The Thanksgiving Tree has become a farm tradition. We have a branch, old and dry now, that stay’s standing in a crockery pitcher in the corner, waiting to be set at center stage on the table during our Thanksgiving holiday week. Held up by rocks collected from the road, the “tree” started as my effort to sow some seeds of gratitude when my children were young. That first year, we set up our tree at home using a branch we had found on the farm during October. Baby Girl was only a couple of months old — too young to offer her contributions, and the boys were at a stage when it wasn’t hard to get them to look for sticks! The idea was to add paper leaves or shapes to the tree each days with little “Today I’m thankful for…” messages written on them. We never did it every day. We weren’t that disciplined. But, it gave us a chance to talk about gratitude at the dinner table, and make note of our blessings.
Since then, we’ve spent every Thanksgiving at the farm, and the Thanksgiving Tree has become something we do during our week there. The first year we stayed at Busy Bee for the holiday, we found a branch, and we’ve kept it since. Some years, we’ve cut out our own leaf shapes. And, several years, I’ve created a printable for us to use and also share the tradition with others. I was looking back at a few “leaves” from the years, and it was such a blessing to see each of our hearts revealed in those few words. The treasured places, possessions, and people. It was sweet to see my loves’ handwriting change over time as they’ve grown. And, neat to see that some of our gratitude hasn’t changed. Through all the changes in our lives, what a blessing to count our blessings!
I’ve shared some of our memories here, and I’ve included another printable for 2017. You can download here or click the image below if you’re celebrating with your own Thanksgiving Tree. I’m looking forward to pulling that crockery to the forefront again next week, and adding these tags to it.
As I wrote about that very first Thanksgiving Tree…
I’m convinced that gratitude is an antidote to worry and complaint, and it’s the catalyst for kindness and generosity. In times of joy, in times of hardship, I need it. We need it.
There was a time when my children wanted to create a museum. We were in the phase of hoarding rocks and other tiny objects in our pockets, and on a constant quest for outdoor things in cool shapes and colors. This was also the phase when playing with dirt was a priority and walking around outside was a continual pique of curiosity, not just getting from one place to the next.
I noticed in those special days that there was a clear scale for the best nature objects, a cool factor we seemed to consistently assign to the most highly prized finds. Anything heart-shaped was immediately brought to Mommy. Anything with petals. After all, giving Mommy flowers was the ultimate feel-good activity. Things shaped like letters or numbers were happy surprises. And, anything containing bones or teeth was the ultimate discovery. That’s what made the farm the center of museum curation. Walks on gravel roads, pasture trails, and stream beds are places where bones and teeth tend to show up. Along with seed pods and oddly-shaped earth clumps, and the occasional rusted tool.
The museum was to be located in the barn at Busy Bee and serve as a showcase of our most exciting discoveries. Really, a showcase of every single little thing that any one of us thought was precious enough to tuck in our pockets or throw in the wagon. The barn was the perfect location because it already contains its own collection of old jars and cans, and rusted tools and horse bridles and such. We dreamed of little displays of countless “heart rocks”, the bones of cows and coyotes, dried flowers and berries, and the remnants of withered mushrooms and acorn tops.
The museum never really materialized, although much curation happened on the farm table and on shelves in the house and baskets where we still gather our “collection.” The children have grown, of course, and their interest in saving rocks and plucking flowers sometimes wanes. But, they still notice them. They still say “Mommy, there’s a heart rock!” sometimes. And I mark it down in my soul. I saw it on our trip to the Smoky Mountains last month. The beauty and overwhelming curiosity of nature. The wonder of exploring it. It’s still there. For me and for them. Just masked sometimes by the pull of busyness and technology. And growing up, but resisting it.
It’s funny, though. When we go to Busy Bee, we slip right back in that curation mode. There, the rocks and blooms and curious finds seem to hold more fascination than anywhere else. There, we’ve made it our mission to find the fascination. To wander. To look up and look down. To touch what we see. And even sometimes to pick it up and put it in our pockets.
I found some still life photos of some of our farm collection. We all loved the 9-shaped twig in the one above – or is it a 6? I went with 9, and included nine views of the colors, shapes, and curiosities of dying things. All telling their own story of autumn on the farm. Enjoy! And, I hope they inspire you to look up and down, too.
I’m just now getting to share this sketch journal entry from our farm trip a few weeks ago. When we’re there, I love to sit out on the deck overlooking our back pasture in the mornings. It’s always been very peaceful to me, and this particular morning, I got to see a little rain storm come through. I’ve seen countless rain showers and even thunderstorms move through Busy Bee over the years, but sometimes the most ordinary moments become extraordinary when you force yourself to stop and take it all in. That morning, I decided to wait it out on the deck rather than running back inside, and it turned out to be a real joy.
We spent last week at Busy Bee, enjoying farm wanderings. It was very rainy, which kept us inside much of the time, but we had a few opportunities to explore pastures and shady roads. With all the water, mushrooms were growing everywhere! Searches under the overgrown trees brought all kinds of glistening shapes and colors popping out from the leftover leaves from last winter. Many were still holding water from the rains, and I couldn’t help but imagine fairy baths and frog tea parties going on in these magical shapes. Here’s a collection of some of our finds. I need to look them up to see the official names, but for now, I’m too busy thinking of fairies and toads.
March is coming to a close with all its fickle Southern tendencies! For a month that always ushers in the Spring season, this year’s has sure given us the full spectrum of Mississippi seasons from winter freezes to summer heat. My children were out of school for Spring Break a few weeks ago, and we were able to spend the week at Busy Bee, our family farmhouse in Noxubee County. I always enjoy taking time there to unwind, enjoy unstructured family time, and get my fix of pasture walking and breathing in country air. This year, our Spring Break weather included some cold and rainy days, but we made the most of it, squeezing in at least a few of our favorite farm adventures.
I don’t know if it’s because of the burst of warmer weather we had early in 2017, but I can hardly remember a time at Busy Bee when the pre-Spring days were SO green! Although we had some freezing temperatures, the pasture carpet was full of new life. In these early Spring days, the green seems the most lush before summer’s heat has the chance to tire it out. Of course, I always have my camera with me, and it was fun to capture a few glimpses of how Spring on the farm cracks through the more stark color and contrast of winter. For us, it was a week of seeing two seasons at once, sometimes in the same frame. I came home with renewed energy and excitement for the ideas I’ve wanted to tackle this year.
[so many greens]
My oldest has been talking about memories a lot lately – not necessarily specific ones, but more the concept of having them. And how they’re associated with places. Busy Bee, as we call our family farm land, is one of those places that has instilled memories for me, and it’s always been my goal for my children to have them there as well. We’ve set aside weeks to spend at the farmhouse each year to help build those memories, and it was neat for me to realize again this summer that the memories are taking hold.
We usually take a week of farm fun around Memorial Day to kick off our summer vacation. This year, as we were driving on the gravel road leading to our property, Travis noticed the typical cows in the fields. They are almost always black ones like the ones my dad used to keep. Now my uncle keeps a similar breed on our property. I think what caught Travis’ attention was the unusual red cow in the field. After pointing it out, he commented that it wasn’t like the ones on “our farm.” And then, “See Mommy, we have memories here.” It was a small and unselfconscious declaration taking ownership of one of our places and experiences. And it brought a smile to my face. What joy to have my children enjoy some of the same experiences and build some of the same memories I had as a child!
[growing wild all over, but not quite ripe]
[trumpet vine, somehow this has made it to my yard over the last year]
We spent the week enjoying more of our favorite farm adventures… walking the gravel roads, throwing rocks in the creek, noticing a thousand greens, digging through fallen trees, exploring the woods, finding old animal bones, the tree bench, gathering sticks for a bonfire, s’mores, driving to the “back back” and checking out fences, rocking on the deck, picnics by the barn, discovering blackberries, cooling off with a dvd marathon, sleeping late, and lots of conversations. I try to document our journey with photos and sometimes paintings. This trip, I painted most days on the deck each day, and the kids joined me a couple of times. Maybe that will become another tradition.
[found cow bones now repurposed to dig in a tree stump]
[does anyone else see a fish?]
[my grandmother’s fig tree still producing]
[old milk barn window with vines]
[Memorial Day 2016]
We were very excited to spend part of last week at our family’s farm land for the children’s Fall Break. We enjoyed many of our usual farm activities, and I thought I would share a few inspiring thoughts and views discovered there. We aren’t usually at the farm until later in the fall, so this time we had the chance to see a nice mix of summer and autumn as well as a few wild flowers and plants we don’t often get to see.
We call the farm “Busy Bee” after an old African American church that was once located in the area. It may be just a name our family uses, but it’s stuck since I was a child. For this trip — and for the first time in a long time — I left my laptop at home and had a welcomed break from work activities. I didn’t even take my paints or sketch book, and I didn’t miss them! A true sign I was due for a mental break from creative activities.
We filled our days with down time, conversations, and walking in the pastures. We found a couple of new trees to climb, checked out the hay yard, walked the Southwest end of the property, and explored the Dry Creek bed (which was actually dry this time of year). It was a much needed change of scenery for me and for the kids, and in that void of deadlines and creative pursuits, I had the chance to let the whirling of thoughts and ideas in my mind settle. I came home with this small reminder written in my journal…
It’s hard to take the right steps forward if I am not disciplined to spend time listening to my own inner voice.
[pasture wildflowers we haven’t seen before]
[sometime rust can be very colorful]
[lilypads forming on the back pond]
[the remaining two walls of an old hay shed – before my time]
[an honest to goodness tree bench discovered in the woods at the Southwest corner]