Coatless and sockless in the four o\’clock dusk, picking kale in the garden, I almost stepped on a woolly bear caterpillar that was crossing my path at a pretty good clip. By now it should have been curled under a thick padding of leaves, safely tucked against the rigors of winter.
We do a lot of tucking here in the fall. The hens get a thick bedding of hay to keep their skinny feet warm. The garden gets a nice duvet of compost. The young apple trees get hard plastic socks around their trunks to guard against the rabbits. The climbing roses get a layer of mulch hay around their feet, while the lavender is surrounded by a wall of hay that reaches halfway up the plants. The rosemary bush and the scented and zonal geraniums have been indoors by a sunny window for weeks.
Vermonters (and Vermonter wannabes such as I) tuck themselves behind massive stacks of wood that will feed the stove until late April. Every driveway is outlined with four-foot markers warning the snow plows away from the grass. And the shrub-proud among us (not I) put out A-shaped wooden contraptions to keep their plantings from being dismembered by avalanches dropping from the roof.
In a word, Vermont is tucked and ready for winter. But, as that 15th-century rake Villon put it, Ou sont les neiges d\’antan? (Where are the snows of yesteryear?). Sure, we\’ve had a couple of snows already, but they have promptly disappeared in the next day\’s 60F high. Reader, it\’s kind of hot here.
I\’m worried about the lavender, sweltering under its thick coat of hay. I\’m worried about the yellow butterflies that flitted across the driveway yesterday, worried about the geese flying in indecisive circles overhead–to stay, to go? I\’m worried about the frogs, who tucked themselves into the gunk at the bottom of the pond on the first cold night, and can be seen clinging to the disintegrating lily pads in the weirdly warm noon sun. I\’m worried about the woolly bears–will they be able to rush to shelter when the real cold suddenly arrives? And I\’m wondering about their cousins, the brown bears. Are they in their dens by now or are they making sleepy, ill-tempered sorties, hunting for the last berries? Is it safe to fill the bird feeder?
People in the village store say, \”enjoy this weird weather.\” Others say, \”we\’re gonna pay for it later.\” And I wonder, who are the optimists, who the pessimists? Me, I hope we do pay for it. I hope I get to wear my new super-warm-yet-light-as-a-feather winter coat that is hanging in the closet with the tags still attached. I hope the cold kills the ticks. I hope a thick coat of snow both shelters my plants and leaches nitrogen into their roots. I hope the harshness of winter keeps those who would move here for frivolous reasons away. I hope another season of relative isolation teaches me to endure, to bend with the winds, to find sustenance within myself.
In case you\’re wondering–that caterpillar in the garden? It wore a wide brownish-orange belt around its middle: a sure sign of a mild winter.