Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Deep Freeze

It seems too soon--it always does--but it's that time of year again, already. Time to start thinking about Spring planting.

Earlier today I was wondering if there was any chance I'd get my catalog from Saint Lawrence Nurseries in time to make an early order this year, having failed to do so last year. I spent hours researching varieties of cherries and pears, tied myself in knots over what kinds of plums I wanted (or could hope to grow), finally came up with a plan (for Year 1, mind you, with the intent of adding more in Years Following), wrote a fat check and put it in the mail (this is an old-fashioned family business) only to have it returned to me, because not a single one of those I'd asked for could be delivered. That was something of a what some people might call a disappointment, but which from now on I'm going to refer to as "a blessing in disguise (of a kick in the crotch)", which it probably was, because it was a challenging Spring even without a half dozen precious little trees to keep alive (on top of the other 200...). Anyway, lo and behold, look what arrived in the mail today!

Now, don't go rushing to conclusions and mistake that exclamation point for excitement... I just put it there because it was the only sensible way to end that sentence.

I have deeply mixed feelings about delving into the work of planning this season's plantings. The many changes in my life that took place during the past year have put a question mark at the end of nearly every aspect of my plans, hopes and dreams for my family's land. The idea of working on the five, ten, thirty, one-hundred year plan, of building orchards and berry patches, medicinal herb cultures, native habitat, better soil, better habits, a greenhouse or two, the summer kitchen, large-scale composting, irrigation systems, experiments in sustainability and permaculture, a haven for generations of families, ours among others... all of that has, for me, been put "on hold" rather indefinitely and, quite possibly, permanently.

It takes a lot of energy--both real and personal--to make an investment in a long-distance relationship with the land. True, it's not a long drive, but the distance between knowing and not knowing is vast. From here the very important details of the passage of each day cannot be known, gauged or understood. Is there dew on the garden at dawn? Will that leaf uncurl today, tonight, tomorrow? Is this herb sweeter in the morning or the evening, before or after the rain? Without this experience, how can I learn?

There is, also, and perhaps more pressingly, the problem of actually being physically present to do the work there is to be done, when it needs to happen. Spending an hour or two in the garden every day is a chore but also a pleasure, a meditation, a lesson. Spending 8 or 10 hours in a weekend can be exhausting, especially for those with fair skin and aging backs. Weekends are a gamble when it comes to weather, driving, and other obligations, needs, demands or desires. Beyond being present, there is being able. I am not as strong as I used to be (though I do hope to make gains) and my folks are getting on in years, despite their best intentions. It's one thing to take a broadfork to 2500 sf of soil, another to tend to dozens of fruit trees, another to turn the compost, another to weed, another to seed, another to harvest...

As I've written before, this work is a labor of love. The question for me is not, do I want to do this? but rather can I do this? or perhaps will this actually work? and is this important enough to do anyway, even if it doesn't? I have a home of my own, a large yard full of untapped potential and a very real and middle-aged need to focus some attention on my life's occupation, not to mention my sagging ass and my unpainted kitchen. Can I really afford to spend hundreds of dollars on plants and seeds and trees and gasoline in exchange for a few pounds of produce, and devote all my weekends to a place that I don't have the pleasure of even being able to enjoy, in my time and my way? What are we really trying to build, and is any of this really sustainable, if it takes so much to maintain it? And who's going to do all of this, now and in the future?

It's these questions, and others, that lie under the cover of that catalog, in between the names of heirloom English cider apples and Japanese plums. I know I'm going to have to open it, in just a moment, and start coming up with some answers.

(Check's already written.)

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