Celebrating the last days of November

Flocks of twittering pine grosbeaks dining on the cascading clumps of ash seeds.

A soaring rough-legged hawk, black “elbow” patches winking against November’s overcast sky.

Zoom, zoom, zoom: a coordinated army of snow buntings swoops across a frost-touched pasture.

“Whoo? Who-whooo?” cries the long-eared owl as twilight falls.

These, and a host of other natural sights and sounds of November soothe the soul on a country day.

Here on the Steele Line — just as at your back door whether you live in Luskville or along the Black River — many more signs of winter’s sure, steady approach lie all around us. For, despite this November’s extraordinary, sustained balmy temperatures (it was 15° on Monday November 26) the inevitable sleet and snow are just around the corner. In fact, as I write this column on Tuesday November 26, freezing rain is predicted. And so it begins: the descent into winter.

A “for instance” in the plant world is the deciduous holly in our back field. A favourite of mine, this pretty bush is a denizen of wetlands: it likes having its “feet” damp if not soaking wet. At this time of the year, now-devoid of its oblong, rounded leaves, the bushy shrub’s brilliant scarlet berries glow in an otherwise gold, brown and silver-coloured universe.

Domestic plants similarly encourage observation and appreciation. Last summer’s silver-coloured sage blossoms resemble horse tails: their long plumes sway in the breeze, prompting me to think they’d make a pretty addition to a Christmas wreath..

What about the scents of November? Here’s where the sage truly comes into its own, for its familiar pungency brings a smile to my face as I brush against it. Two types of sage: two types of fragrance. A splendid addition to the Christmas turkey that I purchased from the Draper family again this year.

Talking of scents, my two cats Chico and Tigger are probably just like yours: revelling in the green grass that still ripples come a blustery day. While they’re out and about like this, they seek catnip, that member of the mint family that gives kitties a natural high. Ever-amusing it is, to watch them rolling in the “nip” and then dashing about, usually up the nearest tree, tails all fluffy as they chase one another about.

But of course the cats have other things in mind than cavorting in the still-green, pliant “nip.” Beware all voles! Hide, you mice! The cats are on the prowl and lethal. Every day these two catch many rodents and, because it is November and the start of winter, our two are now permitted to hunt in our sandy-floored basement. Our potato crop, neatly stored away, has attracted a mouse or two, so these days Tigger and Chico are vigilant, scouring the basement’s many nooks and crannies, searching for mice.

Back outside, now in the vegetable garden, I gather the last few leeks, the last few carrots. All delicious, they are still easy to pull because the ground is not frozen. Nearby, fronds of curly-leaved kale remind me how delicious they’ll taste come mid-winter. Last year’s Christmas dinner was made even more special with a steaming bowlful of this delicious green crop, just-picked from a snowbank in my garden.

And beside the kale, bushy bright, emerald green leaves still burst from the damp dark soil. Parsnips: they’ll be delectable come April, when winter’s sub-zero chill has turned most starches to sugars.

Beyond the vegetable garden lies the pond, with flat water lily leaves still floating greenly on its still-unfrozen surface. Some days there has been a thin coating of ice, but this month’s warmth has kept ice at bay. And, with great astonishment, I’ve noticed inch-long tadpoles swimming about, creatures I associate with spring’s promise of sunny rejuvenation, not November’s chilly flirtation with winter.

Walking up the path alongside our little brook feeding the pond, there are chickadees flitting about, calling their name-song. On the verge of the forest I see flashes of blue and hear that squeaky-door-hingc call of the jay.

Who says November is a dreary month?


Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer based near Quyon, Québec. Contact her at fletcher.katharine@gmail.com