It's hard for me every year, but this year it seems doubly so. The first frost. Late for the prairie. In general, we usually get a frost at the beginning of October. This year, it is almost three weeks late.
I slide into my outdoor jacket, an old military jacket that is a little too big but perfect for a woman with seeping burns all over her chest. My loose tee shirt, the one that says Pope Francis says relax on it, chafes a little against me and I wince, but carry on. I am so sick of this running around the house topless waiting for these damned burns to heal.
Once out in the cold, clean prairie air, I begin to shiver but know that work will help that. So, I get to it. I lug all the bags of mulch out of the garage and pour them around my perennials. I gingerly lift the rain barrel to see if it holds any water. Not much. I lift it off, dump it out, close up the spouts and lug it back to the garage to be stored.
Now, the hardest part. I grab my yard scissors and twine and walk towards my sad shrunken pink, yellow and red rose ladies. A few whites. I tear off the remaining dead bud heads and put them in a yard bag. If I leave them on the ground, it will encourage disease. I gently gather the stalks together and round twine around them as gently as I can and then snip it shut. This will keep the howling winds from tearing at them during blizzards. My roses look like I feel and that is what is breaks me in the end.
They are bedraggled and shorn of their beauty. Bony looking now with twine holding their long stems together. Once lush and long and thorny legged with soft as silk petals forming that perfect oval, they are raw looking. Sad.
I hug them each in turn. I haven't gone daft just yet. I don't name my bushes, but I have come to love my roses. They are elegant and stately, easily the classiest in my yard. The queens who look fondly down at the perked up daisies and bachelor's buttons, the in-your-face howdy do of the sunflowers and the shy peeking violets and lilies. Their flowers have graced my dinner table numerous times. They can be vain, I think. They do not enjoy a good thunderstorm, end up looking like angry prom queens caught in the heavy rain without a man's coat over their heads to shelter them. And they can be finicky. They have to be pruned punctually or repay you by refusing to bloom. They are sometimes plagued by black spots and/or aphids and I heal them with a good spray of milk (in the evening...it's less embarrassing, I think, for them that way....) I whisper to them now that I am just going to get their feet nice and warm for the Winter. I grab my bag of wood chips and stack them around each bush at least a foot high.
I stand up and sigh. I've done all I can to help them through the Winter. It's time for them to go to sleep now and forget their ugly stalky Winter look.
I circle the bushes carefully, checking again to see that they are well ready and then I can't help it, my throat closes as I try to tell them that I will see them on one fine Spring day soon. That I will come out and free them from their bindings and wake them up gently and then they will reward me with first one small bud and then two and then three and then seven and then twenty and then on one late Spring day, I will look over from my gardening and smile hugely to see them in their proper glory.
But, for now, this is what they must deal with. Best to go to sleep. To sleep, perchance to dream.
I only turn around once as I head back to the gardening shed. And blow a kiss.
And then everything is properly put up and I go inside to make some green tea and sit down cuddled up in a blanket. Can't go topless until I warm a bit. I pick up my book and read for a while. But, I'm feeling melancholy and sad. This time of year, while beautiful in many ways, is difficult. I tell myself that my garden is sleeping now. Peaceful in dreams of sweet sunshine on soft June days.
I peek down at my burned, scabbed chest and allow myself one long shuddering sigh of self pity.
In the Spring, with a little luck, I will be well mended and cancer will be a memory.
My garden and I will meet each other in good health again.