Monday, June 16, 2008

romania eh?

The longer I live in Sandgate, the more I think I'm in Romania. Sandgate feels like a pre-industrial farm society nestled in big dark mountains. The roads are dirt, and there are more horses on them than cars. There are more farm animals than people in general. Ravens and crows are more common than sparrows, and the rolling hills of ancient farmhouses (some I'm sure older than America itself), make the place seem ancient and worldly. I adore this place. I don't even miss the sounds of trains.

So yesterday, while on my usual Romanian jog, I stopped at a barbed-wire fence by the side of the road to pet some neighbor's horses and give them a big fistful of green grass just out of their long neck's reach. I was patting their heads and tussling with their manes when I heard a "Ba Buck BAWW!" and turned around. Behind me, Alfred Hitchcock style, were about seven chickens. All just staring at me on the dirt road. They had snuck up behind me from the farm across the way while I was in horseland.

Now, these aren't the docile dumpy chickens I'm used too, but like, a gang of underprivileged youth chickens. They should've all had matching bandanas and switchblades with the way they looked me, casing me for a weakness. The horses behind me I swear nearly laughed. "You're on your own kid," and they trotted away to the other pasture. At my thigh was a giant white rooster, looking up at me with little dinosaur eyes. I reached down to pet him, tell him I'm okay with his bad self, and "BAW CAAAAAWWWWW BUCK BAWW!" He jumped up and slashed at me with his spurs! he cut open my hand and then started coming back for more. I yelled, sweaty and stupid in the pastoral Eden "WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM BIRD!" and he strutted and hissed circles around me. The dairy goat and her kids on the hill watched, amused I'm sure, with muted thrills. Not wanting to temp the jerk by fighting back or running, I just stepped over him and continued my jog. Apparently, not all roosters are nice as my Rufus.

As I jogged back to my cabin, I came across a neighbor with two draft horses on a cart. The little rhinos without horns were plodding along in what looked like it had once been an old tractor converted into a draft cart. They ambled on past me, hand bloody as I waved, and headed back to their farm with polite but concerned looks. Now I've never been to eastern Europe. But I have a feeling on the backroads 45 minutes outside of Prague, a similar event probably went down.

P.S. The top image in this post is Sandgate, the one below, Romania...

just say no to powder mix, son

I'm a big fan of fresh lemonade and real brewed ice tea. But since I'm usually the only one drinking it, it's silly to make a giant piutcher for one. I found a way to make my own single serving version in portable containers. Which is great when you're on the run into town and want a cold drink for the road, or have been out in the garden and need something instantly cold and sweet to boost up your blood sugar. Enter - MasonAdes.

Box of pint mason jars (with lids)
Fresh lemons
Ice cubes
Lemon juice
Black tea bags
Fresh mint or lemon verbena from the garden

MasonAdes are soda-can sized servings of hand-squeezed lemonade or iced Tea. You can make enough for a whole weekend in about 5 minutes, which makes me wonder how powdered mix ever even made it in the public market?

Take your jars and fill them up half way with cold water. Then cut half a lemon and squeeze it's juice into the jar and then plop the whole half into the jar as well, making the water tart and filled with little bits of pulp and flavor. If you really want to kick the tartness up - add some fresh lemon juice (about a teaspoon) to it as well. Then add as much sugar as you feel appropriate (depending on mood and heat it could be as little as a teaspoon or as much as 2 tablespoons) and then top it off with ice. Seal the lid and shake the hell out of it till it's one big frothy delight.

I make a few of these and stash them in the fridge. Instead of grabbing a can of soda, I grab a cold jar of real lemonade. Which not only tastes amazing, but feels a little more authentic than most beverages. MasonAdes can also be made into iced tea - which is a healthier alternative. I just pour hot water from a kettle into room-temperature jars with a black tea-bag and let it cool on the kitchen counter. Then I add in a little lemon slice and a pinch of sugar, some ice, and a sprig of lemon verbena or mint and let it sit in the fridge alongside the jars of lemonade. When it's cold enough to condense water off the sides, it's manna from the still.

Friday, June 13, 2008

bean blossom in the garden

gosling life

So I'm new to geese. I have two. A breed called Toulouse, and they're just a few weeks old. I'm already a huge fan. I named them Cyrus and Saro. I'm assuming their a male/female pair because Cyrus is much larger, and acts a little more aggressive and protective. Possibly, this is just me being a goose sexist and they're both ladies or both dudes. Regardless, I'm sticking with their names. I'll risk it.

They are so different than the chicks. If the chicks were little velociraptors running around the hen house, these goslings are like lumbering brachiasauri - big and gray and longnecked. They move slower, and stretch out their necks to chirp and honk so I can tell they mean it. Surprisingly, they've already bonded to me like a puppy would. If they are loose in the yard and I walk away Cyrus flaps his little wings and runs after me. he'll waddle and faux-fly at me till I reach down and scoop him in my arms and sit on the grass with him. He'll then curl up like a swan and rest his big head on my arm, occasionally nibbling at my shirt sleeve with his tiny-toothed bill. He's charming.

The geese aren't alone. They share their little pen with a lone Magpie duckling named Henry. The trio of birds are the only waterfowl on the homestead, and hopefully I'll be able to use them for both weeding and lawn control (they devour grass) - and for their eggs. Duck eggs are raved over by bakers, and one goose egg can do the job of up to three chicken eggs. We'll see. Honestly, their here because I like taking care of them, and I enjoy the variety from all the other yard birds milling about. Some people say geese are a nasty lot, but it seems like I'm only hearing that from people who never owned any poultry of any sort and are basing that information off being chased around farms and parks by packs of angry feral farm geese never fed by hand or raised around people. But people who have raised pet geese say wonderful things, and since the average lifespan is about 40 years, I hope that Cyrus and Saro will join me at my future farm someday, and watch my life unfold. They'll see our lives evolve from scrappy chickens in a modified shed to a flock of sheep on a hill. Or so, I hope.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

chickens and past lives

There's a lot to update on. I have so much to write about... All the animals (the ones I planned on having, and some I didn't) are settling into their homes and doing swell. The bees are installed and busily building comb in their hive. The garden is starting to produce food, complete with the first snap peas on the vines this morning! Last Saturday I ate off every meal from my own backyard. Between the garden and eggs I was able to have an omelet for breakfast, a crunchy green salad for lunch, and homemade pasta for dinner- a quiet thrill for this little homesteader.

I also planted a few more hills of organic sugar pumpkins and sugar baby watermelons (This girl has big plans for Hallow's jack-o-lanterns and August mellons.)Along with those I hoed in another row of sweet corn next to the already established crop. Staggering your planting means you have more corn longer, because throughout the season since it'll come into harvest in succession. Fire-roasted sweet corn straight off the stalk is one of the great pleasures of the human experience, take my word on that.

Besides my current life, I got news from a previous one. Two emails were in my inbox last night from Idaho. Susan, my old massage therapist, who adopted my Black Silkies when I left, announced I was a grandmother! Emily, my Cold Antler Idaho raised hen, had just hatched a nest full of little chicks! How great is that?! I asked her to snap some pictures so I could post them here.

The other email came from Kelli, the homesteader who took in the rest of my old flock. She sent me a link to her new blog, and on it she mentions my old birds Mindy - one of my first ever hens. It's so good to know the birds that taught me so much are still happy and well in their old hometown. You can read up on them at the Bent Tree Farm blog. She's also the photographer of that great shot of the hen above (which I think might be Veronica, if it's a Brahma, not sure. Regardless, I miss the old girl)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

a letter to humidity

Dear Humidity.

I love you.

Yes humidity, I know this now. I have learned my lesson. I'm sorry about how I thought of you when I was away. I smugly thought you were awful. When I moved out to the Pacific Northwest, the lack of you made me feel like I won something. Like I had escaped your pit stains and soaked shirt backs. I had cheated my fate. I was an ass.

You know why? You know what no one told me? They didn’t tell me that a serious lack of humidity means a serious lack of moisture in general. That the nightly summer thunderstorms I’d known my whole life barely came around once or twice a month out there. And when they did come in Idaho, it wasn’t a gentle rolling rumble – it was downright terrifying. Those storms were dangerous. They had wicked winds, trees falling down and power flashing off. Pennsylvania felt like a rainforest in comparisons. And east Tennessee…. Paradise.

Remember the good times H? Remember Forth of July 2006 when you and Heather and I hiked those twelve godawful miles to Ramsey’s Cascades and you were so on it we drank 2 liters of water, each, one way? Or remember Danny Ord’s thirteenth birthday when we hiked up Glen Onoko Falls in Jim Thorpe and I was so embarrassed by the sweat I sat with my arms safely at my sides during the whole cake and soda bit back at his house? How about that night in college a bunch of us “broke into” Gettysburg and were asked to leave the Little Roundtop on the grounds it was "dark" (garbage logic, I say) that night was so muggy, but Devil’s Den was so busting with fireflies it was like a discothèque. I know. I have it on video.

You’re part of the Appalachians I’ve spent so much time in, from Confederate hollers to Yankee hollows. Hell, you put the smoke in Smoky. You’re what makes summer summer. You’re why I pray for fall. You make everything green and pretty. You’re a real Christmas angel. I am sorry I was such a bitch. Take me back.

thank you,

Thursday, June 5, 2008

big day!

Big day on the farm. Today, was the first of many nights eating off. Which is what I call eating food at home you grew off your own land. (It sounds dirty, but don't go there. ) It's not eating out, and it's more exciting than the dull frozen-pizza-eating in. So... eating off is the phrase i made up. And tonight I ate off my first garden-grown meal of the season; a giant three-lettuce salad. The picture above shows some iceberg, Buttercrunch and Romaine Nisaa helped me plant a few weeks ago, and they were all ripe for the plucking. The best part? Even with a full colander - I barely put a dent in the crop. It was delicous, crisp, crunchy and I could actually taste each leaf. When you're used to your work cafeteria salad's uniform taste, eating off felt fancy.

I also got some rhubarb off the stalk, which I didn't plant but happily harvest since it's there in the yard. I baked it up into a giant strawberry rhubarb pie for tomorrow's potluck at work. I also whipped up a blueberry pie but feel a serious lack of confidence in them both. When it comes to apple pie, I feel I deserve my praise, but these guys... they won't be worth a fork of that apple. Oh well. The only way to get better at a pie is to keep baking it and cleaning ovens. So maybe by the end of summer, I'll have some decent strawberry rhubarb to share. Till then, I'll collect a bunch of stalks to freeze.

Also, and not to be discounted, for the first time in Cold Antler-Vermont History (drumroll please....), all eight of my hens laid an egg on the same day! I came home from work to eight perfect little eggs in the nest, each slightly unique to their neighbor. And Dove's blue token right in the middle. Usually I get half a dozen a day, sometimes seven and sometimes four. Usually I keep 6-eight eggs for myself each week and then sell the rest to co-wrokers, neighbors and a local cafe in Bennington. Today all of my girls were kicking it. Rufus Wainwright and I both glowed with pride, but for very different reasons.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


This morning I rolled out of bed, put the percolater on the stove, andspent half an hour hauling water to the garden, feeding chickens, checking on the rabbits, giving the bees new sugar water, and walking the dogs. The usual stuff I do every morning. But Sunday I woke up in hotel room in Los Angelos, in bed without a single dog hair on it. While the city was a nice change of pace, I prefer my beds sprinkled with the occasional dog hair, thank you very much.

BEA was something else...a weekend in the bright shiny city. Los Angeles is a sunny, hot, tanned and cement-filled mecca. A huge change from the soft rolling green hills of Southern Vermont. I had no idea the show would be such a big deal - halls and halls of a giant convention center filled with publishers and their wares. If you could sell it in a bookstore, it was there.

I met some other Storey authors and got to sign advanced copies of Made From Scratch. My first ever book signinng Which, had a nice humble stream of people that came to get their copies signed. It didn't helo that I was siginig next to Salman Rushdie's (who's line was out the door) but hey, some of his folks overflowed into my line, and how many people can say they got to hang out by Rushdie? On the other side of me was the guy who wrote "thirteen reasons why" which I knew nothing about, but apparently if you're thirteen it's the biggest thing since Judy Blume if she was hipper.

People who did come to my signing were a mixed lot. Some said they thought my homesteading book would be a lot of help to people who will be forced to live more locally when gas hits a peak price. Others just said their dream was to run off to a farm and saw my adventures with chickens and snap peas as a romantic escpae from regular life. I think a lot of people get the perception that I quit my job in Knoxville to live pay-check free in Idaho. While that would've been amazing... but truth be told, I worked a 9-5 job the whole time I was living my simple life in Sandpoint (which the book explains plainly). It may not be as romantic or cool, but proves that homesteading isn't just for survivalists or farmers. I want people to know that anyone, anywhere can start living off their own land (or, um, apartment). Which is what I do, and what the book is about.

My brother was with me. He is planning on moving down to LA in a few years, or sooner, and decided to join me in downtown Los Angeles while I was there. He wandered around the Book Expo, meeting comic book authors and some horror writers and then when the hullaballo of the Expo was winding down we jumped on the subway (yes, LA has a subway) and toured Hollywood. We visited the Chinese Theatre, a wonderfully campywax museum, ate pizza by the slice, and were even asked to take a stress test.* What could be a more perfectly cliche Hollywodod afternoon then that?

I had a big time. I got to kick up surf in the Pacific ocean, eat amazing meals, drink and laugh in good company, play a little fiddle, and feel more important than I am for two whole days. It really was a vacation, and my first ever book signing. Also, my best book signing. there's a chance I might get to travel more for the book in the future, which will be welcomed. But I can't tell you how great it was to wake up, roll over and kiss jazz between the ears, and walk out with a hoodie to feed the hens. I like the world out there very much. But I like my world in hollow between Bald and Bear mountain even more.
*believe in aliens and angry volcano feelings

Monday, June 2, 2008

back home, more soon

Thursday, May 29, 2008

behold a dark horse!

Goslings across Vermont, and booksellers across America, here I come. This first time author is going to the big city to hock a book. I'm flying out to Los Angeles tomorrow morning for Book Expo America, a big fancy show for the publishing industry. I'll be there to sign advanced reading copies to help promote Made From Scratch with people from Storey. Which, I'm kinda excited to do. Everything here at the homestead is prepared for the trip. Neighbors are watering the garden and watching over the rabbits and poultry. Jazz and Annie are at a Kennel in Bennington, breaking my heart. Hopefully I'll update from there with pictures of me kicking back sidecars with Alec Baldwin and Jamie Lee Curtis... but in reality, I'll just be at a folding table in a convention center. But I'm bringing my fiddle and a good attitude, what more could a Vermonter possibly need?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

wolves howl. dogs bark.

I do not know of anything so far, that feels better than playing hundred-year old songs in firelight with pleasant company. I don’t know of anything more beautiful than when you look up at low-hanging branches, with green leaves tinted yellow and coal gray by the flames and smoke, and then look beyond them at a deep night and hollow stars.

I don’t know of anything more comforting than understanding that I can sing a verse, and you can sing a verse and we can sing it together without knowing our last names or what cars we drive, or caring about those things, but understanding with complete certainty that those same words were whispered before us by long-dead people and will be sung by those long-alive. Because of this, it is forever.

Us musicians, singers, and storytellers know that every time we gather in the glow of a campfire, we're just a small piece of a bigger story. We happen to be holding the songs for a short time, till we pass them on, and we're okay with that mortality. We drink and laugh and dance to it. And between songs we'll sip some libations and talk about the night we heard St. Anne's Reel shake Quebec, or how a stranger asked us to play a tune at a mountain lake in Idaho. And we'll do this like it's the most important thing in the world. Because at that moment, it is.

Wolves howl. Dogs bark. Humans sing old-time songs. These are the sounds animals make. You can disregard this music, laugh at it, or live your whole life without lifting an eyebrow at dorian chords. But regardless of you, it will keep on padding through our culture like a yellow-eyed sheepdog in high grass. Hidden and wild with a unwavering focus. And like a lowline dog in the grass, you can see it if you look for it. It is there.

This all happens, all this emotion and loyalty, because we all know the words. It's a language we picked up here and there. We did it without amps, or outlets. We learned it by ear. We play it because of how it makes us feel. Old time music is, and always will be wet rocks and green moss in a shaded creek in Tennessee. It is bonfires in the shadows of Idaho hills. It is being alone in a blizzard in farmhouse owned by woman named Hazel. It is a campfire by a strangers garden in New York. It's Brian. It's Heather. It's Emily. It's Dave. It's even Erin on the indie rock lam.

I love this music. It writhes and quivers and will keep running uphill when I am dead and forgotten. I don’t understand how it can be ignored. I shudder under thick skin when it is mocked. I feel bad, horrible for those who can’t hold it in their fists and know what it feels like. Like a clump of grass you just submerged in a creek.

It is absurd to feel this way about the matted old dog that is these songs. But this is how I feel.

And I love it with the all.

hip little garden radio

I got this little guy at our local bookstore. It's a small radio perfect for gardening. It's solar powered, so it can rock out all day while you hoe and plant and the batteries will never die out. If it's an overcast day and the sun isn't doing it for you, it has a crank to generate all the electricity you need for hours of listening. I'm a big radio fan, and knowing that I can stay outside on a Saturday night and hear all of Prairie Home Companion (which, is coming to Vermont for the State Fair and I hope someone wants to come with me to watch it live) without going inside. It's small, about 5x5 so I can throw it in my pocket and take it with me to my next raised bed. It's mean and green, and one less appliance depending on the grid for my homestead. Which, feels pretty damn good, listening to renewable energy entertainment while growing your own food. Take that!

Order your own here

good hare day

I woke up early Saturday, and drove north up to Rutland. The Longtrail Rabbit Club was holding an ARBA (American Rabbit Breeders Association) sanctioned rabbit show. And at this rabbit show, I was going to pick up my breeding stock for my the Cold Antler Rabbitry. The animals in question, French Angoras. A beautiful breed of fiber rabbits that procure fiber so dense and soft, it's been called "the warmest wool on earth" by people in the biz. The breeder was a woman from Massachusetts named Nancy, who specialized in this breed. She said to meet her at the rabbit show at 9 AM and we'd go over pedigrees and care and feeding before I took them home.

When I pulled into the Vermont State Fairgrounds, I could not believe the cars. Rows and rows of rabbit people were parked with license plates that said things like "MINIREX" and "SHORABTS" from all over New England. I guess rabbits were a bigger deal than I thought.

I went into the ag building that housed the show, passing a table of ribbons and awards on my way in. Inside were literally hundreds of cages and rabbits (to their credit, it smelled fine) and along the walls were stewards taking notes and judges in white coats going over every inch of their subjects. They'd feel their heads and feet and talk aloud about their bone structure and bite. I watched a few judges work with a breed called the Flemish Giant, huge rabbits with satin short coats. Then walked across the building to the Jersey Woolies being judged, small long-haired bunnies. It kinda amazed me how difference rabbits could look from one another. Like a line-up of purebred dogs, each had their own purpose and history.

I went back to Nancy, and sat with her by a judges' station while she went through the two rabbit's pedigrees with me. My buck (rabbits are called bucks and does, to differentiate the sexes) was a big brown guy with light brown wool. I named him Benjamin Franklin, cause he looked like a Ben and who doesn't love that sassy character. The doe was a fawn colored-cream, called Lynx, and had giant brown eyes. I named her Bean Blossom after my dream banjo of the same name.

Right now Ben and Bean and back at the farm munching on hay and enjoying some fresh air. They'll be bred this summer and their litter of kits will be sold to other knitters and spinners who are looking for quality animals. I joined the ARBA myself, and with the help of more experience locals will be bringing some adorable little angoras into the world by mid-summer. Along with the income from raising bunnies, I'll be selling their fiber and spinning some of my own. The big goal for these guys - raise and sell a homebrewed litter of bunnies, and spin and knit enough wool to make a beanie by fall. I really want to be able to wear an angora wool cap when I go out to feed them and the chickens on cold fall nights.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

sixteen birds in a bathroom box

I took off work Friday. Partially because it was the day I was picking up my poultry at the feed store, but partially because I needed a long four-day break from fluorescent lighting and ergonomically designed office furniture. Two things I hate. So when 8 AM rolled around, I loaded up the station wagon with a pine-chip laden cardboard box and drove the twenty minutes to North Bennington. My twelve laying hen chicks, and two goslings were waiting for me at Whitman's Feed, a local farm and garden store. I was pumped. New downy life was coming back to my small homestead and a new chapter in our farm was getting started.

I arrived at the feed store, box under one arm, and asked where the birds were for pick-up. The guy at the counter told me to head into the back and there I'd find Penny, the woman sorting the boxes of overnighted chicks, ducklings, and goslings. I went through the double doors and found big wooden boxes of chirping adorableness (See picture of goose and duck box). We packed up my order and I noticed a sign...that there were extra ducks and turkeys for sale. I took one of each. I'm a sucker.

The duck, a rare breed called Magpie was for kicks. He could co-exist with my geese and enjoy dips in the creek pools and live a normal life, but the turkey, well, the turkey is in for a more "traditional" fate. I will be raising the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner for my family. I might be the lone vegetarian of the tribe, but come November, regardless of who that bird is, a turkey is dying for that kitchen table, and I'd rather have them eat a healthy, clean, organically fed free-range Tom from my farm - then some assembly line, feces and maggot ridden factory farm mutant pumped full of antibiotics and hormones. I'd feel proud to help produce a big meal for the family that was safe and lived a happy, natural life in sunlight and green grass.

When I told them this, the response was mixed. My dad was amused, my brother-in-law hungry, my mom and sister creeped out. Creeped out by the fact they'd know the bird before it went to be processed. Which confused the hell out of me. I thought this was great news for them, you know, free organic turkey... But the idea that an actual animal would die for their table, an animal I personally knew and raised, put them off.

Their response isn't uncommon at all. Most people, I'd say probably 90% of us, would never eat meat if we had to raise, kill, and dress it for the table ourselves. Besides not wanting to do the dirty work of ending an animals life, most of us don't have the space to raise them even if we did. Pasta sales would soar. Which is why this farmer, is taking the animal to a local organic turkey farm to be professionally prepared. I'll drop off a gobbling bird and the next day pick up a foam cooler. Maybe I'm avoiding reality too, but I don't have the experience or tools do this this kind of faming. Right now the only thing I can harvest is a head of broccoli, which I prefer anyway.

But why the disconnect? When you drive past a farm there aren't giant foam trays munching on grass, there are cows and lambs. How distanced have we become as a culture from our deli sandwiches? Don't we realize a farmer had to plant and grow those tomatoes and lettuce? That a turkey was killed and hung upside down so the blood could all drip out and keep the meat white? That the wheat was milled for the bread? Of course we realize it, but it's become so removed to our lives we forget that we're eating sinew and muscle from something originally having a brain and eyelids. Oh no, like us!

When we're reminded about these things we're grossed out. Which isn't only ridiculous, it's disrespectful. Disrespectful to the hundreds of people that made that sandwich happen, from farmers growing it to the truckers hauling it, and more importantly, disrespectful to the animal that died for it. A living being had it's life taken away, and I'm not even saying that's a bad thing, but the least you can do is remember that at your next barbeque.If you can't, tofurkey is in your natural foods section of your local grocer. It is delicious.

Anyway. I now have a cardboard brooder box with 13 chickens (bought a spare barred rock pullet), a duckling, and two giant goslings. Yesterday I was holding my goslings during a thunderstorm on the porch. Which was a completely new experience for me, goslings in a rainstorm. I recommend it. They'll live inside for about a month, or until they "feather out" and look like hideous half-chicken teenagers and then move outside with the other birds. I hope they all make it, there's always 25% mortality rate with hatchery birds. So far, all of us are going strong.

oh boy

This past holiday weekend was intense. There were day old chicks and a hive of bees. A rabbit show upstate, and my new pedigreed pair of wool rabbits. There was gardening and visits from friends from out of town. There was a fireside music jams and ice cream and weird smoke spewing from under the Subaru's hood. I'm writing about it in sections over the next few days - mostly because it's too much at once, and I want to give proper merit to each topic. I'll kick it off with chickens, goslings and a surprise bonus duck and turkey and how it felt to hold my family's Thanksgiving dinner in my right hand. Then, we'll wander around an ARBA sanctioned rabbit show and I'll show you my new pair of French angoras. Then there will be Kevin and Erin, and their spur-of-the moment visit extravaganza/antiquing showdown (which includes an ancient fiddle and a Tom Waits album, awesome) and I'll end it in the garden, where pumpkins and corn are planted and keeping me excited for October.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

farmas eve is here

I got out of work around five and drove home feeling like I was back in elementary school and on my first day of summer vacation. I swear if you looked below the dash you could see my feet swinging in a pair of faded jellies inches above the pedals. I am taking off work Friday - half out of necessity and half out of the need for a long break from fluorescent lights and ergonomic desk chairs.

Over the next few days I’ll be picking up chicks, goslings, and installing a hive of bees I'll personally pick up from their apiary in New York. I’ll also be helping a co-worker install her first hive and holding fiddle lessons here at the cabin. I’ll be working hard in the garden too - planting mounds of jack o lanterns and rows of sweet corn. And if that wasn’t enough, Saturday I’ll be driving up to Rutland for a rabbit show, partially to be a spectator but also to pick up my own pre-ordered pair of French Angora rabbits from a breeder in Massachusetts. I’ve never been to a rabbit show, just walked through rabbit sections at county fairs, so I’m extra excited about that. I'll be breeding my own fancy rabbits in the next few months, so talking with people in the biz will be an eye opener.

Tonight the work was light, prepatory and for people like me, exciting. My bathroom has a climate controlled brooder box waiting its new occupants. The cardboard box is lined with pine shavings and the thermometer inside reads a toasty 90 degrees, perfect for the new downy fowl on an airplane right now as I type. Outside my hive is set up under some maple trees awaiting its swarm. I have a pot of sugar water on the stove (bee syrup for their feeders) and the water font and feeder are stocked in the brooder. With experience in all of this under my belt, I feel prepared and less anxious than I was a year ago. I’m excited to know that in 24 hours I’ll have a hive going to work on combs and Jazz and Annie will be prostrated like in front of the closed bathroom door, cocking their heads at all the cheeping sounds behind their walls. It’ll be like the time I tried to watch March of the Penguins and they spent half an hour trying to “find the penguins” in my Knoxville apartment. They're crazy, them.

I have about 20 small corn plants ready to transplant to rows and seed corn as well (so to extend my summer corn harvest, I’ll have them ready at different times). I have starter pumpkins and seeds for them too, (for the same reason). It’s all out there waiting for my attention. It will all get it.

I know it sounds like a lot. All this running around, preparing and planning. But just like you look forward to cutting down and trimming a Christmas tree, I look forward to making this cabin into a farmstead. Both require effort, and dirty hands, and sometimes occasional discomfort – but when the work’s done… Well, I stand in front of my coops and gardens the same way I’d stand in front of those decorated living room trees of my childhood. In awe of the effort. How it made something magical out of hollow space. I know a better writer could’ve somehow explain that by coming back around to the summer vacation metaphor, but all this farm stuff if more complicated than that. Or it is too me. Christmas in July maybe? Eh, too far of a reach. Regardless, I’ll update all weekend with pictures and stories.

less bugs, more plants

This is a psa for all you gardeners out there. I got one of these at the Orvis store in Manchester, and it has been a blessing outside. When you're hiking, or more importantly, gardening - you'll always be a sweaty mess that bugs are constantly swarming around. Well these bandanas are treated with some chemical that doesn't hurt you, but repels insects. So the biters and flies leave your face alone while you plant or smash mountains. They are a little pricey, at 15 dollars or so a piece, but you're paying for a bug-free face, not a fashion accessory. However, you get both. Bully.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


This past Sunday I loaded up my day hiking gear and dogs in the wagon, and we drove upstate to Merck Forest and Farm center. Which is exactly what it sounds like. It's a local Mecca of hiking trails, barns, sheep, rhorses, sugaring and chickens all surrounded by the lazy rolling vistas of the Green Mountains. You can stop in at the visitor's center, grab a free map and the shove off to spend the day hiking through the woods, or if you're not into that, you can just spend a day hanging your feet off a fence post and watch lambs play in the fields.

If you mix backcountry with farm country, I am a very happy girl. So I spent a few hours there with Jazz and Annie. We parked at the visitors center, walked across the dirt lot to a building marked visitors center, and I tied up the dogs to a post while I went inside to explore. The center had walls lined with jugs of syrup, books, maps, eggs and yarn from their animals. It was nice. Quite a little store for the middle of nowhere. I talked with Pam (the ambassador/salescler/ranger behind the desk) for a while about the finer points of maple syrup (they sell their own farm made syrup in the center, and we both agreed darker more maple-tasting version is better then the "finer grade" light stuff)

After this we started walking down the dirt roads to the barn and pastures. Cars aren't allowed through here, only foot traffic. Which makes the fields of animals and gamboling horses even more pristine. We walked past the fields of animals (which Jazz and Annie slowly stared at with resigned apathy of restrained wolves) and padding towards the signs for hiking trails and cabins.

Everything was uphill. It was awesome.

We got a hell of a workout, and in less than two hours had climbed uphill nonstop. Annie, who started out with more energy than Jazz and I combined, hated everyone 45 minutes into the hike. Jazz, a master of moderation and pacing himself kept his head down and just kept hiking without glance at Annie, who kept trying to lie down and snap at salamanders like little orange pieces of salt water taffy at her paws. Annie's kind of an asshole.

When we arrived back at the farm area, storm clouds were brewing. I loaded them up in the car and checked back at the visitors center's events calendar. Merck is renowned for it's sheepdog trials in July. They say if you want to get into sheep, herding, border collies or all three, you should go and talk to this person or that person. I of course, will be there will bells on.