Click. That’s the sound of the gas burner being shut off for the last time on this year’s round of food preservation. And then come the palatal clicks on the last batch of peaches—these will go on all evening. Tomorrow, when the jars are fully cool, I’ll wipe any water residues off and label them. And then the ones reserved to us and not gifts for others (which have already started to leave!) will join their peers in a cupboard and sit until the cold weather arrives and we have forgotten summer in our bones, and then they will emerge one at a time to feed us.
I began this day before the light joined us, swimming in a soupy fog for two hours, walking hills for another two—persevering to burn off the excess weight I carry from several years of eating low-quality foods to keep me awake nights for work and days for work and worry—and then turned to my big old six-burner gas stove. She has been my taskmaster lately, and I have turned to and marched steady, week after week, ensuring that we will eat well and gift well in the coming year: to wit, I have canned the following: 24 quarts of tomatoes, 8 quarts of peaches, 4 pints of peach juice, 6 pints of nubbly peach syrup, 4 quarts of apricots, 6 pints of raspberry currant jam, and 19 quarts of Mama’s lime pickles (4 gone already to friends, 8 more spoken for). The freezers, too, are filled to the brim: 8 quarts of bell peppers, 10 quarts of onions, 10 quarts each of Bing and Rainier cherries, 8 quarts of peaches, 20 gallons of whole-kernel corn, 20 gallons of English peas, 12 gallons of blueberries, and 6 gallons of strawberries.
How I wish it were possible for all who hunger to have access to such inexpensive and good food! Every jar I lifted into the canner, every freezer bag I filled, every onion I braided to hang, I thought of this: how I get to eat so well now and how so many others do not. It hasn’t always been this way for me. I even spent one six-week period thirty years ago in the dead of a Teton winter surviving on nothing but one 10-pound bag of Idaho potatoes (with no stove for cooking them on, either). That marked me for good where food is concerned (society, too, for that matter), and has played a not-inconsiderable role in why I now have to walk and swim so hard every day to regain my own health. But that short stint was nothing compared to so many millions of my fellow human beings—so, so many of whom have far less than me (ever, and most definitively including that long cold winter). Even though I give a great deal away (in food and clothes and money and some time) and always have, I don’t do nearly enough for the people who now have less than I do. It is a constant chafing at my doings, burning right through the little pleasures of having done all this work and thus being able to know what is in many of our meals. If only there were a way to organize resources—of every sort—so that all could be fed so well! Why is it that we can organize so many other things in this world and still not be able to distribute every last thing more equitably?
There are fireworks in our little village tonight, and a rock band and a slew of folks partying hard for a good cause. With every BOOM! my dog conveys his certainties that my species has lost what little was left of our minds. On this point I cannot disagree. We do so much to serve ourselves. I wonder what would happen if we gave without needing to be entertained or acknowledged? If we said, All must be fed, all must be cared for, all must be housed, and we will not rest until it is done? If we said and meant it, We simply refuse to accept the strange and alien notion that it is fine and good to have when others still have not? If we pared our lives down to the bone on essentials and determinedly moved the additional resources that came our way to someone else who needed them more?
Raw ragged idealism, that. No hope of flying in a world whose economies seemed trapped where they’ve been for so long. Impertinent and unfair, some might say, and be not far off the mark. It is impertinent to say that the way we’ve always done things isn’t working. It is unfair to hound a woman simply preserving a small store of foods for winter for not giving them all away. Who the hell are you? one acquaintance once asked me when I said I asked myself these questions all the time. Playing god feel good?! I couldn’t even answer. What do you say to that? I don’t know how to respond to people who get angry when I ask why we do these things or what we hope to accomplish. I don’t know what makes them tick. I always go off and mull some more and come away no better edified.
We’re all born into someone else’s story, a dear friend (Jeanne Boydston) once told me. Part of what she meant, I believe, is that none of us get to pick all our conditions. What I hear when I say it to myself now is, Nobody can fix the whole world.
But everybody together? Saying and doing what each needs to say and do—including, by god, making a small report here to the ether on how sad it is to come to the end of a task like this one, well done and deserved and yet knowing to the very last cell that so many go hungry tonight and tomorrow night and all the long winters ahead? This is what we each must do, in our own ways and places. Observe the voices that come alongside us in the course of a day, and find a way to bear witness to them in the real world. Only then might we come up with the collective gumption to transform the whole shebang, for peace and a place to thrive and enough good food and clean water and clothing and shelter to feel nourished while making our contributions while here. As these dog days of summer wind down, I wish you all of that and more.