We've been focusing on getting ready for winter at our house. The kids are watching various animals in our neighborhood making their preparations, watching the beavers rebuild their house, feeling the dogs' coats thicken and watching the squirrels gather beech nuts and acorns. And of course, we're collecting our own acorns.
As our homeschool focuses on "how we get ready for winter" we're splitting wood and canning tomatoes, replenishing our supplies of basics like soybeans and popcorn, digging potatoes and onions and picking apples by the bushel at our local orchard. Mom and Dad both knit when we're sitting quietly, and 3 1/2 year old Isaiah has started his first scarf and brought in his first pumpkin. The older boys take (heavily supervised) turns with the axe.
Now some of this is the weather. If you live in cool places, there's something about shaking off the lethargy of summer and beginning the transition to winter. Some of it is necessity - our heavily local diet means that if we don't preserve food, we'll have a very boring selection of foods all winter.
Some of it, of course, is worry. It was less than totally cheering today to open my inbox and see that there was a run on a major, first world bank. I admit, that's not something I've seen in my lifetime:
http://news.independent.co.uk/business/comment/article2964436.ece. I don't think there's a lot of doubt that the recession so widely predicted is going to happen. The question is how hard, and how fast, and how our own situation will play out. Untenured faculty and writers aren't exactly raking in the dough, and the less I have to buy in tough times, the better.
But most of it doesn't have anything to do with that at all - it has to do with the restoration of our connection to agricultural cycles. Most Americans have lived most or all their life in a society where thinking ahead to the future is not much required, but that was not true through most of human history. The reality is that for most of human history, life was cyclical, not immediate. You didn't just eat seasonally, you lived seasonally. So in autumn, one was thinking not just of curried root vegetable soup tomorrow, but of what we would eat in the springtime, before the first crops began to come in. In May, one was thinking of next winter's meals. And for northern folk, the whole of the world worked around one reality "winter is coming." On some level, each season, from the spring planting to summer's haying and canning to autumn's harvesting was preparation for the space in between, for the dormant, quiet time in the middle.
A friend of mine who works at a historical reenactment museum says she hears almost daily "you left your beans too long..." or "those beets have gotten to big..." She observes that even those who clearly garden often don't realize what is required to feed yourself through a winter without bananas and broccoli from Chile. Those beets have to be large to last, the beans are drying to be eaten that way in soup, and a percentage of all the crops must be left on the vine to provide seed for the next year. But we're not in the habit of thinking in those terms, when so much is so readily available to us.
Right now, one of my jobs is to figure out where my spring crops will go - I have to plant the new garlic soon, and figure out which beds will get wood ashes over the winter and which won't, because they'll have tomatoes in them. So even now, as it gets cold and I bring in the cabbages, half my mind is in the springtime, and on next fall's harvest. The turkeys go to the butcher next week, and the space is already reserved for the spring turkeys, and perhaps more geese. The barn is rebuilt for the milk goats I plan to add, and if we want to get them this fall, we must get the fence in the ground before it freezes, or we'll wait until spring... It is an endless cycle.
I have wondered for some time if one of the reasons we as a society don't seem to be able to look far ahead to a future that isn't immediately visible is because we've gotten out of the habit of thinking further ahead than tonight's dinner. I can't prove it, of course, but I occasionally suspect that if we could just grasp again the habit of cyclical thinking, perhaps we might be able to see a little further on the horizon.
This of course, is merely speculation, the speculation of a squirrel in pursuit of her own nuts.