A sunshine squash and a blue Hokkaido have been sitting on the buffet for weeks now. According to the farmers who grew them, kabocha squashes reach their peak of flavor after curing on a warm countertop for awhile.
I don’t know what science is at work here, why a thing that looks ripe at harvest is, in fact, not quite ready. But it comforts me to know that there’s room and time. In the winter we can skirt the frenzied rush of something like jam making: winter waives the necessity of processing a flat or two of strawberries in a single evening.
No. It’s time to rest. The squashes are, appropriately, entering into a time of monk-like reflection; perhaps contemplating my temperature-controlled family room, the way the sunlight tilts in at the edges of the skylights. The long days outdoors are behind them. They are pressed inward, like hands in Pranamasana.
And we live alongside them, a little bit consoled as we weave our way in and out of the room where they sit near the bloomless Christmas cactus and sleeping orchids.
I like it, the trait of longevity in winter produce. Persimmons sit until they’re falling-apart juicy. The onions and apples are cellared by now. There are garlic braids. Even cranberries keep their shape in the crisper, not familiar with the grape’s tendency of going to mush and white mold.
If I think about it too much, I pine for summer’s more temporary fruits and vegetables (a bowlful of tender salad greens topped with halved cherries, please) but the staying power of fall produce is a good incentive to slow down. If I emulate the squashes maybe I’ll be able to wait out the cold and scrape soggy leaves from the pavement with less agitation. I’ll be more likely to take on indoor projects. To nest.
I’m not too crafty nor do I consider myself atypically organized. But every year I manage to do a little holiday nesting. Maybe it’s a form of curing. I create an Advent calendar. In December the kids pluck a small piece of paper from an envelope (or lift a flap or open a tiny drawer) and read what activity we’ll do together in the evening. This year we hung a strand of pennants that were made, thanks to Colleen, from scraps of the most beautiful cotton in Olympia.
I’ve seen prayer flags strung across entryways for years, bleached out and stirring on their strings, but I didn’t know the origin until a few days ago. A tradition linked with an ancient form of Buddhism, the flags are hung at the Tibetan New Year as a way to send out blessings across the land. As the flags fade and the edges of the fabric fray, it’s said that the wishes become part of the surroundings. How appropriate for the Advent season: blessings leaching from us, leaving us windblown, rained on, a little torn. But so much the better for it.
Once we’ve unwrapped the presents and returned the house to its pre-tinsel state, our version of prayer flags will remain inside until late February. So we’ll live with them for awhile, getting used to them. They’ll cure in a way, too, settling into their spot between the living room and the front door, witnessing our good and bad days, our Lego structures, laundry piles and Abba dance parties. By the time we hang them in the front yard, they’ll be more than a way to symbolize our hopes. They’ll be part of us, offered to visitors and dog-walkers and strollering families.
I like to think of how the landscape will change while they fly throughout this year and how the outdoors will change them. It’s the only constant. We can pray and hope and complain and participate and opt out all we want. But life is about this: waiting and acting and then being changed, eaten by the wind. And, sometimes, roasted and made into soup.