I have become intimately acquainted with my backyard.

It may sound silly, but seriously, I have.

Before the pandemic decided to wend its way into our lives, I’d wander along the backyard fence, mindlessly pulling weeds, plucking dried leaves from flowering bushes and sneaking up on a cat or two that needed to be scooped up and taken indoors before dark.

Mid-pandemic, the backyard has become a haven.

I visit it every day and have begun to know the location of every spot of moss, each stump and above-ground root, all the small dips and crevices in the lawn’s terrain.

I walk many laps around the yard at least twice a day, letting the cold air course through my lungs and giving my increasingly inactive legs a much-needed workout.

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I used to walk around the streets of our Waterville neighborhood and still do, though less frequently since I have discovered our yard is just as good and the ground, much softer on my aging feet.

At first, our cats, Thurston and Bitsy, would sit on the edge of the deck and watch me trudge round and round the backyard, as if to say, “What craziness has she taken on now?”

But they have come to expect the daily activity and no longer suspect I am invading their territory merely to snatch them up and relegate them to the house for the night.

Over the course of the fall, I got to watch more attentively the leaves fall from our neighbor’s large maples and observe the lily plants I transplanted from my late mother’s front yard dry up and go limp. I witnessed the lilac bushes I started from her own many years ago turn bare and spindly in the cold air.

For the first time in many years, Phil and I raked leaves in the fall instead of waiting until spring, filling 32 large bags. We cut down the white hydrangea bushes and cleared leaves from their roots. We trimmed the giant rhododendron bush by the sun room window that refuses to die, though we have cut it clear to the ground a couple of times and watched it grow larger than before.

During a pandemic, there’s more time for outdoor work, as we spend more time at home and fewer hours scurrying off to other places. This is a good thing.

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Being home means I also have become more acquainted with my oven, which isn’t so good, though I’ve come to enjoy cooking and baking.

Not that I didn’t, prepandemic, but it seemed then that I had less time for it.

I have pored through my cookbooks and file folders of recipes plucked from various magazines or scribbled on scraps of paper over many years, organized them better and am actually putting them to use rather than just dreaming about it.

I especially enjoy following my late mother’s recipes, some in her own handwriting. Today, Tuesday, I baked her apple crisp with apples from our friend Dave’s trees — no pesticides, no charge. Now that’s baking at its best.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I think of my parents, whose holiday dinners when I was growing up in Skowhegan were memorable for the turkey they roasted slowly overnight in the oven, the homemade stuffing my father made, the vegetables from his garden displayed prominently on the table, and my mother’s squash, chocolate cream, and lemon meringue pies.

November’s brown hues and invigorating air enhance those memories in my brain as I march around the backyard, planning for this much different, pandemic Thanksgiving.

It’ll be just the two of us this year, and the cats, of course, but the memories will serve to sweeten the holiday.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 32 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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