This Land

by Henry Swain

During a wind storm a large sycamore tree fell in the meadow below our house. The roots had been loosened by the creek that flows alongside the field.  When we bought our acreage over sixty years ago the road followed the edge of the creek where the sycamore stood, but there were no trees there then.

My neighbor Ronald Batten (known as Batty) was smitten by Louis Bromfield’s book Malabar Farm, a very popular book at the time about farming. Batty imagined he could make his Brown County bottom fields productive like Bromfield’s Ohio farm.  He bought a new Ford tractor with the necessary tools and began farming.  But Batty was a dreamer not a farmer.  His small fields were unproductive and after a couple of years he gave up. It was a lot of hard work and only marginally profitable. He went back to dreaming for which he was both emotionally and financially better suited.

He was a generous neighbor.  He saw our road problem and offered to donate part of his land so that our creek-side road could be relocated across our field near the wooded hillside. From there he offered right-of-way through his property directly to Clay Lick Road, a major county road.

The Highway Department agreed and a new road was created out of the flood plain and no longer was subject to washouts. The new connection eliminated two of the five creek fords necessary to reach our property from Nashville.

The narrow strip between the new road and his farm-tilled field is now a line of hardwood trees sixty feet tall and eighteen inches in diameter.  A later owner planted the field with pine trees to be sold as Christmas trees.  A succeeding owner didn’t bother to harvest them and the field is now a pine forest. Because the trees were planted so close together, they are tall but dying because of sunlight starvation and will never make marketable timber.

I have kept the meadow near our home mowed all these years for I liked the view of it from the window of our house and the road along the hillside.  It also helped as a prompt to our children to warn them the school bus was coming.  Had I not continued to mow the field it would now be all forest like the hillside that it borders.

It took me a half day to cut up the storm-felled sycamore into firewood and to drag the limbs to the creek edge so that I can keep the field mowed.

I believe most of us have the yearning to “own a piece of land we can call our own”.  But do we really own the land?  We can claim to as long as we pay the taxes. Land owners are really renters, temporary occupiers.  It usually requires considerable effort to change the use of property in ways different than nature originally intended. If the next owner chooses not to continue the yearly mowing, I am comforted by the knowledge that nature will return it to forest again, the way it was before the first settler cleared it to make it cropland.

The Gaia Hypothesis observes that species thrive which live in harmony with their natural environments, while those that do not are eliminated.  The global population explosion that occurred during the last century suggests that humanity is now the dominant species that is living in disharmony with its natural environment.  If we continue on this path, my meadow may become forest again sooner than I expected.