Removing a Tree by its Roots: Pondering Farm-Grown Imagination in Dark Times



A happy boy running for a shovel!

I was back at Dayspring Farm this week, volunteering on Friday, as I will do weekly for the coming months. We painted tables and dug trenches and pruned the blackberries that stretch in long rows of wooden post and line. We cut and sorted ginger, repaired caterpillar tunnels, ate lunch and did some laughing. However, the most satisfying part of the day was removing a tree by its roots from its place deep within the ground outside the greenhouse.

The tree had been growing, for many years, off to the side of its grafted rootstock, sprouting a whole other root system that meant it wasn’t going to produce fruit. It was about as tall as a one-story building with a relatively slender trunk and flaky, milk-brown bark. James, our farm manager, first tried to pull it out by wrapping a chain around the base of the trunk at ground level and attaching it to his most powerful tractor. But all that did was break the stump in half, leaving a fractured yet stubborn nub peaking up out of the grass and mud. And so, we got to digging.

Emotional Learning through Farm Life

Now, in the week leading up to my day on the farm, I’d felt wracked with grief and shame, for various (and slightly quixotic) reasons. I had a little non-COVID-related medical scare that made me feel like a hypochondriac. I’d left my loving family at home to return to the small room that I live in near campus for my last semester of college. I’d gotten rejected from (what I’m sure will be) my first of many grad schools. I turned 22. I’d been turned-down and confused by a romantic interest. I’d lied to a lifelong friend (someone I love!) for no apparent reason. And I felt very alone.

Even amidst the excitement of going back to school, my attempts at expending creative energy through songwriting and drawing, hugging those I love most goodbye, I couldn’t shake myself out of a narrative that I’d been building up in my head. This narrative, this cat-faced conscience that spoke in my voice, said that I was a failure, a shameful, wrecked, and vain fake who claims to identify as an empath whilst going around oblivious to how others feel and hurting them all the more for it. I imagined myself an ugly and strung-out creep. I still do now, in some moments, even after learning what I learned at Dayspring.

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