We try to live with the environment we have. Our mountain homeplace lies on the slopes of two mountains, with a narrow valley between them. The little flat land that we hold is good for hay but not much else. Even that is rock-bearing, like the hills. Aside from hay we grow rocks and trees. Of the three annual crops, the rocks are the easiest to manage. They seem to be self-seeding, and come up by themselves with little help from us.
This year, as we have for some time, we planted tomatoes on the south-facing deck, in boxes that husband the sunshine and allow the excess water to run off without rotting the roots. Unlike suburban lots, we don’t encourage grass unless it is within ten or twenty feet of the perimeter of the house or one of the outbuildings. That’s mostly because we like to maintain a border where snakes and other wildlife are more visible (and avoidable) when we’re outside. We encourage those local denizens because they keep the insect population in check to some degree. This summer, as we have noted in previous summers, the insect population seems to be diminishing each year. Even house flies have not caused us too much annoyance this year; an attribute of changing climate cycles, we suppose. We’re happy about that, but concerned about the future. Insects and wild animals may be a nuisance, but they are as necessary as air to our lives.
When we chose the site for our house we cleared an area that left a twenty to thirty foot swath all the way around. Elevated more than 300 feet above the valley, we had a wonderful view of the western face of the eastern mountain side, and the fields that lay in the narrow flatland. In the evenings we could sit on the deck and watch the herds of deer materialize in the fields, feasting on the wild grasses and the corn crop the previous owner had abandoned there. Over the last twenty-plus years the trees have grown, filled out, been joined by lower-growing or bushier scrub and young trees. It isn’t possible to easily see the fields any longer, but for the last decade or so the deer population had been getting smaller anyway. Lately that has changed.
This summer we have had more deer in the courtyard on the north side of the house, and in the woods all around the building than we have had in years. Nature, adjusting to the new structures and people on this hillside, had redirected the herds of wild animals away from us, but now it seems as though we are more acceptable as neighbors (especially since we have some raised beds for the summer vegetables, and tasty blossoms in the flower garden). Deer ate the cantaloupe this week, and the bears that seem to be everywhere this year leave ample evidence that they are no longer intimidated by either people or dogs. And that is good.
I’ve long held the belief that Nature (yes, with a capital “N”) is really in charge. We can do as we will, make messes and miracles, deplete and rebuild when it is often too late (for us), and perhaps, in the end, find ourselves not only endangered, but done as a natural part of the world. Nature will survive, probably long after we are extinct. Nature will modify its need for oxygen, hydrogen, and all the other “gens” that keep us alive, and those that can’t adapt will disappear, leaving the changed and clever cells that remain, in charge. It isn’t much of a jump to imagine a world in which life forms as we know them (ourselves included) are replaced by some kind of energy enclosed in a new kind of shell or skin still marching forward, perhaps to create yet another life form that, until the last rays of the sun, will be able to populate our earth.
Where there is life, there will be - - - life. Maybe not the life we know, or can sustain, but there will be life.