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.

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.

farming, Uncategorized

The Great Smoky Mountains

Well if you’ve been anywhere near the news lately, you know that over 17,000 acres of the Smoky Mountains have burned in a wildfire. Our farm is just a stone’s throw from the Sevier County line, but we are about an hour from Chimney Top, where the fire started. Two weeks ago was the first time Sadie and I went over the official fire plan, what we would take, where we would meet if we got separated.

The forecast called for rain that night, but in just a few hours the wind had picked up and spread sparks all over the mountains. We could smell the smoke from our house. I kept standing outside, scanning the sky for the sight of embers. It was terrifying. We planned on opening gates to let the horses out, turning the pigs and chickens loose, and packing the dogs and cats in the car. But what can you take? How can you pack up an entire farmhouse? What if we left and came back to land charred and scorched, without our home, or the familiar outline of the old barn on the horizon?

The fire jumped roads and rivers, it leveled homes, buildings and cars. You can’t stop something like that. Firemen from all over the country worked overtime, they risked their lives to try and contain it. But coming off months of drought, with high winds, all you can do is get to safety.

All I could think was to get the dogs and cats and get on the road. And that all I wanted to take was my Uncle Jack’s knife, our land survey, and the door frame that has our heights marked in sharpie. But what about my favorite boots? The quilt on my bed that’s older than I am? All the pictures? Sadie’s shotgun that Jack gave her for their anniversary, my books, Nana’s paintings, a bottle of beach sand from my brother, all the letters and cards I have saved from over the years…?

Of course these things are nothing compared to our lives, or the lives of the animals we are responsible for. But they are what make my life mine. I love this farm life, and  I still can’t believe that I get to be a part of it. I wake up every morning and look at the mountains fading to the horizon, over fields cut by the creek, and surrounded by fences I’ve repaired with my own to hands.

I’m proud to work this land with my Aunt Sadie, everything we own is on these 18.75 acres. And all of that could be lost in a fire. This land is more than land to me – my Mom grew up here, and now I am thankful to call this farm home. I will never take these things for granted.

But the wildfires have already begun to fade from the national news. The curfew was lifted last week, and people are returning to Gatlinburg to see what is left and what is gone. Sadie and I made the drive up through the mountains on Saturday, we took a dear friend of hers home from the hospital, and neither one of us knew what to expect.

Ric lives on the very end of what’s called the strip, a small two lane road surrounded by shops, restaurants and hotels. There are tourists walking the streets year round, and it’s a popular skiing spot in the winter. Sadie and I have been several times, we usually take my younger cousins, and there are always plenty of people to watch walk by.

The strip was all lit up, but the surrounding mountains were black with soot. The wooden sign welcoming you to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was over halfway burned. Several cabins just hundreds of feet away were reduced to cinders and ash, sometimes only chimney’s remained. We saw cars reduced to twisted metal shells, fallen trees, and the smell of smoke and soot hung in the air. Pulling up at the apartments, we saw a home burned to the foundation, it sat just a few hundred yards away.

Outside of the apartment there was a red X spray-painted on the concrete, marking that the first responders had searched the building for bodies. They had kicked the door in – it would close, but it wouldn’t latch. Neighbors came out to greet Ric, hugging him, telling us they were thankful he was okay.

I’m learning that East Tennessee is a bit different than most places around. Since the rain helped to contain the fire, donations have poured in – many of the shelters had to turn away clothes and bottled water because they didn’t have anywhere to store them. People have opened their homes to their neighbors who don’t have one. Dozens of stores have started toy drives to ensure that families who have lost everything can still have a Merry Christmas.

Sadie and I are so blessed, we got several days of rain and I know that it came just in time to help the fire fighters. But I won’t forget that night where the wind howled around our house, and I knew there wasn’t anything we could do to stop the fires that may have spread to our home.

If you want to help the folks in Gatlinburg who have lost their homes, please donate. The wonderful Dolly Parton is hosting a telethon tonight, you can tune in online or on TV. Please consider giving to help some of our neighbors in these Great Smoky Mountain’s!

From our farm to yours, these Green Acres are an amazing place to be.