Category Archives: On The Farm

What Day is It? Update

Wednesday. It’s Wednesday, right?

As far as I can tell, our phones have finally been repaired. For a good while, we could not receive or make long-distance phone calls. That basically means that for nearly a week, I couldn’t contact my family. Keep in mind also, we live in 354, and work, stores a majority of our friends, etc. are in 462. So, the first week of our (self-imposed) quarantine, I couldn’t contact anyone I really felt the need to speak with.

Governor Justice gave us just a little over 24 hours to get ready for the state-imposed quarantine. I went to the library yesterday. I watered the plants, filled the birdfeeders, took out the trash, checked email. Libraries across WV (and the US) are pumping out all kinds of posts and links for free digital entertainment and education. You can follow Gilmer Public Library for the ones I’ve been sharing, or visit the WV Library Commission’s site for a list of links that’s being updated several times a day.

Since we were already set for a big bug-in, I hit the liquor store on my way out of town. I’m not much of a drinker, but …. well, it does help me sleep when I’m stressed.

The house is already the cleanest it has been in years, and no one will witness it. Such a shame. I was tempted to run to Ohio and grab Mother on Sunday and bring her here but didn’t. I’m still not sure if that was the best decision. Since then, a case has been confirmed in her county in Ohio, and in one of the WV counties I would have to cross to get to her. I know that cousins and neighbors there are keeping check on her, but I would feel so much better if she was here with us.

I also have this huge impulse to find a way to get family in Southern Virginia here. In all my prepper scenarios, family came to us. We have free gas, free well water, and pretty much all you need except a cell phone signal (and reliable landline service). We have satellite internet, and I expect will be adding to our data package this month.

I spent one evening online shopping. Not too much damage–a ring light for possible future video broadcasts, more wooden stamps to decorate the letters I write, and four pullets (chickens just past the chick stage) to arrive in May.

It’s just my luck that we were ready for the apocalypse (or economic crash) for ten years, and three years after we relaxed a bit about it, this happens. When I announced I had ordered hens, Frank said, “I thought we were going to wait on that.” Yeah, well… I’ve got that “We’re not ready for impending doom,” panic going on again in the pit of my gut. I’ve been sorting our pantry, lamenting all the empty canning jars that could, and should have been full. I’m sure within the next week I’ll order the converter that converts our gasoline generators to natural gas — the last and only item left on the prepper list we set aside a few years back.

Frank watches COVID-19 news all day. West Virginia’s number of cases damn near doubled yesterday. It churns my stomach hearing the constant bad news and reminds me why we disposed of our mainstream television service after 9-11. I was tired of the daily doses of new terror. The lack of air traffic overhead also reminds me of the time following 9-11. Air traffic here is quite common, but the skies are unmarked now. At some point each day, I steal the remote from Frank and pop in a movie or TV series (currently binging Supernatural, Star Gate, and Star Trek: DS9; checked in with movie classics including Hunger Games, Hobbit, Fellowship of the Ring, Lonesome Dove, Forrest Gump, and The Stand, of course).

Reading? Currently “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris, and all kinds of articles I’ve printed out from the Internet.

Projects include working on a new non-fiction book, teaching myself watercolors, prepping to launch an online writer’s workshop/retreat, purging and organizing the file cabinets. You guys know I’ve unfriended lots of people on Facebook over the last few years. I check on some of them now online but am relieved I’m not getting all of it in my news feed.

I also make sure to catch the almost daily press conferences by our governor.

I’ve never been a Jim Justice fan. And, I admit, on TV he comes across as a bit of a twit. “Now” (my father was a “Now” person), “and everything,” (lots of folks say that), and “shape, form, make, or measure,” (yeah, getting tired of that one). BUT! All that being said? I’m proud of him. I am comforted by his simple down to earth approach. Jim is Jim. He knows this state I think. He knows his and our weaknesses…

I’ve come to the conclusion that “Big Jim” doesn’t have the ability to bullshit us. And Jim has sense enough to surround himself with experts. He doesn’t need to pronounce right, doesn’t need to speak the details. He has folks to do that for him. I’m okay with that.

Today, West Virginia has a non-denominational day of prayer. It may be corny, but that’s WV too. I’m okay with that as well and will be watching. You can catch it on the WV Governor’s web site or YouTube channel at noon.

I had planned to return to town on Friday, to help hang a new hand-made door on the library’s outbuilding. I may or may not do that. Next week, I had hoped to order sand for the library’s paver-patio project. I will likely still do that. My need to see progress “in spite of” is damn near overwhelming. Besides, our board quickly voted to continue paying employees during this closure and I need to go in and do payroll.

I’m not capable of staying home for weeks anymore. Ten years I did that. My daily walks with the cat and dog help but I can only go so long without checking on the library — 19 miles away. (These visits to the library are permitted under the current stay-at-home order, by the way.) I have the road to myself on the commute now, and there’s no traffic at the county’s solitary stoplight. I see few, carry sanitary wipes, etc.

Last week I noted I would not stay home for weeks on end, “Coronavirus be damned.” I still will not. I’m not going to go out willy-nilly, and won’t be licking packs of toilet paper in the Dollar Store. But, stagnation is not in my nature. I am one of those people who can barely sit still for 30 minutes. I was completely relieved to learn that I have a legal reason to leave the house, to check on the library. I am quite grateful for that.

Right now, my stay-at-home skills seem to last about five days. Frank has taken up the habit of pointing out how many times I touch my face during the day. I’m pretty sure that’s going to cost him dearly very soon.

So. We’re surviving it, and will be fine. I’m a little antsy, but it is what it is. But, if we lose our long-distance phone service again, I may have to drink some liquor and post a slam against Frontier.

Stay well folks. My love for those who are homebound, and to those “essentials” who are still out there.

Peace and love.

Normantown News – March Week Two

The return to Daylight Savings is one of my favorite holidays. Technically it’s not a holiday, but it is to me! While spring sneaks up in little doses, that one-hour shift makes a noticeable difference. Morning commuters may lament that early morning drive in the dark that comes temporarily with the change, but I celebrate that extra evening hour of daylight. It means winter is over. I now have more time in the evenings for outdoor projects and adventures. Time to sit on the porch.

Outdoor projects have already begun. The Division of Highways guys came along Route 33 in our area trimming trees and branches back from the road. Candidates have also been out, and the collection of campaign signs at the intersection of Rosedale Road and Route 33 is growing. I’m rather impressed at how long the David Walker sign has lasted in that deep turn on top of Normantown Hill. It’s been there since the last election.

It wasn’t much of a winter, and my recent walks with Daisy and Dandelion have already brought fleas back into our home. None of us are happy about it. Pretty soon we will have to bring out the lawnmower, and the first mow will smell like onions. Right now, you can smell the soil. You may not be able to see it from afar, but the forest is budding. Soon the hillsides will take on that pink hue and then the bright green shimmer. Crocus are up, some lucky folks have daffodils in bloom.

A gentleman in the 655* area called the other day to ask where I got the ootheca (praying mantis egg sacs) I placed around our garden. If you missed that previous column, I bought and hatched them to combat the stink bug population in the garden, and we did see a decrease. The caller was not familiar with ebay.com but did have someone who could help him online. A quick google search brought up ootheca for sale on Walmart.com and ebay.com, but the original source for both was Hirt’s Gardens. Hirt’s is based in Ohio, and for those out there without the Internet, you can contact them at 1-330-239-0506.

Normantown Historical Community Center has some great upcoming classes and events! The Food Pantry is held on the 2nd Friday of each month, this month on March 13. Last month’s pantry fed 94 families, including 221 people. The folks there are really needing some additional freezer space.

Most classes at the center are held in the brick building close to the school—no stairs. A Freezer Meal Class will be held on March 14 at 10 a.m. Learn to make freezer meals that you can easily thaw and serve on busy days! The class fees are by donation. NHCC Clothes Closet is held Wednesdays, 11-2 p.m.

NHCC is planning a Big Spring Vendor Event on Saturday, March 28 at 9 a.m. Crafters and vendors are invited.  They ask that each participant has a small item to give away for a drawing. The tables are $15.00 each. I see the list of vendors is growing – Easter Mini Photo Sessions, Avon, Tupperware, Pampered Chef have all been mentioned so far. RSVP by March 26 to 681-495-5960 or 304-462-7042.

Donkey Basketball is happening! Do you have it on your calendar yet? Come on out on April 4 at 6 p.m. to NHCC. Now, they just need a few teams to ride — three teams of at least seven people. Riders must arrive for a mandatory meeting no later than 5:30 pm.

Donations were recently made in memory of Ethel Roberts and the cooks at Normantown High School, and in memory of Urma Sprouse-Hull, a 1941 graduate. Donations to NHCC can be made online at https://nhccwv.com/donation, or mailed to NHCC, 3031 Hackers Creek Road, Jane Lew 26378, c/o Margaret.

       (*Hello out there to readers of The Hur Herald! Bob and Dianne began running this column in their publication last week. For those not familiar with the area, the 655 telephone-prefix reference above would typically mean in the southern area of Calhoun County. Northern Calhoun area is 354. Gilmer County is mostly 462. The generalization gets blurry along county lines. For example, in the Normantown/Stumptown/Rosedale region this column is about, our community has a mix of all three prefixes.)

If you have any 25267 area news you would like to share with community readers, by Sunday morning for the upcoming week, send an email to hayesminney@gmail.com or leave a message on our machine at 304-354-9132. I also have a seasonal email newsletter that includes links to this column online. You can subscribe at tinyurl.com/two-2020.

Me and the Zero-Turn Mower

(Not our actual mower, but very similar.)

This spring, Frank went out and purchased a new zero-turn riding mower. Mind you, he’s not the one who mows around here. But with that male “bigger is better” mentality, he wanted to purchase something that would cut down on the time his mom and I spend mowing. We mow acres every week.

The first day I attempted to use the zero-turn, I was livid. This new contraption had turned one of my Zen processes into a challenging new game I was not familiar or comfortable with. I ran over rocks, broke a flower pot, damaged things just trying to get the thing in and out of its storage space.

Because the zero-turn has no steering wheel and instead has… What to call them? Toggles? Steering arms? Handlebars? I don’t know. At any rate, after mowing this land for more than 20 years and knowing I could do it with a drink in one hand and the steering wheel in the other — the zero-turn mower created a whole new ball game.  Mowing was no longer an automatic thoughtless process.

I don’t like change. Especially in routines I have down-pat and can accomplish without thinking. One reason I like mowing is because my mind can wander without having to give the task at hand very much thought.  The zero-turn steers differently, turns differently, rides and handles differently. I have to pay attention. Focus. Concentrate on what I’m doing.

In other words, it wiped out all that I love about mowing.

The wider mower deck is nice, yes. Very nice. It seems as though I can cover twice as much ground in half the time. Less time out of the house in the sunshine, away from housework, ringing phones, internet notifications. I might just be riding around the yard, but mowing is often the closest I can get to running away from my life. Mowing was my excuse to just sit and let my mind muddle, a time-out disguised as work.

The zero-turn cut down the time spent, but turned mowing into work again. I pouted about it. Fiercely complained. This financed man’s mower and I were not going to be friends. No sir. I spent the first month of the summer doing all the lawn and yard edges with my old steering-wheel mower, and only mowing the middle of the yard with the zero-turn.

And then the mower belt on my old mower broke, and Frank didn’t fix it.

Gah. Well, I’m not about to replace a mower belt myself.

So I have spent the last two months of this summer getting accustomed to that zero-turn lawn tractor.

Frank did make adjustments to the handlebars so I could manage it better, and I have learned since how to mow very slowly to handle the trimming around the edges. But I can’t quite set in my mind where the exact pivot point of the zero-turn is beneath me. I’m often pivoting too early, or worse yet, too late.

I googled how to drive a zero-turn. Most of them simply stated the obvious.

And reverse? Frankly, I’ve never been that good at reverse even with a steering wheel.  I’m not good at reverse on my own two feet. With the zero-turn, if I just need to back straight up, I’m okay. But maneuvering or turning in reverse still causes me to curse under my breath. I have to do it at the slowest possible speed just to make sure I’m not flailing around like a landed fish.

So, I am growing a relationship with this zero-turn contraption that I cursed in May and bitched about on social media. It’s a fine machine, but we’re not friends yet. It’s damn near impossible to drive it one-handed, which means I have to actually slow down or stop to take a drink, slap a fly, or wipe sweat from my brow. That frustrates me. It breaks the groove.

I also have not yet come to grasp how a “lawn tractor” could or would have bald wheels in the front. Bald. Zero tread. Are they even tires? I don’t know. Hard, slippery things that they are. Because our yard is nowhere near perfectly flat, those tiny smooth front wheels are often spinning in the air. I can see where tread on the front might tear up the lawn in certain zero-turn situations, but come on! This girl needs tread. Uphill, downhill, across ditches, dimples, and pockets. How can you have two treadless tires on a lawn tractor? What’s up with that? Even if it’s just for some kind of show to make me feel better, something decorative if there’s some sane reason for having none. Smooth tires in the country are just — wrong.

There are two places in the yard where the new wider mower deck won’t fit. Spaces which I now have to weed-eat in addition to all the other weed-eating we do. Frank got me a new weedeater this year as well–a man-size, gas-powered creature to supplement my small battery-powered baby I’ve been working with for nearly a decade now.

We aren’t friends yet either.

Two-Lane Livin’: What Does That Mean to You?

(This post originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine.)

The lake out back has been red with pollen as of late, and higher along the banks from recent rain. Without a garden this year to force me out into the hot sun, I have spent extra amount of time this summer sitting in the glider on the back porch. An osprey stopped by last week, circling over the water, then diving straight down to splash and clasp a fish in its claws. On one dive, the fish must have been heavier, or deeper than expected, and the bird struggled in the water for a good bit before managing its return to the air. It lifted itself above the water a few feet, wings flapping full and hard, and came right towards me, rising just enough to swoop above the back porch roof and rise over the house. I could see the bird’s black eyes; the fish wiggling in its tongs.

On another afternoon, I watched two fawns splash and chase among the adult deer in the shallows of the water on the far side of the lake. Their legs still spindly and weak, one of them seemed tormented by a deer fly, jumping and turning in the air, then simply flopping down in the mud. A few days later, when a cool downpour came in the midst of a hot and sticky afternoon, I looked into the sheeting rain to spy one of the fawns prancing and kicking along the bank of the lake in sheer joy and refreshment. I considered stepping out in the rain for a little dance myself, but remained in the dry and smiled at the dancing baby deer instead.

Green herons, gray herons, kingfishers—they are all common occupants here, as are the blasted Canada geese, filthy noisy creatures we curse under our breath. I can tell the difference between the snout of the soft shell turtle and the snapping turtle when they peek up through the surface of the water. I know a wild duck attempted to raise young on the lake this year for the first time in years. She started with six ducklings, and she is now down to two. Our cat was responsible for the demise of at least two of her young, bringing them to the back porch to show off to our beagle. I’d say the snapper got the others. Or perhaps the local raccoon.

I know the Canada geese abandoned her nest and eggs just a few days after she began setting this past spring, and the raccoons came and ate the eggs.

I know the humming of the hummingbird when it comes to visit my hostas, and the buzzing of the persistent wood boring bees when they are captured in our bee trap. I know the roar of rain approaching across the hills as the drops beat upon the leaves of the forest—closer and closer. I know the high-pitched whizzing of the daggone deer fly, and even higher-pitched whine of the mosquito. I hear them all from the back porch.

I cannot decide if my favorite time is in the morning, filled with birdsong: the wrens, the sparrows, the warblers, the thrashers. Mornings are filled with the whistles of the titmouse, the “birdie birdie” call of the cardinal, the “wichity wichity” of the yellowthroat. But as we enter late summer, evenings just after dark are just as lovely. The night is filled with the “ch-ch-ch-ch” of the katydid, the droning of the cicada. The crickets spout their high pitched trills and chirps, and the tree frogs sing alto. Bass is covered by the bull frogs, and the barred owl occasionally asks, “Who cooks for you?” A friend of mine recently told me she had three whippoorwills on her farm, and I was decidedly jealous. We haven’t heard a whippoorwill at our house for years.

These songs of summer make me nostalgic, thinking of the afternoons and evenings spent on the porch of my grandparent’s cabins in Blue, West Virginia. The birds are not all quite the same, as the cabins were in the fields, away from the forest, but at the fork of Blue Creek and Middle Island Creek. We used to whistle back to the whippoorwills, to sing back to the barred owl, “And who cooks for you?” As I child I could only recognize the birds with easily recognizable songs, and I didn’t give the crickets a second thought. But now, these are the sounds I miss when winter comes. As I have aged, I’ve learned to sit in the back porch glider and enjoy.

In a few weeks, school will start again, then the next thing we know, we will have Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Come winter, all we will hear is the caw of crows. But the silent stars will shine crisp and sharp, and I’ll look up to admire the Milky Way.

There are times. There are times when the beauty around me literally touches my soul. And some times, I wonder if the beauty is enough to overcome the piling list of West Virginia downfalls.

Of course, if we read or watch the news, we are all aware of West Virginia’s statistics. Second lowest household income of the 50 United States, 49th in unemployment, and one of the highest gaps between the wealthy and the poor. West Virginia citizens rated themselves as being more miserable than people in all other states – for five years running. Our education system, one of the most expensive for taxpayers in the nation, has some of the lowest rankings. West Virginia, ranks either last or second-to-last in 20 health categories, including cancer, child immunization, diabetes, disabilities, drug deaths, teeth loss, low birth weight, missed work days due to health, prescription drug overdose, preventable hospitalizations, and senior clinical care.

Our population is expected to dwindle by another 19,000 by 2030, at which point we will lose one of our three seats in the House of Representatives. Thirteen years can fly by in no time.

This issue of Two-Lane Livin’ is the last issue of Volume 10. With the September issue, we celebrate our 10th anniversary. I have been looking back over some of our early issues, when I thought self-reliance and simple living could overcome the downfalls of our state’s statistics. When we started, I knew I wanted the magazine to be positive, empowering, entertaining and educational. I was determined the magazine would remain non-controversial, and we have tried remain so.

In the beginning, ten years ago, we asked readers, “What does Two-Lane Livin’ mean to you?” What is it about this rural life that soothes your soul? What is it that keeps us here in a state that faces so many challenges? I really want to hear from you, and hope to run some of your replies in the next issue. You can discuss Two-Lane Livin’ the lifestyle, or Two-Lane Livin’ the magazine, but I want to know what Two-Lane Livin’ means in your life.

Please write to me at Stumptown Publishing, 2287 Rosedale Road, Stumptown, West Virginia, 25267, or at info@twolanelivin.com.

There is comfort and beauty in the birdsong I hear on my back porch, in the sight of the Milky Way in the sky. I hope you still find comfort and beauty in Two-Lane Livin’, and I would truly love to hear from you.

We Are Nature: July 2017 in Two-Lane Livin’

(This appears in the July 2017 issue of Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine.)

I love the way thunder rolls across the sky, how it rumbles in our bones at the first boom, then ripples, grumbling past the eastern hillside and on across the horizon. When I was young, we would watch for the flashes of lightening, like watching for fireworks, and count as we were taught to determine the distance to the strike. One, one thousand. Two, one thousand. But now, I am happy to listen to the rain and the thunder as the sky chastises the earth.

Today, a storm crossed overhead, with consistent rumbling for nearly half an hour. Instantly, the heat of the afternoon was erased. Rain fell steady, but not pounding, and ground drank it in. I spent as much time as I could on the back porch in the glider, as porches are made for storm-watching. You can experience the storm and be exposed to it, but remain dry and relatively safe.

After the storm passed, wisps of fog swirled up from the valley, moisture drawn up into the system, just to be dropped back down somewhere else. From the valley to the hilltop perhaps, to keep the cycle turning. Once the storm moved on, its grumble fading as it wandered across the atmosphere, the setting sun raised temperatures again, and new wisps rose and swirled. The orange light shone more than usual, heightened by the moist reflections of everything just washed clean.

There are no evenings to match a summer evening after an afternoon thunderstorm in the hills of Appalachia. I feel as though I am inside a terrarium, the moisture dripping down from a giant glass dome above. Sometimes, life here feels sealed inside a bubble, secluded from the rest of the world. Sometimes stifling hot and sweaty, sometimes baking, parched and dry, sometimes fresh and clean and sparkling.

As the skies cleared, and the water temperatures on the lake out back balanced, I watched the green duckweed expand again across the face of the water, no longer compressed by rippling waves, and a mother deer appeared on the bank of the island, and a fawn that had to be out for its very first walk it was so wobbly. With the rumbling over, bird song started again, and the chickens and the robins pecked in the saturated yard for earthworms and bugs. And in that moment, the fields around me and time itself seemed to expand, and the concerns of the world shrank to a pittance.

I felt relief. Relief from the heat of the day, relief from the stress of the week, relief in knowing there are still magical moments in this world–the way nature can make us feel small and immense at the same time, connected when we are or feel alone. Humans have forgotten that we ARE nature. We are hardwired to benefit from exposure to it. We get Vitamin D from the sun (statistically, the average American is Vitamin D deficient), and multiple studies show that 20 minutes in nature can lower blood pressure, relieve stress, depression and anxiety. We are not technical, mechanical creatures. We are (or were?) natural creatures. Writer Laurence G. Boldt says, “a society at odds with nature is a society at odds with itself.”

* * *

I recently attended the WV Writer’s Inc. annual conference at Cedar Lakes in Ripley, a weekend of seminars, readings, and networking. One seminar I took was how to remain focused on your life as a creative existence. Deep down, I hoped there might be a magical pen or technical device that would keep me in creative mode, impervious to the restrictive mentalities we all encounter in our culture and societies today. Perhaps a creativity pill I could pop every morning. Of course, these things don’t exist.

During the seminar though, I was reminded of many things I already know, but do not regularly practice. Stretch upon waking. Meditate. Be grateful for the little things. Be positive. Be open. Don’t get on the computer first thing in the morning. Limit exposure to social media and digital devices. Turn off the TV. Take a walk. Breathe. Immerse yourself in nature.

After the recent summer storm passed, I contemplated why that moment was reassuring, comforting. How that moment “outside” of society, disconnected from man but connected to nature, could soothe my spirit so. And again I was reminded of something Boldt says in his book, Zen and the Art of Making a Living. He said, “Society can be interested in a man or woman only as a political or economic entity; a culture is interested in more… Cultures care for their peoples as natural, spiritual beings and not simply as workers or consumers.” In other words, humans are not just political, economic beings. We were meant for more than work and consumption. We are nature, spiritual, but we live in a society that neither acknowledges, values, nor endorses us as such.

Boldt says, “Our whole effort is to gain and hold, acquire and defend.” The American approach to life and living is a mindset typically used for warfare. We are focused on getting–striving, consuming, keeping, maintaining–status, power, reputation, cars, houses, etc.–no matter the cost to our own well-being or the natural world around us. Americans live with a mentality to conquer and defend. No wonder we’re so stressed.

I believe this is why time in nature is so soothing to the soul. Nature is the ultimate level playing field. Nature doesn’t care about status, reputation, shoes, or the latest cell phone app. Social media, television series, all our little rat race games and power struggles are irrelevant. Our narcissism, prejudices, irrational judgments, daytime dramas, are insignificant. And if anything, that’s a relief.

Boldt says, “We cannot be fully awake, fully alive, fully human–and remain indifferent to the world in which we live.” The costs of denial and suppression are devastating to human happiness and creativity. Boldt notes, until our society changes its consideration humans as nothing more than workers and consumers, “it will continue to take uncommon courage, strength, and perseverance for individuals to realize meaning in their every day experiences.”

When we stop and take a time out with nature around us, Boldt says, “the mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing… the contemplation of beauty eliminates selfish desire.” In turn, “Ugliness depresses and diminishes life–sapping the creative spirit of the individual and weakening the character of society.” Did you get that? Ugliness saps creativity and weakens our character. No wonder the beauty of the hills after a storm provided me with such relief. How lucky we are to live where the natural beauty around us can soothe our souls.

Are you grateful? Do you take time to just sit and experience the natural world around you? What things do you do to keep your creative juices flowing? Send me an email with your thoughts and suggestions at info@twolanelivin.com.

Lisa is an Assistant Librarian at Gilmer Public Library & recently received her MFA in Creative Writing. For details, visit Lhayesminney.net.

Lying Fallow: June 2017 in Two-Lane Livin’

(This is my 2017 installment of “Two Lane for Life” from the June issue of Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine. You can view the entire issue as a digital flipbook via twolanelivin.com.)

As we grow near to Two-Lane Livin’s 10th birthday, I have been looking back through our early archives. And though I am old enough to reflect on nearly five decades of life, only the last ten years have been recorded in a monthly publication I can look back upon.

When we launched the magazine, I was so excited about gardening and canning, learning how to be healthier and more self-reliant. I was thrilled to welcome chickens and bees to our family, was stockpiling seeds and lamp oil and teaching myself to sew and crochet.

Somehow, I thought this “back to the land” mindset was going to simplify my life. I look back at all that now and laugh.

When it comes to farming and gardening, I have found that it is quite easy to over do it. I have learned, truly, moderation is key. But baby chicks can be purchased in bulk, in fact, when ordering, you must purchase at least a dozen.  One more tray of spring plants can produce another thirty or more pounds of tomatoes. One more row or seed packet of beans can double or triple the bushels of beans that need strung in the fall.

A ten year old oregano patch can spread to cover more than eight square feet. Mature perennials need divided. Fences eventually need mending, spades sharpened, hives and pens need maintained.

All the projects I was so excited about ten years ago, I now know, are work. Work, and time. And though I knew back then and was not afraid of the work, I sorely underestimated the amount of time truly required.

Gardens, bees, chickens, fields, these things do not wait. They do not wait until you have time, do not wait until you are ready. Weeds need pulled, beans need picked, hay needs cut. Bees swarm. Eggs, water, and feed need dealt with more than once a day.

There was a time when we had more than 30 chickens, and planted more than 100 tomato plants and six rows of beans.

For two people? Insanity is what that is.

These days, my sewing machine is packed away, as are my crochet needles, my pressure canner. And though June is upon us, we have not planted a garden this year. The pantry is still filled with jars from previous years, and we still get near a dozen eggs a day from our small flock of aging hens. We have four bee hives, but three of them are swarms we caught this spring.

We can certainly take a break from gardening this year, but it feels shameful to not have a garden. I feel shame, and I feel a loss. A loss of a chance to fill more jars, a loss of the mornings pulling weeds and smashing stink bugs. A loss not to wander out again in the evenings sweating in the late day sun and swatting at deer flies. In many ways, gardeners are slaves to their gardens–you weed and water when it’s needed, pick and harvest when it’s ready. But at the same time, a garden is nourishing, not just to the body, but to the soul.

In some ways, I feel like we’re taking the summer off. Like we’re cheating, or being lazy.

Of course, we still have asparagus, garlic, horseradish, mushrooms in the perennial beds, and thyme, oregano, lemon balm, sage, and chives in the herb garden.

Won’t we miss fresh produce? I don’t think so. I have learned that someone will inevitably grow too many cucumbers and squash, and will bring some to the library or the local mom and pop store. Heirloom tomatoes will find their way to the local farmer’s markets.

What will I do with the extra  summer days that for the last ten years have been spent tilling and canning? I hope I don’t waste it on facebook. I hope to work on other things, like moderation and maintenance. My approach to simple living ten years ago wasn’t simple at all. I was so excited about getting started, I didn’t really think about the upkeep. But you have to think about upkeep, or you won’t be able to keep up. Over the past ten years, we have fallen behind.

Where to store empty canning jars, or tomato stakes not in use? Do we really need all those plant trays? I’m going to sharpen my hoe before I ever use it again, and I’m going to spend more time in the back porch swing, watching the grass grow.

So this summer, our garden will be lying fallow, a term used to describe land tilled and plowed but left unseeded. Some farmers do this to raise the fertility in the soil. I wonder what lying fallow will do for us, the humans that tend the garden, what fertility might rise in our lives and souls–if any. Perhaps I will find a way to combine simple living and self-reliance. But it hasn’t happened so far.

Lisa is an Assistant Librarian at Gilmer Public Library & recently received her MFA in Creative Writing.  For details on her workshops and speaking availability, visit Lhayesminney.net.

The Chair in the Woods

Just beyond the edge of the woods, on a flat space speckled with the shade of Maple and Tulip Poplar, in a small clearing covered with mosses, sweet grass, and poison ivy, sits a faded patio chair.

My time out chair.

A five minute walk will get me there, when I think of it in time. When I manage to make myself use it, to think before I act or speak.

I carry more anxiety within me than a soft-boiled tea kettle, and more anger and resentment than any soul deserves. My awareness of these flaws does not yet help me control either of them, but time around that chair in the woods helps me manage them some.

The comfort of the shade comes first, hushed and yet sprinkled with bird song — Vireo, Thrush, Bunting, and Towhee.  The scents come next: moist earth, rotting leaves, the sweetness of Autumn Olive mixed with the smell of my own sweat. Instinctual scents, familiar to the crone in my soul, connecting me to the peace of previous lives, to the soothing spirit that flows through all life.

But it takes time for my tension to dissipate, time to extinguish the deep, hot coals of my anger. They are fertile within me where they flourish, fertilized by my resentment, by my disappointment in myself. My downfalls and failings in my life were my own doing, my misplaced trust in the intentions of others.

I cannot sit in the chair upon my arrival, anger and rage still swelling within me, energies boiling within and seeping from my pores. I yank sticks from the forest floor and snap and break them, beat them against the trunks of stout trees. I throw stones–smaller ones tossed one-handed like a baseball, sandstone smashing to pieces against massive boulders. Heavier stones shucked two-handed, landing a few feet away with a dull, smacking thud.

The forest is unimpressed by my tantrums, undamaged by my attempts to rearrange the landscape. My rage here is harmless, my tension and anxiety pointless. The forest doesn’t recognize frustration, does not acknowledge vehement rage. Its ageless persistence and patience renders all that upsets me irrelevant and small, diminished by a distance that multiplies at the edge of the wood.

When my anxious energy is dispelled, my inner emotional child exhausted, I take my seat, but remain restless. I kick my feet and chock my heels in the soil, making dents in the grass. I shrug my shoulders repeatedly, roll my head around on my neck.  I wriggle my fingers and shake the tension from my hands, then flex them from fist to jazz hands, fist to jazz hands.

Only then am I able to focus on my breathing, a shallow suffocating pant, and at last, I draw the air of the forest into myself. I hold it within, the musky scents and botanic moisture wrapped in my lungs in a bronchial embrace. The tension lingering within me clings to it, and rides it out on the exhale. I push with my diaphragm to expel as much as possible.

My shoulders loosen. My mind begins to clear.

And I draw the forest within me again.

Rubber Boots and Muddy Tulips

As I sit to write this, fewer than 60 days remain until spring. Of course with these winter temperatures, my tulips and lilies began sprouting a week ago, in January.

I dislike West Virginia winters that don’t include a good amount of snow. As every country dweller knows, without cold temperatures and snow–the whole world grows soft with mud.

I refer to the time from February to April as “Mud Season.” It’s that time a year when everything around you goes soggy, when that dry, hard driveway of summer becomes a boggy, sloppy path. The time of year when a walk to the chicken coop is accentuated with “squish, squish, squish” the entire way. With snow, I might tiptoe across the yard in my green garden clogs, but with all the mud, rubber boots are a must.

Santa brought me a new pair of blue rubber boots this Christmas, after my rainbow-daisy-covered pair sprung a leak at the ankle. I stepped into the lake’s edge to grab hold of the canoe, and my right boot filled with water. I might be able to patch them, but I’ll never fully depend on them again.

I bought my first pair of “adult” rubber boots after I experienced the first flood waters here on the farm, when I waded waist-deep up our driveway, watched as a round hay bale floated by me. That pair of boots had pull-on loops at the top of the boot, and more than once I hooked bungee cords from the outside loop on the boot to the belt loops on my pants to keep them from being sucked off my feet by the mud.

A country girl must have rubber boots–and I wear mine most often in February and March.

I have a goal to walk every day–a goal I don’t meet often enough. But when I do, I slip on my blue rubber boots and our beagle, Daisy Dewdrop, and I squish our way around the lake, across the fields, meandering at Daisy’s pace, stopping to sniff at interesting things all along the way. There was a time when she would run ahead of me and I would struggle to keep up in my rubber boots, but we are older now, and the lazy stroll is good enough.

In the words of Wendell Berry, “When despair for the world grows in me… I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water…”

We’re not really walking for the exercise, we are walking for the peace of wild things. We’re walking to shake off too much sitting, to unplug and disconnect. She’s walking to sniff out her world and see what’s been intruding, I’m walking to let go of the intrusive concerns of mankind, to balance myself by returning to a more natural perspective of life.

Our lazy strolls are relaxing (and certainly needed), but I prefer to walk through snow than mud. The world is more hushed, pristine and peaceful.  Snow is so beautiful and relaxing. Mud–is mud. It’s slippery, it stains, it seeps and sloshes.

Daisy too prefers snow over mud. In the snow she is friskier, livelier, and the white of her face seems less obvious on the white background. But in the mud she steps gingerly, dainty and delicate, knowing she’ll wear any major splashes on her belly and backside. When we return home, she spends extra time cleaning her legs and feet after I’ve toweled them off.

On today’s walk, I found an abandoned turtle shell, and Daisy waded into the lake’s edge to slurp big gulps of fresh water.  I noticed my tulips sprouting already, and some of the lilies. A few of our honey bees were buzzing around the outside trash cans. Sights of spring in late January, fresh life that will likely be frozen when the weekend temperatures drop again.

Those with cold frame gardens are surely being blessed currently with kale, carrots, even perhaps hardy lettuces, or even broccoli. Each year I hope to start a winter garden, and each fall I’m so worn out by the summer garden, the winter garden has yet to happen. But, the sight of the tulips and some lily sprouts makes me wonder about the asparagus, if it will also be popping up early. Makes me think about planting peas.

I do hope for more cold and snow before spring arrives. I hope for a winter that feels like winter. A serious dose of pristine white that solidifies mud, turns the squishing to crunching, one that frosts the tips of the tulips.  One more fat, fluffy snowfall that continues for a full day and night. One that lingers for days before melting away.

I hope for a cold snap that kills bugs, a snowfall that forces me to wear my snow boots, soft-lined and snuggly, especially compared to my blue rubber boots. I hope I can go from snow boots to garden clogs, and skip over all this mud.

Surely winter can’t be over yet.

 

This essay appears as Lisa’s column in the February issue of Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine. To enjoy the entire magazine as a flipbook, visit twolanelivin.com.