Last night I spent the better part of an hour chatting with a neighbor who repairs heavy equipment by day and farms in the evening. We talked about the potential of the farm, for livestock, for grains, even for rescuing farm animals. Ultimately our conversation led us to fences and mowing the east pasture, ridding it of weeds and bringing back the good pasture grass that existed when cattle roamed there a decade ago. We talked about clearing an0ther section of its understory, it’s volunteer trees; maple, walnut, mulberry and others. We talked about whether to fence the creek in or use it as a boundary.
In my mind’s eye I can see the bucolic pastoral landscape, rolling, green, peaceful; hear the lowing of cattle, the whinny of horses, the baaing of sheep. A donkey, llama or dog watches over them, while chickens strut and poke and peck their way through the pasture. Nice wooden fences outline the property and keep the animals safely in their paddocks. It is a tranquil scene, an idyllic world.
Then I took a stroll through that abandoned pasture this morning with the dogs in tow. I’ve cut a four foot path through it; through the ragweed and brambles, the burdock and bindweed. I can already see the grass returning in place of the poison hemlock. It shows promise. But standing quietly on the path, I wait for the train to thunder past and look around me at the dew covered webs silvery shiny in the morning light. I see the colors of this abandoned pasture, the yellow of goldenrod, the purple of ironweed and pokeweed berries. There is a little orange flower everywhere and a yellow flower looking like a cross between sunflower and daisy. Even the bindweed has delicate white flowers and there are others, tiny, delicate, yet beautiful in their simplicity.
I think of all that I have seen in this field; the wild turkeys, Great Blue herons, ring-necked pheasants. There have been deer and coyotes and otters. Even the beaver has returned after last year’s spring rains washed away his dam. In the creek we have seen snappers and crawdads and snakes. Just yesterday the sky above was filled with dragon flies, monarchs and hummingbirds in numbers I’ve not seen before.
As I strolled along the meandering path I found myself torn between what is and what might be. Why can’t Nature have this one little patch of one tiny little county already full of rolling pastures and fields of corn and beans? In a county full of monochromatic fields of identical plants, why can’t Nature have this one tiny speck for her hemlock and bindweed and thistle; a place where Monarch caterpillars can enjoy milkweed free of herbicides and pesticides? It is a place of color and diversity of flora and fauna. What good can come of making it look like the farms around it, stripping it of its natural beauty in favor of some idea of productivity in need of maintenance and care, which Nature herself doesn’t require?
Perhaps it is because my neighbors are farmers. They don’t see the colors and diversity. They see noxious weeds which threaten their fields. In our conversation the previous evening, my neighbor told of a neighbor of his father’s farm, who was happy to see my neighbor mowing a similar field. This neighbor was happy for that. It would save him work for he had just received a plow order, allowing him to plow under the noxious weeds on property that was not his, because the diversity of nature threatened his beans or corn. How long, I wonder, until some farmer comes to me and tells me I have to destroy nature because it might interfere with his production?
But there is more to this than nature versus productivity. We are animal lovers, my wife and I. And we want to make the world a better place. We want to help those around us. The animals we’d bring to the farm would not be for meat, and might not be for fiber or dairy either. They would be rescue animals. They’d likely be used to rescue troubled children. In my mind’s eye our farm logo would be a goat with a carrot hanging from his mouth surrounded by an oval banner reading “Kids saving animals saving kids” in an unending circle. The children troubled by violence or apathy or drugs or poverty would come to the farm and learn how to care for the animals and develop empathy. They’d learn how to milk and shear and gather eggs and feed and clean. The soybeans in the northern field would be replaced by a giant vegetable garden where kids would learn to grow their own food. They’d create their own farm businesses and learn from losses and successes. They’d learn practical science and math. They’d learn cooperation and sharing and warmth.
But this would all cost money and time and labor, and in the end, there are no guarantees. There is only what might be. When I walk among the hummingbirds and dragonflies and admire the beaver’s dam and the golden rod swaying in the breeze, I see what is. I am torn, for I don’t know that all the changes we might bring to the farm, all the displacement of nature, all the clearing and building and changes will make the world any better than what Nature has already done herself.