Is The Republican Journal still doing the Fourth of July contest giving a salmon to the first person that can bring in the county’s first bag of green peas from their garden?

About the first green crop in our gardens is peas, hanging on their sun-kissed vines, ready for the picking. These oh-so-good-for-you vegetables are almost too good to bother cooking. Indeed, I eat more peas raw than cooked. Any given day now you can catch me out in my chair swing, under the shade trees, popping the pods and having a snack.

When we were little, Grampa Roy would let my brother and me take whatever we wanted out of the garden, whenever we wanted, as long as we took no more than what we would eat on the spot. Grammie Mabel didn’t exactly agree, but Grampa reasoned that the important thing was what we were eating as much as when. And what could be healthier than raw, fresh fruits and vegetables straight from the garden?

Raw green beans, raw turnip, radishes, leaf lettuce washed in cold water and sprinkled with a little sugar, and the best of all, peas in the pod. We’d shell ’em, eat the peas and then chew the pods. Some good.

Surrounded by deep animal-filled forests, the farm gardens were prey to deer, raccoon, woodchuck, rabbit and whatever other creatures might look upon them as their private stock. The crows, of course, were most interested in Grampa’s berries. He grew strawberries, raspberries and boysenberries as a market crop and the crows would come flocking thick as, well, crows. No kind of scarecrow ever seemed to work. As a last resort, Grampa would resort to shooting one of the crows and put it in the berry patch on a pole. That worked.

For the vegetable gardens, he employed several different methods of varmint control. Some worked, some didn’t, and some worked for some animals while other animals, like the coon, were just too dang wily.

Grampa would string a one-wire fence around the garden and tie strips of white cloth, soaked in a “secret ingredient” that the deer didn’t like. The combination of the moonlight on the white cloth fluttering in the wind, and the smell, successfully spooked the deer. (It was many years later that I realized Grampa’s “secret ingredient” was the well-fermented liquid from a chamber pot!)

The coons, however, were a different story. Coons know exactly which night each separate ear of corn ripens to its peak on any given night, and they’d clean out the garden of the just-right ones. Nothing, it seemed, would discourage them from their favorite midnight repast.

One day, all other methods having failed, Grampa declared all-out war. Traps. He set traps directly under the fence wire, covered them with leaves and dirt, and hung another coon delicacy, fish, from the wire above the traps.

“That’ll teach them to pilfer all my corn,” said Grampa, walking back to the farmhouse.

The next morning Grampa went up to check out the success of his new ploy. I didn’t want to go because, even though I understood that the coons couldn’t be allowed to take the corn we’d need for winter food, I couldn’t bear to see any living thing hurt. But Grampa was soon back down to the house, shaking his head and chuckling.

“Well,” said Grampa, “they surely appreciated the fish to go with their corn last night!” He then explained that the sly devils had figured out the traps under the leaves and sprung every one with sticks. They then proceeded to gather up the fish to go with their nightly ration of corn.

But coons weren’t the only pilferers in the gardens. The Jipson girls, who lived on the next farm up Tucker Ridge, weren’t allowed to pick-as-you-please from their parent’s gardens, as Grampa Roy allowed us to do. But kids cannot resist fresh green peas in the pod anymore’n a coon can resist a ripe ear of corn.

So I’d join the Jipson sisters in making raids into their garden. Somehow, the camaraderie of the adventure made the forbidden fruits of the pea patch taste extra good.

That was about as “delinquent” as we kids got up on Tucker Ridge, a long country road flanked with generational family farms and pinned in the middle with the white, one-room schoolhouse. No child was lost in the shuffle of street gangs or regionalized schools that warehoused too many kids to keep track of or give individual attention to. It was the ideal envisioned by Jefferson for the newly developing country: the agrarian concept as opposed to large cities, which he saw as breeding grounds for greed, crime and corruption. (Who can argue that reasoning today?)

People say we can’t go back to that simple lifestyle. Maybe not. But I could go back to it — long’s I could take my indoor bathroom, my computer, and Ziploc bags.

Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, is a Maine native and graduate of Belfast schools, now living in Morrill. Her column appears in this paper every other week.