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Setting the Stage

There is something very endearing about a grown man tiptoeing along, arms outstretched for balance. This is what Bob Munson is doing when I pull up beside his truck. The tilled, empty field is his stage, and he carefully places one white sneaker in front of the other, moving gingerly across, featherweight. If you've ever watched a sand hill crane dance—stretching its wings, lifting into the air, bowing to the ground—this is what Bob looks like. I remain in my car to watch him dance. I know what he is doing, of course: he's checking his seeds. Bob always plants his fields early. He sows spinach and lettuce in February, in between snows. Then he leaves for Hawaii.

When the cottonwood's leaves begin to unfurl and the April sun shines brightly, Bob is back on the farm, looking for sprouts. "Oh, hi!" he calls out to me. I jump the ditch and stop at the edge of his field. " Chard, chard, beets, …" he calls out in rhythm with his steps. "They're up!"

Satisfied, Bob comes over to give me a hug. We haven't seen each other since our last farm dinner, back in October. Today, we're foraging for asparagus along his fence lines and irrigation ditches. Bob has his harvest knife in hand; I have my mushroom knife. We set off.

Bob knows his 41 acres the way you or I might know our way around our own kitchen. Even in the dark of night, you know where to reach for a water glass, a cookie, or the light switch. Bob knows the spot under the cottonwood tree where his lettuce will germinate first; he points out the wild rose bush, still thorny and bare; and he knows exactly where the asparagus will come up. Still, he cries out in delight when I spot our first spears, and he squeezes my shoulder: "You found 'em! These are yours." He instructs me to cut well underground. I bury my knife into the soil, and pull out a handful of pale, tender stalks.

We make our way around the farm, along blossoming wild plums and the still-empty irrigation channels. Another snow is expected, and what stalks are up won't fare well in the cold weather. We take all we can find, and circle back to the rows of lettuce. "Let's get some spinach for dinner," Bob says, inviting me into the field. The large tufts of Bloomsdale spinach belie how early it is yet in the growing season. Bob wants me to taste it. "Fresh greens for dinner! I'll be eating this way for the next six months," he says, filling his satchel with crinkly, green leaves.

Indeed, Bob's stage is set for another season. In two months' time, our table will stretch along the path beneath the cottonwood trees. By then, the asparagus will have bolted into frilly thickets. But the sugar snap peas will be in bloom, and the chard and beets will be standing tall—tall enough for Bob to walk between the rows with our guests.

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