Friday, May 25, 2007

The Speed of Light

There is an old fence along the west property line of the farm (both the house grounds and the farm ground proper), constructed of woven "hog wire" on the bottom, two-ish strands of barbed wire on top. The hog wire had been badly "walked down" in some areas long before we bought the farm; the patched barbed wire has never been securely attached to all of the rusty T-posts in my memory. Eight feet inside that tenuous fence, in the main farm area north of the house grounds and south of the Willow Row, I've constructed a more sheep-proof fence that forms the west and south sides of sheep pens, part of a grazed "moat" around the garden area.

The area between the old fence and the new one is called the West Margin Lane. It leads from just south of the barn, near the back yard, to the southeast corner of the Corner Paddock, just west of the Willow Row. From the north end of the West Margin Lane, one can walk along the south fence of the Corner Paddock to the gate to the Old Grove...the few trees (hackberry, mulberry, American & Siberian elm, cottonwood) that existed when the farm ground was purchased. North of the Old Grove, along the bank of the Maple Grove Tributary (a channelized stream that drains hundreds of acres north of the farm), lies the Wilderness Area and the Baby Forest (which is looking rather teen-aged now...trees up to a foot in diameter, and I can't guess how high).

It was only about a month ago that I installed an electric "top wire" on the old tumble-down west boundary fence: I let the perinatal ewes in to graze down the spring grass, and they were reaching far over the fence to strip leaves from the feral lilac bushes on the other side. It was only a matter of time before Lucy the Troublemaker would realize that the grass was significantly greener in the neighbor's horse pasture beyond the lilacs, and that she could squeeze between the hog fencing and the slack barbed wire.

The top wire would also serve as a "feed wire" for portable electric fencing in the Old Grove and on the rented pasture west of the Old Grove (the Old Spencer Place which I'm renting again this year). The top wire is set up so that when sheep are not against that fence, the fence is easily disconnected from the energizer...allowing safer use of the West Margin Lane by visitors.

At that time, the wild grape vines along the fence were still dormant. Nevertheless, I pulled most of them off the old fence, knowing that they would soon sprout fresh green tendrils ready to wrap around and short out the electric wire. Grape vines contain lots of liquid, and are well connected to the ground.

Today, I began running portable electric fencing out on Spencer's Pasture. In doing so, I walked out the West Margin Lane for the first time in...oh, about 5 days. The day of the annual Potluck and jam session, I trimmed off the tree branches that were hanging low over the lane, and threw them over the fence for the sheep.

I THINK I would have noticed then if the wild grape vines had dozens of tendrils wrapping around the top wire, completely obscuring it from view in places.

Today, they were unmistakeable, all along the fence. In some places, they were festooning the top wire for a distance of 6-8 feet. I spent at least an hour in a drizzly rain cutting them as far back as I could reach through or over the fence, risking my Goretex jacket on the barbed wire. One 2" diameter vine had exceeded the capacity of my loppers during my initial attack on the vines; I had settled for lopping off the main branches and leaving several feet of the thick "trunk". This trunk was now parent to several dozen fresh long branches, some of them nearly 1/2" in diameter.

I am under no illusion that I have subdued these vines. This will be a regular chore until frost. If I am diligent, and cut the vines at the roots, and allow no green leaf to thrive, eventually I may kill a few of the smaller ones. I must also be constantly alert for new vine seedlings sprouting among the grass or in the leafy mulch under the trees, especially right along the fence.

Light travels at some incomprehensible speed throughout the universe--through space, through the air around us.

Upon being converted through photosynthesis to the starches and sugars that make up these rampant vines, light still moves at an incomprehensible speed.

Someone will surely wonder, don't these vines make fruit? Of course they do--beloved of the birds, who have sat on the barbed wire excreting seeds in little fertilizer pellets. This is why the fence, in particular, is lined with wild grape vines. From a human view, the grapes are typically extremely seedy and very astringent, to the point of inedibility. I do harvest some of the leaves now and then to make stuffed grape leaves...the wild grape leaves are much more tender and succulent than the leaves from the domestic Concord-type grape in the back yard. It does not take much of a vine to provide a year's supply of grape leaves for stuffing. I've twisted a number of wreaths out of the vines, just for fun--mostly as a by-product of the trimming attack I made today. It keeps me and the dog and the sheep and everyone from tripping over the trimmings.

There is just one wild grape vine that I've found, north of the Old Grove near the Baby Forest, that seems to be a cross of the native Fox Grape with the domestic Concord...small grapes, but with little astringency and lots of that wonderful Concord flavor. That vine I'll leave, eventually training it in a more accessible direction that its current attempt to strangle out the top of a tall, slender Siberian elm. Today I discovered another vine along the north edge of the Corner Paddock that exhibits a similar character of growth, and is covered with tiny green grapes already; that one, too, has amnesty until its usefulness is determined. Otherwise, wild grapes (and their close cousins, the racoon grapes with their odd, poisonous-looking blue-green and violet berries) are considered "Pinwheel Farm Noxious Weeds" and are kept controlled to the extent possible...

...considering the speed of light.

1 comment:

Anne Beloof Collins said...

So true! I love the scientific twist of concept, comparing the outer space form of light with the inner plant form of light. Both as a biologist and a small farm owner, I can confirm that it's an appropriate turn of phrase. Incidently, I've been able to clear most of my yard of black medic weed just by pulling it consistently, like she will do with the wild grapes.