Tuesday, November 18, 2014

mid-autumn cold snap

mid-autumn cold snap --
first snow crowns the pumpkin
frozen on the doorstep

It's mid-November, normally with moderate temperatures in the 50s F (10-15 C). But weather has gone crazy these last few years. A week ago, we had summer weather, "I have to be outside" 73 F (23 C). The next day, an abrupt cold snap sent the thermometer tumbling 50 degrees to 23 F (-5 C), plunging us overnight into early winter. 
          A few days later, the first snow storm, softly falling flakes. The Halloween pumpkins on people's doorsteps are frozen rock hard, capped with a circlet of snow. Like magic, the snow birds appear, their charcoal heads and slate bodies bold against the snow as they peck at seeds dropped from the bird feeders. Although small, Juncos are truly hardy to migrate from the frigid north to Iowa, of all places, in the winter.
          Over the next few days, a north wind plummets the temperature even further, with wind chill factors well below 0 F (-18 C). This morning it's 8 F (-13 C). The birds are flying frantically back and forth to the feeders. They seem to expend a lot of energy for one seed at a time, especially the tiny chickadees, who carry each black oil sunflower seed off to a tree to peck open. The big red cardinals sit on at the feeder and break open safflower seed after seed with their heavy beaks. The woodpeckers (hairy, downy and red-capped), as well as the tufted titmice and nuthatches, cling to the cylindrical feeder to stab at peanuts. I don't put out beef suet for the birds because I don't think it's healthy for them. Instead I offer peanuts or peanut butter or seeds mixed with coconut oil (which stays hard in the cold).
          Our one-eyed, 18-year-old cat has been spending most of the day, as well as the night, curled up in a ball, tail over his nose. Sometimes he makes a nest in the tinder box behind the soapstone wood stove, to get as close as possible to the heat.
          I feel like Bob Cratchett, wearing a wool cap, shawl and fingerless mittens as I work on the computer, periodically thrusting my hands below the keyboard to warm up over the little oil radiator. But even so, I love a land with four distinct seasons, even if they do get muddled up and out of synch from time to time. I'm like those Juncos, small but hardy.

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