By Kim Carr:
As a child, I set my eye on becoming a farmer at the age of ten. However, in the grand scheme of things, my big objective was to be a hermit, with plans to ride my mule into town once a month or so for supplies. I would farm, cut firewood, live off the land, raise animals, and enjoy the great outdoors; these were my life goals. When a teacher told me to re-write my paper for career day (apparently being a hermit is not an acceptable job choice), I did so under duress. Her disapproval of my career choice only fed into my desire to be a hermit and to live a life of isolation. Looking back now, I can clearly see a pattern of doing things I am told I cannot. I like to decide for myself what I can and cannot do—what I can accomplish in life and what I should pass on. I embrace the quiet life, the isolation that living on a farm provides.
As a young adult, I always wore my seatbelt when driving or riding as a passenger. It just seemed like the smart thing to do. Then in 1985, at the age of twenty-two, it became law. You were required to wear a seatbelt when riding in the front seat of a vehicle. I am not sure if it is the Leo in me or what, but I had a strong desire to stop wearing my seatbelt—and not just for a day or two; I felt that way for a long time. Luckily, common sense ruled the day, and I did not let my stubbornness rule me. Now, over thirty years later, I find myself in a summer of isolation in which we are being told to stay at home to save lives. A younger me might have resented this, but an older and wiser me finds this something I can really get on board with. Stay at home, stay away from crowds, stay well, reconnect with Mother Nature, embrace the simpler things in life, plant a garden, grow your own food; these are things I can get excited about. This is my childhood dream come true. While I know some are going stir crazy, I am relishing the simple life, the slower life.
Undoubtedly, this whole isolation thing has made a huge impact on everyone. I make my living by going out into crowds, hanging around tons of people every weekend as I share my artwork with potential buyers and collectors. Covid has all but shut down the art-fair industry where independent artists strive to make a living. Now as we are told to stay home and our customers are told the same, I find myself in the same boat as everyone else trying to adjust to a new way of life. I consider myself at an advantage because isolating at home on my farm has been a lifelong dream. I still needed to adjust like everyone else, but I have space, I have land to roam, sunshine, fresh air, and lots of animals to keep me busy. Having never been bored a day in my life, it is easy to find ways to spend my days. While I work every day to adjust my ways for how I make a living, it has also provided me opportunity to take on extra chores on the farm. I can do chores and tasks that have been neglected or put aside due to lack of time, not being home, and having other things that took priority.
My summer of isolation has allowed me to take time to greet my sweet sheep, Poppy, every day. Almost every day, she is waiting for me outside the gate. Now I have the time to stop and scratch her chin while saying, “Good Morning, Poppy.” She closes her eyes and stretches her neck, loving the attention. Sometimes I have an extra doggie biscuit in my pocket that I sneak to Poppy when the dogs are not watching. I find myself taking time to look at the sky more frequently. I allow myself time to watch clouds roll by. I have seen more sunrises, sunsets, full moons, rising of the moon, and night skies full of stars. My field may look a little crazy because I took time to mow around clumps of wildflowers since they've brought lots of joy this summer.
The extra time at home has allowed me to really slow down my chores. It is fun to watch the ducks, chickens, guineas, geese, and dogs interact with one another. Even though everyone is cage free and can roam wherever they like, there are groups of chickens that hang together, and they do not cross over into another group’s territory. There are definite barnyard rules by which all chickens must follow. Hen pecked and ruler of the roost have true merit here on the farm, and it is easy to see how they transitioned into the everyday life of humans.
On the farm, it is inevitable that there will be loss. This will always be one of the hardest things about having a farm and lots of animals; nothing lives forever. I try not to dwell on the sadness, but instead celebrate the beauty of that life. In the graveyard, I have planted a crabapple tree, lilies, and live forevers or sedum. Maybe it is my imagination, but each seemed to show off their beauty in stellar fashion this year. Spring started with the blooming of the crabapple tree, which transitioned into the blooming of the lilies, which seemed to last much longer this year, or perhaps I just spent that much more time staring at the orange and yellow blooms waving back and forth in the summer breeze. Now that autumn has gently moved in with its the shorter days, cooler weather, and changing of the leaves, I take notice of the live forevers blooming in full glory with hints of goldenrod that have grown up because I failed to weed. I must admit, I love the mix of cultivated and uncultivated sea of color in my little graveyard. It brings a smile as I watch bees, wasps, and other small insects feeding as they store energy for the approaching winter.
This year has also brought me a wonderful crop of calves. I think this is the first year I have had all black calves. They are spread out in age from February to June. It is fun to watch them play, chase each other, and graze alongside the other cows. With the help of social media, they were all named by friends and family. I snapped the picture above of some of the calves as I was getting ready to plant a couple shade trees in the pasture. Can’t wait to see how the trees have grown five years from now, ten years, twenty years. I sure do hope my great nephew will bring his kids and grandkids here to climb the trees as cows or other livestock graze below. My calves this year are Alice, Alamo Annie, Macaroni, Kilo, and Jamocha. They exhibit a sea of personalities. Each is a personality all their own, which has brought me much happiness and joy during my summer of isolation.
Another bonus to my extra time at home is that I have been able to enjoy the fruits of my labor. Thirty-two years ago, when I first bought my farm, it was cropland. The previous owner rented the land to a local farmer. The farmer disced the fields every year and rotated between soybeans and corn. The soil had not been properly cared for and was depleted of some nutrients. My plans were to someday have livestock. Since the land was being retired, so to speak, from crop production, I was eligible to apply for the Conservation Reserve Program. This allowed me to purchase native Missouri grasses such as Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Indiangrass, and Side Oats Gamma to plant my fields back to pasture and open fields. These grasses are what the buffalo grazed on as they roamed the prairies of Missouri. They thrive during our hot summers and make excellent forage for livestock as well as habitat for wildlife such as quail and rabbits. The warm season grasses are slowly repairing my soil as well as preventing soil runoff, as it acts as a shield and lets the rain gently roll from the grass to the ground where it can soak in and not cause damage. I love how the thick grass bunches and has long flowering stalks that billow in the wind. I have a lot of pride in knowing that I helped to reclaim part of my land back to native grasses of days gone by. It is incredibly rewarding to see something you planted grow and thrive. This summer of isolation has allowed me to slow down and, literally, watch the grass grow.
This summer has proved no different from any other in that I find myself raising a baby duck and chick in need. Every year it seems that one of my momma ducks will sit on a chicken egg or two. This is all fine and dandy until it comes time for the momma duck to take her babies to the pond for a swim. This generally results in me taking the baby chick(s) and raising them up until they can make it out on their own with my other chickens. One year I did have a momma duck that hatched a baby chicken. She took her brood to the pond, but when the baby chicken wouldn’t go in the water after several attempts to get it to swim, the mom turned her brood around and marched them up to the yard, where she stayed and raised them up until they were old enough to go out on their own. She was an EXCEPTIONAL duck and mother. This year, I had another duck hatch out a baby chick. The other eggs were not going to hatch for some time because the incubation time for a chicken egg is twenty-one days, but for a Muscovy duck, it is twenty-eight to thirty-two days. Things were not looking good for the chick with the location of the nest, therefore I decided it best to rescue the chick and raise it in the house. As luck would have it, that very same day another momma duck had a baby duck hatch in her nest. Problem was that nest was high up in the fork of an old maple tree. I guess this little duck hatched before its siblings and had grown bored of waiting in the tree, or it just got excited walking around and fell out. Since the mom did not appear to be ready to abandon her nest just yet, I made the decision to pair the baby duck, Buttercup, with the baby chick, Dandelion. This provided each with much-appreciated companionship. The two have become fast friends and are a riot to watch.
In Missouri, we say that if you do not like the weather, wait five minutes (and it will change). Mother Nature has taken a mighty blow to other parts of our nation with out-of-control wildfires, historical flooding, and hurricanes one after another; but, surprisingly, here in my neck of the woods, we have had a rather pleasant summer. It almost seems odd. I feel the need to knock on some wood right about now. We had a decent spring, with blooming trees, grass so green it hurt your eyes, adequate rain . . . no hay shortage this year, and spring smoothly slid into summer, ushering in a flood of wildflower blooms that lasted longer than I can ever remember. Sure it got hot, but it did not last day after day after day. I cannot remember it ever getting into the hundreds like it has in years past.
The heat was not overwhelming like it has been before, or perhaps I was just able to adjust my time outdoors to better fit the cooler parts of the day. I am not sure how or why it all seemed to go pretty much like I would hope. And, just like clockwork, autumn has ushered her way in like an old friend. The cooler days have me worn out as I keep finding more and more jobs to do outside: cleaning out chicken houses, organizing the shed, planting several fruit and shade trees as well as a couple containers of lettuce and spinach. It is just so pleasant to be outside right now; I'm loving it.
It is amazing to watch the changes taking place around me. As the summer of isolation transitions into the fall of isolation, I find that I have gained a greater appreciation for the little things. It seems like overnight the neighbor’s soybeans have changed from a deep green to a rusty golden color. A chill hangs in the morning air, and I can see the puffs of breath coming from the cows nostrils as they move across the field looking for the choicest grass to munch as a low fog hangs over the field. With a little extra time on my hands, I was able to provide extra care to my pastures, which has been very satisfying. I hope everyone has a goal, a project, anything (no matter how big or little) that gives you a sense of accomplishment when you can check it off your list. It helped having rain on a regular basis this year. We had some muddy spells, but overall, the rain here has not caused the problems like it has elsewhere. It has kept the grass growing, which made for a wonderful grazing season. The later in the year that I need to start feeding hay to my cows, the better. Hay can get expensive. It is far more work and time-consuming for me than doing chores, and it is harder on the ground with the cows feeding in a concentrated area as opposed to grazing the entire field. Fingers crossed the grass will remain green for a few more weeks as we all take note of how wonderful the sun feels on a cool day. Take the best of each day and embrace it.
Kim Carr is a photographer and mid-Missouri hobby farmer who has combined her love for the country life with that of natural-light photography. Her work reflects my commitment to sustainable agriculture and the humane treatment of all animals. To learn more about Kim, read her interview with Elizabeth Gracen here.
To purchase Kim's photography, visit her website.