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.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Luck

Things are okay. That is a hell of a thing to announce here. I am still trying to mail in the June mortgage but the fact that it isn't the April mortgage is a big deal. The lights on are. The internet works. Toilets flush. Water is hot. I feel like a queen. I had to figure out an extra $500 in truck repairs for the Ford but it is repaired. Now I have to figure out the house payment to stay on top. It's so close though. It's THIS month. To me I feel so damn lucky to be trying for the now instead of catching up on then. It is a small progression but compared to a few years ago, last summer, this winter even! Things are slowly getting better. If my luck stays with me. If I keep promoting the skills and classes I have. If I keep focused and work hard I think this place can be mine a little longer. It's all a gamble and a prayer. It's all trying and hope and sweat and memory. But it's my dice to throw and tonight I just feel glad to inhale the air around it.

Wish me luck.

Heat Wave

A heat wave is settling in for a weekend stay. This means getting up extra early to do the bulk of the chores with sunrise, when everything is dewy and cooler. It means three or four times a day checking water stations and refilling everyone to the brim, over and over. It also means including some electrolytes to everyone's water sources. Mostly, in weather like this animals need ample shade and water and a place to remain still; Cold Antler has plenty of both.

That's for the livestock of course. For us humans it means time in the river! I have two writer friends visiting on their road trip for the weekend. Box fans in all the windows and cold beer and cider in the fridge. There's no air conditioning at the farm but there is the Battenkill River and after an evening swim and a cold drink in the shade the entire temperature of the world drops to a much more reasonable degree.

We have plans to visit Patty and Mark at Livingston Brook Farm for learning about draft horses and going out for a ride in a cart across the farmland near here. Between that, the river, good conversation and lazy nights of fireflies and movies I am so looking forward to a little vacation of my own. I usually work all through the weekend on promoting art, logos, soap and classes. I draw and ink, design, mix and cure soap - but this weekend I am joining my guests in their vacation. Every once in a while even a farmer needs a day off.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Make Your Bed

Before the rain started, before I could feel every muscle in my back and arm hum, before I helped move 300 bales of hay off wagons and into the safety of their barn - before all of that - I started my day on this farm. The same good story every morning. The work of feeding, watering, checking, petting, talking and raising the animals that make up part of my livelihood and my neighborhood. Caring for these animals, especially that morning set of rounds, a ritual I cherish and a drug I need. To be needed is everything. 

The chores are always done in the same order. Always set to music. I can't imagine beginning a day without coffee and music. It's a choice as plain as making your bed first thing, a little order in a chaotic world. With a strong cup of coffee in a sturdy mug and a playlist of music that is guaranteed to lift my spirits away from the news or politics - I have my day started. And from that point comes the to do list of chores, clients, artwork, errands, and the everyday things that make up life on a small diverse farm. I go through them and celebrate the tiny goals made; a bill paid, a fence repaired, a box of soap mailed, another chapter written.

We need to make our days what they will be. Choose music and comfort and routine. Make your bed.

Sunday, June 24, 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!

Friday, June 22, 2018

In It Now

We are in it now: Summer. Hot and humid days and blessedly cool nights. Mornings start around 6AM and right now chores are the most intense of the year. Not just the usual care and feeding of a farm: there are meat birds in tractors that need to be moved daily. There's two (hopefully!) pregnant does from late-season breeding to monitor and check. There's sheep being grained and then let out to graze from their pens. There's a hawk to feed and set outside in her weathering yard (and morning training for us both). There's dogs and cats to feed, horses and their fly and foot care routines, pigs and their pet Max, and at the bottom (or top, depending on your outlook): there's me. I say bottom because the farmer is the base of the operation, what it stands on. I also say bottom because I haven't even had a damn cup of coffee yet.

It's been a bit of a month. Things are a combination of good and the usual scrappy, which I will happily take! The mortgage is a few days late, but not a few months late. Been working like crazy to pay it up to a safer zone and am trying like nuts to keep that momentum going. Things always come up. I finally paid off some dental debt from this winter, but now I need to get $525 in repairs to the truck and am hoping to earn that by Monday through art sales or future pork shares. Social media is where I promote that end of the farm business. Twitter and Instagram have been amazing. The only way forward is trying, asking, finding new ways to bring income to the farm that keep me on it. As long as I have the energy and will to stay here I will find a way to do it.

And speaking of reasons to fight the good fight: I have a week coming up that includes three fiddle lessons and two archery guests. After their workshops I have out-of-town writer friends coming to stay to round out the month as well. I'm so excited for all of that. And every day I have been doing some special extra homework, like washing curtains or deep-cleaning the shower to make the place a little more hospitable.

This farm has become my normal everyday. It's my home, my work, my entertainment. It's a small world, too - my 6.5 acres and animals and the small circumference around it of neighbors and friends. But when people travel here for classes or as friends staying to hang out - it gives this place such a boost of new energy. It gives me their perspective as well which if you also live on a farm can understand how important that is. To see others view your choices and home as good, holy crow is that validating and encouraging! A shot of hope in the arm.

Okay, time for that coffee. Send an email or note on twitter or insta if there's anything in particular you want me to write about? I'll d my best to post a few more times before the end of the weekend!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Come to Cold Antler & Leave a Fiddler or Archer!

Come to this farm this summer (or fall) for a special trip to see this place and leave with a new skill and the tools to practice it at home. I offer half and full day workshops in either fiddle or archery for beginners. The requirements are easy - come willing to learn with the ability to hold a fiddle or draw a bow, and we take it from there. You don't need to have any athletic or musical experience. These two passions of mine can be taught to anyone with the will to learn, a sense of humor, and the stubbornness to practice at home. I provide the instruments (class comes with your own longbow or student fiddle!) and you leave learning how to play your first song or safely shoot your first bow.

These classes also make great gifts! Want to give your spouse the ability to play a song or shoot a bulls eye? You can buy them from me and get a printable pdf emailed you can set into a card or wrap as a gift. The card lets the gift receiver set up their own date and time for the class at their choice. Classes here include:

Fiddle Indie Day: A student fiddle, spare strings, bow, and case. Class covers care and feeding, tuning, your first scale, your first song, and practicing at home. Play among sheep, goats, chickens and horses on the side of a mountain. Half or full day options - full day includes more practice time, a second song and scale as well.

Archery Indie Day: A palm wood long bow and string. Class covers care and feeding, safety, equipment and range rules, instinctive archery shooting and aim, target practice, and beginner tips and lessons in bow and arrow fitting.  Half or full day options - full day includes more practice time and a woodland field course shooting through cover, down cliffs, and at animal targets on trail.

You can also sign up for both in the same day, which means a morning of music followed by an hour lunch break and then an afternoon of archery. Prices vary by amount of students and times. Base price for a half day with fiddle/bow is $250. Email me to sign up at dogsinourparks@gmail.com

P.S. I also have done custom classes in Chicken 101, Goats & Soapmaking, Mountain Dulcimer, Beginner Horsemanship & Driving, Rabbits, etc. Ask for a custom class if interested!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Dream Life

One of the things I hear all the time from readers and folks on social media is "You're living my dream life." It's lovely to hear and in its own way affirming. Knowing other people are drawn to the same choices or aspire to them is validating as hell, but it's also not the whole truth.

Be aware you're comparing the reality of your actual life to the curated presentation I am sharing online. My Instagram account does not show the slaughter day I was covered in blood and scratches from chasing an escaped 200lb sow in the forest during the most humid day of the year. Nor did I photograph my night two evenings ago when I left my bed to the sound of Hannah the ewe screaming because she got her head stuck in the fence. I was out there in the chaos with a flashlight between my teeth removing her horns from woven wire while coyotes howled in the distance and Friday kept barking.

If I posted pictures of those days my account would look more like Apocalypse Now than a dreamy farm. I'd rather share that part of my life in words (like the last post about Shearing Day Breakout) than in pictures. I keep reality to Twitter and this blog. I like the photographs I share to be a scrapbook of good memories. 

But here's the problem with that: We get comparison hangovers all the time from that exact choice. It gives people the illusion that someone's life is better than our own. I feel it all the time. I follow a couple hundred people on Instagram and recently deleted some of the more popular/weirdly commercial accounts I followed. Accounts like the perfect femme couple selling skin cream with promotion codes or backpacking dogs selling canine energy bars. Mostly because they are total strangers but more so because I want to know about the real mess behind the photo shoot. Sure, hand me your beautiful album but please tell me the story behind pictures. I need to know you're just as real. That you also are figuring it out every day and are terrified most of the time.

Do you see that picture of Friday and Mabel on the mountain in this post? Yes, it is so pretty. But here's the story behind it: Friday is currently in heat and has to wear a diaper inside so blood doesn't get all over the floor and bed. It's also why Gibson isn't in this picture.  He's not allowed to be around her unsupervised and I can't play chaperone and horse trainer at the same time. I'm not on Mabel because I got off her at the bottom of this little valley, near those bushes below in the picture. Why? Because she is so nervous being ridden without another horse on the trail it doesn't feel safe. She's jumpy so we take the ride in little steps, me getting on and off and her learning the safety and ease of a solo trail ride. I'm not confident to take her out all around the mountain alone like I do with Merlin because SHE isn't there yet. So what you see is a bitch in heat, a 1200lb scaredy cat, and a girl with enough bug bites to receive a benefit concert. 

I don't want anyone who reads this blog to think of my life as a perfect dream come true. I want people to be inspired to create their own imperfect dreams. Why? Because life is short and regret is forever. Because it's better to fail trying than drown comfortable and untested. Because you want it so bad it takes up space in your lungs and nags you at 3:32 on a Wednesday afternoon when you should be thinking about Steve's stupid PowerPoint presentation on email click-through rates but instead you are scrolling through breeds of draft horses under the table on Pinterest. Because you can't fucking help it.

Nothing feels better than a reader who found one of my books or blog telling me about closing a sale on their first farm, buying their first horse, getting their first egg from a backyard hen. That gives me such a rush!  It makes me feel less alone in the world. It matters so much you tell me those stories, but mostly because I want to matter to something besides these 6.5 acres.

And please know if you're reading this you're probably living a version of my dream life.

You know how you're paying the next month's bills? You're living my dream life.
You have a partner that loves you and cares about you? You're living my dream life.
You have health insurance? Savings? You're living my dream life.
You have more than 2 digits in your bank account right now? You're living my dream life.

None of this is a complaint. I chose this life and I truly adore it. Not having financial security in exchange for working from home and having this farm was a gamble I endeavored to roll. Being single is preferred to being in a relationship I would feel is settling or, more importantly, restrictive. Health insurance and savings are something I am working towards, but not there yet, again: my choice. And right now the reason I am so low in my account is because I just managed to catch up on old dental bills and some current work that was sorely needed and caught up on old electric bills. I'm broke because I'm staying afloat and able to chew.

So that's where I'm at. The best type of real love and real fear, free for you to witness online. And when you tell me it helps your own story, oh man, it's the drive I need to keep learning to be more resourceful, frugal, hardworking and true to my own dream.

My own imperfect, messy, horrific, perfect, beautiful dream.

Just keep going, all of us.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Best-Laid Plans

It was 7:45Am on Shearing Day and everything was going as planned. The sheep were penned and their location had extension cords at the ready. The chores were done early so Liz had my full attention and assistance grabbing and moving sheep. The check was laid out on the coffee table. The weather was gorgeous. Everything was perfect. What could possibly go wrong?

Liz pulled into the driveway right on schedule and I helped her carry the shearing board, her tool box, and the cords and gear needed for the work. I do what I can to help with professional when they come to the farm to help with skills I don't possess. I am right there with the butchers on kill dates, helping carry animals or unload meat hooks. I am with the farrier when he is trimming and shaping the horses feet, asking questions about their care and condition. And I am always with the shearer to ask her about the animals' overall health, body condition, and wool. Which was the exact plan when I opened the pen gate and Liz walked in with her board and me with the other gear.

CRASSSSSSHHHHHH!!!!!

Hannah the black sheep ran and leapt over the 4ft fence like a gazelle on poppers. Seeing this amazing feet, Joseph the 225lb wether tried to do the same and ended up just crashing onto the fence and crushing the woven wire, making a dip that any respectable sheep could traverse in a hop. It took about 5 seconds for the rest of the flock to be out like a hole in a bucket. The shearer gasped. I let out a four letter word of choice. We both watched them run far away from us towards the forest and back pasture.

My first thoughts were racing and angry. It has taken so long to actually book a traveling sheep shearer for a farm this small and I couldn't lose the appointment. It was already late in the season for shearing, something that is usually done in March or April. I had promoted sales and soap like mad on Twitter to raise up the money for the job. I set the appointment. I did all the things, and yet...

I have learned in moments like this not to panic or waste any energy on the problem, just start the first step of the solution. I told Liz I was sorry but I could get this all sorted, I just needed an hour or so. I told her to head down the road to Jon Katz's farm first and take care of his flock. (He was less than two miles away and also had her scheduled to shear.) While she did that I would herd the sheep back, get them into their pole barn, get the pen repaired and when she returned it would be smooth sailing towards Naked Sheep Island.

It took me, the dogs, a bucket of grain, some fence tools, a t-post pounder, baling twine, and a hammer and nails to get the job done but we got it done!

I will admit the trick I use when things go wrong, when problems need to be dealt with fast. I imagine myself swaying in the hammock at the end of the day, sipping a cold drink, reading my Kindle as the fireflies start to come out. I imagine the feeling of accomplishment of a big task like shearing day done, the box checked, the ewes shorn and ripping grass while Gibson, Friday, and I watch on. That is what I thought about as I gathered supplies and got to the messy work of battening down hatches.

I let the sheep graze and wander the farm as I repaired the broken area of fence first. Once that was sound again I cut a section of woven wire a little larger than the pole barn's door. I nailed it on one side and set the hammer and nails to the other for what I called "Action Time!" Then I got a large piece of chain link fence that was being used to plug another fence hole in the pasture and set that near the barn's door. Okay. I was ready for the dogs.

Friday and Gibson worked as a scrappy team getting Monday off the lawn and back into the pasture. Then they got Jessa and her little lamb to run into the pen, followed my Marnie and Hannah. Last to go into the pen by dog escort was Monday, Brick, and Joseph. Soon all six adults and one little lamb were in the pen. I told the dogs to lie down by the main gate and poured some grain into the barn. Soon all the sheep were inside ACTION TIME and I nailed the woven wire gate shut. Then I set the chain link section over that. HA HA! They were in.

Liz arrived with her daily schedule in tact. Swapping farm times was a lucky break, and I am grateful to Jon that he welcomed her earlier than planned. That's the kind of communication and neighborly goodwill we need around here to keep everyone sane.

It didn't take long to pull the sheep from the fortress one at a time. I warned Liz that Brick, being the oldest ewe of around 13 or 14, might be nothing but skin and bones under that wool. Feeling her back it felt boney. But she was plump and well and her eyes were pink under the lids. It is a really good feeling when the oldest sheep you have looks that chunky and bonnie. What a grand sight she was shorn! I'll post a pic of the old girl when I can grab one!

When shearing was done I invited Liz inside to discuss a possible logo for her business and to work out a barter for a possible new ram for next season. I wrote her the check for the day's work plus tip (always tip your hairdresser) and thanked her again for being flexible and so great with the sheep.  She headed back out on the road to shear at two farms back in Vermont.

So the day didn't go as planned but the work got done. When sunset fell and the evening chores were finished I did end up in that hammock. I did have a cold drink. I did read as the fireflies circled around me. This isn't always the case, but when it happens I sway with it.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

It's Shearing Day!!!


Friday, June 8, 2018

Town Love

I love this town. I really do. I landed here by chance and a thousand odd choices starting over a decade ago in nearby Vermont for a job. I bought this farm because it was in my price range, a short distance from work, and no one else seemed to want it. A single family home with one small bathroom, narrow stairs, crooked floors, and in need of a lot of love since its old owners had to leave. And here I landed.

I spent yesterday doing my usual errands around town: picking up feed at that hardware store, dropping off soap and art to mail at the post office, and stopping by neighboring farms for swapping equipment and stories. I spoke with bakers and cooks, brewers and shopkeepers, farmers and friends. And the day ended with a beer with friends at the brewery. (Side Note: Someone at the brewery asked if it was me rescuing a turtle on rt 372. It was not, but I would certainly stop to save a road turtle). This is my community and it is how the farm churns on. The people who share in my farm are all around. It's a fine way to start the day with gratitude and love.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

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:


Sunday, June 3, 2018

Claw Marks

It's been an interesting couple of days at the farm, to put it lightly. The kind of thing happened Friday morning that would make an amazing short story but I can't write about it here. Nothing sordid, just more a story for late nights around campfires and full glasses of wine among friends. Let's just say that when everything goes wrong in a day's plan (and I mean EVERYTHING) and then friends, luck, and hard work turn it all around for the better - it refills my tank of farm love. I don't know of another lifestyle that let's you fall so often and then lifts you up higher each time.

New farmers shouldn't be warned about this, they should be teased. It should be a selling point. Yes, you are going to have horrible, scary, and miserable days. Days where you spend hours with sore bodies, bleeding cuts, sunburn, nettle stings, and dogs panting so hard their tongues nearly touch the ground... But when you figure it out and recover with a hot shower and stiff drink the entire world becomes a sweeter and more understandable place. You feel strong in ways you could not imagine before pullets and pulled pork were part of your emotional inventory.

I felt so amazing after Friday's endeavors that I went for a ten-mile run Saturday morning. It was the most enjoyable thing I have done in weeks. The first hour was a little rough, but then my body turns into this animal that only wants to cover distance and breathe. This place makes me feel so strong. When you find that in the world you hold on so tight the air around you has claw marks.

In more mundane news: the coolant lines on the truck burst and it needs repairs. I'm hustling on social media, as always, to earn up the repairs.  It's always something, as you all know. We are all doing our best every day with the circumstances we're lotted. But besides truck repairs I am happy to report most things here are the good kind of problems: like working to earn and keep the thing I love. The type of stuff that requires grit and resourcefulness and honesty. I have a healthy body and a low rate rate. I have friends I adore and hold closer than moss on river stone. I have dogs that make every morning paradise.  I have enough coffee and time.

It's going to be an amazing summer.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Max

Max was like any other chick raised at this farm, at least when it comes to humble beginnings. She arrived in the mail in a box from Stromberg's Hatchery. Her breed is Ameracauna, which has fluffy cheek feathers and lays blue eggs. And like every other pullet in the brooding pen she ate her chicken chow, scratched in the dirt, drank from the little water fountain, and fell asleep at night in a feathery pile with all the other hens being raised as this year's new layers. Life was pretty good for Max. A free-range chicken on a small farm - poultry pot at the end of the rainbow.

Max wanted more. At some point when I was moving the pullet tractors to fresh grass she slid out and made a run for it. I wasn't worried. Gibson and Friday are dandy chickenherds and if all else failed she'd be back by her coop mates by nightfall, asleep outside the pen on the ground. This is what 99% of chickens do. They desire to be with other chickens. They are flock animals. Not Max.

Max has taken up residency with the pigs. She walked hundreds of yards with her tiny body and found the sounder. Think of what that means? It would be like you leaving everything you knew to join a herd of elephants - if the elephants were the size of Boeing 737s. But this is what Max wanted. Now she eats alongside pigs, sleeps with them at night, travels on their backs, and has made the pig paddock home. She can leave whenever she wants but chooses pig life. And I gotta say it suits her. She is larger and brighter than the cooped birds in the tractors. She glows golden in the sun. And even if she doesn't realize it - as long as the pigs don't eat her (so far they haven't) she's as safe from non-porcine predators as can be. No fox kit is going to leap electric netting and tussle with 200lbs animals for a 4oz snack.

Max isn't a conventional hen. She's kinda young and reckless. But she's out riding hogs in the forest while the other poults are in cages. I respect the hell out of this chicken. Max, may you prosper and thrive with your pig life!

Photo by Miriam Romais

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Writer Friends!

Summer is here. She really is. The days start bright and heat up into gloriously humid afternoons. Today on my short run I wanted to jump into the creek beside my mountain road, good gods I was so warm. It felt so good and I was so grateful. I will never complain about heat or humidity - not ever after this past winter. I'll take a world that feels like a sauna ANY DAY over -20° nights curled up by the fire with bursting pipes and not enough wool sweaters. Bring it on, Summer. I can't get enough of your business.

And the fireflies are back! At dusk they start to glimmer in the darkest spots in the trees, especially around the brook and well. I watch them and count them: two, five, twenty! The other night I played Blackest Crow for them on the fiddle. I practiced all day to get it right. It meant a lot to me that it was perfect for them.

Today was supposed to be shearing day but so far the sheep shearer has not shown up. I hope she is okay. The sheep are overdue to be shorn, as are the woolies on neighboring farms. It'll get done. Everything always gets done.

Speaking of getting done: I planted squash, tomatoes, and basil this week. In their own beds near the pasture on the other side of the fence. I still have pumpkins to plant, and I am happy to report the replanted Kailyard is doing well. Was just in that bit picking weeds and watering. The pigs watch me with their adopted pullet, Max. I'll share Max's story here soon!

I just had some friends I made online, fellow writers, stop by for the night as a rest during their road trip. Sarah and Emma came to meet me, the farm, the dogs, and Aya and the horses. We stayed up later talking dating, books, feelings and life. It was lovely. And in the morning we had scrambled eggs and toast and then I lead Merlin on a lead rope up the mountain while they took turns riding. To see the Battenkill Valley from horseback is special. It isn't the Wild West. It isn't the rolling moors of Cumbria. It's more like what a Hobbit would call home. Fitting for me.

Please note that I am VERY prolific on Twitter and Instagram. If you want pictures of the animals and the farm, follow me at @coldantlerjenna on Instagram. If you want far too many personal details about dating, pop-culture, and writing - Twitter is it where I am @coldantlerfarm

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

We Made It

It's some time around this exhaling part of wet spring that I nearly forget how to light the wood stove and shovel snow. The manic seasons of upstate New York are on the upswing, and days of sunny 72-degree weather are the normal now. If it isn't sunny and warm it's like today, a sigh of rain turning everything green again. The lawn is coming back, the pasture is rolling greener every day from the mud and hoof prints of winter, and even the stubborn locusts around the barn are starting to leaf. We made it.

Every day I wake up to sunlight that feels so young and excited about the world outside my window. I can hear Augustus the red rooster and the sounds of rustling new maple leaves. Those are my alarms. Once the house starts to stir the animals who all encircle the home itself in pasture and field - notice, and the neighs of horses and squawks of goslings pick up percussion to the woodwinds of weather and light. I try to remember the deep freeze of Winter's Bottom and it feels like a dark fairy tale from another world. If I retold it under the stars down at the train station brewery I am certain there would be a plodding mastodon in the tale as I carried in the last of the dry wood.

Life makes plenty of time to worry for you. But you have to decide when to stop everything and sink into the joy of warmth, sunshine, a gosling, a lamb, and the promise of thunderstorms and fireflies. I do believe I'll make time today to gather my fly fishing tackle. I can not wait to head into the river. 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Whipperhonker

Mucking the barn by hand is never fun, but it is necessary and (bonus!) it's also a hell of a work out. It's does get complicated to partake in that workout a when three geese tending a nest have taken up residence in the corner of the barn. And in the exact spot where the barn's back door for easy-muck removal is located. So right now the chore is being held off in favor of mucking elsewhere. And for good reason because the geese are actually hatching some of their eggs! This morning I woke up to this little whipperhonker!

In some lighter news I am only one payment behind on the farm, as far as the mortgage goes and the lights are bright and shiny. I'm trying like mad to promote classes, logos, and illustrations on Twitter where I can reach the most people. If I can keep hitting my income goals there's a shot of not only being in the land of happy sighs of a solid roof-tree, but also some better night's sleeping.

I gotta say how helpful it is to run. I am running around 20-30 miles a week right now and it's become the best way to tire out anxiety and focus. While running I think of ideas, solve problems, and burn off the fears that might linger from a bad dream or email. As the days grow longer, hotter, and more humid (I ADORE humidity!) I hope my runs to do. If I can swing it I'll enter the Manchester Vermont Half Marathon again. It's for Make a Wish and while I don't run fast I did complete it back in 2016 and it felt amazing to accomplish it. And a goal keeps me running towards something. Always towards. What's the saying?

Don't look back. You're not going that way.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Parting Glass

I leaned back against the three sinks, tired and light. I couldn’t stop smiling. From my vantage point behind the bar, towel over my shoulder, eyes and feet tired; I listened to the man with the guitar across the room. The man playing was named Gurt Morlix and it was the last song of the night, The Parting Glass. I was behind the bar because I was unofficially on staff of the brewery that night, helping wash dishes and clear patron’s glasses before and during the concert. As a regular at the brewery, who usually shows up with a border collie and felt hat, I was here tonight to work. Friends that bartend knew they would be busy and the usual help would be watching the concert or otherwise occupied, so I was there to be useful.

I loved it. I loved it so much. I loved being beside a friend. I loved washing the glasses. I loved hearing the stories and songs. I loved being under the high ceilings and chandeliers of the freight depot - a historic building in this farm town that once took locals to New York City every day back when the McClellan Family owned my entire mountain as a sheep pasture. But tonight I was here listening to a man who traveled and sang with Warren Zevon. It was time to listen.

I wish I could keep that moment forever. The lack of moonlight and the way the small parlor guitar and that man’s voice filled every space it could find. If honey was alive and kind, it was how he sounded - creeping into the grain exposed by wind and time. And I had this place behind the show - not able to afford a reserved table but free to help wash pints and clean up the tables outside. I have never felt luckier.

I stay on this farm because it’s what I know how to do and it makes me feel safe. I wake up every day with work I can not ignore, regardless of weather, health, or heart. I don’t know of any remedy for low-grade anxiety or depression that is stronger than this. To wake up and be needed - not loved, not known, not understood - but viscerally needed by over 50 animals means no sleeping in. It means needing to set aside fears and foes and get dressed and make sure everyone eats breakfast and is okay. It means caring about something above all else and then being able to consume it. Farming is the existential ouroboros of the mildly insane. Giddyup.

But it matters. It has made me transcend self. I’ve helped deliver lambs crying and heartbroken. I’ve helped with hog butchering in heat waves. I’ve planted and weeded and laughed. I walked through snow drifts with black dogs and raced up hillsides on the back of a black horse. I’m different person than the girl who didn’t know how to harness a horse or train a hawk. My lines are harder. My voice is softer. I’m more forgiving of mistakes. I’m less forgiving of unkindness.

I’m here still because of song and luck. I rode Merlin at a gallop yesterday morning with the bartender from the concert. We served and washed a bar together and then we were riding as fast as hooves would carry us a few days later. This is how you make friends - moments that stamp wax crests on envelopes - and when we were done with ale and bridles we sat in my sparse front lawn with a thick red wine and toasted new friendships and bad luck.

I’m still here because I get these songs and stories. I’m still here because I know my neighbors and their dogs. I’m still here because when you find a place so perfect and bold that you can pant as you turn around three times before you lie down that it just makes sense…

Home is learning who you are. Here I am.

Good News!

This morning while Mabel was walking down the hill for her breakfast I was watching her back feet. When I bought the mare I was told she had issues with arthritis and was getting injections and special supplements to deal with it. I was also warned that I may not ever ride her much over a light trot, depending on her condition. That was almost a year ago and Sunday morning she was racing beside Merlin at a full gallop. She stopped limping three days after she lived here. She has been off special supplements for months. This isn't because I'm a horse health magical healer, but because (I think) that she went from stall life with some turnout in a paddock to living on a 3-acre hilly field. Now she has full mobility and runs with Merlin all the time in the pasture, but Sunday morning she was ridden for the first time at length out on the trail and I wanted to make sure there was no hitch in her giddy up. Happy to report she is sound as music!

After feeding the horses I walked up to the sheep and goats sharing a pen on the hill. The reason for this cohabitation? The goat's pen has been demolished and is right now a giant pile of manure that needs to be moved via tractor I'm hiring before it is rebuilt. So for now the does and Rocco the buck are with the sheep in their large hillside pen. Everyone seems to be getting along, but what I didn't expect to see was the new addition! Jessa the ewe had a ram lamb! Look at that little muppet!

These are two great pieces of news: a sound mare and new lamb. This weekend has been up and down with troubles* and triumphs, but for now let's enjoy a happy horse and baby. And another cup of coffee for the farmer with three eggs in her pocket.

* Troubles meaning that a bobcat (the farm machinery not the animal) got stuck in the goat pen and had to be pulled out with a truck. The kailyard I planted also go destroyed by the skidding/stuck/struggling bobcat. Also, a twisted ankle. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Spiffier!

I am spending more and more time outside. With the sun shining bright outside and temperatures in the mid seventies it feels wonderful being out in the dirt! Today I got cauliflower and snap peas planted and borrowed a friend's power washer to clean off the house siding. These are small things, but acts of home care and longevity I feel good about. Happy to report the place looks a little spiffier than it did just a few days ago.

Also wanted to add that if any of you have considered purchasing a logo design or pet illustration, this is a great time to do it. The amount of resources that went into getting the power back on was a huge hit to the budget so I am trying not to fall more behind and get things straightened out soon as possible. Happy to offer deals, discounts on classes or lessons, extra sketches. Whatever I can offer from this farming skill set is on the table.  I offer one-on-one fiddle and archery workshops, too. You can sign up by yourself or with a friend/spouse/child for discounts.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Walkmans in Church

"Do you have a cassette player? Besides the one in your truck?" was the message waiting in my email when I came inside the farmhouse yesterday evening. I had to stop and think for a minute. I was flustered from carrying buckets of water up the hill to the lambs. My mind was still outside in that ritual world of evening chores. I turned around because I had a Sony Walkman right behind me on the coffee table. Inside it was the same NEWSIES soundtrack I listened to in High School. The cassette had been moved ceremoniously from every car I had owned - one glove compartment to the next for nearly two decades. It was more of a luck piece than anything else at this point, but recently I had dug it up to sing Santa Fe to the goats during morning grain. I replied to my friend Patty that I did have one and I could bring it over next time I was at her farm.

This morning broke with sun so saffron my bedroom seemed to have a retro filter on it. I stretched and hugged my dogs, beside me in our double bed and eager to start the day. Gibson was at the window in no time, checking on the hen and rooster strutting by the front door. Friday stretched with me and took up the space he left her, absolute luxury.

The morning chores were better than usual. The sun was warm but the air mild—around 45 degrees—and in a long-sleeved cotton shirt I felt perfectly guarded from the slight chill. With a podcast in my ears I went about the same old story of hay, grain, water, and checking on the animals. Chicks needed their water fonts cleaned and tractors moved. The pigs needed their water trough dumped and scrubbed before refilling. The horses needed fly spray and I took note that they are due for spring worming. I emailed the shearer again, eager to have the sheep shorn. The work that was once thrilling but is now a warm ember inside me. I can't imagine not being needed this way first thing in the morning by something I need just as much. You can get drunk on it if you don't temper it with coffee.

A lot of coffee.

The rest of the morning was spent indoors. The usual to-do list of promoting the skills I have to offer, preparing books for the mail, packaging soaps, and getting artwork completed and in mailers for customers. I made one sale (two short of the day's goal) but knew I had plenty of time to get where I needed to be by dark. One sale is still money coming into the farm. That's something, a step up hill.

I changed into running clothes and got a quick four miles in. The run helped. The music carried me across the now-lush landscape of Washington County. I'm still getting used to all the green. Every year it's a shock how alive the place becomes after such a long winter. That was a gratitude I didn't have to fight to absorb.

After the run I enjoyed a hot shower and got dressed for town. My usual stops of the hardware store, the post office, and gas station were done in quick order. Friday was with me. She hung her head out the window and with her eyes closed took in the day the way I did on my run.

Did I ever tell you that when I stop what I'm doing, any time of day, and howl she howls with me? It might be my favorite thing about the little monster.

Next was the farm work I was most looking forward to that day: the kailyard. I had bought twenty dollars worth of starts (48 plants) with money made from selling goatsmilk soap. Today I'd use the goat compost (a year old) and hand tools to work in the earth and create rows for planting the greens. This was done in the mid afternoon and I felt that sun go from warm to hot as I worked with pitchfork and hoe. The dogs were with me, running around and digging in the garden beside me. They are whimsical and erratic landscapers going through their hole period. It wasn't much help but they stayed out of the way of the sharp points of tools and that was enough for me. I got to wear shorts and a tank top too grubby for civilization and get a bit of a tan.

This was a full day for me. Work indoors, in town, and on farm. I wanted a quick ride with Merlin before the work of evening chores and the soapmaking I had yet to do. So I grabbed my pony's halter and lead rope and collected him from the pasture. If there is one reason above the rest that I am still on this farm - it is this. To walk outside the place I work and use the skills of tacking up and be on the back of a galloping animal fifteen minutes later. To do all that as comfortably as if I had just started my truck- this is wealth beyond measure to me. Struggling here is a song. Sometimes it's lovely and sometimes it's playing jazz in the dark... Like last week.

As we rode I listened to the new song Hunger by Florence and the Machine. Merlin ran and the song crested and I felt like the day was just getting started. Sometimes I can't help but laugh when he really gets going. Not because it's funny, but because this is my Tuesday afternoon. It took so long to get here - and keeping it is a thousand times harder - but no one could take that moment from me. I asked him to go faster and he did and that is mine forever.

The day ended over at Patty's farm. She invited me over to visit for drinks and catching up. Before I headed out the door I remembered the Walkman. It turned out that her husband Mark had found old tapes of his brother's piano playing. The master pianist passed away a long time ago and this would be the first time Mark had heard those songs since his brother was alive. Patty used a Bluetooth speaker by jacking into the old tech with the headphone port.

It felt so personal and beautiful that I slipped away, wanting to let this moment be theirs. As the first soft chords played by a ghost I walked into their old threshing barn. I could hear the music from across the pasture, filling the old space like a whisper in a church. It wasn't my music to hear but I stole some for a moment. Good god, what a day this was.

It was a week ago that the power was shut off and I was alone in the dark. I got through that and now the next thing is on the list becomes the new fight - another mortgage payment, another bill, another day of constantly trying to harness a life of fast horses on Tuesday afternoons.

Maybe some day this will get easier? I'm not sure if I'm built for easy. But I am here for ghosts in old barns, red shoulders, and the straining of my eyes at a dark copse of trees for the first fireflies. They'll come back soon. But I want to see them the way I want to be held at night - not because I need to be, but because my tiny world is better for it.

I'm going to keep writing about these fears and this trying. Please keep reading.


Plants In!

The sun is shining and the kailyard planting has begun! I got 48 starts in the ground. They are planted, watered, fenced and blessed with my own sweat. The starts are from Stannard Farm, paid for by selling the soaps I make myself from the goats watching me hoe and pile. I set those babies into cake-like black soil thanks to the mucking of last summer's goat bedding. What a lovely dance - goat manure and milk being the reason I get an amazing salad or spinach quiche in a few weeks!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Mother's Day is Coming!

If you are looking for a pet portrait, a logo, graphic design work (not web design), or would like to gift any of these to Mom for Mother's Day, I am running a sale now on all of them! I can't get you a drawing in time for the weekend, but you can get a pdf to print out that your mom or friend can redeem for a custom drawing of their favorite pet or animal! Just email me at dogsinourparks@gmail.com

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Kailyard and Considerations

The work of this week on the farm will be all about plants. Some of it truly enjoyable: like planting the first starts and seeds in the kailyard. And some of it backbreaking: removing old straw bedding from the barn with a pitchfork. As a one-woman operation I have learned to stop seeing these chores as all or nothing. I don't have to spend 5 hours forking muck and old bedding. I don't have to spend an entire raining Saturday moving compost and hoeing earth. I can get the same results in a week by doing an hour's worth of the task a day, which leaves time for my part time job and the freelance I do here at the farm. Today in the rain I'll muck for an hour. I'll get some starts from the farm stand down the road to plant tomorrow.

This morning is the Poultry Swap, which I am not attending. I don't feel well, but also don't think I can handle the temptation of the new animals/ideas I might get. Right now what I need to do is stabilize and possibly downsize. I am considering selling some animals and scaling down the farm or phasing out of certain endeavors. Things are in survival mode right now, trying to keep the simple joys going that kept me here without the added stress. I know a horse, hawk, and dog will always be with me if I can help it. They are the reason I feel alive on soft dirt.

Lots of decisions to make this spring. And lots of good work to do while I come to them.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Next Adventures

It's raining after two lovely warm days. If it wasn't I'd be out finishing what I started yesterday in the kailyard. I raked and cultivated with a wheel hoe, preparing the earth to be composted and turned again before I create rows and start planting. That felt as good as I remembered, being sweaty out in the garden. The pigs watched me as I plowed through, and I could see the laying hen chicks biting and the few blades of grass that have arrived on the mountain so far. They were all experiencing the outdoors for the first time in a small tractor I use for "hardening off" young poultry. The lambs on the hill were bleating for more grain, the horses tails swishing in the sun, and the goats were having a head-butting competition that Ida was winning. It was a good day. The last few have been really good.

When I started this blog it was a fever dream. All of the writing was based on passion; this love affair with farming and the dream to pursue it full time. Over the years that, amazingly, has happened and what was once an outlet for energy has become a lovely habit. Writing is something I don't think I'll ever stop doing, and as long as people want to read this blog I'll keep at it.

Now, at 35, ten years after those first blog posts I wake up to the daily reality of keeping that dream fed. I'm happy for it, and proud of the determination and discipline it's forged inside me. Every weekday is a list of clients, meetings, deadlines, illustrations, design, and income goals. It is rare that everything on those to-do lists (a notebook I call The Boss) isn't handled and checked off. Every day I am accountable to that book and the work inside it. And every day I need to use social media to promote the skills I have to offer in hopes some of you take me up on it.

Things have changed in how I live and work on this farm. I realized that I wanted this place to be where I grow food for myself and for neighbors and friends. That keeps my customers close and their numbers small. I don't think I ever want to be responsible for feeding a village, or making the farm my entire focus. I adore the time I spend drawing animals as well as caring for them. The design work I spent 4 years getting a BFA in paid off, and also helps keeps those lights on (most of the time). This winter I started taking on part time work with a local marketing firm to supplement the farm/freelance income. Some weeks they have 2 hours of work for me, sometimes they have 10, but everything helps. Still, it's never going to be easy. Days like Monday remind me of that.

But even if things won't ever be easy, I can get better at them. That's the next adventure.