words and work
By the time I finally got back into the farmhouse I was almost blown back as I stepped through the threshold of the 51-degree home. It seemed so incredibly comfortable compared to the alternatives since leaving the office. Greeted by Jazz and Annie, it was even warmer. I sweat that huskies smile.
First task: Take all three dogs out for a constitutional to release their urgencies. When returned and fed, I was free to see to the warming of the place. I heated up the oven to 410 degrees to bake up a small pizza. Then I set to work collecting the last few day's worth of ashes from the two wood stoves and set to work lighting them in their fresh homes.
With fires starting to blaze, I set outside for the first trip of wood collecting for the night. I chose thinner, lighter, dry logs to ensure a healthy fire before I headed outside to the farm animals. While they burned and the fires grew warmer, I dined on a quick supper while I watched the kitchen thermometer climb a few degrees from the oven and two stoves. Heat is not a fast thing here. It comes only from labor, the elements, and sweat. I prefer this kind of heat. It is warmer than the degrees tell.
When all the wolves were fed, it was time to head down the farm's food chain, starting with the 30 (I lost one) meat birds in the brooder. Like so many of you warned: the birds stank. Every night they needed a fresh layer of bedding and every third night I had to bring the wheelbarrow indoors to unload all that soiled bedding and totally re-clean the brooder. Tonight was a barrow night, so I set out to fetch it and spent a half hour scooping, dumping, scooping, dumping, shaking fresh wood shavings down, and offering clean food and water services. The chicks seemed to appreciate it. Now twice their incoming size and ready to be moved to their hay bale winter barn (yet to be constructed) any day now. I swept up the mess I made around the brooder and left the room smelling and looking better than when I arrived in it a bit earlier. The fire across the small room warmed my back, and I decided it was time to feed the pigs.
In the back of the truck were two two-gallon buckets of food scraps from The Wayside Country Store. They've donated all scraps and edible garbage to Cold Antler and every day after work I pick up the buckets of old deli meats, sandwiches that didn't sell, salad greens and somesuch. The pigs are voracious now. They get four gallons twice a day now and could probably eat more. As they dove into their rubber bin I cleaned out and refilled their water bucket. Jasper watched from his stall. He doesn't seem to understand why the pigs eat so much more than he does?
Jasper got three flakes for the cold night and a fresh bucket of water as well. None of the water around here comes from a hose. There are no outdoor faucets. The people who I bought this farm from had spent five years turning a beat-up farm into a beautiful retirement home. They had no need for hoses or pumps. They sold it to a farmer though, and she uses the 5-gallon buckets by the artesien well and carries them the 50 yards to the barn or sheep trough.
And so the pigs and Jasper had food and water. I stand in the barn a bit to collect my breath and think. I am hoping the farrier comes soon, he really needs a trim. Ken Norman will come by when he can fit it in, I'm sure, but the young man could use a manicure. I make mental notes about the shuffling of bills and circumstances to make sure it happens soon as possible. I scratch his head. His salt-and-pepper mane makes me smile. I am so very partial to those colors on my good boy.
I collect eggs and I grab the frozen rabbit water bottles and bring them all inside. It has now been over an hour since I lit the fires and I need to go inside to mind them. Deciding not to waste a trip, I bring in an armload of proper stove wood too. As I hand-feed the fires I start to sing to myself. I sing Pretty Saro, the folk song my goose is named after and the words float from my work like a soundtrack to evening.Oh, when I first came a to this countrrrrryyyyy, iiiiinnnn eighteen and foooorrrrrty nine. I saw many true a looovers, But ne'er sawa miiiinnnne...
I smile, thinking of how I sing it like the woman on the porch in Songcatcher. I wonder how accurate that is to the real Appalachian vocal traditions. Annie just wags her tail. That bitch loves a good miserable ballad. The house is now 56 degrees and outside it has dropped into the high teens.
I head back outside to carry a barrow of hay to the sheep. I know their 30-gallon water tank is fine, mostly full, and a submersible de-icer is keeping it from turning solid. The water in the barn doesn't freeze at this temperature, kept warm by the hay and life inside it. I do not fret, and know that the water bottles by the stove are ready to return to the rabbits. I think my does might kindle in this cold. I am excited and worried for them. We will see what comes of it. Bruce, my rabbit mentor, says kindling goes okay in barns save for the days over 100 degrees and below -5. We are still in the safe zone of the local legends. I put my faith in them.
I shut the door on the coop. I bring the chicken water font in by the stove to defrost for morning's chores. It has been over 2 hours of solid work. the house is new 58 degrees and in celebration of the work I will drag the sheep skin and some quilts to the Bun Baker to read my book. The TV is still here, but it's dead to me right now. Instead of watching reruns of television shows I wrote this to you. I emailed some hopeful blog sponsors (Got plans for heat in that truck!). All of it better and made me feel more alive than the empty feeling I get watching Netflix alone in an old house.
Some people took my post about television removal as a judgement on their own usage, or even of the medium in general. This is silly. I have no qualms with the invention or art of television. I appreciate the news, education, and entertainment of it. But for me (and this blog only speaks for me) it has become a sad center of my evenings. I want my evenings back. I want to write, play music, work on the business, write books, call friends, and read. I want to close my eyes on a sheepskin rug and hear the sounds of breathing dogs, nearly asleep, chicks in a brooder, and cracks from the fire. I love Jon Stewart, but I love this more. You folks do whatever it is you need to do with your televisions. I just need to see other people for a while.
I have split my night instead into words and work.
That is my favorite life. One of writing and chores. Tonight I got to live it, take it in in every sense. To an outsider looking in, this place is a burden. To me, it is a sanctuary, temple, dance hall, theatre, therapist, library, best friend and grocery store. Isn't that what all homes aim to be?
This was a weeknight at Cold Antler Farm. I'll be asleep by 10. I'll set my phone to wake me up every two hours to keep the stove fires alive, but I'll enjoy the naps in between. Tomorrow is the last full day of work before a 4-day holiday weekend. And you know what I will do with those 30-degree afternoons in a 68-degree farmhouse?