Tag Archives: Family

A Kitchen of Culture, Life, And Conversation

15.05.10

May 10, 2015

The kitchen is a favorite room of mine. Hard to imagine it isn’t everyone’s. Good food, good company, and good talk roll over the counter top and fill the house. Not a big room, but open with movement between kitchen and dining is hardly noticeable.

Our home is a back door home. That is, it is one of those homes that a knock on the front door means someone has arrived who has not visited before. After the first visit folk come to the back door. The back door leads straight into the kitchen, so it naturally the homes main room. Which suits us just fine. Folk soon learn that when we are expecting them to give a quick knock, walk in and walk in and grab a cup of coffee or tea—if we’re out in the pasture we’ll show up before too long. The kitchen/dining space is space where friends and neighbors sit laugh, argue, converse, and eat good food.

Spring break groups often have a stint or two in the kitchen. Spring means March, which means wind that blows so hard an outside conversation is next to impossible. During the summer, groups hang out in the barn and converse, but the barn is full of hay and equipment in the spring. So the kitchen fills up with thirty folk and we talk about justice in the landscape.

Every once in a while a group leader contacts me and together we will work to develop a unique spring break. A few years ago a pastor in Watsonville, California called and we developed a spring break where the kitchen stimulated the weeks conversation.

Each day the community baked or fried a cultural bread. Each bread: Wheat bread, fry bread, tortillas, etcetera promoted conversations on culture and we folk carry have different worldviews. The type of bread, its ingredients, and its making helped folk to think about how bread is reflective of a people’s poverty and prosperity. Continue reading

Mystery In the Nooks and Crannies Of Garages and the Everyday

15.03.15

April 19, 2015

There was always a bit of mystery in Daddy’s garage. Having free range, we kids were in it most every day for one thing or another. It was a normal place with a bit of an edge.

Daddy fought in WWII as a young man. For him, as a parent, that meant more untold stories than told. Directly after the war he spent a few years in the States. But being single and of sound mind and a carpenter he headed to the middle-east. Like much of the world, the area was ramping up since the war had destroyed much of the infrastructure. He ran construction projects ranging from pipelines to housing for the better part of a decade. When he came home he brought carvings, rugs, old (at least old to us kids) films, and intricately made boxes. Time to time daddy might tell a story, but like the war stories, he kept Arabia pretty much to himself. Which made the garage all the more interesting.

We kids always had our own agenda. The garage was our first stop for whatever tools we needed to fix a bike, work on the treehouse, or build another live-trap to haul into the hills. It was in the midst of our stuff that we came across his stuff. Though it didn’t happen often, it was also not unusual to be looking for a drill bit in the drawer of a handmade toolbox and come across medals from the war, or looking for a handsaw and find a carving wrapped in a small Persian rug.

Age didn’t matter when you came across a medal or a carving for the first or umpteenth time. The imagination wandered. Because a story was seldom available, these items from times past and landscapes unknown brought mystery into the moment. The bike or treehouse was forgotten and the mysterious led the imagination to that place of wonderment and questioning. Funny, isn’t it, how the non-story can bring about intricate and surprising stories? Continue reading

Sidle Up To The Fenceline

15.04.05a

April 5, 2015

Ray and I spoke across the fenceline for fifteen years. Each Christmas, whether we needed to or not, our families got together. When Rebecca and Andy’s wedding came, Ray and Mary were there. Ray and I didn’t see eye to eye on everything and I am glad we didn’t—made life a little richer, but we when it came to the joy of working land, we had pretty darn the same mindset. Ray passed away a few years ago and his place was split up. We picked up the land—someone else the home and barn—not long afterwards. I think of Ray whenever I am working the place. However, I sorely miss the fenceline conversations.

Ray flood irrigated the land. Each spring he hooked a V-ditcher up to the 3-wheel tractor and pulled ditches. Just like it sounds, the V-ditcher is a huge V shaped metal implement. When pulled behind a tractor it pulls dirt up and out of the ground leaving a V-shaped ditch. Once pulled, the irrigator runs water down the ditch. Siphon tubes then transfer water from the ditch into the field. The practice of ditching and siphoning is laborious. Which has a lot to do with my intention of using sprinklers to irrigate the field.

To flood the land, Ray created a series of crisscrossing ditches. The large supply ditches run the property’s boundary. Changing to sprinklers means all the ditches need filling. To do so, I run a spring-tooth implement up and down the mounds of dirt along each side of the ditch. After loosening the dirt mounds, I use a 3-point blade to turn the soil back into the ditch.

15.04.05b Continue reading

Landscape Americans

14.11.30

November 30, 2014

Driving down the Columbia Gorge, Belinda and I searched for a radio to pass time. We came upon an interview with an American Indian woman. She was in the middle of making a point that Native Americans know their heritage better than non-Indians, and this has a lot to do with traditional story telling practices. In making her point, she said that while Native Americans could go back generations, Americans can seldom tell a story beyond that of their grandparents.

I turned to Belinda and commented she had missed on this one. Not on the idea that many Americans can no longer tell a story beyond their grandparents—I think that is true enough, but in saying “Americans,” she included folk she did not intend. As she went on, it was clear her comment was focused on white folk of European heritage. However, in saying “Americans” she includes all folk of the America’s: American Indians, First Nation peoples of Canada, Indigenous of Mexico and Central America and South America, Greenlandic Inuit, and Alaska Natives. Belinda pushed back saying well you know what she meant. Yes, true enough, however, we need to claim inclusive language that honors both heritage and the reality of the landscape. With neither of us backing down, we had just enough to drive a conversation for the rest of the journey.

This last Sunday of Native American Heritage month I am thinking to honor heritage, place of birth and/or place of adoption must be distinguish and honored as well. Continue reading

Time to Elder

14.10.26

October 26, 2014

One does not have to be in the church, any Christian church, for long before hearing a low wailing bemoaning the loss of young folks. I do not know if the same holds true for folk in Judaism, Islam, or other religions, but the loss of young adults have freaked-out Christians for a number of decades. The freaked-out truth is seen in the countless books and blogs on strategies to bring youth and young adults back to church.

My ten cents worth (and ten cents ain’t worth much today) is we Christians don’t deserve to have young adults in our congregations. If that comment is raising a rash and face muscles are tensing up, let us talk for a moment or two, before the fits kick in.

Hiring a young pastor, a youth pastor, creating a youth group, supporting youth events, funding youth worktrips, and giving youth the fireside room are all actions congregations have taken to keep or attract youth to church. There is nothing wrong with implementing any of those. However, each can be problematic if folk believe those actions alone will lead to young adults returning to their congregation. After all, congregations have been implementing those ideas for decades and young adults still are not in their churches. Continue reading

Dressing For Wellness

14.10.11

October 11, 2014

After living a number of years on a farm a friend noted that before coming to the farm he had no idea how well versed his children would become in death. The line between death and life on a farm is not a thick one—nor should it be, for death should be as natural as life whether on a farm or in the city. Whether one plants crops or raises animals, a balance exists between planting and birth, harvest and death. For animal raisers, the butcher date arrives eventually. For crop folk, harvest leads to spring plowing where all sorts of life—gophers, rabbits, voles, and bugs are lost. Done well, farm life is a harmonious interplay between life and death.

I’ve another friend who is spending some of his time writing essays dealing with death and death rituals. His What happens to village death rituals when people move to town? has me pondering a common local death ritual that today is uncommon in most of our communities -The Dressing.

Though uncommon today, the 1984 movie Places in the Heart has a scene that tells how normal the ritual of dressing once was. Sheriff Royce Spalding, who lives at the edge of town, is called away from his meal. While away he is accidently shot and dies. Four local men bring the body back home. As they enter the home, one quickly takes a lone plate off the dining table and lays it on the sideboard. Continue reading

Protecting the Young

14.01.04

October 04, 2014

Protecting the young. Most species are inclined to shelter their young. From the individualness of tree top hawk nests and haystack mouse nests to communities of goat herds, duck flocks, and seal pods, creation cares for its young giving them their best chance to for tomorrow.

Great fear comes in protecting the young. A fair amount of can I do it and do it well settles in as bellies swell. Yet fear of letting go and allowing the young to enter life’s struggle is just as great. Whether it is mother hawk with nestling at nest edge readying for flight or mother human holding a hand waiting for first day school bus, the tension between letting go and protecting, shelves fear in the heart.

Finding the time or place to ease up on protection and allow the young to make their mistakes, and too often know hurt—intellectually, emotionally, physically, spiritually—are hard questions for parent, herd, and flock.

I don’t know how many times an eighteen-year-old at the farm has said, I don’t feel like an adult. As I heard a young man say it again this summer it struck me how the lack of balance between protection and letting go is damaging our young and our community—think of the injustice of an 18-year-old signing up for military service, or voting, or having a beer, who do not think of themselves as an adult. Continue reading

Downtown Cross-Street

13.12.25

December 25, 2013

The door banged open and Arnie blew in with the Santa Ana’s (that’s wind for the non-southern California folk).  “I just got off that L.A. freeway without getting killed or caught,” he said.  We knew what he meant.  Every one of us had spent time on California freeways to get to this room.  If L.A. freeways are good for anything else, they always make you feel like you’ve accomplished something making it to your destination in one piece!  But when an armadillo says without getting killed or caught (Had I said Arnie’s an armadillo?  We’re all uniquely created, but ya gotta admit, there’s something a bit different when it comes to armadillo’s.) you get one of those chicken crossing the L.A. freeway images and, well, Arnie probably had his heart beating a bit more than normal a time or two.

“I thought I’d left the key in the ‘ol’ front door lock,” Arnie said, “but, then, we got something to believe in, don’t you think?”  We sat there looking at Arnie and no clue as to what he was talking about.  But that was nothing new, Arnie often kept us a notch off center, wondering.

“I walked through the downtown yesterday, he said.  The streets were filled with laughter and light…and the music of the season.  We looked at each other and wondered what in the world was Arnie doing downtown?  There always a risk when any of us visit the city, but an armadillo, downtown, with foot and car traffic, in this season!  Well you’ve gotta give some thought to how well he’s tracking!  Arnie went on, “as I walked I got those stares, you know the ones.  It was all a little surreal, there is something about when their christmas comes they tense-up and focus on possessions.  You’d think the act of giving to their relations would be a good time, but many seem to walk with smiles on their faces while the season turns their temple to a robber’s den.”  We were tracking him, more or less, but one couldn’t be sure.

“I came to the corner of 25th and Chris Street,” he said.  “There was this old boy in worn out shoes, sitting on the curb.  Continue reading

Wombed Is To Life, As Life Is To ???

13.03.28

March 28, 2013

2013 Kids: Day 3
Part 3

The day began with an almost death and ended with the real thing.  Death is weird.  Can’t explain it, can’t explain it away.  And like birth, everyone does it sooner or later.

As I reread what I wrote yesterday, I noticed I said that when the first kid of the last doe of the day was born, it was birthed dead.  That got me to thinking, was it dead?  The kid never took a breath.  Can there be life without breath?  Can there be death without life?  The old storytellers of the Hebrew Testament tell the story of Creator gathering up ground, forming it, and then breathing the breath of life into the mud ball.  With breath, forth came human life.  For some of our ancient people life comes with breath.

I choose to think life comes with breath with birth.  Many folk don’t agree and say life comes before breath before birth.  However, defining existence prior to birth and prior to breath as life is accepting society’s norm of thinking in absolutes.  Absolutes like right or wrong, good or bad, moral or immoral, hot or cold, life or death.  Absolutes are problematic because this either-or way of thinking does not allow us to wonder in liminal space.  In other words, by defining everything we know as not death as life we confine the fullness of creation, but when we dull the edges of what we choose to call life and death we enhance the richness of life and death because we become comfortable with the ambiguousness of existence.

Years ago, Belinda and I had a baby after twenty-five weeks in the womb.  Breath was not breathed into and breath was not taken.  So, like the kid from the previous post, was she born dead?  Well, she did not have life as we know it.  She was not a walking, breathing being.  And yet, there was something prior to birth.  Something like life, something real, something extraordinary and unique existed, but that something did not fit the language box of life.  In our want for simpleness, we have not taken the initiative to find a word (or words) which best expresses the state of being lying somewhere between non-human and human existence.  Or have we?  Perhaps we do have a word to talk about unique existence prior to life, but in our sloppiness we have not allowed it to become all it might be.  After all, womb is a fairly decent word that expresses something more than an ammonic sack.  The womb, created at conception, is a unique landscape—at least as unique as the landscape we call earth.  The landscape of the womb is a place of extraordinary existence—every bit as unique as life is on earth.  Therefore, it seems a shame to use the word life to talk about an existence that is extraordinarily different from this breathing walking around life we know.  Instead of describing existence in the womb as life, wouldn’t be more appropriate to talk about being wombed or wombing or wombingful?  Would not such language speak to an extraordinary and creative existence that is equal to but not the same as life?  To value womb and life as different but equally unique existences is to appreciate the rich and imaginative nature of creation.  By letting go of either-or absolute thinking and allowing our language to become creative and imaginative, existence becomes fluid and rich.  Moreover, fluid existence means we can better cherish death.

Cherishing death though, is to find fertile language that honors post-life existence in the way womb honors pre-life existence.  As wombed existence becomes richer when we let go of phrases like life in the womb, post-life existence becomes richer when we let go of words like afterlife.  In doing so, after life or post-life would speak to that existence which comes into being when the breathing walking around life we know, ends.

It is within the human imagination find language that speaks to post-life existence as extraordinary, creative, and equal to life, but not the same as life.  The trick is to find a word(s) (Many that come to mind seem inadequate: Heaven, Hell, paradise, angel, eternity, afterlife, Hereafter, eternity.) that speak to post-life as wombed speaks to pre-life.  There is also the need to find new ways of thinking and descriptions of existence that allow us to imagine post-human as fetus speaks to pre-human.  In doing so, we move away from words and phrases like, life in the womb and afterlife toward constructs like, as the womb is to life, life is to ??? and as the fetus is to human, human is to ???.  With such words, we can better speak to and honor the fullness of our human and non-human existence.

Taking in the fullness of the creativity of our human and non-human existence allows humanity to grasp the richness of death.  The movement, if I might call it that, from wombed to living or fetus to human is that of birth.  Birth in its own right is a transitional moment from one existence to another.  There are times at the farm when we have watched a doe mother give birth to a kid, only to have the kid fully within the ammonic sack and fully outside of mom lying on straw.  This moment only lasts for an instant, but in that instant, one can watch the kid moving and having its existence in two realities at once.  The instant the sack breaks, one begins to understand that birth is a unique transitional moment.  Death is similar and transitional, but not the same as birth.  Unlike birth, where the fetus body becomes the human body, death is a transitional experience into a post-life existence that is bodiless.

The lack of body brings forth the realization that both the wombed-fetus and the living-human experience death.  This lack of body in post-life existence is why I commented that when the first kid of the last doe of the day was born, it was birthed dead.  However, there is one stark difference between the death of the wombed and death of the living.  Those which experience life have the opportunity to experience the movement of being from wombed to life to ???.  Whereas the fetus experiences the movement from wombed to ???, missing the experience of life.  Does missing the experience of life matter?  I don’t know.  But I do feel creation experiences deep loss when either a doe births a kid or a mother births a baby (and I choose to allow the mother to define that existence within her as baby) that is dead.

Death really is weird.  Can’t explain it, can’t explain it away—as might be noted in my reflection.  However, in this season of birth, of Holy Week and of Passover, which is a time of life and a time of death, nailing an explanation for death and life doesn’t seem as important and as taking a deep breath and wondering about the richness and fullness of our (goat and human) existence.

© David B. Bell 2013

Just Dropping In For Christmas

12.12.25

December 25, 2012

(Heads up.  Consider this a PG-13 Christmas reflection—for language not nudity!)

We were sweating when he showed up.  Donald and I thought we were hitting it pretty hard, but it was daddy who did the hard work.  Daddy, like so many men who’ve spent their working life out-of-doors, sweated freely.  We kids wondered how he could let sweat would run down his nose, ready to drip off at any moment, and go on working as if it were not there.  Hard physical work mattered for daddy.  He clearly knew the men who worked day in and day out with their hands and body were folk to be respected.  He also understood the importance of education.  Education was important for daddy for a couple of reasons.  One reason, knowledge matters to the wholeness of a person.  Knowledge allows the mind to break through the edges of wondering to fields of questioning.  Daddy didn’t make it beyond high school.  The war came along and like thousands of other young men when the war ended and he came out of the service he went straight to work.  However, I grew up seeing the daily newspaper read end to end each day, an ear-marked  monthly farming magazine, and books on math and science.  The second reason was he understood what respect there was for those who worked physically was quickly waning.  Soon society would hold those who worked a fenceline, placed concrete, framed buildings, or  grew food would be financially displace in favor of those who worked in an air conditioned office.  Though the physical work of daddy’s life was hard, he didn’t act as if it were.  Rather, while he knew there could be too much of it for any person, hard work mattered and was good.  But I digress…we were digging fence postholes in ground full of rock that summer afternoon, when he showed up.

Best I remember, Don and I always enjoyed Mr. Morton dropping by.  A depression era Okie, Mr. Morton had known a hard life.  A kind man with a hard edge, he made his way from Oklahoma to California after serving in the Korean War.  He was and is the only man I’ve known who fit the saying, “He made millions, lost millions, and made them again.”  Unlike daddy who made his thoughts known, but was quiet, Mr. Morton was loquacious and rowdy.  I’d never known any adult before who could cuss six ways from Sunday, be serious, and laughing in the same sentence.  He came up with some of the best off-color rural phrases, many of which I enjoy using to this day; though my community in which I can use them is getting smaller by the day.  And it is from him I learned the word fuck could be used in most any sentence and can be as endearing as it is aggressive.  Perhaps it isn’t surprising that Mr. Morton had a fair disdain for societal norms.  He was also a man who lived in a manner that one never knew his wealth, except, for the generosity he showed his children, his boots, his hat, and his Mercedes.  Yet, these boots, hat, and Mercedes didn’t fit societal norms.  His purchases were practical; they might have cost a fair penny, but they were practical.  His boots, for instance, may have cost a bit, but they didn’t stop him from walking the cow pasture, stepping in a pile cow shit, cussing out the cow for shitting in that particular spot, and go right on telling a story and laughing without giving those shit cover boots another thought.  The same held true with the Mercedes.  More than once Don and I found ourselves in the backseat with his boys bouncing across a pasture after one cow or another with Mr. Morton cussing both the potholes and the cow he was trying to corral—For Mr. Morton, leather is leather and it made a lot more sense rounding up a cow sitting on a leather seat than the leather of some persnickety horse.  On this particular afternoon as Don and I watched him drive across the dry dirt field, we smiled because we knew this rambling freewheeling Okie and our restrained west Texan daddy would shoot-the-bull for a while.  This meant we’d get break from the work, and maybe, a story that would put mamma on edge—should she know!  Worst case, we’d get time to kick-back, talk about whatever ten and eleven year-old boys talk about, and throw stones at the rock beneath the sagebrush.

Mr. Morton never called before he came by the place; he just showed up.  Of course the same held true when daddy visited him.  This was a relationship, which, though both homes had one of those black rotary phones, with a handset in the cradle, and a dial with black numbers, there were few phone calls between daddy and Mr. Morton.  I think it had a lot to do with being depression era children.  Being a time when of few phones in rural homes, neither daddy nor Mr. Morton had home phones.  This lack of phones meant, neighbors just showed up.  Not all visits were a surprise though.  Folks often arranged a visit the last time they were in town or at church on Sunday.  But so very often, visits occurred because a neighbor was walking, riding, or driving by the place and they had a minute or two to drop in and say hi.  Those spur of the moment visitations created relationships and communities that, for the most part, are lost—After all, unique relationships develop when folk just show up, because, there is little telling what you might be in the middle of…maybe fence building, but then again, those rural farming families of eight, nine, or ten were not all created at night!

Any longer, though, few folk just show up.  In our rural landscape, we watched the rotary phone with its curly tail plugged into the wall, become the push-button phone, which then became the cell phone.  By adulthood, my generation was very adept with the phone and it became normal to call your neighbor before just dropping by.  Unlike Don and I, our children seldom got a break from chores with daddy because by the time Mr. Morton showed up we’d already had a phone call and had arranged chores they could get done without us.  “Just the changing times” one might say, but I think this lack of just dropping in is affecting relationships of neighbor, family, and community.

The fear of just dropping in before calling, I see this in myself.  There are times I find myself driving down Fort Road with a spare moment on my hands and I think about dropping in on a neighbor.  Then I remember today’s etiquette of calling ahead before visiting, so, instead of just dropping in I just stay on the road.  One might say, “Well you have a cell phone, you could call!”  True enough, but what do you say, “Hey, I don’t have anything better to do and I thought I’d drop by?”  Now, that’ll make ‘em feel good!  And what about my friends in their twenties who’d a whole lot rather have you text before you call before you drop in?  Yet, as I see it, folk and community have a great need for the unexpected drop in.  You get a hint of the need in most any coffee shop on most any day.  Sit and listen, sometime, to the conversation at your neighboring table (if it isn’t a business meeting).  More often than not, these folk are not talking about world changing events, rather, they are shooting-the-bull, laughing, talking about family and, most of all, enjoying one another’s company.  There is a great need to be with others without having any agenda and no time to prepare thoughts, and just be neighbor—kinda like two boys throwing stones at a rock under the sagebrush.

Certainly cell phones and to social networks like Facebook have their upside, but they shouldn’t get confused with a face to face conversations over the fenceline or across the coffee table.  There is something about having your neighbor show up without any notice, calling you away from your work, and bestowing a surprised blessing upon you of shooting-the-bull.  Best of all, because of the unpreparedness of the visit, you and neighbor become known to one another for your screwy thoughts as well as the insightful ones, and that truly enriches relationship.  And on a good day, your neighbor steals you away from work, places you in the backseat of a Mercedes and rockets across a hoof-dented, gopher-infested pasture leaving your butt as much in the air as on the leather seat.

In this time of short days, when neighbors are tucked in their home against the long cold winter night I like to imagine what might happen should neighbors, cell phone be damned, just drop in on their neighbor.  Probably an interesting story or two…Like the one of three or four old boys who just dropped in one day on newly birthed parents.  They gathered them up and invited them onto the backseat of a bouncing Mercedes.  Inside, they gave them three gifts—two of which were nice smelling oils…always a good thing with a baby in the car—which lifted their newborn spirits.  Then real fun began as they bounced their way across the landscape, for with each bounce the parents captured a glimpse of life with baby beyond the front windshield.  The clarity of life ahead was questionable from that bouncing backseat, but clarity mattered little for in the front seat was an old Okie cussing, laughing, and spurring life on across the landscape!

© David B. Bell 2012