Thursday, September 18, 2008

gobble gobble

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

boston and a turkey on death row

Friday morning I go to Boston for the New England Independent Booksellers annual brew-ha-ha. I'll be sitting an an author reception, which I think is a glorified way of saying "you'll be sitting at a folding table at a small convention that you aren't allowed to leave." Which is fine by me! These things let me meet booksellers from all over the region who might want to carry or promote the book. It's a fine oppurtunity, this. And I'm excited to have a small vacation in the middle of a big town. My good friend Erin lives in Boston, and I'll be meeting her to show me around her city. On the way home I hope to swing by Salem to visit the witch trial museum. If you're in the Boston area, sell books, or just like them - I bet you could swing by and say hello. I'll be the girl in the hat.

Back at the farm things are trotting along right into fall. The last bits of the garden - corn and pumpkins, seem to be bulging and turning colors. So are the Sugar Maples all around the cabin. The sheep are learning their new routine, and mastering new ways of breaking out of their fences.(Which isn't really a big deal because they never leave the property anyway.) The poultry are all fat and happy, and the spring chickens will start laying their first eggs in the next couple of weeks. I also recently found a qualified poultry butcher to help with TD, and we'll be making his appointment to "go to Miami," as the locals call it, sometime in late November. I'm really proud to be presenting my family with my own farm-raised free-range turkey this Thanksgiving. It's a big personal milestone for me to contribute like that. But let me tell you something, the Huffington Post readers weren't so thrilled when I shared my bird's story. If you want to check that out, click here.

jazz and annie make front page news!

Monday, September 15, 2008

a pumpkin story

Readers of this blog know about my love of October. They know about my lust for apple cider and my appreciation for an old fashioned Halloween. But one thing they don't know (and am ashamed to admit) is how crappy I am at growing pumpkins. It's not for a lack of trying. I have planted many, read tips, asked growers... but every time I fail miserably. Last fall in Idaho I got pathetically close. My vines grew one small starter squash that I treated like the Christ child of the garden. At least until the night I pulled a Pontius pilot and stepped on it in the dark. It made the worst popping sound I had ever heard (followed by the worst string of curse words the garden ever heard.) So folks, I love pumpkins. I just can't grow them.

But this year dear readers, the winds-are-a-changing! This year I planted six hills. Three hills of organic pie pumpkins and three of jack-o-lanterns. And I am proud to say half a dozen small round green and orange orbs are coming along. None of them will be giant, but a few will be respectable carving size. And for that, I am thrilled. One of the pie pumpkin vines however, was a casualty to the rain, and it's lone baby pumpkin was going to rot with the vines if I didn't pick it early. So I did. And I carved it Saturday after the sheepdog trial and set it on the living room coffee table as some ambiance for watching movies. The seeds are drying in the kitchen, and will be saved for next year. It's not the exactly the full backseat-of-the-Subaru I had my mind, but it's something. And the first real homebrew organic pumpkin I ever carved. You got to start somewhere, right?

a shepherd's apprentice

I pulled up to the farm that was hosting the trials around nine AM. An iron weathervane of a stalking sheepdog told us were were at the right place. So did the line of cars lining the dirt driveway up to the house and barns. I left the dogs in the car with shade and some water and headed up the hill. As I crested it, the trial came into view. A big white tent, folding chairs, black and white dogs milling about, women and men in wellies and muck boots chatting, the occasional bleat of a panicked ewe in the field. In other words - a perfect Saturday morning.

That's Gracie in the top picture, a young border who was entered in the Novice trials this weekend. Gracie comes from the lines of Warren Mick's great dog Glen, and has some big paw prints to fill. Her handler was younger than me and seemed confident that Gracie would work her way up. I didn't see her run, but I did get to sit next to them while I watched the end of the novice novice (yes, two novices) class.

Sheepdog trials for beginners, like this one, are split into three sections. Novice Novice (inexperienced handlers and inexperienced dogs), Pro Novice (experienced handlers with inexperienced dogs), and Ranch (a mid-level course you need to place in before going into the big boy Open classes). This being a Novice Trial, people were patient, expectations low, and everyone was happy to be there. So was I. This was my second time visiting a trial, and my third time at a NEBCA event since the Merck Forest Trials. I wanted to be more active, learn what was going on behind the scenes. So I volunteered. Putting myself at the mercy of the officials.

Which landed me in the sheep pen. At the top of the field there's a series of pens that let three ewes out at a time. Each dog had 4 minutes to get the ewes from us penfolk (about 100 yards or so away) and bring them back to their shepherd. To be fair, every dog gets three fresh sheep and they are released by people in the pens. It was more complicated than it sounds. We had to make sure a lamb and a Mondale were in every trio. We had to keep an eye out for the bad sheep (with a red mark on them) and try to get them over to Tot (a younger male border collie bursting with power) to take out to the course. It didn't always go as planned. Some sheep figured out how to escape us and the dogs. Others were reluctant to even step out of the holding pens. Talk about being in the thick of it. My lungs have a coating of wool in them now.

I was up there for a while, getting pushed around by the sheep, hopping over fences, herding in my own way. When I messed up or did something stupid I was harshly corrected but for my own good. Mostly I was told to slow down, that I needed to be calm around the sheep because it was unfair to send them rattled to a new sheepdog. After a while I caught onto the vibe and routine and when people realized I wasn't going to ruin everything they stopped correcting me and started giving me pointers, explaining things, pointing out why one sheep was panting so much or why that dog wasn't doing something right. I learned a lot. The sheep around my legs seemed dissonant, which was fine by me. I didn't get butted once.

Every once in a while when things were in some sort of order in the pen, I'd jump out and walk to the clearing in the Hickory trees to watch the dogs herd the course. I'd watch them lope out into the fields on their initial outrun. I'd watch them pick up the sheep in what the trialers called the lift. And then bring them back to their handler, in the term most of us already know - fetch. It sounds simple - outrun, lift, fetch - but it wasn't. It sounds boring, but it was far from it. Standing on a hill, under the shade of broad leafed trees, watching a good dog work sheep, covered in mud and wool from the flock behind me... it was a proper feeling of dirty and happy. I didn't even notice the humidity.

After my pen time was over, I checked on my own dogs, and made sure they were okay. We got fresh water, and a short walk in before I went back up the hill to watch the next class (Ranch). The rest of the afternoon was spent spectating and talking about club duties. I offered to help with the newsletter and this year's calendar. I got business cards and met some new people. Handlers gave me hints about upcoming litters and told me what they would do if they could do it all over.(Mostly everyone said get a started dog, a multi thousand dollar investment I can't make but they were earnest in their opinions.) All in all it was a fine day. I drove home tired and happy.

The rest of the afternoon was spent on my own farm chores. Relining the coop with fresh bedding straw, moving the sheep out to new pasture, cleaning rabbit cages, and baking an apple cake. By sunset I was barely still on my feet. When I went out to bring the sheep in for the night, I gabbed the livestock cane my friend Diana mailed me as a gift. I now know why people without bum knees or week legs bring these canes into the fields at sunset. They are so tired by the end of the day they need something to keep them standing up. I rested my palms on it and called Marvin, Sal, and Maude in for some grain and minerals. They trotted past me into the pen, they seemed happy and healthy so far. It's own reward to a new shepherdess. I walked back to the house ready for bed. It was a grand day at Cold Antler Farm.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


I was on my way to the sheepdog trials when I realized one resident of Sandgate didn't want me to leave. When I turned the sharp corner by the town sign, this young angus steer was just hanging out in the road, minding his own business. I slammed on the breaks. (Even in the country you don't expect livestock to play stop sign.) Annie and Jazz were thrilled that I stopped for burgers, and almost trampled me in the front seat to get a better look. The steer however was unaffected. He just stared at us chewing something from a spare stomach. After a few moments I slowly drove around him (like he was going to move) and headed down to the Wayside for some coffee. Which I now needed, more than ever.

While I was in the country store pouring some, I told the guys sitting at the back table there was a stray black calf up the road. I think it livened up the morning conversation. Because they happily debated who's it was (possibly even one of the guys present.) It was getting interesting, but I couldn't stay. I took my coffee to go and left for the trials, which within minutes of my arrival had me thigh-deep in a sheep pen sorting thirty-odd surely (and horned, might I add) Scottish Blackfaces. Which is what you get when you volunteer to help at a Border Collie party. I had a blast. More later.