Saturday, March 6, 2010


It's often said that the best time to plant a tree was ten years ago; the next best time is today.

This past Monday I finally got the fruit tree order in, three weeks (or more) later than I'd hoped (and tried) to... With any luck, it's not already too late, although just going off last year's experience, I'm not overly optimistic. I've been scoping out other/local sources as backups, just in case, but a fair number of the varieties I'm after aren't often seen in these parts, and I'm not about to bring in some namby-pamby rootstock from Tennessee or Florida to weather a Zone 3 winter. Might have to do some hunting around.

In the meantime, on request from Saint Lawrence Nurseries are pears (Nova*, Hudar), plums (Mount Royal*, Toka, Underwood), cherries* (Meteor, Northstar), and cider apples* (Golden Russet, Ashmedes Kernel). The majority will be planted at my folks' place, with a Nova pear for each of my sisters and a Mount Royal plum for my yard. I plan to add a pie cherry of some kind, perhaps a Bali, and a hardy Reliance peach as well, both of which I'll probably pick up at the Friend's School sale. (* self-pollinating)

Most of these trees won't begin to fruit for at least three to five years. That fact, set against the backdrop of the trees I did not plant ten years ago, left me feeling more than a little downhearted about the prospect of putting in trees here, only to uproot myself in a few years and start over again somewhere else, and perhaps again somewhere else after that, never enjoying the fruits of my labor. I'd dreamed of building a home where I could dig in, deeply, not for a three or five years, but twenty, fifty, a lifetime... This is not that place. Maybe I'll live here happily for the rest of my days--who knows?--but coming to terms with where I am not,
as life's centrifuge hurls me toward year forty, and with what three to five years really means to me, now, dropped something slightly soft and rotten onto the sweet promise of a future harvest.

Nevertheless, I'm not about to not plant fruit here, just to spite my sorry self and the universe. Someone will be here to enjoy those beautiful, deep blue plums, if not me. I mean, peaches, why on earth wouldn't I???

Anyway, it was a lot harder than it should have been to get that check in the mail, reckoning with Father Time and Mother Earth just to place an order that can at this point only be filled by some divine miracle. Ah well. Who wants an orchard, anyway?

The other event that shaped this past week was the news that the land which borders my folks' place on the south was recently sold. More than that, a house is being built on it, is already poured and framed, is going up within shouting distance of my childhood home. This might not seem like a very big deal to those of us with neighbors so close you can taste their fabric softener, and in some ways it's not. In some other ways, it's almost impossible to tell how much this means, to those of us who have known that place as home.

For many years I hoped, thought, perhaps took it for granted that I would one day own the entire section of land to the south of my folks' place. Back then it was close to 200 acres, once corn, then a tree farm, and then more or less fallow for a long time. It could be cultivated. There was room to make homes for several families, for friends. It was wide open and full of light, our expansive horizon. And then, after successfully avoiding transformation into an (unthinkably idiotic) RV campground, it was purchased (by a guy I went to high school with, the same guy who demolished the old sandstone school in our tiny drive-through town, to build a few overpriced crap homes) and shortly thereafter it was parceled off into awkward little strips. All this transpired without my being aware that the land was even for sale--not that I could have afforded it then, in any case--and it was a wake-up call, a loud one, when the first tan cracker-box house went up within earshot, with the radio on all summer. That was about the time that CM and I first put on gloves and set to work on the old garden, and over the next couple years there was a lot of talk among the family about buying that strip on the fencerow. It stretched back almost to our Oak Grove, and would be a fine place to plant a grove of nut trees, or an orchard, or to experiment with a food forest. I entertained the idea, seriously considered even, that I might build a house there. We could live on the land and provide for others, in a place of plenty, while the world goes to hell in a handbasket full of ho-hos. But I wasn't sure I could really make a life there, didn't think I could afford to, strained to see how it could work... In July I stood at the end of that premature driveway, walked its weedy gravel to the place where that house might stand and could almost see it there, while fireworks lit the sky way back over the lake. It felt possible then. I even inquired about it, but the price was so high...a little longer, maybe. Last fall I wandered there again, alone, waded through deep grasses down to the low spot near the willows and there found myself hidden, protected--no cracker-box, no fence, no for sale sign--just the rise of that small hill before me and the moon gleaming above...This land I knew, I know, this place I saw so clearly in the wake of death, not because I was grieving but because I was alive, and I all I wanted or could hope for was to care for it, to fulfill its potential. Some part of that is gone, now.

It's not regret I feel, not sadness, just wonder at the consequences of the choices we make, at how events unfold. Illusions disappear. No one ever talks about having 20/20 foresight.

We still have land to live on and to care for, more than enough. It is no less, but perhaps more, to us now that the "progress" of the "economy" has shown us the "return on investment" of ten modest acres that have been a living part of my family's existence for thirty years or more. This isn't prime real estate, it's an old cornfield bordering on a tamarack swamp. It's not wilderness, but it has been a corridor to something closer to wild...the sandhills flying back home, a lone wolf who passes through, the milky way stretching beyond imagination, fire that jumped the fence one summer... It's the loss of that intimacy, that openness, the possibility that makes my heart ache. It's knowing that we're losing ground, all around this sphere, and once it's gone, it's for ever. If we can't protect the places we love, what do we hope to live for?

Yet life continues, and we adapt to these changes, the best we can. With all the water under my bridge these past few months, this is just another gentle wave to ride out. Now there's a house going up next door. Hopefully the neighbors won't be gun-crazy ATV enthusiasts. With any luck, they'll be a vibrant old couple who like to make apple butter or, even better, would love to take care of a wacky old dog, anytime. Who knows? So we'll plant some more trees, see what happens.

The next best time is today.
And I'd better get going.

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