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Goodbye Garden, Hello Winter

I love the changing seasons. There is something mystical about the rhythms of the sky and earth as we move from one season to the next. I am always thrilled to discover the first springtime crocus and find myself not so patiently waiting for the daffodils and tulips that follow. The summer brings camping trips on the Huzzah River and a thriving flower garden and ample time outside to chat with neighbors. Fall creeps in where I live, almost too slowly for my taste. That first deep breath of crisp air feels like a balm to my soul, a reminder of the vibrant colors and autumn festivities of my Michigan childhood. Winter comes and I settle into a quieter, slower pace. I dream about my garden and by January I’m frantically searching for cheap flights to anywhere warm.

Winter is almost here so I spent my weekend doing the yearly chore of putting my garden to bed. I pulled out the dead plants and did one more good weeding. I collected a few last seed heads from my annual flowers for next year—both to grow and to share with neighbors. I mulched my strawberry patch with straw and insulated my fig tree with dried leaves and burlap. I planted a few new bulbs because there is no such thing as too many daffodils. I drained my hoses and cleaned up my tools, storing them away until spring.

As I did all of this, I thought back to my first attempt at gardening. I had no skills or experience, but I was new to my neighborhood and I wanted to meet my neighbors. I figured the best way to meet people was to spend as much time outside as possible. My plan worked! I met Maria, whose secret garden is truly magical; she shared her knowledge and dill starts with me. Ms. GiGi whispered her tomato growing secrets to me and even made me fried green tomatoes from my yield. My next-door neighbor had a “mean old lady” reputation on our block, but she had the best peonies I’ve ever seen. We bonded over our love for the giant scented peony blooms, and I began to see past her rough exterior.

Now that the garden is put to bed, I must get creative in my attempts to connect with neighbors during the cold, short days of winter. Having a highly energetic one-eyed rescue pup helps; she gives me a reason to be outside, and I’ve learned that people are drawn to blind dogs. But a daily walk and a game of fetch doesn’t feel like enough.

As I pondered how to stay connected and present in my neighborhood, I came up with another plan. This is the first winter in my new house, which is a tiny brick home set far back from the street. My entire yard is visible from the sidewalk. My new plan is to build a firepit in my front yard. I’m going to spend this weekend sourcing outdoor chairs from Facebook Marketplace and digging through thrift store bins for wool blankets. I have warm layers and a good thermos and a stack of books to read. I’m looking forward to greeting neighbors as they pass by, inviting them to warm their hands by the fire and greet the one-eyed pocket lab as we chat.

A hopeful neighborhood is one where neighbors are known and connected to each other. What neighborly practices can you build into your life during this season?

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