It very well could have been a dream.
It is one of those rare bluebird days of late October with splintered sunshine and cobalt blue skies and colored leaves dancing in the wind.
A yellow ATV cruises undulating emerald pastures dotted with gray cattle and woolly sheep that pay scant attention to the vehicle. Two llamas and two alpacas are vaguely interested, while an exuberant reddish dog lopes alongside and makes wide circles in lush alfalfa before topping the hill and disappearing from sight.
No, this was not a dream and I’m so glad it was reality and that I was privileged to literally be along for the ride.
We – Debbie Eells and the happy little dog, Abby (she’d been abandoned, hence the name) – are touring the scenic 90-plus-acre Columbiana County farm on which Debbie and Craig live.
In 1910, it was the farm of Debbie’s great-grandparents, David and Mabel Swaney, and then was their son Morris’. Debbie’s parents, Richard Neville and Velma Swaney, were next, being married in the Dyke Road farmhouse and after a seven-year hiatus in which the house stood empty, it was Debbie and Craig’s turn.
Farm folks. Debbie and Craig are both well-known to area farm folks. Debbie is store manager at Agland Co-op in Canfield, and Craig is branch manager at Agland in Lisbon. Their son, Joshua, is with Agland in Fresno, while their daughter, Becky, works at Crandall Medical Center. Obviously the apples fell close to the tree!
Debbie and Craig had previously lived in Elkton where Debbie first became interested in having sheep, and while they’ve lived in the 100-year-old house 10 years – much of that time restoring it – sheep have been an important part of her life for 15 years.
Her 28 individuals, composed of Dorset, Merino, Columbia and Border-Leicester, were selected for the quality of their fleece because Debbie’s hobby is spinning.
Traditional art. Spinning? Yes, not the newfangled kind you see people doing in health gymnasiums, but the time-honored kind where the end product is yarn used in knitting and crocheting. And yes, she also uses the fleece from her llamas and alpacas in her spinning.
Before we go into the house I am totally impressed by the flowers. Flowers are everywhere, testament to Debbie’s other hobby. Even in late October they still bloomed, as frost had not yet hit them.
And before I forget, the aforementioned 21 Murray Grey cattle are Craig’s hobby, and it is an uncommon breed hailing from Australia. Ranging from pale beige to gray to deeper gray – Brutus is the handsome herd bull – they are mid-size and very docile. This spring’s calves would like to investigate us and probably associate the ATV with food as they head for the fence. Speaking of fence, there are miles and miles of single-strand electrical fence and everyone stays where they should.
A cozy house. In the house with its marvelous old wide board flooring, we are welcomed by Holly, a 14-year-old Australian shepherd with blue eyes. Her head is immediately in my lap as I sit in a comfortable chair and learn about spinning and look at Debbie’s “stash” of vari-colored hanks of yarn, all from her own fleece. The colors are all from natural dyes, Debbie explains.
She learned to spin from Florence Highfield of North Lima, formerly of Salem, and confesses that an antique picture of ladies spinning was her inspiration to learn. On the walls are several lovely old pictures with sheep and country scenery. Also an inspiration and help is her good friend, Barb Moff, who has been spinning a long, long time.
About 30 friends, all of whom spin, gather the first Monday of every month at Colonial Inn on the Canfield Fairgrounds and visit and spin and just have a good time. “We don’t bother with bylaws or officers or a constitution – we just have fun,” she says.
She demonstrates her carding machine and shows how she twists the carded fleece as she works at the spinning wheel. After a long day at work, she looks forward to relaxing in her comfortable chair and spinning, spinning, spinning.
Shagbark Hollow. During our ride around the rolling acres, I admire all the great trees and think about what all they have seen in this gently preserved land. The sheep have grazed underbrush away so the green grass looks to have been mowed, and here, deep in the woods, is an ancient manure spreader with rusted iron wheels, just waiting to have its picture taken.
And here towers a venerable shagbark hickory tree, the only one, which gave the farm its name, Shagbark Hollow.
A final note: Debbie loves the Christmas season, and the lovingly restored house will brim with perhaps a dozen or more decorated trees.
As she works diligently with her knitting, she hopes one day to have enough homemade knitted scarves or whatever to give one to every visitor, and there better be a lot of finished works because there will always be a lot of visitors and not just at Christmas.
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A computer problem at Farm and Dairy necessitated several deletions from the previous column, among them the happy report that Toby, who has had health problems most of late summer, seems to have overcome them and Apache is thrilled to have his playmate back.
They run together and buck and kick, and it is a lovely sight for me.
Also, forget the pears. Deer found them and not a one is left. Neither is the deer block I got for them, and because of budget restraints they are now getting ear corn.
One deer block is $10 and it was demolished in two evenings.