Microclimate of the Crystal Palace

When I quit my job after more than a decade as a trial attorney to move my family to rural Maine and focus on a life of reduced cost, reduced consumption, and more focused living, I had the same conversation on loop for about three months. I would tell a contemporary about my plans, maybe a long-time client or familiar opposing counsel, and would get a dose of furrowed eyebrows. “Really? You’re serious? Hmm. Maine?”

This is where the interaction would fork in one of two directions. First, there were a surprising number of folks who seemed genuinely envious, or at least curious, about the proposition. They’d ask practical questions about how we were making it work, how we’d made the decision, etc. There was an incredulity to be sure, but not outright dismissal of the concept.

The second group, however, was far more plentiful. They’d decided in that instant that I was an insane person, incapable of perceiving reality in any meaningful way, and I’d just announced my intention to go live in the dirt and eat pine cones and maybe pen a worrisome manifesto.

Both groups, however, shared a single question: “Won’t you get bored?”

I distinctly remember one instance of this question coming from an opposing lawyer as we sat in a windowless room and argued over various clauses in a homeowners’ insurance contract, as if that was some some of irresistible adrenaline-drenched thrill ride.

The truth is, I’ve always been pretty good about filling my time, frequently to the frustration of Mrs. 10Chickens. To put it plainly, I have a lot of hobbies that I half-ass but wholly enjoy, and there are a lot of subjects about which I only know enough to get myself into trouble.

One of those subjects is something called permaculture, with which I’ve become enamored over the course of the winter. My understanding of the concept is, again, at best deeply flawed, so please do your own research, but at it’s base it’s a practice of land management that encourages a sort of region-specific micro-ecosystem on a relatively small plot of land. For example, the guy who corners you at a party to tell you the modern suburban lawn is the root of all evil, and we should all have yards full of thorny, edible berries is probably a permaculturist.

While I’m not an evangelist of the study quite yet, its allure for me lies within the basic concept of “Hey, don’t screw up the land. Oh, and also, if you actually pay attention, you might be able to finally grow some tomatoes.”

The fundamentals resonate with me, as we’ve recently moved into a home with a good chunk of land that’s already established itself full of wild edibles, like blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, sumac, apples, mint, and the list goes on.

Blueberries from this past summer. Between the Mrs. and myself picking for about half an hour, we netted nearly five (5) pounds.

My primary goal here is avoid ruining it all, which it turns out is actually quite difficult, but we’ll get to that in the future. For now, in the dead of winter, there’s not much to do but observe the property, take note of the various microclimates that may exist, and form a plan for spring.

This plot is technically in “hardiness zone 5b,” which is designation from somewhere that relates to what plants should grow with success, but we’re also at some minor elevation. Just a few miles inland, the zone shifts to 5a, which covers most of the state. That said, events of this past weekend have made me consider that our little neck of the woods might be something completely different altogether.

We had a storm.

In Maine, we get four main kinds of precipitation: rain; snow; sleet (frozen pellets, like micro-hail); and freezing rain. The last of these is a particularly nefarious beast that falls as liquid water, but instantly freezes on anything it touches. Typically, it’s a nuisance but falls as part of a wintery mix that mitigates some of its more challenging attributes.

And, indeed, in my travels around town and inland in the days following our storm, there were certainly signs of an unusually significant freezing rainfall, but nothing like our side of the mountain. When the sun broke on Saturday morning, we were in a crystal palace:

The camera had a hard time capturing the prismatic effect of the sun through the ice, which is probably operator error (photography is one of those half-assed hobbies I alluded to earlier), but the overall effect was… surreal. Like life inside the world’s first tasteful curio cabinet.

What does this mean for permaculture? For the microclimate of our property? I think it means we’re on our own, but it’s going to be beautiful.

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