Journey of the Potato

Journey of the Potato: Potato Harvest Courtesy & Copyright Eli Lucero, Photo Editor The Herald Journal, Logan Utah
Potato Harvest
Courtesy & Copyright Eli Lucero, Photo Editor
The Herald Journal, Logan Utah

Potato Museum: Potatoes Courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Potatoes
Courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

When I walked into the Potato Museum in Blackfoot, Idaho, the first thing that caught my eye was a drawing of a farmer in the High Andes of Peru working the ground with a foot harrow. This is exactly what the Spanish Conquistadors saw when they marched into the area in the 1500’s looking for gold.
What they found instead was the potato. The Spaniards took the potato back to Europe, from where it eventually made its way to North America in the 1600’s. As for Utah, Brigham Young bought the potato here. Richard Jensen, writing for Utah’s LDS historical Society, tells us: “About noon, on July 24, the five acre potato patch was plowed when the brethren commenced planting their seed potatoes. The first irrigation in Salt Lake Valley was for the benefit of the newly planted potatoes.”

What Brigham Young didn’t know was that a small wild cousin of the domesticated potato was already here. In 2017 an anthropologist, Lizbeth Lauderback, was able to dig out the tiny bits of organic matter wedged into the stone grinding tools used by the Native Americans near Escalante. The organic bits proved to be potato starches. The stone tools were 10,000 years old.

But now the domesticated potato took over the field. The hefty Idaho Russet caught the eye of the McDonald food chain. They produced a fascinating video for the museum from inside their factory where the peeled potatoes were dropped in a fast moving water slide, accelerating to 50, 60 miles per hour. And BAM, they hit the slicer and came out the other side as slender, shapely strips now well on their way to becoming fries.

Back in Cache Valley, I was lucky enough to get invited to the Beutler Farm in Dayton to watch the potato harvest. Out in the field a giant harvester was forging ahead, scooping potatoes off the ground, bouncing them onto conveyor belts, and then sending them tumbling out a side chute into the bed of a potato truck keeping step alongside. Just as the truck filled to capacity, another truck sidled up behind and matched its pace with the giant machine.

The whole scene reminded me of the more formal dances in my high school, where couples would glide around the dance floor until another boy would sidle up behind the dancing boy, tap him on the shoulder, and take his place.

Keeping the rhythm of the dance of the potato trucks was the somewhat urgent beat of a ticking clock–potatoes still in the fields after a freeze would be ruined.

Falling in behind a departing truck, I was led to the above ground storage cellar where the potatoes were being piled into a massive wall that towered over my head. The wall was 22 foot high., and the potatoes kept coming. When the cellar was finally full, the doors were closed, the temperature and humidity controls set, and 8 million pounds of seed potatoes were left to wait out the winter at a cool 38 degrees.

The trucks moved on to filling the next cellar.

I was left standing there, marveling at just how many potatoes there were, wanting to sing the praises of all growing things, especially this farm’s successful mix of seed and sweat, of soil, of sun, of rain.

This is Mary Heers and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos:
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio upr.org
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Wild About Utah Postings

Idaho Potato Museum, https://idahopotatomuseum.com/

First use of wild potato in N. America Four Corners potato previously unknown part of ancient human diet, University of Utah, July 3, 2017, https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/274/Bamberg%20Press/Four_Corners.pdf and Morning Ag Clips, https://www.morningagclips.com/first-use-of-a-wild-potato-in-n-america/

Eating a potato with 11,000 years of cultural history, Includes photos by BJ Nicholls, Imagine, The University of Utah, Spring 2021, https://magazine.utah.edu/issues/spring-2020/ancient-spuds/

Davis, James W. and Stillwell, Nikki Batch, Aristocrat in Burlap, A History of the Potato in Idaho, Idaho Potato Commission, December 1992, https://idahopotato.com/aristocrat-in-burlap/online/8

Harwell, William S. and Collier, Fred C., Manuscript History of Brigham Young 1847–1850, Collier’s Publishing Co., Jan 1, 1997https://books.google.com/books?id=u33Szoj3pFQC&pg=PA61&lpg=PA61#v=onepage&q&f=false
and https://www.amazon.com/Manuscript-History-Brigham-Young-1847-1850/dp/0934964041/

O’Connell, John, Idaho potato industry sees good signs for profitable fall crop, Intermountain Farm & Ranch, Post Register (Idaho Falls, ID), Jul 29, 2019, https://www.postregister.com/farmandranch/crops/potatoes/idaho-potato-industry-sees-good-signs-for-profitable-fall-crop/article_e9d4a968-96df-5bf5-9e53-ba6df41c5947.html

Flandro, Carly, From the classroom to the spud cellar: harvest break teaches life lessons, EastIdahoNews.com, September 22, 2022, https://www.eastidahonews.com/2022/09/from-the-classroom-to-the-spud-cellar-harvest-break-teaches-life-lessons/

Inside Look at Fire, Water, Wind

Inside Look at Fire, Water, Wind: 2022 SAQA Quilt Exhibition: WILD! Brigham City Museum of Art & History
View exhibit brochure in a new window:
2022 SAQA Quilt Exhibition: WILD!
Brigham City Museum of Art & History

Kodachrome Reflections Quilt Art Copyright Kimberly Lacy Courtesy Mary Heers Kodachrome Reflections
Quilt Art Copyright Kimberly Lacy
Used By Permission
All Rights Reserved
This Image Courtesy Mary Heers

A Terrible Beauty, Quilt Art & Image Copyright Sara Lamb, Photographer & Quilt Artist All Rights Reserved, This Image Courtesy Mary HeersA Terrible Beauty
Quilt Art & Image Copyright Sara Lamb, Photographer & Quilt Artist
Used By Permission
All Rights Reserved
This Image Courtesy Mary Heers

The Untamed Wind Quilt Art Copyright Jeannette Schoennagel, All Rights Reserved This Image Courtesy Mary Heers The Untamed Wind
Quilt Art Copyright Jeannette Schoennagel,
Used By Permission
All Rights Reserved
This Image Courtesy Mary Heers

One of the most important lessons I learned during last summer’s long hot afternoons was that the best place to appreciate Utah’s natural beauty can sometimes be inside an art museum.

As I stepped off the blistering hot sidewalk and through the doors of the Brigham City art and history museum, I breathed a sigh of relief. Not too hot, not too cold. Just right. A magical place where I could go inside to commune with nature. I had arrived at “Wild,” a juried quilt exhibit featuring some of the best work of fiber artists in the Intermountain West.

A quick glance around the room and I was immediately drawn to a silhouette of a mountain cabin Sunrise I thought, with the brilliant yellow and orange sky. Each quilt came with a typed note from the artist about the piece. I started to read. This was her cabin in the woods. Then came the shock. She had watched the breaking news on tv as wildfire licked the edges of her cabin and then engulfed it in flames. Suddenly the velvet strip running along the edge of the piece looked red hot. The bits of black yarn hand stitched off the nearby tree practically crackled with heat.

Somewhat cautiously I approached the next quilt. What looked like a kaleidoscope of soft sunset colors on a quiet pond turned out to be just that. I breathed a sigh of relief. The freehand swirling of the stitching made the water ripple. The setting sun bathed the air and water in deepening shades of pink. I actually had to resist the urge to run home, grab my fishing pole, and cast my line into the quilted watery pool.

Making the final turn around the room, I saw the piece I liked the best. Here was a tree with a painted white bark with bits of confetti leaves flying off. The rolling waves of stitching created a windy look that practically breezed through my hair. This piece was festive – the leaves dancing their way from one season into the next.

Fire, water and wind. I had felt the presence of these three cornerstones of the natural world inside this cozy museum.

But before I could get too comfortable, I heard a warning cry from one last artist. Her quilt was a strange patch of peacock blue in the middle of a rubbly hillside. Puzzled, I read her story. She loved to romp with her dog up and down this hillside close to her home. Then the patch of blue appeared. She approached it and discovered it was not an exotic bird. It was a stake driven into the heart of the hill. Within weeks the bulldozers and front end loaders arrived and ripped the earth apart.

As I stepped back into the hot outside world, I shouted out three small cheers for all the art museums that help us savor the natural beauty of our open spaces – and remind us to keep working to preserve them.

This is Mary Heers and I’m Wild about Utah

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy Mary Heers, Thank you to Kimberly Lacy, Sara Lamb and Jeannette Schoennagel for permission to display their artwork on this site and upr.org
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio upr.org
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Wild About Utah Postings

2022 Quilt Exhibition: WILD! Brigham City Museum of Art & History, June 25-September 17, 2022https://www.brighamcitymuseum.org/2022quiltshow
Tel:435-226-1439, museum@bcutah.org
Address: 24 North 300 West, Brigham City, UT 84302

International Art Quilt Exhibition and Layered Voices Exhibition, Now Playing Utah, Utah Cultural Alliance, https://www.nowplayingutah.com/event/international-art-quilt-exhibition-and-layered-voices-exhibition/

WILD! (SAQA Regional), Studio Art Quilt Associates, Inc, Jun 25, 2022-Sep 17, 2022, https://www.saqa.com/art/exhibitions/wild-saqa-regional
View WILD! on ISSUU, Jun 20, 2022, https://issuu.com/saqaart/docs/wildfilp1-compressed/

Dunetts, LaVonne M, Wild!: SAQA CO/UT/WY, May 31, 2022, https://www.amazon.com/Wild-SAQA-CO-UT-WY/dp/B0B2WLQG4C/ref=sr_1_1?

Brigham City Museum of Art & History on FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/BrighamCityMuseum/

Gallop Thru Time

Gallop Thru Time: The Hagerman Horse (Equus simplicidens), Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, Courtesy US NPS
The Hagerman Horse (Equus simplicidens), Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, Courtesy US NPS

Elmer Cook Recognition Plaque Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Elmer Cook Recognition Plaque
Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Mary Heers' Selfie with the Hagerman Horse Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Mary Heers’ Selfie with the Hagerman Horse
Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Three Toes on the Kemmerer Horse Utah Museum of Natural History Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Three Toes on the Kemmerer Horse
Utah Museum of Natural History
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Metacarpal Toe, Hoof Hagerman Horse Equus simplicidens Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Metacarpal Toe, Hoof Hagerman Horse
Equus simplicidens
Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Metacarpal Toe, Hoof Domestic Horse Equus ferus caballus Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Metacarpal Toe, Hoof Domestic Horse
Equus ferus caballus
Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Cast of Kemmerer Early Horse Utah Museum of Natural History Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Cast of Kemmerer Early Horse
Utah Museum of Natural History
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

In 1928 Elmer Cook, a rancher in Hagerman, Idaho, noticed an interesting bone sticking our of the hillside on his land overlooking the Snake River. Intrigued, he started to dig around and discovered it was a fossilized bone and there were plenty more like it. Elmer alerted the National Smithsonian Museum, who sent out a team. This team determined the bones were ancestors of the modern horse. They were 3½ million years old. In the end, after digging into the hillside for 2 years, they took over 200 fossils, including 12 complete horse skeletons, back to Washington D.C.

My own fascination with horse fossils actually began a few years ago when I was giving tours at the Utah Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City. A fossil hunter near Kemmerer, Wyoming, had been quite surprised to find a small mammal while digging through layers of fossilized fish in an ancient seabed. This skeleton is now also in the Smithsonian Museum in D.C., but the Utah museum owns a copy.

When giving tours, I always paused my group as we entered the dinosaur floor. “I’m going to pull a whole horse out of here,” I’d say as I pulled a sliding drawer out of a chest with a flourish.

It was a fully grown horse about the size of a small dog – 24 inches long and 20 inches high.

It was over 50 million years old. In that time, the Intermountain West was a lush, swampy place. Fierce predators like the Utah Raptor roamed the land, and the mammals that survived were small and stayed hidden in the dense forested undergrowth.

Over the next 50 million years, the dinosaurs went extinct and the terrain dried out The Hagerman Horse (dating back 3 ½ million years ) stood about 4 ½ feet high. Most notably, it now stood on four hooves. The 3 toes on the Kemmerer Horse had evolved into a single dominant toe, perfectly adapted to running away from predators over dry terrain.

Unfortunately, this remarkable adaptation was not enough to save the horse. The horse went extinct in the Americas (along with other large mammals like the mammoth and giant sloth) about 10,000 years ago. It was the Spanish Conquistators that reintroduced the horse to North America. When Hernan Cortez and his 200 soldiers landed in Mexico in 1519, they brought 16 horses with them. Over time, some of these horses got away to form wild bands, and others fell into the hands of the Native Americans.

This summer I made a small archeological pilgrimage into Idaho, to see the Hagerman Fossil Beds, now a National Monument. In the newly opened visitor center I found a life size replica of the Hagerman Horse. As I stood next to it, admiring its shapely hoof, I remembered one more remarkable fact about the horse. The bows now used to play violins are made from horse hair It takes 5 horse tails to make a violin bow. To this day, absolutely nothing has been found that makes the strings of a violin sing as sweetly.

This is Mary Heers and I am Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Photos: Courtesy
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Wild About Utah Postings

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, History, National Parks Service, US Department of the Interior, http://npshistory.com/publications/hafo/index.htm

The Hagerman Horse (Equus simplicidens), Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, National Parks Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/equus_simplicidens.htm

Hagerman Fossil Beds, National Parks Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/hafo/index.htm

The Horse (Exhibit), Natural History Museum of Utah, July 21, 2014 – January 4, 2015, https://nhmu.utah.edu/horse#:~:text=The%20Natural%20History%20Museum%20of,and%20spiritual%20connections%20with%20them.
Natural History Museum of Utah,https://nhmu.utah.edu/

Fossil Horse Quarry Near Hagerman, Idaho, Worked by National Museum, Smithsonian Libraries and Archives, The Smithsonian Institution, https://www.si.edu/object/fossil-horse-quarry-near-hagerman-idaho-worked-national-museum:siris_arc_367758

Plesippus shoshonensis Gidley, 1930, National Museum of Natural History, The Smithsonian Institution, https://www.si.edu/object/plesippus-shoshonensis-gidley-1930:nmnhpaleobiology_3590445


I’m Out Fishing

I'm Out Fishing: Hatchery Brood Fish Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
Hatchery Brood Fish
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Hatchery staff loading about 8 lbs of fingerling trout onto a scale before loading into a plane tank via a funnel. Courtesy & © Mary Heers Hatchery staff loading about 8 lbs of fingerling trout onto a scale before loading into a plane tank via a funnel.
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

The minute I heard there was a well stacked community fishing pond just five miles down the road from where I live, I dusted off my old fishing pole, slipped out of the house, and threw my line into the Wellsville Reservoir. I had the place to myself. There was snow on the ground but the water wasn’t frozen. Within the first hour I felt the tug on the line and reeled in a 12 inch trout. I was hooked! I returned just about every evening to catch my limit of 2. I called all my friends who liked to eat fish, and started to consider adding fresh fish delivery to my resume.

About this time I heard that although trucks from the state hatcheries stocked the community ponds, the hatchery in Kamas delivered fish to high mountain lakes in the Unitas via airplane. A few phone calls later, and I was lucky enough to get invited to watch the loading of the fish.

It was 5 in the morning when I followed the Kamas hatchery truck out onto to tarmac at the Heber airport. A specially designed Cessna 158 was waiting for us. There – just behind the pilot’s seat- was a water tank neatly divided into 7 compartments. 7 levers stuck out from the dashboard that would open and close a portal on the belly of the plane.

The crew got right to work. One pumped water into the plane’s water tank. Another netted about 8 lbs of fingerling trout onto a scale and dumped the lot into a funnel. Suddenly an especially feisty fingerling jumped out of the funnel and landed at my feet. I picked it up, cradling it in the palm of my hand, awed by the sleek beauty of this tiny trout that was exactly the size of my index finger. I wished it well as I tossed it back.

“Flush,” said the man in charge. And another man with a red bucket of water sent the fish through the funnel into the plane. Soon the pilot took off. When he got to his target lake, he would drop down and skim over the tops of the trees on the water’s edge. He would then open the portal in the belly of the plane and the tiny trout would flutter down like leaves into the water below.

If our feisty fingerling can avoid predators (mostly birds and bigger fish) it will grow to about 5 inches by September. When the water temperature drops to 30 degrees the fish become lethargic and stop growing. Next June, if the lake warms up to 50 degrees, the trout will grow 2/3 inch an month. At 60 degrees, the fish will grow an inch a month. But if the water temperature reaches 70, the amount of oxygen in the water will drop. Any higher and the fish will be severely stressed.

Growing up and backpacking with my family, I was always delighted to come across an alpine lake because it meant that I could take off my pack and stop hiking. But once I got hooked on fishing, I found myself agreeing with the poet Edgar Guest:

    “A feller gets a chance to dream
    Out fishing.
    He learns the beauty of the stream
    Out fishing….”

Now, as far as getting up to the high mountain lakes in the Unitas, one thing is for certain. The fish are already there.

This is Mary Heers and I am Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Photos: Courtesy
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Wild About Utah Postings

Edgar Guest, 1881–1959, Biography, Poets.org, https://poets.org/poet/edgar-guest

Edgar Albert Guest, Out Fishin’, InternetPoem.com, 2018, https://internetpoem.com/edgar-albert-guest/out-fishin-poem/

Betancourt, Sarah, Flying fish: video shows Utah wildlife agency restocking lake by plane, The Guardian, July 13, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jul/13/fish-plane-video-utah-lake

Facer, Austin, Who says fish can’t fly?: Aerial stocking places fish in lakes via airplane drop, ABC4 Utah, July 12, 2021, https://www.abc4.com/news/digital-exclusives/who-says-fish-cant-fly-aerial-stocking-places-fish-in-lakes-via-airplane-drop/

Knighton, Conor, In Utah it’s raining fish, CBS Sunday Morning, Oct 24, 2021, https://www.cbsnews.com/video/in-utah-its-raining-fish/