We’ve been out here for fifteen days. I’m finally finding something like a rhythm. Work is dreamlike without bosses, deadlines, coworkers, beginnings or ends. I work by carving the infinity of each day, each hour, each space into choices. Little of it seems obvious to me, but after weighing it all there are choices that emerge as pretty good guesses. There are countless variables, and so it stops making sense to think of variables. What seems to work is to try to live with all of it at once – to move and see with a gestalt, a flow of flows. All along I’m trying my best to make space to hold a light awareness of everything all at once.
That there is any affect of the stroke of a pull saw through another soft adolescent sweetgum tree on each day’s new nightmare of news requires something like faith. It’s been helpful for me to say to people: what we’re doing is only our best guess. Living out here and holding our vision, as well as cutting down this tree and not that – it’s only a best guess, only for us.
The riddle I’m working on right now is how to ask for food from the forest while letting it continue to become the forest it’s urge is to be; and how, for the small patch disturbance clearing I’m creating to grow our small amount of precious sun-loving foods, to keep the vital gift of the forest floor’s fertility while still preparing the right tilth to grow our corn, beans, and squash.
So much intelligence exists for us to draw from to find a way forward, but no one can offer exactly the right answer for us. Most people still clear forests with skidsteers, bulldozers. I haven’t even brought and don’t intend to bring a chainsaw into the small field where we hope to grow our corn. In my mind, it seems like the birds would treat me differently if I was running a chainsaw. New to their home, cutting down the dense thicket of sweetgums and brambles that I know some of them live within; they’d remember the stories about the last times someone brought big loud machines to the land and reset it all to zero. The crows at least would remember, I am certain.
So now, I walk down to the small gap that started as a smaller gap where I’m making my best guess about growing the crops we’ll be extra reliant on until our perennial, more forest-adapted foods are ready. I bring a gigantic Japanese pull saw that I strap to my leg and draw to almost effortlessly cut trees in a bloodless echo of all my childhood samurai fantasies, as well as some loppers and pruners. In a day like today, I cut dozens of trees by hand. Going slow, I can see how each one is different. I can hesitate usefully, regard the tree’s beauty, and pray to it if I feel I should. It becomes safer to select trees to cut in the same run as cutting them, with no growling engine’s dissonance to hasten my hand.
I don’t seem to get all that much done in the hours I work out there, but my goal is only somewhere between an eighth and a quarter of an acre. Today I stopped to watch two vultures tracing infinity in the sky. The lowliness of this work is the door to magic. I resist it, longing for the bliss of gardening with beloved friends at Earthaven last Spring, singing together and talking about Spirit as the hours melted into impossible sweetness. Here I am alone with the forest and the weather and the songs I know and all the experiences I’ve ever had for most of the day.
The little field is taking shape out of the sweetgums. An ephemeral streambed becomes the border on the North, where I imagine I may try to dig out a small pond to catch water for the crops. The ghosts of raised beds or at the very least channels and mounds seem on contour enough to hint at a garden layout. The odd few tall trees by the gap form a Southwest corner, and the walking path I’ve been using makes an Eastern edge.
What I’ll do next is a thought spiral I go around continuously. The ground is full of the stumps of the small sweetgums. Can I remove them without mechanization? Pry them out, innoculate them, leave them in? And what do I do with all the downed wood? Large trench biocharing in a ceremonial fashion, or put them through a woodchipper for ramial wood chips, hugulkultur them, something else? It’s the first that really calls to me, but I don’t know how I can charge the charcoal quickly enough for summer crops. How did people in the rainforest do this?
Sun goes down outside the yome and these guesses and questions are my company, my friends – joined, thankfully, by our two rabbits and our newly adventurous and rewilded cat, and most of all the love of my life, who is beautifully alive with her own luminous guesses and questions, and who has leapt with me into the impossible gift of this life I am with each day slowly learning to inhabit.