It’s a Sunday afternoon in early November, and I am sitting at one of my favorite spots in all of Western Pennsylvania (my writing desk) looking out a large picture window into my back yard. The sky is blue and cloudless, and the trees to the north and west of the yard (red maples, crabapples, and black locusts) are bare branched and sharply silhouetted against the bright sky. They are the picture of the coming winter!
The trees on the east side of the yard (arbor vitae and hemlocks) are a deep (and very welcoming) green. In between these tree-lined edges are two tall, spreading blue spruces and four, spindly scarlet oaks that are still holding onto most of their orange-brown leaves. The ground is covered with shifting layers of red maple leaves. I plan to rake them into over-wintering piles one of these afternoons before they get too wet and heavy to move around.
Two juncos newly arrived from their northern summer forests are picking at seeds on the concrete surface of the old basketball court. One of this year’s fawns in her gray-brown, unspotted winter coat is curled up for an afternoon nap under the low branches of the blue spruce. Bright red cardinals flit in and out of the branches of the arbor vitae. Three gray squirrels plow through the leaves and chase each other up and down the tree trunks.
The western side of the yard was once a wall of about a dozen blue spruces. They had been planted (too close together!) when the house was built back in the late 1940’s and had grown into an interwoven mass of branches and trunks. In 2006 a violent thunderstorm knocked down eight of them and opened the way for the growth of the oaks that were lurking in the shade under the spruces.
Several of the oaks (scarlet, northern red, and white) are now over 25 feet tall. A few have even started to make acorns! They surround the remaining spruces and are growing taller each year. In a few years they will shade the spruces out, and I will have to call the tree guy again. He bought a new truck after my 2006 clean up, and he’s probably ready to trade it in for a newer model!
Winter feels far away, but it could arrive any day now. If some lake water-filled clouds get blown in by a strong cold front a snow storm could hit us almost without warning. A month ago Deborah and I were up in western New York for the weekend and had to drive home through an unexpected lake effect storm. The trees and weeds along the roadside were frosted with ice, and streamers of snow pelted our car and blew across the road. One morning we will wake up and snow will cover up all of the leaves in the yard. Part of me hopes that it happens soon (no raking!), while another part hopes that it holds off until after our final exams.
We have had three or four hard freezes, and Deborah’s tree-like zinnias after blooming for three months have finally succumbed to the season. She let the house finches and the goldfinches feed on their seed heads for a few days and then harvested a bowlful of her own for next year’s flower garden.
I have plugged in the heater unit in my birdbath so that everyone will have water even on the very cold mornings. The deer and the gray squirrels drink out of it, too, so I have had to weigh down its base so that it doesn’t get knocked over every night. Picking everything up once a week seems reasonable but having to do it every morning gets tedious. I have taken in the garden hose and so have to carry a gallon water jug out each morning to fill the baths when I load up the feeders. The crows and the blue jays are always waiting for me. They usually swoop in for the peanuts I throw under the sunflower feeders even before I get back onto the front porch. One blue jay (I am sure that it’s the same one each morning) “pings” at me in his peanut excitement the whole time I am out filling the feeders. It’s nice to be appreciated!
I have moved my bicycle from its summer spot next to the car and put it much further back into the garage. I put my snow blower out into the bike’s place and should check its oil and fuel levels one of these days. I have also put the snow shovel and what was left of last year’s rock salt up onto the porch. I should get some more rock salt before everyone starts trying to buy some.
At one end of my garden the chestnuts from the cold stratified seeds that overwintered in the vegetable bin of my refrigerator have grown into more-than-a-foot tall seedlings with fine sets of full sized, tooth-edged leaves that are for the most part still green. I am sure that the deer will notice them one of these evenings and gobble them down stems and all, so I have put a wire fence around them. Next spring I will find a more permanent place to plant each of them. It will be nice to have a few more chestnut trees around the yard.
Some nights there is a cold, wet smell of winter in the air. Maybe I should get new tires for my car? Winter is coming!
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!