Fall’s first frost — usually a mid-October event in my adopted central Illinois — waited until the last possible monthly moment — deep into Halloween night — to finally show winter’s white face.
We didn’t so much see it coming as feel it coming.
A stern northwest wind arrived before sun-up that day and built into a gale by noon. It scattered the morning’s heavy clouds and sent waves of red oak, hickory, choke cherry and hard maple leaves into the neighbors’ yards and, I reckon, one or two states beyond.
The trailing cold front brought enough chill to require fires in the wood stoves upstairs and down. A stash of dry, “fall” wood — wild cherry, walnut, red elm — outside each level had waited weeks for that chill.
Now every morning brings the rewarding chore of lighting, building and tending fires in each stove while the coffee percolates and the newspapers are retrieved. It’s a wonderful way to start any chilly fall day. This summer’s high tide of wildlife continues to make our dog-less farmette a must-see stop by every critter on a tour of the township.
A week ago, in the faint light of early dawn, three whitetail deer grazed in the backyard as contentedly as just-milked Holsteins in belly-deep pasture.
When one fat yearling began to nibble at the tender branches of a newly planted apple tree, my thoughts turned to grilled venison backstraps. (I shooed it to the neighbor’s yard with a “Hey!” that was more plaintive than authoritative.)
Later that day I glanced up from the computer only to be nearly nose-to-nose with an albino fox squirrel sitting on its haunches just outside the sliding glass door of my office. It was a rare, white guy-white squirrel moment and neither of us, as if to acknowledge such a historical event, batted either a green eye or a red eye.
Ten seconds later the initial shock gave way to basic boredom and the white squirrel (Moby Nick?) slowly hopped away, probably to rejoin the animal circus that seems to have set up a winter camp in the nearby woods.
Snakes, too, appear to have chosen our small acreage as the site of some cold-blooded rendezvous this fall. Twice last month, after the lovely Catherine left the garage door open to run quick errands, sluggish, fat bull snakes made her parking space their private beach on which to sun bathe.
Watch your step
Nearly stepping on a snake while absentmindedly walking to the mailbox makes the old ticker redline every time. (Draped over an under-used five iron, the sleepy reptiles were relocated to the woods. Who knows, maybe they’ve met Nick there.)
While winter officially is still a month down the road, everything about the woods says winter now. The wall of leaves, our three-sided, green privacy fence May through October, is gone and in its place stands a picket fence of stout, naked trees.
Other homes, a winter-only sight, peek out from behind the fence and cars, day and night, now can be seen traveling nearby roads. All the surrounding fields are naked, too, their huge bounties having yielded to huge combines and equally huge grain carts.
Shorn stubble now stands were bare hope was awakened barely four months earlier. Another year, another harvest, another miracle.
In the last week or so, a big group of jet-black wild turkeys have assumed ownership of one nearby corn field. They rule it with a regal presence and stand still as I bicycle past.
Assured that I’m no threat, they return to bobbing for kernels amid the million stalks. It’s a lovely sight. Apples and pears, from the trees of generous friends, slowly ripen in the cool garage and the final gleaning from the vegetable garden — onions, some potatoes, scallions, eggplant, a dozen or so green tomatoes, two squash — fill the space with the smell of vegetable soup. Now I’m ready. Bring on winter.
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