When I first walked this land, there were no trees here. A lane, maybe two rods wide, ran from the farm yard between two fields, down to the pasture. I walked it often in my teenage years, mending the electric fence, tending the cows, or just heading down to the river to escape from the presence of people.
A hundred fifty years ago, this land was forested. My great-grandparents and grandparents cut trees, pulled stumps, picked rocks and made fields out of forests. Every acre wrestled into production (of alfalfa, of corn, of wheat, of soybeans) was a step toward solvency and supporting the family. And so the forests fell, providing firewood and fields for our families. The pasture land, too thin or rocky to plant, supported generations of Holsteins and Herefords, grew gooseberries and wild strawberries along the banks of the Crow River, and bullheads, sunnies, and crappies in the river.
About a century after Great-Grandpa Jake Turck’s arrival, my brother’s vision started to reshape the farm again. That marginal field where row crops struggled? Take a chance — plant Christmas trees, and wait years, instead of months, for harvest. With no more cows to pasture, plant trees to hold the soil in place on riverbank and hillside, and wait for wildlife to fill a new (renewed) forest. My brother and sister-in-law are good stewards of this land.
In January, I think, the river should be frozen. I remember skiing on it, years past. Not this year — still running cold and dark, perhaps one more small sign of global warming.
One family, one farm, one forest will not stop the march of climate change or un-pollute a river or change the course of industrialized farming. Still, planting trees means something.
I remember grade school stories of Johnny Appleseed, planting trees across the country, and teachers’/parents’ admonitions to plant a tree even though trees grow slowly, even though we might never pick the apples or enjoy the shade. That’s good advice for children, who cannot believe they will live long enough to see a tree outgrow them. Now, though, I know it’s not true — I’ve planted many trees that tower far above me, maybe even some of these trees near the river.
This land has not seen so many trees in more than a century. I see no deer, but their tracks and signs are everywhere and, even in winter, birds and rabbits abound. I do not know what the next century will bring this farm, but I am grateful that I can still walk among the trees.