Tuesday, October 31, 2023

First Frost

Several days of drizzling rain, light winds, leaves drifting down.
Strangely, a spell of rainy weather seems to last longer than the documented actuality. Looking over the notes I scribble in each day's calendar space, I note that we've had a mix of October weather; quite a few days have featured a sequence of sun and clouds.

The black walnut trees at the bend in the lane are among the first to lose their leaves. 

The ground along the south ravine is a collage of colors and shapes.
I noted yesterday that the earliest fallen leaves have softened into a rain-slicked mat their colors somber and blackened.

Wearing boots and a thick hoodie I worked in the gloom of Monday afternoon, hauling potted nasturtiums into the greenhouse, geraniums into the sun room. The nasturtiums will not long survive in the unheated greenhouse, but the pots can be shoved under the benches in the hope of seedlings emerging in spring from the seeds I've left to ripen and drop into the soil. 
[Note to Willis-the Cat who considers the greenhouse his winter quarters: pots filled with soil are not intended as cat latrines!]

I tell myself each autumn that I must be sensible about what plants are brought in to over-winter. I have several summer's worth of straggling geraniums, shabby begonias, rosemarys started from cuttings. The table in the sunroom is crowded, smaller plants are ranged under the light strip in the middle ground floor room, yet I am reluctant to cull. Surely anything which has survived the frost has a right to continued living quarters?

There are still the four largest potted rosemarys lined against the screened porch wall.
The heavy pot containing my 5 year old lemon verbena has been dragged from the back porch to the downstairs living area. As soon as the leaves begin to drop I will prune back the branches. 

A last photo of the gallant yellow 'mini-zinni' growing in the gravel near the porch steps. 
As morning sun warmed the area the petals withered to a frosted brown.

The nursery bought 'Profusion' zinnias had one last blooming after surrounding companions had given up. They too are now bleached and limp.

The hibiscus in the south-facing raised bed built against the greenhouse wall has also succumbed to frost.

Double Knock-out roses gathered just before dark.

Samaritan Jo in a beautiful second blooming. Hours after taking this photo the blossoms were ravaged by the largest slug I've ever encountered. 

Willis trudges behind me on my meandering tasks about the dooryard. 
His many mis-adventures over the years have left him with an arthritic gait, but he takes his job as yard foreman seriously still.

The light frost has cleared the skies. A few golden leaves cling to the very tops of maples and tulip poplars. The purple leaves of the ash trees are gone. Hickories hold their glow of bronze and russet, oaks are still towers of green.

Pegging sheets on the back porch lines mid-morning I noticed how the nearly leafless trees to the south allow the sun in its flattening arc to spill onto the porch and through the south windows of the house. Walking up the lane to the mailbox I wished I had put a down vest over my hoodie. The frost, light though it was, has changed the quality of the air, heightened the scent of chilled grass and decaying leaves. Woodsmoke, the quintessential breath of autumn, hangs in the clear sharp air. 

At lunchtime a bluebird blundered through the gap in the porch screen where through the summer the hummingbird feeders dangled. The bluebird perched on the back of a porch rocker for a moment as though considering his dilemma, then whisked through the slit screen and was on his way.
The bluebirds have been absent since their maddening and messy antics of early summer.

It has been several days since I've seen the procession of 10 wild turkeys who have been regular visitors. 
Devin viewing the turkeys several weeks ago with his hunting binoculars, noted that the hen turkey has the look of an older bird and that 4 of the 9 offspring are identifiable as young toms.
Jim, looking out the window as he dressed this morning, noted several deer browsing at the lower end of the west meadow.
Herman, the feral cat, arrives before dark to snatch his share of kibble. 
We've not seen a raccoon in weeks but the unwelcome possums continue to rootle in the cat's dish for any tidbits. 

Now at nearly dusk I can swivel in my desk chair to glance out windows to south, north or west. Standing for a moment at my west bedroom window I take note of the rusty orange smudge left by the setting sun, the etching of nearly bare branches against the softening hues of dusky blue and grey. The clouds of peach and lavender which pillowed the eastern sky only a few minutes ago are fading. The wind is rising and more leaves slip loose from their moorings to ride the downdraft. Above the neighbor's field a hawk-- or maybe a lone turkey vulture-- circles beneath the shifting layers of grey, finally disappearing, taking his reconnaissance to another quarter of the pasture.

So much misery, so much suffering and loss in the world, so much uncertainty.
Still tomorrow we turn a calendar page and the season moves on as inexorably as it has always done.


Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Bright Blue Weather

Heading home from the mailbox at the top of the lane.
This shapely tree is appealing in any season. My best guess of its identity is 'hackberry.'

October has not featured endless blue skies; there have been sunless days of intermittent showers, brisk whirling winds that have sent leaves spinning from the trees that border the ravines. 
I've been lured out whenever the sun is shining to potter about pruning perennials that are busily going to seed in my rough garden strips. In other years I've left standing through the winter such plants as I've thought might provide winter seeds for birds. I'm not sure if birds even fancy the bristling heads of coneflowers or the fluff of the Michaelmas daisies.  I do know that left to themselves these plants have colonized in rampaging groups that threaten to dominate the scene, so--off with their heads. 

The dreaded Asian beetles arrived in the thousands earlier in the week [or have they been here since last winter waiting to hatch out and invade?]
Working in the  overgrown west garden on this hot [80 F.] afternoon wasn't a good plan.
The beetles pinged against my clothing, blundered behind my glasses, landed in my hair. The slightest contact with one while attempting to brush them away leaves an acrid odor on the skin. They can also manage to bite/sting. I made a concession to the heat in taking off my outer shirt to continue working in a short-sleeved T. Mistake number two! I was quickly plastered with tiny seeds which clung to my warm skin, sifted down the neck of my T-shirt. 
I made myself continue working for an hour, swatting away beetles and shaking off seed fuzz. 
My vision for several 'wild' gardens has not gone quite to plan. The plants are there, mostly raised from seed: foxgloves, Michaelmas daisies in several colors, blue prairie flax, coneflowers, blackberry lilies, monarda, an edging of low growing pinks. Rampaging through it all are weeds--invasive polygonum, tough-stemmed grasses, dandelions, dock--spreading mats of something which stays evergreen and whose proper name I've forgotten. 

I haven't a hope of controlling the whole untidy plot. I can fuss a bit over the roses which have survived a bad influx of Japanese beetles and sawflies. I can enjoy the clematis that clamber up the sturdy trellis. I can hope that the white-flowered butterfly bush makes it through a second winter.
I can poke about as I find the energy, cut my losses, admire what survives.

 Our neighbor claims the narrow strip of land that runs along the lane; our big meadow lies beyond to the right, sloping down toward our house and barn.

Blue skies have been patterned with sprawling contrails and feathery cirrus clouds that shift and reform.

A closeup of one of the hackberry trees. There are several along the east boundary fence.

Sumac growing in the tangle of under-story trees at the western edge of the property. 
Rhus glabra--smooth sumac. In my native New England staghorn sumac is more common, having branches covered in a furry 'velvet' not unlike that on the emerging antlers of a buck deer.

The very prickly landscape rose that threatens to take over a corner of the front wall garden. No matter how drastically I prune, it quickly thrusts out another tangle of thorny trailing branches.

Nigella endlessly repopulates in a corner of the raised bed near the front steps. Seedlings pop up by the hundreds, some appearing in the grass beyond the bed. Blue isn't one of 'my' colors in clothing or home furnishings, yet blue flowers are special whether cultivated or wildlings.

Aster, 'Raydon's Favorite' a late bloomer.

The pond near the head of the lane, made murky by the neighbor's cattle.

I think  the poem below was a favorite of my mother, perhaps included in the orange-bound anthology of poetry and prose which was likely one of her high school text books. 
She may have quoted bits of the poem, but the only phrase to stay with me through the years is 'October's bright blue weather.'

  Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885)
      October's Bright Blue Weather

    O suns and skies and clouds of June,
        And flowers of June together,
    Ye cannot rival for one hour
        October's bright blue weather;

    When loud the bumble-bee makes haste,
        Belated, thriftless vagrant,
    And Golden-Rod is dying fast,
        And lanes with grapes are fragrant;

    When Gentians roll their fringes tight
        To save them for the morning,
    And chestnuts fall from satin burrs
        Without a sound of warning;

    When on the ground red apples lie
        In piles like jewels shining,
    And redder still on old stone walls
        Are leaves of woodbine twining;

    When all the lovely wayside things
        Their white-winged seeds are sowing,
    And in the fields, still green and fair,
        Late aftermaths are growing;

    When springs run low, and on the brooks,
        In idle golden freighting,
    Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush
        Of woods, for winter waiting;

    When comrades seek sweet country haunts,
        By twos and twos together,
    And count like misers, hour by hour,
        October's bright blue weather.

    O suns and skies and flowers of June,
        Count all your boasts together,
    Love loveth best of all the year
        October's bright blue weather.


Sunday, October 15, 2023

The Tattered Edges of Autumn

I didn't intend to work outside this morning.  Recent dawns have been quiet, damp with remnants of early rain, any hint of sun quickly shuttered by low-hovering steely clouds.

I pulled on my cut-off wellies to go out with cat litter and scraps for the kitchen waste heap. 
The possibility of finding a rosebud or two lured me out again, scissors in hand. 
Clambering about in the straggle of thorny branches I found a small clutch of roses--petals cold, slightly damaged, but worthy to be brought inside and tucked into a tiny jug.

October always finds me reluctant to begin tidying away the remains of summer's gardens.
As long as the battered zinnias open another colorful blossom, while a few shaggy petals still glow on the leaning clumps of Michaelmas daisies, I tell myself that a stray butterfly, a late hummingbird may be drawn in.

I noted the last hummer, likely a transient, during the morning of October 6. Several days of intermittent showers have discouraged the diminishing ranks of monarchs and fritillaries. 
It was the work of an hour and a half to cut down the splayed stalks of coneflowers, gone-to-seed asters, the bare twiggy stems of blue prairie flax. 
Puffs of seed caught in my hair, clung to my old jacket. 
I carried armloads of stems to toss alongside the small barn, dumped still more at the edge of the south ravine. It would be nice if some of the seeds would settle amongst the leaf mold and coarse grass to send up new clumps of bloom.

Pots of spent zinnias have been carried into the greenhouse where perhaps I can collect some seeds. I discovered a zinnia seedling growing in the gravel near one of the pots, a tightly folded bud at its tip--likely too late to mature and blossom before frost.

Each time I've passed the front windows today or stepped onto the front porch I've noted the changes created by my simple pruning. We become so accustomed to our surroundings--to the height of a row of sunflowers, to the spill of the Michaelmas daisies in their shades of dusky purple, mauve pink, deep lavender. 
Remaining still in my doorstep landscape are the tubs of pentas, the tangles of nasturtiums that will succumb to the first frost.
Two little pots of heather have revived with cooler weather; pansies are flourishing. 

Leaves are thinning on the black walnut trees that line the curve of the lane; walking there one hears the muffled 'thunk' of walnuts hitting the ground.
The soft gold of tulip poplar leaves glows against the russet and bronze of hedgerow trees.
Here and there a blaze of scarlet sumac stands out along the edge of the north ravine.

Wild turkeys, ten of them, process beneath the hickories, bend to forage beneath the oaks. 
Evenings draw in, mornings are misty dark. 
These times of transition arrive on schedule, not unexpected, yet each season catching at me with a sense of wonder.

Nasturtiums were slow to flourish from spring plantings.

This one growing in the big pot at the corner of the greenhouse is unique. I'm hoping it has dropped seeds for another summer.

Two years ago gold nasturtiums rampaged up the greenhouse wall. 

Ragged zinnias, that appeared among pepper plants in the veg garden.

Clematis Samaritan Jo died back to the ground after early summer flowering, then suddenly clambered to the top of the trellis with fresh growth.

The fall blossoms are slightly paler in color than in the spring.

A bumble bee cold and still on a velvety spray of celosia. 

The golden nasturtium got in the line-up twice. 

Violas tweaked out of the pots side-lined after spring bloom and grown to blossoming size.

Lavender and thyme sown in the spring but didn't flourish until later.