Making The Earth Say Trees

At the beginning of April my son and I walked the property lines of his nascent farm to make our plans for this year and next. Standing at a surveyor’s stake at the back of his soybean field, I thought of Henry Thoreau. I would make the earth say trees, not beans or grass, if Brendan lets me. Then I thought of what Thoreau said about dreaming such dreams: “The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them.”

Whether it turns into a bridge or a woodshed, we made our start today, planting 70 White pine and Arbor vitae seedlings in a new tree nursery at his place, and 30 in the nursery at mine.

Thoreau has been much on my mind this spring, particularly The Bean-Fieldfrom Walden:

Meanwhile my beans, the length of whose rows, added together, was seven miles already planted, were impatient to be hoed, for the earliest had grown considerably before the latest were in the ground; indeed they were not easily to be put off. What was the meaning of this so steady and self-respecting, this small Herculean labor, I knew not. I came to love my rows, my beans, though so many more than I wanted. They attached me to the earth, and so I got strength like Antaeus. But why should I raise them? Only Heaven knows. This was my curious labor all summer — to make this portion of the earth’s surface, which had yielded only cinquefoil, blackberries, johnswort, and the like, before, sweet wild fruits and pleasant flowers, produce instead this pulse. What shall I learn of beans or beans of me? I cherish them, I hoe them, early and late I have an eye to them; and this is my day’s work. It is a fine broad leaf to look on. My auxiliaries are the dews and rains which water this dry soil, and what fertility is in the soil itself, which for the most part is lean and effete. My enemies are worms, cool days, and most of all woodchucks. The last have nibbled for me a quarter of an acre clean. But what right had I to oust johnswort and the rest, and break up their ancient herb garden? Soon, however, the remaining beans will be too tough for them, and go forward to meet new foes. Read more.

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