Welcome back to Magnetic North, where it appears we’ve been stood up. By winter, of all things.
Now before anyone goes off about the benefits to a human psyche from extended summer - temperatures in the sixties and sun nearly all day - well, at least for the barely ten hours of daylight we get in mid-November - the fact is that most of us have been in a state of ready-alert for over a month. And frankly, that takes the starch out of a person. Even a Minnesotan.
For example, before the first leaf fell off a tree, my chickens and bunnies and goats all got clean sheets (my term for sparkling new straw litter) on their coop and rabbitry and barn floors. Now, after all these faux summer days, and no hard freeze, their digs are as smelly and poopy looking as they are in March.
Then there’s the mallard flock on our little pond. By Halloween they were almost too fat to fly away. Only twice has the pond frozen over, and only for a few hours. So the six drakes and ten hen ducks have taken to lolling about midst the cattails, like spoiled kids at the cotton candy stand, making a constant racket for more treats. More, more, more!
Stop feeding them, you say? They’ll fly away soon enough then, you say? Well, come stay at my house for a day and listen to those piteous quacks ‘round the clock. Yes, even at night! Only a fiend would deny them.
The only hungry mouth around this place that isn’t being stuffed due to the unseasonable warmth this fall is that of our grand old Clayton wood furnace. Paul and I stacked our load of maple in late September, thinking that we would be lucky to get it in the shed before the first blizzard. But no. I’ve had exactly three fires since then. And with two, it got so blistering hot we had to keep the sliding doors, both of them, open for hours.
There HAVE been a few unexpected delights along the way, though.
The smell of fallen leaves, toasting in the sun underfoot, for one. Not as pungent a scent as the burning leaf piles of our youth, nor as earthy a one as the moist marinade covering the earth after a month of Autumn rains. But a truly mouthwatering aroma that will ever remind me of the very moment I noticed it, carrying a water bucket and grain to the chickens.
And then there was the luxury of time - hours not ordinarily available to check the corral fence for gaps and just to wander about gathering kindling from all the trees toppled in the windstorms of late. Those storms took out more gangly balsam pines and poplar, but they also left a treasure trove for an inveterate beachcomber like me. I may be far from my roots on the Atlantic coast where I thrilled to hurricanes, knowing there would be hours and days of gathering what the waves left behind. But I find the woods after a storm are just as rich. Birds nests as finely knit together as a lace wedding shawl, delicate bits of sea green moss and burnt orange lichen, two ledge fungi colored a deep burgundy and shined up like patent leather and sometimes buried treasure, like the three-inch tall cobalt blue medicine bottle from generations back, torn from its resting place in the earth by the roots of a fallen tree, its tiny cork still in place.
My pockets are never empty when I go woods combing after a big wind.
And so I forgive winter for keeping me waiting this year. She’ll always be my favorite season. Late, early or right on the money. And they say she’ll blow in sometime this week. That means I have a new deadline. Another round of clean sheets for the goats and bunnies and chickens. At least one more sack of cracked corn to buy for the mallards. A trip to town to replace the chocolate and cookies I filched from the winter car travel kit. And, most and best of all, another walk on our trails to gather the last of the kindling - and, with luck, even more treasure!
Airdate: November 13, 2010