November 2010 Archives

November on the Hill

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When I was young, autumn was my season of renewal. Even into my thirties I either attended or taught in universities, and by late August, the buzz of preparation would pick me up and carry me into the waning light and sharp-edged mornings. Then my children's school preparations took precedence and performed the same magical feat. I loved the way the adrenaline in my body matched the colder air, the busier streets in our college town, the calendar filled with additions and changes and more commitments than any family could possibly honor.

In September, 2001, my father died one week after the attack on the World Trade Center. My husband, my children and I found ourselves almost alone in the vast stretches of Logan Airport, waiting for a plane to Houston. The months following were hard and dark. I remember getting furious one morning when my son failed to put any kind of fruit in his lunchbox. Fruit in his lunchbox? I don't even know who that woman was.

For the next three or four years, the approach of fall brought on panic, minor depression, a thinning of the blood and spirit. I dreaded the shift from hot sun to long shadows. I used the touted remedies, which mostly helped, and over time I regained balance, if not my earlier enthusiasm for the season.

Now, I have a sensible mix of both responses--a quickening when the cold comes and the evening light turns thin and blue, along with a dread of everything we have all lost, as if we are about to lose it all over again. Neither of these responses staggers me, and they seem to be polite to each other, "You first." "No, no, I insist, you go ahead."
I can feel washed by autumn color one minute and pinned down by approaching night the next.

I am glad to be older. I don't mind my feelings mixing it up. I don't long for consistency and reason the way I used to. I just don't want to miss anything. That's what I want most now--not to miss anything.
october moon

The Cider Press

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It is hard to find the right voice to use when describing rural activities. Inevitably, some folksiness slips into the jargon, and folksiness too often translates as smugness, as if the country writer were dangling her good luck in front of the benighted urban reader. Good luck played a big role in my husband and I ending up where we are, but so did thirty years of longing, a lot of conniving, and a number of real estate agents. So I do not feel smug.

Still, I would be lying if I didn't admit that just about every day I appreciate something about the place we live and what we are learning as we live here. In October, I learned how to press cider from the apples and pears that grow on our trees. The press was an old one that belonged to our neighbor Tom, who had added a motor onto it so we didn't have to turn the wheel by hand, which would have been much, much harder to do. We are not young, my husband and I, and I imagine a shoulder or lower back would have given out long before the cider got pressed.
cider press
Of course, the engine is noisy, but that's pleasant in its own way, because it means you don't have to talk to anyone while you're throwing apples and pears into the chute. The fruit then gets ground up by the teeth on the drum, and spit down into a slatted, bottomless bucket, that sits on a long wooden platform. Once the bucket is full, you push it to the front of the platform, place a round wooden disk on top, and then screw the disk down, tighter and tighter, onto the apple and pear pieces, pressing the juice out of the fruit. The juice runs down the platform into an enamel basin, and once the basin is full, you pour the liquid out into Mason jars.

Tom had loaned the press to Angie and Adrienne, who have chickens, and we were using the press in their front yard, so we had to be careful not to place any of the equipment on the bare ground, for fear of picking up some chicken shit by mistake. For the second load, I brought a giant tarp, so I had a little more control over the ground contact.

Once the juice was poured, we dumped the fruit pulp into a rusted wheelbarrow, and at the end, Angie mixed the pulp in with her chicken feed. We speculated about whether or not the pulp would ferment and provide a sort of informal happy hour for the chickens, but Angie didn't notice any difference in their behavior as the days went by. I'm not that big a fan of chickens; it seems to me a drunk chicken would behave a lot like a sober chicken.

Once we got the jars home, my husband strained the juice through cheesecloth. Then he went on the Internet and found a recipe for apple cider jelly, which he decided to make. How do I say this without sounding smug? That was some of the best jelly I have ever had, clear and amber tinted, a little smoky and tart. Would it have tasted as good if the flavor didn't carry with it two autumn afternoons in our neighbor's yard, doing work together? Who can say, and why does it matter.

We're low on a lot of things up here: good opera, all-night anything, cell phone service, block parties, the buzz of a great night in a bright city. It evens out. We all take our pleasures where we're lucky enough to find them, blessed as we are by our great abundance of luck.

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