Some days ago, my girlfriend and I resolve to make vegan pumpkin pie. It’s an excellent idea: the long weekend is imminent, it’s cold outside, and I am always hungry. When the day arrives, however, it’s mostly she who does the baking while I sit and read Knausgaard (I have promised to do the dishes, which I eventually do—the following morning). The resulting concoction is a touch dissatisfactory: it smells amazing, but the consistency is rather unappetizing. At this point, however, I’m craving pumpkin pie so intensely that I’ve simply no choice but to bike over to Sobey’s and buy myself an entire pie. I can’t even be bothered to heat it up, I just tear open the box and dig in. It isn’t ideal: the pumpkin is smothered in glucose and preservatives; it’s like I’m swallowing a layer of gloss. (I expected as much the moment I saw the fifty identical pies stacked in the store, mass-produced in time for Thanksgiving.) Still, it satisfies my mad desire, and I scarf down half while she nibbles her own creation, which, she is convinced, isn’t so bad.
Night has drenched the world. Apart from a sturdy population of harsh white streetlamps glaring through the windows (I position myself at angles avoiding their awful light), only faint auburn lamps illumine our food.
Autumn is a blue season, when the withering sky twilights early. It is a time also of sunlessness, a season drained of gold and light. Depression unhelpfully exacerbates this paradigm. Is there not symbolism, then, in my ravenous consumption of a pumpkin pie in fall? It’s even shaped like a miniature sun, with the crust reminiscent of that star’s fiery mane. Am I somehow compensating for the enervating lack of light by ingesting Helios in microcosm? Am I undoing some (morbid) blight of time?
I first make the connection between colour and my mental health in Oregon. “More orange-yellow foods?” Roger, a naturopath there, nods. The hues must be natural, of course; Reece’s Pieces won’t do. I’m sitting amidst many fig trees, the clement July sun soaking into my skin. Roger and his wife Nancy serve some halved and fresh to me, along with blackberries, homemade pecan butter and goat milk kefir. Roger also prescribes a change in wardrobe: insofar as my adornments could camouflage me in a swamp, he recommends something brighter. You know, less Yoda’s marsh and more… Felucia? Afterwards, my mom and I go on a thrift store bender, and I wind up buying a whole barrage of shirts I almost never wear.
Following this, I do pay more attention to my dietary pigments. I notice, for instance, that when my grandmother brings home boxes of bright yellow mangoes in the burning summer months, I devour them—typically four at a time—standing over the sink while the juice dribbles down my chin into the basin, spattering in droplets of sour gold. Year-round, I eat carrots like candy—massive, innumerable whole carrots—absent-mindedly depositing the tops on countertops and tables. Eggs are the breakfast staple—four apiece, best served over-easy, leaving the yolk an oozing gold, like ichor.
Crowning these appetites is pumpkin pie, a splash of colour in a season of restraint, a burst of life when things are slowly beginning to die. If we pretend for a moment that I warmed it in the oven, then the symbolism is intensified: a steaming orange nourishment that sustains me amidst the bleak blue cold of fall. Archetypes, anyone? Indeed, for thousands of years it was fire alone that illumined things at dusk, when the sun disappeared, drawing the world into its nightly gloom. I don’t believe this context has ever connotatively dissolved. It is no accident (pun intended) that Maggie Nelson describes the colour blue as “an ecstatic accident produced by void and fire”. It is no accident that the sight and smell of a fireplace induce in Marcel Proust the hope “that outdoors there will be an onset of rain, snow, even some diluvian catastrophe so as to add to the comfort of reclusion the poetry of hibernation”. It is no accident, in short, that I despair amidst the brightly-hued autumn trees, who strike me as wizened grandparents, offering a measure of condolence—somehow real, somehow indecipherable—before they disintegrate altogether. That fall is a time of such explosive colours—orange pumpkins, red and yellow leaves, etc.—amidst the cold blue darkness tells me something, not just about my depression but about the human condition.
It tells me something.
While writing this, a hacking cough overtakes me. I rush to the bathroom and spit out a wad of greenish phlegm. Suffice it to say, I am sick. Somehow, the sight of this glistening substance signals a need for oranges. I ask Leah if she has any. Yes, in the tote bag hanging from the chair. This one? I ask, peering down. No, in the kitchen. There, I find more oranges than I was expecting, five or six among a couple of vibrant lemons. I eat three, handing her wedges while doing so. Suddenly I recall Pablo Neruda’s description of the lemon as “a ray of light that was made fruit” and become certain the orange was once a searing flame.
It’s a strange time of year to be eating oranges; they’re not exactly in season. The supermarket stocks them from South Africa. Whenever I am there, in that country, I devour oranges like it’s going out of style, like it’s the last thing I’ll ever do, countless oranges every day. There, it’s an affordable habit. You can buy a tremendous sack of fresh, robust oranges—they come in distinctive red mesh tubes that are girthed like fire-hydrants—for the equivalent of five Canadian dollars. Here, South African oranges are usually $2.50/lb. Outrageous, but understandable. They are coming to us, after all, from the other side of the world.
I slip a wedge, glistening with droplets, into my mouth. The flavour is explosive, immediately invigorating—its sour tang, undercut by a benevolent sweetness (even the name claims this colour)—but it’s nevertheless a sad echo of the country I am no longer in, where winter is just summer with colder nights and the trees don’t die each year. No, the trees don’t die; they remain green year-round. Their leaves don’t perish in a spectacle of colours, as ours do, when the days abridge and light gradually wanes. Only then is fire necessary. Only then do we need pumpkin pie.
The weekend is ending, and we settle on soup. I scan the recipe, then improvise. Dice the onions, garlic, ginger. While these are sizzling in the pot, filling the kitchen with a magnificent aroma, I chop carrots and apples. Quench the sauté with water. Salt. Dump some canned pumpkin purée. Bring to boil. Fifteen minutes later, the concoction is a gleaming gold. I pour into our bowls, marvelling at this bright, nourishing substance. With the first spoonful, a part of the colour’s essence enters into me. I gulp down the replenishing liquid, ingest its light. Outside, the same white lamps as before, but I ignore them. Ferry lights only in the living room. We play chess together as the day concludes, well-lived, well-known. For the moment, darkness is abated. For the moment, the poetry of hibernation sustains me—along with soup.
1. Nelson, Maggie. Bluets. Wave Books, 2009, p. 62.
2. Proust, Marcel. Swann’s Way. Translated by Lydia Davis, Penguin Classics, 2002, p. 51.