ECO-Tours only purchases trees and dirt to plant them in...

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Yesterday's Tour

I am one of the first to become frustrated by the day after stories that often get on the news. The day after a concert, protest or rally is the worst time to learn about it. On the other hand, when an event is so interesting, spectacular or memorable that people just have to talk about it, there is some solace in knowing that it took place. With luck and a bit of imagination, one can see just far enough into the past to come away with a sense of what went on and what it must have been like. To set the stage for this story, you have to understand a few things. First, I had a major root ball with some new growth, but the main trunks of this plant had been cut down a few weeks ago. There are probable around thirty new shoots coming out of a root ball bigger than I could lift. You see, this particular plant is an elderberry and it had grown too big for the part of the garden it was in.

This is one of the funny things about permaculture...It has the prefix perma, even though everything changes with time. A few years ago, when this plant was put in my garden, we had just a few beds and the area was not fenced, so having a large plant that helped to define the back edge of my yard was necessary. Our production of vegetables was perhaps modest at best and the elderberries that were produced were an important part of our winter diet. Several things have changed since then. We have 100% access to the yard across the street, where our rental is, the elderberries over there are coming into their own (reaching full production) so we don't need the big one in our yard as much. We continue to build raised beds and add plants, other fruit trees, grapes and asparagus and the shade produced by the ten by ten by ten (3X3X3m) elderberry was starting to cast shade over plants that will produce even more food for us. As the garden grows, the space available for a large plant shrinks and from the start, we were only going to provide a nursery for this plant, using it as a source of clones and smaller babies that we have been planting out for several generations.

So, to remove this relative giant, I set to work as soon as the ground had dried out enough to shovel. First I cut a ring about two feet away from the trunks. We continued to pot up babies that were scattered around the main plant. Finally, when I had dug well below the deepest roots, the prying began. I would lever the root ball up, at first by tiny bits, then by inches at a time, blocking it up with other boards as I went. When I got it clear of the earth, I kept using long levers to raise it to the height of our wagon. The wagon alone is a microcosmic story about how we do things around here. The parts for it are salvaged from a junk pile and the plywood top that forms a flat bed and holds the wheel units together is painted with chalkboard paint so that it can be used in the field as a teaching tool. Not only has something dubbed waste gained new life through our program, but the utility has been enhanced by giving the tool more than one purpose.

This event needed to have especially powerful ritual associated with it, because part of the event was to welcome our first apprentice healer and guide. A few weeks ago, I met a young lady who was seeking knowledge about herbs and healing using natural remedies. As part of her training, I though it would be important to the process for her to understand the elderberry straight away. Developing relationships with members of the plant kingdom is the best way I know to understand the healing powers and traits that these important friends share with us. In my work guiding ECO-Tours, I often speak for the plant kingdom anyway, but as an herbalist, I often find myself trying to let the herbs express themselves by providing what they have to offer the human community. One of the challenges for me in sharing the knowledge that I have of herbs, and staying healthy using them exclusively, is to try to explain that we have a birthright to an open dialog with members of other species and phyla. Broadening the scope of our understanding of the world around us often requires stepping back, looking around and trying to create new mental maps to help us navigate new terrain. A rite of passage can help make a break from the past and begin anew with a more or less clean slate. This plant in did triple duty as a class (it included an herb walk as well), a nurturing event at a sacred space, and a way to bond inexplicably with a very important species in the herbal apothecary.

Because of uneven terrain, we were a bit limited in our choices for planting sites, but just off the trail a few hundred yards from the vehicle, we found a great spot. The blossoms and fruits will be close enough to the trail to be of use to folks walking there but not too close to the trail as to become an eye poke hazard. The elderberry likes moisture and will get enough where we put it and the shade will help cool and slow the water coming in from an unnamed rivulet that feeds the creek after tumbling down the side of a steep ravine. This, in turn, should lead to less erosion and a more stable rim along the edge of the ravine.

The weather was perfect. Other than a few very high cirrus clouds, it was clear. The temperature was wonderful, just warm enough that while working we would not overheat, but still cold enough that there were no bugs. The soil was perfectly moist, easy to dig and dry enough to not get mushy or gooey. We were planting into pretty heavy clay, but in our efforts we were able to mix in some richer topsoil from the hole we dug and aerate the area around the plant. After a good watering in, we stepped back and appreciated the magnitude of our efforts with great satisfaction. After just a few hours, not only had we transformed the possibilities for a little part of the planet, but we had begun a process of changing the way we relate to that part of it forever. We met a few great people who feel invested in our process and took another hopeful step toward a sustainable future. This particular tour has several interesting aspects. It is the largest root ball we have ever moved to a distant location (we took this one about ten miles) (16 km) It helps to stem the flow of one of the highest elevation tributaries that we have been reforesting (creating the one of the largest downstream benefit zones) This site has one of the highest populations of humans downstream and the entire area that is being reforested around this site has some of the most highly erodible soils in our county which, in turn, has the highest potential for helping to keep streams clear and silt free.

We will continue to plant this area, albeit with smaller elderberries, other trees and seedlings. We also got our second canoe painted and ready to be included in future ECO-Tours. Book yours today! We are moving into our busiest season, but are still booking tours for those that will be coming through Northeast Wisconsin this summer. We always graciously accept donations through either our Paypal account. (You can use our e-mail address as our account number: If you prefer to send a check by snail mail, avoiding the Paypal charges, we are located at 1445 Porlier Street Green Bay, WI 54301-3334. If you need to call directly, for info. or booking your ECO-Tour you can reach our land line at area code nine2zero-double eight 4-triple two 4.
This shows our burgeoning garden before we added an espallier apple tree, several blueberries and two aronia bushes.

Blessed Be and Namaste'.

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