With Halloween and All Souls Day upon us, we think about dear ones that are no longer with us, about their experiences in life, about their understanding of nature, seasons, life forces, and life realities. Though Grandmother was an educated woman who insisted on wearing matching gloves and shoes, she knew more about workings of nature that most of people interested in sustainable living in my generation. She knew how to brine seemingly random mushrooms that Grandfather brought from the forest each fall. She knew how to put up enough food to last us all winter - in an urban apartment size of a postage stamp. She mended clothes, washed them by hand, sewn her own dresses and managed to serve a hot meal made from scratch three times per day while working full time away from home.
Though not enticing at the time of my youth, her skills took hold in me. I thank her for it every day. And I wonder what stories she would tell me now, if she could.
Grandfather was an avid mushroomer, of a quiet kind, did not teach me much with words, but just simply took me in the forest, with a large duffel bag - a strange choice for mushroom hunting, but still! We walked, looked for mushrooms, and then he would make a little fire and cook a small meal of fried bread and meat - using wood sticks, not some camping gear, to do so.
Each Fall, I take out photo albums and we look at their faces, and arrange new photographs that accumulated in our house over the course of the year - Fall is our time for thinking about ancestors.
Can it be that going into cold, dark and long winter our ancestors knew that some people would not make it? That rigors of harvesting firewood, keeping the home warm, and the pantry full, and animals nourished may be too much for some? That long dark nights are best spent in a house that is full of warmth of family, and not alone (or with a TV) as it is for so many of our elders today? Fall is time to wonder what it was like to face the winter in the days past, and time to think how we can face it in our times - how we keep our pantry full, our house warm, or community thriving and helpful.
Besides all other land and garden chores of the season, Fall is when we (my three-year old son and I) spend an hour or so each day harvesting our own firewood. With all the trees around, there is plenty of brush and old wood that can be collected without the use of chainsaw or wood splitters or other such extreme apparatuses. A small Japanese prunning saw is all that is needed, and it can be used by a three-year old child with some instruction and initial supervision (in fact he started using it around 18 months of age and figured it out very fast). With focus on collecting dead wood, we can break it into kindling by hand, working fast and efficient - and carry 1-2 loads home each time. The kindling pile is growing, with each day - just as trees loose their leaves and garden dresses in brown colors of mulch instead of greenery of plants.
Thus we are building not only our winter fire wood supply, but forging the connection between trees, our masonry oven, our own work, the seasons, the All Souls Day, the old photos in the album, the home and the hearth. At the last day of October we will take a bundle of old peach tree twigs to the fire circle near our small cemetery, located here on the land - and we will add wood that our friends will collect in their yards and parks, and farms and urban lots - and light a fire to shine on our faces and tell stories about departed ones - and make some tea over the heat of the fire, and think about winter, and darkness and what dead twig firewood tells us about life.