The Overwhelming Moments of (Farm) Life

Last night, we got one of those soaking rains that have – despite that it seems impossible – made the grass even greener today.  The garden has grown inches over night, it seems, and the pasture streams that mostly hide themselves have made a fresh appearance this morning.

The Overwhelming Moments of (Farm) Life

Sabeen got himself a bit tangled up in the fencing for the expanded chicken run(

There’s a lot of life here on the farm these days.

In our garden, peas stand a couple inches tall, and the lettuce is beginning so unfurl her spirals of bibs.  The onions are fervent in their growth, too.  And the sci-fi green of the new rhubard leaves can almost steal your heart if you’re not careful.

Honestly, it’s almost too much.

In many ways, this farm feels like too much some days.  We always have more to do – just for maintenance – and when we add plans for new things along with the regular upkeep, we get overwhelmed.  Philip looked at me yesterday and said, “It never ends” when we had one more plate of scraps to carry to the chickens.  And he’s right. It never does.

I’m not complaining – at least not adamantly.  Everyone feel this way with laundry or cleaning the kitchen or going back to work another day.  And our “never ending” list is full of the things we love – fresh food and time with animals and the chance to breathe deep in a country air so rich with life that I find myself teary on a daily basis.

But sometimes, when the physical and  financial costs of building a barn and setting it up as a retreat space, tending 41 mouths, keeping fence line intact, repairing a 66-year-old tractor, mowing an acre of grass, transforming a voting house into a farm store become great, it can be hard to remember that all this comes with the great rewards of living a life that we love.

Just now, we are in a place where the costs feel heavier than the gifts. . . particularly financially.  While we recognize that we are blessed beyond measure, that we have privilege and wealth many would dream of, we are also frustrated by the sheer price of things like lumber and gravel and vet bills.  It feels sometimes like we take one step forward just to take two back as we try to budget and be financially responsible with the gifts we have been given.

So I’m just sharing, not to exact sympathy or advice, but simply to put it out in the world. I’m certainly aware that I may sound whiny when Nepal has been shaken to pieces and young black men and women are being killed on what feels like a daily basis.  I’m just sharing what’s on my heart and mind these days, putting the words out in the world with the people who have come to walk this farming path with us because to speak this beautiful burden into words is to lift it a bit, to shift it enough that we can continue to carry it forward into our dreams.

Thank you for walking with us, for reading these words, for liking our pictures on Facebook. (Really, every like is a little spark of joy in a very real way.)  Thank you for standing beside us as we find our way down the road of our dreams for God’s Whisper Farm, a dream that we hope – in the richest, deepest part of our spirits – will help bring rest to a too-busy world and healing to the broken-up places in our souls. 

 

Our Etsy shop is the online version of what our farm store will – soon-ish – be, minus the veggie starts and fresh eggs, of course. :)  Stop by and browse if you will. 

 

 

Double Persistence: A Writers Write Interview with Melissa Holbrook Pierson

As you would expect, as soon as I saw the title of Melissa Pierson’s new book, I was hooked.  Someone who has a dog and writes about dogs . . . as a woman with for dogs of her own, I was in.  Melissa is kind and thoughtful, too.  I plan on reading all of her books, not just “the dog one,” and I hope you’ll do the same.

Double Persistence: A Writers Write Interview with Melissa Holbrook Pierson1. Tell me about your latest project. 

My new book, The Secret History of Kindness, was a very long time in the making.  I first conceived it in what feels like another lifetime: well over fifteen years ago, when I saw the miracles a thing called “clicker training” was performing on my difficult dog.  It led me to the study of behaviorism, the life of B. F. Skinner, and the belief there was a book in it.  As is the way with most of my books, though, the one first conceived is practically unrecognizable from the one that finally gets written.  And this one was even longer than all the others due to several factors: the amount of research, which kept getting taller and taller to the point where I feared I might be crushed under it (I’m neither a scientist nor a journalist, so what the heck was I doing?!); the intervening of a personal life crisis, which derailed the book for a long while when I couldn’t remember why I wanted to write it in the first place; the writing of another book before resuming this one.

2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood? 

Oh, how many ways to say, “Books were everything!”  They were a refuge, an addiction.  The library—the fact that there was a place where I could bring home any book I wanted, for free!—was an amazement; I can still close my eyes and smell the peculiar fragrance of the children’s shelves at the library.  (Later I also mined my parents’ bookshelves, discovering Jules Verne and also some things they didn’t want me to discover.)  I think one of the great things about being a voracious reader in childhood is that you don’t suffer from some of the restrictive pretensions you can grow up to hold: you read everything you want to, regardless of perceived “quality.”  So, Nancy Drew, and every book with a picture of a horse on it.  And also the great classics, like Roald Dahl and all the nature books.  When you are a child reading for passion, you learn what books are really for.  And it’s not the salving of an ego that needs to know it’s only permitting “the finest.”

3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?

Would that I had one.  I am sure I would be a lot more productive.  All too often, though, I let my deadlines be my goad: I procrastinate until I can do so no longer, then I sit down too late at night and write in a fury.  I edit in the clear light of day, however!

4. Who are you reading now?

My “side jobs” are proofreading and book reviewing—yes, it’s all books, all the time!  And around those I fit in the books that will form the research on my own next book: sometimes it takes me a l-o-n-g time to get through a book that’s only “for me” given all the other books I read.  Currently, the book that fits into that category is a relatively new, and definitive, history of the battle of Gettysburg, by Allen Guelzo.

5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?

Oh, man.  This is hard.  First I would say Jude the Obscure: it seared me when I first read it.  It’s compressed like poetry, emotionally devastating.  Then, Moby-Dick.  There is nothing like it in the English language; I think it will forever be one of the most avant-garde works of literature ever made.  The stories of Joyce’s Dubliners are such a height of perfection it’s almost silly to try to say something about them.  The first time I read them, I remember sitting there feeling as if all the air had been sucked out of the room.

6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?

It hit me that if I were starting out today, with exactly the same abilities and ideas as when I first published in the “pre-platform” days (my first book came out in ’97), I would never have published at all.  Because I seem unable to do that—or maybe I’m resistant to self-promotion in the extreme.  I did try to “build a platform” based on my already existing one, aka readership, for my first book on motorcycles when I published my second one.  I don’t think it helped much, or at any rate was worth the amount of time I put into it.  I long for the Good Ol’ Days, when in-house publicists did that work and freed the writer up to . . . write.

7. What is a typical day like for you?

No such thing in my life, really: I’ve been a single parent for the past seven years, from my son’s 8th through 15th years (and counting).  His schedule has determined my time, where I have to drive him, snow days, sick days, the like.   Good thing, perhaps, that the alarm rings at daybreak so I can get him off to school: I’m a natural night owl, but my mind is truly clear in the early morning and a burst of work for a couple of hours then can sometimes be worth a whole night’s wandering around in my head.

8. Describe your dream writing space?

Not really practical, but I feel a lot of nostalgic gratitude to a wonderful old bar in Hoboken, NJ, where by the light of the jukebox I started writing what would become my first book.  I like to work out of the house, in the company of others—but others I don’t know and don’t feel compelled to talk to.  No matter what kind of clean and lovely space I set up for myself in my house, I end up never using it.  (When I was a girl I used to write sitting in the branches of a maple tree, so I can see this has an early beginning.)  Now the places I like best are a local cafe that’s also filled with people pecking away at their laptops; and outdoors at home when the weather permits: I crave the warmth of the sun, and I stare off into the trees while waiting for inspiration.

9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?

There have been a couple, both in the same vein, pointing out what amounts to a failure of attention to particulars, or perhaps hubris.  In one, I finally got an assignment from what I consider one of the best book review outlets in the country.  I was thrilled!  I wrote what I thought was a really good review—and the editor rejected it.  I had written it to suit the tone of the outlet I usually write for, not his.  It wasn’t right, and I should have known it.  The other was an essay for an anthology, and I turned in something so unwieldy and crappily edited it, too, was rejected.  It was a “learning humiliation,” I guess.  Subsequently, I edited the heck out of it, and it’s now a very good piece. Currently homeless.

10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?

Always remember writing takes double persistence, the kind of steadfast determination that makes a mountain climber: first you have to push back your own demons, self-doubt, and criticism; then you have to push against the silence of others who are in the position of judging your work.  Without their agreement, it stays in the drawer, unread.  These are hard to overcome, but as a writer you have to get tough.  Believe in yourself.

 

Double Persistence: A Writers Write Interview with Melissa Holbrook PiersonMelissa Holbrook Pierson‘s new book, The Secret History of Kindness, is new from W. W. Norton.  Her previous books include The Perfect Vehicle, The Place You Love Is Gone, and The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing.  She has written on a variety of subjects, notably books, film, and the natural world, for many publications, from Harper’s and Entertainment Weekly to Orion and The Nation. Learn more about her and her work at her website – www.melissaholbrookpierson.com

Strength in Softness. Silence in Speech.

Strength in Softness. Silence in Speech

These were the words that came to me after I thought about Julie and Linford

When we were in college, she made baskets of copper wire.  I saw her work once at what must have been a craft show in our gymnasium, and since that day – despite having known her for more than 20 years, despite having known her as professional, mother, wife – her baskets are what come to mind more than any of the other things I know about her.  In fact, those spirals of glinting, peach wire leap to the space of vision behind my eyes whenever I think of her.

I admire her for that work. For much more, too, but something about a young woman taking a utilitarian object and turning it end to end into both art and craft has stuck with me.

So yesterday, when the lesson in Kelly Rae Roberts‘ class was to pick two people I admire and write down all the ways I appreciate them, am drawn to them, feel them speaking to me, Julie was one of the people I picked.

Linford Detweiler of Over the Rhine was the other, which surprised me because I expected I would choose Karin, the lead singer in the band, the voice, the obvious choice for a woman who finds herself an artist in a world not built for us.  But it was her husband, the other pair in that duo of gusto glory that I chose.  I sat with that revelation a bit at first. Then, I realized that it was his letters to their mailing list that draw me close, help me see in profound and gentle ways. Almost as much as their music, I love those letters.

Then, my lists of admiration spun out, dozens of words of why I love them – everything from fashion to languid, lean body types so different than my own.  Then, as the sparkly dust around the frenzy of getting the words down settled into sunlit patterns, I saw it.

Both Julie and Linford are strong but soft. They both speak and appreciate silence. They are both godly without the brusqueness of aggressive righteousness.

The world says we must fight, strive, hustle for what we want. We are taught as humans – men and women – that we must be strong most but feign tenderness. Life seems to say speak, shout really, all the time, to be heard.

I am so tired of my passion, my strength, my speech requiring so very much bigness.  It is deceptive to appear strong every moment, to always, every minute work, to shout, “Look at me. Over here. I’m doing something you should see.”

Strength can be – usually is – a quiet thing, a breakable thing, a soft-fingered, fern-like thing.  Truth when spoken well is not loud but a whisper, a gentle hush that reaches the ears that need it.  Righteousness in its purest form is small, precious, glimpsed not brazen and pronounced on a t-shirt.

Linford and Julie remind me of these things.  They show me that we can live true and beautiful in our art and our lives without so much shouting and posturing.

They remind me that sometimes our most lasting gifts to the world are not the ones we would expect. Instead, they may be quiet letters and gleaming, wire bowls that glint light into the darkness even years later.

I cannot recommend Kelly Rae Roberts’ “Hello Soul, Hello Mixed Media Mantras” class enough.  It is challenging me, cracking me, grounding me in new ways that I know will change my writing and my life.

Living More Like Wendell Berry

I’m sitting in my new office, the space that used to be the summer kitchen back when electricity was just lightning and the ownership of human beings was tragically normal.

My tuckus is in the cookstove’s former location, the ceiling above me tinged by smoke and grease of decades.

The view from my office.

The view from my office.

My view skims over the garden, which is tucked in terraces below my line of sight, a grace since I might be up too much to weed if I could see the ground ivy creeping in from here.  Beyond, the orchard, the unfortunate power pole, the pasture, and then the neighbor’s farmhouse, empty but tended by the son of the couple who passed some time ago.

It’s everything I love about the country – open land and people who need room but tend each other like the most tiny of garden sprouts with a gentle watching over and a fair amount of space.

**

I’ve been reading Wendell Berry’s wonderful collection of essays, Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food. He engages questions of community and fertilizer and diversification and animal husbandry and solitude in a balance that I can only hope to achieve in my words . . . and my life, too.

I used to scoff at Berry, his unwillingness to own a computer, his insistence that he hand-write his manuscripts (which his wife then types.)  But the longer I live and the more pervasive information is, the more I feel the weight of “being informed” and “involved” in every pressing question of life on earth, the more I get Berry’s choice. The more I shift that way, too.

I’m not going to be discarding my laptop or severing the Internet connection to the house.  But I am slowly beginning to let go of the idea that to be uninformed is to be uncaring, to let something go by is to say that something is unimportant.

I’m getting rid of the feeling that I must stay awake or I might miss something.  I’m so so tired of being punch-drunk with information fatigue.  I need rest.

**

Out the office door,  I can see our orchard, the tiny stand of fruit trees that someone wise planted decades back.  The apples are just flowering and the cherries and pear are already saving up their sugar in fruit.  I sit and watch them be just what they are made to be.  As Merton says, when a tree is being fully itself, then it is most in worship.

I’m aching to be more like a tree. . . rooted in this still place, sharing what I have with those close enough to grab it and taking in what I need from the soil at my feet.

I’ll learn to ignore the power pole when I need to and see beyond it to the lumbering cattle, the green hills, and my neighbors not yet gone.

Do you ever feel overloaded with information and connection? How do you manage that feeling in your daily life? 

The Spark of the Rural South

I can, with one eye squinted, take it all as blessing – Flannery O’Connor

Yesterday, our basset hound pup Mosey had an allergic reaction to the lyme disease vaccine I authorized when the veterinarian with a German/Austrian/Scandinavian accent said that the illness was very prevalent here in this quiet Virginia country.

The Spark of the Rural South

© 2008 vastateparksstaff, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

90 minutes later we were hauling ass out of the country to the nearest emergency vet, Mo’s head swelling up in lumps, his eyes pushed shut, his eyes ballooned. The reaction was bad enough to warrant a 45-minute drive.  But given the distance, we had to weigh things – Benadryl now in case he couldn’t breath or wait until we got to town where they could give him an injection to take care of the full reaction more quickly.

I suspect city folks don’t have to take those choices into hand.  Yet, these are the weights we live to stay in the country land that feeds our soul.

(Lest you think I’m down on city folks, I’m not. The weights of those places are vigilance and mechanized sound, gladly traded for museums and food that does not always involve the phrase “chicken fried.” I prefer the architecture of forests and blossoms, but I can find glory in the spans and arcs of buildings or see how those speak life to other people.)

**

The rural South has a special spark – it’s buried in bullets and plow blades, the reeds of cotton baskets dropped at freedom, the tiny house that hangs that Confederate flag with a pride so fierce you can almost miss that it’s broken.

This is my home.

We have survived the stereotypes that try to whiten up our town rosters and our history.  We take our pride from the goodness and the shadows, just like everyone else.  We say, “Bless your heart” and mean both “f*&^ you” and “I’d hug you if you’d let me.”

Our gifts are subtle here, mimicking the shades of green that tiptoe up the mountains this time of year.

  • Our neighbors keep the tidiest yard – every stick piled to burn when the ban lifts – and we will all know when time turns one of them ill, the lay of their landscape littered with limbs.
  • I walk into the Historical Society and tell the woman there where I live – “Effie Tucker’s house” – and she knows it, knew Ms. Tucker, took classes in the two-room school just a quarter mile up, where Ms. Tucker taught all her years.
  • The lavender of redbuds and the cream of dogwoods line the forests like satin on a blanket.

Here, our internet comes through the paradox of satellite slowness, and we drive 45-minutes to get weekend medicine for puppies and humans.  But we take these burdens for the gifts, would not trade Fios for the gift of peepers on the drive home at dusk.

We are far from perfect – so far from it – but we will bake you a casserole the day your mama dies, and we will sit and swap stories during the little league game.  We will raise a hand in greeting from our porches as you drive by at 90 miles an hour in an effort to save what you love.

We hope you’ll come sometime and share a little of this quiet, Southern place with us.  We’ll take a walk, listen to the peepers, and sit on the porch for a spell.