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 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.