Today being the 4th of July, the idea of freedom comes readily to mind. Nature has its own ideas of freedom, too. Whether you live in the suburbs or on a farm, a quiet battle is continually underway, a fight to keep the wild things at bay-the grass, the “weeds” (that don’t know they are such a problem), shrubs, trees, vines, deer, woodchucks, rabbits, you name it–all those other living beings that are ever eager to reclaim the space that was once only theirs.
There are just over 40 acres here around my farmhouse. About 2 acres near the house has been carved out to create a yard. Most the land is hayfields, surrounded by a border of trees and woodlands. Some parts are simply just forest, untended. It is divided into a good proportion (in my opinion) of cultivated and unkempt, where there is room for the wild to grow and thrive, but also spaces fit for human use.
Nature always seems to want more, however. She is not content to maintain the peace, stay within the billowy borders created for her.
She wants her hayfields back, the yard, wants to cover it all with maple trees, birches, poplars and pines again, and fill the understory with the native dogwoods and sumacs that spread here like wildfire. She sends grape vines crawling out, those pioneers that seek the highs and the lows, forging new territory. And prickly berry bushes, birds scattering their delicious fruit, creating new colonies, thorny islands in a sea of otherwise smooth grass. The wild honeysuckles want their share, too, and the autumn olives, the thistles, burdocks and goldenrods. And always the locust trees, so aptly named, that make a plaque of themselves if they are let loose long enough.
The farmer who mows for hay here does some brushogging once a year that helps to keep much of the overgrowth at bay. But barely, just barely. It still seeps out in places, making small inroads back into the yard, along the edges of the woods, taking it’s territory back little by little, inch by inch, season after season.
I mow a small path that runs from the yard out to the fields and the pond. I try to maintain it’s width, or even a bit wider. But the thorn bushes, the prickly plums and all their brethren lean a little bit more into the path every year, forcing the mower (and me) away from their rough embrace.
In the end, nature will win out by shear numbers, by her persistence, I’m certain. She is too savvy. I believe she knows at some point we human beings will give up if she just waits long enough.
Still, there is such beauty in all the wildness, and purpose, too. The milkweeds and other wildflowers thrive, feeding all the insects, that small universe of creatures that helps hold our own together. The woods and their undergrowth shield and feed the birds, the deer, foxes, rabbits, raccoons. Ferns and willows take hold in the wet places, keeping the land from turning into a swamp. And the frogs, snakes, turtles and dragonflies find homes, places to live and grow, in the damp edges of cattail forests marching around the pond.
And as much as I whine sometimes, I understand I can’t have one without the other. I cannot enjoy nature, help it, tend it, and cherish it, without having to deal with some of its more troubling members (at least troubling to me, anyway).
So I will continue to make my small, meager human efforts to maintain my territory. Mowing, lopping, snipping, cutting, clipping, and pulling my way along the boundaries. I will lose some battles, win others, but hopefully find a happy medium for most of the disagreements over turf. After all we share this place, these 40 acres we all call home. Nature and I should really try to get along.
Now if I can just get the sumac trees on board with that concept, I think I’ll be all set.