Saturday, October 31, 2009

happy halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2009

out of idaho

I used to live in a town called Sandpoint. It was a little ski town in the northern tip of Idaho and it was beautiful. Giant mountains, an epic lake, amazing trails...This photo was taken on a hike with the dogs just two years ago. Taylor (an old design school friend) snapped it when she came out to visit one weekend in October of 2007. Sandpoint, the Rockies, all of it feels like it didn't happen sometimes. My rogue year on the west coast away from the Octobers I grew up with.

I have photographic evidence and stay in touch with old friends. I know I was there but it remains a ghost in a lot of ways. My year in Sandpoint was rough. Being that far away from everyone I knew and loved took a harder toll than I imagined when I first moved out. I didn't fall to the bottle or get horridly depressed, just heavy feeling, all the time. Even so, I'd so like to visit again. I miss the old farmhouse and the lake and the nights in pubs with clever friends. It's where I learned to do all the things you know me for doing: my first hens, first home-baked bread, first book...all of it came out of Idaho. I owe that state a lot.

maude in watercolor

A reader recently emailed me about making a donation to the farm in a really interesting way. See saw one of my watercolors and asked if she could make a donation in exchange for some artwork. I jumped at the chance. For her kindness I sent her this one-of-a-kind pencil and water color of Maude and now it's on its way to San Diego. If you'd like to help out with one girl's dream, feel free to contact me at and put "watercolor" in the subject line. It'll take two or three weeks until I have time to paint and mail it, but what a cool way to support the farm. Plus, they aren't prints. They are all hand drawn, and hand painted originals of any animal you'd like, mine or yours.

hay vacuums

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Today was a bad day. Some days are. It was one of those days where everything's a second guess and you're too tired to be of use to anyone or anything. I know what my problem was: the goddamned arrows.

See, there's this old Buddhist story about a guy who gets shot with an arrow and starts bleeding to death. Someone walks up to him and offers to take the arrow out, but instead of accepting the help, he starts firing off all these inane questions. Who shot the arrow? Why did they shoot it? Where did they shoot it from? He's there bleeding, in awful pain as he continues on. Where did the person run off to? How deep is the puncture? How much longer until they catch him and bring him to me so I can shoot back? He's angry, distracted, useless—a volunteer to be a victim. And the whole time he's running his mouth someone is standing in front of him willing to just take it out. No questions asked. Just remove it. Heal. Move on down that dusty road, son.

Whatever feels like such a big deal won't for long. Your bills will get paid. Your car will get fixed. Your friends will forgive you. You'll learn from what you can't change. You lick your wounds, count your losses, and suck it up.

Today was a crappy day because I wanted answers for all my arrows—arrows coming from every direction. It made me a wreck all day. You want to know what's pointless on a small farm? Arrow wounds. One of the great therapies of homesteading is everyone else is a bigger deal than your own selfish thoughts. So I had a bad day? So what? You think the geese care? I came home to greater needs than my ego and it felt better to be humbled by it. I fell into my writing schedule, my animals, a walk with the dogs and a long phone call from an old friend. I still got prongs in my back but I'm learning to ignore them. It's not a clean break but I'll take what I can get.

The moral of the story is leave the arrows in and you'll suffer, possibly even die. You lose out when the whole time the remedy was right in front of your face. I don't ever want to forget my focus like that. I want to let the arrows go. I've got a long way before I figure myself out but at least the farm knocks some sense into me when I'm treading water.

I'll be okay. I have dogs and a banjo. It's the people without such resources I worry about.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

oh, finn

Finn's grown up into a polite, friendly, pack goat. He walks on a leash like he was born attached to one. He's good with strangers, calm with kids, fair to dogs (he did head butt Annie pretty hard last week, but she was right in his face barking) He's just a pleasure to be around. We don't hike as much as we did this summer, but he gets it. He has no problems carrying a pack. No complaints at all. (And trust me, if a goat doesn't want to do something, he'll let you know.) I know a few of you out there are dreaming of goats. I get emails from people who just can't wait for a Nubian and some laying hens. Well, let me vouch that a socialized goat is a charmer and easy keeper. Long as you have some patience, a big heart, and a good fence—you're set.

days away

Halloween is only days away and I am humming for it. I am so looking forward to that beautiful night. It is my favorite day of the year and I look forward to it as a farming adult like I looked forward to Christmas morning when I was six. As I grow older, I come to Halloween as my time for memories and reverence. I get quieter. I think more. I spend more time realizing I'm lucky just to be alive. Gary Snyder's great quote is always on this blog, but it rings truest on nights like tonight:

"...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"

Damn, Gary. I'd give up so much just to share one campfire with your grin and wisdom...

Already some of the CAF pumpkins have been carved in celebration. The one you see here is the same one I was holding in my arms earlier this month. It's a hell of a good feeling, enjoying your own homegrown pumpkins like this. Right now it's glowing at me as I type. Teasing me with that fox-toothed smile here in the living room. The fireplace is roaring, the record player is rasping, and Annie is asleep on the couch an arm's length from where I sit. The dishes are done, the coffee pot is ready for morning, and the magazine article I promised myself I'd work on is saved to my desktop. Outside all the animals are fat and happy, fed and sleeping. I did my day's work. It's all behind me now. Small reliefs like the end of a long day are welcome here. So very welcome. Throw in a few fiddle tunes, a long back stretch, and some hot tea and you've got yourself the happiest woman in Vermont.

I'm basking in the cabin's exhalations. I can't help it. It's damned near impossible not look around at the flickering shadows in awe. I lean back on the sheepskin in front of the fireplace and feel like the richest person in America. These silent nights of late October are the emotional postcards that are responsible for my addiction to homesteading.

They're also what I've have been waiting for, my fall, all year.

Monday, October 26, 2009

the magic hour

Sunday, October 25, 2009

a bloody sunday

My friend Steve does a lot of things: he fly fishes, he hunts, he plays guitar in my open-mic trio. He also kills roosters. Or at least, that's what he did today. As an experienced killer of many things with wings—Steve offered to help me slaughter my angry Ameraucana Rooster. We made plans to do him in this morning. Together we ended the reign of terror that was Chuck Klosterman.

By the time his Tacoma pulled up the farm I had already done my chores and had coffee on the stove. I did what I could to prepare. I had a large stock pot handy, a chopping block and axe at the ready, and breakfast in the works. Steve would be bringing his game knives and work gloves. We'd make the hour very productive.

After a breakfast of eggs, toast, and strong coffee we put the hot water on and I went out to collect the terrorist. I think Steve assumed he'd be the one to grab Chuck. He put on his gloves and was heading towards the coop, but I insisted I be the person who carried him to the stump. I felt that was my job. Also, I knew this bird inside and out. I played his games. I knew how he tricked me, clawed me, caught me off guard... If anyone was going to grab him quickly—it would be me. So I walked into the coop, closed the door behind me, and stared him down. I chased him for a short fever of squawks and hisses but eventually caught that awful bird. It took a few tries. To his credit Chuck only got me once on the gloved hand. Man, it stung. It would be the last beating I'd take from him. That much, I was certain.

Instantly after grabbing him I inverted him—holding him upside down by his dinosaur feet. You do this for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it lulls the rooster into a complacency best suited for transportation to execution. I walked out of the coop beaming, walking towards Steve with the bird's claws in my hands like a cavewoman who just settled a bet. He laughed and said the look of pride on my face as I stormed out of there was perfect. I understood the fox a little better, too.

So, to the stump we went. He would die by the same woodpile I used to heal. Farms are complicated animals.

I thought this would be the hard part. It wasn't. There was no prayers or sentimentality—no squirming or flinching. There simply wasn't time Almost as soon as I set his long neck down on the stump Steve came down with the axe and Chuck was no more. After some spraying and flapping we carried the bird over to our processing station (AKA my porch). We set up a long piece of cardboard, knives, the near-boiling stock pot, and a plastic bag for the feathers. Before we went about the business of scalding and plucking, Steve removed some select feathers from Chuck's cape and tail. We set them aside in an envelope to tie flies with this winter. "You can catch some brookies next summer thanks to this guy," he said as we slid them into an envelope. For all the trouble this rooster had cost me, he certainly was paying his way in the world. He'd be freezer meat, a story, and next summer's trout on the line. What a guy.

The whole ordeal was done in about twenty minutes. Steve and I plucked feathers and cut off the feet. He gutted and washed the meat and then we wrapped the jerk up in plastic. As all this was happening Winthrop, now the head honcho, walked around in what I can only assume was relief and joy. (Winthrop, by the way, did not so much as say boo to us.) Here's Steve posing for one last photo with the stew meat formally known as Chuck Klosterman. The rooster reigns no more.

As I write, Chuck is silently occupying the freezer. He'll be crock pot fodder one of these weekends, or something of that sort. His feathers are in the drawer, waiting to be flies. Steve suggested we have a fall bonfire up here soon with music and our friends and everyone can have some Chuck Stew. I like this idea very much—a party in his "honor". We'll call it Chuck's Wake and sing songs and enjoy what's left of October before the snow comes and carries her away from us all. Saying goodbye to October is always hard on me.

I now live a life where chicken blood can start a party and dead leaves are becoming a sign of true mourning. Vermont keeps teaching me lessons, and I have a feeling it's the state that's going to make me into who I'm going to be. A woman who can appreciate what she has while she has it, but can also tell when it's time to get rid of the ones who cause her pain. Godspeed, old girl, get me home fast.

I'm not happy to have taken a life today, but I am glad I did what was best for me and this small farm. I have no qualms with my choice. What may appear like a heartless act to some, I assure you, was not. An aggressive rooster is no comfort to hens he is over-working and no use to the farmer he is attacking either. It was a bloody Sunday, but a necessary one. I'm proud we were able to do the job that needed to be done and I'm grateful to have a friend like Steve who was willing to give up a weekend morning to help. I'm also certain Winthrop and the hens will all sleep better tonight. So will I.

We cleaned up the gut pile and I washed off the axe. Our work was done. Before Steve left I gave him the apple pie I baked for him as a thank you gift. On it was the head of a rooster and an axe. A little crass, but what can I say? I'm a little crass. He took it and headed out the door. "Blood money." was what he said with a smile.

I like the crowd I fell into here.

so it goes