Saturday, February 13, 2016

Big Cold

Today will be met with high winds, intense cold, and lows in the negative teens. As of 8AM this morning all is well. The animals had been checked, fed, and watered. Everyone has extra bedding, a place to get out of the wind, plenty to eat, and basically the proper motivation to sleep through this blast of winter like the horrible hangover it is. We'll get through it. I still get nervous.

This is my fifth winter on this farm, but the house and I have changed considerably. When I bought this place I depending on an oil burner with baseboard heat. There was thick carpeting in the front room. Everything was fresh paint and shiny and clean. Now it is roaring fires that keep the home warm, feed bags are stacked inside the dining room on a dirty wooden floor so they don't freeze, and there's not a carpet to be seen - save for the welcome mat. I have shearling slippers (carpets on my feet) and a broom for dog hair. Works kinda great.

I have to run into town soon for some long nails to repair a loose metal piece of the pig's wall. If the high winds predicted blow through it might be in danger of blowing off. I'll surely grab a cup of coffee and Stewart's and listen in for the weather and farm news, maybe bullshit with some of the real pros. The elder dairy farmers around here will have their own advice and predictions to share, and there are a lot of things a pony and sheep can benefit from that also keep heifers comfortable in this weather.

-15 tonight. High winds. You know what I'll be doing? I have a bird this farm raised this summer in a cast iron pot, slowly cooking with potatoes and carrots for a think chicken stew. With a pot of rice it'll be enough to feed four very hungry people, which I am expecting tonight to come after dark for Game Night. As the winds howl out there we'll be inside running our Pathfinder campaign and every few hours I'll head outside with a lantern to check on sleeping pigs in their shelter, the horse in his, the sheep in their shed, goats in their pen, and the birds in the barn.

Merlin is due for the farrier soon. I'll call Dave and set something up after Tuesday when the sun becomes civil again.

I have my truck back as of Thursday evening and made the first of three payments on the repairs. Two more Fridays of repairs ahead to earn and figure out. I am so grateful for the five of you who sent in donations this week! This blog is free, always will be, but those little gifts and the ongoing subscriptions some of you choose to patron - it really makes a difference. Every little click on that button is used to cover hay and feed, truck repairs and firewood, the lights and internet. It all helps. It makes me realize I am also not just shouting into a void but talking to people who really care about this little mountain farm. Thank you.

That cell phone piece I wrote for the Guardian has been shared 22,000 times and has nearly a thousand comments. That is insane! Celebrities are retweeting it. People are sending me emails from all over the world in congratulations and celebration. Many, many, more called me an idiot or worse. *shrugs* Well, they aren't here hammering pig walls in the high winds, stoking stoves, tending water lines, or bedding sheep sheds. These are all things I can't do with a smart phone, or any phone for that matter. I may very well be an idiot, but tonight around stove light, candles, lanterns and hot food raised on this very chunk of earth surrounded by good friends and our own feral stories - I feel like I am not missing out on anything.

But I'll raise a glass to smart phones anyway. The payment for that story will cover at least one more truck repair payment!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Smart Phone Piece In The Guardian Today!

The phone rings: it’s my friend checking to see if I can pick her up on the way to a dinner party. I ask her where she is and as she explains, I reach as far as I can across the countertop for a pen. I scribble the address in my trusty notebook I keep in my back pocket. I tell her I’ll be at her place in about 20 minutes, give or take a few. Then I hang up. Literally.

I physically take the handset receiver away from my ear and hang it on the weight-triggered click switch that cuts off my landline’s dial tone.

I take my laptop, Google the address, add better directions to my notes and head outside to my 1989 pick-up truck (whose most recent technological feature is a cassette player) and drive over. If I get lost on the way, I’ll need to ask someone for directions. If she changes her plans, she won’t be able to tell me or cancel at a moment’s notice. If I crash on the way, I won’t be calling 911.

I’m fine with all of this. As you guessed by now, I haven’t had a cellphone for more than 18 months.

Read the rest at TheGuardian.com

Throwing Shade

Serious Cold Coming

A very serious cold front is coming through along with high winds. These are the kind of weekends that turn this farm into a fort. The driest wood is stacked inside around the stove like pillars. The faucets are all running at a fast drip to discourage freezing pipes. The animals get thicker bedding, extra calories, and attention. The dogs all pile into bed with me at night and the cats keep being cats - moody and distant. We'll be okay.

When people read about homesteading they imagine weekends like this as cozy little fireside times. They are, but there is also an element of fear and wariness. Bad cold like this can kill, and I'm not talking about the livestock. I know all the animals are prepared with thick coats, good shelter, and savvy skils. What dies is morale. Because weekends like this are exactly the kind of times that trial us the most. The next three days will be a full-time, round the clock, job of keeping fires burning and the home safe.

I regular farm news my truck is in the shop being repaired. To earn the money for repairs I am running lots of logo sales, meat shares, workshop and season pass sales, and other ideas to help out with the resources and skills I have now. The last few weeks have seen a real slow down in sales of any kind but I am not discouraged. It's just after the holidays and people are tired of spending money. I am hoping with the warming temperatures folks will start bringing up ideas around the breakfast table like keeping chickens or starting to consider dairy goats and be more interested in the classes here. I am planning a summer archery day for new archers and a fiddle day in the fall. Is anyone interested in a weekend fiddle camp this fall? If so, let me know!

I'm off to check on the animals and bring in more firewood. Brick, the ewe with the bad lip, seems to be healing nicely and I picked up a new bottle of CDT shots and some syringes and needles yesterday at the feed store. Lambs are expected in about a month and I want all those meds in their systems well before so the lambs are born with the benefits as well. One lamb is already sold to a friend from the brewery! Encouraging for sure!

In other animal news, I am on the lookout for turkey hens. If anyone local wants to trade for them, you know how to reach me. Lucas and Brian need some company.

I hope all of you are staying safe and warm this weekend.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Dead Horses

I was eating lunch with a close friend and she told me a story about a local horse farm. This is a 100% true story that just happened here in Washington County, in the year 2016.

The people who own a horse farm were inside, it being a winter day well after chores. Someone drove by and stopped to look at their horses in the field. It was around 1PM and all the horses were laying down on areas of piled up hay from round bales, on their sides, enjoying the winter sun, having a nap on the dry hay. The farmers saw the woman get out of her car and expected her to take a picture. A lot of people stop by their road and take pictures of their magnificent draft horses, so they shrugged and went back to their tasks. An hour later they looked outside and the woman was still there, watching the horses. So the farmer inside shook his head, put on a hat and coat, and walked down to greet their new voyeur.

"Can I help you?" He asked.

The woman looked at him with concern. "I'm worried about your horses. They have been lying down for a long time. I have been watching them. They might be dead." She pointed to the napping animals.

The farmer smiled and whistled, then yelled to the "dead horses" by their names. A few heads of annoyed equines looked up for a moment, blinked, and then laid back down. "See!" He told her. "They aren't dead or sick, they're just sleeping. They always sleep around this time of day after a morning of eating."

The woman crossed her arms and said, "Well, I have horses too and if I ever see one of mine lay down in the pastures I walk right over to it and get it up."

The farmer replied. "They must be exhausted."

A funny story, I suppose, if it didn't show the absolute ignorance well meaning people have about animals and their care. So many people see another species and assume if that animal, be it a chicken,  deer, dog, or horse - anything! — that if it isn't living in conditions that would make a human being content it is an act of cruelty, or at the very least - incorrect. It's not.

Pigs out on pasture or in the woods spend hours and hours with their noses in the dirt and mud rooting through it, looking for bugs and acorns and other goodies you might not like to eat. Then they waddle right over to their water stations and don't even wipe the mud off their faces before they plunge in for a long drink. Unless you are at my farm for the ten seconds after the twice-daily water refills you will find muddy drinking water. It isn't abuse. It isn't neglect. Pigs root with the same part of the body that drinks.

Chickens have a pack mentality, a literal pecking order. If you go to a friend's house with cooped chickens in a pen you might see backs void of feathers, some with scabs even. This is because they peck each other for dominance in confined spaces. Roosters mount, remount, and remount some more on the same ten hens. Back feathers only exist in birds either entirely void of community or void of fencing. They are not abused, neglected, or being beaten by their owners - they are just governing themselves. The fence is to keep them safe from predators and that is a price fenced birds pay in vanity.

People with barn cats lose their cats. They die all the time. They get ran over. They get killed by coyotes and foxes and bobcats. They get sick and die alone under the stairs. They are working animals living a life outdoors and while some of us get very attached to our barn cats (in this case my "barn cats" are spayed and neutered house cats who get regular vet care and share my bed at night when they feel like it) but they go outside every day, kill vermin, climb trees, cross roads. I know they might die any day. It's not cruel or neglect to let a farm cat live the life of a farm cat. It's just the reality of living on a farm with working cats.

Goats shed in the spring and it isn't pretty. Their hair comes off in clumps and they rub against barns. In the spring Bonita looks like a homeless woman who just came out from under a bridge. Ida doesn't look much better. They are also dairy animals, who always have prominent hip bones and concave sides behind their ribs in the prime of their health. Click here to see a picture of a prize winning Alpine dairy goat. A champion goat - the picture of perfection - has jutting hip bones and a concave area behind the ribs. This is okay. The animal is not abused or starving or injured.

I was accused in the same week of Gibson being too thin and too fat. A customer at the hardware store told me I wasn't feeding him right and he was far too thin. At a sheepdog trial a trainer pinched his side and grabbed a pile of fat from the ribs and said it could slow him down or even injure him in the field. The man at the store had no idea what a working dog looked like. They are so rare these days and obese dogs are so normal, a healthy animal looks sick to us...

These are just some examples of other "dead horses". The ignorance about livestock is massive, and only matched by the arrogance and righteousness of those out there kind enough to save them from us awful farmers.

Do you guys have any dead horse stories? Let's get some education out there!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Truck Into the Shop Tomorrow

I think I am going to slide right back into the roots of this blog and share the everyday events again. It was never meant to fall off the wagon into essays and passion pieces and event notices, which isn't a bad thing at all, but I feel like the heart of the blog is just the good fight of everyday life on the farm. And the big news? The truck goes into the shop tomorrow! It'll be at Bains in Salem for two days, and cost around $750 for new leaf springs, shocks, and labor. It's a lot of money, but they are wonderful people and willing to work with me on a payment plan. So tomorrow I will carefully drive it north to their shop and Patty will pick me up there and bring me home. Luck, labor, friends, and a red pickup.

And a special thanks to those 63 of you who helped me get that truck! The Kiva Loan has been repaid on time every month. If I sell a book or come across a pile of money I will pay it off sooner. But right now I am so grateful it belongs to me in title and the loan repayments are affordable. She's a good truck, even with the string of repairs she is putting me through, but she feels amazing and right to drive and I love her. She's worth the upkeep.

Want to help with the truck?
SEASON PASS SALE! 2 for 1 plus $50 off!

You and a friend/spouse can come to any Cold Antler Farm events for a year for $200! That is 2 for one and $50 off! Sign up today! All proceeds from this sale go towards repairing the farm truck! Woo hoo! If interested, email me at dogsinourparks@gmail.com

And a special thanks as well to the folks who kicked in some donations this past week. You guys covered the call to Canine Poison Control and it was very appreciated!

Pictures From This Snowy Morning!

I put together and album this snowy morning of the farm animals and their roles on this little homestead. Thought you folks would enjoy some pics of icy manes, happy pigs, wooly sheep, and working dogs... and what the cats do while we're all outside!

Click here to see the album!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Solid Medium

So some updates for you fine readers about recent events. Two days of ProPen G and the lip on the ewe Brick is coming around. She'll get at least 3 more days of antibiotics to stave off any infections from the tear, and all the sheep are due soon for their CDT shots, in their bloodstream a few weeks before lambing. So I'll wrangle them one by one and get them ready, feel them over, check teats and trim hooves. Basic flock care, one sheep at a time.

My string of bad luck isn't improving though. Yesterday on the way to a volunteer event a few towns over the passenger side rear leaf spring on the truck literally flew off. This is on top of my baling twine repairs and it was a pretty low point in my day - running late, picking up pieces of my truck off a side road, and trying to just keep positive. I am taking it to my mechanic today to get an idea of repairs. It needs a lot of work these days - shocks, leaf springs, and while none of the repairs are complicated or very expensive - they sure do add up. Things like this, the emergency vet visit, the butcher's bill - they just get all the normal bills behind and scare the crap out of me. So I am running a sale on logos on Facebook for March designs and working as much as I can with the part time job, but hours were reduced to a quarter of what they were. So that was another bit of bad luck. Just when I needed that income most, it was gone.

These aren't real problems, just the reality of the life I chose. I do share them here. Along with stories of horses and hawks and snowstorms and lambs. Like so many of you commented before in the Trained post a few days ago - you appreciate reading about the bad along with the good. I appreciate that you are reading, that you care, and that you commented to say so. It is so nice to hear from you guys on here.

So I am off to the mechanic. Wish me luck. Wish me sales. Wish me a ewe with a healing lip and weather luck with this snow coming this week. And wish me that constant positive slant, which has been fighting alongside me like a trusty sidekick all week. Not everything has been bad. Common Sense delivered hay here so the barn is stocked for the snowstorm. That saved me making many smaller trips with a truck unable to handle the burden on the broken springs. Yesheva came up and helped me with that ewe as well, when I first saw the bad lip. Patty and Mark invited me over to watch the Superbowl, which was nice to eat nachos and watch the game and cheer with friends. Life is pretty solid. It'll get more solid as I put my shoulder into it, earn a bit more, get through the hurdles of truck repairs and such, and just get on with it.

Not a pleasant update, I suppose. But could be worse. Fingers crossed.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Stay Classy

Carving With Spoons

Today:

Wake up at 6AM after a night with 2 hours of sleep

Farm chores: feeding pigs, chickens, geese, horse, flock of sheep, dairy goats and prep for slaughter truck.

Lay under truck and fix a rusted pipe connection with duct tape and baling twine. Spare money already spent on vet visit for puppy 2 days ago.

Help slaughter 2 pigs.

Drag 100 pounds of guts, bones, heads, and such a half mile away into the woods to a giant pile for the locals.

Go into town. Load hay and feed bags.

Come home. Get invited to a movie. Get excited about hope of Leonardo Dicaprio and popcorn.

Do a last minute run around farm to check all for water and feed. Realize your best ewe, Brick, has a tear on her lip hanging off like an Elvis impersonator.

Cancel any plans of a social life. Call friend and tell her I can't do the mobies. Call farm neighbor who is better than most vets when it comes to sheep and goats. She is coming with her med kit and 10 years experience with goats and sheep.

She is here in 10 minutes. Together we wrestle (she falls over onto the mud and I am stuck almost inverted holding the ewe with my head down).

Together we clean up, medicate, mend, evaluate the otherwise healthy and pregnant sheep right there on the muddy hillside. We high five. Her knee hurts and I have a headache from panting upside down.

My best ewe gets up and walks away, much better off. She was purchased in 2010. I am praying for a daughter out of her this year.

It is 3PM and I have not showered or even started freelance work yet. Clients can only wait so long. My night is going to be graphic design here in the farmhouse.

I still have a headache. But I also have a hard cider.

So what is all this? This is one day on a farm that lives and breathes animal life and husbandry. It is sorrow and sacrifice. It is time and sweat and a rush of blood to the head. But it is also amazing friendships that transcend the everyday. It is baby lambs in your arms, and pulled pork dinners at Game Night, and it is the promise of more life and wealth ahead if you can keep your head in the fight.

None of this list was a complaint. It's just a postcard from one farm, on one hillside, and one life being carved out of an Ash tree with a spoon. Not easy, but possible if you're stubborn enough.

I am nothing if not stubborn.

Hearts on the Tailgate

When I cam home yesterday from town, I noticed that the exhaust pipe on the back of the truck was on the ground. The device that held it up had rusted loose and from the looks of it, was already makeshift repaired once. I didn't have the energy or will to get below it and start troubleshooting. I was feeling defeated. I came inside, lit a fire, and went to bed.

This morning when the butchers came to slaughter two of my six pigs, I had a cup of coffee in me and the advantage of daylight and some perspective that a shot of caffeine and vitamin D offer. I literally propped the pipe back up on it's hinge with masking tape and baling twine. I had to chuckle at that, since last month Modern Farmer magazine wanted to ask me how many uses I had for baling twine and if they could publish some of them. I told them somewhere around 300, at least. Now I can add truck repairs.

It was a bloody morning here, as slaughtering pigs always is. They are shot in the head and then their throats are slit and the ground turns red and stays red for months. Between these flashes of snowfall and bitter cold days followed by stretches of warm spells I imagine the earth itself exhaling and inhaling. Blood used to be a messy and scary thing, now it's just food for soil and very small part of a story of an animal's life. Grass will grow there in a few months, as it has over countless farms and battlefields. The earth must be fed, too.

I always check the pig's livers for spots and ask the butchers who come for their thoughts on the animals and their weight. We laid them out on the tailgate of the truck I had just expertly repaired and they were given clean bills of "that's a fine liver, eattemup".  I keep the hearts, too.  If I don't eat them the hawks will. The conversation around the carcasses are so casual, so everyday. I sip a mug of coffee and help carry feet or heads over to the tarps where they will be removed for composting. There was a time when I couldn't imagine laughing and enjoying hot coffee while sorting body parts. Remember, I was a vegetarian for nearly a decade.

I'm going to take this truck for a trial run into town and see if how my handywork does. After that, it's a very mild afternoon of freelance work. If the sun warms the roads up a bit I might head out for a jog just to make sure my legs remember how to move up mountains. After that the dogs are I are curling up with a movie.

Friday is just fine and never had any problems from the foam, so I am grateful that little sprite is okay. She's just 38 pounds. I never thought I'd have a dog so small. But here she is, and she is mighty.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Trained

I have been trained by enough readers of this blog not to share bad news. The only outcome is judgement. If I talk about fears involving money; I am begging for help or asking for a handout. If I talk about losing an animal; I was a bad care giver and I don't even deserve to grieve. If I share a story about a sad event; I am pathetic and looking for attention. If I talk about anything controversial - from not liking cats to national politics - I am somehow offending a stranger. One time I tweeted about about not thinking highly of adult coloring books as the new national pastime and I got a half-dozen twitter and facebook messages about my "hate speech" towards coloring books. I refused to respond to those messages. I draw the line at arguing with adults about color books.

This might be just 10% of the emails and comments I get, but that ten percent tears me apart. I have gotten to a place in my blogging life where I am scared to write anything raw anymore. Scared to post pictures of my flawed house, messy yard, or anything flawed with animals or my own highly-imperfect self and life. As a single woman it is getting downright scary to read the things men will say in an email with no name attached to it.

I read once (in a quote I don't know the author of, sorry author) that writers need to have a thin skin to create anything beautiful and a thick skin to share it with the world. I don't have a thick skin, at all. Which is why I ride draft horses, hunt with hawks, shoot a heavy bow, study martial arts, run for miles, and have a farm - because I am trying to become the strong woman all of you think I am. That I dream of being. That I am not. I'm just a broken person like everyone else. A broken person who taught herself that writing makes the bad feelings go away. Or, used to.

So I'll say this. I had a horrible day. I wanted to write here on this blog about it, but winced soon as I opened the post screen. The fall out that might come back to because of it, just the fear of it alone, made me feel like a kicked dog. That fear of going to bed expecting the trigger storm of comments and emails and blog posts and phone calls was an even worse feeling. There is nothing as sickening to me as being scolded by other adults as an adult. Because I believe every word of it alone in the dark on a cold night.

I have been trained to shut up. Tonight I am shutting up.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Friday Swallowed Rogaine
Poison to Cats and Dogs

As I explain in this very embarrassing video, it would be the easist thing in the world not to share this story. So, please be kind. I am sharing it because the information might save a cat or dog's life. Today my young borer collie bit into a can of Women's Rogaine foam after a cat knocked it to the floor. (Shakes fist at cats!) Few people know how dangerous just the FUMES of this drug is to cats (it will kill them) and how it can slow down a dog's blood pressure to the point of dying. This is the story of what happened tonight. The dog is fine, but it was a hit to the heart and the wallet.

  

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Spring & Early Summer Workshops!

I am happy to welcome you to the farm for a series of spring livestock workshops! On a Saturday afternoon in April and May and a Sunday in June there will be events hosted here at the farm welcoming the public for lessons and classes. You can either purchase a one-time pass or a Season Pass for the entire year. Details below. Sign up for all events by emailing me at dogsinourparks@gmail.com 

Also, know that you can buy a Season Pass on sale for ALL EVENTS for a year from time of purchase for $250 a person, with an addition $100 for each family member that joins you. So a couple can come to all events here for a year for $350. It is a way to make this farm a knowledge CSA of sorts, paying for a year of events and classes up front and coming to make your share pickups whenever a topic strikes your fancy. Later in the summer will be archery an workshop, dulcimer and fiddle days, Antlerstock, Prepping for Sane People and more!


Sheep and Wool Day!
Saturday April 2nd 2016
9AM -3PM $85 a person
Bring a bagged lunch!

Come for a day all about lambs and wool, flocks and drop spindles, fiber farming and living with a fully fleeced flock. Sheep are raised here from lamb to ram, for both wool and meat.  By this time there very well might be a bottle lamb in the house, lambs outside, or a ewe ready to give birth. It is a muddy time and don't expect the beautiful green in the photo above but if you want a real look at small flock keeping - this is it. I'll talk about my ups and downs raising sheep, basics to know getting into the stock, and we'll take some wool off the sheep and learn to turn that raw wool into clean, carded, and spun yarn! If you are a beginner to homesteading or are thinking about upgrading your backyard farm beyond a coop of chickens and hive of bees and are considering a pair of sheep take over the mowing - this is a great introduction. A great gift for fiber lovers, too!

I will try and get my Sheep Shearer here to come this day as well and do a shearing demo. Though I can not promise that just yet, it is a real possibility!

Chick Days! 
Saturday May 7th 2016
9AM -3PM $100 a person
Bring a bagged lunch!

Thinking about getting chickens to add some cluck and spunk to your backyard garden? Finally ready to take the plunge into homesteading and want your gateway drug to livestock farming? This workshop is all about beginner backyard chicken keeping. We cover brooder basics, breeds, housing, feeding, transition from brooders indoors to outdoors, and adult care. The day is based on the book I wrote, Chick Days, from Storey Publishing. There will be a farm and barn tour, probably lambs and kids mucking about, and plenty of mud so dress for a day on a farm in the northeast if you attend!

There will also be an overview of raising pastured meat birds. The raising of brooder to outdoors is the same for both types of chickens, but it is important to cover the care of a pasture tractor meat bird verses a coop and free range egg bird. Learn how this farm does it and what may work for your own farm or backyard.

There will also be chicks of egg and meat birds here available for you to take home of various laying breeds! Everyone who attends is welcome to take home three chicks, so bring a warm box to bring your babies home in!

Goats and Soap!
Sunday June 5th 2016
9AM -3PM $100 a person
Bring a bagged lunch!

That photo above is from last summer's Goat Day! Goats & Soap is a two-part workshop that starts here at the farm making milk-based soap from scratch and meeting the goats that make it all happen. We go through the safety, tools, ingredients and process of making a lye and milk soap and we get to meet my little mother/daughter herd. After lunch we venture to my goat mentor’s farm, Common Sense Farm, three miles south of my place right in Cambridge NY. Yesheva, is there as the goddess of all things Caprine and she knows goats folks. She goes through everything from what to look for in breeding stock, to feed and housing, to bucks and mating season. She is patient and calm and wonderful as an asset. She even has goats for sale sometimes from her herd. Sign up for all events by emailing me at dogsinourparks@gmail.com

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Broadripple is Burning

Friday, January 29, 2016

Unimpressed With Winter

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The In-Between

I drove home under a thousand stars. Maybe it's the older glass, or maybe it was just the size of the cab, but the sky looks bigger from the bench seat of an '89 F150.

I was listening to Lord Huron and could not stop smiling. The moon was so large, and as I drove past School House Pond it created the line of reflection usually reserved for postcards and movies. Sometimes this world is so goddamned beautiful. I never grow tired of realizing that.

This is an in-between time for me. I'm in-between books, in-between jean sizes, in-between falling in love, in-between stages of me. So much possibility and potential is ahead. So many stories to learn and tell. I am excited. I was so glad to be on this particular road, on this particular night, with the people and places that have fallen into my luck. I can't shake the feeling of how much better things are going to turn out, how the struggling times are behind me. How change is running right beside this old truck on this perfect night like a dark animal.

I get these hints all the time.

Hints like the way the wind caught under Anna Kendrick's feathers and she maneuvered just right at the last minute to land perfectly on my fist. She looked up after that trick of wind and so did I. Above us were at least 30 crows, circling and silent. They came out of nowhere. We were just a bend in the trail from an open pasture perfect for rabbit hunting. But the crows weren't focused on us. Confused,  I gripped her jesses a little tighter as we rounded to the opening in the trail and there was a huge bald eagle, just above us,. She was being chased by the murder. I had never been more grateful for quiet crows. They were chasing away the eagle that would have chased Anna to death had they not warned us. We skated.

And other hints, too, like the time I rode Merlin up a winding trail and doe spooked us. Instead of running away she ran alongside us and Merlin moved so fast to race her I didn't have time to be scared. My body just knew what to do, trained by hours on the trails. Heels down, head leaning over his strong neck, body tense, ready to fly. The deer skirted away to the right and those five seconds will always be perfect. I am over panicking at what is scary. My body knows what to do now.

It's this place, these animals, this luck. It's the new friends and these cold, holy nights. It's the knowing that so many good things, amazing people, challenges and familiar seasons will be holding my hand in this coming year. I love the uncertainty and get drunk on that hope.

There are seeds and chicks, piglets and lambs, miles to run and trails to explore. There's a better me in every sense and the good friends who raise their glasses beside me as this winter howls down to a dull growl under sheets. There is no other person in this world I would rather be, regardless of how scary that can be at times. But I know now to look up, to lean forward, to keep moving and win those races against wild odds. I can see the signs, beat the edge, and am ready for what is ahead.

 I can take a hint.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Flame Keepers

Some of us grow up loving animals, and as children we dream of being vets, trainers, educators and zookeepers.

Some of us grow into adulthood needing animals, and we pursue a life that lets us share our homes with dogs, cats, parrots, etc and consider pets family.

Some of us realize soon after that, that we weren't looking for paycheck or a pet, but something a little more storied, old, and feral - a connection lost to 99% of the modern world.

And so we became the trail riders, shepherds, teamsters, hunters. We are the mushers, cowboys, farmers, and falconers. We are those drawn to partnerships in work with animals. Hard work.

We are the ones who want to sweat, run, explore, hunt, and work beside dog, horse, and hawk. We get high off the smell of used bridles, x-back harnesses, and leather jesses. We sit in duck blinds at 4 AM. We yell "Away to me" at sunsets as our dogs circle out. We move livestock across mountainsides. We explore forests and fields from saddles. We plow rows, pull sleds, seek game, and see the world through a teamwork most people only know as fairytales.

We were the weird kids who never wanted dolls, just stuffed animals. We are the teenagers who read too many novels - never doubted we too would go on long journeys with familiars by our sides, fighting demons and learning songs.

We are not cat people.

We are not wearing pawprint sweatshirts.

We do not accept that our passions are part of history, fantasy, or unrealistic in the 21st century.

We are flame keepers.