Time to Pitch the Pumpkins

We cut a Christmas Tree yesterday. We have done this for many years at the same place so I guess it is a family tradition at this point. The day after Thanksgiving we grab a saw and some gloves and something to tie the tree to the car and head to Menard’s Tree Farm. Some years it has been warm enough for shorts. Other years we track through snow. Yesterday was our first tree cutting in the rain.

That rain turned to snow late in the day. After we got home we propped the tree in the corner and, once it was dry enough, trimmed it with pewter snowflakes and glass snowmen and paper-framed photos of our kids made in elementary school. By the time we had that done, and other holiday decorating was underway, darkness was falling along with snow.

This year especially, like last year, we have been eager to spruce the place up, to put up lights and make the house festive. These are unusual times, filled with more than literal darkness. Putting up a Christmas tree, however, conflicts with the pumpkins. Those brought their own type of light but it is time for them to go.

On the far side of the field there is a compost pile, filled with gardening scraps–sunflower stalks and mint clippings and old squashes. We moved to this house just over a year ago and, before we had set up a household composting system nearby, I would trudge across the meadow to dump our apple peels and coffee grounds and egg shells. There was a lot piled on that pile.

This summer vines started to grow out of this pile. By fall we had pumpkins ripening. The last owners of the house had tossed their leftover gourds and the seeds sprouted. There were giant jack-o-lantern pumpkins and butternut squash. The butternut squash never really panned out, but we picked maybe twenty pumpkins and decorated the front porch and the back deck. Bonus agricultural products.

As we have been putting the house to bed–trimming the flower beds and the apple trees, turning in the vegetable garden–we have hauled organic material to the pile across the field. We have included some of those pumpkins in those visits. The small ones or the weak ones couldn’t handle a freeze and started to wilt. Right now we have half a dozen still at the house. This morning they are coated in ice and snow. Now that the Christmas season is fully here, it is time to pitch the pumpkins.

They do look pretty cool, so to speak, covered in white, but with even a minimal thaw, they will turn to mush. There are still a few flower vines and lily remnants to gather and haul away, so we will fill the cart and trudge through the inch and a half of snow and add the pumpkins to the pile. Next summer I am hoping they will begin the cycle again, vines stretching from the waste pile to grow some more orange and green globes to celebrate fall. For now, however, bring on the snow.

Dark Mornings

Late November means shorter days. It isn’t December, certainly, but it is hard to tell the difference. Getting up at 6:00 to let the dog out means going out in the dark. Walking on the road to get the day started? Wear the reflector vest and bring a headlamp. It helps if drivers can see you when they pass.

This morning it is raining. A sky full of clouds means it is even darker in the early hours. At least we have had some snow. Not a lot, mind you, but some. I went up to Stowe this week and got to walk on trails covered in the white stuff. Today we have a forecast of snow. This rain will turn over to snow this afternoon. It will accumulate–a couple inches according to our friendly meteorologists.

I put birdseed in the feeders recently. As the light grows I watch the House Finches have breakfast. They get more distinct as the day progresses. By the afternoon their red feathers pop out in the sunlight. Even with clouds they are a small burst of color in the gray and brown. We still have a couple of pumpkins on the porch to add more color there.

Today we will go cut a Christmas tree. We put some strings of lights on the porch already. This season of darkness is only getting darker, so we plan to light the place up. The world is dark these days. We need to add some light to the mornings yes, but that metaphorical darkness needs some brightness even more. Those dark mornings are beautiful. And so are the lights. We plan to have some of both.

Still Some Color

It is an odd fall. The leaves turned slowly. Some years we have a blast of color. It knocks your socks off. You can’t help but be dazzled. You look at the hills, and then look again, and then say something out loud like “Damn that’s amazing.” Even poets stumble over their tongues. This year we had some of that but I never saw that blanket of red and orange and yellow, that hallmark of the northeastern autumn. Things have been more stretched.

It is mid-November and trees all over are hanging on to leaves that catch the eye. Full, ancient maples are brimming with orange. Oaks show off their muted yellows. Even some sumac are red. Red sumac leaves in mid-November? Is that a thing now?

Standing at the lake I was accompanied by maples full of leaves–yellow on one side and red on the other. Across the water, the Adirondacks still had some color, with snow topping the peaks. There is some awe in that scene. At least I found some.

Maybe this is a thing now, or will be. Is climate change pushing the season out? Likely. Maybe this year is an anomaly, but I am guessing we will see our fall foliage show happening later and later, one more effect of our changing climate I will notice each year in our corner of the world. Whenever it happens I will still, I am sure, have moments where I lose my words. I am happy to stay silent in those moments. The color can do the speaking.

Fall Poem in Spring

Fall Poem in Spring

The heron stands
on the ice, waiting.
Frogs bury
themselves in mud.
Beneath the heron:
fish, swimming.
That spear of a bill
is ready but at
the ice’s edge,
nothing appears.
Used to stillness,
the heron keeps
waiting. Until
one day hunger
drives it south,
its wings silent
in the fall air.

Today, suddenly
spring happens.
And there is the heron
perched on a snag
by the swollen river.
I do not know
how far it has traveled.
How can it move
so little? From where
does it draw its patience?
The heron forgets
the ice, forgets
its hunger. It only
waits, waits
for its next meal
that surely will arrive
any moment now.

Rain Turning to Snow

Outside the window, rain pounded the porch roof. It was too dark to see the rain, or the field beyond. But water falling onto standing seam is loud. It was coming down. I woke several times in the night, battling a cold that dragged a cough across my throat. Each time I heard the rain.

But then, as the light overtook the dark, the rain did not pound the porch roof. The rain had stopped. It was still hardly light, and I groggily slogged over to brush my teeth. I shaved. I showered. When I finally left the bathroom I saw the snow. It had not just stopped raining. It had started snowing.

Snow is quiet. It coated the grass and the bare maple branches and the piles of fallen leaves. It coated the porch roof. I watched it fall while I debated whether to subject my work colleagues to my cold. Then I coughed again. I stayed home. I watched the quiet snow fall.

Later, my wife and I walked in the snow. We had a window of time and took advantage of it. I coughed along the way. The snow was wet. The road was muddy. Trees dripped their slush into the river. We wore hoods and watched the horses watch us as we walked past. The wet snow kept falling.

In the afternoon the snow stopped, then slowly started to fall again. Now, in the dark, the clouds are keeping things to themselves. Wind tries to shake the last birch leaves onto the house. Tonight will be cold, and tomorrow. More snow will fall this week. The porch roof will creak with ice before turning white again. 

Will I notice the next snow? Or will I wake again in bleary unawareness? I will try to watch for it, even in the dark, even when my dreams can’t seem to stop churning. However long it takes me to see it, I will appreciate it. And it will make me smile. And whether I can or not, I will want, as I did today, to go out walking it that snow with the most beautiful woman in the world. If the timing is right, I will.

Ice and Kinglets

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It wasn’t winter, but it did feel cold. The sun was low, but still high enough for an afternoon walk. The light was sharp and the shadows were deep. The woods had the feel of calm, ready for winter to hang out for a while. Leaves rustled under my feet. Wind blew in bare ash branches. Tall grasses shone golden.

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I was looking for Rusty Blackbirds. Maybe some would be around, picking through leaves in the wet understory. None were around. I did find quite a few Chickadees. Some crows flew overhead. The bird of the afternoon was the Brown Creeper I finally spotted, creeping, of course, up a maple trunk.

Around the back side of the loop I heard Golden Crowned Kinglets. They trilled their soft calls all around me, hidden. I waited. I watched. I looked for movement. I didn’t see any. And then I did. I got just a quick glimpse of one, its black mask metaphoric of its stealthiness.  Not far from there, White Throated Sparrows, or so I thought, called. They stayed hidden in the brown shrubs.

I warmed up after a while, comfortable by the end of my slow couple of miles. I saw few birds, but a chipmunk squeaking away from me, and a red squirrel carrying a beech nut into a hole hollowed out by a Pileated Woodpecker. Looking for birds means paying attention. The river slid by, cold and powerful. The pond tried to thaw out, its morning skim of ice almost gone, but likely to come back tonight. The trail, closed in like a tunnel in summer, was open and new.

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I looped around to the car, watching for those sparrows, but they stayed hidden. I headed into town to pick up my daughter and her friends, the heat a little higher than when I started, my mind a little clearer. Fall, that is what I found. I will find my Rusty Blackbirds another day.

Still Some Color

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Peak foliage has passed. Around here it was about three weeks ago. Earlier farther north. We have had some wind, plenty of it in fact. And lately it has been raining. A lot. Wind and rain tear down the leaves, especially after they have reached their peak color. And so it has been. But there is still plenty of color to be had in the trees.

This morning I went down to the lake. I was hoping to find ducks. And maybe a late shorebird. Shorebirds have mostly migrated through, but there are always a few stragglers. But I didn’t see any today. I did see ducks from up north, however. Some of them will stick around for a while, as long as the ice stays away. I saw Buffleheads and Goldeneye and even a Black Scoter. Even if I hadn’t seen any, however, it would have been worth it.

The Adirondacks across the water were lit up with scattered sun. Clouds skittered across the firmament, but broken. So the sun popped though onto the mountains. The brilliant leaves remaining, and the fresh snow up high, were glowing. I started in Shelburne, with some birding success (Black Scoter!). I kept going south after that to the Charlotte town beach. I struck out there–the wind was fierce. There were a few Mallards in the cove and some gulls circling in the air currents, but otherwise it was a dud.  But those mountains…

Even on the Vermont side there were a few gems. One oak was ka-powing right next to my car. And there were maples lining the road in a couple of spots–yellow and red and orange.  I mean, it isn’t what busloads of visitors come to see. It wasn’t whole hillsides of brilliance. But still, there is some color sticking around. By Thanskgiving it will all be gone, but I’ll take it for now.

Not too many apples

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More than once, before I went to pick apples with my son and a friend of ours, my wife said, “Don’t bring home too many apples.” It was good advice. A couple of years ago my parents went to pick apples at a local orchard and came home with 50 pounds. “Just a few more” and “this one looks really nice” were uttered a few too many times, apparently. So we went in cautious. We did not pick 50 pounds of apples.

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We took small bags when we got there–ten-pounds-worth bags rather than twenty-pounds-worth bags. We filled one with apples to eat straight up–Honey Crisp, mostly. We filled the other bag with pie apples–Cortlands. We only ate one apple each while in the orchard. But we did eat hot cider and cider donuts back at the orchard’s center. By mistake two of us each bought a dozen donuts. We managed to eat them eventually.

I made an apple crisp the next day. Dang that was tasty. I’ll need to make another one soon. I’m craving some pumpkin pie as well. A warm pumpkin pie made from fresh pumpkin, egg whites whipped into it to make it light, now that is a fine bit of sweetness. And with whipped cream? Oy, make me salivate. The orchard had a pile of pie pumpkins. I didn’t get any. Soon, though. Thanksgiving requires that pumpkin pie.

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We have a few apples left, given that we already had some before we went to the orchard, but we are low. There is enough for a crisp, or a pie, if I make one soon. But they won’t last much longer. We keep eating them. I would bake up something with apples every few days if I had the time. But I don’t really have the time to do that. Work and kids and other stuff happening, you know what I’m saying? I guess it really was good we did not pick 50 pounds. My wife gives good advice.

Bread and Fire

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It was Saturday. I had time. So I baked some bread. And it was light and fluffy. Bread flour, that does the trick, I tell you. All that extra gluten stretches things out. Like magic. A big round fluffy loaf of goodness. Hot and fresh and delish. It went well with the soup I made. I put kale in the soup. Trying to be trendy? Nope. It just works in a vegetable soup. So, yeah, fresh bread and hot soup. Can’t beat it.

We lit up a fire outside Friday night. All summer I was thinking it would be great to have a fire in our fire ring outside. Look out over the dark field, watch the stars, flames dancing, sparks drifting up. All that romantic business. But the sun sets late in the summer. Start a fire just before dark and you’re up until 11:00. Some of us have to go to work in the morning.

But this time of year the sun sets much earlier. So crackling flames while we  hang out and listen to the coyotes sing? That’s a good deal. We did smell a skunk that night, but we talked loudly enough we hoped to keep it away. Apparently we did.

Saturday we cranked up the fire pit again. It was windy, but at least that kept the flames alive the whole time. We nibbled on Halloween-themed Oreos, talked about summer and Christmas and school and traveling, and we watched the stars pop in and out from the behind the clouds that were whipping across the sky.

It was so much fun that when friends unexpectedly came over on Sunday night we lit a fire one more time. We polished off those Oreos, and the bread, and laughed under a starless sky. We wore jackets. Some of us had to go to work in the morning so were were not out there too late. But three nights in a row with the comfort of a fire on a beautiful night? Stellar.

Fall Sky at Day’s End

Walking a couple of nights ago, the sky put on a show. Steaks of pink and yellow and orange. I mean, damn. It kept getting better as we walked. We turned around and it kept getting better.

We were surrounded by loveliness. I know a gazillion people post sunset photos on Instagram. It’s a thing. Pictures of sunsets have been a thing for as long as color photos have been a thing.  Still, I took some photos and here they are. 

I guess they are a thing because a glorious sunset is amazing. Look at these photos, for god’s sake. Nice! And they don’t do any justice to the real thing. You’ve seen a sunset like this. I know you have. It is awesome in the real sense–it inspires awe. 

The leaves are starting to turn. The air is colder. This morning’s temperature was 37 degrees.  We had a fire outside last night. We watched the almost full moon over the gathering fog while the flames flickered. Gotta love fall.

This was the culmination of that sky. This is where I live. Not bad.