The garden is all but finished for the year, just a lonely row of cabbages, kales and Brussels sprouts, along with a patch of frost hardy parsley, and a few late onions in the ground. Everything else has found a place in the pantry, the spice rack, or the cool room. Tomatoes of all stages from green to yellow to pink are ripening, an abundance of green, yellow and red peppers will keep for a few weeks at least. The potatoes are in their bins, carrots and parsnips in their sacks, pumpkins and squash on their shelves. Even the rooster and the bucks have found their way to the pantry this weekend, as canned meat and rich broth. Well, the rooster only got as far as the table really, one of the many harvest feasts we enjoy this time of year. So it's quite a bit quieter around here.
It is interesting, wrapping up the season, but this time, not making those thousand preparations in anticipation of next year's garden. No seed saving since we want to start again with bio-regional varieties, although I am a thousand times tempted to stash away a few packets, out of a reflexive sense of preservation. But we have no rare varieties in need of salvation. And the practical consideration of moving cross-continent by bicycle keeps our load light. (Of course there are some things we will be shipping across like my trusty pressure canner, my treasured spinning wheel, our solar panel, etc.) But there is no safe passage for seed, so I let them scatter, and smile at the thought of all of these volunteer vegetable seeds, springing up in the re-planted pastures after we are gone.
When we go, no one will take over our garden, it will go back to pasture, cut for hay once a year. But I take heart in knowing we have made some small improvements to the soil, we leave our treasures for the worms, the insects, the invisible biota living out their secret lives, and for the birds that have become our constant companions in the garden.
The kitchen this time of year has the feel of industry: the pressure canner sputtering, wood stove chugging along, and food, always food, in every stage of preparation and storage. There's always a job to do, but not in a bad way, each job has it's pleasure and satisfaction. I sometimes feel as though I have a thousand clocks in my head, or rather kitchen-timers, each one set sometime in the spring, when seeds were planted, kids born, each one with it's own duration. This is the time of year when everything ticks down, I'm constantly scanning the timers, and tending the tasks that are nearest to completion. I just have to scan my overflowing kitchen (spilling out into the living quarters this time of year), to see herbs in various stages of drying, baking beans to shell, curing pumpkins behind the wood stove, shrivelled ground cherries in the warming oven nearly dry, ripening fruit to sort and process.
It used to be quite overwhelming, in my first few fledgling years as a, well, a housewife. I no longer object to this word because I understand the skill, competence and dedication it demands. Well, truthfully, I'm only a part-time housewife, and only when it's too cold to pleasurably work outside! Now, I don't mind the small circuit of my daily routines, always in proximity to the warm stove, the heart of the household. But as soon as spring breaks, I'm a caged bird, set loose, I'm a gardener, a homesteader, and grudgingly maintain the house, emptied of it's stores of food, hollowed out, dormant.
But this winter feels different, we are spinning a cocoon this winter, weaving new dreams, with new adventures. And making room for a new beginning. Instead of the thousand preparations for next year's garden, we have the thousand preparations for a move. And mostly what consumes our immediate interest is our cycling adventure. We are bike obsessed. Researching tandems, anything we can find about them, and touring gear and routes and tips.
A tandem bicycle is perfect for us, I love the idea of the cooperation and coordination required. On a tandem we will be so much more in tune with one another, and working together on tough climbs, the same way we work together in the garden and household, coordinating our efforts, working with efficiency, and enjoying the companionship. Besides, tandems are fast!
I've also realized that I've come full circle with this blog, I've written about a 12 month cycle of growing and preserving our food. It has been good, it is a good record of what we have achieved, on a bare piece of land, on an empty road. And I hope it has been informative, after all, I know how much I have learned in the process. But we have come to a natural end, realizing there is only so far the two of us can go on this road to self-sufficiency, without turning to capitalism's infrastructure to support us: the ironic hypocritical conclusion to the independent quest of self-reliance. From where we are, we can see that communalism, collectivism, eco-socialism, whatever tag you want to put on it, is the least destructive way forward, perhaps the only way.
So this blog may find it's natural conclusion, or it may evolve, or we may move on to a new blog, leaving this one to archive the food-skills we acquired, perhaps returning to it when we plant our next seeds. Either way, we'll let you know.