Sunday, January 19th Yokna Patawpha Bottoms Farm
We leave in the morning tomorrow; today is our last full day at Yokna Bottoms Farm. We intend to make it a good one.
So far today we’ve coffeed, showered, walked, fed and watered the chickens, retrieved 6 eggs, vented and watered the greenhouse, and discussed the mysteries of the universe and society with Doug. Its now 11 am.
The weather is the warmest and finest we’ve seen yet – light breeze and around 60 degrees Hmm, actually I just checked the weather and it’s only about 40, going up into the low 50s later … but man it feels like 60 out there. Just insanely gorgeous. The sun actually has heat down here – you can feel it on your skin, working its radioactive magic … I don’t think we’ve felt its warmth since September; at this time of year, the sun back home is brightest on the most bitterly cold of days. We almost didn’t make it back to the house from the chicken coop, so strong was the innate desire to lay down in the dry grasses and bask in the sunwarmth. Or maybe staying here really is turning us into dogs …
… <9 hours later> …
It’s 8 PM now, back at the kitchen table – for our last evening here. Kristin is making a leftover medley that smells amazing and is sizzling in the pan. We just finally came indoors, after spending a full day out on the Yokna Bottoms land.
We wandered, we set up a basecamp in the grove of wild-limbed, lichen encrusted oak trees, we dozed on our Mexican blanket, we built a fire as the sun set, we made popcorn with our cast iron hobo pie-maker and corn Kristin had grown and dried and pried and fried for us.
I can’t believe we’re really leaving tomorrow; this place – our room, the trails through the viscious blackberry brambles, the cypress swamps, the lichen crusted oaks, the menegerie of animals en masse and individually, the lightning-blasted cypress tree, Doug, Nathan, Tom From the UK, the kitchen, the hens, the screwdriver-operated coffee grinder, the book-lined carpeted study-den we’ve had for our bedroom – it seems impossible that I may not see it again.
Saturday, January 18th Yokna Patawpha Bottoms Farm
Today we woke up and helped put the house back in order, returning it from party mode to normal. Kristin made banana waffles; after we’d eaten them all, we went to a park by a lake to do some longboarding.
Neither Doug nor Tom skated, but they both gave it a good shot, cruising around the empty lake parking lot. Nathan had done some skating before, and seemed to enjoy riding our loose, carvy pumping-optimized setups.
For us, it was just awesome to be out and moving on our boards – we both missed the movement, the flow, the balance and the breathing and the zoom. Back home it was 17 degrees and snowy, and it wouldn’t be skateable there again for a few months … so it felt extra good to be out pumping our boards forward through the wild, warm winds of Mississippi.
I mentioned that we were at a lake – well, the lake wasn’t really there, to our hosts’ and our surprise. For whatever unknown reason, Sardis Lake (which was actually a manmade resevoir created by damming a river) had been totally drained. Where there had recently been a large lake, there was now a field of mud, with surreal rotted tree stumps sticking up, and duststorms whipping up along the outer rim, where the mud had dried out and crumbled into the air under the onslaught of the intense winds.
Even from the shore, I was enraptured. Everyone started out on the gravel path into the mudflats with me, but by the time we left the road and started across the naked mudflats, Nathan had had his shoes sucked off by the mud, and only Kristin and Widget had not turned back.
The wind was insane.
We leaned into it and slurped across the alien landscape in flat, sliding lopes, moving out toward the distant, jutting tree trunks stumps that beckoned us nearer.
We arrived into the tree stumps, with thick mud-caked paws and shoes.
The wind and the apocalyptic landscape blasted us.
one of several (illegal) catfish trap box things
After an indeterminable amount of time wandering around in thrall to the novel setting, we realized that we were supposed to be getting to Doug’s friend’s house at 2:00 – and we had no idea what time it was.
So we begrudgingly started back toward the shore, just in time to see Doug take his Forester down into the gravel road and out splashing into the mud as the conditions deteriorated further out – the car soon went out of view across the lake, as we navigated back from the drowned forest.
Now the wind was at our backs, and we found that by keeping our feet flat and our arms out the gusts would push us along, gliding us across the shallow mud.
It was time to head out to meet Doug’s friends Greg & Shaundi, to check out their newly-purchased tons-of-character-awesome-project house, so we backtracked out of the bizarre dead end world of the Sardis Lake mudflats.
note the muddy roof: Doug’s Offroad Adventure
When we arrived and got the tour, Greg and Shaundi explained how their awesome new old house had been moved to its present location in the late 1930s – before the creation of Sardis Lake buried the entire 100,000 acre region down the road in water.
So, it’s possible that we walked through the spot the house once stood, while we were traipsing around in the vast mudflats of the drained reservoir.
The house’s previous dweller had been a potter, and the front garden beds were filled with pottery shards – and full pieces with just minor flaws, if you played archeologist well.
Or maybe “geologist” would be better – shifting through the shards and selecting pieces to keep for decorative and commemorative purposes back on our farm.
For dinner we all went to Taylor Grocery, a restaurant in a nearby artsy town. The local-recommended dish was the fried whole catfish, so we both had it, without regrets.
The live music and the food were both perfect, and we headed back to the house for an evening of hanging out around the big kitchen table shooting the shit and laughing a lot – which is where I am finishing writing this post, right now.
I can’t believe we’re leaving on Monday – tomorrow will be our last day here. Neither of us want to leave really, and Doug would be happy if we stayed (as I’m sitting here writing at the kitchen table, he just again joked about how we might come down with car trouble that will keep us here for another week or two …) … Although everything here is amazing and perfect, although I think it would be awesome to sink in here, get to know people and the farm better – and although I have no idea if the next place will be nearly as good an experience, and although we’ll be sleeping in separate twin beds there (on our honeymoon! egads lol), etc etc – in spite of all that, I expect that we will get much from the new place, in one way or another.
Anyway, I’m stuffed full of fried catfish and I’m tired. Tomorrow is Sunday, the weather should be great, and it’ll be our last full day in Oxford.
With the January 1st Minneapolis-move-out date coming fast and hard, we’ve been moving trailerloads of stuff – and since the snow flew, we’ve been using the Subaru, which is the only way we can get the trailer up the unplowed hilly driveway. The Forester has all wheel drive, but the snow has been getting deeper and deeper, it doesn’t have very high clearance, and the tires are getting pretty bald …
So it’s been getting harder and harder to make it up the hill each trip – we knew it was just a matter of time before we couldn’t make it up. In fact, we’d decided to stop hauling stuff up until after the roadtrip was done … until the short “warm” snap (in the 30s) combined with a score of a trailerload of 4″ thick styrofoam insulation convinced us to make one last trip.
Although we thought the melting snow would make it a bit easier to ascend the driveway hill, we still packed the new 2-ton come-along we’d gotten as a wedding present from my former job …
Which was great, because of course we got stuck. First we failed to make it up the hill with the trailer – then we detached the trailer and got the car stuck. Badly.
The more we tried to get it out, the deeper it sank, sliding sideways down a slope into deeper and deeper snows, farther from the ruts of the driveway.
For every solution, it seemed a paired obstacle reared up, in rapid succession:
Unfortunately, we were too far form any trees or other solid objects to hook the come-along to. Fortunately, we had a heavy duty chain and canvas strapping up in the green shipping container … but, the keys to the shipping container (and the shed with the shovels, & the trailer hitch, & the semi-trailer we were storing the insulation in) had fallen out of Kristin’s pockets somewhere in the deep snow while she tried to help me get the car free.
Fortunately, we own a metal detector – and had moved it to the Farm already. Unfortunately, it was also locked in the shipping container.
But, finally, most very fortunately, I had my own key set in the car – and that had a backup container key.
So, we were able to get the chain and the straps and the metal detector, find the keys in the snow (they’d have been lost til spring without the detector, for sure), and give the come-along its first field test.
I’ve never actually used one before, so it was a test of both the tool and of my ability to figure it out – deciding what to attach to, how to rig up a secure system of random canvas straps, heavy rusty chain, and faith to slowly pull the car back up out of the trap it had slid into, etc – while Kristin removed obstacles & shoveled away snow from behind the tires.
It took some doing, but before too long we had the car back on the driveway again. I drove it all the way back to the road in reverse, and then back up again to the cargo trailer in reverse, so we could hook it up to leave, after we’d unloaded all the styrofoam …
It was a bunch of hassle, but it was damn satisfying to have succeeded in freeing the car & finding the keys … and made for a much better afterglow of accomplishment than we’d have had if everything had gone smoothly with a simple unloading.
And, of course, the three dogs had a great time running around in the snow.
In other news, we leave for the Que Sehra Working Honeymoon in three days!!!
Even after a massive garage sale and some serious purging, I still had a ton of stuff to move out before the end of the year. However, there wasn’t really anyplace to put it all at the farm – the only structure of any significant size was the old travel trailer we’ll be calling home starting in March … but it has no locks, and there isn’t a ton of space in there anyway (especially if we want room to actually live in there come spring!)
We scoured the Craigslist “Free” listings, but nothing very useful came through – sheds too large to move, or in terrible shape, barely keeping out the elements, let alone mice and thieves. Once there was a “van box” – essentially a cargo truck’s box, but we just missed it, calling after someone had already claimed it.
December loomed, and time was running short – so we reluctantly started looking at non-free possibilities.
After pricing out options, we determined that our best bet would be a shipping container – one of the massive metal locking boxes that are used to transport goods overseas and cross country, on freighters and freight trains. These were a wonderful option … but spendy.
If we were going to have a massive metal box on the land, we wanted it to look decent – even our junk pile is being arranged with some kind of aesthetics in mind. For this reason, I really wanted a green one – not only is that my favorite color, but it would blend in with the foliage & match the travel trailer.
So when we found a huge 40-foot green one for relatively cheap, I thought we’d found The One.
But when we went to check it out, it was too rusted out and damaged- we couldn’t even get the doors to close, contrary to the claim in the ad copy. So we reluctantly passed, knowing we were running out of time to get something before the snow came in earnest and made it impossible to move a container onto the land. And we had to be all moved out by January 1st …
On November 20th, we finally found a good deal on a nice newish blue one – fresh off the boat, still loaded on a flatbed for easy transport.
It wasn’t green and it had a dude’s name in giant letters … but the price and quality were right and time was running out. and hey, at least it wasn’t red, yellow, or orange … blue would have to be my second choice.
So we paid the guy his cash, and drove an hour out to the farm to prepare the spot for him to deliver it – he had a dentist appointment he had forgotten to take care of first, so we had time to stop at the hardware store to pick up some 6×6 timbers for it to rest upon. On the drive out, we discussed painting the thing green, and checked Craigslist for free green exterior paint without luck.
As we finished preparing a place for it to go, level and square with the trailer, the seller called, saying “bad news” as a greeting. Uh oh.
He’d just gotten a phone call from the railyard – the shipping container we’d just bought and paid for had been released to him in error – and he had to return it. So we were’t going to get it, after all.
BUT he had been given a different one – which was not only 2 years newer & in two grades better condition – it was green.
And it said so, too, in no uncertain terms:
Two days later, it was Friday night, and Kristin and I were hanging out at home, waiting for our friend Bob to come over.
While we were waiting, I decided to check the Free listings on the local Craigslist.
Although we’d just scored an awesome shipping container, we still had need for storage down by the field, for tools, a dry & secure place for winter caching of our irrigation equipment, electric fence storage, etc.
So when I refreshed the list, the top item made me sit up straight and shout to Kristin – a free semi truck trailer!! At forty feet long by 8×10, it would be slightly larger than the shipping container – and perfect for our field storage needs.
It would be an amazing free score … but only if I could just get it before any of the other vultures out there did. And I knew from experience these kinds of things lasted mere minutes on the Free list.
So I sprang into action – taking my phone into the kitchen and calling Duane, the owner. The ringback tone while I waited eagerly for him to pick up was a country song about being free – the repetition of the word “free” in the chorus combined with the “too good to be true” nature of the free item I was calling about made me wonder if it was a prank, as the ring went on and on …
But suddenly it ended and a accented, mumbly, strange man came on the line. I scribbled notes furiously, although I only understood 1 in 3 words he spoke – he didn’t know the address where the trailer was parked – he could only give me directions on how to get to it. And his directions involved things like “go left at the big pile of dirt.”
I had no idea how we could move a semi trailer, but I wasn’t going to let it go without trying -so I wrote down pieces of the bizarre directions, and tried to make sense of his rambling, mumbled explanations for what he’d been using it for for 18 years, what condition it was in, etc.
While we were talking, Bob came in the front door with his girlfriend Sam. I waved when they peeked into the kitchen, but couldn’t really talk to them as I struggled to make sense of everything Duane was saying.
After five long minutes I got off the phone – not sure if he was going to hold it for me since I was the first person that had called after he posted the ad, not sure where this thing was located, not sure how we could move it even if we found it – and honestly, not really expecting I was going to be able to make it work out. So close … but it didn’t seem meant to be; too many questions, too much uncertainty.
So I went into the living room, where Bob and Sam were chatting with Kristin, and explained what was happening. I read them the disjointed directions from my notes.
As I read through them, Bob perked up, smiling larger and larger.
“I KNOW THAT TRAILER!” he laughed. “It’s literally right across the fence from my grandpa’s shop. If you climbed our fence you could jump on top of it.”
For years and years, Bob has worked at his grandfather’s auto body shop – I’ve hung out with him there a couple of times.
And the truck trailer that I’d been on the phone about when Bob walked into my house was had been parked literally inches from his property for almost twenty years, the entire time Bob had worked there.
He told us that he’d always wondered about it – who owned it, why it was there – it seemed to have nothing to do with the nearby businesses – just an isolated, unrelated semi trailer filled with & surrounded by a constantly changing pile of used car tires.
And it was awesome beyond the weird coincidence – because through his work at the auto body shop, Bob knew a guy with a semi truck who proved to be more than happy to help us pick it up and drive it to the Farm for a reasonable fee … despite the lack of registration, trustworthy tires, or working lights.
So on the heels of luckily seeing the ad and being the first to call, I was immediately provided with the exact location, and the means to move it.
The seemingly impossible logistics resolved into a piece of cake.
(A few days later, we met the truck driver at the semi and helped him get it hooked up. Kristin’s Dad rode with him while we followed behind, trying to prevent anyone else from getting behind him, as we took a route over the river and through the woods calculated to give us the best odds of avoiding nosy police – with “Eastbound & Down” on repeat on the stereo.
We made it unmolested, and convinced the driver to take his rig across the field to drop the trailer right where we wanted it on the edge of the field … a second 40-foot steel reminder, impossible to ignore, that serendipitous synchronicity happens.
We later called Duane’s cellphone again, just to hear his ringback tone and figure out what the “free” country song was … and of course this became a pile of coincidence …
The lyrics, while perhaps hokey and repetitive, were nonetheless crazily apt for the two of us – it was at that time one day from our wedding, and just over one month away from our two-month cross-country (mini)van roadtrip …
So we live in our old van Travel all across this land Me and you
… which we’ve been calling our “working honeymoon,” since we’ll be volunteering for room and board on three organic farms …
Lay underneath the harvest moon Do all the things that lovers do Just me and you
… our route looping us down to the furthestmost point of the sand bar known as the Florida Keys …
We’ll end up hand in hand Somewhere down on the sand Just me and you
… and then back to the Farm, in the rolling Sand Barrens of the St Croix River, a transitional journey from our lives in urban south Minneapolis to our little patch of woods down a remote dirt road …
We drive until the city lights Dissolve into a country sky Just me and you
… with Duane’s former semi trailer that we scored for free …
Just as free Free as we’ll ever be Just as free Free as we’ll ever be
… from the Free section on Craigslist, which we are regularly patrolling for farm materials, in order to minimize expenses, given that I’ll be making perhaps 1/15 the money that I made at the career I am leaving behind, in order to spend the hours of my days making a true living alongside my wife and our dogs …
No we don’t have a lot of money No we don’t have a lot of money No we don’t have a lot of money No we don’t have a lot of money No we don’t have a lot of money No we don’t have a lot of money No we don’t have a lot of money