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Cozy

Now the snow is like white cement. You step in it and it crumbles underfoot, leaving a round shoeprint.

Winter arrived in a pelting of snow that gave our corner of the metro a good beating: 12″ by some measurements. I had to go out and free the lilac branches, or they would have been frozen to the lawn all winter. In Massachusetts, we had a birch tree that this happened to: it was across from a marshy area of the property, so we could not reach it. Ice and snow caused it to bow so much that when it turned to snow again, it buried the branches and then stayed that way until spring. When the snow finally melted, the tree freed itself but it remained bowed, sticking out from the woods like a white finger. It was never straight again. I have wondered from time to time if it eventually did straighten.

Then again, birch trees are loaded with water. I had to cut a few branches off one to open up the sky so a new garden would get sunshine, at the big house we had in the Worcester hills. The saw I used became soaking wet from the birch juice, and the tree began running watery sap from the areas I’d just cut. I’ve since learned that pruning during the spring, when the tree is overloaded with fluid, will give you this result.

I have yet to clean up the garden. Tomorrow they predict it will get to about 40 degrees. Then the week gets colder. So this will be the best day to do it.

We had the lower level windows replaced and what a difference in how much warmer it is now. We’ll light a fire later and it will be cozy.

Arcs

So the leaves are all down except for some stubborn oaks that line the playfields behind the houses across the street. And some bushes that line the yard, like the lilacs and the buckthorn. The big winds we had did nothing to the leaves on the deck, so The Man of the House went around with the awful-sounding blower and took care of them in minutes. Machines can be useful.

You can see through the woods now. The leaves on the underbrush will thin enough so the dogs two houses away will be able to see me walking the old dog out our back door and will yip and yap the whole time. The cycle will repeat, and in April, the underbrush will begin to green up just enough to block the view, and we’ll have silence from the dogs, ahhhh.

Today I will clean out the rail boxes on the deck of their limp plants, and will put the deck umbrellas in the garage. I’ve put the four big pots of blooming impatiens back outside; it got down to 35 last night but did not kill them, and it promises to be in the 60s this week, so they may have another week of life. Amazing.

An amazing year: first, an early spring. Snow gone by March, ground solid enough to work on, and I expanded the perennial garden. And then a frost 3-4 weeks later than usual. We had a growing season at least 6 weeks longer this year. “Somethin’s happenin’ here…”

The tomatoes are ripening faster than we can eat them, so the red ones are in the refrigerator. I really do think we’ll still have some to eat at Thanksgiving!

Had lunch on Friday with a friend from high school who I hadn’t really talked with since before graduation, many years ago now. We talked briefly at one reunion, but I did not remember that. He was a future doctor in high school, at least in my mind. Very bright, always preoccupied, and always kind. I was a very unconfident girl who admired him from afar (and wondered what he kissed like, but I digress…).  Today  he’s a company president who proudly gave me a tour of his company, not his own but one he’s been with for a long time. You could see the admiration in the eyes of all we stopped and chatted with. And his respect for them. I am very happy for him.

We found much common ground in politics (fellow liberal), religion (nothing established, thank you), and in a certain quality of life (friends and family who think). Amazing, given how many years it had been, and in high school, at least then, who talked about such things? He said he enjoys seeing people from back then because he’s curious about what they’ve done with their lives, and how they feel about it now that we’re, ahem, older. To so easily talk about life and its arcs and paths, was a delight, was a peace.

I was much more interested in who he is today and was trusting that he was of the same mind, so I did not let my, well, different appearance compared to what I looked like in high school — I mean, I was a girl then! — stop me from seeing him. During our lunch, I mentioned how I almost began looking for the old yearbook but had stopped myself, saying I was more interested in his life and who he is now, and he agreed. We did talk about the people no longer on this earth, but also the quiet boy Mike who became a pilot and has had a life of being a man of the world, and so on. Every life has its story.

Also this week were the elections, and it’s taken me a few days to be able to put my reaction into words without expressing my disappointment in so many people, most especially gullible Americans in general. A dear friend in Boston emailed me, commanding me to “Move back! We voted all-Democratic again!” (giving lie to the myth of the “Scott Brown effect”, but I digress…). I smiled when I read her mail and felt the pain of being lonely here when it comes to being able to talk about these things with the assumption that so many around you think like you do. So let’s leave it at this: there are cycles — yes, arcs — to everything, even in politics. There are new ones right now, but a lie cannot live forever (MLK, Jr.) so the good arcs will be back. We have to look ahead, maybe way ahead, or we are doomed to be held down by the boots of small, mean, selfish people, which sadly seems to be a worldwide trend. Everything is temporary.

Now for my walk. I will bring my phone so I can take pictures of the cattails, now crumpling into the water. In the spring, they will shoot straight and tall and green again.

Ice on glass

You could scratch your name in ice out on the glass table on my deck this morning. Finally, winter descends upon us. Everything on the ground looks like it was sprinkled ever so lightly with sugar powder. When I took the old dog out, and down the steps, it was still dark. The deck lights made it so you could see the ice crystals in and on the wood like so many stars. He did OK with the steps —  his claws help — and I tread carefully. Just a little ice can be as slippery as a lot.

I picked all the flowers yesterday. The cosmos were tall and leggy, so I cut off all the flowers and buds until I had an armful of them, and put them in a great vase inside. That will stretch the summer a few more days. I then cut down the plants and took the load of lacy stems into the woods for composting. The circle of life.

The nasturtium in the deck boxes this time of year have very short stems but I picked those yesterday as well, most all of them school-bus-yellow or paprika red/orange. This morning, all the petunias and the sweet potato vine are limp and covered in crystals.

And I made one more pass at the tomatoes, valiantly still putting out flowers as of yesterday. To my delight, I found one tomato, good-sized, too, that was almost red! And another about the same size, still green, but I was surprised that they were that big. And a handful of smaller ones. There are now about 30 of them on the tray by the glass doors, and in the kitchen window, ripening. The north window seems the best I’ve ever had in terms of window ripening. That is good.

Now that it’s light, I’ll go out and check on the tomato plants. My guess is they are now limp as well. I mean, how long can a tomato plant, or bean plant, last if they don’t get killed by the cold — years? How long can it put out fruit?

Scientists and people who work in greenhouses know the answers to these questions. My friend of years ago who became a Scientologist told me then that L. Ron Hubbard taught that plants feel pain. That if you cut a branch off a plant, the rest of the plant reacts electrically. Well. If that’s the case, there were many death groans this morning in my garden. Perhaps they are grateful that they are done. And that it’s over.

Star-Tribune site says:

Tree-toppling, window-rattling, stoplight-rocking winds are expected to tear across Minnesota on Tuesday and Wednesday, sucked into the region by a storm system that could bring the lowest air pressure ever recorded in the state.

My bolding, not theirs. But pretty remarkable. Maybe it will blow the leaves off the deck and I won’t have to sweep them off. Then again, there’s my neighbor’s dead oak, about 50 ft tall…here’s hoping if that goes, it doesn’t hit anyone or any homes. It’s pretty big.

Stay tuned.

Quiet morning

Finally, rain. No rain all month here in the northwest ‘burbs. A thunderstorm last night, even. And a chilly, damp day today. Misting out there earlier when I took the compost out to the compost pile — and at the same time spooking two does who we’d seen earlier. They’d come out of the woods behind our house to the area behind the garden, feeling safe enough to do so because no one was out and about. We watched them for several minutes out the back window, obscured by the blinds. They were moseying around, noses to the ground and munching, tails twitching every now and then.

I thought they’d moved on. So I was as surprised as they were when I tossed the compost onto the pile, turned, and saw them just as they saw me! They must have seen me or heard me before I saw them, and perhaps they were thinking, “If she doesn’t see us, we won’t have to move.” Except I did see them, and gasped. We were about 25 feet apart. There was a beat when we just looked at one another. I always forget how long their ears are. Then, tails raised, they pivoted and leapt and disappeared into the brush, all almost silently. I now know what “hightailing it outta here” means. I was left there with my mouth an “o” in surprise, wondering if I’d really seen them. They were beautiful.

Beautiful despite the fact they ate my turtlehead plants over the last week or so! And one morning this past week, the birdbath on the upper deck — reachable from the lower deck if you crane your long deer’s neck through the rails — was totally empty. Since it’s been dry, their venturing that close would not surprise me.

I bought those turtlehead plants, so named because the flowers really do look like turtles’ heads, from a neighbor. They were still blooming as of last week, until I wondered where they went: now they are two stubs. So if they do not come back in the spring, I’ll look for her sale again and hope she’s got more.

They’re promising today will be cloudy and dreary but so far, it’s a lovely, crisp morning with no clouds. Very sunny, 45 degrees. Which is about as cold as it got here in the northwest ‘burbs, after forecasts of “patchy frost” and “probability of frost”.

Yesterday I was looking at the ripening tomatoes in this large tray we have. I put the tomatoes I picked a couple of weeks ago before the first frost warning, hard and green then, onto a tray that I put in a sunny window. Now I’ve heard all kinds of things about how to ripen green tomatoes, and I’ve done them all:  take off the stem, don’t take off the stem, wrap them in newspaper, put them in the dark, whatever. The results have always been mixed. This time, I’m keeping it simple: just put them in a sunny window (or by the slider door, as we have), as close as they can get to still being on the vine.

And they are ripening fast, too fast to eat. I’d be like Lucy on the chocolate assembly line, stuffing my face with tomatoes, to keep up!

And they are all still luscious, as if picked while ripe. Cut away any imperfections, slice or cut into chunks, and it’s August again.

So I was pondering making tomato sauce, but with fewer than 20 tomatoes, was it worth it? Then friends we visited last night told me they were holding on to their last two tomatoes, saving them for something special. Would you like more?, I asked. Yes, yes, yes!, they answered. So the tomatoes gained a new home.

With last night’s frost warning, I went out in the garden at about 10pm, when we got home, with light only from the moon and a neighbor’s front door lamp. And a weak flashlight. With my basket, I began picking the small (2″) tomatoes most visible. But there were surprises: because the flashlight was so weak, I moved branches aside with greater gusto than usual. After all, if we were to get a frost, the branches would be dead anyway. In this way, I found big tomatoes, some already ripening, some almost large enough to fill my hand. One after the other.

So I snapped those off, and others, until I had a full basket AND my pants pockets and vest pockets were stuffed! These new tomatoes refilled the tray I already had by the sliding door glass and filled a second one that I had to add. A whole new crop, some of which may last until Thanksgiving — we’ll see how that goes.

I say that because there is no rhyme or reason to why certain ones ripen before others. There are three or four varieties, but I find no pattern among the varieties. Or the size. Or whether or not they still have some stem. Even with two tomatoes still joined by a snapped-off stem, one will ripen and the other is still a bright green. Some are still very green a week after bringing them in, others take only a couple of days to turn red. I just take it as it comes, letting nature do her thing. There is something comforting in this: that something else is in control, so let it go, let it happen. I can see why friends believe in God.

So I bend over the tray and decide which three or four will get the prized spot by the southern window, which ones will get the chance to ripen faster. I pick one, already a little pink, a Beefsteak with a flat top and wide shoulders, great for slices on a sandwich. Another round one with a pointed bottom, a Celebrity variety, has a few spots on it, so if it doesn’t ripen fast it will go bad, so that one gets a place in the window. I take my time with this, judging and wondering and asserting that I am making the right choices. I like to think they are, well, thanking me.

Certainly they are ripening right on the tray by the glass door so I may have to make tomato sauce anyway. It would be a wonderful end to the season, one that I’m trying to stretch by bringing it indoors. And before we have to go back to buying store-bought tomatoes, we’ll celebrate the last garden tomato. Whether or not it makes it to Thanksgiving.

 

 

In love

Maybe it was the sun sparkling on the oh-so-blue water. Maybe it is the way the bluffs come hurtling down to the river, reminding me of West Point and the Storm King highway on the Hudson. Maybe the vastness of Lake Pepin.

It was probably all of it together. And to me it meant that first moment that Minnesota took my breath away just by looking at it. It was a falling in love moment.

After living 15-20 minutes from the ocean for over 30 years, many of those between Boston and Cape Cod, breathtaking vistas were everyday. Until yesterday — see the photo — I was still waiting for that first moment here. Now, I have it.

So the spectacular view actually was only part of the day. While we wanted to see foliage at peak, it was just past, at least on the Wisconsin side. When we crossed the river from Nelson to Wabasha, we saw more color on the Minnesota side — some maples and sumac and burning bush. But the fields, oh the fields, on both sides of the river: rolling forever fields, dull gold now, and tawny. Combines were cutting down the dried up pale ochre corn stalks, leaving rows of sharp edges behind.

Other fields were taupe, their crop trimmed down to stubs. Hillsides had burgundy trees and bushes, mauve, faded reds. Mustards, browns, all so subtle. We took pix but they couldn’t touch these. Or these.

 

Lake Pepin / The Mississippi, from Hwy 35 in Wisconsin

 

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