My Turn: Putting the yard to bed

  • Maple and other leaves litter the walking trails in Highland Park in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 11/24/2021 4:07:57 PM
Modified: 11/24/2021 4:07:42 PM

It used to be, in my years taking care of students at a school health center, that in September I would tell the teens who suffered with sneezing and itchy eyes, “Don’t worry. There will be a big frost around Oct. 10 and after that your misery will be over. Here is an antihistamine for your nose and drops for your eyes. Be patient, this will pass.” But now, with the climate changing, that date isn’t predictable anymore.

Today, in the middle of November, I am still waiting for the day when the frost is so hard and sure of itself that all the vegetation turns black and I will know the pollens are tamped down and it is time to put the gardens to bed.

This fall that process has taken place in slow motion. Normally I prefer to cut down, weed whack and rake out the beds the day after a big frost. Instead, I still have plants bearing end-of-season blossoms in pots and in the gardens. The earth is confused, one season easing into the next instead of being more distinct as the changes seemed to be in my childhood.

Each evening I cover my patch of parsley with a towel, and each morning when I uncover it the parsley leaves are a bright green and the plant seems happy to offer itself to my kitchen for another day. So the parsley lives on in the raised bed that hasn’t yet frozen. The rosemary has moved into the kitchen. Two potted mandevilla are in shock in the living room, dropping yellow leaves one by one onto the floor, their pink blossoms faded and limp. My two big geraniums that sat in pots on the patio all summer are still blooming – one in the bedroom and one in the kitchen. They are happy, indoors or out. Geraniums do not know about Seasonal Affective Disorder. They are always in good spirits, if you place them in a south- facing window.

It is such a golden November morning that I think I will pretend that all of the placid beauty of late autumn continues, even though it is all happening a month later than it used to. I will pretend that as I write, my husband did not walk across my bucolic view of the river pushing a leaf blower that is running at full throttle, and I will pretend that I will not be hearing this head-banging engine noise for the rest of the day. I will pretend that my little dog Munchie didn’t hop onto my chair when I stepped away from the dining room table and lick most of the milky foam off the top of my coffee. I will pretend that Munchie is snoozing quietly on her beanbag bed rather than jumping on her hind legs at the windowsill, barking at four squirrels who have gathered under the bird feeder and are likely talking among themselves about their plan to mount the pole and attack the feeder.

I will pretend that I’ve been writing since 9 a.m. and I didn’t have to leave mid-morning to have blood drawn and get a chest x-ray, and I’ll pretend that my youngest sister and her family are joining us for Thanksgiving. And, if I’m going that far I might as well pretend that Joe Biden’s popularity is at 75%, that his Build Back Better Program is running full steam ahead, and that Donald Trump and his treasonous henchmen are all in prison, because, why not? When you are in the business of pretending, or writing fiction, Go Big, I say.

Back in the real world reality tugs at my sleeve. The temperature will drop into the 20s tonight. Allergy sufferers will no longer sniffle and sneeze. It is time to grab gloves and clippers and head outside. The blower is quiet. My husband is wrestling with mountains of leaves, which took a long time to fall this year. I must cut back dead foliage, mulch roses, drag away the woody skeletons of sunflowers gone by, and move hoses and chair cushions to the shed.

I can see a blue jay at the feeder. He chooses one sunflower seed and flicks away a cascade of others. He is messy, but the squirrels are happy about this trickle-down economy. They have abandoned their conference about how to get around the baffle on the bird feeder pole and instead they forage among seeds mysteriously landing at their feet.

By the end of this day my gardens will be tucked in, the leaves will be in neat piles and the birds and squirrels will have enhanced their caches of stored seeds. And our Mother, God bless her, the ever-changing, beaten-up Earth, will keep on turning.

Susan LaScala is a gardener and retired nurse practitioner. She lives in Gill.


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