There is a hill. On a farm in Wisconsin.
At one time there was only one tree on the hill, an old white pine that stood guard alongside a lane that connected the fields. It was tall and imposing, standing out on the landscape as one looked north from the farmhouse to the horizon. I grew up looking at that tree, running to it for thinking time, listening to the constant, soft brush of wind through the pine needles. I would have liked to have climbed up in it but there were no branches I could reach. It was a refuge.
One year there were cows in the field. My father had sold his milk cows but had a herd of young cattle that was like a band of unruly teenagers. They would run the fence line looking for a place to go under, over or through the barbed wire. They had a great deal of energy and, something that most people don’t realize about cows, they had a crazy curiosity. Anything unusual within their sight would start them on an approach path, faster and faster until they were running in a stampede, a kind of mob mentality as I remember it.
I was visiting the tree one day when the cows were in that field. They saw me on the hill and came rushing up to investigate. Cows in a large group are intimidating. They’re big, heavy animals and they mill around, eyes wide and hot, moist breath sniffing at the object of their curiosity, all the time ready to bolt if startled. I flattened myself against it’s trunk and the tree and I were engulfed in the herd.
It turned into a magical moment. As long as I was still the cows took turns pointing their wet noses at me and milling back into the group. I was the vulnerable one with only the tree at my back for protection. They were the free and dominant ones. Eventually they were satisfied and trotted off in a different direction. I still felt the awe and wonder of it as I watched them take off. I feel it again as I remember.
The tree was hit by lightning a few years later during a storm. Its twisted, split and broken frame lay on the hill for several years before it rotted away.
Now, there is just a hill.
I have noticed that I feel so good after spending a day outside working in the yard, and I’ve decided it’s the dirt. Therapeutic dirt. I always make sure I have a lot of contact with it – wear my sandals and shorts, and somehow manage to get smudges from head to toe.
Today’s dirt was AMAZING stuff. Two years ago it was a huge leaf pile and now it is all broken down, dark brown with nice fat earthworms crawling through it. It grows healthy looking weeds, which I pulled out and put in next year’s compost pile.
In Florida it’s the time of year to plant the spring garden. At the vegetable stand where I get the weekly fresh things for our meals, they also had tomato plants so I decided to get some instead of growing my own. An interesting aside – the stand is at our church and is “donation only” for whatever you want to pay and goes to the orphan homes in Cambodia that I visit. I call that a win-win transaction when I can support my special kids and get something to eat at the same time. I know the farmer who supplies it and he farms very successfully. Bet his tomato plants are going to do wonderful things for me this season.
So I pulled my earthboxes to the only sunny spot I could find in the oneacrewoods. It happens to be right near the fence line. The neighbor has cut down a lot of his trees and has a much sunnier yard than I do and some of the light sneaks through to my side of the fence. I think that my somewhat “iffy” results from the gardening I do is because there is so much shade. Good for keeping cool, bad for growing plants.
The other outside chore for today was harvesting my carrots. They have been growing for a whole year and are pitiful. This is what happens when you don’t thin out the seedlings. I’ve never been able to get carrots to germinate in my Florida gardens so I was really excited about all the fluffy greenery and couldn’t bear to pull any of it out. This is probably why they are so small after a whole year! (could also be the shade, or the inconsistent watering, or the general inattention they received).
So, other than the fact that some bug is eating all the leaves off my strawberry plants, things are looking much better in the garden today. And I feel great.