Friday, September 21, 2007

Zen and the Art of Pea Picking

"Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine."

I am finding that writing a Blog is very creative because it gives one a chance to flex one's writing muscles. I like being able to put "pen to paper" on some of the ideas that I have running around through my head all the time. Also, there are a lot of repetitive (boring?) chores that have to be done around here and some of them are very meditative and a great opportunity to just "get into the zone" and think of things to write about.

Yesterday, for example, while I was picking peas, I was inspired to compose this entry. Pea picking is pretty dull but as I moved down the rows, looking for the perfect pea pods to put into my basket, I was struck by the beauty of the peas themselves. The flowers on field peas look very much like the old timey cottage flower, Sweet Peas, which are known for their fragrance. This was not unusual because field peas are the bashful cousins of the flashier sweet peas. Field pea flowers are not as prolific and don't have much scent that I can detect but they are always covered with wasps, bees and other flying insects who are obviously attracted for some reason. There are so many nectar loving insects on the plants I have to wear gloves to pick to avoid their stingers but it is fascinating to move among them and see how many different kinds there are.

Although the wasps in the peas are not aggressive, you can never see all of them, especially when the pea I am about to pick is under a leaf and they are perched on the stem. Often I am surprised by them. And grabbing a wasp barehanded is something I don't recommend, although I did discover something wonderful from being stung about 2 years ago. I got stung on the palm of my hand and the only remedy I had close by was a bottle of organic lavender essential oil. Since I believe strongly in the curative powers of essentials, I took the bottle and put a couple of drops of oil directly on the sting. Immediately, the pain was gone and the redness started to subside. Within an hour, it was like I had never been stung, which is a miracle to me because I usually get huge welts just from mosquito bites, much less serious stings. There was no pain, no itching, no swelling, even the little pinprick spot where I was stung disappeared. So, now I try to keep lavender oil handy for such occasions. But, I digress.

Field peas bloom and produce over a fairly long period. That is why they are generally listed as cover crops in seed catalogs, because their longevity allows them to improve the soil by "fixing" nitrogen in the soil, instead of using it all up. They also make a fine feed for animals, hence their other common name, "cowpeas". I have been picking peas from our patch for at least a month or longer. Every time I go out to pick, there are new blooms and more peas. And while this is great for a home garden, it makes it very hard to time the harvest for a larger group, so we only grow these for ourselves. That may be one reason why you rarely see them for sale as fresh peas at the market.

I find something very Zen about picking field peas. They are patient plants that can't be hurried into maturity. When they are ready, they are ready. The actual picking of the peas is not particularly time consuming but requires some finesse. Because they don't all ripen at the precise same moment, you have to focus on finding the right ones by looking for size, color and shape. Even though peas pods are usually held high on a long, stiff stem, above the plants and so are very easy to see, you can't just pick every pea you see. The trick is to get the ones that are filled with peas that are ready to pop from the pods.

When I am out in the peas, seeking out the plumpest pods, I am always thinking about cooking or preserving them. I think about how I might prepare them for dinner or if I have enough time to even get them shelled in time for dinner. Would I be better served if I shelled and froze them for the winter, which is the answer that usually wins?

Often, I feel a connection with all of the other people around the world who grow their own food. I imagine a mother in China, picking vegetables from her own garden, might be thinking about preparing dinner as she harvests or the father worrying about how he will feed his family should the crops fail to produce. Since we grow much of what we eat here on the Farm, I identify strongly with how much a family depends on what they are growing to sustain themselves. Solidarity with my fellow farmers across the globe is not diminished by the fact that I have a supermarket on every corner to back me up, should my crops fail. In fact, my firsthand knowledge of the trials that any farmer faces, brings home the fact that life for so many depends on the whim of Mother Nature and makes me even more determined not to waste or take for granted the gifts she bestows.