by Krista Eastman
When I was a child, I believed in something like the fixed nature of my world and the land. I believed that my grandparents would live forever (and indulge me always), that hill upon hill of farmland had tumbled across Sauk County since the beginning of time, and that nothing or no one could ever mar the beauty and strength of this particular patch of land, this spot on the map. Eternity, I thought, as we crested the top of a ridge in our car, a soft green valley cupping the view.
Nowadays that sense of eternity is broken, replaced by a fragile and fluctuating earth where nothing, not even the seasons, are a given. I now hope for a world in which all small places will retain the strength of their individual character, their own economies and cultures and ecosystems and crops. And yet I know too that a global economy has quickly brought with it a series of local erasures. Today, we buy food grown in some other place from super stores constructed on what used to be the finest farmland around, and even as we do it we wonder about such a thing, about what we have lost and what we are losing.
It would be easy to insert a funeral song for rural America here. I could lament the permanence of change, and then evoke a past so idealized not a soul could ever reach it, a time when the harvests all but threw themselves upon the wagon and every man, woman, and child was spry, ruddy-cheeked, and hard working. But to do that is to ignore the possibility of what still remains, to bury the future before it’s even had time to arrive.
The past, powerful though it is, has nothing on our ability to shape the future of the land and our communities. And it’s from this forward-looking place, this richest of soils, that Fermentation Fest produces for us each Fall, reinventing the familiar by placing in our sight the abundance of the land, our ingenuity, our art, our ability to innovate and inspire. We live in a world cajoled into un-neighborly polarization, one where pundits transform every one of our personal beliefs into ways of bludgeoning one another. And yet Fermentation Fest manages to sweep in as if on some other plane, to celebrate community and culture and convergences of all kinds, creating a project of stirring things up so that we might all look again at the world, at the land, and at ourselves.
What if the roads were hallways and the hills a museum? What if farmers, in the waning light of every fall day, hoisted sculptures up onto the land one hay bale at a time? What if aerial artists could spin in arabesques high above the fields? What do sustainable food practices have to do with abundance? What practices of the past might we recuperate for the future? It’s a gift to be stirred in this way, to think out loud once again, to see in a micro-brew or a jar of kimchi or an art installation the fact that wonder and possibility still do await us.
When I go to my kitchen this fall and survey the facts, that I have enough summer squash to keep me eating through April, or that the sweetest, freshest, ripest tomatoes are so numerous they’re rolling off the counter, I will think of the hot kitchen in which my mom and grandma canned, the way my mom tended to sigh over a table full of empty jars. But I will also remember the delectable, childlike sense of working alongside, the value I assigned to helping. And I will admire my grandma for having remained as composed as the cucumbers, for preserving what she’d been preserving for years, her hands moving over the kitchen in quick, calm bursts, her presence a presence yet, her fingers still pointing the way.
“Look here,” she said, tapping the car window as we came to the spine of the ridge, a long view of the land opening up before us, the world re-inviting us in.
Krista Eastman’s essays have appeared in The Georgia Review, The Massachusetts Review, New Letters, and other journals. She held a fellowship in creative writing at The Pennsylvania State University and her essays have received several awards and distinctions, including a “Notable Essay of 2010” citation in Best American Essays. Born and raised in Reedsburg, she is enthusiastic about cheese curds.