Between Fall and Winter

There’s a short span of time starting in early November until the first serious snow flies that isn’t quite fall anymore but isn’t really winter yet either. Technically it’s late autumn but to me autumn is when leaves change color and start floating to the ground creating a bright carpet on the forest floor.

Deciduous foliage has pretty much dropped to the ground by November except for a few that hang tough like the beech trees which cling to their leaves for most of the winter. Now the first tentative snowflakes begin falling but they don’t last long as the weather will often warm back up and melt them. Dry winds can also evaporate the thin layers of snows in a process called sublimation. Any fallen leaves quickly lose their color and become dull brown or even grey. The brilliance that made the autumn season so distinctive is gone.

Now it’s just a matter of waiting until the next snowfall comes that stays for the season (or until the next freak warm spell). Until then, everything seems to be in a sort of limbo, not quite winter, not quite autumn. The seed heads of various flowers such as goldenrod and asters sit quiet and grey, waiting. Many people are tempted to cut them down as eye sores but it’s better to leave them as birds will feed on the seeds as well as any insect larva hibernating in the plant stems. I find the seed heads have their own stark beauty, sometimes more striking than the flower they were formed from.

A wild grape vine established itself several years ago on the bank in front of the house. This past year it finally bore grapes. Unlike the extravagantly large seedless domestic fruit in the grocery store, wild grapes are compact, not much bigger than commercial blueberries. They are edible but the flavor is tart and large seeds take up about two thirds of the fruit. While there are multiple recipes for making wild grape jelly online, there weren’t enough grapes to make it worth picking so I left them for any hungry birds that happen along. Maybe next year when the vines have gotten bigger.

With the leaves gone, it’s now possible to look further into the woods and spot stuff you hadn’t noticed before. When out walking a few weekends ago I caught sight of a good sized white pine that had obviously been growing a while but was previously veiled by summer leaves. Now visible, I snapped this picture of it and dubbed it “Ent standing on head”.

But the thing that marks out this time of year is the avalanche of seed catalogs which start coming a week before Thanksgiving.

Most of them, I will never order from as I have just a few favorites that I regularly buy from; Territorial Seeds and Pinetree Catalog. In addition, the local Food Coop carries High Mowing Organic Seeds. Other stores will carry more conventional brands such as Burpee. The nice thing about the catalogs is that they bring a bright splash of color during this quiet time, making it slightly easier to ignore the lunacy that is the Christmas shopping season currently underway and daydream about my next garden instead.

Have a peaceful Holiday season.

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