Friday, October 23, 2009

before it all

When I graduated from Kutztown in 2005, my first post-college job was in Knoxville, Tennessee. I moved there by myself to work for a television network's website. I rented the bottom floor of an old boarding house in a historic district called Fourth & Gill. This was my old bedroom in said apartment. I laughed when I came across this photo because I'm pretty sure that old place could fit two of my present cabins inside it. Maybe three. If feels like ages ago. A past life.

This picture was taken the day I brought Jazz home, which was in July of that same summer. I was alone two weeks in the world before I adopted him. They were an awful two weeks. Women of a certain disposition should not be alone in a new city without a good dog. They feel awkward and pointless without a leash in their hands in public—but give them a large, kind, dog and they are sirens. She can get by without a good man just fine, but never without a good dog.

I am of that disposition.

I look at this picture and can't help but smile, tilt my head, and raise an eyebrow. Back then all I wanted was to be a designer. I wanted a board position in my AIGA chapter. I wanted to be out in Market Square with my dog. Jazz, by the way, was never intended to be on snow. He was a southern city pet. Sure, he might pack in the Cumberlands with me, but he wasn't going to be a sled dog...

Little did I know 18 months later I'd be in a farmhouse in Northern Idaho with him, another Siberian, and a sled parked in the garage. That all happened because of a Cove in the Smoky Mountains, a night with fireflies at an abandoned camp, and a jump from a waterfall where a young man died the following day. Those are all separate and complicated stories, but they are why I'm writing you from a small cabin in a New England Hollow. They are the alchemy that created the hope you know as Cold Antler Farm. (Which, if you're new to this blog, hasn't actually happened yet. Welcome to the ride.)

Life can change fast. It doesn't really change any other way.

Anyway, I thought this snapshot from a past life might give some comfort to those of you who dream of goats and chickens and a cabin in the woods but are presently sifting through take-out menus in your current metropolis. Please remember, It was just a few years ago I had one dog in a city apartment. Now I'm in this beautiful mess.

Tomorrow I'll visit a brewery and probably come home wanting to make my own beer. Sunday Steve and I are going to slaughter an angry rooster I raised out of the palm of my hand. Right now I'm going to go outside and close the coop door before the rain comes. If you wish you too were closing a coop door you can take a deep breath and rest easy tonight. I promise if it's something you really want—it'll happen. You'll find a way because you must. And when it does happen, be ready because it'll come fast. Life doesn't happen any other way. At least not the parts worth living.


Blogger patriotic pastures said...

I am enjoying your blog very much. We live in SE MN on 20 acres with 4 kids,a big garden, chickens, ducks, turkeys, a lab,4 barn cats and 4 beehives. I would love to have sheep someday too and also maybe raise some scottish highland cattle. Life on the farm is hard some days, like tomorrow when we butcher our 48 broilers to feed us this winter, but as you say they had a good life with organic feed and free range, and we are thankful for them. Overall we love our farm and it is the best place to raise kids.

October 23, 2009 at 8:55 PM  
Blogger Wendy said...

I'm so excited I found your blog!! I LOVE IT!! I work for a farm called Polyface Farms in Swoope, VA and cannot wait to share this w/ everyone! And cannot wait to read your book!!!

October 23, 2009 at 9:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This entry was JUST what I needed. I'm slowly inching my way towards my dream of a full and thriving farm, but sometimes get discouraged when I realize the extent to which I haven't achieved my goals. Your writings, in all forms, keep reminding me to push onward and upward toward that lofty goal of chickens and goats :). Thanks for the photographic evidence that you too started this journey in an urban apartment.

October 23, 2009 at 9:30 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Hey Wendy, Tell Joel Jenna says Hi. He doesn't know me, but I know him. He's a personal hero at this little farm.


October 23, 2009 at 9:40 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Lovely, lovely post tonight, Jenna!

And you should TOTALLY brew your own beer (and hard cider, and mead, and country wine) . . . it's soooo easy and fun!

October 23, 2009 at 9:43 PM  
Blogger Aydan said...

I enjoyed this post. I live in 200 sq ft in a city on the east coast, so this was nice.

October 23, 2009 at 10:06 PM  
Blogger Tami said...

I have decided, at long last, to give in to or believe, that I am the sum of all my 'parts'. We have all felt the trials and tribulations of growing up and growing out,learning and sometimes re-learning, the lessons that have melded together to become, the sum of those parts, our present selves. I have also decided, that all of those things that I 'grew' through, are the very experiences and lessons that I can't undo. If I did (undo them) I would eventually, 'undo' myself.
We...must understand and embrace, that which made us who we are...and realize that hard as some of those lessons were, they were required to make us the wonderful people that we are today...and will be tomorrow. Dream on my friend...and enjoy the ride...that, is who you are.

October 23, 2009 at 10:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post was just what I needed. My husband and I read your blog often and loved your book. In part because of your inspiration we have planted a little (tiny!!) organic garden in the backyard of our apartment, have gotten a percolator at an antique store, taken up fiddling, made our own cheese, and read "Goat Song." My husband dreams of having goats and I of having chickens someday, but for now we are stuck in the heart of Los Angeles. We are getting closer to our dream of moving to the country, though. Every day, we get a little closer. As of late things have felt a little uncertain and scary as we make this transition, so reading your words tonight brought me great comfort.
Thank you for continuing to inspire.

October 23, 2009 at 11:06 PM  
Blogger karen said...

Jenna, as usual it was a great and inspirational post. Mostly though I just wanted to say I looooove the stuffed animal in the background! Made my day!!! Love your blog, just got your book from the library and am joining the book club at Crunchy Chicken which is featuring your book this month. Have a great weekend!
Karen from CT

October 23, 2009 at 11:29 PM  
Blogger Joleen said...

Yes, Jenna, we all have some
'past lives' and it's facinating to see how they brought us to the life we're living right now and dizzying how different (and better) the present ones are in their own ways. Jazz is a beauty! I'm reading your book this week (as I lay, recovering from surgery) and read the chapter about antiques and the cheese grater today. I find wonderful kitchen/cooking gagets at estate sales and love thinking about the former cooks who used and loved them.
J in Salt Lake City

October 24, 2009 at 12:10 AM  
Blogger Red-Handed Jill said...

Hey Jenna! I just found your blog and I love it--can't wait to check out your book!

October 24, 2009 at 2:43 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

That silly stuffed animal is named Coyote Sir, and if you google Coyote Sir you will find a $200 stuffed animal I adored but could not buy. So I went to the fabric store and made my own. That ugly beast is a Jenna Original. There is only one other Jenna Coyote Sir in the world and I have no idea what the owner did with it. It could be in a landfill or in Germany.

October 24, 2009 at 7:12 AM  
Blogger The 4 Bushel Farmgal said...

Hello Jenna,
Yes, everything we have been through makes us who we are today. That may sound cliché, but when we look at our own personal history it’s pretty amazing. You’ve shown this very eloquently. Being much older than you (lol), I can look back on where my life has taken me. It’s been a great ride, and it’s not over yet!
Enjoy your ride, the ups and the downs. You’ve got a whole lotta friends around if you need them.

Best wishes!

October 24, 2009 at 8:02 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

Huh! You went to Kutztown...

I know how that's pronounced.

Nice post, and I agree it's a slippery slope once you start with chickens, or anything of that sort.

October 24, 2009 at 8:06 AM  
Blogger ktkate said...

I liked this blog post a lot - that does seem like forever ago! Mike and I weren't even engaged then!!!! Life does change fast! Well, the important changes happen overnight. Let me know if you do begin brewing, I have often said Mike and I will be doing that one day whether he admits it or not!

October 24, 2009 at 8:45 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Jenna, I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it continue to encourage and inspire and I am so thankful for you sharing your life here...

sending you warm thoughts from the cold plains of MN-

October 24, 2009 at 9:01 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

I am laughing. Oh goodness, how I am laughing. See, we've had our sights set on NH. Always, NH. Maybe VT. But then. The husband scored a job transfer into a good position with his current company. Where is it? Knoxville.

Any recommendations for things to check out, good eats, etc? We'll be arriving there on Saturday next weekend. :)

October 24, 2009 at 12:37 PM  
Blogger P said...

Knoxville is supposed to be one of the most livable cities in the US.

SeekingTheSacred needs to see the Dervais's urban farm which is on 1/5th of an acre in downtown Pasadena- see - very inspiring for urbanites.

I'm a can-live-without-a-man-but-not-without-a-dog type myself. (Although having both is better!)

October 24, 2009 at 2:06 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

you will LOVE knoxville. Go eat at Tomato Head in Market Square, do it for me. I adore that place and miss their sunday brunches too....

get into the smokies, and they'll take you home.

October 24, 2009 at 4:40 PM  
Blogger BrizzyMum said...

Wonderful,how beautifully written! I have felt lost for sometime without a dog at my side. I feel so inspired to make the move to fill that missing piece in my life.

October 24, 2009 at 4:47 PM  
Blogger Shoveling Ferret said...

Thanks for the reminder that we may get to our farm someday. And, really, the value of a dog as a companion and partner (or other pet) cannot ever be overestimated.

October 24, 2009 at 5:37 PM  
Blogger Stacy said...

Hi Jenna,

Thanks for this post. I am a city dweller longing to get back to the country. Just need to put the pieces together to get there.

Keep up with the blog!

October 24, 2009 at 7:23 PM  
Blogger M said...


October 24, 2009 at 8:05 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

Jenna - I'm feeling really good about Knoxville. EVERYONE that has heard we're going there has nothing but good things to say about it! We will go there in your honor, I'll take photos & put 'em on my blog for you. :) (

I felt a little sad this morning, I packed the bookshelf that is on my side of the bed. And away into a box went your book, along with all of the other homesteading books I've slowly been collecting and reading through. It was almost like packing away a friend. I can't wait to unpack it at our new home in TN. :)

And, we're planning our first camping trip already, but it won't be until spring with our two little ones in tow. If we were more recently-seasoned campers, we'd probably brave it. Its been a good while since I've been camping though. But yes, seriously excited!

October 24, 2009 at 9:46 PM  
Blogger Chelli said...

Good luck on Sunday...

October 24, 2009 at 9:55 PM  
Blogger John Wesley Smith said...

Hi Jenna,
I've just started reading your book and thought I'd stop by the blog to have a look. I applaud your efforts. Keep up the good work.
Like one of your other readers, I know how Kutztown is pronounced, too, having lived in Potstown, PA, for a while in the mid '80's, where I worked for the radio station in Boyertown.
I blog at, where my focus is on preparation and survival. It's amazing how many tidbits of knowledge cross over from so many places to make us more ready for tough times..
In a few days I plan to put up a post about my meager gardening efforts. I mention this because anyone in an urban area can do amazing things with container gardening in a small space. My soil is lousy and full of tree roots, so I do a lot of gardening in 3-5 gallon buckets. Just yesterday I harvested a nice mess of potatoes.

October 25, 2009 at 9:51 AM  
Blogger weakyknee said...

wow, girl, you're making me cry.
it's all so good!

October 26, 2009 at 11:18 AM  
Blogger Butts said...

I'm not from Knoxville but I in the past I ran across two great music finds from there. WDVX, love to listen online, and Robinella. Do you partake of either?

Enjoying your blog and loved the book, recommended it to all my crafty, outdoorsy and homemade enthusiast friends.

Here's the link to mine. I know you have tons of free time! :0)

October 26, 2009 at 10:43 PM  
Blogger julochka said...

i enjoy reading of your journey. we've just put our house in town up for sale and are looking for a farm place ourselves. reading posts like this make me realize how fast things really do happen, even tho' they seem sometimes like they just crawl along.

November 2, 2009 at 1:13 PM  

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