Monday, May 2, 2011

one week

I decided to share a week—in great detail— of what it is like living on Cold Antler. How it works, what I do, and how the farm and my 8-5 job work together under the effort of a single person. Starting with yesterday, here we go.

Sunday, May 1st
I wake up in pain. A lot of pain. The combination of sunburn and aching muscles is what wakes me up before the alarm. It's 4:40AM and for a Sunday, that's even early for me. It's still dark out, mostly. I roll out of bed and at my feet is Annie, a living stuffed animal. I whisper a good morning and she tucks in her front paws and rolls onto her back for a belly scratch. Jazz is on his bed downstairs and Gibson is in his crate. Since he still thinks this house is his buffet, he has to be crated at night. He'll poison himself eating AA batteries if I let him.

I'm so dang sore because yesterday I extended the sheep's side of the pasture an 1/8 of an acre, and put in a new raised bed garden by myself. Sometimes I can wrangle help, sometimes not. Saturday: not. The whole afternoon was spent slamming 15 pounded posts, stringing electrical wire, and hoeing a new raised bed. I started at 1 and ended around 6PM. I was proud of the full day of work, but paying for my lack of sun protection (straw hat or somesuch) and choice of tank top instead of a button down. So I am red as Brandywine on the vine. Outside the kitchen window I can see Jasper on the hill, laying down. He looks so small when he's laying down and so very large when he is running. The sheep are still curled up in their crumbling shed. It need to be rebuilt or shorn up, soon. It's not about to fall on them, but it won't make it through another winter as is. Panic quickly shoots through me at the thought of this.

I don't even have time to make coffee. I need to scurry through morning chores (test and repair any faults in the electric fence, feed 12 sheep, chickens, geese, mallards, a full-rabbitry, and three dogs before I can head down to my neighbors farm. We're going together to the annual Poultry Swap, which starts way before 7AM. I am only bringing 15 dollars cash because I know myself well enough to limit my ability to buy animals and animal supplies. All I need is a hardy buck for my breeding meat rabbit does in the barn. The rex is too young to do the job, and the Silver Fox buck delivered yesterday by Jennifer hasn't been tested yet. I decide right there to not buy a rabbit until I plan on breeding with Gotcha, that new SF buck. But I need a working buck on this farm, three does and no kits yet. I am hankering for rabbit meat. It's a favorite. Something I didn't even know until a few summers ago.

I get dressed in worn jeans, a blue cowboy shirt, a five-dollar Salvation Armani men's J Crew wool sweater, wool socks, brown beaten Hi-Tec hiking boots, a leather belt with a TENNESSEE buckle and head outside. I laugh to myself quietly. This outfit just a few years ago felt like a costume. Now it's most of my wardrobe. My clothes went from hipster to wrangler pretty fast. Mostly because you can't buy American Apparel hoodies in Tractor Supply.

The indoor weather station reads 38 degrees and I am happy I covered the new broc garden last night with plastic. There are two stupid-impulse tomato plants in there. I hope they made it. I put the potted basil in the passenger seat of my truck last night. Trucks make great overnight plant protection if you roll up the cab windows.

After the dogs have been fed and walked, I head over to check on Jasper. He's standing where he always seems to stand, right under the big old apple tree on the hill. In the dawn light he is beautiful, so much bigger than a small pony to me. He puts his front hoofs on the tree stump, I think to seem even bigger. I open the gate and he walks down to me and takes some hay as I pet his neck. I still don't really believe he's here. For kicks I run away and his ears shoot up at my sprint. He runs right behind me, both of us chasing nothing like fools. I like that he stays beside me in the pasture, trotting next to me in play. I stop because my soreness isn't interested in pony jogging. And Jasper enjoys his breakfast of hay from down the road.

After all the animals seen too. I heat up day-old coffee in the microwave and pour it into a dented VPR travel mug (AKA adult sippy cup so I don't spill half) and turn on the truck. Ice covers the windshield. I sigh, and scrape it. I keep the plastic sheeting on the garden bed I covered, and hope for the best. It should be 70 degrees in a few hours.

I head down to Common Sense Farm, which I am seeing a lot of this weekend. Othniel, Yasheva, and their three children are in the barn with a french WOOOFER named Mitch. We're loading up goat kids in my truck, and their mini van along with plant starts, hanging baskets of berries, spelt, and meat chickens. When all is loaded, we drive south into the sunrise and Oth knows some secret shortcut to the fairgrounds. We float over hillsides and farm, passing a herd of deer so sprite and far away it looks like the goats escaped into the horizon.

We arrive early enough to have our choice of prime spots. We unload and build a small pen for the goats, set up plant stands, and hang strawberry baskets from the tent. The sun is out in full force now, but we're still cold in our sweaters. I walk the rows of vendors and am surprised how much the swap has grown since I first came to it four years ago. Now there are donkeys, ponies, and highlander calves. I see a man selling wooden Adirondack chairs (handmade and painted!)for 45 bucks and the folks across the road from us are selling horse tack for a dollar. I get a saddle pad, bridle, bit, reins, and a used western saddle for a song. I walk the thing back to my truck and have a flash of being part of another time and place. Cowgirl and her saddle...

By noon five of the eight goats are sold and Othniel is haggling over the market price of the Highlanders. I just keep thinking about getting home to the farm to refill water stations. Dog alive, it is hot out. My sunburn seems even hotter on my shoulders. All of us are growing sun-weary. We pack up and head home another secret way, past farms from storybooks. I listen to the CD mix my old friend Leif mailed me, and laugh when the song "All for Me Grog" comes on sang by a troupe of 11-year-olds. Classic.

I'm beat, but happy to know that my friend Brett will be over in a few hours. He'll be stopping by on his way home to the Adirondacks to help me shore-up the barn. We've slowly been repairing it, making it more sturdy and expanding the space inside. That afternoon we poured two concrete slabs for future posts and beams to rest on, and took measurements for a stable (needed by winter). We take a break to enjoy the coffee porter he brought and talk about our unusually similar pasts. Both of us worked in television and now take care of chickens and heat with wood. The beer is amazing. So smooth.

By now it's nearly dinner time and I am famished and tired, very, very tired. So is brett, but he sticks with the game plan. There is still much to do, and the fact that I had help meant I couldn't put it off and miss the oppurtunity of having someone who competed in logging sports aid in the lifting of heavy things. So Brett kindly helped me straighten and repair the weak sheep shed, prune the giant maple, and carry 80-pound bags of Quickcrete. I offer him a hanging basket of strawberry plants and one of the ram lambs. He accepts the barter for his efforts and I feel a little debt repaid. Without the talents and skills of others, this farm would not run. And thanks to them, I now now how to pour slabs and mix cement. Take that, design college.

By the time he leaves and hugs and plans are exchanged, I am too tired to even make pizza at home for dinner. I order Chinese (sorry, idealists out there) and while I wait for it to wok up, I go about evening chores so that when I return with it, it's just me and three dogs and Jamie and Adam on Mythbusters with my lo mein.

I set my alarm for 10PM in case I fall asleep. I'll need to go out and shut the chicken coop door. I saw a fox last weekend the size of a coyote slinking around the far pasture. His orange and white poof-tail gave me the finger as he trotted off.

It's on.

24 Comments:

Blogger Colleen Mole said...

Holy crap girl! You get a lot done in one day. (Kinda makes me feel even more like a couch potato...must work on that).

May 2, 2011 at 1:59 PM  
Blogger Odie Langley said...

I love it when you take time to give us all the details on your work there Jenna. You have a lot to be very proud of.
Odie

May 2, 2011 at 2:01 PM  
Blogger Meredith A said...

sounds like a fun weekend!

remember to make sure all tack and equipment fits your individual animal properly.

May 2, 2011 at 2:02 PM  
Blogger Lynda Halliger-Otvos said...

Yowza, Jenna, you did more Sunday than I have done in a month. Literally !~!~ We are semi-retired and live in a very small space in a Co-op where we take care of our yard and its 35 assorted plants ranging from yummy strawberries to the most beautiful baby tree I’ve ever seen: a Weeping Copper Beech. For fun and pin money we look after two local toddlers several days a week, but that still doesn’t generate that labor intensity of which you speak. Best to you and CAF, I love reading about it every day.

May 2, 2011 at 2:11 PM  
OpenID mollymakesdo said...

Sounds like a full, tiring, but rewarding kind of life... and yet so many people complain that it takes too long for their instant food to cook in the oven and how dare it make them miss out on the beginning of their 5 hour/night t.v. ritual! I don't get it... I can't wait until my days are full like this!

May 2, 2011 at 2:39 PM  
Blogger candisrrt said...

Wow! That is a day!

May 2, 2011 at 4:06 PM  
Blogger Pat Woginrich said...

Always wear sunscreen 30 when you are out in the sun and also over any exposed skin. I wear it on my face, even in winter. It prevents burns and sun damage which causes the skin to wrinkle

May 2, 2011 at 4:44 PM  
Blogger Kimberlie Ott said...

I love how the clothing styles changed :) To go from Saks to sacks, that is the country life :) great accomplishments on your weekend, do tell more about this mystery fellow :)

May 2, 2011 at 5:28 PM  
Blogger becky3086 said...

I thought I was the only one who had a fox the size of a coyote!

May 2, 2011 at 6:05 PM  
OpenID mountainchicken said...

I second what Meredith says- make sure the tack fits.... a penny now saves a pound in chiropractic visits.

May 2, 2011 at 6:45 PM  
Blogger georgie said...

Oh to have your resilience and energy. Reading about your day made my muscles ache!

May 2, 2011 at 6:46 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Hi Jenna.
I just have to ask-can you really ride Jasper? I don't know how tall you are, but 11.2 hands seems small to me. I suppose it is a matter of perspective, however. My Irish Wolfhound stands 9 hands at the shoulder!
Lisa

May 2, 2011 at 6:52 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Lisa, Jasper is fine to ride for short periods, like hopping on the back of to ride into higher fields and check on sheep, but not for a real distance. He has no qualms with me on his back for a short time, but at 11.2 hands, he is not large enough to go great distances...

however, in good shape with a cart, he could easily pull me into center cambridge and back, a 6-mile round trip. Easy.

May 2, 2011 at 7:02 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

And I will have all tack fitted by an instructor. Don't you guys worry!

May 2, 2011 at 7:03 PM  
Blogger Lauren said...

Wow! The two of us hardly get that done, although the baby does hinder a bit. I LOVE barter. It is a wonderful way to get stuff you need.

You go girl!

May 2, 2011 at 7:10 PM  
Blogger Janet said...

Great idea Jenna: Nice to see all the new skills you're learning and the repairs going on.
BTW, use some protection from the sun - that ozone layer gets thinner each year - I'm payinmg now with serious wrinkle issues after years of exposure before SP30 was ever heard of.

May 2, 2011 at 8:03 PM  
Blogger E said...

What a productive weekend!
Chores, animals & visiting.

When will you have time to spend with Jasper? Doesn't he need exercise and more attention than sheep?

May 2, 2011 at 9:43 PM  
Blogger Donna said...

Sounds like my kind of day, thanksfor sharing.

May 2, 2011 at 11:45 PM  
Blogger Flartus said...

Sometimes I just check the comments to see how many people have to give you the same advice. (Mom gets a free pass; that's her job!) :)

I second Odie's comment about how interesting it is to hear all the nitty-gritty detail. Did you ever think feeding the livestock would be so interesting to so many people?

May 3, 2011 at 6:15 AM  
Blogger Maria said...

Now that is a great day! I love the way you to tell a story!

May 3, 2011 at 7:01 AM  
Blogger Holly said...

Jasper will be fine. Horses don't require a huge block of time. If he was a serious competition horse he would. Jenna could easily put 30 minutes into him a day and he would be just fine. Honestly I feel we pester our horses more then they like. My horse tells me I pester her all them time.

May 3, 2011 at 8:03 AM  
OpenID amygrennell said...

Loved reading this and it made me tired. i love that there was a poultry swap. Sounds fun actually! Or maybe I didn't read that right. Anyways I laughed at your clothing changing over the last couple years too. I live in the suburbs but the farm store is a frequent visit around the corner. Whenever they have carhart or some other brand on sale I actually think I should go look. That would have been unthinkable to me a few years ago!

May 3, 2011 at 12:36 PM  
OpenID amygrennell said...

Loved reading this and it made me tired. i love that there was a poultry swap. Sounds fun actually! Or maybe I didn't read that right. Anyways I laughed at your clothing changing over the last couple years too. I live in the suburbs but the farm store is a frequent visit around the corner. Whenever they have carhart or some other brand on sale I actually think I should go look. That would have been unthinkable to me a few years ago!

May 3, 2011 at 12:36 PM  
Blogger Carol said...

I'm so glad you have wonderful neighbors that you can learn from and share with. I wish all people could learn from you and your neighbors and friends, the world would certainly be a nicer place.

May 3, 2011 at 5:53 PM  

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