PAT NEAL: The Quarantine Chronicles: A crop of hope

IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news. The governor extended the stay-at-home order for another month. It was a tough call, but these are hard times that could always get tougher. All we know for sure during these dark days is it’s good to look at the history of hard times and know they will eventually be over.

This enforced isolation has a long history in Europe, where the bubonic plague wiped out about a third of the population. Even back then, people were outraged at closures.

The bear and bull baiting arenas, where these poor creatures were tied up and set upon by packs of mastiffs and bull dogs to the delight of the crowd, were shut down. Theaters were also closed.

Doctors at the time didn’t know what caused the plague. They relied on the clergy, who thought theaters were the cause because they were so sinful.

During the quarantine in 1606, a young actor and playwright named Shakespeare used this time to write King Lear, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra, classics we enjoy to this day.

In 1665, the Black Death returned to England. Isaac Newton had just obtained his degree from Trinity College Cambridge. With the university shut down, Newton retreated to the bucolic environs of his family’s Woolsthorpe Manor, where he developed a mathematical theory that became calculus.

Newton then turned his attention to the study of gravity. Developing the law of universal gravitation, which holds that those forces are proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Whatever that means.

Newton also studied optics. Using a couple of prisms, he determined that white light is composed of all colors of the spectrum. That momentous discovery led to the creation, a little more than 300 years later, of the iconic cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album.

But I digress. This is about what we can do during a quarantine to fill the empty hours of unquiet desperation. I don’t do math. Math is for people who don’t have calculators. I don’t write plays. The theaters are still closed. My response to the pandemic quarantine was not quite as brilliant as Newton or Shakespeare’s, but it’s more do-able.

I planted potatoes.

The potato has a long history on the North Olympic Peninsula. They were first planted in Neah Bay called Nunez Gaona by the Spanish in May 1792.

A member of the nightshade family, potatoes were cultivated in South America 2,500 years before Christ. The Spanish conquistadors invaded South America looking for gold, but they also found the potato.

The value of the humble potato has probably exceeded the wealth of treasure they stole since then.

Potatoes were introduced to Europe in the 1700s. At the time, they were a revolutionary fast food and considered an aphrodisiac.

Nunez Gaona only lasted a few months before it was abandoned. The potatoes remained.

Potato cultivation spread across the Peninsula, where they replaced camas as the principle crop.

In 1861, Capt. Thomas Abernathy and his neighbor, Elliot Cline, traded potatoes for dairy cows from Victoria, and that started the dairy industry in the Dungeness Valley.

Potatoes were one of the first crops planted by the stump ranchers. These were people who planted crops between the stumps once the loggers got done with them. They are one of the easiest crops to grow to this day.

Can’t invent calculus or gravity? We can still plant potatoes. All you need is a seed potato. It’s like planting a crop of hope for the future.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via [email protected].

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