Fleur-de-Lambs

“Don’t move.”

I stopped in my tracks, thinking we were playing the game Statues.

“No, I mean, don’t move from here,” Levi said, clarifying by sweeping his hand around the barn.

The little boy is in love.

Not with me but with our barn and pasture and three lambs.

Early this month Levi, siblings Seth and Rachel, and their father Morgan began clearing an overgrowth of brambles and honeysuckle from our pasture, securing the split-rail fence with a hefty wire fence backup, and prepping the small barn that has been vacant since about 2012 when our last llama went to llama heaven.

3 Musketeers!

The Three Musketeers

This wasn’t my idea.

When our neighbor Morgan first suggested it, I put my foot down. “No animals.”

I’ve spent too many winters tromping through the snow to feed and water livestock, I told him.

Morgan kept working on me.

“No. My mother is in her 80s. The house belongs to her, not me. When she goes, I go.”

“But who knows how long she’ll live? Could you at least pass it by your sisters?”

If Morgan is anything he is persistent.

“OK.”

I asked. No objections.

Still, my answer to Morgan was “No.”

“You see,” I told him, “where I used to live I raised chickens and had a problem in the neighborhood.”

Morgan grew up working on a dairy farm. He wants to instill responsibility in his four children. (The youngest, Hannah, is still a babe in wife Betsy’s arms.) Morgan assured me he would navigate the problems. He would start with lambs that would be butchered in the fall. No winter watering or feeding.

We are a neighborhood in transition. Since I moved back, one neighbor died, two left for nursing homes, and a crop of young families moved in. Morgan said the lambs would be great for his youngsters and also help build community. Morgan started doing so soon after he bought a house near ours, coordinating college students to provide a Day of Caring where they fixed screen doors, cut up fallen limbs, and replaced fence posts for the elderly residents.

“Well, OK.”

On the eve of Easter, three young Katahdin ram lambs arrived. They were born in December. Most of heir barn-mates ended up on Easter dinner tables in Centre County. Morgan said they wouldn’t name the three since they would be butchered in November.

Winken Blinken & Nod

Wynken, Blynkin & Nod

I call them the Three Musketeers or, when they’re sleeping, Wynken, Blynken and Nod. That first night they huddled in the corner of our former pony/llama barn, not exactly sure what to make of everything.

The Katahdin breed originated in Maine and is named after the highest mountain in the state. They were bred as hair (rather than wool) sheep. They don’t have to be sheared and are raised for meat. Muslims prefer “intact” ram lambs without docked tails, and that is what these are. By the way, I looked it up and the meat of sheep is called “lamb” until the animal turns 2 years old, then it is called “mutton.” Mutton is less tender, stronger tasting, and darker in color than lamb.

Within days the kids named each of the lambs. The larger, black lamb is called Gruff. The white one with brown spots on his face is Freckles. The tan lamb is Gary. It makes it easier to talk about them to their friends who walk down to get an up close and personal look at the newest neighbors.

Mayapples

Mayapples in April

I must admit, when I’m weeding my asparagus patch, down on my hands and knees and eye-to-eye with the Three Musketeers, there is something peaceful about the silent companionship on the other side of the fence. It hasn’t been two weeks. Perhaps, like Levi, I’ve fallen in love. Laurie Lynch

 

Written on Slate: “Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.” Joyce Meyer

Fleur-de-RiseUp

As I’ve written before, my mother loves music. I am always scoping out bulletin boards, coffee shop notices, and community calendars for entertaining events that are free, or nearly free. This winter a poster saying “Rise Up Singing” caught my attention.

I guess some people would be afraid to go to an event without making plans with other people, but don’t forget, I grew up in this town and my mother has lived here for 60 years—we always end up knowing someone.Rise Up

At February’s Rise Up Singing event, held at the Friends Meeting, we saw women I rode with on the bus to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., people that attend Acoustic Brew concerts, and, yep, some Master Gardeners—but we also met a few new folks.

The routine is the same for each group sing. We go around the room introducing ourselves. There is a big tote filled with Rise Up Singing songbooks for everyone but at the February meeting we realized we needed the Larger Print edition, which we bought online. After the introductions, anyone can suggest a song, giving the title, page number, and repeating his/her name again. The only rule is that we don’t sing a song twice.

Besides amateur voices and a few better ones, there are a few guitarists, a one or two fiddlers, a harmonica player, and an older gentleman with what I think is a zither or an Autoharp. (He is the one who told us about the Larger Print edition.)

Rise Up Singing, The Group Singing Songbook was conceived, developed and edited by Peter Blood and Annie Patterson.

Peter was camp counselor in Vermont in the 1970s but the camp songbook didn’t have songs the kids wanted to sing—those by the Beatles, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and Joni Mitchell. So, a group of campers decided to collect their own songs and group them into chapters such as Sea Songs, Freedom, Spirituals, etc. They included lyrics and chords, but no music.

Peter worked on the book with friends, and by 1979 the songbook Winds of the People was published informally, “underground,” since not all of the songs were fully licensed. It wasn’t available in stores, but 30,000 copies reached dedicated songsters.

In 1981 Peter and Annie became a couple and began leading group sings based on Winds of the People. They wanted to make the book “legal” so they sought the help of Pete Seeger and his wife Toshi who ran a non-profit organization called Sing Out!

One thing led to another and they formed a song selection team and spent weekends singing songs, selecting those that were easy to sing and play, fun to sing in a group, and filled with hope for a better world.

This all took place in the years before the Internet, so each song had to be transcribed from albums in WXPN’s (The University of Pennsylvania) folk music collection or copied from songbooks in the Library of Congress. It took Peter two years of contacting copyright holders, then the book had to be typeset, Annie illustrated and laid out the pages in their home in Glen Mills, and others helped in various ways. In August of 1988, Rise Up Singing was born as a Bethlehem, PA Sing Out! Publication. People loved being able to carry around so many words to songs in one book. Within the next 25 years, a million copies were sold.

At our March sing-along, we sang 32 songs during the two-hour session. I had a new packet of page marker Post-Its and marked each one. We started with Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land”, and moved onto several songs I had never heard. “The M.T.A. Song” from 1948 protested the proposed Boston subway fare increase from 10 cents to 15 cents. The lyrics say Charlie was trapped on the subway because he didn’t have an extra nickel to exit. Then there was a traditional wool spinning song called “Sarasponda.”

We sang another Woody Guthrie from 1961 that resonated with life in 2017 called “Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” and then launched into “Oklahoma” by Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers circa 1943.

My mother’s favorite was probably “Moon River” written in1961 thanks to Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini. And mine? Well, I had several: “The Rose” by Amanda McBroom, “Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell, and “City of New Orleans” by Steve Goodman.

“Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round!” “Universal Soldier,” and “Peace in the Valley” were requested and sung with spirit and community. A woman sitting behind me said she wanted to sing “Funiculi Funicula”. She remembered singing it in grade school. (I did too, and was surprised to learn that it is an Italian song written to commemorate the opening of the funicular cable car to the top of Mount Vesuvius in 1880.)

History lessons abound with Rise Up Singing, and joining with friends and strangers to sing our hearts out has plenty of health benefits. Researchers report that group singing improves the immune system, reduces stress and helps with memory training. The social interaction and common experience of singing together is spiritually uplifting and just what the doctor ordered for patients as well as caregivers. Laurie Lynch

Eating for Health in 2017: The Dirty Dozen—Strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, celery, grapes, pears, cherries, tomatoes, bell peppers and potatoes. (Best to only eat organic.)

The Clean 15—Avocados, corn, pineapple, cabbage, peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwi, eggplant, honeydew, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower.

Written on Slate: “The only thing better than singing is more singing.” Ella Fitzgerald

Fleur-de-BFF

Calla Lily teardrop

Calla Lily Teardrop

Growing up in College Township in what was then the outskirts of State College, I didn’t need female friends. I had four sisters.

As adulthood led to motherhood, and motherhood led to grand-motherhood, the importance of female friends strengthened like a rampant vine, twisting and twining, taking hold, sending out new shoots whenever I went in different geographic (or otherwise) directions. Female friends keep me grounded and grateful.

Thank goodness for email. It certainly makes staying in touch across the miles easier. The other week I dashed off a quick message to Vanessa, sending a link I thought she would enjoy. She replied, and added a juicy tidbit: That weekend she was going bridal gown shopping with her daughter Abby. It just so happens that Vanessa’s Abby and my Marina are best friends from middle school days.

Do you remember the old joke about three forms of communication…telegraph, telephone and tell-a-woman? I guess I’m showing my age and what life was like in the days before we were politically correct. Did I just say that? In the days BEFORE  we were politically correct? Where does that place us now on the scale of verbal abuse, the days of rude politics and lying tweets?

Well, when I was Skyping with Marina I casually mentioned that Abby and family were in Philadelphia shopping for a wedding gown.

Bzzziiiing! Communication between Belgium and the U.S. was never faster.

Mrs. I taught these two well in middle school. Competition is not something to shy from but to thrive on. Abby sent photos modeling her Top 10 gowns and said to Marina, “Tell me what you think.”

Abby told Marina she had videos of the two final contenders but Marina told her to wait. She wanted to go through the entire group so she could figure out the Top Two on her own.

Marina gave each gown a number for easy ID. Immediately she narrowed the field: No. 10 was Marina’s favorite for Abby, followed by No. 6.

“YOU PICKED THEM!!!” Abby replied.

I asked Marina how she did it. I would have been too nervous to pick a gown for a friend. I am no fashionista. But Marina told me it had nothing to do with fashion. Choosing among the gowns was a piece of cake—wedding cake. Marina just looked at Abby’s face in each photo. It was obvious when she was wearing THE DRESS, Marina said. Abby glowed. Laurie Lynch

Calla Lily Teardrop: As you can see, there are no wedding gown photos accompanying this blog. The wedding isn’t until October, and I’m not about to spoil the surprise. However, I did want to share a photo of another stunning beauty—a calla lily teardrop.

I bought this calla lily (aka Zantedeschia aethiopica) in midwinter. I gaze at the elegant flowers each morning over oatmeal, and again at dinner. One morning, there was a droplet of water dangling from the tip of the trumpet-like inflorescence. I touched my finger to it and tasted it. Water, not sweet like sap.

I didn’t know if the plant was exuding water (and why) or if it was absorbing it from the humidity of the room. A female gardening friend, Chris, stopped by with a quart of vegetable soup for the sick one (see below) and I asked her about the water droplet on my calla lily. (She recalls botany class better than I.) “Check out stomata, I think it has something to do with that.”

Sure enough, stomata (or stoma) are pores on the leaf or stem of plants that allow movement of gases in and out of plant cells. Water stoma can discharge excess water—a process called guttation. This word comes from the Latin root “gutta” which means speck, spot, or drop. We were onto something!

Get this, under certain circumstances such as high relative humidity, plants weep. One plant especially known for guttation is, ta-da-ta-da, the calla lily. It allows the plant to grow in wet conditions and prevents it from getting water logged. In humid tropical forests, plants have long slender tips allowing them to drip out their internal moisture to compensate for the lack of transpiration. Long story short, I guess I was overwatering my calla lily.

Say What, Word Nerd? I spent the month of March roaring, coughing, gasping, and barking like a lion. Yes, I had my flu shot, but I picked up some terrible crud that plagued Centre County this winter. Ruth, another one of those wonderful female friends, saw me dart out of a lecture hacking away and followed me, handing me a strip of Olbas Lozenges. Instant relief. (Available at Wegmans in the homeopathic aisle and health food stores.) When I bought my first packet (black currant flavor with lots of menthol and eucalyptus) I noticed they were called Olbas Lozenges. At first, I thought it was because they were from the U.K. Then, after checking the dictionary, I realized that all my life I have been mispronouncing and misspelling “lozenges,” adding an R that shouldn’t be there, as in “lozengers”!

Written on a T-Shirt: Girls just wanna have fun-damental rights.

Fleur-de-Sugaring

River RoadPure maple syrup is made by gathering and concentrating the slightly sweet sap of the sugar maple tree, found only in the northeast of the U.S. and Canada. As winter comes to an end, the sugarmaker uses the clues of nature to figure out when the timing is right to tap the trees. “Sugar weather”–when the nights are below freezing and the days are mild–makes the sap flow.

Tapping into that science and art requires cool heads and cooler temperaments.

My sister Lee Ann and her husband Tim started maple sugaring three or four years ago at their home in Roxbury, CT. They use kits purchased from Agway. Each kit cost $35-$50 and came with instructions, two or three buckets, a drill bit to make the holes, and one spile (spout) per bucket. Each kit includes hooks, bucket covers, to keep out rain, snow and debris, and cheesecloth for filtering.

When the time feels right, the sugar farmer drills a hole into his selected trees about waist high, fits a metal spout into the hole and a bucket is hung from a hook on the spout. A maple tree should be at least 10 inches in diameter, so it takes about 40 years for a tree to reach tappable size. Proper tapping does not endanger the health of the tree and a healthy sugar maple can provide sap every year for 100 years or more.

Tim: This year, we did a minimalist collection of four small maple trees, close together, by the driveway. I collected the sap for four days, Sunday through Thursday (nothing flowed on Friday or Saturday because it was too cold.) The sap was stored outside, in a large stainless steel pot, in the woodshed under a tarp. We collected maybe 15 gallons of sap.

Tapper T

Tapper Tim

Yields can vary greatly from year to year, and depend upon the length of the season, the sweetness of the sap, and many complex conditions of nature, such as weather conditions, soil, tree genetics, and tree health. Sap flow requires freezing nights and warm (but not hot) days. These must be in a long enough series to allow the sap to move in the trees. Prolonged warm spells or cold snaps during the season may halt sap flow for several days, and it may start again when conditions are favorable. As a result, 24-hour workdays are often interspersed with two, three or even more days of relative inactivity. This gives the sugarmaker a chance to recover lost sleep, make repairs, clean equipment, and get ready for the next sap run.

Tim: The first year I tapped five trees, a couple with two buckets, and gathered a lot of sap over days/weeks. The harvested sap was collected and boiled down for consecutive nights, all indoors, to the consternation of someone.

Lee Ann: The upstairs windows fogged and my hair frizz became crystalized.

Tim: LA gets nervous as the process monopolizes the stove for hours.

Lee Ann: With five of the largest pots we own on five burners.

Tim: Leaving sugar residue around the stove and odors throughout the house, all done in the evening, when some are groggy.  It takes five to eight hours to boil the sap down, depending on the amount. That is, until two years ago when I purchased a large propane-fired grill to boil the sap down outside.

Maple sap, as it comes from the tree is a clear, slightly sweet liquid. The sugar content ranges from one to four percent. The sap must be evaporated as soon as possible because the freshest sap makes the best quality syrup.

Maple syrup is traditionally made in a building called a “sugarhouse” –the name of the building comes from the time when most sap was actually turned into sugar. Sugarhouses vary in size and shape, each with its own character. Each sugarhouse will have vent at the top, a cupola—which is opened to allow the steam of the boiling syrup to escape the building. Throughout the maple producing regions, steam rising from the cupola is a signal that maple syrup season is under way. Antique or modern, each sugarhouse contains an evaporator used to boil down the sap into syrup. Many backyard and hobby sugarmakers use smaller arrangements, or boil down sap on the kitchen stove.

Lee Ann: Then we bring it inside, pour it into one large pot for another five or so hours of boiling.

Tim: Having a wide pan, with a 2-inch level of sap on a hot stove boils it down faster.

Lee Ann: It would although we usually bring it inside when the outside tank runs out of propane and we have a pasta pot full to boil down.

The sugarmaker concentrates his attention to the front of the evaporator where the boiling sap is turning a golden color as it approaches being maple syrup. From time to time he will check the temperature of the boiling liquid. When it reaches seven and a half degrees above the boiling point of water, it has reached proper density and has become maple syrup.

Tim: The boiling began on Saturday. It went through the day. The wind kept blowing out the grill flame so I hung a tarp as a windbreak, and it went on until dark. We stopped the flame, kept the reduced sap out overnight, and brought it in on Sunday for the final boil. LA likes to be directly involved in the final action, including sterilizing the bottles, filtering the mix, bottling the syrup, and cooling it off before refrigerating.

Coming from the tree, maple sap is approximately 98% water and 2% sugar. When the syrup is finished, it is only 33% water and 67% sugar. At this stage the finished boiling syrup is drawn off the pan and is filtered.

Tim: There is an art to when to end the boiling. As the sap gets to a continuous boiling point, the thickening occurs fast, just as the sap turns to syrup it turns from clear to amber color, and you must turn off the heat. From past mistakes, we made a cup of crystalline maple sugar, and…once, even burned it into thick molasses-like stuff, just as it began to crystallize in the pot! That event caused the smoke alarm to go off, woke me on the couch, and then an irate, skinny, speedy, early-to-bed person took over the job—without much joy.

Lee Ann: All true except the skinny part…and don’t forget to mention that the fire department showed…when they came into the house the fireman asked if we were maple sugaring. He had been there, done that.

Sir Syrup

Sir Syrup

The length of the sugaring season is totally dependent upon the weather. As the days become increasingly warmer, and the nights rarely get below freezing, the buds on the branches of the maple trees begin to swell, marking the end of the season. Chemical changes take place within the tree as baby leaves begin to form within the buds. At this time the sap is no longer suitable for boiling down into syrup.

Lee Ann: When it is all done, it feels worth it. Doing a few batches is plenty…collecting for an entire month is demanding. Boiling only on weekends is manageable. Last weekend we filled three 8-oz. bottles and one mini bottle with about two tablespoons of syrup. I read once that you don’t make maple syrup for the money—TRUE. But it is delicious and tastes very fresh. Our first year, some batches had a woody flavor. The colors varied from light to dark. This year the batch is very dark, maybe Grade A.

Mmm, Mmm Maple Syrup: I had little writing to do with this newsletter, but it sure stirred my maple syrup craving. So, tonight I made one of my favorite salads. Baby greens topped with strips of roasted beets and goat cheese. I dress the salad and with a simple mixture of Balsamic vinegar and maple syrup (2-1, to taste). Laurie Lynch

Written on Slate: “We must keep these waters for wild rice, these trees for maple syrup, our lakes for fish, and our land and aquifers for all of our relatives—whether they have fins, roots, wings, or paws.” –Winona LaDuke

 

Fleur-de-Trilogy

I took a long trip this winter—945 pages worth.

The first book of my self-selected trilogy was Taras Grescoe’s The Devil’s Picnic, Around the World in Pursuit of Forbidden Fruit.

The second book, also a mouthful: Provence, 1970, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and The Reinvention of American Taste.

The third was simply The World of Venice by Jan Morris.

My bedside reading of history, adventure and travel kept me going through the doldrums of our short-day, long-night winter.

To research The Devil’s Picnic, Taras Grescoe spent a year in search of and consuming products that are taboo in certain countries and not in others—Norwegian moonshine, Bolivian coca leaves, Swiss-distilled absinthe, and raw-milk cheeses of France. In Spain, he dined on gooseneck barnacles, baby eels, and pig testicles. He smuggled forbidden temptations into Singapore—Wrigley’s chewing gum, Marks & Spencer poppy seed crackers, and yes, a copy of Fanny Hill.

While describing his escapades, Grescoe also reflects on the role of Big Brother governments trying to “protect” their citizens and the rights and needs of individuals to seek thrills, flex their egos, challenge authority, or to simply disappear.

When something is banned, Grescoe suggests, that “thing” becomes stronger, costlier, and more coveted. Or, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, “No nation is drunken where wine is cheap.”

Hefty doses of history are built into the book, examining control measures, taxing schemes, societal pressures. After the Volstead Act was passed, prohibiting the production, sale, and transportation of “intoxicating liquors” in the U.S., Grescoe reports that 57,000 druggists in Chicago applied to sell “medicinal” liquor. During the 13 years of Prohibition, half a million Americans, most who couldn’t afford lawyers, went to prison for Prohibition violations. Does this sound all too familiar?

Well, that’s history.

In 1970, I was a gangly, long-limbed high schooler. My favorite meal was liver and onions and Italian cuisine was simply “Nene’s cooking,” coupled with a few rousing games of canasta.

But for the generation that included food writer M.F.K. Fisher, PBS television’s The French Chef Julia Child, French cookbook author Simone Beck, American-in-France cookbook author Richard Olney, America’s cooking authority James Beard, and Knopf editor Judith Jones, the end of 1970 brought an accidental alignment of cooking stars in the South of France.

Within the pages of Provence, 1970 you can join these food notables as they gather in Provencal kitchens and dining rooms. To write the book, Luke Barr read letters and listened to his grandmother’s recollections of her trip to France in September 1970 with her older sister, M.F.K. Fisher. He interviewed Judith Jones as well as the French chauffeur who drove many of these culinary legends to the villages and markets of Provence. Barr’s piece de resistance was finding M.F.K. Fisher’s journal of her 1970 visit in a storage unit in California. With those accounts, he brings together meals, conversations, arguments, rivalries, and menus of that magical time, presenting readers with a view of the personalities in a changing food world, like one peeks into a pot of soup simmering on the stove.

By the time I switched to The World of Venice, I was fully sated on French and American cuisine and ready to stroll along a quay, cross St. Mark’s Piazza, and float on a skiff down the Grand Canal. I found myself wishing. I wish I had read this book before I went to Venice. I wish I could have splurged on a gondola ride. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride gondolas drawn by seahorses…

Jan Morris wrote the book in 1960, then revised it in 1974, 1983, and finally, in 1993. With her time spent living in Venice, researching its history, and getting to know its people, she provides a look at Venetians—from aristocrats to popes to fishmongers and shipbuilders—and examines their personality traits, from their stubborn conceit to inbred melancholy. She carves out the special place where the culture of Venice reigns between the West and the East, the city halfway between the rising sun and the setting sun.

Morris gives the reader a sense of the vast pull of Venice paired with its maze-like community. There are said to be more than 3,000 alleyways in Venice, and poet Robert Browning delighted in telling people he found one so narrow he couldn’t open his umbrella. Nietzsche, Hitler, Dickens, Hemmingway, and Longfellow all sauntered down those alleys, as did Monet, Renoir, Turner, and Whistler.

She makes the “streets full of water” come alive with the everyday reality of dustbin barges, milk boats, fishing trawlers, fruit and vegetable scows, canoes and cruise ships, military vessels, tourist vaporettos, and yes, gondolas. Then, there is the other side of reality: the dredging, the flow of tides, the sinking of buildings, the rivers feeding into the lagoon, the mudflats, the floods, the fragility of Venice.

Yet, with all of the allure and fantasy of Venice, Morris also points to the order and logic. Since the 12th century, Venice has been divided into six neighborhoods or sestieri. Within each, the houses are numbered consecutively, from beginning to end. The sestiere of San Marco begins at No. 1 (The Doge’s Palace) and ends at No. 5562 (near Rialto Bridge.) In all, there are 29,254 house numbers in city of Venice—and the postman “begins at No. 1, “ Morris writes, “and goes on till he finishes.”

Morris dedicates a section of her book to The Bestiary, the stone-carved animals, of Venice. There are crocodiles and crabs, spiders, snakes and porcupines. There are carnivores gorging on their prey: a fox with a cock, a griffon with a rat—I don’t think I saw any of those. But the lions, the lions! Morris writes no less than five delightful paragraphs describing the lions of Venice. “I cannot help thinking that the old Venetians went a little queer about lions…” What a fun read. Laurie Lynch

What’s on Your Shelf? Marina always keeps me on my toes. You book-buying grandmothers, check out this video:

https://www.facebook.com/rebelgirls/videos/1596694693691853/

Written on Slate: “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” –C.S. Lewis

Fleur-de-MarchDC

valerieValerie slipped on her green gown, placed the crown on her head, and the entire bus broke into spontaneous song:

“O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain…”

It’s been more than 40 years since my last protest rally but here I was, on one of three buses organized by the Moshannon Group Sierra Club, headed for Saturday’s Women’s March in Washington, D.C.

What a day.

We had Metro SmarTrip cards but didn’t use them.  The lines were too long.  We walked 2.5 miles from the bus parking lot at RFK Stadium to the Capitol Building. It was an unseasonably warm day for January. The calendar juxtaposition of Martin Luther King Day earlier in the week made the hike an inspirational treasure. Black yard signs with MLK quotes in white sprouted from townhouse gardens, side by side with blooming forsythia and pansies, as we walked up East Capitol Street SE, the crowds growing ever thicker.

I had three bus buddies to stay with, an Impeach the Tweet sign swinging from my neck by  a Christmas ribbon, a clear, plastic bag in the crook of my arm, and camera in my jacket pocket.

Oh, the people, the pink hats, and the posters! We didn’t march. We flowed (with a few logjams). Our foursome never got close enough to see the stage or hear the speakers.  We saw the Washington Monument peak from the fog and knew with the crowd congestion we would never make it to  The White House.

One of the crowd-control volunteers started shouting:

co-marchers

Bus Buddies

“Repeat after me.”

Crowd: “Repeat after me.”

“Amplify.”

Crowd: “Amplify.”

“Say it twice.”

Crowd: “Say it twice.”

“Say it twice.”

Crowd: “Say it twice.”

“March on the sidewalk.”

Crowd: “March on the sidewalk.”baby-power

“March on the sidewalk.”

Crowd: “March on the sidewalk.”

“Medical,” the woman bellowed, pointing to the area below her platform.

Crowd: “Medical,” we repeated, pointing to the area.

“Medical.”

Crowd “Medical.”

“Patience.”

Crowd: “Patience.”monument

“Patience.”

Crowd: “Patience.”

It was a fascinating lesson in crowd communication. And speaking of communication, the Women’s March proved the power of words.

One of my personal favorites was hand-written on white poster board:

“We are half of the world and gave birth to the rest.”

Another poster proved the power of no words:

“OMG GOP WTF”

A third sign proved the power of foreign words:

“Nyet means Nyet.”

Another proved the power of inclusive but far-reaching words:framed

“Global Warming is a Real Threat

My Muslim Neighbors Are Not”

A fifth proved the power of simple words:

“Make America Kind Again”

By 3:30 p.m., we decided to start our trek back to the bus. The crowd, though pleasant and peaceful, was exhausting. On the way to the bus we were welcomed by volunteers at the William Penn House, inviting us in for a bathroom stop (as well as tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and snacks).  As another visitor said, “There’s nothing like a Quaker toilet.” They suggested we leave our protest signs with them. They are going to make a collage of signs and take photographs, capturing the multitude of messages.  As we left, I picked up leaflet with more words: March Today. Lobby Tomorrow!

capitolWe continued down East Capitol Street, thanking police officers managing crosswalks and volunteers encouraging us as we headed toward our bus, exhausted.  We watched dogs romping in the park, parents pushing strollers, and residents waving from their front stoops.

My feet were sore but my spirit was soaring. I know this day is more than a moment—it is a movement. Laurie Lynch

Written on a Yard Sign:  “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

Fleur.de.PlantVillage

I was sitting in a social hall turned lecture hall and it was quickly filling up with words like crowdsourcing, deep mind, and artificial intelligence. And I was feeling anything but intelligent.

One term kept popping up to keep me from zoning out: Plant Village.

David Hughes was holding his smartphone, pointing it at us, calling it the super computer everyone carries in their pocket, when, click, we where on Twitter. Minutes later, he was talking about tom-ahhh-tos as only a Dubliner can.photo-d-hughes-jpg-large

(Let us pause for a brief technological confession: Several years ago, when I moved back to State College, my brother-in-law suggested I buy a cell phone similar to the one he had for his family. That phone system downsized or upgraded or something, and a few years later, I got a free “smart” phone. When I was talking to the customer service rep, I said I just wanted basic service, nothing fancy, no email, no internet, etc. If the phone rings, and I have it with me, I answer it. If I need to make a call, and I have it with me, I do. With a monthly bill of about $18, I call it a bargain. Then, two or three years ago at a Penn State Homecoming Parade, students were selling those cute little phone pockets for credit cards. I bought one and stuck it on. It wasn’t until months later, when I told someone in the office I had a smart phone that was stupid because it didn’t take photos. Well, then we realized it couldn’t take photos because I stuck the phone pocket over the camera lens…)

Getting back to the business at hand. Earlier this week Dr. Hughes, assistant professor of biology and entomology in Penn State’s College of Agriculture, was talking to Centre County Master Gardeners about plantvillage.org, an online network that he and Marcel Salathe created. The mission of the non-profit project and collaboration between Penn State and Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne is to provide knowledge that helps people grow food and to make that knowledge accessible to everyone on the planet.

“The world needs public good,” Hughes stressed. A team of scientists at Penn State and beyond has collected and compiled basic crop information with good, reliable content that is free, and free from advertisements, for the website.

“We should never, ever put crop knowledge behind pay walls,” said Hughes who grew up in a country that was devastated by one of the worst crop-disease disasters in history, the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s. Coupled with the basic crop information, the website is a forum for using technology to share practical knowledge about plant diseases and pests with farmers and growers across the globe via their hand-held mobile devices.

With increased globalization and climate change, “we need to be able to identify the beneficials and the nasties,” he said. And the pressure is on. The United Nations estimates we will have to double world food production to feed the 9 billion people who will be living on Earth by 2050.

When I visited plantvillage.org this week, I found encyclopedic information on various food crops in alphabetical order, from African eggplant, alfalfa, and almond to watermelon, wheat, and yam. (Zucchini is under squash.)

Skimming through, I was fascinated with the information on Brazil nuts, a plant I had never even thought about. There were photographs of the tall, straight tropical evergreen that can reach 180 feet and live for 500 years. The fruit is 6 inches in diameter, packed with 18-24 nuts, and takes 15 months to mature. But look out when it does! Brazil nuts are harvested in the rainy season and collected on the forest floor in the early morning, to reduce the chance of being hit by falling fruit, which can cause severe injury.

“There are 155 crops with information people can copy, use, and share. 1,800 diseases. 8,000 images. If this was a book, it would be 4,000 pages,” Hughes told us.

The open access, web plant forum began in March 2013, so it is coming up on its fourth birthday. In that time, there have been 3.5 million users. The bulk of visits are from backyard gardeners from the United States (48%), with another 16% from India, 12% from Southeast Asia, and 10% from Africa. Growers can snap a photo and submit it, asking for identification of a problem.

The goal is not just a fast library for free, said Hughes, but a network of librarians to go between the person who knows little and the expert. Within the year, the project will develop an app to identify crop diseases. Scientists are photographing disease X on crop Y in Tanzania, Ghana, Brazil, Penn State or Purdue, and feeding those images into the computer and will teach it to recognize signs of disease with 99% accuracy, Hughes explains, “just as Facebook uses facial recognition to tag your sister or your Auntie.” Gardeners and farmers in Delhi, Dubuque, Dakar or Dublin will be able to use their phones to help put food on the table. And yes, maybe I’ll have to peel the pocket off the back of my phone. Laurie Lynch

Written on Slate: “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”   Socrates