We always like to think of our lives on the farm as idyllic. And usually it is. The chickens crow every morning, the seasons pass, and we are grateful for every beautiful and God-given day on this place. But we can’t always live on the sunny side of life. Troubles come: old horses die, children grow up and move away, and people get old, hurt, or sick. Sometimes the floods invade, or the bitter winds of winter, and we are reminded of just how fragile and precious life is. This is the beauty and the tragedy woven into to all of our lives.
When I remember my childhood, I remember it in autumnal shades of orange and yellow. Although I know I made fond memories from all four seasons, I’ve somehow set them all to a pervasive backdrop of fall leaves and crisp air. Memories are odd in that way in their ability to transcend time. Maybe it’s just that I prefer to remember my home at its best: mountains painted warmly with crimson and amber, crisp air and clear skies, the magic of festivals and being outside and climbing apple trees and feeling the tips of your ears chill.
When I was a kid, we had a half-grown calf named T-Bone. The name, while prophetic, was not meant to be cruel. On the contrary, it was meant to save heartache. When my dad brought home that calf, he wanted to be sure that my sister and I did not treat it as a pet. The idea was that he would fatten it over the summer and then send it off to the butcher in the fall. Then, he explained, we could have T-Bone steaks in the winter.
The plan failed miserably. T-Bone turned out to be an endearing little fellow with big brown eyes and ears that begged to be scratched. Since he was alone on the mountain hillside, he would eat his fill of green grass and then lie in the shade near the yard fence and watch us come and go. He loved to lick salt right out of our hands. He did this cute little sideways cartwheel of joy when he saw us coming.
Not surprisingly, when winter came and it was time to send T-Bone to the butcher, my dad had a mutiny on his hands.
t is a cool, quiet evening on the farm. Twilight. The lightening bugs are just starting to flicker, and the dark is settling in and making itself at home for the night. It’s my turn to do night rounds, so I walk quietly from shed to shed, making sure all of the poultry and animals are in for the night and then shutting their doors to keep them safe until morning. Josephine, the pig, has to be cajoled into her bed with a handful of corn, but otherwise all of the creatures are in their places and peaceful. By the time I get to the last cage it is fully dark, and I can see a sliver of moon rising over Willett Miller Road. As I shine the flashlight into the cage, the light catches the nest box, and I hear the warning cluck of a mother hen. She is sitting there glaring at me—puffed up like a brown and black feathered balloon.
Staying at the Pioneer House was one of the best experiences of my life. I am no longer intimidated by the thought of no electricity, indoor plumbing, or Wi-Fi. In fact, I would consider doing something like this again. It was a very refreshing and fun experience. Interacting with the animals, whether it was feeding chickens, petting dogs, moving rabbits or watching the horses from the front porch, was a highlight for me. I know having animals is a lot of work, but it is fun too. I hope to have a lot of animals when I grow up. We did have to make adjustments in what we ate and when, but we decided that cooking on the wood-fire stove was less difficult than we thought it would be. Getting time to spend with each other playing games was something I really relished….
Honey, it’s high time you cut down that ol’ dead tulip tree down by the ponds,” says Maw as we’re getting out of bed on a beautiful spring Saturday. “That thing's gonna fall one day and you know it’s gonna clobber one of my pretty horses. Probably Snowie, and she’s my favorite.”
“But Jake and the boys are coming over and we’re going fishing down at the river today,” I plead. “Fishing season’s just opened up and if we don’t get down there in a hurry all the easy catching will be caught up and we’ll not have anything for dinner but beans and maybe a cake of cornbread. And you’ve been telling me for some time you’ve been craving a little meat on the plate.”
“There’ll be time for fishing by and by,” she says. “I’m more worried about that ol’ tree.
Some women clean their houses the first pretty day of spring. Not me--I clean my saddles. It’s a ritual that my pragmatic husband thinks is kind of silly. After all, he reasons, if he had a day free to spend at the barn, he would ride horses (dirty tack and all) instead of worrying about what their saddles look like. I get his point. Riding horses is way more fun than dragging six or more saddles, bridles, and assorted leather trappings out of a dusty tack room and washing, oiling, and polishing all the leather. It takes most of the day, and sometimes by the end, I’m about too tired to lug those fifty pound saddles back in and heave them up to their perches in the tack room, knowing that they will only get filmy with dust and moldy with horse sweat again.
Nevertheless, I do it every spring. It is a habit I learned from my father. A horseman all his life, he was never was able
The pocket watch had a shiny silver-toned back, a big honest face, and it ticked loudly. I was maybe five or six when I got it, but I remember it clearly. It was the sixties, but you would have never known it in the little mountain town of Boone where I grew up. Time moved slowly there. I purchased the watch at the local dime store down town. It was extra special to me because I had bought it with my own allowance money. I think that the watch cost a dollar. I’m not quite sure why I preferred a pocket watch over a doll or stuffed animal, but I carried it around in my blue jeans pocket with pride, and I smiled every time I heard that loud, echoing ticking with its never ceasing reminder of the passing of time.
Winter Solstice, 2017:
On this, the darkest day of the year, our family would like to wish each of you light and joy throughout the year to come. And we thank you for being part of our farm family.
I Heard A Bird Sing - Poem by Oliver Herford
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.
The year that she turned six, my youngest daughter put a pig on her birthday list. The pig was part of a list that also included sparkly gel pens, a new purple backpack for first grade, and a pink leotard for her just-enrolled dance class. But the pig was at the top. Since Lina was so young, I figured that she could not be serious. After all this practical little girl with long braids and steady eyes—the kid who never begged for anything--surely didn’t really want a pig. I tried to talk her into a Barbie instead. It would be so much easier, I pointed out, since we wouldn’t have to feed it. No deal. Lina looked at me with earnest eyes and explained that any girl could have a Barbie—but that she wanted a pig. We had a farm so we needed a pig, she reasoned, and a pig would be “way, way better than a Barbie.”
We are thrilled to host The Mountain Minor filming on the farm. We appreciate their passion for our Appalachian region--and for the very authentic and sincere story that the movie relates. Our farm dog Heidi (aka the dog star!) adored being the center of attention, and our family loved the sound of fiddle music filling up the holler and elevating everyday farm life into a concert.
Spring continues to unfold around us in greens and golds. We are reminded of the Robert Frost poem :
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Wishing all of you happy planting and beautiful beginnings ...
A real mountain woman is supposed to be tough enough to wring the head off of a chicken and serve the bird up to a whole passel of younguns. She has to know how to use a shotgun, an ax, and an outhouse even as she sings old ballads and tells enchanting tales by the fire at night. In short she’s supposed to be more comfortable with the world the way it was a hundred years ago than the way it is now.