Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Harshest Gentle Touch

 It is only October 2 but that isn't too early for frost. Last night when I went to bed I saw that the sky had cleared and the thermometer had already dropped to a nippy 39°. There was little doubt as to when our growing season would end.
 I thought about this as I woke during the night, feeling the gentle warmth of the electric blanket heating me from above. It is a delicious sensation, knowing how cold it is on the other side of a mere pane of glass at my head.
 By 7 a.m. I was awake and scanning the yard from the kitchen window. It dipped to 33.9° but I couldn't see any frost in the early morning light. Even when I went out at 8 a.m., I could see that the garden seemed safe from frost. But as I took garbage to our compost, I glanced at the backyard and saw that it was covered with patches of white.

 Here henbit and blades of grass stand stiff with frost and betray my every footfall. Frost sneaks up overnight, unheard and unfelt and then, with the morning light, splashes its white surprise unannounced. It is as harsh as it is gentle.

 The shingled roof of our unattached (and unheated) garage serve as my frost display. I can look there and tell at once the amount of frost I will find elsewhere in the yard. Look at how erratic the icing. Rows of shingles are frosty white while others stay merely wet. Why? This roof was replaced all the the same time. All of the shingles were pulled from the same packages and nailed in the same way. And yet one shows frost, one shows water. This is the south-facing section, open to the sky, not shadowed by a tree.

 A close-up of the henbit shows its lacy fringe. And so, while the garden shows no frost at all, I suppose it will show darkened tomato and pepper plants by evening. I doubt they have escaped. Yesterday we pulled two flower beds; tonight, I suspect, we will pull the garden.
 The average date of our first frost stays at October 6 after 38 years of my own record-keeping. We were only a few days early.
 I walked to Clayton Road to pick up our Sunday newspaper and found myself blinded by the sun. How brilliantly it shines on such a bitter morning. Now, at 10 a.m., the temperature has risen to 46°. The wind is calm and the day promises to be a spectacular one.

 We'll have a break from the cold - just as we always do - but it is this first frosty night that prepares us for winter. Get the yard cut one last time. Bring in the summer chairs. Drain and roll up the hose. Winter beckons as it glances from the dog-eared pages of the calendar, not so far away at all.