Basic principles for a new world

resilience nature permaculture family Elsa Little

Lessons Learned from my Grandparents

by Elsa Little

I can't recall ever seeing wild pheasants in Oregon, least not in Hillsboro, a Portland suburb that over 100,000 residents call home. Now apartment buildings and shopping centers line the widened four-lane roads that were once curvy and framed by trees. It's hard to imagine pheasants being a common sighting in Hillsboro. My grandma recalls pheasants coming to their garden and eating their corn seedlings. She told me that the following year my grandpa planted 3 sacrificial rows of corn towards the back of their property, just for the pheasants.

When I first heard my grandma telling me this I felt a mix of emotions. One emotion was sadness that the wild and rural habitat that once existed has long since disappeared. It was a slow loss. One new housing development to the east. The Walnut orchard replaced with cookie-cutter' houses that are all identical in shape and size. I also felt a sense of pride and joy to be learning such important lessons from my grandma. A retelling of times that are gone- but perhaps should come back, at least in some respect. I felt a deep sense of love and gratitude toward my late grandpa. Some farmers would shoot the pheasants for eating their corn, a mere pest to get rid of, but instead my grandpa had an understanding that the land was as much theirs as it was his.

My grandparents were not farmers (although, my grandma did grow up on a farm in Nebraska until she was 10). They were what we would call now 'homesteaders', but to them it was just a normal and practical way to live. They bought a rural property with a little less than an acre of land in the 1950s, surrounded by fields and other small holdings. First, they planted trees. Walnut, apple, fig, plum, and pear trees, plus some trees for hedging to create borders. They raised chickens for eggs and meat. They got my mother a pet horse.

All that remains is the trees. Huge sacks of last years' walnuts are stored in the outbuilding. But it's hard for me to imagine the rest of it. I have very early memories of the open fields, of the Christmas Tree farm next door, of the windy roads to get to the house, and the large annual veggie patch. Now, huge houses tower over the beloved walnut trees and a newly paved road stops at the property border only to continue onto the adjacent side, waiting to be filled in by a housing developer.

I find myself reflecting on the lessons I have learned from my grandparents during this unsettling time of emergency lockdown. Mainly, when I think about my grandparents I think about how resourceful and knowledgeable they were. My grandma knows how to sew and preserve food. My grandpa was a mechanic and had a good foundational knowledge of carpentry, a Jack of all trades. They were incredibly resourceful. Even today, my 88-year-old grandma mows her own land, prunes her trees, and collects the harvest.

The more I learn from my grandma the more I believe that these glimpses of the past hold so many answers for the present and future. It gives me hope that building this kind of resilient lifestyle is still possible. The skills we need today can be learned and applied! Others in the community and around the world have come to similar conclusions. People are gardening for the first time, whether it be in a windowsill, balcony, in a garden, or allotment. Each seed planted is an act of hope. Hoping that it will sprout, hoping that it will grow and reach maturity so that in a few weeks or months we may be able to nourish ourselves. In doing so we are one step closer to becoming slightly more self-sufficient moving towards self-reliance. Shifting from consumer to producer. And that is a powerful act.

Garden in Portland, Oregon