My fingers are slightly scalded. I was too eager to pulp the blanched tomatoes; once their skins split in the cold water, I wanted to squeeze their gushy insides into the pot too fast. I should have let them rest. I'm nursing a cold drink now not only because I'm thirsty, but because it feels good on my fingertips.
Sunday night of Labor Day Weekend. Drew is, thankfully, asleep. I have two tasks at hand. First a bag of local peaches, bright and rosy, goes into the boiling water to blanch; now the skinned fruits, cut into dice, are adding their color and their flavor to an infuser of vodka. When we sip it in deep midwinter, we'll marvel at the way it brings back late summer's sticky heat.
And the tomatoes! Ethan brought home a bucket of heirloom tomatoes from Caretaker Farm on Friday. We spread the tomatoes out on our dining room table to ripen for a few more days, and tonight after Drew's bedtime I blanch and skin and pulp them. Five quarts of tomato pulp grace our chest freezer now, waiting.
I've lived in New England for 19 years now, but I'm not a native. I was born and reared in south Texas, where summer won't end for a long time yet. My parents are still enduring near-100-degree days -- while here, even on a relatively hot and sticky early September night, my son needs long-sleeved pyjamas. Part of what makes northern summer so sweet is that it is so brief. We love it because we know it isn't going to last forever. Having just read R' Heschel on death, with two funerals in recent memory, I'm conscious right now that it isn't just summer which inevitably ends.
Being who I am, I can't help linking all of this with this moment in the Jewish seasonal calendar. Elul: the month of walking in the fields with the divine Beloved. Elul: the month of intensifying the inner work of teshuvah, turning and re/turning toward God. Tonight I processed some of the season's literal harvest; what metaphorical and spiritual harvest will I gather in when we reach Sukkot at the end of this festival season? A few of my fingertips are tight and painful because my desire to dive in to the work at hand was too ardent; I didn't want to wait for the fruits to cool. Is my ardor for teshuvah, my ardor for connecting with God, that strong?
Where I live, everything is lush now. The goldenrod is bright and blooming. The trees are full, majestic in their dark green summer robes. Farmstands are practically giving away corn, peaches, tomatoes -- the fruits of our land at this time of year. But this morning I saw apples at a farmstand, too: apples which speak to me of autumn, of the turning year, of dipping in honey for Rosh Hashanah. The first early red and yellow leaves are beginning to turn.
We, too, are beginning to turn. Toward God; toward harvesting the fruits of the year now ending; toward the horizon where the darkening sky begins to draw autumn's cloak up and over creation. What of this summer will we preserve, in our spirits and in our hearts? With what memories will we feed ourselves when winter lashes at the windows? What is the spiritual harvest of this season for you?