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Poor Will's Almanack: April 26-May 2, 2011

Flickr Creative Commons user Radgast

Poor Will’s Almanack for the first week of Late Spring.

I have dreamed about self-sufficiency since I first wanted to run away from home. My fantasies became more intense as I grew older, and they were especially encouraged in the 1960s when I read my first copies of one of the great back-to-the-land magazines, Mother Earth News.

I was drawn to the romance of its tales about living close to nature, far from the city and its artificial social and technological demands.

And I knew I had to begin. I dug a garden in the shade behind the garage of my rented house in the middle of Knoxville, Tennessee. The plot was maybe ten feet by fifteen. The soil was hard, red clay. There was no drainage. I thought it was beautiful.

The spring was warm and promising that year, and I sowed my
first seeds down clean, straight rows. Everything sprouted.

Then on a Saturday afternoon rain poured down, a heavy cold rain that pounded, bruised, and finally tore the delicate sprouts apart before my eyes.

When I replanted, slugs appeared, more slugs than I'd ever imagined could exist. I read a note in Mother Earth that said that slugs could easily be captured by hand if you went out at night with a flashlight and caught them in the act. Indeed, I found a lot of slugs this way, but not enough. Several thousand always came out after I'd gone to bed.

I eventually went on to far more successful gardens in North Carolina and Ohio. A thunderstorm and ravenous gastropods, however, had given me my first and maybe my best lesson in the challenges of self-sufficiency.

I never ran away from home, and I think that was probably fortunate. I have, however, continued to dwell on issues of autonomy and elbowroom, and I keep working at those issues, a piece at a time, finding throughout my life that they are a bottomless pit of mystery and challenge.

Next week on Poor Will's Almanack: notes for the second week of late spring. In the meantime, go ahead, plant your garden. You can beat those bugs if you stay with it.

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Bill Felker has been writing nature columns and almanacs for regional and national publications since 1984. His Poor Will’s Almanack has appeared as an annual publication since 2003. His organization of weather patterns and phenology (what happens when in nature) offers a unique structure for understanding the repeating rhythms of the year.