Stephen Morris, M.M. (Master of Mulch)
May 15, 2005
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," which means 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 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).
Mulching appeals to me 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. Mulching improves the soil, and, finally, mulching saves you a trip to the dump.
(I should point out parenthetically that 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 my specialty is mulch, my full title is "Master of Mulch," but to my friends, I'm simply "Master.")
At any rate, as 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 what I interpret as respectful silence.
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 cutting 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, it should be crisply refolded, sections separated, color inserts removed, and stacked with folds to the left.
Master has explained this patiently to his partner. His partner thinks Master should get a life. His partner has also suggested that Master do things with newspapers that are not physically possible. Master thinks mulching is just too technically demanding for partner.
Laying down the papers provides a great opportunity to review the previous year, although not in chronological order. Earlier this spring while mulching the blackberries on a gray afternoon, there are a few headlines that caught my eye, among them: "Football Player Slugs Gate Agent."
I stop to read this story because the slugee is an old friend and neighbor. "New Brewery in Waterbury." Hm-m-m. I'll have to stop there. "Rochester Boys Have Best Season Ever." I have no interest in the Rochester boys basketball team, but I read about them anyway.
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. "Clavelle and Douglas Reveal Finances." Oh yeah, this was an election year, wasn't it? Not much of a contest. "Slain Rapper's Mother Remembers Son's Success" catches my eye. This is a fairly predictable, borderline heartwarming story. Mom explains that her son really had a heart of gold. His gangsta' persona was not the real him.
The year scrolls by in jumbled order. The Cats beat Syracuse. Symington wins election as speaker of the House, but doesn't announce her candidacy until I reach the raspberries. The Patriots win the Super Bowl. Then, a few sections later, they win the league championship to get into the Super Bowl. A roadside bomb in Iraq. Another roadside bomb in Iraq. The Red Sox reverse the curse. I pull that one out to save. They may not be in first place at the moment, but they are, until October, champions of the world. I, for one, intend to savor every moment of it.
Which brings us back to the question of the best newspaper in the state, mulchingly speaking. The winner is Seven Days. It's a tabloid, with two thick sections that lay flat even in a moderate wind. (Master has learned the hard way that mulching in the wind is a bad idea.) Moreover, Seven Days 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.
Now, if the criteria were literary quality or journalistic integrity, the unquestioned winner would be The Vermont Sunday Magazine. The Master has spoken.
Stephen Morris is a business consultant and writer. He is the founder of The Public Press. He can be reached at email@example.com.
published in Montpelier Times Argus on 15 May 2005
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