Monday, May 12, 2008

wooly buggers and royal wolves

This weekend I took a two-day intensive introduction to fly fishing with Orvis. The company has these schools that take complete beginners and show them how to fish. It was one hell of a packed schedule. It covered everything you could possibly need to know to get out on the water by yourself - I learned how to cast properly, how to tie delicate knots, read water, gear checks, etiquette, trout species, heck we even looked at charts of what bugs were hatching where and when so we'd know what flies to use. I came home both days exhausted, but happy. I didn't catch a single fish (I don't have the skill too yet), but I dipped my toe into this world of naturalists, travelers and outdoors-people. I am humbled by it's history and complexity. I am challenged by it's simple rewards. Fly-fishing and I are going to get along just fine. I can already tell.

After my certification was through, I went to the store and bought my own rod, reel, and fishing vest. Thanks to our discount I was able to afford slightly better gear than my tax bracket would usually allow. On the way home from work I stopped on the Batten kill to practice my casting, and relax from two days of classrooms and instructors. It was sunset, and the Hendricksons were hatching and wafting around me in little clouds. I wouldn't know what a Hendrickson fly was, or any fly for that matter, before my fly-fishing course. Now they seemed to be everywhere. Every now and then a trout would rise to meet one. I got excited at the sight of them. After a while I stopped trying to catch fish, and just focused on my casts. I listened to the redstarts chattering around me, (a bird I didn't even know the name of until I came home and looked it up) and felt the water rush over my hips. I didn't have waders, I just let the river get me wet. The sun set in the green mountains. I counted breathes like I would in Zen meditation, and thought about nothing. Thoreau wrote that, “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after.” There certainly is something to that. And since spinning reels weren't invented until after WWII, he was talking about fly-fishers.

I pulled in my dry fly, cut if off the line, stuck it in my hat and went home.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

chicken invasion

pies and neighbors

I made a few apple pies for some co-workers and neighbors this past weekend. They are my usual recipe, but I hand-rolled little birds nests on top of them, and on each pie placed a dark chocolate blackbird (compliments of the Chocolate Barn and their creepy 17th century molds). They came out adorable. And here's a picture.

A few days after their delivery, I was pulling onto my dirt road after work, and my neighbor Nancy ran out to the car, arms waving. She yelled at my car, 'That was the best apple pie I ever ate!" - a thank you holler from her yard. Earlier that week I dropped off her pie and a six pack of brown eggs as a thank you gesture. My birds are often on their property, using their nice yard as pasture. It only seemed correct they got some of their eggs every once in a while as rent.

The pie was also for the load of wood they delivered to my house so I could enjoy my fireplace. These are the kinds of things neighbors have done for me here. I've gotten firewood, handmade raised beds, wild leaks and moose meat (though, this was awkward to accept as a vegetarian, but I tried to do it graciously...) Point is, out here in the woods people go out of their way to help each other. For the first time in my adult life, I know everyone's names and jobs that I live by. Hell, I know their dogs names. I know Juno, the crazy-fast black border collie mix will be peeing on my porch every morning at 6 Am. I know Cody, the gamboling old lab, will rumbled out to say hello to jazz and Annie when we're on walks. To know you neighbors, of all species is a sense of community I am thriving on.

I like seeing Katie out in her yard, and walking down the hill to talk about the hawks in the area, or wild fiddleheads for soups. I like that most people with horses use them instead of cars, and it's common to pass them on the dirt roads. I like my community, and sometimes something as simple as a pie with too much butter and powdered sugar (my secret) is all it takes to sew the seams a little tighter. SO if you have the chance, do something small for a neighbor. Chances are, you'll get it back. And it's always amazing when you do.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

city veggies

I wrote about Nisaa coming up for the weekend to help with the garden, which she did between gritted teeth, but I guess it grew on her, because now Nisaa has the gardening bug bad. She sent me this picture of her lettuce and snap peas growing in her Brooklyn apartment. She named the lettuce Harold and Maude and the peas Lennon and McCartney. They are thriving! Those snap peas are grown from seeds, and the lettuce was left over from my garden here. She took them home on the Amtrak from my mountains down into her city, and they couldn't be doing better. Now she's thinking about seeking out a veggie growers city meet up group, and going to grab some tomatoes this weekend! Nisaa's proof positive that you don't need five acres and a border collie to grow a little independence on the windowsill. I bet it'll be the best goddamn salad she ever ate too. I know that's stromg language, but homegrown greens deserves a loud modifier.

they strongly discourage trespassing of any kind

This is a blog about farming, or dreams of future farms. But, today I want to write about something that is a huge part of Cold Antler. A little radio show that has been on in the background of nearly every garden planted, chick raised, and drive cross country. I have had episodes saved and replayed so many time I feel like a mini expert on some arcane topics few people care about, but if you're taking the time to read this blog, you might too.

A few days after I started work at my first real job, my manager asked if I listened to any podcasts. I didn't really know what podcasts were, only some vague notion that they were internet radio shows you could download and listen to on a mp3 player. Seemed kinda geektastic to me, and I was more interested in hiking in the smokies than I was in listening to someone talk about the new ibooks online.

But then I came across a radio show that I have listened to religiously since the day I found it. New Jersey based Hometown Tales, a show about local legends, lore, food, gossip, ghosts, and everything else strange and weird in the news, took over my headset in the office. Once or twice a week, Bryan and Gene update me on things like ghost ships, world war two legends, Hollywood deaths, weird festivals, bigfoot, and in and out burgers. What started as a rekindled interest in weird news turned into getting to know these guys. Over the years these men have changed jobs, gotten married, adopted children, traveled the world and watched their little podcast turn into an international sensation in the web radio world. They don't sit in their glass towers about it either, in fact just a few weeks ago they had a cheeseburger Friday, where people, anyone really, was welcome to join them for beer and burgers in Jersey to talk. Some people drove from as far away as Kentucky to say hi. Impressive.

I adore this little radio show. Not just because of the folklore, but because of the community around it. Bryan and Gene gave all of us armchair cryptozoologists a place to talk on forums and laugh with each other. It gave us a place to read up on crazy-ass news we'd never hear about in the mainstream channels. But most importantly of all, it gives us a place to share stories - a virtual campfire that's thousands of us sit around in our offices or on our ipods every week. It brings a little mystery to a world where we constantly strive to separate ourselves from superstition. I really enjoy this little niche of the internet. I will miss it terribly when they've had enough of microphones and blogs. But for now, please check them out, tell your friends, and sit back with a pork roll egg and cheese sandwich and enjoy the carnival while it lasts.

Home Town Tales

Sunday, May 4, 2008

cold antler produce

Jesus, Mary, Joeseph and the camel!! The gardens are coming along. Every weekend I plant a new 4x4 plot and pick up a few potted plants for around the cabin. So far we have the following in the garden – potatoes, snap peas, green beans, onions, rhubarb, broccoli and three different types of lettuce. In pots on and around the porch I have tomatoes, parsely, chives, basil, strawberries and mint. As the weeks get warmer I will be adding rows of sweet corn, pumpkins, watermelon, zuccini, cucumbers, peppers and more. The goal for this year... my own jack-o-lanterns for Hallows.

Last year I was way to much of a designer in the garden. I tried to make it pretty instead of practical, growing things I rarely ate for varieties sake. This year I am sticking to what I eat, and a lot of it. Which is why half of that space n the garden now is salad greens and broc. I am a girl who loves her broccoli. As the summer goes on I hope to eat most of my meals from the backyard, and what I can't eat will be canned, sauced, jammed, and stored over for the winter.

poultry swap!

This morning was the May Poultry Swap in upstate New York. What started a few years ago as a fancier's tailgate party had now evolved into a full out livestock trade show. Off the top of m head head I remember seeing chickens, ducks, geese, guineas, pheasants, rabbits, lambs, goats, doves, quail, peacocks, puppies and of course free barn cats. There were farmers from all over southern Vermont and upstate New York and a few straglers from other regions looking for a specific breed or animal. It was a fray of feathers, vendors, squawking, crowing, and races of human conversation. All of it happening at 7 Am on a rainy 45 degree morning. Yet despite the weather, the crowds showed up and the 4-H stand sold coffee and donuts. Bless them.

Being without a rooster, I was on a mission for a relatively calm gentleman to join my little homestead. I saw all sorts of males from tiny little Sebright bantam cocks to giant Cochin roosters, which were so big they stood three feet tall and triumphed over the tom turkeys in the neighboring crates. I would’ve brought one home, but a toddler could’ve ridden those guys and honestly, I didn’t have a cage big enough in the station wagon. I would've had to buckle him into the front seat. I’m serious, those guys were bigger than lambs.

So, giant roosters now out of my shopping picture, I ended up with a smaller Ameraucana rooster. He's beautiful. He has a cream mane of feathers around his head, a gray body, and speckles of green and rusty gold feathers along his cape and saddle. He’s flamboyant, colorful, generally calm and a somewhat soulful crower. I named him Rufus Wainright. An added bonus - he can’t be mistaken for a turkey, which is in season now for Vermont hunters.

Besides Rufus, I came home with a few more layers. A nice little Dominique (black and white bars along their backs) a jet black Australorp, and a little Ameraucana hen I named dove, after the Carlin’s favorite Ameracuana back in Idaho.

It took every fiber of my being not to buy two lambs and “figure it out” but I have said no to 10-week-old goats before (which is hands down the worlds cutest baby animal) so I can say no to some sheep. All of my hooved livestock will find their way into my life sometime down the road, When I have a barn, and fencing, a man to build said fencing, and pasture. Right now, I have chickens and some veggies.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

plant your own insurance

It’s snowing outside right now. Not a squall, just flurries, but it’s enough to have me on edge, baffled at April’s audacity. Not a week ago is was over 75º outside. The sun was beating down on Nisaa’s salad garden and I was planting potatoes, onions, and broccoli in a new bed beside it. I was being bitten by bugs and watching the chickens scatter dust as they rolled around the dirt lined driveway, shaking any mites from their feathers in the process.

But last night… this killing frost came. Vermont is a fickle bitch when it comes to weather, and like all the other silly early planters; I was outside in the blustery evening wind, covering up the tender seedlings with decapitated soda bottles and newspaper.

Maybe some gardeners were doing nothing, having given up on the bi-polar weather, but this wasn’t mine to squander anymore. Nisaa had given up a whole day of her life to help me plant these greens and I had spent hours planting the box aside it myself. I wasn’t losing 32 square feet of food over one bitchy night. So I made little greenhouses, and held down the newspaper over the buttercrunch with rocks went inside feeling tired but smugly benevolent. It still surprises me how much emotion dirt and plants can rise up in you. Like a dipper in a well, it brings up whatever’s just under the surface.

This morning, the plants were fine. My newsprint and recyclables insurance policy worked. When I checked on them at 6 AM, the paper and bottles were covered in a fine ice, but the leaves below seemed hardy. I felt proud. It’s nice to watch the land take care of you while you take care of it.

So… speaking of insurance policies…

I am comforted, even if it’s just a little, by my garden and flock of birds. Knowing that there is a free source of protein and vegetables right outside my door brings me a little security. Come June, the price of a pound of tomatoes might shoot up to a ridiculous amount. I can’t imagine what organic vegetables will cost by then, but it’ll easily trump their chemical brethren. Right now the prices of gas and grain, and the world’s shortages in food are all I hear about on the radio (If not that, the war) While I could not survive off my little homestead for a long time. I can supplement my diet, and half of my meals this summer, with fresh local food from the backyard. And yeah, it’s a lot of work, but I’ll also be saving a lot of money. The six broccoli plants I just put in the ground cost 2.79 cents all together. Right now one head of organic broccoli is 3.49 in my local stores. Making my heads run me about 14 cents each, and I can keep planting more if the skillet calls.

And it’s not just eggs and the garden. There is comfort in the other skills I picked up along the way. When strawberries go on sale I can make a years supply of jam in one afternoon for a few dollars and some mason jars. A few pounds of flour and some yeast and I can bake all the bread I can eat. A good tomato crop and I will have all the pasta sauce (and pasta too, thanks to the eggs again) I can eat all winter long. If I’m lucky this fall will have a few jars of golden honey and some home brewed wine as well. Knowing how to produce, preserve and create some of your food feels kinda good when the average barrel of petrol is going for 150 bucks a pop. We’re not there yet, but you just wait. When your next salad costs ten bucks a pound you’ll feel it there and at the pump. If there was ever a time to start learning to garden, if only for the saved cash, now is that time.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist, and I don’t expect the recession to drive us into a depression. I don’t think America needs to start turning their lawns in victory gardens. I do however; strongly believe they’d all be happier if they did. It’s harder to be angry at the news when you’re biting into your own roasted and buttered sweet corn.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Check this bruiser out, it's a wool hat knit from 100% pure icelandic ram wool. And what's that on my hat? Why it's a perfect little head-pocket that fits my little nano in it. When you're hands are full, and you don't have pockets -yet still need to hear the newest Iron and Wine album.... choose ihat!!! Can you handle it? Yes, of course you can, and you should knit one too.

the pope has left the building...

So, here's a little sad update. Ben and his Polish ladies are heading off to a new home on Friday. They were great birds but the hens have been eating eggs and I just can't have that. For one, it cuts back on the eggs I'd want to collect or set to hatch. It also might get the other hens gobbling eggs, (if it hasn't already.) So a local Manchester couple wants them as glorified lawn ornaments and pest control. They'll go to a nice home, and I get to keep the 4 eggs a day they've been eating. We'll miss you Benedict.

And now, the hunt is on for some new cock.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

hell among yearlings

I don’t think I have ever been a better student than I was this past Saturday at my Intro to Sheep class. I took eight pages of notes. I raised my hand. When volunteers were needed, I literally jumped over the fence to hold down a 200 pound ewe. The whole day was like a dream theme park to me (Ruminantland!) Only instead of rides there was opening lambs mouhts to look at their bites and powerpoint presentations about barn plans. To me, it was pretty much Disney.

Besides myself, about a dozen other people were taking the hands-on course. There was a retired Norwegian broadcaster from New York City, and a woman (who along with her husband), was starting meat CSA in Mass. There were people who just got lambs last night, and people like me who have no idea how the hell they’ll ever pull this life off... All of us together at Smokey House Farm, a kind of agricultural-based outward bound center that was hosting the University of Vermont for the day, (who was running the show.)

The day started in an old farmhouse-turned-classroom, with a three-hour lecture for beginners. As far as lectures go, this was done right. There was a full spread of bagels, fruit, juice, coffee and apple pie. All us wannabees sat in wooden chairs and benches spooning in yummies while Chet, our instructor, talked to us about all things sheep. We covered everything from wool specific breeds to shelter building - we hummed together over the finer points of second cut to first cut hay (and when to feed which.) There were videos and slide shows and a long lunch by a pond. I got to meet people from all over New England and hold and a taxidermed ram stomach. It was the bee’s knees.

After the morning book learning, we headed out to the barn. There we got to get our hands on the animals, learning to tell their weight by feeling their spines. After a few examples I could tell a skinny sheep from a fat one (not always easy when covered in wool.) We saw a hoof-trimming demo and watched a lamb with a curled eyelid get a shot of penicillin (three of us had to hold down that bugger). All the while there were lambs and a llama mulling about our feet. If Chet started talking about the correct way to dock a tail or tag an ear I could reach down on the floor and touch a ewe’s to see for myself. I don’t care how many books or videos you read about farm stuff, sometimes you gotta grab an ear.

During all the barn demostrations there was a little ram lamb that wouldn’t leave us alone. He was this little black guy with a white blaze on his head. If I stopped petting him he’d chew on my jeans, so I just crouched down by him and let him lean against my side while Chet talked about foot rot. It was my own private fan club, it was a nice little self-esteme boost when you're covered in sheep manure from the knees down.

I got a lot out of the class. It was my first time (outside of books) learning anything about taking care of a small flock. I was worried it would get me over excited and I’d start pounding fence posts soon as I got home, but it didn’t. The class was exactly what I needed, and introduction. It showed me just how much time and money and effort needs to go into my sheep and how much preparation I’d need. It won’t be until I have a farm of my own someday that I’ll start calling fence builders and looking for Columbias (I think after today, it’s the breed for me). Right now, the closest thing I’ll have to a shearing day is whenever I get my new Angora Rabbits and need to trim them… but someday this highland girl will have sheep. The day that those hooves first touch my pasture, will become an official holiday in my home.

From that first anniversary on that date becomes holy. I won’t go into work. The kids will stay home from school. And the phone will be taken off the hook. And all of us, including Saven the Border Collie, will sit on the hill and watch the sheep. There will be homemade wine and fruit pies and a bonfire in the honor of all three-stomached beings (even you giraffes!) You can all come and get wild with us, it’s going to be a hell of a time.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

corporeal bird

Yesterday when I got home from work my neighbor Katie was trying to herd the Polishes back up the hill to my property. The birds wattled down the hill to her muddy, slug filled creek bed earlier in the day, and as dusk fell became confused and couldn't hear the other hens back up at the coop. They collected near her garden shed, waiting to be let in the hostel for the night. I saw her struggling to help me out, and while I was touched at her concern for the birds, I felt bad she was going out of her way to wrangle them home for me. I walked down the hill at a wide berth, hoping to help her get the chickens back up the hill. I shouted over to her "Thank you!" and she explained the whole bit to me while we side stepped and shooed the birds home like a pair of border collies. After a while it felt ridiculous and I just picked up Abigail Adams and Cecilia (the Polish hens, now named) and left Benedict on the ground, confused and alone ran into the woods instead of following me to the coop. Let the games begin.

I got the girls in with the Rhodedottes and then turned around to walk down the dirt road and try and catch Ben, which I've done before. As far as roosters go, he's fairly calm and lets you hold him if you mean it. Ben was barely in view of the cabin, off the main road heading for the woods. I doubted he had the guff of Ringo, and his top hat of feathers already hurt his vision from predators. I had to get him back.

So Katie pulled up the rear, trying to head him from the field near the tree line back to my garden/coop area. While she struggled I decided to try calling him home. I went in the coop and picked up Ringo, which of course made her scream only the way a crazy chicken can, and Katie yelled "keep doing that! He can hear the girls, he's running home!!" So I grabbed another Rhodedotte, and they all screamed like I had shake and bake in my back pocket. Ben wad running but then, he hit the fence. The garden fence runs about thirty feet right in front of the coop. The rooster could see the coop in front of him, hear the girls, and in the panic of the crazy people and the flurry of hen noises he just kept running into the chain link. As if he'd become incorporeal if he really meant it. I stared in awe at his stupidity. Katie just shook her head as she walked up the driveway..."That is one dumb bird..." Yes.

After a few panicked moments he walked around the fence and into the coop, jumped up on their branch roost and settled in just as night fell. My dumb bird found his way home. Let's hear it for Ben.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

ringo the feral chicken and other adventures

I woke up at 5:30 Saturday morning, hazy eyed and slightly excited. I knew it was going to be a hell of a long day. I was picking up livestock upstate, then picking up a friend from the city at a train station. Nisaa, an old college friend turned New York Red Sox Fan (they do exist) was coming to hang out, escape the city, and help plant my first veggie garden of the year... And it all started with getting my butt in the silver Subaru and driving up to Lake Champlain to pick up some laying hens.

Which might sound like an unbelievable distance to drive, over two hours one way, but you have to consider the circumstances. Small hobby farmers like myself can't buy animals in bulk or always plan far ahead. When the perfect animals come you better be prepared to work your life around it. So when I found a farmer selling young, fat, and healthy homebrewed free range laying hens (cheap), I jumped at the chance to take home five at once. The hens were a mix breed of farm-hatched Rhode Island Reds and Wyandottes, they lay like gangbusters and can handle the Vermont winter with the best of them. Making them more than worth the drive.

I needed layers. I already had a deal in the works with a local cafe in Bennington that needed a full time organic local egg supplier. A great side business for my little farm, but my Polish hens little white eggs weren't going to cut it (specially since they have developed the awful habit of eating their own recently, but that's a story for later)

So, the excursion was going to pull me into parts of the state I have never seen. I was wound up with anticipation while loading the wire cage into the hatchback and pouring coffee in the car mug. Every time I get to add some more animals or plants to the farm I feel a separate kind of happiness. Something that's pleasantly fulfilling because I know they'll be contributing to my life here in ways most things you buy can't.

I drove off towards Burlington with a light heart. While rolling the station wagon past the dairy farms and high water creeks, I realized chickens have been my personal New England tour guides. Forcing me to drive into parts of New York and Vermont I would've never had to navigate though if I wasn't trading for livestock. Meeting people I would've never otherwise met. I am in love with all of this. I drive like it's a chance to be grateful at high speed.

I pulled into the chickens farm, put on my gloves and helped the older gentleman and his wife load the cage with the fat, squawking, HUGE birds. Compared to the Polish hens they were monsters. Almost seven pounds each. And when you're bones are hollow, that's a lot of chicken, son. I drove them south, listening to some Irish music I was trying to learn on the fiddle, and stopped at a garden center for some pony packs of salad greens and some bags of garden soil and compost. Driving towards home, with a car full of chickens and soil, plants and tools, gave me a smile on my face that was a force to be reckoned with. The day had already peaked at 77 degrees. Warm sun, healthy animals, dark soil.

How dare I ask for more at 12:30 on a Saturday.

I unloaded the birds. Two escaped. Shit.

They flew right out of the coop and ran into the woods. It was foolish to chase them. All that could accomplish was scared birds running even further away from safety in a place they didn't know. I could only hope they'd find their way back. The Polish hens hated the new birds and literally segregated themselves to a far corner of the coop in protest. Wonderful.

I got a shower, and hoped in the car for another two hour drive, this time over the mountains and past Mt. Snow to the funky town of Brattleboro. Nisaa was getting off her train there and when she started walking toward me at the station the years apart melted. I hadn't hung out with Nisaa since three states ago. She knew nothing about Tennessee or Idaho and Vermont was her first real connection with me in years. But it was like we just talked yesterday. She bought me dinner in Bratt, we paroozed a music store where she shouted in glee to finding Paul McCartney's Ram for 3 bucks on vinyl, and we drove home through the mountains in the dark.

That night was the Beatles on the record player, wine in our glasses, and catching up in our conversations we were like girls in a dormroom back in college again. Nisaa was excited about gardening for the first time, and I was looking forward to teaching her what I learned so far. Before bed I went out with a lantern to see if the missing hens had perched in low branches in the woods around the cabin. I never saw feather or heard a coo. I felt upset, guilty those helpless birds were in the New England woods living on a prayer.

Well, Sunday started out nice enough. The sun rose, Ben the rooster crowed ("Is this really happening?" Nisaa asked from the bathroom shower as Benedict belted out the morning thunder) Before any labor was to be procured from my guests, I usually buy them breakfast in town. We hit 'Up for Breakfast' (second floor restaurant, get it) and after full stomachs and some shopping at Northshire Books, we drove back to the farm. We found out that one of the runaways had returned! There with the other hens was a fourth, pecking away, back from the wilds. She somehow wasn't eaten by a coyote or raccoon. The lucky thing was back in the safety of the farm. The other hen was still missing. I chalked her up as a loss.

And then, we gardened. Nisaa, to her credit, is too stubborn to give up on a project even if she hates it. The romantic ideas of gardening were flushed down the Jon when she realized that breaking sod, throwing rocks, pulling weeds, carrying fifty pound bags of dirt, and always-biting bugs meant gardening was awful business if you aren't into it. As she huffed and puffed with her hoe in hand, she just shook her head and said "we are VERY different people" By the time we had broke sod, added in our fresh composts, made rows, and planted she was pissed off at gardening in general. She said she'd come back and look at it when she forgave it. I liked that Nisaa didn't pretend to be into gardening. She had no interest in being like me or impressing me, but I was impressed. She might be a city person but adapted instantly to the garden work, and while she didn't like it all - the sweat and manure, she loved the garden by dusk. Said it looked great, even felt proud of the effort. But she'd stick to flower pots, thanks. I respected her more than ever.

We cooked a big homemade meal of fettucini alfredo with homemade garlic bread and applie pie with ice cream for dessert. I love homemade food more than most. I have no shame in this and ate like a girl who deserved it. My sore arms and sunburned nose proved it up. Bring on the white sauce.

As dusk fell I gave the meals scraps to the chickens and hoped my four-star leftovers would win over the missing hens. It must've worked because in the distance, we noticed a miracle, the fifth hen had returned! it had also survived a night in the woods and was back with the other girls. But as it became dark out she ran off to the woods again. Great. I doubted we'd ever see her again. A chicken is exactly equipped for a life in the pines. But maybe this would be her bit. The wild chicken of Vermont, farmer by day and werebeast by night. Living with the grouse and cardinals like a true highland girl. Fighting of coydogs with kung fu like maneuvers of talon and beak!

Eh, she'd be fox poo by 4 AM. I gave up on her. Nisaa called her Ringo as she ran into the forest, saying, "She's not really missed when she's gone but nice to have around when she's here." Ringo was my feral chicken.

Monday morning we made scrambled eggs and checked on the birds and backyard salad bar. All made the night and Ringo was outside by the coop waiting for me to let her friends out to play. I couldn't believe she survived a second night. People, me included, don't give these birds the credit they deserve. She joined the flock, always wary of me when I came by. As the other birds played in the dust and scratched for bugs wihtout so much as looking up, she would stare at me like I was the equivalent of a human trafficking operation to a labor camp. I guess to her, I was. I felt kind of dirty when she glared at me, throwing me hands up in the air saying "What!?" like she'd cut me some slack. Ringo hated everybody. The world owed her something.

The weekend ended with Nisaa's train back to the city, and Ringo joining the flock in the coop that third night. I guess two nights of kung fu was enough and apple pie won her over. But I had a garden planted (the first of many), and chickens laying delicious eggs right in the yard. I felt that I was starting to use the six acres correctly, and went to sleep sore and happy. I am a big fan of getting dirty with friends and animals. Feeling the long days in your body and smelling the farm on your shirt when you take it off at night. The world is full of people who hate the smell of dairy farms but like the smell of gasoline, when are we going to realize how messed up that is?

The weekend was grand. Let's hope for more.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

the practice of keeping chickens

Keeping chickens isn't just a hobby, it's a practice. There's a definite ritual you develope every day with them, or at least I do. Every morning after the dogs have been out, before breakfast or a shower, I bundle up, throw on my wellies and trudge uphill to their coop by the garden. I walk inside and pour fresh mash and scratch grains into their trough, and make sure the frost is removed from the water stations. I say Hi. I tell them about the world news events on the radio. I check for any signs of lameness or discomfort, and leave with an egg or two in my hands.

But nightwatch with the birds is my favorite. I love the last check right before bed. I go outside with the same boots and warm coat as in the morning, but it's after a long day at work, a walk with the dogs, and a healthy meal. I'm tired and have a content stomach. I grab my lantern and walk into the night, which in rural areas is black and dark without the luxury of streetlamps or neighbors windows. My eyes darting for fisher cats or a fox in the brush. Sometimes I see one and yell, shaking the beams of the lantern in the rucus.

Needing to bed them down means I get to breathe in fresh dark air, see the stars, and smell a mix of wet leaves and burning fireplaces from other cabins in the village. Three things I am grateful to do, and those birds make sure I do it every night.

But besides being outside with a purpose, keeping chickens means taking care of something, knowing that they rely on you for protection and food and their general well being. It feels really nice to provide that. It really does. And it's not all giving either - the ability to collect fresh eggs, a source of protein that doesn't require taking their lives, is unique and special to the hens. I don't know many other bi-species relationships that can offer feelings of responsibility, enjoyment, and a killer slab of French toast. Well maybe ducks, but we all know ducks are assholes.

So chickens, thanks.

hipster homestead

I'm a designer who wants to be a farm writer. And since designer comes first in that sentence, I feel obligated to share some kickass stuff I found on Etsy. There's no rule that the rural life means overalls, tobacco tin signs, and plaid sundresses. Etsy has thousands of cool options for those of who adore, aspire, or just plain like country stuff and want something beyond average. Here were some of my recent favorites. The links below take you to their shop pages.

snap pea necklace

steer print

gardener shirt

tractor painting

rabbit shirt

beehive totebag

Monday, April 14, 2008

friends, chickens, coffee, and bio fuels

Meet Benedict, the 11 month old White-Crested Black Polish rooster. Ben and his entourage (two Polish hens) were introduced to their new home this weekend. Thanks to Team Mack, we were able to convert the old garden shed into a four star poultry home. Complete with hay storage, feeding stations, natural roosts and nest boxes made from whatever we could find (some winners were old drawers from the garage and a hay filled dish rack). I don't think I could've finished the coop Saturday without the help of neighbors and my weekend guests, Sara and Tim...

Sometimes it really does take a village. Katie, who lives literally down the hill from my place, gave me some spare wood. And with her resources we were able to build a frame and open wire door that was fairly predator proof. All three of us were holding beams, nailing, giving our two cents. What we ended up with was a fence wall and a flush door and it only took about an hour. The next day we rolled through southern Vermont and upstate New York, listening to music, taking in the sites. We crossed the Hudson and ended up in Saratoga, college town extraordinaire. We had lunch in a nice coffee house/cafe and picked up the hens at a small hobby farm outside of town. We brought home the hens and rooster in the station wagon and set them into their new coop. Want to know what feels great? Seeing productive animals bed down and eat a meal in a house you built them. I was a happy gal. That evening we retired to th cabin. We played music and watched episodes of Northern Exposure. All weekend had warm fires at night, home cooked meals, pie, ice cream floats. (Not great for the diet but grand for the camaraderie.)

Also, Sara taught me how to purl, which completes my basic knitting course and showed me the sweater she was working on. I looked on with wide eyes and utter amazement. I can whip out scarves and hats and the occasional mittens, but an entire sweater knit by hand seems epic. Tim helped by doing what men do, he chopped wood, broke in the outhouse (which has electricity?!?) and found a telescope in the woods behind a shed. Something I hope to check out soon and set up on my porch.

The two Pennsylvanians pulled up in their vintage Mercedes, which they are converting into a bio diesel machine. They drove up on that stuff and Tim is learning how to cook up his own. It's a weird mix of chemistry and planning, but they are in the process of making their own fuel, which is hands down commendable from this girl.

This weekend was wildlife central. I saw toads, song birds, herons, vultures, deer, a porcupine and the highlight - a king coyote trotting along a streamside on my drive into work. He was beautiful. There was also goats and chickens and we passed a big Belgian and his rider on the dirt roads by my house, where a lot of the locals use horsepower to get around still. Speaking of horses, I've decided I adore and want a Fell pony someday. Just a head's up if you're thinking of the perfect birthday present when I'm 30. Solid black please.