The cucumber vines and tomato plants have been pulled, the garden cleaned up, the flowers weeded and the lawn furniture put away.

The wood is stacked in the backyard, the solar lights removed and the lawn mowed, likely for the last time.

On our front step, there’s a pumpkin and a pot with fall plantings. When our black cat, Pip, passes by, we are reminded that Halloween isn’t far behind.

All of which is to say that summer is over. The nights are getting cold, the sky darker, earlier.

My husband likes to recite just how many minutes of daylight we’ve lost. In springtime, he declares how many we’ve gained, and how late the sun will go down.

We’re sad to see the summer go but relieved to feel the world calming down, summer traffic easing and things getting back to normal.

Pip claws the bureau at 6 every morning like clockwork, expecting we’ll spring him, but he also knows we don’t let him out when it’s dark, so he’s confused.

Bitsy, his sister, a tiny coon cat who never takes such drastic measures to get attention, follows him to the kitchen door, waiting.

“You know it’s too early,” I tell them.

They stare back, perched identically side by side, then follow me back into the living room.

I tear the previous day’s newspaper into little balls, toss them into the fireplace insert, top them with dry branches Phil collected last year from the backyard, and strike a long match.

There’s nothing quite as soothing as a fire on a chilly fall morning, slowly easing its warmth into the room and sending with it the faint scent of wood smoke.

The cats, now at my side, watch each movement intently.

We sit for a while as I tend the fire, and eventually they topple over and lie on their backs, with paws in the air.

The heat turns them comatose. They stretch, with Pip’s incredibly long body reaching from hearth to coffee table.

Feeling like a mother whose kids finally are napping, I slip into the kitchen, pour dry cereal into a bowl, slice a half banana on top and douse it with milk.

Back in the living room, I pick up the newspaper and read as I eat. The sound of my spoon in the bowl jolts Pip and Bitsy awake, and they’re suddenly all over me.

By this time, it’s light outside and we both get a reprieve.

Out they go and finally there’s peace.

Later, after they’ve been out in the cold long enough, I call them and they come bolting in, meowing and making a beeline for any human in sight.

They wrap themselves around legs, jump onto chairs and follow us from room to room, purring with happiness.

Then, like clockwork, they get sleepy again. Don’t cats typically sleep 18 out of 24 hours? They’ve got the right idea; no stress there.

Just watching them curl their furry bodies into a ball, content, makes me want to stay home; but I’ve got places to go and things to do.

“You be good cats,” I say, as I slip out the door. “I’ll see you later.”

I like my simple routine, in these early, cool autumn days that portend winter.

In the quiet darkness, there’s time to be still, to digest the rush and passing of summer and contemplate the upcoming season.

I never tire of the ritual — the cleaning up, the battening down and the putting away.

While it’s the same rite of passage every year, each time it feels entirely new.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 24 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]

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