By Stephen Morris, M.M. (Master of Mulch)
[This article has been previously published in the White River Valley Herald, Green Living Journal. and Living: The Vermont Way. SB SM]
People are always asking me “What is the best newspaper in Vermont?” As a seasoned media pro, it’s natural for people to seek my professional insight.
Actually, I’m lying to you. No one has ever asked my opinion about Vermont newspapers. Not once. It is a subject about which I have thought deeply (well, deeply for me). When comparing papers, I disregard the political orientation or the quality of writing, design, layout, and photography. I have one criterion—the paper’s suitability for mulching.
Of all Vermont spring rituals—sugaring, opening day of trout season, sliding off the dirt road into a ditch, the first creemee, my personal favorite is “the laying of the papers” when I mulch around the perennials in the garden.
We used to recycle our newspapers at the landfill. Then I took the Master Gardener course offered by the UVM Extension Service up at VTC where I learned the merits of mulching, the gardening practice where you control weeds by laying down a layer of light-impenetrable organic material such as sawdust, compost, straw, bark chips, or dead fish (not recommended).
A generous person, I walk around the neighborhood dispensing free advice such as “Master thinks you shouldn’t have planted that tree there,” or “Master says cabbage will never grow in that spot.” Recipients are so respectful of my credentials that the response is usually respectful silence, often accompanied by a gesture that I interpret to mean “You’re #1″ (although, don’t most people use the index finger for this?).
Mulching appeals on several levels. Every weed that doesn’t grow is a weed that doesn’t have to be pulled. Mulching can be done in that cold, wet period before you can plant anything. (Some people refer to this period as “May.”) Mulching improves the soil, and, finally, mulching saves you a trip to the dump.
Because I passed my final exam, I am entitled to the rights and privileges conferred upon one who successfully satisfies the requirements of an institution of higher learning. Therefore, I insist on being addressed by my title, “Master.” Some people think I take my new credentials too seriously, but I’m the same humble guy I’ve always been, although I have begun referring to myself in the third-person. Because of my specialty is mulch, my full title is “Master of Mulch,” but to my friends, I’m simply “Master.”
Mulching is not rocket science. Any moron can design a rocket. While anyone can lay a newspaper on the ground, very few can do it in an efficient, Master of Mulch kinda way. It starts with how the newspapers are stacked for storage over the winter. My partner in life, an otherwise intelligent woman, has had to be completely trained when it comes to newspaper management. She attacks a newspaper like a terrier in a roomful of rats. When she’s done snapping, folding, and clipping she leaves the spent newspaper in a haphazard pile, as if it’s a piece of trash.
Master doesn’t like this, because crumpled newspaper doesn’t lay down flat on the ground. The ideal newspapers for mulch have never been read. They lay flat as my hair after I haven’t showered for a few days. If you insist on reading newspapers, they should be crisply refolded, sections separated, color inserts removed, and stacked with folds to the left. Master has explained this patiently to his partner. She, in turn, thinks Master should get a life. She has also suggested that Master do things with newspapers that are not physically possible.
Laying down the papers provides a great opportunity to review the previous year, although not in chronological order. This spring while mulching the blackberries on a gray March afternoon, these are a few headlines that catch my eye. “New Brewery in Montpelier.” Hm-m-m. I’ll have to stop there. “Hello Flu Season!” That Swine Flu thing kind of petered out, didn’t it?
Some would call these stories “yesterday’s news,” but I think of them as nicely composted. Some stories I missed the first time around; some I have forgotten about; some deserve to be forgotten. Collectively, however, they comprise a discombobulated collage of life since the garden was last in bloom. I think it would be a good idea for the television networks to begin composting the evening news.
On we go to the blueberries. The months scrolls by in jumbled order. “Another Democrat Enters Fray.” Yawn. “Burglary Loot Turns Up in Vershire.” Hmm-m-m. I missed that. Wait … no I didn’t. That’s this week’s paper that I haven’t read yet. Master must review rules with partner.
Which brings us back to the question of the best newspaper in the state, mulchingly speaking. From an aesthetic standpoint the clear winner is The Herald of Randolph. One of the few standard (as opposed to tabloid) sized paper left in the state its thick, rectangular sections gobble up garden turf, smothering those weeds before they get a foothold.
The Herald is a mulcher’s dream with only one drawback … it costs a buck. This is a bargain for lovers of local news, but what gardener can afford that? My own publication, Green Living Journal, is free, which solves one problem, but its 8 ½ x 11″ magazine-type format is like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces are too small or your fingers too big.
Seven Days is the compromise best choice. It’s a tabloid that lies flat even in a moderate wind. (Master has learned the hard way that mulching in the wind is a bad idea.) Moreover, it’s is free, so if you get caught short, you can just go pick-up another armful. And if you want to take a break, you can read those titillating classifieds to see if you recognize someone you know.
The Master has spoken.