A lovely old tree in our front yard has dropped two large limbs this week. It was only Sunday after my permaculture class on improving soil through mulching that I was thinking "I really just need some good organic matter in my garden that I can stick in a corner to compost." Then, limbs started falling from the sky. Well, from overhead, at least.
I tackled the first one when it fell, only to have another come down this morning. Armed with my power tools, that is a small hand saw, pruning sheers, and loppers (not to mention the muscles my children routinely request a viewing of over dinner), I set to work.
I slice and dice the branches into three piles - small, thin twigs and leaves, branches about finger thick, and longer, straight, 1"-2" thick branches. I cut the large branch up with my hand saw. Yes, I do.
I love doing this kind of work. Today it is in the low 70s, which is heavenly after a sweltering summer. The methodical cutting, stripping the leaves, and organizing the piles is so enjoyable. I cut the pile of small stuff even smaller and use it to build up a raised brick bed whose soil has settled significantly over the years.
There is a little place in the corner of the yard that could be a garden, if the soil could be retained on the slope. Right now it washes onto the driveway without a chance of staying put. I set to cutting my branches in lengths, using the curves to create a shapely, tiered line. In permaculture this is called a swale - creating a barrier to catch rainwater so that it doesn't escape.
Then I use the smaller branches to block the gaps under the larger branches, and keep layering my materials until the last leaves are thrown on top, to decompose and fill in the gaps of the sticks and branches.
About two hours in I wonder "why do I do this? What is it about me that sees a dead branch and instead of calling the tree guys to come take care of it (on my landlord's bill), gets out there and sweeps up every scrap of leaf, dreaming of what this branch could become, and taking pleasure in using something to meet another need?"
My mind flicks back years and years to my grandparent's kitchen. "Don't throw that away, I can use that for..." says my tall, lanky grandfather with his sweater vest and his twinkly eyes. He was the original MacGyver. I bet he fixed the tractor with bottle tops, or built the henhouse out of someone's discarded floor boards. He invented "recycle, repurpose, reuse", and upcycling is all he ever did.
He collected the day old pastry and bread from a major bakery chain, and then distributed it to hungry people far and wide. He collected the discarded produce from the local market, and carefully picked through it for the pieces that were still good. We always had boxes and boxes of fruit and veg that was "almost finished' but wasn't yet. The rest went to the cow and the chickens and the compost - all used, none wasted.
As a teenager I would have rolled my eyes when he said "don't throw that away..." (well, not rolled my eyes, as I did want to live!). Now, it doesn't seem so odd. This morning, knee counterbalancing a branch, as I sawed away, I realized, I get this from him.
My grandfather died when I was in Australia.
I never felt particularly close to him. It was like the link in the chain between he, my mother, and I, had somehow lost its conductivity and I was cut off from his life's energy. But today I feel it. I know. I am from him in a way I have never fathomed, in a way that shapes my life, reguardless of my understanding or acknowledging his influence.
I set the straight and strong sticks up in a corner to defoliate - a ready supply of bow sticks for my daughter who is always making bows and arrows. She herself is quite the innovator, saving scrips and scraps, turning them into creations that please her.
I smile and carry my tools inside, having turned a fallen limb into a future garden, and found a connection to my grandfather that was right in front of me the whole time.