For Peter Mayle, down in Provence, September brings hunters after the game hidden in the woods surrounding his house. He walks carefully along paths with his dog while the hunters are at it, always fearful that they’ll mistake him for a bird or wild pig. The construction on his house, for a new heating system, ends with a day of blasting the heat to check the pipes for leaks. The heat inside drives Mayle and his wife outside, where there is at least a breeze.
September also means the grape harvest, first for the table grapes, and then for the much more important wine grapes. These are carted to a local winepress, where their alcoholic content is measured: a decent 12.32 percent. Even better news is that the harvest should produce a bit more than 1200 liters. “You won’t go thirsty,” Faustine, the man who has been tending Mayle’s vineyard, assures him.
The September chapter of Dorothy Hartley’s Lost Country Life provides detailed information about the more well-known trees used for timber: alder, ash, beech, birch, boxwood, elm, holly, hornbeam, oak, poplar, walnut, wild cherry, willow and yew. Uses were governed by the strength, shape, and resilience of the wood. Ash was used for tool handles, boxwood for fine work (like the statue to the left), yew for the longbow, etc. Willow was woven into more than baskets:
Manuscript miniatures of the fourteenth century and earlier show wide inclined planes of willow hurdles up which the masons and laborers carry the heavy stone work for their cathedral building. Planks were difficult to make, metal almost unobtainable, so most of the scaffolding for heavy masonry was wattle. The brick baskets, the sides of carts, the panniers for carriers and the enfolds were also of willow.
Oak went into houses, but only for the wealthy. Everyone else used wattle and daub on wooden frames. If well-constructed and maintained, these rustic buildings could withstand almost any weather, but entire walls made of wattle might collapse if not securely fastened to the frame.
Back in mid-20th century, in Connecticut, Gladys Taber, busily hangs bunches of herbs to dry or steeps them in vinegar, pleased with the abundance provided by her country garden. I envy her that more than anything else. City life is full of convenience, but my nearest fresh herbs are the weekly farmers’ market 2 miles away. I’ve said little about the various recipes with which Taber has larded her book. I’ve not been tempted to try any (too 1960s-ish, relying on canned creamed soups), but she does understand one thing that is at the heart of most good eating: “I do not care what the diet books say,” she writes, “the best eating always, always, has calories.”
She muses a bit about the definition of “maturity,” deciding that it must include the ability to understand the need to “[accept] life as it is without rebellion.” As she explains,
When we are children, we expect everything to be perfect and we want to “live happily ever after.” Then we find out, sadly, that there is no ever after. There is only today and what we make of it. We may still be happy, in one sense of the word, but we do not look for perfection ever after. The other side of this coin, is that we value more what happiness we may have instead of dreaming ahead for the ultimate.
It’s these thoughtful passages that keep me reading.
Summer has nearly ended, the unbearable heat will soon be gone, and my favorite season is just around the corner. Keep well, everyone, and happy reading!
I don’t know about you but on this side of the Atlantic we’re hoping September will bring the rain (as well as Keats’s mists and mellow fruitfulness) after a summer reminding us what global heating really entails. We can only, as you say, envy Gladys Taber and her times.
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