All Souls Day upon us, the day of remembering ancestors, about their experiences in life, their understanding of nature, seasons, family life. In the Autumn chill, I think about kindling the fire of warmth in our home and beyond. What acts help us build a life that is slower, simpler, imbued with meaning and beauty, that is restorative, caring and nurturing for the generations before and after us? How does my commitment to sustainable living feeds into this task?
Though Grandmother was an educated woman who wore fine matching gloves and shoes, she knew more about workings of nature that most of people interested in sustainable living in my generation. She knew how to brine mushrooms that Grandfather brought from the forest each fall, how to put up enough food to last us all winter – in an urban apartment size of a postage stamp. She mended clothes, washed them by hand, sewn her own dresses (and mine!) and managed to serve a hot meal made from scratch three times per day while working full time away from home. Each fall, as I sort through family pictures and organize photo albums, I think of her, of a beautiful feisty woman who lived her life in the turbulent times after the Russian Revolution, amidst changing identities, culture and direction of the world.
Though not enticing at the time of my youth, her homemaking skills took root in me. I thank her for it every day. And I wonder what she could teach me now, if she could. How to slow-parent children? How to put food up so it is nourishing for everyone in the family? How to use home remedies for winter well being – and how to mend socks? It all would be about living your life and relating to everything in it in a completely different way that we know now, and these skills themselves, now embodied in me, are healing to our family’s soul.
Grandfather was an avid mushroom hunter, of a quiet kind, did not teach me much with words. He simply took me to the forest, armed with a large duffel bag, a knife and some simple food. We wove our way through the moist quiet autumn forest, gathered ample mushrooms, and then we would sit down to rest. Grandfather would make a little fire and cook a small meal of fried bread and meat. At home, Grandmother would clean the mushrooms and brine them for upcoming birthdays, for Christmas festive table.
Each Fall, I spend several weeks sorting photos and old documents. Like many people, I used to be challenged to find time for this work. But for a number of years now, I prepare for the All Souls Day of November by tending to the photo albums. Late Autumn becomes the time to take the photos out, rearrange what needs attention, remember and retell stories. That is our time to build care for this foundation of knowing who we are in our life journey.
With Grandfather’s gentle quietness I set forth gathering firewood. With all the trees around, there is no shortage of kindling material or larger stumps to be split. A little bit of time gathering kindling every day, a little bit of splitting wood – a task on which most children can assist in one way or another, and the pile grows quite formidable.
With Grandmother’s homemaking skills and love for needlework, I knit and sew for winter: here is the sweater for myself, here are new mittens for my husband, and here is a full set of pajamas for everyone – and long list yet to complete. Daily cup of herbal tea from our garden is supporting us in the early days of the cold and cough season. Dry petals and leaves of tea, brittle kindling from the firewood pile are much like the ancestors – gone and done, yet warming us up, and nurturing us now.