I was assigned to weed the squash field with my coworker Ana. The rest of the crew had gone to another of the farm’s properties. Once the roar of the rototiller died down it was near silent. No machinery, no cars, no people talking. We hoed in silence as we listened to the wind, the birds and the river flowing nearby.
We weeded for three hours. A repetitive motion like that leaves space for the mind to wander. I found myself thinking about hoeing (and not the selling my body kind, stop that). First I noticed how my body seemed to be built for the motion – the bend of my knees, the strength of my back, the continuous fluid movement of my arms.
Then, after a few hours, my upper back muscles started to protest softly, irritated with the strain. It occurred to me that this pain, the soreness of my muscles from tending the soil, is an ancient pain. It is a soreness that people from pasts forgotten, cultures I have never heard of, felt too. Centuries of people cultivated food using the same motion I use every day at my job. Centuries of people went to bed with the same sore bodies. And centuries of people consumed the harvests their labor sowed.
The hoe is an ancient technology mentioned in documents that go back to 18th century BC, such as the Code of Hammurabi (a Babylonian law code). They were probably preceded only by the digging stick and originally made from flinted stones and simple metal work.
I am fascinated by the realization that despite centuries of innovation here I am, still hoeing, every day. It’s a humbling realization, and a humanizing one. Through the simple motion of breaking the ground I can relate to the centuries of people who inhabited this planet before I did. I am reminded that future generations will most likely do the same. And despite any differences between people then, now and in the future – food is the inescapable thread that binds us.