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Hazelnut Hubris

September 28, 2019
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by Normandy Alden

I would never tell you that you must own some land. Just as I would never say that you must have a garden, or bake a blueberry pie, or mend your own pants. I can see well enough the difference between a private and a universal joy. But there have been a few, sweet, moments recently connected to owning property that I would wish for all of you, if the course of your life happens to take you there. 

This fall will mark ten years at 156 Talbot Rd. To some of you it may seem like a small number but for me it’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere. Our first spring here we ordered fifty 12” hazelnut plants. And with the hubris of novice land-owners we chose a location on our property with some of the most punishing soil for young plants. It was mostly Edmund that kept them alive. He gave them generous beds of wood chips and would remember to water them on the sunny summer days when they were small. I hope you’ll forgive me for saying that I had my doubts some days. The tiny plants were completely dwarfed by the goldenrod and poison parsnip, surrounded by ground scraped of topsoil during a driveway excavation. “They’ll be fifteen feet tall!” Edmund would say, gesturing in the air, over-optimistically, I thought. “We’ll be swimming in hazelnuts!” he’d cackle, practically rubbing his hands together at the thought. 

And it’s not like I didn’t help. In fact, it was in May of 2013 that I took it upon myself to give the hazelnuts a nice, thick bed of woodchips, forking wheel barrow after wheel barrow with springtime gusto. I remember the year and month so exactly because I was 8 months pregnant at the time. It was during the course of this mulching that I threw out my back and spent several weeks in excruciating pain. I still say the pain from that back injury was worse than the labor that brought my daughter into the world. Every step was an agony. For the next week or two I moved by sliding my socked feet across the hardwood floor, my face in a grimace.

So you can imagine the satisfaction I feel this year when the hazelnuts seemed to be dwarfing the goldenrod. “What are those?” a friend asked recently, pointing to the leafy shrubs. “Hazelnuts? Huh. Never noticed them before.” They had been lost in the weeds for years. This was the first fall that we went out with bowls and baskets to collect the harvest. My daughter, whose existence there had been no trace of in the spring we put those plants in the ground, now chattered excitedly and exclaimed over the largest nuts. Some bushes had single large nuts. Others had clusters of small ones. Each shrub was distinct in form, flavor and production. 

A basket full of hazelnuts may seem like a small thing, but it makes me feel like a queen. Ten years of wood chips, watering, waiting, and weeding are the currency of this wealth. So pick your own currency, though I’m partial to the work of helping trees and plants grow. However you can manage it, I wish for all of you the experience of watching something small and pathetic grow to bear fruit. Edmund must agree because he is making plans to plant 100 more. I expect we’ll choose a spot on the farm with a little more promise. 

Normandy Alden

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