Worm Magic

“Do you have plans for the summer?” Bobbi asked as she walked through the orchard with Georgia following.

“Not really.” Georgia replied. “Chores. Homework. The usual.”

“Homework?” Bobbie asked. “Isn’t school out?”

“Wild Raccoon school is never out.” Georgia shrugged.

It’s not? Bobbi was certain this was something she should already know. She did her best to cover both surprise and confusion. “Anything new or fun at school?”

“We go outside more.” Georgia replied. “I have to write a report on weeds you eat.”

“Any favorites?”

“Favorites?”

“Weeds.”

“Oh,” Georgia gave this some serious consideration. “I like cattails but I think I’m going to write about dandelions.”

“Interesting choice,” Bobbi replied while walking a slow circle around one of the oldest trees at the far end of the orchard. Tent worms. Everywhere. Crap.

“What are those?” Georgia asked.

“The forces of evil incarnate,” Bobbi muttered without thinking. Glancing over her shoulder, she noticed Georgia’s full attention was now on the worms. “They’re caterpillars.” Bobbi revised. “Native to North America and fond of eating ALL of the leaves on fruit trees.”

“All of them?” Georgia replied, eyes wide.

“Well, most, anyway,” Bobbi sighed.

“Are they going to eat the entire orchard?”

“Not this year.” Bobbi replied. “I thought I got all of the nests but, obviously, I missed one. There will be a lot more next year.”

“How do you get rid of them?”

“Locate the nest, cut the branch off the tree and burn it.”

“What does the nest look like? Do they turn into butterflies?”

“Like a giant, out of control, spider’s web and they turn into moths.”

“Are they magical?”

“Uh…”

“I think they must be, if they live in a spider web house when they’re babies and then become caterpillars that turn into moths.”

“Ok, I’ll give you that, but…” Bobbi paused a moment, considering.

“But what?”

“They can be magic in stories. They are not allowed in the orchard. Our trees need their leaves. Bringing them back here, to create a secret home, is not OK.”

Georgia looked like she’d just be caught with her hands in the cookie jar.

Bobbi laughed. “They also live in other kinds of trees. Probably crawled over from the forest.” Bobbi waved in the general direction of the wildlife preserve bordering this end of the farm. Reaching into her backpack, she pulled out a package of sticky bands and started attaching them to the infested tree.

“What are those?” Georgia asked.

Bobbi explained how sticky bands worked and let Georgia attach a few to neighboring trees.

“Well, that’s that.” Bobbi said, picking up her backpack.

“That’s it?” Georgia asked. “That’s all we’re going to do?”

“For now.”

As they walked along the outer edge of the orchard, examining the trees, Georgia watched for worms and excitedly pointed out at least a dozen other kinds of bugs, only three of which Bobbi knew.

By the time they were finished, Georgia had a list of bugs she intended to look up,  determined to bring a bug jar on their next visit to the orchard and was already knee deep into developing a story about magical-worm-something-or-other.

It was a good afternoon.

Orchard Air and Errant Children

Aletta was long and elegantly graceful. At the Wild Raccoon, she was known as the expert in all things pigs and goats. It was an odd contrast for someone with a ballet dancer’s body. She also had a face that would have been perfect for the stage, if her personality and interests had run that direction. Bobbi thought of her as the wildcat in gazelle’s clothing. It was the one thing she loved best about Al.

That and the fact that she insisted on being called Al. Aletta was a name that simply screamed  fragile, girly, lady-like and please-rescue-me-you-big-strong-man. It fit perfectly into the ultra-feminine beauty strangers assumed she was and family still tried to coerce her into becoming.

In reality, Al was none of these things. She was unapologetically female. But she was also incapable of being…well…girly.

From the top of an apple tree, Bobbi held a hacksaw in her free hand. Her other arm was wrapped around a tree branch and a large pair of freshly sharpened pruning shears hung from her belt. A storm had knocked over several trees in the forest adjacent to the orchard. There were several large, dead, branches tangles in the tops of a few very old and very large (some would say overgrown) apple trees. Most of the deadwood fell to the ground with minor coaxing. The rest required a little help from the temporarily non-functional chainsaw.

Bobbi watched Al walking up the hill at the center of the orchard until she was within shouting distance – then she shouted.

Bobbi had sent a 10-year-old back up to the house, hoping the girl wouldn’t see this as an excellent opportunity to escape both chores and adult supervision for a few hours. It was a relief to see Al coming to help. It was equally annoying to NOT see the 10 year-old following her.

“Where is it?” asked Al.

Bobbi pointed. The chainsaw lay on the ground, empty of gas. Al stood over the machine with a five gallon container of gas.

“Where’s Georgia?” Bobbi asked as she climbed down with the hacksaw still in her hand.

“Said something about gardening,” Al shrugged.

“Did you let her mother know?” Bobbi sighed, exasperated and truly hoping she would not have to go hunting for the girl.

“Of course.”

After a moment of stunned silence, all Bobbi could say was “You did?”

“Georgia has herself a reputation,” Al chuckled. “Her mother said I was the fourth adult to ‘let-her-know’ – and that’s just today.”

“Wow.”

“She’s a handful.”

“Good worker,” Bobbi offered. “When she stops long enough to actually do something.”

Al shrugged. “She’s just got a lot of energy and even more curiosity. If you really need to find her, chances are good she’s either got her nose in a book or her hands in the pond. Possibly both at the same time.”

“The pond?”

“Frogs. Obsessed with frogs.”

“Good to know.”

Al held the gas can up.

“Thank you.” Bobbi said, sincerely grateful. There was a lot of wood to be dropped, dragged, sawed and chopped. The walk down the hill (and back up again) would break her routine and make the job both longer and harder.

“This is enough to get me through the rest of the afternoon. You can get back to the barn, if you want.”

“Thanks,” Al said, clearly relieved yet not moving. “I think I understand why you love it up here so much.”

“I actually know what I’m doing?” Bobbi joked.

“Smells better,” Al retorted. “Pigs and goats are wonderful animals, but…”

Bobbi laughed hard enough to make the gas can shake. Somehow she didn’t spill any gas. “You’re welcome to come up and breath the air anytime you like.”

“Thanks, I think I’ll do that.” Al replied with a smile as she turned to leave. “Back to the stink pen.”

Trees

The farm spreads out across hills covered in the kinds of things one expects to see at a farm. Fences, fields planted with early summer crops, a large barn and random pieces of farming equipment waiting for the day’s work to begin. All of that and trees.

At the furthest edges of the farm, where the land runs along the edges of a wildlife preserve, the farm transforms into trees. Sections of maple, apples and pine grow thick and strong. The combination is more a matter of happenstance than planning, but there’s neither reason nor money to chop down two-thirds of farm-forest to begin the long slow process of planting and waiting that invariably marks the start of tree-based farming.

From the back porch, the trees are beautiful to look at. The seemingly mismatched patchwork of farm-forest is either symbolic of the essence of the farm, or merely suited to the people who live here. Either way, walking beneath the branches, working to harvest whatever the trees choose to give, and watching children climb and play, are as much a part of the farm as the sunrise and the rain.

Some things need no reason, they simply belong.