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November 21, 2012

End of the season; time for a break

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Cooperstown Crier

---- — By tomorrow afternoon we will have harvested the last of our vegetables. Two lonely stalks of kale, today snow capped and a bit bent over after being buffeted by the hurricane’s winds last week, will take up primary residence in a kale soup whose makeup we have yet to determine. All of the gardens have been cleared, cleaned and mulched up for their winter sleep. Seeds have been collected, processed and stored. Winter storage racks are chock full. Mason jars line shelves in the basement. We should eat well this winter. And still have plenty to share with family and friends and those less fortunate.

About mid-summer every year I start thinking about ways of extending the growing season. At the same time I am thankful that outside chores are on the wane and look forward to a less physical, more cerebral stretch of time. Books have piled up, lists of essay ideas sit ready to be reconsidered, and inside jobs take precedence.

High on my dream agenda has always been putting in a greenhouse of some sort. Nothing substantial, just a small sunlit space, ideally, attached to the house where I can fiddle around with plants during the winter months. I just never get around to it. I seem to talk a good game, but when it comes to actually doing something about it either the cost or my growing expertise in putting things off indefinitely preclude my taking action.

As I sit here looking out on our snow-covered hillside I know in my heart that as much as I love working about the place, be it gardening or splitting and stacking firewood, I am thankful for the break. I can now let the bookworm in me have a go at things for a while. The nice thing about sitting at a desk writing or reading for a sizable chunk of every day is that it is much easier on the lower back and the rest of an aging body whose recovery times have increased exponentially over the years.

Of course, writing offers its own aches and pains, but they are psychic and tended to and appeased differently. I will say that outside jobs, as difficult and frustrating as they can sometimes be, offer up more readily applicable solutions. If, as was the case last week, the handle of my favorite splitting maul needed to be more tightly secured to the maul itself so when raised and thunked down on a waiting maple drum it would not dislodge and bean me on the noggin, the solution was simple. Go the shop and pound in another metal wedge.

If writing is not going well there is no simple or obvious solution. Well, actually there is: keep writing. That often works, if not producing anything worth sharing, at least it keeps the writing muscles active and somewhat flexed. I am looking forward to spending the winter wrestling with language and thought and trying to shape it all into another book. When the going gets tough I put on the kettle, stalk it while it heats up, grab it when it whistles, pour the water into the tea pot, cover it up, insulate it with the tea cozy, and then watch the birds at the feeder while it steeps. If there are cookies available they too become part of the retooling process. All this works some of the time. When it does, I feel great. When it does not, I usually berate myself silently for a few minutes, maybe hit the tea and cookies again, and either steep myself in a book or take a walk.

I suspect the greenhouse will never appear since deep down I really do want a break from all that stuff, as much as I love it. I did cover some late lettuce and spinach with plastic a month or so ago, but ultimately took it down realizing, as did the narrator in Robert Frost’s poem “After Apple-Picking,” that I had tired of the work I had so earnestly desired.

I asked some friends the other day for some kale soup recipe suggestions and was bombarded with a torrent of possibilities. I ruled out having to buy anything. I prefer cooking with available materials. Actually, I would rather write about kale and putting the garden to bed and stacking firewood and folding in for winter. I am neither a foodie nor a willing cook. If I play my cards right someone else can make the soup. I wonder who that will be?