My Edinburgh Press is back in Scotland after a little socialising in Dublin. My thoughts are in Canada though, where yesterday my Canadian family celebrated Thanksgiving – a little earlier than those south of the border. We don’t really have it in these parts, although, of all of the traditions that have been swapped and traded from across the pond, this might be a good one to take on. Surely it’s a good idea to mark the time of abundance: feast, share, and spend time with family and friends before you baton down the hatches for what winter has to throw at us.
I’ve had harvests shared with me lately. Most recently one of the backgreen gardeners from my Edinburgh tenement sent an email to those of us who get dirt under our nails, telling us: “The broad beans are still growing, slowly. Please help yourself to any you can find. Best at 3 to 6 inches. Makes a tasty soup.” His P.S. reminds us there are still some spuds in the shed for the taking. I drop him a quick email back – ‘Thanks A’. Long before the broad bean offer, I was loaded deep with a cache of vegetables from D.’s garden in North Yorkshire: marrow, funny little spikey cucumbers (they tasted good), small green chilies (they have now turned red and shriveled slightly, but I think I can still cook with them), Bramley apples, and tomatoes. I have since made the marrow and apples into chutney – laid down like a Saint-Émilion (not a great comparison!) to eat with cold turkey on Boxing Day.
These days of abundance and late harvests are curtained in stunning autumn colour. I have yet to see the famous ‘fall’ colour in Canada, but my walk in Dublin this weekend I reckon almost gave it a run for its money. I joined three generations of my friend’s family for a Thanksgiving walk, hugging the coast from Bray to Greystones in Co. Wicklow. Virginia creepers were an opulent deep-red, sumac trees a burning orange with yellow embers, the ferns stooping into bracken – broken with tiredness, like children after a sleep-over. A family of red-headed girls passed us, their hair bleeding into the colour of the fields behind them, and pale, freckled faces smiling out. The children with us were foraging for the last of the blackberries, while G., the grandfather, quietly advised of the belly aches to come. He was right, as the elders often are, they were well past their best. Michaelmas Day – 29th September – is (according to folk tradition) said to be the last day blackberries can be safely eaten. For on Michaelmas Day the devil goes around spitting and spoiling blackberry bushes, because that’s when St Michael threw him out of heaven, and he landed (where else?) in brambles! But the children munch on, undeterred. From nowhere, little seven-year-old A. pipes up to her mum, “I call it ‘fall’ because that’s what the leaves do.” “Well, we call it autumn here, but we’ll understand you if you call it fall.” A. looked up, all serious eyes, nodded and skipped off, quickly moving onto fresh thoughts, as seven-year-olds are wont to do, the purple spit of the devil happily smeared on her cheek.
It reminded me of an old poem (written in 1880), where Gerard Manley Hopkins opts to use the North American word and muses on a child’s carefree opinion of the dropping leaves, and of change.
‘Spring and Fall’, by Gerard Manley Hopkins
‘To a young child’
“Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?”
So, happy Thanksgiving, Canada and beyond. I am thankful for the weekend I’ve just had in Dublin. For the food and drink shared, for the stories told, the laughter had, and for the slow walk immersing me in the falling autumn.