Friday, October 15, 2010

Autumn in Birdland

A Birdland autumn is not flashy. We don’t have the sugar maples that make a crimson and orange light show in town. Our trees are common—hackberry, mulberry, choke cherry—and colors are muted. Out here Autumn is big pale blue sky with a few clouds; the green seeps out of the forest and meadow to become a soft, tawny, yellow-brown montage. Autumn is the rosette of an aster—green, toothy leaves with maroon highlights, growing out of the bean stubble after the harvest. It’s round pears that were supposed to be plums, falling into the grass beneath the tree. It’s the tawny goldenrod going to seed, a ghost of its former, sunny brilliance. It’s the tiny yellow bean, shining like a full moon on the gray soil next to last year’s corncob in the detritus of combine leavings scattered across forty acres. It’s the regular rows crossing the field, like ridges on corduroy, straight up to my backyard.

This week the wild kittens have emerged. Kali the ghost cat is getting more tame by the day, but still won’t let me touch her. She comes up from her corner under the basement pantry shelf and gazes at me silently. Then I know the tray of kitten food needs to be refilled, and I follow her down for a visit. Her kittens teeter out from beneath the shelf, some when I call, the rest when they hear the scoop of nuggets hitting their tray. They are all colors—a gray tabby, a yellow tabby, a nearly black tortoiseshell, a mostly gray ball of fluff, a calico, and a black one, tinier than the rest. She is half the size of the largest ones. I worry that she doesn’t eat enough, but when the others run for the food, she beelines toward my feet. I pick her up and warm her in my hands before setting her right in the middle of the food tray. Kali is a short haired calico, but most of her babies have luxurious, fluffy coats. Some may lose that soft down when they get a little older, but the gray and the tortie are obviously long-haired. I have a few weeks yet before I have to catch Kali, and take her to the vet for a little procedure. I took Aunt Jane’s advice to handle all the kittens every day, so they won’t be wild, like their mother. Kali looks at me curiously, when I pick them up, and I’m hoping she will realize that I am harmless. She doesn’t know that I plan to destroy her trust in one quick lunge, but I can’t let her fill my basement with kittens. In a few weeks I’ll need to find homes for her babies, and when that happens, she’ll be trying to get out again to meet up with some romantic Tom.

I’ve been making pear butter in the crock pot. It’s easy: Peel and core the pears, cook the quarters until they’re soft. Mash them down with my great grandmother’s wooden potato masher. Cook and stir; stir and cook, until it’s done. Serve over anything—oatmeal, ice cream, chicken, toast. I don’t have time or jars enough to can it, so I’ve been freezing it in containers. The pears are still ripening and falling into the grass. I’ve fallen into a nice rhythm. In the evenings I sit outside until the sun sets, peeling pears to cook overnight on low. The house fills with a fragrant, sweet bouquet, and I have warm pear butter for my oatmeal in the morning.

Now I go out to toss last night’s peelings to the chickens and collect more pears to peel for tonight’s batch. As I walk back to the tree I think about fall chores: I don’t much rake leaves in the yard, but I’ll need to empty the gutters soon; the rain barrel will need to be emptied before we get a hard freeze; the woodpile needs to be replenished and the stove checked. I think about the cold weather coming and the early dusks. But for now, I’m happy with this mild, cool weather and the scent of simmering pears. I’m thinking that a Birdland Autumn is not too shabby.

Harvest Beauty; Capture Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She will soon be posting pictures of kittens available for adoption.


  1. You should post pictures of the cat family sometime.

  2. Great idea! Thanks. I'll do it soon. :)