Saturday, June 6, 2009

the farm library

Before Cold Antler was up and running like it is now, I knew I had a lot to learn. I dove head first into research. I would pour over books and small farm magazines. Before I had any hoofstock or rabbit hutches—most of my energy was put into preparing, research, and trying to cook, can, and bake while dreams of sheep and chickens loped in my head.

But now, a few years down the road (and two dozen animals later) time to sit and read is at a premium. But I can't tell you how much those early days of research and library building helped me and continue to help me. Not a day goes by I don't use something I read, or have to run back into the house to look up gardening or livestock information. How much space do pumpkins need? How much milk replacer should a three-week-old goat be swilling? These are the questions that make a decent library the most important thing on a small farm since the pickup truck.

I am constantly in my bookcase. It has plenty of reference, but it also hosts memoirs, music, and inspiration for when things get low around here. It started in my kitchen, but has long since taken over the rest of the cabin. The porch, bookcases, and any free level space around here is overflowing with books. I need them. They're mentors and entertainers. There's no TV or cable here, just books and DVDs. I like movies as much as the next gal, but nothing beats a book in the hammock. Nothing.

Like I said, time for farm studies now is limited. But everyday I try to crack a book and read up on something. Maybe it's just an article on hay in The Small Farmers Journal, or maybe it's a chapter on growing Okra in the backyard. But still, I am constantly learning. I have so far to go.

If you're thinking about this life and dreaming about your own small farm—I can not stress enough the importance of starting a farm library. You might feel silly subscribing to Countryside if you live in downtown Detroit, but who cares? All those articles, books, and notes I took in classes or at small farms have become invaluable. And you'll be thrilled you did all that reading about chickens in your apartment when the time comes to put up your own backyard coop. So read up farmers. Read up and never stop. Books are our friends and it's hard to fit a Kindle in your coveralls and not break it.

rabbits for sale

This season's first litter of French Angoras is ready to go to new homes. The four bunnies are about six weeks old, weaned, and happily munching on solid pellets and chugging water. Right now they are small, can be held in one hand, but they'll grow up into handsome wool stock - their parents both weigh about 9 pounds. CAF is a member of the American Rabbit Breeder's Association. You get ARBA pedigrees and the assurance of a quality animal.

I have three bucks and a doe available (which I might keep for breeding). All Cold Antler Bred kits come with champion lined pedigrees, tattooed ears, and some wool blend high quality rabbit food for the road. They make wonderful pets, fiber livestock, or show animals. If you're interested, please email me

Friday, June 5, 2009

finn & flowers

photo by Tim Bronson

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

grab some rosin

Checking in and checking up on all you new fiddlers out there! Did everyone get a hold of the book and a violin? It looked that way in all your comments. I did a quick internet search and saw some folks already posted some videos! I hope those of you brand new to the music wold have found a local music store to help you if needed. Also, those of you still doubting you can play Old Joe Clark by July, well, watch and see. America's squawking today, wonderfully so!

Soon as everyone's ready to go we'll go over the strings and talk a little about starting out as a beginner. Right now you should be reading the intro sections of Wayne's book and getting aquatinted with Old Time music. If you can listen to the CD on your drive to work, it'll help immensely. Start filling your heads with fiddle sounds, new players. Trust me, it'll help down the road to already know what your tunes should sound like.

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.