Hindsight is 2020

This summer will be 9 years since we bought this property. We, the world, and this little bit of land have changed a lot since then. When we bought this little house it sat in a sea of perfect lawn, it was the quintessential little Maine ‘camp’.

I was cleaning out our secretary recently, and I came upon the original MLS listing sheet for the property. The description reads “NOTHING TO DO BUT sit back and this sunny home…” (caps are not mine) We interpreted that as a challenge, and haven’t stopped ‘doing’ things since. In most cases, what we have done is the opposite of the New England esthetic in our quest to turn a lake house into a homestead. In keeping with some East Coast traditions, we started by making a rock circle in the backyard. Where we were married that fall.

It was glorious.

That first winter we added a third dog, a husky.

When the snow melted we started our garden in that circle.

The spring of 2013 brought chickens and ‘The Great Fencing’ began. I like fences for peaceful cohabitation of predator, prey, plant and children. It also happens that a strong fence will keep rabid foxes out, but not bears.

Those are stories for another day. The physical boundaries and the gardens expanded year over year. The lawn shrunk, the biodiversity exploded, worms came back in droves, and turned the sandy soil rich. We encouraged dandelion, plantain and prunella to take the place of Kentucky bluegrass and rotated crops that enriched the soil.

The front yard has gone from a couple of square bushes, with spruce and fir lining the driveway, to jungles of raspberries, apple trees, pear trees, cherry trees, elder, perennial herbs of all types, lilies, irises, the list goes on and on.

Perhaps pictures are better.

This last year we had to take out the 6 trees that lined the old rock wall dividing the property. All of them had significant scarring and damage on their trunks that bugs had begun to take advantage of.

A thing with a rotten core should not stand, lest it fall when it pleases, in the direction it chooses.

It was a sad, but necessary task. The result is enough firewood for at least a year and extended sunlight on the gardens by 4-6 hours.

I am so looking forward to my perennial friends, and everything that will bloom this summer. Last year’s memories still make me smile.

Late summer 2020

Year over year, I am astounded when I watch the earth come back to life around the house. From bare ground and skeleton trees; too jungle, in a month. Last year we spent more time at home then we ever had, it was the only part of COVID that didn’t suck.

The first couple months of the pandemic, the menfolk demolished and rebuilt the deck off the sliding glass doors. This north side of the house gets very little sun and in the winter this deck is often an ice slick. The boards were laid too close and the frame itself had rotted from the constant moisture.

They pulled up all the boards and reused what they could, so technically it’s more of a deck remix, but it is far superior than the original structure in every way.

They found paving stones from around the property to make a walkway that was much better in the winter than the toboggan deck to doom stairs.

Summer 2020 we built a tiny house on the edge of the wood. Having the space and materials (things we’ve hoarded over the years) and time to create is an undeniable delight, afforded to us by our privilege. We had land to walk when we felt cooped up, animals to distract us and keep us busy when everything felt unsettled. Home was a place to set anchor, wait and dream of a time when this would be over.

Like most, we tried new things. This spring we raised meat chickens for the first time. We got broilers. I have never seen birds grow so fast.

Week 1
Week 3
Week 4
Week 7

I have to say I am not convinced. They seemed so ill-equipped to live. At a month old they had to sit down frequently and often laid in the food, eating while they sat. I’m not sure we use the breed again, but knowing that they are not built to live long made the butchering easier. We will see how they taste I guess? The recent heat has prevented us from roasting anything, they are precious things best saved for special days. Meat grown on this land, by us.

Hatched 4/1. Butchered 6/2.

The pandemic has been rough, but having a home that offers so much peace, food and medicine has been an irreplaceable resource. The human world was (is?) falling apart, the gardens bloomed anyway. I became blatantly aware of our white privilege; in all its facets, and every day my heart went out to people living in cities and cooped up in apartments. I would not have faired well in that situation. It’s tempting to say that we made sacrifices to live here, and that we reaped those dividends during these ‘interesting times.’ The truth of the matter is that we had good choices in where we lived, and how. Choices that many BIPOC folk don’t ever have access to. It is the undeniable preamble to our story.

2020 was such a trippy year for every aspect of life and culture. The pandemic, political tension and BLM movement coming to a head at the same time solidified a lot for me about the people in my life, our cultural, and my personal values. This focused a lot of general feelings of angst into crystalline structures, it shattered many connections, and that’s ok. Fences were not the only boundaries we have expanded this year.

Watching as people; both liberal and conservative, denied the basic existence of a pandemic that brought the whole world to its knees has been disheartening, though not surprising. Any inclination to discount the death of millions of souls as “not a thing of import” makes my head ache and my heart hurt. To ignore the suffering of those who didn’t die, or still feeling the effects of the illness, to treat an exponential amount of grieving families with such a callow indifference is beyond me, but not my understanding of others. This didn’t become the world we live in, it just brought it sharply into focus.

I don’t pretend to have the answers, but something big happened and if we can’t agree on that, then we don’t need to share space. Similarly, if acknowledgment of systemic racism and colonial genocide is up for debate, I don’t want to play with you. Inconvenient truths invoke cognitive dissonance, which is by definition unpleasant, however improvement requires consistency and honest evaluation.

We can never own the truth. We can conduct it, let it pass through us and “do better because we know better”. The lies we tell, are ours. The perpetuation of untruths causes suffering, to the self and others. Support of, and participation in destructive systems allows them to fester and become ‘normal’. When something is rotted at the root, action must be taken to avoid collapse and collateral damage. Often my choices cause suffering and with objective reflection, I regret them. It is ok to be wrong. In fact, it is a great gift, but only when it is acknowledged and changed.

Growth is inevitable. The land shows me that every morning, but healthy growth is not. Rot expands, infections swell, unchecked illness spreads. This is nature’s way. Healthy progress requires genuine reflection, assessment, decision and action. There are no ‘weeds’ in the garden, but I am selective about the beings I choose to let live there. When I decide something needs to die; I kill it, but I don’t then pretend that it never lived, or that its spark of life was inconsequential. I don’t sterilize my telling of the act, “it was just a weed anyway.” I own my actions as they are my only true possessions. When I have a chance to provide a safe place for something to live here, I take the steps necessary to safeguard their health.

It is ok for me to lay new boundaries across old fields, to keep the rabid things out, and creating spaces for fragile things to exist. A place to feel safe. When we arrived on this land it was manicured and domesticated. We have tried to listen carefully to the will of the earth. The land talks, it show us what wants to grow here by the sprouts that appear. The wind whispers constantly, but sometimes it shouts, bending the whole forest in its grip and reminding us how small we are. Proving how easily our plans can be undone when they run counter to the will of the wild.

The forest teaches us how to grow easily, not fighting with the seasons. Letting go of that which no longer serves, allowing old ways to fall away like autumn leaves.

There are many times in life when sitting back and doing nothing is the easy choice, but is it the best you can do?

What say you?

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