Saturday, December 27, 2008

back on the farm

I knew I was nearly home when 35 miles outside Albany, I could hear WEQX introduce the next lineup of songs. I had to drive nearly three hours to tune in, and was elated when Pearl Jam's Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town, my favorite song to hear Vedder sing, was finally coming in clear. It was followed by new Radiohead, Ben Folds and then rolled into some old Beastie Boys and Iggy Pop before rounding out with Vampire Weekend stuff from last year. I love this indie station. I love that it exists in an old house here in Manchester, that it actually plays great music, and that in this weird little cabin in the woods I can hear the Pretender's Christmas carols while I pack up for a small vacation. It's become a part of my life here in Vermont, and even though it's clear I missed their prime (sometime I imagine, when new episodes of Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure first aired) I adore it. It was like an emotional landing strip flagging me back to my everyday life.

You know, EQX had me when I was on my way to a sheepdog trial at some godawful-early hour and the first voice I heard when I turned the key in the car with my moring coffee was Tom Waits. They were playing Alice, a song I love that already has probably taken seven months off my life. It's not peppy morning radio candy. It's Tom Waits. Bless those thundercats behind the mic at 102.7 FM. Bless them.

So it was Donna, the radio voice, that welcomed me back home to New England. I was winding past the small towns beyond the city and on my way back home to Cold Antler with the radio blaring and Annie hanging out the window. The dogs and I took holiday with my family and I neglected to blog (sorry guys) for a few days while I visited with them. But now I'm back. No more plush carpets, television, or a fridge full of supermarket food-stuffs. I love my family. I had a wonderful time in PA. I miss them when we're not together. But man, did I miss my little farm. It's good to be back. Time to put away those pillows and pick up a pitch fork again.

I'm back to a lot of baking, cooking, hay tossing and egg collecting. The fireplace is lit, Jazz and Annie are asleep in their beds, and from the looks of it all is well. No pipes burst, no chickens seem to be devoured or missing, and while I have yet to hike out in the dark for evening sheep duty, I was welcomed back to the cabin by their bleating. So they didn't make a break for it. Relief returns to us all, and I hope everyone had a quiet holiday week.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

special delivery!

Just in from a short mush to the neighbors. Jazz, Annie, and I delivered via dogsled French toast gift baskets. They were full of warm bread baked right before we harnessed up (still warm!), farm eggs, and Vermont maple syrup. I wanted to find a special way to thank my amazing neighbors that watch the farm while I am away over the holidays or for book events. Because of them I have the freedom to take a break from the farm and be with family and friends. That deserves French toast.

We wanted to deliver their farm baskets in style, so I tied a basket to the kicksled to hold all the gifts, covered it up with some alpaca wool, and tied some jingle bells on it to sound the way. Oh and the snowstorm...what snowstorm!? You can't stop a girl on a mission. Just thought you guys would find that picture of the dogs running back into the farmhouse fun. Happy holidays from all of us at Cold Antler!*

*Oh, well not all of us. Maude the angry ewe does not wish happiness to anyone.

riding it out

Holy crow folks, it is a blizzard out there! I woke up to the BANG BANG SNAP SLAP of the scren door on the porch being whipped open by the screaming wind. Jazz, who sleeps with his head on the pilow next to mine, shot his eyes open and snarled his teeth. Which is something I am used to seeing, but not used to waking up too. He made me think the place was blowing down. I sat up and moved the curtains aside from the window behind the headboard. Snow was falling horizontally across the farm. In the wind the howling crow of Winthrop the wererooster made me feel like the Donnor party was about to trudge by any second. Oh. Great. That'll be fun to be out hauling feed in in about twenty minutes...

After the fire was lit, and a strong cup of coffee downed, I bundled up and headed out. Sunday mornings are the heaviest work time at the farm. With a 9-5 job during the week, this is when I have the most free time to take care of bigger jobs. It's when fresh straw is bedded, and fifty-pound bags of grain and feed are hauled out of the back of the Subaru to refill the metal rat-proof cans. I also bought extra straw, and had a new mineral block for the sheep to set out. So between the extra goods, heavy snow, wind, and foot on the ground already - I had my morning work cut out for me, but I want to know every creature is as comfortable as it can be during weather like this.

The chickens have it the best. Their outbuilding is windproof and the chicken wire front is now covered in a wool blanket. Inside a heat lamp keeps it a comfy 45 degrees even when the temp drops below zero. After I laydown a bed of fresh straw, I like to plop right on the floor of the coop and watch the birds eat, scratch around, and live their free-range life. Plus, being inside the snowless, windless coop in the amber glow is a little oasis in a blizzard. I looked outside at the sheep, chewing their hay, and got up. I needed to get them ready too. So when the sheep had their minderals, grain, fresh straw in their shed and a pile of hay - I called the morning done. Usually farmwork like this takes an hour tops. But with the snow, pulling hay and straw and feed on a sled, and the deep snow I was outside for well over two hours. I would come in to warm up and feed the fireplace, but only for a minute. I didn't want to be seduced and hang up my parka and scarf before everyone outside would be as okay as I was indoors.

When I did come back indoors to start making breakfast and baking my sunday bread, the dogs were curled up and in deep sleep. Annie was on the couch, her black fur warmed from the fire. Jazz prefers the bed, since it smells like me and it's where he prefers to stretch out. A sleeping husky is pure peace. Unless a harness was in their immediate future they had no interest in going back out into that garbage. I don't blame them. That's Jazz in the photo, when you come back into your cabin, covered in ice, shivering for the fire, and see a putz like that, you can't help but laugh. Jazz rides out this life better than most.

Also - Happy Solstice to all! It's officially winter here, and I think this weekend is a heck of a birthday party for the new light coming into our lives. The days will start to get longer, and before you know it mud season will be getting our cars stuck in ditches. Here here. And I hope everyone has a safe and warm holiday, whereever you are. I'll be traveling for the Holdiays, going back to PA. But when I come back there will be a little book tour and some New Year's resolutions to see too. I hope to meet some of you at the Northshire Event on Jan 9th, or down in Troy or Albany.