Saturday, May 29, 2010

a real farm?

I mailed my first mortgage payment yesterday. I sat at my desk, wrote the check, and put a stamp on it. I have never been happier to hand out that much money. I actually woke up worrying I forgot to mail my rent check the other day, still not used to owning a home. When I realized I didn't ever have to mail my old landlord rent again, I stretched out in bed grinning like a moron. This morning I know the place is mine, at least for the next month!

Gibson's snout is still covered in marshmallow. Last night my friend Steve hosted a bonfire with some music and fish tacos. By the time it grew late and we were all out with smores and drinks, Gibson decided his taste of the iconic treat would be more fun to roll in then devour. I'm not here to judge. I'll wash it off with a warm dishcloth when he's more tired than he is now.

People have emailed me asking if the blog will continue now that I bought the farm (that never sounds good, does it?) and the answer is a resounding yes. While I may have reached a goal, the work is just getting started. Cold Antler is in its infancy right now, we're just barely breaking sod on our first year. There are fences to raise, barns to build, and livestock to acquire. I am in the first stages of getting Gibson his own flock of Scottish Blackface ewes from (who I hope will be) our sheep herding instructor. I have a small flock of heritage turkey poults coming for coworker's holiday tables. The season has barely began folks and I have so much I want to write about. I want to write about getting my first production flock, learning to shear, lambing, marketing and building a business. I want to chronicle all of this turning into something bigger than anything I could imagine now. The blog won't end until people stop reading it. (Please keep reading. I like writing.) I want to make this into so much more. It's so much to me; the wool, dirt, and words.

Every once in a while someone will say to me something like "I know you have sheep, but I was at a real farm this weekend looking at wool and..." or something to that effect. They don't mean it in a demeaning way. They know I work hard at my small freehold. Yet hearing that phrase "real farm" can't help but make me cringe a little inside. What makes a farm real? The fact that the people who own it, work on it full time? Having business cards and a sign on the back of your pickup? I'm not sure what validates reality for them. But to me, Cold Antler is definitely a real farm. I grow food for myself and customers, and this weekend several coworkers will be cracking CAF eggs into their pans and have ordered turkeys and chickens. It may be bartering and handshakes deals right now, but where else can a gal start but at the beginning?

As far as I'm concerned, if you have a backyard with veggies and a few hens, and you not only consume it yourself but others do as well (friends, neighbors, your community) you are a real farm. You are a producer. You are feeding people. You are real. Stickers on the side of your truck are optional.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

four raccoons. no foxes.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

shower during thunderstorms

I am disgusting right now. Covered in the dirt, sweat, and grime that comes with planting pumpkins on a 90-degree afternoon. Planting pumpkins was the cool-down really. Before the simple task of putting ten started pumpkins into their mounds in the newly expanded section of the gardep—I had moved all the sheep's fencing onto new pasture, cleaned out the meat bird pen, and watered the screaming lettuce heads. I put new fence posts in the ground and ran fresh wire around the new pumpkins so the chickens and woodchucks would let them alone. Traps were set for the fox. Weeds were pulled from the straw mulch. Eggs were collected from the hay pile in the barn. I got lost in the effort.

It was one of those long evenings. I just kept working until it became dark. When the light was gone I locked the birds up in their coop, shut the door on the rabbit barn, and grabbed my banjo and set it by the glass doors. We had a date on the porch later.

The farm has no air conditioning. Just cold showers, ice cream, and a Westinghouse Fan from the 40s. It was a hot one, this day. By the time I came inside to make a coke float to cool off I realized it was probably going to be my dinner, so I didn't mind the extra scoop of Wilcox ice cream. It tasted amazing after all that. I drank it like I had never been thirstier. I will be eating much healthier when the garden is in full bloom and my freezer is full of chickens and rabbits, but today, I lack perfection. Lacking perfection is the rule around here.

Before my shower and after the farm was tucked in for the night, I went out on the deck to pluck a little with Gibson. Gibson sat beside me while I rocked in the plastic rocking chair and played the banjo. We both watched the sky light up with heat lightening. Then clouds swirled over the nearly full moon and we watched the wind move the grass. Thunder started to growl, somewhere far off. I played a waltz, slow like. "Lie Down," I asked Gibson and he obliged. Probably more out of weariness then obedience. I played lazy music and together we watched the storm come; a gift and respite.

I love thunderstorms. I think anyone who makes dramatic changes in their life does. For what is a thunderstorm than a loud change -all force and circumstance? It's scary and chaotic but most of us find such peace and beauty in that angry dance. I think that's because we know It's impermanent. We savor it while we can, knowing the whole time the danger will pass. Why can't we sit back and do that with all of life's changes? Aren't they all scary and fleeting? Aren't they all collateral damage in a better life? I'd like to think so. I'd like to think that even when life runs feral it has redemption in the aftermath.

My friend Paul once said, "Shower during thunderstorms. Makes you feel rich."

I love that.

my pup shines


photo by tim bronson

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

good morning from cold antler!

Monday, May 24, 2010

three dead

I woke up around quarter to five to the sound of John crowing. Little did I know, that was the last time I'd ever hear him. Soon after his crow there was a squawking and screaming of birds and I raced to the window to see feathers flying and a flash of red fur. A fox had come. Again.

At 2 AM I heard the screams from the coop, and ran out into the night to see two ducks running madly and three chickens loose. Everyone was running for cover and I was only able to catch one duckling. All I could do was save what was inside and hope the fox wouldn't return till the following day. I placed the one duck back inside, reinforced the door with wire, and went to bed...dazed, heart beating, and sweating.

In the morning I ran outside with my rifle, hoping for a lucky shot. I fired it twice in his direction but no luck. I was aiming down at the ground anyway. I wanted to scare him off, knowing a kill was impossible at this point that morning. My beautiful young rooster John had been taken, so had a fat orpington. A brave fox for sure to take a duckling and two giant birds. I looked around for survivors, saw the story of the struggle everywhere in feathers. The yard was littered with the cape and tail of John, and the golden plumage of my laying hen. The other birds who escaped ran to the safety of the sheep pasture, fenced and among giant ovines. I hope they are interested in self preservation enough to stay there.

I'm buying a trap at lunch. Three dead birds, at least.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

a fine long day

It was a long day in Jackson. My morning started around 6 AM (I slept in) unloading bales of mulching straw and preparing a big quiche for my folks, who were coming for a bon voyage brunch before heading back to Pennsylvania. I was deep into my morning routine; headphones on, water buckets in each hand, walking up to the garden to check on yesterday's new transplants of basil and mentally planning-out the pumpkin patch. Because I'm so behind in the garden this spring, I bought eighteen started pumpkins from Gardenworks. I hope to plant some heirlooms I got as well, but I wanted the insurance of time lost. A few hours of hoeing, some fences, mounds and compost and I'll be ready for October.

My folks showed up around 10 and we ate out on the deck, enjoying the farm below us. Winthrop already learned that the deck means free lunch, so he ran right to us while we dined and just stared silently. My dad through some bread and the geese honked and hollered and before you knew it it was bedlam. Away from the fray were the six meat bunnies now weaned from their mother, and the ducklings who have moved outside and are always together. Gibson started rounding them up, nonchalantly. I really think he'll be a fine working dog. If he knows to run around flocking stock and not to run at it, it's a good sign.

We went down to the Cambridge Farmer's Market after brunch. Sunday in Cambridge was sunny and beautiful. When I got out of the truck with Gibson a horse and buggy drove by. Not Mennonites, just locals in a cowboy hat and Harley Davidson Tee Shirt. I scooped Gibson up in my arms and walked him over to the market.

We met some local farmers, and snacked on some homemade gelato. The market was small but had everything from bedding plants to dried herbs, local free-range meats, and live music. I got to meet some neighbors who raise angus and they fed Gibson some liver brownies. (Which made them instantly his new favorite people.) I want to talk to them more next weekend. Livestock neighbors already on the market scene are people worth getting to know. I would have stayed there all day. It was hot though, and my folks were ready to head home. We said our goodbyes and the visit was over. I hope they had an okay time.

AFter the socializing was over Gibson and I drove up to Hebron to get hay. It was a perfect, warm afternoon. The sun high, sky blue, truck singing the Carolina Chocolate Drops (which I'll be seeing live next weekend!) and by the time the truck was loaded and I had my regular chat with Nelson Greene: I was ready to relax a little. It was Sunday, after all.

Instead however, I gardened and started that pumpkin patch. I took Jazz and Annie for a walk while Gibson napped, enjoying their stately and level company. I never realized how calm and dependable my dogs were till a puppy came into my life. Jazz is as warm and affectionate as ever before, and as peaceful as a zen monk. Annie is a goofball, but still my girl. We sat outside to play some banjo tunes. I'm not great, and play the same waltzes all the time, but they never complain. I was quite happy there. My old dogs by my feet.

I called it quits after that. I roasted a chicken I harvested two days earlier, and had a fine dinner with plenty of leftovers to pack for lunch for the week. It was a usual Sunday, but felt longer, perhaps because the days themselves have more light? It may also be the way I fill them: outside with constant lists and chores. I make time to soak it all in, eat some ice cream, watch the fireflies... but I am happiest busy and useful. Be of use, I say. Be of use and everything else falls into place.