Saturday, December 26, 2009

one of the crazies

I'm currently reading Joel Salatin's You Can Farm, which is fantastic, but it's raising a lot of questions. Not questions for Joel concerning his methods and philosophy (I think the man's brilliant) but questions for me. This book is making me realize how society (in general) views farming as a career choice. The most prominent of all questions the book's raised so far was this: "Do people think I'm crazy for wanting to be a Shepherd in the 21st century?"

His answer: yes.

The book opens up with the harsh reality that if you want to pursue a profitable, family-friendly, self-employed life as a small farmer—you're going to run into a lot of naysayers. It's just not something a lot of people want to do or even want to understand anymore. Young people from non-agricultural backgrounds without farming friends are going to meet a lot of push back when they "come out of the chicken coop" and admit: Yes, they want to be farmers. To some people that's equivalent to happiness suicide. Thanks to the distance from our food sources the supermarket grants us, the perception of farming is bleak. People think farming for a living is back-breaking, mindless, drudgery. To some, saying you want to start a farm is like saying you want to be a Navy Seal for kicks. Why would anyone put themselves through that?

This makes me ask another question. When did work become bad? And not just work, when did putting any sort of effort into our tasks of eating, clothing, and sheltering ourselves become crazy?

Friday, December 25, 2009

merry christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

come to my beginner fiddle workshop!

I'll be hosting a Beginner's Southern Mountain Fiddle workshop here at the cabin this February. It'll be a Sunday afternoon mid-month. The workshop will run from 12-4PM and cover all the basics you need to get acquainted with the fiddle. We'll cover care and feeding, tuning, supplies, finger placement, scales, and your first song. You'll also learn and how to read and follow beginner tablature. There will be group and one-on-one sessions. All you need to come join us is a violin in working condition with a bow with some rosin on it. No musical experience needed, just the desire to play. I'll provide beginner instruction materials and home-baked snacks and coffee. All this will be for a flat donation rate which will go towards the farm fund. As long as five people sign up (and no more than eight) I'll host it here at the cabin. If you're interested in the workshop please email me at

a happy and merry

Good morning from the wilds of the suburban mid-Atlantic. I'm in Pennsylvania with my family for the holidays. Jazz and Annie are somewhere in the house, running around with my parent's collie mix, Melvin. I just made a very strong pot of coffee, and in a moment will go downstairs to drink copius amounts and take the quiche out of the oven. But first I wanted to check in and say thank you to all the readers who sent me cards, gifts, emails and kind words recently. With the travel, office, farm, contracts and freelance all gnashing at my flanks I feel like I fell behind in proper thank yous. But please know I appreciate it, so much, and that you folks made this the warmest Christmas in recent history. It's hard not to smile when your mailbox is stuffed with cards from all over the world.

Have a Happy and Merry.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

night mares in the barn

Every night, but especially on nights when it's hard to sleep, I lay awake in bed thinking. I'll toss and turn for hours unless I lay still and decide to go to the barn. I don't get up and go outside. The barn is a place in my mind. As long as I can remember I've had the same calming meditation right before I fall asleep. I imagine myself in this same situation and within minutes, I am breathing slower and grateful. I know it works because I can only remember what I'll share with you in a moment, and then it's morning. Maybe it will help some of you when your mind is loud. Here's where I go:

I turn over on my side, close my eyes, and imagine I'm in a high loft of an old gray barn on a rainy autumn night. I've been riding a horse for miles and besides the mare and I, the only other soul traveling with me is a black sheepdog. I have made a handshake deal to rest my horse in the stall below while I sleep in the hay storage above. The owner has offered me three quilts and a pillow and told me I could rest on the loose hay piled in a sheltered corner. I lay the biggest, thickest, blanket down first on a giant pile of hay and create a nest. (Sometimes it feels so real I can smell the dead grass and feel it crinkle under my mattress.) A lantern shines above me, flickering from an old beam. Besides the occasional quiet lightning outside—this is the only light. Outside a constant, inconsequential rain falls. I watch the shadows the lantern casts dance across the gray walls. Sometimes the light sneaks in-between the cracks and paints an old oak tree outside. Below me I can hear my small horse's gray hooves shuffle. She is a night mare keeping nightmares away. I am so weary from traveling the loft feels like heaven. I am so relieved to be dry and warm and have finally stopped moving. I curl my spine and sink farther into the nest. The black dog rests his head in my chest and sighs. We're warm. The mare lays down. Tonight will be okay.

I've imagined this nearly every night before I've fallen asleep for over twenty years. Long before I ever wanted to homestead, or ever considered a Fell Pony, this was my imaginary oasis of my most comforting things: shelter, companionship, and warmth. I went to the barn in sixth grade, in college dorms, in cities, and on snowy nights in Idaho. I'll go there tonight too. I feel particularly weary.

Monday, December 21, 2009

pick up the new issue of paste magazine

I got to write a full page essay for the new issue of Paste, which I was beyond thrilled about. Incidently it may be one of my favorite things I've ever written. Also, they hired the illustrator Meg Hunt to do this picture of me for the piece and she managed to really capture Cold Antler!

turn up your speakers

Sunday, December 20, 2009

geese in the glow

a small flock

I like that my sheep are a little chubby. I like that they are always covered in a bit of straw from their warm bed and how they seem to smile when the snow comes. I like their dignity. (Contrary to popular belief, sheep have dignity in spades. ) I walk out on mornings like this and let them out of their pen to run, butt, and eat. Sal walks right up to me and looks up at me with those amber eyes and demands in his own way some sort of attention. I grab his head with both my hands and kiss him on the forehead. I scratch his ears and tell him he's the finest sheep in Vermont. Sal tells me, everyday, that a proper sheep is a Romney sheep. I then do the same for Joseph, my lamb. Then I dart my eyes over to Maude (the only purbred hoof on the farm) and tell her she's the chain that makes chainsaws go and she stomps a foot and walks away. There's one in every crowd.

I've spent time with a lot of farm animals. I've raised all sorts of poultry, rabbits, bees, reared a goat kid and rode in my college equestrian team. But sheep are the beasts of my future and will fill my barn someday. Me and a good border collie or two will make my small farm a great work of music. Black paws, dark hooves, sharp teeth, thick wool...

What more could a girl want?