Early risers, planting potatoes

A common question over coffee the other day caused my fellow caffeine junkies to ask why some of us were born as day people and some of us night people.

That’s curious. Most animals aren’t so different, one from another.

For instance, all the chickens in the world find a place to park each night while clinging to roosts with their feet, just as sparrows hang on to telephone lines. Birds virtually never fall off their perches. And like chickens, we humans hardly ever fall out of bed in the middle of the night.

In fact, you never see or hear a night chicken. Chickens are 100 percent day birds. They are in cahoots with day people – crowing early in the morning when decent people should be able to go on sleeping until a more considerate hour.

Granted, most of you go to bed early and rise with the morning sun. But others wallow in the dark hours, staying awake at night, reading addictive books.

So why do most humans go to bed like chickens, falling over in an exhausted stupor on the arrival of darkness? After all, it is humans, not chickens, who invented night light.

We humans have been given a set of natural urges that were once useful but are largely irrelevant now that so many of us have become smarter than chickens. I am one of those humans who wonder each spring why we experience a strong urge to grow food. We can afford to buy our food in a supermarket.

But I just planted peas and potatoes and tomatoes again this year. It’s genetic. We have survived to this point partly because our forbears came from an era where you planted or you didn’t eat. And if you didn’t eat, it was sayonara.

Granted, some early cave people survived because they had a crucial food skill, such as killing deer, fish, birds and an occasional grasshopper. And a few cave people were men who helped women harvest wheat, fruit and nuts. We did that because women needed help in moving rocks out of their farming dirt and because we enjoyed the company of women.

In a time before supermarkets, the cave people needed to plant seeds and produce veggies. Those who planted food lived to perpetuate their own kind, bringing hunger genes along with them.

Gradually over the generations, most humans turned to other useful lines of work. Soon, most humans no longer needed to actually produce food through their own planting. Nonetheless, we did keep those planting genes. We phony farmers answer an internal call to get busy and plant food before last year’s winter stash of food runs out. Consequently, millions of us on this productive planet find ourselves planting vegetables each spring.

Not only is that unnecessary for most of us but we go overboard, pouring metered water and fertilizer while buying tillers and other expensive garden tools. The next thing you know is that you find yourself growing peas sand tomatoes for about $75 a pound.

That is a variation on deer hunters whose ancient feeding urges lead them into a buying binge of pickup trucks and tents and guns.

So why do some of us still thrive in the night instead of dragging ourselves out of bed early in the morning?

I’m guessing such an instinct is also in our genes. Every cave of early humans required a guard to watch over tribal members as they slept. I assume, given my urges, that my genes come from those ancient night watchmen. They stood staunchly in the mouth of the cave and, when needed, screamed “Bear!”

Bill Hall is a Lewiston, Idaho writer who contributes regularly to the Enterprise.