Monday, January 16, 2023

Mid-January: Quiet Grey Days

Blue skies have been rare this month. A promising sunrise has often faded into a sulk of dour grey clouds, bringing rain, sometimes in desultory dribbles, at other times in brief pounding deluges accompanied by the rattle of thunder. 
Morning temperatures have not been far above freezing. When I take out cat litter each morning the ground underfoot alternates between soggy and frost-crisped depending on what the previous night has brought.
Sunny afternoons have been welcomed in spite of chilly winds.

J. diverting water in the lane after a night of hard rain.

The hard freeze and snow during the last days of December left the east meadow looking sere and dun-colored, yet the verges of the lane and random patches of the lawn show a vivid green.
Much of the green is not due to the grass seed hastily strewn in the spring of 2019, but more about mat-forming weeds that are hardy through the winter.

Often a flush of color appears in the western sky after a sunless day.

Sunday, 15 January and a welcome day of sunshine!
A sharpish wind had stilled by noon and I went out, feeling liberated from the long slow days of gloomy greyness.
The spell of cold and snow has done my gardens no favors. I cut back the foxgloves after their modest fall flowering; the leaves remaining are now a sodden rotting weight on the crowns of the plants. Surely the next few weeks will bring an afternoon when I can pull away the spoiled leaves. There are small rosettes of new growth at the base of the plants. Centranthus ruber which spills over the wall [out of sight to the right] is a brown drooping curtain. It will be weeks before I can know whether the buddleias have survived. In two previous Kentucky gardens a brutal freeze has killed them. 

Behind the timber wall monarda is spreading in a mat of purple-tinged green. 

Thyme planted at the base of the clematis trellis is a tangle of wiry blighted stems, only a few sprigs of green showing life. I'm remembering that clematis begins its spring rejuvenation way too early having to be swaddled in old sheets and blankets on frosty April nights.

I slogged twice around the perimeter of our open acreage, my feet shuffling in  cut-off wellies. I took this photo while standing at the edge of the south ravine, looking toward the small storage building that now occupies the spot where our camper trailers stood during the winter of house building.  

Fuzzy seedheads in the tangle of brush that edges the ravine.

I noticed two dandelions--hardy survivors. 

Winter brings appreciation of the 'bones' of the landscape; trees twisted by weather and by decades of crowded unruly growth along the edges of the steep ravines.
Jim, with four years of mowing, bush-hogging, clipping and trimming has expanded the width of open ground along this north hillside.

If I had the agility of youth I might want to climb up and sit on this curving branch.

I spent some time standing underneath the hickory and oak trees that mark our eastern boundary, then walked along a short path that runs into the woods along the north ravine.
Nuthatches were busily scuttling up and down tree trunks as comfortable trundling downward as in working their way heads up.
It has been heartening to see more birds in the past two weeks: a large flock of robins bouncing about in the west meadow, titmice chattering on a branch above the compost dump, juncos, sparrows, a few cardinals. Starlings [sigh] and large red-tailed hawks that perch on the power lines ever on the alert for some unwary small creature.

The nests of squirrels are on view in the treetops, untidy hovels of leaves and twigs that were invisible during the summer. In one of those 'just at the right moments' I saw a squirrel pop into a small round hollow in a tree trunk, then quickly poke its head out again.

Hobbit houses in the edge of the woods.

January--the longest month of winter with often a sameness of grey inclement weather.
I read until my vision blurs; some evenings I go downstairs to finish another block of the current quilt in progress. I plonk away at the piano seeking out pieces that I can still manage more or less gracefully when it is my turn to 'play' for church. 
I make soup, bread, cookies.

On rare sunny afternoons I brew a mug of tea and sit for a few minutes in the new porch/sunroom. 
Howard installed curtain rods above the triple section window on the south wall and I clambered about to put up the ticking stripe valances modified from curtain panels I made for our Amish-built farmhouse.  This small embellishment has pleased me. 

It is too easy in a long spell of dreary weather to consider that I am merely marking time--waiting for another season, wishing for the return of abundant energy [not likely to happen to any degree at this age!]
Cousin Pat and I turn to the further unraveling of our shared French Canadian ancestry; my feeble high school grasp of French struggles with unfamiliar names recorded in faded cramped handwriting. We try to recreate the lives and the stories of these ancestors, journaliers who came from Quebec in the late 1800's with their large families, willing to work menial jobs in the hope of better education, better living conditions for their children and grandchildren.

Even the grey days, the seeming 'do nothing' days are precious. There are the small things to cherish--the two foxes seen strolling on the western end of the meadow, the deer foraging in the winter-chilled grass; the thoughts and ideas which spark research; words, fabrics, colors, patterns; seed-heads scattered on snow, pawprints and hoof prints in thawing ground. 
Worries and concerns intrude--so many situations beyond our small spheres of influence or ability; 

I am comforted on some abiding level that the seasons continue, the moon waxes and wanes, where one plant withers another springs up and blooms.
It has to be enough.



  1. What a great post! I love your last two paragraphs - beautifully written and perfect for quotes in my daily journal. Mornings Minion has been there before. I am now wondering if a single plant survived the Siberian Express that roared through here in December. Tell the foxes hello from an admirer. Hilltop Post

    1. Mary; 'Siberian Express' is a good description of the frigid weather that seems to hit us at least once in a winter. The charts showing 'hardiness' zones are unreliable at such times. We gardeners are a hopeful tribe, regretting the winter-kill or the onslaughts of bugs, starting over every springtime. Its been several seasons since the foxes have dropped in--we have missed them.

  2. January is a dour month and always seems SO long. I enjoyed wandering around your property with you and well done on the Dandelions - they're early.

    There are things I would like to be doing so as not to waste the month of being kept indoors but distractions over Keith's health and trying to get aids in place, phone calls, assessments have prevented the start of my Heirloom quilt or doing something with the copious written notes of family history.

    I hoe your Buddleias survive and the Clematis don't get growing too early this year. My yellow Buddleias that I was given twigs of to root, have grown good roots so had better go in pots soon.

    1. Keith's debilitating health issues have indeed changed life dramatically for you both. Are we ever prepared for that, at any age? The traditional winter pastimes call for a different kind of concentration than the bustle of summer, but they certainly aren't mindless projects.
      I have fussed over that rambunctious buddleia, surely mislabeled as 'dwarf'--and do hope it hasn't succumbed to the deep freeze.

  3. What a lovely essay Sharon wandering round your property and plants. We have almost the same weather here, seeming to rain every morning, the sun comes out by lunch time. But the first jar of daffodils have arrived in the house, no doubt grown in Cornwall, so early spring will motivate many to start sowing seeds. As I grow older I spend less time worrying about gathering age and just change my behaviour to welcome it.

    1. Thelma; I think I've rather resented the limitations of 'gathering age' and have used too much dwindling energy resources in trying to do what I can no longer do. Time to be more realistic!
      The first flowers of springtime are precious even if they must be imported or coddled in a sheltered corner of the garden. I am visualizing your bunch of daffodils, a burst of sunshine yellow.