Saturday, October 31, 2009

Facts in Isolation

I have always felt a little nervous when people start quoting scripture. More often than not, the quotes are fragments that have been surgically removed from whatever gave rise to them and presented as every word in the Bible carried equal weight. Scripture as a string of pearls. As often as not, the result is more abusive of the words than honoring; holy wisdom recklessly eviscerated. I think of the sermon I heard years ago, drawn from the passage in the book of Ruth that describes how "Ruth clung to Naomi, saying 'Entreat me not to leave thee...for whither thou goest I will go...'" to talk about the importance of touch. Please. I'm all for touching, but is that really what this passage is working on? Most arguments on morality I hear condemning this or that behavior are appliqued with these kinds of snippets -- tacky decorations more than structural foundations.

Perhaps that's why one particular sentence in Wendell Berry's essay, "Going to Work" caught my attention. In the essay Berry, a farmer, author and agrarian activist from Kentucky, builds a progressing sequence of 49 propositions on the relationship between working and living. Each of them was worth thinking about, but it was #47 that hooked me.
XLVII. Facts in isolation are false. The more isolated a fact or a set of facts is, the more false it is. A fact is true in the absolute sense only in association with all facts. This is why the departmentalization of knowledge in our colleges and universities is fundamentally wrong.
Reading #47, of course, made me flip back to a couple of earlier propositions -- #'s 30 and 31 -- which suddenly made clearer sense. There, Berry had talked about the "scientific need for predictability or replicability" that "forces perception into abstraction" -- the test plot, for example, that is perceived not as itself but as representative of all plots everywhere; a new machine or chemical or technique that is proved workable in one situation that is assumed to be representative of all places where it might work.

One might say that Berry's examples are scientific "proof texting" -- taking an insight out of context and forcing it to mean more than it really does. But as in science and technology and education, so it is in scripture: context is everything.

Berry, I think, is pretty close to having it right: facts in isolation are false.

I suppose that means I'll need to scrap tomorrow's sermon on the value of touch.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Enlarging Vacation's Perspective

"There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, 'Morning, boys. How's the water?' And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, 'What's water?'"
(from This is Water by David Foster Wallace)

Vacations at their best have something of that quality -- immersed in their own encompassing world so present and complete that every other reality, while not quite disappearing, at least recedes to the murky shadows and shapes moving distantly on the surface above.

That's something of how it has been these last several days away -- the creation of another world whose water we swam around in created its own kind of "new normal." It's not that we ceased to notice the blessing -- every day we noted our smiles and virtually absorbed the beauty and grace around us through our pores. Rather, the blessing became somehow enveloping and all encompassing, developing its own orienting rhythm and familiarities -- the quirky personality of the Inn room that became our miniature home; the coffee miraculously ready in the morning, the chipper "Is there anything else I can get for you" of the server as she set down our breakfast, the barest skeletal shape of plans for the day that we fleshed out with Dave and Jane while finishing off the scrambled eggs or French Toast, the cookie waiting in the afternoon, the fireplace at dinner and the winsome companionship of the servers we have come to know by name; the special kindnesses and generosities given and received. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world to visit a cider mill or a cheese farm or simply drive or hike around for hours at a time.

"What's water?" we, too, might well have responded had someone asked about this experience in which we were swimming.

It is, I recognize, all about the power of perspective -- tilted and shifted yet again by a day in airports schlepping bags and fumbling with now foreign feeling keys in the door lock of a darkened front porch that only awkwardly, reticently makes room again for us within.

And now, after a night in my own bed, with suitcases disgorged and the laundry room humming and the requirements of catching up already scratching at my consciousness, the perspective broadens even more. What only yesterday morning had seemed like the very world, itself -- the entire ocean of our reality -- gradually reveals its more authentic truth:

It hasn't been the ocean, after all, in which we have been living these past several days, but only one small, incredibly beautiful and blessed drop gracing one tiny branch of a very much larger world...
...that now welcomes us home.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Views Above the Surface

I once heard William Sloane Coffin (then Senior Minister of New York's Riverside Church) get off a cheap, but incredibly clever shot at TV preacher and Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell: "Deep down, he's shallow."

I thought of that line in a completely different and unrelated context yesterday. We had set off on a sweeping drive to explore at least a part of what Yankee Magazine had dubbed "New England's Most Scenic Drive" -- Vermont Route 100. Because we arrived in Vermont at the tail end of the foliage season, Innkeepers Dave and Jane recommended the southern portion of the route as having a higher likelihood of color. Setting off, then, about mid-morning, we headed west, picking up 100 near Ludlow and turning south. Passing through Weston and later Jamaica, we eventually came upon Mount Snow, one of the major snow skiing areas in the state. We escaped the highway for a while and explored the area -- a ghost town of sorts this time of year; the empty lodge, the frozen chair lifts. Back on the road, we headed as far down as Wilmington before cutting east toward Brattleboro.

I hardly feel qualified to argue with Yankee Magazine -- and who knows what Route 100 might have looked like a few weeks earlier -- but the second half of the trip was what made the excursion worthwhile, beginning with Brattleboro. Our hosts had described it as a "hippie" kind of town, and walking around the quaint village it did, indeed, offer its share of hemp clothing stores, quirky shops selling all manner of pipes, and artist enclaves. Time for lunch, we hunted down the recommended option: The Riverview Cafe, located on the banks of the Connecticut River. Warmer temperatures and a mostly sunny sky made it possible to eat outside, on the deck looking out over the water. It was breathtaking.

And it was then we noticed how low the bridge hung over the water, and how limiting that would be for any water-borne traffic. Looking more closely, then, we observed how shallow was the crystal clear water -- at least a third of the way across from our side of the river. It struck me as odd: this spectacular river, scenic in every way; broad and long, it looked at this point like an eastern version of the Mighty Mississippi, which is surely why our minds had drifted to barges navigating up and down the way. But the comparison, it turns out -- at least along this portion of the river -- is veneer; all appearance, all on the surface.

Or to say it that other way, "deep down, it's shallow."

I don't want to be too judgmental; we did, after all, see only a tiny portion of a long and significant river. And it was beautiful. Take none of that away from it. And maybe at its absolute center the river floor drops to the earth's core. But I'm guessing there is a reason why no one hesitated to span it with a low slung bridge.

And I couldn't help but think of the various people I have met through the years about whom the same things could be said. Wide. Long. Good reputation. Scenically beautiful and picturesque. And deceptively shallow.

Driving north out of town, we headed back toward the Inn, through Newfane where all the buildings are painted black and white, through Grafton where we walked in the woods and once again bought some award winning cheese, into Chester where we gratefully found a gas station, and soon thereafter, home.

Scenically richer, and in my own way deeper than when we had started out.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Among the Leaves and Spray

"So, where are you headed today," Jane asked at breakfast. We were tired of buildings, we told her. We want to get out in the woods, walk around some; perhaps see a waterfall or two. "No problem," she responded. "We've got those."

We ate, we returned to our room to gather up a few things; and when we descended the stairs Jane had printouts all ready -- "Your day all planned for you," she said with a grin. And, indeed, there was a hike and a waterfall. And, again, a GPS.

We set off in the designated direction, and six hours later returned home, having gotten spray-close to falls and walked a couple of miles up and over and down a mountain and back again. So what did we see?

Sometimes, though a word guy like me hates to admit it, a picture really is worth a thousand dimensions of vocabulary.
video

Just as an example.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Farm Tour into Artisanal Obscurity

I'm remembering years ago, attending a church men's event in Nashville, hearing a bluegrass band called "The Clusterpluckers." Despite their name, they were fantastic; and I kept thinking how nobody knew who they were. Here were these fabulous musicians, working away in relative obscurity -- like goodness knows how many other equally talented artists that, for lack of a gimmick or an eager agent, toiled away well-beneath the radar; plying their craft and, I have to imagine, enjoying and finding life amidst the plucking.

Today at breakfast, Dave the Innkeeper handed us a pre-programmed GPS unit that would lead us to all the farms whose produce routinely shows up on the menus of the Inn. We could have spent days moving from one to another, but we settled on 4 and hit the road. Chef Jason, last night, had enthusiastically encouraged us to visit Woodcock Farm that makes award winning artisanal cheese -- mostly sheep's milk, but some cow's milk as well. Dave reinforced the recommendation, and after receiving a phone call that cheese making was underway, we hit the road -- first the highway, then the lane, then the dirt road, then the pocked farm road that led to the tiny operation. Mark Fischer, the owner and cheese maker left his work long enough to give us an explanation of the process and invite us to watch through the window, before darting back to the work space to join his wife Gari draining the whey that later would become excitement for the farm hogs to drink; scooping the curds and forming the loafs of nascent cheese; lifting the cheesecloth to turn the forms, one by one by one.
video
While he was at work I noticed taped to the wall handwritten notes listing the addresses of cheese shops in New York and Boston -- hints of the quality underway. And we lingered, watching, tasting...and eventually purchasing from this craftsman/farmer and his wife almost invisibly, in this out of the way farm, creating excellence.

Another cheese farm followed; then to visit an herbalist who grows organic vegetables and herbs, the latter of which she compounds into creams and oils for various uses -- and teas. She showed us the varieties, one tea of which was specially formulated for people recovering from hip surgery. We passed on the tea, for now, but kept her phone number and address just in case.

The cider mill was next -- a farm and operation that has been in the family for over 100 years, using equipment every bit that old. videoWe studied the apple press, watched the juice boiling, the steam rising, the careful hands stirring, and followed the process from the boiler to the reducer and ultimately into the jelly jars. Willis Wood -- of Wood Cider Mill -- has recently been part of an experience with Chef Jason filming an upcoming television show with Emeril, and though he could have been cocky about the splash of attention, guessed instead that his part would probably wind up on the editing room floor.

We could have continued on, with other similar experiences, but already we were full -- nourished by these wonderful artisans, toiling away in relative anonymity. On out of the way roads that need a GPS to find, are these incredibly gifted families routinely creating masterworks of their particular art.

Each time we pulled back out on the highway I found myself thinking back on those Clusterpluckers, and how -- for lack of the right publicity -- these folks could be really famous; only to realize that they are already making all they can. Making more would require fundamentally changing how they work, and they prefer the hands-on approach. Quality, in other words, is preferable to quantity.

My guess is that people pressed Rembrandt to produce more paintings faster, as well. The fact that his works aren't hanging in Holiday Inns suggests that he, too, chose art over rank abundance.

Chances are we won't be finding these cheeses or these ciders and jellies and syrups there (or their grocery store equivalents) either. Thanks be to God. We'll have to go to them -- or, in a pinch, rely on Federal Express.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Warm and Soulful and Filling

There is that spewing, almost electrically sputtering moment, just after a kitchen match is struck, when the flame quite literally leaps out of and off the stick, erupting in a frizzle of splashing yellow that almost immediately mellows into its more balanced blaze. I've been thinking about that erupting instant in recent days driving around the country roads of southeastern Vermont. It's as though the white-skinned birches have all been struck at once, their yellow leaves erupting in precisely that luminescent splash; struck into flame and then scattered throughout the mountainsides as though candles on a dappled birthday cake. There aren't as many reds as one might like -- perhaps we arrived just past their prime, or perhaps they never matured into that rich sugary hue -- but the yellows and coppers and bronzes and greens are ample autumnal blessing. There is a warmth to the colors -- not as riotously celebratory, perhaps, as in other years, but richer somehow; even soulful. The foliage may not evoke giddy "ooh's" and "ah's" this time around, but it is nonetheless a "deep breath" kind of landscape. And we have needed a few deep breaths.

Today, we used the driving to get us to the King Arthur Flour Factory, Store, and Educational Center in Norwich, Vermont -- a half-hour or so to the north. We were signed up for simultaneous baking classes -- Pizza Making for Lori; Autumn Pasta for me. For four hours we went our separate ways, both up to our elbows in various flours and doughs and shapes and ends. For me it was a refresher course for skills learned last year in Italy, though here we used table top pasta machines. I was interested in honing my more mechanical skills with the dough. Mid-afternoon, Lori emerged with two pizza boxes full of her work which we sampled on the drive back to the Inn, and I carried the satisfaction of two pasta recipes successfully accomplished, plus a box full of two different types and two different shapes that I hadn't a clue what to do with -- until Chef Jason met us at the door of the Inn, gathered up my box and headed off into the kitchen with the promise of something special for our dinner. That may well be the definition of "value added lodging."

Deep breaths, then, born of both sight and taste. And company, of course. My beautiful bride is sitting across the room in front of the fire, reading, taking a few deep breaths of her own, unaware for the moment of how grateful I am to be sharing these precious yellows, muted reds, vibrant greens, and warm, mellowing coppers, bronzes, pastas and pizzas. And the promise of tomorrow. If this very moment and all that it savors weren't so filling -- and the thought of it ending weren't so forbidding -- I don't think I could wait. But wait I will, preferring to make of every moment a deep breath of its own.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Foliage, Ziplines, and Trust

We drove eastward until reaching the freeway -- an almost obligatory part of the trip if we were to arrive at a reasonable time; but even then the views were spectacular. After a quick and scenic half-hour, we exited into New Hampshire and followed highway 10 up to the Kancamagus Highway -- a limited access road through the White Mountains National Park. From there, the road hugged the mountain streams up the mountains, across the Appalachian Trail and down into Lincoln where we met up with our fellow adventurers at Alpine Adventures for scheduled zipline canopy tour. I had been looking forward to this day since we booked the excursion almost 2 months ago. Lori has been more circumspect. The videos at the office didn't help much. Looking back, I perhaps should have suggested we wait outside. The release we had to sign didn't offer much encouragement either. Both pages, each detailing possible decapitation, maiming, bites by wild animals, collisions with trees, and catastrophic and painful death. I casually compared the waiver of liability to the inserts routinely accompanying prescription drugs. That seemed to be persuasive. For the moment.

Shortly, the 12 of us were huddled into a side room where we were assigned our nylon harness and helmet and a few chatty warnings about the possible loss of limbs should we not listen to our guides or fiddle with our lifelines. One last survey of the troops to cinch up our harnesses and we were shuffled into the waiting bus for the trip up the mountain. Arriving at the trailhead, we were transferred to an old six-wheel drive Swiss-made troop transport vehicle that had been used in the 1960's by the Austrian army, the ride in which should have sobered anyone who still had teeth and a spine by the time we reached the drop-off point. A few more draconian instructions, and we were ready to begin -- one at a time, harnessed to the zip line, followed by the casual reminder that "this is completely voluntary" -- and the suggestion that we simply step into...

...oblivion. The first zipline wasn't bad: we were standing on the ground, on a rock, and we could essentially just step off and begin to fly. The end of that line, however, landed us on a narrow platform about the size of a milking stool on the top of a tree at least 36,000 feet in the air where we were instructed to just "hang there for moment" while the guide made several clicking maneuvers. Shifting over our apparatus to the next line, the guide once again casually suggested that we just squat down and step off. Step off, this time, literally into...
video
...oblivion. For what I trust was not the first time it had happened, the harness held, the trolly wheels gripping the line above continued to roll, and somewhat miraculously we reached the next stratospheric platform at an elevation where only nosebleeds dwell.

And it went like this for six lines -- interrupted only by a suspension bridge that was only missing alligators in a lagoon below. video

The final line they told us not to bother even trying to control our direction. We were going to drop too fast, travel too far, and gain too much velocity for it to matter.

Did I mention the issue of trust? Afterwards, Lori and I talked about it: her near inability to trust the employee guides -- every one of which looked to be about 8-years old -- who held our lives in their hands; and my almost nonchalant willingness to be putty in their hands; trust in the people; trust in the equipment; trust in the cables stretched between Venus and Mars and chasmic universe in-between; trust that all those disclaimers and waivers we had signed were just lawyer talk to cover everyone's rear end.

Back at the inn for dinner, our waiter, Paul, asked us how it had been. "Great," I responded. "Grateful to be back alive," countered Lori. Paul had been the one the previous night who, upon hearing of our plans to go ziplining through the foliage, had shaken his head and proclaimed, "Not me. I'm all about 'terra firma.'" Tonight, after hearing our stories, he recalled how he was told in the military that the only things falling from the skies were fools and bird poop. I'm guessing it might have been a little more colorful in the military, but his point was made.

I loved it. It was exhilarating. I would do it again. But I wouldn't be surprised if I don't. I won't be at all surprised, however, if Lori, should the opportunity happen to arise again, quietly shakes her head, tells me to enjoy the ride, and boldly makes other plans. And I wouldn't be surprised if I joined her.
video

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Indulging ourselves until the next famine befalls


We have been winning, to our inestimable loss, a competition against our own land and our own people. At present, what we have to show for this "victory" is a surplus of food. But this is a surplus achieved by the ruin of its sources. (Wendell Berry, Nature as Measure, 1989)
Every seminarian sooner or later learns that the Greek word for "sin" is an archery term, literally meaning "missing the mark." Shooting for the bulls-eye, you hit instead the nearby bull in the eye. The cure, of course, is to refine one's aim -- to shoot with more precision. Spiritually speaking, it means to "repent," which in that same Greek simply means to "go in a different," presumably better aimed, "direction."

As Berry suggests in the opening observation, our cross-hairs could use some recalibration. Agriculturally speaking, we are essentially eating the geese that lay our nutritional golden eggs. We are, in other words, proudly succeeding at our own self-destruction. Or to recall a quote from Thomas Friedman, "We are getting better and better at that which shouldn't be done at all."

Short-term gain and long-term cost. If ever there were evidence of what the ancient theologians described as "Original Sin," it would be this recurring pattern. We witnessed it again in recent years in Wall Street's (read: investor's) insatiable hunger for greater returns, which maximized quarterly reports over sustained vitality and gentler growth, which drove business practices -- and created investment instruments -- that looked good on paper but were ultimately suicidal.

We never seem quite able to comprehend that "how we do things" really does matter as much as -- and perhaps more than -- "what we do."

Agriculturally we measure per acre output, without considering the larger impact of all that goes into achieving it -- the financial, chemical, environmental and even medical price that is paid. Economically we similarly care only about the most superficial "bottom line." Spiritually -- well, we find all manner of ways to be titillated in the moment but not really grounded and nourished throughout the landscape of human experience.

Berry, I think, has put his finger on the essential nature of sin: setting our sights on, and investing our creative energies into, accomplishing more voluminously, more cheaply, and more quickly those things we believe are most important for keeping us alive -- and succeeding; only to die because our very pursuit obliterated that which actually had the capacity to sustain us.

But none of that looks very promising to the shareholders, reading the quarterly reports, so we will just keep doing what we are doing -- and feeling proud and successful -- until the next famine of some sort befalls us.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Catching Up On the Interesting Things Behind

Perhaps I am becoming a more discriminating reader. On the other hand, perhaps my attention span is simply diminishing to the point that precious little holds it for long. Whatever the explanation, I find myself skipping over much.

Camped out in a hotel – in a much-appreciated retreat of sorts – while Lori attends a professional conference, I have turned myself to the stack of Christian Century magazines I unloaded from my desk drawer in preparation for the trip. It is a great magazine to which I faithfully subscribe, routinely full of articles both important and interesting. The issues, however, arrive twice each month and I get behind. Ummm, I stay behind. So, I have been looking forward to catching up – starting with the oldest in the stack (June 16) and working my way forward to the current October 20 edition that arrived just before we left.

Over the religious news summaries now months old I find myself agilely skipping. Articles begun with interest frequently lose their hold and I turn a page...or two. June, in this pattern, was dispatched in only slightly more time than had been required to change the calendar page earlier in the summer. I’m sure it didn’t have anything to do with the feature story on the pastor’s struggle with the criticism that inevitably comes her or his way. Now halfway through July I have read with interest stories on the unique dynamics within clergy families, plus Luci Shaw’s poem reflecting on relative merits of burial versus cremation. Looking ahead, the table of contents for the latter half of the month frankly doesn’t look like it will take me very long to make it into August.

There is, however, something profligate about this progress long overdue. I think about the care with which the writers crafted their essays and reflections. I imagine the editors arranging and rearranging, paring stories and deciding how much of what to go where. I imagine the sermons now committed to files that were nourished by the Bible Studies on the texts assigned for days already forgotten. And I am turning pages as though they were popcorn grabbed and swallowed by the handfuls. As though considerations of deeper questions had a shelf life. I should, I know, slow down and savor the words, the thoughts, and the efforts of those who proffered them.

But for reasons I can’t find I am driven to get current, which means pages to go and words to sift before I sleep. September, after all – despite this October date – is still before me.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Gone by Afternoon


October Snow. It isn't unprecedented. I remember one year Jack-o-lanterns wearing snowy crowns. But I don't recall ever seeing snow on October 10. In fact, no one remembers. The paper said that hadn't happened since records have been kept -- sometime in the 1800's. Nonetheless, there it was on Saturday morning -- falling in tufts as though it were December. In fact, I was tempted to break out the Bing Crosby; but I don't think even WalMart has its Christmas displays up yet.

Though it snowed all morning -- an inch or more according to reports -- it was gone by mid-afternoon. The air was chilly, but not cold enough to hang onto the blanket. Still, it was persuasive reminder of how suddenly the seasons can change -- outside, to be sure, but elsewhere too. Sunday evening the phone rang with news from a friend of problems in their extended family -- an unconscious spouse, a 911 call, an ambulance ride and now intensive care. Just that morning it had still been autumn at that house, and all of a sudden it was winter.

I have a new book -- a "Field Guide to Snowflakes" -- that notes the influences of such things as temperature and humidity on the ultimate design of a snow crystal. As to the common axiom that "no two are alike," the author draws the analogy of arranging books on a shelf. With just 15 books, he calculates, there are over a trillion ways to arrange them on the shelf. "With 100 books, the number of possible arrangements is vastly greater than the total number of atoms in the entire universe" (p. 13).

In a complex snowflake specimen, "you might count a hundred or more individual features, each of which could go in a different place. The math is like that with the books, so the number of possible ways to make a snowflake is absurdly large. Thus, the probability of finding two identical specimens is essentially zero..." (ibid).

And to think that each of these utterly original, completely unique creations was extinct within hours of its formation.

Seasons change quickly. And life is short -- each utterly original, completely unique specimen of it. It sort of gives new urgency to the importance of living each day to the fullest, and treasuring the precious and intricately complex creations with and around whom we get to live -- every second that we can.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Practicing the Watery Presence

In his devotional classic, The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence reflects on the spiritual discipline of finding and praising God in the ordinary acts of daily living -- peeling the potatoes, washing the dishes. I was, I suppose, talking to God last night, but more after the fashion of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof than Brother Lawrence in the kitchen.

The drain pipe into which the washing machine evacuates was misbehaving, puddling the floor with each load like a happy-to-see-you puppy, so I withdrew the rubber hose from the washer in order to make a run through the pipe with the drain snake. Finishing -- or at least tiring of -- that work, I retracted the yards of cable, set aside the snake, began another load of laundry and went back upstairs to help Lori process the fresh produce she had brought home from the farm. Time passed, and I estimated that the laundry was ready to shift over to the dryer, so I trotted back downstairs...

...to find Lake Kenmore. Of course I had neglected to return the rubber drain hose to the freshly cleared drain pipe. Towels were employed. A sponge mop. Frequent squeezing into the drain. Eventually -- and after animated and colorful conversation with the Divine -- I remembered that several years ago, in the wake of a similar misadventure, I had bought a shop vac now, I discovered, secreted in the deepest recess of the narrowing space beneath the stairs. Beyond a book case and two clothes racks. Sloshing back, I retrieved the appliance (neglecting to gather up the extension pipe) rearranged some plugs and fired it up. Two tankfulls later the floor was merely damp. I left two fans in motion to finish up the recovery and slogged my way upstairs toward bed, the clock a few ticks into the new day.

A night's rest and a cup of coffee later, I'm thinking about this whole "practicing the presence" idea. Since it is entirely likely -- probable in fact -- that I will wreak this kind of havoc again, I'm sure God would appreciate it if grew more proficient in this active form of praying.


That, and finding a readier place to store the shop vac.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What Are You Reading?


OK, I don't pretend to understand the whole diary concept. I'm not knocking it -- goodness knows that the practice has had a long and storied history. After all, without diaries, what would the market be for all those very tiny keys heretofore used to secure them? Think of how bereft would be our understanding of the holocaust without the diary of Anne Frank.

But then we aren't talking these days about the diary of Anne Frank. The diary currently on everyone's mind is the one detailing her romantic escapades with David Letterman by a former Late Show staffer. Apparently, she accidentally left it behind when she moved out on her now-ex-boyfriend who no doubt enjoyed the intimate read until coming across the section on Letterman.

So, here's the thing: for whom, exactly, was this woman writing all these things down? Maybe the volume has been misconstrued. Maybe the book was more "journal" than "diary". "Journal," after all, connotes a kind of reflective process -- writing as a discipline of the soul intended to help one sift through the clods of general experience for the gems of meaning buried within. Maybe, then, the former staffer was simply writing as a way of making sense out of what was happening -- kinesthetic therapy or prayer, as it were.

But "diary" -- the simple chronicling of daily activity -- I suppose I just don't get.

"Dear Diary: today I got up, had breakfast, went to work, slipped off during the break and had a romantic liaison with a famous TV star, made another pot of coffee in the staff lounge, took care of a few more odds and ends at the office, picked up take-out Chinese and headed home to spend the evening with my boyfriend..."

For whom is such a narrative intended -- except an ex-boyfriend you might enjoy making mad by "forgetting" the notes in a conveniently discoverable location? I can't seem to push away the suspicion that diaries are generally kept in the secret hope that, despite the writer's best efforts, they fall into public hands and make the author a household name...at least for that enviable 15 minutes of fame.

I know, that's cynical. Lovers never really do that sort of thing to each other. It was all an unfortunate, albeit titillating accident. That sort of deviousness only happens on TV, in twisted episodes involving famous people.

On late night talk shows.

I have decided to start taking better notes on the interesting and more salacious details of my daily life on the off-chance that nobody will accidentally find and read them. The project will have to wait, however, until I am able to locate a notebook small enough to match the key.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Finally, after all these years, I received a small measure of satisfaction.

Yesterday, we farmed vicariously. Seven farms about an hour south of Des Moines were featured in "the Farm Crawl" sponsored by the Practical Farmers of Iowa and Marion County Farm Bureau. Each farm, located by an extensive network of roadside signs, put their best foot forward for the visitors who flocked from the city for a visit. Apples, pumpkins, goats, poultry, vegetables, pottery and yarn spinning were all on display -- with more than a few for sale. We, for example, brought home some honey complete with comb, and some rhubarb preserves. We tried to bring home some eggs but they were long gone by the time we arrived. Likewise the borscht, but I have mixed thoughts about my disappointment over this missed opportunity.

The strangest experience came at the very beginning, as we were pulling into the goat farm, featuring "Quality Artisanal Goat Cheese". The farm, itself, turned out to be well off the main road, on the other end of a one-lane drive that cars alternated to navigate with the help of a staffer at either end with a walkie-talkie. Misunderstanding the signal, we pulled over to the side of the entrance behind two or three other cars and started to get out and walk. Captain walkie-talkie shouted over that this was merely the pull-off spot, not the parking spot, so at his signal we drove further up the one-lane path where, sure enough, dozens of other cars were already parked. Several helpful youth -- one with the companion walkie-talkie and another on a four-wheeler motioned toward the open field for parking. We obliged, navigating our way along the ruts and into an open space. Once more starting to exit the car, we were yet again brought up short by the loud voice of one of those helpful youth apparently having way too much fun with his afternoon authority, asking us if we could move to yet another parking space.

Who knew it would be this much trouble to park on a farm?

Well, me as it turns out. About 11 years ago, making plans to visit a dog breeder in northern Iowa about a puppy that Lori adamantly didn't want, I called the breeder over her objections and asked about directions. As the conversation was wrapping up, I heard Lori instruct me to "ask about the parking." At least I thought that's what she said. As soon as I posed the question to the farmer on the other end of the telephone call, I was vigorously corrected by my beloved sitting nearby: "I said barking, not parking. You can park anywhere at a farm!"

Except, apparently, at a goat farm where parking turns out to be a highly specialized endeavor. Remembering, yesterday afternoon, that conversation 11 years earlier, my momentary aggravation at the idiocy of the goat farm's parking requirements melted quickly into a vindicated smile. Satisfaction, indeed.

No word yet on the barking of the goats.