December 28, 2007
Dear Friends and Family –
If 2006 was about loss and reflection, 2007 was very much a year of recovery, renewal, and re-energizing. While things started off quietly enough in January….
….February brought a couple of snow storms right in the middle of lambing, and the threat of a nasty blight on one of the most pristine and unspoilt landscapes on the east coast – and one that would go right next to my farm too!
I always find it less than easy to get up in the middle of the night and play midwife to my ewes during lambing season, but this year I seemed to find it incredibly taxing. I was tired all the time, and I was gaining weight no matter how little I ate. At the ODH Hunt Ball my date complained that even the oldest duffers there were more active on the dance floor than I was. “If I were interested in just sitting at the table all night, I would have brought my husband!” is what she said to me! If this what getting old was all about, well, it was worse than I had anticipated – or at least that’s what I whined to my trusty doctor when I went to see him. “Not to worry” said Dr. Greg, “you’ve just got a wonky thyroid gland.” Sure enough, with a few magic pills to jump start the ol’ gland, the pounds started melting away and I was able to get out of bed at 3 am to check on lambs, if not with a bounce, then, at least with less complaint than before. There’s no doubt that I’m still older, fatter and slower than I was before, but hey, isn’t everyone?
Lambing season kicked in to high gear in March, but this year my ewes were in top form. Not only did I have a record 92 lambs born, but it was the lowest number of assisted births I’ve ever had (heck, I coulda stayed in bed most nights). I got an unusual request from an art gallery in DC that wanted me to let one of their artists, Erik Sandberg, photograph my lambs for use in a painting. Sure, I thought, after all, other artists have incorporated my critters in their work (or at least my farm. This cow, for instance, never waded into my pond, but that’s what the background scenery is). I wasn’t expecting a modern day Hieronymus Bosch, but check out painting #10 “Houses” – my lambs are in there somewhere.
My war on bears started in mid-March, when a young black bear decided that my chickens make the best chicken mcnuggets around. Apparently he told all his sister, his cousins, and his aunts because by the time the bear war was over in August, I lost nearly all of my Partridge Cochins, most of my brahma bantams, and most of my white peafowl, and my chicken coop now has enough electrified fencing to put any prison camp to shame. Also in March, I finally bit the bullet, and decided I really was getting too old to take care of this place by myself, and hired Clayton Willard, great-grandson of the original owner of much of my farm, to help out on a part-time basis. Clayton has worked out really well, but he’s somehow managed to snag all the easy jobs like mowing and bush-hogging, while I do all the brush clearing and rock moving. How did that happen? In part to make Clayton’s job even cushier, I also broke down and bought a John Deere “Gator.” How I ever got anything done without this vehicle is beyond me.
March Photos (click to enlarge image)
My sexy gator
Breakfast for bears
The first hint of spring (from Daffodil Hill)
Daffodils on the hill
It wasn’t until April that the real 2007 activities really kicked into high gear. In a word: Bulldozers! I have to admit that I totally revert back to a 3 year old in their presence. It is just so cool watching them do what they do, and it’s amazing how much one machine can get done in an hour…hmm, maybe I should get one of those too? Anyway, the first order of business for the dozers was to take down the ruins of the tenant house (click red text to see) I burnt in December. The second was to start excavating property lines of the new acreage so that I could put in NEW FENCING (click red text to see). Both happened in very short order.
At the annual Old Dominion Hunt races, we actually had snow, but two weeks later at the Blockhouse races in Tryon, it was t-shirt weather. Such is April. The Tryon visit was bittersweet as it was on the anniversary of my Dad’s death. My brothers and I spent a good deal of time with Mom going over his various collections and library, and wandering the woodland trails admiring the trees my parents had planted.
April Photos – ODH (click to enlarge image)
Snow on the ground as I set up buffet
Snow melted but the crowd hasn’t
Cold horses running
Dutch aristocrat wearing English clothes, drinking Czech beer and sporting an Italian hound in the good ol’ USA
April Photos – Lambs (click to enlarge)
April Photos – Tryon, NC (click to enlarge)
Uncle Ray, Momma Z, & Uncle Geoff watching the Blockhouse races
Tour of Dad’s pine grove
Looking at Lobbloly pines my parents planted 10 years ago
Tour of Dad’s woods
Looking at some of Dad’s collection
The bulldozers continued to clean up and re-grade pastures in the new fields through most of May. Slowly the final form of the farm started taking shape. While the outside of the farm was getting this massive upgrade, I also decided it was about time to upgrade the inside as well. I wanted to go from bachelor squalor to bachelor splendor in one SINGLE BOUND (click red text to see). On one memorably non-stop day, May 5th, I spent most of the day mustering over 75 sheep for shearing, then rushing to clean up so I could attend a gallery opening that afternoon, (where I bought my first “real” piece of art, then dashed off for dinner at Judy Hope’s house for dinner with Congressman Cantor (R-VA). A great dinner, but we couldn’t get the Congressman to see sense on this issue.
May Photos (click to enlarge image)
Geese with their growing goslings
Sheep with haircuts
Still life with sheep and gator
June saw carpentry work on the inside and land-moving on the outside completed. The next step was the actual fencing of the cleared paddocks. While this was happening I was supposed to be painting my newly completed bedroom, but my micro-managing of fencers and carpenters, and constant needling of my hard-working neighbors to come over and cut hay left little time for that. Despite great summer weather, the hayfield never got cut – it kept growing and growing…
June Photos (click to enlarge image)
Sheep eagerly awaiting new pasture
New pasture eagerly awaiting sheep
Great photo of my thumb blocking out the sun
Old fenceline with new fence posts
…. and It wasn’t until mid July that the first cutting of hay made it into my barn. This year we switched to round bales of hay, which, of course, necessitated new spear and fork attachments for my tractor. The round bales are a little more cumbersome to maneuver, as you have to balance them on the tractor front and back like this, but it sure beats stacking 900+ square bales by hand in the sweltering summer heat as in years past. Once the hay was in the barn it was time to take a quick trip to see the family at Grandma’s beach house. Actually, the beach house is now gone, so we were all crammed in the “villa” (read: condo) – all 16 of us – (it was very cozy!) Finally, at the end of the month all the far pastures were finally fenced and ready for grazing.
DeBordieu Photos (click to enlarge image)
Will, Sam & Drake in water balloon fight
Riley & water balloon fight
baby Grant dances
Where are our burgers?
Rare moment of calm (thanks TV)
Uncle Geoff & Sam
Uncle Gunter & Uncle Alan
July Photos (click to enlarge image)
Farm-hand Clayton fishing instead of working
First round bales in the field
Some of this year’s excellent lamb crop
Ajax D. Cat patrols the barn
By the time August came around I still hadn’t painted my bedroom or put the floors in. But since not a single drop of rain fell all month, I had a valid excuse. I was outside all the time. It was a busy month of real estate sales, finally stopping the bears from eating my chickens, and organizing the board fencing going up along the farm roadways. Despite the lack of rain, the farm was looking really good once the board fences were up and painted. Good thing too, ’cause I got a call from Virginia Living magazine to let me know they were taking photos for an article and wanted one of my farm too! Late in the month my friends Christian and Tom & Ernesto and Heather & John were inspired by my farm-hand Clayton’s fishing success to try their hands at it as well. Alas, no one caught anything big enough to eat, so we all repaired to Heather & John’s down the street for a barbeque feast.
August Photos (click to enlarge image)
Clayton caught fishing again instead of working.
Heather and John trying their luck
Ernesto and Christian in the boat
Heather gets a small one
Heather grills up a storm as Tom and Ernesto look on hungrily
Without a doubt, September remains the busiest and most fun month in my year. Not only are there great social events like the Taste of Rappahannock and the Thornton Hill Hounds point-to-point races, but the break in the summer heat means there’s just more stuff going on in general. More real estate work, more activities, and more fun. Part of that fun is checking in on my favorite local artists at shows in local galleries. Trouble is, by the time you get to the opening reception, all the really great stuff already has little red dots next to the title. I complained about this to one artist friend, who very kindly tipped me off to his next showing, and I was able to purchase something before the opening reception. It was even more fun to attend the usual wine & cheese deal and overhear comments like, “Geez, that’s spectacular! That’s the best thing here! Too bad it’s already sold” and smile to myself and think (yes it is! and I own it!!). As if I didn’t already have enough on my plate, September is also when I had the guys at Blue Ridge Forestry come in and auction off the rights to do a selective timbering of the wooded acreage. The oak and popular trees went to Augusta Lumber to make this hardwood flooring – so you may have a bit of my forest to look at when you put in your new floor. Also, since it seems I didn’t yet have my fill of torn up and ravaged landscapes this year, I brought back the bulldozers to enlarge the farm pond and create a more formal view up to the house site – and what a big mess that was! Of course my all-time favorite thing to do each September is still attending the ANNUAL MEETING (click red text to see) for my sheep breed association. When I got back from Seattle in late September, it was time to sort out my own flock into their different breeding groups and select out and prep 30 ewes for artificial insemination.
September Photos (click to enlarge image)
Mellow September afternoon
VA shepherds meeting at Touchstone Farm
Fat sheep in new pastures
Donnie & Brett looking dashing at the THH P2P races
Pond excavation begins
This year however, it seemed as though October was even busier than September, and warmer too! It was super hot and dry whole month and felt like August. And since we hadn’t had any real rain since August, the pond level had fallen four feet. This was great for finishing the pond dredging and enlargement, which was completed in short order, but it left me with a mountain of dirt. It was so hot and dry that the second cutting of hay yielded only 10 bales, compared to 52 in July. The Virginia Living article on Rappahannock County appeared on the newstands in early October. A fairly accurate article too, even if they did go overboard in quoting one particularly enthusiastic farmer. On October 5th I was in Champaign-Urbana for the dedication of the University of Illinois’ Walter E. Zuschlag Veterinary Heritage Collection at the College of Veterinary Medicine. My mother and all my siblings were there, and the University gave a nice luncheon in my mother’s honor. I know my father would have been very pleased to see both his library and medical instrument collection preserved and accessible to veterinary students, and doubly pleased to know that his own alma mater wanted his collection. Since we were all together in one spot, my mother proposed we take a side trip to the Abraham Lincoln museum in Springfield, which was both inspiring and hokey in equal measure. The Ghosts in the Library exhibit had particular resonance as it beautifully underscored the value of keeping history alive through the preservation of libraries and collections. Back in Virginia, I had great fun beagling at Bob & Leslie Yarbrough’s Leeds Manor Farm and passing out Halloween treats at my office in Little Washington.
October Photos (click to enlarge image)
Mellow October in new pastures
View from new pastures
Beagle going the wrong way
Pond excavation continues
Museum Photos (click to enlarge image)
Eric preps Mom on his speech
Mom and ISVMA director Peter Weber at entrance
Ray and Geoff shmooze with the guests
Jen starts drinking early
Some of the display cases
Dean of the College speaks
University Provost speaks
Head of the ISVMA speaks
and finally Mom gets to cut the ribbon
Thankfully November was a quiet month. The weather remained warm and dry and the the trees really only started changing color at the beginning of the month. I finally finished painting the bedroom (click red text to see) and laying down the cherry floorboards. Thanksgiving with friends in Woodstock, VA was probably the most gourmet and grown-up Thanksgiving dinner I’ve ever had. After buying additional hay from Pennsylvania to make up for our drought deficit, the farm was pretty much bedded down for the winter. At the end of the month some sharp-shooting hunters got a nice buck on my farm. They gave me the tenderloin – which I can confirm goes really well with a pinot noir.
November Photos (click to enlarge image)
Sheep grazing the last grass
Trees turning slowly
New corral and clean pastures (note burn pile on left)
New fencing along drive
Bambi’s dad is toast (or at least will be served with toast points)
Completed pond with pile of dirt
December always starts off with the sweetest little Christmas Parade in the universe – Bedford Falls has nothing on Little Washington when it comes to generating community group hugs. Immediately after the parade starts my annual orgy of food and drink that continues on for the rest of the month. This year was no different than any other – Christmas parties nearly every night – and I re-gained the same 5 lbs I put on last season.
Christmas Parade Photos (click to enlarge image)
The parade of tractors
High School Band belts out carols
Girl Scouts (with cookie decorations)
Christmas itself was spent with my mother and brother Ray in Tryon, NC. It was nice, but Christmas just ain’t Christmas unless there’s a dozen or so kids ripping open presents and running around and breaking toys.
I’m finishing this letter just after my drive back from North Carolina on the 26th. It was such a clear and beautiful day that I decided to leave the highway near Floyd, VA and hop on one of my favorite parkways in America. The Blue Ridge Parkway is stunningly beautiful at any time of the year, but at wintertime it is virtually empty and all mowed and trimmed and put to bed for the season. The spareness and quiet make it easier to appreciate the beauty of the landscape. The lack of traffic also allows you to indulge in any ‘last man alive’ post-apocalyptic fantasies you might have, but really the best way to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the setting is dial up Ryan Farish’s “Beautiful” or Jeff Buckley’s cover of “Hallelujah” on your iPod and cruise on ahead just glad to be alive in this peaceful corner of the planet.
Christmas Photos (click to enlarge image)
Mom and Ray have too much time on their hands.
The Blue Ridge Mountains
The Piedmont side
The Shenandoah Valley side
Purple Mountains Majesty
And that is what I wish for all of you in 2008 – a beautiful, peaceful world filled with much happiness.