January is a long month. In northern New England, it’s 31 days of snow, cold, rain, ice, and other hydrologic formations. There’s a nostalgic last look at the past year (probably while preparing taxes) and an energetic step forward into the future.
Many times, that step forward is straight into a waiting snow bank.
Each January, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry host a “trade show” at the Augusta Civic Center. It’s like a home show for farmers. There are tractor sales, fencing experts, and seed companies. Various agricultural organizations hold their “annual meetings” during this 3-day conference and there are also lectures and seminars about more topics than you can imagine. “High Tunnel Construction,” “Aerial Drone Mapping of Farm, Forest & Fields,” and “Getting Started In Commercial Hops Production” are a sampling of the topics presented for 2017.
This year, as always, there was a wide array of flannel shirts and muddy boots; consistent with Maine’s population in general, there was also a lot of gray interwoven…beards and ponytails.
In the middle of all this, on the bucket attached to a shiny and tempting new tractor, sat a young Amish woman cradling a baby. She wore the traditional simple black long dress and white bonnet. She was serene, occasionally rocking the baby in her arms. Her countenance was striking in contrast to the bustling auditorium.
I didn’t want to stare. I was curious, though, and I wanted to speak to her. Not to ask awkward post-modern questions like “how do you live without a Tee Vee?” or “do you make your own bonnets?” Something more along the lines of “tell me about the joy of your faith and your life.”
Then I put my reporter’s notebook away and remembered this woman was a private person. Her appearance was curious by its difference, but this did not make her a public figure.
Handy and I continued visiting the display booths at the trade show and ended up at the small demonstration area. We planted ourselves in front row seats for the 1:00 p.m. presentation called “How Sweet It Is: All the Many Uses of Maple” by syrup producer Kristi Brannen and chef Cynthia Finnemore Simonds. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the Amish woman in the back row of the demonstration area, now with an Amish man.
I sat down and started taking a few notes. The editor at the Sun Journal thought maple cooking would be a good topic for my February EATS column and I was hopeful this presentation could be turned into some foodie golden amber. Settling into my seat, I was reminded of the curse of good hearing. My eyesight might require assistance, but I can still hear a pin drop from time to time and usually it’s some bizarre conversation that has no merit.
“…no insult intended. I was just curious about your beard.”
A non-Amish man was asking questions of the Amish couple, specifically about the Amish man’s beard. I didn’t want to turn around and more people were filling in the seats, muffling the conversation.
“bla bla bla…mustache…bla bla…Thirty Years War…”
I couldn’t make out the whole conversation. Maybe the young Amish man had not shaved his morning mustache in a rush to get to the trade show. Maybe his facial hair wasn’t looking Amish enough for his inquisitor. Maybe Mr. Twenty Questions was just too curious.
That’s all I heard.