One Woman on a Mountainside

I spent most of the sweltering summer making check dams, in anticipation of the rainy season, and learning about permaculture practices. Permaculture is mostly based on what people around the world came to understand about the land they were standing on before being displaced, replaced and defaced by industrial armies. War was waged not only on accumulated wisdom of generations who learned from our elders, the trees, bees, Beaver and Bear, but also on the insects, fungi and bacteria that maintain healthy soil.

When it rains the water runs brown from the ground, taking the dirt from the steep hill into the water. When it rains hard, the valley fills up so fast that it floods over the driveway into the creek. The first twelve years that I lived here, that never happened. But it happened last year, and it happened twice in the last two weeks. Alternately, the creek used to overflow its banks fourteen years ago, when we had a heavy rain, but now it is cut so deep that it can’t overflow. Instead it rushes through, taking all that mud into the Reedy River and adding to the sediment problem in our lakes instead of depositing it on the land where it used to overflow.

As I was learning and understanding how I too, have been contributing to all this, I started picking up sticks and stones and doing everything I could to slow down the rain whenever it would come. I worked in the woods because it was unbearable in the sun. I threw fallen trees and branches in the gullies in the woods. I piled sticks and logs alongside the steep parts of the driveway where the water runs into the lower pond. My son John got involved, and we made a series of leaky dams to slow down the water flowing from the spring in the woods into the ponds. After awhile it occurred to me that I could divert some water from the upper pond into swales that would water a garden large enough to feed the neighborhood. Just as I was running out of branches and rocks to rearrange in the landscape, the weather finally cooled down and I picked up my shovel and started digging in the open field.

Honestly, I am impressed. I never realized what an impact I could have on the environment. Just me, with gloves and clippers and a shovel. No heavy equipment. No running to the store for anything. Even so, the driveway flooded. I can only imagine that it would have been a greater volume of water flowing over the road, maybe even making it impassable, if we had not done all that work before the rains came.

One day this entire hillside will be terraced. There will be more shade, more food growing, and water flowing even in the heat of summer. My new strategy is to start at the top, digging swales, so that the hard-packed lifeless dirt of the hot summer can become the rich soil that will allow a tree to grow, cool the climate and keep our rich sediment here where we need it.

The truth is that one sixty year old woman with a shovel can’t move a mountain, but she can do a whole lot to assist the soil, herself, her neighbors downstream, the birds and the bees. She can invite the beaver to come back, and The People too, who walk the land and have always showed us how to be custodians, and how to say thank you even when we haven’t listened.

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