My Grandmother, Elspeth Clarke, went to school at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY. She relished bringing her friends back to the North Carolina Mountains to get a glimpse of rural southern life. Many of her friends had grown up in privileged homes in the North and were elated to spend a week or two traipsing through the gardens at Hickory Nut Gap and going on long hikes and horseback rides through the mountains. The farm, since the time of my great grandparents, has been host to lots of young folks who want to experience something different from academia and business. Today that tradition continues to exist. Hundreds of young men and women have worked here through the years hailing from all over the world. I would be hard pressed to try and come up with the nationalities that have been represented here through the years. The truth is, Hickory Nut Gap has always had a strong focus on education and personal development, as well as agricultural production.
Sometime in the early 1940’s, My Grandmother sent her friend, Paula Gifford, to the farm for a short vacation. Paula wanted to get away from her home in New Haven for a time and had heard about the McClure’s beautiful spot in North Carolina. The young lady took a bus from New Haven to Asheville and then got a ride with a local out to Fairview. She was dropped off near Smith Farms at the home of Loise and Charles Arrrowood. She used their telephone to call on the McClures who quickly sent someone to escort her the rest of the way. While she waited, Paula talked with the Arrowoods about her trip, her home in New Haven, and about Hickory Nut Gap. She asked the couple what kind of farm Hickory Nut Gap actually was (because even then there were too many little projects involved to get a sense of the whole). Loise Arrowood thought for several moments and then exclaimed enthusiastically “It’s a people farm!”
I love living in a place with such varied and diverse weather throughout the year. There is nothing so enlivening as a warm day in April to thaw all thoughts of darkness which have accumulated through February. Likewise, those cool autumn mornings are such a blessing after the torpid heat of summer. The steady cycle of seasons here in the mountains is simply unimpeachable.
I think that working on the farm has given me a heightened appreciation for the spring season in particular. Despite the fact that this winter was relatively mild and we even experienced some balmy days in December and January, I am ecstatic that the warm weather is finally here. Jake and I decided that it is probably because, more than any previous year of our lives, we spent this winter outdoors, enduring the cold and wet. I don’t mean to complain. I know that many people suffer much more severe weather; shorter days, longer winters, and colder temperatures. My hat is off to anyone who works outdoors in Vermont or Montana or Canada or Russia. For them, spring must be almost unfathomably precious when it waltzes in, turning the barren earth green again.
For us at Hickory Nut Gap, spring means daylight after work! It means watching the apples and blueberries and blackberries emit tiny green buds from silvery twigs and branches. It means checking the asparagus patch for the shoots that sprout so quickly from the mulched ground. It means raising chickens again (and trying for all we’re worth to dissuade the hawks and owls and raccoons from taking their fill). It means working in t-shirts and shedding our long johns, sweaters, wool socks, insulated gloves, toboggans, scarves… It means happy pigs, finally out of the barn and into a paddock where they can root and grub and explore. It means new baby goats! It means swarms of bumblebees in the wild cherries and dogwoods. It means basketball after work. It means so much vim and vigor returning to our work and to our lives.
Maybe Jake and I were wrong. Maybe it’s not that we were so cold all winter that makes us appreciate the spring so much now. Instead it could be that we are, like everything else on the farm, ready for spring because it is time for spring. We can all feel that winter has held sway long enough and now we can press on, we can grow and reach out and find new energy in the world that is coming awake.
Watercress is growing all around our creeks and streams right now! Time to do something with it, pair it with a 100% Grassfed Hickory Nut Gap Skirt Steak and some Red Chiles for a delightful spring meal! The Today show has a great recipe for all to try: