Wednesday, October 26, 2022

A Change of Weather: Journal

Tuesday morning's sunrise, fiery molten streaks against a boiling background of lavender-tinged grey.
The sun came out in a half-hearted manner, playing behind clouds all day.
A light but persistent wind tugged more leaves loose from the trees.
There was a restless feel to the day: a weather breeder. 

J. had an errand in town after a buyer arrived to collect a tractor purchase; since I wasn't settling to anything in particular I opted to ride along with the notion of delivering a box of antique dishes to Gina who is happily arranging items in a large glass-doored hutch recently acquired.
Predictably, J. decided we would eat in town. Although I wasn't enthused, the meal was better than I expected.
Back home the evening drew in quickly with rain beginning at 7 p.m.
It was a gentle rain, but fairly steady through the night.
In attempts to foil the entrance of more Asian lady beetles, I've been opening the north window near the head of my bed, rather than the usual west window.
I woke at 5 with a damp chill wind surging in.
I was well insulated by adoring felines, so didn't go round the bed to pull down the window.

The sun has been invisible today.
The black walnut trees at the bend of the lane are nearly leafless and the verge which runs the length of the grass-grown drive is thick with leaves--tulip poplar, sycamore, ash, maple, others whose identity eludes me. 

The grass of dooryard and meadow usually needs mowing well into November. This autumn's prolonged drought has left us with an expanse of ground that is dull and browned beneath the leaf cover.

Tending the every morning chore of cleaning litter boxes I noted that the carpet of leaves was much deeper today than the day before.

On Monday afternoon I began moving bedraggled planters to winter quarters.
The mums and daisies, a bright front door welcome for several weeks were sheared back, removed from their nursery pots and tucked into one of the big planting bins that parallel the greenhouse. Foxglove, hyssop, and a few other oddments intended for the back garden were settled in around them.
The two remaining pots of signet marigolds are shabby but still a spot of sunny color.
The pumpkin was donated last week by son-in-law M. one of many he acquired at the local produce auction.

As part of the front door clean-up, I cut back all the Michaelmas daisies, blue prairie flax, and achillea which spilled out of this bed, leaving only the blackberry lily stalks in place.
Seed-raised plants took hold in this raised bed with a vengeance, leaning out, smothering several thyme plants that I set in for edging.
The asters are exuberant late summer color, but it wasn't my intention that they take over the spot.
Renovation will be needed in spring.

'Burning Bush'/Euonymus grows wild here on the edges of the south ravine. If [very big "if"] I can do as I planned in the back garden I'd like to transplant some there. Without judicious pruning it can become untidy, but the late fall color is welcome.

Fallen leaves will lose color and distinction quickly as cold weather arrives, becoming a subdued layer of brown.

This is the second late bloom of clematis 'Samaritan Jo'.
Note the slender bud. If frost holds off it may have a chance.

J. started the wood fire this morning to chase away the gloom; today's high temp outside was 50 F, but it quickly became uncomfortably warm indoors. I had the oven on to bake 4 loaves of bread and 3 trays of chocolate chip cookies, while a big pot of applesauce simmered. 
40 F. outdoors now at 9:15 p.m. and an unnecessary 80 F. inside with the fire ebbed out, door into the sunroom open and several windows raised.
Changes come quickly as we move toward November


Sunday, October 23, 2022

Late October; Journal

A month thus far of mostly beautiful weather--we have paid for clear blue skies and sunny days with drought conditions.
Looking at the notes jotted on my September calendar and into this last full week of October I can verify that rainfall has been limited to evening showers on the 12th and the 16th. This continues the pattern established in September. Friends who have been lifetime residents of the area declare they don't recall an autumn as dry.

On Sunday, 16th October, skies were overcast and leaves blew down in swirls.
I stood outside in the wind, hearing the faint rustle as leaves skittered across the ground, transfixed as I followed the descending spiral of individual leaves, gently brushing away those that caught on my shirt or in my hair. 
There was a sighing restlessness in the air, a cold tang in the wind.
We hoped for drenching rain, but the early evening showers were brief and gentle. 
Jim started a woodfire to dispel the darkness and the hint of chill that had seeped into the house.

A month or more ago I gave a rough pruning to the red valerian that spills over the west garden wall. 
These blooms are my reward for that minimal attention.

Only a few stems of foxglove have rebloomed, but I can see where many tiny seedlings have popped through the mulch from the spring blossoming that was allowed to set seed.
In late winter I will pot up the sturdiest of the new plants.

I settled to sewing downstairs on that cloudy Sunday afternoon. I have two machines set up and was seated at the one placed between the two south-facing windows. I glanced up as a scuffle of leaves blew past the window and noticed that clematis Samaritan Jo had produced a blossom.

Trudging out into the dusky evening I discovered a slightly distorted flower on Duchess of Edinburgh.
The lack of moisture during the past eight weeks has deprived us of the usual autumn blooms.

In the vegetable garden cabbage has slowly formed heads and the broccoli is behind schedule.
J. has begun watering in hopes of encouraging this last harvest.

Light frost nipped the last of the zinnias and bleached the leaves on potted nasturtiums. 
Rosemarys that summered on the screened porch have been trimmed and brought inside, some lodged on the long table in the sunroom, others put on the downstairs shelf under a grow light. 

Amaryllis bulbs plonked together in a large shallow pot spent the summer beneath one of the benches in the greenhouse.  They have been separated, roots and foliage trimmed, and laid on a tray in the laundry room. I've not been successful in coaxing them to rebloom in midwinter--but I persist in trying.

This may have been the last gathering of David Austin roses; a clutch from the sprawling Roald Dahl and a lone bud of The Poet's Wife. 
I'm still hoping for enough moisture to work in the back garden before heavy frost, but time is ebbing away.

Nigella springs up sturdily, many generations since the first seed-grown plants.

Sunrise on this Sunday morning, 23 October; a warm dry day and 79 F at suppertime.
Predictably the Asian invasion--of beetles--is in exasperating full swing. The nasty things throng around windows and doors, can squeeze through the tiniest cracks to gather in clumps in the ceiling corners, to march up and down window panes. The vacuum cleaner has resided under the west window in my bedroom for the past 24 hours; each time I go in I turn it on to hoover up the latest invaders. 

Unpegging laundry from the back porch lines I was pummeled with beetles. They pinged against my face, dove into the collar of my shirt, caught in my long hair. At the slightest touch they exude a lingering acrid odor.
They will diminish as colder weather comes, but are rejuvenated by a sunny day when they will again swarm against windowpanes. 
J. attempts to deter them by spraying various concoctions on the window screens; this mostly doesn't discourage the beetles more than momentarily and leaves sticky streaks on the glass panes.
I fear they must be endured.

Last blooms of the season.
Raydon's Purple--a late-blooming Michaelmas daisy--now fading into a dusty purple sprawl.


Friday, October 14, 2022

Out of Steam!

To use the local vernacular, 'I done run out of steam!'

A church dinner scheduled for tomorrow, so I pondered this morning while still in bed [surrounded by cats] what I would prepare.
We don't always attend these affairs but I was in the mood for a session of baking.

Three apple pies made with the Honey Crisp apples J. purchased at the Beachy's produce market.
I have learned that if I want intact pies for a family gathering or to 'carry' to an event, it is necessary to supply J. with a pie of his own which he can carve into while it is hot from the oven.

The warm apple pie is a hit for morning break.

I had set bread dough to rise and the oven was still on from baking pies, when I had a yearning for Lemon Bars. They have a shortbread crust and a lemony custard top layer.

The two large loaves will go to the church dinner, the two split loaves stay home.
I considered a sweet potato casserole and cole slaw or maybe roast veg with sweet potatoes, butternut squash, onion and russet potatoes, the whole drizzled with olive oil.
It seemed like more than I wanted to tackle.
I enjoy creating soup and the weather is just cool enough for that to be a hit.

Onion and celery diced and set to saute gently while I peeled and chopped two large carrots. A pkg of green garden beans from the freezer, a cupful of barley, canned tomatoes, a can of corn. Seasoned with sea salt, white pepper, garlic, 2 bay leaves, dried thyme, and fresh basil and parsley that survived the first light frost last weekend. 
The house has smelled delightful.

This used to be a rather ordinary day's work along with the little cleaning tasks that need doing each morning. 
When I'm cooking/baking I wash up as I go so no daunting stack of dishes at the end.
I took a break at about 2 p.m.--sitting in my porch rocker with a mug of tea and a generous slab of lemon bar.
It was a bit of an effort to get myself back in motion. I would rather have sat watching leaves drift down, but there was laundry to bring upstairs and fold away.

I've never been blessed with huge reserves of stamina, instead getting through my tasks with determination and perseverance. 
For decades I could encourage myself : 'Only a bushel of tomatoes left to can tonight, get at it!' Or, 'Another hour of sewing will finish that shirt.'

Most often now when I see more tasks that 'want done' I can resort to the old prod of 'Keep at it, get it done!'
Thus says my mind. Body says, 'No way! I'm done!'

I fortified myself with a mug of the soup and two slices of fresh bread thickly buttered.
A walk around the meadow [tracking a recalcitrant cat] and I've revived enough to potter about until at least 10 P.M.


Monday, October 10, 2022


Calendar notes for 5 October, 2022

 Daylight mellowing toward dusk on the east side of the house, shadows of evening overlaid on the dry soil of the spent garden plot.

The waxing gibbous moon has already climbed through the branches of the black walnut trees at the edge of the lane.

The lone female hummingbird, absent through the sunny afternoon hours, has returned to cling to the feeder that dangles from the roof overhang of the screened porch. 

Two pairs of hummingbirds arrived in April, the males drifting in separately a week before the females.

Six young ones were fledged and joined the group swooping and zooming about the feeders. During the last week of August and the first week of September the birds' consumption of sugar syrup nearly doubled.

The departure of six hummers on 11 September left two females in residence. Watching them we thought sometimes that they had been joined by a third female, a transient stopping for refreshment. 

28 September and still two hummingbirds diving about the feeder; next day only one and by the end of day on the 30th I had to concede that the last bird had departed.

There is often a straggler or two needing sustenance, so the feeders remain out with a last offering of syrup.

It was 43 F. at 7:30 on Tuesday morning [ October 4th]  the sun creeping slowly around the edge of the barn. Crossing the room, mug of coffee in hand, Jim paused to glance out the south windows.

'There's a hummingbird perched on the feeder; come look!'

The bird, a female, was hunched into her fluffed up feathers looking bedraggled and chilled. As we watched she took a few sips of syrup but seemed disinclined to drink deeply or to fly.

From Tuesday through Saturday we observed a pattern of behavior. The hummer appeared on the rim of the feeder about the time the sun warmed the porch which has a south/east orientation.

She sipped at the nectar only sporadically, seemingly content to cling to the feeder, head tipped back, resting. When she eventually flew to perch in a tree across the lane her flight was slower, less direct than the birds who spent the summer months here.

We noted that the bird's left wing drooped; perching, her wing didn't fold tidily over the tail feathers, instead dangled a bit askew.

In past seasons during fall migration a transient may be with us for 24-48 hours, refueling at the feeder before continuing on its way. Never has one recognizable bird stayed longer.

As the lone female stayed through 6 days we suspected this was becoming her final stop. It is too easy, always, to anthropomorphize, to attribute human reasoning to an animal or bird. Still, it seemed that the hummingbird was aware of her lack of stamina to continue the annual flight to a warmer winter land.

Each evening found her clinging to the syrup feeder, nearly motionless, left wing drooping.

On Saturday evening I was outside prowling about the dooryard, walking the edges of the mostly gone-by garden, culling a few late green tomatoes, cold, round globes that may never fully ripen.  

In the west the last colors of sunset had faded to streaks of dull ocher. Willis-the-cat- trundled behind me as I snipped satin-cool blooms of Roald Dahl roses. From a distant ridge the bark of a hound welcomed the rising moon. 

The hummingbird still huddled on the rim of the feeder when with chilled hands and ears, I went indoors for the night.

We didn't really expect 'our' hummingbird to appear on Sunday. Still, throughout the day whenever I passed the windows that look onto the screened porch, my eyes were drawn to the nectar feeder.

I can never know, but I suspect that as the first frost of the season silvered the meadow and the full moon traversed the sky, the hummingbird, chilled and weary, lost her hold on life.

Sunday morning frost.

The notes I've kept for several years don't indicate the presence of transient hummers beyond October 10th, but the feeder will remain in place for a few more days. 

Throughout the summer we enjoy the presence of these tiny, busy sojourners. It becomes automatic to glance at the feeders as we pass the windows or to 'take a break' in the porch rockers where we can watch the frenetic activity of the resident hummers. The reflection of their wings is patterned on the window panes, flashes across the ceiling. 

Early in April the nectar feeders will again be hung from the porch eaves and we will eagerly watch for the first hummingbird arrivals. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Early October

Ragged zinnias and a single clump of white cosmos going to seed.

A variety of plants that summered in the raised bins. I'm still hoping that weather [and my back] will allow me to tuck them into the back wildflower strips before winter.

The buddleia is still attracting a few swallowtail butterflies and hummingbird moths.
This 'butterfly bush' is determined to grow out of bounds every summer.  I gave it a drastic pruning on May 4th which seemed only to encourage its exuberance. 

The west wall garden has become a jungle. A Mexican sunflower [after taking a year off] sprawled in front of the buddleia, blackberry lilies raised from seed two years ago have dropped their glistening seeds to produce copious new plants; lemon balm and catnip have rampaged. 
Sadly, lavender and thyme set out along the edges of the raised bed have languished and disappeared one by one.

Coneflowers have a few ragged blooms surrounded by bristling seed heads. 

Nellie-Cat patrolled the row of sweet potato plants in the days before J. had time to dig them. 
Sure enough, mice were tunneling into the soil and starting to nibble the sweet potatoes. 
With the potatoes rinsed and stored inside, damaged ones trimmed and cooked, Nellie continues to hunt along the edge of the garden.

Daily the leaves at the edge of meadow change subtly in color and more drift onto the ground.

The weather is dry with cool nearly dewless mornings and evenings that surprise us with ever earlier sunsets.
I want to be outdoors, to be idle under the blue skies, soaking the noonday sun into my bones.
I want to store up autumn, fortifying myself for winter.


Thank You

It has been a week and a day since the passing of Edward the Cat.
I still need to remind myself to set out one less dish at 'teatime' when the resident felines are served their bit of canned food.
Water bowls haven't been sloshed or spilled during this week; annoying as it was to sop up spilled water it was a small price to pay for Edward's companionship.
It will be awhile yet before I am beyond expecting him to be curled on the rug at the foot of my bed or stretched in a pool of sunlight.

We who love animals and cherish their place in our lives understand the sadness that comes with the end of a pet's life.
Reading a book or watching a film wherein the cat--or dog--or horse dies at the end of the story is sure to bring a lump in the throat and a stinging of tears.
It is so when we learn that a friend's pet has left them--whether or not we know that friend or that pet in person.
I have appreciated your kind words and expressions of condolence--and I thank you.