Double Dipped, Gardens at Effingham
Double Dipped, Gardens at Effingham
The latitude and lay of the land lie flat. Like sky. Trees bare—whose limbs now ache for sun— stretch upward and skyward to find even they share this canvas of gray, monochromatic day. Reflections all this moody shade, nature lies ashen. Dormant yet still teeming with life, nature sleeps to a lullaby’s song. Somber. Etched. Temperatures dipping. Winter dropping.
Skies open wide, gray subsists on all strata, and moods stack visibly against an alabaster garden. A lull of sorts in the rigors and maintenance of Gardens at Effingham, days such as these require a hardiness of one’s soul.
The kittens, at 7 months now, flush beautifully with their full winter coats. Poofy and gorgeously striped, they frequent the food bowl together, an inherent pecking order amongst them, one often under the forsythia while the other one eats. At first this might seem like camaraderie of sorts, or siblings traveling in twos, but perhaps even more so for protection. The sky opens wide, a single, flat, gray slab against which any number of predators might conceal themselves, only to swoop down unexpectedly to feast on plump kittens. And the kittens, while sizable themselves, do not yet have what it takes to fend off hungry hawks.
Most Beloved sleeps too, though inside the big house and cozied fireside. She, too, knows to nestle close as late fall relinquishes its rich textures and vibrant hues, fades into nights colder with days more somber.
We all settle in—cats, gardens, we who tend both cats and gardens. The tea hybrid roses have been pruned back, the P.J.M. rhododendrons and forsythia hold buds that will open come spring, crabapple trees harbor bright red berries that will sustain our birds who stay throughout the winter months. Even our resident frog has ceased his ba-roomp, ba-roomp calls, for he, along with the koi, are hibernating in the pond. Color-drained flowers, long now since bloomed, dangle seed pods and bits of dried leaves to sustain our resident chipmunks, squirrels, birds, and an entire outdoor world that comes alive just when ours is going to sleep.
And so while all seems infinitely gray and now dormant, the gardens are actively preparing for a joyous spring. We have tucked in the gardens, but the gardens are not sleeping. They tend now to a life of their own, one visible above ground only in fleeting glimpses, though one as vibrant and busy as tending to our gardens will be come spring.
Days fall short now, time cutting across day’s light, night coming too fast—before supper, before work can be done, before we are ready.
Gardens have been put to sleep—by us, or by nature—and while inside we work by light, outside, this early darkness awakens late fall’s chill.
Against this vague, ambiguous drift of days between November and March, skies sketch a steady kind of gray.
A Cat Sleeps in Our Garden
Tigers crush where Lilies sleep. A cat sleeps in the gardens today. He’s tucked in and around himself right now, curled up on a large, flat stone between a rose bush and a forsythia bush. His markings flank and imitate this late fall day around him.
Leaves are mostly fallen from the black walnut trees behind him, the roses lie dormant and sad after an early heavy frost last week, the mulch, well withered and now covered by brown crunchy leaves, work together to provide just the right amount of camouflage for his heavy tiger-striped frame.
He is a large cat. Daddy cat, perhaps, of the feral cats in this area. A show cat with markings parallel and perfect. He is a traditional striped cat, though with tufted fur, tufted ears, and a tufted chest. I remember the first time I saw him sitting on the brick path leading up to the garden gates. Stunningly beautiful, striking in that he just sat for the longest time, square on his haunches, front paws tight and connected, dark ribbons of stripes at perfect intervals up his legs. And that face. A large, perfect stare, eyes wide open, unafraid, as if saying something, but what, exactly?
He seems tended to, a house cat let outside, an unneutered cat left free to roam where might he may. I’ve only seen him twice, this tomcat unafraid. Unlike the feral cats who run skittish and fast, this tiger lumbers up our long drive, sauntering past the Weigela, passing by the just-last-summer planted dwarf-mounding chokeberry bushes, brushing past the dwarf cameo flowering quince. His haunches define his fearlessness, his size alone big enough to take down another male cat foolish enough to enter his territory, his domain, these, our Gardens at Effingham.