Wednesday, May 14, 2014

On Home and Fruit Trees

Prizewinning French Evereste Crabapple
Denny and I ordered a crabapple tree in April.  It arrived today.  It’s raining now, but we’ll plant it in a few days.  Planting it will be deeply satisfying to me. Just having it sitting in a bag of damp shredded newspaper in the corner of my office is satisfying to me.  It’s sort of symbolic. (Not the damp shredded newspaper bit, but the tree and the planting of it.)  Symbolic of the love Denny and I share with each other and with the land upon which we live.

  I have always wanted fruit trees.  My ex husband and I moved to this property (my dream home in the country) seven and a half years ago.  There were a few neglected and dying fruit trees.  I did the best I could with them, but the inland hurricane in 2009 did significant damage.  Goodbye pears. Goodbye peaches.

I knew that the sooner I could get trees in the ground the better.  They say the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago.  We never really had the money to invest in fruit trees, but more than that, my ex never had the heart to invest in this land.  He had no ties to land, to home.  He would rather our family live in tents, traveling like gypsies.  We were very ill-matched.  Not that I don’t see a tiny bit of the appeal of that life, if done properly and for the proper reasons, but it’s nothing compared to my desire to put down roots, to call a place my own, to work with the land to make it beautiful and sustainable, to encourage it to feed my family and other animals.  It’s tied in with my desire to be a part of a bigger community, to be surrounded by people and places I’m familiar with.

After the first couple years at this place my ex wanted to leave, to take us all on the road to live “free.”  This was probably the beginning of the end of us.  I tried to be the good, Christian submissive wife, but there were always many problems with his plans and I waffled between compliance and resistance.  He waffled between resentment and, perhaps, wanting to please me.  There were painful times when he was out of work and frustrated that he just wanted to sell everything and hit the road.  Being obedient to him by photographing and listing my beloved home at his request was one of the most agonizing things I had to do.  “It’s just a house,” I told myself.  “God will take care of you anywhere.  It will be okay.”  But I didn’t feel it.

Our shut-ins this evening during the rain, from up on the hill
Yes, it is just a house.  Well, not just a house.  There are five beautiful acres of mostly woods with a creek running along one side, a creek running through some of the most amazing shut-ins I’ve ever seen.  At this moment I can look out my dining window and see the creek, see the waterfalls rushing, hear them roaring from the last three days of rain.  It’s a marvel now and it’s a marvel when it’s tame and the children spend sunny afternoons in it, swimming, throwing stones, watching frogs develop from eggs and catching crawdads.  It’s a marvel to sit in the sun and dip my toes in the cool water when I’m feeling drained by other elements of my life.  It’s like tapping back into my power source, recharging my batteries.

The 1966 chateau style house sets back from the quiet state highway, nestled cozily on the gentle south-facing slope that forms the main yard.  The lower story is built out of cinderblock, solid and strong.  A steep roof perches on the upper half-story, boarded and battened by dark-stained, rough-sawn oak, probably from a local mill.  A large chimney rises regally out of the center and in the winter puffs gentle clouds of white smoke while we warm ourselves and dry our mittens by the wood stove inside.

The yard surrounding the house is dotted with huge old oaks and hickories.  The land levels out some between the house and the creek and there’s enough space between the trees to let the sunshine in.  Here is where I planted my vegetable garden; three 4x4 beds the first year, increasing after that until I had a 50x60’ area fenced in and primed for growing. The soil is naturally darker and richer here with fewer stones, I suppose because it’s the topsoil that washed down the hill over the course of many years.  I couldn’t ask for a better spot to cultivate tomatoes and children.

The day we moved in I remember standing on the back deck with my mom, overlooking the yard and what would become the garden, and gave my four children permission to play, that the place was ours.  We’d finally found the place I wanted to raise my children.  They trooped down the steps and ran laughing across the yard.  I glanced sideways at my mom and we were both choking back tears.  Just one of many beautiful moments of awareness tying my heart to this place.  
View of the yard and barn, also in this evening's rain

I worked countless hours and dripped countless beads of sweat creating an area to keep goats and chickens in the area around the garden; fence and barn and all. Beyond the barn is a gorgeous shaded area that we used to call The Orchard because the original fruit trees were there.  The word glen comes to mind, but the Webster’s definition isn’t entirely accurate.  Something about the protective semi-circle of forest, the lushness of the grass, the violets that cover the area in the spring.  There are clumps of Maiden grass left by some owner-beautifier along the way.  There are redbud trees and a glorious patch of honeysuckle the odor of which drifts into the barn on summer mornings while I milk goats.

Forest path to shut-ins, glades and observatory
And that’s only the half of it.  Follow a shaded path up the hill from the house and admire the forested portion of land, rich in oaks, hickories, dogwoods, redbuds, paw-paws, maples, elms and cedars.  The trees part on top of the hill to reveal an otherwise hidden rocky glade, replete with moss, lichen, wildflowers and sunning reptiles.  You can park yourself on a blanket here and rest for hours listening to the wind tickle the trees and the creek ripple over its rocky bed.

Back near the house, along the drive and at the edge of the forest there masses of daffodils and day lilies, tucked into the earth by some thoughtful person of yesterday.  Forsythias border the first part of the drive.  I’m told the house was built by a St. Louis couple as a summer home.  I could see that.

Witch hazel lines the creek banks.  Firepink, lily-of-the-valley, dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, spring beauty, wild phlox, wild hyacinth and so many other flowers I don’t know by name cover the forest floor in the spring, if you can spot them hiding among the mayapples.  We even have a patch of morel mushrooms and a lone wild azalea. 

I can sit on my deck and view the garden, the chickens, the goats, the children, the creek, the curving drive.  I can look out any window and see some beautiful portion of nature combined with the work of my hands.  There’s a soggy-looking hummingbird perched this very moment in the mess of blackberry bushes I planted just outside my dining window.

Three of my children were born in this very house, each in the quiet darkness of a winter night.  With each I lay exhausted in the comfort of my bed, nursing my wee infant as the faint light of dawn crept in the eastern window.

This is my home.  It’s not all I am, not all I have in the world, nor would I be lost without it, but I will not downplay my love for it.
The reason I never set aside money to plant fruit trees was because most of the time I’ve lived here I’ve lived under the constant threat that I would lose it.  My spouse did not see what I saw.  What I loved, he resented.  I invested a lot, but I drew the line at fruit trees, something of which I might never see the payoff.

I splurged two years ago.  After much research I bought two good quality apple trees.  With a mix of fear and hope I planted them in my vegetable garden.  Did my heart know something I didn’t?  Had I made up my mind to stay even if my husband didn’t?  I don’t know.  Maybe it was one last grab at fleeting hope.

Trellis and flower beds, some of many improvements
Denny has lived here with me for almost a year.  He loves this place.  He gave up his cabin in the woods by a lake, a place equal in beauty to mine, a place he had put almost as much love and sweat into.  I have to say, his place was the only one I’d ever seen I would consider giving mine up for.  We chose this place, but seeing his made me to understand that this is a man who can appreciate land and home the way I do.  Together we walk in the woods and quiz each other on the names of wildflowers.  We sit by the creek and dip our toes as the children play and bring us smooth or sparkly or striped rocks.  We talk and dream and plan.  With the children we have made amazing aesthetic improvements to both home and property, and we’ve only just begun.

We must buy fruit trees and bushes as soon as possible, he says.  Apples, peaches, pears, blueberries, raspberries, black berries, hardy kiwi and more.  There is no time like the present!
  He has not hesitated to invest time and money into this place, like he has not hesitated to invest everything in the children and I.  My heart is healing.  My heart is satisfied.

We will plant this crabapple tree together.  It will be the first of many trees and shrubs that will nourish our lives in the years to come here at Make-It-Do Farm.  


  1. I love the way you describe everything when you write. Just reading the words brought me back to places I once frequented as a child. Leach on your foot, anyone?

    1. I should write about that day; I will remember it 'til I'm 89! I usually tell how we each got leeches (to this day it's the only leech I've ever had) but when I stop to think about it I remember everything from the overgrown path down to the river, sitting on the rock fishing, deciding to jump in and swim... Wow. Hmm. Good times, my friend. Good times.

  2. *sniff, sniff*. So beautiful, mama! I'm so happy for you!


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