I remember the profound surprise I experienced after the birth of my twins: I was in the company of strangers. Despite the nine months of growing awareness of the beings within me, as they hiccupped, rolled around, and used my kidneys as a trampoline, here they were in the world: perfect little beings I did not know. I have reflected on this often in my life, how long it takes to establish rapport and relationality with those around us. How easy it is to skate along the surface of Midwest nice without ever embarking on the deeper work of really coming to know.
Nine months ago, my spouse and I bought a property on the northeastern edge of Lafayette County. I knew it was the place I had been looking for as soon as we arrived. After a cursory pass through the house—(I thought, “fine”)—I then spent hours walking the land (to the confusion and amusement of our realtor). Exploring the woods, the grassy edges of the pond, the overgrown long-ago garden. Discoveries of delight were everywhere: an old asparagus patch, wild blackcaps and blackberry bushes, chickweed, yarrow, deer trails, and cattails, and delicate flowers for which I have no name.
I have spent these past months working on my conservation plan, plotting the changes I hope to make. Clearing away dead trees and underbrush, the overgrowth of invasive rosa multiflora. Dreaming about planting an orchard here, constructing a high tunnel there, establishing the compost pile where? I have spent these months watching the seasons change, walking the land as each change becomes evident, respectfully and reverently getting to know the flora and fauna. Sitting on the patio late into the night to marvel at the star-strewn sky, smile as baby fawns frolic in the nearby woods, and shiver as the coyotes howl close by.
I am struck again and again by how long it takes to forge a relationship. And so, I pause, as the words of Aldo Leopold circle in my brain, with each stroke of the axe, we write our signature upon the land.
Perhaps it’s being middle aged or the fact that my “babies” will be seniors in high school this year or any one of the other changes occurring in my life at this time. But I find I am less enamored of the impatience of my youth, more willing to proceed slowly, to take the time to know. To meet fewer people, but to know them more deeply. To rely on the networks of the strong, amazing rural women I meet through my work and in my new community. To pause and to ponder, what is it that I have come here to do?
— Chris Frakes is the Community Wellness Group Director for the Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program. Among the programs she supervises is Farm Well Wisconsin, which focuses on supporting the mental health and wellbeing of farmers in southwestern Wisconsin. She is working to establish her farmstead, Cattail Springs, where she plans to raise chickens in addition to growing most of her own food. Soil Sisters, a program of Renewing the Countryside, connects and champions women in the Green County area committed to sustainable and organic agriculture, land stewardship, local food, family farms and healthy and economically vibrant rural communities.