Saturday, 25 February 2012

Research and Reminiscence

I've been busy working on my novel the past few months, so haven't had any new literary research to add here.  Recently, though, while writing about farming in north Idaho, I've needed to get hold of some information linked to phases of the moon and favorable planting dates, and through the magic of the internet I was able to track down a copy of the 1981 Old Farmer's Almanac in South Dakota and have it posted to me here in the UK for a mere $9. I've also got my hands on  a Gurney's Seed Catalog from 1967, complete with an ad, torn from some magazine or other, for fishing trips to South Dakota's Great Lakes where you can find 'Northerns up to 35 lbs., walleyes to 12 lbs., and paddlefish to 90lbs!'  Research on the internet is fine for some things, but there's something about holding a hardcopy publication in your hands that is just real.  Flicking through the yellowing pages of the almanac, past ads for "Apache" Arrowheads (the use of quotation marks is a dead giveaway) and do-it-yourself tattoo removal kits, I get whiff of my youth. 

Though I grew up in the city, I was just one generation removed from the family farm, and farming was still the focus of my grandparents' lives.  I remember how there was always a Gurney's catalog lying about, somewhere close to hand, especially during the winter months when my grandparents mulled over what they would plant in the garden, come spring.  I remember the brightly-colored pictures of Hy-Top tomatoes and photographs of kids dwarfed by giant pumpkins. And I remember the gold cover of the Old Farmer's Almanac, each edition looking identical to the one before, resting on a table next to my grandfather's chair, its pages discolored and well-thumbed. 

Well-into his 80s, after he had finally - reluctantly - handed over the reins of the family farm to my uncle, my grandfather cultivated not one, but two city gardens. One was a standard kitchen garden behind my grandparents' home, but the other, located about a mile away, covered the area of three vacant city lots.  After he retired, I believe he just couldn't help himself.  Farming was in his blood.  It wasn't so much what he was, as was who he was and I can only imagine what that garden meant to him in his old age.  

My grandfather became a familiar figure in that part of town known as Normal Hill, pushing his wheelbarrow back and forth between home and the garden we all called 'the lot', unzipping the soil with his rototiller, giving away a mountain of sweet corn every summer. I remember there was a little boy who lived in an apartment house next door to the lot who used to hang around, helping out where he could, and enjoying getting his hands stuck into the soil beside my grandfather, a city boy without a piece of land of his own, learning from an expert about making things grow. I wonder where that little boy is now and if he still remembers those days. 

What was it, though, that I was writing about when I started this?  I seem to have drifted off track.  The Old Farmer's Almanac and the Gurney's Seed Catalog.  That's right. 

I can't imagine getting lost in a few moments of nostalgic reverie while clicking and scrolling my way through a website, just as I can't imagine a world in which e-readers replace real books.  Holding a book - or indeed, a seed catalog - in your hands just seems so much more 'authentic' to me.  And that will be another discussion to come from my thesis once I return to it later this spring.  

1 comment:

Donnelda yorba said...

I am not sure you will see this, but just though I would let you know it will be under duress the day I get an e reader. I am an Internet junkie and it opens the world in a way nothing else could, but books, in my opinion are meant to be opened as well! I am happy to see you are still writing and hope you feel fulfilled with your PhD studies. If you see this and want to drop me a line I am at d.yorba@ Take care, Donnelda