Toward Winter

b fat squirrelWe have a squirrel in our yard so big and chunky,  I often mistake him for the woodchuck. The woodchuck, of course, is tucked deep in her den, where I devoutly hope she will stay until, hmm, maybe next September. No, what we have cavorting through the yard here is the Reigning Squirrel Champion of Winter Prep. Squirrels don’t hibernate, but pickings can be slim in wintertime so they are wise to beef up while they can. For instance, by clearing out all those pesky leftover pumpkins from Thanksgiving. This photo doesn’t do him justice, as he’s a very self-possessed squirrel, who does not approach people in an attitude of supplication nor pose for photographs. When he sees me he flounces off.

b skytreeI was on my way to the mailbox, but the sky was especially beautiful so I loitered. No snow yet, but somehow the trees managed to glitter. I love the part of any season where it changes from one into the next, in this case the architecture of trees emerging as the light fades. Not autumn, but not winter until it snows.

b paper wreath 1I get ready for the sno by putting up my holiday decorations. I always hope for snow for Christmas but that not being in my control, I go for lights, indoor greenery, and lots of decorations. Though I’m usually averse to tearing up books, I had a collection of old encyclopedias and Slavic dictionaries given me specifically for craft uses (by a friend who taught English in Poland). Here’s the wreath I made by pleating encyclopedia pages and wiring them onto a wreath form.

b w lightsZerlina always takes an interest in the string of Christmas lights – bright, like the laser pointer she likes to chase, but not going anywhere. I do wonder what she makes of them. She was a street cat in her youth and though she certainly knew about trees, she was not familiar with Christmas trees. When she encountered her first one, in my living room, she immediately climbed it. Fortunately this was before the decorations went on, so no damage ensued.

b zerlina tissueWith time she discovered that these strangely fast-growing living room trees never had birds in them, and gave up climbing them in favor of hiding underneath as a stake-out for mice. We do sometimes have mice. She watched the tissue paper piling up as I unwrapped the tree ornaments, and jumped right in to help by checking it out for vermin. Those mice are tricky and could be anywhere.

The Virtues of a Raggedy Yard

b zebra grassSo many people complain about northern Novembers being grey, but I always think of Elinor Wylie’s description: “… landscapes drawn in pearly monotones.” November is an invitation to calm, to quiet, to pause before the big winter holidays, take stock, and be thankful.

b red berriesIt used to be standard practice, once all the leaves were down, to rake them away, pull out spent stalks and branches, and cut everything else to the ground. If you left ratty edges in a suburban yard, your neighbors would complain, or at least drop hints. Calling it “winter interest” mostly garnered eyerolls. But there has been a lovely confluence of awareness of the ecological value of not cleaning up, and fewer people having time for it anyway, that is bringing improved habitat to the critters that spend winter in our yards. An untrimmed shrub that holds its berries for months, a brushy low plant that provides shelter against the wind and cold – these are real assets for birds that have been kind enough to stick around. Let the leaves lie where they fall, and first you save yourself the effort of removing them, then when they decompose and enrich the soil you save money on compost.

b agastache seedsHere’s the agastache standing up with its clutch of seedheads, feeding birds but ignored by squirrels.  That’s a win.

b seedhead hydrangeasHere, the standing hollow stems of hydrangeas make cozy hibernation homes for solitary native bees. Don’t cut them down until the bees come out, which for me is when the daffodils bloom.

b foxglove

And here’s a surprise – it’s November 30th and one of my foxgloves, still green in 25 degree overnight temperatures, has put out a last, short stalk of flowers.

I’ll leave you with a poem.


b deerOn a November day, the garden store
stacks a display of mulch and birdseed
on its open porch.  Buyers come and go
for chrysanthemums, rakes and barrows,
autumn merchandise, and are surprized
to hear a congregation of sparrows
who’ve found a corner torn in a
bag of millet, and call their friends for more.
It seems when the universe is kind to birds
it is unkind to merchants, unless
they are prepared to take the song as reward.
The singer doesn’t know enough to be thankful.
Remember this when times are hard.