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Getting tucked in 

I got knocked over by a chicken the other morning.

What happened was, somewhere between plying my wife with her second cup of morning coffee and lining up the breakfast bowls and lunch boxes, I went out to feed the chickens. The sun still hadn't risen, so I entered the chicken coop blind. The mama chicken saw the moon's reflection on the compost bucket and launched herself in its direction.

The suddenness of the collision embarrassed us both, I think. Up until then, our relationship had been platonic: I brought her the compost at dawn, she gave me an egg later the same day. But neither of us were hurt, and we shook off our chagrin, looking around in the darkness.

Dark mornings are just the beginning. With the calendar creeping toward November, daylight disappears, and we plunge into a dimly lit survival mode. The whole landscape seems to change overnight. So many leaves were falling on the porch roof the other day, I thought it was raining. With the leaves gone, sound and light travel farther through the woods. Though our house is six miles away by country road, we can now hear the Orange County Speedway. The dogs are up at all hours worrying about flickering lights from various nearby hunting paths.

The night sky is bigger, the evening winds are chillier, and it's time to do those transition chores with vents, antifreeze, caulk. Time to insulate outdoor faucets and the drafty well-house, put up the hoses and outdoor tools and tuck in the plant beds. Time to hunker down, clean the wood stove pipes, throw an extra carpet in the doghouse and stock up on candles and batteries.

One of my favorite end-of-season tasks is to mow the scrubby hill out back. Once every five years, in January, that little incline becomes our sledding mecca. Those one or two days, totally nature's bonus, define winter, romantic storybook-style. Here's hoping we get our 4 to 6-inch drifts this year, that we find the mittens (in pairs? still fitting? too much to ask for) and the power supplies hold up. I won't soap the sled runners just yet.

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