For the last few months, I’ve been very occupied with several projects. Today, I’m going to tell you about one of them.
I do not discuss the details of my private relationships on this website and I’m not going to start now, so suffice it to say that 52 and I have parted ways. I love Stringtown Rising Farm in the sentimental crazy way that a sentimental crazy person like me can love a farm that is one of the most inhospitable, inaccessible, and unmanageable pieces of land on the planet. I love it anyway, and for my love of it, I stayed there longer than I was happy in my personal situation. I couldn’t bear to leave the farm, but eventually I recognized that I had a responsibility to love myself more than I loved the farm.
As an alternative to leaving, I considered taking over Stringtown Rising Farm–of which I only owned half–on my own. I made a series of lists of what I would have to buy, build, change, and hire done (regularly) in order to operate the farm alone were I to buy out the other half. The farm is awkwardly laid out due to the terrain, and in the winter, it is at times barely accessible to completely inaccessible, in or out. There is no mail delivery. No trash pickup. The school bus doesn’t come. The closest school bus stop is a mile away across the river, or two miles away over the dirt (or ice) road. In the winter, the river is often either too high or iced over. The road the other way is narrow, icy, steep, with sharp drop-offs and no guardrails. There are also numerous issues with the well and the water supply that are beyond my ability to personally maintain. There’s inadequate fencing, inadequate pasture—-how much hay do I want to haul and handle by myself because of the inadequate pasture? How would I replenish the hay and feed supply in the winter? How much would it cost to build more storage for winter? How would I get Morgan to the school bus in the winter? There are often stretches of two to three weeks at a time from January to March when I’m afraid to even move my vehicle and can only get myself or Morgan out with help. The remoteness of the location, due to its inaccessibility, is extreme in the snow and mud months. Would I have to send my daughter away to stay with my cousin for three months of the year? I had always had help, and now I would not. The lists got pretty long, and expensive. Stringtown Rising Farm is an adventure fueled by manpower. To stay alone, I would have to fuel it with a huge infusion of cash for improvements and hired help. And money can’t buy everything to make a farm like Stringtown Rising more manageable. Money can’t buy out winter.
In spite of it all, I was determined to stay at Stringtown Rising Farm because I loved it so much, but common sense reared its pragmatic head, saving me from myself. To remain at such a farm alone was a stupid idea, and possibly even dangerous for a woman on her own. Stringtown Rising Farm would have to be put up for sale. It was a painful decision, but there are moments in life when you have to do what you have to do. I had to leave, and so I faced the next question–what now? Was this a disastrous ending, or could it be the beginning of something wonderful?
I chose the beginning of something wonderful and I looked for a farm of my own that would provide everything I needed to be independent and safe.
My new farm is about 10 miles away from the old farm, still in Roane County, West Virginia, in an area once known as Clio. It’s a 100-acre farm on a hard road. Not only is it a hard road, there aren’t even any potholes. No potholes! There is mail delivery. Mail delivery! A mailbox right in front of the house! And the school bus comes—right in front of the house! The house is a charming vintage 1935 move in-ready farmhouse that has been restored and maintained, and it comes with free gas to keep me warm in the winter. There is a separate studio in the back for my commercial kitchen for classes and farm stays. Under the studio is a large stone cellar. There is a mature cherry tree and several mature apple trees in the yard. On the land are wild raspberries, blackberries, sassafras, ginseng, and morels, just for starters. There are creeks and springs and a pond—and a sunny flat place for a garden.
Much of the 100 acres is cleared (and flat!) and fenced with quality, sturdy fencing primed for animals to move right in. There are many different fields with connecting gates to allow for rotational grazing, including a 35-acre (fenced) upper meadow. There is a large field near the house perfect for goats, and it comes with a goat house. There is a faucet at the goat field for water—no carrying water or running hoses! There is a good well, and public water is also available.
THERE IS A BARN. The barn is a vintage but sturdy 1890 red barn with a number of stalls, tack room, and paddock. A couple of the stalls are set up as horse stalls in particular, and some of the fields are fenced specifically for horses. Former owners of the farm have had wild Mustangs and Percherons. There is a water faucet at the barn, and electric. There are lights in all the stalls and the alleyway. There is a large hayloft with a winch. This farm is made for animals. (There was once an equally old farmhouse, of which only the foundation stones remain. A “new” farmhouse was built in 1935, which is the current home on the property.)
As you can imagine, I’m just slightly in love with it all, swooning from the luxury of a mailbox and a vintage farmhouse and 100 acres and a big red barn with water and electric not to mention a hard road. I feel like I just fell off the turnip truck into a bed of roses. And speaking of roses, the previous owners loved roses and there are numerous rose bushes around the house.
One of the first few times I went out to the farm, I noticed there was a telephone pole with a light by the road. I was standing by one of the fields across the road (yes, the farm spans both sides of the road, and holds the view in every direction), talking to the owner. I said, “Is that a streetlight?”
He said, “Yes.”
Me: “Does it come ON?” I’m sure that I sounded as if I’d just landed from Mars, but there is no such as a streetlight anywhere near Stringtown Rising Farm.
He said, “Yes. It comes on automatically every night.” He must have noted my excitement because he added, “There’s a light at the barn that comes on automatically every night, too.”
On the farm at the time lived two men and the sister of one of the men. She lived in the studio. According to her brother, she was psychic. After I’d been out there a few times, he told me a story. This beautiful farm had been available for two years. During that time, they’d had many takers. Every time, the sister said, “They are not the one.” They had offers, and deals, and deals that fell through. And every time, the sister had said, “They are not the one.”
After the first time I visited the farm, the brother told his sister about me, and she said, “She is the one.”
This farm waited for me for two years so that it would be there when I needed it. It was the only farm I went to see, and as soon as I laid eyes on it, I knew I would move heaven and earth to make it mine. It looked like it had fallen off the pages of a children’s storybook. It was just such a wonderful place. Magical, really. So I moved heaven, then I moved earth, and one month later, I held the keys in my hand.
The day I showed the farm to Morgan, I picked her up from the bus after school and told her I was taking her somewhere for a surprise. She bugged me with “What is it? What is it?” for a few minutes then I asked her if she still wanted a horse. OF COURSE she still wants a horse. She has wanted a horse all her life and for many years she took riding lessons. She started complaining about how she couldn’t have a horse because we didn’t have enough pasture or fencing or a barn.
I said, “What kind of horse would you have if you could?”
She chattered about different breeds of horses and which were her favorites and why for a few minutes then I reminded her that we didn’t have enough pasture or fencing or a barn. She told me that I was mean to get her talking about a horse when she couldn’t have one.
I suggested that she could put Jack and Poky together and they’d add up to a horse!
Then I got her talking about what kind of horse she wanted again, and as soon as she got going good I reminded her that she couldn’t have a horse because we didn’t have enough pasture or fencing or a barn.
We arrived at the farm and I pulled over to the side of the road and said, “Look at that! This road is such a nice road, isn’t it? It doesn’t even have potholes! And look at that! Is that horse fencing? And look, there is a mailbox. And do you know what else they have here? A school bus. And isn’t that house cute?”
Then I told her to get out of the car and I walked her up the (short and not steep!) driveway. I said, “Look at that! That’s a nice barn, isn’t it?”
She said, “Yes. Why are we here? Why couldn’t you buy a farm like this one?”
I had her pretty irritated at this point. I think she wanted to smack me.
I said, “Look at that house again, Morgan. That is your new house.“
She stared at me and said, “What?”
I told her again. “That is your new house. This is your new farm. We are moving here.”
She flipped around and looked at the barn again then she screamed. And she kept screaming and then she was screaming and running–to the barn! Her shoes flew off her feet and she ended up at the barn door in her socks, and she shouted, “This is my barn!”
She looked inside every stall (after she put her shoes back on!). She ran upstairs to the hayloft then back down to the stalls, examining and inspecting every stall all over again, chattering away about what she would need to clean out the stalls and prepare for a horse. Then she ran out to the fields and up to the hay meadow and just everywhere, running and running and screaming.
She’s going to get a horse in the spring.
I apologize for giving you so much information all at once and after the fact. I wasn’t able to handle public commentary about it on my website while I was in the middle of a very personal upheaval. Thank you for understanding that I needed to emotionally process this transition privately. By the way, when I took time off following the CITR retreat, it wasn’t because of this but because of a couple of other projects. It was the middle of October before I came to my senses and accepted the inevitability of leaving Stringtown Rising, and believe me, this past month has been a whirlwind. Because I held out on you for the past month about such a big thing, I’m going to give you a twofer here and tell you that the other projects involve writing some books, one of which is a memoir, another of which is a cookbook. I’ll tell you more about them when I have more information to share. I had to stop working on them in order to start packing and moving boxes and cows and chickens to a new farm.
This has been a difficult time, but it is now a joyful time. As always, writing for you is the greatest pleasure and privilege of my life. I’m excited about the future. Come with me as I take on this new farm on my own. It’s all mine. I will never again have to choose between my happiness and my farm.
And in case you’re worrying, yes, BP and Clover and Coco and Annabelle and Poky and the whole gang are here with me, including the chickens. Stringtown will always be rising in my heart, but I must be a real farmer now since I found myself capable of such a practical decision to make myself an independent woman. This is my farm, and I am home…..and I am happy. I’ve been packing for weeks and moved this past weekend, starting with the animals and finishing with the furniture on Monday, with so many friends and family helping me–my cousin Mark and his wife Sheryl, old high school friends of Ross, Debbie (those of you who were at the CITR retreat remember Debbie our cook), Jerry, Pete, friends of Weston and Morgan, down to the little old man who brought his livestock trailer to move the animals and hay, and said, “I’ll be there Saturday if I’m still alive.” (He was.) I’m spending our first holiday here with Weston, Morgan, and Ross (!).
Also, I want to tell you that I had NO IDEA my “pink and blue” clouds photo would inspire such conjecture! And I also want to say that one of the hardest things for me to leave at Stringtown Rising was the set of murals by Kelly Walker. (Had NO thought of leaving Stringtown Rising at the time she painted them.) I talked to Kelly privately after I made the decision and asked her if I could commission her to recreate the murals at the new farm and she agreed. And another also–I only just now got my internet hooked up here or I would have posted a couple days ago.
Once I’m halfway unpacked, I promise I’ll be back to posting at my regular schedule. I have so much to show you. For now, you’ll find some photos in the gallery here, some taken by me in the past few weeks (the fall and progressing toward winter shots), and some provided to me by the previous owners (the summertime shots). You’ll even see a few photos that I have already sneakily shown you over the past several weeks. (You’ll also see in the photos that the animals are all at the barn right now–this is temporary while they settle in.)
Welcome to Sassafras Farm. Explanation of the name: One, the word is just fun to say and makes me feel happy. Second, there is sassafras on the hill. Third, I’m feeling sassy with a farm all my own! It’s a beautiful farm, and truly something wonderful.