Band on the Run: Naked Harvesting in Eastern Ontario

Ember Swift, Canadian musician and touring performer, will be keeping us up-to-date on what it’s like to tour a band throughout North America. Having just arrived back from Beijing where she spent three months (check out her “Canadian in Beijing” series), she offers a musician’s perspective on road life. Enjoy!

I’m sitting in my kitchen on a brief sojourn from the road and I am completely exhausted. The cause of my exhaustion is, for once, not road travel or air travel or too many gigs stacked up next to each other; this time, the cause is simply:


My apple tree did a serious shake down this past week while I was away in Hawaii and BC and dropped nearly all of its fruit in giant piles in the grass. I think there’s exhibitionism going on in my yard because the tree is standing almost entirely naked and fairly happy, right next to the now naked and smug blackberry patch that surely cajoled the tree into joining the illicit streak show.

So what do musicians do when they’re not on the road? They harvest. At least this one does. Although, I must admit that I felt a bit like a voyeur today at the all-natural peep show.

Worshipping at the foot of a bare fruit tree, I was on my hands and knees for two and a half hours gathering apples for both the compost and the kitchen pots (those rotted and those salvageable, respectively). I rose from the task feeling purged of all things artificial like recycled airplane air, fluorescent lights, and electromagnetic rays.

Now, another three hours later, the pots are bubbling and I am typing with fingers smarting from the natural acid in the fruit. Is this the poison often mentioned in historic religious literature? If so, may it steer my fingers to type naughtier words than normal because I’m currently feeling far too domestic, too housewife-like, too traditional for my own good.

It’s contrary to my modern self-perception.

I guess this is the inherent push-pull of good and evil. The one that sits beneath all choices as though there is a cleave or a divide inside each of us. It has been etched into ours heads via years of Christian indoctrination – the kind that simply happens to all those who live in the West, regardless of religious affiliation. It’s everywhere, of course. There will forever be something so wholesome about a beautiful ripe apple and something so simultaneously devilish about the desire to bite into it.

Am I having an “Eve” moment, or what?

Some people wonder what musicians do when they’re not on the road. At this time of year, besides some writing and correspondence, I don’t do much else besides harvest. Then, as the old folks around here call it, I “put up” the food in glass jars, preserving apple sauce, tomato sauce, pickles, relishes, salsa, (maybe even some pickled beets this year), all of which become perfect holiday presents . . . from a musician who doesn’t earn much in the winter climate when there’s lots of snow and hardly any driving tours.

And, I must admit that this is also a calculated survival technique, really. I always know that I won’t go hungry, as do my friends who often help with this process. In fact, tonight, my neighbours arrived spontaneously and before the conversation truly began, I had two extra knives and cutting boards on the table while laughingly saying, “Hey, nice to see you! C’mon in – here’s a knife!” They laughed too, but still sat down with love and compassion, especially when they looked at the piles of apples gathered and knew I was alone here in this quest to cook them down before leaving for another road trip tomorrow.

[Headline: Crazy Lady Gathers Too Many Apples, Needs Neighbours to Get to the Core of the Problem!]

Because, for me, it is always a race against time with this gardening and harvesting mission. If we’re off the road for a few days, I have to actually choose something to “deal with” before heading out again. For instance, if there are too many tomatoes, they have to be blanched and frozen, at the very least. If there’s time, there’s always the possibility of a simmering pot of pasta sauce on the stove all day made with fresh basil, oregano, peppers and onion – all from the garden as well, of course.

On this brief break, on this particular week, I had no choice but to focus on apples.

It makes my life seem rather simple sometimes when really it is everything but. It all simmers down to one task and that task was apples. And the simple truth behind that singular vision is this: when you grow food, you have to either eat it or preserve it. Otherwise, it’s a waste. And, to me, wasted food (especially organic and home grown) is just a crying shame.

Crazy, really.


So, when the apples are ripe (or, in this case, already shed and threatening to decompose) they simply have to be gathered, washed, cored and cooked down. There is nothing else to be done that is more important.

They mon-apple-ize your time, let’s just say.

(C’mon, that was funny!)

My friends who visit or my neighbours who stop by have always just been rolled into these food projects and they walk away with the fruits of their labour, literally! Tonight, my amazing neighbours (Dale & Louise) took a whole box of apples home with them (and I mean, a big box!). I was relieved. There’s not enough stove space tonight and there was writing to do and laundry and packing for the next weekend festival, as well as the general clean-up that harvesting warrants, not to mention my personal need to bathe.

(Which I’m sure the audiences will appreciate.)

And really, when you find the plants, bushes and trees in your yard itching to shed their edibles, should we not celebrate such blatant acts of liberation? Otherwise, it’s just me here in my yard in the remote countryside, dressed in my garden get-up, getting grass stains on the knees of my jeans and feeling anything but sexy.

Maybe I should join in the party and harvest naked next year?

Now there’s temptation.