We’re squeezing out the last joys of fall while winter whispers that its coming. The smell of the leaves is fainter but not gone. The sound of my sneakers on the path still sings with leaves crunching underneath and brushing against each other.
This year’s fire wood has been drying for at least a year. Next year’s wood is being split and stacked. We’re using the wood stove, but it’s not even close to the continual feeding of wood and blazing fires that winter will bring. Black winter jackets have gone on the bee hives and mouse guards have been tacked across their bottom entrances. Little by little, we’re battening down the hatches and getting ready.
Rumors of rising electricity bills have me dreaming again of hanging my clothes on the line all winter. I’ve learned from experience to commit in smaller chunks. Nothing like a whole season weighing on my shoulders to make me give up before I start. Ergo, I’m hoping to hang the clothes all winter, but I’m only promising one additional load to the one that just went up on the line. If I make it to the end of December, I get a party. If I make it to the end of January, I get an entire day off. It may be cheaper to run the dryer than to get my just desserts if I make it to the end of February.
I have a sense of accomplishment this week. We made it to the end of birthday season. All kids dutifully celebrated. All details of figuring when and what and with whom are past. Memories of overwhelming are melded together in the shape of a birthday cake. Fuzzy. Like the feeling most people get after a few glasses of wine. Or that I get after a swallow.
Pudding cakes were the big hit this year. They require a cake, a wooden spoon to poke holes all over it, and some fresh homemade pudding to pour into the holes and all over the top. Fun while they lasted, but I’m not sure I’ll make another one before Christmas. Maybe not until Easter. Who knows. Who cares. They’re officially all clocked in now at 6, 9, 11, and 14. For another year, it’s over.
Oblivious to its role as an illusion, time, like the seasons, dependably marches on.
Thanks to the dog, who really needed some exercise, the three younger kids and I took a good long walk yesterday. Everyone was allowed to take three or four pictures of whatever captured them . . .
A tree that caught Girl one’s attention.
From Boy two who ran ahead to try and find beautiful things first. He didn’t quite manage the focus, but I liked the way he set things up with the leaf.
What about you? I said to Girl two. What do you see that is beautiful? We walked at least another 5 or ten minutes through thousands of leaves. Then . . . stop right here, she said. Where? I said looking around at the trees. Right here, she said and pointed down at her feet.
Two different young photographers were desperate to capture this. It looks like the prairies in the books you read, they said.
It takes about 45 minutes to get here. Boy two begged for the destination because he said he had to photograph the, “Rows upon Rows,” his official name for this section of the forest.
“Rows upon Rows,” the hoped for destination so he the girls the seemingly never ending rows of trees.
These are Girl two’s perpetually backwards boots. She swears it doesn’t hurt her feet and she likes them that way. None of us had felt like a walk. Only the duty of the dog got us there. More than an hour later, we all came home happy and content from the tips of our toes to the top of our heads. As Girl one pointed out, if you actually get out into the woods, no matter how much you didn’t want to go, you never, ever, regret it.
Fall feels like a relief this year. A banner proclaiming mercy en route. I’m struck with what a grand tug of war it all is, all the forces of nature battling it out for survival. The mouse wants a nest, some food, some babies, and more babies. Hawks and skunks and snakes and endless other creatures want mice. I want my house reserved for family and invited guests. The mice want in, the squirrels want in, the wasps want in, the flies have already made it in home free.
We want fields for pasture. Mother Nature prefers a wilder look. You can, she says, never have enough new trees. We want rat free shelter for the chickens, the rats disagree. We want clean hay for the cows, sheep, and pony. The groundhogs and mice burrow in, set up shop and check out the facilities. We want vegetables in the garden reserved for us. So do lots of other things. The squirrels got half the beans one afternoon. We never did figure out who had a taste for kale.
There’s a harshness to winter’s mercy. I grant you that. The woodstove will get a workout, pipes will try to freeze, but it’s a mercy nonetheless. The march of the mad forests will cease. The endless reproduction cycles of uninvited farm guests will go dormant. Those trying to nestle in with us for the coming winter will go elsewhere if we can hold out for a little bit longer. (High pitched rodent noisemakers and mouse traps are working as our current bouncers.)
Nature marches on in winter too, but not in living things. Snow and the cold aren’t willfully engaged in a battle of wits with me, they just get whipped up by swirly winds. Things that go wrong in winter are considered acts of God. They aren’t something you have to look up to figure out what you should have done to keep them from happening. This is a very consoling fact.
So proclaimeth the autumn leaves to me this year.
And if anyone’s curious, Buster has been on a time out since Saturday and is finally allowed to roam the pastures freely again. We’ll see if he’s out by lunch. More coming on Buster getting busted . . . I’ll just add that I have fantasies of late about snow up past his knees and him not wanting to go more than fifty feet from the barn.
The leaves are almost gone. Some trees stand naked. Others dressed in fading clothes that wrinkle and crackle. Girl two and I took a walk hand in hand through the magic forest the other day. We found frost still on the ground in the shady patches and to her delight, ice in tiny little grooves in the mud like mouse prints. She scraped and held tight until her hands turned red trying to bring it home to show the others.
Mornings start now with getting the wood stove going. The chickens are laying fewer eggs and the dog can’t decide whether to grow her winter coat or shed it. Mornings are cool but not cold enough to silence the arguments about wearing jackets or splash pants.
Hopefully the wind will calm down enough for boy one and I to get in one more game of tennis. The others are starting to learn with varying degrees of interest, but it is he and I that crave it. I miss this thing we love doing together, once winter comes.
Last year, I almost always won. This year we split, except when I was still so sick from the spring – then it wasn’t worth it to go after anything more than two steps away and he beat me easily. But as long as I was healthy, and the wind blew the right way, we split this year.
What next year will hold seems inevitable. . . so here’s to hoping for one more game this year.