Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Second Tuesday on Franklin Hill Farm

Looking back (and forward)

By Bettina Sperry

The end of July marks a complete year of my life lived on this heavenly farm. The breathtaking beauty of this land ever captures my heart, a feeling that is renewed daily. It is hard to wake up every day and not appreciate the pastures, streams, and mountains that surround my life. The year has not been without its extreme hard work, and I am just beginning to see the change that my presence here brings forth. This farm is so beautiful it is difficult to not revisit the past so as to envision the lives of those present on this farm long before my arrival. I seem to think equally forward to those who will care for it long after I am gone, as if I am contributing to their dream, as well.
    Yesterday I was standing outside and looking up at the mountain – or hill, as I sometimes call it. I recognized for the first time that the farm’s two graves rest precisely above my farmhouse, ever overseeing my day-to-day activities. Husband and wife, Pharoah and Rebecca Wilkins, have a permanent resting place atop the mountain. It is no wonder that my mind drifts forward and backward in time, as if visited by those who have historically loved this farm, and by owners yet to come.
    From time to time, someone will stop by my home to inquire if they can visit and pay their respects to Pharoah Wilkins. It seems Pharoah was a confederate soldier in the Civil War – 62 Virginia Mounted Infantry. According to and as written by the former owner, this
land was originally part of the 100,000+ acres owned by Robert E. Lee. Was sold to Chas. C. Lee in 1832 and then to our family, Pharoah Wilkins, in 1855. All documented in land deeds.
So, again, during my chores and farm tasks and routine daily explorations and experiences around the farm, it is hard not to feel pulled by the history of this farm as I walk the pastures and tend the dogs, horses, cows, calves, ducks, and a single little goat.

This spring has been visited by a few other things besides past, present, and future. Not all experiences on this farm contribute significantly to a body of knowledge or growing awareness or profound understanding of life. Some are just more simple than that. Some experiences are more grounded in raw, down-to-earth, mud-wallerin’, dirt-road, barbed-wire-fence-exhilarating calf-chasing moments. I had many of those this past month. These experiences have no meaning whatsoever other than to keep me present, focused, and steeped knee-deep in the farm-filled life I live – the life I love. My new calves were regularly and collectively sneaking through barbed fencing in search of some unknown they clearly understood as “life beyond mom’s farm.” The calves had to traverse the wetland ecosystem of the farm: cross over the creek, meander over pond fencing, clear a path through tall grass, and amble towards a hole they found “way down yonder.” They had to travel well and fast to get where they were going, and they had to leave their own moms – their milk source – behind to do so. Clearly they found meaning in doing what they were doing, because by the end of June they were doing it several times a day.
    I would get knocks at the door. “Ma’am, your calves are walking down the road.” Finally, late one night, while sitting on the front porch, I heard the bellow of a cow so very loud and clear. Her calf was out, I was sure. I scrambled out on to the tractor and headed down the road to the pond. Low and behold, there were several calves out, just a walkin’ down the dirt road. I sent them back to their mothers.
    Late more recently, near 9 p.m., I got notice from the neighbor that the calves were out yet again. I had just gotten home from spending the evening up in the area where the calves escape, watching and waiting. So it was a surprise to see that within 30 minutes or less of my getting home, the calves were once again out on the road. This followed hours of putting up new barbed wire in hopes of closing any holes from which they might be escaping. No such luck.
    Well, down the road we went to chase the calves, and, once again, back to their mothers they went. But this time it was near dark outside, and the escapes had escalated in frequency. We had to find their hole.
    Well, coming around the corner, and at the intersection of the main road and the country dirt road, we saw a large opening near a ditch by the pond. Then we saw the two well-worn grass paths approaching the opening. This was it. As late as it was, I took my tractor home, gathered up some scrap lumber, got the drill, and headed down to do patch the hole lest the calves get out again during the night.

It was horrible-looking patch work, but it was dark outside and I was working by the light of the tractor. I was done by 11 p.m. and just completely worn out. I hoped that this would put an end to my escape artists’ escapades and get me some rest, knowing that at some later time I could improve the patchwork and make it look better.

Done with chasing calves for a month, I now needed something more soulful to do. Last year I had my first bull on Thanksgiving Day. We named him Panda. I’ve written of him before and shown you photographs.
    Well, this morning (Saturday as I write this), he is headed to market. As if to say good-bye, he walked over to me and sniffed me through the fencing. He came within inches of me, stood there quietly, and looked straight at me. He allowed me to touch him for the first time since the beginning of his life. I touched him twice and said I’d see him in some far distant land one day. He shook his head as if confused and not knowing what to do with this human he’d become attached to. I said my farewell, cried a little, and continued getting him and the other bulls ready for market, all the while soul-searching a way to cope with the loss of my first bull calves, and with the loss of Panda in particular.
    Cows have been raised on this property for a long time, so I complete another year much as those before me have done.

Copyright © 2015 by Bettina Sperry

1 comment:

  1. "... all the while soul searching a way to cope with the loss of my first bull calves..." so eloquently shared, Ms. Sperry. Mahalo nui loa for sharing. Trish