My relationship with this piece of land continues to evolve. Last night as I was digging cucumber sprouts out of the compost (volunteers make for great gardens) I unearthed a family of mice living in my compost heap. Twice I uncovered them, intending to disturb their home, send them packing, but both times, as I watched the adorable baby mice squirm, I was reminding of my own adorable baby and both times I recovered the mice and decided to let them be. Before heading to bed, I set a mouse trap in the pantry and this morning there was a fat healthy mouse in the trap. Mom? Dad? Maybe those mice won't make it after all...
I'm on my fourth or fifth reading of Michael Pollan's first book, Second Nature. Most recognize Pollan from his blockbuster The Omnivores Dilemma, or the curious Botany of Desire but his finest work, I believe, is found in his discussion of man's place in the world. Second Nature explores his relationship with an abandoned farm that he slowly works into a true garden. Not a garden in the American sense of the word, all tomatoes and carrots, but a garden more in the English sense, a landscape consisting of grasses, trees, plants, and of course, vegetables. His discussion of nature is particularly interesting to me. There are few places in this world that are untouched by man, and arguably, due to our effect on air and climate, there are none. As stewards of this earth, or at least as enlightened being living on it, we have an opportunity, if not a responsibility, to see our place in it as natural and not alien, and to use the tools and knowledge at our disposal to shape the landscape, to consult "the genius of the place" as he would say, and to find a best-use scenario that encompasses the needs of every plant and animal in it, not the least of which, our own.
I've found as I grow older, as I work in and with the land, planting and cutting, weeding and digging, that my careful input has a greater and more positive impact on the land than merely letting nature run it's course. Living on this piece of property has given me added perspective, for here is a place that has not been "natural" for many years. If you poke around the fields and woods you will find old rusted plows with 40 year old trees growing up among the tines. 30 year old locust trees dominate a once thriving boxwood grove. Only through careful, meticulous and consistent editing (a fancy word for weeding with a chainsaw) has this land begun to emerge as something more than a random collection of woods, planted and otherwise, and fields.
So it is with the saw, the weedeater, the mower and the hand clipper that I reclaim and shape this place, this garden. Our traditional vegetable garden encompasses several square feet (for now) but I see this entire place as a garden, 80 acres begging for attention because the oaks can't fight the locust and the paradise trees on their own. Trails give access to the far corners and now that spring has sprung, the spaces are truly gaining their character. My time and energy is limited, but my vision is not. To abandon this place "to nature" would be unnatural. It's a garden, a place where humans and mice (and one fat raccoon) live in harmony, so long as they stay out of the pantry.