Writer Linda Tatelbaum comments on her compulsion for canning peaches.
CURWOOD: Migratory birds, you might say, are creatures of habit. So is commentator Linda Tatelbaum, when it comes to peaches and the yearly ritual of canning. Her motto: waste not, want not.
TATELBAUM: I'm lying on the cool kitchen floor, windows closed to keep out the heat. I'm a late summer still life: woman with basket of peaches, empty jars, towels and tongs, jar lids. I roll over and study the dust under the stove. My feet are hot. I want to lie here forever. But on the counter peaches tower over me. They command, “Light the burner, get this scene moving.” Really, it's my neighbor's fault. Poor innocent man. How could he know I can't stop till all the jars are full. Just as I was finishing, he came by with a carton of empties. Now I've succumbed to the loaded peach tree on the way to town. Then it'll be the yellow pears on the old tree by the road. And how can I ignore apples plopping to the ground. Waste I just can't condone. Yet, what is waste, if we all trend downward to the earth where our life will be food for other lives. Fruits drop to the ground to feed worms and ants and wasps and skunks. Or, suspended in glass, they get swallowed later. These peaches are headed for composts whether they run through me or not. O.K. So it's all the same to nature, but my grandmothers would have a fit. Eat, eat, you never know when Cossacks might ride through the barley and plunder the apricot trees. Oy! Did we suffer months in steerage for the promised land with nothing but a heel of pumpernickel and a dill pickle, for you to let such peaches go to waste? Okay okay, I'm getting up already. I agree. Next year there might be nothing. But it's not just want that fuels me. I need to can these peaches so I can keep on canning peaches. I need to eat so I can keep on eating from the never-ending stream. In the words of my grandfathers, “L'chaim! To life.” But before I dip my fragile glass into this abundance I'm suddenly distracted by the specter of time. We only get a life's worth, and you can't put it up for later. Think of those pints of green tomato chutney sitting in my cellar since 1977. I wasted my time because I didn't want to waste the tomatoes to early frost. And now those poor tomatoes have wasted a quarter century, awaiting their return to the promised land. Outside the vacuum, time marched on. The last thing those tomatoes remember was the dim light of kerosene lamps, the splash of hand-carried water poured from a jug. While they waited in the dark cellar, which didn't even have a finished house on top of it, we added a bedroom, a living room, solar electricity and a water pump. While chutney mellowed in syrup with raisins and ginger, half my adult life has passed. And I still don't like green tomato chutney. But no peach need fear the limbo of the uneaten. I am a peach-crazed woman. I submit to their command and light the burner. I peel, pit, slice and arrange them in jars with honey syrup. The jars seal. It's the moment, not of peaches' death, but their still life in sterile glass. When I pry up the lid, in a month or a year, peaches reenter the land of the living, and thanks to them, I get to live in this promised land.
CURWOOD: Linda Tatelbaum homesteads in Maine, and is author of Writer on the Rocks: Moving the Impossible. And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week, it's the lost and found hiker – what it's like to be lost for three days and two nights in the woods of New Hampshire's White Mountains.
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