In a hectic world, I like to be surrounded by plants as I walk along, tasting, breathing it all in.
Like a bee visiting flowers, I walk the pathways between the plants.
When I walk around the farm, one path takes me from the blueberries to the grapes. Another path leads around the pond to the paw paw patch. If I go the other way, I happen upon the haskaps.
If I were a bear, I would think that I had stumbled into bear heaven. There is so much fruit to eat. All I have to do is turn this way or that way, and a new path will bring me to the farmhouse blackberries. When I ramble through the birch tree opening along a short forest path, I enter the hidden meadow, full of ripe raspberries, asparagus and plums.
“Lord well I was born a rambling man, trying to make a livin’ and doing the best I can…” The Allman brothers sang this in the mid-70s. I took it to heart. I am motivated to plant new fruit groves here and there on the farm, and I always connect them with winding paths. Many a farm manager has told me I am ridiculous. Farms have to be run efficiently with rows in straight lines. We need to make use of all the space. Curves and rambling paths take away precious time and make us do more maintenance than we need to. My grandfather, Papa Ben, taught me “the shortest route between two points is a straight line.” He was right, of course, but it also meant that we had to sit through a lot of traffic lights and noise and boring store signs, because the shortest way is not always the quickest or the most interesting.
For years now I actually work the curves into the layout plan. If I am on a forest or mountain hike and the trail is straight for a while, this is the boring part of the hike. I like to keep exploring, not knowing what will be around the next bend. While I lay out the straight rows of grape vines and blueberries for easy mowing and mulching, each of these groves are connected by meandering paths. The whole farm is like this. It feels good. We walk along the edge of the elderberries, cross the brook and see the tall seaberries with their bright orange juicy fruit on one side of the path. Across the path gooseberries grow, shorter, more compact with light purple baby beach ball fruit.
We want to walk down paths together as a family, as a people, as a country, as a part of a wondrous world. We want to walk down paths that are interesting, inspiring, that give life. As a member of the North American Fruit Explorers, I am always looking for that new volunteer promising berry plant growing, seeded by birds and never existing before in the history of the world. Or the easy to crack and delicious and nutritious nut planted by squirrels. I wake up in the morning and start out on my path. Tasting. Observing. Listening.
A friend told me when he came to visit, he saw me walking up one of these pathways and right behind me was a skunk following behind at about the same pace. So many enjoy this nonlinear experience. Soft field grass pressed by moose, deer, and a hundred dancing chipmunks, all going about their day.
The old timers say, “The best fertilizer is a gardener’s footsteps.” It’s about caring, nurturing, being sensitive to what is around us, plant or animal or smooth stone. Somewhat like the old player piano that has a lever to crank around and around so music will flow for a while, the winding pathways get me where I need to be.
David Fried, Elmore, Vermont , August 2020