Jilly D.

Archive for the ‘The Farm’ Category

Sweat Pea liked corn silk

In Off-The-Grid Memoir, The Farm on May 24, 2014 at 2:37 pm

peasThe peas had sprouted in the field over the warm, sunny Memorial Day weekend. Their green leaves, shoots and vines appeared as the earliest of the summer row crops in the field as the month changed to June.

“Sweet Pea,” the fawn, slept between us for two nights in bed. Every breath she took I felt upon my cheek. She continued to thrive without incident.

Once she discovered how to move those legs it was soon time to move her to the barn where she was safe in a pen. So frail and wobbly on that third day, she’d move those legs in every direction at once. We didn’t want her to break a leg. She danced and pranced around the floors.

Those little hooves sounded like a herd of horses inside our little cabin. Clop-clop. Clop-clop. Sweet Pea quickly learned to gallop before she took a leap. She jumped into the bed. She jumped down from the bed. She jumped onto the kitchen table and off again.

We couldn’t let her jump off the table, counter, bed and wood stove. She wanted to spring off the walls. Then she hit the triple pane glass window and stopped in her tracks. Stunned only momentarily, she kept leaping and dancing until Sam picked her up in his arms. Then she calmed herself and bowed her head.

The next morning Sam started building Sweet Pea’s pen in the barn. Her neighbors were two Nubian goats. By mid-afternoon he moved Sweet Pea into her own stall with fresh hay and water. Sam warmed the milk replacer inside the cabin and took it to Sweet Pea out in the barn.

100_1030Four times a day he fed her. She got stronger and bigger. She ate hay right away. Once she started drinking water, he cut back to three times a day. By the end of July he gave her a quart bottle in the morning and in the evening.

We introduced treats into Sweet Pea’s diet from our garden. A handful of strawberries, some pea vines, salad greens and spinach proved tasty. Once the sweet corn tasseled, Sam cut down whole stalks for Sweet Pea to enjoy.

Deer love corn silk. They like corn, but there is something about the silk they are really passionate about. Deer can do an enormous amount of damage to a corn field, but they are largely in search of only one thing: the delicacy of tender corn silk.

Whoever devised the marketing behind corn silk as a beauty product must have been a city slicker. When you walk through rows of corn be ready to get gunky dirty. The pollen will cover you in a sticky dust and the corn silk is greasy and gets caught in your hair.

Corn silk is the “hair” that appears growing out of the top of an ear of corn. You know corn has been successfully pollinated when the ears begin to form and silk appears.

Because corn silk so resembles hair, I describe the early stages of sweet corn as “blonde.” This honey colored silk appears when the cob is first forming inside. Certain varieties of corn produce silk that turns to red hair before going brunette. When the ears are ready to harvest, the corn silk turns a dark brown, shrivels up and becomes dry and brittle. First blond, then red, finally brunette.

Sweet corn is ready to eat when the ears begin to bend away from the stalk, the silk turns brown and brittle and the end of the ear is rounded at the top. When I pick sweet corn I look for ears that extend toward me like a handshake. From a 45 to 90 degree angle, the ears protrude right into your grasp. I run my hand from the base to the tip. When the end is blunt instead of pointed, I grab hold of the ear and twist before jerking the ear loose. If it doesn’t come off with a single pull, it’s probably not ready yet. Twist and pull. Ears of corn ready to eat nearly pop off into your hand.

Sweet Pea loved sweet corn. She also liked field corn. She ate it off the cob, kernel by kernel all winter long. Sweet alfalfa hay and red clover bales kept her satisfied. Apples, pears, squash, carrots and beets provided winter sweet treats.

She grew into a yearling doe. Sam enjoyed a deep personal connection with Sweet Pea. In the mornings they would converse in some form of animal speak. Before dinner Sam would spend time with her again.

920443-R1-02-3ASam got his class B deer farm license and I got my Wildlife Rehabilitators’ license from NYS Dept of Environmental Conservation. We did research and built 10 ft. tall fencing to comply with upcoming state regulations in anticipation of dealing with the threat of Chronic Wasting Disease. We studied hard and did our best to keep this little orphan safe and alive while her mother still faced the risk of hunters and automobiles.

Sometimes Sam would encourage me to come out to the barn and spend time with Sweet Pea. One time she nuzzled my face and sniffed the top of my head. Then she took a big bite out of my ponytail. Looked like corn silk, but didn’t taste quite the same.


Cold enough?

In Off-The-Grid Memoir, The Farm, Time and seasons, Uncategorized on January 26, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Mixed with milk and sugar, hand-cranked fresh-ground coffee welcomes our day. From the table we can see out the floor to ceiling windows and watch the passing of seasons. Sitting and sipping coffee, the day’s plans unfold between us.

When darkness lifts, the work begins. In winter, the chores involve bringing wood in, feeding and watering the barn animals, walking the dogs, feeding the cat and keeping the fires going, then cooking and baking and tending the coals. In between chores you can catch stretches of daylight hours to accomplish one or more items from a very long honey-do list.

Sam gets dressed in the morning to go out in the cold and he climbs up on the roof to sweep the snow off the solar panel banks. As soon as there is morning light, snow has to be cleared or the photovoltaics will not generate power. They don’t require direct sunlight to make electricity, but they do need light. The brightness of a fresh snow can boost up the power as long as the solar panels are directly exposed.On Warren Pond Farm

The bank of panels on the wood shed is on a roof facing mostly to the east catching the early daylight hours. This second bank faces south and catches the rays from mid-morning to sunset. With 25 year warranties none of the panels have gone bad. One broke in a bad windstorm when it was torn off the roof. More than one fell off, but only one broke. Not bad for 10 years.

Going green is simple but it isn’t always easy. Getting up and going out first thing in the bitter cold morning is one of the prices to pay. The snow removed from the solar panels and the wood box full with dry tinder; Sam never complains about these early morning chores despite January blues.

“Want another cup of coffee?” I ask as Sam comes in to shake off the morning snow and cold. Purely rhetorical; the real question is whether there is any home-brewed left.

For some the price of living off-the-grid is too high. Making real choices between keeping the electric fence on or running the lights late into the night or between watching television or keeping the freezer running are unnecessary inconveniences to modern folk. Can I find a hairdo that doesn’t require any care beyond a once-a-week shampoo? The curling iron, the blow dryer, the bathroom fan, the machine-dried towels, and the thousands of gallons of hot water for daily showers are things I can live without. Can’t watch TV? I can read by oil lamp and it’s more romantic. Dump the CuisinArt for a wooden spoon. For me, it seems sheer luxury.

Just before the sun rises I wake. Deciding between darkness and light exactly how my day will play out; my hopes and dreams belong to the preconscious moment.

It’s in those early moments of day when life surprises me. The blue heron who decides this morning to catch a fish and eat it within 20 feet of me. A small herd of Whitetail deer prance around the pond taking a morning sip and exercise their fawns in the drifts on the alfalfa field. On snowy mornings the critters leave their tracks for deciphering. Mink, bear, possum, pheasant, mice, fox, skunks, chipmunks, raccoons, bobcats, and coyotes leave their prints.

Weather predictions are most accurate when made early in the morning after your skin feels the temperature, wind speed and humidity levels. When your future depends more on climate than stock reports or sports scores, those first moments of morning are important to making a schedule for the day. You can foretell much from those first moments awake. If there is dew on the ground, then there will be no rain today. Plan accordingly.

Torn asunder

In Grief, The Farm on February 7, 2013 at 1:58 am

Collin Anderson loved Rachel F. I know why.

Rachel coordinated a Crop Mob at On Warren Pond Farm the summer after Sam died. She organized a community group of volunteers to help me bring in the last of the summer’s produce. During my year of magical thinking, Rachel appeared like an angel. We’ve remained in touch through social media and because of our mutual interests in Groundswell and Cornell University’s Small Farms Programs.

What sweet coincidence that Collin’s parents became the new stewards of the farm in 2010 and that this year he and Rachel had moved into our home; the cabin Sam built. I adored the Andersons for reclamating our love shack and it seemed fitting to see a young couple dedicated with heart and mind to sustainability in our old haunt.

I had just learned from Violet Stone that she’d fallen in love this past summer along the edge of the pond on the farm. She and Josh are expecting a baby. This land is sacred land. I love it still. Sam loved it even more.

Bitter irony that Rachel and I have become sisters in suffering the sudden loss of the love of our lives. Bitter irony that the rough cut lumber inside her home are the same walls to which I wailed in pain at the breaking of my heart when Sam died. Rachel and Collin mirrored the best of my romance with Sam. What Alonzo Wilder meant to Laura Ingalls, so Sam meant to me. He could do anything he set his heart upon.

Bitter taste when I felt the horror Suzanne and Daryl, Collin’s parents, his sisters and brother, and Rachel went through today in letting Collin go to the other side. My tears won’t subside.

My heart pounds. Death came to my door on Saturday afternoon and I wasn’t home. Someone knocked and my dogsitter, Antonia, afraid of the big bad wolf in the woods, hid upstairs and let Lucy and Scooby bark until he went away. So the Grim Reaper took another?  When I heard the news from my friend Mary about the accident early Monday morning, the scene flashed into my mind. I witnessed it in my subconscious as some sign from Sam.

There was a car full of people partying and they kept slowing down and speeding up in front of Rachel and Collin. I could hear Sam’s voice getting irritated at stupid drivers. He turned the radio down and sat up straight.

Signaling left, Rachel flicked on her turning signal and pulled into the left lane to pass. When she did the car to her right sped up like a high school drag race on an icy highway. They approached Van Dorn Road on the left. The water tower and the old Perry City Poor House appeared on the right.  When the car full of fools kept speeding up, Rachel touched the brake to slow back down and pull in behind them and then the car began to spin out of control.

The partiers sped up and disappeared as they watched the Toyota crash into a truck that had just pulled onto SR 96 from Van Dorn Road. Uninvolved? Who was in that vehicle? I heard the helicopters arrive. The rest of this memory becomes a blur and a physical reaction. That same gut punch I felt at the funeral home to make arrangements for Sam’s funeral have caught me by surprise. Makes me want to vomit.

I wasn’t there. It didn’t happen that way. I can’t shake it loose from inside my memory maker.

The familiarity of how grief slaps you across the face when you least expect it, or deserve it. The recognition of how a slash in time allows no goodbyes. The grotesque reality you can’t take it back. There are no retakes, no rewinds. The what ifs will forever remain an unsolved mystery. The rich, passionate, fulfilling love experienced between two souls meant for one another torn asunder.

Torn asunder.

Peace Collin. Give Sam a kiss from me and Rachel. That will make him squirm. Collin is very much the son Sam wished he’d been a father, friend and mentor. I hope their spirits meet and share the love of music, words, the land, sustainability, family and farming. Sam was a friend to everyone and generous to a fault. While I didn’t know Collin very well, they seem to have shared these qualities too.

We are all connected. My friend who had been in a car accident and broken her wrist wept when I told her I was sad and why. My friend whose son is the same age as Collin and who feels bonded because their boys were involved since childhood and their paths have crossed many times in this community of friends. We are all connected. Friends who have lost children, parents, and friends. We are all connected by grief.

Torn asunder.

World’s Greatest Pea Shelling Machine

In Anniversary and memorials, New beginnings, The Farm, Time and seasons on May 4, 2012 at 4:11 am

Nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs, I took to the stage when my name was called.

Speaking into the microphone, I said the magic word of the day. Peas.

Way out of my comfort zone, tonight I ventured into Lot 10 for Trampoline, the new local venue for competitive storytelling. The kickoff to Spring Writes Literary Festival in Ithaca this weekend. I don’t like showing up in bars alone on a week night. Still a homebody after all these years. (RIP JD Salinger)

But I made myself go. My friend Laura Reid won last month’s competition hands-down. She showed up with her mom and made me feel at home with old friends. Deirdre Cunningham also came and I forced her to sign up to tell a story. Hers was about galloping on a horse for the first time at age 12; racing against her dad on his horse.

The theme was: world’s greatest.

So what story did I tell? The world’s greatest pea-shelling machine. Sharing my love of sweet peas and fond memories of Uncle Donald and his magical machine made me feel something I hadn’t in a long time: happy.

It’s May and the pea vines grow.

Share the Moon with me, Sam

In Grief, The Farm, Time and seasons on November 5, 2011 at 2:56 am

I wish you could be there with me to share the moon tonight, Sam. All the stars are out. But you are not. You made a choice. Certainly wasn’t my decision.

I am at peace, you thought it best. I didn’t agree with your reasons even though I can still hear your thoughts and very few words. Quit while you’re ahead; when others owed you and your debts paid free and clear according to your calculations. No long drawn out downhill. You were done paying your ex-wife for a bastard son. You weren’t going to live to see your parents die. You’d broken both wrists and who knows how many ribs and the skin cancer had come back with vengeance. I thought we had it made on our homestead and it wasn’t going to get any better. The best times stood behind us in our rearview remembrances. But you’d rather die than tell me what was on your mind?

How many times did we watch the movie Titanic together? You fancied yourself my Jack. Love at first sight. Like Rose, I would do anything for you and when the ship finally sank and we were alone in that freezing water, you told me to just hang on and never let go.  But when I woke up you were dead floating in the Atlantic ocean and your fingers frozen in my grip.

“Jack, Jack, Come back!” Rose sobbed on the big screen.

I walked the farm’s hedge rows crying and screaming for weeks two years ago. “Sam, Sam, Come back to me! Please, Sam. Sam, come back to me.”  

You can’t.  You’re not coming back.

Two years later, I am not the same woman you left behind adrift on the open seas and in need of rescue. I’ve grown accustomed to living without you. And it’s okay. Just okay. Okay. Even the new grey hairs and lines in my face show the devastation I’ve experienced since you left me.  But now I’m able to carry on and it will be a long time coming with more changes, and that’s okay too.

I’m doing a lot of things different because I am no longer living in deference to your preferences. I eat Asian food with lots of rice. Work on three projects simultaneously and spread out all over the house. Read books in bed. Knit while watching chick flicks. Take long hot showers. Swing dance lessons. Book clubs. Art trail and community potlucks. Hike the state parks, host friends for brunch, meet at Felicia’s for cocktail hour, volunteer at the library, and participate in local political campaigns. I have new friends found in support groups; I could not endure the loss of your love without help. The grief brought us together, but friendship keeps us together. And I am a better person for it. It’s been a painful process but I learned who my real friends and family are and are not. And I’ve learned about what I need, or don’t, want, or not, and begun to open myself up to opportunities I wouldn’t have considered if we were still together trying to farm sustainably. So I’ve changed. So much so that I don’t know that we would be together if you did come back now and I am who I am today.

And in that awareness, I let you go; slowly loosening my grief grasp on your hand frozen in time inside mine. Like Rose in the movie Titanic, I’ll never forget you. I’ll always love you and cherish our memories of sweet dreams. Sleep.

The 4th of July and wild black raspberries

In Grief, Holidays, The Farm, Time and seasons on July 4, 2011 at 9:22 pm

Hamburgers, sausage with pepers and onions, potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans, fresh fruit salad, watermelon, chips and raw veggies with dips. Picnic today. An American tradition I decided to observe at the invitation of Sam’s sister, Judy. Driving out west State Route 79 I noticed so many little things have changed along the side of the highway. It’s been weeks since I took my old route “home.”  I started crying when I rounded the curve and down the hill to the left turn onto Buck Hill Road.

Heading south towards On Warren Pond Farm used to make my heart race. I would speed up so I could get back to Sam sooner. Today my tears rushed like a river and my heart sank deep down into the pit of my gut. I can’t go home anymore. Never thought this would be a hard day, the grief just snuck up on me.

Just one joy in walking with great niece Jadyn along the hedgerows and teaching her where the red and black raspberries are hidden along the hedgerows. Jadyn didn’t know there were black cherry trees in her yard. Not quite ripe, we tasted some. Not sure Jadyn will be back to pick those. Too sour.

Tiny fruit with big pits, the black cherries are my favorite fruit to forage. Stains of burgundy on my hands and mouth mark the wild pleasure.

I know this land like the back of my own hand. But now I am estranged and alienated from its terrain. Peeking down the field, the cabin gone and windmill down makes the barn and machine shed look bigger and different. The shimmering blue surface of the pond winked at me. I choked back the tears and Jadyn and I took the trail back to her Gramma Judy’s house.

The sun was hot, the grass was tall, the raspberry bushes pricked us again and again. The price of a berry.

Stirred, shaken, crushed

In Mourning, Pictures and memories, Signs from beyond, The Farm, Time and seasons on April 13, 2011 at 3:05 am

The interior life of my middle life has so many reference points in the external world and yet at moments it slips into an abyss of alienation from all of that reality. To get grounded I’ve been taking the dogs on long walks back along the shores of Warren Pond. The snow is all gone, though it’s still too wet to plow the fields.

It’s good to see vehicles in front of the cabin and barns. Seeing guys working as I turned down into the field from the long curving lane made me take a breath and relax. Things are happening; improvements are being made.

The back addition, the ‘sun room’ where Sam had installed a panorama for his Lionel Train set is long gone. All the solar panels are off the roof and most all of the wood is being saved for reuse. The Andersons, who bought the farm last September, are moving forward with their own exciting plans to build sustainably. The millhouse came down yesterday afternoon.

The waterwheel, ten feet in diameter, made of steel, stood under the sky again. I remembered Sam building it; and I have photographs of it before the millhouse went up around it. I have no idea how they’re going to move that but these guys working are making progress fast. It’s spring. New beginnings.

Many fruit trees planted, chickens on their way, and a whole host of wonderful new adventures for the Andersons, Darryl and Suzanne and their four grown children. This afternoon the crew had stripped the front porch off.

Today the cabin is back to its original size: 14 X 20 feet; but there’s no kitchen lean-to left. You can see each and every stone Sam set for its foundation.  The outdoor furnace is completely gone.

The dogs and I walked the fields. Lucy splashed through every puddle and plopped along the edge of the pond enjoying the change in season. Scooby dashed through the open fields; stretching those long legs in heart- thumping gallops and jumping over hurdles.

Sitting on the western edge of the pond a very large turtle pushed off into the pond’s deep water; just in advance of the dancing Dalmatians. Heard it before I saw it. Big turtle.

Walked to the pavilion and kissed Sam’s gravestone.

Dreams of Shapeshifting

In Mourning, The Farm on April 9, 2011 at 2:39 am

The blue heron flew over my head today. It’s a sign. Not just of spring. The heron is a totem for my fisherman in the big lake above.

Back in the late 1990s dreams of shapeshifting into a white-tailed hawk haunted me. I slept under a skylight window in the middle of the countryside and certain mornings I awoke with full memory of flying.

In these dreams I was present on the land near Connecticut Hill on the Schuyler and Tompkins County line. I flew over the landscape; 11 acres I rented with the house that belonged to Bird and Annie. I flew into the future where developers were tearing up woods and putting up manufactured homes and trailers and shoddy shelters all along the countryside. Bulldozers and dump trucks and messing with the landscape. I flew low and close, but by dawn found my way home. Often exhausted and bummed out without having a rational explanation.

I had a hard time shaking these dreams. There wasn’t any development happening on Enfield Center Road. And yet I saw people searching the creek beds in a desperate way for fresh spring water while I had been flying dry as a hawk in the moonlight. I sought refuge in the woods where I heard the earth moaning.

The nights I spent flying in my dreams, I’d wake with sore muscles and tender points where my wings attached; bottom corners of my shoulder blades in back.

Hawk got closer and closer to where the rapacious destruction of habitat was happening by horrible wrecking machines and one ominous human face appeared; a pirate or a bald troll. I saw this man while wide awake when Sam introduced me to his friend. These became bad dreams and I didn’t like it anymore. I didn’t want to wake up thinking my soul shapeshifted into a hawk and that I could fly.

Rearranging the furniture helped. The bed wasn’t directly underneath the window. My soul couldn’t slip so easily into the night sky.

It grounded me to the sacred land there in a place I grew to call home. I still can’t leave its power over me. Love found me there.

On the edge…Sam used to say; “If you’re not on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.” We lived in the “middle of nowhere” and my butt was on the edge of my seat every day. Farming that land with Sam was the biggest challenge of my life and provided the sweetest rewards.

One spring I made a kite and went running out in the fields for hours with it. Sam called his nephew and Jamie brought over his daughter Jadyn to play with the wind and a simple contraption of paper, balsa and string. Running and jumping and feeling the resistance of the wind against the stick holding the string is the exhilaration of simultaneously feeling the ground under your feet. Kite flying puts you on another edge.

There were many hot summer nights when I’d grab a pillow and a blanket and lay outside on the pond dyke to watch the stars in the sky. Living so far away from the artificial lights of high density living, I would stare into space and contemplate the wonder of it all. I felt so small; until I witnessed a falling star or a comet or meteor or satellitel. Then I’d crawl into bed cool as a cucumber and cuddle until my breathe became his.

There is something about the sunlight and the natural landscape there that casts a spell upon those who touch its soil. Land isn’t something you can own. It owns you. A sense of place is the architecture of the interior life. I don’t have to be on the land for it to invade my spirit and take hold of my wings.

But I do plan to take the dogs out for a good run there tomorrow. Lucy and Scooby and I need to visit the pond and have a conversation or two with a squirrel.


In Mourning, The Farm on March 19, 2011 at 10:13 pm

When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced.

Live your life so that when you die,

the world cries and you rejoice.

          – White Elk


In Anniversary and memorials, Grief, Health, Mourning, Pictures and memories, Signs from beyond, The Farm, Time and seasons on March 15, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Eighteen months since Sam died and I find myself feeling like I’m 18 years old again: searching for my identity and wondering how to make it on my own. 

The sun woke me this morning. A night full of dreams I can’t remember, my preconscious state is sedate. No tears well up, no furrow creeps onto my brow, no sobbing steals my rib cage. I am still.

The dogs stretch and yawn. They let me get up and dress without moving from their slumber spots. They seem to know more than I. They sense I have stopped my relentless and urgent searching for Sam’s return.

I am in no hurry. The rush is over.

This sensibility is something new. I am not running away from the awful truth of what has happened anymore. What is, is.

For months and months I experienced nothing less than post-traumatic stress. The magical realism of staying put in our place together on the farm got me through the first year of shock. I survived; and my focus was on survival. Making sure I had enough dry firewood and not a chimney fire; keeping the pipes from freezing; planting, weeding and harvesting produce and seeds; clearing  snow off solar panels on the roof; paying the taxes; and grieving.  Somehow I got through all that and set up my own business as a book development editor, kept the business of On Warren Pond Farm and made it into a small seed company, and began to write again.

Grieving is a struggle to survive. I survived. Now what? Getting those answers seems to me to provide the clues to what next.

After experiencing tremendous physical pain, a broken wrist, my grief and health fused into an understanding of Sam’s death.

I couldn’t stay and survive all by myself on the farm. I needed more help than I had resources. It was more than a two person full time operation.  The efforts to survive would be my own death: hard work and financial doom. I had not chosen to die.

The opposite of fate is free will. Chance, circumstance, coincidence, serendipity, destiny, pre-ordained events, luck, and randomness are ghosts that haunt the living. If I had chosen not to die, then I had decided to live. This morning I began to make decisions about how to live.

There were many moments when I thought I’d rather be dead and magically reunited with Sam. But I can not tolerate pain. Self-inflicted pain is the worst. I have no tattoos and when I tried to have my ears pierced when I was 18, I passed out. With my luck, I would botch any suicide attempt and make my life worse, not over. And I’m pretty sure this is the only life I get and not so sure there’s anything after death.

Yet coming out of the anesthesia from my wrist surgery I somehow feel as though I crossed over and made my peace; I just am not allowed to remember my spirit visit with Sam. No longer terrified by reality,  I remain melancholy but open to the sweetness of spring this year.