Whether your homestead is one acre or one hundred acres, there’s a terrific feeling of ownership and stewardship that goes along with knowing that YOUR land goes from “here to there”. You know every tree, every bush, and every ripple in the landscape.
Paramount to being a good homesteader is economy: economy of money, of resources, and most of all, of your land. A lot of time and planning go into utilizing every inch to the best purpose. Especially with small acreages, it’s tempting to “domesticate” it all—from the vegetable garden to the woodlot to the pastures, the perfect homestead looks like one big AgExtension Calendar Cover, right?
Leaving patches of wild growth is good for the homestead and the homesteaders who dwell there.
First of all, it looks good. There is something very appealing about a patch of overgrowth pasture or untended woodland—like a living canvas; an ever-changing landscape of nodding blossoms, graceful grasses, and twining viney things gently punctuates your homestead, softening an otherwise too-orderly-for-nature scenery and reminding us that we chose this life to escape from or as a protest to a sadly sterile suburbia.
Second of all, even a tiny wilderness provides an area just screaming to be explored by young Lewis-and-Clarks armed with plastic compasses, butterfly nets, and warm oatmeal cookies nestled in their linty little pockets. If your place looks like a manicured subdivision yard, where is the benefit to your barefooted, country-raised youngens?
I mean, REALLY, if ya’ll are going to tame the whole mess, you may as well have stayed tucked safely into “Quail Hills” (where they killed all the nasty, pooping, feather-shedding quails and flattened the hills to make way for row upon row of identical structures loosely referred to as homes).
Third of all, it’s less work, and less work is good. Oh sure, you could spend an entire weekend whaling the tar out of your fencerows, but if you just left them as a “natural wildflower buffer” think of all the OTHER things you could be doing with that time. You could build a greenhouse, learn to make cheese, teach your kids the difference between a moth and a butterfly by actually LOOKING at real wild moths and butterflies, hang a hammock and crawl into it with a good book, a glass of tea, maybe a cat, but absolutely no watch or clock in sight. Heck, you could even study a foreign language (maybe Canadian).
Lastly of all, be aware of the fact that your land is not only yours. This is not a commentary on the government or taxes or the government taxes, but a call to LOOK AROUND you at who you are displacing with every tree cut and every foot of garden tilled.
Humans may be at the top of the food chain (something we like to say, even though there are plenty of life forms quicker, stronger and possessing of larger, sharper teeth than we have) but if we push out all the other links there won’t BE a food chain, just us and those things that are quicker, stronger and with larger, sharper teeth. Now I’m not a degree-holding scientist or a professional odds-maker, but I do know where I’d put my money in a one-on-one contest of that nature.
Oh, I am aware that the large predators are endangered already by the domestication of the wilderness, and that if we insist on progressing with ‘progress” the only links in the food chain will be us, cockroaches, mice, and bacteria, (and the “us” link will be extremely fragile at that point) but the image of a passel of Starbuck’s-toting, urban-dwelling executives from say, Monsanto, rounding a corner and encountering a large cat is somehow perversely comforting.
We need to keep in mind that this land we claim to “own” will be ours for but a nanosecond in time.
We currently “own” several acres and have been here for 10 years. There’s a big, dead, half-fallen pine in the back yard that has no bark on it, but at least 8 round holes that have been pecked or chewed around the top. Woodpeckers, squirrels, and at least one family of hoot-owls have made that tree their home off and on over the years.
There’s a half-acre spring-fed pond down in the woods that has been home to beavers, fish, and lately a pair of blue herons who come silently sailing low across the front of the pines and veer gracefully behind them in and into the pond. The neighbor had a nice pond too, until he decided to shoot the beavers who were tending the dam.
On a much smaller, but no less important scale, for the first four years we lived here each spring brought a Luna moth to our kitchen window every night for a week or so. This was enchanting and amazing to me and I looked forward to when “my” moth would return.
In researching theses creatures, I learned that they only live a short time after emerging from their cocoons. So short a time that in their moth stage they don’t even possess mouth parts (a bad sign for a long life). This made me sad for the individual moths, but no less enchanted and awed by their visits. Something had implanted my kitchen window as a stop in their genetic memories, and that was humbling.
When they stopped coming, I was extremely saddened. Obviously there had been a change somewhere in the environment. My kitchen window was no longer a convenient stop in their short lives and I hope fervently that the change was not something that I did in the name of making my farm “better”, since we’ve lost more than a big bug sitting on the window, we’ve lost some magic that was woven into the story of our farm.
I recall reading that The Perfect Lawn is a sterile environment. Those envied vistas of green, uniform in color and length, carefully maintained and diligently doused with Weed-N-Feed and insecticides, are as dead as the surface of the moon. Between the miles and miles of concrete we’ve laid and the poisons we’ve poured into the scraped parched soil to manipulate it into a false beauty, much of our earth is as appealing as a garishly painted mannequin.
After spending too much time in urban and suburban America, I return to the tiny speck of land that I call home, reeling from the stress that forced naturalness brings. My blood pressure drops with each truly natural sight: the wild daylilies under the chinaberry bush, wrens nesting outside the bedroom window in the overgrown untrimmed hedge, even the momentary glimpse of a coyote at the edge of the woods.
This is my home, but it’s mine for a short time only. It is my pleasure and honor to use it gently for my needs, and preserve and protect it for the needs of all its other occupants.