Sunday, February 5, 2012



The hedge
A NEW SEMESTER BEGINS A NEW PLAN, and an 8 o'clock class means I'm up before the sun. Yesterday on the way to town I turned the corner toward the east and found myself headed full into a rosy glow reflecting off of some dappled clouds. As I approached the hill, the hedge on the edge of the field rose up, creating a stark silhouette tangled in the dawn. The sun was still below the horizon, and I could only drive forward, wishing I had time to stop and stare, or at least take a picture.

I've been thinking a lot about hedgerows lately. We have so few left now, but my grandmother once told me that they used to edge all the fields. This was when farms were diversified and after the harvest, you let your cows and probably pigs out into the field to graze and glean. A few farms nearby still do this, and we drive past cattle, heads lowered to munch in the stubble of the fields, but these fields are fenced with mostly invisible electric wire. Time was, these fields were fenced with hedgerows that were “horse high, bull strong, and hog tight.” I always wondered about that. The remaining hedges around here might define the border of a field, and filter a sunrise in a lovely way, but a hog could certainly mosey right through a hedge row. I'm sure a horse and a bull could too.

I'm up before the sun.

I don't remember when or how I learned that historically, these hedges were trimmed to keep the growth down at the ground level, the rambling, thorny, curving branches tangling into an impenetrable thicket. I've been thinking for awhile about planting a living fence, hoping that “hog tight” might also be “goat tight” for my future goats (Remember Hester Pryne and Dewey Dell? Hester and Dewey are probably not even born yet, but someday I'll bring them home to a nice little goat shed and a pasture fenced in Osage Orange.) The autumn before last I walked out to the back hedge of our field with a basket and brought it back full of hedge apples. Have you seen hedge apples? They are like big, green oranges which may be the root of the name, “Osage Orange.” They have a sharp, fresh scent and a sticky, milky sap that is supposed to repel cockroaches and other bugs, though I haven't had much luck with that. I read that a good way to get the seeds out of the dense fruits for planting is to leave them in a bucket of water over the winter. The freeze-thaw cycle is supposed to turn the whole thing into a mush, and then I'm not sure what you do—plant the mush or pick the seeds out. At any rate, the squirrels in my yard devoured them all, and this fall I never did get out to gather more. I wonder, though, if I were to walk out now, whether I'd find that the squirrels left me a few that I could gather for seeds to plant in the spring.

I found the full text of a historic pamphlet on “Growing Bois d'Arc Fences” by Robert C. McMurtrie. It gave precise directions for everything from collecting seeds and cultivating them, what to do when the shoots come up (he lays them down flat to the ground and weaves them into a fence “as one would osiers in wicker work,”) to pruning and maintaining the living fence. I couldn't find the date on the pamphlet, but found another source, published in 1914, which quoted Mr. McMurtrie's instructions in full. After three years of careful work, McMurtrie tells us, “..there was a good hedge, sufficient to turn ordinary cattle, as it seemed. Certainly in all subsequent years it was impervious to man or beast. And it has a foundation as firm as a fence.”
My life goes in fits and starts.

My life goes in fits and starts. I lay out plans, and squirrels come to chew on them. Tomorrow, the sun will come up a little bit sooner, and I will try to get going a little earlier, to leave time to linger at the hedge, maybe snap a picture or two. In the afternoon, if it's not too cold or wet, I'll take the dog and walk all the way back to the hedgerow, just to see if the squirrels left me anything for my living fence. Either way, it will be a nice walk.

Weave Beauty; Cultivate Peace; Blessed Be


  1. Stumbled upon you today and so glad. This is a lovely piece.
    Love the living fence. And your photos. Thanks.

  2. Thanks, Betsy! I'm always happy to see your blog, too. Little pieces to savor, like a strawberry in the sun.