Yellow has never been my favorite color. I look around and see it non-intrusively accenting the room, a powerful, though scant slice of the color spectrum. Most of life is muted earth-tones and yellow is celestial. A yellow flower in a field of green and brown is a paragon of uniqueness, leadership, or outstanding beauty. Our yellow star provides warmth and happiness, though in extremes, misery. And the yellow in our urban society warns us to be cautious. Yellow, in moderation, is fantastic.
As an incautious kid, I roamed the woods and fields, first of the corn and soy prairies of Illinois, and then of the cross timbers in southern Oklahoma. Days and nights were spent building tree forts, fishing for mud cats, exploring every hill and dale, and of course playing "war" with my cousins. Like the kids of "Lord of the Flies," our free time was spent dividing and conquering one another. On my Uncle's 80-acre pastureland were two ponds, sparse woods, a hay barn, and a pair of combines - an immense battlefield with adequate relief and cover.
On a sunny Summer Sunday, after lunch all the boys of my extended (and extensive) family grabbed a broomstick or some other janitorial representation of a weapon and we split into 2 groups. We fled in separate directions into the wilds, avoiding cows and their excrement. Our troop ranged the ponds and pastures looking for the enemy, with occasional contact and shouts of "BANG BANG BANG! I GOT YOU!" Invariably if one cousin got the jump on another cousin, the surprise attack would win out and no matter how much negotiation, the surprised party would succumb to their slow reactions and relent to lie on the ground, close their eyes, and count to 100 while the ambush team scampered off looking for another tactical position.
My team crossed a dike containing one end of a cow pond, and descended the grassy slope where we climbed over a huge tree which had died and fallen like Gulliver on Lilliput. I, being the younger of my cousins, hung back and waited for each one to crest the horizontal trunk and leap to the ground. When my turn came, I stepped down onto a lower part of the trunk and suddenly, having fallen through rotten wood, found myself engulfed in a nest of angry, swarming, stinging yellow jackets. My older cousin pulled me out and carried me back to the house, as, from shock or venom, I couldn't stand.*
Way back in the hills, up a long dirt road is another farm called La Pastora. This farm, far from the rolling plains of Oklahoma, has steep fields upon the mountainsides of Costa Rica's Tarrazu, planted not in hay and cattle, but short, spindly coffee trees. The owner of La Pastora, Minor Esquival Picado, is the epitome of a happy, paradisiacal homeowner. You'd almost think his every-present grin was the product of having seen our lifestyle and then reverting back to his leisurely customs. But I suspect Minor has never been far from home.
Unusually, Minor built a small but pristine mill out of concrete and a mishmash of ceramic tile remnants, many broken into pieces. He uses this mill to process small lots of coffee that he thinks will be special and worth more than the regular coffee he sells to the regional mill in San Marcos. After Minor built his micro- wet mill, he began experimenting with Naturals and Honey coffees. Laying the coffee to dry in the sun on raised, African-style beds, which Minor built on the flat, dry ground between the mill and storage barn, he produced three different styles of Honey coffee. They are called Black Honey, Yellow Honey, and White Honey, derived from the color of each bean as it dries in the sun. Had Goldilocks the privilege of sampling the Three Bears' coffee stash, I don't think she would've done a better job than I of picking out the one that is just right.
I have two pictures hanging in my house that mean something extra-special to me. One, a bluish-hued lithograph of "Lone Wolf" by Alfred Kowalski, which hung in the back room of my Grandpa's house above an old sewing machine. In it, the foreground is of a wolf, his tracks visible in the snow, looking down a precipitous hillside onto a house - a very small village, maybe - what could be, except for the snow, Minor's farm. The other picture is a yellowed print of a painting of James Earle Frasier's "End of the Trail." This picture I got from my dad, who acquired it when he was a kid. Only recently did I realize that both of these pictures have the same origin. They were printed at a place in Chicago called Borin Mfg Co, both in 1925. They're both in the original frames. Borin printed dozens of paintings, and it appears that they maybe avoided paying royalties to the original artists by printing them all backward. So I have two backward prints, one of a famous painting that seems to correspond to my M.O., and the other of a famous statue which now resides, forward-facing, at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. The story of Frasier's statue is a fascinating one, and it just so happens that Mark Brown wrote about it in the current issue of This Land magazine. I stumbled into this history from a coin my dad gave me: the Buffalo Nickel. It's a keepsake. An antique. And originally designed and modeled by the same artist, James Earle Frasier, as a tribute to the American West.
I learned something at La Pastora that I probably could've learned at my Uncle's when I was carried back to my mom at HQ, a wounded soldier. The skin of the coffee cherry, much like the wood of a hollow tree, is a protective coating. When left intact, nature can take its course, the coffee cherries can dry into a sweet, fruity Natural; and the yellow jackets can work as a biological pest control by hunting other pests, reproduce into a seasonal colony of a few thousand, and no one would be the wiser. But once that fragile shell is punctured, what's inside is volatile. Honey Process coffees involve removing the protective skin of the cherry and exposing the sticky pulp to environmental forces of oxygen, bacteria, and yeast. What Minor figured out is that falling into a nest of yellow jackets can leave a bad taste in your mouth. He removed some of the pulp from the coffee beans. Not all of it, but just the right amount. And what he came up with is a smooth, delicious, sweet-tasting coffee that has all the fullness of flavor I look for in a special Thanksgiving offering.
La Pastora Yellow Honey, though grown in Costa Rica, came to fulfill its purpose here in Oklahoma, in my roaster, and ultimately in your cup. Frasier's Indian found its end of the trail here too, but you'll have to read about that while drinking the Yellow.
Happy Thanksgiving, Y'all.
* The yellow jacket incident could explain how I acquired super powers.