A few weeks ago, I walked through the low field that swoops up to meet the edge of the forest past our little stream, Crooked Run. This field changes throughout the year, filling with goldenrod in fall, abloom with elder in the spring. Right now, I’m looking for those little elder bushes that push their way through this soggy ground.
Elders are special. Their name implies that. Their umbrellas of huge leaves and overloaded flowers, heavy with pollinators shows us that. The little deer beds that show up underneath my elders, the empty umbels that once were full with berries, but are now picked clean by the birds show me how many visit the elder. The elders on this farm feel like an ecosystem all to themselves. When I first got here, I planted some hidden away, under a little hill. No one has found those yet, and those are the elders that I harvest my flowers and berries from. These elders in the field, well these are just the elders in the field. Right now I’m here to take a few cuttings, a few branches and to thank the elder for those gifts.
Seeing the buds already trying to force their way open, I know that I’m right on time. I take branches that are broken or growing into other plants, a few from this stand, a few from over there. These elder will be plants in neat rows by the creek, for the birds and us to share. I take the cuttings inside, and arrange them in a vase- my winter bouquet. After a few days inside, I bring them out to the garage where the seed starting lights and heaters are already set up. Carefully whittling the ends of the elder so that the live cambium is exposed, I dip them in willow water and tamp them down into the soil. These branches will come to life, leaf out, grow roots, all before the elders in the field. This little room of heat and 16 hours of light a day will encourage growth. Mid May, we’ll plant them outside with the elders from last year, making a little grove by the creek.
Every day now I water these elders, seeing their growth their little leafs growing bigger everyday and I dream of the day when we can relax under the shade of the elders we’ve planted, hiding from the hot summer sun.