Hope and Sauerkraut

I consulted a holistic physician a few years back and was told to add some fermented food to my diet to boost the good bacteria in my digestive tract. On the way home from the doctor’s office, I bought a jar of pricey, all-natural sauerkraut.

Both my husband, Rick, and I really liked it. Rick decided to try making his own sauerkraut and wasted no time in buying a crock and a case of fresh, local cabbage. He created that first batch all by himself, slicing the cabbage thin, mixing it with the exact amount of pickling salt, and packing it into the crock with a weight on top. The crock has a special lip that creates a water seal to protect the anaerobic environment required by the bacteria that turns cabbage into sauerkraut. Within a day, the cabbage began “working,” a fact we knew from the occasional bubble that burst through the water in the crock’s rim.

I came to love that murmuring sound as bubbles emerged at unexpected intervals throughout the day. Something was obviously happening under the lid, in the darkness of the crock—something alive, mysterious, and transformative. Nine weeks later, we were delighted with the results—perfect, tangy, white sauerkraut—jars and jars of it, which we slowly ate our way through over the next several months.

I joined in the cabbage cutting for a second batch, this time adding caraway seeds. We pondered how remarkable it is that the bacteria needed to change raw cabbage into sauerkraut are already there on the plant’s leaves. Just give chopped cabbage the right environment, and sauerkraut is the inevitable result. If only my transformation could be so reliable and quick, I thought to myself as the knife sliced through the cabbage.

I believe there is an evolutionary urge in each one of us that bubbles up at odd times, moving us toward the best and truest expression of ourselves. As the new batch fermented over the coming weeks, I smiled every time I heard a bubble burst and imagined my anxiety releasing into peace, my doubt and fear converted into an easy acceptance of what’s true and real. While the end result of our human “fermentation” process might not be as predictable as sauerkraut, my experience is that it’s trustworthy, especially over the long arc of a lifetime. Who we become is very different from who we were starting out.

It’s now several weeks into batch number three, and I can sometimes hear the sauerkraut murmuring all the way upstairs, a long distance from the kitchen. I take its message as a hopeful one: If I give myself a good environment, if I add the right mix of work, leisure, yoga, writing, meditation, good company, and exercise, I too will continue to transform.

Danna Faulds is the author of six books of poetry and the memoir Into the Heart of Yoga.

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