Saturday, July 31, 2010

Something told the wild geese: Feeling winter in summer

Something told the wild geese

It was time to go,

Though the fields lay golden

Something whispered, "snow."

Leaves were green and stirring,

Berries, luster-glossed,

But beneath warm feathers

Something cautioned, "frost."

All the sagging orchards

Steamed with amber spice,

But each wild breast stiffened

At remembered ice.

Something told the wild geese

It was time to fly,

Summer sun was on their wings,

Winter in their cry. - Rachel Field

I'm trying to get back to normal - even though things aren't quite normal here. In the last three weeks my blogging home has melted down twice and my physical home is up for grabs and I admit, I'm a bit discombobulated. But I'm also laying down the question of whether we should move, and putting it in Eric's hands. My husband both loathes moving more than I do and also worries about money more than I do - so in the end, I think this is going to come down to Eric's gut feeling - does he fear and loathe moving less than he fears and loathes financial instability? Honestly, this is a question only he can answer.

For myself, I've actually sort of settled down on the subject and come to the conclusion that we can both make a go of it here and also make a good go of it there. That is, both options are ok with me - if I'm dissatisfied with the community here, I can work harder at it, and see if I can get more cool people out this way. We can rent out the in-law apartment to make the house more affordable. And while I worry about the tax burden and the costs, I've been poor enough in my life that we'd have to just be a lot more unstable for me to freak out. I'm content to make it work here, and I also think there are virtues to trying to make it work there - and I'll do either one. What *I* don't deal well with is uncertainty - but this isn't my decision in some way - I could push Eric one way or another, but I don't want to live with him when pushed ;-), so honestly, it is in my husband's hands.

So I'm starting to focus back on my daily life - and there's certainly plenty to do there. Bazillions of herbs to harvest and dry. Plenty of vegetables, gardens to weed, quarts of peach salsa to can. The shelves are filling up and I have to clean and reorganize the kitchen - and that kind fo work will matter whether we stay or go.

And like the wild geese in my oldest, Eli's favorite poem, I can feel the tang of winter coming. When you live on a farm, and when you eat with the seasons, winter is always coming in a way - I order my Thanksgiving turkey in February, order the seeds potatoes for my Chanukah latkes just a month or so after we finish eating them, thin our autumn's apples in June, plant the beets and kale we'll eat in December in July.

Round and round and round we go, and we we stop we always know. It isn't like things really stop in winter - there's plenty to do in the quiet times. But at some point the last of the brussels sprouts and winter greens will be done, the hens will take their annual sabbatical from laying, and the food we have will be the food we eat, with light and judicious purchasing from things far away. Because we want to keep this light and judicious, we are always looking at the abundant plenty now with ideas of how we can put more summer into our pantry for the short, cold days ahead.

There is a moment in summer, usually about halfway through - about now, really, when I begin to feel that tang of winter. It isn't caused by anything in particular - it is hot and humid right now, no change in the weather to shift my worldview. I've been canning and preserving since June, so the pickles and jams aren't the reason. The hay has been cut for a while now, and the animal's winter feed has been on our mind since June too. No, it is something intangible, faint, hard to identify, but real. Something is telling me to move my always-thinking-forward cyclical life into higher gear - perhaps an instinct, perhaps a habit born from a life of back to school planning - who knows. But it is time - not to go, but to recognize that steaming amber spice is a transient, passing thing, to be loved, held onto, preserved.

I don't have to do this, of course - I can buy my thanksgiving turkey at a store, buy apples weekly at the same place. I don't have to change my diet from season to season - although the tastes and nutritional value and price will change, I could just keep on eating and doing the same things day after day.

I don't want to, though. Besides the fact that my body craves what is coming, and gets frustrated with the good-looking, empty tasting aseasonal alternatives, those choices come with costs I don't want to bear. Every time I spend a dollar on food, I vote for what kind of food system I'm going to have - and I want to vote for what I want to see more of. My neighbors with farms can't provide me with strawberries and tomatoes in February - so if I'm going to vote for them, I'm going to eat those things sparingly - or not at all.

At the same time, the lush abundance of summer in the Northeast is so overwhelming that without a serious commitment, food would go to waste, which seems to me a loss and a sorrow, when I know I will want it so badly in the cold. I can't eat every zucchini, eat every berry on the bush - we give it away, we share with friends and neighbors and the food pantry, and still, there is more. This plenty, glorious organic excess, produced in tandem with nature would be lost in part if I didn't put some of it away for winter. And it simply isn't that hard to do - the returns are so vast, the meals that I've done the primary labor for in summer, the short winter evenings that can be made longer by a dinner half ready, and fresh from last summer's heat, are worth it.

This is what human beings have done for almost all the time in human history that we have abided in cold climates. I don't have any idea how much that history is bred into my bones - all I know is that like the squirrel who gathers more acorns and the bear that grows fat with berries, I can feel the whisper of frost. And there's something energizing and invigorating about that call, that sense of instinct taking over.

I'm not really sure where I will winter - what nest I will crawl into, what fire I will sit before. But I know enough about my cold and pleasant place to know that every taste of the abundance of summer will be welcome, every bit of heat in a jar will be beloved when the cold seeps in the cracks and the quiet time begins. Summer sun is on my back, but winter is in my dreams - and hands.

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