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