It all depends on the weather. And I can’t depend on the weather being forecast correctly even the evening before, so I make my day’s work plan in the morning as I take in the sky, the humidity in the air, the moisture in the plants. During strings of beautiful days, I split my time between active gardening and harvesting and preserving. Inclement days I develop and test recipes, do research, and write. It’s an interesting combination of freedom and enslavement–Nature, not any human institution, calls the shots around here.
Indeed, my companions are the snakes, chipmunks, rabbits, squirrels, turkeys, songbirds, owl, insects and other critters that inhabit the garden areas. During high spring and summer, they are company aplenty. The phoebe, the towhee, the song sparrows fill the air with their conversations; everyone else is all about raising their young. But there’s been a shift these past couple of weeks. The swallows and towhees are gone. The songs are the rapid burst of goldfinch and cardinal and chickadee arguing over the sunflower seeds, the result of their own planting last year. (Every sunflower growing in the garden was planted by a bird–and they get to feast on the seeds and thus replant them–lovely, efficient cycle. Of course some day I may wish to plant a field of sunflowers for oil…then what…)
The squirrels and chipmunks race around the place with seeds and nuts, to bury in the lawn and garden. The hummingbirds look frantic to me as they imbibe as much nectar as possible before setting out on their incredible trek south.
It’s a bit lonely during this cusp between seasons. But there’s so much work to be done.
This past weekend my daughter came home from New York, and with her help I was able to double my kitchen production: tomato-basil jam, sage elixir, hot pepper jelly, and wine-mulled pears as well as the lengthening of ristras and the daily filling of the dehydrator’s trays. Now that she’s back in the city, I am wondering how I will make the mincemeat, the chutneys, the mostardo, the harissa, the chili powders and everything else without her! Not only was she great help, she was fabulous company.
I am reminded of how in my storytelling work, people so love coming together to share the stories of the harvest, to swap recipes and tastes and memories from their kitchens. I think of Breughel’s paintings of harvest parties. I dream of building a combination of agriturismo and community kitchen out here. In the summer I would weave together two or three weekend or week-long storytelling, photography and garden-to-table workshops; in the fall and winter I would open the kitchen to people wanting to put up their harvest, to share gardening, canning and drying techniques; work out recipes for family and market; to share knowledge in reciprocal apprenticeships. I am inspired by the examples of Hardwick, Vermont, and the learning parties offered by The Sustainable Living Arts School in British Columbia.
And so, though I cherish the long hours spent with my non-human co-inhabitants in the gardens, the orchard, the land, and I am sorry to see the migrating species begin to push south, I am excited, too, about the prospect of working through these dreams and plans, of launching the subscription series, of perhaps having a table at the winter market, and most of all, of learning from my fellow explorers.