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.