Changing a balance

At the back of the house, the new road starts up the hill, then turns left along the old fence. At the elbow, there was a small cutting in the fence. Beyond: broken trees, and brambles, sloping downhill, past prickly pear cactus (!!), to a shady-dell area, with rippling gullies that channel away the rain. It has been neglected for decades. Huge osage orange trees commandeer vast footprints with their multiple carelessly splayed-out prickly limbs. Broken branches everywhere. It was all ‘the other side of the fence’, the far corner of the old Yellow Bird property. But it suddenly struck me what an enchanting area it would be if I cleaned it up. It is an apron of land that, if given a little care, would create a different gravitational balance to living in the Lodge. Just a little way up the road would no longer be a frontier onto the wild, but transition smoothly to something closer to parkland. (The challenge then – not to just domesticate it in predictable ways.)

I cut through about 50′ of fence – a mixture of square roll fencing, and barbed wire. Some of the fence wire had cut deep into growing trees, and had to be clipped off with my amazing fencing pliers, the head of which, with its hooked nose and its hammer face, seems to have evolved about eight different functions. I pulled up two T-posts with Joe’s heavily levered red post puller. And I coiled the old fence into a rusty brown roll. How to dispose of it? Even The Recycling Center does not want old wire – I think it jams their machinery. Farmers find a back gully and roll old wire into the next century. But the more I looked at it, the more it seemed like an opportunity rather than a problem. I came to see that it could be the armature of a vine-covered bird sanctuary. If I set this jumble of dead wire and fencing in a back from the path, just under the trees, and planted it in the spring with climbers, (or just left it for nature to invade), it would quickly become a haven for birds, protected by the wire from predators.

Removing the fence was a revelation. Just being able to walk across that divide was a special thrill and I took out some small saplings that had taken root in the old fence line. Establishing continuity between what shortly before had been inside and outside was a visceral experience. I could feel the land smoothing over under my hand as if it were flesh. I spent another couple of hours with my Echo chainsaw, trimming the thorn-festooned eye-spike level branches of the osage orange and the honey locust trees. And dragging the amputees deeper into the woods. Occasionally, there would be a backlash from a cut limb, and my right hand got pricked and torn and brimmed with blood. It felt right that I should be marked in some bright way. I was marching around trimming and tidying the world just as I wanted it. But it should not be an entirely one way process. I tried to leave eloquent shapes where I found them – arched branches, branches that fanned out horizontally. Sometimes I would trim them to look even more elegant or strange. Some of these dead grey trees are inhabited by dryads, with little entrances clearly marked.

I left the whole space ready to be bush-hogged with the tractor. It will reduce to clippings all the brambles that tear at one’s clothes. Walking will become a pleasure, not a war. And where the branches were dragged off to – deeper into the woods, further down the hill – will become the new wild. If I have destroyed habitat by clearing the brambles, I have created more thickets a little further afield. And the horses will be able to run around without being torn up.

I just hope being mown down in November is not some sort of fillip for bramble growth in the Spring. If I hear the stubble murmuring “What does not kill me makes me stronger”, I will have to reconsider my strategy. Meanwhile, I welcome the prospect of some stunning new spaces.