On Your Side
This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stone to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.
From J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”
I should have some photos and maybe I’ll take some next time, but I’ve gotten pretty good at making sauerkraut. And now that I can make it reliably, I often vary it with hot chilis, chopped garlic or onions. One time I even pickled the kohlrabi that came in our vegetable box for which I had trouble finding a use. Virtually any vegetable that’s submerged in the brine can work.
But the point isn’t to boast about my recent sauerkraut (or kombucha and salt-cured chili triumphs of which there are many), but a realization I had about fermentation. While I created the conditions for it — salt, chopped cabbage submerged in its own brine, left in a glass jar, placed in a dark cabinet — the process happens by itself. The bacteria in the air digest the sugars in the cabbage, turn it sour and propagate healthy, beneficial microorganisms. It’s nature doing the work, that is, nature left to her own devices, aided by “the thing all things devours.”
. . .
And you run, and you run to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you're older
Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death
“Time” — Pink Floyd
We are familiar with this conception of time — that it’s scarce and evaporating quickly. But viewing the passing of time as the enemy puts you in a difficult bind, for it’s not an enemy anyone has ever defeated. Living as though you’re surrounded by enemy forces that will eventually kick in your door tends, with notable exceptions, to take the joy out of it.
But there is an alternative framing:
Well, time is on my side, yes it is
Time is on my side, yes it is
'Cause I got the real love, the kind that you need
You'll come running back
“Time Is On My Side” — The Rolling Stones
If you have the “real love,” you can afford to wait. Time is on your side because it reveals the truth, and truth is favorable to the authentic and virtuous. The passage of time is, in this view, not an enemy, but a friend. Watching the sauerkraut ferment, and my lettuce and arugula grow in small pots on the balcony, I had in some small measure made time my friend, got it working for me.
. . .
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds
Have no fear for atomic energy
'Cause none of them can stop the time
“Redemption Song” — Bob Marley
Time isn’t just on your side, it’s the sine qua non for freedom. No amount of power can stop it, and there’s great solace in that. We’re all going to die one way or the other eventually, so why live in fear of the inevitable? The finitude of life is the very basis for liberation.
. . .
“When nothing is done,
nothing is left undone.”
“Tao Te Ching” — Lao Tse
As I’ve mentioned I’ve been running at the track lately. I try to do it in the morning before I’ve eaten anything. Apparently it’s beneficial for the mitochondria of your cells. I’m not building the mitochondria though, just putting one foot in front of the other on an empty stomach, and the body, in its wisdom and intricacy handles it for me.
Creating conditions and allowing time and nature to do their work are what I imagine is meant by being aligned with the Tao or Dharma or God. It’s a small thing like an herb garden, or a jar of sauerkraut, but also our cells and even consciousness. Step out the door in your running shoes, the miles disappear underfoot.
ChrisLiss.com is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.