From the Left



Trees and iPhones

Marc Munroe Dion on

My hardy pioneer ancestors showed up in America back in the 1600s and started cutting down trees.

That's what they did with their lives. They walked into the forest and started cutting down trees. They used some of the trees to build their house. Some of the trees they cut down so they could grow crops. They cut down more trees to make firewood they took back to the house they made out of trees. They burned the firewood to keep them from freezing to death at night so they could get up the next morning and cut down more trees.

Yup. There were way too many trees around back then, and when they cleared the land of trees, they invariably put in a crop of turnips. Turnips are woody, like trees. It was a circle.

Between the turnips and searching the Bible for kids' names, they sometimes cut down a bunch of trees and built a gallows. They used the gallows to hang witches. The all turnip diet makes you mean as a snake, I guess.

Poets of the time called my ancestors "horny-handed sons of toil," which, incredibly enough, was a compliment. What it meant was you worked hard, you cut down trees and you probably weren't going anywhere other than on to the next tree.

Me? I am the descendant of horny-handed turnip-munchers named Zebadiah, and I bought a new iPhone this week. I also had frozen macaroni and cheese for dinner. I heated it up first.

During my adult working life, I have moved steadily from one form of electronic labor to another. In college, I thought I'd be a writer, so I stepped into a field of computer screens and keyboards, and later of texts and Twitter. I learned to take videos at house fires I was covering, and as a columnist, I started to receive death threats via email. I was a long way from the forest and the turnip.

And I bought a new iPhone this week. It's maybe the third smartphone I've ever owned. I'm no stranger to the digital ax and the woody "thump" of words falling into place on the screen. Sometimes, I spit on my palms before I write, just like Zebadiah used to do right after the breakfast turnip, and just before felling the first tree of the day.


And of course, I couldn't set it up, not right away, not even after talking to the helpful but kind of exasperated fellow on the phone. He suggested I "talk to Apple." I'm assuming he meant to talk to Apple by phone. I know there are Apple stores, but I live in a small post-industrial city where there is a Walmart and quite a few Chinese restaurants and many tattoo parlors and three methadone clinics. There is no Apple store.

Like Zebadiah, I had to sharpen my own ax. So, I gave the phone to my wife, who is much younger than I am, and at least slightly less prone to murderous rage.

She got at least part of the setup done, and after I'd calmed down, I went to work on the damn thing, chopping away at it with mighty strokes. I got Facebook back, and my email, and Messenger. Cash App continues to stay just out of reach. This is bad because one of my biggest freelance jobs pays me via Cash App, and I have no desire to explain to some soft-handed hipster that he's going to have to send me the money via PayPal because I can't get Cash App back on my phone.

I might ask my wife to give Cash App a try. I think she might be a witch.


To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion, and read features by Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit Dion's latest book, a collection of his best columns, is called "Devil's Elbow: Dancing in the Ashes of America." It is available in paperback from, and for Nook, Kindle, and iBooks.




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