It's Saturday night, and the thunder is rolling into town. Crackling outside the open bedroom window, the claps sounding as if they are over the lake. The breezy air has finally cooled, and the drops are just starting to settle on the pavement below. Miss N is making magic in the kitchen downstairs. The whir of the Kitchen Aid and clanking of pans will yield homemade ice cream sandwiches by the end of the night. And yet, it feels quiet. Quiet in my head and in my heart. Calm.
It's been a fun and busy day, and a full week too. In the big picture, the closing date for the farm has seemingly ping-ponged between July and August. We've let go of hoping for a set move-in date - now we're just ready to roll with the punches. And the most recent news is that our FSA loan appears to be under review as we speak, weeks earlier than expected. At the very least, we know that this farm will become ours no matter what, which makes it easier to stay calm and grounded as we experience no real assurance about when we'll be packing boxes, renting a truck, pulling out carpet, picking up pullets or releasing piggies into the overgrown pastures. We've done (and are doing) all that we can, and we'll just keep gently nudging all of our loan officers to keep the ball rolling forward. Mostly, the fact that we have plural loan officers, and parallel loan applications, is the source of most of the uncertainty of the process. On the other hand, it's also the reason we can make this all work - so it's worth it. Luckily the whole universe, including the gas station we pass en route to our local Co-op, is sending us reminders to keep calm and carry on.
This morning we treated ourselves to breakfast at Sophia's before hitting the road to the new farm. We were extended a special invitation to come look through the seller's belongings. Although we didn't know quite what she was offering, we are in need of so much that we didn't hesitate to take her up on the offer. Furniture? Farm equipment? Cats? Antiques? We also jump at almost any opportunity to visit our soon-to-be place. We compiled a list as we nibbled sweet bread and chorizo omelet, sitting on tall stools in the front window of the neighborhood restaurant, the morning dark with impending rain.
atv? (in barn)
claw food tub (in barn)
canoe (at some point we transitioned from need-list based on what we have seen on the property to dreamy wish-list)
hand tools (forks, rakes, shovels, etc)
tools in garage
Talk about feeling like two city girls starting with nothing! Sometimes I doubt this process. I distrust the alchemy required to create a farm from scratch, from literally almost nothing. No tractor, no tools (but a snow shovel), no animals, no electric fencing, no knowledge farming inherited by growing up on the land. If you were to look at us, there would be no hint that we are (aspiring) farmers. But with a step back I think about two things. First is the list of all that we do have: lots of experience, a fresh perspective, teachers & mentors, barrels of enthusiasm, big brains, knowledge about where to look for answers, a good pair if Xtra Tuf boots that have trekked their way through the soils of Sauvie Island, Vermont and Wisconsin (learning their own lessons along the way), a box of heirloom seeds, feeder pigs in waiting, goats close to being ours, and not to mention my favorite farm hat. The second thing I think of is all of the (hilarious) stories we've heard from farmers about the goofs, mistakes, challenges, oversights and mishaps they've encountered while starting (or frankly, just running) their own farms. Or as E said today when she was touring us through the barn, "When you have animals, you learn quick. You have to."
The seller, we'll call her E, has already moved off the farm and into a new place in the city. She is on her 70's and sharp as a tack. Her very sweet adult children are helping her move and clean and find homes for all that has been acquired over the past 26 years of living in a rural home. Although we hadn't met E until this morning, we already knew she was a good egg. This is in part deduced through the stories told by our real estate agent, about how much E wants to work with us on every aspect of the sale (ion exchange system to fix the high nitrate load - of course!) and that fact that she refers to us as "the girls". As in, I really want the girls to love this place as much as we have. Yea, she's sweet. And that was all confirmed this morning as we pulled into the driveway, already filled with a dumpster (the third of their move), family cars and grown children untangling the last space on the property: the very-full garage. The air was full of open emotion. Our enthusiasm to move in and root ourselves was balanced with the family's saudade at leaving behind the memories they have cultivated on the farm.It all hung heavy, yet joyful, in the air.
We were offered a tour of the furniture left in the house that was available, along with details about previous remodels, floors, family history and memories - priceless. E also left us the Christmas garland and strand of lights she hangs on the deck each holiday season, a sign with the farm name and a collection of animal care supplies like ear tags, a calf bottles and medicine for Jackson, the black cat who will remain on the farm when E leaves. (For two people who are not particularly fond of cats, Jackson warmed our hearts when we first met him last month. Talk about a charmer! We feel grateful that he'll be a part of our farm family. Probably the hardest working among our lot at that). We walked through the hay mow to see the riding mower and implements for sale (yes!), and the small hay room full of antiques (also yes!). Then to the garage for a mix of tools, antiques and more furniture. We made a list, we checked it twice, and we handed it off the E. She'll get back to us with an offer, to which we will likely say "Yes!" in order to make our transition to country life that much easier.
The best part is that she wants to leave us (as in I know you will need them, they are the most important thing) extra fence posts and temporary electric fence posts, and lots of electric fence poly-tape. Lots of the stuff. And, although the charger for their electric fence is borrowed, we have a model number so we know what to purchase to charge up the existing five acres of fencing - what a boon!
We also spent a short time inspecting the 15 acres soon to be ours. When we first saw the land it was late April, and spring landed late this year. The first green was just peeking into the season. The field of rye tended by the neighbor was barely inches high. There was five acres of corn stubble, brown and damp with stalks cracked off a foot from the ground, poking up from bare soil. And then there was the five acres of fresh, green pasture, tucked inside the white fence line. In the barely-warm, short days of spring it all looked gorgeous, manageable and perfect for getting started. When we returned in early May for our inspection and loan walk through, all appeared about the same, but for a rye crop almost tall enough to harvest and a pasture looking richer and tastier by the day. And today, today was a good reminder about the power of sun and water and time. The pasture was tall and course and seedy and didn't look nearly as palatable as before. The rye field was cut, a giant swath of soil with a few patches of green throughout. And then there was the corn field. Oh lordy! In this case knee high by the Fourth of July will apply to one thing, and one thing only: weeds. It may be a late, slow year for corn, but let me tell you that the clever and ambitious weeds were making the most of their fallow year. They were already tall enough to engulf small animals, and it wouldn't be long before a human could get lost wandering under their height. I can just imagine how all those weed seeds have been lying in wait for a decade or more, just scheming their revenge against whatever herbicides have been used on this fertile cropland. And, oh, with what a vengeance they have sprung forth! Since we have at least a month, and maybe two, before we can remedy this weedy (and soon-to-be-exponentially-seedy) situation, the most we can do is plan. And so far, the plan involves young male goats, an electric fence and lots of research.
And yet, calm and quiet still seem to rule the day. Part of this comes from the feeling that we are still floating with the current, and that this all still feels 100% right. (And believe me, after going through this all with a different property last summer, we know what wrong feels like!) There is nothing to fight against, no red flags, no antsy feelings - just that internal peace of knowing you're on the right path. All of the goodness was again confirmed today upon meeting E and her family, who instantly conveyed to us that they want us to experience all the same joy they have gleaned from this spot on earth. Then there is the tranquility we both feel when we stand at the edge of the road, looking out at 15 acres, filled with wonder and hope and excitement about all that will grow here for us over the years to come. And then, despite the weeds-you-could-get-lost-in and the unknown move in date and the enormity of it all, we hopped back in the car and teased and laughed and joked for the hour-long drive back to Madison to attend to all else we have planned for this weekend ahead.