The Lowly Tansy

Tansy Flowers

You have probably driven by millions of tansies if traveling through much of the north east part of Minnesota. In fact, you have probably driven past stands of them in many US regions. In our corner of Minnesota, in August, the tansy in ditches and roadside hills is as ubiquitous as the sound of cicadas and advertisements for the Minnesota State Fair (but far less noticed than the State Fair or advertisements for it). Colloquially, they are known as golden buttons, cow bitter, bitter buttons and several likewise-goofy sounding names and like the common dandelion, the tansy is not native to this side of the Atlantic. Like a large swath of the US population, tansies can be traced back to Europe (and Asia).

Like the Irish, at one time in the United States, the tansy is considered to be a nuisance. Here in Minnesota, the Department of Agriculture lists it as a "bad plant" This basically means there is no net positive economic benefit from this plant. If you could make flour from it, or it cured herpes, there would be fields of cultivated tansies throughout the upper midwest and many other places. But, it is not magic and does not produce flour. It has been found, however, to be a viable deterrent for the Colorado potato beetle. We actually left the wild stands of tansies around the potatoes this year; anecdotally, things turned out very well. It is looking to be a good potato-year.

It still does not leave much love for the lowly tansy, though. I think Ralph Waldo Emerson summed things up nicely; "What is a weed? [It is just] a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered."

The Raspberry Patch

Jumbo Raspberry

Summers, while growing up in Hibbing, Minnesota, meant many things throughout my twenty years there. As a young teenager, prior to being able to [legally] drive, summer meant hopping my Raleigh mountain bike and riding from the moment the sun broke over the horizon until it was just a fading orange thumbnail on the opposite horizon. Stepping back to when I was a grade school-aged child, summers meant relatives from Colorado visiting and trips to a lake north of Chisholm where my family were the caretakers of a cabin.

Along with the cousins from Colorado, my grandparents, Charlie and Clarice, were ever-present during the summer. The two of them lived only about a ⅓ of a mile from my family in Hibbing. They even still lived in the same house my mother grew up in; I had little concern with the house, its age, or whether my mother had grown up there – it had always simply been my grandparents’ house. In their yard, my grandmother gardened and took great pride in it, along with the flower and vegetable gardens, there were raspberries. They skirted nearly the entire perimeter of their fenced in backyard. My sister and I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house as children. Charlie and Clarice were the patriarch and matriarch of the family, and my sister and I were the grandchildren who lived the closest; we were obviously their favorites.

Raspberries and my cousins seemed an inseparable part of summer when I was a child. I can still see my grandfather, sitting in his armchair with a glass of "CC & water" (Canadian Club whiskey and water), he would turn to my cousin Jon and I, and say, "Why don’t you two go pick some berries for Baby…" ("Baby" was and continues to be nickname of choice for my grandmother). Jonathan and I would each grab a green, plastic-mesh basket from the back porch and head out into the yard. We would eat as many if not more than what we would put into the baskets. Our mouths and fingers would be stained red and sticky when we finally were called in for supper. We would wash up, have supper, and finish up the meal-time with a slice of homemade raspberry cheesecake. The berries we had picked would go into the next day’s pie.

Summer time, to me, is a red raspberry freshly plucked. Raspberries remind me of a bygone era where I was kid and my cousins were kids and our only summer goal was to spend time with family.