An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
of January 11, 2004
issued from the woods near Natchez, Mississippi, USA


For the last couple of months, about twice a week I've been spending an hour or so in the afternoons cracking pecans. Once I get a goodly number of pecan halves in my can, I grind them into meal with the butt of my hammer's handle. Later when I'm cooking my cold-morning oatmeal porridge with its herbs and dribbled-in eggs, I throw in a handful of pecan meal. I find that the flavor of fresh pecan meal cooked in porridge is much more robust than that of raw pecans.

I enjoy my pecan-cracking sessions, and I regard that as a good sign. There have been periods in my life when my mind was too unsettled and my spirit too distracted to really enjoy simple, repetitive tasks. I think that two main changes in my life are responsible for my present pecan-cracking tranquility.

First, at age 56, fewer hormones are flowing in my body, so I no longer must deal with perpetual libidinal urges to go find a woman. How I pity young people whose hormones rage through their systems like mine used to, and older people who think they need to keep their hormones stirred up. Anyone who decides that he or she wants no more children -- or never wants them in the first place -- should have access to medicine that neutralizes sexual hormones. What a shame that so much creative human energy is so often divertted into behavior like that which gives dogs in heat their general character.

Second, at last I am mostly rid of my addictions. When I was a kid on the Kentucky farm during the 50s, my family picked up hickory nuts each fall, and during the winters we spent long, contented hours cracking them. Then we got a TV. Soon we all craved junk food, the newest gimmicks, and we wanted to be like people on TV. Many old traditions ended, while our addictions to excess carried us all along like leaves adrift on a river. Now I am out of that river and no longer have to hustle to pay for my obsessions. The things I really like turn out to be very inexpensive, or even free.

So, every morning when I taste that wonderful pecan flavor in my steamy oatmeal porridge, and I feel the wholesome pecan essence suffusing my body, I am so thankful that now, at long last, I can sit with a hammer and a rock and simply crack my pecans in peace.