Slugs eat vegetables. Chickens eat slugs. I have a small Japanese immigrant workforce at the farm taking care of the problem. They work for next to nothing and rarely complain. It's pretty great. Here is two kids from the gang patrolling the rows of Romaine and Buttercrisp. It’s a team effort.
This photo and post was from June 2007. It was back in Idaho that I discovered the hidden pest-control powers of a small band of chickens. Sometimes you got to let your flock get your back.
Old Crow Medicine Show has been a part of my life for many miles. I discovered them in Tennesse, played their songs at jams in Idaho, and recently my weekends here in Vermont have been spent with them once again - covering their songs with friends on the weekends. One of their songs, Wagon Wheel, is an all time favorite. Based on some old Bob Dylan lyrics, their incarnation makes me want to pack up the station wagon and head back home to Knox county.
Runnin' from the cold up in New England I was born to be a fiddler in an old-time string band My baby plays the guitar, I pick a banjo now Oh, the North country winters keep a gettin’ me now Lost my money playin’ poker so I had to up and leave But I ain’t a turnin’ back To livin’ that old life no more
So here is the deal. For all of you out there new to gardening, and all of you people with thumbs so green it could blind a vegan - we're all going to grow some food together. We're starting simple, humble, with one of my favorite indoor gardening buddies: the snap pea.
All you need to do to take part in the challenge is sign up. Once you sign up, you are making a promise to all of the CAF community that you will indeed go out and get some potting soil, a pot, and an agricultural light bulb for one of those old desk lamps you have lying around and grow some food. The point of this is to get everyone out there who reads about me doing this stuff also doing it. No more passive voices or living vicariously son, we're all getting our hands dirty together. And selfishly, I want to learn more about indoor gardening and get some sick recipes from you kids when our peas are hanging heavy on the vine. I think it'll be a fun, cheap, and interesting way to tell winter to go to hell.
We're choosing peas because they thrive in cooler climates (like our winter houses), crawl up windowsills, bloom pretty white flowers, and taste amazing. Unlike other peas - snap peas can be eaten whole, pod and all. Now, regardless of all the people out there who will poo poo our early planting - we're going to do it anyway. What's the worse that can happen? Some of ours won't grow and then the rest of us will learn why. However, some of us may get to eat something from our own hands for the first time, and share it here. And I think that will be pretty cool. Maybe even inspire them to do it again in May with tomatoes or onions?
We're going to stick all of our seeds into our pots on the same day, February 15th. That gives you two weeks to buy, order, or find the few items you need to participate. Really you just need seeds, dirt, a pot and a bulb. I plan on switching out the bulb over my kitchen table with a grow bulb, and that's as technical as I'm going to get. A trip to the hardware store and a few dollars should cover this for you.
So that's the plan. Together we'll watch delicious food grow right in our own apartments and kitchen windows. Come March/April we'll swap stir fry and soup recipes, snap photos of our dishes and plants, and have a big time. So what do you say future pea farmers? Eh?
So here's how you sign up: Post a comment saying you'll do it Order some organic sugar snap pea seeds online Buy, borrow, or find some container garden potting soil Get a grow-bulb if you don't have great light indoors
We'll be soaking our seeds the night before we plant them, and like I said, they'll go under our grow lights/ windows on the 15th. The "challenge" of all this is simple. It is just to take some green action in your life. To take the first steps to a little more self-reliance. If you're already a homesteader or pro gardener, stick around and do it anyway. Teach us new kids how to do it up proper. Show us where to buy seeds, how deep to plant them, all that. I plan on posting updates to the challenge and giving a "snap pea primer" the weekend of the 15th so we're all on the same page, but I'm not a professional - I'm a chick with some raised beds and an open mind.
I don't care where you live, or where you keep your peas, just plant them. Let them rise up cubicles and catering businesses alike. But together we'll figure out peas, and have one garden vegetable under our belts by the time the ground outside is thawed enough to plant more.
So what's the verdict guys? Y'all want to plant something?
Spent my morning making a dozen giant cinnamon rolls. I snapped this photo right before they went into the oven. I baked them all in cast iron and they came out golden, sticky, and wonderful. I used goose eggs (thanks Saro) in the recipe, and that seemed to oblige them just fine. I will try to write it down next time I whip these up, but today's concoction was made up on the spot. I can't remember how much oil, egg, and sugar was added to the bread recipe, but I can say it will be duplicated. When I write it all down, I'll share it. I had two already, and the rest went to neighbors and the guys I played some music with this afternoon. Annie also stole one, but that was a given.
This was my first ever chicken coop. It sat on the back deck of the Idaho farm house. You can see the snap peas behind it crawling up the kitchen windows in the March sun. Yes, it's small, but it was all my original trio needed to keep me stocked in all the eggs I could handle. I positioned this coop in such a way that I could open the kitchen window and slide open the back panel of the hutch, and collect fresh eggs without going outside - still clad in a bathrobe. Now that's living. I also installed an inexpensive solar panel in it for winter lighting, making it the first off-grid house I ever bought. You got to start somewhere.
The pen itself is a small, portable, coop called the Chik-N-Hutch. These kit coops cost about a $160 and are all you need to house those first three hens in the backyard. They generally ship free, fold flat, are assembled in twenty minutes with just a screwdriver (so anyone of us can handle it). Which means, dear readers, you could transport your whole starter-chicken farm with some cat carriers in the back of a Geo with a folded back seat. I am telling you, if you want chickens, you can make it happen. These are not the birds of barn-owners and rural yuppies. They are everyman's backyard buddy. Chickens are easy, clean, hilarious, and perfect introduction to livestock. What I learned from my hens has carried over into breeding and raising rabbits, tending sheep, and keeping bees. They keep my garden pest free. They put up with beginner lessons on the fiddle. They feed me in exchange for room and board. They are the old standbys. I can't praise them enough.
If you are getting some spring birds—it's about that time to start planning your chick orders. Seeing as I am well stocked in the poulty department, I don't think I'll be buying many birds this spring. Probably just a handful of to replace any older birds that may die this winter or roosters i need to re-home. Now if you live near me, and just want a handful of birds as well, let me know and I can tack on your order to mine and we can both save on shipping (to just ship three chicks is ridiculously expensive), and you can pick them up here at Cold Antler. Hell, I'll even throw in a free rooster. Chuck Klosterman needs to go before Winthrop kills him in a were-chicken fit of hormonal rage.
For any of you folks just thinking about spring chickens, I strongly suggest you grab a copy of the Murray McMurray Hatchery Catalog. It's a full-color guide to birds for every backyard. Just having it on the kitchen table to page through over your morning cereal is a hoot (and educational, since it lists breed facts and history.) And hey, if you live in a city - where else are you going to order your hatchery-inspired trucker hats and amish egg baskets, eh? They also has everything you need to house your flock regarldess if you live on 30 acres or have a 30' lot behind your apartment. And no, Murray McMurray isn't paying me to write this. I just think they're a great place to get started and approach poultry in a freindly way. Honestly, I want chicks in the hands of everyone who wants them this spring. However I can enable that in you is fine. Even if it means hocking hatchery catalogs to you nice people. Pride is dead!
A photo from September, which I am sharing only because it's proof positive that once upon a time it was summer here. Man, do I miss those days. I adore winter, really, but I miss going out into the pasture with the fiddle, a blanket, a book, and the flock. Marvin never minded getting close to the violin, nosing it out of his way if it happened to be on a tasty patch. (Sheep are fairly inconsiderate when it comes to our ridiculous notions of property.)
Listen, sheep and fiddles (in any proximity) are a beautiful thing and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Don't mess with that sort, they are probably the same people who run to their cars when it's drizzling as if a nice shower was acid and not a nice thing to take a jaunt in. Also Travis Gray's song "It's not Love" just came on and it was so good it made me grab my fiddle, turn the radio all the hell up, and play along like Travis owed me something. Spontaneous 7AM radio jam sessions people, I friggin' love Saturday mornings. Now let's bow our heads and pray for summer. I don't care who or what you pray to. You want to place a photo of Elvis above the mantel with a candle and a dollar bill, fine by me. Let's just get on this, because I want summer on this farm to be more than rumors and prayers. I'm proving anxious.
I am feeling much better. I came home from my dentist appointment (guess who's getting a root canal!) and promptly curled up and went to bed. I slept a long time, and I think it was the remedy. I woke up this feeling brand new, less cranky, and really cold? My quilts were all missing from the bed? Did I sleepwalk in some stress-induced trance and fold them into a closet? No, of course not, I'm not that interesting. Turns out Jazz took all the heavy blankets from my side of the bed and balled them into his own little nest some point during the night. Who's dog steals the covers?! Mine. Well, I was already up. Time to get this weekend started.
This Saturday will start like they all do, with EQX's Coffee House. It's two hours of wonderful—playing great acoustic singer-songwriters old and new, obscure to cult-adored. And guys, you can listen to it too. WEQX.com streams live, so even if you're in Florida, you can wake up to the same playlist. Nikki's got your back America.
While the radio keeps me company, there will also be lots of actual coffee. The percolator is on the stove right now heating up. I'm deciding if I want to whip up pancakes or not. I can't make up my mind between them and cinnamon oatmeal. It's a nice problem to have. Looks like we got a little snow last night, the farm seems cleaner. A nice observation to nod at. Snow aside, the sheep are up. Even in the kitchen I can hear their baaing out on the farm. They saw the porch light come on, and know that means some sucker will be out with hay shortly. They're right. Things here are fairly predictable.
Winter has been slow on the farm. The lack of actual farm-work has me writing too much about music, men, and my lack of banjos - things I usually would be too busy to think about. But since I'm snowbound without a garden, goslings, or anything to can - so you're going to have to put up with it till spring. By April I'll be far too dirty and busy with food and animals to bother with playlists and online dating.* But hey! It's almost February! That means certain plans are starting to fall into place. Now is the time to figure out the garden on paper, peruse hatchery catalogs (I am thinking of bringing back a few Silkie Bantams to my backyard. I miss them), order seeds, and plan breedings. The angoras will be having a spring litter in late March/April. That photo up there is of the first spring litter from last year. Just seeing it makes me wish I already had a nest of babes in the hutch. But that would be borderline animal cruelty, to breed a litter now without a heated hutch. But if anyone out there wants a fiber Easter bunny, I'm your girl. I'll put you on the breeding list. All of the CAF bunnies come with pedigrees, tattoos, food, and are beyond adorable. Plus, you get to have an animal you can also wear without skinning it. It's a win win.
This weekend is going to remain low key. Tomorrow I'll be playing music with some neigbors but besides a date for my fiddle - I remain a social nomad. No dating, no movies, or parties or what not. Just me, six acres, coffee and a white winter. I think tomorrow morning I'll make cinnamon rolls, and if the recipe gets the approval of my jam buddies, I'll share it here on the blog. I think I'm going to try making them with goose eggs since I have those in bulk right now, taking up space in the fridge. Oh, and as a side note: I am so impressed by the eggs I'm getting in the heart of winter. We can thank all the spring chicks for that. The old girls shut down their vents, but the new kids pump out 4-8 eggs a day. Me and my egg customers will wont for nothing. Well, wont for nothing that includes yokes. That's something, isn't it?
Handkerchiefs pocket watches wash basins with matching pitchers in bedrooms large indoor analog clocks pipes hats for men hats for women non-ironic suspenders majestic facial hair (men) travel by sea and rail hand mirrors
You see where I'm going with this. Feel free to add more.
I found this old blog post from May 2006. Now, just three short years later some of the random thoughts I was typing from an apartment in Knoxville have transpired. This was written when the idea of homesteading was just a dream. It wasn't till a waterfall, a roadtrip, and some serious dirty hands got involved that my farm became a reality. But reading this, this morning while I'm all tired and cranky, made me feel a lot better. Things happen if you let them.
I'm looking into hobby farms more and more. If it's possible, in anyway, I would want to buy a small farm in 10 years, I don't know in what state, or where exactly but i am hoping the northeast (more north than PA) because of the snow. I've been looking at Agriseek.com and finding out things. Like if you look for real estate that has land that allows horses you know your in hobby farm territory. I research chicken coops and goat pens and look at seed catologs. My dream is to have this shabby warm farmhouse and be able to work from home. Get married to some sucker with a guitar, maybe have kids, certainly raise dogs, and sit on a pair of adirondak chairs outside under the stars at night. Maybe Vermont, Maine, Minnesota... Jim Thorpe.
But if I could find a mountain area, just 5 acres or so next to gamelands... Something protected with trails for running dogs and enough space for the goats and some gardens... Oh man, and to have these dark eyed sleddogs and wake up everyday in a bed of fur and teeth and leathery paw pads...that would be heaven. That is heaven.
So guys, I am beat. This week has been quite the drain. I think the mix of stormy weather, freezing cold, and lack of sleep has me finally crying uncle. I am exhausted. What I would love, what I would shave your cat for, would be a few days of just soup and blankets. Something decadent as hell, like napping at 2PM while the snow falls outside, you know what I mean, sleeping just for the sport of it.
Usually at 2pm I am sitting at my desk fervently responding to emails or balancing a copywriter and coffee mug on my priorities list. I throw myself into graphic design projects with the ferver of a drugged-up petstore puppy, but In the back of my mind the farm exhales and inhales. It's a living part of my day job even though it's miles away. Notes to pick up scratch grains and hay line the same post-it notes as projects and doctor's appointments. I sometimes feel like the two lives i share, office and farm, will have a cage fight to the death. Only problem is, I'm the cage.
Really though, all is well. I may sound tired (i am, very much so) but I'd rather be a tired homesteader in Vermont than a well-rested graphic designer in Philadelphia.* Complaining now and then is just a small selfish luxury I can afford. So I'm shutting up now, putting my head down into the wind, and biting my lip. After all, tomorrow is Friday, and this weekend's most exciting plans include laundromats and grocery stores. And that's fine by me.
To get to my hollow, you need to drive about eighteen miles into the hills from the closest town with a restaurant. When you've driven so far that the road twists into a steep corkscrew up into the mountainside (which we lovingly call 'the Notch') you are in my stomping grounds. The Notch sounds scary, but is actually beautiful. Beyond beautiful. It delivers us West Sandgations down to the roads to town center. The sunrises you meet as you turn the corner are breathtaking. In winter it is so beautiful draped in ice along the cliff's edges you want to stop and get out watercolors. And once you're up this beast, the modern world falls behind me. The roads begin to turn to dirt, and there are more horses and carts on the roads than cars. After the Notch you're about a mile from Cold Antler (which lives on a small side road on a hill).
This photo was taken on the way to work, right before I hit the Notch and slid down the twist into my other world of design and office lighting. This farmhouse hosts a big pond and some horses on their hill. It's such a beautiful place. In the snow it looks like a scene from a Charles Frazier novel. Forgive the angle, it was taken with a hand on the wheel.
Alli took this photo over in Saratoga Springs at the library. It might even be her library (where she works). I'm not really sure. Point is I am proud to be in the company of ducks. I find them whimsical. Specially these guys, because they are too cool to be bothered by the simotaneous presence of random memoirs and the paparazzi. Let's hear it for them. Seeing Scratch outside a big ol' temple of books with some hip city poultry made my day. Thanks Alli.
P.S. The banjo-fund has already hit $27.00! Only $253.00 to go!
Written July 2007. Back in Idaho I had a very mean, loud, possibly mentally unstable chicken named Ann Coulter. She hated Annie, always had. One day the foes met. I came across this old post and thought you guys might like it.
It finally happened. After months of taunting, yelling, and staring each other down – Ann Coulter and Annie had their big showdown. Ever since the first time Annie chased Ann Coulter, Coulter seemed to take it extremely personal. From that point on when Annie was stuck behind a screen door or a pane of glass Ann Coulter would make a point to taunt Annie by standing right in her view. Staring at Annie’s dark brown eyes with her beady little black ones. Annie wouldn’t pant. Just stare back. I don’t know what dogs and chickens say to each other, but you could tell it wasn’t kind. Not with these two anyway.
This morning I was walking the dogs back into the house from their morning walk and I didn’t see the little flock behind a rose bush. Annie and Jazz did. And in a Siberian husky second (much faster than a human second) They had bolted at the four big chickens scratching behind the bush. Veronica, Mindy, and Mary Todd Lincoln flew away from the dogs in a frenzy. But Ann Coulter, wings and talons out, flew right at Annie. The world fell into slow motion. Ann had chosen to either protect her flock or just hated everything Annie chooses to be. Jazz watched in awe. If you don’t spend a lot of time around Siberians then you might not have been able to recognize the absolute bliss that overcame Annie’s face. Teeth open wide in a giant smile she caught Ann Coulter is mid air, like she was a tennis ball, and held on. Ann Coulter screamed. I yelled at Annie, who dropped the chicken and had a mouthful of feathers to figure out. She was smacking her mouth like it was full of peanut butter, feathers in her teeth and on the grass. Coulter scuttled off miraculously in tact, albeit missing a large chunk of feather, and Annie seemed content beyond measure.
That mug you're looking at is Sal's. Sal is by far the most gregarious of the flock and has never been camera shy. When I am at their pen filling up their grain bin or throwing down fresh straw, I let Sal out to walk around and nose the outter realms. He follows me around like a St. Bernard, puttering close behind, paying attention. Heck, he even comes with called. After we're done with our chores I can open the gate and he'll walk right back in (as long as I dumped the grain inside the pen, that is). I like him. He's a pretty dependable guy.
I wish I knew that when they first escaped and I had a near panic attack as they trotted around the yard. I was so worried they'd storm off into the woods. Now I know better. Sheep with a built in bed and breakfast aren't going anywhere. Even if they break out at 9 AM they will be standing in the driveway when I get home from work—waiting for me to light a lantern and let them back into the gate. They'll follow me single file (Maude last) and hope I let them back into their comfy shed they can't figure out how to return to. I feed them some hay, we talk, catch up, then I close the gate and repair the part of the fence they escaped through. That wasn't a great story, but you get the jist of our lives together.
So things are quiet here today. I am done with all the big outdoor chores and bread is rising on the kitchen table next to my laptop. I think all the animals are content. The dogs ran errands with me in Manchester and are now happily sleeping in the bedroom. The sheep got a new mineral block to gnaw on - so they're pumped. The birds have brand new nests already blueprinted out in their piles of fresh warm straw, and are laying as I type. The rabbits are being wooly, they don't say much. Soon the fireplace will be lit and I'll be horizontal on the floor in front of it, sprawled out on big quilts with two dogs and the three new Civil War books I wrangled up this week. Hello 1861.
I had two book signings yesterday. One was in Troy and the other was in Albany. I'll write more about them later (and Troy's AMAZING indoor farmer's market), but for now I just want to thank the readers who came out on a cold Saturday to get their books signed and say hello. It was a really special day for me because of the people who went out of their way to be there. My parents drove four hours to watch me "be an author" and Emily (my best friend from high school) surprised me by showing up at the Albany signing. Between family, friends, and blog readers I felt like I was just sitting with a bunch of people in my living room. Surrounded by people who already know me and just wanted to shake a hand and say hello. And when you're just meeting friends you haven't seen in person yet, it's bound to be a good time. So thanks again guys. I hope to meet a lot more of you out there. Massachusetts and Maine*, I'll see you in the sping.
This is a video I made in Idaho last winter. It's nothing fancy, but shows Jazz and Annie and I doing our thing at the old white farmhouse in Sandpoint. I took these mushing videos while on the back of the sled, so needless to say it's a bumby ride. Also, I am slightly embarrassed about the music in it, but I chose that song because of it's association with one of my favorite episodes of Northern Exposure. Refrain judgment please.
There's an ongoing question that keeps coming up on book reviews and blogs. People read about my life here, or read about it in the book, and keep asking the same thing: isn't she lonely? They aren't judging my whole single-farm girl status—they just think having a full time job, running a small farm, and writing all the time may be a bit of a drain for one person without the help of a spouse or family. I just wanted to say this...
I'm fine. Really.
I guess I would be lonely if I was homesteading full time. There might be some cabin fever if the cabin was the only place I could complain about a fever in—but 40 hours a week I spend daylight in a busy office. Soon as I come home from work I throw myself right into farm chores, dinner prep, dog walking and barely remain standing by the time couching rolls around. My weekends are packed with neighbors, music jams, rural adventures, baking, and fiddle lessons. I talk on the phone with friends and family daily. Loneliness doesn't really have a chance to factor into the equation. Sometimes it creeps in, like the Christmas I spent a lone in Idaho, but even then I live with two kind dogs who've been by my side since Knoxville. Yes Virginia, she isn't a total recluse.
As for men? Well, there isn't one. But I'm not in some mad rush to land one either. I don't date for sport, and wouldn't want to be with someone just for kicks or to fill up conversation time in the car. I feel like dating is a lot like getting a dog. You shouldn't do it unless you're all in - ready for when the shit hits the floor but optimistic about the long haul. I'm not talking about marriage or mortgages here - just a general loyalty to making it up as you go along. Which, turns out to not be what most guys around my age are into, and I'm not much for the text message, strappy shoes, and bar scene...
So yeah, a guy would be nice, but I need to keep my head down and ears back. My eye is on the prize, which isn't a husband, but another type of marriage, my own farm. What I really need is good working sheepdog to make my future bliss a reality. I'm just saying, gotta keep those priorities in check. I think I just caused a collective-furrowed sigh from mothers of single women across America.
Oh well. Like I said, no rush. I'll know him when I trip over him at some point (I am a klutz). Also, finding a guy equally excited about the Daily Show and dairy goats isn't exactly a cake walk. Whomever he is, hopefully he's not allergic to wool. That could be problematic... but there are hair sheep. Anyway, we'll work it out.
I am lonely about one thing though. I miss my banjo. I miss having it when I come home from work. I miss seeing it propped up against a chair or out on the porch catching a tan while I'm in the garden. I sold it when things got really tight a few months ago, and I justified hocking it because it was a resonator banjo, and I needed an open back for the clawhammer style I was learning. I have my eyes on this Morgan Monroe bruiser called the Hobo. It's nothing top of the line, but it looks perfect for slinging over my shoulder and walking into the woods with the dogs. I can't wait to have one of those five-string wonders back in my hands again, and this time I won't let it go so easy. I started setting aside some cash, just a little a week. But I promise you all by Spring I'll have a banjo at Cold Antler again. I'll need it to calm me down after sod breaking. I get all worked up when I'm with my hoes.
Tonight's Farm Chore Playlist Blind Dog - Norman and Nancy Blake In the Devil's Territory - Sufjan Stevens Sixteen, Maybe Less - Iron and Wine with Calexio God Bless Mom - The Frames Bixby Canyon Bridge - Death Cab For Cutie Nothin' But Nothin' - Yonder Mountain String Band
This is an illustration I'm working on of two characters that have been haunting me for the past four years. Their names are Saster and Adah, and they are the ghosts that I can't shake. I'm trying to write a novel about them, their world, and their story.
I can't stop thinking about them. They have been the background of this whole life of mine on the road. Every car ride I'm in, every song I putter around listening to on headphones creates scenes and events for these two dogs. The basic plot came together years ago while listening to a myriad of Iron and Wine tunes. Last summer, when Sam Beams new record came out and was called "The Shepherd's Dog" I nearly stroked out. Someday I'll get the whole story down. Till then, I'll keep writing and drawing to flesh them out a little more. Just giving you a taste of the haunting.
Things are quiet. Things are calm. Winter on a small farm isn't exciting. Most days are a logistical breakdown of chores and routines. Morning feeding is cold. Nightime feeding is colder. Everything is stagnant in the way winter is. Nothing is being born, no plants are asking for water, the farm is pateintly waiting to come back to life. To get stirred up with young chicks and seedlings. But I can barely remember that life now in the heart of Vermont's bitchiest season. Seems forever ago I used the push mower.
There are hints that spring will come back. Seed catalogs are starting to show up, as are hatfchery and bee booklets. The short days are starting to feel slightly longer. I can sense it when I come home and there's a little more light in West Sandgate. But besides slightly (ever so slightly) warmer weather and a little more daylight —the farm is in its winter lull.
Sorry guys, nothing riveting to report.
I've been staying late at work to focus on some personal illustration work, and when I finally do get home I'm tired. A full office day doesn't wind me up, but it does make for a sharp transition when I go from high-tech office land to the homestead. But that's what the drive home is for. I crank up my music, I clear my head, I focus on the night's chores. Who needs fresh water? Everyone. Who is due for fresh straw this weekend? Everyone. The checklist goes on and on in my head. Human like a House, a Finches Album is what I've been listening to recently in the car as I roll home up into the mountains. It's lovely music. And the last track is called Leviathan's Home! Which, quiet frankly, is fantastic to me. Any sweet song about riding a biblical sea-beast gets a nod from this gal. We need some whimsy in our lives when the most intense thing going on in our evening involves feeding sheep dead grass.
But with music, all work becomes scenes to a soundtrack. I have a hat I knit out of icelandic wool that I put a pocket on that perfectly fits my little ipod nano. I do my chores around the yard with tunes in my head (literally) and sing along. Some I just get lost in, like Sigur Ros. Others I meditate on, like the Trapeze Swinger, which may always be my favorite song. I'll never forget hearing it live (which is where I heard it the first time). That was years ago. My goodness.
This weekend will see some book tour events. If you live around Troy or Albany check the dates in the right sidebar. I hope some of you can make it out to say hello, hear some fiddling, buy some books. You know, the works. Sunday my plans aren't half as exciting. All I want to do is listen to old records I've collected over the summer and bake bagels. That's right. Just me, some dusty vinyl I foraged from garage sales, and high gluten flour. I think a Hipster in Flushing just got his wings.
Tonight's Farm Chore Playlist Step Outside - The Finches White Winter Hymnal - Fleet Foxes California Stars - Billy Bragg and Wilco Flume - Bon Iver Track 4 off ( ) - Sigur Ros Trapeze Swinger - Iron and Wine
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The blog of author Jenna Woginrich of Cold Antler Farm. Here she writes about her adventures following her crazy dream life as a self-employed writer, homesteader, archer, falconer, equestrian, martial artist, hunter, spinner, brewer, geek, and real-life Game of Thrones Extra. She loves movies, pop culture, running far, and eating animals. On twitter @coldantlerfarm
And when the children are safe in bed, at one of the great holidays like the Fourth of July, New Years, or Halloween, we can bring out some spirits and turn on the music, and the men and the women who are still among the living can get loose and really wild. So that's the final meaning of "wild"- the esoteric meaning, the deepest and most scary. Those who are ready for it will come to it. Please do not repeat this to the uninitiated. -gs