Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Oct. 17, 2002
October - the month of brisk temperatures and leaves swirling in the air. The bright blue autumn sky contrasts with the reds, yellows and coppers of the prairie grasses. Orange, burgundy and yellow leaves fall from trees like so many butterflies fluttering to the ground. The chilly morning air calls for light jackets and the warm afternoon sun draws people and animals into its light.
Last weekend when we went to Staples, we saw some sparrows that looked like they were using these last warm days of the year to prepare for winter. The letters above the store entrance are large and each one is several inches wide. Where the bottom curve of each "e" approaches the horizontal bar, there is a two- or three-inch gap. Each was filled by a nest and one had a bird snuggled into the letter's curve. I don't know why the "e's are more popular than the other letters. Perhaps the closeness of their curves gives more protection from the elements.
Squirrels, their mouths stuffed with nuts - some still attached to oak branches - search for hiding places for their winter food supply. I always wonder how they remember where they've hidden their stash.
Fuzzy caterpillars inch across the roads as quickly as they can. Many are squashed by cars and some are the victims of curious children such as our Katherine. She asked Art to capture one so she could care for it. She prepared an elaborate shoebox home - complete with water dish, vines, leaves, sticks, rocks and dirt. But it knew that winter was coming. Within two days of its arrival, the blonde caterpillar began spinning its cocoon on the side of the shoe box. A neighbor who is an entomologist suggested moving the box to the garage so the caterpillar would experience the same conditions it would in nature. Katherine did as she suggested and there the box will sit until spring.
In many ways, we humans prepare for winter, too. Farmers harvest their soybeans and soon will do the same with their reddish brown milo crops. Pumpkin farmers open their fields to families looking for bright orange globes to decorate their porches and front steps.
When the weatherman predicted frost a few days ago, my Mom brought in her last harvest of the season - a shoe box full of tomatoes. And, she decided to experiment with her Christmas cactus this fall. The plant - grown from cuttings her mother had - hasn't bloomed for years, but she read that if she puts it in a dark closet for 12 hours each day and then brings it out into the sun, it will bloom by Christmas.
Chrysanthemums are among my favorite fall flowers so I planted yellow, wine, purple and white ones to add to my autumn decor. And each night, if frost is in the forecast, I cover them with old sheets.
Along with planting flowers and bulbs, I like to work on house projects in the fall. We recently painted our entry, and the driveway has been graded for winter. We hope to put up new window shutters and install a new shower before it gets too cold.
Bigger appetites accompany all this work. I don't profess to be much of a cook, but this month makes me want to bring out my soup, chili and stew recipes, along with the ones for homemade bread and pumpkin pie.
So here it is - the month to throw open windows by day and to snuggle under comforters at night. Ah, October!
Katie with her caterpillar