Saturday, November 14, 2009

the intensity of sleddogs

deer camp weekend

Driving home past Wayside I had to shake my head and laugh. Outside the country store there were piles of cars and trucks with their drivers standing amongst them in the rain. Everyone was in high spirits though because in the back of those trucks were trophy bucks they took this morning. Today was the first day of rifle deer hunting in Vermont. It should be a state holiday.

I didn't notice it my first fall, but now that I know the culture of this place, I can see deer camp weekend signs like Audubon members can spot wood thrushes. DCW is the first weekend of hunting season. It's celebrated here as an all-out guys' retreat time. A hardcore brodown of blue and white collar crowds alike. The signs are subtle to the uninitiated, but now I see them clear as day. Three guys in line at the gas station with a 24-pack of Bud each: deer camp. The Wayside hot-foods section filled with only paper-wrapped burritos: deer camp. Trucks and ATVs parked along highways and in weird random wood lots: deer camp. Signs on the side of the road that say BUCK CUTTING HERE: deer camp. Baby Blue Toyota Avalons with a 70-pound buck strapped across the trunk: deer camp.

I make no judgments, just observations. I'm not a hunter but I respect anyone who has the gumption to eat local meat—Especially people who harvest it themselves. I do look at the whole first weekend of deer hunting fondly though. Seems the whole state's in a better mood. Vermont has this reputation of being all yoga and volvos, but the real Vermont is a lot more likely to buy deer urine at Cabelas. I say that with love.

Photo of hunters in the 1930s from vtliving.com

Friday, November 13, 2009

we have a winner!

Congrats to the O'Byrne Family of Seattle! They are the winners of the crank radio! (Please email me your mailing address guys.) Thank you to everyone who took part. We'll do one of these a month!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

wishful thinking

This photo was taken last December after our Christmas Delivery run. Every year I make some gift baskets for the neighbors and we mush them door to door. It's the least I can do for these amazing people, who have done so much to take care of me these past two years and never once asked for a thing in return. They are always keeping an eye on this farm. All the houses that surround me make sure all is well at all times. When Saro started laying on her eggs and was no longer seen waddling around with Cyrus—my neighbor Katie walked up the hill to inform me of the horrible loss. She was thrilled to then discover Saro was safe, just indoors on her nest. But it was so heartwarming to know she was looking out for everyone here. All of us, under many wings.

Anyway, in this picture, we just got back from handing out French toast baskets. These grand baskets include homemade bread, fresh eggs, and local maple syrup. It's a fun, inexpensive, homemade gift to give. And if you time it for a weekend, you can bet your winter hay the receivers will be frying up that battered bread the next morning. I don't know any breakfast food as good as fresh-bread, backyard-egg French toast. Why, I'm salivating at the thought right now...

Looking at that photo makes me a little excited. It hasn't really snowed here yet. What did fall barely coated the ground—but when it does come, we'll be ready. I'm looking forward to that first real dump. If I'm lucky it'll happen on a weekend, if I'm really lucky, a Friday night. To wake up on a Saturday with nowhere to be and nothing to do, and just coated in fresh powder in a cabin in the woods...it's something else. You sleep in, stoke up a roaring fire, and never leave the place. If you do leave your place by the fire, it's only to chop by the woodpile or tend the animals. It is s a wonderful, wonderful feeling to dedicate your day to such primal comforts. When this little cabin gets covered in a few inches, you'd swear time slows down. One side of a record seems to play for hours. In a few weeks we'll have that. To be on the safe side I'll keep stacking cordwood, order more heating fuel, and have the furnace serviced. All that will get done and we'll be okay. but let's let tonight be about wishful thinking, and possibly French toast for dinner...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

win a hand-crank radio!

If you read this blog, you may be familiar with the term CSA. It stands for Community Supported Agriculture. CSAs depend on their community to keep small farms running. They work like this: you the consumer pay a couple hundred bucks in advance and that pays for startup costs, planting, buying livestock, etc. Then you get a delivery of fresh local food every week of the growing season, as a return for your good faith and investment.

Well, we're going to have a CSA-style giveaway here, but the community is you and the agriculture you're supporting is Cold Antler Farm. Here's how it works, super simple: To be entered in the drawing to win the brand new Eton FR160 self-powered radio all you need to do is tell someone about this blog and comment about how you told them about it here. The plan is to get some new readership, and help the site popularity grow. All I'm asking is you tell one person who doesn't know about this blog, but may like, about it and send them the link. You can do this via email, or over the phone, or waiting for an elevator at the office. Doesn't matter to me, the point is to spread the word about a girl and her sheep and get a few more like minds here and on the forums.

To be entered in the drawing, which will be held this Friday, just place a comment in this post saying who you told and how. Nothing super specific, no names or phonenumbers just to show you did your part to help out the farm by being a little evangelical about CAF. I'll take all the names and pick a winner out of the hat for the radio. What do you think?

Monday, November 9, 2009

just some

It was peculiar day, unseasonably warm. After chores were done and the farm was put to bed, I went inside to make a cup of tea and tune my fiddle. I carried him outside (all my fiddles are hims) and set myself down on the north side of the porch, hanging my legs off the edge while I sat. In lantern light, in the balmy 50-degree wind, I was very quiet and sipped my tea. I sipped tea and watched the dark woods. No sheep or goat broke the silence. They were buried in their evening hay.

I set down my cup and played my fiddle for the forest. Just a few songs as a thanksgiving for the respite from the cold. It was kind of this farm to be warm, and in appreciation I put on a small concert. Tonight my hollow heard my lone fiddle cry out with Pretty Saro, Blackest Crow, and Amazing Grace. I'm not a great musician, but I can play those songs and it pleases me to hear them, which is enough. There is no one to impress.

I don't suppose there will be many more evenings this season like this. We hold onto them while we can.

Somewhere in the second verse of Blackest Crow I watched my shadow on the dead leaves and realized some of it was perfect. Just some.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

the best laid plans

Meet the new girls! Two Buff Orpingtons, two Barred Rocks and a Buff Brahma. All five birds were introduced to the farm today, and so far seem to be dealing with the new digs just fine. They're in the coop with the birthday pullets, the old gals, Winthrop, John, and my two angry, expectant parents. Cyrus and Saro must be hatching soon because they've recently gone from code yellow to red. You walk within three feet of that nest and it's all hisses and honks. I cut them a wide berth

I left the farm around 9 to meet Noreen at her home in Arlington. Arlington is the town right next to Sandgate, and in comparison it's a thriving metropolis (due to having both a bank and a gas station). Sandgate is too small for commerce and petroleum (which is exactly how us mountainfolk prefer it). I drove down the winding roadsin to town smiling. I have found that ever since I started homesteading, I smile more. The truck was running like a song, the sun was out, and I was wearing a favorite black and white flannel shirt on my way to buy livestock. Already the day was a win.

I loaded up the truck the day before with wire cages filled with straw. I covered the crates in an old quilt and lashed them down with rope, making two straw-filled dens safe from wind and chill. It seemed comfortable to me, so I figured the ten chickens Noreen and I were about to purchase would agree. I hoped they'd be comfortable. We'd be depending on them for eggs all winter.

When I got to Noreen's place I found her sitting on her back steps, waiting patiently. I was a little late due to getting caught up in a conversation over at the gas station. Allan, who owns the Citgo, is also a musher and his five beautiful Siberians down the street from me are playmates of Jazz and Annie's. We got into talking dogs and sleds and between that and the steaming cup of coffee I was preparing, I fell behind schedule. I'm always late for everything. (Sidenote: I have discovered that if you walk in ten minutes late with a pie the universe automatically makes you fifteen minutes early.) Sitting on her steps, Noreen didn't look like the Web Production Manager I knew from the office. Suddenly she was an eleven-year-old girl waiting to get on a carousel. She couldn't help herself. Chickens do this to certain people.

And she should be giddy, because she was about to be the proud owner of five young laying hens she'd been wanting for months. She had her heart set on Orpingtons and had been scanning Craigslist for weeks trying to find some for sale. She'd also fallen in love with the vocal and sassy Light Brahmas she already had. So when she found a farmer selling Orps and Brahms she was beside herself. Arrangements were made and away we'd go.

Her favorite hen, Cluck Cluck, a Light Brahma, used to be one of my birds. Now Cluck Cluck lives in the lap of luxury at the Davis Coop, which is a stunning henhouse made in three weekend's by her husband Dave. I took this picture of the establishment because I think it's a beauty. Big enough for a person to walk inside, electric-wired, and clean as a Bed & Breakfast inside. I don't think Dave realizes his true calling in this world yet...

Noreen was about to double her current flock and I was going to get a few more birds to make up for the losses from the summer. I lost so many to a horrid fox, three to some chicken mystery illness, and one rooster to the axe. Even with the five new gals I'd still have a smaller flock than I had going into last winter. But it all balances out because so many of the new birds are just starting to lay. I'll be up to my elbows in eggs by December. Just in time for Holiday baking.

We drove north the Fair Haven, a small town in Vermont about halfway between us and the chicken-delivering family. The farmers selling us the layers agreed to meet us at a gas station. I let Noreen navigate, I just drove, but I quickly realized the conversation in the car was going to be the best part of the trip no matter how great the new chickens were.

Noreen's family has lived in Arlington for generations. The stories she had about the folklore, characters, crimes, rivalries and ghost stories were wonderful. She told me about haunted houses and people thrown into jail. We talked about the feelings native Vermonters have about the influx of flatlanders, and how the populations changed so much in the state. Opinions and stories like this are what make you feel part of a place. She probably thought she was just making conversation as we rolled past the farms and pastures into Fair Haven. Truth was, she was training me to be a local.

We got to the gas station and weren't waiting long before a big green 6-wheeler pulled up alongside my little Ranger and unloaded with a smiling family. They had a big long box all ready to slide right into the back of my truck. I was silently grateful. I had been worrying I'd lose a bird by the highway in the shuffle between trucks and cages, but the new gals were already loaded in their taxi, ready to shuttle down south. Ever the professionals, they let us see the birds and approve them before we handed over the cash. Together we loaded them into the back of my bed and hands were shook. The deal was done and there would be French toast to prove it. We stood around talking about birds, horses, sheep, and shop talk for a while before we parted ways with thanks and smiles.

The more time I spend around Vermont farmers the more I want to become one.

We drove back to the Noreen's and unloaded the birds into her coop. They seemed a little rattled, but bright and healthy. Considering they were just sold, trafficked around the state, and spent four hours in a cardboard box—they looked freaking amazing. As we got them acclimated to the Davis Poultry Estate Noreen's husband, in-laws, and dog came out to see what all the fuss was about. I watched everyone talking and joking together outside, people I hardly know, but felt somewhat part of. Honestly, it warmed my heart to see a family outside and laughing because of a few birds in a backyard coop. I know they're just chickens, but "just chickens" made two women enjoy a sunny day together, tell stories, and see new parts of the state. They also managed to get two generations outside, away from a television in 2009. All those happy faces, smiling over homestead livestock made my heart melt. There's still hope for this world afterall.

A few months ago Noreen decided to get some birds and she's been in love with them ever since. Like every new chicken owner I've come across since getting into this mess, she's never regretted it for a second. She loves the attention she gives them, the eggs they give her, and the life and warmth they give to her backyard. Like me, Noreen's hooked and will never go henless again. Why would you not do something that makes you so happy?

Chickens do this to certain people.

goat morning from cold antler!