Friday, July 30, 2010

The Energetic Production of ... Patience

"Humans reward enterprise, while nature rewards patience."
"It became clear to me that there is more to be discovered than invented..."
(Wes Jackson, Altars of Unhewn Stone, p. 8)

When Lori and I became trainers in the Couple Communications curriculum, we were struck by how much of the focus was on listening -- listening to self, and listening to your partner.  Anchoring the teachings is something called "the Awareness Wheel" that helps focus ones attention on different aspects of internal and external messages -- raw data, thought processes through which we filter the data, emotions, resident wants, and both attempted and intended actions.  Real communication occurs, according to the curriculum, when we become mindful of all those aspects of ourselves and also our partner.  Awareness.  Attentiveness to what is going on.  Listening. 

From the wisdom of his farming, land management perspective, Jackson seems to be echoing this essential insight.  There is, he says, "more to be discovered than invented."  Listening.  Discerning what is already there.  Discovering -- the interplay of earthworm and earth; the circle of sun and water and mineral and cellulose and animal and waste and sun and water and mineral...; the various patterns of consumption of one crop as opposed to another; the inter-dependence of grasses and trees and topsoil and stream, butterflies and bees and blossoms and fruit.  Listening.  Watching.  Discovering.  Discerning.  He might also add to that process of discernment, discovering where and how we best fit into those circles. 

I think about how much of my time is spent trying to be inventive -- creative, imaginative, clever.  Interpreting a biblical text; writing a sentence; bending the grammatical form of a word.  It isn't, I would argue, a waste of time.  For one thing, it's fun.  It gives me a buzz.  For another, I do believe that creativity reveals one dimension of the image of God within us.

But recognizing, as well, that my crafty imagination pales in comparison with the Divine one that took mud and made it Me, discovery promises, indeed, to be an inexhaustible well into which we might dip whatever buckets we can find.

Is it possible that patience, itself -- time abandoned, attentive listening and looking -- could be grace-filled enterprise?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Merely the Heat of the Moment

It had been a particularly sweltering day -- reminiscent of those fogged up glasses days in east Texas; the kind when clothing adheres to the skin, and even the tropical plants look lethargic.  Gathered for an early evening meeting, we were commiserating about the heat and maligning the oppressiveness of the weather.  Then Marilyn registered her dissent.  "I think we have wonderful weather."  Surprised, the rest of us cocked our heads to listen for the annotated argument.  What she went on to observe was that, sure, we have our difficult days -- but they don't last long. We have highs and lows and all measure of moderations in between.

I can't speak for the others in the room, but I appreciate her contrarian view.  Confessionally, I sort of think I began the negative commentary which focused exclusively on the moment.  I was miserable.  That was the length and width and breadth of my thinking.  But Marilyn opted for the longer view.  "Yes,"she was suggesting, "there is this moment; but it isn't the only one."  There are, in other words, other moments.  How did I so easily forget how exceptional it is that my glasses fog up, when once upon a time it was the norm?  I know there are those who prefer the constant moderation of southern California, but one of my affections for Iowa is its variant seasons -- a little bit of everything, in limited doses.  That's the longer view to which the heat of the moment had blinded me.

The moment -- and a concomitant inductive assessment of the whole on the experience of the singleness of it. We are no strangers to the shortcut.  The culinary adage is that a restaurant's reputation is only as good as its next meal.  Corporations are whip-sawed by their quarterly reports.  It's like driving focused only on traversing the space between the stripes on the road -- one, then another, then another.  Never mind the scenery along the way, or the crossing deer, or the migrating "V" of geese in the sky overhead, or the gentle hum of the engine -- or the intended destination. 

Which is not to deny the fact that there is a moment -- a "today" -- with the fullness of its relative comfort or perspiration.  It's just to remember, with Marilyn, that there is a bigger picture; a longer view.

Which will be helpful to keep in mind in those subzero days of February.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Seeing the Good Anew

"The painful flaws in our conception of less for a new conception of the good than for a new way of seeing the good."
---Erazim Kohak in "Perceiving the Good," in The Wilderness condition: Essays on Environment and Civilization, ed. Max Oelschlaeger, 1992.

We are not lightly inconvenienced or disappointed. My head is bowed at the humbling recognition.

Catching the train last week for Chicago -- or so we had anticipated - we arrived early at the station, a short hour away, only to find a handwritten notice posted announcing that there would be no such train that day; that a bus would be substituted as our proud carrier, and that it was running three hours late. A toll-free number invited queries. I availed myself of the opportunity. We had, after all, taken vacation days, boarded the dog, gotten up early to ride the train. If I had wanted to ride a bus I would have bought $8 tickets on the discount bus service recently commenced between Des Moines and Chicago. And saved myself the hour drive. All this information I shared with the customer service representative who eventually answered after a decade on hold and an interminable trip through Muzak's musical Hell. I contend that I was polite, but I think she recognized my displeasure. Never mind that tracks were flooded out between here and there preventing passage -- no surprise with all this rain; and never mind that the carrier had arranged a reasonable substitute...and provided complimentary sandwiches when we eventually boarded. It wasn't what I wanted, and that, after all, is the only thing in all of creation that finally matters.

We eventually arrived, we enjoyed immensely what we did, where we went, where we stayed; and until the final evening, the weather cooperated. But then the rains returned. We arrived at the restaurant where we would close out our holiday to find barely-contained bedlam. The rain had eliminated the patio as a dining option -- that same patio that had been booked with reservations -- requiring last minute rearrangements and seating delays. One silver-haired woman, apparently accustomed to controlling heaven and nature, was having her way with the maitre-d. I opted to remain far enough away to avoid the splattering blood, and therefore couldn't hear what she had to say, but her face pretty well said it all. In undulating waves of aggravated displeasure, she presented herself at the desk for requisite satisfaction -- because, after all, her satisfaction is the only thing in all of creation that finally matters -- as though the restaurateur had any more control over the rain than...

...Amtrak had over the flooded rails. It was then and there that I was duly chastened. It was then and there that I realized how perfectly acceptable had been the carrier's alternative, and how above-and-beyond they had gone to make the best of an unfortunate situation, and how perfectly delightful had been our trip.

And when we were eventually seated at a table on that final, rainy night away, I counted my blessings, embraced this new way of "seeing the good," and savored the utter delight of every bite.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Who Needs the Lights Anyway?

A few years go, while the church sanctuary was being renovated, we gathered for worship in Fellowship Hall. It was a tight fit, and having vacated a space 5 or 6 times larger than we needed, we were unaccustomed to proximity. Our more recent practice had been waving to one another across the chasmic spaces spaces between; sitting shoulder to shoulder, close enough to actually feel the warmth of another heart-pumping human being, was initially a bit disconcerting. But we came to like leaving our binoculars at home, recognizing each other now simply on sight, up close. When we eventually moved into the worship space re-sized to actually fit us, it was on dramatically more relational terms.

More than one person yesterday commented on that memory as we moved, once again, back into Fellowship Hall for worship. The reasons were different. A major storm Saturday night and into the wee hours of Sunday morning knocked electricity out in several neighborhoods around town -- one of which included the church. We arrived, then, to find none of our usual amenities -- lights, air-conditioning, sound system, coffee. Most of those we could probably make do without, but how could we possibly have church without coffee? But we are nothing if not flexible, and in the spirit of that ancient proverb, chose to light a candle instead of curse the dark. In the bathrooms that was literally so. In the hallway leading to them we switched on a battery powered camping light to show the way. The sanctuary having precious little ambient light and absolutely no moving air, we returned where once we had been -- raising the blinds and panes in the Fellowship Hall windows to allow in both light and breeze. And then we crowded in.

And then we burst into song. And prayer. And more. And it was very, very good. Everyone echoed the thought; and how useful it apparently is every now and then to get disrupted. Part of it had to do with informality -- with the almost raw sense of "winging it," but there was something deeper, I think, than that. When routines suddenly can't lead us, we all have to be on our toes, paying attention, watching to see how we will best proceed. At a very different level, we become engaged.

I was corrected early in the course of the morning after I greeted someone at the door. "We don't any power," I explained as I pointed the way to our temporary meeting place. To which she responded, "We have power; it's just not the kind that turns on light bulbs."

Point well taken. Nothing could have been more evident once we were together. Yes, it was warm, and yes the fit was a little tight. But yes, there was also power -- the kind you don't need light to see.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Don't Lose Out On the Tasty Bits

"From an evolutionary perspective, our survival as a species probably is not the result of always carefully thinking things out and obtaining definitive scientific proof before acting to escape from life-threatening situations.  It is more likely that we survived because of timely gut reactions.  Thus, we may also want to reconsider our current bias toward our logical, computational minds and give more credence to our primordial, autonomic minds."  (Fred Kirschenmann in  "Using What We Know to Make a Difference," from Cultivating an Ecological Conscience)

There is a difference, of course, between pan frying and making soup.  In the latter, it is important to keep stirring the contents every now and then.  In the former, constant stirring -- flipping the item over and over and over ultimately produces a dry, tough and less flavorful result.  Leave it alone, we were told in culinary class.  Turn it once, then take it out.  Besides, the fond that remains -- those crusty bits on the bottom of the pan that all that over-turning would have prevented -- is one of the most desirable by-products.

I have a tendency to make soup in my skillet.  Which is to say that I can over-work decisions -- turning them over and over in my head, fipping and flipping and flipping, weighing possible consequences; counting potential costs; measuring the relative merits, and in the process usually just getting stuck in the weeds instead of guided into clarity.  Whether parenting or in professional life, visioning or vacationing, choosing can become so mired that the paralysis is ultimately broken by the equivalent of a coin toss -- a kind of fatalistic abdication.

I know, I know:  calculation is important.  "Look before you leap" and all that.  "Measure twice, cut once."  "Know the route before you back out of the driveway."  Assess the alternatives.  Consult the sources.  Calculate.  Evaluate.  Recalibrate.  I don't dispute the need for -- or the value of -- careful consideration.

But all that properly attended, I think Fred may be on to something helpful and wise.  Sooner or later, it's helpful to simply check your gut.  And sooner is probably better.  Listen to your instinct as well as the data. 

Which is to say, pan fry:  turn it once, and take take it out; then scrape off and enjoy the tasty bits.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Nurturing a Harvest of Life

Since our stay in Hyde Park we have been increasingly intrigued with Eleanor Roosevelt.  Franklin, no doubt, is a course of study all his own, but it is Eleanor on whom we have paused with deepening interest.

Perhaps it is the inspiration of her movement from withdrawn and disregarded little girl to global activist of whom the world took notice.  Perhaps it is her inner capacity to simultaneously comply and grow.  Perhaps it is her resilience in the face of grief, disapproval, disappointment and betrayal.

Or perhaps it is her insatiable interest in the people around her.  She seemed simply to wake and sleep with the conviction that people are, in ways she would never finish discovering, interesting and important, and that whatever decisions were made and actions taken, they should benefit people -- enlarge them, ennoble them, not injure or diminish them in one or another way.  People, it was her conviction, were not simply "employees" or "citizens" or "assets" or statistics.  They were persons with stories, and hopes, and ideas, and sore muscles, and families.  They weren't simply "factors" to take into account; they were people to listen to and learn from and respond to and live alongside.

And she didn't seem to mind that not everyone shared her views.

These days, at this time of year, if you drive across Iowa and vast areas of surrounding states you pass through oceanic fields of corn and soy beans, full and swelling and prosperous.  Other places the crop may be wheat or rice or some other grain, but the farms have a similar vast and orderly design.  Row upon row, acre after acre, stalk after stalk or bush after bush.  Seen from the highway it is a sea of undifferentiated production -- beautiful in its own way; carefully and scientifically engineered for maximum result in minimal space in minimal time; the agricultural version of the industrial factory and assembly line, and the corporate floor of cubicles.  There is something crop-like about the way we have come to order ourselves, each other, and our activities.  We have strategized and maximized efficiencies, but I wonder how much we have improved our lot.

Eleanor seemed to comprehend that when we view people as though they were grain -- row after tightly plantred and nameless row -- something like life itself is lost.  She chose, instead, to travel around -- deep into mines, and around people's tables; into hospitals and onto farms, learning people's name and listening to what they had to say, and allowing herself to be affected and shaped by the experience.

People as persons instead of grains in a field.

And in so doing, it seem to me, nourishing herself and them in return.
Something like an organic farm.
And in so doing, enabling both to stay alive.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pulling the Chains of the Heart

It all began with nostalgia, which led to determination.  When I traveled to Europe with a college class over 30 years ago I carried with me a fondness for the cuckoo clock that had always been a fixture in my parents' home.  That one, I think, had been a gift from my maternal grandparents, but the gift had pre-dated my memory.  It had simply always been there in the den, along with its concomitant ritual of pulling the chains each day to wind its various mechanisms -- the clock, the protruding bird, and the circling musical dancers.  Suddenly, beyond my wildest college imagination, I was headed, among other places, to Germany's Black Forest where such things originated.  I had few souvenir ambitions for that trip, but a cuckoo clock of my own was at the top.

They weren't hard to find.  As any traveler quickly learns, cuckoo clocks for sale in Germany are as ubiquitous as maple syrup for sale in Vermont.  They are everywhere.  The difficulty was narrowing down the selection -- sifting through the proliferation of types and styles for the one that most resembled that one of my childhood.

Eventually I found it, of course, and carried it on my lap for the rest of the trip, and on the plane ride home.  It has managed to survive my various moves, and find a respectful place on one wall or another in all of those subsequent homes.  It ticks and cuckoos, but the musical dancers have been on strike for a few years.  "A few years" indeed, because they were already silent when, a few years back, we stopped the clock in deference to the sleep needs of a guest who was inhabiting the bedroom nearby.  And I never got around to restarting it.  It has hung there on the wall ever since, a dormant, silent, decorative relic.

Until last week.  When we reorganized the space downstairs with an eye for inspiration and soulful creativity -- when we gave birth to the area I have dubbed "Buona Mente" -- we sat in the area in those first  few moments just to see what it felt like.  Lori was the one who noticed the still and silent clock nearby, hanging at the gateway to the area.

"Do you want to restart the clock?" she asked.  And, of course, it was right.

I am still retraining myself in the discipline of the chains -- morning and evening; like milking a cow.  More than once I have found the weights tilted against the floor and the pendulum still.  But I am getting into the rhythm of it.

Which may be the real lure of the piece -- the discipline, the rhythm, the patterning of the day; like shaving; or praying the hours; connecting oneself in an almost primal, heartbeating way to that which is larger and more encompassing.

Time certainly goes on even when I forget to wind it.  But there is something nourishing, centering, and grounding -- something almost elemental -- about becoming part of the chains, the moving weights, the back and forth of the pendulum, the protruding bird and its song, and, when I get around to getting them fixed, the circling dancers.

But the repairs will have to wait.  I'm not ready to still it all just yet.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

When There Was Actually Room to Exhale


Talking yesterday with a family planning the funeral for their father who had been heavily involved in travel, we recalled the halcyon days of air travel.  I can no longer recall exactly when those faded, but economics are certainly behind the why.  Various fuel shortages have taken their toll, and the more recent economic nose dive further shriveled the already austere experience.  Perhaps air travel is also victim of its own popularity, with more and more flights added to create more and more convenient schedules to accommodate more and more travelers, necessitating more and more planes creating more and more congestion causing more and more delays...  Terrorism certainly didn't help any, with all the rules and restrictions imposed to counter it.

But, as we were remembering together, there was a time when air travel was fun – back in the time when people dressed up to get on the plane instead of today’s requirements to undress in order to do so; back when you could carry onto those portly jetliners almost any exotic souvenir you might pick up along the way; and feel pampered throughout the flight, instead of shoehorned like a size 14 foot into your size 6 loafer of a seat.

I suppose that novelty had something to do with the mystique -- the charm and excitement of an experience still in its salad days.  Today, in addition to being arduous, aggravating and oftentimes inefficient, air travel has simply become "old hat."  Merely a conveyance. 

It's ironic that the "new" game in town for getting from here to Chicago is...a bus -- outfitted with chair-side electrical sockets and internet connectivity.  And we are rediscovering the train -- plenty of legroom, and space to walk around.  And a view.  Of course it has its compromises as well -- limited schedule, delays, and cumbersome, impractical connections -- but at least while boarding and riding I don't feel filleted, irradiated, hermetically sealed and stacked in intimate contact with my fellow travelers in an upright fetal position.

Ah, well.  Everything has its price.  But it was fun to remember a different time, and lament at least certain elements of its passing.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Special -- Like All of Us

It was an interesting, albeit jarring, juxtaposition, coming near the end of a concert already a few miles removed from my personal musical preferences.  The artist was a little bit Liberace, a little bit Jim and Tammy Faye, a little bit Sarah Palin, a little bit Billy Mays, and a little dash of Hollywood.  It was, in many ways, worth the price of admission (which, I recall, had been free) just to see the spectacle of all those threads woven into one man and his wife -- dramatic, flamboyant, endearing, huckstering, politicking, preaching.  It was quite a combination.  Then, as the artist inched toward the climax, he reflected at length on the historical, theological, moral and ultimately global significance of the recent 4th of July holiday before launching into a "mash up" of Let There Be Peace on Earth and God Bless America.  Back and forth, like the warp and weft of a loom, the artist wove from the alternated themes a tapestry of implied Manifest Destiny and favor.  The audience was on their feet, singing along.

Well, I stood; begrudgingly.  I doubt many noticed that I wasn't singing.

Now, a day later, I still haven't teased out all the reasons for my dis-ease.  Rehearsing in my mind the lyrics to the song, apart from the otherwise undeveloped phrase, "with God as our Father," there isn't anything intrinsically religious about Let There Be Peace on Earth, though it is in our church hymnal and I can't think of any time I have ever sung it outside of a religious observance.  While I suppose it can be construed as a prayer, the grammar really suggests more of a personal vow and resolution that I doubt many non-religious types would have much difficulty singing.   And the nature of "peace" is never really defined.

Still, it seems almost hymn-like; religious in character if not overt content.  It's not that I want to hoard all aspirations for peace within the religious community; God knows it will take all of us -- religious or not -- to inch us ever nearer that longed for global community.  Which hints, I think, at the source of my musical discomfort.  While I certainly hope God does bless America, I would like to think God might equally be considerate of Italy and Ireland and New Zealand and Nicaragua and Haiti and the Galapagos Islands -- to say nothing of the African continent, Canada, Mexico, Brazil...  Well, you get the point.  And to imply, by the conflation of songs, that global peace is somehow uniquely, proprietarily tied to God's blessing of America feels...I don't know...wincingly narrow, uncomfortably arrogant, and, frankly, historically suspect.  We have certainly had our moments.  As a nation we have made precious contributions to the world in the monetary, moral, and industrial sense.  But in other ways...not so much.  To harp on the latter without appreciating the former is petulant grouchiness; but to laud the former while denying the latter is myopic at best and recklessly dangerous at worst.

I don't really think God needs us to keep incessantly reminding ourselves of how special we are.  Haven't we been around enough children absorbed by that very self-indulgence to know how irritating that can be?  One of these days, perhaps all of us in the global community can find room for the bumper sticker Lori noticed the other day on the car we were following:  "Yes, you are special -- just like all the rest of us." 

That, it seems to me, might be the day when peace really does come to the earth, and we can imagine a new song to sing.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

LIke A Spinning Tattoo

OK, I admit it:  I'm a cultural cretin.  I just don't get it.

While dining recently at a Hudson Valley restaurant nicer than I have any business being in, the table nearby was filled with a group of 4 young women apparently celebrating a birthday.  They, too, appeared to be dining over their heads -- we surmised on the largess of Daddy's credit card.

Itt wasn't, however, their animated and giddy chatter that caught my attention, nor their perky attractiveness, but rather the narrative tattooed behind the right shoulder of the one seated with her back to us.  the cursive, multi-line script was sort of underlined by the upper hem of her crop-top dress -- one that had to have been carefully chosen to complement the tattoo.

Now, one might think me voyeuristic to pay this much attention to a young woman's shoulder, but I had never seen a tattoo version of War and Peace, or at least what looked from a distance like it could be, and I was curious to see what it actually read.  Besides, it appeared that the young woman wanted her shoulder to be read, and I was curious enough to oblige.  I wasn't alone.  I noticed one of the waiters conveniently and discreetly positioned to study the shoulder of one of the other women at the table who was similarly inscribed.  And ultimately I didn't have to stare; the tattoo was amazingly precise and the text sufficiently large to take the epigram in at a glance:
"And this just feels like spinning plates."

OK.  And...what am I supposed to do with that?  I understand the general reference.  I remember watching, years ago, various plate spinning entertainers ply their craft on the Ed Sullivan Show, and I have used the image often enough to describe the fairly common realities of work.  But I haven't tattooed it on my shoulder, and I'm not 24 years old. 

It's not that I disapprove.  First of all, it's none of my business.  Second of all, while I've never understood the whole tattoo intrigue, I figure a person's skin is her and her own to do with as they wish.  I'll keep mine clear, thank you, but decorate yours all you want.

But "this just feels like spinning plates"?  What about that is something you want to keep reminding yourself of for the rest of your life?

Back home, the puzzlement still scratching at me, I had the thought that the phrase must be a fragment of something more.  Typing it into Google, the confirmation quickly popped on to the screen.  The quote turns out to be the seminal line from a song by the British band Radiohead.  I read the entire set of lyrics online and still didn't get it.  Locating the CD at the library yesterday I sat very still and listened very carefully to the track.  Several times.  I got back online and read several fan comments and interpretations and descriptions of the enigmatic composition that sounds to me like the Muzak elevator version of a dentist drill.  And after all this research and contemplation, I can now definitively say...

...I just don't get it.

I haven't a clue as to what about this song or this line would so inspire this woman to want to keep it with her always.  But I can say that it doesn't bode well for the future.  If she feels that frenzied and fatigued -- and just a little cynical -- at her age, I hate to think what she might inscribe on the other shoulder when the plates really do get to spinning and tilting and threatening to fall off the pole about 30 years older.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Sometimes Even a Shadow Will Do

In so many ways, we already know that it doesn't take very much.  But the fact still surprises.  Last night, throwing together a spur-of-the-moment, ad lib pizza for dinner, I grabbed some vegetables from the freezer left over from last summer's crop to roast as toppings.  The freezer bag with sliced jalapenos was almost empty, so I tossed those remaining onto the roasting pan along with the bell peppers and onions and that would join the fresh potato slices and cabbage.  Shortly thereafter, the pizza assembled and nicely browned, I sat down to enjoy the nourishment.  And it was good -- very good, if I do say so myself -- until that one perilous bite that included too many of those roasted jalapenos.  The air went out of the room.  In my mouth it was the 4th of July all over again, with sparklers, Roman candles, firecrackers and rocket bursts all firing simultaneously.  I coughed and gasped and tried to catch my breath -- a fete not accomplished for several minutes.

It doesn't take much.

And not just on the culinary side.  Stumbling across a passage this morning from the book of Acts, the narrator observes the successes of the early Apostles, noting that people "even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats in order that Peter's shadow might fall on them as he came by" (5:15).

It doesn't take much; even a shadow will suffice -- and heal.

I know that, of course -- from personal experience.  OK, not perhaps with an actual shadow, but with a smile that changed everything in an otherwise hostile or desultory room; a single word; simple eye contact and the notice it blessedly, almost miraculously conveyed that "you exist."  A postcard.  A phone call. A touch.

It doesn't take much, sometimes, to heal.  Sometimes the merest shadow will do.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Common Threads and Multi-Colors


Someone once cleverly observed that there are two kinds of people:  those who believe that there are two types of people, and those who don't.

One afternoon in our week of culinary Boot Camp at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, the Director of Continuing Education was taking us on a tour of the school.  She noted that the curriculum essentially divides between culinary and baking programs, and that students are decidedly one or the other.  While students in each program are required to take some basics on the "other side," culinary students tend to be miserable baking, and the culinary classes tend to drive the baking students crazy.  They are, she emphasized, totally different.  Baking requires scientific precision, reliably repeated.  Cooking requires intuitive -- often imaginative -- flexibility. 

"So how do you know which one you are?" someone asked.
"It's in the stars," she replied.

Two kinds of people.

For the last day of class, each cooking team was given a list of ingredients that we needed to employ in the creation of a two-course meal.  How we used them in and in what kinds of recipes were up to our imagination and determination.  When all the dishes were ultimately prepared and interpreted, some had been chosen because they were reliable recipes in a given student's repertoire that he or she could confidently reproduce.  They represented an opportunity for that student to showcase something they do well.  Other dishes represented opportunities seized by other students as a way of experimenting with something new; a chance to take a risk; to practice a new skill or cooking method introduced to them during the class.

Two kinds of people.

During the course of the trip I was introduced to a book by a journalist who, along with his wife, bought a farm in Vermont and a handful of goats by which to make their own cheese, and wrote about their experiences.  It is a delightfully engaging book -- especially for a guy like me already in love with Vermont and intrigued by the prospect of small-scale farming.  But reading about life with goats I find myself preferring the thought of life with vegetables.  And it makes me wonder if there are "planting" people and "tending" people.

Two kinds of people.

I could go on and on.  According to the Myers-Briggs personality assessment there are introverts and extroverts; "J's" and "P's." There are men and women; straights and gays; Democrats and Republicans; "white" collars and "blue."

Notice that throughout I have made no value judgments.  I have my preferences, but bias hardly suggests "best."  As my waistline can attest, I am grateful for both bakers and cooks.  I need some "J's" around to channel my inner "P."  And while I can't really see myself raising livestock, I'm grateful that someone does.

But, then, I suppose there are two kinds of people:  those who wish that everyone were just like him or her, and those who appreciate the difference.