We made it to barnbungalow! We finally live on our very own land. It’s a big, huge deal.
It means not having to pack up and leave as the sun sets.
It means casual sunrise nature walks…
…and afternoon bushwhacks with fresh coffee, looking for clues in the woods that match up with the stories the neighbors tell us about this acreage.
It means that, in the middle of hot, buggy days, we can throw down the tools and go inside to cool off, or even hop in the inflatable hot tub we bought for Clover’s hydrotherapy (highly recommend this thing: $300 on Amazon).
It means looking out the living room window to see wild turkeys taking dust baths…
…or leading their gobblets (which are really called poults) to the big mulberry tree for berries.
During the month that the biggest mulberry tree in the field, “Grandma,” had ripe berries, I sometimes schlepped a ladder to pick berries in the brief breaks between turkey visits. It doesn’t take long to develop a craving for mulberries.
It’s absurd that I’ve probably stepped over the squished, red messes of these berries on city sidewalks for most of my life without realizing how fantastic they are.
Life here is full of epiphanies like that. We’ve had the land over 2 years, and I’m ashamed to say we didn’t even know this tree made berries in May and June, or that we could eat them. Living here – not just owning acreage but waking up here, walking the woods, and sitting on the porch late at night – has offered mind-blowing revelations about the world around us.
We also didn’t know anything about our turkeys, like how they rarely fight with each other, but they do run in cliques. The turkeys know about Grandma. They’ve probably made pilgrimages to this tree for dozens of turkey generations.
I’d read that turkeys like the overripe mulberries on the ground, so I thought I’d be the only one plucking berries off the branches. A hen proved that wrong by flapping into the adjacent oak to reach the berries that hadn’t fallen yet.
Who knew? At 10-25 lb, turkeys don’t take leaving the ground lightly, pun intended. She wasn’t the only turkey to put herself out for berries on the branches.
They say you hardly ever see a hen fan, which she was doing here for balance.
So Much to Do, All in Good Time
What’s next out here? We’ll get back to work on building the dome soon, and there’s still a hefty list of projects around the barn. However, our first order of business was a month of forced rest. No building projects!
At the end of the work day or week, now that there wasn’t a mad rush to move in, we had another mission: to remind ourselves why we’ve been working so hard to be here.
This included bagging new mileage of the “Smokies 900” (the nickname for hiking all the trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park)…
…and travel, family visits, and plenty of niksen, the art of doing nothing.
The best niksen here, hands down, is on the porch: drinking coffee with our moms, who both came to stay at the barn this summer; watching a family of ruby-throated hummingbirds battle; and listening to tree ponies (screech owls) whinny at dusk.
Natural beauty is the best backdrop for la dolce far niente, even if while we’re relaxing, we’re looking out at an orchard that needs planting, kudzu that needs cutting back, a geodesic dome home that needs building…everything in its time. This is a marathon, not a sprint. After all, 2 years ago, the field we’re sitting in looked like this.
I keep the kudzu picture on my desktop as a reminder of how far we’ve come. It’s easy to forget now that the field looks like this.
With so much to do before we have a finished dome home, it’s also easy to feel overwhelmed if we let ourselves. Unfinished business used to make me miserable, but to survive the liminal chasm of homesteading, where there’s always so much more to do, I’ve had to let that attitude go.
First, letting go meant drawing boundaries around the churning belly stress of being forced to make constant choices: choices that are often confusing but major and occasionally irrevocable. Then, it was about appreciating the opportunity to make these choices.
After all, we’re literally living the dream. It would be unforgivable to look back on building the domestead and only find memories of panic and frustration.
“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”
– Albert Schweitzer
The change in mindset is a work in progress, but we’ve both mastered it enough that we really did allow ourselves a full month off from building.
Mow Rest for the Weary or “There’s Mow Time Like the Present”
For Chris, “time off” usually incorporates mowing.
He regularly mows the field around the barn, but we let the “long field” (our bigger field) grow wild until late spring. One reason is to let the grass seed, but tall grass forms hard stalks, so the first mowing of the season has to be by bushhog (a mower on steroids powered by a tractor).
As summer started, the grass seed turned brown, signaling it was ready to mow, but this year, a surprising amount of our heavy equipment has been out for repair for a surprising amount of time, including our bushhog. Then saplings started to pop up, the same kinds that Chris smote over the first year we had the land, along throngs of invasive brambles. Walking across the long field used to be brutal. When you weren’t being shredded by thorns, you were tripping over little trees. Now, it’s a rolling, walkable meadow, but nature reclaims lost ground quickly (another lesson learned). If we didn’t start mowing, we knew the long field would take several big, thorny steps backward.
Chris connected with a neighbor who does bushhogging for hire. As a bonus, this neighbor is part of the family who sold the land to us, and he shared more tidbits of this place’s history.
The evening before the bushhogging, I ran the drone over the field to make sure no birds were nesting in the grass. We did find an old turkey nest after the grass was cut, probably abandoned the previous month. Nesting birds are another reason we let it grow tall, along with the new and more abundant wildflowers that have been appearing each spring.
After the bushhogging, Chris ran over the stalks with the lawnmower that isn’t in the shop to make sure the grass seed spread successfully.
Flowers and Forest Snacks
My free time usually involves exploring and observing. Thanks to a newfound obsession with looking at things on the ground, I saw right after it sprouted that, against all odds, a rogue passionflower vine had rooted next to the barn.
For the past couple years, Passiflora incarnata vines grew only in one, tiny, precarious spot on our acreage. The area had to be excavated this winter to mitigate the effects of historic rains, meaning no more passionflowers. I’d saved seeds and hoped we could bring them back somewhere, but seeds aren’t a sure thing, so it was a thrill when they popped up by themselves.
I set a flag by the sprouts so Chris knew not to mow over them. In a month, dazzling flowers were blooming. Notice how the bee helps.
Speaking of flowers, I finally buckled down to catalog the wildflowers on our acreage. We’re up to 134 species, including 6 native orchids!
I also started researching the enchanting concept of creating an edible forest.
We have so many edible things growing already that we look forward to mapping out a tasty landscape here at Freestone.
Now that we live here, in the fall, we’ll add more fruit trees and prepare for chickens and goats and bees. In the meantime, we’ll keep pushing to build the dome at whatever pace it takes on.
Now that you’ve seen the surroundings, come tour the barn.