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A Slow Surrender to Winter

Friday, December 25, 2009

Here's Liam's first published photo. Not bad for a ten-year-old, freezin' in his dinosaur jammies while he takes a picture of his mama.

photo by Liam Thompson. I'm about to toss them all on the compost pile. Cold front coming.

I don't know who listens to All Things Considered on Christmas Day. I don't. I'm too busy laying around and eating altogether too much and the wrong things and then playing Wii Fit and finding out I should be 14 pounds lighter and faster on my feet, or Japanese, whichever comes first. I'm betting on turning Japanese.

One of my new commentaries aired today. It's about hauling dying plants and praying mantises inside when I really shouldn't. You can listen to it on NPR's web site.

If the player doesn't work, hit "Download" and it'll give you an MP3 that does. That worked for me.
Or you can just read the transcript below.

But I kind of like the idea to talking to you over your 'puterbox. I miss you. I know, I'm taking a break. But I do.

A Slow Surrender to Winter

The sky couldn’t be heavier, lower, grayer, weepier. It’s 38, going for low in the 20’s. It’s winter, winter, winter. And I still have blooming flowers in baskets and containers on the front porch. Geraniums, lobelias, blue marguerite; plectranthus that when you brush its leaves, smells like a lime margarita.

Sure, they’re a bit brown, nipped around the edges, but the geraniums are blooming, shocking pink, red, magenta, like there’s no tomorrow. And for them, there isn’t. Unless…

I keep bringing them inside. I pile them up in the foyer and they weep leaves and dirt and petals that track all over the house. They block the closet doors. I can’t keep them inside, but I can’t leave them out to freeze. So I shuttle them in at night and out during the day, groaning with the effort. I’ve brought them this far. How can I sentence them to death?

blue margeurite on the compost pile, sighhh

But there’s a string of nights in the 20’s coming up, teens, even, and sooner or later I’ll have to say good-bye to summer for good. There’s something about looking out the kitchen window on blooming baskets of flowers that feels increasingly wrong. These bright jolts of color are somehow unseemly, when everything else is dead. And it's not just the plants that are dying.

Three times in my life, I’ve found a big praying mantis staggering weakly around my garden after the first light frost, and I’ve taken her—it’s invariably a female—inside. I set her up on a big potted plant where she sits regally all day, a weird alien pet, watching snowflakes drift down on the roses outside the window, where she once lived. I do this, knowing it’s wrong, but unable to leave her dying outside. I feed her crickets and mealworms, spray the leaves down with water, watch as she grabs and stabs, delicately dines; bends to drink droplets from the leaves, grooms her forearms and feet like a little otherworldly cat.

She turns her head to watch me when I walk into the room, holds out her spiked forelimbs to ask if she might ride on my arm to another plant, to sit in a spot of winter sun. This goes on until late January, February. I get entirely too attached. And then, like Goldie Hawn in “Death Becomes Her,” she begins to decay. First it’s an antenna, then a foot, then a lower leg, simply falling off. And then she loses her balance and falls, and busts off a forearm. And I see why mantids are meant to die with the first hard frost, and it’s brought home to me why I should never have brought her inside.

So it goes with the geraniums. I have to let them die. Tomorrow. Or maybe this weekend, with a light snowfall for their funeral shroud. Oh, the intractable human heart. It does this every year.

Hope you had a peaceful Christmas. We did.


I haven't any potted plants I've been bringing in this early winter, but the Brussels sprouts and broccoli are still going (albeit all down-draggled and forlorn) out in the garden. Foolishly, perhaps, I plan to treat them as the biennials they're supposed to be and see if they resprout in the spring. It's happened for me before; why not again?

Wonderful commentary (as always); especially fascinating and poignant about the praying mantis.

Julie -
An early respite from the doldurms of a wintery morn! As I read and listen, I'm watching two grouse who have come to the chicken yard seeking a meal from hens. At least the band of turkeys haven't come to chase them off - and the hens are still inside.

Do come back again soon and share your world of Bakerness, kidness, birdness, artness, and life on the outskirts of the snowbelt! Macs work better with a little exercise from time to time!

Joy to you and yours in the coming year -

Your techhie/birding friend up north -


I enjoyed this. Thank you for another glimpse into your world. If you move to Florida, you could keep those plants year round. Mantis, too. But, you would miss those golden summers with their blue hills and beautiful birds. The flowers will be back next year. We are on the downhill slide now into summer even now.

I at least find some solace that, by the time the last of our summer plants give up the ghost, and winter really comes, at least we are in the holiday season of Nov and Dec. And by the time December ends, and we have winter to traverse, it is with the knowledge that the days are already lengthening, Somehow the cold and gray of January and February in Ohio are easier to bear knowing each day the light grows a minute or two longer, and spring is on the way.

Beautiful image of the alien cat/mantis, and nice metaphor of all things transitory.

And I liked the Goldie Hawn comparison although she might not :-)

Stay warm and happy!

Merry Christmas, Julie! Enjoyed your commentary about surrendering to Winter. It is a melancholy view of the cycle of life for both plants and insects.
However, before reading it here, I was fortunate enough to see your post on Facebook last night when I went to look at friends' Christmas photos.
So I opened up iTunes, and like magic it was downloaded into podcasts. ♥ it when that happens!

Do you recall about a year ago when NPR came up with a method to "create custom podcasts"? While it never "captured" the early Commentaries, I currently have 27 Episodes and it added this one w/o any further effort on my part.

I really enjoy listening to your "radio voice". Well done! you can take your break, if you can. Or, maybe you can't. Either way, it's all good.(smiling)

Dear Science Chimp--
make that dear dear Science Chimp. I herewith give you permission to let the cycle of life continue.

I like the Ash Wednesday service in our Protestant church, where we do imposition of ashes as the pastor says--remember that you are mortal and to dust you shall return.
It's the returning that makes the cycle of life.
I suspect that in watching plants and mantids die we are reflecting on our own mortality.

I am thinking much of mortality these days (maybe because in the year 2010 I will celebrate my 65th birthday). But rather than be struck with my mortality-- I am thinking how grateful I am to have had however many decades of sentience, of knowing, of being able to nibble at this marvelous banquet of life.

Hi Julie,

Your piece about the praying mantis is so beautiful, and so sad, it moved me to tears. The loss of a reliable friend, who could only be saved for so long, is heartbreaking.

Your blog is a refuge for me, where I lose myself in your wonderful stories and observations about everyday natural encounters. The small things you notice and give worth to, the things you do for creatures in need, and your insight into natural happenings are a refreshing and enlightening part of my routine.

I am glad you are going to write when you are moved, and not force yourself into a rigid daily schedule. However, this may give you more time to experience even more wonders you will have to convey to us in less posts :) A challenge I'm sure you are up for!

Happy New Year,


Posted by Anonymous December 28, 2009 at 8:51 PM
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