Saturday, November 6, 2010

he watches everything

a good morning

I woke up to the sound of Upset crowing. I was certain it was him. When you live with a handful of roosters you've known since they could all fit in...well, a can tell their voices apart. Upset sounds like a recording of a rooster used on a movie set. Winthrop howls like a dog. The little Bantam (named Fancy) sounds like a drunk court jester on speed, and the meat birds sound delicious. Even as I wake I know who is who. You pick up these things by osmosis.

I dressed in a warm sweater once outside the covers, and stepped over the army of dogs at my feet. Jazz and Annie do not move before 7AM, and I gingerly walked around them as I made my way to the kitchen. I started the percolator on the stove and lit some candles. It was still dark outside, and I didn't want the harsh light of the kitchen's electricity to rattle my calm morning. I took a quart jar with a votive in it over to the wood stove and got it roaring. The thermostat never rises above 58 inside, but with that fire going the kitchen would rise to the high sixties. I looked out the window, smelling the coffee stat was starting to perk. Outside the pasture was covered in frost and Sal stared at me a while before letting out a long, low, bbbbbbaaaaaaaa. He looked like I owed him money.

I went outside in rubber boots and a knit hat to feed them a flake of hay. It was light out, but not yet sunrise. Everything was blue. The chickens noticed me and flocked around my legs so I threw them some corn and feed. I didn't go into the barn to check on the rabbits, it was too dark without a lantern. I would see to them after daylight.

Inside all the dogs were taken outside to relieve themselves and then fed breakfast. I went about the business of making oatmeal with some maple syrup to flavor it. (This was an oatmeal morning for certain.) I took a pound of ground beef out of the freezer and let it thaw in the metal sink and then went about prepping some yeast and honey for fresh bread. I had no specific meal planned but thought meat, potatoes (I had 15 pounds stored up), and fresh bread would invent itself into a comforting meal for certain. This house would be warm soon, and smell of butter-topped bread in a few hours.

When my work is done around the farm, and a meal's been enjoyed I'll open a bottle of homebrew and get out my fiddle. I've been meaning to play more and I think that'll wrap up just in time for Prairie Home Companion. A radio show I used to listen to driving (too fast) home from college in a red Jetta with dreams of living in a loft in Philadelphia after graduation. I wanted to fid a job at an up-and-coming design firm and eat Japanese at 3 AM. Back then I wanted to be cool. Now I want to be useful. Tonight I will listen to tales of Lake Wobegon from a little sheep farm in Washington County. What a change in just a few years of mountains and America. If I knew that was where I was going I wouldn't have driven that Volkswagen so fast.

Last night I parked my car after the book event in town and I have no intention of getting back into it until Monday morning. I have plenty to keep me busy here—both on the farm and in my office—so I see no reason to stray for sport. It seems whenever I leave the house it's to spend money, even if it's just the gas to wander somewhere. It's something I am trying to do less and less of and so a solid two days of hard work, writing, and getting the house in order will be both prudent and relaxing. I would not have dream of staying in my house and property for 48+ hours a few years ago but that was before I realized errands and buying things made me very tired. I am through being tired by the world. I'm just starting to learn how to live in it.

Friday, November 5, 2010

let's hang out tonight

Just a reminder to come down to the Freight Yard in Cambridge tonight for a showing of the DIY film: Handmade Nation at 7pm! A free movie and a discussion about handmade living? Can't beat that with a stick, darling. Just can't.

Details Here!

truck stop

Thursday, November 4, 2010

black dog stout

My first attempts at homebrewing were far from failures, but I still have a ways to go before I get this down. My Antler Ale (a west coast pale ale) turned out flavorful enough, but I over-carbonated it in the bottling process, making it almost a seltzer in texture. I'll adjust my sugar next time. Natural carbonation is a fickle bitch.

But my Black Dog Stout came out smooth and slick, black as night and tasting slightly of chocolate and brown sugar. It might well be over-carbonated itself but the beer is so dark and thick you can't tell. Or rather, I can't tell. I adore it. I plan on making four more gallons of the stuff before Christmas.

It's a damp night here in Washington County. The farm's sluggish as most farms are when it's cold and wet outside. The sheep ate their hay fast and then stomped up the hill for shelter in their sheds. The chickens are a sorry looking bunch, all wet and ragged. I watched Upset jump on one of the meat bird's backs and bite right into his comb, causing some blood to cascade off. I yelled at him, and ran inside to grab the Bag Balm. I decided right then and there that any bird that looks like Chuck Klosterman on this farm will probably end up being an asshole. Upset, as it turns out, is quite upsetting. He'll make great soup, though. I should have named him Silver Lining.

The dogs are downstairs, suspiciously quiet. The only dog that usually comes up to the farm office while I'm writing is Jazz. I even have a bed up here by my desk, and he makes it his while I type and yet even he is downstairs. I am guessing there is much plotting going on and I'm going to head down to suss it out. I hope you all stay dry and warm. If your place is anything like here, a stout beer and watching Braveheart for the 34 jillionth time is all this barometer is good for.

time to cut back

Winter is here, ewes are coming, hay, heat and safe cars are on my mind: all these things mean hunkering down on my wallet. I'd like to ask you guys out there, the experts in frugality that you are: how do you make your money stretch and save it? I am looking for common sense hints, tips, links, suggestions and such.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

saddle change

Tonight was a busy night at the riding stables. Seemed like everyone was out on the thirty-degree night with their horses. Most of the school saddles were on other horses in the arena, so out of kindness Hollie let me borrow her own dressage saddle for my lesson. (I am used to general english-style saddles. I never really feel correct in them. )She warned me it would be different.

It was a revelation! I had never used that style before but never had I felt more comfortable, more in control, and more content on the back of a horse than I was tonight. (And that horse was 16.2 hands!) For the first time I felt like I was riding that horse: not just a passenger stranded on her back. Hollie actually said "wow" noticing the difference. She said it was my best lesson ever and I swelled up with some slow-earned pride.

I am not good at this riding thing, but I am stubborn. I go for lessons every week and through heat, cold, bruises, and frustrations I keep going back. Every time I go I am grateful I did. Some weeks that half hour on the back of a trotting beasts is the only peace I get. I'm forced to focus 100%, relax, and for a few minutes I actually release all my tension. It is wonderful.

Tonight was a fine, effortless, ride. Now I am more interested than ever in Dressage. What a handsome sport. Sometimes it just takes a small, simple, change to make everything better.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

the witch of hebron

Apparently there are a lot of books out there about realistic fiction in Washington County, New York. I recently finished Rose in a Storm, and am now starting a novel called The Witch of Hebron by James Howard Kunstler, which is about something a lot of us Homesteaders and small farmers have thought about from time to time: the end of modern civilization. In Kunstler's book oil is gone, a middle eastern war bankrupted the economy, and farming and homesteading have taken over as the normal way of life in Upstate New York. Cars have been replaced by horses, old high schools have been turned into communes, and school bus stations are now horse stables. (This all takes place in the not-too-distant future.) The book is certainly a post-apocalyptic but it's not dreary by any means. It's full of interesting characters, a faux-Christian Cult, and a society without electricity, laws, or means to live outside of their own communities. It's actually a sequel to a book called World Made by Hand which I have yet to read, but certainly will. It's so weird to read a book about the end of civilization that takes place in my region of Veryork....He writes about Orvis being out of business, walking along the Battenkill, fishing in Lake's as if the world I know and live had been flipped on its head and the only way of life left is homesteading in the wake of abandoned Wallmarts and stripmalls. The roads all detroyed by neglect and frost heaves. The wild places of highways between towns have been taken over by land pirates and raiders. It is a wild read!

Worth picking up. I'll tell you what though, if you read this you'll feel a lot better about learning to knit or can...will you ever.

Monday, November 1, 2010

sweater mug

I love coffee, I love wool, and I love knitting. Meet the Mug Sweater: the love child of all three. It's a simple sleeve stitched around the handle of a clay mug. It keeps your hands from being uncomfortably hot and helps hold a little more warmth around the beverage inside. It's a very quick, simple, job (knit a small swatch long enough to wrap around the vessel and use a yarn needle to stitch it closed). I think a set of sweater mugs could be great, inexpensive, handmade gift for the holidays. You can pick up old Firekings or crunchy hand-thrown mugs second-hand at Thrift stores and use some of that great left-over yarn hanging around your home. Fill them with some some simple brown bags tied with string of whole bean or flavored coffees and you just gifted someone an entire experience. I can tell you that on a cold morning at the farm, when the woodstove is out and there's ice on the water buckets—a sweater mug is the only proper way for a shepherd to drink Joe.

tired boy

Sunday, October 31, 2010


It's a night entirely dedicated to comfort here at Cold Antler Farm. There's a smiling Jack-o-lantern outside on the front stoop and a fire in the woodstove is making the entire downstairs toasty. I recently came in from checking on the sheep, chickens, and rabbits. It's really cold out there, too. The weather report is calling for some possible snow here in the 12816, up to a half inch. It was the incentive I needed to really get that fire going in the cast-iron belly of the woodstove. She's doing a swell job on this good night.

Halloween means a lot to me. It's my favorite holiday. I have absolutely no interest in the modern scary stuff. I don't begrudge it, it's just not mine. My Hallows is a night to truly reflect, be calm, and be grateful I are still among the living. Thousands of years ago this was the Celtic New Year. The end of the Harvest and a time of much somber remembrance and gratitude for the food grown, animals harvested, and the people lost over the recent year. So for me: it's a quiet day. Not much fuss.

My morning started with Gibson's weekend herding lesson, something I try to make a couple times a month between two trainers. Today I started getting it, Gibson already knows it. My job is to hone instincts and show him the way I need him to work sheep, but he already understands that they are not like other animals. They are his. We are a team, however new at this old game.

You could call us Team Crow if you like. Around my neck is a small silver crow charm, and one identical to it is on Gibson's collar. I believe crows seen in pairs are good luck, always have. When you seen them alone it's nothing special, but together, oh boy have you got a good sign. So when I found these little charms at a discount jeweler I coughed up the couple of dollars and each of us adorned one around our necks. We wear them for luck. Together we're a pair.