It's a ritual. I step outside, and in the dark wintry months, look up at the stars. I am usually barefoot, even in the snow.
It matters to me enough that I've done it for years, and hope to do so until the senses dull too much for it to matter anymore.
The garlic cloves yield their dry coats under my probing thumbs. I watch the husks slide east with the wind on good days, south on the stormy ones.
Sometimes I think about the garlic, where it came from, where it will be in a few days.The heft of a garlic bulb comes from the union of carbon dioxide and water, the electrons in its sugars stressed enough to release considerable free energy when returned to their native states.
Sometimes I think about time, or seasons, or matter, or some other abstraction that counters the firm life in my hands.
Mostly I think of nothing--I have a task, a good one, and I concentrate on the task at hand.
Of all the organisms on this planet, humans are the only ones who burn other organisms simply for this free energy.
It may be wood, it may be peat, it may be wood, it may be gasoline.
In all cases, we are using up what once was food to release a power no other animal knows.
Everything that burns easily in my classroom owes its combustibility to a plant that captured sunlight, either in my lifetime or eons ago.
Wool, paper, plastic, rayon, cotton--all with electrons trapped in stressed positions, ready to tumble into the welcome arms of oxygen, releasing their stress in a blaze of light and heat.
Garlic burns, too, but we will eat these cloves tonight, their warmth felt three times--once from the work of chopping, once from the reassuring heat on the tongue and throat, and finally in the heat that radiates from my skin, up to wherever through the thin skin of a dry January evening atmosphere.
I could burn the skins, too, I suppose, but I let them drift to the ground, to feed creatures I cannot even imagine, with stuff put together by the sun, which I can.
We are living on the sustained efforts of other organisms, efforts that have accumulated over years, over eons.
Oil, coal, peat, and wood all take time, and work. The energy released when we burn any of these is not inconsequential--we have become gods.
When I was born, there were less than half the humans on Earth as there are now. We are consuming millions of years of free energy captured by plants like a plague of locusts, with similar consequences.
When we lose our connection to our relationships with the rest of the sphere of living things, when we consume others for anything other than food and shelter, when we fall out of the cycle of life, we lose our religion
Wandering out in the mid-January darkness to peel garlic is a small way to recapture it.