Monday, December 15, 2008

CAF hearts Texas

Got an email from a reader, Kerrie, in Texas. She sent me a picture of her copy of the book on the back bumper of her old farm truck. I think I grinned at the laptop screen for a good three minutes after opening her message. It just blows my mind that people in Texas are reading about this little homestead and checking in on me. Thanks for reading Texas, and shucks Kerrie.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

coyote considerations

I shot out of bed this morning to a sound I haven't heard since last winter in Idaho. It was that loud cackle yip of a pack of coyotes. They were close.

Now, had I heard this in Idaho, I would've smiled, rolled over, and went back to sleep. I like these wild sounds, and I like that they're here trotting through the leafless woods, tounges lolling as they pad uphill. But back in Idaho I had nothing the yotes could hurt. The hens were locked up and literaly right outside my bedroom window in a pen up against my siding. They were safe as houses. But here there are sheep vulnerably far from the abode, and my birds' coop was no match for a clever coyote that really wanted to break in. I had to go check it out.

So in the moonlight, not sure what time it was exactly (maybe 5AM?). I went into full wardobe. Parka, boots, wool scarf and hat. Jazz and Annie watched me confused and tired from the bedroom. The coyotes were still carrying on. I grabbed my shepherd's crook and lantern and walked out into the night to the sound of the feral chorus.

Three years ago I graduated from design school, moved to a city to work for a television network, and spent Sunday mornings watching TV and eating sugared cereal out of a salad bowl. The night before I would've been out to the movies, or had sushi at Nama downtown or Indian food with Leif on the strip. I woud still be high from the galleries I saw on First Fridays, and all revved up to design some new posters for bands that didn't ask me for them...But last night I spent a few hours playing bluegrass and old time tunes with some friends in Cambridge next to a woodstove, and I woke up before first light to the braying of wild dogs ready to rip the throats of animals I have become surprisingly protective of.

Oh, how things have changed.

I stood outside between the coop and sheep pen, staring into the woods as the coyotes got louder. It was cold. Even with my layers of gear on, I was cold. I stood there for maybe half an hour, looking through the birches and sugar maples uphill around the hollow. I then stupidly realized the coyotes could be anywhere, and it was these echoing chasms all around the farm that were fooling me into thinking they were north of us. But I trusted the sheep, who were all looking the same way I was.

I banged the crook against the metal roof of the coop, and yelled to the yotes to go away. I turned on the heating lamps for the birds, making it clear human activity was going on. The sheep, like kids watching a car wreck behind a schoolyard fence, were lined up and tense. I decided to stay up with them till the coyotes took off. It seemed like the right thing to do. It's what I'd want if I were a sheep.

And so I stayed outside. I hauled hay and grain, refilled water, chucked three frozen eggs I forgot to collect in time into the compost bin (they were cracked open, useless) and went about all the morning chores till the sounds of howls and yips were replaced by roosters crowing to welcome the blue sunrise that us Vermonter's see in December. When all was safe and sound, I went back into the house to start some loaves of bread and tend to the dogs. No animals at Cold Antler would be coyote doo doo tonight. With that happy I thought, I went inside to bake.

I do miss the city sometimes. Who wouldn't? Specially when you can't feel your fingers as monsters scream at you from the abyss. But I'm here, and falling in love with the whole thing. I'll trade woodstove-bluegrass and the occasional monsters for car alarms, tv, and sugar ceral anyday. Hell, I'll learn to make my own sushi and rava idli.

I'll play it by ear. It's what I'm best at. I think that'll do.

Friday, December 12, 2008

monsters and full moons

I heard an awful sound tonight. Something like a cross between a human moan, a dog's howl, and a dying antelope being dragged through the parking lot of a Best Buy. It was a long, draw-out, wail that bounced off the hollow all around the farm and frankly, it scared the hell out of me. It actually spooked me enough to drop the lantern when I was out feeding the sheep. I was in the middle of bitching about a design slump I've fallen into (yes, I talk to the sheep, don't judge), when I spun around at the horrid sound.

Dear lord. It was coming from the farm.

When I pulled myself together, I located the noise. It was coming from near the coop. It's dark here in the middle of the woods, but with the growing moonlight and stars above, I was casting a shadow on the snow. I could see everything around me clear as day, and there wasn't any stray dog around, neighbors outside, or people in the drive. What?

The howl came again, twice as loud as before. Now I was a little freaked out, and it was definately coming from the chicken coop... but this was no chicken.

I creeped up. (This looks especially ridiculous when said creeper is wearing a giant red parka and a hat with ear flaps and sheep are peering out from behind her, chewing hay loudly whiles he whisper-yells back at them to "quiet down, because I mean busniness here!") I peered into the coop and saw no beasties. Just Winthrop, the Light Brahma rooster. He stood among his throngs, craned back his neck, and then...


Yes friends, I think I have a wererooster. It looks like a mere chicken, but during the full moon he turns into hybrid of sorts. Some monster of the night that sounds like a horror-trailer backdrop. No joke. If come morning there is nothing but Winthrop and a pile of bones and feathers, we know what's up. So you heard it here first. WereRoosters. Keep the kids in after dark, I'm not making any promises about the safety of stray cats. It's a crapshoot out there fluffy.

Anyway, I hope wherever you are, you look outside and up tonight or tomorrow. This moon you and I share is at it's brightest and closest to our little planet it'll be for the next 52 years. So darling, please look up. We only get these things for an instant.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

dusting off the dog sled

So they are calling for a real storm to hit Vermont today and into tonight, meaning by the time I get home from work (fingers crossed) there will be a few inches of fresh snow on our dirt roads...You know what that means people? The dog sled is coming out! The first storm of the season is a big deal for the dogs and I. We get excited for it. giddy for it, we can't get over it. And tonight I'll do the usual pre-first-run ritual: Hot coffee, dark chocolate, and a good movie set aside for when we come in from a few miles on the Sandgate roads. We'll shake off our coats, serve up some hot caffeine, and then collapse in a pile on the couch in front of the roaring fire. I need to pick up some new batteries for the lantern so snowmobiles don't confuse us for a pack of wolves on the lam. But folks, I can not wait to be holding that brushbow. This is torture being in an office right now...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

here is your early christmas present.

Since I can't actually give you fine readers something to touch, I'll offer an experience we can share. It's easy. All you need to do is get in your car on a snowy night, and follow these instructions. Now, these three parts are the key to this working. You need to be driving. It needs to be dark. And you need snow. If you live in Arizona, or don't drive in bad weather, I am sorry but there are no possible exceptions or exchanges in this scenario. I will try to be more inclusive next year.

Now, what you need to do is when you're in your car, and moving forward through the dark, driving, snow - pop in Radiohead's Ok Computer and listen to Let Down. It's the closest thing to magic I can share. Promise.

The only possible daytime snow driving song is the Flaming Lips, Do you realize. This is also wonderful, but not as good.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

chomp chomp

mornings like these

Woke up to a bed of fur and teeth - which sounds kinky, but I just live with Siberian huskies. I love waking up in this super-warm pile of wolves and quilts. Jazz and Annie sleep like the dead, generating heat and sighing heavy all night. When they dream they curl their lips and wimper or growl at their nightmares. So I'm used to this morpheous pile of fangy sleep that occasionally wakes me up with a paw in the face or a growl in my ear. Regardless, I like it.

Outside there's a fresh light coating of snow, and the weather report says an inch or two is on the way. On a Sunday morning, this is poetry to me. Mornings like these are why I live like this. To walk outside into the snow, with hay in my arms and to the morning bleats of the sheep, is nice. It's just plain nice. Today I'm baking bread, lighting the fireplace, and making new straw beds for the animals. When the flock's fed and chewing their cud on clean warm straw - it feels good. I love taking care of them. It even feels good enough to justify indulging in some overly-caloric pepermint mocha coffee back in the cabin. Or that's what I'm telling myself. Don't judge.

The chickens and geese aren't as aloof about the snow as the sheep. They walk out into it when it first comes, and then their little dinosaur feet get cold and awkward and they go back into their large coop. In there is fresh straw, water, and feed. I don't blame them. Dinosaurs and snow do not mix.

Right now, the farm is quiet save for the four roosters- Rufus Wainright, Chuck Klosterman, Sussex and Winthrop - who are crowing from the coop. Or they were until the great horned owl started to call and then they shut up. Chickens are made instantly quiet by birds of prey. I'm not worried.

Last night I was in the Northshire bookstore in Manchester. I picked up a pamphlet of the Indiebound Next List. I knew I was in it this month, but standing in a bookstore reading about your own book was a sureal moment. I picked it up as an emotional souviner and shoved it into my magazine. I was holding the new issue of BUST with Jenny Lewis on the cover (if you're not familiar with her, think Neko Case light for indie kids who are still too scared of liking anything quasi-country. I like Rilo Kiley though, and It's a Hit, still makes me smile whenever I hear it). Anyway, I finally read in all it's glossy glory, the review their editor, Debbie Stoller wrote about my little book. Here's the quote that made my weeked.

"Maybe you can stitch together a skirt. Perhaps you prefer to shop vintage. You might even manage to grow some of your own food. But whatever it is you do, Jenna Woginrich can kick your earth-friendly, DIY, recycling ass."

Thank you Debbie. And now I'm going to make an unforgivably large pot of coffee and spend the day working on some design freelance. I have the NEBCA newsletter to finish today. Which is bittersweet since I don't have a border collie anymore and just found out from my landlord I never can. Two dogs is the limit at the cabin. Oh well, what can I do? And now I have something to bite the bit on for the future right? This demands I keep moving forward with it all. I also have some fun goat logos to whip up for one of you fine readers. My day is packed. The snow is falling. Jazz is already back to sleep. Life rolls.

I also think a farm breakfast is in order before I fire up the mac, and right now quiche has my ears perked. Or maybe pancakes? This is a good problem to have, and I'll eat them with gusto. Have a great Sunday folks.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

let's be honest

The real reason to bake your own bread and raise chickens is to eat French toast. Amazing, fall-down-the-stairs-good French toast.

I am a fan of this breakfast food, more than most. I've eaten it everywhere from Idaho pancake houses to the Empire Diner in Chelsea... and over the years I have become a bit of a conisuer. However, the first time I bit into that thickly-sliced homemade bread battered in real milk and fresh farm it was a whole new pantheon of yummy. If I was a Scientologist, I'd be up a few new levels. You know, like the ones where they tell you about volcanos and aliens. (No offense to any of you farming Scientologists out there.)

I have no recipe. I pretty much just pour some milk (about 3/4 a cup), an egg, add some cinnamon and a pinch of vanila flavoring in a bowl and whisk it up till it's a yellow delight. Then I battter the sides of a thick slice of bread and go to town in my trusty skillet. I always fry them in real butter in cast iron, and serve it in a smaller cast iron pan for kicks. I pour real maple syrup and powdered sugar on top. I urge you, fine readers, to do the same.

I can't eat it every morning (or I'd be dead) but when I do indulge in simple pleasures like theses I really dig it. It's a hell of a way to start your weekend, and it's something small to look forwad to. Let's be hoenst, who doesn't need soemthing to look forward to on a Tuesday morning? So this week, get some farm fresh eggs and a small cast iron skillet, bake some of your own bread this Friday night and get pumped - because Saturday morning you get to hear about aliens, son.

P.S. Thank you all for your emails, comments, and kind words about Sarah. It really helped me out, and I'm fine. It was just a sorry weekend, but I'll be back on my feet with a new pup sometime in the future, and you'll hear all about it here. Maybe I'll even run into some of you out at a sheepdog trial next spring. Stranger things have happened.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

three bags full

Well, there are three individuals who are thrilled the sheepdog is gone and their names are Sal, Marvin, and Maude. With Sarah no longer here they have just lucked out. Since there isn't a dog-in-training on the farm there also isn't a need to replace them with dog broke sheep as fast as I intended. So they've just won a winter at the exclusive Cold Antler Sheep Resort and Spa. A place where second-cut hay is delivered regularly, water is poured on demand, and all the ear scratches and back rubs they can handle are given with wild abandon. I just took this picture outside as the snow was starting to fall. I told the trio that the sheepdog was gone and no longer would they be chased around the pasture or forced to stomp hooves and bleat in anger at the little black beast. I told them they could stay a while longer, probably till I shaved them down in the spring. I think Marvin is actually gloating in that photo, beaming at his stupid luck.

So, giddy sheep is a silver lining, I guess.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

sarah's gone

Sadly, Sarah is no longer my dog. The decision to return her to the trainer came after weeks of incidents I didn't share online. In the past month Sarah has bitten four people five times. She didn't do it out of malice, or even rip a pair of pants, but after running across the kitchen Thanksgiving morning to bite my father's leg, I had to step back and let logic punch pride in the stomach. I'm still reeling from the gut.

Sarah's an amazing working dog, but when I adopted her she had less work to do. She was too cooped up in my cabin and when I found out I couldn't work her on my sheep, that one real outlet she had fell apart so the stress in her just built and built till it hit a breaking point. She became anxious and ended up herding people instead. At first I made excuses for it or blamed circumstances, but after one person threatened to sue me and then my father got hurt in such an unprovoked way, I knew keeping her wasn't fair. She was too much dog for a beginner shepherd with such few unworkable sheep. If she stayed here she'd go crazy, maybe really hurt someone.

So today I returned the little girl, crying like a four-year-old. I feel so guilty for failing her as an owner. Besides those random acts of stress-invoked bites she was a good dog. When I was leaving the farm and she ran back to me instead of going with the trainer into the barn stalls, I almost buckled at the knees.

Dogs are important to me. I don't expect people to stick around, and generally keep folks at arm's length. But I give everything to dogs, knowing it's safer there. I can trust them. When the dog does what it can with me, and I can't return the favor it tears me up because I broke this one solid thing two species have created over thousands of years. I drove most of the way home in silence. Jazz and Annie, knowing I was upset, were silent too, letting me scratch their ears when I needed to know they were there.

This was a pretty crappy Thanksgiving guys.

This is my fault. She needed a handler with more land and stock for her. Now that she's back at her old farm she'll have that, and keep working till a farmer who needs a bullet of a dog can take her home. I wish I could've been that person. I was not that person.

I only had her a month but it had been an adventure. We'd been to sheepdog trials and herding lessons and did farm chores and work side by side. I was getting used to her tempo. Now the cabin seems empty and quiet. She was more than a pet to me, she was a step towards a goal, a team mate, and had become a trusted friend. I let her down.

I really wanted this to work out, you just can't know.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

sheep feet, bees, bunnies and borders

Right now the farm is a sorry, soggy sight. While some parts of New England are getting hit with storybook snow for their holidays - we're getting rain. A lot of rain. Which makes for slightly different chores around here. Did you know sheep hate wet feet? Well they do, and to preserve their hooves from disease and rot, I line their pen with fresh straw to keep them above the mud. Which takes some finese. I've learned when to time this, and how to get the most out of a bale of straw. Not exactly riveting news, but news just the same, and a lesson in shepherding I can only learn from experience. Not that strawfeet is something larger flockmasters do, they just let the sheep find their own high ground. But space is limited here. So we do what we can with what we have.

Besides the sheep's pedicure procedures, other parts of the farm are adapting to the changing weather. The bees are still active, but only when the world hits 45 degrees or higher. Given that window they come out of the hive for water and pathetic foraging. Honestly, I'm just happy to see they have survived a week of temps in the teens and lower, and I'm debating wrapping the hive in insulation. Something a lot of beekeepers do here but was never done in Idaho. I doubt it's necessity to keeping bees as much as it's necessity for the peace of mind it gives the beekeeper.

I have two nine-week-old Angora bunnies left that really need to go to new homes. So far no one is buying, even at lower prices. I'm hoping they sell as Christmas gifts for spinners because I don't want to invest in two new hutches to get them through winter. Soon they will be too large to share the cage with their mom. If anyone out there wants a great deal on a fiber animal, I'm your girl.

And of course, there is Sarah. Unlike Jazz and Annie, Sarah is a handful. A young pup with a lot of energy and sheep she can't work. Which leaves us poultry to herd instead, which is working out fine. Sort of.

This weekend while wrangling geese, Saro (the female in my pair of Tolouses) took off flying away to safety, and Sarah tore after it away from the farm. She ran well over a 100 yards away from me, below the flying bird. If I wasn't so goddamnc scared of losing her I would've appreciated how beautiful the site was, her loping like a gazelle below outstretched gray feathers, convinced she would herd the airborn charge. Chills ran through me, panic lurched in my throat. She ran away before and it was a disaster. But when I yelled her name she ran back to me, and that is proof positive this relationship is working uphill - no matter how slowly.

I refuse to give up on this little dog. Bad sheep, bruises, and carpet accidents be damned. Our obedience training is paying off. Sarah now can sit, stay, shake, come when called, and lie down. We work on her herding commands when she's out with the birds. And of course, we'll get back into lessons soon. But with the holidays and other things slowing me down we haven't been back to our instuctor's since that first lesson, but we will. We certainly will. Afterall, Sarah's my insurance policy in this farm-dream. If I can come out of this Vermont rental with a working sheepdog and some knowhow about my own sheep I'll be one step closer to my goal. And when you've got so many steps ahead of you, you treat that far walk with the same conviction as anything else around Cold Antler:

You do what you can with what you have.

Monday, November 24, 2008

our chances

Right now, while you’re sitting in your desk chair reading this sentence, over 100,000 things are happening in your body to keep you alive. 100,000 separate little actions that are totally unrelated are sparking and pumping and flowing so your eyes can see this and transport it to your brain. And even more things are going on in that brain of yours to decide how you “feel” about what it is that I write. And those "feelings" are just how you have trained you synopsi to trigger from repeated events. Which I know is getting into sketchy quantums but I don't care, it's Monday.

And you know what? All those 100,000 things happening right now aren’t even really “human” because almost 90% of what makes our skin and bones and muscles "us" are collections of bacteria and fungi that trace back 400 million centuries to the same bacteria and fungus that started life on this planet. So what we call “human” is pretty much 90% stuff you blow out of your nose on a bad day that happens to be inside you next to the right atoms and protons. Do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight.

And did you know that there was a one in a million chance (some estimates say 2 million) that the sperm that fertilized the egg you came from created you? And that if any other sperm or egg collided you would look and sound and possibly even think completely different then you do today? And the chance that you ran into me on a planet of over 6 billion other flukes is so slim that I couldn’t even type the number on this page because of all of the decimal points? Nuts.

What I’m getting at is it’s pretty insane how much had to converge for you to sit in your chair and read this. And what’s even more insane is that two people can stand in line at the supermarket and have drastically different ideas on what reality is, or the right way to organize power cords behind a desk chair, or whether of not ham is okay to eat on certain days of the year. Which is all sheer lunacy when you look at it on paper. It’s hilarious, the stuff that distracts us.

And what’s it distracting us from? Hell if I know. All I know is that you’re sitting there and I’m typing here and that it took over 400 million centuries of random chance for this moment to happen and instead of basking in the awe of it, we’re arguing about how much wasabi to mix in our soy sauce. Which I don’t get, and I’m really tired of people telling me "how to get it", and I can’t think of anything sadder than needing to get it, because just being here should be enough, right? Well, regardless of what I should think, the whole train wreck of the human animal is pretty great. Keeps things interesting.

Anyway. Thats some of what's been on my mind. So, don’t get pissy with the people cutting you off on the highway when you're driving home for Thanksgiving - because far as the facts go that little blob of water and fungi is just as lucky as you to be here today. Given our chances, that in itself is something to be thankful for.

Have a great Holiday folks.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

the best laid plans

Last night I was rescued from failed-date plans by my friend Dave. Dave's a carpenter in Cambridge and somehow knows every single person who owns a chromatic tuner in our collective zip codes. He's a birddog mandolin player (a really good mandolin player) and when I get an invite to hang out with him there's a good chance music will happen. Actually, a 100% chance since he knows every house or apartment with a musician in it from his work as a builder or volunteering at the co-op. So Dave's got a lot of friends. He's a hip cat to know.

We ended up in North Bennington at Joe and Alisa's house, local artists who work in metal and moved up here from Jersey. Inside their warm woodstove-heated home about twenty random musicians, kids, food lovers, and a black dog named Scruffy were enjoying a potluck meal and carrying cases into the music room. When stomachs were full, we all got together to play some tunes. From Cash to Dylan, to songs so old Cash and Dylan never heard them*, we were holding our own.

By the height of the jam there were four guitars, a banjo, two mandolins, two fiddles, drums, an electric bass, and a harmonica. It was a lot of people. I tend to like smaller groups where everyone gets their chance to show off a little, try a new thing, really get put on the spot. Mostly because if you pull it off (I pull it off one in five times or so) and get that smile and nod from the other pickers - you know you've really done something right. It feels good. But in a large group it's hard to even hear a soloist, much less get a chance for that humble nod.

But there was this point when just myself, Dave, and Justin (a Bennington College grad-student banjo player) got together for a few chords, and I must say that was a fine time. In smaller groups you can focus on the little parts of old-time songs that have preserved them. The parts where the mandolin rings out and the fiddle cries and the banjo grabs a slide and we all sink into this place with an address like DAG, CGC, or EBD. It also helped that Justin sounded like he was born in the wrong century and wanted us all to know about it. And he did, and I loved him for it.

I'm glad I went out, as a homebody (a very unfashionable thing for a younger person to be today) I rarely just venture out like this on whim. But the farm was already bedded down for the night. Animals were penned, cooped and fed, and firewood was stocked by the firepace for when I came home to it. And I was already dressed for a night on the town, so I felt like I had some stolen freedom, and it came out in some tunes like Wagon Wheel and Old Joe Clark.

Anyway, I'm telling you all this because at this random session there was a guy in his mid-forties with a brand new gorgeous Guild guitar who had never played with people before. He was a grown man but as nervous as a freshman frat guy during rush week. To his credit, he was there. He knew a few chords and really held his own. I love, LOVE, going to jams with new people. I feel like I'm an old Mason or Elk shaking the new pledge's hand and welcoming him into this secret society of old songs and coffee and music festivals and firesides. To see someone brave a jam like that, and go home standing a little taller is truly rewarding for me. To witness this subtle transformation of a new musician holding his case like it's the reins of a trusted horse and not a ticking time bomb, is a little whimsical snack the world throws up in the air for this sheepdog. And I will leap in the air to catch it, and chomp down on it with all I've got.

Music like this knows no class or priveledge. It doesn't matter if you're a plumber, a prostitute, or a doctor when you're in that circle. What matters is how hard you practice and what you earned on your own time. This equality rarely seems to thrive in the modern world, and I long for it after a week in a desk chair where I am constantly reminded of my place in the world. But when you leave a good jam, bonefide from it, you sleep better at night.

As I get older, and become more and more of a citizen in this world of 401k plans and dinner parties, I am noticing all those little rights of passage fading from adult life. There are no more ceremonies, caps and gowns, or anything remotely like that. But playing music like this, brings some of those old rights back. It gives us a place in the world where you need to work hard and earn those nods, and each one is a little black cap and gown. "Conratulations Jenna, you just graduated from Dorian University -you may turn your tassle to the other side". Maybe I just see this because I want too. But I doubt that matters.

So, point is, pick up that guitar you always wanted to play son, even if you're sixty-five and never took a lesson. Get some beginner books and CDs, give yourself 15 minutes a night, and if you want to play, you will. This isn't like watching the Olympics and wanting to be a speed skater in six months. This is possible, practical really, because for such a small intial investment you have this tool that is your social network, best friend, and boredom remover all in one. Maybe in few months you'll be at your own first jam? But even if you're not, being able to pick up a fiddle and play Blackest Crow just for yourself beats most scenes. Or so I say, but I can't get a date, so take my advice with a grain of salt.

*they probably heard them

Friday, November 21, 2008

baby, it's cold outside

So it's cold here. Really cold. The average nightly temp is somewhere in the mid teens, and every morning when I go outside to feed the animals their water is frozen over. It doesn't freeze solid, thanks to the the thick rubber containers and the layers of hay that insulated them, but it gets a good inch-thick capping which involves some offense from the animal end. The sheep have the ability to hoof their softdrinks open, but if you're a chicken, you just stare at your water despondently until some sucker (read me) bundles up to waddle outside and pour hot water from a tea kettle over and into their fonts. I can never tell who looks more pathetic when I'm doing this. The barred rock hen watching me - or myelf, now at wookie size due to parkas, caps, and sweaters, pouring it with an expression that suggests later that morning I have to go wait in line for bread somewhere in the old axis.

Baby, it's cold outside.

The locals say it's just a snap, and we'll be back in the comfortable thirties soon. But while the cold is here it's making the mornng chores a little more interesting. Sarah joins me to rustle up and herd the morning poultry. She doesn't mind the cold, or if she does, she plays it cool. Frank at the Sands cool. She trots around that farm like she owns it. She will go in the coop and give the hens on their roosts that famous border-collie eye until one of them breaks and then the feathers fly. It's hilarious.* She even managed to "pen" a trio of geese and a duck, using me, a wall, and her own pacing to contain three big birds from going anywhere. Watching her think, figuring out her place in the world, is quite a sight to take in before you get to shower. Keeping Sarah so far has been exhausting. Someday I'll tell you the whole story of this dog-week from Hell, but I'm holding my own, and all she wants is to work and please me, I can deal with that. I'll work on my patience.

We're all waiting for snow to insulate us. It'll make this cabin in the woods more like a maple syrup bottle than it's current frozen-wasteland status, and it'll entertain the farmer; Who can not wait to harness up those sleddogs and hit the road.

*no chickens were injured in the making of this blog post.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

annie's window

photo by sara stell

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

in our dark

When I come home from work the farm is dark. I pull into the driveway and the only light is the glow of the chicken coop and the small solar lights that circle the sheep pen. When I get out of the car the only sounds are the dinner bleats from the flock and the occasional coo from the roosting birds. There are no streetlights, or lamp posts, and if it's cloudy like tonight: no stars either. So it's dark. Which is fine.

I go into the cabin, take out the dogs, and then when everyone's empty we come inside for their kibble dinner. While they chow down, I change from my work clothes into my farm clothes and light a fire in the fireplace. I do this to warm up the joint, and because I like the way it looks to see and smell smoke coming from the chimney while I'm bringing hay to the sheep or collecting the day's egg deposits. There is something correct about being outside moving after so much time indoors sitting still. Wearing my father's old red and black plaid coat, I go about farm work with cold breath in my face. I think it might snow tonight.

There is something very special about smelling woodsmoke in the dark of a moonless Vermont night with hay in your arms. There's no particular virtue in it. It won't shake the ground or even make me smile. But it is special. If I could describe that better to you, I would. I can't.

I think I'll need to sell the sheep, exchange them for some dogbroke ones. I need to talk to my friend Shelli about how she wants to work it all out, but I can't train a young herding dog on angry sheep. I think it's the only recourse in my current, limited situation. I'll wait till spring when the flock can go right on someone's pasture. That seems like the sensible way to go about this, and bring in some border collie ewes who won't kill my Sarah.

It's not fair to have the clueless leading the blind leading the blind and violent. If you could follow that you may have been reading my blog too long.

Monday, November 17, 2008

a must have

There are a handful of things I would consider must-haves on a small farm. Little tools you use nearly every day, but in themselves seem kinda of ubiquituos. Some that come to mind are those stretchy gloves that are partly dipped in latex that help you in a the garden and picking up chickens. Another would be a t-post pounder (which I use nearly every week when a sheep uproots a post of bends one over). But the most vital of them all happens to come in a little green tin, and without its aid I may have gotten into a lot of trouble.

Bag Balm is a salve that I use on everyone. If I have a bug bite that itches, I slap on some bag balm. If Jazz gets a cut on his paw, I clean it and then slap on some Bag Balm. If I trim a hoof too close to the quick and it bleeds, I shout to the friend next to me "Go in the house and bring the Bag Balm!" After I tattoo the rabbit's ears, you guessed it - they get a layer of Bag Balm over the fresh ink. I remember my mentor Diana from Idaho telling me about a cow who lost an udder on a barb wire fence and thanks to Bag Balm, healed up just fine. I tell you this stuff is top shelf.

Bag Balm is a tan salve that has the consistency of a "clean" petroleum jelly. So it's less gross. It includes a mixture of lanolin and hydroxy and together as far as I'm concerned, they can heal the world. (By the by, as a shepherd-in-training, I also like buying a product that uses lanolin). It was invented in 1899 right here in Vermont and I doubt the mixture has changed much since. And the top of the tin bears the same dairy cow and roses that most companies would have considered out of date sometime around 1964 and changed to some godawful typeface and laser treatment. But they didnt cave to the times, and as a designer who loves old stuff, I appreciate that.

If you don't have a tin of this in the house, and you still have pets, livestock, skin or live in a world of bugs. Go buy some.