Commusings: String Bean Theory by Jeff KrasnoNov 27, 2021
Hello Commune Community,
When I was a kid, I was slightly resentful of Thanksgiving as it detracted from the celebration of my nativity. And, now, 51 orbits in, I am grateful for the very same reason — though I suppose mentioning it here may appear hypocritical ;-).
Once I finish this note, I am off to get lost in the hills. But, before I do, I want to express my profound appreciation for you and everyone in this burgeoning community. It is truly an honor to do this work.
In love, include, me,
• • •
String Bean Theory
The limp lone string bean lingering on my plate appears a bit forlorn. I’ve spared it to commemorate my first meatless Thanksgiving. Schuyler, who has miraculously summoned twenty-seven souls around our communal table, has sparked a gratitude circle. While I enjoy a good ritual, the outward expression of gratitude doesn’t always come easy for me (despite my inestimable good fortune). The seasonal memeification of this sentiment can often translate as performative and mawkish.
Schuyler is snuggled to my left and her initiation of the rite has put me at the back of the line. We’re inching around the perimeter of the gathering and all the juicy recipients of thankfulness are being scooped up. Family. Friendship. Community. Health.
Staring at my haricot vert, I am at a loss for something original to say. I suppose I should give my ego a rest and simply echo what is true: I am grateful for my loving family and the bounty of life. But then – quite precipitously – it’s my turn and I grab for what is hidden in plain sight. I pinch the spindly end of the flaccid legume and hold it up.
“I am grateful for this string bean.”
The source of my gratitude may be more appropriately explained in this missive than at a table of fidgety teens and flummoxed friends and family.
Ninety-three million miles away, in the core of a star we call the sun, hydrogen nuclei are fusing together to form helium. This fusion process releases light energy that travels through the galaxy and toward our modest little planet. Photons enter the earth’s atmosphere as visible electromagnetic radiation and hit the chloroplasts in the leaf of the twisting bean vine that is trellising up a pole in our garden.
The energy from the sun catalyzes a process known as photosynthesis where carbon dioxide from the air and water absorbed through the roots combine to synthesize energy in the form of ATP and glucose. Glucose, a simple carbon strand molecule, serves as the building block for the fabrication of carbohydrates, fatty acids and amino acids. My bean plant uses these macronutrients for its structure and, in combination with its genomic code, produces the long stringy pod that dawdles on my plate. Generously, Mr. Bean shares his unused carbohydrates with the dynamic community of microbes, earthworms and mycelium networks that thrive beneath our feet. The by-product of this astounding process is oxygen.
Just looking at the bean, salted and flavored just so, triggers the release of saliva and digestive enzymes in my mouth. As I bite into it, the creation story of photosynthesis is undone.
My epiglottis, a flap of cartilage at the root of my tongue, depresses to cover the opening of my windpipe and the mutilated bean travels down my esophagus. The journey is rendered inexorable by peristalsis, the involuntary constriction and relaxation of the muscles in my GI tract that move the hapless bean toward its inevitable fate. I can stand on my head and the bean will still move toward my stomach where acids and enzymes await, bibbed with fork and knife in hand. Hydrochloric acid and amylase collapse the carbohydrates into chyme, which seeps into my small intestine.
Glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream, where it is picked up by insulin secreted from the pancreas, and then the carbon-strand molecule is ushered into the cell for energy production. Though I am tempted to go granular, I will spare you the gory details of cellular respiration – glycolysis, the Krebs cycle and the electron transport chain – but it is nothing less than astonishing. Through a refined and extremely complicated process, glucose (with the aid of oxygen) is converted to ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which animates our entire existence from motor function to thought processes, from cardiovascular operation to digestion itself.
The by-products: carbon dioxide and water.
In summary, photosynthetic cells use sun energy, carbon dioxide and water to make glucose and oxygen. Non-photosynthetic cells (you and me) break down glucose for energy to make carbon dioxide and water.
This miracle of the carbon cycle offers a glimpse into the coincidence of opposites that arise within nature. Yin and yang. Up and down. Feminine and masculine. Moon and sun. Youth and age. Life and death. Each with a toe in the other’s pond, mutually interdependent, un-instantiated without its mirror inverse.
When unimpeded, nature will find its balance, for it has had billions of years to iron out the kinks. No one made the carbon cycle or the citric acid cycle or photosynthesis. Nobody put it there. It simply and slowly emerged.
In our quest for meaning, humanity can get tangled up in our myths. We concoct long-bearded grandfatherly Godheads in our own image and claim the opposite. We attribute life to cosmic alchemy as if it were truly blown into a ceramic figurine in a day. But, upon humble examination of life’s implausible systems, the logos – the foundational intelligence of the universe – is revealed as an emergence. We exist within a holobiont, what the Buddha dubbed Indra’s net, an interconnected meta-organism that is endlessly innovating and evolving in the quest for coherence.
Humanity rightfully champions its great achievements, but the elegance of our interdependence with plants or the technology within our mitochondria (the energy-producing archaea within our cells) dwarfs human artifice. And this magnificence is all unfolding without fanfare under the crust of consciousness, outside of construct. All we need to do is move with its grain — to sit here and eat a bean.
Reflecting on nature and her intricate ways can inspire tremendous thankfulness. We are incomprehensibly here in receipt of this strange, beautiful, imperfect and fleeting life, unwittingly participating in this greater creative process of life and death and death and life.
How justly will we live? What courage will we summon? How deeply will we love? Our gratitude is most sincerely expressed by how we live our lives — in our works and actions that recognize the miracle of nature’s gifts.
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