Monday, July 5, 2010

Laurel's birth day

Thirty years ago My daughter Laurel was born on the hottest day of the summer. Dave brought me three books to read while I was in the hospital – all about raising sheep.

We had moved to a five acre piece of land in the country in March. We tapped maple trees for syrup, and were raising baby chicks. We toyed with the idea of becoming farmers. Our land had a house, three old chicken coops, a small feed shed, a quarter mile of driveway, four acres of woods and a small square acre of grass where a barn and barnyard used to stand.

The store where I bought wool for spinning had just closed. We could buy a few sheep and raise wool so that I would no longer need to buy it at a store. The idea fit right in with our deelusions of self sufficiency.

That summer we bought a Rototiller for the gardens and for that acre of grassland. The next spring we planted a quarter acre of alfalfa, a quarter acre of pasture grass, a quarter acre of oats and a quarter acre of field corn. The tilling took several passes to break up the grass. Dave planted the oats, grass and alfalfa seed with a hand powered seeder we found at an auction. We planted the corn using the traditional stick a stick in the ground, drop in a seed, cover the hole technique. It seemed to take forever.

No matter how fast we weeded, the weeds faster, big, lush, voracious. The only thing that grew more rapidly than the weeds, were the mosquitoes, especially in the corn. By the time the corn was chest high, the weeds were definitely winning. We called in reinforcements. A high school student accepted our offer of a job. I took him out to the corn patch, showed him the difference between corn and weed and took my place weeding several rows away from him. At lunch time, he declined our offer of a chef salad with home grown lettuce, went home for lunch, and never returned.

We stopped raising our own field corn in part because I don’t like the idea of spraying our farm with an herbicide. I’ve let my shade gardens naturalize themselves because I can’t keep the ground ivy, the dame’s rocket, and the European bellflower under control. Only in the vegetable garden and my sun garden do we still continue the battle. The vegetable garden is set out in rows, which means we can use the tiller to accomplish a lot. Weeding is hard work. I know if I could just for once get ahead of it, I could pull them all, but somehow, it never happens. Even the places that look like I’ve pulled all the weeds are six inches deep in grass, thistle, lambs quarters or pig weed in another three weeks. It’s a never ending battle.

The sun garden, which I planted for Laurel’s wedding and expanded for Amber’s, is not tillable. So summer after summer, we pull grasses, daisies and thistles. There aren’t nearly as many thistles now as there were in that first field of corn, so we must be making progress. But the grasses and daisies are all descendents of the first grasses and daisies, growing from the extensive root systems that I never completely eradicate, or from the millions of seeds that somehow escape my weeding.

Laurel’s birth was the beginning of sheep in the barn and alfalfa in the field. Her wedding was one of the reasons I planted a sun garden. As I weed, early in coolness of the morning on the anniversary of her birth, I can blame her for my presence in the garden on my hands and knees pulling grasses, but I also have to thank her for my presence there when a humming bird buzzes me and then pauses to sip from a brilliant red monarda flower

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