After Other Pantries

Pantries Stephen MunshinI know tonight my vegetables will freeze. I know the cauliflower, even tied heads, will turn a muted brown. And the broccoli, which has done nothing but thrill me nightly, now, too, will die. I heard the wind drop out and the sun went down in a blazing divorce, true cold came in.

Now, at last, the cole crops, who lived and thrived well beyond expectation are, at last, spent. I have entered the phase of winter that is my summer. Unlike the rest of the year, there finally is nothing growing, or nothing that can’t endure the fury of zone seven. By December, the once full and busy field should be at ease, literally put to bed, under a blanket of cover crop. There is an orderliness to winter. Its emptiness of sound, the keenness of air, its stark trees is the calm exhale—the very bottom of the rib cage answers summer’s intake.

Compost, as bumpers stickers like to say, happens. Composting doesn’t just happen; it is a force of nature, the discreet, omnipresent metabolism of life, or death—either, both, I don’t know. There is composting you feel good about, like gathering leaves to mulch the raspberries, turning horse manure into the asparagus. My own compost pile, while I didn’t approach it very scientifically, after a decade of discarded vegetables and yard debris, yields, like a magic factory, pure dirt.

But then there is compulsory composting. When the employee who, during the high season’s over abundance of beans, will carefully inquire, “You want me to just pick these and drop them on the ground?”

And all you can say is its good for the soil and if we don’t pick them now we won’t get anything later. The same thing happens in late season or late, late season when a visitor to the field will insist, “What? You’re not going to pick that?”

“You can.”

They shake their head, “Couldn’t you give it to a food pantry or something, it seems like such a waste?”

Somewhere there might be a food bank who’d clamor for bok choy and still have room for acorn squash. But there are other pantries I am after. A few tomatoes still hang, a row of eggplant, another row of peppers, there are buttercup bon-bons and kabocha squash too small to pick but otherwise fine. I leave all that is left, for those who are left up and down the food chain: the decomposing bacteria, the rotting fungi, the plant-eating insects, the seed-eaters and the birds of prey who eat the seed-eaters.

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