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!