10 Sep Our First Week on the Farm

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Good Contrivance Farm, circa 1960

If a fortuneteller had waved a hand over her crystal ball–let’s say 10 years ago or even 3–and told me that I’d be living on a farm right now and spending hours and hours every day mowing hay, I would have laughed loudly. But just last night I was riding my John Deere 420 through grasses five feet tall as grasshoppers whirly-gigged and corkscrewed high into the evening air and barn swallows swooped low to make the most of my roiling moil, milkweed down drifting up all around me like snow caught in an updraft.

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Good Contrivance Farm, circa 1900

I have been a lifelong night owl but now, of necessity, I rise at dawn. Out here on the farm, you can’t sleep any later. There’s too much light and too much to do. Ours is the last 6 acres of what was once–160 yeas ago–a one-thousand acre spread. Surrounding us is the last 100 acres, conserved in perpetuity as farmland. That means that, although we are right on the cusp of Reisterstown’s suburbs, it appears that we are deep in rural America.

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the barn apt

We are living in the farm’s barn apartment, where the views are amazing. We’ll be working on the house–which hasn’t been altered since 1960–for many years but hope to move in as early as December. Right now all of our efforts are focused on the land, where nearly everything is overgrown, like the grasses in our field. The farm’s many gorgeous old trees have not been touched in 50 years or more. A few need to come down. The rest need major pruning: they are heaped up with wayward growth, hunkered low under the weight of overladen branches. When we liberate them from their burden, they rise higher (and you can walk under them) and they seem to sigh their relief. We will be pruning for weeks.

 

www.houselove.orgAnd mowing for weeks. And weed-whacking. And digging up stumps. And gathering dead fall. And taking up piles of rotting logs and neglected firewood. Mind you, this is not a complaint, just our to-do list. We love the work. We love how we can see improvements with each passing day. We now own tons of farm equipment: two tractors, a zero-turn mower, big attachments (snow plow etc.) for the big tractor, a vintage Ford 150 pickup truck (with an 8-foot bed), two cargo trailers, etc. Virtually all of it is from auctions.

 

I’ve never owned , much less operated, a chainsaw. Now I’ve got three. The newest one I just ran over with my tractor the other day and smashed to smithereens. Did I mention how dangerous the farm can be? With that very chainsaw in one hand, I fell from an eight-foot ladder while trying to trim a tree. I suffered only a sprained thumb. Oh, so lucky! Another day I parked my tractor but didn’t set the bucket down (acts as a brake) and the tractor started rolling down the hill. I caught up with it, leapt into the seat and slammed on the brakes.

 

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our farm house, circa 1910

While poking around the pig house, Jill stepped on what she thought was a pipe. Turned out to be a six-foot rat snake. Jill hasn’t been quite the same since. Still, she knows we need the snakes to keep down the rodents. This weekend we’re going to get some barn cats to help with that work.

We don’t feel quite at home yet because there’s so much to do and we’re living out of boxes and it’s not clear when our lives will downshift to a more manageable speed. There’s also the fact that this farm was owned for six generations by one family. We feel a tremendous responsibility to do this right. It’s stewardship of the highest order.

This week we’ve had the chimneys repaired, the basement cleared out (this includes removal of the 800 gallon water tank that used to service the farm), had a 500 gallon propane gas tank installed (I’ve got to cook with gas!), jackhammered 40 feet of concrete sidewalk so that I can dig out the foundation and waterproof the very wet basement, mowed-weeded-etc., and got started on fencing the entire property. The other day the fencing foreman (an older man with a skeptical air) looked me and Jill up and down, then he surveyed the surroundings and shook his head in dismay or pity. He said, “Looks like you two bit off more than you can chew.”

What I wanted to say but didn’t was, “We’ll see about that.”

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the farm team reaping hay, circa 1940

rtanner
rtanner@loyola.edu