If you’ve ever tended a big food garden in a region that gets frost—the kind of garden that you hope will feed your household all year long—you know the alternate reality that late summer brings.
It’s hard to think of anything else, much less do anything but monitor the crops, harvest, process, and store all those fruits, vegetables, and herbs exploding with abundance.
In one morning of gardening, every stockpot, bowl, and bucket we own overflows with just-harvested crops: a half-dozen cantaloupes, gallons of green beans, broccoli, zucchini and summer squash, cucumbers, three kinds of peppers. A bushel of crushed tomatoes bubbles on the stove in our big stainless stockpot.
Braids of drying onions swing from makeshift drying racks; a five-gallon bucket contains the last three bunches of garlic, dried and ready to have the tops removed. Winter squash lounge on shelves in the greenhouse, curing for a few days before they head down to a cooler, drier storage rack in the cellar.
You get the picture.
Nature has many inflexible rules, among them: When a crop is ready to harvest, it won’t wait in abeyance until you feel like getting to it. When three or four of the garlic blades dry out, when the onion tops fall over, when the the stems on the winter squash get woody, you have to get them out of the garden and set them to cure.
Even if we don’t have time to do anything about those beans, zucchini, broccoli, and cukes on the vine today, we need to pick them and give them away or toss them into the compost so the plants will keep on producing.
As the garden labor slows, the woodpiles beckon. I’ve already started on the two-cord mound beside the driveway, shuttling wheelbarrow loads to the woodshed and stacking them inside.
Another couple of cords need splitting. Both woodstoves need new gaskets. We need to finish fencing a yard for the hens before cleaning the henhouse. We’ll have to drain and store the irrigation hoses and the pump, and plant the greenhouse crops that will supply us with fresh greens all winter.
Then we get into the cold-weather work: tending woodfires, hauling ashes, shoveling snow. And in April, the cycle begins again, when I sow seedlings under lights for later transplant.
For me, "vacation" is a state of mind, a psychological place to let go of the humdrum, discover something startlingly new or astonishingly old.
After all, our word “vacation” derives from the Latin vacare, meaning empty, free, at leisure. (And “leisure” comes from an ancient root that means opportunity to do something.)
I won’t deny that "going somewhere" on vacation educates and broadens, or that new environments often chase away the everydayness that can lead to stale, robotic living.
But state-of-mind vacations also deliver new environments that educate, broaden, and deepen. And living by nature’s cycles never gets stale. I take vacation time every day.
As for today’s vacation
Picking beans early this morning, I watched two ruby-throated hummingbirds work a huge patch of free-ranging pink zinnias in the lettuce patch. I identified a new, beautiful (to my eyes) insect that I later identified as a 5th-instar Green Stinkbug. Wonder!
During a lunch break, I did a bit of online research and a had a chat with an entomologist friend and former colleague to learn more about the bug. I’ve seen hundreds of them this summer, although they don’t seem to have damaged any of the crops my friend tells me they’re likely to attack. I'll have to keep an eye out next growing season. Education!
There’s a lot more to say about my state-of-mind vacations, but I gotta go. I’ve planned a long walk down the dirt road that leads to a nearby swamp and gravel pit. Lots to see and learn there. Exercise!
And when I return, I’ll get going on that new recipe I found for black-bean chili. It's chock-a-block full of tomatoes, onions, garlic, and three kinds of peppers. Cooking adventure!
This all brings to mind some words from that great 1968 Moody Blues song, The Best Way to Travel:
Speeding through the universe
Thinking is the best way to travel
Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.