Fall has finally arrived. It’s November, well past the time of year when we normally see freezing temperatures. This year was unusually warm, a phrase that is beginning to lose its meaning since most years now are usually warm. The leaves on the trees are finally turning color. The nights are going to be freezing this week. I look over the garden and see a few peppers I missed and remind myself to pick them before nightfall. I collected masses of dill that reseeded itself from spring plantings. I’ve learned that if I freeze the dill in tomato sauce I canned this summer the flavor in soup is the same as if it’s been picked fresh. Good to know these things if you like the taste of fresh dill in winter soup. I look over the garden and see bunches of herbs I need to pick before the frost or they will be lost to the freeze. I worry about wasting them, and then I smile, remembering that the plants will give me another crop next year. I’m still getting used to this experience of bounty from the perennials in the garden. I’m still conditioned to think of food and herbs as things I purchase from the store, not wanting to waste money by allowing them to go bad. Store bought food is so easily wasted. Gardens are more generous!
Most of my life I’ve been a person who worried about waste; don’t waste electricity, don’t waste your food, “There are starving children in China”. I wonder what was in the news in the 60’s when my mother used this phrase to make us feel guilty for not eating all the food on our plates. Were there stories of people starving in China? What happened, I wonder, to all the starving children? I remember the oil embargo of the 70’s and the impetus not to waste energy. I was old enough to understand about the lines at the gas stations, but ignorant of a thing called “peak oil”. I remember the school placing plastic cards around light switches reminding us to turn off lights and conserve energy. I understood about turning down thermostats and wearing a sweater. Perhaps growing up in Minnesota we understood wintertime better than people living farther south. To this day I still hear my mother’s voice complaining if a door is held open too long, worried that I’m ‘letting out the heat’. I remember my father taking the screens off the windows and putting on storm windows.
My grandmother told me stories of living through the Great Depression reminding me not to take resources for granted because there might come a time when we need them. She never wasted a thing. That was her nature. I’ve been conditioned by the times I’ve lived to think about energy, but mainly the cost of it more than the supply of it. I remember the taking of our embassy personnel in Iran. It was my first inkling that the Middle East would impact life in America for decades to come. Ronald Reagan took office and told us “Today is a new day”, and somehow people believed him. The 80’s led to the 90’s consumption binge as if there was no need to worry about tomorrow. Credit was cheap. We forgot about the embargo. We forgot about saving money and living frugal. We seemed to forget that bills always come due eventually.
Today it seems we have another Republican led effort to ignore the limits and pretend our actions won’t have consequences. “Climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.” “Coal jobs are coming back.” “There is plenty of oil for us to pump when the arctic ice melts!” The cognitive dissonance this requires is profound. If the arctic ice is melting how can we not be concerned about climate change? As the storms, floods, and wildfires raged this year I wondered if a tipping point has been passed, if the rate of climate change is accelerating, if the dark time of climate chaos and weather disasters is upon us. Winter is coming. The time when food becomes scarce, when the softness of nature retreats into submission, and storms rage with callous fury. It’s a time when we don’t know who or what will be left when spring arrives.
My ancestors are Scandinavian. I often think their fears of winter starvation still reside in my DNA. Those who lived in the north understood the necessity of putting up food and firewood enough to last through the winter. Winter was the time of harsh choices; when they were forced to choose the strong over the weak. Scandinavians are often known for their stoicism. My grandmother would fit that category, yet she had a heart big enough to love all of us as if each of us was her most cherished. She never complained about the past, yet I knew she suffered many things. She lived through hard times during the Great Depression, and yet still maintained the inner fortitude to keep living even when life was as hard.
Will my future be different? I hear in people’s voices their fears of what might come, not knowing the horrors only imagining their likelihood. I want to offer hope, but how? How can I explain what I learned from my grandmother; that life is worth living even in the worst of times. Family and God were all that she had but they were worth everything to her. She had unshakable faith in the goodness of this world. Her heart was big enough to endure pain and suffering and live through it…for us. We were her future. I wonder whether people truly realize how much our addiction to oil, to cars, to conveniences is going to affect our children and grandchildren’s future?
Yes, winter is coming. But before it arrives I pause and give thanks for what I’ve received this year. Fall gives us colors, a wild celebration of summer’s growth. The last of this year’s crops are picked and stored away. The wood piled high and dry under the eaves of the barn; enough to make many a warm cozy fire when the snow lays deep. I hear the call of the wild geese passing overhead and remember how they sounded in my childhood, high in the sky, the V shape they flew as they winged their way south for the winter. Here in Indiana they stay all year, winter and summer, never flying north. Change has come, and more is coming. It’s time to pick those herbs and finish my chores. There will be plenty of time later to sit by a fire and ponder our future.