The 100-plus acre farm on which we live has been for sale for some time. It’s a huge chunk of land, and the restrictions on subdivision for this area are quite strict. Land cannot be subdivided into lots smaller than 13 acres, so it’s not the kind of parcel to move quickly on the market, and certainly not in the current real estate climate. The owners were hoping either someone would buy up the entire property for a horse farm or as an estate property, in which case we and the other farm tenants would likely be eventually turned out to the street, or that they’d be able to sell enough to open space that they could keep and maintain the main house and the barn and cottage apartments in which the tenants live. The latter is what has come to pass, with the official transfer of the fields and the woods to happen with the new year. A lucky break for the owners, and for us.
The unlucky ones were the family that had taken over the late property manager’s cottage a ways back in the woods. That house stands on the property that will be open space, and so it has to come down as a condition of the sale. The late property manager, who had lived there for somewhere around fifteen years, was very well liked around here. To be true, his duties as property manager were a little murky, as I can’t recall him concerning himself with anything to do with the apartments – but then, no one has: out here we largely take care of ourselves, and have the bill sent to the landlord if it concerns things like furnaces that are likely to outlive our tenancy.
What he did do, other than, or so he claimed, arrange for our dumpster rental, is run the hunt club. The hunt club paid an annual rent for the privilege, which was not inconsiderable. The property manager was a local guy and lived his life entirely for two things, lonely old women and hunting. He knew how to work the system. Because it’s a private farm, he and his friends were able to secure permits that enabled them to hunt around the clock and throughout the year. As he let on to us, there was some hedging going on as to what and was not a legitimate kill: infrequent pickups with camper shells would drive by late on the way down to his cottage, and he would later let on that some contraband trophy had been brought from elsewhere to be tagged here.
In any case, while hunting did continue more or less throughout the year, the tenants had pretty much unimpeded access to the fields and woods in the warmer months, and in colder months, when the pace of the hunting increased throughout the official hunting season, we knew to check and see if anyone had come down to hunt before heading out, though we could fairly well assume that we shouldn’t venture in the wilds during the day midwinter. The hunt club nominally continued following the death of the property manager, but the amount of hunting and the number of hunters declined. Oddly enough, this didn’t translate to increased access to the fields and undeveloped acreage, since the decrease in hunting activity meant an increase in the unpredictability of its timing, and, truth be told, the family that took over the empty cottage, and ostensibly some of the duties of management, made it evident that they were not particularly interested in socializing with the other tenants, and so we we simply did not know what was going on out there. Over the past few years, the fields in winter had become practically inaccessible.
That family is gone, and so has the hunt club, and so, for the first time ever, we have largely unimpeded access to the woods and fields year round. The first day of regular season the farmer showed up with his son to hunt, but other than that, this winter the woods belong, so to speak, to the tenants. So last month we decided to exercise the privilege and headed off along the farm road.
The crop this past summer was hay. It was harvested a couple months ago, and much of it regrew in a motley fashion and now has turned golden. The crops are usually feed crops and fairly basic and non-intensive: feed corn, soy, sorghum, and the like. The farmer trucks up from Delaware to seed and fertilize in the spring. At some point after growth is going like gangbusters, the fields are sprayed with an herbicide that kills everything except the crop, which has been modified for resistance. The fields are checked on periodically, and then, as fall approaches, harvested.
There are deer blinds in a number of trees growing alongside the dirt roads running through the fields, and we climbed one to get a better view.
Here you can see two adjacent fields. The farm consists of five largish fields – I have no knack for estimating the size of properties by sight. These two front Fiddlers Creek Rd., another is up by the barn and main farm house, and the remaining two sit the rear of where we’re looking in the picture, nestled in the woods above Route 29.
Here you see some of the rear fields as if looking backwards from the blind.
From there we headed to the far edge of the fields in that second photo above and headed down into the woods and the ravine. I love ravines. They feature water, usually, and the descent breaks up the occasional monotony of the woodland.
The first thing you encounter when you come down the wooded hills at the edge of the fields is the eponymous Fiddlers Creek.
Often this time of the year it’s much drier, and even times nonexistent. In the spring it can be a couple dozen feet wide where it cuts through the farm property, and I’ll estimate its depth then as being up to my neck or higher. Then it’s rushing and fast, carrying water down the valley off into the Delaware. Usually here, though, it’s only about three feet deep and about a dozen or so feet across. By the time it gets down to the river, it’s a bit deeper and wider, but sluggish and nearly still. In the winter it can be dry even to the point of nonexistence, but the summer has been very wet, as has the fall and now the winter, so it has been a long time since its bottom has been dry. There are the usual crawfish and mudpuppies in it, minnows, and we’ve seen green and leopard frogs in and around it.
The floor of the ravine is wide, flat, and sparsely wooded, and the serpentine course of the creek down to the river makes for a sequence of large rectangular plots of land. Very pleasant for aimless walking.
The trees grow tall to complete, I assume, with the canopy at either edge of the ravine. The only evidence of fauna, other than the red-tailed hawk and the turkey vultures flying overhead and the nondescript little sparrows and such flitting about just out of sight, was some raccoon scat on a rock.
Here’s a longer look at an adjacent formation.
Because they break up the steep ascent with flat escarpments on which to rest and dangle legs, they make an excellent place to stop for a snack and to watch the hawks.
There’s a five-year-old in tow and lunchtime is still ahead of us, so we don’t explore any further that day. We have really only covered a small portion of the property, which is one of the wonderful things about it. It extends for quite a ways up the far side of the ravine through more woodland, and there is a largish, hilly pocket of woods behind the cottages and on the far side of the fields from the ravine. There is also a swath of marshy bottom downhill from the fields adjacent to the highway. Much of this area has trails cut through the brush for ATVs, making the job of grooming trails much easier for whoever will be managing the property for open space.
We’re grateful for the opportunity to stay on the farm a bit longer – the sale means we won’t be chased away now by a new owner, but it doesn’t mean that our cottage, or the other rental units, will receive the renovations necessary to keep them livable for the long term. Nor will the cottage or the other units satisfy our pressing and growing need for more space.
Still, we’re grateful to have an undefined and open end to our stay. It does mean, though, that while hunters will probably not much impede our access to the property during the colder months, we’ll be sharing it others now throughout the year. As we sat on the rock escarpments eating peanuts and raisins, two strangers came down into the ravine, looked for and found the trail that winds up the other side, and headed on. I suspect they were associated with the purchase. We waved, said hello, and smiled, but it was weird.