As Mr. J and I moved about the farm with morning chores, we heard a persistent low “mooooo” from Dude, our steer. His bawling tells us that there is not enough grass in his pasture, and he is expecting us to resolve the situation. Our grass is greening, but we are not at the spring flush so we decide to haul out the last roll of hay from the barn to keep our small herd happy for another week.
This roll of hay weighs about 600 pounds and requires some maneuvering to get it from the barn to the bed of the truck. But we have polished our technique over this past winter and work well as a team.
I drive the truck to the pasture, position it at the top of the hill, then Mr. J gives the roll of hay a heave-ho setting it on an unrolling path down the hill.
We then walk the length of this unrolled hay to spread it out.
While tossing hay here and there I pause and think:
Who would have thought.
Who could have predicted twelve years ago when we bought this truck that we would use it to haul rolls of hay to our cattle. In Tennessee.
Who would have thought we would be right here, right now, with this truck, in this field.
We had a vision when we bought the truck. We had a plan for our lives.
We knew we would pay it off and keep it for many years. It needed to be able to carry our three boys comfortably into adulthood.
We wanted the option of towing a trailer for camping.
And maybe at some point we would need the four-wheel drive to go off road.
Our truck has done this and more.
This truck has served us well.
It has carried soccer gear, ski equipment, and surfboards.
It has hauled loads of compost and fruit trees for my gardening exploits.
It has worn the license plates of California, Virginia, Nevada, and now Tennessee.
When we bought this truck in 2011, we could not have anticipated being on a farm in the South. It never occurred to us that Mr. J could earn a living working remotely with a computer and phone. Who would have thought that this truck would one day haul pigs and sheep to our own homestead or pull felled trees out of the woods.
God has a plan. He nudges. He guides. And if you are lucky, you can see a few steps ahead on your journey. But most of the time we just bumble along.
When I look back, I can see how we were gently positioned to be right here. Right now.
This area of Tennesse is known for its waterfalls. I had no idea I would have one in my home.
Let me back up a bit. Two weeks ago, I had a prompting to start tackling some of the bigger projects on the homestead. This means calling in contractors and shelling out substantial amounts of money. Mr. J is handy, but he is not replacing the roof handy. Time to bring in the big guns.
Our home has a metal roof that looks a bit like a patchwork quilt. I don’t know much about metal roofs, but I’m pretty sure that is not a good sign. The roofer confirmed it. He also found an area of the roof that had several inches of standing water and no slope to drain it. He promised to fix this issue when the roof is replaced…two weeks from now.
We weren’t too concerned, because while the house has several leaks there were none in that area…until early Saturday when we were hit with 6 inches of snow and below freezing temperatures.
The dam broke loose. Our son woke to water dripping on his bed at 6:30am and our day began.
Handy Mr. J overcame bitter cold and fear as he climbed the ladder again and again to try to scoop water off the roof with a squeegee on a long pole. On the inside, I was adjusting buckets and sopping water with towels.
Our outlook improved as the drips appeared to stop, but that was really just the water turning to ice as the temperatures dipped into the low teens.
This morning’s bright sun turned that around and we looked into our son’s room to find this…
Honestly, after a while, you take inside waterfalls in stride. It makes you take a good look at the dust bunnies on the floor and provides plenty of water to wipe them up with.
When outside water comes in, use it as an opportunity to clean the floor.
And did I mention we have guests arriving this afternoon? And before heading to church this morning Mr. J found a leak in our hot water heater?
Taking it in stride my friends. God allows these challenges to both humble and strengthen us.
We decided to move to Tennessee for many practical reasons, but mainly because we felt we were following God’s plan. But how could we possibly know for certain. This uprooting of our lives, selling our home, and taking a leap was very sudden. And, yes, there were moments of doubt and uncertainty, but along the way God would give us enough of a glimpse to keep us moving forward along the path.
Once our decision to move was made, I quickly set the wheels in motion. We decided to move Thursday (see my December 9th post myfiatfarm.com/2021/12/09/a-punch-in-the-gut/) and I called my California realtor Friday morning. I told her I was putting our house on the market, and we met that day. I immediately began the steps necessary to sell the house – mostly purging, packing, and painting. The weekend was a blur with sleepless nights and house cleaning days.
By Monday morning I was exhausted. I knew I needed to find a realtor in Tennessee, but I had a busy day ahead and told myself it could wait until Tuesday. I made my breakfast and sat down to eat when I felt a prompting to call one of the recommendations I had collected for realtors in Tennessee. I had three numbers. Two of the numbers had names included with the realtor’s number. The third was just a number. I decided to call the third.
I pressed the number into my phone, listened to the rings, and heard a voice on the other end.
“This is Joshua Christian.”
The name Joshua is an English translation for the Hebrew word Yehoshua which means “Yahweh is Salvation.” Joshua is also an English derivative of the name Jesus. (Joshua – Wikipedia)
So, when I heard over the line
“This is Joshua Christian.”
I thought, of course you are. I call a number with no name on a whim, and I get Joshua Christian.
That morning, Joshua Christian became our realtor.
And he did a great job. Joshua understood what we were looking for and we began the search based on a price range and location radius.
But looking at the properties for sale, nothing felt right. The market was slim and anything that was a good deal was getting purchased quickly. After a week I began to worry. So, without letting Joshua know, I increased our price point and expanded our search radius. And I found it.
I found a property meeting our acreage and resource requirements, with pastures and ponds, located on Genesis Road.
We were seeking land where we could develop a regenerative homestead following God’s plan and this property was on Genesis Rd.
On top of that, I was “feeling” it. When we had purchased our last few homes, I always had a very visceral reaction. I knew it was the right home despite the wallpaper, paneling, or orange carpeting. I could feel the potential and rightness of the home. I was beginning to get that feeling with this property online.
Joshua said if we were serious about this property, we would need to fly out to see it. We made our reservations and flew out to Tennessee the day our home went on the market back in Southern California.
Arriving in Nashville, we then set off to meet Joshua at the property. There were a few things we noticed as we got closer – cell reception was poor, and the scenery was dramatic.
We found the property, drove down the lane to the front of the home, and got out to meet Joshua in person for the first time, shaking his hand.
“Something has happened since we last talked,“ Joshua began. We find out that two days before, the owner of the property, Jack, had a heart attack and was currently in the hospital having open heart surgery.
Oh, goodness. The gravity of this fell over us. The wife was on her way from the hospital to greet us and would be here any moment.
We then face the home. As I take it in, I smell a strong floral scent surrounding me. I think “how lovely that the plants were designed to greet guests with such a lovely scent.” But this leaves my mind as another car comes down the drive.
Lynda, Jack’s wife, drives up and rushes to meet us. We ask about Jack. She is stretched thin, her husband is in the hospital, yet she comes to help with any questions we might have. I give her a big hug overcome with all she is going through.
“I don’t know what we are going to do,” Lynda shares, “if we have to run this place one more winter it will kill Jack.”
This property had been on the market for two years. And here we are. Right now.
We tour the property trying to take in as much as we can with the time we have left in the day. It is a lot to take in. It is overwhelming. But it is beautiful. Amazingly beautiful.
We leave at dusk with the decision swirling in our heads. Is this the right place? There is so much work to do. The house is much larger than what we are looking for. Such a big decision. We need to think about it. Is this God’s Plan? How do we know?
Flying home the next evening, sitting next to Mr. J, I am reflecting on the house and the decision we need to make.
And then I remember: I smelled flowers. But not just flowers.
I smelled roses.
I turn to Mr. J. and ask, “When we first got to the house, and we were looking at it, did you smell any flowers?”
“No flowers? Did you smell flowers at anytime on the property?” I pressed.
“I smelled roses.” I said looking at him seriously. There were no rose bushes where I had been standing, and I smelled roses.
He understood. At that moment, we knew we were buying the property on Genesis Road with the help of our realtor, Joshua Christian. Because I smelled roses.
Roses? Why roses?
In my Catholic faith, the scent of roses, when no roses are present, is seen as a grace or consolation. It let’s one know that God is there and that His blessing is present.
We continue this homestead journey and embrace our path knowing that when I stood in front of Fiat Farm for the first time, I smelled roses. We pray for God’s continued blessing and are thankful for His grace.
Day two of the freezing cold. The recent storm dropped six inches of snow on Fiat Farm. The perfect snow – light and fluffy. And it stayed perfect for 2 days. For my friends in warmer climates, snow stays perfect because it is cold. Very cold. Like, below freezing cold. The kind of cold that makes your fingers and toes ache.
I happily spent the first snow day bundled up inside while the guys hustled out to take care of the animals and walk our property looking for fallen trees.
But now it is day two, the sky is clear, and I need to pitch in and do my part. I offer to feed the animals so Mr. J can continue to work on the fence. Yes, we are still working on the fence. I “gird my loins.” I put on several layers of clothing, wrap a scarf around my neck, put a watch cap on my head, and don ski gloves. Ready for battle, I steel myself for the cold, open my front door, and am greeted by this:
A feast for the eyes. Fiat Farm has been transformed by a blanket of snow. I am in awe.
There are brief moments at the beginning and end of each day when the light is just right. The landscape is transformed by this veiled softness, the sun is closer to the horizon, and one can glimpse God’s subtle grace. Those moments beckon us to slow down, observe, and absorb.
I moved through my chores, but there were many times I was compelled to just stop and marvel. The Easter egg blue of the sky. The red flash of a cardinal searching for food. The hues of earthy brown carved out in the bright relief of snow.
Snow is cold. Freezing cold. Harsh. Everything is harder. Keeping warm and dry, finding food and water, moving from place to place, all become a challenge in the snow. It makes real nature’s struggle for survival.
But in that struggle, there is stark beauty. And it beckons you.
A familiar path becomes enchanted:
A previously unnoticed tree demands attention with a dramatic silhouette.
Form and texture invite marvel and imagination:
Attention is brought to the hidden life around you:
And, if you are lucky, in the midst of the struggle you get a glimpse of God’s mystery.
And it takes your breath away:
Knowing, that today would be bright, sunny, and in the 40’s I made a point to walk and marvel. To soak in God’s creation. To reflect on His plan.
His plan is good. And in the struggle, there is Grace.
Slow down, observe, and absorb. These moments of grace are fleeting. The blanket of snow melts, and the familiar path returns.
In my previous post I relate how our two new heifers escaped. Let’s continue the story with how they get found.
It is 1pm, Friday. The cows that arrived earlier in the week have disappeared into the dense woods of our property line. I need to leave to go pick up our oldest son and his new bride from the airport. That leaves Mr. J and 2 boys to handle the cow search. They form a search line and spend the next two hours looking for cows until eventually Mr. J and the boys lose each other. Still no cows.
Time for a new approach.
The sun will be setting soon. We decide the best plan is to reach out to our neighbors. We have been so busy working the farm that we have been unable to introduce ourselves to the farms around us. Now is the perfect time. Mr. J. drives the truck to nearby properties handing out cards with our number and asking for a phone call if someone sees our heifers. He gets much sympathy and understanding nods as he describes our plight. Evidently, we are not the first people to have cows break loose.
The sun sets. The cows are still out there on their own. We are worried. Our only consolation is that the weather is mild and there has been plenty of rain so there will be water out there for our girls.
After dark Mr. J walks out to our woods with a flashlight to have a final look. Shining the light into the trees he sees two sets of beady eyes peering back. Then the eyes close, the heads turn, and the two cows all but disappear into the night. Stinkers! But at least we know they are close.
With the arrival of our oldest son and his new wife for a holiday visit we now have more hands to add to the task.
The next morning is Saturday, and as the guys head out again to search the woods, Mr. J gets a call on his cell phone. It is a 911 dispatcher asking if we had lost two cows.
(Can I just say, I love the fact that 911 is instrumental in connecting the threads of our little drama and that the deputies are looking out for all the creatures in their county not just the people. I’m sure we also gave them a good chuckle.)
A sheriff’s deputy had seen the two cows and reached out to a nearby farmer to try to track down the owners. Fortunately, it was one of the neighbors we had given our number to the night before. The deputy worked through 911 to track us down. We identified the girls by their tag numbers and the dispatcher gave us their latest location.
The guys leap into action. As they throw on their boots, I gather water and protein bars to keep them going. We learned from yesterday that this cattle wrangling is neither quick nor easy.
Mr. J and the three boys meet the deputy and two concerned neighbors on a country road about 2 miles away from or homestead and get an update on the girls. Helen Reddy and Panda have moved off the road up the hillside into trees and brambles. Not optimal, but it could be worse.
At the top of the hill another neighbor on his ATV is keeping an eye on the cows and waiting for my guys to arrive so he can help. Dylan and his ATV prove to be lifesavers in this story.
But we have a problem. A big problem. Suppose we can get the girls; we have no way to contain them. It’s not like they will allow themselves to be herded. We don’t have a cattle trailer and our property is over two miles away by country road. We can’t think about that now. First, get the girls.
So, it’s all hands on deck with Dylan on the ATV and my four guys spread out at strategic points in the trees and brambles. Eventually, they get Helen down the hill to the country road. This is ideal. The road, fenced on both sides, creates a chute. And off that road is a gate to a well-fenced pasture holding a small herd of Angus cattle. The perfect place is placed right before us. Using our truck, the ATV, and three boys they are able to get Helen herded close to the gate. Mr. J and the boys keep Helen in place while Dylan calls the pasture’s owner, Travis, asking if we could get his gate unlocked and herd our cow in with his. He sends someone over to unlock the gate. Before long, Helen is contained.
But Panda is out of sight, she zigged when Helen zagged. We got one girl secure, but the other is still out there, and we don’t know where. We think Helen will call out to her from the paddock and Panda will wander back to be close to her friend, but that will take time. Not much else can be done at the moment, so my guys head home and wait.
Back at the house, us girls are regaled with their adventure. The chasing through brambles. The running to prevent Helen’s escape. The helplessness as Panda heads off in the opposite direction. The helpfulness of Dylan and his ATV. The boys are animated in their storytelling and united in the experience.
Listening to them, I recall all the times as my boys were growing up, I planned vacations and activities with the goal of creating family memories and shared experiences. I felt I had to orchestrate moments like this for them to treasure. On this day, through no efforts of mine, a significant memory was created; an exciting day was lived. This homestead life we chose certainly makes life interesting and I am thankful that, at this moment, all my boys are along for the ride.
Around 4:30 that afternoon, I suggest to Mr. J that they hop in the truck and search for Panda one more time before it gets dark. Hopefully, she will have wandered back to Helen who is secure in the paddock. Mr. J, youngest son, and our new daughter-in-law, head out to have a final look for the day.
My three searchers wander about looking all the places Panda is not, while at the same time Dylan and his wife spy her from their farm and get her going toward the paddock with Helen. My crew falls in on the efforts. Panda heads to the gate, daughter-in-law opens it up, and Panda walks right in.
With the help of our neighbors, both cows have been found, corralled, and secured. We can breathe easy tonight.
Dylan, and his ATV, spent several hours that Saturday afternoon helping us. Time sacrificed for strangers who had lost their cows. We are humbly grateful.
The girls are tucked safely into Travis’ pasture with his cattle. When Mr. J offers to pay for their feed, Travis replies, “They don’t each much. You don’t owe me nuthin’.” When we worry that weather is preventing us from getting them in a timely manner, he replies, “They ain’t causin’ no trouble.” His hospitality is more than we could ask.
Our struggle with these two cows has brought to life in a tangible way the second of the two great commandments:
At the end of this Gospel passage Jesus says that if you love God with all you heart and love your neighbor as yourself “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34) I certainly feel as though I have experienced a little bit of heaven here on earth.
In small town Tennessee, 911 calls you about your lost cows and your neighbors go out of their way to help you find them.
On getting cows, loosing cows, and embracing your vocation.
A month ago, while walking the property with Magnus I had a talk with God. If we are going to do this thing, I said, we will need livestock. For me it is not just any livestock. I am looking for local, hearty, heritage breeds that will thrive on our pasture. This quest is not impossible, it’s just not easy. And at the time I was chatting with God I was struggling to get animals. Any animals.
With a little internet research, I was able to track down a farm with heritage cattle and hogs. Located an hour away, this farm raising heritage breeds was an answer to prayer. The farmer is a woman who began her dream about 10 years ago. She let us visit her property. She answered my questions, nodded knowingly at my vision, and agreed to sell me some of her stock. She also said she had made every mistake you can make when starting her farm journey. This is a common theme when I reach out to farmers that start this journey later in life. Farmers will chuckle and say, “I have made every mistake you can think of.” I smile and think that, surely, I won’t make every mistake.
Before we received any animals, we need a secure place for them on the farm. Fencing, my friends, is essential and we are quickly learning that it is also expensive, time-consuming, and never-ending.
I left her farm with the task of making a paddock for the pigs. We would let her know when we were ready to get them. Over the next few days, I tackled the pig paddock. I made a trip to the feed store – purchased hog panels, t-posts, straw for bedding, and some hog food. With a little help from the youngest son, I was able to make a home for our large blacks. We went back to the farm the next week and got the pigs. Success!
Look at us. We are farmers.
I had such immediate success with the pigs that I just knew we could handle cows. After all, the description of their breed labels them as “docile” and their breeder says they “respect the fence.” Docile is a term bandied about to make breeds appealing to the new homesteader. Every animal that doesn’t charge you and eat you alive is “docile.” Electric fencing is used in pasture and livestock management. A zap or two from a hot electric wire convinces animals to stay in their paddock. A 700-pound cow that “respects the fence” will stay put. Or so they say.
We got electric netting and I convinced Mr. J that we were ready to take on cows. After all, you can only learn so much from watching videos on the internet. You must get animals so you can figure it all out. If we waited until everything was perfect, we would never get animals.
I called the farmer and told her we were ready for the cows. We had water, pasture, extra hay, and fencing. We were good to go.
A few days later the girls arrived. Two lovely year-old heifers. They were unloaded from the trailer to their fenced paddock with ease. We were now true homesteaders. We had actual cattle on our land. And they respected the fence – for two days.
Regenerative farming has a livestock grazing technique called “mob and mow.” It mimics the movement of wild herd animals across native savannahs. The herd huddles close together and grazes aggressively on the available grasses. Each day the herd seeks new land as they instinctively move to avoid predators and find fresh pasture. This mob and mow method regenerates the land and keeps the animals healthy. It is a method popularized by Joel Salatin and Greg Judy – icons in regenerative practices. We have been watching their videos. These guys make it look easy. This is our plan.
Then you get cows of your own. With minds of their own.
And chaos ensues.
After two days in the same paddock, we decided it was time to move the cows. Basically, we open the fencing to a new paddock, and they walk into it on their own because they are curious and want new grass. Our middle son, home for a few weeks, provides an extra set of hands. Dad and son set out to move the electric netted fence and set up a new paddock. But we didn’t have enough netting to both contain the cows in their current paddock and mark off a new one. To solve this, the guys string up some electric wire with plastic poles to keep the girls contained. After all, they are trained to respect the fence. Half of the netting is removed, and a thin wire is all that stands between the girls and open space. This works in the videos. Surely it will work for us.
Helen Reddy, the bolder of the two, tests the wire with her chest. Zap. She brushes it again. Zap. She brushes it a third time and walks right over it. The hot wire is now laying on the grass. Helen’s partner in crime, Panda, walks right over it to follow her buddy.
They do not respect the fence.
It is 9am. The cows are loose. Any plan for the day has been thrown out the window. For the next four hours four grown adults try to wrangle two “docile” cows. Unsuccessfully.
We run across pastures. We sprint up hills. We make loud noises and wave our arms to look big. Everything we can to get them moving in the direction we want them to go.
A few hours in, as I am trudging once again across a pasture to try to intercept the girls, I think how difficult this is. I think of the potential significant financial loss, our responsibility to the girls, and how we have absolutely no control over the situation. And then I think:
I don’t hate this.
This thing we are doing is hard. It requires patience, endurance, communication, observation, sacrifice, humility, and a deep and profound letting go of self. (I’m not just talking about looking for cows.)
But I don’t hate it. I embrace it. This life we have chosen is real and substantial. It is all-encompassing and like motherhood it is quickly becoming a vocation.
The moment of reflection is gone as we try once again to herd the cows. Our middle son takes the lead coordinating our efforts. We crash through trees, we run uphill, we crouch down to hide then get big to guide. Together we get some momentum, the girls are moving, just get them over this hill…NOOOOO! They turn around and trot right past us, down the hill, and out of sight. We lose them. Helen Reddy and Panda duck under the barbed wire of our property line and head into the thick woods behind us. They stop moving. We can’t hear them. We can’t see them. And four adults stomping through the woods for an hour can’t find them.
Heck, we couldn’t even find each other.
I haul myself back to the house to get water and food for the gang. It is past noon. We need to stop, eat something, and reassess. I return to the furthest pasture, near the trees the girls escaped into. I sit down and wait. Mr. J sees me and walks over. Youngest son pops out of the woods and heads our way. I hand out water and protein bars while we wait for the middle son to find us. We are sitting on a slope facing our furthest pond and the trees that hide our cows. The sun is shining, the weather is perfect, and the scene is beyond picturesque. Middle son comes out of the trees, and we watch complacently while he makes his way towards us. I hand him water and food as he sits down. Here we are. Together. Working through something big. Something real. Something hard. Together.
I’d like to think we all sat there quietly for a few moments just pondering the awesomeness of it all. But the boys were probably just too tired to talk.
However, I am pondering, and marveling and I think: real farmers don’t just have animals. Real farmers struggle. They drop everything to save their livestock. They work together.
Real farmers make mistakes. Every mistake.
And in the failure and struggle and challenge there is a deep, profound satisfaction.
++++++Don’t worry about Helen and Panda. They had their adventure and are currently safe. I will let you know how that goes in my next post.
++++++As I am finishing this story my youngest son asks what I am writing about and then comments that this life really gives meaning to the parable of the lost sheep. This livestock hunting is no easy task.
We got cows delivered to the homestead yesterday. Super exciting, but that’s another story.
Evidently, bringing new animals onto a farm is a big deal. It affects the other animals.
After securing the heifers in their fenced area, Magnus – the livestock guardian dog, disappeared for 4 hours. He was not pleased with this new addition. But that’s another story.
This story is about Horse. Yes, Horse has a name. Her owners call her Jilly-Bean, but she has been Horse to me since we arrived. She is a beautiful creature, and we have a great affection for her. We are not horse people, and she is not our horse. We are just doing our best to care for her until her owner, Jack, can bring her to their new property.
That day came sooner than planned because the cows arrived. There was a disturbance in the force.
I am clueless when it comes to horses, but even I could tell there was tension in the air.
Unloading the heifers from the trailer into their paddock, I see Horse gallop to the top of a hill that overlooks the property. She can see the new arrivals and she is not pleased. Prancing from side to side, tossing her head, and snorting loudly it becomes very clear that she is not happy.
But Horse is put out of our minds as we get distracted by every other thing that requires our attention. She has headed off to the opposite side of the property, past the furthest pond, as far away as she can get from the new animals. Later that afternoon I visit her, and we have a chat. I tell her I understand she is not happy, but the cows won’t bother her, and everything will be ok. I pet her and lean into her. She walks alongside me for a bit, and I think we can work this out.
Horse is not convinced.
That night she approached the inner pasture at our back door for her usual feed and attention, but her agitation was palpable. She can see the cows. She can smell the cows. She snorts and prances. She gallops and tosses her head about. She is so agitated that I make sure there is a fence between us. I do not want to approach that massive creature in this state. I fear her. But at the same time, I can feel that she is in distress, and I try to talk to her, give her some food, and sooth her with a carrot. She may be huge and powerful, but she needs a mama’s love too, and I have learned over the years how to give mama love. But no amount of love would settle her down.
We are not horse people, and though we have done our best, we are at a loss. We contact Jack and let him know we need him to get the horse. It has become too much for us and we now have our own livestock to care for.
The overnight rain has stopped, but with the wet weather it is a good day for Mr. J to head into town on some errands. I handle the animal chores. It is clear enough outside that I head out in short sleeves without a jacket, thinking I won’t be long and the weather is warm enough. After feeding and watering the animals, I spy Horse. She is once again in the far pasture, past the furthest pond, as far away as possible.
I go out to visit. We talk. I tell her it’s ok. She leans into me and rubs her head on my back. We walk together for a bit. Then I hear what I think is a truck and trailer coming down the drive. Jack is here to get Jilly-Bean.
I walk to the barn and find Jack. He has a bucket of feed and a long rope for a lead. The trailer door is open, and he is ready to get Jilly-Bean. We walk past the barn to the field and Jack let’s out a whistle – loud and long. He calls out, “Jilly-Bean! Here girl!”
Jack rescued Jilly-Bean years ago. She had been mistreated; her hooves were in such a bad state that she could barely stand. Jack brought Jilly and her mom to the farm and has been caring for her ever since. Jilly loves Jack. But she was not answering his call.
So, we walk out to where Jilly is in the far pasture, past the furthest pond, as far away as possible. She sees us now but stands her ground. I approach her and stop a few feet off. I say “Hi, Horse” and she approaches and brings her head close to mine. Jack asks me to get the lead on her. With one arm I reach it over her neck and with the other arm I bring it around to secure it. Now she can be led back to the trailer.
This is where Jack takes over. After all, I am not a horse person. And honestly, she scares me a bit. Jack is 75 years old, recently recovered from a heart attack and open-heart surgery. Even more recently Jack had some shoulder surgery to remove a tumor and has been nursing an injured knee. But Jack can control his horse. He knows her movements, when to push and when to let her wheel around. I walk along side, talking to Horse, encouraging her to come along, saying it will all be ok.
Fortunately, the cows are on the other side of the property, otherwise it would have been really difficult.
We make it past the pigs with some difficultly. Evidently Horse has not been thrilled with them either, but I was too ignorant to understand this. We get to the trailer. And there we stop.
Jack is working his magic, but Jilly-Bean won’t go in. He has her lead secured to the trailer and another rope behind her haunches to nudge her along. But his girl won’t budge. I am as close as I dare, and still very much afraid of her powerful hooves and massive form. But I have to push aside that fear to get this done. I pat her and coax her, while keeping an eye on a way to escape if it becomes too much.
No luck. Jilly-Bean loosens the ropes, breaks away from Jack’s hold and escapes at a gallop to the far pasture, past the furthest pond, as far away as possible.
So, Jack and I calmly begin the walk back. One thing I have learned is that animals can sense your stress. If you are calm and in control, it helps them to stay calm.
I walk ahead, talking to her, because we learned from our first try that Horse will come to me. As I walk along, pondering this life I chose, I think to myself, “At least it’s not raining.”
I get to Horse and stop a few feet ahead of her. I say “Hey, Horse” and she walks towards me. Untangling the lead still attached to her neck, I hand it over to Jack.
“This is her safe place,” Jack tells me as we stand there a moment. “She stayed here for two weeks when her mom died. Her mom is buried on the rise over there.”
There is more to Jilly-Bean’s story. I had no idea. My eyes get moist as the empathy overcomes me. I am filled with all the things this horse has gone through and what she is experiencing right now.
Horse, Jack and I walk back to the trailer, much the same as before.
The rain begins. Soft fat drops. But at least it is warm and there is no wind.
This time I can be more helpful as we approach the trailer. Jilly-Bean’s lead is secure and Jack is at her head. I get the rope behind her haunches so we can nudge her in.
“You need to git inside the house before you catch cold,” Jack declares.
Nope. I am not about to leave him to do this on his own.
Horse is getting more agitated as the minutes pass. Jack is on one side. I am on the other. We’ve got to do this. But Jilly is not lifting her front legs to step inside. And when she does, it is more in a stomp of anger. I see the bucket of feed and think maybe I can lure her in.
I step inside the trailer and show her the pail. She angrily nudges and gets a mouthful chewing grumpily. Then there are some sudden large movements and before I know it Horse is in the trailer and Jack quickly closes the door behind her.
Horse and I are in the trailer.
Horse is vibrating with emotions. Her muscles are roiling as she tries to find a way out. But here we are and all I can do is talk to her and put my hands firmly on her. Let her know I am there. Try to remain calm.
She turns herself around in the trailer, I get shoved in a corner and I think of all the things that could go wrong. Stay by her head, I think to myself, away from her hind legs. Ouch. That’s my foot and I push her off. Talk to her. Let her know you are there. Stay calm.
“Jaaack! How are we getting me outta here?” I call, pressed between Horse and the inside wall of the trailer
“There’s a door behind her. Lift the pin.”
I struggle with the pin. No luck. It doesn’t help that this way out is at her rear opposite the side I am on and my mind is whirling with stories of horses kicking.
I stop and assess. I move to her head, towards the trailer’s rear gate.
“How ‘bout we try this door?” I suggest. It is towards her head and while the concern is that she will make a break for it, I think I can manage to slide this one open. Jack grabs her lead, pulls her head away from the gate and holds her firm as I push her from my side. I slide the door open, squeeze out, and shut it behind me.
“You did good,” Jack says. “Better than most men I know.” He starts to gather the ropes and equipment that have been scattered in the ordeal.
“Well, I’ll let you go,” I say quietly as I back away so he can finish up and get out of the rain.
I turn from the trailer and head up the drive. The adrenaline stops pumping and I break down. Small, gasping sobs. I slowly walk through the rain, back to the house, and just let it out.
As I am writing this post the pigs have escaped their pen. We all put on boots and head out the door. But that’s another story
Another busy Saturday on the homestead. The chore list is unending, but we pick a few priorities a put at the front of the list. This Saturday our goal is to paint the guest room and replace the heater in the room (because it stopped working).
Side note: my mantra on the homestead…
If it’s not broken now, it will be soon.
The guest room is a priority, because we have guests arriving Monday. Normally painting would not be a priority, but the ceiling in the guest room had to be repaired because the last time we had guests in that room there was a leak from the shower above and they woke up to dripping on the bed. So, my husband had to remove the drywall ceiling to investigate the leak and we have spent the past few weeks slowly putting it back together. But guests are coming so that is the priority today.
But remember: If it’s not broken now, it will be soon.
Saturday, late morning in the middle of painting and heater replacing the water stops flowing from the faucets.
Our homestead is on a well. That was a major selling point for us. Having our own well makes us independent. We are neither reliant on, nor answerable to the city for our water usage. The water is clean and delicious without chlorine or fluoride. Our water comes from below our property, not hundreds of miles from some faraway mountains. This is our water.
This is our water. This is our responsibility. I can’t call some clerk at some bureaucracy and demand that the problem be fixed by some stranger. It is our problem. Fixing it is up to us.
My 18-year-old son and I take over the painting. Mr. J goes to replace the heater in the guest room with a new one, only to find the old one just needed a good cleaning. Live and learn. By Saturday mid-afternoon Mr. J is able to pivot his focus to the broken well.
Mr. J and son investigate the well. They checked the pressure on the tank – it is low. They check the switch for the pump – it has power. The only thing left to check is the pump and that job is too big for my very handy husband.
Friends, the well stopped working.
And it is Saturday.
The beauty of small-town Tennessee is that everyone stops working Saturday afternoon and nobody works on Sunday. That, of course, is assuming you can even find a plumber that works in the area – evidently there are very few for our county. There was a local plumber we had called earlier in the week, but he is booked until January.
It is Saturday afternoon, and the well is not working.
But I am thankful.
How can I possibly be thankful? I have no running water and no plumber is coming to save us in the immediate future.
I am thankful that the weather is mild and it has been raining the past few days. After all, we could be freezing and in a drought.
I am thankful for the opportunity to test our emergency preparedness. I thought that having a well means you always have water, but the well stopped working. I need to make sure we have water storage on hand for drinking and flushing toilets. I can prepare for this now and be ready for the future.
I am thankful I get to test my Berkey water filtration system in real life. We poured water from an outside barrel in it Saturday night and used that water to make our morning coffee. And we are still alive.
I am thankful my handy husband was given a reason to thoroughly investigate the well system. It is a system he was unfamiliar with and now he knows how it is put together and can do some basic troubleshooting.
I am thankful for the chance to practice virtue. I seek to find joy in this while my husband digs deep for patience.
I am thankful my son had this opportunity to work with dad on a very real problem. He was helpful with trouble shooting the system and this will better prepare him when he has his own home.
I am thankful for the existing water catchment in place around the homestead. I was able to walk out my back door, dip a pan in a barrel, and heat it up to wash dishes.
I am thankful for YouTube and a bottle of wine. This made our Saturday evening almost romantic. We learned about wells and for a short time cared just a little less – thanks to the wine. YouTube has everything and RC Worst has a great channel on how to trouble shoot your well.
I am thankful Costco is not too far away and is open Sundays so I can buy more bottled water and get the supplies we need to make it through the next few days.
I am thankfulwe don’t have to use the outhouse. Our homestead has the original outhouse (a double seater I’ll have you know) still standing a short walk from the back door. It worked for the last century it could still work for this one. But thankfully I don’t have to find out…yet.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
I am thankful for this homestead. This opportunity to work, to struggle, to do something real.
And eventually, I will be thankful for a well that works.
It was a fate-filled Thursday, at the end of August 2021 when, over the course of that day, we went from telling our parents “We are thinking about moving to Tennessee” to deciding “We need to get out of California as soon as possible.”
Sudden and dramatic. That’s kind of how it happens when the Spirit smacks you across the head and you get the wake-up you need to move from the comfortable to the uncomfortable.
California was home for us. And though we spent over 20 years moving with the military due to my husband’s service, we always found ourselves back in San Diego. Back home. This latest time, we were settled in the home I grew up in, at a church we loved, with homeschool friends that cannot be found anywhere else. This little treasure of a community has not been matched anywhere else in our many moves. It was and is hard to leave this behind.
But this was still in California and in the last eighteen months my state had led the way in lockdowns and mandates. Our governor had taken away all manner of freedoms under the guise of safety. Even our county supervisors were exerting power and influence that did not belong to them. Many families we knew had already made the choice to relocate to other states. But not us. We didn’t see a reason to leave. Until we did…
Thursday afternoon while visiting with my parents, I let them know that we were thinking about moving to Tennessee at some point in the future, but we had no plans to sell our house. I just wanted to plant the seed, so that when we eventually made the move they would not be surprised. We lived about an hour away from my parents in California. My husbands folks were in Tennessee.
That same Thursday evening as my husband was talking to his parents in Tennesse, letting them know that we were looking into moving there in the future, I glanced at my social media feed. I saw a post that gave me a gut punch, took my breath away, and made my blood rise. Yes, it was that visceral. Our governor and state legislature were working on passing laws to further limit our freedoms. The conspiracy theory of vaccination passports was quickly becoming conspiracy fact. I showed my husband the news headline that got me fired up and within minutes we decided it was time to move. Right now.
Time to sell the house I grew up in. The house with no mortgage and unbelievably low property tax. Time to sell the house I said I would never sell. The home I had known since I was a year old.
That news headline provided the gut-punch I needed, the kick-in-the-pants to get us moving, but it wasn’t just that headline that sent us to a state with more freedoms and a life of more self-reliance. You see, our president also declared that all government contractors supporting the military would need to give up their medical freedom to stay employed. And that those employees who would not be coerced would soon find themselves unemployed. The deadline: December 8th. My husband’s steady paycheck may soon not be so steady.
It was time to get uncomfortable. Take a leap. Time to
Trust in God and His Providence.
It was time to trust. In a big way.
So, we tapped into a dream that I have had for many years: raising the healthiest food possible and living in tune with the land and the seasons. We decided now is the time. The time to find some land of our own, in a state that values freedom over supposed safety. Now is the time to leave the anonymity of the big city and connect with a smaller community. Time to raise our own food in the best way possible.
Friday morning, the next day, I called my realtor and began the process of putting our house on the market. The house I told myself I would never sell. The one that had been a part of my life for over 50 years.
The whirlwind began. Selling a home. Buying a homestead. Telling friends and family our plans. Explaining that we are seeking to
Do God’s Will
in all of this. That we believe this is God’s plan for us.
You see, God has a sense of humor. When I say “no” to something, God chuckles and says, “we’ll see.” When the Navy moved us from San Diego to Virginia in 2013, we said we would never come back to California. In 2017, we chose to move back to San Diego – and it was the right place at the right time. When, this past summer, I made a list of possible states for relocation, Tennessee was not on it. Tennessee was not on our list…until it was. A little voice inside told me to add it. And when we finally put it on the list of possible places to move, things began to snowball. My husband and I allowed our thoughts to move in that direction. We knocked on that door. Soon after, I got my gut-punch. And before we knew it, we were moving to Tennessee.
God has a way of opening doors. But we need to knock on the doors. We need to be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. And sometimes we need a punch in the gut.
And God said: Be light made. And light was made. (Genesis 1:3) Dixitque Deus: Fiat lux. Et facta est lux.
The story of how Fiat Farm came to be really demands the beverage of your choice, a few comfortable chairs, and time to share all its details and nuances. I will unwrap bits and pieces as time goes on, but for now let me tell you how our new homestead got its name.
How to start…
First you must know this jump from suburban life to rural homestead was sudden. Very sudden, but not completely surprising. It has been a dream in one way or another for my husband and myself, but we never had the courage to take such a bold leap. We felt we needed the security of his government job. A steady paycheck. Our world that was comfortable and familiar to us. But then his job, the paycheck and our world, became less secure, less steady, less familiar.
So we leapt. We took a chance. Trusting God, we sold our home in California and purchased a homestead in Tennessee. The adventure began.
More about me…
For the past 13 years I have homeschooled my three boys. This final year of homeschooling with my youngest son, now 17 and towering over me, I am teaching a worldview class with a small group of his buddies. In this course we study the six dominant worldviews with the goal of better understanding what is True. In a world where truth is subjective, seeking objective Truth becomes necessary. This is especially so for young men preparing to launch into adulthood. This class is as much a benefit to me as it is to the young men. It has given me clarity in these clouded times.
Where does Fiat Farm come in?
The origin of our homestead’s name came about while we were still in California. We were in escrow on the property in Tennessee, thinking of our future, but still fully present for my students. I was reading the worldview curriculum in preparation for our next class. The chapter we were studying defined the Christian worldview and the Biblical justification for our beliefs. In the book of Genesis, we learn
our world was created by a loving God.
The world view curriculum goes on to explain
God created through fiat, a Latin word meaning “let it be.” What God wants, happens. What God says, goes. Even nothing became something when God told it to…Each step along the way God said, ‘Let there be…’ – and it was as he said. In verse 26, with human creation, the language changes abruptly. Instead of “Let there be,” the text says, “Let us make.” After creating humans and imbuing them with purpose, God says it is “very good.” In the Hebrew, the phrase is “meod tob.” It is almost impossible to exaggerate the resonant awesomeness this phrase is meant to convey. It literally means exceedingly, heartbreakingly, abundantly, richly, loudly, immeasurably good in a festive, generous, happy, intelligent, charming, splendid way. (UTT, Ch 2, p.31)
In a festive, generous, happy, intelligent, charming, splendid way
That resonated deeply. I decided then that our new home would be Fiat Farm. A place where we seek to work with God’s creation. A small corner of the world that we steward in the hopes of creating something that is very good. Meod tob.
So I proclaim:
a faithful, regenerative homestead. And I pray that it is very good. Meod tob.