Tuesday, August 10, 2010

dusk in the pasture

if you live near maine....

There's a Greenhorns event coming atcha! If you are able to head north and be a part of it, it will be well worth it. The Greenhorns is a new, young farmer initiative and film project. Their events support small farmer and sustainable solutions for modern agriculture. They have a ton of resources for beginners and I was lucky to attend one of their sheepcentric-events this past spring. Not only did it make me even more excited about becoming a shepherd: it started a friendship with the people at Kinderhook farm. Now we're planning farm visits and dinners, and the chance to talk with and grill successful farmers will be wonderful.

Learn more about it here!

Monday, August 9, 2010

august ram: canceled

I have decided to delay the ram's delivery and it may have cost me the ram. I emailed the breeder and explained to take him in August I would have to separate my flock into gender, leaving Maude alone in her own paddock or the ram alone in his. I don't like leaving herd animals alone like that. I did it for a while with Finn and he was far happier when she was shacking up with Alpacas and other goats. A ram in a box seemed like a lot of stress for all of us. For the ram, for me, for the sheep and Finn on the other side of the fence.

I couldn't just throw him in with the flock. If I didn't separate the boys and girls for at least two months: I'd have lambs in February. A new shepherd without a warm barn and lambing jugs needs later season pasture lambing. It wasn't a good idea.

No, an August ram wouldn't be fair to anyone. And the breeder did state she would not sell him to anyone who would keep him alone...I think the breeder was disappointed in changing the dates. She said if he was still available in late fall she'd let me know. I should have told her I couldn't possibly take him that early, but I didn't realize the consequences till recently and I just didn't know what else to do. I can't just have animals here for the sake of having animals. A breeding ram stuck alone in a pen doesn't seem fair, he should be with a flock of other rams/wethers. Does anyone else keep rams alone? How do they fare?

So no ram this month, sorry for jumping the gun. I made an ass out of myself to the breeder, but I'd rather eat crow and go back on the arrangement then have a ram in my fields I wasn't ready for. I made a mistake setting up delivery dates but at least I stopped before I pulled the trigger.

I am beginning to realize I shouldn't be sharing news off the cuff like this. While I don't mind sharing all my mistakes and updates right as they happen. The fallout of emails and angry feedback is getting heavy. I can take whatever criticism you have to offer, but I prefer advice. I can learn from advice and fix my mistakes, but angry emails just leave two people's day worse.

banjo for sale


finn comes back the 28th!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

that's that.

all the fireflies are gone now.

we're getting one like this, sal

home companions

I've been savoring these cool end-of-summer nights. It really feels like fall is near. last night I dug two flannel shirts out of storage and washed them for that extra fluffy just-out-of-the-dryer feeling and set them by the back door. At 6PM I had a date planned. Me, the pasture, the flock, and my man Garrison.

Up under the apple tree I set down a blanket and the crank radio and listened to Prairie Home Companion. I like this spot, this repose. Leaning back with my hands behind my head, listening to the latest goings-on at Lake Wobegon: I was rather content. I wasn't alone long. I shook my staff at the tree above and apples fell with a plop. Sal came loping over and a small platoon of chickens came marching up to join us (they like apples too). I liked hearing the rhubarb pie song with the birds cooed and Sal hovered and then tucked his front legs under for a rest. Sal often comes and lays beside me. He's a sucker for an ear scratch and knows I''m the baroness of all things apple. So we enjoyed each other's company on the hill and watched the farm. Home Companions, indeed.

June Carter is doing well. Quite the barn cat, her. She's fast and clever and scrappy as hell. As I watched from my perch, I saw her sit right in the middle of the chickens and nibble around the cracked corn along with the birds. Possibly catching crickets, possibly eating feed. I guess her cat chow wasn't cutting it.

I just had six rabbits and four cages picked up by a reader, Susan and her friend (who generously offered her truck to carry off the load). I was glad to see the animals off to a farmer who wanted them so much, and was happy to add them to her menagerie. I realized the rabbits weren't that much work at all, but I had simply taken on too much, too fast. A common beginner's mistake. So today I scaled down to just six rabbits. I still have my pair of original breeding angoras and four meat rabbits ranging around the farm. I may very well keep the Cali doe over winter too in case I want to breed again, but the rest have a certain fate. By Labor Day all the meat rabbits and remaining Cornish Crosses will be freezer-bound. I may need to consider a chest freezer...that's eight animals and my freezer still has spring rabbits and chickens.

So this was an interesting update: serene hilltop entertainment and kitten antics along with livestock sales and slaughter plans. What is this place, but a farm?

P.S. No dates ever did come of my man post in July. I got a few kind responses but none of them felt right. Some were too far away, or a few decades ahead of me, or just felt wrong for me. (There were five responses of single men, and a few dozen encouraging emails from women and married men telling me good luck.) But who know's? A new season is just around the bend. Perhaps this October will be the best one yet...

Saturday, August 7, 2010

first skein of homespun

ram delivery: later this month!

attention: workshoppers

If you are coming to the farm for one of the music or wool processing workshops, please send me an email to confirm your plans. I got a few dozen interested emails but as far as confirmed certainties: just a handful. If you are certain of coming please let me know soon as you can: jenna@itsafarwalk.com

Everyone asked about the cost of the workshop. There is no cost. A donation would be appreciated for the time, food, and supplies and if you email me I can go over a suggested amount: but is not necessary. While I do plan on running paid workshops in the future: right now its an honor donation system at your governance. I don't want people who want to learn to bow a fiddle or make yarn not learning because of money. If you were worried about that, please come regardless.

raising thunder

Raising a working border collie has been a non-stop education- not so much in dogs, but in people. When folks familiar with the breed run into Gibson and I at farmer's markets or on the sidewalk they have questions and they aren't always sweet. Lovers of the breed are wary of poor matches. Do you understand what kind of dog this is? Does he have a job? Have you any experience with the breed? Do you work away from home? Do you have a second collie? What are you feeding him? And so on into some time....They feel it is totally okay to ask strangers about their intentions and personal life when it comes to the dog. I find this both bemusing and somewhat creepy, but welcome the questions. They come from a good place.

So when we are grilled I assure them that Gibson was chosen and purchased from a reputable and knowledgeable breeder. That I had been a member of the local shepherding club for three years and have volunteered at trials and visited workshops. I told them I had land and livestock, and that this would not be a dog tied to a post or fattened on the couch. And yet even after I tell them this I still get a cold stare when they hear this is my first pup. No one who loves these dogs for what they are wants them to fall into the wrong hands. I understand. I myself was the wrong hands for a Border Collie once, and while it all worked out in the end for human and dog: I understand the mistakes of acting with impulse around loaded guns.

I don't think every border collie needs a trio of sheep and a mountain-top view. I know many friends and folks with pet herding dogs that live happy, active, and busy lives. I think it's more about matching wits than lifestyles. I'd rather see a border collie pup with a marathon runner who works at a home office in the middle of Philadelphia than on a farm where he has nothing to do all day but wear a ditch along a fence line. I am not a canine expert, but that is my stance. As someone who has trained previous dogs to AKC obedience titles, passed several CGC tests, and did therapy work with her old Golden. I know dogs enough to understand how not to ruin them for the world. I like the idea of that urban marathon team.

Gibson and I are doing well. He has grown into a lanky pup, 5-months-old and 36 pounds already. We work on basic obedience and socialization. Training together when he's seeming the most willing to please, never pushing lessons when he's too tired or too wound to focus. Yesterday we were at Gardenworks in Salem and he lay down beside me as I shopped for some beef and pondered cheesecake from New Skete. (I ended up not getting the cake, as I am still running every day and it seemed counter-productive.) He was well behaved, if still a puppy. No barking or fuss, and would sit still between jumping up and wagging at other customers. I'm grateful places like the farmer's market and Gardenworks welcome dogs. The training opportunities are wonderful. We travel, and train, and play together much. I can not wait till the season turns some more and we're driving to our first herding lessons. I hope he wants to work sheep as much as I do.

Hints of instinct come out of Gibson from time to time. When he spots one of the meat rabbits his body turns instantly into a stalker. His tail goes down below his back, his head lowers, and his eyes stare unblinking in a way that could cut the grass if he darted his eyes fast enough. He moves deliberately. His whole body quivers. All he wants to do is chase, but the look of a trained herding dog is there. The desire to control and stalk is there. I hold the end of his leash and watch him. Before he has the chance to bolt I call him back to me, "That'll do, Gibson" I say and lead him back inside. His brown eyes keep looking at the rabbit, like a toddler being pulled away from the candy rack. I tell him he'll run like thunder across a pasture someday, just as strong and dark. It's just not his time.

good morning from jackson!

Friday, August 6, 2010

back in the saddle

A box of alpaca fleece arrived at the office today, a gift from a reader in Houston. I can not wait to wash, card, spin and dye it! I bought some saffron and teal dyes and hope to make some home-spun hats in screaming autumn colors. Getting this box of fleece a grand gift, and some amusement to my coworkers. My friend James said, nonchalantly, "You know, if anyone else got a giant box of hair delivered to them at work, it would be weird. But since it's you...it seems totally normal. Thank you Kimberly.

My first riding lesson was Wednesday night down at Riding Right in South Cambridge. To summarize: my thighs still hurt and my heart is soaring. I spent sunset on the back of a haflinger mare, working on my rusty posting trot. It was wonderful. Even after all my time away from horses (I used to be on my college's equestrian team), I felt comfortable on top of that work pony. Someday I would like one of my own: to check on the sheep and do farm work, but that is a goal for later. Right now I just want to get fluent in horses again. Really feel confident and able around reins so when the time comes to invite a pony into my life—I'm ready for her.

wonderful, this.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

sal is often happy

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

the work of cold antler farm

My goal is to turn these six and a half acres into a working farm and my own small business. I want to eventually make my living by farming and writing about farming, and getting to that point is my life's work. Right now it's a mixture of mistakes, lessons, experiments, and small victories. Without the help of prior experience, family-farming roots, a trust fund, or a partner in crime: it has been a sharp learning curve. The fact that five years ago I didn't even know what a hoof trimmer looked like doesn't help either. I came into this brand-new, wide-eyed, and love struck. I'm still all of those things. It gets intimidating. It is never easy. But it's also not hard. Not at all.

I hate the phrase hard work. Hard implies suffering or unwilling effort. It gives good work a bad name, a negative association. It gives people the impression that I am struggling or under strain. This isn't the case. Oh, there is a lot of work, no doubt about it. But just because it makes you sweat, or curse, or cry doesn't make it hard. It makes me lucky. I am damn lucky to live this life and own this farm. The efforts that bring food to the table are a privilege. I relish it.

I am not a victim: I'm a volunteer. No one has to live like this in the 21st Century. Far as I know, there wasn't a draft with Holstein-spattered humvees collecting agrarians for a forced deployment of composting and weeding. I know this every single morning I get up and put on my muck boots: that I made a choice and it involves much work. That said, the romance has never left me, and it never will. As long as I am taking part in even the smallest efforts to feed myself and friends: I will continue to be amazed and grateful for this opportunity—and to the hooves, claws, eggs, and dirt that help make this possible. I'll keep doing this work, but I will never dare call it hard anymore. I can't possibly look at it that any longer... I have learned if you change your mind about work - the work changes you.

I am not a hopeless romantic though—the reality and effort of country living have made their points loud and clear. From self-inflicted food poisoning to rainy day sheep-shit mucking—I am grateful to have even arrived at the point where farming mistakes can be made. I have been rammed by sheep and had to walk with a cane. I have been doubled over with pain in the garden. I have been so sunburned, or sick, or exhausted I wanted to (or did) throw up. But all of it (even the misery!) is beautiful. There is a bittersweet reality to getting campylobacter from rushed chicken processing. I only got it because I had chickens to process. My own nuggets in the backyard were once a pipedream and now they are clucking away outside and biting my ankles during morning feeding. I may have taken a hard hit getting sick and being so foolish, but hell, gut-wrenching bacteria wants to live too. Who I am to blame them for jumping on a sucker when they saw one?

I am doing all this so that a few generations from now my grandchildren can laugh at people like me.

I told you I was in love.

I have made many mistakes, but I have also had a few successes. I've enjoyed many homegrown meals over the years, learned to cook, spin, sew, can, raise animals, garden, and play music. For someone who grew up microwaving spaghettios—this is anthem.

I know I am a long way from what Cold Antler can be, what I hope it will be. I want to learn to raise and breed a small flock of sheep for lamb and wool. I hope to expand my garden and turn it into something I could turn for a small profit at the farmer's market. I want to continue raising chickens for eggs and some meat, and breeding angora rabbits: both in personal and small-scale operations. I do this because I want to raise healthy, locally-grown food for my coworkers and community and do things like the workshops below to get people started in self-sufficiency. I want to make this my life, my living, and do my best to help others get started along the way.

I am not interested in changing the world. I am interested in changing your Tuesday. If your apartment has one snap pea plant in the windowsill because of this blog: I am thrilled. If you have a pair of hens in the shed you used to only use to roof your riding mower: I am giddy beyond words. Those are the goals, to inspire and effect small changes in the folks who read this. That is the real work of Cold Antler Farm.

I use this place to talk about where I've going and where I have been. Please understand if you read this blog you are not following a how-to manual (more of a how-not-to manual at this point)—you are following a story. I am not by any means an authority, role model, or mentor on starting a small farm. I'm a beginner homesteader and greenhorn small farmer. Sometimes this blog is foolish and ugly. Sometimes it is breathtakingly satisfying. At least to me. Those are the breaks.

I thank you for coming along for the ride.
I have a long way to go.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

just sleep it off

fall workshops!

I'll be hosting three weekend workshops here at Cold Antler. One will be an intro-to-fiddling, another will be wool 101, and the other will be intro-to-mountain dulcimer. All three workshops will be on Saturdays and be four hours long with home-baked snacks and coffee. The workshops are as follows:

Beginner Southern Mountain Fiddle: August 28th If you ever wanted to learn to play the fiddle: this is for you. Show up with your fiddle and bow, and we'll go through all the basics to get you started. You'll learn to tune, hold, and bow. You'll learn the finger positions and start your first tune. Everyone is required to bring an inexpensive beginner book called "Old Time Fiddling for the Complete Ignoramus" but between that book and some one-on-one instruction you'll be well on your way to playing sweet music by Halloween. Includes a farm tour and general lollygagging around CAF at break time to practice your music in the pasture or outside with the chickens. Class limit is 6, first come first served. Email for details and to reserve a spot at jenna@itsafarwalk.com

Beginner Southern Mountain Dulcimer: September 18th Learn to tune, strum, and play beautiful music on the mountain dulcimer. Class starts with basics and how to read tablature and then takes us outside under the maple on quilts with cider and more music. You'll need to bring a dulcimer (I can suggest inexpensive models for beginners) but no need for a book. I'll have some beginner music waiting for you. Just like the fiddle class, this includes a farm tour and general lollygagging around CAF at break time to practice your music and meet the animals. Class limit is 6, first come first served. Email for details and to reserve a spot at jenna@itsafarwalk.com
Three Spots Left!

Wool 101 - Processing, Spinning, and Knitting: October 2ndLearn how to wash, card, and spin wool with a drop spindle! That's right, a homesteading 101 course in raw wool to knittable yarn. Workshop includes roving and a drop spindle and will also teach basic knitting. So you get to meet sheep, touch lanolin, learn to process and then go home with spinning and knitting skills. This workshop Includes a farm tour and general lollygagging around CAF. If the weather is good we'll do most of the class work outside with the farm. Class limit is 6, first come first served. Email for details and to reserve a spot at jenna@itsafarwalk.com
Just ONE Spot Left!

P.S. Donations for workshops will all go into the barn raising fund.

Monday, August 2, 2010

no need to fuss

I live with three dogs, and I am happy to report in relative peace. It is rare that teeth are shown or barks ring out. I have the mix of ages and breeds in the house to thank for that. Siberian huskies (especially older ones) are not interested in pointless barking or high stress. Jazz and Annie spend their day sleeping, chewing, playing with stuffed toys and going on walks. They do not care for volume, hollering, or messing around. If a point has to come across it does—swiftly and with teeth—with minimal growling. Gibson learned quickly that barking in circles was useless and unwanted and now he rarely makes a sound indoors. This is rare for collies, to be quiet. And since his main role models are large, calm dogs he too is carrying himseld high and still. When we go out to bookstores or the market people tell he he's so well behaved and calm for a herding dog. I smile. I know it's partly because we train everyday, but mostly because he's being raised by kind, quiet, dogs and shepherd with a book in her hands. No need to fuss.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

hey, you napping in my pasture?

hay outside the kitchen window

Saturday, July 31, 2010

a love story

At noon today I was sitting at a picnic table under a canopy of maple trees. Myself and a score of my classmates had just completed our Hunter's Safety Class and were now feasting on Axis, Red Stag, and Venison. I was a beautiful afernoon for a cookout and everyone was in high spirits. We'd just had the field section of our program (including shooting clays with a beautiful over/under shotgun, and a wonderful walk-though course with fake animals set up in weird scenarios where we had to explain whether or not we should shoot them). I now possess a Hunter's Safety Card and can apply for a small or large game license in the state of New York. Jenna the hunter. How about that?

Red Stag is the most delicious thing I have ever eaten.

It feels later in the year than it is. A cold front has bedded down with Washington County, making the nights dip into the 40s and days hardly crawling in the high 70s. It's July but feels like September. It's getting me prematurely excited for fall. When I got back to the farm early this afternoon I grabbed my crook and ran up into the pasture. I used the staff to rattle a few apples out of the trees and hollered to the flock to come join me in the next field. They came gamboling uphill like overweight tourists and we all went through the gate together. Maude and Joseph ran to the far clover but Sal and I stood under the apple tree like old hands. I scratched his ear and watched his eyes close. His body leaned against mine. His neck arched his massive head up to meet my palm. I don't know what sheep think about, but I think Sal likes attention and is a master at savoring it. I crooked a few more green apples for him and he gobbled them up. Me standing, him chewing, the whole farm below us as perfect as waves.

Eventually he joined the others and I stood there, crook in hand. Wind came and whispered lies that it was late September. I believed them and closed my eyes, just like Sal. I was standing there in the same clothes I wore to run in, a tee shirt and shorts, but I imagined myself in a favorite pair of old jeans and a new flannel shirt: October clothing. (You know exactly what I mean: when the fabric is still plush and feels like hot chocolate if hot chocolate had a thread count.) Crows called out in the bottom field, distant but loud. I love that sound. I'd be lost without it. With my eyes still closed, with the sheep a few feet below me, I pictured myself in that same spot in three months. I imagined cold wind racing up my plaid sleeve. I tried to visualize what my arm would look like, what my body would feel like, after two months of running and farming. I felt the air fill the space between a tawny arm and new cotton and fell in love with the quarter-inch of invisible beauty that could live there. The hair on my skin pricked.

I sighed. Some things can't be helped.


Thursday, July 29, 2010


So I have big news: Cold Antler Farm is going to be a movie! CAF will be the subject of an independent documentary about the making of a small farm. Legally, I can't delve into details about the production, but I can send you to a site to learn more about it and contribute if you like towards the filmmaking process. What it is—is a crew of filmmakers coming to here throughout the first year. They will document the beginning stages of one small Northeast farm. They'll film the new ram, flock and lambs. They'll capture everything from roto-tilling to farmers markets and fairs—making a visual journal of a girl trying to makes things happen. They're interested in capturing the challenges along the way and the back-story that's lead up to it: a sort of lifestyle story about what this life choice means to me and how I got here. Quite the goings-on, quite!

*There's no cash involved for me (it's actually illegal to pay people to appear in documentaries) so please don't think this is some sort of financial boom. I don't want this to come across as a some sort of hubristic announcement of a movie deal, with celebrities and fat checks. That's not the case at all.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

the sad tale of june carter

I left the equestrian center elated. The grounds, pastures, animals... all of it lovely. Riding Right in south Cambridge is a beautiful set up. Indoor all-weather rings, outdoor rings, a team of school horses, a pleasant staff. It was only a 12-minute drive from my farm. Hollie showed me around and gave me a tour of the center's schooling area. We chatted briefly about farming and writing (she's a future Storey author) and I set up a Wednesday night lesson schedule. I start next week.

Maybe it was the horses, or maybe it was the fact I had the day off from work: but I decided to celebrate my great mood. I was at the feed store picking up sheep grain and trying on paddock boots when I noticed they were selling barn cats.

Uh huh.

I've been wanting an outdoor cat here at Cold Antler for a while. Someone to patrol for mice and rats around the feed and grain. Keep animals from nesting in the hay pile. I like, and miss cats. Living with huskies it wasn't an option. But now that I have a barn and a heated mud room for winter, it was possible.

So I saw the twenty-dollar kittens in the cage and fell for an 8-week-old long-haired, yellow-eyes gray kitten. I picked her up and she hissed. I liked her spunk. I didn't want some passive nancy cat. I pet her and she calmed down. She was beautiful, elegant, sassy—I named her June Carter and drove her home in the pickup.

When we got back to the farm I scooped her up in my arms (still hissing, mind you) and held her outside the truck. I had her in one hand, like you would a puppy, arms securely under her armpits and body safe against my body. My right hand searched for my camera to take a picture. I wanted to post it on the blog and text it to friends in the office.

She slipped right out of my hands and ran into the woods.

It happened so fast. It had been so long since I'd been with cats. I forgot how slick, how fast, how contortionisty they are. In a second she wanted out, and was free. She ran faster than the rabbits into the woods behind the barn. I desperately tried to get her back. We played hide and seek for a while but soon her meows stopped and I could not locate her. I grabber her dry kibble and shook the bag, calling her name. I let out kibble for her to crunch on. I walked all over the property hunting for her, getting ripped open by branches and stung by nettle in the process. I didn't even know how to start finding her. I was just punching under water...for all I knew she was in Shushan. I felt absolutely horrible. I feel horrible now. I had a cat for twenty minutes and blew it. How could I mess this up so fast?

I am hoping she comes back. I will set out food and water for her and leave the barn door open. If I'm lucky she's hiding just out of sight and will stick around the proerty. If I'm unlucky she'll never be seen again. I don't know how kittens think. I'm a stranger in a strange land here. Advice and small prayers are much appreciated.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

shushan train

On the commute home I drove through downtown Shushan. Shushan (Shoo-Shin) is not a booming metropolis. It's just a few homes, a grocer, Trip's Antiques, and train tracks. Today I pulled up to the intersection and was met by a parked locomotive getting ready to head out. Talk about perspective. The monster loomed over my little Ford and growled as we skittered past. Gibson barked at the whistle-blowing beast while it was still parked. Crooked Still was blasting on the radio, and there is something damn pure about bluegrass, trains, and dogs in the front seat.

Tomorrow: off from work and visiting the local riding stables. I'm back in the saddle, baby.

Monday, July 26, 2010

the road to cold antler

Sunday, July 25, 2010

fences up!

I woke up and before any other farm chores were seen to, started making two loaves of bread. I had company coming in a few hours and french toast was on the menu. Few things are as delicious as butter-patted homemade french-toast with farm eggs. I got the bread mixed, kneaded, and set it to rise in a big red pyrex bowl on the counter. In a few hours the house would smell amazing. I looked forward to playing diner and getting a slew of scrambled eggs and toast ready for my friends Steve, Patrick, and Phil. I promised them all a good breakfast before they helped me put up the next section of fences.

While the bread rose I went about morning chores and my mile run. It's been over two weeks of my commitment to running and healthier eating, and while I can't claim any major weight loss—I can say I feel better. What started as a mile a day is now up to sometimes two or three. I can now make it up the steep three flights of stairs at work without huffing and puffing. I don't have pain in my hips when I lay down because of my homegrown yoga post-jogging. My hair feels healthier and thicker from the daily intense sweating—cleaning out my scalp of oils and toxins. I sleep better at night. And today while building fences I didn't break a sweat, even running to and from the house for pliers and wire cutters. So the running is paying off in the farm labor department. I felt good today out in the field. I weigh in with my doctor on Wednesday so I'll find out then if any actual pounds dropped.

When the guy's arrived (filling my driveway with pickup trucks-a happy site) we dined on breakfast and coffee and then headed outside to unload my truck's bed of fencing (One roll of field fence is about 230 pounds. It had to be loaded into my bed with a forklift... so you can see why help's a plus). We staked out and pounded posts (really, Phil pounded posts) and before we knew it we were zip-tying fence to posts and creating a second pasture. It's coincidental luck that I can only afford to create one addition at a time, but it turns out what we can set up, complete with gates and such—is a perfect rotational grazing system.

In just under two hours we were able to double the sheep's pasture. It was sweaty, hard, work with side effects such as caught fingers, sore muscles, twenty pounded posts, and the occasional black-fly bite: but our efforts proved worthy of the cause. The fences are up. The sheep ate fresh grass all day. And I now have two fenced paddocks to rotate grazing in. By Fall I hope for at least three, maybe four. As long as this girl can bribe a few guys with breakfast: the farm will keep growing.

And now: time for bed. I helped put up 250 feet of fence, ran three miles, walked dogs, cooked dinner, and wrote. It is time for this girl to circle three times and lie down. I apologize for any grammar or spelling mistakes. I will fix them in the morning when luck starts all over again.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

hunting 101

My work is hosting a Hunter's Safety class, free of charge, to employees who are interested. I am taking it. It starts Monday night with a classroom lecture and will follow with weekends at the Manchester Wingshooting school and some other field work. I have never hunted before, but all of my friend up here do. Deer, ducks, grouse, woodcock, pheasants, and turkeys are all pursued around these parts. It would be fun to hop into a duck boat or go pheasant hunting with the gang. It would be just as grand to have a chest freezer full of venison. I guess I'll wait and see.

The main reason I am taking the class is to better know and understand firearms. I own a small rifle: a 1969 Remmington .22 I bought in Idaho. But beyond loading it and firing it: I know little. This class will teach me more about basic gunmanship (if that is even a word) and if there is any interest in going hunting, it will spark there too.

It would be nice to join the community of hunters here in the fall. It seems like that celebration time of bounty, stories, pursuit and loss is epic to so many. The hunt crosses socio-economic boundaries and handshakes across property lines are common. It's exciting to hear the stories. Maybe I could start telling some of my own. I'm looking forward to hitting the field.

maude does not care for being spun at

Friday, July 23, 2010

on the shelf with the others

I opened the door of the cab and let Gibson sail out into the back field at Orvis. He's not a puppy anymore, at least not physically. He now stands almost as tall as Annie, with gangly legs and an ostentatious tail. He loped down through the tall dew-soaked grass till he hit the fish pond. Then jumped in with a splash, lunged out with a shake, took a dump and trotted the football field's distance back to the car. He was covered in dirt, pond water, dew, mud, and panting like a runaway. He shook and his tongue spilled out. What a little monster.

It was a little after 7 AM. I'm usually at the office to run and shower before the 8AM workday starts. I look just as rough as him at that hour, and don't even think about mascara till I'm done with my morning mile. As I was loading him into his crate in the back of the truck, I saw a coworker walking to his pickup with a little ball of fluff in his arms. Dear lord, it was a 9-week-old Australian Shepherd pup. I melted.

I scooped up the pup, congratulated the owner, and tried to remember when G was that small. I know that photographic evidence exists, but my black-and-white blur is now 34-pounds at four months. He's lean, curious, and will hopefully turn into a fine farm dog. But all that fluffy innocence is gone. Gibson is a clever mess. He's figuring out how to get what he wants and goes for it. Food on the table: chomp. Bunny behind the bike in the barn: chase. Pond at the bottom of the hill: splash. But I can't complain. He comes when he's called. He sleeps in my lap in the truck. He goes to the bathroom outdoors. He stares at sheep. He's great. Still, I stole myself. I cradled the little guy in my arms and inhaled puppy.

Dogs are perfect.

Fridays are optional half days at my office. If you put in an extra hour Monday through Thursday you can leave at noon on Friday. This week I took advantage of the program for a sexy afternoon at the Washington County DMV. I stood in line and stared at the much-needed rain. My brain thinks like a farmer now. Did that guy on McMillan road cover his round bales? Did he pull them in before this came? What a waste if he didn't... I thought about how I didn't have to water the garden. I worried about flies on the sheep. I paced in line a little. I hate lines.

When I finally got my turn I realized I filled out the wrong forms and didn't have a copy of my birth certificate. No new license for me. However, myy truck had all the necessary paperwork to become a New Yorker, even if I didn't. I was asked if I needed passenger or commercial plates for my truck. I had no idea, and asked what she meant. She said if I ever planned on advertising a home business I would need commercial plates. They were five dollars more. I ponied up the cash. Who knows, maybe Cold ANtler Farm will be slapped to the side of the Ford someday. I paid a ridiculous amount of money for two blue and gold plates, and drove home in the rain storm. It felt weird being without a dog. All three were at home. The ride was boring. Life without a dog out the passenger-side window might smell better, but it is fate too sad to even consider.

When I got home to the farm I pulled off the green plates. This was a little sad, but sad only in that suggested way people tell you should be sad. When I moved to New York so many Vermonters who knew me asked, "You're really going to give up your green plates?" They're more than car stamps: they're a lifestyle and a personal choice. I shrugged. It's not where you live, it's how you live. The entire notion that is the state line between Vermont and New York is less than a dozen generations. There is furniture in people's houses older than either state. I'm not attached to what color my plates are or where my mail is delivered. I am attached to my Northeastern Octobers, crows, dogs, fireflies, thunderstorms, and borrowing a small piece of land for a while to grow food and grow up. If a firefly can cross the state line—so can I. Glow where you are, damnit.

The green truck plates are on a shelf with the Tennessee and Idaho ones. They are lined up by a window where the light hits them and I remember things like Elkmont, Caribou Lake, and the Great Ox Roast.

So it goes. May the New York memories begin.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

we did it

pasture spinning

I did a bit of spinning in the pasture tonight. I came home from work, did basic chores, and then walked up to the high gate with a quilt, roving, a crook and a drop spindle. I spun on my blanket while the sheep tottered around me. It's oddly pleasing, spinning yarn from sheep eating their dinner right beside you. The yarn was imperfect and chunky. I liked it that way.

The carded fleeced seemed to race into yarn. It took moments to spin and collect on the weight of the object. Curious how it took months to grow on the back of an animal, a team of skilled people to shear it, hours of soaking, a night of carding—and yet in minutes it met it's meaning. How elegant a fate.

It was dusk. The air was warm. It was one of those afternoons you read about in books.

fencing and french toast

No pumpkins this year, at least not so far. The one softball-sized globe was chewed apart my a deer. It's a sad, but accepted fate here at the farm. The garden was a bust this year. Between the heat wave, animals, and lack of proper fencing and size: it failed. But I did get some decent onions, potatoes, salad greens, and whatever ate all my squash won't eat the basil, tomatoes, or peppers. So while half of the crop was devastated, the rest was still food. I guess that makes it a half-success?

I guess it's a matter of opinion. If you're a friggin' deer it was a 100% success.

Support has been pouring in about the barn raising! Folks have been emailing me asking for the mailing address and donations have been trickling into the community bucket. So far I think I have enough nails, plan suggestions, and ideas to get started in September. A pre-built structure is an option, but so is light timber framing from wood already on the property. I'll contact a local logger and see if I can work out a barter. Something like: you clear this pasture for me and you can keep the wood you hewn, just leave me enough for a 10x20ft pole barn. It's worth a shot anyway. I think it's a win-win. I get land cleared and a barn wood for no effort.

I'll be putting up fences Sunday morning. Some friends are coming over to help me expand the sheep pasture once again. We'll be working from 10-noon and enjoying fresh-baked bread and farm-egg French toast (and coffee too). It will be a morning of good work and good food. I can't wait. This place is becoming a real livestock operation, one day at a time.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

carded wool

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

let's raise a barn

Those of you who have been following this story know about my dreams of wanting to become a shepherd. You knew me before the flock, before Gibson, before sheepdog trials, before Sarah, and before Vermont. You've been sharing advice, cheering me on, and keeping me going. I thank you, so much.

This blog has become more than just my story, and that's because you're here reading it. Community has always been a huge part of my story. It only seems fitting that I reach out to you now that we are months away from my breeding flock being delivered to Cold Antler. In a few months the hooves will hit the ground and my life as a wool and lamb producer will change forever. So tonight I have an announcement. I want to host a barn raising.

A blog barn raising can't be conventional. Distance, age, oceans, and so much more separate us as a group. Despite those things, we are still a tribe. All of us understand the importance of a garden, of clean food, of fresh air, sunlit soaked animals and good music. So I am thinking this: If you want to help raise the pole barn that will be the flocks new home, be a part of this. Mail me a nail in an envelope. Send a postcard with words of encouragement. Paint a picture, send a photo, email me barn plans, gift your old hammer. If you want to help with the big stuff you can offer to lend me your saw horse or power tools. Maybe you can hunt down the Albany Craigslist for barn boards for free pickup, or cheap used fencing. I just want this structure: the first that I'll add as a homeowner, to be everyones'. If you ever visit the farm I want you to be able to say, "Yup, that was the nail I mailed from St. Paul. I painted the end blue." or "That's the lumber I donated my frothy coffee cash towards." I don't care how you participate: I just want it to be ours.

I want my sheep to be safe from wind and snow and rain under a roof we all helped build. I want the outside to have your stories, and memories, and trinkets nailed to it. Those of you who live close: come over and bring your tool belts. Those of you far away: send some encouragement.

I know together we can raise a barn. We can get a safe structure up for the growing flock. We've come this far.

first toms of the year!

jackson, new york

woginrich wool mill

I am starting to learn how to process my own wool. While I did mail most of my fleece off to be processed by the pros: I kept some for my own fiber education. So far, I'm just learning to wash and prepare the wool for cardingm which I'll do later tonight. Washing the wool wsa easy, but took some patience. I had to prepare the raw (just cut off the sheep) wool by picking out all the hay and any other bracken by hand. Then I soaked it in natural dish detergent and water (without aggitating it at all) till the water turned brown. I would lift the wool up with a cheesecloth (trying my best to not turn it into felt) and then dump the dirty water and refill it with clear, warm, water and more dish detergent. I did this about six times till the water was clear and then gave it one soak of plain water as a rinse.

Then I let it dry in the sun. That part is easy.

Now I have a pile of clean, fresh-smelling wool ready for the drum carder. Tonight I turn that clean wool into long rovings by running it through my carder, and when you pull it off that wheel it really feels like the beginnings of a new knit hat. I have a reader to thank for that. I was gifted someone's drum carder last year and with much grattitude I accepted it. If I get exctied and carried away I might start spinning with my trusty spindle. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 19, 2010

an aesthetic decision

I'd follow Geoff on his shepherding rounds. In our green rubber wellies we'd splash through the burns, checking each newborn lamb. Geoff'd pick it up to pat its full belly, "That's all right, old girl, I'll not harm him," and when mother and lamb had got separated )some of the burns were too deep for the lambs to swim), he'd join them back together. Brilliant mosses swirled in the stream-beds, oyster catcher and curlews called from the banks. The mist hung above us like theatre scrims and the light shimmered. Geoff's young dog, Cap, swirled in and out of the fog. The decision to become a shepherd is an aesthetic decision.

-Donald McCaig
Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men
Searching through Scotland for a Border Collie

Sunday, July 18, 2010

i miss my old hammock

the certainty of weather

I have held fast to my self promise of jogging. Since my birthday I have dedicated nearly every day to at least one mile on the treadmill at the office gym or out here on the sparse roads of Jackson. Yesterday I was outside jogging and the urge to keep going started to overcome me. I ran past my normal turn-around point and kept a steady pace towards route 22. If I ran there and back to the farm it would be a little over two miles, the farthest my recovering body had taken me since my reincarnation as a runner.

It was hot. Probably in the mid eighties and humid. There was a chance for storms, and if any weather could bring them, this was it. The going to hit 22 was all downhill and easy, I barely huffed even in the heat and sun, but soon as I turned back the grade started to change and every step gained ground.

Suddenly, I broke out into a sweat and the simple mile turned into quite the obstacle course. The hilly climb was brutal for me, an out-of-shape runner. My only goal was to not stop. I could slow down to a mockable crawl but I had to not walk and just keep jogging. So much of jogging is mental. If you let yourself stop, if you allow it, you always will. So I kept on. Only when I hit the driveway did I lurch into a slow walk. I collapsed into the shady open bed of my pickup and looked up at the sky. Blue.

My heart sank a little. Weather reports had been calling for storms for weeks and they rarely came. I would get excited, gloat to my coworkers about the weather, check my zip code every hour online hoping the chance for precipitation would crawl up 10%. I adore storms. They make me feel more like me. Yet the sky remained blue and clear as a still pond. I cursed it.

I am a girl who does not care for calm weather. It makes me lazy.

I came inside, panting. Something about running outside really whips me. I can run twice as far on a treadmill and just need some water and a shower, but really moving my body over distance slams me into a forced submission of anxiety and fear. When I run I am too focused on just completing it to start worrying about money, or relationships, or deadlines, or letting people down. I can only think about going home. And when I get there, when it's over, I instantly forget the suffering and just revel in the selfish satisfaction of completing a task. The proof is in every sucked in breath, the cramps in my side. I love it.

I walked into the farmhouse and headed straight for the dark, cold, kitchen where I grabbed a quart mason jar from the fridge and then sat on the floor, my back against the cold frame. I don't know much about physiology, but it seems that when I stop and drink sweat pours out of me. My hot hands around the cold jar force instant condensation outside the glass. I drink and feel my arms, back, and legs burst into a shine of new sweat. It sounds gross but feels purifying. It feels like bad things are leaving me.

Cold showers are welcomed at times like these.

I had friends over last night for a cookout and movie; three couples. One couple brought their year-old daughter, and the other brought their puppy. The third brought a batch of chocolate mint pudding. We barbecued, laughed, drank and watched JAWS (one of my favorite movies, fitting for summer). I loved hosting my friends and filling up my hungry self with good food. Later when things calmed down and we were all watching the movie, I could hear the thunder outside and feel my skin prickle with excitement. Finally, a storm was rolling in. Blessed event. I almost wanted to sigh with relief, having waited so long. I couldn't sit still. I left the camaraderie for a bit to step outside alone (certainly with three couples no one notices when I scurry away).

Outside the storm was windy, dry, and beautiful. Thunder came and the sky lit up but no true rain came. I retired to the bed of my pickup truck again, it was right there. Once again I was on my back, watching the sky. Just hours had passed and so much had changed. I hoped I could conjure the same changes in me: to be healthier, make better decisions, be more protective of myself and smarter about how I lived. Summer is a confusing time for me. So much effort and hope and planning but it all gets lost in the decadence of the weather. And rattles against the lushness of everything around me. The green maples, the warm wind, the tired body, the taste of chocolate still in my mouth.... I watched the clouds swirl and wished I understood things better than I did. I wished I had the certainty of weather like that, and could change so fast.

The last of the flashing fireflies glowed near the honeysuckle bush, a few drops hit my face, and I just watched. I ignored time, and he ignored me.

Tomorrow I'd run two miles again.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

border collies for public office!

Thursday, July 15, 2010


I had slated tonight as the day to buy hay. It was the first non-rainy afternoon of the work week and my supply was growing low. I'm already starting to plan for winter, so when I have the time and the weather is good—I drive north to Hebron to get whatever I can afford and bring it had to Cold Antler. Hay Day: I have been looking forward to it all week.

When the work day is over I go home and change out of the clothes I've grown so uncomfortable in. I slip into a tee shirt and wellies. I throw my hair up into a knit cap (yes, it's 89 degrees, but nothing keeps the bugs off and the sweat off my face like the natural wicking power of wool) and braid my hair into pig tails. I grab Annie (the best ride along dog at Cold Antler) and together a girl and her husky roll up 22 towards Nelson Greene's farm. Just past Tiplady road you can hang a right and weave uphill to Nelsons. I couldn't wait to be in that loft.

I only planned on buying half a dozen bales. Well, "buying" is a euphemism considering Nelson is rarely there when I arrive. I'm on a 9-5 part-time farmer schedule and on the late evenings when I show up he's either out or inside with supper. So I go through my normal routine. I open the loft and crawl up into the cathedral of hay and start throwing bales of his second cut down to my truck. I love that hay loft. I love the way it smells, what it means. It's an entire pasture in a rubik's cube of stacks. I can climb 30-feet high and feel safe. There is soft hay everywhere so if you slip (and I often do) you're fine. You land on the soft bedding and get up again. Today I stopped to take some pictures to share with you. I want you to see how my workday ends.

When the truck was loaded I drove us to Nelson's mailbox. I dropped off the check for the hay and then Annie and I headed south to Jackson. The wind felt good after the hot day. I drove with the windows open, my arm hanging off the edge. Annie hung the front half of her body out the window like she always does. Two girls and the open road. I smile a lot when hay is involved. I smile more in the company of dogs.

July is halfway over, and August is stalking us in tall grass. Before you know it September will be here and I will be barking for fall. I can not wait.

farm shape

I'm on a mission to get in better shape: for me, for the farm, and for my future. Contrary to what you might assume about me I could stand to lose about twenty pounds and they're holding me back from feeling more comfortable with myself, and more fit for the work of everyday farm life. It's a lot easier to buck bales of hay into a truck when you're not wheezing or panting. And it's a lot more fun pounding fence posts when your arms aren't ready to give out as you slam down the 30-pound weight driving them into the ground. I don't want to grow tired based on the fact I'm lugging around an extra twenty pounds; it's not sustainable or efficient.

So I started running again, just a mile a day. I balance this with yoga and even though it's only been five days I feel better. Even if starting a personal fitness program is just a placebo in itself: it's working. I sleep better, I eat better, and I hope that come October I have reached my goal weight while still enjoying the occasional slice of apple pie and bottle of hard cider. I could try and lose thirty pounds and cut out all the foods that I enjoy, but I won't. Life is too short to miss out on all that amazing, homegrown, and homemade food. So I'll check in every week and let you know how it's going. I started on my birthday and I'll share my loss or gains as I plod along once every two weeks or so. Feel free to join me if you too want to feel a little tawnier under your flannel come fall.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

onions drying on the attic door

a homeowner's tale

Once upon a time a girl bought a house in Washington County, NY—land of farms, sheep, tractors, and fly fishing.

Then one day she didn't have hot water. So she called the oil company to deliver more fuel for the boiler.

The oil delivery guy came, filled up the tank with a hundred new gallons (273 American dollars), and then watched flames shoot out into the basement. We jumped back.

He looked at the furnace, then at me, then at the furnace and said after three beats:

"You're going to need to get this cleaned."

So the girl called the service people, who came to clean the dirty furnace (119 American dollars) so to not blow up the little white farmhouse. Alas, he discovered a broken ventilation system. I could have hot water again, but would not be alive to use it since the house would fill up with carbon monoxide.

He looked at the vents, then at me, then at the vents and said after three beats:

"You're going to need to get this vent repaired."

So the girl called the service center, and another man came to test the fan motor. He discovered the broken circuit board (175 American dollars) but said he could not repair it. The house's ventilation system was not up to code. The house would need to have that replaced and up to federal standards before they could fix the vents.

So the girl called the service people once again, and they showed her the system she would need to take hot showers as a living human being, and it required a brand new ventilation system that rose 2 feet above ground level! (2,000 American dollars) or a new masoned natural draft chimney (3,000 - 4,500 American dollars).

At this point God laughed, and the home owner cried. She just wanted hot water. She did not realize she was breaking the law. She does not have 2,000 dollars.

So the girl called the home inspector, who should have seen this issue and arrangements could have been made to get the vents up to code before she and Chase bank bought the farmhouse.

The inspector offered to pay for the new ventilation system, because if people found out there was a body count in his home inspection process, it would be bad for business.

At this point the home owner smiled. Small victories get her through the day.

The hot water will be back in a week and the house will refrain from being an outlaw.

Monday, July 12, 2010

maybe next time

i hoped for a thunderstorm.
but i was wrong again.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

the trial

"So you're finally here with a dog." was what the smiling Barb Armata said to me under the yellow and white tent hosting our morning bagels and cream cheese. She had good reason to say that with such gusto. Barb was a sheepdog trainer and the woman who will be my mentor for our herding education. I told her I was thrilled to be here today, and I was. For three years I have been attending and volunteering at the Merck Forest Sheepdog Trial. I had been a member of NEBCA (North East Border Collie Association) since that first visit when I had only lived in New England a few months. Last year I kept score and helped where I could. This year I did the same (and spent a few hours releasing sheep from the chutes at the top of the trial field). I had been here for years, at club events time and time again, and now I was finally standing amongst my peers with a respectable pup of my own. I felt rich. Barb knew it when she saw it.

All of the shepherds knew who Gibson's father was, and respected his breeder. When Steve Whetmore (the shepherd I read about in books and the first NEBCA member I ever emailed) said to people under the tent "Hey, this is a Riggs puppy!" my chest swelled. I am still a fly on the wall to many of them. I've never proven myself with a dog (failed one actually, as most know and I am still ashamed of) and never stepped on a trial field. But I haven't disappeared either. I have been around for three years come bad and good, and now I had a prospect. A dog that might very well make it to these fields as a competitor someday. And while rarely did a club member talk to me, they seemed to nod a little more, say good morning. And I took every bone that was thrown to me. I respect them and envy them more than they'll ever know.

Day 1
I woke up to a thunderstorm yesterday. It made me so happy. I was 28, and comfortable in the lull of the box fan in my farmhouse. I was half-awake and listened to the rumbles, smiling like an idiot. I adore thunderstorms so much, you just can't know. It was the best gift a farm girl could have, and even though the day was to be overcast I didn't care: it was a day for a sheepdog trial. The heat wave had been sliced open by the storm. It was milder, and the rain a blessing.

I drove early that morning to the trial with Gibson shotgun beside me. I had been told pets could not come, but Gibson was not just a pet. He was my business partner, a regally-bred registered dog, and a someday herder. He would get in. I'd see to it. (He did. We walked right in like he was High in Trial. Take that, stupid website rules!)

I spent the first day of the two-day contest just watching and walking around with Gibson. It was my birthday, and I wanted to celebrate. There was no greater feeling than to be amongst these shepherds at the site of my first-ever-visited sheepdog trial with my own pup. I watched under the white tents while the rain came and went. The fog played with the tops of the trees and the competitors all hoped it wouldn't hit the fields and block their view of their dogs. I spent most of the day silent, sitting amongst the trialers listening. I watched dogs around me and how they never left their master's side. I looked down at Gibson between my feet, sleeping quietly and understood. I listened to the hot shots talk about their land and trucks. I talked to some folks who just came to watch. I wanted to help them get excited and understand. To them I might look like the real deal, but I identified much more to the fanny-pack-toting spectators from New Jersey than I did with the contestants. I was still green and clueless, I just happened to have come this far. I told them about sheepdog trials as if the World Cup never existed. This was the epitome of competition and sportsmanship: I bet I seemed crazy.

Eventually I worked up the nerve to talk ask Don McCaig if he would sign my copies of his books I stashed in my backpack. (Nops Trials, A Useful Dog, and Eminent Dogs Dangerous Men) Last year I kept his score on the trial field star-struck and nervous. McCaig is a NY Times bestselling novelist who writes about shepherding and lives on a giant farm in the southeast. He's the only person to ever write an approved sequel to Gone With the Wind. He keeps sheep, writes for a living, loves the history of the south and Civil War.... he's one of my heros.

He signed two of his books to me, and my copy of A Useful Dog to Gibson. What a guy.

Before I left for the day I stopped at the visitors' center and bought some lamb—which I took home and pan fried in cast iron with spices. I ate it over whole wheat pasta with marinara and garden basil. It tasted amazing: the rare lamb so moist and flavorful...the spices so rich. I had a Guinness and some chocolate cake to top it off and was grateful for the year. It was a great birthday.

But today I left the house at 7, and was at the post to work by 8. I had permission from the club to drive my truck right up to the main tents, so Gibson could be with me again while I worked and not far away in the parking lots. I parked right by the other NEBCA folks and felt a little more included in the scene. While I watched the trial he lay at my feet, but when I was down on the field keeping score he slept under the tailgate in the shade with a bowl of water. I remember looking at him, snoozing in the sun under the truck as I walked to the fields to keep score by the judge. Three years ago I had no truck, no sheep, no dog. Now I was (in a way) one of them. Most of the shepherds here had 50+ acres, 25+ sheep, and several collies. I had one pup, 6.5 acres (lawn-size to most of them), three sheep and a used truck. I still felt part of. What I had obtained may be meager to those with 25-ft-tall tractor, but it's mine.

Day 2
The second day of the trial was hosted under sunny skies and I was there to help. I kept score all morning, writing down the points removed from the 100-pt perfect score all dogs and handlers start with. I kept time, chatted with the judge, and watched the pros at their paces. I braked for lunch, walked around with Gibson (sweaty and hot) and ran into some blog readers from New Hampshire. Bill and Nancy were gracious, and were kind to Gibson and said wonderful things about the blog. I was glad to meet him. I only wished he commented more so I knew who he was. I love it when folks chime back on here. It reminds me that I am writing to people and not my computer.

My afternoon was spent high above the trial field at the chutes. That photo at the top of this post shows you how high above the action I was. The white tent is where the spectators were. The smaller white tent is the judge's station I had been keeping score at earlier. And all that distance between them and the photographer was the trial field. A very large, hilly, and rough place to run a dog.

The chutes are the pens that hold the 60+ sheep (this trial ran Katahdins) which are released three at a time for the trial dogs. It was hot as hell. I spent a few hours wrestling ewes into pens and then letting them out onto the field. (Lanolin mixed with sun block to make a smell few can relate to, but I kinda enjoyed.) Then something kinda great happened amongst the sweat and angry sheep. A really attractive guy (a Merck staffer, 28, and tanned and built as a 1960's surf movie extra) was driving a red truck filled with water for the sheep. At first he mostly ignored me through polite conversation. But as the trial went on we got to talking about my farm, Gibson, sheep, border collies, and his role as the main farm worker at Merck. He seemed to think Cold Antler was cool and was impressed I was doing it alone. He too was managing Merck alone, so could relate (even if the scale was far greater). He said he wanted to rescue a border collie from a local organization and have it work the farm with him. He seemed interested in what I was saying, even though I looked like a horror. (I was covered in sweat, flushed, in a ripped shirt and blotchy from the sun). It was far from movie fireworks, and I have no idea if this guy is A) single, B) even remembers my name, or C) I'd even like him once I got to know him more. But I realized just a few days after asking for a man to come into my life I was leaning against the tailgate of my pickup watching a pastoral scene of heartbreaking beauty with a local man who was my age, loved sheep, and was dedicated to agriculture. I might never see him again, but the fact I was enjoying the trial around such amicable company did not go unnoticed. I smiled. And my blood is as red as any woman's.... (something about really tan farm guys with sandy blond hair and a love of sheepdogs kinda gets me.) I told him to google Cold Antler if he was ever online. He said it was a name he could remember.

By the by: I have gotten a few emails referring to my dating post, for those slightly interested. My scheme worked in getting a response, and who knows, maybe there will be a date or two?

On the way home from the trial I turned the wrong way and headed into Sandgate. It was the instinctual way to go since those backroads were the same ones I drove for two years buying hay for my sheep in Hebron while I lived in the cabin. It had been a few months since I really drove through Sandgate, and little things called out to me. I noticed farms with new animals I didn't recognize> I saw what had once been the raw frame of a barn's cupola was now being sided with red boards. Little changes, but enough to remind me it was no longer mine. I drove through the notch and it felt different than before, harder. It hurt a little.

But I do not miss Sandgate (or living Vermont) like I thought I would. Jackson and Cambridge are starting to feel like my own. People know my names in the bookstore and the in some town shops like Common Ground Cafe. I was asked to do a talk at Hubbard Hall in the fall, a place where authors like Jon Katz talk. And the farmers at Common Sense Farm wave to me when I drive by. It's still new, and I'm still a stranger with Vermont plates to most, but it is starting to feel like home.

And with all that, I'm saying goodnight. I'm sore and sunburned and tired. It's back to the office tomorrow, with its own stresses and such, and while I don't look forward to it I am glad for it. I must remember I am not a McCaig. I'm a girl with a day job, a used truck, a puppy, one mildly-sucessful book, and a very small farm. But I am happy. I like where I am. It's enough.