The transubstantiation of the peach
June 3 , 2006

I spent a couple of hours this morning peeling peaches because the roommate wanted to make pie and jam. The peach tree out back is groaning with the load. We've given tons away, I'll take some to work on Monday, and we'll ask the gardeners if they'd like some—but we also wanted some to carry forward with us into the year. That means freezing or bottling or baking. And that means peeling. The roommate, who grew up on a farm, told of peeling bushels of fruit in season, days on end, and making jams, preserves, baked goods, then boiling down the pits and skins with sugar and straining them to make syrup. Nothing wasted, everything used. 

We won't be quite that ambitious, I'm afraid. 

But the peeling: part chore, part pleasure. My back and water-wrinkled fingers feel the chore, my senses feel the pleasure. My mind, sliding here and there through the rhythm of the repetitive movements, takes me to strange places. Nothing unusual there. 

The ripe peach smell is heady, the taste sweet-tart as I pop pieces into my mouth, the meat tender, almost melting. Some peels come off hard, others slide off like burdensome clothes; some peaches cling tenaciously to the pit, others are glad of the departure, coming off neat. I'm careful to take even the damaged ones to find some salvageable part—because every peach longs for its moment of glory, the moment it's consumed and converted to energy.  

The peach doesn't care who consumes it: human, bird, squirrel, bug. It's all the same. What's important is that transubstantiation of matter to energy. Matter, once created, never dies, traveling on from vessel to vessel: the lizard who consumes the bug, the fetus in the womb, the bacteria in the earth, or a scattering of molecules into smoke and ash. The peach travels through it all. 

      The seeds that once were we take flight and fly,
      Winnowed to earth, or whirled along the sky,
      Not lost but disunited. Life lives on.

        —Titus Lucretius Carus (89 BC)

            (metrical translation by William Ellery Leonard)

Copyright © 2010 P.J. Thompson