Read Sylvia's Farm Online

Authors: Sylvia Jorrin

Sylvia's Farm

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Sylvia's Farm
Text copyright © 2013 Sylvia Jorrín

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available upon request.
ISBN: 978-1-57826-469-8
eBook ISBN: 978-1-57826-470-4

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic or otherwise, without written permission from the publisher.

Cover photography by Chris Lopez.
Cover design by Cynthia Dunne.


This book is dedicated to Liz Gruen Rose who opened the first page, to David Dalton who continued the second, and my dearest brother Arnold Brickman who has always been there for me.

A special thanks to Ernest Westcott and his blue pickup, who saw to it I got where I needed to go.


Sylvia Jorrín is, quite simply, a national treasure. In this era of 10-minute news cycles, disposable luxuries, and soulless “personalities,” Sylvia's stories are as refreshing and priceless as a cold glass of elderflower water on a summer afternoon.

The lessons of Sylvia's farm are not just applicable for those who dream of living the rural life. They're universally instructive, and joyfully addictive. One would be hard-pressed to deduce whether they were written yesterday, or 100 years ago.

For those unfamiliar with Sylvia, discovering her stories is like stumbling into a fully loaded wild blackberry patch—impossible to rush through, sweetly fulfilling, with an immediate longing to return to them again and again.

—Joshua Kilmer-Purcell,
The Fabulous Beekman Boys



Title Page






house, last night, as it was the first time I came upon it, rising suddenly to view tucked deep within a valley, high in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. It took my breath away then as now. Surrounded by white snow and dark green pines, it is a mansion of a certain size, complete with gables and a large bay window rising out of the third floor, equipped with porches and floor-to-ceiling windows and their many small panes of glass. In the moonlight, snow everywhere, covering its roofs, and the edges blurred, it was much as it was when I came to see it, with only a few minutes to linger, the day I had bought it more than twenty years ago.

The house is a Connecticut River Valley shingle-style house, gray and white, very much like the houses of my New England childhood. Its presence is a mystery here in the Catskills. Only the name of the original owner is known, Greenleaf, after whom I named the house. More than a hundred years old, it was in its day the most modern and civilized of houses. “
1885” is written on the most remote gable on its north side. With twenty-four rooms, or twenty-five depending on one's count, it has sixty windows, to which I have already added two, and eight exterior doors. I live here, alone, accompanied by a hundred and fifteen sheep, their assorted hundred and fifty lambs (the full contingent only in winter), two cows, their calves, a flock of Toulouse geese, chickens, several Tamworth pigs, two Border Collies, and two marmalade barn cats, all housed in their respective buildings, of course.

I had never intended to become a fermer. My dear grandfather farmed dairy on the Connecticut shore. My grandmother was a lady, who spoke French with a perfect accent and had a maid to brush her hair before she married her handsome beloved. She never allowed any of her five daughters to milk. She was afraid their hands would become coarse, and they would not find city husbands. Oh, were you to see my hands today, what would you say to me? My poor farmer grandfather had only two sons, his firstborn who was never destined to milk, and his last, who hauled milk cans in a horse-driven wagon to sell to the neighbors on Society Road in Niantic, Connecticut.

I remember the farm as if it were yesterday. The 1790s house, with four fireplaces stemming from one central chimney, still stands. The land has long been divided, but the barn remains, as do the apple trees under which my mother was married seventy-five years ago. My great-grandparents lived on the flat top of a hill in the middle of an orchard overlooking the farm. They gave me my first and middle names, those two whom I have never known, as well as a past and part of a future that they could never have imagined. Whenever I climb the hill behind my barn and look off for miles to a mountain two villages away, I think of them. And when I bring my own grandson to the hilltop, I tell him about his great-great-great-grandparents and tell him to tell his children and grandchildren, when this becomes his, about us all.

I had been raised to fear animals of all shapes and sizes regardless of domesticity. It was easiest for my mother to follow her mother's way and dismiss the entire animal kingdom than distinguish between those wild and those domestic. And so when I first bought Greenleaf, it was with amazement that I heard her say, “You must have a dog, you need a dog, you must promise me you won't go into the woods without a dog.” Owning a dog seemed
to be an impossible feat at the time. I went into the woods anyway. Alone.

The first years here were spent on restoring the house to its former glory, or rather trying to restore it to its former glory. It had been left empty for seven years before I saw it and asked the realtor (exhausted from driving me around the country looking for the perfect house) to back up the car. “The house we just drove by. I'll take it. Find me the owner. That's the house I want.” I bought it. Three buildings came with it, as well as eighty-five acres of property. Inch by inch I devoted myself to bringing life back into the house and land.

When I first set foot in Greenleaf, I knew I could never be depressed living there. Afraid, perhaps; overwhelmed, possibly; frustrated, no doubt; but never depressed. The house has its own life, its own quality, which dominates over all else. It delights. It delights all who enter it. And it still has the capacity to delight me.

When friends would ask what I was going to do with all that land, it is fifteen city blocks long and a quarter of a mile wide, and pressed on to ask if I would keep animals in the great old barn, I'd say, “no. I can't imagine raising animals. I am afraid of dogs, and cows terrify me.” Raising sheep had never occurred to me.

One day, when the circumstances surrounding my life were about to come together in a cacophony of disasters and epiphanies which were changing my life forever, I was on my hands and knees, intensely working in the perennial border. John Firment, the man who had once owned Greenleaf, stopped by. He asked me to take a walk with him across the road to look at the boundaries of the property that had once belonged to Greenleaf and still belonged to him. “I know you were always interested in those boundaries,” he said. I never was, but knowing he had a compelling reason to take me with him, I went.

A farm truck had stopped on the road, yellow, rusty, and battered,
two tires resting on my front lawn. Two men climbed out and took fence posts, drivers, nails, and hammers out of the truck. They each wore winter hats, that beautiful May afternoon, earflaps moving as they walked, tie strings trailing in the breeze. One of the men was of medium height, thin, bearded, slight of build. The other was larger, sturdy, much bigger in form and stature. He didn't have a beard but looked as if he were considering one. I watched them from a vantage point on top of a stone wall on John's property. The two men barely spoke to one another. But they worked as if two halves of the same intent. It was a ballet without music that was being performed in front of my eyes. May skies. Thorn apple in bloom, its scent filling the air. There was neither a superfluous motion nor a movement without grace. They were laying up boundary lines by building fence. John wanted me with him as a witness. No boundary lines altered there. I knew he had a motive beyond my supposed interest. They finished. We all went down to the road. The smaller of the two men climbed into the driver's seat from the roadside. The larger had to cross my lawn in order to climb into his side of the truck. We both knew that entitled me to speak to him. “Do you ever work for anybody else,” I asked. He said something that made me think that he may have said “maybe.”

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