My Life: The Cracker and Its Fixer

How Macadamia Nuts Remind the Author to Slow Down

<b>ENTER THE FIXER:</b> After months of the farm’s nutshell cracker sitting idle, the author’s husband, Monte, gets the broken machine going again.
Cynthia Carbone Ward

We grow macadamia nuts. Every day I look out onto an orchard of more than 100 thriving trees whose dangling tasseled blossoms fill the air with pungent fragrance and yield the sweetest and most satisfying of nuts, rich in the good kind of fat. But there’s a lot of work to do before the eating. After the nuts are harvested, they must be husked, dried, culled, and cracked, and that cracking step is a tough one because macadamias are gifted with the hardest of all nutshells. We often find bits of shells cracked open by neighborhood animals during their late-night parties, but those creatures must have some pretty impressive teeth and technique. I read somewhere that it takes 300 pounds per square inch of pressure to crack a macadamia shell.

Enter the cracker. What I like most about the one we use is its color. Well, let me backtrack: What I like most about the one we use is that it usually works. But even when broken, as it has been for several months, its color is pretty, an oddly pleasing shade of green on a steel frame that could very well have been left dreary. I also like the polka-dot holes in the cylinder through which the nuts tumble out, and I like the industrious noise of it, when it’s running, and its Rube Goldberg personality. It seems more contraption than machine.

But it’s been broken and idle, and I’ve watched wistfully as burlap sacks filled with nuts in shells are hauled off to a distributor, and I yearn for our own little share of the goods, whole round edibles in perfect eight-ounce portions, or the wonderful broken morsels my mother-in-law calls “cookie bits.”

Enter the fixer. It’s my husband, Monte, who reads directions and figures things out. The cracker comes with a xeroxed sheet of instructions for both operation and repair that look to have been hand-typed by a Mr. Shaw, the fellow who designed it. It talks about removal of bearings and end plates, replacing inserts in flanges, and setting a locking collar in the direction of rotation of the shaft. There are blades and taper pins and even a warning about distorting the cover plate “in a manner that could render the cracker worthless.”

It isn’t only that I dropped physics and don’t really understand how things work other than in a magical way (and I’m not proud of this) — it’s also that I am impatient and not inherently interested. I am cracked and distracted, and light gets in but never a clear, sharp beam. I look at these instruction sheets and feel overwhelmed and bored. Suddenly I notice a hummingbird darting around the honeysuckle. I remember something else I meant to be doing. I become the hummingbird but not as efficient.

But Monte got that cracker going: eight blades, eight removals, eight replacements with small tools and patient hands. And it reminds me of something we’ve been talking about lately, which is the importance of slowing down, paying attention, and tending with care and grace to even the mundane chores and tiny rituals of life … things like washing the dishes, making the bed, maintaining the cracker. It’s what the Buddhist teacher Thích Nhất Hạnh refers to as mindfulness. “I plant with all my heart and mind,” he has said. “I clean this teapot with the kind of attention I would have were I giving the baby Buddha or Jesus a bath. Nothing should be treated more carefully than anything else. In mindfulness … all is sacred.”

I guess Monte is Zen master in our household. As for me, I aspire. And whenever they are ready, I will munch on macadamias with mindfulness and pleasure.


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