Friday, March 9, 2012

the two inches that made everything happen

A few years ago, not many, I was living in Knoxville Tennessee. I adored (still adore) East Tennessee and I hope to return to it some day, perhaps permanently. Something about that place changed me forever. It is the reason for Cold Antler Farm.

I'll never forget the day my roommate Heather and I were hiking up to Abram;s Falls in Cade's Cove. It was a hot day and we had our swimming suits on under our hiking gear. The plan was to hike to the falls and then enjoy a dip in the crystal clear trout pool at the base of the 35-foot drop. The swimming hole was wide and calm away from the rocky edge of the falls and on that particular day the sun was shining and I was thrilled to be hot and sweaty in those blessed mountain trails, with a good friend, and then cooled off in a mountain pool.

As Heather and I were swimming and trying to catch the Brook Trout that swam past our legs with our hands (no luck) we saw a few college guys hike up to the top of the falls, stand on the edge, and jump off! It didn't seem that high, 3 stories. And they all seemed safe when they got out of the water. I was full of piss and vinegar so I looked at Heather and said "Let's jump" and she shook her head no. (Heather is smarter than I).

I climbed up the falls from around the back (brushy, but a well worn path was there). And watched as another frat boy made the leap, now from the top. Suddenly, 35 feet was a A LOT taller. I'm scared of heights, but it was too late now. I was standing on the edge of the falls. I looked right below me and there was harsh and mean looking jagged rocks. A hiker told me "You need to jump out at least 5 feet or you're plasma" and I nodded, because at the time that seemed easy. But when you are shaking, 5'3" and scared of heights...pushing yourself 5 feet seems damned near impossible. Something went off in my brain and I pushed out best I could. I jumped. I didn't make the 5 feet.

I can still remember, clear as a frame from a movie, seeing those rocks coming at me. I remember closing my eyes, the regret of the weak jump, and then the slap of my body hitting water and I was under. I remember the relief and the joy, and opening my eyes to see myself whole. I think that time under the falls was years, but in truth seconds. When I swam to the surface and I remember how it felt like a baptism. A second life. I was Ebenezer alive on Christmas Morning. I was a phoneix. I was an idiot...

A few of those boys were standing on the edge of the rocks, all of them pale and stuttering... "We thought for certain we'd have to go in after you... you missed the rocks by this much" and he showed me an inch or two of distance between his fingers. I started shaking at that realization, and pulled myself out of the water to the safety of the giant river rocks where I curled up in my towel. No one else seemed to want to jump much more that day. Heather and I packed our bags and hiked back. I shook the whole hike back to the car. I had never been so happy to be alive. Never felt more awake. Never been so scared. Never felt true gratitude before it was all nearly gone in blood and rocks.

I got a lesson from those mountains from that jump, and it is the reason I am here writing you today. I jumped, and while it was stupid, I was proud of surviving it. And the next day a few kids on holiday from their University went for a swim in the pool and a grown man drowned under those falls. He didn't jump. He just swam to close them and the force of water pushing 30 feet into the pool sucked him below the deep and he couldn't swim out. He remained there until a rescue team pulled him out with ropes.

Life can be taken from us at any time. It can be our own doing or someone else's. We all worry about Cancer, Health care, aging and such but the truth is a person with one too many drinks on a curvy road can change the world. Life is a lot less certain and fragile than we could possibly fathom in our everyday comforts. It took two inches to teach me that. But I tell you what friends, five months later I was out of Knoxville and on a rented farm in Idaho. In hindsight an erratic and crazy change in my life, but I am certain the only reason I could pack up from the city and move cross country alone was surviving that jump. If I made it that time, I could make it again.

And had I not left for Idaho I would have never started backyard farming nor met Diana, my mentor in all things chicken, farm, and bees. I would not have asked Storey to write Made From Scratch. I would not have gone to Vermont after, or found Washington County outside books and blogs. There would be none of this. I'd be another person. Probably in a brick loft on Gay Street over the Tennessee theatre. A hipster with a wall of musical instruments and a useless stack of farming books by her bed, the pile for "someday." I think I am getting allergic to the word "someday."

I ended up missing Tennessee very much after I left it. I think it was that strong romance I felt for the experiences there. The people, the music, the back roads to Asheville and the thriving scene of creative and scrappy people. That same winter I left the South I bought a cheap fiddle off eBay and Wayne Erbsen's book and taught myself the fiddle. It was something I always wanted to try, but was scared to take on the hobby. After the Falls, it seemed as simple as walking up stairs. Not that the music learning came that easy, it was hard work!, but simple in my calmed mind. If you can jump off a waterfall you can learn to drag horse hair across metal strings.

The Smoky Mountains remain home to me in many ways, no matter where I live. It is the place that made me face fear, accept my own death, and choose to keep living until it came, whenever that was. Those mountains made it clear that waiting to live the life you want is a ridiculous and dangerously comfortable luxury. Waiting to make a change is just taunting fate. You could be 9.7 years into your ten year plan and get thrown under a bus my a teen texting her boyfriend in the 4 seconds she wasn't looking. Life is short. It can end tomorrow. Sometimes it takes really feeling this to get over the clutter in our souls to make a change. Don't waste your life not living it the best way you can. It's pissing on your most valuable gift: Your short time here.

So just jump. If you can do it. If you can gather the strentgh to clear the rocks...jump. You won't regret it. You won't regret trying even if you get banged up along the way. If you fail, well, you're going to die anyway right? Might as well make these few years you have left a poem instead of prose. And yes, I know everyone has different situations and stories. I'm not telling you to be careless, just a little foolish. Govern your own life, but whatever you do, do not let fear or other people's excuses hold you back from feeling air between your fingers and toes. Get the blood running again today. Make the choice to look at the falls, smile, and jump. It'll be scary and it's stupid to try, but you might find your real life on the surface of that mountain pool.

I did.

(By the way, Heather did jump after me and did it far better.)


Blogger daisy said...

Your constant encouragement is keeping my dream alive. I am making small steps and I know I will get there soon. Thanks for sharing your story, your insights, your life.

March 9, 2012 at 7:49 AM  
Blogger seagoddess said...


March 9, 2012 at 7:56 AM  
Blogger Karen Rickers said...

Thank you for writing this, Jenna. I agree!

This may be a strange request after that statement, but I would love it if you would write something about how you deal with rodents! I'm living in an old church, basically the living space is all one room, and some rats have gotten in underneath and up into the walls. Early this morning, I heard one attempting to gnaw through the wainscoting ... RIGHT BESIDE MY BED!

I know they're much smaller than I am, but I still felt my heart sink when I heard the sound of rodent teeth on wood.

Do you have any encouraging suggestions on how to become fearless in the face of vermin?

March 9, 2012 at 8:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jenna, you are such an encouragement. THANK YOU as always, for sharing your dream and helping others to keep theirs alive.

March 9, 2012 at 8:08 AM  
Blogger Deltaville Jamie said...

I bought chickens. Well, chicks, but they'll be chickens. My dad (who's consent was a one shoulder shrug and something akin to a grunt but close enough to a positive response that I interpreted it as a yes) looked at my "Chick Days" book and asked if that was what gave me the chicken idea. I told him no, I had the idea, but the author is the one who encouraged me to run with it. Thanks!!

March 9, 2012 at 8:11 AM  
Blogger Joshua Tolley said...

For me it was when, after detailing a new ambitious project to my budget-conscious wife, she asked, "Ok, will it cost much?" It was then that I realized she thought I was serious about doing it. I'd always told myself I was serious, but until that day, it was always a lie. I always figured I could do some of the stuff I talked about, but only "time permitting" or something. Anyway, today I'm looking out the window as the sun rises over our farm. I still haven't taken on the project I was talking to my wife about, though.

March 9, 2012 at 8:19 AM  
Blogger Karen said...

What a gorgours photo! Wonderful post to follow it. You are giving this 50-something some pushing that I need.

March 9, 2012 at 8:37 AM  
Blogger Crit said...

YAY!!! Wonderful post :)

March 9, 2012 at 8:46 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Exactly what I needed to hear this morning! I already have your bread recipe put together and waiting to be put in the over after work tonight. Now I think I can follow through on my list of things to do for the weekend, thanks to your motivational post...once again!

March 9, 2012 at 8:52 AM  
Blogger pawsfurme said...

Karen Rickers-
I have had mice around my goat barn the last 2 fall/winter's ever since I got my goats. I've found that I don't have to do a darned thing to get rid of them except refill my goat's water buckets. I thought it was a fluke at first, but then I started taking dead mice out of their buckets nearly every day for a few weeks. They check out the buckets to get a drink, fall in, and drown. I clear them out and disinfect the buckets with each mouse I've found. This year, I haven't had any mice since fall. They all drowned early on. I think my water buckets are the only local source of water for them.

With rats being much larger, I would set out some large 5 gallon buckets, or even wider if you can get them.
Here is just an example of traps you c an set.

You can find a lot of references online with bait on a rolling wire of some sort to entice the rats, then they roll into the water bucket and drown. I wouldn't fill the bucket any higher than maybe 5-6 inches from the top. You don't want the rats to be able to cling to the sides to get a drink. My small horse buckets have smooth rounded edges that the mice can't hold onto.
Nice thing about this method is no chemicals.

March 9, 2012 at 8:59 AM  
Blogger Kris said...

Jenna, that was a foolish thing to do but look where it got you. I am so glad you did not hit rocks. And I want to say because of your blog you have encouraged me to do so much more here. I just put up more fence for my sheep. I am going to do the intensive grazing so will need lots of smaller pastures so I can rotate.

And we have our first Outback Farm lamb of the season!! A total surprise. I had no idea and of course could not tell under that 6" of wool. But a nice black ram that is 3/4 Finn. So he may be a keeper. I don't know yet. I may end up trading him for a Finn ram I can use on both the Finn ewes.

But because of you I am a shepherdess too. And because of you I will be wearing the wool next winter that we shear from these 3 wooly sheep. Because of you I will do the whole process myself.

So you are a BIG part of this little venture and I thank you. And I do hope you will be coming back this way soon. The weather is so much nicer here too.

March 9, 2012 at 9:08 AM  
Blogger Kara said...

Great post! I used to live in Franklin, NC. Not far from Asheville and TN. I love that area and we will move back to start a farm. Hopefully in a year or two.

I just saw a movie on Netflix last night called Songcatcher. You should watch it, it's takes place in the Smokey's around the turn of the century with great music. Iris Dement even makes an appearance. The plot is a little trite but the music makes it worth it!

March 9, 2012 at 9:17 AM  
Blogger Ngo Family Farm said...

Ah, wonderful! I think I've been "allergic to someday" for some time now, too ;) Beautiful writing - thank you for sharing your passionate message!

March 9, 2012 at 9:29 AM  
Blogger Karen said...

Thank you, Jenna. My "rocks" were x-rays. They came back normal this week. I am so grateful to be alive that I could weep.

March 9, 2012 at 9:38 AM  
Blogger E said...

Karen Rickers:
Easier/better to do all to get rid of rodents.

Traps (water buckets, instant kill) or a really good cat.

Rats do major damage, other rodents are not good either.

March 9, 2012 at 9:55 AM  
Blogger E said...

Yes, sometimes we need a wake up call!
Thanks for reminding us.

March 9, 2012 at 9:56 AM  
Blogger downeast becka said...

nice Jenna, so true--my rocks was a trip by bicycle with a friend down through mexico with not much money and hazy plans for working on organic farms...everybody told us not to, we had a stupendous time, met incredible people, worked a few farms and learned to surf, a now lifelong passion (i was 24 when i did this trip, 44 now) live life to the fullest, it is not to be regretted!
i believe i learned of songcatcher on this blog, so i know you know of it...
cheers, Jenna!

March 9, 2012 at 9:58 AM  
Blogger Matt_Middleton said...

Jeebus! Gotta say, my heart was going a mile a minute reading about your jump.

March 9, 2012 at 10:26 AM  
Blogger Karen Rickers said...

Pawsfurme and E, thank you for your suggestions! I had never come across the bucket trap before, and it looks do-able. Of course, the downside is that I will have to look at the drowned rats and take them out of the bucket ... hey, maybe I can just dump the whole bucket into the compost, water and all! You know, I'm very brave in many areas of my life, but the extermination of rodentia is not one of them. Thanks again.

March 9, 2012 at 10:28 AM  
Blogger Goat Song said...

I used to always struggle with fear... Always pushing things off to a distant "someday". Your blog has helped me to shrug that fear off, and start doing things! I have done so many things this year that I would have been terrified of doing in the past: Going clear across the country to Polyface Farm, writing a book, starting up a small scale dairy, working towards buying my own property... I have never been so happy in my entire life, and everyone around me thinks I am a fool. But I'd rather be a happy, fulfilled fool, then a sane, unhappy, unfulfilled person going about daily life. I have a favorite shirt from Polyface Farm that says 'Lunatic Farmer' on the front. I think it describes me pretty well. ;) Let me be a lunatic. Things start happening when I am.

March 9, 2012 at 11:12 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Thanks all! It sure was foolish, but it lead me home.

KR: I spent the 40 bucks on an electric trap. Worth EVERY PENNY in the home. You run it on 4 C batteries and it kills rats, mice, the works.

March 9, 2012 at 11:34 AM  
Blogger Kira said...

Your post reminds me of a Native American (don't know what tribe)proverb a friend recently sent me:

As you go the way of life you will see a great chasm. Jump. It is not as wide as you think.

March 9, 2012 at 11:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes we all do stupid things in our youth (and sometimes in our later years too) but hopefully things work out OK. I did so many stupid things in my youth it is a miracle I am alive. My Mom says I am only alive because she spent so much time praying for me to be safe. I guess that is probably true, most of us need all the prayers we can get.

March 9, 2012 at 12:07 PM  
Blogger Taryn Kae Wilson said...


March 9, 2012 at 12:11 PM  
Blogger Karen Rickers said...

Thanks, Jenna! I'll give it a try, they must carry them at TSC.

March 9, 2012 at 12:11 PM  
Blogger Kaye said...

Great post, Jrnna.

Kara, I am a lifelong resident of little ole Franklin, NC. Small world, huh?

March 9, 2012 at 1:10 PM  
Blogger Noël McNeil said...

When I was in high school I was driving to a football game and an oncoming car swerved into my lane. I hit them going 55+. They were drunk and neither survived, I (slowly) walked away with a broken arm, and minor nerve damage in my neck and lower back. I still have some physical issues, but I really learned that life is short after that accident. It was totally out of my control and I knew the Lord was going to see me through it. Thankful that you didn't hit the rocks and that you became wiser from the fall. Sometimes, it's the hard knocks that give us drive, rather than everythying going perfectly. :)

March 9, 2012 at 1:18 PM  
Blogger Trekout2 said...

Jenna you once again are so right ... I just lost my second brother three weeks ago he was married to the most amazing woman in the world for only 37 years .. Life is so short ... Live each day as it was your last day on earth

March 9, 2012 at 1:38 PM  
Blogger Plant City Homestead said...

This post made me so homesick. I could feel the cold mountain water as I read. Those jumps of faith and courage come only a few times in a lifetime. I am so glad you took the plunge.

March 9, 2012 at 1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People used to tell me the things I did were dangerous. Like driving from Tn to Fl by myself when I was in the military home on leave. They said someone would murdered me on the road by myself! lol I had never heard such crazy talk before and I drove all over, by myself. No one else wanted to go with me so I had to go by myself.

March 9, 2012 at 3:05 PM  
Blogger JD Lynn said...

Maybe I'm feeling a bit sensitive today, but I felt rather stung at the "9.7 years into your 10 year plan" jibe.

Think I'll take a break from blogs for a on my apparently silly plans and grow thicker skin.

Take care, Jenna.

March 9, 2012 at 3:35 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

That wasn't a jibe at all. I didn't even realize where I had heard it till you commented. I'm getting around 100 emails and 100+ comments a day, so they mesh together. If that was your comment at some point, no need to take it personally.

I have a long-term plan too, to be self employed, and I'm putting off leaving my job for my own reasons. Sometimes my posts are really written to give ME the push I need. Not to insult others, ever.

March 9, 2012 at 3:40 PM  
Blogger judy said...

I haven't been to visit you for awhile but it still amazes me how the word flow from you,you certainly are blessed

March 9, 2012 at 3:42 PM  
Blogger Alexandra said...

I love this for so many reasons.

It reminds me of how Asheville was "that place" for me, interestingly enough, the place where I learned to take chances and the road less traveled.

Reminds me of cliff jumping in South Dakota...a real rush, ain't it?

And of the time I swam across a cold river in Montana as a "shortcut" home from a hike. Not the best idea in hindsight, but I gained a lot of gratitude, perspective, and respect for mother nature from it!

Thanks for writing and sharing your life with us everyday!

March 9, 2012 at 6:36 PM  
Blogger Alexandra said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

March 9, 2012 at 6:39 PM  
Blogger Maggie in Tally said...

Jenna, I've been a fan for 2 plus years now, and while I have loved many of your posts, I never felt one was written at me before. I'm up at the top of the falls. (In ND, knowing only one person) That one person has been sneaking around, having conversations with other wimmen. I found a job ad, wanting a farm hand. HE said no. I interviewed today anyway. It comes with a place to stay. It's what I've wanted to do for years, and the guy is willing to take me, knowing as little as I do, and train me. And pay me at the same time. Still I'm scared and have been prevaricating. But you know? You jumped. You lived to tell. I think I'm going to jump too. Worst I can get is some experience.

March 9, 2012 at 6:41 PM  
Blogger Maggie in Tally said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

March 9, 2012 at 6:41 PM  
Blogger Lara said...

The chain reactions in our life are something. Got to somehow believe each decision leads us down some other path. Thanks for sharing...beautiful post, wonderful analogies. Life without a good jump isn't worth much!

March 9, 2012 at 8:49 PM  
Blogger Melina said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

March 9, 2012 at 9:07 PM  
Blogger Lauren said...

I think it's also important to keep in mind that you have to be flexible. That perfect moment/life may truly not be doable right now, but I can change my perspective to see that I may be able to approach it at a different angle. I can wait to find my perfect home in that perfect town (I dream about it every day), or I could start learning the skills that I need for that "perfect life" now -- start integrating the "perfect" into the "now".

At the moment I am unemployed and living in my boyfriend's mom's house (and just did a cross-country move a couple of days ago!). I know that I can't find the perfect place to live with $100 in the bank. But I can volunteer, explore, learn, and make things with my own two hands. I even might be doing an apprenticeship in a couple of weeks on a small farm. The point is that I don't want to waste away the present for the sake of the future. It is something that I am not always good at doing but am trying to keep it in mind.

March 9, 2012 at 11:55 PM  
Blogger jojo said...

Jenna's recipe is simple but turns out great. She inspired me and I baked bread, made my own butter and although it was easy it is a big deal to me. I never thought I could make my own bread and butter. Enjoy!!

March 10, 2012 at 1:45 PM  

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