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The Shipwreck Rose: Sweater Weather

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 11:47

Have you heard about FOMIA? It’s a psychological impulse related to FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), except it’s 2020-specific and lockdown-induced: Fear of Moving Inside Again. I’m trying to wallow in as much outdoor time as I possibly can before the temperature falls and our seven-day moving average of positive Covid tests in Suffolk County bumps up over the danger line.

A creeping dread — of finding ourselves homebound again, wearing fuzzy slippers and harassed expressions around the kitchen table, bickering about who ate the last Klondike Bar — has driven me to Main Beach in the waning days of summer, in the rain, and to Northwest Harbor in the late-September twilight to swim until my extremities go numb and the insects thick around my head have to elbow one another aside to get a bite.

Back in February, I was among the paranoid kooks who started secretively storing household supplies under their bed “just in case.” Four canisters of Lysol disinfecting wipes, a 16-pack of toilet paper, eight boxes of spaghetti, Tide Pods and hand soap, Aleve, Gatorade Frost Glacier Freeze, shelf-stable oat milk, Hershey’s With Almonds. . . . They all laughed. I even had King Arthur bread flour under there before the first of March. Hah! Take that, coronavirus.

My bed is a tall, ancient four-poster, and the bed skirt once again conceals a few weeks’ worth of my kids’ favorite Pirate Booty and boxed macaroni and cheese. Yeast availability won’t be an issue this time ’round, because the sourdough starter is already in the fridge. The vegan pizza is in the freezer with the ground-duck sausage for Thanksgiving stuffing. I hope I’m wrong. Actually, I already think I’m wrong. I’m sure I’m wrong.

When my daughter is off at school, which is Thursdays and Fridays for students with last names L through Z, I make use of the pretty little desk we’ve installed for her in the side of the living room we pretentiously call “the music room” (because there is a piano in it). My new job as Suffolk school specialist in the New York State Contact Tracing Initiative really does chain me to my computer all day — and I mean really; I barely have a minute to stand up from 8:30 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. — but from Nettie’s desk I lift my head now and then to watch the neighborhood animals come and go, chipmunks and rabbits and even one wayward pet hedgehog. (That’s a whole other column, for another week.) The fawns we followed with oohs and aahs in spring now gawky adolescents with spots and painfully skinny legs.

I keep thinking of a game my grandmother — also Nettie — devised to entertain me when I was very small. It’s one of my earliest childhood memories: She stuck shell peanuts between the branches of the hedge just outside this same living-room window, then we’d go back inside to watch the squirrels sneak up, looking left and right, to steal them away, like the naughtier heroes of Beatrix Potter. Good, old-fashioned, low-budget fun. Now I watch the squirrels carrying glossy horse chestnuts to their own winter hidey-holes.

One very wily squirrel, a criminal squirrel character who I think I can recognize, ate every single one of the growing apples off my apple trees in August. I watched him do it from my desk. He carried them off, one by one, across the grass over a period of days, until every branch on all three trees was stripped bare. As a supervillain flourish, he left exactly one apple dangling, to mock me. It was small, pocked, and sad when it fell to the ground a few days ago.

Loving autumn is a cliché, and while I enjoy marking the wearing of October’s first sweater with Instagram selfies as much as the next person (that’s a lie), I’ve never really understood why everyone claims to love most the decline of the year, the dying-off season. But I’m proactively making the most of the long-term forecast — epidemiological and political, as well as meteorological — with vigorous nesting and bringing in. Preparing for winter 2020-21 is akin to doomsday prepping; it requires you to drink licorice tea and read the Vermont Country Store catalog very carefully. I’ve found myself considering ankle-length flannel nighties, although I hope things don’t go that far.

I missed my chance to stockpile sorrel from Balsam Farms for Christmas oysters, but there is Milk Pail cider to buy, and I’ve already placed my annual order for almond paste and Yorkshire brack tea cake to be delivered the third week of December from Botham’s of Whitby, a bakery on the North Yorkshire coast.

I’m an apple snob and decline to eat them unless it’s the season. You won’t find me biting into a Red Delicious or Grannie Smith unless under duress. (It’s like forcing yourself to consume an icebox beefsteak tomato in March: Why would you do that to yourself?) With our own apple crop sacrificed to the household fauna, I’m gearing up to force my kids to go apple picking. I like a hard, tart apple, a Braeburn, Cortland, or Empire, and I like to bake a lattice-top pie with caramel sauce poured over before it goes in the oven. We missed the beach plums this year — see above: chained to desk — but the cranberries will be ready in the bogs before the month is out. We need more pumpkins, we need more dahlias.

My new fad is cruising the yard sales and the Ladies Village Improvement Society Bargain Box for small, brass candlesticks so we can put a candle in each window in December. We need more light! My kids have always agitated for holiday lawn décor, and I’ve always refused, but this year I’m not opposed to a vintage, 1950s blow-mold outdoor ornament for Christmas, even if — especially if? — it might offend the good taste of the neighbors. I wonder what crimes the deer would commit if I installed a life-size blow-mold Dancer or Prancer on the lawn?

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