Attic Salt for Sept. 16, 2012

By ED CULLEN

Advocate staff writer

Though we all know better, denizens of South Louisiana hope the faux fall of mid-September will turn out to be the real thing.

We awake to cooler temperatures and lower humidity and decide to re-up until next summer.

Selective memory is what keeps most of us here.

Anticipation is everything. It lets us look forward to cooler weather though we know these September falls are but a temporary respite.

We like to say that a cool snap in September breaks summer’s back. Tell that to summer.

We use the vocabulary of bronc riders to talk about south Louisiana weather. We “get a good grip.” We “hold on.” We “outlast.”

I anticipate fall with optimistic forays to the plant nursery or hardware store to buy lettuce seed and transplants for fall and winter salads.

Though blinded by perspiration, I feel fall in my bones when I make shallow furrows, fill the long depressions with shallots and pull dirt to the plants’ white bulbs.

Fall in the Deep South is a scam, a promissory note, a down payment on a house we can’t afford, an expression of faith.

It took many fall gardens to make me realize I could plant lettuce seed in September if it made me feel better, but it didn’t mean I was getting a jump on winter greens.

I would watch as the tiny green leaves broke ground only to be blasted by the heat. Now, I hedge my bets by mixing varieties of seed, including arugula, before broadcasting the seed onto well-worked dirt.

I water in the seed by the last light of day, muttering, “May the best seed win.”

I learned to enjoy the zinnias and basil a few more weeks before yanking them to make way for lettuce seed in late September, early October. Plants grow so fast in south Louisiana they may benefit from a little handicapping.

If you haven’t already learned an important fact, know that planting guides printed on seed packs are mere speculation, the ravings of a copywriter in Wisconsin.

When the newspaper was downtown, we observed the way the low afternoon sun hit the tall buildings facing the Mississippi River.

Not only was the angle different but so too the quality of light. Creamier, less harsh, not so angry as the August sun. Fall sunlight lit downtown Baton Rouge in a way that promised cool walks to our cars when the workday was done.

The best part of fall days is the walk to the end of the driveway to toe the newspaper from beneath the bumper of my wife’s car.

There follows that part of the day that buys the seed for fall gardens purchased at lunchtime at a nearby nursery.

I drive home in the evening, transplants gently bumping each other in their cardboard flats behind the seat of my truck.

A social scientist studying optimism would do well to haunt plant nurseries in the fall.