Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Saturday, October 29, 2016

November in My Soul

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul...then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

Herman Melville, "Moby-Dick"

It is sad to think that when it comes to vacations, most Americans either don't take one or make it as short as possible. When they travel, they take their computers, check their phones several times a day for email, Facebook or maps to tell them where to go next.

As I get ready to change the calendar page, I am thinking about my coming vacation. I plan to leave the computer at home and keep the phone off as much as I can.

I did not take one week by choice. If I could afford it - for if I don't work I don't get paid in this freelance life - I'd take several weeks and drive down to check out Florida's birds and the migrants. This would be in April, when the birds are in their breeding plumage and heading north.
Male common merganser duck (RE Berg-Andersson)
But since this is November I am talking about, we are following the ducks and other birds south. Seashore areas in November are very quiet - almost too quiet because many restaurants are closed for the season. However, if you go far enough afield and are willing to eat where the locals do, you won't go hungry, especially south of the Mason-Dixon line.

The ocean roars and the air is chilly on the Outer Banks. People walk on the beach, sometimes with their dogs, but I plan to take along our chairs so MH and I can sit and relax. We have both worked very hard this election year. There will also be some days driving around, looking at the birds of Pea Island and on the Delmarva Peninsula on the way home. 

I can't wait. For now, however, MH and I have been raking.

Weather has zigzagged from very hot to very cold and the trees have dropped their leaves. One day you see brilliant color. The next, it is "past peak" and falling. If my house was in the forest, I'd leave the leaves alone because they make good mulch, providing cover for insects, salamanders and other creatures. 

But I am in suburbia, and for the past few weeks there has been a near-constant droning of leaf blowers. During the week, it is the lawn services. On the weekend, it is the homeowner who is a do-it-yourselfer. MH and I are the latter. We spent several hours in the backyard, where the green grass was buried under oak, elm, apple, maple and pear leaves. We attacked with rakes, tarp and, yes, blower. Big piles are now at the curb. Some other time we will do the front yard, where the locust trees are already bare but the grass can still be seen. And then we'll likely repeat the process again.

Chipping sparrow in non-breeding colors (Margo D. Beller)
Hungry birds have been coming to the feeders. For the past week we've entertained winter visitors - purple finches, male and female, the state bird of New Hampshire. These birds of the north would only be in my backyard if their home regions don't have enough food for them. Will this be a year we also host red-breasted nuthatches and pine siskins? If so they will have to fight the resident house sparrows, cardinals, house finches, chickadees, titmice and white-breasted nuthatches. 

So far the purple finches - a threatened species - have been holding their own.

In the shrubs I hear the white-throated sparrows, which show up in the late summer into fall around the time the catbirds leave. I've also seen their cousins the juncos, which arrive around the time the chipping sparrows leave. When it snows and food becomes harder to find, they will be less skittish and go under the feeders to pick up what the other birds have dropped. The suet is eagerly eaten by woodpeckers - downy, redbelly and the occasional hairy.

My garden is done. What is spent has been cut back and I've done some neatening. All that remains is putting burlap over the deer netting to keep the evergreen shrubs from the deer.

I have three pots of peppers - two grown from seed this year and the one from last year - in the house, no white flies (thank goodness) and covered with flowers and/or growing peppers. I could not leave them outside to die.

White-throated sparrow (Margo D. Beller)
The cannas and other big plants in pots, including a gift dahlia, are on the enclosed porch, going dormant. Soon they'll be in a more sheltered place for the winter. The begonias I potted in the spring are in the house, somehow fit among the house plants I brought in from the back porch earlier. 

The farm market ended its season. After the hard freeze earlier this week, I was amazed to find some coneflowers and snapdragons I could cut to make a decent bouquet, my last of the season. Turnips, tomatoes, lettuce, chard, collards, green peppers and garlic will last for several weeks because they are locally grown minutes from my house, not shipped in from halfway around the world.

With November comes shorter days and longer nights. I can understand why Melville's Ishmael would get restless and go to sea. November is a hard month. When we turn back the clock it is dark at 5 pm. It take more of an effort to get up in the morning when it is dark and cold. I feel old and sad at this time of year, made worse because of recent health and work issues.

And so I await that week of vacation. I need to be restored, at least for a short while.

A sad postscript: the redtail hawk that was the subject of my last post did not survive, despite the best efforts of the people at The Raptor Trust.