Saturday, July 12, 2008

today, was perfect

Friday, July 11, 2008

pointers in the fields, shepherds on the hills

Yesterday, for my birthday, my co-workers took me out for ice cream and I got to ride home from the Dairy Barn in a retro motorcycle's blue sidecar. It was the most whimsical thing I've done in a long time. I felt like an extra in a Wes Anderson movie.

Me in a little black beetle helmet and windshield smiling like an idiot. It was bliss. It was a perfect Vermont summer day too. Breezy in the low 70s, sunny with a bright blue sky set against the saturated green mountains. We drove back to the office the long way on back roads by the Roaring Branch River and Arlington farms- passing cows and dogs. It is impossible to be unhappy in a sidecar when ice cream is in your stomach. Physically impossible.

When I got home I packed the dogs in the car and we headed off to Manchester for pie baking supplies and laundry errands. The next day was out monthly potluck at work, and I always promise a different pie (this month it's apple berry.)

Manchester, I discovered, has been inundated with birddogs. 'Birddog' in the sense of people who act like birddogs - not actual upland hunting dogs (who also act like birddogs, because they are.) But birddog people are much like the dogs they own, they appear to be outdoorsy and sporting but actually prefer porcelain bowls on tiled floors and are rarely of any actual use. They prefer to be paid attention too, be adored by their peers, strain for approval of their masters, and be waited on by others. These are not my people.

Anyway, The town is a scamper with horse show people* here for the 5-week long equestrian event in Dorset. I have never seen a small town Laundromat with that many luxury sport utility vehicles parked outside it in my life... But hey, it's nice to be a local when all the hubbub is going on, telling people to enjoy dinner on the porch at the perfect wife, or hit up for breakfast if they want to taste a badass omelet or venison sausages in maple syrup (real Vermonter dishes, for sure). Regardless of a town full of birddogs, I will not be hanging out among the sporting life this weekend. I'll be on a steep hill of grass in the forest with my people - sheepdogs.

Back at the farm, the bees are my top priority. ever since their arrival in early May they've been hard at work in the little lime-green hive building comb and starting a healthy brood. They've pollinated the garden, added some adventure to the geese's life (by the way, geese hate eating bees, they learned), and make the homestead feel a little more alive. But my 12,000 tenants are hurting for more living space and first thing tomorrow morning I am driving to Betterbee (our local beekeeping store) in nearby Greenwich, New York for a new hive body. I'll paint it that morning and while the paint dries I'll be heading over to Merck for the sheepdog trials, which I am dizzy with excitement over. You can expect pictures and a fancy post about that. I already have been in touch with the folks at the NECBA to start learning to apprentice shepherds and stock dogs. You won't see me with a border collie pup anytime soon, but when I am in the market for a working herder I'll be damn prepared.

*I am well aware not not all horse people are birddogs, and not all shepherds are sheepdogs. Some shepherds are complete birddogs and some equestrians are sheepdogs through-and-through. If you can follow this logic and have a sexy beard we should probably hang out more, possibly date.**

**unless you're a birddog, but how many birddogs have beards? like 4.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

sheep weekend coming up

Summer's been loping past me. The once fluffy chicks I could hold in my palm are now gangly teenagers living outside. The geese look like, well, geese. And the once humble garden of seedlings has waist high corn and flowers on my pumpkin vines. Daylight's starting to get lost on it's way to Autumn. And there are some exciting things in store for me over the following weeks.

Starting with this weekend's sheepdog trials. I'll be driving up to Merck Farmland and Forest Center to watch New England's best in a big outdoor two day sheepdog trial! Which I am over the moon about, because Border Collies and Merino rams are my future. Seeing those dogs in action, and meeting the trainers, shepherds and people already leading the life I aspire to will be a pretty big deal to me. So here's to a hot day full of wool and dog hair.

Also, my folks mailed me a hammock for my birthday. I love it so much I almost called in sick this morning to nap in it till it rained. If you're my boss and reading this, note "almost."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

bird party

the new guys

Here's a picture of a very young french angora rabbit. He's one of six being raised here at cold antler to be sold to spinning homes. Angora rabbits grow a super soft long hair and when brushed, carded, and spun, makes the softest wool in the world. Having angora rabbits is like having miniature sheep, perfect for smaller spaces. Yup, a city-knitters very own fiber producing livestock.

I have a breeding pair of these guys, and Bean Blossom (my doe) gave birth about two weeks ago. It's her first of two litters she'll kindle before fall. This litter I'm calling the lettuce litter, since they came in when the salad harvest was in full bloom. The next litter will be the corn litter. Then she'll have a long quiet winter of just getting fat by the furnace by her man Benjamin.

I'm fairly new to the world of rabbits. But between the books I've read, shows I visited, the ARBA's help and guidance, and visiting a local rabbitry - I feel pretty confident about bringing these guys into the world. In a few weeks they'll be registered, have their own pedigrees, and be tattooed (with the runes algiz, wunjo and jera plus their litter numbers 1-6) I hope to keep at least one doe, but we'll see.

Monday, July 7, 2008

chick and a turkey

back from pa

Back from a long weekend in Pennsylvania. Three days of family, gardening, fireworks and French toast. Now that I live in New England the drive home is considerably less of a big deal than it was in Tennessee or Idaho (10 hours or 4 day's drive respectively) I hit the road at 7:30 Friday morning and was home around lunchtime. Not too shabby.

The big project was my parent's garden. This is their first year planting any substantial food-garden. Not that they are strangers to fresh veggies, by any means. I grew up in a house that always had tomatoes plants by the back deck and my mom, who would happily eat out every meal of the rest of her life, knows there is no excuse to put canned pumpkin in a pie (plus, she tends a mean flower garden). So, they have grown and cooked with their own food before. But we were expanding the operation to mythic proportions for our own family's humble backyard history.

My neighbor here in Vermont is a retired botanist for a New York City college. He has a heck of a garden at his house, and he overestimated his flats of seedlings - leaving him with more food than he could plant. He graciously gave me a crapload of free veggies. So in the back hatch of station wagon I had corn, pumpkins, pole beans, peas and Russian yellow tomatoes. All going to 330 Columbia to meet their new home in PA soil.

We weeded, mulched, shoveled, hoed and planted as a family. My mom commented that she felt Amish, what with the neighbor's raising a barn next door and all (they are loudly rebuilding a new garage from the ground up). After our work was done we had a nice little patch of corn, two hills of pumpkins (two plants each), pole beans in stakes, peas along the fence and heirloom tomatoes planted in containers around the perimeter. I was proud of it. When all the work was done and the ground was watered we all sat outside on the porch with lemonade and the banjo. Good times.

By the end of the weekend we were bickering over stupid things and I was ready for a quiet log cabin. But it was a nice little trip back home and when I returned all my poultry was healthy and well. But there was a small tragedy. One of the bunnies had crawled out of the hutch and had made it to the chicken's fencing. Where it got it's head stuck in the wire and perished. No chicken had touched it, much to my relief that it didn't meet it's end at beaks and claws. But It was still a sad site to come home too. Now we're down to six bunnies, and if I end up with five I'll be content. I lost one to natural causes, and two to wandering away from home.

There was the somber realization that had I been home to watch them maybe I wouldn't have lost the little guy. But what is done is done, and now it's my job to make sure the rest grow up healthy so they can start helping other spinners get their own wool from their own herds. As Catherine Friend put it in her book, "Hit by a Farm", where there's livestock there's deadstock. Keeping animals means sorrow and joy every day. It's a reality I'm learning more and more as I expand my own homestead every year. And one i'll wrestle with personally as I raise my first ever animal for the table - our family's Thanksgiving turkey.

I am sorry though, little bunny.