For those of you who are waiting for it to feel like autumn, hang on. It is on the way.

While we’re still basking in summer-like sunshine with temperatures in the 80s and 90s, snow has been falling in the high passes of Wyoming and Colorado. Even the mountains above Lake Tahoe have seen measurable snow.

I love this weather, the days in the 80s and nights in the 50s. What I don’t like is the fact that it gets dark so early. Nine o’clock now seems like midnight. I like those July days, when the sun goes down at 8:45 p.m. and there is still a little light in the western sky at 9:30.

Perhaps the biggest problem I have with the early sunsets is that darkness makes me hungry. I’ll nibble from the time it gets dark until I go to bed at midnight. Inevitably, I will put on 10 pounds in the winter that I always shed in the summer.

This is about the time of year when I start splitting my kindling wood. Seven or eight years ago, I took down an oak board fence and I sawed the boards that weren’t rotten into 8- to 10-inch lengths, stacking the wood out of the weather.

Each fall, I split those sawed-off lengths into thin pieces that I store in a 50-gallon barrel that lays on its side with both ends open. Unless it is a really bad winter, I can get enough kindling in that barrel to last me until spring.

It pays to be prepared. Splitting kindling in 20-degree temperatures with snow on the ground is not my idea of fun.

I usually keep enough wood on hand for two winters. That way, I never get cut short. About this time of year, usually while squirrel hunting, I search the woods for trees that have died during the summer.

There are always a few that don’t make it and I make a mental note of where they are. When deer season arrives, I’ll start sawing them up for next year’s firewood. I split the rounds on cold winter days when I need exercise and have the pieces stacked by spring. They will be good and dry by the following fall.

The walnuts are starting to fall. Three of the four young trees around my yard are loaded with their best crops yet. Although I live out in an open field, a squirrel has already been wandering up the long fencerow from the woods to check them out.

Right now, this old boy is content with the thousands of pin oak acorns that have fallen in my yard, but he’s also sniffing around those walnut trees. Twice a day, I pick up the nuts that have fallen and put them in a squirrel-proof hideaway. You have to stay one step ahead of the wildlife.

I’ll husk the walnuts when they turn black and start cracking them around the end of October. Each fall, I crack from 5 to 15 quarts. Those black walnuts are delicious in cakes and brownies or just to nibble on. They are also supposed to be good for your heart.

Husking walnuts is dirty work, especially if the hulls have turned soft and oily. When I was trapping, I would sometimes use the black oil to stain my traps before I waxed them. Once on, the stain is hard to get off. I always use thick rubber gloves when husking.

Speaking of stains, there is an excellent crop of poke berries (some call them “polk” berries) this fall. When I was a child, I used to paint myself with poke berry juice when the neighborhood kids played cowboys and Indians. That burgundy stain makes for great war paint.

For some reason, poke berry bushes seem to thrive during dry weather and so far there hasn’t been much September rain at my house. In fact, the ground is so hard that I can’t pull up my tomato stakes. As soon as we have a good rain, I’ll get them out and store them until next spring. I want my gardens ready to be plowed by late October.

Right here, let’s go back to the walnut part of this column. At church a couple of weeks ago, a friend told me that the walnut tree in his yard had no nuts on it this year and he was worried.

I assured him that was perfectly normal. Walnut trees often take a year off here and there. In fact, there is an old tree up on a friend’s farm that has almost no walnuts every fourth year. Trees, like people, need a break once in a while.

September and October are the getting-prepared-for-winter months. Split the kindling, make sure the woodpile is stacked high and gets the walnuts ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas baking.

Don’t worry. The hot weather will go away. Remember, in 1979, we had 3 inches of snow on Oct. 10. That’s just three weeks away.

You may complain about the heat now, but by the end of January these 80- and 90-degree days will be fond memories.

It is all a matter of perspective.

Get the latest news in our Headlines newsletter in your inbox each day with the top stories.

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Columnist Donnie Johnston lives in Culpeper County. Write him at

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.