On Sunflower Seeds

Posted on May 10, 2012 by


Rustavi, Georgia. It’s a windy city. The wind blows often and it blows hard. The wind brings with it earaches, dust, and a strong desire to stay indoors. This wind has many voices. When I’m inside, it’s a high-pitch howling as it tries to bypass the windows. It’s the flap and snap of half-dry laundry. It’s a rustling ocean of leaves. It’s the scuttle-y skitter of millions and millions of sunflower seed husks.

Sunflower seed husks? Millions and millions? Yep.

For me, sunflower seeds are nostalgic of summertime, of Little League, of nascent baseball somebodies carrying on a hymn of cracking, nibbling, and spitting in the dugout. Strike! Crack! Spit! Batter up! Nibble! You’re out! Spit nibble crack spit!

But Rustavi has no Little League baseball team. And it’s not even summer yet. What, then, can possibly explain the torrent of sunflower seed husks dancing in the breeze along Megobroba Street?

After giving this question a good think, I deduced that Rustavians (and Georgians at large) just really like sunflower seeds. Whittling away at the tiny seeds is a national past-time. Be it Rustavi, Tbilisi, Kutaisi, or Telavi, plump deidas peddle the black-husked seeds on the side of any self-respecting street. Pedestrians-cum-customers make their approach, exchange coins, and saunter away with sunflower seeds in cupped hands or in cones made of old newspaper. Then, that familiar refrain of crack! nibble! spit! and the clatter of the husks as they hit the pavement.

To the uninitiated, munching on sunflower seeds might seem like a tedious way to obtain one tiny piece of food. Indeed, an assault on one sunflower seed requires the coordinated efforts of both hands and the entire mouth region. It is quite an ordeal to coax one miserly germ out from its stronghold.

But to think of sunflower seed-munching in this way is to miss the point. The tiny, nutritious sunflower germ is not the aim; it’s just a bonus.

I started chewing sunflower seeds because, well, everybody else was doing it (when in Rome, hey?). I’ve found it to be a great mind-emptying exercise. The movements–bringing the sunflower seed to the teeth, cracking it, extracting the germ, and flicking the shell–are etched into muscle memory. There can be no reading, no writing, no multi-tasking, no doing. The mind can have a rest, or perhaps it can busy itself noticing this thing or that.

Walking through Rustavi, one will come across empty benches ringed by sunflower husks.  The wind will come soon. They, too, will be added to the scuttle-y skitter sunflower song.

They say “idle hands are the tool of the devil.” So stay out of trouble, dear reader, and try throwing a few husks to the wind.