As our daylight hours grow shorter, many North Country residents find their spare time diminishing. There seems to be a lot to do to prepare for the upcoming winter and less time to get those chores done. So I make lists, and then I make collections of lists. I am one of a fading breed who actually writes out lists with a pen and pieces of paper, the way my dear old dad taught me back when I was a middle school kid with lots of things to do and a scattered adolescent mind.
One list is for preparing the gardens for winter. Some leaves, after being raked up, serve as a gentle mulch for a lot of the flower gardens. So on the list,raking comes before mulching the gardens. A final harvest of the hardiest vegetable garden gifts comes before turning the soil over in the garden. This can wait until a killing frost but must be accomplished before the ground freezes solid, generally a few weeks later.
If I have spring bulbs to plant, this, too, must be completed before the ground freezes. I have been known to shovel a light snow off a prepared bed to get the last narcissus in the ground, but if I can get it crossed off my October list, I save myself from nearly freezing my fingertips off in November.
Trees and bushes
I prune roses and rhododendrons, and sometimes some apple trees with excessive growth. We wrap some of our favorite bushes with chicken wire to prevent winter's hungry deer from demolishing them. We ensure the apple trees have been wrapped with chicken wire from the ground to about 4 feet off the ground, to prevent the active beaver population from destroying our orchard. We have learned these lessons the hard way, losing apple trees and flowering shrubs to nature's residents back when we were still trying to figure out how to win those wars.
Then comes a list for around the house chores. Neil washes the first floor windows on grey days, before the snow starts spitting. He often puts up Christmas lights at this time too, saving his fingers from a sure December chill.
We make appointments to get the snow tires put on the cars, and we keep those appointments. We pull out the shovels and put them in our key shoveling locations. I also aim to have at least two pairs of hiking poles by the front door, inspiring me to walk outside even if the ground is white.
Inside we find our basket full of mittens and hats, and bring it back downstairs for the season. We find our winter coats and jackets, our fleece vests, and our boots and put them on and under the coat rack where they belong.
By late October we have all of this winter's wood stacked in and next to the house. We've cleaned the chimney. We've had our winter oil tank filled. We put cold weather windshield washer fluid in the cars, and put the appropriate snow scrapers and brushes in each vehicle. Each car also gets a shovel and a bag of old fashioned kitty litter, for those times of slipping on icy roads, or into snow banks. This list is not endless, but it is long.
Getting into the woods
Then comes the list for spirit and health issues. It's important to always keep moving, I say. I try to get into the woods every day, at least until hunting season arrives. I admire the forest's progression toward winter, the once-colorful leaves making a quiet brownish blanket over the ground in the woods. There are almost no sounds in the air in the autumn forest. There may be an occasional chickadee or blue jay chattering somewhere. You may hear a red squirrel trying to make you go away. But the quiet is a large thing, totally opposite of spring's constant chatter and song. In this quiet at certain moments, you can easily hear the distant pecking of a woodpecker, the scratching of squirrel toes on bark, or the wind moving the empty branches against one another. But overall, it is true quiet, and our human hearts can be soothed by it if we let it.
In the upcoming weeks the last trees will lose their golden leaves. The tamaracks will drop their golden needles. The birds who have not left yet will gather, then take off for their winter homes. The first snow will come, and it will remind us of what lies ahead. Our bears and chipmunks will prepare for their long rest.
So if you're a list maker like me, enjoy a cup of tea with some paper and a pen, and create your autumn to-do list, if you haven't completed all the chores yet. But if you've finished your chores, why not get out to the forest trails and soak up some true peace and quiet before the hunters and snows come. It's a wonderful reward, and you will be glad you did.
Randy Lewis lives in Paul Smiths, and is the author of "Actively Adirondack: Reflections of Mountain Life in the 21st Century," Adirondack Center for Writing's People's Choice Award for Best Book 2007.