I spent the afternoon in the pasture. Knitting, reading, or playing the guitar until it became brisk. I went inside to light a fire, and returned to the pasture and my sixteen hooves wrapped in a wool sweater. I drank a cold beer, just the one, and watched the sun come away over Sandgate. I stayed out till my knitting was done and went inside wearing my new green hat. I curled up by the fire with the dogs.
I never want to take an evening for granted again.
I have decided to forgo Antlerstock 2009. There were a handful of dedicated folks who wanted to swing by, and if you were one of them don't fret. The Saturday of Columbus Day weekend will still be an open house of sorts, but it will also be the day of the Cluck & Strum. I have decided to plan the first ever future-farm fundraiser for that beautiful weekend. If you are interested in a full day (10AM-4PM) session on beginner mountain dulcimer and keeping chickens: mark your calendars. If you sign up for the fundraiser you'll get a copy of Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens and an Apple Creek Student Dulcimer. So you come to the farm, get a full day of intro-to-chickens tours, animals in your hands, lectures and such and the afternoon will be learning to strum around a campfire at the farm. You leave with a book and a musical instrument. (If you already have a dulcimer and want to attend, the price of the apple creek will be removed from the donation. Roughly $70) Lunch will be provided and I am limiting it to ten people. So if you are interested contact me at email@example.com and put "Cluck & Strum" in the subject line to find out the details.
Now, if you wanted to stop by for Antlerstock, but have no interest in a chicken/dulcimer workshop. That is fine and you'll need to email me as well to let me know you may swing by while we're out there pluckin' and cluckin'.
And if you want another reason to come to Vermont for the weekend... Please join me at the Fall Foliage Sheepdog Trial in Westfield Vermont the following two days. I'll be there volunteering, dreaming, and/or spectating. It will be a beautiful event. It has to be—Autumn, mountain music, fresh air, campfires, good food, Finn, Sal, Maude*, chickens, sheepdogs, and leaves leaves leaves....
The first morning of Nisaa's visit had us driving over to Hebron to pick up hay. You need to understand Nisaa and I too fully appreciate the dicotomay. It's not often folks like us get together to buy dead-bundled grass. Nisaa is my social opposite. A successful freelance businesswoman from Brooklyn. We became good friends in college and then our lives took us in different directions. Every once in a while we catch up with a weekend visit and this long holiday was a wonderful excuse to get together.
The last time Nisaa came to Vermont I was working on planting my first raised-bed garden and had a handful of chickens in the coop. Her return a year later now had sixteen hooves, rabbits, and a gaggle of birds, and thirteen raised-beds now succumbing to weeds and pumpkins (but you could tell there was some glory there earlier in the season).
Anyway, were were off to buy hay. As we rolled through the backroads from Sandgate to Hebron we talked about our weekend. We'd be going to a county fair that afternoon and Sunday morning a couple from the DC-area would be visiting for brunch. IN no time at all we came to the crest that shares the view of sprawling green fields, silos, and red barns. "Isn't that something else" she said to us both. It sure is.
When we got to Nelson's farm, Nelson himself came out to greet us. I shouted if he had any second cut and he said he had plenty but pointed up to the high loft of the barn. I didn't realize his pointing wasn't so much an acknowledgment of the hay's existence as it was directions. If I wanted the good stuff I had to climb up the hay elevator and throw some bales down. Apparently walking up several stories on old farm equipment was as casual an exercise and throwing down chicken scratch around here.
I hesitated. I'm uncomfortable with heights. Nelson saw this and charitably started to grip the elevator to walk up the fifty-foot climb. That was unacceptable. (Nelson's about five decades older than me.) I sucked it up, grabbed the rails, hoped my wellies wouldn't slip, and started to climb up the narrow-metal shaft.
It was fine. I got up in no time and threw down the bales and then slid down slide style back to terra firma. While I was up there on top of Washington County, Nisaa grabbed that photo of me looking for the next thing to chuck out the window. When I got back to my car I handed Nelson the check and we drove off back to our further adventures. But I drove home feeling like I earned a little more street-cred. If there was such a thing as shepherd merit badges I just sewed one on with a hay elevator on it.
Remember those chicks I bought as a birthday present in early July? Well, here they are, all grown up just two months later. These youngest members of the flock sleep in a huddle behind the grain bin in the coop. They're either too nervous or too small to fly up into the roosts and join the older birds, so here they sleep. I also think it's a warmth thing. On these chillier nights it must be nice to have a down comforter built in via birth-community. John the rooster is down in font, with his young wives behind him. I like that he watches the door.
I originally planned to drive into Manchester tonight. I was going to do laundry, run some errands, pick up some provisions and generally stress myself out for the long weekend ahead. I have only been farming a few years, and that post-work impulse to run into town and spend money in preparation for company still haunts me. However, upon pulling into my driveway all plans died. The setting September sun, the hint of woodsmoke in the air, the cries of my animals, the weather report claims that tonight would drop into the mid-forties... Screw town. I was a homesteader and home I would stead. I'm learning to let the ghosts of town die.
I let the sheep and goat out to graze. I mowed the lawn. I baked bread and pie for the weekend (which would involve a handful of guests, a bonfire, and friends). I ran out of dogfood and instead of running to the store I put some rice on the stove and scrambled half a dozen eggs. It would do for one night. The dogs did not complain, and gobbled their meals down to the lamb biscuits at the bottom of their bowls. Then they chomped into them and came by my feet to be reminded how wonderful they are. Which I did, over and over.
As the evening turned I went out into the pasture with the hoofstock. I grabbed a bottle of hard cider, a book, and a quilt. I sat and read while Finn and the sheep ate around me. The chicks I bought on my birthday scattered around as well. They seem braver (read: stupider) than the large laying hens which were already roosting in their coop. I watched them try to fight the sheep's mineral block. Finn watched with me. He spent most of his time by my side, as a dog would. Like my co-captain he would stand next to me. Together we'd look at the sheep and without looking away from the flock, munch some grass and sigh. "Yeah Lady. We got this place covered..."
I scratched my goat's head while I read. The book in hand was Gene Logsdon's The Contrary Farmer. Inside the front flap was a note from my friend Diana, who had gifted me the book a few years ago back when we were coworkers in Sandpoint. If you read Scratch you may remember our adventures stealing chickens by the cover of night, saving honeybee colonies from the brink of death, and finding fiber rabbits. She wrote this:
Jenna, My favorite book—May it be the inspiration to you that it's been to me! -Diana 4/10/07
Diana, it most certainly has.
I wanted to share this excerpt from the book. Something I read a few years ago, but did not fully understand until recently. This year taught me a lot. Some of it epic and wonderful—and some of it downright gut-punching awful. You take your lessons as they come. Gene shares this observation:
There is a deep satisfaction in scattering clean yellow straw knee deep for the animals to sleep on and then feeding them in the still of a winter eve. Sheep give the most contented little sighs when they nose into their food. Horses snuffle in their hay, and the soft munching sounds of cows chewing their cuds rise serenely into the hay mow where I sit and listen. The mother ewe with her coaxing grunts encourages the new lamb to nurse and finally the smacking sound of a lamb sucking vigorously reaches my ears. All is well. It is no surprise to me that a god might choose a stable to be born in; only the ignorant think such a birthplace would be below a god's dignity.
I am often asked how I make time for the farm. My best answer for that is simple: planning. I have a schedule I stick to religiously, and a system of getting chores done that is so fine tuned and efficient by this point it flies by. I plan my evenings to include at least an hour of time outside working. (This hour is the quickest hour of my day.) Every night the animals with hooves are let out to pasture from the confines of their pens and the poultry are fed fresh scratch grains and oyster shell crumbles by the coop. While the livestock eat, I walk around in my big brown wellies and carry fresh drinking water and muck stalls. I make sure bedding is clean and the feed bins are topped off. I putter around the pumpkin patch and apples off the small apple tree in the garden. These I feed to the sheep and Finn. When the animals are once again refueled and content, I leave them to their grasses and go inside the cabin to light a fire and make dinner. I eat, knowing the animals will always eat first, and then before I change into lounge clothes I return outside just before dark to coax the animals back into their pens, close the coop door, and make sure all is well before I do the same.
I probably spend the same amount of time taking care of 25 animals and 13 raised beds as the average person spends commuting to their job: two hours a day. Not bad.
In the AM things go quicker. Since everyone has eaten and been given clean water the night before—my mornings are just a quick routine of dumping hay, scratching ears, and letting the birds out to free range the neighborhood. Sometimes Juno joins me, a neighbors black dog who looks like he's half Labrador and half Border Collie. Juno and I inspect the sunflowers and check on the progress of the younger members of the flock before he runs back to his owners cabin up the way and I go inside to be with my own dogs and a hot cup of coffee. Which by this point is on the stove spitting and bubbling. I can hardly wait to taste it. I would suffer without my coffee.
Keeping a small farm isn't hard—it's constant. You do it out of love and responsibility, not toil. As naive as this sounds from a single woman—I imagine it's not too far off from what keeping a husband or children would be: something others may see as work, but you see as the reason. Love's a funny thing. Sometimes it makes you sign new insurance documents or change diapers and other times it makes you wipe chicken crap off your sleeve cuff. I don't make the rules.
Photo comes from the old kitchen in Idaho. Annie watches the pre-game of an omelet...
One this is blatantly clear: Maude does not approve of having her picture taken. There she is—standing around, ears back, foot stomping, hating everyone. The world owes her. I'm not sure what exactly, but it better pay up.
For being such a miserable animal I really have grown to love that sheep. There is a consistency to her spite that has gone from annoying to absolutely endearing. It always shocks me how animals as seemingly anonymous as sheep have such stark contrasts in personality. Maude is nothing like Sal and Sal is nothing like Joseph. All of my sheep have their own levels of tolerance and bravery—habits and vices. You learn them as you go. After my first year being a shepherd, I feel I've got these guys down.
Not sure it'll be as easy when there are 50 in the back pasture....
The forums seem to be really taking off. Last I checked over 60 people signed up for the Locals, and as I write you people are talking about alpacas, chickens, knitting, and what's the best beginner spinning wheel. There are folks swapping recipes and sharing advice—it's a great place to check in with between CAF updates or to make new friends. So if you haven't signed up yet, check it out. It costs nothing but a little time.
Announcing a brand new level of community here at Cold Antler! I have built a forum for all of us homesteaders, gardeners, urban planters, farmers, ranchers, dreamers and everyone else who wants to get more involved in modern homesteading or the world of Cold Antler. The sister forum is called CAF Locals, and you can click the link below to sign up and start chatting with other friends you met here on the farm. So far the topics are few, but they'll grow. (And the design will improve too.)
Scored this old belt buckle for five bucks at the Washington County Fair. The back of it says 1982, the year I was born. I adore it. And belts are something I recently have had a need for. Most of my old jeans no longer fit.
When I started homesteading I was a 14. Now my size 8 jeans hang off my hips at the end of the day. I still weigh roughly the same amount. (It would be a grand act of kindness to consider me a thin woman.) But the work of this small farm has moved my body around. My back and upper arms are broader and my waist keeps getting thinner. And while Cold Antler might be the reason I'm a size 8—it's also the reason I will never be a 6. I love and live to eat. Cooking, baking, gardening, chickens, pies, pizza... heaven, all. Life is too short to pass up a good meal.
I try not to be too hard on myself or compare myself to other people. The way I see it: If you got all your limbs, can see with your eyes, and can carry a bale of hay you're ahead of the game and lucky as a fast dog. Our bodies are just fine as they are. We should be grateful they're still around to show us these passing afternoons while we still have our wits about us. A person outside in the the thick of it, working, smiling, and sun-touched is what's beautiful in my book. I don't give a damn about scales, labels on my clothes, and the approval of others on the current state of my footwear. Those things: details. And I am a woman who abhors details.
Yesterday had its moments. It was blustery, wet, and cool. If fall ever had a reason to sneak through a crack in the door—yesterday was it. I went into Manchester to do my laundry. On the way home I stopped at the Equinox Garden Center. I just wanted to buy a mum for my doorstep, but the center was a movie trailer for Autumn. The crisp wind, gray skies, and scarecrows flailing around the pumpkin patch were something out of a twisted Norman Rockwell painting. It was beautiful. Like a 6-year-old waiting up on Christmas Eve I was humming in anticipation for what's ahead. I drove back to the farm with two big orange mums in the back seat and a grin I could not hide. Annie hung out the passenger side window, catching raindrops in her open panting mouth.
When I got back to the farm I called Laurie. Laurie found my book, then the blog, and announced we were neighbors in yesterday's comments. Turned out she was meeting a goat breeder down the street to look at the kids she was buying soon. She said in an email she'd be down the road from me this afternoon. I told her to swing by when she was done visiting her new kids.
I knew nothing about this goat-breeder woman save for the one conversation we had last year. I was mushing the dogs on a cold winter evening and she was out feeding her horses. I pulled the dogs over to say hello, to share in the beauty of the snowy night. Rwo woman and their animals in the swirling whire. We had this singular exchange.
Hello there! I'm your neighbor up the road.
Are you the girl with all the animals?
That was it. I wasn't sure what it meant, but as the dogs and I hiked away into the snow I had a sense it was approval. For all I know she had a bet with another neighbor that I was the "girl with all the animals" and just won twenty bucks. But I'd like to think she felt a passing of the guard was happening right there on a snowy dirt road. That the experienced elder was giving the scrappy green horn a nod. A mutual understanding that the mountains here would still wake up to crows and cattle if people like me stuck around. Or, you know, twenty bucks.
Laurie, her husband, and kids came by for some coffee and a visit. She was kind enough to offer me a giant bag of gifts: squash, sweet corn, homemade jam, a hand-felted bookmark and get this...homemade vanilla extract. We talked about how we landed in New England. (She was a California native. Her husband, a Texan.) Her two charming kids were curious and polite the whole time. I think her daughter Clair had a special affinity for Jazz. I told you this blog has become quite interactive. People leaving comments in the morning are showing up for coffee later in the afternoon. Let's hear it for the internet, folks.
The late afternoon brought sunshine, genuine warm late summer sunshine. I went out to the garden to grab a few sprigs of basil and check on the pumpkins who are starting to get bigger than basketballs in some cases, but stay greenish. I suspect the bees cross pollinated them with the zucchini, making them giant green-hybrid orbs. I guess we'll have to wait and see.
I made a pizza for dinner. Honey from vermont bees, yeast, and flour made the dough. The toppings came from my own tomatoes, onions and peppers. The cheese from the fine people up north in Cabot. The sauce was Ragu in a can. I'm not a purist. I'll catch up.
Today's looking to be a lazy Sunday. I woke up and lit the fireplace to bite off the morning chill. I fed all the animals and had the dogs out by 6:30 and then sat in front of the fire to knit and watch DVDs. My aspirations were few. I'm fighting back a cold, or something. Seems like everyone around here is coming down with the same symptoms. I feel tired and sore and a headache keeps haunting me. Farm chores and errands will be minimal and most of the day will be spent writing indoors, which is a shame when it's supposed to be a sunny 77 degrees before the night dips back into the low 50s. Tomorrow night they want it 40 degrees here. The hollow will be full of woodsmoke and that morning will call for flannel and insulated vests to carry hay around in: Two old friends I can't wait to meet again. I know Autumn belongs to everyone, but sometimes I can not help but pretend he's all mine.
On the way home from work I took that old truck for a test drive. As it sputtered down the hillsides of Vermont, and the man sitting passenger side explained how he's teach me to replace the fan belt and I needed a temperature controlled garage...I realized this wasn't the right truck for me. The idea of taking old things and reusing them for practical purposes strikes a cord with me, as many of you know. So finding a cheap old antique truck I could teach new tricks on my farm seemed perfect. But driving it was tricky, the space too small, and being inside felt like sitting in a jet-propelled washing machine without seat belts. I need an old truck with a coffee cup holder, cd player, some level of safety, 4WD, and no fear of scratches or dents. So my short affair with the Covair is no more.
My eyes are still looking for a used truck. MIke and Kendra offered me a trailer (and I am amazed at that) but my subaru doesn't have a hitch or much pull. Unlike the Outbacks, the old foresters are station wagons pretending to look like small SUVs. Truth is it's a light engine and a car frame with a truck top. I don't think it would pull 30 bales of hay up the notch and I don't like the idea of putting livestock in a trailer non meant to pull animals. So a beat ol' truck it is. Stay tuned. One of these days you'll see a photo of my new/old monster and we'll all be glad I can finally vacuum the hay out of the back of my commuting vehicle.
Last night was something else: busy but wrapped up in a young autumn. I got home from work and tended to the dogs and farm animals, but knew I had to get the car ready to buy a few bales of hay. It was getting abnormally chilly outside so before I headed down the bumpy trail to Hebron to buy hay—I grabbed a knit hat and jacket for the road. This pleased me very much. I turned on the car stereo. Iron and WIne's newest album, Around the Well, sang to me as I drove west into New York. I sang too. Sometimes you just need that.
Till I got home to the farm, unloaded the bales, and got all the animals out for some pasture, water, and grain—it was nearly dark. The temperature was now down in the low 50's and I heard on VPR that the northeast Kingdom was slated for frost. To keep my small cabin warm a fire had to be lit, windows shut, and big socks laid next to the bed so my feet wouldn't feel the chill of the cold hardwood and cork in the dark of 5Am. Just in case I didn't take the hint, the neighbors homes all around me fussed with trails of wood smoke. I stepped over a few early yellow leaves as I made my way inside. This is how my season starts/
I fell asleep to the crackle of the fireplace with the knowledge I had test-driven an old truck, bought some hay, fed my sheep, and that tomorrow was Friday and the Washington County Ag Fair. I curled under the quilts, hugged Jazz, and fell asleep happy. Things aren't perfect, but when you're running on fumes and hope you tend to look up more than down.
I've been enjoying my home brew birch beer. I made four quarts about two weeks ago and I'm proud to say none of it exploded and I pulled off the recipe with the same yeast I use to make my weekly bread. Opening a big mason jar and seeing the fizz and foam of homemade soda is surreal. Carbonation was never something I considered doing from scratch, but I just polished off a big glass of it with my dinner last night and it was wonderful. It makes me want to move onto the hard stuff—cider especially. Ali from Saratoga said I could learn about homebrewing from them. She's sent me picture of her husband and her in the kitchen making beer and they were hilarious.
It amazes me how interactive this blog has become. Between comments, emails, and phonecalls people have gone from internet avatars to everyday conversations. I talk online with Tara in Texas and Ava out west. I get emails about land for sale, stories, picttures and questions. I have guests coming to the farm from DC. Last night a reader asked for my opinion on a fiddle. Yesterday at the office a giant box came to my desk. Inside was Melissa's beautiful Ashford Drum carder which she gave me. I nearly cried at my computer. You have all become a community, tangible people who share my dream to scale down, simplify, know your food and learn old skills. I like us highlanders.
I still want to do Antlerstock the second weekend in October. It would still be a fall hike at Merck Forest with Finn and then a potluck/campfire at the cabin. But I would also consider doing an all-day Saturday workshop this fall. Would anyone be interested in a strum & cluck? It would be a dulcimer and beginner chicken care workshop with hands on work with birds and instruments. Everyone that signs up could make a donation to the farm fund and pay for a student dulcimer in advance. We'd split the day into chicken and coop time and music. It would be a full Saturday so let me know. A time to really work with stock and strumming. It would not be expensive, but something to help save for the future of Cold Antler. Any takers?
Oh, and just a side note. The farm may be months away, maybe longer. But I have made a big decision about CAF: I am buying a pickup truck. Nothing new, nothing expensive, just an old truck. Hopefully before early October so I have it in time for putting up winter hay. If anyone around here is selling a used small truck. Let me know.
Saw this story in the Times today. I would love to do this. Invite people up for classes and music lessons and work side by side. Not sure how big of a market there is for this sort of thing, but some folks are willing to pay up $300+ a night to milks goats or pick weeds. My friend Nisaa is coming up Labor Day weekend from Brooklyn and I wonder if she plans to pay me for it?! I kid, Nisaa. You come help turn over the gardens and I'll buy you dinner at the Perfect Wife in Manchester.
After work I came home and practically ran out to the pasture. I was looking forward to this all day, and before the car was even properly parked I was running out to the sheep pen. I stopped by Joseph and scooped him up in my arms. Finn bitched about this but I knew he'd be out in the pasture as well in a few minutes, so I paid him no mind. I carried the small lamb out to the newly fenced off-pasture. Holding his baby wool in my arms filled me up with a smile. He's so light. I set him down inside the orange sheep netting and then let Sal and Maude free as well. Time to be a shepherd.
This area of grazing is my favorite. The sheep are under the shade of trees that line the road and walk along on a slight hill. This incline and shade makes it the perfect place for human loitering. I went into the house and grabbed a jar of iced tea, a quilt, and a magazine and went back outside to join my flock. I loafed there till nearly dark—reading with the menagerie. Occasionally Chuck Klosterman would jump onto the quilt with me, or Joseph would run over. He's bold enough to come into my personal space but won't let my hand touch him. (He'll warm up.) Sal and Maude don't share his nerves. They had no problem nosing me out of the way if they felt a good patch of grass was under my blanket. Some people might be nervous flopping in the grass next to a 160-pound male sheep. I don't share their nerves either.
Last night felt like the last day of summer. It wasn't marked by any celestial calendar or science, but it felt like the end. The fireflies have long since parted. The evenings have lost their length and swelter. Out on the blanket I didn't need a hoodie, but I wouldn't have turned one down either. I checked the weather online and they are calling for nights back in the forties by tomorrow night. Yes! I can't wait to get up in the Autumn dark of early morning and take a mug of strong coffee outside in my dad's red plaid jacket and see my breath turn to smoke. Watch it swirl up into the air along side the honks of geese and bleats of a goat. I think just writing that sped up my endorphins a bit.
P.S. A commenter asked if I bought Joseph due to the color variety? Nah. Joseph's a barter. He'll be exchanged for a breeding Angora doe from the next litter Bean drops. Which I hope is in about 22-25 days from now.
I had my meeting with the bankers yesterday. They kindly declined the first step—the pre-application. After explaining my finances they simply shook their heads and politely and patiently explained what next steps I should take and what I needed to have saved to return and apply. I'll still meet with another bank or two. Not because I expect a different response, but for more advice and suggestions/rates and conversation. Looks like it'll be spring until I can really think about my own farm... And even then that's only if everything works out.
I did mention it was a tall ladder.
After such a rejection, even a rejection I expected, I felt a little down. But now I know exactly what I need and where I should be to try again. Before I talked to the bank buying my own farm was a romantic goal. Now it's an understood plan. Even that evolution of an idea was worth the embarrassing meeting.
Besides that, things at the farm are going smoothly. The new lamb (who I have not stopped calling Joseph) has been accepted into the flock. It was rough and tumble at first but now that Sal and Maude have explained they get first dibs on everything: all is well. Last night I moved all 300 feet of electric netting to a fresh pasture section of the yard. Tonight those sheep will feast! I can not wait to let them out on the hilly side for their new grass. Last night when everyone was outside grazing, and the new young chickens were chasing moths and bugs around the yard—I grabbed a ja of birch beer and sat outside with a book and watched Farm TV. It reminded me of doing so with Diana (my original farm mentor) in Idaho.
I doubt everything I call Cold Antler Farm; the thirteen raised bed gardens, the chicken coop, the rabbit hutches, the goat pen, the sheep shed and pasture—I doubt all of this takes up 3/4 an acre (maybe less) in my backyard. There are 6 acres of land here but very little is cleared. So what I call a 'farm' (In all fairness CAF is what I am working towards more than anything else) is really just a backyard. And I don't say that in a negative way. If you're looking outside your kitchen window at your own half acre (or even less)—you sure can make it thrive. Just set up some good fences and dig in.
I found this while looking up goat-sized cultivators online. (Yes, I am thinking of using Finn to help turn the garden next spring). While perusing through the many web sites dedicated to working farm goats I came across this exhibit called American Goat. It's a collection of photos, antiques, collectibles, farm goods and goat products traveling around the county. I don't think the are any new venues up and running, but I bet if your local college, 4-H group, county fair or library was interested you could work something out. You can also order prints, some of which I'd love to have here at the cabin - like this train of pack goats in Wyoming. I would love to see this show. Hell, I'd bring Finn along.
I spent the earlier part of the morning in the kitchen. I baked two pies and bread is rising on the counter top as I type. In a bit I'll get dressed and head down to Wayside to pick up my Sunday paper. It's the closest thing Sandgate has to home delivery of the Sunday Times. You go down to the store and on the back shelf there is a pile of Sunday papers with last names scribbled on them for all the local "subscribers". You find your name and pay up front. It's a weekend ritual I've grown to love.
This afternoon I hope to deliver some fresh bread and a pie over to my neighbor, Roy. Lately he's been an amazing help. This summer alone he's mowed the giant lawn, moved piles of old bedding out of the sheep shed with his new tractor, and always has a vigilant eye on my small homestead. Last week while I was away at the Ox Roast he freed Maude from a tangle in the electric netting (the netting was turned off). The least I can do is offer some baked goods and a sincere thank you. I did all this kitchen stuff early in the morning to avoid the heat later on. It's been brutal.
Looks like just another few days of this heatwave and then Vermont will finally accept it's a New England state and gracefully decline into Autumn. While I really don't care for all this summer racket—I do have to say that last night's muggy thunderstorm had it's moments. I'll tell you about it later. Right now: the crossword in pencil (I'm a beginner).
P.S. Someone commented in my last large post that I sometimes talk about work with little enthusiasm. I want to be clear that's only because I'm comparing the office to my passion, which is this small farm. But honestly, I adore the people and place I work. There were days this past spring I almost flew out of bed to get there, excited for the friends and challenges that lay ahead. Plus, how many work places let you bring your goat to work? So take my office mentions with that understanding. I hope to stick around that place long as they'll have me. It's mighty fine.
I should probably be in a bar right now. I think that's where most 27-single-year-olds are around this time? It's Friday night and part of me feels like I'm breaking some unwritten rule by being here. Where I should be is in some booth with a coaster, a Brandy Alexander, and a band playing on some stage in the background I have to shout over. Let's be honest though folks—Cold Antler is about twenty miles away from the closest public bar and I don't want to be there. Everyone I want to meet is at home reading anyway.
Instead I'm just in from working outside and trust me, you would not be talking to me in any bar if you saw me right now. I'm disgusting. I've been spending all afternoon and evening trying to get the new lamb accepted by the other hoofstock. It's slow work. No real violence but the little guy isn't being welcomed with open arms. It'll take time. What doesn't?
It poured like the dickens today and the ground shape-shifted into a putrid mess. A sour stew of feces, rotting hay, and mud sweating in 90% humidity. The air around the farm was so heavy you could take off your soaking-wet shirt and hang it up in mid air. It would just float in the ether. Too hot to let even gravity take it.
I've been warned by people close to me that I'm wasting the best years of my life by dedicating myself to this farming business. That tying myself down to animals and gardens is creating a social prison: a place I can't leave. They do not say this with anger, just genuine concern. Some are worried I've turned myself into a hermit and others get frustrated when I don't know what movie trailers they're talking about (I don't have a television or high speed internet). Mostly, they just think I'm in too deep. Too many animals, too many gardens, too much balance of work at the office and home. They worry I will burn myself out. And their worst fear is none of this will ever happen. I'll never be able to afford the land and start a farm. They tell me they don't want to see me build up this idea to the point where it becomes everything. They worry I'll be crushed.
I'm 27 and I wake up at 4:45 and I'm outside by 5. It's still dark, even in the loping end of summer, and I am outside. It does not matter if it's a downpour, sweltering hot, or 20 below. I am outside. Running a farm, even one as small as mine, is a constant equal only to taxes and bad sitcoms. I work from 8-5 and then once again am out in my wellies. I do all this knowing bears have destroyed my hive, a fox has eaten half my poultry, and a storm has destroyed the corn crop I spent my entire memorial day weekend making blisters over. You'll have this. It's what I signed up for.
So maybe I am single, and over-worked, and not getting enough sleep. Maybe I should be in Madrid or Stockholm right now. I have no idea what it is I'm "supposed" to do. I guess travel and bars and such are it. And I would be into that but you see, there's this thing:
I'm in love.
I am completely in love. It can not be helped. I don't know when it happened, or how, but somewhere along the way I fell for this farming gig, and fell hard. My heart is now a throbbing piece of meat held together with baling wire and fiddle strings. I fall asleep thinking about lambing jugs and creep feeders. I sit in meetings at the office and my mind wanders over to sheepdog trials and October pumpkins. I have it bad. I have lanolin under my fingernails and hay in my bra and I don't care because I am so goddamn in love with this. All the mud and rain and hours in the heat mean nothing. Nothing at all. I don't think it's the honeymoon sweeping me off my feet either.
No darling, I am in love.
I wake up every single morning with a purpose and a reason. I understand that purpose may be as simple as a small community of livestock depend on me, but as far as I'm concerned they're as legit as any board of directors. And I know farming isn't exactly an uncommon dream. I am certainly not alone or special in wanting my land and workng for it, but that doesn't matter either. I am needed here. I am of use.
I'll keep listening to these concerns, and I appreciate the intent. But what the wary seem to overlook is that it doesn't matter if I get this dream. It doesn't matter in the least. What does matter is that I tried and keep trying, because just knowing what you want to do with your life is gift. It's a breathing hope you crawl towards every. single. day. And if I never get a giant flock, or a farm, or a sheepdog, or any of my big plans—I still know that I want them. I understand this. It is a natural law, as real as Newton's own. And I think that is a fine way to live. You don't have to obtain dreams as much take ownership of them. It's good to want things. It makes the world make sense.
I will always be a shepherd—three sheep, three hundred sheep, or none at all. I stand by the photocopier at work with a crook in my hand and a black collie by my side and even if you can not see them they are there. And that reality of desire makes everything else small. All my worries fade in the plaid fabric of wanting, and makes every day of work I put into my farm another rung on the ladder.
It's a very tall ladder.
I don't go to bars. I don't have a TV. I have this farm. I am in love.
It was around 6:30 in the evening when I was leaning against the back hatch of the Subaru, shielding my eyes from the sun. I was in a Petco parking lot in Rutland. I kept checking the time. Any minute now a green Ford Ranger was going to pull to join me in the rendezvous. I was excited, couldn't help it. The farm would soon be back to three sheep: a proper small flock. Sheep are not animals meant to be paired. They need family. Three was the magic number, indeed.
To pass time I went into the pet store to buy biscuits and two cans of dog food for Jazz and Annie. (Consolation prizes for their late dinner.) Lamb, of course. As someone who's trying to become a shepherd in the 21st century—I try to support the sheep industry with every purchase I make. I stopped buying polar fleece (a dog hair magnet, anyway) a long time ago. I'm a wool-girl now. And whenever lamb is available for dog food, I always buy it. No part of me felt guilty walking back out to the lot to meet my actual lamb. The only reason their species is still around in America is because of products like the ones in my bag. Also: socks, sweaters, lambchops and such. I'm pragmatic when it comes to the animals that raise me and try to make them as much a part of my life (and in this case, my dogs' lives) as possible. We know each other's purpose.
Soon Sara and her husband Chris pulled up. The cab of the truck also held their three-year-old son Warren and a smiling big-eared dog named Jack. On the back bed was a truck cap jury-rigged for livestock transportation. The windows had been removed on one side and held wire mess instead. In the corner of the bed a small black ball was curled up in the corner. He was so much smaller than I anticipated. Just 24" tall and a light fame. His dark face and chocolate wool were strikingly handsome. His expression: panicked. I told him we'd be home soon.
After handshakes, hugs, and paperwork I placed Desperado in the back of the station wagon. He cried and bleated, confused about the exchange and the new vehicle. He instantly started to defecate all over the back seat. "Yeah. Get comfortable." I said. A sheep pooping on plastic lining in my car doesn't even cause for a change in inflection anymore. This is just my Thursday night.
I really need a pickup truck.
Des (name change possibly pending to Joseph or Tobias) slept in the back while the four of us headed back into Southern Vermont. Mike and Phil were with me again, and as far as human travelers go, were very patient. Phil kept Des from hoping into the front seat as Mike and I talked up front. The ride home felt quick. We stopped for pizza and left the lamb alone in the car while we dined from an outdoor porch. All of assumed he would remain in the back hatch, and sleep where he lay.
When I got back out to the car forty-minutes later he was standing in the front passenger seat.
It was dark and late (for a homesteader) when I got back. I knew the adult sheep weren't ready for a new tenet at 10PM so I placed him in with Finn. Finn was overjoyed. He jumped and play-rammed the new lamb with his horns. Nothing harsh or dangerous: kid stuff. But the new guy was bleating and crying and seemed to want nothing to do with frivolity. I left them alone with hay, grain, and water and hoped the clatter would calm down soon. By now the adult sheep, goat, and chickens were all carrying on. Soon the flashlight beam of my neighbor Roy was on all of us. We were like a gang of kids tagging a cement wall, up to no good and caught in the thick of it. He told us he heard the commotion and wanted to check out the scene. I assured him all was well and thanked him. I felt a small pang of gratitude for a neighbor who'd venture out into the dark Vermont woods to check in on a neighbor's stock. I made a note that I really owed him a pie.
All through the night I went out to check on him. I didn't get much sleep. Finn's horns had traces of dark wool on them but both of the little guys seemed fine. Des was shaken up. He stood in the same spot in the back of the pen all night, but Finn stopped trying to get him to play. The move from farm-to-farm is a lot for a little guy. He just needs to hold out in for a few more hours.
This afternoon he'll get to meet the big kids—his new flock. And hopefully, in time, become a member of Cold Antler, as much as anything else out there surely is.
Okay, time to head back outside and haul water. Looks like it's going to be another hot one. The coffee's almost done and the light's starting to stream into the hollow. The backyard needs me. I can hear it crowing.
Today features quite the goings-on at Cold Antler. I'm meeting with the bank around noon to talk about the possibility of owning a piece of Vermont. I don't expect much. Maybe a polite handshake and a list of tasks, savings, and ritual sacrifices to accomplish by date X. But even if it is a humiliating experience—it's most certainly the next step. 'What's next' is my new motto around here. No more poetry and prose about owning my own farm. Time to sign some paperwork and get very uncomfortable about big changes. Trying to figure out how to move 25 animals on to a new farm would be a wonderful problem to have.
After my flagellation I'll drive up to Rutland with some friends. The reason: a 70-pound black lamb named Desperado. Des will be coming home to take Marvin's empty place among the flock. He's also a Border Leicester/Romney cross just like everyone else. We'll be driving him home in the back of the Subaru and hopefully the gang will invite him in. If not he spends the night in the goat hotel with Finn. Regardless, I'll figure out.
I took the day off from work for a day trip into western Massachusetts. The reason was a grand Idaho reunion—three good friends from Sandpoint were all converging near Amherst for some old-fashioned catching up. I was thrilled to see friends from across the continent, but also a little grateful for a day away from the office and the farm. I wouldn't trade my life for anyone's. That, I'd like to make clear. However, it's indisputable that the choices I've made make leaving Vermont (even for a day trip) hard. My escape into another state took planning and preparation and I was only gone ten hours.
Keep in mind that little events you may take for granted are big treats for me. For example: today me and two girlfriends putzed around a bookstore and ate out. Things like sitting in the cafe (a state away from the farm!) with an iced coffee and some sandwiches made me feel like a cosmopolitan wunderkind. Some crazy jet-setter with a hellbent agenda on free livin'. When you live in a town with more graves than residents, you learn to appreciate a day spent where people post signs for concerts on walls.
Holy Crow that that bookstore was heaven! The joint's simply called The Book Mill, and is actually a refurbished grist mill by the side of a river. The store's slogan: Book you don't need in a place you can't find. Perfect. I loved it and the bumper sticker with said slogan is happily pasted to my fridge as I write you folks. I really enjoyed myself there. Just walking around the place and sitting by its open windows overlooking the tiny roar of the waterfalls below reminded me of Jim Thorpe. Which, if you're curious, is the greatest place in America. This is also indisputable as well.
Seeing Marjan, Braden and Joanna was wonderful. Two years ago we were all residents of Sandpoint (Marjan and her fiance Atom, still are) but now I, of course, live in Vermont and Braden and Jo live in Greenfield, Mass. But to sit around a random New England picnic table eating ice cream cones together when just a few falls ago we were all hanging in the upstairs of Eichardts pub...was a little incredulous.
Now I'm back, and the dogs had their walk, the animals their feed and fresh water, and a wonderful thunderstorm is cooling off the humid day. I care for thunderstorms very much. I never want to live away from thunderstorms, crows, or book stores in old gristmills ever again. New England and it's creepy comforts suit me. I do hope to stick around. I just need to find a truck, a farm, some good sheep, great dogs, and hope willing: a very patient man who isn't scared of large animals with horns but is scared of missing an episode of the Colbert Report.
It's good to want things.
P.S. I posted a sidebar note about accepting some pertinent advertising on this blog. (Check the right hand side of this site if you or your boss might be into that.) I am trying to make a little farm-saving side money from all this writing business and I can assure you the money you may spend to place and ad here doesn't go towards anything but fueling one girl's dream for a more sustainable life and career. Which is something in today's economy.
There's our man Chuck Klosterman: rooster extraordinaire. He's taken to waking up the farm from the firepit benches. He waddles out there and a few hens in his harem waddle behind. He takes the stand and belts out a few loud three-part crows before returning to the coop for breakfast. Winthrop, the giant white rooster (AKA the Wererooster), doesn't make a noise until dusk. Then the howls come out. They seem to ignore the new guy, John, who is so small he doesn't reach Winthrop's knees yet. When John grows up he'll be be an eight-pound basketball of a golden rooster. If Chuck's a velociraptor, and Winthrop's a T-Rex—John will be a portly Triceratops. Low to the ground and round and look like some 4-year-old's drawing of a fat chicken. Wyandottes have their own thing going. I'll oblige him.
So far he seems like an okay guy and is already dedicated to the hens he grew up with. They travel around the coop like little explorer parties. Yesterday they disovered beneath the rabbit hutch. The day before: grass tastes amazing! Today: who knows.
Hey! Look what I found! You can click this link here and it will take you to an application that lets you follow CAF on facebook. It's a handy, free gadget. I had no idea my blog was even on here till someone showed me. And just a sidenote: if you emailed me through facebook, please email me at my home address. It is nearly impossible for me to access facebook at the farm (dial up) and at work being on such sites looks sketchy at best. So if you think I blew you off, I haven't. I just haven't been able to get back in touch yet, and I want to since I owe a kid a letter, another woman some dulcimer music, and some such.
We had a power outage in rural Southern Vermont tonight. A lot of homes (2200 was the word on the street) around my area shut off. I was outside with Finn when it happened. It was nearly dark and I was hosing down some water buckets when suddenly the hose stopped? I went inside and noticed the fan was off, the fridge was dead, the cabin dark. I instantly worried I was late with the electric bill but then heard the hum of a neighbor's generator over the hill. Sandgate was dark, but a bulb in my head lit up: the grid was down.
Too many people needed air conditioning in NYC, or that was the rumor anyway. We did get an email at work saying (just in case!) of any surges in use in New York—we'd shut down to compensate. Some weird back-alley handshake between power companies. We were also told this hasn't happened in ten years. I guess we were due.
There are few people as prepared for a power meltdown as a homesteader. Even a part-time homesteader like myself is pretty ready for a night off-grid. I shrugged and went outside to put the goat away. Then I went inside and fired up the oil lamps and candles. I turned on the hand-crank radio for some news. VPR was running a special on the muskrat. I did the nightly farm chores by lantern—bobbing past the solar lamps drilled into the dirt all around the farm. Those little driveway lights are great for chicken coops and around the sheeps' fence. Tonight my little empire was well lit. I dined on some cold (but filling) dinner and drank one beer to enjoy it and relax before they all skunked. To cool off from my labors, I simply stopped moving. Letting my own body take over and regulate temperature as an animal should. Soon I was comfortable in the cabin.
People run from heat into air conditioning like corpses running back into the morgue. If you just stop running around, be still, wear something lighter and drink something colder—you don't have to depend on the air to condition you. You can condition yourself. If I'm still hot and bitchy I I think about January and smile. I was sitting with my back against the fireplace some of those nights, burried under piles of quilts and sleddogs. A little heat in August is okay. It made the tomatoes happy, at least.
I threw on a light sun dress and sat by the lantern to read. I surrendered to the circumstances, and happily so. I was engrossed in my book (The Kesslers were helping their Nubian goats kid for the first time. I'm still reading Goat Song) and then suddenly the power slammed back on right after the first twins dropped. I was shocked back into 2009 like a punch in the jaw. Damn. I was really enjoying 1892 for a little while there...
Last night was the great Sandgate Ox Roast. A big community event held every summer at the same farm. A few hundred folks come to the annual potluck and eat, dance, and catch up with old friends. This was my second time attending so I knew exactly what I could expect–the homemade outdoor lighting, the dance floor with the ladder-hoisted lamps, and the roasting spit. I asked someone where this year's cow came from and I was asked this question:
"You remember the steer that kept breaking out of pen and standing in the road?"
"Yes" I replied. And I did remember since I almost hit him on the way to a sheepdog trial.
"Well, we're eating him."
Justice, quite literally, had been served.
This year I went with my two friends Phil and Mike. The boys showed up in Mike's truck an hour before the event because we had a music lesson planned. Mike just bought his first fiddle and wanted to learn to play. He showed me his new toy. It was a beautiful higher-end Cremona he bought from a local music store. It sounded wonderful, with a great tone and (as crazy as this sounds) a built in fade? For a brand new fiddler he had some serious talent. He bought it on Tuesday, learned Twinkle Twinkle by himself online, and then last night we learned the entire D scale, Ida Red, and began shuffling. I hope he sticks with it.
We all headed to the Ox Roast in Mike's truck, rolling down the notch and through the green roads. We passed a wedding at the Green Mountain Inn, and many horses and chickens along the roadside. Phil rode in the bed and I was a little jealous. I hadn't done that since Tennessee.
We arrived and set our contributions on the table. Phil and Mike made baked beans an corn bread. I made an apple pie with 1761 written on it in dough (the year Sandgate was chartered). We grabbed a table, got some food, cracked open a few beers and listened to the string band play. The guitarist had a 1930's black Gibson archtop that he showed me when I inquired about it. It was so beautiful—all busted up and scratched and still sounded heavenly. I have such a soft spot for old Gibson guitars. It made me want that dream J-45 even more. Some day. Right now my life goals go like this: truck, farm, tractor.
We didn't stay long, no one really does. We capped the meal with maple Wilcox icecream and pie and then jumped back into the truck. We were heading back to Cold Antler for a more intimate campfire and some more music. And let's all be grateful for small granted wished because this time I got to ride home in the back. This made my evening. The Roast was nice, my stomach was full, the Long Trail beer was perfect... but as we drove trough the Vermont dusk I played my fiddle from the back bed of the pickup truck and soaked up that small moment like it belonged in a snowglobe. Wind blew my hair all over my face and across my strings. I didn't care. I just sawed along, past the wedding a the Inn. Past the horses who looked up quickly then dove back into their salads. Past the whole world. A girl in a truck, a fiddle tune, and late summer.
As far as Saturday nights go. This one ended perfectly. Leaving behind the hoof prints of a memory I do not think I'll be able to shake anytime soon.
Remember that little pumpkin crawling along the fence line? Well here he is a few days later—heavy on the ground. I took my little Barlow knife and scratched my runes into his side. Those symbols stand for peace/protection, love/hope, and harvest/autumn. (They are all over everything on this farm, from beehives to chicken coops to witten on paper cups at sheepdog clinics so I know which one is mine.) The scars will stay with him till he's big and orange: a neat trick anyone can do with squash. Write your kid's name, Happy Halloween, or your house number and set it by the mailbox. Besides this beauty, all the pumpkins seem to be coming along nicely and have taken over most of the garden with their giant prickly vines. I saw another giant like this under the corn and a few more just getting started. Already this guy is larger than my biggest from last fall. I hope to have some nice heavyweights for the porch, pies, and carving.
So I don't think I'll be hosting a big weekend camping event, but this October I would like to have Antlerstock. I was thinking a Saturday in mid October. And the plan would be to have all of us meet at Merck Forest Farmland Center to tour the heritage livestock, visit the trails for a short hike (I'll bring Finn!) and that way we can all revel in Vermont's woodland fall at a working big farm and then come back to CAF for food, music, and a campfire. If you are serious about attending let me know and if the number is manageable I'll start planning! There might be a small fee to help cover the food, but besides that it'll be just a time to catch up, fiddle, and laugh.
P.S. If you like reading up on the farm, you can click a link at the top of the blog called "Follow This Blog." I believe it let's you get posts either emailed to you, or just notified of updates. Check it out.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
The blog of author Jenna Woginrich of Cold Antler Farm. Where pop culture meets agriculture! Here she writes about her adventures following her crazy dream life as a self-employed writer, homesteader, archer, falconer, equestrian, martial artist, hunter, spinner, brewer, geek, and real-life Game of Thrones Extra. She loves movies, music, running far, and eating animals.
On twitter @coldantlerfarm
And when the children are safe in bed, at one of the great holidays like the Fourth of July, New Years, or Halloween, we can bring out some spirits and turn on the music, and the men and the women who are still among the living can get loose and really wild. So that's the final meaning of "wild"- the esoteric meaning, the deepest and most scary. Those who are ready for it will come to it. Please do not repeat this to the uninitiated. -gs