THE FALL WENDELL BERRY VISITED AROSTOOK COUNTY, MAINE. Circa 1984. We picked up Kentucky farmer and author Wendell Berry at the small airport in Presque Isle. In the remaining daylight hours we squired him around the fields of Central Aroostook. In time we parked by the side of the road when we came upon one of Smith’s massive fields where a large crew of farm workers were hand-harvesting jade green broccoli.
Our friend, Stan Scott, an English professor at nearby UM-Presque Isle was that year in charge of the outside-speakers-committee. Stan had miraculously been able to secure Wendell for a two-to-three day Aroostook visit in which among other events Wendell spoke before a large crowd at the college and answered questions posed by the honors English class at Presque Isle high school taught by Glenna Johnson Smith.
It was the end of October and by that time the Aroostook potato crop had for weeks been safely harvested and put away into local potato houses. What is now the 40-year old Aroostook broccoli industry had just gotten its start as a promising rotation crop for potatoes a few years before in 1980. The workers were hacking the broccoli heads with a harvest knife, then tossing those heads into an accompanying wagon slowly creeping across the field. We sat in silence watching the workers work.
After a while, Wendell – steeped in the labor-intensive hand-harvest of tobacco in Kentucky – began blow-by-blow detailed expert’s narration of process and the workers’ individual movements the rest of us were rather cluelessly watching. He singled out one man and noted how his motion was not as fluid as those of his co-workers. Wendell interpreted that after a long day of harvest this man’s back was troubling him and that in response he had adopted a certain back-saving technique so he could keep up with the work flow and make his back pain bearable.
That day we came to understand that there are deep layers that may well remain undiscovered. Some of us exist in a fog and others with the benefit of depth and experience reap a richer life harvest. We are fortunate on those occasions when circumstances line up and others share their bounty with us. Caleb, Megan & Jim
TOWING A STRUCK TRUCK ON MAINE'S WOOD PRAIRIE FAMILY FARM. A story from our new issue of the 'Wood Prairie Seed Piece' (woodprairie dot com/newsletters/010221.html).
In decades past snowy Aroostook County had pretty limited experienced with ice. While snow might randomly fall in October and November it would rarely stick around. The first snow that was a good bet to stay with us through April would reliably fall during the week before Thanksgiving. Then, every few years we’d see stretches in mid-winter when the day’s high temperature migrated somewhere above freezing. That was called the ‘January Thaw.’ In the last couple of decades, Falls tend to stay warmer, Winter begins later – often with alternating snow and rain – and then Winter doesn’t let go its grip until April or even May as it did last ‘Spring’. The rain-snow zig-zag now leaves icy roads in early Winter, especially troublesome for truckers with Summer-style tires.
Caleb had been hauling gravel from a local pit late into Fall and had outfitted our dump truck with tire chains all around. The chains gripping power came in handy recently when he helped a tractor-trailer which couldn’t navigate our icy driveway and needed a tug uphill. Caleb, Megan & Jim
ANOTHER BRAND NEW ‘WOOD PRAIRIE SEED PIECE’ NOW POSTED ONLINE! Ringing in a New Year with narrative stories of life on a Maine Farm and as always accompanied by related Farm Photos. Beginning our 30th year of 'Seed Pieces!'
Caleb, Megan & Jim Gerritsen
Wood Prairie Family Farm
woodprairie dot organic
Seed Piece 01/31/20
PROPERTY MAINTENANCE ON MAINE'S WOOD PRAIRIE FAMILY FARM. Upon the completion of a farm project, we had a couple days left before the rented JLG 60' Manlift had to go home. Caleb used the time to good effect, cutting down big Poplar ("Popple") trees we came to learn posed a danger when growing too close to our buildings.
About ten years ago we were subjected to the energetic remnants of an early-season Tropical Storm. On the Saturday of that 4th of July weekend our town received the full brunt with 6" of rain accompanied by 45 mph winds. With saturated soil, shallow-rooted, top-heavy Poplar trees could not stand their ground and toppled over in the wind, typically taking in area woodlots a half-dozen innocent bystander Spruces and Firs along with them.
Even since that holiday mayhem we've been on a logger's crusade of cutting up for firewood big Poplars loitering suspiciously close to our buildings. The ones too close for comfort this week were dispatched from the safety of the skyhigh Manlift. Caleb, Megan & Jim
Amigo Bob Cantisano, a towering figure in the West Coast’s organic farming movement, dies at 69
The man known as the godfather of California's organic farming died of cancer at the farm where he loved to work.
NORTHERN MAINE CHRISTMAS WEATHER REPORT. This year's Christmas Day in Northern Maine was the warmest one on record, topping out at 58oF. It was accompanied by an approximate half-inch of rain (we take down our rain gauges in November) and that removed all of our snow cover and thawed out our once frozen-over ground. So our Christmas started out white and then ended up brown.
Next day, Saturday – 'Boxing Day' in nearby Canada – we received 2-3" of snow, visible in this photo taken on Sunday.
This field is the 'Shaw South Field #31.' We grew our organic Maine Certified Seed Potato crop on '31' this year. Following harvest we planted the field to a crop of organic Winter Rye which we're growing for seed.
Most of this field is good, high, well-drained 'Mapleton Shaly Silt Loam' potato soil. The minor low portions are less well-drained 'Conant Silt Loam.' Years ago we installed 4" perforated plastic drainline where there is Conant to hasten drying in the Spring and as insurance against a wet Fall with potatoes in the ground yet to harvest. Yesterday the water was flowing out of the drainline at a good clip.
That thawed ground by the road culvert has been lined with stone to prevent erosion and a thick, permanent grass sod has grown up through the cracks. The warm Fall allowed the Rye to grow past the 3" tall threshold which is the minimum height needed to protect the soil from the erosive impact of raindrops.
Oakley, our effervescent 8-month-old Australian Shepherd is enjoying the fresh smells of thawed ground. The trimmed Poplar sapling was placed this Fall by the Bridgewater Town road crew at the head of this culvert, as they did at the head of every other culvert in Town. That way, should a road flood over this Winter, they will know exactly where to dig away the snow to expose the end of the ice-plugged culvert andcan then apply heat to melt the ice out. Caleb, Megan & Jim
Amigo Bob Cantisano, Rest in Peace
Along with others, we are mourning the passing of local Amigo Bob Cantisano, one of the most influential figures in organic agriculture in California. “Amigo Bob’s” passing came a…
"57,000 YEAR-OLD WOLF PUPPY FOUND FROZEN IN YUKON PERMAFROST." A seven-week-old female wolf pup seems to have succumbed to a den collapse. The rapid entombment created perfect conditions for mummified preservation. A lone Yukon gold miner comes along 57,000 years later and stumbles upon this remarkable discovery, brimming with scientific insights. Caleb, Megan & Jim
"In the summer of 2016, a gold miner in Canada’s Yukon Territory found an unexpected treasure. While blasting a wall of permafrost with a water cannon to release whatever riches might be found inside, Neil Loveless saw something melting out of the ice. It wasn’t a precious mineral, but the oldest and most complete wolf mummy ever discovered.
"Loveless quickly placed the frozen pup in a freezer until paleontologists could have a look. They found that the well-preserved animal was a juvenile female, part of a vanished ecosystem dating to a time when northwestern Canada was home to American mastodons and other Pleistocene megafauna. The local Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people named the 57,000-year-old pup Zhur, meaning 'wolf' in the language of their community.
"Zhur existed at ancient intersections, not just between cold glacial periods, but between populations of wolves that are now separated. By studying the pup’s genes, scientists can gain a greater understanding of her place in the ancient world and what has changed since then. 'Ancient DNA is bringing to life the dynamism of the Late Pleistocene that was mostly invisible from just the bones,' Barnett says."
57,000 year-old wolf puppy found frozen in Yukon permafrost
The preserved pup is helping researchers understand how wolves migrated across Europe, Asia, and North America.