For many people, the week after Thanksgiving Day signals the beginning of winter. I’m among those who feel that way.
It’s time to put the snow tires on the vehicles we will drive during the coming months, as well as to make sure all the cars, trucks, tractors and other farm machines have enough antifreeze in their cooling systems, and to protectively wrap the plants we want to survive safely from rabbits, deer and sub-zero temperatures.
It’s usually a pleasant time, unless harsh winter weather has already set in or we are struggling with unwanted losses of loved ones, unemployment, health concerns or any other calamities that test our mettle. Not having completed projects that should be finished by now also raises anxieties.
When still farming full-time, I liked this time of year because I completed harvest before Thanksgiving and I didn’t need to feed my cattle daily, except those in the feedlot. The cows, bred heifers and the fall calves took care of themselves in the harvested corn and soybean fields. All I had to do was check them periodically.
For farmers and ranchers, the late fall is a time for soil testing, fixing fences by those who raise grazing animals, preparing for next year’s taxes before this year ends, ordering seeds and applying soil nutrients for the next year, while also kicking back a bit.
Now that I don’t raise crops or livestock anymore, it’s time for hunting wild game and fishing unfrozen farm ponds to stock up the freezer for winter.
I rummage through my gardens to find any remaining late-season root plants like carrots, turnips and beets that I left to grow more when I harvested these crops earlier. I cover the herbs with grass and leaves and mark where to dig up parsnips when the ground thaws next spring.
I also bring in late-season spinach, broccoli, kohlrabi, and sometimes find unfrozen tomatoes and dry beans under limp foliage that I can use for cooking. It’s nice to not have to deal with the garden pests and mosquitoes that flourished during warmer months.
The great-horned owls hoot at dusk and dawn in our grove of pine, walnut and oak trees and often through much of the night at this time of year to affirm their pair bonds and territories.
By early February they no longer call to each other, perhaps to avoid bringing attention to the female brooding her eggs. Occasionally the male can be heard softly vocalizing when he brings food to his mate.
In late fall the coyotes’ howls seem particularly distinct each evening and before sunrise, as if crisp air carries sound better than during the warm months.
For the past couple winters I’ve heard a new species, Eurasian collared-doves, coo during winter days, because they do not migrate to warmer climes like their cousins, the mourning doves. On occasion a robin that decided to call western Iowa its winter abode chirps in a friendly fashion.
Cardinals, several kinds of finches, juncos, blue jays and several species of sparrows begin hanging around our bird-feeding stations, for they know I will place seeds of all types in feeders when snow covers the ground.
When I don’t fill their feeders they gather outside our bedroom and kitchen windows, vocally protesting. Sometimes one or more of the bravest fly into our windows purposefully, as if to command, “Pay attention and feed us; we’re hungry out here!”
Marilyn says I’m still feeding animals. She and I enjoy the birds and our grandkids sit for long stretches in our kitchen observing and commenting about the dozens of feathered visitors outside our floor-to-ceiling east-facing windows.
Not everyone enjoys the late fall. Persons who struggle with seasonal affective disorder often feel depressed as daily sunlight wanes.
These persons might find basking in morning sunshine while watching birds and animals can make their lives less melancholy. They also can keep in mind that sitting in front of grow lights, while their house plants also take in energy, helps cheer them up.
Grow lights are full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs that replicate natural solar light. The lamps and bulbs are available at many hardware and plant nursery stores and can be purchased online.
I also think about people who are lonely, homeless and poor and try to help out with donations for Christmas baskets or by giving to missions. I find giving more satisfying than receiving.
When I receive a gift I feel a desire to reciprocate. While I always say “Thanks,” sometimes that doesn’t seem enough.
Reciprocating is especially difficult with someone who seems to have everything. A friend taught me that giving a donation to a shelter or mission can be a fitting substitute for reciprocating in kind.
I like the idea of passing along kindnesses. Dear readers, may you have a Happy Thanksgiving and a good time preparing for winter.