By Justin Sundell-Thomas, Windy Meadow Homestead
At my home in the foothills of the Berkshires, there’s always something contradictory and a bit wistful about the transition from July to August, and from the Hebrew months of Av to Elul.
The peak of our summer harvest season is just starting, an abundance of peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants just beginning to appear in my garden and at the local farmers markets.
But already the early goldenrod is starting to bloom and the nights hold the hint of a chill in the air. In just a few weeks the first maple tree at the edge of my yard will begin to turn from green to red-gold and the rest will soon follow.
The Jewish calendar is built around the agricultural practices and seasons of a land halfway around the world, with vastly different rhythms and cycles than New England, but at this time of year it feels like a perfect fit.
Here in the hills we can feel the seasons turning, just as our calendar is starting to turn toward the season of introspection. In my Sephardic tradition it’s almost time to say Selichot, the prayers and songs of repentance that bring us into the days of awe. For me this practice, like some sort of inverse omer-counting, becomes a mindfulness practice that highlights the shifting of the seasons and the coming of autumn. Each day during the month of Elul we wake before dawn, finishing our prayers and blowing the shofar as the sun begins to break over the treetops.
In July it feels as though the seasonal abundance might last forever, but this early morning seasonal practice accentuates the shortening days of late summer and reminds us to look forward and preserve some of the harvest for the days ahead.
Now is the time to put in the work and prepare; to make jars of sauce with our beautiful fresh tomatoes, to donate our extra zucchini to the local food pantry or grate and freeze it for future breadmaking, to think about the mistakes we’ve made this year and how we can be better in the future.
This week, I’m making eggplant parmesan for Shabbat dinner with basil picked from the planter on my deck and beautiful fresh tomatoes and eggplants, and I’m freezing a second batch so that in January, when the nights are cold and dark, I can pop it into the oven for a taste of long golden summer afternoons and Shabbat tranquility that lingers like midsummer twilight.