Stockpiling for the right reasons as autumn starts to bite
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If you could see my hands just now, they’d give away not just my approximate age, but that it’s autumn, and that I’ve been enjoying the fruits of the season.
The backs of my hands are scratched from bramble picking, and the skin around my nails is stained from hours spent stoning the kilos of Victoria plums that my tree thoughtfully grew for me this year.
The plums have been roasted, some in just brown sugar, others with spices too, and bagged and frozen to keep us in puddings throughout the winter.
In fact, I’ve already almost filled the freezer; those punnets of foraged brambles have been scattered over pulped apples and topped with pastry or crumble mixture, some with the addition of golden cubes of marzipan.
I’ve diced, chopped and simmered root vegetables; hearty soups are now filling stacks of former (labelled!) ice-cream containers. And slow cooking is transforming batches of sausages, venison, beef and chicken thighs into rib-sticking casseroles.
There’s a deep-rooted comfort that comes from stockpiling for winter; I’ve checked outside too, and there are plenty of logs and coal to keep us warm until Easter.
This change in the seasons from summer to autumn affects me like no other. I miss the light evenings, but there’s a glorious, unmistakable freshness to the early morning air, and a strong temptation to haul on boots and a jacket and get into the hills or down to the beach to walk and breathe and think.
As the days shorten, thoughts inevitably turn to warmth and comfort; this is the first week since summer that I’ve closed the living room curtains and lit the fire in the evenings. I’ve swapped crisp white wines for warming reds, and flip-flops for cosy slippers.
Evenings between now and February or March are for catching up with box sets and with friends, or dusting down my ukulele again. Weekends are for walks, and for cutting hedges, sweeping leaves and trying to put the garden to bed for the winter.
But comfort doesn’t just come from these corporeal pleasures, it comes from knowing that no matter what madness surrounds us, there’s a permanence in nature that will outlive the current political traumas, stresses and shenanigans that we find ourselves in. As sure as night follows day, autumn follows summer.
We sat early last Sunday morning on the damp pebbles of Dores beach at Loch Ness, watching the waves lap lazily on the shore, and following the clouds above the hills as they made way for a hint of blue sky. It was peaceful, and perfect. Buildings aside, that view has existed for millennia. It will probably exist for millennia to come. By then, even Brexit should be forgotten.
And as we sat, sometimes chatting, sometimes in silence, the realisation hit me that in the face of the current Westminster/EU guddle, I am powerless. In every news bulletin we hear fresh allegations of financial misconduct, deception, sexual impropriety, accusations and lies, much of it couched in hateful language.
It’s tempting, given the importance of the outcome on October 31, or whenever it happens, to believe that it’s vital to keep up to speed with every incredible twist and turn of the saga. But there’s nothing, at the moment, that you or I can do or say that will help or influence the current political situation in any way at all.
This loch and these mountains will be there whether we have a caretaker government in Westminster, whether we stay in or leave Europe, whether there is a deal and whether there is another independence referendum. I gave myself permission, there and then, to let go of my permanent state of political outrage, and, until there is something that I can actually do about it, to allow myself to just enjoy the moment and soak up the view.
None of this means that I don’t care, or have absolved myself from societal responsibilities, or will turn a blind eye to injustice where I see it and can alter its outcome. It just means that I am stopping sweating the stuff that I can’t change.
At the moment, all any of us can do is watch, wait and hope for the best. Unless and until there’s a general election, we have no real say over what happens next. I’ll be keeping an eye on things, but I’m going to stop obsessing.
And instead, I’ll be filling the cake tins and freezer with more good food, digging out my mushroom identification books, and checking to see whether the sloes are ripe for picking.