I am cresting the hill next to a field near our house, half-running, half-walking on the gravel trail to avoid jolting a sleeping N in the jogging stroller. At the edge of the field, two tractors, a mower, and a rotary rake stand silent in the early morning mist. It's harvest time; the hay has been cut and raked into neat rows, and is now ready for baling. There is something immensely pleasing to me about the neat symmetry of the mowed field, waiting to be cleared.
At the bottom of the hill, there are black figures moving through the rows. As we get closer, suddenly I realize what I'm looking at: turkey vultures. Perhaps twenty of them, scattered through the field. I shudder as I pass them, quickening my pace. For some reason, looking at them feels like looking at death.
And yet, they are taking care of the field, too ... only clearing away the carrion left by the mower, which made hay, cutting down life in order to sustain other life. Most people think of harvest as a time of abundance. But that abundance is inextricably intertwined with loss. The hay is cut to sustain livestock through the winter. The vultures pick through the hay to find the rabbits and mice and voles who didn't escape the mower in time. Death brings life brings death brings the possibility of life again.
There are so many things that are like this, aren't there? We can't have abundance without loss; we can't have loss without abundance.
We've officially entered the season of the One Pot Wonder around here. Soups and stews and baked things dominate the menu at our house during the fall and winter, and I'm glad; I like both the kinds of things that simmer all day and the things I can throw into a pot and turn into a meal in a matter of minutes. This one is an unexpected twist on the harvest, too; people don't normally conjure broccoli when they think of fall -- usually we get stuck on pumpkins and winter squash and corn -- and I don't usually put tomatoes in broccoli soup. My husband calls bacon the Noble Meat; he's a chemical engineer, so he thinks of things in terms of the Periodic Table. But you don't need to use bacon to appreciate the harvest from a slightly different perspective; simply omit it for a vegetarian version.
Broccoli Soup, Monastery Style (from the Monastery Soup Cookbook)
1 lb. broccoli
3 garlic cloves
6 c. water
6 parsley sprigs
4 strips lean bacon (or veggie bacon or smoky tofu or skip it entirely or perhaps use a smoky cheese below)
6 T. olive oil
1 6-oz can tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste
Gruyere or Parmesan cheese, grated
Wash the broccoli, slice into small pieces. Chop the garlic, parsley, and bacon.
Pour the olive oil into a soup pot, add the broccoli, garlic, parsley, and bacon, and saute them for a minute or two. Add the tomato paste and 2 cups warm water. Stir well. Cover the pot and allow the soup to cook for about 5 minutes.
Add the remaining water and cook the soup over medium heat for about 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper and simmer for a few minutes. Just before serving, puree the soup in a blender. Soup can be served hot or cold. Garnish hot soup at the last minute with some grated cheese.