[Homestead] Spring days at Heartwood
genegerue at ruralize.com
Mon Apr 12 18:05:41 EDT 2010
Going through old files, I found this article I wrote for a magazine about the time I joined the homestead list. It was a bit earlier in the season, but here it is:
Spring days at Heartwood
The first day of spring was once the time
for taking the young virgins into the fields,
there in dalliance to set an example
in fertility for Nature to follow.
Now we just set the clock an hour ahead
and change the oil in the crankcase.
Sun shines, porch chimes chime, peepers peep. Throats of cardinals, wrens, finches, titmice puff and vibrate as grand plans are proclaimed. Phoebe inspects her favorite corner of the porch ceiling, insistently sounds her name. Long, brown pieces of grass disappear into bluebird houses perched atop snake-proof pipes.
Field mice mosey, squirrels scamper, rabbits hop—and the floating, circling red-tailed hawk appraises them all. Grizzled old Heartwood Harold, who slept through “his day,” February second, ventures out of his barn den to sample new grass and clover. Near-sighted, he relies on movement to signal him hustling back to safety.
An Ozarks hollow has steep sides, reflects sounds well, is a great place to yodel. An insistent roar signals that Hurricane Creek is again living up to its name. The normally mild-mannered stream responds to seasonal rains in predictable fashion, but whitecaps are still well beneath the bottom of the big oak logs of the bridge built last year. The side hollow that intersects at the crossing empties fast, so the waterwall at that end of the bridge now has a waterfall and last year’s leaves rush over the stone, carried by the torrent.
Like coy lovers, the gods of Spring are capricious, an unsurprising condition in this place where weather is as unpredictable as a First Lady’s hairdo. Temperatures reach the seventies when forties and fifties are appropriate. Daffodils hurry to bloom, then a five-degree night crumbles their coronas. Lilacs are confused; even garlic is temporarily bewildered. Only birds seem certain of schedules.
The gray face of old man winter morphs into the green face of young sprout spring, a miracle of warmth and sunlight, photosynthesis and chlorophyll. Redbuds and dogwood pump up for their annual extravaganza. Doe deer are heavy of belly, a promise of spotted fawns on wobbly legs. An oriole stops by to rest before continuing north. The enormous flock of wintering robins is gone.
After months of house arrest, bright warmth beckons irresistibly, so the computer chair is empty. Rotten old garden fencing must be replaced and a new gate is being constructed—this year the woodchucks and coons will be deterred from meals of broccoli, melons, tomatoes. A fertility symbol is conceived for the garden entrance; an upright, Shinto-style phallus considered and rejected—some visitors might be put off. As a compromise, the curved cedar crosspiece above the gate is carved into a semblance of a human seed. Now, how to do the egg? Alas, Chris looks at the crude sculpture and asks, “What’s that supposed to be?” When told, she laughs: “Sperm are shorter and fatter and have long, skinny tails.” I am crushed. The saw makes history of the too-short “tail” and a chisel rounds the edges of the cut, making another “head.”
The next day it’s off to the woods to cut logs to be made into boards at the local sawmill. White oak for raised garden bed borders because it is strong and resistant to rot, pine for wall paneling because it is pretty, cedar for the planned greenhouse because humidity will not damage it. This is a fine time to work in the woods, not yet hot, nor yet time for tick-boy. It is also a good time to rest and observe. Poking up here and there are tiny phlox, violas, bluets, horsemint quickly taking sun before being shaded by new leaves of the forest canopy.
This day ends with a visit from humility. A large cedar tree is selected for harvest, likely direction of fall observed and judged, carefully notched, final cut made—and falls against power lines. The brief sputter of 7,200 volts touching ground is memorable. So are the calls of four neighbors without access to evening news and weather reports. The lineman who repairs the two broken wires is polite. “Cedar trees can be hard to calculate, what with all those dense limbs. Sometimes I use a plumb line to see which way they want to go.” Uh huh. Later I am told my biorhythms that day were in the pits.
“Renaissance” derives from renaistre, rebirth, to be born again. Spring is also a time of promise, of optimism, a fresh opportunity to get things right. Last year’s disappointments dim behind the inferno of this year’s dreams. Loads will be lighter, relationships will be brighter. Projects will be completed, debts will be paid. Peace will abound, despots will relent. Leaders will lead. And this year’s garden will be the best ever—in spite of the two-headed symbol of impotency atop the garden gate.
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