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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas Letter. Yes, it's old-fashioned.

Dear Family and Friends:

Although to the world at large this is the Christmas season, for us and the gang at Bells Bend Farms this is the end of our third CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) season. We had 85 happy families as members this year, and also sold produce at a local farmer’s market. Our absolutely splendid crew of workers, friends, neighbors, and volunteers have made boredom an impossibility, especially on Tuesdays, our potluck dinner night.

We harvested our first hops, and Yazoo Brewery made a limited edition of Bells Bend Preservation Ale, celebrated at our First Annual Hops and Square Dance Festival. Yazoo’s winter charity run is also scheduled for our neighborhood next week.

Tom’s retirement continues to be punctuated by the acquisition of machinery, most recently a much-needed pickup truck. I’m still fulltime at Vanderbilt, and have had a couple of art shows and poetry readings on the side, with work at Sunset River Marketplace in Calabash, North Carolina.

We had a spectacular trip to Turkey with a little side trip to Paris this fall. Tom had a memorable massage in a bathhouse that opened for business in 1539 , and came home with a bag of lovely Black Sea rocks (if you have to ask, you’ll never understand), in addition to the memories of hundreds of eagles and falcons circling overhead during fall migration. And so much more.

Liz has started grad school at the University of Chicago, studying literature, which will, of course, improve her barista credentials.

Rachel is in the middle of the med school applications process, and continues to work at Beaman Park, supervising volunteers (Vandy frat boys!) and assisting with environmental education.

India, after a term in Ecuador and a summer doing geology in Wyoming, is a senior at Beloit College—geology and the school paper seem to be her main interests these days. Or so we hope.

We’re going to have fresh carrots, beets, radishes, and greens throughout the winter—come on down and have dinner with us!

From Brenda, speaking for Tom, Liz, Rachel, India, and all the beings, sentient or otherwise, who have roamed through, eaten, dropped by, slept, danced, harvested, hoed, picked guitar/banjo/mandolin, barked, tunneled, washed dishes, laughed hysterically, swum, purred, and cackled over/on/through Sulphur Creek Farm this year…and Merry Christmas to you all!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

the week that was. another one. "gotta get my baby heads"

So let's see: Sunday the beach/Thanksgiving crowd (well, really Tom and Rachel) return. Monday a spontaneous shrimp-fest. Weird pics of Tom's Black Sea Rocks brought home from Turkey, along with the Black Sea plastic doll arm, which triggered the appearance of the Sulphur Creek Very Strange Doll Head and Related Stories. (Tom's immortal line: "gotta get my baby heads"...)

Tuesday: Potluck at EricTheFarmer's. Wednesday: Gathering of the HopHeads--Tom, Keith, Eric, Joe, and Peter--to plan where to put new cables to expand the hop crop. Thursday: Farm dinner.

Friday: My most challenging monthly day-long clinic, lunch talk, inpatient rounds, signout. Raced over to Scarritt-Bennett for the opening of "23 Years", a very interesting show about war which features a large group of my drawings. Eventually home for the end of Rachel's birthday dinner.

Saturday: big batch of greens and slaw cooked up with Sidney for the Nashville Occupiers.

Quite a week. Maybe you had to be here.

Actually not all that different from most weeks.

(And thanks to Shea Sulkin for the photo and a good bit of the hysterical laughter around Monday night's dinner table.)

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Day After: Loony

A beautiful day in Hickman County, where Martha and I painted Sharon's horses (literally, as it happened: one nipped at my cadmium orange and proceeded to spread it over one leg, lips, and side--our scrubbing turned it a sickly pink), and had the perfect Thanksgiving dinner and Lick Creek walk.

We just knew that the ThanksgivingAtTheBeach crowd was truly bored: nothing to do but walk and read. Called to confirm and crow a little in our superiority, and heard this:

Here's DiAnne's pic of the little loon that Rachel and a couple of other heroic beach-walkers rescued from illegal gillnets on Sunset Beach yesterday. Nipped Tom, but practically purred for Rachel, I hear, and wanted to follow her around.

Loony found a nurturing home with a Brunswick County bird rescuer, who thinks the prognosis for eventual return to the wild is good.

If THAT hadn't happened, they would have been bored. Without me. Really.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


I've been abandoned for Thanksgiving-- Tom, Rachel and friends heading out for a coastal vacation, while I tend to the home front.

Dinner the other night with daughter and three of her farm friends--gorgeous food, with brilliant raw beet salad, greens, and the cutest little carrots. A fine time, though I am aware that the discourse alters a bit with Mom at the table. Too bad, can't help it, a function of experience, space and time, it'll happen to you too, just wait.

Baked a honey cake to take out to Mike and Sharon's Hickman County farm tomorrow. We always lay bets on how many dogs will be there (I'm guessing ten right now), whether BridgerTheUgliestDogInTheWorld will be as curmudgeonly as ever, and whether TeddyTheBestHorse will be in top form. The (attack) geese have been retired, but the peacocks are still around.

Current political debate is wearing us all down. We really do need a day of pure get-together-and-enjoy, bad jokes and old stories, and tomorrow will be it. Hello to the farflung fam, love to all (take that, Newt!). Hope to return, rejuvenated, waving our Sheila B. flag: Quit Your Meanness!

Saturday, November 19, 2011


A couple of weeks ago I was dropping off my entries for the Tennessee Art League juried show (third prize in oils, by the way), and an Australian couple came in. Chat led to a long discussion of what to do in Nashville, and Sarah, the receptionist, and I wound up printing up a long list: gotta go to the Station inn, have to see Hatch Show Print, the Parthenon is really a bit bizarre but a must-see, eat at Margot's, oh, yes drop by Meg's at ARt and Invention next door. The Farmer's Market. The library for a walk-through. Belle Meade Mansion for its luxurious public rooms and small family quarters. The Bluebird if you can get a seat.

Eventually I told them a bit about the farm, and pulled up the farm square dance video on YouTube. At this point, I realized I could possibly be playing into the Nashville = HeeHaw (not that there's anything wrong with that!) stereotypes, and--yes, salvaged the whole scene with a biting critique of postmodern deconstructionism.

Not really. But I did get to thinking that, while we talk a lot about eating local, what we all are really doing is moving towards eating local, art-ing local, entertaining local, dancing local. Some of us are reading local and writing local and banking local, seeing our own homegrown Nutcracker with the kids, and (we hope) buying books at Parnassus, Nashville's new local bookstore. Although our electronic world allows us farflung friendships, we are friending local as well.

And supporting our own local Occupy--TeClaw and the Hogslop String Band are hosting a square dance tonight at 9! Be there--the People's Plaza/War Memorial Plaza/Legislative Plaza. Whatever you call it, it's ours.

Aussies welcome. State troopers, too, if they want to dance.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Today. Only.

So much has happened over the last few months: hops festival and square dance, benefit for Jeff Poppen (who is fighting a Tyson chicken operation that will drain into his spring), our trip to Turkey, art show at Martha's studio, Bells Bend farm day, life and death, here, in Libya and Syria, on Wall Street and Nashville's own Legislative Plaza. So much forces me to slow down and get small. So. Today.

It's just me, almost. Tom is reuniting with his highschool class of 50 years ago. Breakfast with Rachel, including the perpetually-these-are-really-the-last tomatoes, for what is likely the last of this year's tomato sandwiches. Really. The morning ritual of dog food, cat food, koi food, one last pink water lily. Walking to Kathleen's to talk about the neighborhood web site--one of those golden fall days. Kai--bless his heart!--is working on the greenhouse. A great blue heron flaps ponderously in, ratcheting it's tripod legs down to light on a tree stump, folding its pterodactyl wings.

Roses and clematis are re-blooming, the zinnias are as fierce as ever. At Kathleen's, spectacular dahlias are tilting at the breeze, and she has volunteer dill coming up on the pathway. Her old dog is sleeping in a patch of sun. A vulture is just visible, spreading its wings as it sits at the peak of the forest.

The swee'gum tree is brilliant, crimson and bronze, and faded green, dangling its decorative little balls. Doris is getting a jump, it looks like, cables running from her car to a pickup truck parked in the driveway. The little cemetery beside her house has been freshly mowed, and when I get home, so has our own yard, and Eddie and Patrick are just loading up mowers and trimmers. I'm always fascinated at the transformation of our ratty dandelion leaves, ancient fescue, and faded violets and crabgrass into what looks--for a couple of days at least--like a real lawn advertising the tidiness, thrift, and dedication to maintenance of its proprietors. (Well, in a way I guess we are: we are certainly dedicated to the maintenance of Eddie and Patrick.)

It's a rich, blooming, lush world, and the Japanese turnips and little radishes are coming in. And so much more. As so often is the case, the small things are adding up one by one to a big thing: an autumn day at home right here. Rachel's off to guide a hike (looking for nuts) at Beaman Park, Peter came in to use the computer, Kai is rummaging around for a hacksaw. I'm going back outside.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Our community, and Nashville at large, is mourning the loss of Minda Lazarov, cook, neighbor, activist extraordinaire.

Minda was the well-connected, well-informed, energetic neighborhood strategist during our fight against big-money developers. It was hard to say no to Minda, and I am here to testify that sometimes it's been hard to say yes!

Without Minda, Sulphur Creek Farm and Bells Bend Neighborhood Farms would not exist. Three years ago, as we gathered, exhausted from our years of phone calls, letters, planning commission meetings, and metro council meeting, but also jubilant about our improbable defeat of a $4-billion development proposal, it was Minda who suggested an organic farm--a positive step for our area.

Like zombies, we all nodded enthusiastically, and then looked blankly at each other. What next? What uncharted journey had we started?

Within two months, Jeff Poppen had helped lay out gardens on four properties, compost was accumulating (100 tons of the stuff), and 11-foot poles were appearing in our front pasture to build the 8-foot deer fence. Volunteers showed up on two sleety days to set posts and stretch fencing. We still didn't have a farmer, and weren't at all sure how this was going to work, but we pushed ahead.

And then we got a call from EricTheFarmer, at this point EricTheAboutToGraduate, who had grown up right here, wanting to help with the farm.

Three years later, the whirlwind continues: volunteers, square dances and potlucks, kids camped out in spare rooms,tractors, workshops, Bells Bend ale, and on and on.

Minda, we miss you already. As Rachel said, tearfully, "We're all going to have to step up now".

Friday, September 16, 2011

Thursday Dinner

Thursdays Tom and I (and often DiAnne, bless her sweet self)cook for the farmers, and whoever drops by. Last night I stopped to shop at the shed on the way up to the house--picked up tomatoes and butternut squash. Pulled up some carrots from our garden by the kitchen.

Made roasted butternut soup (with roasted carrots, peppers, onions, an apple, orange juice, and whatever else was orange and within reach), filled out leftover pasta salad with the tomatoes, and Tom heated up some Scottsboro barbecue and made slaw--as always, with too much celery seed.

Then Eric showed up with this gorgeous basket. You can't see the lovely little potatoes underneath. Arugula and our very own Shitakes!

Arugula under the pasta. DiAnne made a green bean casserole (every bit from scratch, with our own green beans), and brownies turned up with Mark and Stephanie, a strawberry pie with Elizabeth and Raina. (Though Raina, true to her 18-month-old self, mainly wandered around, climbed on chairs, and said "no!", both tentatively and definitively.)

And tonight, maybe risotto with the mushrooms. Arugula omelet for lunch?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Yo-Yo. Rollergrrls. Moon.

Yo-Yo Ma in the incomparable Schermerhorn on Friday night: an all-Dvorak concert, and the Nashville Symphony is terrific!

Saturday night went to see the Nashville Roller Derby--a wonderfully gritty evening in the old Municipal Auditorium, with Rambo and Maiden America skating on a flat concrete floor, families and friends hollering from the sidelines. This is just plain fun, once you figure out what the jammer is.

Sunday: DiAnne's melt-in-mouth green beans and meatloaf, a full moon sailing between the trees, and our first-of-the-year Victoria bloom--an armful of gorgeous floating in the pond.

This morning folks are gathering to help put up our hoop house, which has been a bit of a skeletal embarrassment since we got the supports up months ago but haven't made much progress since. Until today. PortaPotty in place. Cumberland River Compact literature out. I dropped off a pot of veggie beans.

Really. You gotta love Nashville, don't ya?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Scottsboro 55th Barbecue

Blazing--that would be the wood fires all night long under 95 pork shoulders, tended by shifts of our neighbors. And that would be the day of the barbecue, tagged at 101 on the Lewis'Country Store billboard.

Our local Community Club has been doing barbecue on Labor Day Saturday for 55 years, and anyone and everyone who has ever lived in or around the area seems to show up--country band, a bit of sedate boot-scootin', and really good barbecue, beans, slaw, cornbread (the kind that looks like a stout pancake), kid's games, yard sales.

After rounding at the hospital, I served 'cue for a couple of hours, then scrubbed up a considerable pile of pots and pans, and the steam table. My fellow dishwasher was Linda, just retired from 39 years as a Metro bus driver. Miss Nancy worked on cornbread, George O. managed the cashbox.

Tom pulled pork for a while, but our real hero is Jim, who took the midnight shift and then worked most of the day as well. One guy drives from Knoxville each year to help out--grew up on Bull Run Road, and painted the Club and installed the swings for his Eagle Scout project twenty-five years ago.

I've lived out here since 1983, but am still a newbie by CC standards. We enjoy the overlapping generations and shifting groups that mark this as a real community, not an artificial, pay-to-get-through-the-gate simulacrum.

And, by the way, George tells me he's taken up pipe smoking. Burning holes in his pink shirts.

That's all the news for now.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Hops! It's Harvesttime. Buy Yazoo!

Came home yesterday to hops harvest: Keith's second year crop looks really good. Tom hoisted someone with a machete up in the tractor's front end loader to cut the strings and bring the vines down.

By the time I arrived, folks were gathered in front of the shed (ok, around the beer cooler) pulling the flowers off the vines--fragrant green thumb-sized stacks of petals. Yazoo plans to use the hops fresh for a small run of Bells Bend Ale.

Rachel looked very distinguished, decked out in a hops version of a laurel wreath. Linus and Lila Hall from Yazoo Brewery, and their two blonde daughters, were on hand, along with Keith, George, India, Amelia, Holly, Natalie, Eric, Peter, Joe, Jim. Tom presiding. Along with Lulu and the dog flock.

Martha brought homemade sherry as an aperitif, and we had 18 around the table in the Church of Outdoor Dining.

First hops harvest! And our thanks to the good folks at Yazoo, whose products have promoted social interaction (and some fundraising!) at the farm for many years.

I'll try to get some pictures for you. Now all we need is rain!

Monday, July 4, 2011

What a Blast!

Last night at neighbor Phil's--the immaculate estate on the corner with the pretty iron gates and precision-planted seasonal flowers out front--a spectacular fireworks show.

Glistening with sweat in the steamy still evening, we reflected the crimson, cobalt, golden, silver show overhead, booming around the hills. Stars, swirling pools of silver, yellow arches ending in emerald points, and those weird afterimages that sit on your retina like fluorescent branching coral.

Later, I stood at our upstairs window watching our own fluorescent night stars, our lightning bugs, as they silently blinked their way up into the trees.

A couple of days ago Tom and I went to the Frist Museum to see a weirdly schizophrenic pair of exhibits: Andy Warhol downstairs, with movies from the Factory, Edie in her eye makeup and invisible cape of fate, and the other denizens of his clubbing New York world. Upstairs, the Shakers: rag rugs, rocking chairs, a brown dress. The trailing voice of downstair's Judy Garland followed me around as I looked at the careful buttonholes on a dark deacon's coat, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow".

Our Fourth ( well, actually, our Third) was a bit like that: Warhol showing off at Phil's, and the Shakers admiring the fireflies.

We love it all--thanks, Phil, the Frist, Andy, and the fireflies! And Tom, who brought the six-pack.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sadness on the Farm. See Last Post.

While down in the large hole with the septic tanks (see last post), Tom slipped, cracked a rib, and had to be lifted out of the pit in the Caterpillar bucket. He has been properly medicated and is doing reasonably well, though still a bit ginger with the sudden movements.

We also lost our longhorn's beautiful newborn calf, cause of death unclear. Like her last baby, this one was strikingly white, with dark brown patches along the side, and she moped disconsolately around the pasture for the next few days. All other herd members are healthy and well--

Our final small loss: our aged but brilliant--think a tiny gem of carmine, cobalt, and yellow-green, with vivid violet thrown in--Gouldian finch was found toes up in his cage. He must have been at least twelve years old, maybe older, and his cheerful pointless chirping wove a pleasant backdrop to our kitchen days.

A couple of weeks ago, I laughed all day long about the sign I found that morning on his cage: one of the potluck kids, dismayed that the bird was nameless, had christened him "FALCOR". Maybe the burden was just too much.

Tanks. But No Tanks.

You might have been wondering what the gigantic concrete boxes in the front pasture are--they have been sitting there for weeks. Short answer: septic tanks.

And now for the rest of the story.

After months of dinnertable consultation with Devender (who, in his defense, is a water engineer), Kabir (engineer of some kind), Zach (master's in heavy equipment wizarding), Keith (architect), Jeff (the Barefoot Guy), and whoever else came along (DiAnne, George, Ellen, Joe, EricTheFarmer) about a suitable design for water storage--something that would be cheap, hold lots of water, and work on the property--Tom and his minions came up with this: dig a really really big hole in the ground and bury six really big really cheap septic tanks, all hooked up to each other, a pump from the creek, and a pump out into the pasture.

And so, eventually, by fits and starts, it came to pass. The heart of the hole has been there for a long time. These last two weekends we also had a giant Caterpillar digging machine, and Kabir dug out the hole, smoothed it down, and slowly lowered each 13,000 pound tank into place, with Tom, Devender, and Keith assisting.

Guys driving by in pickup trucks stopped to admire the whole works, and I was dispatched at the end of the day to the Lewis Country Store's Beer Cellar for refreshments.

I think that PeeWee the Oaxacan soccer player, is going to help with patching leaks and carving holes in the concrete to put in the connecting pipes, and, at some point, we will have an underground reservoir for those blistering and rainless days in August.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Coincedence? Poland?

A few weeks ago, we gathered in a circle, as is the way of our people, for a pre-potluck poem and blessing. I read a wonderful poem by Szymborska, and when I apologized for not knowing the correct pronunciation several hands pointed to a small stranger, saying "Gina's from Poland--she will know".

I later discovered that Gina is actually from Nashville, but currently lives in Poland, actually in Krakow, not too far from the aged poet's apartment. She told me how revered she is, and that she--Gina--sometimes hangs out at the coffee shop where Szymborska is known to frequent, hoping to catch a glimpse of her, though with no luck so far.

Coincidence? I think not.

As Barry said the other night, towards the end of a lovely evening dining out in with the LIttle Marrowbone Society in the Church of Outdoor Dining, as the fog slowly wrapped itself around the bamboo--"This just isn't normal"...meaning, I think, the neighborhood, our farmers and interns around the table, talk, dogs, pond.

I think it is simply further proof that the reins of the universe converge here in Bells Bend, maybe right at Sulphur Creek. Not sure who is in the driver's seat, but we're along for a helluva ride. And with blessings and poetry and one degree of separation--well, maybe two--from a Nobel prize winner in a small apartment in Krakow, how bad can it be?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Spring Rush: Peonies, Roses, Exquisite Taste

The hot hammer of summer has suddenly hit, after a long, cool spring. The pool is open, the garden is drying out. Our tiny bluebirds are fledging, with little hints of blue in their miniscule spiky feathers.

But mostly I just want to rhapsodize about my driveway bed: daffodils and hyacinths and lenten roses give way to iris and candytuft, then dianthus. This year the clematis jackmanii is a seamless drift of lavendar, hundreds of blooms draped across the fence and rosebush. The rugosa rose did its untidy pink thing, and now Tom's grandmother's white climber lights up the morning,a symbol of North Carolina tidiness and virtue, compared with the trashy-looking (that's why I like it) Fourth of July--a blotchy pink/red/white variegated rose. There goes the neighborhood.

The alliums, still a few iris, and the tiny Fairy rose are all out, but nothing, absolutely nothing can compare with the glory of the peonies. Double handfuls of clear pink, pale, magenta, white, ruffled, nodding--the perfection of the ideal of an aspiration to beauty. Almost makes me long for a calm room, polished table, lace, a bit of silver, crystal bowls, pale walls, drapes--almost, for a couple of days, anyway.

Most days, though, give me a messy farm kitchen, dirty boots just inside the door, Lulu under the decidedly unpolished table, newspapers scattered around the green chair, and one of those little Fourth of July blasts of color in an old Coke bottle, next to the pile of seed catalogs and some round wire things that go in the pond filter.

And the driveway bed at least twice a day.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

DinDin, Spring 2011

We are warily anticipating a huge 13-yr cicada bloom this spring, with all the tin-pan clanging buzz that accompanies this wonderful and bizarre phenomenon. This batch is known as Brood XIX, and, according to Cicada Facts, consists of at least four species, all sounding like the cherubim and seraphim I've been thinking about lately. That is, the names--neotredecim, tredecim, tredecassini, tredecula--sound like angel species. I'm pretty sure no non-fallen angel would claim the chainsaw mating call. (Maybe no non-fallen angel would claim ANY mating call, however melodic.)

Until they drive us out, we are still attending the Church of Outdoor Dining. I thought that watercress and redbud salad was the perfect early spring dish, but mid-spring has its own contenders. How about our own bamboo shoot green curry over rice, with garden lettuce salad and just-picked asparagus? Besides, it's just so damn pretty--all those pale greens.

That was dinner a couple of nights ago, when Virginia, Martha, and Tom helped DiAnne plant her zinnia bed, and the Rachels showed up to help cook. Breeze rustling bamboo, a trill of windchimes, an undertone of fountain with small accents of koi lipping their kibble...A tiny peace, about to be invaded.

Also found a recipe for cicada snacks, supposedly tasting "like avocado" when still white and tender. Think we'll settle for just the din, and skip the cicada dindin.

For now, sticking to bamboo and lettuce and anticipation...let me know if you are a braver soul from a culinary point of view.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

All You Need Is Love

Still knocked out this morning from last night's entertainment: Neighbors Barry and Minda, in their alternate personae as the Beatles Fan Club and Research Group, hosted a Bells Bend fundraiser. Don Henry and Bill Lloyd did a stand-up-'n-shout turn as the Fab Four, assisted by an audience which knew all the words, could impersonate the ocarina, and supplied, near the stairs, an impromptu rhythm section.

And, the final touch for the idolatrous masses--Fred "Too Slim" Labour, telling the tale of rumours of Paul's untimely death, largely fueled by imaginative details supplied by a comic article he wrote as a U of M sophomore for the school paper. "Then they wanted me on a television show with F. Lee Bailey, to get at the real truth..."

All of this at the far end of the potholed and rutted lane serving our neighborhood rustics as a driveway.

This morning, cracked clouds, masses of purple clematis suddenly out, Eric and Whitney load up the tent, tables, and harvest for the market, and I'm on the road, headed for the hospital, singing "Hey, Jude"...

Don and Bill, Too Slim, neighbors, friends, Fab guys all--sentimental as it may sound, there is really nothing else to say except that sometimes joy does break through--glorious, whacked-out, and childish as it always is. Thank you.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Sound of Angels

It's been cold and rainy these last few weeks, so the Tuesday potlucks have wound up in our kitchen. Since it's always a school night for me (we say that now-retired Tom and the farm are on "full wife-support"), I usually head upstairs, abandoning about twenty kids, with their attendant plates, crumbs, beerbottles, and dogs, just a little bit after the banjos, dobro, and fiddles get going, along with a little hollering and footstomping. From upstairs, the music is pleasantly mesmerizing, a nice transition to sleep.

It reminds me of an afternoon when I was 9 years old, and my brother and I were, as usual, messing around in the woods behind our house, digging holes, floating twigs down the ditch, and climbing trees. We heard, at first faintly, then more strongly, lovely, far-away music, music with no rational explanation, coming from beyond the trees and pastures. We looked at each other speculatively, and I, for one, really, really thought that maybe, just maybe the magic predicted in church was actually happening and this was, just maybe, genuine angel music--that the barrier between Northern California and heaven had broken down, and the music of the spheres was leaking through. In our prayer-drenched world this seemed perfectly logical, and, in fact, we could think of no other explanation.

We crept from tree to tree towards the melody, which grew louder and louder, and finally revealed itself to be nothing more transcendental than our distant neighbor, a retired band director, playing his French horn on his front porch.

Since then I've been deeply sceptical about anything relating to real-life transactions with cherubim and seraphim.

However, when I came downstairs the next morning, to find the kitchen spic and span (well, above its usual standard, anyway), all dishes, pots, pans, leftovers scrubbed and stored, counters wiped down, bouquet restored to the table center--well, the idea of angelic presence seems pretty compelling.

Thanks, kids--you're too good.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Hops, Hope, Charisma

I'm finally understanding why people like to come to Sulphur Creek Farm--I thought it was the food, me, the implicit invitation in a big and messy house, music, nature deficit disorder. But now I understand.

It's actually pretty simple: TomTheHusband and LuluTheMastiff are charismatic megafauna.

Larger than life and twice as charming, memorable, lovely, and kind, both with wonderful public presence (Tom's blessing "Lord, Lord, Lord", and Lulu lying against one's feet) and private loyalty.

Although, in my opinion, somewhat less charismatic when both are wedged onto the battered red couch watching North Carolina win yet another, Tom welded onto the action, waving a beer, and Lulu drooling rhythmically with her snores.

Before today's game was hops-planting--I came home from hospital rounds to an empty bean-pot, and at least eight bean-stained bowls. Tom, Jim, Keith, Keith's friend, Sumter, and maybe Joe spent most of the day in the drizzle, laying down mulch, planting hops, and hanging string vine supports. Jeff came to fix the shower, and Kabir stopped by to raid the fridge.

But for me, just a nap and a little down time with my megafauna, whom I love even when, temporarily I'm sure, those charisma scores hit rock bottom.

(Good thing for megafauna charisma that Carolina is winning. Trust me on this.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Springiest Eats

Well, Eric, Alyssa, Whitney, Peter, Kevin, and--I think--Caleb have taken advantage of the few clear days to plant all the seedlings from the greenhouse: onions, lettuce, kale, celery. Rain has put things about 3 weeks behind schedule, and is rolling in again tonight.

But oh, those lovely days: redbud, the gorgeous allee of blooming Japanese cherries along Murphy Road, wacko daffodils of every kind, frogs ratcheting their hoarse voices through the night, and stars, calves, and, of course, weeds. Even they--the little square-stemmed things that thrive anywhere anytime--have small purple blooms and are magic when carpeting the fields outside the juvenile detention facility off Briley Parkway.

And this has to qualify as best eats of spring: Sulphur Creek watercress salad with redbud blossoms.

Of course, we are having the first asparagus tonight, a Benton's bacon/spinach salad, and roasted beets fresh (though a bit tough) from the garden.

But still: watercress and redbud.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Spring. Daffodils. Frisbee team. Taxes.

Home from Texas. Missed a potluck. Peter and new WWOOFFer Alyssa are here, and there is much joy in Mudville at the impending return of Kevin. Almost as much mud as joy hereabouts...

Although the redbuds were out in Texas, all we have here are the daffodils. Heck, with daffodils who needs redbuds?

All hands except these working on a new section of deer fencing--the peas will be above-ground in a few days, tasty and tempting.

These busy today with taxes, laundry, organizing poems, grocery shopping, supper, pimiento cheese! All girls will be home for an hour or so around dawn: India is bringing a dozen frisbee-ites traveling back to Beloit from tournaments in Georgia through our kitchen for breakfast.

Spring is when a young man's fancy turns to love, it is said. Will not here detail all that an older woman's fancy turns to, but there is much to be said for the simple pleasures of surviving to see another spring, a vase of daffodils on the breakfast table, and a kitchen full of daughters, farmers, poets and enthusiasts.

And purple martin experts. (Tom's doing a lecture at Bells Bend Park tomorrow on the subject.)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Quit Your Meanness

Sheila B.'s contribution to the union rally!

A Saturday in the Life.

So this is how it goes on yesterday, a typical day around here, though lovelier than most, recently. Just to highlight the isolation of country life.

Up. Coffee. Rachel comes down from upstairs bedroom, ready to tell 65 volunteers at Beaman Park what to do. Peter appears from downstairs.

I spend morning in office at Vandy doing paperwork. Lunch with friend. Tom goes to pro-union rally.

When I get home, Manuel has come over to dig bamboo. Tom and Eric advising, the latter popping his new suspenders. DiAnne and Shorty are laying out flower beds. Kabir calls--will stop by to get Tom to pick up hay.

I go to Bells Bend Park for afternoon constitutional. Meet Joe and his canines, Ink and Molly, and walk along together. Three students in oldfashioned dresses are making a video for an art installation in California. Young father is toting baby in backpack and trailing after toddler who is using his wooden sword as a walking stick.

Carlos is on the river trail, and we stop to talk about Nan Madol, the Venice of the South Pacific, Bhutan, and botflies. And PhDs, and Tsibilisi. And Easter Island.
Around the corner another teen film crew is stacking gear in the trail and working cellphones.

Wave to Tony in Nature Center, and drop by Sharon's to leave her muffin-toter. Grandbaby belches over my shoulder and dogs fetch sticks.

Home. Steve and Jill have stopped by with a wonderfully bizarre Belgian frame containing a fine bird print. Tea brewing. Chat.

DiAnne arrives. We head out to dinner.

Kits, cats, dogs and wives--how many have arrived? Just another day in paradise--this backwoods corner of Music City. And it's not even farm season yet.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Dog Days

Sadly, Lulu, our lovely little "teacup mastiff"--small for breed at only 135 pounds--has been diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an incurable bone cancer.

Everyone in our farm family has been enchanted by her not-very-bright but indomnitable brindled dogness, generally manifest as a large kitchen obstacle, occasionally shouldering the dinnertable as she struggles underneath to sit on our collective feet.

She is less charming when dealing with intruders onto what she views as her turf, but as far as I know has never done anything more lethal than bristle and growl, loudly and efficiently.

I often nap with her on her couch--leather upholstery now held together mostly with red duct tape--lulled into semiconsciousness by her snores and dreamtwitches, and she leans protectively into my knee as we walk down the driveway to fetch the newspaper. She has been limping more and walking less as the knot on her front leg grows, but still races out, about as graceful as a freight locomotive, to greet the dawn and roar at passing coyotes at midnight, and watches over the kitchen with sad eyes and the usual trail of affectionate drool.

Martha's little dachshund Rudy is gray, half-blind, and in Pampers, and DiAnne's fastidious Basenji Shorty is beginning to stagger, her tightly curled tail slowly unwinding.

I think we all are old enough to just hope that the people who feed us and walk us and curl up with us on our couches will love us for even our unlovely shortcomings when we too unwind, and not intervene too much when the inevitable end approaches. And that we too will march out, or stagger out, or limp out to meet every single dawn with some trace of this magnificent unthinking joy.

And, at least a few more times, be out at midnight yowling with the coyotes.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Valentine's Day Redux

My own Valentine's Day display included, as you now know, a dollar book about Raymond L. Dittmars, a rattlesnake card, and cooking dinner for a random assortment of folks I found gathered around the kitchen table.

Even stranger is the spring courting display of the woodcock, also known as the timberdoodle and the Labrador twister--currently featured at Bells Bend Park and your local venue.

There were about twenty of us wandering the park's open spaces this evening under a rising full moon. The buzzy ground calls were all around us, follwed by a musical chitter made by the wingfeathers as the male woodcocks spiral upwards to 300 feet, then fall zigzagging back to earth. Actually seeing these elusive birds is a bit difficult in dusk and early evening, but it was a beautiful night, moonshadows trailing behind us,with the faroff howls of a pack of coyotes a mournful accompaniment.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentine's Day

I and this blog have been in hibernation, along with our compost piles, rosebushes, and farm shed (please don't ask what happens when a bachelor fridge hibernates), but are now rousing to face the new year.

Last week, trapped in town by our 3-inch blizzard, which just happened to arrive at rush hour and iced over instantly, creating peri-Vanderbilt gridlock (reports of two hours to GET OUT OF THE PARKING GARAGE!), I strolled around the honking cars and past Bookman towards Fido's and supper, and there it was--on the $1 sidewalk table no less--a biography of Raymond L. Dittmars, Tom's boyhood herpetological hero. (As in reptiles, not STDs.) Perfect.

And I thought my rattlesnake-in-heart-shape card was so romantic! But, of course, Jeff Poppen and EricTheFarmer and a nice couple-who-want-to-farm were gathered around the table talking about barns (garden vs. cow), garden placement (public vs. not), and ions (the importance of calcium, potassium, and silica), and, of course, I heard bits and pieces while putting together dinner: our own carrot and winter squash soup (fab, if I do say so myself), roasted just-picked brussels sprouts, roasted potatoes, and sausage from Jeff's own pig--technically, I suppose, an ex-pig at this point.

All in all, an excellent day, if a bit unpredictable. But isn't that really the point? Of living?