How is it that a day can be so productive, and feel completely wasted? I found two new patches of black raspberries, and made a good start at harvesting them. I made a dent in knitting a new pair of wool socks. I also measured and planned a new set of shelves for the studio, and rearranged all of the furniture in there to maximize the workspace. Still, I feel like the day went too quickly. The seasons turn, and the summer is drawing to a close.
The weather here is unlike any I’ve been used to in my life. One day the temperature is above 100 degrees, two days later I find myself thinking about turning on the pellet stove. Sure, it’s New England, and I live on top of a mountain, but this morning when I woke up I smelled the crisp tang of fall. Today in the yard I found weeds trying on the crimson flush usually belonging to autumn. I find myself in something approaching shock. It seems like summer only got a week in this year. Truthfully, we never took the down comforter off the bed, and I have not seen a week go by without wool socks showing up in the laundry. The pellet stove has been on several times in the last month. It seems strange to think that it is already August. Stranger to realize that I am writing that while wearing a sweater and a wool blanket.
I had so many things on my ‘Before Winter’ list. I know it is still far from winter, but I feel the earth beneath me growing cooler and slower. There is no new fruit on the vines and bushes, only that which is already set and ripens steadily day by day. The realization settles that the time for outdoor chores is finite. The list of possible projects dwindles and takes on more definite and critical size. The generator has to be cleaned and de-gunked, the driveway re-graveled, a roofed wood rack built on one side of the shed, and a garbage can enclosure built on the other side. Downed trees must be cleaned up, wood has to be cut, split, and stacked. Storage has to be arranged for the poultry brooders behind the chicken house until spring, and the basement has to be cleaned out and rearranged in preparation for two tons of pellets delivered later this month. Other repairs must be scheduled with skilled professionals; the solar hot water system must be completely replaced, all six panels having frozen and burst at some point prior to our buying the house, and power and water must be installed for the chicken house before the ground freezes, lest I be stuck hauling 10 gallons of water a day 250 feet from the spigot… in snowshoes.
Other chores must be contemplated for the sake of familial harmony. We live on a dirt road on the top of a mountain. We’ve been warned by neighbors and those fellow townsfolk responsible for road maintenance that we should expect to be unable to use the road frequently, sometimes for days, or even a week at a time over the winter. If we are all going to be stuck indoors for days at a time, we are going to need places to be separate from each other, and projects to keep us occupied. Which means Shawn needs his own office… and to get out of my studio. My studio is in the basement, and so is space for his new office, which will have to be framed in and dry-walled. He told me not to make a fuss, and that he could make do. I have made it clear to him that it will have a real floor, painted walls, outlets, lights with switches, and comfortable furniture. I refuse to let him spend his days in a dark, poorly furnished cave. To me this is a matter of respect for his contribution to the family… not to mention my love. He took one look at my face, sighed, and asked if he could have a rug for his toes. He’s a smart man.
For the rest of us? Paper, art supplies, books, and yarn must be stocked up on, and I should probably stash a new puzzle or two away as an emergency peace-keeping measure. In addition to that real preparations must be made; gasoline must be bought for the generator, canned and dry food stored, the freezer filled, batteries bought, and we are going to need at least one pair of snowshoes. Everyone needs new coats and winter boots. Sure, I’ve got probably four months until the first snow, even up here. There is no major rush, but the fact remains that there are a limited number of weekends left, a few major projects, and several medium sized ones. I can’t find enough paper to list the small projects, and I have no wish to even contemplate the shopping list. I have a big job.
All of this realization brought on by the sharp smell of fall pouring into my bedroom windows shortly after dawn. And as I sit here at the end of a day of determined productivity, my toes curling in the cool air swirling through the screens, I think of those women who have held my job before me. It may be comparative hubris, but I think of the women who ran whole estates in ages past. I think of how they managed to prepare for the coming cold and snow, knowing that the only provisions available were those they carefully stashed away or planned to have available. I think of my own preparations, and the fact that I have never had to have two weeks of food on hand at all times before. Sure, we often do, but it always dwindles to nearly nothing before we replace it. That is simply not going to be an option for us this winter. Supplies will have to be carefully managed so that we are not caught flat-footed by the weather. To be honest, it’s a bit daunting. I am a lucky woman in that managing a household from finances to cooking, cleaning, and supply management was a deliberate part of my up-bringing. Given that my family will be actively relying on those skills this winter, I find myself inordinately grateful to my parents and those family friends who pounded them into the head of a teenage girl who never believed she would actually need some of them. Some of you are probably reading this and laughing heartily. Yes, you were right, you never know what life will bring.
So I guess I am feeling thankful tonight. I am thankful to have had an education that is serving me. I am thankful for an opportunity to use that education. I am extremely thankful that I have the option to start my supply management slowly, two weeks at a time this winter, instead of having to plan an entire winter’s sustenance and supply on no actual personal experience. Looking forward to the winter I am thankful for the remaining summer. I am thankful for the fruit I have harvested so far this year, having planted nothing. And I am thankful for the fruit yet to ripen, understanding that it is a promise of sweetness at the end of virtuous work.