Tending Your Mental Landscape

I’m a designer and researcher for the technology industry. So when my wife and I bought a historic farmette in the Shenandoah Valley, I was not exactly bringing an expert’s touch to our “country experiment.”

Our purchase, included a chunk of neglected farm land; corn stubble, poison ivy, locust trees, and thistle-filled chaos. I dove into the work of coaxing that land back to health.

Turns out this kind of work provides a lot of time in your own head. And in the process, I learned about cultivating more than a healthy meadow.

Here I sit — midway through the transformation process of this meadow — contemplating the health of my internal and external terrain.

Planting good thoughts shades out bad ones.

At first I tried to wrestle the land into submission; mowing, hacking, plowing. Then I learned that planting lots of good things; perennial rye, a little native grass, and clover for nitrates, choked out the bad things. Still, the occasional thistle appears, but flowering clover and beautiful thick bunches of Rye have taken over the pasture. The bad stuff — starved for light and air — usually sinks back below the surface.

Good thoughts attract good things.

As the pasture got healthier; diverse, nitrate rich, and pesticide-free, the bees and butterflies began to show up. They were a joy to see in and of themselves, and I knew that these pollinators would exponentially improve the health of this space over time.

A cover crop like Buckwheat attracts butterflies (and little kids) which is cool. But more importantly, it restores critical nitrates to the soil which promote the growth of good stuff next season.

Lay off the chemicals.

Toxicity from pesticides sticks around and its negative impact on our health is not fully understood. I didn’t really need the chemicals once I looked beyond modern offerings to old techniques for controlling weeds and improving soil. The modern chemical industry started selling clover-killing products years ago to help us achieve their ideal; clover-less lawns. Shortly after that, they developed nitrate-boosting treatments (because eliminating that clover starved our lawns of nitrates). We’d have been better off without the chemicals to begin with — they may seem to help in the short-term, but we often find ourselves struggling just to get back to “normal.”

Trash takes root quickly, neglect at your own peril.

The “trash” (unwanted weeds and trees) will occasionally re-appear. I learned that it’s a bad idea to ignore their presence since every day their roots grow stronger, and their fiber tougher and more impervious to mowing. What’s worse, they will eventually seed, and cast out hundreds if not thousands of insidious drones. When the unwanted takes root, deal with it asap. And don’t simply swat at the issue. Dig deep, investigate the roots, know it, understand it, in order to deal with it.

Rye, clover, native grasses, butterflies, bees, and other good stuff in our healthy Shenandoah Valley meadow.

Time spent tending your mental landscape is really rewarding.

I don’t meditate. But I guess I do. I’ve never spent the thousands of dollars to learn the Transcendental Meditation techniques practiced by David Lynch and Howard Stern, but this tending to nature thing feels damn close. Spending time on the land feels like walking around in my own head, I contemplate things like; how healthy is this landscape now? How healthy is the soil that will impact it’s health tomorrow, or next year? What did I do today to tend this landscape?