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.