Intricate Connections

Rain has washed the dust off the roadside leaves, slicked the asphalt and swollen the local streams. The first boletes are pushing through the woodland duff, and oyster mushrooms on the fallen oak logs set sail. Rabbits in the coyotebrush, coyotes run the ridges. In the garden, the last of the tomato plants have given up the ghost, and the pumpkins and winter squash that we harvested months ago are still curing on the window seat, waiting, perhaps, for a recipe much like the one we have featured today, for Pumpkin Cranberry Kraut. Folks make a lot of jokes about Pumpkin Spice season, but the fact is that the combination of warming spices is a perfect foil to the gray cloud cover of the season. It's appropriate to enjoy it now, when we need that internal warming, to balance the chill of encroaching winter. Whether we find it in the steam of a foamy latte or the sour bite of this fermented treat--well, that's up to the individuals involved. There's no saying you can't enjoy it every which way.

The leaves on the apple trees are mostly still green, just a few yellow flags waving in the breeze. We'll keep waiting before we do the winter pruning, allowing the green leaves to catch as much of the fading sunlight as they can. Most of the apples have been harvested, though a few of the higher-chill hour varieties are still holding fruit. The shallots and garlic that we planted a couple weeks ago are sending up strong, vibrant shoots of green blades. The rainbow chard is growing rapidly, too, such healthy, colorful stems supporting the light-filled green leaves. Purple ruffled kale, tender twining peas. The clouds bring rain and let it fall, the ground still soaking much of the runoff in. Worms twist in the dark soil, softening, grain by grain, the very structure of the earth. Soil building happens on such a small scale; through the bodies of worms, through the tunnels of gophers, who carry soil in fur-lined cheek pockets. Smaller still, through the slow weathering of stones, reduced, grain by grain, to sand. Through chemical bonds loosened by microbes, acidity, moisture, air, temperature. Gardeners, with our shovels, do this work too, of course, and the wheelbarrows of compost and wood chips, straw and leaf duff, manures and top-dressings that we gather and spread about the garden all add to the ecosystem. Even when we bring home an entire load of amendments; the bedding from the chicken coop, the pile of aged goat manure from the farm down the street, the amount can seems like a drop in the bucket, when we look at the thin, rocky soil of the homestead garden up here in the mountains. Still, over the years, we have built and coaxed the soil into new levels of fertility in the vegetable garden, by such dogged additions, wheelbarrow by wheel, truckload by truckload. By such slow, incremental actions, the world is transformed, broken down and remade, one grain of soil, one worm-fart at a time. The hard work pays off, eventually. The tender leaves of kale and chard, the slowly swelling onions attest to the change. We take them into ourselves, eating their leaves, their fruits, their stems, their roots, and breaking them down in our own guts. We are aided, as the soil is, by microbes, by acidity, by moisture, air, and temperature. By such intricate processes we are all connected.

By Jessica. Tunis

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