August is the month we get to welcome new full-time voices to the post calvin! Please welcome Jon Gorter, who is taking over Matt Coldagelli’s spot. Jon (‘17) graduated with degrees in English and environmental studies and is pursuing a master’s in environmental justice. He lives in Ann Arbor where he bikes to class, plays the harmonica, and aspires to one day raise chickens in his backyard. When he’s not outside, he’s probably wishing he were. 

Over the past four months I’ve had the privilege of cultivating some of the world’s finest beans. Not just any beans; I’m not talking pinto, or black bean, or any of that refried business, whatever that process actually refers to. Are they fried twice? Am I to believe they started out fried, became unfried and then, by some process, were refried? Before I continue, and before I insult any other beans through over analysis, I want to stop for a moment and appreciate the particular type of beans I’ve been growing: coffee beans. 

Maybe coffee’s roasted chocolatey aroma tickled your nose this morning, generously offering you a complex olfactory delight derived from thousands of years of evolutionary selection. Maybe a good cup of joe juiced up your early hours, giving you just the right kick of Mother Nature to tackle the day’s tasks. Maybe you sipped that bittersweet nectar of the bean gods outside on the patio this afternoon with an old friend, or with Grandma, or with a first date. Just consider the myriad ways coffee graces our lives. It is delicious. It smells good. It brings us together. And so, we thank you, coffee.

In Costa Rica, coffee is revered. It’s referred to as the “grain of gold” because of how economically essential it’s been for the country over the last 200 years. Living in Costa Rica in a rural town, I’ve witnessed coffee plantations, both large and small, and seen coffee’s economic and cultural centrality. But coffee has so much more to offer than a dollar value. Through planting a few beans myself, coffee has given me something priceless: a space to reflect. 

I work as a naturalist, and part of my job involves growing coffee for a habitat restoration project. At first, taking care of the beans was a chore, something I had to tack on after breakfast and before dinner, not a huge inconvenience but an inconvenience nonetheless. Overtime, however, I began to see the invitation the beans offered to slow down. Coffee is slow growing, but really it grows as fast as it needs to; “slow” is relative. This daily maintenance was not a chore, it was an opportunity to feel some soil in my hands and quiet the inner mental clatter.

I began to think about the events of the day while pulling weeds. Before long, I started talking out loud, conversing with the beans about  whatever I couldn’t stop thinking about—the most recent mass shooting back home in the US, or the stray bullet that punched a hole through my brother’s apartment wall a few weeks ago.

They helped me process the good stuff, too. I’d recount videos my sister sent me of my one-year-old nephew growing up back in Michigan, giggling his way down slides or blowing bubbles. I’d describe visits from friends, or sharing an ice cream with my girlfriend, or seeing a sloth for the first time. And sometimes I’d sing to them, typically Michael Jackson or Billy Joel, in an almost inhuman falsetto.

When I’m working with the beans, the world becomes simplified. Tasks with the beans are immediate and they bring me into the present. Put the shovels away. Pull the weeds. Water the beans. I have time to slow down, to stop thinking about what I need to do and where I so desperately need to be, because I’m already there. 

Recently, the beans have started growing up. They’ve been transplanted into richer soil, and they need less weeding and watering now. I’ve started to question how essential is my work at this point—they might get a little weedy, but the beans would survive without my inputs. I think it’s safe to say the beans don’t need me right now. But I still visit them. I still give them updates. Maybe they don’t need the maintenance anymore, but I do.

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