November and the snapdragons are in bloom - Kate Crowley

GOING NATURE’S WAY
By Kate Crowley
November 2 and we still have phlox and snapdragon’s in bloom.  I can’t say I recall ever having flowers so late in the year.  It’s wonderful, but strange.  After a week of grey, drippy, damp weather, the sun came out on Saturday, lifted our spirits and put a spotlight on all the remaining leaves in the forest.  Our silver maple tree still has nearly all its leaves and there are a few aspens with an equal amount.  The oak trees are a rich maroon and they will hang onto many of their leaves well into the winter; just down the road a stand of tamarack have reached the peak of their golden glory. Even on the gray days their needles put out a glow, unequaled by any other tree.  Soon those needles will drop off and we’ll be left with their skeleton forms.
We have been waiting for a day like this to complete the outdoor work that so many do in preparation for the coming winter.  For those of us who live in the country, that means putting the garden ‘to bed’ and storing all the tools of the trade.  Others will be chopping and stacking firewood.  Mike and I took the opportunity to clean up all the branches that were sheared off of our roadside trees this summer by the Township. Six pick-up loads were moved to a pile in our field to become part of our Solstice bonfire. 
Since most people live in urban settings nowadays, much of the traditional autumn tasks consist of putting the patio furniture, flower pots and hoses away.  Raking the leaves would be another task for a day like this.  Having grown up in the city I have fond memories of massive piles of maple and oak leaves, perfect for jumping into.  And of course, in those days people pushed the leaves into the street and burned them: Very aromatic and evocative, but not very good for the air quality of the city, when neighborhood after neighborhood was doing the same thing.  A better solution is the take your lawnmower and shred the leaves..  These smaller pieces (quarter size) then decompose and help provide a natural fertilizer to the lawn the next spring.  You can also collect them in the mower’s bag and spread them in a 3-4 inch layer on and around garden beds.  This is a win-win situation, providing free fertilizer for your lawn and putting fewer plastic bags in landfills.

The preparations we make today for the coming winter months are so much more easy and minimal compared to what generations of people have done in the past.  Today, only people over 60 years of age are likely to have had any experience living on or visiting relatives who lived on farms.  In the agricultural era, autumn was a season of great anticipation and great anxiety.  Crops and vegetables had to be harvested, processed and put away for the coming months when what you saved, was what you would have to survive on.  Animals raised during the warm months were processed too.  Slaughter is a word most of us are not comfortable with anymore, since our meat comes neatly packaged in plastic, not reminding us in anyway of the animal it once was.  Hunters still go out to fill freezers with venison or duck, but their numbers have been decreasing as urbanization expands.  
Even with the move away from the farm and rural life, we are seeing a resurgence of vegetable gardening and food preservation in the form of canning and freezing. The desire for eating food grown locally has also increased, which is better for everyone involved.  Buying food (meat or vegetable) grown by someone in your community helps support local economies and also reduces the amount of fossil fuel being used to transport your food. Like me, you may be surprised to learn that U.S agriculture uses about 17% of this country’s annual energy budget, but it is “the single largest consumer of petroleum products when compared to any other industry. This means it requires about 1,500 liters of oil equivalents to feed each American per year.”
Once you have put the effort and worry into growing your own food, you can well understand why so many cultures, our own included, had Harvest Festivals.  After months of labor and worry, there was nothing better than knowing you had produced enough to sustain your family and community through another six months, before the work began all over again. 
While we don’t know whether this winter will be mild or harsh, we are fortunate to live at a time when the one thing we don’t worry about is whether we will have enough food to see us through.  We live at a time of great abundance. And so at the end of this month, we will continue the long tradition of sharing our thanks and appreciation with our families and friends. 


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