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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Poem: Potluck: Moon

We have continued our tradition of Tuesday evening farm potlucks, even with the colder weather, though it may be time to quit for the winter. Our tradition has included, in addition to the blessing (usually eloquently delivered by Tom), the reading of a poem. We want our farmers to be cultivated, as well as the farm.

Last night I read one of Gary Snyder's poems. I don't always like them, but every once in a while that translucent simplicity is just perfection. As I read to the hungry circle, I watched the moon, a thin golden crescent, just above the hills. Overnight, somehow, this description arrived. It's all mine, though I hope maybe Gary Snyder in one of his lucid and not too sentimental moments would like it too.

Potluck on Sulphur Creek

November moon: an empty bowl,
shining in reflected light,
dragging darkness behind
like an old coat,
a beggar’s cup,
balanced on the hill.

Come. Join us.
Here, sit here. This is my spot
by the fire pit.
You can borrow my good friend and
this plate, this food the work
of many hands. The sweet potatoes
grew right over there.
Someone has a banjo. There’s a guitar,
and at least one dog.
The creek has stopped to listen.
Tom throws a log
on the fire. We lean in
to the circle of light, watch
the beggar’s cup moon
tip over the hill, still empty,
don’t mind the darkness
it left behind.

Come. Join us. We
have plenty.
It is not much, but it is

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sorghum on Sulphur Creek

Neglect a blog for a couple of weeks, and see what happens...right-wingers take over the country. I'll try not to let this happen again. Meanwhile, let's think about something sweet.

"Did Dr. John ever get that second quart I left him?" The rangy gray-haired man, sporting a Santa Gertrudis belt buckle, leaned over the counter at the nurses' station. The husband of a patient of mine, he had just established that "Dr. Tom" was in fact related to me, and that he and his wife were enthusiastic members of the Dr. Tom fan club. (I benefit from the fringe good will!)

He was talking about sorghum, and no, Tom had not gotten the second quart, and yes, the half-empty quart on our kitchen table was from the James farm in Russellville, Kentucky.

It was a slow day at Stallworth. Here's what I learned about sorghum from this man who is obviously a master.

About half an acre of sorghum cane produced 350 gallons of juice, which boils down to about 40-50 gallons of syrup. But not easily.

After many experiments, he found the best way to grow sorghum is to start the plants in a float bed, trays of cells floating on water, a technique used by tobacco farmers. He then plants them out in precise rows using his tobacco planter, and keeps them weed-free. When harvest time comes, he walks the rows and cuts off the leaves and tops with a pocketknife. A few days later, he hand cuts the cane and piles it on the back of a truck. ("Some folks just crush it, leaves and all, but that just in't right. It'll spoil easy.") The cane must spend at least two weeks stacked, in order to maximize the development of sugar, but can spend a couple of months without harm, as long as it doesn't freeze.

Then he runs the cane through his crusher (bought second hand in Florida and so powerful "you could feed a couple of guys into it if ya wanted to"). The juice goes into a metal tray he custom-built--8 feet by 4 feet by 18 inches deep--which sits on a double row of concrete blocks with the fire built between them , and cooks down. Different impurities and chemicals rise to the surface at different times in the process, and have to be skimmed off--"made my skimmers out of pie plates with holes punched in the bottoms".

I'm not sure how long the juice takes to cook, since I was so distracted by the complexities of decanting a tray of boiling hot syrup measuring 8ftx4ftx18 inches. Not to worry. "Made one corner a little bit lower and have a spigot there", so the syrup can just be drained off into clean buckets, cooled, and poured into the stainless steel honey tank he bought for just this purpose. It, too, has a spigot, and he can fill quart jars at his leisure.

No sorghum this year, due to his wife's very serious health problems, but we hope we have those under control now, so maybe next year will be back on track at the James farm.

What a smart farmer knows: this man and his wife are encyclopedias of Kentucky agriculture. The Japanese designate masters of traditional lore as "national treasures"--I would nominate him in a skinny minute. Santa Gertrudis belt buckle and all.

In the meantime, Sunday biscuits with sorghum.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Weddings: Now and Then

Well, it all went off without a hitch...except one. As intended.

Katie was lovely in a hot pink silk frock (stitched by sister Molly, who also performed the ceremony), the weather was that one gorgeous day on the cusp between summer and fall, both of the margarita machines worked spectacularly well, and no one fell in the lily pond.

Casey (and Tom, Brooke, Rachel, Amy, Joe, and Zach) produced a pig that was succulent, tender, faintly lemony, melt-in-mouth wonderful--barbecue like candy. Casey is likely not yet recovered from his all-day-all-night-all-day stint at the pit. What a guy. What a crew!

DiAnne's flowers were unbelievably gorgeous: a luxurious mix of wild and garden flowers from the neighborhood.

The young folks danced (I presume--the house was pretty much acting like a woofer-amp, vibrating to the bass) until near-dawn. When I got up for coffee and the newspaper there was a large pile of humanity bedded down on mattresses in the living room, which eventually sorted itself out into daughter Rachel, visiting Massachusetts mariners Joe and Amy, Jason, and Seth, who is two months into a bike trip to Seattle.

Ran into Milwandt while picking up the paper: he was cutting young loofa squash off our fence for dinner. Gave me a wild persimmon, a bag of pastries for the kids' breakfast, and a gigantic pale green squash, variety unknown to me.

Things are so different and yet the same: Twenty-seven years ago this week Tom and I got married on that very same front porch. DiAnne did the flowers (and painted Tom's waterlily tie that went so well with his white linen suit), Jill and her All-Boy Band sang for the reception, and Katie, who was about three, ran around in a little white dress with a circlet of flowers in her hair and ribbons trailing down her back.

She was darling. Still is. Thanks for marrying her, Leif.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Weekends. Students. Weddings. Wet Squirrels.

Last Saturday morning at seven here is what was going on at Sulphur Creek: I was heading to the corner store to track down George West (I was pretty sure he'd be at breakfast at the Round Table) and confirm that he was going to talk to my busload of Vandy students at eleven. (He was there and was.) Brooke was cutting a few more flowers for the market. Eric was in the study running off copies of the "Bells Bender". Kevin and Evan and Lulu and Ollie were breakfasting at the shed. Tom was on the phone confirming the arrival of a couple of soccer players scheduled for yard work.

The bus of Vandy students arrived right on schedule, and toured the farm, talked with George about farm life, whooping cranes, Vietnam and the meaning of life, and also with Barry about the endless complexities of preserving a small patch of land from bizarre and destructive projects--from the several versions of a dump (on land that was steep, rocky, and wet), to 2000 houses (on land accessible only by a single narrow road), to a city to be created ex nihilo. We rescued a box turtle from the road, and pondered the reproductive possibilities of the osage orange. A productive morning, overall, I thought!

My favorite quote: George, describing yet another discouraging event for the Bells Bend Defenders--"I felt like I'd been slapped in the face with a wet squirrel". We've all had that feeling once in a while.

This weekend: Katie's wedding, so we have a tent, a stack of firewood, pig pit prep, Esme' running barefoot through the pasture grass, and various combinations of fathers, groom, friends, extension cords, cut flowers, tables, hay bales, and cleanup crews wandering around the front yard.

And I haven't even mentioned Joe and Amy, our mariner friends visiting from Woods Hole. Welcome!

turmeric. I knew that.

Just couldn't get Blogspot to let me back in for some reason to fix it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Okra. Cumin. Tumeric.

Fall, but still hot, hot, hot.

Upinder, on the subject of her fabulous okra:

"It's easy--just take a few spices, and get Millwandt--he's very good at this--to cut the okra very carefully and put the spices inside. Then stack them up around the skillet, just a little oil, about as much as frying an egg, put the lid on and on stove. After a little, take the lid off and turn them over and cook some more. Done! Easy."

Whoa, there. "A few spices"?

Salt. Cumin. Maybe some citric acid "if you want a sharp flavor. Lemon juice adds liquid which is not good". Tumeric. "Tumeric is very good for you. Get some root--you can get it anywhere*--and cut a little piece"--she indicates her pinkie finger nail--"and chew it every day." Thoughtful pause. "It will make your teeth a little yellow. I put it in the back part of my mouth. Very good for you."

Maybe easy. Certainly extremely tasty. And, along with Upinder and Millwandt (resplendent in a lavender turban and an old Ralph Lauren t-shirt) and Sarah and Evan and Kevin and Dobro Dave and all the rest, a lively dish for a fall evening.

Thank you.

* Maybe anywhere. But not the Bordeaux Kroger.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Bookshelf: What isn't there because someone is reading it.

Shed and farm denizens--Lulu, Ollie and Red excepted--are a literate lot, it turns out. Curious, maybe a little bored, I did a survey at last night's potluck. Nearly everyone was reading something. Here's the list--no guarantees about spelling, title correctness, or truthfulness. Maybe they're all secretly reading People magazine. And no, I can't seem to winkle out the secret of italicizing or underlining on this particular program. Just deal with it, people.

Alicia: Gardening with the Spirit of Place by Marge Hunter.
Evan: Autobiography of Malcolm X, and Emma Goldman's autobiography.
Kathleen: #1 Ladies Detective Agency, McCall.
Upinder: Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth--"not her best", according to this reader.
Peggy: Living, Dreaming, Dying--about the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Rich: Brewing Up a Business, and something called Kanban, which somehow has to do with Japanese manufacturing techniques and software. Go figure.
Ali: Napoleon's Buttons, subtitled something like "17 molecules that changed the world", and Caste War in Yucatan.
Milwandt: The History of Doubt. If you can believe him.
DiAnne: Yet another trashy bagatelle by Lawrence Sanders.
Devender: technical journals.
Sara: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.
Jason: an anthology of Peace Corps experiences.
Jack (not to be confused, according to him, with Earthworm Jim): Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Also writing fiction.
Fletcher: The Easy Way to Quit Smoking
Lauren: Total Fredom by Krishnamurti.
Holly: "I'm not reading--I'm writing." Essays, journaling.
Jim: Lacuna, by Kingsolver.
Justin: Christianizing the Social Order and Scripture, Culture and Agriculture by Ellen Davis.
Eric: Sustainable Agriculture from Startup to Management, and The New Earth by Eckhart Tolle.
Hap: The Harvard Psychedelic Club, about the early Ivy League days of Timothy Leary, Andrew Weill, and Alpert.
Scott: The Value of Nothing by Raj Patel,and Slow Money.
Judith: The Bible. Really. Working through from beginning to end.
Anya: a novel called The First Betrayal, and Drood, about Charles Dickens.
Rachel: Magical Mushrooms and Mystical Molds.
And me: I've been mulling my way around a book called Composing Pictures, and reading short story collections by ZZ Packer and David Foster Wallace.

So there.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Thursday Dinner. Some Summer Farewells.

Thursday night I came home from a very long day to cooks in the kitchen, putting a little extra twist on our usual farmers-eating-at-home Thursday night dinner--a summer farewell to Amelia, going back to college in Portland, and to India, heading off to Ecuador.

Casey and Brooke were the animating spirits--the rest of us chopping dutifully or just sitting around telling stories. ("So, yeah, I've heard the name--tell me who Will Campbell is.") Esme, a new 4, cycled between India's room, where mostly packing was going on, and the kitchen, where she sat on the counter eating bread and jam and dribbling the oil into her daddy's homemade mayonnaise fixings. DiAnne brought in a brilliant cluster of zinnias, perfect for the blue vase.

Homemade pimiento cheese toast, fried green tomatoes with Casey's mayonnaise, turnip greens (the best!), that fine ham from the Murfreesboro ham man, DiAnne's cauliflower, light little biscuits with sorghum, arugula and peach salad, "smashed" potatoes.

And our familiar crew: Tom, DiAnne, Rachel, India, Brooke, Casey, Esme, Eric, friend Laura who is visiting, Kevin, Evan, Amelia. Martha stayed home to take care of her ailing dachshund. We sent a mental toast to Buddy--we miss you!--and Dan and Evan, our reliables from last year. And Jeff the Barefoot Farmer, who has been tragically flooded out twice this year.

Our long table in the Church of Outdoor Dining was lit by a brilliant moon (and, ok, ok, lights), the white nightblooming water lily unfurled into its personal glory, and this long and complicated day tapered off into a long and complicated peace.

Tom did get called away on a neighborhood emergency, so we ate peach pie standing in the kitchen, and somehow a "massage circle" turned into a knot of about ten twenty-somethings, arms tightly wrapped around each other, staggering through the house like a drunken caterpillar towards the couch to watch "Ernest Goes to Camp", that perfectly silly Nashville-filmed confection (which, incidentally, features DiAnne and Martha's turtle props).

And then I had to get up at 4 a.m. to take India to the airport. And another full day of clinics and hospital work. Well, really, still, life is good. Not exactly minimalist, but good. And we're already looking forward to seeing India and Amelia again around Christmas!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Tractor. Seedlings. Hot. Hot. Hot.

Here's an actual picture of Tom's new tractor--see background.

Obviously farmers have been busy, busy--lovely seedlings for fall crops, in spite of breath-grabbing mind-numbing soaking-sweat-every-day heat--high 90's, with heat indexes of 110 or so much of last week.

Hats off to 'em all: hope they keep theirs on. At least until it cools off a bit.

Tom. Retired. Retreaded.

Back from the ritual Sunset Beach in August. But all those superlatives must wait for another day, another forum. The real news, of course, now not so new, is that Tom is really, totally, completely, without a doubt retired. No more Vanderbilt, no more VA, no more clinics.

No more dress slacks: it's suspenders every day all day. I have labeled his current state as one of "suspendered animation".

He quit on a Wednesday, and his new Kubota arrived on that Saturday--a large orange (non-UT) object squatting in our driveway. The spader is yet to arrive.

As the sole support of this operation at this time, I have registered small and tentative objections to this outlay, ladylike peeps of "Do you really think...?", and "What about...?" Tom points out, not without truth on his side, and not without justification (sanctification is a good ways off, alas), that this is indeed not a yacht, a small red convertible, or an expensive lady friend.

Anyhow, adjustments all around: suspenders, schedules, kitchen clean-up, and tractor education.

I'm envious. I think.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I Dig Bells Bend. Dinner

Swim and dinner last night for about 30 young (mostly) archaeologists who are part of the field school down in Bells Bend Park.

I came home from rounds, did some shopping down at our shed--a tray of tomatoes, a basket of squash, some cukes, a little basil--and, together with Tom and Kathleen, turned out an excellent dinner, if I do say so myself, completely worthy of service in the Church of Outdoor Dining.

These kids have been digging in the near-100-degree heat for six hours a day, camping in the park, classes at night, and loving it! We just plain got a kick out of the enthusiastic burble around us, about archaeology, music, poetry. One young woman was telling me about her job as a contract archaeologist for the Corp of Engineers, moving from place to place, motel to motel for a year, "but I got to see so much of the country, and boy, do I know a lot about soil structure in the Southeast!"

Ashley, an almost-phD, rounded up the troops, and before I knew it, the dishes were done, food was put away, and the napkins and tablecloths were in the washing machine.

Dr. David Anderson should be justly proud of his crew--he's growing exactly the kind of slightly bizarre, more-than-slightly independent, deeply thoughtful people this country needs right now. We're just glad to have the chance to grow squash and potatoes to feed them once in a while.

Wow! Kudos! Over-the-top cliches! Awesome! Too cool!

Anyway, you guys come over any time.

The rest of you guys--readers--get over to the Facebook site I Dig Bells Bend. Not any time--right now! (I can't seem to get pix or link to work, but you know what to do.)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Barn Dance. Sunday. Breakfast. Gristmill. Grist.

The barn dance was big--lots of people dosey-do-ing (how do you spell that?) and swing partners to and fro-ing in the steamy summer evening, with a caller, and a darn good sounding jerryrigged band with a washtub bass, fiddle, banjo, dobro, guitar.

Who knows when the festivities wound down? Not a creature was stirring when Martha and I drove off at seven Sunday morning to paint before it got too hot. But at noon half-a-dozen post-party twenty-somethings appeared in my kitchen, requesting leave to cook breakfast in an airconditioned space. (My car thermometer registered 101!)

What's not to love about breakfast for lunch, especially Casey's biscuits and bacon, especially when someone else cleans up?

Meanwhile, Tom, Devender, and Kabir headed off to translocate Will Campbell's ancient tractor-powered gristmill from his Mt. Juliet farm to ours. A risky mission successfully accomplished, along with taking Will and Brenda out to lunch--also a risky mission in some ways. My favorite part was watching Devender driving the new Kubota up the drive--a veritable symphony of color: lavender (turban), brilliant yellow (T-shirt), and orange (tractor).

I organized paper, blocks, and ink, and printed several blockprints for my beach gallery, Tom went to a farm meeting, and we sat around reading, writing, and 'rithmeticking in our checkbook until bedtime. Oh. DiAnne stopped by, and Jeff came by at breakfast time to bring food to the farmers. And Upinder and Millwandt dropped off a load of bread.

Just to give you an idea of an ordinary Sunday, day of rest. It's all grist for the creative mill. Good thing we have one now.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Peach. Counterpeach.

"If this isn't something you're doing already, you've gotta start right now"--Casey pushes the peach, topped with coarse-ground pepper, across the counter at Tom.

It's a Sulphur Creek Saturday, and Casey and Brooke have stopped here for lunch after a morning slaughtering and processing Fletcher's chickens down the road. I took an emergency supply of extra ice down that way, and watched chickens transformed from fluffy white cluckers to tidy packages of prospective dinner, gutted and shrink-wrapped.

Early this morning I walked over to the potato patch and the dye garden, still--mostly--holding their own amidst the dry grasses and weeds. The potatoes have been dug and moved to the cave on Bull Run for storage.

Then down to the shed to help, at least a little, dividing yard-long beans into CSA portions, and scrubbing the stove and cleaning up a little. Five fully grown human beings working and eating around this small space does not make for pristine surfaces everywhere at all times...

We're scheduled for a heat index of 103 today, and that's just plain hot, even in shed shade and pretty early in the day. Plans are on for a potluck, band, and square dance caller for a barn dance this evening.

And now, Benton's bacon BLTs and Tom's field peas for lunch. Casey makes a good pitch for bacon cooked gently and not allowed to get crisp--and he may be right. Might be right about the peppered peaches, too.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Road Trip: The Sonic Bride

When, in the course of human events, one gets invited to Huntsville to deliver a couple of lectures, one and one's newly retired spouse decide--Road Trip! Why not?
The Giant Blue Chicken awaits, a mere bagatelle of driving about six more hours to Oxford, Mississippi, and of course--we are called to the open road.

It's about three on this very hot Saturday afternoon at the Sonic Drive-In at some nameless crossroads on Highway 78 in northern Mississippi and we are ordering our coffee and a lime chiller. A young girl gets out of her car, incongruously dressed in a long black formal, trimmed in cranberry red. Two more come giggling from another car, and, curious, I asked them who they were--a choral group? "We're bridesmaids!"

I turned around and there she was--the bride--standing on the curb, hiking her white lace dress up around her knees. She said, "I'm getting married in about thirty minutes, and we just got hungry!" As they piled back into the cars with their sacks of cheeseburgers, I admonished her not to let the groom see her--"Oh--no one knows we're gone".

The Sonic Bride, a vision of young love, on the open road. We can only hope--for their future together, for no ketchup stains on the white lace, for better coffee down the road.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I Dig Bells Bend. Call for Gunga Din.

Best part of today: first day of field school dig in Bells Bend. About 20 folks, profs mainly from UT Knoxville and U of Arizona, students from all over, and all rabid--in a nice way, of course--for paleoindian archaeology.

My very simple understanding is that this is the period about 10,000 years ago characterized by Clovis points, and just before that time. Our squash and potato patches are apparently not the only places in the mid-East with gazillions of points (which is interesting, and counterintuitive if you believe that we were populated by folks coming over the Bering land bridge, all the way over on the other end of the continent), but virtually no carbon-datable sites.

But Bells Bend looks very promising! Shane Miller, the young PhD student who seems to be at least partly in charge (even if he is self-described as "a bit feral" after the last six weeks, spent at the Topper site in South Carolina), calls this the "Holy Grail" of Paleoindian archaeology, and can begin to answer the really big questions about who came where when. Or so I understand.

Otherwise, other news: dry, dry, dry. And no Gunga Din. Until: the WOOFFERS devised a clever system involving a pump, tank, pickup truck and hose to keep things going until yesterday, when the pump/creek/soaker hose option finally came to fruition. Still working on the pump/creek/storage tank (septic tank seconds)/hose option. Which has engendered many (many many!) hours of manly conversation--Tom, Zach, Keith, George, Devender, Joe, Eric, and many more.

Meanwhile, I was in two gully-washers today, one downpour at Vanderbilt, just as I was walking to my car to come home, and one at the Nature Center in the Bend, just down the road, but not a drop on the farm. And the sky is clearing.

Go to Facebook and look at the I Dig Bells Bend site. There is also a web site. All with daily posts from the dig. And lectures at 7 almost every night at the Center.

Exactly how am I supposed to concentrate on preparing two lectures to deliver in Huntsville next weekend in the midst of all this excitement?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fourth. Well, really the Third.

The Little Marrowbone Repair Corporation did itself pround this year, with the third edition of Burning Banjos: People making T-shirts, cardboard boats for the regatta, fireworks, firework tower, decorating same, eating, drinking, wading in creek, making a dam, roasting goat (on a jackleg grill made from a tractor part), drawing pictures (that was me), wearing hats, admiring same, getting sunburned, playing/listening to Indian flute music, jazz, trumpets, spoken verse, good old country, and lots of gossip.

Incredible fireworks.

And all homegrown. A shoutout to Don Evans and his Corps, and Cheryl, who has to put up with it all.

I have to say in my modest, understated, elderly way: Our neighborhood is THE BEST! Over the top! Amazing! A colossus amidst the pygmies!

"If you burn a banjo, a lot of guitarists will come..."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hops. Yazoo.

Hops planting. Yes, it was 98 yesterday, but in the (relative) cool of the afternoon, the crew transplanted our hops, dividing rhizomes and winding the vines up the twine. We are hoping that we can baby them along--this is late in the season to be transplanting.

Keith Loiseau has been the animating force behind this project. Turns out you need really tall trellises--12 to 15 feet--which, a couple of weeks ago, meant some really, really tall poles sunk into seven-foot postholes (thanks to Keith, Zach, Tom, and I don't know who all), then cable connectors and guy wires. Then tying twine to the cable.

Then yesterday. We'll see how it goes.

My day looked a little different: hospital rounds, dental emergency, then home to count workers and do dinner for twelve. Nice to sit in the pavilion watching the fireflies rising in the meadow.

Thanks to Tom, Sydney, Eric, two Kevins, two Evans, Brooke, Amelia, Sabina.

And thanks to Yazoo Brewing Company, Nashville's microbrewery. Yazoo has been unbelievably supportive of local farming, and our fundraisers.

Bells Bend loves Yazoo, and we're planning on sending a few hops your way. Eventually.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Box Turtle Theology

Our old friend, Mac Davis, understood the great questions of life from the point of view of the lovely box turtle: the universe is made up of towering blades of grass, rustling leaves, rivulets of warm water, and on rare occasions, the sudden appearance of a dry hot plain, populated by erratic roaring devils, behemoths designed to crush turtles, specifically, into nothingness. There comes a time in every box turtle's life when this hellish drama appears and must be negotiated.

This morning, just past the country store, a turtle teetered on the edge of eternity, on the shoulder of the road, looking across the five lanes. I pulled over, and so did good neighbor Keith. I imparted a few of the basic principles of Box Turtle Theology, as we imperfectly understand the creed. When I reached down, the turtle instantly pulled in legs and head, clamping upper and lower shells together, and looking for all the world like a charming jewelbox. Not an unreasonable reaction to impending revelation.

Then I, the Hand of God, instrument of salvation, put him up on the bank, pointing back towards his small kingdom of grass and trees, and I , the Hand of God, climbed into my dusty van, picked up the cooling coffee cup, and headed back to my own familiar world.

Consider this a small bit of hagiography, a nod into the eternal computing cloud for Mac Davis, through whom a bit of eternity, if only for turtles, has been revealed.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Pig-pickin'. Some call it barbecue. Whew.

We are slowly coming out of barbecue recovery.

The Bells Bend Farms pig-pickin' was extraordinary. Fund-raiser for farming out here. Glorious afternoon, just beautiful beautiful tables with our own hydrangeas, striped grass and Queen Anne's lace in mason jars. It was just a lovely day all the way to the paper lanterns floating into the night sky and the luminarias transforming our driveway into an otherworld fantasy.

Shoutouts first:

Yazoo!!! Donated kegs. Wahoo!

Which brings us to The Riders in the Sky--purveyors of mega-wahoo and fantastic music. We couldn't have done it without you.

Hatch Show Print: We did our own invites, but Hatch donated the cardstock, all cut to size.

Syd: This girl can flat track down beer (as long as it's Yazoo, our very own), Porta-Potties, paper, envelopes, auction donations, people who can whip our computer into submission as detailed below, and on and on. Ice, lighting, you name it.

Casey: Pit-meister extraordinaire. (Of course, Tom was the meister-master, supervising preparations.)

Rachel Lawson: Caterer advice and fab beans. And more.

Max and Ruthie: Layout and computer-tending for invites.

Brooke: Gorgeous, as usual, as was her salad. Brooke was up from picking to pit. We couldn't do it without her.

Patrick: Firewood. Himself.

Jody: Street performer, good time guy, and he keeps our computer running too.

And all our usual neighborhood wonderfuls: Ellen--address-wrangling, tablecloths, tent gear, auction accessories. Sharon--cornbread and a delightful playhouse. DiAnne--flowers and rooster. Emily, Rachel, EricTheFarmer, Peter, Kevin. Becca, Joe. India--flew home for the event!

Artists: You know who you are.

The Slaw Sluts: You know who YOU are--responsible for handchopping cabbage for 180 dinners!

Amelia and Sabina: These guys not only helped before and during, they were up at the crack of dawn the morning after stacking chairs, clearing tables, and generally cleaning up.

Our gratitude extends to those who inadvertently entertain: Zach the Dapper Chopper, chopping barbecue in a starched striped shirt and Panama hat. Lulu, who couldn't decide which table to lie under. The gentleman with the deadly baseball cap, taking out flies one by one.

And Tom, without whom this event would not be--endless months of phone calls, negotiations, consultations about barbecue sauces (tomato or vinegar?), coleslaw, cornbread.

And me--I'll extend some self credit here: invitations, lemonade, ten dozen lemon bars, accounting, auction.

I hope I haven't left you out. If you're like me, you won't care much, at least for another few days, because you're still lying in the hammock with a bad book and a glass of tea, orthopedic shoes sitting side by side in the grass.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Happy Birthday, Brooke!

Last night, a celebratory dinner for Brooke, the other half of our farm management team. We thought we'd have one more harvest of bamboo shoots--wonderful in a green curry--but the season is suddenly over, and the shoots are too tough to harvest. So it goes. We did have beets, my candidate for most underrated vegetable, kale salad, lettuce salad, and curry with tofu and chicken. Rachel baked a lip-smacking (though a bit tilted) carrot cake, and I made lemon bars.

Nothing would be too good for Brooke, though. She's our IT girl, the cat's meow, the best of the best.

In praise of girl farmers: Syd is here, chain-saw totin', tofu-eatin' Syd, working wonders in our overgrown yard. And Amelia and Sabine stopped by for morning coffee with Montana, one of last summer's interns, who brought us a megabag of dark-roast coffee from California, and some excellent wine.

Montana's been documenting Los Angeles rockabilly, which is apparently undergoing a worldwide renaissance. (Is it even legal to use "rockabilly" and "renaissance" in the same sentence? Where's Jerry Lee when you need him?) She tells me that there are even young Latinos playing "cumbia-billy", a hybrid mixing rockabilly with Mexican dance music. With its own dance moves. Who knew?

Girl farmers. Life wouldn't be right without 'em! Thanks for the coffee, Montana, and happy birthday, Brooke...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Farmers! Heroes! Rain! Read all about it!

Glory be! Thanks to the dedication and hard work of our farm crew, Bells Bend Neighborhood Farms is producing for its second year! EricTheFarmer, BrookeTheAmazing, and Adrian and Kevin, our interns--I bow repeatedly in your general direction.

Read all about it at the website below. (I swiped Eric's photo for the blog.)

It's still raining.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Flood of Aught Ten: Hickman County

Our friends Sharon and Mike live beside Lick Creek in Hickman County, in a converted dairy parlor off a graveled road. We drove out there for dinner last night. What we saw, like all flood destruction, is both hard to believe and hard to describe.

The concrete county bridge in front of their house had been partly cleared, but the bottom twenty feet of a tree, more than two feet in diameter, was still wedged into the railing on top of the bridge. A swimming-pool sized hole had been dug by the currents as the water rushed across the pastures and over the road. A forest of trees was piled like twigs alongside the now-placid creek. Sharon described the pinging sound as boards from their fences popped off one by one "like dominoes" and floated away. The surging floods tore down an old stone berm and dropped boulders the size of engine blocks two hundred feet away.

The mayor was stranded in his office in Centerville for four days, without cell phones, land lines, or radio. Hickman County, in the year 2010, a mere 50 miles from Nashville, was completely cut off. Finally someone found an old-fashioned ham radio operator, who could begin to get word out about conditions in the county.

Mike and Sharon have a spring-fed water system and a well, but the county water system has been destroyed--not just the processing plant, but miles of pipes have washed away. I heard an estimate that it would take three months to restore clean water. This is a poor county in the best of times, and people were barely getting by before this disaster.

Cheatham County, just down the road from us, had similar problems. Helicopters were dropping MRE rations and water to folks who could not be reached any other way.

Government response, both federal and local, has been timely and relatively efficient, though there is no way for a disaster of this size to really be managed. The volunteer response has been magnificent, and thousands of flooded houses have been gutted back to the studs. Gigantic mountains of household waste--sodden drywall, couches, and carpet--are accumulating everywhere.

And it's raining today.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day: Daughter's Lament


Can I just express how difficult mother's day was? I spent time with 4 or 5 friends looking for mothers day gifts. Here's how it went down.

Flowers: Liz and India, you have no idea but the flowers at the farm are OUT OF CONTROL. I guess I could have gotten some really crappy flowers, just for contrast.

Chocolate: Thanks a lot, Casey Daley and Sandy Hepler. Can't get her chocolate.

Make a meal: Brooke. Kay. Enough said.

Plants: all my friends got their moms plants. Tomato plants. Blackberry plants. Somehow it just didn't seem appropriate.

I hope you enjoy the microbrewed root beer.


Your daughter in Nashville

Peonies:Reconstruction:Wall Street

The familiar white van pulled up as I was leaving this morning, disgorging our local carpenters, JeffJ and Patrick, a replacement window, a ladder, and a couple of cups of coffee.

After our floods and a few steamy days of sunshine, the driveway flower bed is bulging with just plain gorgeous: clematis in a dense mat of lavender, roses, iris, dianthus looking like rickrack trim along the front, asters, and little purple balls of scabiosa. But mostly, mostly peonies--white, pink, dark magenta, extravagant.

Patrick's mother is 94 years old, and beyond growing peonies, but we offered to send a bouquet home to her. Patrick asked if I knew Mary Oliver's poetry, and particularly her beautiful poem about peonies.

Here's part of it: "...their red stems holding/ all that dampness and recklessness/gladly and lightly,/ and there it is again -/ beauty the brave, the exemplary,/ blazing open./ Do you love this world?/ Do you cherish your humble and silky life?..."

So here we are, looking at the culture wars from the Sulphur Creek Farm point of view: Pundits agog over a Wall Street awash with exquisitely educated bankers showing themselves to be rapacious, greedy thugs, while our neighbor, a carpenter, a thoughtful and literate man, goes quietly about the tedious business of restoration.

We used to call people like this "cultivated". Our farm, driveway beds and all, is all about cultivation, but I'm not at all sure we spend enough time on poetry. Or peonies. Sure as heck Wall Street don't.

"Peonies" by Mary Oliver. Look it up.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Flood of Aught Ten: Update

The water level has dropped less than two feet--still six feet inside the football stadium, nearly burying the semi-trailers parked at the Gun Club, and, brown and grim, covering much of Bells Bend.

The Pulmonary Clinic flooded, destroying all the computers and pulmonary function testing equipment. We are doubling up with other Vanderbilt docs in their clinic spaces, and are seeing as many patients as we can. Meanwhile, I hear, the floor is being ripped up, walls are torn open, and everything is being emptied out of the clinic, just like is happening all over town.

Clean water may soon be a problem.

Our losses are minor compared to the losses of many. I don't even know how to begin to transmit my ongoing shock that three people could drown in Belle Meade, right at the shopping center, right in the middle of the ritziest part of town. At an ordinary intersection.

We are just a bit disjointed, trying to do the work put before us.

I have to say, Gaia seems to be striking back.

Go to the mainstream media for pictures and more stories.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Flood on Old Clees' Ferry

My neighbor, Ella, sent me this photo of a house on the river side of Old Clees' Ferry Road (AKA Old Cleece's Ferry Road). My favorite evening walk is right along here, eight feet under--the Cumberland is about a quarter of a mile behind this house.

There were 9 feet of water in some of Vanderbilt's parking garages, 8 feet on Second Avenue downtown, and LP Field was flooded. And so far, it's just sitting there, until the Cumberland River slowly begins to subside.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Flood of Aught Ten

EricTheFarmer in our waterlogged shed. The water behind him around the compost piles is three feet deep and running hard.

Sulphur Creek: Whiffs of Hades: The Great Flood

Today is a blazing morning, the sun burning through the misty trees. Yesterday, another matter.

It rained. And rained. Something like 9 inches in less than 36 hours. Sulphur Creek was raging, crashing over our bridges and creating rivers running through our pastures. Land on both sides flooded, with a heavy three foot-deep current gnawing away at our compost mountains.

Our tiny side creek, usually a meandering two feet across, roared over its little bridge and made its own river about 70 feet wide, running both into the creek and down into the driveway.

We spent much of the morning drenched, as we slogged around moving things to higher ground: buckets, tools, beehives.

Fletcher called, worried about his chickens. The creek was cascading over the guard rails by the train trestle, intermittently blocking the road into the Bend. The chicks were ok, but the neighbors living in their basement were not, and the boys helped them move their furniture upstairs.

The Cumberland at Clees Ferry was up nearly to the top of the boat ramp, and later, I'm told, flooded far up the road, including the sod farm. This morning I passed semi-trailers completely under water at the Gun Club, and our side of Briley is closed, along with White Bridge Road.

We are counting our losses: substantial for us, but small compared to others in the area. Mainly, all 240 shitake logs, representing a massive amount of work by Eric the Farmer and his buddies, are on their way to the Gulf of Mexico. Think cutting trees, hauling them out of the woods, cutting them up into 240 4-foot sections, and drilling and packing with mushroom spawn, then stacking and re-stacking. That work has all just floated away.

Our raging pasture river pulled down about a hundred feet of 8-foot fencing, and, of course, the farm road is pitted and scarred and scattered with twenty-pound rocks carried here from somewhere upstream.

And, as always, we do have blessings to count: Dinner by candlelight for a bedraggled crew (our own asparagus, lettuce, greens, a few pre-flood shitakes, the neighbors goat cheese, an excellent vintage box wine, some of Casey's dark chocolate), all dogs and cattle alive and well, the (working) generator, and our neighbors. Our main blessing. Zach is already up at Jeff's with his backhoe, repairing the cavernous washouts beside his bridge.

So, we are fine, but the Cumberland has not yet crested, and much has been lost in other parts of the county. Sulphur Creek has given us a whiff of the underworld, and we are emerging again into the light, ready to do useful work. Wherever it may be.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Bootes Redux

Remember Bootes, the constellation called The Herdsman, relaxing after work with his pipe? Arcturus his big star? This afternoon, weeds piled along the driveway, I had another Bootes moment, this time leaning on the stirrup hoe, listening to the jays and doves and mockingbirds and Lulu crunching a bone in the background. The wind swept around the hollow, and I could just faintly hear a radio somewhere.

Now I have to wash the tablecloths for the farm's EarthDay booth. Nothing is ever as easy as it ought to be--this involves dislodging the cat, tacking in the glazier's points in the last couple of frames, moving all of the paintings that have covered the table the last week, packing up the framing toolbox, shaking off the tablecloths, and heading off for the washing machine.

Is there a constellation called The Laundress?

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Last night: a rocking show at the barn behind the Loveless Cafe at Music City Roots, and featuring the nameless young man who was in my kitchen last Sunday morning. Who knew? He was terrific (Luke Nicholson, if you must know), and provoked consideration of the nature of genius, an unholy--no, maybe it's holy--mix of obsession and talent.

Lots of geniuses wander in to Sulphur Creek Farm. Jeff, a farming genius. DiAnne, a woodworking genius. Luke. Buddy on his guitar. Tom has a genius' memory for sounds--get him to reproduce the plop of lard into the fryer in an East Tennessee diner for you.

But this week we have particularly relished the genius of Mark, from Red Boiling Springs, who can gather a sack full of morel mushrooms in an hour. What to the rest of us is perfect dun-colored camouflage to Mark is a brilliant neon. He thinks its because he's colorblind, but that just doesn't quite make sense.

Genius just can't be explained, but it can sure be enjoyed! In this case, sauteed in butter, with Amish noodles and watercress from Sulphur Creek.

(Picture thanks to Joe and Billie Little!)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bootes, the Herdsman

Yesterday: one of those glorious, bright cool spring days, with the peonies beginning to unfold tender purple leaves, and the dogs lying in a patch of sun on the porch.

After hospital rounds, I came home to find my kitchen filled with young cooks and kale and apple salad, guacamole, mint tea underway for the Shed Shower. And people came. And came. An old friend from Philadelphia, Nashvillians young and old, lame and leaping, musicians, storytellers, teachers, heavy-equipment masters, docs, layabouts, handymen, teachers with other people's children, newshounds and writers, woodworkers, deerskinners, chicken farmers, winemakers--we all ate, walked the garden, gossiped, watched the kids in the creek, and just enjoyed the afternoon.

The Shed Shower pretty much equipped the outdoor kitchen (donated stove, fridge, couch, chairs, pots, pans, canners, tablecloth, a copper skillet that would look really really good in MY kitchen!, benches). Thank you, thank you.

Then the bonfire, music, and blanched cabbage blossom salad. At one point there were TWO chocolatiers in the kitchen, tasting, talking fermenting, roasting, cocoa butter versus oil, chocolate liquor, and cocoa bean varieties being grown in Nicaragua.

I took my binocs down to the campfire to look at stars, and was astonished when a dreadlocked buddy of Rachel's bounded off to his car and came back with his apparently standard equipment of star book, map and laser pointer! Who grows these miraculous young? He showed me Arcturus and Bootes, the Herdsman, who is sitting smoking a meditative pipe, presumably surveying his flocks with a gentle and proprietary air in the cool of the evening.

Appropriately enough, Orion the Hunter was just wheeling down out of sight behind the hills across the road.

Yesterday that was me, Bootes, enjoying our rural kingdom of an evening, with a weak gin-and-tonic standing in as my metaphorical pipe. And this morning the glow still holds, even though Rachel, Casey, Mary Claire, Tom, and the other young man, the one with blond curly hair whose name I can't remember (but his father is a songwriter), unfolding from sleep into the kitchen, aren't exactly my flock, and my survey, over coffee, recognizes that proprietary is not the right angle here.

Unlike Bootes' flock, they are free to go. But also welcome back any time.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

It's always something...

This morning: As I'm heading out the back door for morning rounds, I hear loud and angry and X-rated shouting, the roar of a 4-wheeler in the far pasture, Ollie's frenetic barking ringing clearly above the din, and see our cows bolting in a tight group toward the back barn. A battered skyblue pickup truck roars up and a grizzled old man leans out.

Turns out he and his son--he of the 4-wheeler--are chasing their mule, which has galloped down Old Hickory from Bull Run Road, was almost caught with a bucket of corn over at Zach's, but then jumped the cattle gap and is now racing wildly around the back pasture, along with the cows, dogs, 4-wheeler, and son.

A police car blocked the front gate, the policeman looking bemused at the dust and noise. "I've been out here since six, trying to keep that mule off the highway", he said wryly, glancing at the halter and rope on the seat next to him. "Now they're roaring around back there tearing up your pasture. Doesn't look like that's gonna work too well. I've gotta say these aren't the smartest two guys on Bull Run."

The mule--a pretty red-blond--did finally get haltered and hauled away, but not before the younger man stopped his 4-wheeler for a few minutes, watching the mule, and said thoughtfully to Tom, "Ya know, maybe he's smarter'n me".

Every cowboy, fisherman, birdwatcher, and preschool teacher knows exactly how he feels.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Heaven, Indistinguishable from Spring

Frosty, but clear and sunny. The Vanderbilt redbuds, flowering cherries, Japanese magnolias and other blooming whatzit trees have exploded overnight into fuzzy pink and white balloons. Our pastures are a tender green.

Last night--a chili cookoff at the community club, before the Friday evening dance, and I thought Brooke's veg chili made with Sulphur Creek black beans was just the best. I also finagled Miss Essie's Japanese fruit pie recipe, which is now scribbled on a napkin in the pocket of my raincoat.

At the park, afterwards, astronomy aficionados had their telescopes focused on our heavens: Castor, the Orion nebula, Saturn, and a green-tinged (due to optic filter) arc of moon silhouetted against black space. Bell's Bend is unusually fortunate in its dark skies.

This morning Tom, JeffJ, and Patrick started out to pick up the new (to us) greenhouse that has been donated to the farm, but got only just beyond the first bridge. I passed them on my way to the hospital: changing a truck tire, Jeff somehow with a bloody scratch on his forehead (but oriented, no focal abnormalities, and cheerful).

We also took in a friend last week, who appeared, distraught and in pain, on our back porch one night, temporarily needing the peace and quiet India's upstairs bedroom offers.

Eric and the farm gang have been working like dogs: up planting potatoes until 10 p.m. last Saturday night, but all in before the Sunday rain. (To say nothing about the beets, lettuce, and et cetera.)

Well, heaven can take many forms when you're busy and have friends with trucks in spring in a lively little corner of the world: spring peepers roaring down in the valley while you look at the far-off miracle of Castor's double star, trauma that's only minor, refuge in the shape of a cluttered little bedroom, a sharp blue sky, and a cluster of miniature daffodils. Even a taste of Miss Essie's Japanese fruit pie. But not too much.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mushrooms! Mud!

ETF's highly successful mushroom workshop brought 14 folks out to learn how to drill fresh oak logs, pack the spawn, wax, and stack--ours are stacked by the creek so next fall they can easily be soaked to trigger fruiting.

Of course, Eric and his friend Ben spent LAST weekend sawing down the trees, cutting them up into logs, and hauling them out of the woods. At one point, I hear, ETF harnessed himself to several hundred pounds of logs loaded into a (durable) kayak, to sled it out of the woods across the mud. ETF himself wound up loaded onto his futon for a couple of days nursing some seriously pulled muscles.

Nothing is as simple as it should be.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


An explosion of light over the hill this morning--it's been a long time, and we eagerly seek out small signs of spring. In Europe, people would be taking chairs outside, to lean back against a southern wall and just sit in the sun for a while.

We still have a thin frosting of snow here and there: under the cedar trees, in the shadow of the bluff behind Billy Johnson's house, and tiny patches on the north side of every cow patty, a festive polkadot pattern across the pasture.

So--a bit of sun, and I am instantly looking forward to ripe tomatoes and zucchini. Yes, I know they are still months away, but a person can dream, can't she?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Art. Again.

Well, since I did Don's portrait (see post about Movie Night), he did mine a couple of weeks ago when we got together to draw in his barn/studio on Little Marrobone Road.

So here it is. Proof, should you require it, that all is not farmwork out here in Davidson County's far West.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Winter Freeze

We are slowly emerging from snow and a deep freeze: today is dreary slush with the constant dripping sound, from every leaf, gutter, and fence.

Our bedroom birdfeeder has become the focus of a cadre of fluffed-up starlings, cardinals, doves, and sparrows, who all sit motionless in the birch tree, staring at us through the window. The starlings--not my favorite birds, foreign bullies that they are--are particularly ominous, tiny thugs hunched in their black overcoats, metallic green glinting off their necks, those little yellow eyes focused unblinkingly, demanding only the best black oil sunflower seed. The cardinals, on the other hand, are positively ornamental, thoughtlessly cheerful, crests tilting back and forth curiously.

The ghost-cat--known only from unconfirmed sightings of a pale shadow slipping behind the old smokehouse--has actually been seen huddled under the vent on the back steps, but raced off as soon as the door cracked open. During the snowstorm I also caught a glimpse, white on white, a soft ribbon of life trotting across the disappearing grass.

Our old Kubota and Tom have been hauling round bales of hay to the feeder in the back pasture.

Inside, around the kitchen table, the endless discussions continue: which varieties, seed orders, hoop house or no hoop house, and if so how big, budgets, manure spreaders or no manure spreaders. Etc. Etc. These conversations, at least, are brightly perennial, even in a frozen February.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Author, Author!

Just to be explicit, in case you didn't notice.

EricTheFarmer and I, bjb the chief dishwasher and walking satire on the concept of Earth Mother, are now sharing the blog. Just about all of the useful information dealing with food, harvests, and the actual running of the farm comes from ETF, along with most of the pictures.

Ruminations (apart from those directly connected to bovine digestion) on country living and anything trying to be cute are probably mine. Weather could go either way, as could comments on food/cooking/eating.

We hope you enjoy. We do.


Entertainment in our Neck of the Woods

Movie night on Little Marrowbone Road--certainly one of Nashville's more elite entertainments! Our host, Vanderbilt's long-time gadfly artprof, ran 16-mm films in his barn while we boozed it up and ate Mean Bread. (An author doesn't have to explain EVERYTHING, does she?)

How to Survive the A Bomb, dating etiquette (the girl should tactfully turn away slightly when her gentleman escort pays for anything--the exchange of money is so indelicate, you know), and instruction in Baton Twirling from Roger, Iowa's oh-so-animated best twirler--just a few of the reels unwound for our delectation.

Let's see. We also had Halloween chocolates wrapped in fanged foil paper, glow-stick bracelets, dips and chips, and, of course, a final exam. I didn't do so well on the exam, as you can see, but our host liked his portrait and e-mailed it back to me. But I didn't win the Polaroid camera.