Sunday, May 31, 2009

collateral damage

The rain fell off and on all day. Generally things were gloomy. However, it seems the only animal on the farm who felt that way was me. The overcast sky and occasional shower seemed to invigorate the livestock. The sheep are jubilant out in the cool wet pasture. No flies in their faces and their new wool coming in seems to keep them weather-proof. They saunter around the wet, windy, field like rock stars while the waterfowl spread their wings into the raindrops. The chickens weren't as thrilled about the precipitation, but psyched for the rain-fresh worms that squirmed along the fenceline of the garden.

I spent the morning weeding and planting my sunflowers, which I grow mainly to brighten up the cabin and office or give as gifts. Those flowers make me happy. Right now the striped seeds are resting in a bed of mulch enriched by my rabbits' and birds' old meals. In a few weeks I'll have those high-summer yellow lions in vases. I can't wait. Sunflowers mean we're that much closer to fall.

Between spurts of weeding and planting—I came inside to bake while the rain made the former too much effort. The cabin smelled of baking bread and homemade pizza when I walked in from chopping firewood or adjusting the goat pen. The work seems endless here (and it is) but it flows through my day as normal as commuting to work does. It's a mean to a common goal.

Not everything is faultless here. I paint a picture of perfection, but only because I ignore the things that make this so hard. I attempt to cheat hardship by ignorance. But know my body is always sore and sometimes I feel like I'm the most tired 26-year-old in America. I have to get up before 5 most mornings, and sometimes I don't come inside for dinner till dark. When I go into the shower at the end of my long day I find I'm covered in bumps, bruises, cuts, scrapes, bites and bad tan lines. I'm currently adorned in scars from roosters, a bite mark from a rabbit, and a pinch-bruise from a pissy bull goose right on my stomach. Cold Antler, as humble as it is, is a full time job. And it shares a life with a person already working a full time job. It's hard. Consider that fair warning to anyone out there living vicariously through me...

But I feel the same way about this dark side of homesteading as I do about learning an instrument. You pick up a guitar for the first time and it sucks. You're not good, and it sounds it. Your fingers throb from the steel strings. Your neck gets cramped from holding your shoulders in a new way. You get angry and frustrated learning so slowly. But at the end of it all, you know there is the possibility of music. You've seen it before, and know the appreciation it can render. So you shrug off the pain, forget the bad things, and keep at it. Which is what I do with every scar and sore arm. Collateral damage.

wolves howl. dogs bark.

I wrote this last May, but wanted to repost it for the folks taking on the Fiddler's Summer Challenge. I'll be posted an update later for all you new musicians, but in the meantime if anyone has any videos to share, please post a link in the comments!

I do not know of anything that feels better than playing hundred-year-old songs in firelight with pleasant company. I don’t know of anything more beautiful than when you look up at low hanging branches, with green leaves tinted yellow and coal gray by the flames and smoke, and then look beyond them at a deep night and hollow stars.

I don’t know of anything more comforting than understanding that I can sing a verse, and you can sing a verse, and we can sing it together without knowing each other's last names or what cars we drive, or caring about those things. But understanding with complete certainty that those same words were whispered before us by long-dead people and will be sung by those long-alive. Because of this—it is forever.

Us musicians, singers, and storytellers know that every time we gather in the glow of a campfire, we're just a small piece of a bigger story. We happen to be holding the songs for a short time till we pass them on, and we're okay with that mortality. We drink and laugh and dance to it. And between songs we'll sip some libations and talk about the night we heard St. Anne's Reel shake Quebec, or how a stranger asked us to play a tune at a mountain lake in Idaho. And we'll do this like it's the most important thing in the world. Because at that moment, it is.

Wolves howl. Dogs bark. Humans sing old-time songs. These are the sounds animals make. You can disregard this music, laugh at it, or live your whole life without lifting an eyebrow at dorian strings. But regardless of you-it will keep on padding through our culture like a yellow-eyed sheepdog in high grass. Hidden and wild with a unwavering focus. And like a lowline dog in the grass, you can see it if you look for it. It is there.

This all happens, all this emotion and loyalty, because we all know the words. It's a language we picked up here and there. We did it without amps or outlets. We learned it by ear. We play it because of how it makes us feel. Old time music is, and always will be wet rocks and green moss in a shaded creek in Tennessee. It is bonfires in the shadows of Idaho hills. It is being alone in a blizzard in farmhouse owned by woman named Hazel. It is a campfire by a strangers garden in New York. It's Brian. It's Heather. It's Emily. It's Dave. It's even Erin on the indie rock lam.

I love this music. It writhes and quivers and will keep running uphill when I am dead and forgotten like a fast, fast dog. I don’t understand how it can be ignored. I shudder under thick skin when it is mocked. I feel bad, horrible even, for those who can’t hold it in their fists and know what it feels like. Like a clump of grass you just submerged in a creek.

It is absurd to feel this way about Old Time music and the matted old dog that is these songs. But this is how I feel.

And I love it with the all.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

good morning from cold antler

It's Saturday morning in Vermont. That's Annie watching from the porch as I shuffle about indoors prepping the percolator and listening to the radio. She took a moment to look inside after staring down the bird feeder. She has big plans to tear through that screen and eat a Cardinal. I can tell.

Coffee's on the stove, the sun is flirting with the clouds, and I'm back in from feeding the sheep, goat and birds. Today is dedicated to some time with friends in town but the bulk of my afternoon will belong to the farm. After the last few days of rain, I'll be hunched in the garden picking all the fresh weeds and watching Finn chase the geese. He's good entertainment for tedious work.

Nothing riveting to report, but I can share that yesterday I ate my first salad greens from the garden. I brought in a bag of buttercrunch, romaine, mesculins, spinach and oak leaf lettuce and my friend Andrea and I used it as a base for our salad bar attack at the office. There's no reason why farmlife and worklife can't team up from time to time.

Friday, May 29, 2009

growing up

Thursday, May 28, 2009

loft of these hills

I'm a homebody. I like the comfort of this place. Outside a blustery wind and cooler-than-normal temperatures have all the houses in the hollow pumping woodsmoke. It's almost as if Autumn stopped by uninvited and we all welcomed him inside for the evening. I am enjoying his company along with a cup of tea, a book, and a favorite sweater. He is always welcome. Always.

Here on the mountain in my little three-room cabin there's a fire roaring. Candles light up dark corners and my dogs are asleep in the other room. On the other side of that door my sheep, goat, birds and bunnies are all resting on fresh straw with full stomaches. Knowing they are all content, makes me even more comfortable. I too had a fine meal, and after a few songs on the fiddle in front of the fireplace—I am ready for bed. Because I'm a homebody, and I'm happy to be tucked away in the highest loft of these hills.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

it's not delivery...

I have been having a recent love affair with homemade pizza. I find that making a small pizza (dough and all) from scratch only takes about ten minutes. With fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, savory sauce, garden herbs and a pre-heated oven you've got yourself fast [farm fresh] food. The dough is incredibly easy and with fresh rosemary and basil in the garden...the final product is amazing. I like baking mine in a cast iron skillet, and here's how:

Makin' Dough
1 cup warm water
1 package yeast
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 1/2 cups flour

Take one cup of warm water (leaning towards hot) and pour it into a bowl, add all the contents of a yeast package inside. Mix and let stand for 5 minutes (add a tsp of honey if you want). Once the yeast has set, add your salt and veggie oil and then add cup of flour at a time as you mix it in.

Next, knead into a dough and then set it aside for a few minutes while you slice up your cheese and tomatoes. To finish it off, take your dough and make it into a circular crust shape that fits the bottom of your skillet (or your cookie sheet, pizza stone, or right on the grill). Add your toppings annd bake at 400 until crust slightly browns and the cheese melts. When I pull mine out of the oven--I set some fresh basil leaves on top. Enjoy!

Monday, May 25, 2009

trees are good for scratchin'

pasture rotation, farmers markets, and fiddles

By 8:30 this morning I'd already let the sheep out into their new pasture, bottle fed a goat, drove to Hebron and back on a hay mission, and was bitched at by a goose. Most people I know haven't even had their first cup of coffee (being a holiday and all). I however, had already slung giant bales of dead grass over my shoulder and fell through a rotten board in a hay barn. Thank goodness I was wearing knee-high boots, or I'd be cut up all to hell. I've learned farmers wear certain things for a reason.

My three-day weekend's been full of hard work, but I am starting to see the signs of repose up ahead. Thanks to this May's killer efforts, things are coming together and soon the workload will be lighter. The sheep are eating grass almost exclusively. Yesterday I moved all their electric netting to a fresh pasture and they were thrilled. Their new digs has trees, hillsides, and trees! (They love the shade and rubbing their backs on bark.) It was a bigger job than I anticipated. It involved lots of cursing and untangling Finn from unplugged netting while he followed me around the field.

But frustration aside, their rotation was so worth it. Usually I have to bribe them back into their pen at night but last night they ate so much they just trotted back to their little barn and went to bed. Easiest gate shutting in CAF history. And who doesn't like going to their beds at night, knowing those in their care are tired and happy?

The garden is almost entirely in. I planted 5 rows of corn, 12 plantings deep. That's nearly 60 stalks of sweet corn all by the wrath of one hoe over three days! My back still feels it. But it was the last big planting job. Now my time is open to just weeding and watering, tending and taming. Finns nearly off the bottle and is eating grass like crazy. When he's not on such a feeding schedule, I'll have time to possibly run back to visit my family for a weekend. I miss them.

So, with all that work put in—I decided to hit the Dorset Farmer's Market with Finn to celebrate. The kid was good at the market (generally speaking). He walked on his leash, and followed me around the stands. You'd think a girl and her pack-goat-in-training would be a novelty, but this is Vermont. He was one of three goats there...

He did try to jump on a bread table once, but I stopped him and bought some focaccia in apology... No bakes goods were trodden in the making of this blog post.

Looks like it's going to be a fine day. The sun is out, the sheep are already chewing their cud, and the garden will shortly be watered. Once that's done I think I'll finally hit the river and get some fly fishing in. Nothing wrong with ending your weekend chasing rainbows.

So thrilled to see so many new fiddlers out there! You won't regret it, and just wait till you're playing Blackest Crow on your porch. That song, and so many other mountain ballads, fill your heart up. You'll see. Before you know it you'll have a dozen tunes memorized, and you'll be ordering Gid Tanner CDs from Elderly. I can't wait to hear about your first tunes. You guys who are learning need to keep me posted.

...Speaking of Elderly, I see they have a bunch of vintage fiddles for sale in their used section. Some are reasonably priced too. If anyone of smaller stature is still looking—I though this one was nice. Too small for big hands, but perfect for a petite woman or younger teen. It's kinda pricey ($225), but in the land of violins, not bad for a great European handmade instrument. Click here to see her.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

may the fiddles rise again

In that photo you're looking at the twenty dollar student fiddle I learned to play on. That's my old lawn in Idaho, and three summers ago I learned how to play with that beginner instrument, and on that very grass. I never played before, but thanks to a great instruction book and CD (and a healthy sense of humor) I am now a happy addict. I play everyday, help new fiddlers get started, and can't imagine a life without rosin in my pocket and a violin neck in my left hand. I'm inviting you right now, to join our club.

Playing the fiddle is easy. It really is. Don't believe anyone who tells you otherwise. There are just four finger positions, and one of the four isn't touching anything at all, just playing the string itself. So really, you only need to learn where to press down on three places. That's it. And get this: it's the same on every string. Cake.

I'm telling you people, if you're willing to laugh a lot, and put up with squeaks and squawks - you'll all be fine fiddlers in a few months. You won't have to spend money on lessons, and you don't need three hours a day to sit with your violin. Just a twenty dollar instruction book, a CD player, and fifteen minutes a day. Fiddler's Summer isn't going to be me teaching you. It's about you teaching yourself, but with the help of a whole community of beginners around the country, and a place to ask questions and get help when you need it. Above all, it's about learning some musical self-sufficiency. The ability to play a song without earbuds or an outlet. Hell yeah.

So, this is how we'll get started. If you want to sign up for Fiddler's Summer leave a comment in this post. In your comment leave your name and location, and your history as a musician. If you don't have any musical history, this will be easiest on you guys. Since the book we're using is meant for total beginners who can't read a note--you guys got it made.

After you sign up:

1. Buy, beg, or borrow a 4/4 violin and bow. Some people hit up Ebay and found some student violins under 50 bones. There is no reason to blow $400+ on an instrument right now. If you like playing your student model, you can always trade up later.

2. Promise me you'll dedicate fifteen minutes of practice everyday. That's it. You can play longer, sure, but you need to promise me that fifteen minutes minimum every single day if you sign up for Fiddler's Summer. It has to be a daily thing. It's that everyday dedication that makes music. Take it slow, and with a smile.

3. Pick up a copy of "Old Time Fiddling For the Complete Ignoramus" by Wayne Erbsen. It's an amazing intro to Southern Mountain style and reading it is fun and warm. Amazon's got it, as does his website: nativeground.com. This book will be your teacher. It comes with a CD so you can hear songs played slow and fast. It also gives a great introduction to the culture, history, anatomy, and world of Souther Mountain fiddling.

4. Get an electronic guitar tuner, some decent rosin, and a spare set of strings. None of this should be expensive either. A cheap guitar tuner costs 15 bucks, Hill Dark Rosin costs about 10, and Anton Breton Perlon strings can cost less than 15 a set. These three things will make your 50 dollar fiddle sound like a 350 dollar one. I suggest going to Janet Davis Music online for all three. If you're too worried to string and tune it up yourself. See number 5.

5. Find out where your closest music store is. You might need their help getting started with strings and tuning. Get out the phonebook, find someone around you who knows violins, and put their number on the fridge next to the ambulance and poison control digits. Google "Your-City-Name-Here Luthier" and see if anyone builds or repairs violins in your hometown. They'll be happy to help you get started.

6. Get excited. Go watch Cold Mountain or Songcatcher tonight. That'll be you kids in a few weeks. I promise.

From here, we'll start with tuning, and getting to know the instrument and the musical history. But we're not there yet. Right now we're just getting pumped up, and learning what a violin neck feels like in our garden-dirtied hands.

I will say this. Just have fun. Pride is dead, so let yourself fall in love with the idea of being a mountain fiddler. You don't need to be sawing out the Devil Went Down to Georgia to be a bluegrass musician--you need to love what you're doing, and make people sing or dance. Bonefide fiddlers are people who love to play, and play for that love. In a few weeks of practice there isn't one of you that won't be able to whip out a tune, if that's what you want.

The end of this will come around July 4th. We'll post links, audio clips, or YouTube videos of our playing--and for everyone who posts a clip or video of themselves, we'll all vote on the best new musician and that person will be getting a fine prize from me. I'll mail the 'winner' a CAF gift basket complete with Vermont goodness (Like Maple Syrup, a Wayside Country Store T-shirt, Some of my sheeps' fleece, etc) and a signed copy of Made From Scratch with some chicken feather bookmarks.

How's all this sound? And hey, if you tried growing peas, you've already done something harder.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

good morning three-day weekend!

That's Chuck Klosterman, one of the honchos here at CAF. He's outside crowing right now, along with the bleating sheep and a very hungry goat kid. I'm going to head out there in a minute (I slept in, what with the holiday and all) but first wanted to say good morning, and let you know to keep checking back over the three-day weekend because a lot of corn getting planted and I might hit the river today for my first fly-fishing adventure of the season. So if you're into trout and dirt, I'm your girl. But before any of that—I'm going to make some pancakes and enjoy it with some eggs. Because I have a full day ahead of me outside on the farm and on the river, so I think a real breakfast is in order.

Anyone out there want to learn the fiddle? I'm thinking about doing a Mountain Music Challenge, where I'll explain step-by-step how a total beginner could start playing southern mountain style fiddle - on the cheap. If at leat ten of you are interested in joining up, I'll get it started. I think a lot of people out there want to play and are making it a bigger deal than it is. I'll happily hold your hand, and help you get started. Just think, It's Memorial Day now, but you could be playing mountain music at your campfires by the 4th of July.... Any takers?

Friday, May 22, 2009

this kid's got talent

Last night I was taking a short chore break, and got out a fiddle to play for a while. Finn didn't mind the music, but did fall in love with the case...While I played some old Irish tunes he played jump-the-devil's-box, and learned a month-old goat, when perfectly balanced, can stand on a violin case and eat his keeper's shirt at the same time. This kid's got talent, people.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

peace and hope

I am slightly amazed you nice people have made my scrappy farm a part of your life. I get emails and comments from readers all the time, from all over, and I can't help but sit here in this Vermont kitchen and grin like an idiot as I read them. It's so exciting knowing other people are watching out for you, keeping track. The idea that Jazz, Annie, Maude. or Finn come up in conversations in Australia, Milwaukee, North Dakota.... blows me away.

Tonight after work I came home to this farm, and worked harder than I had all week. I let Finn run amok, and let the sheep out to graze. While they chomped away in their small pasture I moved dirty straw from the henhouse into the garden, making my mulch, singing old southern mountain songs as I dug the pitchfork in. I was happy. I like the happiness that comes out of working with your hands. It makes sense to me every time.

I ended my day playing the fiddle. I sat with Annie on my porch and played Amazing Grace in a long, droning, Appalachian style. I sipped a bottle of hard cider and thought about the beautiful day I just had. Today was 87 degrees and sunny in VT. I spent it laughing and rolling over our green hills. I got to ride in a sidecar on a Russian motorcycle, and eat ice cream with sprinkles. I ended the day tending my gardens and laughing at my fat silly sheep. In appreciation, I sat there and played Grace as I learned her, in that mountain way you only know if you woke up in a place where everyone had ceiling fans on their porches and knew holler as a place, not a verb.

Tennessee will never leave me. I think about her every day.

People ask me why Cold Antler Farm is called Cold Antler. It's a mix of Zen Buddhism and hopeless romanticism. Cold comes from the poet Han San; who's Zen poetry's responsible for so many cross country moves. Antlers: well, antlers to me are the most primal and historical symbol of masculinity. I always have an antler necklace or a deer around because someday down the road, if I am very lucky, I'd like to fall in love. And I hope it's as natural, ordinary, and simple as spikes are on a deer. Some girls spend their whole lives praying for a white knight—I am just trying to find my antlers.

So Cold Antler means, quite simply, peace right now and hope for love later. But while I hope, I'll farm. I certainly dont expect this kind of thing to happen anytime soon. Maybe in the next ten years or so? In the meantime, my music, animals, writing, and gardens will keep me going. A girl can run on fumes for a very long time if she keeps her thoughts ahead of her, and lets herself fall in love with chicken shit on her wellies in the meantime. I'm in no rush. But you know this.

king finn

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

a new kind of tired

This year has been my most ambitious year of homesteading ever. The garden, the animals, the day job.... all of it more intense than ever before, than I ever imagined when I started writing this blog. Back when I lived in Idaho I had no idea my life would lead me to Vermont, to sheep, goats, and border collies... Yet here I am, writing you fresh from a short nap in my hammock. I fell asleep because I stopped moving. I have found this to be a common side effect of May.

I love this little farm, but this month has taught me a new kind of tired. I have never been this consistently sore and exhausted in my life. It's the kind of work that leaves you aching, reeling, and hopeful at the end of every day. It's is a lucky place to find yourself. To know you're alive and healthy enough to take care of others, and make dinner rise out of the ground like Lazarus himself.

I wake up around 5 and start my day the exact same way. I kiss Jazz on the head, I scratch Annie behind her ears, and I stumble to the percolator, fill it with something black and strong, and turn on the stove. While my coffee heats up and brews, I feed my animals and work in my garden. By the time I show up at the office at 8 -- I've already put in two hours of work and three cups of coffee.

At the end of the weekday I use up as much daylight as possible while the garden is so young. There is so much to plant, and weed, and tend. We had a killing frost a few nights ago and it wiped out some of my more fragile beds. I replaced all the dead plants tonight-digging in the mud with my bare hands to find a home for new basil, beans, and squash. As I squatted over bed 10, I looked over at the 8x8 corn plot I've been hacking away at. My big goal for the long weekend is to plant a mess of sweet corn seeds. They'll live just north of my small pumpkin patch. I do this all for October, whom I love.

Finn is doing well. He's growing like a weed and nearly off the bottle. The kits are growing and happy, and all the birds are strutting like debutantes. All is well here, and in my heart I know all this toil May shoves at me will only make that July harvest taste even sweeter. You pay as you go in this world, and I'm happy to shell out.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

the garden, before the rain

a man on a mission

That bird you're looking at is Sussex, the Ameraucana rooster. He's one of four honchos in the coop. I snapped this photo while carrying him to the cabin. I had a mission for him: to rescue a pair of hens having a panic attack.

I bought two pullets at the poultry swap a few weekends ago, but to call them timid is a ridiculous understatement. They are beautiful Red Stars, hardy brown egg layers to help replace some of the gals that died this past winter. They were instantly welcomed into the coop, but either their age (15 weeks) or upbringing has made them too scared to leave the hen house. In two weeks they had yet to feel sunlight on their feathers, or chow down on bugs and green grass. I decided to push them out the door.

In an act of tough love I took the young pair and brought them to the hammock's trees. I placed them underneath it, with the other birds and they stood there like statues. Then they shook a little, hunched down, and looked ready to die. Great.

instead of the wilds of the yard, I decided to bring them to the safety of the porch. All my birds love the porch. They can jump on the hay stacks, walk around eating worms and bugs where the rain collects.. it's pretty much the best place for foraging poultry. I brought the hens to the porch and they scurried under it, and that is where they hid out all day.

"We'll Smoke 'em out, Sussex!" I said to my rooster, who had no idea I was going to shove him under the porch in an attempt to coax (or scare) out the new birds. I held the rooster in my arms like a puppy, and then gently launched him at the hens. Which he noticed, clucked at, turned around and left. Thanks buddy.

The hens did eventually come out. Last night near dark one was on a hay stack, and I carried her out to her throngs. This morning when I went out to deliver formula and feed the other was in the same place and was thusly returned as well. Now all the birds are accounted for, and back with the safety of numbers where the local dogs and cats can't scare the hell out of them. (Or the local foxes or coyotes).

It's Sunday morning people. I already called Wayside and had them set aside a copy of the Sunday NY Times for me, a pot of coffee is percolating on the stove, and I'm getting ready to make a quiche to enjoy on the porch to with my Peet's before I take on more hoeing and weeding. Today's another day of hard work in the garden, but I think only suflowers will get seeds in the ground today? The rest of the day is preparing for corn. Sweetcorn pulled off the stalk and then thrown into a fire might be the greatest thing you can eat all summer...

Enjoy your weekends, folks. If you get a chance, set aside some time to put a seed in a pot or play a song on your guitar. Monday comes too soon not to.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

a fine saturday

I am writing you from my porch, and about three feet from my deck chair is Saro the goose. She's very interested in whether or not my new Chacos are edible, and has been trying to eat the straps for about ten minutes now. You know you're a homesteading blogger when your iBook and hand-raised French goose are sharing your leg room...

I spent the entire morning in Manchester—doing laundry, running errands, the usual town stuff. I always bring the dogs with me on these Saturday excursions, and together we listen to music in the car with the windows down. (I am not an air-conditioning person. I do not want the world to feel like a morgue to avoid sweating.) After laundromatting, all of us putz around the Northshire Bookstore (where good dogs are welcome, which I love). I picked up the new issue of the Small Farmer's Journal and grabbed a sandwich to go. Can you handle the non-stop action of this very exciting young person? Eh?!

I kid.

We drove home listening to some CDs. I recently got a package of great music by a band called Trapper's Cabin. While guitars and banjos sang on the car stereo, Annie hung out the window smiling. It is hard to be angry at any part of this world with a smiling wolf riding shotgun.

When I returned to the farm I really got down to business. I let the sheep out into their pasture to dine on some green grass. They were so excited to be off hay they literally made it three feet out the gate before they started eating away at the tall green blades. While the sheep enjoyed their buffet, I let Finn out to run around and chase chickens (basically, just be a kid). He loped about and then came when called when I offered him lunch. He drank a bottle of formula while I leaned against the back bumper of the Subaru. I fed him while watching the sheep graze among the hens and roosters circling around their feet. I looked over at the garden, bursting with new seedlings, listened to the crows above and felt glad. Things are very good right now in this life. They won't always be, but in that little moment my life let out a long sigh, stretched, and smiled.

Finn joins me in the garden most nearly every day. He's fine. He doesn't touch the veggies, but does wander around the inner fence chewing on weeds. Today I picked him up and he reeked of onions...LEEKS! I looked around the fence and pulled out two dozen fresh wild leeks, which will be part of my dinner tonight. Foraging is something I do little of. I prefer the safety of a well tended garden, but when I score something like this I feel rich. Who knew I had a leek-sniffing goat?

We're down to four kits. Another one died in the night. Sadly, half of season's first litter has perished. But I am happy to report the remaining four are healthy, already growing fur, and starting to open their eyes. Bean is doing the best job she can, and her man Benjamin (the Angora Stud on my porch) is also doing well. He's due to be shorn soon.

Tonight this girl rests. I'm building a fire to keep me and my instruments company during the rain storm they are calling for, and will happily repose knowing that my hoofstock got some hours in the pasture, my poultry have a clean coop, my rabbits are in clean hutches, and I broke sod, tilled, and planted two new beds in the garden (we're now at 13!). I will not want to peppers and potatoes, that is for certain.

Tired and happy. That is the way to end our days. Sore, tired, and happy.

alarm clocks on the porch

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

in defense of impermanence

Ever since I started writing about farming, I've always typed from rented land. In Idaho and here in Vermont—Cold Antler has always been built around someone else's mortgage. Because of this I occasionally get the comment (really, it's a warning) that it's irresponsible to raise animals and gardens in a place you may have to up and leave. That there is practical and emotional danger when you toy with impermanence.

They're right. I don't care.

I suppose the risk of this farm imploding is always there. My landlord could cancel my lease. I could lose my job, be forced to leave this all behind... I'm okay with that. I'd rather live exactly how I want to while renting someone else's land than putting it off till the day I can afford my own. It just seems like happiness suicide to postpone something as simple as salad greens because I don't own the dirt it grows in. If I did this gig by the book, I'd still be in an apartment in Tennessee. That life would be fine too, but personal velocity takes some grit. I'll take my chances and farm now.

I know that may come across as selfish. I don't mean for it to be. I just don't want to waste my time here. Even if I live another sixty years—it's all going to flash by in an instant. And while I'm still among the living I would prefer it be spent in the fine company of hooves and paws, gardens and hives, hammocks and guitars... Cold Antler Farm is nothing, if it isn't a personal manifestation of hope. You are witnessing the dirty seedlings of a possibility, people. Stayed tuned and watch it grow.

I keep learning that sometimes you need to ration happiness. Sometimes the things you want aren't yours, can't be yours, and you can either take that lying down or fighting. I learned this with so many signed leases, with a failed border collie, with tear-filled eyes as I left Knoxville and Sandpoint...

You can take things in this world as they come, or wait until the winds are perfect to act. I decided long ago that I would rather set sail in choppy waters than stay docked till things were safe. Waiting for safety is a luxury for people more in love with the future than the present. I understand the foolishness of this, but also understand poor sailors have better bar stories.

No, this land isn't mine. But the experiences I have created are. The taste of that first garden grown salad is mine. The feeling of a three-week-old goat kid drinking from a bottle in my lap is mine. The music I play on that rickety porch is mine. The memories, conversations, prayers, hopes, tears, births and deaths are mine as well.

I can't afford many things. But I feel wealthy here everyday. That is more than most people can say. I am grateful as hell. And if all this means I need to borrow happiness to get by, it's a concession I'll happily make.

This is what I am certain of: when you love what you are doing it belongs to you. You can pull the rug out from under this farm but it already happened, and if it falls apart in my sweaty hands, it will surely happen again. That is a promise.

this is my life

this aint the OC

My neighbor Katie emailed me today at work to let me know my geese have a car alarm built in. When they hear the crackling studded snow tires of my Subaru they erupt into a cacophony of honks and run up to the driveway to meet me. They start this long before they see the car, or I turn into the drive. She said they ignore all other cars and trucks, and must know mine from the rest. I think that's neat. I have custom-imprinted goose valets. Take that, Housewives of Orange County.

Another long evening outside... The garden needed watering and weeding. The poultry house needed some tidying up and fresh food and water. The sheep needed their dinner (and fresh water as well). The kid needed to run and jump and chug down two bottles of formula. By the by, Finn's become an expert at head-butt-the-roosters, which is hands down his favorite game. You haven't witnessed joy till you've seen a goat kid make feathers explode in the air like that, and then watch him kick up his feet to the side in celebration. What a guy.

People have asked about my garden in the comments. To address a few of your questions: No, I don't plant my garden from my own transplanted seedlings. I either plant my seeds right in the ground (i.e potatoes, corn, onions, peas) or I buy six-packs of healthy started veggies. I am still fairly new to gardening, and since I am using my humble crops for food most of the summer, I hedge my bets with what I know I can pull off. But every year I learn more and more, and someday I hope to grow everything from seeds I saved myself. And as for my pesticides: I use an organic insecticidal soap on my leafy greens and basil, to help keep away the bugs that dine on those the most.

I am very content, but very tired. After the farm's needs, a walk with the dogs, and a bit of writing, I think my only aspirations will be my fiddle and that fireplace. With nights this week dipping near freezing (fingers crossed for the garden) the main source of heat now is that roaring evening blaze.

Tonight I did a little census and here are our totals:
11 raised beds (and counting)
10 hens (and counting)
7 rabbits (breeding adults, 5 kits)
4 roosters (would like 2)
3 sheep (Marvin's leaving though)
2 geese (live to be 40!)
2 dogs (roommates)
1 duck (asshole)
1 goat (adorable)
1 girl (exhausted)

Monday, May 11, 2009

keeps padding along

So it's after eight, and I'm just getting done with the evening chores. Every night after the office is like this. I pulled into my driveway around quarter to six and went through a systematic trance of work outside. May is the busiest time of the year for this small farm.

Tonight pumpkins and sunflowers were planted, sheep fencing repaired, goat formula mixed, dogs walked and fed, the garden watered and sprayed with organic pesticides, the sheep let out to pasture to eat fresh grass, the birds and rabbits had feed bags to deliver and water to resupply... it's just nonstop motion till dark comes. And when it finally does I'm inside with a long shower, a guitar, a simple dinner and then sleep. Life rolls.

Finn is growing up and doing well. He still comes to work with me, and is slowly getting weaned off his bottle. He's got such energy and character. He really brings a new found friskiness to this farm. Before Finn this was a calm and rolling place with the occasional sheep antics and possessed roosters...but now it's a non stop, hoof kicking party.

Bean's litter is down to five. Three kits died of exposure in the night. They were smaller, weaker bunnies, and sadly that is just how things are. It is a somber experience to start your day outside bottle feeding one baby animal and then removing the bodies of others. But farms are nothing if they aren't a constant reminder of how serious the business of life is. Cold Antler just keeps breathing in and out. The farm itself is an animal always on the move—a sheepdog padding through tall grass.

The garden is nearly in. All that's left is the big corn planting day and some sunflowers to line the northern end. So far, I have in the ground: broccoli, green beans, peas, onions, four types of lettuce, brussel sprouts, strawberries, rhubarb, sunflowers, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, butternut squash, pumpkins, basil, mint, and other things I'm sure I'm forgetting (forgive me, I am quite tired). But soon my life will be weeding and mulching and yelling at French geese to get out of the garden's water buckets. Which is exactly how I prefer life in May to be.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

11 beds (and counting...)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

raising a kid is a full time job.

This past week has been exhausting (in a good way). I get up an hour earlier now to tend the garden, bottle feed Finn, and take care of the other animals before work. By the time I pull into the office I've already carried hay across a field, mixed a potion of milk replacement in a glass Coke bottle with a rubber nipple, hauled water buckets, weeded hay-lined beds of young veggies and had a long shower. That's a lot to do before your first cup of coffee.

I'm not complaining either. I love this life, and the effort it entails. But man, have I been tired. But the chores are down to a system now. For example, this morning I grabbed hay from the porch and then let Finn out of his pen to follow me around while I fed the sheep (who are warming up to him), feed the chickens (which he chases), and check on Bean and her litter (which all 8 babes are alive and well). Finn follows me around perfectly. He'll be a great trail goat. And in the next few weeks he'll get banded (for castration) and start walking with me on trails on lead. It's somewhat exciting having a draft animal to raise. Every hoof-print with Finn has a purpose.

I bring him to the office everyday. His feeding schedule demands it. It's kind of hilarious seeing the cars out in the parking lot, with their back hatches open. The first car has an English Springer, the second a pointing Lab, the third...my goat. I'm glad Orvis is so cool about having animals in the office. But when you work for an outdoors company it would be ridiculous not to be, wouldn't it? Anyway, having him at my desk chair sucking on a bottle while I check my office emails is a perfect scene of my current life. Technology and the farm, all together now.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

a kid and new kits

A congratulations is in order! My French angora doe, Bean Blossom, just gave birth to a healthy litter of kits! We have anywhere from 7-9 little bunnies sleeping in a pile of angora wool and straw. The rabbits will be pedigreed, tattooed, and ready for spinner and hobby farm homes within the next 6 weeks. If you're interested in an Angora fiber rabbit (or apartment sheep, as I call them) from Cold Antler, let me know. Goat kids and kits... what a week.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

finn meets the gang

poultry swap!

Sunday I was up early, even for me. I had to get a jump on the day since I had quite the schedule ahead of me. The morning activities included all the usual farm chores, but along with all that, I was heading to a livestock tailgate party over the state line.

The annual Schaghticoke Poultry Sway happens the first weekend of May. Picture a fairgrounds parking lot with endless cages, squawking, chirping and animals and people everywhere. Folks pretty much park their trucks and set up shop. Need a rabbit? A peacock? Maybe you had your eyes on a black lamb or a goat kid - you can get those things here. It's quite a show. I scored two new laying hens. Little girls, just fifteen weeks old, but promising. They're scared of everything right now and haven't left the coop once.

I showed up to the swap with a sneaking suspicion a goat kid would be riding in the passenger seat on the drive home. I wanted a young buck I could train for pack work. I have two packing dogs, but with Jazz and Annie are both nearly ten years old, the idea of taking them out for long treks in the Vermont mountains seems less and less possible.

But a goat like Finn, he's a natural mountain man-agile, fast, made for steep climbs and happy to help carry the burden. I've been reading up on training a draft animal of this sort, and so far Finn's big job is to walk on a leash, which he's doing well. I've taken him with me to work, Tractor Supply, Wayside, everywhere I go throughout the day this kid is with me. Learning people, and noises, and following me around with his tail wagging. I can't wait till we're in those mountains together. Just a gypsy and her violin and her trusty goat...Few things are that perfect together.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

meet the new kid