We’ve had two consecutive days of near perfect weather and the landscape here remains a riot of color. While the flowers of the forsythia have dropped, and the daffodils, with droopy heads, have started the traverse that will take them completely to the ground, yellow mustard still blankets fields with shades of gold that put the sun to shame.
Some fields have the bearing of a dress parade. They have been planted in neat rows and their seeds will eventually be ground for table and medicinal use. Elsewhere, there are unkempt acres awash in yellows that rival those of their cash crop cousins. They’ve gone to seed and will propagate until the plants lose vigor or are turned, adding nutrients to the ground in which they grow. Then there are the wild mustard volunteers. Like my friends, they’ve been carried by wind or wing to new homes where they bloom alone, strong and unyielding in their quest for water, space and light. They add great beauty to our lives. Certainly to mine.
When I see mustard blooming, the phrase “cut the mustard” and the apocryphal story of “Poison Jim” come to mind. Jim was a Chinese squirrel trapper who in the late 1800’s was credited with turning mustard into a commercial crop in the United States. According to the legend, he was especially adept at making a poisoned grain used to kill ground squirrels. When wild mustard threatened wheat production, Jim knew what to do. He hired Chinese laborers to clear the fields. For reasons that are not quite clear, he dried and threshed the seeds rather than burning the mustard plants his crew pulled up. Later that same year, the mustard crop in South Africa failed, and he was approached by a French manufacturer who bought Jim’s seed for $33,000, making him a rich man. He became a local hero when he donated $15,000 worth of provisions to the sick and hungry throughout the valley in which he lived. So, the next time you have imported French mustard or an eggroll with the hot Chinese variety, remember Jim who met and set the standard when he cut the mustard.