Saturday, January 2, 2010

the best view in town

soft wool. dry hay.

I spent a good part of the morning outside. It was pleasant. Even though it was twenty degrees outside my body was warm from shoveling my chore paths around the farm. I had made a small maze of cleared footpaths for delivering feed and water. The geese followed behind me as I labored, as if they were inspecting the job. The geese are the only poultry at CAF that travel around in the deep snow. They were honking outside the cabin door this morning and each got a piece of pancake for their bravery. The chickens stay in their coop. Egg production has all but stopped. Some birds are hibernating and others are going out to brunch.

After the plowing was done I was breathing heavy and stopped to rest on the handle of my shovel. I looked over to the sheep pacing in the pasture, baaing at me for more hay. They'd already eaten their morning meal so I went into the garage for some fresh straw instead. I carried it out to them and their eyes got wide and ears perked up. They always think straw might be hay, and thought I was carrying them a giant dinner. They followed me back towards the shed. A small parade of shepherd, a black lamb, an angry ewe, and an old softy. I lined the sheep shed with straw while Joseph and Sal joined me inside it. Instead of leaving them—I plopped down in the corner, sitting with my back to the wood and my legs stretched out into the straw. The shed was wonderful. It was windproof, clean, and dry. I sat on the new straw and watched the snow falling outside just like I imagine my flock does.

Sal walked over to me. A beast of nearly 170 pounds with a skull hard enough to kill me instantly if he wanted to. He was at my eye level now, and nuzzled his head against my shoulder. I reached up to scratch his ears while he stood, calm as a monk in his monastery. I scratched his chin and he closed his eyes. The fleece under his jaw was the softest, warmest, sensation I had ever felt. I nearly gasped, realizing the most comforting sensation I'd known so far was happening outside in the middle of a Vermont snow storm.

Maude watched from the entryway, suspicious but calm as well. She smelled my boots. Then Joseph came over, and I was surrounded by my flock. I was resting in the wooden shed built with the care and compassion of friends and neighbors. I was wearing my close friend James's old wool sweater he gave me since he outgrew it. I can not express the happiness and contentment that filled me just then. It coated my lungs and swirled in my head. I didn't laugh or smile, I just knew this was the greatest place in the world. That people travel for miles, live their whole lives, just hoping to find this place.

My three sheep. A barn raised by friends. A hand-me-down sweater. A lamb's breathe turning to smoke. Soft wool. Dry Hay.

I have come this far.

from a goose and a hen

snow and pancakes

We are in for a storm system here. Over the next few days we're to get anywhere from 6-12 inches, brought down by constant and calm snowfalls. It's storybook weather and during a holiday weekend to boot. I'm wrapped in wool and surrounded by two kind dogs and about to head into the kitchen. I'm making pancakes. If there was ever a morning for strong coffee and pancakes, this was it. I've posted this recipe before, but in case anyone else feels inspired to join me:

Cold Antler Pancakes
1 1/2 cups organic flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanila
1/2 cup sugar
1 farm egg
1 1/3 cups milk

Tun on the range and heat up the skillet at a medium high heat, make sure a good spoonful of butter is melting in the pan and coating it with a good layer. Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the egg and milk. Mix fast and quick and then give it about 4 minutes to set and get fluffy (from the bakiing powder) in the bowl. When "risen" pour into skillet to the size you like your cakes. You know a pancakse is ready to flip over when the middle bubbles. Serve hot with real maple syrup (Grade B, son. Grade B is dark, rich, and get this tastes like maple.none of that flatlander grade A sugar water they sell in gift shops okay?)

Friday, January 1, 2010

i'm a homesteader with an iphone

Among modern homesteaders there seems to be a marriage of high tech and low-tech living. This is especially true of folks like me: people who are new to self-sufficiency and have to come to the lifestyle as adults. We've discovered this new/old way to live but still love some of the conveniences we grew up with. We want to weed our organic gardens with our MP3 players in our pockets, ripping out stray blades of grass as the fourth track from a record we just downloaded roars in our ears. We like the ideas of hybrid cars, WiFi in the barn, and popping our hand made mozzarella in the microwave before stretching it. We’ll knit our own clothes while watching a favorite movie on DVD. We’ll plug our sewing machines into the wall socket and spend three hours making a pair of canvas coveralls to help us attain the means to never want for a grid-pumping socket again. It’s a contrarian’s way to live, for sure. Perhaps some would say it’s downright hypocritical. If it is, I don’t care.

You can call me out as much as you want. You can say, “Hey, didn’t you write a whole chapter in your book about playing your own music? What’s with the iPod?” and I will continue to preach the magic and satisfaction of the fiddle and learning old tunes. That doesn’t mean I don’t think every car in America should have a copy of Ok Computer in the dash. I have no qualms with blaring Radiohead on the way to pick up canning jars. You can scoff at my iPhone, but I just found out I can download a program that helps me identify mushrooms and edible wild plants when foraging. This isn’t heresy - this is awesome. Shucks, I think the 21st century may be the greatest time in our collective history to pick up homesteading.

I feel like we’re balancing on an apex of good fortune and good advice, us modern homesteaders. We live in two worlds and have the sense to marry the best of both for a more fulfilling life. We’ve set aside any preferences for easy—allotting a little more time for the tasks that make a home run. If this was 1856 that would mean practically living with an ankle bracelet. In the past homesteaders were under house arrest. Leaving the farm meant something wasn’t being fed, cooked, skinned, weeded or sewn. But today, thanks to the advances in that same technology we can run a small farm, go to our jobs, and then come home and go see a movie. We can do this because have automatic timers on our coop lights and rototillers for our backyard gardens. We can shop online for fabric and fill our pickups with feed sacks. If you want to call this way of living hypocritical, be my guest, but I just call it lucky.

We have the tools to live in modern society and still work, eat, and breathe like the best portions of our past. Before everything got too easy, we may have worn ankle bracelets to our homes—but at least the prison food didn’t have E. Coli and we slept like draft animals because still knew how to lift a scythe or hammer. We don't need to stay within twenty acres of our houses anymore, but even if we chose to we now have high speed internet to build communities and share stories online. To me, my internet connection is as vital as the radio was when it first came out. A way to get news, hear music, share wisdom and learn. I wouldn't want to be so low tech I couldn't be without it, and I say that as someone who still breaks sod with a steel garden hoe.

good morning from a snowy cabin in the woods

Good morning from a snowy first day of 2010. It's a three day weekend for me, and for many people. I'm making the best of it by spending as much time holed up in this cabin as possible. I want to write, sew, and tend to the animals. I toyed with the idea of making an epic trip 45 minutes north to Rutland to buy yarn and fabric but decided to order some online instead and wait. The world will not be less if Jenna Woginrich sews up her corduroy messenger bag next weekend instead.

I'm at that point in a weekend morning where the farm chores are done and the rest of the day hasn't started yet. Outside the sheep are in the pasture chomping away at their pile of hay, and inside the dogs are sleeping to the record player. I have Fleet Foxes on the turn table now. The song White Winter Hymnal is playing and it is beyond perfect for a world covered in snow. (It's also the song that makes trudging through knee-high snow with forty-pound water buckets delightful.) Sub Pop put out a beautiful double LP for Fleet Foxes self titled album and the packaging itself makes me happy.

What I love about records is the size and biography. I love the detailed sleeves, lyric sheets, and liner notes. One time my friend Nisaa and I were in a record store and she pointed out the inside jabs and jokes on Paul McCartney's LP of Ram. There was one black beetle, um, how do I put this delicately, "enjoying the company" of another beetle on the back side of the old record case. A passive aggressive jab at his old band, based on the falling outs. I felt like she was teaching me secret code on an ancient text, but about my own pop culture instead of some canopic jar. I cracked up and instantly was glad Nisaa and I were friends. She knows music, and you don't get that kind of gold when you download songs.

Well darling, that's my soundtrack and my morning. Hope all of you are having an equally peaceful start to this new year.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

one down

One down, folks. This year has come to an end. If you've been following along with this story you've watched a lot happen in just 12 months. 2009 has been the most intense year of projects, gardens, writing, and homesteading here at Cold Antler. When I think about this past May, I still get tired.

I just wanted to thank you for making my life a part of yours. Since last winter when Made From Scratch hit bookstores, this blog has grown from 100 hits a day to 2,000. It's grown from 2 blogger followers to over 400. I've hosted guests, workshops, fence building and music lessons. I've been part of people's honeymoons and weekend vacations. I've had the chance to write for websites and magazines and slowly, ever so slowly, am working towards my goal with the amazing witness of an audience to support and comfort me. You guys have gone from readers to friends, and become a part of my life. I've made relationships here and received gifts and feel like I grew a small network for when I get that farm. (Which I wil. It will just require some serious luck, saving, and more luck.) Point is, you've been amazing and have become the reason I write here. Knowing that people are checking in and keeping track, know my dogs names, and may say hello at a sheep shearing demo is why this blog exists. So I raise my mug of morning coffee to you, and with all I've got, thank you. Over and over.

I hope you stick around for 2010.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

the remedy

Meet Clark. Clark is my music station/coffee mug holder at the office. (His brother Gable, is here in the living room). He reigns over my two monitors in my work station and holds my vintage pioneer headphones, burned cds, and Fire King mugs. I think I'm the only person on my floor with a dead animal filing system at my desk? It's okay. I know someone on the third floor wins the contest. They have a bear head by their computer. (Hey, at least mines utilitarian.) I work at a colorful place and my coworkers kindly tolerate me. Some have even become close friends. Hell, they don't even blink an eye when tiny styrofoam coolers of livestock antibiotics are delivered to my desk...

Today a small refrigerated box holding fast-acting penicillin and syringes came to work. I'd ordered the medicine when Maude was looking pathetic, but since she's returned to full health I won't be doping her up for kicks. I'm am glad to know the medicines in the fridge as I write you. Some day it may save a life.

So, I now live a life where designing corporate web sites and listening to audiobooks is interrupted by the delivery of overnighted sheep meds. This is the kind of right angle in your day that throws your whole life into a more understandable order. I like it when I'm designing on my computer at the cabin or when the farm kicks down the office door like that. Balance, son. Balance and antlers in everyplace I call my own.

I'm enjoying these nights here at the cabin. Outside the nearly full moon hits the snow and it is so bright out there I can see the whole neighborhood. I can spot a buck waltzing through the hollow from a hundred yards away. I don't even need the lantern on my night rounds to move across the farm. The moonlight makes the place feel smaller too, like a still from an old movie. I worry if I walk too far out of my yard I'll discover it's actually a movie set and the buck below me was just a prop guy that lashed Clark to a great dane. At the risk of blowing my own reality, I'll keep the existentialism at bay and just stay within the property lines. It feels safe here. If things get rough we just figure it out or learn to heal. Afterall, if things get hairy the remedy's in the fridge.

Monday, December 28, 2009

one hour better

There is this anomaly in Vermont that happens during a snowfall at dusk. When the light's almost gone, and the sky is heavy and gray, the world takes on this new color of slate blue. The whole farm is bathed in this color, and it is a show stopper. I was outside in this light tonight, trying to coax the flock back into their pen. When the sheep were inside I tied the gate and started walking back towards the cabin. I walked the long way, following the fence and hitting it with the metal grain scoop to shake the snow off. Somewhere in the geography of the moment I stopped and just stood there in the slate blue light. I was now in the middle of the property, surrounded by these glowing arches of snow-covered branches. All around me was this thick blueness. The yellow lights inside the cabin and the small white train of smoke from the chimney made me nearly lose my footing. It was so beautiful I think it caused tiny splinters in my veins. I let out a long sigh and watched the breath swirl up into the air. It was blue too.

How the hell did I get lucky enough to land here? How in god's name did I end up in this job, with these people, in this town, with this life? How did I let all those mistakes happen? It could have gone a million different ways, and yet, here I stood. In the snow. Alone. In the slate gray light that wasn't even real in the first place? I wish I understood all this better.

The new year is just around the switchback. We're almost there and people are talking about resolutions and changes and a hundred tiny things that are going to make us all better people in 2010. I have goals too, but not for the year. I don't have the chops for those kinds of resolutions. I do however, have a system that works and I measure it in hours...

For what it's worth, here is some advice from me. Don't attempt to be a drastically better person in the next calendar year. Don't plan on being thirty pounds thinner, or sixty-thousand dollars richer, or the front man of your own band. Instead, how about just trying to be a slightly better person in the next sixty minutes. This may sound like a weak attempt
but it's not. Results happen slowly and only when we focus on what we want and who we want to become right now. If you want more money, for the next hour, don't spend any and try and pull a quarter off the floor of your car. If you want to lose weight, try not to eat that candy bar for the next hour, and walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator. If you want to be kinder, spend the next hour on the phone with old friend and tell her you miss her. If you want to plant a garden, raise chickens, or own a farm—spend the next hour online ordering seed catalogs or going to the library for a book on coop building. Make small changes constantly and just try to meet that next turn of the clock one hour smarter, one hour thinner, one hour kinder, and one hour richer and watch your life change.

If everyone could just see the day as 24 chances to make their life a little better, imagine the resolutions that could be met? I try to be an hour better, every hour, and hope those choices add up into something I can grasp with both hands. I think total dedication to the present is what improves ourselves, and not the empty promises that are too big to get our arms around. Just try be one hour better, starting right now. My favorite movie whispers the quote "that every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around". It's a chance worth taking.

Or at least that's the hunch I'm running with. But I'm saying that from quite an awkward location. I don't know how valid the advice is from a girl standing alone in the snow in the middle of a sheep pasture she doesn't even own. I guess we'll find out.

postcards from a snow day

it's snowing like crazy!

she seems better

I woke up this morning and instantly thought of Maude. Without hesitation- I threw on a wool sweater and an insulated vest and ran outside in my pajama pants and rubber boots. Maude was standing in the pen watching me run towards her. As I got closer she narrowed her eyes and put her ears back and started backing away from me. (This is good. Hate is Maude's natural state of being!) I ran back to the porch and got some hay and let the sheep out into their pasture to eat their morning meal. Maude scuttled over to it like the well-insulated crab she is and ate like a beef steer. I sighed the sigh of ages. Not only was I thrilled she was okay—I was pragmatically relieved there wasn't a 150 pound carcass for me to remove from a sheep pen in a snow storm...Anyway, I think she's back. I'll call the vet regardless, see what he says about her symptoms. I'll ask if I can get some Pro-Pen G injections for around the cabin in case someone does fall ill quick. But as for Maude—you can't keep a good* sheep down.

*good is relative...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

sunlight and a sick ewe

When I got back to the farm today I was shocked by the atmosphere. It had poured that morning, suddenly and hard. All the animals were soaked and homely looking, but their appearance was where all pity stopped. Despite the fact everyone looked like extras in a low budget zombie movie—everyone was in high spirits. The weird break in cold weather granted us a 45-degree, sunny afternoon! Every hen, rooster, and goose was somewhere on the farm they hadn't dared venture since it was covered in ice a few days before. For days they've been holed up in their coop and now the farm was theirs again. If they didn't like the fact they were wet, it didn't show.

I carried hay out to the sheep pasture and noticed three Rhode Island Reds right at my feet. They seemed as revved up as starters of a basketball team, dodging and darting all around me. They just wanted to be where the action was. They liked the novelty of traction under their claws again. The sunlight must've felt like pure gold. I dumped the hay in the field and watched them jump in like kids in a leaf pile. The chickens scratched at it and started spreading it and I laughed at the antics. Shaking my head, I walked over to the gate to let my sopping sheep come out in the sun and stretch their legs too. It was good to be home.

Joseph and Sal trotted out like always, but Maude seemed different. She had a little drool on her mouth and seemed slower than usual. She walked behind the rest and appeared to be huffing and puffing. As the others dove into their hay she stood to the side, ears back, wheezing. I was worried, and walked up to her. She let me get close (this had me really worried now, she never lets me get close) and she looked like I did when I had a cold a few weeks ago: generally okay, but sorry and congested. After a few moments of hacking in the sun she seemed better. She joined the others and munched her hay. I went inside and called Suzanne (who watched over the animals while I was away) and she told me the sheep and birds all seemed fine and acted normal. Which makes me think this cold of Maude's is a new developement brought on by the sudden snap in weather.

I'm a little concerned. I hope come morning she's her old horrid self again. If not, I'll call the vet and have him stop by. She may simply need some TLC and a shot of antibiotics. Keep my miserable ewe in your thoughts, folks. We need her around here. She keeps me honest.