That is the number of days from the time I left Atlanta to “move to the farm” until the first night I actually spent as a resident at the farm.
Those days were filled to the brim with adventures, misadventures, inspiration, devastation, faith, doubt, arrogance, fear, humility, gratitude, tireless work, costly laziness, shrewdness, obtuseness, bliss, depression, wonder, success, failure, encouragement, insult, love, heartbreak, good fortune, bad breaks, providential serendipity, sheer willfulness, and more or less – determination.
Some of that story is recorded here in this blog. Most of it is not.
That is the number of days Max Skeen, owner and prior resident of the farm, lived on this earth. The adventures and wonders that filled the days of Max’s life are not my stories to tell. They are written elsewhere, both on paper and in the hearts and memories of others.
Our stories have intersected. Sometimes we knew it.
Max told his children stories of remembering the High Rock Lake dam being built. He knew that some of those fleeting visions came from before he was really even old enough to have well-formed memories. After the construction was complete he remembered more clearly that local folk were allowed to walk across the top of the dam. He could remember vividly the precarious steps across the structure.
I do not remember how old I was when I first collected memories of the High Rock Lake dam. We lived about an hour northeast of there and in the summer we would often spend Mondays, my dad’s day off, at the lake. Sometimes we would drive across the narrow bridge that still spans the waters below the dam. It was a rare treat for me when we would happen to drive past the dam, which was not really on our way anywhere. As dams go it’s a pretty simple one, but in the wonder of childhood it was one of the most massively intriguing structures my young eyes had ever seen. I KNEW it held adventures and would beg my parents to stop so we could get closer.
Just about a month ago I kayaked within a couple hundred yards of it and settled in the shade of that bridge with a friend. I sat there remembering the pull that dam had on me as a child. Sitting there floating in the water I had not yet heard the stories of what a fixture the dam was in Max’s memories of the childhood he spent a mile and a half down the road on the farm I now call home. It’s not allowed any more, but I’m going to have to walk up there one day soon just to sit and take in the view.
When I began my figurative journey to the farm that was not yet called Healing Springs Acres in 2010, I had no idea, literally, where I was going. The first time I drove down the back roads that led to the farm I rounded a curve and came out of the trees to cross the bridge ahead. I looked casually to the left and was struck again with wonder when I realized with much older eyes that I knew exactly where I was. The unknown way was marked with the old and familiar dam from deep in my earliest childhood memories.
Only another mile and a half down the road to Max’s childhood home, I saw for the first time the old barn that still sits as the dominant feature on the farm. Logic dictates that I would have seen it as a child too on those trips past the dam. Then it was just another barn on another road and held no place in my memories. Over the years I’ve come to learn that nearly everyone in the southern half of Davidson County has some level of familiarity with that barn if they drive up and down that road much at all. It’s simply one of the only landmarks on a long straight stretch of road with little more than tress.
That first time I saw the barn I did not yet know that Max had used some of the money he’d saved in the Navy to pay to have the barn built for his father when they needed a better place to keep the plow animals. Max knew by then that his life’s trajectory would never take him back to the farm and building that barn was the best way he could help. It still sits there today as the base of operations and the best source of shade for working in the two front fields.
Max shared that story when he visited the farm a couple of years ago. I was in the process of assessing whether or not the barn could be refurbished and had gotten an estimate. It seemed high to me but I was prepared to honor any sense of nostalgia he might have for the place. I still didn’t know in that moment that he’d been the one who paid to have it built to begin with. When I shared the estimate I learned where my friend Gary, Max’s son, got his sense of relentless pragmatism. Max immediately chuckled, winced, grimaced, and shook his head. He said something to the effect of, “That’s three or four times what I paid for this barn to have it built to begin with! Tear it down if you can use the lumber. It’s already served its purpose and it’s not worth spending that kind of money on it.”
The weather may tear it down, but I don’t think I ever will. There are a couple of modifications I have planned for the barn in order to use the roof as a rainwater collection system. Whatever ultimately happens to the old barn, it was a pure joy to stand in the shade of it that day as it served to reveal that Max’s heart was still rooted in the practical productivity of the farm. If a tool, say an old barn, has a useful purpose, use it. If it doesn’t, fashion another tool to accomplish the worthy purpose. That’s how a farm works.
This past weekend I received word from Max’s children that he had passed away in a peaceful rest. As I write this they are still in the midst of accepting the grief and the joy that accompany the sad task his daughter described as, “… marking a life well lived.”
I see the marks of Max’s life in this place daily as I plow up the old shoes thrown by the animals he and his father drove as they plowed this same dirt. Interns moved rocks this summer from piles that I can’t imagine made their way out of the fields in any way other than with Max’s help. The first terrace in our main field is shaped from the plot where the house he slept in as a child would have sat.
The numbers of our days have intersected. They have intersected in the wonder of a massive dam. They have intersected in labor. Now, they intersect in rest.
Over the course of the summer I have looked back over our first six growing seasons to ponder the lessons learned. It began to occur to me that reflecting and resting were the perfect rhythmic response to the difficulties and challenges of these first six seasons of learning. The seventh year is the Sabbath year – the year of rest.
Part of what is clear, as described in the immediately prior post, is that a fundamental element of the model Healing Springs Acres is built upon isn’t working. In six years, we have not found a workable balance between having enough time to work on the farm while working away from the farm to have enough money to fund the work of the farm. If a tool, say an operating model, has a useful purpose, use it. If it doesn’t, fashion another tool to accomplish the worthy purpose. That’s how a farm works.
As Max has now gone on to rest, those who knew him well enough to love him are entering a season of reflecting on who he was to them. Another kind of season of reflection had already begun to turn here at Healing Springs Acres.
Our stories have intersected. Sometimes we only knew it upon reflection.
Intersections of Sabbath rest.
Keep us all in your prayers as we fashion new tools to accomplish a worthy purpose.