Seed and Straw

May 20th, 2011
Eight and a Half Months Since the Fire

Dear Friends,

I finished re-seeding my land today, and I’m exhausted. Nellie is stretched out beside me, so tired that she can barely lift up her head. Every once in a while she lets out a big sigh and flops her head on my ankle, and then falls asleep again. I ache all over, but I have a great sense of satisfaction.  I feel like a farmer who finally got the Back Forty all plowed and seeded, just in time for the growing season. Whew.

Rehabbing land after a fire, I’ve learned, is amazingly low-tech. You rake the most burned parts of the soil, then throw seed in handfuls (this is called “broadcasting”) over the area.

Step One - Seed

Then you cover it with straw, to hold moisture and protect the seeds. Then you pray, really hard, for rain. Lots of it.

Step Two - Straw

Since I’m pretty overwhelmed with the details of life these days, I decided I would just let Nature take its course and worry about re-seeding next year.  Then I went up and looked at my land, and got a wake-up call.

It was beautiful in places; there were wide swathes of tender, electric-green grass; more wildflowers than I had ever seen up there, and new buds on some of the surviving pine trees. There’s been a lot of progress in since September.

September, 2010

May, 2011

But the rest of the property was still bombed-out looking. There were big black patches of charcoal and sand where meadow grass used to grow, and many of the trees I thought might survive had died. Yeesh. I realized that Nature needed a little help, and needed it now. What to do?

The next day I heard that there was leftover seed and straw available, so I zoomed up the canyon, loaded up the car with about 250 pounds of certified weed-free grass seed and frantically called my contractor, Jerry, to see if he could bring up his truck to haul straw. He said he was available (my hero!) and he and his daughter Riley and I hauled the seed and  straw over to my property at six o’clock that night.  Jerry distributed the bales around the land, and Riley was a real trooper, helping to spread seed and plopping small piles of straw around the re-seed areas.

In the beginning, it was fun.  We worked quietly as the evening came on, and the sky began to turn a deeper blue, then pink.  It was warm, and the mountains around us were starting to green up.

Jerry and I talked while we worked, about how peaceful it was to spread seed by hand, and how people all over the world have been planting like this for thousands of years — walking across the land, step-by-step, flicking out seed by the handful, then covering it with straw, then moving on to the next patch.  And how in parts of the world, it might be morning, and women might be doing just what we were doing; their aprons full of seed, chatting and broadcasting new life across their land, as their mothers had done, as their grandmothers had done, as their daughters might do.

And then we all got tired.  The straw was sticky and itchy and prickly, and the seeds poked into our skin and clothes.  It started to get dark, and cold. I thanked Jerry and Riley and sent them on their way – time for a 12-year old to get ready for bed. I stayed until about nine-thirty, working alone, trying to get more done. I was amazed at how long it took us to do one small area, and by the time I left, I felt exhausted and overwhelmed. With a team of ten, or a family, or a village, this would take one afternoon. By myself, it would take days, or weeks. God.

The next day, the weather suddenly changed.  It turned cold, and rained and snowed, day after day, without ceasing. Each time I went up to work on the land it was a miserable experience.  Nellie would last about a half hour, romping around in the snow, and then would start shivering so badly that I had to wrap her in my extra polar fleece and bundle her into the car. The straw was wet and heavy to haul, and the work was going slower than ever. I had to keep going, to take advantage of the wet weather.

So I plodded along, grabbing a few hours here and there to run up the mountain and scatter seed and straw, and then drive back down sodden and frozen. The burned area seemed to get bigger each time I went up. It started to feel impossible, like I would never get it done. Then my friend Cheri sent me this beautiful email in answer to one of my requests for help:

Hi Andi,
I will do my best to come help. It would be healing, I am quite sure. With my eyes closed I am picturing emerald spears of life, unstoppable, pushing their way into this world, thirsty for sunlight and for Nellie’s welcoming paws.
Best, Cheri

Cheri came up, and we worked in the freezing cold and pouring rain, with her dog and my dog taking turns running around, and we made a lot of progress. The next day she sent me this note;

I had the most magnificent time!  Thank you. I’m so glad it was helpful for you as well. When I left your land there was this holy moment, swinging together the gate halves to make a whole, while a thick, silent veil of snow fell to merge heaven and earth. I was filthy and happy, out of my head, deliriously living in my heart and everything around me was pure poetic metaphor… I am still grinning.
Big Hugs, Cheri

What a gift to have friends like that – who celebrate cold, hard work as a holy moment, who revel in the joy of service.  We were getting there, inch by inch!

Straw Dog!

Then today dawned grey but not snowy, with clouds and 50 degrees; balmy compared to the last two weeks. I threw on my gear and drove up the mountain.

Inspired, I raced around the land, scattering and raking and mulching like a madwoman, and was almost done when lightning flashed overhead and I heard a loud BOOM! of thunder.  I grabbed Nellie just in time, and we jumped in the car as rain began to pound down.

The storm passed quickly, and then suddenly, the sky cleared for the first time in a week. The clouds were puffy and white, with blue sky peeking through, and in the distance, the peaks of the Continental Divide were dusted with new snow. I inhaled the sweet, damp air, shook off the rain, and walked over and spread the last of the seed, and the last of the straw.

Then Nellie and I walked the land, while I admired our work.

Looking Good!

I let out a long sigh. I did it – I reseeded my land, a couple of acres, by hand, mostly by myself.  I’ve never done anything like this before, never cared for a piece of property so tenderly, so intimately.  I love my land, but like me, it’s mostly taken care of itself over the years. This is the first time it really needed me, and you know what?  I showed up.

Tonight I’m going to take a long, hot bath, and celebrate my success.  Then I’m going to watch a movie and order a decadent pizza, and maybe even a big bottle of Coke, heaven forfend.

I’m going to relish this moment of stewardship, of caring for the land. I’m going to drink a toast to my own persistence, to Jerry and Cheri and Riley, who walked with me, through the cold and snow and dying light, who were there for me, and whose work will show up as New Life in the form of green grass, and a new meadow, that with luck, will renew itself year after green year, all the years of my life.

Sending You Love, and Wishes for Joyful Renewal,

Andi and Nellie

My Heart's in the Mountains

PS: A Little Slide Show…

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7 Responses to Seed and Straw

  1. Linda Weber says:

    Thanks, Andi, for letting us share the love and the renewal through your story.

  2. This post came in via the subscriber feed this morning (5/24). I thought I’d be reading about y’day’s celebration. I cannot imagine how much work you did. My husband and I spent the entire weekend just getting our modest backyard into shape for summer — and we had already done both fall cleanup and initial spring cleanup! I admire what you did and how you treasure your land.

  3. Here’s to new beginnings–and new shoots of growth!

  4. junemoon says:

    Such a reminder of our role as stewards of this Earth. Thank you for sharing ur connection and care of your corner of this planet we call home.

  5. J says:

    Andi, wonderful post! I love what you did for your land…mother nature thanks you I am sure. Reseeding now will help prevent erosion and loss of your soil so you will reap benefits for years to come. Your pictures add a lot to the story.
    Thank you for the kind words on my prior comment. Max sends tail wags and puppy pounces (play bows) to Nellie.

  6. Maggie says:

    The pictures are beautiful and I’m still enjoying your blog, Andi. Best wishes as you rebuild.

  7. bespectaclednaturegirl says:

    I wish I knew you. I would offer to come help you spread seed. Maybe I can offer anyway and you will take me up on it. I’ve stumbled on a few of your posts as you’ve progressed on this journey. I can’t relate to the losing-your-home part, but I live in the Denver/Boulder metro and in some ways I suspect my life or maybe thinking on life is perhaps not so different from yours. Best wishes to you and Nellie…and do email if you need an extra set of hands.

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