“The cattle and the ponies are fenced out of the small hilltop woods almost in the center of the farm. There is a particular blessing to be had from walking in a woods or a field from which no other harvest is exacted except that blessing. As the population of the world steadily increases and land is nibbled away for public uses, the human hunger for mere space becomes continually more insistent.”
— Rachel Peden, 1961
After many cool, gray days of rain, which has dared at times to be mixed with late spring snow, there is a thrill in waking up to sunshine. The chill has tethered us, holding back the pure joy that April so often brings. By the time our calendar prompts us to expect blossoms, the heavy coats have been put away and we are ready for a few barefoot days.
The late Rachel Peden, an Indiana farm woman and columnist, wrote in the 1960s of late April observations in this way.
“Yesterday, because the day seemed right for mushrooms — warm, moist, with gently running wind — I went up to the woods to inquire. But the earth is not yet ready. It needs to be warmed through, then rinsed with two or three mild rains. Some farmers say it takes thunder to bring up mushrooms.”
“There should be May apples in bloom, and jack-in-the-pulpit almost ready to start the doxology. There should be Dutchman’s breeches, with little yellow patches, and squirrel corn slightly past its frosty prime, and at least three colors of violets. There should be a drowsy snake, well out of the way somewhere near the blackberry patch. Yesterday had none of these …”
“Wind combed softly through the dark tangle of leafless treetops. It had been a hard winter for trees. Fallen limbs almost blocked the path to the mushroom place. But the feeling of spring, about to be blown gaily in, was all over the woods.”
I pulled this book of Peden’s writing from my shelf last evening and sat under our large old maples near our blossoming cherry trees. Her observations on the month of April makes me feel as though I am sharing a current conversation with a neighbor and friend.
“Rural Free” is a treasured book in my collection. It is a great reminder that while time marches on since the day she wrote these words, those of us who love the land still live by the unfolding climate rather than the calendar. Similarly, we all fully realize that our rural open settings are precious and growing more so with each passing season.
I listened to the calls of songbirds, finally returning after a long, quiet winter. The setting sun shone like a Broadway spotlight on a vibrant Baltimore oriole high in the maple tree, singing his heart out for a mate to join him. The orange songbird was clearly visible on trees just beginning to bud.
Earlier in the day, my little granddaughter had helped provide fine dining for the orioles, spooning grape jelly into glass cups, feeders on either side of our home. I would have gladly paid a high dollar for entry into such a show, quietly unfolding in my own backyard on this quiet April evening.
Today has been a wonderful repeat of yesterday, the oriole still serenading from on high. I find myself counting my lucky stars as the sun falls over our western pasture.
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