August 25th, 2014 §
I am writing to you tonight, and it’s the last night I’ll sleep at my farm. At least for a good long while. Not to worry: I am on to a grand new adventure that includes higher education, expatriation, creative passion, and the pursuit of yet another great, big project. I plan on sharing full details soon, and I’ve already written several posts in an attempt to tie up the lessons of last five years of my life with a tidy little bow.
But tonight I am walking through a house that’s half empty, awaiting the movers in the morning. In the past few days I have felt my spirit draining from this home, a second skin that I designed and built and lived in and loved even before it was realized. It is wrenching to leave this place, where every inch of house and land hold vivid memories and lessons that I can only hope will make me stronger, more empathetic, and more resourceful in the future.
My heart is breaking into a zillion pieces. I am a turtle whose shell is being removed, but it was my own choice to do the removing. After building an entire ten-acre habitat, I am traveling into my new life with nothing but two suitcases.
But I am so damn happy. I am so proud of what I have done here. I am so amazed at the kind of person living here has shown me to be. I am so grateful for everything that I have been given, and all that I’ve learned. I am so thankful for my parents, who made every bit of this possible and who continue to support and love me while selflessly encouraging all my crazy ideas.
Tonight I ventured in the dark to the end of the driveway to stuff one last garbage bag in the can. As I walked back toward my house, which looked so warm and friendly lit from within, I crumbled inside thinking of how I was leaving the place I’ve most loved in my entire life and how a ten-year dream was ending. But then I turned on my heel toward the hayfield in the front yard, and up above me was a vast clear sky full of brilliant stars. The Milky Way galaxy stretched right across the farm like a painter’s pale white stroke, and here and there I could make out faintly blinking lights from airplanes traveling high above.
All the people in those pinpoint flickers are going somewhere else. And so am I.
August 21st, 2014 §
Last weekend I picked what felt like about 50 pounds of tomatoes. I have only ten plants, but it’s been an unreal tomato season here—the best since I’ve started the farm. I have no doubt that it correlates with our cooler-than-usual summer. When tomatoes are exposed to the high temperatures (day/night temperatures of 95/80°F) that are common during a typical Virginia summer, it significantly reduces the number of pollen grains that each flower produces and releases and decreases the pollen’s viability. No pollen = no fertilization = no tomatoes! But this year, which has been cool enough that I’ve had my air conditioning off more than on, with night time temperatures regularly in the 50s, has kept the tomatoes happy and pumping out fruit.
I recruited my mom to help me process these beautiful tomatoes, and we made a good team. She washed and scored each tomato with a knife. Then I dunked them for 30 seconds in boiling water before plunging them into a cooler water bath. I slipped off the skins and chopped/crushed each tomato to pulp before adding it to one of three stockpots I had bubbling on my stove. With fistfuls of basil, a couple of heads of roasted garlic, and a bit of salt, the tomatoes cooked down into a sweet, beautiful, nutritious sauce free of pesticides, preservatives, and all the other frightful things that show up in commercial sauce (e.g., high-fructose corn syrup).
It’s not clean work, and it’s hot standing over boiling water for a couple hours. But I know that last year when it was brutally cold outside and I opened up my freezer to find containers of homegrown, homemade tomato sauce, it made winter just a bit more bearable.
August 15th, 2014 §
Yesterday I took some time to clean all my garden tools. I soaked them for a few minutes, then scrubbed off all the caked-on red mud and chicken manure. I took a wire brush to the rusty spots and today I will apply a thin coat of oil to stop any further rusting.
As I cleaned I remembered all the hours of hard labor on this farm, working alone and getting to know my own physical limitations and the strength of my willpower during the days spent forking mulch around my trees and turning compost, cutting new furrows into the spring garden, and sweating through the tear-inducing frustration of trying to pick-ax a planting hole in dry, red clay. There are so many stories behind each of these tools. There’s the hand maul that finally did in my rotator cuff while I was splitting wood during this winter’s polar vortex and the elegant little hand weeder that was a gift from an exboyfriend who did more than any one else save my parents to support my farm dream. I don’t ever want to lose my favorite short-handled red cultivator, which I bought to use at this farm’s predecessor, my community garden plot in Arlington, and that’s almost always at hand. And of course I’ve prepared homes for hundreds of trees and plants here using that one shovel and a couple trowels.
For historical perspective I’ve kept a couple of delicate “Lady Gardener” tools that I was given as a skinny kid who just wanted to dig in the dirt. I guess I’m not a lady gardener now that I’ve graduated to the man-size tools, but if you’ve ever seen me caked in dirt, sweating and bleeding and cursing as I try to bend the earth to my will, you’d know that anyway.
This humble little collection of steel and wood is what brought Bonafide Farm to life. The least I can do to thank my tools for their service is give them a garbage can bubble bath and a little hot-oil rubdown.
August 12th, 2014 §
Last week the house got a major upgrade in that one of the two entries now has proper steps!
Yes, I am embarrassed to admit that for more than four years I lived with two cinder blocks and a couple paint-stained board as my only way off the back porch. It was one of those things, of which there are myriad when you build your own house, that get left to the last minute because I couldn’t decide on a design while the contractors were on the job. The contractor left, and I was left with a precipitous drop off the porch onto a wobbly 2″x6″. I adapted, and managed to navigate the tricky board/door combination okay, and as these things happen when there are a zillion other projects higher in priority, it just became normal. If a bit kountry.
But last week, thanks to a few day’s hired labor, I now have a proper set of stairs at the back of the house. I had a flash of inspiration last winter when I realized a simple set of stairs wouldn’t suffice in this situation. It would have been too hard to stand on them and open an out-swinging door. So I came up with this idea to make essentially a mini-deck, which gives plenty of room to operate the door and also all sorts of nooks for sitting, potted plants, English Shepherds, etc.
In time the new pressure-treated wood will weather, and then if I am feeling ambitious I can paint it to match the house. But for now I am thrilled with how it turned out. I keep going in and out the door so easily that I laugh with delight, remembering how annoying it was before. I grilled out last weekend and didn’t burn myself opening the door like I did on the fourth of July! Now if I just had a nice stone patio for my new steps to connect to. It’s in the master plan…maybe in another four years!
August 6th, 2014 §
It took me a long time to get used to having a dog that constantly keeps his eye on me, even when pretending to relax. At best it is intense, at worst somewhat creepy. But now after three and a half years of living with my “English shadow” I am having a hard time imagining Tuck not having my back at all times.
Last night he watched me as I prowled about the woods, photographing the surprise lilies. He came right to the edge of his invisible fence line, as I walked beyond it, and didn’t budge.
Sometimes Tuck is silly, often he is playful and excitable just like a typical puppy. Sometimes he is the purest expression of wild joy that I have ever seen, flying at full speed across the field first thing on a cool morning. But ever since I have known him he’s also had a serious, contemplative side, and that’s the Tucker I saw last night—his old-soul face. I wonder what he knows.
August 5th, 2014 §
As I drove into town this evening, I kept noticing naked lady lilies (Lycoris squamigera) blooming in the yards of some of the oldest houses. These fascinating members of the Amaryllis family are bulbs that first appear in spring with strappy leaf growth, looking like beefier daffodils that never flower. The leaves die back and then, suddenly, in late July or early August tall stalks shoot from the ground and unfurl translucent pink flowers that do indeed have the luminescent glow of bare flesh. Because of this disappearing/reappearing trick, they’re also known as surprise or resurrection lilies.
Because of their ephemeral nature, it took me a few years to realize I had a clump of these lilies growing in my woods near the previous owner’s junk pile. I hurried out there tonight and caught my own naked ladies on their first day of bloom. Like many lilies, these have a strong, sweet scent. They really are pretty magical, holding court in the old oak grove.
I associate surprise lilies with old homesteads as they are amazingly long-lived. I wonder how mine got in the middle of the woods. I have several mysterious patches of cultivated plants in my woods, including groups of irises and other spring-flowering bulbs. Were they planted to mark a grave, perhaps of a beloved pet, or were they chucked into the woods during garden cleanup, as I’ve done with some of my own iris rhizomes?
I suppose I will never know, but I enjoy them just the same.
August 2nd, 2014 §
Sound the bells of celebration! More than four years after moving into my new house, I finally have every single gaping hole in the wall filled and every missing piece of baseboard and trim completed! This is huge progress! The last piece went in upstairs in the little room at the top of the stairs between the bed and bathrooms. I had left this open as a possible access panel to underneath the bathtub on the other side of the wall, in case I needed to add a supplemental heater to keep the bathwater warm in my six-foot bathtub. It turned out that I didn’t need the heater, but I never got around to fixing the hole.
Until a few weeks ago. My dad rightfully thought I needed to learn another home construction skill—drywall—so we used this as a training project. We removed the OSB panel that had been “temporarily” screwed into place over the hole.
Dad cut the drywall to size and screwed it in, then did the first couple of coats of mud. I picked up from there with the finish work, sanding, smoothing with a wet sponge, and trying to feather the edge of the mud gracefully into the existing wall.
I didn’t do the most awesome of jobs, but I just had to move on. We nailed in the base trim, then I was back to caulking, filling, sanding and painting. Just last night I got the final coat of paint on, and I am calling this project complete. Yea!