I looked out the window of the apartment where we were staying in Brooklyn and thought, What have we done?
This is the kind of view people pay for in the city. A view of Manhattan. Just having as many windows as this apartment did made it special. From another window you could even see the river.
But I couldn’t see the beauty in it. As much as I can enjoy the city, the skyline has never been something that moved me. And when I looked out the windows in the apartment, I couldn’t help but wonder how the rain gets past all the steel, glass and cement to touch the earth.
Maybe it’s because I just finished reading Annie Proulx’s latest novel Barkskins, about the deforestation of the United States and Canada by Europeans, beginning in the late 1600’s. The book was relentless. Over 700 pages of the same story over and over again. Europeans clear cutting the old growth forests, destroying the lives of the native people and animals whose home it was. Depleting the soil with their crops then moving on across the continent.
I actually stopped reading the book with about 100 pages still to go. By then I knew the story well enough.
I grew up visiting Manhattan. Going to Central Park, Madison Square Garden and Museum of Natural History. As a teenager I would take the train there with friends, finding the streets and neighborhoods that made me feel like I belonged.
I’ve looked at a map of Manhattan so many times. The green that marks the parks, among the grids and straight lines of the streets, standing out like beacons.
But it never hit me as hard as it did these past few days. How the soil is held prisoner by the cement that surrounds it. From a small patch of earth where a tree heroically grows in front of someone’s apartment building, to a space as big as Central Park. It’s nature contained.
And my heart aches thinking about it.
So many people love the city. Wouldn’t even consider living anywhere else. I can appreciate that, but I can’t imagine choosing it.
So much of life there is spent indoors, often high above the earth. You don’t even have to go outside to take out the garbage. How does one stay grounded on the 21st floor?
It hadn’t been snowing for long when we got home. We unpacked the car and I immediately went out to see the animals. I hugged Chloe, Fanny and Lulu. I mucked out the barn. My body rejoiced at lifting the heavy shovel loads (three days worth) of manure and dumping it on the growing pile to compost. My feet slid on the ice under the thin layer of snow when we walked out to the back pasture. I looked hungrily at the woods and rolling hills around me.
They too were once covered in giant trees hundreds of years old. As were the pastures where our animals graze. We heat out house with wood that’s locally harvested.
Living in the country, getting to know the trees in the woods around me, understanding the importance of healthy soil has made me appreciate the earth in a way I never did before. For years I’ve sent my membership dues to organizations like The Nature Conservancy. But suddenly it all feels more personal.
My feeling for the land is more visceral than it’s ever been. And seeing what we’ve already done and continue to do the earth, it often feels hopeless to me.
But I believe in each individual doing what she can. I don’t know how this will manifest, but I’m thinking I want to try to take care of this small patch of earth we call Bedlam Farm, in the same way she takes care of me.