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.