January 18 2014

At 10am it is already too hot to do anything outside, so the fennel stalks that have sat on the table for weeks, waiting for me, now get their turn. Separating the fennel seeds from their stalks could be a contemplative task, a sort of meditation. But it is starting to look tedious. There is a big pile of stalks. I feel myself turning against the job. Maybe I could just put the whole lot in a paper bag, like I did last year, and pick off seeds when I need them. That didn’t really work. I forgot about them, kicked the bag when I went into the pantry, opened it time and again wondering why an empty bag was on the floor. I push myself on, thinking of the sense of completion that could come with finishing this job.

The whole week has been hot, and we’ve done very little in the garden. We sit and watch the plants wilt in the middle of the day, water and weed for an hour or so in the evening. It’s not satisfying.

After a few minutes of putting small collections of fennel stalks into the compost I develop a system: seeds on one side of the bowl, stalks thrown to the other.

We took our lovely guests to yoga during the week. Our yoga teacher, for shivasana at the end of the class, set us to count each breath. If we found our minds wandering, we were to go back to the beginning. One of our guests had counted up to 35, after having gone back to the beginning once. I got to four or five. ‘Monkey mind’, I said, pointing to myself. ‘It doesn’t go still. It might drift off, but it’s still there.’ The conversation turned, in an absolutist sort of way, to the benefits of silence, and stilling the mind. I know it’s nice to still the mind. I do it from time to time, and I feel the peacefulness, the serenity. But then I’m aware of feeling the peacefulness. I start to see a vast ocean, rolling in to a shore. Or the forest from our deck, its various greens mingling, the round tree canopies that rise above the rest, their white branches shining. Or I recall the birds, their songs surfacing from one tree then another. Which makes me think of the yellow robins by the creek when I was pulling out lantana in spring, coming closer to me, puffing out their already-round tummies, making their yellowness more prominent, always perching sideways from a hanging branch or vine.

The fennel seeds are done. There’s a satisfying pile of seeds on one side of the bowl, and a messy clump of stalks on the other. I run my hands through the seeds and pour them into a jar. I put the stalks in the compost, grateful for my monkey mind that left my hands to do the work.