelt bread. On the last day of summer I had 3 slightly different sourdough starters going, and a fresh loaf of bread cooling in the kitchen while Romeo and I walked to the Farmer’s  Market. I know what most of the plant-based doctors say about losing weight and eating flour products, but I have to say the making of my own sourdough starter and bread with spelt, a grain that has not been hybridized like conventional wheat, feels nothing to me like eating wheat bread once did. Instead, I feel nourished, with no cravings. So as the waving hills of wheat on the Palouse fall to the combine, I celebrate my dumb luck to enjoy bread again that’s actually really good for me.


A couple of weeks ago I had the best melon I ate all summer. Possibly the best melon I’ve ever eaten. It was worth waiting until September to taste it. An heirloom honeydew. A lovely orange on the inside. At first I was disappointed it wasn’t the pale green I love so much, but then I tasted it. I love when what I think will disappoint me instead transports me. And this melon did. It reminded me of Linda Gregg’s correlation between melons and happiness at the end of her poem “Gnostics on Trial.”  And perhaps, too, it was especially sweet because a friend offered to bring it home for me from the Farmer’s Market, since it was too heavy to carry along with everything else that was already in my backpack.

The last university student to help me with the Zen Chore of my firewood over at the Asbury Street house came to see me in my new place. Sam’s a world traveler and a local guy from just south of Moscow. His family’s farm supplies Whole Foods, among other giants, with lentils and garbanzos. Sam and I like to spar about farming practices and whether organic is better or not. (I tend to say it is, and he tends to say it isn’t always, but that makes for really interesting discussions.) His family’s large farming operation stops short of going organic, but uses good practices like no till and no GMOs, with no pesticides and judicious use of herbicides. This year they experimented with growing a thousand acres of quinoa. Imagine that. I like to, anyway. Quinoa that comes from the United States. If you’d like to dream on a national scale with Sam and me, here’s a half-minute video of the quinoa harvest out at RimRock Ranches. (Sam’s the one giving a thumb’s up at the end.)

And although they’re not organic, these pedrosillano garbanzo beans their farming cooperative grows are the absolute best tasting garbanzo beans I’ve ever cooked. They’re smaller than the others, so they don’t look as “good” dried as regular garbanzos, but like the Whole Foods article says, they nearly double in size after soaking and make the best tasting hummus you can imagine. These get sold to big companies that actually make hummus on a large scale, but lucky for me they’re on sale at the Co-op too. I’ve never cooked a dried bean that tastes so fresh. Sam’s family’s farm and others are part of Pacific Northwest Farmer’s Cooperative, so if you see that label on bulk beans at Whole Foods, you’ll know they are coming from my neck of the woods. The PNW farmers have nicknamed them “Billy Beans” after the CEO of the cooperative. To get an idea of the scale they are growing these on, here’s another short video from Rimrock Ranches of the garbanzo harvest.

Although Sam and I don’t always agree on what farming methods we think are best for the world’s future, I treasure my conversations with him about it, and have learned to watch the weather and the sky and think of what it means in terms of timing the harvest. I also like to watch Sam examine my jars of grains and legumes and ask me where they come from. He’s fascinated by amaranth and says he wants to ask his Dad about trying to grow that, too.

Last but certainly not least, September is the month of  the Palouse Plein Air painting event. At a time of literal harvest, plein air painting is food for my soul. I never seem to settle on the traditional subjects or styles like most of the artists who participate do, but I love the challenge of painting an entire painting outside from what I see. And for me, it’s also about how what I see makes me feel. The watercolor sketch at the top of this post of horses feeding in a field at evening is testament to one of those sublime experiences.

About a half mile from my new house is a farm which was there long before all the houses sprung up around it. I love to walk by the open field next to Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute in the morning or evening and see the horses gently grazing. In evening especially, the slant of the falling sun casts them in lovely, rich tones. And sometimes a horse or two will look up and wonder at what Romeo and I are doing there, staring, me as dumbly happy they are there as I’ve ever been about anything. The evening I painted this loose  rendering, their owner came out to check on them as I was packing up my watercolors. I went over to the fence and introduced myself and thanked her for her beautiful horses. I showed her the painting and her face lit up. “That’s nice,” she said. “Do you do art walk?” And then we talked about how they all have different personalities, even the ones who are sisters: one of them likes a blanket at night even this early in the season, but her sister doesn’t.

I walked home on the gilded air, as if my feet no longer needed to touch the ground, so grateful for  the chance to feel the horses through the painting, along with the way the hillside behind them was drenched in deepening shadow. Only later would it come back to me that when I was too little to say much about it in words other than “horsie,” my mother would take me down to a very similar place just beyond the tract house I grew up in, where only blocks away there was still farmland and grazing horses and cows. The horses drew me to paint them because somewhere deep in my memory is a love of seeing them gently grazing in a field that came early and never left me, blooming all over again in my little watercolor. I’m happy to say it’s framed and hanging in the Plein Air Show at the Third Street Gallery here in town.

Some people complained about it being too smoky to get out during  Palouse Plein Air. But it was only really smoky the last couple of days. If you got started at the beginning like I did, there were plenty of clear, warm days, plenty of time to enter into the magic of feeling what I see, and painting from that feeling. For that alone, September is a golden month, even if it is a bit hot and smoky. Back in northern California when I was growing up, my Dad would call the relentless succession of hot and empty blue (or smoky) skies and soaring temperatures “state fair weather.” Perhaps we need the heat so all the life on display that’s worked so hard to grow can shine its ripeness in this harshest of lights. The days grow short, and before long the cold weather will set in, and we’ll be dreaming once again about starting over. But for now, everything is ripe on the vine, and in the heart. All of it, and us, made stronger by the first hard frost creeping in at night between the hot days. September, you are a month of extremes. Thank you for giving Summer another dramatic curtain call.

Maria (moonwatcher)


Leave a Comment

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Suzy September 23, 2014 at 8:26 am

Hi Maria, I loved reading this weeks post. It made me want to move to the Northwest. This time of year in Florida it rains everyday. I loved your horse drawing, are you going to have prints for sale? I always look forward to reading your blog.


2 moonwatcher September 23, 2014 at 9:36 am

Hi Suzy, and welcome. I’m happy you enjoyed reading this post. The Northwest, even inland, is a beautiful expansive place. I’m so glad you loved the horse drawing too. Yes, I can offer 55 x7 prints of it. I will e-mail you so you can contact me about that if you like. Thanks again for your enjoyment of my blog!


3 Veronica September 30, 2014 at 10:42 am

A beautiful painting, Maria, and a lovely post! Every season has its beauty, and you captured a NW summer ending perfectly. Makes me miss it up there (though in Seattle we didn’t really get much of the smoke part, which is good). 🙂 Having a farm so close is awesome! I wish I could walk a half mile and visit horses. And also actually knowing a local farmer who supplies your local store! Quinoa is a really cool crop – thanks for sharing that. Enjoy the grapes and the spelt bread as we head into fall and cooler weather!


4 moonwatcher September 30, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Thank you so much, Veronica–I consider it a success if I can make someone who’s lived in the northwest miss it with my words. 🙂 We are very lucky here to have so many avenues of local food sources. I hope they keep on increasing. I’m glad you enjoyed the quinoa video. Maybe someday. . .thanks for the wonderful wishes and happy Fall back to you! 🙂


5 Nicole O'Shea October 10, 2014 at 10:54 am

You paint such a lovely portrait of the end of season where you live, Maria. In words and pictures! Must have been wonderful to sit and paint the horses. I’m a few weeks late to the party, so to speak, but I felt transported to a place and moment in time. xoxo Nicole


6 moonwatcher October 10, 2014 at 12:14 pm

Oh it’s never too late for you to come to the party, Nicole! 🙂 Thanks so much for these lovely words about how this post felt to you. It is one of my favorites, so I’m glad it moved you too, ad that you love the horses. It was one of my favorite expriences ever that I painted them. <3


7 Nicole O'Shea October 10, 2014 at 1:01 pm

horses are amazing, isn’t it funny to think they both used to be super tiny and unbelievably gigantic? I believe it was one of your favorite experiences ever. <3


8 moonwatcher October 10, 2014 at 2:03 pm

<3 🙂


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