When autumn comes
It doesn’t ask
It just walks in where it left you last
You never know when it starts
Until there’s fog inside the glass around
Your summer heart
Lyrics from Something’s Missing by John Mayer
Temperatures dropped to 39°f (3.89°c) a few nights ago. Afternoons I venture outdoors in my long-sleeved T, flannel shirt, wool sweater, and barn coat and I wonder how long I can put off bringing out my lined Carhartt jacket. My baseball cap will be shelved after I paw through my collection of winter hats. In summer, I write at my desk with the door open. Soon I will put my heater in front of the glass door and let convection banish the cold. My heated throw is already cooking on my lap. The house heat came back on as usual, right around September 15, a month ago.
Over the summer, I perfected my filter for the turtle tank pump. Dr. Pepper’s water is now sparkling clear and I can see that he is still surprisingly active. I can also see that the filter has effectively sucked all the substrate off the bottom of the tank. That’s the muck he hibernates in each winter. No wonder the water is so clean, there’s nothing on the bottom for him to stir up! I picked out an old dish pan with tall sides and enough space for him to dig into. I put in a thick layer of peat moss, and then some damp screened garden soil on top (pushed through 1/2″ and then 1/4″ grids.) The dish pan floated and threatened to upturn and dump: the peat moss was too dry. (How do you spell hydrophobic?) I pulled it and added water, stirring it like one of those “brownie in a box” mixtures. I forced the dishpan back down into the tank and only about half of the peat moss floated up and out. (Rabid peat moss coming for me?) I scooped it off the surface and put it into a plastic pot, accidentally catching a goldfish I have been trying to catch for six months. Tossed that devil into the duck pond, and decided to let the floating peat moss soak and saturate before I put it back in. The dishpan is in place without a full ration of dirt, but Dr. Pepper seems to like balancing on the rim like a tightrope walker or a dancing tortilla. It looks like he’s been into the dirt, too, so I think it’s going to make him happy, and he’s still active enough to check it out before he settles in for the winter. He joined us in 2014 so I don’t like to make big changes, based upon the if it’s not broken, don’t fix it principle. I had to do something, though. This should work well but once again I will spend all spring wondering if he’s going to wake up. It’s hard to empathize with a creature who hibernates, but 2020 is a year I might have chosen to hibernate straight through.
My hens are molting and laying fewer eggs each week. They lay different colored eggs so I know what each one is up to. The old hens have shut down for the season but the young ones are in hyperdrive. They have favorite roosting places, so each night I check each spot and yesterday I didn’t find Frieda in her cubby. I worried all night but she was wandering around this morning as if nothing was the matter. Where did you sleep last night? Why does no one talk about the angst of raising chickens?
Princess Blur accompanies the sheep to the front yard. Some of the outdoor hens have decided to oust her from the flock. They arrived after she moved indoors and they refuse to accept her. Maybe they are jealous that she spends her days in the living room, sleeps in the master bathroom at night. She still gets meds 3x a day for her heart murmur, but aside from gradual weight loss, she’s doing fine. On the worst weather days I keep her indoors, and we retreat to the greenhouse to avoid wet or chilly weather.
When you have animals outdoors, you need a fully functional weather station. But birds continue to torment me. The resident crows chase away the hawks and eagles, and that’s a good thing. I love Bald Eagles until they swoop over the yard scattering the flock while administering an ad hoc stress test to my heart. They look so cool circling above, but when they fly through inches from your face they are suddenly as big as a bus. My weather station has been knocked off North for a few days running, and then I caught the crow dancing on it. I shooed him away and noticed that
he someone had stolen the debris screen out of the rain gauge. I have been finding empty cat food cans in the yard, not my brand, so it was more of a trade than a theft. But still, not cool. I contacted Acurite, and one of the warehouse guys found me a replacement screen for my (of course) discontinued weather station. I’ll invent a way to tether the new one to the station.
We don’t have quite as many human visitors, but Mr. and Mrs. Mallard made a brief appearance. I had no idea that wild mallards could live 12 years, but they’ll be back daily this winter. Our newest addition is a wild cottontail rabbit. She visits in the front yard. She likes to sneak up on me and hang out until I notice her. She teases Charlie, too. He’ll see her and go into pursuit mode. She handily hops out of the way, leading him around the yard like he’s on some kind of invisible tether.
The sheep are getting wooly again, just in time for the drop in temperature. The apple tree is dropping treats and they spend their day listening for the thud that announces a fresh apple down. They also eat bark, so the apple tree trunk is wire protected. They are welcome to eat the bark off the willows in the front yard. They eat the leaves that fall, too.
The big fall I am waiting for is a dead branch from a tree I named Chad. I heard a huge crack during a recent windstorm and now there is a hanging Chad over the aviary. It’s impossible to get it down because it is suspended over the middle of the aviary overhead netting, no solid ground or tree trunk to grab it from. So I’ll wait for it to fall and then scramble. At least then we’ll be able to reach it from below. The netting is still stretched out from a recent winter disaster, and we’ll be able to unzip the net in the same location to take it out. Hang in there, Chad!
I have mentioned “hanging chad” to remind everyone how important it is to vote. If Al Gore had won the presidency, imagine what the planet would look like today. It would literally be a different world. The Bush presidency was decided by a handful of votes. Let’s not let that happen again, at the federal or local level. Choose your leaders carefully, as we need a clear path out of this darkness.