Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The seeds of change

For the first several years after we moved onto The Property, we tried, repeatedly, and failed, repeatedly, to grow prairie flowers and/or fruit bushes on our little piece of sand plain. The blue stem grasses (little, I think) have taken hold but haven't, as far as I can tell, thrived. Nor have they disappeared. We didn't, and still don't, want to spend the money to have someone like Prairie Restoration come and do a controlled burn prior to a replanting. Plus, one of us was, and still is, very nervous about controlled burns close to the house we moved into when we moved onto The Property.

pear tree blossoms
pear tree blossoms
Photo by J. Harrington

In my typical American instant gratification way, I wanted results, now. I thought since the land "belonged" to us, I should be able to bend it to my will. That was twenty-plus years ago. One of the handful of fruit trees that we've planted, a pear tree, has survived. It provides beautiful blossoms in May, pears for us, and dead fall fruit and browse for the neighborhood deer. I'm hopeful that two new apple trees, planted cared for by the Daughter Person and her Husband Person, will make it successfully through this, their second, Winter.

apple tree blossoms
apple tree blossoms
Photo by J. Harrington

For most of the time we've lived here, I've been trying to figure out some way to make The Property earn its keep. Occasional hoards of black flies and deer flies make Summer vegetable gardening work extremely annoying. The blueberry bushes didn't do all that well on the rapidly draining sand. Slowly, very slowly, it started to occur to me that perhaps the best thing to do with The Property was to relax and enjoy what it provides: regular views of deer, turkeys, song birds, wood peckers, geese, ready access to the fields and woods, and much peace and quiet. Just about the time I started thinking I'd finally got a handle on this Living with Nature routine, I read Adrian Ayres Fisher's A Private Solstice Celebration [see right hand side bar] and learned just how far I have to go on my journey to becoming a naturalist. It's more complicated than I remember reading about in A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm.

one of the neighbors (young black bear)
one of the neighbors
Photo by J. Harrington

To be honest, I'm not sure it would ever have occurred to me to collect local seeds, nor would I have known how to do so. Waterfowl, game fish, deer, a little foraging for fruits and berries, I had learned about them for entertainment and utilitarian purposes. Those who impress me these days can list "Rudbeckia, Echinacia, cup plant, rosin weed, prairie dock, milkweed, goldenrod, aster, Helianthus, bee balm, big and little bluestem, Indian rye, bottlebrush grass..." and know what they're referring to. 
I used to wonder why anyone these days would bother to learn about all those different "useless" plants. Then I remembered a trip I took to Canada years ago for a bear hunt. (It was so long ago I didn't even need a passport, nor did I reduce to possession a bear.) I was in awe about the knowledge the local guides and outfitters had about black bears. They seemed similarly impressed by my ability to identify the various species of ducks in the flooded roadside ditches. We learn about what we care about. We often see only what we're looking for. Recognizing the locals is a sign we know we're home. 
I'm still wondering about setting up bee hives, since we have some frequently hungry neighbors who don't always settle for bird feeders. Maybe I'll decide that watching bears without watching bee hives is the way to go. Maybe not. Whatever I decide will have more to do with what I want to spend time doing than with what I think The Property owes me. It's paid me plenty over the years. In addition to learning from people like Adrian, I try to learn from those like Wendell.


February 2, 1968

In the darkness of the moon, in flying snow, in the dead of winter,
war spreading, families dying, the world in danger,
I walk the rocky hillside, sowing clover.

- Wendell Berry

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