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The Cost of Farms: Wondering Why On A Cold, Rainy Day

Red Pine Mountain logoThis post is dedicated to all those who love their land and who fight to keep it in spite of evermounting challenges.

It's a typical Northeast Kingdom, Vermont, late spring day. Rain is falling, the temperature is hovering around 40, and the mountains are obscured by a low-lying mist. I welcome the chance to take a break and get some reading done. I grab a novel, head to Mountain Man's favorite chair and curl up by the wood stove. I am embraced by the warmth of the fire, the sound of rain pelting our metal roof and the snores of seven resting dogs.

My eyes are getting heavy, the book is dropping from my hand when Mountain Man enters. "Mail's here, and our tax bill came." It's a day we both dread for each year our property taxes spiral upward in an uncontrolled ascent. Mountain Man looks at the bill while I await the news. "Well, the barn assessment doubled since last year. That's an obvious mistake. I'll call and take care of it."  Mountain Man picks up the phone, says some words and is silent for a long time. "No, the bill is correct. Remember when we put the floor in the barn last year?" How could I forget the blue stain pine Mountain Man lovingly installed knowing it is my favorite wood. "Well, now we no longer have a barn. It's got a floor so it's been upgraded to a stable." I think of grooms leading glossy thoroughbreds to well attired women who have never chipped a nail mucking stalls. Stable seems so fancy a word for such a modest, much used barn. "And the property assessment went up too. Doesn't matter that land values are dropping." Mountain Man sits down with the calculator, divides the number of hours in a day into the bill and determines just how much money we need to make each day to pay the taxes. It's a staggering number.

And we ask ourselves, as we often do now that we are approaching retirement, why do we struggle so hard to hold on to this piece of earth? Why not take the easy way out, sell and leave. And as I do when I'm in need of answers, I decide to head into our woodland.

It's been a while since I've hiked deep into our woods. A black bear has been visiting us lately, and I'm not anxious to encouter him again.

"What if he's out there?"  I ask Mountain Man.

"Just sing. That'll scare him."

"You know he didn't scare before when I was making so much noise, and it's mating season now."

"I doubt he'd find you very interesting. Go live your life."

That's what I decide to do. I grab my jacket and a noise maker just in case. My contstant companion, Logan, a german shepherd, jumps up to accompany me. It's raining, and the damp cold permeates my old bones, but I continue on.

I walk under canopies of green, and I can feel my heart lighten.

Canopies of green in the forest.

I set the camera to sepia and think of the past.

The forest in sepia tones.

The forest has its own sound; never silent, trees soughing, leaves rustling with animals unseen darting through the underbrush.

Forest path

On the way home, I feel compelled to visit the graveyard that lies within our farm. Logan rests in the water while I contemplate the crossing. I'll have to balance across the logs if I don't want to get wet. I accept the challenge. I walk the plank oh, so carefully and I am across.

Crossing the water

We make our way through overgrown vegetation. My clothes are soaking wet, but I pay no heed.

Overgrown vegetation with German Shepherd

For I have arrived in my place of refuge where I go when I need to think. A place where those who lived in this beautiful wilderness I call home now rest.

A graveyard on Red Pine Mountain

And it is here I understand how easy I have it today compared to those who came before. Tiny tombstones surround me, but none more poignant than these; a testament to a family's grief all in a row.

Row of tombstones

We remain silent, and I pay my respects to those families who lived so long ago. A final prayer, and we head home. Down steep hills, through more water crossings.

Another water crossing

Back again to our pasture land. A doe awaits. She's been there every day, grazing, playing chase with the horses at dusk.

A deer in the pasture

She runs when she sees Logan.

Deer running

But not far. She turns and faces us and snorts. A sound I've never heard before. "Go away.  I want to graze," she says.

Deer behind tree

We are the intruders in these woods she calls home.

Into the house, shedding wet clothes, muddy boots, ensconsed by the warmth of the wood stove once again. This is my farm for the moment. I'm privileged to hold it in trust for those who will come after me. And perhaps they too will one day walk to the graveyard and ask themselves why. And I know if they listen, they will hear the answer.

mountain woman
6/29/2010 8:42:43 AM

Thanks Cindy!

cindy murphy
6/27/2010 7:46:56 PM

Hope you're able to find some spare time to drop in now and again this summer, Mountain Woman. I've always enjoyed your blogs and comments. Have a great summer!

mountain woman
6/26/2010 5:22:48 AM

Hi Carmen, You're almost my neighbor in Maine. Exciting to find someone from New England. It's interesting to read about your family cemetery. The last grave in our cemetery dates back to the early 1900s but if I could, I'd love to be laid to rest there and be part of our farm forever. Thanks so much for dropping by and taking the time to leave me a comment.

6/25/2010 7:53:14 AM

Hi There.. I just wanted to comment on your photo of that small is beautiful. We have a family plot as well on our property, except ours is used by our kinfolk. We too have "tax issues" here in Maine, and are always trying to think of a new way to help pay them, but like you, cant imagine living anywhere else. Thanks for the nice story and beautiful pictures..Carmen from Homeland Farm

mountain woman
6/23/2010 5:44:35 AM

I wanted to thank each and every one of you for taking the time to visit me and leave your comments. I always enjoy hearing what you are thinking. Summers here are very brief and we are already on countdown to our next frost so I won't be on the computer much until fall. See you when the leaves start to change :-)

cindy murphy
6/22/2010 7:03:25 AM

Hi, Mountain Woman. It's very apparent from everything you've written on your Grit blog, that you and Mountain Man have a deep love and respect for the land, and are honored to be stewards in preserving it for future generations. I'm glad you rediscovered the reason why on your walk through the forest. Beautiful words to accompany your beautiful photos.

nebraska dave
6/21/2010 2:13:52 PM

@MW, it’s been a wet June here in Nebraska as well. We just received another two inches over the weekend which was on top of the other 8.75 inches since the beginning of the month. This is highly unusual as we get maybe 15 inches of rain on an average year. We had mountains of snow this last Winter which has soaked into the ground. All this with the 85 to lower 90s temperature has made the plants almost leap toward the sky every day. I’m glad that I added 8 inches of compost to the raised beds. I’ve been checking but it’s really not soggy in the beds and yet quite moist under the mulch. Everything except the onions are starting to bloom. Hopefully, I’ll start getting tomatoes by the end of July. Cucumbers just may come sooner. The cukes are close to shoulder high and climbing still. The tomatoes that were just a little slip a month ago are now approaching arm pit high and are strong and healthy. We all the rain it makes it difficult to get out and work on any projects but I still have hope. The trellis is beginning to cover with the pole beans and Morning Glory. Another month and it should be mostly covered. Enjoy the farm life. I hope that it will be a time of enriching your life for many years to come.

s.m.r. saia
6/21/2010 1:55:52 PM bills. Sigh. Good for you for getting out and reminding yourself why you do what you do. What beautiful photos.

heather h:)_1
6/21/2010 1:50:56 PM

This is a great post. I loved all the photos..and the gravestones.. That was touching in a way. It made me wonder about the lives of the people who came before and if any of them were scared of passing bears etc!!! This is a great post. Thanks for sharing with us :) Sincerely, Heather :)