This year The River Reporter’s Literary Gazette focuses on agriculture as this is an agricultural community. Aptly, they named this edition, “Dirt,” and requested all submissions to use this as the thematic context. I decided that it would only be appropriate to write a soft infomercial to showcase my friend’s farm. Imagine my surprise when the article was placed as the centerfold! And, even more surprised when people raved about it!
Mud is the New Little Black DressBy Maura Stone
When I established full-time residency in this rustic rural area nearly five years ago, I didn’t take into account all four seasons. My lifelong acquaintance with Sullivan County never existed outside the summer familial retreat where we focused on boats, swimming, asiatic milfoil, waterskiing, kayaking and sunbathing. In other words, I was a typical cidiot visiting two months a year.
Needless to say, my first winter here was brutal. I lamented then, and come to think of it, the subsequent four winters, “Why didn’t anyone warn me?”
To say I was ill-equipped could be construed as an understatement; perhaps ill-informed and ignorant are more apt descriptions. I spent months in frenetic preparation to keep myself warm: caulking every seam both inside and outside the cottage, placing hay against exterior walls that admitted pipes, crawling underneath to surround water pipes with foam insulation and heat tape, cutting and gluing rigid foam insulation to exterior baseboards, placing plastic over every window and purchasing an electric and gas propane heater. I still had the ace up the sleeve: a friend’s dog to maintain body heat when all else failed.
Without resorting to the animal, I managed to survive the first evening when the temperature fell below zero. Way below zero. The following day, I bumped into the local undertaker at the community-frequented café, The Bake House.
“How do you keep yourself warm?” he asked, curious as to how I converted a 100-year-old plywood bungalow to year-round occupancy without any capital investment.
“I pretty much use an electric ceramic heater,” I responded.
“Yeah, I knew someone else who did the same thing,” he said. “I buried him last year.”
Through research (namely, grabbing hold of each person who resides here full-time), I found that flannel sheets plus fleece pajamas and a hat keeps one nice and toasty. That is, until one leaves the bed. Then, it’s a whole different ball of wax.
Even so, I scrambled to maintain my ultra-chic city ways, reluctant to make the transition. Until I had to give up my shoes. For I learned that designer stiletto footwear and mud and snow just don’t go together well.
As I exchanged my footwear and wardrobe from fashion to heat-retention and water repellent, I became aware that I reside in an agricultural community. It struck home when I first heard about the Tractor Parade in Callicoon. For two weeks prior to the event, I bubbled over with excitement. Don’t ask me why, it just seemed like a lot of fun.
When the day came to pass, I marveled at the hundred or more tractors, especially the old ones still in operation. Hell, I couldn’t get my lawn mower to work after two years and before me paraded turn-of-the-20th-century tractors clanking away at full speed.
Looking over at other participants’ faces just as rapt as mine, I swelled with pride living in an area where agriculture was the mainstay. In fact, that was when I turned a corner. I put on the mandatory Sullivan County 20 pounds of additional weight and fully embraced the country life.
I still had a long road ahead of me.
“Oooh, look at the pretty flowers,” I exclaimed one day at The Bake House. I befriended the proprietor, Jane and her husband, Matt, farmer at the Beaver Dam Brook Farms in Ferndale. “Did you pick them from your fields?”
They exchanged glances and were silent until Jane piped up. “Yes. Even though they’re quite pretty flowers, they’re chives.”
Unbeknownst to Jane and Matt, I had volunteered them as my tutors. The education process must’ve been grueling on their side as well. As a cidiot, I only knew fruit and vegetables from supermarkets and high-end organic shops where they were uniform, clean and mostly packaged. Eating fresh from the ground at The Bake House was the true culture shock.
Me at the Beaver Dam Brook Farm’s stand at the Rock Hill Farmer’s Market:
“Oh, what pretty squash. They look like swans.”
“Are these things vegetarian licorice strips?”
“How cute — they look like moon cakes.”
“Beets are also orange?”
“Lettuce really looks like this after you pick it? You mean to tell me you didn’t have it processed?”
“You can eat that?”
Over time, Jane and Matt became inured to my comments. No doubt they’ve heard similar remarks from other cidiots. But, at least I learned.
Today, I stand proud and tall when my city friends come to visit. I drag them to Matt’s stands where I get to display my knowledge:
“These things are squash. Those are the tops of garlic bulbs called, “Scapes.” Beets grow in different colors. And yes, you can eat that.”
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