What Sally Sells

I woke up this morning when the dog sleeping at my feet went flying off the couch, barking like the devil was at the door. This scared the calico that was sleeping in my hair, who jumped for the bookcase, knocking a vase of shells my Nana collected from her last beach adventure. I sat up, wrapped in my quilt, and stumbled to the door, knocking the pit bull aside with my knees. It wasn’t the devil, but a nurse to take Nana’s blood. I asked him to wait and shoved Kacie out, her hackles raised, and then let him in. Once Nana was awake, me and my quilt made a hasty retreat, sweeping seashells all the way down the hall.

This is not a typical morning at the farm – actually, there is no such thing as a typical morning. If the wasps haven’t found their way in, a dead mouse or mole has. If the neighbors cows haven’t broken through our fence line, the mule surely will, and drag every t-post and strand of wire with him. He chews the tops of the corn stalks off, leaving uneven stems standing in neat rows behind him.

Since I was up, I made coffee. Since everyone else in the house was now up, I fed them too: Kacie, who did not apologize for rudely waking me, Abbie, who is halfway shaved from her last neighborhood dog fight, and the calico and mama cat, who decided to have her 5 kittens in the fireplace. The sun was already up, but had not burned through the morning mist that wrapped around the mountain ridge. The air was cool and the birds were singing. My Aunt came down and made bacon and pancakes while we watched the rest of the world wake up from the kitchen table.

People call country life simple. I think it’s because we are so occupied with checking, feeding, watering, cleaning, letting in and out animals, fixing fence, mowing, weeding the garden, and watering some more, there is no time for anything else. Who cares if the furniture in the living room is outdated when you spend all day re-wiring the chicken coop? Does it matter that the chairs at the table don’t match, as long as they can hold you up at the end of the day? Sadie told me once that she likes when there’s dust on the mantle because she can write her name in it. And I think I agree.

We walked out to the garden and picked squash and zucchini, laughing at the corn stalks that are trying to grow back. She fills a bag and I swing up on Tug, riding across the road to the 100 acres my Grandfather used to own. Winston, who manages the land now, helped us till the garden, and we promised him part of the spoils. He gives me permission to ride across the field, which they are preparing to cut for hay, and Tug and I take it all in. The huge field slopes down to the river, and through the thin tree line I can see it sparkle in the early light. The grass is green and thick, still covered in dew from this morning. We walk down the hill to the tree line, and the sweet smell of grass changes to the cool mud from the riverbank.

It’s a wide river, flowing quickly. The water is clear and looks cold, rushing silently over smooth rocks. We watch it for a while, and the herons on the bank watch us. Tug and I walk the length of the land until the river bank bends away to flow to the city. We turn around and lope all the way back to the barn, the wind rushing through his mane and mine. I give him breakfast and turn him out in the big field, where the mares greet him with whinny’s. We both let out a big sigh and I think if he could talk, we would say the same thing: It’s a wonderful life.


Bird Bath

I slip on a dark green rain coat, and step into my Uncle’s rubber boots, which are at least 3 sizes too big, and trip out into the night with a lantern. Earlier this evening, I hunted eggs at the coop and decided to let the chickens out to enjoy the summer grasses and clover. It’s now past 10, raining hard, and I realized I never shut the gate. When I arrive at the top of the hill, I see they are already cozy at roost – 1 red hen, 2 black sexlinks, 1 duck, and 2 roosters. I shut the gate and loop the chain around a nail before turning to trudge back down the hill. I spot a rabbit dashing off to the woods, and follow the small rivulets of water back to the house.

I’ve taken to letting the flock out and walking ahead of them to overturn tires, boards, rocks and beams to expose ants, worms, and grubs. The hens cluck with enthusiasm and scurry over to peck at whatever bewildered insect that has been so suddenly exposed, while the roosters proudly stand guard. Even the duck likes ants. It’s been raining most of the afternoon, which didn’t bother our mallard in the slightest, although we are all convinced he believes he is a chicken. It’s good for the garden, but not good for the flower beds we recently cleared – which quickly fill up and spill over to the sidewalk.

Yesterday, I filled the plastic blue pool we bought when the single mallard had 3 friends, and watched him bathe for almost an hour. The cat tried to stalk him, and was met with splashes of cold well water when he rose to fan off his wings. I’ve thought of getting him some more female friends, but I also wonder how many ducks are willing to give up a perfectly good pond and a life by the water to go and follow some hens around the yard, quacking when they cluck. I scattered some grain around the pool to keep the chickens happy, and they pecked around him, not bothered that he bathes in water rather than dust.


Shrimp Tails

This morning I woke up and looked out to see green on green, fields disappearing to a green tree line on a familiar mountain ridge. There is a muscular bay in the front yard grazing on the early summer grasses, his tail and ears flick at the occasional fly. I’m in Tennessee-I put everything I owned in my car, and whatever didn’t fit, stayed. I moved to Knoxville.

I creep down the stairs to the kitchen to put coffee on, and realize I’m the first one awake. I feel a cat intertwine between my legs, and look down to see bright green eyes on a black and white face. I turn and see a half-eaten mouse on the kitchen floor: apparently she only had room to eat the front half. The angora cat purrs and meows and struts around the carcass, tail curling into a question mark.

I wrap the remains into a bag and take it outside to a trailer where an overturned love-seat waits to be taken to the dump. This farmhouse holds more memories and lifetimes than I can imagine, but bringing my carload of clothes and books in means my Aunt and I have determined what stays and what goes.

Last night we went to Food City to get groceries and sat in the parking lot, snacking on garlic shrimp and tossing the tails out the open car window. We took the saddles out of the front room and plan to recover the couch. Sadie moved a table in front of the window for me to work on, and I am excited to get unpacked and decorate with books and pictures of the beach.

It’s amazing to see it come to life: We spend part of the day at Lowe’s buying paint for the front room (Sigh Blue) and new welcome mats for the door (Wipe your Paws), and part of the day pulling weeds and wines from the front beds to plant roses and hang bird feeders and wind chimes. The kittens born in my Nana’s fireplace moved to the barn, along with their mouser mother, and we plan on repairing the wire on the coop before getting a few more hens.

We turned the horses in the front yard after running electro-braid around to keep them from exploring, and the new donkey follows them from patch to patch. He’s the sweetest one I’ve ever met, always meeting us at the fence and resting his head against whatever body comes close enough – those long, dopey ears love scratches, and he snuffs at your pockets, hoping for treats.

Tonight we had cube steak, creamed potatoes, field peas and sweet corn on the new kitchen table, and I snapped a picture before everyone dug in. Nana came downstairs to join us, her snow white hair pointing in every direction, blue eyes twinkling as she laughed. Now we sit around the table, the dishes cleared, while my aunt reads the paper, glasses perched on the end of her nose. I watched the moon rise over the ridge, peeking between trees and giving all the clouds those elusive silver linings. I can’t see my horse anymore, but I hear them tearing at the grass and envision the smooth, round jaws working under sleek coats.

And tomorrow is the best part of all: I may saddle that bay and take him up the mountain, or through the woods to the empty silos standing by the old dairy farm. We may plant herbs in the front bed and pull weeds from the orange clay, or finally unpack my car and see my anthologies and novels mingle with cookbooks and farmers almanacs. Or, we might have a ‘gown day’ and catch up over coffee and old movies. There are fields to be mowed and an arena to build, and I might venture out to the next county to pick up feed and extra panels.

The house is quiet now, the dogs dream under the table, and my new bed is calling to me, where Sadie is just down the hall and I can hear the hum and hiss of Nana’s oxygen tank. In the morning, she will make sausage and pancakes, and I made sure to throw both cats out, so any mousing can be done under cover of darkness.


Liquor Boxes

My apartment has that funny smell – the smell of cardboard. The faint smell of a tree from long ago, pressed and compressed into brown paper, corrugated and glued to hold two years of memories. A lifetime of belongings. The walls are blank, waiting to be dressed with someone else’s decorations.

They say home is where you hang your hat, and I’ve left mine in Knoxville. It’s still in my Aunt’s kitchen, waiting for me to walk by and wear it. I will pack my jeans and boots, my books and whatever else will fit in my city car, and drive through the mountains to a new life that seems too good to imagine.

They call me crazy for letting it all go: for leaving a city I have memorized and living, jobless, on land that produces a garden only if I decide to plant it. Where chickens leave eggs and take bags of feed, where cats and dogs are waiting to make a mess after you clean one. Instead of slipping out to brick streets and streetlights, I will find lightning bugs and dreaming horses. Instead of one room with a galley kitchen, I get a whole kitchen with muddy boots and paws, a sink of well water and dishes, and soup beans on the stove.

It’s hard to imagine me leaving here and missing it. It’s hard to dream about anything other than the farm – my room with the view of the sun rising over the mountains, a field full of horses and a whole day to explore. I will swim in the river that my Grandfather swam in, till the fields he gazed at with a shaded hand over his eyes.

But I will miss it. I like who I have become here – a bit of tumbleweed snagged on the vines that creep up ancient walls. The sound of birds and traffic passing, of my bike chain humming as I coast home from work or the river or from gazing at the cathedral. Savannah has been good to me, better than she should have been, and I look forward to visiting again. I will return with orange clay under my nails and tanned arms. To watch the town breathe as an observer, no longer a resident. A part of me will always belong there, a small part that learned to live alone, to find company when I needed it, and to escape when I did not. There is a strange peace that comes with solitude, and whenever I see these brick streets lined with ancient oaks, I know that feeling will return.