Hurry, Hurry, Mary Dear!

Sharon October 30th, 2008


Hurry, hurry, Mary dear/fall is over, winter’s here.

Not a moment to be lost,/in a minute we get frost!

In an hour we get snow!/Drifts like houses! Ten below!

Pick the apples, dill the pickles,/chop down trees for wooden nickels.

Dig the turnips, split the peas,/cook molassses, curdle cheese/

Churn the butter, smoke the hams/can tomatoes, put up jams.

Stack the stove wood, string the beans/up the storms and down the screens.

Pull the curtains, close the shutters/ Dreadfully the wild wind mutters/

Oil the snowshoes, stoke the fires./Soon the roads are hopeless mires.

Mend the mittens, knit the sweaters,/bring my glasses, mail my letters.

Toast the muffins, brew the tea,/hot and sweet and good for me.

Bake me donuts, plain and frosted…./What, my dear?  You feel exhausted?

Yes, these winters are severe/Hurry, hurry -

Mary, dear.

- N.M. Bodecker

There’s a pattern to my autumns.  They start out with a burst of enthusiasm, as cooler days hit and I get ready for cold weather foods and activities.  I start splitting wood and stacking it with enthusiasm, canning fall foods, root cellaring.  And then, somewhere around mid-October, I get distracted by other things, and the preparations slow down.  Intellectually, I know there’s a lot to do before winter, but we’re usually having good weather, and there’s plenty to do, and usually a month and more of good weather coming. Then, in early November I usually have an “oh, crap…we’re almost there” moment, in which I take the last week or two of decently warm weather to catch up on all the things I’ve let go - gathering kindling, getting the quinces in, digging the late root crops, planting bulbs and garlic, getting the animals’ winter shelters set, etc…

Then there’s this year.  From Sunday to Tuesday lunchtime, it poured here.  But I was still in my mellow mode.  The rumor was that there might be a bit of snow in the higher elevations - technically that’s us, but usually that means the Adirondacks and high parts of the Berkshires, not the hilltowns. 

Then, on Tuesday afternoon, it started to snow.  It snowed and snowed.  By Wednesday morning there was 7 inches of heavy, wet snow over us.  Ok, we shrugged, but it won’t last - it was supposed to be 50 yesterday.  Ummm…nope, it finally broke 32 around noon, and then went back down to 27 by about 12:30.  Today’s supposed to be even colder.  So instead of the last weeks of autumn’s glow, we’ve got January outside (yes, I know this is too warm for January, but I haven’t gotten adapted to days in the 30s yet.)

So I’m a bit in panic mode here - here I’ve been lazing away my October days, doing a little desultory preparation here and there, and now I’ve got to pray for enough warm, dry days to not only melt the snow but dry up the ground from the 4 inches of rain we had before that.  Because I’ve still got bags of daffodils to plant, more garlic, wood to haul out of the woods (and I’d do it with a sled, but those four inches of rain and unfrozen ground make that a job I’d just as soon wait for dryer days to do), more splitting, stacking, banking, moving.  The angora bunnies came into the house during the snowstorm, because while their ultra-warm fur means they can handle the cold, their unprotected shelter was filled with wet snow (we usually move them over to the barn in early November).  The goat shelters are up, but not fully winterized - not a big deal, we could just move the girls back to the barn, but they’d rather be out and about.  Yesterday I frantically dug about in the closets finding boots and mittens and snowpants, something I normally don’t do until after the Halloween costumes are safely stowed away for Purim (this year the guys are Robin Hood and the Merry Men - Simon is Robin, Eli is Little John, Isaiah is Will Scarlet, and Asher is also Robin Hood, although his brothers keep telling him he has to be Alan a Dale - but he’s having none of it). 

I’m just praying that things dry up enough to get the garlic and bulbs in without rotting, not to mention enough to make digging the turnips and beets less disgusting (right now it wouldn’t be so much digging as mud-wrestling.)  My poor fig is outside with a blanket over its head and snow on top of that - I’m hoping it survives, because we haven’t wrapped it for winter yet.  It is safe to say that I’m feeling more than a little like Mary in the poem there, although without the annoying spouse (Eric is also working flat out).  Instead, it is the other man in my life - old man winter -  doing the pushing.

Next week has a lot of days in the 50s, so we’re probably fine.  But it is a good reminder of just how rapid the transition from season to season can be.  And as we enter not just a season of cold weather, but a winter of discontent and Depression, it becomes more and more urgent that live the seasons as they really are - not just cranking the heat and shifting to greens from California, but adapting to the realities of our climate.

That doesn’t have to be unpleasant.  In fact, except for the frustration of having been slacking, I’m enjoying my little snow days - there’s a fire in the cookstove, and stock bubbling away.  It is warm as toast next to the stove, and cool enough that my hot tea feels good in my hands while I type and read the news.  The thing is, I like stacking wood on the cold days of autumn - it warms me, it feels good to set my body to something useful.  I love gardening in fall, I like to dig in the cool moist soil, I like the warmth of the leaves I collect from along the street, and the smell of autumn earth.  I like to load hay, and my kids like to climb up in the hay barn in search of the nests the hens make.  I like to put the garden to sleep for the winter, tucking it under its mulch, and dreaming of next year. 

I look forward (not yet, but usually) to the first snow of the year, to the knowledge that it is time to turn inward, to concentrate on the things I’ve been ignoring while the outdoors summoned me so powerfully to it.  Now is the time to clean the messes I’ve been ignoring and work on indoor projects desperately needed.  And like everything in its season, it has a sense of rightness, of pleasure in the doing.  I don’t know how to explain it - you all know I’m no great housekeeper, nor is cleaning my favorite task - but somehow as winter begins, it feels right.  

The brussel sprouts will be sweet with frost when we dig them out from under the snow.  The fig will probably survive a couple of cold days and await our insulation.  The bunnies spent a pleasant night in my office bouncing around and driving the dogs crazy, and will be cozily ensconced in the barn shortly, with the cozy noises of chickens, ducks and goats around them.  We’ll bed the animals more thickly, seal the windows, put down the storms, get used to mittens drying on the top of the warming oven.  It’ll all happen - we just aren’t quite ready yet.  But it is a good reminder to hurry, hurry, Sharon dear.


30 Responses to “Hurry, Hurry, Mary Dear!”

  1. AppleJackCreek says:

    Where we are, it always snows at least once before Halloween … but that snow never stays. Maybe one day, two at most, then it melts.

    Well, last year, it snowed in late October … and it snowed … and it snowed … and it stayed. The hose was still out on the ground, frozen in place, and there it stayed until spring since there was just no getting at it. Whatever wasn’t done simply didn’t get done, or it got done in 6″ of snow like it or not!

    This year, we have tried to stay a bit further ahead of the curve, but there is always so much more we could do. I hadn’t thought of planting garlic in the fall … can you do that in places where the ground freezes hard and solid for several months running?

    Hmm, maybe this weekend I had better put some more effort into building that hotbox for spring. :)

    Time to put up a banner with the motto of House Stark … *Winter is coming*

  2. Ani says:

    Yup- a regular winter wonderland out here…sigh….. I have too much to do still for this so hopefully it melts and doesn’t stick around for the duration. I can see that the sun is sorta trying to shine a bit so I’m hopeful …..

    Apple Jack Creek-re : garlic- yes- fall is the time to plant it in areas that experience winter- I don’t know about areas that don’t- but yes, even in Vermont we plant garlic in the fall…

  3. Lisa Z says:

    I have felt the sense of panic at getting it all done, too, as temps were in the 30s for a few days. But now we have a little reprieve here in Minnesota-temps in the 50s/60s even for a few days anyway. It makes getting out to the garden work so much easier. I’m putting a lot of it to bed today, which we usually don’t do until November so I’m actually ahead of the game. But, I have a feeling this could be a longer, colder winter than we’ve been used to and I want to get it all done. It’s no fun being out there when its 30 degrees (or colder) and windy as heck. 50s/60s are a good thing for now!

    I expect you’ll get a bit of reprieve there in the Northeast too, before long. As you can, enjoy your snow days!


  4. Jerry says:

    Come late fall I always feel far more grasshopper than I do ant.

    I’m not sure if this is excuse or reason but its harder to get going when most prep work involves a drive first off.

    Ah well, at least I seem to be beyond the “what good does this do ME” stage. I know just how much it helps me, not that that should matter at all.

  5. Amy says:

    I took the last nice day (Sunday) to do the Semi-annual cleanout of the chicken house. I also got my garlic planted. I went to my paid job on Monday feeling a huge sense of accomplishment.

    On Tuesday night I was thanking my lucky stars that I had any ambition over the weekend.

    We got the snow that Sharon did. I enjoyed it thoroughly. We lost power so I cooked breakfast on the woodstove.

  6. Chile says:

    This post reminds me why I really do like Arizona. The summers may be brutal with water conservation a must. But, the worst snowstorm I’ve ever endured only dumped 18″ and the coldest temperature I’ve ever been in was only 2 below. And both of those events were pretty much once-in-a-lifetime in the desert. Year-round produce from my CSA is definitely something to enjoy.

    Bundle up, Sharon!

    (PS: remind me of all this when I’m complaining about 115 degree days next August.)

  7. bridget says:

    No snow here, be we had 4 nights of lows in the 20s. So long basil! I feel your pain, on a smaller scale. The kitchen is full of produce awaiting canning/dehydrating/freezing. I’m almost out of canning jars. And yet I am planning to go to the CSA to pick more greens and carrots.

    I did do three batches of canning on Saturday, so that was a major accomplishment. And the community garden is nearly put away; they kick us out on Saturday.

    I am considering handing bags of peppers to my neighbors, and just filing it under “community building” instead of “preserving.”

  8. Karin says:

    No snow here yet but plenty of mornings scraping the heavy frost off the car…ugh. We had early snow last year and it was great because it never melted so I didn’t see what I didn’t get to until the spring when I had so much pent up energy that the guilt melted away with the snow.

    Zone 4 in central maine and we plant garlic in the winter and heavily mulch it.

  9. homebrewlibrarian says:

    It’s been below freezing since the beginning of October. We’ve had four minor snows and the remnants of the last one are still lurking about. But things are just not all done. All my leafy brassicas are still in the garden and I’ve decided that since they’re all frozen now, I might as well just pick them, bag them up and put them straight in the freezer. There’s been some attempt to put up fencing around new fruiting shrubs to keep the moose out of them but that’s still not completed. The yard is mostly picked up - when we picked up the hoses in late September, they were partially frozen so they were piled willynilly in my bathtub to thaw out so they could be put away. Some of the beds are composted and mulched but not all. I kept hoping for a 40 degree day but after September the window of opportunity had passed (last year it didn’t freeze up til early November). The compost pile is solid and there aren’t enough leaves that I’ve raked up to properly mulch the beds that are left. Hey, this was the year of experimentation, wasn’t it? Yeah, that’s the ticket…

    I’m certainly not the Mary referenced in the poem. The angst level rose as we shot towards winter this year but the activity level didn’t rise to match it. Working full time and not having a partner to share the load means lots gets started but not nearly enough gets finished. Ah, well. That’s something to work on for next year.

    And now - all the inside stuff that needs doing! Whee.

    Kerri in AK

  10. Fern says:

    We had the days of cold rain. I’m hoping to plant the garlic tomorrow or Saturday, when the weather is supposed to be over 60 again!

    I’ve not turned the heat on yet, and someone has replaced my usual husband and son with a husband and son who are not complaining about the house being cold. These models still don’t do dishes, but I’m happy with the trade.

    Here - the roasted squash seeds are just out of the oven. Have some!


  11. Andrea says:

    No snow here in SW Ohio, thankfully and mercifully. At least let’s get Beggar’s Night out of the way!

    *Most* of our winterizing, harvesting, preserving, drying is done except for a few small jobs…one of which is an open invitation to clean out what’s left at a local orchard…free apples, pumpkins and squash! Yay! DH has the week off next week so hopefully we’ll be able to finish up the last of our tasks and then settle in for a long winter’s nap.

    Wishing you warm toasty thoughts…..


  12. Sharon says:

    Chile, I wouldn’t trade for a zillion dollars - gah, 115?! I don’t mind the snow - the heat, however….


  13. risa b says:

    When icicles hang by the wall
    And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
    And Tom bears logs into the hall,
    And milk comes frozen home in pail,
    When Blood is nipped and ways be foul,
    Then nightly sings the staring owl,
    Tu-whit, tu-who: a merry note,
    While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

    When all aloud the wind doth blow,
    And coughing drowns the parson’s saw,
    And birds sit brooding in the snow,
    And Marian’s nose looks red and raw
    When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
    Then nightly sings the staring owl,
    Tu-whit, tu-who: a merry note,
    While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

  14. Grey says:

    Ack! Me too! No snow, but three nights of below freezing weather I wasn’t quite ready for yet. It’s a month early for us, which meant a lot of things had to be done quickly, and like you, I haven’t been collecting kindling as I should have. We used - get this - a firestarter block to get our woodstove going. Ick!
    Better than freezing I suppose.

  15. Kati says:

    Gotta say, I WISH I’d had October to prepare for winter, or even MOST of Oct. Instead, we’ve had snow on the ground for a month now, with only a 2 day reprieve when it melted (well, actually only 1 day, as the first day was wet with the melting).

    I can totally sympathize with not having NEARLY enough time to actually get everything prepped that NEEDS to be prepped. I wish you a good week-long warm-spell and enough energy to get it all done.

  16. Greenpa says:

    Great poem! And yep; nothing like a little “OOPS!” blizzard to chase away the blues.

    Just remember to stay awake enough to savor that “aaaahhhhhhhhhhh…h…h”- when you finally, finally, get to sink into the nice chilly bed, and let your bones lie still for a bit.

  17. dewey says:

    We’ve had our first frost but I’m proud to say that we have not yet turned on our furnace (except that hubby had to turn on on the heater in the back room). Mostly the house has stayed about 60 degrees, although Saturday it started off 54-55 degrees, and actually, that was tolerable. I was watching eagerly to see if my cat might turn into a penguin - which would still be cute, but might be less inclined to shove cups off counters - but no dice. :-(

    I can just imagine how darling those four little boys dressed as Merry Men will be. Can you post pictures.

  18. Meadowlark says:

    To go with the poem: A little comic. I’d like to say I’m the ants…


    Original from: Summer at the Brandywine -

  19. sgl says:

    re: 2 robin hoods
    $700 billion is a lot of dough to get back, so plenty of work for 2 robin hoods (or 4. or dozens.)


  20. Shamba says:

    Can I come visit some of you for a few days? Except for Chile, I need someplace really colder than Southern Arizona.

    I can bring all my own food (!) and I even have enough clothes things to wear so I’ll be warm enough. Being “warm enough” would be a real pleasure as we are still running a few degrees above normal here-our normal being 80-85 degrees.

    One of the things about the internet is how amazing it is to talk to people in other climates, and places and cultures at practically the same time.

    Peace to you all,

  21. Shira says:

    Well, not to mention the day job, which in my case is zombie engineering projects (the ones that are supposed to be dead but have arisen and come back to haunt me.) As I thrash with zombies, I look out at laden apple trees and a sense of looming storm in the weather.

    The garlic and Egyptian onions are not planted, the garden is not put to bed for the winter, there is ketchup still to can, made from the tomatoes that came in to ripen up inside. I am glued to my drafting table.

    Must go now. The zombies are after me.

    Shira in Bellingham

  22. Anonymous says:

    what beautiful post and way of life. thank you

  23. Survivalist News » Casaubon’s Book: Hurry, Hurry, Mary Dear! says:

    [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Hurry, Hurry, Mary Dear! There’s a pattern to my autumns. They start out with a burst of enthusiasm, as cooler days hit and I get ready for cold weather foods and activities. I start splitting wood and stacking it with enthusiasm, canning fall foods, root cellaring. And then, somewhere around mid-October, I get distracted by other things, and the preparations slow down. Intellectually, I know there’s a lot to do before winter, but we’re usually having good weather, and there’s plenty to do, and usually a month and more of good weather coming. Then, in early November I usually have an “oh, crap…we’re almost there” moment, in which I take the last week or two of decently warm weather to catch up on all the things I’ve let go - gathering kindling, getting the quinces in, digging the late root crops, planting bulbs and garlic, getting the animals’ winter shelters set, etc… [...]

  24. Heidi says:

    A beautiful piece of writing; warm and cozy, delightfully, perfectly, seasonally accurate. I feel just the same.
    Your children, by the way, are beautiful. I saw them in that disgustingly biased article that that rag formerly known as the NY Times (patooie on them), which I used to read faithfully, printed online last week. But that’s another bitch-fest…
    Keep at it sister.
    Heidi in Schodack

  25. Gracie says:

    We had a hard freeze here early in the week. However, no snow, thank goodness. I did get my garlic in a few weeks back, so it’s up, but we got everything covered and ready for winter. The one thing I didn’t have done was the onions I had bought. I was going to try to put them in the ground in the raised beds, to see how they do under glass for the winter, but lost about half of them, so at least I got some in the ground. The only other thing we have to do at this point, is get two plum trees in the ground, and prune apple and peach trees, and put up plastic on the windows. Now I get to get to things left undone in the house, finish putting up the apples, finish putting up pear butter. Get to those 2 gallons of strawberries I froze earlier in the season, for jam. Get a dozen organic oranges for marmalade and start Christmas presents. Unlike some of you, Sharon included, we don’t have a wood stove, although I wish we did. But then I think of the way my health is and my husbands and I don’t know how we would manage with chopping and hauling enough wood to get us through. So we will use the gas heat and just keep it turned down, and bundle up instead.

    Here’s hoping everyone is healthy and well.


  26. Chile says:

    As a desert rat, I really don’t do well with snow. Our snow is tolerable. It snows for a day or so. Then it clears up and GOES AWAY within a day or two. It’s so dry here that it pretty much soaks in or evaporates away rapidly…unlike Oregon where we lived for a year. There it snowed, rained and turned to slush, froze into muddy ice overnight, rained some more, and so on for a week. Ick!

    I seriously don’t think I would survive months of snow on the ground and single digit (or subzero) temperatures. My blood would freeze. And you’re right. You probably would have a heck of a time adapting to the summer temps.

  27. Christina says:

    Snow here too, and cold (Southern Sweden). Woke up this morning with snowflakes whirling outside - and I was staying with a friend and had to drive home with my summer tires still on the car! (happens every year, but we came home safely)

    Yes, I do drive a car - shoot me!

    The deer and rabbits ate most of what was left in the garden, but I still have some pac choi and cabbage - will make kimchi and sauerkraut. And there is still a lot of carrots, beets and parsnips in the ground, but they keep reasonably well through the winter mulched with straw.

    Winter is certainly coming to us too!

  28. it support new york city says:

    Thank you for all of the effort on this blog

  29. Nasza klasa says:

    Interessanter Blog. Ich habe zu Ihren Favoriten hinzugefügt.

  30. Leading with gratitude…. | NovoFemina says:

    [...] of the Winter Solstice.  He used historical poems evoking hardships of long ago. (Hurry, Hurry Mary Dear by N.M. Bodecker)  He used interactive science experiments.  He used song.  (The Long Time Sun by Robert [...]

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