With the snow relinquishing its hold on the hillsides, we have been spending much more time wandering through the woods. If I walk slowly enough, the woods will reveal creative opportunities in every direction. At my feet there is a pine cone that looks strangely different from the rest. To my right, a rock that sparkles in the sun. On the bank beside the path, a gnarled root that would make a great paperweight or bookend without any alterations whatsoever.
On a recent trip two of our children carried half of their body weight in rocks home because they couldn’t bring themselves to leave such wonderful treasures behind. When they learned they wouldn’t be allowed to bring armloads of rocks inside, they quickly found creative outlets for them. For one a massive addition to her fairy garden, to another a great start for a decorative stone border for her strawberry patch.
The burl on this tree will make a few beautiful bowls or one gorgeous bushel basket.
What I love about these woodland art supplies is that as long as we manage the wilderness with gentle benevolent intent, there will always be more creative project prompts ready and waiting. I never go into the woods with an artistic purpose in mind. The things I see and find will guide the process organically.
The balanced rocks in the feature photo took maybe 3 minutes of my time, but I get to watch their journey through the seasons for the rest of the year. I definitely didn’t expect that I would do that on that walk, but there was a pile of stones that was just waiting for rearranging. I don’t doubt that snow will knock them over this winter, but that will just give me a clean canvas for next year.
Compost is the breakdown product of organic wastes, containing large proportions of humus which is a long-acting soil fertility booster. Any organic material (not talking about certified organic designation, just the carbon-based once-living kind of organic) can be composted, eventually becoming soil again as it once was before being integrated into an organism.
“Composts offer a practical means of maintaining the soil fertility which is the most important factor in the successful operation of a subsistence farm….There are available on practically all farms and gardens many materials which are useful for composts, although the farmer or gardener often fails to appreciate their value. Some of the common materials which are often wasted are leaves, straw, muck, vegetable tops, grass clippings, and garbage material which is inedible for chickens or pigs.”
~C.C. Fletcher, 1935 USDA Yearbook of Agriculture
I find it interesting to read agricultural texts from different eras of our civilization. At the present moment I am increasing my collection of USDA Yearbooks of Agriculture, which I would recommend to anyone who is curious about agricultural techniques, policies, and studies. Particularly interesting to me are those books which were published during and directly following the Great Depression. In these years, agricultural science was making great leaps and bounds, not necessarily with new discoveries but with scientific proof that the practices of the preceding millennia were indeed spot-on, and that we should continue following our ancestors’ examples of land husbandry.
Our lives rely completely upon soil. My life in the country is very simply and easily attributed to a direct link with the soil. In the city you may feel as if you are a few miles removed from getting dirty yourself, but in reality you are just one small step from having manure under your fingernails just to prevent starvation. Even the astronauts in the space station are not immune from requiring the basic necessities of life which we indeed must derive from the soil. With life itself hinging upon the presence and condition of this most necessary substance, shouldn’t we all feel some obligation to consciously contemplate the crumbly crust of the earth for at least a few minutes each day? Continue reading