On Being Rooted

A summer memory: The question my dad asked me when he got home from work, if it had rained earlier in the day. “Did it rain hard enough to get wet under the trees?”

Always, the answer was a shrug. I didn’t have much patience for Dad’s concerns. Watering wilty plants, pulling weeds, noticing—those were his purview, not mine.

Now I find myself checking, whenever it rains, whether the earth is wet under the trees.

ChivesAnd when I come home from a week away, my eye is immediately drawn to what’s changed in the landscape. “Oh, the daylilies are blooming,” I might be heard to say, slowing to see orange blossoms in a neighbor’s flower bed. It’s the kind of comment that would have made roll my eyes in my youth.

It is different as an adult, living in one place for a long time. You come to feel an ownership not just of your yard but your entire street, the tree canopy above the neighborhood, the pavement, the dirt itself. Even if you don’t know all your neighbors, you smile at the faces you know, and regard warily those you don’t. You want the best for your little corner, so you pick up litter and throw it in the nearest receptacle, you pick up after your dog, you try to keep the storm drains free of debris.

At least that’s how it is with me and my neighborhood.

And my partner and I love where we live. We don’t plan to leave; we’ve settled in more and more each year. It’s true our yard has its limitations: We can’t keep ducks. We have only so much sunlight for our garden beds. We have no room to try hugelkultur.

But over the years, the source of our sustenance has expanded to include the broader community.

PeachesI buy eggs each week from a chicken-keeping neighbor, who also shares fruit from her orchard. Last year we tended a community garden, and this year we’re experimenting with straw bale gardening on a friend’s property. And one of my favorite activities is to forage for food along my street. I bring home salad greens and berries by the bucketful. (“Nature’s candy,” I hear my Dad’s voice saying, and sometimes say myself, gobbling mulberries.)

There’s a lovely rootedness to this life. I guess it’s possible to live for years in one place and never meet the neighbors, never put a hand into the soil, never sit outside. People drive into an attached garage and disappear into a house that serves as…what? a haven for the inner circle? a locus of entertainment? a fortress against the world?

That seems so sad to me, a kind of disembodiment—though I too appreciate a haven, crave entertainment, and need security. But to live only inside the house sounds like a terribly constrained existence, no matter what kind of diverting electronics are humming within its walls.

Dad used to spend every long summer evening outdoors puttering. It was a mystery what he did out there. As an adult I understand. He was tending, noticing, relating. Getting rooted.

Not Your Mother’s Flower Show

Update as of March 8: I’ve added a couple things to this post that I didn’t know about yesterday: additional times to hear about backyard chickens, plus a coupon!

Quick commercial break here for those who live in or near Indianapolis. This year’s Flower and Patio Show, running March 9-17 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, includes a phenomenal new exhibit called The Urban Homestead. Picture a 10,000 square-foot city lot set up right in the middle of the expo hall, complete with chickens, rain barrels, vegetable gardens, and occasionally even sheep.

Yep, sheep. “When the grass around the Eco-Cottage grows too tall during the show, sheep from Fruit Loop Acres will be brought in to ‘mow.'”

sheep grazing

Sheep from the Green Shepherd Project, a project of Fruit Loop Acres, graze a city lot. Photo by Sue Spicer.

Other highlights:

Fraudulent Farmgirl Amy Mullen from Spotts Garden Service will present three times:

  • Saturday, March 9: 12:30 p.m. “Food Gardening for Beginners
  • Friday, March 15, 1:00 p.m. “Organic Weed and Pest Control
  • Friday, March 15, 6:00 p.m. “Edible Landscapes

Herbs growing in a container

Andy Cochran with Circle City Rain Barrels will teach how to build a rain barrel in two sessions:

  • 11:30am Saturday, March 9
  • 11am Sunday, March 10

Nap Town Chickens will be there all week, and there will opportunities to learn how easy it is to keep backyard chickens in three sessions:

  • 1pm Tuesday, March 12 with Andrew Brake of Nap Town Chickens
  • 11am Thursday, March 14 with Maggie Goeglein of Fall Creek Gardens
  • 7pm Saturday, March 16 with Andrew Brake of Nap Town Chickens

All this plus beekeeping, mead making, container gardening, composting, and more. I’m so there!

Oh wait, I have to be there: I signed up to be a presenter. I’ll be talking about solar cooking at 1pm Wednesday, March 13, demonstrating how to harness the most plentiful source of energy on earth to do your summer cooking.

We may have snow on the ground now, but in a few short months, this little puppy will be my best friend again.

solar cooker

Solar cooker and rain barrel on my urban homestead

Here is a coupon for $3 off admission to the Flower and Patio Show. Get there, and then come see us at the Urban Homestead exhibit!

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.