I remember well the Sunday afternoons under the shade trees enjoying watermelon or homemade peach ice cream. As children, we played like there was no tomorrow. It was a simpler time when people could actually talk politics without getting angry. There was nothing like an old fashioned chicken stew to bring families together in North Carolina’s rolling hills.
There were no chicken stews that I got to attend during my college years. Those were the especially turbulent late sixties and early seventies and I was far away from North Carolina in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As I finished my degree in the summer of 1971, I needed to get away from those strange-hued city-night skies where it was impossible to see the stars.
Just as people used to gather under shade trees in North Carolina, friends used to just drop by on Sunday afternoons at our farm for visit. It was a great excuse to stop working and spend some time catching up on the neighborhood news. It was the way people built relationships, established trust and found common ground. I cannot ever remember discussing politics.
Beyond the impromptu visits, there were community picnics, shared meals, church services (even burials) and work done for the good of the community. All these things made for richer shared lives. When we were on the farm, I never doubted that the community and friends helped us be successful. The support of their communities was essential to success of farming when we had our farm.
That was back in the seventies. The fifty years since then have not been kind to under the shade tree gatherings or any of the other ways that we connected and established relationships.
Apparently none of the storybook scary tales of danger in the forest ever stuck with me. In rural North Carolina in the fifties, no one worried about evil happening in the forests that surrounded us. We did not understand it at the time, but the cathedral of leaves where we played immensely enriched our lives. As a fifties explorer of the local woods, I could not make the connection because I had yet to experience any of the great cathedrals of the world. Now it seems pretty obvious.
In the summertime, we got up in the morning and headed to the coolness of the deep woods. The towering trees and the brooks that ran through them were our playgrounds. We built dams, seined for minnows, made forts, and played elaborate games in the woods. Sometimes we hardly bothered to leave the woods for meals. We barely escaped the trees as dark descended on the forest.
(Read more) This is post number nine in a series of twenty-two designed to get my blog to 1700 posts before Thanksgiving 2021.
While I had learned a lot about working with my hands since I graduated from college, building a barn was not one of those skills. Living on a farm teaches you quickly do what needs to be done even if means learning how to do something new. I ordered all the materials that we needed from Ontario. They were shipped by rail to New Brunswick and then delivered by truck to our farm. The trusses for the barns were 36 ft. long and the others for the other barn were 36 ft. Even getting those trusses unloaded was not easy but it is amazing what you can do with a couple of farm tractors with front-end loaders. (Read more)
The first turkey that I remember being prepared in our house was cooked after we moved to the Mount Airy house with my dad. The first Thanksgiving at college, I did not come home but I got invited out by a college friend, Jack. We had a wonderful dinner and I got my one and only opportunity so far to sample stuffing with oysters.
The next memorable Thanksgiving happened after college. I had purchased an old farmhouse with a barn and 140 acres on the shores of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. Four of us had spent months remodeling the two-hundred year old house with hand-hewed beams. College friends came up to celebrate that first Thanksgiving on our own in the fall of 1971. We bought the biggest turkey we could find and the ladies in the group figured out how to cook it.
Little did I know I was already on the slippery slope to a smaller turkey and eventually just a turkey breast. I never take exception with the cook but I sure do miss those whole turkeys. (Read more)
Our first off-the-farm garden in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Spring 1986
I farmed for over ten years, but I did not grow up on a farm. I graduated from college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as those of us who went to Harvard in sixties and seventies are fond of saying. The closest I got to farming there was my focus on colonial American History. My family did have a rich history of being close to the land and my grandfather was a miller and then a dairy farmer. I never knew him.
I grew up with a mother who spent most of her free time digging in the dirt. She loved flowers and they responded to her love. Roses grew for her in places no one else could get them to grow. Tomatoes were the only vegetable that we had room for at my childhood home, but they did incredibly well.
Growing up, the only digging in the dirt that I did was to get worms so I could go fishing. I was completely uninterested in growing anything. That certainly continued through my college years. The change and how it came about are something of a mystery even to me. When it happened is easier. The change happened sometime between August 1971 and January 1972 when I started ordering seeds from a catalog. (Read More)
It seems since my childhood that I have spent much of my life searching for a backyard. I have had hayfields and marshes as backyard but until this last move none were close to the one where I played ball with friends when I was in elementary school. I could plow up part of it for a huge garden but I have been there and enjoyed that when I was a lot younger. Read more.
I have seen a lot of first snows. I have also gone through a lot of years when there was never a first snow. Snow is an unusual thing. How it impacts your life depends a lot on where you live. We have lived in lots of places so our snow memories span everything from flurries to blizzards just as you might imagine.
Back in 1960 when I was in elementary school in Lewisville, North Carolina, I had my first serious experience with snow. In March 1960, it started on my birthday and snowed three straight Wednesdays. We hardly went to school that month. Those storms must have created a powerful pull on me. It took me at least twenty-seven years before I had enough snow to move back from Canada and end my sixteen years north of the border. Read more
It was long ago in 1971, when we gathered for American Thanksgiving on the shores of the Bay of Fundy in a farm house that had been standing for over two hundred years. Most of the people in the picture are no longer in my life but those that are still connected are treasures. Read more at this link.
Many people have asked me how I ended up farming in New Brunswick. It is a fair question. I did not grow up on a farm. I went to a military school in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and got my undergraduate degree from Harvard where I studied mostly Colonial American History. I am sure it drove my mother crazy but it was something that I needed to do.
“But if we were not going to be lawyers what would we be? There could be only one answer. You had to go back to land to find yourself. It was only there that you could sort out what was good and bad. There you could find out what was important and how to live life the way it should be. That the roads had turned back to dirt was a good thing.”
It seems that I have finally lost even those places that I could retreat to in my imagination. The COVID19 crisis and the mass shooting in Nova Scotia have stripped away those places that have anchored my psyche for most of my adult life. Now there is no place to run. Read more here.