The Monotony of Chopping Almonds: A Sojourner’s Guide to Falling in Love with Intentionality

It’s easy to make granola. A few cups of rolled oats, seeds, some cinnamon-honey syrup for the glaze that makes those of us who are allergic to nuts weigh out the cost of a forbidden taste against the epinephrine shot into our thigh. The Farm recipe calls for walnuts, almonds, and pecans, and the simple instructions to combine when finely chopped.

You can use a food processor to do it, but Diana, the house manager at the time, tells me she likes using a cutting board instead, that the food processor cuts them too fine if you leave them in for too long. So we sat down, Diana with the walnuts and pecans, and I with the almonds that I wasn’t allergic to, and we chopped.

Yes, it took us a long time to do it. Yes, it would’ve been a fraction of the time to put each half-cup in the “use me for nuts!” food processor, and no, it wouldn’t have been too hard to make sure the almonds weren’t left in for too long. And it would’ve been okay. The granola wouldn’t have tasted significantly different. It would’ve taken less time, baked sooner, and been ready to go within the afternoon.

But, we didn’t need any of that to happen. We didn’t need to go fast. We didn’t need to avoid the cutting board conversation and rush to the next chore. We had time, and we took it.

A lot of the time, I think, we don’t realize how beautiful it can be to do things intentionally, rather than easily. My sojourn this summer helped me see this more clearly in everything I did, in every moment I had.

It’s easy to kill weeds with herbicide. It’s harder to sit in the dirt, among the worms, bury under your nails mud that’ll stain your fingers for the next week, while straining your back and knees to find a comfortable spot between the rows, only to have to move over another foot in 5 minutes anyway. But despite that, we still weed by hand.

It’s easy to throw food scraps right into the trash. It’s harder to make stir-fry with leftover beans, broccoli stems, onion, whatever the tupperware labeled ‘deconstructed breakfast potatoes’ dated from a week ago is, and laugh as the staff tries to guess all the ingredients we ended up dousing in soy sauce and ginger. But we can use the leftovers, and we can build community anyway.

It’s easy to shower every single day. If you’ve been to the Farm, you know you get messy enough to bathe three times a day and still find dirt behind your ears and sawdust in the pits of your elbows. It’s harder to sit with it, the sawdust and stickiness of the summer day, knowing we have water to wash it off. But we know why we choose to limit ourselves despite the resources, and so we sit with it anyway.

It’s easy to say you’re tired and go back to sleep after an early 10:10 alarm wakes you up on your Saturday off. It’s harder to grab your headlamp, a tarp, and a fluffy dog to hike the buggy uphill battle to the Rock, just to see the sunrise before the rest of the holler with people you’ll quickly promote from ‘someone I volunteer with’ to ‘friend’ in the correspondences with family back home. We can step out of our comfort zones and watch the stars dissolve into a blue sky with people we love anyway.

It’s easy to throw your clothes in the dryer and forget about them until someone mentions how long it’s been since they’ve done their own laundry. It’s harder to scoop up the handful of damp work pants and t-shirts, tiptoe into the yard, and discover the stains that didn’t come out in the wash. Find the woodshop projects that signed their name on your overalls, the worksite that painted your headband more than you painted its wall, whatever food managed to smear across your hip while cleaning up after dinner, the sock that got balled up after doing lawns and trapped the cut grass in the toe far from the reach of water and homemade detergent. We can get rid of these messy clothes and easily get new, or we can wear our stains like badges of honor, brag about them at breakfast, and air-dry them, imperfect and memorable, anyway.

There are ways to live life easily. But sometimes, I think, it’s worth it to fall in love with the simplicity of a knife and a cutting board, and the monotony of chopping almonds.

-Ashley Bound, Summer Sojourner 2019 & 2020