Sunday, August 10, 2008

every type of poultry on the farm

Here at Cold Antler, we have four types of poultry. Chickens, geese, a turkey and a duck. This weekend one of those moments happened when they were all hanging out in the grass together. That's a Toulouse goose, an Ameraucana hen, a Magpie duck and a Broad Breasted White turkey. How about it!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

today was brought to you by the letter A

Today I sold my ever first farm-raised animals. Two angora does went off to their new home upstate. Thanks to the sale, I was able to put some gas in my tank (something usually reserved for errands, sheep-related activities, and driving to work.) But since we had a little pocket money we went on a road trip.

We started in Arlington, the closest Vermont town to my cabin. Arlington was having “Norman Days” a kind of street festival in honor of Rockwell - with tag sales (Vermonter for yard sale) and local crafts. While walking around the spinner’s stands and fried dough booths, I bought a beautiful hand-thrown mug from a local potter (also on the bunnies.)

Jazz and Annie loved the street fest. That was until they met a giant Newfoundland, who greeted Jazz by gently placing his slobbery mouth directly on top of his head. Jazz was revolted, and snapped his head away from the Newf with a soggy head and wet ears. He looked up at me for help, utterly disgusted. Annie seemed ambivalent to the slobber accumulating on her face as the lug kissed her. That pretty much sums up my dogs.

After Arlington, we crossed over the state line to New York and visited Gardenworks, a localvore’s dream. Therein was everything from handmade mustard to sheep cheese. I splurged and bought a hand-felted alpaca wool blanket. It was five feet tall and sang me a tune of $18, by god a steal. While checking out the women at the counter told me the local farmer who provided the wool I was holding was hosting an open house. I love living in farm country.

We continued our tour home, driving from West Hebron to Cambridge and then back up 313 to the farmstead. Annie hung out the front window like she does; two elbows over the edge of the door, her lips flapping in the wind. Jazz laid sphinx like in the back seat, contemplating whatever it is he contemplates.

After our touring was done, I called a local feed store in Shusan. It’s not really a feed store as much as it is an old barn where a sweet couple sells everything from dairy cow starter to chicken scratch. I asked if there were open for business since they keep odd hours. They were. I drove over and filled the back of the Subaru with 175 pounds of feed. Again. Thanks to the pair of angoras.

What money was left from the bunnies went into the Border collie fund, a small mug that I put an extra five or ten bucks into every week. There’s barely anything in it, but just placing money in the jar makes me feel like I’m working towards my lanolin-soaked destiny. Which feels good.

Tomorrow night (I think) VPR is holding a star gazing event. You take your radio out with a blanket to your chosen destination, and listen to a local public radio host talk about what’s overhead. All over the region random Vermonters will be doing this. This might beat Chicago Public Radio’s Thanksgiving ‘Poultry Slam’ as my favorite radio event of the year. I like good television as much as the next American, but you can’t take Everyone Loves Raymond to a dark hillside with your dogs and stare at stars.

Friday, August 8, 2008

the story of a hat

I bought the hat in Idaho. It was during one of those awful wet months in late winter when snow in the Pacific Northwest is just various forms of slush. Slush that freezes momentarily as it falls to earth only to return to slush again soon as it hits ground. I wanted something to keep my hair dry when I took the dogs out on walks or was fumbling around Diana’s farm. Something better than a beanie and not as jocky as a baseball cap (which I generally abhor for no good reason.) So one day I stopped into a clothing store in Sandpoint and found a wall of wide-brimmed felt hats. Not quite cowboy hats, but not quite gardening hats either. They looked like something off the set of Cold Mountain. A mountain hat. I instantly reminded me of Brian in Tennessee, and the old hat he wore as he strolled barefoot on trails through the Smokies. I miss him all the time.

Nostalgia aside, it wasn’t going to happen. It cost sixty dollars. Too much. But I tried it on anyway. Damnit, it fit perfectly. And it was decorated beautifully - all along the brim was a line of leather with pieces of deer bone and metal discs decorating the crest. The primitive part of me loved that men, sheep, cows, and deer had all come together to make this hat. Four animals I either planned to raise one day, or had a connection too. I took it off sadly, and as I was putting it back I realized it had a black stain on it. Like someone with a small paintbrush of shoe polish had wiped against it by accident. Score.

When a sales clerk asked me if I needed help, I showed him the stain and asked, how much for a hat with an imperfection on it? Fifteen dollars, was his answer. I could barely hold myself together. I bought it right then and there, cash on the barrelhead.

At first the hat was used only for what I intended. Dog walks, trips to Di’s Farm, walks in the rain – you know, outside stuff. Since I was using it as a rain hat it took a hell of a beating. After a few months the Rocky Mountain winter had turned it lopsided. The moisture had bent the rim so it turned up only on one side. I tried to set of the aesthetic by shoving chicken and crow feathers in the opposite side. It was undeniable that it was getting some character.

I realized as spring rain turned into summer sun, I was wearing it more often. It kept the glare out of my eyes. So I started wearing it in the garden and around the farmhouse, forgetting about it on trips into town and wearing it into grocery stores by accident. But people loved it and told me so. They didn’t know I was a design student from the Mid Atlantic. They saw me as any other Idahoan in a fine mountain hat. I got more compliments on that hoof-and-mouth-disease-lookin’ beast then I ever received in my life in a dress.

So I kept wearing it, all summer and through the fall. After a while I learned to love it. I wore it everywhere. It had molded itself so much into me that people would ask me why I wasn’t wearing it if I left it at home. I couldn’t lose it either. Over the years I had left it at friends’ houses, outside on porches, in strange cars, restaurants… but it always came back to me. It’d be at my desk on Monday or the restaurant would have it behind the counter. It never lost me.

When I left Idaho, I wore that hat as I drove away. I wore it when I was sick across all of Montana (I threw up on a mass grave at the Little Big Horn in it. Unintentionally of course.) It flew with me to Pennsylvania and Tennessee. I played fiddle in it at last year’s Old Timer’s Festival (Which for the first time since I set foot in Knoxville, I won’t go to this fall. It’s unfortunately too expensive.)

That hat has seen where I’ve been, and will come with me where I am headed. When I am standing at the post at my first sheep dog trial - you better damn well believe that hat will be on my head as I shout “Away to me, Knox!” a shepherd’s crook in my arms. It’s an avatar for my life of animals and dirt, of snow and rain, of Tennessee and Idaho. It’s been with me everywhere. I consider it a friend.

A few months ago I had to go to a photo shoot for the book. The publisher wanted pictures of me for the website and promotional materials, as well a back cover. I was talking to girl friends back in Sandpoint about what I should wear and was asked, flat out by Diana -

“You’ll be wearing your hat for the photo shoot right? No one here will believe it’s you unless you’re wearing that hat.”

If you pick up my book this winter, you’ll see the me in that hat on the jacket. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

rain and sara

The month of July has been rainy in the North Shire. Really rainy. I’m talking high-river-soft-ground-weeks-of-never-drying-puddles rainy. The bird yard constanly wafts the scent of goose poo on wet hay (not as charming as it might sound.) You’d think all this weather would be great for the garden, but my drainage in the raised beds wasn’t ready for this kind of pounding. While some veggies thrived, my bumper crop, tomatoes, hates my guts. I only have a few bags frozen for canning into sauce, and a few fresh heirlooms for slicing and salads. Nothing like I planned. I’d say this rain made the 2008 season one of the weaker ones. Think Buffy season 5, only with slime on peas.

Also, the chickens have eaten most of the young pumpkins. Pecked right into them like heroin addicts 'chasing the dragon'*. My fault. I didn't fence them off. Rats.

And in other somewhat sad news, Sara happened. Or I guess, didn’t happen. Sara was a young tri-color Border Collie in need of a home. the wonderful folks in the Northeast Border Collie Assoc had her waiting for me. Not only did she need a home, she was a stock-proven working dog. She had two months of herding work under her belt and was in need of a girl with plans for sheep...

I had to turn her down. Right now the practicality of heating oil, car repairs, and just day-to-day living expenses proves that it would be irresponsible to take on a fully loaded dog (specially without ewes on the property.) So I’ll save and wait. Mark my words though, in the future there will be better tomatoes, dog broke sheep, and a border collie to wrap up into my life here. Tonight however, it’s just me and my current roommates. And we’re going to cozy up on the couch with a movie. They can't herd worth a damn but they are gangbusters at the couch.

*I have no idea if my naive drug slang makes sense. We're over it.

angoras for sale!

If you ever wanted to spin and knit from your own livestock, but are pretty sure a sheep can't fit into the breakfast nook in your apartment, consider a French Angora rabbit. These guys are beautiful, pedigreed, tattooed, and ready to go to their new homes. Comment or email if you live in the area and want to take a bunny home this weekend!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

i got a wheel, son!

Holy Moses! My friend and co-worker Trish gave me one of her old spinning wheels! (Jazz and Annie are not impressed. Since it isn't alive and can't produce food - it can rot in hell far as they're concerned.) The wheel is in need of some repair. Trish and her husband Drew (who gaver her the wheel) agreed it deserved to be fixed and used in a home instead of wasting away at theirs. So I gladly accepted their gift, and I think after a little tlc and elbow grease it'll be up and running in no time. Homespun yarn, watch out!

mark 'em up

A strange piece of farm equipment was delivered to the cabin this week. A tattoo gun. Well, I guess "gun" isn’t the right term, more like a tattoo pen. I ordered it from a rabbitry supply catalog from the Midwest. It came in a little blue case along with ink, wells, and instructions. The box had a Dutch rabbit on the front with the logo “Rabit-tatt.” It cost 45 dollars, practically the price on one of the bunnies themselves, but it had to be ordered. Here’s why:

I’m taking this rabbit breeding business fairly seriously. I’ve kept Angora rabbits as pets for a few years now, but Vermont was my chance to go from an owner to breeder. Between the egg sales at work and the two litters of bunnies planned for the summer, a little income was coming out of the homestead. A nice change. I did the math and found out two litters of fancy purebred French rabbits would pay for all the chicken feed, rabbit pellets, and straw for nearly a year! So I wanted to do it right, to help support myself here, and to learn the whole process of breeding small livestock.

Rabbits are my training animals for sheep. Like sheep they produce wool, create offspring, and require care and feeding. If I could learn to manage the rabbits as livestock - I could take the lessons from them into those first couple of sheep. That's the plan at least.

Thanks to the farm library I had a lot of help. While consulting the books “Barnyard in your Backyard” and “Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits” I learned every aspect of breeding and raising the six healthy bunnies on the porch right now. But now those bunnies are over a month old and that's when small-livestock management comes into play. Which included tattooing, writing pedigrees, and photocopying and filing paperwork for each individual rabbit. Paper work was one thing, any schmuck can buy a file box and some folders – but tattooing was something I was nervous about.

Why tattoo? Even though this litter is for spinners and pets, they were still the offspring of two amazing parents. Parents who had been meticulously bred and trucked to rabbit shows all over New England ( in fact, a rabbit show is where I got them.) My bunnies were the newest generation of that line, and deserved the same attention to detail as all the rabbits that came before them. They needed to be marked so their owners would have proof they were the animals on the paperwork. People who bought them for shows or their own breeding programs demanded it. It was my job. So here I am, tattoo apparatus in hand.

Tattooing went like this. You poured the ink into the small plastic well and then placed the tip of the pen into it. Then you turned on the needle and let it run a few seconds to scoop up the ink and load it with ink. When it was loaded, you took a bunny in your arms, braced it tight against your body and wrote it’s number in it’s left ear. The first rabbit was so aloof I thought I didn’t do it properly, but when I wiped her ear with a wet paper towel the sequence BB01 showed through in my own handwriting (it’s equally weird and neat to see your handwriting on an animal.)

BB stood for Bean and Benjamin, the bunnies’ parents. And 01 through 06 would be their identities in the litter. Within ten minutes every bunny had a light tattoo on his or her left ear. It went fast and painless, and another small first happened at the homestead. While branding livestock, even adorable tiny livestock, I joined the ranks of people bringing animals into the world and preparing them for market. Yes, it's a long call from sheep (who wouldn’t be tattooed, they’d be ear tagged) but it’s what I can do now in my little rented cabin, at least today it is. I’ll take it.

Friday, August 1, 2008

me and cyrus on the porch

*this photo and one below by Tricia Weill

out of the ground

The garden is nearly ready to be cleaned out. After months of work, all the early-season salad greens, peas, peppers, onions and herbs are nearly done. Either they've been eaten down or are ready for the jar or freezer. As I remove them from the rows, I'll replace them with lettuce seeds and some winter squashes. While the new plants are getting started, the watermelons and pumpkins will be maturing on their vines. The sunflowers and sweetcorn will be reaching to the sky. I'm so happy to report that this year my jack-o-lanterns will be from my own garden! A little personal goal finally achieved.

Last night I pulled the first potatoes out of the ground, which was actually a pretty big deal. They were grown from seed potatoes I grew myself in Idaho. Which means that the food I pulled out of the ground last night has seen more of the country in it's collective genealogy than most Americans ever have the chance to see in their lifetimes... It also makes them the first completely homebrewed veggies on the farm! Between them and the bunnies, a new level of self-sufficiency is rising up at Cold Antler. These aren't commodities I bought to grow and feed, but created right here. Tomorrow's hash browns with sided to my own hen's eggs - what a breakfast. Top that off with ridiculously strong coffee and a walk with the dogs, and you've got the happiest girl in Vermont.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

how we do business in Sandgate

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

a day in the fields

Saturday morning I was on the road to Massachusetts by 6 AM. It was foggy, and that only added to the authenticity of the day. Since I would be spending the entirety of it with British dogs and a British man - a foggy chill morning seemed appropriate. I was driving to a small farm in the western half of the state to observe a sheep dog clinic held by Dave Sykes. Dave's a bonefide UK trialer and trainer. He's worked hundreds of dogs and had over thirty years of experience. Myself and a dozen other people signed up to watch him train our dogs, give tips, and help spot problems. I was floating I was so excited.

Well, as floating as I could be. As you all know, I don't have a sheep dog or sheep. I was going to watch and learn, find out how to get started. I had met up with some people from the NEBCA at the Merck Forest Trial a few weeks ago, and they said if I wanted to get into the real world of stock dogs, to show up for this event. I filled out a registration form and mailed it in the very next day at work. If you knew how bad I wanted to be out there with own dog and crook, you'd understand. Really.

I pulled into the farm's driveway next to a line of dog cars. People with minivans without back seats, SUVs with breed bumper stickers, and station wagons laden with crates. Folks were walking down the hill to a round pen in the pasture below. Inside the 50-foot pen were two blackface ewes. They seemed calm. I hiked down the hill with my backpack, following people with their black and white border collies or leggy Kelpies. It felt weird, coming without my own, but I certainly couldn't bring Jazz and Annie to an off-leash sheep pen. Besides, non-herding dogs weren't welcome on the farm strictly as a liability to the livestock. So I already felt out of place, which only added to the nerves of being new in a field full of shepherds.

The day went like this. We started out by doing introductions and then people brought their dogs into the field one at a time to be observed by Sykes. For about half an hour each, they let their dogs show him their stuff. Some dogs worked in the round pen but most had the full pasture and more ewes to chase around. I learned a lot watching him, but learned more listening to conversations around me and asking questions on the sidelines. Halfway through the day we had a picnic lunch under an apple tree, overlooking the sheep below us down the hill. Sitting under that tree, with the puppies rolling around, the smells of grass and wool in the air, I felt comfortable for the first time in New England. It was bliss.

The shepherds were a wild bunch, mostly women. A drastic change from the world of mushing, where I was used to being the gender minority. If mushing was the dog sport of men, herding (at least today) was the dog sport of women. But they weren't timid gals. They were as energetic and sharp toothed as the dogs they worked beside. They had that Northeast farmer harsh wit, saying things like "Romnies make horrible herding stock... but they make a great carcass!" Not exactly the language you expect from 60-year-old women in sunhats. Like their dogs, they smile with a wolfish flair.

During one of the sit down talks, Sykes joked, wiping sweat from his brow, about how shepherding with border collies is a 40-year apprenticeship to get it right. He then looked at me, by far the youngest pup in the crowd, and pointed "So you better get started soon!" If someone handed me a puppy, no questions asked, hell, I might've.

We ended the day with a potluck dinner. I brought a pie, which was a hit. Everyone talked and bullshitted like old college friends. There's a bond between people in subcultures like these, something that lets you open up a little about yourself, more so than with co-workers or acquaintances. We talked about families, jobs, sheep, and our dogs. Everyone wished me luck, some even mentioned a dog or two I might be interested in. If you're wondering what shepherds drink, the main tap was hard cider(though that might be a New England thing...)

The best part of whole thing was just watching the dogs work. We'd sit in chairs listening about techniques and dogs and all around us the dogs just worked, happy as can be. It was grand, seeing a preview of what's ahead for myself. But also intimidating, knowing how much is involved. But the day gave me the chance to grow familiar with more and more with the names, faces, dogs, and the history and folklore around the sport. I had a wild time, and certainly there will be more to come.

When I picked up Jazz and Annie at the kennel the next day, they were thrilled to see me. And the guilt of dog-cheating on them sunk back in. I'm torn between them, and our established life's comfort - and the excitement of a new world of dogs. We pulled out of the parking lot with the windows down and Janis Joplin blaring. Annie hung out her head while Janis Cried "BAAAAAABY!CRRRYY BAAAAABY!" After a few miles I turned down the music and looked over at my roommates Then, serious as a heart attack, I aksed them "hey guys, how do you feel about getting a dog?" Jazz yawned, Annie ignored everything that wasn't outside the window.

I knew they'd been ambivalent to a new dog. Siberians are made to work as a team. Well adjusted dogs like these that were raised in packs could handle a new dog fine. It was my friends and family that wouldn't adjust well. They'd say it was taking on too much, too small of a space, wait till I own a farm someday, and so on. I understand this, and quietly drove home, certain a puppy could induce havoc.

Then havoc did happen...

The next morning, a crazy man walked into my old church in Knoxville and shot nine people, killed two. I used to sit in those pews every Sunday and had I never moved to Idaho I would've been sitting there that morning, watching my Sunday School students put on their play.

I am in no way comparing the loss of human life to getting a dog. That would be awful, tactless, and horrid. Please don't take this that way. Yet I couldn't help wondering how many of the people in my old congregation who were fired at were waiting on the approval of their friends and family to do the things that made them happy? How many of them put off bits of their lives because they were worried about making things uncomfortable for the spectators? Would they feel different now?

I did. I certainly did.

My mind is reeling.

Monday, July 28, 2008

a hell of a view

Friday, July 25, 2008

dogs and blogs

Tomorrow at the crack of dawn I'll be driving to Massachusetts for class. Herding class. Dan Sykes, the famed British Shepherd and Sheepdog trainer is holding a clinic in Greenfield. I'll be going to Tanstaafl Farm to observe the dogs and their lessons, chat it up with sheep people, talk dogs and join in their potluck dinner. I'm new to this sport and just starting out. I have no sheep, border collie, hell I don't even have a barn. But these people will help me get started when I do. Meeting them, learning and observing, and hanging with their dogs will help me be more educated when those first three ewes show up at my farm and my border collie pup is asleep by the fireplace.

While hooves and sheep dogs aren't currently in my life, I am a bonefide member of the organization. Being new to New England - it'll be nice to hang with a club I belong to. It'll also be interesting to see what they think of a twenty-something without a dog in their midst. I have no idea how the shepherds will feel about me, but I hoping to win these titans over with pie.

In other news, you can now find a running blog column of mine on the Huffington Post. There's a link to it on the right sidebar. I'll be in their green section writing about homesteading and the environment. It'll be a mix of content from this blog and new stuff you'll only see there (like the long thanksgiving turkey post). Please feel free to check it out, comment, "buzz up" articles, and read it. You know, support your local writers and all that.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

hazy morning

I slept in this morning.I didn't get up till 5:45. The sun was up though, and in the streaming light of the cabin's bedroom Jazz was sprawled out beside me, his paws against my sternum and his mouth open. I wake up to two dozen white sharp teeth inches from my eyeballs. Sometimes I wonder if it's normal to wake up to wolf jaws and smile? But I do and scratched Jazz on the head. His big yellow eyes opened up, he yawned a mighty yawn, and then curled his head deeper into the pillow and went back to sleep. Somewhere in the kitchen I heard Annie's nails scratch against the cork floor as she stretched and sighed. She wasn't getting up either. My dogs are not farm dogs. Without snow on the ground or a harness on their chests they are as useless as house cats. I love that about them.

I however, had a lot to do before work, so I was getting up. I let my roommates sleep in. I slipped on some jeans and crocs and went outside towards the coop, grabbing a bale of straw from the porch and throwing it up on my shoulder as I went. I knew the birds needed fresh bedding after all the mud and rain from yesterday's storms. It also couldn't hurt to reline the nest box. I forgot to perc some coffee and cursed under my breathe. What the hell is happening to my priorities?

When I got to the coop and hutches I checked on the rabbits and then went about the business of sorting the morning poultry. Geese, ducks and turkeys spend the day outside so the chickens had the coop to themselves. Inside they were safe from hawks and predators and would lay better without the stress of loud goslings (the other poultry was way too big to be picked up by raptors) so I let them spend the whole day waddling around the creek and trying to break into the garden. So far all attempts have been thwarted. Let's hear it for old fences.

When everyone was fed, watered, had a clean place to sleep and was pecking in the sun--I went back in to check on the dogs. Both of which were now up and ready for a walk. We went out into the field and watched the hazy clouds sit on the mountains. It reminded me of Tennessee. I don't know if I can make it back this fall for the mountain music festival (and heat my house this winter) so it tugged at my heart a little. It also reminded me to work on All the Pretty Horses on the dulcimer that night. If I nailed it on the dulc I could record both the fiddle and dulcimer parts together for kicks. I am a very exciting young person.

Starting your day like this - with animals and misty mountains and good dogs beside you, makes getting ready for work harder and harder. Every weekday I get in that car and drive the ten miles to the office. I do it with loud music and plenty of coffee, so it's not too depressing. But the deeper I get into the world of small farms, sheepherding, animals, and gardening the more it starts to feel like a farce. A front I put up to pay rent and buy dog food. Something that drains energy from the real work of growing food, collecting eggs, planning a sheep farm and learning to shepherd. I'm not trying to sound ungrateful. I have a good job I enjoy. I work with fine people with manners and perfectly normal haircuts, but if I could find a way to support myself at home and still be able to walk into an emergency room insured, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

Or, you know, marry rich.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

on "the eBay"

The book comes out right before christmas, but if you read this blog regularly and want to get your hands on one before we're all swilling cocoa - you can snag one off ebay. I'm serious, there are two copies up for bidding online. Which kinda blows my mind.

See one here

Monday, July 14, 2008

So the rest of my life starts with a four dollar whistle…

Sunday morning I sat on a wet hill watching a dog named Cato expertly run through the course at the Merck Forest Sheepdog Trials. Unlike the day before, the weather was cold, windy, and well, as anglocentric as the event itself. After two days of watching, eavesdropping, and asking complete strangers stupid questions – I knew that Cato had just completed a beautiful out run, executed a fine lift, ran down a straight-lined fetch and was in the middle of a decent cross. He had penned and was about to shed. His handler, a tawny ex-rock climber, yelled out commands into the wind. When the wind proved too much she blew into the whistle on the lanyard around her neck. Cato darted, flew, and balanced the sheep like a pro. Not too far from where I perched a man in his mid-sixties stood in an oversized blue sweatshirt (now he didn’t look like an ex rock climber) and on the end of a frayed lead his border collie sat beside him. They were next. I was so envious of him I sunk a quarter inch into the ground.

These people are living my dream. Regardless of who they are or what they do with their lives they all managed to figure out how to become shepherds in the modern world. They all spend their days with ewes and rams and these amazing dogs. I want to be one of them so much it hurts, but like the dogs waiting their turn to pump up the hill to their flocks. I need to be patient, even though every muscle in my body quivers to get a border collie and a couple of sheep as fast as I can.

But I need to be realistic and that’s killing me. I rent my land and owning that Vermont farm and transitioning to a full time farm career seems so impossible right now. The hundreds of thousands of dollars in a mortgage, the start up capital, the high credit score, hell even the electric fencing seems so out of reach it’s the emotional equivalent of Mafiosos breaking my legs with a baseball bat. And apparently, I’m a glutton for punishment because I went back both days.

Regardless, standing on that hill was a horrible/wonderful mix of joy and anxiety. Joy that I was now physically there. Standing smack dab in the middle of this world I need to be a part of, but equally scared shitless it won’t happen. Or worse, I’ll be my own worst enemy and keep putting it off and making excuses because friends or family don’t approve of another dog or a few ewes. I clutched the cheap plastic shepherd’s whistle on it’s lanyard like a rosary. I don’t have to tell you what I prayed for.

Also, I arrived at Merck dogless. For someone who owns two amazing working dogs, and was going to a working dog event, this felt wrong. But I didn’t have the heart to bring Jazz and Annie. Besides the fact that the day before was in the 90’s (scorching hot for two huskies with heavy under coats to handle) – I couldn’t bear sitting there with two dogs who had to be held back on leads while they watched countless other dogs scamper around leashless inches away from the animals they desperately wanted to devour.

I could just see Jazz shaking his head at those sheepdogs. Like an old Baptist preacher watching wayward youths rob a liquor store he would surely be despondent seeing his own kind having fallen so far from the faith. Siberian huskies keep the Gospel of Wolf alive in every fiber of their being. I could just imagine me on the trial field with my Sibes and yelling out “Away to me Jazz! Come by Annie!" and the crowd would see the fastest sprint clocked in sheepdog trial history as my sled dogs ran towards the flock. They would be in awe at the grace and beauty of my dogs as they loped with the bliss and agility of Russian ballerinas rolling on E. And then scream in horror as Jazz and Annie ran down and began eating the ovine contestants.

Sigh.

No, the dogs were at home. I felt like I was cheating on them and all I was doing was window shopping. I want to be a shepherd and I live with wolves. It’s a complicated situation, but a contradiction I find beautiful. Anyway I’ll figure it out.

I’m not naïve enough to think sled dogs aren’t a part of my life that I love and that won't go away. I know damn well that if I was that ex-rock climber in my mid-40s and saw a 26 year old kid with two beautiful sled dogs on the hill watching me in miserable weather with my sheepdog - I would want her life. I'd feel the deep pangs for the wildness of huskies, the blinding snow, and the feeling of runners over ice. I'd wish I was holding a brushbow and not a shepherd's crook while a ewe plowed into my shins and fell on my butt.

I am in love with two opposite ends of the working dog spectrum. Great.

There is a reason a wolf with antlers is all over Cold Antler Farm. He's painted on chicken coops and garden signs, and his image is all over the blog. It's because he's the symbol of how I feel about my passions. The mix of opposites, the chaos of contradiction, the need for balance when you love things so different that seem so unbelievable - is why you see him. And the possibily of seeing a wolf with antlers in the wild feels just as unbelievable as the possibility of me becoming a shepherdess with a trial dog...

So where do I go from here? Well, I joined NEBCA. I joined and as a member I’ll get the newsletter and trial announcements and meeting information and start getting involved. As a member I have full access to their book and video library and just like I’ve been with sheep, I'll start doing serious research. I’ll attend clinics and classes dogless, shadowing handlers with their border collies and listen in as an observer. Then, someday in the next few months, years, decades (who knows) I'll get a started dog or pup from herding lines and start taking those classes myself.

While all this was churning in my head, I bought a shepherd’s whistle at the merchandise stand. A small souvenir to some, but to this girl it’s the crucial turnkey to a life I know I want but have no idea how to attain. But right now, it’s all the start I need. Maybe someday a wolf with antlers will trot by the farm afterall. I guess we'll have to wait and see.