Saturday, August 15, 2009

objects of desire

Some mornings we're met by a crisis of desire. We see something we want and it overtakes our otherwise passive nature. Take Sal, for example. A happy wether who usually wonts for nothing. He has a roof over his head, plenty of green grass to eat, and a long life of mutton-free worries ahead of him. And yet sometimes he finds himself near the garden fences. A place where he can stare at both the sweet corn and his grain bin: two objects of ovine bliss just out of reach. He can't help himself. He's only a sheep.

I was in the garden checking on the pumpkins and caught him mid-worship. I walked over through the corn (so high it's above my head) and broke off one brown-silked cob for him. He couldn't believe his luck. I know this because I have become an expert is this particular sheep's body language. His eyes didn't blink as he lifted his head and stamped his hoof as I approached him with the gift. I handed him the treat and he devoured it in moments. (Maude watched this from a sunny spot in the distance and continued to plot my demise.) As someone who just talked to a bank about asking for something I can't ever imagine actually receiving—it felt like the thing to do. A little karma never hurt a damn thing.

Hey, next time you're in a bookstore pick up the new Country Skills bookzine from Mother Earth News. If you flip through the pages you might come across some familiar faces. Faces that belong to folks like Sal, Maude, Jazz, Annie, and myself. Yes, there is a bit of Jenna in there. A few months ago Mother printed a big article about my homesteading adventures and if you missed it here's another chance to read it. And besides the Cold Antler stuff there are loads of other bits of interest for people like us. The collection of articles covers things like 5-minute bread recipes, basic canning instructions, homesteading stories, and how to build a log house for 10 grand (among many other topics). There's also photographic evidence of my love of Chacos, Guinness, and old suitcases... It's only on shelves a few more weeks so get while the getting's good, son.

there is a field

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.
I'll meet you there.


Friday, August 14, 2009

the meeting

Today I walked into my bank and told the teller I wanted to talk to someone about buying a farm. I did it. I can't believe I actually did it. I felt like a million bucks until the woman behind the counter informaed me that she saw my photo in the paper last week (the local paper covered the Northshire gardening event), but she said it like you'd say you think the milk might be past the date on the carton...I quickly learned she was just being kind, and then she smiled at me. Which made me feel better. She pointed me to a woman named Dawn in a corner office and I sat down at the south end of her desk. I started to gush.

I told her everything. I explained that I didn't have the greatest credit and I wasn't married, but I wanted to see if I could buy a little land with a barn and a small farmhouse. I sweetened the deal by announcing in a few weeks every credit card I have will be paid off and I'll have enough set aside for a modest down payment too. I told her I'm employed at a good job and have been there nearly two years. I told her I wanted something in or close to Sandgate. I told her I wanted to raise sheep. And I told her how very very very much I want to see if this was at all possible?

She listened with polite nods and not once did she look around the office for something heavy in which to smite me dead. (The fact she didn't laugh me out of the bank was a big confidence boost in itself.) She said she'd set up a meeting with a professional mortgage officer that specialized in what I'm looking for. I had officially told the world of home-owning magicians I wanted my own land. It's out there. Everything that is me is out there like a carrot on the end of a stick. I left with a business card, a handshake, and a little hope. A little hope is all I'll ever need to be happy.

I drove back to work feeling untouchable. It was such a small incident: a question really. But the meeting wasn't the thing that had me so elated—it was the fact that I tried. That I went into that office and said out loud to the right people what I so desperately wanted. I don't know if this will take months or years but I am in the process of finding out. And just deciding to engage in such a process will have me falling asleep with a big stupid smile. Drunk on a dream.

Tonight at the laundromat I looked at farms in a real estate magazine someone had left behind. Just looking, mind you, but in a stronger proof. Things are different now.

loud as hope

I just came inside from feeding the animals and while carrying some of Nelson Green's second cut over to the sheep I noticed the pre-dawn dewy ground was covered with a few yellow and orange maple leaves. Now that's how you start a weekend. I grinned in my green knit cap and frumpy blue hoodie as I tossed the hay over the sheeps' fence (I really need to replace it). Like the photo I posted yesterday morning, the proof is everywhere. Fall is on the way and this farm girl could not be happier.

Someone mentioned in the comments that chicks, like tomatoes, need to be hardened off. She was exactly right. Young birds used to the heat and claustrophobia of a small brooder box should slowly be introduced to summer weather and sunlight. But after that first chance night outside the five young chickens did well. They still live in their cage in the coop, but I prop open the door every night after work and they are learning to explore the world, eat bugs, chase and be chased, and return to their roosts at night like all the big kids do. Watching them understand their world—learning to live in it—never gets old. Ever.

I am beginning to worry about the kits. They haven't arrived yet. The nest has been built for days and still no birth. I am worried it may have been a false pregnancy. Or the sudden heat-wave that overtook us earlier this week was a shock to Bean Blossom and her wool coat and cased a miscarriage? I'll need to do some research but if no bunnies appear in the next week I will try with the pair one more time before fall. I really want to keep one doe from her litter for my own future herd.

I hope this heat comes to an end soon. I had my flavor of summer and am ready to move on (this, you all know too well). I know it's almost the end because the white plank sign is up at the Yellow House announcing the Ox Roast (Sandgate's big End-of-Summer party). I can not wait! I'll be bringing my apple pie, fiddle, and some friends. Surely, there will be pictures. It's a big time; Endless tables of pot luck, a dance floor outside by the barn, a string band, kind neighbors, a roasting ox, and Wilcox ice cream. Mmmmm.

Oh, and I have some huge news to share. I am going to talk to a bank about buying a farm. Not any farm in particular, but to see where I stand as a possible home owner. It's just a meeting, and it may end with a teary handshake, but I need to start moving forward on this. I need to see what's next. I love this cabin, and I love this neighborhood. I hope to buy land right here in town, and grow Cold Antler Farm: Lamb and Wool among the Ox Roast guest list. This is step one: information. This is how the dreamer's disease gets cured. Wish me all your luck. I want some dirt of my own.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


winner of the 2009 fiddler's summer challenge!

Congrats Bridget! You were the winner. For anyone confused as to what this even means: Bridget was voted the best new fiddler of the summer. Back in early June (I think) I tried to urge people to take up teaching themselves to fiddle. For a few weeks we checked in here, posted updates on our violins and progress, and on July 31st folks posted videos of some tunes and we all voted Belfountain the winner. She'll be receiving a gift package from the farm and everyone else who posted a video will also receive a small gift (homesteading themed books from Storey. Please write me your interests in country skills so I can send you a proper book!). Please email me your addresses and you'll all get them before October. Thank you all who played, supported, joined in, and kept in touch!

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