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Columbus Day Weekend

All the festive events for the holiday weekend actually began on October 8th when friends gathered with Elsa Bakalar, our most famous and generous local gardener, to celebrate her 90th birthday. It’s been a difficult year for Elsa with two broken hips and other injuries, but she was as ready for her party as any of us. Judy (left) worked with Elsa for many years in Elsa’s house and gardens and Marie (center) has known Elsa since she was a girl, first as a student of Elsa’s at Fieldstone School and ‘camper’ who spent summers in Heath with a covey of other girls from the school

I met Elsa when I went to work for her at Greenfield Community College in 1981. I considered myself a gardener at the time, but I had never heard of a perennial. Elsa fixed that pretty quick. I got to see the birth of her book, A Garden of One’s Own, illustrated by beautiful photographs taken by her beloved husband Mike, and loved hearing about her lecture tours all over the country. This was a whole new career for Elsa when many people have retired. She continues to be an inspiration in the garden (I do have a few perennials these days) and in my every day life.

There were other places to go and people to see over the weekend, and everywhere I went I was surrounded by these brilliant hills. There is always a theory as to why an autumn is dull or glorious; this year the credit for the jewelled hillsides goes to a very wet year.

I stopped to visit Susan and her sister who were selling their quilts this weekend. I drove up and saw a dozen quilts on the clothesline, and racks of table runners and Christmas tree skirts. I asked how she could bear to give up a lifetime’s work but she laughed and said she and her sister had done all this during the past six or seven years – and that wasn’t counting the gifts and donations made during that time. They knit too!

Other friends, Earl and Myra, had family visiting for the weekend and the great family project was pressing apples for cider, using apples from their old trees on the property. This is a great apple year. One of Myra’s trees split under the weight of all the apples. Grandsons and their friends took turns collecting apples, then crushing and pressing them. The adults were happy cutting up the apples and chatting.

Earl is a retired electrician which gives him a leg up when it comes to energy conservation. This is the first stage of his solar array, currently producing 3 kilowatts of electricity. It will soon be doubled. It sits by the barn that he built almost singlehandedly to house sheep, goats and chickens. And hay. And wood. What fascinates me about this couple, and so many of my neighbors, is their devotion to the old ways and to their use of new ways. I think its a good balance.

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