In Wisconsin, my sister is climbing the boughs of apple trees in the orchard and pulling berries from the raspberry patch. She is cutting and preserving fruit and making jam and applesauce. Her hands are busy with this work. Here in the city the peaches have fallen from the tree behind my house. They are heavy and ripe, hit the ground with a thud and roll underfoot as I rush by. Last year I spent weeks on my back porch peeling and preserving peaches, baking peach crisps and pies and tarts. I was dizzy with the abundance of sweetness and wanted to capture every single peach to last through the long winter. This year, most of the peach season has slipped away. I am passing by fallen peaches every day, pushing through and old wooden gate and down another garden path and into the home of an elderly Polish woman who needs cleaning and cooking and conversation more than I need a freezer full of peaches.
Somehow without seeking I have slipped into a season of service to the elderly. When I came to Pittsburgh, I dreamed that I would play the harp in a ballgown at society weddings- and I have. What I didn’t expect was that I would play the harp with a baby on my lap in a locked down Memory Unit. What I didn’t expect was how much I would come to love playing for these people- some sleeping, some dreaming, some with faces alive and alight with joy as the songs and poetry bring memories of love and joy and sorrow back to life. I had no idea that I would learn so much about flexibility in mind and body from men and women in wheelchairs in my Gentle Stretch class. Living so far from home and from family, I never imagined that my daughter would be given so many generous and loving acting grandparents.
Yesterday someone asked me if I had always planned to work with old people. I laughed, and said not at all. I married and moved to this home, on this street, with peach trees and Polish ladies in the backyard and a huge old mansion turned multimillion dollar old folks home at the top of the hill five minutes up the street. Somehow the harp playing and dancing and eldest of nine children cooking and cleaning and farm strength all combined to make me the right person to reach out and pick an old man up off the floor, make a fresh bed for a shut-in woman, cajole a group of arthritic and depressed people to stretch a bit more than they think they can, and play a song that reminds a bright eyed woman beset with Alzheimers that she sang it at her son’s wedding.
A few years ago, I worked in the Appalachian mountains in North Carolina. I lived in a one room cabin and drove over twisting mountain passes meeting farmers, taking pictures, and working with restaurants and grocery chains and schools and hospitals to connect local produce to local markets. It was great work, spreading the message that supporting farmers and eating fresh local food in season is important for the health of the individual, the community, and the land. I believe that food should be local, and seasonal. I believe that in many ways work should be seasonal too. The work on a farm is not static and unchanging. Some of the work is entirely physical, with calloused hands hard at work while the mind is free to reflect, and some of the work involves intricate planning. Tasks shift along with the seasons. There are days of hard labor from dawn to dusk and frozen winters when the soil is buried deep and resting, and the farmer is forced to rest as well.
For me, the concept of working in seasons means being open to using the talents that I have been given in different ways at many different times. The variety of my work has made it far more joyful. These days I miss my farmers, but I love my old people. This year the peaches have fallen unpicked, but next year they will come again. Next year, perhaps I will have a season full of time to preserve them.