The celebration of winnowing the sunflowers is much like a quiet and content act of smashing the previous year into bits and saving the precious pieces of text that made it through last year’s hell. The obvious metaphor of seed saving for next few seasons is a cliché, but that was not what I was paying attention to as eager children sat in a circle pulverizing the pulp of yesteryear. In a bewildered state of chaos and creation, students disemboweled the carcass of dried cellulose suns and collected the seeds that deposited on the floor. All I could think about was how this memory will keep in them. This was many of the students’ first time winnowing, a skill that not many would have the opportunity to do or care to do, but for our garden it was a necessity to offer something for our future selves (not unlike some time machine kept in a bottle, buried under a thin layer of earth, and to be found, or maybe forgotten, years later. Growth always seems to be noticed when looking back, doesn’t it?)
All the students seemed to enjoy it and were excited to know we would use those same seeds again. Yet, weeks later I was met with a blank stare when I mentioned how much fun winnowing was with the students . Maybe, I thought, they had forgotten the word “winnowing,” so I made a gesture of grinding flour with my hands. Their eyes transitioned from a wide state of obliviousness to a glimmering moment of recollection and I was reassured that our communal experience was not lost—besides, how could a child forget the opportunity that year to openly pulverize something during school hours? They may have forgot a few important details but they did not forget the gratifying work and sensation they experienced that day.
When I moved to New Mexico, I remember a dear friend telling a similar story of winnowing sunflower seeds with her students. I can’t remember all the details but I remember something about how once a lesson like winnowing had been learned it cannot be unlearned. And I suppose that was true, spoken as a metaphor, surely. Something as visceral as destruction sits in the memory banks next to guilt or power; it cannot be forgotten. Yet when such an experience is met with a clear intention of hope, that memory transcends into a place that, though I have not come to know it well enough to name, resides and encourages the right to act out, maybe out of service and charity, but hopefully out of what the honest, soft part of ourselves asks of us to do, over and over again, in this life. Sometimes these choices are terrifying but necessary for our future selves.
Something about last year was very much a winnowing for my soul, a separating the chaff from the parts that I need to cultivate—okay, yes, there’s that cliché again. But I did it or at least tried to—not the cliché , I mean, but the necessary work of confronting my fear, accepting what I wanted, and sitting and responding to those consequences. Things did not work out perfectly, of course, but they did happen. It was something I had to learn: that ability to take even a step in some direction encouraged me to be less afraid of, or maybe less attached to, my fears and anxieties. The step reassured me that I can continue to keep making more steps that are aligned with what I want out of life.
I have fallen in and out of love so many times in my life; mostly, I have forgotten the details. And that’s okay. I’ll have the reminders, anyways. Once I learned something about what I want, I can never unlearn that feeling. Can loving be this way—to become unfamiliar, time and time again, in spite of the sentimental feeling or memory, somewhere in us, that has been permanently deposited in the indispensable part of the life-demanding rhythm of time? Doesn’t our body ask of us to do something simple and yet we so go about our life in such a complex way—or, well, mostly, I write from my own place of complication.
Mostly, I write from my own frustration of trying to understand and articulate, but I forfeit with a laziness in my words. Mostly, I’m more absorbed by the feeling and not the knowing: like the sadness in how some of our most comforting and warm memories can steep too long until they become something bitter; how we can never love in the same way twice even if the way we knew we loved seemed, at the time, fair and beneficial; how odd it is that the seed, the most precious part and purpose of a plant, is so dramatically different than the plant, as if when things begin to grow together they change into something unrecognizable—and isn’t that similar to love? Don’t we miss something when we are so preoccupied over the bond of love instead of those original parts that had been planted and had somehow grown together? Or am I missing something? Am I missing the very lesson I learned once and time and time again, that only leads me to thresh myself apart and sift what is honest from what merely was? I can’t be imbibed by doubt, lay lazy and helpless, or live
about mowing every season down. Like all the great cultivars,
I am reminded, these things take time; season after season,
to select for the honest parts of ourselves—
sometimes so seemingly undesirable, unless
we learn to accept and learn that what we want is acceptable,
desirable, and precious, and unforgettable.