Sunday, August 26, 2007
THE GRATITUDE FACTOR
murmurings from the circle in the forest
An unexpected cold front has triggered my fall instincts to hunt and gather, and prepare my nest for the coming of winter. Never mind that it is only the latter part of August with several weeks of summer left. The gray squirrels are poking fallen acorns into the ground, and I am packing the freezer with this year’s bounty of corn, peaches, tomatoes and green beans.
I drove to the Farmer’s Market because that is the place to buy the great Garden State vegetables these days: Red tomatoes, creamy-golden corn, fresh garlic and onions and shiny onyx eggplants that we used to buy from the neighbor’s homemade stands, leaving payment in a cardboard cigar box. Since canning is a long and arduous process requiring quart jars, screw-top lids, great boiling kettles with wire racks, not to mention hours of sweating in the kitchen, I chose the quicker (and easier) freezer method. I boiled corn on the cob, and then sliced off the kernals into plastic bags. Peeled pounds of sweet peaches and sliced them into bags, each one holding enough for a pie (to be baked during snow storms).
There is something soul-satisfying about this work. Like kneading bread dough, a little of my life energy is added to the food. Ready-made dinners cannot match this gift. They feed the body only. Nourishment is one-dimensional. We are not involved with our food. We did not plant it, water it, weed it, protect it, pick it or prepare it. Having a relationship with your food affects its taste. I call it the Gratitude Factor.
I have a small backyard garden. When I pour a bag of silky seeds into my hand and push each one into the earth that I have tilled, amended, fertilized and mounded into beds, it seems crazy to expect food to come out of it. It feels senseless to pour water on dirt. It’s not reasonable. But it never disappoints. The seeds sprout from their underground secrets. It thrills me each time a timid yellow-green curl breaks through, sometimes balancing the seed casing on its head like a sport cap. I feel proud, like I’ve just given birth. In a few weeks, their leaves unfurl and their mission becomes clear: Make more of themselves. As they slip into production, I intervene, picking beans, peas, tomatoes, squash in their turn and use them to feed my own kind. Human beings have the same mission as a vegetable, only the green beans have not yet learned how to fight.
The vegetables pile up in my harvesting basket, a bounty from my own back yard. I thank each plant for its miracle. They are often consumed on the same day, so the flavors of green and gratitude leave me with a sense of fulfillment that just doesn’t come from opening a can.