Dog and covered pool

Wallie patrols the area around the repaired pool cover.

GHENT, N.Y. — One might think that putting the swimming pool to bed for the winter would be cause for melancholy.

I suppose that, in some ways, it is. What’s not to like about sun, water and pool toys? But, there’s also something to be said for moving on, for embracing the benefits of autumn. Besides, fishing the falling leaves out of the pool was starting to get tedious.

I don’t close our pool by myself. In fact, I play no role whatsoever. I wouldn’t know where to start. The water and chlorine-filled cavity was designed on a cocktail napkin many years ago by someone who’d never built a swimming pool before. He did so on instructions from my mother, who wanted the rustic beauty of a pond that one happened upon in the woods without any of the debris, invasive weeds or wildlife.

Unfortunately, nature has a say in the matter, so, maintaining the pond-in-the-woods illusion requires constant vigilance. Come late September, the sight of its protective green cover blanketing it is a source of both sadness and comfort. No need to worry for another nine months about leaks, chlorine levels, mysterious algae blooms, torrential runoffs, or amphibians in need of rescue.

It goes without saying, but I will anyway, that a pool as eccentrically shaped as ours, after my mom and her contractor agreed on its free-form design, requires a matching custom-made cover. I can only envy friends with rectangular pools and off-the-rack thermal covers.

Patching ours every decade or so is a pricy challenge. So, kudos to Sausbier’s Awning Shop in Hudson, N.Y., for plugging our holes in timely fashion and at reasonable cost. The combination of wear and tear, UV sunlight damage, tumbling branches and the occasional deer or family pet that wanders onto the cover required a couple of dozen patches this time around.

When I went to pick up the glorified tarp, I had a few questions for Robert Stalker, Sausbier’s business manager. Starting with how’s it done. How do you sew a cumbersome 40-foot-by-60-foot pool cover back together again? Mr. Stalker explained they have a very talented seamstress who, working on a heavy-duty but conventional sewing machine, performs the needlework as expertly as any dressmaker putting the finishing touches on a Dior gown. They repair approximately two dozen covers a year, but more every year as city folk migrate to the country.

Once the pool is put to bed, you can focus on other stuff, such as hanging your bird feeders. The New York state Department of Environmental Conservation cautions against putting up feeders before bears hibernate in late November or early December and to remove them by April 1. But, we don’t really live in bear country — I’ve been socked but once by a ravenous teddy — and flocks of birds at feeders alleviate seasonal affective disorder as no medication or light box can.

If covering the pool is one of autumn’s rituals, reluctantly retiring the hummingbird feeders after a thorough washing and then hanging the seed feeders, again, after a thorough scouring, is a harbinger of short days, long nights, a crackling fire and the gentle transition from vodka to single-malt scotch.

A related ritual is placing my bulk order at Agway for sunflower seed to keep our resident chickadees, nuthatches and titmice nourished in style through midspring. Bird populations are said to be declining, but I seem to require more 40-pound bags of the stuff every year. I doubt that’s because their appetites are becoming heartier.

More likely it’s because our squirrel population gives no indication of suffering similar population stresses. They’re booming, and the abundance of hickories and acorns on our trees suggests they’ll continue to abet the critters’ procreative urges and crowd out the birds at our feeders for the foreseeable future. Why store nuts for the winter when choice sunflower kernels are readily available?

That reminds me of yet another perennial autumnal observance: surfing the web for squirrel-defying contraptions to protect my feeders. Spoiler alert: There are none.

If squirrels were the size of people and possessed opposable thumbs, they’d be running the place. I’ve never encountered wilier, more opportunistic creatures. If the question is “What part of ‘no’ don’t they understand?” the answer is every part — and a few you haven’t thought of yet.

Still, I have my eye on another 36-inch extended reach pole. The one I bought last year to hang the feeder outside our kitchen window worked reasonably well after greasing it regularly with Vaseline and training our hunting dog Wallie to associate squirrel chasing with dog biscuits. The poor canine was terribly confused when she actually caught one last winter, was amusing herself by tossing it into the air like a puppet, and my horrified wife commanded her to release the pest as if she’d done something wrong, rather than everything right.

Hopefully, Wallie will have forgotten the admonition by the time the rodents get tired of harvesting hickories and return to test our defenses this fall.

Ralph Gardner Jr. is a journalist whose work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The New Yorker. He can be reached at ralph@ralphgardner.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.