berries makegood neighbors
OUR neighbors have planted three raspberry bushes in their garden. They recently moved here from a city in Minnesota, so I suppose that explains planting raspberries. When I go for a walk downhill toward the valley, I pass the three raspberry bushes. They are staked carefully, and mulched with a thick layer of sawdust from the lumber mill. There isn't a weed in sight ... no flowers or vegetables either.Our neighbors did try a vegetable garden last spring, but said the bugs ate it all, in spite of the fact that they emptied more than one bottle of bug spray on the area. Everything in the garden soon disappeared, and the sawdust and raspberry bushes arrived instead. John and I have lived in the Arkansas Ozarks longer than the people from Minnesota. You could say we have been here more than a dozen years, if you count the years when we worked in the city during the week and drove to our hillside homestead on weekends. We have had a garden for almost all those years, but it produces things like lettuce and tomatoes and beans and peas ... no raspberries. We bought the rocky, tree-covered Ozark hillside on a Saturday in May 1978. Living in the country had been our dream for a long time, and that Saturday purchase was the beginning of "Spring Hollow," our name for those 25 acres in northwest Arkansas. It takes more than a land purchase, however, to change city people into country dwellers who are really at home in their surroundings. We soon learned that people need to do more than live in the country. The important thing is learning to live with the country. Since we wanted a garden, and the ground on Ozark hillsides is usually clay where it isn't rock, we built raised beds. We learned about compost and manure, spoiled hay and cover crops. The city garden that had been fed and protected with chemicals in bottles changed to a country garden that lives well on what nature provides, and tolerates bugs when simple natural methods don't eliminate them. When we built our tiny weekend cabin, every step of land-clearing and foundation-digging was exciting. Ten years later, when it was time to expand the cabin to a full-time home, the additional land-clearing and digging made us feel we had betrayed our forested hillside. We knew that without the awful mess there would be no septic system, no basement, no water well, but that didn't relieve the sadness and guilt we felt. It took John and some very strong friends two years to finish work on the house. It took nature less than a year, with a little help from us, to hide the damage to nature we had caused. People say now that the house looks like it was dropped into the forest clearing. I realize quite well that city dwellers rarely experience untouched, unaltered nature. I guess no one does, given humanity's present tendency toward altering the entire earth; but at least those of us who live in the country see blooming, fruiting plants that did not come from inside a pot or seed packet. John and I are awed by a natural world that still has enough bounce to grow back after repeated flattening. The first time we saw Spring Hollow, it was covered with regrowth forest, and daisies bloomed along the roadside. They looked just like the daisies I had planted and carefully tended in my city garden. Where did the country daisies come from? As our weekend explorations at Spring Hollow widened through the woods and clearings, we got beyond loving daisies and began hating brambles. They seemed to be everywhere! We cut through many of them, and vowed to remove more when winter came. True, some of the spiky branches did have pretty white flowers, but.... When the brambles produced bumpy green knobs where the flowers had been, we wondered what was going on. One Saturday we arrived at Spring Hollow to discover that the green knobs had become berries. There were dewberries, followed two weeks later by raspberries, and then blackberries, all appearing on the long brambles that had torn our clothing. We froze six quarts of berries that year, and ate an uncounted number right from the branches. Last week I was standing near our mailbox up on the road, filling a bucket with berries. Our neighbors from Minnesota came by on a morning walk. They stopped to watch. "What's that?" they asked. "Raspberries," I told them.