Letter from the PublisherOct 30, 2020 ● By Peggy Malecki
No doubt about it, there’s a fresh chill in the air as we head into mid-autumn in the Chicago area. While evening skies come way too early in the day, the beautiful tones of autumn light still linger before sunset. Thanks to ongoing drought conditions and October’s windy start, many leaves are off the trees. Yet what a fall color season we enjoyed this year, with brilliant yellows and reds illuminating the trees, fluttering through the breeze and carpeting the ground. While this year’s acorn crop seemed light, plenty are still scattered about for the squirrels and chipmunks to hide away as a welcome food source for the coming winter.
Meteorologists predict a “la Nina” winter, and while it’s too early for accurate forecasts, this may mean above-normal precipitation and generally milder temperatures on average—or maybe not. No matter, though, whether the coming winter is brutal or mild, the bees, insects, birds and other critters that call our yards home need food, water sources and protection.
Homeowners can do a few simple things to create habitat and also reduce fall yard work. Many native bees and other insects hibernate underground or in dried twigs. Some insects and larvae overwinter in vegetative debris from the past season. By letting the leaves and fallen twigs stay in our gardens rather than bagging and putting them out at the curb, we can easily create hiding places and food sources for the beneficial insects and non-migrating pollinators that call our area home. Fallen leaves provide free mulch to protect garden plants from harsh winds and dryness, and they’ll serve as no-cost organic fertilizer next year, too.
This fall, try leaving dried perennial plant stems in place with their seed heads for the winter birds. If you need to tidy up, leave about 18 inches of thick stalks as a winter home for bees and insects. The stalks will also add interest to a garden space when snows come. Twig piles, extra logs and other remnants of summer create beneficial habitat when left in place in an out-of-the-way place in the yard.
No one is quite sure what to expect from the 2020 holiday rush, but it’s already gearing up in the background. This in-between season is a perfect time to take a reflective breath, reset and express quiet gratitude for the gifts and experiences of each day, no matter how obvious, elusive or even hard to find they may be. Good or not so pleasant, each moment weaves into our life’s tapestry and creates our personal story.
The realities of these times can help us gain a different perspective when we focus on the new roads we may now be on. Sadness and difficult times can make small, joyous moments that much more precious and appreciated. We’re able to look more forward to the spring by observing the small details of autumn’s transition to winter, and seeking out the daily wonders of the natural world.