The Mushroom Farmer, Book 4, Chapter 5

Ten days into November, the MF rates his garden as Nearly Thriving.

On the dispiriting side, the kale and lettuce are intermittent. In patches, they are non-existent, as in, the patch is of soil, with maybe some barley popping up. Also scattered are carrots.

Big sigh from the mf about starting with the dispiriting side. Why not start with the glad tidings of which there are so many? The MF blames COVID and the residual effect of the previous president, who is still out there, a looming pestilence.

All right then, MF. Sigh to your heart’s content or discontent. It reminds me of that kid yawning so operatically yesterday morning after arriving his signature five minutes late to class without his computer. Get it all out, the MF encouraged this kid, who later redeemed himself by observing that when Jesmyn Ward writes “bestowing” instead of simply “giving” in the last sentence of the first paragraph of Salvage the Bones, she does so to honor the dog she’s describing with a richer and more dignified word.

The MF finds ample parallels between his students and his garden. For example, just as Yawning Tardy No Computer Kid did a good job analyzing diction in Salvage the Bones, so too is the one single dinosaur kale plant doing a good job of unfolding broad crinkly deep green leaves.

Here’s the thing: the MF could pump out a goodly dose of diatomaceous earth up and down all of the rows to kill, kill, kill the aphids and/or flea beetles that are chomping on the tender young kale and lettuce leaves. Oh yes. A puff of diatomaceous earth here, there, and everywhere will certainly permit nascent dark green leafy veggies to show themselves over the next week or so.

The MF could also fix the irrigation so that the sprinkler currently stuck on spraying only towards a tangerine tree instead covers the northeast sector of the garden. He should really do that pronto as there are warnings on freeway signs about it being a severe drought so conserve water!

Wait! I think he heard me because he just ordered a new rotating irrigation nozzle. That’s a positive sign, I think.

There are many positive signs if you care to observe them. Carrots everywhere! Seriously. The MF has a strange habit of bemoaning the lack of carrots in this or that spot where he recently planted them, yet in the same garden inspection, he will overlook the profusion of nascent carrots all up and down several rows. Be fair, MF!

Similarly, it’s not that there are NO 10th graders who turned in their analysis of diction in the first chapter of The Library Book by Susan Orlean. Five kids did. Seven, if you count the two who handed in their hard copies because they couldn’t upload them. Add in the five kids who have already demonstrated mastery of diction analysis and you have half the class at least in the game.

The others, the MF is just going to have to give them an old-fashioned paper quiz. They can’t not turn that in. They’re conditioned to turn in quizzes. So, then we’ll see what is really up and at that point ponder the question of how to assist a kid who can’t independently analyze diction.

Meanwhile it is time right now to go feed the chickens and then go to school.

***

16 days into November, things have changed insofar as the MF did give his 10th graders a paper quiz, and he also puffed diatomaceous earth over his garden.

The paper quiz involved picking four interesting words from the beginning of “Song of Myself,” the part that starts:

I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loaf and invite my soul,
I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

“Loaf” being the key interesting word here, as it is license to loaf during the school day.

“What does ‘loaf’ mean when it’s not talking about bread?” the MF asked his students, to demonstrate what he meant by an interesting word. He also hoped to show the power of an interesting word, how it could lead an entire classroom to lounge at their leisure for a short while.

Not too long! That would be overdoing it. But five minutes — sure! Five minutes to congregate on a sunny morning in the shade of the gray theater building and appreciate the mild stirring of medium-sized tree-tops. Or not. The MF did not lecture the 12th-graders about how to loaf, nor did he instruct the 11th-graders on loafing.

The 10th-graders unfortunately did not take to loafing. They got on their phones or chatted with each other. Eeeek! The 10th-graders got an accelerated loafing moment, cut short due to their not being at a point in their development where they can appreciate the value of doing nothing.

It’s all right though because they are going to try again, briefly, next class. Just like, seven minutes. They’ll get out on the lawn, spread tablecloths so some kids can lay flat out on the grass and look up at the clouds. It’s supposed to be partly cloudy today and tomorrow, perfect loafing weather.

Some of the 10th-graders will get it, the MF is confident. This confidence is based on the results of their paper quiz about analyzing diction, which shows 18 out of 31 students able to identify at least one interesting word and discuss its effect.

The problem with the kids who can’t may be that they are unable to recognize an interesting word, which is sad but also how it is, and this is where teachers are supposed to step in. So that might be a thing for the MF to do one of these days real soon — ask students, “What makes a word interesting?”

And see if that cuts through the malaise.

The malaise is another problem. The COVID malaise, overlaid with the being in high school malaise. It’s a potent combination which the MF attempts to counter with stunts such as loafing, but this doesn’t work for everyone, much in the same way that a single application of diatomaceous earth doesn’t turn all seven rows into a carpet of deep nutritious greens.

Sigh.

The Austrian Winter Peas are doing great, though. They are lush among the blueberries. The mf personally loves foraging for himself right there in the Austrian Winter Pea patch. Pulling up a handful and getting his own personal greens ingested right there on the spot, like a ruminant.

Oh, he’s a ruminant all right. He chews on the memory of the kid who did not turn his paper quiz in. Hah! That foiled the system. This kid with his crossed arms and determined negative headshake and gotcha smirk. This is a kid who has already had the parent called! Usually the call home takes care of things, but not for this kid nor for the girl who is often a minute tardy and who also Talks Back.

Oh, Talk Back Girl, your mom didn’t like hearing about your tardies and she is not going to like hearing about your Talking Back! Talk Back Girl is the leader of her pack and needs to be made an example of with one more call home. And then, if that doesn’t work, she will need to be ignored: seated in a far corner of the room and shrugged off. The MF is not going to war with any student. He has not learned all there is to know about teaching but he has learned that you reach the point where what you have to do is ignore them.

Similarly, he is not going to beg kale, lettuce, and collard greens to grow in his garden. He will give them all one more seeding, in fine-grained coconut coir lightly covered in coffee grounds. He will fix the irrigation so that everything gets nicely sprinkled. And then the leafy greens will have between Thanksgiving break and the start of winter vacation to do their thing.

And if they don’t? Lots more Austrian winter peas. The MF can imagine the backyard blanketed with their deep dark green and reaching curlicued tendrils. They actually taste like peas! When the MF ruminates on Austrian winter peas, he feels their goodness inside. And they haven’t yet even blossomed!

Published by MarkGozonsky

Mark Gozonsky has been writing stories and essays since he was a music snob prodigy in early-1970's San Antonio, Texas. Since then he has written about not only music but also baseball, gardening, teaching, parenting, cycling and the... glory of love. Lit Hub and The Sun have published his work, and so has the Austin Chronicle. He lives with his wife in Los Angeles, where he teaches English to some of the nicest kids in the world at an arts-themed public high school downtown.

2 thoughts on “The Mushroom Farmer, Book 4, Chapter 5

  1. The MF honors the Kale when he refers to their leaves as crinkly and nascent.
    Take home #1
    The 10th Graders are not at a point in their development where they can appreciate the value of doing nothing.
    Take home #2
    The MF is not going to war with any student.

    May your life be wrapped in the tendrils of Austrian winter peas.

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