Tuesday, January 20, 2009

my wayfaring stranger

This was written Februrary 9th 2008. This was posted as a goodbye to the people I still miss in the northwest. They knew me as Jenna-of-Tennessee- a scrappy girl with a pack of dogs and iron and wine on the kitchen record player. I'm sharing it because I don't not think enough was written on this blog about the transition back east. It is a little emotional, but you'll have this.

The song Wayfaring Stranger is incredibly old. Its lyrics tell the story of someone returning home (or hoping to at least). But sadly, the person in song realizes death is much more realistic than the possibility of ever seeing familiar faces again. The few verses of hope, memories, and the acceptance of suffering with unwavering faith is what has kept this song alive for hundreds of years. From the 18th century to today you’ll find people humming it on dirt roads and midtown elevators alike.

This is the story of my Wayfaring Stranger.

The ballad didn’t become familiar to me until I lived in Knoxville. Maybe I heard it in passing, but it didn’t stick. However, my good friend Brian (an ex-New Yorker who's life I fell into because we shared a love for the mountains and happened to work in the same office) introduced me to it’s lonesome beauty as if for the first time. When we were driving through the Smoky Mountains, bobbing his black pickup over the winding cove roads he’d turn it up and sing. Not just sing, but really sing it. Meaning every word of it for all it was worth. I’d hear his voice on those southern mountain roads and for the first time listened to what the lyrics meant. Just thinking about Brian makes me miss him like crazy. He introduced me to trout streams and hidden hikes. He got me into Pablo Neruda, and shared the front seat of his truck with me often. We were just friends, but both hopeless romantics when it came to our love affair with the mountains. So it made our friendship a geographical thing. Which, was neat. I can't see a black pickup truck and not think of him, I haven't spoken to him in years.

It was like going to a monastery. Simple. Poignant. As we rolled through the hollers, passing dilapidated barns and cabins long-abandoned, their emptiness and rot echoed the lines of the song. If the world had anything else to say to me, I couldn’t hear it while that song played.

Wayfaring Stranger became Tennessee. It became every state I've lived in since home. I adopted the song. I memorized the words. I learned it on the dulcimer. When someone else played it at a concert or campfire I became quiet. Church was in session.

When I left Knoxville to move out west. I knew I was repeating the story of thousands of Tennesseans who also left their cities and farms for the Homestead Act of the mid 1800s. How many others had loaded up their wagons with their family like I was? Grant it, my wagon was a station - not a Conestoga, and my family was two sleeping sled dogs in the backseat and not seven children, but hey, at the root of it I loved them and together we were heading into unknown territory. And on the car stereo as we rolled out of town with tears streaming down my face we listened to Wayfaring Stranger. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that in 1887, a family from Knox country mouthed the same exact same words I did as we headed past St. Louis and up into the plains.

There was comfort in the repitition, and while it may sound silly, it brought me immense comfort. They sang that song and were okay, Denver and San Francisco and Seattle are standing testament that for some it all worked out. I would be okay too.

When I was established and at home in the Rockies, and the violin became my musical love interest, I learned to play it the way it was meant to be played – on the fiddle (then on the banjo sometime later). I learned to close my eyes and mean it when I played that tune. I learned to let the whole song fill me up and even if an accomplished musician told me it sounded like garbage I didn’t care. The song was too good for one bad musician to screw up. It could soar out of my bow with right intentions. That’s all that mattered.

Monday I head back East, back home. With me will come my two dogs, my musical instruments, and again we’ll be singing Wayfaring Stranger as we drive past Deadwood, and Wall Drug and Chicago and back into the place where thunderstorms and fireflies are writhing all summer long. We’ll stop in Palmerton for a few nights, and when we do we will be living the hope that that song so strongly conveyed—to go out into the wilderness and come back again.

And that’s what I plan to do. After all, I’m only going over Jordan. I'm only going over home.

my first chick

Photo shown is of the first chicken I ever owned. He was one of five black silkie bantams, that came home with me from my mentor's farm back when I lived in Sandpoint, Idaho. This image is from early spring of 2007, and shows just how small those little guys were. I adore these birds. Silkies are small, goofy, gentle, and quiet. They don't mind being held, they are amazing parents, and come in all sorts of solid colors. These chicks were solid black right down to their black bones. Pretty badass.

Monday, January 19, 2009

burning off the fog

I found this photo from September 2006. It was taken at the end of an early morning hike in the Smokies, back when I lived in Tennessee. In the picture all the smoke is burning off from the sunrise, and light is coming back into the trail, making things clear again. Earlier that morning there was so much fog that when you took a few steps down the path, whatever you left behind you vanished within moments. You could tie a bright red bandana to a tree and then watch it disappear as you backed away from it. All you could really understand was what was right around you. Everything from the past fell apart, and you couldn't see a thing ahead. I suppose that's how it always is though. If you only knew how often I thought of Tennessee... That state changed my whole life.

I used to have another blog, it was called Dogcoffin. I named it after a small wooden box with a latch I found on the side of the road when I first moved to the South. It was such an odd box—too small for a chest and too big to be a breadbox, so I called it a dog coffin. I still have it, my foot is on it right now since it currently resides under my kitchen table. Like me this random object has traveled all over, never sure what it was or where it was going. So I thought that was a good name for a blog about a person in the same condition.

Now I rarely update it. It was kept from 2005 on. Everything about Tennessee, Knoxville, the move out to Idaho, and starting Cold Antler Farm was recorded on that other blog. When the book was coming out I made it private since it was far more personal than this one is. But I think I'll be posting pictures and stories from it here from time to time. I'll let you know when the proper dates are, like this one. I just think a lot of the things you read from Scratch started on that blog and you'd be interested to see photos of those first chickens in the northwest or hikes in the Smokies that gave me this homesteading infection in the first place. Let me know if posting older content bothers you, since it wouldn't be "new" technically. And new updates are really what blogs should be about, no?

the night we burned christmas

Before I dive into this story, I want to say that all is well. People have expressed concern over those past two posts. I apologize if I sounded grave or despondent. I was just reeling from the past few days. There was a death in my family, and a lot of lay offs happened at work. In one week I sat on the sidelines while a lot of suffering happened around me in which I had no control. But my family is healing and I still have a desk—two things I am very grafeful for tonight.

Now, with that said, let me tell you about the night we burned Christmas.

Saturday was busy. I spent most of it baking in the kitchen. I was trying to make three apple pies for the night ahead. I was invited to a community potluck, and was going to bring what I alway do, a pie. However this time I also baked two smaller ones in little tins for the men I was meeting pre-potluck to play music with. A coworker was nice enough to invite me to play fiddle with him and his friend Phil. Both guys play guitar, and they wanted to mix things up, bring a fiddler in. For welcoming me into their homes and their music, I thought pie was in order. So I baked them each their own to take home. Since I was on a roll I also baked pies for three other guys at work and my new friend Chris. So all in all I baked six men their own little pies this weekend. I am quite the pie hussy.

I can't help it. I love baking for men. I don't mean that in some scary anti-feminist way. I just love the way a guy's face lights up when you hand him a pie you made for him. When I met Chris for a coffeedate in the bookstore, and handed him a little blueberry pie as a thanks for driving down to meet me, you would think I handed him keys to a new car the way he beamed. I selfishly love it that simple look. So really, to be honest, I bake pies for guys for my own eyes. Hot damn, say that three times fast.

Later that evening, I rolled into Phil's place late with a basket of pie and my fiddle case. I apologized for the tardiness but tried to explain that being late with pie is really like bing ten minutes early anywhere else. The guys seemed to buy that and invited me to join them. Inside on a chair in the living room was Steve, the guy who invited me to play. He was sitting there in his socks and a sweatshirt by the fireplace plucking his guitar. It's weird seeing coworkers in their natural habitats, far from khakis and twill shirts, but you get over it quick and focus on the task at hand, which in this particular story, is beer and music.

Phil handed me a cold Long Trail Ale, and we tuned our instruments by the fire. For two hours we played through a pile of songs. Both guys had a lot of talent, (much better on their guitars than I was on my fiddle) but I kept up best I could. I wasn't doing as good as I hoped with those birddogs. It's hard playing modern pop songs when the entire climate of music you hold in your heart thrives in some dark hollow in East Tennessee two hundred years ago... Or at least that's my excuse for not playing as well as I felt I could. But hey, I was nervous. Steve offered to learn a few traditional songs to balance the scales a little. He was able to belt out a respectable Wayfaring Stranger, which he learned that very night. Earned my respect, that.

After the music we all piled into my Subaru and drove uphill to the homestead hosting the big event. Cars lined the snowed-in dirt roads for a long way before we reached the house. We shuffled inside and what a sight it was to behold...There must've been a hundred people, kids, and a few dogs mulling about. A spread fit for some Arthurian court was laid out on the tables. Everything from venison and wild turkey stews to vegetarian quiches was laid out among the chiles, breads, and cheeses. Piles of cakes and pies leaned over the edges of the wooden table. Hot cider and a giant apple crisp sat on the cast iron stove behind it, making the place smell like heaven on earth. Tonight we were rich in food.

The house was hundred's of years old. Really packed with that New England colonial-clapboard character. Narrow stairs, old wooden beams, a giant fireplace in the kitchen. I was in heaven. This was exactly the kind of house I'd pray to call a home someday. If the people who lived there knew I was secretly planning out locations for chicken coops and sheep sheds, they may have asked me to leave. It is kind of rude to walk around a place quietly imagining your own weird antiques on the walls and Maude out in the backyard bitching about something or another while the dogs and I napped on the couch....but I can't help it. If you give me an old farmhouse, I see a farm. Hell, I see my farm.

We ate and ate. The kind of non-stop plate filling that happens at these things. Steve told stories about his family, Phil talked about his kids, we all talked about music and the food. All went well and we were so into our little corner of conversation we were almost shocked when we were told to put on our coats and come outside, the bonfire was starting.

Everyone else was prepared for this. I wasn't. I was prepared for baking and playing the fiddle. In my excitement for manpies and music I forgot the whole main event. I didn't have coveralls and a parka - I had on comfortable jeans, a cowboy shirt hanging over a green paisley sundress, covered by a mere leather jacket. I was wearing my brown Chucks, not the best footwear for a winter bonfire, and my scarf and gloves were all I had for my extremeties. Regardless, I went right up to the blaze. I didn't want to miss this.

The host's lit the torch and piled on the old Christmas trees one by one. I stood there by Steve and Phil watching the embers fly up into the dark. I watched the neighbors' kids and dogs run around the woods in the corners of my eyes, throwing snowballs and barking at the giant flames. I ignored the cold and hugged my own arms as I watched the pine trees explode into flames one at a time. People cheered as the burst of warm air would hit us.

It sounds harsh doesn't it? Burning Christmas But it was far from vindictive. It wasn't a night of malice or darkness, just a nickname for an excuse to have a nice get together when Vermont is at it's least social. It's been so cold here, and to spend a night defying it, outside smiling in it, was downright warm all over. When I felt I had grasped the experience enough (and couldn't feel my legs) I plodded back inside for more food and drink and a spot right next to the woodstove.

We ended the evening with slices of pie and Northern Comfort (booze in hot cider). We also lapped up some more conversation. It was nothing fancy. I have long since rescinded my need to be fancy. My cool has died. I used to scamper around galleries in Chelsea with the ferver of a design student, or spend nights in crowded shows in Philly watching Indie bands at the Troc. Now I am more content to spending my Saturday nights with a few people, some guitars, and plates of food instead of more intense plans of just a few years ago. You go out to the parade, I'll be here. I know a guy with a mandolin and a campfire, and he wins everytime. Heck guys, I don't even like going into bars. Thank god for internet dating or I'd never even meet men, but I am a firm believer that everyone I want to meet is staying at home with Netflix anyway.

I don't know if the farmlife did this, domesticated me. Probably not. I think I was always more inclined to fireplaces over fireworks, but living here in Sandgate has certainly given me more chances to practice. Come next month I will have spent a full year here in the Green Mountain State. It took a while, but now I feel part-of. I really hope that I can stick around for another year at my little farm here. It's becoming home.

a short one

No matter where I end up—I will never forget waking up in this small cabin in my bed of fur and teeth, and walking out into the wold to feed the animals in the dark before work. If you let them, everyday chores become a legacy.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

winter socials

Last night was quite a sight. After a few hours of playing music with my new pals Steve and Phil—we headed over to a neighbor's place to take part in the big bonfire/potluck. A huge pile of dead trees were sacrificed to our festivities. I can't really put my finger on it, but there is something unspecifically cavalier about outdoor parties in winter. Like you're breaking some unwritten rule by hanging outside and laughing when it's 7 degrees. The paths to the house were lit with candelabras, christmas lights, and the huge blaze. Whimsical things to see when you're fighting off frostbite (Note to self: Do not wear chuck taylors to bonfires ever again) I'll write more about it all later—but I just wanted to share this photo I took coming into the house after leaving the bonfire. I just thought it was neat.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

land of lincoln

So this is how the world works. You put something out there in the ether, something as random as a photo of a car, and somehow it finds it's way back to you. I post that long-ago picture from a side street in Jim Thorpe, and a few days later a reader sends a long a new state bumper shot on her own Mini. Thank you Barb.

You know, I always liked those cars, even wanted one of my own. But they were never practical for two big dogs and an antiquing addiction (can't fit an atomic oak 1953 coffee table back there now can you?) and now with the farm life I think my Mini days are behind me. But that's fine. I can put a great stereo in a beat up pickup. I'll figure it out. I'll be the girl in the old truck with wooden pannels and a few rams in the back. They'll have their eyes fixed on the cars behind us. The rams wil be staring down the folks in the car behind us who are confused why OK Computer is blaring so loud, and want to know how the Border Collie seems to know how to keep time with her paw on the outside of the passenger side door 9because I raised her, that's why). The only bumper sticker - the words, FLOCK ON*. Which is exactly the point of this whole thing - food, animals, and music. That is the game folks. That is the game. Keep those three things at the center, and laugh a lot, and we'll all be fine.

*in helvetica, of course

Friday, January 16, 2009

the bitter cold

It is remarkably cold outside. I just got in from feeding the sheep and birds, and I still can't feel my toes. It's been cold all week, really cold. Like last night it hit -28 in Barre. In don't know how cold Sandgate is, but let's just say it's not exactly tank-top weather out there. This weekend should finally bring us back into the double-digit temperatures. I have never been this excited to see a thermometer hit 15 degrees in my life.

I moved the rabbits from their outdoor hutches to inside the oil tank room in straw-lined dog crates. It's not the Ritz, but they are in a nice 50-degree room with unfrozen water bottles and a warm place to sleep. The rabbits don't have the heat lamp the birds do - or the hardy wool that the sheep do. So they get some time inside till this weather gets a little more reasonable. The dogs have no comment. I woke up with Jazz and Annie curled up right next to me. We stay warm.

This week has been rough. Without going into details, both my family and professional life got shaken up. But I am happy to report my own little world here at Cold Antler has remained intact. At least for now. And I'll be celebrating nothing in particular this weekend with fire and music. Sandgate's having the annual Christmas is Burning Bonfire and Potluck. Everyone brings their old dead trees and there's a big bonfire with a community potluck. And since a few musicians (read me and some co-workers and friends) are bound to show up and make themselves comfortable in some corner of the host's farmhouse - I am fairly certain some old southern mountain songs will be ringing out in the cold north. I'll hopefully get some photos for you guys, they say it's a HUGE blaze, and I think after all these nights below zero, a bonfire sounds perfect.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

jazz and his girl

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

to love a place

That picture was snapped at the last minute. It was taken with a cup of coffee in one hand and a camera in the other. It was early winter of 2004, and I was still coming down from what may have been the best summer of my life. I felt good, really good. I was leaving the cafe and something about that moment made everything in my mind line up correctly. So I grabbed my Kodak and took a quick snapshot for the nostalgia I was already feeling before the shutter blinked. Which is a horrible way to describe a smile, and an intense sense of comfort. But that little mini coop parked along a secret street, quietly hidden beside a mountain in a small town... Well, it did that to me. Years later it still does and it's all I can think about tonight. The place is Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. It is my favorite place in the world.

You know you're in love (with anything really) when the best pieces of unrelated events or things remind you of said love. For example, when I was splashing my chacos through the clear water of Abram's Falls in the Smokies - the beauty instantly took me back to Glen Onoko Falls in Jim Thorpe. New memories are swallowed and made into poems for old places. Maybe that's sad? I'm not sure I know enough about these feelings to make a proper judgement, but tonight, at 26, that sounds okay to me. I'll take it.

Regardless, this happens because the switchboards in our brains have programmed themselves to absorb the emotions we need, and feed the ones we crave. Which may be a really shallow formula love, but there you have it. All I know is in all the years I've lived all over America — my happiest moments made me pause and think of Jim Thorpe. Made me think of victorian houses, brick buildings, narrow streets and Halloween. Made me think of churches turned into art museums, stone-walled galleries, statues of stags, and a train station that still steams up the mountain every day. Those instances of bliss in far away places made me remember a different town's past of burning hotels, ghostly handprints in jail cells, and so many amazing drives rolling down the mountain into that town. Listen, if you live close to Jim Thorpe in October, you must experience this. Make sure you drive in during peak folliage. The sound and color will make you shake if there's anything in you that resembles an decent animal's soul. I'm telling you with the right music and the windows down in certain instances you can make transportation actually take you someplace.

Okay, enough of this. Goodnight.

down under

So here in Vermont we are gearing up for temperatures to drop into the negative teens. This week is going to be rough. We are in the heart of winter, and every morning when I am outside in the bitterawful, slinging hay over the sheep's fence - I can't believe, I can't fathom, that back in July I was outside in a skirt and a tank top. That I was standing in this very same spot barefoot. That I was swinging from the hammock half asleep at sundown, my fiddle's bow dangling from my wrist while the spring chickens slowly filed into their coop. It was barely 6 months ago but it feels like ages. Honestly, right now the green mountain state is another world altogether. I expect to see a mastadon pass by the dogsled any day now.

So yes, those days are over. I am now fighting ice, defrosting fonts, and trying to fatten up the livestock with some extra food to burn extra calories to keep warm. And hey, I don't want to come across as complaining (even though I kinda am). Truth is, I love this awful weather. I secretly thrive in the drama of all the season's bullshit. I love it when it's so humid I can't barely breath, and I love it when it's so cold that I can feel the air in my lungs clam up. I think all homesteaders are equally sadistic about the seasons. We take pride in taking an active role in them. They aren't scenery - they're allies. We live by them to plant, lamb, calve, hatch, harvest, and store. We dig the changes - from fireworks to fireplaces. We're quite a tribe, us hooligans in wellies.

Allison however, isn't dealing with the clam-lung. She's down in Australia, which is currently basking in high summer. She told me she found me in BUST magazine and has been following the story ever since online. She bought a copy of Scratch and has been so kind as to email a picture from the height of her garden season—which I'm certain is making every singe American reader squirm with envy... (Seriously, if you miss your garden, raise your hand...) The idea that somewhere in the world a reader is weeding (while I am praying my pipes don't explode) is a delightful truth about this round joint we call home. I'm jealous. I can't help it. But check out her sweet haul guys! Not to bad for a librarian huh? Thanks for finding me Allison, the pleasure's all mine.

Monday, January 12, 2009

kentucky rises!

This is something else. I've been sent a lot of bumper shots, but this is the first indoor plate I received. Notice the book and plate are in special company. This is Leslie's first ever homemade loaf of bread. She wrote 'I went for the braid jenna' and why not? She said it tasted great, and I bet it did. Something about your first loaf is really special, you slap on some butter while it's still hot and savor every bite. I was told you sleep with the first scarf you knit. I say you make sure you get the first bite of your own bread. A little selfishness is okay. Keeps us on our toes.

gifts, and other thanks

Yesterday was perfect for mushing. I took the dogs out in the brilliant afternoon sun on a nice two-mile outting. You just don't know how beautiful Sandgate is when it's capped with snow under a blue sky. The dogs and I like the long stretch from our road down to Lincoln Lane. We pass goats and ponies, wave to neighbors, and try to duck out of the way of zooming woodpeckers that fly across the empty roads. There's plenty of soft sloping downhill so the dogs can really crank. For over a mile they just get a crush on their own legs and lungs till they are nearly ready to take flight. Usually we are so tired after the sprint, we all walk back home together side by side. I put on my ipod (p.s. go buy the Fleet Foxes album now, amazing) and while they silently pad along the ice, I look around the snow-covered dirt roads and birch trees with the stupid bliss a girl gets after running dogs. I am easily entertained. Which, by the way gentlemen, makes me a cheap date.

When we got near my road, I pulled the sled up to the mail boxes to see if anything came worth taking inside. We always do that after our runs, and usually I just pile angry bills into my sled bag and worry about my budget. However, instead of bills I pulled out a small, brown, package on this particular sunny day. The address was simple. Get this:

Jenna Woginrich, caretaker
Cold Antler Farm
Sandgate VT

And by god, it got here. To the mailer's credit, they did look up the zip code and include that, but props to the postal service for validating Cold Antler as a legit place. I lack any solid mail-related patience and opened it on the back of the sled while the dogs trotted home. I ripped the package open with one hand while using other to hold the brush bow while we glided along. Inside was something so hilarious, so wonderful, I nearly plotzed right there on the runners.

Mary, from nearby Clarksville, heard my interview on the Book Show. She then bought the book, found this blog, and read my open letter to Maude (who by the way, never responded) She saw Diana's comment on the post about wanting Maude T-shirts and was inspired to send this. She wrote she couldn't make me a shirt, but she did make me a set of note cards featuring Maude's photo and the line "...the mean, crotchety, ruthless old ewe" across her mug. Brilliant! I mailed one that very day to Diana (If you don't know who I'm talking about, Di was my farm mentor from Idaho. Get to know her, she often comments here) and another to my folks in Palmerton. What a treat. Thank you Mary. I think you're the bee's knees.

Then today on top of the mailbox was a package from Alaska. I knew who this was from, Joyce, a long time reader. She sent me a beautiful (handmade?) purple shawl and a polar bear card with a lovely note. She ended her letter with "please don't ever stop writing" and somewhere in my gut I felt some dirty unvarnished pride. Not for me, but for you guys.

This is going to sound silly, but you people have made me so very proud. Most of you are in the same place I am - limited by circumstances, but still big dreamers, scruffy newbies, or chomping at the bit to get into this farming gig. Yet among all your efforts and adventures - you people decided to make my little farm a part of your lives. I'm proud of you because you make time for me while you're doing the same things I am. And you make a constant effort to show your kindness even though you're all so busy. To know that readers of this blog take the time to mail photos, send letters, and e-mail pictures and stories... guys, you have no idea how much that inspires me. A woman from Kentucky sent me a photo of her first ever hand made loaf of bread. It was twisted in a braid near her state plate. When I saw it I nearly teared up. Oh, who am I trying to kid, I cried okay? I am a sap. You all know that by now anyway...

My life is pretty solitary. Yes I work a full-time job, but after work I have just me and the farm, two dogs, and a lot of books and music. But to know that there are people all over the world waking up, pouring their morning coffee*, and thinking "Hey, I wonder of Maude poisoned Jenna yet?" and then click over here to read about were-roosters and ice storms.... I don't know, I'm just so damn grateful to have folks that want to listen to me in the first place.

And I won't stop writing. I think I'm somewhat dependant on it at this point. But you need to promise me you won't stop knitting, or reading, or buying that first banjo, or gardening, or sewing, or baking, or training your dogs, or antiquing, or buying local, or dreaming about your own farms. There is safety in numbers for people with big hope and small chances. I think as long as we keep egging each other on, we're a force to be reckoned with. So again, thank you so much. So much.

I only half apologize for how corny this post was, because I really mean it. And I'm also kind of concerned I just gave Maude the idea to poison me...

*I assume CAF folks are coffee drinkers like me. Tea drinkers are also welcome. I can respect that lifestyle...

the other side

I snapped this photo of a corner of my desk at the office before I left for the day. I have a lot more junk around, but this little section seemed somewhat pretty in the 5 o'clock light. This is where I spend the bulk of my time. You guys see so much of my life at the farm, thought I'd share a small part of my work life. The other side, so to speak. Welcome to my desk. It's got charisma. If you worked with me this is the kind of crap you'd have to put up with.

japhy ryder reincarnate

Jazz is different than other dogs. There is something that is instantly familiar about him to people meeting him for the first time. It's something you recognize, but it's not at all canine. Meeting Jazz is like seeing an old photograph from the 1940s. People always tell me he reminds them of someone, but never another dog. My friend Kayo in Idaho, said he reminded her of a movie star. My friend Brian in Tennessee called Jazz one of his favorite people he ever met. For some reason, this calm boy reminds people of someone dynamic in their lives.

Jazz doesn't bark. He rarely grows. He is generally silent. He doesn't care about toys, and ignores other dogs when they appear on the scene. He isn't interested in food, and abhores loud noises. He isn't scared of them, just annoyed, and he makes that clear by trotting into a quieter room when a fiddle is played or a movie comes on. He has more important things to consider, you see.

It is near impossible to get him overly excited or overly tired. When he runs on the dogsled it is with the focus of the all. His head low, his body always taunt on the line. Unlike Annie, (who certainly reminds me of a dog) she lopes along like a heavy puppy - Jazz pads evenly as if he is keeping a beat of music in his head. Yet through all this focus Jazz is genuinely compassionate. He loves to keep me company, to nuzzle his big wolf head and half open yellow eyes into my ribs while I am reading, or half awake at 4AM. He likes to jump up and place his giant snow paws on your lap and have his ears scratched. But when he's done with you, he'll slowly (always slowly) back off and head into another room. perhaps take on the couch. He loves those quilts.

He is better at being a dog than I will ever be at being a human. He reminds me of one of the old Zen lunatics. The mountain monks who went through their lives writing poetry and living haiku to haiku. Affected by nothing, but affecting everyone around them. When you meet Jazz you get a sense of relaxation, like someone is finaly on top of things. Jazz is on it. He's always on it. He never left it, so don't be silly and stop your fretting.

If Jazz was the only reason (and certainly, he wasn't) but if he was the only reason I lived in Tennessee, my time there would've been more than worth it. I can't imagine not having this dog in my life. Don't mistake this post as not loving, or caring for Annie as much, of course I do. But Jazz was my first away-from-home dog and will always be the most impactful. I don't know any other person who instantly makes me feel like the world is in a proper order. Even if I don't understand how or why. Yet he does. Jazz trots on. He is on top of it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

how to build a fire

A reader saw the post below with the image of my fireplace and asked if I could explain how to build a fire. I answered her in the comments section, but decided to make this it's own post so it's easier to reference when people actually need it. Now, there are probably a billion ways to do this, but this is the method that works for me. It's worked at bonfires and on beaches, and it worked at campfire and in cabins. It's really easy. You'll just need to remember two things. Fires need air to breath and they burn up. If you make it so air can get under the flame and stack things like a teepee, you can start a non-duraflame fire anywhere. But hey, I use those starter logs too. It's a quick way sometimes to get things going in a hurry. No judgements here. We all know I'm not a purist.

Note: You may need to "light the flew" if your fireplace is on a lower level of the house. This means opening the hatch (flew) and throwing some burning newspaper or old toilet paper rolls up there to make sure the air is drafting up the chimney and not into your house. When you're flew is open, and taking smoke up, you can light a fire. You can test this by lighting a match in the fireplace and seeing if the flame is burning up, or leaning towards you inside the house.

1. Start small. Get small kindling-style sticks or small "firestarter" slats. (Orvis sells this stuff called "fatwood" that is gangbusters at this.) But you can use any small, dry, sticks (old dead pine is amazing, as is pine cones). You're going to want to make them into a teepee shape, with some paper or dry grass or anything that will burn easy underneath them. Have some of this on the side to keep fueling you're starter teepee incase the first round doesn't take. The firestarter, (that thing you orginally light - the paper, what have you) needs to ignite something slightly larger than itself and burn up.

2. When your original little pile is going strong, and the wood (not just the paper) is burning well, slowly add slightly larger wood to your small fire, placing it like a Teepee. Point the wood so it can burn up, leaving the bottom airy. If you pile wood on top of each other you'll just smother it. So stack it in a circle, or semi-circle. Using the back wall of the fireplace as a prop.

3. Keep your fire in the back. You don't want smoke thinking your house is where it should go. The closer to the back of the fireplace you burn, the least likely you'll have a smoky house. I learned this the hard way. Trust me.

4. When you have built up to medium sized logs burning through themselves it's okay to let the fire fall into itself. No more Teepee action needed. You can also start to add bigger longer burning wood to last for the long run. My goal is to always get the fire to a point where I can load up a decent log that will burn for hours while I sleep, keeping the living room warm. I hope this helped Debbie? The main idea is to start with that tiny twig teepee and slowly add onto it.  

good morning from cold antler!

jersey birds!

Brian in New Jersey sent me this photo of his backyard flock diving into a good read. Look a those beautiful birds! Brian's flock is just these four chickens, but they keep his home well stocked in fresh food. I have such a soft spot for Light Brahmas, these giant white hens with feathers on their feet. If you're looking for a brown egg laying, pick-up-and-hold chicken - these are your girls.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

feed day

So they are calling for another storm tonight. Reports vary, but a decent cap of snow is on the way for certain and I am wearing my heaviest pair of Carhartt socks. Outside my kitchen window I can see the first flakes starting to fall in the glow of the porch lights. They are welcomed guests. Welcomed because I am totally prepared.

Last night at the book store a young audience member asked me what my 'favorite part about farming was'. I told him it was that feeling of being done. Which I tried to explain as that profound sense of accomplishemnt you feel when animals are fed, gardens are watered, and all the chores needed to run your farm are over. Earned respite is my cocaine. To stretch out in a hammock, or curl up in front of a fire tired and happy from hard and dirty work is an addicting sensation for me. It's a refuge from everything. Tonight I feel like that because today was a special breed of farm work. It was feed day.

Feed days aren't planned. They happen out of necessesity. I was running low on my chicken's combination of layer crumbles and scratch grains and the sheep were getting dangerously low on hay. I had enough to get us through the week, but something about snow coming made the idea of procrastinating very unappealing. I wouldn't feel right putting off the effort knowing the grain bins were scraping the bottom and hay stash was down to three bales. So after a decent farm breakfast of scrambled eggs and pancakes I warmed up the haytruck (my station wagon's nickname) and the dogs and I headed west into New York.

I live just a few miles from the state line. If you take a winding dirt road from my cabin you'll cross over into New York. It's a swell drive, taking your passed beautiful farmhouses and postcard landscapes. Annie hangs out the window eyeing horses, sheep, goats and calves. To them it's a regular safari, but I was more practical about our roadtrip. I was heading to an old barn in Shusan. Hidden behind it, was my favorite feed store.

If you pull into the driveway and roll down a small hill, you'll find D&D feeds. It's a small operation, but ran by good people and whenever I can get there for feed I do. The dogs waited in the car and I went in to place my order. I needed a hundred pounds or so of poultry feed, and as I walked inside I was somewhat shocked by all the cars. Then I remembered...snow is coming and in farm country bad weather requires tailgating. I went in to join the party.

Inside half a dozen people (and a dog named Tucker) were discussing the storm. I placed my order for layer feed and scratch and lsitened to the meteorologists amongst the alfalfa pellets. It's funny how talk of snow changes when you pass the state line. Upstate New York is a lot more farmy than Vermont is. Tell a room full of Vermonters that snow is coming and the snowboards, cross-country skis, and snowshoes come out. They load up the Subaru with hot chocolate in the cupholders and head for the slopes. But Tell the same news to a room full of New York Farmers and low voices start discussing if the stock water heaters have been set, and if enough hay was brought down incase they couldnt get into the loft. They worry if the truck's engine can handle the freeze, and balance their Stewarts coffee on the dash while they look for extra flashlight batteries. One state's recreation is another states reason to worry. This is of course a rash generalization, but it's what I've come to notice. My heart leans on their side of the state line.

When my chicken side of grocery shopping was done, I loaded up the car and lugged the 50-pound bags onto the porch. I remember when I got my first chickens in Idaho, and bought my first bags like this. Oh man, how heavy 50-pounders felt before I seasoned my body to it. Now I've learned all the shoulder and arm tricks that make carrying a feed bag as hard as a throwing a backpack across your shoulder. You learn as you go.

Now it was time to go buy hay. Come closer folks because I have a little secret I am slighty embarrassed to admit...I love buying hay. I love everthing about it. I love that money I work for is going to buy food for sheep—a form of commerce exchange that used to be a pipe dream and now is an item on my to-do list. I love driving to Hebron with an empty backseat and driving back with it so full I can't see out the rear windows. I love talking to Nelson, my hay enabler, who met the same day I drove those sheep home and have loyally bought from him ever since. I love the backroads. I love the smell. I love the people I meet who are also buying hay, and I love grabbing those green, beautiful, bales by the baling wire and loading them into my car. I love how it makes my arms hurt. I love that I am doing this only because three weird sheep depend on me for everything. That first scarf I knit from those guys will be knotted with those same sore arms and green bales. I look forward to it like nothing else.

I don't know how normal it is to love heavy packages of dead grass? But I do. It's a reality of this life I have carved out for myself and I'm running with it. Hay and coffee. The two pillars that will hold up the base of any future happiness this short life may bring me. May they live forever.

I drove back home to Sandgate with hay sticking out of the hatchback and the heat and radio blaring. Ironically, Jack Johnson was on EQX. A musician known for his summer surf tunes. Yet here I was in 11-degree weather, rolling over white hard-packed roads, as the ukelellis and guitars lead me home. I liked the soundtrack, it made me laugh outloud at the crows rising from the dead cornrows. A girl from suburbia driving hay to sheep is about as out of place as Jack Johnson tunes in a vermont winter. You have to fall in love these things as they happen.

So here I am, inside my cabin with the snow falling and a sense of peace. I have a garage loaded with hay and enough feed to last the birds for weeks. I have a decent pile of wood outside the front door, and a fire going strong inside it. In front of my fire is the iron stag that always adorns the hearth. He means a lot to me. (Someday I'll explain to you why I surround my life with antlers, and what they mean to me.) I have my heart set on watching High Fidelity with some hot chocolate and watching the snow fall. I can now have that feeling again, the reason for all this, that sacred "doneness" I was talking about. It was a good feed day guys. Really good actually, and now I am off to do my favorite thing about farming, which like I said before, is nothing at all.

north to the future

Look what those Texans started... I have lost count how many of these plates we have aquired. I have a few more up to bat, so if you sent one in and haven't seen it - you probably will. But now we're getting pretty tough. Joyce from Alaska sent hers in and I thank her. Oh, and just a note, if you email me any images please keep in mind your pal Jenna is here on dial-up (seriously...welcome to rural America) so anything over 300k takes months to download. So send those images, just keep them web sized. Sorry for that lame PSA.

the inaugural

Linda, the events coordinator at Northshire, said about 60 people came for the event last night, which absolutely blows me away. (I was expecting maybe twenty.) I promised myself I wouldn't get nervous, but when I looked around and realized it wasn't just co-workers and people from Storey... I started to feel my hands clam up. Then, to relax myself, I started talking to people sitting in the front row. This was a mistake. They told me they drove two hours to hear me talk about wool and chickens. Which just upped the anti from nervous to slightly terrified. Here we go.

I had nothing prepared except talking a little, then reading a little, and then I had some music planned thanks to my friend Dave. I called Dave two hours before the show started to see what he was doing and if he wanted to play some mandolin at a bookstore? He promptly ended his laundromat adventures and came-a-running. I was so happy and relieved to see another mountain musician before I went up on stage. Watching him walk through the crowd was like a scared wolf seeing another mangy (but not at all scared) wolf walking through a thick herd of deer - together they could set down their music cases and figure out how to work with the crowd, make the task ahead seem less daunting.* Him walking in with a gig bag and an old flannel shirt instantly calmed me down. He was one of my people, and two wolves are always better than one. Dave would be my insurance policiy, because even if I tanked these people would hear some decent playing from him.

This was my inaugural event. I had never been "Jenna, the author" anywhere like this. Sure I went to bookseller conferences, but those were signings for people who hadn't read the book yet, they knew nothing about me. At Northshire it was all people who knew me, or read about my life online - a very different crowd. The more I thought about it, the less confident I felt. While Linda read an introduction to myself (a very weird thing to hear) all I could think of was how horribly ill-prepared I was for this. When I walked up to start talking, I choked something out about how this book was about three things I love - food, music and animals. And then, trying to be funny, I told everyone in a lower voice if they were with someone who didn't love food, music and animals they better get out, and quick. Because I over think everything, I was instantly worried I just insulted some nice people who happened to be allergic to cats or hated cooking - worried my foot was already shoved down my throat. I scrambled on.

My hands were shaking the whole time, which you couldn't see behind the podium, but you could easily hear when I played some fiddle tunes. I played awful, off the nerves. All twangy and soft and skittering around the bow like a 6 year old. I was secretly grateful my boss from work didn't show up because he's a pretty talented guy music-wise and hearing his employee falter through a small set like that may be horrible poor career move. But I got through a version of Wayfaring Stranger and Cluck Old Hen without messing up even if it sounded crappy. I realized then I never played for people before, only with people. There is apparently a huge divide between those two in my mind. I need to get over this. Hopefully by the events down in Albany, I will have. If not, be prepared for the shakiest renditions of old songs you ever heard...

So okay, I started out pretty shaky, but after the reading got some laughs (and my bad music got some smiles) I relaxed. Then things got easier. I felt more comfortable answering questions because it was more like a conversation than anything else. It all wound down at the signing table. There I met a CAF reader or two, like Jeff from Pawlet, who was kind enough to come. And I ran into a new couple who just moved to Vermont two weeks ago, who heard me on the radio and came to check it out, which made me happy to be someone's Friday night date.

A couple co-workers showed up! Including the three guys from the production area where I work. The same guys who helped build my sheep shed this summer and I drink coffee with everyday. I beamed at the sight of them, and everyone from work who decided to spend their time off the clock with me some more. Bless their patient hearts.

Thank you to everyone who came out on a 6 degree Vermont night. Thank you to everyone who wished me good luck via comments or emails. And thanks in advance to anyone planning on putting up with me in Albany on the events on the 24th. It means a lot to a girl in the middle of the woods.

Okay, coffee is done on the stove and I need to get these animals ready for next week's deep freeze. New straw, plenty of food, and fresh water hauling - here I come. Well, after the coffee. I'm not made of stone people.

*Sorry about the wolf metaphor, but this is how I see everything in social situations - like events happening in the animal kingdom. All the people I meet instantly remind me of an animal and they stay that animal in my head. I'm sure there were some wolves in the audience, but they came in deer costumes you see. So I'd have to meet them to know. If you can follow this, you have been reading my blog too long.

Friday, January 9, 2009

me and the gang

photo by Joanna Chattman

Thursday, January 8, 2009


When I went back to Palmerton for Christmas my parents threw me a party. They invited old friends and neighbors into their home to celebrate the book's publication. People I hadn't seen in years came to wish me well, have some nog, and dig into some pie. But out of all the guests - one person floored me with an amazing gift, my hairdresser.

Stacey had been cutting my hair since I was in Junior High. She's a short, spikey-haired, spunky, gal who over the years has watched me grow up. My mom's been going to her shop for decades, so for Christmas she gave each of the stylists a copy of Made From Scratch. Stacey really liked it. For some reason, it really touched me to hear that from such a background character of a past life. I don't mean that in a negative way, but hometown hairdressers are people you seldom see. To hear she remembered me, read my book, and was inspired to plant some veggies after so many years since I sat in her chair... well it was downright touching.

She came with a gift. Out in her car, she told me between sips of punch, were quilts her grandmother made. She said she had so many of them, and wanted to give me a pair for the cabin. I almost fell back. She then brought them inside. One orange, and the other teal. (Incidently, my two favorite colors.) They were so beautiful. There is something unspeakably beautiful about handmade things designed to do simple tasks. Things that keep you warm, feed you food, or haul water to the garden. I think old quilts, cast iton teapots, and old rusty watering cans are beautiful in their loyalty and utility. I feel that way about most things.

After the holiday was over and I was driving home to Vermont, I kept looking in the rearview mirror at them to make sure they were still there. It just was so unbelievable to me, that I was bringing them to Cold Antler. Now they are in my living room. At night I curl up under them to read or watch movies. They keep me warm, in so many ways. Thank you Stacey. And thanks to everyone who said a kind word or picked up the book over the holidays. Everyone who reads this blog, or pages through the book, is a part of a quilt in a corny metaphoric way. A thousand little pieces coming together, following a story, and hoping it turns out to be something worth settling down with.

idaho, this morning

Moose used to be a normal part of my life. When I lived in the inland north west, they were as common as barn cats. This photo was sent in by Janeen, from Idaho. Like her, I used to see these guys all over the yard and the town of Sandpoint. They were everywhere. I remember the AP picking up a story about Sandpoint's moose problem last winter. So many were wandering into town that became a civil problem. The cops were scared someone would get stomped to death for getting one angry. No one got stomped, and no one looked twice when a lanky winter cow and her calf were walking down the sidewalk by the post office and Monarch Mountain coffee either. People just hoped they weren't taking up any good parking spots.

Idaho has been on my mind a lot lately. It's still hard for me to believe that this time last year I wasn't waking up in this time zone. I would've been at the Idaho farmhouse, looking outside my window at Leopold. Leo was a gangly moose calf who had a crush on my station wagon. Every morning he'd be there. Just standing in the driveway near the car, the piles from the snow plows all around him like giant white tunnels. When I eventually went outside and told him to scat he'd lope off into the woods like a doe. I was always shocked at his grace. Then I'd make my way into town to the library to get online and figure out this cross-country adventure to Vermont. I think by this point I knew I was coming here? I remember sitting in Eich's (a local pub who's garlic fries I miss so much my ribs crack at the thought of them) with my friend Marjan and telling her I was heading to VT. I didn't know for certain, but had a hunch. One of those hunches you can't shake, even after a few Guinesses. And that was before I even flew out for the interview. Turned out of be right.

You know, I never did find out what Leo was really after, or what his car infatuation meant. But this morning, I kind of miss him. Him and many others. I miss the gang from the office, and how well we all got along. I miss Di and Bruce and hanging out at Floating Leaf Farm. I miss the friends I made in town, the Tuesday night music jam, and the fact that I used to live in a place where a ski resort, beach, lakehouse, home depot, and farm supply store were all within a five mile drive from my farmhouse. Oh well.

And hey, don't get me wrong. I adore Vermont. I think the two of us may be seeing each other for quite some time, and who knows, maybe we'll even get hitched. I know I probably won't be leaving the East ever again, it's just when you leave a place it gnaws into you in such an endearing way. All the colors in your memories are more saturated, the people more attractive, the times more pristine. Which is how I feel about Sandpoint this morning while I look outside my window at the rain and snow. There aren't any moose in my driveway right now. Actualy, I don't think you'll find that many in this state. Or maybe like the people, New England moose keep more to themselves.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

an open letter

Dear Maude,

Let's be honest. You don't like me. Actually, you don't like anyone. You stare at sheep and human alike as if they owe you something. You walk around the farm despondent, bitchy, and loud. When I walk up to your pen with arms full of expensive second-cut hay, all you do is stand there. The other sheep prance and hop about, but noooooo not you. You are a pillar. You have all the warmth of a dead gazelle. The others, they come up to me and let me scratch their heads and pat their sides. But not you. No, never you. All you do when I show up is give me a long look up and down as if to say "Yep. I hates me this woman something awful. Today's a fine day for some crackerjack-a-hating." Then you turn around and show me your very unattractive rear features. Crikey Maude, You don't even baa like the others. It's lower, angrier, and they're boys.

What's your problem Maude? Why do you hate everyone (read me) so much? What did I ever do to you? All right, there was the day I drove you here, but that day was rough on both of us. It's not easy getting livestock into the back of a Subaru. I get that you left your old home and landed with this rookie. I understand that now you're in a smaller house, less pasture... But hey, it's not the best memory for me either. That time when your halter slipped around your neck and you panicked, it was bound to choke you okay? That was like, 45% your fault. But come on, how long was that? A minute of discomfort before I was right there on the ground with you, taking it off, and making it all better. Couldn't have been that tramatic since the second you were in your pen your face was jammed into the grain bin like a fatty hamburger. Devastating, huh? Drama queen on the hoof, that's what you are.

Maude, listen, I am not going to eat you. I will never eat you. Here's a little secret: I have never even tasted sheep. Lamb has never touched these lips. You're living with a vegetarian on a small farm. You can't beat that with a stick. As far as sheeps' lives' go you've got it pretty boss. Okay okay...Yes, the rumors are true. Come spring I'll probably steal your outfit, but you'll be glad I did. No one looks or feels good in a wool suit in June. No one.

Maude, we need to work this out but I am running out of ideas. I've tried buying you off, bribery, gifts, extra attention. There was even that week where we ignored each other completely. I remember you being happiness then...When I pretended I didn't exist around you? Damnit Maude. All you're doing is proving the theory that I am crappy at making friends with girls. I have plenty of guy friends, but when it comes to making girl friends I am garbage. You're like those tall vindictive girls from 11th grade. You want me to get you a Diet Coke and a Teen Vogue? Really round out my high school experience?

Your roommates, those dudes standing next to you wagging their stubby tales - they love me. They can't get enough of me. Actually, we're thinking of joining a bocce leage together and you know what? With that attitude you're looking at a big "sorry, we forgot to invite you" right in the face. What do you think of that Sister Sledge? Huh? HUH?!

Oh, Maude. If we could power generators off your angst we'd have a potent source of renewable energy. You are hopeless. But you know what. I still kinda love you—you mean, crotchety, ruthless old ewe. Surely you will forever.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

hey, what are you doing friday?

Have any plans for Friday night? If you don't, and live somewhere around my stomping grounds here in southwestern Vermont, let's remedy that right now. If you can hear WEQX on your car radio, you can bundle up and come to the bookstore and give me a high five. On the evening of the 9th I'll be at the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester for my first ever "author event." I think this means I read something from the book, and then talk a bit, and then anwser questions. I'm not sure what order to do this, but I plan on being pretty damn casual about it. I refuse to get nervous talking to people about chickens and snap peas. This isn't exactly the Gaza Strip.

I may bring Jazz and my fiddle with me, but that's still up in the air. Not because I don't enjoy dogs and violins (there are very few things I enjoy more) but the idea of walking into a place with a dog and a fiddle seems to demand a certain amount of pinash I may not be able to summon at the end of the work week. But they do sell coffee there so maybe if I caff it up I can whip something quick and dirty out of my strings... Regardless of excess mammals and music—I will certainly be there. Hopefully dressed appropriately, and will sign things people ask me to sign. Anything really. Old Civil War books, receipts from Shaws, library books. I'm crazy like that. Though I would appreciate you picking up the book. Every book someone buys in my mind is a handful of chicken feed or an inch of land.

This is what the Northshire website says about the event. I added a true extra sentence for kicks. (Good luck hunting down that dead sea scroll, birddogs.)

Share the journey of a young woman determined to learn homesteading skills in the 21st century with author Jenna Woginrich, as she presents her memoir Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life. A resident of Sandgate, Vermont, 26-year-old Jenna Woginrich is a web designer by profession. At home, however, she works conscientiously at a self-sufficient life. One time her dad walked into a friend's living room in Lehighton PA and Paul Mccartney was sitting on the couch! (For No One, by the way, happens to be her favorite Beatles song...) From the joys of harvesting freshly laid eggs from her own hens, to taking honey straight from the comb from her beehives, Woginrich has learned the pleasures of self-reliance and has become less dependent on “stuff.” Made from Scratch is the chronicle of her joyful, dramatic, and sometimes sorrowful journey of learning skills including baking, spinning, sewing, and raising chickens. A web designer at Orvis, Jenna Woginrich is also a regular contributor to The Huffington Post’s Green Page and Mother Earth News’ blog pages.

powell's this week

hey gang, fancy news - I'm a guest blogger at Powell's this week. For those unfamiliar, Powell's is Portland Oregon's own indie-book megatron. It's quite possibly the largest independent store in America and it actually takes up a whole city block. It's a hip place to be invited to, so I'm jazzed about it. The posts I've written there are pretty general, but include things like churning butter with Tina Fey and chickens in the bathroom. Plus, I'll be introducing CAF to a whole new scene. If you'd like to see the posts you can find them here all this week.

Monday, January 5, 2009

from the motherland

this place...

I am wide awake because I just had the crap scared out of me. Twenty minutes ago I was asleep, blissfully asleep. But I was snapped out of bed by loud bangs and thuds. Someone, or something, was on my porch. The thuds just kept getting louder, followed by steps. I was terrified. I slowly rose out of bed and then pulled a curtain aside from the window. There in the half moonlight, I saw a blur of activity. Then my eyes darted down right below the window.

Maude was staring back at me, about six inches from the glass. I jumped back, surprised and simotaneously relieved it wasn't serial killers, or zombies, or worse yet those serial-killing zombies that are all the rage these days. Alas, just my three clever sheep. Looked like she and the boys had escaped from the pen and made a break for the cabin. They were happily eating their breakfast that I would've carried out to them in a few hours. Guess they were too hungry for AM room service and opted for take-out instead. Christ, this place.

I rolled my eyes, slung on my boots and parka, and grabbed the crook and lantern by the door on the way out. When I rounded the corner of the porch the trio of hoodlums jumped off the planks and turned around looking at me, well, sheepishly. I felt like a fussy storekeeper telling kids they couldn't skateboard here. They looked back at me with the same mild defiance of teenagers who just started listening to the Clash circa '79. If sheep ever looked like they should be wearing leather jackets with safety pins all over them, this was that moment.

"Let's go punks, London's calling" I said under my breath, walking back to their pen. Sal followed right behind me, he knew I was going for the grain bin. The other two trotted behing him in single file. I lead the flock back to their gate, (which they broke out of by lifting it off the hinges) and bribed them back inside with grains. I rigged what I could to fix it, praying it would last till morning. Not that it would matter if it didn't since they'd just be back on the porch again anyway. But still, what a way to start the week. Barnyard rebellion in the moonlight.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

my green goose

So my goose Saro is all grown up. This week she started laying her first eggs, which are HUGE compared to the chickens' usual deposits. They're fun to find, she lays them all around the coop in little hidden places. It's like a game trying to find the goose egg every day when I go to collect the daily room-and-board from the girls. When bring them inside and set them in the fridge next to the hens' they look like ridiculous cartoon eggs sitting beside them. They're tinted baby blue and one of them cracked into a pan is the same ratio as 2-3 chicken eggs. I had some scrambled goose egg this morning with grated Vermont cheddar and some pepper. Can't complain. That breakfast was the bee's knees.

Today however, Saro got a little...confused. I went into the coop to refill the birds' water fonts and give them their morning scoops of grain when I was jolted out of my usual routine by a loud honk. There at my feet, behind the grain bin, was little Saro, trying to lay in a new nest she was hiding. But this wasn't her usual temperment? I pride myself on having raised pacifist geese, and she was acting pretty preemptive. I don't take crap from poultry, so I gave her a little nudge to see what she was so fiercly protecting. She didn't want to move and hissed at me. "Hey Saro, quit it" I said, knowing she wouldn't bite me unless I pulled a shiv on her, so I moved her to the side. What the... something white, curly, and shiny was under her. It was a spiral of glass? Then I saw it.

She was laying on a compact fluorescent light bulb.

I died laughing. I removed it and pat her on the head, telling her "Al Gore would be so proud" and then put the bulb back on the shelf where it belonged. I have two bulbs I use in the coop for light. One is the heat bulb currently keeping the coop a comfortable 40 degrees during this freeze, and the other is a regular CFL lightbulb, the kind we're all used to seeing as the green alternative to the old (and might I add, more egg-shaped) bulbs. It must have fallen to the coop floor and Saro decided it was too large to be a hen egg, so it must be hers. Flawless logic. She was all hot and bothered when I left, but she'll get over it. Geese get over horrid PR incidents like this pretty quick. They're the Paris Hiltons of the of the poultry world.

It is nice to know I have livestock that so fervently support green energy. But hey this is Vermont, so none of us should be surprised.

on the radio

A few weekends ago WAMC's Book Show interviewed me about Made From Scratch, my life in Idaho and Tennessee, and asked me to give some advice to new or hopeful homesteaders. The show is about twenty minutes long, but kind of fun to listen in on. If you're interested in hearing me talk about city chickens, sheep in cars, jumping off waterfalls and growing food on your fire escape - check it out. Or if you simply have nothing else to listen to at work (I'll take that!) click below.

I'm show 1066 in this archive

Saturday, January 3, 2009

well, it's about time

From Jeff, who's 1953 Willys CJ3B Jeep owns face.

jenna hearts grant

I'm turning into quite the Civil War buff, thanks to the influence of my friend Heather, who originally sparked my interest when we lived together in Tennessee. Her excitement for the history, music, and culture of the war got me hooked on it. Over the past three years I've studied it here and there, the occasional documentary or book, but recently I can't get enough of it. It all feels like it just happened. There is no "long ago" to it for me. The peoples' faces in the photographs look as if I could be waiting in line behind them for coffee. The places where once thousands died, are places I've walked across, driven across, or have had touching memories with friends at. The fact that I sat under a statue of Warren at the Little Round Top, and was there with some of my favorite people to catch fireflies at sunset (till the park rangers made us leave) goes to show all their efforts and suffering created something. That it let something breathe. The more I learn about it the more upset I get that I missed it. That I missed the most exciting time to be alive in American history.

Surely, that is pure ignorance. Since who wants to live through a war in your backyard? But the more I read, the more I digest, the more I wish I could've heard the conversations and been there to see it. To see Grant (who I am getting kind of a crush on to be perfectly honest) on the night before a battle where 6,000 men would die—admonish a teamster for beating a horse and then tying him to a post for 6 hours - now that's something I wish I could've watched. The little things that happened behind the scenes engage, no addict me, to learn more. That man was a failure at everything in life except love, war, and writing - He was horrible with money, with jobs, with even his wardrobe - which to me, speaks of this deep passion for things that actually matter, and I can't not think about that everytime I read about him. What a guy.

Grant hated the marching bands that followed him around. He didn't like contrived music. He used to say, "I know two of those songs. One is Yankee Doodle - and the other one isn't." Which shows he was kind of a smartass, which makes me love him even more. What a beautiful, miserable, intense, and complicated mind. That photo up there, probably the second worst day of his life, was taken at the battle of Cold Harbor. That same day, 7,000 men died around him in less then twenty minutes. My god, I can't even understand that. I can only try to make sense of it with recent events.

Now, let's think about this. A few years ago 3,000 people died in the World Trade Center attacks and it nearly brought us to our knees. I am not in anyway, at all, saying that event wasn't epic, or belittling the suffering of those who lost loved ones. But keep the intensity of that day, what you felt as someone watching it all happen, in your mind when you look at that picture above. There Grant stands after watching double the carnage of 9/11 in less time then it takes us to watch a standard sitcom. But he had to watch people die one at a time and all around him, in person, under his command, and yet he still stands. I would be shaking, throwing up, falling apart and yet somehow he still manages to stand... He looks like the world might swallow him, that if he lets go of that tree he might collapse from the weight of it all. Who could blame him if he did?

I can't see these photos without wanting to know what people went though that day - what they ate, where they slept, what they hummed to stay awake the night before they died. I think I may know more about 1863 than I do about 1982. I mean, I know E.T. lost best picture to Ghandi at the Oscars, but the rest is kind of a blur...

I'm telling you, that is when men were men. Now most of the guys I meet would rather play video games than pick up the reins of a horse. I would give anything to sit down and have coffee with him. I bet he'd like Sigur Ros's album Parenthesis, or if he didn't like it, he'd be relieved to hear it instead of those marching bands. The quiet piano, cellos, and bass sounds of it. When I look at that picture of him, all I can hear is track three off that album. Of course he'd like it. It's a far cry from Yankee Doodle.

I wish I could've seen him ride past my house. I would've given him a high five. Or something more appropriate to the period, like a kiss on the cheek or a shot of brandy. Or both. Grant was a man who deserved all three.

see how they run

This is the first Saturday in weeks where I haven't had to get up early, pack the car, and go somewhere. The last few weekends have seen trips to the dentist, holiday travel, and frantic early-morning errands. But today, I slept in (sleeping in for people with livestock is around 7:30AM) and when I woke up, I only put forth enough effort to start the coffee on the stovetop, and get dressed to see to the farm. You could sit me down for hours and try to convince me there are better things to do with your winter mornings than sleeping in a small cabin at the end of the world and feeding sheep - and I will listen politely and nod - but you will never win me over. Mornings like these, are pretty damn great.

On weekends I let the sheep have their full pasture to explore. They can't be out in it all day when I'm at work because they are too clever for the electric netting, and will escape into the neighbors' yards to forage. I've come home to messages on my machines saying "Jenna, It's 5:30 pm - Do you know here your sheep are? Roy says they're eating his lawn..." So my sheep's playtime is limited to days I can keep an eye on them. Anyway, this morning, after a cup of very strong coffee, I put on my winter gear and went out to their fencelines with hay over my shoulder. When sheep see me with hay they jump and bleat from their pen. But instead of taking it to them, I dumped it on the far side of the field, about 30 yards from their enclosure. Then I walked, through the snow to their back gate, where Sal and Marvin were beside themselvs hopping up and down. The back "gate" isnt really a gate as much as it is the place where the end of one piece of wire fencing ends and is tied to a t-post with bailing wire. It works though (and hey, we aren't fancy).

I take out a knife from my pocket and snap the green twine, opening their back door. Then all three bound out, like cotton balls on stilts who's team just won the world series, and run through the snow to their breakfast. I love seeing those sheep run like that. They seem to glide over the snow, while their hooves pound into the ground like muted drumbeats. They plunge into the hay, and stand there for a long time munching.

Then I check on the birds, who already laid two eggs (which became my morning omelet), and went about the usual tasks of feeding scratch grains and layer feed to the crowing throngs, and petting Saro, the goose who I've really grown to like. Near the chicken coop is the large rabbit hutch where Bean Blossom lives. She's the French Angora rabbit (named after a banjo I someday hope to own) who is the biggest financial contributor to the farm after me. This past year she raised ten angora kits which I sold to other spinners and knitters, all beautiful healthy bunnies. Her little rabbits paid for most of the hay, and feed, that got us this far into winter. Her water bottle was frozen, so I brought it in to set by the fireplace to thaw. Benjamin, her mate, lives on the porch of the cabin, and I grabbed his on the way in as well. With everyone tended too, I went inside the now warm cabin to do what I'm best at, which is nothing in particular at great length. Which, as you can see in the photo above, Jazz and Annie are experts in.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Hampshire, son!

Thank you Vonnie!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

the fallen ash

I should've known something was wrong when I touched Annie's fur. I had just woken up, and was warm as could be under my electric blanket, but her coat was as cold as if she had just been outside in the snow and not sleeping beside two large animals. I then noticed how cold the air was outside my little nest. I pulled off the covers and could see little clouds of breath coming out of the dog's mouths as they panted. Oh no.

The oil tank was empty.

This is a big deal people. It was -7 outside, and if the pipes froze they could shatter and burst and havoc would consume us. The cabin's heated by a great big oil tank, and it was running low. I called for a delivery earlier in the week, anticipating this, and knew the truck would be here Friday. I just prayed we'd make it till then. We didn't. The furnace had shut itself off. There was ice in the dogbowl in the kitchen. We were in trouble. Very cold trouble.

I checked the faucets, which I had let drip all night to keep it moving. Luckily, they were still running. Thank goodness, at least we're okay there. But the best laid plans...

By the time the dishes were done, the dogs and sheep fed, and the chickens were laying their morning eggs - all the pipes stopped. Whatever had remained in the water heater had been used up and no new groundwater could get into the tanks. This was getting serious. I was freezing, the inside tempterature was 37. What could I do?

WARM UP! Was all I could think. I am a person of action. I need to do things. So I started working to heat the place up with what I had around. I had a small pile of wood left outside on the porch, and I instantly revved up the fireplace. I lit every candle, turned on the stove, blow-dried the sink pipes...it was a pathetic struggle really. However, I was actually able to boost the heat indoors and take off my parka. A small victory, but a victory none the less.

I then called my neighbors Katie, Dean, and his wife Nancy. I felt awful calling them at 9AM on a holiday, but I needed their help. I wasn't really sure how to tackle this. So I left a message for Dean and Nancy to please let me borrow some firewood from their huge stack so I could keep the warmth going. And since Katie is my quasi-landlord (not really, in my head she is) and has restarted this tank before, I left her a message begging her to help rescue the joint from flooding and hypothermia. Let's hear it for me.

While I waited to hear back from them, I paced around the house. My fire, the only thing keeping the place tolerable, was almost out. I called two emergancy oil services and they both quoted a trip and fuel to cost somewhere around 500 bucks. Impossible money for me to drop for one thing. I was getting scared now, but then, a small series of amazing things happened to save me from panic, and it began with a ringing phone.

Dean and Nancy had heard my pathetic message. But instead of lending me some logs–Dean went out in the the now balmy 8 degree weather with a chainsaw and chopped up a dry fallen Ash into fireplace-sized logs. Out in the freezing cold he cut enough fire fodder to fill the back of the subaru, twice. After I thanked the hell out of him, unloaded all the wood, and had the fireplace going strong again, I cried. I couldn't help it. I was sitting there by the fireplace all teared up because I was so touched by the huge gift, the effort, the goodness of these neighbors. The cabin was warming up, and I felt a little better. Gratitude melts misery.

Then Nancy called and offered me a space heater from her art studio if I wanted to go pick it up in Arlington. I couldn't believe their generosity. Hundreds of pounds of firewood, heat sources, instant service! and all from the same people who watch my farm when I go away and who let me borrow a knee brace when I got hurt last month and was limping for days... If I was a general, they'd still rank me.

Soon afte rall this. Katie and her boyfriend Sam arrived, another pair of rural superheros. Usualy when I am around them Sam and I are playing music together (he's an amazing guitarist) at some warm bonfire or at Sandgate events like the Ox Rost. But here they were in my kitchen, ready to rescue me from my cold home. Within the hour they were checking the faucets, looking at the oil tank, figuring things out. They made half a dozen trips back to their place to get things like extension cords, funnels, and tool boxes. We decided to get through the day by dumping 10 gallons of fuel in the tank to kick it back into action. The heat should help melt the icy pipes. She also brought up two 5-gallon tanks I could borrow to fill with Diesel from down at Chem Clean (a local gas station/furniture restoration business owned by neighbors, fellow mushers, and good friends, Suzanne and Allan) The fuel would tide the tank over till the oil man came tomorrow.

We all got to work, putting heat tape on the pipes, shutting off breakers, figuring out how to bleed the line, and get the water moving again. Katie set up her space heater in the furnace room to warm the place (and us) up. These people could've, should've, stayed home in bed after their late night of dancing, but instead they were here, giving me their holiday. I could have kissed them both.

When everything was in order, I ran down to Chem Clean for the fuel. Jazz and Annie came along because they adore driving and I adored being in the warm car. When I pulled up the gas station I could see Allan's dog sled and knew he had been out running his three Siberians that morning. Sure enough, inside the store were his three dogs, all asleep, curled up on fleece beds. Sherman, Nina and Leera all came up with their blue eyes and wagging tails to say hello to me. Even though they were tuckered out from their morning run, they were happy to greet some company. It's nice to see happy working dogs like those, and in the middle of a very hectic day, giving good dogs a scratch behind the ears is like a 45-second shock treatment - getting your head back in the right place after all the stress. Oh, dogs.

On the way home with the fuel, I stopped at Wayside for some fuel for myself. I got a hot coffee and a muffin, extension cords, and a can of lamb dogfood as a treat for my roommates for putting up with me. (Good coffee is essential to this story, as it is essential to all things.) On the way back to the farm, I called Ed Gust, a neighbor with a plow, to come clear the driveway if he would please. With the oil guy coming tomorrow, they demand a clean route to deliver or balk and drive away. Ed obliged and that afternoon he came rolling into the driveway on his 1952 Ford Tractor. With his red plaid hat and beard, he looked like something from a Norman Rockwell painting. His dog, Juno, a tawny black lab mix with wild long hair (that by the way, runs like the goddamn wind...I have never seen a dog run like Juno. He is but a black blur in the birches) was with him. Loping aside the tractor like a personal assistant (which I suppose he was).

We love our dogs here in Sandgate. They are everywhere with us, always.

Juno was an impressive dog, but the sheep eyed him like he was a spy from the old country. Maude stomped her foot and bitched at him with angry low bleats. Juno pissed on their fence and trotted away. This made Maude bitch louder. I laughed out loud while Ed plowed the drive. Moments like that have become hilarious to me, and a few yeras ago I doubt I'd even notice the antics of sheep. Now I thrive off it. I wish Maude drank coffee. We'd get along so much better if she did.

Together Katie and Sam refilled, restarted, and repaired all the problems. I thanked them over and over, wishing I could do something to repay them. I need to think up something really good, but the only plan I have so far is those two are getting the first scarves I knit from the sheep's wool. They certainly deserve it more than I do.

So, now the house is a comfortable 62 degrees with a roaring fireplace, and the shower spews hot water and soon the kitchen sink wil catch up and do the same. I am here still in awe of how blessed I am to have people like this all within shouting distance of the farm. The day started out terrifying and ended with this sense of home, and comfort, and this weird Vermonter-insurance that we all live by. I never really knew a single neighbor in Knoxville, but here I know everyone and they know me. This is key to me not freaking out or giving up on this farm life. Well, this and really good TV on DVD.

Just recently, Nancy and Dean called to check up on me, offering me some warm soup if I wanted any. Katie and Sam talked to me too, making sure the water was back on and all was well. I offered them all fresh baked cookies, but all four declined the gift. Which shows they not only are helpful, but healthy. Pillars of humanity, them. Surely if life has something to be winning at - they already won. Cold Antler Farm is back in order, and thanks to this small town, it'll stay that way. Mostly because they wouldn't have it any other way.

When I went back into the furnace room to check on the water tank I noticed Katie has taped up a laminated copy of the story of the grasshopper and the ant to the wall. Her version of a lecture for not ordering fuel sooner. I smiled, and loved her for it.

p.s. image above is a screen print by New England artist Dan McCarthy, who does amazing work, usually with trees, winter, and dinosaurs, look him up. He seems kinda dreamy

chicken approved

Happy New Year from the freezing-cold hollows of Southern Vermont. Hope all of you are getting over your hangovers and enjoying a quiet holiday. Mine however, wasn't exactly relaxing. Stay tuned because man, have I got a story for you. CAF had a mini-crisis this first day of 2009, and had it not been for the amazing people of Sandgate, your friend Jenna could've been in very very deep trouble. Four intrepid neighbors saved the day with helps of diesel and chainsaws and tool belts and good additudes—and I'll tell you the whole thing later on tonight. Right now I need to go outside before it gets too dark and get the sheep back into their pen and check on the chickens. Before I do, I thought I'd share this photo from Lisa in Indiana. She assures me the book is approved by her Midwestern livestock. Her small flock of eight hens and a rooster named Rico keep her stocked in eggs and entertainment all year long. Right on sister suffragette, and that's a swell looking bird.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

fair memories

If you read Made From Scratch, you may remember a story about when I entered my Silkies at the Bonner County Fair. It was a big time. I got to wash the chickens in my kitchen sink with Seventh Generation dish detergent and blow dry them on the counter. The humming whrrrrr of the hair dryer played back up to Spokane's Backporch Bluegrass show on NPR. I wrote in the book about how I remembered thinking how different my life was from the people I graduated design school with. That I hadn't traveled the globe, or bought a fancy car, or even got a promotion in the office - but I had blow-dried Japanese miniature chickens i raised from poofballs in my kitchen. Which was a whimsical experience. And hell, that beats a postcard from Paris. After all, Paris doesn't lay breakfast for me everyday.

I showed up at that small fair with those birds in a cardboard box and no clue how poultry shows worked. But after some paperwork, help from others (there was a very confusing cage tag system), I had officially entered my first ever livestock in a fair! I loved it. I just loved that I could even say I did it. If I ever have kids, I'll probably want them all in 4-H just so I get to do it more often. Showing the chickens was downright fun. I didn't really care about the contest, but hanging around the hall and talking to fair-goers and other entrants was this instant community of friendly people that seemed to come out of nowhere (just-add-chickens). If you have some birds and a fair close to home, go for it. At the very least you'll meet some interesting people and maybe come home with a ribbon. And there is this great parent organization called the APA. I ended up joining just for the sake of being in the show loop and getting their newsletters and such. I tell you, chickens are a pretty hip scene.

That stupid smile my face is half awe that we won something, and half bliss that I was even holding a chicken I raised in the first place. Just a year before that photo was taken, farming was a pipe dream. Now, a year after it was taken, I have 16 birds and supply my co-workers with free-range organic eggs, just like my mentor Diana did at my old job. Things happen like this. You'll see, when you get your own birds it all just falls into place. Usually without the aid of blow dryers though.

If you're new to homesteading, or maybe just thinking about it, I can not tell you how enjoyable poultry is to have around. If your town allows hens, seriously, don't waste another Spring without them. Chickens are easy, clean, quiet and their lives are full of personality and vigor. Here we have twelve laying hens and four roosters. The four roosters (Winthrop, Chuck Klosterman, Sussex and Rufus Wainwright) all get along. This is because Saro and Cyrus, my geese, will not allow fighting among the birds. If two roosters even consider fighting, the geese break it up and honk them away. They are CAF riot patrol. Now Chuck and Sussex are actually friends, and roost side by side every night in the coop. So peace can be made between hormonal angry men, I have proof with claws on a stick right outside.