The leaves, what few we have here in Doney Park, are changing, the currants and three-leaf sumac brilliant red and the New Mexican olives pale yellow. The prairie dogs are still out, feeding voraciously, but they will shortly disappear into their burrows to hibernate. Scout and Kenosha, my quarter horses, are growing out their winter coats; I love burrowing my face in their luxuriously thick hair. My "boys," as they say out here, "take good care of themselves." The hens have molted and have new sets of feathers. Everything on the prairie is getting ready for winter.
This is the time of year when I get ready for winter, too. I put my gardens to bed, clean the chicken pen and spread new shavings for my "girls," and close the barn windows up top. I've got a long list. Make sure the water heaters for the hens and horses are still working. Deadhead the flowers and trim back the seed stalks on all the perennials, and mulch what needs mulching. I've already mowed, and collected and spread wildflower seeds, mostly sun flowers (what little the lesser goldfinches left me), blanket flower and Mexican hat.
I love getting ready for winter. The early sunsets and colder nights turn me towards home, to light and warmth. I'll get out the heavy blankets, and I'll make applesauce. I'll re-organize closets, go through all the papers on my desk, and catch up on the New York Times Book Reviews. I'll clean, too, since I have time--but not like my mother did.
She was terrifying. Every Wednesday was the downstairs, and every Thursday was the upstairs, without exception. She was single-handedly on a mission to rid the house of every speck of dust and dirt, and would not be deterred. She wouldn't answer the phone or the doorbell, or even acknowledge our existence if we kids happened to be home during the day. She changed out drapes and bedspreads twice a year (yes, she had summer and winter drapes and summer and winter bedclothes), hung rugs outside (and beat them with a broom), and cleaned windows inside and out. I remember her on hands and knees wiping down all the baseboards, and scrubbing tile grout with a toothbrush. And she had a frighteningly loud old Electrolux that she dragged from room to room. We learned to stay out of her way.
Of course she brought the same energy to putting her gardens to bed, and I remembered her "rules" when I started gardening. Leave the carrots, garlic, horseradish, leeks, parsnips, and turnips in the garden for harvesting through early winter. Pull out tomato, squash, pea, and bean plants, and compost if disease-free. Get rid of any weeds or debris to prevent insects from overwintering. Once the garden beds were clean, she'd shovel on manure and till it in. So that's what I do. Her tasks have now become mine, all the hard work rewarded by sore muscles and, well, the pride of hard work.
I've brought in the basil, rosemary and geraniums, which I've placed on the windowsills in my office. Now I can think about what I'm going to do next year in my gardens.