Saturday, March 13, 2010

i have a confession to make

When I come inside from morning chores, and I crave iced coffee instead of stove hot—I know spring is here. These past few days have been balmy, muddy, and wet. The trees are barren. The sky is gray. The ground is brown as a paper bag stuck under a tire well. Outside the snow that remains lives in little angry islands covered in dirt and dog piss. It's not pretty out there, that's for sure.

Listen, I have a confession to make. It may shock you. I hate spring.

I know, I know... Homesteaders, gardeners, shepherds, and farmers alike should be over the moon that winter is finally over, but I can't stand spring. The whole season makes me edgy and miserable. When it kicks into high gear (April being the worst) I just put on my running shoes and jog through it, hoping the whole month is washed away in sweat and miles.

I find the whole season creepy. People are so wrapped up in the abundance of new life they forget how short life really is. Folks turn into distracted avatars of their old selves, more engaged in riding mowers and patio furniture than each other. And why be grateful for life when there is so much of it around you? It's like saying grace is a grocery store. Our guards are down and our hope is replaced by expectations. It's too much. It seems a gluttony.

Now, all that said, there is a side of spring I adore. I am excited about the farm work, and everything falls out of my head but that addiction. I can plant any size garden I can muster. I can fill my coops with new chicks and poults. I can arrange for lambs and kids and god knows what else. The place is thriving with life and I am the queen of my own empire. It goes to my head! Grass starts to turn green and leaves bud on the trees and before you know it I am surrounded by so much creation I am drunk on it. I too think this bursting of life is the new normal. I sit on my laurels and breath it in and feel like I will live forever.

However, I am not the type of person made happy by immortality. Like too much money, too much life corrupts. In April I forget I'm a dying animal. It turns me into a distracted, selfish, person. I get annoyed standing in lines, and let small things upset me. I snap at friends and loved ones, assuming I can apologize later. I get materialistic, wanting seeds and fences and new clothes and tools. I am so wrapped up in the possibilities I forget the probabilities. I don't like the immortal me. I start living like a person with a lot of time on her hands. It's the worst way to be.

I know my dislike of spring has a lot to do with my love of fall. I'm never farther away from holy October than I am in the bacchanal of April. Some would say that perception is wrong, that harvest months are the time of celebration and abundance, but that's not really true. At least, not to me. With the somber holidays of Autumn, I are reminded about my mortality, but not in a bad way. Halloween makes me feel so ridicuoulsy alive. So grateful to be among the living I shake. I am at my knees in appreciation for the life I have and reverence for those I lost. You don't get that in April. You get mud.

October, god bless it. If you live like I do you know that autumn is the real show, the real time to relax and reflect. The work is done and set aside. The days are shorter and darker, but to make up for it the sunsets are five-alarm fires. The trees around here burst into fireworks too, making the whole northeast into this gorgeous land of orange, yellow, and red. The whole season looks like a sunset, and one you can stretch and feel your thinning ribs from the hard work you put into your life. You smile, and lay back onto a wool blanket under an oak and know it.

You spent months working and now the whole season celebrates with you. Like you, it's all going to die soon, but not at the moment. When you are on your back under a blazing fall oak—you are both so alive. Soon that tree with be barren, and soon I'll be buried under one, but for the time being we are both here and have a little time to make music, or children, or stories, or love. That understanding softens me. It makes me appreciate long lines as a chance to gather thoughts. I listen instead of waiting to talk. I am kinder, happier, and aged a lifetime by my sping animals and summer gardens.

I don't trust people who are ignore the grace of fall. They're worst than dog haters. At least hate usually has a motive, ignorance is just a pain in the ass.

7 months, and counting.

Friday, March 12, 2010

holy crap!

I got approved for the home loan!

doug's office: wayside country store

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

cold antler is on twitter

Yes, finally, I will be tweeting. I think it'll be fun. It'll be more accessible to me than facebook and I'm into the brevity. So far I've updated about signing up for a sheep shearing class. Those are the tasty nuggets of information you'll see on that little site. You can subscribe for my jabs and updates here:

a movie and some books

I'll be presenting Mad City Chickens at the Williamstown Farm Feast Film Festival this weekend. If you're in the area, come by and join me at 11:30 for the movie and a book signing at 1Pm after the show. It's part of a giant farm film fest, showing movies like Sweetgrass, Fresh, King Corn and many many more. There are also all sorts of community events like a Greenhorns panel for young, new farmers and a mixer called Carhartts and Cocktails where local foods and sustainability are the main points of conversation. Should be a big time.

Check out all the events and details here:

Photo courtesy Jason Houston

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

urgent help needed!

Finn, my goat, needs a place to be boarded at while I get ready to move. His current foster home just isn't set up for a goat. He's been jumping over the alpaca fences and breaking into the chicken coop. He needs a place around here to couch surf just until I can get him back—which is as soon as I can set up an electic fence at my new place. May 1st should be the very latest he'd have to stay with you, and I will of course pay for the food, space, whatever it takes.

If you live around southern Vermont and have space for a goat, please email me at

mud season

Monday, March 8, 2010

long deep breaths

The farm does not care about bad days. It simply does not allow them. If all I want to do after work is crawl under the covers, cry, and fall asleep to a Gilmore Girls marathon and Tylenol PM—I can't. My emotional state is of no consequence to sheep that need hay, eggs that need collecting, geese that want feed, or dogs that need a walk and their supper. You can't take drugs that knock you out in case something goes wrong in the night, life a fox in the coop or a coyote near the flock. There is no elbow room for selfish acts like broken hearts, office stress, or celebratory nights away in hotel rooms. There are also no snow days, rain checks, or even the occasional sleeping in. The farm demands I am the best possible self I can offer, at all times. The luxury of a personal life is useless.

I am so grateful for this it shocks me.

I had a horrible day. Sometimes the stress and responsibilities of a raw life still in the furnace cake like mud and I can't get clean. I'm not a manic person, and am pretty level in my emotions, but some days the world's too big and I'm too small. That's what happened today. I sat at my desk in the office and plowed through as much work as possible, then ran as fast I could in the company gym. I sprinted for nearly half an hour trying to beat the funk in a race. I got back to my desk and listened to my favorite music, emailed my best friend Kevin just to talk, and planned a special dinner for no reason at all. Nothing worked. I was a slow dog. I had been defeated in honorable combat. 5PM came and I had to fight back the tears as I walked to the truck in the parking lot. It was complete exhaustion. The house, deadlines, stress, money, movers, car repairs, mistakes, loneliness, confusion, distractions and reminders... I just wanted to go hide. I wanted to be useless.

But the farm had other plans for me. I came home to a mud season sunset at a place that needed me. Had I any doubt s about my necessity I could just close my eyes and listen to the bleats and crows—animals needing care. Within minutes my mood started to lift. I went inside, kicked off my Chuck Taylors, and changed into rubber boots. I grabbed the leather leashes and called to the dogs to me. They sailed from the other room, tails wagging and heads buried deep into my chest. I hugged them like I had not seen them in years. I don't know how any of you are getting through this life without dogs. I don't want to know either.

We, a scrappy pack of three, walked the muddy roads of Sandgate. They sniffed and searched the trees for crows and I took long deep breaths. I returned from that walk feeling a little lighter, my lungs less shallow. I fed them a supper of kibble, eggs, and some cheese curds and returned to the yard for wood chopping and afternoon rounds. I carried the sheep their new mineral block and heaved it like a bowling ball into their pen. I dished out scratch grains and hay, replaced water, and collected nine brown eggs still warm from the hen I rudely set aside just moments ago. Soon I was figuring out plans to move them all to the new farm, getting lost in the future of Cold Antler. I forgot everything else that seemed so important an hour ago. As I caked real mud on my boots, the metaphorical kind fell off. I smiled a little. I couldn't help it.

Had I not had these hungry mouths and trotting paws I would have came in the door, fell onto the couch, and decided I was too tired to be of any use to the world. Instead I was thrown into action and sunlight, forced to care for others and come out of my shell. The farm abhors self pity, ignores anxiety, and refuses to condone depression. A few chores and I am fine. Get me in the fresh air and around a community of my animals and before you know it I am picking up my fiddle and cooking up a dinner fit for a queen. I ate with gusto. I drank one granny smith hard cider for the hell of it. No regrets.

The place heals me because it needs me. In the end, that is all any of us want.

winthrop howls from the porch

Sunday, March 7, 2010

like tailgates

I was driving around Washington county today, my possible future home. I was on an errand to Nelson's farm to buy hay. Annie and I were in the truck, a Bobby Hicks CD was in the stereo, and I was having a one-sided conversation with my dog about why Whiskey Before Breakfast may be one of the greatest fiddle tunes ever written. The sun was out, the windows were down, and whenever Ann wasn't hanging her front arms out the window, my arm was around her as she sat shotgun. Dogs, like tailgates, are a necessary truck accessory.

I drove through Cambridge, Salem, and then Hebron. Three towns with thriving farm communities all connected by route 22. It's just a few miles from the Vermont State line, but the sense of the place is totally different. Vermont, god bless her, is a woodland wonderland of ski resorts, bed and breakfasts, mountains, rivers, and the occasional small farm tucked away. But upstate New York is 100% farm country. You cross the state line and you are out of vacationland and into productionworld. Rolling fields of corn and silos, dairy cows and giant barns—the place is a postcard for the American small farm before it got turned into multinational corporations. As I drove up 22 I passed tractor dealers and Agways. The signs for each town have RIGHT TO FARM pasted right under the welcome signs. I love Vermont, but Washington county loves agriculture. I think I'll fit in just fine. Maybe even find a fella to buy me coffee. We'll see how it all plays out.

Someone asked me in the last post what my plan B was. That answer is easy: I don't have one. Sorry folks, I just plain don't have enough cash or wits about me to try and buy more than one place at a time. And the Jackson farm really is the last best hope for making a place on the earth my own, right now. Listen, this is going to work out. It has too. If it doesn't then I need to just take a deep breath and scramble to find a farm to rent. If that happens then, well frankly, that sucks. But the bright side is I have the entire home-buying process under my belt, self taught and understood. If the bottom falls out there will be other farms and future plans. But for the sake of keeping it all together: let's just humor me and hope for the best?

P.S. I have CDs, watercolors, and prints getting printed. If you ordered something from the etsy drive a few weeks ago you are not forgotten. I'm just the busiest I've ever been in my life. My boss quit at work, so his work has been handed off to me and a coworker. The move, the house, my job and quivering social life all have me stretched a little thin. (Okay.... I'm exhausted.) I just want it to be May so I know how this chapter ends. Anyway, you'll get the goods soon as I can ship them. A few go out this week. Thanks for the patience, it's worth more than you know.