A God of Love

“Those who trust in Him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with Him in love; because grace and mercy are with His holy ones, and His care is with His elect.” (Wisdom 3:9)

Yep. Still continuing on with this theme of God’s love. And why not? What better message can there be but that we are loved beyond our human capacity to comprehend?

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that He loves us when the bills are piling up; we lose a much-needed job; a major repair needs to be taken care of on a shoestring budget; a loved one is sick, injured…or has left us, etc. We tend to expect that, once we start walking with Jesus, it’ll be smooth sailing in our lives forevermore. But bills will still need to be paid; maintenance still needs to be done from time to time; illness, injury and, yes, even death, still exist. They won’t magically go away. This is where the expression “walk by faith” comes in. When these little earthquakes come into our lives, we should praise Him just as much as we are wont to do when life is smoothly sailing along.

That one’s a hard one to swallow…sometimes even for the believer. I remember the first time I read this, I questioned the wisdom of praising Him for the hardship. Wouldn’t praising Him for it mean that He might heap more adversity onto my head? What a horrible image! In essence, it is envisioning a God who sits there toying with us and delighting in our misfortunes. Why would anyone choose to follow such a deity? And more, why would anyone witness to others about such a god?

Maybe for the same reasons that people pick up another bottle of whiskey, snort another line of cocaine, or stay in an abusive and/or toxic relationship. Such a deity, that vision of someone toying with us and delighting in our misfortune, has more in common with the enemy of our souls. And, sadly, we humans have a tendency to gravitate towards the very things that are unhealthy for us, to be taken in by the lure…and the lies. We also tend to avoid like the plague the things that are good for us, such as eating healthier foods, exercising…cultivating a personal relationship with Jesus.

I am guilty as charged. I don’t always eat healthy. I get lazy about exercising. Sometimes I even neglect God.

The beautiful thing is He never neglects me.

Those little earthquakes I mentioned earlier? Oftentimes, they are God’s way of getting our attention, of asking us to realign our focus on Him…instead of the things of the world. They ask us to re-examine the course we are on and ask God to take control. Those little earthquakes–and especially the bigger ones, the hard-to-fathom-why-such-a-horrible-thing-would-happen-to-a-good-and/or-innocent-person–are also what the Adversary uses to try to separate us from God. It questions and challenges our faith. And it is then that the Adversary slips in his little worms of doubt. Sure, God can…and often does…use those little worms of doubt to bring about a greater love and faith in Him. It’s sort of like the worms in our compost bin. They’ll eat at our flesh, if we allow them contact with it for long enough, and cause us pain. But, in the right environment–such as God’s hand–those little worms can be used to create something wonderful and new:

Black gold, rich in nutrients for growing nourishing food for our bodies…or a faith so strong, so enduring, that it forevermore nourishes our soul.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

May God bless you & keep you!

Advertisements

As 2018 Greets Me with Frostbitten Wattles…

“The One who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ Then He said, ‘Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.’ He said to me, ‘They are accomplished. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give a gift from the spring of life-giving water.” (Revelation 21:5-6)

This has been one of the coldest New Year’s in my memory. Welcome to 2018! The wood stove is cranking and, though I cringe a bit with their use, ditto for the heat lamps in the barn. Like it or not, the chickens, ducks and goats are spending their day in the relative warmth today, out of the wind.

Here in New England, the temps have scarcely risen into double digits this week (unless we count minus doubles). Single digits–including some minus single digits–have been the norm. So much so, that we hit 16 degrees on Saturday and it felt like a heat wave! The animals here at The Herbal Hare Homestead felt so, too. And, as they had spent all but a few hours of the afternoons in the barn all week, they were waiting at the door for me Saturday morning, eager to get out and about. Yesterday was a little cooler but still warmer than it has been. The animals raced out again to greet it.

We lost power yesterday for a few hours. We have a well for our water, which includes the need for a well-pump. No water flowing from the faucets; no flushing ability. Not knowing how long we would be without it, Mom & I took a trip up to the local grocery store to purchase extra bottled water and a few extra bundles of wood as our furnace has an electric start. The animals were outside, enjoying the deceptively-bright late-morning sun. We stopped for a bite to eat and then came home. All total, we were gone less than two hours.

Thankfully, the power was back on when we came home. Without even removing my coat and gloves, I traipsed out to the barn to check and replenish water buckets, knowing that without the heat lamps, they were likely frozen–or quickly on their way to being so. The goats and ducks were huddled inside the barn, as were a few of the chickens, but most of the chickens had decided to huddle under the bathroom window where that deceptively-bright sun was being absorbed by the black painted walls there (this is a small corner space where they are protected on two sides (north and east) from the wind and a hill that acts as a buffer on a 3rd side; usually a pretty protected area).

It was on that first return trip from the barn that I found Sargent Feathers, head bloodied and, to be honest, my initial thought was I had lost him. He looked bad. I have a couple of new cockerels from Taffy’s latest brood-fest. Had they ganged up on him? Nope. He’d likely be a bloody pulp in that instance. So far, they’re more afraid of him than anything else; he’s not the boss of the barnyard for nothing (though I am well aware as he ages, that could change…especially with these new boys; fortunately, there are enough females, a large enough barn and plenty of free-ranging to mitigate most reasons for aggression…). Anyway, the blood appeared to be isolated to just the bald spot on the back of that Polish-crested pompadour. The flesh had chapped and cracked in the cold. I picked him up to carry him indoors to treat it and found something much, much worse: seriously swollen wattles…i.e. frostbite.

This is my very first case of frostbite here. Oh, sure, we see a few little black dots on a comb here or there–quickly treated with Vasoline, or some of my Bunny Salve (recipe below)–but never anything of this magnitude. And, of course, it is a Sunday so his vet, Dr. Japp, is closed. I quickly cleaned up the bloodied bald spot and applied some Bunny Salve to both it and the swollen wattle (salve has herbs for healing skin), very gently dabbing rather than rubbing and risking damaging the flesh even more. But I knew he would need more for the frostbitten wattles.

Though I spend at least 40 hours per week in the 19th century, it is times like these that I am ever thankful for some 21st century technology. I started perusing the Internet–some of the chicken raising community sites that I have visited and received good advice from before. I am also an herbalist with several books on both raising small livestock, and herbal remedies for pets and livestock. I grabbed a leaf from the Aloe plant in my kitchen and cut it open; again, gently dabbing it onto his wattles. You could almost see the little sigh of relief as it cooled the burn to his flesh. I set up a small cage in the kitchen for him with a big bowl of warm water to drink and some food; he drank copiously and, I am happy to say, he still has a good appetite. He has also been receiving regular treatments of warm water, soaking the wattles in the warm water to slowly warm up and, hopefully, restore the blood flow to them. There is some gray-black along the bottom edge so I am bracing myself for the possibility that he may lose part of them but, despite the seriousness of the situation, he seems to be doing quite well so far.

Of course, he is aided by the companionship of Miss Taffy, my spunky, Silkie problem child.

As soon as Sargent Feathers was settled in his cage in the house, I went back out to put the rest of the chickens in the barn. Many of them I carried in; some had to be herded (I seriously need a Border Collie…). Sunset decided to be contrary and kept ducking under the deck (Grrr…) but, eventually, I got them all settled back in with a fresh bed of hay in their nests to keep warm, fresh water and fresh food.

Or so I thought…

Taffy spends most of her time underneath what used to be a rabbit hutch in the barn. It is low to the ground and, as I use a deep litter method* here to help insulate during the winter months, Taffy has built herself a cozy little nest here. More intent on just getting everyone into the barn so I could go back to Sargent Feathers, I did not look under the hutch to ascertain that she was in her usual spot. On the next trip to the barn, I did a more thorough headcount and discovered her missing!

One can imagine the panic and the usual berating I gave myself. Fortunately, she had crawled under the barn (There is a low spot right near the barn door (barn is really a shed re-purposed as a barn) where she often nests in warmer weather). It is a shallow area, she was easy to reach and, more fortunate, she was hale and hearty, chirping away to me as I picked her up and carried her into the house. Though she did not have any frostbite, I don’t know how long she was under there and her Silkie feathers were damp.

She and Sargent Feathers are now shacking up in the kitchen just below Smoky Bones the Cockatiel’s cage. Smoky isn’t too sure about his new roommates. Master of Mimicry, Smoky has been known to “cluck” and “cackle” like the chickens pecking around in the yard in summer, searching for worms and bugs; let’s hope he doesn’t learn how to mimic Sargent Feathers’ lusty “Cock-a-Doodle-Doo” that greeted us “in stereo” the moment I turned on the kitchen light before dawn…

I’m taking heart from it though; perhaps I found Sargent Feathers just in the nick of time. It sure sounds like it.

A very Happy New Year 2018 to Everyone…may God bless you & keep you!

*Deep litter method is spreading a layer of pine shavings on the floor of the barn/coop and just adding layers over their waste and discarded hay and allowing it to slowly compost. Sounds gross; compost is warm and insulating and, if done correctly, there is no build-up of any harmful bacteria or moisture. There is also a ridge vent all along the roof of the barn for any moisture to escape if necessary. In spring, it makes a nice addition to the garden.

Bunny Salve

Equal parts organic Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) and Plantain (Plantago major or Plantago lanceolata) (This is the grass-like plantain found in most lawns, not the banana-like fruit found in grocery stores, which is Musa x paradisiaca…).

Using a double boiler (or a small stainless steel sauce pan (Please do NOT use non-stick cookware, or cast iron, when making herbal decoctions…) in about 1/2 – 1 inch of water in a larger sauce pan), on low heat, cover the herbs with olive oil (if using beeswax) or, you may melt a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil then add the herbs (again, very low heat; avoid scorching or boiling herbs…if they scorch, dispose of scorched herbs in the compost bin and start again on a lower heat setting). Allow them to slowly simmer for 45 minutes, covered. Strain when done, saving the liquid. If using coconut oil, simply add a couple of drops of Vitamin E oil to preserve and pour into a glass jar (short and squat is best size/style). The coconut oil will solidify as it cools. If using beeswax, pour the oil back into the pan and, on lowest heat setting, add about 1 inch squared piece of beeswax to 8 ounces of oil and slowly melt it; stir; pour into glass jar and add a couple of drops of Vitamin E oil; stir again.
(Word of caution: Do NOT pour any unused beeswax…or any unused salve made with beeswax…down the drain, or attempt to wash the pan with the beeswax and oil in a sink; you will never unclog the drain again without the very costly assistance of a plumber having to replace said piping. It is biodegradable and non-toxic; use a kettle of hot water to rinse the pan outside. Also, it is highly flammable; never leave it unattended when heating on the stove.)

This salve has worked wonders for urine scalding, chapped combs and wattles, chapped hands, lips, and even diaper rash (although, for the latter, I often add equal parts of calendula (Calendula officinalis) and St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum); these last two are not recommended for animal use but work well on human skin).

“These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.”

My Apologies for the Delay…

Good morning (or whatever time of day it is in your part of the world…)

In the middle of some major “renovations” here on this blog. As soon as they are completed, I will certainly include more information about them. For the time being, I thank everyone for their patience. New content will be added soon.

In the meantime, keep working towards that faith-filled, sustainable and compassionate future. We CAN be the change we wish to see in the world.

May God bless you & keep you!

First Days

“There is nothing better for man than to eat and drink and provide himself with good things by his labors. Even this, I realized, is from the hand of God. For who can eat and drink apart from him?” (Ecclesiastes, 2:24-25)

Hope.

These first days working in living history are filled with hope…a new beginning. A chance to finally pick myself up off of the ground, dust off the hardships of the past several years, and put that proverbial one step in front of the other.

At least that’s the outcome I’m hoping for. But it’s His will…not my own. And I trust Him to see me through it…whatever “it” is as these first days turn into weeks, months…and, hopefully, years. Family and friends are right; this really is the perfect position for me. I mean, I’m an herbalist with an obsession with all things 19th century. And I’m suddenly in charge of an extensive herb garden in a recreated 19th century living history museum. It is so me. I hope I am so them, too.

Yesterday was the first official day of work. I confess, despite my knowledge of herbs, I was completely burned out by the time I got home. A lot of information all at once, interpreting herbs, not as I know them today, but as they would have been used in the 1830’s. I have a stack of pamphlets, printouts, copies, etc. of various 1830’s gardening tips to read. And yet, gardening methods, while they have evolved, are essentially the same. Sure, we may have certain tools that aid us in our work today but we’re still sowing seeds, pricking out first leaf plugs, hardening off, transplanting, direct sowing, pruning, thinning, weeding, watering, feeding, mulching, composting, harvesting and saving seeds. The plants, whatever variety, still need some combination of sun and rain, and a healthy soil in which to grow healthy and strong.

I am feeling the challenge.

Daunting to consider that I will have a voice in deciding whether to keep or cut down the overgrown sassafras tree that is starting to shade out a nearby Baldwin apple; ditto, as regards the Baldwin apple which is struggling…with one limb now devoid of bark and riddled with holes. How important to 1830’s medicine was a Buckthorn? As it overtakes what we refer to as the High Bed, do we simply remove it? Or does it make sense to replace it with a smaller specimen? This latter one requires some research, of course. My tender heart acknowledges the life force in each and wants to save them all…but doing so might mean the loss of others. In some cases, these are the “bullies” of the garden, stealing sunlight, stealing rain, stealing nutrients from their neighbors.

Then there are those heirloom plants that we meticulously save the seeds from each year so that we have a proper offspring the following growing season: medicinal poppies; Fuller’s teasel; an heirloom Calendula, whose stems hold a single flower on each instead of multiples and whose petals are a light, sunny yellow instead of the orange we expect today. The herbalist in me wonders if their medicine is more potent. But replacements, if they can be found, are costly and rare. This is a collection…as surely as the myriad antiques that grace all of the buildings. I’m not just a gardener. Or an herbalist. But a curator.

Of course, the flip side is the thirst to prove myself, to live up to this challenge, to develop the veterinary medicine tour I discussed while learning the new “ropes”, based upon the books of Juliette de Bairacli Levy and the many 1830’s-era volumes their research library carries. I want to build up the composting system so that we have more with which to feed our plants with…instead of buying organic from a local nursery. I’m looking at the greenhouse and thinking, while it is manned, and a separate department all its own, I would love to take cuttings and expand our plant base instead of buying new plants each spring. And, from my short tenure at Roseland Cottage, create a spares’ bed behind the scenes where, if we lose a beloved plant in the public beds, we have another to replace it. I’m also looking at the honey bees right across the lane and thinking a bee garden tour.

The ideas are popping.

For the museum…and for The Herbal Hare Homestead.

Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so impossible to plant hops. The museum has quite a good crop of them this year. They use a trellis instead of the more common straight pole method. As a result, the hops receive more sunlight. And they’re thriving. Where friends have tried and failed to grow them, adopting this method here might just be the thing. I use hops in the upper-respiratory tincture I make each cold and flu season. Hops relax us, help the body to rest…and to heal. And, using a trellis, they don’t take up as much space. I’m also looking at plants like rosemary and cardamom and turmeric–plants that typically grow in warmer climates and, suddenly, a small greenhouse might be a pretty sound investment for this homestead. And the informality of the beds appeals greatly. Currants grow amongst the sage bushes; colt’s foot alongside Welsh onions; raspberries and rue. There’s even a lovely knot garden…impractical but just the right hint of romance.

Luck?

I don’t believe in it.

But, grace. Surely, grace…God’s grace, to be so blessed. Credit’s going where it’s due. These first days are filled with His grace…as are all the days that follow. Grace, hope, faith…they make a fine new beginning.

May God bless you & keep you!

Little by Little

“Then God looked over all that He had made, and it was excellent in every way. This ended the sixth day. Now at last the heavens and the earth were successfully completed, with all that they contained. So, on the seventh day, having finished His task, God ceased from this work He had been doing, and God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he ceased this work of creation.” (Genesis, 1:31, 2:1-3)

I’m starting to notice a difference. I tackled a too-big landscaping project last summer; it has carried into this summer. And I’m still not finished, still not caught up. But I’m learning not to cringe at the over-grown state of affairs, and to notice the subtle changes along the way. As time and resources allow, I build another raised bed, add more compost, cover more walkways with pseudo-garden cloth (recycled/re-purposed feed bags). In the meantime, I’ve been harvesting blackberries in season, clipping back invasive bittersweet as it threatens to choke out everything else under the sun, and weeding the one little 4′ x 8′ garden bed presently under cultivation. The green beans are thriving. The cheap Walmart squash seeds are dead in the water, so to speak, so that half of the bed will soon be planted in beetroot and leafy greens. I also have some heirloom beans that will have enough time to grow before winter’s freeze, maybe some broccoli and cauliflower as we head into August.

Something unusual is happening here. I’m not worried about being Super Girl anymore. I’m learning to let go of what other people might think. Who cares? I think it has finally sunken in that I’m not Samantha Stevens; twitching my nose won’t make everything perfect…I can’t even twitch my nose like that. And this acceptance is sweet. I have 1/4 of an acre in the middle of a Do It Yourself construction zone. I also work off-site and am in the middle of a degree program. The 2-3 hours I give to this DIY project each morning from dawn until feeding time may not seem like much to some but, for me, while I still cringe from time to time, those 2-3 hours help to break it all down into manageable bites. And, little by little, I’m seeing results. It is taking shape. And I’m even resting on that seventh day.

That’s the truly unusual thing. I usually push myself until “burn-out” sets in and then I waste more time trying to recuperate. Instead, though I don’t consider myself a couch potato type, I’ve been spending part of my days off from the dealership in front of the boob-tube watching You Tube videos about gardening and landscaping…and learning a lot, getting ideas and, yes, on Monday morning when I’m back in the garden at dawn, implementing some of them. Now that I’m not stressing and worrying so much about making everything perfect, I can actually enjoy the journey better. And I actually get more done. Who knew?

And that’s a lesson worth learning.

May God bless you & keep you!

Dates with Monty Don and Charles Dowding

“Rest in the Lord; wait patiently for Him to act. Don’t be envious of evil men who prosper.” Psalm 37:7

Forgive the redundancy but I really am a bad patient. As this leg continues to throb and ripple with muscle spasms, and my toes turn all tingly through the lack of circulation and swell and give me all manner of discomfort, I have been forced to spend most of my time on my duff, feet propped up to take the pressure off the leg. I could’ve taken out stock in the amount of Ben Gay I’ve slathered on knees, shins, ankles, feet and toes. Ditto for the aspirin. I look at the fine weather we’ve had the last couple of days and I growl at this forced convalescence, thinking of all the gardening I could be doing and various other farm chores. Since Thursday, it has been the bare essentials only.

And, yes, I know…Ben Gay? Aspirin? I am an herbalist, after all. But, while I almost always choose herbs over what’s become conventional medicine, as deeply as I believe that herbs are a better, healthier choice, sometimes they don’t work as fast. I needed more immediate relief just to walk up that hill Thursday night after work. Last night it was a warm bath to ease sore muscles (still no clue exactly what I did to the leg…); tonight there’s a jar of oil in which Plantain, Comfrey, St. John’s wort, Calendula and Cayenne Pepper have been slowly brewed. The first four ingredients are good for the skin. When combined like this you have the perfect combination of emollient, drawing power, anti-scarring agent, natural sunblock, and rash relief. I don’t have any of these but, whenever I make something to put on my skin, I add these four. Our skin is the largest organ of our body; we often neglect it. The cayenne is for improved circulation and for relieving sore muscles.

In the meantime, I’ve actually become a bit of a couch potato–well, armchair is more like it. I’ve been relaxing (there’s a novel concept), feet up, in front of the TV and trying, albeit a little in vain, not to feel guilty for it…even as my leg throbs with a life of its own after another round of feeding and watering the farm. No, we don’t have cable/digital/satellite (i.e. so no reception) but Mom received Roku for Mother’s Day from my brother. Roku allows you to access shows via the Internet and broadcast them onto the TV screen. While there are some stations that charge a small fee, many of them are free. One of those is, of course, You Tube. To be honest, I haven’t really paid much attention to the Roku since helping Mom set it up when it first came here. She’s been enjoying episodes of her favorite HGTV shows and country music videos. Over the weekend, she handed me the remote to the Roku unit after watching me trying to watch music videos on my cellphone via the You Tube app I downloaded. (Eh, it was keeping me off my feet…)

First of all, Mom got a little bit of culture shock as my answer to not being able to walk to church yesterday saw me tuning in to Christian music videos by today’s contemporary artists as a way to still connect and worship Him. I listen to a lot of these artists on Pandora during the week and it always soothes me…despite the hard-rocking sound many of them produce: Casting Crowns, Lauren Daigle, Francesca Battistelli, Barlow Girl (which was much heavier than she expected), Meredith Andrews, Big Daddy Weave and Kari Jobe. I even got a little rap in there with Brandon Heath. After a while though, I got tired of constantly surfing You Tube for the next video and decided something a little lengthier would be better.

I have a thing for British television. If I lived in the UK, I would likely be a couch potato a little more often simply because I love their sense of humor and style…and, especially, their gardens. Charles Dowding caught my eye first. I believe it was an article in Treehugger, advocating the No Dig Gardening method, that turned me on to his You Tube channel; I’ve been a subscriber ever since. This was not my first initiation into the No Dig method, but I love the practical advice Mr. Dowding offers just for gardening overall but, more specifically, for the No Dig method. He gets beautiful fruits, vegetables and herbs. His gardens are so lush that I am frequently jealous at the yields. He makes a lot of compost and that’s helping me in that area of homesteading. And, I’ll admit it, for an older gentleman, he looks pretty darn good in a pair of jeans. He reminds me greatly of Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon. I had Kevin Cronin wallpaper as a girl, both in my bedroom and in my locker in school. Enough said (chuckle).

Anyway, it was through Mr. Dowding’s You Tube channel that I learned of the BBC’s “Gardener’s World” program, which is in its 50th year of airing (pretty remarkable, actually). Mr. Dowding’s homestead was featured on “Gardener’s World” one Friday evening and I fell instantly in love with the show. Now I watch an episode each week on You Tube. Host Monty Don, like Charles Dowding, is a wealth of information about gardening. Being forced to stay off my feet these last few days, I have been doing a marathon of back episodes I missed earlier in the year…and introducing Mom to the show, too. She’s been enjoying it. And we’re both learning a lot of cool gardening tips. I’m especially enchanted with Nigel and Nell, the two golden retrievers who follow Monty around his, roughly, two-acres of gardens…usually with a tennis ball, or one his trowels in mouth. It’s a bittersweet enchantment as I miss the big dogs that blessed my life over the years and hope, God willing, that things will get back on a more even keel in my life–soon–so that I might provide a forever home for another pair of dogs. All in all, despite this enforced convalescence, I don’t feel that the time has been completely wasted. Again, I’m watching, learning, and gaining more confidence through the pseudo-mentoring of these two gentlemen (we switched off at one point to watch some of Charles’ videos, too).

And, believe it or not, yesterday’s rock and roll religion did feed my soul, touch my heart. I’ve actually felt myself drawing closer to Him, taking deep breaths…because letting go and letting God is the hardest lesson of all for me, to give up any kind of control…and just surrendering my will to Him. I may not like the enforced convalescence but He is using it to mold and change me, to grow my faith in Him…something I’ve been yearning for. And praying for.

It was an interview I read with Lauren Daigle in “Young Salvationist” where she talks about how she surrendered her dream of music to Him that really touched my heart. When she finally surrendered her will to Him, doors started opening for her. Maybe I’m feeling “stuck” in my life because I haven’t truly surrendered my will to Him. That’s what I felt when I read this article over the weekend, that He was trying to tell me to just let go; He’s got my back. And it was the lyrics to Kari Jobe’s “Steady my Heart” that, well, steadied my heart:

Even when it hurts
Even when it’s hard
Even when it all just falls apart
I will run to You
‘Cause I know that You are
Lover of my soul, Healer of my scars,
You steady my heart, You steady my heart

That’s worth a few muscle spasms and tingly toes.

May God bless you & keep you!

References

Jobe, K. (2012). “Steady My Heart.” worshiptogether.com Songs, Ariose Music.

Maynor, C. P. (2015). “Interview: Lauren Daigle.” Young Salvationist. Retrieved June 26, 2017 from:
http://www.youngsalvationist.org/2015/02/04/interview-lauren-daigle/

Naming Trees and a Quest for Cardboard

And so the gypsy moths have completely denuded one of the big Norway maples in my front yard. Not Helen, mind you. Helen is the grandmother of all the Norway maples here. And, yes, the Master Gardener here knows Norway maples are invasive and not native to Connecticut. I didn’t plant them; they were here when I purchased said property back in 2001. Invasive or not, they provide much-appreciated shade in the summertime, and a nice bit of windbreak in the winter. So nobody touches Helen & Co.

Except the gypsy moths.

And there’s not much I can do about that. They’ve completely denuded Ollie already. Ollie is a slightly younger Norway maple, if one judges by the size of circumference (don’t trees grow a new ring every year??). And quite lovely…despite his invasive nature. The Japanese dogwood…or maybe it’s a flowering cherry tree…is also completely denuded. I’m not sure of the species because it is one of about a dozen saplings I received as a “Thanks!” for donating several years’ ago to the Arbor Day Foundation. Only three of them survived. They’re all part of the under story near Ollie. I’m almost positive the one closest to the house is a Japanese dogwood…and, so far, the gypsy moths have left it alone. It’s the other two–one denuded, the other on its way to becoming–that worry me. And Ollie. Can they all recover from this? Or will I have a rotting Norway maple stump next spring? Horrified at this finding this morning, I tried hand-picking some of them off of the smaller trees. But it was a futile endeavor; just too many of them. I may have to invest in some bird netting and then try to pluck em all off before I cover them. It’s heart-breaking as they are all part of the latest landscaping endeavor, an effort to beautify the area closest to the interstate with ornamental trees, shrubs and flowers. Eh, if it’s visible from the road, it has to be pretty…not that the current state of Tobacco Road could be called attractive, but I digress yet again…

And, yes, I’ve named some of the trees in my yard. Here’s how it started.

I won’t get into all of the spiritual changes within that brought this about–that could take a whole week’s worth of posts–but, several years’ ago I studied Wicca. For those of you who only know Wicca through TV and other pop culture mediums, Wicca is NOT any sort of devil worshipping. I am, and always have been, a Christian, accepting Christ as my Savior back in 1995, shortly after my first divorce. But, for some reason, the tree-hugging nature lover in me has always been drawn to Wicca. And I can only conclude because Wicca is a nature-based religion.

Anyway, to keep a long story short, I took a course at the local community college entitled, “Introduction to Wicca” after a long theological discussion with the then-deacon of my church, Brother Bob. I was expecting sermons as regarding fire and brimstone raining down upon my head for even considering such a course but Brother Bob encouraged me to take it instead. The reason? Because it is the fear of what we don’t know, or understand, that breeds distrust, hatred and violence. It is fear that the enemy of my soul uses to bring chaos into my life…and into the world. So, for four weeks, I drove to Mansfield, CT and attended class. And I loved it! I learned so much, so much that I can accept and appreciate…even to how the good Lord used this experience to help me re-connect with members of my own family (I have an aunt and a couple of cousins who are practicing Wiccans). I’m not afraid anymore; there’s no reason to be.

“His disciple John came to Him and said, ‘Master, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons. And we told him not to. After all, he isn’t in our group.’ But Jesus said, ‘You should not have done that! For anyone who is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:49-50)

Getting back to the naming of trees, this class sparked an interest so deep that I started reading every book that I could find on the subject. Some, I will admit, were a bit “darker” than others. Not necessarily sinister, or diabolical, but more like a sort of prejudiced attitude towards any religion other than Wicca (and haven’t we all experienced a similar attitude in other religions–including Christianity!). There was one though, written by a fellow Master Gardener, that talked about naming trees and how trees actually have spirits. Most Native American tribes believe trees, rocks, etc. have spirits and, as I’m part-Mohawk, part-Narragansett, it resonated within. More, I had been finding myself drawn to “Helen” and this book made me stop and think. Maybe Helen was giving me little mental nudges. Anyway, she was christened “Helen” shortly thereafter.

Now, before anyone thinks I’ve completely gone off the deep-end, and maybe I have, if you head over to http://www.treehugger.com and type in “trees” + “Melissa”, you’ll find a host of articles featuring the research of various scientists about trees. And how they share resources, protect one another, and even communicate with each other. There’s quite a number of them; they’re interesting reads…whether you believe in such or not.

So, now that Ollie is suffering from an attack of gypsy moths, and I prepare to possibly mourn the loss of him in the not-so-distant future, I can’t help worrying if Helen will eventually fall prey, too. She’s the grandmother here because she’s so enormous. I would be willing to bet she’s stood in this yard over 100 years or more, such is the size of her trunk. To lose either shade tree is a heart-wrenching thought. Invasive or not, trees don’t grow overnight. It’s one of the reasons we treehuggers object to things like over-harvesting from forests and the current annihilation of the rain forests in South America due to our hunger and greed for more wood; such important eco-systems can never hope to recover at the rate of said destruction.

But before this becomes one of my environmental rants (I’ll save that for another post…chuckle), I’m switching a few gears here. Helen, Ollie & Friends are a part of this very local landscape. As I’ve moved rock walls and started building raised beds, I’ve designed everything here to work with the current landscape, rather than any clear-cutting. I’ve been using something called the the No-Dig Gardening method, developed and promoted by Mr. Charles Dowding of England. Mr. Dowding is not the originator of this method but he has developed it to a level that has proven effective and efficient for any home gardener. Another name for it is lasagna gardening. Mr. Dowding has a wonderful You Tube channel that takes you from soup to nuts on how to landscape and grow fruits, vegetables and herbs without digging…or rototilling, which is very bad for the soil and will encourage the growth of weeds and invasive species.

Like Helen.

No-Dig, or lasagna, gardening requires the laying down of flattened cardboard boxes, which slowly decompose but act as a weed barrier while in that decomposition, directly atop the compacted soil, or grass, or weeds–wherever you decide to create this raised bed. Like any good lasagna, the next step is to layer everything: leaves, kitchen scraps, compost, etc. If you wish to go the more traditional route of bags of peat moss, potting soil, etc, that’s okay, too…even if it isn’t quite as sustainable. Once you’ve created a good six inches of layers, you simply plant your seeds directly into this mix or, if you’ve started seeds indoors, or purchased plants from the local nursery, you may simply part some of the layers and set the plugs into them. They will grow.

This initial landscaping project encompasses about 1/4 acre of my property; I have another 1/2 acre planned but in much smaller stages. This 1/4 acre is probably a bigger undertaking than Mr. Dowding would have recommended in the beginning but I’m committed to it. I spent most of last winter squirreling away every empty box that walked through the dealership where I work afternoons and early-evenings. I would pack the trunk of the car, the backseat, and throw them into what was once a garage, now storage room. One would think, with so much pack-ratting activity, that I would have more than enough to finish said project but, alas, I am on a perpetual quest to find more. Though empty boxes still travel through the dealership, walking everywhere now, I’ve been searching a little closer to home; flat-packed boxes are a prime example of dead weight. So, every now and then, I’m petitioning nearer neighbors and, hopefully, saving them a bit of the expense to have their cardboard waste hauled away…and keeping much of it out of the local landfills. It’s a design I can be proud of.

Even Helen agrees…

May God bless you & keep you!