There’s something quite convergent about a global pandemic in the middle of the season of death.
While the northern hemisphere wound its way through winter into spring, down here we descended into the underworld of Autumn.
The ‘Real Halloween’ has always been a reason for festivity here on The Food Farm. The end of the growing season and the first signs of decay are the origins of the celebration. After a big growing season it’s easy to understand the need for a bit of a party as things turn the corner.
For this reason Halloween embraces symbols of death, but also why pumpkins are the vegetable of choice. April 30th is the southern hemisphere equivalent of October 31st, and by celebrating with our children at this time of year we’ve been able to have the fun, but also have the meaning without having the cheap candy. Pumpkin carving when they’re abundant, just off the vine and with much softer skins makes more sense to us.
Ever since the children were tiny we’ve filled the house at Samhain with witches and small vampires and sugar skull face painting, but this year we couldn’t have a party and death felt more present. In the quietness we had time to contemplate that death is nothing more than a part of the cycle of life.
A friend sent an email with a quote in his signature recently; “New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.” Lao Tzu was a Chinese philosopher. Taoism considers the natural rhythms of the universe a great deal. I suspect that email was a reflection of the large number of endings people must be experiencing; the death of businesses, jobs, ideas, connections and even a way of living. Perhaps, collectively, it’s the death of a way of being. And yet here we still are. Death is not really an ending.
Christianity has the resurrection parable of course. Death of something or someone can lead to the ascension of a different way of thinking or seeing the world, of new ideas.
Te ao Māori recognises death at this time of the year (Haratua) as well.
Rangi Matamua in ‘Matariki; The Star of the Year’,
“They would farewell their dead as Matariki escorted them into the afterlife. The setting of Matariki and te waka o Rangi would be observed with tears, laments and sorrow”.
Of course the rising of Matariki in Pipiri (June/July) heralds renewal or the New Year. I love the idea of the setting as the days shorten and then the rising as our world turns back towards the light.
Here on The Food Farm we can see a ‘setting’ as well. The trees are losing the last of their leaves, reabsorbing nutrients and storing them in their roots for the hard weather ahead. And we’ve just harvested our maize. We’ve been waiting for the sugars to convert to starch, their carbohydrate stage, setting ready for germination in spring (although in our bellies before that happens).
The maize is Otto File Flint Corn, called so for the eight rows of kernels. So delicious it’s a favourite of Dan Barber from Blue Hill. We’ll use the wonderful orange kernels for polenta and corn cakes, crumbing and grits.
As we bring our last crops inside, it’s time to hunker down. We’ll retreat while the world storms and rages beyond us. But it’s also important to remember that this time of quietus is not an end, but rather just a surrender before the next beginning.