Instead of Speaking
Reading from a journal entry, included in a 12 year-old manuscript that was meant to be a book but never became one, can be a challenge to my perception of who I would like to be. I am sixty. Who I would like to believe is me now is a different contemplation from a young woman who doesn’t know yet who she will turn out to be or be turned out to be, or the middle-aged, married and harried mother I was on June 24, 2011, when I wrote what now offends my idea about how I should have been. That woman used work to fill the silent void that was sucking on her fantasy life like a black hole dragging down starlight. Here’s how my day started about 12 years ago.
I made myself a coffee, clipped cilantro and laid it in the herb dryer, strung together about twenty jalapeño peppers and hung them in the pantry before he appeared with a scowl creasing his forehead, and drove off without a word. I started beats to boiling and a water bath canner and looked up some cucumber recipes. I decided on soup.
Anyone reading that journal entry might ask, why was he angry? Why didn’t he say anything? Is he leaving or will he come back? I could ask the same question because I don’t remember. Most likely, I didn’t know what I did wrong anyway. I worked obsessively to keep myself from ruminating over the many ways I tried and failed to communicate with my husband, which wasn’t always effective, because mostly I was working in isolation, my thoughts free to torture me without interruption. But I didn’t want to talk about it in my journal or with myself. The decisions, to come or go, be angry or not, I left in his hands. I decided on… cucumber soup.
But that was just the beginning of that day. I go on to list more activities…
While the boiled beats were cooling, I poured my home-made yoghurt over a cheese cloth. Then I mixed shredded cucumber, raw garlic, mint, dill and vinegar, and put that in the fridge, then I started the pickling sauce for the beets. This time I tried a cinnamon recipe I found, with allspice, clove, apple cider vinegar and sugar. While that was simmering, I peeled the boiled beets. I chopped them up just as the water bath came to a boil. I filled the sterilized jars with the cut-up beets, poured the cinnamon vinegar sauce over, and put them in the water bath to boil for half an hour. Then I called the kids into the kitchen to fix themselves some lunch.
While they ate, I cut up leftover chicken in cubes to use for pizza for dinner and then I decided to make another batch of yoghurt since I used so much for the cucumber soup and needed to use up the milk too. So, I started the milk heating up, got out the yoghurt maker, found some yoghurt cups and lids. By then the beets were done. After the milk just almost came to a boil, I turned it off and went down to the field to pick green tomatoes and green bell peppers to cut up later in the evening for chow chow. When I got back to the kitchen I added some yoghurt to the cooled milk, stirred it up and poured it into the cups and put them in the warm yoghurt maker. I must remember to take them out before I go to bed. Then I started the pizza dough. Then we went to the supermarket and bought red bell peppers and sweet onions, also for the chow chow. To hear me talk, you would think I had ever made it before. I’m just trying out a recipe I found online that sounds something like what his mother used to make according to what he remembers seeing her do.
That’s the fantasy life I’m talking about, partly his fantasy life that I do everything the way his mother did it… the thing is I think he was making some of that up as he went along. But what was there in that fantasy for me, that I was willing to give it agency? I wasn’t just absorbed in a distraction, and I wouldn’t call everything I have learned hands-on over the years about gardening, cooking and preserving, an obsession, ultimately it was my salvation.
I was intensely engaged in a return to the wisdom of our collective mothers. My relationship with Mother Earth sustains my spirit now in a way that my marriage never did. But my focus has shifted from feeding three growing boys and a grown man to restoration of the degraded landscape and resilience in the face of climate change. It has a new kind of urgency, as we humans experience the hottest week ever on Earth. I am turning to dehydrating and fermentation as replacements for using electricity to keep things frozen.
Back in 2011 I still had a freezer….
When I got back from buying bell peppers, I dug into the freezer and found some broccoli, which I steamed, and I cut up some onions and mushrooms and olives. When the dough was ready, I rolled it out, put it on my pre-heated pizza stone, spread some tomato sauce, my cut-up ingredients, some shredded mozzarella and popped it in the oven. Then I repeated with the rest of the dough, made a salad, of course, combined the cucumber soup ingredients from the fridge, and dinner was ready. (A good thing because I hadn’t eaten all day.) I didn’t like the raw garlic so much in the cucumber soup.
After dinner I chopped up all the ingredients for the chow chow, put them in a big pot with pickling salt and hot water and left that to sit over night. Then there was the clean up, the compost, the pool check and finally a shower. Sitting by myself while he sat in the TV room. This is my life right now. At 7am it will be time to start the process with the chow chow. Maybe I’ll sleep better tonight. Last night I dreamt there were wild animals roaming in our field and the children were in danger.
Wild animals indeed. What I don’t like about that woman is her seeming passivity. The children were in danger, but not from the wild animals roaming the field that my husband claimed for his domain, telling me to stay in my lane: the kitchen, making things he wanted to eat, things I had never even tasted before. The wild animals were me, restless in a cage that I didn’t see when I entered it, and helpless to protect my children while under its roof. Now, that wild woman is a water protector, she stitches soil and breaks sourdough bread and is working hard on not working so hard, cuz I’m a wild rose who I can appreciate now for itself, without fertilizing, without admirers, and without expectations.