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Winter's coming, ready or not

Cold weather is approaching when it's necessary to don woolen socks and the garden harvest dwindles to almost nothing.

FALL SUNSET: A flock of birds fly over a farm in Bellefonte, Pa.

gene j. puskar/ap

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Emily Dickinson wrote, "There's a certain slant of light, on winter afternoons, that oppresses, like the weight of cathedral tunes." If I had written that line, I would have said, "autumn afternoons," for I feel oppressed to see the light bend through the slats of my lawn chair making a shadow like a snow fence on the porch floor.

The shadows fall like a prophecy across rambling pumpkin vines waiting for a frost to loosen them from the great orange fruit. Spiders tat their lace across the curling pitted leaves, busy with a project that seems to have a deadline. Webs spread themselves like a frost. Caterpillars take their last bite. A cricket chirps. A dog barks in the distance. The wind stirs the trees gently now. A single red leaf flickers like a warning.

The cat sits on the woodpile soaking up the last rays of sun. He and I already have our winter weight; he, dense with new fur, and I, from summer cookouts and after-dinner rides for ice cream.

My sweater went on at 3 p.m., and although I don't want to give up my shorts, I pad about the kitchen in woolen socks as I prepare produce from the garden for a later dinner. We're still harvesting zucchini, tomatoes, carrots, and fragrant herbs with potatoes. Earthy, common, uniquely delicious. Braided onions and dark red cayenne peppers are strung like herring, hanging from a beam over the sink. Although we still occasionally eat thawed June strawberries outdoors, in a few days that will give way to pulling up a chair by the wood stove to warm up with a bowl of chili.

When the sun begins to slip down behind the grove of white pines on the west side of the house, I take the last walk of the day around the gardens. Soon I will put them to sleep, covering them with a blanket of pine needles and oak leaves. Snow will throw on the extra quilt necessary for warmth on the coldest days.

In the house, I remove the weeping fig and the spider plant from atop the wood stove. I crumble some newspaper, add a few splints of dry kindling and a little optimism, and light a match. In a few minutes, all begin to hiss and sing. The fire crackles and glows.

Darkness seeps into the kitchen, but I can still see the calendar on the refrigerator with its remaining pages of the month. I know it's almost winter because of the flickering shadows of the fire on the walls and that sound that birds make when they say goodbye to warm weather and good night to each other.


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