Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Harvest Home: Chapter 3: Wild Nuts and Raw Fiber
I started writing this essay a few days ago and it has been simmering as I contemplated gathering and making something with the black walnuts that abound here--a wild and liberal bounty available for the gathering. One of the community members here is offering 60 gallons, free for the taking. But having come here with few skills for gleaning, I had to google the process of using the unexpected harvest that lie beside the cemetery wall and near the apple tree that was so generous this year. When I read that you had to start by driving over them to hull them by cracking the outer shells, and then needed to let them cure, and then go at them with a hammer (wearing goggles for protection from flying shells), and then a nut pick, even I decided that was more than I wanted to take on.
It reminds me of the days when I learned to spin. A free sheep fleece was an unimagined bounty. I acquired them ‘til they filled more Rubbermaid containers than I dare to count. Then I realized that each would need to be "skirted" (the desirable sections separated from those that had been sheared from around the sheep's armpits, belly and "naughty bits"), washed (initially I did this by hand in roughly one pound lots, and a fleece can be up to 10 to 12 pounds or more before it is skirted), dried (in the sun or near an apartment radiator), picked (the burrs and chaff removed), carded (combed, sometimes one lock at a time with a dog brush), "pre-drafted" into "rolags" (pulled into aligned rolls of fiber), and then spun and plied. Oh yes, and then knitted into garments that, at my pace, could take a year for a pair of socks. Eventually I cut the time commitment by buying prepared fiber, ready for the spinning. It still takes an inordinate time to make anything, but at least I don't feel like a character in a fairy tale. (Much.)
So when Herb and I began talking about "home," in connection with the story he was writing for the local paper in Arcata, CA, where he feels as though he is at "home", I should have linked the spinning and the walnuts to the conversation.
Herb says that he and several of those he wrote about in his article for the North Coast Journal (see earlier posts on “Domestic Ex-pats”), knew they were “home” when they fell in love with the landscape and town square at first sight. Others warmed to it, but none have let that sense of home fade even though they no longer run the marsh or wander through the redwoods in the center of town. There is something in the way we carry home within us, that has shaped decades of my professional life and still more, of my personal longings.
I am a city girl who has found what academics call "a sense of place" here in a town of 800 people in rural Vermont. It feels right when I am here, but I am still cautious about using that sacred word: “home.” My mother asks me when I call after the long drive back from New York or Boston, “So you’re home”? I usually respond “yes, I’m back in Vermont” or “I’m back in the house.” Only rarely, “yes, I am home.” I struggle to understand the reluctance. There are other sacred words that I hesitate to use: “writer” and yes, “wife”. Is it the fear that these will evaporate like the morning dew if looked at too closely?
Someone once said to me, “you are a writer if you write.” By inference, I am “home” if I am at home. But there is something missing in these simple definitions… something of feeling time pass. A home is a place where we stay or that stays within us in the rituals and seasons. A writer is one who knows that words are our intimates awake and asleep and awake again. H and I wake with words on our breath—not connected to story or purpose, but because they are the liberal bounty before the work of picking them from their shell. Wife? It is still new. We celebrate the days we are together, count them as though each one were precious. We have had a decade to skirt the fleece, wash and dry it, but we are still drawing the fibers into alignment. We have yet to draw them into a rolag, spin them, ply them, knit them into the fulled fabric that we will pull over us on a cold night- husband and wife.
Just so, I have had a decade here in this town, and still find it difficult to say that I am home. Is it that I need to marry this place as writer Lisa Knopp has said when she writes, "the specific place I have chosen is of less importance than the fact that I have entered into a committed faithful relationship with it." Is it that I need to feel that there are generations in the cemetery behind that black walnut tree? Or is it that I need to know that I can afford to live here, in the modest way I choose, with the man I married, and that we will “belong” to this place? Is it that I need someone from here to say that I belong? Is it merely time, waking up together, with husband and wife on our breath?
Trying to understand and explain that is tantamount to making socks from raw fleece.