Thursday, May 29, 2014

Life is a Verb

Life is a verb.  Grammarians would dispute this on technical grounds, but their correctness rings hollow in the experience of life itself.  All is movement -- seed to stem to leaf to fruit to seed again and compost; sand to stone; falling rain to rising evaporation.  Life is in motion -- a concerto moving among allegros and andantes; whole notes and sixteenths and triplets and rests, but the music never really ends.   Because life is a verb.

I should know that.  At how many gravesides have I stood and spoken words of both gratitude and hope?  How many seeds have I gently covered and patiently watered and prayerfully beckoned?  How many buckets of manure have I spread -- waste and promise miraculously united?  I should know it, but I lose myself putting one foot in front of the other; the movement itself distracting from the movement.

And then there are the dawnings.  On this particular one the dogs had been walked, the chickens had been released and in the gray haze of an emergent day I was stumbling my way back inside for a first cup of coffee when something about the bud pods of the poppies in the front bed flashed color.  The green/gray pod was still there, but along with it a bright orange unmistakably flamed.  It was, as I focused my attention, a garden birthing in-process.  There, outside our front door, a horticultural obstetrics unit was in full operation.  I stood and watched, but though I detected no movement the stasis was more apparent than real.  Life was moving forward. By lunchtime the blossom was complete and on full and expansive display.

And, though I shudder to admit it, it was similarly on its way beyond the crest to decay.

Because life is a verb, always moving.  Opening and closing.  More often than I care to admit I am too caught up in its flow to notice.  But every now and then a flash of color where it had not been and my eyes are wet with birth.  And I remember.

And am grateful.

It's hard to know what other births might interrupt my steady plod through these hours, but I will be watching for color, listening for newborn cries, reverencing the slightest moves.

Because though it's easy to miss it moving, life is a verb.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Coop of Inspiration

"I never took you for a chicken guy."  That's the first response I routinely get from friends and acquaintances who hear about our recent acquisitions.  If it helps, I never took me for a chicken guy, either.  And I'm pretty sure it only recently crossed Lori's mind.  That we two urban settlers would first resettle to the countryside and then start making room for laying hens strikes us as comical as it does others.  Nothing in our educational repertoire nor professional resumes foreshadows it, but here we are, digging in the dirt, planting all kinds of things, and gathering eggs.  
Brown ones and blue ones.
Which usually precipitates further questions, and amazement.  The questions -- like "Who knew there was such a thing as a blue egg?" -- don't surprise me.  Eggs, after all, in our overly industrialized food system are almost universally white.  Diversity comes in size -- small, medium, large and extra-large -- but rarely in color.  Only recently could brown eggs be routinely found in a grocery store refrigerator case, but even then relegated to the edges as something of a quaint novelty.  Blue eggs aren't likely to gain any shelf space any time soon.  Little wonder that few people know such things exist.  
The amazement, however, is more difficult to explain -- amazement that multiple breeds exist, and amazement that we would choose more than one of them.  Of the eleven birds that now call Taproot Garden home, two are Ameraucana, two are Black Australorp, two are Buff Orpington, two are Red Star, two are Barred Rock, and one is a Wyandotte.  Beautiful, I would say -- every one of them -- and beautifully diverse.   These six hardly exhaust the options.  Hatchery catalogs are as thick and colorfully evocative as seed catalogs -- glossy photographs of all manner of sizes and colors and purposes and temperaments.  Heritage breeds, hybrids and cross-breeds; Asian breeds, European breeds, African breeds, American breeds.  

Sort of like people.  And vegetables.  And, I'm guessing, everything else around us. I remember my own surprise at discovering multiple varieties of broccoli.  And tomatoes.  And lettuce.  Etc.  Creation is an orchestra, not just in its aggregate, but within each instrumental part.  There aren't just "flutes," but bass flutes and alto flutes, tenor and soprano flutes.  Neither are there simply "drums".  And we aren't just people; we are all kinds of people -- "red and yellow, black and white" as the old children's song observes, but also short and tall and quiet and loud and any number of other diversities we are still getting our minds around.
And there aren't just chickens, but a veritable symphony of them -- each breed with physical characteristics and personality traits, but also each bird with its own unique one.  I know because I've been watching them. 

And laughing.
And marveling at them all.  

Diverse individuals living as a community within the same backyard coop -- pushing and shoving and pecking each other from time to time and haggling over a remnant scrap of food, not unlike the people who tend them; but also nestling close together on the roost at night for companionship and warmth.  

A cacophony of diversity, for the most part getting along.
An inspiration, don't you think, for this larger coop that houses us all?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Parenting That Which Is Older Than Me

We had walked the nascent prairie that just days before had been burned in preparation for seeding; we had signed the agreements committing us to ongoing prairie management in exchange for cost assistance, and now the agents from the Department of Natural Resources and the Fish and Wildlife Agency were standing with me looking out over the acres.  We looked past the 1/4 acre garden I have developed; beyond the 2-dozen fruit trees we have planted since moving to this plot of ground almost three years ago, and surveyed the 3-acres we are beginning to restore to native prairie grasses and pollinator wildflowers.

"When we first moved here I couldn't bring myself to dig a hole or cut a tree limb," I reflected.  "It seemed arrogant to assert my vision onto the land.  Now look at us."

The Fish and Wildlife agent turned his eyes from the window and addressed me with parental wisdom:  "Doing nothing is also a management decision."  Which I took to mean "doing nothing is, in reality, doing something."

I know this of course.  I am not unfamiliar with children whose parents have adopted a similar "hands-off" approach.  They are the dandelions of the nursery -- or the classroom or the youth group or, later, the office -- who contribute one annual burst of brilliant color, but otherwise displace most of the more desirable growth and quickly go to seed.  Doing nothing is, indeed, doing something, producing results with generally limited appeal.

The truth is I am proud of the "interventions" we have made on the land.  I prefer to think of them less as "impositions" than stewarding partnerships.  Indeed, if the DNR's aerial photos of our property from the 1930's are any indication, the kind of work we are undertaking represents some undoing of the human interventions that have dramatically reshaped this area throughout the ensuing decades; restoration, rather than alteration.  The butterflies and bees and other pollinators so diminished in those years will once again have a habitat.  That the vitality of those pollinators will also benefit my horticultural ambitions doesn't seem too self-serving or nullifying.  I rather think of it as partnership -- working "with" rather than "upon."

All that said, it still feels brazenly forward to to cut in, cut down, dig out, burn off and plant something new in its place -- even if its presence has a prior claim.  And for the record, it's a lump I hope never gets easier to swallow.  As I recognized in the very beginning of this little educational sojourn, the documents with the bank and the taxing authorities say we own this land, but we are under no such delusion.  We are simply privileged to live here for a time, and to do the best by it that we can.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Nourishing Goodness of Spring

The temperature, of course, can still surprise me with its deceptive chill, but spring is convincing me that after all the months of wintry imprisonment its door has finally opened more than a crack.  Even the rains of April's closing days -- gloomy in their own way -- foreshadow the colors of May, just as the old rhyme observes. The pear trees are blossoming. The tulips, having stood sentry for days, are just beginning to open.  The rhubarb leaves are unfurling, garlic stems are emerging through the mulch, and for the first time asparagus spears are offering themselves up for supper.

It won't be long before the sprouts giving the greenhouse its name will need transplanting into garden rows, though there have been disappointments in that corner.  Tomato seeds have sprouted in adequate numbers, along with cabbage and cauliflower, broccoli and onions and herbs and kale.  But the peppers have largely been no-shows, along with the interesting flowers we had imagined.  I'm not skilled enough to know what all has interfered.  Since I have more confidence in the seed purveyors than the seed planter, I trust that the seeds were good in the package.  Despite the warming lights and the auxiliary heater it might not have been warm enough when the seeds were trying to germinate, or perhaps it got too hot.  I could have watered them too heavily -- or, for that matter, inadequately.  There was some early mouse activity and its possible that all those seeds got eaten.  Whatever was the trouble, remediation is always available at the nearby garden store in the form of transplants made available via someone else's better success.

In the meantime there are new rows to dig, old rows to revive, a layout plan to revise, a fence to enlarge, seeds to sow, the irrigation system to reassemble, and... dreams to dream about canning and freezing and enjoying the harvest.  That, assuming I don't screw it all up.

In the meantime, the chickens, too, are getting into the spirit -- offering up a five-egg day on Saturday after raising the new normal to three.

 Life is cool, colorful, nourishing...

...and good.