We are in stick season, and we will be here until the snow falls. While some may liken that to Purgatory, it is a season worth exploring, not ignoring.
“What is there to like?” a friend asks. But she goes to Florida for the winter, so we can ignore her. For those of us who call Maine home, stick season is yet another opportunity to get outside and take a look around.
Stick season seems to have been commandeered by Vermont, and though it is possible someone there coined the phrase, Vermont has no greater claim on short days, bare trees, and dropping temperatures than any other New England state. Where did the phrase come from? I wish I knew. I had never even heard the term until a friend wished me happy stick season. I checked with my Vermont cousin, and he did not know it, either. It is used in posts as far back as 2004, beyond that I can find no reference. The definition is clear, though: Stick season is the period of time after the leaves fall, but before the snow does. Bare twigs against the sky look like sticks, and so the name stick season.
Here are my favorite five things about stick season.
- The views
I can see the ocean from my office, which is not possible when trees are in leaf. Views are dramatically more distant than they were a few months ago. I see mountain ridges I have not seen for six months. Instead of looking at a wall of trees, our eyes see right through the thin, bare branches to the landscape beyond. The undergrowth in the woods has died back exposing cellar holes and stonewalls. Paths that were closed in with leafy sun-dappled ceilings are open to the sky above and the valleys below. There is so much more we can see when views and the ground are not obscured by foliage. The world feels bigger, and this is expansive and liberating.
- Bug watch is over.
Mosquitoes and black flies are gone, and blacklegged ticks are less active. I relax my vigilance and no longer carry around bug spray or tuck my pants into my socks. It is a relief not to be on constant guard against ticks. I know there is still a possibility of tick-borne disease, but chances have gone down and it just feels so good to go for a hike without tick fear.
- Cool temperature moths
Forget sultry summer or blood-tingling spring. The Bruce Spanworm moth, Operopheta bruceata, mates when the heat is gone and after leaves fall, from October to December, stick season for sure. The female does not fly. She climbs along bark exuding pheromones to attract a male. The male does fly, and finds her. The wings of the male are muted shades of warm brown and ash, blending softly with dried leaves and gray bark.
I bring flowers or greens into the house year-round, and each season has its own sequence of blooms. The muted earth tones of stick season have been described as washed out and somber. I think “subtle” is more apt. The caramel tones of dry beech leaves, dark blood-red sumac berries, the deep burgundy of rose leaves, and bleached golden grasses–the colors are all pale, unsaturated, and soothing. I lived in Iceland for a year and the landscape was lava, lichen, and shrub–all harmonious tones allowing the eye to see the different textures. The colors of stick season likewise draw the eye to pattern and shape. My arrangements are just a bunch of dried weeds, but there is beauty when colors are pale and texture reigns.
- It means winter is coming.
I used to feel I was alone in my love of winter, but I now am surrounded by a growing group of snow and ice lovers. We no longer whisper that we are looking forward to the snow, waiting with a cringe for the verbal abuse sure to follow. Now we say it aloud and with confidence. “ I can’t wait for snow.” The replies come back quickly, “Yes, love winter… love snow…could never live in a place with no winter.”
But until winter arrives stick season is just fine, and there are far more than five things to like about it.
The list goes on:
No lines in the grocery
Frost patterns on the window
The calls of geese
A fire in the woodstove
Skim ice shimmering on puddles
A sense of calm
Happy stick season, and may you find even more reason to revel in it.