Sunday, October 26, 2008

At My Chamber Door

It started about three weeks ago. Tap. Tap. Tap. Silence for about 30 seconds, then tap. Tap. Tap.

I walked to the door and saw a mockingbird dive bombing the patio door. Beak against glass. Tap. Tap. Tap.

Poor thing, I thought. He sees his reflection in the glass and wants to scare away that other bird. And I got all thoughtful, saw myself in the mockingbird – that way that I tend to notice, analyze and criticize in others the things in myself that most make me want to cringe.

Poor thing. But then I walked outside onto the deck. Sympathy and thoughtfulness evaporated. All over the deck railings, the deck floor and the lawn chair were bird droppings. Purple and white poop interspersed with unidentified seeds. I forgot about self-analysis and insight. I forgot about appreciation of the natural world. I forgot about life lessons. I was nothing less than completely irritated.

No more, "Poor thing." Now it was, "Come on, stupid bird. How many times do you have to crash your brain into the glass before you figure it out? And why in the world do you have to poop every time you do it?" I'm sure there is an actual answer to that last question, but I'm not sure I want to know it.

I sighed – not a shallow, slightly sad exhalation, but a deep, forceful expulsion – and went back inside. At least, I reminded myself, someone was coming the next day to pressure wash the house. What fortunate timing.

The next morning Travis sprayed off a couple years' worth of dust and cobwebs and dirt dauber nests and kamikaze mockingbird poop. The deck railings, along with the front porch rockers which had also been victimized, were sparkling white. I stood with my hands on my hips breathing in the early autumn air and lapsed back into generosity toward the poor bird.

Travis hadn't been gone for fifteen minutes when I heard it. Tap. Tap. Tap.No! Not again!

Yes. Again. Bright purple splotches at the foot of the patio door, along the railings.

If I were a woman bent toward profanity I would probably have uttered some at that moment. Instead all I could muster was, like Charlie Brown, a long loud drawn-out, "AAUUGGHH!!"

A handful of wet wipes later most of the avian fecal matter had been cleaned up. An hour later the whole process (Tap. Tap. Tap. AAUUGGHH!! Wipe.) was repeated when I discovered that the bird had resumed his attack on the front porch windows. By sundown I had given up. Thrown in the wet wipes. Raised the wing of the mockingbird and declared him the undisputed champ.

It's been three weeks. The splotches have multiplied and dried into powdery Rorschach tests. New ones greet me every afternoon. The tapping continues and I find myself wondering if, like the anonymous narrator of "The Raven," I should just open the door and invite the bird in. Maybe he has something to say.

And, of course, he does. It is, in fact, exactly what I heard him saying before I got so angry and stopped listening. It is always myself that I see in the intolerant, ungrateful and indecisive. It is my hands that remain folded in the presence of so much need, my voice that remains silent in a world that needs to hear truth.

Are you ... tap ... going to keep doing ... tap, tap, tap ... the same old things ... tap, tap, tap ... and expect different results ... tap, tap ... or are you ... tap ... going to ... tap, tap, tap ... stop the madness ... tap, tap, tap ... and fly?

Copyright 2008

Sunday, October 12, 2008


You wake up one morning. You walk outside. You take a breath and you know. There is a peanut field somewhere that has been turned over, the peanuts thrown onto their backs and left to dry as they wait for the harvest.

You know this because of the scent – damp earth and nitrogen. It is the perfume of a south Georgia October. It hovers over the yards and roads, seeps into the houses and alerts those who sleep in those houses to be aware of slow-moving vehicles grunting their way toward town hauling jewels weighed by the ton, not the carat. The languor of late summer has shifted into the urgency of harvest.

And while there is no canonized text or organized presbytery, this work, this repetition, this ritual is as much liturgy as is holy communion. Those who plant and plow and pray for rain are the priests who tend the temple of the earth year after year, who keep the fires lit and offer the sacrifices of hard labor and harder faith on behalf of the rest of us.

I was not born with dirt under my fingernails. I came late to the life of farming, a recalcitrant teen-aged companion to my father's following his bliss. I resented the dust and the isolation of the dirt road. I came as close as I ever have to cursing as I ran barefoot across a field in blistering heat helping chase a blind cow. I couldn't wait to be gone.

I left for college before the first harvest. It was seven years before I returned. By that time I had, mercifully, learned a few things and that fall, standing on the front porch as my father and my brother, covered in dust and bone-weary, climbed into the cabs of their trucks and jerked their way up that dirt road pulling trailers into the quickly waning light, I bowed my head and prayed.

Prayed for the daylight to last so that the trailers could be seen by other vehicles, prayed that the tires would hold up, prayed for all the traffic lights going through town to be green. Prayed for every farmer in every truck pulling every trailer in every town. That was 27 years ago.

The highway into town is four-laned all the way now so the people with tags from Gwinnett and Cobb and Fulton don't get to blow their horns and shake their fists quite as much anymore, but not much else has changed. There's still a chance that the rain won't come soon enough to loosen the ground and the peanuts will fall off the vine as they are plowed up. Or that, once they're plowed up and drying, the rain will come and produce mold. It's quite likely that a fully-loaded trailer will blow a tire at some point.

But what's certain is that the hum of the plows and the pickers will begin with daylight and continue long after sunset. That the men driving them will pause only long enough to disengage a knot of vines from the plow and swig down a Coke or a jar of iced tea. That the last load will be the subject of great rejoicing. That the earth will yield its increase and be gladly put to bed.

You wake up one morning. You walk outside. You take a breath and you know. There is a peanut field somewhere that has been turned over and the call to worship has been sung. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Amen.

Copyright 2008