Suddenly Toronto has become subtropical, with moist air, intermittent rain, and high temperatures. “At last” the garden smiles, as it bursts into action. In one week it’s gone from torpor (except the leafy greens) to full riotous growth. And as the lettuce leaves toughen in the heat and the rhubarb season ends (sigh!), the chiles and tomatillos, the zucchinis, cucumbers, and eggplants are in bloom and setting fruit. At last.
On Friday I drove north out of the city, leaving at noon just as the long-weekend (Canada Day) traffic was starting to thicken. Once I was in the country, it looked as if the rain we’ve been having so generously had drowned many crops: there were fields of wheat turning yellow with excess water, and low-lying spots covered with several inches of standing water. But farther north, past Shelburne and into Grey county, I was in a different climate zone, where the rainfall had been just right, for there the crops in the fields were standing tall and healthy.
I was on a mission: to do a little visiting with my 87 year old aunt and with friends, yes, but mainly to go and sing with a group of shape-note singers in Durham whom I haven’t seen for over a year. The occasion was a birthday, an excuse for people to make the effort to get together for a potluck as well as the sing.
We sat in a big-windowed living room surrounded by leafy hardwood forest as the evening sky grew pale, and after eating very well we sang and sang, renewing ourselves and connecting. There was a pause for cake with strawberries, and sparklers and champagne toasts outside on the deck, the we came inside and sang some more.
The sky had darkened past midnight blue by the time I left just before 11. I walked out into the damp-scented air of the forest, got in my little red car, and drove down the concession roads that led to the highway and thence to the city two hours away.
That sudden quiet when the car is turned off at the end of a journey, the lovely silence of arrival, is such a balm. As I walked through the garden from the garage I felt relieved to be home safely, but also refreshed and transformed as if I’d been away a week. That’s the power of music and of getting out of town. A change of scene, however brief, lets me see with fresh eyes.
And that’s always a good thing.
Now I have only two days to get my head in gear for my short trip to England and parts south. I’m headed to the Oxford Symposium next week, a three day conference of food and food history. This year the theme is Food and Material Culture. There’s to be a little sale of kitchen tools that people want to off-load. I have one strange spatula that I am prepared to part with, but I am bringing a couple of other tools for show and tell: a bread stamp from Kashgar that is made of bird feathers and a Tibetan butter box made of wood, the aroma of which transports me straight back to nomad tents. I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone else brings.
And I’m packing several wool sweaters, just to be sure, because I remember how wet and cold it was last year… Surely it will be better this time?
In the meantime I’m expecting friends for supper tonight. We’ll grill over charcoal – lamb leg steaks and some chicken too, as well as shallots and onions and perhaps some late asparagus if I can find any – and talk into the night. Summer is such a luxurious time.