Monday, January 2, 2023

A New Year on the Land

230-year-old White Oak
The year ends and a new one begins. Whether this is one process or two is a matter of perspective, a matter of awareness, the ultimate arbiter of reality. Yes, 2022 ends; yes, 2023 begins; and, yes, this moment is, without beginning or ending.

I walked our land today with my wife Sandy. We cleared a spot near our front gates for a trail camera, removing brush and mowing so that winds wouldn't whip the growth and trip the camera. Then we strolled a loop through our thirty-five acres, down to the bottomland and creek, then back up the ridge to our majestic white oaks and a trek skirting the fenceline back to the camping area. Because of the thaw, we stepped carefully to avoid stripping topsoil and moss from the steepest parts of the trail, the unseasonable melt creating mud rather than frozen soil. Not quite six months have passed since we have purchased this land, and in the tail end of 2022, we have accomplished one objective and begun what will be a continuing maintenance procedure of our land.

One clear accomplishment has been that our "infrastructure" has been upgraded: gravel for the road to the camping area, electricity, water, and sewage storage. For the new year we will be able to camp on our land and not have to leave with our 16-foot Airstream Basecamp once a week for water or to drain the camper's blackwater tank; we will be able to use our water spigot and drain our camper's blackwater (sewage and graywater) into our sewage storage tank, which will be pumped out once a year. In addition to upgrading infrastructure, we've also bought basic equipment to accomplish quite a bit of the basic upkeep for the land--a shed, mower, and UTV, along with some power tools. Next year we hope to build a small shower/toilet building that will be connected to the sewer holding tank and electric and water lines. The shower house will allow us to more easily have guests and also, hopefully, keep ourselves from being bitten too much by chiggers. We'll have our own private campground, or to put it another way, we'll be able to use our small travel trailer as a "cabin" as we stay on the land.

The "continuing maintenance" that we've begun has to do with our stewardship of the land. On-going procedures for regenerating or "re-wilding" the land include removing invasive multiflora rose, clearing the creek of downed trees to minimize erosion, maintaining fences (to keep the neighbor's cattle out), and thinning and nurturing tree and native plant growth. These procedures have begun in large part by hiring professional help for removal and planting grasses. We also plan to research, including hopefully advice from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, to determine what native plants to introduce and how we can include plants that provide food for wildlife. Right now, our land is mostly a bedding area for wildlife without a lot of plants available that provide food. Once we introduce more food plants, we should see a greater variety of wildlife. So far in 2022, we cleared much of our bottomland of brush and multiflora and also cleared some of our higher land, one ridge line also cleared. This next spring we'll have these areas planted to encourage grasses rather than multiflora and poison ivy.

We hope to eventually create a haven not just for ourselves but also for the local wildlife. We're not adverse to planting some domesticated crop areas, "food plot," for the wildlife. We've been told that turnip greens are good for deer and winter wheat for wild turkeys. We have this frozen winter season to research options. We'd like to emphasize planting native plants as much as possible, such as native fruit and nut trees. We already have hickory and walnut on the land, and we know of some native peach and pear options that might be possible to establish with some care and protection. Wildflowers are a consideration, but we've been told that they are difficult to establish. 

Our walk today reinforced our need to focus on minimizing erosion. This last week of above-freezing temperatures created a fragility for the soil. We didn't drive our UTV off the gravel, and even while walking we had to be careful with the soil. One major discussion with the DNR will be on soil conservation. Spring will be the most dangerous season for soil erosion when the creek runs high and muddy. We hope to eventually to drive on the land only for maintenance or construction; the rest of our interaction will be hiking. A basic consideration for creating a sanctuary for ourselves and local wildlife is maintenance of the soil. We can't very well establish a sanctuary without land! Soil, grasses, trees, and animals (and ourselves) to share the land.

After six months of interacting with this bit of our planet, our most significant acquaintances have been the huge white oaks on the land, five of which are between 175 and 250 years old. They are teaching me to experience time on a larger scale--an afternoon, a day, a season? Measuring by eras is even a narrow perspective. Perhaps just an awareness of the eternal now is the real lesson that these living giants can teach us, that it's possible to allow the flux of the world to swirl around us if we root ourselves in the moment. I've noticed that when I'm on our land, silence seems more three dimensional, deeper. Silence within me expands, extending beyond my body; and I feel the silence outside enfolding me, including me within the stillness between earth and sky. 

Our thirty-five acres remind me that once there were no boundaries, no fences, no land titles. Boundaries are imposed by our minds, not by geography. A shore, a creek bed, a ridge, a valley--these are not beginnings and endings but are just part of the wholeness, a landscape of, as poet Gary Snyder wrote, "mountains and rivers without end." Winds swirl around our Mother Oak and around me; rooted in the earth, we abide. Joy this year and forever to the wind, the seasons, rain and snow, sun and shadow. I abide and lift my arms to the sky.

For all articles about our land, follow this link: Landowner.

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