Monday Journal Entry
July 19, 2018
I am incredibly thankful this morning for the simple things. As daylight broke, the Carolina Wrens who nest outside my back door began to sing in the damp, cool of first morning light. I made a cup of tea, (having inadvertently abandoned coffee while I was ill and having not taken it back up again) and settled in to write. Although I had a break through with whatever illness had befallen me last week, I have continued to suffer some symptoms until and the fact I had a good day yesterday and a good night last night has left me feeling especially thankful this morning. A person who is highly tolerant of physical pain and a has been able to manage even after surgeries without pain killers, I found myself in horrible pain on Monday evening as I felt the blood pounding through the back of my head. I hate to sound so dramatic but the intense, throbbing pain left me wondering if there wasn’t something horribly wrong with me and in my pain induced stupor, all I could think of was that I wanted to make sure that Mike knew how much I love him. I didn’t speak it out loud, but I wondered if I wasn’t having a stroke, the pain so intense, my uncontrollable stuper, inability to formulate complete thoughts and sentences, and sensitivity to light. I guess my stumbling around in pain and focused intensity about the fact I didn’t want him to ever forget how much I love him really scared him and he tried to get me to go to the hospital, but I refused (although I told him later if it ever happened again, just pick me up and carry me to the nearest hospital). Never has he given me such attentive care as he did then, holding me in his arms, stroking my face, and whispering for me to be calm as the tears rolled down my face and he willed me to feel better. I think he watched me well into the night, making sure I was all right. With the help of Tylenol, the throbbing in the base of my skull and along my neck finally eased and I drifted off to sleep. That was the worst, and the subsequent headaches that have hit me daily have decreased in intensity until yesterday when I made it through the day without a one. Yesterday was a great day. I felt good, had my normal energy, and had no headaches or fever. I am just incredibly thankful to hear the birds singing this morning.
Monday, in spite of not being on top of my game, we decided to run errands in Galax an hour and a half round trip for us. We had a couple of small items to place in our booth at Briar Patch antiques and we wanted to check on things there. So far, we are very happy with that particular venue. We filled the rental car with feed (our Ford Edge is still under recall without parts to repair it and Ford is paying for us to drive a rental until it can be repaired). We bought a few groceries and we stopped at Lowes to get more stain for the fence, but they said they had discontinued carrying that brand and we would have to go to Home Depot in Christiansburg to get it. Mike stopped in to check on propane prices to see about getting our propane tank filled. It won’t be long and we will be into fall and then the winter months. Time sure does go by quickly. Hard to believe we are starting to prepare for our second winter here, and this time with the animals.
Mike asked me Tuesday morning if I felt like riding to the Foot Hills produce auction in Boons Mill. I told him that I did. It is lovely drive that takes about an hour and a half via the parkway. There just really isn’t any traffic on the parkway and the scenery and wildlife are just lovely. We always see deer and turkey but this time we saw a bear looking out at us from the edge of the road. I remember when Mike and I first started dating 13 years ago that the parkway always seemed a busy place. I suppose at times it still is, but it really seems to me that many people don’t choose to utilize the parkway and take advantage of the views and camping it provides perhaps because there are not a lot of modern amenities and thrill-seeking adventures. Internet service is poor to nonexistent along the route, gas stations few and far between and no fast food restaurants. Just not the place the majority seek out to visit anymore. It’s sad on many levels that the appeal is not there for the majority, but for me personally, it is nice to be able to have the parkway almost out my back door (just a few miles drive from our house) and be able to enjoy it so immensely. (Never do I drive it, however, without thinking about the people whose homes and lands were taken as they were forced out by our government so that this National Park could be created.)
The Foot Hills produce auction, very small compared to the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction, is well-orchestrated, and fun to attend. We stopped at Lowes in Roanoke on the way home and Mike found that they had not yet removed the stain we needed and was able to get another five-gallon bucket there. Both on the way into the Boons Mill area and back from Roanoke as we travelled the byways and the parkway, we crossed a section that one comes upon suddenly where the Mountain Valley Gas Pipeline is being installed. I cannot begin to explain the horror I felt as we approached and looked to the right and left. For as far as we could see the trees had been clear cut and the pipeline stretched out menacingly like the ugly monster that it is. We moved quickly by, but I couldn’t help but see the look on the face of one of the engineers. A young man, he looked hard and determined, almost defiant. The whole scene just broke my heart and as I intentionally looked up information on the Virginia pipelines later that day, I read of the problems the neighbors are having with run off from the pipeline construction and the affect it was having on the environment. I could not shake the scene of that pipeline from my head.
Wednesday, we had an appointment with the man from NRCS (Natural Resources). He had been out a few months ago and we had talked but with his schedule and ours we had found it difficult to get together again. We still have not made a definitive decision about going with the program but we are leaning more and more in that direction. The program would contract us in to fencing the cattle out of the streams and in return, we would get help with setting up a rotational grazing program with paddocks with watering troughs. It is a win-win situation for the animals, the farmers and the environment. It does mean some money out of our pocket that we would otherwise not have to put out, but I think the benefits in the long run are worth the extra effort and expense. We are waiting for Tim to get back with us on a cost analysis and we will go from there. It would probably be all before we can get approved and get started.
July 20, 2018
I love preserving summer’s bounty and yesterday I was able to put up 11 pints of sweet relish and 7 pints of blueberries. I have been vacuum sealing and freezing blueberries and we have the freezer on our spare fridge full of them. After vacuum sealing and freezing 24 quarts of squash, I have no room left in the small, stand alone freezer downstairs. We are going to have to move one of our freezers from Staunton before I can put up any more frozen food. I prefer to can and see the jars line up along the cellar wall, but there are certain foods we (or Mike) likes better frozen instead of canned and some foods just lend themselves to freezing rather than canning. Mike won’t touch a canned green bean. That was something I really had to change because I grew up on canned green beans.
The thing that struck me when I started me day today was the silence. As the sun came up, there was an uncanny silence and my mind just couldn’t quite place what was happening. It wasn’t until Mike went outside and noticed that our bird house, sitting on the edge of the porch in which the melodious Carolina Wrens had nested and were raising their young had been sabotaged. I was so saddened to find the house on the ground and nothing left but feathers where some type of predator had knocked it off and eaten the baby birds. Momma bird had escaped and was flying frantically around and around trying make sense of the assault. I can’t understand how I didn’t hear the house hit the deck or know that the attacker was there so close. I suspect a cat, although I have not seen any cats around here. I had watched the wrens happily building their nest, witnessed the momma going in each day to lay her eggs, and then, once she began setting, watched her wearily poke her head out of the hole on occasion as she kept her eggs incubating. It was almost as if she were saying, “Is it time yet? I’m so tired of setting.” Once the babies were born she and daddy bird worked tirelessly to keep them fed, singing the whole time. While I was so sick last week, it was the sound of those birds that kept me grounded in reality and one step away from becoming depressed, for how could one give over to despair with the music of the wrens outside the door. I remarked to Mike that it sounded as if we lived in aviary. The baby birds must have been so close to spreading their wings and learning how to fly only to be destroyed by a natural predator.
July 23, 2018
Friday, we drove into the Roanoke Valley and once again that ugly pipeline caught my attention. I looked harder at the detail this time, realizing we were coming up on it and knowing what it was. Perhaps I could not see as far as I thought I could see the first time I witnessed the pipeline, but still, the bare ground torn open and that huge pipe that lay next to it waiting to be lowered into the ground filled me with a sense of dread, a feeling that I just can’t shake. I didn’t see the volume of construction workers along the edge of the road this time or the huge machines at work that I witnessed the previous time. While not completely still and quiet, the frenzy I had witnessed previously was absent, perhaps because it was a Friday afternoon and they were winding down for the weekend. Perhaps they were working further down the line and away from the road. I’m not sure. We humans, in general, seem to want our pipelines, our modern conveniences, our jobs and our way of life at all cost. I have friends who are valiantly fighting against the pipeline that is going across the Shenandoah Valley. I admire them for that.
While in the Roanoke Valley we unexpectedly ran into some friends from the Shenandoah Valley. We had a great time catching up with them over lunch at a little family owned diner. It was, in a sense, maybe a bit of closure for me as the four of us who had sold produce in the valley caught up on the latest news on the other producers and markets of which we were mutually aware. When we left produce sales, we did so a little bit unexpectedly with a failing summer crop, our unwillingness to buy the majority of the produce from other farmers, and so much going on in our personal lives last summer. We just ended the season one year expecting to go back and then didn’t return the next year. In that in a sense it was as if we just walked away “without saying goodbye”. On one hand, I had somewhat dreaded eventually running into other sellers from our produce days, assuming they would label us as quitters. It’s a hard life and until one has participated in that market, in our case, growing as well as buying and selling, then taking it all mobile. One does not realize the amount of work and stress it takes to present the buyers with a quality, perishable product. A number of folks very actively involved as we were, have shut down. In my opinion, the market has also changed a lot. So many years ago when Mike just sold right off the farm to friends and neighbors, there was not the cut throat competition that there is today. Folks knew what we sold was grown right there on the farm and they didn’t mind driving a little to some place off the beaten path to get homegrown produce. Now with produce auctions and larger production of “homegrown” vegetables, everything has changed, in my opinion. There’s a lot of good to the buy fresh/buy local movement. Folks who otherwise would not think twice about where their food comes from really care and seek out good produce grown locally. A lot of the local produce is bought and shipped to Charlottesville, Northern Virginia and the Washington DC area. Since these areas are within a 200 mile range, they considered “local”. This drives the prices up and also makes obtaining the produce from local farmers difficult. This creates an atmosphere of competition among those who have set up produce stands and markets and while competition can be a good thing, it can also cause people to act inappropriately and hateful towards one another. I saw a lot of ugliness when we were selling produce on a larger scale after we had left the farm and went mobile. I saw a lot of deception from those marketing the local produce. Aside from wearing me down physically and putting tremendous strain on my body, the cut throat attitude of the competition took all the fun out of it for Mike and I, but especially for me. Seeing our friends, who are still involved in the market, and talking to them brought me a sense of relief that we are not longer part of that scene in the Shenandoah Valley. On the other hand, it was refreshing to see how our friends were genuinely happy for us with our “new’ life and we, on the other hand, were genuinely happy to hear of their successes and how well they were doing in this market that takes so much dedication and good management skills. I think, no, I know that Mike will always miss it. It was perhaps his first love in farming and I can still see how much he wants to be involved at some level. For now, our little honor system cart sits in front of the house and neighbors and passers by stop and buy a tomato here and a squash there and perhaps a dozen eggs. When we chance to enter the driveway as someone is “shopping” they often remark how they love our little set up and the fact that we trust others enough to set up an honor system for our small-scale produce sales. It’s like getting back to the basic and just sharing something good with one’s neighbor. It makes people feel good and Mike enjoys “peddling” a little bit of produce right from the comfort of our home. I always smile at the joy Mike gets from it all. Sometimes we talk about “going back into it a bit” and maybe someday, if we live long enough, we will. Mike has done so much for me and made so many sacrifices for my happiness. If he decides he really wants to grow or sell again, then maybe we can find a happy medium where it won’t be so overwhelming. For now, the little peddlers cart on our front lawn is spreading happiness to those who stop as well as to my husband. I love that and I feel we are back to the basics of making people happy by sharing with them a simple pleasure that reminds them of home, their childhood, their grandparents, or because it just tastes good. While it would be nice to make a few dollars, it’s not about making a living by selling produce and that’s a relief.
Saturday we were not sure of our plans. We debated on what to do. I hated to leave Princess. She continues to look every day as if she will calve and yet she holds on and doesn’t present us with a calf. She has always been this way, teasing us and never giving a clear indication as to when she will give birth. As a first calf heifer, I had the vet out about six weeks before she calved because she was acting “off”. She is so dramatic. A seasoned old vet that many of the local dairy farmers complain about came out. He examined her and we talked. I told him her name. Finally, he told me that she was fine, that she was just spoiled, but he said it in such a way that I could tell he like the fact she was spoiled. In fact, he went on to tell me that he liked the fact my cows had names and he was happy to come out anytime I needed him. My experience with Dr. Hunter was positive and we developed a respectful, working relationship that left me feeling as if my animals were well cared for when he would respond to a call. From that first calf forward, Princess pregnancies have always been an adventure. This time is no exception. I assumed she was bred for an April calf, but it became evident that wasn’t the case. Then, I thought perhaps she was not bred at all but as the months went by, it became evident that she was. Now we wait on the Princess, as we always do. I finally decided that we would just go ahead and leave Saturday for our trip to Staunton for Analia’s birthday party. We would try to return in as close to 24 hours as we could and hopefully Princess would be ok.
When we arrived in the Valley, I had about an hour and a half before the booth closed at the Factory Antique Mall. I took Analia with me and we worked on taking some things out and marking down some prices on some items. Mike and I have decided to keep our half booth at Verona Antiques, another venue in town, and our new booth in Galax. Our sales at The Factory have declined so much and with our being out of town so much, we just decided to let that booth go at the end of August. We have also had a lot of issues with the management and with theft at The Factory, probably mostly because the place is so large that it can’t be easily monitored. We will be dividing up some of the items at the Factory between our remaining booths and running sales on some of the smaller items.
Sunday, I spent a little bit of time replacing some tags and putting in a few items at Verona Antiques before everyone gathered for Analia’s birthday party. Analia turns five at the end of this month. One thing I appreciate about Alissa is she has stayed true to the way I raised her and remains low key with the girls, not going over the top for things like birthdays. She asked that folks who wanted to gift Analia simply contribute to her dance lesson funds. We anticipated a warm July day for the party and outdoor, water-based activities, but the day ended up feeling almost like a fall day with cool temperatures and rain. Everything was kept in doors and the kids were happy just playing together. At times, the adults couldn’t hear each other talk due to the volume of noise from the kids, but they were good and had fun. All four of our grandkids were there, a cousin, and four friends. The house was full of adults as well. It was a fiesta party with chicken tacos, Mexican soda, a piñata, and colorful decorations. Alissa gave Analia the American Girl Doll, Josephina, that I had bought her when she was a little girl. In those days, paying $100 for a doll was a big sacrifice and I had taught Alissa to be very careful with her American Girl dolls. As a result, the doll she presented to Analia was in pristine condition. With Analia’s Mexican heritage, the doll was perfect. Analia had told me the day before, drawing an imaginary line down the center of her body, that she was half Mexican. She then went on to explain to me, pointing to the right side of her body, that the section indicated was Mexican and the other side was Caucasian. I had to smile. I am glad that she is proud of who she is and acknowledges all the aspects of her genetic lineage. Her daddy explained to her that while he was born in America, his parents had been born in Mexico. He told her that he was American of Mexican decent. I can see the wheels turning in her head as she tries to make sense of it all. She’s a smart girl and I want her to always be proud of who she is and the blood that mingled over the years whether it is the Irish and Cherokee Appalachian blood, the Scandinavian, Dutch and German blood hailing from the Missouri Ozarks, her Hispanic heritage and whatever else might be mixed in through the various blood lines.
July 29, 2018
I awoke to the sound of the Wrens singing this morning. This, after days of silence. I don’t know where they have been since the un-named predator destroyed their home and killed their babies. I have not heard them singing and it is no wonder. They are birds, simple creatures and perhaps not on top of the hierarchy of God’s creations, but I know they feel terror and sorrow to some degree. I watched the parents who were frantic after the attack as if they just could not accept the fact the tiny clutch of babies that had been put into their care were actually gone. I heard their silence as loud as any song they ever sang in melodious rapture. Their silence has weighed on me this week and I know, in a sense, what they must feel. Perhaps they are not so complex a creature that they can sort out emotions and feelings. Perhaps they merely react to instinct. Or perhaps they are in touch with feelings. We don’t know. What I do know is that if a tiny, insignificant wren reacts to such a loss in this manner and as we suppose it is merely instinct and not some deeper revelation that causes them to grieve, then it is no wonder that we as high functioning humans with instincts as well as skills of reasoning and the pull of intense emotions grieve over our own losses. But the birds are singing again. They have returned with song and they will go on living. This is the hope we have that life can be lived after tragedy and that the senseless losses that affect our lives are not ours alone, but rather individually and collectively we share with all of nature in the understanding of what it means to have to let go of the very things that are most important to us. Grief isolates by its very nature, but we are not alone in grief. We are only alone in “our” grief. We are not singled out by God so that He can dump sorrow upon us to see how much we will grow or to test our faith. I do not believe this, although it was the message that came through time and time again in the messages and lessons I was taught in Church and the Christian School I attended. It is the underlying message one hears when friends unwittingly remark that “God doesn’t give us more than we can bear” or “God is working in your life to make you a stronger or better person”. One lives in fear of a God who continues to dump sorrow upon “his children” in order to “grow them up right”. My own losses have brought me to the point where I believe in a God of grace, a God of love, and a good God. Nature just is. Life just is. Good and bad happen every day to all kinds of people. Predators prey in the natural world around us and baby birds get killed. Predators roam in the human world and because men and women become jealous, vengeful, selfish, and controlling, we hurt one another. Humans suffer because we destroy ourselves and one other, not because God is exacting some well-planned, hurtful event in order to cause us to become better people. God is good and God is love and when we emulate His nature, that is when the world becomes a better place. Never will the world be perfect and we will continue to suffer loss but grace offers us a song in the midst of the pain, just like those little wrens who can’t help but sing their songs even after such a devastating loss.
July 30, 2018
I haven’t found a lot of time to write these past few weeks, but I am committed to continue even when I am not able to get things down on a daily basis. This week marks one year since I started posting my journals online to the blog. It has been such a good year for me as I have more and more fallen into my own natural writing style. The decision to just write from the heart and give myself the space to form the words and sentences that express my soul have given me so much freedom. I write to give myself the freedom to create in the manner that brings me the most satisfaction. In return, I have had the kindest comments from people, both strangers and those I know, telling me that they can relate to something I have expressed, telling me something I said brought them joy or peace, telling me that I have entertained them, inspired them, or encouraged them with my words. I am thankful for a year of writing in earnest. I am thankful for being able to share my stories, my thoughts, and my feelings with those who read my words. I am thankful for those who look over the grammatical errors and bear with me when something doesn’t make sense. I write from the heart, I write quickly, I have to feel what I write and rarely do I have the time to go back and edit, thus leaving an original that is first draft quality. I am thankful for people who are patient with my writing and who offer me the grace to grow and who encourage me along the way.
I’ve got to wrap things up, having not posted to the blog in over two weeks now. Yet, here I am having missed posting last week and still struggling to share some of the events that have happened this week. We did a lot of “running around” this past week and I did a lot of canning this last week. Those two activities don’t go together very well. It’s hard to get the canning done in a timely manner even when just sticking around the house but its even harder when trying to find time to do it between running here and there. We went to two church events this past week, the one service at our church on Tuesday evening and the other service at a Presbyterian church in Hillsville on Thursday evening. We also made two trips into the Roanoke Valley which is about an hour and twenty minutes one way. In addition, we made several trips into Galax which is about 45 minutes one way. When Mike said he was going back to Staunton today, I told him I would just stay in Laurel Fork and try to pull myself together. It has been a good day for that. The day has gone well and I have accomplished much while not pushing myself too terribly hard. I told Mike that I was caught up on the canning and had the house cleaned up, so now I can start all over again! He is bringing back tomatoes and some other produce from the garden he put out at his Mom’s place. I am happy to get the veggies and thankful for all that we are able to put in the freezer and on the shelves.
August 2, 2018
This is a day to write. We have had over three inches of rain in 48 hours and a little after 3 am I heard the sound of the whole house generator as it roared into life. We checked online to see when the power was supposed to be restored and Appalachian Power indicated restoration time to be around 10 am. We decided to turn the generator off and conserve propane. As soon as we got a bit of daylight, I went up to the barn to make sure the momma cows were all right. Everything was good there. With that finished, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do without electricity. Until we turn the generator on or power is restored, I will have some down time to write a bit this morning.
So much has happened in the past few weeks that I have not had the opportunity to put in my journal.
Princess finally had her calf. After months of not knowing when she was going to finally calve and her teasing us by being overly dramatic about her discomfort and days of watching her closely, she had her baby without assistance. I was canning and checking on her frequently. I knew she was laboring but she didn’t appear to be in distress, so I opted to go back to the house and finish up my canning. When I returned to the barn, I heard the gentle lowing that I refer to as “momma moos”. A mother cow has a distinct tone and voice when she is calling to her baby for the first time. Some mommas will begin calling to her baby while she is in labor and others begin after the calf is born. I am always touched by the sound of a mother cow with her newborn calf but this particular time, knowing I am not going to breed Princess again and this will be her last calf, my heart literally did summersaults when I heard the gentle sound of her calling to her calf. There is a spot in the barn where I can look down onto the floor of the loafing shed on the back of the barn where I had left Princess in labor. As I peered through the window, I saw Princess standing, licking the calf, and calling to it as it tried to stand to nurse. I was so excited and didn’t want to interfere with their bonding since things were going so well, so I immediately ran outside, waving my arms to get the attention of Mike who was working on another big restoration project and using the loader to move trash and debris. I gave him the “thumbs up” along with a huge smile. He mouthed to me “she calved?” and I shook my head yes and ran back inside. Mike shut down the equipment and came inside and we checked to see the sex of the calf. I was ecstatic to find out that it was a heifer, a calf that I can keep as a replacement for Princess, since I will no longer be breeding her. We did help the calf get some colostrum. In fact, we had to help her nurse for the first couple of days. Princess with her short legs and low hanging udder along with the engorged teats created a difficult scenario for a new baby calf. I am so glad that she was born healthy and aggressive. At least we had that in our favor. I did not want to bottle feed the baby as it is just so much better to let them nurse and start them out in that manner from the very beginning and while it is not recommended for a newborn calf to nurse while lying down, that is the only way we could get her on Princess teats to eat. We tried to position her with her neck outstretched in the proper manner each time we assisted her and she did well when we put her on the teat, although she didn’t eat as much as I would have liked. Mike reminded me that it doesn’t take a lot for a newborn and I did feel pretty comfortable about the welfare of mom and calf. That didn’t keep me from constantly checking on Princess to make sure that she was not coming down with milk fever, a metabolic condition that often occurs in mature dairy cows after they calve. Princess has had issues with milk fever for years. This year I had boluses from the vet with two types of calcium that could be quickly absorbed by a cow that had just freshened. We gave Princess one of the boluses right after she calved and then another one twelve hours later. While it is still too early to say for sure that the boluses were a success in keeping her from getting milk fever, most often milk fever occurs during the first three days after freshening, and we are now seven days past calving. In addition, I have been able to witness the calf, whom I call “Little P”, nursing aggressively on her own. The first time I saw her nursing unassisted I just stopped to observe so as not to disturb either of them. The calf worked hard to get Princess teats in her mouth and then when she lost it, she lay down and nursed just as Mike and I had taught her to do. It was the cutest thing. Then, she popped up on her back legs and stayed down on her front knees to nurse for a while before getting up to a standing position and eventually even switching over to the other side of the udder. I knew then that she would be fine and that I didn’t have to monitor her eating habits anymore.
While Princess has done well to have the calf without assistance and ward of milk fever, she has not been without drama. I think it must be a combination of being in a new place along with the fact that she is overly protective of this calf, almost as if she knows this one is special and this one is her last. She has not been directly aggressive towards Mike or I. I have handled her too much to ever expect that but she has been very unhappy. We have kept her penned up in the large shelter area a lot and then in a fenced in area away from the rest of the herd. The two-fold reasoning behind this decision was so we could get to her easily to treat her if she does develop milk fever and to keep the small calf safe from predators until she is strong enough to stand a chance to survive. Every time Princess feels like we are a threat to her calf, she paws the ground with her foot like we so often see the mean, old bulls do. It’s all bluff with her. Were this some other cow, I might be fearful of aggressive behavior, but while I keep an eye on her, I am confident that she will back down to me and she does. She is simply expressing her displeasure in her own dramatic way that is so typical of Princess. Jerseys are creatures of habit and messing up their routine is a sure way to have at least a week or more of drama until they figure out that things are going to be different. Such is the case with milking Princess. We are in a new barn and a new milking parlor and have a new routine and she has a new baby to go along with her raging hormones. As a result, she has not wanted to enter the new milking parlor and we have had to take the calf in each time to get her to go into the stanchion. Every night is an ordeal. Thankfully, the one night that Mike was away from home, the calf was asleep in the field and she decided she would voluntarily walk in and let me milk her. I know it will get better with time, but right now I am thankful that we have mostly had the time to spend with her to get her into a new routine.
Little P is not without her own drama. When she was on her third day of life she managed to disappear while we were at church. I had reservations about letting Little P and Princess out while we were away but when Mike asked me about it, I agreed that Princess needed the sunshine and green grass and it was as much my decision as his to let them out. When we returned from church the calf was missing. We looked 2.5 hours for the calf and could not find it. There were moments when we both thought it might have been dragged off and eaten by a predator but looking at the surroundings, we could tell that the calf had not been dragged away. Then the thought crossed our minds that maybe someone had taken the calf, but who would have even thought to do such a thing or have known where to find her? I wondered if she had gotten under the fence and fallen through the high grass and weeds into the stream where the banks are steep. We were perplexed, hot, tired, hungry and irritable after looking for so long a time and not being able to find the calf. We sat down together on the RTV and started thinking things through. I mentioned a spot where I had seen fairly fresh calf poop. We inspected that. Mike began looking for calf hairs on the fence to see if we could tell if she went under it. Both of us peered at the bottom board of the fence and decided she had not gone through it there. We checked several other places but no signs that she had gone through. Then Mike remembered that where the board fence butts up against the chicken house, there is a tiny gap. We had planned on building a chicken run there but had never got around to that project. I declared that there was no way that calf could have squeezed through that small space. Mike looked at the corner in question and found calf hair there. I was shocked to think that maybe his theory was correct and I started around the chicken house and toward the gate that leads to our yard as he was calling after me partly in gest but mostly with that confidence that comes from a farmer who has pretty much seen it all and saying that the calf was probably asleep on our front porch. I rolled my eyes in my head thinking how crazy he can be but with his suggestion in my mind unable to keep my eyes away from the front porch of the house. That’s when I started yelling ecstatically because there standing in front of the porch was a tiny, little calf gazing out at the big world all around here and looking a little dazed. I ran to her and began hugging her, kissing her little black nose and the top of her head. While I was loving on her, so relieved after so much worry, Mike looked around to find her tracks led under the front porch steps where she had been sleeping in the shade while we were out in the hot sun searching for her. Mike put another board up along the edge of the fence, next to the chicken house to keep the little bugger from slipping through again and we have had no more problems since.
And that leads me to another story that I have not taken the time to recall in my journal but shared on social media, something that I want to record, share and remember.
Mike and I made a whirlwind trip to Staunton the last weekend in July so that we could attend Analia's birthday party on Sunday afternoon. We worked the whole time we were there trying to get as many things done as we could in as short amount of time as possible. We left the party early and arrived back in Laurel Fork about 30 hours after we had left. Princess was still pregnant at that time and I didn't want to be away too long in case she or the calf needed our assistance. We pulled into our driveway tired with still much to do before we could go to bed and as we drove up the hill to the garage I began searching for the Jerseys. Instead, I saw a man standing behind our garage and guest house, leaning against the fence and looking in at our cows. This particular area is back off the road and someone has to blatantly trespass to get there. Mike didn't even see the man and before he could get the car stopped, I was already hitting the ground running and angry as all get out. I was totally pissed that someone would invade our privacy, our property, and be staring at our Jerseys over the fence. What were his intentions? Up to no good, I was sure. I get pretty feisty when I think someone I love might be threatened and while my Jerseys are not "someone", they are close enough to being family in my book. The man yelled down the hill at me, "Do you live here?" to which I replied with an air "Yes, I do and who are you?" The man replied with a name I recognized as someone that Mike had talked to on several occasions and mentioned the man as being a very good person. I settled a bit realizing who it was and he continued to talk. "My wife and I were coming home from church and we saw your cows were out. They were in the yard and almost ready to cross over into the road. We didn't find anyone home, so we drove them back up the hill and into the fence where they had broken through." By this time, I am feeling like a heel. Why did I assume the man meant harm or ill will toward us and our property? As Mike approached and we continued to talk, the man showed us where he had found a wire and rigged the boards back together after getting the cattle safe inside. Then, he had sent his wife back to their house while he stayed to make sure the cattle were safe, asking her to bring back hammer and nails so that he could repair the board fence. When he wife returned with hammer and nails, we all talked a few minutes and I thanked them both profusely for being such good neighbors. Here's the kicker. The man has had heart surgery within the last year, receiving a total of six stents. He is old enough to be my dad. He and his wife laughed and said it was a good thing my cows were so gentle and so compliant because they were easy to get in. Mike had talked to this man probably less than a half a dozen times over the last year and he barely knows us. When he left, I burst into tears because of my own misguided assumptions regarding the man but also because of the kindness that was directed towards Mike and I that night.
There really are some great people left in this world.
August 6, 2018
We ended up being off grid for about 14 hours total the other day. We ran the generator for about two hours so that I could wash some clothes, take a shower and make us a meal. (Our dryer doesn’t work. We have the hardest time with appliances. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s in Staunton or Laurel Fork or if we buy new appliances or pick up an old one some where for cheap. They never seem to last more than a year or two and often not even that long.) I needed to get the laundry done while we had a little sunshine and dryer weather so that the clothes would have time to get dry on the line. I always try to hang my clothes on the line but with multiple days of rain I would have used the dryer had it been working. I did manage to get the clothes dry but only by stringing a temporary line up under the covered porch as well. I had too many clothes to go on the permanent line and with it sprinkling on and off, I had to move the heavier items onto the porch to keep the rain off of them so they could finish drying. The contractors working for Appalachian Power, a tree company by the name of Asplundh, were some great guys. With all the wet weather and these steep inclines, big trees were falling on the power lines. After removing a tree on the line down the road from us and repairing the line, they found another break on our property. The tree contractors parked all their trucks across the road from us and walked up our driveway and across the pasture to get to the power lines. Part of those lines are across the creek and getting there is pretty steep and definitely more than a moderate hike due to the underbrush. The men worked hard for a large part of the day and got the trees cleared and the power back on. I have a new respect for these men and their job that takes them out in some difficult and uncomfortable conditions in these mountains. As the men were leaving, a couple of them stopped to talk to Mike. We heard three more trees crashing to the ground in the woods around us during a 15-minute span or less. Fortunately, they did not come down on any power lines.
Saturday, Mike wanted to go to an auction in Galax. It went on for longer than usual and then we took a few items over to our new booth at Briar Patch Antiques in Galax. We try to make the most of our trips when we are out so that we are not wasting fuel, since we have to drive such long distances (at least compared to what we had to drive in the Shenandoah Valley). The mall was full of people who are in this week for the Fiddler’s Convention. We finished up as quickly as we could so as not to tie up our booth and then stopped by a little produce market and picked up two boxes of North Carolina peaches. On the way back to the house, Mike indicated there was another auction he would like to go to but we still had to milk the cow and we hadn’t eaten all day. We decided that Mike would milk and I would throw together a grilled cheese sandwich and we would try to make the auction that started at 6:30 and was about 20 minutes from our house. By the time we got home Saturday night, I was tired of running and had my fill of social life and was ready to stay home for days and introvert. However, Sunday morning I got up and threw some things together to take to church for the meal we have the first of every month and we got ready and went. Being around our little church family and eating lunch with friends was pleasant and I was glad that we were there. I told Mike that it still amazes me that I attend these meals and enjoy them. I have always avoided church meals whenever possible because it meant that I had to converse for long periods of time with people with whom I never felt completely comfortable. For whatever reason, I don’t feel that way at this church or with these people. It helps that it is such a small group, but it is more than that.
When we arrived home from church, I got right to work on the boxes of peaches that were waiting for me. They were very ripe and I knew if I waited until Monday, I would lose a lot of them. I canned 17 quarts of peaches, keeping a few back to eat fresh as well as to make homemade, peach, ice cream. Mike unloaded 100 square bales of hay for my cows which was no small feat. The weather had been so rainy, that the hay had sat on the enclosed trailer for almost a week until he could finally get a dry day with no rain. He also had to wait for the ground to dry up a little bit because the mud has been so bad. We don’t have a working hay elevator and he was throwing the bales up to the hayloft (also referred to as the haymow). He could only get so many up there without having to go up the steps and stack what he had thrown, before returning to the wagon to throw more bales up above his head. Mike and I have both slowed down considerably in the last two years and don’t even attempt to do all of the things we use to do, but Mike can still out work men half his age. I am always amazed at what he does. Then, Mike milked Princess while I finished up the peaches and made supper. He has been helping me so much with the cows and I am so thankful for his help and all that he has done to set things up for us and make it easier for me to milk and manage the cattle.
It looks like I might actually get three weeks’ worth of journaling wrapped up and on the blog this morning. My writing has been so sporadic. I typically write in the mornings. I just can’t seem to focus to write at night. For so long, years in fact, I have been routinely waking up sometime between 3 and 5 and in the last year I have spent that time in writing because it is when I am most focused. Here for the last month, upon returning from Georgia and being so sick for that week, I find myself exceptionally tired and I am not waking up until much later. I realize six or seven is still early for a lot of people, but if I awake that late then I must hit the ground running to care for the animals and get our day started. I know that it will soon be fall and then winter and things will slow down again as the weather changes and we spend more time indoors. The seasons seem to fly quickly by, as do the days. It seems I never accomplish everything I would like to accomplish. I am thankful for the opportunities life has provided and continues to provide for me. I am thankful that I can continue to dream and work toward those dreams, even if those dreams seem simple and insignificant to others. It is the ability to dream dreams, and to work toward goals that keeps us focused and centered on life. There is a verse somewhere in the Bible that I remember from my childhood that says “Where there is no vision the people perish”. I didn’t really understand that piece of wisdom from the Old Testament until I experienced significant loss in my life and, for a while, didn’t have the ability to focus on dreams or goals anymore. I am thankful for the ability to live in the present and look toward the future with hope. Just like the little wrens, I am thankful for the ability to find a song in an often difficult world.