By David Fried
Somewhere, on the plains of Africa, there are giraffes with long tongues reaching into the trees for food. For thousands of years there has been enough. They move freely between groves and down below, smaller animals find what they need, too — down to the beetles and the fungi.
When I was nineteen, I hitchhiked across West Africa. The villagers in Upper Volta made fires at night and beat on drums to keep the lions away from their village. In the very early morning mist, we saw a baby elephant holding onto its mother’s tail and walking across the forest. I had the notion that they wanted us to come closer, to touch them. But as soon as we took a few steps in their direction, they stomped and uprooted trees and threw them towards us.
Here at Elmore in northern Vermont, we put up a deer fence to protect our young fruit trees from deer and moose. Since they were used to walking across these fields, there were skid marks and moose head shapes in and around the fence soon after we put it up. In spring, there was a layer of moose droppings all along the outside of the fence, where they had been checking to see if they could get in somewhere. For years, the deer and moose have picked up the dropped fruit and nibble on the branch tips. In return, we get the organic fertilizer and get to live in a world that still has wild life.
For us at the farm and nursery, sustainability means living with other forms of life. The birds sometimes eat or peck into pears, but they also eat the insects that would make the pears unattractive. The meadow voles sometimes chew some roots or stems or vegetables, but in the process, we get our clay soils aerated.
We grow many kinds of fruit, so that if it is a poor year for apples, it will be a bountiful year for grapes or plums. We put up our fence in two parts, so the deer can have their ancestral route along the stream in the middle. We have fenced ourselves out of their stomping zone.
What is it that the giraffes, the elephants, the deer, the moose, the birds, the voles and, hopefully, some of us humans have learned, probably without realizing it? There is a rich fabric of life and wonder all around us that has nourished and fed us for a long, long time. Let’s have the eyes to see the harmony around us and keep the land and our beings nourished. We can reach into the trees with our long necks and drink deeply from the nectar of the universe.
David Fried is the grower/writer at Elmore Roots Fruit Tree and Berry Nursery in northern Vermont.