Saturday, May 14, 2011

the good life (border collie edition)

Soon as I returned to the farm I had my bag ready. Inside the plastic three big rawhide bones rattled like osteoporosized antlers. My dogs had been stuck inside the house on a Saturday since 8AM and it was nearly 4. I owed them.

When I got inside the door Annie instantly knew I had the goods, and sat down in front of me like the lupine cherub she isn't. I tossed her and Jazz their bones and then took Gibson for his walk. Together we padded down the road in a light rain storm and when his bladder needs were satisfied I let him off his leash to romp around the property a bit. He plopped down under the big maple that guards my house and panted a happy pant. A tired border collie on a sheep farm is certainly one version of the Good Life.

The day of book events went well. The plant swap at Northshire was a scattered, light crowd but a few folks braved the bleak weather to pet a chicken and talk landscaping. A fiddle and guitar due played some fine tunes, including Unger's Ashokan Farewell and for the 17-jillionth time I regretting having missed the Civil War. After running inside for a cup of strong coffee, I loaded up the Dodge and headed north to Glens Falls on a series of back roads. After a quick stop for feed (and a badass straw cowboy hat) I was on my way to the big city.

The crowd at Red Fox books was wonderful, a nice showing of chicken owners, chicken thinkers, and chicken lovers. It was an informal Q&A and my three chicks were fairly well behaved. At one point my white Ameraucana flew from the wire cage onto a customer's shoulder, but it came across more like theatrics than chaos. A point I was incredibly grateful for. Red Fox sold a lot of books and I met a lot of kind and interesting people. The folks who run the shop even suggested stopping by the farm when they drove down to Gardenworks and I told them to swing over anytime, just email ahead so I'm not out getting hay or working in a corporate office. I do hope they stop in.

By the time I was ready to return to my farm for a Saturday afternoon nap, it was starting to rain. They want it to pour all day tomorrow and into most of next week. Fine by me, the pastures could use it. The farmer could also use a proper raincoat. All I have is a heavy, plastic tarp I got at an outlet sale in Manchester. But I am going to save up for a proper waxed cotton jacket like the great dog men wear in Scotland to farm in. It seems proper: on this hill with these sheep and my pup-in-training, shucks, a girl's got to be ready for a Scottish rain.

P.S. A dozen people have emailed me about the rabbit workshop, but so far no one has reserved a spot. So if you are interested, please email me and we can set you up with all the information you need for a day or overnight trip to Jackson.

photo taken from Red Fox Books Facebook page

yeeeeeehaawww! (2.0)

chicken tracks!

Today I'll be at the Northshire Bookstore from 9-10:30AM in Manchester, Vermont at their Plant Swap. I'll be the girl outside with the chickens. Right after that I'll be at Red Fox Books in Glens Falls at 1PM to talk poultry as well. Hope to see some of you there!

Friday, May 13, 2011

on that day

Sorry folks, Blogger (the Google program I use to run this site) crashed for a 36-hour period. There was no way to upload new blogs or see comments. But it's back again, and hopefully nothing was lost. Here's what I wrote last night but couldn't post. I hope all of you are doing well. I missed checking in and your daily comments; let's me know someone out there is reading.

Thursday, May 12th
So this is how it goes: after work I pull into the farm's driveway and let Gibson out. He pees, stares at chickens, and noodles around and when his series of dog tasks are over with, I send him inside and turn to my pasture. I unplug the electric and hop the fence. The sheep all bleat and carry on, expecting grain and attention. Sal struts right up like he belongs on the top of some 4-H trophy, coated in gold. I tell them the newest gossip from the office as we walk up the hill together. "Roger got a promotion!" I beam, "We got a brand new coffee machine, and I think it's top shelf." and so on. When we get to the gate Jasper stand on the other side. I open it and call my pony to my side, and he walks over to me. I throw an arm around his neck and tell him in a soft voice, "Hold still, son, we'll get them together"

As the sheep dart and run into the big gated pasture I look at Jasper and say at a shout, "Let's Get 'Em!" and I run at a sprint towards the grazing sheep. Jasper rears up and runs beside me. Together we're a brace of border collies off on an outrun to gather a flock. But the pony and I don't gather anything, we just chase the sheep a little and watch the lambs fly. They are so damn fast I think some of them can teleport. Within a few laps we're both beat and I tell my horse he's a superhero and then go fetch him his hay and fresh water. By the time I am outside the fence his neck is down and grazing too. He is not on a mission of sheep torture, just joshing. I laugh and grab the metal scoop.

By the time farm chores are done it is nearly dark. I had a solo cook out tonight, just a few burgers and iced tea. While they simmered in the little charcoal grill I ran the push mower around the front long. I love it. Even in the dark grass I watched the blades whip through the grass like a a hot knife in butter. I have a gas-mower but don't really feel the need to use it yet. Using the push mower means a little more effort and slower pace: but it is so pleasing to use I just do one part of the lawn a night. I am over the need for a lawn that looks like a golf course. I'm going for more of something along the lines of a one-cow afternoon pass.

This is how I get it all done: the farm, the job, the writing career. I combine my nervous nature with constant work. There is very little down time here. Even at an end-of-day cook out rabbits are fed between flipping burgers and water buckets are filled and carried to sheep and pony troughs. I do not sleep in on weekends. I do not stay out late on Friday nights. From the minute I get home till 9 PM I am a constant tornado of tasks and beasts. I slop buckets of water, race with ponies, collect eggs, check on mated rabbits, and plan a quick dinner from whatever I think is in the fridge or larder. I manage things in small spurts, keeping a log in my head of how the farm is working and what needs what. Then I throw a load of laundry in, turn on the dishwasher, and know that clothes won't be thrown in the dryer or dishes put away until morning. It's all done in stages, in order of importance. The ship runs tight enough that if I wanted to skip out a few hours no one would go hungry or thirsty or wither away: but I certainly can't leave the farm for a weekend jaunt to New York City. Someday, maybe. It's just a matter of planning and finding a sucker who wants to share this little world with me, but till then I say no thank you to Dairy animals and bottle-fed babes.

Mostly, running a farm alone is love. You put it first, and you learn to make due when the ghosts of perfection run off, and you sleep less. Along the way you make good friends, miss your mom and dad, and wake up with a border collie nuzzled into your chest. You dream about love, and take notes on turkey diseases, and you split your mind wide open to let in all the experiences and folks who hike on by.

Enough word magics. I'm going outside to play my fiddle on the porch. Some time soon fireflies will join me. On that day I'll sing.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


My next book is called BARNHEART, the story of going from a new Vermonter to a land-owning New Yorker. It covers three years of love and stubborness and the battle to fight my own disease. While it does go through a lot of the adventures I shared on the blog, it also goes deeper. Talking about loneliness, despair, failure, and being broke while trying to start a dream. It comes out late this fall, but you can pre-order this nice paperback any time. A couple dimes of each copy go to this little freehold, a constant work in progress, but never without grattitude.

Pre-Order a Copy Here!

rising out of beds

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

damn right

I had my first riding lesson in months tonight. I was on a lunge line with my trainer Hollie, who was seeing how I was shaping up after a winter out of the saddle. It could not have gone better. We were both surprised at how well I did! I was posting again, and with such ease. I felt relaxed, comfortable, in control. The 15 hand mare below me read my body, and I hers, and together we were a team. It was as effortless as sitting on the couch. By the end of my thirty-minute lesson I was able to take my mount from a trot, to a walk, to a complete stop without touching the reins. It was all done through my seat. Which is to say, my butt. I had never done anything like that before. I never made any coach that proud in a lifetime of childhood sports and college equestrian shows. It felt friggin' amazing.

Hollie McNeil is one hell of a trainer.

I owe a lot to Hollie, who took this tense, scared, and out-of-practice novice rider and turned her into someone who can talk to a horse with her butt—but I think I also owe my good lesson to getting through this past winter. It was rough. So much harder than the blog describes. The length, the damage, the broken down cars, the being broke, worrying about heating oil and fixing old trucks, scary nights when I was sure the roof would cave in or the barn would blow apart.... But now with this world bursting with green again and I feel like I overcame something big. I made it through my first year as a homeowner and never missed a mortgage payment, or ran out of heat. I kept the lights on, the internet working, and the trash pickup regular. Trains run on time around here.

Tonight I finally brushed myself off. I did it. I got through the winter of 2010/11 and came out the other end a lot stronger. Someone who can set up an electric fence, a sump pump, and has a plow guy on speed dial. There was no tension or fear on that horse tonight because I think I used it all up on far scarier things long ago. So tonight I simply gave into a black saddle. It was the best 35 bucks I spent in my entire life.

After my lesson I drove home to the farm in a blue dusk. There was still enough light to see the whole farm but still do chores under moving clouds and a half moon. I let the sheep from their day pen into the big pasture, where Jasper spends his day. Jasper always perks his ears up like a teakettle is going off when I open the gate and a dozen sheep rush into his turf. Then he rears up and runs with them. It's not herding, or cutting, or even a game of tag: just an equine and ovine romp to better grass. When I call his name he turns and comes right to me. Since he's only 11.2 hands we are nearly at eye level. His head is still above mine on flat ground, but he lowers it and rests it on my shoulder when I turn my back to him. If I walk away he follows and nudges my lower back with his nose. I pet his small head and tell him he's home.

Did I partially buy a scrappy cart pony because I wanted a bit of joy after this godawful winter? Because I was through? Ready to take back the reins?

Damn right I did.

Monday, May 9, 2011

two groups

Sometimes I feel like this entire world is split into two groups: the people who are working towards something good that makes them happy, and those who are not. It's not that I dislike the latter, content people keep this ship on course...

But I am falling in love with everyone of the former.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

the first outdoor market

I don't think I had ever driven under more stress in my life. While drifting at a painstakingly conservative pace down Route 67 into Bennington, I kept looking into the rear-view mirror with wide eyes. The 80-year-old green farm trike was falling out of the back bed constantly. Not falling into the road, but knocking down the tailgate with a bang. I wanted to drive faster, but couldn't. If I sped up the old bike might fly into the road and the small cage of pullets might go with it. It was too early in the morning to have blood on my hands. So I just white knuckled the steering wheel while another angry driver passed me on the windy two-lane road. I was going 35 in a 55. People hated being behind me.

As I got closer to the state line I passed a large horse farm and took in a happy sight. A woman was driving a single pony in standard cart. They were coming down a dirt road at a trot, and against the green pastures and bright mountain it looked wonderful. I kept looking, wanting to pull over and ask the woman if she gave lessons, and another German car whizzed passed me. I don't think the people in the BMW saw, or cared about, the pony on the hill. I guess they don't worry about free-falling 1930's tricycle shrapnel either.

I was running late, really late, for merchant set-up time at the Walloomsac Farmer's Market. I thought it started at 11, but when checking the website at 9Am in my bathrobe, I realized I had it all wrong and it was starting in an hour. It must've been my post-turkey hunting doldrums that messed up my times. I stared at the screen of the kitchen's Emac. I was to be set up and at my table in half an hour. Oh, shit. It takes a half hour just to drive there. There was no way I could make it on time, and there was certainly no way I could make myself look presentable either. I through my hair up into a hat, braided my pigtails, through on a cowboy shirt and jumped into the poorly-loaded truck. I had an old folding table I found in the attic, an ancient EZ-UP tent, and my books and wool already loaded. For blatant showmanship and chick-book advertising I had planned to set up the old farm trike by my table with a small cage of pullets loaded in the back. I hoped people who stopped to see the chicks (or the bike) would consider a book.

I pulled into the train station with 15 minutes till the opening bell. In a panic, I searched for the market coordinator to ask where to go? She told me where to pull up my truck and I backed it into the very last spot. Talk about poor positioning... I was on the edge of the market, the spot for, well, the people who show up late. I sighed and ran to the truck to unload the tent and table. The table was easy enough to get upright, but the ancient tent (which had not been used in ten years), was stuck and myself and another woman who came to my rescue from the next booth, could not get it open. Disgusted. I threw it into the back of my truck. I should have tested it at home first, but had not. By this point I had missed a turkey, been late to the market, and now I was breaking the must-have-tent rule. I set up my sad little table fast as I could and ran to the truck to get my bike. In the rush I grabbed it wrong and cut open my hand with the old fender. Blood poured and I silently cursed, almost wanting to cry. I had been up since 4 and starving. Besides one thin slice of cold pizza I had nothing to eat.

The Joe showed up, who I knew from Izabella's in town, and as husband to my coworker Lucinda at the office. He saw this frumpy misfit trying to unload an old bicycle and in an act of kindness so selfless, he set down his snack and helped me get it out of my truck. It was an extremely decent thing to do, and in my state of exhaustion and frustration I was moved to canonize the man. I thanked him, and my mood instantly changed. Just like that. If there are still men kind enough to help a Hobbit woman get her stupid tricycle out of her pickup truck the world can't be that crappy of a place: dead turkeys or not.

(I think this is the only blog you will read that last sentence on...)

I was set up soon enough after that. I was handed a bandaid and then spent the next three hours taking in the scene. One of the woman from Polymeadow's farm brought a goat kid along. A little LaMancha cross with a black coat, tiny ears, and white socks. Kids played with the ten-day-old goat and asked me about my chickens. I saw some local folks, coworkers, and met a few vendors. The rain they were calling for held out, and for that, this tentless girl was grateful. I took the six dollars I had brought from home for change in my blue mason jar and spent them on a cookie and a croissant. I might be broke, late, and bleeding: but I wasn't going to be hungry. I ate them with gusto. People would just have to have correct change.

It was exciting to be sitting at my first outdoor market. Until that morning I was always on the other side of the table, walking around with a dog and a shopping bag, buying things. Now I was the one in the camp chair hoping someone was thinking about chickens or liked to knit. Sitting at a market table is a constant mantra of c'mom, c',mon, c'mon.....

The market was well attended, their largested opening day ever, but darn slow for me. I made a total of fifty-five dollars in book sales, but fifteen went to my table fee and the other 40 fell out of my pants pocket loading the truck. I realized this when I was at long gone from the grounds at the Tractor Supply check-out line, trying to pay for t-posts and 330 feet of field fencing and realized the cash I planned on putting towards it had slipped out of the pockets of my sister's hand-me-down jeans. That poor luck had made the entire day of work a monetary wash.

Well folks, I can tell you this, after yesterday will never aim a shotgun wrong or put cash in those shallow pockets again. Lessons come easy for some, and harder for others. I'm the later, and if you don't believe me just ask Sal how many times I got zinged by the electric fence. He won't answer you, but he will smile.