It's fall in the Santa Cruz mountains; do you feel it? Haven't we all felt it creeping from far off, the leading edge of autumn barely whispering in the cool sharp air of evening? The dimming light, the dark mornings, before the time changes. The drying beans, the rustle of spent stalks, the yellowing leaves of deciduous trees along the riverbank. Pumpkins orange, apples reddening, the onions cured and braided and brought inside for storage. Or perhaps pickled? This week's recipe for pickled onions is worthy of a homestead harvest. It's autumn, time for harvest and preservation, time for letting go, time for a shift. Rainclouds gather, but no real rain has fallen yet. We know it's coming though; we split wood and stack it against the chill of winter, dig out the scarves and hats and boots, and ready ourselves in other ways for the changes ahead.
This week, on our Homestead Happiness Live, Karla will be talking about houseplants, and how, despite their interior existence, they too are affected by the shifting seasons. The angle of light will slant more directly into garden and living room window alike; houseplants may need to be moved to avoid scorching from this strong angle of sunlight. And while the humidity outside may be growing, there may also be a corresponding decline in humidity inside the house, particularly if heated with wood heat, which can be a very drying force. It's time to dust off and shine up the leaves of all the plants that share our homes with us, so that they can make the most of the winter light. Being aware of how the angle of the sun affects the light inside is yet another exercise of attunement to our environment, no less natural by virtue of its interior location. The rain will wash the dust from the leaves of the roadside plants, but we must do the work of rain, to help our houseplants thrive in the changing days ahead.
This time of year always entails a shift in perspective for me, a kind of pivot from an exterior to an interior perspective. Of course, the winter will have its outdoor moments; the long walks in search of mushrooms, the bundled days chasing low tides on the coast. But in general, this time of year is always a time of reckoning for me. Gathering in, assessing what worked and what failed, what to keep and what to let go. Trembling like the leaves on the sycamores, sometimes, to think of all that must be released. But in that release is integration, a kind of wholeness that returns all, spent leaves and outgrown modes and even love and grief, to the soil to be reintegrated. Spring cleaning has its place, but for me, this time of year always entails another, powerful kind of cleansing. A paring away of non-essentials, as we prepare for the long nights and short days of winter. And concurrently, an increase in appreciation for what we have that is worth saving; the jars of tomatoes on the pantry shelf, a beloved mug from @sannyceramics, the tapestry of friends and lovers and relatives and memories that make our world rich beyond measure. It's never too early to talk about giving thanks, even this long before the settler's holiday approaches. This gratitude, for harvest, for community, for the bare-branched fact of existence, is worth celebrating, even as the flowers and fruits of the summer harvest fade. It is the fertilizer that next year's abundance will spring from; long before we plant the seeds, we feed the soil.
Today, after I write this, I will carry a paper sack of shallots, garlic, and onions out into the garden. Earlier today, I counted the pungent bulbs, one by one, into the bag, so that they could be rung up at the register (Onions, garlic, and shallots are available now for fall planting at Mountain Feed and Farm Supply; get 'em while you can!). Even as I counted the individual bulbs, however, I was performing another kind of math, a gardener's math, judging how much those 36 cloves might yield. We know , of course, that nothing in this life is guaranteed. The truth of this stings the eyes, sometimes, but still the only choice seems to be to continue to invest in the uncertain future, season by season, saving what can be saved, and turning the rest back underground, to feed the worms, the spirit, and the next generations.
By Jessica Tunis