I straightened up from the soothing task of weeding the rows of baby carrots, rubbing my back as I watched my daughter perched high in the peach tree across the yard. She was meticulous in easing the plump ripe fruit off the branches, gently shooing away the yellowjackets when necessary, obviously drawn to the sweet juicy scent of summer stone fruit on the tree. Her graceful movements belied the urgent nature of the task at hand, between the yellowjackets, the impending thunder storm and the local wildlife, the time was ripe to get this fruit off the tree, and there were four more trees to go.
This was the easy part, the picking, for tonight as a family, we would begin the labour of baking, canning, drying. The baking was for the summer fair. Years ago, we’d call such an event a farmer’s market, but these days almost everyone grew something, so the name evolved back to what it once was, a fair. Our family had been growing produce for the weekly event for years, before we really needed to anyway, we prided ourselves on the early carrots, usually ready weeks before other growers were harvesting. Back then, it was a labour of love, and although I still loved it, it was more of a labour these days, as the value of food displaced almost all currency other than gold. My wife’s peach crumble recipe drew orders from as far and wide as neighbouring communities half a days ride away. Sometimes we were paid in grain, sometimes in bread or meat or eggs, other times, it was in local currency or a share of an animal to be slaughtered later in the season.
The canning take many days for each fruit or vegetable we harvest, we would carefully carry crates of seemingly ancient glass jars up from the basement, all meticulously cleaned throughout the previous year as the contents were savoured. The sweet aroma of honey syrup or pickling spice boiling on the stove as we worked, peeling, pitting, coring the harvest, sterilizing the jars, measuring out the contents, sealing the lids with paraffin wax when the supply of new mason lids ran out. The rows of jars in the cold room, with their colourful insides hinting at the goodness locked away, were stored to be enjoyed through the dark cold months.
Watching the storm growing on the horizon, I carried the wooden crates full of peaches to the cart. I guessed there was less than a full crate left to pick. Whistling a low woody sound brought Rex, our most obedient goat, out of the thicket, and in a moment the harness was fixed and Rex and I made our way up to the house through the fields that once held a suburb of cookie cutter wood framed houses. The sweat trickling down my back as we climbed the steep hill, Rex as surefooted as ever, we reached the shade under the deck, the area of transition from farmyard to homestead evident in the array of implements and machinery in various stages of disrepair. I unclipped the harness and Rex accepted a slightly bruised peach as fair exchange for the labour performed before wandering off to the herd.
The storm was upon us now as the first drops of slightly acrid smelling rain fell in big drops on the cracked concrete. We prayed for rain like this, it preserved and topped up our water supplies. The outside work was done for the day, it was time to come inside, open the windows and enjoy the summer storm. My daughter strode up from the field, the heavy crate balanced on her shoulder. Years ago, parents were concerned that their children were not getting enough exercise, as I looked at her tanned lean muscled arms and legs I shook my head in wonder at how far those few generations of humanity had been removed from nature and working the land, it made them soft, but the will to thrive and survive rapidly brought the skills back to those who remained.
See all of the Peak Oil Vignette Stories here.