Monthly Archives: May 2012

Jack and Kathryn

When Samantha and I were young, young in love, younger in body, we moved to Athens, Georgia.  This was in 1994.  I was a senior in college with no sense of direction or purpose.  The only thing in my life that I was certain of at that point was Samantha.

One afternoon Samantha, myself, our good friend, Jeff, and my friend and roommate, Jason, were sitting in our living room.  Jason was planning on moving to Athens to pursue photography at UGA.

“You guys wanna come with me?”

With less than a minute’s deliberation Jeff said, “Okay” and Samantha followed with, “Sure.”

For me, what followed was ninety seconds of pure panic.  I was two quarters away from graduation, pursuing a path I did not love, but doing what I was “supposed to do.”  My brain roiled over my choices.  I could stick with my safe path, stay in Birmingham and finish school, that would mean saying goodbye to Samantha, possibly for just six or eight months–possibly forever.  That was a risk I wasn’t willing to take.  And so, for what may have been the first time in my life, I made a choice that reflected what I wanted to do, rather than what I was expected to do.

I still had to finish the quarter I was in, but over the next few weeks Jason and I closed out our lease on the apartment, we rented a large moving truck and in one weekend moved two apartments and Jeff, who was living at home at the time, to Athens.

Athens, Georgia is a college town.  As such, real estate there is at quite a premium.  It was not easy to find a place where all four of us could live together in town, but by expanding our search we found a place in Crawford, fifteen miles out of Athens.  Crawford is a small rural town nestled in Oglethorpe County, one of the most rural counties in all of Georgia.

It had one stoplight and downtown Crawford consisted of three blocks–a car dealership, City Hall, a bank and the post office.  We rented a large house for a very cheap sum from Clyde and George Maxwell, an elderly couple who lived next door.  I know these names imply a gay couple, however Clyde is the first–and only–woman, I’ve ever met to bear that name.

Crawford in the 90’s was an extremely old and conservative place.  The cemetery behind our house bore stones that dated back to the 1890’s with the names of families still in Crawford.

Besides the Maxwells, we never met these people.  Samantha and I lived in this house for almost a year–the fifteen mile commute quickly proved too long for Jeff and Jason–and besides Clyde and George there was only one other couple we ever exchanged words with, Jack and Kathryn Doubrley.

Like ourselves, Jack and Kathryn clearly stood out in Crawford.  And as mutual anomalies we were quickly drawn to each other.  They lived at the top of our street in a two story, Victorian mansion.  They were my first introduction into the Emersonian ideal of self reliance and two of the coolest people we had ever met.

Jack was every bit the self made man.  He worked nearby as a diesel mechanic and every working aspect of his house bore his unique stamp–electricity was provided by solar panels he installed on the roof, heat from the wood stoves he had restored or installed–including the wood fired cook stove in their kitchen and the one that heated water for their shower.  Both Kathryn’s greenhouse and his shop were of his construction, often made from salvaged materials.  He brought a whole new understanding to what “off the grid” really means, water was the only resource he couldn’t provide himself and he grudgingly paid the city to provide.

In my mind’s eye he’s a giant pirate of a man, though in reality he stands several inches shorter than me–red hair pulled back in a man’s ponytail and a big bushy beard that spills onto his ample chest.  With his red hair and his aptitude for all things mechanical he was the epitome of the Roman god Vulcan, made whole.  It was Jack who first introduced me to working out, his upstairs gym filled one of the house’s spacious bedrooms–graciously donning a leopard printed Speedo instead of maintaining his usual habit of training nude.

Kathryn is every bit the yin to Jack’s yang.  A master gardener, her stamp on their estate was purely organic.  A modern day Demeter, she flowered her land with herbs and ornamentals.  Her greenhouse boasted a substantial tea tree and a fruit bearing avocado she had nurtured from seed.  Kathryn was a seamstress and a weaver and contributed to their household by making clothes for them both and costumes for a local theatre group.

Her greatest gift was in the garden.  Her knowledge and skill in all aspects of plant lore earned her the moniker of The Answer Lady and made her the go-to resource for many a gardener throughout Northeast Georgia.  Early on she introduced us to a salve made from comfrey, olive oil and beeswax.  This recipe Samantha has perpetuated over the years and introduced to the Alabama Waldorf School, where it is known and loved amongst the nursery School and beyond as Samantha’s “Magic Cream.”

We only stayed in Athens for two years.  By the end of that period Samantha was pregnant with Madeline and it seemed more prudent to move back to Birmingham.  Here we could be closer to our families and I could finish college.  Again back on the path of what we should do rather than what we wanted.  Understandable, of course–we were so young and scared, risk and chance were to be avoided at all costs.

We kept in touch with Jack and Kathryn for a few years after we left, once going to spend a weekend with them and once having them come and visit us, but years and distance divided us.  Jack eventually took a job running the maintenance department at the University and we became engrossed in our growing family and all the lessons and challenges to found there.

Even though we haven’t seen each other or spoken in years, Jack and Kathryn stay with us.  Emerson’s Acre would not exist without their influence and scores of school children have had their boo-boos healed with the help of Kathryn’s comfrey salve.



Filed under organic gardening, organic produce, self reliance, sustainability, urban farming, urban gardening

Always Listen to Your Granny

I have taken Granny’s advice.  In the evening, when I get home, after I’ve kissed Samantha and the girls, I take a few minutes and spend them out back with Honey and Harriet.

In this case Granny is not my grandmother.  She’s the pen (er, keyboard?)behind All Seasons Homestead Helpers and one of my first supporters.  Granny has encouraged me through many a dry spell and prompted me to keep writing even why I didn’t think I had anything to write.

In an earlier post about the goats and the ridiculous games they put me through with necessary tasks like changing the batteries on their collars or trimming their hooves.  She gave me this advice,

Surprise them. Show up with treats (and no other agenda) and make 5 minutes of “quality time” (as you put it) every day for a while and see what happens. Not that I know anything about goats, but I think I grasp a bit about “connecting” with critters. I can see you next time you have a beer after work, just standing with the goats while they nibble on the carrots you just brought, telling them about your day in a friendly voice. They’ll say, “Bhaaaa, now you’re talking!” :-)

Clearly, she’s a wise woman.  So I take with me a cup of dry corn and a cup of sweet feed in an old coffee can.  I walk over to one of the stumps I left and sit down.  There I shake the coffee can, one of two my uncle sent with me from the farm.

“You know you’ll need these.  You can’t have goats without a coffee can,”  he joked.

My grandfather comes from that school of older gentlemen who buys his coffee pre-ground in number 10 sized cans.  They populate the entire farm and there’s usually one in arms reach no matter where you are on the farm.  I’ve seen them used to collect eggs, distribute feed, hold nails, tools and just about anything else that might fit in them.

So here I sit, shaking my can, calling to the girls.

The first day, they ignored me for a good fifteen minutes.  Finally, Honey the three legged alpha, could stand it no more and came up to see what I was carrying on about.  Harriet would have nothing to do with me.  Once Honey realized I had food she warily ate from my hand.  Any shift of my foot or move to scratch a mosquito bite had her scampering out of reach.

Really, what did I do to deserve this treatment?

On the second day.  Harriet still had zero interest in Dave.  She could see Honey getting the “good stuff” but wasn’t about to be lulled into any sense of security.  Honey, however, munched contentedly out of my hand, becoming more bold with each bite.  At one point she tried to thrust her head into the can having decided that my manual distribution was much too slow.

Yesterday, Harriet gave in.  She could stand no more to watch Honey take full advantage of yet another day of afternoon treats.  She came up, within my reach and nibbled corn and sweet feed out of my hand.  Honey became down right comfortable.  She and Harriet would both eat from my hand at the same time, but Honey would position herself for premium access even to the point of invading my personal space.

I still don’t know what this says of their intelligence.  I expect Granny would want me to be kind, to see their greater natures and to realize they’ve been playing me all along.  My own ego just might point out that they’re just mobile stomachs with advanced pain and discomfort detectors.  I suspect Granny is more right.


Filed under goats, self reliance, sustainability