Friday, October 24, 2008

the interim

Vermont is caught in this weird time after autumn and before the first true snowfall. An interim. All the trees in the hollow are bare and brown, and when I drive down into the valley every morning to go to work I can see white caps on the mountains higher in the distance. That photo above was taken a few weeks ago at the crest of what Sandgatians call "the notch." The notch is a steep widow-maker curve that looks over the valley below. Things are a lot leafier in the photo than they are now. I moved here last winter, so my initial interpretation of the state is a cold one. And when snow covers this cabin again, I'll have made a full circle. I feel like a Vermonter. I put in my time.

Vermont is the fourth state I've called home. My home state, the one that raised me, Pennsylvania, is close by like a watchful old friend. PA was a place of ultimate safety. When I go back to my parent's house to visit, I can completely relax because notions like curling irons setting the place on fire or leaving an iron on seem like sheer lunacy. Which how I think you can tell if you're parents were great at their job. If just the notion that their home isn't safe creeps into you're mind when you're visiting, maybe they slipped up along the way? But not in Palmerton, and not my parents, which is where. Nothing could go wrong there. Not really. Because even when things do go wrong, it's still home. And that's a holy thing in itself.

After college I moved to Tennessee, and out of every place I've been it's still the only one that haunts me. The Smoky Mountains are what perked my ears to homesteading in the first place. Specifically, Cade's Cove, a preserved mountain settlement you can drive through on this awful tourist loop. But if you park your car you can get off that road and hike up to Abrams Falls or Spence Field and learn what a southern mountain bald is, or what jumping off a 30-foot waterfall feels like, you'll get a better feel of the place. Those are the my true Tennessee ghosts, those and fireflies. But that's another story.

After Tennessee I moved to Idaho, the wild west. Idaho was where I first learned to raise chickens, keep bees, plant a garden and sew up a pair of mittens. It was the place that cracked open all my personal dreams of homesteading that seemed so latent in previous lives. But living in that old farmhouse, set against the Rockies, I had the land and time to learn these things. A friend urged me to write a book about it, so I did. And soon a lot of people will know about that year in Idaho, and how it changed me, like all good states do.

I miss the people in Idaho very much.

As for Vermont, Vermont is letting my farm dreams turn into reality. Here is where hoofstock first hit the grass. I now have these sheep, something that was up until a few months ago, a far away goal. But now I have been so involved in the world of shepherding sometimes I think I'm going to wake up and a ram will be hovering over my bed. My world here is one of border collies and sheepdog trials. Phrases like "Did you see the cast on that outrun? He just had to glance at those Scotts at the lift and the fetch was a perfect line right down the slope" seems as common now as saying "Are we out of toilet paper?" Because shepherd words, and the shepherd's life is no longer this wide-eyed dream, but how I spend my weekends. If I'm not at a workshop or clinic learning about sheep and lambing, I'm out at a sheepdog trial learning more about these amazing dogs.

I find a lot of comfort in this form of farming. Sheep are large, but not too large. More like a pacifist gaggle of st. bernards than traditional livestock. They lumber along in a noble faux dopiness I have come to love. But unlike cattle, or a barn of 300 rabbit cages, one person can manage a hundred sheep alone. Well, one person with a good working dog and a vet on call can manage a hundred alone (Or will damn well die trying!) And while I don't want or plan on having Cold Antler Farm become a full fledged lamb and wool operation on my own, it might. There's nothing written in the stars that says I'll find someone I really want to be with. And I don't want to have to depend on a husband or investors to make my farm happen. Sheep are my hope that even if it's just me in ten years opening that pasture gate, that with the help of a really great pair of sheepdogs, we'll make it work.

But that farm is a dream, and I don't have a border collie yet. Just like the current state of the seasons in vermont, I'm at an interim too. But when I do hold the lead with a stock dog on the end of it, I will be investing a lifetime of hope and dreams into it's training with my sheep. The border collie will be the turnkey that opens that door. That if somehow good fortune turns my way and some farm opens up for sale in Jim Thorpe, I could afford it and get started on my life. That working sheepdog is my cowboy's horse, my pilot's plane, my living incarnation of hope for a better life.

Yes, I know that sounds corny and over dramatic. I'm a fairly over dramatic person and prone to corniness. And I don't say this to sound ungrateful for how fortunate I am here in Vermont today, and how much I love my dogs and this little farm. But like all things, this place is impermanent, and I am at an age where I want some true stability.

And due to my nature, and this weird calling of becoming a full-time shepherd in the 21st century, a sheepdog is not another pet, or even a farmhand. It's the first real step towards true happiness. Who has the right to tell me I'm wrong for wanting that?

12 Comments:

Blogger pleintexas said...

Hi Jenn, Thanks for your post. I was wondering what path you had been on, "the interim" answered that. Did you meet Mary Jane Butters while in Idaho? I told my son he should apply to work on her farm after he came back from Iraq (3 horrible times). If anything to repair his spirit and get his hands back in the soil. We have friends that ranch down here in Texas so we run to them when life gets harsh. My friends raise mohair goats. I've had a few and it has been a fun experience. You hang tight to your goals and dreams. And you are right for not looking for a man or investor to sweeten the deal (just my words of wisdom—the few times I have let a man around things went right to shit for me!)Anyway, I have some good West Texas shepherding photos I will share with you. They've been begging me to go help stretch fence. I guess I need to go get out there. I see a Border Collie in your near future...

October 24, 2008 at 11:29 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

MaryJane, I never met her, but she gave me a great blurb for the book and her quote is right on the back of it! I wish I could've gotten to meet her, I left idaho sooner than I thought, missed a lot out there...

I see a border in my near future as well.

October 24, 2008 at 11:45 AM  
Anonymous Rae said...

It's totally normal at this time of year to get rather introspective, and you're coming full circle too, on a year in Vermont! I detect a note of dejection at how far away some of your dreams still may be? You have come a long way, and fast, so I hope you have pride in that too. This time of year, when I take stock myself, I can kind of feel dejected--or at least antsy--because I know where I want to be going, but many of those projects can't be started in the winter. (ie, it feels like the dreams are so far off). It's a great time for planning though, because there's never any extra time in the Spring!

October 24, 2008 at 12:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Jenna. I was the "anonymous" writer the other day, about Cade's Cove. I couldn't get the blogger thing to work. Anyway, please don't give up on your dreams. I haven't been reading your blog long, but I already admire you and your "grit." It takes a woman with "grit" to do what you have done so far. Don't let those accomplishments get away from you!

October 24, 2008 at 3:12 PM  
Blogger Theresa said...

Jenne the "grit" post was mine. I finally figured out this comment thing!

October 24, 2008 at 3:15 PM  
Blogger orfeo256 said...

It's so funny I would read this today, because just last night I went to Saratoga Springs to see, and hopefully adopt a border collie mix. I too am thinking that a herding dog is the first step. (For me it's goats that I want to get.) The dog wasn't a fit and I am sad today, but still overall OK because I know that everyday I'm moving closer to the dream. It's probably a good thing that everything doesn't come all at once - because really when I think about it, I'm not ready yet.

October 24, 2008 at 3:16 PM  
Blogger EJ said...

Who has the right to tell me I'm wrong for wanting that? No one has this right! Don't listen to them.

PS we got sheep b/c they fit in categories "can-easily-be-wrestled-to-the- ground" and "not-too-expensive". Plus cute and useful of course!

October 24, 2008 at 5:28 PM  
Blogger Simply Authentic said...

I love this..I just found your blog via the Mother Earth News magazine actually, and what you wrote is what I desire to someday have as well. I'm glad to have found you and your insights are so well put. I'll be looking for your book..is it out now or will it be by the Christmas season?

October 24, 2008 at 6:02 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

thanks there simply authentic. I'm a new author, and my book comes out sometime in early decemeber. I haven't actually seen it yet, but that's what they tell me!

October 24, 2008 at 7:10 PM  
Anonymous RC said...

Corniness is next to Godliness and I am getting the feeling that in exactly 37 days you will meet a furry stranger with four legs.

October 26, 2008 at 10:37 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

37? RC are you somehow tapped into channels in the universe I'm not? Ha.

The dog for me will come a long, maybe sooner than I think. But It'll have to be a dog with a strong herding background I can meet in person, that I can watch working sheep, that I can have my own dogs meet with. All that.

Plus I need to get mentally prepared, money saved, all that. But it will happen!

October 27, 2008 at 6:03 AM  
Anonymous M A Naylor said...

Hello! I really am delighted to find your webpage and your blog! You are living the dream that we have only just begun. Have you found a good book about the training of sheep dogs? Something that would be good for a beginner? I have 2 Australian Cattle Dogs (Blue Heelers) with good herding genes from both their mother and dad. One of them mainly wants to play the alpha princess roll on the couch even though she has a great heeling instinct and is hell-on-wheels with a "herding ball". The younger cattle dog seems to be a born and frustrated herder, although she doesn't necessarily seem to have that heeler biting urge. Getting a few sheep has been a desire for a few months now, and we have been reading up on sheep - although we need some guidance on good herder training books. Thanks!

October 29, 2008 at 5:32 PM  

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