May 19th, 2010

A Simple Twist of Fate

Our farm is loomed over by a collection of specimen trees that were born in the 19th century;  majestic, beautiful, senile Victorians.  They seem to wander about in the wind, their leafy green gowns flapped open, trailing a bedpan of debris from their brittle canopies. Gingko, Tulip Poplar, Cucumber Magnolia, Kentucky Coffee Bean, American Linden, Chestnut, Sugar Maple, Black Walnut, Honey Locust They’re all in hospice here at Stonegate.

SGF_9027_3.3We wanna take you higher: Squash and cucumber trellises ready to be climbed.

Just this week, A 75-foot limb from a narrow crotch in an old sugar maple fell to the ground on a still, perfect day. It took out fencing and trellis, but didn’t damage a single, fragile leader of new growth in the young orchard.

10SGF_8981_1.3

If instant Karma was ever going to get me, this was the moment.

I had just finished planting a 100-foot row of heirloom tomatoes, laid in a drip line, and was walking towards the potting shed when the limb tore loose and fell from the sky like the sword of Damocles, landing right where I had been kneeling only seconds before.

How did this mass of century-old dead weight fall with such nimble care for living things, sparing my mortal coil, and making a tangle only of inanimate wire and fence board? ? It’s tempting to argue for some benign, protective outer consciousness.  But it was likely just a simple twist of fate that kept me from being pinioned to the orchard floor.

And our own local Methusela, the Balmville Tree, with its cement fillings, artificial limbs, and apparent lack of a decent living will, persists, year after year, a monument to posterity and stubborn intervention.  It, too, will surrender to gravity some day, taking centuries with it.10SGF_8956.1

Heirloom tomatoes, including Pink Beauty, Moskvich and Brandywine planted along the fencerow.

Many trees didn’t make it through the late Februrary storms this year, where snow as leaden as concrete took out limbs and power to so many in our parts.  We even lost a cherished Sargeant cherry in the center of our garden that I planted ten years ago, a child by comparison, and all the more painful for it.  But some determined, bullish engineering has wired it all better again (although the threaded rods holding the trunk together are monstrous; think prunus sargentii var.Frankensteinii.

You’d think all this fear of heights (is there a clinical phobia of tall things?) would favor my moving to the prairie, or at least give me religion (fear of being struck down from above is, after all, primal Old Testament stuff), but instead I’m going to dance with fate.

I love getting horizontal as much as the next guy, but owners of small holdings have to make the most of every inch (grow up, please…), so we’re trellising our costata romanesco squash this year, as well as our gerkin cucumbers to grow up, Please!  The more we can produce on small acreage, in any direction, the more resourceful and sustainable we’ll be.  Watch out for falling cukes!  -Mb

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