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Ricing with the new guy

Thoughts on tippy canoes and baby food, too

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 9/9/20

I took the new guy ricing recently. “The new guy” is our continuing appellation for David Colburn, who has served admirably as our Cook-Orr editor since we hired him back in February. He …

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Ricing with the new guy

Thoughts on tippy canoes and baby food, too


I took the new guy ricing recently. “The new guy” is our continuing appellation for David Colburn, who has served admirably as our Cook-Orr editor since we hired him back in February.
He was a last-second addition to our list of possible hires after we had received a surprisingly robust response to a job posting. It was his letter of introduction that sold us on him— it was well-researched, well-written, with a nice touch of wry Midwestern humor.
He’s a Kansas boy, although he’s been all over the place, including professional stints in Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Chicago. He’s been a school superintendent, ran a huge urban Head Start program, and left that to return home to take care of his mother and to be the editor of his local paper in Marion, Kansas, about six years ago. He also spent several months living in Sri Lanka, of all places, where he just sort of bummed around, meeting interesting people and visiting out-of-the-way places.
David is insatiably curious, has an eye for detail, and likes new experiences. He’s jumped into life in the North Country with both feet, so he was quick to say yes when I asked if he’d like to try ricing.
As he says, he was blown away the first time we arrived at one of the two lakes we visited this ricing season. He grabbed his camera right away and fired off a shot. Back in Kansas, he said, the shot would pass for a wheatfield or a tallgrass prairie. “In Minnesota, it’s a lake shot,” he exclaimed later on Facebook. “A frickin’ lake!”
It was not just David’s first time ricing… it seemed like it might be his first time in a canoe, at least for a number of decades. The unstable tippy feel, which reminded me of having a lumbering puppy in the canoe, is a reliable sign that you have a greenhorn in the boat.
I tried knocking rice my usual way, perched on a low camping chair set just a bit back of the mid-section, with David paddling in the back. That method has worked well for me in the past, but it requires a stable boat, so after nearly falling over a couple times, I moved to the front seat and sat backward. I’ve seen others rice that way and it worked passably well, especially under the circumstances.
David eventually got the hang of paddling, although he spent too much time looking at clouds or interesting patterns on lily pads, to keep us consistently in the best rice. David was equally fascinated by the entire ecosystem of organisms that fall into the boat along with the rice. Humans aren’t the only ones to recognize the remarkable potential of this wild grain, after all. The rice is literally writhing with rice worms, rice moths, rice spiders, lady bugs, and a whole host of other tiny creatures that fill your boat and crawl up your pants legs, as David discovered with a hint of consternation more than once.
To him, it was all opportunity for distraction. I’d look around regularly as we were passing through marginal rice, only to see that we’d missed the thick stuff on that pass as David was daydreaming or, in the alternative, telling one of his long-winded stories. One thing we learned quickly about David is that he’s a talker, and a good storyteller as well. In that way, and others, he reminds everyone in the office of our former Cook-Orr editor, the late and much-missed Tom Klein.
We tried switching roles in the boat at one point, after persistent complaining from David that he had been stuck with the hard work. So, I paddled from the front (keeping the boat in thick rice, mind you) and he tried knocking rice for about half an hour. I heard rice fall into the boat a couple times, probably by accident, and he was the one who eventually said he wouldn’t mind switching back. Besides, he said he preferred the sound the rice made when I knocked, which he compared to “smooth jazz,” as opposed to his “punk rock.”
In the end, despite it all, after a couple trips to two different lakes, we ended up with plenty of rice for another year, and then some.
I don’t know whether David will eat much of his rice. He’s lived alone now for many years and as a single guy, he’s lost touch with the idea of cooking, much less eating healthy. His idea of lunch at the office is something called a “hot pocket.” I had to ask him what it was the first time he sat down with one, since I had never seen a hot pocket before.
For a little variety, David will regularly turn to a gas station burrito, the local variety appropriately branded “The Bomb,” which is what I assume it feels like when it reaches your gut.
He brought one back to the office earlier this year, heated it up in the microwave, and took a couple bites before sensing something wasn’t quite right. He turned it over only to find the bottom covered with bright green mold. I half expected him to scrape it off and just keep right on eating, but at that point he figured it was best to toss The Bomb. Even the dog wouldn’t touch it.
You can tell he mostly eats by himself, since he’s pretty slovenly about it (sorry, as a reporter I just have to tell it like it is). He has, in keeping with my description, prompted a betting pool in the office about how thick the mold will grow on his stale coffee in the coffeemaker before David decides to rinse the pot. Funny how David and mold keep coming up in the same sentence, isn’t it?
For David, mostly it’s about convenience when it comes to food. While ricing, I had brought a salmon-salad sandwich, with fresh garden lettuce on multi-grain bread, my favorite tortilla chips, and some exceptionally delicious cookies that my wife Jodi had baked the night before (I shared them, of course).
David had brought Fritos and something in a tube. It was some kind of creamy, sweetened goo that the manufacturer described as “yogurt,” which appeared intended for infants. “Is that baby food?” I asked as he sucked on one end of the tube while squeezing out the goo. Insulted, David corrected me. “No, it’s for toddlers.”
David seems to appreciate self-deprecating humor, which is why I expect he’ll still be working for us after reading about his introduction to ricing. Besides, being the target of occasional ribbing comes with the territory when you’re “the new guy,” and on that front David’s content to go with the flow, even if the canoe might be a little tippy…


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