Saturday, February 13, 2010

reincarnated rice pilaf

It's morning on Cold Antler Farm. The sheep have been fed, the dogs have been walked, and the coffee's on the stove. The chickens had a feast of leftovers from last night's pub dinner in Manchester. Between myself and my parents we have enough left overs to constitute a fourth meal. I asked for one large take-out container and scooped up every bit of rice pilaf and orphaned french fry on our plates. What resulted was a disgusting combination to most - but a delight for my hens. I just can't let food go to waste like that, not anymore. Years of working to produce some of my own food have turned it into currency. So instead of leaving bits on my plate - I turned it into eggs. Chickens adore rice pilaf. I adore its reincarnation as a cheddar omelet.

One of the hens is eating eggs, a high crime at this farm. After some detective work I found the culprit. A black Jersey Giant with egg on her face (literally). I didn't give her the axe just yet. First I am trying my chicken rehabilitation trick (which usually works). I put a wire rabbit cage in the coop and separate that hen from the rest. She can't get to the eggs and therefore stops eating them. After a week of isolation, chickens usually forget about thier new culinary preferences and stop eating eggs. It's easier to go for the grain. And don't worry, the isolation is only during laying hours. She comes out every night to join her sisters on the roof. They let her nuzzle right beside them, even though she eats their children. Chickens are funny like that.

In a short while I'll be hopping in the truck to meet my parents at Wayside. We'll get coffee (I can always drink more coffee) and a donut and then head over to Jackson to see the farm. I'm excited, but nervous as all get out. I feel like I'm introducing them to my future in-laws. I'll take plenty of photos and share them later tonight. For now, fingers crossed about this and Monday's inspection.

Friday, February 12, 2010

my lion

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

folks and orchards

My folks are coming up for the weekend, and I've never been more excited to see them. I'm proud to show them what may be in store for their daughter. I want them to see what all the livestock and writing and weird phone calls about poultry in the bathroom or sheep in the back seat were leading up too. I want to take them around Washington County and maybe grab lunch in Saratoga. They'll see the house, of course, and I'm sure they'll have endless questions parents are obligated to ask. I feel prepared to answer them all.

I am very interested in my mother's opinion of the farmhouse. Her gut feeling about the place won't have me throwing money on the barrel head or bolting from the contract, but it does matter. She's intuitive about places and has high standards. If she walks around the house and has a good feeling about it, it will mean a lot to me. It's not that I want her to be impressed, farms aren't exactly her style, but I want her to understand it and consider it good for me. And my Dad's thoughts on the place are just as important. He'll want to walk around and rap on wooded walls and ask me about the oil tank and wood stove. He'll ask about the farm layout and want to see the orchard. He's a huge fan of apples, him. He'll want to see what will be creating future pies and cakes. I miss them all the time.

My folks called from Palmerton to tell me that over 18 inches is weighing down the pines in the backyard. Here in Vermont, we never got the snow predicted. You can see grass and green moss everywhere, and it was above freezing today. Might as well have been late March, for the weather. The horses at the farm across the road from Wayside seemed to leap in pre-spring joy. I didn't have the heart to tell them we may still get nailed with snow yet.

Good news: back in the truck again tomorrow.

can you tell them apart?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

i steal myself

I think the best investment I made in the winter of 2009/10 was my insulated waist coveralls. Which is a fancy farm-talky way of saying chore-time snow pants. They are thick canvas jeans, brown as Joseph's wool and quilted inside. I can step into below-zero temps, get nipped by geese, plop down in straw and not feel anything but warm, farm-proof, goodness. I pulled them on this morning to do the pre-office chores and for the first time in months, didn't need the flashlight. What a gift a free hand is! I was able to cut my morning rounds in half. I can carry out a fresh font of water for the chickens (pouring half of it into a basin for the geese) and a flake of hay for the sheep in the other. Warm and in the smoky pre-sun light I could spend hours outside, even at 10 degrees. But instead I go inside for the dogs and my morning ritual of coffee and a chapter of a favorite book. Coffee, a quiet dog breathing on my chest, and a chapter in the morning makes all the difference.

This daylight is creeping back into New England, and the lack of snow here makes us think it's almost spring. I was looking at seed packets and nest boxes on my lunch break. I am trying not to make any plans, but am thinking about pastured broilers and magpie ducks if I land the farm. I want to start raising my own meat, and get back into that old life. Oh, and the lack of snow means I can drive the truck to and from the office! It makes me so happy. I love hopping into that big orange rig, the color of fall. I love cranking up the Be Good Tanyas and singing as I roll down the mountain to work.

I'm feeling optimistic about this house. It's a long way from a sealed deal but I am moving forward with the rituals and circumstances that go into home owning. The offer contract is in the lawyer's hands. The home inspection is Monday. My mortgage broker thinks he has a back-up FHA loan in case the USDA falls through (cross your fingers it doesn't). I am closer today, right now at this very minute, than I ever have been to owning my own farm. That in itself feels amazing to this girl sitting in a tiny cabin. The hope itself is big enough to move into.

When this blog started, Cold Antler was a rented backyard in Idaho with a hive of bees, a few raised beds, some rabbits, and a small flock of chickens. Now it's on its way to becoming something substantial. A place of sheep and dogs and goats and geese. The bees are already ordered. Hell, who knows what's in store? I constantly find myself getting lost in the idea of the Jackson farm. I steal myself.

More than one person has recently asked me why I named this place Cold Antler. Cold Antler, darling, is a combination of things. The first part is actually a name. The famous Chinese Zen poet, Han San, was a wise mountain recluse. The English translation of his name is literally Cold Mountain. His poems make me laugh, and smile, and think for long gallops about my own place in the world. The second part, Antler, comes from the old pre-christian belief that antlers were a sign of man. The Celts put antlers on some male deities, a symbol of both the gender and of fertility itself. For me, the antlers (and I am some what embarrassed to share this) stand for someday falling in love. Cold Antler Farm is the hope that this crazy zen recluse will find her antlers. It is hopelessly romantic, foolish, and the complete opposite of the sensible and pragmatic work of living off the land. Cold Antler = hope for love. I don't need it, but that doesn't mean I don't want it. I'm certainly in no rush, and not even mildly interested in 98% of the men I meet, but I am always on the look out. Most men I meet are kind, and sweet, but not correct. But every now and then someone comes along with antlers, and the hope and excitement makes me feel rich.

It'll happen eventually. It's just not my time.

So that's what this place really is. One woman's work. My entire life goal is based on a hopelessly romantic notion of true love, sheep, good dogs, strong coffee, mountains, autumn and home-grown food. I don't want anything else but these things. The details mean little to me. Vermont, Tennessee, New York, Idaho... These are names. These are lines on maps we made up to make sense of the world. But dirt is dirt. A lamb is a lamb. A border collie flanking a flock in a windstorm is just as much pure poetry in suburban New Jersey as it is the hills of Scotland. Maybe even better.

I can't get hung up on details. Truthfully, I abhor them

Anyway, now isn't the time for romance or over thinking. Now is the time for big change, long sighs, and not looking down. I have a farm to buy, and then when I finally get in the door, the real work starts...

P.S. Snow tonight and tomorrow. We are due.

Monday, February 8, 2010

in the shed

Sunday, February 7, 2010

a book and the baa

As a thank you for the hospitality last month, my friend Diana mailed me a book I absolutely adore. It is pure fiber-farmer pornography and I page through it with wide eyes and a wider smile. It's called Shear Spirit: Ten Fiber Farm, Twenty Patterns, and Miles of Yarn. The book is so beautiful. It's about ten farms across America and their stories. The photography is stunning, and the personal history of the people who own these operations is so inspirational. There are sheep farms on the coast of Maine and goat ranches in Texas. Every chapter ends with a project specific to the stock and styles of that particular farm. As someone who aspires to join this tribe, I devoured it. It's a fine edification of a subculture. Check it out.

It also got me motivated to finally start working with my own wool. I'd been putting it off for months, waiting to mail it off to be processed by someone else. But ever since a reader donated me her drum carder—I lacked a decent excuse not to start making yarn. I had the wool, the carder, and my trusty Ashford drop spindle. (For those of you confused by what that is, a drop spindle is a hand held apparatus that does the job of a spinning wheel, slower and far cheaper.) So yesterday I carded and spun the raw wool. When I filled it up, I started knitting right off the spindle and when that was kicked I'd card and spin some more. The yarn came out greasy and super strong, lumpy and bumpy. Lots of character. I have about a foot knitted with size 15 needles and so far it is the thickest, warmest, thing I ever made. The plan is to knit it into a scarf—then either felt and dye it, or let it soak in a wool wash and research natural dyes. Even if it turns out to be some hideous long piece of fabric, it's my hideous long piece of fabric. It's still warm as all get out, and from a sheep right in the back yard. I'm proud of myself for finally getting started on my own wool. And hey, even if Cold Antler is a long cry from the farms in that book, I'm still grateful it crossed my path. Sometimes it takes someone else's efforts to ram you into action. Cheesy pun, intended.

P.S. If you ordered prints from me, please be patient. I need to find a new printer and then get decent copies made and signed. But I promise they'll show up eventually. It's a hectic month, February.