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.