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.

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farming, Uncategorized

Plan? What plan?

I had a friend ask me what my “5 year plan” was. But sometimes, I don’t even know what the 5-day plan is. But I think in 5 years, my life will look a lot like it does today. And that doesn’t scare me one bit. There’s no such thing as boredom on the farm – I don’t feel trapped here, or tied down in any way. I mean sure, if I won an Alaskan cruise I would have to parcel out all these chores to different families, so they wouldn’t get overwhelmed or run away screaming..but I haven’t entered any contests lately, so I don’t think that will be a problem.

In 5 years, I hope we have a new chicken coop, and water piped up there so I can have ducks again. I’ve already drawn plans to build movable stalls in the horse barn, and we have the lumber to do it. I’d like to fertilize and sow seed in the pasture, then maybe get a few cows.. I plan on getting new siding for the house, gutters too. We need to replace the windows. We need to fix the bush-hog, and get a utility trailer for the 4-wheeler. Right now I have 2 brush piles waiting to be burned, but I’m sure there will be new ones to light then too.

We did burn some brush today, the enormous pile of limbs and leftover barn from the great Post-Christmas Work Day. A few friends came out to help me stack wood in the shed, and we tended the fire all day. It’s still burning now, low and slow, but I can see bright little flames from the window. My hair and my clothes smell of smoke, and there is black soot under my fingernails. I kept taking off my gloves and laying them down, and eventually gave up on wearing them at all. But it was a great day. I hope in 5 years from now, they will still come out and help me with those random projects that would take me ages to complete on my own. Things like cleaning fence rows, or clearing the creek bed, or finally going through all those boxes in the basement..

That’s part of farming though. I have been here almost 2 years and it’s a community project. There is always, always something that needs doing. Different seasons bring different responsibilities. And that’s part of what I love about it – every day is guaranteed to be different. You’re never really done. You just do what you can for the day with your own two hands, once every one is fed and watered and put up, you can fall into bed and dream about doing it the next day.

I have not ever loved anything as much as I love farming. And I don’t think it’s really something I can explain. It feels like this is what I was born to do. It’s inside of me, somehow, like this dirt and clay I call home runs through my own veins. Today flew by – we worked hard, got a few cuts and splinters, but there was laughter and water breaks too. Then that big sigh when you look at a shed full of wood for next winter, and you know that one more thing is done until then. Sadie made pea salad and spaghetti bake, and we all ate until we were stuffed.

In 5 years, I hope there are more meals and laughter. More gardening, canning, mowing, and feeding. More chickens and eggs, and more hay put up in the barn. More sunrises over the mountains, and watching the sunset from the porch. I want there to be more writing too – I don’t write as often as I should. There are always stories to tell, it’s just finding the time to stop living them, and start telling them. I am looking forward to these next 5 years of life, of farming, and everything in between.

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farming

What a Drag

When I was a teenager, my two older sisters kept their horses at a barn about an hour from our home. It was outside the ‘bustling metropolis’ of Palatka Florida, and sat on almost 400 acres of beautifully tended fields, clean fence rows, and wooden trails you could get lost in. In exchange for board, we would help with chores around the barn – cleaning stalls, exercising horses, and dragging the pasture.

Dragging the pasture was just a fancy way for the owner to say “go knock down every pile of horse poop in that field so the grass grows even.” We would hook a metal livestock gate to the back of the Gator and make laps around the endless fields. My sisters, being fair dictators, set up a schedule so we were able to take turns. Becca would even let me borrow her iPod (which was a big incentive) on my round.

The shift would start with getting a full tank of gas from the gallon jugs in the shop,  a charged iPod (when it was available) and some kind of protective wear like a hat or sunglasses. If you were smart, you would start with an empty bladder. When it was my shift, Amber would open the gate wide and wave me in, making sure no horses got out, and taking care that it was latched before walking back to the barn. I usually did a perimeter lap, then started and one end and worked my way to the gate and civilization.

There was some kind of meditative element to all that driving. I would let my mind wander, turning at each end of the fence, humming along to whatever song was playing. Some small part of me found satisfaction in turning that pasture back into a smooth, green field. It got lonesome, but there was peacefulness there too.

We’d usually break at lunch and head down the road. The shell gas station had amazing, seasoned potato wedges and chicken fingers. Something about all that driving really worked up an appetite. Then it was back to the barn, back to the pasture, and making the final turns to finish the field.

Time went by, as it does so well. When my sister’s prepared to go to college, the horses were re-homed. I volunteered at the Jacksonville Zoo during high school, then got into surfing, then went to college myself. Looking back, it’s funny to see how things get shelved just before college. I was another wide-eyed freshman then, if you has asked me then where I would be in 5 years, I would not have said living on a farm. I had no idea that it would come back full circle.

But here we are! And I wouldn’t trade it, as Sadie says, “for all the tea in China.” Last week I found myself rooting around in the barn for the perfect gate to drag the pasture with. I finally decided on a chain-link fence panel that we had discarded, mainly because at some point, someone had cut a large round hole in the middle. It wasn’t much good after that. I found a sturdy rope, hooked up to the back of our four wheeler, and off I went.

I couldn’t help but think of how, about 10 years ago, chances were I was doing the exact same thing on another farm, pulling another gate. Without overstating my point, it was surreal. We haven’t had rain in months, so following my bouncing, chain-link panel was a great big cloud of dust. The horses didn’t care for my idea on bit. I circled the field around the barn, where they spend the hottest part of the day, until Sadie got home. She laughed, and I kept right on.

Fortunately, the 4-wheeler has headlights, so I worked a little past dark. At least until I was satisfied I had made some kind of effect on the appearance of the pasture. I put the rope away and leaned the panel against the barn. It had found another use and would stay, for now. It was full of dried grass and pieces of pulled weed. Then I made my way up the hill back to the house, dusty and smiling, to whatever delicious meal Sadie had on the stove. Maybe one day I will ask her to make some potato wedges.

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farming, Uncategorized

Friday Nights

After work on Friday, I helped Uncle clean stalls. He has three Tennessee Walker’s that he fusses over morning and evening, they love it. He has a Tennessee Walker silhouette on his mailbox, and stickers on the back of his big, gold Dodge Ram. Each of his horses has a big, roomy stall that he built, with high windows that have fans in front to keep the flies away. Threat, the stud, and Reba, their mare, are both chestnuts. PW, his favorite, is jet black and as big as a locomotive. He raised her from a colt, and she will pin her ears back at everyone but him.

Walking to the barn, I see three heads sticking over the stall doors, all eyes on us. Threat bellowed and Reba nickered a hello. Uncle gave them several flakes of hay to keep them busy, I grabbed a pitch fork and we started cleaning. We scooped the dirty shavings into the wheelbarrow, and spread fresh, clean ones in the middle of the stalls. The horses stay busy munching their hay, paying us no mind.

After checking their water and feeding them grain, we settled in the gravel hallway of the barn. I sat on the top of a step-stool and he unfolded a camping chair, pulling a pack of cigarettes from his faded shirt pocket. He smokes like a chimney, but I really don’t mind.

Uncle has a grey goatee that he tugs when he is thinking about something. His arms are tanned and scarred like leather, and his hands are calloused from years of cutting and nailing wood for houses, barns and countless pieces of furniture. He has helped Sadie and I so much in this past year, I don’t know what we would do without him. We aren’t blood related, not one drop, but he is family. And I enjoy wasting away the evenings there, listening to stories from the comfort of the barn.

I love that barn, it’s beautiful. It’s simple, but most good ones are. We listened to the horses munching and stared out at the fields leading to the river, before bucking up into a mountain ridge. Our house faces the east, so I get the best sunrises. But Uncle’s faces the west over the river, and they get to most beautiful sunsets. I know he loves it as fiercely as I love our farm, there is no place we would rather be.

It’s quiet for a while, Uncle talks, but not when it’s unnecessary. He’s a slow talker. I learned that you can’t ever be in a hurry if you’re waiting for him to say something. He’s got that classic easy southern drawl. It’s why he is so good with horses, and probably why they respect him so much. He learned carpentry work from his dad, who was part Cherokee Indian, and was raised near Gatlinburg with his 12 siblings. He trained Walking Horses for a long time, he and his wife Dawn did well in the show circuit. But now, he has his three favorites safe and happy. He’s too in love with the mountains to go travelling again.

At some point in the evening, we both rise and close the big, sliding wooden doors. After a long week, it’s a great way to end the day. And it’s about the only way I ever want to spend a Friday night. There is a peace about relaxing in the barn once all the work is done, the animals are fed and ready for the night. It feels good knowing they each have full bellies, clean water, and fresh shavings to bed down in. I was ready for bed too, and said my goodbyes. They told me to be careful, and I made the short drive back to our farm.

It’s less than a mile, the road leaving Uncles climbs up from the valley, before turning onto the main road, you can look out and see the fields spread away like a patchwork quilt, cut in two by the wide bend of the French Broad River. From there, the road curves and winds down, tunneled by trees. It doesn’t open up again until you get to our farm, our old tobacco barn sits on the hill, and I see our horses grazing in the evening light. They don’t have big stalls to sleep in each night, but I kind of like to think maybe they prefer sleeping under the stars.

 

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farming, Uncategorized

Quad Boss


When you look out across the road, to our pasture cut by the creek, you see a beautiful field of bright green and yellow WEEDS. As far as your eyes can see, weeds everywhere. I mowed them down and they came back. The horses won’t eat them. The donkey doesn’t eat them. They are taking over and the neighbors think they are beautiful.
They say the grass is greener on the other side, we have no grass. We have weeds.
There was grass, once upon a time. So I hear. Over grazing and under fertilizing took there of that pretty quick. The best time to sow grass seed is September, so I have a summer of weeds ahead of me. The pastures need to be disced, fertilized, sowed and watered. And rested.
Having 5 horses, a yearling colt and a possibly pregnant donkey is much better than 16 hungry mouths, but horses are grazing machines. They are eating, surviving machines. But not for weeds!
I mowed the high pasture yesterday, it really wasn’t that bad, I think I started early enough in the year. The pasture across the road is another story. It’s a jungle out there.
Sadie and I went to the dump today – finally. The old grill, a leaky toilet, three broken chairs, an old TV, a rusted feed trough, a roll of chain-link and a cabinet from at least the 70’s. Mom had at least 9 bags of trash ready for us, that went too.
We watched the toilet smash in the bottom of the dumpster, threw the chairs in after, and the glass on the cabinet broke into a million pieces like diamonds. The grill went last, it hung on for dear life but we conquered it.
We stopped to get gas, I began filling a 5 gallon jug for the 4-wheeler, and sprayed the stuff everywhere. Apparently Sadie had a hold of the hose, I missed the opening by a mile and wore the fumes all the way home.
As soon as I got the groceries in, we went off again to pay a visit to Rex Montgomery, who owns some of the most beautiful rolling green hills in the neighborhood. I backed the trailer up and we loaded 17 square bales of hay. It smelled like fresh grass, Spring air, dry hay and sunshine. I would have drank it from a cup if I could have.
Sadie and I got the hay unloaded in the barn and I hooked up the Quad Boss, our 4×4 bush-hog. I finished the front pasture in record time, Mom rode with me some of the way, then I went off to the next. We have 11 acres across the road, after the front pasture and the barn lot, the rest of the pasture is a large rectangle intersected by the creek.
I started on the section closest to the road, stirring up the horses to another grazing spot, before running over a big lump of hay string. It was almost 8:30 so I decided to call it quits.
After disengaging the blades, I drove over a step in the sidewalk to get a closer look.
Definitely hay string – and I was surprised at how badly the blades need sharpening. I think in the 10 months we’ve had it, we’ve sharpened them once. That thing gets a lot of wear, I probably should have done it before the weeds arrived.
Before I got the string off, Sadie shouted ‘fox!’
I jumped up and ran up to the chicken coop. Yesterday, in broad daylight, she saw a fox carry off one of my red hens. In broad daylight!
The ducks were standing at attention, the rooster was on guard and the hens were clucking to one another. I made a lap around the barn but didn’t see anything. I didn’t think I would – foxes are notoriously crafty. I set the live trap yesterday and caught Mama Cat. A fox wouldn’t be silly enough to end up in a live trap. All I can think to do is keep the flock up for a few days.
I got the string all cut off and threw it away. The mower, my boots and most of the 4-wheeler were covered in yellow dusty pollen I came inside to homemade tortilla soup, Sadie, my mom and happy Zoe.
You never know what can happen in a day on the farm, but I guarantee it will leave you with one big appetite.

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