Showing some love for our farmers

Savannah Morning News

June 7, 2015

Man, do I love farmers. Not those big old big-bellied corporate types sitting behind giant pieces of machinery, working thousands of acres, backed by vats of noxious poison, but those human types who get out to broadcast seeds by hand, get down to pull pernicious weeds, get close to check for suspicious nibbling, get serious to research how to combat said nibbling, get creative to rid predators, get up early to catch the worm and get to bed early after a little interlude in front of the tube with a spoon and a carton of Talenti black raspberry chocolate chip gelato.

It’s a beautiful thing what they do, our farmers. Maybe the noblest thing of all.

Yes, some of us call ourselves gardeners but that’s a far cry from being a farmer.             That’s like saying if we play tennis or swim laps we understand how Serena Williams feels if she misses an overhead or Michael Phelps if he has a bad turn at the split.

Right about now, I’d rather leave the heavy lifting of the summer gardening to someone else. Let someone else worry about the corn (it’s tasseling too early), the tomatoes (they’re setting blooms but not fruiting), the watermelon (they’re starting their world domination sprawl and are about to overtake the purslane).

I’m more likely to put together a bouquet of flowers every other day than pick enough vegetables for dinner. The other day the garland du jour included the all-time beautiful alstromeria (or Peruvian lily), the stunning red/orangey crocosmia, a mound of tall, white yarrow (although I’d rather have yellow, but that’s a gardener for you, never satisfied), a nice selection of the delicate, undulating sea oats (the legal kind), a few spears of the independent and handsome equisetum (or horsetail), and, the kicker, some unruly and striking snips of gloriosa lily (a plant so beautiful someone in the Postal Service thought it deserved to be on a stamp).

None of these plants have been watered. Ever.

None have been fertilized, weeded, mulched, top-dressed, treated or enriched.

None have listened to Mozart, Sibelius or Nine Inch Nails.

When it comes to the summer and the garden my attention span is that of a two-year-old. I might stroll through, scissors in hand, snip- snip- snipping something for the dining room table; checking on the progress of the moonflowers, or glancing upwards at the giraffe-like frangipani to see if it’s bloomed yet (it hasn’t). But that is about all I feel like doing. I’m not proud of this; it’s just a fact.

It’s a terrible thing when you realize your passion is waning. It’s as bad as opening three books and finding none to your liking, hanging up 75 garlic plants to cure and then thinking maybe the smell of garlic might be making you a little sick or deciding it’s a perfect day to make guacamole but none of your avocadoes are ripe and neither are any in the markets.

It’s not about the heat, this aversion to the garden. This happens to be a very cool summer. We even have an occasional breeze.

It’s not about the work. There are crazy people like myself who love to weed and leave plants all tidy so they can have room to grow and thrive, an activity I don’t mind doing in other people’s gardens (it’s a mitzvah, a good deed) as long as it’s not in my own.

It’s not about the food. We do not have to live on what we grow. We can go to the farmers markets or the grocery store any time we want.

It’s just about taking a break, the way people up North do in the winter. They stay inside. They read. They clean out their closets. They write letters. They might watch movies in the day (horrors! I just ordered Leon Uris’ “Exodus.” Perfect. It’s three hours long).

But when I want those long skinny cucumbers you can eat skin and all or the heat-loving eggplant for eggplant parmesan or wax beans you can simmer and eat straight out of the pot – or fresh peaches, tomatoes or okra – there’s always our local farmers. Man, do I love farmers.

Wellness, schmellness

Savannah Morning News column

May 31, 2015


“First question. Can you tell me the date?”

“I have no idea. May 30?” (Memorial Day was coming up; it used to be on May 30).

“Wrong. May 20.”

“Are you ever irritated?” (Only in the waiting room. I thought I was going to a doctor’s office, not a factory).

“Do you ever trip?” (Yes; mostly on the tree roots on the tree lawn in front of my house.)

“What city and county do you live in?” (Slowvannah; The state of Chatham).

“Can you spell ‘worthwhile’ backwards?’ (In my head? Probably not).

“Do you want to get on the scale or do you weigh the same?” (No, I don’t want to get on the scale Who is their right mind would want to get on the scale?).

“Do you read the newspaper?” (This must be a trick question).

“Do you have anything wrong right now?”

“I have stomach cramps. This never happens.”

Computer snapped shut. That was the end of the “memory” exam. Then the doctor arrives, all crisp, polite, a slight ironic smile on his face. Pleasant. No lab coat. He opens his computer.

His first question: “Do you still use the same pharmacy?”

Then he brought up the stomach cramps issue, which turned out to be food poisoning, But neither of us knew that then.

His response: “Do you want me to make an appointment with a gastroenterologist?”

“Isn’t it a little soon for that?”

Back to his computer. Tap tap tap.

“Do you want a bone density test?”


“An ekg?”


Blood pressure, good. Skin coloring, good. Ankles, good.

Tap tap tap. Tapping into the computer, sometimes squinting, sometimes getting closer to the screen, pausing.

My turn to ask a question.

“What are you doing?” (I thought this was about me.)

“Recording what you’re saying.”

“Why does it take so long?”

He doesn’t say but I know the answer. He’s being very, very careful to put in the right code, the right combination of letters and numbers and dashes. He doesn’t want to be reported to the Medicare police, which are everywhere.

Then I couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Don’t you want me to drop my drawers? Aren’t you going to use that stethoscope or any of those other sterilized instruments? Listen to my lungs? How about looking into my eyes or my ears?”

No. No. No. And no.

The last time I went to see him at the factory I was looking for relief from allergies. I was at my wit’s end from sneezing and itchy eyes and not sleeping. I was down for the count. In the end I got what I came for, a prescription, a drug.

That was when he looked at it computer and said it was time for my wellness exam. OK, that’s fine with me. Nothing feels particularly wrong but that’s what you do. You see a doctor once a year, just to stay ahead of things. You have a physical. Except he never said the word “physical.” He said “wellness.” Same thing, I thought. Same old drill. Just another term. That’s the era and the language I’m familiar with. Physicals. You know, hands on, taking a hammer to my knee to check whatever, poking, probing, looking. Not at the computer keyboard but at me, my chest, my back.

Wrong. This is the twenty-first century. Physicals are so twentieth-century. Now, under Medicare, what you get is a “wellness” exam. Most of it is free. But no one is quite sure what is free, what is not free.

Computer snapped closed.

Back to the factory waiting room that used to be a grocery store to wait for  “labs.”

It’s the new world order. I hope they know what they’re doing because I sure don’t.