Leaving the Edges Wild

Past couple of days, the farmer to the north of us has been burning down fencerows. He dropped by a week or so ago to talk about the boundary we share. He wanted to clear it out so the branches wouldn’t knock the lights off his tractors, and so he could squeeze another four rows of corn in that field. He said I could go ahead and cut any firewood I wanted. Said it would be good to clear out all those trash trees.

I said he was welcome to cut back the branches, but if it was all the same to him, I’d like to keep the trees and brush and such. I’m sure he thought I was a loon, but he said okay.

I know the conventional wisdom says to squeeze out as much yield as you can, to plow from fencerow to fencerow. There’s not much room for unkempt places in the conventional wisdom. But I prefer to leave the edges wild.

It’s not only that organic practices require I maintain a thirty-foot buffer zone between my farm and any non-organic agriculture. Or that old fencerows acting as windbreaks help protect the soil from erosion. Or that the native plants that grow up in them attract beneficial insect predators and pollinators, as well as provide habitat for all sorts of wildlife.

The real reason is that I just like the look of them, trash trees, weeds, and all. There’s always something interesting to see in them. The one out back has a tangle of an old barbed-wire fence running through part of it, some of the posts still upright. An apple tree stands in it, grown up, I like to imagine, from what was left of some old farmer’s lunch. And all through it the trout lilies, with their dappled, dagger-shaped leaves and drooping yellow heads, are coming into bloom.

So, sure, I appreciate a well-ordered field’s soothing geometry, but those wild places hold secrets with a beauty all their own. I intend to keep mine.