Now it’s November…

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“In November you begin to know how long the winter will be.”   –Martha Gellhorn

It rained all this past week, with brief breaks now and then.  There’s been a wind advisory the past three or four days, and the sound of waves crashing against the shore has been constant.  When the clouds lift, you can see the snow line slowly moving down the mountains, even though there has yet to be a frost here at the lake.  Autumn is slipping away, and with the time change in my sleep last night, darkness will spill over the house, well before dinner time, and it doesn’t seem that much lighter here in the morning dark.  An Arctic front is predicted to make a swipe at us this upcoming week.  That will end the geraniums on the porch, and we will know the gods are serious about bringing on another winter.

We had an unexpected snow storm this time last year, which covered the outdoor furniture before we could put it away, so I don’t want to be greedy–this fall was long and spectacularly beautiful, glorious.  But, still.  When November comes, it’s a new chapter, which begins, “It was a dark and stormy night…”.  I often think of November as one of those pause months, like in January, where time stands still for a while so you can sweep up all the holiday glitter and quiet down the house.  In November, there’s still time to get ready for winter, but darkness is coming on fast, and I find myself peeking through the slats of the bedroom shutters at 3:00 a.m., to see if any lights are visible across the lake, and l listen to the pounding of the waves.

I find that I really need November, to get prepared.  Reading in bed last night, I finished George Colt’s book, The Big House, about one of the original grand homes on Cape Cod.  It’s the third or fourth time I’ve read this memoir, but, on the heels of our visit to Chatham, I was at it again.  Near the end of the story, in late fall, a hurricane is threatening to hit Buzzard’s Bay, and all the families leave early to get off the Cape, but George stays behind to batten down the hatches.  He spends all day with the usual preparations for a hurricane, and then he sits on the piazza, near dark, and watches the broiling gray clouds, wild surf, and feels the fierce winds moving onto shore–getting ready for what might happen.  It’s a bit like that, here in November, on a dark and stormy night.

Carol called from Arizona the other day, and said the air was soft, and a pleasant 75 degrees, with cool night-time temperatures.  After thirty years of living here in the Flathead Valley, she’s happy to be a snow bird.  I tell her all the time what’s she’s missing.


by Ron Koertge


Some of my friends claim they could
never live in California. They find
the regular beauty too much like
a postcard with its predictable

And, anyway, how do I ever get
anything done with the sun luring
everyone to the first tee
or the pari-mutuel windows,

much less the way the chairs
all seem to lean back under a tree,
a cat ready to curl up on my lap
or at my sandaled feet.

They prefer the bracing rigors
of snow and rain. They write
about its feet and inches, all
they endure to buy an orange
or see a movie as they

picture me, probably, still on
my chaise, their letter falling
from one languid hand onto
the voluptuous lawn.



The remains of October

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May the strength of the wind and the light of the sun
The softness of the rain and the mystery of the moon
Reach you and fill you…Celtic Blessing

I am back home in time for these final days of October.  We have entered the “atmospheric river”, as the meteorologists like to say for this time of the year.  Cliff Mass, whose blog from Seattle I regularly follow, writes:  “It is like falling off a meteorological cliff.  And it happens every year.  The transition to winter weather in the Pacific.”  Today he wrote, “the spigot is turned on.”  It was pouring rain when we got home at midnight, but, yesterday, in what felt like a kind gift from the gods, it was sunny and warm, and golden with a blue sky.  Birds, especially robins, were as busy as I’ve ever seen them, flitting from berry branch to berry branch, and that quintessential scent of Autumn’s decay filled the air.  I spent much of the day outside, filling myself up with the warmth of the sun, and when the sun went down, I watched the pink light leave the sky from my living room.  In the dark of this morning, when I went up to the garage to feed the kitties, the cold rain was dripping through the branches, plastering yellow leaves to the wet stone steps.  There is nothing but a river of moisture forecasted for this upcoming week, and soon, with the time change, the end of each day will rapidly slide into darkness, as we move towards the ending of another year.

In Cape Cod, I saw the full moon glittering over the ocean, and a sparkling clear blue sky on a sunny day.  I walked in soft white sand, picking up shells, and through swaying grasses of the dunes.  I photographed beautiful weathered shingled houses and their window boxes full of colorful Fall mums.  I spent a blustery late afternoon, dramatic cloud formations overhead, on the same stretch of seashore where Henry Beston wrote his beloved book, The Outermost House.  And, then I got to come home, to my own house by the water, with golden light in the woods.

It’s been a terrible week of news.  As my heart aches for the people killed and the mournful suffering in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, I thought of how Fred Rogers said his mother always told him that, in times of sorrow, we must “look for the helpers.”  The words of Henry Beston help me.

“Hold your hands out over the earth as over a flame. To all who love her, who open to her the doors of their veins, she gives of her strength, sustaining them with her own measureless tremor of dark life. Touch the earth, love the earth, honour the earth, her plains, her valleys, her hills, and her seas; rest your spirit in her solitary places. For the gifts of life are the earth’s and they are given to all, and they are the songs of birds at daybreak, Orion and the Bear, and dawn seen over ocean from the beach.”
Henry Beston, The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod

Late October forecast


Here is this morning’s forecast discussion on our NOAA weather page:

.DISCUSSION…The Northern Rockies will enjoy several more days of spectacular late fall weather. The mornings will start off pretty crisp at or below freezing. Otherwise expect Sunny skies with highs in the mid and upper 60s with light winds, ten degrees above normal. Take advantage of the next 5 days as it`s looking like we may not have several days of 60 degree weather until next spring.

I really hate it when they remind us that we won’t have any warm temperatures until next spring–as if we weren’t already clinging to every single glorious October day we’ve had this month.  Geraniums are still in bloom on the porch, and frost has yet to appear on my Cinderella pumpkins next to the stone steps.  Our evening dinners have been so late, as I can’t bring myself inside the house, and then they are interrupted, so I can run out on the dock to see the Hunter Moon.  I feel like the squirrels, jumping from tree to tree, in their frantic work to put away winter’s stash of food.  I came home with a final bag of vegetables from my farm, earlier in the week.  It’s not really “my” farm, but as an early member of Mountain Kind Farm in their first season, I have delighted in getting all of my vegetables, locally grown, just ten minutes from the house.  When the grandkids were here this summer, and we drove by the farm on our way into town, I told them to look out into the fields and see what was growing, and they loved to come with me to pick up our vegetables.  I think we had roasted carrots and cucumber salad every night for months, declaring they were the best we’d ever eaten.

I will miss these next five days of “spectacular late Fall weather”.  We fly out early tomorrow morning, for Cape Cod, to join friends who are flying in from Switzerland.  Like it is here at home, their summer people will be gone, and I except it will be quiet and similarly cool and crisp.  And, then, there is that smell of the sea, and I’m wondering if we’ll see the full Hunter Moon out over the ocean.  Since my time living in Boston, now forty years ago, I have a powerful affinity for New England.  I always thought I might live there again someday.  It was not to be, but occasionally, I’ve been fortunate to return for visits, and it always captures my heart, especially the quintessential architecture.  Once, I read a quote from an artist, who said she draws and paints that which she cannot have.  I could photograph one of those enchanting historic homes, or the seaside, and spend some winter’s day, trying to capture what I love, in a watercolor painting.

At a minimum, although I have been to this part of Cape Cod in the past, I could do what John O’Donohue tell us:  “The first time you see a place, take it all in, as you will never see it like this again.”  I thought about that quote when I was in Ireland, along the Flaggy Shore in September, and how important it is to take it all in, and to understand it’s useless to think you’ll capture it, for we are neither here nor there.


Postscript, by Seamus Heaney

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open




‘The Country of the Trees…’

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Not that many years ago, this rogue aspen tree sprouted next to the porch, and now fills the window of the upstairs dormitory room with golden Autumn light.  When we scraped the earth of its thin layer of dirt here at water’s edge, in building our house 18 years ago, we tried our best to disturb the native vegetation as little as possible.  We had to bring in additional dirt, and the new plantings were all native species, but after all this time, most everything we added has been replaced by the true native species, which were already here, long before us.  Nature always wins.

There were no aspen trees, though our neighbors to the north had a few, so we knew the environment might support them.  We planted six, and year after year, Don fretted over their lackluster growth, and tended them with extra water, and worry.  Over time, just two have survived.  But, this rogue aspen came to us at the porch, and we’ve so enjoyed its summer shade and late turning to yellow each fall, and the sound of its rustling leaves in the slightest breeze.  Then, this summer, right in the middle of the croquet course on the lawn, big protruding bumps popped up all over.  When green shoots had sprouted across the yard each spring, we did not realize that it was because we are living in an expanding aspen grove, and now, it has become a field of big knotty roots to support the tree colony.

Naturalists refer to aspens as “ancient giants”.  They come from a single seed and each trunk shares the same underground root system that grows horizontally underground for up to 100 feet, to form huge genetically identical colonies.  Here’s what our local NPR station said about them on their broadcast, “Field Notes”:  A single seed gave rise to the largest and oldest known aspen colony. The colony, named Pando, covers 106 acres in Utah and contains about 47,000 ramets. It weighs more than 13 million pounds and is one of the largest organisms in the world. Scientists have estimated that Pando is an amazing 80,000 years old…”

In our ignorance, Don tried to saw off one of the knots in the yard this summer, but said it was impossible to do so.  I felt bad about it at the time…not only because I wanted them gone, but once you’ve read The Hidden Life of Trees, your conscience really bothers you when you hurt a tree.  I know that the huge Douglas fir tree, which died some years ago, and now has a sailboat weathervane perched on its dead trunk, did so because we put a stake into it, to hold up one end of the hammock.

Whilst we wait for the aspen grove to cover all the land, the fragile paper birch tree by the water lost all its golden leaves, while we were in Billings over the week-end.  It was on the property when we built, but looked diseased for years, and given how paper birch trees just suddenly fall over in our woods, revealing nothing but air inside their beautiful white bark, it’s a miracle the water front tree has survived.  In the winter time, it looks old and ravaged and near death, but, come summer, it provides cooling shade to a line of beach chairs on the rocks at water’s edge.  It really is something we always look forward to, grateful for another year.

There is no king in their country

and there is no queen

and there are no princes vying for power,

          inventing corruption.

Just as with us many children are born

and some will live and some will die and the country

          will continue.

The weather will always be important.

And there will always be room for the weak, the violets

          and the bloodroot.

When it is cold they will be given blankets of leaves.

When it is hot they will be given shade.

And not out of guilt, neither for a year-end deduction

          but maybe for the cheer of their colours, their

                small flower faces.

They are not like us.

Some will perish to become houses or barns,

          fences and bridges.

Others will endure past the counting of years.

And none will ever speak a single word of complaint,

          as though language, after all,

did not work well enough, was only an early stage.

Neither do they ever have any questions to the gods–

          which one is the real one, and what is the plan.

As though they have been told everything already,

          and are content.

Mary Oliver, The Country of the Trees from her book of poems called ‘Blue Horses’

October moving along…

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Moving along in the second week of October, each day is more gorgeous than the one before.  If past is prologue, the flame-colored leaves will twirl en mass to the ground within two weeks.  Lucky for us, here on the western side of the state, we’ll have another month of golden Tamarack trees to dot the green mountain hillsides, which are now dusted with snow.  But, there is no denying that this season of dazzling color is moving to its close.

Yesterday, we got the wicker furniture from the porch put into the boat house, and moved the cedar Adirondack chairs up from the lake, for some winter protection under the porch roof.  I put old throws on the chairs so the kitties can make a less abrupt transition from the cushioned, comfortable wicker settee, to their heating pads in the garage.  The screen doors and window screens are stored away, to maximize winter’s low light coming into the living room.  It was a beautiful afternoon for Fall chores.  The lake made a gentle, rhythmic lapping sound and the grebes cooed out to one another in the water.  As satisfying as it was, it felt quite melancholy to be putting away Summer, as I carried the basket of soccer and footballs, bats and gloves and frisbees, down to the basement.  Stored away over in a corner, I spotted a pair of plastic booster chairs, from long ago, back when the grandkids needed them.  Now, the oldest graduates from high school this year, and there will be three more in high school next year.  Time is moving along.

I went to Missoula on Saturday to watch 12-year-old Anna play soccer games.  I joined Joy, under her sport umbrella tent, and wrapped up in one of those sleeping bag contraptions which allows the arms to be free for clapping.  We had hours to catch up with one another, talk about the kids, and lament the dire news coming out of Washington, and our fears for this world of ours.  Dark was closing in by the time we left for the hour and a half drive back up to the lake, and rain came on hard.  But, by the time we reached the lake’s southern shore, the rain had ended, and when we arrived home, we all talked about the beautiful glow of light in the west and the bright stars already reflecting in the water.

Anna’s teammate, and best friend, came home to spend the night with us.  At breakfast the next morning, I asked the girls how school was going so far this year, and what was different about middle school.  They said that in science class, there were real microscopes and that had looked at strands of hair, and skin cells, and it was all pretty amazing.  I told them that I had spotted the Big Dipper over the lake, on our drive home the night before, because I’d read where it would be on, and then I pulled the site up on my computer, and we talked about how amazing astronomy was, and saw photos of the new SETI telescopes in South Africa, and how they listen for signs of ET.  They were convinced there is no way we can be the only humans, with all the universes that are out there.  They appeared to know about the new dwarf planet named The Goblin, and, when I asked if Pluto is back into the category of planets, they were pretty sure it was.

Late in the day, as I sat in the sunshine by the lake, long after they’d gone, I thought that you can really believe in the future, be hopeful, actually, when you have conversations like that, sitting in your breakfast nook, with a pair of bright-eyed and curious 12-year old girls, on a lovely October morning.   It can feel like we are living in the end times these days, but I thought to myself, “the kids are all right”, the kids are all right.   Don and I have just finished watching the second series of the Canadian production of Anne (with an E) of Green Gables–the enchanting story of a young girl who opens the hearts and throws the world open for those around her.  And, as she declared, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”  Indeed.


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We are alone again in our woods.  Our neighbor to the north pulled away in the dark, hours before we turned on our lights.  He had helped Don pull the motorboat out yesterday afternoon, and as we sat with our kitties by the water in the evening, we could hear the crackling of a fire he had made on his back porch.  His wife had left a week earlier, wanting to continue her golf game in South Carolina.  He must have enjoyed sitting on his porch, by the warm fire, enjoying this view.  It felt like he should have had us over for a farewell drink–or we should have invited him to our bench by the water.  I thought maybe he would bring over his remaining tomatoes.  But, it’s not that kind of relationship.  It’s like that with the summer people–you just wave hello from your dock now and then.  Something about that adds to the melancholy this time of year.

There’s been a slow gentle rain today.  I know we’ve had a few passing showers, but it honestly has not rained like this since June.  It smells so fresh and lovely, and feels like another turning of the page into this new season.   On our public radio freeforms program this morning, all the songs were classics about Autumn.  The host said that someone had called in and remarked that the songs were so melancholy.  He remarked that in our listening area of western Montana, we all know what it feels like to enter October–it’s as if the curtain has suddenly fallen down on summer.  He then proceeded to play Joni Mitchell’s classic song, “The Urge for Going”–

…And summertime was falling down and winter was closing in
Now the warriors of winter they gave a cold triumphant shout
And all that stays is dying and all that lives is getting out
See the geese in chevron flight flapping and racing on before the snow
They’ve got the urge for going and they’ve got the wings so they can go
They get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown

Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in
I’ll ply the fire with kindling and pull the blankets to my chin
I’ll lock the vagrant winter out and I’ll bolt my wandering in
I’d like to call back summertime and have her stay for just another month or so
But she’s got the urge for going so I guess she’ll have to go
She get the urge for going when the meadow grass is turning brown
And all her empires are falling down
And winter’s closing in
And I get the urge for going when the meadow grass is turning brown
And summertime is falling down

Well, I got the urge to move all my summertime clothes and flip-flops to the upstairs closet, and bring down the wool sweaters and various boots.  It was a good rainy day activity, part of the process in getting prepared for winter.   But, I hope it comes on slowly.  I wish it could be the way Robert Frost suggests– only one leaf should drop in the morning, then another at noon–slow, slow!

October, by Robert Frost

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow,
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.


Autumn evenings

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I was in a photography workshop years ago–or maybe a painting class–in which the instructor told our class that “all sunsets are trivial.”  I think he was trying to say that unless we represented the sunset in some unique artistic fashion, it was just a plain old sunset.  My longest, dearest friend, and photographer, told me, “You need to get another teacher.”  I think she was right.  Like the old saying, “If a tree falls in a forest and nobody hears it, did it really fall?”  If it fell for me, then it truly did fall.  It did not feel trivial the other day,  when I photographed our mooring ball, now solitary and separated from its sailboat, as it bobbed in the foreground of spectacular sunset light, with darkness softly folding over another beautiful Autumn day.

The sailboat would have been lovely, silhouetted by the sunset.  Maybe the light would have illuminated the rails, and it surely would have created golden ribbons in the water.  But, the time had come for her to be sailed south for winter storage.  Don and his sailing friend spent most of that day with her rails in the water, as they sailed in a stiff and steady south wind, down to Dayton.  There were several instances of ’rounding up’, defined as “when the sailboat heels so far over that the rudder no longer engages in the water, to such an extent, that it can no longer steer the boat.”  Whew…I was glad my only job was to drive our car down the west shore, and pick them up when they moored at the marina.  It was such a lovely afternoon as I walked out on the long wooden pier, amidst all the sailboats, waiting for their turns to be hauled from the water.  There was something romantic, slightly ominous almost, about being alone on a wooden pier, jutting out into an enormous lake, surrounded by majestic mountains, and listening to the sounds made by the rigging on sailboats.  You think of the old stories you’ve read about the sea, about Man’s delicate relationship with Nature.  At last, a little white triangle came into my view, and the final voyage for our boat was over for the season.

A few days ago, while driving to our usual spot for a morning run, I saw a doe lying on the side of the highway.  There are so many of them roaming our property, and lining the roads this time of year, but she looked odd, positioned almost like a cat, with her front legs tucked underneath her.  It was only after we passed by that I realized one of her legs was in such an awkward position, that it probably had been broken.  I couldn’t stop thinking about her, looking so peaceful, head held erect and eyes alert, waiting for death.  I hoped a hunter may have passed by and taken his shotgun out of the truck, but, when we drove back home, she was lying on her side, lifeless, no blood staining the dirt.

Autumn is a tender season.  The leaves have given all they have to give, and twirl to the ground in glowing reds and golds.  The animals are ravaging the fruit trees, in a last-ditch effort, before the snow falls.  I saw the black bear, standing totally still in a clearing in our woods, and he didn’t move as I slowly passed by in the car.  After witnessing the deer who didn’t make it to winter, I was crest-fallen that he, too, was injured somehow.  But, he was not to be seen by afternoon.  These are days of darkness moving in, and Time moving on, all in such fragile beauty.

Whatever may be the power behind those dancing motes to which the physicist has penetrated, it makes the light of the muskrat’s world as it makes the world of the great poet. It makes, in fact, all of the innumerable and private worlds which exist in the heads of men. There is a sense in which we can say that the planet, with its strange freight of life, is always just passing from the unnatural to the natural, from that Unseen which man has always reverenced to the small reality of the day. If all life were to be swept from the world, leaving only its chemical constituents, no visitor from another star would be able to establish the reality of such a phantom. The dust would lie without visible protest, as it does now in the moon’s airless craters, or in the road before our door.

Yet this is the same dust which, dead, quiescent and unmoving, when taken up in the process known as life, hears music and responds to it, weeps bitterly over time and loss, or is oppressed by the looming future that is, on any materialist terms, the veriest shadow of nothing.

–Loren Eiseley, The Firmament of Time