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By Pam Burke 

View from the North 40: What's a meadow for?


It’s easy to love my pasture in spring when the vegetation is just getting a good hold of the season — the place is blanketed in green, and looks like a lush, manicured lawn punctuated with bursts of shrubs and trees — but those blissful days are past, and I have entered the chaos period from whence both pride and aggravation grow.

By now, the vegetation has grown enough that I know what I have for “good” forage, acceptable weeds and bad weeds — and what needs to be mowed and trimmed to keep paths clear and fire danger down.

In fact, I’ve spent a lot of time outside this week taking stock of plants and patterns, wrangling what I can, lamenting what has gotten away from me and generally coming to terms with this year’s pasture crop.

Working outdoors is physical labor, but it also puts me in an introspective place — I don’t want to hijack and mishandle a religion by saying it’s a Zen state of mind, especially when I clearly harbor ill-will toward weeds, so let’s just say my mindset is Zen-adjacent.

From that inner, thoughtful place a thought, naturally, sprang forth — starting with the memory of a sort of literature-slash-dad joke from the professor of a poetry class I had been dreading:

What’s a metaphor? the instructor asked, then answered, It’s a place where sheep graze.

Normally I don’t explain a joke, but this one is pretty crucial as a point I’m making so the full meaning is important.

It’s based on a play off the sound of the words because “metaphor” is a very close rhyme with “meadow for” — if you don’t pronounce “meadow” distinctly.

A metaphor is a figure of speech, or a kind of play on words, that is used to make a comparison between two things that are not alike, but they have something in common and or bring extra meaning or understanding by the comparison. I used this in the first paragraph when I said my pasture was “blanketed in green.”

I used the verb form of “blanket” but it still makes us think of a blanket draped over someone or something, which then helps us imagine how the green covers the contours of the land and inspires comforting feelings about the image.

And even though it isn’t used as a metaphor, I like that it has distinct imagery of the sheep grazing in a field.

My meadow isn’t for grazing sheep. I’m hoping to be able to put my horses back on it at least intermittently, now that some major portions of it have been reseeded after extensive dirt work and let grow for a few years.

As a forage pasture, I don’t want a perfectly manicured lawn. I want a mixture of edible grasses and other plants to feed the tame and wild four-legged and winged creatures, me and the bugs.

That means it’s a chaotic display of bushy, dark green alfalfa, broad leaved smooth brome, knife-thin intermediate wheat grass, medium-height crested wheat, low-growing native grasses in shades of blue and green, and blue grama, which isn’t blue at all, along with at least a dozen grasses whose names I don’t know. Each plant brings it’s own value and nutrition to the table, along with the flowers that feed bees and bugs.

Plus, I have dandelions, kosha and tall, spindly sweet clover, all weeds of a kind that I don’t worry about too much right now because they’re edible and useful, but also an array of obnoxious and noxious weeds I’m working on eradicating — some are edible, most are a complete waste of soil, except that sometimes you just need something grow on patches of poor soil to keep it stable. There is a purpose.

Then there’s cottonwood and box elder trees, and chokecherry, currant and wild rose bushes, along with two surprise bushes this spring: a red osier dogwood and a honeysuckle. I also have prickly, stabby gooseberry bushes that I’m trying to learn to love, though it looks and acts very much like a weed, as well as sage and snowberries, which, I have to admit, both can really stabilize a dirt bank and hold a valuable bank of snow that waters grass in the spring.

What is my meadow for? To feed and provide habitat for horses and bees and birds and deer and rabbits and antelope and spiders and on and on, and to be my home.

What is my meadow for? It’s a metaphor. It’s us. We need all kinds of us and our customs and cultures to create a healthy, vibrant, stable environment. It’s not all uniform and homogeneous, or harmonious, but it makes a healthy whole.


A meadow isn’t just a meadow at [email protected]


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