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Planting and planning for the future

You have to like the month of April. Mother Earth has tipped just enough on its axis so that our snow has disappeared, those below zero winds are behind us and nature's life cycle is starting again.

It is time to do some planting.

For the last 10 years I have been planting trees and shrubs every spring on a 20-acre piece of land that used to pasture cattle. I will not be around when those trees reach full growth but that is OK -- I am working off my own blueprint.

Like many others, I order my stock through the Soil and Water Conservation District in the winter and it arrives in late April. You have to make sure their roots are wet when you plant them and then haul water out to them. Some fertilizer and peat moss help too. Tree tubes concentrate the sunlight to help them grow and protect them from wildlife. It is rather insidious work -- it gets inside you and grows.

Scotch Pine and Black Walnut are going in this year. Scotch Pine eventually grow into a year-around shade tree. Black Walnut is a valuable wood that produces a ton of squirrel food.

Originally, the idea behind planting the pasture to woods was to improve our deer hunting by giving the deer more cover. Since then I have seen a lot of other wildlife on the farm and the idea now is to make it an inviting spot for them, as well. A few years back I started planting apple, chokecherry, apricot, crabapple and Nanking Cherry. These fruit trees and shrubs do not produce cover but they attract deer and birds -- both songbirds and game birds.

A lot of guys I know like to putter around outdoors when they have the chance. My grandpa was one of those guys. He bought the farm in 1960. The place became a retirement project for him. He kept cattle in the pasture, rented out the house and the tillable acres and puttered to his heart's content. He loved that place. The farmyard is on top of a hill and it has a great view. We also own some lakefront. I used to drive out there and help him with check the cattle, pull weeds and pick rocks. He owned an old Army surplus Jeep and that crate could not top 10 miles an hour when he was behind the wheel. The farm is four miles outside of town and it always took about a half-hour to make the trip. I wanted to protest but when you are only 8 years old you keep quiet.

When the I-94 interstate came through in the mid-1960s, the state approached my grandpa and asked him if he wanted to sell the scenic easement rights to our property for a whopping $25. He said sure. My dad was furious. Dad wanted the option of selling lots and making some easy money. That scenic easement stymied his building plans. In the last few years I have started to wonder if there was not a method to my grandpa's "madness." Maybe he just saw an easy $25 landing in his lap, or maybe he was buying a $25 insurance policy from the state to keep it undeveloped. After all, none of us can guarantee what is going to happen to the things we love after we are gone. I have come to believe that what he was really doing was making sure the farm remained a farm. That is what I would have done.

On the last day of his life, he took a drive out to the farm with my grandma. That night he died at the kitchen table at the age of 69. We lived in Michigan at the time and when we got the bad news I was writing him a letter.

So the wheel turns. I have started to look at those 20 acres as my gift to the future. People traveling down the highway past our farm will see a nice woodlot some day where a bald, boring pasture once stood. Maybe our family will still own it when those sugar maples I planted are big enough to tap for syrup.

I like to think so.