I sit down on the rough wooden steps of the studio, the last beams of sun casting a dusky glow on the lush greenery of hills and meadows. The air has begun to chill. My jeans are soaked through, a welcome relief a short while before, now surprisingly cold. I bend to untie my old hiking boots, caked in mud and torn at the seams. These boots have hiked the red rock canyons of Zion, Bryce and Arches National Parks, crossed the steam-laden boardwalks of Yellowstone, carried me past alligators in the Everglades and the Georgia bayou, hiked the Andes mountains and followed the Amazon river. Worn from years of adventures and nights dried too close to the campfire, they now help me dig my roots into this land.
Here, in the land between streams and rivers, where water pools upon the clay soil, we are creating our home. This is, profoundly, a question of place. We have experienced the subtle differences between counties, both in landscape and in culture. Each night, the sun sets over the Hudson River and I marvel at the history of this landscape. Not so long ago, this river was the primary mode of transporting goods to and from this county. The secrets of our land bring similar reminders of history. Rusted barbed wire fences appear here and there beneath the leaf litter, the sole remains of long-ago pasture. A young but dense forest has grown around them. Many treasures have been found in the weeds around our home. Shards of broken pottery from the artists who resided here before us, a rusted cast iron bathtub that would make a perfect planter, an old foundation behind the studio, and the endless 5-gallon buckets full of clay that have given our farm its name.
We dig our roots into this land as we question what has come before. The land seems to have taken on a new vibrancy, the subtle difference between that which is cared for and that which is abandoned. The house itself undergoes transformation and is beginning to show the promise of what will be. For months, our energy focused intensely on the renovation of the farm house, but for now the project lies fallow. It will have to wait.
It is planting season.
We have decided to wait on our vegetable garden, preparing the soil during this year, then planting next spring. This year, our time and energy fuel an investment in our future. We are planting a forest garden, an orchard of fruit-bearing trees and shrubs. I spent hours upon hours this past winter, sitting by the woodstove and pouring over permaculture guides and nursery catalogs. We selected a diverse collection of fruits and nuts, enough to feed our family year round, with ample harvest to share. The orders were placed. The green tones of spring began to appear. Then the trees began to arrive.
We were blessed, over May Day weekend, to have the loving help of my sisters, mother, brother-in-law and nephews. The order had, unexpectedly, arrived just the day before and I was in a panic. Their willingness to roll up their sleeves and help was profound and moving. Together, we put many of the plants in the ground. We celebrated at the end of a hot day with a walk to the creek, where the three bigger boys stripped down to wade in the early May water. While the grown-ups talked, they wandered off, returning later thickly coated in mud.
The planting has continued. Sometimes the boys help, and I am impressed by their skill at digging. This is not a favorite chore, but they work hard, with real strength. Someday they will reap a great benefit.
Today, I planted one peach tree, two Asian pear trees and two apricot trees. The soil is harder now than it was earlier in the month. The soil seems permeated with roots and rocks. The sun is so hot now that I can only plant early and late in the day. Temperatures reached 87 degrees today. Each tree requires a hole 1-2′ deep and about 3′ in diameter. The meadow plants have grown chest-high and need to be cut before digging is possible. Breaking sod is slow-going, as is digging in our heavy, clay soil. I top the plants with rabbit bedding, both mulch and fertilizer.
Today, I planted the 60th plant in our orchard. 60 trees and shrubs means 60 holes, 60 mulchings. It also means 60 waterings.
I have developed a watering system, though I dream of irrigation. Each new tree must receive 5 gallons of water at a time. On watering days, I line a series of 5-gallon buckets, found around the farm, on the path leading up the hill. The hose only reaches this far. I fill the buckets, then carry two at a time up the hill to the most distant plantings. This is my hardest task, yet the effort feels good, grounding and pushing me physically. I always visit the farthest plants first. I inspect each one, delighting in new growth. I pour a bucket of water at the base of each plant, saying a little blessing for the plant as I do. I visit 2 plants, then walk back down the hill for 2 more buckets.
In the end, I have been even more thoroughly watered than the plants. On this hot day, that suits me just fine.
We are planting a future, here, for ourselves, the boys, our families. I have studied the landscape deeply, choosing the best location possible for each tree or shrub. This hill will bear signs of this work for many, many years to come. I do not think that I have ever done something so long-lasting. Far after our time, the fruit will hang ripe from these boughs. This hill will rustle with the soft sound of leaves. Flowers will bloom and birds will flit from tree to tree, feasting on dropped fruit. We are leaving our legacy on this land.