Gathering

Kage Baker loved the autumn. Especially the beginning of it – Harvest Home, still warm in the days but with an edge growing to the nights. Reefs of pumpkins, sheafs of corn, and every garden, park and produce market filling with seasonal floral bounty of every sort. Not to mention the expanding candy aisles …

It’s also time to feel the urge to wander. As the season heads toward winter, the desire to fort up and live off your stores gets stronger and stronger – we always did our biggest shopping trips this time of year, filling the freezer and the pantry with goodies for weeks to come. We ‘d go to CostCo, and Kage would hold up her arms in salute as we got out of the car: “Ah, the Paradise of squirrels!” she’d announce. “Come on, let’s gather nuts!”

And she’d revert to four years old, when she had made tea sets from eucalyptus nuts and ground the yellow calyxes of canna lilies into piles of faux corn. For those trips, she’d be Missy Squirrel as we ran up and down the aisles, squeaking with delight and ferocity as we plundered the cornucopia all around. I’d be laughing so hard I could barely walk, as her OCD squirrel-voice narrated our daring raids on Farmer Brown’s fields. Those punks Peter Rabbit and his gang never had a chance …

The walls between the worlds get thin this time of year. When out with Kage, they turned to freakin’ cheesecloth.

We’d drive up into the hills behind Avila Bay, to the best fruit stand in the world – they had dozens of species of apples, each growing in tiny half-acre orchards carved out of the walls of See Canyon. Kage adored them; we’d buy apples 5 and 10 pounds at a time, and use them in every meal for months. Down in Avila Canyon itself was Avila Barn – which had a candy section, and a honey section, and a jams and chutney section, and its own bakery: run, I think, by some lesser fae like brownies, so amazing were the pies and crumbles and crisps and cobbler that came out of there … the best, this time of year, were hand-sized pumpkin pies, sugar-glazed. Do you like Hostess pies? The ones at Avila Barn would make you weep for the realized ideal of the hand-pie.

The stacks of pumpkins there were every colour of the rainbow, and piled higher than Kage’s head. There were turban squash in vermillion and scarlet, Humboldt squash in green and turquoise, pumpkins in every permutation of white and yellow and orange: especially where different strains had been planted too close together, and produced gorgeous monsters of hybrid wonder. And the range of size! From tennis balls to Cinderella coaches, something in every size to allow kids to stagger up to their parents holding as much pumpkin as was physically possible. Pumpkins with little legs and eclipsed faces were always wandering blindly all over the place, pleading with horrified parents to be bought.

And the Barn sold mystery cider, the best in the world: no telling what apples went into it, it was whatever didn’t pass muster for the bins or the bakery. The flavour changed subtly every week. And there were whole apples sliced into wedges and covered in hot caramel sauce. And fresh ears of corn roasted in rock salt and butter. And coffee, and good cold  milk …

We’d stock up on everything, and then eat all the way home. It took four or 5 trips to get everything upstairs, and the rest of the afternoon to get it put away. Ah, the joys of excess!

This is why there are bags of apples and pears from the Farmers Market all over the kitchen right now. Also, bags and bags of Halloween candy, which are already being raided for their choicer bits. Fresh eggs from a dear friend being methodically devoured.  Pickles and chutneys and olives and jellies and compotes like jars of coloured glass. You can’t walk a straight line on the kitchen floor until we get it all stored for the dark months ahead.

It was grand. It’s still grand.  Kage loved that safety, that old-fashioned surety that the winter could come down now and you wouldn’t have to eat the seed corn, or Grandma.

Be safe, Dear Readers. Gather your harvests and your loved ones near, and we’ll all live on apples and corn bread until spring.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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8 Responses to Gathering

  1. Where exactly is this wonderful fantasy place? I want to go next weekend!

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    • Jane says:

      Me too!!

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      • Kate says:

        Let’s see, Jane – you’d be coming North, yes? So you’d take the 2020 North through Pismo and then get off at Avila Beach Road. In your case, the offramp sends straight on to the right road, no turns needed. Pass the campground and Ontaro Road, and then there’s the Avila Valley Barn on your right.

        It’s dirt parking lots and there are hay bales everywhere, but I think you can all handle that …

        Kathleen kbco.wordpress.com

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    • Kate says:

      It’s in Central California, near Pismo Beach – the next beach North of Pismo, called Avila. It’s right off the 101, and the Avila Valley Barn is the stand’s name. If you’re heading south on 101, stay on it through San Luis Obispo – get off at the Avila Beach Road offramp, and turn right. First you pass a campground on the right – then you cross Ontaro Road – and the next driveway is Avila Valley Barn. Less than half a mile from the freeway.

      They have a website, too: avilavalleybarn.com. And hay rides!

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  2. Elaine says:

    The harvest I miss every autumn is walnut harvest. When I was a kid, my grandmother had several acres of walnut trees. She sold the walnuts to make part of her living (she also had lots of chickens and sold the eggs). So, every autumn the family would get together and harvest the walnuts. That was in the days before there were machines to shake the whole tree by its trunk, so she had hooks on long poles that the adults used to shake the branches and get the walnuts to fall on the ground. Then we would all, including the little kids like myself, get buckets and pick up the walnuts, which would then be put out on drying trays and then hulled before being sewn into big burlap sacks to be taken to the packer that bought them. In order to get us kids to cooperate and actually pick up walnuts rather than just playing around, we each got paid five cents per bucket to pick up the walnuts. I really miss doing that.

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  3. mizkizzle says:

    Here in the Northeast we like to celebrate Autumn by wandering around in what are called corn mazes — mazes made of bales of hay stacked seven or eight feet high in plowed-over cornfields. We sometimes get lost, like the heroes of Three Men in a Boat did in the maze at Hampton Court, but eventually we find our way out and drink cider and eat apple cider doughnuts.

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    • Kate says:

      We have corn mazes here, too. Some of the hay bale type, and some engineered into corn fields: the corn is either planted or cut into mazes lanes, and you can in and run around. It’s wonderful!

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