This is how Sunday afternoons should be: reading a fascinating story about Alaska from American Nature Writing, 2001, during a light lunch after church, critters asleep on the living room floor, my husband asleep on the couch, me clacking away on the WordPress editor.
I just put a couple of loaves of banana bread into the oven. Soon, the house will fill with the smell of bananas rescued and resurrected, and we’ll enjoy tea (the drink) and bread in a midday snack the Scots and Kiwis sometimes call “tea.”
Our farm is woven into a few hundred acres of woods. Fences wind across the creeks and up the sides of the hollers, and the livestock graze among the trees. I often walk along the fences in the woods to look for spots that need repairs. Sometimes, Jeff would join me while we were getting to know each other.
“This is a really nice patch of woods, Elise,” he would say. He’d tell stories from one of his college courses in which he learned how to gather sap from maple trees in the spring. “I’d really like to do that again.”
A couple of weeks ago, he scouted out four trees along the road, drilled holes in their sides, and secured spiles in the holes. He then pushed a short piece of plastic pipe over the spout of the spile. The end of the pipe dropped through the narrow opening of a milk jug, which he secured to the spile with twine.
After more than a month of building, readjusting, cutting boards to fit wonky angles that resulted from decisions at the very beginning of the project, and thinking about what would make birds happy, the chicken tractor was finished.
It has sliding doors, FlexSeal on the plywood roof for waterproofing, and a sheet of vinyl panel for the floor of the coop and nesting box. I don’t need to duck my head when I walk through the door, and the feed, water, and ramp move along with the chicken tractor on moving day without any extra effort.
When thinking about tractors, one usually pictures a metal rectangle and seat on wheels painted green or red or blue. This tractor provides several hundred horsepower units for working out in agricultural fields.
Berry is a Kentuckian whose writing can apply to rural areas across the United States. His writing is filled with advocacy for the farmer, the profession of farming, rural communities, and nature. I hadn’t read many of his essays before this, as I had trouble getting through them — not because the writing was difficult, but because I kept saying, “Yes!” to much of what he said and wanted to write it all down for future reference. I would begin scratching lines until I discovered I was about to copy an entire 20-page essay.
One reason Berry’s writing resonates so well is his frequent discussion on the connectedness of people and the land:
“…we must not speak or think of the land alone or of the people alone, but always and only of both together. If we want to save the land, we must save the people who belong to the land. If we want to save the people, we must save the land the people belong to….All of us who are living owe our lives directly to our connection to the land. I am not talking about the connection that is implied by such a term as ‘environmentalism.’ I am talking about the connection that we make economically, by work, by living, by making a living. This connection, as we see every day, is going to be either familiar, affectionate, and saving, or distant, uncaring, and destructive.” (p. 96)
For the foods unit in intro to ag, I bought eight gallons of milk: two gallons of skim, two of 1%, two of 2% and two of whole milk. The students were to taste each type from four jugs with labels and then record the look, taste and how it felt in their mouths. Then, they were to identify the type of milk from four mystery jugs. These jugs only had numbers and no labels.
As soon as I brought out the mystery jugs, the students began guessing out loud which one was which based on the color of the caps. They hadn’t gone on for long before one of the students said, “Knowing her, she probably switched the caps.”
That was my high school class. In one of my eighth grade classes, when I brought out the mystery jugs, one student furrowed his brows and began pointing and tried to identify the milk by just the caps. The student next to him stopped him and said, “Knowing her, she probably switched the caps.”
I first heard of the Yegerlehner’s dairy farm and shop when I was in high school. Dad came home from work one night with small blocks of cheese and told me excitedly that there was a farm just outside of Clay City that sold milk and cheese made from their own cows in their own shop.
Ten years later, I attended the Southern Indiana Grazing Conference and heard Kate Yegerlehner speak on the family’s business model and philosophy on raising livestock. There were times during her presentation when I wanted to stand up and shout, “Yes, yes!” Her presentation contained much I had needed to hear.
I felt inspired yesterday, leaving the Southern Indiana Grazing Conference with several new ideas. A few weeks ago, I had been a little slow in developing enthusiasm for going to the day-long meeting in Odon, as I wasn’t sure if I wanted to eliminate the possibility for substitute teaching that day. Dad put in my registration anyway, and we headed down south at 5 in the morning.