Wild Walk: A Touch of Winter

Fiery Fall Leaves © 2012 Jill HendersonBy Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz

As the hours of daylight become blatantly shorter, the journey of seasons moves quickly towards the Great Sleep of Winter.   Despite the prolonged drought, Ozarkers everywhere enjoyed a most spectacular fall color display.  In all my years of living in the Ozarks, I can’t remember a fall as beautiful as this one.   But now that the Autumn show is over, the curtain is coming down in a torrent of swirling leaves and piling up in huge ankle-deep drifts that blanket the earth in gold.  And yet, the falling is far from over.   For even now, the leaves cling to the remnants of their arboreal lives – resisting their eventual future as rich dark humus and rattling their final farewells at the slightest breeze.

As fall bids its slow farewell, the nearness of winter has become serious business for all living creatures.  Each moment of sun-induced warmth is inhaled and savored as if it were life itself.   Down in the meadow, a few hardy butterflies flutter busily over the last of the blossoms as gangs of bees hum and buzz in the fragrant, pollen-rich asters.  The spring peepers, normally quiet this time of year, have responded to some unknown event and have been whistling softly down by the pond in harmony with the last of the chirring crickets.  Squirrels scurry about, burying every acorn they can find beneath the carefully laid mulch in the flower beds.

Frosty Leaves - Copyright Jill HendersonThis morning we woke to find the world sparkling with a gossamer layer of frost. It reminded me that I have been meaning to check on the ripening of the wild persimmons.  With my warm coat on and my mug filled with  hot coffee, I set off towards the meadow.  Once in the short grass running down the center of the long wagon-trail ruts of the driveway, I looked back to see my footprints in relief against the frosty dew.

At the edge of the meadow the long, dry grasses shone golden in the morning sun and incredibly long strands of spider’s silk drifted through the air as young spiderlings ballooned off of trees and shrubs in search of new territory.  I cut through the meadow and down the long, narrow trail leading past an ancient oak tree whose massive branches nearly swallow the morning sky.

Turning right up the faint deer trail and into the long field grass, my shoes and the bottoms of my jeans are quickly soaked through.  I stop to take in the scene.  Off to one side I can see several flattened patches of grass devoid of dew where the deer bedded down last night.  All they left behind them were silvery hoof prints in the shimmering grass trailing off towards the trees.  I breath deeply of the timelessness nature of the meadow knowing full well that I will never again see it looking exactly like it does at this very moment.

Black Raspberry Canes © 2011 Jill HendersonI follow the same route that the deer took out of the meadow and within minutes the grass ends abruptly and the woods begin at a hedge of bare, frosty-purple black raspberry canes.  Deep within is a large, crudely woven nest of sticks and dried grass perched precariously between two delicate twigs.  Though now abandoned, this nest marks the birthplace of the yellow-breasted chat, whose mimicking calls are but a summer memory.  The fading trail skirts around the thorny canes and in a low spot opposite the old, overgrown pond ringed with cedars, stands a large thicket of persimmon trees.

As I enter the shelter of the slim, tall trunks, the sun suddenly evaporates behind a drifting cloud.  The wet leaves smell like earth and stones and hidden mushrooms.  I look down at the slick layer of leaves beneath my feet and note a few stray, mushy persimmons.  These must have just recently fallen, for I can see the scat of creatures that have thus far enjoyed the early ripe fruits.

Persimmons © 2012 Jill HendersonThe persimmons are just beginning to ripen now, but they won’t be really sweet until we have a few more hard frosts like this one.  Once that happens, they will begin to fall in earnest and I will return here to collect as many of them as I can before the other residents of this place eat them all.   Looking up, I am pleased to see hundreds and hundreds of bright orange globes dangling on the impossibly thin branches of the nearly leafless trees.   In my mind I plot my return and dream of the wonderful flavor of these impossibly sweet orbs.  And just as I think this thought, the sun suddenly reemerges from behind a cloud, setting the fruits to glowing like festive holiday lights.

As we make our way into the depths of the Great Sleep, there are so many wonderful things to see and places to explore.  If you haven’t been out in the woods for a while, fall and early winter are among the best times to go for a hike.  But when you do – remember to walk slowly and quietly.  Stop and sit a while as you absorb the sights and smells and sounds of these wonderful Ozark hills.  Touch the earth.  And let it touch you.

Happy hiking!

Check out these related articles from Show Me Oz:
Persimmon Pickin’ Time Part I
Persimmon Pickin’ Time Part II

Jill Henderson is an artist, author and the editor of Show Me Oz
© 2012  Jill Henderson

A Journey of Seasons by Jill HendersonExcerpted in part from
A Journey of Seasons
A Year in the Ozarks High Country

If you long for the country life or love the outdoors, you will appreciate this beautiful and inspiring book. Set in the rugged heart of the Missouri Ozarks, A Journey of Seasons is a beautifully recounted memoir filled with nature notes, botanical musings, back-woods wisdom and just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor author, naturalist and organic gardener, Jill Henderson.

Available in print and eBook through the Show Me Oz bookstore.

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4 responses to “Wild Walk: A Touch of Winter

  1. My Alabama husband grows American persimmons down here in the South. They ripen without the frosts. Being an Ozarks native, I didn’t know that was possible, but it is. If we tried to wait until frost, we would have no persimmons. They would have rotted first. We also learned that we can pick them before they are absolutely ripe and they will ripen indoors. We have to do that or the birds would eat them all. 🙂

    • Donna, you’re right. Persimmons don’t actually need frost to ripen. That bit of folk wisdom that says to allow several hard frosts to occur before picking the fruits comes from the observance of their natural ripening cycle. And as you pointed out, they don’t all ripen at the same time! I’ve shaken a few ripe ones down already, but they still have a ways to go and we’ve had three hard frosts in recent weeks. Thanks for the tip on letting them ripen indoors, too!

  2. Aloha Jill
    I have been reading Dean’s words for the last few days, pretty much blown away that there is a man out there who thinks so closely to myself….so I finally noticed today that the stuff on the right was “Jill’s” words, so I thought I would see what this amazing guy’s wife had to say…..

    It is so funny, I am an artist too and as a matter of fact I just came into the house after my daily adventure into my field with my faithful buddy, Ace the chocolate lab…..lol, your words rang just as true to me as Dean’s! Truly amazing! Thank you for sharing, I suspect I will spend a large part of my winter reading the wise words of the Hendersons!

    You both have touched me already!

    aloha nui!

    • Aloha, Ka Makani, and thank you for the kind words. It’s always nice to connect with others of like mind and experiences and to know that our work is appreciated by a broad and diverse audience. Dean and I believe that being political and engaged goes hand in hand with living a simple, back-to-the-land kind of life (punctuated by travel, of course) and as far from the system as possible. It sounds like that’s the kind of life you, too, believe in and live. We hope you enjoy the blogs!
      Mahalo Nui Loa

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