Opening the Sky


This weekend four people came to help us continue clearing the place where we hope to grow most of our initial food. Long term, we want to rely more and more on perennial and forest foods, but we begin with, and will probably always keep some place for, annuals. For most annuals, we need sun and the disturbed soils they grow best from. For this, we need to clear a place.

Opening up anywhere in this young forest has for me been one of the most challenging and instructive acts in our work so far. There is nowhere on this land that is not of value, as it is, to some other beings. A thicket of greenbriar, scratchy impediment to our human passage, is home to birds, small mammals, insects, others. Even moving to remove an individual tree involves severing unknowably many invisible relationships. I am only beginning to learn about plants like the Rattlesnake Plantain, feeding with delicate root hairs on the decomposing pines around it. No change in the forest does not affect a weave of beings beyond our knowing.

Still – I choose to remove trees. Hundreds of small sweetgums. I’ve stuck to noiseless hand tools. By working without machines, I’ve been able to disturb small patches at a time. I hope that going slow gives some of these beings the chance to reknit the relationships I sever in the absences I cautiously carve. Working slow also gives me the chance to learn continually. My initial ideas have changed so many times. The slowness lets the land root into me. Each time I work to clear specifically, I say a small prayer for exactly this.

Today, a small answer: I walked down to the field where our friends had come to work and was struck by beauty. The sun was pouring through the place we had opened, but the forest still stood everywhere around it. In that moment, I could glimpse it: ancient corn growing tall, leaves and vines and berries and roots and flowers, edible weeds dancing through the beds season after season in their self-directed rotations, stropharia mushrooms blooming in the mulch, and some small trees just starting to grow that will one day shepherd the field back to forest. I could see, too, a group of us gathered around the charcoal trench long into the night as we turned the gift of the sweetgum bodies into soil carbon, into long term fertility for the land.

The eigth of an acre or so of land we opened feels like a just-right beginning for me. One person can handle it. If others decide to live with us and grow food with us, we can increase it; but for now, it feels almost finished and somehow already perfect.

When all of us worked out there, no chainsaws or skidsteers or bulldozers or weed whackers, I thought we would speak a lot more. Eventually, we did share deep and satisfying words; but for an hour, there was nothing but the wind, the crows, the swishing of a swing blade, drawing of pull saws, clipping of pruners, bailing and hauling of hands, and a little joke, an observation, a thought. Out there in a small sunny patch within a bigger forest, we fell into one of the oldest human dances as if it was all we’d ever done. This is why when I returned to the field today, it felt as if it were smiling. After all the trees I cut alone, the forest had been waiting to see what I was getting at. Watching us work together explained a little: we are here to try to learn to tend you as you once taught us to long ago. We are sowing peace as much as food. We are willing to go slow, to pray, ask, and give thanks, and to learn to belong to you again.

Deep gratitude to everyone from Mutual Aid Carrboro and Durham who worked with us. In just one day, you helped us tremendously.

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