Living By the Season: A Meditation

By , October 3, 2009

People talk about living more deliberately, being more self-sufficient, decoupling from the breakneck pace of the modern world. We believe in that, which is why we’re here on the homestead in Alaska. It is definitely a slower lifestyle, not because it’s any less busy or full than others, but because our time is marked not so much in hours, minutes, and seconds as it is by the tides, the sun, and the seasons.

This is on my mind a lot just lately, as autumn is probably our most transitional season. This is the time of our year when activity increases, yet we prepare for and look forward to winter, the slowest time of year. Activities that we’ve pursued through the summer, like gardening, foraging, fishing and finding firewood increase as we harvest the planting, more wild foods ripen, the fish run, and cooler weather dictates that our wood stove, which has remained largely unused, is once again called on for heat.

These activities will peak soon. The wild harvest will end, mostly, with the first freezes and snows, which usually come in early November. Mushrooms are mostly wiped out then. Most of the berries will be gone, although some, like highbush cranberries, crowberries, and nagoon berries, will improve with a frost, but could be hidden by snow. We have planted our cold frames, and can reasonably expect a few greens to continue growing through the winter. Wood gathering will improve through the winter, both because the hot work of bucking deadfalls and splitting is easier in the cold, and because snow allows us to sled the wood home rather than carry it. The fish are theoretically always available, but they’re not as abundant in the winter, nor is it safe to pursue them from ice-coated rocks or on storm-tossed waters.

The winter will turn us inward. We’ll still get outside virtually every day, but we’ll spend more time indoors on quieter, less strenuous pursuits. The holidays will come. Neighborhood gatherings will increase, promising potlucks, excellent food, fellowship, and saunas. It’s a good time of year, one we look forward to as we make this last push.

Anticipating the coming lull of winter makes the transition a bit more difficult. While cool, clear autumn days invigorate us, the wet, cold, windy ones make it all too easy to practice for winter. We sense the urgency to store up, to sort out and stow seasonal clothing, to winterize everything we can, to prepare for harder weather, but we are seduced by another cup of coffee, tea or cocoa, one more chapter in the book, that one really good song playing on the CD or radio—anything that would keep us inside by the fire for just another minute or two . . . .

In this, our fourth autumn on the homestead, there’s consolation in experience. We know that it will not all get done. We also know that some of it will get done not in autumn, but in winter, or even spring. The blessing of the seasons is that they are cyclical—what passes will come again, both the opportunity and the need to complete the task. We will finish projects; some will need redoing when the season rolls around once again, others will be done for good and all. New projects will be added to the list next year. Worrying will not change that. The cycle continues, and life abides.

You will find a version of the essay above, as well as writing on similar and related topics in Sacred Coffee: A “Homesteader’s” Paradigm by Mark A. Zeiger, available in print, eBook, and audiobook editions. The published version will likely be expanded, clarified, or updated from what you have just read.

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