In Birdland, fall has come and the combines have shaved the beans from our fields so the stubble is closely cropped like a crew cut. The morning is crisp, but I can't yet see my breath.
Once in a while, this country mouse likes to get in touch with her urban, so this morning, I took a detour on my bike to visit The Cracked Truck that parks near University Laboratory High in Urbana.
They serve egg sandwiches, wraps and hot coffee on a cold morning. Also, I would get a chance to see Dylan. My middle boy works on the truck, frying eggs and chorizo, constructing sandwiches and pouring coffee. It was a brisk ride and a couple blocks out of my way — but well worth it.
It was my first trip to the truck, and as I was studying the menu, Dylan stepped lightly out of the door to give me a hug and take my order.
I asked for the Plan B, and he said, "I knew you were going to order that."
It was a veggie wrap with fresh spinach and hummus. My boy knows me well.
I stood on the sidewalk, balancing my bike in the breeze, smelling good smells and enjoying an easy camaraderie with the other people. We sipped coffee and smiled as we waited for our orders.
Dylan handed me a warm little packet wrapped in foil, and I hurried to my office to enjoy my brunch. Deliciousness of spicy freshness! Oh, warm wrap of hummus-y delight! I don't often treat myself, but this could become a habit. Best of all, I felt like a big city chick the entire morning.
But I can't stay long away from the country, and this afternoon, I called on my friend and neighbor, Barb, for a tomato raid. Barb and Dave plant a modest but artful garden in their front yard. Each year has a different pattern but always features tomatoes prominently in tall cages.
This year, Dave made a circular bed bordered in bricks and planted a central column of sweet corn. Tall wire cages contain four tomato plants, set in four corners like the points on a compass. Their tomatoes are always plentiful, even in this drought year, and they generously share their bounty with pushy neighbors like me.
After several years of their kindness, I now just take it upon myself to announce that I'm coming to raid their tomato patch. It is my excuse to visit and chat a little with Barb, and then we go out together to pick sun-ripened tomatoes of many varieties.
Each of the four cages holds a couple of varieties, so that both grape tomatoes and standard sized ones have adamantly intertwined and appear to grow on one plant.
Now that winter approaches, Barb and I have been keeping an eye on the frost advisory. She called me to let me know that the light frost we got the other night didn't hit her tomatoes but that it was time for me to come and pull up the plants.
She lets me hang them upside-down in my basement, where the leaves dry and crumble to dust, but the tomatoes themselves cling to the vine and slowly ripen over the winter. That's the way we'll have ripe tomatoes in January and February. No, they are not sun-ripened, and they do get a little bit wrinkly on the skin, but they are at least as tasty as store tomatoes, picked green and ripened inside a box on a truck from who knows where.
Barb and I chat as we pull the ripened fruit from the vines. The bushes are still heavy with green tomatoes, and we pull the plants up, cage and all, and stuff the bulky green column into the back of my car.
I take it home and cut the plant out of the cage, stem by stem, to hang in bundles under the stairs in my basement.
The sun is going down, and I'm carrying bundles back and forth, dreaming of fresh tomatoes in the depths of winter.
Dream in beauty; envision peace; blessed be.
Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in harvesting food wherever she can find it. The Birdland Autumn Writing Workshop will be Nov. 17 at the First Mennonite Church in Urbana. You can find registration information at http://www.letterfrombirdland.blogspot.com . Hays can be reached at email@example.com  or via snail mail care of this newspaper, 15 Main St., Champaign IL 61820.