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Selected Podpieces


The dark season has started. Now when I sit at the breakfast table and look out the window, I see not the titmice and chickadees and mourning doves at the feeder but myself, reflected in the glass, and behind me the room I’m sitting in. It’s translucent, and doubled and tripled in places, reflecting from window to window, and I am a dark featureless shape holding a fork.

There are other symptoms of the season: now that the heat in the house is turned on, my hair, which in summer has a springy sort of wave in it, has gone wispy and straight, and sticks out from my head at odd angles and in weird lumps, including two large blobs on top that look like Minnie Mouse’s ears.

It’s not all bad: again, because the heat is on, I can once again dry my face, pressing it into the towels without recoiling, since they no longer smell so strongly of mildew. And various doors in the house – a bathroom door, the bedroom door, the cabinet in the hall – now close with a sharp click instead of a struggle, as they have dried again to a shape that fits their frames.

The houseplants, grumbling and shedding, have all come inside for the winter now, and are clustering around the windows despite the cold that will be seeping through the glass. And the lack of humidity, just as it affects my hair, dries the skin of my plants. The cacti and snake plants are happy enough, but the orchids, the ferns, and the various leafy greens whose parents emigrated from tropical lands huddle together on beds of wet pebbles, or hunker down inside aquariums and terrariums, hoping to survive the next six months of aridity without turning yellow and losing their leaves.

I have put the garden outside to bed, too, for the most part. I have about a gazillion plants in pots lined up along the driveway, waiting to be donated to next spring’s plant sales. We’re having some work done on the house this winter which will require access to the walls behind the foundation plantings, so I have been digging up shrubs – which are suddenly larger than they seemed – and lugging them to spots around the yard, plopping them into not-very-deep holes and hoping they’ll make it through the winter.

We have started hanging out suet again, and the woodpeckers are back: the downy, the hairy, and the yellow-shafted flicker. She’s a startling sight in the low-lit days, clinging to the little cage of beef suet; her ebony bib above the black spots and crescents on her breast, a slash of scarlet at the nape of her neck. Then the undersides of her wings glow a sudden bright yellow as she leaps away from the feeder, and her bright white rump flashes as she disappears into the woods.

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