• Ripe for the pickin’
    February 03,2014

    OK, I will lay the cards right on the table: I’m sick of winter. There, I’ve said it, and it may well shatter your notion of this old Vermonter like so much ice. I’ve never seen such ice in all my 65 years. In fact I sit here in my wood-heated living room feeling smug to not have a broken bone or bruised muscle. Believe me, there are hundreds of folks around here not so lucky.

    Another of my nasty little secrets is that I’m not a complete lover of snow — 10 inches is great; three feet is abhorrent. Right now I’d settle for snow — any amount — as long as

    it leaves the ice a very distant memory. And speaking of memories, one way I combat these winter blues is to draw from my extensive memory bank, memories of summer.

    Back in my younger days, we practiced “strawberry diplomacy” here on our farm. Let me explain: Strawberries, being just another fruit, carry a certain above and beyond grace — if they were chocolates, they’d be Godiva; if they were mountains, they’d be the Alps; if they were a person, they’d be Mother Teresa. Everybody loves strawberries, especially strawberries grown in a cold, out-of-the-way place like Vermont. For years, we fought the climate and witchgrass to grow the world’s best strawberries right here at Morse Farm. And to use another close-to-divine analogy, the first day of strawberry season is like the first boiling of sap — folks smell it in the air and magnetize to it.

    The roots of Morse Farm tourism began back in those strawberry days. Dad was just plain sick of milking cows and growing produce on a Vermont hillside farm like ours was, well, “uphill” business. It just made sense to start inviting tourists into our ancestral sugarhouse. Because of the worldwide interest in Vermont maple sugaring, this new part of our business grew fast. Soon whole busloads of folks were winding their way up the hill from Montpelier to take our tour and see our place. One of those early groups was a travel company from Hawaii called Royal Adventures. Royal Adventure Tours loved our maple experience and before long, we were saying “Aloha” to 25 of their groups a year.

    One time we were all down picking strawberries in mid-July when a Greyhound bus droned up the road. We knew it was full of Hawaiians ravenous for maple syrup. What we found out, though, after rushing up to greet them and telling them where we had been, was that they were also ravenous for strawberries. “We don’t have strawberries back home. Could we possibly go pick some?” they asked. Dad and I stepped aside for a pow-wow.

    “I d’know, 50 strangers in the strawberry patch?” I whispered, thinking strawberry jam right on the vine. We also gave quick lip service to the risk of accidents but, being gracious Vermonters, quickly said “hang with th’insurance” and loaded the pickup truck with Hawaiians for multiple trips to the strawberry field.

    Fast forward to foliage season 2013. It was mid-afternoon and I had just welcomed another bus full of tourists into that same old sugarhouse. My father, the main thrust for our tourism business, had gone on to the great sugarhouse in the sky way back in 1999. I, as the current “old man” at the Morse Farm, stood in to take his place. Although exhausted, I completed this tour, the twelfth of the day so far. As the group left, a man approached me. He introduced himself as Melvin Yee from Hawaii. As I shook his hand, I felt an eeriness, almost as though my father was there with me.

    “I was here back in 1982,” he said excitedly. He went on to describe a father and son, a yellow pickup truck full of Hawaiians, and strawberries, rows and rows of luscious strawberries. Mr. Yee said for this tour, his company promised a visit to a Vermont maple farm but he did not put two and two together until he got off the bus.

    “I could almost smell strawberries in the air. I suddenly knew it was the same place I had visited so long ago.”

    Memories, like strawberries, are ripe for the pickin’ here at Morse Farm.

    Back to the present: Just while I’ve been writing, the snow has started. We’re not getting much but even the thinnest layer of snow gives traction to that ice. My mid-winter memory jaunt to July has also given me a bit of traction toward sanity. Nostalgia is great that way, kind of like making something out of nothing. And a very sweet nothing it is, indeed, when you can almost smell the strawberries in January.

    Burr Morse lives in East Montpelier.

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