On Pickling & the Passing of Time

June 25, 2015 in Canada, Travelogue


It has been the week of evening rains.

Long slow soakers that drive deep and make the worms wriggle to the surface. I’d forgotten how thunder rolls in across the lake and down the wide river and how lightning paints on black water at midnight. I’d forgotten how clouds of the tiniest insects can paint the sky black above the treetops and hang in loose arrangements like a collective organism and hover over the newly mown grass so thickly that one holds her breath walking up from the dock in the late afternoon to avoid inhaling one, or a dozen. I’d forgotten the pleasure of laying on my back over the water in the early evening and listening to the loons play clarinet to the low brass of bug wings in collective chorus.

The sun is setting behind the cottage, dying the water in Breakey’s Bay a thousand shades of blue and lavender, peach and cream. The clouds are low and quiet this evening, weeping ever so softly. Not rain, exactly, more like a heavy mist that gathers on the class table in bubbles of liquid diamond that slide together and and draw maps of imaginary lands before tipping off of the metal edge and drumming the worn boards in a quiet morse code that, try as I might, I cannot read.

I have a glass of German white wine, the kind made in the Rhine Valley, whose vineyards we cycled through and slid past on a riverboat on a similarly grey day, years ago. I have spilt it twice already, my Guatemalan rainbow of a table cover doesn’t seem to mind. And I have a bowl of cherries. Bing; my favourite. They are poor specimens, compared to the sweet giants that I ate from newspaper cones all across Spain last summer, and yet, they taste, to my mouth, like the meseta. Endless wheat fields, sun burned shoulders, dry lips, and the brilliant red of the cut glass windows in the cathedral in Leon. They remind me, especially, of the day of the Iron Cross. I am homesick.

I have gotten up twice in writing three paragraphs to check on the garlic scapes that are simmering in my big white speckled black canning pot on the stove. My mother and I picked them, quickly, as we plotted our departure for Peru and debated whether my father would have the attention span to keep her flowers alive and well for three whole weeks. We leave a week from tomorrow.

IMG_4301I’m pickling the scapes.

They’re the flower part of the garlic, before it flowers. They grow up from the center of the wide, flat, grass like leaves of the plant and then twist around in an elegant curley-cue that reminds me of a swan’s neck gone all the way ‘round. They have to be clipped off so that the plant will put energy into creating the bulb, but they’re a delicacy unto themselves.

I saw them last week in Pike’s Place market, in Seattle. I crossed my fingers that I wasn’t missing them on this side of the country. I wasn’t. We picked them from my mother’s garlic bed, and then waded, waist deep, into the weeds around the compost pile where grass and garden clippings are tossed and picked twice as many more of the “volunteers.” And so, they’ve come to make my whole house smell like vinegar. Ezra hollered down from his bed perch in the loft to enquire as to whether I was making easter eggs, because that’s what it smelled like to him. Vinegar.

I am, in a word, tired.

It’s that kind of tired the has seeped into the bones. I wake in the morning, having slept like a rock, and feeling as though I’ve just closed my eyes. As ever, I’m spinning more plates than makes sense to anyone but me, and I’m dedicated to doing more than is humanly possible. This is the point at which I am most productive, and happiest in my own soul, at the corner of Forward Motion and Damned-Near-Whelmed. Not quite overwhelmed. Almost.

It’s all stuff I love: family craziness, work coming out my ears, adventures around every corner, and garlic scapes to be pickled of an evening.

It took me an hour to carefully curl each little scape and pack it down into the half-pint sized jelly jars that I’d scalped off of my mother’s pantry shelves the day before yesterday.

I spent the time listening to music, and thinking how very much like life the process is:

Sometimes we have to cut the top off of something that would be very beautiful if allowed to bloom in order to send the appropriate energy necessary for growth down deep into the bulb of our hearts. Sometimes the best part is the part you roll tightly and crunch down into a jar, add the spices that make ordinary things sweeter, spicier, and in every way more special than they were to begin with. Sometimes the only way forward is to absolutely scald yourself with boiling vinegar that makes your eyes water and draws painful attention to the hang nail on the middle finger of your right hand, to cuss a little, suck the acid from the wound, and keep going.

It’s an act of faith to put something you’d love so much to eat right now down into a glass for later, and screw on the metal band, pressing the warmed seal into the rim of the glass. It’s an act of transformation, and maybe a little bit of magic, to lower the jars into boiling water and leave them there, in the dark, as if they’re dead things in a cave. A prayer of sorts to what gods may be, and offering of the current abundance against the potential of want in colder, darker seasons of life.

The sun is gone now and the rain is still whispering on the oak leaves that keep watch over the pots of pink petunias and geraniums on my railing. Every few minutes my prayers are answered, one by one, with the tinny “plink” of a canning lid sucking down tight and sealing the work of my hands and the desire of my heart for later safely away. The assurance that at any time I can pry off a lid and savour today all over again, the sweetness of summer, even in the darkest of winter nights. Tell me that’s not some kind of magic.

I’m thinking about my Mama, and my girl, and Peru.

I stopped by their log pile this afternoon to say hello. This remains a novelty to me, after twenty-some years away. My Daddy poured the popcorn he’d just made into a grocery sack for me and insisted I take it, that he’d made it, “in a moment of weakness.” He had the Arab scarf he purchased the winter they came to see us in Tunisia wrapped around his shoulders. Thursday is Mom’s town day, I missed her.

We leave, a week from tomorrow, for Amazon rainforest; just my daughter, my mother, and me. I feel wildly lucky to get a whole three weeks, just the three of us. They are also the last three weeks before Hannah moves out, and onward. She signed her first lease on an apartment yesterday and I busy buying sheets and towels, plates and a bicycle lock. Children pass through fingers like sand on the beach: solid, yet liquid, having no form whatsoever, and yet the basic building blocks of the world. It’s a funny thing to watch happen, and funnier still to be left watching the castle build herself while rubbing the remaining grit from between my fingers.

IMG_4306I’m thinking a lot lately, and saying very little.

I’m writing even less. I hope you’ll forgive me for that. There is so much to say, and yet so little to share as life remakes itself, yet again. I find myself standing back, holding my breath, wondering what story will unfold that has yet to be told. It’s too much of a cliff hanger to try to guess the ending.

In the meantime, there are cherries, and scapes to be pickled. Days to be savoured and adventures to be had with the people I love most. What more could a girl ask for than that? I know… for all of the lids to pop down and seal in the best of summer.