Friday, November 14, 2008

warm wind

Warm wind on an unseasonably balmy night has a way of exciting and unsettling me at the same time. I can't put my finger on it but something has me very uncomfortable lately. It's not a bad thing. I think it's a mix of nerves about the book coming out and my own doubts about the farm. I think too much about things I can't anwser.

Tonight I spent a good chunk of time in the hammock. It's going to rain tomorrow so the world's all saturated here, about to burst. I was in a pair of light cotton pants and a hoodie and I was as comfortable as if it was August. Which is not a correct way to feel in mid November. But I was glad to have the company of weather as out of place as I felt. So I swayed out there thinking of nothing in particular and everything in general.

I'm grateful for this little farm. It gives me a sense of purpose in a world I'm not sure has one. Here at Cold Antler there are certainties no one can argue with. The animals and garden depend on me to care for them. Eggs need to be collected, drinking water hauled, food offered, wool sheared. You work hard and plant often and hope the sun and soil will carry the general burden and your back will shoulder the deficit. Or something like that. I am very new at this.

I do know that the more you build up a thing the more dissapointed you will be if it doesn't work out. I worry I make the farm too much of myself. I don't want this not working out to crush me. I don't want to be working in an office in ten years and hating myself for not getting my dream of a working farm as my livlihood. Which sometimes makes me wonder if I should be in a loft in Philadelphia and not in a cabin in Vermont. Maybe I should have stayed somewhere safer? Some place where the farm remains a far away dream and not something I am constantly crawling uphill for. I wish I had more faith in this thing. But I never had much faith, I always preferred hope. Which always gets me in horrid amounts of trouble.

I remember an old friend telling me that some people have faith and others have hope, and that difference was what seperated us. He was right. The whole world seems to be divided by people who have questions and those who have anwsers. A dangerous divide, probably the most dangerous.

But I figured something out. When I am at work at this farm my hope churns and writhes until it becomes faith. At some point durring the chores around here a transition takes place. It's as weird and uncomfortable as the weather is right now, but like the creepy wind outside it is ridiculously wonderful. the change happens when I am deep in the work of planting vegetables or fixing fences or working with Sarah and sheep - all my questions become a practice and not an idea. Worry becomes work. Things become clear. And all of a sudden the world falls into my version of order and I get my anwsers. Or something that I allow to pass for anwsers. It really doesn't matter.

I don't know how many people spend perfectly good Friday nights swaying above the world and questioning how hope evolves into faith given the right ratio of dirt and hooves and Octobers and thunderstorms in late July? I hope the number is just enough to keep things interesting, too many of us and nothing gets done except some novels and the occasional garden.

I really should get a TV. Christ.

mad sheep

I have a problem. My three sheep are wonderful animals, but I don't think I can keep them. See, the point of having the sheep is two fold. They are here to train me, and for me to train a dog on. I put all my eggs in one basket when I took on my flock. I just had to hope they'd let me learn animal husbandry and livestock handling, and let my future sheepdog train with them. guess what? My sheep hate dogs.

They aren't dog broke. Dog broke means they know how to move and act around a working sheepdog. But Sal, Marvin, and Maude aren't about to be herded. They stomp, charge and headbutt when Sarah is around. When I have tried to work her on the sheep they have either scattered in a panic or tried to stomp her down, which only didn't happen because I would smack them on the head with the training stick (lightly, don't go thinking I beat sheep now) But my admonishing didn't matter. They just won't stand for a dog in their pen.

And that was really driven home Tuesday morning when Marvin nearly killed Sarah. Sarah was with me in the pen around morning feeding time and Marvin charged her in a space so tight she barely avoided getting hurt. Had I not stepped in and broken up the encounter I think I might have a dead dog (Marvin never touched her, and Sarah didn't seem to mind dodging a large Wether, so at least she wasn't spooked). But I was angry at myself for letting that happen. My own stupid off-leash fear had her too close to me on a leather lead. Had I the sense to have a stock dog free to move as she needed off leash, this wouldn't have happened. But Sarah being too close during food time made them livid.

So that was it. I need to get sheep who know dogs aren't monsters. The usual anwser is to just add dog broke sheep to the mix, but I don't have the shed space or resources to keep adding to the flock. I need to replace them with sheep that can be worked. But that weighs heavy on me, because I don't just give-up on animals if there is any chance to mend the issue. But in this case it could get dangerous for me and Sarah if I don't exchange them. I'll have to talk to the farmer I got them from and see if she wants them back, or if she wants me to sell them to a spinner's flock. It just stinks for all of us. The best solution would be to get a great sheepdog in here far better trained (and more confident) than Sarah and have him "break" the sheep. But no handler will offer their dog to be possibly hurt just so I can herd in my backyard.

Most likely the sheep will stay this winter and in the spring I'll either have them sold as pets to a spinner, or make room for two more who are broke and Sarah can herd. But since the second option requires construction, money, and fences, I will mostly likely just trade them out and in the meantime kepp getting us to lessons with workable sheep. Man, this is my first laying hens all over again...

Photo of Maude by Sara Stell

Thursday, November 13, 2008

iron and wine



Music is the force that drives me. I am never without it. If I'm not listening to it, I'm making it. If I'm not making it, I wish I was. When I drive to work in the morning I depend on it to sing along with to keep me sane for the ten hours before I can get back in the car, roll down the windows, and sing again. When I sit in my little chair in the office, I never go more than an hour without headphones on. I am an addict. It's what keeps me going. I'm okay with that. Now, with that said...

Out of all the amazing musicians available to sample in this modern world I have one favorite - Iron and Wine. There are just a handful of albums out there, maybe five or so, but I doubt there's a song of his I don't know by heart. Those cds have been the soundtrack of my adult life. Starting with the summer of 2004 when I went to a small concert in Philadelphia. It was there I heard the Trapeze Swinger for the first time (hands down my favorite song of all time) and it was also the first time I ever cried alongside 500 strangers. The entire place was brought to tears by that one honest song. Makes me shake, that.

Since that day I've never gone anywhere without his music. Which in my case means most of this country. Those songs held my hand through Tennessee, plodded along the Smoky mountains I hummed tunes off the Sea and the Rhythm. I was listening to Passing Afternoon when I first drove cross country alone (which is in that video above), and came around a corner to see the Rocky Mountains for the first time. It was the wafting verses of Sodom South Georgia that were laughed through while I planted my first garden. Upward Over the Mountain is the song I sing with all I have to friends at campfires. I want to whisper Faded through the Winter to someone I love so much it hurts everytime I hear it. That is a song meant for whispering fast to lovers. Damnit.

I own many of Sam Beam's Albums on vinyl, because it feels better to hear it on a record player. Yes, you can still buy records from new artists for those old turntables. Dust them off and go buy The Creek Drank the Cradle right now.

Iron and Wine's songs are without time or consequences. They have no interest in being trendy, light, or reaching a wide audience. The lyrics are biting, raw and poetic - the emotion behind it rusted and naked. The music is an old front porch in rainy autumn, with pealing white paint and a candle in a mason jar. I can’t really explain it but the words of Resurrection Fern (the link below), could have been written a hundred years ago deep in the Carolina hollers, but are sang in clubs in Miami and Boston instead. The saws and slides, the simple guitar strumming, the almost annoying lack of fiddles...

I’m not saying you should like it. I’m not even saying you should listen to it. But I am asking you to buy it. If you like me give it a try, if you dislike me buy it anyway and break it with a short-handled ax for spite. I just want him to keep making music. It scoops me up. And I am a girl who desperately needs to be scooped up from time to time.

Also, I dig his beard.

listen to him

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

morning edition!

So I just got off the phone with NPR, they are running a story about turkeys for Thanksgiving on Morning Edition. I was asked to talk briefly about my adventures as a vegetarian turkey-raiser. If you get a chance, listen in that Thursday to hear your favorite farm gal flap her gums. ( I'm sure you can download it that same day online, if you're so inclined). I've been somewhat overwhelmed lately by work and general winter prep around here. But as things cool down my typing fingers will heat up. That's a promise. Stamp and seal it.

Sarah and her offleashness has been less stressful. I decided to pretend in my own mild way that incident didn't happen. I let her out offleash, but only 75% of the time and never at length like before. We'll work back up to it. And thanks for all the kind suggestions in the last post. I will be using them!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

chores and a runaway

Yesterday, when I got home from Sarah's herding lesson, it was a little after noon. We had stopped at Tractor Supply and Whitman's feed (both allow dogs, which I adore, since it gets Sarah around a lot of people). We loaded the haytruck with a giant 65-pound compressed strawbale, a mineral block for the sheep, and some chicken feed. A pretty anticlimatic end to our dances with ewes, oh well.

While the herdng lesson was the big event of the day, weekends are the time to take care of farm stuff I can't fit in durring the work week. So I spent most of the afternoon mending the fenceline for escape routes, laying down fresh straw in the sheep shed and coop, collecting eggs, hauling water to all the menagerie and saying hello to the farm gang. But the big chore was prepping the four angora bunnies for their new homes. They are 7-weeks old, fully weaned, and ready for a new place to live. I brought them in the cabin one at a time to shear off any dirty wool, tattoo their ears, and make sure everyone was sound and healthy. When they were set, I winded down the night writing pedigrees by hand and getting the rabbit's paperwork in order. In the morning a woman was driving to pick up a pair. A nice morale boost since it meant the farm would get in enough income to cover the week's groceries, laundromat run, and firewood. Sweet.

So okay, a pretty calm Saturday, sure. But Sunday we had a mini crisis. Sarah ran away.

She's never liked the car. When we go outside together she gives it a wide berth and hunkers away from it. Soon as she see's we're not going in it, she relaxes and stays by my side. But since I was unloading laundry baskets and groceries, I kept going back to that evil car, and she took off. She wasn't getting in that car.

She ran off into the woods which she didn't recognize, which confused her and took her nearly a half mile from the cabin. She ended up on the dirt road where my neighbor Ed nearly hit her, which scared the crap out of her and she ran up west road with the speed of a thousand angry comets. Now I didn't see this, it was all explained my neighbors who fortuately could point the direction she ran in. I ran after her scared, panicked, yelling her name. (Kind of made me wish her name was Stella) Finally, I looked up the hill across from the red barn and there she was, 100 yards or so away on a high crest, sitting, shaking. I grabbed a stick and yeller her name, trying to sound fun (even though I was shaking too. The idea I would lose this dog so soon after making her mine rattled my core) but she started down when she saw the stick and me. She came up to me, then rememberd "Hey, you're the one with the car" and might've ran off again had I not lunged and grabbed her by the collar.

I picked her up in my arms like a toddler, and walked over the bridge back home. My neighbors Dean and Nancy were coming out of their house with a collar and lead to loan me. I snapped the lead on Sarah's collar, and we chatted a little. The whole time we were by parked car in their driveway, and Sarah shook. I don't know much about Sarah's past, but I do know she spent much of her puppyhood captive in New York City. Her original owner had her in the country but when he broke his hip he left for Brooklyn to live with his daughter. So mabe she was nearly hit by cars there, or hated the noise, or tried to herd one and it knocked her down? I don't know. I do know I'm glad we're both in Vermont and not NYC.

I hope this doesn't happen again, it'll be a while till I build up the confidence to just have her offlead by my side again. Which is more me than her, but still. I can't lose her. She's too much to me already.

P.S> comic above by Marriedtothesea.com