An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
of the October 18, 2009
Issued from the wood just west of Natchez, Mississippi, USA


Upon my arrival, Karen presented me with over half a bushel of hot peppers she'd salvaged from a neighbor's garden, so every morning since my return my breakfast campfire stews have each contained at least two snipped-up jalapeños. I breathe the steam deeply, eat the whole stew, and later snip more peppers into my afternoon cornbread. You can think of all that as a super dose of Vitamin C.

Though I'll always cherish the memory of this summer's soul-pleasingly fragrant and tasty, solar-baked apple-cornbreads in Oregon, it's good to have my morning campfires here again, the routine of building and tending the fire, the companionable smoke, the warming flames, the orange embers flaring up playfully with the slightest breeze.

The other day a reader wrote pointing out that my morning campfires inject a lot of carbon into the atmosphere. When you think about it, it's hard to think of anything we do that's "carbon free." Life on Earth is carbon based, and Earth-life's main energy-getting process is the breaking down of carbohydrate molecules, and carbohydrates are long chains of carbon atoms. Merely sitting, being alive, we release carbon into the atmosphere. Even green plants, after producing oxygen all day, respire carbon dioxide in the night.

It's another of those yin-yang things: Not only is the world made of opposites in tension, but also each thing harbors at its heart its own essential oppositeness. My little twig-campfire with its molecules of CO2 is indeed in some ways the opposite of the grander thing around me, the low-impact life to which I aspire.

It's worthwhile to meditate on the yin and yang of things. A basic premise of our Western society seems to be that things are one way or another, that success is starting low or small and ending high or big, and that if you tinker with something long enough you get perfection. When you have a feeling for yin and yang, you see through all that. Sensitized to the loopy nature of reality, not much really surprises you, yet the beauty of the whole system becomes ever more apparent. How can you unhealthily obsess on anything when you understand that if you keep going "in" you'll end up "out," or if you get stuck going "right" everything will get "left"? How agreeable becomes The Middle Path when the yin and yang of things are recognized.

Breathing deeply the steam off a bubbling pot of stew with two jalapeños in it sure opens up a head. The piquant stew is a moment of exquisite yin in a blossoming morning of philosophical yang. Or vice versa. Facebook Icon