An Arguable Truth

I get to choose

My grandpa only ever knew me as a little boy. I only knew him as an old man. But every day I work on his land, I stand under his trees, hold his soil in my hand and watch it drift away in the breeze, he knows. He sees.

I’m no longer a little boy.

The old man is buried beside a church in town.

But when we pick up antiques and put them to work, when we give our backs to what we’ll never get back, we can no longer call it memory.

Eternal life might be secondary to eternal use.

That’s why I prefer stories to memories.

Anytime I get to choose.

On Us

At some point, you submit. If it is happening this way, then it is on purpose, there was never any other order of things. I don’t know what this is, just what it isn’t, and primarily, this is not an accident. I know that is hard to read. I’ve lost people. I’ve failed at things. I know you may have told yourself it was a deviation from the plan, but it wasn’t. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and God what is God’s. And blame for the things we do to one another falls in no way on the divine. Though the humans who use them would have you believe it’s out of their hands, all weapons are shaped for them. A thousand ways to feel washed clean. One form of filth.

The only sin is born in a decision you know you shouldn’t make as you make it. That’s it.
It has always been up to you. No matter how fervently you deny it.

Maybe God made a lumpy rock with saltwater licking shorelines. But it did not invent America. Or life. Or humans. Or the disgusting way a millipede’s legs all work together in waves.

Maybe God invented the perfect atom, brick, building block, with just enough consciousness written within, that this brick is one part mason, one part chemist, one part pragmatic technician, one part way back in the rear, engineer. Brick all the same.

Which would mean we truly own our choices.
Our hardfought, often unnested consequences.

I know this hurts. But we are doing this to ourselves.

I blame God for creating potential.
But this, reality, all of this.

This is on us.

Gospel Salad – excerpt from an in-progress novel I call ‘If Rome Never Fell’

“Mr. Parker, has anyone checked out King Jesus Loves His Mustard Greens?”
“Yes Beth, I’m sorry, it’s out.”
“How about Spicy Kale and the Kingdom of God?” Parker shakes his head solemnly. “It was a long shot. Okay, I’ve seen it a hundred times, but, what about Gospel Salad?”
“Yep. That’s a good one.” Parker stands from where he was seated in the bend of a horseshoe shaped set of tables, in the rotund church library. The ceiling was twenty feet up, and the shelves climbed that high, handmade ladders on hammer wrought rails encircling and keeping guard. “When the cucumber-
“Mary the mother of King Jesus.”
“Sings The Ballad of Garlic Oil it makes me laugh every time, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. And that’s a lot.” Parker has selected the thin case that holds the film, specifically designed to resemble the sleeve of a slim old pamphlet style book. The bottom shelf was children’s education and entertainment, right behind his seat, down low, almost hidden.
“That’s a serious song.”
“Really? It’s all about how garlic isn’t really good though, I thought it was ironic. Because garlic is delicious.”
“No it isn’t Parker. Garlic in certain things helps make those things delicious. But no one eats garlic alone. It isn’t good on its own. That’s what the song is about. How God makes decisions to put things that don’t taste good into other things because all in all it makes everything more delicious. But if you ate a handful of garlic all on its own, before you had ever had it in a soup, you might leave it out of every recipe forever on afterward.”
“Well said little Beth. You’ve learned me a thing this morning.”
“Thanks,” she offered casually, the young girl, no older than thirteen, behind a flip of shiny dirty blond hair and gone.

What are we feeding to these kids, Parker thought.

I remember

How do you know when it is time again?
Oh yes, I remember.
Take out your phone that people call you on
and set an alarm. Well, maybe you forgot.

Because Jeremiah. It is:
the secret exchange of rings inside trees,
french kissing continents with ridiculous tomato red tongues,
the beaten buried heart of sediment,
the stores looted by river shores,
and stars, like ants, innumerable, fastidious,
curiously fast and curiouser strong.

Time, a bow, meant to bend but not to break.
Like an oak. Like an ocean. Like the beach.
We can see.
We are maybe the only creatures who can see
the sapling in the giant, the monster, someone’s Roan,
someone’s baby.

Seeing is sympathy.
Feelings are empathy.
And submission is equality.

So.
How do you know when it is time again?
Oh yes. Jeremiah. Now I remember.

The Two Sides

It’s wrong. Eating meat. Eating plants. Living things. Perhaps that is why the first step is fixing it. Cooking it down, quartering, seasoning, sauteing, anything that reduces the item’s resemblance to its original and generative purpose. Who it was. A recipe to change it into what. Eating meat is like presidential wartime powers. Probably something we started doing in dire need and without much hesitation at all, a habit upon returning to peacetime, we found hard to shake. A highly digestible, palatable, abundant protein source, that clearly loudly and often violently tries not to make it on the menu. What makes eating meat wrong is what makes human beings marvelous. Empathy. Witnessing an animal going through a circumstance that would be a crime if done to you. Do people think farmers don’t feel this? Meat packers, butchers, hunters, people who work in slaughterhouses. Someone could scream it at me long as the day they don’t, but I know they know killing is wrong.

Imagine, as an example, a gun set on a compass, aimed outward, able to spin in three hundred and sixty degrees. Perfectly legal. As it starts to turn. Nothing but trees and open distance backdrop. Legal. Forty five degrees. Ninety degrees. Still dusty distance and wide open trees. Legal, One hundred and eighty. Approaching three sixty. When just at the very end of the full circle rotation, there stands a perfectly innocent bystander, in direct line of fire of the weapon. Well shit, see now the whole operation is illegal. It’s wrong. It’s been pointed at a human. So the same perfectly legal life ending device, aimed a particular angle, enacts a new set of laws and legal circumstances and moral implications. What’s wrong here? The gun, the compass, the ammunition, or the angle, the direction, is pointing it without just cause illegal, because that’s really trivial and unlikely to work in any sort of preventative capacity. Is it spinning illegal?

Legalistic structures don’t illustrate moral axioms very well, in the same way that a two sided coin doesn’t make good decisions.

There are three hundred and sixty four degrees of deadly that are perfectly reasonably regulated but legal, and one degree that will cost you your freedom, all your rights, possibly your life, and of course, your memory, and whatever untarnished reputation you might have achieved otherwise.

This is too complex for right or wrong.
For heads or tails. Aces or deuces. For guessing. Gambling. For hope.

Almost all the animals we know are ones that made the team, drew the human eye, and manipulated a little life for themselves out of some form of overbred, hyper domestic, servile, obedient existence. We come to know the world, other animals, farms, gardens, nature, heavily and violently on our own terms, whomsoever made the cut and avoided being cut. Most of these animals are food that we eat. So much so in fact their meat has become synonymous with their names. They have no more life outside of humans, because of how far into the house of socioeconomic interdependency we’ve bred them. Changed them. Taken away all their options, and genetically rearranged them.

Suffice to say, we’ve already consumed them, on a special level, even if you’ve somehow never eaten a bite of meat, or given it up and swear it off for the rest of your time alive enough to grow hungry from living. Modern chicken only exists because of appetite, the many choices and dependencies of our ancestors. Not just mine. Or theirs. But yours. Few things are so universal, as this baseline fact, that all domesticated animals are Frankenstein’s of human fancy and invention.

Point being, no one’s innocent. Not eating meat doesn’t allow you to opt out of having this difficult conversation. It just means you’re full. Which is what makes this so hard. We all are. We’re full. Societally. And we’re saying eating certain food is wrong because we’ve forgotten what all we started doing back when we were hungrier. We may yet be hungry again.

It’s an easy, light coin to toss: wrong or right.
Much heavier, harder, less forgiving
is the dented chunk of metal with the two sides
starve or survive.

Breakfast

Pull up sliding and gingerly crunch into the same tire tracks.
Snow, five inches of new, ten inches of old.
I’m blinded by the absence of headlights.
I’m walking now on memory alone.

Slick and hardened ice where the big trucks drove.
To a giant red paneled barn door officially frozen closed.
With a shovel from the shop, the door is unlocked.
Welcomed by blacker than night.

The blackness inside a barn before dawn.
Noses shovel pine chips in the wings. Muzzled throats
rattle and a great fuzz feathered floppy bird croaks
like an old man lifting up off a couch.

At the end of three hundred blind feet I grip
the splintered lip of yet another door. Slide it
heavily from existence. Eager eastern newborn
light bursts past and two hundred pupils shrink back.

Morning has come.
With breakfast.

Only after dinner

About once a day I sit down to write a post about how we could work together and across friendships and neighborhoods and families create our own food systems to potentially feed, house, and employ us all endlessly when the moment inevitably comes that we need.

I’ve farmed long enough to know we could dent the grocery bills of hundreds just making use of our backyards and right of ways and waste space. Hell, we’re already burning gas to keep down the grass. Crops or ruminants may actually be cheaper maintenance.

If we had that sort of back-pocket resource, we’d all be so much more free to pursue our dreams and personal agendas. If we knew we were fed, employed by a few hours of chores and housed, kept, even if no one wanted to take a chance on hiring us or God forbid the economy does what it always does, by design, every decade, recedes. (Considering America has never reached full employment, even at its best, hasn’t our economy been in prolonged depression from initiation?)

I want to write this post, but I know the reply, I know almost no one hears farm and thinks freedom. But I’m telling you, rice and milk was the great epiphany of Buddha, and Christ filled his career with food production and economic analogies and culminated it gathered around a dinner table, where equality is implied, reflexive, no longer good or right, where loving your neighbor is as simple as passing the plate. Equal share. You ever notice this? If you ever make it to the dinner table with a person, how the inequalities and social divides and economic distinctions disappear. No one divvys out portions based on anyone’s net worth.

Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe the answer waits at the end of all these earmarked budgets and policy debates and legalese liturgy. But I don’t feel crazy. And I’ve heard society sputtering ever since I came of age out of it into the world we left out of it. The real world. Universal, base need. Hunger. Thirst. Need for shelter. Starving for the culture that surrounds these things.

So, to sum up, every day I want to write this post that ends in dinner. That dinner becomes our primary goal. Food, the greater movement. All conversations, talks, arguments over divides and distinctions, only after dinner.

Toys

When people don’t think on timelines they think combines are a more practical way to harvest wheat. One farmer can go out and clean up a hundred acres without breaking a sweat. Until one of the blades break. Or some component deep down in the blocky engine. A tire retires on the early side of evening from a nice rusty screw stuck in its hide.

A sharp sickle at the end of a stick, what breaks first on it? Makes a human like a tree with a strong trunk and wide shade casting shoulders. Some of the most hardworking people I’ve ever known were afraid of shovels. Afraid of going slower. Garden hoes and self propelled push mowers.

Lovers of gadgets and vinyl seats and hands vibrated so long everything you touch for an hour afterward feels feather soft, or hands numbed altogether, blood shaken out from muscle clamped veins like clay spits out rain.

Toys. Tools.

This job would be easier if we had a skid steer. We should wait on the Bobcat. Hey man, if you let me bring over my gas powered stump parter we could stack this whole mess up faster. Until that rubber fuel line with the imperceptible cracks and spaces decides to come apart altogether. What about when you don’t slip your hand out quick enough, and you lose the most costly game of rock paper scissors ever. Just so we’re clear, we are always the paper.

Engines are the ugliest, dirtiest, rankest form of immortality ever engineered by mortal hands. The inspiration behind them seems the thinking of toddlers, banging blocks together, and having the realization one could turn wheels and tend flowers, if we could only trap and harness continuous revolutions of banging blocks.

I’ve always had bad luck with having people work with me, because they almost always go straight for my toys. Chainsaw. Weedeater. Tractor hovered over a finish belly mower. I’ve seen them break. There are thousands of dollars in contingencies associated with almost every single one of them that are invisible to anyone who has not paid for it.

This is why thinking on a timeline is so important. There is a point where the horse and steer surpass the tractor and combine and no till seed drilled planting and acres of insect and non-soybean armageddon. What we might call old technology, is a more redemptive, tried and tested form of immortality, with recognition of limitation and need built in. No moment of anger or surprise when the shovel handle breaks off right at the neck. No matter how slow I chop, or weak my grip, or strength in back, or numb my feet and fingers become, I have the means to repair all of them, or an ability to self-repair is built in to them.

If you can’t see why economy loves gas powered and oil blooded technology replacing wood handled and everlasting iron tipped tools, I don’t have the time or space here to teach it.

It is clear. It is comparing 10W-40 to water. Without a combine, how many people would be needed to tend those hundred acres. Just what is this half a million dollar machine intended to replace, a bunch of time and energy and stress, because in that regard, it is very much hit or miss. But consistently, regularly, dependably, it replaces what used to be an entire community of employment, housing, and opportunity surrounding agriculture. A massive, ever-expanding, predominately cashless economy built on trade, interdependency on land management and food production, cheap simple machinery and lots and lots of animals and people pursuing common ends.

A true example of something that fulfills all the expectations of the word sacrifice is impossible if not thinking on a timeline. A lasting farmer, in charge of an operation that will foreseeably still be running in two, or three hundred years, supporting a family, and a community, and a nation of communities, is impossible without making sacrifices today for that eventual tomorrow.

For all the modern conveniences, the bells and whistles of high tech agriculture, the returns and prices and community interest in farming is lower now than it ever was back when our great grandparents were chasing mules and lugging buckets of water up from the creek bottom.

What’s different is the prioritization they placed on timelines. Our ancestors sacrificed comfort, ease, access, because what they were building toward was greater than anything they could imagine within their lifetimes.

Whereas in stark contradiction, today, we buy gadgets, tools, air conditioned cab tractors so that one farmer can comfortably do the work of hundreds, and pay thousands and go into debt to repair their great giant community substitute. And to think I hear awestruck and wonderment from farmers about how little people understand what they do, or seem to care at all about the source of their food. And I know why. Because whenever you talk to a farmer, the first thing they tell you about is their toys.

My Ecosystem

Coffee. Water. Beer.
Sweet and salty breakfast bar.
Day starts with overeasy sunrise and sticky fingers.

Must destroy something in a way that fulfills it.
Must express something that will never be more pleasant than in its expression.

Enough fabric I don’t feel naked.
Hard enough boots my feet stay soft.

Then.

I move menial amounts of earth and machinery
until I can rationalize something a little more than trivial was accomplished.

So when my shoulders and back ache I can say what for.
Pretend I really know. And do it again. Tomorrow.

Coffee.
Water.
Beer.

Splinters

Little board sliver slithers soft forked maple fangs into the palm of my hand.
It bit me. This thing I am ripping. Stripping.
Nibbling no more than an eighth an inch a pass.
Snake maple.
Spider poplar.
Rabid dog mahogany.
Cherry red in the tooth.
Knotty walnut.
Creamy peanut butter pine
with rotten streaks of jelly.