Shame, if you don’t recall, is the feeling you get when you accidentally introduce two people who used to date, or when you misplace a child you’ve been entrusted during a carnival. Thankfully this feeling is usually fleeting for you. You’ll get it again this spring if you see a withered up salamander on your doorstep – that was caused by the salt you dumped there. Instead of taking all this shame upon yourself, feel free to spread it around to other salt users by de-icing the whole block yourself with good old Lake Michigan Sand. Most importantly, shame on your local government for sanctioning road salt, which causes fish kills in local water bodies, hurts the paws of dogs and the feelings of their walkers, and wreaks havoc on the amphibian world by literally broiling them alive in their skin.
Some seeds need no provocation to sprout. Tradescantia ohioensis, on the other hand, needs a whopping 120 days’ worth of cool steam to even THINK about germinating. But that’s not the half of it. Others are worse: they need a very particular combination of temperatures to unfurl their cotyledons. There are those who can only handle a rude awakening: exposed naked on their bed to the ravages of sun and wind, rime and hoar. To unlock your potential this winter take care of your needs. Perhaps you could take a cue from Ceanothus americanus: seek out a claw foot tub, light some candles, and take a nice relaxing steep.
Consider the possibilities that a limitless expanse of frozen mud offers: clean boot-treads, a glass-bottomed glimpse of the underwater invertebrate world, convenient shortcuts that won’t exist for most of the rest of the year. Now, before you go and take up ice road trucking, try on some snowshoes and practice your ice cartography. Make a map of the zigzag landscape you once thought you knew – that way you can find island-locked mallow. Just don’t be overconfident, Gemini. Winter’s been warm and in spots the ice is thin.
Summer creature, this time of year when your fruitful nature is frustrated, having perhaps borne winter gifts beyond your capacity. Take this time to recharge and prune wisely. First of all, think about your goals when pruning. Are you hoping to make your fruit more easily accessible or simply make more of it next summer? Start with the obvious branches when pruning: those that are no longer used or are in danger of destroying another can be set aside. Keep the whole picture in mind and don’t go too fast, and always prune back to a bud or a branch, lest the new shoots grow inwards and lopsided.
What kind of Quercus are you? Are you a young oak with a full crown of leaves, timid of the firey landscape you were destined to live in? Or are you an old, burly bur oak, no less majestic for the loss of your limbs? Are you a scrubby hill oak, transplanted from some Hollywood front yard, feeling completely lost in Illinois? Whatever kind of oak you are, you play the most important role in the ecology of our region. You’re also a haven for hundreds of other species. Plus, being an oak, you have the right to name yourself anything you want.
Everything seems to shrink in the winter. Even the life-giving sun is tiny as it struggles from afar to break apart those dingy clouds above the lake. Goldfinches on the rails look lean, and people lean, looking from signposts and railings while waiting for buses in a salt-spewn wind. Apples are appalling, tomatoes terrify you. In the raspy days to come, when the air burns your lungs dry, you think: Will I too shrink away? Calm yourself, Virgo. Pour a tall glass of water, rub some olive oil into your skin, and think about this: You, like the collard greens, dandelions, kale, and sprouts, are sweetest after a good frost.
Under the waning lids of cool daylight, when you finally put away the last of your summer clothes, another creature – Rana sylvatica – was putting away its summer organs in the depths of its body and preparing for a winter wardrobe made completely out of ice crystals. Another libra, a caterpillar, was preparing to freeze solid with glycogen in its tissues. There’s a myth about woolly bears related to the color of their stripes and the harshness of winter to come. Don’t buy into this fearmongering and bust out your bright clothes, Libras. Winter’s only as harsh as you make it!
If you thought Cornus sericea was the only shrub of year-round interest, you were wrong! The impudent berries of Ilex verticillata can get even a tropical horticulturist through Desperate December, Just Give Up January, Feelin’ Bad February, and Man This Sucks I Quit March. So you can’t go snipping off branches in the forest preserves, look around the yards of your neighbors for clones to clip. They won’t miss a couple branches, and you’ll have a great time trying to identify forced buds on the windowsill, not to mention a head start on everyone else.
A Sagittarius I know from Baton Rouge once developed an unhealthy obsession with the non-euclidean geometry of the snow that hung from a building we both worked in. Gazing into the foamy ice, he began to speak of other visions he’d seen: needle ice spawning straight from pores in the earth. A hollow lattice of hoarfrost over the surface of an old tire track. Waves freezing mid-splash, icebergs in the lake. The intricacies of rime. Needless to say I developed a crush on this person. Your obsessions can be quite charming, Sagittarius, don’t try and hide them.
A big project is coming up for you, whatever that means: business, notoriety, or just keeping your indoor plants alive. It won’t be easy, but you Capricorns are especially well-equipped. For perhaps the most devastating time of year is when the gold leaf of fresh citrus peels back to reveal an old familiar painting: it’s business as usual for the capitalists, scurrying about like rodents or, worse, making others scurry, spraying soot, then WD-40, then more soot. In another life, you could have been one of those cruella deville types… or maybe even in your next one. You alone can use this opportunity to prep the ground for the coming round of beings.
On one of those perfectly snow-blown, cloudless days, imagine stumbling across none other than the owner of an instagram with 5000+ followers, an instagrammer rapt with the most serious and pure of artistic intentions, hunkered over some ice floe waiting for sunlight to filter through some branches. Your mischievous Aquarian nature is piqued and you imagine all the hashtags this person could use. #habitat2030? #proofofcartoondimension? Aquarius, trust your instincts – you are going to have one of the greatest ideas of your life this winter.
Mudpuppies take six of our years to reach maturity. How long is that in mudpuppy years? That’s like 30. If you feel sick and tired of patiently waiting out your recent lull, you might be like the slow-movin’ and mystical mudpuppy. If you head towards some fast- moving water, you’ll have to expend less energy to get oxygen, you’ll meet and befriend (for who doesn’t love a mudpuppy?!) some interesting critters, maybe even that special someone who will lift you from the water, clip off one of your toes and record a whole bunch of data about you, thus making you….. famous?