The universe wants to be noticed, or at least it seems that way in spring when crispy green leaves roll themselves open as we walk by, wispy wild flowers wink from the side of the road, and from every mossy nest and wobbly branch–tiny, wide-eyed beings demand our instant attention and adoration. It is hard to get anything done when there is so much to look at and admire. As Kenneth Graham described it in “The Wind in the Willows:” Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.” No wonder Mole abandoned his spring cleaning to chase the flirtatious wind.
Spring comes slower to our shady Dogwood Getaway than it does in town, but once it finally got warm enough the trees went from winter pale to fluorescent green in less than a week. As the pictures below show, we had jackets and hats on one week, and merely tank tops the next. Like Mole, we had a hard time focusing on inside work when the woods were begging us on its muddy knees to come out and play. Quickly seduced, we did.
While Sebastienne and I spent most of last year hammering away at the house, Ada has been exploring our land, finding clever ways of combining her school work with forest expeditions. Besides the more obviously outdoorsy classes like biology and nature studies, she found inspiration for poetry, art, and adventure stories while roaming the woods. She is now more familiar with the land than we are, and she took us on a nature walk to point out where the creek is the deepest, where the prettiest ferns grow, and where her favorite trees hold court. Violets and Trillium were treasures to discover, and each one elicited a new yelp from whoever was lucky enough to spot it. We also met a baby toad and a baby box turtle, one more shy than the other, but both equally charming to our easily endeared hearts.
Reluctant to go back inside, we decided to take the week to spring clean our woods. When we first got the land, a year and a half ago, we bought a chainsaw, taught ourselves how to use it, and cut just enough trees for the driveway, the house, and a sunny spot for the solar panels. Much of it is already overgrown again, since wet and hot Georgia is a greenhouse gone wild. The speed of growth is spectacular, as is the variety of species. It is with strange pride that we walk around and check on our favorite giant Pine, Sourwood, dogwood, White Oak, Black Cherry, Maple, and Beech tree, which all have come to feel familial. We love our woods, and want them to stay as natural and native as possible, but we help it along by taking down the excess of teenage pines, dead or overly bushy trees, and cut back a fraction of the muscadine vines whose eerily muscular arms climb the trees and cover the ground.
My wonderfully fun friend and gardener boss Susie is a true connoisseur of plants and all that grows, and she often gives me baby trees and bushes that all come with their family history and nurturing advice. We planted three cedars and three green Japanese Maples of hers, and are excited to follow their growth through the years to come. It does feel a bit funny to cut down some trees and then plant others, as Ada pointed out, which is how I often feel about weeding in general. What is a weed, anyway? I explained it to Ada by comparing it to my take-no-prisoners attitude in regard to decorating–it is not that one color is less beautiful than another, they just do not all look beautiful together. Some “weeding” and “re-planting” is necessary for them to come to their utmost potential. All in my eyes, of course, since I am the one playing artist with my surroundings. For the woods own sake, we attempt to keep a mix of all varieties and all ages, and enough debris to feed them.
To bind the mud and break up the clay around the house and for our future garden, we planted pounds worth of clover (New Zealand White, Crimson, and Mammoth Red Clover from Johnny’s Selected Seeds at http://www.johnnyseeds.com ) and other cover crops. Planting required that we lugged buckets of water from home, which was a bit of a pain, and made us even more motivated to finally get up the gutters and water barrels. It is already starting to sprout all around us, but we are still sliding in the mud when it rains, and following Susie’s advice, we got cypress mulch for a path, since it is supposed to stay put. She also recommended that we buy cedar shavings from the pet store to put under the trailer to keep unwanted critters, like termites, at bay. The cedar mulch you buy at the hardware store, like Home Depot, uses the bark of the cedar rather than the center of the tree, which gives it a weaker smell and is therefore less affective. The pet store clerk must have thought we have a hamster farm as we emptied the shelves of litter.
My loveliest spring moment was when I came upon a part of the woods where we rarely walk, which was covered in the darkest, deepest moss and surrounded by ferns. Enchanted, I was careful not to disturb it, but I managed to pick around the edges until I got a bucket full of moss and two delicate and whimsy looking ferns. At that moment, no treasure could have seemed richer. I brought my find back to the house to decorate a stump that is right in our view (in the shade). Here we are, in the midst of house building, and I prettify a stump… It may seem like a frivolous use of time, but I felt like a bird collecting lovely things to decorate my nest. Something eternally feminine (not as in “by female”) called me through the woods, and I felt that I, too, was part of spring.
And now for something completely different… So far we have been getting away with minor scrapes, bumps, and bruises, but spring cleaning brought with it our first real accident! With enough distance and the relief of knowing the outcome, it does not seem so bad, but it was rather scary at first. We had spent a drizzly afternoon cutting down sad-looking pine trees, and everything was going smoothly. Seb had just said how much easier it felt to handle the chainsaw, when I heard a tree fall, turned around to see my beloved wife clutching her head while the chainsaw laid on the ground. It was on, but the blade was not running, I managed to notice before I ran up to her with a beating heart. She had done everything right, and the tree had fallen as she had planned, but before it fell, it must have knocked down a dead branch from high among the tangle of crowns, which then had fallen straight on her head. (She had honestly forgotten the helmet, which we otherwise always wear.) Besides a bump and a bruise over her right eyebrow, her head was fine, and I breathed out. That was when she noticed her right hand. “I’m pretty sure I broke my thumb,” she said as a matter of fact, and it did look horribly swollen and crooked. “Don’t panic” is rule number 1 in the universe (from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams), and we followed the nerd rule and stayed as calm as cucumbers. I got Sebastienne to sit down and take some ibuprofen while I planted the rose-bush that laid roots in the air where I had dropped it, locked the chainsaw in the shed, and got the dog and the kid to the car. The whole time, Sebastienne chatted on almost happily, giving us a moment to moment update on her experience.
Muddy, wet, and with pine needles in the most inappropriate places, we got to Immediate Care (cheaper than E.R.) right before closing. They couldn’t see much on the X-ray, but they at least established that the break wasn’t at the knuckle joint, as we first had feared. In the end, all she got was something to stabilize the thumb, and the advice to take it easy.
To take it easy, is easier said than done when you are a chef at your day job, and a house builder on your days off. I’ve done my best to keep her still, which is easier said than done, too, but she has been using her left hand very creatively, and so far she seems to heal well. I guess I’ll be doing most of the hammering this week, though, and maybe I can convince her to enjoy the hammock. The spring never lasts long in Georgia, and soon the delicate spring will be taken over by the heavyset summer, which knocks you out rather than seduces. There is still time to take notice.
The blooming Dogwood
Pale spring day.
Decorated stump with moss, ferns, and woodland phlox.
Ada and the tiny box turtle.
Mint, Lemon Balm, and Rose of Sharon