Home My Vegetable Love Weathering Winter Taking Retirement Letters to Kate The Made-Up Self Essayists on the Essay A Self Made of Words
December 31, 1994

"I'm going out to feed the birds." And out she went, the back door and storm door clattering behind her. Kate, in her Wellington boots, corduroy pants, and my old hooded parka, traversing the same path she's been trekking the past twenty-five winters. So familiar, I can see it with my eyes closed. A brief stop on the back porch to fill the two-quart plastic cup with mixed seed, then across the limestone terrace, up the stone steps by the gazebo, up the sloping yard by the big vegetable garden, to the hundred-year-old pear tree, standing like a sentinel in the middle of our backyard, a house-shaped bird feeder dangling from its lowest branch. But if my eyes had been closed, I wouldn't have seen the snow falling this afternoon, enough already on the ground for Kate's footprints to be clearly visible from the porch to the tree and then back again to fill the feeder a few feet beyond our kitchen window. Eyes closed or open, though, I certainly would have heard the urgency in her voice. I've heard that terse announcement about going to feed the birds so many times that I know it's not just a statement about going to feed the birds. It's really about the weather turning bad, the birds in trouble, or, in this case, winter finally having arrived after an incredibly long-drawn-out fall. So warm a week ago that for Christmas Eve dinner, Kate made a purée of leek and potato soup with fresh leeks from our garden, as well as Russian borscht with fresh beets from our garden. Tonight, by contrast, the only homegrown stuff was some fresh parsley I harvested from under the row covers. I wish we also had some of our own French chives from the herb bed to mince up with the parsley and mix in with the grated garlic and the cracker crumbs and the olive oil and the lemon juice for topping the quick-baked oysters on the half shell. But when Kate and I were sitting across from each other at her candlelit table, sipping our champagne and eating our traditional New Year's Eve dinner of baked oysters, I could hardly tell the difference between our homegrown chives and the store-bought scallions I used instead. I could tell the difference between the store-bought endive and our delicate frisée that was frozen out by a brief cold snap in early December. But the peeled fresh grapefruit sections and the pomegranate seeds and the celery seed dressing on top of the greens were so piquant that the difference hardly mattered, especially after a few glasses of champagne and a few hearty toasts to the new year and the snow and the advent of winter.

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