“Set that chicken and…what do you call that other stuff down here again, I should know this.” Carol loops around the island and has her hands rested against the immaculate greyscale marble on the other side, lips pushed out while she looks up squinting at the ceiling.
“Fixin’s,” I say with a forced southern twang.
“Fixings, exactly, right there on the island if you don’t mind. I hear Bob getting his self together, he should be in here shortly and we’ll all fix a plate. Fix a plate. Hey, maybe that’s where that comes from!”
“Maybe!” I offer excitedly. “Dad always said it came from the Great Depression, when you couldn’t necessarily count on the quality of the meat, or meat altogether. He said a good set of sides could ‘fix’ that for you.” I’m ruffling the plastic and pretending like I’m doing something to prepare this piping hot food sealed in styrofoam and plastic and grease soaked cardboard lined in shiny white wax.
“Is that true Pastor, or one of your tall tales?” Carol speaks as she truly dissects the flimsy plastic bags and begins arranging the containers in a line, potatoes beside the gravy, green beans popped open and steaming, biscuit box beside the chicken bucket and the crinkly bag balled and buried in the trash inside a cabinet at her feet.
“True, that he said it, yes, but beyond that there’s no telling. Dad doesn’t really speak in plain fact. You’re always kind of trying to discern just how tall the story he’s telling is.”
“Oooo,” she exclaimed, “I’d love to meet that man sometime. Sounds like such a character.”
“Yes, and some characters are best known by their stories rather than in person. He can be a handful, so to speak.”
Some work I miss. Some I don’t. I miss dragging up, sawing through and splitting stumps to pieces with my friend Ken all day, though I don’t miss twenty feet up a ladder leaned on a wobbly oak limb with a gurgling chainsaw. The work melted time. It hurled the sun up and over head. I remember, I can always tell three o clock sun. I could see it on his face we’d be finished soon.
I miss all the dogs. The big finicky Shepherds and dough eyed boxers and hear them screaming down the hall huskies. Giving one a bath was my first real test at the vet. She did great. They were surprised. I wasn’t. Which is probably why, our blue eyes were locked and I ran water over her for more than five minutes before a bit began to stick to that thick, greyscale coat. The old golden retrievers who seemed so out of place kenneled between a spastic one legged country mix and one of the doctor’s insane pit bull hybrids. Quiet. Stoic. Whose bark was nothing compared to his brown eyes, begging to be let out. I don’t miss most of the cats. Nothing against them. Just what they become when they visit the vet. I don’t miss being in the room helping to explain why someone’s best friend wouldn’t leave there with them. Some people had to pay for everything, make every arrangement, before the IV, before the slow groggy eye roll into everlasting sleep, so that the instant after goodbye, they could leave. It’d be first thing in the morning sometimes. Lit candles flicker in the waiting room. Each color coded doctor flag flung out in warning. The young staff begging to give a dying pup something inane like a cupcake. Pressing their limp paws in black ink and rolling them onto neon colored paper. I don’t miss that.
I miss riding fifty foot high porch swings up a mountain through a blizzard and leaning forward dreading that leap and goofy trot at the top, to sit in a heated box for an hour eating my Nature Valley bar and scribbling nasty, numb finger poetry in the palm of my hand. Slapping the switch and bringing the whole contraption to a halt when a nervous kid would neglect to lean forward and slide off. Teaching kids and old folks alike how to ride a lift I had never even authentically used myself. Wearing five coats. Jumping in place nonstop when it was fifteen below. No fewer than two pairs of everything, gloves, socks, hats. I don’t miss climbing a frozen ladder onto the frozen bullwheel that moves the cable with all those porch swings bolted to it, with a lit blow torch in my left hand, a full propane tank in my right. No kidding, I asked if he was kidding when I got to the top. I thought I was being pranked, or hazed. But no, I was earning my keep, proving my worth. Slow and unsure I melted every inch of the inch of ice that had coated that thing before I climbed down to the sarcastically scrunched look of ironic northern surprise. I miss being a living breathing novelty. I’m glad I lived to miss it.
I miss moving hundreds of yards of material in a single roll of fabric. I have never seen people more excited to purchase an almost never ending chore. The thrill they found in fabrication touched me in helping provide for it. I miss the excited look of kids wearing their favorite cartoon characters on clothes made by their favorite grandparents. You get to a certain age and you almost forget altogether how it feels to wear something you’re excited to sleep in. I remember the best boss I’ve ever had slapping a stack of multicolored polyester poplin and explaining to me how they were off to be made into fast food uniforms for some restaurant chain or other. Humble little store bought fireworks sizzling in my mind. Working in wholesale is like having x-ray vision. You get to see the skeleton of everything. The resources that get twisted and braided and heavily longarm stitched and embroidered into products. I don’t miss time clocks or cleaning bathrooms or having to handle often times caustic personnel issues. Infighting between the different shades of blue collars. Trying to explain that the beauty of work is what you get to leave at home. That you’re really being paid not to show up everyday. To be there, to lend your time and talents and bodily and customer service presence, but keep the you part safe and secure, no one will every pay you enough for that. Leave it where it’s safe, employ it only for your dreams. Trust me, the money you take home will help, but those dreams won’t make it easy to make. A few hours a day off from being the true authentic you can be a beautiful thing. Can be being the optimal phrase in that sentiment. It takes practice. I miss the times I really had it honed and humming.
I miss arranging pink and blue piggy banks and flower vases shaped like Ford Mustang convertibles. I don’t miss knocking three glass shelves covered over in them completely to the floor in the glittering shattered cascade of sharp ceramic, clear blue shards and the broken up eyes and snouts of little pigs that were never even fed a penny.
I miss helping young women and their moms search for the right prom dress, and young men toward their first black suit, and older men nervous to tell me their true waist size even though I had already assessed it with my eyes. I remember helping one gentleman on and off with his shoes, and his wife thanked me for my help with tears on her cheeks. He was getting a suit for his sister’s funeral, he was a very big man, with a great many stories to tell, and I was honest to God happy to help. He reminded me of someone, but I never figured out who. Probably myself. I don’t miss the owner’s father, Pops, following me around like he thought I was going to steal something, condescending me because I cleaned the bathroom, which he referred to as ‘woman’s work’, and chastised me for slipping off a ladder even though he refused to steady it for me, or take the heavy box I was descending with from my hands. That was the only job I have ever walked off from in the middle of a shift. And three months later they begged me to come back to watch the store for them while they were out of town, and I never did. I would rather sweat through summers doing landscaping than to be treated like something I’m not. Dishonest.
I do miss cutting grass, all day chasing a self-propelled push mower and coming back through like a barber with a razor scraping the warm shaving cream of soft green grass off the edges of sidewalks and wiping them clean with a leaf blower. I worked for myself, for a few houses, and a church in Shelby. One day I had to do the job in the rain and I broke the bolt that held the blade on the mower deck three times, going to the hardware store to replace it, three times, before I finished the job. Knowing if I did not make it home with that check, well, that was not an option, at that time. I don’t miss finding I had hit a snake, or a toad in the grass. Or that I had taken an extra twist and nicked the heads off someone’s lemon yellow daffodils or candy pink tulip lips. I don’t miss being overworked and overtired and still poor. Or when it would start raining and not stop for six, seven, eight days sometimes just pouring. That’s a good word for those times. Pooring. Equipment sitting cold in the bed of my overworked, overtired Jeep.
If not for my chickens and for my gardens those times would have pushed past hard and actually frozen solid as ice in the dead center of summertime. You can ask my sister. I’d eat ten, eleven ears of corn and call it dinner. Leave the house with three hardboiled eggs in the morning, and no lie, pick dandelion heads and free pears and scavenged blackberries on the properties I worked. I was so terribly free and pinballish those two years. Almost everyone who loved me was afraid for me. But I wasn’t though. Too busy.
Which is how I discovered my own personal secret to sustain sustaining. Busyness. Work. Walking. Responsibilities. Caring for animals. Caring for people. Neglecting myself.
I learned a critical lesson, and I will share it with you here to sum up and finish this piece that is likely to go on ten, maybe even fifteen more years at this pace.
If you can’t be okay all the time, then start walking it back. What makes you okay for, let’s say, a day. If you can’t be okay for a day. Keep walking. What can you do to be okay for an hour. If you can’t manage that yet, how about half an hour, fifteen minutes. Don’t lose heart. Fifteen minutes of being okay can be really really hard. Back up to a minute. Is there anything at all that you can do and for just about one minute not fixate on your problems, your hangups, fears, your lack of motivation, anxiety, depression, innate invisible suffering no one in the world may know about but you.
You’ll find it. It’s there. For me, it was work, and walking, with my dogs, hiking, being outside. But work mostly, for other people, for myself, on my farm, in my notebook. I found I could choose one of these activities and be okay for a minute, and if I got a little momentum, two, then five. A good long walk, losing track of the dogs as they bound up ahead of me after a deer they’ll never catch, or a bird that isn’t actually there, fifteen minutes, then forty five. At the end of it, all of it would come back and hit me like an ocean wind. So I’d do it again, and again. A nice, breathtaking, sun drenching, sweat dripping shift, I’d get five, six hours in before something worse than exhaustion would catch up to me. I practiced those a while, and soon enough, I could get through a day, at the end of which I’d be beat, inside and out, upside and down. All the energy I had left to do anything with was required to carry my butt to bed. I’d get up with all these thoughts, ideas, lists, agendas, chores, filling my head. No room for the other stuff.
I got real good at going two or three days. Which was great, I could more than feel, but see my progress. Next thing I knew, I’d have my weeks mapped out all the way until I had to call them months. And honest to God, honest to you, it has been years, actual years now, since I’ve revisited the bottom of that pit my thoughts dug out for me so long ago.
And that’s the secret, my secret at least. Start small. Start with the seed. The here and now. And don’t even take a second to think about minutes until those seconds are something you can sustain. Until for a few seconds, you can be okay. Don’t dwell on hours, if you have to, pretend there’s no such thing as days. Build your happiness brick by brick, minute by minute. Without much more strain and wracking your brain, you’ll have a wall, four walls, a roof, without any more thought than it takes to slap down a little mortar and sandwich it tight in between two red rectangles.
I think a lot of depression and anxiety are actually offshoots of our impressive imaginations. Our understanding of, and longing for, wide, intricate blue-printed designs and multi-layered, textural maps, and the expectations of our friends and families and the pressures we put on ourselves to think in five year plans and knowing our lifetime career goals before we’ve even held down a simple summer gig, or a year or two of odd jobs and the hungry, gut-wrenching process of self discovery and finding out our own beautiful, hardfought points of exhaustion.
Essentially, try not to get ahead of yourself. Try not to plan too much until you have some pretty decent milestones in the rearview. Once you have a few mountains behind you, you’ll see the vast range of powder blue ridges stretched out before you differently. You’ll see them with your feet, and with your back. You’ll learn to distrust your eyes, just enough so that you can hear the beating of your heart.
You’ll learn the greatest fear you’ll ever feel is for the things you’ve already been through.
No matter what obstacles are set out in front of you, they all have one incredible, optimistic aspect in common.
I’m currently enrolled in a master’s program in writing at Lenoir-Rhyne’s Center for Graduate Studies in Asheville, North Carolina. My writing has not yet been selected for widespread publication or inclusion in any creative writing journals, but that hasn’t stopped me from submitting. Mostly I put down poetry, but I have also written upwards of five novels, many more short stories, and have recently dabbled in play-writing and screenplays. My ultimate goal for the degree is to better understand the publishing industry, as well as to eventually obtain a position as an adjunct professor or workshop director at a college or university.
I believe writers benefit greatly from diverse employment in fields that are ‘secular’ to the literary craft, and I currently run a small, slow growing farm, perform in local theater and historical reenactments, as well as being a carpenter’s apprentice, mostly creating high-end custom woodcraft and feature installations in the Charlotte area.
My farm is located in Cherryville, nestled in the southwestern region of the North Carolina Piedmont, about twenty minutes from the South Carolina border. We work one hundred and thirty acres, mostly planted in longleaf pine trees, but also with a herd of dairy goats, a large brood of egg layers, and crop farming as much as weather and time permit. On November 9th of this year, my wife and I hosted our own wedding on the property in an attempt to gauge the possibility of creating a modest farm/forest themed event venue on our land. It was (in our humble opinions) a monumental success, and I have posted some pictures from the event below. We are planning to open it up for select events starting in March of next year.
If you have any questions, or interest in what I have going on in my life or on my property, please feel free to reach out. We’re always looking to partner with local or not so local businesses, as well as individuals interested in increasing their farm and vocational work experience. No matter your main interest or occupation, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised how positive, proactive interactions with nature and the land increase appreciation for seemingly separate, unrelated endeavors. I can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org and we can move forward from there!
I’m also a lifelong hiker and advocate of the Appalachian Trail, and outdoor activities, camping, hiking, homesteading in general. I hiked the eight hundred miles from southwest Virginia to the New York state line two years ago, using the Appalachian Trail, and am always looking for new ways to incorporate the outdoors and the life-altering experiences it engenders into my writing and occupational interests.
If you’ve read this far, you can see I keep a lot of irons in the fire simultaneously, which is what makes writing so important. Stories are maybe the only place where a universe of diversity all combines together to form a single cohesive element. It is the unifying, all encompassing invention of humankind: storytelling. Which is why I proudly list it first in my little titular list of occupations: writer, actor, farmer. Literature is the roof under which I house all other interests, it is how I keep them warm through the night, safe and dry even as the sky opens up and baptizes us all beyond anything we would ever decide for ourselves.
But almost nothing is possible without community. An open dialogue, an audience, an ongoing interaction with those around me, is essential, vital. So thank you for reading, for caring, it has made a world of difference, feeling so unalone and included by the earth-wide family that is humanity. Let’s talk. Let’s collaborate. Let’s find out how many hands it takes to make hard work lighter than a feather, so that we can get down to the fun stuff. Celebrating life and death, singing through poetry, dancing in labor.
Learning as lifelong profession no matter how we earn a living.
It didn’t make it onto my list, but in my opinion, it really goes without needing to be said, that the superpower of our species is lifelong enrollment as students of time and memory. The earth has meant many things to many people, but it makes much more sense to think of it as a giant, rotund, rolling school. I’m convinced that is what it is, and learning, not invention or fabrication, is our primary purpose. And in that sense, there will never be a final frontier. We’ll never be finished finding new things in an evolving, ever-altered university such as this.
Existence is a wave, it can be a harsh lesson to stand up and position yourself against it. But it can also carry you faster and further than ever imagined if you move along, let yourself, humbly and lightly, be pushed by its powerful and unapologetic presence.
Learn. Grow. Stop fighting currents. Let yourself go. You’ll find you’re caught and held by a mighty grip every time. I promise. I can, because I know.
Life is not a status. It is a story.
And the only way to get it wrong, is to not write it for yourself.
Mist pours in on a comparatively warm November evening, shows me my cross-eyed headlights and blinds me when I click on the brights. Walmart is full of people. At eight on Thanksgiving eve. Full of stink eye and camouflage and middle aged women in pajamas. Our little country corner of the world. Little girls apologize for their father’s scowls with upturned eyes. A grizzled looking gentlemen sights a slender twenty two caliber rifle up at the twenty foot ceiling. Capitalism is most at work when we aren’t. Swiping hours of our lives away with flimsy magnetized plastic, futuristic looking chips embedded in them. There’s a doglegged line in front of the pharmacy. Gigantic Hershey kisses and hollow shepherd crooks full with M&M’s. Grown men wearing flip flops. Little boys in cowboy boots beg beside the bike rack, tears in the corners of their eyes.
I can’t settle my heart. It liked living outside too much. For my thirties, my eyes and my feet are best friends. They do everything together. Partners witnessing crime. Flying down Old Post I can not help for the life of me the feeling there is hatred and resentment more so than white knuckles and hidden toes powering the machines passing me. It is an old Jeep, I confess, I don’t dare push past the speed limit, so I damn near see the whites in their eyes as they ride my spare tire bumper. There are young men in the Walmart almost through the door when they spot a single lady walk in all by her lonesome and nod their heads together and turn around.
My deepest prayer to date is that I’m wrong.
Answered by family, warmed by fire, wrapped in mist in the foggy corner of the county we call home. I want to turn around and grab those boys by the scruffs of their necks like tomcats. I want to buy that kid his bike. I want to take the gun out of those paint stained fingers and kiss that man on the cheek if I have to. Wrap him up in a hug and ask him what’s the last thing he forgave. I want to let her know she’s safe, but I don’t have to, anyone wearing pajamas in public is already far more comfortable in their own skin than I ever have been. I want to buy all the milk almost past its date. Tell the people wearing blue vests and name-tags how proud of them I am, how honored I am to be helped along by them, how I never would have found HDMI converters without them.
As I drive, I get real afraid the mist is smoke. I imagine deer throwing long tan legs out like Rockettes onto the stage. I wince at the sight of roadkill. I throw the Jeep out of gear and coast downhill, thinking how that engine is idling same as if it was sitting still in the driveway, going fifty-five and bouncing across the flimsy bridge at the bottom. If it doesn’t bend it breaks.
What are we all doing with our life? This is our one shot at the world. What are we all doing at Walmart at eight o clock on a Wednesday night. Looking so sour. Looking down sights. Staring down strangers.
Strength. True strength. Is not stubbornness, or rigidity. When the man said love your neighbor same as you would love yourself, he could just as easily have said, if a bridge doesn’t bend, it will break.
My son is set to be born.
I feel no insecurity in informing you that he will never, not ever, not even once
There are so few places like that on earth.
Where belief becomes so close to being fact.
I call something that can’t be owned my own.
Which is another way to say
I’m someone’s dad.
We have a lot of projects underway, mostly in the planning stages, but a few are in the resource-gathering phase. We’re building a farm unlike any other agro-business I’ve ever experienced, but still, at its core, a farm. With the weather being what it is, all or nothing for the past little bit, crop farming has been a precarious endeavor. Yes, I am working on gardens, and we will be doing quite a lot of crops, but I’ve decided to not depend on it as the initial endeavor for Project Local’s food production aims.
The first two major items we’ll be focusing on are eggs and goat dairy. I recently raised up over twenty Ameraucana pullets that were just moved to the outdoor coop last week, and about two months ago, we added seven new goats to the herd, five of which are high quality Nubian breed milkers, which have (as far as I can tell) been bred successfully. Meaning in a matter of months, we’ll be basically covered up in milk and eggs and bleating little baby goats that sound exactly like the wrong answer on a gameshow.
I’m looking for people who are interested in participating in these processes in whatever capacity they can manage.
We need milkers, bottle feeders, egg collector and cleaners, and general help repairing barn structures, and building a brand spanking new chicken coop from the ground up. I’ve been doing farm and labor work for a good while now, and I can assure you, no one who helps will walk away empty handed. Each work opportunity will be handled on an individual basis, consistent with the needs and offerings of whomsoever is doing the helping.
I’ve done the paperwork, we’re a certified public charity, so monetary and asset contributions will receive a receipt, and will be counted as a donation to a certified 501(c)(3), and qualify for tax deduction. Money is always helpful, but items and equipment are just as good, here’s a list of what we need ASAP:
Building materials: Nails, screws, hinges, etc.
Bags of concrete
Electric Fencing Materials: wire, insulators, grounding rods, etc
Tractor attachments (if you can find or have them) mostly for an IH Farmall Cub tractor, primarily a Box/Scrape Blade
Wood Splitting Tools: Wedges, Axes, Mauls.
Also, time and labor is always needed, and will be paid in produce, eggs, milk, as well as wages.
I’m happy to teach anyone interested how to milk dairy goats, how to take care of laying hens, how to build simple lean to shelters, run farm equipment, and till and plant gardens.
For the past decade, I’ve been doing about a thousand things at once that all seem separate and unrelated, and I can guarantee you, they are not. If you’re an artist, an office worker, retailer, factory worker, landscaper, teacher, student, the ways are almost infinite and innumerable how the skills and talents and patience and strength developed on a farm will overlap with the rest of your life.
The purpose of Project Local is not contained purely within food production, but in the experience of working with the land, growing a vocational base of experience and skills, to proliferate back out into the, for lack of a better word, secular world. We start where we are, and project outward, like a vine, always knowing at any time we can return to that radicle, that base, of what all it takes to wrest a life nourishing resource from the land.
I guess you could say Project Local is an insurance provider of sorts. The parachute of food production is worthless if you don’t know how, and when, and where to pull the cord. That’s why I started Project Local, that’s why I am building my farm as a non profit. The aim is education, and there is only pass, no fail.
The greatest mistake you make on a farm will still end up feeding the chickens.
Let me know if you’re interested, we’ll work out a time for you to tour the farm, and we’ll go ahead and start building a team so that when the milk and eggs all hit in a few months, we’re ready.