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Fall Fever

Last week, snow covered the ground for the first time this year. There were still many garden chores I’d hoped to do.

Some don’t require the ground uncovered: I urged myself to get busy and shut off the indoor feeds to the outdoor faucets, to cover the hose reel; to gather and toss onto the snow the ripe seeds of flower-of-an-hour, nodding onion — and lambs’ quarters, a weed whose spinachy-tasting leaves I relish.

But if the snow lasted, I’d have to leave weeding 'til spring. I love johnny jump-ups, but last summer they almost smothered my viola labradorica. I pulled the offenders out (I have plenty around the yard) — but thousands of seedlings sprouted, and are thriving now; I know they’ll grow under snow. I don’t know about lamiastrum, but it’s almost crossed the path into some daylilies I don’t want to lose....

Still, I wasn’t too sorry. It’s getting harder every year to get myself outdoors in the cold tail end of the gardening season. Snow cover would be a relief.

Then it melted. By upbraiding myself roundly, I got myself out working. My back was pretty sore afterward, but I enjoyed getting tasks done. It was worth it; I knew I would feel that way — and still I resisted.

I was glad for the reprieve in the weather — and at the same time I’m still longing for winter’s rest. This ambivalence reminds me of something.... With spring fever, people feel odd combinations of laziness and restlessness; we want to get outdoors again. I think I have the reverse.

You can attribute it to melatonin, the hormone produced by the pineal gland when it’s not exposed to sunlight. In animals, melatonin triggers hibernation.

Or you can see it in a wider context. These times of transition are called by anthropologists “liminal,” after the Latin word for “threshold.” All the earth-centered cultures of the world acknowledge that they raise strong feelings — and other powerful energies.

Liminal times are spooky, magical: sunrise and sundown, birth and death; initiations and rites of passage; New Year’s and Hallowe’en (Northwestern Europe’s ancient New Year ); the dark of the moon; the threshold between waking and sleep.

As I was waking this morning, I thought I heard snowplows rumble down our street. As it turns out, they were not — but they’re coming soon. I can hear them, here on the threshold of winter.

© Copyright 2004 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 26 November 2004

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