Saturday, January 17, 2009

land of lincoln

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

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

*in helvetica, of course

Friday, January 16, 2009

the bitter cold

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

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

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

Thursday, January 15, 2009

jazz and his girl

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

to love a place

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

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

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

Okay, enough of this. Goodnight.

down under

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

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

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

Monday, January 12, 2009

kentucky rises!

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

gifts, and other thanks

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

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

Jenna Woginrich, caretaker
Cold Antler Farm
Sandgate VT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the other side

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

japhy ryder reincarnate

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 11, 2009

how to build a fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

good morning from cold antler!

jersey birds!

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