This morning in early November, we woke to a hard frost spread across the landscape, an icy cloak of wonder. The cold seasonal snap sends shivers up spine and stalk alike. Our garden is letting go the last harvest for a while in wilted chard and kale. Our young grape vine finally turned yellow, but still clings to the broad, serrated sun catchers, leafy sails which will turn to parchment in time and drop to the earth. Plant sacrifices of fertility back to soil are a crucial exchange in equal give and take within an abundant ecosystem. Animals give digested vegetation too, no living thing acting within the lifecycle of our planet can take without giving. Even carnivores give back plants, through the flesh of the grazers they consume. Seasonal cycles dictate much of this recycling in all it’s forms. Though plants are most affected by light, and give up more in the fall, reclaiming the sacrifice in spring with new growth, perpetuated through complex nutrient trades in the soil and through sun, rain, wind, and even fire.
The cold signals nature’s shift into quite rest. Almost all plant growth slows to a stop. This morning, all the livestock water troughs were frozen, water- an element of change that can take any form (solid, liquid, gas), chooses it’s hardest form today, which demands the most work out of my chores. Removing ice, refilling water, and maintaining hydration is challenging, but the elemental change freezing water, and the crust of firm resistance strikes back on bare knuckles, I’ve forgotten my gloves. The animals are restless, no one rushes the troughs, but cold also hinders hydration, which means you should drink a bit more if possible, but the animals are waiting. Food drives all the little feet pacing at hay creches, awaiting fresh field fodder. I’ll let the ladies have a few open days of grazing, now that the vegetation in our zone one spaces are retreating, leaving the last forage before a long put-up in the barn.
This slowing of life into literal ice crystals signals hibernation, inward focus through the dark times in preparation for new spring growth only a few months away. It’s a very fast turning cycle of seasons, though we humans often ignore compelling change. Nature is tuned in, offering so much insight into adaptation, resiliency, and balance. I’m also deeply appreciative for the vivid color, vast landscapes, and vistas of each season’s gifts. Frost is fall’s first real shake up, sending plants into stasis wildlife into hibernation. At home, our hearth is lit, bringing the warmth of wood and comfort of fire light in darker times. Outside, the sheep lay close together for warmth, their fleecy coats offering perfect insulation to winter’s coming cold. Katahdins come from Maine, and handle the cold brilliantly, especially with a warm barn full of hay and straw. Lambing is only a few months away, so the ewes are fat and round, showing off the abundance of our fields and forest browsing.
The gardens are on pause, at least most plants are dormant, but some stragglers hold on, and winterize by slowing down, but not freezing out. We’re still picking kale and chard leaves, though some are a bit wilted. A cold frame will extend our plantings, while others will be left to the elements, including seed shed for next spring. Our most successful garden verities reseed each year without our help. Kale and radish are good cold weather self perpetuating examples every lazy gardener should tend. Under the shelter or our porch, potted wild ginger remains active, and some hollyhock on a south wall garden has leafed out with enthusiasm. It might regret this late arrival in another month of freezing temperatures, but rain is due next week, and the temperatures usually rise above freezing when clouds insulate our region. Western Washington remains temperate when the rains stay.
November tends to be our coldest month, with week long freezes and iced over water troughs. But it’s particularly dry this year. We’ve had little rain this month, and the high pressure system seems to stall out over us, keeping the insulation blanket of cloud cover at bay. This leaves the ground cold and frosty by morning’s first light. The crisp outlines of ice on leaf tips catches like a diamond glaze in golden dawn’s bright glimmer. Autumn color in western Washington can rival any, with fiery Japanese Maple and yellow asparagus sprigs. Even red flowering currant sports a splash of red, green, and gold in a post modern mashup that could hang in The Guggenheim. Add frosting and you have a seasonal festive feel that pushes back against the cold with warm pigment and glossy magic. Later, as the sun’s warming rays melt back Mr. Frost’s touch in coils of rising steam, the change remains palpable, numbing fingertips and reddening cheeks in the delight of fall.