Contributing to Workantile, the co-working community I’m a part of
It turned out nicely. Here’s a writeup and some photos.
It started when I was biking home with groceries from Meijer and encountered a big pile of buckthorn by the side of the road, culled from Greenview Nature Area and awaiting pickup for composting. The biggest trunk was a decent sized log. The bike was already heavily laden but fortunately, a log is a different shape than grocery bags so I found a spot for it:
For a while I’d been interested in woodworking with found wood, especially buckthorn. I take pleasure in removing it and would enjoy that even more if I could turn it into things. I asked my friend and de facto woodworking coach Chris how I should go about processing logs. Buy a bandsaw? Build one of those circular-saw-converted-to-chainsaw DIY mills I saw on YouTube? Both seemed excessive.
Today is Earth Day. It may be co-opted by brands posting on social media, but I think it’s still worth celebrating in its original spirit (see Emily Atkin on what Earth Day is supposed to be). I was considering posting about divesting from for-profit banks as a not-obvious but critically-important way to help the planet. I hope to do that, still. But here we are and I haven’t written it, so instead I’ll briefly report and muse about swapping seeds.
Yesterday I hosted an informal seed and seedling swap. It was just three of us, standing around a table in the cold, but it was a blast. One person brought chard seedlings, plus all kinds of seed packets including white corn and tiny cantaloupes. Another shared tomato seeds and seedlings of a family heirloom cultivar that his father has saved and replanted over many years.
After the swap, with plant life on my mind, I dug around in a five-gallon bucket of dirt. It’s a special bucket of dirt: my two-year-old and I filled it in the fall, then gathered acorns and mixed them into the soil. Our experiment was to see if they’d sprout after overwintering outside. And at least one of them has!
Sharing seeds and plants and stories and tips and excitement on a cold spring day left each of us energized about plants and the earth. It renewed my sense of possibility, about plants and how humans are made to help each other. I plan to keep casually swapping seeds this spring and summer and then maybe run this swap again next year, with more planning and advertising to make it bigger. I hope to start seeds indoors next winter to contribute seedlings of my own.
In the meantime, I have a ton of pawpaw seeds on hand that need new homes. I processed dozens of fruits in the fall, setting aside the seeds. They’ve been kept moist and in the fridge all winter to give them their requisite cold hours and now should be ready to sprout when the soil warms up.
Pawpaws are unusual fruit trees, native to Michigan (among other places). The New York Times wrote a couple of stories about them last year. Their seeds are slow to sprout and not the easiest to grow, but I’m taking it on as a challenge.
Next month, if all goes well, Ann Arbor will be overrun by millions of Magicicada septendecim, the seventeen-year cicada. I am giddy with anticipation.
Why am I so excited? I think the cicadas are arriving at just the right moment in my life, in terms of both time and biophilia.
The timing is fortunate. At 3, 6, and 10 years old, my kids will be old enough to appreciate the insects and still young enough to feel wonder. My oldest is already on board: she amassed a collection of cicada shells from more regular “annual” cicadas that emerged in recent years. The next time these cicadas emerge, my kids will be grown, and I may be an empty nester. My oldest will be the age I was when she was born.
I’ve experienced periodical cicadas twice so far, in both cases Brood XIII in Chicago. I was 6 in 1990 and vaguely remember the insects’ ubiquitous noise and bodies. When that brood resurfaced in 2007, I was 23, and have no memories of cicadas from that year. I lived in a 24th-floor apartment in downtown Chicago – maybe there was too much concrete to support any cicadas. I remember my friend Boyu, who was working in the western Chicago suburbs over the summer, telling stories of brushing his car off before getting in and still ending up with cicadas inside. But for the timing to work, I think that would have been stragglers emerging off-year in 2003, which I would have missed in the city.
Now the reverse is true: I’m in the right part of the state for this year’s Brood X emergence. Much of Michigan will miss the cicadas, but Ann Arbor should be as reliable a place as any to experience them.
This will be my third visit with periodical cicadas. Brood X will next emerge in 2038 (I’ll be 54), 2055 (71), and 2072 (88, if I last that long). After this summer, half of my cicada seasons will be behind me.
The cicadas are also coming at the right time for me to appreciate them. In the last year or two I’ve become more appreciative of, knowledgeable of, in love with the natural world. I’m learning about animals, trees, and as much of life on this wondrous planet as I can, cultivating my biophilia. It blew my mind to learn about oak trees evolving to have mast years, where in some years they sync up and together produce an unusually-large crop of acorns to overwhelm predators. Periodical cicadas have evolved a similar mechanism of using staggered timing to their advantage: when they emerge in such great numbers, predators can’t eat them all.
What an incredible feat of evolution, to lie in wait for seventeen years and emerge in concert! I find that outcome especially neat given that at this point, they only reproduce as often as humans do. When the parents of this year’s Brood X cicadas walked the earth, George W. Bush was still president. They wait so long for just a short couple of months above ground. It reminds me of tree time or rock time, timescales slower than our human experience. This strategy has been slowly optimized over millions of years. What to me is a rare, long-awaited, blog-worthy event is just the next repetition of their experiment.
I feel lucky to be living in the right place and right moment for this event. It’s a six-in-a-lifetime occurrence and I don’t even have to leave my neighborhood to enjoy it. This weekend, I’ll pick up a book on cicadas from the library to prepare myself, and look forward to May and June. May this brood be as thick and deafening as ever.