Sunday, July 20, 2014

Annual Picnic on the Farm

The Smoky Mountain Knitting Guild has an annual late Sunday picnic that one of our members, Julie Wilson, hosts on her farm, the Jehovah Raah Farm. It is tucked deep into the mountain folds, in one of those pockets we call coves. You think you can see everything there is to be seen from the paved road, until you pull off onto a separate little drive and enter a cove. Suddenly the mountains open up to give you a magical peek into just what these ancient hills are capable of. The Jehovah Raah Farm is one of those especially magical places. Part of that magic certainly comes from the Wilson family that owns and operates the farm. They appreciate the little details that keep family and farming heritage alive in their daily work and surroundings.

On the farm, they raise Scottish Highland cattle, Angora goats and rabbits, Shetland sheep, free-range chickens and Spanish Black turkeys, Guinea fowl, and both llamas and alpacas...and honey bees. (I think I got everything.)

The Angora goats and rabbits, the alpacas, and the llamas are raised for their fiber. Julie is a dealer of Lendrum spinning wheels and also teaches spinning. She is my first personal friend on the inside of the fiber world. (More magic! Except it's not really magic. It is hard, hard work, faith, and dedication. How do people who work so hard smile so much?)

Julie Wilson
Julie Wilson traditionally begins the annual picnic day early in the afternoon with a yarn dyeing class in one of her barns. By the time the yarn has been prepped, dyes mixed and added, and the yarn pulled out to dry on racks, the late afternoon picnic crowd begins to arrive. Members bring covered dishes and the Wilsons throw chicken on a barbecue. We end the day with a triumphant show of the dyed yarns.

The dye party.

I cannot truly explain how much Mom and I love this event. Even Julie, who continues to volunteer to host it every year despite the strain it puts on her and her generous family, admitted that she'd "almost" like to do it twice a year. Perhaps it is the joy of seeing such a group gathered to appreciate the farm life. Or the delight of the children chasing the chickens. Or the special treat of seeing how the yarn we love so much is taken from furry creatures, spun into workable thread, goes through the dyeing process, and arrives directly into a crafter's hands. I spent much of my time at this year's event roaming and snapping pictures. Last year, I roamed, but I had forgotten my camera. So, for me, perhaps it is all of the above, because I want to soak all of it up. Sure, I've lived on a farm before, but not one with this much livestock. When I lived with my grandparents, they no longer raised hogs for slaughter. There was a large garden, honey bees, ginseng patches, and chic\kens. For a while there were Guinea hens and hunting dogs. It is a life lived by the earth's rhythm. Work and sleep is dependent on weather conditions and sunshine. Beauty takes on a totally different meaning. You can still love your Saks 5th Avenue fashion, but nothing will be more lovely to a working farmer than a reliable piece of equipment and a successful livestock birthing season. And, here in the mountains, as I mentioned, there's that trick of the cove, the "holler" or "hollow"...the place where pasture land suddenly spreads out like a blanket laid over the earth, a scattering of weathered barns and houses are the heart of a family's livelihood, and the elevation is high enough that clouds can cut you off from the outside world.

Mom and I feel like little girls again. We pet the animals, tramp through mud and dung, point out interesting things to one another, and Mom teaches me plant names. I'll even admit that we sneak into the Wilson's house to see their collection of sheep trinkets, the antique enameled cast-iron stove in the kitchen, and the little handmade art creations that Julie has rigged from whatever has found its way into her hands. There was a tiny, swirling ring of corn seedlings. A wee corn maze in the making?


We didn't get there in time to dye, which was just fine because all of the hot plates and pots kept tripping the circuit in the barn! But we did purchase 6 skeins of hand-spun sport weight in a blend of Shetland wool, mohair, and alpaca, 200 yards each. 

It was a fantastic and blessed day. Thank you so much to the whole Wilson family for welcoming us all.

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