Becoming Indigenous to this Land

2016-07-18 18.32.26Some Native American Elders have been quoted as saying, “These newcomers, they still have one foot on the boat!” There has been a call from them to us, that we newcomers must learn how to be indigenous to this land. My soul has heard the call and I am making the attempt- not to mimic Native Americans, but to allow myself to be claimed by this land I own (or rather that I have the responsibility to care for). I was surprised two years ago, the first week in May, 2015, to find myself besotted with this “farm” that we’d bought from my Aunt who’d lived here for fifty years. This is now our 3rd planting season, the second, hopefully, successful full kitchen garden as well as small pockets of edibles up near the house where there is definitely a warmer micro-climate.

The first year the resident groundhog ate everything but the tomatoes! We had decided to try a small garden- not in the kitchen garden plot, but in the foundation of the old chicken coop. We naively speculated that the concrete foundation and a 3 foot high chickenwire fence would deter the groundhogs and deer. Little did we know that there was a groundhog burrow entrance  under an old stump just outside the foundation. We didn’t discover until much too late that ki had dug an entrance right up into the corner of the garden (under the tomatoes), and was eating all the newly planted seedlings; lettuce, spinach, beets, peppers and okra! The tomatoes, and arugula seemed untouched (and corn, which we unwillingly shared later on with the raccoons). Much to my dismay, David ordered a kill trap for the groundhog after our Have-a-heart trap failed to catch anything. About a week later, I found ki, quite dead, and was so distraught that I vowed we would find another way.

Since then I have trapped 3 young groundhogs and relocated them. After the first one, I found out that you are not allowed to relocate them anywhere else but your own property! Fortunately we have 20 acres, so I took kin as far away as I possibly could. Did they come back? Not to my knowledge. To make sure, by the third one, I spray painted a red splotch on kiz tail. But actually, last year we decided to use the long-time kitchen garden, and make it secure with a solar powered electric fence. We also used a hunting camera to keep track of what was getting in the garden. Only a young groundhog, and not for long! David had to adjust the lower fence wires a few times, but eventually got it right. Although there was some insect damage, and a few other problems here and there, we ate the vast majority of the things we grew, as well as sharing the bounty with friends and family.

Our woods (10 acres) are full of wild edibles, most especially ramps and berries. There are some mushrooms, Hen of the Woods (Mitake) and Lions Mane; there is also a bit of Water Cress, down by the springhouse. There are probably other things as well, but I don’t know about them yet. I have read about the concept of the honorable harvest. It is a Native American precept. To my understanding there are two parts to it. The first is respect and gratitude. You ask to be able to harvest (ramps, for instance), by giving honor in some way to kin and then you thank kin for kin’s generosity. The second part is only taking what you need, and always leaving some (the majority?), so that kin may continue to prosper and reproduce. I think of this second as never taking more than 10%, especially since there are just two of us.

This morning in Quaker Meeting for Worship, I began to wonder how honorable harvest might apply to growing your own food, as opposed to gathering from the wild. Basically we eat all of what we grow (or share it with others). There are, of course, many differences in gathering (or hunting) and farming (or gardening), but somehow, it seems to me that there must be some way to honor the plants we grow and eat. Then I remembered digging the trench for planting potatoes just a few days ago. While I was planting the  potato “eyes’, I noticed hundreds of little volunteer tomato seedlings growing in the mounds near where the Sungold Cherry Tomatoes had proliferated so wildly that we didn’t eat half of them in the end! I tenderly transported a handful of them back to the house and potted the most promising looking ones in seedling pots. We also grew more squash (much of it volunteers from the compost pile the previous year) than we could eat. I had saved the one volunteer Hubbard Squash and we just ate it two weeks ago. I put aside about half of the seeds as I was preparing to cook it, and planted several of them in seedling pots. I transplanted 4 of them outside a few days ago. Now, as I am writing this and can see the various seedlings we have yet to transfer into the garden, I notice the 5 Pole Bean sprouts that I grew also from seeds I saved.

Seed saving, it occurs to me, is a way of honoring the plants we grow and eat. If the seeds saved and sprouted, survive outside and produce, and then seeds saved from those, we will be continuing the chain of being for these plants into the future. I can’t think of a better way to honor them, and it fulfills, at least in spirit, the honorable harvest.

Living here on the land (as much as I can) and learning from the other inhabitants; birds, deer, groundhogs, trees and plants by observation as well as reading about them, all seem to be part of becoming indigenous to this land. It is a long-term project, one I expect will take the rest of my life. It would give me great joy to have someone/s to pass all this on to- but for now, it is enough just to enjoy the process and share it with whoever wants to listen.


Besotted, again!

The Wood Thrush has returned. With lyrical song ki heralds the evening and the symphony of all the birds. The Cardinal finds the tallest branch on the old pear tree and peels out kiz song, the sparrows, Titmice and Carolina Wren’s all join in. At a distance the the Barred Owl’s “whoo, whoo, who, whoo whoo whoo–aw” brings a smile to my lips. If you listen very closely you can also hear the Spring Peepers a half mile away, down by Chester Creek. The Lilacs  delicately sent the air and  underneath that, if you have a discerning nose, you can smell the Wisteria. The 100 year old vine that climbed up the Shagbark Hickory and now is 100 feet high!

The ramps are just about passing their peak; thousands in the woods. The watercress down by the old springhouse is a foot tall and begging to be picked. The 50 year old rhubarb is coming into maturity, ready to be made into my new favorite, Blueberry Rhubarb compote with just a little bit of maple syrup to sweeten it. The small salad garden just out the kitchen door had enough baby greens in it for our dinner tonight. We have had 3 or 4 meals from our 2nd year Asparagus; time to give it a break.

This evening, after the heat of the day had passed on and a sweet little breeze began to cool things off,  we began planting in earnest. By the time it was too dark to work anymore we had dug an trench and put in 20 potatoes, added about 20 more asparagus roots and planted our first round of corn seedlings. While digging the trench for the potatoes, I found a lot of volunteer Sungold cherry tomato seedlings from last year. I tenderly replanted  9 of them in seed pots, hoping a few will survive and produce that delightful sweetness again this year.

I grew some Hubbard seedlings from seeds I saved and 3 are now in the ground, next to the Cherokee Purple tomato plant I couldn’t resist buying from the local Agway store yesterday. We’ve got Okra seedlings waiting to be planted and tons of tomatoes of various heirloom varieties, waiting to be a little bigger before they go into the ground. The Rosemary, Sage and Tarragon all survived the winter in pots in our little micro climate near the house where the West-facing porch makes an L with the South-facing exterior wall of the old part of the farmhouse. The Oregano came up again and the Marjoram also survived the winter in the micro climate; Cilantro and Dill are going strong. The Sugar- snap and Snow peas are moseying along, slow but steady.

I am blessed, indeed. with this little patch of heaven. Makes me want to sing, “so, somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.”