July 20, 2011

On Shuddering Squirrel Acres

It wasn’t a snap decision, but it was an easy one.
Urban blight, thick traffic on salt-pocked roads, animus, crime, and black snow. Or sunshine, woodlands, hills, mountains, serenity, and a simpler life.
Our last home in metropolitan Detroit was a cramped condo with a patch of grass in front and a view of a poorly maintained asphalt parking lot out back. We tried to grow a few plants on the tiny balcony that overlooked the lot, but there was never enough sun. The walls on either side of the condo were thick enough to dampen neighboring sounds, but the ceiling seemed as thin as cardboard.
Up there lived a man-child who kept a large farm dog. He and his malignant tweenie son made games of romping and stomping with the dog on the hardwood floors and generally making as much noise as possible because we had complained. It was just one act in their extensive repertoire. To look for more livable quarters in or around Detroit seemed a fool’s errand. As times got tougher, people turned meaner, and they were everywhere.
It took some doing, but we found a new home in the hills of Middle Tennessee about 45 miles from Nashville. The house is roomy with a large kitchen, a third bedroom that I’m refitting as a library, and a long front porch with plenty of space for an old desanctified church pew, a couple of rockers, and a red swing that I’ve nearly completed. White pickets surround the porch.
Crick in the forest primordial
It sits on more than five acres mostly covered in mature hickory and other hardwood trees, with a pretty stand of pine near the back of the woods. Down in a small “holler” that dips steeply behind our backyard is a small spring-fed “crick” that flows away into thick trees and undergrowth, steaming in summer like the forest primeval. A small stone escarpment overlooks the scene and is a good place to sit and ponder.
I ponder a lot. I’m a writer and editor with many years in newspapers and magazines, and now
freelancing full time. Much of it is corporate work. My chosen trade is dying as it loses ground to “citizen journalists” and others who sometimes get it right when they post their dispatches, and figure that correcting what’s wrong is either too much trouble in the haste of blogging, or let their commenters do the work.
Besides chasing enough work to make a living, my primary concern is tending our homestead, which we call Shuddering Squirrel Acres. My wife, Vicki, is a natural gardener. I recently learned that she has always wanted a greenhouse, so I built one. She calls it “the nervous hospital” for weak or otherwise ailing plants that more often than not are restored under her care.
Aside from the vegetables and flowers that are much better off under her charge, I tend the property. Before long I saw the need for a small tractor with detachable front loader and backhoe. It’s a John Deere, built in Moline, Illinois on the banks of the Mississippi, where my father was born. Both he and Vicki’s mom died a few months before we settled here, leaving emotional scrapes and scars that needed a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. We’re healing.
A new honeybee hive
It happens in our seven food garden beds, and with the hives I tend as a former urban beekeeper. It happens as I take meat from our hickory-fired barbecue pit, and back in the trees where my wood-chipper produces the surface for a woodland path that was disappearing in undergrowth. It happens as we watch the progress of the trees we planted – magnolia, corkscrew willow, black mission fig, and Montmorency tart cherry of the sort widely grown in northern Michigan and without equal for pies. We’ve yet to learn the lore necessary to coax healthy fruit from the pair of dwarf peach trees that came with the property.
Perhaps most healing of all is the small flock of chickens that I raised from chicks this spring. They’re now only a few weeks away from giving us their first eggs. Tending them is a childhood memory made real again. My mother’s people were mostly farmers, and I’ve never forgotten gathering warm eggs from under my aunt’s hens and the flavor of that wholesome chicken fruit, with yolks like yellow-orange domes, not flat and pale after weeks in refrigerated trucks and chilled supermarket display cases.
As I plan a clay oven for bread and pizza, a restorative waterfall and pond, a cedar soaking tub, an expanded bee yard, and a small barn for the tractor, my immediate concern – a mild one – is the chicken we call Roxy. She’s all white with bright red comb and wattles, stands tall and proud, and has made it very clear to us and her sisters that she’s the boss chicken. This was clear when we got her, at 2-weeks old.
The concern is that she’s not a she at all, not a pullet but a cockerel – a young rooster. Her posture is very rooster-like, as is her domineering attitude, and the muffled calls that sound suspiciously like a rooster’s doodle-dos.
We don’t want fertile eggs, so we don’t need a rooster. I’m tempted, if indeed that’s what she/he is, to plunk her down on the counter of the local Tractor Supply – which sold her and the other five chicks as pullets, females – and ask for my $2.50 back. More likely, I’ll take Roxy to a nearby farmer and his wife who raise chickens, beef, and pork on a Century Farm that’s been in his family for many generations.
This blog will be about all that and the other experiences of two yankees finding their place in the rural South. I intend it to be entertaining and instructive, well-researched or based on lessons learned in failed efforts.
There'll be a lot of DIY, or at least how-we-did-its, as our homestead takes shape.
All suggestions welcome, as are you.


  1. Quit yellin' at those squirrels and they will quit shuddering ... on a happier note, great piece. Love your description of the small stone escarpment. I need one of those. Until then I will have to make sitting on the beach do for me. I like it there on quiet mornings, too.

  2. We both appreciate such places and know what they're for. Lots of worthwhile chewing-over goes on, not all of it healthy, but they're also good places for trying to scrap that stuff.

  3. As for the squirrels, they shudder because they're waiting to see who's next. Cute and all, but after they did about $1,000 damage to our outdoor furniture and vehicles (chewed through a wire harness and a gas line), they took on the role of varmints, and I shoot varmints. Most of the time I shoot at varmints, but am getting better all the time.

  4. As we sat around the dinner table taking turns readin this aloud, our three out of four generations had very different reactions. My daughter, who just turned 7, is concerned about the future of Roxy. My first thought was to share this link on facebook so all my friends can enjoy it as well. And my mother's comments were muffled as she jumped up from the table to pack her bags and book the first plane, train or automobile to Shuddering Squirrel Acres. My grandmother has yet to weigh in, as she is out playing bingo tonight.

  5. Thanks, Heather. Stay tuned for Roxy's future. I appreciate you sharing the link. Tell your mom she'll have to find a hay wagon to get her here. And love to Grandma; hope she won.

  6. Stephany Filimon WilkesJuly 21, 2011 at 3:31 PM

    Boy am I glad to have a place to read your writing again, Mr. Bohy! :) I got to catch up with Nate in person a few weeks ago, and thanked him (and now have a way to thank you) for your pointing me to McPhee and Rick Bass. Thanks for that.

  7. Thanks for your kindness, Stephany. Have you read Cormac McCarthy or James Lee Burke? Two of the finest American writers working today.

  8. I found your blog by clicking on a comment you left on Community Chickens! I had to pop over and say Welcome to Middle Tennessee! I've enjoyed your posts so far and look forward to your continuing adventures. My husband and I are about 30 min West of Nashville and have a small flock of about 30 chickens. This is our 4th year with the original 5, plus the ones we've added along the way. It sure has been a learning experience!

  9. That's great, Kathy, thanks. Spread the word. We can swap tips, which is to say, I'm looking for tips. Let us know what's going on over there.