As I fall asleep to the lull of bullfrogs and crickets, I will wake to the smell of onions being fried. There will be bacon, yes. Coffee. There will be aromas that waft into my sleeping nose, beckoning a soft ascent. The best of all wakes. Good food awaits, and the smells are what started it all. Smells that became traditions. Smells that are family. And home. A typical summer morning at a cottage, recorded in the mind of smell. A frying onion.
A frying onion. Home. Back in time I fly into that realm, yet older all the time in this one. Chasing the origins is to see a thing’s infancy. An onion brings me back in time. To living memories that haven’t been over-played so much the tape gets stretched and warped. They are fresh memories that come from the nose.
In order to see what lies beneath we must peel back the layers. And to go back in time, we search out the oldest things, while ever-moving forward. The innermost heart of the onion is its oldest part. The outer layer is a baby that has cradled itself around its elder spheres. It has been around for way less time than its core. Its thin amber chaff protects both meat and memory. It is not a very thick shell. Easily cracked like paper that has been cooked in the sun. Delicate and brittle as a dragonfly’s wing. It falls off in shards, and crumbles into dust.
In another, more linear realm of time, the outer layer of the onion is what happened to the onion last, and is therefore by incremental count, the oldest segment. That is also true. There are at least two ways to count time and move forwards at the same time.
And yet, on the other range of time, the outer layer is actually the youngest because the core of that onion has existed for longer. It was from that core that the onion sprouted and continued to grow layers upon itself. Each new layer, a younger flesh than the previous, yet at the same time, the onion as a whole is older.
Look into the heart of an onion. Lift away each glossy skullcap to reveal newer, more delicate tiers. They appear as fragile baby things that seem to have never been exposed to the elements. And yet at one time, each deeper instance, was the outermost layer. Totally exposed.
In that tiny oblong space at the center of an onion, there is often nothing at all but space. The segments do not continue, meaty layer upon layer. At the core, there is nothing but an indentation. An echo. A hollow space. The oldest timestamp available for that single onion is absolutely nothing at all. The onion’s core is nothing but space, however small.
Likewise, an onion can be grown from throwaway dead onion rot. The seemingly deceased and unwanted butt ends. And hence, the oldest part of the onion on linear scale builds the conditions for a new cycle of…another onion. Only now, it is a young baby–a fragile and delicate thing–but older than the withered roots that gave it life. A third kind of time counting; that of a continuum of a species. Each new baby born is older than us all, while being younger.
To follow time backwards to an origin, we must go move forward to the earliest points. We move along in age and action on our common linear telling of time, trying to get back to the beginning of a story.
Surely, when I look at any celestial body in the sky, I’m seeing its oldest ends of light. Many of those stars might not even be there anymore. Because in the past, a calamitous event took place that destroyed that piece of light altogether. But that was a long time ago, and for me that light still shines down through the night, in this time. There is a star dying a violent death right now, at this very moment. In the present time. But we will have to wait until it’s light dies. In the future, there will be one less twinkle in the sky. And we will know, that in the past, a star died.
We are all time travelers. If you are reading this, you are doing it now. We have spanned the universe and watched an onion grow; but not in real-time, for that would be super boring. It is a long and slow journey moving forward and back. Trying to get a greater sense of change, while all the time spinning in an expanding universe, on a tiny ball in endless space. Yet it brings me comfort to be so small, knowing my earthly problems do not even register on the universal scale. They are truly nothing, but perhaps the smallest specks of splatter on a giant canvas.
It makes me feel safe, in an odd way. Like that kid waking up to the smell of onions frying. Bigger forms of life, taking care of the smaller ones. True comfort in a familiar smell. Because that means everything’s alright. And now, with onions slowly frying on the stove, I am delivered back to those times. And the onions are moving forward. They are the core of a dish I have yet to decide upon.