Friday, September 26, 2008

a rainy weekend

It's going to pour all weekend. Usually, that's a good thing. I am a big fan of rainy Saturday mornings. I get to get up and face the wet and cold and then after all the animals are fed and I'm back inside and all is right in the world, I don't have to rush to work. I can relax. I can cook a breakfast of champions, light a fire in the living room, and curl up with the dogs to read or watch a movie. It's the best.

But this weekend, rainy Saturday mornings aren't a good thing because my parents are driving up from Pennsylvania to visit for an official Vermont Fall Weekend. We had all these plans to go to a hayride and bonfire at Adam's Farm, see the countryside foliage, walk downtown Manchester, you know the works. My mom was even excited to meet the sheep and get pulled around the woods at night by a tractor (if you knew my mom, that's a big deal.) But it's going to pour like the dickens. And I'm scrambling to figure out what to do with them besides feed them in restaurants.

This morning, before the rain came, I let the sheep out into their pasture to chomp on the sweet green stuff a little. They have my routine and body language down now. They know what walking certain ways means, or what "home for grains!" means. They answer when I yell out from the porch "Hey Sheps! You Still livin!" and I hear back a chorus of "BAAAAss BAAA baaa BBAAA!" Which kills me every time and I crack up. We're easily amused around here. You guys have a good weekend, stay dry.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

the long view

The road to Vermont was a long one. And none of it happened on purpose. A lot of my addresses and jobs have all fallen into place by luck, or chance, or a random job search online with resumes emailed on whims. But for those of you interested, here is the abridged version of the last few years. And how a Pennsylvanian college grad ended up on six rented acres in Vermont with her current menagerie.

I went to college for design, and that's what I still do today as my day job. I don't think it's a secret that I'm not exactly rich. Like most Americans, I live paycheck to paycheck and try to budget a life around bills and college loans. I save what I can, but I'm not about to buy a house or a new car anytime soon. So I am (and probably will be for quite some time) a 9-5 working middle class American. Which I assume most of you are too. We definitely have that in common.

In 2005, I graduated from Kutztown University, a small state school in southeastern Pennsylvania. I spent four years studying graphic design, antiquing with close friends, taking trips to New York to putz around Chelsea galleries, and spent too many late nights in diners talking about our 'big plans'. I loved college. And it was a bittersweet time for me, full of saturated memories and friends I am still in touch with today. However, when graduation came I knew everything would change. My friends were splattered all over the country in random design jobs. I thought I'd end up where many of them did, in Philadelphia, DC, New York, or possibly even around my homeland of Carbon County (my favorite town in America, Jim Thorpe, is in said county) But what happened instead was I got an email from They wanted to hire me as a web designer for them down in Knoxville.

Holy crap. Tennessee.

I knew nothing about Tennessee. I had never been to the South. I only had the worst Yankee-imposed stereotypes about it. But what did I have to lose? I didn't have a boyfriend. My family was supportive. The job was great. So I did it. I moved 800 miles south to the smoky mountains. It was the greatest decision I ever made.

Tennessee was nearly two years of falling in love. I scrambled over wet mossy streams and smashed mountains. I learned to play the dulcimer. I adopted my two beautiful dogs from Tennessee Sleddog Rescue. I made amazing friends who worked in letterpress shops or hiked barefoot through the hills. I drove on beaten old southern roads to amazing places like Hot Springs NC, Asheville, and the like. I learned to love my city neighborhood, and escaped every weekend to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I loved, loved that I resided in a place where you could by a plasma tv screen and be eaten by a bear in the same hour. I fell hard for the food, the music, the whole damn romatic state. Tennessee has become a magical place in my heart. A place I miss horribly. I blogged about Tennessee fervently, on a site much like this called Dogcoffin (named after a little wooden box I found on the side of the road in PA that I took with me to Tennessee). That blog is now a private blog for friends and family. But sometimes long-time readers will mention Dogcoffin here, and that's what they are referring too. Mystery solved.

But by my second Autumn in Knoxville I was barking for a real fall. I loved the southern mountains so much, but missed crisp hooded sweatshirt mornings and 30-degree October nights of PA. When I went home for my sisters wedding in the fall of 2007, I visited a small family farm I grew up going to every Halloween. Being on a hayride in the personal correctness of a North East got my restless self stirring again. So when a job was posted online for a web designer in Sandpoint Idaho, my mind bugged me till I applied. Within days of clicking 'send' on my resume, I was setting up an interview in the small mountain town in Northern Idaho. I got the job. Packed up my Urban life and moved into a retired cattle farm off Highway 95. And that, is how all this farm business got started.

In Sandpoint, at that new job (designing emails for Coldwater Creek) I came to meet a women named Diana who was a part time farmer. She had a day job but also had a small herd of cattle, laying hens up the wazoo, and her husband made his own homebrewed wines. They became mentors and friends, and with Diana's help I was able to get my own chickens, rabbits, hive of bees and so on. My year in Idaho learning to farm is what the book is about. Basically a year of learning about the good (and bad) things the simple life teaches. It mentions Tennessee and Kutztown in some respects, but largely Made From Scratch is about that magical year in the Rocky Mountains. I miss Idaho often. Mostly because of the people. I didn't fall in love with the wilderness of the west like I did with the mountains of the south, but the people and friends I made in that little town on a big lake are so sorely missed it could crack a rib. I bet if you x-rayed me you'd see a little Gem-State-Shaped scar.

So one state left me jonesing for it's landscape, another one left me pining for it's people. Life is mean like that. Sometimes happiness is dissected around the whole world, in people or memories thousands of miles away all at the same time. A beautiful horrible thing to know.

I left Idaho because of job security. There was none. The company I worked for had downsized, a lot, and in a scared and worried attempt to find stability I found a new job in Southern Vermont. I still do the same thing, design for the web. I aslo still do everything I did on the Idaho farmstead (and more!) I've grown more confident in my abilities in gardening and animal husbandry and expanded my chicken-and-kitchen farm to a full blown poultry and shepherd-in-training life here in the Green Mountains. And That pretty much catches you up to this blog.

The story from here will hopefully include the struggle to change careers, to learn to herd with a working dog, to somehow buy my own land and start my own farm business. The long view is to be self-employed and work my ass off to become a full-time shepherd (here in VT or back in Carbon County with my family.) If I'm lucky a man and some kids will trickle into my life in the decade ahead. If I'm really lucky, a man, some kids, and some open trialing border collies. I don't want to be rich. I don't want to be famous. I don't want to want anything all that fancy. I just want to wake up, feed the sheep, send my dog away to them, and come inside and write to you. The one thing I really want to accomplish besides my farm is publish a novel I've been woriking on for over three years, and if the world lets me do this, I will be beside myself with gratitude.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

come in, sit down

So I've been writing about my farm for quite some time. And since I started this site I've come to meet a lot of fine people along the way. People from all over the world who take part in all the little triumphs (and troubles) at Cold Antler. I want you to know I really appreciate that. To say something on my little electronic soapbox and get a reply from the ether is a good feeling. Readers are what turn this blog into a community, and not a self-absorbed newspaper. Thank you. I think you're neat.

Now I want to ask you a favor. If you read my blog regularly, please respond to this post with a comment about yourself. Tell me where you're from, what you do, and what your favorite book is. Let me know if farming is also a future dream of yours? What would you like me to write more about? Is there anything I can explain better? The more I know about the people reading up on me, the better I can write stuff you'll be interested in taking time out of your busy lives to read.

But beyond content and criticism, I'd just really appreciate getting to know more of you, as you've all come to know me. So please come in, sit down, and say hello.

Monday, September 22, 2008

vermont's got mad culture

the big city, the bigger picnic table

Boston was great. It was a 24-hour breakneck tour of downtown. I was in the city for a book signing with the New England Independent Booksellers annual trade show. But I used the event as an excuse to tour the bay state's finest town. I got to walk around Harvard yard, enjoy a Guinness in a smarty-pants bar, and take part in the joys of mass transit.

I was with my friend Erin, who I was my college roommate just a few years ago, and now designs for Reebok, and therefore walks around the city in fancy sneakers. And I was grateful for those fancy sneakers because my much slower chacos followed her around in an awestruck daze. I had forgotten how much I can love cities. The people, and the food, the buildings and sidewalk culture, the fact there was someone playing a Chinese Erhu in the subway – all testament to the joys of an urban life. Part of me was jealous. But it was smaller than the part of me wondering how the sheep were fairing under their maple tree at the cabin. It was a weird feeling to have as a single 26-year-old in a place she should want to be.

Erin showed me around her whole town, from the reflecting pool at the Christian Science Center to Grendel’s Den in Cambridge. She also helped me drive through the city, and paid for my subway pass. She was a vision. I was really proud of her too, because just a few years ago she was sitting with my in a college diner, neither of us with big plans or clear direction. Now she’s working in that fancy city, traveling the world, designing logos for people I watch on DVDs. She’s done well. Thank you Erin.

The NEIBA book signing was a classy event in the Prudential building. There was great food, dark beers, and loads of people I should probably know and don't.(It was a heck of a show to someone who schlepped out of bed that same day to feed chickens.) It was also kinda exciting to go to sleep 23 floors above the back bay. You know, I don’t think a 23rd floor exists anywhere in the state of Vermont? So yeah, fancy.

After Boston was through and Erin helped me find my way back to route 90, I had to take a small detour. I always wanted to go to Salem, and the autumnal equinox seemed to be the perfect time to take a tour. So I visited the Witch Museum, and walked through the town green and perused classy shops. All around me were dogs and trees. Two things I love that Boston severely lacked. If you adore concrete and volume, you can’t beat that city. But if you need to hear someone bark, and know it’s okay to take off your shoes and walk around - Boston is not for you. I wondered how many people commuted to the city from Salem every day? It only took me about 45 minutes to pull up to the museum parking lot from downtown. If I worked in Boston, I think I’d have to. How could anyone live so close to a place with such history and magic about it and not live there? It was a problem I was glad not to have.

After two days on the road, navigating a metropolis, visiting museums, listening to audio dioramas and all that – I was grateful to drive home to Vermont. I did it with the music turned up, excited to be going home in the mountains. The ocean is a beautiful thing, but I am not an ocean person. I belong on cliffs and rivers, driving through swirling fog, rolling past loping deer behind birches, and my tires kicking up piles of yellow leaves. I wanted my dogs back, which I had dropped off in a kennel and would pick up on the way home.

When I was a kid, we’d drive to the Jersey shore for vacation and my parents told me when you saw sand along the side of the road you could get excited because we were close. Well, as I rolled through the Berkshires towards the green mountains and the license plates started to turn from white to green. I had that same feeling. I just wanted to return to my regular life.

And so I did. And I did it with a true Fall Equinox celebration much subtler than anything on the cobble streets of Salem. It happened on a red picnic table off route 9. At the southern end of Bennington there is a small restaurant called the Cider Mill House. I pulled in too late to enjoy a meal, but I bought some pumpkin coffee and a gallon of cider and then sat outside to watch the Saturday Sun set over the green mountains. The air was warm, even for late September. I kicked off my sandals and sat on the table, sipping the coffee, watching the farm across the street. I smelled dairy cows, not gasoline. I looked at mountains, not skyscrapers. With my world back in order, I happily drank the best thing in the free world and sighed a happy tired sigh. Since I was alone, and wouldn’t bother anyone, I got my fiddle out of the car and played a small concert for the view. To sit with pumpkin coffee, know my dogs were minutes away from my arms, and play old tunes to trees that will still be tapped for sugar long after I’m dead and gone is a very very good feeling.

I do not think I’ll be moving to Salem anytime soon.