When we took ownership of our two and a quarter acre plot of land in June 2008, it was a harsh expanse of arid growth; thin, knee-high alfalfa surviving in the stony soils of East Glengarry County, Ontario.
We had to tear that earth apart with backhoe and bulldozer to be able to build our new home. Immovable boulders were left where they were found. In that challenging desert landscape our home took shape and grew until we had a roof over our heads and could begin to reclaim that barren land.
On the day we had arrived, the now familiar prevailing westerly winds whipped up dust from surrounding fields and loosened tiles on our neighbour’s roof. Our immediate priority became obvious. We must establish a wind break for protection along our western boundary. As construction workers built the house, a double row of very young trees was planted, roughly eighty of them; maples, pine and spruce, balsam, tamarack and birch. Some were barely eighteen inches high; others had already reached almost six feet, their trunks so slender that it appeared we had planted an avenue of broom-handles.
It is now almost four years later. Some of the trees are a willowy twelve feet tall. In addition, in preparation for a two rail fence that will enclose the edge of our acreage, a line of cedar posts is beginning to emphasize the marked difference that has developed between the neighbouring properties. One is neat, manicured and orderly whereas ours will be be in close contact with Nature’s natural textures, sounds and colour.
Even the weeds around us are beautiful. Where there had been neither a blade of grass, nor hint of tree, this spring two overflowing perennial flowerbeds have slumbered in a field of dazzling dandelions. That carpet of golden heads tilted towards the sun will always be short-lived but …Oh! So welcome after the grays and duns of winter.
Through the windows at the back of the house we can see our small orchard, twenty-four or so, young apple, pear, plum and cherry trees. A substantial vegetable garden occupies the rear left-hand corner. Our strawberry patch and rows of raspberry canes promise red, black, purple and yellow fruit. Currant, gooseberry and adolescent blueberry bushes will yield summer and fall harvests.
Around the house, trees are seemingly scattered haphazardly. Nothing can be further from the truth. About two-hundred hardwoods, oak, chestnut, black walnut and black cherry have been artfully and intentionally arranged, some in groups to form future areas of peaceful shade. Other trees stand alone, interesting specimens; a peach tree and a couple of apricots, red maples, sugar maples and soft Norwegian maples, and fine red pines, and white pines. Some specimens have strange names; coffee tree and corkscrew willow, basswood and sunburst locust, amur maple and Chinese catalpa. We marvel at their growth knowing that most will remain magnificent long after we are gone.
No matter the trees’ native habitats, we share our space with them. It is for us to tend everything that is in it. Both orchard and fruit and vegetable garden repay our labour with their produce. As for our trees we are beginning to enjoy their shelter and protection, perfumes and colours, and their overall promise of tranquility. They have a capacity to lure, to invite other living creatures to consider our property their home. Their presence is the reason behind a new vitality around us.
There is now constant movement on our side of the fence line. The first brood of young robins has already hatched and left the nest under the car-port. Swallows have chosen to build a mud nest above the front door. As long as they can keep the number of mosquitoes down, they can stay. Our humming birds are back, looking for flowers on the honeysuckle vines around the deck. A pair of brilliant yellow-breasted meadow larks arrived in the grass at the side of the house weeks ago. Their song announces each visit. The day before yesterday marked the first arrival of a pair of ruby-throated grosbeaks who perched on the rail of our deck outside the living-room. While, for the past week, a pair of long-billed snipe has spent hours singing on the fence posts at the back of the garden. Their nesting ground must be close by, beyond our other neighbour’s farm fence, under his willows.
On warm sunny days the air hums with the sound of honey bees and bumble bees busying themselves among flowering viburnum and amur maples. Butterflies are everywhere: red admirals, yellow and black swallowtails, ragged zephyrs and large, soft, dark brown mourning cloaks, taking advantage of the remnants of the dandelions. They are now beginning to move on to the flower beds, beckoned by the presence of plants that we know they will enjoy; thyme and wallflowers, lupins and poppys, phlox and budlia.
This morning a young dusty grey-brown toad allowed us to welcome him and pick him up when he appeared in the shade of the hostas along our front path. Soon garter snakes will show themselves basking on the warm stones of the rock garden.
We hope that our neighbours are enjoying all that is changing around us. I wonder, have they remarked on the new-comers, our birds and butterflies?
Could that be the reason that dandelions are now spreading across their front lawn and are being allowed to remain?
Gillian Williams is a retired high school teacher. Four years ago she and her husband sold their Rigaud farm and moved into rural Ontario. After seeing her work in print in the first edition of sunday@6 mag, she wants to continue to use her writing to share her experiences and love of rural surroundings with others.