Friday, April 16, 2010


The first thing I thought of as I woke up was crows. I hold a personal superstition that spotting crows in pairs is an auspicious sign. Two birds side-by-side in flight, perched in a tree, or hopping along the side of the road is an omen of hope for me. I have no logical explanation for this. It simply feels correct. When I tried to figure it out, I found in my research that crows are only seen in groups when they're young. So what I had been smiling at was actually a codependence I didn't understand but deeply appreciated. A pair of crows is a sign of necessity, teamwork, survival and hope. It's how the young animals find their footing in the world. The gypsy in me needed to see those birds before closing on the Jackson Farm—a mandatory blessing. As I rolled deeper into the quilts to try and gain a few more minutes of sleep—I silently prayed a pair would find me before pen touched paper. I took a deep breath and got up.

I got the coffee ready on the stove and placed the remaining 3/4ths of the quiche I made for dinner last night into the oven. As the percolator rocked and the cabin filled with the smells of the warming breakfast—I invited Jazz to join me on the couch. He leapt up and buried his head into my chest. His tail thumped as I held his face and kissed his forehead. It was far too early and dark to see the farm outside for chores. So while we waited for daylight to catch up with us, I pet my dog, grabbed my old guitar, and played a song with breakfast.

By the time the dogs and I had our fill (I ate like a bird; too nervous to really enjoy the food) and I had enough coffee to scare normal people into caffeine celibacy—it was time to get outside. The last day of chores as a Vermonter.

This is the swan song for this incarnation of Cold Antler. In a few weeks the cabin will be empty, the yard quiet, and not a single rooster will break into morning yodels here. I don't know if the neighbors will be heartsick or relieved at the change. Truthfully, I try not to think about it. While I went about the morning rounds of sheep, chicken, and rabbit care I listened to soft music in my headphones and let myself lack any specific focus. Then I discovered just how hard it is to meditate when you realize you just acquired 13 new animals overnight...

The big speckled doe gave birth to a giant litter of kits! Inside the nest box were 13 wriggling little babes—some pink, some spotted, some near black. They were all alive and well and the mother was doing fine. This marks the first litter of meat rabbits at the farm, and the fact it was on the day I closed on my new home seemed almost written for a script. I reached into the furry nest box and pulled out a tiny kit. I held the newborn in my palm, warm and close. I watched the rays of steam come off its fragile, chubby body in my hand. I melted at the poetry but quickly returned it to its family. I smiled at the small success. If crows didn't come; kits had.

With the blessing of the new litter I headed inside to prepare for the big day. I had originally planned to bring Jazz with me, but when I realized how much driving was involved, and how long the day might be for a healing animal—I decided to let him and Annie rest at the cabin. Yet the idea of closing alone was depressing. I wanted someone with me to share in the sublime moment. So I grabbed my beat up Gibson guitar and set it by the front door. That'll do.

A little backstory: I bought this 1957 black guitar on eBay, thinking it might be a J-45. It was bidding at a steal, and when I won it a few weeks ago, I was thrilled that my dream guitar was finally coming into my life.

I was wrong. When I opened the shipping box I realized I didn't see the instrument for what she really was. The assumed J-45 was actually an old LG. A smaller bodied, curvier, and lighter instrument than my original crush. At first I was upset. Had I known it was an LG and not my 45 I would have let her go to someone else. But time heals all wounds, and now that she's here (and what I play every night) I have grown to adore her. The old guitar had become a good friend. If a dog could not join me on this fine day, this scrappy guitar would be a fine second choice. I loaded her in the truck, turned on the music, and we drove down the mountain towards the rest of the day.

It was all starting now.

On my way I pulled into Wayside to grab a cup of coffee. I also wanted to pick up something small to walk into the new house with. The store had been my home away from home since I moved from Idaho and wanted a piece of it to join me. I found a glass case near the magazines with a pile of tiny jade-like Buddhas in every shape and size. I found a small Japanese Buddha (not the fat, happy one holding coins) and bought it for a few dollars. As I climbed back into the truck, I set the little green statue on the passenger seat. Together me, Buddha, and the Gibson drove to the bank. We had not see a single crow the whole time since leaving the cabin half an hour ago. I gripped the steering wheel tighter.

After the cashier's check was made, and my obligations met, I headed over to Chem Clean to service the truck. I pulled up next to the air and Chris, a neighbor an attendant, noticed the case in the front seat. Chris is a fine guitarist and helped himself to a few tunes on the Gibson while I checked tire pressure. As I pressed air I could hear Black Bird playing from the other side of the Ford. It was beautiful. I stuck around for a while to talk with Alan and Suzanne (who run the shop) and got to meet their two new Siberian Husky puppies. I held the little girl in my arms while her brother ran around in circles on his blue lead. Not many gas station in America offer concerts and puppies. Chem clean gets a lot of my business.

I drove faster than I should have. The music was loud and emotional. I was listening to a new passion of mine, Gregory Alan Isakov. I was drumming with my thumbs on the wheel while the violins started to shudder in The Empty Northern Hemisphere. As I crossed the state line into New York I felt the rush of quiet panic stirred with the excitement of something new. A few miles up the road, as the song galloped into the bridge, a pair of crows flew over the truck. I let out a long exhale. Everything would be okay.

The rest of the afternoon was a blur. A pile of meetings, lawyers' offices, paper work and hand shakes. The whole time I was signing the documents I could not believe this was actually happening. The idea of owning my own farm just a few months ago was unheard of. My credit score was horrible. I didn't have a savings account. I had no real plan to find or buy land...and yet here I was, four short months later, being asked if I wanted extra title insurance and being handed a set of keys. When all was said and done I stood up from the heavy wooden desk and realized I was shaking, like I was in love.

I think I was.

I drove back to the house, my house, as it started to rain. I had a thick packet of papers and a smile that would not hide. I kept checking my phone to hear word from friends and family. Two coworkers would be coming over with pizza and beer later to celebrate. My parents showered congratulations. I thanked them all over and over. But despite their kindness, I could not wait to hang up and go home. I wanted to walk around the property like an addict: planning housing, running extension cords, making the place come back to life. That dead farm was about to get a few hits of Jenna. It would resuscitate, and thrive, and feed people again. I was drunk on the dream turning into reality. I wanted more. I wanted to be in the house. I drove like it.

Then I almost hit Stumpy.

Stumpy was an aging Golden Retriever, walking down the middle of Route 22 (a busy, rural highway) and not at all swerving to miss cars. People who noticed him cut him a wide berth, and others slammed on the brakes. I knew his name was stumpy because I pulled over, and hollered "Hey! Dog!" and he trotted towards me and I read his tags. A line of cars was slowing down to watch this dumb girl try to flag down the senile dog, but I ignored them. (If that was my dog I'd want someone to call the name on the collar.) So Stumpy sat with me on the side of the highway, and we got acquainted. I called his owners and they said they'd be down to pick him up. While we waited I told him about my day. I was grateful to have met him, he got me to slow the hell down and just sit. His pedestrian ways, lacking what they lacked, let me take in what was actually happening. And I was secretly happy to have an arm around a dog. Dogs are my people. We talked like old friends. I was somewhat sad to see him hop into his owners car.

Keys in hand, dog rescued, and just a mile from my new house I drove down the road a little slower. I pulled into the driveway and grabbed Buddha and the guitar. I opened the door and stepped into the warm house, which was filled with rays of afternoon light. It was so much brighter then the cabin was; even on her best days. I set down my keys and the tweed case and walked around, trying to catch my breath. I felt the staircase like it was slightly electric. I walked the rooms like the walls were lined with impressionists. Everything was drank in. Everything made me feel brand new.

I sat down on the floor, opened the guitar case, and played a song. Upward Over the Mountain rang through the old farm house and echoed upstairs. I played it like it was the last song I'd ever get to play. I sang to no one, and that made it even stronger.

Mother don't worry I've got a coat and some friends on the corner.
Mother don't worry, he'll have a garden. We'll plant it together.
Mother remember the night that the dog had her pups in the pantry?
Blood on the floor and fleas on their paws and you cried till the morning?

So may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten.
Sons are like birds flying always over the mountain.

...sitting there, sweaty and excited, daunted and alone, I sang. I was overwhelmed and happy. Really happy. But understanding and feeling those things all at once, I started to cry. It wasn't a cry that belonged to any particular emotion. It was a homily and a eulogy; hope and fear; desire and despair. I just cried. I held a black guitar against my chest, shook, and cried. Some things can't be helped.

So much of my story is about wanting. To finally have it is a relief so complicated and beautiful it breaks me to understand it.

Crows fly. Buddha sits. I farm.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

it's official

I close on the farm tomorrow!

finn's on my mind

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

so much going on

There is so much going on right now in this small life, I feel that if I were to properly share it I'd be writing 4,000 words a day. Truthfully, I would love it if that was my main gig, but right now I have so many changes happening it's giving me whiplash. And between the office, the farm, and other adventures I have a plate so full some would call it a compost pile.

Farm update first. I think I close on the Jackson Farm this Friday! We finally got the Clear to Close from the USDA and I am 48 hours away from signing the papers and getting the keys. I still don't actually believe it is happening. It was just this past November when the sky fell down, and now here I am a few days from owning my own little piece of the world. I already know that when I walk into that house for the first time, as the owner, I will have a tweed guitar case in one hand and a dog leash in the other. I want Jazz to walk inside with me, the dog who's been by my side since I was alone in the world. Even with his age and scars he is beautiful and the most affectionate animal I will ever have. I came home tonight and he leapt into my arms, wanting nothing more than to bury his furry head into my chest and scootch up into my collarbone.

Anyway, I am almost home.

In other farm news: the sheep shearer comes Saturday morning, and so does the moving crew. That will be quite the site, seeing a moving truck and a pair of shearers all working alongside the cabin to make this place tick. And I think the speckled brown doe is ready to kindle. She is cutting her feed, acting like she's building a nest. I put a nets box in her cage hoping to encourage a birth. The first littler of edible rabbits will be quite the cause for celebration.

And on the dog front, I got an update photo of Gibson today. My Idaho-born Border Collie is on his way, now four weeks old and covered in a fuzzy coat. He'll be flown in from the west in mid May. What a world that farm dog is stepping into....

And I haven't lost a single laying or meat chick. All are healthy and growing like June weeds. I see them and smile. I even clean the brooder with moxie. Making food is a fine way to spend a week night.

So I hope to update you all soon with news of a final closing date, kits, puppies and more but right now my life is a waiting and planning game. But come May, it's on. I'll be working harder than I ever have in my life to get this farm started. I can't wait.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

that's one big doe

Sunday, April 11, 2010

buckle up

Today was filled with a bit of debauchery. I spent the bulk of it outside: laying on my back on a wool blanket it in the sun in the sheep pasture. I had only the blanket, a copy of the Encyclopedia of Country Living, and my banjo. I laid out in the sun letting my arms feel warm. It was a brisk 60 degrees but I was sporting a tank-top none the less. I read and soaked up all the vitamin D I could rationalize between farm chores and then came inside to cook up some Boyden Farm beef in a skillet. I made a small steak and cheese pizza: a true rare delicacy here. My lord it was amazing....The savory combination of food and sunlight seemed criminal in the joys it granted me. With a full stomach, a protein high, and a sunny Sunday afternoon I felt rich as any animal ever has. I played clawhammer tunes loud. I bet the whole damn neighborhood heard my C-tuned drum pot. I sang loud. I was sober. Homesteaders need little in the world of intoxicants. We're high on compost.

Things here are intensely busy, which is why weekday posts feel thin. I'm on a writing deadline for a non-blog project that takes the bulk of my computer time at home. But I do have things to update you on. The big news: I should be closing on the Jackson Farm in the next two weeks! If that's the case I have a lot to plan, but will claw out the schedule like always. This move to New York marks my fifth state in five years, so I'm used to packing. BUt with the spring coming into the Northeast like a charging Belgium—I find myself overwhelmed at the start of the new farm, the new garden, moving the livestock, planning movers, putting up fences and trying for a promotion at the office all at the same time. Compound onto that the normal daily drama's of a thinking mammal's life and you have yourself one very excited and emotional woman. I'm in no way unstable, but I am fighting the urge to cheer or cry on a regular basis: mostly because of farm and writing highlights bogged down by work and farm stress. Life's balance, I guess.

We had a bit of bad luck with Jazz lately. His back broke out in pus-filled sores from an allergic reaction to the cabin mold. Annie and I are fine, but Jazz's weak thyroid made him, well, sick as a dog. I needed to run him to the vet recently to be shaved, medicated, and fixed up. He's much better now and healing brilliantly but the poor guy walks around surly and pissed off. [See professional illustration for more details.]

I can not wait to post: I signed the papers. I got the keys. I own a farm.

Soon. Buckle up.

meat and eggs

Since chickens are on our minds I thought I'd update you on the growth of the new birds. As you can see, the Cornish Rocks are monsters compared to the little Golden Comet laying hens. They're easily three times the size. If there was any doubt before that these were 100% meat birds, surely it has faded. But despite the vast difference in size and feed intake; both breeds are doing well. I've had no losses and the birds seem happy in their little brooder. It has made the bathroom louder than usual, but what can I do? The bathroom is the only room in the cabin with a locking door the dogs can't sneak into for nuggets while I'm at the office.

It's odd how my perception has changed since I've started raising meat birds. These small chicks are adorable, yes, but they are completely food in my mind. Taking care of the Cornish Rocks, inspecting them for pasted ends, refilling the food and water containers, and cleaning the brooder feels more like setting a table then farm chores. I do not mean it marginalizes them in any way by that. Just because these animals are destined for the table doesn't mean they are in anyway disregarded or neglected or thought less of. Actually, it's quite the opposite. When I am working with the meat birds (and the egg birds, too) there are intense levels of grace and gratitude towards the little fluff balls. I know the better life I offer them: the better meal (and therefore, quality of life) they'll offer me in return. So I treat the tiny guys with such care and a deeper understanding of the history of my future meals at the new farm. One day this summer I'll be having a BBQ on the deck with friends and as the campfire and guitar sounds rise over the trees I'll bite into a drumstick and think: this is the most wholesome thing I've ever eaten that's come out of my bathroom...

There's a little more to it than that, but you get the idea.