The Farm Report: Back To Work At Last

      31 Comments on The Farm Report: Back To Work At Last

Man, it’s good to be alive and working outside on a spring day in Tennessee.

That’s what I was thinking on Saturday afternoon. After the surgery, then weeks of having my arm pinned to my side in a sling, then months of recovery and physical therapy, I finally got to do some actual work on the land. The time and effort required didn’t quite take me to the mental and physical state I call Dog-Tired Satisfied, but it was close – close enough that I felt justified in downing a cold Guinness afterwards while sitting outside and taking in the view.

We’ve been planning for years to surround the back of the property with cattle panels (Chareva’s favorite construction material) so the dogs can run around back there. I even got as far as hacking the jungle away from a line of t-posts that run alongside the creek.

But as Nature has demonstrated several times, jungles grow back. There are t-posts hiding in that mess you see in the pictures below.

We’ve had rain most weekends this spring, but Saturday was sunny and right around 60 degrees. Perfect outdoor-work weather. So I fired up The Beast for first time since last autumn.

Cutting down the jungle in that patch of land requires a lot of switching from forward to reverse. There are some steep drop-offs along the creek, and given that The Beast weighs a ton, going forward just a wee bit too far could mean hiring a small gang of strong men to lift it up and out of there. The jungle is so thick in some spots along the creek, it’s impossible to see where the land stops and the little cliffs begin. So I put The Beast at its lowest speed and moved forward verrry slowwwly.

Success. After about two hours, I’d cleared enough of the jungle to expose the line of t-posts. The next step will be to do some additional clean-up using my weed-whacker with a sawblade attachment.

Of course, while I was recovering from surgery, Chareva still had plenty of farm chores to keep her occupied. As you may recall, we built a new chicken yard last August to move the surviving chickens away from a racoon who had (as I discovered far too late) taken up residence somewhere beneath their coop. When we first moved them, their new yard looked like this:

All nice and green. Now it looks like this:

That’s what chickens do. But as we’ve discovered, that pecked-bare land is exceptionally fertile because of all the chicken droppings. So Chareva moved the chickens to one of the old chicken yards, and this one will become a garden. She just planted some blueberry bushes in there.

She’s also been busy building raised beds in her existing garden area. You probably can’t see it in the picture below, but she took the extra netting from the newest chicken yard and extended it over the garden. The net doesn’t quite reach the fence on one side, but we’ll worry about that if and when we ever rotate chickens to this area.

My last bit of farm work before the surgery was inside Sara’s cabin. I spent an October weekend cutting away bits of wood that extended beyond the 2 x 4s in the ceiling. (Too bad I was doing the work with a bone spur in my shoulder. That probably contributed to shredding the bicep tendon.)

I’ve been lobbying to get the cabin finished because I’d like Sara to enjoy it for a few years before she leaves for college. After talking over the possibilities with Chareva, Sara decided she’d be happy to call the ceiling finished (for now, at least) if they used fabric instead of wood planks. She and Chareva took care of that job recently.

That just leaves the floor. Chareva scored some free flooring from a contractor who had salvaged it from his last job. After putting down a plastic vapor barrier, she and Sara began installing the flooring a couple of weeks ago. They’ll need another day or two to finish it. Then it will finally be time to drag some furniture into the place and call it done.

Did I say Sara leaves for college in a few years? Yeah, I’m as surprised as you are. One more month, and her first year of high school will already be over. Come November (when I’ll turn 60), she’ll be able to get a learner’s permit. As a father, that scares me a bit.

I don’t want driver’s ed class to be the first time she’s behind the wheel of a car. I own a good-sized chunk of land. I put two and two together and realized we have an opportunity here: she can drive around the front pastures just to get used to the feel of the gas pedal, brake, steering wheel.  There’s almost nothing out there to hit.

You can imagine what happens when you mention the possibility of driving to a 14-year-old. All other desires take a back seat. I can drive? When? WHEN?!

I told her we’d have to wait until the front pastures are completely dry — meaning several days with no rain — because I don’t want to slide around or get stuck out there. She tracked the weather like a meteorologist, counting the consecutive days with no rain. It’s been a wet spring, so she kept having to restart the clock.

But a couple of weeks ago, Friday afternoon rolled around after a five-day dry stretch. Before Sara arrived home from school, I made a 25-cent bet with Alana: how long after Sara walks through the door will she ask me to take her driving in the front pastures? Alana placed her bet on five minutes. I said two minutes.

The correct answer was 30 seconds. And so, 25 cents richer, I made good on my promise.

Man, it’s good to be alive and driving around the pastures on a spring day in Tennessee …

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31 thoughts on “The Farm Report: Back To Work At Last

  1. Georgene

    In 1964, Texas was willing to (and did) give full, unrestricted driver licenses to 14-year-olds as long as they took driver’s ed. So there were 14-year-old drivers in Dallas, Houston, and everything in between…and though the cities weren’t as big as they are now, they were BIG.

    I have no idea what the State was thinking, and they did eventually change the age to 16, but by then I’d already been driving 2 years. When I tell people I got my first (and only) ticket at the age of 14, most of them think I am lying.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Probably a good thing Illinois didn’t have that law, since my first drinking experience was at 14. It didn’t end well, by the way.

      Reply
        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          Imagine my distress when I crawled home at sunrise (yes, that bad) and then saw the stack of newspapers I was supposed to deliver on my bicycle. Thank goodness The Older Brother took pity on me and drove me around the delivery route.

          Reply
          1. The Older Brother

            If by “pity,” you mean getting up to about twenty MPH and then repeatedly tapping the brakes so the old Dodge Dart would buck back and forth until you almost retched (rinse, lather, repeat), then yeah, I was totally simpatico.

            Good times.

            Cheers!

            Reply
            1. Tom Naughton Post author

              Yeah, I remember that part too. But it still beat trying to ride a bicycle with a severe hangover.

              Reply
    2. Dianne

      I believe you. My aunt, who has lived nearly all of her 101 years here in Texas, said that way back when she was young Texas would give a woman a driver’s license simply on the basis of her husband’s word if he said it was OK for her to have one. I don’t know what would have happened if she’d wanted a license and could drive but her husband said no. I do know that this same aunt got her driver’s license renewed at the age of 97 because somebody forgot to check her eyesight. She has macular degeneration! One of her nieces, I’m not saying which one, ratted to her doctor and he took care of the matter.

      Reply
      1. Georgene

        Dianne, what would have happened if her husband said “no,” was: she would not get her license. Listen, they didn’t kid around in those days, and also, if her husband didn’t want her to have the ability to touch their money, or open a business, or do about a million other things (we’re talking TEXAS here), then she simply didn’t get to do it.

        Reply
        1. Dianne

          No wonder the elderly Texas women I’ve met since moving here are so tough. They’ve HAD to be. And here I thought it was all those years of living in Texas before the advent of home air conditioning.

          Reply
    3. Bob Niland

      In the US, teens can get student pilot licenses (and solo) at 14 (glider) or 16 (power), and full licenses at 16 or 17, depending on rating. It is not uncommon for a teen to be carrying passengers as pilot in command before they are old enough to drive in many states. It’s an interesting skill set, and responsibility mindset, to acquire.

      Useful home sims are now available. Starting air work with glider (for at least the first 10 hours) is great, because it makes for a very low-noise learning environment focused on basic airmanship, and immunizes the aviator to engine-out phobia.

      Soaring conditions in the Appalachians tend to be pretty lifty.

      Reply
        1. Bob Niland

          I haven’t compared accident rates in teenage pilots to teenage drivers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the aviation rate is quite a bit lower.

          If career choices are being bandied about, commercial pilot needs to be contemplated, even if dismissed. There’s presently a pilot shortage, which is apt to remain a problem for some years to come (but it may have more to do with airline economics than the number people keen on pointing airplanes).

          Reply
          1. Tom Naughton Post author

            I know people are far more likely to be killed in a car than in an airplane. It’s just that there are very few fender-benders in planes, which isn’t a comforting thought for a father.

            Reply
  2. Desmond

    I think I was 14 when I drove first… private rural dirt road. No parents, no permit, just a friend and his old VW bug. I don’t think I got above 10 MPH.

    My oldest son recently got his learner’s permit, and I got white knuckles. I then bought a “Student Driver” magnetic sticker for the back of the car.

    Reply
  3. Kathy in OK

    In the early ’60s my dad took me to the parking lot of the Texas State Fair grounds in Dallas. This thing was HUGE. I ended up going in tight circles in reverse – and was terrified to the point that I couldn’t move my foot to the brake to stop. Hilarious now – not so much then. I learned respect for a powerful machine and have not lost control of a car since. I am aware though, that this is one of those times it’s better to be lucky than good. 😉

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      That’s exactly why I’ve been taking Sara driving in the pastures. When you’re a new driver, the reactions aren’t automatic yet and you can forget how to stop. The Older Brother took me driving in a mall parking lot when I was 15, and I managed to drive off the concrete and into mud because I froze and couldn’t find the brake.

      Sara already had one of those moments. She made a turn and picked up speed going downhill. I said “Slow down, Sara.” It took her a couple of seconds to respond. Then she said, “Sorry, Dad, I had to think about it before I remembered to use the brake.”

      I want braking to be an automatic response long before she’s in driver’s ed.

      Reply
      1. Kathy in OK

        And it will be, but only with practice. When you can say “stop” and it happens without her thinking, she’s ready to face the world. And not before, please! 🙂

        I don’t know if it’s something like muscle memory or learning to play the piano, but the signal to stop has to bypass the brain and be instinct. I guess pretty much all driving is like that.

        Reply
        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          Yeah, I think it’s muscle memory. As I told Sara, when you walk, you don’t think “raise the thigh, rotate foot up, lean forward, lower thigh, touch heel to ground, rotate foot to meet ground.” You just walk. Given enough time, driving is like walking. When you need to hit the brakes to avoid an accident, you sure don’t have time to think through the process.

          Reply
  4. Don in Arkansas

    I got my license when I was 14 as well. All of my girls got their driver’s licenses through Driver’s Ed before they were 16. It’s scary at first for a dad, but it sure pays off in no longer having to chauffeur them all the time and sending them on errands. I’ve been able to work on our place and put in a garden for the first time in a few years. Had my hip replaced and I’m good to go. Running a tiller is like therapy. It’s just me and the dirt. Plus, I get peppers. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I’m sure I’ll get used to the idea. Sara’s a pretty level-headed kid, so I expect she’ll be a cautious driver.

      Reply
  5. Jeanne

    My first day of driver’s ed we ended up in a ditch. (I wasn’t driving). We were stuck there, with a Student Driver sign on top of the car while people drove around us, laughing.
    I love reading about your farm activities.

    Reply
  6. Elenor

    What a delight to read your farm reports — and I’m with you: she HOW OLD?!?! I vaguely,dimly recall back when you began your blog (I think you were still in LA — or posted a picture of walking in LA because I recgonized the grocery store behind where you were walking… (Near my mom’s).

    It’s such an uplift (is that even a word?) to read about your farming operations and Chareva fencing and moving and chickens and all (the girls chasing piglets!)… what a lovely choice you made for your family!

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yeah, time flies. Chareva remarked recently that come this summer, it will be seven years since we bought the farm. WHAT?! No, no, no, it’s only been a few years …

      Reply
  7. chris c

    The Beast looks very impressive. Do you do house calls?

    Neither of my parents ever took driving tests, though there was an age restriction at the time. When I was young they used to let me loose (well not very loose) on some disused World War 2 airfields and country car parks, but they were subsequently closed to learner drivers, so by the time I was old enough to get a provisional licence and take lessons I was fairly well grounded in car control.

    When I took my truck driver’s licence I again started on a disused airfield, which the driving school actually rented. Apart from the drills like going up and down through all the gears and reversing into boxes, we were encouraged to drive a slalom course, going faster and faster until we lost it, just to see what it was like, after which the instructor would demonstrate how to regain control. Probably you would not want to tell Sara that part.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yikes. I’ll skip the part about intentionally trying to lose control during Sara’s lessons.

      The Beast is impressive. It chews up and spits out jungle stuff, including vines as thick as my wrist. The only weakness in the system is the belt that turns the blades. When I hit something too big for chewing up, the belt snaps. Fortunately, it’s easy to replace.

      Reply

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