Saturday morning muses at the end of summer.

As I was reading my email this morning I received the latest “News from Vermont” written by Burr Morse. Burr’s essay this time had to do with a trip into foreign lands and the welcome he received.

September 14, 2007

Hello again Maple People,

I’ve always had an “attitude” about our neighbors north of the 45th parallel. Even though my car can take me there in a mere 60 minutes, the language is different and entrance is gained only through a gate with armed guards…it’s a foreign country. The other day my brother Elliott asked me to accompany him and his Civil War Roundtable group across the border to visit The Abenaki Museum at Odanak. When I demurred, he said I could “sleep on it” and give him the answer the next day. That night when I checked the atlas to locate Odanak, the straight edge that physically separates Vermont from Quebec “jumped out” at me. “Makes as much sense as a flat-top haircut on a round-faced boy”, I thought. Perhaps my most radical bias, however, is over something that should be peaceful…maple syrup. Quebec is a huge maple region and its competition with Vermont has not always been, shall we say, sweet.

In spite of my reservations, I decided to make the trip. We met members of the Roundtable early in the morning at a shopping center parking lot in Derby Line. In the car pool shuffle, Elliott and I welcomed Ed Bearss, a nationally known historian on American wars, as our passenger. We proceeded, caravan style to the Canadian Customs Station at Rock Island, Quebec. I was surprised there was no waiting line but was on edge, never-the-less, envisioning my Nissan Altima being ripped to pieces by sharp knives and pry bars. A female Customs agent came to the passenger window, asked where we were going and requested our identification cards. “What are you taking into Canada?” she also asked. Inwardly I screamed “bad attitude, prejudice and the ability to make better maple syrup”. Outwardly I said “nothing but our personal items”. After a short time, she handed back our IDs, waved us on and wished us a good day…”That’s all” I thought, feeling like a prisoner suddenly on the outside.

After enjoying the rest this issue’s essay I began thinking of the wordsmiths I enjoy who make their primary living working on the farm. I haven’t made it a point to search these folks out, but maybe I should. There is something about the solitude of farm work that seems to allow the wordsmiths it produces to let their words steep and age before they commit them to paper (or electronic replacements thereof). To read Burr’s work you’ll have to sigh up for the newsletter at the link above. He has some samples at his website.

The first farming wordsmith I stumbled across was Andy Griffin out of California. Andy posts at The Ladybug Letter and his essays are always entertaining and usually sneak in a bit of teaching in the process. It was an essay of his on the growing of packaged salad greens at the time of the E. coli spinach scare that I stumbled upon that introduced me to Andy’s writing. Sampling his newsletter for a while convinced me I enjoyed his style and content…

The Ladybug Letter

The Jerusalem artichokes in my fields aren’t artichokes, and they’re not from Jerusalem. So what are they? For one thing, they’re a problem I need to solve soon.Scientists call Jerusalem artichokes Helianthus tuberosa. Helios is Greek for sun, and anthus means flower, so the Jerusalem artichoke is a sunflower that makes a tuber. A tuber is an enlarged, subterranean stem, not a root, with buds that can send out roots, other stems, or leaves. Botanists will tell you that plants evolve a tuberous habit to survive harsh environmental conditions. A tuber can remain alive under an insulating blanket of soil for a long time. When rain finally does come, underground tubers are stimulated to sprout stems and greenery, and the plant grows up into the sun. As conditions get hot and dry again, or freezing cold, the life force of the plant retreats from the foliage back down the stems into the tubers that nest protected in the soil. A tuberous plant stores enough nutrients and water in it’s tissue to survive until the soil warms up and the rain comes.

So starts his latest offering, a big dose of learning followed with an amusing informative ramble through the history and life cycle of a plant that had never really been on my culinary radar…but now is. Thanks Andy.

Take a wander over to both of these sites and check out the writing. If you have any suggestions of additions to these two farming wordsmiths drop them in the comments ’cause I’m lookin’ for more of this type to add to my reading list…

Have a great weekend…I’ll catch up with ya’ll on Monday.

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