Friday, October 10, 2014

The Story House, Chapter 4 - The Labor of Love

This thicket is to the right of where I cut. Really doesn't show the
awful amount of deadfall. Can you believe there are oak trees
in there?
The window over the sink in my garden shed overlooks a sinewy path leading to a little meadow, but you can’t see the meadow for the cedar that chokes the view. I’ve watched the foxes and the cottontails come tiptoeing through it, and I’ve seen the chaparral rushing headlong under the lowest branches in that hilarious way they have. No question the cedar is a great cover for wildlife. But as a thicket, it was so untidy, a stickery gray deadfall below giving way to needled feathery tufts of blue green above. And there was so much of it that none of the individual trees had much of a chance to thrive. Every day when I looked out on that thicket, it called out to be thinned.

Me and Mr. Poulan. I learned the hard way it's best to gear up
in jeans, long sleeved shirt and boots
First I tried with a Sawzall, but all it did was chew the cedar bark and vibrate in my hand until my teeth, even my bones, rattled. So I went to the box store and bought a small, Poulan electric chain saw. No one was very happy when I showed it off. Even I had some doubts about using it. About that time there was a story about a guy who somehow got a chainsaw stuck in his neck, I think. He lived, miraculously. Still, it gave me pause. But I read the manual for my Poulan. David added oil and made sure the chain was tight. He said what he always does, that he couldn’t do anything with me when I got one of my ideas. I tried a few test cuts on some branches. I was eager to start the clearing on my home site, which is opposite the messy meadow. I’m not going to lie, chainsaws make me nervous, but this one was light in my hands, and it handled well. Still, I didn't persist. Instead I stored it and waited for a day when David could do the cutting, and I could help by dragging off the limbs and smaller trees to the burn pile. A few weeks later, Chris cleared the rest of the home site and opened it up to the spectacular view. But every day, I was confronted with that cedar snarl on the other side of my property, outside my window. It weighed on me. There were oaks in there, a vine of some sort, who knew what all treasures could be uncovered? But it was no one’s priority other than mine. So a few days ago, I got out the chainsaw and went to work. I’d bought a cart, too, after researching what was the better means of conveyance for the jobs I have around here, not only hauling felled limbs and trees to the burn pile, but also transferring the rocks that were thrown up by the construction on the garden shed. Turns out that for me, a garden cart, the Gorilla cart to be exact, was a better option than a wheelbarrow.

At first, sawing down the trees was daunting, even maddening. I didn’t think I could do it. It wasn’t until I went out the second time, when I got the hang of it, that I stopped at one point and thought how much—not fun—I wasn’t having fun, exactly. In 90 ยบ heat, the work was and is horrible, hot, filthy, sweaty, backbreaking and bloody. But it was so satisfying, as the trees were limbed or felled, to see the sun dapple the ground, to think how the ones left standing would have more water, more nutrients. To see the clumps of wildflowers and that pretty, big-leafed vine revealed, not to mention the oaks. Thirteen of them will be unearthed by my effort when I'm finished with this particular scruffy patch! I have a lot of wildflower seed saved up, poppies my sister gave me, milkweed for the Monarchs, delphinium, and bluebonnets, of course. Now that everything is breathing better, I’m going to sprinkle the seed along the path that uncurls through the little woods.

The Gorilla cart. Don't know how many trips we made up and
down the hill to the burn pile. It's a great workout!
It may be woo-woo, but I’ve always thought as a gardener that working the land is the way you get to know it. It always involves a lot of muscle, but if a year ago anyone had said I’d be felling trees nearly as thick as I am I’d have laughed. I’d have thought it was man’s work. But here’s something else about this experience that just feeds my joy: the way it spurs me to try, to go beyond what I consider my limitations, mental, emotional and physical. It’s like raising my children. They challenged me; they led me beyond places where I thought I could go. I learned as much if not more from them than they learned from me. This land is like that; it’s teaching me, nurturing me, toughening me even as I work to restore its native life and beauty. The work is basic, simple and gratifying in a way that gives at least as much energy as it takes. That must be what is meant by the phrase, a labor of love, which would seem to apply to both children and gardens.

A memoir I read recently, THE DIRTY LIFE by Kristin Kimball, really resonated. In it she talks of her own transformation, how the land and farming involved her heart and soul.  

As for my chainsaw, I love that tool, and the cart, for all they ways they help me get the work done. I am getting teased around here, though. Chris and David call me Babe the Blue Ox. That is when they aren’t calling me Big Mama or Warden.

There’s a guy around here, a local fella, who when asked will tell you he’s just an ol' cedar chopper from Smithwick. Yep, I’d say that about sums it up....      

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