Winter is already jumping up and down on our friends to the east, but in the Pacific Northwest it has just been peeking at us. It’s one degree above freezing this morning, and the autumn sun is raising steam off the ground where the wet leaves lie. The steam kind of matches the fog on the hills.
The Canada geese have returned, to bask in our moderate winter. They fly over once or twice a day, in great rippling ribbons, and Max barks and believes that he chases them out of our sky. They are beautiful, and they sing.
There is a fire started in the kitchen woodstove. Upstairs, in the unheated bedrooms, there are crescents of moisture on the old window panes. It isn’t ice yet.
Yesterday I had some shopping time. It was forced upon me. I went to the city to deliver my elderly step-father to the dentist.
He is 92 and has outlived three wives. He was stationed in England during World War II, and he was in Paris for Victory in Europe Day. He beat alcoholism. He used to grow roses. Now he lives in a group care home, travels to bingo twice a week, walks to restaurants, and loves chocolate. His mind is fine except he’s stuck in about 1960 about many things. He believes what he sees on television, and he goes to a scary time-warp dentist.
The dentist’s office is a poorly-built structure set between a tattoo parlor and an all-night grocery, on one of the creepiest streets in town. This office, with its dingy carpet and drawn blinds, is technologically frozen. There is no computer, just paper files. The dental equipment is ancient, the x-rays are still developed into films, and the dentist himself is 85.
But my step-father’s mind is clear and he is extremely independent. He won’t abandon this dentist. He loves going there and chatting old-man chats and feeling at home. I wait in the car so no one will steal it, and I say nothing and hope they don’t ruin what is left of his teeth.
Yesterday though, while the step-father was at his Terrible Dentist, I went shopping.
You may recall that in the summer I impetuously planted the tangerine tree outside, in the ground. “No more cozy greenhouse mister, you are out in the world. Get a job, find an apartment, make your way!” If only.
I fed it iron, and kept it watered, and it grew new leaves and fruit and looks terrific. But now it’s like a lovely child playing on the railroad tracks when you know a winter train is coming.
So I went shopping at a dreadful huge office supply store, because it was right next to the Terrible Dentist and also because the little stores didn’t have a large roll of bubble wrap. I had to actually do math, to estimate tree diameter and multiply by 3 (okay I rounded pi down) and determine how many feet I needed.
After I drove the step-father back home, Mr O located a large circle of tall fence material.
The idea was to protect the tree from winter with a nice bubblewrap pajama. The challenges are remembering to uncover the top so it doesn’t cook on sunny days, and also accessing the fruit, which is utterly undisciplined and matures with wild abandon whenever the hell it feels like it.
But the top of the ensemble is easily untied so there is hope.
It took a lot of packing tape to get it all into shape.
Okay so here is the construction. I feel it looks like a stout jam jar, the sort with a cap decorated with a cover of something like gingham fabric, very Martha, and the gingham (in red checks?) held on with a ribbon…
What happened next is that I draped a string of tiny holiday lights on the tree, then Mr O and I picked up the jam jar construction and set it down over the tree.
Then, when the Cold Clear Night arrived and the temperature went near freezing, the little thermostat thing that Mr O had produced from out of somewhere turned on the lights.
For those of you who did even worse in science classes than I did: the lights produce heat, and this will save the tree from frosts. And this is remarkable, because in this instance, and simultaneously, the lights are festive. Gleaming inside the jam jar. And mysterious, like if we accidentally captured something else in there, along with the tree.
But to be perfectly honest, as you know I am, I must admit it appears a little peculiar and ungardenlike.
But I refuse to worry about it.
In other news, with cream, eggs and sugar, and cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, the Halloween French pumpkin became a pumpkin pie.
I bet turnips can’t be pie.