Ode to a Shovel

This entry is part 6 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools

Digging with a shovel
always makes me hungry.
It’s too much like a spoon, I suppose,
& the soil too close
to food here: heavy, brown,

& as full of foreign objects
as any stew. The shovel
is both tongue & tooth
on a white ash body
twice as big around as a broom.

I love groundbreaking,
holding the handle out like
a dance partner, momentarily solemn
until the first absurd little hop
onto the top lip of the blade

& the fast ride down, barring
a sudden & jarring contact
with rock or tree root.
I love cutting sod
& setting the shovel aside

to worry the dirt free from each clump.
I love giving the earth
a new — if temporary — mouth
& listening for the harsh syllables
of rock on steel.

I even like jollying the blade
around some impediment
that threatens to snap the handle,
feeling the thing budge & loosen
& at last let go,

& the shovel cradles
its unlikely prize,
sharp-edged & slick with charisma:
a tool nobody’s invented
a use for yet.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

9 Comments


  1. I love all of these shovelish things, too, even more for having fully experienced them here now. That third & fourth stanzas are exactly right — that hop and first ride down — from solemnity to humility to discovery — and sometimes to more humility.

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  2. Love this for the same things as Peter, though the last stanza leaves me with a puzzle.

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  3. I like the unexpected connections in this. The last stanza speaks to me, I’ve found things just like that sometimes.

    Btw, don’t know if its something to do with your blog or my computer, but when I try to comment on your earlier posts which already have lots of comments, I can’t access the comment box, it doesn’t show up.

    I had wanted to comment on the post with the beautiful butterfly photo to say that its a shame about your frog population (though I think I’ve already said that about previous posts) and also to say that when are politicians really going to see that we need to reduce energy use as much as we need to find new ways of accessing energy sources and when are we all going to learn to take all the environmental considerations into account when assessing new potential source of energy? Though I do think that the intelligent discussion around just how environmentally damaging agro-fuels (bio-fuels from crops) are has started reassuringly early.

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  4. Very nice! Love the feel of all the “shovelish” activity.

    I think the ground’s still too hard here for such joyful digging.

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  5. Thanks for the comments and kind words. Not sure yet if I like ending with a riddle like that…

    CGP – Yes, I have been surprised and pleased by the public discussion about the biofuels boondoggle; I wish there were a corresponding awareness of the costs of other “green” energy sources. The problem is that most big environmental organizations have bought into the ideology of endless and inevitable economic metastasis, and are unwilling to risk a drop in fundraising if they tell the truth: that we simply must CUT WAY THE HELL BACK ON EVERYTHING. Some of my conservationist friends are pushing the nuclear alternative, too (just like James Lovelock — he of the the Gaia hypothesis). Aghh.

    You’re now the second person to tell me about this situation with the inaccessible comment box, so clearly I have a problem. Are others seeing this? Are you all using Internet Explorer? I am having some other rendering issues with IE. I really don’t want to have to disable the Edit Comments plugin, but if people can’t access the comment form at all, that kind of defeats the purpose. On the other hand, if it’s strictly an IE issue, y’all can download Firefox (and should anyway), though I gather that IE8 will be virtually bug-free and standards-compliant for the first time, thanks to the the European Union’s hard-assed stance toward Microsoft.

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  6. I gather that IE8 will be virtually bug-free and standards-compliant for the first time, thanks to the the European Union’s hard-assed stance toward Microsoft.

    I’ll believe it when I see it — they’ve broken such promises before.

    Disabling commenting altogether would seem to be cutting off your nose to spite your face, given that some of us are commenting just fine!

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  7. Well, I’d be disabling the editing ability, not comments altogether — if that plugin is at fault. It might also be Related Posts. Or it might be that the folks who are having problems don’t have JavaScript properly enabled, Edit Comments being an AJAXified thing.

    It would be very convenient for me, of course, if the problem is with folks still using IE6 (I tested it on IE7), but that’s probably just wishful thinking.

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  8. I use Safari 3.1 for Mac, and everything VN seems to show up. (Safari has a PC version that is supposed to be the fastest browser for PC’s, so if folks are considering downloading . . .)

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  9. I just switched to a different comments editing plugin today, with help from CGP in Scotland to test and make sure it worked for her. The new plugin doesn’t use AJAX, which I think was the source of the problem. What that means basically is that when you edit your comment the whole page refreshes, just as it does when you leave a comment for the first time, and similarly that you have to refresh the page to see how much time remains in which to edit.

    I do have the new Safari for PCs, and it seems fine. Initially, it made the fonts fat and ugly the way IE does on an old-fashioned monitor like mine, but then I discovered how to adjust that, and now it looks as good as Firefox or Opera. I didn’t test it for comparative speed. I am having some trouble with this theme not displaying properly in IE and Opera, for example by not centering the footer under the main column, but Safari shows the same as what I see in FF.

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