Looking upwards into the farm’s ancient maple trees. Photo by Laura Berlage
There was this special little place, when I was growing up. I never showed it to anyone—not intentionally anyway. Oh, they could have found it easily enough by themselves, but when you’re a kid you love the idea of having a place all to yourself, especially when you’re always asked to share things with your little sister.
It was blackberry season, which was my favorite time of year, right around my birthday. The canes were huge—bigger than me—tucked in between the red pines Mom helped Grandma and Grandpa plant back when they first bought the farm, back when Mom was 12 years old.
And there, just off the corner of the trails, was my little special place. There was only one way in, between a honeysuckle thicket and the rough trunk of a big pine tree, into a natural bowl in the earth where a few wild blueberries grew among the moss and princess pines. The blackberry canes were all around, higher than my head, arching over the bowl like a canopy, and I could sit there and pick and eat and no one would bother me—until the rest of the family started to wonder where I was.
It was cooler in that little spot and always damp enough that I’d squat rather than sit. I’d look up through the canes and the pine branches above, swaying in the early autumn breeze. It seemed so safe and magical there—a place where you might meet a fairy or a gnome. I didn’t actually get to meet one, but I kept hoping I would.
But blackberry patches have a habit of moving around after a while, and the red pines got thinned out a few years ago. I’ve been back to that spot, but it’s not the same anymore—a lesson in impermanence. And yet, that’s ok. It can stay as the magical childhood place, with the pricker scuffs on my arms and hands, the dark purple stains on fingers and mouth.
Do you remember your own special little spot, in the garden, in the woods, in the park, where you would go as a child? Catch frogs or imagine fairies on the toadstools or watch the ducks frolic in the pond? A place to daydream and laugh and run free or curl up with a favorite book by the old swing tree and playhouse?
The maples in the farmyard were another magical place to grow up. The shade offered treasured respite in the heat of summertime, a good place for a lemonade after hours toiling in the garden under the sun. And big old trees like these are beautiful reminders of the strength of growing slow and building strong foundations.
Typically, when we think about trees, we think of the graceful and sturdy trunk, the sprawling branches, the quivering leaves that become so exquisitely beautiful in autumn. But what we might forget is that there is an equal amount of growth below the ground, supporting that tree. Yes, the roots! The roots spread wide, as wide as the canopy above, searching for water and nutrients and a good purchase. And the roots dive deep—sometimes to incredible depths with a tap root to reach continuous water. Roots are essential—without them the tree would perish.
But this is only looking at the value of roots in the outward or production-facing aspect of this integral part of the tree as a living organism. In wintertime, for deciduous trees, the roots are the only living, active part. The purpose of having leaves on the tree in summertime is for photosynthesis, which takes the energy of the sun and converts it into sugars. These sugars are sent back through the twigs and branches and limbs and trunk all the way down to those roots, to store away and strengthen the health of the tree. In late autumn, the leaves are shed, the sap retreats to the roots, and all goes completely dormant above ground. Then, in springtime, up comes that great reservoir of sugary sap, up through the trunk and the limbs and the branches and the twigs, all the way out to the waiting buds that they might swell and open as new leaves for another season.
Summertime is here, and with all the rain the leaves are dense and green upon the trees, taking full advantage of any sunshine. While we have lost a few of those ancient maples in the farmyard over the years, several still remain, keeping watch of the century farm.
What are some of your favorite summer nature memories? Take time to enjoy a special place outside this week. I’ll be enjoying the butterfly garden by Farmstead Creamery! See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com
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