Notes From Madoo

Black Frost: White Lawn
November surfcasting
David E. Rattray

Nov. 2 was the second countywide freeze warning in as many days. Alocassia and caladium landed in the basement, buried in peat moss. One snipped here and there by way of saying goodbye and voted, knowing a great change was in the nation and went to bed early, not wanting to know, not just yet. During the night a silence settled and warmth fled from the earth to cloudless skies. Quite early the third I woke, sensing that some great policy of climate had occurred and saw the glow out the dining room windows, that sweep of shining white that grew ever whiter in the loosening of the dark and the beginning of dawn. The Black, the Killer Frost, had come. Now some occasional leaves plummeted like shot birds from the skies, sodden with wet, heavy with ice. In the ensuing days warmth just might return and then we would have the true, the real Indian summer.

Much has to be done. Garlic and tulips to be planted. Whenever the thermometer wobbled around 50, some much needed touch-up planting. The ponds netted against marauding herons. Various shrubs mummied in burlap against deer. And, once leaf fall became complete, some major pruning. There are flats in the greenhouse that must be planted, bird feeders to be cleaned and repaired, hedges to be cut back. I hesitate between a jacket and a heavy sweater and have yet to try a hat. The last green tomatoes are pickling in vinegar and will then be finished in dill, brine, and garlic. My head is full of soups and stews, pots forever bubbling on the back of the stove.

The white lawn began melting around 10 in the morning, the re-emerging green looking quite fresh and young and new, a sort of spring award cleansed by cold. A squirrel or two with bulging cheeks, hopped through the wet, wondering where to stash. The Thompson and Morgan seed catalog for 2011 arrived.

I had just moved to the winter house, intent on sorting and storing and pitching. Resolutions for the winter were made and breached. I made many lists and, as promptly, lost or mislaid them. How did I end up with three large tubes of sea salt, nothing of sugar, and that perennial container of allspice and I have never used allspice but cannot bring myself to toss it. I want to live lean this winter. Or fat. That Gemini of opposites again. I should have voted twice.

I have begun working on a notebook for the Newport garden. A wish list. Many sketches of new construction. There are several pages concerning a double allée, its extent, its constituents, its length and value to the whole. In a landscape so roiling with sudden falls and precipices, one has to make bold echoes of what is already there, to lightly tread and lay out one’s enhancements as if they were mere intended additions on the part of nature. I have yet to climb the highest point on the property, where there is a spring. Right next to it is a studio where the previous owner had a piano. Music was written there.