From the Ground Up—Buying Local in Connecticut

By C. Dennis Pierce

The garden year has no beginning and no end. 

—Elizabeth Lawrence

The world of gardening is like drinking through a fire hose. You can never learn enough. For some time, I have considered myself somewhat of a gardener. Each growing season I had a simple relationship with the soil and I either introduced some seeds into my garden or, for lack of time and planning, relied on the local greenhouse’s “starter” plants. I watered and, when necessary, at least at first, weeded, until the weeds ruined my rapport with my plants. I would also load up with a spray mixture of Dawn dish soap and water as I engaged in a war against undesirable insects, often losing the battle. As the summer progressed, the only reward I hoped for was a few tomatoes and basil leaves to make the essence of a fresh summer salad.

If you read my column on a regular basis, you will recall that last fall I shared that I had signed up for the University of Connecticut’s Master Gardener program. Having retired, it was one of the many items that was on my “bucket list.” I applied in October, was accepted, and began classes in January. From January to May, I trekked up to Brooklyn every Friday for classes, only to find that what I thought I knew about gardening was pretty much nothing at all. Now it is September, and classes and volunteer hours have ended. Graduation will be in mid-October, and I will have successfully transitioned from what I call a “sprout” to a certified “permanent nametag holder”: Master Gardener.

You may ask, what is a Master Gardener? Certified Master Gardeners are members of the local community who take an active interest in lawns, trees, shrubs, flowers, and gardens. They are enthusiastic, willing to learn and to help others, and able to communicate with diverse groups of people that might have questions or challenges with their gardening activities. Master Gardeners receive extensive training and then provide information to the public via phone or email helplines, speak at public events, write articles for publications and the internet, and partner with other community programs, gardens, and educational facilities. The label Master Gardener isn’t simply a designation for someone who is good at gardening, but rather a specific title achieved through skill, hard work, and a passion for people. It is a designation overseen by the U.S. government and land-grant universities. Many universities offer Master Gardener programs through the Cooperative Extension System of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Master Gardeners are distinguished by two main traits:

  • A commitment to being a community resource for gardening knowledge as well as a desire to teach and mentor other gardeners
  • A dedication to volunteering and community service

Applications have opened for UConn’s 2024 edition of its Extension Master Gardener program, which blends educational instruction and hands-on volunteer work to instruct participants in the art of horticulture. The deadline for applications is Oct. 13, 2023, and formal instruction will begin on Jan. 8, 2024. The university has a long history of education through the Master Gardener program. It has been taught throughout Connecticut since 1978, at locations including Stamford, Norwich, Torrington, New Haven, and Brooklyn. Online, the UConn Extension Master Gardener program continues to engage individuals of all skill levels in the process of gardening. Participants do not just learn to build their own gardens but are also given a critical opportunity to spread their knowledge and enthusiasm with would-be gardeners and perform community outreach. The application and further details can be found at the official UConn Master Gardener website,, which also provides valuable resources and information on Advanced Master Gardener classes. 

While my experience was worth the effort, potential interns should be aware of the time commitment. To become a Certified Master Gardener, you must complete a 16-week course that meets once a week from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., starting in January and running through April. Individuals enrolled in the program receive training in botany, plant pathology, soils, entomology, pesticide safety, integrated pest management (IPM), woody ornamentals, herbaceous ornamentals, vegetables, tree and small fruits, turf grass, invasive plants, weeds, water quality, environmental factors affecting plant growth, and diagnostic techniques for the home gardener. 

Following formal classroom instruction, you will complete a 60-hour internship program. Thirty hours are dedicated to hands-on training in the Extension offices, where interns are supervised in researching and determining the answers to a broad range of horticultural questions, including insect and plant identification, diagnosing plant diseases, and providing sound horticultural recommendations. The remaining 30 hours are devoted to organized community outreach projects. Internships include plant clinics, educational displays at local county fairs and farmers markets, presentation of educational lectures, and working in demonstration gardens. During this past year, I have volunteered with the Friends of Goodwin Forest, maintained information tables at various events such as the Coventry and Andover farmers markets and the Lebanon and Woodstock fairs. In mid-October I will participate in the “graduation” ceremony, where I will receive a certificate and name badge officially verifying my achievements as a University of Connecticut–certified Master Gardener.

In the end, you might ask, was it all worth it? The guy who thought he knew enough to grow a tomato plant realized he was only scraping the surface. This may sound corny, but in a biblical sense the scales fell from my eyes, and I now have a different perspective on the nature that surrounds me. I have a better understanding of the plants, trees, and shrubs in my yard that I took for granted, how they rely on each other and the challenges they encounter, and how the ecological system that surrounds me survives. So, if you ever had the inclination to obtain the certification, do so now. As mentioned above, the application deadline for this year is October 13. 

 No time to commit, but you are an avid gardener? Remember that whenever you encounter a gardening issue, you can email the Master Gardener program and you will receive a response that will help you in your time of need. And best of all, it is a free service brought to you by UConn’s Master Gardener program and Extension offices:


Some of you may be putting your garden to bed, others may still have a lot of squash as a result of a successful production season. On the culinary side, we have a tendency to move to preparing thicker soups, such as a bisque, this time of year. These tend to be a hearty, smooth and richly flavored earthy soups, such as the pureed butternut squash soup described below:

Curried Butternut Squash Bisque

Serves 6 to 8

Preheat oven to 350 degrees


1 medium butternut squash (about 1¾ lb.)

1 tablespoon butter

¾ cup finely chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1 large cooking apple, such as a Cortland or McIntosh, peeled, cored, and chopped into ¼-inch pieces

1 teaspoon curry powder, or more to taste

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

4 cups chicken broth

1 tablespoon tomato paste

½ cup half and half

1 tablespoon minced fresh sage leaves or 1/ teaspoon dried sage

salt and pepper to taste

whole sage leaves for garnish


Wrap the squash in aluminum foil and bake for 1½ hours or until squeezable in the center.

Remove and when cool enough to handle, remove seeds, scoop out pulp, and set pulp aside.

Melt butter in a large pot.

Add onions, garlic, and apple and cook over low heat until mixture is soft, about 10 minutes.

Add curry, nutmeg, and flour and stir until flour is mixed in.

Add this mixture, squash, and 1 cup of broth to a food processor and puree.

Return mixture to the pot and add tomato paste, half and half, minced sage, the remaining 3 cups of broth, and salt and pepper to taste.

Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly until beginning to boil.

Serve in pre-heated bowls with a garnish of whole sage leaves.

Preparing a homemade soup is a process. Unlike the convenience of opening a can and reheating the contents, each step is an effort that involves all of your senses and the result is a unique experience that is one of life’s pleasures. There is nothing extraneous in any of the actions. That is what is called living. Life requires time and effort. If we eliminate time and effort, we eliminate life’s pleasures. Enjoy the processes in life, and every so often experience the flip side of convenience.

Lastly, I leave you with a poem by Robert Frost that is so suited as we approach the season of autumn.


O hushed October morning mild,

Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;

Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,

Should waste them all.

The crows above the forest call;

Tomorrow they may form and go.

O hushed October morning mild,

Begin the hours of this day slow.

Make the day seem to us less brief.

Hearts not averse to being beguiled,

Beguile us in the way you know.

Release one leaf at break of day;

At noon release another leaf;

One from our trees, one far away.

Retard the sun with gentle mist;

Enchant the land with amethyst.

Slow, slow!

For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,

Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,

Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—

For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

If you have a suggestion for a farm or a local grower or even a recipe that features a local ingredient, please let me know. I will do my best to share your suggestions in a future column. Drop me a line at Peas be with you. Come celebrate with me and remember, every day is a holiday, and every meal is a banquet. I’ll save you a seat at the table! 

Caption: John Lorusso, Erica DuPlessis, and Katie Wilcock.

Fake News Splits Americans and Destroys Our trust in Democracy

By Bill Powers

                               “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble.

                                  It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”  – Mark Twain

     “Fake News”, also known as disinformation, is not new. These days It gives rise to a toxic environment that splits Americans, and negatively affects our political process, our institutions and the integrity of our democracy. 

    These days with disinformation running rampant, it becomes difficult to be sure that what you think you know is based on fact. Outright lies and messages of hate are intentionally spread through the traditional media sources, social media and social networking in efforts to persuade. Messages of disinformation arise not only from domestic sources but also from foreign sources often originating from places such as Russia, Iran and China. In the 2016 U.S. election Russian operatives famously flooded social media with disinformation designed to influence the election. In 2022, China has ratcheted up their ability to “create controversy along racial, economic, and ideological lines” while targeting American voters, according to Clint Watts of the Microsoft Threat Analysis Cener (September, 2023). The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has also recently warned that China is attempting to influence U.S. elections. On September 9, 2023, President Biden extended the National Emergency for Foreign Intervention in U.S. Elections citing “unusual and extraordinary threat” to national security. Domestically there is an overabundance of nonsensical conspiracy theories that infest our society today.

    Is “disinformation” the same thing as “misinformation”? During the cold war of the 1950s, the term “disinformation” became popular to describe the intentional spreading of false information in order mislead. The word propaganda also comes to mind especially during the mid-1900s. The term “misinformation” is used when incorrect information is spread without the intention of misleading. These days we need truth more than ever before, since there are now countless sources of information where real facts and the truth can be so elusive. 

    A popular term used today is “fake news” that can be defined as misleading information presented as intentionally and verifiably false news. A concern is that being barraged by so much information in a short period of time by so many sources can be so confusing, overwhelming, and confounding. Rephrasing Mark Twain’s quotation: “What gets you into trouble is what you think you know, that factually isn’t true.” It’s hard to know if what we know is true, especially these days. Thinking critically involves sorting out fact and truth, and that takes time and energy. Frequently, I endure the many pundits and bloggers who put forth all sorts of ideas and I’m not really certain if I have just been bedazzled by brilliance or baffled by bullshit. When that happens, I try to pay attention to the resulting unsettling disparity that I am experiencing and simply try not to just laugh it off.

   “Fake news” was a factor 100 years ago. It was the topic of a September, 1923, Willimantic Daily Chronicle editorial titled “FAKE NEWS ITEMS”. Here’s what the editor wrote: “Every now and then some person with a poorly developed sense of humor sets to work to get a fake news item printed, either telephoning it to the office or sending in an unsigned communication.  

   “This is one of the many things with which newspaper workers have to contend and to their credit let it be said that a few items of this nature appear in print. It takes all kinds of persons to make the world and we suppose that there is bound to be a certain percentage of these so-called humorists among them. A law making it a criminal offense to furnish a fake news item to a newspaper or its workers would go a long way towards stopping this despicable practice.” 

    Clearly, one hundred years ago fake news was a concern and according to the editor, in an effort to prevent fake news, the Chronicle employed a practice for screening anonymous items. However, one could provide disinformation or misinformation as long as they took credit for it. Effective screening is not so easy these days with so many sources of information and fake news. Screening or thoughtful review is preferable to censorship or suppression; finding a happy medium can also present a slippery slope. 

     From the time of Colonial America, newspapers in America were very politically biased. Using the Willimantic Chronicle as an example, its first issue was published on December 3, 1879 and it succeeded a weekly paper called the Willimantic Enterprise, thatwas first published only two years earlier. The Chronicle incorporated many new changes compared to the Enterprise. Perhaps the biggest change was its devotion to a political ideology. Whereas the Enterprise had been apolitical, the Chronicle immediately declared itself to be the local advocate for the Democratic Party’s views and ideals. As explained in the first issue: “The need for such a paper as we intend for the Chronicle, has been felt by those in this community who are in sympathy with the political struggles which it is designed to advocate. Within the past eight years the growth of the Democratic party in the town of Windham from a minority, counted by hundreds, to a majority, has been in the face of the open or disguised opposition to our local press. It is high time the party had some local organ which will inspire into its ranks a united, organized and persistent zeal, and to marshal an unbroken phalanx to the triumph at the ballot box of liberty, equality and law.”  

    The reporting of the news in America, when first amendment freedoms exist, has always been biased and polarized and to some extent characterized by disinformation and misinformation. However, today’s electronic social media, with or without interference from foreign sources, further splits Americans and predisposes the destruction of trust in our political process, our institutions, and the very integrity of our democracy.

     Perhaps the Willimantic Chronicle editor’s intuition, from a century ago, calling for “a law making it a criminal offense to furnish a fake news item”, was on the right track. The problem has grown one hundred fold since that time. The editor got it right! “Fake news” is a “despicable practice” especially when it undermines trust of our political process, our institutions and the integrity of our democracy

Bill Powers is a retired teacher and resides in Windham

Champ or No Champ?

By Tom Woron

Scotland has Nessie.  Over here we have Champ.  Or does Scotland really have Nessie?  And for that matter, do we really have Champ?

Everyone has heard of the legendary Loch Ness monster, affectionately named Nessie, and usually referred to in the singular sense.  Nessie is the alleged unknown water creature that inhabits Loch Ness, a long and deep lake in Scotland.  Whether Nessie really exists or not has been the subject of much study and debate for over a century.  The Loch Ness monster, if it does exist, is a cryptid. 

Cryptozoology is not a recognized branch of true science.  Rather it is more or less a separate cult whose mission is to seek out creatures of hearsay, legend and folklore that have not officially been documented to exist in reality by mainstream science but rather might exist or might have once existed.  Creatures large and small that mainstream science cannot prove nor deny the existence of are referred to as cryptids.   The definition of cryptids can also be extended to include animals that existed at one time in reality but are officially recognized as being extinct.  The possibility that creatures officially considered to be extinct but may possibly still exist is one subject of cryptozoology.

The cryptid that allegedly inhabits Loch Ness, while eyewitness descriptions often vary, is usually described as serpentine in nature possibly resembling a sea serpent that existed during the time of the dinosaurs.  Whether it’s an unknown animal that hasn’t yet been documented or really a creature that never actually went extinct, it’s existence is very much disputed to this day.

In North America is Lake Champlain, a large natural lake that is located between the states of New York and Vermont but also stretches to the north into Canada into the province of Quebec.  Lake Champlain is 107 miles long and 14 miles wide at its point of maximum width.  The lake covers 514 square miles and has an average depth of 64 feet with a maximum depth of about 400 feet.  Lake Champlain has also long been said to be the home of a serpent-like cryptid.  

In 1609 the French explorer Samuel De Champlain, the discoverer of Lake Champlain, is said to have documented “a 20-foot serpent thick as a barrel, and a head like a horse.” This quote by Champlain has been published repeatedly but its authenticity in describing a creature in Lake Champlain is in dispute.  Historians and scholars who have read Champlain’s writings seem to think that he was describing something that he saw near the St. Lawrence River.  Champlain did however, describe seeing some fish in Lake Champlain that were five feet long, as thick as his thigh, with a double row of very sharp and dangerous teeth and with silvery-gray scales so strong that a dagger could not penetrate them.  The native peoples of the area told him that some of them were known to be up to 10 feet long.  

Earlier legends told by the native Abenaki and Iroquois tribes, both of whom long lived and hunted near Lake Champlain, spoke of a large horned serpent or giant snake that lived in the lake.  The early French explorers were warned against sailing on the lake so as not to arouse the serpent.  

Since the early 1800s up to the 1990s there have been approximately 200 reported sighting of a large, unidentified creature in Lake Champlain with over 600 witnesses claiming to have seen it in many different parts of the lake.  In 1873 an article in the New York Times reported that a railroad crew working alongside the lake saw the head of a huge serpent, with silvery scales that glistened in the sunlight, rise above the surface of the water.  The crew left the scene in a hurry.  

The unknown or mythical creature of Lake Champlain, affectionately named Champ, is very often described as an unusually large snake or water serpent.  The serpent is, at times, described as having a head like that of a horse.  Sightings of Champ have sometimes occurred to multiple witnesses at the same time occasionally to groups of passengers sailing on steamships on Lake Champlain.  A common size estimate of Champ is between 20 and 40 feet long although historically there have been descriptions of a water creature in the lake that was estimated to be over 180 feet long.  

In 1977 Sandra Mansi, a woman from Connecticut who was on a family vacation alongside Lake Champlain, supposedly took what is widely believed to be the first known photograph of Champ (like Nessie, Champ is usually referred to as a single creature).  But just like with alleged photos of the Loch Ness monster, whether or not Ms. Mansi’s photo shows a large, unidentified creature in Lake Champlain is a matter that is hotly disputed.  It is pointed out that Ms. Mansi could not locate the original negative and could not later identify the precise location where she took the photo.  Both would have been useful in further studies of the object in the photo.  Does the Mansi photo really show a water serpent or a large partially submerged floating tree trunk?  The debate goes on.  

The 21st century has brought many additional reports of sightings of a lake monster in Lake Champlain including a video taken by 2 fishermen in 2005.  Analysis of the video can be interpreted to show a snake-like creature or the long neck and head of a creature similar to a prehistoric reptile, but again, the video is a matter of much dispute.  Although it is believed that the video is not faked nor tampered with, a retired FBI forensic image analyst who examined the video does not believe that any animate object is shown in it.

So what have people been seeing at Lake Champlain for the past few centuries?  Are they seeing an oversized eel or multiple eels?  Maybe a large sturgeon or group of them?  Perhaps Champ is a northern pike or muskellunge that grew way beyond the normal size that one would be.  Is Champ possibly a giant northern water snake that grew to an immense size?  Or is the Lake Champlain monster really a serpent that is undocumented by science or a prehistoric reptile long thought to have been extinct?  One has to wonder what did the railroad crew see in 1873 that frightened them to the point of fleeing their worksite.  Recently I talked with a fisherman who fished Lake Champlain frequently.  He told me he’s seen some weird things around the lake and definitely believes Champ exists.  The search for Champ goes on.  

C. Dennis Pierce

“I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

George Bernard Shaw

There are times in your life when the unexpected turns your life around. Tom and Kyla Satkowski, current owners of East Willow Farm in Columbia, were living in Berlin and then Amston, Connecticut and were slowly outgrowing their residence and were in search of a larger piece of property. They had engaged a realtor who had introduced them to several options, however these were not quite right. Finally running out of viable options an opportunity arrived to visit a farm in Columbia. On the day of their visit, they were met by the current owner and to Tom’s surprise it was an old classmate who he had not seen in many years. The farm had hundreds of apple trees and Tom’s classmate, who was a former chef on the Cape, had come to conclusion that farming was not a career that was practical for him, and he offered Tom and Kyla a deal that they could not refuse.  So, that all took place a few years ago, and now, several years later, Tom and Kyla have created a “one stop” shop farm that continues to take Columbia by storm. 

Over the years while driving up Route 66, heading out of Columbia proper, while heading to Hebron, I have passed the farm sign on numerous occasions but never took the opportunity to stop in. If you are familiar with the area the entrance to East Willow Farm is right after the park and ride parking lot on Route 66. Visiting the farm, I was welcomed by an inviting avenue of trees that lined the road leading to the farm. While it was a warm day back in Mansfield, I was surprised to feel a fall-like breeze which brought a comforting coolness to the air. At the end of the road there was plenty of parking and a well-appointed farm store. Let me correct that. The “well appointed” description does not do it justice. 

Perhaps this is the best place to stop and explain a trend that I see local farmers are adopting. If you look back many years ago our state only hosted a few farmer’s markets. Now, most towns have a seasonal market that offers a wide variety of local fresh options. The farmers that are present at the market must spend a lot of time and energy to prepare for the market, load their trucks, set up and then tear down and subsequently unload, always hoping that the weather is conducive, and the market has a lot of customers that are interested in purchasing the farmer’s offerings. The trend I mentioned earlier is that some farms are finding that the markets are not the best opportunity and subsequently have created farm stands on their own farms. In essence some of the local farms have almost made a 360-degree change back to what it was in the early days.

Now, let me take you back to Tom and Kyla’s, East Willow Farm. Gone are the apple trees except for a few left standing while the land makes way for berry bushes and a field for the chicken tractors. You ask what is a chicken tractor?  A chicken tractor is a movable chicken coop lacking a floor. Chicken tractors allow free range feeding along with a shelter, this allows chickens fresh forage such as grass, weeds, and bugs, which widens their diet and lowers their traditional feed needs. Unlike fixed coops, chicken tractors do not have floors so there is no need to clean them out. They support a natural, symbiotic cycle of foraging through which the birds eat down the vegetation, deposit fertilizing manure, then go on to a new area. Tom moves their “tractors” daily, so the chickens are always foraging in a new area. 

Adjacent to the parking area is a greenhouse that provides an area to start the farm’s vegetable plants as well as providing starter plants for sale to the farm’s customers. The farm grows a variety of vegetables, raise pigs, chickens and soon turkeys as they prepare for Thanksgiving. While their produce is not certified organic, they do use organic practices and do not use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. The farm also has a small apiary that is used to help pollinate their gardens. Tom and Kyla operating a farm has become a labor of love and devotion. They started this farm because they found something worth sharing right in their own backyard. 

As the responsibilities are divided up Tom takes care of the gardens and livestock, and Kyla operates the well-supplied farm store. Their two children are right alongside them pitching in whenever they can. Now their farm store is not an ordinary store since they sell their own meat offerings, eggs, candles that are made by Kyla and extensive line of locally sourced dairy, honey, and bakery items.  

Back to the farm activities, Tom makes sure that the farm provides a stress-free setting for their animals. Tom has experimented with various strains of pigs in order achieve a hybrid vigor, the best attributes of various pig species combined. The farm’s pigs are pasture raised and they move from paddock to paddock as they go about clearing the land. Tom refers to them as his “construction workers”. Were they happy pigs? I can honestly say when I was taking a photo, I swear I saw some of them smiling. 

So why does East Willow Farm operate with such a caring philosophy? Because their initiative supports healthier and happier animals that are raised ethically in open pastures, animals that deserve to be fed what they are meant to eat. The farm’s efforts builds a stronger community which consists of the customers who wants to take back their control of the food they purchase, cook and eat in order to ensure a long term health and happiness for their friends and families. Lastly, the farm’s efforts are part of the overall stewardship of the soil since it is one of our most vital resources.

Here is a recipe to try out utilizing East Willow’ prized pork:

Maple Glazed Pork Chops with Roasted Corn Relish

Serves: 4 

Prepare Corn Relish prior to cooking chops on grill. You can make glaze prior to making corn relish. You might want to place dishes or serving dish, if you are using one dish to serve from in a warm oven ahead of time.

Maple Glaze / Pork Chops


6 tablespoons of maple syrup

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Freshly ground pepper

4, thick sliced pork chops


Combine maple syrup and vinegar in a small saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat.

Simmer until reduced by half and just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. About 4 to 5 minutes.

Season with several grindings of fresh pepper and set aside.

Pre heat grill to medium high

Oil the grill rack with an oil spray.

Place pork chops on grill for a few minutes and then turn over and do the other side. This should have made grill marks on the chops.

Brush maple glaze on one side of pork chops and then turn the chops over and do the other side.

Cook until the internal temperature is 145 degrees.

Roasted Corn Relish


4 ounces of thick bacon diced.

½ cup of finely chopped red onion

3 scallions, white and light green parts coarsely chopped.

2 cups of fresh corn kernels (from about 4 ears). Substitute frozen if necessary.

6 tablespoons of maple syrup

1 red or orange bell pepper, stemmed, seeds removed and diced.

2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.


Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp.

Drain all but 1 teaspoon of fat from the pan.

Add onion and sauté until lightly cooked.

Stir in the scallions, corn, and bell pepper.

Raise the heat and add balsamic vinegar.

Bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits.

Sauté over high heat, stirring constantly until vegetables are warmed but barely cooked, one to two minutes.

Remove from heat and season with salt & pepper.

When pork chops are done gently reheat corn mixture by either returning it to the stove or placing it briefly in the microwave.

Place corn mixture on plates and place pork chops on top of corn mixture. 

I would highly recommend stopping by East Willow Farm in Columbia. They are open Tuesday through Friday from 10:00am to 5:00pm and Saturday and Sunday from 9:00am to 4:00pm. I would suggest a visit not only because of the variety of options they offer but because their farm meats and their farming philosophy make this farm differ from others. Pasture raising their animals is an extremely rewarding process for them.  It’s a way to connect their animals with the earth in a healthy and stress-free environment.  When they can almost eliminate some grains and introduce high quality grasses and nutrient rich soils, their efforts produces an amazing tasting meat.  When grains are being used for their livestock, they are purchased with a specific diet mix from a farm in Scotland.  

​ When animals can roam free, it generates more oxygen in their bloodstream and creates what’s called myoglobin.  Myoglobin is a mixture of water and proteins, which move oxygen to muscle cells.  You will find their pork is of a finer quality than store bought.  You will also taste the difference in their chicken. Since they are pastured raised it is a tender and more favorable meat like no other. Interested in being part of their meat CSA? You can join anytime during the year. Their CSA runs in 6 moth increments. Pick-ups are the first Saturday of each month during normal store hours. For more information give them a call.  East Willow Farm’s phone number is 860.538.2747. They also host a Facebook page at 

If you have a suggestion for a farm or a local grower or even a recipe that would feature a local ingredient, please let me know. I will do my best to share your suggestions in a future column.  Drop me a line at So, Peas be with you. Come celebrate with me and remember, every day is a holiday, and every meal is a banquet.  I’ll save you a seat at the table!

In Summer’s Lull, Think Autumn Planting

By Brian Karlsson-Barnes

Our temperate climate’s change in seasons decided my career path decades ago. I liked the rhythm of seasonal work. Busy, not busy, busy again… then dormant. 

Explosive growth in spring has many garden needs, surging again in fall. Physical and spiritual restoral comes in summer’s reprieve and winter’s rejuvenation. Winter is time to read, research, write and plan for next year’s garden.

This winter was different.

A Boston client wanted a “microforest” designed for spring planting, and a Northborough, grower (Brian Lewis of The Natural Landscape) wanted a list of the showiest trees and shrubs for New England. 

Such as Cary Award-winning plants named by the Worcester County Horticultural Society. All are proven reliably hardy to USDA Zone 4 with exceptional pest and disease resistance and are adaptable to the range of cultural conditions across New England.

Michael Dirr, Ph.D / University of Georgia horticultural professor, is my go-to authority. His Manual of Woody Landscape Plants is an old-school botanical bible. With two decades of hort experience in the northeast, seven with Weston Nurseries, I have my favorites. 

TREES  Three species of native deciduous trees for temperate New England (that I have planted in the Quiet Corner) were used in Boston: redbud, serviceberry and whitebarked birch. 

·    Redbud (Cercis)   Dark red buds open to purple-pink flowers in early spring before leafout at every node along ascending wide-spreading branches — best at edges of tree plantings to reduce crossing branches. Likes part shade to full sun. Mature height of 20 feet.

One is planted in Chaplin to screen a view.

·    Serviceberry (Amelanchier)   AKA Juneberry and Shadblow because it blooms when the shad (herring) run. Pure white flowers cover the tree in April with tasty berries in June — but birds beat you to ‘em. Orange-to-red fall color; ‘Autumn Brilliance’ is a brilliant red. Often available in multi-stem clump form. Height 25 feet.

Allegheny Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) is a native tree that naturally hybridizes with twenty species of small trees and smaller shrubs like Shadbush (A. canadensis).

Masses of showy, slightly fragrant white flowers last a week or two in early spring before leaves appear. Shadbush blooms a few weeks later. Then fruit for excellent blueberry-like pie, but birds beat you to ‘em. Yellow-orange-to-brick-red fall color. 

Orange fungal galls can mar fruit if near host junipers for Cedar Apple RustSpores can form on eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) a mile away, but the cosmetic damage doesn’t harm the apple-family tree.

Found naturally in woodland borders, full sun to part shade. Vulnerable to caterpillars that I remove by hand or with a jet spray of water or least-toxic pesticide; systemics are not used to protect birds. Grows fast to 25-feet.

Three native A. laevis are planted in Chaplin with one A. canadensis

·    Whitebarked Birch (Betula spp)   Striking white bark in all seasons, more so in multi-stem form. Native cultivar (nativar) ‘Whitespire’ (Betula populifolia) resists native bugs. Height 35-40 feet in full sun. 

Smaller nonnative Himalayan Birch (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii) is the purest white, but suffers caterpillars and borers more than native trees, especially in the country.

TIP  Improving horticultural conditions helps all plants survive pests. I use copious compost and kelp, and pay very close attention. 

Three ‘Whitespire’ and one Himalayan Birch are planted at my Chaplin “Chapel of the Birch” Others are Paper / Canoe Birch, Sweet and Yellow Birch.

Japanese plants are also suited to our temperate coastal climate, such as colorful Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) and evergreen Umbrella Pine (Sciadopitys). Also planted in the Quiet Corner.

SHRUBS  Deciduous Azalea (Rhododendron) shrubs completed the woody planting in Boston. Flower, fragrance and fall color! Other native shrubs planted in Connecticut are Redtwig Dogwood(formerly Cornus, now Benthamidia), and evergreen Mountain Laurel (Kalmia) and Rosebay (Rhodendron)

SUMMER is a welcome lull to consider fall planting. Less plant material is available in autumn but prices are discounted by October. September is a great time to plant and establish roots before the stress of next summer’s heat, perhaps drought.

Large sizes have visual impact, but small plants cost less and adapt better. Both can be planted in naturalistic groups to mimic nature. Dry-tolerant plants are better in global warming. Best using plants native to the conditions of your site’s microclimate — they establish sooner to thrive not simply survive. 

Brian Karlsson-Barnes, Master gardener/designer

KB garden design, 12 Cross Road, Chaplin CT 06235    Text 617.957.6611

What is Your Awe Quotient?

By Loretta Wrobel

The dictionary defines awe as “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.” Another definition is “the feeling we get when in the presence of something vast that challenges our understanding of the world.” These descriptions evoke a deep emotional reaction in me. I was captivated by this concept as I read the book by Dacher Keltner, titled AWE: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life. A 2023 book that gives a new wrinkle on how to exist and thrive in our present world. The author of this book focuses on the wonder, creativity, and collaborative dimension of awe, not on the other side of awe that features horror and fear.

I believe I have always been aware of awe, and never paid conscious attention to how frequently or when I have been exposed to awe. Often, we brush that experience aside and continue rushing through our packed and frenzied day. What unlocked my heart and cleared my mind was the suggestion to pause and digest my awe encounters on a regular basis and remember the feelings the experience evoked.

We exist in a world that is crammed with awe events, if we choose to witness them. What I understand is that standing in the middle of a mind-boggling awe event, I can absorb and feel it or I can zoom past it totally, not acknowledging the depth of what I felt or how it changed my mood.  When I remain unconscious as to what is before me, it is as if it has not occurred. 

Dacher Keltner writes, “Awe begins in encounters with the eight wonders of life” and “the experience of awe unfolds in a space of its own,” where a person feels good. He believes that we as humans can witness occasions of awe in everyday life. Awe can be everywhere, such as in the arts, especially music, in nature, in birth and death, and in many ordinary happenings that leave us profoundly open, elated, and feeling connected to a larger community.  Asking ourselves how we process this information gives us a start to open to the curiosity and beauty of awe. 

What impressed me was Keltner discovered that people who are awake to awe experiences exhibit behavior that is more connecting, and demonstrate a greater sense of community! If we stop for a moment, we all have felt the body awareness of awe with chills, hair standing on end and/or goose bumps. We are all aware of the whoa or ahh moments. However, do we consistently pay attention and record these times in our consciousness?

If the awe moments were to become more conscious in our ordinary day-to-day lives, would our feelings, emotions, and mental health be positively magnified? Studies have shown that when we are surrounded by nature, our blood pressure is lower, we express feelings of happiness, and we are more likely to engage in behavior that reflects kindness and a greater thirst for social connection. The author reports that after experiencing awe, participants are less depressed and not as lonely. Could we enhance our mental health by tuning in to the awe that surrounds us?

Keltner talks of the myriad examples of wonderment in our world, from witnessing acts of courage, strength and overcoming obstacles, to walking in a forest or standing next to the ocean. The health benefits of being in nature are well documented by many researchers. The Japanese developed forest bathing to promote mental stability and decrease stress. Forest bathing is simply being present in nature sans all our high-tech devices. The author discusses the biological need for awe.  We are hardwired to be soothed by our awe exposure to guide us in feeling our joy at being alive on this mysterious planet.  He quoted the poet Wadsworth as saying, “O there is a blessing in this gentle breeze.”

The author mentions the ability we possess to be awestruck by music. Music provides an opportunity to be connected to each other as we move with the beat. Music can energize us, calm us, anger us, inspire us, or allow us to feel serene and at peace. As humans we can connect and bond in the musical experience and develop a powerful sense of connection and community. Social movements have coalesced through the strength of a song or march. The Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970’s and 1980’s was propelled forward by women’s music that provided direction, permission, and joy, supplying the foundation for a radical life altering community of empowered women. 

Who has not attended a sporting event and cheered along with the crowd for the home team? I remember being in Madrid at a bull fight and getting swept away with the ritual, celebration, and passion. I was shouting “Ole!” with all the other attendees and felt part of the group. I would not have guessed in advance that I would become one with the crowd at such an event.  It was a magical time, as I felt like a Spaniard and cheered along boisterously with everyone else, being overwhelmed by feelings. I can still reminisce and be back there during that extraordinary event, although it is more than a half century ago. That is the ultimate awe experience. 

How can we begin to integrate this awesome news so we can all benefit during these frustrating and scary times? We can increase our ability to love, operate from a humane perspective, and react with tenderness to our world. Awe can shift and shape our daily encounters and put deeper meaning in our lives. We can become better community members and more compassionate people in a world that continually challenges our patience, generosity, and sanity. Can we learn to develop our awe awareness so at the end of each day we are grateful for our astonishing, enhancing, mystical, beautiful, and breath-catching times? Let us become worshippers of celebrating and honoring awe whenever we feel, sense, smell, or see it.  

What Are Foo Fighters?

By Tom Woron

“That was ‘The Pretender’ by the Foo Fighters,” said the DJ on the radio as a song ended. The Foo Fighters? Yes, there is a rock band called the Foo Fighters. 

Back in the early 1990s a popular American band called Nirvana from Aberdeen, Washington, was the key band promoting a type of rock music called grunge. Nirvana dominated the airwaves for a while, but the untimely death of lead singer and songwriter Kurt Cobain in 1994 spelled doom for the band. Without its frontman Nirvana could not carry on, and the band became defunct.

After the demise of Nirvana, the band’s former drummer, Dave Grohl, began a project by himself in which he recorded 15 songs that he wrote. With only one exception, Grohl played all of the instruments himself and sang all of the vocals on all 15 songs. When the recording was completed, Grohl handed out cassette tapes of the project to friends for their opinions of it. Desiring to keep the identity behind his songs a secret, Grohl named his project “Foo Fighters” so as to lead listeners to believe that there were multiple musicians behind the music, not just him by himself. The recording got the attention of record companies. The Foo Fighters went from what was supposed to be a one-time solo project by Grohl to becoming a highly successful rock band. 

Grohl at the time did not know that the Foo Fighters would become a huge success and that the band would become his full-time career in music after Nirvana. Had he known what was to come, he has said, he would have come up with a different name, because he thought that Foo Fighters was the dumbest name ever for a rock band. How did Grohl come up with the name? What are “foo fighters”? 

While it is unclear why Grohl chose the name for his project, foo fighters in reality were unidentified flying objects (UFOs) or unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) that were seen by numerous pilots and airmen during the Second World War. Although Allied airmen had seen what they believed were UFOs earlier in the war, it was from November 1944 onward that Allied airmen flying over Germany and German-occupied territory frequently noticed strange, rapidly moving lights that seemed to pursue their aircraft. These objects glowed red, orange, white, and green at times, and behaved as if they were controlled by some intelligence. They sometimes appeared as a single fiery object and at other times as many in a formation.

The astonished airmen witnessed these objects maneuvering in ways that no known aircraft could at the time. One pilot, believing that the unknown objects were a new type of Nazi weapon, decided to challenge them and turned his plane toward them. The objects immediately disappeared. A short time later the mysterious lights reappeared, but at a much greater distance from his aircraft. Apparently they were not made of any kind of solid material since they did not show up on either ground or airborne radar.

Reports of strange glowing objects buzzing around Allied aircraft came in more frequently as the war wound down in its final months. Although descriptions of the unknown objects varied, the pattern of the encounters was similar in many respects. Mysterious fiery lights would suddenly show up, appear to pursue Allied aircraft for a while, sometimes getting up close, and then they would suddenly veer off and disappear. The objects maneuvering around the aircraft were never reported to take any hostile action nor in any way cause damage to the aircraft; however, the airmen who encountered them found the experience to be nerve-racking. One American airman, a radar operator, who saw the strange lights following his aircraft named them “foo fighters.” 

Single-engine German aircraft approaching Allied aircraft with the intent to shoot them down were called “fighters.” It is widely believed that a U.S. 415th Night Fighter Squadron radar operator, Donald J. Meiers, gave the name “foo fighters” to the mysterious lights approaching and seemingly chasing the airplanes. The name came from Smokey Stover, a popular American comic strip of the time. The strip featured the silliness and mishaps of the title character, a firefighter who referred to himself with a nonsensical phrase, “foo fighter.” 

The phenomenon was not limited to the European Theater. American airmen in the Pacific Theater also encountered mysterious “balls of fire” that hovered in the sky and, at times, pursued their aircraft. They, too, noted that these balls of fire never fired upon nor damaged their aircraft. They ultimately decided that the objects were a secret Japanese psychological weapon designed to distract them and drive them crazy. After the war, the Americans asked Japanese airmen about the flying objects that their country sent out to buzz around our airplanes and drive our pilots insane. Surprised at being asked the question, the Japanese replied that they too had seen the objects, had noted that they took no hostile action against their aircraft, and had come to the conclusion that they were a secret American weapon designed to mess with their minds.

Likewise after the war, thirteen high-ranking officers of the Luftwaffe (Nazi Germany’s air force) were questioned about the unknown glowing objects observed by British and American airmen on night missions over Europe. All thirteen claimed they knew nothing about any secret German weapon or anything else that could explain the mysterious sightings. 

As 1945 began, a news reporter who had spent time with the 415th published a story about the foo fighters that ran on the front page of newspapers all across the United States. Because of the number of reports of foo fighters and the impact they were having on aircrews—and, more shockingly, the fact that a reporter had interviewed the airmen and published their story—the military decided to investigate the matter.

Many theories were offered to explain the foo fighter sightings. Among them was that they were hallucinations due to battle fatigue. Another theory was that they were the Nazis’ newly developed V-2 rocket, a ballistic missile, many of which were being launched from Germany against Great Britain and the Western European allies. 

The airmen who observed the foo fighters rejected the hallucination theory. They were there, and they knew what they saw. The V-2 rocket explanation seemed plausible at first since the tail of the rocket would glow with a flame as it burned fuel. However, this theory was also dismissed by the airmen and by military aviation historians because descriptions of the foo fighters’ maneuverability—such as “turning on a dime” and sudden accelerations—were not consistent with the speed and course that a ballistic missile would take. Other theories offered to explain the foo fighters witnessed during World War II have also been dismissed due to the lack of any credible evidence. They were never identified or logically explained.

Although the foo fighters seen during the Second World War remain an unexplained mystery to this day, they sure gave us a great rock band! 

Your assignment: If you’re not familiar with the Foo Fighters band and/or their song “The Pretender,” Google it and watch the YouTube video.

What to the [fill in the blank] Is the Fourth of July?

By Phoebe Godfrey

I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.

—Frederick Douglass, July 5, 1852

It is July 4, 2023, and I am called to revisit the powerful and poignant words of the great orator and former slave Frederick Douglass. In his speech “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” he was able to both honor the Founding Fathers “for the good they did, and the principles they contended for” (no doubt a necessary political stance) while nevertheless still calling attention to the dire contradictions embedded in their words due to slavery (which included their ownership of humans from Africa as slaves) and its justification through legally based racism. As Douglass points out so contrastingly, “The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me.… You may rejoice, I must mourn.” 

Yes, he must have mourned, for what else could he, or any others who were still or had been enslaved, have done? Of course he/they struggled and still are struggling as slavery’s legacy continues and thus, I am sure, Douglass would still be mourning, as should any of us be who have ever been moved by the aspirations of the Declaration of Independence and contrasted them with our failure to make them a reality. For the Declaration unequivocally states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” and yet we still have not achieved these lofty goals. In fact, it can be stated that because of the so-called “highest court of the land,” the Supreme Court, we have been going backwards. So, for me, if today is to mean anything, it must be a reminder of how far we have yet to go and how, until we get there, we too must also mourn, even as we continue to struggle! 

Therefore, today I am not marching in our local parade (as I usually do while engaging in some manner of protest), I am not having a bar-b-q, I am not socializing, but rather I am mourning by writing this piece and listing all the things for which I am mourning.

In presenting what I am mourning, I want to affirm that my inclusion of other reasons to mourn besides slavery are not in any way intended to question Douglass’s focus on those people who were, or whose ancestors were, once enslaved. Rather my goal is to recognize that in our collective mourning we are stronger. Even if my list does not include all your reasons, it is nevertheless an attempt to give you permission to voice your own. For the words of the Declaration, I think, can only be viscerally understood by those who still have not been “included within the pale of this glorious anniversary.” As such, on this day we must continue to listen to the least powerful among us, as opposed to allowing those for whom these words have delivered Rights, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness (tragically, most often at the expense of others) to declare them a done deal for the rest of us. 

“You may rejoice,” usually epitomized by the waving of the stars and stripes as if the flag speaks for all, “I [we] must mourn.” Today I mourn…

that Douglass’s descendants still do not enjoy what he called “the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence” (see video made by NPR of his descendants reading his speech in 2020).

that the Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action in universities will further impact the exclusiveness of the Declaration (while the members of the Court make sure they enjoy their own Rights, Liberty, and pursuit of Happiness, even to being above the law).

that the tyranny of the British monarchy was merely exchanged for the tyranny of capitalism and corporate control over all aspects of government, never for the people—always for profit. 

the Supreme Court’s ruling that separation of church and state does not extend to website design for LGBTQIA-2-Spirit people and that selective prohibitions from the Old Testament can once again become law. (Why focus only on those who are “homosexual” when meanwhile designing websites for those who commit adultery, talk back to their parents, eat unripe fruit, and work on the Sabbath, who are also on God’s kill list and thus should also be on the plaintiff’s list of unworthy customers?) 

the Supreme Court’s unpopular, unrealistic, and sexist ruling on reproductive rights. What have we done since to support the Life and Liberty of those who can get pregnant? Nothing! This ruling was merely about misogyny, patriarchy, and control, with nothing about loving the born—only the unborn! 

the Supreme Court’s ruling on student loan debt. Even the God of the Old Testament dictated in Deuteronomy 15 that every seven years there should be a release of debts…so much for the Court’s consistency! 

that there are daily reports of fires, heatwaves, floods, and species extinctions, and yet the focus remains on whether the Dow Jones is up or down, as if as long as somebody is making money somewhere, it justifies the destruction of Life (isn’t that one of the Declaration’s promises?) on earth.

that daily shootings in this country continue to be a leading cause of death of young people—and this isn’t just about the mass shootings, but the ones in our impoverished cities that go mostly unreported.

that Indigenous voices are still not being respected, let alone lands being returned, nor are the Indigenous being seen as holding key insights into practices that could help us address the toxicity of our own culture, which is resulting in climate collapse for all.

Add yours…

These Words of Wisdom Might Have Been Useful

by Bill Powers

   For millennia humans have recognized the existence and value of the notion of wisdom.  A dictionary definition of wisdom states: it is “the ability to use your knowledge and experience.” It is often acquired as one ages. Leonardo Da Vinci proclaimed: “Wisdom is the daughter of experience.” Albert Einstein said: “The only source of knowledge is experience.” Ancient philosophers such as Laozi addressed the importance of wisdom when asserting: “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.” The Greek philosopher Sophocles professed: “Wisdom outweighs any wealth.”

    As a child and growing up in Hartford, the older kids in my neighborhood attended Hartford Public High School and I was always intrigued by their mascot, the owl. I was told that the owl represented wisdom. So, the connection in my mind for wisdom and schooling was established early on. Indeed, the association of wisdom and owls was reinforced by the advertising for Wise potato chips, where the owl was their mascot.

   A popular concept in our society is that age and experience bring wisdom. I wondered: Why not tap into the wealth of experiential wisdom from some of my older neighbors, to gain further insight into this. So, on a random basis I asked people the following: “What is one important thing that you wish someone had told you when you were young?”Here is what they replied when they were at the Windham Senior and Community Centers, the Veteran Center in Willimantic, or Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Windham Center.

Jean age 85 – At a certain point as you age increases, your physical strength begins to decline. The older you get the more quickly that happens. Stay active and exercise frequently.

 Marilyn age 71 – How devasting smoking tobacco, excessive use of alcohol, and abuse of drugs can be and can ruin lives.   

 Robin age 68 – Two things – 1) The importance of participating in sports can have significant positive effects on the physical and mental health and well-being. Girls need to appreciate the importance of Title IX and make use of the opportunities it has provided for female athletes. 2) What is important in life is ½ knowing what want and ½ is asking for it.

 Jevena age 63 – Get to know what makes you happy and strive to keep that happiness in your life.

 Bill age 77 – Don’t wait too long to thank people who helped you when you we young, because when I tried in my fifties, I found that half of them were already dead and I had missed that opportunity.

 Ethel age 81 – Listen to and respect your kids’ needs and plans for the future. 

 Rosemary age 80 – Begin early on to save for your future, even if at first it is only a dollar a week.

 Frank age 77 – Plan on having many careers during your lifetime.   

 Paula age 67 – Embrace each day with joy, no matter what difficulties you may be experiencing.   

  John age 70 – Don’t count on the government to help vets when they return home.

  Margarita age 74 – (with the help of an interpreter) I had many life lessons from my family as I grew up. I would tell children today to respect their family and value religion.

  Joellen age 75 – Bloom wherever you are planted.

  Kerry age 61 – Always do the job right and with no short cuts.

  Ruth age 67 – Become self-sufficient and try to get along with everyone.

  Caroline age 73 – Love yourself and care for yourself first. You can’t pour from an empty cup if you want to care for others. 

  William age 81 – (with the help of an interpreter) I learned many life values growing up from my family. What I would say to young parents is that discipline is very important for raising children. It helps them learn right from wrong. 

  Karen age 65 – Stay healthy – just keep moving and take time for yourself.

  Judy age 64 – To breathe before I talked.

  Bernie age 76 – Turn over the stone to see what is under it.

   Al age 75 – That girls have different emotional/sexual awakening times.

   Mitch age 56 – I wish someone had educated me on how to invest in stocks that generate passive income when I was 18.

   Candice age 78 – I am in control of my own destiny and other people are not.

   June age 89 – Love everyone no matter who they are.

   Patricia age 74 – Everybody deserves to be loved.

   Ann age 60 – Be kind to yourself. 

   Rosario age 74 – Don’t get old in mind and spirit.

   Elizabeth age 75 – Facts of life. 

   Dave age 79 – Life is more enjoyable than you may think. Don’t take yourself so seriously.

   Michael age 62 – Start saving when you are young.

   Steve age 65 – Take as much time as you can with your family – especially your children.

   Priscilla age 80 – You are what you eat.

   Wayne age 90 – Keep the faith.

   Don age 77 – Aim high in life!

   Gerhard age 84 – Emphasize the role of human language.

   Lynne age 65 – Learn how to type.

   Murphy age 81 – When you meet somebody new, ask them more questions than they ask you.

   Rob age 80 – Learn to calmly and respectfully say no! To help you stay on your very own path.

   Patty age 83 – Be sure to nurture yourself by keeping people in your life who have a positive attitude.

   Arlene age 78 – People are the most important things – more than things or projects.

   Jake age 70 – To maintain a balance between a focus on your future but also on your future life

We Are All Storytellers

By Bob Grindle

There were moments when, as a young grammar school student, my attention would drift far from the lesson being taught. It didn’t take much…a bird flying past a window, a cloud shapeshifting against a blue sky, the steady droning sound of the class’s 20 gallon aquarium or the rainy day smell of a class of nearly 40 kids all trying to shake or shiver or stamp themselves dry, and sometimes just thinking about running across a summer field and down the hill to the old gravel pit.  A fifth grade geography or history or English lesson didn’t stand a chance against the fresh, youthful pull of an imagination in full wild horses racing across the high plains state of mind. Despite the teacher’s concerns expressed to my parents that I was too easily distracted and not living up to some lofty, hoped for or imagined potential, thoughts about bicycle trips down to the river or an upcoming family vacation or some recent exploration of a nearby abandoned factory would still fill that enormous etch-a-sketch screen that lurks on stage in the theater of each of our minds.  Such thoughts gently nudged our teacher, Mrs. Krammer’s, curricular efforts off the stage…all but one effort, the class’s daily trip to the school library. 

The school library was a place where a young imagination could rope-swing out over the deep canyon of youthful optimism without hearing the gentle gasps of those who might prefer a bit less mystery in how their days, or lives unfold. I’d like to think that Mrs. Krammer grasped full well the pure magic of her sorcery as she led the class down hallway for a half hour of rather jittery library discovery time followed by another half hour of always rapt and quiet story time. As I sit here looking out through an open window into an early July rainfall that transforms every perception of the surrounding woodland…at least to human eyes…I am reflecting on the 50th anniversary trip my wife and I just completed. There is a small part of me that knows that a fifth grade teacher—by guiding her classes to understand that they can learn from the stories of others—owns a tiny piece of the success of our story. 

There is a relentless and inexorable edge and complexity to the passage of time. The voyage of life, as poets and writers and painters have described and depicted it, is far more beautiful and mysterious and frightening and filled with more wonders and danger than any charlatan’s promise or travel brochure could possibly embrace, and as my wife and I take stock of the vessel that has carried us down this river of life these many years, we chuckle to note that perhaps the boat is in better shape than the sailors. And so it is with humor and excitement that we both look forward to many more years of this journey, crossing summer fields and snowy roads, our minds always looking up while keeping our eyes focused on the path forward.

    Looking up into the early morning and after sunset skies has been a test of patience and persistence through much of these last couple of months. If the skies weren’t completely hazed by smoke blown in from forest fires to our north, they were usually cloudy and threatening rain. But perhaps July and August will bring better viewing, and the three full Moons that frame these two Summer months—that’s right, three full Moons in two months—will have a way of shining through whatever nature puts in their way. In fact, the full Sturgeon Moon of August 1st and the full Blue Moon of August 30th will both be Super Moons because the Moon will be at its nearest to the Earth of the entire year. As twilight fades  an hour after sunset on Wednesday, August 30, cast a look to the east-southeast and the full Super Moon, the second full Moon of August, will be rising with Saturn, slightly above and to the right. Of course, if you’re anything like me, all full Moons are super.

But, while full Moons get more than their share of attention and romantic poetry, they tend to overwhelm the smaller details of night time sky watching. The nights of July 18-20, half an hour after sunset, a little before 9 pm, will treat sky watchers to a jewler’s case of small details as the young and delicate waxing crescent Moon  passes by Mars, Regulus, Venus and Mercury as it sets into the western sky.

The rain has ended and the chorus of birds reminds me that our planet is full of communities, full of neighborhoods, full of promise and beauty and full of opportunity to help care for it. Be well, enjoy the next couple of summer months in our gem of a neighborhood…and maybe visit your local library.