November 2007

I don’t ever remember that I noticed the profound and prolonged stillness that I’ve been experiencing here in the last week. 

I remember the wind, not the stillness.

A week ago today was an absolutely perfect day. Still. Not a single breeze. Warm, like high-70’s. Clear blue sky. Autumn sunshine – that kind of bronze-tinted golden sunshine that casts deep shadows.

Fortunately, I had helped Ann move a giant pot in the greenhouse and pulled a muscle in my back, so I had to lay low for a couple of days, which meant I got to sit on the front porch in the bronze-gold sunshine, with my feet propped up, reading and writing for four hours. I was in a state of bliss. The beauty of the sun and the stillness was so profound that I was distracted from my tasks, pausing often to sigh deeply and drink it in.

We are not used to drinking in such things. I can drink up conversation and music and a good story in a book or movie. Of course, I moved to Turtle Rock Farm, at least partly, to drink in the splendor of nature. But to drink in stillness – that’s a rare experience; one we are not prepared for,
because we rarely have the opportunity to experience stillness.

Even out here on the farm, where neighbors are a mile away to the north and to the south; where there are no neighbors to the east or west for miles and miles, there is rarely stillness. It can get quiet, but rarely as still as this. No sound from the Interstate highway. No sound from the wind. Only an occasional chirp from a bird or bleat from a cow. Moment upon moment upon moment upon moment of deep silence; complete, absolute stillness.

One of those perfectly still evenings this week, Kye and I took a walk to the old cemetery as the sun was disappearing. The twin ponds in the pasture between our house and the cemetery were absolutely still – and pink, reflecting the sky.

I could hardly take it in. I stand there looking at the prairie where nothing – not a single blade of dried pasture grass – moves, my mouth ajar, my heart filling, just trying to absorb the stillness; trying to live in it for as long as I can.

It is sublime. Thrilling. Excruciatingly beautiful.

I think it must be like looking face to face at the love of God.

24 November 2007


Yesterday, I loaded my car to drive over to the “new” house, where the compost bin is located and where we are starting a vermiculture project. The wind was blowing hard and when I stepped out the back door, holding containers of kitchen scraps, the screen door slammed against a potting table on the back porch so hard I thought it was going to break. The car door did the same thing.

One small container of kitchen scraps was without a lid, so I placed it carefully on the front seat, next to my purse. I had collected some aged cow manure from one of the barns and it was in a closed container on the floor of the car. I got Kye, the Alaskan Malamut/Siberian Husky, into the back seat and set out. But when I turned out the driveway, the small container of kitchen scraps fell over. Wet tea leaves and the tips of mushroom stems and zucchini spilled onto the car seat and into my purse.

It occurred to me at that moment that this is a crazy way to live: carrying kitchen scraps and cow manure around.

And then an amazing thing happened.

We haven’t seen many deer in our area in recent years, but right there in front of me, dashing across the road at the creek bridge was a three-point buck Whitetail deer.

Oh my goodness. A beautiful buck in a hurry to get out of sight and into the trees along the creek. It took my breath and my heart took flight.
At the house, I cleaned out the tea leaves from my car and made my way to the greenhouse, which Ann was cleaning so we can start our fall projects there. She has drilled holes in big plastic tubs and laid a bed of dried leaves and shredded newspaper to make a home for Red Wiggler Worms. We put the cow manner in there too, then cut up pieces of melon rind, crushed egg shells and prepared other kitchen scraps so that the Red Wigglers will have food when they arrive in the mail. Their castings will create nourishing compost for our gardens.

As I sat there shredding more newspaper – after sorting the colored pages out because the colored ink isn’t safe for the Red Wigglers – I thought about all the trouble, all the inconvenience, all the time that learning to live sustainably requires.

And then I thought of that beautiful buck, heading into the trees along the creek, and how I hope he makes it through this deer season with his life.

I thought of our little calf who has been suffering with a cold and probably stomach problems to the point we thought we were going to lose him this week.

I thought of how my heart feels when I hear, on NPR’s “Living on Earth” program that the oceans and trees and other plants can’t handle the amount of CO2 we’re releasing into the atmosphere. My heart feels heavy and my stomach feels sick.

And I think of how I have to do whatever I can – one step at a time – to stop contributing to destruction of Earth, God’s good creation, no matter how inconvenient. 

17 November 2007

Click here to read the story published by Candace Krebs in the Enid newspaper on November 4, 2007!

Or just read below:

Rural refuge starts near Billing
By Candace Krebs

On a 45-minute drive east of Enid, farmers in the surrounding fields are plowing ground and planting crops. Shoulder high stalks of bluestem grasses the color of cinnamon swing together in a strong breeze. The leaves of the cottonwoods rustle softly along a long winding gravel lane that ends at a sprawling house and deck surrounded by a serene lake and meadow drenched in afternoon sunlight.

This ranch just east of I-35 near the Billings exit is the childhood home of Oklahoma’s two-time Republican governor, Henry Bellmon. The 1,000-acre spread where he was born and raised — and where he still maintains a residence — continues as a working cattle and wheat farm, operated by three different family members. Now two of Bellmon’s three daughters are also transforming its comfy houses and calming views into a quiet refuge set apart from modern urban life.

Nearly 500 family farms across Oklahoma have created new ventures with assistance from the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture’s growing agritourism program. A preference for day and weekend trips, and an interest in wholesome family activities, are behind their rising popularity. Studies also show that when people travel, increasingly they want to learn something new through an educational experience.

“Agritourism is a huge industry in this state, it really is,” says Ann McFerron, who now lives and works at the Bellmon farm along with her sister, Pat Hoerth.

Hoerth, who is partnering with her in creating Turtle Rock Farm retreat center, takes it a step further.

“The land has intrinsic value, whether we get any value out of it or not,” she says solemnly. “That’s the paradigm shift. Just by being in nature and noticing it, it’s going to heal us.”


A homecoming

The two sisters are passionate about the farm and its healing powers. Diverse lives and careers mean they’ve returned to their childhood home with a wealth of skills and experiences to invest in a new undertaking.

“For me, it’s like a culmination, completing a circle. Everything in that circle will be used here,” Hoerth says. McFerron adds, “I think nothing is lost. Everything in life is for a purpose.”

McFerron lived in Maryland for 25 years, where she worked as a secretary for a vocational technical school. Her academic training is in psychology and sociology. Hoerth also lived on the East Coast for a time, working in Washington D. C. as a journalist. After she returned to Oklahoma, she became a chaplain and worked with cardio rehabilitation services for St. Mary’s hospital before eventually returning a second time to Phillips Seminary to become a Methodist minister. She pastored churches at Kremlin and Elgin, near Lawton. She is currently coordinating congregational care at Enid Presbyterian Church on an interim basis.

Together they are launching a busy schedule of classes and retreat opportunities at the farm, most of which emphasize sustainable practices, ecology and spirituality. In addition, McFerron is a practitioner of energy kinesiology, and Hoerth offers spiritual counseling.


Cultivating self-reliance

The two believe they are in tune with a much larger trend. “We live in this increasingly fast paced, multifaceted, bottomline-oriented society and it’s killing us,” Hoerth says. “As a culture we are ready for some shifts. We want to connect to some of the basic trends but also offer practical steps.”

Their focus will be on simple living and self-reliance. One class will explore growing food in small spaces. The sisters have created a 4 ft. by 4 ft. garden prototype to demonstrate its many advantages. Another class they offer is called “pick two that you can do.”

“When people think about how to stop global warming, they get overwhelmed,” McFerron explains. “But anyone can pick two things and start with those.”

“We want to live more sustainably, and model sustainability for other people,” Hoerth adds.

They plan to host groups of schoolchildren at their farm, teaching them about growing their own food and spending time in nature.

Hoerth is particularly interested in blending environmental awareness with spirituality, a philosophy known of as eco-spirituality, which she now identifies as her personal ministry. She is working with an Oklahoma City homeless ministry on a program that would give the dispossessed a chance to come to the farm to enjoy a day in creation.

These ideas may sound innovative or unusual but they aren’t new, she adds. “Women’s religious communities have been doing this now for 25 years,” she says.


Back to the future

When Bellmon’s father first moved to Oklahoma from Kansas, he lived in a dugout nearby. Eventually the family who homesteaded sold him the farm. In 1893, the Bellmon family built the first house on the property. That farmstead is designated as an Oklahoma Centennial farm, and Hoerth lives there now. Bellmon and his wife Shirley built a second home a quarter of a mile down the road and dug a lake beside it 50 years ago. “All of the wood to build this house came off of the farm,” McFerron says, during a tour of this expansive second residence. “Mom laid all the tile herself and did all of the stained glass in the house.”

The two recently hosted their largest group yet for a weekend retreat. Between the two homes they had room to accomodate 18 visitors. “We weren’t sure what to expect, but it was fun,” Hoerth says.

While they say their dad is supportive of their efforts, he still marvels that others would value the chance to come here just to spend time. His daughters however recognize what a gift this farm is.

“There are lots of people who would like to return home to the family farm but they don’t have one to return to,” McFerron says. “When people come here, they slow down. It changes their whole being.”

When our grandfather moved his family from Kansas to what we now call Turtle Rock Farm, he brought four cedar trees and planted them just east of the farmhouse, between the house and the road. One tree died soon after that, but three trees have lived there for more than 100 years. They are a cherished part of our family farm.

But recently there has been some talk about cutting them down. The one to the north is topless, having been altered drastically during an ice storm a few years ago. Its trunk is branchless at the top; a jagged piece of trunk points to the sky, the rich red color of the wood exposed to the elements. The tree to the south has lost major branches. Only the tree to the east remains the shape of a full tree.

And in the center is a voluntary, kind of invading hackberry tree that has grown taller than any of the cedars, even though it is a babe compared to the elders.

The Celts say that the trees hold history. Indeed, these three cedars have seen a lot. My grandfather raised 13 children here. I don’t even know most of what the three cedars have seen. But I don’t have to. I can look at the lines in the trees, which, indeed, hold the stories of what has gone before.

I’m aware of a few things they’ve seen. During the hottest part of summers, when we were children, my sisters and I and three girl cousins used to pitch a tent between the trees and sleep there at night. I think those trees heard lots of late-night giggling.

My son was baptized under those trees. He doesn’t remember it; perhaps the trees do. He took his first tumble out of a hammock strung there and safely climbed the low-slung branches of the westernmost cedar.

We won’t cut the trees down if I have anything to say about it.

Perhaps it’s sentimental on my part. And that’s good enough reason.

But my goodness: those trees have stood there 100 years. Not only do they hold our story, they give life and teach us.

Even though they are misshapen, they provide berries for wildlife and shade and privacy for the east side of the house. They scent the air with their spicy fragrance.

They provide shelter for the hackberry, which is growing straight and strong. Birds nest there. Cats prowl there.

But the trees don’t have to be useful. The trees need to be there because they are there.

And then there is their teaching… It is the damaged tree that compels me. I look at it most often. The new growth on that tree grows straight up, rather than out, like tiny trees themselves, all lined up on an ancient branch. It is a most optimistic thing to see.

It teaches me to endure, persevere, appreciate the new, value the old.

It is quite remarkable, and a disappearing thing: three generations of a family living on a farm, trying to be good stewards of the land. In some way, the three cedars hold our story. And so I think we need to hold them.
4 November 2007