The Oyster and The Snake

Featured Image: Potatoes, acknowledgement for photo to Suat Eman.

The oyster is a fascinating creature, particularly in its production of pearls. A pearl originates as an irritant; a bit of grit or sand inside the oyster. The oyster responds to this irritation by surrounding the irritant with pearl. Layer after layer of pearl until the sharp irritant is smoothed. It still takes up space, but it doesn’t rub the oyster raw. The oyster continues to grow without injury alongside its new shell-mate. The product is highly prized, semi-precious and considered to be quite beautiful.

The snake is similarly fascinating. As she grows, she is constricted by her skin. In order to continue to grow successfully, she gets rid of it. Casting off the old skin, she can grow a little bigger, layer by layer. The result, though, isn’t a precious jewel, it’s discarded rubbish.

It says a lot about us as humans that we value the way the oyster does things, but not the way the snake does them. Both are changing so that they can continue forwards. One accumulates, the other sheds. We prize the accumulation of more stuff over the shedding of the unnecessary.

I have multiple responses to stress, and one of them is much like the oyster. I hoard items that I feel will help me cope better: notepaper, planners, things to help me organise. It takes a lot of willpower to walk through a stationers and not buy everything that looks useful. There’s a strong temptation to make myself a little paper pearl.

I also respond much like the snake. When everything gets too much, I have to be rid of all of the things that I feel are restricting me or taking up too much energy. Out with everything for a fresh start with less in the way so that I can move more freely.

Of course, neither of these approaches on its own is useful. They are both unbalanced, and they cause their own problems. I’m working on holding these impulses in check and pursuing a middle path: that of the potato.

The potato is certainly less glamorous than the oyster, and less striking than the snake, but it has its own special trick that I think makes it worth mention. The potato spends the summer growing leaves, expanding and thriving, but when winter comes, it dies back. Cutting out all of the leaves may seem rash, until you remember that the energy that would have been spent maintaining them has been folded back into the roots. Tubers store the energy that would otherwise have been expended, giving the plant a reserve within itself that allows it to persevere.

This is my goal: to shed all of the unnecessary drains on my energy so that I can redirect it back inwards, to keep me going through this metaphorical winter with more reserves and fewer demands. Hoorah for the under-appreciated root vegetable!

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