Last June my neighbors and I gathered buckets of green walnuts from the enormous old walnut tree that anchors the far southeast corner of our property. Armed with sharp sturdy knives and 3-liter cardboard boxes of Syrah and bottles of cheap vodka, we set out on a mission for the future: to bring warmth and cheer to our winter's hibernation by shoring up our supplies of homemade vin de noix and nocino. The process is simple but it takes a while for the walnuts to infuse in the alcohol and the flavors to mellow and deepen, so these tipples really don't come into their own until December. Until now.
As the frigid winds of the north swept in through the cracks and gaps of my apartment's old windows, I raised a full-to-the-brim glass of vin de noix and gave a hearty thanks to the wisdom and enthusiasm of our summer selves.
I'm sure the warmth that grew in my belly had a lot to do with the wine and vodka we used to infuse the walnuts but it encouraged me to toast the old walnut tree as well. It's the only tree remaining from the time of our property's original owners, a large and sprawling Italian family who built four houses on this double lot back in the day when you could do such things.
Although the other ingredients for the vin de noix came from far and wide, I enjoyed the notion of drinking walnut wine while gazing at the walnut tree. It felt cozy, the circle closed and complete, holding the much needed warmth and glow close.
The green walnuts stain your hands.
Making wine from my backyard walnuts or jam from the nearby fig tree has a whiff of romanticism, but as I poured myself another glass (it was a wee glass) it occurred to me that it wasn't so much the romance of it that appealed but the resourcefulness. I appreciated the notion of making and consuming something, something wonderful and delicious, that wasn't simply the byproduct of a trip to the grocery store. And while this resourcefulness wasn't completely divorced from the marketplace (we needed to buy the wine and sugar after all), it was a few steps removed. I wasn't just a consumer in this transition, I was a producer.
And further, there was something, too, about the fact that I didn't make it alone, that I had gathered the fallen nuts from the walnut tree and held the ladder when my neighbor climbed higher to pick more. That another neighbor supplied old tried-and-true recipes and helped to organize our efforts. It meant that my relationship to the tree was more than shade and decoration. It meant that I played a role in keeping my neighbor safe, and that I was relying on the wisdom and experience of my friends. We now needed each other, this tree, my neighbors and I, in a new way. We were co-producers.
Thinking about the power and connection of this transaction warmed me as much as the wine itself. All day long, for our entire lives, we engage in the cycle of giving and receiving, whether it's our in-and-out breath or exchanging cash for food at the supermarket or watching a friend's baby so she can get a few things done. These days, much of this has been commodified — it's all about what we can buy and because of this, we can become passive. We queue up at the cash register, numbed and distracted or stressed and anxious.
But when we make something, we flip that passivity and we become doers and makers and we create deeper relationships with the people and things around us. We notice and appreciate and pay closer attention to them because we've seen them in a much deeper, more engaged way than through the lens of how much they cost.
I don't know about you but for me, I'd much rather spend my time standing up for that than standing in line at the cash register. Not that I'll be giving up standing in line at the cash register completely. Of course there are still things to buy and the truth is, bringing appreciation and presence to those moments is just as important, if not more so.
But still, what we pay attention to in our lives is what will bloom in our lives. So I think I'll spend my evenings gazing at the top of the old walnut tree as the last of the winter sun hits its bare branches. I'll sip from a glass of walnut wine and muse on the wonder and impossibility of relationships as a warm, delicious glow grows in my center. Give me this moment, let me deepen the roots of belonging and drink the landscape of my heart and home: mysterious, sweet, complex, born of resoursefulness and connection. Beautiful.
(Image credits: Dana Velden)