Tag Archives: fall

Remember fall?

After a brutally hot and dry September, it finally feels like autumn here in the Bluegrass. I’ve been reading a lot about cli-fi (climate fiction) lately, and it seems to have seeped into my poetry.

Memories of the fall

the trees dropped their leaves in relief
after weeks of drought and record
heat, thankful for cool clear nights
but far too tired to put on a show


maple leaf

One of the few bits of color I’ve seen


I’ve not written in weeks nor posted in months, but the frenzy of summer is giving way to the winding down of autumn, thank goodness. This poem was inspired by a lovely post from Michele Bledsoe at The Secret Kingdom: https://secretkingdombook.wordpress.com/2019/09/13/42-dogs-and-the-art-of-repetition/

Imperfect analogy

an artist titles her painting “42 Dogs”
and I think about dogs like snowflakes

unique and beautiful, infinite
in variation: size, shape, color

and then I realize dogs are nothing
like snowflakes, which are more

or less uniform in size and color
and pile up by the millions

on the lawn and front walk, and blow
into drifts against the house

and I am so grateful
that dogs are warm and soft

eyed and that snowflakes are not
in the least bit like dogs



Volunteer ironweed (Vernonia sp.) that appeared in my yard

My, Grandmother, what lovely stockings you have!

A few years ago, I wrote about my affection for large spiders (which I call Grandmother Spiders) and how delighted I am that a number of them see fit to hang out around my house every fall. I thought that being a Neoscona haven was pretty cool, but this year I found an amazing lady outside my window who has me in seventh heaven: Araneus marmoreus, also known as a marbled orbweaver.

araneus croppedAs my photographic skills hardly do her justice, let me describe her: her body and upper legs are bright orange, with black and white stripes at the ends of her legs, like stockings. She has a ridiculously large, very round abdomen, cheery yellow in color with elaborate dark brown markings. Between her vivid coloring and the size and shape of her abdomen, she looks more like some artist’s caricature of a spider, made from a large marble and glass beads on wire.

spider 1Early mornings, I’ve been privileged to watch her repair her web from the night’s hunting before she retreats to a modest shelter of leaves and silk she constructed at the top of the window. Most evenings I find her hanging in the center of the web, as pictured here. (The lighting at these times of day also accounts in part for the photographic mediocrity.)

So now I can check another really cool giant spider off my life list (which I didn’t know I had until she showed up at my window. Thank you, Grandmother!)

Giant spiders: one more reason I love fall

The other evening, while leaving the library after my writers group meeting, I saw my first Neoscona of the season. She had strung her web between two pine trees next to the parking lot and now hung quietly, beautifully waiting in the center. I was too far away to determine whether she was a crucifera or a domiciliorum, but I doubt I would have been able to get close enough to see in any case as Neoscona are quite shy.

Bedewed Neoscona web in my front yard

Neoscona are orb weavers, spiders who make beautiful, circular webs. The two species mentioned above are found throughout much of the eastern United States. Both are quite sizeable, 1/2 inch or more as adults, with large, round abdomens and distinctively striped legs. In the fall, females gamble that the risks of placing their webs more visibly will pay off in a greater catch of prey; they do not overwinter and will give their all to egg-laying, a la the eponymous heroine of Charlotte’s Web.

I first encountered Neoscona many years ago when I lived in New England. I was house-sitting and discovered that a huge spider had made her web across one of the bedroom windows. Pretty clever, I thought, as I stayed up quite late at night reading and the light was bound to attract a lot of bugs.

Inspired by a Native American story told me earlier that summer, I dubbed my fellow house-sitter Grandmother Spider and came to think of her as a kind of guardian. When strange noises in the unfamiliar house woke me late at night, I imagined her web as a dream catcher, with Grandmother Spider waiting in it to capture any malevolent thought or intruder.


Neoscona sp. (photo by Cindy Dyer)

I was delighted to discover Grandmother Spiders around my own home when I returned from house-sitting and have ever since considered them an omen of blessing and protection. I have watched them build their webs, discovered their hiding places, and marveled to see them take down all but the main anchor lines when it rains, like an old salt furling the sails or a woman taking in her laundry. Their striped legs remind me of brightly striped stockings, which always make me smile, and their appearance is a sure sign that the wheel of the year is turning again to my favorite season, fall.

Seeing that spider in her web the other night, I got into my car with a warm, safe feeling. “Good hunting, Grandmother,” I called to her as I drove away.

Update (22sep10): I found some beautiful photos of my Grandmother Spiders, including the one above, at Cindy Dyer’s blog. She tells a lovely story, complete with pictures, about a Neoscona she observed outside her studio in 2008: “How to frame a spider,” and “Out came the rain and…” Thanks, Cindy, for letting me share your eye for beauty (and your talent with a camera) in my post!

Paw-paw time

green paw-paw

You know it’s fall when the paw-paws show up in the produce section.

Yes, you read that right: paw-paws, as in the children’s song:
Where in the world is dear little Susie?
Where in the world is dear little Susie?
Where in the world is dear little Susie?
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

The paw-paw is a real fruit that grows on a plant native to North America. It has several tropical relatives, but our paw-paw grows in the eastern U.S. as far north as western New York.

ripe paw-paw (not a potato. really.)

Although botanically classified as berries, paw-paws are about two inches in diameter and four or five inches long, the size of a nice baking potato. A properly ripe paw-paw looks much like a baking potato, too – brown and blotchy like a banana that has gone too far even for bread. Eaten at this stage, paw-paws have a texture like custard and a sweet, slightly fermented flavor that is wholly unique but reminds one faintly of mangoes.

paw-paw seeds

The real trick to eating paw-paw is avoiding the large, flat seeds, which are a deep, glossy brown and very beautiful. (Some folks make jewelry out of them.) The seeds spiral throughout the fruit, making it difficult to cut up neatly. I start at one end and slice it crosswise every 1/3 inch or so, hoping to catch a seed with each slice.

Paw-paw is traditionally made into some kind of cold treat. According to several sources, chilled paw-paw was a favorite dessert of George Washington, and it’s often made into ice cream. I like it in smoothies, and usually freeze it for that purpose. This year I’m going to try it with a banana bread recipe, and one of these days I hope to make an old-fashioned paw-paw cream pie.

Although the fruits themselves don’t last too long, the fruiting season often goes into October, so I’m looking forward to a long, lovely fall filled with paw-paw.

Bulb crazy

I’m afraid I’ve overdone it. Again.

Come fall, a gardener’s thoughts turn to the planting of spring-blooming bulbs, which have to be planted NOW. Last year I waited too long to purchase my bulbs in the mistaken belief that I could get them on clearance if I waited until retailers deemed the season for planting to be over. Not only did I not get any bargains, I had a drastically reduced selection from which to choose. Even then I bought more than I was able to plant, for we ended up having a very wet fall and early winter: my soil is heavy clay and impossible to work while wet. Half of them ended up in the compost this spring, having rotted in their bags in my garage.

A week of clear, dry, autumn weather got me thinking about fall planting and the beautiful mature gardens I left behind when I moved to the Bluegrass. One tulip in particular was my very favorite, a double late tulip called ‘Uncle Tom’ — a deep, rich maroon flower so petaliferous that it looks a peony or an overblown rose. I fired off a wistful email request to my mother-in-law for her to visit my favorite garden center in all the world (Natureworks in Northford CT) and get some bulbs for me.

Wondering if ‘Uncle Tom’ is still available, I went online to see if I could find it. Before I realized what I was about, I had placed an order for 50 bulbs! (I must say I showed remarkable restraint, however, getting the smallest possible quantities of only two narcissi, two tulips, and two alliums, none of which are available in stores around here.)

A couple days later, my dear mother-in-law let me know that she’s bringing me a box of bulbs at the end of the month as requested. In my excitement over finding ‘Uncle Tom’ I had completely forgotten about the email I had sent her!

So now I face the daunting prospect of getting 100+ bulbs in the ground before spring. Luckily, the soil doesn’t usually freeze around here until January or February, so I have a little time.

I just hope we don’t have a lot of rain.

What’s blooming?

It’s another gorgeous day in the Bluegrass — warm and sunny, dry and clear. The sun sits in a brilliant blue sky, though somewhat further south, as the angle of the light visibly reveals. The same rays that scorched a few weeks ago now lie long and warm upon the land, the lingering caress of a lover who is leaving sooner than she would like.

The insects are at their zenith, in a frenzy to gather as much of the season’s bounty as they can hold. Bees are everywhere, their golden hum in the background of nearly every garden. My Sedum telephium ‘Matrona’ has just finished blooming; while it is in full flower, the blossoms are hardly visible for all the bees crawling over the floral heads.

The Geranium ‘Rozanne’ hasn’t stopped blooming since it started several months ago; I’ve had to cut it back twice to keep it from overwhelming not-so-nearby neighbors! It has spread so much in this year, only its second, that I’m thinking of dividing it before next year.

A second crop of self-sown pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) is starting to bloom. I’ve (perhaps foolishly) allowed them to grow where heavy summer rains carried their seeds, outside of the huge bed in which they were originally planted. The established plants go dormant in the heat of summer and look simply dreadful, but I so love the dense carpet of pink flowers they provide in the spring that I can’t bring myself to remove them. Perhaps I should cut them back when the weather turns blistering so they look less unsightly.

Last, but not least, in the perennial department is the Liriope muscari (known locally as monkey grass). Three varieties grow in my evolving gardens: ‘Big Blue,’  ‘Pee Dee Gold,’ and ‘Variegata.’  All three produce fantastic, blue-purple flower spikes in late summer, hence the species name (same as the genus name of the plant commonly known as grape hyacinth).

Clearly my gardens are lacking in those late summer powerhouses, the asters and their kin. I’ll have to work on that for next season. Now where did I put that season of bloom chart?

Gardening is a form of insanity

I’m wondering whether I should have named this blog “The Lunatic Gardener” because now that spring is here with a vengeance, all I want to write about is gardening. Of course, all I really want to DO is garden, but writing/talking/thinking/reading about gardening will do in a pinch.

I spent a couple hours this afternoon planting bulbs. I didn’t get all the bulbs I overbought in the fall planted before an unexpectedly normal winter set in, causing the ground to freeze when it should rather than never, as has been the case in recent years. I tucked the poor things away in a cold, dark corner of the garage to await an auspicious alignment of weather, soil conditions, and free time. Today was that magical day, though I still didn’t get them all in the ground. I have determined to pot up the remainder and let them do their thing, then dump the pots in the fall and plant the bulbs in the ground where they belong. I may even give some of the pots away as gifts once the plants are up and ready to bloom, with an offer to come plant the bulbs — in the ground — when they are done.

It feels so good to have a plan for the little darlings! Now I can sleep at night.