Emerson, Thoreau and Me

I put myself in the title of this post with such luminaries of American literature for two reasons. First, it's a tribute to them, their philosophy and their writing. I make no claim to be their equal. Time will tell however if their influence on my life and Vanishing Feast will be successful for the second reason, which is to honor their work by citing their influence, and demonstrating how relevant it what I'm doing. I recently rediscovered Emerson and Thoreau. It's been a long time since high school. I was doing some research about the animal/weather phenology when I found a reference to Thoreau being the father of American Phenology. As I read that I felt a hunch, and if you read what I write about, I follow my hunches.

I went to my local library and checked out a copy of Walden. As I was reading what Thoreau wrote about, I felt like I was reading a series of blog posts. I felt a kinship with him, his cabin, his writing about his experiences, his critiques about what he was doing and how it relates to society. I felt that I was doing the same with Vanishing Feast, my garden and how this all fits in with our society today.

I see an interesting parallel that I'm going to explore this year. I see some significant aspects their philosophy which will challenge  and inspire me to relate those aspects to you.

For example, all along I've been encouraging people to look at their lives as stories that get written every day. I've written about plot twists and following hunches. I provided examples of how the hunches I have are like plot twists, which are part of any storytelling process, and how these hunches have lead me to discoveries and experiences that would not have happened if I ignored them. When you look at your life as a story that you write everyday,  following your hunches is where you find your content.

The Mark Twain tomatoes from 2011 for example. A random reading of a seed catalogue lead me to these tomatoes. I didn't know they existed. They are very rare and when I went to order the seeds, the seed company was out. I took this a plot twist. A hunch. A challenge to find other seeds or plants. I refused to dismiss it as "Oh I'll order next year."  I followed the hunch. Found plants in Tennessee, drove from NJ to Tennessee to get the plants. Met some wonderful people. Took some beautiful photographs. Encountered some wicked tornado damage which was foreshadowing about some destructive forces coming into my own life latter in 2011. Got introduced to a another wonderful and rare heirloom tomato, the Jerusalem. The Mark Twain tomato ended up on the cover of my first book. It served as the introduction to the rest of the photos and stories in that book They made the connection for me between American literature and heirlooms. And since I had the plants, some very tasty tomatoes. I now have seeds too. Cue another plot twist.

Had I not follow my hunch, and dismissed it, I'd be out of the luck. The seed catalogue, the only commercial source for Mark Twain seeds don't have any seeds this year. None of their seed collectors grew them in 2011. Whether this is a case of crop rotation on the seed collectors or not remains to be seen. As you can see in the context of what I do, following my hunch was right. And the payoff, I have had an experience that is bigger than my life itself.

One of the crossover aspects that I find in Emerson and Thoreau is the emphasis on recognizing and following intuition, and how intuition is part of a process that larger than the human experience. This is one basic example of the connection I sense between what Emerson and Thoreau wrote about and myself. There are more examples, which I will touch on as I write and explore the connection. I felt this was significant since as a visual artist I knew my influences ranged from Dali, Di Chirico, Hopper, Hockney, Warhol, Chagal, and my all time favorite, Magritte. As I transitioned to writing, I felt a little lost not having the same influences. Now that I found them, there are no limits to where this will go.

Boothby's Blonde, My First Harvest

Bootby1 Tonight was it, my first harvest! And the first time I've tasted Boothby' Blonde Cucumber. And the result, it tastes like a cucumber, which I love cucumbers. And there is quite a difference in one that you grow as opposed to the ones you buy. A major difference, no wax. That's why I don't buy them in supermarkets. Secondly, there no comparison to a freshly picked anything and some supermarket dud. And finally and most important, you will never see these in a supermarket. A farm market perhaps. That's the value of growing heirlooms. They are unique. For myself that's important. I want to experience the buffet that Mother Nature provided. Not be feed what come profit driven business decides what's best for them. I like idea that cucumbers could be yellow, that tomatoes can be considered black or purple, string beans are purple and peppers and melons that come all shapes, sizes and colors. There's a zest to that. A passion that is meant to delight the senses, and inspire the soul. It's nice to have options.

Boothby2 The cucumber itself is delightfuly crisp, has a sweet creamy texture, and from what I can see, the plants are very prolific. I'm glad I choose to grow these. I hope you will consider them as well.

I have Lemon Cucumbers on deck. I grew them last year and only got a few. I did enjoy them and look forward to picking a few of them in the next week or so. I'll post about them as well. Round and yellow, now there's a cucumber to turn your concept of cucumbers upside down.

Garden Update; Living in the Moment, A Tribute to Tye-dye

Seems like that what plants do. Given the fact they have roots, and just can't get up and go, living in the moment seems like something they do. Weather, seasons, cycle of day and night. Except for a mighty Oak, I doubt seriously that they plan ahead.

Given the storytelling aspect here, living in the moment has become quite relevant. And, it seems like that's another lesson to learn from my plants. A lesson of course comes out of most stories.

I had this great garden planned in my head. That's where it will live. Forever. Life is busy,the weather has been very wet on weekends, and my garden plot not on my property and is 10 minutes. It's a conspiracy. And because of that, I won't be doing rows. I'll be doing patches instead. I always have done rows. The plot is now dived ed up into quarters, with a large area in the middle for my family garden quilt.

As I look at the stories behind the heirloom plants I have, which were picked totally at random, and with some other idea of how my garden is going to be, I had a moment. I can create narratives by using the nature of plants. Their heirloom quality. And you can too, if you want.

There will be a patch called Tribute to Tye-dye. Black Cherry TomatoesLime Green Salad TomatoesNorthern Lights, a bicolor. (And let's face it, the true northern lights are part of the spectrum of tye-dye palates in astronomy). Lemon CucumbersBoothbys BlondeCucumbersPeppino Melons which are yellow with purple stripes. Canary Melons for even more yellow. And some Hopi Dye Sunflowers to transition to the next chapter. A color is a defining characteristic of these plants, icluding the dye that can be culled from the seeds of the Hopi Dye Sunflower.

And that's it for this moment. I need to have 3 more for the rest of the patches, or this post is toast.


Heirloom? Hybrids? Why Not Both?

A friend of mine sent me a link to this article, Heirloom Seeds or Flinty Hybrids? and it gave me some food for thought. Since this is not a blog devoted to media critiques, I'll refrain from that. I will focus on the one thing that made sense to me from that article, the subject matter, heirlooms or hybrids. Heirlooms hold a special place in my heart. I am a passionate supporter of them. My mission now is to connect people to them, and encourage them to make them family heirlooms. That said, I feel hybrids serve an equally important purpose. It comes down to what is the end user's goal.

I can understand farmers needing to have a a uniform crop. Their living depends on the harvest. The challenge of weather, plant disease and pests is a formidable one. Hybrid seeds level the playing field in a big way, and encourage the farmer to farm. On a smaller scale, the home gardner faces the same challenges, and hybrids offer them the same advantage. Hybrids plants offer a safe and stable alternative to the potential gamble that heirlooms offer.

Heirloom varieties can be a bit of a crap shoot. Take for example heirloom tomatoes. For the farmer looking for a full-fledged, market-ready cash crop, a major stumbling blocks to heirloom tomatoes is their thin skin. It hinders shipping them over a distance. They also have a shorter shelf life. The plants can be more susceptible to disease. The odd shapes and sizes makes packing difficult.  In the structure of modern society, with the big box retail model as the driving consumer practice, heirloom tomatoes don't stand a chance.

For the backyard gardener, the stability of hybrids offers them opportunity to grow plants that aren't as finicky and fussy as heirlooms, according to the reputation that heirloom's have. Limitations of time, space, ability, and the growing zone in which a gardner lives, all are challenges that hybrids can address to a varying degree of success. They can bring more people in the fold as gardeners.

Hybrids on the surface offer a safer return on your investment of time and money for gardening for a certain segment of society.

They just don't taste as good. And you can't save the seeds. The seed factor is big. With hybrids you're handing over the power to sustain life on this planet to seed companies. These companies will decide which plants are worthy to be grown. This allows decisions to be made about what best for the company, not the balance of life on the planet. Keep in mind, mother nature perfected the blend of art and science in a seed. This generally tiny thing, that when planted in the earth with the addition of light and water, can grow into something that can help sustain life, for so many inhabitants on this planet, while tantalizing and tickling all of the human senses, is an amazing achievement. And it wasn't done for profit.

And it's that factor that I will place my trust in her, and her heirloom varieties.

While Watermelon Pink Beefsteaks, are, at least in my experience, one of THOSE varieties with THAT reputation about being not prolific, uncooperative and having a will of their own, the majesty of their process makes it easy to forgive them. Watching the fruit ripen on these plants is a sight to be seen. Not all ripen this way, however some go from a standard green tomato, to a green striped tomato that resembles a watermelon right before turning a highly chromatic crimson that is the color of a very sweet and ripe watermelon. The tomatoes are big, after all they are beefstakes, and ultra sweet. And the taste is worthy of the experience of their process. If you get a half a dozen from a plant, you've done well. They are truly fascinating. I'll always have a couple of these plants around.

So for me, that's what I relish in my garden. I could also understand why a farmer would pass these over for a cash crop, or someone who was challenged by time, space and enviromental issues, to choose a hybrid over a Watermelon Pink. There's good reasons for both heirlooms and hybrids. For me though, it's that nonconformist tendency that heirlooms offer, that make them my choice. And the power of their seeds.