It Must Be the British In Me

Today we have seen the last hurrah of Tropical Storm Nate pass through our area.  It has been breezy, overcast, and rainy.  It has been a sullen kind of day.  And I love it.

The sky has been changing all day – from the heavy black clouds that greeted me during chores this morning to a glimpse of sunshine and back to a steel gray, ominous sky this afternoon.  While many folks will just look out the window and see an overcast view, I see changing patterns of white and gray.  I see hundreds of varied shades of steely blue-gray piling up, stretching out, and moving away.  I see intricate cloud patterns that change within moments, never to be repeated again.  I see brilliant leaves, wet with rain, splash their colors against the sodden backdrop – and it is beautiful.

I love being outdoors when the mist begins to fall.  The clouds seem to envelope our farm and wash away the dust and pollen making the fading colors pop.  The mist is gentle and refreshing, not yet heavy enough to chase the chickens and pigs into their shelters and under trees and shrubs.  The breeze whispers of brisk, cold days to come as it caresses my damp arms and face – and it is refreshing.

I love being indoors as the rain begins falling heavily and the wind tosses falling leaves into every corner of our property.  Today was a productive day of baking and canning – warming the house and penetrating the air with the smells of freshly baked bread, currant pound cake, and the spicy smell of applesauce cooking on the stove.  I love these smells that speak of home and comfort, safety and plenty.

This is my favorite time of year.  Darkness comes earlier and the coziness of that early darkness ignites a warmth and joy deep within me.  The glow of lights, the spicy warmth of mulling cider, the savory aroma of roasting meat, the pungent smell of wood smoke mixed with dying leaves all combine into a glorious patchwork of fragrance that is only surpassed by the fresh, piney smell of Christmas.

Dark, damp, cold days are some of my favorite days.  It must be the British me.

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Beauty in the Little Things

It has been a very busy summer here on the farm.  We’ve been adding critters left and right…or so it seems.  Piglets born in February, April, and July.  A calf born in April.  New chicks arriving non-stop for two weeks in June.  I do believe we are done for awhile.  During these busy times it is sometimes hard to slow down and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us even in the busy times.

During this hectic time I have taken my camera along to capture some of these treasured moments and I have shared them with my Facebook friends and family.  They are bombarded with pictures of glistening spider webs in the early morning sunshine, wildflowers swaying in the gentle breeze, new chick pictures almost daily filling their newsfeed.  There are pictures of colorful bugs and slimy slugs.   Images of pig snouts, mushroom sprouts, and wooded turn-outs.  The list goes on of the natural beauty that I capture with my camera during the most mundane tasks of farming.

Why do I take the time to capture these images?  Why do I continually post these images to Facebook?  Why do people continue to look at such ordinary images?  I’ll tell you what I think – I think that many people are not in a position to see the beauty in the ordinary.  They live in cities devoid of endless variety of natural life.  They are busy running from home to job to shuffling kids around to endless sports activities.  They live lives that are removed from the rhythm of nature and the heartbeat of country life.  I think in some small way I am bringing the beautiful into their lives – encouraging them to stop and see the intricacies of creation all around them.

I hope in some small way I am helping others to see a loving Creator that thoughtfully planned a beautiful world for His creatures to enjoy.  Take a moment and look around  you as you go out your door tomorrow.  See what beauty is in your own backyard – and relish every moment.

Tranquility

Tranquility, by definition, is the quality of being tranquil; calmness; peacefulness; quiet; serenity.  It is a quality that is sorely missing in today’s society of instant gratification, fast-paced living, and endless consumerism.  It is a quality I find every day on our little slice of heaven on earth.

Tranquility for me comes in many different forms.  There are times that calmness settles over me at a job that must be done – such as holding my old, dying hen while she breathes her last breath.  There is sadness, of course.  There is also a knowledge that she had a wonderful life on our farm.  She was loved and cared for.  She held a special place in my heart as one of my very first chickens – a chicken that always would stand behind me and peck at my boots, jeans, or shirt until I acknowledged her by reaching behind me to pet her.  That same mantle of calmness wraps itself around me hours later when making the decision to euthanize two other old and not-so-healthy hens.  A decision not taken lightly by any means – but a decision to sidestep a slow deterioration to death.  A swift end to birds entrusted to my care and protection.  Birds that had an amazing life and gave years of joy to our family.

Tranquility also comes in the form of quiet days lived without the constant noise and bustle of towns and cities.  It is choosing to say no to endless activity outside of our farm.   It is choosing to leave the radio and television off in order to communicate with each other as a family – to listen to the sounds of the farm and nature instead of the incessant noise of modern entertainment – and I use that term loosely.

Tranquility at is best is the peacefulness and serenity I find in the fields surrounding our house.  It is the gentle grunts of momma pigs as they call the babies to the milk bar for dinner.  It is the peeping and chirping of mother hens calling to the chicks to follow.  It is the sound of momma cow chewing her cud as her calf eagerly suckles his dinner.  It is the sound of crickets, bees, and all manner of insects busy among the flowers and grasses of our fields.  It is the peepers that sing their evening song as the cooling breeze floats through the open windows of our home.  It is the distant song of the birds in the woods bordering our fields that echo around me as I soak in the peace of nature.

If I could wish one thing for you, it would be that you take the time to stop, look, and listen to the beauty that surrounds you.  Pursue tranquility in this bustling, noisy world – and when you find it, don’t let go of it.  Return often to drink in the peacefulness that washes over your soul at the smallest delights that are all around us.

Building Fort Knox

It seems like forever since I have taken the time to sit down and write a blog post.  Spring is a busy time even on a tiny farm like ours.  And Mother’s Day weekend was no exception – it was memorable.

We decided to (finally) move our daughter’s 4H pigs out of the barn and into the pasture which is lush with spring grass.  The poor little guys had never known any home but the spacious stall in the barn since their birth in February.  It was definitely time!  We backed the borrowed stock trailer up to the barn doors and coaxed the little rascals with a quart of vanilla yogurt – one of their favorite treats.  In they went with no trouble.  We proceeded to unload them in our training pasture.  Let me pause here to explain what a training pasture is.

Our training area is a large double-fenced area where young piglets or new-to-us pigs learn what an electric fence is.  We have three strands of electric fence around the area and field fence/sheep fence/woven wire fence (whatever you want to call it) on the outside of that.  The reasoning behind a double fence is that when a piglet is shocked by the electric fence, they have an uncanny tendency to run forward and through the shocking wires, squealing as they run.  The field fence prevents such a daring escape and makes them back up and learn that the wire means danger and do not cross.  Lest you think we are sadistic executioners, I’ve been zapped several times and it really is no more painful than a bee sting – it just depends on where you happen to get zapped as to how effective it is.  So, our little guys were securely enclosed in the training run, enjoying the fresh grass, dirt, and country air so we went to pick up a new-to-us tractor.

Three hours later we arrive home to find the six foot gate ripped off it’s hinges and our boar Henry and his bride Ruby lounging back in the hut within the training run.  You see, Henry is a little possessive.  He had the training run first, and therefore it did not matter that he had a huge U-shaped pasture, new hut with fresh hay, new water tank, and food.  That was his hut, and he was going to stay there.  Needless to say, Trigger and Bullet (the piglets) were on the lam.  After much coaxing and gentle guidance, we were able to run them into the upper pasture – with electric fence only, no field fence.  We watched them for a bit to make sure they didn’t give us the slip and we were satisfied that they just might be okay there.

But – and there is always a but – we had to castrate our youngest male piglets that morning.  Did I mention that piglets squeal very, very loudly when you pick them up?  Well, lets just say that Trigger and Bullet were not impressed with the squealing coming from the direction of our front pasture.  You can imagine what happened next – the discovery was made that they made a prison break.  Did I mention that it was raining all day Saturday?  Did I mention that we live on top of a hill?  Did I mention that we have acres of woods adjoining the pasture?  Did I mention the little stinkers were free and enjoying being elusive?  Hours.  And I mean hours later, soaked to the skin and looking like drowned rats, we found them at the bottom of our ravine next to the bridge.  It was like watching the Pied Piper – my in-laws on their 4-wheeler leading two naughty pigs out of the woods.  After another round of coaxing and gentle pushing, they were back where they belonged.

To make a long story short, the following two days were spent on pins and needles.  Constant vigilance to make sure they were staying where they belonged (and they didn’t).  And Fort Knox was built.  Yes, we purchased more field fence and made yet another pig proof training run.  They have learned their boundaries and have settled nicely into their pasture.  They are happily digging in the cool, damp earth making their cooling mud pits.  The are nibbling on the long grasses and clover as they explore.  They are happy little pigs – as is Henry.  He remains King of the Pasture, fat and content in his throne room with his Queen beside him.

And did you also know that Fort Knox was built in a day?

May Day

May Day traditionally marked the return of spring.  Through the years, the celebrations have changed and morphed until it now passes, in most cases, as just a day on the calendar.  While I have always thought the celebration of May Day was quaint and nice, I have never actually participated in the more traditional celebrations – maypoles and leaving flowers on a neighbor’s doorstep.  My May Day celebration was a more visceral and practical celebration on our farm.

The day began as usual with chores – of which I shall not bore you with another run-down of feeding animals – breakfast, Bible reading, and prayer followed by homeschooling.  We always “do” our homeschool first because if we become involved in other pursuits, well…

After finishing up our school work and having leftovers for lunch, I headed out to the garden.  I had a nice crop of weeds taking over the vegetable beds – and I needed to remove the volunteers before planting what I want to grow.  The weather was almost perfect for me – cool, cloudy, and breezy.  I prefer that kind of weather when working outside.  Cool means I don’t sweat like a hog – which by-the-way, do not sweat; they roll in the mud to keep cool.  Cloudy means I do not look like a lobster with goosebumps by the time I am done gardening – I’m sensitive to the sun and end up with an itchy, bumpy rash when I am sunburned.  Breezy means natural bug control – I hate bugs.  So my day was shaping up quite nicely.  I blew through most of the garden this afternoon making it look pretty presentable and ready for planting.  Hubby was kind enough to dump several loads of composted manure into the finished beds – so now begins the turning and mixing in of dirt and compost to make a most amazing canvas for vegetable and herbs.

After dumping the weeds in our brush pile, I completed afternoon chores – complete with calf time while momma was eating her grain.  Sammy is so silky soft and eager for scratches behind his ears – and then jumpy and nervous that someone besides momma is touching him.  After momma was done, I turned my bucket over and sat in the pasture watching momma and baby grazing contentedly.  I feel sometimes that I could sit all day watching the farm animals – but there are many other things pulling at me that prevent such a luxury as lounging in a field all day.

As I reflect on the day, I am thinking of spiritual connections between gardening and our lives.  I have shared before how my main crop tends to be weeds.  I can grow them bigger and better than any flower or vegetable.  As I was pulling weeds today, I thought how weeds in the garden are a picture of sin in our lives – weeds, like sins, start out small and do not seem harmful.  We can overlook them until they take a firm root in the fertile soil of our lives.  Weeds with deep roots- deeper than we can dig out- are like unchecked sin in our lives.  It takes root and grows, snuffing out the good fruit that should be in our lives.  Weeds, like sin, take over until all that is left is ugliness and an uncontrolled life.  It takes the gentle hands of the Master Gardener to dig deeply into the soil of our hearts, loosening the fingers of sin until we are free from the ugliness of it.  The Master Gardener cleans up the garden of our soul so that real fruit can grow and thrive in the rich soil of our hearts.

It was a great day.

All Is Well

This morning as I set about doing chores, it crossed my mind that all is well on the farm.  A farm, even the smallest – such as ours, goes through seasons of change.

There is the gritty season of getting through the snow and cold of winter – including keeping piglets and mommas warm and dry, making sure hay is rationed but plentiful so you have enough until spring, and making sure water is running and not frozen solid.

There is the sweltering season of summer (I know I missed spring – I did that on purpose).  During the summer months, grass is thick and rich for the cows.  The pigs lounge in the fields or under trees taking several mud baths a day to keep cool, water is chugged by the gallon and it is a never-ending cycle of filling water tanks.  Chickens are fat with plenty of bugs and grass to eat – the feed bill goes down for sure!  Everywhere you look is lush and green.  Hay is made on the hottest, driest days of summer, stored under cover for winter use.

Autumn brings preparation for winter.  Moving animals to winter pastures or barns, stocking up on feed, sending pigs to Freezer Camp, prepping the chicken coop for winter.  Making sure equipment is winterized and put away until next season – the list goes on.  A busy time for sure.

Then there is spring.  The time of new life on a farm.  Hens tend to go broody and want to sit on fertilized eggs in the spring.  Farrowing of piglets which started in the cold days of February are easier now.  No concerns of frozen piglets during the springtime!  Momma pigs are taking long, leisurely walks with tiny tumbling piglets in tow.  The grass is emerging in rich, vibrant greens that the cows are eager to digest – gone is their hay ration – on to greener pastures!  That was bad, I know.  Waiting for the first calf on our farm to make it’s entrance into this world – hoping that it is born on a warm and dry day.  Pigs are eating the luscious green grass as well – yes, pastured pigs eat grass – pigs are omnivores (as are chickens) and will gratefully eat just about anything if you let them.  The trees are budding and the hillsides are awash with a patchwork of color – the reds of leaf buds, the soft greens of tiny leaves unfurling, the whites and pinks of flowering trees dotting the landscape to make a gorgeous earthen quilt.  Birds sing joyfully as they flit here and there gathering nest material for their homes.

Life seems to get easier when winter gives way to spring – busier for sure with baby animals to tend to – but easier.  Concerns melt like the snow and you decide that farm  life is a pretty good life to live.  All is well.

Whimsical Gloom

This morning was one of those quietly magical mornings where you could envision woodland fairies dancing in the forest.

Fog lay thickly over the pastures and wrapped it’s ghostly fingers among the still bare trees.  Pale gold leaves left over from last fall stood out starkly against the wet dark trunks of the trees and the creeping gray fog.  The birds were quietly chirping their morning songs – almost as if they were trying not to break the spell that seemed to be hovering over the landscape.  The animals seemed hesitant to wake – as if they, too might chase the peaceful shadows away and bring reality back to the forefront of my wild imaginations.

I walked quietly from barn to pastures, speaking softly to all my charges.  I paused in the front pasture to play with our youngest piglets while Momma Rose enjoyed her breakfast rations.  I fed Henry and Ruby then walked down the hill to find Sleepy nestled under sheltering trees.  Even the chickens held their peace on this magical day.

The morning cried out for silence and praise to her Maker as I made my way around the farm.  The sheer beauty of such whimsical gloom wrapped me up in its peace – contentment stealing into my very soul.  I knew the skies would remain low and heavy throughout the day and then give way to rain and storms by evening – not because the weatherman told me – but because mornings such as this do not release their hold easily.

So tonight as I listen to the dripping of rain off the eaves, I hear the peepers blending their voices to sing the song of spring.  The fairies have all gone back into hiding, blending back into the landscape and waiting for the next magical morning to reappear in the distant future.

There is joy in the little things – and I hope you take the time to seek and to find those little things all around you.