I was living in New Hampshire at the time, in a cozy little wooden house near a sleepy little town, on a snaky, hilly New England road. This morning my daughter had just gotten on the bus to go to school and I was enjoying an unusually idyllic moment, sitting on the steps….the spring sun cascading gloriously over everything and the lushness reaching up to meet it, the breeze moving the light and the scent of the lilacs in currents all around and making everything look like it was swaying gently under water…….
I had a cup of tea and nothing better to do than to sit in that sun and listen to the crickets singing in the lawn, I was practically singing myself I was in such bliss surrounded by the beauty of nature. And those crickets – there were hundreds, thousands! of them, I had never seen so many of the cute little buggers at one time, such sweeties with their little antennae…backward bending knees…shiny armor…. they were blissed out too, reveling in the beauty of nature. And feasting! They were fantastically busy eating….but what was it? Hmmmm, maybe clover flowers…let’s see. I bent way over to take a look – they were definitely chomping on something white and succulent…a root of some sort. And then, I saw it. A grub. Alive! Being feasted on merrily at one end by a cute little cricket…..writhing in silent agony at the other end helpless to get away. And this scenario was being repeated thousands of times all over the lawn! I actually recoiled in shock and horror, all my Disneyland visions of nature shattered, and behind all the beauty I had just been reveling in I perceived the cold heartless advance of the life process and the silent screams of all those helpless white grubs being eaten alive. My naiveté had been exposed and I was left trying to reconcile my love for the exuberance and awe inspiring beauty of the life force and the reality of the violence inherent in creation.
Fast forward ten years, it’s evening, I am sitting on the steps again, but this time they are marble and they look out over a kitchen garden at the peak of summer. I have just finished cooking a big dinner for about sixty people and have come out to cool off and enjoy the duskiness of the evening. This time of night the air takes on a substantive quality that makes me feel like I can touch it and breathe it in like smoke. We had a big thunder storm that afternoon and the plants are so vibrant they have created their own field of consciousness – I can feel their aliveness beckoning. Everything is so perfectly beautiful I can hardly stand it!
The fire flies are glinting all over the place, at my feet is an earthworm at least six inches long, making its way along the wet stones. In the spring I put some clay pots upside down in the garden to attract some toads and I have been watching them get bigger and bigger as they eat the slugs….here’s one now, at least as big as my fist…..a handsome toad if I ever saw one. He makes his way slowly and deliberately towards me and the earthworm. I think it’s cute; the earthworm begins to wriggle madly in a fantastic effort to get to cover, clearly fleeing for its life. Before I know it the toad is calmly standing over it, and then, faster than I could have imagined, bites it quickly three times. The worm’s wriggling slows, the toad sits calmly staring into space, and then, with the deftest movement of its head grabs the worm and swallows it in two gulps. Done. I am sitting there with my jaw dropped, another idyllic moment vaporized by the life and death struggle I have just witnessed.
There’s nothing like seeing a living creature being eaten alive, or running to save its life, to bring you face to face with reality, and the bigger question of how to interpret that reality. No matter how many times I have heard the saying, “Life is just one big restaurant.”, I can never quite get my head around how this all works and that we are just as much a part of the food chain as anything else that exists.
What seems like excruciating violence to me is how creation happens. And I can’t somehow remove myself from it out of squeamishness or misplaced superiority. As a cook and a chef, a mother and a wife, someone who is responsible for feeding others, I find this compelling to think about. Inherent in this contemplation are our deepest connections to life and survival and our place in the world, as consumers and creators, and ultimately, as food.