Take A Hike

As far as I can tell, it would be easy to spend months at a time on a farm and never feel the need to leave. There’s always something to build, repair, or maintain, not including daily care of the livestock. And this time of year is especially busy with the animals. The pastures aren’t growing to their full potential yet so fresh hay needs to be fed daily. New lambs are being born left and right so you never want to be too far away in case a delivering mom needs assistance.  Some of the newborn lambs are rejected by their mothers and need bottle feeding throughout the day. Also, as the amount of daylight increases so do the amount of eggs laid by the chickens and ducks. Only a few choose to lay in the nest boxes I built for them in the barn, the rest hide their eggs wherever they want in the upper pasture. Every day is like an Easter egg hunt.  It’s all satisfying work but as some around here will tell you, “All work and no play is not good for the soul,”  so it’s important to occasionally leave the farm for a favorite diversion: hiking in the woods.

Living next to a National Forest is convenient in that you can be on vacation-worthy trails in fifteen minutes flat. Choose a trail and start to unwind.

 

At the top of the first hill the trail crosses a clear mountain stream.  But forget the trail, walking up the stream looks far more adventurous.

 

It may be early Spring but the crayfish are out in force and full of attitude.

 

I have no idea of their names, but plenty of wildflowers are blooming along the creek.

 

Half a mile upstream (and away from the trail) we discovered a cold-running spring surrounded by the stone foundation of an old spring house. Built directly over the water, spring houses not only kept drinking water free of leaves and dirt but also provided a cool environment to help preserve perishables such as meat and milk. Essentially, a natural refrigerator.

 

A quick search around the spring turns up artifacts from an old homestead…a few pieces from an old crock jug and an earthenware plate. Maybe they were once used to store food in the spring house?  And if there was a spring house, there must have been an actual home nearby…

 

Sure enough at the top of a hill above the stream is the house, or rather, what’s left of it.  Old foundations like this are an example of the hard work and pride that people in the Southern Appalachians put into building their homes. The hand-shaped stones still bear the tool marks from whoever shaped them, and the corners remain crisp and plumb.

 

Daffodils planted by the original homesteaders still make an appearance each spring. Unlike the wood of the old house and even the foundation stones which slowly disappear back into the earth, the flowers continue to spread and flourish. They’re a bit of soul left over from the people who lived here. It’s easy to imagine the homestead’s occupants sitting on their front steps (visible in the background) for a little relaxation as they admired their garden and the beauty of the surrounding mountains.

 

 

 

 

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Go Forth And Make Honey

 

Once you get used to eating your own honey there’s no going back. You might have few jars of equally flavorful honey from the farmers market or the beekeeper down the road, but you’ll almost always eat that last. It’s not that my honey tastes better than anything else out there. Besides the taste, you also have to consider what it takes to to get honey into your jar in the first place. Setting up a new hive, feeding the bees when necessary so they don’t starve or fly away, opening the hives to check their health, getting stung, watching them pollinate your garden or sitting in front of the hives to watch them work…you wind up tasting all of these things in your own honey.

And although there’s plenty of honey stashed away in various cabinets throughout the house, the sight of an empty jar on the table makes you realize that the stash won’t last forever. It’s time once again to check on the bees.

So far it’s been a warm spring and as usual, the first things in bloom are four large flowering cherry trees in the lower pasture; they should be crawling with bees by this point.

Every flower is getting some action as the bees dive in to take advantage of the early food source. When their legs get too heavy with pollen they fly back to the hive to drop it off, only to return for more.

It’s too early to tell if we’ll be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor later this summer (as long as they don’t fly away to a hollow tree somewhere) but for now it looks as if there will be more honey in my future.

 

 

 

 

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