At the end of a long day I settle into the transitional golden hour that marks the late summer season. In September, the earth tilts a little differently as we near the place of balance — the equinox — the dark and the light in equal measure as the sun rises later, the nightfall coming sooner. 

At this point in the calendar year, I start what has become a time-honored practice of covering the summer plants that live on my second-floor balcony, each night, with bed sheets to extend the life of the tiny pots of green outside my window. 

I sometimes doubt whether the energy this annual ritual requires is time put to good use. The plants aren’t a necessity. They aren’t something I depend on to feed and sustain my family, or something I invest my time and energy in to to earn a living. They are something I enjoy. They are a luxury.

My attention to them has been admittedly sporadic. There have been summers where I smother them with my interest, picking dead leaves and insects from the blooms and feeding them on a diet of privileged concentration, with daily watering and natural fertilizer, taking delight in the way they flourish. There have been summers, too, where I forget about the plants, too busy with my own self-important comings and goings to remember that there are living things that exist beyond the glass of the sliding door of the living room. 

Their yearly existence is solely dependent on my attitude, subject to my whims and the time I decide to devote to their care — the attention that I choose to give them.

My summer plants will not make it through the entire fall. Still, I will continue to cover the plants every evening with the sheets, later in the season graduating to the heavier weights of towels and doubling them over for warmth and protection. 

When this no longer works, I will bring them into the house each night, letting them take over my family’s small living space, the plants occupying the kitchen counter and the piano bench, the top of the already-too-large-for-the-room armoire that holds the computer. Places not meant to be taken up by large potted containers of dirt stuffed with tall ornamental grasses and fading begonias beginning to look past their prime. 

My husband will become irritated at the amount of space the plants occupy, the way they disrupt our normal routine. I, too, will become tired of the effort and organization this temporary living arrangement requires, the messiness it causes. The cats will dig in the 
containers, knocking them over and ripping the plants out by their roots, dragging their sad remains into corners and under the beds, leaving rooted strings of dirt and leaves across the carpet. It will all need to be cleaned up each morning. There will be bugs in the house. 

In an attempt at a salvation that I’m not really meant to give, I end up creating my own mini-disaster, my husband tells me. “Summer’s almost over,” he coaxes hopefully. “Just let them go.”

But I don’t. 

I don’t see this annual undertaking as a frantic attempt to extend the nature of things. From my end-of-summer balcony, it allows me an active way to observe the balance of the dark and light, paying more attention to where I put my energy, and where I don’t need to. 

It allows me a different way to process the world around me—as messy as that may be.