The View from Mattie’s Pillow

First snow.

In the morning, when I went to feed the horses, the sky was flat gray and a drop or two of drizzle fell—not enough to wet the hay I threw out to them, but enough to serve as a warning.  The greenhouse was still above 40 degrees and I gambled that the snow that had been predicted would hold off till I came home from school in the afternoon.  But as I was packing my laptop and finishing my coffee and getting ready to leave for my 9:45 class, I noticed the first bit of white fluff among the quickening rain, as if someone were shaking a down jacket with a tear—a few fat flakes mixed among the gray.  So, instead of leisurely swallows of coffee, I went out on the deck and brought in the still-blooming geraniums, the pots of thyme, oregano, parsley, rosemary, cilantro, then took scissors and snipped clusters of still-green sungold tomatoes from the deck tomato plants.

Tonight, I went to dinner with Sam’s former owner, Kathy, and Avrille, who rode Sam two summers ago and who just had a baby. Avrille’s mother was visiting the new, three-week-old grandson—the occasion for the dinner, and we sat in Kathy’s living room in the gray light of gathering dusk mixed with snow and talked about horses, babies, dogs.  Kathy’s elderly appaloosa, Prince, wandered in the yard outside the window, grazing on the last of the summer’s grass, his back gray from the rain.  I held Oscar, the baby, for a long time, feeling his sleepy breathing and letting myself drift on the conversation and the gathering night.

We forget about night in the summers here.  We expect to be outside in the light at all hours, in mild air, and amidst the rampant green of our gardens.  Now, after the fall equinox, we begin to realize the inevitable—night is overtaking us.  We are leaving the realm of the outer, the literal, the sun-edged and settling down to the dream-like state of winter.  Not yet, not quite yet—the leaves are still orange-gold, the grass green and spiky, the sunflower still has buds, the broccoli has new sprouts, and the tomatoes in the greenhouse are just turning from green to yellow to red.

When I got home, I gave the horses an extra layer of spruce shavings and filled a five-gallon jug with hot water and took it to the greenhouse to counteract what temperatures night might bring.  I said a thank-you to the still blooming petunias that may not make tonight.  I contemplated all the chores that need to be done before snow settles in for real for the winter: rolling up the hose, taking up the portable electric fence that let Mattie and Sam graze the lawn, covering the horse trailer with a tarp, plugging in the water tank heater, and, sigh, emptying out the greenhouse.  I’ll bring a few pepper and eggplant plants in to coax a bit more growth, and pick the remaining Black Krim, Chianti Rose, and Pompeii Roma tomatoes to ripen in a drawer for the rest of fall.   Then there are the root crops—and once again, I may be chopping them out from under a frozen top layer of dirt.

So much to do, and, now that there’s night, I just want to curl up under a quilt and sleep till spring.

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