Repetition

Repetitive tasks often lead directly to boredom, then to daydream, and then–if forced to continue said task–to numbness. The sheer effort involved in repetitive operation makes for drudgery; if the labor is also dangerous, hot, physically difficult, and unrelieved, the human mind gets sapped of joy and creativity. For much of human history, our time on earth has consisted largely of this sort of work, constant toiling, just to survive.

My thoughts dwell on that fact when I spend a day or two as a re-enactor and when I harvest beans and other produce that won’t keep and need immediate attention, else the food will go to waste. I think of all the people now and in the past who have to cut firewood and stack it, keep it dry, then keep fires burning in stoves or hearths and watch the food so it doesn’t burn. And do the same, day in day out.

I think of my grandmother who, when she was still in her 50s and 60s, kept a large truck patch from which she fed her extended family. All the canning and processing and freezing she did…the jars of peaches, jellies, tomatoes, beans…meant hours of often-tedious, not to mention exceedingly hot, work.

green peas on white ceramic bowl

Photo by R Khalil on Pexels.com

I cannot recall ever assisting her with canning; but from the time I was a very small child, I would sit beside her on a wooden bench or chair and “help” her shell peas or snap the ends from green beans. I suppose I prattled to her, because I recall her distracted “Mmmm Hmmm” responses. After awhile, however, I’d get quiet and daydreamy just opening the green pods and slipping the fresh, round peas out with my finger over and over, listening to the plunk as they dropped into the bowl in my lap. It was soothing.

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I remembered that long-ago activity today as I shelled black beans from their dry, tan husks: two or three pounds of them! My shelling created a crackly noise that intrigued our kitten, who has otherwise been drowsy from the heat. I’ve been freezing green beans, cooking tomato sauce, and harvesting pears and black beans for days in the humid August heat–but not non-stop (I have a day job, and the students have returned to campus!).

black beans in a bowl

So for me, the potential boredom of the repetitive task gets replaced by a rather Zen attitude. Be here now, shelling the beans, stirring the pear butter. Appreciate bounty and what the earth has given us. Remember childhood. Daydream awhile. Think about poems.

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In this case, repetition means abundance. New poems as autumn arrives.

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Desire

In a comment on my last post, M. mentioned the sensuality of gardening. Truly, there is little that can offer more joys to the senses or more opportunity for sensual encounters of various kinds than a garden. Bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, all those pollinators going about helping the flowers have sex; the pistils and stamens, the ovaries fruiting, the scents and colors and attractions doing the work of creating what is juicy, spicy, tasty, fortifying, fragrant, or gloriously beautiful. While picking beans in the heat of late July or weeding in the dog days of August, however, the gardener may be forgiven for occasionally overlooking these aspects.

ann e michaelBut the garden can be considered sensual–the garden is all about desire. My desire to feed my family with fresh foods, or to decorate my view with blooms. My desire to share the garden bounty with friends, or to try new varieties of vegetables, or to see what happens if I let that volunteer melon grow.

And if plants can be said to possess any so-called human quality, I can easily anthropomorphize them as desirous. The desire to live, and to live in order to reproduce: these are the most basic purposes of our DNA, and of the plant’s. As a gardener, I manipulate the plant’s desire. I pick the beans before the seeds have ripened in the pods, and the bean plant in its urge to produce seed sends out more flowers, more young and tender green beans. It will continue in its desperate output until the roots are exhausted. Quite the pathetic metaphor, I guess.

The plants evolve each to its own specialty. Those that “choose” dispersal of seed via bird digestive tracts grow vivid against foliage, easy to see. Those that rely on maturing into pulpy rot, to ensure their seeds get nurtured in the soil beneath the parent plant, hide under large leaves close to the earth. The hard pit, the soft seed pouch that requires fermentation to germinate, the barbed husk that gets carried off in the fur on a mammal’s leg–gardeners often foil some of these strategies, but only temporarily. We turn them to our own uses because we desire the sweet kernels, the juicy flesh, the ripe scents.

Meanwhile the plants continue making more of themselves. The wind blows, and delicious summer fragrances enhance it as it floats the pollen toward awaiting receptors; the bees collect pollen on their legs while climbing into and out of flowers (how sexy), the female flowers of the squash stems swell…

What makes our purpose any different from the plants’? Maybe we experience desire not because we are human, but because we exist, as plants do, to leave something of ourselves behind. That something will not always be our DNA, however. It may be a system, a process, a work of art, a story. Something, perhaps, that we desire.

 

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