The season has turned. Even on balmier days there’s no mistaking it. When we go outside we put on a jacket and a hat. Mornings and evenings we add gloves. When we come back in our cheeks and noses are red. The changing of the clocks — why do we still do this? — has brought the end of the year very nigh. It’s all but dark at five, the sun having set just after 4:30. It rains every other day, and after it rains it remains damper for longer than seems possible, even when the sun comes out. Even cloudy nights dip below freezing.
“Watery cold,” we call this bone-chilling weather in Holland, where it lasts all winter and is accompanied by a stiff breeze most of the time. Here we move past it into cold of the dry variety, below freezing, which usually feels less cold.
I have donned two jackets and a hat to harvest all of the leafy vegetables that can’t take the temperatures forecast for the weekend that is coming. Into the single digits, Fahrenheit, that is, with high winds. December cold, January wind. Two-stove-cold in our house, though we can’t run the second stove since we haven’t swept its chimney yet. Too cold for most of the veggies, excepting perhaps the Russian kale and the carrots which we’ll nurse through the nights with multiple blankets. The time to harvest is now and I am taking it all.
Boom. The tangy lemony smell of parsley sends me across the ocean, straight into a greengrocer’s in The Hague half a lifetime ago. An old-world shop, more stall than shop. The street side of the shop is completely open, vegetables displayed under the awning outside. If there is a door, it’s propped open. Or it’s a permanent stand on the sidewalk with the greengrocer ensconced behind a display of boxes of produce. But Holland’s not exactly Greece or Italy. It is cool and damp, some would say cold in this shop. The greengrocer wears a large apron, and fingerless gloves and clogs to keep the damp cold away. Despite the blowing wind, the shop is rich with the chlorophyll smell of parsley, spinach, escarole. Damp, tangy, and green. Green. The carrots are the best you’ve ever tasted in your life.
In the garden, I move onto the Swiss chard. You’d not have seen rainbow chard in that shop. But it smells the same. I cut and cut, two baskets full. Three kilos of chard. Similar amounts of leeks. Close to four pounds of parsley and cilantro. Good thing the basement is now cold enough to store this bounty for a bit. Good thing this garden feeds two families. Good thing we have a machine to make fantasy pesto to keep these riches for later in the winter.
Green is leaching out of the landscape and water is practicing how to be ice. My grandmother’s sheets — our summer curtains now on the line — show off their sturdy weave in the bright winter sun. In the kitchen, as I clean parsley, chard, and mustardy greens for dinner I am completely happy. Greedy for the green and tangy smell that greets me every time I drop a new batch of peelings in the compost bucket. Happy to have come in from the cold and happy to be able to go back out. That’s what it takes.
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