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Poets of Franklin County

Poets of Franklin County: The things that mothers do that are amazing

Shutesbury poet Adrie Lester's new collection of poems, "The Salt," draws from her experiences as a farmer, baker, daughter and mother. Recorder/Trish Crapo

Shutesbury poet Adrie Lester's new collection of poems, "The Salt," draws from her experiences as a farmer, baker, daughter and mother. Recorder/Trish Crapo

Adrie Lester has her hands full. Quite literally, in that as she walks down the hall toward my downtown studio she is holding the hand of her toddler son, Gabriel, as well as carrying bags of supplies for him and her daughter, Ella, 7, who darts out ahead. The supplies include things for the kids to do and eat—including homemade granola muffins Lester baked in heart-shaped, reusable baking cups.

But Lester’s got plenty of metaphorical ways that her hands are full, too.

She and her husband organize the Pioneer Valley Heritage Grain CSA, the only grain CSA in New England; grow and preserve food on their Shutesbury farm; and, until recently, ran a bakery and café called Wheatberry in Amherst, where, for 10 years, they cooked everything in-house from fresh baked breads to local meats. Now that they’ve closed the bakery, the couple is working on producing some cooking videos, as well as a cookbook that will include photos and recipes.

Oh, and Lester is homeschooling the children.

Lester says that she finds homeschooling, “No more challenging than parenting generally is. I think getting out the door in the morning is one of the most stressful things I can imagine, so I’d rather have the stress of figuring out what we’re doing that day rather than that.”

In the midst of all of this activity, Lester found time to put together and publish a collection of poems spanning 11 years, “The Salt.” Which also means, somewhere in the midst of all this activity, she has found time to write poems.

“I used to be more structured about it,” Lester admits. These days, Lester’s full life means that her current approach to writing isn’t “trying to hammer it out every day” but, “waiting for it to come to me.” She’ll pull over by the side of the road if a line occurs to her, she says, or repeat it to herself until she can get somewhere where there’s paper and pen.

Many of the poems in “The Salt” are autobiographical. They tell of being burned by the heavy pans and huge industrial ovens at the bakery, driving through rain, planting peach trees and, in “Strawberries,” about picking berries with her brother and their mother and making jam.

The poem, Lester says, as she helps Gabriel loosen the baking cup from the granola muffin, is about, “The things that mothers do that are amazing.”

“My mom, she’s allergic to strawberries,” Lester says, smiling. “She can’t even eat them; they give her a crazy rash. She’s actually allergic to them but we loved them. So in the South, which is brutally hot, she would take us to U-Pick places and we would pick and then we would go home and make jam, even though she couldn’t eat it.

“At the time, as a kid, you don’t think, ‘Wow, my mom is so sacrificing!’

Lester continues. “But looking back, at some point I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s such an incredible thing for her to do for us.’”

The poem arose from the desire to let her mother know that, even though she’s moved far away from her parents, Lester still feels deeply connected.

“The older I get, and especially being a mother myself now, the more I realize how connected to them I still am. How my childhood really shaped me.

I’m different from my parents in a lot of ways but I’m very much a product of their values and how I was raised. And I love that.”

Lester says she is continuing her mother’s tradition of harvesting and canning with her own children. Recently, she posted on her blog, “Fields and Fire,” the story of taking them on a “Wild Edibles” walk, where they learned to recognize well known wild plants such as garlic mustard, dandelion, ramps (wild onions) and fiddlehead ferns, in addition to some more unusual plants such as trout lily and Japanese knotweed, the roots of which can be used to make a tincture for Lyme disease.

“Personally, I think this might be one of the best skills I can teach my children,” Lester writes on the blog.

She also mentions that she’ll be on her way to Charleston to visit her mom soon. “I haven’t been home in over five years, and I’m really excited to eat shrimp and smell pluff mud,” she writes.

I’m left wishing I could smell pluff mud too. Maybe she’ll write a poem about it.

Happy Mother’s Day tomorrow to Adrie Lester and her mom — and to all the moms out there!

Strawberries

Mother, be not

afraid. There a hundred roads

back to you. The steam risng

from the pot of collards,

its mineral smell of deep earth.

You hated strawberries,

but you took my brother and I

into the hot fields

to pick them. You wore a straw hat

and we knelt together in the gritty dust,

separating fruit from leaf.

You stood over the boiling pot,

and made jam for us.

The sound of jars sealing,

that satisfying pop

is your sound. You packed

the dark shining hearts

into glass jars, you saved

what you could

for the winter ahead.

“The Salt,” by Adrie Lester is available on Amazon. You can learn more about the Pioneer Valley Heritage Grain CSA and check out Lester’s blog at: www.localgrain.org.

Trish Crapo is a writer and photographer who lives in Leyden. One of the founders of Slate Roof, a member-run press publishing western Massachusetts poets, her chapbook “Walk through Paradise Backwards” was published by the press in 2004. Her poems have appeared in anthologies, journals and Ted Kooser’s national column, “An American Life in Poetry.” She can be reached at tcrapo@me.com. Crapo is seeking published poets for her column. She’s interested in books written by a Franklin County poet and/or published by a Franklin County press. To submit a book, mail it to Franklin County Poets, The Recorder, P.O. Box 1367, Greenfield, MA 01302, attention, Adam Orth. Or, drop it off at our office, 14 Hope St., Greenfield.

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