More than half our grandkiddos live on a farm in Tennessee, Solace Farm Homestead, to be exact. Since we live in New England, it’s an effort to travel to see them, but such a joy spending time on the farm.
When we left New England the foliage around here was at its peak, so I figured we would see little if any foliage that much farther south.
We flew into Atlanta Hartsfield airport and as we rode the skytrain to the car rental agency, I was stunned to spot bright red maples here and there. The more I looked, the more foliage was evident. As we drove up into the mountains we saw foliage, and more foliage, bright reds, yellows, and even some oranges, the orange mostly spotted in graveyards and next to houses.
We took a day with the older kids to visit nearby Stone Door State Park in Beersheba Springs. A number of other nearby state parks make up a whole system of beautiful natural areas nearby that are open to the public, but we keep returning to Stone Door because it has such an easy path out to amazing views on the edge of a bluff, overlooking Savage Gulf.
The first half mile or so of the path is a handicapped accessible trail out to a viewing platform. Newly installed since we last visited are stationary binoculars with a filter to help those with color blindness to better enjoy the beautiful colors of the area. The day we visited, these made the reds, yellows, and oranges really jump out. If only my camera had a filter that showed what our eyes could see.
The older boys enjoyed a lot of independence on the trail out to the bluff’s edge, about a one mile walk.
Additional trails continue past where we stopped, and by the folks carrying loaded backpacks who passed us, many were planning to spend more than a day on the trails.
This was probably the first visit when I have not been too warm walking. Until late October, the temperatures in the area remain in the 60s and often the 70s, but during our visit we enjoyed temps in the 50s and 60s, better suited for what I need to walk easily.
At Stone Door we found blooming witch hazel,
as well as some streams flowing toward the edge of the bluff.
We heard the large waterfall that was quite nearby, but did not get to visit the falls on this trip. Maples glowed red and orange, and sassafras offered lots of yellow in the understory as we walked. Nut trees filled the woods with bright yellows.
The visit was, as always, too short, but we read lots of books, pieced together puzzles, took walks, and even did some fossil discovery on the farm, in an area where they recently dug a trench through rock for water pipes.
The boys understand that their land was once a lush tropical swampland. Formerly a strip mining operation, (for coal) the land is being reclaimed through intensive grazing by their animals.
We discovered multiple fossilized fern prints with just a few minutes of looking,
confirming the geological story of the land’s past.
As their nights grow colder, the farm’s season shifts as well. The high tunnel hoop house shelters banana trees and figs during warmer weather, but the mountain’s cold winter temperatures will be too much for the bananas.
Farmer Caleb (with help from son Malachi) dug up the banana roots to let them sleep in the cellar for the winter, ready to be returned to the hoop house in the spring.
The garlic and sweet potatoes will be fine with the cold,
and will get an early start in the spring as soon as the ground warms up.
The cold weather will help grow lots of warm fur on the alpacas at the farm,
as well as the sheep, cows and goats.
Farmer Amy turns the sheared wool from the animals into thread that she knits into varied products. She also makes soaps incorporating goat milk. Sheep milk cheese is a delicacy they enjoy on the farm as well.
The animals enjoy the lush grasses that are growing where only wasteland stood before.
Even in times of drought, their farming methods have kept the animals eating healthy grasses much longer than other farms in the area.
Our visit, as always, was too short, but I am already counting the days till we can return in the spring, when the animals will be having babies, and the farm’s cycle of life continues.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. Just out is her latest book, Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress. She is a co-author of the recent community history, Bellingham Now and Then