All week I’ve been wondering when and how I’m going to find the time to sit and write this post. Whenever I think there is going to be time, something else comes along that seems to be more urgent. The truth is that our days are packed right now and I suspect they will continue to be for the next several weeks. Our summers may be short in terms of calendar days, but those individual calendar days have an awful lot of daylight in them and Alaskans typically try to fit into three months more than what’s humanly possible.
It’s time for gardening and having guests. The strawberries are ripening and the salmon are running. Our window of time for harvesting clover, fireweed, yarrow, plantain, raspberry leaves, and pineapple weed has opened and we’re trying to get enough to fulfill the needs of our fledgling herb tea business while we can. We still have full time jobs too, and we still need to eat and sleep and clean the kitchen now and again.
If this blog is meant to be a reflection of our lives on these five acres, then this post will have to reflect the fullness of these July days. It will have to reflect the way we move from one task to the next and the way we’re propelled forward by the season’s energy.
We can do this for a while. We can tend our garden and forage for wild herbs. We can stay up late visiting with friends. We can harvest a gallon of strawberries a day and empty our herb drying rack and fill it up again. We can make a batch of kimchi so as to not waste the greens and radishes we grew. We can brew up a batch of berry wine to clear the freezer of last year’s fruit. We can go to bed late, sleep hard if we’re lucky, and wake up early to a new day full of new tasks.
One of this weekend’s tasks was preparing a space for a Quonset hut on the northwestern corner of our property. The structure has been on our neighbor’s property for about fifty years and is part of the homestead that is being cleaned up and cleared out. We’ve wanted a covered space in that area for a long time but have not been able to prioritize the expense, and so when our neighbor proposed using a big piece of equipment to lift it up and plop it down on our property it seemed like an opportunity too good to refuse. It will need a foundation and a new cover, but it’s got a sturdy metal frame. And it was a gift. It’s amazing how sometimes if we wait, the things we need will come our way.
A road will go in just above our property line sometime later this summer so a semi can come in to remove cars, school buses, boats, house trailers, a giant boiler the size of a small house, and piles and piles of stuff that the original homesteaders collected. They saw value and potential in most everything, but now it’s time for it all to move on. Watching our neighbor clear out sixty year’s worth of collected homestead treasures makes our ever-looming garage project seem minuscule in comparison.
We said goodbye to a birch tree that was felled in order to make way for the pending road. It wasn’t on our property but it’s a tree we drove and walked past almost every day and we admired it from our back window. Nobody was happy to see it go but it seems there wasn’t a way to save it. To console myself I asked permission to go visit a much older birch on the property that hopefully isn’t going anywhere any time soon. I didn’t know of its existence until just a few weeks ago, but it’s a beauty, perhaps a relative of the grandmother birch that resides at the center of our own five acres.
I don’t know how a tree witnesses the world and I don’t know how a tree remembers. But it feels to me like the old birch trees are the historians of this place. They’ve survived high winds, heavy snow loads and moose munchings. Spruce have grown, died, and rotted around them. People have drawn and redrawn property lines that determine who owns them. Countless birds have perched on their branches and squirrels and ermine have tucked themselves inside their cracks and crevices. Bears, wolves and coyotes have sauntered beneath them. Porcupines have climbed up their trunks to hide away for sleeping.
A couple of years ago I was perusing the Alaska Digital Archives and found a photo of Grewingk glacier that was taken sometime between 1896 and 1913. The ice reached all the way out into the bay at a depth that was a quarter of the way up the mountain. I suspect the old birch trees around here were already well on their way when those photos were taken.
On Sunday as heavy equipment and chainsaws made way for the new road, I found some solace in the presence of that old burled birch tree and for a few minutes I put all of our crazy July hustle aside to marvel over its long and storied existence. I didn’t stay beside it for long because there were berries to pick and tomatoes to water in the greenhouse. There were herbs to shuttle from the drying rack to the pantry and as much as I wanted to forget about the sink full of dirty dishes in the kitchen, it wouldn’t stop gnawing at me. Of course there was this overdue blog post I wanted to start writing too.
Later, in my kitchen, I stood over the clean counter tops and looked out the back window at the space where the road is going to be built and where the birch tree used to be. I looked at the Quonset hut that’s now on our property and it hit me that for as long as we live here our list of things to do is going to keep growing longer. We’re never going to reach a point of having everything done because for every one thing we accomplish there are at least three more added to the queue.
As is often the case these days, I was too tired for writing at the end of the day so instead I made myself a cup of tea and sat for a few minutes before going to bed. Never in my younger years would I have predicted that one day I’d be thrilled about acquiring an old Quonset hut. I never knew that I’d find such satisfaction in growing garden vegetables or foraging for herbs. And I never imagined that I’d feel closest to God next to an old birch tree. But here I am, tired and happy.