Tuesday, September 15, 2009

he's back

Last night while I was at the movies something happened in the chicken coop. A fox (or something like it) snuck in and took the silkie bantam chick. No other animals were harmed or are missing. I know this because I noticed the missing bird last night when I returned from town. Every night I do a count and check on the birds and the little black hen was gone. Today while moving the fences my neighbor Roy came out and announced he heard a big ruckus around 8PM.

Tonight I was inside watching a movie and decided to take the dogs out for a bathroom break. The speakers on the movie were dimmed and I looked to Annie who wasn't interested in the word "walk" at all. Her head was cocked to the window. Outside the geese were screaming. It was 8:30.

I threw on my boots and ran out towards the coop only to catch the red flash and tail running into the darkness. From the glow of the coop, the only light in the Sandgate black, I saw what had to be the largest fox in all of Vermont. It was possibly a coyote. Seemed to stand about 18-22 inches tall but was a dark brown/red. "AWAY!" I screamed, as if it was a border collie I wanted to flank, "AWAY!"

I ran back inside to get Annie and Jazz like a small canine police force. The three of us ran out into the night and walked around the coop. I made sure both dogs left clear and present danger right where the fox stood. I'm hoping my screams, the visit of dogs, and the thick smell of their markings and post-kibble will buy me a night without casualties. But one thing certain. Our friend is back. Guess what I'll be doing at 8PM tomorrow night...

Stake out.

you are what you eat

Last night I went to the Manchester to see Food Inc. (which was wonderful) and engage in a group discussion about food economies. Now, I knew I was going to the movies, but I had no idea when the film was over there would be a stay-in-you-seats discussion over community action. There was. I love this state.

A local group called Manchester Transition (a local environmental issues group) hosted a post-film talk. The MC walked with a mic down the rows, asking about changes that could happen in our area to help solve the problem. I was with my friends Phil, Sharon, and Jessie as an audience member. (I am certain no one knew I was involved in this life in anyway.) And I listened to the local organic and small farmers take turns talking about their issues. Horror stories about trying to sell to grocery store chains, the struggle to get apathetic people involves. We passed around the mic and when it got to me I had one question. "How many people in the audience have a garden?"

Everyone shot up their hands. We were preaching to the choir. We needed to get someone to see this movie who never would unless someone asked them too. That's where you come in. Go see this movie and take someone who doesn't give a damn.

The problem is that Americans have convinced themselves that cheap food, a seasonless selection, and endless variety are their rights—not healthy food, in-season crops, and correct variety. Some folks say a local organic diet is an elitist goal. That regular folks can't afford it. (Then you learn that only counts for prepared meals. We'd rather watch TV than cook a meal together). We've bought the lie that eating whatever we want of lesser quality is a good thing. Because it's easier. Because we don't have to connect the cow with the burger.

This is scary to me. Really scary.

Ask the average American if they'd rather buy feeding lot chicken that comes with a death warning then drive to a farmer's market down tha block and pay a dollar more a pound for a free-range disease-free bird. Most will prefer the healthier option, but few choose it. One hilarious section of the movie interviewed a well known organic farmer who was almost shut down for processing his poultry outdoors near the fields they free ranged on. So he sent a large sampling of his stock and sampling of the same sized animals from the grocery store shelves to be tested for bacteria. His came back ridiculously healthier and his animals never went through chlorine baths and a packaging plant. It's how the animal is raised, son.

I understand that we have a world to feed. The movie wasn't so much against industrial food as it was against the lack of regulation, safety standards, and lack policy. Food Inc. didn't want everyone to boycott the grocery store, they wanted you to change what's inside. Buy voting with every purchase for healthier food. Buy local, organic, and do your best. Not everyone can afford this, but most of us can afford one local meal a day. Experts say if every American ate one meal within 100 miles of their home a week the food industry would be forced to change dramatically. The organic wouldn't be expensive, it would be normal. Get some oats at the farmers' market and you've just eaten a breakfast that can change the world.

The base problem is most people don't want to think about where they're food comes from. They don't want to buy healthier meat for more money and eat it less. They don't care about local farmers, poisoned peanut butter, and salmonella outbreaks have become nothing more than background noise on the evening news. They have jobs, lives, and families to take care of. I get it. I have a job too. But I'll be damned if I'll sit back and watch the food my family eats hurt them. We may have our disagreements, even about blog posts like this, but they can count on me to produce meat, eggs, vegetables and energy that won't put them in the hospital.

You are what you eat. Be something better.

Monday, September 14, 2009

going to see this tonight

listen to this record

Sunday, September 13, 2009

in the shop...

There's Finn, checking out his new ride. Or probably his reflection in the back of the cab. He was actually pretty calm up there. I suppose growing up from the age of two-weeks-old in the back hatch of a station wagon helped...Finn's still small enough that lifting him up in my arms isn't a problem, but I imagine those days are over soon. You'll have this.

The truck had some drama. It's now registered, has shiny green plates, and the taxes are paid. It just needed to get a state inspection to make it road legal. So yesterday I took it to a mechanic to get it looked over. Turns out it didn't make it fifteen minutes into the inspection before the guy told me the front passenger side wheel was loose. It was a hazard and it needed to be fixed before Vermont allowed it on her roads. I contacted the dealer and they're picking it at the office tomorrow and repairing it on their dime. My friend and coworker Eric is going to take me back up into the 'Gate. Hopefully in a few days it'll be back to work. With jobs like fence reconstruction, winter hay buying, and trash bags needing to get to the dump... I need this truck. It can do in one trip what the Subaru can do in five.

Oh, I finally picked up that issue of Urban Farm magazine. If you live in a suburb or city, it's a must have for the resource lists alone. And the articles on beekeeping, goats, chickens, canning and small-space gardening are great and beginner friendly. Not too shabby for five bucks.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

meet the newest addition to cold antler

Meet the newest addition to Cold Antler Farm: a 1999 Ford Ranger. She's a beautiful thing to these station-wagon-driving eyes. She's also the first vehicle I ever paid for in full, have a title on, and indisputably own. Since I am still paying off my college education, rent my house, and don't have a square inch of Vermont dirt to my name (yet)—you can understand the pride I feel about finally having a pickup of my own.

Don't worry, not too much pride. Sea Level.

No more sheep in the back seat, chickens in the back hatch, or lambs with their hooves on the dashboard. No more hay in the air conditioning vents or folding down seats to fit feed bags. I now own two beds, and unlike my old one, this one will be seeing a lot of action.

I've been have finally been able to obtain the vehicle for my chosen path in this crazy world. Something I can load up with hay, transport livestock, or park at the feed store with a little more street cred. If you're curious (or worried I blew all my savings) she cost less than a Gibson J-45 True Vintage guitar (Actually, a lot less than a custom one. As great as acoustic guitars are, they can't haul goats...). I am happy I was able to drive her off the garage lot for less than what most people spend on a couch. Also lucky as hell - because she runs just as good as she looks.

She looks good for her age too. The orangey/red color is beautiful, screams fall. It has a roomy cab, CD player, amazing sound system, and ample coffee cup holders. The very instance I pull out of the lot I slid Old Crow Medicine Show's Wagon Wheel in the CD player to ride off into the sunset with. An Old Crow bumper sticker is the lone decoration on this truck.

I will never forget the day driving back to Vermont two winters ago when this adorably-rumbled guy around my age flew by my car on the NY Thruway with his black truck and one OCMS sticker on the back. I decided right then if I couldn't take him home I'd borrow his modest announcement of loyalty to his music. I had my own sticker on the fridge—saved just in case I ever had the bumper with a bed to put it on. Maybe I'll pass that guy's truck again someday? If a border collie hangs out the front passenger-side seat I may have to follow him home*...

She's not perfect by any means. Already she has 115k on her odometer and there are a few cigarette burns in her upholstery, but these are sins I'll forgive. I was able to get a 6-month warranty from the garage I bought her from, so at least I'll have a full New England winter to prove herself with some insurance. (That and heavy snow tires and weight in the back.) I also found out her driving insurance is cheap, less than a gormet pizza and cold beer costs in Manchester every month. For this truck: I'll skip town pizza.

She's a 2WD, and that's okay because (as you can see in her reflection) I still have the Subaru. That dire wolf will continue to be my snow car and dog box, but I find myself taking the truck out whenever I can. I can't help myself. I know it's just a used car, but to me it's a giant step forward in becoming the person I am trying to be and the amount this truck will help around the farm will be amazing. No more 3-bale trips back from Nelson's farm. I can load up the back with all she can carry! Hot Dang!

I always tell myself: Truck, farm, tractor. That's my mantra and path to that magic moment in life when I know I've made it. When I'm sitting on the back of that green tractor in my own sheep fields and can look down the hill at my beat pickup in the driveway—that's my Carolina Herrerra wedding dress. For the honeymoon, maybe someday I'll go inside and play my J-45. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. One dream at a time, people. I'm just happy to announce I've come this far.

*I kid

Friday, September 11, 2009


Thursday, September 10, 2009

ahead of us

The maple by the sheep shed is dropping leaves by the armload. I snapped this photo, but it doesn't do the old girl justice. Some times the most everyday things around here catch me off guard in their poetry. A sugar maple with a post pounder leaning against it isn't much, but it's enough. Made me grab the camera from my backpack, which is always with me.

It gets cold enough to need a sweater most nights. Labor Day is over and a grand fall is ahead of us.

A lot has happened in the past few days here at the farm. We lost a hen to a natural death. I walked into the coop one morning and there she was on the straw, as if asleep. Walking in on a dead chicken used to mildly bother me. Now I simply grab a pair of gloves, pick her up by the feet, and walk her far away from the farm into the woods.

Besides the dead chicken—a lot more is happening which I hope to write more about soon. I think I'll have some big announcements in the next few days but right now I need to heed Hemingways's advice and remember "You lose it if you talk about it" But stay tuned. Big things are in the works. Mind you, nothing huge. There's no television network asking to make a TV movie about me (headline news was walking a dead chicken into the woods, if you recall...) but smaller things are happening. And the farm gate feels closer every time it does.

Two people have reserved a spot at the Strum & CLuck so far. Two other people emailed with great interest but when I wrote back to them I was told my email was rejected. So if you wrote and I didn't get back to you, please try again and send me a phone number or another way to contact you. If you are looking for lodging check out Sandgate's information-packed website for lists of inns.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


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.

Monday, September 7, 2009

strum & cluck anyone?

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 jenna@itsafarwalk.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....

*not a chance she'll like you

first-place fruits at the schaghticoke fair

photo by nisaa askia

hay lofts and merit badges

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.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

a girl and her flock

photo by nisaa askia

Thursday, September 3, 2009

the birthday flock is thriving

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.

let the ghosts die

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:

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.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

today show does segment on backyard chickens!

the rules

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...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

angry sheep are kinda great

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.

Monday, August 31, 2009

the forum is live!

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.)

Become one of the Locals Here

Sunday, August 30, 2009

smug sal

check out this sweet buckle i scored

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.

he's all mine

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.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

dairy cows at the washington county fair

Friday, August 28, 2009

trucks and knit hats

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.

photo of sandgate roads by sarah stell

Thursday, August 27, 2009

i want this truck...

us highlanders

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.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


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.

Read the story here

photo from newyorktimes.com

the last day of summer

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.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

i think i'll call him joseph

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.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

a good sheep

american goat

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.

Visit the website: AmericanGoat.com

pies and pencil rituals

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.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Friday, August 21, 2009

the hard fall

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's enough.

what a bad storm can do to corn...

back to three

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.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

he's here

meetings and lambs

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.

What's next?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

the morning border

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

gristmills and used books

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.

good morning from cold antler!

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.

Monday, August 17, 2009

sandgate black out

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...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

salad bar

the great ox roast

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.

pumpkins & antlerstock

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.

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