Yesterday, Veteran’s Day, came in windy and cold in Kansas. As I hurried toward the church door the wind caught me by the legs, scooting me along with my cape as a sail. Although a bit bitter for a walk I couldn’t resist a few minutes out by the windrow to check on the birds and varmints that can always be found there.
I have few memories of my childhood or stories that were told by a parent, but the story surrounding the planting of the windbreak trees is all mine. The farm stands on a rise that just dares a gust to come along, and since many did, the only way to protect the barnyard and cattle was to plant a windrow. My penny-pinching father went to the agriculture service office and bought some affordable cedar starts, I am sure no larger than a foot tall and in a hundred-bundle. When they arrived on the bitter March winter day they had to be planted or die. Since Dad had a job at the aircraft plant, it was left to Mom to dig a hundred holes, plant the trees in frozen ground, and water them in.
I am told I was a fussy baby and had a tendency to be croupy, so my mother nursed me for a few months after birth, thinking it would make me a little healthier. The day the trees arrived, I was a few months old and am told I had a bad cold and cried constantly. Any other woman would probably have told the trees to forget it, but Mom was a “get-er-done” gal so she spent the day digging two holes and then returning to the house to check on me. Dig another two, check on me. Every dozen holes she would pause to nurse me and try to get me to sleep, which was summarily unsuccessful. Laughter bubbles up in me every time I think of the situation, although it had to have been a miserable memory for my mother.
The windrow served its purpose for many years and continues to be a luxury I allow myself as owner of that farm. The barnyard still sits atop a rise and winds still rattle the doors of the barn, so its original value remains. Over the years, many of the cedars have died and have been replaced by a good variety of smaller trees. The fifty+ yard row now contains native hackberry, Osage orange, and new cedar starts. It makes an ideal environment for birds and deer and I frequently see my old owl, hundreds of goldfinch, hummers and bluebirds there. Today, I see the feathers from turkey, so I know they are close. Just as I turn to leave, I see a movement and turn to see a deer moving quietly. I smile and stand frozen and enjoy its shyness.
Many land owners have removed windbreaks and hedge rows as a tradeoff for increased production, but I have resisted that. In the fifteen years I have owned the farm, there have been two dust seasons where the earth was dry from drought and the wind carried the top soil for miles. Had my farm not been anchored by the trees, it would have been in another county as well.
As habitat and as land anchor, my windbreak has value. What makes it even better is that I know its history. It only takes a bitterly cold and windy day for the memory to surface. The rich animal and bird life overlays and adds to the habitat story. I want to start a hedgerow of miscellaneous shrubs and trees at my town-house this year too. I may not see the benefits for a few years, but I think it is worth waiting for. I’d recommend one to anyone.