The Mushroom Farmer, Book Two, Chapter 5

What the mf has to do now is weed the front garden. Kale is flourishing out there, leaves unfurling like carpet before the throne. However, either alfalfa or regular lawn grass is also flourishing. The mf should know the difference.

There is a saying in his family: “‘Should’ is prescriptive.” Nevertheless, the mf really ought to know the difference between alfalfa and lawn grass, so he is going to do what he often does to solve mysteries: look it up.

It’s definitely grass. Long straight blades. Alfalfa looks like clover, three-leafed stems growing every which way. This is news the mf can use. He can use it this very day, to pull out the grass blocking the kale from achieving its fullest splendor.

While he is out there in the front, he might happen upon some passersby, or they upon him. The pandemic appears to be easing, although it’s still plenty deadly. Double-masking is the new normal due to more contagious mutant strains.

All of the mf’s masks have New York Mets emblems and insignia; however, he wears them inside out so as not to over-proclaim his allegiance to that mediocre franchise. He likes to tell himself this is like Mayans carving the faces of their gods onto the bottom of totem poles that will always face the ground. His allegiance to the Mets has little to do with their quality as a franchise. If you were going to pick a team to root for, you’d pick a team with a history of quality, like the Cardinals but not a dominant franchise like the Yankees. You have to be born into Mets fandom, he was just telling a very well-informed Blue Jays fan, the husband of his wife’s friend who had dropped by ultra-briefly to deliver Valentine’s Day donuts, in that urgent, let’s-pack-a-lifetime-of-living-into-this-one-moment way the mf has whenever he is talking to an actual person, as opposed to a person’s image on a screen.

The Blue Jays have sons of former major leaguer at many positions going into the new season. The Mets have a good new shortstop. The mf wishes he didn’t care; in the same way that he wishes he could sit down and read Walden for 50 pages at a time instead of one or two pages max.

It’s just that Thoreau is so aggressively ponderous. Can’t the man just come out and say a thing? The digressions. The digressions within digressions. The mf knows all about how people typically hate in others what they most dislike about themselves. Knowing things and doing anything about them, though, ah, there’s the rub, and anyhow the mf typically love, love, loves digressions and arcane references as well, which more than abound in Walden. Yet with Walden, the mf has abandoned his beloved practice of looking things up and simply inserts “antiquated tool, carved from wood.

Even if he understood, he wouldn’t understand. The arcane references and also the jokes that only Thoreau gets, chuckling mordantly into his scraggly beard. The mf wishes he got Thoreau. Gandhi loved Thoreau. Martin Luther King Jr. loved Thoreau. The mf feels less-than in his non-appreciation, keeps reading in hopes of a non-forthcoming breakthrough. But then he wouldn’t be the mf. Because it doesn’t just stand for mushroom farmer. It also stands for Mets fan.

The thing I like about the mf is that he doesn’t get bogged down in Walden’s brambly syntax nor its insufferable tone, so Thoreau-ier-than-thou. He reads a page, two pages, sighs, and heads out to his own ex-urban sanctuary, the parkway between sidewalk and street, and commences to weed out grass. Grass is the weed. That is the mf’s weeding mantra, along with its co-mantra, dandelions are food. Not digging out dandelions frees the mf up to concentrate on grass, which really can’t be blamed for asserting itself on land where it has been growing for generations.

Grow wherever you want, the mf tells the grass, just not here. He lays the blades aside gently, easing their transition from life to compost. He soon realizes that much of the grass he is uprooting is actually oats, from seeds the mf himself had strewn out upon the parkway willy-nilly before he got the idea of planting green vegetables. Forensic mf-ologists have theorized that he wanted to establish a containment zone in case any of his hens ever make it to the front yard. This would explain why the front yard has such rich holdings of clover and nasturtium. Keep them pecking until help arrives.

Thus far the perimeter to the front yard has yet to be breached by hen. One day he might just let them out to see what will happen, reflecting one of his other bad habits — curiosity about whether or not there will actually be consequences. He’ll bring oatmeal and a broom; oatmeal to lure them back into the backyard, the broom to chase them if the oatmeal doesn’t work. We can do things the oatmeal way or the broom way, he tells his hens. You should see them scuttle along when the broom comes out. That is some real, low-to-the-ground, fine-feathered scuttling.

Also, he tells his hens implicitly, I am lonely. I miss talking to people. The three remaining hens understand, looking up at him with their round, lidless eyes. They absorb his loneliness in their feathers and exchange it for stewardship. Speaking of which, the mf still feels bad and sad about Clucky, who is still dead and buried, but he feels much better after talking at a safe distance and also very briefly about the hawk attack with his housekeeper, Marfa, who grew up raising chickens in Central America.

“Did you make soup?” she asked. “My mother always said hawk-killed chickens make the tastiest soup.”

He will know what to do next time. Meanwhile, spinach is growing on the parkway. Yes! Spinach does not leap from ground like a jack-in-the-box, the way kale does nowadays. Spinach is shy. Yet there are five, six, seven, eight young Bloomsdale spinach plants out there, yes indeed, crinkly and darkest green. It’s healthy just to look at them. The mf has weeded out the grass, mulched with compost and topped it off with a layer of coconut fiber. There will soon be spinach splendor in the mf’s front yard. Spinach for the taking, spinach for the people.

The mf feels good about this. He feels somewhat less good about treating all the nascent veggies out there with diatomaceous earth, to keep them from getting chewed by bugs. There were really only a couple of chew spots here and there. Cabbage moths gotta make a living too, the mf kept telling himself. Just water in the soil amendments and call it a day, he advised himself, but no. He went ahead and puffed out diatomaceous earth from his special flexible plastic puffer with an accordion-like bottom. You push it, out comes death to cabbage moths. The itsy-bitsy particles of pulverized fossil shells shreds bugs up from the inside.

This was a boyhood hobby of the mf’s, unfortunately. Bug torture. As a kid, he would spray insecticide on a pin, and then poke the pin into a potato bug and watch the bug curl. He did this with many, many potato bugs. They all curled. Something is going to poke the mf someday, or slice him up from the inside. That’s the way of the world. He feels bad for the buggies, bad about the cruelty in his nature.

But ha-ha, oh well, concludes the mf, employing another family saying. You can’t get bogged down. He plucks out much grass and oats and also thins out a bucketful of too-close-together kale. Passersby pass by, he says howdy, they say hi and keep on going. It’s what people have to do nowadays, keep on keeping on. The mf, all this while seated atop his overturned baseball bucket, re-seeds spinach and also plants beets and even artichokes, although it says right on the packet that the artichokes will take a year to produce. The mf projects himself into the future, standing with elbows akimbo, gazing proudly on the bright blue flowering of his year-old artichokes.

Returning to the present moment reinvigorated by this vision of gardenly prowess, he strides back into the house, triple-washes the thinned kale, takes out a skillet and peanut oil. The kale fills the hot skillet, exudes a mist, grills down to almost but not quite nothing and with a pinch of Kosher salt and drop of sesame oil, is beyond delicious, is savory.

Published by MarkGozonsky

Mark Gozonsky is the author of The Gift is to the Giver: Chronicles of a 21st Century Decade (Keppie Usage, 2022).

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