I’ve been observing in some of the taller flowering plants a tendency to fall over just as they are blooming. And I began to wonder whether this is a strategy for survival. The flower is then low to the ground, at level with other flowers and bees. And the seeds are dropped far from the base of the parent plant, where there is better chance for sunlight and survival. Just a thought.
There’s a flower-bed in the front yard that has not been cared for since last summer or possibly longer ago. Some are appalled and immediately offer to “weed” it for us, but I wanted to use it as an example at our workshop, so until today, it was left untouched.
What we saw growing well inside the raised bed circled in large stones, were perennial grasses and sun-loving flowers who prefer a less acidic soil. The flowers which prefer a lower pH like roses and rhododendrons were dying, as were the shade-loving hostas. And the grass was doing well because the fertility of the soil had been artificially increased and accelerated their succession.
Today, we began transplanting to the back, where a rose garden has already been established and where raspberries are growing naturally in between the thorny flowering plants. This tells us the pH is likely hovering just below a 7 and will support a variety of fruit-bearing shrubs.
Since we know that blueberries feed off nutrients supplied by bacteria that thrive in the rhizomes of the rhododendrons, we’ll plant blueberries nearby in the fall. This will give us a fruitful garden bed that will attract bees and other beneficials and supply we humans with a good source of food throughout the summer and fall.
In the former flower-bed, we’ll build a guild. We’ll compost the grasses and rebuild the soil over the next year and in the future we’ll plant some undetermined variety of fruit-tree. For now, I’m enjoying the fact that I once again have a little dirt beneath my fingernails, and the freedom and good health to plan for another season.
Loraine Anderson: Tracking Titus
By LORAINE ANDERSON
Local columnist (Record Eagle)
Harold Titus has been one of my favorite Traverse City historical characters since I read “Timber,” his 1922 novel, last year. He intrigues me for many reasons.
Part of his mystery is that he is virtually unknown today. He is “new” local history.
He was a writer in the golden age for writers before TV and radio. He had an activist heart and cared deeply about this region. He was on the local school board. He helped build up the state’s forest fire division on his unpaid time on the Michigan Conservation Commission. He was curious man, a thinker, and had the ability to transform complex issues into simple images and everyday speech.
He appealed to me on a personal level, too. His father died when he was an infant. He liked trout fishing, as did my dad. He was born the same year as my grandfather, and researching his times gave me a new window into the most influential person in my life.
I liked the book’s quirky link to the State Theatre, home of the Traverse City Film Festival, where the Lyric Theater once stood. “Hearts Aflame,” a silent movie based on “Timber,” was the first movie to play at the grandly rebuilt Lyric when it reopened in late 1923 after a devastating fire.
I liked the look and feel of “Timber”‘s forest-green cover and yellowing pages. It reminded me of books I found as a kid in my grandfather’s bookcase or on vacation in a rented summer cottage up north. Titus’ vivid descriptions of the bleak, gaunt timber cutover lands captured my imagination. I liked the fact that “Timber” helped mold public opinion on the importance of reforestation.
Titus wasn’t a total stranger when I started researching local and newspaper history in late 2007. I first ran across his name in 2001 when I reviewed David Dempsey’s environmental history, “Ruin & Recovery: Michigan’s Rise as a Conservation Leader.”
As research began, I expected to hit a mother lode of information on Titus. I found only tidbits, however, until this year when I discovered James Kates’ book “Planning a Wilderness: Regeneration the Great Lakes Cutover Region.” It’s a thorough, well-written history on the conservation movements of the early 1900s. Kates devoted a whole chapter to Titus and “Timber.”
Titus’ significance today is this: His conservation activism and stewardship are part of our legacy. He provides a local role model of how to tackle important problems.
He exemplifies the importance of knowing our local history. He grew up in the timber cutover lands. That landscape, that environmental devastation, seared his mind and heart. It helped shape him, his thinking, his writing, his destiny and northern Michigan’s.
I don’t think we’ve heard the last of him.
I’m not sure what it is about farmers, but most I’ve met are wonderful story-tellers. Perhaps its part of the more primitive design to educate and pass along knowledge through story.
Yesterday, I met our neighbor to the north, who owns a large cattle farm. He pointed to the old farmhouse up the road, and said, “I was born right there in that house.” He pointed to the rooftop of our house in the distance, “and there is where we grew corn and oats.” Across from our house is a ravine that looks like it was once filled with water. ”There used to be a pond there, before the developers came. It was a beautiful spot.” I told him we sit on the porch late at night and watch fireflies trace shapes in the shadows.
He told me stories of the Rennie Farm, where began my love of farming and of the old barn on Roush that served as a dance-hall in the 40s. Erick’s grandfather has mentioned it also. What a sight it must have been then – nothing but fields and forest stretching out toward every horizon. And then he told me what a struggle it has been farming in the last decade – that he has dipped into his own retirement just to continue because its the only thing he’s ever known and pointed to the “for sale” sign out front, “that sign wouldn’t be there otherwise.”
He told me that Bill Rennie once saved a new calf born on a frigid winter morning, by filing his own bathtub with warm water where he placed the calf so it could recover. So, is the heart of farmers, who have both the luxury and the obligation to witness these events.
And I told old Jack how much I love farming, to which he grinned and replied, “There are worse things we could be.”