Saturday, April 30, 2011

Jasper

the hudson

Last night I was on my way to meet some friends for a party in Saratoga Springs when I hit a series of flashing lights and police lines outside a quiet village. I soon realized the crime, wasn't, but that the Hudson River was pretty angry. While this is in no way a comparison to what is happening in the South, here in the Upper Hudson Valley the entire town of Schuylerville (Skyler-Ville) was road-blocked because the river was taking it over. I'm not used to seeing police lines in Washington County, and when I saw the giant cement bridge over the Hudson lined with people and cameras I jogged up to see see what was happening. I saw a familiar face, Ben Shaw, my chicken processor with his wife walking fast to the bridge. I waved hello, jogged up, and asked them what was going on? They explained that deep snow in the Adirondaks had all melted too quickly and it was too much for this part of the river to take. See that picture? Whew.

As far as I know, only property was hurt. More here.

Friday, April 29, 2011

cast away

When you produce a raw product like wool, you see it differently. It goes from being a thing of yarn to a thing of sheep. I used to see wool in a clump and imagine the work of washing, carding, and spinning my own yarn to knit into fabulous creations. Kind of how someone who covets a high-end sports car would look at frame being assembled in the factory and imagine someday waxing it in his garage. Two people looking at effort with joy of ownership. That is how I used to see wool.

But now I see wool and I see sheep. I see breeds, and hay, and footrot, and lambing. I see the joys and frustrations of the animal and while it has certainly not taken away any love of yarn and knitting: it has certainly given me less time to do so. Kind of like if that guy waxing his sports car had to learn how to take apart the entire Porsche and put it back together again before he could drive it. He'll still imagine that wax in his hands and a beautiful vehicle taking hair pin turns, but he'll probably be wondering if he put the right type of screws back on the frame. And nervous about the seven still in his pocket...

Cautious optimism is the same in knitting as in farming. You go into a project with something raw, drunk with plans, and then after a lot of work you end up with something you can use. And when people send me photos like this: of their creations made with my wool—I am shocked back into those hair pin turns with pure delight. Teresa sent me a photo of these laced gloves. Janet mailed me a gorgeous winter hat. My boss knit me a tiny stuffed chick out of Sal's wool. Another reader sent along a Mod handbag, get this, made out of Maude....priceless! What amazing emails, gifts, and images! Thank you. You're getting this farmer to pick up her needles once again and maybe even take on that dream sweater!

Why is it that running a farm seems easy, effortless really... but knitting a sweater feels impossible?!

photo by T.G.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

caused pause.

It was around 5:30 this evening when I found myself walking around the backlot at Tractor Supply in Bennington. I was shopping for a new gate, and as I walked around the chain-linked yard comparing different styles and sizes I felt the sun break out from the clouds and scatter the playground of metal and wire with light. An industrial place, all cement and steel, turned into quite the site. It caused pause.

All day it had been a blustery, hot, wet world. At lunch me and few friends sat outside our first-floor glass doors that opened to the Orvis backyard and let our dogs play in the rain while we sat on desk chairs under the overhang. We talked about the same things most people in offices across America were talking about: the tornados in the south, the rising price of gas (well over 4.00 a gallon in New York), The spring Turkey Hunting Pool (which I am in), and our dogs. Gibson played with other hounds and ran the 1/4 mile down the hill to pond for a swim with Lucie the Golden Retriever. Cathy, a coworker, stepped outside on the cement slab and took in the scene of high winds, humid air, playing dogs, chatting people, and bending trees and said "I feel like we're in the Caribbean." Southwestern Vermont, actually. Common mistake.

But now that the rain and storms had passed, I found myself outside the office in a farm supply parking lot loading a 6 foot metal gate into the back of the Dodge. I had plans to pop right over to Home Depot afterwards and see if they had basil yet, which I wanted to smell and hold as much as I wanted to plant it. I was going to put in some more raised beds this weekend and I wanted some basil to be amongst them. The early seedlings of lettuce, peas, potatoes and carrots were already coming up and so far my bamboo and bird-netting frames were keeping out all sorts of critters and chickens. By the end of this weekend basil, tomatoes, and broc would be in the ground for certain and three new Silver Fox rabbits would be at the farm. A rare American breed of meat rabbit delivered here by a reader from Maine.

I have some very big news to share, but I'm not ready to share it just yet. Hopefully by the end of this weekend I will post a photo that will make more than one of you smile, and some of you shake your heads. I'm excited to share the news with you first lot, and unfazed by the second. The more I fall in love with this farm, the less I seek the approval of others (but the more I value their advice).

Wind's picking up out there. I better close the door on the chicken coop and check on the barn rabbits and ol' Castro. No sign of goslings yet. I hope Saro manages to hatch a few. I feel like she's giving it her all. I hope any readers in the line of fire down in the south will reach out to us when you are able. I bet we could pass around the hat and help a few of you get upright. Or at least give it a shot. You're all in my thoughts tonight in Jackson.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

shorn

photos by 468photography
Freedom Hangs like Heaven Over Everyone: Iron and Wine

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

safehold

The maple tree outside my house was swaying in the dark tonight, heavy with its new buds just starting to bloom. This same tree was covered in ice so heavy it bowed to me, just a few weeks ago. Now there's a blanket of grass around it, and little brave pullets pecking at its trunk. In the dark, against the black sky, that maple looks massive in an ancient way. Who knows how many farms and families it has watched over since it was sapling. In just a year it has seen so much. I played a banjo under that old tree tonight. I hung a dead pig from it when the world was ice. Children of friends (and I) have climbed it. Birdhouses hung like ursine pinatas. My brother in law pulled a chair under it to cool off last July, and a gray kitten called it home base. It's much of this farm and this loud farmer, far better than both in its silence.

Everything here is turning green, and nights are starting to roll into this hefty humidity of early summer. Last night a thunderstorm shook the house so loud that I actually thought the roof collapsed. I didn't know if I should get dressed to assess damage or just close my eyes and hope for the best. I opted for the later. Turns out the roof made it, but some tree limbs did not.

The sheep are in a safehold now. My Easter Sunday was not spent as planned. I was supposed to join the Daughton family for a big meal at their farm in White Creek (two towns south) and called them sad to cancel. After a week of escaping sheep, complaints (and help) from neighbors, and one ewe leaping right over the gate towards my truck...I realized I needed to use this last day off from work before the week started to secure my animals. Farms do no recognize holidays.

When I told the Daughton's this, they simply said. "Oh, well, we'll bring Easter to you then" and in a few hours they had set up (on a table they brought, since I don't have one yet) a full Easter dinner with ham, salads, pickles, cake, and finger snacks. They brought me a hand-made bluebird house and I almost wept. I have never had friends willing to uproot an entire family holiday to help me keep sheep off a road.

We spend the afternoon setting up wire and testing lines and by sunset my sheep were being shocked away from danger and my belly was full. Tonight while I walked the perimeter of the fence to pick up any pulled wires and reset it before bed, I thanked them again. I don't know if they heard it, but I said it.

Wind picked up all around me and the stars started to disappear into the black above my mountain. The weather report called for more storms this night, and the air felt humid, which I love. Humidity gets a horrible reputation because it makes people temporarily uncomfortable. It lasts a few months and then it's gone, and it leaves trails of thunderstorms, lush grass, fireflies and warmed working farmer bodies in its tail strands as it saunters through in hot gasps. I love humidity, and so does the old Maple. Who watched my clumsy farm's Easter in quiet. And knows more stories than I can bear.

Monday, April 25, 2011

shearing movie coming up!

Shearing Day has become more than a chore, it's a holiday. An annual ritual I look forward to more and more each year. A few weekends ago all eight of my adult sheep (six ewes and two wethers) were penned and barbered here on the premises. It took two professional shearers, the landowner, and a willing photographer to both complete the task and document the entire event.

I've been starting and stopping a shearing post for the past week and every time I get into it, it turns into more of an essay on the agricultural holidays created through seasonal work. A heartfelt and beautiful topic, sure, but let's face it. You guys want to see some naked sheep. Don't you?

So, I decided to save the farm holiday post for a rainier spring day and show off some great photos with some fun music, a real visual essay of the day. I'll make a big music video slideshow, I'll get some banjo music from Julie Dugan's website (with her and Tim's permission, of course) and put the day to music. I would have done it tonight, but I messed up burning the DVD and came home with a blank disc. Let's hear it for me...

I'm better with dirt than I am with machines lately. I consider this a sign of progress!

get out!

Cyrus does not like people too close to his woman's nest. With Saro due to hatch out goslings any day now: he is on high alert.

Also, gander's generally disdain the paparazzi.

photo by tim bronson