The October Harvest Moon holds appeal for people from a global range of cultures. We celebrate it here at Sukkot and Thanksgiving, and like to think that we are also thanking the indigenous tribes for helping us prepare the local foods, corn and beans, and seafood such as bass, trout and salmon.
At least that’s the lore we learned in the public schools of my generation.
Our local tradition would have it that we swapped recipes for foods such as jonnycakes to help our pioneers survive the journeys on foot to the delicacies to be brought in later decades, and even in earlier centuries, by diverse immigrants who carried their cultures and cooking along with them. They also brought skills so useful in the mills and factories of the American Industrial Revolution (which brought brief prosperity but long-term pollution and diminishment to the lovely local landscape).
The Jewish presence in Newport introduced the autumn holy day on a variable fall moon week ... derived perhaps from the biblical Sukkot, during which the food was served in a makeshift hut with no roof so that those who prayed could thank the firmament above, with its stars and its creative seasons.
My wife and I spent the start of the current harvest season with a journey “down east,” all the way up the coast to admire the ocean and mountainous cliffs, along with our team of grandchildren, including Noah, Naomi, Daphne, Florence and Eleanor, and our son, Reuben, and daughter, Emily.
I hereby confide in you, dear reader, if you are there, that I don’t really like the pure pursuit of comfort, nor of luxury. I think it is vulgar to be too totally at ease. For me, a little loneliness adds a certain spice to any holiday. I like to greet a stranger in a friendly fashion and then move along quietly to visit my own thoughts and memories.
There was a waitress who shared a few words about her concern for the welfare of wildlife and domestic creatures dependent on our care … and respect. When we left that overpriced restaurant, she hugged me and thanked me deeply for listening to her PETA-project presentation of her ideas. That was a moment and a gesture that brought me a private inner smile.
What were a few of my other perfect moments of those few days? Well, here goes: I read a recipe that included the word “Wabanaki,” and my Reuben researched that term and told me, “It’s the title of the native people who gathered and celebrated the blueberry!”
And I found a free shelf of tiny blueberries, but it turned out, when I bit into one, that it was all chocolate! A phony berry! I have evidence to illustrate and critique this tale: a snapshot of my hand holding a tin can of blueberry wine with the French word “bluet.”
Maybe the language of our nation could have been French. Or Spanish, or Swedish, or Iroquois. Or even Russian. Our foes become our allies and our enemies our collaborators.
So, during this sun or moon of full tides and ripe melons, pumpkins and apples, let us pray to use our human intelligence, such as it is, to listen and speak to each other, instead of against our neighbors, in this wee world among the planets. Let us weave a flying carpet of good will instead of bombs and bombast.
I wear a pin on my cap with the flags of Israel and the U.S.A., as well as the R.I. anchor of Hope, and hope to bring these values to the next chapter of my career, my calling, whatever may come my way under the moon and stars in this new year.
MIKE FINK (email@example.com) teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.