Sunday, September 16, 2007

The preacher's jar of words

This is the story of two preachers. One preacher was older than the other by several years. Both were well-respected around the country, and many people would travel great distances to hear them speak. Their ability to communicate spiritual truth was legendary. And there was a deep abiding respect between the two.

One week the two were invited to talk about their work and to preach for a group of preachers. The older preacher went first. He spoke words that reached into the very hearts of his listeners and touched them in ways that evoked more than mere ascent, a sort of benevolent intrusion, he would say. When he spoke, it was as if he knew each one personally, knew exactly what image was needed to bring heart, gut, mind, and memory into perfect agreement, allowing the words to soothe and stir and touch them in ways they never thought possible. Many said it was the best sermon they ever heard. No one argued with them.

The next day the older preacher was asked to introduce the younger preacher. They sat next to each other on the chancel. His small stature seemed to shrink even more next to her tall, slender frame. He rose from his seat, stepped up to the podium, and gazed at the crowd with a pensive look. When he spoke, he said, "On my back porch sits a jar. It's a mason jar. I put words in that jar, words that I will need later, words that I discover as I go about my day."

The auditorium was captured in hushed attention. The afternoon sun poured through the stain-glassed dome above, adding a hazy light to the already faded colors in the sanctuary. People sat quietly in time-bleached, velour-covered seats, green like the color of moss on a tree trunk, some wearing the stains of tiny drops of wine. One move and the decades old hinges of the seats creaked like rusty gates, but no one noticed if anyone moved.

In his self-described piccolo voice, the man continued. "One word," he said, "sounds like a 'honk' as it flies over. Another smells like a buffalo's breath. And one is like the silvery gleam that springs from the water when the sun hits a trout as it swims in the river." One by one he described the words in his jar, his words painting pictures and evoking memories for all who would hear.

"I am nearing the time when I will no longer have any use for these words," he said. "When that day comes, I will walk over the mountain to Barbara's house." He glanced back at the younger preacher, a smile barely inching from the corner of his mouth. "I'll leave the jar on her porch. I won't knock on the door because she probably won't answer even if she's there, so I'll just put the jar down for her. She'll know what to do with the words. She's the only one I trust to use them well."

The room grew ever more still. Listeners glanced at each other but none dared speak. The words he spoke carried such weight and significance that each knew she'd been witness to an intimate exchange. The older preacher stepped from the podium and made his way toward the chancel steps. The younger preacher sat with her head down, unable to move. The older preacher descended the few stairs from the chancel and stopped. The younger preacher finally stood. And as she stepped toward the podium, she turned to face him, and with the same smile shyly peeking from his lips, he bowed to her, and she bowed to him.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


6:00 a.m. 58 degrees. Well hydrated. Well fed. 6 miles run. Non-stop. Pace: 30 seconds less per mile than usual.

It's a fabulous morning!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

From farming to writing

I'm off to the lake for a few days of re-familiarizing myself with my dissertation. With some luck and discipline, I might actually write something. No internet connection where I'm headed, so you'll have to wait until Tuesday for an update.

See you soon!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Eating locally

I went to the farmer's market this morning. I go occasionally, but I've decided to make it a regular habit. I am eager to experiment with eating from what's available locally, rather than letting my eating habits be driven entirely by what I want or what sounds good.

Our meals over the weekend were a mixture of things from chain grocery stores, a natural/local market, and the bounty of the farm. I'm not sure what I expected, but it really surprised me how much better things tasted. For dinner on Friday, I grilled some buffalo steak that the farm's owners left for us. I marinaded it in olive oil, red wine, and rosemary. That was paired with roasted tomatoes and eggplant, fresh from the garden, coated in olive oil, garlic (from the farm - yum!), and basil, and topped with fresh Parmesan cheese. We had some corn on the cob too, and dessert was vanilla ice cream topped with maple syrup and maple and brown sugar coated pecans.

On Saturday, we had a huge breakfast of scrambled eggs, gathered the night before, whipped with fresh goat milk. We picked green, yellow, orange, purple, and red peppers to dice and add to the eggs. Some onion (from the grocery store) and garlic rounded out the flavors. We had a fruit salad with organic yogurt on the side. It was filling enough that we skipped lunch. Dinner consisted of a locally-raised organic roast, stuffed with garlic, and cooked with potatoes, carrots, and onions, deep-fried squash blossoms picked that morning, roasted garlic, salad, homemade yeast rolls, and a peanut butter-chocolate pie made with fresh goat cheese from the farm.

Sunday was our last day there, so we added some fried zucchini and homemade biscuits to our leftovers. I ate so much at lunch I felt full for the rest of the day.

Now this is a diet I couldn't sustain and expect to keep the weight off. It is also more time-consuming that I can manage, but the fact remains, I can eat far more locally than I do, and what intrigues me about the possibility is that it will encourage me to be creative about meals, rather than just relying on the old stand-by bowl of cereal or salad or whatever processed food strikes me at the moment.

It amazes me that this appeals to me at all. For years my father had a garden, a huge garden that often fed far more than his own family. I worked in it with him, but only because it was expected of me, not because I had any interest in it. I regret that now. I wish I had learned more from him. But this weekend the experience of walking out to the garden in the morning and eating something picked for breakfast, and gathering eggs the night before, and drinking milk from a goat I milked touched a place deep inside of me.

I was aware all weekend of a deep sadness, a grief I guess, that is still hard for me to articulate. There was a powerful experience of connection and a sense of rightness about what we did this weekend. We slowed down and cooked creatively. We enjoyed the beauty of the world around us. At each meal and throughout the weekend, we expressed our gratitude to the land, to the animals, to those whose work helped produce the bounty we enjoyed. We enjoyed each other.

It's what a connection to the land does for me every time I take time to experience it, and yet my city life seems to feed a disconnection. For now, I see promise in choosing to eat differently, to visit the farmer's market regularly and let what's available prompt my meal planning.

But... I wonder how much longer I can be content to live in the city, how much longer I can ignore the deep longing to live closer to the land.

Farm livin' is the life for me

I'm slow to report on the weekend. It's been busy since I got back, but I confess the hard part about writing this post is putting into words what the weekend was like.

First let me say, all animals are still living. Phew! There was an if-fy moment on Saturday morning when Jacques the 15-year-old Jack Russell Terrier started terrorizing a chicken, had it trapped against the coop, leaving it lying motionless on the ground. I chased Jacques away and picked up the chicken to see that it appeared to be breathing poorly. I checked it for wounds, but found none, so I put it back on the ground. She jumped up immediately and ran away in a squawk. Damn chicken! Damn dog! I think they cooked up the plan when they found out the city girls were coming. You know, like you did when you were a kid and a babysitter was coming for the evening. Sheesh.

I milked a goat on Friday evening, but I was slow. I will say, however, I was thorough and every drop went in the bucket. Caring for the chickens became my "specialty" though, and I took to it like a champ. I even stuck my hand under a resting chicken to check for eggs. She pecked at me the first time, but I was quicker the next time and managed to do it without injury. Pretty gutsy, no?

Everything was slower at the farm, but it felt like we worked hard. We did chores and cooked. Oh, yeah, we took naps too, and played games, but there wasn't much time for anything else. The thing is, I liked it that way. The work we did felt purposeful. And the time spent together was great.

On Saturday night, we stood outside and looked up at a sky full of stars and later watched a spider weave a web. It was good to slow down. Maybe I'm wrong, but I really feel like I could get used to that kind of life.