Thursday, January 9th Yokna Patawpha Farm
We woke up to the sound of rain on the tin roof. It sounded rainier than it was; the tin amplified the sound and magnified the impression of waterfall. After breakfast, I added more seeds to the master inventory document while Kristin sorted sweet potatoes in the greenhouse with Jeff.
We rode down to the field in Jeff’s pickup, Kristin in shotgun and me in the bed with Tom From the UK, and Cleo bounding exuberantly alongside us the entire way, her speed and joy belying her advanced age. Then the three of us pruned a couple of hedgerows of elderberry shrubs down to about a foot in height, using big bolt-cutter-like loppers, and piled the cut branches between the bushes along the row, as the rain lightly drizzled down – not really even enough to make you feel wet, just enough to make the air misty and damp.
Jeff went home to eat lunch, but never returned – the next day he reported that he’d had a “sinking spell” after lunch, a term I found awesomely southern … (I can’t wait ’til I have a time I just don’t really want to get out of bed and declare my first official “sinking spell.”)
So we waited til 3:00 before giving up and deciding to make a run to the Oxford “Square,” so that Tom From the UK could replenish his book supply (he’d lost his backpack on the Mega Bus, containing all his reading materials).
Doug’s girlfriend came over later than night; they went out to dinner and we ate some pasta, with added peppers from last years harvest (from Doug’s freezer, carefully de-seeded and skinned)
Wednesday, January 8th Yokna Patawpha Farm
Today it was still cold when we woke up, but it was decided that by noon the temps would be warm enough to work outdoors.
So while Kristin made grits for breakfast, I built the farm a Google Doc spreadsheet to help them keep track of how many pounds of each type of produce they harvest and sell twice a week during the growing season. While I finished that up, Kristin cleaned up a bunch and baked a cake with the apple preserves we’d brought along.
The day’s planned work was to help clear out some uniformly-planted rows of about 50 pine trees (planted by the state to grow for paper pulp), to allow that patch of land to be transformed into farm field. Doug ran the flail-mower (it’s what it sounds like: flailing, bladed chains that chew through brush) through the thorny blackberry brambles between the pine rows, clearing pathways for us to work – and to pile up downed trees.
While the undergrowth was thoroughly flailed away, I finished up the harvest spreadsheet & Kristin cleaned out the chicken’s nesting boxes.
When I was done with the computer work I helped Kristin finish adding fresh clean hay to the nest boxes, with the sound of Jeff chainsawing down the first of the pine trees snarling across the field.
We finished up and got back in time to get gloved up and ride out to the field clearing project in the back of Doug’s pickup.
The work was nonstop and satisfying – dragging and carrying chunks of downed pine to the woodline, and throwing them in as far as we could.
As row after row of pines fell, the pile got deeper and deeper – and we had to hurl each chunk of tree higher and harder. The pile was soon higher than our heads, but the weight of newly-added wood compressed the existing pile of branches and made just enough space to make the addition of more trees just barely possible.
Tom From the UK didn’t have gloves, so his palms became thickly coated in sticky pine sap. We took turns being the one who pushed the trees over as they were cut through, and grew talented at shotputting the heavy, branchless logs from the trunks, and chucking the thinner top portions like javelins.
The weather was sunny and cool, there were no bugs, it was a beautiful contrast to the icy weather back home – and, moreso, to sitting at a desk at my old job staring into computer screens. I felt invigorated and glad to be using my body out under the sky.
We went into a nearby town for dinner, where a musician named … crap, I forget his name. But he was a rootsy man with a guitar and a mesh trucker hat, and he played a song called “Catfish for Dinner” right after I had catfish for dinner, which I appreciated.
Monday, January 6
Yokna Patawpha Bottoms Farm
The cold hit hard Monday night, just as it did throughout most of the country, as a massive Arctic airmass pushed southward and stayed put. The wind howled all night long as the warm southern air was shoved down off the continent into the Gulf.
We convinced Nathan to suit up and take a walk through the frozen morning down to the chicken coop, to gather up some eggs for breakfast. He took us through the puddled pathways through the woods – the shallow puddles were already frozen, and Nathan did his first ever “ice skating” on a natural body of water, skimming across a flooded puddle in his workboots.
Kristin baked oatmeal apple muffins, which sustained us through a cozy afternoon in the house, laying about and becoming nearly indistinguishable from the seven dogs sprawled around us.
We were sedentary, but we weren’t lazy – we spent hours throughout the afternoon creating and populating a “master seed list” – a combined inventory of all the seed the farm has on hand plus all the seed and requisite info for the seeds they planned to order for spring planting (all in a convenient online spreadsheet).
Yokna Patwapha Bottoms Farm
The next morning, we scarfed down pancakes made with the single egg that the chickens had laid in the freezing cold night.
All the puddles – even the deep ones – were now frozen over, and the well’s pressure gauge had failed in the extreme cold – springing a spraying leak.
Kristin and I gleaned some freeze-softened cabbage, broccoli, and kale remnants from the field, which she turned into a tasty side salad to accompany the black beans and rice dish that Doug had been slow cooking. While she created, Doug and I drove to the Mega Bus dropoff point to pick up Tom From the UK. He was on a tour spanning from Canada to Mexico, celebrating his new Philosophy degree and using the Help-X network to find places to stay in exchange for labor.
We went to bed knowing that it was our last day of indoor hibernation – tomorrow we would let the fireplace rest, and head outside to work.
Sunday, January 5th Yokna Patawpha Farm
We woke to wonderful smells from downstairs – coffee, and the wood that we’d chopped the previous day burning in the fireplace.
We spent most of the morning and afternoon at the kitchen table, as rain from the arctic airmass coming south poured down outside the windows on all sides – Kristin at my side browsing seed catalogs with Widget in her lap, my Cleo and Shivas the Scottish Terrier at our feet beneath the table, an unknown number of cats watching from motionless nooks and perches, and host/farm owner Doug adding wood to the fireplace.
I was deemed to be the Human Bellows, so when the slightly damp wood failed to burn fiercely, I’d help blow it back into a roar.
For breakfast Doug made French toast made with eggs we fetched in from the Yokna coop, which we topped with preserves we’d brought from home – apples & wonderberry syrup.
The temps outside were still relatively balmy in the 40s and 50s, but the rain was constant and there was some of the coldest weather that the region had experienced in almost a century on the way, as all of the eastern US was subjected to a huge bubble of frigid arctic air.
Of course, it was still far warmer than the weather we’d left behind!
We spent the early part of the day relaxing, conversatin’, crochetin’ (well, Kristin did), and eating Doug’s farm-ground venison huevos rancheros. Toward evening, Doug got a call from some friends across the river – they were having their annual ping pong tournament, and we were invited, so Kristin and I joined Doug and Nathan and hit the road. Although the party was less than a mile away across the river as the crow flies, we had to go up a ways to cross, and then back down again. (Town politics involving the local “Board of Supervisors” had prevented the nearby bridge from being rebuilt after it washed out several years ago.)
We arrived to discover a gorgeous home built from plaster-covered straw bales, with soaring exposed beam ceilings and soft organic edges. I was surprised to see such a structure in such a moist environment – it turned out the house was built in part with experimental grant money – a university study was done of how well it withstood the moisture, with concrete pillars keeping it up from the ground (it’s been several years and so far it’s stayed dry and durable!)
The folks at the party were older than us, and very serious about ping pong – competitive without rancor, they played to win and they played hard, but even in the heat of the contest they remained incredibly friendly and positive.
We feasted on veggie chili, lentils, cornbread, sweet potatoes from Yokna Bottoms Farm, and other deliciousness while meeting an assortment of interesting characters, any one of which I’d have been glad to hang out with again if we ever cross paths – from the great-grandparent ping pong wizards who owned the house, to the artist who made amazing furniture from hardwood grown in twisting spirals due to restriction by climbing honeysuckle vines, to the Reiki healer who chatted as she rapidly assembled a complex puzzle that had been left out for any takers to piece together.
Every person and and every conversation was stimulating, friendly, and genuine, and although I was surrounded by strangers I was a bit sad when Doug said it was time to head back to the farm.
We’d been away for five hours or so when we got back to the Dog Party at the Animal House – it had seemed filled with critters before, but it really did now; the temps were falling rapidly into record lows, so the not-so-housebroken outdoor cats and Missi the stray were welcomed into the fireplace-warmth of the house.
We tended the fire, read, and turned in early with full bellies and happy hearts.
Saturday, January 4th Yokna Patwapha Farm
It was dreamlike to wake to a warm green world after the -11 arctic landscape we’d risen to just one day earlier. While the weather we were experiencing was frigid by Mississippian standards, we knew we’d dodged a far chillier bullet by coming South, and this added at least 10 subjective degrees to the actual temps …
To prepare for the coming arctic air mass, we helped Doug split a bunch of red oak logs they’d used throughout the year as drum circle seating, reducing them into small chunks for the fireplace. We were accustomed to the Monster Maul on the home farm, so it took us a bit to get used to the hammer/splitter combo and the light, sharp splitting axe – but we got better as the hefty log rounds become firewood stacked in the pickup bed.
It was a good day – everyone we encountered was genuine, positive, and friendly. We met Jeff, the farm manager, and Nathan, who was on the tail end of a year-long WWOOFing stay on Yokna Bottoms farm, Ben the student of permaculture, and Mike, who was on the verge of biking to a village in South America.