Saturday, February 20, 2010

maude remembers

Maude will always be a little suspicious of me, and rightly so. Ever since the day she first arrived at the farm, we've been at odds. While the other sheep calmly exited the back hatch of the station wagon and walked into their new pen somewhat amicably—Maude nearly choked. Instead of exiting the car and bucking her head like the others, she decided to make a break for it. She soared out of the Subaru, causing her head halter to slip around her neck and tighten. It all happened in a flash and I remember the panic scraping at me like it was yesterday. As soon as her hooves hit Cold Antler dirt she was gasping. She fell to the ground and I raced to her side, instinctually flipping her onto her back (so I could help her without her fighting me) and trying to calm the wide-eyed sheep as I cut off the halter and gently moved her into the pen. Within minutes she was eating grain and batting her eyelashes. She was fine, but I felt awful. That was the only time I ever hurt a sheep. It was a complete accident caused by her panic and a loose halter, but it could have been avoided had I only been more prepared with grain bribery and better restraints. And ever since that day she's distrusted and disliked me. Keeping her distance. Watching me like I was a sheepdog myself.

Sheep remember everything. Anyone who tells you they're stupid, probably never lived with a passive aggressive one.

Weekends here are a mixture of intense work and equally intense relaxation. Mornings are met with chores the weekdays do not allow, and afternoons are dedicated to loftier tasks: like learning a new fiddle tune or writing a chapter of something. Evenings, however, are a little more tricky. If you want some sort of human entertainment out here in the sticks you need to do a little sociological excavating. Vermont is not known for its hip night scene. Hell, Sandgate doesn't even have a bar. The closest is the West Arlington, ten miles down a winding mountain. So, in lieu of being mildly pathetic and going to the movies alone—you hope someone who lives in a town will let you know when something is going down.

I got a call from a friend about a bluegrass band playing in Manchester. I'll probably hop in the shower sometime after dinner and get all gussied up to listen to some upright base and banjo. It'll be nice to be out around people and music, laughing and not thinking about egg eating chickens and mortgage brokers for a while. I look forward to leaning back into a bench with a Guinness and some good company. I'll raise my glass to their health and better fitting halters on future livestock.

Friday, February 19, 2010

and i understood

wide as the ring of a bell

I just walked out into the fresh morning snow to feed sheep and the opening bars of Sodom South Georgia sidled up on the playlist. I know every word by heart, and it is impossible to sing it without smiling, a bit of a canter in every step. Even the crows seemed to bob their heads with the lryics.

The day can't get any better.

hutch birds

With snow on the ground again, the chickens make their daily pilgrimage to the calf hutch: a plastic giant dog house next to the coop. I use the hutch now as storage for buckets and shovels, but the chicks seem to have other ideas for its use. See, inside the hutch is some of the only snow-less dirt on the farm—an oasis for dust baths and scratching. A place for a rooster to feel soil under his feet. I had originally picked up the hutch as a goat house, but now it just sits in the snow. (It's here if anyone needs it or wants it, and has a pickup to carry it home.) I like that my birds use this place as they see fit. Logic rules the mind of laying hens. I respect them for it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

like humidity

I think I just realized that this is going to happen. It's not certain yet, but it's going to happen. I am going to own a farm. In a few months a hoe will break into that New York soil and so many things will begin. There will be the chirping of chicks, and the moans of roosters. There will be bonfires, and bleating lambs, and a black dog. There will be food pulled out of the earth by the roots, and long jogs in the July night. There will be thunderstorms, and fireflies, and a black guitar that knew what Eisenhower sounded like. There will be pounding hooves, curling ram horns, and gardens so rich in food I will kneel before them. There will be sweat, and tears, and so many sore arms and backs that I will forget about all this joy and want to curl up in a bathtub in pain. There will be old records, and apple pie, and a white farmhouse that knew what General Grant sounded like. There will be pastures, and new lives, and gardens, and hives, and so much hope. Hope that hangs in the air like humidity.

And it is all ahead of me. Strum from E to E and know it.

I count the years ago on one hand that my life was completely different. I was living in a major metropolitan area designing for a television network—now I am weeks away from owning my own farm. I can't fall asleep at night because I am trying to decide between varieties of pumpkins. Because I know what it feels like to hold one you knew as a seed, and how the smooth, orange skin feels in your palms, and how the whole autumn world belongs to you while you touch it. Sometimes I think I get more out of pumpkins than some people get out of the whole world. I am so in love with this.

Happiness is understanding you don't want to be, can't fathom being, anyone else.

workshop reminder

If you are coming this Saturday for the Beginner Fiddler Workshop, please get in touch with me via email? If you live around the area and would like to join in, email me as well! It's four hours of lessons and instruction here at the cabin. A crash course in mountain fiddling, and it'll be a big time. BYOV.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

i'm such an ag dork

I'm a dork. I own this pair of gloves with directions for sheepdog work written on the hands. The point is for shepherds-in-training to make sure they are teaching their collies the right words for moving left and right. To make sure us dumb humans don't mess it up. I don't have a border collie yet (or, anymore) but eventually I will have a pup to raise with my life, and bring the flock to me. A border collie means this single girl can work a field of livestock alone. A good dog will make or break Cold Antler someday.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

never looked worse

One of the more unsettling conversations I had this winter happened on the porch steps of one of my Sandgate neighbors. It was right after all the controversy was unraveling, when animal control officers were showing up and phone calls from the landlord about removing animals were common occurrences. It was during this malay that I went to a few of the neighbors to talk to them in person, and see if they felt I was in the wrong trying to start a small diversified farm in their village. I asked one woman her opinion and she sighed, looked off into the distance, and said "Well, you know Jenna. The property has never looked worse..."

This absolutely shocked me. Since I've moved in I'd turned the overgrown backyard with an empty dirt-garden into a thriving small farm. I had made useless land into a place that fed, clothed, and filled me with joy. But what I had considered beautiful, she considered an eyesore. The sagging fences, the chicken poo on a stepping stone, the bags of feed behind the garage, the hay stacked on the porch....all of this was aesthetically unpleasing to the non farmer. I had turned a lawn into a pasture, an abandoned metal garden shed into a chicken coop, and a porch into am open air hay barn.

OKay. Martha Stewart I was not. The property had gone from domestication to production, and it wasn't what some of the locals preferred. I didn't spend the summer mowing lawns (what a waste of sheep food) or planting flowers. I spent it turning the one acre I had at my disposal into a place that could help sustain me. I planted thirteen raised beds of organic produce. I bred litters of Angora rabbits. I raised Thanksgiving turkeys, ducks, honey bees, and a pack goat kid. I sheared wool producing sheep. I raised egg-laying hens from chicks and even had one rooster in the freezer. How could all this been seen as ugly? Was Cold Antler better to the locals when it was just empty grass and a few tulips? I agreed, currently this place may never make the cover of Yankee Magazine - but it wasn't ugly. It was edible.

I recently read this passage in Joel Salatin's You Can Farm. The book explained this opinion as all too common:

"Ask the average person to describe a successful farm, and you'll hear about pretty fences, painted red barns, waxed green tractors and manicured lawns. Because people have a jaundiced sense of what 'success' looks like. they think the lean and mean, threadbare look of a truly lucrative far, indicates a lack of care, negligence, and poverty....Too often people get so bogged down in appearance and having everything just right that they never get the basic project underway. Trust me, the pigs are much more interested in feed than in whether or not the feed trough is perfectly square."

I'd been so deeply in love with Cold Antler, I didn't realize what it looked like to the manicured-lawn set. I saw food, and wool, and eggs. They saw muddy hooves, scrappy gardens, and a shed gone bad. They saw dead grass in the sheep pen, and the tall grass on the wooded hillside as unmowed. I had been so focussed on the productivity I didn't even think about these things. Apparently, others had. It was a reminder that not everyone (even people in the country) appreciate the idea of a homesteader as a neighbor. At the end of the day, most people want to hear lawn mowers and and smell grills - not hear roosters and smell wet sheep. Consider my eyes open.

When I made the offer on the Jackson farm, I had to sign a waiver saying I understood I was moving into an agricultural disctrict. That Washington county was a place of dairies and tractors and if you weren't prepared to live aside agriculture you may want to live elsewhere. When you cross the state lines there are signs posted saying "Right to Farm Law" and that's what it means. You can't complain about your cake and eat it too. I never smiled so much while signing a legal document. I'll fit in just fine over there.

Good news friends. I checked my credit score today. It went up 50 points! I am nearly home free in this USDA home loan process. My credit score is soaring thanks to that last paid off credit card. I have leaped the final personal hurdle and now I just need to pray that Chase bank agrees that I am ready to start planting on my own land. It is farming that gave me the drive to get this far. And if not mowing lawns means owning my own 6 and a half acres of hard-working land, may I never mow again. That's sheep work.

Life is happening so fast around here. I am humbled at the pace

back to two

Early yesterday morning a truck pulled into the driveway. A man named Chris was coming to pick up the goslings for his farm. It took a while to scoop the trio into his dog crate he brought along, but despite Cyrus's snapping bill and the freezing cold weather: I got them all safely off the farm. We're back to two geese again. The farm is a quieter place.

The home inspection was brilliant. It took hours, but the professional from Saratoga was thorough and picky, and tested for everything. I bought the most detailed package they had and he did everything from dancing on the old slate roof to crawling into the attic to decipher bat and mouse poo. There will be water, radon, septic, and structure reports coming in the mail shortly. But the man said he was impressed, that the house was ready to move into in his opinion. A weight was lifted, and a sigh released. Now I just need to get the mortgage....

Snow today, and by the looks of the 05250 area code on weather.gov - a fair amount of it. Perhaps as much as half a foot by nightfall. We could use the insulation around here. We haven't had a decent snowfall for weeks. And to be perfectly honest, it just makes the farm look pretty. I like the look of a black lamb in a snow-filled pasture under the pine tree. It makes a smile wider.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

the jackson farm

Here are some photos of the Jackson Farm. I'm showing you the original house (built in 1866) and behind it is the kitchen addition. With the addition, and the basement, the house is a total of 1500 square feet. I think its box shape and small windows makes it look bigger than it really is. The ceilings inside are only 7 feet tall and there are only two bedrooms and one bathroom. The photos here show the farm, the leftover outbuildings, the pasture, and the living room. I would have taken more photos of the inside but I have two words for you:

godawful wallpaper.

The house is in far better shape than the barns and coops. And the pasture isn't fenced yet, but the cleared 2-3 acres of grassy hillside is just begging to be put back to work. The barn is crying for bales of hay, straw, and bins of grain. I can see the hive by the garden. I can picture a black and white flash of a young border collie running in an autumn windstorm, gathering sheep back down the hill to me for hoof trimming. I can feel the prickly tendrils of the future pumpkin patch, and smell the cornstalks in the winter air. This maple tree infested hillside farm will be throbbing with color come October. It was once home to sheep, and if it becomes mine, it will be once again. If this inspection and mortgage come through, I'll do right by it. I want to make this place come back to life again.

The weekend was intense emotional bungee jumping. I went from wanting nothing more in the world than this farm, to being scared at the notion of it. My parents were great. They liked the house just fine. My dad thought the 6.5 acres, pond, woods and pasture were a steal. My mom was happy all the wiring and heating was redone. And just being with them in general was nice. It was great to spend time with them here in my land of Veryork, and introduce them to some of my friends. They were in high spirits the whole weekend.

I'd however go from being thrilled about the possibilities to being terrified about leaving Sandgate and Vermont in general. It's such a huge step to wrap my head around. The only like comparison I can make is the first night I stayed in Tennessee. I remember laying in bed listening to a southern thunderstorm, feeling sick to my stomach with regret. I was certain I was making the worst mistake of my life. I ended up falling in love with that place is a way that makes my feelings about Vermont seem like a Jr. High Crush. Now just watching a UT basketball game in a sports bar with that blazing orange on the boys' jerseys makes my ribs hurt from missing the place so much. No part of me thinks buying this farm in Washington County is a mistake. But every part of me is scared of the big change. I suppose that's normal. We'll all have to wait and see.

so much to think about