Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Mounted Archery Club!

This weekend I got word that a riding barn was hosting regular mounted archery practices right here in Cambridge! I'd attended a clinic by the same amazing people of Apex Mounted Archery last summer, but now the instructor Sara would be making regular visits to Long Shadow's Farm to teach and train people interested in learning the sport. Sara's hosting casual practices for anyone interested in joining the local club. 

We showed up on a rainy Sunday without our horses. Patty—my partner in crime in all things Equine—said we should use the clinician's horses and see if it's something our own mounts could do another day. I agreed (even though I was dying to try shooting at a canter off Merlin!)

At the clinic I rode a quarter horse named Scooter who calmly walked the course as a I shot the first few times, then trotted, and by the end of the clinic I was shooting at a canter! It felt so amazing, and comfortable. That's mostly because this horse had the entire routine down and I felt safe as could be on him. Merlin might be harder to push into a canter on a short stretch and Mabel, well, she might just leap over the fence at the end of the run! But it made me want to try with my own horses for sure. The video in the third slide of this Instagram post is me and Scooter! Watch us shoot at a canter!

Being so inspired by working with these fast horses I decided I wanted to spend more time riding Mabel solo. Usually I ride her with a friend, so she's always out on the trail with Merlin. Alone she doesn't have the same drive or confidence. She is way more stubborn, bucky and barn sour without her BFF. But the only way to get through that attitude is regular work and training. So yesterday we tacked up and rode up the mountain together.

Guys, it wasn't great. She was hard to get going and when asked to canter she straight up bucked. I stayed on, she learned I wasn't going anywhere, and by the end of the ride we were a team but I can't say it was enjoyable like riding Merlin. But there was also a time when Merlin was just as difficult when we were learning each other. Today I'll see if I can get on her again and keep it simple. I'm not going to be one of those people who looks at her horses in the pasture and never rides - oh hell no. Especially if she's got a future in archery!


Friday, August 10, 2018

Incredible Things

I woke up early enough to have farm and work set aside by 8:30 AM. Not the whole day's work, of course, but needs met and the day set into action. I had coffee in the thermos, day pack loaded, and every animal in my care had their bed and breakfast better than most chain hotels. The sun was breaking through the clouds and I was feeling good. My iPod still uses a click-wheel so I rolled into my Road playlist. Here we go!

This morning I had plans with my good friend Tara to hike the Folded Rock Trail. It's a local trail here in the Battenkill Forest, tucked into the Vermont border that shoots up Snake Ridge and winds across a mountain overlooking farmland and fields. I love this cruel trail. In half a mile you climb a thousand feet. It's tough and fast and beautiful. A great workout and fair hike. So I had Tara and Friday and 3 liters of water in my hydration pack. We were off!

We took four hours to climb to the look out and rest. Tara made us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with grain-fueled bread, crunchy pb, and blackberry jam. They were amazing. I took bites as I took in the view and we talked about our lives and stories and wished we had a speaker of some sort to blare an audio book for the focused-descent. Alas, we just had silence and speed. But it isn't about the view or the company or the calories. Hiking is about the .3 seconds you forget you're an animal. It's about the desire for more than desks and AC. It's about primal strides and wanting distance. It's Pablo Neruda and Cameron Crowe. It's hiking while being aware Instagram exists.

The hike was grand. When it was over we stopped at a small footbridge hanging over a creek. We swung our legs like kids, watching the water rush below us. And we caught our breath and took in a moment to be glad we were there together. Tara grew up in the Midwest where mountains and streams like this were rare.  Now we rode them like a carousel horse every day. If I forget this magic I might slip on the next slight of hand. So I nodded and prayed like a wiser beast would.

More on the farm and its changes tomorrow. Tonight I am not sure what music to share as what I listened to driving home tonight was songs I am certain I have shared before. I guess I'll leave you with Ryan Adams covering Blank Space because it is gorgeous and life throws you unexpected beauty all the time.


Thursday, August 9, 2018

Did I Even Make a Sound?

A friend just recently pulled away from the farm, having stopped by to catch up and share some good news. Some AMAZING news! We leaned against their car under the stars, they enjoying a cigarette and me enjoying a drink. Slow drags and clinking ice in a glass, we talked farms and business and they tried to convince me to join in for a local Karaoke Night a few towns over. "Get dressed, we're going out tonight."

I declined on having an early morning, but asked them to stick around a bit to chat. So we did. We talked for a while. Behind them I watched fireflies (the last of the season) burst in tired pumps of light. This was the end of summer and I secretly inhaled the smoke and light at the same time.

I left a group of friends in town just a bit earlier. My close friends Tara and Tyler rode their motorcycle to the Brewery to meet me and Gibson for dinner. My neighbor runs the food truck and Tyler bought me a gyro. At the bar already was a group of friends I met from my time at Argyle Brewery. In-between conversations I'd go behind the counter to wash glasses or refill pretzel bins. Jill was pouring and I always have her back when she's serving. It was as lovely a time as smoke and light in my driveway. Thursday nights are the Celtic Jam night and musicians play old songs and my dog sleeps on the wooden floors and everyone knows his name (rarely do they know mine). My dinner was perfect. My friends were perfect. The night and the music and the web of connections and mattering in a town of 1800 was perfect.

I had a date last night. I'm glad I went out. I feel like first dates earn bright green participation ribbons in society because regardless of how they go - you showed up and tried. I was proud of myself for meeting her. I was also glad to have this community around me I can tuck into like a husky wraps her tail around her nose when curled up into a ball and safe. 

I think I am supposed to feel lonelier than I do? I've been single for so long so I'm not sure? There was never the assumption or inclusion of another person in my life the entire time I dreamed of a farm and made it happen. There's no clawing for companionship, no stress about being alone. I would love to know what it's like to have feelings for someone and have them returned but that ache isn't pressing. Loneliness anarchy might be my superpower.

But if this life of good friends and trying and music and animals and meaning is standard? If being truly happy on a random Thursday night with the slung luck of these people is enough? I can only imagine being wanted by another human being is icing. Some bonus level magic that I will surely hope for but not count on. I don't require it. That doesn't mean I'm not excited for it.

This was a good day. Here's a song from a Broadway Show I listened to on my morning 10K that fits it. I assume most of you are familiar with Dear Evan Hansen, but if not, enjoy.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Hummin' like a Revved Up Truck

Yesterday after a few hours of indoor work I packed up hiking gear and Friday and we headed out for a light hike, a few miles here on the mountain. I'm lucky to have permission from a few neighbors to be on their land with my dogs, horses, and hawks if I please and since there was a threat of bad weather in the forecast I wanted to be closer to the farm. Friday did splendidly. I kept up, about 20lbs thinner that I was in winter thanks to all the miles ran. It was a lovely walk with few bugs or bears (two things I've been running into lately). When the walk was over I came back to the farmhouse to change into a swimsuit as the clouds started to roll into a black froth and everything felt electric.

One of my favorite sentences I could possibly say aloud this summer has to be: "I hope I can beat this thunderstorm to the river." It's been hot and humid here lately and the hours spent indoors or out keep me wanting the relief of the Battenkill. As the afternoon storms dragged through I sat outside under the King Maple with wet hair and a towel wrapped around my waist. I had heard the thunder began as I was floating downstream, feeling the cold water wash off the afternoon hike with Friday. and watched and listened, sipping a spiked iced tea and grateful for the day.

Some good news: I was able to mail in a mortgage payment and cover the truck's recent repairs! I'm basically back to broke but my deed is safe and I have wheels. Hell, I even have a date tonight planned. These are all upswings after a period of rough weather - literally and figuratively. I still have to figure out the wood stove repairs, furnace, and firewood but for the now I at least have a roof and transportation. If sales keep going and luck keeps swinging I may pull off a repaired stove and cord by Sept. Start where you're at, right?

Last night my friends Tara and Tyler came over to do one of our favorite activities: watch an episode of Wynonna Earp and talk. Like, really talk. It's a chance for me to gush about dating and my unrealistic crushes and for them to share their own stories. And it's so important to have people like that, ones you can say absolutely anything to and let your guard down. We sipped cider and sprawled with the dogs in the living room and watched the Earp sisters kick demons around on my ancient iMac and it was lovely as it sounds. It was a grand way to end a fantastic day of farming, hiking, river, and storms. And it made me feel a little better about where my heart and head is at.

Here's this post's song pick: Fool For Love!

Monday, August 6, 2018

36

We pulled into the driveway of Livingston Brook Farm around 9AM, Veronica riding shotgun. The forecast suggested a muggy afternoon and possible thunderstorms but this particular morning was bright as a set of new guitar strings. The sky was all blue and barn swallows. I had just turned 36.

We stepped out of the creaking beloved that is my truck and walked towards the 1700’s farmhouse before us.  I heard a voice from a second-story window holler "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" as we drew near. I looked up to my dear friend Patty and mumbled a thank you as Veronica hit me with some ancillary piece of clothing for not telling her. I'll never be comfortable announcing a birthday for the same reason I'll never care about astrology; it's a holiday I didn't get to choose.

My gift from Patty was my annual dinner and carrot cake that evening but she also agreed to taking my guest out for a horse cart ride to the Battenkill Creamery for ice cream. This would be a morning of harness and horse and quaint travel over country roads and farms. Watch out for the Bucolic Plague, everyone.

Veronica was visiting from San Francisco, her first visit to the farm. We met online and became fast friends. I can’t explain or understand the social media alchemy that lead to her pulling up to my front door in a rental car, but she was visiting Washington County for a few days. I wanted her to experience traveling across a landscape via horse cart and take home a story worth remembering.

We joined Patty in the farmhouse for coffee and breakfast before heading to the barn to halter and harness the horses. Patty has been driving her Percheron Steele for years, but always wanted a proper team. This winter she found a black mare named Ruby on Facebook to pair up with him. Ruby was Amish broke and trained but out of practice and needed someone to put in the time to get her back to regular work. Three solid of months of training had the two horses trotting like a pair of metronomes. Patty is a force of nature.

The adventure started off splendidly. A beautiful day back lit by the percussion of trotting hooves. We traveled the two and a half miles to the Battenkill Creamery, rolling past farms and homes on low-traffic dirt roads. Besides an incident with a barking dog running out to growl at the team (they were not phased) the ride was idyllic. Dappled light and conversation, the pace of the animals' becoming our own.

Soon the road turned towards the pastures around the Creamery. In the heat the young heifers were under the shade of the trees, barely paying attention to the draft horses and the vehicle. I was excited to show Veronica the baby calves kept alongside the creamery while enjoying mint chocolate chunk (which is, hands down, my favorite). And this thought was interrupted by the awkward side-stepping of Ruby, who had somehow managed to snap the pole between her and Steele. My stomach turned and Patty said in a calm voice,

“Jenna get out there and grab their heads.”

I jumped out of the back of the cart and moved to the bridles, holding the horses by their lead ropes and halters. For those of you unfamiliar with horse-drawn vehicles the pole is exactly that, a long shaft of wood (or metal) that connects the wagon to the yoke in front of the horses. It’s the key piece of equipment that pulls a team's vehicle and now it was snapped at a 70° angle shooting up between the horses. The cart was broken down, right in the middle of a road and a delivery truck was heading right for us...

Patty stopped the coming truck and handed Veronica the lines, leaving her alone in the wagon with 4,000lbs of horsepower in her grasp. I don’t know if she understood what she was accepting when she took those lines but she took them and somehow remained calm.

If the horses felt threatened they could have darted forward, dragging her with them after I had been run over flat. I felt my lungs empty and said about sixty silent prayers for safety fueled by the whites of my eyes. Patty wasn't worried, she knew her animals and efficiently and calmly removed the horses from the broken vehicle, by yoke and tug chains, and lead them off the bank of the road.

Veronica got off the cart safety. I stepped aside sweating an inordinate amount for a lady. I can not express the relief I felt at this moment, but it was thicker than any water in the air or fear in my chest. We were okay.

Since that moment in the wagon Veronica has started a new job. I've wondered a dozen times if people asking her questions in conference rooms realized they were dealing with a woman that took the reins of a team of draft horses the way average people accept a passed shaker of salt?

V and I moved the wagon off the road to the side of a barn, each of us grabbing the sides by the metal bars and assigning it safety off-pavement. We chocked the wheels with field stones. Not knowing what else to do I ran to Patty and her team seeking orders.

 Patty's phone was dead. There wasn't another person with a fitting pole close by or available on a Tuesday afternoon. Looked like we would be walking home. I nodded. Patty told us to buy ice cream and bring her a chocolate cone. I ran back to Veronica to report our duties and she swiftly obliged.

We ate ice cream next. This seems inconsequential but it was amazing. On a hot summer day miles from certainty and safety three women ate ice cream in daylight beside each other. We just started walking home, licking cones and enjoying summer in childlike acceptance. Patty with the lines of her team over one shoulder started them towards home. Trailing behind her Veronica and I hiked onward, chatting and enjoying our ice cream. The humidity and temperatures rose. So did my spirits.

I was so proud of Patty. At nearly 60 she was in control of her draft horses like a conductor. She ground drove them, walking behind at a brisk pace my hobbit body struggled to match. I want to be like her when I grow up.

This was a hell of a birthday.

This is the point I should mention that V didn't bring her own boots. She was loaned a pair of second-hand Ariats that fit her well enough (and she had ridden Mabel in the night before) but they weren't meant for hot distance. A few miles into our hike back to Patty's farm, blisters started to haunt her and after many offers to get off her feet and ride one of the horses home, she accepted. Then she was on a Percheron in full harness. And that was that.

I want you to picture this. I want you to picture three women and a team of draft horses walking home on a series of country roads without a cart. I want you to hear the clink of tug chains and feel the sweat falling off your shoulder and onto harness leather. I want you to experience the bite of deer flies and the way living in a deciduous rain forest alters your heart rate. And that music; of hoof and breath and story, making our way safely home on a Tuesday morning.

I will never receive a better birthday gift than this memory. It's inside my bones. Bound to calcium and the force that helps me run up hills tired. It's mine.

After we made it back, fortified by ice cream,  the horses were returned to their paddocks, comfortable and hosed down. Veronica and I headed back to my farm and changed for the river to swim.

By the time I was floating down the Battenkill under the wing beats of cedar waxwings and the flutter of sycamore leaves I was entirely exhausted. I’d been up since 6AM. I’d gone through the morning chores of feeding the stock, hay bale tossing, water hauling and coffee preparation. The dogs had ran and stretched out their limbs and tongues. I had done all that beside them. Afterwards I’d help harness horses. I’d traveled across the landscape in cart and home again on foot. It was time to soak and float and think of nothing but simple comforts like the slight buzz of a can of beer and baby trout avoiding my sandals in clear river water.

That night we returned to Patty’s farm for my birthday dinner, which was pesto pasta and lamb chops. The pesto from Mark's garden of basil and sorrel and garlic. The lamb from Patty's sheep she raised on this same hill horses swish their tails. Old English Sheepdog puppies scuttled about our feet, gifts were exchanged, the stars stretched across half the sky while the other half teased a storm that never came. Patty made me a carrot cake in the time we were absent at the river. She even whipped up a cream cheese icing! I am so spoiled by the luck of this place. You just can't know.

By the time dessert was wrapping up, conversation came back to the wagon parked beside a dairy barn at the Creamery. Veronica and I agreed to follow Patty's truck and trailer and help her load the wagon that night so it would be home safe. It seemed like the least we could do. Once again the three of us were off. It was around 9PM at this point.

So in my 1989 F150 we drove behind her. I chased her brake lights like hope around the curved back roads of Salem, NY. I was tired and happy from the day and grateful for the story and the company. Soon we were all back at the place where fear swallowed me and I choked on prayers. But instead of holding back a team of horses there was just the work of pushing a wagon into a horse trailer. We did  this by the headlights of my truck, loading it up and into the horse trailer without fuss.

And that was my birthday. It was farming and grand hardship. It was horses and rivers. It was new and old friends raising glasses around a familiar kitchen table with fluffy puppies scampering at our feet. It was perfect and broken. I held on to the memories as they happened with white knuckles and clear eyes.

I said last post I’d try to add more music. This song is what driving home happy and tired from loading a horse cart in the dark without a thunderstorm in an 1989 f150 feels like at 36. I can't vouch for the sad lyrics, but the cadence of horse and road and heat and hope feels tired and lovely Regardless, more beautiful music than what I could ever write and fitting to that day's end.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

High Hopes!



Thank you so much guys! The emails have been pouring in! Kindness, understanding, cheers, and advice. It's all been so helpful and makes me feel that this farm isn't an island and never has been. Other people have had the same issues with their furnace. Other people have sold stock they loved, changed life course, adjusted, failed, kept on. To be able to tell a story into a computer in my living room and get an email from Ireland or Vegas or Vancouver.... good Lord, it's nothing short of magic!

So with a lighter heart on a sunny Sunday I'm here to say thank you, for your time and conversation. I promise the next post won't be about something falling apart... Oh, wait, it will be but it'll be a great story with a grand ending. I'll write about my birthday; the day the horse cart broke down at the Creamery and how three badass women dealt with it.  Been meaning to write about that day for a while but wanted the go-ahead from all the women involved.

Also, here's the song I've started every single run with for the past few weeks. Co-written by the amazing Jenny Owen Youngs (for you Buffering Cast fans) and never fails to bolster me when things feel rough. I am going to share more music this August, a song with each post. Music and coffee are the soundtrack and flavor to every day here and they got me this far.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Flooded Furnace

Two inches of rain fell in the last 24 hours, a deluge that made morning chores a water park and flooded this farmhouse's basement. I found out about the basement because I could hear the sump pump revving up over and over, but saw no water coming out from the hose outside? When I went down to investigate I found the old stone and earth floor covered in a few inches of water and the pump's hose stuck inside the wall spraying water back into the basement. Basically the worst fountain ever.

In a homeowner's fury of panic I turned off the furnace, unplugged the pump, and spent the next fifteen minutes trying to repair the hosing (thank you to the loaned short hose off a shop vac) and got the water pumping outside instead of in. Feeling mighty, I headed back to the original Saturday morning plan. I was supposed to assist with a falconry talk in Salem and was already dressed for a presentation and my hawk on perch ready for our ride to pick us up when the sump pump drama happened. Good grief.

I went with my friend Jeremy to the talk (which ended up being canceled due to the rain) and got home shortly after. to my delight the basement was pumped free of water! To my dismay the furnace would not turn back on. I checked the breakers. I checked the motor. Just zero juice. I am hoping that it shorted out from being splashed by the water and not destroyed in the flooding. That furnace is how I get my water heated for the kitchen and bathroom. Right now I have no hot water and the furnace is off.

This is where I needed to step outside for a breather. I just figured out a late mortgage payment. My truck is in the shop again, and I am trying like hell to earn up the cash for that. That alternator repair is why I can't repair my wood stove or buy firewood - with September just a few weeks away. I know I will figure this out. I will handle each problem as it comes. I will be okay. What is killing me is all of these things are falling apart after I finally made the choice to change things here - for the reason of making things easier on myself. Selling livestock, cutting back expenses, after going through those tough choices things have become so much more stressful than they were before I made them...

Send encouragement. Send a nice email. Tweet me a kind word. Message me on Instagram. This is a rough Saturday. I need it the bolster. Or if you have any advice on why this oil furnace wouldn't start up again after the water incident, or troubleshooting, please let me know!

Good news to end on: The sun is shining now.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Ida had a Daughter!!


Thursday, August 2, 2018

Goats Sold

The last days have been a roller coaster. Let me start with the good news: I managed to scrape together that mortgage payment and mail it in. Thank you to everyone who was a part of making that happen through logo and illustration and soap sales! It means I have another four weeks to earn another one.  That's a huge win for this farm, another month paid for and another step towards someday owning this place. It feels good and I need to focus on that.

Other big news: I sold the goats, or rather two of them. I found a home for Bonita and Ida to live together, a homestead in the area looking for a milking doe. They won't go to their new home until later this month when the family returns from vacation but they are leaving forever. I still need to find a home for Benjen.

It's so hard to do this, and so conflicting. I am certain of the choice but Bonita has been here since I practically moved to Jackson. Ida was born here. This place is her entire life. I've been a part of the story of milking, kidding, cheese and soap making for so long and now it comes to an intermission.  That pic from two summer's ago of a little Alpine lass in the living room - that will be a while before I'm there again. It's sad but realistic. I need to cut back on expenses and responsibilities. I need to save and repair and prepare for winter. Not having two different breeding operations and 10 less mouths to feed is a huge step in that direction. It doesn't make it any less sad. It feels like giving up even though logic knows it's reorganizing.

The goat life isn't all that's stopped since I last posted: the truck isn't running. It needs a new alternator, a several hundred dollar repair. Last night it nearly didn't make it back to the farm in a rainstorm and the headlights were almost entirely dim by the time I pulled into my driveway. I need a vehicle and hopefully will have it repaired by Monday but first I need to figure out how to pay for it and then I have to stomach the truth that the cost of this is exactly what the cost of the woodstove repair and first cord of firewood would be.

So, progress on some fronts. Set backs on others. I am trying to be positive and focus on the fact that bills are being paid and changes made for the better. Here's hoping some luck lands in my lap soon. God's body am I ready for that.

Monday, July 30, 2018

This Farm, Your Support, Our Story.

Okay so I have 48 hours to earn up enough through art and logo sales to mail in a mortgage payment on time. Once that is done I can start saving for firewood and stove repairs. I am asking for anyone interested in a pet portrait, sheep portrait, or any animal artwork to consider purchasing a piece I draw and mail to your home! Or a logo design! Or you can buy these as a gift for someone else and I email you a printable voucher you can slip into a card! This farm needs the work and is happy to do it.  Email me for details, rates, sales, the whole thing!

If you don't want or need artwork I also sell handmade goats milk soap by the batch, with milk from either Northern Spy or Moxie Ridge goats (my own goats aren't in milk right now but Ida should be soon!). These are custom batches made to order and don't ship quickly but also make a great gift or everyday soap! It's what is in my shower!

And if you simply want to contribute to the blog you can, this blog and the last decade of writing here is free and archived. If you simply want to chip in and keep this place going there's a link on this blog to contribute or you can use this link. I have no qualms, at all, accepting voluntary contributions for the words I write and life I share here. Some people don't like that about me and that's okay.

This farm needs your support to keep going, to get through this transition, to make it into winter. Every single farm needs customer support and I am lucky enough that I can farm words and pictures alongside lamb and pork and eggs and share them with a world-wide audience. So I am using this platform as my farm stand. I am asking for help to get through. And I'll keep being honest and open about what it all means to me - the farm, your support, my life.

Thanks for considering.

Brother Crow

Chores are done and the coffee is hot. It's a normal morning here, mostly, save for the sounds of what could be a werewolf outside? The dogs run to the sliding glass doors every chance they can to witness the howling. Their tail wags and their tongues pant, excited at the beast just beyond their grasp. Soaked in morning dew and riddled with pieces of hay and grass - Friday and Gibson can't pass up rubbernecking the big show. What a beast to behold on a Monday Morning!

Alas, it's not a monster, it's Brother Crow, a new rooster. A friend stopped by to pick up six started pullets to replenish her flock of layers and I offered to take in her older rooster, BC. I have never heard such a deep, low, wail from a chicken before. I can't even blame the dogs for their investigations, I mean, I would want them actively observing werewolves too.

He is as tall as Friday, no joke. He's a Giant Black and lives up to his name. He's been battle-scarred by fox fights and rooster tumbles. He's cautious and polite. So far he's settling in just fine. Not a bad place to land for a ol' gent.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

But first, the dishes.

This July has contained the highest highs and lowest lows I've had on this farm. Not the most intense moments—I don't mean broken pipes or galloping horses—I mean hope and despair.

Early in the month I was so driven and excited. The farm had never looked better or been more efficient. The animals and farmhouse had never been brighter eyed or better managed. I had a decade of mistakes and lessons I stood on like solid stones big as Buicks. I felt the confidence and certainty of a woman who had created this small empire on a mountain. Someone who had struggled and made it nearly a decade scrapping together this unreasonable life. A woman who could turn wool into yarn, tack up a horse, and pull a hawk from the sky and become her partner. I felt really good about who I was and who I was becoming. Out of the closet. Out of regret. Out of scared and hidden places that kept me isolated in so many ways.

And then, mid month, there was a slamming of anxiety and panic attacks. So much self doubt and fear and exhaustion that rushed in and filled me up so fast it was terrifying. When you're driven by hope it's like running yourself on the highest octane fuel a person can have. Thing is, the tank is made is made of glass and it's as transparent as it is delicate. It can be destroyed in one fell swoop or slowly loose integrity from a thousand claw marks. Anxiety had been scratching at that tank for a decade and one night a few weeks ago it burst.

That was when I knew I had to make changes or lose everything. Not just the farm, but the tank

My anxiety does the kind of haunting that thrives in darkness and still air. I can't feel it in daylight. It can't make itself known during the small wind from hawk wings or fast arrows or the electricity before an afternoon thunderstorm. It's the kind of dread you see in the corners of your eyes, sinister shadows. It knows how to hurt me.

When I'm alone at 3AM and the dogs are fast asleep I can feel the claws on the tank. I'm scared to sleep because sleeping doesn't pay electric bills or make me less scared of dying. And that night the tank fell apart I felt those thousands of broken pieces inside and had no way to clean them up in the dark. The only way you can fix that part of you is doing the work. In the morning that stronger version of myself that finds a way to weave luck and hope between all the old and broken strands of fear. That's the tapestry of this farm and every farm. We wanted a life we were told was dead and gone and maybe it is. So we grow our hope from seeds and transform our mistakes into a million knots and pray like hell it's the right kind of cloth.

When I am worried about what could be ahead I try and focus on one part of the problem I can handle at a time. If I stand back and look at the whole thing, the list of winter preparations, the lack sales, the bills, the anxiety; it's too much. But if I can think about just one thing, and it can be as simple as doing the dishes, life gets a little easier.

So after I post this I am going to do the dishes and prepare the coffee pot for tomorrow morning. That's all I can do. The smallest shards of glass find each other and get a little stronger. 

I just want to be okay. Or at least to convince myself I will be okay. I think that's all any of us want. Maybe we can all start feeling better from there?

But first, the dishes.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Folded Rock Trail

A few days ago I asked a friend named Wilson at the Brewery to suggest some local hikes. I have this gig testing outdoor gear for a magazine article and women's day packs are one of the items I am testing. This means actually getting outside for hours at a time on the trail to see how the gear handles the miles, humidity, sweat, dirt, rain and body of this woman and her world. Wilson suggested this trail I took today. I kinda want to punch him, it was so damn hard...

I thought a nice short hike after a morning of rain would be nice. Wilson suggested what he called "The Battenkill Trail" and what the internet called the "Peak Rock Trail" and what the actual trail sign called "The Folded Rock Trail". And I was duped. I was sooooo duped. I have this association with the word Battenkill that equates summer activities with comfort and leisure. The Battenkill river is where I swim after a day of hard farm work. It's where I cast flies at dawn to brown trout alone in a pool. It's where I tube lazily with two beers in me. Battenkill does not mean workout. I was a damn fool to think this day would be easy.

I pulled up to the trail head at 2pm. I had a loaded day pack, Friday, and her pack ready to go. All morning it poured but the afternoon seemed bright and sunny. Since we were between rain storms it would easily be 80% humidity. I didn't care because I was told this Battenkill Forest was an easy hike with views of the river. A piece of cake.

It was not.

I have run half marathons and this hike was harder. The 1200ft climb happened fast, on a trail so steep I wanted to use my hands at times to pull me up. Friday and I took 2 and a half hours to reach the look out point, the top of the trail. My average run of a mile, a SLOW mile, is 12 minutes. This was no run. This was a steep mountain climb in a humid wilderness with a 20lb pack on my back. I was so glad I over prepared. I had packed a liter of water for Friday in her own saddlebags. She also had soft treats for calories. She drank and ate them all as we stopped every 1/2 mile or so.

I was drenched in sweat. Friday was panting like mad. To her credit she was as perfect on this trail as she was at Merck Forest. And this time there was a doe running off trail in front of her and she didn't chase. She was perfect. I think mountain smashing is her super power.

When we made the look out we stopped for half an hour. We both needed a real rest. I ate nuts and she had water and treats. The view was amazing, the entire Battenkill Valley. This trail is ten minutes from my home and I didn't even know. So many years on this farm were just about getting through the day on my own acres - I had no idea there was this adventure 6 miles away....

We made it up and back okay. It was honestly harder coming down. My quads were not used to that sort of shock work. It was so steep it took just as long sliding down the mountain as it did pumping up but we did it without a twisted ankle, tick bite, or sunburn. Preparation matters. Taking your time matters. Friday was amazing.

I am grateful for these challenges. I am so glad I am discovering Friday's talents. On farm she is, at best, backup to Gibson's herding. On the trail she is Wonder Woman. And I am learning from her.

Happy Trails!

Pet Portrait Sale!

Hey there Readers! I am trying like mad to earn up enough to make a house payment, repair the wood stove, and get some firewood in and stacked. If you would like to help out I am offering a 2 for 1 sale on pet portraits. For the price of one portrait I'll do two images, which are hand-drawn, inked, and colored originals on 9x12" Bristol paper. The sales of this artwork that I can do on-farm is the absolute best way for me to catch up on bills. Sketching, inking, and coloring can be done between farm chores and all hours of the day - rain or shine. And it's the highest return for my time and energy. So if you would like to help out and are able to - I sure could use the work. So send me an email if you'd like to commission two images!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Night Toads

At night I check on the animals before bed. Tonight as I walked around the farm with a trusty flashlight and two romping dogs I watched the moon come out from behind the trees. The wind was picking up and chatty. Lush maple leaves chattered above us gossiping about a storm arriving later in the night. I usually have a glass of wine or whiskey in the evening but today I did not and so every piece of me was sober as a monk and noticing tiny things you don't pay attention to after a glass or two of red. Things like toads.

As I checked on the different pens and roosts I counted four toads in my path. I like toads. I like all the reptiles that swim and croak and slither. The toads weren't scared of the dogs or me and had I not stepped over them they would have met their maker.  Four bold toads under a waxing moon. How about that?

I came inside to see if there were any sayings about happening upon night toads, some sort of folk belief or story. I didn't find any. What came up instead during my online search was  quotes about toads, and Toad himself, as in the character from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

"Toad talked big about all he was going to do in the days to come, while stars grew fuller and larger all around them, and a yellow moon, appearing suddenly and silently from nowhere in particular, came to keep them company and listen to their talk."

That made me smile.

If this site is anything it's talking big about all the things I am going to do. I talked about wanting a farm, wanting a horse, wanting collies and falcons and sheep and fiddles. I did all those things. I am glad I did all those things. And along the years of pulling back heavy bowstrings and hunting and falling off saddles I found this woman I have been hiding from. A version of myself that doesn't feel the need to hide or apologize or be ashamed of what she actually wants.

I'm going to choose to believe four night toads are a sign of good things to come, especially when the moon is out and the wind is talking and your heart is empty.

There are a thousand ways to feel lucky or terrified every single day. Focus on the former if you can.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Quieter

The first day without the flock here was a little sad and a little easier. Chores were done before the deluge of rain came slamming down and the rest of the day was spent on the indoor work of design and illustration clients, a lot of coffee, and two sleeping dogs. Between the storms I was able to run into town to do some laundry, send out some mail (books and soap), and pick up some feed. It was a quiet day.

The goats are up for sale but so far all the emails haven't been fruitful. I hope they find a good home soon and Bonita and Ida can stay together. They've never spend a day apart in their lives since Ida was born. Ida is due to kid soon so whomever takes them will have a bonus goat or two in the deal, which is great. They would be a great, seasoned, stanchion-trained, little starter dairy for a homestead around here.

Soon as I have the money from the goats and sheep I need to take care of a house payment and then I want to repair the wood stove and get in the first cord of firewood. Those three things are where my focus is set right now, in that exact order. June was an average month for sales all around but unplanned repairs (after some planned repairs) were an unexpected burden. But that's life. That's every one of our stories. We're all just doing our best with what we have. This farm is no different.

I also need to remind myself that big changes like moving sheep and selling goats - the relief on the farm won't be a fast change. Yes, there was less hay and grain used today and less gates opened but it will be months before I feel okay about all this and understand the choice and how it makes things a little easier. In the meantime I need to hustle anyway I can to keep the literal lights on. Around here that isn't a phrase thrown around lightly.

I know things sound somewhat rough around here, and they have for the past few weeks. But stick  with me and let's see where it all ends up? My hope is this farm stays a place of horses, chickens, dogs, cats, and hawks year round with summer pigs and lambs. That feels right for a one-woman operation when that one woman is me, right now, trying to struggle less and breathe a little calmer.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Flock Is Gone

This morning my friend Patty backed her horse trailer into the driveway. It was around 10AM and I was standing there, helping her direct the awkward sharp turn while flies buzzed and Falkor the rooster crowed. While I was trying to keep her truck's flank away from a large potted bush in the driveway it finally hit me: the flock would be gone soon. This was actually happening.

The red trailer was soon parked and open, awaiting the sheep. We would be moving Monday the ram, five ewes (including little Bette) and Joseph the older wether to their new home. They were going to my friend Leah's farm, Moxie Ridge.

Leah has a dairy that specializes in amazing goat cheeses. But they always wanted a small meat flock to raise lamb and some fiber alongside the chickens, eggs, ducks, horses and their herds of goats. However, Moxie Ridge wasn't planning on getting sheep this year and so the flock wasn't in their farm budget, which Leah explained when they first took interest in the flock. I told them to take the sheep because they were a perfect home. Pay what they could when they could. I'd rather the flock be in good hands then cash a stranger's check tomorrow. Leah agreed and set up their pasture during this past week.

It took Patty and I an hour to get all the sheep into the truck. Three were easily bribed with grain and hopped right in, but the three younger ewes took off for the far field and hid under the horses' bellies in hopes it would stop the dogs from moving them back towards the trailer. One by one (with the help of Friday and Gibson) Patty and I caught them and used a sheep halter to get them all loaded in the trailer. By the time we were done I had been kicked in the head by a leaping Jessa, coated in sweat from the humid morning, and was basically ready to cry.

Every time a sheep went into that truck it felt like failure and it felt selfish. It felt like had I made a choice to make things easier on me instead of figuring out how to make it work another breeding season. The guilt was worse than the decision.

It's guilt, not regret. I don't regret selling the flock to Leah. I do feel guilty, though. The honest reason they are leaving is my exhaustion in maintaining a four-season breeding flock and the costs to keep it. It's hard to keep telling yourself you'll figure out how to buy firewood before August when you're still pouring cash into their care and feeding and would into snow fly. As the days roll closer to fall I am scared if I don't cut back on a lot of expenses and get very lucky with sales I'll be back into fears of foreclosure and lights being turned off, not just cold nights. And that feeling is what I can't handle anymore. I need to make the choices that keep that feeling far away.

I am trying like hell just to get into August a little more stable. It was as much a business decision to scale back as it was an emotional one. The colliding storms of wanting more freedom, spending less money on animals, and being so very tired meant today was the right choice. It still hurts.

These sheep have been here for my entire time in Jackson. Joseph was practically a lamb when I drove him from the rented cabin in Vermont to this farm. That was 2010 and so sheep have been here since I turned the key on this farmhouse. And while I still plan on raising lambs every year (there are four outside this farmhouse right now that belong to customers); they will be in freezers come winter. After that there won't be a sheep here till new lambs are bought in the spring - born somewhere else.

Them not being here frees up a little money. It frees up a little time. It means no one is escaped to the neighbor's lawn, in the road, or needs to be checked on at 3AM during a March Snowstorm and while all of that is a huge sigh of relief it is also a huge pang of loss. I was never unhappy caring for these guys just very tired from it. Sleepless nights during lambing season and cursing at escaped rams became pretty wonderful the moment I drove away from Moxie Ridge.

I cried on the way home, even though I knew they were in great hands of an amazing person. I cried because change is unsettling and scary and part of me feels this is the beginning of a lot of other big changes I haven't even figured out yet and that is terrifying. I feel unsteady in my footsteps but sure about the walking. I have a lot to figure out pacing behind Friday on those forest trails.

I was their shepherd. They were my sheep. I learned so much from them. Now it's time to learn something from me.


Mountain Smashers!

I am so proud of my girl Friday! This little gal was a proper trail dog! Yesterday she joined me smashing mountains at Merck Forest, a farmland and forest conservation center in Vermont. We hiked up to the lookout on Mount Antone, a 6.5 mile jaunt to a 2600ft view. A fair first day hike for this collie!

She wore a small pack and carried her own water, bowl, spare map and treats. I had a loaded backpack I was testing for a magazine article and so technically this was a work thing, but it sure felt a lot more like fun.

I've so missed spending time outdoors that wasn't just related to the farm. I used to hike, backpack, and camp all the time but it has been a while. Mostly because when my day job was in an office I craved time outside and spent every weekend in National Parks or local hikes. But when I started farming full time I was constantly outside (even if it was just these 6 acres) and when I wanted to relax it wasn't nature I craved. I wanted to be showered and clean inside. I found a dark movie theatre more relaxing than the trail but I am coming home to it again, especially after yesterday. Yesterday was perfect.

The hike wasn't easy. It was fairly steep at points, an elevation gain of about a thousand feet in 2 miles! It was a summer day, mid morning, and I was sweating buckets and huffing and puffing in ways I never do on a run twice or three times this distance. Hiking is just a whole separate animal and my back which felt like at 17lbs soon started to make the climb even harder. But we pressed on, stopping whenever we needed to. Friday kept pace ahead of me, off leash, trotting with her pack on and stopping whenever I asked. She was so much better behaved in the woods with a backpack then she is walking on the road. Maybe the pack and the forest gave her a sense of work, or purpose of destination in a way an afternoon walk doesn't? All I can say is she was the best hiking dog I ever went out with and I've been hiking with dogs my entire life. This may be her thing!

We finally wound our way up the tight turns and finally hit the lookout I was stunned! What I had worked so hard to reach with Friday was like something out of a fairy tale. A tree, a wooden bench, and an open sky that shared mountains tumbling into mountains! We had it all to ourselves, too! I let Friday rest and nap as I read from the book I carried with me and snacked on some treats I packed. Dragonflies, so many dragonflies, hovered around the ripe raspberries and I snacked on some as I watched them dance and swerve. Up there I forgot the harshness of the climb and just soaked in the earned-sights. (You can see them all on Instagram!) I can't wait to make the hike again, and others in this area. I'm close to the AT in Vermont (also called the Long Trail) and there's a lot of New York State adventures with the Adirondacks fairly close.

So stay tuned for more mountain adventures with Friday! We'll be product testing gear all the rest of this summer and she's a natural when it comes to trekking!


Friday, July 20, 2018

Simple Songs

It's early on a Friday and I'm wrapping up morning chores while I prepare for a fiddle lesson with a traveling student. She'll get here around 10AM and stay into the afternoon and when she leaves she'll not only have her own violin case in her hand but know how to tune it and play her first song.

It's one of my favorite things I do on this farm, share the ability to play music and teach yourself more on your own and in your own time. People make the fiddle, guitar, banjo - any instrument really - into too big a deal. As adults we are told all the time it's too late to learn or why even try since you'll never be as good as the bands you listen to? The anwser is simple: learn to play to please yourself. Learn the joy of leaning back at the end of the day and making a song out of nothing but the instrument itself and the music you taught yourself. It can be simple. It can be basic as can be - but just like a meal of fresh tomatoes and basil from the garden  it can be enjoyed. Surely you can appreciate that, maybe with a side of fresh mozzarella and balsamic? Well that is how I feel about learning music. Learn a song or two, add in something like a recorded guitar on MP3 to enliven it. Make music and enjoy even the simplest songs because you did the work to make them so.

You are welcome to travel to this farm and learn fiddle or archery. I teach a few times a year and it is always lovely to host guests and hand them their first case. And at the end of the day I rest easy knowing someone made their own goals happen a bit this day. It's a fine way to spend an afternoon. I hope more of you will join me. You can sign up for a day this fall (bring your spouse, teenager, or friend for a pair discount!) and enjoy fall foliage and a new skill while helping support this farm and bring in some firewood!

Don't want to travel here? Consider buying a class as a tuition for someone local who can't afford to attend but wants to. I would happily host a day here of fiddle classes for locals who want to learn but can't afford an instrument or the time to do so. I think that would be amazing!

Interested in taking a class or sponsoring someone else's tuition, let me know! Are you around this area and want to take a sponsored class and a student fiddle: Either way Email me!



Thank You

Readers,

Every once in a while I will suggest you consider subscribing to this blog. It's entirely free to read the posts, see the pictures, and share the adventure. It always will be. But all authors, artists, musicians, and creators depend on the people who appreciate their work to be patrons on some level.

If you own my books, thank you. If you share my blog posts, thank you. If you have come to a workshop or event here, thank you. And if you simply want to kick in $5 a month towards feed and hay - I thank you. It's a small way to both encourage me and help keep the lights on.

Like NPR stations, I'll be here to tune into whether you wish to subscribe and be a patron or not. But I do ask if you enjoy what you read here and do not already subscribe - to consider it. Please only do so if you feel the writing has value (as entertainment, inspiration, etc) and you can manage it.

Thank you,
-j

Want to make a one-time contribution?
https://www.paypal.me/JennaCAF

For a monthly contribution to the blog and to be a regular patron:


Thursday, July 19, 2018

Pork Shares!

I am picking up new piglets soon, and hope to sell half of them as meat shares for the farm (harvesting early winter). If you are interested in getting some pork send me a note! Only offering two pigs worth of shares this time so act fast! My goal is to sell then soon as possible so I can get repairs done for the truck and keep her going as well as cover the cost of the piglets from my friend Dave's farm. Here's hoping anyone local reading this who likes bacon they can visit if they so desire will email me!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Little Broken Pieces

Few things make me feel more like an adult then stripping beds after overnight guests stay at the farm. It's a simple ritual and I love it. I love the whole series of chores from removing the sheets, taking them to the laundromat, and bringing them home to remake the guest bed. I spray them with lavender water. I make it look as nice as my means allow. This isn't an easy place to get to and it isn't always a comfortable place to be. I value company that can handle this scrappy farm and share these stories.

There's been a lot of guests at the farm this July. Writer friends Sarah and Danielle were here early in the month, stopping for a few days on their cross-country road trip. Those ladies stayed during the heat wave that nearly baked us into the Washington County slate below the soil. If it wasn't for the Battenkill and its various swimming holes we might have perished from talking too much about books and relationships (Admittedly, not a bad way to go). We sat like mermaids on river rocks. We laid on the hill looking at the sky and talking until we had to go to sleep, walking slowly down the hill when the stars and bourbon couldn't keep us up any longer. They loved the farm in a way I had forgotten.

Last week my friend Veronica from San Francisco stayed for a few days. (I need to tell you guys a story about a broken horse cart, an ice cream parlor, and a 2 mile walk back to the farm with three of us ground driving/riding a team of Percherons home safe but that's for another day, but there's photos on Instagram!) For an urban vegetarian who works in tech she could sit a horse, fry onions, chase piglets, and care for basil better than most in this zip code. By the end of her visit she knew locals by name, had the weather report for Saturday, and tolerated me showing her around Hildene in Manchester instead of tubing. I don't know if I ever had a person stay at my farm with a life more different than my own, but I cherished that visit more than she'll know. 

And just a few nights ago my friend Tara and I had a girl's night to talk about what's been going on in our brains over the past few weeks, and since she and I were enjoying wine and rom coms late into the night she chose to stay as well. The next morning I made a breakfast of eggs and bacon and she took a moment to savor. She told me what I do here is amazing - the work and the food - and I really needed to hear that. Lately it's been so damn hard.

Anyway, after all these friends leave to return to their own lives I go back to the work of keeping that guest room fresh and ready for whomever may visit next. A tiny bit of hospitality that makes this place seem a little larger than it is. The fact that folks can choose to come here and share in the farm for a while makes me feel more connected and accessible.

And yet every time one of these people leaves and head off to make their next stop or catch a plane my heart breaks into all these little broken pieces. Not because I mind being here alone, not because I can't join them on their journey, not because I even want to leave the farm and travel. It's because I can't do anything...

This feeling of sadness started a few months back when my friends and I went to the movies. When it was over they told me such wonderful news. They had bought a vacation home on an island, a time share, and wanted me to join them sometime there. It hit like a gunshot. I didn't expect the news to slam me like that and I had to fight off a panic attack I wasn't expecting and didn't understand. It wasn't about being able to travel or not, again - I'm not even that keen on travel - but it was the fact that I couldn't get away. And even if I could I couldn't afford it. They might as well ask me to join them in growing gills and swimming to the bottom of Lake Placid. I simply can't do these amazing things. And the comparison hangover was intense. The fear that I would never be able to go anywhere again sunk into my heart.

I haven't gone anywhere for a vacation since, well, I guess since I was a child? Since college I never traveled anywhere that wasn't related to work. Instead I focused on a life that made every day feel like vacation. I scrapped together a way to buy this farm, work here full time, and make a life of hobbies, hunting, farm and garden my everyday paradise. And for ten years that was all I cared about, to the determent of family visits, vacations, dating, everything else. And now when people come and stay on those clean sheets I am more grateful than ever for their company but also insanely jealous they could stop whatever they were doing and stay at a farm for a few days.

Sidenote: People always suggest things like getting a farm sitter or having neighbors watch your stock while you're away but that only works when you have a farm that runs fairly normal. This one doesn't. Even if my closest friends were willing to live in my house I wouldn't feel comfortable asking them to watch my dogs, chase escaped sheep that leap over 4ft fences, or a loose 200lb sow, or rake snow off a roof at 3AM, or check for lambs in a snowstorm. If it was a matter of filling tanks with water and throwing hay to horses... sure. But that isn't Cold Antler right now. I am trying to get it to a place where I feel safe leaving it. Truthfully, I didn't think when I started farming at 25 I'd be single a decade later. I always thought there would be a partner in my life that could stay home and care for things if I had to travel. Oops.

I couldn't travel right now if I wanted to. Maybe someday I will. My goal for 2019 is to make one or two summer overnight trips with the dogs where we stay in a real hotel and order room service and watch a bad movie in bed and spend the day exploring Portland or Salem or Mystic. The kind of trip that costs $400 or less in every expense from rental car to gas to lodging. Right now if I was handed $400 it would go to stove repairs and firewood. It would go to keeping the lights on and the mortgage paid. But maybe if I scale back, save up, and allow myself these little things I would feel less isolated. I wouldn't have trouble breathing in a movie theater over delightful news. Maybe getting away for a night would make me feel a little more freedom?

The irony of all this isn't lost on me. I'm supposed to just be grateful I have this dream I fought like hell for. That I am still fighting for. And I am grateful dammit but I don't want to do all of this alone anymore. I will come home again to breeding lambs and milking goats when life is easier or the apocalypse returns us all to homesteaders. Right now the work is to find balance and connection and pray to just get through this month with some firewood stacked. I have ten days or so to make that happen.

I guess the point is I am tired of feeling that rush of panic when someone invites me to travel. Five years ago I'd have all the confidence in the world and say no thank you and mean it. But as I get older and continue on this adventure I want to get out and see what I've been missing out on for the last ten years. Not because I want to quit farming. Not anything grand or long. Just a night away once or twice a year with my dogs and the road and a lighter heart, unworried about being liable if a car hits a sheep.

And all of this doesn't mean I am unhappy. But all of this is a part of the decision you've been reading about. I need to hunker down and focus on what I want. I need to be honest about what I can handle well. I need to see some of this stuff away from pullets and horse harness and butcher appointments. Some of you are disappointing in that. Like changing is waving a white flag. But it's not about surrender. It's about feeling okay with a thousand choices that ended up with some little broken pieces and gluing some back together again.

Still Home

I woke up this morning swirling with doubt and confusion. Not necessarily a bad thing, and not in a place of despair. It was a place of discomfort, though. While going through the regular list of AM chores I wondered if any of this was a mistake? Will I feel differently, or like a failure, when the last of this summer's lambs are butchered and there isn't a sheep on this farm for the first time in the last decade? Is the $6 a day in hay I am saving on the goat herd really the best move? I still feel that cutting back before winter is important. Every day without firewood stacked is another day of feeling stressed out, especially as August stalks closer. My eyes are on remaining here keeping this farm and the blinders are tight and focus is narrow. But there's still doubt.

Emails and letters are coming to the farm and they are overwhelmingly supportive. Most people understand that selling nine animals doesn't make you any less of a farmer nor is it a failure. Scaling back, reevaluating, and making changes based on budget and time is what is happening on livestock farms all over the country. But some emails are trying to comfort me by explaining that I did fail but I gave it the ol' college try and it's okay! I don't agree with those emails. This place still raises pork, chickens, geese, gardens, horses, lambs, and one hunting hawk. It's still a place sourcing meat, eggs, vegetables and fleeces to friends and neighbors. It keeps me sated in body and spirit. It's still my farm without sheep in January. It's still home.

Honestly I think people are just surprised I'm doing anything that isn't growth to the farm. Whether you agreed with me or not, over the years you've seen this farm continuously expand. What started with trio of sheep and some poultry turned into a full-blown homestead with breeding flocks, milking goats, horses in harness, hunting hawks, piglets and hives and gardens, oh my! Through all the mistakes and years it has remained pretty much the same or larger. I've found a way to make it work, thanks to the support of my real life and online community. But the whole time you've read this it's just been me here, alone. I'm tired in new ways. I need some sort of break, even if that break means twenty minutes less of chores in the winter and a little more money not spent on hay and grain to set aside for savings.

And speaking of the sheep; plans changed for the day we deliver and move the flock, probably into next week. The farm taking them needed to swap the day for their own needs. We have to be pretty flexible around here anyway, with weather and animals.

Still trying to sell the goats, pork shares, logos, illustrations, soap and such. Every day I write down the income goal and most days I make it halfway there, which is encouraging enough to try again tomorrow. I'm going to post this, get changed into running clothes, pump out five miles so I can get lost in music and meditation and then return here to the day's work.

Wish me luck. I so need it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Moving Forward, Step One

It's finally raining here at the farm after what feels like weeks of dry weather. It's a relief. I finished up morning chores in a downpour, or rather in a more positive outlook: I beat the rain! Right as it started to really roll in I walked a bucket of breakfast to the barn. I listened to thunder as I poured the bucket of chow into the piglet's pen. They were happy to see breakfast and seemed to not mind the loud sky noises. May I always be more focused on food than weather, bless those piggies.

I found a home for the six breeding sheep and little Bette, the black ewe lamb. They are moving to a friend's farm just a few towns over. The lambs will all stay here until they are butchered and then for the first time since I moved to the farm there will be a few months without sheep outside my door. I need this winter off of lambing, escaped rams, and shearing. It's only a few animals but it's an entire cycle of care out of my hands for a while.

No doubt there will be more sheep and lambing in my future, but right now I need to step back from some farm expenses and catch my breathe. Not feeding an adult breeding flock hay and grain (along with the goats, which I don't have a home for yet) is really a lot of hay and grain I can cut back on. They go to their new farm on Thursday. To some of you that may feel like a mistake, or a regression, or giving up. To me it is moving forward, step one.

Things here are still feeling upended and I am no closer to ready for winter. I have set out some income goals for the day, gathered my task list. I'm hoping the people who said they'd purchase a logo pull through and do so. The truck repairs and butchers bills this month were more than a mortgage payment and I'm still catching up. I'll get there, and soon as I get another house payment sent in I'll make a cord of firewood my very next big purchase. Once I have that stacked and order the piece I need from the wood stove company to repair what needs doing in the Bunbaker, I'll feel 100% better about August being so close.

I am hoping to make more time for writing. I'm toying with a romance novel (really) and reworking my book proposal. I'd really like to get another book out there, whatever the type. I want to feel like an author again.

Animals and words will always be my life. But I want there to be other things as well. Things like love, security, a little travel or the option if it was ever possible/affordable. Having a few months to regroup with less responsibilites is so important to me right now.

Thank you again for your support, emails, readership, stories. I read them all.  I needed them. And I hope you keep reading and watching as me and this farm continue to grow.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Whoa!

Guys, I would like to make it clear that I am not going anywhere. I am not stopping this blog. I am not selling my farm. I did not say I was doing anything of the sort. All I wrote was that I am dealing with scaling down some of the farm's operations such as the dairy goat herd and the breeding flock of sheep. On a farm with over 75 animals on it I am selling 9. All it does is lighten my chore and financial load a bit. While I did write in that post that things are hard I don't think it said anything about quitting farming. I have zero interest in doing so and will continue to raise chickens, rabbits, pigs, horses, dogs, cats, geese, summer lambs and hawks. Merlin and Mabel, Friday and Gibson, Aya Cash, and the work or raising chicken, pork, and lamb aren't going anywhere.

That post was about being honest about money and burnout. I don't want to be doing so much here and those two operations (breeding kids and lambs here) are the most taxing. They also make it the hardest to leave the farm for the night with the dogs if I wanted to get away. I want to open up my life a bit to have options to travel small distances and maybe just get an Air BnB for a night once or twice a year.

Good news though, the six sheep I am selling already found a home with a farming friend close by. She's taking on Monday and his gals. I am hoping to sell the goats soon, too. That's it guys. Nine animals and the work of breeding lambs, kids, and running the small dairy here. If I miss it I'll start over with new sheep and goats in the future. I just don't want sheep here that aren't being slaughtered before winter right now.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Starter Herds For Sale

I am selling my adult sheep, a starter flock of 6. This flock includes a ram, three younger ewes under 3, an older wether and an older ewe. I am keeping the summer lambs to raise through the grass-filled seasons and butcher in the fall. I am hoping that scaling back on breeding, lambing, winter hay for six animals and worrying about their fencing and escapes will free up some income and time and energy. If you are at all interested please contact me.

I am also, with a heavier heart, selling my goats. No longer breeding, milking, and working to tend to them means making space for the most profitable animals -the pigs and also removes winter hay eaters and a daily task of milking. I am selling the duo now - with Ida pregnant right now and with Benjen the 6 month old Buck. If you buy the herd you get a doe in milk trained to stand at a stanchion, her young, this fall's breeding buck, and a companion goat - her own mother. A great way to start your herd and goat adventures!

Both groups are for sale for $500. If you are interested please let me know and please spread the word on your social media to help me find these animals good homes. The money will go to pay for the June mortgage and keep this place solvent. Things are hard in so many ways right now.

My email. Dogsinourparks@gmail.com

Friday, July 13, 2018

Heavy

The past ten years of my life have been about one thing: this farm. Since I started toying with the idea of farming in my early twenties different I have published five books related to homesteading and kept this blog going for three farms in three states - an entire decade of one woman's story. It's been a wild ride and has granted me a life I truly wake up every single day excited to experience.

Pursuing this dream, learning the skills, and finding a way to share that story with people that are interested in following along has been everything. The cream on top was making a humble living off it; which may always be the single biggest accomplishment of my life. I am lucky as hell, grateful as long roots, and you have no idea how much I want to remain a woman with a dog, a horse, a hawk, and very very local BLTs in her future.

But I think it's time to share what has been so heavy on my heart for these past few months. I am dealing with some hard transitions, and the main one is deciding if I can continue to live this life. If I should keep farming, keep blogging, keep fighting for something that has me so incredibly terrified right now...

Sleepless nights worrying about getting through another winter, what livestock to sell off and when, what kind of future I want to strive towards - this is what I am at war with right now.

Some nights I wake up after a few fitful hours of sleep and lay awake terrified or crying till I shake. These nights are happening more often and I don't know if I'm strong enough to keep meeting them. And it isn't even the anxiety - it's dealing with it alone.

I haven't had a single night off this farm in seven years. I haven't traveled, grown my career, or seriously dated either. I haven't had health insurance, financial security, or companionship outside of friends, pets, and livestock. Every shred of energy I have has gone into farming—and that is not a regret in any sense of the word—but I am not sure I can keep plowing this row.

Maybe it's because I just celebrated a birthday? It's hard not to compare yourself to peers your own age - what they have accomplished but more so how they feel about where they stand in life. Everyone else seems so firmly grounded. I feel firmly combative. Not argumentative - literally combative. Every single morning I wake up trying to figure out how to tackle the farm's most pressing needs and bills. It's like I've been punching every day for ten years and all I have managed is a nervous and precarious homeostasis. I just want to feel safe. I haven't felt safe in a very long time. I feel like life shouldn't be so scary at 36, that every month shouldn't be a struggle just to keep the lights on and bank from foreclosing. I am trying to decide if that fear is fuel to keep a dream going or the thing stopping me from moving my life forward. It's probably both.

Everything is a day at a time, right? I don't need to figure this out today, but if you knew how heavy my lungs feel writing this you'd understand my pacing concerns. In a few weeks it'll be August and I don't have a single cord stacked yet. Last winter was so horrific. Some nights I just think about dealing with that again alone and it feels like all of my heart fills up with black ink swirls. It's not depression. It's not that sort of despair - it's the dread of the exhaustion and work to fight ahead. It's thinking you're almost done with the race and realizing right before the finish line it was a mirage.

Maybe this is loneliness? I never felt it before like this if it is. Maybe it's just the tectonics of an average life shifting?  ll I know is I feel like I have been trying everything I can to keep juggling this dream and it isn't enough. The voices telling me to quit, go back to an office gig, stop writing, just go away, they are getting louder. Is it worth my sanity to keep up a life that people vociferously hate me for? People don't make hate blogs about silent web marketers. I bet they sleep all night just fine.

If you have advice or constructive feedback, please send it to me. If you have struggled with this on your own farm, or whatever your dream was and was ready to give up, please tell me what you did to help make that decision?

Update: This post is not me ending the blog or the farm. It is me asking for advice on fear. I have customers, animals, projects, and work well into the coming months. Right now I am trying to just pay the mortgage and keep ahead of any looming threats to house and homestead.

Update II: I am selling the sheep (the main flock of 6) and the goat herd. The reason is to scale back and use the money for paying the June mortgage. I plan on still raising lambs through the summer that I buy in but not breeding any for a while. Same with the goats - getting milk from fellow farmers and making soaps but not tending to the dairy needs. I am hoping to find good homes. Please email me if you are interested. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Portraits and Piglets!

This week is off to a good start, but it's a rush to call in every resource and possible lead on a sale. The truck repairs have me behind and I'm trying to hustle best I can. I'm emailing past supporters who have bought art, soap, logos and classes. Hoping to encourage repeat customers. The upside is sitting in front of a computer is a lot less hot than carrying buckets was a bit ago. I think everyone is topped off and ready for the nearly 90-degree afternoon ahead. So here I am, trying my level best. If you are interested in a pet portrait, logo, share of pork, class, or handmade soap do send me an email at dogsinourparks(at)gmail.com! If you ever wanted a reason to support this farm, this is the time. I am trying to keep ahead of the wolves banging at the door and feel secure, the ever-present struggle I am grateful to have.

In other news I am excited to host a friend for a few days visiting from California. She'll be here soon and the guest room is ready and the dogs' tails are wagging. And she's not the only new arrival on the way because Dave the pig farmer/bartender at the Brewery in town is going to be here anytime this afternoon with piglets on delivery! I have a hunch they will be little ones and the pig area in the woods needs to be re-fenced and prepped for little ones so there is a nursery set up in the barn. So the little honkers will be comfy on this hot afternoon with shade and plenty of airflow and some goats to talk to.

Stay cool out there!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Laughing At Deer Flies

While carrying the fourth round of buckets to the hill tonight at dusk I was temporarily blinded from deer flies and sweat in my eyes. I had been making rounds for only fifteen minutes but my body was drenched. Every five-pound bucket of water weighs in around forty pounds. It's the kind of intense heat and humidity you wade through and I smiled as I shook my head and used my ponytail the same way the horses' use theirs. I have become a master of the face fly swat with the mass of sweaty hair pulled back behind me. Good gods do I love this weather. I love every disgusting drip of it. Winter is too long, and too cold, and expensive and scary. The amount of money you have to have to be comfortable with it is borderline insane. I think of those nights that stretched through the holidays of -20° nights, burst pipes, flooded back rooms, and worrying about just having enough wood for February and I laugh in the face of the heat. I run in it. I pour myself into it. It is a gift of cold rivers and soft grass and fireflies and fast horses. How dare anyone complain after all that frigid gnashing.

It's June and I am already trying to save up for my first cord of firewood. I found out today my truck isn't ready to be picked up yet because it needs another hose for the power steering, another hundred dollars on the bill. Today I earned $75, yesterday $96. Sales are as languid as the summer weather. The only upside is all these repairs to the truck are necessary to pass inspection and being done as I can afford them. I worry all the time about things like this. It's why I write about it so much. But what comforts me is there's about six years of worrying about money and keeping this farm on this blog and you know what? I'm still here. Maybe tomorrow I'll sell a share of pork or two logos. Maybe I'll get an illustration gig. Maybe I'll get an old freelance check in the mail from a magazine piece. Maybe I'll sell some soap. The date seems to track towards success with stubborn persistence. If I can get through a winter like that and laugh at deer flies I'm on the right track.

I have been playing a lot of music, however simple and dusty. My strumstick has been coming with me for evening sits on the hill with Merlin and the Mare. I strum and they pick grass and swish those tails. It's a lovely bit of plucking and mastication. My tin whistle is in my shoulder bag. Sometimes I pull it out by the river when no one is there and play something bright for the water. None of my music is very impressive but it is whole.

When the water is spilled out in every station. When the chickens are in their barn with the door shut and coops secure. When the lambs are sitting in the dark chewing cud and the goats are in the barn... when the hawk's on her perch and the horses are quiet and far aside - that is when I stop. I take a cold shower and slip into a house dress and know I have served this place another day. I feel it up in my singed arms and sore back. It rolls down my spine like a happy charge. The world is warm and forgiving now. There's still time to get firewood. There's still time for all the things. There is until tomorrow, which one day might be forever so I will not complain about the heat.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

A Working Fourth

It's a warm and humid day here, but significantly less so than it's been this past weekend. I got in a nice run this morning before the heat really sunk in and the dogs are enjoying their post-herding fan floor time. I'm checking in with you readers who keep tabs on this place. It's shaping up to be a delightful Fourth!

My chore list this morning is mostly centered around the gardens and their weeding and watering. I'm holding off on mowing and weed wacking until the weekend. Possibly piglets are being delivered on Thursday but I need to double back on those plans and check with the breeder. Basically, it's this time of maintenance and in-between work.  I have no plans for the holiday and am without my truck until I pick it up tomorrow from the shop. I'll spend most of today trying to push soaps and artwork online to cover the repairs. So my holiday is basically working through it and hoping for the best. If you're interested in buying soaps, a logo, or artwork send me an email!

When the real heat of the day hits I'll be spending time in front of my computer getting what I can checked off my deadlines and client list. If I can get that list wrapped up by sunset I hope to enjoy some sausages and a cold drink by a campfire with some audiobooks I am totally wrapped up in right now (Iron Druid Chronicles) and my kind dogs. It may be a working Fourth but it'll be a fine one! 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

New Friends and Old Trucks

I had the most lovely weekend with guests traveling between Canada and Maine this weekend. Their names were Sarah and Danielle, Both of them writers I met online through mutual friends. One hails from Portland Oregon, the other NYC, and for two amazing days of heatwave they were co-farmers and river rats with me. They got up early and helped with chores. They shared meals from my farm and my friends' farms. They suited up for the Battenkill and posed like mermaids on rocks when the 96-degree heat made us worthless to the world as creative people. There was roast lamb, Creamery ice cream, and most precious to me: long talks on the hill overlooking the farm at dusk.

A large part of our weekend was spent at Patty and Mark's farm, Livingston Brook. Patty took us for an early morning carriage ride with her team of Percherons. We had lamb for dinner there Saturday night. Danielle and Sarah got to play with the Old English Sheepdog puppies Patty bred and spend time around summer day with barn swallows, horse tails, puppy breath and roast beast!

I needed the long weekend without the strain of deadlines and design files. I was so glad to just farm, talk, swim, and absorb the heat. And to see this place not through my daily eyes jaded by to-do lists, past mistakes, and apologies for a house with plywood floor - but as lovely piece of earth I care for. They didn't notice dust or cobwebs, they noticed Bette Midler the lamb toddling up to them. They noticed Benjen coming inside for a morning scratch with our coffee in the living room.  They noticed the distance of the river and neighbors and the fact that good beer is imported from the west coast. They showed me this place through fresh eyes. I am grateful for that. You can see so many pictures and tweets about our visit on my Twitter and Instagram.

If you don't see me writing here often, which has been the case this summer, it is because of being so absorbed by the work of holding onto the place and keeping it going, and the worry that constantly posting about struggles like today is getting tiresome to readers. My truck is in the shop right now to get power steering pump replaced, a surprise during a simple muffler repair today. I thought I was leaving with a reasonable bill and my truck but the freak failure means more money out the door while being bound here for the holiday. No parades or fireworks or anything fancy, but that's fine. I didn't really have plans besides being with friends at the lake. I am happy to start a campfire and roast something defrosted from the freezer with some sparklers.

The upside to these recent truck repairs: they're still so much cheaper than buying a new vehicle and paying a car payment and high insurance. I don't regret having this old Ford at all. I adore her. And if I ever need to make a longer trip I would just rent a car. But for town and country living like I do that work horse has been fantastic. And the title is in my desk drawer. It feels good to keep her going, and she's almost at 500k miles!

New friends and old trucks, what a thing. We all keep going best we can.