Sunday, December 6, 2009

a snowy potluck

I got to the potluck sometime around 4:45. The line of trucks and Subarus outside let me know I wasn't alone. It had been snowing for a few hours and Town Hall was covered in proof. I parked, grabbed my pie, and walked inside. Any tension I may have been carrying from earlier in the day came off with my insulated vest. I hung it on the coat rack and took a long look at the scene. Inside the place was full of children running around, a decorated tree, and adults setting up the covered dishes. There was hot coffee (which I gravitated to like a moth to the flame) and familiar faces everywhere. Alan, my neighbor (and fellow musher) was there in a santa hat. He called me yesterday to remind me about the potluck and I was glad he did. How could I have missed this? I walked over with my pie and told him about my day and all the news I had about my place. He told me about their new sled dog, Tarot.

When I moved to Vermont the Tschorns' had one dog, a little coyote look-alike named Nina. Three winters later and now they have six. Six dogs and a dog box built on the back of their truck, a dogsled, and a Siberian Husky now graces the sign of the family business in Arlington. He showed me video of running a cart on the train tracks earlier in the week with a giant team. He showed this to me like grandparents show baby pictures. Allan's love of his dogs, and his new sport, makes him and his wife Suzanne glow.

As I mingled and shook hands with neighbors. When I wasn't talking I'd stop to and look around the walls of our small meeting place. Photos of men working with horses in the field, maps of the town lines, photographs of the old matriarchs and patriarchs of our village, lined the wood paneling. And here I was in a snow fall, after a long day with friends, and ending it with a hot meal in community celebration. There's feeling lucky, there's feeling blessed, and then there's being a resident of Sandgate Vermont. Why would ever I want to live anywhere else?

Then a knock on the door and a ringing of sleigh bells! Santa came inside in full regalia and walked around the entire room shaking hands and ho ho hoing. The little kids looked up in awe. The older kids smiled, probably remembering what the whole thing was like when they were four. Santa took a seat under the tree and parents lined up with their kids for wishlists and goodie bags. I sat in a folding chair in the back, spectating.

Those of us without children made the night social. I talked with my friends Phil and Marybeth. Phil plays guitar in my open mic night band along with Steve (who you remember from the death of Chuck Klosterman). I also got to meet some neighbors I didn't really know all that well before, like Joan and Valerie. Valerie, a local farmer a few decades older than me, talked sheep and animals with me and when I mentioned I was looking for my own farm in town her ears perked up. I told her I wanted to become a permanent resident she replied in a stoic, Vermonter kinda of way. "Good. We want people like you around here." and then returned to the business of pork roast and sautéed potatoes. I tried not to bust into a grin. It was like being stamped and approved at Ellis Island.

We all sang Christmas Carols with Santa and waved him goodbye and he walked out into the snow. Kids ran around inside and out. A local farmer handed everyone a gift of a dozen brown eggs and I gave my goodbye hugs and headed home. I had nothing planned for the evening but Ken Burn's National Parks Disc One, but damn, I was excited to get back to the cabin. Events like this make me feel lucky to have landed here...I know my future's a little shaky right now—but god willing I'll be able to buy some of this place in the spring, even if it's two acres for my three sheep and a garden. I want to show up to Town Meeting next year voting on the road crew and budget as a tax-paying, home-owning, resident.

And if I'm at that town meeting, you can rest assured I'll motion it's followed by a potluck. There just aren't enough of them.

sunday community brunch

Next weekend I'll be in Manchester for sure, doing laundry and errands and such. I was thinking with so many readers in the local area, we should get together. Want to have a CAF meet-up at the Northshire Bookstore? Nothing formal, just coffee and talking. They have good local food and we can get together to talk about our interests in homesteading, talk about farm issues, or just laugh with caffeine. It'll be warm and toasty in there and we can bring knitting, photos, or fiddles that need tuning. I think it'll be fun and a nice break from all the crazy holiday shopping and running around going on in town. So if you want to get together, let's meet at the bookstore in Manchester at noon next Sunday (RSVP in the comments please). No requirements to own chickens or a cow to attend.

lamb's first snow

Saturday, December 5, 2009

orphans and alpacas

I woke up early, or early for a Saturday anyway. I was done with chores and on the road by 8AM. I was on a mission to load up the Ford with hay before any weather hit. As I drove I turned up the heat and opened the windows, letting that air hit me and move my ponytails around. Southern Vermont smelled like snow, like something was in the works. I stopped at the Sherman's General store in West Rupert for a cup of coffee and read the poster board outside sharing all the trophy bucks and scores. A few hunters were inside warming up from scenting in the morning. Everyone seemed excited about the snow, and the coffee. I was among them.

After the hay was unloaded I filled the bed with my trash bags and headed to the dump. (One of the charms of rural living is no trash pick up. That's a small price to pay, far as I'm concerned.) Jazz was deep into round two of his morning nap, so Annie jumped in the front seat for a ride into town. When we returned to the farm we were met by a big silver truck. A man came out with a silver badge and announced he was Animal Control. I didn't roll my eyes, but wanted to. I wasn't worried in the least and Annie and I walked right up to him and shook hands.

He went on to explain that someone had filed a complaint about how I take care of my animals. They told him my rabbits were in too small of cages, the goat was suffering, no one had bedding, there was feces everywhere and I keep my dogs in cages all day. (That last one was especially hard to swallow with Annie sitting happily by my side.) He told me I had nothing to worry about. He said he checked out the entire property and my animals and their homes were in great shape, that the complaint was ridiculous and the case would be closed. He actually used the word pristine to describe my animals' living conditions and overall health compared to some places he has to visit.

We talked for a long time. He was a really kind man, a retired police officer and seemed to be tired of having to seek out complaints like this. He said over 60% of reports about farm animals come from people without farm animals. That a lot of activists call because they don't understand why a goat would live differently than a labrador. I asked for a copy of his detailed report so I had it on file. He told me he'd gladly mail it and gave me a contact number in case I ever need to get in touch with him again. He then shook my hand, wished me a Merry Christmas, and told me people who complain about nothing and waste the state's resources should be fined. I liked him.

The state of Vermont officially recognizes me as "not a crappy person". I'm framing that report when I get it.

After my meeting with the Officer, I packed up Bean Blossom and her hutch and drove her to Shaftsbury. I was taking her to her new home with a friend I met through Storey Publishing. Mel, an amazing woman, was taking in my orphans. She not only adopted both of my angoras but all of my goslings. Her son Ben (possibly the kindest twelve-year-old boy I ever met) was thrilled to take Bean into his arms. I had already delivered the buck and the geese earlier in the week—this was the last trip to hand over livestock. I try not to think about what's happening when I'm doing this. If I think I get angry. I'm as far from perfect as you get.

As I waved goodbye and pulled out of her farm's driveway, it was starting to flurry. I had a warm loaf of wheat bread given to me as road food, and bit into it as I drove off. I was famished. I chewed my bread and watched the weather turn. The snow was a welcomed sign of cheer. I was feeling validated after the animal-control incident and happy knowing my animals were in such good hands. The snow felt like personal applause for the kismet.

I was now heading to Bennington to meet up with Abi and Greg, local readers of CAF who offered to foster Finn for me. They invited me into their home, which they were selflessly offering to my kid as well. The reason for the drop in was to allow me to check out their digs before I brought the goat to reside. You know, to make sure I was happy with it. Of course I was. These folks were amazing.

I never met this couple before, but at first hug right inside the front door I felt like Abi and I shared a college dorm. We talked over coffee while their adorable children ran around with their black cat, Obi. They told me their stories about buying property, and the ups and downs of it all. The whole time I couldn't stop thinking how damn lucky I was to have people like this watching over Finn. Their two-year-old daughter offered me a piece of Mandarin orange, and I instantly thought of horns. I reminded them to watch the young ones around Finn. Not because he would hurt them, but a quick turn could cause a black eye. The chances are slight, but it felt like the responsible thing to bring up. I hope with all my heart it works out for us all.

Then they introduced me to their pair of yearling Alpacas. Oh. My. God. I never was up close and personal with Alpacas before and was instantly smitten. They were hilarious, quirky, gentle and calm all at the same time. They took grain right from my hand and had these giant camel eyes that made me think of cartoon princesses. I won't be changing my fate from sheep to Peru's Best anytime soon, but I can see myself adding one or two to my flock some day. What dolls, them.

I made it home just in time to pick up an apple pie at Wayside and head over to the Sandgate Christmas Potluck. It was so wonderful. Any doubt I had about leaving this town melted away. The people, the history, the farmers, the fact we all sang with Santa as the snow fell outside in thick chunks—all of it perfect. I'll write more about it soon, but know that my hearts all filled up tonight—packed to capacity. And now I'm going to listen to what's going on in Lake Wobegon, drink my hot chocolate, and call it a night.

potluck tonight!

Big day today, so much has happened. It included hay lofts, a trip to the dump, an animal control officer, and a pair of alpacas (not mine, a friend's). I'll post more soon. I just wanted to drop a note sharing how excited I am for the Christmas Potluck tonight in our Town Hall, and to share the awesome sign at the Yellow Farmhouse. It's snowing right now and the farm is covered in a blanket of white. Tonigh is going to be amazing, I can feel it in my bones.

A reader emailed me today to tell me how distasteful it was "asking" for donations to buy a farm. I would like to make it clear that I have never asked anyone, ever, to donate money to the farm fund, including this week. This recent flurry of charity was not something I started (though I damn well appreciate) and besides one small graphic link on the right hand side of this blog, there has never been a single post asking for money. The paypal link was there because a while ago readers requested it as a simple way to help pay for chicken feed or aid the dream if they felt the desire. However, if this now offends a herd of people, I will take it down.

Now, with that said, what I have done is posted small fundraising ideas like auctions, watercolors, and workshops as ways to earn extra savings, but I don't consider such an exchange distasteful. I want to be clear I am not demanding anything from my readers, nor asking. This story is free. This blog is free. And I do not want to come across as such a person.

I've had enough of misconceptions for one week, thank you.

Friday, December 4, 2009

another book!

I'm pleased to finally announce I'll have another book out next year! I can't get into any detail, but I will say it's about chickens, and once again it's being published by the fine people at Storey. I just recently handed in the manuscript and I can honestly say I haven't seen another book on the subject quite like it. I'll let you know more as more details become public, but for now I can share that it's in the works and long as things go as planned, there will be two Woginrich titles in your neighborhood bookstore.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

we're not from around here

We're not from around here. I know you see us all the time, but trust me, we're from someplace else. We may have lived our whole lives right next door to you, but we left quite some time ago. We found another place and it suits us just fine.

It's not far or hard to get to. Chances are you pass it all the time when you're driving too fast to work or throwing another frozen dinner in the shopping cart. You can't get to us that way. We aren't there.

We're the ones in the next aisle buying yeast, flour, sugar, and coffee. We buy provisions, not groceries. We learned that food tastes better when you grow it yourself. We started with just a few recipes then learned to chew at a trot and now the idea of Lunchables and drive-thru hamburgers makes us tilt our heads a little. We're not above them, not by a long shot, we just don't have those where we're from. Or maybe we did and forgot about them? I can't remember. It's easy to forget about such things when you hop the fence to go where we went. There just isn't a lot of shrink-wrapped circular ham there.

We're from another place. It's just like yours but the naps are better. We came for a bunch of different reasons but we sort of set up shop in the same community. It's not a physical location, of course. (It's much better than that.) It's a place in our actions, our decisions, our conversations, our hope. It's a place in our hobbies, our skills, our secret desire to know what a warm egg feels like in lanolin-wet palms. It doesn't matter where we came from or who we were before, this new place kinda took us all in and showed us how to calm the hell down. What? You're confused? Oh, well, you probably saw us there and just didn't realize it. Remember when we didn't pick up the phone (even after twenty rings) because we were in the garden? Or that time we gave up a weekend to make a chicken coop? Or last Saturday when we spent the whole day at that indoor farmer's market talking to the people at the wool booth we'd never met before, but felt like we knew while you kept telling us the movie was starting in thirty minutes... That's where we left to go. Sorry we missed the previews, we were talking to our neighbors.

You can spot us pretty easy. Our men aren't afraid of facial hair and our women have been known to grab goats by the horns. Our children go barefoot, so do we. We're the quieter ones, in the corner, feet propped up on a second-hand coffee table in a fourth-hand wool sweater. That's one of us, right ober there, see him? The one with the guitar slung over his back, and the black dog following his bike? See him now? He's the one with the saddle bags on the back wheel overflowing with a half bushel of tomatoes. No, he's not a tomatoes fetishist, he's canning today. He'll be eating fresh organic marinara in January pulled off the larder shelf. He'll let the black dog lick his plate when he's done. Yes, I'm sure. He's from where I'm from. We know our own.

See, where we come from people aren't scared of dirt—not even mildly abashed by it. My people will spend an entire August morning with a potato patch. We'll also spend an entire October night in front of a bonfire with some home brew and guitars. My people know how to darn a sock and bake a loaf of bread. They know how to cast on and be cast away. Sure, we'll join you for dinner in a restaurant, but we'll probably opt for pasta. Where we come from food animals know what sunlight feels like and have felt grass under their hooves. We don't eat the animals from your place. We saw what they saw before they died.

We're not from around here, but you'll see us everywhere. We're walking down the streets of Montreal, Chicago, Seattle, and L.A. We're waiting for a Taxi on the Lower East Side. We're mucking out the chicken coop, chatting at the farm stand, jumping on the back of our horses and riding the L. We're everywhere and right next to you all the time, but we left that place and now we're gone. None of us are going back. We thought about it. It passed.

HOOOO! You should see this place. Man, it's so beautiful. I mean a Wednesday afternoon at 3:47 is fall-down-the-stairs stunning. We learned to see this. We watched the fireflies come out on the porch and missed the new CSI. Truthfully, we barely look at the television anymore. It's a side effect of the new place—there's just so much to do and we're scared if we let ourselves get distracted we'll miss the fireflies. We can only take so much tragedy, you see.

And hey, this place we went to—it's yours too. To be perfectly honest we're getting a little tired waiting for you to show up. Yeah, what you heard is true. The work is hard and the hours long, but I promise it's the best quiche you'll ever taste and the coffee is wicked good. When you're ready we'll show you how to hop the fence like we did. It starts with a mason jar or a day-old chick in your palm and the roadmap kinda unfolds from there. Somewhere past the cloth diapers and the raw milk we're hanging out, yes there, over past the used trucks and beat tractors. See the bikes and carts along the barn? Keep going and you'll find us.

We know when you start coming to our place you'll get it. You won't want to go either. And hey, we'll wait, because we've got another saddle in the barn. We planted an extra row of beans. We put aside a few spare jars of tomato sauce and let the hens know there's more breakfasts on the way. We'll make room. There's always a place for you at the table.

(And just between you and me, If you want to get on the black dog's good side, let him lick your plate...)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

land on all fours

I am fairly certain my days are numbered here at the cabin. Over the past few days I've been in touch with neighbors and trying to get in touch with my landlord. I took the whole day off from work yesterday to be available to meet her and she never showed until late at night, I tried to meet with her today and she was busy. I wrote an eight page letter explaining my love for the property, care for the animals, and even offered to buy it. It doesn't matter. I get the impression she never wanted this land to be used for agriculture but allowed me to do it and now regrets her decisions. I already have found a new home/foster for Finn, the rabbits, and the goslings. I think (but am not sure) that is all that has to leave right now.

The silver lining is how much this has motivated me to buy my own place. Over the past few days the emails, comments, phone calls, and help have been amazing. I actually read some of the emails from readers crying, both because I was so touched and because everything I thought was okay is being changed on me. I broke down in Wayside crying to the owners because everything has been falling apart. The up side is so many people are pulling for me, want to see me land on all fours. Thank you so much for your concern, emails, favors, offers, and so much more.

I am announcing right now that I am on track to get my own place. Probably won't have to leave my current location till spring (I hope), but in the meantime I will be scrimping, saving, repairing old debts and getting myself approved for a mortgage for my next home. The people who have been sending little donations my way, have been adding up and I am taking the lump sum from my readers, to the very last penny, and using that to open a special savings account just for a down payment. I'm going to walk into my bank, start up that new account, hand the bank the check and say. "I'm going to buy a farm." Done.

We're going to get through this.

Monday, November 30, 2009

the rabbits too...

I need to find an adoptive home for my breeding pair of angora rabbits if the breeder I contacted does not want them as barter.(Originally it was agreed that a kit would be exchanged for the adoption of Joseph, I am trying to see if she'll accept the pregnant doe.) If she does not want the doe, Bean Blossom and Benjamin will need a new home. Ben will be shorn and have his short coat, but Bean is in full wool coat. Both come with pedigrees and are free to a good home. Email me if you are interested.

This is not a good week.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

a very sad night

Without going into any detail: I regret to announce that I need to find a new home for Finn. It's a long story, but out of my control. It was not my decision. If anyone out there in the New England area wants a trained, kind, wether please email me at He is free to the right home. Finn is not disbudded, but is leash trained and started pack training and was doing wonderfully. He'd be a spriteful and fun addition to any herd. He is up to date on rabies and tetanus shots and as far as I know has no allergies or issues.

This has me very upset. I cared for him very much.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

i miss the farm when i'm away

Friday, November 27, 2009

true vintage

I spent the whole day in a shopping mall with my sister. Usually a day in a mall would be hell, but I found out that the Lehigh Valley Mall has recently added a Guitar Center, and that means one thing to me...I get to play my dream guitar. The whole day of lines, traffic, and yelling children was worth it for that alone. That's me picking away. My sister snapped the photo with her iphone. (Who knew a homesteader could be so happy in a crowded shopping center retail store?) For a few minutes the whole world melted away and it was just me and that soft-shouldered wonder. If you think I'm using dramatic license—you never played one.

The Gibson J-45 is a piece of American history. A gorgeous tobacco sunburst jumbo developed in the mid 40s. It's dark, like me. It's non-electric, like me. And just holding one in my grabby paws made me smile more than I did on prom night. I was smiling because I was playing was the guitar that blues legends, folk singers, and old-time crooners picked alike. It was the dark horse that saw the death of a World War, the birth of a rock & roll, and became the soundtrack to a social revolution. It was there to watch the entire shift in western culture happen. It was in studio apartments in SoHo during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was in the back of dusty trucks in Iowa for the moon landing. It was there to see the Civil Rights Movement and probably strapped to the back of those who marched. She's just been here, all along. Watching us happen and playing the soundtrack along the way. I think the world of her.

Someday I will own one. It'll be older, probably a model from the 60's, but perfect. She'll sit in my future farmhouse and dance in the dusty sunbeams in my barn. She'll be the harmony to my own voice at late night bonfires where my border collies circle the flames like happy sharks. She'll be the avatar of "I made it."

But right now, like so many things, she's a pipe dream. A vintage J-45 costs more than my truck and finding one in good condition in a pawn shop cheap is near impossible. But every week I hunt eBay and look on Craigslist for my lucky break. I carry her picture in my wallet. I wear a small black Gibson charm around my neck. I hope. She's the guitar that is Jenna and I'll call her mine someday, this I am certain.

You know, it's not about owning some fancy possession. It's about becoming a part of that history. It's knowing that you're making music for yourself on all of our collective nostalgia: regardless if we realize it or not. Some day I will play that guitar and lean back into warm arms and know it is exactly where I belong. It won't happen soon, and it won't be easy, but it'll be worth it. When I figure out how to get there I'll let you know.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

happy thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving from Northeastern Pennsylvania! I'm here taking a small vacation from the farm and enjoying a couple of days with the other Woginriches. Neighbors and friends are watching the farm so I can be with my family, and I can not thank them enough. Jazz, Annie, and my parent's dog, Melvin, are enjoying the abundance of food falling on the kitchen floor from all the cooking goings-on. I already baked two quiches and two loaves of bread. This evening I'll bake some apple pies and my Tofurkey. No dog nor human will go hungry today. Impossible.

Alas, no Thanksgiving birds were raised on my farm this season—that was a whole big thing last year. But I thought I'd post a photo of TD anyway from last October. He really was a table bird to be proud of. Incidentally, Chuck Klosterman is in that photo as well. Now he's in my freezer. (Not to be crass, but I'm damn thankful for that particular relocation.)

My father has made the Woginrich family traditional long-neck white squash pie which is AMAZING. The evening will be a fire in the den with the family's four large dogs (two goldens and my two huskies) and we'll do what we do every year: Star Wars Thanksgiving. The Woginrich kids have always watched all three original Star Wars movies after dinner, marathon style. This is done with many, many slices of pie. I can't wait.

It's great to be surrounded by my family—which is hilarious and sarcastic. My brother John and Sister Kate are here roaming around, and friends come and go throughout the day. I forgot how much I missed them.... I think help is needed peeling apples, so I'm going to bolt. But I wanted to check in wish all you guys a Happy Thanksgiving.

photo by Sara Stell

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

new cover for the paperback!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

a lot of pie

I have baked ten pies since Sunday night. That's a lot of pie. It's especially a lot of pie when you work a full time job, tend a full-time farm, and are trying to prepare for the holidays ahead. I thought selling apple pies for Thanksgiving would be a surefire way to make some cash to help with travel expenses. It was, and I'm grateful, but two hours of baking late at night has left me drained. I'm used to the last hours before bed being dedicated to reading, music, sitting...just unwinding from it all. I can farm all day and be totally refreshed if I get my nightly ritual of relaxation. I can do nothing but nap all day and then end it with chores and feel beaten as a junkyard dog. I'd complain more, but it's a silly thing to do.

I'm glad to report the last two are cooling on the rack as I type, and will be delivered to my final customer tomorrow. Each pie had a sugar-top crust with a turkey strutting across the top. Despite all the extra efforts and nights gone to sleep with crust in my hair—they looked good. I'm also happy knowing a few families here in Vermont will be having a slice of Jenna pie after their Thanksgiving dinners. Makes me feel a little more part of this place.

The goslings are doing well. All five are squeaking away, I can hear them even with the bathroom door shut. The cabin smells of wood smoke and pie and I'm properly tired after the day. I'm very much looking forward to a long stretch, a warm bed, and a morning met with hot coffee and cold noses.

Oh, in case I don't write you before Thursday morning, Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hey ho, let's go.

I went to college in Kutztown, Pennsylvania at the State University of the same name. It's located halfway between Philadelphia and Lancaster in an agricultural valley better known for its quilts and produce stands then design graduates—but I received a hell of an education there and think back on my time spent there fondly. Kutzotwn had a large Mennonite/Amish community and on Sunday mornings it was like going back in time. You'd wake up in your apartment overlooking Main Street and hear the trotting of horses heading to services. Late at night the Amish kids (whom I'm pretty sure were coming home from parties wilder than anything we English could pull off) raced down the hill on their bicycles. They could fly. I'd never seen happier teenagers in my life.

I found this picture hidden in my iPhoto files today. It's from 2004, taken my senior year of classes. It's an Amish kid's buggy parked outside the college record store. I remember looking at it with joy while waiting in my red Jetta parked outside the CVS for my friend Kevin to return to the car—secretly wanting to slap a Ramones sticker on the orange triangle on the back. I contained myself.

When I took this photo I was planning on living in Philadelphia. I wanted a loft in Rittenhouse Square. As you know, Cold Antler Farm is a long ways off from center city Philly. Knowing how it all ended up: I can't help but wonder if the local agricultural communities from Kutztown planted the seed in my mind? I do remember always turning my head and feeling a bit of envy when the buggies went by—not so much for being Amish (fairly certain my general attitude would have me shunned in about 27 days...) but for the scaled down ways of living. The animals. The food. The certainty. If I could have a stable under my apartment in Rittenhouse square, I'd do so in a second. And now here I am trying to plan for a future where saddling up my Fell pony to check on the lambs in the south field is my new reality. Or will be, eventually.

I'm pretty sure I was always the same person, the compass needle just needed proper adjusting. Looking at this photo of the buggy outside the record store now perfectly sums me up. The only difference being my Fell pony cart will certainly have that Ramones sticker on the back, and I'll trot him back to the farm, ipod blaring. Hey ho, let's go.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

me and jazz

it's not all work

It's Saturday morning and I just wanted to check in to make a very specific point: homesteading isn't all work. This morning I am sitting here with a hot mug of coffee, quilts on my lap, a Civil War documentary on screen, and enjoying the company of my wolves in a warm cabin. I can still hear the occasional cracking charcoal from last night's fireplace. Inside the pit the ash is all black, but if I kicked up the coals I could light it again with some kindling and warm this place up beyond bliss. The sheep are out in their pasture. They're strutting around eating the last of the green grass and eating their new mineral block and hay. Finn is on his chain, chomping dead leaves and nickering at Juno (my neighbor Ed's fast, fast dog). The bathroom door is shut, and inside are the five goslings in a cardboard box under a warm light. All made it through the night. I slept in till 7.

I had a breakfast of eggs and will soon be on my second cup of coffee. From the living room I can hear a hen on the porch just outside the cabin door. I can't see who it is, but I'm guessing it's one of the ruddy production birds I got from the Poultry Swap this past May. They sound different, trill their clucks. To know a chicken by voice is a weird place to find oneself a few years out of design school....

Don't get me wrong, there is work to do this weekend. A lot of work. I need to buy some hay, write a few thousand words, run errands in town, clean out the goat pen... the list goes on and on. But there is also a lot of time to kick back and just enjoy this little empire I made from my own rib. Time for things like coffee sweetened with a dollop of ice cream (I ran out of creamer) and the Siege of Atlanta. Possibly a few rounds of Down in the Willow Gardens on the Banjo. (I am a woman who loves a good waltz.) So here in my wool socks and heavy sweater, in a cabin hidden at the end of the world, I'll grab my 5-string and prop my feet up and smile. It's not all work on this farm. A lot of this life is paying attention and enjoying the food along the way. If that means the occasional black and blue mark and feeding animals in the rain—fine by me.

Friday, November 20, 2009

it's generally pretty good

When I woke up this morning it was pouring. I'm talking angry, hard, rain. The kind of downpour that does not allow for rain drops—just a wall of water. Hearing that at 4:45 AM, and knowing an entire farm is waiting for you to feed it, is not a comforting sound. I snuggled deeper inside the pile of quilts, pillows, and Siberian Huskies that make my bed. FIve. More. Minutes.

Then I remembered the goslings. Knowing they were in the corner of the coop under Saro listening to this screaming rain made me jump out of bed. I was excited to see them. I threw on my farm clothes, (which means layers of long-sleeved tee shirts, flannels, beat jeans and a heavy wool sweater pulled over my head for good measure). I stopped buying and wearing polar fleece a while ago. When you live with sheep it feels like a space suit.

I went out in the rain under cover of lantern light and checked on my new mother. As I entered the hen house, Cyrus rose up from his slumber, flapping his wings. Two years ago this would have made me nervous, but I know these animals better than my cousins. Toulouse ganders have an impressive wingspan, almost four feet. He hissed and honked like a worried dad. I turned on the coop light and went to check under Saro for the babies.

Now, this wasn't easy. I had to use the lid of the metal garbage can that holds the chicken feed as a shield from Cyrus. Then take my chances with Saro, trying to feel under her and get her to stand up so I could take a fresh count. I pulled off the highwire act and got a new score....FIVE! Now five of her eggs were beautiful, perfect, gray goslings. (Actually, more of a yellow/green but breathtaking to behold.) I picked up one and leaned my back against the wall of the coop. He was clean, soft, so new. He chirped and nuzzled his head into the wool of my sweater. I pulled him close to my heart and whispered him welcome. Yes, I understand that whispering to goslings in a rainstorm isn't exactly normal. But it was such a new part of the day, and such a new life, that talking loudly felt harsh and not saying anything felt wrong. So I whispered to him all Iknew so far.

I told him it's a pretty good world out there. Sometimes it hurts, but it's generally pretty good.

I hit up Tractor Supply on my lunch break. I had called in advance to make sure they still carried brooder supplies in November. (They did.) The clerk on the phone asked why I wanted a heat lamp and chick feeders and I explained I had five new goslings to bring up into this cold world. He said congratulations and told me to bring a box of cigars when I came to buy my stuff. I liked him instantly.

Now it's evening and I'm spending my Friday night being a stay-at-home grandmother. I have the five new kids in a cardboard box in the bathroom and they're currently chirping away under the glow of the heat lamp. Saro seemed fine with letting them go, she's still sitting on her last two eggs and hoping to hatch those as well. Part of me felt bad removing the goslings, but the reality of the situation took over. No new baby without insulating feathers as going to survive tomorrow night when the temperature dropped to 30 degrees. They'd have a good chance if they stayed under Saro, but all it would take to die would be simple separation in the dark. Goslings aren't meant to be raised in winter. This was a fluke. So to ensure every bird gets a fair shot at the world, I brought them inside and to take care of them the proven ways I already know. This small hatching is the first batch to be born at Cold Antler. We've had bunnies, yes, but never any poultry. I was really proud of my pair for pulling this off. Cyrus and Saro have not only fulfilled their purpose in the world—they just proved to me how good of a team they really are.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

we have goslings!!!

Came home from work today to find three healthy goslings under Saro's wing! She still has two more eggs there, unhatched, but what a rush to scoop up this small life into my hands and know it's here only because I set up the circumstances. The mother is doing well, and if anyone is looking for a pair of French farm geese...inquire here. More soon...

...after a long day of antiquing

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

full circle

Don't get excited, Saro hasn't hatched any eggs hatch yet. This is Cyrus as a babe. Someone had asked in the comments of the last post if the chick in my hand was a gosling—so I am posting a photo of my gander at about two-weeks-old. As you can see, even at a tender age, a gosling is definitely not a chicken. I took this photo May of 2008. Only 18 months have passed since then and now my little goslings of that spring are on the road to parenthood.... (Talk about full circle). If eggs do hatch there will be a brooder box this Thanksgiving! Which means while most people are enjoying turkey: I may be hosting geese.

Monday, November 16, 2009

two hands

My hands are not pretty. They're calloused and scared, scratched and worn. I don't know anything about palmistry, but the lines are long and deep . As I write this I can look down and see a black smudge on my knuckle. I lifted the hood of my truck to find out where to pour transmission fluid and got them all dirty. Not all of it washed away in the sink. My pinkie is missing a circle of skin where a piece of firewood took it yesterday. Another scratch crosses the back of my right hand. It's still bright red, fresh from a sharp thin stick that was hiding in the hay. I forgot to wear gloves and that was the price. My nails are all bitten down from stress. Without thinking I bite them while fretting about work and deadlines and someday-mortgages. My fingertips on my left hand are hard from guitar and fiddle strings. My wrists are sore from the mouse I design with all day. When I crack my knuckles it is so loud the dogs lift their heads. I just found a splinter.

My hands are not pretty. They haven't seen polish in years. That's okay. They do good work and run this small farm. They might make a manicurist cringe, but they feed a small empire, chop firewood, plant corn, scoop grains, drive that truck and play an old fiddle. I roll my eyes at the cringing. I'm over it. Sometimes a choice takes a few small sacrifices. I gave up on pretty hands. I turned them in for beautiful ones.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

maude in the fog

backs to the wind

It's been wet, windy, and unseasonably warm here in southern Vermont. The nights are no cooler than 40 degrees and the days are all rain and bluster. The state turned gray and some of my prize pumpkins rotted where they were drying on the once cold porch. Things are changing. I wonder if it's the calm before the real winter hits? Perhaps in a few weeks there will be a coating of ice or snow on this cabin?

While out doing errands I pulled over and snapped this photo of the horses at the Yellow Farmhouse. The small band winters there every year and I pass them and their wooly coats every time I drive down the mountain into town. They all had their backs to the wind and ignored me. I didn't blame them, I felt bad for them. It was a day to be on straw in a barn, not standing in mud in the rain.

I felt bad because I didn't understand yet.

See, yesterday at dusk, while doing my evening chores, something strange happened. It was around 4 and I had just finished refreshing all the bedding in the sheep and goat pens. I wanted my livestock to have a dry, warm, place to retreat on this miserable day. My body was warm from the effort, so to cool down I walked into the chicken coop to collect eggs and re-line the nest boxes with new straw. I was only inside the coop a few minutes. But when I emerged I saw something so peculiar I dropped one of the eggs in my hands. It bounced on the straw at my feet and rolled to the edge of the garden fence.

The farm was veiled in a thick, white mist. It lifted out of nothing and was moving fast across the pasture. At first I thought my glasses had fogged up, so I removed them and wiped the lenses clean, but when I placed them back on my nose it was as I originally saw it. Everything was shrouded over in this white stratus. It smelled clean, not like smoke. There wasn't any smoke around, no chimneys lit nearby—just the fog. The sheep ran into their pen and the goat nickered and I was just stunned by it all. I stood and watched it like a calm ghost was passing by. It sounds creepy, and it was, but it was so beautiful. Then I realized the wind moving the fog was behind me. Like the horses in the field, my back was too the wind too.

Later that night the temperature rose and harder rain came. The mist must have been the hollow getting new air pressure and dealing with the sudden collision of air masses. It's not often people get to watch change happen like that, right in front of them. Usually we just deal with the result: missing out on the beauty of the process. But today I witnessed everything evolving around me. It was magical. A little scary, but magical. And because of this I understood the rain better at night.

You can be scared of what's happening to you, because at first it's so uncomfortable—or you can step back and take it at face value. Had I not chosen a life that forces me to be outside all the time I would have been inside my own shelter, oblivious to the changes around me. I don't want to be a passive character in my own life anymore. I want to watch the big show, even the scary parts. Farming is teaching me more about the world than I ever thought possible. Please don't ever make me turn back to that old life. I don't think I was really alive before. I barely knew the world then. I'm just starting to learn him now.

I watched the fog with my back to the wind and like the horses I didn't want the barn.

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

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'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!