As we slip further and further away from summer, I feel this column (originally published on November 28, 2006) aptly describes our feelings on this cruel month. Enjoy...
As I write, the late-afternoon sunlight of a late November day is withdrawing across the valley before us and the sunlight lighting up the kitchen will, in a few moments, fade as its source disappears behind the long hill behind us.
It was a treat to see the light today, even if the mercury in the thermometer never managed to climb more than a degree or so above the freezing mark and the air, at least when I was out for a walk around three o’clock, felt like it had had a close call with a lot of ice cubes.
Well here we go, over the edge and down the slippery slope to the end of the year. The days, as the feller said, are drawing in. (What is the opposite of that expression, exactly? Nobody comes up to me in February, slaps me on the back and says, "Well, lad, the days are drawing out." In February all you get if you mention the time of year is a bleak look and the sort of noise in the throat that a hundred years ago would have been diagnosed as catarrh.)
There is no doubt that the weather has bleakened, this last little while. Even the tamaracks have divested themselves of color. The parsley up in the garden has gone from looking undaunted to looking dogged, and everything else - except, of course, the brussels sprouts - is but a memory.
Speaking of brussels sprouts, I don't suppose you know off-hand what the Latin name for that plant is? No? Neither did I, until I tripped over it the other day. I've been brooding on it ever since. Any guesses? It's brassica oleracea gemmifera, and don't tell me you knew that all along.
Why should a plant like the brussels sprout cause such an outpouring of botanical nomenclature is really beyond me. The radish, for example, gets two words (more than enough, if you ask me): raphanus sativa, which, being translated into the vulgar tongue signifieth, the radish that is sown - presumably in contrast to the radish that grows wild. I mean, nobody is likely to stay up late at night composing odes to raphanus sativa, when all that means is something like "the garden-variety radish."
You would think the botanists would get carried away in flights of poetry over some plant like the rose, but no. A rose is "any plant of the genus rosa," and I don't have to tell you what that means.
But really, the brussels sprout for poetry? All of that Latin means "the jewel-bearing member of the cabbage family that resembles a vegetable." Next time I meet a brussels sprout I'll be more respectful, that's for sure.
Francois Villon, in a rather good poem about one (or more) old girl friends, asked the rhetorically effective question, "Where are the snows of yester-year?" It was effective because Francois lived in France. I don't care what the geographers tell me about Bordeaux, France, being practically as far north as Sussex - France does not have enough real winter weather to make the snows of yester-year anything more than something to threaten children with ("You kids pipe down in there or I'll dump the snows of yester-year on you").
As for this correspondent, I have no interest in locating the snows of yester-year or any other year - if you stumble on them don't call me collect. What I wouldn't mind asking is, Where are the tomatoes of yester-month? (Actually, it is the tomatoes of the month before yester-month that I miss, but a little poetic license never hurt anybody.)
Do you remember tomatoes? Tomatoes right off the plant, with that slightly grainy surface and the amazing aroma? Tomatoes with their red glow that owes nothing to bromine, x-rays, or red dye no. 2? Tomatoes that taste like they were compounded of the earth and the sky and the slow wheel of the sun across the heavens? Where are they, eh? Now there's a question worth asking. Do we have to wait another ten months or so before the tomatoes and the basil have hit their stride? Weep, weep, for the dying of the light.
Someone mentioned to me, as I was wringing my hands over the symptoms of tomato-withdrawal, that the tomato is a member of the deadly nightshade family. Well, we all have handicaps to overcome. I have worn glasses from the age of six, for example -and no doubt many distinguished citizens rose from what are euphemistically called humble beginnings. So don't bad-mouth the tomato just because some of its relatives have been known to hang around store fronts where the special for the week is a fresh shipment of henbane, and the eye of newt is on for 29 cents a dozen.
I'll tell you one thing that is still going strong, though. Ornamental kale. Oh, wow.t.
Words & Images
We moved to our farm in Sussex, New Brunswick from Toronto in 1977, only moving away in 2014.