"Why not come and sing with me, instead of toiling and moiling in that way?" said the Grasshopper to the Ant in Aesop’s Fable.
"I am helping to lay up food for the winter," said the Ant, "and recommend you to do the same."
About a month ago, the pink impatiens—that had bloomed profusely in a three-foot high flower box outside my front door—began to topple over. Curious, I picked one up and saw that all the roots had been cleanly bitten off. I was more amused than bothered because this time every year I clean out the less robust blooms and replace them with ornamental kale and cabbages surrounded by pansies. I was quite sure the culprit was a chipmunk, and a few days later in the warmth of a late afternoon I came out of the door just in time to see a little furry tail disappear over the side of the box. “There has to be a tunnel here somewhere”, I thought as I poked around, but I didn’t find it.
I cashed in my Bloomin’ Bucks coupons at Reems Creek Nursery buying purple kale. variegated green and cream cabbages, and pansies sporting purple and white faces. On the next sunny morning, I pulled up the rest of the nibbled-on impatiens and planted my hearty selections. With almost every trowel-full of dark loamy soil, I found an acorn or two. My furry flowerbox squatter had been laying up food for winter, no doubt sustained in his work by snacking on little roots.
“What do I lay up for the winter?” I wondered. “Do I have anything in common with Aesop’s ant or my neighbor, the chipmunk?”
I am one of those who love the change of seasons. During the years I lived in Guatemala with only the rainy season and eternal springtime the rest of the year, I really missed the seasonal cycles when each change brings its challenges and its joys. But as I have aged and accumulated some physical problems, I have found the winters daunting. So the first preparation I make is the regular monthly transfer of funds from my social security and pensions to a money market account to lay up treasure for my annual winter respite on Tybee Island (budgeted in the health maintenance column). Although daytime highs on the Georgia coast can be in the 40’s in January, I can get out every day and walk where there are no up and down grades to stress my knees and heart, and, at sea level, no altitude to worry my lungs. February may still have cold nights. but the days are pleasant.
Here at home late fall and early winter can bring very cold temperatures and some snow storms to our valley, and I often come home from Tybee to the late winter ice storms, so I don’t bypass winter weather entirely. I can’t go out to walk until the temperatures are above freezing, and that leaves me with many more hours indoors. So I lay up books to read that I can’t seem to get to when the weather favors outdoor activity, and projects to keep my hands busy if I listen to an audio book on my iPod. This year, I laid up the biography of Gertrude Bell, by Georgina Howell, which I’ve had in my pile for three years. I started it during my recuperation from knee surgery and got far enough to know it is on my must-read list for winter, either at home or on Tybee. If I get through learning about the woman who has been called the female Lawrence of Arabia, then I’ll turn my attention to Antonia Fraser’s Royal Charles: Charles II and the Restoration. In case I want something a little lighter, I have laid up a mystery by Alan Bradley that features an 11-year old detective, named Flavia de Luce.
As for projects, I have a sweater that got difficult about two years ago, before my cataract surgeries. It has a pattern of navy blue, and forest green and I simply couldn’t see it well enough to rip back to the mistake I discovered, and fix it. Two lens implants later, I have a new lease on knitting, but instead of finishing the old project, I have been having fun making a sweater with mitered squares. I have laid up the green and blue sweater for this winter with a promise to myself that it will be the only project I work on until it is finished! I also have a half-completed dress in the project pile.
As for the necessities of life, once the Weather Channel begins to warn of impending snow storms and possible power outages, I will refresh my stash of gallon jugs of water, fill my pantry shelves with canned goods, and the freezer with entrees and bread. I am up-to-date with flashlights, batteries, candles, matches and oil for the lamp. Fortunately my floor furnace is not electric-dependent. I have a stability ball, a yoga mat, Feldenkrais and yoga CD’s, hand weights and other exercise paraphernalia to keep me busy when it is too cold to walk.
I have also laid up the happy anticipation I always feel about winter. I have this latent attraction to a hermit-sort of life which seems to wake up when the winds blow cold, the road threatens me with patches of black ice, and the weight of the down coat and winter accessories slows my step. The earth turns and we arrive at a season that encourages contemplation, rumination, journaling, meditating, and daydreaming without guilt and with few interruptions. It is a time for me to make pots of nourishing soups and eat a big bowl every day for lunch while a CD of ancient music by the Tallis scholars gets me in the mood to think about my life and other interesting subjects.
I left most of the acorns undisturbed for the chipmunk. After all, he worked hard to do his duty, to be prepared for winter and in the process reminded me to do the same.