Photo by Tikkho Maciel on Unsplash
I pen these words, looking out the window at October’s cold landscape. Though the wind does not carry threat of snow or ice, the leaves on the trees have turned dozens of colors and the forest looks like it is on fire. Walnuts and acorns are falling like raindrops and our late-season almonds are ready for their trees to be shaken one last time before we send our young novices climbing.
I spent the day in the dairy while others of my order are scatted throughout our farm and helping the serfs in the nearby village. The spring-born calves are just about weaned (the kid goats long detached from their dams), therefore the last bitter milk is being turned into hard cheese for the long winter. It doesn’t matter if winter stays for a single month, like it does for our sisters in the south, or five, as the chilly abbey I transferred from experiences; time without plentiful food is always long. And only God knows if next summer will come for certain.
Meat has become plentiful for a short time as cattle are slaughtered to match the surviving herd to the hay and grain we must miser for them through the winter. Tomorrow, my turn at the cauldron will be the even more loathsome stench of lard preparation; boiling milk for cheese is more pleasant in the spring. If I could but wave a hand for one task to be done, changing fat to lamp and cooking oil, grease, candles, and soaps would be my choice. The scent clings through the night interfering with my prayers.
I would vastly preferred to be helping with the fruits. The apples are being prepared dozens of ways for the winter – stored in sawdust for whole fruit, cut into slivers and set in the sun or by the fire to dry, and, the abbess’ favorite, adding chunks to last year’s wines. But no farming task is without its portion of Adam’s curse. Blackberries need to be picked off the bushes with bleeding fingers; berries and bramble thorns are inseparable by God’s design.
I will tend to my stirring without a word of complaint passing my lips. Sister Cecilia provides a squash mash in the morning which carries us from dawn to dusk in the harvesting. Empty bellies will come soon enough, and our chores, Lord willing, should keep those days few.
Those more skilled than me in gardening have trimmed back the herbs and hung the trimmings in the rafters to dry. I will need to confess when the brother visits, and I write my shame here so I do not forget. The kitchen sisters stripped the plentiful mint leaves from their stems and left them in bowls to make tea leaves. I did grab a handful of mint leaves to chew and keep my mouth moist while stirring over the fire.
A few more days and I shall return to my primary duties in the scriptorium, and I think everyone will be happier. Even the novices who have been running the leaks, garlics, onions, and many of their relatives into the primary root cellar step wide around me the last few days. I am not suited for kitchen or gardening duties; let others work God’s creation and allow me to paint it.
Ah, full dark and the dinner chime has sounded. Tonight’s meal is beef cooked in beer with some mushrooms and other harvest Sister Cecilia saved for larder instead of storage. Beer for the drink as well; we are not drunkards in the convent. Those barrels need to be emptied by the end of the week because winter mash must be started. It is a task set to the entire convent, a welcomed one at the end of the hard harvest days.
(words 632 – first published 10/15/2017)