The Dance at Dusk

Don’t you just love the sounds at dusk???

I have gotten to where I notice quiet and simple sounds more.  Maybe it is my age.  I think that it is probably my increasing appreciation for every piece of life that God has allowed me to experience.

I think of these sounds, it seems, at the strangest times and think of what these sounds mean to me personally.  Tonight (as I am writing this on Saturday night), I noticed them all the more.

It has been a busy day today.  A wonderful Saturday market with friends and family coming by to pick up their ordered items or to check out what is latest in the freezers.  Then a quick trip to Saxapahaw to check out a butcher and then on to Durham for a new freezer for the beef that will be picked up shortly by my parents.  Weaning of piglets is next before dark, always stressful!

And then the light dims on the horizon and things become a dance.  That is what it is. A dance.  We dance in the waning light as we feed on weekend nights. 

Tonight, it is just me and Ben- and we say very little.  We don’t have to.  We have been this for a while, so words are not necessary.  I know that he is down with the mamma pigs and he knows I am with the chicks.  I know who he is feeding by the gentle grunts coming from the valley below.  While I hear them in the back ground I am actually listening for the little balls of fluff that are awaiting my arrival.  If you listen to the chicks, you know exactly how they are doing without ever looking into their brooder pen.  Quiet chirping means all is well, but loud noisy bursts indicate that they are in need of something- either feed or water.  Occasionally they are cold.  Before we moved the brooders to the barn we had them outside our windows and it was not uncommon for me to be woken out of a sound sleep to check on the chicks in the middle of the night. Something had changed and their cute little chips were telling me so. The weather had turned cold, or unexpected rain had come. Either way, just like sick children in the night, they need to be attended to.

As we move through our chores and as the light of day fades further over my Uncle Jack’s trees, I hear more.  The Jerseys are sliding through the field and you can hear them bumping their calves into a different pasture.  I hear a gate open and the metal chain clangs as Ben secures it.  He is done watering the cows for the night and he moves on to the meat birds.  I can hear his boots swooshing in the grass and based on this I can tell he is in the tall Rye grass and towards the house. Almost done.

I wait until last to do the eggs and the hens that lay the spectacular jewels that we gather every day.  I love being around the laying hens because they talk all day.  In the mornings, they are loud, almost fussy.  It reminds me of going to the beauty parlor with my grandmothers and watching all of the older ladies sit under the hair driers.  They couldn’t hear a thing, so they were telling their local Reeds gossip in an ear splitting “whisper”.  I always enjoyed being there and hearing those women.  They are the women of my past and I am all the more blessed to have had them in my life.  So, when I hear the laying hens in the morning – well- it makes me smile.  In the evenings, though, it is different. The girls are quietly talking and clucking and moving almost silently in the dark except for a few whispers to each other.  In those moments, I am reminded of camping as a child with my brother, parents and possibly the rest of the extended family.  After the designated campground quiet time, mothers are gently and quietly hushing children to into the tents or campers. Getting teeth brushed and carefully getting marshmallows out of hair are the last task of the night.  As I hear the hens scampering into their hen house I can hear my mother telling us to be quiet and watching my dad unplug the mulit-colored owl lights that hung from the awing of our camper.  Time for bed- more excitement and adventure tomorrow. 

I lug the eggs up the hill to the house.  Ben is done. He has turned out the lights at the barn, and now I can hear the clicking of the grill.  Thank goodness he has decided to grill something tonight so that we might eat something before 10 o’clock.  It has been a long, but a beautiful day. One that we have been lucky to experience.

One more sound as I am heading inside for the night and before the front glass door slams.  There is a frantic rustle coming from the line of cedars by the fence and two figures dart across the yard.  It’s only Higgins trying to track down the last stray laying hen.  Once she is up for the night he will rest and all will be quite- until the sun gently peaks up over the opposite line of trees in the East.   

Sun setting in the front field

An Unlikely Find

It has been an eye-opening experience for Ben and I the last few days.  Eye opening and humbling.  We were lucky enough to travel to Georgia and spend a few days with a true visionary, Will Harris, on his family farm- White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia.  What originally started out as a working farm trip for the both of us, reaffirmed what we find most important in our farm lives.  That is, sustainability and nurturing of the soil and land that my family has cherished for so many years is the most important part of what we do at Crossings. 

Will’s farm was amazing. Multi-species grazing centered around the Savory method of sustainable agriculture (If you have never heard of it- it’s worth looking up).  Cows, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, guineas, ducks and pigs all growing off the land synergistically.  This land feeds the animals, and the animals contribute to the nurturing of the area.  The perfect circle.  This no waste farm utilizes every speck of what the animal has to offer, which shows respect to what God has so graciously given.  The protein from the animal feeds those who desire amazing grass-fed products.  Tallow is utilized for soaps, lip balm, and lotions. Hides and skins for purses and rugs while the rest is turned to compost, which eventually feeds the soil.  And the cycle begins again.

One of the most impactful points of our trip was a happenstance moment.  We found ourselves with a few hours to kill, and always looking for historical places and strange little attractions (this is a family affliction), we stumbled on something jaw dropping.  Only an hour or so up the road in Lumpkin, Georgia the strangest thing called “The Little Grand Canyon” exists.  Now a State Park, Providence Canyon is the actual name. We decided to take the hike, as neither one of us has ever been to the real Grand Canyon, and well . . .we are here, so we might as well. 

The irony of the side trip became evident as we read the history behind the oddity. This spectacle of nature is not a National treasure that we often think of other protected areas such as Pilot Mountain or Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina or the real Grand Canyon. This was created by man and man’s lack of education, insight or understanding around how destructive we can be.  The massive gullies that we hiked through, around 150 feet deep, were created by farming practices in the early to mid 1800’s.  Continual plowing led to bare soil and extensive erosion which created massive wash outs of the land that are now so extensive they cannot be controlled.  As you hike through the bottoms the most impressive views are above as you see large trees, fence posts and some man-made structures dangling precariously over the rim.  One more good rain, and they all plummet to the canyon floor taking inches, if not feet, of precious earth with it.   

 Please note that in no way are we judging the farmers that created what is now one of the 7 Wonders of Georgia.  Saddened?  Yes.  Frustrated? Of course. But we are thankful that we had time to wonder and explore, for these are the opportunities that teach.  I have always been told that history is one of the most important subjects to study in school.  It gives us the knowledge of things that have happened before us, and it is our responsibility to learn from it.  Those farmers who were here before were doing the best they could with what they knew.  The newly settled land had challenges they had never seen before. With their losses and hardships, they have given us a gift of confirmation that we are trying to do the right thing every day by farming the way we do. Do we always get it right? No way, but we have goals and strategic plans to disturb the land as little as possible and to continually work towards holistic and sustainable methods- so that this farm- our farm- will be around to nurture and teach those that come after us. 

***If you find yourself down in this part of Georgia- forgo the hotels and stay on the farm at White Oak Pastures.  Their cabins are delightfully situated in what looks to be a Long Leaf Pine forest.  You will find comfy beds, farm fresh eggs and Quiche in the fridge for you.  You will wake up in the morning to a herd of over 1,000 sheep and goats passing by your cabin as they make their way to the other field.  They have a wonderful on farm restaurant, The Pavilion, that serves the most delectable products ever. Their tours of the farm and their processes are transparent and educational for all members of the family.  And don’t forget to take a few hours to visit the “Little Grand Canyon” right up the road.  Not only is it an important life lesson to take into account, but the layers of rock sedimentation exposed from the erosion is wondrous. It is responsibility of each and every one of us to expose our children to such things and tell the story of how this happened and what we can all do to try to prevent it from happening again.**

 The "Little Grand Canyon" in Lumpkin, Georgia

The "Little Grand Canyon" in Lumpkin, Georgia

It's Beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Shuffles in the house.  20 degrees outside.  55 inside (because that is how we like to sleep).

Coffee brews and smells fills the kitchen. Calling all to "rise and shine and be on time".

One car door slams and a bright red flannel jacket clad figure trudges across the drive way.  Sounds of a shovel in the frozen ground can be heard within a few minutes.

Smiles, quiet laughter. It is chicken processing day on the farm- which means friends and family.

Another car door slams, this time two figures step out of their car.  Sounds of scurrying and discussion can be heard within the old, cold farmhouse.  These two are checking on the progress of the day.  They will be back. Off to the city.

More movement inside and outside.  Cleaning and disinfecting tables.  Tables turn into ice- we might need to wait a few more minutes before we can finish this task. Knives are sharpened. Water vats are filled and heated.

More cars, this time two young women jump out wrapped in Carhartt brown from head to toe. They get started on their roles without needing to be told what to do.  They have been here before.  They know what to do and how to do it.  

White truck pulls in and two get out.   Another truck, a church member.  A car, the youth pastor, wanting to share in an experience that most are never privy to see. Family and friends just checking on the day. They bring more laughter and stories with them.

It is still cold, around 25 degrees, and it has not warmed up like we had hoped, but it is time to start- daylight is precious in December.  

Smiles all around as we start, not at the thought of the process, but at the acknowledgment of family traditions that continue on a spot of land that has known this practice for over 200 years.  Delight in the familiarity and the skill in everyone present.  The enjoyment of being together at a time when so many are alone or not beside those that they love. 

So how does this look like Christmas at Crossings you might ask.  

There are two Christmas trees inside, and lights twinkle on the porch, but to us, its about family and friends coming together.  Most of the memories here have been around food.  The planting, harvesting and preparation of such food. Christmas is about traditions, and this is what we do here.  We preserve traditions.  We discuss that many farms opt to send their chickens to a local processor.  Yes, it is more cost efficient, but this  does nothing for our family or our community. What do we lose in the convenience of the act of sending out the chickens we have so carefully and lovingly raised? We lose everything !!  Not only do we place our food in the hands of strangers, we lose the ability to learn ourselves.  Lose the need to bring everyone together, to teach our children, family and friends.  We lose the ability to watch the self assurance and pride gained from the lessons learned here.

As we at Crossings go throughout the holidays we continue to be thankful for the opportunities to serve our community.  We hope that you all experience a healthy and happy season, and that you too will find your own way to carry on time honored traditions. 

 A few of the Crossings crew - Mackenzie, Brianna, Janeice & Brian-  

A few of the Crossings crew - Mackenzie, Brianna, Janeice & Brian-