Holistic Transformations

A few weeks ago in a fit of hopefulness, and in what many of the “river valley liberals” seemingly call “holistic” planning, a suggestion was made that we create a list of goals, dreams and forward thinking for our Listening Stones Farm. That suggestion was met with a bright and eager neon smile, one of the many rewards of being married to community organizer. Instantly materializing was a Magic Marker and her huge stand-alone flip chart with a tablet full of road map-sized blank sheets.

Looking out toward the south prairie over Rebecca's boots when we first moved here.

Looking out toward the south prairie over Rebecca’s boots when we first moved here.

So began our exercise of holistic thought. All we could possibly conceive became a Magic Marker reality. Chickens. Turkeys. Lambs. Lawn reduction. Wood chipper. Orchard expansion. A sauna. Rain garden. Two whole flip chart sheets of dreamy plans in startling black and white reality were soon taped to the office wall. Many of those points came to life in conversation, each one discussed, expanded, dashed with a hint of spicy realism, then stored for further thought and expansion as we made our twice daily jaunts through our prairie pathways.

Kurt hit the "island" of buckthorn in the south yard yesterday ... reference how it looked over Rebecca's boots.

Kurt hit the “island” of buckthorn in the south yard yesterday … reference how it looked over Rebecca’s boots.

Though we have not actually taken the time to settle in for a formal discussion, some of items on the list are already in the works. Take the orchard expansion, or if you wish, a continuation of the grove cleanup, or if you look at our holistic list, improving the tree and shrub mix here on the farm. Trees for a Vermonter, and perhaps for a transplanted Missourian as well, are key points of our collective lives even on our prairie land farm, which might seem odd since “prairie” is technically comprised of grassland and wide open skies.

A glimpse of the grove before we began the clearning.

A glimpse of the grove before we began the clearning.

In our second summer here we began the cleanup of the buckthorn jungle in the grove. It was a huge task and was “part two” of the stretch of laborious razing of two decrepit and dangerous outbuildings. Both were burned and buried in a hole that inexplicably came with the farm, over which we planted our orchard. Our sawyer, Kurt Arner, did the honors of slashing the jungle. On the lower end he windrowed piles of the ever present invasive buckthorn, while in the upper grove he slashed and dropped the 20 footers while creating a beautiful path complete with a listening bench in the center of the loop. Which brings me back to our holistic list … along with our ongoing conversations from our walks with the dogs over the farm. Kurt’s slash and drop left a huge pile of downed buckthorn and scraggly trees — besides the buckthorn, the grove was marred with downed and rotted trees, and many more misshapen and severely damaged ones — between that path and the orchard. What he left behind was minor mirror of the big BWCA blowdown a few years ago. It wasn’t meant to be walked through.

Looking at some of the fruit trees we planted in the orchard last spring.

Looking at some of the fruit trees we planted in the orchard last spring.

Rebecca was hoping to expand the orchard while planting wildlife-friendly bushes alongside replacement trees that will eventually maintain the integrity of the wooded loop. The area she wanted to clean was perhaps 50 ft. by 200 ft., and one of our bullet points in the holistic planning was to clean that mess little by little … hopefully to have the area clean enough to plant when the bare root fruit and hawthorn trees, along with a row a nannyberry bush for the birds, arrived later this spring.

Just to the left of the orchard is where we'll plant this year.

Just to the left of the orchard is where we’ll plant this year.

Last week, in a mild surprise, Kurt returned to the farm to finish the saw work. We described our thoughts as we walked through the grove, and he said it wouldn’t be a big deal for him to prep the cleanup. Initially we considered pulling the slash out for stacking and burning, although what Rebecca really wanted was wood chips. Remember, a wood chipper was on our list! This past weekend we started pulling the larger chunks of trunks he had pruned from the branches to pile while stacking the branches and smaller limbs for the shredder. A neighbor, Rick Schneck, brought over both a chipper and a willingness to help. A long afternoon later two of the piles were reduced to feathery chips. We might have another long half day to fully clear that space for our spring planting. Thanks to Kurt and Rick, we are almost ready to mark one of the holistic dreams off the list.

Another view of the area we're clearing for the new fruit trees, hardwoods and bird-friendly shrubs.

Another view of the area we’re clearing for the new fruit trees, hardwoods and bird-friendly shrubs.

In our short time together, nothing about Rebecca surprises me when it comes to her will, drive and work ethic. Since Kurt first arrived with his battery of chainsaws, we’ve unleashed the “Vermonter” in her. My guess is that within the next decade our grove will have an entirely different feel and look about it. Indeed, our whole farmstead will hopefully have been ridded of “junk” trees and be surrounded by good hardwoods, fruit trees and bird-y bushes. In the grove we’ll likely have some healthy looking trees rising in the many holes that has been created, and hopefully, if the bushes produce the berries she anticipates, we’ll have a new menagerie of songbirds residing with us here on the farm. Her orchard will be bearing bountiful fruit as well, all of an incredible transformation of our old farm into perhaps a “permaculture” paradise. As I write, I gaze at the list and smile. Our goals stare at us in our office, and we wonder if and when we will get through all those many items of need, for each seems important. We’ve yet to prioritize our holistic list. There is so much, and some of things we didn’t bother to list might have an even higher priority. Finishing the “Taj Magarage” comes to mind, and that includes the painting of the exterior.

Some of Kurt's slash against a few of the trees we'll leave standing because of their unique shape.

Some of Kurt’s slash against a few of the trees we’ll leave standing because of their unique shape.

Many years ago my father said the beauty of a farm is that one never runs out of things to do, and we might add that transformations don’t happen overnight. While we must continue to remind ourselves of that, being able to draw a Magic Marker slash through the first of those many line items on our list will feel mighty fine.

This entry was posted in He Said by John G. White. Bookmark the permalink.

About John G. White

Somewhat retired after a long award-winning career in newspapers (Wisconsin State Journal, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Denver Post and a country weekly, the Clara City Herald). Free lance photographer and writer with credits in more than 70 magazines. Editor with various Webb Publishing magazines in St. Paul, and a five year stint as editorial director at Miller Meester Advertising.

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