Daylight Savings & A Death Cafe, With Cake
On Sunday morning, I was caught off guard by the clock on my stovetop, which was not in synch with my phone. At first, I thought there was something wrong with the stove, then realized that Daylight Savings Time had crept up unnoticed. By afternoon, it was very obvious, as the daylight drained away by 4:30 and dusk settled in like a blanket. It surprised me to be so unaware of the time change, since in general, the past few years have made me increasingly aware of seasonal shifts, my own and those of the garden. I find it comforting to notice the incremental changes in day length as the year spins away into winter, then winds itself back up into spring. Those little changes, involving a few minutes a day (more or less), all year round, are easy to assimilate. However, the full-hour jump of Daylight Savings is hard on our bodies, whether we gain an hour, as we seem to in autumn, or lose it when we have to adjust to rising earlier in spring.
The garden, of curse, ignores clocks and calendars and deals only with reality. I’ve been thinking back lately about a year I spent in a ghost town at almost 9,000 feet near the abandoned gold camp of Hecla, Montana. My then-husband and I repaired a tiny old cabin, built an outhouse, and cut 10 cords of wood by hand to get us through the winter. After a few months without watches (remember those?), we lost track of time and dates and found our own natural rhythms that followed the sun and respected the darkness. We gradually shifted from trying to recreate daylight indoors to finding tasks that didn’t need much light, from cooking and knitting to playing music and whittling. All around us, plants and animals responded to the natural changes as they had for millennia by going dormant or hibernating. It was surprising how quickly the cultural habits of time keeping slipped away and how comfortable it felt to live by the sun, not the clock.
The Greatest Change
Autumn is always a reflective time for me, not least when working in the garden. It’s rewarding to pace myself, looking carefully for signs of slumbering bees and frogs and butterflies before yanking fading foliage from dormant plants. The garden is getting sleepy but it certainly isn’t dead. Odd stems of still-blooming mint and oregano still attract late bees, and even the hummingbirds visit them in their daily quest for nectar. The hardy fuchsias are still the hummers’ favorite sip-stops, but as flower choices dwindle, both birds and bees take advantage of anything they can find to keep them alive a little longer. I put out the hummingbird feeders as autumn arrives to keep the Anna’s hummingbirds happy through fall and winter, changing them daily and cleaning them carefully to avoid spreading diseases. Even so, I sometimes find a dead birds (and mice) in the garden, killed by hunger or cold or the neighbors’ roaming cats.
I’m obviously not alone in pondering death’s mysteries at this time of year, but the period between Halloween and Thanksgiving is filled with personal loss anniversaries, those of my second husband and both parents as well as a double handful of friends. When I say loss, I mean death. It’s fascinating to notice how often we slip into euphemism when we talk about death. Passed away, passed on, crossed the rainbow bridge, departed, deceased, left, lost… but they all mean death. Can there be a greater or more inevitable change in life than death? Is it healthy to try so hard to deny or ignore what can’t be avoided? Would we feel very differently about death if our culture taught everyone to see death as a natural consequence of life? The only euphemism I’ve heard that I respond positively to is “walked on”, a phrase sometimes used in American Tribal communities. That resonates with my feeling that we do indeed travel into another reality beyond ordinary sight or knowing.
Talking About Death Won’t Kill Us
I think the best way we can learn to see death in a different light is by having open conversations about it. That’s where the Death Cafe comes in. The idea was sparked in Europe, moved to England in 2011, and soon spread to the US and Australasia. Neither a therapy session nor grief counseling, Death Cafes involve group-directed conversations about death. What’s your own experience with death? Do you ever think about your own death? Trained facilitators are on hand to guide a faltering conversation or comfort someone who might need individual support for a little while, but for the most part, these conversations are far-ranging and fascinating and often funny. There may be laughter as well as thoughtful or tearful silence, and silences are as welcome as spoken thoughts.
Above all, there’s cake. One unfailing tradition of the Death Cafe movement is that talking about death goes better when there’s plenty of cake, and perhaps a cup of tea. Last week, a Death Cafe offered by the Senior Center was over-subscribed, and the in-person events was followed by a zoom version that was also full. Sadly, we were not able to share tea or sliced cake (per Health Department/covid19 regulations), but we could step outside to enjoy delicious cupcakes during the break. The conversations at each table had gone well before the cake break, but were decidedly livelier afterward. Sharing food is one of humanity’s oldest ceremonies, and the refreshments brought comfort to the participants and ease to the talk. At the end, the evaluations were overwhelmingly positive and nearly everyone said they would definitely be interested in another Death Cafe as well as similar ones focused on climate change and ecological devastation. And of course, more cake!
Here’s my family’s favorite pumpkin cupcake recipe, crunchy with pecans and lively with bits of dried tart cherries to balance the sweetness. The lemony glaze adds even more zip and is also lovely on scones or zucchini bread.
Pumpkin Cherry Cupcakes
2-1/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon each ground ginger and coriander
1/2 teaspoon each of ground cardamom and cinnamon
1/2 butter, at room temperature (very soft)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1-1/2 cups pumpkin puree
2 large eggs
2/3 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup chopped pecans or any nut
1/2 cup chopped dried tart cherries
Line two standard muffin tins with muffin cups, set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Sift together dry (first 6 listed) ingredients, set aside. Cream butter and sugars, blend in pumpkin pulp, eggs and yogurt. Blend in dry ingredients and stir in nuts and cherries and spoon quickly into muffin tins. Bake at 375 F until set (23-25 minutes), then remove to a cooling rack. When cupcakes cool to room temperature, dip or drizzle with glaze (see below) or any favorite icing. Makes 24 standard cupcakes.
2+ cups confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (or any)
1 teaspoon zested lemon rind
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Put in the microwave for 30-40 seconds or combine in a saucepan over medium heat and cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Let stand for 5 minutes, then adjust thickness with more lemon juice or powdered sugar. Drizzle over cooled cupcakes or dip them into the glaze and return to the cooling rack until the glaze sets up.