getting to know the land

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End of February 2021 and we’ve just returned from our fourth family visit to the new farm in Southern Oregon. In Winter there’s an imminent chill in the air with misty mornings and cloud cover cast over the entire lower Applegate Valley. The air feels inward, dynamic and enchanting – easily misinterpreted I suspect to some as ‘dark and somber.’ I feel it’s a welcomed change and appropriate atmosphere to the immuring nature of the season.

We take this time and feeling to listen and watch with reverence – at least that’s the intention. It can be difficult when you are filled with excitement and ambition – ready to jump in and make something out of … well, something that already exists beautifully.

The five acres of land we have purchased and vowed (to ourselves and those listening) to protect is a forest filled with pine, fir, oak, the occasional cedar, some blackberries, native species, mosses and many plants we have yet to identify. There are several fallen trees, some decomposing to turn back into the earth as planned. A few are pitched onto other healthy neighbors asking for help. Around borders there are open spaces that appeal to gardens, fruit trees and sunlight. It’s a lot to look at, visions to behold and space to do what’s right.

We sat, watched the trees in the wind, watched them in stillness, in darkness and in light. We walked sideways, forwards, diagonally, around and through. We dug in the dirt, kicked rocks, played with adding compost, watched the rain seep in and listened. Neighbors chickens and roosters clucked noisily, sheep chattered, goats made weird sounds, something else moaned in the distance and our own trees creaked as they shifted spontaneously.

In town, we signed up for a post office box; a first for us both. We felt official but still distant locals. I learned you can drive up and park outside of the Williams library to get free wifi. This is special because cell service is unheard of near our land a mile out, and also unimportant because we hope not to use it as often as possible. We explored farm stands and markets of the area with a huge sense of delight. The options for real food – gluten free and vegetarian meals – are mouth-watering and delicious. I personally am in farmer’s market heaven.

Our neighbor literally wrote the book on hiking trails of the area and we took a long walk one morning on the Enchanted Forest Trail. In many ways it felt just as our land – lush with trees and vegetation, rich with history and secret stories held inside it all. I wanted to walk all day and sit for a while to listen here too.

Back on the land I was beginning to feel a deep sensation of home. When I took myself out of the talk of managing, cleaning, planting and plans for a cabin – when I slowed my mind of these ideas and proposals, I was me. That kind of home. I could feel clarity, ease and comfort, all at a deeper, more quiet level. I felt understood. As I’ve learned and grown to recognize, this is a place of unique nature. Kerri Ni Dochartaigh calls it a ‘thin place’ – where you meet yourself at a still point and the lines in between have washed away. I find home in this way can also be liminal in space and time. It’s a space of waiting and not knowing or needing to know – a place where transformation takes place. With this notion I realize when I am on the land I am meeting the forest where it is. It is our listening and beginning together. This is our Being, with slow discovery of reverence. We are just here, side-by-side. This is how we eventually discover what is first, next and last.

We did begin some work of cleaning up fallen branches and trunks on the forest floor, but took it slow. A narrow path was carved so we could traipse to and fro more purposefully. Piles of broken bits have begun to take shape with the intention to mulch and give back; a small test plot has begun on the back acre in the sunshine. I hope we’ll find flowers blooming there with our next visit soon – a sign of that liminal transformation. We have ideas and visions to make something here; yet something, someone and some many clearly already exist. There is a mutual understanding amongst us to slowly find our way to grow together.