Outside my office window this morning, the lake is sparkling in the distance and the sun is breaking through the gray November clouds. In the immediate foreground, there’s the rotting skeleton of a dead oak tree that really needs to come down. Caught in its branches are the severed limbs of a maple that came crashing down in a recent windstorm that whipped in from the south. Part of it landed on my little red kayak, which now has a concave bottom. It’s probably still usable, though I haven’t tried to find out. The tree bounced off the house, but didn’t do serious damage, and amazingly, it missed my beloved contorted filbert tree, also known as a Harry Lauder’s walking stick because of its twisted branches.
Technically, both dead trees are on our neighbors’ property. They’re nice people but they’re of modest means, and they don’t own a chainsaw. We’ve got a good one that’s been out of commission for years, and my husband finally dropped it off at the hardware store for an overhaul. If we don’t get that dead oak down before winter, it might fall smack dab onto the roof and into my office. Because the wind usually blows from the north, we’d thought it was in a protected spot between the two houses, but the storm in October proved us wrong.
Speaking of oak trees, there’s a living one out by the street. Raking up beneath it, I found hundreds of spiky little spheres clinging to the fallen leaves. At first glance they looked like baby wooly bear caterpillars curled into balls, but when I gingerly pulled one from a leaf, squeezed and examined it, I realized it was of vegetable rather than animal origin. But what was it? Some kind of gall or chancre, probably. In the ten years we’ve lived here, I’ve never seen it before. I need to do some online research, or maybe call the Cooperative Extension, to identify it and see whether it poses a danger to my perennials. Maybe it’s something that’s moved north with global warming.
Back in the summer I identified another toxic invader I’d never seen before. Something stripped my cranberry viburnum bare virtually overnight, reducing the leaves to skeletal filigree. Looking more closely, I saw tiny caterpillars, less than an inch long. Master Gardeners of my acquaintance identified the culprits – viburnum leaf beetles, another newcomer to our region. Like the blight that has wreaked havoc with this year’s tomatoes, the nasty creatures migrated here from the west. Although I normally avoid insecticides, I bought a potion specifically designed for these and similar beetles, and drenched the ground in a circle around the bush. I’m supposed to repeat the ritual next spring, but although the viburnum bravely put out a second batch of leaves, it may already be beyond saving if live insects are wintering underground. I won’t know till next May or June.
All this destruction and disease seems apropos as an extended metaphor for my mood in the wake of the Sisters in Crime meeting I stormed out of last Saturday. I know there’s a name for this usage of images from nature to mirror human emotions, but I wasn’t an English major – maybe someone out there can tell me what it’s called.
Almost a week has passed. The rage that drove me to split from that meeting has abated, and that’s a good thing, because all those toxic emotions were having a devastating effect on my physical and mental health. Fortunately I’ve developed ways to banish negativity from my mind. The passage of time helped. So did the positive feedback and support I’ve received from my online community of writer friends, the wonderful day I spent with my daughter and granddaughters in Woodstock, and a Thanksgiving that reminded me of all the blessings in my life.
What fate’s in store for the Mavens of Mayhem, our Upstate New York Chapter of Sisters in Crime? It will probably survive, albeit without me, but like the diseased oak and viburnum, it’s under siege and currently on the verge of a long winter’s nap. I have some further thoughts on the subject, especially on the uneasy alliance between authors and fans, but for the time being, I’m consigning the Mavens to the deep freeze of a cryogenic limbo.
Today’s paintings are by Charles Burchfield, a fascinating American artist of the generation of Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keeffe. Burchfield’s landscapes have an uncanny way of reflecting human emotions. There’s a new museum in Buffalo named in his honor, the Burchfield Penney Art Center at Buffalo State College – well worth a visit if you find yourself in western New York State.