Friday, October 10, 2008

losing my cool

It is a drop dead gorgeous fall day here in Vermont. A sunny warm day in the mid sixties with a cool breeze warning us all to pack a wool sweater in the car if our adventuring keeps us out past dark. Tonight Sara and Sara will arrive at the cabin to a warm fire, a glass of mead or wine, and some fresh bread from the oven. I am hoping to make the night as comfortable as possible for them because tomorrow morning I am getting their butts up early as sin to drive over the sheepdog trials. Jazz and Annie are coming too, and the five of us should make for a heck of a road trip. Results are already posted for some of the runs happening right now, with Warren Mick in the lead with his dog Jinty.

I am falling hard for this shepherding life. I am starting to match faces with names and some of the breeders and trainers at these events even know my name. I took on duties as the newsletter designer and my first edition comes out in the winter, which I'm excited about. I'm just pumped to participate in anyway I can. Which might be lame to a lot of my peers. I am well aware the average 26-year-old isn't thriled to raise sheep and stay up late watching the entire Ken Burn's Civil War series on DVD (by the way, every October I watch the whole thing and love the hell out of it). But I am, and I'm perfectly fine with losing the cool my designer life once slung at me. But hey, I sleep better.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

rams, lambs, and collies

If I can find a willing shepherd, I want to borrow a ram and have him shack up here for a few weeks. The hope is he and Maude will get it on and come April there will be a lambs born for the first time ever at Cold Antler Farm. So far I've only been able to find people with rams for sale, but I'm not looking for any long-term loving here. I'm hoping a local sheep person will want to make an extra fifty bucks. Now, as I am writing you this, I am looking at a little yellow book the UVM Extension teacher gave us after out first sheep class. It says Lambing Guide, and has a Suffolk Lamb on the cover. There is an empty area to write the year of lambing, and the instant I was handing the book I remember almost instinctfully wanting to write "2009" since it seemed realistic to me. I didn't realize that was now a gestation period away... So maybe these future lamb(s) will be fate? We'll see.

If I can't arrange for those "services" I might just wait till spring and buy one of my herding instructors Scottish Blackface lambs. Which is a breed I really like and am leaning towards for my future operations. They are a great duel purpose breed and small enough to manage in larger numbers. So options are out there, just really hoping to try my hand at a small lambing project come spring. If any of you out there know of a third option that a normal person could afford (artificial insemination is out folks, crikey. Let me know.)

Besides sheep pimping, there are other big things happening this weekend and oddly enough it includes three Saras. My friend Sara and her co-worker friend (also named Sara) are driving up from Philadelphia for a weekend on the farm. I told them Saturday morning we'll be getting up crazy early to drive to the Fall Foliage Sheepdog Championships in NY, but they just insisted on coffee (Now those are women I can deal with.) So up they will come, and they even offered to help trim hooves Sunday. At said trial, the border collie Sara, whom I blogged about a few weeks ago, might be there to meet me. She's a started sheepdog up for sale from the same kennel that hosted the Wooly Winds Novice Trials. Now, don't worry skeptics, I am not coming home with a border collie. But getting a chance to see a possibility, be outside in peak fall color at a sheepdog trial with friends, and drink lots of coffee has me so excited for this weekend it's ridiculous. It's good to know at 26 you can still sometimes feel like you're still six the day before your birthday party. Real good.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

a good way to spend a rainy weekend

Frontier House

I’m going to make a recommendation, and if you have a library card you can make it happen this weekend. Now, I’m not a huge fan of Reality Television but PBS did something above and beyond.

In 2001, 5,000 families applied to go back in time to 1863. Three were chosen. A young couple from Boston, a rich family from Malibu, and a scrappy family from outside Nashville. For five months of their lives they would live as the original pioneers and homesteaders in the wilderness of Montana. PBS called it “The Frontier House Project” and the rules were simple:Give up everything from the 21st century and live as authentically as possible for five months to prepare for a Montana Winter.

They would have access to a small general store ten miles away to buy supplies. But besides that they would have to live off of their gardens, animals, and short order supplies. The project wanted to see if modern day families could deal with it. It’s an amazing summer to witness. The entire project is only six hour-long episodes. Starting with their lives in their respected modern cities and following them to a pioneer training school. With historians and experts on site they learn everything from making furniture to cast iron cooking to basic horsemanship. It’s kinda cute watching a Southern California debutant bake her first ever loaf of woodstove bread with a smile, but then start crying when they tell her she can’t wear eyeliner.

Soon they take off on a small wagon train that will lead them to an Indian reservation removed from any modern roads or power lines. Only one family has a cabin to move into, the others have to build them from what they can find around. So imagine being dropped in the wilderness, and living in a tent until you cut down enough trees to build a house only to move into the house to try to feed yourself for four more months. But they do, and they learn more about themeslves, their values, and their families than you could imagine.

Anyway, go pick it up from your library and watch it. I promise by the end of the first episode you'll be hooked.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

graceful decline

Last night was a killing frost. When I went out this morning to feed the sheep and let the birds out of there coop there was a coating of ice on the water troughs, and the sunflowers seemed caked in white ice. The chilly night put the final nail in the garden's coffin. Which is fine. The garden has long since been chalked up as a loss. By mid August whatever wasn't eaten was froze or put up. I don't have enough food stored to last me a winter (but I doubt my stir-fry skillet will ever want for anything.) When the last sweet corn had been picked and the only things left to grow out were the green pumpkins sunning themselves in afternoon light, I propped up my hoe, slapped my hands together, and let the garden fall into a graceful decline. No more weeding. No more fuss. That's how we roll.

Now those green pumpkins are bright orange and stacked on the hay bales on the porch. I won't bother with them till closer to Hallows' when they'll be carved for the Holiday. The fact that I am carving pumpkins I planted from seed is a big deal to me. October is my favorite month, and pumpkins are one of it's best avatars. Last year my pumpkins in Idaho failed miserably and it crushed me, but this year we're back with vengeance!

I was only able to grow two carving pumpkins (on the smaller side, but gamely clinging to acceptable size) and an armful of smaller pie pumpkins. So it's not like the cards are stacked, but I am hoping to empty out three or so this weekend and make a pie or pumpkin bread for my guests. And if they are unfit as carvers, the sheep will be beside themselves with joy if they get a snack of gourds out in the north field.

Monday, October 6, 2008

sore arms = warm nights

My right arm is killing me. I woke up with a stinging ache, and now know what two hours of constant sawing can do to a girl. Yesterday I used a small bowsaw (a gift from my father, thank you) to start hacking up the hundreds of fallen birches and sugar maples all over the woods on the farm. I wanted them for firewood to help warm up the cabin on chilly nights. With cheap quick-burning pine costing seven dollars an armful at the local gas station. I think the two hours of hard work was worth it. Outside on the porch is four giant armloads of heavy, long burning logs from the downed trees. The fireplace will be happy till next weekend when I stock up again.

So sore arms aside, the weekend went well. Yesterday I spent the whole day at the farm. From waking up to a breakfast of potatoes and eggs with Vermont cheddar cheese (and coffee), to ending it with a long well earned fire and my weekly Sunday night fiddle Lessons. To start a day eating food you grew yourself, and end it with old music is a perfect combination.

I spent the long day doing nothing in particular. I took the dogs on a lazy three-mile walk along our winding Sandgatian roads and then came home to bake and do livestock chores. I made a small round loaf for lunch and washed it down with cold cider. When I wasn't sawing I spent the majority of the afternoon reading a book of New England ghost stories in the hammock, bundled up in blankets. It's not really cold here, but in the shade up in our hollow it's about 45 degrees at the warmest part of the day. So yes, blankets make all the difference.

Having a day to work, care for animals, read, bake, and play music with fiddle students is bliss. If I could someday manage it, I would love to open a center for Appalachian arts. A place where you can apprentice in everything from dulcimer 101 to hand dying wool. It would be an open farm for intro weekends to livestock care (How amazing would it be to take a weekend farm vacation focused on learning to raise chickens and going home with some pullets and and a coop in your back seat!) Writing about this stuff is one thing, but helping other people do it themselves is by far the more rewarding part. I bet with the help of some border collies and luck, it could happen. I need to calm down with all these big plans huh?

Here at Cold Antler, the sheep, poultry, and rabbits (including the four new bunnies) all seem to be doing well. I have already decided that this coming weekend Sara and her friend are going to help me flip the sheep and trim hooves. And Saturday is the big Fall Foliage Sheepdog Trial in Cooperstown New York (who cares about baseball when there's a sheepdog trial going down!) If any of you are in the area, stop in and watch those dogs work and say hi to the girl running around volunteering in the floppy hat.

P.S. I recently found out i can not, under any circumstances give anyone an ARC for a donation. If you sent a donation, email me back and I will work something out with you or refund you shortly. I am sorry, I didn't know.