Wednesday, August 28, 2013

An Ode to the Enchanted Days of August

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 by Sara Mattinson.

At ten o’clock in the morning, the chairs on the front deck are shaded. In July, you couldn’t sit out during the day, it was so hot, but now the cat is curled up in one of those chairs on a yellow towel laid down earlier to soak up a heavy dew. She will catnap in cool comfort until the sun passes between the maple tree and the birch.
The sun is lower in the sky now and it doesn’t take The Farmer’s Almanac to know that summer is slipping away. Blue herons gather along the shoreline in the outer basin of Pugwash harbour and this year’s osprey hatchlings are gone from the nest near our home, building strength for nex t month’s migration south by fishing the River Philip. The sunflowers and rudbeckia are in glorious blossom while lilies die out and the wild asters growing around the chicken coop raise their fuzzy purple faces towards a sun drooping in the sky.
When I walk into my husband’s garage, I say, “Your pet cricket is chirping,” and so it is apt that naturalist and writer Harry Thurston of Tidnish Bridge writes about “the cricket-enchanted days of August”. If that is the way August sounds, then this is the way it smells: golden and spicy. This year, a quiet hurricane season, August is reminding me of the month of my Ontario childhood: hot and dry yet swollen with the culmination of all that is summer, when we try to cram every last moment into the loosening days and the star-blazing nights. August reflects our urge to gather and enjoy to the fullest. It is the month of harvest, the month when the labour and hope of June, and the watering and anticipation of July produce a cornucopia of eye-dazzling flowers and homegrown vegetables. 
Growing up, vegetable gardens existed on the periphery of my existence. My clearest childhood memories are these three: skipping under the long arbour of raspberries canes in Grandma and Grandpa George’s yard; standing on the bottom slat of the white fence surrounding my grandparents huge and tidy garden; and watching great-uncle Everett in his straw hat stooped over in his garden at the cottage. It is possible, apparently, to develop a late-onset joy and appreciation for a vegetable garden. Better late than never.  
I was 37 years old when I dug up a potato for the first time. Six years ago, during my first summer as a resident of Nova Scotia, the vegetable garden was entirely my husband’s domain because my early attempts at picking carrots or beets yielded nothing but greens and the teeniest roots. I stopped helping myself for fear of decimating his hard work. 
But potatoes I figured I could handle; we’d been eating them for weeks so how hard could it be to find them? The first plant came out of the ground with a potato nub the size of my pinkie hanging off it. I pulled up another plant. Nothing. Not even a nubbin.
I called my country boy at work. 
“I want to get potatoes out of the garden before it rains,” I said to him, the forecast calling for 20 mm of post-tropical storm precipitation, “but when I pull the plants up, there’s nothing there.”
A sigh wafted through the phone line. 
“They aren’t like carrots and beets, dear. You take your little garden rake, that hand-held one you use, and dig around in the dirt. They should just come rolling out.”
So little rake in hand, back to the garden I went. I knelt down by the spot where I’d yanked out the first plant and stuck my rake into the dry dirt. One stroke. No potato. Another stroke and out popped this lovely round yellow potato. Excitement bubbled up inside and splurted out my mouth in a loud, giggling shriek.
Like I was a five year old kid. 
I raked some more and two more potatoes popped out of the soil. I was digging up potatoes! There I was, kneeling in a garden near a river in rural Nova Scotia, digging potatoes out of the ground in order to take them into the house, wash them off and boil them for supper. 
In 1959, John Updike wrote a poem entitled, “Hoeing” in which he expresses his fear that the younger generation will not know the pleasure, and importance, of the task. The poem closes with these lines: “Ignorant the wise boy who/has never performed this simple, stupid, and useful wonder.”
Ignorant the wise girl who has never dug potatoes out of the dirt. 
Every time I walk across the yard to the garden to pick a vegetable, or three, for supper, with the late afternoon sun warming my skin, I want to stop, hold onto this month with both hands, slow it down, capture the lazy ripeness of August and make it last a little longer than 31 golden days. 
For now are the last days to harvest the little jewels we long for all winter: the joy of discovery, the irreplaceable lushness of rural life, the appreciation of producing our own food. 
The enchanted days of August. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"Buy Local" Licence Plates

Announced today, a new licence plate is available in Nova Scotia (regular fees + $50 donation) that shows your support for your local food producers.

It appears the $50 donation goes to the Select Nova Scotia fund and money will be used for awareness campaigns and event sponsorships.  Select Nova Scotia is the province's buy local marketing initiative.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Another Pictorial Food Adventure

Good Thyme Farm in Shinimicas has a great idea: Sell pre-packaged condiment kits. So easy to make "Salsa Verde" when everything you need, plus the recipe, is at their stand at the Pugwash Farmers' Market for five bucks!


Nothing like fresh salsa! Easy to make and tastes really good. Now we're going to have to have a Mexican night.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

In Conversation With...Carla Green Benjamin

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, August 14, 2013 by Sara Jewell.

If Carla Green hadn’t failed a test during her first year of university, she would not have become a pharmacist. 
And she would have missed out on a career that she truly enjoys. 
“I originally went to university to study math and physics and I might have been an engineer,” Carla says. “I ended up having mono my first year and I missed a lot of time. When I came back to school having been out a month, I was behind, I was frustrated, I failed my first ever test. I just said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’. It’s a bit of perfectionism: if you can’t do it perfectly, you don’t want to do it at all. I had a good friend who was studying pharmacy and I thought that looked kind of interesting.”
But that wasn’t the only life-changing decision she’d make as a result of her illness. 
Carla was in her second year of her four-year pharmacy degree when she heard about the military program. 
“When I got into pharmacy school, there were classmates who were doing that program and they were telling me how they were guaranteed a job, their tuition was paid for, their books were paid for. They had a salary while they were in school, they had to attend two meetings during the school year, and guaranteed summer employment. Then they had to give five years of service when they were done their studies. I thought that was a great idea.”
So at the age of 21, she applied to the Canadian Armed Forces.
“It was pretty exciting and pretty scary,” Carla remembers. “I was a young woman but I wasn’t superfit. I was never in cadets. I wasn’t a runner. I was a fairly rugged individual but I didn’t really know what I was getting into.”
Heading off to boot camp the summer after her second year, Carla faced challenges before even arriving at Borden, Ontario. 
“I was getting on a military flight at Shearwater and I’d never flown anywhere so I was getting on my very first flight in a uniform I didn’t know how to wear properly because I hadn’t done any training yet, surrounded by all these other military personnel. As an officer cadet, you are the lowest rank in officers. You have to salute everyone of higher rank and I didn’t know how to do that. I was afraid I’d get in trouble. I was absolutely terrified.”
Carla lucked into three roommates who were nurses but also had been in cadets.  She says they knew about drill and polishing boots and making beds with tight corners. 
“All the sorts of things I wasn’t good at,” she laughs. “My strength was in academics. I had no experience with anything to do with the military. Drill was kind of fun. It took me three years to master shining boots and I still can’t iron worth crap!”
For Carla, who is afraid of heights and deep water, it was the obstacle course she dreaded most. 
“Obstacle course was my biggest fear because I’m afraid of heights and deep water. The swimming test was a big, frightening thing because we had to jump off a high board into a pool, fully clothed in our combat gear,” she says, speaking as if it happened last week. “But by the time I was done, I realized I could do those things so I wasn’t as afraid of them as much.”
Even though it has been more than twenty years since boot camp, Carla talks about her experience vividly.  
“It made a huge impression on me,” she readily admits. “Going in, I didn’t know anything about the military but by the time I was done my training and had graduated, it was really a big part of me.”
She says she enjoyed both her career as a pharmacist and as a military captain (the main working rank for pharmacists). 
“I enjoyed what I was doing. I was learning, I had a variety of different pharmacy jobs from the mid-sized hospital in Halifax to a tiny base in Manitoba to Ottawa. I was there in a larger hospital. I really enjoyed clinical pharmacy there. I enjoyed being pharmacist but I enjoyed the military aspect of it as well.”
In 1996, after ten years of service and believing she’d achieved all she could in the military, Carla decided to apply for release. Wanting to be close to home, which is the Truro area, she responded to an ad for a position at Henley’s Pharmacy in Oxford in 1997.
“I came down on the Easter long weekend to meet them and interview and they offered me the job on the spot. Before I went back to Ontario, I’d bought a house.”
The same house she now shares with husband of 11 years, Mark Benjamin, seven cats and two dogs. 
Carla may not have been the stereotypical straight-backed, barking-orders army broad the staff may have envisioned but she admits there is a little bit of that in her still. 
“There’s always going to be a sense of pride,” she says. 
Eventually, she opened her own pharmacy then a few years later, bought out Henley’s and moved into the Main Street location. But the years behind the counter took their toll. She developed circulation problems in her legs and was told to stay off her feet. 
“I’m a retail pharmacist, I’m on my feet all day,” she told the specialist. 
Forced to sell her business seven years ago in order to heal her legs,  she wasn’t prepared to give up what she enjoys doing and has now returned to her first love, hospital pharmacy.
Carla does have one regret about her military career: She never served overseas. 
“I would have gone overseas in a heartbeat,” says Carla but the timing was never right. 
During the first Gulf War, she was the only pharmacist and only officer in a small hospital in Manitoba.  
“I had this deep sense of loyalty already. They needed good medical people and I was a good pharmacist and I wanted to go.”
“Had I stayed in longer than I did, I would have gone to Bosnia.”
But to quote the great English poet John Milton, ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’

Carla's got muscle: Her Camaro and her dogs, Mack and Oliver.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Nova Scotia Hodge Podge

Covering for Jane while she was on vacation left me little time for spontaneous and creative expression so last Friday, in the search for inspiration for this week's  Field Notes column, I spent some time going through the PDF of an old blog of mine that I started when I first moved here in 2007. In the midst of the August scribblings, I found a post that mentioned "Nova Scotia Hodge Podge". I wanted to know what it was and my friend Lisa from Lower Sackville wrote to tell me that it's all about the new potatoes, and the rest of the vegetables that are finally ready to harvest.
Thinking that it would be a neat topic for my column, I decided I would make, for the first time, Nova Scotia Hodge Podge.
One piece of advice American author Richard Ford gives writers to "marry someone love and who thinks you being a writer is a good idea." I got that right, at least, because out to the garden went my husband to fetch in the ingredients. He would have done all the cleaning and chopping if I hadn't insisted it's my column therefore my experience.
Piling the vegetables up in the sink was pretty much the most interesting part of this exercise. Otherwise, it was just like making soup. 

Basically, if you didn't grow up eating it as part of along family tradition of eating it, it's not that exciting. Made with cream and butter, it's just a vegetable chowder! Delicious, mind you, but for an Ontario-raised transplant to the east coast, if I'm going to eat that much cream and butter, I want seafood swimming in it. My new, freshly-picked vegetables should taste as pure as possible (they don't even need butter when they go from garden to table in under an hour, do they?).

I used summer turnip, green beans, carrots, onion and potatoes, blend cream, butter (too much, as it turned out) and S&P to taste. All this based on the recipe sent to me by Lisa, and it's the one her mother and her grandmother used.
"No measurements," Lisa wrote, "just make as much or as little as you want, and taste along the way. My Nanny always said if you're going to make Hodge Podge, use real butter and use Farmers Blend. Make it like you're making chowder and make it a day early so the flavours distribute."

My measurements came out like this:
1 onion, chopped
1 cup snapped green beans + 1 cup of snapped yellow beans (which we didn't plant this year)
(peas can be added if you have those)
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup diced turnip
2 cups new potatoes, diced
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup cream
salt and pepper

Here's Lisa's recipe:
Melt butter and add chopped onion. Cook on medium-low heat until onions are soft. Add some water. Add carrots and cook for 5 minutes. Add rest of veggies. Add enough water to just cover the veggies (not too much because you won't be draining it). Once veggies are cooked (not too soft), add butter ("My Nanny used lots!"), Blend and salt/pepper to taste. Simmer on low.

Too much butter! Sorry, Nanny.

This Nova Scotia country boy is not complaining!
Even though my mother-in-law said she'd never made Hodge Podge, both she and my father-in-law knew what it was and he was quite excited about getting a container of what was leftover. there a typical Nova Scotia dish that would be challenging for a "come from away" to attempt to make? Something that would prove I'm worthy of being married to a Maritimer?
How about some version of haggis? C'mon, has no one invented Nova Scotia Haggis yet? I wonder what that would be...

Friday, August 16, 2013

It's Beckwith Bash Time Again!

Now you know what you're doing with your Saturday night...Heading out to Beckwith, Cumberland County, for an afternoon and evening of great food, great music and great people...all gathered in the "back yard" of Eric Fresia and Catherine Bussiere.
This bash -- becoming a festival -- has grown so much in the last few years. It's a really great night! Don't miss it.
(No hurricane-like weather for this weekend, either! Good times.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

City Girl Goes For A Country Drive

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, August 7, 2013, by Sara Mattinson.

Given that Nova Scotia is as much a vacation  mecca as a land of fishers, loggers and snow plow drivers, it’s an easy assumption that a lot of firsts happen right here: First taste of lobster, first clam dig, first kayak, first whale sighting. Definitely first kiss. (What? You missed out on that?)
Summer vacation has a way of encouraging an adventurous spirit and in the Maritimes, the call is irresistible. Especially if you are a city girl from Ontario spending the first two weeks of August on a farm along the Northumberland Strait. 
The one and only daring thing I’ve ever done took place here in Cumberland County in 1985. It was slightly illegal but since it happened 28 years ago, it must be safe by now to tell this story. 
This tale of adventure starts with a friend, whom I’ll call “Sue”, who put up with me tagging along behind her like some farm girl wannabe. It also involves Sue’s brother, let’s call him “Paul”, because he left his brand new sports car sitting in the driveway on that particular sunny August afternoon. 
“Let’s go to the racetrack,” Sue said to me. “You can drive.”
I don’t know if this was yet another test for me to fail (a few years earlier, I wore pajamas to the  sleepover in the hayloft while Sue slept in her jeans and T-shirt) but really, given my general lack of knowledge about life on the farm, there was no reason for Sue to think I could drive a bicycle, let alone this car. 
Did I mention it was brand new? 
Of course, as a farm kid, she’d been driving a tractor since she was eight. It must have seemed inconceivable to her, already 16, that a 15-year-old wouldn’t know how to drive a car.
The amazing thing is that I hopped into the driver’s seat fully prepared to drive that vehicle. Fully prepared in terms of nerve (and an uncharacteristic boldness)  but fully unprepared in terms of actually knowing what to do once I’d snapped on the seatbelt. 
I could turn on the ignition, I could  put the car into gear (it was an automatic), and I knew to put both hands on the steering wheel.
After that, it was a crap shoot.
In Paul’s brand new sports car. 
How we got out of the farm yard with no one seeing us is beyond me but off we cruised down the driveway and onto the quiet road in front of the farm. But this wasn’t the road to the racetrack. By  no means. Let’s just say that our route to the racetrack meant driving several kilometres and through a place I’ll call “the village”. 
You know how in every chase scene in the movies, the “bad guys” car careens through a major intersection on a red light, dodging dozens of cars? Well, this wasn’t that scene. Fortunately, the main intersection of “Church” and “Durham” rarely saw a dozen cars (back then) and certainly doesn’t need a stop light. 
I couldn’t have stopped if it had.
Nearly 30 years later, I can still feel the sensation of cruising around that corner without even slowing down because I didn’t know how to take my right foot off the gas and apply it to the brake pedal. 
My eyes may or may not have been open.
In this big brand-new sports car, I swung left around that corner without stopping, without looking, drove through the east end of “the village”, down and around a sharp corner, then swung left onto the road to the raceway and pulled up alongside the barn with a jolt, a laugh and the adrenaline rush of “Holy crap, we made it. And I drove a car!”
Every kid should get the chance to spend the summer in rural Nova Scotia. It’s the kind of place where you can be free and daring (even stupidly so: if “Paul” had seen us even touch a door handle...) and create memories that stay with you forever. Along with the kind of people who will not only let you do something daring and out-of-character but will suggest it in the first place. 
Every one of us needs to have that feeling of exhilaration and disbelief, that “Holy crap, I did it!” moment to tuck away in the heart for the rest of life. 
Summer vacation in Nova Scotia is the place to make that happen. As long as no one catches you.
(If they do, tell them “Sue” made you do it.) 

Monday, August 12, 2013

For the Cat People

My orange cat, who is nearly at his first birthday (arbitrarily chosen by me since I'm not exactly sure when my little man was actually born), has a strange habit: He eats boxes.

Most annoyingly, he doesn't clean up his mess.
He also shreds the newspaper.
This is why he can't be a TV star -- he'd end up in rehab for his eating disorder.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Final Mention of the Chicks

The week ended on a rather emotional note because two chicks hatched on Thursday evening with a hole in their bellies.
We'd been watching the holes in the eggs all day and they weren't getting much bigger; the chicks were cheeping but not doing much work. About ten o'clock, my husband and I were peering into the incubator when he noticed something on the side of the green egg. 
"There's blood."
So he scooped it up and ever so carefully broke it out of the shell. But it was bleeding all over its belly and all over his hand.
We broke the second chick out of its shell and it was the same thing.
They were bleeding as they hatched.
Very awful. Newly-hatched, they are so fragile and tiny at that time, now way to survive that. Now I wish we'd thought to have an emergency space set up, with a heat lamp, near the incubator; maybe they would have clotted if we could have stoppered the hole and kept them warm. It is not an experience I want to see again.
Then on Saturday, I made the decision to have our two disabled chicks put down...which in country terms means a shot to the head. It was more humane than watching them starve to death. Particularly the second chick that hatched out, Twoonie; its legs were splayed open and it simply couldn't get around, couldn't get to feeders or waterers, of which we have plenty. I held it in the palm of my hand, I helped it drink and that's when I realized I simply couldn't watch it die a slow death as the other chicks got bigger and stronger and literally walked all over it. Even chicks could peck a much weaker "sibling" to death, I'm sure (already experienced that with chickens and certainly don't want to see that again, either). The other disabled chick could move around better but its feet were curled in so it would never be able to compete for food and it, too, wouldn't grow.
"I think I need to take a break from hatching chicks," I said to my husband. "This has been a bit hard on my heart." So different from eggs simply not hatching.
So today we concentrated on the four big chicks we got in June. They were ready to move outdoors. Their first taste of grass today, and sleeping in their "cottage" tonight. Hopefully the fox won't peer in at them on their very first night.

My husband built this lovely, moveable "chicken tractor" and went for the heritage look on the access doors.

I managed to catch three out of four.

Making happy chick noises about their discovery of grass.

A new way to obsess over the chickens. Or else she thinks her orange ball is in there since we can't seem to find it in the yard!

So all is well in the world of chicks again and we wait again to see how many hens and roosters develop in our group of seven. But for now, I'm going to enjoy the experience of chicks again.

That's Uni on the left.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Pips and Peeps and Pipsqueaks

Despite failing miserably to hatch out chicks from both an incubator and a hen last month, we tried again, this time using just the incubator and with fertilized eggs pulled right out from under a dozen hens.
Happily, I get to say that Wes' eggs did not let us down this time.
The due date on these is, 21 days, is August 9, this Friday, but Tuesday night, I happened to wander into the laundry room for something (so easily distracted: I was supposed to be outside watering flowers) and heard a noise.
"Dwayne," I hollered towards the garage. "There's chirping coming from the incubator." 
Was there ever! Normally, the first sign an egg is about to hatch is the pip -- a small hole -- that the chick makes when its lungs start to function and it needs more oxygen. Well, it had oxygen and it had a good set of lungs. 
This is what I saw when we opened the incubator: 

No one is supposed to hatch on the rotating tray! Because a chick starts to flop about immediately, two days before the due date, that rotating tray must come out so the eggs lay on a flat, mesh metal tray but this little chick was four days early. 

My husband is now a fowl obstetrician!

His freshly-laundered handkerchief was the closet "rag" his maternity nurse (me) could find. 

Our previous chick experience was several-days-old chicks brought home from breeders. This is our first time hatching out eggs we've incubated ourselves. 
As a woman who does not have children and isn't really into pregnancies or babies, this is my very first experience with birth! Can you call it a birth when you punch and kick your way out of an egg??
Holding the newborn:

We're bonding, I can tell. 

Since it's a chicken, the nursery is out in the coop. My husband got "Uni" -- a gender-neutral name for our firstborn because we won't know for two months if it's a Uno or an Una -- settled under the heat to dry off and rest. Uni spent much of its time struggling to walk then collapsing to rest. A very hard thing to watch. 

Starting to dry off. 
Uni survived the first night and in the morning, looked, as expected, like a small potato covered in fuzz. By Wednesday morning, two other eggs were showing pips and making chirping sounds.

Green eggs produce green egg layers!
Our eggs are viable this time -- we finally have babies! By Saturday, all the eggs that are going to hatch will have done so or will be doing so. Some chicks take all day to hatch out, others just a couple of hours. The longer it takes, the more exhausted the chick is when it emerges.
Hopefully, most of these chicks will be hens (since our four June chicks consist of three roosters and only one hen)  and at least one will be a green-egg laying hen. Regardless, it'll be February before anyone is old enough to lay an egg.
That will make a nice Valentine's gift from the new chickens. 

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

In Conversation With...Ken Lander

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, July 31, 2013, by Sara Mattinson.

“I’ve lived everywhere,” Ken Lander says. “I was born in Rangoon, Burma, and lived there for six weeks then I moved to Bangladesh, lived there 18 months. I lived in England till I was five, then back to East Pakistan and India [for school], till I was 12 then back to England for a year, then to Labrador City until I went to university then Ottawa for five years then I moved to Whistler.”
And yet, he’s made Pugwash home for 23 years, after taking over the 24-acre property on Route 6 that his father, Vincent Lander, bought in 1979. 
“I like it here,” says Ken. “I never really wanted to do a lot of moving  around but I hear people in Pugwash who have lived here all their lives saying ‘I hate it here’ and I want to say, ‘Go, look around, see what else you’ve got because it’s really good here.”
Ken, who calls himself a fifth generation Anglo-Indian (he holds British citizenship and is a permanent resident in Canada), moved here from the Vancouver area in 1990 after his father had a heart attack. He now runs Sunrise Greenhouses with partner Maxine Johnson on his dad’s West Pugwash land. Those colourful roadside baskets of petunias are the culmination Ken’s journey to find not only a place to settle but also meaningful work.
When he arrived in Pugwash, he started up a jewelry business called Clay & Roses and grew bonsai trees.
“It wasn’t quite me but here I was, in the earth. It was a step towards me. When I got fed up running around doing craft shows, I tilled up 20,000 square feet and planted 3,000 peppers, some melons, some squash. I can’t remember what else.” 
In 1996, Ken built three greenhouses to grow cucumbers and tomatoes which he then sold to local grocery stores. Those were long mornings of picking, grading, wrapping and delivering. 
Into that mix came a basket of purple wave petunias from a friend.
“I put it at the front of the house and I watched it grow. At the end of the year, I phoned and asked if he minded if I also grew them. So I started growing one greenhouse of baskets, one greenhouse of cucumbers and one greenhouse of tomatoes. I was spread thinner than ever,” he says. 
The stress of work and money ended his marriage but the worst was yet to come.
The following winter, on January 20, two of the greenhouses caved in under the weight of ice. 
“Best thing that could have happened to me,” Ken remembers cheerfully.  
“I’d never felt so sick. I came back in the house and sat down. Do you know what went through my head? Gideon got by on one -third of not enough.”
Gideon is an Old Testament character who complained he didn’t have enough men to do the job so God told him to send two-thirds of them home; Gideon learned he was still able to manage.
“So I stepped out and looked at the remaining greenhouse and said, ‘Okay, that’s one-third of not enough’. Four months later, I was standing in the driveway and realized I had four or five extra hours in my day that I didn’t have before. The money was about the same and I was having fun.”
Ken changed his focus to bedding plants, starting with seeds he had saved. Because of the cleanup of the collapsed greenhouses, “I couldn’t afford to buy seeds that year,” he says, “so I seeded those ones. Out of those 6,000 seeds, two were different so I put them aside. I sent them [to Proven Winners] the next February along with six others.”
Proven Winners is a propagation house for flowers and three years later, the company called Ken and told him they wanted to introduce one of those two different petunias he’d submitted, the Bordeaux, in 2005. That flower has become Proven Winners’ 6th best selling plant. 
“You have to realize, this is not proportional,” insists Ken. “I’m a hillbilly. This is a hillbilly operation. I needed help. I’m going to say this as simply as this: Let the reader look up Malachi, chapter 3 [in the Bible]. That’s where I got my help.”
But let’s not forget Maxine. She’s as essential to Ken’s story as Gideon and Malachi.  
“I met Ken in 2003,” Maxine explains. “After his plant [the Bordeaux] came out in 2005, he said to me, ‘Next one that comes out, I’m giving it to you.”
That plant became Lavender Skies. In 2009, it was approved by the propagation house and went on to win 79 awards in its first year (and it can be found in the gardens at Disney World). 
“This is an incredible plant!” Ken says. “The Bordeaux won awards but not like that.” 
How do you create a new plant? Ken’s method is simple: “I collect seeds and I grow seeds. I watch them, chuck out the bad ones and I keep the good ones.”
“It’s like making a baby,” Maxine adds. “You mix plants.”
But that’s not the happy ending yet. 
“Maxine’s petunia came out in 2010 and we did 600 of them,” Ken says. “Out of those 600, one of them mutated so I separated that mutation and watched it grow for the season. It was a white flower. I sent it to Proven Winners and last November, we got a call. We were told they wanted to introduce it as Supertunia White Improved. They’ve had a Supertunia White for the last 14 years; they want this to replace it.”
Ken has been told this is the best white the industry has ever seen. 
“I say with knee-knocking humility that it’s a mutation. Neither Maxine nor I could have done anything to engineer it. My greatest skill is saying, ‘Oh, look at that!’ It’s my contention that because Maxine started to give an honest 10% of her royalties [from Lavender Skies] to the IWK, the mutation falls into the realm of ‘hand of God’.”

Ken & Maxine and the Supertunias, from "top": Lavender Skies, Bordeaux, White Improved.

Monday, August 05, 2013

A Pictorial Update to My Column About Trees

Heading back...filled with dread.
It was shocking how disorienting it was to have 80 acres of woods on the right side of the trail gone. Something that had become so familiar to me over the past six years was suddenly unrecognizable. I didn't know where I was.
Normally, we drive through these woods on the four-wheeler and are surrounded by trees. Tall, green, lush, lovely trees. The beautiful canopy is gone.
I once stood at the edge of where this clear cut begins and listened to a pair of moose crash through the trees after they heard my dog and me walking up the lane. The swamp they were in is on the other side of the road and is, this year, still untouched.


Really? That's the size of the required berm? It'll blow down in the next tropical storm.

As we stood there looking over this 80-acre clear cut landscape, two deer picked their way across the mess. It was so similar to those scenes of soldiers picking their way through a carnage, looking for survivors. My husband kept saying, "Why don't they hear us? Why are they ignoring us?" and you know what I figure? They were catching our energy: Disbelief. Sadness. Would it be there energy too? I wonder if the deer came onto that field wondering what the hell happened to their woods?
Those berms are a joke. They aren't substantial enough to withstand the strong winds that are coming this fall.They'll never due for a deer yard, either.

The deer are just visible crossing the top of the road, heading back into woodland.

Another species affected and displaced by the clear cutting.

We experienced this kind of close-to-home devastation a few years ago; further up the road, an individual logger (as opposed to a company) logged about 150 acres. That area was a mess afterwards, limbs and stumps left behind. It was my first first-hand experience with clear cutting and it made a bad impression. Is this how all loggers operate?
According to my husband, looking over this clear cut, he believes the company doing this logging will be replanting. He feels the land is very tidy (especially compared to the previous clear cutting) as if it's being prepared for replanting.
I can forgive a lot if replanting happens. I will name the company here, with kudos, if it happens. But it begs the question: Why is replanting not mandatory? And why wouldn't an individual feel that it was the right thing to do, too?
Kind of negates that argument about supporting the local logger, doesn't it? Time for due diligence as to the logging practices of the people from whom you're getting your winter wood. Do they replant or are they simply raping the woods for profit?
"My husband makes his living in the woods," some woman said in response to my column. And if he doesn't replant, how will he continue to make his living? How will those who come along after make their living? Making a living doesn't mean making a massacre. 

Not quite finished: 

It's about balance and respect. We should be working with nature to fill our needs, and only our needs, not destroying simply because we can. My husband has logged, for personal use, all his life and his logging was done selectively, using men, saws and horses to lug the wood out. Some may say that is old-fashioned and inefficient but really, I think we all know by now that bigger isn't better, isn't more efficient.
We need more common sense, less knee-jerk "it's good for the economy". We need more gains for the natural world and fewer, way fewer, wins for the lobby groups.
My guiding principle when making decisions for many or creating an opinion on a subject is: WHAT IS THE GREATEST GOOD FOR THE GREATEST NUMBER? (I could Google the background of that quote but that would be dishonest. I don't know who said the quote or if it's part of some horrible economic movement -- I just believe in that idea as I understand it and apply according to my life experiences.) And here's the thing: Trees outnumber us! Birds outnumber us! Insects and amphibians outnumber us! Or at least, they used to before we started demolishing their habitats and killing off species.

Small logs.

Poplar. Some are rather small.
Very large poplar. This will become wood chips.

There are no solutions, no answers offered here because I don't have any. I just have information and opinion. Until we have balance, we need to have awareness.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Seeing the Appeal of Travel Writing

Writing the stories and profiles that I do for the newspaper and for Saltscapes magazine brings me out of my shell. Normally, I am an introverted nose-in-book worm who comes across as aloof when I'm really shy and terrified of my tendency to babble uncontrollably when forced to engage in small talk.
So having a reason to talk to people, having a framework for questions and answers helps me a lot, and opens me up to so many interesting people and wonderful stories.
It also might be giving me the bug for travel writing.
Although I'm not writing a travel piece for Saltscapes, in order to facilitate interviews during tourist season and to really get a feel for the place I'm writing about -- the village itself must be as much a character as the people living there -- I stayed overnight in Victoria by the Sea, PEI (with thanks to Tourism PEI for their assistance with this). I stayed at the lovely Orient Hotel (founded 1900) because my "main" characters of the article stayed there on their first trip to Victoria and had supper at a restaurant where I'd be returning the next day to talk to the owner.
Victoria began as a seaport but once that way of shipping goods died out, the village worked hard to survive and reinvent itself. Although many of its residents are now seasonal, it's a bustling place in the summer. Along with the shops in the village core (developed on a rectangle grid of seven streets), there is a well-developed wharf "mall" and a very popular beach. Everyone seemed to be wearing wet bathing suits and towels, whether it was Wednesday night or early Thursday morning!
I had 24 warm summer hours to experience the village and while much of my information is for the magazine article, I took some photos of my own personal experience with the people and places I hung out in, talking to strangers and hearing their stories. I could get hooked on that...

The Orient Hotel is now owned by a couple from Calgary. I stayed in a room overlooking the street.

The owners decided to drop the tea room which was popular with tourists and offer instead wood-fired pizza. It's popular with locals. 

The village was founded in the mid-1800's as a seaport. So many homes have had many identities over the years; I learned in an interview, this house in the 1950's & 60's was a small restaurant.

A fun corner with two small shops: The Water Street Takeout on the left and the Sea Nest gift shop on the right. 

Lunch with a view! My hamburger platter from the takeout: hamburger and  fries with coleslaw. Nothing fresher--  all made on sight, hamburger never frozen. Worth the calories!

Someilia Smith, at Sea Nest, carves out a design in the side of the mold of a sandcast candle her family has been creating since 1970; the family moved to Victoria in the 1980's. I bought one of these to commemorate my enjoyable trip.