early november

Saturday, November 2:

   Three nights ago blew in a gusty rain, southerly, but shredding the rusty leaves from the trees and revealing the brown backs of these Appalachian foothills.  In the ditches and along the riverbanks, though, the sumac is still red, if it is the small, five-year variety, or gold, if it is the tall, twenty-year kind.  Five-year sumac has cones of dark red berries held upright over drooping compound leaves like palm fronds; twenty-year sumac trails wads of winged brown seeds like dirty cobwebs.  Both are weed trees which spring up in rocky, sour, or waste soils, and add brilliant color to our autumn show.

   We burned the late fall bonfire last night, the weather giving of its best, dry, cool, and windless.  Along the lane the torches that topped each fence post smoked and flared, and the bonfire itself sent sparks seventy feet in the air.  The summer kitchen was the center of a crowd gathered there for hot doughnuts, cider, and cocoa, and on the lawn people sat in folding chairs and on blankets and held long conversations about the dead, and the future.  Prayers were offered for both.  It is almost winter.

   Today we planted hoops over the winter beds of greens, carrots and beets; next week these will be covered with plastic sheeting to protect them from the frosts that are getting more frequent.  The pig pens had to be forked out, and the Massey-Ferguson in its big shed swept free of chaff and dead leaves and covered with tarps to keep off the snow.

   The three little children went out to shift the home paddock and were gone an hour and a half.   Bridget, the sorrel mini, was feeling the seasonal shift and broke out of the paddock where she is nominally in charge of the sheep to go charging up and down the south pasture chivvying chickens and squealing like air escaping from a balloon.  The sheep got out, too, to go surging up and down the hill, and even the two July calves got into the act, galloping to the top of the steep pasture and requiring to be brought down again when the new paddock was ready.  The animals are grazing their way up the middle section of the pasture and have grass enough for another two or three weeks; when hard frosts put the grass into dormancy we will begin feeding them hay.   The sheep are due to begin lambing in a couple of weeks, anyway; time to go into the barn, out of reach of coyotes and stray dogs.

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