Do You See What I See?
My favorite springtime task is working on my prairie. A few years ago I got tired of mowing and planted half of my lawn to a dozen kinds of prairie grass. I then spent $100 on a little sack full of tiny seeds I scattered over the 2-acre patch. There was nothing but weeds the first year. But every year since, I’ve been delighted and amazed at the small beauties that appear in unexpected places.
It’s been a lot of work, because it isn’t a project I can delegate to a lawn-care service with a hose full of weed killer. I have to walk through and inspect the patch carefully, hit individual weeds with a squirt of herbicide, gather seeds from flowers and fling them onto bare patches, and pause every now and then to mull over whether an unfamiliar sprout is a weed or a flower.
I think about my great-grandparents while I work, wondering if they saw the beauty of the endless prairie when they settled here or if it was simply something to get plowed and planted as quickly as possible.
If you come to my place, be prepared for a tour of my wildflower prairie. And you should try to think of something complimentary to say because you might not be impressed.
Not always what you think
When I was 17, a friend and I rode our motorcycles out to western North Dakota. He wanted to visit some relatives and I wanted to just go somewhere.
He had seven uncles, all of whom raised cattle. We happened to get there in the middle of haying season. And while we saw ourselves as bikers looking for adventure, they saw us as two 17-year-old boys with nothing better to do. We baled hay on every farm we visited. Every night my muscles would leap and moan. When I got home, instead of a tattoo obtained in a dubious bar, all I had to show were forearms scratched raw from the stringy alfalfa.
The lesson of the tree fence
I remember one place in particular. It sat in the middle of a small valley. The house didn’t have running water or a decent paint job, and all around it was a woven-wire fence overgrown with saplings so close they had become a fence. The family was moving in a few months to a much nicer place. It was a big step up, and everyone was looking forward to it. But when we were walked to our motorcycles after supper, the mom paused at the gate and said, “Oh, I’m going to miss my fence.”
At the time, I didn’t understand. All I could see was a bunch of scrawny box elder and cottonwood saplings growing so thick they touched and intertwined with a rusty woven-wire fence. That’s what I saw, but it’s not what she saw. We see with our eyes, but our truest visions are with our heart, our memories, the yearning and experiences that make us who we are.
So if you come to my farm in spring, I’ll show you a patch of beaten-down grass with new green shoots and a smattering of flowers. You might be mystified at my obvious pride in it. But you’re not seeing what I’m seeing.
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