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The Good Place: A society to match the scenery (Michael L. Umphrey on gardening, teaching, and neighboring)


Gardening the creek
   Planning paradise


A friend bought nearly 80 acres along a section of Mission Creek where I had spent a lot of time as a boy. I took several trips with him to look at the property and to listen to his plans for it. He had researched riparian zones and was intent on preserving the wildness of the place. He was going to fence the creek, so cattle from the bench pasture couldn’t get down in the trees. He showed me places where he was going to use a bulldozer to put the bank back to a more natural shape, and where he was going to plant willows to prevent the creek from eroding the bank further. He was planning a large-scale garden that had to look wild and unplanned.

I had loved that section of creek when I was a boy. I could get there from town on my bike, and once there I could lose myself in a ribbon of wilderness meandering through the valley. I went fishing there often, and like grownup fishermen sometimes I actually fished, but as often as not I just wandered the freedom of secret places. 

Farmers had allowed cows along the creek: the banks were pummeled to mud by their hooves, the new growth pine and fir was destroyed by browsing so the bottoms grew to thickets of buck weed, cockle burr and beggars lice. Because the land wasn’t useful for farming, except as a cheap source of stock water, it was ignored. No one cared who was there or what they did. It was a paradise. I could built shelters and dams, made forts, lashed together tree houses and built camp fires. There were no signs, no rules. It was a good place to be a poor kid. Or a poor man.

My friend was going to build his house at the edge of the woods, something tasteful that wouldn’t be too conspicuous. A couple from New Jersey had moved into the valley the year before and built a large house high on a hill overlooking us all. You could see it from everywhere. He wasn’t going to do anything so crass. The side of his house that faced the creek would have many windows that opened into the aspen and birch, the birds and deer. 

No more forts of fir boughs.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey

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