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

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:

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.