Tuesday, August 11, 2009

not called the green mountain state for nothing

Monday, August 10, 2009

time to vote!

Okay. Here is how the Fiddler's Summer voting will go down. Click this link here to go to the thread which lists all the videos submitted. After watching, come back to this post and anonymously list the name of your favorite fiddler in the comments here at this post, and only this post! Please do only vote once, and feel free to share the contest with friends and family as well. Twitter it, blog it, Facebook it, ask your co-workers to join in. This should be a big time for all, to cheer on the contestants and enjoy the sounds of new mountain musicians playing old tunes. Polls close at Midnight (VT Time) Thursday! So cast your ballot for the top fiddlers of summer 2009!

And I really really mean this: thank you to all who picked up a violin and started playing.

kits and cages

I do believe the morning will welcome some new residents to Cold Antler. Bean Blossom, my angora doe, has been fervently plucking hair out of her coat and making a giant nest of wool in her den. This is a sure sign of kits on the way, possibly as soon as tonight. This will be her second litter of the summer. I hope it's a healthy lot. I can't wait to check the hutch at first light, and see how many new bunnies are on the way.

I'll also be checking in on the birthday birds. My five, 6-week-old chickens are spending their first full night outdoors. They are still in their cage, safe from any unwanted pecking or predators, but instead of in the bathroom they're in the coop. To make sure they had a cozy first night I surrounded their cage with straw. I looks like a Vermont igloo. I just don't want the night to chill them. It's humid as hell right now, and I doubt the next few hours will drop below 60, but for birds who've spent most of their life under brooder lights—that's a big change. But every day they've spent more and more time outside. The last two days from morning till dark away from their brooder. I'm not worried. Their feathers are all in and they understand safety in numbers. Last I checked they were all piled together watching Saro and Cyrus from their little straw-cave.

they were so small...

I found this photo of Finn in the garden the weekend I bought him. It was early May, and the idea he (and the garden!) were that small just a few weeks ago nearly had me spitting out my morning coffee. It seems like years ago that I would wake up at 5, collect him from his tiny pen, and feed him a bottle of milk replacer on my lap.

Last night the now sixty-pound wether and I went for a walk up and down the neighborhood. His horns are almost as long as my forearm, his stomach aches for grains, brush, and hay: our milk replacer days are over. And the garden now is in it's late middle age. The salad plots long gone. The pumpkins weaving around the green tomatoes. The corn is taller than I. Soon all that will be left is pumpkins on the porch and brown stalks tied to the doorways and arches. It was a good year in the garden. Really good.

It's nice to start the day with some perspective. Gardens and goats grow. You just need to wait and try not to kill them by accident in the meantime.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

porch pullets

this farmer's day

I spent the last 24 hours doing exactly what I want to do with the rest of my life: farming, writing, and ending my days with friends and music. The day was long and busy, but I'll tell you how I managed to fit in all three while fighting a woodpile and petting a scruffy Texas Dall ram lamb along the way.

I started with a hot cup of coffee. (This is the only proper way to start a day at this farm.) Then went outside to let every animal free-range on their lots. The chickens ran out of the coop and vacuumed up the scratch grains I offered for breakfast. The sheep were out next, happy to see recess started at 7AM instead of the usual post-office hours. Next I walked Finn on his leash over to where he could fill up on grass and brush and then lay down in the shade to chew his cud. My animals seen content with me, and I with them.

Memories from tomatoes
I came back inside and made my refrigerator sweet pickles. A simple recipe of slicing cucumbers and covering them in a bath of white vinegar for 5-8 hours (you can do this all night if you like tarter bread and butter pickles). I covered the slices with a lid and set them aside. I had other kitchen adventures going on at the same time, you see. I moved over to the saucepan on the stove bubbling with a thin layer of olive oil. I sliced up garlic and threw the cloves to their destiny. The smell instantly overtook my memories and I thought of making sauce my first time—in Idaho at the Carlin's farmhouse. I soon added the tomatoes, onions, spices and mixed them with my wooden spoon as I let the heat boil off the excess water. The kitchen smelled wonderful. Had I some warm garlic bread to dip in the bubbling sauce....I would have had nothing left to can. This, I am sure.

While the sauce bubbled on the stove—I started getting ready for company. Four friends were coming that night for homemade pizza, beer, and a big campfire. A practice run for Antlerstock (which may happen as a day event in October) I have no problem at all laying a quilt by a fire, or even sitting on the grass, but I realized my guests might not be so (forgive the pun) grounded. So I needed to seat five of us and I wasn't buying lawn chairs. I decided to use bales instead. I'd use the hay I'd buy for the livestock for benches, covered in quilts to scratchy bare legs. Problem solved.

After my sauce was cooling in just-canned jars on the kitchen table, I left the farm to pick up the hay at Nelson Green's place over in New York. The drive on the back roads from Sandgate, over into Hebron is a beautiful, secret, hidden way. When I emerged from the woods into the breathtaking openness of upstate New York, Nelsons farm wasn't far off. Soon I was crawling up into a hay trailer, throwing down bales of green first cut down to the station wagon. I chatted with a woman named Wanda who was also there buying hay. She had a pony, and we talked horses for a bit. Just as I was about to leave a familiar trucked pulled up. It was Dave.

Two Shepherds
Dave and his wife Nadine have a flock of Texas Dall sheep three miles up the road. He told me to stop up and visit his wife 'cause she's home and would love to show me around. Within moments I was walking around Nadine's 75 acres and meeting her spunky ram lamb, Thomas. The name was perfect and I can't explain why. He stood there no larger than a labrador, but with those ovine eyes that seem ancient as sin (and a smile too smart to take himself seriously) he looked like a smug grad student named Thomas. He reminded me of Finn with his darker coat and large horns. (I bet our boys would love to run around the field together.) I very much liked the idea of a sheep and goat being best friends. The world needs more beautiful contraries.

We walked along her beautiful property. Two shepherds, talking about our small flocks. Nadine's farther than I am, of course. She owns this land and had a herd of 35 this past winter. Her fences, barn, and home out do my own in spades. It would be laughable to see my little sheep shed by her giant barn, her 15 Dalls by my two (soon three!) wool sheep, my 6 mountain acres I don't even own by her rolling fields of green that seem endless. A girl gets jealous. sick with hope, seeing all this. But I'll someday find my own spot on the world and dig in, as Gary Snyder says.

Before I left, she generously gave me a small shopping bag of cucumbers from her garden and some purple basil for the road. (Are you thinking about pickles and pizza too?) It was a nice unexpected field trip. I drove home with my gifts and sang with the radio. I am slowly learning how many farms and faces around my part of New England I am learning. I want to join the club.

Pickles, wood, and pizza dough
I drove home and filled the fridge with food, drained out the pickles of their vinegar bath and then coated them with sugar and pickling spices. While the sugar soaked up I stacked as much wood as I could, making three piles: Dry birch for tonight's campfire, more birch for the porch for cold pre-autumn nights, and stacked all the green wood under the overhang for winter. My arms have black and blue marks from carrying. My back is sore. I am happy about both these things.

I came inside sweaty and disgusting, but before I hopped in the shower I tasted one of the pickles. IT WAS AMAZING! I ate five more and then put them in a jar in my fridge. Since I am rich in cucumbers there will be a hell of a lot more where these came from. I have this new skill down. Goodbye supermarket jars. Now I really do need a pressure canner...

My night ended with five laughing adults, a light buzz from the local beer they brought with them, and really good pizza. No one complained about the cage of chirping five-week-old chickens near the campfire or the goat tied out four feet from where we were about to dine. These were my kind of people. We sat outside for hours just laughing, drinking, and talking. My perfect evening. The purple basil from Nadine graced our pies and was well received.

The quilted hay worked fine as benches and they looked almost pretty in the light of oil lanterns and campfire. My friend Mike sat beside me, strumming my 5-string banjo which I brought out to pluck by the fire. I think he fell in love because it never left his hands. I told him I'm still new to the banjo but I could help him get started. He liked that idea, or at least the idea of getting his won. I would not be surprised if he has one by fall. And his fervor inspired my own. Today I'll dig up old instruction books and try to learn some more, get a little better. I feel like I will have my whole life to learn the banjo. There isn't the rush of passion I have for the fiddle, but every now and then the spark returns and I want more out of my drum on a stick. Today I'll watch my Janet Davis DVD. Wish me luck.

Birch beer Sunday
This morning I had more coffee and am writing to you. Between sections of this blog post I cooked a batch of birch beer over the stove. My simple introduction to home brewing. You just mix a 1/8 tsp of yeast with sugar water and concentrated syrup over the stove, then seal it in jars to rack and ferment. Under the kitchen table are 4 qt. of birch beer. In three weeks they'll be carbonated and ready to drink. Which means by the time they're bubbly and cold I'll be seeing leaves change and starting a fire nearly every night on this small farm. I'll raise a glass to the hopes of mid-September. My big plans press on.

Now if you will kindly excuse me, I need to bring in those benches before the rain makes them too wet to eat.
Dall sheep image from sheepinfo.com

Saturday, August 8, 2009

firewood delivered!

books and ball jars

I'm reading a book called Goat Song, written by a Vermont author-turned-farmer. It's about a couple who decide to raise Nubian dairy does and start a small cheese operation on their land. Since Kessler is a writer first, herder second, his way of writing about being new to the experience is beautiful and wonderfully observant of the tiniest details of human and animal behavior, but with moxie. I just finished the section about having their virgin does bred for the first time and it was part hilarious/part wild kingdom. Grab it at a bookstore or your library.

It's going to be a busy weekend here at the homestead. Any minute now my neighbor Lynn will be delivering a cord of wood. Together we'll unload it from his truck and I'll stack it under my porch alongside the hay. I had a good fire last night. It doesn't feel like summer anymore. The temperatures after dark have dropped into the mid 40s here on the mountain, and every morning feels crisper... a little closer to that holy October. Getting wood delivered on a chilly morning will make me even more excited for the cold nights and warm fires to come.

Besides wood there are 11 jars of strawberry jam here I cooked and canned last night. I think I finally nailed it. The jam turned out wonderful and I am stocked for the winter. I feel good about those ruby jars lining the cupboard. Sure, they're just jam but that's one thing I never have to buy in the grocery store all year. I only spent six dollars on the ingredients and maybe eight dollars on the reusable mason jars, but the equivalent in homemade jam would run up to five dollars a jar at market. Maybe more? If your eyebrows are raised, I can assure you (even as a brand new canner) you could buy strawberries, a lemon, sugar and some pectin and make great jam tonight. If you don't want to can it (which is really easy in a water bath) you can buy freezer containers and set it aside that way. If people are interested I'll post last night's recipe.

Later today I'll cook and can tomato sauce and I'll also be making my first every fresh-pack pickles. I found a great recipe in Carol Costenbader's Preserving the Harvest which will suit me just fine. It's for sweet bread and butter pickles you cook and keep in the fridge. Since my own cucumbers are just gherkins, I'll have enough for maybe one or two experimental pickle jars. But if it turns out well, I'll grab a bunch from the market tomorrow and can a pile of jars. So today's about putting things up for winter: wood, jam, sauce and such.

Is anyone still going to post to FIddler's Summer? If not I'll set us up to vote Sunday. And I have collected prizes for the top few. The winner will certainly be getting som strawberry jam!

Friday, August 7, 2009

learning the sun

I caught sight of something beautiful this morning. While brushing my teeth I heard a loud crow. I looked out the bathroom window and Chuck Klosterman was perfectly balanced on an ax jutting from an unsplit round. His talons clutching the metal, his light frame perfectly taunt as he crowed. Below him the geese watched like gargoyles, stretching their necks out in opposite directions. It was like a crest for some old world clan. Ameraucanas really are beautiful animals. Chuck's yellow and green cape in the morning sun made me want to call in sick. Just spend the morning working, then jogging, and then swaying in the hammock for an afternoon nap. My empire is a happy one. It promotes repose.

Before heading into Manchester last night for the book event, I decided to enforce some tough love on the bathroom birds. Since they're nearly feathered out and hopping out of their safe little box—I decided the 78 degree evening would be the perfect time to learn about the sun (which is a fancy way of saying: learn to be outside chickens). They were set in a sunny patch in a small cage and started chewing on the grass under their feet and eating ants. Complaints were few. All of the other farm animals seemed indifferent to the chirping cage, save for Saro.

Saro's my female Toulouse, and pretty spunky for a goose. Her partner Cyrus is on the mend from a broken leg and infection and doesn't travel with her like he used to. I go out in the morning with an old teacup filled with antibiotics and set him in my lap and let him lap up his medicine. But to his credit he takes it and seems to be improving. He flies around more to make up for the limping. Geese live to be forty, so my yearling gets all the help I can offer. I want Cyrus and Saro to be with me long as they can. From rented cabin to my future lamb and wool farm. We'll land there together, limping or otherwise.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

an august pumpkin

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

campfires, music, and a thank you

Tonight I lit a campfire while the sheep and goat grazed. I brought out my modest Epiphone and my Czech fiddle and played for my little herd. Eighteen chickens, two sheep, a pair of geese, two rabbits, the dogs and a goat listened to my renditions of favorite songs. I played Pretty Saro and Old Joe Clark. Cripple Creek and Ruby with the Eyes the Sparkle (which. incidentally, is the first song I learned by ear. I heard it on the movie Cold Mountain, and taught it to myself since no one else was going to on that particular smowy Idaho night). I was happy to get the smell of wood-smoke on my new fiddle. I saw one firefly. Both of us were too polite t to mention their season was over in Vermont. He flew by. I caught him in my hand, barely alive.

I would like to take a moment and thank the people who sent in donations to the farm. These past few months I've stumbled across a few gifts in my inbox and every time I see them in my account I am bowled over. Thank you. Know that the money you send goes directly to scratch grains, hay, sheep feed, and winter wood. Every little bit helps and I am in awe of your generosity. Over and over.

check out this trailer!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

a sandgate hollow

the goat walks

There is a time here on the farm I am growing very fond of. It's the very last outing of the evening. It happens when there is only a scarce twenty minutes before dark, and all the animals have grazed or been fed. I have done all this woman can do in a day. I went to work, I farmed all evening, I took my dogs out for a three-mile walk, and I came home and cooked a good meal. All the animals (including me) are content for another night. I look around at all the closed pens and shut coop doors and then look down at my little goat on his tie out. When this stolen quiet comes I grab Finn's lead and we go for a walk. It's 8PM and and I end my day with a little brown goat on some dirt roads.

We don't walk far. I usually have a stomach full of food (tonight I feasted on some Amy's soup with homemade bread and sweet corn from a neighbor's farm) and am growing tired. We move slowly. It's a post-meal jaunt over the little dirt bridge over the stream. We head down to the main road and every now and then Finn tries to eat a dead leaf on the ground. I must be patient because I am asking a ruminant to traverse land without devouring it: a sin to those with hooves.

We don't see a single car. I listen to the sounds of weather changing—leaves tossing in the limbs above us, a burnt brush pile crackles to our right on someone's property. The air smells like smoke and cut grass. It smells like August. The temperature in the shade of the sugar maples is cool. Then the wind kicks up and warm air rushes into us like a storm's grandson. Finn's confused by the sudden change in the world and bows down on his front legs and jumps into the air, throwing his horns into nothing to fight the barometrics. I smile. I never said he was smart.

At the risk of sounding nostalgic I will say this: If I am lucky, and get to live a few more decades—I think I will look back on these rituals and be glad. I'll remember the summer nights at the cabin walking silently alongside my young goat, scanning the treelines for fireflies.

These are the reasons I do all this.

let's hang out on thursday

So this Thursday, August 6 at 7 pm I'll be at the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT for the "Get Gardening" series. I'll be there with Carleen Madigan (who also happens to be my editory, and the author of the Backyard Homestead!) So come hang out with two cool cats into the backyard-farm thing. Here is what the Northshire website says:

August’s “Get Gardening” event focuses on self-sufficiency, as author Carleen Madigan presents The Backyard Homestead and Jenna Woginrich presents Made From Scratch. Learn to put your backyard to work with Carleen Madigan, whose book The Backyard Homestead shows us how to grow vegetables and fruits, keep bees, raise chickens, goats and even cows. Ms. Madigan is an editor at Storey Publications, and the former managing editor of Horticulture magazine. She has lived on an organic farm near Boston. Joining Carleen is Jenna Woginrich of Vermont, who chronicled her own journey toward self-reliance in Made From Scratch. From windowbox vegetable gardens, making strawberry jam, or learning to knit her own sweaters, Jenna Woginrich has worked to learn the simple skills that most of us have forgotten. She is a web designer for Orvis who has taught herself to bake, spin, sew, raise chickens, grow vegetables and play the fiddle and mountain dulcimer.

Monday, August 3, 2009

roosters on my toilet

Saturday morning I rolled out of bed, stretched, and zombie-walked over to the bathroom. I opened the door, turned on the light, and there standing before me on the lid of the toilet was a month-old rooster.

Welcome to Cold Antler Farm.

Turns out the young chicks that have been living in my bathroom since early July are starting to grow into handsome birds. The Golden Laced Wyandotte rooster, (whom I named John) is already sporting tail feathers and a healthy alert eyes. He hasn't escaped from the box since, but I think that's only because he doesn't have the balls to use my shower yet.

P.S. Fiddler's Summer isn't over, nor is it forgotten. I'll make a post where we can vote later this week. Still want you last minute people on the fence to post your videos. Unless people don't want to vote and in that case I'll just pick. Your call, readers.

Friday, July 31, 2009

sawin' out your praises

I woke up this morning to the sound of heavy rain. (It is pouring out there folks.) And the first thing, the very first thing, I did (after stretching and listening for the roosters) was grab my fiddle and welcome the morning with the song Great High Mountain. I played it slow, and then fast. It woke me up, and seemed to be the perfect way to ring in my three-day weekend.

I took off work today because I had a lot of farm and housework to do before my parents arrive in Vermont this afternoon. They are coming up to spend some time here with me and enjoy a cool New England summer. ( I hope the rain ends soon though, as most things worth doing around here involve being outside. Also, wet sheep aren't much of a thrill for anyone). Anyway, I miss them and look forward to their visit. As that rain pelts the red tin roof—I am in no rush to get outside and meet it. The animals were given their last feed and check-in at 11PM. They will be fine under the cover of their sheds and coops till 8. I'm currently making scrambled eggs and waiting out the rain. I'd feel guilty for not seeing them first if I didn't already know they were all warm, safe, and dry in their respected houses. So eggs it is.

So! This wet morning marks the end of our Fiddler's Summer Challenge. If you're new to the blog I'll summarize quickly: FS was a dare. I dared readers of this blog to go out and get a fiddle and an instruction book and start learning a few tunes. A few dozen people took the reigns and tried this; buying, renting, borrowing or stealing violins to start playing along. Over the past few weeks I've received emails, videos, and stories of people and their music. It's been such a joy to learn about people getting through their first tunes. Today I asked that anyone and everyone who joined in to comment on this blog post with a link to a video of their playing. We'll all vote for the best new fiddler and runners up, and those folks will be mailed books and prizes, as they have certainly earned them.

Oh, and before I forget. This photo was taken a few autumns ago at the Old Timer's Mountain Music Festival outside the Smokies in east Tennessee. In Scratch I tried to explain the excitement and comfort of this gathering, but I think photos do it better. These strangers in the snapshot don't know me, or each other, but they pulled up their lawn chairs and instruments and they all started playing mountain music. In a clearing in the valley, under the shadows of those blessed southern mountains, they just played. They shook hands, raised their instruments, and strumed songs written by people long dead. My point is: Fiddler's Summer wasn't about us. It was about keeping those moments, camp sights, songs and memories alive. You may only be able to squeak through a few songs now, but you are a fiddler. You have the will and violin to prove it, and you should be damn proud. Because even if you don't think it sounds good to you, some kid or neighbor may catch you playing on your back deck and fall in love. They'll hear your music and decide they need to learn too. Cold Antler Farm does not enforce safe musical practice. Go out and play with all the friendly and willing strangers you can find. The disease spreads and we're all better for the infection.

Now, post those videos and never stop playing.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

the new antiquarians

Found this article online this morning while checking the news. I think it's wonderful. I'm telling you, I could hang with these cats in Williamsburg, but I draw the line at displaying any taxidermy of pets I once owned. They probably would never willingly shoot and gut a fox though, so I guess creepy is relative. But the article and slideshow are fun, and shows a growing interest in younger folks, (even home decorators) looking back instead of looking forward when it come to homelife. Awesome.

Monday, July 27, 2009

tonight's garden haul

Sunday, July 26, 2009

the fate of monsters

I defeated the giant zucchini in honorable combat. Two big batches of chocolate chip cookies later, I learned the fate of the monster. I used this recipe from Animalvegetablemiracle.com and found it easy enough to adapt to my own liking. I like a more cake-like cookie so I only used white flour and no brown sugar. They turned out fluffy and yummy. If you got some monsters of your own to battle, I suggest this quick easy recipe which you can download in a handy pdf format from Kingsolver's site.

I liked baking all morning. A nice melody of eggs from my hens and veggies from my garden. But even two batches wasn't enough to slay the whole beast. I was able to chop and shred two thirds of that beast and gave the other third to Maude and Sal, who chomped it up with sheepish smiles.

the royal wulff

What I love about fly fishing, or I suppose what I love about becoming a fly fisherman, is the history. There are so many stories in the rivers I live near and being new to this sport means I get to experience it all for the first time. I have yet to come across any sport that exhales and inhales in one place like fly fishing does in southern Vermont. Maybe I'm just being overly sentimental because it's what brought me here in the first place, but regardless of my bias, it is undeniable that a rich history bubbles up from under those stream beds. Sometimes I get to experience this history, magic, and culture all in the same night.

Last night was one of those nights. My friend Phil (who also happens to be a gifted fly fisherman and seasoned guide) took me out on a river at dusk. Under a waxing crescent moon (and his patient watch) I learned to improve my casting and choose the proper flies. Thanks to this adventure I caught my first ever trout on a river. The feeling of watching a wild animal thrash and jump from the water on your taunt line is like nothing I've ever experience outdoors before. This was nothing like raising livestock or spotting a deer on a hiking trail. This was me, waist-deep in a fast river, actively participating in the hunt. On the end of my line: a native brook trout. I landed her with a famous dry fly called the Royal Wulff.

The Royal Wulff is used by fly fisherman all over the world. But what I didn't know until last night was this fly was tied by a man named Lee Wulff, a renowned sportsman and conservationist. Lee also happened to be a former Sandgate resident (Who's kitchen table somehow became the main back table at the Wayside Country Store where the locals gather for coffee every morning...I find this fact particularly wonderful) Anyway, this man Lee was a fairly big deal in the history of the sport, and while I know very little about him, his legacy as a resident in my little mountain town rang loudly last night. I felt special, and a little honored to be using some local history to catch fish with a good friend.

I've been fly fishing since the first spring in Vermont, but always by myself, and always a little haplessly. Fly fishing is not like bait fishing. There isn't any waiting around, bobbers to watch, or cans of worms. You're not trapping fish by luring their noses to bloody hooks—You are actively hunting by making a small fake bug on the end of a clear long line look like a living thing just landing on the surface of the water. Now, I took a weekend course with a guided river trip, read books, tried... a lot. But my efforts were all fruitless. I needed to learn from real fisherman over and over. This was not a sport you learned from paper.

When you fly fish you are a puppeteer, tracker, and animal all at once. You do this while always thinking, and moving, and casting, and scrambling up and down the river like a waterlogged nomad. There are no lawn chairs on the banks here. You wear waders and a vest and act like your own boat: your waterproof lower body the vessle and your fishing vest full of gear the haul. You do this mad dance while trying to find the right eddy or pocket where the trout live and will buy your story.

Obviously, this takes some skill. After a year of trying and never landing a single river trout on my own, I decided to start asking for help. Pride is dead. My friends (and bandmates) Steve and Phil came to the rescue.

Over the past few months Steve and Phil have been taking me out to their favorite fishing spots and teaching me. Talk about lucky. These are seriously talented people who have been kind enough to help a friend learn their passion. Just last Thursday Steve leant me a rod to take out on the water this weekend. A very nice fly rod he himself helped design called the Helios. The rod costs more than several of my car payments, but getting to fish with it was like learning to drive on a Bentley. So last night while Steve was away in Maine, I took the Helios out on the river with Phil. Now in the company of an angler and gear far more advanced than I, the three of us rambling up and down the river Lee Wulff himself once fished.

We fished for a few hours and it was wonderful. I caught five! I reeled in brown and brook trout over and over. Phil did the same. I'd hand him the Helios and he'd cast like an artist as I watched from a boulder, letting my feet dangle over the fast river, watching the sun fall away. It was beautiful. Lee once said "The finest gift you can give to any fisherman is to put a good fish back, and who knows if the fish that you caught isn't someone else's gift to you?" and so in the tradition of most fly-fisherman around these parts, I let all of our catches go. Phil kept saying how happy he was to see the river so healthy, the fish thriving in their native waters. I was proud to be outside along a teacher more interested in keeping the experience than the fish. We returned every trout back to the river. I will catch them again someday perhaps, or maybe you will.

I saved the Royal Wulff and will frame it alongside a sketched watercolor of a brook trout. It is now dirty, and the hook broken, but it is special to me now. A little talisman. Call me sentimental but that little fish hook tied up with hair and string was the culmination of generations of conservationists, neighbors, friends and a river. It's the avatar of a perfect Vermont summer night that started hip-deep in cold water and ended with a celebration glass of Guiness in a Bennigton pub. And it's the drug that made a recreational beginner fly fisher into what will certainly be a lifetime of scrambling up rivers and watching trout rise, a fly rod in her hand and a fiddle on the bank.

So last night a famous kitchen table, a crescent moon, patient friends, and a river made me a very happy woman. That water has not seen the last of me.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Fiddler's Summer wraps up here next Friday, the 31st. If you've been taking part in the challenge—please get out your digital cameras and take a short video playing your favorite song. Everyone who submits a video is entered in the contest which we'll all vote to pick a winner (I reserve the right to break ties, however). The top new fiddler gets a gift package from Vermont of CAF goodness. The basket will include a tee shirt from the Wayside Country Store, Maude's raw wool, maple syrup in a leaf-shaped bottle (VT tapped, of course), and a copy of Wayne Erbsen's Southern Mountain Fiddle which comes with a CD. Other prizes will be handed out as well. I have some Storey books here to give out to runners up.

Honestly folks, this isn't a talent show. It's a chance to prove to yourself you did this. Even if all you submit is a slow rendition of Ida Red, that's still a fiddle tune you learned! Do you realize how amazing that is? That just a few weeks ago you didn't know how to hold the thing and over these past few weeks you chose to pick up a new instrument and give it a shot? Even if you are still squawking through your D scale that is epic in its intention. And if you can play one simple song, you're flooring me. Please do not avoid sharing your music because you think someone else will sound better. The fact you took this challenge on earns you a spot at my campfire, and you should be damn proud without worrying about pride...If that makes sense. Post your YouTube links when I make the announcement on the morning of the 31st. Until then, keep practicing!

see how they grow

I wanted to take a photo to show how fast these birds grow! That Rhode Island Red pullet in front is only two weeks old.To her right is the just-hatched Silkie Bantam Chick. (Side by side that pullet looks like a T-Rex compared to the new kids.) The little red poofball between them is how large that dinosaur in front was when I brought her home.

In a few more weeks those five chickens I bought on my birthday will be ready to join their extended-adoptee family out in the poultry house. They won't start laying big brown eggs till snow is on the ground, but that's kind of great since these new irds will start producing as the older one slow down production. I look forward to hearing that new rooster learn to crow by Halloween. I just hope he learns from Chuck Klosterman and not Winthrop (the Light Brahma Wererooster). I don't need another animal making the neighbor's dogs howl back everytime he crows...

i will cut you

You think I can't handle you squash? Huh? You think just because you're eighteen inches long and weigh a metric ton I can't figure out a way to put your overgrown mass to use? Well I can. In fact, I have big plans for you. BIG plans. You thought you were the honcho over there in the squash pit? You thought it was cool to take all your vine's energy while your siblings continued to grow at a modest, respectable pace?

Well sorry buddy, we're not much for inflated egos around here. We're more into zucchini chocolate chip cookies or zapple pie. What, you ask? What's Zapple pie? Well, to be perfectly honest I'm not exactly sure, but while paging through some garden cookbooks I found a bunch of recipes for cooking you down in lemon juice and soaking you in pie spices, and how you can taste just like an apple pie if done right. Which frankly, sounds suspect, but what the hell I'll give it a shot.

I just want you to know you're going down. And it's not just me taking you out: it's this whole gang. 'Cause a lot of folks backed me up here and sent me recipes to make you into everything from brownies to crab cakes. You're in a hot mess. We don't stand for ostentatious squash at Cold Antler.

Friday, July 24, 2009

sal likes silkie bantams

When I stopped at the feed store after work today I heard that wonderful sound of day-old chicks chirping in the back room. I bolted to the front desk to ask Penny if there was any extras for sale? (Usually the hatchery sends a few extras in case any get lost in the mail.) They only had two: a Rhode Island Red pullet and a Black Silkie Bantam.

Now, I have not been around Silkie chicks since Idaho and instantly those feelings of getting my first-ever laying hens flushed into me. It was like an injection of warm nostalgia. I missed Diana and Floating Leaf Farm, and felt like I was once again in her basement during a March snowstorm getting my first order of birds. And good lord, I forgot how small they were... I paid the nice people $3.60 for the little babe and took it home (along with the orphan Red). When I got out of the car I picked up the midget in my warm hand and carried the peep over to the sheep pen. Maude ignored me, but Sal came trotting over, sniffing my hands along the fenceline. I introduced the new bird to the King of Cold Antler. Sal smiled, or something like it.

I would love to host Antlerstock. Maybe a Saturday in October? I have plenty of camping space, a bonfire pit, and a working outhouse with electricity! If not a weekend thing, certainly a Saturday evening with music and fireside. Any takers?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

come in, sit down

Every once in a while I'll want to ask you, the readers, to comment on this blog and check in. Some of you write a lot, and I like it. Over the years I've come to learn some of you, and think of you. I think about Tara in Texas and Tony in Asheville. I wonder about Kathleen in Lancaster and the folks who still check in on me from Palmerton, Knoxville, and Sandpoint.

So you know a lot about me. You know my hopes and dreams, my animals' names, and about my obsessions with fall and coffee. But I'd like to meet you. So if you read this blog from time to time, leave a comment and tell me a little about yourself and where you're from. Tell me why you read this, and if you also dream of some land of your own. And hey, you may find others in your area this way who share a love of homestaeding. Hell. maybe you can make some lunch plans out of this. I however, just want to meet the people who already met me. I think it's nice to know who I'm writing to.

troubles and such

When I left the office tonight my eyes took in the mountains to the west. It looked like a storm was coming, and in the distance low thunder could be heard. From where I park my car I can see down the office's hill into the valley, and beyond that the Taconic mountains that are my home. I liked seeing the dark clouds over there. The wind had picked up and southern Vermont seemed poised for some sort of trouble.

This was fitting because things at the farm are currently troublesome. I have a hen, or possibly a few hens, eating eggs. A serious problem for chicken hobbyists. I also have cause to believe the fox has returned since one of my Jersey Giants is missing all her butt feathers and has a gash in her rump (Now, that's one fast chicken). I also need to recruit some good friends for a working Saturday to repair my sorry fences around the sheep pen, which are sagging and turning sour. I hope to be able to invest in some of that Red Brand stuff I long for every time I walk by it at Tractor Supply.

But problems have solutions. This is how things work. While fly fishing on my lunch break my friend Steve told me about a trapper friend of his who is willing to help me catch this fox. We hope to get him in the next few days. (I have no remorse hanging his pelt from my cabin wall.) And when some money finds me I'll fix that fence with the help of caring friends. And if the hen that keeps eating eggs keeps it up—she'll be dispatched or sold. And as for the storm...well, it has yet to come. But outside the cabin I can hear the wind. I hope the rain covers the garden where pumpkins and corn reach for fall. And since I have a full stomach and payday is tomorrow—I feel a little better about my troubles. They're just a few phonecalls and paid bills away. And the ones I can't buy off will be forgotten.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

the idaho farm

dusting off my dulcimer

Truth is, I don't play the dulcimer all that often. It reminds me too much of Tennessee. A state that wrapped me in its arms and taught me to be still. I miss East Tennessee the way people miss first loves. She is my phantom limb. But it wasn't a place I could be, at least not now. When the southern October came my heart broke. There was no chilly air, no need for hooded sweatshirts. Hot cider, hay rides, and Halloween felt like castrated versions of their northern selves. I barked for frosty mornings. The death of my North East Autumn had me packing my bags for the Rockies in 18 months.

With that said, I have regretted leaving Knoxville everyday since. For that reason the dulcimer just sits on my mantle under an antique child's puzzle of the United States and old license plates from places I used to call home. It collects dust. It just makes me too lonesome for fried pies and Cades Cove. Sometimes items become time capsules through no fault of their own.

But tonight I dusted her off and spent a little time looking through old photos of dulcimer hikes in the Smokies. My roommate Heather and I would pack snacks and some backwards mountain instruments (She had a bowed psaltry. This was before we both became fiddlers) and we'd just find a mossy stream in the woods and play. Usually by one of our friend Brian's favorite fly-fishing holes. Tennessee does this to you. It makes sensible Pennsylvanian design students run into the woods to play 100-year-old songs. After Heather graduated from Design school she moved to Knoxville. She could not help herself.

As the sun went home, I played on the porch for quite some time. I strummed soft slow songs, humming as I did so. The same ones I played in the southern mountains. Annie laid her head on her paws to watch me. (A peaceful dog in candlelight soundtracked to dulcimer music is a poem.)

I played those ballads knowing I could always go back, but with a little wisdom and a sly smile. See, I know if I scramble back into those hills I'll be back in heaven, but come late September I'll be barking for a Vermont Fall. There is no Autumn like a New England Autumn, and Vermont is the First Church of that sacred season. But Fall's not here yet, and I wish I could hide in the groves of Elkmont tonight. I want to be bathed in the light of fireflies. You have not experienced fireflies till you've met them in the Smoky mountains. Trust me on this one.

We always want what we used to have.

Tonight was for Tennessee.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

hey, fiddlers

How's it going? Everyone still practicing?

Monday, July 20, 2009

a monday night

I left the office feeling tired, beside myself with exhaustion. My job isn't physically taxing but it's the sitting (The forever sitting!) that beats me into a chained-dog submission by 5:30. So I made some decisions as I drove home. The most important being my pulling into Wayside's parking lot and grabbing a bar of mint soap. I was going to need that later.

I pulled into Cold Antler's driveway and let out a long sigh of relief. All the birds were strutting along and accounted for. No sign of the fox in quite some time. Reports of slain turkeys ten miles down the road made me believe he'd left my yard for greener (turkier?) pastures. I parked and walked out towards the bleating sheep, feeling the wind hit me. Fresh air, how I had missed you. I grabbed at removable electric netting fence posts as I walked. They bleated louder. They knew I was moving the fencing around to allow them fresh grass to chomp into. I smiled and waved to them, telling them to be patient. Within minutes they were let out and happily chewing up the baby shoots. Behind them the grass was healing and growing again from their last rotation. I like seeing one pasture rise as another falls. Makes me feel okay.

I then walked over to Finn in his brand-new pen. My dear friends, James and Phil, gave me their half-day off work to haul a 6-ft tall old chainlink dog run across southern Vermont. James had it sitting in his parent's backyard collecting weeds and offered it to me as a belated birthday gift. I couldn't believe my good luck. Finn has been aching for a larger cage for days, and I was slightly worried about investing so much for just a few months. But James's gift was perfectly needed and perfectly timed. We just had to figure out how to get it to my place...

So we borrowed my pal Eric's trailer (pulled by Phil's rig) and the three of us loaded up the pen in Peru and delivered it to Sandgate. Now Finn has a safe and larger place to grow up in. Those boys have no idea how grateful I am they are here to help me. They were the same guys who helped build my sheep shed, and came to feed the animals when I nearly broke my knee this past winter. Sometimes it takes a village, and sometimes it just takes a couple of people who care about you. They are good men. The world needs more of that.

So while Finn jumped around his pen I refreshed his water and gave him a scoop of grain to occupy him while I tended to the chickens. As he munched away I called the flock to me for scratch grains and clean drinking water. As I hollered they waddled and flew to where I stood. I collected a half dozen eggs from the coop and decided I'm make a broccoli and cheese omelet for dinner. I was inspired. See, the garden broc was looking delicious from the chicken coop. I could see it through the hexagon holes in wire. And hey, I had been waiting for nights like this all winter and spring. Summer days when I can stare at the yard and plan out a menu. After all, I already paid for the meal in planting all those sweaty days ago. Tonight every bite would be appreciated. Eggs from today's coop, veggies cut right off the stalk....Mmmmm.

But my quiet homily was interrupted. I heard a rustle then a triumphant baa. I darted my eyes up towards the sheep and watched as Sal broke loose through a hole in the netting where I lazily connected it to the garden siderails. He came barreling towards me, right into the coop. He slid inside and slammed his head into the scratch grains in the metal trough I had filled for the birds. I laughed out loud and let him feast. The asshole earned it. Then Maude came trotting in behind him. Birds flying every which way, sheep swilling corn, everyone squawking and kicking hooves. Finn watched in quiet awe from his pen. This all lasted till Sal left the coop to visit his buddy, Bean Blossom. (She took in the whole show from the skybox that is her rabbit hutch.) I just grinned and walked over to the grain bin. I like these kinds of problems. I make mistakes on the farm all the time. But I am learning to watch them happen and laugh at them. Tomorrow I'll fix the fence. Tonight I bribed the sheep back into their pen with some coarse 14 and gave them some hay.

With the farm in line I went inside to greet the dogs. They were wound as all hell. Annie had been watching the whole debacle from the window and hated she couldn't be a part of it. She raced around the cabin and crashed into me when I walked into the kitchen. I had planned to take them out for a short walk and then go for a jog, but they looked like they needed to blow off some serious steam. There was no helping it. They would come with me. I changed into running gear, leashed the dogs, and away we went.

We took our time. My pace of jogging was just the right speed for their fast trot. As the sun set on Sandgate's hills we pumped along the horse fences and looked in on the neighbors' farms. We ran past the pair of snow-white Saanen goat kids just born a few weeks ago. A little later we passed a pair of ponies in their red shed. Everyone else seemed well. The fact that the other animals in town were just as content made me run faster.

I love the way it feels to run with dogs. They do this with everything that they are. As my clumsy feet pounded into the dirt their paws graced the earth like athletes. They lifted me up hills and pulled me down into the hollers. Together we are such fast dogs. To feel your heart race alongside strong paws, clawing into the dirt as they keep time... what a thrill. What an everyday simple goddamned thrill.

We made it two hot miles and then we all stood in the creek to cool off. All of us panting. Then we walked home side by side and I let them dry off on the porch with fresh water as I grabbed that mint soap from before. See, this was the plan. To work outside, run like a fast dog, and then take a cool mint shower. The herbs fill your nose and body with energy, tingles even. As I lathered up the sounds of my young laying hens in the cardboard brooder box next to me filled the bathroom with stupid happy noises. That post-run shower shared in a bathroom with future omelets instantly disolved all the anxiety I felt from the day.

I don't know a better way to spend a Monday night than here at this small farm. Tonight things were good. They won't always be. But tonight, bless its heart, was very good.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

one week old

Saturday, July 18, 2009

old friends

I am in the process of preparing the cabin and farm for weekend company. I have a bread and pie ingredients all over the counter and a batch of cookies cooling on a plate. A hot pot of coffee sits on the stove and I'm listening to an audiobook in the as I scramble around the kitchen to cook, clean, and get the place up to snuff. Soon as all is "snuffed" inside—I can go outside and do the same of for the animals. There are coops and cages to clean, pens to restraw, and rabbits to check in on. Cold Antler is expecting more bunnies any day now. That is, if the last breeding took. My fingers are crossed. A good litter of kits can cover a car payment. I don't think it's any secret that I'm not a wealthy individual, so this small homestead depends on all the animals for their help. Sometimes in the form of selling or trading livestock. Sometimes for help composting the gardens with their waste. And sometimes just for three eggs for breakfast. We're one big codependent community here in our mountain home.

But all that aside, Emily is driving up from Syracuse today. Em and I have been best friends since we shared the same ski life in 7th grade in our hometown of Palmerton, PA. Since we graduated from PHS we've been traveling. I've lived in Tennessee, Idaho, and Vermont and she lived in Alaska, China, Seattle, and New York. While her stories are a little more exiting, mine are a little more comfortable. I can't talk about tiananmen square, but I can tell her to make sure the bathroom door is shut tight so the sled dogs don't eat the chickens. Excitement is relative.

So while the sheep are mowing the grass, and the chickens are out scratching in the dirt I'm going to plod around the place getting everything ready for a visitor. I'm looking forward to pie and wine on the porch tonight, long talks about all the stuff going on in my own everyday and hearing about hers. Good friends do not need heavy upkeep. You can see them once or twice a year and feel as relaxed and easy around them as old hooded sweatshirts. I have missed this sweatshirt very much. Her, and Ajay, and other faces from Palmerton haunt me from time to time.

At least I can promise she'll be well fed. A small farm in July is rich in food.

P.S. Anyone have a few good yellow squash or Zucchini recipes they could share or link me too? It's that time again...

you may be a homesteader if...

You have livestock in the back seat

You have day-old chickens in your bathroom (or kitchen, or spare bedroom...)

You hate slugs

Picking up 50 pounds bags feels like nothing

Your house, office, and home has bailing twine everywhere

You get excited when you see TV commercials at friends' houses (it's been a while)

You drink out of canning jars, a lot

You forgot what grocery store eggs taste like and don't care to find out, thank you

You have corn in your backyard

You really hate slugs

Shopping malls freak you out

People who work at the feed store know your first name

The idea of eating an animal you raised doesn't bother you at all

You buy Christmas light timers in September (for the chicken coop)

You're coffee table has hatchery and seed catalogs on it

You love playing in the dirt

Share some of your own, please!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

radio on

While doing some Shepherding 101 reading I came across a great tip to help with my fox problem. In the book Living with Sheep (which is fantastic, by the way) Chuck Wooster suggests using a radio as an audio scarecrow. The idea is to get your machine tuned to a stream of human voices and hang it from a tree or fence post. The sound helps keep hungry teeth at bay and so far it's been working. For the past few days I've been placing my hand-crank outside in the garden while the birds free range outside their coop. Today I turned it up and grabbed the dogs' leashes for a good long walk while NPR babysat my wild kingdom. So far Terry Gross has done a fine job keeping the chicken snatcher's paws off Cold Antler.

P.S. Living with Sheep was written by a Vermont author. All the photos are these stunning shots of local farms and fairs. Steve Whetmore (from the sheepdog trials) is mentioned in there a few times with his border collies. If you're even thinking about sheep, it's a great easy read. Pick it up.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

calm dogs

Caught Jazz and Annie watching me from the bedroom as I practiced the fiddle in the kitchen. Two calm dogs watching their girl play a few rounds of Cripple Creek. Don't let their quiet fool you—within moments of the snapshot Annie leapt off the bed and plowed into my knees when I told her we could go for a ride to Wayside. Just thought a few paws and some pause might brighten your morning. (I do not apologize for that last corny sentence. Wednesday mornings are a fine time for soliciting day-old nostalgia. It's what gets us to Friday in the office world)...

Good morning!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

mountain goat

a man no more

Yesterday after Finn's hike we both hit the road. I put him in the back of the Subaru (which has now transported chickens, turkeys, ducks, sheep, goats, rabbits, dogs, and coworkers) and we drove the back roads into Rupert. Rupert's a small town, mostly farmers, and that is how my livestock Veterinarian likes it.

Dr. Ceglowski's practice is nestled just outside Hebron, NY (on the Vermont side) with a giant red barn and registered Guernsey dairy cattle. Besides being a full-time Vet—he's a full time farmer. "I like keeping busy," he told me as we went over how to administer needles into the shoulders of goats. I liked him instantly. He's a warm, older, gent with a white beard, glasses, and coveralls. He tends to livestock and pets with great care and a large heart. This past winter he made a housecall to my neighbor's to put Cody, their ailing labrador, to sleep in his own living room. Doc will even look after farrowing sows (something few large animal vets will do around here). And talked happily about helping with piglets just a few week's ago at my neighbor Chris's farm.

So this is where my goat's day went downhill. I had an appointment for a professional castration. Finn's my first goat and I wanted to watch and learn the procedure from a doctor. This is not the kind of thing you "wing"— plus, the little guy needed his shots. So to the doctor we went.

Finn was a champion. He stood for the whole event and when all the crushing (sorry guys) of the arteries above his...goods was done he just collapsed in my arms. He looked up at me breathing deep, shaking, scared to death but calm as a lion. It must have been horrible, but considering the pain he was a saint. He also got his rabies and tetanus shots and a bevy of "goat shots" for fancy goat diseases which I was glad to offer him. Amazingly, the whole time with the vet was only fifty dollars, not bad considering the importance and level of care. I was given a booster needle to take and inject in two weeks.

I have syringes in my fridge. Welcome to living with livestock.

When I got home I placed the kid in his pen with fresh soft straw, water, and grain. He slept like a man no more. While he rested my mind turned to work. (I also like to keep busy) So my neighbor Roy and I moved a ton of sheep shit out of the pen with the aid of his giant orange tractor. Some folks spend a good lot of time bitching about green vs organge tractors and their sussed-out merits. Personallly, if it moves a pen full of mud, straw, and sheep droppings I don't care if it's tie dyed. I'm a practical gal.

Monday, July 13, 2009

finn's first hike!

Finn went on his first ever packing trip today. It was just a half mile with a light dog pack. I filled the panniers with raw wool to give them some bulk and had to make some adjustments based on goat-pack designs, but I figures it out and he was able to move freely with the load in place. Finn did wonderfully. He trotted alongside me and loped up the dirt road as we made our way to my neighbor's forest paths. I had been given permission to hike on their trails, and since it's just across the street from my farm it was the perfect training ground. More later on Finn's big day. Can't say the rest of it was as enjoyable for him...

the garden this morning

good morning from cold antler

This morning feels different. I know it's July but had you told me it was an early September morning, I would've believed you. It was cold enough last night that I lit the fireplace and this morning as I zipped up my blue hoodie to feed FInn and the sheep, it felt like I should come into a house with pumpkin bread in the over. Or maybe I'm just projecting? I can't wait for fall.

By the way, my pumpkins are looking amazing! This year may be the bumper crop I've been working for since Idaho.

Yesterday's trials were great. I stayed till the end and spent most of the day scribing again. Got to talking a lot with the judge who gave me the name of a young couple around Troy who have a big operation and working dogs. He said I should see them, make friends, and see if they'll show me around their farm. They also run dogs in the club. It's a start, whoever they are. A field trip may be in order soon.

No fox yet. I've been hunting without luck, but I know he's still around. I put up a baited Havahart trap and the little jerk dug a tunnel below it to eat the bait from below without going into the cage.... I am dealing with a clever predator.

I took off today, as you well know. I'm sitting here with a cup of coffee so strong it would scare my coworkers. The sheep were extra thrilled to be let out into their pasture on a weekday morning. I even gave them a little extra hay to celebrate the stolen time from the office. (Sal seems to enjoy it, as you can see from that photo.) Soon I'll be getting Finn ready for a short hike and then running off to do some farm errands. I have three new laying hens to pick up to replace from the fox losses and Finn needs some shots at the livestock vet. You know, in case any of you nice people wanted a systematic breakdown of my day.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

riding to the fields this morning

hen delivery

When I got home from the trials, I was met right at the cabin door by Jazz and Annie. Their dark eyes and quiet voices (they rarely make a sound). My dogs met me at the door and smelled the dozens of sheepdogs I'd be working with all day. Tails wagging, nuzzling their wolf heads against my waist. They forgave me and I hugged them. I would not trade them in for the best border collie in Scotland. They're family, and the only constant thing I've known since I first left Pennsylvania nearly five years ago. Everything else changes but these dogs are mine. It's written in stone.

After the dogs were walked and the farm taken care of—I called my coworker Noreen. (Noreen was the woman I went on that chicken adventure at the office a few week's ago.) She'd just constructed her henhouse and run, and was ready to have the birds she bought with me delivered. I loaded four hens in the back of the haytruck and we headed down the mountain into Arlington. You just can't know the fun of hand-delivering laying hens to a first-time owner.

I showed up at Noreen's to find her laying in her hammock. (I like hammock people, for I am one of them) and she was as excited a girl waiting for her prom date. We carried the cage to their new home and placed in the two Light Brahmas, an Australorp cross, and a Red Star. The four hens made their home their own quickly. I hope they start laying for her soon. Noreen did not stop grinning the whole time.

There is something empowering about raising chickens. I know that sounds a little silly, maybe a little dramatic, but it is. Chickens up the ante from the basic garden. They bring in the element of protein right to your backyard (without all the messy slaughter work or ethics of killing). I depend on my flock to cover a lot of meals and help with baked goods and entertainment around here (I don't have a TV). And with new chicks chirping away, and some new adult birds on the way as well...I hope to stay in chickens for a long time.