“. . . We’re not our skin of grime, we’re not dread bleak dusty imageless locomotives, we’re golden sunflowers inside, blessed by our own seed & hairy naked accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black formal sunflowers in the sunset . . .” –Allen Ginsburg, Sunflower Sutra
I woke up with nothing to say. It was a dreary morning in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and I was tired. I’d driven a long time through New York and New Jersey (which I will explain in a moment) and I’d had a fitful night’s sleep in a motel room where the raindrops from the air conditioning unit above mine drummed down in an unpredictable syncopated staccato on the metal outside the window beside my bed. I’m supposed to be resting but I’m weary.
After the New Jersey Barbecue Adventure I had pushed on until my eyes were drooping in the Pennsylvania night and I pulled off the highway to find a bed in Bethlehem. The air was raw and damp and the night sky was low with fog. This particular Pennsylvania off ramp dumps into ridiculous road construction smack dab in front of the appallingly tacky Sands Casino. And the Sands stands smack dab in front of the decrepit old steel stacks of a recently deceased industrial behemoth. It’s as if an anger-issues Invisible Hand of the Market punched a hole in the sheetrock and somebody hung a Thomas Kinkade print on the wall in front of it. It’s a simple solution but I’m not sure it’s the best solution.
I found a bed and woke up Wednesday morning in a gray mood. I set out in search of a cup of coffee in a town that has, quite simply, seen better times. And I drove around thinking of Ginsburg’s “gnarled steel roots of trees of machinery” and I saw two people in matching red shirts planting plants in a barrel by a stoplight. As I thought, “Starbucks must have seen a sign that said ‘Abandon Hope’ and refused to enter here” I saw another few people in those self-same red t-shirts and they were planting plants at the base of a bike rack. I sort of noticed some red flags and red balloons as I searched for a cup of goddamned coffee to start my day.
I finally found a double-long parking space (because I’m dragging around this stupid 10-foot trailer) within reasonable distance of a place called Deja Brew and I ran in for a latte. As I drove back toward the highway I realized there were dozens, maybe scores, maybe more people who had dedicated a dreary, drizzly Wednesday morning to planting flowers around this once-beautiful town. The shirts, flags, and balloons bore the logo of Wells Fargo Bank. I presume they sponsored an event but I can’t seem to find any information on the internet. Perhaps the project is not just for publicity. But, good people of Bethlehem, when all those flowers start blooming you know which bank to thank.
I’d set off on this year’s (two) Million Bees Roadtrip on Tuesday around the middle of the day. Loyal readers will recall last year’s fiasco with The Curse of the Chocolate Donut and this year I decided to try my luck with an entirely different donut from an entirely different donut shop: The sweet potato-ginger donut from The Holy Donut served as a delicious lunchtime entrée and I pressed on toward Brooklyn.
Phil’s Philosophies of Life, #48: Give yourself a difficult and pointless quest from time to time:
On the Big Map it makes sense – Bill Fletcher is the brother of a dear friend of mine. He runs an amazing barbecue restaurant in Brooklyn. My brother-from-another-mother Anthony lives in Short Hills. Only the Holland Tunnel and a few miles of highway separate the two. So it makes perfect sense to leave Maine at lunchtime, pick up a big bag of barbecue in Brooklyn, and then shuttle it out to Short Hills for a delicious supper, right? Forget for a moment the rush-hour traffic and the ten-foot trailer behind my car and the plan is perfectly logical.
Few people have been my friend longer than Anthony. (I won’t bore you with details but suffice to say without Anthony The Honey Exchange would not exist.) His mother, Clara, is my “work mother”. She taught me (at the age of 20) how to be a dedicated boss and a kind, caring person at the same time. Her return to work not long after brain surgery gave me a new definition of “work ethic.” So when Anthony told me Clara would be joining us on my brief pass through the mid-Atlantic I thought, “this barbecue better rise to the occasion.” Fletcher did not disappoint. I enjoyed a wonderful but fleeting evening with Anthony, his beautiful wife, and a couple of their friends. The only disappointment was that I arrived so late I only had the chance to meet two of their four children and the meeting was all too brief. And I was too late getting to sleep in Bethlehem.
Wednesday’s drive was a fog removed from time; I’ll tell you more about that tomorrow but my goal was to arrive in time for an evening meal in western Virginia with a friend I had not seen since I graduated from college a very, very long time ago. Twenty-seven years is a lot of catching up to do over a single supper but a few precious gems of our conversation are relevant to the story I want to tell: Ellen’s field is environmental cleanup.
In the course of our chat I mentioned to Ellen how at least ¾ of our beekeeping students in every class are women and she jokingly said, “we’re taking over.” I agreed, and wished them well because things haven’t really gone so perfectly while the men have been in charge. I thought of Ginsburg’s “blear thoughts of death and dusty loveless eyes and ends and withered roots below, in the home-pile of sand and sawdust, rubber dollar bills, skin of machinery” and how Ellen and a few other remarkable people had dedicated their careers to cleaning up after the mistakes and carelessness of commerce and military might. And I recalled the red Wells Fargo shirts on people who had dedicated a dreary Wednesday morning to putting plants in the ground of a town that needs reminding that we’re all golden sunflowers inside.
I think the world is healing. It’s healing in baby steps but it’s going in the right direction. And the sun came out in Virginia and I’m feeling good about this trip again. Tomorrow is a brighter day.
[*a special thanks to Allen Ginsburg, who gave me no permission to steal his words, but I honestly don’t think he’d mind. The complete poem is not entirely suitable for audiences of all ages but it is worth looking up if your are an adult who is unfamiliar with the work.]