Word Garden

The Blog of Writer and Poet Michelle Regalado Deatrick

 

2013 Posts

Current posts are here

2011 and 2012 posts are here

 

...How a writer and her family fell in love with 80 acres,

and what the land gives back.

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Sometimes we can’t quite believe how lucky we are to be the owners and caretakers of this beautiful place, with its sloping land, small wooded areas, wildflower-rimmed fields, wetlands, and hedgerows sheltering wildlife.  On it, we’re developing a native prairie…stands of native trees…an orchard…a large organic garden…And we have plans for livestock, timber stands and more—these are the beloved, frustrating, time-consuming eighty acres we call Walnut Ridge Farm.  

 

 


 

 

12/29/2013  INTERVALS

Yesterday, a grazing deer stepped closer and closer to my office window. A button buck, he was no longer spotted but still antlerless, with small, ruffled swellings signifying the pedicels (“buttons”) where his first antlers will grow in spring.  

DSC_0651_Button_Buck_cropped_266x219@96dpi_wC2013_aqua92cddc_wCaption.jpgFrustrated with the scanty, awful lines I’d been writing, and feeling unwell, I willingly turned away from the computer and sat on the floor by the window.  I moved slowly, even though button bucks are famously unskittish: like some human teens I know, they often seem unaware or unafraid of potential threats to their mortality, immersed in each moment as it comes. Even when I accidentally set off the flash on the camera, the deer didn’t so much as look up.

“There are in our existence spots of time,” Wordsworth writes, “That with distinct pre-eminence retain /A renovating virtue, whence…our minds /Are nourished and invisibly repaired….Such moments /Are scattered everywhere…”  (“The Prelude”).

Moments of deep engagement with nature and landscape indeed invigorate and strengthen emotion and imagination when recalled at some future time. This is an idea—an experience—associated with Romanticism but it’s also become so deeply infused in our thinking that sometimes, paradoxically, we’re actually distanced from that moment of engagement by the desire to record it, to remember and preserve it—as when I reached for the camera, thinking of how the photos might be perfect for this blog. 

DSC_0073_Summer_Deer_Eating_Apples_cropped_eyefixed_410x315@96dpi_wC2013_aqua92cddc_wCaption.jpgThinkers of the Romantic period also knew how important the living moment itself is—those moments that nineteenth century literary and art critic Walter Pater termed “musical intervals in our existence”  Pater wasn’t referring to a technical musical interval, but to spaces, gaps, moments of eternity embedded in, and opening out from, the flow of life which is music. I like to think that art can approximate or allude to this—perhaps through white space on a page of poetry, a rest in a musical piece.

I took a photo. And then I set the camera down.

The moment widening around me, I watched the steady, rhythmic expansion and contraction of flank, the churn of chewing jaw, little puffs of white breath exhaled from gleaming nostrils.  He was square-headed as young deer are, short-muzzled, sturdy of body above the magic of slender, strong legs.  He moved to the next patch of sweet green grass uncovered by the melt of snow and went on eating, and I went on breathing—silent, watching, the sense of my own unwell body dropping away in the deep well of the moment.

Here’s my hope:  that 2014 will grant us all the will and sensibility to turn away, sometimes, from our seductive screens and keyboards, from the whispers and clamors of our bodies, to notice and enter the extraordinary moments of grace and beauty, the intervals “scattered everywhere” through our days.

 DSC_0523_Trees_600x399@96dpi_wC2013.jpg

 

12/05/2013  ABUNDANCE AND THANKFULNESS

 “Growing one’s own food...is a sacrament, as eating is also, by which we enact and understand our oneness with the Creation, the conviviality of one body with all bodies.”
                        Wendell Berry, Poet and Farmer, The Unsettling of America 

DSC_0379_Wagon_of_Apples_cropped_400x262@96dpi_wC2013.jpgFrom mid-summer through late fall, we picked fruit on the farm by the bucket and by the wagonload. It began with July’s wild raspberries and progressed through August’s blackberries, plums and Gravenstein apples to September’s six different kinds of apple, two of pear, two of grape.

When we weren’t picking fruit or eating it, it seemed that we were preserving it:  pear sauce and applesauce, grape jelly and plum butter. The dehydrator scented the DSC_0224_cider_cropped_210x333@96dpi_wC2013_wAqua146205220_wCaption.jpghouse with perfume of cinnamon apple chips and fruit leather. The freezer filled with bags of fruit, peeled and sliced and ready for winter’s crisps and pies.  All the while, we were picking and preserving vegetables, too.  And then came the mashing of apples, the pressing of the mash into cider.

It’s a lot of work, managing an abundant harvest:  tempting, standing over a steaming pot full of canning jars in late August, to think of it as drudgery. But a few days ago, sitting at our Thanksgiving table, I realized with delight and satisfaction that our family’s hands grew much of the food—food that we know was grown and preserved without harmful chemicals, with mindfulness for nurturing and supporting not just our own health for the short time we’re graced to live on Earth, but for the health of the land for which we bear responsibility.  We’re grateful for the delicious food and for this work—this connection to the ancient, DSC_0149_sauce_cropped_276x187@96dpi_wC2013_Aqua146205220_wCaption.jpgsacred cycles of soil and sun and sky and season, to other living beings from microbes to mammals.

 

10/19/2013 LAGNIAPPE #4:  Three Weeks Writing at the Ragdale Foundation
In a Room Overlooking a Virgin Native Prairie

Lagniappe—a lovely word, an underused word, meaning something extra, something beyond what was paid for.  Something not of the marketplace. A gift. A blessing. It’s been a long season of lagniappes on the farm—and elsewhere.

This week, I’m writing about a lagniappe related to a prairie in Illinois rather than photo_1_Ragdale_desk_266x355@96dpi_wC2013.jpgMichigan:  three uninterrupted weeks to write and read in a beautiful room overlooking the forty-acre Shaw Prairie—a gift from the Ragdale Foundation for which I’m extremely grateful. 

Shaw Prairie is one of the very rare never-cultivated prairies remaining in America :  in Illinois, for example, only six acres in a million are virgin prairie. I’ve gone for long walks on the prairie’s winding grass paths and on the leaf-strewn paths of the surrounding woodlands every day I’ve been here.

Most of the grasses, sedges and wildflowers have already gone to seed, from the towering branched prairie dock and feathery big bluestem to the thigh-high button-heads of bergamot and coneflowers. 

All the more vivid against this backdrop of sere duns and sodden blacks, then, are the few hardy, still-blooming plants—particularly deep purple New England Asters and the aptly named Sky Blue Asters.  The incredible diversity of species is striking:  photo_3_dried_flower_cropped_266x419@96dpi_wC2013.jpgover one hundred different native plants flourish here. The result is a lush, textured landscape with much variation in the heights and looks of plants; I certainly feel inspired to work harder to increase plant diversity on our farm’s prairie. 

As I begin my final week here, I’m realizing just how fruitful my residency has been. I’ve also gotten to know—and had some fascinating conversations with—truly talented writers, visual artists and composers. 

There’s an intriguing history behind the historic house and lands at Ragdale. If you’re interested and in the area, come to Ragdale’s Fall Art Walk and Open Studios this Sunday, October 20th.  Or read the section on heritage gardens, including Ragdale, from Cathy Maloney’s fascinating book, Chicago Gardens.

 

9/19/2013  LAGNIAPPE  #3:  VENUS’ LOOKING GLASS

Lagniappe—a lovely word, an underused word, meaning something extra, something beyond what was paid for.  Something not of the marketplace. A gift. A blessing. It’s been a long season of lagniappes on the farm. For a few weeks, I’m writing short posts about some of them. Today’s Lagniappe, the third: Venus’ Looking Glass, a native wildflower.

DSC_0249_cropped_266x303@96dpi_wC2013Nearly all of the lovely flowers newly growing in our native prairie and field edges have turned out to be non-native—and invasive:  Dame’s Rocket and Purple Loosestrife, for example, which unchecked can take over whole fields, crowding out natives and the wildlife they support in just a few years. 

But a late June walk, on which I noticed--along the north edge of a hedgerow--a little purple-starred beauty with a pearly, three-lobed stigma at its heart, brought only happiness instead of the need to dig up, mow, or burn the newcomer.  Triodanis perfoliata. Venus’ Looking Glass. A member of the bellflower family, it’s native to Michigan.

Some research that evening brought another lagniappe:  Triodanis perfoliata’s Michigan Coefficient of Conservatism is relatively high, 6 on a 0-10 point scale.  In other words, this is a native plant that has not thrived on lands touched by agriculture and development (unlike box elder and many native goldenrods, which score 0s and 1s). 

We’ve long thought that the wooded fringes of our land and some of the wider hedgerows might never have been cultivated. Finding this flower is exciting as it gives a little more credence to that thought.   

 

9/6/2013 LAGNIAPPE #2: CHELYDRA SERPENTINA (Snapping Turtle)

Lagniappe—a lovely word, an underused word, meaning something extra, something beyond what was paid for.  That is, something outside—or above—the marketplace. A gift. A blessing. It’s been a long season of lagniappes on the farm and during these first weeks of fall, I’ll be writing short posts about some of those lagniappes.

One morning in late June, a pair of dark spheres—eggs, my husband thought at first—appeared in one of the shallow ponds that formed on the farm during a bout of storms.

That afternoon, we realized the “eggs” weren’t eggs at all when an enormous—nearly two foot long—turtle emerged from where she’d lain submerged, near-hidden in the muck, to the edge of the pond.  A flat carapace, crenellated toward the tail end.  Slightly iridescent beneath a cloak of mud.  A Snapping Turtle. And almost certainly a female, because it’s DSC_0236_cropped_wC2013_400x224@96dpi_sharpenedthe females that hit the road in June and July, traveling up to 12 miles in search of a sandy nesting site.

As a West Coast transplant to Michigan, I’d never seen a Snapping Turtle before, and knew nothing about them—ominorous, generally gentle in water (unless you look like too much like lunch—they drag small waterbirds down from the surface to eat) and fierce on land, they’ve been around North America some 80 million years.

I prefer the turtles’ Latin name, Chelydra serpentina, which refers to their long, flexible snaky necks and reminds me of their agility and quickness.  Constance Casey has a terrific article about them, at Slate, in which she asks naturalists if they’d rather have a pond with or without snapping turtles: I’m with the naturalists—I’d love it if Chelydra serpentina made our wetlands her permanent home. 

 

9/3/2013  LAGNIAPPE #1: GRAVENSTEIN IN BLOOM

Lagniappe—a lovely word, an underused word, meaning something extra, something beyond what was paid for.  That is, something outside—or above—the marketplace. A gift. A blessing.

The word itself is a gift to us from Louisiana Creole, as Mark Twain describes in his pre–Civil War memoir about his time as a riverboat pilot, Life on the Mississippi: “—a word worth travelling to New Orleans to get; a nice, limber, expressive, handy word—'lagniappe.' They pronounce it lanny-yap.”

DSC_0200_600x399@96dpi_wC2013

It’s been a long season of lagniappes on the farm. For the next few weeks, I’ll be writing short posts about some of those lagniappes, from our unexpected turtle visitor to native wildflowers to strange fungi. Today’s Lagniappe, the first:  the spring bloom of our hundred-year-old  Gravenstein apple tree, which was so exorbitantly covered in pink-white petals that from a distance it looked rather like a tissue-paper piñata of an apple tree. Up close, though, native bees hummed from blossom to blossom, and the sweet, ethery scent of the fruit-to-come filled the air. 

 

7/31/2013   MONARCHS, PART I: THE MISSING BUTTERFLIES

Before moving to Michigan, I lived near the southern end of a monarch butterfly migration path, in the California Bay Area.  Every November, I made a pilgrimage to the coastal eucalyptus groves that host the overwintering.  Standing in those vaulting groves of tall, fragile trees, witnessing the rippling fabric of monarch butterflies—a living vestment—I knew I was on sacred ground. 

DSC_0760_Monarch_cropped_410x316@96dpi_wC2013_wCaption_aqua.jpgIn Michigan, I live on the other end of a migration path. So it’s not surprising that the monarchs—black-veined swoops and scallops of orange and white, like small gliding panes of stained glass—grace our farm fields from May to mid-September. This year, however, the number of monarchs on our land increased a hundredfold or more—in a year when the monarch population of North America dropped precipitously, to historically low levels. That grove I used to visit in California used to host 120,000 monarchs each winter; this year, there were 1,000. 

In June, the milkweed seeds we’ve been planting over the last four years finally sprouted all at once, or so it seems.  In the basin of our ephemeral kettlepond, hundreds—maybe thousands—of Rose Milkweed plants (also called Swamp Milkweed and Pink Milkweed) are growing and blooming.  The umbels, of forty or fifty unusual, deeply colored flowers, are magnificent splatters of rose pigment from a distance and fascinating up close, the five deep pink petals bent back from the pale corolla as if blown by a great wind.  Because of this magnificence of milkweed, we’ve been visited by a hundredfold more monarchs than ever before. 

But the sole food of monarch caterpillars, the milkweed plant, is disappearing elsewhere.  The female monarch actually tastes plants with her feet to be sure they are milkweed before laying her eggs—and as milkweed disappears from the landscape, so do the monarchs.  According to the New York Times, Mexico has seen a nearly 60% decline in the last two years alone ( http://www.nytimes.com ).

DSC_0766_Blue_Vervain_410x290@96dpi_wC2013_wCaption_aqua.jpgMilkweed had many uses in folk medicine:  the Latin name of Rose Milkweed is Asclepias Incarnata (Healer Incarnate), after Asklepios, the Greek god of healing. And healing, today, in the form of more milkweed, is exactly what the butterflies need.   

I’ll write more soon about why there’s been a 90-95% decline in the North American monarch population. But there’s something nearly anyone can do, right now.  Bring back the butterflies—and the many other species that depend on milkweed—by planting milkweed (available from Monarch Watch:  http://www.monarchwatch.org).  Native milkweeds grow in nearly every part of North America.  They’re lovely, easy to grow, and perennial. Order soon—milkweed seeds need a period of cold in order to germinate, DSC_0698_Bergamot_cropped_276x335@96dpi_wC2013_wCaption_Aqua.jpgso the time to plant is fall or early winter.

Yesterday, I made my way through chest-high stands of milkweed, vervain and asters to the very bottom of our kettlepond. A monarch landed on a deep pink umbel of milkweed, uncoiled its proboscis, wicked up nectar—and then another butterfly landed, fanned its wings, nectared.  And another.  Round, velvet native bees moved among the bedhead petals of aging bergamot.  The air was still.  A hawk keened overhead.  Suddenly, my cheeks were wet.

 

 

 

 

5/31/2013   POEM OF THE WEEK  AT  SPLIT THIS ROCK

SplitRock_red_logo.pngSplit This Rock is featuring my poem, "For My Daughter," as Poem of the Week.  I'm absolutely delighted and honored--and humbled--to have my writing join that of poets I admire so much.  You can find the poem on Split This Rock's blog (here) or an excerpt on their Facebook page (here).

Split This Rock is a terrific organization which supports the work of socially engaged poets. Building the audience for poetry of provocation and witness and based in Washington, D.C., Split This Rock is dedicated to revitalizing poetry as a living, breathing art form with profound relevance for our daily lives and struggles. You can subscribe to their Poem of the Week series (Follow the link here):  I've loved reading the poems (not just this week, either!)

 

5/6/2013   THE FAMILIAR AND THE STRANGE

DSC_0368_apple_bloom_cropped_210x276@96dpi_wC2013_aqua_wCaption.jpgFlashes and swoops of cobalt blue move through the air—barn swallows, which build their mud nests on the back of our house and farm shed.  A male redtail hawk ferries meals back and forth over the farm to a nest in the pines—a beautiful trout from the nearby quarry lake, fins backlit to coral pink by sun one afternoon, a vole next morning at dawn.  The pear trees are dropping  platinum petals and apple buds are opening—first the central king bud blossoms, then the court blossoms spread around the king like pink and white silk hoopskirts.

DSC_0251_aspargus_cropped_210x327@96dpi_wC2013_aqua_wCaption.jpgSpring: beautiful, familiar—and strange and unsettling, too, when you look—really pay attention—to what’s going on.  The asparagus spears thrust up magically from the unseen crowns below, and grow inches every day.  Rhubarb, too, rises from the dark with a quickness that’s unsettling or miraculously affirming, or both, as its rhizomes push up stalks of green and crimson and unfurl the gorgeous dark-green toxic leaves.  And the bare, fuchsia-colored stems of peonies as if they belong in some Jurassic marsh—though they, too, are thriving, and soon will open up lush, plumy, pale pink blooms

The vole carried by that hawk?  Through binoculars, I saw the vole still struggling, slightly, as it was flown to the hawk’s mate in their nest. 

DSC_0247_peony_stacks_cropped_200x289@96dpi_wC2013_aqua_wCaption.jpgI wonder, often, at what unknown, unknowable strangeness lies ahead of us and the generations to come.  At the base of the pear trees in our hedgerow, beneath the spatter of fallen petals, we search for the honeycombed heads of morel mushrooms, which stand among the ruddy first leaves of poison ivy more plentiful this year than last, last year than the year before.  Poison ivy, it turns out, flourishes more than most plants on the increasing proportion of carbon dioxide in our air—a proportion which, is higher, this year, than in any of the three million years that came before.  The May 10th issue of The New York Times discusses this invisible but terrible strangeness that we encounter, with every breath we take:  Heat-Trapped Gas Passes Milestone.

 

 

4/8/2013   PICKLED PEPPERS, DRIED TOMATOES, AND LYRIC POETRY

Open a glass jar of zucchini marmalade made in August, or breathe in the scent of tomatoes dried in September—if all went well with the process of canning and drying, the zucchini is still green-gold and crisp; the tomatoes, acid-sweet and crimson, have not succumbed to decay.  When the sky goes soft and swollen with snow, or dense and grey with rain, preserved food offers summer to us again. 

DSC_0608_Zucchini_Marmalade_Cropped_266x195@96dpi_wC2013_wCpation.jpgIn our time of berries flown from Chile to Chicago, of greenhouse lettuce in a Canadian winter, it’s possible to forget the marvel of eating food from a harvest that happened months before.  Close your eyes as you eat, and it’s possible to imagine fireflies and the call of chorus frogs, a garden still full of bloom, leaf and fruit—and that time itself has been kept at bay.

Halting time “…is the dream of the lyric poem,” writes poet and editor David Baker. “This wish has enchanted poets from the beginning.”  And not only poets:  the secret of life may be enjoying the passage of time—James Taylor has got that partly right—but who among us hasn’t longed to slow or stop it—or, magically, reverse its passage?  Perhaps it’s the primal longing to control time and the disorder ensuing from its inescapable presence that explains, in some measure, the deep frisson of pleasure I take in winter, opening the pantry cupboard that holds the neatly labeled glossy jars of preserves and pickles, or the slatted pine drawers that hold July’s garlic and October’s potatoes. 

DSC_0718_Clam_Chowder_410x290@96dpi_wC2013_wCaption.jpgLast week, we ate pickled wax and green beans, breathing in the sharp bite of dill, vinegar and pepper.  Yesterday, dinner was steaming bowls of clam chowder thick with cubes of potato—pale yellow Prairie Blush and lavender-fleshed All Blue.  Instead of oyster crackers, gold-orange wafers floated among the potatoes—dried Sungold tomatoes so sugary that our daughter occasionally eats them as candy. 

DSC_0601_Grape_Jelly_Cropped_266x371@96dpi_wC2013_wCaption.jpgThe desire embodied more or less explicitly in lyric poetry to halt time is at tension with the very linearity of  words on the page and with the physical fact of books (even virtual ones), in which a page is turned, and the page before it left behind:  the poem itself, and the reading of the poem and of the page and the book, progress from right to left, from top to bottom, from front to back, and so there must always be an end.  

The feasting on last year’s harvests is also ending.  We spooned out the last glowing garnet grape jelly this morning.  The pantry cupboard is nearly empty, and the potatoes in the clam chowder were our last.  We look all the more eagerly, then, for the first stalks to push up from the buried asparagus crowns, for the rise of the pink-flushed rhubarb stalks and the unfurl of their great glossy leaves.

 

 

3/21/2013   FROST AND FLOWER

DSC_0265_Early _Flowering_Apple_Cropped_210x292@96dpi_wC2013_wCaption.jpgThis March contrasts sharply with last spring’s early warmth.  The cold is extreme enough to concern me, as symptomatic of radical weather shifts resulting from global climate changes.  Nevertheless, as a farmer, I’m grateful.  Insect populations are smaller after cold, late springs.  Steady cold, rising gradually into warmth, favors a good orchard crop, and this spring promises to be nothing like 2012, when March warmth followed by a return to normal, seasonable cold in April blighted the fruiting buds and tender new growth.  (Although I wrapped our younger, smaller fruit trees in frost-protection fabric, we lost all our fruit, like most growers in Michigan).

 

DSC_0267_plums_under_plastic_310x283@96dpi_wC2013_wCaption.jpgAs a lover of the natural world, I’m enjoying these final days to savor winter, its sights and especially its sounds—the train horn, which is muffled to silence in summer by thick stands of leaved trees, travels in winter all the way from the Chicago night train as it traverses the railway bed paralleling the Huron River, up the steep walls of the river valley over road and field and into my bedroom, a mile away, and sings me to sleep.  And there are the storm-swayed hickories and wild pears in the hedgerow behind our home, the clear, percussive clamor and clash of their ice-glazed boughs—a fairy tale sound, as of a thousand silver spoons simultaneously tapped on the rims of a thousand crystal bowls.  And the subtler sound of the delicate-limbed birches beneath ice—which Robert Frost describes beautifully in “Birches”:

Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.

And yet—and yet:  spring is coming—not just official, calendar-spring, but real, yellow and gold-light-on-the-skin spring, weather that makes me want to re-read The Wind in the Willows  and lapse, luxuriously and lazily and happily into the purplest of purple, Anne of Green Gables style prose.  Yesterday began spring not only officially but actually, I think:  a day on which, in a kind of celestial strip tease, the thick mantle of grey cloud, wind-whipped, blew apart several times, revealing the seductive blue behind.

DSC_0325_Downy_Woodpecker_300x259@96dpi_wC2013_146205220aqua_wCaption.jpgSpring’s sounds, too, are arriving.  From the stand of black walnuts to the north comes the tap-tap, tap-tap of a woodpecker—most likely, the same downy woodpecker who’s been visiting our deck off and on for the last month, hammering hopefully (and, I fear, in vain) in search of insects.

As I write this, a trio of sandhill cranes are picking their way across the far, storm-flailed slopes of our wheat field, and the pair of red-tailed hawks who’ve been living here the last month are hovering, watching for the little furred creatures to emerge from their winter holes and hides.  And though snow is in the air, the flakes are wandering about—rising, falling, drifting before making their slow, uncertain way to the ground, as if unsure they still belong here. 

 

2/28/2013   BOLES AND BRANCHES, PART 1

DSC_0519_Spruce_with_snow_cropped-266x350@96dpi_146205220aqua_wCaption.jpgThree days ago, a good old-fashioned Midwestern snowstorm—all too rare in recent years—dropped a glazing of ice over the landscape and followed it up with more than six inches of such heavy, wet snow that even the evergreens bowed beneath the weight. 

The snow buried grasses, filled ditches, concealed walkways and roads—but illuminated and accentuated the shapes of trees in all sorts of wonderful ways.  The snow silhouetted the leafless branches of the native redbud in front of our home,    and when the sun shone, briefly, a maple’s shadow sprang up, an intricate dark turquoise weave of branches on the pale grey.

 

DSC_0494_maple_branch_wSnow_379x252@96dpi_146205220aqua_wCaption.jpgDSC_0405_shadow_of_red_maple_221x274@96dpi_146205220aqua_wCaption.jpg

Four years ago, we planted a little stand of river birches in a spot that’s wet in winter, dry in summer--conditions this birch type likes best.  River birches (also, confusingly, called water birches, black birches, and red birches) grow swiftly and are native to Michigan as well as to most of the eastern United States—two good reasons to welcome them into the landscape.  They also attract, in spring and summer, the resplendent yellow-and-black Canadian swallowtail butterfly. 

DSC_0322_River_Birch_Trunks_390x376@96dpi_146205220aqua_wCaption.jpgThe work birch has its origins in a proto-Indo-European word meaning to gleam.  And river birches, like other birch trees, are indeed gleaming—beautiful in all seasons, but especially so in winter, when the individuality of each tree is clearest:  its unique shape revealed; the varied shades of the peeling, curling bark exposed--shades which range from vermillion through cinnabar, to rust and pale apricot.

Inspired by the pleasure of looking at those bark colors, I tramped all over the farm, just looking at the trees—the strength of their boles, the bark scarred by insects and deer rubbing velvet off antlers, the intricate lacework of their branches.  Come spring,  I’ll remember with gratitude the frameworks that support and nourish the glad green canopies of leaves and blooms.

 

1/23/2013   A HARVEST OF STONES

More than 13,000 years ago, the glaciers that spread over southeast Michigan during the Ice Age began retreating to the north, leaving our land richly endowed with something farmers aren’t usually too happy about:  stones. 

DSC_0233A_stones_400x312_96dpi_146205220aqua_wCaption.jpgPlows and stones don’t get on well together.  Every year, the freeze-thaw cycles churn up more rocks from the soil.  So after harvest and again before spring planting, my husband and I gather stones and pile them into the hedgerows, deepening the drifts of rock left there by those who farmed and cleared these fields for 150 years before us.

Ranging in color from the palest of turquoise to purple to carnelian, these stones are of quartz and granite, feldspar and sandstone—and more.  A few contain fossils. There are round rocks striped like Easter Eggs with bands of pink, rust and white; there are angular rocks with facets that shine as if oiled.

DSC_0156_BobcatwRocks_300x451_96dpi_146205220aqua_wCaption.jpgOur tools for moving the rocks usually include two shovels and a wheelbarrow.  This year, ambitious to remove some large ones that defeated us last year, we rented a skid steer. But even the skid steer was bested by a massive white rock near the farm’s eastern edge.  We named it Moby and left it in the field, where it must be plowed around.

With the skid steer, we were able to move several piles of rock to our rose beds, where we’ve long hoped to build a small retaining wall.  At the local landscape store, we’d seen depressing displays of monotone manufactured stones, of shaped, matched stones quarried and transported here from Arizona, New England, the Sierras—and none of them felt right.  Back home, walking the farm, we realized that we had beautiful material already, stones piled in the hedgerows where they’d been placed after being cleared from the fields.

DSC_0155A_Wall_Under_Construction_600x399_96dpi_146205220aqua_wCaption.jpg 

The retaining wall is shaped to echo the gentle undulations that characterize the slopes and rises of our farm.  We set a large, flat boulder—cleared from the fields long ago by some previous steward of the land—into the wall, as a bench.  The wall is a wealth of colors and shapes: streaked and splotched and miscellaneous as the very soil and substance of our farm.

DSC_0235f_Stone_Wall_600x273_96dpi_146205220aqua_wCaption.jpg

 

 

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Posts in this Archive

December 29, 2013

December 5, 2013

October 19, 2013

September 19, 2013

September 6, 2013

September 3, 2013

July 31, 2013

May 31, 2013

May 6, 2013

April 8, 2013

March 21, 2013

February 28, 2013

January 23, 2013

 

Other Archives

Archive of 2011 and 2012

 

Sites for Poetry
Writers and Readers

book of kells
A lively, engaging blog about "writing and living creatively" by poet Kelli Russell Agodon, Co-Editor of Crab Creek Review and Two Sylvias Press.

Voltage Poetry
Online anthology of poems with interesting structure/turns, paired with thoughtful analyses. Edited by poets Kim Addonizio and Michael Theune.

Structure and Surprise
Poet and essayist Michael Theune's blog about poetic turns.