Saturday, July 2, 2011


Friday, July 1, 2011

trotting south

The solstice is now trotting south behind us, and each day it gets darker a little sooner. We're in a mild spell here, days in the low 70s, and at night I wear my dad's old cotton sweater in the farmhouse. I am being reminded daily by light at texture that October isn't just a noun anymore: he's on his way.

Last winter was bad. Poor preparation, bad decisions, a snowfall that made Idaho look like the Swedish scene on the It's A Small World ride. It's July 1st and I have already ordered 2 cords of wood (first coming Saturday), and set aside funds for the chimney installation for the new wood stove. I now have a 4WD truck. I will be going into the winter with a small emergency fund, a barn full of hay, a new stall for the pony, and a rebuilt sheep shed for the new flock. A lot has to be done, but it will all get done. After all, this time last week my entire hoofstock had a half acre and hay. Now they have a wilderness.

On a totally separate note:

While this blog is a very personal story, it certainly isn't the whole story. I keep a lot of my life off the blog, and sometimes it gets bigger than even this farm. I'm in a bit of a rough patch right now. A lot of changes are happening at once, all of them making me seriously consider what the next steps should be. I can feel myself getting quieter, gears grinding, mind reeling. The emotional stress on top of feeling more tired than usual has me learning to slow down. I am trying to make a new rule for myself about one day a week of rest, no farming beyond basic chores and no travel. I am so grateful for this work when I feel down like this. In a world where uncertainty seems to be the rule, knowing you have to feed a ram lamb at dawn is a nice way to fill up your dance card. Keeps me level. Keeps me busy. Keeps me smiling.

Anyway, all this will pass. Winter will come and i will be ready. I'm going to bake a pie in my living room while snow falls outside, you just wait and see.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

360 chickencam

three-day weekend coming right up

This weekend has a lot in store for me, all of it good. Three days away from the office, a luxury that is planting a seed in my little brain. There's a lot to get done, and the bulk of it will be accomplished with willing help. Saturday a woman is coming from out of state to spend an entire day on the farm with me, working, training jasper, taking care of the stock, running to pick up hay, the works. She's never spent a day working on any sort of farm, and this one will certainly offer a wide-range of activities. Day internships are a new thing here, but should be a hoot.

Sunday is a road trip east into New Hampshire for a pony-cart pickup. Gibson and I will travel across Vermont, through new country for us both, and then back home to store the buggy in the barn until I can coax my neighbor (technical/vehicle genius) to show me what needs fixing. I can handle wood, nails, and paint. But other things might require a pro... By the fall workshop it should be ready to see in action!

Monday is a Holiday. It will be treated as such. No plans but grilling and rest. I look forward to a day on the farm with the truck parked, feet unshod, and fiddle at the ready. Everyone, have a great and safe holiday.

P.S. has everyone contacted and shipped their books for the swap? remember that it is your responsibility to contact the comment below you to gather their email address, don't wait for someone to contact you first! And if you can not take part, please let the person know.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

talk about a project....

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

greener pastures

i'm going to be a keynote speaker!

tired pride

Every single one of us snaps at some point. Stress, heartbreak, fear, rawhide—a trigger sets us off like buckshot. For Jazz and Annie it was a coveted piece of wet, masticated, slop they both desired to digest and the fur flied. Within minutes of bolting in the door from their morning walk, both dogs had their jaws clamped firmly on the other's left wrist, a wolfy version of No, it's MINE. Gibson, thinking this was the most exciting thing to happen since sheep, ran around them in circles, barking. The place was insane. I got Gibson out of the way (certain he'd be collateral damage in this war over natural resources) and then separated the snapping dogs. Not even into my first cup of coffee and the world is full of yelps, blood, and limping combatants. I threw the rawhide out, turned up the air conditioner, and told everyone to stop being assholes. Jazz and Annie slinked back to their respective places and Gibson held himself up like a sphinx, moon-faced in his crate.

I had no time to deal with Dog Wars. In a few hours my good friends Brett and Diane would be here from their respective homesteads to help me install 300 feet of fencing. It was past time for this work. The pasture needed expanding as soon as possible, since the half acre I did myself was eaten down to putting-green status and would be nothing but clay without some space and seed. So I bought all the t-posts and fence I could afford and Brett offered to bring his strong back and a come along. Diane offered the same, for her it was going to be as much a lesson in Fence 101 as it would be an opportunity to help a friend. I was armed, ready, excited for the day off work and in the field.

Brett showed up first, and within 45 minutes we had slammed in all the t-posts, and were (well, I) was huffing like mad. 83 degrees, full sun, heavy things to carry...I was feeling more out of shape than I felt all year. When we finished with the first phases, Brett said he wanted to pace out the perimeter to see how far we could go with the remaining supplies. As he hiked off into the waist-high raspberries and phlox, I tried not to throw up. 20-pounded posts and a half-mile uphill hike into the mountain forest wasn't exactly Jillian Michael's 20-Minute Shred. Jillian would've be ready to throw up too.

Brett came back with equally jarring and exciting news. "If you had another roll of wire, and another 20-or-so posts we could fence in this entire thing, the whole thing" he said, gesturing to every scrap of pasture I had left on my property. I looked up the hill at the acre and a half of open land, wild and un-grazed.

You're kidding me.

"Are you sure about that?" I asked, not really comprehending the work or land. We didn't have a tractor, or an ATV to haul things. Hell, I don't even own a garden cart yet. I thought we'd do a few hours of work, grill, clink beers and head back to our own farms. The sheep would have a little more grass, Jasper a little more room. But he was sure. he said in a month I'd be right back to where I started, and doing this all over. Why not just get it all done now?

He convinced me. With varying level of excitement we headed back in the Dodge to Tractor Supply for double the gear, my savings taking quite a hit. His motto was Buy Once Cry once—suck it up and get it all done while you had the people and plan to do half of it anyway. A little more money, a little more work, and the entire CAF pasture would be fenced. Two and a half acres for a dozen sheep and a pony to roam. Hot dang.

From 11AM till 6:30PM we ran over 650-feet of fence around an acre and a half of new pasture. I sweated in places I didn't realize could sweat, like between my fingers and the sides of my nose. Walking around was a test of endurance, since it is a brushy opening carved into a mountain side. Everyone worked hard, without complaint, and tempers remained calm and pleasant. I was amazed at their charity, and their kindness. If any of them ever need a fence, I will be there in a homesteader flash (meaning so as I find someone to watch the animals). The day was long. Between the work, heat, and landscape all of us were ravaged, Brett especially, who by default of size and woodland education was the one doing the hardest work of us all. My hero.

When we were done, we didn't release the flock and Jasper just yet. We discovered dumps of old nails, hardware, and long-forgotten projects and trash amongst the new grazing space. These had to be fenced off from the sheep and pony, less they die of punctures and tetanus. So that project was put on hold for my own time, and the three of us headed down the mountain back to the farm house. Dinner was well earned. I was so hungry I shook.

We ate grass-fed burgers, milkshakes, and I clinked those wonderful dark ales. Brett stretched out under the sun. I strummed a few clumsy banjo tunes and Diane enjoyed her shake. I couldn't pay them, but I did give her one of my roosters for her own flock, an Ameraucana named Upset. Brett would go home with a large Bourbon Red poult. I now live a life where farm birds are well-received gifts of thanks.

Diane and Upset drove off, and Brett and I headed up to give the herd a shot at their new world. After some fencing work around the danger zones, we opened the gate and Jasper trotted up, almost shocked at his luck.

He galloped as fast as he could, throwing his head. I had never seen a pony so damn happy. Brett and I watched him, both with joy and worry. We had all found a few trip-ups out there, and I had done my best to note and cover holes, but it wasn't perfect. But Jasper was fine, more than fine. He ran with such perfect pace he looked like a wild mustang in the Rockies. "This looks like some wild horse running around Montana?!" Smiled Brett, both of us looking at the wide space, and how much more now belonged to the farm. The sheep all around us ate mouthfuls with bliss, and would continue to do so for another hour before they returned to their pen to save them from bloat or lameness from gopher holes. I lead them all back to their night keep, swelling with tired pride. This place, was becoming more and more to be. More than a farm, more than Montana.

It was becoming home.

wait so long

a long day

Yesterday started with a dogfight and ended in Montana.

I will go to work with a body so sore, people will ask me who died.

It was wonderful.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

book swap!

Hey folks, I have an idea. I want to do a community book swap. The theme is how-to-farm. All the books shared in this swap should be useful information on how to grow food: be it animal or vegetable. It'll go like this. The first person to comment (with their email address) will be emailed by me tonight and I'll get their address. This week, I will mail a book from my library and it is theirs to keep. I'll include a letter about me and my farm, telling them about my own dreams and goals. They will in turn contact the second person to comment in this post and do the same for them. And so on.

Everyone who comments on this post with an email address, saying they are in on the gift-giving will receive a book and a letter from the commenter above them. It is your responsibility to email the person after you to collect their mailing information, and perhaps ask what they need information on? But all of us will take part in sharing information and our dreams. It's an exercise in hope, faith, and goodwill. The last person to comment, I hope, will send me a book. This way the circle is complete and all of us can look forward to a happy package in the coming days, a letter from a fellow sufferer of Barnheart, a friend. It's what the mail is supposed to be used for.

break a seal, hold a blossom

I spent most of yesterday in the kitchen. It was a warm, sticky day. Outside was overcast and calling for storms but inside the house was thumping with good smells and work. I was canning strawberry jam and dill pickles with Cathy Daughton and her three boys, who had driven up from their stead in White Creek to help out with the effort and stay for dinner.

I had made plenty of jam in my day—and have a killer fridge pickle system that produces crisp, sweet pickles overnight—but this was my first time making dill pickles and canning them in the water bath canner. I'd like to thank the people at Ball, who made a pre-mixed dill pickle packet which I picked up at the IGA for two dollars. I poured it into a saucepan with 6 cups of water and 2 1/2 cups of white vinegar and brought it to a boil. Then we simply poured it over the just-cut cucumber spears, sealed the tops with the metal rings, and let them boil for fifteen minutes. That was it. Mix, boil, cover, seal, and can. It made jam making sean like advanced chemistry.

While we chatted and the canner bubbled in the hot kitchen (nearly 80 degrees compared to the rest of the farm house's 68) I slid some bread in the oven to go with the meal I had started preparing at 7AM. After morning farm chores I had set a pork loin in the slow cooker with apple juice, bbq sauce, and honey and let it go all day. For ten hours it simmered and the meat went from red to white and then red again from the sauces and juices bathing with its own fats. It is almost July and I am still enjoying that winter pig who lived a happy life in a warm barn while the worst winter in years slammed the north country. We butchered her here at the farm on a mild January day under the big maple tree. The white snow was stained with blood and gore, but now it is a green, lush place where I sit with Gibson and read. You might think you slipped into another dimension, seeing those two scenes side-by-side. On this small farm it was nothing more than a sharp, cold gasp followed by a sigh. Life and death are what keep a farm's heart going.

So Pig cooked while my homemade bread rose in the oven. The kitchen smelled like heaven. Butter-topped loaves, simmering pots of sweet strawberries and tart dills, and a porker bubbling under a glass lid. When the work of putting jars up for winter was done, we cleaned up the kitchen and then handed out plates. Now it was time to dig in. Cathy had brought lettuce from her garden and made a salad of her Buttercrunch that was good enough to be a meal alone. We sided our plates with the so-tender pork it fell apart under our forks. We buttered bread out of the oven, slapped some jam on it for good measure, and drank down cold well water or iced tea. It was an amazing combination. Slow cooking a tender piece of pork at low heat had made it taste so amazing right then and there I decided for certain I would be getting another Yorkshire come fall. I went back for seconds.

It was worth skipping lunch, and without realizing it the meal spanned three seasons of work on a small holding of land. It included all the people who were part of the life and death of one Pig I scratched on the head every day. It included Cathy's garden, which she raised from seeds on her own land. It included hand-picked strawberries and cucumbers from the farm stand just down the road. There was King Arthur bread, Cabot butter, and honey in that pork from local bees. I am savoring and adoring this local food month. It has stopped me from ordering Chinese or Pizza in town, even at my most-weak moments. It has included more meals with friends, more time refining skills, and trips to farms and dairies all over my adopted county.

We talked and laughed, then when all were breathing a little deeper and hunger gone, the boys helped clean up and then we all went out for evening farm chores to the sound of distance thunder. We fed the sheep and Jasper, took care of all the souls in the rabbitry (now 7 adult rabbits and 7 kits), fed and watered the chickens, and came inside just as sky started seriously considering a storm. We ate warm strawberry pie (collateral damage from having extra defrosted berries and some pie crust from last weekend's quiche in the freezer). As wind picked up and the hour hit 6 (late for a family with a flock of chickens— garden, a hive and a beef steer to tend too—we said goodbye and I thanked them for their help and company. The Daughton's left with ruby and green jars and some young sunflowers I planted from seed.

Put up food and the start for a big yellow flower... talk about optimistic gifts. Those of us who grow food expect to be around a little longer. Every canning afternoon or seed in the ground is a prayer for time, silent in voice but screaming in action, a happy, little desperate plea to stick around this place long enough to break a seal and hold a blossom.