Tuesday, December 31, 2013
By December 20, when I still had neither seen nor heard from the order, I spelunked down through my emails, found the order confirmation, excavated a Customer Service phone number and called to solicit an update. The kindly voice on the recording confessed that the seller was experiencing higher than usual call volume and encouraged me to call again later. Click. I did. How many times I have long since lost count. Ultimately I emailed my query and received in return a FedEx tracking number whose detail indicated that the shipper had, indeed, been notified on December 12 of an impending package. There had, however, been no activity since. The seller's website had proudly assured that all orders placed prior to December 12 would be delivered before Christmas, so trusting the integrity of this vendor that I knew nothing about, I resolved again toward patience.
Until, that is, December 26 when I resumed my telephony. A subsequent email query had garnered me the same tracking number that reported no additional movement, and I was determined to hear a more detailed explanation. No longer was it really about the sheets; it was now the principle of thing that irked me. Numerous calls later, and just as I was about to hang up, a human actually answered the phone. She offered me a tracking number. I allowed as to how I already had that, and that it only reported the vendor's negligence.
"I beg your pardon?" she asked.
"The tracking number merely reports what you intended to do, not what actually happened. And what has actually happened is exactly nothing." I recounted the notches on the calendar and their promised Christmas delivery.
"Well," she ventured, "I am aware that FedEx has had some delivery delays."
"That's rather disingenuously opportunistic, don't you think? If I had placed this order on December 23rd I might accept your dodge. In fact, however, I placed the order a week prior to your web-announced delivery deadline, well before the shipping company's unfortunate Christmas woes. Don't throw FedEx under the bus. This is your fault, not theirs."
The customer service agent was disinclined to continue the conversation, but I hung up only after being assured that the package had, in fact been shipped.
A week later I can report two things. First, I'm still waiting for delivery although I can see, using the tracking number, that the package has in truth been sent. Second, something has changed in me. In the ensuing weeks the aggravation has transformed into something closer to fascination. I've almost lost interest in the sheets. Instead I am simply curious how -- if ever -- this process will be completed. The company's "free shipping" offer apparently took advantage of FedEx's ant-back delivery method. The package's progress is almost glacial. Since leaving New Jersey it has traveled about 30 miles each day. I have squash bugs in my garden that make more progress than that. I may not live long enough to take delivery.
One thing I have learned through this is not to trust "the Chicken." Yes, I know their offers plainly absolve themselves of any responsibility; that fulfillment of the offers is solely the obligation of the seller. I simply expected a more careful vetting of the merchants they represent. It's in their interest, after all. I'll not likely remember for long the name of "Luxor Linens" or whatever the name of the company who has allegedly sold me sheets. But I will remember "Deal Chicken" with something considerably south of satisfaction.
Perhaps the larger lesson for me, however, is one I already knew, but had largely applied to different kinds of purchases. "Shake the hand of the farmer who feeds you," I have taken to heart for sometime now -- buying eggs from the guy who lifts them from the coop each day; buying meat from the guys who have opened the gates and pulled the calves and backed up the trailer; buying vegetables (when I need to buy them) from the CSA whose care and farming practices I try to emulate. There is, this silly shopping experience has reminded me, good reason to practice the same kind of relational localism when it comes to other goods as well. I may not be able to shake the hand of the person who weaves the sheet, but I can darn sure shake the hand of the merchant who will be behind the counter when I have a question, a compliment, or a concern.
It may cost a little more in one form of currency, but will be far cheaper in another. My blood pressure, emotional tone and marriage are already assessing that "79%-off" as quite likely the most expensive discount I have ever received.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
In Walden, Thoreau wrote “We need the tonic of wildness." Presumably that need extends through the winter. A recent article in the Huffington Post put a sharper point on it: "We can never have enough of nature” ("What The 1960s Got Right About Health, Happiness And Well-Being," by Carolyn Gregoire, 11/22/2013).
Holy in its own way, that walk in the woods or the field or the sidewalk through the neighborhood may be medicinal not only for body and mind, but for the soul as well.
In the Preface to his recently released collection of Sabbath poems, Wendell Berry notes that, “the idea of the sabbath gains in meaning as it is brought out-of-doors and into a place where nature’s principles of self-sustaining wholeness and health are still evident. In such a place -- as never, for me, under a roof -- the natural and the supernatural, the heavenly and the earthly, the soul and the body, the wondrous and the ordinary, all appear to occur together in the one fabric of creation. All stand both upon the earth and upon the fundamental miracle that where once was nothing now we have these creatures in this place on this day. In such a place one might expectably come to rest, with trust renewed in the creation’s power to exist and to continue.”
Last year Lori and I bought snowshoes to better navigate the trails through the prairie behind the garden. For sabbath walks in winter. Because the soul has a hunger irrespective of the season.
And the fire will be waiting for us when we return
Thursday, August 29, 2013
Early in the summer my Mother-in-law planted a tomato -- two, if the complete truth be told. But while one of them thrived in its new location, the future of the other one was none so bright. The story of that first one is common enough -- seeded in some unknown greenhouse, sold in a local store, planted and eventually harvested.
This is the story of that other one.
It started out in that same common way, purchased alongside the other one and planted in the same backyard. To be sure, they were planted in a garden bed exposed to the usual threats -- it's always a gamble to offer up desirables to the Fates. But for some reason this one proved to be especially appealing to the critters of the great outdoors. Not long after planting it my Mother-in-law discovered it uprooted and dutifully tamped it back into the soil. Some time later, while working in another part of the garden, she noticed something dark out of the corner of her eye laying on the grass in that tomatoey part of the yard, but things are always laying on a yard, after all, and the weeds at hand or the song of a nearby bird or thoughts of the afternoon errands claimed her mind and she paid no further attention.
Days went by. Eventually her horticultural ministrations took her to that region of the garden where she discovered that that "dark" object from days before was, indeed, that same seemingly cursed tomato plant once again uprooted and cast aside by a foraging rabbit or a tugging deer. By now, as I mentioned, several days had passed and surely it had shriveled beyond resuscitation. With nothing, however, to lose but a little extra effort, she laid the waylaid plant in a wheel-barrow where some water had collected and left it to soak awhile in hopes of some supernatural rehydration. Later, she troweled a fresh space in the soil and replanted the little sprout with only the thinnest margin of optimism.
But it grew -- well, in fact -- and now this little tomato-bush-that-could is replete with rewarding fruit. A true survivor. She thought it nothing short of miraculous.
She mentioned the story to someone at the local weekly paper but he betrayed little interest in the story. I can understand his reticence. After all, a news outlet needs to be poised and ready should any breaking news...well, break out. You wouldn't want your word processor clogged up with a tomato story. That "breaking news" for a weekly paper is almost an oxymoron is beside the point. They clearly had more pressing concerns -- a litter bug, perhaps; or too much pressure in the water fountain at the little league park that nearly squirted someone's eye out. "All our reporters are busy."
I wasn't there but I can almost hear the editor thinking, "we are in the NEWS business -- civic education -- not inspiration!"
The rest of us, however, might value the humble, quiet reminder that it's tragically easy to give up too soon on the possibilities of life. And when that happens, everybody misses out.
But for those who persist -- those who loyally replant the uprooted and those who keep on out of the sheer determination to grow -- there is, more often than you might think, something flavorful and sweet at the end.
I'm just saying...
Friday, August 16, 2013
Be connected, in other words, but not too much so. That might be good counsel to congregations as well as couples. Faith communities have much to do with one another. We have, in this world and in this community, considerable common cause. We need each other’s company, support, encouragement, nurture, and gifts. It’s important that we keep up with each other -- sharing our respective joys and concerns; keeping current with each other’s “news.” But as Nia would remind us, it’s possible to get too close. It’s important to maintain the healthier balance -- on the sofa, in the kitchen, and among the pews.But let there be spaces in your togetherness,And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.Love one another, but make not a bond of love:Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loafSing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.And stand together yet not too near together:For the pillars of the temple stand apart,And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.
Monday, July 15, 2013
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Monday, March 18, 2013
The sun doesn't set in Iowa; at least not in our part of it -- not like this. Yes, the day comes to an end; yes, the sun goes away. Night eventually envelopes us. But there is no “sunset” on this scale. Perhaps it is the trees that veil the view. Perhaps it is the rolling topography that interrupts the horizon. In the city, to be sure, there are all the buildings reaching up like fingers in front of a baby’s eyes, curtaining everything on the other side.
Or it could, of course, be that the problem is less “Iowa” and more “home” wherever that may be -- home, where we are busy, moving to and fro; indoors and preoccupied with our weariness alongside we have or have not accomplished and all that needs to be done.
It's too bad. There is something almost medicinal about the setting sun -- meditative, I suspect, even for the non-spiritual. That settling fire becomes a vortex, hypnotically focusing and drawing all it touches into its own mellowing transformation from hot yellow to warm orange to confectioner’s striations of pink and lavender and mauve. Before we are even aware of it we, too, have settled. And with that, it's work somehow complete, it drops below the horizon, out of sight as in an instant, until tomorrow’s rising -- somehow knowing, I suppose, that its work is never done.
It will be hard to leave this evening ritual -- drifting out to the circled chairs under the trees out back, taking our places on the east side of the arc, instinctually facing west; offering ourselves, as it were, into the dusky ministrations of God’s first creation.
And being somehow recreated, ourselves.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
Dance music incongruously blares from the historic courtyard where a DJ is testing his sound system for a wedding scheduled later in the afternoon. It is a jarring disruption, and strikes us as a singularly curious choice for nuptials, here where almost 177 years ago -- on Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836 -- 342 soldiers lost their life. “Here” is the Presidio La Bahia at Goliad, Texas where once again we have made pilgrimage. I suppose one could argue that our presence is as odd as the bride and groom’s. We have, after all, been here before. Many times. And as I mentioned, it isn't a happy place.
La Bahia is not the site of a battle. The soldiers did not die in combat. They were prisoners of war slaughtered, in a dramatic presumption of ends justifying means, by their captors. Having surrendered a week earlier, at the Battle of Coleto Creek, under the written assurance of favorable treatment, Colonel James Fannin and his fellow independence fighters were marched back to the fort they had previously occupied as defenders. A week later, under orders from the Mexican President Santa Ana, they were marched back outside, circled and fired upon at close range. A couple dozen managed to survive and escape. A similar number were spared for practical reasons. The bodies of the massacred were simply abandoned where they fell. 342.
It isn't a moment in the popular lore of Texas history that has sustained the high profile mystique of the Alamo -- John Wayne never made a movie about Goliad, nor anybody else in Hollywood for that matter. It was, nevertheless, a galvanizing episode in the Texans fight for independence that was eventually won, a few short weeks later, at the Battle of San Jacinto. But if I have ever been to San Jacinto I don't remember it; and though I have visited the Alamo a few times it feels compelled by a sense of obligation; a historical duty of birthright.
I haven't quite fathomed these pilgrimages to Goliad. Perhaps it is mere proximity or the quietude’s lack of other things to do. Perhaps it is the nostalgic lure of my family’s roots in this area just 15 miles away, making it “ours” in a way only abstractly and collectively true of the Alamo some 90 miles away.
I can't help but sense, however, that the story itself is the hook and line that draw me back again and again -- fathoming the cold calculations of the brutal orders; imagining, or perhaps hoping for, the ambivalence of those carrying them out; channeling the apprehension of those prisoners first rousted and then rustled outside; smelling, even after all these years, the gunpowder and the blood; both hearing and feeling the wing-beats of buzzards descending in subsequent days; and grieving, yet again, the capacity of humankind to treat our fellows as nothing.
I don't know why a couple would choose to get married there -- there among such memories and echoes. But I rather appreciate the symbol of it. In the same way as a dog marks its territory -- overriding the scent of a previous presence -- perhaps a wedding’s declaration of love and hopeful creation is the perfect mark to spray on a site whose prior scent was a noxious and nauseous cocktail of arrogance, ambition, and brutal disregard for the sacredness of life.
I hope the happy couple lives happily ever after. And has lots and lots of kids. 342.
Saturday, March 16, 2013
The music of birds I can't identify chirp the Berclair morning through the heavy haze cloaking the trees and into orange light. What had been night’s near-silence crescendos in a seeming instant to morning’s lively chatter. Whistles from branches, dew drips from the eaves, ratcheting from insects hidden in the field, and off in the distance a passing car. It is a wondrously busy transition this creep from night to day. I am seemingly the only life quiescent, the slight rocking of my front porch chair channeling the lulling breeze.
We will have our own activity in the course of the day -- a water pump to assess and its timer to verify, a nascent crop to appreciate and coax, a new fence to confirm. But the real work of the day -- the more pressing business for which we traveled to this family farm almost a country and a lifetime away -- is to ebb, for awhile, the relentless waves, settle into deeper grooves, listen again to long-dead voices, and to stand submissively aside while nature and our souls do the talking.
The dawn’s orange has dissolved into morning’s white; the sun is on the verge of cresting the trees. With a good part of my day well underway, it’s time for a second cup of coffee. And maybe a pancake or two.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
As to the ad's critics, their judgments are absolutely fair. Had the 2-minute piece been a documentary it would have been sadly, shamefully flawed -- leaving out virtually 90-percent of those responsible for moving our food into, then out of the ground, off the stem and into our markets. The rosy, sentimental pictures of hardworking white families certainly overlooked the vast domination of agribusiness that largely renders such pictures ersatz greeting cards. And yes, totally neglected were all the migrant farm workers -- mostly non-white and by-and-large stooping to their task illegally -- on which our food system utterly depends. Only hinted at in the rhapsodic prose were the challenging and sometimes impossible economics that have wedged many farmers between the rock of expensive mechanization and the hard place of harvest vicissitudes and capricious credit -- pressures that have squeezed far too many off their land. Yes, there are farmers like those depicted in the ad -- many of them -- who work every bit as hard as pictures and the narration suggested. But fewer and fewer. It's not that the ad told a false story; it just didn't tell very much of the true one.
I hope that someone might come along who has as much documentary skill as Ken Burns and as much gravitas as Paul Harvey to tell these real and poignant stories as compellingly as Dodge managed to communicate the ones in its ad. They deserve to be heard. They deserve to be honored and appreciated and, well, paid.
But let's face it, that's not what the Super Bowl ad was aiming for. Dodge didn't buy those extravagant prime-time minutes to air a documentary, and painful sociological statistics don't sell vehicles. It wasn't trying to "tell the truth," it was trying to sell trucks. As such, that well-crafted piece of economic art wasn't targeted at those thousands of farm workers who really struggle to survive under the weight of all those challenges and burdens enumerated by that beloved voice. The ad was targeted at that 10% -- or 1% -- who can actually buy the truck.
And I suspect I know what images and words might just cross their mind the next time they are shopping for a new ride.
Thursday, February 7, 2013
"Another Pleasant Valley Sunday; charcoal burning everywhere. Rows of houses that are all the same. And no one seems to care."
---words and music by Gerry Goffin and Carole KingIt's hard to know whether to be heart-sick, angry, or simply embarrassed. Because of a few complaints, the West Des Moines City Council has agreed to consider a ban on all "front yard vegetable gardens." After all, as the article in today's Des Moines Register points out,
"Cabbages, once picked, leave holes. Squash leaves can get scabby-looking, and a blighted tomato plant is downright ugly... Leggy sweet corn plants can seem scraggly and disproportional, especially in contrast to a well-manicured lawn."
And God knows that the situation is urgent. As one concerned citizen puts it, “What’s to prevent them or anyone else now from, this spring, bulldozing their entire front yard and planting a garden? If you don’t have anything in your ordinance to prevent this, I could see that happening.”
Exactly. And what could be worse than an entire front yard full of...food? Food that could be...well...eaten -- stretching grocery dollars, saving gas, and quite possibly improving our diet? Yes, that all sounds like quite the public nemesis.
Can we just stop and have a reality check? I suspect that this might be one of those moments when my Dad would say, "the world's going to hell and we're arguing over tomatoes." Surely there are more mountainous issues for a community to be wrestling with than such puny molehills as this -- perhaps educational excellence or gun violence or access to health care or simply public health! Moreover, at a time in our agricultural history when we ought to be encouraging everyone who has any plot of sunny soil available to sow a few seeds and not only participate in but contribute to the food supply, the last thing we should be doing is erecting impediments.
It's hard to know if this proposed ordinance stems from a hyper-carnivorial hostility to all things vegetable, or an overly steroidal devotion to some blandly homogenous suburban "aesthetic", or a subtly obfuscated slap at the poor who some West Des Moinians prefer to believe don't exist within their city limits. Regardless, the notion is too repugnantly silly to even be funny -- let alone take up precious City Council time.
On the off-chance that reason does not eventually prevail in West Des Moines, I am modestly prepared to plow into the lunacy with the creation of a "Vegetable Rescue League" that would provide safe-haven on our humble acreage to any allium, brassica, night-shade, pepper or edible root forced to flee the city limits as horticultural refugees -- sort of a "green" Red Cross offering soil sanctuary for salads-in-process.
Compassion, and I like to think "sanity", in action. That, and my little mission to prove the song wrong. Somebody does "seem to care."
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
That, I am discovering as I feel myself aging, is one of life's most treasured blessings: what Frederick Buechner referred to as "a room called Remember," into which is crowded a wondrous population of faces and personalities, family and friends, parishioners and neighbors, transients and colleagues, adversaries and playmates, mentors and teachers; a village of idiosyncrasies, clowns, fools, geniuses, artists, loves and annoyances who, together by their presence in my memory or in my company, continue to fashion me into a person.
I don't suppose we were particularly close, although we shared an affection and a discipleship that bridged the decades separating us in age. We greeted one another among the pews. I visited her when she was ill. I comforted her, I hope, while she grieved. Despite the ordinariness of our crossing, I wake up to discover her fingerprints on my life -- a discovery that prompts the notice of all those others alongside.
And so I'm attending her funeral. At least in part to bear witness to her touch. And to be grateful for it.
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Indeed, a few minutes later the passenger door opened, Lori settled in with a kiss, and I pressed the ignition button. Instead of the familiar purr of the engine springing to life, we were greeted by a flash of dashboard lights and a flaccid puttering sound from somewhere under the hood. Repeated attempts elicited nothing but the same impotence. Late enough and cold enough that we didn't want the hassle, we switched to Lori’s car and left mine in the parking lot for dedicated attention the next morning.
Simple, subsequent remediation confirmed that the battery -- original equipment with almost 4 years, 75,000 miles and who could number the ignitions behind it -- was dead. Our neighbor’s auto repair shop and $144 later and I was back on the road...
...only then discovering the headache’s sequel. Despite the morning’s hour, the clock blinked “noon.” Switching on the radio, the speakers blasted satellite channel 1 -- the preview channel. Then, of course, it hit me. All the settings were erased. The clock is bad enough. I mess with it so infrequently as to require the manual each time it’s necessary. But the radio... What were all those channels, and connected with which preset buttons? Six AM settings. Twelve FM. Eighteen satellite channels -- to tediously locate out of 130 or more on the dial. My first reaction, I am embarrassed to admit, was neither happy nor appropriately shared in public.
And then a sudden realization brought a smile. “This is opportunity,” I thought to myself, “not onerous responsibility.” There is, after all, no Federal law that says the presets must be faithfully reproduced. “I can choose any stations I want -- and associate them with any buttons I wish.”
It was, in a way, like cleaning house -- passing over previous selections I never subsequently selected; moving lower tier numbers up the list; making brand new choices in the liberating knowledge that I could discard them, too, if future disregard commends it. Sure, it will take some getting used to, but I like to think I am still capable of learning.
All of a sudden I found myself grateful for the dead battery that had launched me down this New Year’s path of assessment and evaluation, reorganization and experimentation -- all the while sheepishly acknowledging that nothing but inertia had ever stood in my way.
As I turned off the ignition, my radio renovation, for the time, complete, I walked inside wondering what else in my life could benefit from a dead battery’s initiative toward a stripping and cleansing new beginning.