farming, Uncategorized

April Already

So much happens on our little farm within a day, it is hard to pause and pick up from wherever I left off. I knew it had been a few months since I sat down to write something about the going-ons in the coop and in the pastures. It’s late by my clock, but if I don’t get something down, I’m afraid I never will. Zoe my sweet dog is laying on the floor, she is banned from the bed tonight because she decided to roll in a fresh pile of horse manure. I do have a white kitty sleeping beside me, who I believe is making the dog jealous.

Still can’t quite believe I haven’t written since October. The entire winter and beginnings of Spring have flown by. We got a pig and lost her. Retired the old mower and got a much-needed upgrade. I’ve cleaned fence rows, hauled firewood and more water than I care to recall, and watched the Robin’s come and descend on the fields. We had frost and snow and sleeting rain, and finally some sunshine. The daffodils have bloomed and gone, but the fruit trees are just beginning to flower. And the grass is finally, finally green.

The biggest change around here, by far, is the work done on the house. The loan was approved in late January, and we had the windows replaced on February 15th, which is the best post-Valentine’s Day present I have ever gotten. Well, maybe that and chocolate strawberries from my Dad. They are currently at a tie. Soon after windows came new siding, a beautiful sage green, with new patio doors, soffits, and fascia board, which I didn’t know existed until a few months ago. My mother came the week of the busiest repairs, and cooked all kinds of treats for the crew. To top it all off, we got dark brown gutters to match the roof. Speaking of roof, we had leaks over the front porch and rain in the dining room that disrupted my March birthday plans.

I did end up exploring the attic though, and discovered a poor dead bird that was promptly removed. My wonderful barn-roof repair man saved the day, he and his neck brace arrived with his brother to lay new sheets of metal, and we decided to close in the front-porch ceiling with barn wood. Of all the work we have done so far, that may be my favorite. Each board is a different color, width, and texture. It brought the porch back to life. And I will finish putting water sealant up as soon as the temperatures stop dipping back to the low 30’s. We may even have snow next week, if you can believe that.

There is still more to do, though, which is just part of renovating an 80+ year old farm house. It has been incredible to see it reborn, and to see all the decisions and planning come together. Currently waiting on a new door to the basement, and the stone mason to begin work in early May. We did pull down some beautiful, hand-laid stone walls, which I hated to do. There were two partial walls in the front, and one wall by the back patio door. Since we have not had gutters on the house for several years, there was a lot of water damage and you could see where the stone was leaning away from the wall.

I am always hesitant to replace original things like that, because they are such amazing pieces of this farm’s history. But the fact that I was able to pull them down with a crowbar says a lot about how unsecured they were. Fortunately, all the mortar chipped right off, and I have been able to use a lot of the stone around the house for new flowerbeds. Several people have recommended building a fire pit from the rest of the stone, but I would rather not have something else to weed-eat around.

Once the new stonework is done, I plan to get a truckload of mulch and give our very neglected flowerbeds some TLC. By that time, we will be ready to plant the garden, and I have a feeling that the summer will fly by too. While the winter was long and cold and dark, it is the time to rest and plan and dream up new ideas and projects for warmer days. For now it is spring, and I am thankful. I’m ready for more green, more mowing, and more planting. We have 3 chicks that hatched over Easter weekend, and I will be writing about my 6 baby ducklings next time. The days are getting longer, and the fireflies will be here before I know it. It’s a miracle to watch the farm be reborn each year, and each year it seems to be more beautiful than the last.

farming, Uncategorized

All the Way Home

I don’t know if Sadie and I are cut out to be pig farmers.

The first time we (really, Sadie) got pigs, was right after my Nana passed away and she decided she needed something else to take care of. 5 somethings, to be exact, little Duroc/Berkshire cross bottle-piglets. We drove to White Pine Tennessee so I could pick up 9 pullets, and the farmer selling the hens just so happened to have a truck full of sows and piglets on their way to auction.

She grabbed one of those little piggies up and placed it in Sadie’s arms. The thing was no bigger than a loaf of bread, and screamed bloody murder clear across the Smoky Mountains. She showed Sadie how to rub the little piggies chin, and soon enough, it settled down and grunted itself to sleep. Sadie’s eyes sparkled brighter than stars; I knew we were in trouble. She promised that if Sadie and I took all 5 piglets, she would make us an excellent deal.

“Let’s just get two,” I said. “But she has FIVE!” insisted Sadie. We followed the truck of pigs up to the gas station, where I withdrew enough money from the ATM for the ‘excellent deal’ (plus a small wire cage to cart them home in, since I had only brought one for the pullets). We stopped at cracker barrel on the way home, and left the windows cracked in what was quickly becoming a very smelly van.

I think I was in shock. I couldn’t believe that not only did we know absolutely nothing about raising pigs, but that we just committed to caring for 5 little mouths who were not even weaned off milk yet. The waiter asked what we would like to drink and all I said was “We bought five piglets.” Sadie laughed and laughed. The waiter looked unsure how to respond to the two, slightly smelly lunatics sitting before him. “Can we have some food scraps from the kitchen?” I asked. He sort of chuckled and walked off to get our drinks. I think he thought I was kidding, but I meant it.

Looking back now, I should have trusted Sadie – she knew what she was doing. We stuck the little piglets in the hens laying room, and bought calf-milk replacement the next morning. I had an out of body experience purchasing baby bottles at Dollar General, when the cashier told me he had a baby due in August. “These aren’t for people,” I replied. “They are for piglets.” He gave me the same look the waiter did.

The bottles were a terrible idea, but I did get very good at catching the piglets by their back leg, which they hated. Sadie soon became the good cop, and I was the bad cop. But they had to eat. Soon, they got hungry enough that they would drink the milk out of a rubber pan, which we eventually added pellet feed too, then weaned them off the milk-replacement all together. We had 4 brown piglets and one black and white spotted one. They grew, as pigs do, and managed to escape their make-shift pen dozens of times.

Once, when chasing them laps around the chicken coop with a stick and an old apple basket, my Uncle said we should name the black and white one ‘Biscuit’ because the best place for him was between two biscuits. One morning, we rounded up the three boys and took them to the vet for the you-know-what. Those little piggies screamed bloody murder, and everyone on the whole block heard. The vet held each piglet upside down between his knees, Sadie held its back legs down, and I held its mouth closed with one hand, and passed instruments to the vet with the other. We were all very quiet on the ride back to the farm.

Their pen grew as they did, and we rolled out step-in posts with electric wire so they could run through the pasture. They loved snacks, attention, pats and scratches. Sadie was the pig-charmer: she would drive the ATV around the perimeter of their pen, calling “HERE PIG PIG PIG!” and they would sprint after her, grunting the whole time. They rooted out a piggy spa, and one of the males quickly earned the name Bubbles. Biscuit, Dottie, Petunia and Kevin Bacon eventually earned their names as well. Pound for pound, pigs are the most lucrative livestock. They grew to 200 pounds in just 8 months.

When it was time to take them to market, they calmly walked right to the trailer, and we hauled them to Greeneville. It was strange driving back with an empty trailer, and strange to see the pig-lot empty and silent. But that is a pigs purpose, and part of the life of a farmer. We sold 4 of the piggies, and put Biscuit in our freezer.

Spring came, and Summer kept us busy with the garden, and still the pig-lot stayed empty. I searched online, occasionally, hoping to find more bottle piglets. As fall drew to a close, Sadie and I agreed to wait until the following Spring, as pigs are harder to raise in the winter months. One Saturday morning in early November, I got home and found Sadie standing before a wire cage holding a small, 40 pound pink piglet with white, wiry hair. I thought, ‘here we go again!’

fall, farming

Flying South

This morning, I heard the geese before I saw them. They flew in from the northwest, calling to one another, flying that classic V formation. Then they wheeled around back to the north and disappeared from view. At night, I hear the owls hoot and the coyotes yip and howl. The sound of crickets, frogs and cicadas, which is usually deafening, has grown quiet. And there are only a handful of fireflies above the fields in the evenings.

The leaves are rusting on the trees, dropping off the ends of limbs and floating to the ground. The grass only really needs to be mowed every 12 days, instead of every 5. Even the weeds are slowing down. I cut down the last of the okra on Saturday, so the garden is officially done this year. It feels strange. I miss strolling up and down between the rows of beans and corn, seeing the bright green and growing things, as if it was a different garden each day.

I’m already planning next years garden – of course. We need to move several trees that provided too much shade for the far end. I need to space out my tomatoes more. And I will definitely, definitely plant sweet potatoes on the upper end. That way, the vines can run all through the pasture, instead of through the beans and corn and okra and tomatoes, keeping me from tilling in between.

We had some good yields, but more mistakes than victories. I don’t mean that in a glass-half-empty kind of way, it’s just the truth. There is always more to improve with a garden. There is always something else to learn and tweak and change. We planted too many potatoes and tomatoes, but the zucchini barely came up at all. And all the beets we canned ended up spoiling, so those two rows were completely wasted. But we did plant bush beans this year, instead of white half-runners, and I can’t tell you how much time we saved avoiding all those bean strings when it came time to break. Overall, it was a great summer – we had lots more rain than we did last year, which kept it from getting to dry, and will continue to help our pasture recover from being overgrazed.

I love summers on the farm. I love staying outside past 9pm because it’s still daylight, and it just seems a shame to miss something by being inside. I am not a fall/winter farmer. I don’t like pumpkin flavored things. We don’t even have any pumpkins because I neglected to plant any. The leaves will turn beautiful shades of yellow and gold, but then they turn brown and disappear. I won’t hear the wind rush through them, or see the sun filter down to the ground in dapples of gold. And I dread the days getting shorter and shorter, until it seems there is barely enough time to be outside at all.

Fall comes whether I want it to or not. It is time for the land to rest. Soon, I will be stacking firewood and digging out all the sweaters I put away this spring. It will be time to clean fence rows and replace bent t-posts, instead of mowing and pulling weeds.

I will hold my coffee cup a little tighter in both hands, watching it and my breath evaporate in the cool air on my way to the coop. The horses get frisky and woolly, the chickens molt and enjoy a much-needed break from the heat. There will be more time to linger at the dinner table, or sit on the back porch, to visit with neighbors and talk garden plans for next year. Fall is a good thing – each season is not more important than the other. But doesn’t mean I can’t have favorites.


farming, Uncategorized

“Just a little land”

I never pictured that I would end up living on a dead-end street. It’s only about 3/4ths of a mile long, and ends with a locked gate at the mountain’s shoulder. I’m not sure who owns that part of the mountain, but I do know they mainly use it for hunting. That, and the locked gate, does a good job of keeping people out. There are 6 other families on the road, there’s the big hay field with the red barn, and a pond full of lazy fish. It’s nice, it’s very quiet, and I like that. The people live out here because it’s way out here. I imagine, for the most part, that they like it too.

We have 7.74 acres around the house – where the garden is, the wood shed, the shop, and the chicken coop. The farthest fence line stops at the trees, but we own some of those too.  One day, I’d like to turn pigs loose on it, but that is still a few months away. Across our little dead-end road is the 11 acres with the old tobacco barn that now stores hay. The creek cuts across at a diagonal, bordered by trees. All in all, it’s a very nice piece of land.

My Uncle originally just had the 7+ acres, but when his mother Mary passed, he purchased the 11 so, in Sadie’s words, that “no one else could build on it.” I never got to meet Mary, but if I see her again, I want to hug her neck. I love looking out the front door and seeing horses in the front field. Watching the sunrise come up over the mountain, how it burns the fog away and turns the dew into little diamonds.

One of the only problems with our little dead-end road is trying to leave it. Turning right isn’t bad, but if you need to turn left and go to town, you really have to take your life into your own hands. On the corner of our property where the main road meets our barely-two-lane one is a big, rocky bluff. It’s a blind curve. Really the only way to almost not be killed is to turn the radio and the air off, roll your window down, and stick your ear out to try and listen for the oncoming traffic.

I’ve heard that they used to have a curved mirror at the corner, but after being shot out twice, it hasn’t been replaced since. Sadie told me they did have a small speed bump there, but people used to swerve around it. I mean which is worse, slowing down, or setting yourself up for a head-on collision?

Last winter, one of our neighbors was hit trying to head to town. Instead of talking to us about it, he filed a complaint with the county. Which then started a long series of events that I don’t feel like reliving. Long story short, surveyors arrived and spent several days measuring every angle of our little road.

Months passed, and we didn’t hear much of anything. To be honest, I completely forgot about it. That is, until they replaced the little bridge going over gap creek, and everyone on this side of it had to take a 20 minute detour all the way around. The inconvenient project inspired a co-worker to look at the Knox County road-works website, which slated the ‘Trundle Road Relocation’ to begin construction in August. I didn’t handle it well.

I had never worked with the county before – I didn’t know if I was going to wake up one day to bulldozers in the front pasture. I didn’t know if they were going to take the land from us, or buy it, or ask us to give it up. After several phone calls, and a few unnecessarily long voice-mails (from my end), I got a call back from the project manager. I will say, he is a very nice guy. I am sure he is used to getting long, panicky voice-mails from concerned land owners. He apologized for the confusion, told me the project had been pushed back to spring time, and that a negotiator would come out and discuss everything with me before any bulldozers arrived.

After that, I forgot about it again. We have been busy in the garden, Sadie has been working overtime, and it just got crazy. Last Friday, I took a long lunch break and met an old family friend at the barn so he could deliver some sawdust. Two truck-loads and a borrowed Bobcat later, we had the stalls cleaned, sawdust spread and piled, and a load of rich, fresh horse manure spread over the garden spot. I was sweaty, sawdust-y and beaming. What would have taken me all weekend, we finished up in less than an hour.

As I walked out to head back to work, I saw a small, shiny red car pull into the barn-lot. It’s pretty common around here to see people turn around in our lot or driveway, as soon as they realize that our little dead-end road isn’t going to take them where they want to go. But this guy didn’t turn around, he got out of the car, holding a phone to his ear. I wanted to holler ‘Are you lost??’ because he was dressed to the 9, and didn’t look like he knew where he was.

“Okay, here she comes. Yes, that’s fine. I will see you soon.” He hung up the phone and shut his car door. I walked over and he said “Are you Caroline? That was your Aunt, she his on her way over. I am with Knox County.” He pulled a folder from the back seat of his very fancy car and said “I’m the negotiator.”

Apparently, negotiator’s don’t call before hand to see if it’s a good time to negotiate. Or maybe this guy wasn’t expecting to find me home, covered in sawdust. Who knows. All I knew was that he was a suit, and I didn’t like him. I don’t mean to say I don’t like people who wear suits. My dad wears suits, and he is the greatest man I know. I mean this guy was a suit. He was looking around with little dollar signs coming out of his eyes.

He didn’t see the beautiful pile of sawdust, the rich fertilizer on the garden, the sleek horses in the field, none of that. This suit had very white, straight teeth, and grey hair slicked back. He wore a light blue button down shirt, dark blue pants, and leather shoes that matched his belt. On his hand that held the folder was some kind of class ring with a ruby stone in it. His whole outfit probably cost more than my monthly feed bill.

He didn’t shake my hand, he didn’t ask me how I was. He just whipped that folder open and showed me the completed plans of relocating Trundle Road away from the rocky bank and cutting across my front pasture land. I asked him a few questions about what he expected us to do with the livestock that grazes on that pasture, he said “well let’s walk down and look.” He seemed to prefer to stay on the pavement, so I walked in the grass. Me with my old boots, my comfy pair of jeans that have maybe one more good work day left in them, and a tank top that has a tear in the bottom seam.

We walked to the corner and he pointed out how dangerous that blind curve was, and told me how important it was to Knox County to find a solution. I let him talk. He showed me where they would need to use a little over a quarter of an acre to complete this project, and assured me that they would put the fence up when they were done with construction. The suit told me that “it would be an even swap” – the county would take some of our pasture, but give us the land where the old road was, extending our front yard by 8006 square feet.

“So do we get paid for the land that you will use?” I asked the suit. His smile faltered a little, and he said “well no, this would be an even swap.” “But that’s not even,” I replied. “You’re taking my pasture and giving me more front yard.” He flashed that colgate smile again and told me that Knox County “really wanted to resolve this safety issue.” I told him I understood that, but we had livestock that depended on the front pasture, and I really didn’t want to give it up. Surely there must be another solution? A stop sign, perhaps?

Then he looked at me and said something I will never forget. He said “It’s just a little bit of land.” I looked back and said “Sir, this is my life.”

The suit said something else after that, but I wasn’t listening. I’m sure he is very good at his job, I am positive that Knox County works hard on improvement projects all over the area, and I support that 100%. But the suit didn’t get it, he doesn’t understand that pasture land, with access to water and shelter, is money in the bank for me and Sadie.

About that time, Sadie pulled up. The suit told her he was “the negotiator” and I think it took her 2.5 seconds to realize that he was a suit, and not a farmer. She asked him a few questions, some that I had thought of and some I had not. The suit waved his hand around, showed us the plans again, and told us he didn’t have very many answers because he was just “the negotiator.” A few minutes after that, we all realized that we weren’t getting anywhere, so suit turned to walk back to his car.

Sadie had to get back to work, and so did I. He gave me copies of the plans with his card attached, just in case I had any questions. The suit told me he would be in touch and would call me next week. I wanted to say “don’t bother” but I felt that was a little too dramatic. As he pulled away, one of our neighbors, Mr. Clark, was driving down. He stopped and pointed a thumb at the red car and said “who was that?

Mr. Clark is a great guy, he’s a great farmer. He has alpacas and sells their wool at the farmers market. If someone broke into my house one night, or I ran into a tree or something, I could call Mr. Clark and he would show up. I told Mr. Clark that fancy pants was a suit who wanted to negotiate taking our pasture for nothing. Mr. Clark didn’t like that idea very much at all, which made me feel like maybe I wasn’t overreacting, that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

Anyway, all that to say, is that there are farmers, and there are not. We need both in this world – I’m not trying to say that Mr. Suit is a bad person or he’s evil or he’s out to take all our land and leave us with nothing. I’m just saying that he is a suit, and may not ever be able to understand how land is really all we have. It’s what makes us. He may love class rings and new folders and land development print outs as much as I love spread fertilizer and a well-tilled garden spot. I’m sure Mr. Suit has a very nice office and has worked very hard to be successful. I don’t have an office, but I work hard too, and it’s a shame that he couldn’t quite see that.

He hasn’t called me yet this week, but Sadie and I agreed that we are going to politely tell him “no thank you.”

farming, Uncategorized

Summer Solstice

I got to spend the longest day of the year in the garden – we finally got the tiller up and running (I learned all about what ethanol gas does to a carburetor), and I got
all the rows churned up before several days of rain. Sadie came out and helped me; we thinned the okra, hoed weeds, and picked a full row of beets. My hands are still stained that deep purple color, and I don’t mind a bit.

She canned a small batch and they turned out amazing. She also made a beet green salad, with plenty of scraps left over for the chickens. This is the first year we have grown beets and sweet potatoes, so far so good. We also canned our first run of strawberry jam, which is a labor of love. Each year, I sort of forget how much work canning is – especially jam. It is hot, sticky, syrupy sweet work with a reward that more than makes up for the hours standing and sweating over the red stove eyes.

But as Sadie always tells me, it’s a way of life. And I remember that each year we have to can. While we hoard mason jars all year long, I convince myself it will be worth it. But in the middle of winter, when the wind is blowing and the snow is falling, it’s nice to pop the thin lid on that mason jar and spread that sweet strawberry jam all over toast or a biscuit. It’s like a little piece of summer in a jar, and you get to enjoy it right then and there.

Right now, the garden is in that awkward, teenager stage. Plants are growing and the weeds are too, but other than the beets, nothing else has any yields. I spent one afternoon tilling up the two rows where the beets were and planting Hickory King corn. With all this rain, I am fairly confident that there will be bright green shoots poking through that freshly turned soil in no time.

Other than that, I am not planting anything else. We don’t have anymore tiny sprouts, but we don’t have any veggies yet either. Which is fine with me because there is plenty else to do. In the summertime, the honey-do list is 5 miles long, and grows everyday. I tell myself I sort of just have to surrender to the fact that I won’t get it all done, ever. Summer on the farm is an amazing mix of sweating in the garden, enjoying fresh veggies, endless afternoons of mowing, and those long summer nights where the sun seems to hang right above the mountain ridge.

I love how the golden hour stretches out as long as the shadows behind the trees, wrapping all that green growth in a beautiful, evening light. When it finally slips beyond the horizon, the lightning bugs begin their slow dance across the fields. The birds finally go to bed, while at the creek the crickets and frogs begin their symphony. On some nights, when everything is finally fed and watered and put away, we sneak out on the front porch and watch the sky go from golden yellow to velvety blue. The stars appear, one by one, as tiny pricks of silver that hang unfathomable heights above my little world.

For all the we pour into our garden, it certainly is a peaceful place. In the early mornings, before the sun begins beating down, the dogs and cats will saunter out there with us and lay in the shade between the dewy rows. Sadie and I will pull stray weeds, check the squash and zucchini blossoms, and talk about how each year we plant more than we probably should. But I wouldn’t change a thing. I am already so excited to taste the first of the cucumbers and tomatoes. With the way things look now, that day should be right around the corner.

chickens, farming, Uncategorized

Missy, Peep, and Flower

A few weeks ago, I drove around the Lowe’s parking lot on a warm, sunny Saturday, looking for someone I have never met. They advertised a few pullets for sale online, and we agreed to meet up so I could look them over. Eventually, we found each other, and I parked our old 86′ S-10 flat bed next to their nice, shiny, white Ford Super Duty.

And in a small cage in the back of that Super Duty were three 4 month old pullets and three 2 month old pullets and I immediately fell in love. They were panting a little from being in the sun, but each one had sleek, clean feathers and bright eyes. One by one, I looked them over and put each one in the small cage I had brought. The same cage we brought 5 piglets home in last year – but that’s another story.

We settled on a price, shook hands, and drove back to our respective farms. I had a new sexlink hen, two barred rocks, two buff orpingtons and a white rock pullet, and they were perfect. I had to stop and get gas and ended up moving the cage to the cab of the truck so they would be out of the sun…. and so I could admire them on the way home

I drove straight up to the chicken coop and set the cage down in the shade. Since they were so much younger than the other hens, I decided to put them in the smaller coop with the bantam pair. They would have plenty of low roosts to learn how to hope on, and access to a small yard. I had already bought some chick crumbles, and set that up while the pullets settled down and cooled off.

One by one, I brought them out of the cage and into their new home. I don’t know how long I sat up there with them, but it had to be quite a while. I can’t help it, I love watching them sing and scratch and peck. I held the littlest orpington for a while and she didn’t seem to mind a bit. She even fell asleep in my lap, and I was considering just hanging out all evening. Eventually, she woke up, shook off, and hopped down to peck around with her sister. Heading back down to the house, I already had names in mind: the three older pullets would be Daisy, Lulu and Frieda, the three little ones would be Missy, Peep and Flower.

We got quite a bit of rain over the weekend, and on Saturday I got caught in one of the worst hail storms I have ever seen. I pulled up under a Texaco station with several other cars and ate carrot sticks while we waited for it to pass. When I finally made it home, it was close to 10pm. I changed clothes and put on a headlamp and a rain coat and headed up to the coop to latch the barn doors.

When I got to the little coop, I counted, re-counted, and realized that little Flower was missing. I ducked inside the coop and looked around, but she wasn’t inside. She wasn’t in the yard either, all I could think was that the fox had somehow gotten her. I looked in the surrounding trees, but in the dark and in the rain, it was difficult to see anything. And I highly doubted she would have known to roost up there.

I made one more pass over the field, searching for feathers, and was about ready to turn back to the house, when something told me to look on the far side of the coop. There is a stack of old shingles and a few overturned buckets, but I rarely go on that side in the daylight. I swept my headlamp over the area and did a double take – there she was! I almost whooped with joy, she was sitting huddled on a bucket and soaked all the way through. I scooped her right up, amazed that I had found her before a hungry predator did.

Walking back to the house, I tucked her into my raincoat and felt her little body shivering. Who knows how long she had been out there – it could have been all afternoon, or a few hours. I tried not to think about it. We came inside and Zoe was all over us, she wanted to know why I brought a chicken in the house. Sadie was fast asleep, so I went straight to the half bathroom. I wrapped Flower in a dish towel and turned on the ancient heater that is set in the wall. It smelled like burnt hair, but I didn’t think she would mind.

I left Flower in a bundle of towels and crept upstairs to hunt for a hair dryer. Sadie and I aren’t really big into doing our hair, so I was very thankful that it worked. I had to fight Zoe to get back in the bathroom, and when I switched the hair dryer on, the heater shorted out and quit. I went to the kitchen, got an extension cord, and ran that from my room back to the bathroom.

Flower was still wrapped up, I sat with my back against the door and held her in my lap. She was very quiet and very still. Zoe was sniffing under the door and whining, but she would have to wait. I towel dried most of the water off of Flower, then turned the hair dryer on low and started warming her up. After a few minutes, she began peeping again, and I relaxed a little. Once I got most of her back dry, she stood up and ruffled her feathers, shaking her head and stretching her wings.

I was sitting cross-legged with towels and Flower in my lap, but eventually, she hopped up to my right knee so she was at eye-level with the wall heater. As she continued to warm up, she began looking around and chirping. I couldn’t help but wonder what a bathroom must look like from her point of view, or if she understood why it was suddenly so bright after hours of darkness and rain.

She let me stroke her chest, and even lift her wings to be sure she was completely dry. I didn’t want to overheat her, but I also didn’t want her to be damp and catch a chill. She wasn’t bothered by my fussing one bit. At some point around 11:30, I was satisfied that she was warm and dry. I set her back on the ground and went to the kitchen for a bowl of warm water. Instead of walking back up to the coop for some feed and scratch, I took a handful of birdseed and went back to the bathroom.

Flower was walking around, exploring and pecking fuzz off the rug. I sat back down and lifted her on my knee again, holding out the bird seed. She knew what to do – she went to town on that bird seed. She was laser focused on the bird seed and gobbled that handful right up. I went back to the kitchen, got another bowl, and brought it back to her. I set the bowl on the tile and she sat on the rug right in front of it, pecking away.

After a few minutes, she slowed down and stopped eating. I swapped the bird seed out for the water, but she didn’t seem too interested. I didn’t want to take her back to the coop without getting some fluids in her, so I cupped some in my hand and she started drinking from the drops falling from my palm. We did that several times, spilling enough water that it made its way between the tiles to my pants.

Finally, around 11:30, I was satisfied that she was warm and dry enough, and full enough, that she could spend the night in the coop with her sisters. I put on my rain coat again and tucked her inside and we went back up the hill. I woke everyone up again, but wanted to be sure she would settle in next to them so she could stay warm. I set her on the perch with her sisters, and she sidled over next to Peep and settled down. I made sure everything was locked up before heading back to the house, to my warm dry bed with my dog, relieved that Flower was back where she belonged.

farming, Uncategorized

A Sight to See

I had some very dear friends of mine come visit the farm the other day- she was in town to visit her father and brought her daughter along. We walked all over our 18 acres, up and down the hills, across the creek and through the chicken coop. We saddled up Sadie’s mare and I led them down the road. We watched the sunset from the field with the red barn, talking the whole time. It was wonderful to see them. And I hope they understand why I left a perfectly good life in Savannah Georgia to live on a farm full of mud, animals, mud, poop, mud and hay.

It made me want to see the farm from their eyes, to try and picture experiencing it for the first time. I grew up visiting the farm, we would come up over Christmas or on Summer Break. It’s always been beautiful to me, it has always felt a bit like coming home.But I can tell you what I thought when I first moved here, when I knew it would really be my home. It was something along the lines of “I have a loootta work to do” – in a good way. Inside the house, we had some major bathroom and kitchen renovations ahead. There was wallpaper in the bathroom, dining room, and the living room.We had way too much furniture in the house (which is not a bad problem to have), and it just wasn’t working.

Outside the house, I wanted to be in 12 places at once. I would start sorting one thing, and halfway through get caught up with another. I would look around and make mental notes like “Okay we need to re-string that barbed wire fence, I need to take that old tiller for scrap, which reminds me of the trailer frame behind the coop that needs to go too. I’ll have to get the trailer lights fixed. I can get a new shovel while I’m at Lowe’s, Sadie can go with me and we can pick out paint for the dining room. That toilet next to the chicken coop needs to go to the dump, so does that old Jacuzzi my Uncle salvaged from cleaning out a house years ago. I should mow. I should weed-whack the front bank. I should clean fence-rows. I should gather fire wood. It’s past lunch, I need to eat something.”

You get the idea. I was like a kid in a candy shop. I wanted to do anything and everything all at once. The first few months I lived here, I had enough money saved and didn’t have to find a job immediately. Those June days were long and full and wonderful. I learned a lot. I learned to wear the right boots for whatever job I needed to accomplish. I learned to drink a lot of water, a lot of Gatorade. It didn’t wake me long to discover that no matter how efficient I was, I had to stop and eat at some point.

There wasn’t really a routine at first, it was just all-out cleaning, sorting, and trips to the county dump. Sadie didn’t have to be at work until 11, so we would make breakfast for Nana, eat together, and feed the animals. Once she left, I went out the back door and stayed busy until 9pm. When she got home, we would eat together and I would tell her and Nana what I got into that day. It usually involved a trip to the dump, scrap yard, or thrift store, cleaning the barn, mowing, burning brush,going to the feed store, getting gasoline for the ATV, stopping by Lowe’s, you name it. After we ate I would stretch out in Nana’s bed, bone tired, and head spinning with what I could do the next day. Nana would pat my leg, smile and nod. She was married to a farmer – she knew.

I don’t want it to seem like Sadie and Jack did not take care of the farm. Don’t read this and think I came to the farm and saved it. It saved me. Sadie an Jack farmed together longer than I have been alive. They put out huge gardens, canned it all, cut hay off the pasture, raised battle calves, had goats, chickens, and a team of Belgian horses. They cut and hauled wood, my Aunt cooked for every church pot-luck, and my Uncle was a master carpenter. They were a force to be reckoned with, and I would not be here without them.

After my Grandfather died, my Nana moved to the farm. Then my Uncle retired and his health began to fail. He had COPD, which is a horrible thing. Sadie worked full time, cooked and cleaned and took care of both of them, and still managed to raise chickens and keep horses. I don’t know how she did it – I certainly couldn’t. Then my Uncle James moved in to help care for the farm, and really started bringing the farm back to life.

We lost both of my Uncle’s within 3 months of each other. That’s when I knew, I knew that I needed to move here and help. And I haven’t regretted one minute of the crazy, sweaty, muddy, blistered and splintered thing. Sadie has taught me so much in these past 20-odd months. She is a rock, and this place would not still be here without her.

My friends visiting didn’t know much of this, they didn’t see the old tractor we sold, the old go-carts I scrapped for metal, the dog-lot fence I ripped down one Friday afternoon with a crow-bar. They didn’t see the hole in the shower wall, the floral wallpaper, or the old blue leather couch that we replaced with a beautiful antique one. The hours my mother spent hanging paintings and curtains, cleaning window sills with toothbrushes, or all the gallons of paint my family went through helping me paint over old paneling, yellow walls and patched drywall.

They didn’t see the old trees or stumps we cut down, hauled, and burned. A pasture full of sleek Quarter Horses that my Uncle left behind, the 14 horses we sold to other families, or his big green truck in the driveway. I hate that they didn’t get to meet my Nana, her beautiful blue eyes or her soft, wrinkled hands holding theirs.

But they got to see the young green grass coming up from the ground.They saw the trees in bloom, and a house that has become our new home. They saw my 40-some chickens, our happy cats and dogs, our 3 shedding horses and our fat donkey. They saw a full and rushing creek, the knockout roses we planted around the house, the shed stocked with wood for winter, and a pantry stocked with canned veggies from our garden.

I hope they saw the beauty that I see. I hope they understand why I moved here, why I could never imagine leaving, and what I mean when I saw this place saved me. There is still more to do, there always is, and that’s part of the reason I love it. I am needed, I am grounded, and I am responsible for this land and these animals. I want to build stalls in the barn, I want to build a new chicken coop, to re-side our house and plant more roses. There are more callouses and splinters to come, and I am looking forward to every single one of them.