After 31 years of spot mowing for Canada Thistle, this summer there was less than a quarter acre of thistle infestation to mow. But thistles always come back. Maybe it’s time for us to get a flock of Canadian goats.
Botanists tell us that Canada Thistle (cirsium arvense) did not actually come from Canada; it originated somewhere in southeastern Europe or southwestern Asia. Personally I suspect, with no basis in fact or research, that it was bio-engineered by 13th century botanical necromancers working for Genghis Khan as part of his plan to despoil all parts of the world that he could not conquer.
Canada. I like Canada, I really do, and most things Canadian.
Through the course of its fascinating history of discovery, exploration, settlement, and development, Canada has forged a vibrant nation in a harsh land where success and prosperity (and sometimes survival itself) is based on courage, strength, daring, and common purpose. Its chronicle includes first the confrontation and clash of diverse peoples and cultures and gradually the acceptance and assimilation of all.
That has made the country an admirable place to live and an attractive place to visit. The international atmosphere and open character of Canadas’ cities surpass that of any of the dozen metropolises in the United States where we have lived or visited. After a three-week vacation that began in Vancouver on the Pacific Coast and took us on a winding tour through the Canadian Rockies I believe that British Columbia is the most beautiful place on Earth and Vancouver the best city in which to live (though frightfully expensive). My opinion may have been influenced by the seafood, neighborhood pubs, and craft beers.
I could compile a long list of positives about Canada.
Evening walks are not so easy or so spirit-soothing these days
on unsteady legs that caution “slowly” for fear of tumbling down
the face of the limestone bluff that plunges into Trout River Valley
several hundred tree-stump-studded and rock-faced yards below.
Hurrying, I fell two springs past, somersaulted and thumped my skull
hard against the toppled bole of an ironwood girdled and poisoned
along with a hundred other ‘trash’ trees as part of my greedy plan
to improve the logging value of this woods which we will never log.
I had it coming, that knock on the head, from that tree, tit for tat,
but I still groused it was unfair. Living fifteen years with the guilt
of gutting out a scrub forest of misshapen but fiercely alive ironwood
and aspen and box elder and elm and cedar with tangled understory
that sheltered a hundred acres’ worth of wildness on less than twenty,
should have been punishment enough, but a good whack to the head
told me to repent again, often, my mistake of pride and ignorance.
This and all other mistakes of pride and ignorance. Well-intentioned,
all for good reasons at the time, but what does a dying ironwood care
for intentions or reasons when the cambium that carries the flow
of its milky lifeblood is slashed open and tainted with blue venom?
The wildness has returned, almost, to what it was fifteen years ago.
Dead ironwoods don’t care to forgive me, but eighty soaring walnuts
don’t care to shame me either, and the young maples are clueless,
remembering none of this, emerging later on from ruptured seed pods
in the thin humus of damp leaves and rotted tree trunks that flesh out
the bluff’s limestone skeleton. Today, in a thicket of stinging nettle,
I find crushed ferns where a doe dropped her fawn, licked it alive
and nursed it in secret a few days before they arose and left together,
knowing nothing of the former trash-tree tangled glory of this place
as it was years back before seven generations of deer family history.
The ironwood knows, and I know. I signed the paper for its execution
and it bided its time and delivered revenge with a brain concussion.
Me and this woods, maybe we’re even-up now and can start over.
The household lawn with its decorative gardens of flowers/weeds is a bitterly contested battlefield in the war between the sexes, and while the male invader with his mechanized equipment and chemical weapons may seem to have the advantage in each isolated skirmish the female insurgent who unceasingly nurtures the hearts and minds of the flora population will always prevail.
Flowers and weeds
‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.’
Or more accurately stated for the purposes of this discussion, ‘A man’s weed is a woman’s flower.’ Take heed of this warning when you mow the lawn, gentlemen, and beware of cutting down any plant that is not obviously a blade of grass or a clump of plantain. And I’d advise you to be dead certain on the plantain identification.
As I have learned from harsh experience, what a man may identify as a noisome cluster of wild oxeye daisy that is encroaching on the yard from the adjacent hayfield will in fact be a carefully nurtured planting of white snowcap shasta daisy, and mowing it down to stubbly stems will cause your status in the marital relationship to plunge to that of an oil corporation attorney at a Nature Conservancy meeting. The household lawn with its decorative gardens of flowers/weeds is a bitterly contested battlefield in the war between the sexes, and while the male invader with his mechanized equipment and chemical weapons may seem to have the advantage in each isolated skirmish the female insurgent who unceasingly nurtures the hearts and minds of the flora population will always prevail. Always. And after cessation of hostilities she will serve as sole judge and juror at your botanical war crimes trial.
So wisely surrender to the inevitable, men, and abide by the following rules of engagement in the lawn and garden wars.
…this wonderful encounter with a small miracle, this tiny fawn in the hayfield, lifted my spirits and gave me renewed hope that a mad, mad world may yet come to its senses and brighter days are ahead.
The nursery is off limits
Our hayfields are officially off limits for the next couple months. The daily walks with our bird dogs around the perimeter of the fields are cancelled until the end of June, and maybe the first few weeks of July.
We are in the peak of the spring’s infestation of wood ticks and deer ticks, but that is not the reason we have declared ourselves personae non gratae (and also canaes non gratae) in the twenty-plus acres of grassland habitat atop our hillside farm. We are staying away so that we do not interfere with baby care.
On November days wandering near the 100th Meridian
(fabled barrier to rainfall in the Great American Desert),
the tail end of the grouse season when birds are flighty,
or midway through deer season when heart-stopper bucks
are wise or dead and yesterday’s doe a should-have regret,
prairie wind writhing lewdly through wool and flannel,
groping to touch some naked skin where it can slip in
and pull away my warm-centered self, turn me inside out,
I learn anew my body is the last true refuge, a fragile home,
in a world open to an unending sky with unending desire
to wear down and smooth away rough and ragged intrusions.
These are days when often comes the uncontrolled fortune
to shiver free of this body’s shelter and for so brief a time
be windborne with the bluestem seed and tufts of grama
and all else carried by winds that mean to move us from
inside’s tight-closed and close-huddled here-and-now
to outside’s everywhere-and-forever wilderness.
At the moment of escape I pull my coat tighter and myself back.
Back into my refuge, this shelter, shielding from prairie wind
a soul not yet free to venture across the 100th Meridian.
A harder task will be halting those fantasy purchases – buying things we need for the grand adventures that we know will come our way… someday. The first of the twelve steps in the cure, gentlemen, is to accept that the grand adventure train ain’t stopping at our station anymore. It’s gone. Tear up your ticket.
A simpler time of life
Coots, codgers, curmudgeons and cranks, it is time for us to make the transition from the acquisition phase of our lives to the dispersal phase. All through our long years we have paid homage – and a considerable portion of our disposable income – to the false gods of material possessions, and now we are discovering the serenity, tranquility, and freedom that comes with the release of worldly goods.
Simplify, simplify, simply. That’s our new mantra
Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do. Do without.
The rip-rumble of the tent flap’s zipper sets the dogs whining in their travel crates. They’ve been awake, stretching and yawning, for ten minutes or more, ever since the creak and thump of my cot-flip interrupted their sweet and untroubled sleep, but they are experienced camp dogs: the tent zipper, that’s the sound that means the hunters are alive, the beginnings of another day of dog-joy.
Bird hunters’ camp
Left eye glued closed with gunk from seeping tear ducts and right eye blurred by its retinal blind spot, I can still see the tent wall aglow in the pre-dawn wash of sunlight the flows over the hills east of our prairie campsite. We have survived another night.
Through the window mesh I spy the last bottle of beer from the six-pack atop the Coleman stove on the picnic table, but my mind and body are not asking for alcohol; they are pleading for ibuprofen and caffeine. A few pills and lots of coffee. Strong coffee.
Three days of bird hunting and tent camping in late September – that’s my limit. This is the fourth day. Going back to sleep is not an option; I have to pee. But there is a chill in the morning air and I’m warm in my mummy bag, top cord drawn tight to close its hood over my head and across my face. Doze just a few minutes more? No, I urgently need to go, so I struggle out, arthritic hands clumsily undoing the draw cord and trying to slide the down bag’s zipper open without jamming it.