A Walk in the Woods and Time to Think

11/24/2012 7:00 AM

It started with the makings of a Christmas wreath.

It was 45 degrees Sunday afternoon. The air was still and the sky clear. I found a clean, empty grain bag in the shed and called to Ava, our English shepherd, “Let’s go tipping.” She, of course, knows nothing of tipping. She’s a dog. Ava is energetic and enthusiastic and will follow me anywhere. She’s a good companion in the woods.

We walked to the back left corner of our open three acres of land, followed the grassy trail my husband, Steve, keeps bush hogged, and onto another cleared trail. This trail is an old skidder trail made in the winter of 1996-1997 when our land, not ours at the time, was last logged.

Ava explored while I walked from tree to tree, down the old rock wall that’s fallen over, snapping off the tips of balsam trees.

I’m thankful for a European magazine’s interest in a how-to article on Christmas wreaths. This led me to thinking about the choice I made to give up market farming to pursue writing full time. It’s gone well. I’ve had a good year and I love what I do at least most of the time.

Tipping is mindless work; snap the branch off in the right place with my right hand, pile tips on my left arm until I can’t balance them, place the pile on the ground. There’s a lot of peaceful time to think when I’m tipping.

I’m a little thankful that I miss being a market farmer. It means I enjoyed my work. I’m thankful that I still have two of the three high tunnels that I’ll continue to use to feed my family.

My land is nothing special, but at the same time, it is. I’m thankful that I can feed my family from my 45 acres. We have wild blackberries, raspberries and strawberries growing on our land. There aren’t a lot of any of them but I can make a batch of jam or jelly and eat them fresh.

The land supports cherry and apple trees that provide us with fruit, and apricot, peach and plum trees that will produce in a few years. I enjoy the wild mushrooms I pick each summer and fall.

Snowshoe hare, partridge and bear give me opportunities to hunt on my own land. I can hunt for deer here, but there are very few.

Even in dry years, my piece of land provides water. Natural springs dot a large portion of land close to the house. We can snowshoe to one particularly productive spring, lower a bucket through an opening in the snow 4 feet deep and pull up fresh, clean water. We’d melt snow first, but I’m thankful for the option.

A large medical bill nagged at us soon after we bought the land. Steve borrowed a skidder. Talk about something to be thankful for — friends who have skidders and generously let us use one when needed. Steve cut cedar trees, sold them to a local sawmill and paid the bill in full.

Forty-two of our 45 acres are wooded. We can heat our home with wood from our woodlot if necessary.

The balsam I harvest comes from wild trees I managed to supply the tons of tips I’ve used to make thousands of Christmas wreaths. It’s been a good source of income at the end of the growing season, and one I can fall back to at any time. The cedar and pine I tuck into wreaths, and the cones from the white pine trees I decorate with, also grow here.

I’m thankful for all I’ve learned about nature here. I’ve learned wildlife tracks, habitat and habits. Dead trees provide homes for three kinds of woodpeckers that I can watch when they start peeking out of the tree in preparation for leaving the nest.

For our family and friends, our careers, the food on our table, warmth in our home, clothes on our backs, my 10-year-old reliable vehicle, and the freedoms we’ve chosen, I am thankful.

Robin Follette and her husband, Steve, operate Seasons Eatings Farm in Talmadge, Maine.

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