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.
Friday, January 17th Yokna Patawpha Bottoms Farm
After our morning walkabout, we spent the day rearranging the furniture, cleaning, and cooking in preparation for the drum circle / concert / party – I made braised carrots, and Kristin made spinach & wild onion dip, both using veggies we harvested from the Yokna fields.
The potluck was delicious, the bands were fun, and the drum circle afterward was something else. Around 40 people cam through all told – it was a successful gathering and a fun night.
Thursday, January 16th Yokna Patawpha Bottoms Farm
Farm Manager Jeff was heading to an organic farming conference for the weekend, so he made up a To Do list for us to complete in his absence. By 11:30 that morning we had most of it done:
Then we headed out to the field to tackle the last two tasks we could do that day – picking up sticks in the new plot, and pulling and bagging the drip tape lines from six rows.
We hit the drip tape first, laughing as our techniques for pulling the tape in evolved – from Kristin’s pioneering “Texas oil pump” move through several of my arm swinging refinements to Kristin’s finale: the Butterfly Hose Reel, a tactic she’d learned somewhere that created a neat braid-like coil of hose and looked like some kind of ninja ballet.
The stick mission was simply cleaning up the small branches left behind during our previous, much more epic Field Clearing task.
Afterward, we convinced Doug to walk down to the river with us. The little dirt driveway from the house down to the Yokna Bottoms field merges into one other driveway, belonging to the next door neighbor. If you go down partway, you arrive at the chicken coop and fields.
If you continue past them, ignoring the Keep Out and No Trespassing signs, you get to the neighbor’s field and secondary cabin structures, at the opposite side of their property from their main house up by Doug’s. A dead end dirt driveway – but once upon a time, this rutted driveway had been the main road to Oxford.
At the Ping Pong Party, we’d learned, vaguely, about the history of the bridge across the river that had washed out and never been replaced due to weird local politics. What neither of us had realized was that the washed-out bridge road was just a little ways down the farm’s driveway – or that the bridge itself was still rusting out down there.
Also – Faulkner is a big deal in Lafayette County, Mississippi – especially here in Oxford, where Faulkner spent most of his life. Apparently, the spot where the bridge once was had been the real-life location Faulkner had in mind for the key river crossing scene in “As I Lay Dying” – set in his not-so-fictional “Yoknapatawpha County” (and now you get the weird name of this farm – in the bottoms (flood plain area) of the Yocana River, in the heart of Yoknapatawphaland.
Ignorant of the historical and fictional context, we’d seen the river in satellite views of the area, and only our respect for our host and his neighborly relationship had kept us from exploring our way past the tempting warning signs:
Today, when Doug mentioned taking a walk, I pounced at the opportunity, and got him to escort us down to the river through the neighbor’s land, so he could talk to the neighbor if needed. We left the dogs in the house, so they wouldn’t anger the neighbors by chasing off deer – but Widget snuck out past Nate and shot out after us like a little white bolt – she caught us halfway there, so we carried her in until we were sure the coast was clear:
Doug filled us in on the Faulknerian history while we walked toward the river, past the neighbor’s cabin. As the road dipped down, dropping into a side channel of the main watercourse, he mentioned how years ago, the guy he’d started the farm with had found a huge dead box turtle in this side channel.
While Doug went ahead to see if the neighbor was in his hunting stand along the main river, Kristin and I poked around in the little gulley – and found a giant dead turtle of our own.
Then Doug gave the all-clear and we went on to the river, which was down beneath us, beyond a steep, wooded slope. It looked daunting at first glance, but being native river-bluff billy goats, we picked out a zig-zagging path safely downward to the river’s edge, among the defunct support beams.
Tomorrow would be the day of the house party / concert / drum circle – we went to bed early.
Wednesday, January 15th Yokna Patawpha Bottoms Farm
Remember how when we were planting peas the other day, we were standing in the mud puddle trenches between the raised bed rows? Today we worked to remedy that situation – or at least prevent it from being much worse when more rain comes. We were tasked with creating drainage for that wet corner of the field, by digging a trench along the edge of the field, and from there, one crossing over and down into the little pond in the woods. We used the dirt we dug up to fill in a few deep puddley mud holes in the fieldside “road” and in the field trenches in that corner.
With four of us working on it, it got done pretty quickly.
Kristin made pasta sauce with some of Doug’s freshly picked garden herbs for lunch, arranged some dried native plant displays.
Betsy came by the farmhouse in the afternoon, and we did some more work on their Facebook and blog websites – testing some targeted paid ads for their CSA signup, and cleaning up some pages of their website.