“When it comes time for us to harvest, when the air and the sun and the water and the sky all shift in the direction of fall- it is also time to turn toward rest.”
Harvest can bring a sense of certainty- “here is what I have, this is what I don’t. Now I can prepare for what will come. Here’s what I can share with my community, and here is what I must ask my community to share with me.” And hopefully, along with that certainty, can come a sense of peace and rest. And perhaps joy.
Transcript and notes:
Recorded 24 August 2023.
Hey, everyone. Thanks for tuning in.
All my plants are dying.
I woke up a couple of days ago and suddenly, suddenly, it was fall. The news tells me, well, the internet tells me, that we have crossed the threshold of eight pm sunsets. And we won't cross it again until April. Perhaps there's something in that that changes the weather, that tells the plants that it's time. But everything is looking a little tired, or putting out that last fierce burst of energy.
My cherry tomatoes are still putting out flowers because they were bred that way, taught to have hope until the very last gasp. The funny yellow pear-shaped tomatoes that volunteered in no fewer than three places in my yard are long and leggy and enthusiastic and hopeful. And I am wondering if recipes for fried green tomatoes work on those as well as the regular ones.
The amaranth never grew past three feet, but it is hopefully putting out flowers. And those flowers are slowly starting to turn over to something else. The cucumber's leaves, after three cucumbers, are fading. The biggest one was yellow this morning.
And the butternut squash, well, we'll see if anything happens at all. It has put out these big gorgeous flowers that last a day, only to fade back to nothing. And I don't even see the beginnings of fruit yet and I don't know how long. I don't know how long we have left. But this is the beauty of the rest that comes with the harvest season.
When we've planted and planted and planted, our human nature tells us from years and years and years- our human nature tells us that when you plant and plant as, Marge Piercey says, eventually the harvest comes.
I want, I want to be of use. We all do, I think. I don't know anybody in my circle who wishes to have no impact, to make nothing different from how we found it. Mostly better. Sometimes just different. But there is a length to the duration. Eventually the fates come along and snip. And harvest time is the time to find out what is being snipped. Where are the scissors falling? What have we managed and what have we not?
It's funny because they talk about the fates as being weavers. But I always think of it as spinning. It's a single thread. It's many single threads. Somewhere someone is weaving our threads together. But here's the thing about weaving. You can't weave until you have cut the final length. You have to cut the warp to length. And then you work with a finite length of weft back and forth and back and forth. If you don't have the far end of it, you can't pass it all through the warp.
Spinning though- spinning can be infinite. Spinning can be forever and the decision is when, are you done? Spinning is about: how much do you have? How much flax, how much wool, how much cotton, how much silk? What are you unfurling from your fingertips into reality.
So many images of spinners using distaffs. But a distaff is specific to flax. And flax, I discovered and put in the Institute for members to peruse- flax is particularly difficult to do well, because we don't have machines that do it well. And I don't know if that's because we didn't bother, or if it's almost impossible. It may be something of both. But the long long staple length of a tall grass cut needs to be broken and retted and combed. And then spun. And spun with some skill.
Flax is funny because it sticks to itself. It has this stuff on it that makes it gluey when wet. So you have a choice. You can spin it dry and it has no crimp at all, no desire to stay spun. Not like wool, which tangles like old fashioned telephone cords back on itself. Or you can spin it wet and it will glue itself to itself and you will not know if you have spun it enough to keep it spun by itself until you wash it. But with that long staple length, you have so many choices. And it can be so fine. And that is the thing that we lost.
In fact, some manufacturers cut it up into little tiny pieces so it is no longer than a piece of cotton. So that then they can process it on cotton machines as though it's cotton. But it is not cotton. It does not act like cotton. It does not thrive like cotton. And it loses its own properties when we treat it like cotton, when we harvest it and then mangle it beyond all recognition.
So when we are sitting in the abundance of our harvest, sitting surrounded by too many tomatoes, or too few. Too many zucchini or too few- I hear that happens. I have never tried to grow zucchini. When suddenly the basil that you planted, that looked like it was going to die, decides that it's got enough of a root system to thrive- in late August. And you start getting more basil than you know what to do with. When you look around and realize that maybe there's time for an entire additional season of brassicas. Like the kale that was still growing in the middle of the ice storm, in December when we got here.
When you're sitting with that harvest, or with that second booster season- if you live in a climate like that. When you're sitting there looking at it and wondering and thinking: know what you have. I know that's an odd thing to say. Of course you know that you have what you have.
But know what you have.
If you have green tomatoes, you can make things but not the same things you would make with red. If you have zucchini, you have food but you can't preserve zucchini in the same way that you would preserve a winter squash. Zucchini is a soft-skin summer squash meant for immediate abundant consumption in everything. Mark Silver recently said "I've come to the conclusion that a zucchini recipe is: find something delicious that you like and add zucchini to it." Which is not entirely wrong.
When it comes time for us to harvest, when the air and the sun and the water and the sky all shift in the direction of fall- It is also time to turn toward rest. Here where I live, come the end of October, rest will well and truly take over.
That has been the case in most of the places I've lived for most of my life. It is not always the case. Some places come alive. But if you are harvesting right now- with apologies to my southern hemisphere neighbors- if you are harvesting right now then also you are beginning to breathe, hopefully more easily. You are beginning to know what you have to work with, for good or for ill. You're beginning to have some certainty after the anticipation, excitement, slightly desperation, of what it has been.
Now it's time to find out what are we doing and how what do we have. And then we can make plans. Either we have a lot, or we don't, at least we can prepare.
There's a surrender here.
A surrender, or a scramble, or an opportunity to knit community together, because when we know what we have, then then we can share. I have too much of this, I need that. We can ask for what we need. We can invite people in, we can be vulnerable with one another.
Harvest is a time of laid tables. Shared meals (with proper COVID precautions) of knitting and weaving together, what we have spun. Of harvesting whatever we have wrought. And finding the pleasure, the ways to pleasure, together.
We may not be at the end of winter, stone-souping our way to the finish line. But perhaps if we come together, we won't have to limp quite so hard when we get there. Perhaps if we work together, we will know which of us has three apples, which of us has a potato and we will know that collectively, we have a meal, even though individually we will starve.
We can know that now we don't have to fret our way through the first part of the season. Instead, we can have joy. We can celebrate.
We can change the rules together.
Thanks for tuning in.