Saturday, November 1, 2008

so i have a confession to make...

There's a border collie here, right here by my side as I type this. She's been here for a week and currently is laying on the floor beside Annie watching me type. I just recently told my family about her, and about the possibility she may stay. Her name is Sarah, and if you read this blog you've heard about her before. She's six months south of being two-years old, a spunky tri-color bitch with tick marks on her face and a tan patch over her right eye. She hails from international champion lines (her great grandfather was the famed Roy ISDS 200199 - owned by Aled Owen), and currently his progeny is here with me on a trial basis. I have two weeks to see if the little scrapper will work - both as a working sheepdog, and as a part of my canine family. So far Jazz and Annie have no qualms, and the first week has been smooth, but again, this is a try-out. I need to see if and how she works, in every sense.

We did some herding work with Marvin and Maude (Sal learned he could clear a 4-foot electric fence when Sarah was in the field...so he stays in their pen instead of joining in the training), but I am new at this shepherding bit and worry my novice handling will screw her pre-training up. Sometimes the sheep are a little too ballsy and stomp or try to headbutt (they haven't done this, just start advancing, head down, so I tap them on my head with the thin metal training stick (which weighs about 5 oz.) to stop them from scaring/injuring the dog.

One morning Sal looked like he was going to stomp her down (another reason he doesn't train with us) so I jumped in-between them and smacked Sal on the head with my open palm to save her. I couldn't have a dog I didn't even own get crushed or scared of sheep. I didn't hurt him (I don't think a baseball bat would bother Sal), just confuse him while Sarah slid away..My neighbor who just moved here full-time from New York City watched me from his porch project. Great... I thought. Now the neighborhood will think I beat animals. Another neighbor is upset about the turkey.... The last thing I want to do is explain tapping a wether on the head isn't cruelty to animals, but letting 140-pounds of hoof slam down a dog is.

Sarah's a started dog, meaning she was trained by a professional before I laid hands on her. So she comes to me knowing more about this sheep business than I do. Next weekend I have an hour long private herding lesson with her over in Greenfield (I bartered it for the turkey in the freezer), and if she does well, and has the gumption to make a decent stock dog she may stay. I really am on the fence about her, a third dog, even one as well trained as Sarah, is a commitent I'm not sure I can make.


So we'll see. Nothing is written in stone. She may go back to the trainer I got her from, specially if it's too much for me to handle. As much as I want a working sheepdog, I need to be realistic about my life and all the creatures in it...

-Tangent -
Okay, so just as I was typing this, I heard loud rustling outside. Really loud. I looked out the window and saw nothing. I went back to typing and then heard louder, closer rustling. I looked out the window and there was Sal. Standing in the glow of the porch light, chewing on the lawn. I rolled my eyes, slipped on some crocs, and grabbed the lantern on the way out the door. I stepped off the porch and saw all three sheep standing there, staring at me in the dark. Jeez.

I used to freak out when the sheep got loose, panic, run for the grain can to bribe them back with anxiety in my eyes. Those days are over. I am now break-out broken. I just walked out, mumbled a hello/curse at them, and then told the jerks to follow me. Which they did, in the glow of the lantern they trotted behind me in a nice single file line back to the pen where they knew I would give them grain and they would no longer have to settle for crappy frost-bitten grass. I penned them and came back inside. Sarah stayed in. I worried if I brought her out she's just scatter them into the woods, uncertain if Sal would feel deer-like and take off forever with his fence-hopping gusto. A young dog new to herding isn't a great help yet. Maybe someday.
-End Tangent-

So I don't know if I'll keep her. But I thought you guys should know. There's a wee bonnie girl here curled up on the kitchen floor. Her papers say half her lineage goes back to Scotland, Wales and England and the other half, ironically, to Pennsylvania. So we share a collective commonwealth. If this is fate maybe I'll marry a Scottish fellow and bring this full circle? (I'm 67% kidding) But regardless, the shepherd, for now, has her dog.

photo of Sarah's face by Sara Stell

Friday, October 31, 2008

the book is here!

Yesterday at work an email popped up in my inbox, and email I'd been waiting for for a very long time. The subject line just said, "It's Here!" and I saw the sender was my editor, Carleen, at Storey Publishing. Oh my goodness, the book was finally here. After over a year of waiting I would finally get a chance to hold in my hands the same little hardcover that will be in bookstores soon. Maryellen, a Storey employee who lives in a nearbye town, would bring it home with her so I could pick it up that very night. Holy crap. I was an author.

When I got home to the farm, I did all the normal chores but with a little extra music in my step. I was so excited. I doubt that night you'd find a giddier person moving straw into a sheep shed anywhere in the state of Vermont. When all the birds, bunnies, and sheep were set I loaded Jazz and Annie in the car and we headed for Shaftsbury. I felt they'd been with me every step of the way, from writing that book proposal in Idaho to finishing the last edits here in Vermont this summer. They should ride along to come pick it up.

On the way I stopped at the Wayside for some coffee, and talked with Nancy, who owns the store and had become a friend since I've moved to Sandgate. We chatted a little and the coffee was fresh, even at 7pm, which obliged me greatly. I took my joe on the road and headed into Maryellen's neighborhood.

I pulled up to a long red barn and a farmhourse that was over 150 years old. It was such a postcard picture. I walked into her home where a woodstove was puttering along, and her son Ben and Fiance Roy shook my hand and said hello. She handed my book over with a hug. I was in a bit of shock. It was a fine little book alright. A green cloth hardcover with a golden embossed honeybee on the front cover. The jacket flap was a nice matte finish, nothing glossy for me, thank you. I felt like I just finished a race. Two thoughts came to mind. The first was "Who the hell am I?" and the second was "Man, I hope people buy this book. I really want to pay off the station wagon."

WIth those thoughts reeling, I thanked Maryellen for her hospitality and good coffee, and drove home. I stopped back at wayside to show Nancy, because I was in that sort of mood, and then took it home. The sheep were still out in their little pasture, heckling me, as I pulled in (a sound Jazz and Annie's once perked ears has grown numb too.) I stuck the book outside the car window, yelling to the flock, "Hey! Look what your good-for-nothing- shepherd did!" which Maude bellowed back at me in the sheep equivelant to "shut up, bring us hay, it's friggin cold." WIth her proper admonishment throwing me back in line - I brought the dogs in, carried the gang some hay from the porch, and then came inside and lit a fire. I stayed up till midnight reading. Not my book, but a memoir about a man's journey through Scotland for the right border collie. When I finally did fall asleep, I did with a proper balance in place in my mind. Congrats on your little book, I thought to myself, but make sure in the morning you get a new bale from the garage and clean out the rabbit hutch in the morning. Literature and litter pans. A good balance.

Okay, that's all the shallow book posts for a while. I just wanted to share that little bit since so many of you have been with the blog long before the book was even a possibility. I have gotten a request about spinning, and another about gardening - posts I hope to write soon. I also want to tell you about a great pumpkin book, and tonight, Hallows, I'll carve my own pumpkins! Which I think I'm just as excited about as I was to get the book!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

book tour dates!

So there's a small book tour in the works. If you live in the New England area see if you can make it to one of these readings. Most of these events will include a ratty old hat, a dog, or a dulcimer... possibly all three (lambs not included.) So set your Tivo for your stories and spend a Friday night or Saturday afternoon with your buddy Jenna. You can read about the Stuyvesant store visit here

Northshire Books in Manchester Vermont
Friday, Jan 9 at 7 PM

Market Block Books in Troy, NY
Saturday, Jan 24th 11 AM

Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, NY
Saturday, Jan 24th 1 PM

anya would be so scared

I have four kits ready for their new homes. If you live around Vermont, and always wanted your own fiber animal to spin or knit with, I have four gorgeous bunnies in need of new homes right in time for the holidays (cough gifts cough). They come ARBA pedigreed, tattoo identified, and from champion lines if you're into showing your livestock. Email me if you're interested. They can be picked up here at Cold Antler in about two weeks. Payments are needed in advance to hold your animal.

hello winter

I woke up yesterday morning to a few inches of fresh snow. I took a shot of the chicken coop and the bunny hutch, you can see the little kits' eyes peeping through the hutch's den. I've never lived in a place where winter beat Halloween to the punch. But Vermont sees to have that down. This morning snow is still on the ground. The sheep have little iced-dreadlocks around their faces. The dogs are beside themselves with joy. I think snow brings out the soul of a Siberian huskie. Jazz and Annie hold their heads higher when I bundle up. This morning in the dark of our morning walk we broke out into a run when we hit our lane and that sense of silent cold running came back to me. The way it feels to run dogs at night. Soon enough snow will fall to coat the roads and my little team will harness up our dogsled. We'll meet with my neighbors team of siberians and we'll rip up these Sandgate roads. Soon Enough.

Also, I'm sorry but I won't be writing about the turkey here anymore. It opened a huge can of worms with my family. I know this is a homesteading blog but I'm not going to keep talking about things that constantly upset my loved ones. I just know when lambs go to the butcher in a few years it'll be a lot worse! Writing about the processing won't help that. Perhaps in the next book (knocking on nearby wood as I type this)I'll tell you about that morning, and blackie the pet calf who was by my side.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Well folks, the turkey is in the freezer

Yesterday morning I drove him to be processed and oversaw the whole event from start to finish. I'm glad to say that it all went quickly and painlessly, and was done outside at a neighbor's farm so there was never any scary-indoors time or extra stress put on the bird. Now all 26-remaining pounds are fillling up my freezer and we'll have a humanely-raised natural bird for the table come Thanksgiving. I'll write more about it later, right now I am getting over (or through?) a sinus cold and trying to take the day as easy as possible. But after a few hours of sleep, and copius amounts of orange juice, I'll tell you the whole story.