Seasonal déjà vu

Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.
~ Henry David Thoreau

The Autumn counterfeited Spring
With such a flush of flowers,
His fiery-tinctured garlands more
Than mocked the April bowers,
And airs as sweet as airs of June
Brought on the twilight hours.
~Dinah Mulock Craik

When Summer gathers up her robes of glory, And, Like a dream of beauty, glides away. ~ Sarah Helen Whitman

I really enjoy the transition of one season to another, a bridge between the phases of nature’s inevitable advance. One of the ways I experience it most profoundly is when I am out working in the garden and become seized by a profound awareness of recognition–seasonal déjà vu.near fall evening

After months of growing comfort, working to be in tune with the unique personality of the current season, it’s invigorating to get a whiff of the approaching season—like a good, old friend when you think you caught a glimpse of them across the street, or a remarkably familiar smell that suddenly forces a sharp, visceral recall into your consciousness. (With my grandmother, it’s certain smells of hearty “old school” cooking or, improbably, Lysol, reminding me of the process of cleaning the garbage room of the apartment building she managed with my grandfather.)

Of course, September 23 is the equinox, so we are not yet in autumn; however, we just had a desperately needed day of rain, so today had that incredible smell of wet dry grass mixed with just slightly moistened parched dirt. The plants & trees at River Myst Haven have been smacked in to a vividness by their first rain in many months that evokes an autumnal “spring awakening.” Correspondingly, the “call of fall” is evoked by various temperature extremes typical for this time of year—nighttime temps will dip to 48° but hit 90 during the day on Saturday. We know the drill: sweatshirt in the morning, t-shirt in the afternoon (and, of course, sun screen)—only more so this year!

The unusual weather in California isn’t news any more—our drought has reached exceptional scope and speculation about El Niño is all the rage. It is important to note that this phenomenon of the ocean currents is regular, unpredictable, and erratic in the out comes it produces. This first push of rain hit southern California with up to 2 inches of rain in some areas and heavy flooding in other western states, but left my simple rain gauge at about a half-inch.


Relief agencies.

[You’ve probably heard about the multiple wildfires in the state. Lake County has been hit particularly hard, so I want to post an update on relief needs.]

So, these last several years have been odd but may be the “new normal.” The affect on how things grow is quite noticeable. We experience the change in weather, data points to a change in climate, multiple studies call out the effect of human activity…what I can say for certain is that if these changes remain constant, what we eat when will be affected, as will the cost of food.

The Nature of Hotness

One of the joys of gardening in Sonoma County is growing chiles (or chili. Or chilli.) of many different varieties. The hotness of chiles is rated on the Scoville Scale and is dependent on how much capsaicin is in the fruit. Recently I learned a lesson in the intensity of the Scoville Scale and a bit of humility regarding what I will shove in my mouth without thinking it through.chili

I decided it wise to take a bet with someone to trade and try hot chiles that we each grew. Seems he eats very hot chiles every day for lunch; however, I on the other hand will typically only use them for cooking.

He ate the one I grew like it was candy, so it was my turn. Being small, I ate it in one bite. At first it has a fresh taste and a mild warming sensation. Turns out the chile is referred to as El Diablo, and it lives up to it’s reputation. First I felt a slow, steady burn develop as it I had taken a mouth full of a hot beverage that was uncomfortable but not burning. Ahh, if only it had stopped there. Very quickly, it began to feel like I had taken a mouth full of some chemical that wasn’t supposed to be consumed, and, even more quickly, I began to worry that I would soon be experiencing blistering. Cut to me dashing to the refrigerator… ahhhhh, the calming effect of the fat in several glasses of milk…lesson learned.

The Terroir of self

The vineyard at River Myst Haven, our farm in the Russian River Valley.

The vineyard at River Myst Haven, our farm in the Russian River Valley.

Terroir (French pronunciation: [ter-wahr or terˈwär] from terre, “land”) is the set of special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place, interacting with plant genetics, express in agricultural products such as wine, coffee, chocolate, hops, tomatoes, heritage wheat, and tea.

Terroir can be very loosely translated as “a sense of place,” which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production of the product. Terroir is often italicized in English writing to show that it is a French loanword.  ~Wikipedia

“Food, rather than simply being fuel, is the most concrete and intimate connection between ourselves and the earth that exists.”  ~Introduction by Norman Wirzba to The Art of the Commonplace, by Wendell Berry

Nature gives us sustenance. It really doesn’t take much science to understand that pretty much all life on earth is fueled by the energy of the sun. (Remember the wonder of photosynthesis.) In fact, it would be monumentally patronizing for me to presume that you don’t grasp this basic truth of life sciences. The basic truths of the other studies of our planet—the multidisciplinary geosciences—are fairly easy to observe.

We can’t help but be connected to nature, in that dependence on air, water & food bind our very sustenance to the natural world. Regardless of how processed one may prefer their food, it has to contain stuff shaped by biology if one is to survive for long.

However, beyond our dependence on the natural world for maintaining our life, this relationship to the planet is essential for our *well* being.

And yet, we’re profoundly and progressively even more disconnected from the natural world. Sadly, it’s to the detriment of the greater social good and ourselves. For the sake of our community and ourselves we need to recommit and more deeply engage a connectedness to the natural world.

Thoreau gave us one early modern articulation of this viewpoint that the good life, and the life that ethically prepares a person for self-government, is necessarily a life lived in contact with nature. “No matter how urban our life, our bodies live by farming.”

Perhaps mentioning Thoreau in only my second post may be off putting, but his writings on the importance of being connected to the land and the environment—as a necessity for social order & good—were made so very long ago that they serve as a keen benchmark of the challenge we have in remembering what sustains us.

Just as terroir determines the characteristics of foods and flavors of a region, the set of special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place make us who we are, and, thus, the community what it is.

We are connected to nature and our surrounding environment for sustenance as well as nuance and character. We ignore that to our peril.  Well then, seems pretty unambiguous to me.