Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day 2012 at Z Acres

by Zinta Aistars

Like all things, it is when something becomes more personal that we begin to care, and notice, on a deeper level. Not that I haven't noticed Earth Day. I have been marking it for a long time, taking notice of ways in which I can recycle more, conserve more, care more, and live on less.

Interestingly enough, living on less has a way of enriching our lives. Giving us back more.

This year, I have felt Earth Day in a different way--since taking ownership of ten of my own acres, my own little corner of this earth. Sinking my own hands in the rich earth has taken on all new meaning. I feel responsible even as I feel immensely grateful.

I am also learning new ways of stewardship, because we are all stewards of this Earth. Doesn't matter where we live, we all live from the earth. It is the ground on which we stand, from which grows our food, and it is the air we breathe. Most every human need is in some way met by the Earth. For this reason, it is particularly baffling that we are such irresponsible stewards of our own source of life.

This Earth Day, this Sunday, was the first day since moving to Z Acres that I didn't have, or could at least put off for a while longer as non-critical, some reason to go running around madly to take care of, well, all sorts of things that need taking care of when one is moving from one home to another even while adjusting from one job to another.

On this day, I could rest.

Rest on a farm isn't entirely putting up one's feet all day long, but I did start the day out this way. Sitting out on my deck, looking out over the acres stretching out to the far treeline, I felt cool sunlight on my face. A hawk flew overhead. No, not really flew ... but planed, like a kite, on a breeze, floating in the air weightlessly. The hawk was clearly having fun. He wasn't going anywhere, he wasn't hunting anything, he wasn't out to accomplish a thing. He was merely floating on the breeze, wings outstretched.

Looking out past the trees, I saw a couple of deer in the bush. A light snort of warning as they sensed my old chow pup climb up on the deck from his walk around the farmhouse, their white tails shot up like flags, and they leapt in graceful arcs, soundless, and disappeared.

I am sure of it; I will never tire of this. To live in harmony with our surroundings returns to us a feeling of peace and wellbeing. I could sit this way, watching the sky, listening to the breeze in the trees, letting my eye wander over the green beauty of my surroundings, forever. It is a balm for the heart and the soul.

Still, living in such a place as this requires its daily chores. Chores seem to imply something to be done against one's will, but I found these duties of upkeep and maintenance soothing and soul-nourishing. As I care for this land, it cares for me. I was learning its ways, its patterns, its needs, and I was accomodating, fitting my own patterns to meet the land's.

Mowing, for instance. The riding mower in the toolshed has two flat tires. I inherited it from the previous owner. Eventually, I will plump up those tires with air, maybe, but for now, I find my little eco-mower, a small push mower not unlike the one that my grandfathers used, does the job wonderfully well.

The trick is to pace myself. I don't mow the entire ten acres, far from it. Much of my land is woods, and the back fields are still awaiting my decision on how to use them. I am mowing the acre or two directly around my little red farmhouse, quite enough. I do one patch, the next day I do another, the third I mow around the pond, the fourth I mow behind the outbuilding and around the other side at the bottom of the hill that leads up to the funny little cottage on the hilltop. I rest a day, and then I start in again.

I can feel my body grow stronger as I work. Suburbia saps both body and soul; here, I find myself working harder but feeling better. Days of office work, sitting at a desk, have become balanced with evenings of physical work.

Each day, I go out to into the greenhouse, too. Not a far trek--it is built onto the farmhouse, and requires nothing but a short walk from my kitchen through my dining room. My cat Jig follows me. She loves the warmth of the greenhouse, and lies in the patch of sun coming in through the walls of windows while I look over the boxes of future garden transplants and rows of clay pots on the slatted wooden shelf.

My future salad is doing well, greens popping up all over the first box that I intend to keep growing through at least three seasons for an always fresh bowl of greens for my meals. Tiny leaves of tomato plants have just peeped up from the soil. Those I hope to keep growing through three seasons, too.

A tray for starting seedlings is germinating orange peppers, zucchini, green beans, carrots, and in larger pots I have planted seeds for herbs--marjoram, dill, parsley, and also shallots. Another pot should eventually fill with the blossoms of nasturtium, and just for fun, I have put an avocado pit from a recent lunch into a bowl of water to begin an avocado tree.

Day by day, I add more. I grow more. I move into this new life of myself on a farm.

Plants and seedlings watered and checked, my old chow pup and I go out to stroll the land. He enjoys being off a leash, and he proves worthy of my trust. He stays ever near, but if he does take a loop out further for a while, returns quickly to my call. I know even when I can't immediately see him that he is keeping an eye on me.

I take pleasure in seeing his. He rolls in the grass, belly to sky, paws pummeling air, and I smile to see him, consider joining him. When young, he was a runaway, and it was as such that I found him at the animal shelter. In suburbia, he was a barker, and I couldn't keep him outside for long without worry he might annoy the neighbors. Much of it was social, I'm sure, as he communed with neighborhood dogs, but here, at Z Acres, he is showing a different personality.

He is serene. He is joyful. He sits for long hours in the sun on the deck or at the side of the house, and watches the life around him. Wild turkeys, woodchucks, squirrels, raccoons, deer, hawks, cranes, rabbits, possum, he has seen them all, no doubt more, and he is fitting in among them.

I have wondered how it is that at only three weeks here, he has figured out the boundary lines. Perhaps from walking with me? But he doesn't wander beyond them. He knows his land already, and on the rare occasion that we have a visitor, the man that brings propane or the man who installed the satellite dish, or an invited friend, he sends up an alarm or an alert to let them know he is aware and to let me know they are coming.

He is home and he knows it. This is his piece of earth, too.

On our walks, we both stop to examine the plants, the trees, the flowers. If my dog could hug a tree, I have no doubt, he would. I have hugged quite a few. Touched the branches and new leaves and fresh spring blossoms. The apple tree in back, the pear, the cherry. The weeping willows bending gracefully over the pond and behind the toolshed. The row of pines to the north that swish with every breeze and sing in the wind.

How could we so loose touch with all this? Cramped together in our residential neighborhoods, we forget. From such places as this comes life for all. I pass the grazing cattle every day on my way to work. I see the horses on the corner ranch, down the hill. I see the greening of the fields along the horizon with new crops.

Yet I am not just talking about food. Although our bonding with the Earth by tending it for our food is an important, even sacred bond.

It goes beyond that. In this peace, we can hear the voices within us in a way we cannot in the hustle and bustle of the city. Blood slows, hearts simmer down, and a peace enters that lets us think, really think, and reach in even deeper to find the treasure there.

We have lost our communion with nature, and it has cost us. We think we don't need it, that it is a luxury, a weekend jaunt on some paved path, but we are wrong. From this, from earth, from air, from this wide open space, comes that force that is us. Without it, we suffer depressions and neuroses and anxieties and psychoses and disorders and jitters. And wonder why.

Come back to the Earth, and know healing. Better yet, work to heal the Earth we have abused, and in giving healing, be healed. Earth Day is everyday.

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