Between the Rows: Fifty Shades of Brown

Published online: Apr 07, 2020 Between the Rows Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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This column appears in the April 2020 issue of Potato Grower

“I really like it here. It’s just that … Well, it’s just so brown here.”

These words were uttered to me by a loved one recently transplanted in my beloved Idaho from more woodsy climes with less vengeful winters. Now, I’m fiercely loyal to my home state and tend to get a tad defensive if anyone dares utter a word against it. I get that it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but woe be unto the man who dares besmirch its beauty and majesty!

“It’s so brown here.” Pssssssh. As if brown is a problem. Even if everything were brown (and I’m not conceding that it is), there are a zillion different shades of brown: chestnut, cocoa, cinnamon, coffee, amber, beige, khaki and, of course, russet. I mean, just look at the subtle variances among Burbanks, Norkotahs, Clearwaters, Rangers and Alturas. It’s a dadgum rainbow.

And we’ve got a lot more to offer than just a cornucopia of lovely browns. From one day to the next, sometimes even hour to hour, the ocean of sagebrush can change from sea foam green to lunar gray to striking turquoise. Throw in the lemony vibrancy of the rabbitbrush; some daubs of tangerine and fuchsia from the Indian paintbrush; the poisonous, princessy purple of the larkspur; and the jagged, reddish black islands of lava rock, and you’ve got a palette Monet himself would envy.

Just look at the subtle variances among Burbanks, Norkotahs, Clearwaters, Rangers and Alturas. It’s a dadgum rainbow.

Even on January days when the cold stings your cheeks and every breath is painfully, refreshingly cleansing, it’s impossible not to admire the endless expanse of pristine diamond blue above you, broken only by the intermittent baby clouds produced when you exhale. On those days—when even the sunshine itself feels cold—you can almost see fairies dancing in the blinding sparkles on the crunchy snow.

In the summer, those fields that have lain dormant for months burst into a million shades of green as the myriad miracles of modern agronomic practices burst into life. Potatoes, sugarbeets, alfalfa, wheat, beans, corn—it’s as green as any forest, without the claustrophobia.

Heck, a single skinny teenager who does the grunt work on one of those farms is a natural display of the spectrum of visible color. Countless hours in the sun have streaked his shaggy chocolate hair with a touch of auburn. The deep brown on the back of his neck contrasts sharply with the milky white complexion below. He’s sporting two deep purple fingernails from that time last week the hammer just missed the nail (which may or may not have produced some mildly colorful language). And his shoulders are somewhere between hot pink and crimson because he just started wearing tank tops in what will ultimately be a vain attempt at evening out that farmer’s tan. Even if the paint sample rack at Home Depot teamed up with the nail polish counter at Sephora, they couldn’t offer that kind of variety.

Even the machinery on one of our farms offers a boggling range of pigmentation. Spudnik red and Case red, as everyone knows, are very different. So are the greens of John Deere and Lockwood; the oranges of Milestone and Kubota, and the yellows of Cat and Can-Am. Add to that your standard farm pickup color: snow white, buried beneath a caked-on graffiti of mud and dust. Even the rust on the various pieces of equipment ranges from dandelion to burnt orange to deep maroon.

Look, I don’t begrudge anyone their affinity for their childhood home. No matter where you end up or how happy you are, if you don’t occasionally spend a few wistful moments of homesickness, something’s wrong. My friend’s comments really were no more than an expression of a touch of homesickness—something everyone with a heart should feel once in a while.

My point is that, no matter where you go, from Aroostook County to the Snake River Plain; the Sand Hills to the Eastern Shore; from the Columbia Basin to the Everglades; the Willamette, San Luis, Red River, San Joaquin and every Valley in between—there’s beauty and color aplenty. You just have to look.