I can’t walk past a blackberry bush dripping with berries and not pick them. I see jam and cobblers and vanilla ice cream smothered in blackberry sauce and something inside me says pick. The men in my family are the same way during fishing season. My dad and uncles are always a little on edge if the salmon are running and they are not out on the water trying to catch them, sun up to sun down.
Although the apple harvest and mountain trout were attractive and pulled us toward them with tenacity, we all knew, at some level that we were not “living” off the land. I knew that if my applesauce didn’t last through the winter, I could get more at grocery store or if the fish evaded the fishermen, hook, line and sinker, a replacement could be purchased.
Traveling through the more rural parts of Italy, there is a tangible connection and energy around living off the land that I have never witnessed to such an extent. There was a fervor around the olive harvest. The fields were dotted with landowners, monks, students, tourists, farmers, and migrant workers, all picking before the first frost.
We are now living in the Southern Apennines. Our first day here, living in the foothills of Massif Sirino, tucked between the Tyrrhenian Sea and a compact series of high peaks, the hunters shots echoed between the cliffs. The bells tied around the herded cattle in the valley below grew in resonance as they sauntered past the house. The sheep herders horn calling his flock just before sunset, was the final proclamation that hunting and gathering and living off the land is something I have never truly experienced.
At the Saturday produce market, otherwise calm ladies elbowed and positioned themselves to get the last of the seasons spinach and lemons. At the local butcher shop there were whole rabbits and wild boar for roasting. Three-wheeled scooter trucks called Apes (Ah-pees) peppered the country roads, as their masters scoured the hillsides for firewood, mushrooms and wild greens. My kids were feverishly gathering walnuts before the rain settled in because there is no flavor that compares to a fresh, earthy, sun-warmed walnut.
These are the sounds of the season. I am sure each season has its own cacophony. It is funny how the sounds seemed so discordant on day one and feel more like a beckoning after a month. Perhaps it is because I understand them more or maybe it is the mystery of a foreign land that is still so enchanting.