Friday, December 19, 2008

the storm

Everyone at work was talking about it. The office was tense with the news that a storm was coming in. A big storm. The first real blow of the season. Reports were ranging all the way up to 14 inches tonight, and more on Sunday. One of my coworkers even mentioned "snow thunder" which made me laugh and dismiss him as spouting crazy talk. Who ever heard of snow thunder? I lived all over the country and never heard thunder once during a single blizzard, and Idaho sure as hell gave me my share of blizzards. They were windy. They were dangerous. But they weren't thunderous. Crazy talk, that.

Being a Friday, a snow storm, and the day of our office Christmas party - the day was pretty much shot all to hell. It was one of those days where you get as much done as you possibly can, but you're limited by peoples' natures, and most of all, limited by my own. I was as anxious as a girl with a dogsled could be. I wanted to be home at the farm. I wanted to be behind a team of dogs. By noon the flurries started to fall and by 1PM it was a white out. Here it comes... I paced around the pod like a wolf tied to a lamb pen.

From inside the big office windows I did the holiday stuff. The secret santa gifts, the cheese plates, you all know the drill. I talk about work flippantly, but actually, I am really starting to feel comfortable there. I feel confident in what I do, and I like my projects and the people I fell into. Some of them are hilarious, and some may even turn into great friends down the road.

It's just harder to get into people's lives in New England. In Tennessee or Idaho, people were a lot more open. They invited you over, met you for drinks, asked you about your weekends. It took a few weeks to build relationships with people that weren't based on the 9-5 life we shared, but here in vermont I have to guess what most of my coworkers lives are like. Sure, there are a few I know better and them me - but most don't know anything about me other than I have a deer head at my desk, drink a lot of coffee, drive a horror of a station wagon, and wear a lot of plaid.

Anyway, point is, I generally like work. But today I fumbled around the office party sporadically and awkwardly (I never know how to act at those things...or what the social norms are when people huddle into little cabals around punch bowls. Give me a working dog or the reins of a horse - and you'll see a confident women. Give me a martini glass - and you'll see a schmuck with some booze.) I left around 3:30. I had to leave while the going was safe. Sandgate roads aren't forgiving friends. I didn't want to be out driving a car in the dark during the wail.

I drove home slow, stopping at the Wayside for the essentials. That's the Wayside Country Store up there in the photo. I took it just as the snow was starting to pick up. Wayside is my home base. I am there nearly every day for coffee, groceries, anything really. It's the kind of place you can buy dinner, rent a movie, grab a bottle of wine, a hunting licence, car parts, spark plugs, ice cream, sweaters, and a greeting card at. I adore it more than Doug and Nancy (the owner) will ever know. I picked up coffee creamer and some votive candles in case we lost power. I already had plenty of wood and water stored for the storm. Outside was getting worse.

When I pulled into the farm it was almost 4:30. Daylight was becoming a memory. I was thrilled to be home. I left nearly everything in the car and went inside instantly to see the dogs. Jazz and Annie could smell the snow in the air and were wild with it. Their pupils huge, high on it all. I had them in harness johnny on the spot. I lashed a lantern to the dogsled, slipped on my rabbit fur hat, and yelled out "HIKE HIKE!" and we loped off into the night and down over the icy bridge covering the stream that surrounds the farm.

There is something about running dogs that I will never be able to explain correctly to you, or anyone, but it is beautiful. I think the closest thing I can do is compare it to jumping from something high into water you assume is safe. You let go of any real control, trust it will work out, and just let the experience devour you till you're under it all and gasping. With my feet on the runners, the only light the glow of the lantern, and the only sounds the slamming of paw pads on powder and my drumming breath - I am ten feet deep.

I drove the sled two miles into the storm along West Sandgate Road. Down towards Lincoln Lane where we bolted past neighbors, snow plows, and a pair of ponies munching hay in the dark by an old barbwire fence. Yes, the weather was bad, but when you are mushing you pay no mind. You are somewhere else. I held on with both hands, taking in the woods around me. Looking down the valley into the farms and far-away lit houses with smoke wafting out of chimneys. My boots grazed over the ice as I slowed down here, or turned the sled there. I glided like a phantom.

I was only twelve miles from the office on the map, but as far as I was concerned I was much farther. A thousand miles. A hundred years. Time lays down for those who let it.

When the dogs and I came back into the driveway, the sheep were bleating to be fed. I came down from the run, and threw myself into farm work. I let Jazz and Annie in the cabin to drink and cool down while I went back into the storm to haul out feed and water. For half an hour I trudged and prepared the animals for the howl. I covered hutches and the coop with insulated blankets. I made sure the sheep had a feast of hay and their shed was lined with fresh straw. I brought the rabbit's bottles in to defrost by the fire I planned to light soon as I could get inside again. When I wanted to go inside. I was singin radio war in the snowstorm. A song I play on the fiddle till I forget what it all means. It's an Iron and Wine tune, listen to it sometime. It's nice.

I am so in love with all of this.

I was tired and happy. With a few miles of mushing under my boots, and the animals all bunkered down, I was ready to go inside, content that everything and everyone on the farm was safe. I went in the cabin and the heat hit me like a punch in the jaw. It was only about 55 degrees in there but after mushing and batting down the hatches, I wasn't ready for it. I put some coffee on the stove to ease my shock, since coffee solves everything. I then lit a fire, and laid out my gloves, boots, socks, hat, and vest on the hot stones in front to dry. The wind whipped the screen door open. It was really pounding us out there.

I made some soup, fed the dogs, and opened my mail. I had a small package from a music shop. New rosin and fiddle strings, a blessing in a snowstorm. Hill dark rosin is my patron saint. I buy it whenever I get the chance. It makes an okay fiddle sound ten degrees better. Tonight I wanted to wail on it. I also had a Christmas card from Heather and Mike down in Knoxville.

I sighed whenever I see the 37917 area code. East Tennessee is the only ghost I'm haunted by anymore. If it snowed there, or had a bitter fall that my heart needs to function right - I'd be in the southern mountains right now. If you are reading this from Knoxville, please raise a glass to me next time you're in Market Square.

So now the dogs are asleep, just as tired as I am. The fire is crackling, and the snow is still coming down strong. I'm not going anywhere, son. I am in for the night. I have a date with St. Anne's reel, a song I have been meaning to learn for months now. I think tonight we're going to seal the deal. Quick and dirty style. It's how I want the day to end.

It has been a good one. All of it. The office to the fireplace, perfect.

Oh, and by the way, turns out my friend wasn't bullshitting at all. Snow thunder is a real thing. I heard about it on the radio while I was making dinner. An announcer on NPR warned about the oddity possibly happening tonight. Actual thunder in the Vermont December, well I'll be. As the weatherman talked about it, I shook my head smiling. I was wrong of course, as I often am.

Snow Thunder. Christ.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Our friends at Swamp River Ridge had this photo to share. They hail from the great north, and sent along their own picture of tailgating with Jenna. So hey, the book makes another farm truck bumper! Which is a cool, and kind of weird (but more cool than weird) tradition CAF readers are starting thanks to the Lone Star State. I love this stuff guys. Makes me feel like a jet pilot who just won the lottery.

come in, it's cold out there

So here's a picture of inside the cabin. The place your friend Jenna spends a large chunk of her time when she's not in the office or outside tending the flock. Thought you guys would be curious to see an indoor photo. This is part of my kitchen looking into the living room. It's not fancy, but I like it. I'm easily pleased by any space that lets me fill it with my weird antiques and musical instruments. I don't know how many people have Maruska prints on their walls and blast Sigur Ros cds while driving with backseats full of chicken feed, but they are certainly my people. This I'm fairly sure about.

Hey guys, things are getting kind of exciting! Tonight I recorded a phone interview for WAMC's Book Show. It's a national show about authors and their works. It airs next week and when it's online I'll post a link to it. It was a lot of fun actually. Tune in to hear about my near-death waterfall jumping experience in Tennessee and sheep in station wagons in Vermont. Also, in a few moments a guy is coming to the farm to film an "acceptance " speech in case Made From Scratch wins the MS Society's "Books for A Better Life" Award in the green category. I can't go to the actual awards in New York, mostly because it's on a worknight and I don't have the vactation time for it. But still, just to be nominated for an award is staggering. Can you believe this? I can't.

I hope this kind of news doesn't come across as arrogant? If it does, I'm sorry. I don't want to be that guy. But honestly, I can't even begin to feel cocky about this life. Afterall, I still need to lug out the chickens' water font that is currently defrosting in the bathroom. I keep my awe in check. It's hard to feel cocky when chicken- scented water is de-icing by your toilet.

Crikey, interviews and speeches... I never thought a book about bees and chickens would get such a rise out of folks. I hope it keeps it up. My fingers are crossed I can keep up with it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


So outside the cabin right now is a couple inches of new snow. It's still dark out there, but in the porchlight I can see the shadows and all the white. Beautiful, that. The ice from last week has melted away, and now instead of heavy-glass trees and danger sidewalks - we have this beauitful brand-new carpet installed.

Aestetics aside, there is a fun practicality of fresh snow on the farm. It lets me see what the birds are up to all day when I'm at work. When I come home on lunch, or even when I'm walking around in the lantern-lit dark, there are little paths and tracks all over the farm from the goose patrol, ducks, chickens, and other animals. There are tracks from wandering deer, neighbor's dogs, and sometimes the occasional moose. There are little dance steps from the crows, and tiny imprints from the chickadees on the windowsill. The snow prooves that a lot of life is happening while I'm at the office. Which is comforting to me, to know my farm has a heartbeat when I'm not there to witness it.

Of course, a lot of life is happening at the office as well. It's just a different set of animals leaving a different series of impressions. But it's all the same thing. Coffee mug rings and bad jokes are just as pretty in their own ways, but I like coming home and seeing proof in the snow. I really do.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

a day in the life

wake up, hope nothing was eaten overnight
fumble out of bed, turn on percolator, flip on radio
coffee, e-mails, blogging, more coffee, copius amounts of coffee
farm chores (feed sheep, haul water, open chicken coop, etc)
walk dogs if they'll rolled out of bed yet
shower like I mean it, because I do
more coffee, pack up for work, fit in a fiddle tune or two because I won't be able to play for another 10 hours
leave for the office, possibly stop at Wayside for conversational coffee
Get to work, and start one of many, many, web design projects

take lunch, run home to let out dogs, collect eggs, check on sheep, wood pile, and the cabin
back in the office, probably eating fig newtons and peach yogurt, the lunch of champions
leave office, crank cd player, head home in the snowy-vermont dark
pull into CAF driveway, automatic lights turned on in coop already at 4pm, it's a warm glow
walk dogs, feed dogs, light fireplace
farm chores, PM version (same as AM, but with closing doors instead)
come inside, make dinner, which is nearly always Japanese inspired (rice, veggies, tofu, eggs)
eat on the couch with the dogs, watch movie or tv on dvd (Vanilla Sky and Stella, was last night), play music, gab on phone, check emails
try to figure out new music, worry about things, email people, plan for tomorrow
out cold.

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.