I was standing in my tiny kitchen the other day peeling and slicing carrots for some yummy veggie stew. My favorite CD of autumn-type instrumental music, Woodland Stroll, was playing and I had my virtual fireplace going, adding the sounds of crackling flames to the music (it's all about the ambiance, folks). The rain was coming down outside, but it was warm and cozy inside. Following a Zen teacher's instructions to stay mindful of everything you do, I was totally focused on peeling the carrots. The hand peeler I was using had been with me for years. I used to have a real old-fashioned model, the kind my mother used, but lost it in the last move. This one is good, but doesn't feel the same in my hand. I am on the lookout for another one just like I had before, perhaps finding it in a second hand store or Salvation Army store. What was most important was that it still made that sound that I loved, that scrape, scrape, scrape sound. To me, it was just another form of music.
People have asked me why I continue to hand peel and chop my veggies most of the time. Yes, I do have a food processor with a slicing/dicing/everything blade, and choppers that will do the job with almost no effort on my part, but I still prefer to do it by hand. For one thing, as I handle these gifts from the earth with my hands, I am staying connected to Nature, to the ground they were planted in, the rain and sun that fed them, and the joy of the harvest. This is especially true now that I am no longer able to garden as I used to, down there on the ground with my hands in the soil, feeling the "heartbeat of God" as the poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay said in her poem, "Renaissance." Now I am relegated to table-top gardens, but being able to handle the fruits of the harvest in my hands helps to bring me back to where it all started.
There is another reason I prefer to keep preparing the food by hand, and it has to do with a different kind of connection, this one to my mother, her mother, and all my female ancestors. I cannot remember a day growing up when I was not in the kitchen with my mother watching her peel, slice, dice, chop and perform her magic that would become our meals. Watching her is how I learned to cook, and every time I pick up a peeler and a knife, I am channeling her into my kitchen, feeling her standing over my shoulder reminding me to "watch your fingers!"
When we cut ourselves off from Mother Earth, and all the people and gifts she has passed on to us, we're just a rootless shadow of who and what our culture tells us we should be. The sense of comfort and grounding that we seek comes when we remember to stay connected to where we came from, and what we want to pass on. In my case, I have two beautiful and talented daughters, and both of them know how to wield a peeler and a knife. Their grandmother would be proud.
And so it is.