I have a special property. It’s close to the village and a mile in from the sea. The house sits on a hill and the 2 and half acres slopes from dry to wet, from woodland to road. Its open lawn centre curves between salmonberry stands and sour cherry trees, and the property ascends into a thin border of fir and cedar at its back that rims a clearcut behind.
The small acreage has been steered by human hands for over a 100 years. But it’s a place without ghosts. It’s gentle, welcoming and kind. It has rooted small child and old timer alike. Over a dozen buildings and countless birdhouses have history here. The later are still littered everywhere on the property, remnants of the original builder, a man obsessed with erecting roofs of all sizes. Though it’s a small parcel by this island’s standards, it does have a soft grandeur to its less than wild slopes.
The property, though, is not just special because of its constantly shifting ecology. It’s because, unlike all my neighbors to the right and left, the property is not fenced – not really. Decrepit cedar posts border the property as dissolving artifacts of what used to be a fence. They are turning to compost for the hardhack and salal on the edge, marking a negligible border along the road.
“I used to get up in the morning and patrol the yard, looking for holes” the previous owner told me. That was when the fence was new and encircled the entire property.
I only fence what I eat. I have fenced 3 separate garden spaces; combined they might be a little less than a third of the property. The deer and racoons roam at will, sleep here, raise their young and sometimes even die here. I once saw a shepard-coloured wolf cross the lower slope; taller and lankier than the biggest dog it was here for only a minute and did a U-turn at the gazebo. The landscape for the most part is really a combination of human and wild tastes, a shifting balance between what is introduced, what is natural and what now belongs.
The deer have the second greatest impact next to me on a macro level but for the most part the land has endured a long history of human hands doing the picking and choosing between what to cultivate or decimate. I am the steward now, and I try to hold onto a fundamental principle I learned not so long ago. When the sights of my ambition reach beyond my efforts and attention, it is important to remember to only cultivate what can be attended to at the moment, what I can water, fertilize, and harvest as I am with what I have. If you cleared more land than you could plant that season, I discovered you only really increased your workload and not your harvests.
The garden directly in front of you is the only one worth sowing.