April

It’s the last day of April and I am forced to write about a busy and wet month.  It has been a little like a roller coaster.  One day you’re up with the sun eager to mow and weed, and then the next day you’re down on your knees planting in the rain and mud.  It’s difficult to get a rhythm going and I feel my moods mirror the skies: gloomy with a chance a rain, or sunny with energy and optimism.

The farm too has had its share of up and downs.  Our calves were born recently, which are always a bright spot of cuteness, yet we lost one to natural causes and, for some unknown reason, our cow Cinnamon failed to give birth even though all signs pointed to the contrary.  Fortunately, the little guy pictured above is still with us, as are two others, and now the herd is out on grass and often knee deep in water.  For April was one of the rainiest months on record and our fields turned into a lake for a week.  Happy ducks again, yet enough is enough.

A voice in my head cries out, “Well you shouldn’t live on the floodplain in the first place.”  Yep, that’s pretty much what I thought when I grew up on the Mississippi River.  Easy judgement to cast while we lived in town, protected by enormous levee wall. . . Foolish farmers living in the floodplain.  They should just move.

Different river, different time, but the same mentality prevails.  Some of the reasoning is true and justified.  Don’t live on a river or floodplain if you don’t want wet ground and flooding.  Understood.  We also understand, like my neighbor puts it, it’s the beauty and the beast.  Often a peaceful and pastoral place with gentle flowing river in a green valley, and then occasionally a raging river, unpredictable, threatening and destructive.

For the most part we know the risk and take our chances.  However it is ignorant and unfair to assume the burden of responsibility rests on our land alone.  The urban and suburban landscape, (which replaced the agrarian or natural one), with it’s large homes, sprawling lawns, blacktop driveways, strip mall shopping and adjoining parking plots shed water with engineered efficiency.  Simply tap into gravity and look the other way.  Where does it go?  Not my problem.  But it is.

The same logic that causes big rivers always to flow past big cities causes cheap farms sometimes to be marooned by spring floods. Ours is a cheap farm, and sometimes when we visit in April we get marooned.    —Aldo Leopold

Different river, different time, but the same mentality prevails.  Leopold goes on to write about the peacefulness of flooded isolation.  To this I can relate.  Winter floods, (Western Washington’s typical flood season), inundate local roads and silence train travel.  During those days a sublime quiet, we are stranded on a thin strip of land that braces the Snohomish River.

Yet that is winter.  When the goings-on of the farm are reduced to the home, barns, and an occasional foray into the orchard for pruning.  In April, however, Spring has taken center stage just as Summer seems ready to steal it and farmers are very eager to get to work.

So too, as they say, is the beaver. Soon after the waters retreated, I found my cows sloshing around in a foot of water.  Turns out the beast had damned a drainage ditch and flooded my fields again!

 

Castor canadensis

Here is my Moby Dick.  How I rant and become, as Melville put it, monomaniacal about this oversized rodent.  The clever constructor started its project right where my fence ended, and then proceeded to log the upstream forest (which I planted, see January).  It showed no good judgement of species succession or the value of shaded streams for salmon.  Instead, the uncouth miscreant ruthlessly whittled willow and evergreen alike.  It even had a good sized cottonwood girdled and ready for falling.  (Whereas Ishmael may have gone overboard with The Whiteness of the Whale, I can digress deeply into The Building of Beavers, but alas, I will resist the temptation as this blog’s intention is to increase readership.)

When you walk through a forest of toothpicks it’s hard to remember and admire the wetland works of wonder this bugger does.  I tried to remind myself of this fact as I respectfully “lowered” the damn and watched the water pass by.  Now, now, please don’t lament the beaver’s loss.  I have a feeling this underdog will have his day and at some point I, or some tired sot, will resign themselves to the losing battle of beaver and too much water.  After all, I’m sure Noah was smart enough to keep them off a wooden ship and still the heavens could not drown them out of existence.

Not that I want such a thing.  For who was Ahab without his whale?  A grumpy salt stinking of blubber.  Bless the beaver that I am more than green thumb with hints of manure.

 

 

 

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