Read Sylvia's Farm Online

Authors: Sylvia Jorrin

Sylvia's Farm (13 page)

One night, about a week after her disappearance, I came in from the nightly ritual of walking around the flock only to see the red light blinking once more on my answering machine. It was Mark. Fiona had been discovered. He was going to pick her up. The next morning, I was told the whole story. Fiona MacDonald was found on a dairy farm five miles as the crow flies from her last home. Had she taken a reverse turn she would have ended up about here. She was found nursing off a cow and seen eating the farmer's cornmeal supply. She wouldn't let any adult within ten feet of her but allowed
the farmer's three-year-old to hold her. She had gotten fat in the wild and at the dairy farm. It took no less than six men to catch her. I offered to buy her back. Mark refused. “No, she's a challenge,” he said. I understood.

Fiona MacDonald. Joy of my heart. Outmaneuvering all things wild and hungry. And growing round and tall during the adventure. It is only right that Mark keeps her. But she shall bring me delight forever.

GRATITUDE

T
HREE JARS
of red summer extract sit on the kitchen table. I think I may have gotten the method perfected that preserves this wonderful flavor.

A raspberry bush I've been meaning to cut away at a corner of the carriage house has been giving me a handful a day of berries. And some blackberries have sowed themselves in a ditch cut in a field while we looked for a water line a long time ago. This year, to my astonishment, they've been giving me berries each evening. On a day or two after it rains they are drier but their flavor is more intense. I haven't been on my hill this year, the first time I haven't in the summer since I bought it, but I've heard it was covered in blueberries. This morning I picked sumac from a tree near a wall on my property. The abundance I expected from a stand of it near the road disappeared one day. A tiny insect loves this lemony-flavored pinnacle and devoured all of them. Chokeberry jam and syrup is already made and most of it is bottled. Black currants have yielded their smoky sweetness. The red currants from my garden are now jam. And the elder flowers that I spared are also a syrup, to enhance a glass or two of cold well water after I shovel the barn.

This August was different from all of the others I have ever known. My childhood was spent in hurricane country. Those wild winds, crashing trees, and flooding streets still carried their sounds into all of the Augusts of my life until this one. I have battened down hatches with a frantic attention as if all were dependent upon my
efforts. The survival of my family always seemed to be at stake. A rush of sewing late into the night to make school clothes for my children, the frantic pace of knitting needles as I sat on buses or subways, and a mess of pots with food being put up punctuated the days and nights. At times it was as exhilarating as the sounds of the great hurricane winds against the houses I lived in as a child.

My parents made a life for us that was in some way almost stiflingly secure and in another, by act of God, certainly not their own, dangerously insecure. And so in the quietness of the houses where we lived, there was a belief that the storms could not hurt us. And they didn't.

When I first left home and moved to New York City, the winds of the East Coast hurricanes hurled down the narrow streets but without the attendant drama or excitement. Yet as the clear blue skies of summer intensified in August, an occasional sharp crispness in the air warned this Yankee that it was time to get moving, knitting, cooking, preserving, for the winter. Protect and guard the family.

My husband had left the family when the family itself was very young, and he died shortly thereafter. And so while in the early years, or rather moment, of our marriage he was a participant in the act of preserving the family, mostly he stood in absolute amazement at the young hurricane he had married, sweeping through the open-air markets, taking such satisfaction at finding quince or blackberries.

When I came to Greenleaf, I was blessed with an abundance of all I held dear, and I picked and coveted with an abandon held in check only by restraints of time.

I still lived in other places and was a part-time resident for the first ten years of this incredible experience that Delaware County holds for us all. And while frustration also held sway as I often tearfully drove away, much of the abundance that was here found its way to my larder.

This year was a little different. The spring was lost to me in sadness I couldn't shake off, but then the good-humored kindness of the people who stopped their lives to help me took away with them all of the hopelessness that I'd carried with me after the hay mow collapsed in the barn. And left it, I hope, ragged in the ditches to be blown far away on their way home.

It is not that I won't feel worried or frightened or alone again. That would be too much of a demand on my most vulnerable and human heart. But something has altered within me, because of the kindness exhibited toward me and mine this day. And that change will never reverse itself. Last night I walked a mile or so to a friend's house. They were having an end of the summer party. I have known the family for many years. Along the way were sumac and blackberries, ready to pick. The evening air was soft and warm.

Two young members of the family have recently moved into their grandparents' household. I've known them since they were two years old. They are coming one day to pick blueberries high on my hill. I'll tell them to get the sumac on their way over. We will go over the hill and bring down a winter's worth for their grandparents' and my own households.

There is a short time left in which to do this. But I no longer have the sense of desperation and anxiety that has accompanied that race up the hill for me in the past. It shall be a joy to have the girls with me, if they can come. And a joy to have them share the abundance from that high hill. I need to share my gratitude.

BARRED ROCKS

A
MAZING HOW
interesting a flock of chickens can be, especially to someone who heretofore had been most uninterested in anything whatsoever belonging to the poultry family. I promised myself when I started farming that no matter how delightful the thought of farm-fresh eggs might be, those skinny-legged, cackling, pecking, flustering, hysterical creatures would under no circumstances become part of it. I'd buy my eggs elsewhere, thank you, anywhere else.

These thoughts possessed me as I walked through the rain with a bucket of mash and a can of water down two sets of stone steps, through three wooden gates to the June grass meadow to check on the chickens in the portable chicken coop. With eagerness. What are they doing? Did they lay yet? And if so, which one? And which color? I'd separated the chickens housed all winter in the beautiful and elegant carriage house coop. They are a miscellaneous bunch. Some are of known varieties such as the black sex-linked crosses that I bought on a whim. Others are of the “who'd-ever-refuse-a-pair-of-pullets?” or “my-pet-chicken” or “my-seven-roosters” variety. In other words, breed unidentifiable. They leave under less frequent but similar kinds of circumstances: “Oh, do you have a rooster for my chickens?” And, “Please, missus, I'd like to buy some hens.” Or, as in the case of the two sex-linked crosses, captured by my Border Collies, to no good purpose.

The latest group, reputedly heavy layers, are white, albeit they first
appeared to be pink after having attacked a black chicken, someone's pet, also in the cage on their way here. They lay white eggs, and have been moved, in a rare successful moment of organization, to the portable chicken coop in East Meadow. There they were joined by the surviving black sex-linked crosses plus one miscellaneous black chicken. The black pet chicken, now recovered, lives with the ducks. The black chickens lay brown eggs. This means that I can tell, of the eleven, which flock are laying what. And more important, how many.

The remaining chickens, housed in the carriage house in a most elegant indoor chicken coop, are some variety of red, russet, brown, buff, with or without black spots. They live with a white chicken that suddenly, a few weeks ago, manifested as a white rooster, as well as a mammoth black, white, and sapphire rooster who has pride of place on the roost and at night.

Those two never fight. Nor do any of my many roosters. The new ones are born here and are gradually accepted or ignored by the great fine dandies who parade around the farm. One developing into a particularly fine specimen of garnet, russet, red, and maroon with flashes of white on his tail, the brother of the all-white one, is leaving shortly to live at a youngster's house as a reward for helping me with barn chores. The others will stay.

New to the farm are some six-week-old Barred Plymouth Rocks (whom I've heard referred to as Barred Rock but I persist in calling Plymouth as well). They seemed to have made an adjustment in perfect safety in with my russet flock, at first. However, one fell victim to my optimism. They were all removed to a separate cage. I'm spending time holding each one in an attempt to tame them. They are very pretty to my eye, and they, as well as their cousins the Plymouth Rocks, may well become my chicken of choice. Chicken of choice? The choice of this sheep farmer who never wanted chickens?

I'd not had a clear perspective of the chickens until now. In the beginning, they were a glorious cacophony of color, sight, and sound, accented by roosters of traditional as well as unusual coloration all fluttering around in the carriage house coop. Tucker, rooster of every childhood storybook with a dark green iridescent tail, was the first to arrive. His harem of five or six accompanied him. They were soon followed by burlap bag upon burlap bag full of roosters, some mustard, buff, cream, and black, others in an imaginable combination of colors reminiscent of the closets of Eastern royalty. Chickens were among them. My flock had begun.

Two young, enthusiastic prospective workers turned up on my farm a short time ago and proved adept at catching and sorting chickens. They are now properly placed in their respective homes. I've made a chart for the wall of my farm office; on it is a series of lists. The first tells how much I feed. The second is divided among the pastured poultry and the chicken-coop poultry with a tally of eggs received each day and their color. I haven't figured out how to size them yet. The third simply totals the day. When I have to buy more grain, I will know exactly how much the eggs have cost.

Of course, the next step is to sell the eggs. But which ones? In my neck of the woods, brown eggs are favored. But some of mine are white. And all of them are different sizes. I've already designed a flyer to give to my neighbors. Mrs. Jorrin's Sheep Farm: Now Selling Eggs. Free Delivery on Thursdays. My Border Collies and I will take eggs up and down the road in a beautiful basket. Perhaps.

Today, in the interest of uniformity, I called my supplier and ordered some of the Barred Plymouth Rocks. Now that the chickens are divided according to color and breeds and I can take an appraising view of them, I've finally made my choice of breed. It is a purely aesthetic choice. The chicken that most suits this farm is the black-and-white breed. To my eye, they are the most chickeny in
appearance. Oh, I can already hear the Rhode Island Reds and the Leghorn aficionados' dissenting voices. But no, I've made up my mind. There is a touch of elegance about the speckled black and white, admirably set off by the orange feet and red comb, that appeals to me. They also have brown eggs, of uniform size, to sell after entering the tally of them on long envelopes of thick paper mounted on the wall of my farm office. I am a bit slow when it comes to making decisions on the farm. It is best for me to wait and let the right choice come to me in its own time. And now it has become clear. The Rocks it shall be.

Traffic stopped all last summer on this road, and it will once more. Cars backed up to get the best view of the new structure on my meadows. The structure that moved. The duplex, A-frame, portable chicken coop. “Whatever is that?” I'd be asked by the courageous few who saw me on the lawn. This year, I'm painting it the Charleston green of the wooden fences surrounding the meadows and pastures. Inside, shown to great advantage, shall be the black-and-white chickens with red combs and bright orange feet. Most interesting, at that.

HELPING HANDS

T
HERE ARE
unexpected days that become unsurpassable in a rare combination of beauty and hope. Sometimes without obvious reason. And some, like today, with reasons so simple and clear as to make me fail to understand why they cannot be a regular occurrence.

There has been help on the farm three days in a row. Two young friends have been coming to work for me, bringing another friend along with them. The main thrust of the work has been to clear the debris of the wreckage of the barn, both to assess the true damage and to make clear the way for the man who is going to stabilize the building. It will then be ready for the roof to go on.

In addition to tearing apart and shoveling out and all that it means to arrive at the bare bones of what is salvageable, they have also built a fence that I have needed for many years. Finally, once and for all, I can keep the sheep in or out of the barnyard at my will rather than theirs. Not only will this enable me to confine or release according to my judgment, it will prevent them from interfering with or becoming a hindrance during the reconstruction of their home.

The sheep watched us as the kids pounded fence posts and I picked rocks, repairing the stone wall, making certain all would be straight, and in general fussed around. Three or four sheep watched us with great intensity at our work, commanding attention from me with their penetrating stares. We finished, except for the little spot where I shall put one of my beloved stiles, and I commanded my
Border Collie Steele to “move 'em all out” of the collapsed section of the barn, through the gates, and back into the barn proper.

And so they proceeded to run, contrary to orders, directly toward the stone wall, next to which was the new fence. They scaled four feet of it, and once on top, ran down the wall through the only place it had never occurred to me to block off. So much for the limitations of the human brain. Of course, my excuse was that I have so much more to think of than they do. They have to worry only about how to get past my fences and a few other things some of which I don't pretend to know. I on the other hand … I have no real excuse.

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