Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Countdown

Much of this year I've spent thinking back on what was happening last year.  I have a litany of dates in my head, starting with November 17, 2011, when Peter was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and ending when he died - December 7, 2014.

In the year following the death of a loved one it seems that your job is to "get through" all the special events...the first ones without the one you love.  My birthday fell three days after Peter died, so that passed in the blur of the aftermath, but I was surprised at how difficult that day was.

By summer's end I thought I'd made it through all the birthdays and anniversaries, and then remembered, "Oh god, the State Fair."  I burst into tears every time I thought about all the years we'd gone together, including 2014.  Some friends advised me not to go, and others said they'd go with me.

In the end, I knew I had to go alone, and so I did, on opening day.  I wrote a piece about that day, but didn't post it.  Then Jessie, Matt, and I took Levin near the end, and seeing the fair through his eyes was an entirely new experience.  I don't think future fairs will hold so much drama for me.

Scrolling back I see what I wrote about "Estevating" this summer.  I think I did more than that.  I think I slipped into a deep slump...maybe even a depression, and I didn't realize it until I started crawling out.  Summer is not my best time of year, and this year we seemed to skip those crisp cool fall days that energize me, and got warm rain instead.

Finally my energy is coming back.  Over the Thanksgiving holiday I tackled several project that been overwhelming, including starting to move that huge pile of split wood into the woodshed (that had a bit of a make-over this summer).  That is next year's wood.
This year I am still burning what Peter cut and left for me.  He's still keeping me warm.

There is not a day that has passed that I have not thought a lot about Peter, and very few days that I haven't cried.  After a lifetime of saying, "I am not a crier," my story has changed.  Some people have told me that the second year might be even  harder.  That is difficult to imagine, but perhaps that is what this year has prepared me for.

As I write this an author is warm and cozy out in the Tiny Cabin.
All of the outbuildings have seem pretty steady use this year, and even more will be happening in 2016.  I seldom walk around the farm without thinking of all of Peter's toil and handiwork that created this place.  He used to joke that he had an "Edifice Complex," and you don't have to look very hard to see that was true.  I walk around and say, "Thank You."

Today, in 2014, Peter went into the pond, and Jessie captured his "dunk" so beautifully with her camera and photographic skill.  Afterwards Peter said, simply, "I did it because it felt good."  We had the rope around him for safety, but in the end he just needed a little help coming back up the ladder.  His sister, Karen was here that day.

As this last week of the first year without him unfolds I might post a little more....until the 7th.  And then I'll close out this blog and begin posting on downyonderfarm.blogspot.com for the farm and all of the arts activities taking place out here.  Once the warm weather gets here we'll be busy.

 My sister sent me a "Peace Crane" earring set and as a result I've started folding Peace Cranes again.  Tonight, in the dark fog, I took one down to the pond and "set it free," as I did so many days and nights last winter.  I began by writing sad notes to Peter on them, but gradually the messages became ones of gratitude. 

Peter built quite a place out here and I'll continue sharing it in the months and years to come.  In the short-run I am making plans for how to share these Peace Cranes to remember Peter on December 7th, the day he left us in 2014. I'll let you know here as any plans un-fold.

So watch here for the next 7 days, and after that day the news will come at downyonderfarm.blogspot.com.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, August 14, 2015

August 18th SOLD OUT


 August 18 SOLD OUT
August 27, 6-8 p.m.

Enjoy a delicious meal and participate in an interactive discussion about diet, lifestyle and healthcare.

     You'll become informed about the latest and best scientific information about diet and health that will allow you to make the most informed decisions for you and your family.

     It's free and you can bring friends.

     Choose the regular or gluten-free option below. (IMPORTANT: The meal is not medically gluten-free, and therefore not appropriate for those with celiac disease. We're simply swapping out what noodles for rice noodles in the lasagna.)


 Howard Jacobson, PhD is founder of Plant Yourself and host of The Plant Yourself Podcast. He is contributing author to WHOLE: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition and The Low Carb Fraud
(both by T. Colin Campbell), as well as the upcoming Proteinaholic by Dr. Garth Davis.Howard lives in Pittsboro, NC, where he gardens, dreams, and helps people get off the medical treadmill and discover true wellness.   



August 27: http://j.mp/pydinner-08-27

Thursday, August 6, 2015


Choose either August 18 or August 27, 6-8 p.m.

Enjoy a delicious meal and participate in an interactive discussion about diet, lifestyle and healthcare.

     You'll become informed about the latest and best scientific information about diet and health that will allow you to make the most informed decisions for you and your family.

     It's free and you can bring friends.

     Choose the regular or gluten-free option below. (IMPORTANT: The meal is not medically gluten-free, and therefore not appropriate for those with celiac disease. We're simply swapping out what noodles for rice noodles in the lasagna.)


 Howard Jacobson, PhD is founder of Plant Yourself and host of The Plant Yourself Podcast. He is contributing author to WHOLE: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition and The Low Carb Fraud
(both by T. Colin Campbell), as well as the upcoming Proteinaholic by Dr. Garth Davis.Howard lives in Pittsboro, NC, where he gardens, dreams, and helps people get off the medical treadmill and discover true wellness.   



 August 18: http://j.mp/pydinner-08-18

DYFA - First resident artist (sort of)

In creating the Down Yonder Fund for the Arts to honor Peter, our thoughts were to continue his legacy of generosity and hospitality out here.  When we brainstormed for a mission statement, the word "retreat" kept arising.  We have a good space for events, of course, but on an ongoing basis I think our primary offering is time and space apart from the rush of daily life.  Besides the music building, which many of you know, we have two small cabins for retreating.  One is equipped for one person for overnight.

When Jessie, Amanda, and I presented Peter with the idea for the Down Yonder Fund for the Arts we all agreed to define "arts" broadly.  One of the first things Peter said when we gave him the booklet we'd created was, "Include healing arts, too."  Well, last week we added "Legal Arts," because our first visitor to the Tiny House came here to find a peaceful place to study for her upcoming bar exam.  Having a daughter who took (and passed) the bar a couple of years ago, I was happy to provide that space.

Jasmina Nogo was born in Bosnia and grew up in Durham from about age 10.  She went to UNC and, a few years later, to UNC law school. 

Jasmina was a a perfect first visitor.  Getting the cabin ready helped me see what was needed, and having her here has spurred me to hurry up on the deck extension and outdoor shower.

Tiny House with residual snow

I enjoyed her company.  We're both introverts, but enjoyed our encounters and planned one dinner together which became a long evening talking in the front yard.  She loved being here, and wrote a few paragraphs about her experience (below).  

We have a musician visitor lined up for the early fall, and hope others will come before the cold weather rolls in. 

7/21/2015 - by Jasmina Nogo

When Susan asked me to write about my experience at Down Yonder Farm, my mind started flooding with adjectives, and I thought - there just aren’t words to describe the feelings, clarity, sensations, depth and peace that I experienced at Down Yonder. But I will do my best to put words to a most ineffable experience. I arrived on a beautiful summer Sunday afternoon and planned to spend a couple of days retreating from the helter skelter of my life in order to find peace and clarity preparing for the bar exam. As I drove down the gravel driveway onto the farm, I thought to myself - “I’m never going to want to leave this place.” It only got better from there.

Susan wasn’t home when I arrived, but I felt guided around the place nonetheless. It felt like home from the beginning and Susan made me feel welcome before I even got there. I stayed in the Tiny House - a cozy, quaint and loved little house, perfect for one person. Susan offered the Writer’s Cabin as a study space, but I found the Tiny House perfect for both a good night’s rest and a day’s studying. The sleeping cot was perfect for peaceful sleep and at night as I slept with the windows open I could hear the horses sporadically neighing, the bullfrogs of the night and the summer thunderstorms beating on the roof.

The Tiny House is only a few feet from the main house, where the bathroom, kitchen and all other necessities are. Susan was tremendously generous in sharing her space, making me feel welcome and providing much more than I needed - a bike to ride, a beautiful meal to share, woods to hike in, and meaningful conversation to engage in. The farm carries with it a history that you can feel in the grass, stories you can hear in the wind and love that envelops and embraces you, even if you’re strangers at first.

There’s no separating Down Yonder Farm from Susan and the life she and Peter built there with their family. All of the love and intention with which Down Yonder was built continues to resonate. Coming to Down Yonder you become part of the history and creation of a magical sanctuary.

I couldn’t leave when the time came, and after prolonging my stay a few days, I continue to think about, miss and daydream about Down Yonder Farm.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


When the link is available I'll connect this to my latest column on the subject of "Coasting."

Coasting is what we do in these hot summer months I think.  I know it is what I am doing.  Peter always said that he "estivated" in the summer.  Look it up - it is the same thing as hibernate except in the hot season.  I especially love the definition because it uses the word "torpor."  What a great word!

  1. (of an animal, particularly an insect, fish, or amphibian) spend a hot or dry period in a prolonged state of torpor or dormancy.

Jessie, Amanda and I met in May with Jay and Ebeth of the Shared Visions Foundation to get the ball rolling for the Down Yonder Fund for the Arts to which so many of you have contributed.  Events are happening already and the buildings are in use even though the official structure isn't in place.  That is coming and we will keep you posted.  However, July and August are looking rather busy!

If you're on the email list you'll be hearing from us.  If you're not and want to be, send an email to downyonderfarm@gmail.com and say "subscribe to email list."

In the mean time, the week after PeterFest was a busy one, with a house concert out here (a full house!) and a photography session the Saturday after PeterFest.  The photographer, Courtney Potter, generously shared the link to her blog with a lot of great pictures taken here on the farm (click on the link).

Right now I am trying to plow through and discard lots of old files and finding that difficult most days.  For one thing, I am firmly planted with one foot in each of two worlds.  One is the world of paper files, and the other is, of course, the digital world.  I am a big fan of Google Documents.  I tend to misplace (seldom lose) papers but so far have not lost my computer and, with online files, someone else is in charge.  Still, I am attached to those papers.

However, the real difficulty is nostalgia.  Right now the file open on my desk is from Peter's construction of what we call "The Farmstead Building."  In there are all the receipts from Peter's raising of this building I am standing in...a roughly 22x24" wood-paneled, scissor-trussed building that has housed my various farm endeavors including a wool processing plant and now Farmstead Health Supply.  Our long-term handspinners group meets here once a month.

Most of the papers are receipts that can go, but they remind me of how hard Peter worked to erect this space and how much he loved doing it.  He loved to say that he had an "Edifice Complex" (say that quickly three times). He said he'd name his construction company "Don't Look Too Close Construction."  There are visible mistakes and Peter always said that he wouldn't live in anything he built, but everything is still standing after 24 years and though a storm is raging outside, I feel safe in here.  Thank you, Peter.

I love hearing your stories about Peter and will share those here (I need to ask permission from a few of you).  Peter has visited a few of you in your dreams and I love to hear those, so please keep sharing.  Meanwhile, Peter's sister Karen shared this yesterday, so I'll end with these good tales.


I was thinking today about Peter and music.  As an older sister it certainly had its challenges.  When he was 8 or 9 someone had the bright idea of getting Peter a drum set.  For months there was not a moment of peace in the house as Peter banged on his drums as loudly as he could.

Several years later when he was about 13 or so he took a deeper interest in music and fell in love with rock n roll which he blasted on the radio.  Again, this reverberated through the house.  When I would ask him to turn it down because I had to do homework, he replied that of course he would adjust the volume.  Pesky younger brother....by "adjusting" he meant he would turn it up even louder.

Fast forward many years.  I was working on the Village film and found that I couldn't use a Bob Dylan song without paying tons of royalty.  I told Peter what I needed as a replacement.  It was harmonica music that would sound enough like Dylan that the audience would associate it with Dylan, but not too much like him that I would be sued.  Peter knew exactly what it should be and within 24 hours a disc arrived at my door.  The harmonica sound is in the film.

Just thoughts of the day

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Six Long-Short Months

At 1:54 this afternoon (Sunday, June 7th) the six-month anniversary of Peter's death rolled over the farm and through me as I sat on the dock of his beloved pond.  As an anniversary gift of sorts, I spent much of Saturday and Sunday clearing the pond of a noxious weed that threatens to invade the waters and choke off the swimming lane that Peter so faithfully traversed during each year's warm-enough months (and some that weren't).  

If you were at the memorial service you heard Taylor Ellerbee read the words of Peter's email about the pond:
My other favorite hang-out space is the pond. When I was looking for country property in 1978, the highest priority was a place where a pond could built. This came true after Susan came out here (and never left!) in 1981. The feeling of jumping in on a hot day and finding the cool below, or going in on an early spring or later fall day and drying out in a bright sun, is indescribable. Throw in a few dogs and it gets even better.

Scroll back through this blog and you'll see Jessie's stunning photographs of Peter's last "dunk" in the pond, on December 1st, 2014.  I thought about that day long and hard while I toiled at the pond's edge today.  At other times I could almost hear the familar splash of his  right arm against the water as he swam, and I thought about all the times I looked out from the house to see the ripples of his wake and know he was ok...especially after he got sick.

Our weed-eater has been broken and while waiting on a part to come in, the weeds have taken over both on the shore edge of the pond that I can't reach with the mower and in the water, where long red tendrils bearing bright green leaves reach urgently towards the center of the pond.  I know that the tall weeds and invading vines would worry Peter, so I tackled them this weekend.

In lieu of mechanization, I supposed that I could cut the weeds the old-fashioned way, with a swing blade.  But even with a new tool sporting sharp tempered cutting edges, I only lasted through about 40'  of thick grass before my arms gave out.  "But it's not an aerobic workout," Peter used to love to say about any exercise I did (to taunt me).  At one point I stopped and said out loud, "Peter, THIS is aerobic."



 I relied on our dog, Shady, to be a scout as she traversed the water's edge ahead of me.  Hopefully she flushed out anything that might put me in harm's way (snakes and snapping turtles were on my mind).  I met quite a few water spiders, but always heading the opposite direction.  Fish and frogs plopped around me and once something large bumped my leg.  I will simply assume it was piscean.



The red water-vines could be as thick as a finger and some reached 8 to 10 feet out into the water.  I used the fork to pull them towards me, then gathered them into a ball, much like you might gather the moving the legs of a small octopus.  Once contained into a mass both larger and heaver than a bowling all, I tossed it up onto the shore where, tomorrow, once it has dried a bit, I'll gather it all into the front-end loader and dump it where it can't find its way back into the pond.

Peter used to describe himself as a "swamp thang" when he did this job - working from a more prone position, belly down on the surface of the water.  I tried to maintain my footing, which was quite difficult bare-footed on sharp rocks.  Several times I let myself fall backwards into the pond when I lost my balance.

I realized as I worked that the plants and the vines at the water's edge have the intention to fill in the pond.  I could see where the vegetative life had, indeed, extended the shoreline inward, just as new growth at the edge of a field will gradually fill the field and turn it back into forest.  Peter complained about the shrinking lanes around the edges of our pastures.  I spent much time this winter cutting back that growth.  It occurred to me that this isn't any different--just wetter.

The work was easier today with proper footwear, but both afternoons I slogged back to the house feeling much like I did the first time I ran 10 miles all-at-once.  I decided that these 5-6 hours were worth logging on MapMyRun, because it was a workout, and it WAS cardio.  

Scrolling through the list of workout options, I chose "rowing" for the hours I spent pulling the weeds from their deep rooted homes along the shore, and I chose "kettle ball" for the remainder of the time that I hurled each gathered biomass up onto the dam above me.  My CrossFit friends would be proud.

In the future I'll probably schedule work-days to get help from the friends who use the farm and the pond.  Doing this work with a group of friends could be fast and fun, and I imagine a cook-out afterwards.  This weekend, though, the work alone was meditative and thoughtful.  It was at times sad and somber...missing Peter...and at other times joyful--recalling the building of the pond (dynamite was required) and all the times we'd spent there with family, friends, and dogs.

An old song came to mind...one that Peter and I both loved.  Written and sung by Laurie Lewis, it was on our "Sunday Morning" playlist.  The words seem especially poignant now, and as I slithered along the edge of the pond, feeling rather reptilian in my toil, I knew I was attempting to fill Peter's empty place.  I wonder who will fill mine when that day comes.

Have a listen:  Who Will Watch the Home Place - Laurie Lewis

Who will watch the home place
Who will tend my hearts dear space
Who will fill my empty place
When I am gone from here

The pond was many things for Peter, but primarily it was where he swam his daily laps faithfully, week after week, month into month, until the falling temperatures sent him, finally, to the SportsPlex in Hillsborough.  Near the end of his life a shoulder injury unrelated to his disease curtailed his swimming.  I honestly believe he'd have lived a little longer if he just could have kept logging those laps.

The last part of what Peter wrote to Taylor was this:

I tell friends that if they want to make me feel better, tell me that you're taking care of yourself through good nutrition but especially with exercise. 

Wherever Peter is these days, I hope that my work on the pond made him feel better.  When I finished the long northwest shore today I packed up the tools and headed to the house, opting not to swim laps because the weeding had been so much work.  I could almost hear his voice and see the twinkle in his eye as he told me, "That's not cardio!"   I squared my sore shoulders and smiled back, "Oh yes it is!"

Thanks for reading,