The Gang’s All Here

The migrating birds have arrived: ruby-throated humming birds, orioles, gold finches and scarlet tanagers. Added to the resident bluebirds, cardinals, various woodpeckers and wrens, the array of colors and songs is almost too much. I am definitely bedazzled, sitting sometimes for over an hour entranced. A plumber came by to check out why the water pressure is so low at the kitchen sink. Seeing my four bird feeders, he enthusiastically told me about the pileated woodpeckers that come to his suet feeder, and then got a wistful look in his eyes as he stated that he’s amazed at the hours he can spend watching birds. Yes…

I haven’t seen any sign of the foxes for over a week, but the chipmunks running under my feet, around the corner and back to their borrow with cheeks full of birdseed that the birds spill out of the feeders keep me entertained while I type. I haven’t seen any sign of the groundhogs either, but the grass is so tall in the pasture, that I might not be able to see them when they come out to graze.

I have noticed some scat of a larger carnivore, three times in the past few days. Could it be a coyote? I looked up coyotes in PA and found an interesting article that claims there are coyotes in every county in the state; 30 thousand altogether! It also claimed that  11 thousand are killed each year by hunters! Who knew? The article also claimed that coyotes are very elusive and only come out at night.  It has freaked me out, just a little. One coyote wouldn’t be a problem, but what if there was a pack of them?!

Last night at 4:00 AM I was startled awake by a loud noise seeming to come from the porch. Sure that it was an animal, I grabbed the flashlight and crept down the stairs, heart racing. When I peered out the window from the dining room onto the porch, I couldn’t see anything. Then there was more crashing noises coming from over by the kitchen window. When I shined the light out that way, there it was, the masked thief- a large raccoon! It had rolled a large tin can (about 12″x12″) that was full of sunflower seeds and tightly lidded, out between the old well and the lilac, right where the hose is coiled and was trying to get it open! Ki disappeared before I could get to the door.

I knew there were raccoons around but had never seen one. Last summer, it seemed apparent that raccoons were enjoying our sweet corn (and leaving us a few ears), but we never saw them. Some friends had spent the night last May, during the time that we were trying to catch the groundhog who was eating everything but the tomatoes and corn. We had set a humane trap bated with an apple hoping to catch ki, but then left before our friends arrived to go in town. The next morning they reported that a juvenile raccoon had been caught and we asked them to set it free- which they did. It took me a while to get back to sleep afterwards, but some of that may have been the moon. though only 3/4 full it was so bright shining in onto my bed, that my hand held up made a definite shadow.


Becoming Indigenous to the Land

How do we become indigenous to the land?

“After all these generations since Columbus, some of the wisest of Native American elders still puzzle over the people who came to our shores. They look at the toll on the land and say, ‘The problem with these new people is that they don’t have both feet on the shore. One is still on the boat. They don’t seem to know whether they are staying or not.’ This same observation is heard from some contemporary scholars who see in the social pathologies and relentless material culture the fruit of homelessness, a rootless past. America has been called the home of second chances. For the sake of the people and the land, the urgent work of the Second Man [European settlers] may be to set aside the ways of the colonist and become indigenous to place. But can Americans, as a nation of immigrants, learn to live as if we were staying? With both feet on the shore?

“What happens when we truly become native to a place, when we finally make a home? ”  Robin Wall Kimmerer, BRAIDING SWEETGRASS, Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants (kindle edition)  pp 206-7

This passage, and, indeed, the whole book, BRAIDING SWEETGRASS, has helped me understand what I am being called to do, here on Back forty Farm. I am to become indigenous to this place, to make the attempt as best  I am able, and to share my experience of doing so both in my writing and physically with others. This is not a quick process- in fact, quickness is no longer something to be aspired to. This will take the rest of my life, if I live another 20-25 years! This will require hours of observation, patience and faith. It requires the study of permaculture, trying things and then actually noticing what works best on this particular patch of heaven. Observation, endurance, patience… working with the other indigenous animals and plants whose home this is. It doesn’t mean having no impact, or leaving the land solely in its natural state- but it does mean learning from those that already inhabit this place.

One thing that seems much clearer to me than ever before, is the Native Americans perspective that humans are the younger sibling to all other species on earth. The other animals are our older siblings from whom we have much to learn. And the plants- the plants are our elders; we have so very much to learn from them. Just think, plants can take sunlight and turn it into sugars to nourish themselves, and in the process they nourish all the rest of us! Every vegetable we eat has done this! Every animal we eat has eaten plants, or eaten insects that eat plants. There is no human food without plants! Of course the pants also depend upon the earth, the soil, the minerals that come from rocks. They also need the rain, the water that circulates everywhere on this planet in order to survive, just as we do.

A few months back, I had an experience that startled me. I had the distinct sensation that I had been claimed by this land and a deep love welled up in me. It felt like the kind of love that has no bounds, the kind that happens when it is in response to being loved- not for anything I have done, just for who I am. Where did this come from? It is mysterious- but more real than almost anything else I have experienced. Now that I have read BRAIDING SWEETGRASS, and begun to understand what I am being called to do, this experience makes more sense.

The challenge is, now, how to do it. I know that I am not supposed to do this alone.Always when I have asked for guidance from G!d, Holy Mystery, I have been told time and again to never attempt to do things alone. As if I could! And yet, I fail to remember this way too often. Here on the farm, I never feel alone, I am constantly accompanied by what we call nature- the other inhabitants of this place, and even the land itself. But I also have a sense that there there are other humans that I am to do this with. I have faith that they will show up, or that I will be able to recognize them over time.



Carolina wren update!

Not only did the wrens survive, but I was lucky enough to witness the fledging of the 3 little wrens week ago Monday! What an amazing adventure life is. I hear the adult male frequently every day when I am here. I had to be away for a whole week (sigh), but have been back now for 3 days. Yesterday I saw the little wren clan; just flashes of that rich cinnamon color whizzing by from  forsythia bush to pear tree!. I think I saw all 5 of them, definitely 4 anyway… Does the whole family hang out together? for how long?Is it just the mother and young ones or do both parents continue to be involved? We actually know so little about bird behavior.

I have reclaimed the porch, and the little flower garden right off it. There are now herbs and tomatoes and some broccoli planted in with the ivy and the waning hyacinths and daffodils. The late blooming Korean lilac guards the little plot and perfumes the air with its intoxicating scent, ahhh…

One of the four eggs in the wren’s nest did not make it. What happened to it? Did a blue jay or some other critter get it? As mentioned earlier I learned that even chipmunks are omnivorous and will occasionally eat bird’s eggs or even nestlings! We do have plenty of chipmunks around. Or was the egg inviable and disposed of by the parents. Can a wren dispose of its own egg?  The mysteries of bird life abound!