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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.