The principal’s voice reverbrated over the intercom to inform us we were about to have a fire drill–yeah, I don’t think they’re supposed to work quite that way, either, but that’s a blog post for another day– and I calmly named the pecan tree out front as our muster station. “Wait…pecans come from a tree?” asked a particularly bright student. No kidding, this kid will probably top a 30 on the ACT and be excising your overwrought gallbladder someday. The student’s earnest question made me think of the relationship between education and knowledge, and whither the two shall meet.
I’d like to share (put it in a nutshell, if you will) what I’ve learned from the act of shelling pecans. What do knowledge, a little know-how, luck, and perhaps even some wisdom have in common? That’s a hard nut to crack, and I’ll leave it up to you, Gentle Reader, to get at those sweetmeats inside. Okay, okay. I’ll stop with the nutty puns already.
- Pecans are a microcosm of the human condition. They look pretty much the same on the outside, but once you break through the hard exterior, results vary. Some come already cracked; some are sleek and perfectly formed. All are fallen-how’s that for a theological twist? The trick is to crack the nut without damaging the meat. Sometimes you get two intact halves; sometimes part of the interior is rotten, waterlogged, or dried up; sometimes you crush the whole thing in your pliers.
- Pecans are a model of the mind. This becomes evident on the ones you crack without damaging the interior. The nuts consist of two grooved halves, connected on one end, with a woody hemispheric separator. The grooves sometimes have woody bitters tracing their paths. Those are the nuts with regrets. That woody partition is inedible and leads one to wonder just why the two sides must be kept apart. Is is a left-brain/right-brain thing? A Mars/Venus thing? An East Coast/West Coast thing?
- Pecans are an object lesson in work ethic, Puritanism, and yes…the American Dream. It takes labor, patience, and a bit of panache to harvest enough pecans even for a homemade pie. Picking up pecans is time-consuming, achy-breaky work, even with a pecan picker-upper tool. Once you get them gathered, you have to crack them and then pick the meat out of them. A quick Google search (my students swear that Google knows everything so they can just concentrate on their Instagram stories) reveals any number of pecan harvesting products designed to make the task less, well, task-y. But, perhaps, the task is the point. And perhaps, in that point, we can find a little something a freezer case confection just can’t give us.
Maybe I’m just kidding myself, but there’s something soul-satisfying about sitting on a swing cracking pecans. You see the results of your labor piling up in the bowl in your lap and in the crunch of discarded shells underfoot. The work, both mindful and mindless simultaneously, gives you the opportunity to think, to be grateful, to find your center. It gives you the gift of time, something fewer and fewer of us seem to value. If you’re lucky, you recognize the whispers of grandmothers long passed in the fall breeze, kissing the treetops as they sweep down from Heaven for that shared moment where the past, present, and future all congregate over a labor of love.