This past weekend I went up to my family’s farm in Northern Michigan and cut boughs for Field & Florist’s holiday swag. As I did, I thought about how I’ve always felt at home in the woods… any woods. From my early days as a baby, my dad would put me inside his overalls and we’d hike through the woods bundled up, me with only my head sticking out of the front of his jacket.. Since my Dad was a kid, he has been planting trees there. He has memories of planting spruce trees with his father, my Grandpa, when he was 15. Those trees are now tall and the rows densely filled in, only letting in beams of sunlight on nice days. I like to walk underneath the rows of red pines, blue spruce, balsam fir, and hemlock marveling at the fact that they weren’t there before he planted them.
Each season reveals new things that I love about those woods. In spring, the bright green new growth on the trees sticks out like a sore thumb, and if you’re lucky you encounter some morels. In summer, the wild blackberries fill in the understory and it’s a forager’s dream. The golden fall light connects the field of cut and baled hay to the wide and reaching sunset. There is an abundance of “volunteer” apple trees that have been there for a couple generations; gnarly old things still bearing apples that range from bitter-semi-edible to downright delicious, depending on the year.
But what I love most is sensing the history as I walk there. My Grandpa and Grandma bought the first 40 acres in 1939 and the next year acquired 80 more acres. My Grandpa, trying to turn more of it into usable farmland, cut down a stand of trees, only to discover that the land wasn’t suitable with too many rocks and poor soil for crops so in the mid 1950’s he and my dad planted several hundred red pines together. 5 years later they planted spruce. When I was a baby, my dad planted Balsam Fir, Frasier Fir, Black Hills Spruce and White Spruce.
As I gathered boughs this weekend from all these different trees, I could sense the presence of my family that walked the woods many times before I was even a thought, and who made it possible for me to hear the wind whistle through the pine needles. Quoting my Dad, “The best time to plant trees was 50 years ago, the second best time is now.”