PAT NEAL: The autumn harvest

FALL MUST BE my favorite time of year — when the rain and wind wash the dust away and the air smells fresh and clear.

It’s a magical time of year, when the cackle of migrating geese mingles with the whistling bugle of the elk.

Perhaps there is no better way to be awakened on an autumn morning than with these seasonal sounds of migration and mating and the natural drama of it all.

It is a beautiful sound when accompanied by the mewing of the elk calves and the barking of their mothers.

Until you realize it’s all happening in your garden.

You shoot out of bed and throw open the door to shoo the elk away, to find the elk are well aware of their legal rights.

They seem to know that it isn’t elk season.

There is nothing you can do but yell and wave your arms — which, to an animal like an elk that spends its life dodging ferocious predators such as cougars and bears, must be like watching a hairless monkey throw a temper tantrum.

Eventually, the elk get bored and leave, leaving one to assess the damage to an already damaged garden.

It’s not my fault. The weather has gotten weird.

We just had the driest, hottest May on record that fooled the garden into thinking it was summer.

Then we had a cool June that put things in a state of semi-hibernation.

July brought the heat that shriveled the blossoms on the sweet peas, which would be the whole point of having a garden in the first place.

I thought tomatoes liked heat, until mine curled up their leaves and sprouted flat little red things that didn’t look like tomatoes at all.

They seemed to rot before they got ripe. I had to pick them and toss them in the compost before anyone noticed.

I was so proud of my raspberries, until they got ripe and I found them being harvested by a plague of mysterious vermin.

Now, I don’t mind sharing, but it got ridiculous to find these furry little pirates picking the berries and leaving them half-eaten on the ground.

Every day became a race to find a ripe berry before the chipmunks did.

That’s about the time I noticed the carrots were wilting.

Pulling one of them revealed the cause. There were no carrots, only tops.

Something had tunneled in and eaten them from the bottom to the top leaving only a wilted excuse of a crop.

Mystery solved.

My potato experiment was a total failure.

Someone told me you could grow them in buckets. They lied.

I watered them for months waiting for the first French fry.

The vines died down and I dumped the buckets out and searched through the rich loam, finding potatoes from the size of a pea to a golf ball.

At first, I was very proud of my lone squash. Then the hot weather hit.

The squash seemed to melt and crack up. It flattened out and developed a vegetable version of a plumber’s butt that was embarrassing.

The one gardening success that I was really proud of, however, was the awesome crop of cucumbers that somehow managed to flourish. Until I ate one and my guts started to gurgle like a thing alive.

The next thing I knew, I was burping like a locomotive.

I hate cucumbers. I hate my garden.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, they did.

The elk came by and ate everything but the rotten tomatoes and the cucumbers.

It was the end of the autumn harvest.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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