Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Tending Wild Grace

Sorry for my absence here of late, but one of my excuses is that I’ve been both busy and enthralled with tending Wild Grace.  There is so much that can be said about that simple statement.  Let me attempt to peal away a couple of layers, and in the process sing the praises of this planet we call home. 

First, I like Ohio in winter.  I’m sure that isn’t a big surprise to many gentle readers of The Back Porch blog.  Part of my affection for this place in the cold can be traced to Wendell Berry, the Kentucky farmer/poet who celebrates the human/personal connections to all the places we call home regardless of the season.  

One of Berry’s biggest criticisms of contemporary society is that we have lost touch with the rich, rooted connections to the earth that, over time, shapes who we are and what we will become.  He is a proponent of taking gobs of time to learn that place where you live.  Canoe the rivers.  Walk the woods.  Take time to identify a flower.  Listen to bird song. 

One of my favorite Wendell Berry poems is ‘The Sycamore.’  The opening lines speak his truth more eloquently than I can: 

In the place that is my own place, whose earth 
I am shaped in and must bear, there is an old tree growing,
a great sycamore that is a wondrous healer of itself.

The poem goes on to speak of how this beautiful old specimen has absorbed the tests of time, from fences being nailed to it to a lightning strike that will eventually cause its death.  But not now.  Not yet.  For now the lovely sycamore stands in the only place it will ever know, drawing energy from the soil and serving as a model citizen of the planet.  

Wendell Berry encourages us all to know our Natural place — our home — like the sycamore has.  And for me at this time in my life, my place is Wild Grace. 

As I write this, last winter is a melted memory.  While it’s been plenty warm for a while, summer will make its official arrival in a couple days with the sun reaching its northern most pinnacle in the sky at midday.  

All of this and so much more come together in my study and awareness of Wild Grace.  A few weeks ago I transplanted a few iris bulbs into a flower bed along the back patio, knowing that these purple beauties like lots of sun.  Yesterday I noticed that at noon the transplants were in full shadow, shaded by a tall shrub.  Can’t be good, thought I.  But then I reasoned that the sun is about to start heading back south, and within a couple weeks those bulbs will be free of the shade and should get a good dose of summer sun.  I trust they’ll be okay, but I’ll keep an eye on ‘em. 

All of the above serves as testimony to the understanding that I love being the tender of Wild Grace.  I’m not nuts about the sweating and the volume of work that never seems to get fully completed, but being present to the work of the dirt and rain fills me in ways that I’ve never known quite like this before.  

I started this blog writing about winter primarily because it is that season that keeps me inside, looking at the world and Wild Grace from behind picture windows. But with the first warm puffs of late winter zephyrs, the quiet earth awakens and a new season of biological miracles begins.  On the fresh, new canvas of ‘spring’ comes crocus and hyacinth first, then daffodils and iris, dandelion and maple tree sprouts.  

By mid-May I stand flabbergasted on the back porch witnessing the growth spurts of hostas, bleeding hearts, and ferns.  Where just a couple weeks ago there was seemingly bare ground, now these pretty perennials stand lush and green in their place, just like Berry’s sycamore.  I could swear that if you sat long enough you could actually watch the bleeding hearts grow, they come so fast.  It is a miracle worth observing. 

Lots of stuff gets cut at Wild Grace.  I must have removed dozens of little maples in the back yard this year so far, leaving the individuals I figure are situated to do best.  My goal is to groom Wild Grace to be as Natural as it can be.  Honeysuckle and garlic mustard are two invasives that will take over if not removed.  They don’t last long here anymore.  Native maples do very well. 

I do, indeed, love to tend Wild Grace.  I’m out there every day doing something, whether plucking a green interloper from the brick walk, which is lovely in moss, or cleaning the water intake of the pond pump.  Many days I brush out of the bird bath from the residue of robins.  (They are truly the ‘dirty birds’ of the neighborhood.)

Most of the time, however, I just sit on the front porch or under the my back porch canopy with a bottle of water and binocs and bird book, intent on just being present with the Natural residents of this lovely plot we call Wild Grace.  It is my home.  It is my place.  It has so much to see.  And I have so much to learn.

Today’s elder idea:   The closing lines of ‘The Sycamore’ are powerful indeed.  

I recognize in it a principle, an indwelling 
the same as itself, and greater, that I would be ruled by. 
I see that it stands in its place, and feeds upon it, 
and is fed upon, and is native, and maker. 

from ‘The Sycamore’ by Wendell Berry.  
Collected Poems, 1957-1982.  North Point Press, 1984.

images:  From Wild Grace, spring 2014.