Friday, September 18, 2009

"Filling Silo" and Fall Cleaning

They's something kindo' harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer's over and the coolin' fall is here...
the air's so appetizin'; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days

Is a pictur' that no painter has the colorin' to mock–

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

–James Whitcomb Riley, "the Hoosier Poet" [1847-1916]

I'm a fall cleaning kind of gal. The spring is busy with gardens and being outdoors, enjoying the light. Even though I'm a putterer and like puttering around, I rarely accomplish much unless I set out to tackle something and focus only on that project (how I get any completed writing done is a mystery but then again so is the mystery of ADD-addled people having the ability to truly focus on a task that they can manage and enjoy). In the spring and summer I also come to life myself and am far more sociable again–you see, I like to hibernate. I'm not a complete recluse but am certainly more reclusive in the winter months, a deliberate member of "The Clan of the Cave Bear." In the summer we are busy with so many things and again, the house becomes secondary: the boys are home from school for a long stretch from early May to early August and we enjoy each other, our friends, plan day trips and longer vacations or are busy with haying and helping friends with their produce. Evening meals are late and languid.

Yet by September, I am paying the price for that languor. I do know that I'm part squirrel (as is my husband): filling pantries (well, a cellar up the road and some closets–one day again, a proper pantry!), and freezers (yes, that's plural and I'm embarrassed to tell you how many), organizing cupboards and cleaning out closets. This is fall work, when the days shorten and the air crisps (even here in Kentucky where it can be warm, often humid, and sometimes just hot throughout the fall months–today we are having lashing tropical rains from the Gulf). I find, even in this more temperate climate that I am welcoming fall and even our "winter" months ahead. Back in New Hampshire, friends are kindling their wood stoves and will soon have their first frost. (I miss a wood stove, too, but here my Mennonite friends are starting to fire up theirs in the mornings again after cooking on gas all summer long.)

There is something about the autumn that draws us in: "we gather together," like the harvest hymn sings; we draw near the fire of warmth that is our home and family and friends–the comfort of togetherness but also of introspection. We count our blessings and are grateful. I'm also a bit prone to melancholy in the fall and winter: I think it is part "SADD" but also a very large part of who I am. And yet if I can't be introspective for part of each year, I can't emerge again in the spring, renewed and refreshed and ready to be a part of the world again. Like Persephone, I must go to my own inner underworld for a time to reflect, read, and ponder on things. It's just my nature and yes, this too is a fine line and I must be careful that I don’t step too deep into the quieter pool of reflection and inner solitude. So September and October for me have always been about getting back to school or getting down to business–I like to "get my house in order," so to speak, before the holiday season. At least it is something I try to do each year.

Right now in the countryside all around us you will see people cutting corn and filling their silos. The Old Order Mennonites cut corn as a community and go in groups from farm to farm with one corn chopper between them. As they use horse-drawn vehicles, it takes many hands. They'll say, "We're 'filling silo' on Monday at so-and-so's farm." This is the second year that we have helped in this process that lasts several weeks in September when the corn is ready. My husband helps the other men, and our boys pitch in after school or on Saturdays, while I often help the women prepare a hearty noon dinner and early evening supper for up to twenty-five hungry men. These gatherings are also a chance for the women to get together and talk, catch up on quilting or just visit among each other while working. It is a heart-warming experience and we are grateful to be a part of it and to be welcomed as we are into this community.

Their work frolics are truly a joyous, hardworking communal time and remind me of the “Wood Weekends” we used to have at the farm in New Hampshire. My brothers and I would bring our friends up from Boston and help my mother and stepfather, and others, stack at least a dozen split and seasoned cords of wood into the annex between the house and barn. My mother and I made the meals: lasagnas, salads and garlic bread, corn chowder, chili, sandwiches, cookies and apple crisp. There was hot and cold cider and groaning board-style breakfasts of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and assorted pastries from the Kernel Bakery in nearby Peterborough where I often worked. Each day of the weekend would include a hayride around the farm and maybe a bonfire. It was both fun and purposeful and I’m sure that each of us who participated–and my faraway family–still fondly remember those times “when the frost is on the punkin’ and the fodder’s in the shock.” (to quote James Whitcomb Riley who I also associate with autumn: read the entire poem to your family, aloud!, here, part of which is excerpted above).

Our Mennonite friends will not do any work on Sunday, except meals and basic chores around church, even if it is ideal corn or hay-cutting time and if the weather promises to bring rain on Monday. Sabbath is well honored here in the south and I appreciate this tradition and have not really "kept it holy" over the years except in our own fashion of being together as a family. While we have yet to find a church that "fits" and also haven't been as intent as we want to be, either, there is both a religious and secular movement now to bring back the Sabbath as a day of gathering family together, to take needed pause in the week. CBS Sunday Morning recently had a segment on "The History of Sunday" and highlighted a book that I will certainly want to read (to be released in March 2010), The Sabbath World–Glimpses of A Different Order of Time by Judith Shulevitz, who argues for keeping Sunday timeless. Don't you experience a timeless sense about a Sunday, no matter what you are doing? Perhaps that has been God's plan all along for us: to honor the Sabbath–whether it is Saturday or Sunday in your faith or even if you are secular, choose a day and take pause, chillax! [An annoying new word but I love it.] Whether you are church-going or not, Sunday should be a time to take pause and to gather into what would seem to be the cozy "autumnal day" of each week.

As per usual, what began as a brief blog to let you know I would be taking a temporary "blog hiatus" until I get my collective houses in order (there is more truth to those words than you know) and to tackle some projects, has turned into a musing on so much more. Thank you for reading, as always, and thank you even more for coming back or visiting on occasion. I do appreciate it. I won't be gone terribly long, probably no longer than unintentional gaps in the past (although October promises to be the busiest month yet for us, but all in good ways–and we're still "filling silo" for a time).

I just needed to give myself permission and thought it might be nice if I told you, too. In the meantime, I invite you to read back through the archives of 286 posts from the past four and half years (I can't quite believe that, really). It's been a grand journey and only continues to be.

With thanks and blessings,


PS And I will still be on the computer, on occasion, so if you want to order a copy of The Pantry–Its History and Modern Uses for yourself or a friend or loved one, they make lovely gifts and are especially "seasonal" at this time of year. I will not only sign it (or inscribe it for you) but trot it right down to the post office. Sorry for the shameless plug, but the holidays are coming...and I still have lots of pantry goodness to share.


Carol............. said...

I enjoyed your blog!...and your photographs are great....

natalie jo said...

I just received your lovely book as an anniversary gift from dear hubby. It is absolutely perfect in everyway and so much more so by leading me here to your blog! You have so inspired me to do a bit of pantry purging myself although I do intend to pause occasionally to do a bit of "catch up" with your 286 past posts!