Wednesday, March 4, 2009

love is hell pt 1

I should have died in Tennessee. Back when I lived in Knoxville I jumped off a 35-foot-tall waterfall in the Smoky Mountains and missed the rocks below by six inches. It wasn't a suicide attempt, I want to make that clear. I was down at the base of the falls and saw a handful of college-age guys jumping off and having a big time, and I wanted in. By dumb luck I grazed them and crashed into the water, my body akimbo. When my head burst out of the freezing cold skin, the other hikers standing at the water's edge all said they were certain they would have to go in after me. No one watching thought I would make it. I shook as I hiked back to the car that day. Sometimes I wake up cold and sweaty from a nightmare of that memory. No sound or distance exists in the dream. Just the vertigo-induced rush of boulders slamming up towards me.

I see those rocks every once in a while. Try as I might - I can't shake them. In a way they've become a saving grace. When things get heavy for me—I see those stones and realize just being able to recall their memory is a goddamn blessing. We all know well - dead people don't remember. Anxiety is a luxury for those lucky enough to still be among the living.

I'm telling you this to explain what's going on with me. This month marks a year in Vermont, and while it had a rough and fairly anti-social start—I am now falling in love with this place. I'm making friends, finding my niche, making music and getting invitedinto living rooms. Sandgate is becoming home. I just attended my first town meeting Monday night and sat there like a proud parent watching her kids at a recital. I don't really recall the particulars but the whole messy night of politics was laced with a whimsical feeling of happy placement.

Here I am.

I'm writing this from a quilt in front of my fireplace, which is spitting and hissing as I type. Annie is here with me, Jazz is in the bedroom. I was just outside doing the nightly farm work in the dark and something happened that made me think of that waterfall again. I was listening to my ipod and carrying out feed to the animals. I had a 50-pound bag of layer mash over my left shoulder and an armload of hay under my right arm. It was about 15 degrees outside but my body is hardened up to cold now, and all I had on was my blue hoodie and a scarf. My head was wrapped up in a simple hat I knit this past fall. The sky was clear, the stars out, and I was walking towards the coop and sheep shed. Then as if on some celestial cue, the instrumental section of Ryan Adam's song Shadowlands off the album Love is Hell Pt. 1 keyed up.

The song is beautiful, and it stopped me mid-stride. I was standing there in the dark alone with this music. My tired body weighed down by hay and grain, and I was nearly moved to tears. I had to just stand there and breathe and take in the stars, and the snow, and sounds of cooing hens and shuffling sheep voices. I should've died in Tennessee. was all that came into my mind. So there I stood with Ryan Adams and my bag of chicken feed and if the president needed me to move, I could not. Sometimes the world just turns around three times and lays down at your feet. I'm falling in love with a world I don't get to keep. none of us do. Love is hell, pt 1.

I don't know how I got here. I can't draw a line in my memory from Kutztown to Knoxville to Sandpoint to Sandgate and have it make sense to me in any logical way. All I know is that somehow I made this farm out of naked willpower and anxiety and a paycheck-to-paycheck budget. When I moved in a year ago it was an empty cabin covered in ice and now there are outbuildings and fences, gardens and rabbit hutches, coops and a dogsled parked on the front porch. Right now as I am wrtiing to you there are hooves resting on straw, eggs incubating under breasts, and seedlings growing in the windowsill. The transition floors me. A year ago I was 2,000 miles away....this place got a second chance a life to.

That horrible leap changed the timing of my life mid-song. It stopped me just like Ryan did tonight in the Vermont woods. It's why I read Neruda's love poems on lunch breaks. It's why I get excited about things like snap peas and chickens. It's why I started this farm life. Folks, I'm simply excited to be here. Farming seems to be the closest you and I can get to directly participating in our short lives. I want to grow, raise, and know the things that keep my heart beating. This makes sense to me.

I think someday I'll go home to Tennessee. It's a place that haunts me, that wrote it's name across my lungs. I think about that state like people think about first loves. It isn't right for me to go back now, I know that. It seems like it should have me. After all, everything you know about me, this whole farm, this whole struggle to become a shepherd is on borrowed time from a temperamental waterfall in a southern state. I owe it.

On another note, I started a proposal to write a second book. Wish me luck. So far luck's all I've got.

20 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glorious ...love is..savor it. Life is indeed short.
Best wishes on your new book proposal! I can't
Imagine it NOT being a shoe-in! I enjoy your soulful prose daily..Peace, Sue

March 5, 2009 at 12:10 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Thank you Jenna,for putting everything in perspective for me. Life is to short and age is just a number/or just a state of mind.
Best of Luck on your new book proposal.

Happy Trails
Greg

March 5, 2009 at 12:22 AM  
Blogger Melonie said...

I heartily disagree with that last line. Luck is *not* all you've got. :-) You obviously have immense amounts of talent for storytelling, a drive for self-education that can't be stopped, friends who care about you (even a certain herd member whose name starts with "M" haha) and readers who want to learn more from you.

I'd say that counts for more than luck. ;-) I'm sure the book proposal will be accepted with a big hearty THANK YOU on the part of the publisher!

March 5, 2009 at 12:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So glad you missed those rocks. I for one seldom miss a day checking in to see what happened on the farm. I am pleased that the world did not miss your talent. Keep knowing that your life has tremendous purpose to encourage others. The farm and your writing are tools to do that.
From Texas

March 5, 2009 at 2:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you're gonna make it after all!have faith in yourself. i feel another book coming on! yeah!

March 5, 2009 at 7:34 AM  
Blogger Peacemom said...

YES! That's FANTASTIC! I'm glad you're making yet another thing happen for yourself. You're strength in many ways, Jenna. Best of luck for you. ~Vonnie

March 5, 2009 at 7:53 AM  
Anonymous RayMan said...

I too have "missed the rocks" on three different occasions between 1968 and 1972 and still have no idea what changes my continued presence has made to the universe. Damn that Kevin Bacon! You will not be able to make that detemination either. Not now and not when you are into your 60s' like I am. Just keep on doing what you know to be the right thing for as long as you can.
Luck with the new book! And, keep writing this blog!

March 5, 2009 at 8:57 AM  
Blogger Patty said...

I just started following your blog so I am going to have to check some back post to see if you have talked about this before. I use to live in Knoxville, it was a sad time for me and I can look back now adn imagine a time when I too might have jumped off a waterfall. I didn't, I survived, I moved and moved forward and I am glad you did too. I do however understand what you are saying when you feel like you want to go back. I haven't been there in over ten years now, but once in awhile something from there calls to me and I miss it. I long to go back just for a little while, to see those waterfalls and feel the quiet of a winter day in Cades Cove, looking up at those mountains and feeling as if no one else on earth exsist. It is a feeling deep inside somewhere.
I hope you can find the peace you need.

March 5, 2009 at 9:00 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

It wasn't a suicide attempt, I want to make taht clear. I was down at the base of the falls and saw a handful of college-age guys jumping off and having a big time, and I wanted in.

I updated the post to reflect that!

March 5, 2009 at 9:06 AM  
Blogger Leiflet said...

I've had one freakishly near-death experience that stands out in my mind, and a few that were more subtle and more ominous.

It's funny-- some days we think about the value and frailty of life, like it's staring us in the face. And other days, we run full speed towards a speeding train screaming at the top of our lungs.

It's wonderful to read these reminders that today, as dull as it may seem, is the only day we're alive, and therefore it has to be all we hold on to. Thanks for the reminder.

March 5, 2009 at 9:30 AM  
Blogger LisaZ said...

Every place I've ever lived or been calls to me for one reason or another, sometimes in its right season. I can make a home wherever I am, and find things to love. It looks like you are doing that well in Vermont, whether you ever get back to TN or not.

But true home for me will always be MN, my roots, so I stay here even though I know there are "better" places to be. I think in this incredibly mobile society it's good to put down roots...

March 5, 2009 at 9:31 AM  
Blogger The Old Man and His Dog said...

My wife and I fell in love with TN also. It was on our honeymoon. The people and the place are special. We will move there some day after all this home selling and mortgage mess gets settled.

I want an advance copy of book two also!!

March 5, 2009 at 10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Three young people died in one terrible event at a stream in the Adirondacks a few years ago, right near a lake where my friends and I go swimming after a long day hiking. Apparently there were rip tides under the surface, not visible from where they leapt off the rocks. Two jumped in to try to save the first. A fourth young person didn't jump, knowing it was futile, and watched his brother drown.

Mentioning it because these waterways in the mountains are not always what they seem. And every year there are stories of young people hitting the rocks on the way down.

March 5, 2009 at 12:40 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

I don't think for a moment that you should have died in Tennessee. If you SHOULD have, you WOULD have. We're glad you didn't! :)

Carry on.

March 5, 2009 at 12:40 PM  
Blogger Stacy said...

Glad you made it Jenna! Jeebus. No more cliff diving ok? We want to read that second book.

March 5, 2009 at 9:55 PM  
Anonymous Annie said...

You have some pretty damned good luck. That's a lot, actually.

Wishing you much joy and success with your next book.

And I'm glad the cliffs you dive off these days are more metaphorical ones.

March 6, 2009 at 1:46 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

Yep, add me to the list of folks dying to get thier grubby mitts on the advance copy of your next book. ;-) I *just* finished the first one last night, and lordy, I'm in love! Seriously, I can't WAIT to see what else you might have to say...

March 9, 2009 at 9:20 PM  
Blogger r. said...

I just have to know. I think you've just solidified your position as my ideal archetype. Yes, Ryan was the icing on the cake.

But about having to know, how many times have you seen him live? Have you, considering your "status" ever met him? I've seen him 4 times in 2 or 3 years. Lakewood, Oh in 2007 is still my favorite performance.

March 19, 2009 at 2:18 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Ha! Status, she says. My big deal today is going with the band to guitar center to exchange a bent epiphone that cost 189 bucks. Neko case just moved to Vermont though, how cool is that?

March 19, 2009 at 2:38 PM  
Blogger Jen Grant said...

It's so interesting to hear your perspective on TN. I grew up in East TN and for the first 15 or so years of my life, I couldn't WAIT to leave. Now I couldn't imagine wanting to live anywhere but the mountains. I don't commonly hear people from out of state talk about it that way, though. I think many can't hear the forest over the accent.

July 16, 2012 at 3:35 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home