Saturday, February 27, 2010

i'll be there saturday

dispatches from a blackout

That's the round table in the back of the Wayside Country Store in West Arlington. It's my home away from home here in Vermont. I stopped in this morning, barking for coffee, and ended up getting a home cooked breakfast from Nancy, the owner. Knowing I was without electricity, heat, and water—she made me a four star breakfast while I sipped my dark roast. We sat at the back table, talking about the storm and past storms. Telling stories about the 50 mile per hour winds that rushed though town, ripping out the power lines the night before. Folks came in the store, wiped the snow off their jackets, and stopped over and chatted with us—asking about older or otherwise susceptible neighbors. Everyone was watching out for everyone else. It made Nancy's scrambled eggs and cinnamon buns taste better.

I'm writing you from the office now: showered, warm, and with a full stomach. I came here to use the gym's shower and check my email/recharge my phone. I woke up a few hours ago in the cabin, a little cold but otherwise okay. Last night the candles and fireplace did their job keeping me and the dogs warm. I stayed up reading and playing guitar until my hands started to get clumsy and slow. The dogs eventually left my side around the fireplace and made a nest on the couch on a pile of sheepskins and quilts. I joined them. I have no qualms laying down beside wolves. We stayed warm, thanks to each other and the balmy 34 degree night.

I'm off to Manchester to do laundry and possibly buy a new pair of wool socks. I'm a very exciting young person.

Friday, February 26, 2010

out of power

There's no power in Sandgate thanks to the wicked wind storm from last night. I'll be home, but unable to update the blog till it comes back on, and I'm not sure when that will be. So, I just wanted to check in so no one thinks Maude finally did me in.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

pre-coffee mornings

Some mornings I can go outside and tend to the farm without coffee. Some mornings I can't. This was a morning I needed coffee before carhartts. Winter here requires so much less work than spring and summer, but it's so much harder. There are no 4:45 goat bottle feeding appointments, mulching, weeding, chick bedding or rabbit hutch cleaning before 7 AM. Instead there are angry 15-minute rounds of raw essentials: food, water, shelter. Just keeping everyone fed, watered, and on clean bedding in a deep snow seems to be so much more effort than the hours spent in sunshine in May. The cold and below freezing temperatures make time last longer. You wake up to the kind of howling wind and sunless mornings that make you wish you had a woodstove right near the bed with four extra blankets and you never even heard the word "sheep" before.

With all that bitching said, I love it here. Honest, I don't mind it, specially when I'm finally suited up and outside in all my armor. But it has turned more than one person away from northern farm life. It's something to think about if you are starting up your own homestead. You need to love the cut as much as the scar. Even a backyard chicken hutch will mean you're walking out there twice a day come January. That means extra shoveling, glove liners, hauling bags of feed, and collecting eggs before they freeze. For some folks it's a deal breaker, and understandably so. But for me, it's the bitter mornings and trudging through snow that makes summer (and Autumn, espcially autumn)so lovely. Now that the snow is getting slushier, and the novelty of winter waning—I find myself paying extra attention for warmer winds and hoping for rain. I haven't heard a good rain in a long time. The kind that brings thunder and slams against the tin roof. I'm ready for spring. Yes, I am.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

barnheart shirts now in the store!

There are a few barnheart shirts and products in the dry good store. I thought it would be nice to make something you folks could wear proudly, as fellow carriers of the disease. The front has a human heart with a barn deep inside it, and the back has the definition of the disease. There are organic tees, jerseys, and water bottles. The design is simple, but gets the point across. Get them while they last and wear them with pride.

garage light at dawn

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

neighborhood #4

I looked down at Annie and she looked up at me, smiling. And why wouldn't she be? We'd just sprinted a mile from the cabin out into the blizzard. As soon as I got home from work I changed into coveralls and a parka and harnessed the dogs to the sled. We raced out into the blue dusk light, the snow falling fast. We're in a storm here. Already six inches have covered Cold Antler Farm and another two days of snow are on the way. It is beautiful.

This is what siberian huskies live for. Her and Jazz had been running side by side in harness, doing what they were born to do. I held on to the sled for dear life. The dogs were turbo charged tonight, inspired by the howling snow. I had to ride the runners with only one foot, the other dragging along the side for resistance as we sped down West Sandgate Road. Snow flew everywhere. I was elated. I wish dogsledding was in the winter Olympics. I'd watch them then.

When we got to the farm near Lincoln Lane we trotted to a stop. Next to us was a trio of bay ponies, they came to the fence line to watch us make decisions. I realized we were a mile from the cabin in a snow storm. It was time to turn back. I switched on the lantern in the sled bag, clipped a leather lead to the dogs gangline, and we walked back together side by side. My old dogs are nearing ten. Asking them to carry me uphill was too much. So we walked in the blue light back to our dinners. A girl and her dogs in a squall so thick I couldn't see the mountains a hundred yards away. We were panting and happy. Covered in sweat and snow from the run and watching the ponies watch us as we trudged away. There wasn't a car or unnatural light to be seen. Just us. I turned on the ipod and let some music walk with us.

I had Funeral on, the Arcade Fire's first album. The song Neighborhood #4 (Kettles) came on, and nothing could have been more perfect. A soft and rolling song with the sound of piping hot tea kettles in the background. A song I already knew by heart. I sang to the dogs as we headed uphill. I was already in another place, thanks to the music. I tilted my head over to Annie, who was watching me for some sort of direction. I gave her none, I sang to her instead:

...It's not a lover I want no more,
and it's not heaven I'm pining for,
but there's some spirit I used to know,
that's been drowned out by the radio...


When we got home the dogs shook out their coats and I removed their harnesses to let them rest and drink. While they stretched inside the warm cabin—I headed out back into the storm. Grabbing the lantern, my shepherd's crook, and an armload of hay I fed the sheep and chickens and watched the place in the dark. The farm turns into something else when it's snowing like this in the dark. Remember how it felt to make a fort out of blankets as a kid, and hide inside it with a flashlight and pillows? That is exactly what this place feels like with draping white pines and awkward lights. With the animals fed and on fresh straw—I headed over to the woodpile to stack the evening fire wood. By the time the animals were fed, the wood hauled, and the dogs served their egg, kibble, and lamb dinners...I was famished.

I have been making breads and fast meals for myself for years now. Within four minutes I had yeast bubbling for pizza dough and a dried onion from the summer garden pulled off the wall rack and caramelizing in a skillet. I whipped up a quick pizza and shoved it in the oven while the dogs chomped away. I liked that chickens and sheep keep them going too. I am always the last to eat here. I would not have it any other way.

Now It's evening and I am going to stoke the fire and enjoy a sinfully long hot shower before I change into clean clothes and sink into the couch. There I will play a couple love songs to no one on my guitar, drink a glass of red wine for the hell of it, and call it a day. I'm sore from mushing, thin from the snow, full from dinner, warm from the fire, and looking forward to tomorrow morning: hot coffee and reading with Jazz before sunrise. It's a thing I do.

This was the evening of a corporate web designer.
Our lives are just the sum of what we want them to be.

coop signs

Monday, February 22, 2010

giveaway today!

Every once in a while we do a giveaway on the blog. Today it's a brand new, redesigned copy of Savings Seeds by Marc Rogers. The book teaches you how to keep some of the fruits of your garden labors. How to harvest, dry, store and label seeds from your own backyard. It's going to be mailed to whomever wins the random drawing today. Which you enter by hocking the blog. It's funner than it sounds.

Here's the deal: to enter the drawing all you have to do is kick in with some grassroots marketing. Tell one new person (who has never heard of this blog but might like it) about it, and then post here about who you are and that you spread the Barnheart. The catch is that it has to be a brand new reader. If you told your cousin about it yesterday, no dice. And you don't have to walk up to strangers and start talking about Chuck Klosterman either. Write the blog address on a post it note in a feed store. Email a coworker with a copy of Hobby Farm magazine on his deesk. Leave it scribbled on your napkin when you go out to eat at a local foods diner. The idea is to spread the word about CAF to help the blog readership grow. The point being so I can keep writing here. A healthy readership keeps us writers inspired to keep things like this going. So this is my attempt to stir up the pot.

So post today who you told and you're entered. No need for names or any personal information, it's just to encourage others and for me to learn how the word is spread. Your comment today is your ticket to win. At the end of the day I'll pull a name out of the hat and announce it here in the comments. Then you email me and I send you a free book with a chicken feather bookmark and a copy of my farm music CD. Cool?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

i think he knows everything

a stuck truck and a new book

Every once in a while something happens here that makes me feel kinda tough. Something simple and dirty, but after it's accomplished I feel like I could sign up for a rodeo. This morning was one of those circumstances. I got the truck stuck. And I got it out.

I was so excited to meet the mortgage broker this morning I jumped into the Ford and pulled it into reverse. The snow had other plans. The slush got caught under the tires and turned to hard-pack ice. Suddenly it started slowly sliding sideways down the hill towards the trees. Before it got too far, I slammed it into park, and hopped out to see the damage. The car was fine, but really in a bind. The little 2WD beast had been buried in a drift up front, and the back wheels were spinning. Already late to meet my broker - I left it for dead and hopped into the Subaru with my file folders. I'd deal with it later.

Wayside was buzzing, as it is every weekend morning. A mix of farmers, skiers, and locals who were in to pick up their Sunday Times. I met James (the guy making this all happen) and we talked for a while. I asked a million questions and signed all the application papers at the old roll-top desk in the back the country store. The main table was full of familiar faces gabbing over the news, so they set me up in the small office section to do our business. It felt quirky, but fitting, to be applying for a home loan at Wayside. The country store has been part of my solid footing since I moved to New England. I've met friends here, brought dates there, cried, danced, and laughed there...now I was signing the papers for my own farm loan. The 30-year USDA-backed fixed rate mortgage (which by law can't go above 5.5%) is what was at the end of that dotted line. I sucked in the air around me, exhaled, and signed away. When the paperwork was done, we shook hands and I headed home to a laid-up truck.

It was on. I was getting my girl out, and I was going to do this myself. I grabbed a shovel, rock salt, hay, sand, and the old tire chains my dad gave me as a teenager. It took some muscle (and considerable time) but after I dug it out and set up the back tires with the chains—I revved it into reverse and she popped out like the pin of a grenade! I hooted and hollered in the cab. I slammed my fist on the dash, laughing like a drunk. Rightly so, because today I cheated at my own game and won. I got myself into trouble, and then out. Just as recent as a few months ago I would've left it in the ditch till a neighbor could pull me out with his tractor, But today I wanted to save myself. Maybe it was the mortgage papers, or maybe it was the fact some of these neighbors want me gone—regardless, today I was my own tow truck and it felt damn good. I crossed my arms in the front seat, leaned back into the seat, and grinned like a fox.

Oh, Big news! A new book just hit the shelves called The Profitable Hobby Farm, How to Build a Sustainable Local Foods Business by Sarah Beth Aubrey. I bought it last weekend because I am in the beginning, business-planning stages of Cold Antler Farm. I want it to grow from a homestead that feeds me into another source of income. I want to market wool, eggs, and eventually meat and vegetables from the farm. This book seemed geared for people like myself: folks already starting out, but who need some guidance making a homestead into more of an income. So I bought it, set it on my pile of research, and went on with my life.

Then, the following week at the office, an email came in from Sarah Beth, the author of said book. She wanted to thank everyone who was a part of it, and to contact her if they had any issues or needed more information. Then it clicked: Holy Shit. I'm in that book! When I got home I flipped to the last chapter and there I was! Me, Sal, and everyone here at Cold... as well as interviews and stories about beginning my life as a small farmer. I had completely forgotten I was interviewed for the project (which then had another name: Town to Tractor). Now I'm on the books as a resource and example for folks who want to make a lifestyle change. How about that? An auspicious little nod for a girl on the way to buying her own chunk of earth to do exactly what the book's about.

There are a few mistakes in the book. For example it says Cold Antler is in Arlington, Vermont instead of Sandgate. And there's some section about dogsledding that wrote I hook up the dogs by their collars (ouch) to pull me on our kickled. (I assure you, we use properly fitted x-back racing harnesses.) And I think she thought Diana Carlin (my Idaho mentor) was also my landlord - but anyway, all of this is inconsequential to the intention. It's a fine book, and should be helpful getting Cold Antler off the ground and start helping make the future mortgage payments. Fingers crossed.

P.S. Now that I am in the home stretch - I will be removing the donation button from the blog. The point of that button was to allow readers to contribute to making Cold Antler into my own farm, and that is what is finally happening. I want to thank everyone who kicked in a dollar or two, and in some cases more, to help save for the future of Cold Antler. But I feel my savings are set, and would not feel right accepting any more farm-buying donations. Any gifts that were given remain in the savings pot, and were used for nothing else, but it's time to help someone else. It's not your job to help pay for painting the kitchen or putting up fences. We're here guys. We did it. I could not have gotten here without you. I thank you with all I am.

running to the morning hay

When I let the sheep out to their hay pile in the pasture, they tear off after it like dogs let off their leads on a beach. Watching them leap through the snow to eat their second-cut is a tiny joy this farm offers. It lasts seven seconds, but soaks in your soft smile all morning. It makes coffee taste better, sweaters heavier, the snow more potato flakey. It is good as the land.

The sheep aren't the only running animals at the farm. I went for a jog yesterday, the first in months. It was glorious. Jogging has a way of losing myself in focus that few other activities do. As I huffed down the dirt roads I felt my tension release, especially in my upper back. I could feel the relieved muscles exhale under the strain of the jog. Almost as if my body was happy to be used again. My upper back expanded as I ran, as if my shoulders had been held together by glue and toothpicks, and with each gasping stride they'd break apart or dissolve under my skin. I only went a mile and a half, but the effort was exactly what I needed.

I am at my happiest when I'm outside and tired like that. Perhaps my desire to farm comes partly from this understanding. The exhaustion from physical labor relaxes me in ways nothing else can, and the sweet laziness that follows it seems fermented by the action. I can do hours of yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises but none of that holds a candle to three sweaty summer miles in high humidity followed by a mint soap shower and a thunderstorm. Heaven is a the way it feels to be clean in a linen shirt, on a lightening splattered porch, with a banjo playing an old waltz. Your whole self feeling as if you could fall asleep in a hammock or go out for another run in the rain.

I don't know if I'll get outside to jog today. The snow that fell this morning is still coming down, covering the roads with a slippery layer of slushy film. But I will be heading out shortly to meet the mortgage broker at Wayside. Today we are meeting to go over the application and to hand him all the paperwork I'd been collecting on my end. It's just another step in the farm-buying process—but a step none the less.