Monday, June 14, 2010
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
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.
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
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.