It was one of those weekends so busy, so non-stop, that writing about it would take three hours, and frankly, I am almost ready to fall asleep here at my computer. In 48 hours I held a workshop, made new friends, pulled an angry bee out of someone's hair, went to an apple festival, watched a pie eating contest, saw a live outdoor concert, listened to an amazing guitarist, watched a play (The Lottery!) , cooked meals, put up 16 bales of winter hay and 200 feet of new fencing in the pasture. I pet whippets, drank pumpkin beer, and played music off a sheep's back. And now I am going to sleep, because this tank is empty and tomorrow I have a full day of work and a date with an Appendix Gelding at the stables to meet.
I was just outside in the pasture with the animals, playing the dulcimer, digesting the bratwurst and pumpkin beer from Cambridge's Apple Festival. It was a lovely, slightly chilly, evening. As I sat in the grass and strummed Sal trotted up to say hello. I scratched his back and waited for him to lie down next to me, but he just stood. So I stood up with him and realized his back was perfectly level for my dulcimer. I gently set it on his spine. He didn't move. I strummed a chord. His ears shot forward interested, but still, didn't move. I played Wild Mountain Thyme, and he just stood there as my living table in the middle of field. When I finished I took a bow to our horrible audience. The other sheep and cow just ate, uninterested in our performance.
The other day I was at Wayside—paying at the register for my morning coffee—and the two men ahead of me in line walked out the front door and scoffed at my truck's tailgate. "Cold Antler Farm!?" they said, with that tone reserved for every out-of-stater who buys land, gets some chickens, and names their backyard. They meant nothing harmful, they were just bemused. I smiled with them. (The fact I own a small farm is still incredulous to even me.) If you're a fourth generation dairy man and grew up on the lap of your dad's John Deere: you might find a Ford Ranger with a magnetic sign on the back...euphemistic. I smiled with them, but it took me a while to get to that point. For some new farmers though it can be downright unsettling: feeing a like a butt of a cosmic joke or a worn stereotype.
It's this experienced-local-vs-new-beginner divide that seems to make many a new farmer or homesteader uncomfortable. After all, if you're fresh from an urban back-lot and are more familiar with hot dog vendor umbrellas than breeds of laying hens...you have good reason to feel a little separated from the locals. I have been doing this a few years and I can share this certainty:
Don't. Do not let who you are presently get in the way of who you want to be. Embrace it and let it become part of what's ahead.
When I first moved from Knoxville to Sandpoint, Idaho: it bothered me a lot. I was thriving in a warm and social city in the Southeast. Moving to a frigid logging town of 5,000 was a culture shock, to say the least. Those first months going to the Co-op to buy chicken feed and rabbit pellets felt like a girl acting in the role of "Hopeful Homesteader" on a movie set, and not my real life. It was all so foreign: the lingo, the clothing, the words printed on the feed bags like another language. I had no idea what the hell I was doing.
I realized I had to decide to either be intimidated by the experienced farmers all around me or sidle up next to them and join in. I thought if I smiled, listened more than I spoke, and was polite I could at least learn something by osmosis. It turned out to be true, and slowly over the months I learned facts, stories, remedies, names, and tips the way you slowly pick up the Indian names for yoga poses if you go to enough classes because you're too stubborn to give up. I made close friends with a local sustainable farmer and spent hours at her farm learning the difference between honey bees' careers and pellet vs crumbled layer rations. It all rises to the top if you soak in it long enough.
Moving to the country is not an identity shift, it's a lifestyle change. You're still you regardless of what your zip code states. You can come here and worry that you don't fit in or that the people at Agway won't be friendly, but you're probably underestimating their apathy. You'll be "the new guy" for a while, sure, but that's not a bad thing. It's a clean slate, a chance to start every conversation with a smile. Unless your new neighbors were sorting seed potatoes on the Mayflower: they probably had someone in their lines start out as the new guy too. It's not a bad place to be.
If you want to be a local, then here's how. Move to a new place. Walk outside. Inhale. Exhale. Congratulations, as far as the IRS and post office are concerned: you're a citizen of your new town. It's that easy. If people give you a hard time and purposefully exclude, mock, or ignore a new person based entirely on their virginal status: then so be it. It's more a reflection of their own unhappiness or self-doubt than your character. Bake them a pie. All they can do is push it into your face, which is comic genius.
Belonging is a state of mind. Being part of something outside yourself can only start if you've already made it a part of what's inside you. It doesn't matter if it's your Bible Study class or your first day at a horse auction: communities are communities. When you, just little old you, accept the fact that you're a part of it your entire self relaxes into your new role and everyone else believes it too. Trust me on this one.
As for me, I do yoga among chickens. You haven't even begun to understand balance till a pullet launches and roosts on your Vrksasana. And I say that as a goddamned local of Washington County New York. If that made you cringe, come over and have some pie. We'll deal together.
It's a very rainy day here in Veryork, and I am home from work. I told myself if I woke up feeling better I'd man up and hop in the shower and head into the office. But I didn't. I woke up feeling swirly in the head and tired in the body. Outside was a steady downpour of rain and I knew I had three sheep, a goat, a calf, a cat, three dogs, two geese, four rabbits, and a flock of chickens to see too before I could even consider going back to bed. So I suited up into my new rain slicker (the best $27 I have spent this summer) and wellies and filled formula bottles, fed hay and corn, and opened coops. By the time the farm was up and running my energy stores were winding down. I cam inside and fed the dogs, took a long hot shower, put on one of my father's sweaters, and made a cup of Lyons with honey. I am happy to report I am indoors from the cold and about to go back to sleep. Today is about rest.
It is an absolutely gorgeous and warm fall afternoon. The sun is basking yellow light on every leaf. The farm feels like breathing embers. The creek is littered with golden maple leaves and the fresh winds send wafts of the last cut hay and apples ripening past their primes on the vine. It is heaven.
I pulled into the driveway and saw a calf curled up like a cat on the hillside in the dappled light. My heart melted. The sheep trotted past Tasty down the hillside for snacks (Finn was already there) and all the animals in the September light seemed extra clean, extra friendly, and extra hungry. They chattered at me, tails wagging. Behind me the back of the pickup truck was busting out with new t-posts for pasture expansion, fresh blooming mums, a bale of hay, and a blue bag of chicken feed. It was a perfect picture of rural America. It was everything I had ever worked for.
...Then I coughed up enough phlegm to choke an alpaca. What I spit out onto the pile of beautiful leaves could've well had a name and mortgage of its own. I'm sick.
I left work early, feeling guilty, and called to cancel my riding lesson. What started as a head cold has morphed into some sort of body-aching overall tiredness that made standing up too much work and walking a dizzy ordeal. When I feel like that, I go home.
So here I am, inside, on a beautiful day. At least the hoof stock are enjoying that dapple light. I'm going to bed. I better get this out of my system by October.
Sheep know how to savor. They may appear to be ripping grass and eating fast, but that's not the case at all. In fact they are just filling their gas tanks for a long day of happy chewing later on. Every time I drop down morning hay or let them on new pasture I see the same bit. Sheep acting like fools to get that first stomach loaded with food and then they slow down. They stop the frantic chase and start to sniff mint leaves and nose the ground for fallen apples. They know how to relax, ease into their long day of cud and comfort. They might start their days in a rush but once they realize they'll probably survive to see nightfall: they let go of all anxiety, sit on the hill, watch the world and chew. They aren't bothered by wind, flies, barking dogs across the street or the occasional rainstorm. They savor the morning's hay a second time and let the world worry about itself till morning.
I just spent the last twenty minutes outside in a downpour feeding a baby bottle the size of a gallon milk jug to a very excitable calf. I am amazed at how fast he sucked down the formula, and grateful for the calf feeding 101 lecture I got from Tasty's owner pre-feeding dates. "Don't hold it in front of your body like this" Tim said, as he held the bottle out with two hands exactly like I assumed I should "Cause they buck the bottle, and send it flying into your gut or face with enough force to break a nose. Hold it to the side, like this..." And that is exactly how I was feeding the youngest/largest animal on the farm tonight. In my slicker, while the wet chickens paraded around me looking for corn and June Carter wailed for her evening food. It was a very loud, very wet, scene.
Tasty was dropped off here Sunday morning, the last morning of my parent's visit to the farmhouse. I don't think either of us ever thought we'd get a chance to say the phrase "We'll put off brunch until after the holstein is settled in" but we did. And we did.
The weekend was wonderful: three days with my sister and parents. We spent it doing things I rarely do like eating out and watching movies with Chinese take-out. It was so nice to sit back with some lo mein and watch an action movie with the family, like when we were kids in our basement (which was converted into a family room/den of sorts). We also got to hit up the Southern Adirondak Fiber Festival and my dad bought me a 16x20" print of three sheep (two white, one brown) for the farm house. I bought some cleaned wool to card and spin. We spend the bulk of our time walking around around the festival enjoying cider donuts, catching up, petting sheep, and making dinner plans. I had a great weekend, and I miss them already
P.S. If you are coming to the wool workshop this weekend, please let me know? It's from 10-2 at the farm. And you get to meet a bonus cow!
P.P.S. I know the bull calf isn't a "cow". But I like calling all bovines cow 'cause it's a whimsical word to say at a sheep farm.
P.P.P.S I have been asked what kind of camera I use? A. The cheapest digital Kodak the Coeur d'Alene Target had before I moved to Vermont. It cost $103 dollars three years ago, and it's so worn out that all you can read of the original logo is "dak". Also, my iphone.
Before I share anything about the weekend, I need to stop and congratulate Patrick Shannahan of Red Top Kennels of Idaho. Yesterday Patrick (Gibson's breeder) won the National Sheepdog Finals in Virginia with his dog, Riggs (Gibson's father). What an accomplishment! I'm damn proud of the man responsible for breeding my dog and training his Dad. The farms sends much applause!
If you're a fan of sheepdog trials you need to tune into the National Sheepdog Finals happening in Virginia this week. And I mean that literally, because there will be a live streaming webcast you can watch with your family and friends at home. Gibson's father, Riggs, will be there as will one of his trainers, Barb Armata. It's the biggest event for sheepdogs in America. If you live nearbye the trial field it would be well worth it to see these dogs in action down in Middletown, Virginia
The blog has changed a lot over the years. What started as a journal, turned into a story. That story turned into a community. Now when I write here I feel like I'm starting a conversation with friends instead of scribbling into a book. I love it.
But why do you read this blog? I'm asking because I'd like to know more about what it is you enjoy reading here so I can deliver content you enjoy. Do you want recipes? DIY projects? Stories? Or do you like the freeflow of stuff that spills out of my wooly head? If there is something you used to enjoy but see less of, let me know. I'll do my level best to make CAF online a place where everyone is full and happy, like a Chinese Buffet, you know, with sheep.
I finished my first ever backyard-raised piece of clothing tonight: a knit hat. This chunky, imperfect, hat was grown on my sheep sal's back. It was sheared by Jim McRae here at Jackson while puppy Gibson and I watched. It was washed, soaked, dried, carded, and hand spun into simple white yarn and then knit into a simple hat. Tomorrow morning I will wear it to feed my sheep. As the winter comes in it will keep me warm. Next year's hats will be keeping the sheep warm. It's a good system.
There is nothing more basic on a sheep farm than this. I am wearing the hat right now as I write you in my little office. I am smiling, and not because I made a hat out of livestock: but because the hat reminds me so much of myself: Chunky, imperfect, messy, and created by a farm. I accept them both as a wild sort of beautiful.
It's the Autumnal Equinox, and the farmer is glad. Cold Antler is slowly sighing into the end of our year. I used to see a year's time as January to January, but that is no longer the case. My 2010 started when the ground thawed in March and will end around Halloween. This is the Northeastern-American time table of food-starting with snap peas and broccoli starts and ending with an apple cider pressing party next weekend. The spring, summer, and fall are my new time measurement and the winter a purgatory or planning and reckoning. I like this way of learning the world and following time. I makes sense to me.
The scorecard's been tallied and it turns out all the mistakes were lessons, the arguments conversations, and the frustrations more character. Living closer to the land can be as poetic and spiritual as you want it to be, but for me it's mostly realizing I'm a work in progress. I'll cultivate myself along the way, too.
Gibson starts his first herding lessons soon. A whole new chapter of my life starts the day I grab his leather lead and we step out of the truck together at our instructor's farm. It's a long time coming. I will let out such a sigh of relief when I stand in the training pasture by his side. We made it this far. We'll farm together. He's my friend, partner, and future. I adore my black dog.
I feel like I am always at the beginning, no longer how much I do this dance. At one time that may have frustrated me, but I am starting to learn the passion and excitement of a beginner's mind is worth the hassle. A mind is a lot like produce: it's better fresh.
If anyone would like to make an offer on this vintage farmer's tricycle, please email me at email@example.com. Its frame is solid, but needs basic updates to the chain and brakes. I was told it was from the late 1920s when I bought it.
I'd like to keep it, but with so many costs coming into winter, and so much still ahead of me to build, move, and pay for I need to sell off some luxury items such as this. The Gibson guitar and a Czech fiddle already sold on Ebay. I'd like to offer this to a local or reader who could come pick it up here at Cold Antler.
Good news. I found a home for Finn. He goes to live with a small family two hours away from here in October.
This dark morning a chilly one. The thermometer read 39 here at Cold Antler. It was the first that I put on my red flannel, canvas Carhartt vest, and wool scarf to do my morning chores. It was the coldest morning so far, and my breath swirled around the flashlight beams as I carried scratch grains from the back of the truck to the chickens, still sleeping on their roosts. I walked the electric fence line smelling the dead leaves and faint wafts of a wood stove somewhere on our mountain road. I carried hay, poured grain, and tried not to trip over June Carter who follows on all morning and night rounds to make sure I am doing things right on her farm. I smiled. I smiled like I just won a thousand dollars and it was 5:40 AM and I had not even had a sip of coffee yet. I could smell it from the kitchen though, soon as I walked inside the warm door.
Tomorrow is the Autumnal Equinox, but today is the first day of Fall.
A coworker is skipping town on vacation and asked if I could help cow sit their calf at CAF while they're gone. They'll drop off the little guy and he'll live here for one week. I'm looking forward to my crash course! Maude is going to hate this.
..tell you a lot about a person, I suppose. Mine has everything from a tin chocolate mold of a running hare to an old letterpress postcard from Knoxville. There's a photo my father took of my mom holding puppy Gibson, magnets, stickers, and more. It's maybe twelves inches of space and covers a small personal history. Neat.
When Sara came up this weekend for the dulcimer workshop/jam she brought her camera. She took a lot of farm photos and many of them weren't of the farm at all. She got glimpses of cabinets and magnets, smiling coats and backs of trucks. When she puts up the set on flickr I'll post a link so everyone can take a "tour" of the joint.
The weekend workshop was super casual. Since it was just three of us: Sara, Kat, and I—there was less structure than I originally planned. We mostly just sat outside and strummed away, learning bits of songs and chords and talking. We ate pizza from the garden and apple cake I baked earlier that morning. It was a fine, sunny afternoon of cider and new and old friends.
Next weekend my family comes up for a long overdue visit. I've missed them very much. The plan was to help run the CAF booth at the fiber festival but now it looks like I might have to cancel. The mill just told me this week I won't have any yarn for three weeks, which means I'd have no fiber to sell at the fiber event...Oh, well. Perhaps it is for the best? We'll get to spend the weekend outdoors or being together instead of split up running an event and then all of them having to run home right after. There's always next year, right?
We're a small farm here. A few hooves, a few chickens, a garden, bees, and some geese. The same fences that hold my stock in—dry the wool I plan on spinning. The same eggs I turn into muffins—also get cracked open over bowls of kibble. Egg shells end up in the soil, and extra food scraps are feasts for the flock. So what was waste to one turns into garden ground and future eggs or chicken sandwiches. It's a simple system. It serves us well.
Cold Antler has a lot of work ahead of it before the snow falls. A shelter to build, fences to go up, a goat to adopt out. There is a garden to turn over and possibly more meat to put in the freezer. There's a car to repair and register, money to earn and save, a book to finish and a cat getting surgery. There's a pup to train on sheep, wool to market and sell, and workshops to host. But all seems to fall into place, and all work gets done. It has to.
It seems like the real work of the farm isn't food or lessons: it's me. I mean that is the most selfless way possible. Building a place into a purpose changes how you understand yourself, but not at the mercy of the main intention, which is humbling. (You don't have room for much ego when removing a hundred pounds of rabbit shit from a barn.) As I turn this property slowly into the place I want it to be—I feel more confident than ever before in who I am—but also more stressed and fearful of things I used to never think about. I worry more about my health, money, and quality of free time. I am a little more scared of heights, loneliness, and bills in the mail. Certain things scab over and other things seem raw. Maybe that's simply growing older? Or maybe this place is training my mind to prioritize and let logic win over emotion? I'm not exactly sure. I do know I am happy here and feel at home in this world of animals and home cooked meals. I can turn around three times and lie down.
Perhaps none of us ever really settle down into our lives. Maybe we just have give our lives time to settle into us.
I rarely recommend books on this blog, and that's not because there aren't great books out there about small-scale farming and homesteading—it's because I have barely any time to read. Running Cold Antler and holding down a job have made 98% of my reading time of the audio variety. I have listened to stories read to me by authors (Usually three or four a week. Thank you public library), but rarely do I sit down and read the old fashioned way.
For this book, I had to. It wasn't available at the library or on iTunes, so I bought The Bucolic Plague. It was wonderful. A memoir of a Manhattan couple who bought a 60-acre farm on a whim and ended up falling in love with it. The writer, Josh Kilmer-Purcell (ex drag queen turned advertising executive) is hilarious, smart, and keenly observant about everything going on in his life, with Brent, and 88-boarded dairy goats in Sharon Springs, NY. The story of how they found home, built a farm, and became a part of a town is honest. This is not the sappy "city-turned-country" feel-good book. Instead it's a romance, between two worlds and two people, and how both need to adapt to change and personal (and financial) adversity.
I read the book in two days. When it was over I ended up on their website and watching their TV show on iTunes. This weekend is their annual Harvest Festival in Sharon Springs, just an hour and a half south of Jackson. I don't think I can make the trip, but I will one of these fall weekends to visit the store and say hello.
Leave a comment and let me know when you're showing up at the farm! I was planning on 10-2 with extended playing if anyone wants to? Quite the crowd should be showing up for the workshop, some driving all the way from Atlanta! I'll get us ready with cider and apple cake, and we'll have the whole farm to practice on. The leaves are out, the goat's still here, and I look forward to hosting the day!
The mountain dulcimer is an instrument I fell in love with when I lived in Tennessee. It's a great intro to music because it's so easy to play. How easy you might ask? Well, here is my friend Sara (grant it, a music teacher) with her new dulcimer. She recorded this the first few days of owning one!Click here to see a video of Sara, one of the folks coming to the farm this weekend (from PA!) and her rendition of Fleet Foxes on her new dulcimer!
Cold Antler Farm has a New York State tax ID number, and is working on a genuine business plan for the next three-five years of growth. The paperwork has been filed, the research began, and now the next phase can slowly evolve!
I needed the tax ID to sell goods at the Fiber Show in late September: so it was circumstance that is pushing me towards planning what the farm will be. I have no plans to quit my job, or farm full time, but I do want the animals' products to cover their own feed and care: eggs, wool, lamb, workshops, etc.
I planned for rain yesterday, but the weather report was wrong. The storm waited until the morning and met me at 5AM in the sheep pasture. It was a steady rain that joined me for my morning fence check. The sheep had once again pulled out the lower wire (their thick wool doesn't even register the shock) and to make sure the fence is still goat proof I need to check it several times a day to make sure nothing is grounded and the charge flows. So there I was, in my stood-up rain shower with a flashlight trying to pull the wire tight enough to get it on the corner insulator. When all was done I poured more water on the ground wire and flipped the switch. You can hear the charger click and see the wires give a little shake. I'll check it with my fence tester shortly. If it flashes red at the weakest part: it's on. I pack up my gear and head inside with a sigh. I want coffee, bad.
They should really brew a farmers coffee, none of the store bought stuff is strong enough to make up for rain-soaked faux-electrician work: just pour water into the bag and chew.
Finn is still here, and thanks to Annie's third line of wire and the 30-mile charger we are keeping him inside the pen. He must have gotten zapped a few times because he has stayed in even when the fences were down occasionally: a good sign he's learning a little about proper domestication. Someone was supposed to take him home to their farm Sunday, but canceled last minute and now isn't returning emails. Pre-buyers regret? He needs a new home by Thanksgiving—that's for sure.
By 5:38 I was up. I had not set my alarm, but apparently the extra hour was all the sleep my body wanted (or needed) anymore. I had gone to bed early the night before, around 10. I had had a long day that started on the back of a horse, rounded out with a five-mile run, and ended with a bowl of pasta. I love hooves, heart rates, and carbs. I enjoyed all three, with gusto, but they tend to wear a woman out. After nearly eight hours of sleep (twice of what I normally get a night) I felt like I'd go crazy if I went back to bed.
It was dark outside, 2AM dark. A few weeks ago 5:38 would be full daylight and morning chores would be done in a pair of jeans and a tee shirt. This morning seemed chilly, and I was already barking for coffee. I stood up in the dark farmhouse and went about a favorite fall ritual: candle mornings. I lit the Jack-o-lantern on the stove and a few pumpkin-shaped votives in giant quart-sized canning jars. The big globe around the flame reminded me of hurricane lamps. I lit another orange candle in the living room and let Gibson out of his crate. He had been whining for a while now. His whimpers are short and high, chirps really. When I first heard them I thought the battery was low on the smoke alarm. But in the gentle light, started with out an alarm clock, his whines were more melodic then piercing. I let him out, leashed him up, and stepped out into the light of the lamp post in the front yard. Gibson peed like a champ.
Then the ruckus started.
The sheep realized their servant was up. All three erupted in a chorus of baaing followed by the nickering of Finn. They raced down the hill from the shed to the gate. Soon after they started hollering the chickens caught on and crowed and clucked to be let out of the coop. The semi-feral rabbits started to circle me (they knew I would be throwing down grain shortly for the birds) and June Carter howled from a nearby tree stump. Gibson barked and lunged at the noise. This was a full-blown hootenanny. I was silently grateful everyone who moves to Washington County has to sign a waiver saying they understand they are in an agricultural area. All my neighbors (though I doubted any were up yet) couldn't call the cops about the party I was throwing. They literally signed up for it.
I took G inside and fed him back in the crate and started coffee on the stove. I then walked Jazz and Annie, fed the sheep and Finn two flakes of hay, dumped some cat food, and scattered chicken feed outside the open coop door. I grabbed yesterday's eggs and realized I only had four in my hands. This meant about thirty were hidden on a pile somewhere else and I would probably find them when I moved the hay bales later. Farming is mostly outsmarting your animals, or learning to play their games in a way that lets them think they won; and you still get omelets.
Within moments the hungry noise had been replaced by chewing mouths and gentle coos. Why had none of my beginner farming books described the whole point of a job well-done before coffee was if everyone shut up? I went inside, content that everyone outside was well fed.
I started my coffee, grabbed my book, and let Gibson join me on the daybed. Under the quilts I snuggled with a memoir (Reading the Bucolic Plague and loving it) and on top of them he snuggled with a rawhide bone. Jazz and Annie were already back asleep in the dim morning light. The coffee I had started before walking the dogs was perking. The outside animals were quiet. My dogs content. It was how I wanted to start every day for the rest of my life.
I'll be hosting a film and book signing here in Cambridge at Hubbard Hall on November 5th. The film is Handmade Nation, and afterwards I'll have a short talk and signing of Made From Scratch. If you're in the area, or just want to see a documentary about a movement, stop by my little town and say hello. We've got a hotel, bars, restaurants and farms. I say that's a combination for a fine time.
Event information and details, as well as a trailer of the flick can be seen here. There is also a call for local artists to join in. So if you spin, knit, can, sew, or turn a potting wheel you should consider showing up and joining the party.
Simple Pumpkin Muffins 3 1/2 c. flour 2 tsp. baking soda 3 c. sugar 1 1/2 tsp salt 1 tbs cinnamon 1tsp nutmeg 1/4 tsp ground ginger
Mix all those dry things in a bowl larger than you expected...and then add 1 cup oil, 4 farm eggs, 2/3 cup water, and 2 cups of pumpkin. Mine was a little stringy but after the beaters got to it all was well. Grease your muffin tins with butter and add a sprinkle of flour too. Shake out excess flour and then fill then 3/4 of the way full (though I went nearly to the top...) Bake at 350 for about twenty minutes, check to make sure a toothpick comes out clean. I spread cream cheese icing on mine after they cooled. Coworkers will be happy.
I bought a pumpkin at Gardenworks this weekend. A small one, just big enough to make a few loaves of pumpkin bread or muffins, but large enough to still make a fine jackolantern. Tonight I'll fill the house with smells of baking pumpkin and lantern light. With the clouds and rain it'll make everything seem safer, warmer. These past few days have been overcast and blustery. I was outside around dusk with Gibson, watching the trio of crows in the dead limbs of trees high above the farm barking at us. Everywhere around me were the leaves of the big maple. The dry summer may have stopped another season of Blight in the garden, but it also is causing an early foliage turn. All the October tourists will be finding a lot of empty trees. September will be our peak, mark my words.
I am happiest when I need wool wrapped around me, rubber boots against damp earth, and the sky is swirling and overcast. I adore precipitation: rainy days, storms, and snow. The weather that makes us stop and hunker down with books and mugs. I like being outside in it too. There is something a little more tangible about those damp days. The world has a stronger grip on you. You're forced to pay more attention: to how you drive, what you wear, and even if you cupboard has all the right supplies for hot chocolate or tea. I like working outside in a cold mist and getting sweaty, feeling the heat of work bounce back against my skin off wool. I like seeing my breath swirl, hearing distant wind and then seeing it rush into the trees. I like seeing the crows scurry like buckshot, their sounds calm me, very much so.
I don't ever want to be too far from crows and cold wind. That would be just awful.
"See, this is why we call it Burdock Meadow," Hollie said to me, half joking and half surprised I didn't pull the seventy-jillion burrs out of Sunny's tail while I tacked him up for my lesson. Sunny's a chestnut Appendix, a regal looking animal in his english saddle and bridle. But it's hard to look good when your personal assistant doesn't realize you have stickers on your butt. Hollie was joking, but she made her point: grooming is head to tail, not just where the saddle goes. I've almost got the tacking part of the lesson down. I can brush backs, pick hooves, pick out and adjust the right pads, lifts, girths and saddles. I can put on the bridle and halter: but I never thought to check his tail. I blushed a little and apologized in some rushed bit about not-knowing-about-the-tail. I made a mental note.
Last night was my best lesson so far at Riding Right Farm. For one, long, side of the arena I did my most-correct, most-comfortable, and most-chilled out posting trot yet. I beamed as Hollie praised me. For weeks I'd been coming to lessons tightly wound and over-working my body. I was nervous being back on a horse again. It had been since college that I rode regularly. (I'm cautious by nature, so having a 1,000-pound animal below me that could throw me at whim had me a little tense.) But tonight some part of me gave up the fight, gave in. For the first time I was at home up there, even for a dozen yards. I could tell it was correct because it felt effortless. I trotted with Sunny, not on him. For a moment my mind was clear and I understood everything he was doing and he tolerated me beautifully.
Within a few more laps and circles I was back to overworking, poor hand position, and over steering. But I'll get it eventually. The point is progress was happening and all it took was letting go.
When the lesson was over Hollie let me un-tack Sunny alone and left me a lantern and instructions to return him to Burdock Meadow. The meadow was on the other side of the farm and it was already after 8pm and dark in New York. After I put away all my gear and Sunny was back to just a halter. I thanked him and gave him a kiss on the nose. I pulled every burr out of his tail. He stood patiently. A good man.
The barn was ours for a minute. I turned on the lantern and we walked under the stars to the meadow. We walked slow and I could look up and around me. At the trees starting to yellow, at Sunny's large brown head just to my right. I opened the gate and removed his halter. The rest of the night was his to do things horses do. I thanked him again for helping me relax, let go, and just be present with him for a few moments tonight. He turned around and trotted off into the dark. I headed back to the stables with a lantern in my right hand, and was smiling. I didn't know horses could be buddhist.
The three day weekend was kind to me, kinder than it seems from the frustration of earlier posts. I needed it too. I was able to jog everyday, caught up on housework (The shower has never been cleaner) and sleep. I got more sleep last night than I get during the work week in three days. Top off that kind of slumber with a morning of pumpkin coffee and cast-iron baked apple pancakes and you have yourself a remedy. Living on a farm is both the poison and the cure, but at least you don't have to go far from your front door to experience both.
Yesterday Annie Dileo came back over to help run a third line of electric fencing around in the inside of the sheep pen. So far it's working great and should hold him while I'm at work so I don't have to pace around the office worrying. I made her an apple pie with a smiling goat on it as a thank you. I wish I could do more, but I am learning as a new home owner you can't do much of anything when the mortgage is due. I happy and sobering reality, that.
I'm working hard on finding Finn a new home. I'm talking to everyone from Doug at Wayside to Brent and Josh of the Fabulous Beekman Boys (who's farm is south of CAF in Sharon Springs). It would be quite fabulous to get Finn a gig on a TV show with those goat boys, that way this sheep girl can move forward with the fall plans of barn raising and pasture expanding with a lighter heart and less stress.
Someone's gotta adopt this guy, and they will. In the meantime the third strand of wire is working, for now...
A few weeks ago I announced a post where a farm family in Florida needed our help. Donations were sent in from all over the country and HeartSong Farm is slowly building from the ground up. For anyone who donated I would like to thank you personally, and for those of you who sent a gift their way: here is a note from Crystal.
Dear CAF readers,
I feel like I should call you family now. "Readers" has such an impersonal tone, I don't think it's appropriate anymore. So, family you now are and will always be at HeartSong Farms.
I cannot express in words how amazing the responses to Jenna's post have been. I have read each personal note. I have cried in thanks over every penny sent our way. I have prayed for each person that has sent good wishes to us. The world seems a smaller, closer place now. I am in awe over the intimacy humans can accomplish over state lines and broadband connections.
After much frustration with local building laws, we have inched forward with our move to the land. We have a permit for electric, an address, containers for water, and tools to start a simple life on five undeveloped acres. These are all thanks to you. And yet, we've been down right stingy parting with such fine gifts. We have enough left to make the shed a safer place for our babies to live.
There is a lot of work infront of us. But we're moving forward with cautious steps even if they're a bit hurried from our initial plan. We've been rushing out resumes and have had an interview for a job about 45 minutes from our land. I've been sorting out our possessions and have scheduled yard sales over the next few weeks. It's still scary. It's still nervewrecking and nauseating at times but we're resolved to not let this break us. To become a better family because of it. We are fortunate to have a place to call our own and a faceless family that wants to see us get there.
Thank you. Each and everyone of you. We have kept each email and hope someday to return the favor however we can.
The blog of author Jenna Woginrich of Cold Antler Farm. Here she writes about her adventures following her crazy dream life as a self-employed writer, homesteader, archer, falconer, equestrian, martial artist, hunter, spinner, brewer, geek, and real-life Game of Thrones Extra. She loves movies, pop culture, running far, and eating animals. On twitter @coldantlerfarm
And when the children are safe in bed, at one of the great holidays like the Fourth of July, New Years, or Halloween, we can bring out some spirits and turn on the music, and the men and the women who are still among the living can get loose and really wild. So that's the final meaning of "wild"- the esoteric meaning, the deepest and most scary. Those who are ready for it will come to it. Please do not repeat this to the uninitiated. -gs