Earth Journal:
Who's Here: Winter
by Audrey Y. Scharmen

Winter made a brief appearance in early November and spread the shaded corners of my garden with light frost. All the signs of a changing season were present, and my calendar said it was time to tidy up the yard, trim the coral honeysuckle and tuck away the clay pots. Across the creek, a sharp wind was hurriedly snatching the brightest leaves from the trees, and the sky hung heavy and gray over the woodlands.

So who am I to question Mother Nature? I went submissively out into the chill morning to give the honeysuckle its annual bad haircut.

Atop the trellis, amid patches of green leaves, lay the puckered remains of moonflowers. Sensual white orbs of summer caught by Jack Frost in the midst of an orgy of blooming in the pale, frosted light of the last moon of autumn that rose cold and full and golden over half-clad trees. Frozen stiff: a normal occurrence. The frivolous Southern belles should have known better, I mused.

The rest is weather history: winter departed suddenly a week later and left us in the hot hands of Indian summer.

In my faded garden, I watched little dust devils rearrange ragged remnants of scarlet creeper and the last fuzzy flowers of groundsel from the burnished marsh. A cornstalk person sprawled in a corner, overcome by heat, his flannel shirt definitely out of season.

An enormous mantis - wizened, crisp and brown as an oak leaf - crept dazed from the debris of honeysuckle to commiserate, and we wondered where winter had gone. We are creatures of habit. Hostile old geezers, we do not like this unseasonable change.

I called her attention to the colorful satin heralds of the holiday that flapped from fence posts along the lane. The rippling new-age banners all wore the same smug smiling face of Santa. The porches dripped icicle lights and red ribbons. They all seem to be going ahead with winter.

When I began to rant, the mantis scrambled back into the vines. My only ally deserted me. She had her own problems: she had forgotten to hibernate.

So I tossed a tarp around the barren honeysuckle to cover the cruel nakedness that starkly reveals its age. A few flakes of snow would certainly enhance the gnarled old limbs. I collapsed into my favorite porch rocker.

There, I see the mute swans in the cove across the lane. They were born last spring in the marsh at the tip of this tributary, and I have watched them grow from small gray ghosts into fine young adults, changing dress with each season. Now they wear holiday attire: new coats, satiny white as a moonflower's petal.

There, in the dooryard, is the wonderful scent of blowzy herbs and crushed chrysanthemums and sweet alyssum that comes only with winter. There, I have heard the lament of transient loons, the ratcheting of kingfishers and the midnight love song of an owl.

These are the true harbingers of the joyous season. No matter the temperature, winter is here - someplace.

Now finally the temperature drops.

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VolumeVI Number 50
December 17-23, 1998
New Bay Times

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