It is winter now, a brown season in Indiana, and a particularly daunting one for families who eat from their own backyard. My husband, with careful foresight, mulches the vegetable beds and prunes the fruit trees and bushes, which are dormant in this cold season.

On days when a bit of warm sun penetrates into the midwest afternoon, he takes our one year old daughter out to the garden, so that they may examine the leaf litter and bare branches. Together, they cover the back porch with their found goods– organizing small dead twigs and the recently pruned branches. They meticulously seek out cold frosted leaves and seed pods turned golden and brown, to fill in the hollows of their winter bouquets. Brambles and bits of their discoveries are carefully arranged now in jars and in water carafes- and they present them as gifts, to me and to the neighbors in turn– these bold lined cold-season collections.

Now, with a tall jar of last years growth as our table center piece, I too am forced to admire the world gone dormant. The seeds, scattered across our table and dining room floor, hide a hard-knobbed bit of life inside. I sweep them up and toss them into the yard, where they will wait for spring, to wake.

In the evenings, I fill jars with whole grains and pulses, covering them in a bit of water and whey so that they may germinate. It is a false spring rain, cracking shells, softening seed bodies. Sprouting neutralizes enzyme inhibitors and makes a long list of vitamins and minerals and other nutrients more available. The composition of the seed is transformed in this waking. Rising from its dormant hour, a bit of life, once stored deep in the small grain-stones, sends out a cautious growth.

While it is winter, here, and I can talk all I want of the brown and the dead, I must not fail to recognize that there is life waking in my kitchen each morning. The realization of the life within our food must change the way I come to understand and dismiss winter’s death. While death is bound up in our cold garden, in the centerpiece for our dinner meal, it also, perhaps more importantly, graces our plates. Our family, raising forks together, are marked by the life and the death that we bring to our tables and into our bodies. Our food has lived, and died –all of it– before it comes to our plates. And then, in some miracle, it is converted again into the living matter of our bodies, meted out in days, joys, growth spurts, and health.

In the evenings, before we eat, we have begun something shy of a prayer but more than a list: we utter a bit of thanks for the richness of a meal wrapped up in the living and dying that the land offers us, fecund with seeds, even in the dormant hours of the coldest months.

 

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