Gray clouds sailing in a winter sky, clouds of milk in a spicy tea. Brilliant orange persimmons, hung like ornaments in bare branches, and the small birds among them, alive with chatter and song; sparrow, chickadee, kinglet; ornaments, too. Silence, after they flit away. The day left temporarily unadorned, except for toyon berry and madrone, the clustered bells of manzanita flowers beginning to open. But then comes the sound of air moving, wind rustling to fill the space between the leaves, between the mountains. The way the sun slants, ochre and molten, across the cold blue mountains, over the cold gray sea. This moment.
Sip the tea. Breathe the steam that rises like fog, drifting clouds of condensed moisture and disparate temperature. In the morning, build a fire. In the evening, gather close. The night falls quickly. The tide slips lower and lower, chasing the moon. It's the heart of December, the middle of the end, the last days of 2021. What have we done with the time? Where does it go, and how can we hold it close even as it slips through our grasp? Sometimes, there is little time for questions like this in the thick of December. It may be all we can do to carve out time for a cup of dried persimmon tea. If so, so be it. Do the small thing, the thing that nourishes your self or your spirit or your energy or whatever name you give to the flame that burns in your chest. Stoke the fire gently, enough to warm the kettle, enough to last the long dark nights. The coals will endure, if we feed them.
The cold weather has the lettuce seedlings stalled in the garden, but the peas are twining steadily around their sticks. The kale is ruffled, dark green and tender, freshly sweetened with first frost. Sun lights the red chard stems and the bright paned leaves, and the sturdy alliums arrow their way up, skyward. The garden does not overflow, but provides, endures, continues; all that we can ask of it in the heart of this last cool month. Slowly, underground, the potatoes expand on swollen stems. Carrots sprout slowly, seeded too late perhaps, but then again, perhaps not. Parsley mirrors the new carrot seedlings, until their differences become apparent. Dill and California poppy are hard to weed out from each other, but it is best to decide now; is this a wildflower patch, or a new herb bed? This particular weeding puzzle makes even an experienced gardener laugh and grimace and peer closer, again; their leaf forms are so similar in adolescence. If you haven't got persimmon slices dried already, it's only the work of a few moments to slice some thin, and arrange the slices to dry, in a dehydrator, in the oven, in the warm air near the wood stove or the heater.
The native wildflower seedlings seized their chance to sprout the last time it rained, and they are already up and running, racing toward spring. Clarkia, lupine, gilia, and yes, the poppies. We transplant them away from the vegetable bed, but always there are some left behind to be gloriously too much among the vegetables. We aim to let them grow on the slopes, but try to keep them away from the flat, amended places where the vegetables are to grow. The peppers are still growing strong, despite the calendar date, and the Padron are even flowering as well, though we imagine that this recent cold snap will stunt the development of the newly set fruits. It was a silver lining to an unseasonable December, to have them setting fruit so late, but the lining is perishable, as these late set fruits will not likely survive the recent cold spell. There are those who swear by overwintered peppers, who say that the peppers that make it through the winter bear more prolifically or earlier than those seeded earlier in the year. We've not yet had this experience, definitively; sometimes an overwintered pepper takes just as long to get going as a fresh seedling that has not been traumatized by winter's cold.
In the forecast, rain is anticipated to arrive today. The driveway is cleared, the ditches raked and the water-bars sculpted. We are still waiting for a gravel delivery we initiated months ago, but such is life in the mountains. The woodshed is stocked, the pantry is full. We are ready, by the standards of these mountains.
If money is tight, or if/and you value the labor and meaning inherent in a handmade gift, consider paging back through our winter archives of years past. We have so many DIY gift-making ideas that will fill the pantries and the hearts of those lucky enough to be on your giving list. Tea blends and spice blends and salt blends, bitters and infused alcohols and wreaths and preserves. To augment or add to these labors of love, we invite you to come on down to the Feed and Farm. The store is full of gifts, just waiting to be given. We love to see you all, masked as is the standard these days, but we can see your eyes smiling beneath the fabric. Thanks for being here, and thanks for supporting local businesses, and thanks for taking care of yourself so that you can give back to the world in the ways best suited to your unique gifts and talents.
By Jessica Tunis