The Halfway Point and All It Holds

A few years ago I was in therapy for anxiety, and I’m in therapy again, and an area we worked on was getting myself to take into full consideration the present. To be more mindful in my day-to-day activities so that I would not be as crippled with anxiety over possibilities in the future.

It is the end of July and I have been in therapy for a third round for the last two months and have gratefully made progress. Old tricks to handle my anxiety are beginning to work again, and it’s with that in mind that I look at the at-home tasks before me: canning.

This summer has been sticking to the theme of abnormal. Beyond still grappling with the pandemic, we have had a very stormy summer. Storm after storm has pummeled our area complete with heavy rains. Trees are not handling it well, by either crumbling under the strength of the wind or their leaves turning brown and dying off far too early. Crops have come in rapidly while others are somewhat damaged. More rain, less sweetness. But as we inch toward the halfway point of summer where we are barreling toward autumn, the crops are still coming in and picking up a fever pitch as more and more become ready to be consumed.

So I’ve been canning. It’s been slow going with our busy schedule but I’ve gotten pickles and beets set aside. Soon, I know, will come the process of making sauces and later on apple butters. Jams were completed long ago. I adore the process of collecting items grown by hand (not by me, personally, as I’m in this apartment with no option to grow plants outside, but if I could I would and I’m lucky my farm allows me to harvest many of my materials) and preparing them in our dim kitchen before tucking them into jars and setting them high on our canning shelf until we are in need of them.

Yet today had me introspective as I prepared to seal jars. It’s the middle of summer, not yet August, and I am preparing for winter. Come winter we will be tucked inside wishing for warm air and sunshine and eating this harvest and searching with taste buds for rays of sunlight. It seems funny to spend those golden days we have waited for only to be preparing for the opposite end of the seasonal year. And yet… here I am.

I caught myself thinking, “is this all there is to life?” Preparing for the next season and not entirely living in the current one? I thought of the squirrels who are beginning their panicked grappling of nuts that are already plummeting from trees. I thought of my mindfulness training, to live in the present, and is this quite living in the present if I am preparing for what’s next?

But perhaps I am holding time too rigidly. Perhaps this is not an action of future preparation, but simply an action of present time. The way our society is now allows us to simply visit a store and buy these items. We don’t have to do the preparation ourselves and that is completely fine if that is the preferred method of any household. We certainly still partake in this process and will continue to do so. But I do find a joy in holding vegetables and fruit in hand, from right down the road, and processing them so that we may ingest them later. I feel my love poured into these items, my intention and energy, and I feel they’re all the more special in that regard.

Perhaps canning isn’t a an action focused on the future–although it is, don’t get me wrong. But perhaps it is something that is a current activity. Perhaps it is always a matter of how you look at things. In winter when we are wishing for spring, in spring when we are planting seed in hope of good crops in summer, in summer when we are harvesting for autumn and winter. But it can also be winter when we are at home and enjoying our winter’s rest whilst dreaming because that is simply a winter activity. That spring is meant for stomping about in mud and collecting seed packets with daydreams of greens and ripened produce. The end of July is, for me, moments spent outdoors between the thunderstorms and dreary mornings at my kitchen counter cutting up bloody beets and hearing the pop of can lids as they seal shut, closing their little doors until we pry them open in winter and sigh as the flavor of lovingly prepared beets greet our tastebuds.

To consider all of this brought me some ease and further understanding that it’s less that I am worried of a lack of mindfulness, that I am spending all my time focusing on the future seasons, but more so speaking of my sadness that already we are entering the second half of summer. So much of this summer has been odd and while it is a moment for me to have my cup overflowing with sunshine and outdoor activities, I find my cup not near full. I realize my sadness for the season coming to an end is a lack of mindfulness. I’m so focused on what I’ll be losing from summer that I am not focused on this season at all. It’s summer! Even with the rain I am still able to do a fair number of my summer activities. Visits to the farm, canning, the greenery of plants are all still there. Why be swept up by not having the complete experience and miss out on what is present?

So give me this moment of a cloudy morning, a candle giving yellow light as it sits on my kitchen table, and the lingering scent of vinegar slowly drifting out of the open windows. Give me those freshly picked peppers and plans for delicious peppers with onions on top of sweet Italian sausage. Give me the preparation for short road trips and so much more whilst the sun peeks out and the canning shelf fills and summer is still certainly here.

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