Last week I took a road trip with my brother Joe to see our sister who lives near Utica, NY. Mary and her partner, Jonathan, run Down Dog Farm, an organic CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and we planned to visit and help on the farm for a few days.
It was a spur of the moment trip and we only meant to be gone Monday through Thursday, but we decided to hang around a bit longer and help them put up their timber frame house. They’ve been living in a barn for the past few years, and while it’s cozy, nothing beats hot running water and the occasional soak in your own bathtub.
I love visiting my family. Last week’s favorite memories include rolling up to the barn at 7 am in Joe’s truck and then listening to him play Reveille on his harmonica. We’d climb the stairs to the loft and have coffee and a peach muffin with Mary and Jonathan before walking with them and their dogs, Maya and Teddy, around the perimeter of the farm.
After breakfast, we’d weed the beds or stake tomatoes or harvest vegetables. In the afternoons we toured the Erie Canal, played miniature golf, and sampled beer at the Saranac brewery in Utica. Evenings we played cards or dominoes or Bananagrams.
Every night Joe and I would go back to the motel and sleep like the dead. We were tired but happy. There’s something wonderful about hanging around with your siblings. The chores don’t feel like chores, the outings are a chance to add to the family lore, and it’s relaxing and familiar and precious.
There was lots of work to be done before the actual raising of the timber frame. Mary and I pored over the plans, counting the braces and figuring out which piece was going where. Joe did a ton of routing on the timbers, standing ankle deep in sawdust. I buttered the tenons with beeswax so they’d fit together more easily. Jonathan called the timber frame company with questions about how it was all going to work and sent out an email inviting people to help.
Sunday came and about 25 Down Dog Farm subscribers and family members showed up. Everyone pitched in to carry the heavy timbers and swing sledges and hammer in the pegs to hold the pieces together. The actual raising of the bents (cross beams with the posts attached) was an elegant bit of choreography, with Jonathan calling out the dance moves (“Lift with your legs! Curl! Stick people grab your sticks! Rope people, pull!”).
I mostly stayed out of the way, taking pictures and not wanting to be personally responsible for a bent taking a header off the edge of the deck. At the end, though, I wrapped my legs and arms around a corner post and helped to lift the final bent into position. My partner on the post told me, “You are mighty!” and I’ve been basking in the glow of that compliment ever since.
I came home with bruises on my thighs, a farmer’s tan and a song in my heart, specifically, “I Hate You All,” which I first heard in 2004 on a road trip with my kids and husband (my daughter Alice has the best play lists). Joe and I took the long way home so we could see Lake Erie, eating the rainbow chard pancakes that Jonathan made us, talking about our favorite parts of the week and missing Mary the whole way. Some trips you just never want to end.