Wednesday, April 23, 2014

One Woman Farm Wins Big!
2014 Silver Nautilus Book Award

Happy to announce that my last book, One Woman Farm, won the 2014 Silver Nautilus Book Award! What an honor! This is my second literary award to date and for someone who writes about chickens and hog roasts that is quite the thing!

Living Room

That's a weird term, isn't it? Living Room. James Howard Kunstler said it best when he said "We called it that because it's where the TV lives..." but some gathering rooms truly are full of life. I like to think the little Hob Keep at Cold Antler lives up to its name. A lot of life happens here. Animals are everywhere - inside and out. Heat comes from the firewood, another living thing. There is live music in this room, and lamplight, and candle flickering. And in this wonderful photo by my good friend Tara there is proof positive that while many living rooms out there are of the well-groomed and domesticated varieties a few of us have gone feral. Which makes me grin like a wolf.

photo by Tara of Goingslowly.com

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Winners!!

I am happy to annouce the winners of the following contests!

Shari Zupan, you won the fiddle from that Contest, email me to make arrangements to get it!

And Goat Song, you won the Bee Book from Meg Paska! Email me as well!

Congrats Winners!And thank you to EVERYONE who commented, entered, donated, wrote emails, sent letters, or waved as they drove by the farm in their trucks and cars. I am so grateful for this readership, and so grateful to this community in general.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Lambs & Eggs!

Maude can't help herself. She is who she is. And who THAT is, well, it's no mother. But bless her heart she is trying. This Easter morning I woke up to the baaing of her little girl, who I named Brianna. (Pronounced BREE-uh-na not bree-ANNA). Bree had been hit with that glorious eastern light at around 6AM and so was ready for breakfast. Gibson was curled against me, the little spoon. I told him we had work to do and instead of shooting out of bed like a rocket he lazily stretched his entire body. When Gibson does this little spinal magic trick his front feet reach above my head and his back paws reach below my feet. He's a very large Border Collie. And he's a very active one as well, but on a Sunday morning after a night of taking care of an infant even he has his limits. Eventually he rolls out of bed as the bleats grow louder. Annie growls and turns over in her sleep on the sheepskin at the bed's foot, and I accept with tired dignity that even on days of such import to so many people - I have a goat to milk and a deadbeat mother's child to feed breakfast. And that is something I write with a smile.

When the cats are fed, dogs relieved, and I'm dressed and ready I head outside with Gibson to the barn. We milk, grain goats, feed horses, haul water buckets. Gibson does his "rounds" which is a happy euphemism for herding turkeys and sending broody geese into tantrums of honking. We come inside with a big canister of goats milk and I can't help but feel mighty. Walking away from a barn where animals you love have been milked, watered, fed, bedded, and do so in a safe place makes you proud enough. But to have that 2-liter stainless steel mini-canister in hand makes me giddy. It looks just like a smaller version of the larger milk canonizers large dairies use, but it's sized for a one or two-goat operation like mine. It has a lid (which is a blessing) and is hard to spill over. I stride tall in the sunlight back into the farmhouse, my heart singing "Dairymaid!" in the best ways possible. I wish I owned a big skirt and a corset. I could really ham it up.

Before I headed outside I had started the bread maker with a wheat loaf, and put coffee on the stovetop. So when I come inside I smell the yeasty rise and perking coffee. Bree is scooped up and the warm milk is poured into a bottle for her. I feed her 3oz and send her back outside to spend some time with the flock. She toddles around and Maude comes to her, wary. Maude doesn't hurt her, and even lets her rest or sleep beside her. She just wont let her nurse. Which is why Friday night myself and my two good friends Tyler and Tara had to pin her against a pole barn wall to milk out her colostrum. I got a good dose in the wain, but I'll be damned if I'm doing that four times a day. I said a silent prayer to Brigit that the farm has a working milk faucet in the goat pen and decided bottle feeding wasn't so bad.

So despite Maude's general misery, she is tolerating babysitting while I take care of the actual raising. Later today Bree will get her CDT shot and her tail docked. Shots are fast and I use a rubber band on the tails so there won't be any horror or bloodshed. Just a rubber band. For those wondering why people dock tails on sheep, know it is not an act of vanity. Wooly sheep grow wool just about everywhere, including those long tails. If a lamb or sheep gets a case of the runs, or gets that tail cut open and bleeding, it invites bot flies and other diseases. You want a tail that no poop can build up on, ever. And if you think it still sounds barbaric, google image search for Flystrike on sheep. You will start mailing me more rubber bands!

In other farm news, Jasper is still for sale but no one is interested in buying him at the moment. I am on the lookout for feeder pigs, and have been making contacts as I have shares to provide to co-owners of the future oinkers. I planted a bed of peas in an act of whimsy yesterday and did it without apology. The hens are providing well over a half-dozen eggs a day and neighbors stop by to chat and trade for them. Yesterday my neighbor Sarah stopped by to show me an amazing basket she wove herself and I was stunned she had only been doing the craft since February. I think we may have to work out a small egg-basket for ten-dozen eggs or so! It was gorgeous!

To end this morning update: I am riding Merlin every single day and it is the one place (besides archery practice) that I can not feel anxiety, even if I try. Merlin and I tack up and go on adventures with his saddlebags packed with lunch and water bottles and a first aid kit. Our next big adventure is treking to the old Adirondack Fire Tower on the top of my mountain. I look at it every day from my horse paddock and it feels like the Misty Mountains, something out of a Tolkien book. I see it and look at my horse and think, "We are going on an ADVENTURE!" and secretly plan them right outside my front door. Which, in its essence, is what homesteading is all about. I know there is a wild and wonderful world out there, but my heart is like a Hobbit's. Home is where I thrive. And when you live on a mountain with the animals that ride, hunt, herd, run, and work beside you don't spent your late nights paging through pamphlets for cruises. There's nothing wrong with cruises, but I'd rather let my nightstand pile up with seed catalogs, tack suppliers, and maybe a dream of a mini-cabin in the woods for guests someday. My adventures lie here, and here is where I thrive, and this morning I am tickled to just have another day to enjoy it.

Happy Easter to those who celebrate this fine day. And to those who don't, like myself, Happy Sunday. Tack up those horses and enjoy the ham! I'll be eating some homegrown ham for sure today and spending it with good friends. I'll also be going on an Egg Hunt, but the unofficial kind I go on every day. Still, we celebrate when we can.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Maude & Her Lamb

Friday, April 18, 2014

Last Chance to Help & Win a Fiddle
Picking Winner Saturday Night!

So I am happy to annouce that Merlin, my Fell Pony, is nearly paid off. I am just a few payments from legally owning Merlin and am trying to expedite that day with a contest here on the blog. This is a FREE CONTEST. It is an act of appreciation. I will give away a fiddle ,plus a day of fiddle intro lessons on the farm, and a signed copy of all four of my books to the winner of this drawing. It is FREE to enter, all you need to do is comment on this post with a word of encourgement or horse story of your own. But for those *who want* to help in a financial way, you will see a donate button that lets you make a finacial contribution as well. Every dollar donated towards bringing Merlin home for good is an entr, as is every comment. I stress again, every dollar is an entry towards the fiddle and day here at Cold Antler, but if you do not wish to spend a dime you can simply leave a comment to enter.
Why am I hosting a fiddle giveaway? Because the farm needs your support. It really does. It's on shaky ground and right now any comment or dollar is a big help. If you can't or don't want to donate that is fine as well. To ente to win just leave a comment. To enter ten times, you can leave ten comments or donate ten dollars. But for those who have followed Merlin and My story through years of blog posts, books, and pictures on Facebook I urge you to help make him offically mine. I ask because I am so close (three payments from official ownership) and want to remove this monthly bill from my life. And for just leaving a comment or sending a dollar You could end up with a lifelong gift of music. I'll spent a day with you learning what I know of fiddling, and you'll leave with a fine instruement of your own. Fiddle Camp is sold out until next spring so take advantage if this invitation. Maybe a day here in late June, we could be sharing a campfire, clinking mason jars of hard cider to a year seen thus far.

Donate and Comment. I thank you. And I thank you.





no donation or purchase needed to win the fiddle. It is a fundraiser with a prize, not a lottery. Winner does not pay shipping costs.

MAUDE HAD A EWE LAMB!!!

When I hear the sound of complaining sheep from inside the farmhouse I let out a long sigh. It is not the heckle for grain or the regular, communicative, baas but the sound of unjust escape. It's the jealous sheep sound that roughly translates too tattling, "Hey, hey heeeeeey!!! She is out of the pasture and eating lawn grass and I want out tooooo heeeeyyyy!!!" And so I closed the laptop I was working on and headed outside, expecting to find a lamb in the front yard or some broken part of fencing I would have to stop my design work and repair after wrangling the sinners back to their purgatory.

When I walked outside to the sheep paddock there was no escaping. There was something far more drastic. I let out a loud curse word I rarely say then literally jumped up and down. Maude was standing over her very own lamb. I swear it.

I was absolutely stunned. This was nearly impossible. Maude had NEVER lambed, and I never thought she could. She had been bred nearly every autumn of her ten years and not once had she conceived. This was known, as the day I got her and two other woolies in a barter for fiddle lessons I was told she was not a breeding animal. I didn't care at the time since sheep were pretty much a wool project only, and the deal was too good to pass up. But today a little miracle happened, Maude produced a half Scottish Blackface and half English Border Leicester!

Meet the new girl! Maude's baby! The tiny little magic lamb!

So far Mama isn't thrilled about the blessed event. The complaining voice I left my freelance work for, turns out that was Maude. She was acting as if a mistake had been made and I better take care of it, NOW. The little girl wasn't cleaned half as well as the other mother's cleaned their lambs. So I went out with a towel and checked the little girl over. She seemed healthy. I watched the new mother and her babe and every time the little girl tried to nurse Maude head butted her away. At first I thought my towel job removed her sent, but that wasn't the case. Maude chortled and licked the little girl, but was not letting her anywhere near the scene of the crime. I didn't want to get too worried, so I waited. I watched for a long while. Every time the little girl tried to nurse she was pushed away and Maude walked off. I sighed.

I took a bottle down to the goat pen, milked Bonita, and got some good milk into the lamb, who drank well from the bottle right off. Tonight, if the ewe lamb still isn't nursing me and a few good friends will pin Maude to the wall and I'll milk out her colostrum at least and get that in the little girl.

I always thought Maude would be a she-wolf kind of mother. The super protective, super sweet, underdog of a mother. But as it turns out Maude is Maude. And so I may have a bottle lamb in the house. And that is good news, even if Maude is a monster. More young blood in this old flock is a blessing. And I am feeling blessed as I smile and shake my head at my mean-spirited sheep, who still managed through her spite to gift me a beautiful Easter present. Praise to all who grant blessings, for that sweet little bastard born of two Nations, a surly mother, and a very, very, VERY happy farmer.

April in Veryork...


Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Morning Haul

Every morning I milk my goat and collect eggs. This simple work of gathering good food is a pleasant exchange. It happens between the chores of feeding the flock, handing out hay to sheep and horses, and hauling water. On an easy day with fair weather chores take less than an hour to complete and I do them while listening to audiobooks. This means the morning is full of stories, food, and somewhere in the back of my mind I know a pot of Yerba Mate is perking on the stove. When I come inside to strain the milk and do the dairy dishes I have the option of the freshest eggs for breakfast with hot tea spiked with fruit juice.

It is fortification of the happiest sort.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Round Anxieties & Being Ruthless

I have been posting a lot lately about archery and horses, two things I adore. But I think writing about them, along with others subjects such as hawking, hunting, butchering, lambing, and so forth give my readership the impression I am fearless. I am not. I may be one of the most terrified people I know. Fear sits and swirls in me the way oil does in puddles. Anyone who takes the time to notice can tell, can see it there. And just like rainbows of color in poisoned water we can let it slide because it looks pretty. Horses, hawks, bows and hunting stories are very pretty. Stunning, even. But I want you to know that under every photograph, blog post, sentence, and story there is a woman who is very afraid.

I'm afraid of being thrown off my horse and breaking my arm. I'm scared I don't have health insurance, even now with the state programs it costs a 1/3 of my mortgage. I'm scared of being hit by a truck in my horse cart because some teenager was texting her boyfriend. I'm scared of keeping Cold Antler. I'm scared of Jasper when he turns his read end towards me. I'm scared of what my mother thinks. I'm scared of what you think. I'm constantly worried about money. I'm scared of getting close to someone romantically. I'm scared of heights. I'm scared of looks at Stewarts when I walk in without makeup or a shower in kilt and muck boots and what the locals must think I am. I'm scared of being alone, and loneliness. I'm scared of bee stings. I'm scared of noises in the dark. I'm scared of collection calls, nightmares, running out of firewood, and a million other things.

So why does a woman who is often so anxious out there in public wearing kilts? Shooting arrows? Riding horses down Main Street and traveling on highways in horse carts? Why did she quit her job when she was broke to start out with? Why did she buy a farm as a single woman, alone, so far from any relatives? Why did she share that horrible story about the dead sheep? Why is she doing ANY of this?

If you think I am fearless you are mistaken. If you think I am arrogant, you are being fooled by your own assumptions. Here is the only reason I do any of this stuff. My deepest secret, my driving force, my manta, my anthem, my most important lesson I can share: I am okay with being afraid. It is a natural part of life, survival, and humankind. I am absolutely terrified of regret.

Regret is poison. It destroys people faster than any disease of the body. To know something could have been and not having acted on chance, that is my biggest motivation. Every new job I took across the country. Every book proposal that was shot down. Every man I told I loved (and I never said that unless I meant it hard enough to shake the ground), all of it was done because the idea of not acting terrified me. Bones heal, banks foreclose, jeers at gas stations are forgotten... but the idea that I might wake up one day in a life I based around security and comfort wondering about the farm that may have been, the life I might have had? No, no, no, no, no.

If Cold Antler goes down in flames of failure I still know I tried. I got far enough to know the freedom of self employment and to grow good food through hard work. Memories of riding Merlin and hunting in my own forest can never be taken away. No, I do not have regret about this place, or any decisions I have made - including the mistakes. That may be the biggest accomplishment of my life. That I learned that being scared was as normal as rain, common and unpleasant - but necessary. And knowing the wetness of fear, feeling damp all the time in fact - that it never stopped me from reaching for my goals. I'm okay being Jenna the Scared. I'll never be Jenna the Haunted.

In my favorite Novel, The Name of The Wind, some time is spent talking about painful memories. In that story the main character describes how the most horrific moments in his life are not the most painful. How he can still see images and relive events in his past that should be the most painful but he has handled them so many times in his mind that they have lost their sharp edges. Roll fear around in your brain long enough and it rounds itself off. Still scary, but something you can handle without hurting yourself anymore. That is how I treat my fear, the anxiety I live with every day. Round anxieties can't cut you.

But regret never loses its edge. It never goes dull. In fact the more you think about it the sharper it gets. I see my fear as a stalking tiger, strong and deadly. But I see regret as a handgun pointed directly at my temple. Both might kill you but the tiger offers you a chance of escape, or perhaps the animal's disinterest in eating you that day. But a gun at your head is never an idle threat. Regret is ruthless.

And I'm writing all this because I know a lot of you can relate. Some of you are in that transition zone between lives, as I was a few years ago. Many of you want to quit your day jobs, buy land, grow food, milk goats, work with draft horses and play fiddles by campfires. And you can. You can do all of these things. Usually it requires sacrifice, lifestyle changes, comfort changes, and that same stubbornness that I have. But it is possible. You don't have to be rich, married, parent-approved, or even a land owner to be a farmer. You do have to be brave. You need to understand that all those things you are scared of are valid and real. You need to understand failure is a possibility. You need to not care what your in-laws think. You need to be okay with giving up things you used to think of as "normal" to make ends meet. You need to be certain.

If you want a life like mine it is waiting for you. But damn, is it ever scary. And being scared is okay. You'd be an idiot to not be at times. But never let discomfort stop you from preventing regret. Fear rounds itself out, it really does. It never leaves but you learn to live with it. But if not living the life you want is something you may regret, really regret, then I urge you to be as ruthless with it as it will be with you. Take the risks. Confront your spouse. Be honest about what you need to feel whole in this short and terrifying life. Because in the end the only difference between the people who wanted farms and the ones who had farms is that dance.

Everyone's story out there is different. We all have our own limitations, reasons, and fears. Some of us can never have our farms or be able to keep the ones we have. Maybe I'll be one of those people? Who the hell can see forever? But I do know that losing a thing is better than never having it in the first place. I'll take my fear with a smile and it will never stop me from getting on a horse, eating my home-butchered chicken dinner, stalking deer, driving carts, or paying my bills. And I'll do these things not because I am stronger than you, but because no part of me will ever be okay with that gun to my head.

So that's my secret. That's Cold Antler. And that's Jenna Marie Woginrich.

I hope it's yours, too.

Arrows Rising 2014: Events and Curriculum!

There are just five spots left for this October's Arrow's Rising! I am thrilled that folks are traveling from all over the United States (as far away as California!) to take part in the event. I have been planning much for both the May and October events here at the farm and thought I would share a little more detail for those of you on the fence about taking up traditional archery, and to explain to the people already excited to come just what is in store for them!

Arrows Rising is the name of the entire weekend, but that Saturday morning will start with a story. I will share my own reasons for taking up archery and it has nothing to do with Katniss, Brave, or the Avengers. I read a book one of you fine Antlers suggested to me several years ago and the the culture of archery and bow making was so rich and storied the bow went from being a weapon to a legend. It didn't take long after reading the first three books in the series that I had looked up some online bowyers and archery supply shops and sent from emails to my local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism.

The rest, as they say, is history. A self-made history at that. I've shot on the same traditional team for three years now. I've gone from a girl very low the East Kingdom's rankings with a cheap bow to a Marshal in the Shire of Glenn Linn, and MUCH higher on the list. My love for the sport echoed into a part time job at the British School of Falconry in Manchester. There I taught archery professionally, showing folks who never held a bow before the ways of instinctive shooting, safety, and basic practice field commands.

Very much of those lessons will be repeated for these beginners coming to Arrow's Rising. There will be an in-depth talk about equipment, bows and bow types, strings, bow stringing and measuring your bow for your body and its string. We'll talk arrows as well, and how to outfit yourself once you get home. Basic safety equipment will also be covered, and while I will have spare gear to lend I strongly suggest that people attending Arrow's Rising invest in their own hand and arm protection. A simple armguard costs very little as does a finger tab. But really all you need is a sturdy pair of deerskin work gloves, which you can find at any hardware store. These will protect your hands and be very appreciated by Saturday afternoon!

Saturday after equipment is covered we will head outside for safety demonstrations and field rules. Since Cold Antler is built into a mountain and goes through forest and stream side we will have several areas with targets set up. You'll shoot stationary at close range to start, gaining distance and confidence. Afterwards we'll try a trekking shoot, where we walk over forest and along the stream hitting smaller targets. There may very well be a demonstration of mounted archery with Merlin as well.

The first day will end with us sitting under the king Maple out front and reviewing the history and tradition of archery, share our stories of why we came, and relax and rest our arms! A tour of the farm and animals will then happen for all who wish to meet the crew and a campfire will be held that night for folks who want to return for music and more stories. Bring a folding chair and an instrument!

Sunday will begin with a quick review and some more practice. We'll keep shooting and set up some faux hunting scenarios in the woods, with hidden targets set into the hillside and banks. Whoever does best in the hunt scoring will win a prize, first of the day! And after that we'll break for lunch and return for a small tournament of stationary targets. Highest score will go home with a prize as well!

So that is the plan, the entire weekend come a few weekends from now and again in the fall. I hope to fill up all the spots soon and encourage women, men, teenagers and best friends to sign up together if they want! It's a great bonding experience and a sport many of us can take up at any age. Basketball courts and swimming pools don't really change but the archery field and equipment is made to fit YOU. So do not feel you aren't athletic enough to try. Folks of any size are welcome, I just ask you bring plenty of water, a chair to sit in, and understand we are shooting come rain or shine!

ALSO: I wanted to share that due to someone changing from the spring to fall Arrow's Rising there is a spot open for this coming workshop the first weekend in May! It comes with a longbow — a handcrafted and hand sanded and stained longbow — and I urge one of you to grab the spot! It is not available at the sale price of the Autumn workshop though, it is the full price of $350.

I will still honor the sale price of Arrows Rising until this Friday at Noon. So sign up for the last spots and join your fellow new archers! Let the grey geese fly!

Email me: Jenna@itsafarwalk.com to sign up!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Windy Rides

Yesterday the long weekend of Horse Adventuring continued with a seven-mile drive in the wind! The weather was changing and our geldings were out of shape from the long, cold, winter. But we took it slow and walked and trotted our boys over farm, field, road, and highway alike. The wind whipped at their manes and I was grateful for the string that held down my straw hat!

Monday, April 14, 2014

So You're Thinking About Bees? Win a Book!

So you've come to that time in your life when considering ordering a box of a couple thousand angry insects makes sense? Well, congratulations. Honeybees are wonderful, relativity inexpensive to obtain, and don't require a quarter of the attention other livestock demands. Beekeeping is not cattle ranching. Heck, it isn't even chicken keeping. These girls do not need the constant care of other critters nor the space. You can be an urban-residing, world-traveling, beekeeper. You can be a beekeeper at your summer home, or your cabin, and you can be a beekeeper right in your town backyard. You can also keep bees in the city...

And no one knows this better than Meg Paska, who is a dear friend and now a bonefied author! Her new book came out recently called The Rooftop Beekeeper and it is a wonderful introcution for beginners - rural or urban. The book has a comfrotable narrative style, sharing the journey step by step. You learn about Meg, her homesteading adventiures in Brooklyn and beyond, and what kind of chops it takes to keep a hive. You can pick up this book knowing nothing and set it down after a joyful read with enough know how to make a bee keeping workshop worth it's weight in gold for questions alone.

Meg, I loved this book. And it reminded me very much of how you talk and teach. It brought me back to the workshop you did at my farm as well! Thank you again for being here and part of the CAF extended family.

For those of you bee-curious out there, know this: While there is a certain level of study, effort, and skill that goes into tending a hive it isn't the arcane knowledge some folks think it is. Getting started in keeping bees really only asks that you learn enough to cobble together a hive, dump the bees into it, and the usual care of checking in on their progress and vitality. That is, of course, over simplified but stands true. Some people check their hives every week. Others check in twice a year: once when they add honey supers in the spring and again when they harvest the honey. I fall right in-between. I check often in the spring and even help feed the bees in their early stages. But as the garden takes over my summer I let them do their own thing, making sure they have enough vertical space to grow in. I don't hassle them much until Harvest Time. And when I do have golden jars in my larder every minute spent, every sting healed, and every dollar spent was worth it - several times over.

They say no honey will ever taste as good to your lips as what you harvest from your own hive. They are right.

Oh, And Meg has offered to give away a signed copy here on this blog! So leave a comment about bees, your bee dreams, or anything honey related to win! 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Bookstores on Main Street

Every once in a while this wild life I am living sends me an instantly-nostalgic postcard. A moment I know I will always remember, as if my mind was taking a snapshot and signing and dating the back as it happened. Today as I walked my black horse down Main Street in Cambridge, our reflection cast back from the storefront of Battenkill Books. I looked into the glass and saw a woman on the back of a Fell horse. Saw her in kilt and wool cowboy hat. Saw her in broken, taped, glasses and wide smile trotting behind a best friend on a ton of white Percheron. There was no parade. There was no festival. We were simply out for a ride and using the roads as a system of transport. Like any other citizen traveling that day, us taxpayers wore away the pavement with hoof and sweat instead of tire and gasoline. I rode proud. I rode free.

That was one of those moments you never forget.

Today two women and two horses had an adventure. We trailered the horses to Common Sense Farm, just a mile from downtown Cambridge and rode across farm and fell. The plan was just to try some new land, get the horses used to new sights and sounds and start off the riding year right. So we tacked up and headed into the fallow new grass. Our horses stepping into soft ground sometimes six or seven inches deep with mud. We watched herds of deer fly over ancient stone walls from the time our country was still ran by England. We talked, we sang, we joked. And when our county ride was over we trotted right up to the Mansion on the estate and gave children rides on our horses.

Women came out from the farmhouse and offered us iced chai latte and handed it to us in the saddle. I drank the spiced tea and could not stop smiling. I was in my town and on my horse. The reason was simply because we wanted to see our world on horseback. Know what it was like to travel alongside cars, trucks, motorcycles and bikes. We did it because our horses trusted us, and we them. It was over 70 degrees and the sun warmed my bare arms. A few weeks ago I was waking up shivering with snow all over the ground. And here we were kissed by Lugh himself.

We road all through downtown Cambridge. Some folks waved from their porches, others were annoyed we were in the way. But Patty and I didn't care. We walked past Patty and Mark's first home together, a place they rented for six years before buying Livingston Brook Farm. It was where she learned to raise rabbits and start a life over. The import of the place hummed as we walked by, even though it was someone else's home now. A place where a friend began again is a good place indeed. And I thought about how I was in Idaho when she lived there, 3,000 miles away in the Pacific Time zone reading Jon Katz books about a magical place called Washington County, New York. Now it is mine.

We spent two hours in the saddle today. We trotted past police cars, and over farm fields. We waved and talked to strangers, got good and sore, and have plans tomorrow for another ride at Livingston Brook on her lakeside property. It will be nearly 80 degrees and I am humming for it. Humming like excited history. I am thrilled to be excited about a Monday morning, a feeling I didn't get until I was thirty years old. Brigit's Fire,  you just can't know.

But today? Today I will remember my reflection in a small town bookstore's windows. I will remember waving to friends and people I know by name in my town. I will remember a best friend, an amazing horse, a community of beautiful children and sweet tea, and of the memories you make when you live your life on purpose.

When the hours in the saddle were over we drove back to Patty's large estate and let the horses go in a paddock of green grass by a stream. The horses enjoyed their break and fresh sweat and us women got into the hot tub with adult beverages and sore thighs. It was glorious, under the afternoon sun. Mark (Patty's husband) came out to chat with us as we soaked, his eyes watering from the work of making horseradish paste by hand. One of their neighbors had left them some fine roots and he had spent the afternoon making the paste with vinegar and fortitude. As he headed back inside the farmhouse to finish his task I told Patty I had two rounds of goat cheese waiting for her at home. She glowed at this, and for good reason. My Alpine Chèvre was creamy and mild. It was formed in molds and rolled in herbs and it tasted bright and pure as spring herself.

When we headed back inside the farmhouse at sunset I saw a jar of horseradish waiting for me on the counter. Patty drove me home and when we got to Cold Antler I ran inside for her two rounds of chèvre. We swapped goods and I felt the power of community. That happy exchange of shared skills. It is something I feel more and more these days, popping its fine head out around corners and in our bellies. I knew I had still had chores, milking, writing, and work ahead but I also knew that tomorrow would bring another day of riding in the afternoon. I knew we would have another adventure. I knew that in that saddle, side by side, we could talk about anything and our horses would carry us without complaint.

I will remember today as a smiling reflection in a book store's window. But what I will remember is not glass and light. I will remember the importance and blessing of a friend, of horses, of sunlight and heat after a long winter. Oh, and of horseradish from hangover friends at sunset.

Life is good.

P.S. Thank you to all who have send comments, emails, and donations to help pay off Merlin. We are halfway there!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Lannister

I suppose it is like riding a bicycle. At least that is what I thought as Merlin exploded into a canter uphill. My ass set firmly into the saddle, my right hand gathered the reins, my left hung free in the air like a wing stretched into the breeze. Some thought of Eustace Conway flickered in my brain, a man who could understand this form of riding. I ride Merlin the way you sit down to a glass of wine with friends. It is alert, coy, casual, yet sharp. I know him well enough now. I can tell what he is thinking, what his body wants. He kens the same from me. And even though we have been separated by an angry winter, months from touching, he knows me. Just a week into riding and we are back again. This is the horse I know the way you know what a nickel feels like in the dark. If I handed you a dozen pennies, dimes, quarters and one nickel you could find it. Maybe not gracefully. Maybe not quickly. But given enough touch and time you would know a nickel in that lot. You could feel it, roll it over your fingers, bet your life that what you held was Jefferson and hope. That familiar feeling is EXACTLY what coming home to riding Merlin has felt like.

I know some of you have horses. I know some of you ride. And I know many of you know the fear and uncertainty of a spring ride. What it feels like to sit a horse you have not known by touch or whisper in months. What a cold winter of distance, time and ice can do to you. I know it to. Ather my first winter off Merlin it was thick as brandy. But it has only taken a week of regular riding to feel comfortable again. So I think of the bikes of my childhood. How I would dust them off in March and ride them again in the longer daylight. Merlin was like that now. Either our relationship or my time as a rider has blossomed into familiarity. I'll take it either way.

Way I mean to share tonight is I was not afraid. And that is not small merit. I was afraid of him last spring. I was afraid of horses all my life. But the force and stubbornness of three years was all it took to jump a horse in April and not cower. That is something of note. I rode Merlin over creek and field, up mountain pass and calm trail. But I rode him in confidence, and in peace. I sang out loud. I sang in english, and gaelic, and I sang him the Reins of Castemere. That last is the song of the Lannisters. The song of the most hated household in American Fiction these days. But Lannister is my house. I adore Jaime and Tyrion. I adore their horrible pasts. If I was in that world of mr Martin's I would want to be a Lannister.For those who know me and know Westeros, that may be a shock. I know I should be a Stark. But I have a very soft spot for horrible men. For better or for worse, a Lannister I would be.

So I sang to my horse in upstate New York.