Last Friday, Oct. 4, we all awoke to find a cold wet snow had covered our evergreens and golden aspen with inches of white. It was beautiful but brought an abrupt end to summer. It also brought back memories to me of other first snows.
When I was young, my father called up the stairs with a cheery good morning. He ordered us all to turn out because there were apples still to be picked before it turned cold enough to freeze them. We had a great time and were soon soaked to the skin in melting slushy snow. Once all the apples were in the barn, we trouped into the house for hot baths, dry clothes and hot chocolate. It had been fun and just one of many childhood memories I have to cherish.
On another first snow, I recall riding down a country road in western New York. Like our snow here, it had been enough to completely cover the ground. On this clean white blanket, each tree had shed its colorful leaves. I can still see the circle of color beneath each tree. With the variety of trees and therefore the variety of color in the eastern woodlands, there were circular washes of color on the white snow: here a red circle of red maple leaves, there a circle of bronze beech leaves, yellow Norway maple, purple ash, orange hawthorn and the various other colors. It was a world of glorious color that I shall never forget.
Along the road below our house, there was no color except the dark pines and golden aspen — a beauty in its own right. There were several stands of weeds that seem to prefer roadside ditches. These hardy weeds that have stout stalks holding their seed heads well above the snow are nature’s “bird feeders” for all winter long I see these dry seed heads being pried open by birds, which then eat the seeds and any insects they find within.
One of these is the common teasel, which is a non-native from Europe that the early settlers brought with them. Many weeds came to this country by accident, perhaps in feed or stall sweepings that were cleaned out whenever the early ships landed.
The teasel was brought deliberately because the seed heads are covered with long bristles and were used to come or “tease” a nap on the wool cloth they made. Thus the name teasel. The flowers on the teasel are small and bloom in a circle around the middle of the seed head first and then in other circles above and below the first one until they have all bloomed. They are a soft lavender in color.
Bristles on the seedpods are soft when green, but they firm up as they turn brown and become dry and bristly. They add a good bit to winter bouquets, and the seed pods alone can be turned into great little mice if turned on one side: a bead nose and two eyes and a tail are added. I have used them as Halloween decorations, and they look very real, especially when crawling in and out of a pumpkin.
All of last week’s snow has melted, and once more, we have been having warm summer days, but autumn is definitely in the air, and it will be a long time before spring brings new green things to look for, but the ghosts and goblins will soon be about.