Broken Grass and Useful Earth

homestead story

In the summer, I get to watch the Bushtits harvest seeds from the winters wild grasses that have ripened to their full height, just out my office window. As they fade from green to straw brown, the birds land about 3 feet up the 4 foot stalks, bending them into bows. Those fruiting giants are the birds summer feast, they happily gorge until most seeds are gone, and the stalk finally breaks beneath their hungry weight.

We have a faded gold carpet across our land, made by their harvest, still rooted by broken, but uncut fibers. Missed seeds, the hard to get ones, are buried in its weave. Pressed into the soil as heat builds up, they are tempted into their new life by moisture drawn up from earthen depths. The grass feeds the birds of the forest, all the while managing its own rebirth.

The first year we moved here I had to cut it all down, cited by the county for not clearing the proper space from our house. It was cut before the seeds could mature and be harvested by the winged people it usually feeds. I sliced the masts a few inches above the ground. They lay still for only a few hours before the wind picked them up and carried them elsewhere, everywhere. Our ground was rubbed raw by the wind and months of a relentless summers heat that year. Like a cut you try to heal with sand paper, the ground glared an angry red. Earwigs, beetles and the absence of bird calls was our reward.

The county hasn’t come by for a few years, this summer is especially dry. Our grass will only reach a foot, maybe two. Even if they didn’t come I wouldn’t need to cut it, its so small. I think the soil will be OK though, because there is a few winters of grass still laying down there, maybe more seed the forest folk didn’t harvest. I don’t cut the grass unless the man is at my door now, it stays rooted by its anchor.

What do we harvest within ourselves too soon? What do we harvest that the birds, the wind, the unexpected weights of life will harvest better for us? Can we risk a catastrophic fire so the birds will come and be fed, come and bring us their song?

We don’t have to be reckless, just listen to the signs, use our own good judgement. We’ll have winters where the grass will reach five feet high and the summer will be drowned in a bottomless ocean of fog. Those are not fire years, those are years of bounty for the forest folk. They need every good season they can get, so they can survive the lean years. We need them to be strong, because we need them to teach us how to harvest the fruits that lay deep within us.

So they can bend us
at just the right moment.,
so we can break.

We’ll be laid flat,
you and I,
resting besides each other.

Our time to grow has passed,
now its our time to hold down
the little ones,
feed them with our bodies,
protect them with our arid reed thickness.

We can be husks together,
you and I,
sing to the stars,
and become useful earth again.

Photo Birds of a Feather by John Haslam
From Flickr, used under 
a Creative Commons license

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