I was making the rounds on a quiet Sunday morning. A heavy mist was falling, almost floating down. A Scotsman would call it a smirr, heavier than a fret. My raincoat soon failed at its task and my shirt turned as cold and clammy as the grass I was stepping through.
A cold front was moving in from Alaska, promising to bring snow to the hills tonight, and yesterday’s warm, still day with filtered sunshine was just a memory. The calendar says that it is spring, yet, the mornings come with either bits of hail on the sidewalk, or frost on the lawn. The daffodils, brave as they were, are fading away in this cold weather. Every other spring flower is still hunkered down in the ground, waiting.
I check out the greenhouse, where I am the eternal optimist. Cuttings of geraniums and other summer delights are doing well, even sending out new growth, and an occasional flower. I’ve potted them up, urging them to grow strong, as May is coming, and I promise to put them outside where they can flourish. Yet, my words ring hollow, as the stiff wind from the north and the scattering of hail on the greenhouse roof contradicts my sermon on the coming of spring.
I plant some seeds in my seed flats, hoping it is warm and bright enough for them to start making their way in this world. I promise them sunny days and warm dirt, if they can just get started and join me in waiting for the coming good days. I marvel at the variety of all the different seeds, and how they can quickly spring to life and change the world.
I’m drawn to magic and witchcraft, though, or at least alchemy. Turning lead into gold, or planting seeds, it seems like the same kind of idea. Planting seeds is a sign of eternal optimism and miracle making, I think. Seeds look pathetic, dry, hard, looking nothing like something that contains life. Yet, put them in some dirt and add some water, and sunlight, and they turn into green plants growing leaps and bounds, is nothing short of miraculous, or alchemy. Gardeners might want to think they are biologists, or at least practitioners of good husbandry, yet I really think we are alchemists and magicians at heart.
Outside, I take census of the land and what is going on. A small flock of geese flies overhead, the leader calling to the others, as they make their morning rounds to the river and then back. Soon, they will be nesting and raising the next generation of what has become a small flock of geese who have taken up permanent residence here. Perhaps they have tired of the annual commute to California and Alaska, preferring to endure our wet winter and mild summer in return for not having to deal with all that travel.
The calls of the small flock are a welcome sound in my day. The flock has grown over the years, from a pair, to four, and now to about a dozen. I’ve always called a group of geese either a flock, or a gaggle. Yet, the other day, reading an English author, I learned that true Brits call a group of geese an argument. The steady, persistent “honk, honk”, is, perhaps, best described as an argument. It certainly sounds more poetic than the boring “flock” or even the melodic “gaggle”.
The neighborhood crows jump in, their raspy, throaty “caws”, grate against my nerves, as they give their own commentary on the day’s activities. A group of crows is a “murder” and that seems to match their persistent and annoying conversations.
The morning task is to stake and fertilize the young trees I’ve planted. My neighbor, the forester, gave me several dozen year old seedlings a few weeks ago, and I found room for them on the far end of our property. They will be good windbreaks, and also a good buffer against the other neighbor, the one whose kid can ride his dirt bike around and around, revving the motor and overcoming the call of the neighborhood band of geese making their rounds. Even the red-tailed hawks soar away to more peaceful hunting grounds when the kid decides to get out his dirt bike and go for a spin.
I’ve always enjoyed planting young trees, helping my dad out as we replanted a hill above our cabin, part of the Tillamook Burn. A few years later, the trees were growing well, and I could see that we had recreated a forest. It seemed magical, and ever since, I’ve taken delight in helping Mother Nature growing a forest.
The recent cold rains have helped settle the young trees into the ground, and the fertilizer I’m adding is giving them a healthy start in their first year in their new home. The neighborhood deer and elk aren’t much interested in my little corner of the neighborhood, so I’ve dispensed with putting up the wire and plastic cages to protect young trees from their appetites for young and tasty evergreens.
I add a bamboo stake next to each seedling, so I don’t lose track of it as the grass and blackberries grow this spring and summer, and they don’t get shaded out or suffocated by everything else that wants to grow here.
I’ve planted cedars, Western Red to be precise. Native Americans called it a medicine tree, using bark for making cloth, the trunks for canoes and elaborate enormous lodges, even totem poles. The leaves were used as tonics and poultices to heal. Now, we know that the essences of the cedar roots are good for salmon in the rivers, and help to restore the ancient qualities of the water, helping salmon to find their way home and purify the rivers.
It is doing my small part to heal and restore the watershed where I live and make this small part of the planet just a little bit healthier.
Now, chilled to the bone, my sweatshirt cold and damp in the morning mist turning to rain, I finish my tasks and pull off my now cold gloves, and slip off my boots. I close the garage door to the morning chill, and head inside, eager for my cup of tea and a good book.
—Neal Lemery, 4/21/2018