The questions on the Common Application haven't changed much over the past two years (though I see they're different this year), and as I read the applications, sometimes I wonder how I'd answer these questions if I had to write a college application now. I suspect I'd find the process daunting. Too many places to fall short.
Which seems particularly obvious to me when it comes to this question: "Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?" What seems, on the surface, to be a perfectly innocuous question about tranquility is much more devious, of course, because contentment isn't necessarily peaceful; the essay demands that you demonstrate readiness for college in your choice of content (not the description of the place, of course, but the part that's about you) and proficiency in writing. Lots of students use this question to describe their experience in competitive athletics, or in some kind of work "flow" in a lab or as they're reading. So what does it say about me, I wonder, that I'd chose my CSA farm?
I am content with my family, too, when my daughter wriggles into my lap and tells me she's going to cuddle, or when my son tells me about his day, interrupting his stream of consciousness every fourth word with "mom? and mom?" But sometimes it's hard to quiet my mind there. When I'm home I'm often thinking about other things I need to do, lunches to pack, schedules to manage, dinners to make, grocery shopping to do, laundry to fold. Books I ought to read.
But the CSA is different; it's the one place where time stops for me. I may be in a rush when I get there, and in a rush when I leave, but when I'm picking up vegetables, being present is effortless. I'm always, without fail, astonished by the view, the green hills that roll away to the horizon with other farms and silos and houses with acreage. It's one of the few places where I stand still. Sometimes, if I'm there at just the right time of day, the air is thick and bright with butterflies above the rows of zinnias and sunflowers. As I pluck the cherry tomatoes from their vines-which come in every imaginable hue from red to yellow to purple--sweet juice bursts their skins open in the heat. Why is it meaningful to me? Because being present is difficult sometimes, and I'm grateful for a place that reminds me to do so even after I've left. Because the other CSA members who've come to pick up their shares, people I've met and people I've never met, essentially share a garden and a virtual table: we are an instant and real community, which offers its members a sense of belonging with no strings attached. My farmer greets me by name and with a broad smile. I know the origins of my dinner, digging my heels into the soil that nourished the plans that produced my beans. I feel connected, and quite literally, grounded.
I'm fairly certain that's not good enough for a college essay. I wonder what the admissions committees would make of me, the me that would write that essay now. I wonder if they'd wonder if I ought not to be applying to an ag school, or to a Buddhist monastery, or to a culinary institute, instead of to a university.
Or maybe they'd think I'm an artist, a dreamer, a lover of people, someone who cares about sustainability and nourishing the body and the spirit and the local community.
I like the second picture better.
Zucchini with Pesto
Combine in a food processor and process to a rough paste:
2 c. loosely packed basil leaves
1⁄2 c. grated Parmesan
1⁄3 c. cashews
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled
With the machine running, slowly add:
1⁄2 c. olive oil, or as needed
If the pesto seems dry (it should be a thick paste), add a little more olive oil. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
Use immediately, or pour a very thin film of olive oil over the top, cover, and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
When you're ready to serve the dish, julienne the zucchini (I have a brand new fancy mandoline that some friends got for me to do this). Saute briefly until just crisp-tender, and toss with the pesto to warm. Serve with fresh ripe tomatoes, a crusty bread, and whatever else yells summer.