"What do you plan to do with your one, wild, precious life?" -Mary Oliver

Monday, August 31, 2009

The High Cost of Cheap Food

The crop dusters are out, billowing clouds of poison over the rich muck fields of the lowlands—the beautiful black soil where carrots and lettuce grow best in Michigan. If you were offered a million dollars to find one weed in one of those carrot fields you wouldn’t be able to collect. Your nails would be black and your back bent but you’d be penniless for your efforts.

My sister is a caseworker at Michigan Works, helping the unemployed and making sure those deserving receive their unemployment checks and have access to online job opportunities. There is one caseworker fluent in Spanish assigned to help a diverse migrant population who come up legally for the summer to do the back-breaking work of weeding and harvesting carrots and lettuce in the low-lying muck (peat) fields in the Imlay City area. There has traditionally been a great deal of summer work here. She (we’ll call her Margaret), recently lamented to my sister how there is no work anymore. All the fields are perfect and weed free. “There are no weeds, Christine!” she says. And more and more harvesting is done by machine. Some would say, well good, maybe they’ll go back home where they belong. Margaret says they work hard and spend money in the local grocery store and the hardware store and are honest and true.

What do we want? The great wall of China on our southern border? Vegetables that have soaked up chemical residue through their root systems to harbor it in the flesh we unwittingly eat? Do we want labor-free vegetable fields? What . . . cheap food? There is no such thing as cheap food. If you factor in the environmental cost and the health cost of our “cheap food” the true expense would far outweigh the cost of certified organic meats and vegetables.

The sun is rising over the treetops, and now the crop dusters are out, spraying the carrots which look beautiful and lush in the distance. The drone of the engines as they swoop over the fields across the road at the back of our farm wafts through my window closed to the 45-degree morning. The land is defenseless, giving back only that which is given.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Who Came Before You


My father lost partial hearing
in the middle of the night.
He woke up deaf in one ear,
shaking his head like a swimmer.
Now he has taken to playing solitaire,
and the cards stay on the table like a chess game.
Mother cooks and cleans and dumps thistle seed into the bird feeder
and replaces the battery in her cow cookie jar,
(the mournful moo) so she can catch the sneak.
But it isn’t Dad.

The only memory I have of my maternal grandfather
is him sitting at the table playing solitaire
with a curious knob in his ear,
while we nabbed cookies out of the cookie jar.
I have no memory of his voice, or his laughter or his work,
his coming in from the field, perspiring and flushed,
although I know he did these things . . . before me.

I don’t like my father’s hearing aid,
the way it amplifies background noise
and takes him out of the mix at the dinner table
where he used to drive the conversation,
the way he buries himself in the newspaper and doesn’t
say hello when you come in the back door.
The way the grandchildren I don’t yet have
won’t know him.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Selling of Deanville Mountain

Can a man own a mountain?
Carve out the center and cart it away
to shopping malls and garden centers?
Can he haul it off to adjacent counties
and bordering states where people
won’t appreciate that their gravel made up a mountain?

This mountain . . . our mountain.
This land . . . our land.
What farceness.
What? I can’t make up a word?
One man can own a mountain and truck it away
in exchange for stuff from malls full of sullen children
who have never climbed a mountain.
One man can disfigure the landscape
and transform the view and there are no words for that.

This mountain was our mountain,
ten o’clock on our compass.
history and barometer and weather maker.
Deanville Mountain and the road that crossed it—
lined with trees tall enough
to support elaborate nests and birds of unblinking eye—
was a place for teenagers to find themselves in the dark.
A place where rumors were invented and secrets uncovered.
Too bad our mountain held such a rich lode.
Too bad about mining and ownership and the rumor
that didn’t travel far enough into the right hands
fast enough. Too bad about the gaping wound and the collapsing side
that I thankfully can’t see from my porch . . . yet
Too bad it was never ours.

My grandfather insisted that the mountain changed our climate.
Storm clouds moved around Deanville Mountain
like storms off the Pacific deflected by rugged coastline.
Rain would fall to the west or skirt the entire bulge
To head out over the lake.
It was a mountain to be reckoned with and perhaps
compensated us beyond our comprehension.
Perhaps we’ll now have more of the rain that a farmer
can never seem to get enough of.
(They’ll tell you all about that in the Central Valley.)
But the mountain isn’t grand anymore.

Humane Blog Award


I was recently nominated to receive the Humane Blog Award by Andrea Cremer over at A Blurred History. Thanks Andrea, for believing me to be worthy of this award.