Winter’s Toothless Bite

15 Nov

The cat - a recent addition to our family - found the pumpkins to be fascinating.

I can no longer deny it: winter is lurking just around the corner, coming at me with its claws that rip and teeth that bite. Not to mention its breath that burns and turns any surface into potentially lethal ice-skating rinks of death…or at least humility-inducing and back-wrenching, firm-step-stealing labyrinths that must be navigated with great stealth and tiny, cautious footsteps. Yes, I speak from experience.

I know this to be true by several undeniable signs. 1) The leaves that cover my yard. 2) The ice that covers the lake every morning. 3) The need for my electric blanket to pre-warm my side of the bed every evening. And 4) the jack-o-lanterns that are rapidly becoming toothless and comical and any demons (wasn’t that the original purpose of carving squash?) would laugh at the sight of them and terrorize my house if they thought it was fertile ground for their ministrations. (So far we seem to be demon-free, so that’s a good thing. Perhaps prayer works best, after all.)

Did I mention she found them fascinating?


Sign #1: the leaves. When we lived in town, leaves were a scourge on society and had to be raked, removed, dealt with severely, unless you wanted to be “pink-slipped” by the city and smacked with a bill for their removal. They have valid reasons for this, as they don’t want the prairie lake to turn into a stinky, algae-covered toxic waste zone come August. I don’t want that, either, though, I must say, I like living in the country so much more, where no one cares what becomes of my leaves and we can stomp on them to our heart’s content.

She never would have dared to be so close if his teeth were still functional.


Sign #2: ice on the lake. I enjoy seeing the ice come in, even though I know what it means. I enjoy the daily “weather report” of the extent of its reach across the water, the depth of its hold on the fishes.

Ice forming on a tiny prairie lake is not nearly the big deal that it is on Lake Superior in Duluth. There it is real news when the lake closes for the winter and the shipping industry must wait for Mother Nature to decide when it will begin again. They do their best, come spring, to hurry along the process, and it’s news-worthy again when the ice-breaker goes out and shoves the rotting, blackened burgs out of the way so that the taconite can once again freely flow through the Great Lakes and out of the Eerie Canal.

Here, in the southern part of Minnesota, the Canada Geese are the harbingers of spring and when they show up we know that the ice is melting and soon fishing boats will dot the undulating landscape of Lake Okabena and make fishing widows of many mothers come the fishing opener on Mother’s Day…which, when I think about it, either really stinks or, if the dad’s bring their kids with them, really is a blessing in rubber-booted disguise.

Looks as if he's come out the worst in a bar fight.


Sign #3: my dual-control electric blanket. My husband does not believe in electrically boosting the temperature of his side of the bed. I, on the other hand, am a firm believer in such modern inventions and when I forget to pre-heat my side of the bed, I feel like the one last little treat of the day has been swiped away from me like some mean kid stealing my lollipop just as I got to the Tootsieroll center.

Sign #4: the jack-o-lanterns look like old and toothless men, wheezing in dark corners. I love carving pumpkins. LOVE it. I don’t know why, exactly, as I am completely inept as an artist in any other way. I could not carve a piece of wood into a beautiful form to save my life. Perhaps, come to think of it, that is why I love them: no one cares what they look like and the crazier the better. My life does not depend upon the beauty of my squash-carving abilities.

I don’t even mind reaching into their slippery depths and pulling out their innards. Like pulling off a scab, there is something satisfying about it. And the pumpkins themselves never seem to mind, either. Unless, without my realizing it, they’re holding it against me, just waiting for the cover of night to suddenly take on life and threaten to retaliate despite their slumping features and their growing over-bites. If they do this, I will stand my ground and laugh in their faces. I know their threats are empty. It’s hard to physically harm anyone sans limbs and teeth.

The full moon the other night.


I suppose, really, it’s time to toss those sagging pumpkins into the compost heap. Let them wreck havoc on the bunnies that come to nibble on their shrunken heads. But tossing them out so always seems so final. So absolute. An acknowledgement that autumn is almost over. That winter, in Minnesota, is well on its way.

If it’s teeth look like my jack-o-lantern’s, then it’s bite shouldn’t be too bad.

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20 Responses to “Winter’s Toothless Bite”

  1. rutheh November 15, 2011 at 7:05 am #

    Yes, winter is a comin’ in. Your descriptions make me button my sweater up and want a cup of hot tea! Very nice.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 15, 2011 at 8:49 am #

      Thank you! Yes, a cup of hot tea sounds lovely at this time of year. I’m afraid that those sweaters are becoming a necessity…in fact, next week I’m posting about sweaters…and my relationship with certain types of them!

  2. Ashley November 15, 2011 at 8:00 am #

    Loved that you put in a pic of the moon. It’s always a topic of conversation during harvest at our house. It hasn’t been as big as we have seen it, but it sure has been clear. I often think someone’s car is on the farmyard when it is so bright.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 15, 2011 at 8:47 am #

      Yes, it’s been gorgeous. I’m waiting for it to be orange! And I know what you mean about it feeling like headlights – I love it!

  3. Just A Smidgen November 15, 2011 at 8:44 am #

    I love your description of the jack-o-lanterns… that is truly how they look! I have been meaning to purchase an electric blanket and now you’ve reminded me… wonder if they have one on a timer?

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 15, 2011 at 3:33 pm #

      I don’t know, but what a fantastic idea! Perhaps we could invent one. 🙂

      Yeah, toothless and wheezing…and really, really needing to go into the compost pile!

      • Just A Smidgen November 15, 2011 at 6:11 pm #

        🙂 a responsible jack-o-lantern owner:)

        • Gretchen O'Donnell November 15, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

          Well, I do have a compost pile, though in the winter the snow is too deep to get to it so then I’m not as responsible. What I need is one of those bin things right up by the house but until I get a real garden, I probably won’t do that. BUT…yes, I grew up with three huge compost bins that my parents rotated through a three-year cycle and they had a HUGE garden. My thumb isn’t green enough for all that, I’m afraid.

  4. Kimberly Robertson November 15, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    Your description of walking in the first section was a little bit o’ genius! I love the way you write and feel as though I am tip toeing along with you. Our winters are only slightly less onerous than yours. We mark it by the descent of permanent grey skies, punctuated by brief days of sun greeted by giddy children running about gasping as the temps freeze their lungs. Pumpkins are new to me, as I was the lone family hold out against Halloween, and my first year was an enthusiastic failure. The mouth lacked teeth and I made the mistake of thinking my 8 year old could carve….alas no pics to commemorate, perhaps next year. A hot cup of tea is in order and I will now be in search of an electric woobie to get me through the frigid season. Any recommendations on tea and blankets?

    • Shirley Dykstra November 15, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

      Try flannel sheets–cozy and warm at all times.

      • Gretchen O'Donnell November 15, 2011 at 3:42 pm #

        True, they would be, but I don’t think my husband would be able to stand them! At least with an electric blanket I can keep the warmth just on my side!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 15, 2011 at 3:48 pm #

      Thanks, Kim. Yes, gasping is definitely part of winter, isn’t it? I have always loved the jack-o-lanterns…even though Halloween is far from my favorite holiday. They’re just plain fun!

      We’re on our second electric blanket since being married, and I wouldn’t recommend the one we have as it’s schizophrenic at times but I doin’t remember/know the brand, either so I’m not much help. But as for tea…my current favorite is Orange Spice with a little half and half. 🙂

  5. Andrea November 15, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

    Beautiful moon photo.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 15, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

      Thanks! I really need a tripod. Most of my moon shots were wiggly…

  6. Minnesota Prairie Roots November 15, 2011 at 2:47 pm #

    I am hoping then for a toothless kind of winter.

    Lovely description of autumn’s ending.

  7. Rose November 15, 2011 at 3:46 pm #

    Makes me want to buy an electric blanket… :o)

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 15, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

      Around here, it’s a necessity!!! Well, not according to Colin, but…

  8. hotlyspiced November 19, 2011 at 5:24 am #

    I have a friend in Sydney from Minnesota. She constantly tells me how cold your city gets in the winter. So hard to imagine here. But I would love to experience a white Christmas just once in my lifetime.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 19, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

      Hello! Yes, Minnesota is COLD…and we woke up to freezing rain this morning. White Christmases are fun for sure…though there are times I’d take a little less of the white stuff. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, I suppose, eh?!!

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