I am engaged in building a future for my kids out of this mess of a present, largely created by my parents’ generation. One of the most wearing aspects of this project is not giving in to despair. Merely seeing what might be good — or even survivable — is difficult. So from time to time I write stories that might be true in the future. This is a near-future harvest season reverie, perhaps a diary entry from a typical mid-century Vermont householder. There are many similarities with today, though you might notice the weather is changed.
It is Lughnasadh season and the full Hay Moon. Hay-making and grain harvest are largely behind us — though maize is still to come, and sweet corn is a daily harvest along with the cucumbers, beans and peppers that flow out of the garden in trencher-fulls. Herbs are mostly cut and drying wherever there is dry air space to hang them. Garlic and onions are curing in the conservatory heat. The potatoes are in sand in the cold cellar. Strawberries, early raspberries, cherries, peaches, and plums are turned into jewel-toned jams in the basement. Tomatoes are joining them eight pints at a time — whole, sauce, and chutney. The summer squash and eggplant are being churned into frozen breads and casseroles. The blossoms on the winter squash are being turned into beer-battered fritters. It is almost time to seed the garden for fall foods. Peas, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbages. Probably some rutabagas and radishes. It’s time to pay close attention to the apple trees. Some may be coming ripe already, but these early fruiting varieties are usually just good for sauce. And maybe not even that. They’re really best at pollinating the autumn harvest.
It is blueberry season. Time to climb the hills and gather the wild berries. And maybe search out some mushrooms and sweetgrass while there. In the orchard the blueberry hedge is busy. The ripening fruits range from lime green hard nuggets to fat musty blue water balloons. The birds and rodents are generally defeating our best efforts to keep them off. The rodents, at least, don’t like chile oil sprayed on the fruits. But then neither do most humans. The birds don’t care about taste. They just know that dark, juicy fruit means sugar. So it’s hard to keep them off without netting, and netting injures more than it dissuades. Plus, humans can’t harvest through the nets. In truth, beaks and claws are better than fingers for getting through the mesh. But taking the netting off to pick the berries often means it doesn’t go back on — and a rather annoying number of twigs, leaves and unripe berries fall off in the removal.
It is time to start the culling if there are spring-born animals. Or just irritating males. Most of the little ones are weaned and have feathers and are ready to be adults. It’s time to decide how many can be winter fed. Not many. Goats will turn into too many in just half a year if left to their own devices. Sheep depend upon us to manage their numbers, as we manage the rest of their lives. They’ve co-evolved to be utterly dependent upon humans. Good in many ways, but this means they seem to have a death wish that is really the evidence of human error. Chickens tend to die in the summer stress of heat, dehydration, and daily egg production. So they have problems with reproduction on the other end of the scale. It is the extremely sad time of separating the calves from their mothers. They’re mostly independent now, but like all youngsters they love Mama best. Some farms don’t let them drink mother’s milk at all — mostly to avoid these weeks of selling off the yearlings and listening to the cries of bereft cows. But homesteaders don’t usually have the option of bottle-feeding a calf in the midst of the growing season. So this is the annual black mark on eating dairy. And nobody who has ever lived through this season would claim it mere sentimentality to loathe this task.
It is fair season. Time to gather for parties, light-hearted contests, and serious marketing. Those yearling animals are sold — some to lead productive lives on other farms, others to fill freezers and bellies. All the jars of jams and preserves are arranged on cloth-covered tables with bouquets of cosmos, zinnias, Queen Anne’s lace, lavender, and sunflowers. Soaps are piled in mounds like glistening candy that scents the whole market in lavender, rose and mint. Bushel baskets of vegetables and fruits are set out along the roads in self-serve stands that are never depleted. Crafts of all sorts join the produce — bright wreaths of dried herbs, grasses, and flowers woven into wild grape vine; oils and creams for skin and hair; woven baskets and bright clay pots, trinkets and adornments, fresh linens and fine clothing made months ago in the winter dark now shimmer seductively in the sunlight. Ferments of all sorts fill up crates and disappear into the crowds by noon. And breads! The piles of pastries and donuts and quick breads and sourdough loaves are mountainous! There is music in every market. Fiddlers and song-weavers. Flutes and guitars. The occasional accordion. Then there is the music of laughter and peddling wares and flirtation. Squashes are compared for size. Bushels of sweet corn are hefted off truck-beds merely to impress onlookers. Awards are bestowed on the best of everything, with shining ribbons and stamped plaques adorning every market stand. Everyone is best at something. Though nobody truly wants to be known as the Cabbage Queen.
It is the season of the bear. All the furred and feathered denizens of our neighborhood are gathering food stores in a mad frenzy. The woodchucks are lumbering rolls of fat that hardly move twenty meters in a day. The rabbits and squirrels are frenetic. The birds are hungry, hungry, hungry! Fledglings are loudly wondering why mom and pop are no longer bringing them food. The bear is already sleepy but she still is focused enough to eat an entire row of unripe apples. One wonders what hibernation dreams that will produce! The deer are just a plague in the sweet corn; they don’t even eat most of what they destroy. Lucky the coy-wolves are a strong pack now or we’d not eat.
It is scowling sun season. The weeds are rampant and the insects ravening. Rodents and deer are stealing every last unprotected morsel of garden food. Birds are carrying off all the fruits and seeds. The ditch herbs like St John’s Wort, wild carrots, dock, and mullein are turning from cheering yellow and white flowers to rather menacing ragged and rusty seed-pods. Ragweed is even more ominous as this is where those nose-passage irritants come from, a billion pollen grains a season for every plant. At least the goldenrod and asters are starting to bloom. The heat is infernal, and the breeze has died. It is sticky with humidity, and even the lightest labor drenches the body in sweat that never dries. The sunlight — which was so welcome in spring and early summer — is now scorching, a baleful glare in the white skies. At least the days are shortening.
But it is also storm season. This has its hazards — flood, lightning strike fires, wind — but the stormy weather cools off the air somewhat and clears it of all the pests and irritants. Breathing is easier after the lightning spear is tossed into the sun. And the wafting scent of rain on the newly exposed garden soil is intoxicating!
All in all, Lughnasadh is a good time!
All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.
©Elizabeth Anker 2021