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Why Fiddlehead?


When I was young, my father would go out every spring and collect fiddleheads (Ostrich ferns; Matteuccia struthiopteris). They were a delicacy in our house, where all our vegetables were grown by my family, partially because they were only available in the spring, and partially because they were kind of magic, coming from the earth, in secret places the elders would hide from each other. My mother, who is now 94 (93 in this photo) would then can enough fiddleheads so that we had a quart a week for a year, at least 52 quarts. They would go to the basement, and come up weekly to feed our family. I loved (and still love) fiddleheads, both for their color of vivid green, and for their way of marking the years; they signaled another spring, another opportunity to get life right. I loved the way they looked, spiraling with the golden ratio or divine proportion, nature’s perfect spiral, and unfurling into beautiful ferns if you got to them too late, reaching from the fertile earth towards the brilliant spring sun. The clumps they came from were pure potential energy and not much to look at, but the fields of mature ferns were marvelously verdant and inspiring. I loved (and still love) the way they taste when prepared correctly, with the clear knowledge that they need to be boiled for 10-15 minutes to remove the bracken brownish covering. To consume fiddleheads in the dead of winter in Northern Maine was to eat a bit of springtime, and likely helped us to deal with the length of the winters. They were a reminder that spring would come. They were hope.

When I had my own family, I was lucky enough to live on a property near fields of fiddleheads. My youngest son was born in May, and I remember being remarkably pregnant and harvesting fiddleheads which I fed to my young family. The boys would come with me to pick fiddleheads when they were young. The lessons they learned doing this were tender and valuable. When my eldest was four, a friend came to pick with us. My son informed her that each clump put out several fronds, but that we should pick only a few, so the rest could feed the clump, sustaining the field for next year. These early lessons of deep understanding of a need to care for our earth, and our resources, which a four year old could understand and teach, are the lessons our earth needs today.


I have been a family physician since 1993. My first practice was here in Bristol, VT with the Mountain Health Center on Mountain Street with Ed Clark, MD and Suzanne Germain, NP. I came to this town and this practice because it felt like home to me. It was in a Victorian house on a sweet street in a wonderful town, with a couple who were the ages of my siblings, and Suzanne spoke French, my family’s language, with her then four and six year old girls. They were warm and accepting. They were capable and connected to the earth, growing their own food and Ed having built the house and outbuildings on the property on which they lived. The staff felt like family. It was an intimate, warm and healing environment. A dear friend, Anne Knott, MD, joined us in 1999. She and I shared an OB practice, in addition to our regular family practice, delivering the babies of the families we then cared for. It was sweet. It was the dream.

Then life happened, and lives shifted. The practice grew, and grew, and grew. It outgrew the Mountain Street home and morphed into a Community Health Center. My own practice remained a warm and nurturing place for me, but the pace increased and increased and became unsustainable for me. Reflection brought me back to my son’s wisdom in the field: pick too many of the ferns and there is no energy to produce more the next year. I needed to nurture my clump so that I could sustain my own life.

Thus is born Fiddlehead Family Health Care. It is a return to simplicity. It is a return to a sustainable life, and family practice in a nurturing unhurried environment. It is a return to my own medical home at 30 Mountain Street, renovated and refigured, but the same space. It is a return to the doctor-patient relationship without barriers, with a small team of warm souls who are sensitive to the needs of our patients, leaving half the responsibility for health with the patient. FIDDLEHEAD is a reminder that potential rests in every person, waiting for the right environment, warmth and timing to unfurl towards the goal, in this case health. Sometimes, we need to be led to the field, and that is how I see my role, guiding my patients to the quiet potential within themselves that leads to their greatest possibility for a sustainable life, allowing them to unfurl their potential, and grow, without overdoing, and exhausting their resources. It is a practice that aims towards perfect homeostasis--balance: the right nutrition, movement, nurture, personal responsibility, spiritual alignment, and growth potential, all based in an environment of hope for the present and the future. It is a practice that values this community and the value of caring for families (FAMILY), knowing generations and their links to each other. The goal of the practice is HEALTH for all involved. It is my goal to deliver CARE to my patients, allowing them to flourish and live to their full potentials, with respect for sustaining our earth and their link to the natural world as well as to their respective spirits, allowing for an integration of mind, body and spirit, which in my view allows for true health. This is my way of responding to our current world and sustaining hope.

Bulletin #4198, Facts on Fiddleheads - Cooperative Extension ...

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