Monday, June 14, 2010

Worth Every Sip

I don't know what they are called -- "little pink bell-shaped blossom" I believe is the scientific name.  Actually, Jim tells me it is called "Coral Bell."  Regardless of the technicalities, it is a small bush with tiny pink blossoms the size of a caper.  I wouldn't swear to its origin, but my memory associates the plant with Grandma Roose's garden.  If she didn't literally share it with us she at least inspired it.  And so it grows beneath our living room window; having been among spring's early bloomers, its army of blossoms still look as fresh as their first emergence.  From its sentinel position in the corner of the bed it has seen peonies come and go, watched the deer chew away nascent lily stems, and no doubt applauded as pot-of-gold daylilies and purple striped daylilies, fire-red stargazers and some unidentified bluish lavender volunteer blossom have emerged to outshout it. Those, plus the riot of blossoms from the planter boxes stationed nearby.  Blues, reds, yellows and more. 

You will understand our surprise, then, while enjoying the garden from the glider to see a hummingbird repeatedly shun the larger, showier competitors and return again and again to the tiny coral bells.  I suppose it returned out of necessity; it couldn't have drunk enough from any one blossom on any one visit to sustain a gnat, let alone itself.  While I, in his position, might have bellied up to one of those lilies and drank my fill, this little flutterfeather preferred the subtler, more patient, frequent-visitor approach; one taste at a time, time and time again, rather than a single thirst-slaking gulp.

Who knows?  For all their high-volume grandiosity, maybe the larger, more obvious alternatives simply taste bad; or expend all their energies on producing color and size.  Or perhaps it is that the sweetest nectar of all simply -- and routinely -- comes from the quietest, least announced corners of the garden. 

And that it takes patient and discerning eyes to notice amidst all the visual distractions.

Perhaps the hummingbird has learned what I still struggle to remember:  that you can't judge the nectar by the bloom.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Steady Progress and a Proud Beginning

Our stub-of-a-hibiscus is making steady progress.  Still weeks -- if not months -- away from putting out any blossoms (the "plate-sized" marvels promised us by the salesman), it has nonetheless impressively climbed a foot or so out of the ground, showing no signs of wearying.

In the meantime, the stand-in on the deck offered up this morning its first contribution of the season.  A lovely color, and like any good flowering plant, unabashedly proud of itself.

Water Hardly Worth Wading In

“Wade in the Water” was one of the songs they sang at the program yesterday afternoon. Humming it, subconsciously I suppose, as I walked around the lake this morning – enjoying the calm reflection of the bridge and surrounding trees in glassy waters disturbed only by a lazy duck or two, the occasional flip of a fish, and the “ploink” of a fisherwoman’s baited cast – a very different body of water came to mind. Spewing oil from a deep water well; black feathers shellacked to the birds they cover; dead fish floating in the tides of a poisoned Gulf Coast; company execs sputtering fecklessly in the face of the Pandora's Box they have so matter-of-factly opened. But picturing the “black gold” still spilling and staining the waters and beaches and habitats and beyond I recalled how the oil in the Gulf is only the newest poison poured into the toxic cocktail that has become those waters; this new toxin stirred or shaken along with the farm chemicals already washed down the river from Iowa fields where they were sprayed as a means to feed the world.

I mused aloud, recently, with my new friend Fred about the ethical dilemma that we Iowans now face – utterly dependent as we are on an economy inseparable from farming practices that have become standard since the Second World War. Mono-cultures (largely corn and soy beans) grown on a larger and larger scale, evoked from the soil by increasing amounts of herbicides and fertilizers, using seeds hybridized to maximize the nutritional elements most commercially desirable. Fred, a world leader in the field of sustainable agriculture, readily agreed that there is a problem; but he was protective of the farmers. Farmers, he noted, are hard-working, capable people who were challenged by a hungry world to produce more and more food that was less and less expensive. And using the best that science could offer them and the smartest practices available to them they succeeded, marvelously. Beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. The fact that we now know that those scientific enhancements and agricultural practices came with collateral damage doesn’t diminish their accomplishments – or their integrity. They did what the world asked them to do.

But as often is the case, yesterday’s solutions become today’s problems. Virtually everything we now eat is made out of the corn that we have engineered to produce maximum sugar that we consume in the form of high fructose corn syrup that “mainlines” sugar into our bodies, or cattle fattened on feed lots that serve up a diet that cattle were never designed to eat. And now we know that all those chemicals used to extract those ever-increasing yields aren’t doing the soil any long-term favors, and that the Mississippi River has come to serve as a kind of agricultural mega-toilet down which we annually flush the residue of all that science. And the result is a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico spanning an area more than 8500 square miles. “Dead” perhaps needing no further explanation.

So, in the name of “feeding the world” we are now in the process of killing it. I suppose irony is one form of humor. But I'm guessing that our children and grandchildren won't be laughing. Another old song reassures us that “God's got the whole world in his hands,” but I think God would have us remember that in a real and immediate sense it's in our hands as well. We are among the many hands of God. If, then, we want to continue to have water in which we and our children are willing to wade, we'd better start living our lives differently.

That, of course, is the ethical problem to which I referred earlier. It was one thing to do what we were doing when we didn’t know any better. But as the poet Drew Dellinger asks from the point of view of great great grandchildren,

what did you do

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Let the Market Begin

Today they gathered -- the dozen or more volunteers, the 20 or so vendors, and who knows how many shoppers. Even WHO-TV Channel 13. For the 14th time now, opening day of the Drake Neighborhood Farmer's Market went off with only minor hitches. In truth, I don't even know what those hitches might have been. I manage to stay aloof from such nitty gritties; but I'm assuming there were some. That said, whatever they might have been, they did not interfere with the positive spirit of opening day. The air was mild, the breeze was gentle and cool, the music was upbeat, the vegetables were glorious, and the people were hungry.

So it was that this 14th season of the Farmer's Market got underway. And as I have for the past few years, I offered a "Blessing of the Market" prayer just before the opening. Along with a few visual impressions, here is the prayer that launched us:

We have been waiting, O God. All winter long we shivered from the cold, but shivered also from the disappointed bites from red and green and yellow objects that looked, for all the world, like fruits and vegetables but tasted like nothing in particular. We have waited for that glorious delight of buying what was picked ripe and delivered fresh in place of that which was picked green and shipped across countless miles. Which is simply to say, O God, that we have been eager to shake the hand of the farmer – and gatherer -- and baker – and barbecuer – and corn popper – and egg roller – and pupusa patter – who feed us; and the artisan hands that cleanse us and bejewel us and provide for us the baskets in which to put it all. Eager, and hungry for this very day to come.

And so we ask your blessing on this market and all who give it life and color and flavor. We give you thanks for the soil that produces what we find here; for the patience that tends the plants and gathers the eggs and harvests the fruits and fashions the objects. We pray for the vendors, and the volunteers and the workers and the shoppers and the children who play the games; we pray for the music and the traffic guides and the health testers and for those who come simply to enjoy the community and the time outdoors. For all, then, that might transpire here, week after week, June through September, we ask your blessings.
We have been waiting for it – hungry for it. And we are grateful that you have brought us to this day – now for the 14th time. Even as all these unite to create blessing, bless them in return, we pray. Amen.