About Devon Marsh

I have been a Navy pilot, a teacher, and a senior vice president in a major national bank. I invite you to check out my poetry, short stories, and essays at http://devonmarsh.wordpress.com/

Our Own Park

After days of rain, a sunny Saturday out on our pond with Debbie’s parents felt like a trip to our own private state park. Grass showed the pattern of recent mowing, which left it short enough to drive through the field to our picnic table. We set up a tent for shade, put the kayak and canoe on the water, caught a few bass and crappie, and walked about confirming our primary choice of building site.

Annelise Fishing

Annelise shows off her first fish, a small Pomoxis annularis, or “white crappie.” This tasty fish lives all over the eastern part of the country. It derives its common name from the Canadian French word crapet, which refers to many different fishes of the sunfish family. People also refer to crappie as papermouths, strawberry bass, speckled bass or specks (especially in Michigan), speckled perch, calico bass (throughout New England), and Oswego bass. Fans of Dave Robicheaux novels have heard Dave and his buddy Clete Purcell talk about fishing for crappie many times, though they always use the Cajun term sac-au-lait (literally, “bag of milk,” referring to their creamy white flesh). By any name, they are fun to catch and great to eat.

Will Kayaking

Maclean Kayaking

All three of the kids got the hang of the kayak within about three strokes of the paddle. I remember the great sense of independence I had being on the water alone at that age. I learned a lot of useful lessons, too, like what to do when a snake drops from a limb into the boat. Thankfully, our kids haven’t experienced that learning opportunity yet.

Canoe

Debbie and her mother showed off their hats out in the canoe.

Fishing with Grandpa

Grandpa caught the most fish, drawing a crowd with this small largemouth bass.

Building Site

Debbie took one last view from our primary building site before we packed up to head home.

No bites, stings, poison ivy, or sunburn, and lots of fun made for a good day. We plan to visit this park again.

 

When We’re Not Around

Air Traffic Control

A kingfisher pivots
his crested head
left and right
in a tree overlooking
the pond.
Two pairs of mallards
float, casual
like old friends
vacationing together.
The ducks lift off
at once, their formation
rising from the water
to the southeast,
turning to climb
northwest, the way
a heron departed earlier,
as if receiving instructions
from the kingfisher
who has the space
above the pond
under control.

Brush Clearing

Who needs invasive species when we have native smilax? This genus of more than 300 species, named for the forest nymph who was the object of desire for the mortal Krokus, thrives in temperate zones around the world. It is not toxic; its berries provide food for a variety of birds and mammals; it has medicinal uses in many cultures; and most redeeming of all, its Jamaican species, S. regelii, provides the flavoring for sarsaparilla and a component of root beer. Nevertheless, on a fenceline already compromised by deadfall, thorny smilax insinuates itself with cohorts such as honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica; invasive), muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia; native), Rosa multiflora (invasive), and Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana; native) to construct a formidable redoubt.

Smilax

Smilax

 

A mix of challenging opponents is evident in this pile.

A mix of challenging opponents is evident in this pile.

Will and I spent a couple of hours on a cold December afternoon clearing a section of fence and testing out a machete I received for Christmas. We removed quite a tangle of vines and trees. A close-up photo of the brush pile we built shows smilax, cedar, muscadine, honeysuckle, rose, and various weedy saplings. We will let these dry, then burn the pile on a rainy day in the spring. The work tired us but offered enjoyment and satisfaction, as manual labor on our land often does. Come check out our work.

The pile in the foreground completely covered and hid the tree Will is chopping in the background.

The pile in the foreground completely covered and hid the tree Will is chopping in the background.

A black & white photo makes the cuts more obvious. In this photo I chose to highlight green, causing a few honeysuckle leaves to stand out.

A black & white photo makes the cuts more obvious. In this photo I chose to highlight green, causing a few honeysuckle leaves to stand out.

Unwanted Flower

Does anyone know the name of this flower? A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but I don’t care about smell. This is a noxious weed, and I don’t really care about its name, either. What I care about is an eradication strategy, preferably one that does not involve chemical intervention.

The vast unbroken expanse of these “flowers” grows on our building site and in the septic field. Both will be thoroughly plowed under and the surface re-seeded, so I’m not very concerned about those areas. However this weed crops up all over our pasture. Will mowing before it goes to seed eliminate it? Does each plant need to be pulled by hand? Chopped with a hoe? What if I walk the field with a blowtorch and burn off each stalk at the ground? Yes, I’ve heard of 2,4-D. I welcome a viable, non-toxic solution.

Farm Gates

Lifting an 18-pound tamping rod a thousand times to firm up the footing for posts, boring 4 holes with a hand auger, and sinking four lag bolts into salt-treated posts takes a toll on the arms. Fortunately my oldest son, Will, helped with this last task, as well as holding our new farm gates level as I secured the hinge brackets. Now the gates are up, ready to admit our visitors.

A hand auger delivers more torque than a battery powered drill.

Will Marsh, sinking a lag bolt.

The gates are up.

Sunday brought cool weather following an overnight rain. It was a perfect day for a canoe outing, for scouting tree house locations, and a little bit of climbing. I also found a lone red bloom bobbing on a morning glory vine in the field, and I noticed that even the blooms of noxious weeds like nettle are beautiful when you don’t have to contend with the thorns.

Annelise and Maclean are learning to handle the canoe on their own.

Annelise, out on a limb.

Maclean in a tree.

A lone red morning glory.

Delicate blooms on nettle weed.

Finally, I planted some seeds from our Sweetshrub plants. Calcycanthus floridus, also known as Carolina allspice, strawberry bush, and sweet Betsy. I collected the seeds from this season’s seed pods on the plants at our house, which grew from seeds my father gave me from plants in my parents’ yard, which grew from seedlings we harvested in the wild over 30 years ago. The native shrub will make a nice addition to the natural area near where our driveway will cross the creek.

Seedpods and seeds from Sweetshrub, or “Calycanthus floridus.”

A couple of tasks down; a couple of thousand to go.

Fence Post

If you have ever used an auger to drill a hole for a fence post, you understand why farmers and ranchers have no need for a gym membership. I used one today to bore two holes. It made easy work of a difficult task. Nevertheless, it was hard work battling the torque of the machine and its lurches as it struck roots on its way into the earth. I was happy not to have to bore three holes. Thankfully the holes went straight down, the posts I dropped in stood straight up, and we have a stake in the ground at the entrance to our land. Two of them, in fact. Their succesful placement augurs well for the task of hanging two 8-foot farm gates. Which is a job for another day.

First Afternoon

A local man with a 15-foot bush hog mowed our field last week, making our new place accessible once again after a summer’s growth of tall weeds. We took advantage of fine weather on Sunday to spend our first full afternoon on the land. We fished, rode in our canoe and kayak, watched our oldest son run his remote-control speedboat, listened to hawks overhead and the neighbor’s donkey in the adjoining field, and found some beautiful flowers along the stream that feeds the pond. It was a big outing, and a lot of fun. It hinted at how much work lies ahead, and also how much enjoyment, with the lines blurred between the two.

Marsh Land

On July 31, 2012, Debbie and I completed the purchase of eleven acres in Lewisville, NC. The realtors and the attorney called it a closing but it felt like an opening, an unfolding. A beginning, right in the middle of our lives.

A fence surrounds our land, neighbors border on three sides, and a cultivated field and a forested floodplain lie to the north. The only manmade structure on our land is an earthen dam, holding back a healthy two-acre pond that sits in the middle of former pasture and a few mature hardwoods. This is the place we have chosen. It feels like good land, and it’s ours. We have plans for it, and for us.

Visit this site to see how our plan plays out. Better yet, visit us on our land.