Tomorrow is the fall equinox, officially the first day of autumn, but everywhere I went in town the other day people said, "I can't believe it's winter already." What they meant is that suddenly it's cool and rainy, and since that's what winter is like, that's the way they phrased it. It's not really winter – we are proud of having four distinct seasons in southern Oregon – but the seasons have shifted.
This autumn-that-seems-like-winter began, at my house, with a strange clanging sound in the night that I finally identified as rain in the gutter. Rain! – if not the beginning of winter, certainly the end of summer. Later the sound changed to the fuzziness of a steady Oregon-style drizzle. The air smells of damp earth, wet leaves, and, vaguely, wet ashes from the fire over the ridge.
I feel like I've awakened from hibernation – only, of course, it was estivation, the long summer sleep. Not many animals estivate, but the human animal might, given the "lazy days of summer." Most animals, like the chipmunk on my deck, follow the other maxim, making hay while the sun shines. For three summers now I have watched him scurry around the flower boxes, burying his acorns in the soft dirt. Every spring, when I plant my zinnias and verbena on the sunny side of the deck and impatiens and geraniums on the shady side, I pull up the fruits of his labors, oak seedling after oak seedling with its long root deep in my pot.
Unlike my chipmunk, I'm not ready for winter. There was no time between the lifting of fire restrictions, allowing me to run the machine that would split my firewood rounds into usable pieces, and the rainfall now soaking all that wood Mike and I worked so hard to get down the hill. The rocks that snow and frost knocked out of the rock wall last winter are still lying on the ground, leaving holes in the wall that weaken its structure. I have been meaning all summer to repair that wall, before more snow and frost bring more of it tumbling down, but the heat, the smoke, and procrastination kept me in estivation.
I am dismayed that my nice wooden table and chairs, for summer breakfast on the deck, are getting wet because I haven't stored them in the shed for the winter. The house plants are still on the porch by the front door, taking the space where, in winter, I keep several days' worth of firewood, easily accessible, for building the morning fire. This morning, when I built the first fire of the season, I had to walk to the woodshed with a flashlight for an armful of firewood to carry back to the house.
Is it already time for sweaters and heavy socks? What clothes do I have that are not for summer but not for winter, either? I look fondly again at my pretty sweaters, my long wool skirt, my leather-and-fur (fake leather, fake fur) coat. This winter maybe I'll wear my long woolen cloak more than I did last winter. I'm old enough to look eccentric.
Gradually I remember the pleasures of winter – the fire in the stove, winter clothes, cross-country skiing. Today I'll take the house plants inside and stack firewood on the front porch. I'll get the firewood split this weekend and fill the woodshed with wood, where it should dry quickly. And when the rain lets up and the air is less chilly, I'll fix the rock wall, too.