Autumn

Autumn is my season. There is nothing I dislike about it. The colours, the smells, the holidays, the promise of cozy nights ahead….

I was courted by my husband during this time of year. I have vivid recollections of that time. Shamelessly in love, sitting next to him on the front seat of his old Chevelle, his hand on my neck. Rain falling on the windshield, a wet leaf clinging on despite the wipers as we drove the back roads.

We got married in the fall as well. A small gathering in the country; cold wind and champagne.

“You are my autumn”, he said. These words, spoken to me recently on the anniversary of our marriage, mean more to me than my husband can imagine.

A stroll across my property is magical. Apples trod upon underfoot send up the sweet and sour aroma of damp earth and decay; little rubies partially-hidden in grass that needs to be cut but was left to grow in expectation of cold weather. Leaves are still falling: golden ochre, reds, pinks and brown are littered across the ground. Piles are made and jumped in and left to scatter in the wind. Dying grasses, thistles, burs and plants breathe new life into the landscape and rustle with the wind. The air is crisp despite the hot sun and blue sky above.


I lift my face toward the light, eyes closed, and give thanks. It’s hard to imagine the change in weather on days like today. We are well into October, and while the nights are cold, our days have been sunny and warm. It feels like summer doesn’t want to leave quite yet. And who could blame her? This time of year is spectacular to behold!

The change of seasons in the country is always incredible to witness. Subtle at first, and then one day you are startled by the harsh transformation. It’s hard to imagine winter is coming on days like today. I am drawn to the outdoors. Soon, winter will be here and my strolls through the property will become less and less. The geese are busy, flying in loud gatherings overhead. Flocks of little black birds – sometimes in the hundreds – burst out of the long dried corn stalks in beautiful precision. I am saddened by the report of gunshots in the distance, which signals hunting season. We don’t hunt and I always worry about the animals on our property. Last year, we saw a beautiful elk bull that had found his way to the neighbour’s field, and spent his days grazing with the cows. He was magnificent. Silver and black, with big antlers. He had managed to make it to full adulthood. Our neighbours watched in fascination until hunting season opened. Then they shot him.


I confess, I am anticipating the cold weather. Our winters can be harsh so I face them with mixed emotions. But like most things, I’m inclined to romanticize the season. There are things about winter that I love: that feeling of stepping out of the cold and into a warm house; the sudden relief of warmth on your frozen cheeks. The smell of cooking or baking in my warm kitchen. The flicker of candlelight when the evening comes early. The cozy blankets to snuggle under and big socks to keep your toes warm. The fire in the wood stove flickering bursts of light in the darkness of a quiet house, wood cracking and popping in the silence; kids asleep and cats stretched out in every chair of the living room.

Our mornings come early and it’s always dark and freezing when we wake up. I have to stoke the embers in the wood stove and get the fire roaring to chase away the chill. It is a challenge to drag myself out from under the warmth of my duvet and into the cold air. My son will sit in front of the fire and have his breakfast, or on my lap, wrapped in my sweater. I love this. He curls his little body around me, pulling all the heat from me with his cold little fingers. I breathe him in, my face buried in his hair. Weekday mornings are rushed so we can catch the school bus, but there is always time for a quick snuggle. I drink a cup of coffee, letting the hot mug warm my fingers, sometimes even lifting it to the tip of my nose to warm it up. The sun is just beginning to rise by the time we have our winter gear donned and are out the door to catch the bus. There are some mornings we have to trudge through knee-deep snow to get to the top of the lane. Our little bus shelter will keep the biting winds at bay while we wait for the bus that always seems to be late on these bitter cold mornings. Better yet, the buses will be cancelled and we get a snow day!

The chickens and turkey are still let out of their pen in the winter, but they don’t stray too far. They will find a patch of sunshine and burrow down under the overhang or outside my living room window on the front porch, looking at me. If the day is dangerously cold, I will let one in. But don’t tell anyone! It’s usually Henrietta, and she goes straight for the cat dish and then sleeps in the basket by the stove. The horses seem impervious to the cold. Their shaggy coats and horse blankets keeping them warm.

Today though, winter still feels far off. I am heading out to finish piling the wood that will heat our house for the winter. I’ll enjoy this autumn day. I am autumn, and I am filled with nostalgia.

– EKR Schlegel

 

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Kid Art

I recently heard a radio program on the topic of dealing with your children’s artwork. Many parents share in this dilemma. With so much art being produced by kids these days, it can be overwhelming. What should you keep? What gets thrown away?

There were many ideas offered: some great ones like photographing the works and turning them into books, and others not-so-great like plastering them as wallpaper all over your walls. (seriously?!)

I’ve kept absolutely everything over the years, believing that someday I would, somehow, deal with it.  Since our move, we’ve had a lot of clearing out and organizing to do and, with less space than we’re used to, that “someday” has arrived.

The multiple bins that contained literally hundreds (possibly thousands!) of pieces of art from the girls had to be dealt with. It was simple enough: two piles, one to keep and the other throw away.

Who knew that something so simple could be so painful?

Opening the bins brought back a flood of memories. Each piece of construction paper I held in my hands took me away. How could I choose to throw these treasures out? The early fat crayon scribbles, slowly evolving into circles, which over time became amoeba-like faces with long legs and arms. I remember vividly sitting at the kitchen tables of our past, my babies on my lap or in their high chairs, watching them struggle to hold their crayons in their chubby little fingers. Little tongues poking out. A look of intense concentration on their faces…Me stooping repeatedly to pick up the crayons that would roll to the floor.

Av's art circa 2006
Av’s art circa 2006

These scribbles are not just lines on paper. They are a direct link to my old self; a time that already seems like a lifetime ago. A young mother getting through her days, cold cups of coffee on the counter….

Then there are the drawings of mother and child holding hands. Big hearts, butterflies, rainbows, cats…Daddy and child, “I love you” scrawled across the page in sloppy letters. Sunshine and flowers. Their names printed with a letter or two backwards… “Look, Mommy! I did it!”

Envelopes roughly put together with masking tape, letters to Santa, school art, cards, glitter and glue…all of them – every single one – a masterpiece.

Memories keep flooding through me. Holding hands to cross the street, cool morning walks to school. Hot, sweaty summer days at the park, sand in their shoes. Picnics, tantrums, little wet bodies in warm baths. Dirty faces turned upwards for me to wipe. Days so full of happiness that I could burst, and days so difficult with self judgment and resentment that I wanted to curl up and die.

But always, the love.

In the end, I did manage to throw away a lot of art. But, the pages were photographed and stored as bits of digital data. As for the throw-away pile, my husband unceremoniously took them to the back of the barn and burned them in an old oil drum. I imagine, though we never talked about it, that he had his own memories to deal with as he placed them one by one into the flames. It must not have been easy.

Our little artists are big girls now. I no longer need to hold their hands or wipe their faces. Those days are gone. But what does remain is their love of drawing. And even though they don’t write “I love you” across the top of every page anymore, the act of showing me their work, and awaiting my praise is just another way of showing it.

Cal's art
Cal’s art

I still have a baby in my life. My son is three and rapidly accumulating an art collection of his own. I am acutely aware of how precious my time is with him, having seen how quickly time flies and kids grow up. I take the time to sit and appreciate the many moments we have together. His drawings are in the “long legs and arms jutting out of the big head” stage right now. Soon, his name will find its way onto the pages. And then, the Mommy and child, the “Daddy I love you” and the flowers and rainbows.

And with every masterpiece he creates, another memory is safeguarded for years to come.

Preservation

Preserve
[pri-zurv]

verb (used with object), preserved, preserving.
1. To keep alive or in existence; make lasting.

For the first time in my life, I have finally managed to preserve something other than my marriage. Next, I will attempt to preserve my sanity. But for now, it’s tomatoes.

Canning my own tomatoes was a dream I held onto for years. I imagined one day I would don my grandmother’s apron and set about the task, rosy-cheeked and full of zest. But the years ticked by and my excuses piled up. I was busy with work and kids. “When I find the time I’ll do it!” I’d say. “I’m busy!”

The fact that many “busy” men and women found the time to can did not elude me. That knowledge just added to my guilt each time I opened yet another can of BPA-free, top dollar organic tomatoes.

But, as I now know, the art of canning truly is one of time – and of patience. Both of which I feel I have at this point in my life. Well, time for sure; patience is debatable. And so, with much determination, I decided this year it was going to happen. A phone call to a neighbour found me supplied with all the required equipment, and a much needed boost of confidence.

By the end of the first day I was definitely rosy-cheeked, but not full of zest. And for the record, the rosy “cheekedness” wasn’t all that pretty. It was more of an “Oh my fucking god I hate tomatoes” sort of flush. And my grandmother’s apron? Thankfully I couldn’t find it and it remains folded (and clean) in a chest, somewhere.

My canned tomatoes.
My canned tomatoes.

It didn’t take me long to realize this canning business would be a love-hate affair. But like the magic of childbirth, after gazing lovingly at my new “babies” all lined up on the table, I’m already forgetting the pain and imagining what I will can next.

The slow, methodical work also gave me time for reflection. Looking out the window above my kitchen sink, washing and slicing the fruit, it was easy to forget my worries.  Unexpectedly, I found my late grandmother, Earlene, whose apron I had imagined wearing, standing beside me. And her mother, my great-grandmother Lila-Mae, was there as well.

You see, canning – despite it’s gentrification into the modern world – once belonged solely to women. It was their job to preserve the food that would nourish their family through the winter months, food that was planted by hand and harvested from the kitchen gardens of yesteryear. By continuing on with this tradition of “women’s work,” I found myself bound in spirit with the matriarchs of my past. And not just my family.

I had a neighbour whom I adored when I was a young girl. Jean Humphrey was her name. I spent much of my childhood spare time with her. I remember vividly the tiny cuts on her thumbs after a week of canning. She would slice the fruit and vegetables with her paring knife, cutting against her thumb instead of a cutting board. They were tiny, superficial little marks but I was mesmerized. I asked her if they hurt. No, she replied.

And in my reveries, I also thought of Margaret Mulvihill. She was the woman of the 160-year-old house I now call home (Read their story in the “about” section of my blog). An Irish settler, forging a new life in the Canadian wilderness with her young family. How much canning did she do in preparation for the long, cold winter months? Who stood next to her in her thoughts? Her mother? Her grandmother? Did her mind take her back to the home that she would never see again?

It’s a time of “preservation” here at the farm. I have gratitude for the abundance in my life and I’m proud to carry on this tradition. It wasn’t just tomatoes I was preserving after all; it was my womanhood, and the cherished sweet memories of lives now gone.