Free For the Taking

July is crunch time, the month that can make or break the season. So I try to keep everyone—myself included—on point and hustling, all of us working through that impossible to-do list. That’s as it should be: There’s no harvest without labor. But it’s all too easy to lose perspective in summer’s flurry of work, and when I need a little perspective, I like to take a walk out around the back of the property.

Our little farm sits on sixteen acres. On the front six are the house, barn, yard, and flower gardens. Behind them are maybe four acres for the greenhouses and orchard and vegetable plots. But further back are six acres not yet used, laying fallow. Those acres have been sown with a long-term cover crop—timothy, clover, alfalfa, and orchard grass—and I keep a path mowed around it for walking. So, last evening, that’s just what I did.

This time of year the grasses in the field nod in the warm breeze, their heads heavy with seed. The eastern and northern edges of the field I keep wild, and black cherries and flowering hawthorns like to grow there. In the spring sprout trout lilies bloom, and in the fall wild grapes hang heavy from the vines draped through the trees. Last evening, I found a patch of wild brambles I hadn’t noticed before, the berries already eaten by the birds.

Along the western edge of the farm I’m working to establish a wind break of white spruce and native crab apples. That’s also where I’ve set out some nest boxes for the bluebirds and tree sparrows. The sparrows seem to like them, but I haven’t seen any bluebirds take up residence yet. There must be a red-winged blackbird nest nearby, though—a pair hovered above my head, trilling and squawking me away.

And as I walked back toward the house in the growing twilight, the nearly-full moon rose bright and bold to the southeast, only slightly hazy in the thick summer air, and the fireflies began to drift in from the wild margins of the farm to hover and blink across the darkening yard.

It may be that there’s no harvest without labor, but beauty is free for the taking all around us, scattered by the fistsful.