Wednesday, November 18, 2009

When The Earth Rolls Over

Whether by chance, or design, you are the progeny of the potato – of the stem that swells underground.
     How many mornings of his long, rich life did your grandfather, a potato farmer, bend before the cut of his plow, his horses steaming from their nostrils, the ashen trees clotting against a watery English dawn?
     You can only wonder how he might have responded if presented with a can of Pringles, the potato snack that is only 43% potato, a billion-dollar product of space-age design, manufactured with a machine invented by a science-fiction writer – a chip notorious for its tendency to cause loose and bloody stools, the severe bouts of diarrhea that have destroyed many a toilet’s inherent composure.

You’re sure he would have just shrugged, sucking at one of his perennial mints, pulling at his suspenders, heading into the kitchen to fetch a piece of string.
     For, you see, your mother’s father – bless his departed soul – was a man who could fix anything with a piece of string – especially a broken toilet.
     He was a demon when it came to mending things in unconventional ways, with whatever was handy.
     The man was a regular nineteenth century-born MacGyver.
     He’d mend his broken privy with a piece of greasy twine that had been used to string a rabbit over the kitchen sink – an unlucky visitor to his well-tended field.
     Conversely, you’re sure he could have mended a piece of string with the toilet.
     Hell, he probably caught his rabbits with bits of each.
     The man was industrious.
     And rooty.
     As rooty as a rutabaga.

You came from this relationship with the soil and cannot ignore it, as paltry as your acquaintance with the planting row might be.

What is it that is so intoxicating about the scent of a turned field?
     What are we smelling when the earth rolls over?
     Is it root and spore and mineral and rain?
     Is it the saliva of the worm, the viscous trail of the slug, the dank perfume of the grub?

You can only suppose it is all of this, and more – so much more – the taxonomy of worlds unknown, of civilizations caught between stones, of societies clutched by molecules, of invisible eternities – portholes to the center of the planet – a center that can never be reached.
     The substrate we expose is largely the excrement of the smallest farmers, the substances channeled through their tubular bodies, the filtered, liquefied essence we call dirt – the residue of a mad, endless shitting, the flatulent rearranging of the planet’s face – of which the Olestra-stricken chip cruncher is no equal.

To the furtive fauna that tend this planetary covering do we owe the vegetable, the fruit, the tree, the grass, the mushroom, the flower, the fern – the heather on the drowsy hill where a boy comes alive, his pale limbs entwined with those of a pretty girl, rolling absent-mindedly onto his can of Chile Cheese Dog Pringles, the wind whispering “Once you pop, you can’t stop”.

In the name of the potato, the French fry, the chip, the hash brown, do we scalp the planet and gouge at its flesh, forcing its renewal, defining biological maturity at the seed, germinating to satisfy the stockholder, growing to feed the beast that bleeds at the press of our knife.
     We place our very survival in the dirt-laced fingers of those who understand the land, giving them our hunger, entrusting their expertise – wholly ignorant of its basic tenants, the factors that make the field essential or destitute – the things your grandfather knew as well as the back of his hand.

And, you’re quite sure, the back of his toilet.