Sunset has resolved into a hard, clear line against the blue of the Allegheny Mountains. Yesterday the summer heat suddenly gave way to an autumn chill in the air, and even the moon looks colder.
Today, with my mother and a friend, I canned grape juice. We steamed wine-sweet grapes and watched their last oozings hours by hours. There is a slow, everyday poetry in the process of preserving food for winter, capturing the warmth and brilliance of summer against the dark days of the year. Glass jars sparkle on the counter, the purple juice dark as blood. Some things die and pass away that others may gather strength for the months ahead.
The process is a thoughtful one. It engenders mindfulness and perspective. There is something humbling in the thought that when I freeze a handful of berries or place potatoes in a basket in the basement, I am capturing a tiny bit of the sun’s energy to nourish the bodies of my family through the cold, dark times. I think of those who’ve done this before me, the ones who did it out of necessity and not choice. It was hard work, I know, because I’ve tasted it. But I envy them, too, because they knew what it meant to live in profound connection to the rhythm of the seasons, unadulterated by things like climate control and convenience food. I wonder what it would be like to stare the mysteries of life and death in the face every day, to take my survival in my hands, to know that every decision I made mattered in the most fundamental way.
Once more we are moving away from the sun, the source of heat and life. It is a turning-away, but also a turning inward, to face the darkness of the year and the darkness within ourselves. I imagine a woman a hundred years ago, two hundred, a thousand. She is hoarding food for the winter. She knows that by the labor of her hands, her family will live or perish. I wonder if she has time to think, or if she moves with an urgency that precludes thought. I wonder if she survives, or if she gives the last mouthful of food to her hollow child long before the trees begin to leaf in a distant spring. I wonder if, in the long winter nights, she peers through the firelight into a future she will not see, imagining a woman a hundred years later, two hundred, a thousand, who will gather food for the winter, searching in the process for the story of her past.