Questions you ask on the farm

Do you want me to fix you a plate?

Have you eaten?

Did you check the stock?

Is the sink draining?

Do we have trash bags?

Do we have any more fire wood?

Have you fed the dogs?

Can you make a pot of coffee?

How’s Nana?

Have you fed the cats?

Do you need a bath?

Do we need anything from town?

Have you seen my other boot?

Is there gas in the Explorer?

Is there gas in the 4-wheeler?

Is there gas in the mower?

Do we have enough horse feed?

Have you checked the chickens today?

Can you let the dogs out?

Can you let the cats in?

How many eggs did we get today?

Can I borrow some socks?

Is the van unlocked?

Can you bring me the paper?

Do I need to go to the bread store?

Did you have a good day?

Is the gate locked?

Is the tack room locked?

Do we need to roll out more hay?

Is the water hose off?

Are you ready for bed?


Climate Control

It’s getting colder, there are only a few leaves left on the trees, they rattle against the bare branches and drift to the ground. There’s something different about the farm in the cold, something new, I feeling I haven’t had before.

I grew up in Florida, for those of you who don’t know. I’m at champion at 98 degree lows and 110% humidity. Hurricanes, no power for 5 days, fallen trees, sure. I can sweat with the best of them. But cold? People say they’d rather be cold because they can add more clothes, but that’s ridiculous. A Floridian can only take so much.

Thank the Lord for Goodwill, I got some tacky scarves and an epic pea coat that makes me feel like auditioning for the next spy movie. This morning wasn’t so bad, it was in the mid 30’s and I got dressed and had my coffee by the wood stove. I don’t know what I will do when there’s snow on the ground, or how I will drive my city car on ice but I’ll figure it out when it happens!

It’s a different feeling though, to be sure. It gets dark by 6, I miss the days where the sun is up before you are and doesn’t set until 9. The lightning bugs and the crickets, and that feeling when you step out the backdoor with dogs in tow to head out and find something amazing and messy to get into.

The cold is quieter, you almost don’t want to disturb the silence. The animals rest more, everything feels asleep. The sun rises to the south of the house as the earth tilts on its axis, it spends less time in the sky, less time warming the orange clay.

This week has been busy at work, we’ve gotten 2 of 3 magazines published, I’ll go in tomorrow to help with the last one, then I’m looking forward to a break. It’s been over two weeks since I’ve ridden Tug, a streak I’m looking forward to ending soon. The Aunt’s are coming here for Thanksgiving, I’m going to attempt to make a derby pie, for some reason the cooking/baking gene missed me completely. But Sadie’s a good teacher.

She just got home, the dogs and cats are lounging by the stove, she’s reading the paper and I’d like to crack open a book myself. I’m glad there is a season of rest at the farm, if the land is still and quiet, I can learn to be still and quiet too.


Something Something and the Cat

We had the kids this weekend, played Uno, ate lasagna, went to the Art Museum and McKay’s Bookstore and completely destroyed the house. I caught my third opossum, the excitement is wearing off and now it’s just a nuisance. They got one of my hens, Loretta Lynn, who I buried in the woods. Haven’t they gotten the memo yet? Do I need to post signs everywhere? I reset the trap with half of a salmon-patty from a few nights ago and slid back down the damp hill.

It was cold today, the leaves are hanging on by the stems, most of the trees are bare branches. I’ve been told there isn’t much to do in the winter time (unless it snows, then there’s lots to do. Somehow). I may hang my hat in Tennessee, but I’ve spent the past 24 years snow-free. It doesn’t sound so great. Getting home from work as night falls isn’t so great either. Should I take up knitting? Start hoarding puzzles? Buy all the seasons of Scrubs? I feel half stir crazy already and it hasn’t even snowed yet.

I got a message from our neighbor yesterday to come to the barn, I hopped into my rubber boots and put on a jacket that was actually just a button-down t-shirt and went to look. Apparently he was trying to get a square bale of hay off the pile we stacked a few weeks ago, and the whole thing came down. We moved the good bales into the hall of the barn and piled all the broken ones near the feed bins. As the sky darkened, we cross-stacked and re-stacked the good bales, making a wider and much more solid stack. I raked the loose pieces and threw them to the horses, who until then were running and kicking in the field like a herd of yearlings. Cold air excites them, I don’t know why but it does. I brought some prickly pieces back with me to the house, tipping them out of my boots and picking them off my socks.

Now it’s after 9. Sadie started a fire in the stove and I talked to my Mom on the phone. All the cats and dogs are in because neither one of us has the heart to leave them out all night. We’re slowly winding down, not quite ready for bed yet but getting there.

I went back to check the trap, halfway hoping it was empty, and saw something move when the lantern swept over it. It was the black cat, meowing, licking the salmon from his lips.

farming, Uncategorized

Lookin’ Greens and Cookin’ Beans

I found this in my Drafts section from about 3 months ago, enjoy!

Considering that every day since June 4th has been bananas, we did not plant a patch of greens this year. Sadie got some from a distant cousin and she decided to show me how to “Look ’em” before we cook ’em.

She dumped half the bag into the sink with some salt and we swirled them around like witches over a cauldron. Or washing clothes without a washing machine. Greens are usually a mixture of kale, mustard, turnip and collards, leaves pulled at the stem in sizes between my thumb and my hand. We rinsed each leaf and checked both sides for bugs, then put them in a big boiling pot of water (cauldron) with salt, butter, vinegar and I’m not sure what else. We made 3 batches total. The leaves wilt after being boiled, the whole thing looks like a load of spinach. All those leaves ended up filling 2 zip-lock bags, which we dated and stuck in the freezer.

Then she showed me how to look over beans, soup beans, before you cook them with a big, fat slice of fat back. Sometimes bad beans get in the bunch, or even the occasional rock. “You don’t want to crunch down on one of those,” she tells me, pouring some of the brown beans onto a plate, then pushing the good ones into the pot of water. We go on to make corn bread too, and I set the zucchini relish out that we canned earlier in the summer.

Sadie stirred bacon grease, more salt, and some vinegar into the last batch of greens, we served it up for supper with the corn bread, soup beans and creamed potatoes. It was delicious. Maybe because they were fresh out of someone else’s garden, or because it took so long to make half a plate full, but those were the best greens I’ve ever had.

While the greens were cooking, Sadie turned me loose. I changed into the usual and strode outside with a book and an apple. I caught Tug and gave him a quick brush, unlocked the tack room and found the saddle bags. We used them a lot for rides with James, filling them with snacks, drinks, even toilet paper. Since I don’t have a truck or a trailer yet, I can really only ride around the house. But this felt like a special occasion; the sun was heading towards the horizon, the sky was blue with big, puffy clouds, and the leaves were all in their full colors.

I found the lunge-rope, the very very long one, and put it in the bags too. After closing the gate, I swung into the saddle and we were off. The road to the big field and my favorite barn has woods on the right and our pasture on the left. It smelled like leaves everywhere. Tug walked at an easy pace, ears forward, and soon we reached the field. Turning off the road, I jogged him up the gentle slope to the crown of the hill. With the road and the barn behind us, we had the perfect view of the sunset between the valley. To the right is the road to town behind a row of trees, and to the left, a huge mountain dome. It’s almost perfectly round, stands half covered by trees, and half by grass. Just next to that is the Bays Mountain ridge, the one I can see from my bedroom window.

I loosened the girth on the saddle and put the lunge rope on Tug’s halter. We split the apple and I settled in the grass with my book. After looking around, he realized we weren’t going anywhere and he started to eat. Jeff Case, who owns the field, is a good friend of ours. They use the 60-something acres to cut hay, the last cut was just a few weeks ago, so the grass is green and thick and has grown back to about 8 inches long. Perfect for me to lay in and Tug to snack on.

After a while, the neighbors hound dogs came to investigate. There are 2 big bloodhounds, 3 beagles, a basset hound and a little old terrier. Since we weren’t rabbits or squirrels, they loped off down the valley to the hill, the terrier quickly falling behind, and the basset hound didn’t even go at all. He sniffed the air and whined, waiting for his pack to return. I got lost in my book and the sound of Tug happily munching until I heard the dogs baying. They found something to track, I could see them like little brown ants on the side of the green mountain. Oh to be a dog with the freedom to follow your nose.

Since I was looking around, I noticed a dark gray cloud heading our way. Sure enough, a few rain drops started to fall on the open pages of my book and I decided to pack it in. After putting everything back in the saddle bags, Tug and I started down the hill back to the road. And that was when the downpour hit. Tug didn’t care at all, he was happy to stay and eat grass or go home and eat grain. We jogged back down the road, I unlocked the gate, and we headed for the barn.

There is nothing like being in the barn when it rains. The drops on the tin roof sound like music, the wind whips up and smells fresh and clean, the warm hay and dry dirt on the ground make it cozy. I put the tack away and unpacked the saddle bags, brushing Tug again and giving him dinner. I leaned against the tack room and opened my book again, although it was getting dark fast. I didn’t see why I couldn’t at least finish the chapter.


Little Burro

Today was the time change, I set the clocks the wrong way and woke up not knowing what was happening at all. I had planned to meet a few friends for breakfast before church, but when you live on a farm, plans change.

Reagan called at some hour before 7 (or was it 8?) and told me the donkey had gotten into the mares pasture. I pushed the cat off my chest and regretfully swung out of bed into the grey morning. In a shirt and sweatpants, I put on a jacket and my rubber boots, pocketing the keys to the ATV. I put the coffee on before I left, I didn’t have time to wait for it to brew, but at least it would be ready when I got back.

We keep the stud colt and donkey in the front field, they are separated from Tug and the mares by the panels we were going to use for the arena. From what I could tell, someone had been leaning on them, and the gap between the panels and the fence posts was big enough for the donkey to squeeze through. And the colt, I found out. I caught him easily enough and put him back, repairing the gap in the fence. He discovered he was alone pretty soon, and began running up and down the fence line, whinnying for his donkey friend.

His donkey friend was on the complete opposite side of the pasture, trying to woo the girl donkey. I had a handful of feed in an old Folgers can and a halter and lead-rope swung over my shoulder. He was interested in the feed and let me put the halter on, but not as interested in going anywhere that the girl wasn’t. I led him halfway back, but he would not cross the creek. Not for anything. I pulled and pleaded and yelled, but there seemed to be an invisible line that I could not get him to cross. Sitting down in the mud I could keep him from backing up, but I couldn’t get him any closer to where he needed to be. I tied him to a tree and caught my breath.

We must have been a sight. A girl fighting a donkey. Since I tapped out he was fighting the tree, running around it, braying for Ginnie who was clearly relieved to be rid of him. I decided to get smart and let him wear himself out, while I went and got some more horse power.

I returned with the ATV, ready for business. Just next to where the horses cross the shallow part of the creek, we have 4 railroad beams that make a bridge, reaching from bank to bank and spanning the water. I didn’t want to get stuck in the mud and stuck with a donkey so I drove over the creek across those. I tied the love-sick burro to the back of the ATV and tried to cross again. He wasn’t having it. He just about sat down all the way, I was afraid I was going to break the halter. Looking back I think it was the gaps in the beams that really scared him. Of course the reverse button on the ATV doesn’t work, so I had to tie him back to the tree, cross the beams and turn around. I gathered some speed, held my breath, and crossed the creek no problem.

I tied the donkey back to the ATV (I couldn’t make any of this up if I tried) and pointed us back at the creek. As stubborn as he is, I think he knew what was about to happen. I wanted to tell him it was pointless to resist. He did anyway. I got up to about 5mph going through, when I hit the water I looked back and he had all 4 legs braced, head up and tail down, I punched it and he slid through the mud like he was on skies, his eyes wide and rolling. It would have been funny if I wasn’t so tired. The ATV slowed down a bit on the other side of the bank, I was afraid he was going to bog us down, but with all the mud he couldn’t do much but hopelessly back pedal. Once we made it across he jogged happily along behind me, like he didn’t have a care in the world.

We got to the barn lot and I went over to lead him to his proper pasture where the colt was already waiting, ears pricked. Because of all the pulling, I couldn’t get the rope untied from the back of the ATV. With a sigh, and a bray from the donkey, I went to the barn and got another halter. I made the switch and led him back to his bachelor buddy, after turning him loose he didn’t move an inch. He was either tired, or love sick, or both. The colt nibbled his ears and rubbed his neck, all panic gone from his mind.

I got back on the ATV and went up to the house, the lead-rope still tied to the back. Sadie met me at the door and asked me what happened: My legs and backside were covered with mud and I was still out of breath. We sat at the table over our coffee and I tried to think of a way to describe the past hour, even though I still had no idea what time it actually was.