I'm watching Gashole, which is a movie about the American Oil Crisis, and quite good. But (get this!) Joshua Jackson is featured in it, which has been my number 1 celebrity crush since I first watched The Mighty Ducks as a little kid. I was THRILLED Pacey got Joey. I am totally weak in the knees, cause how often does your offbeat, random, movie star end up in a movie about Peak Oil? What's next? Is Demetri Martin going to fund a doc about backyard Chickens?! So here I am in my pj's, with a cart horse outside my living room window, in the middle of nowhere, 100% tuned in to that voice and loving every minute of it.
As I write to you, strangers and friends alike, there is a little cornish hen roasting in the oven. It's one of the birds from early spring, small but plump. I defrosted it yesterday and then today while it rested in the fridge, I dug up what was left of the carrots. I also pulled a few small, new potatoes and a few little onions. I set them on the counter to be prepped for the roasting pan and then looked at the array. To see a white cloth covered with an entire feast you planted and raised is possibly the most beautiful thing you will ever look at on a stove top. That pink, dimpled chicken. The carrots and potatoes, still covered with a bit of dirt. The onions fragrant... I grabbed my camera so I had proof this day in July happened.
I'm feeling good. Just a bit ago I pulled in the driveway from a swim in the river. I was happy to swim when I arrived at the pull off. I had just finished constructing the frame of Gibson's new training pen for herding. In 85-degree heat (cool weather for this week!) I pounded fenceposts and strung woven wire fencing I hauled from the far-pasture to a flat spot behind the sheep shed. It's small, a diameter of 10 t-posts about 4 feet away from each other, but large enough to get started really working with him. After a frustrating lesson this morning with our trainer in Massachusetts, I realized he needed to work everyday here. He needs to practice with his own sheep, on his own farm, to learn the control and state-of-mind necessary for a working farm dog.
These weekend lessons were okay as a beginner, but now as a teenager with good instincts and too much enthusiasm: Gibson needs to learn control and discipline. So The first step it to get two or three sheep in a small pen and have him work outside the pen, following my commands and body. Then I'll expand it and have him work inside it. I stayed for an hour or so, but the barrage of tubers was a bit too oppressive. They weren't the serene, good-natured tubers of Friday. These weekend tubers were either loud, fit, tan teenagers in various levels of intoxication or vulgar, squishy people with sunburns.
One teenage boy realized his brand-new wheeled Coleman cooler was out of beer and didn't see the sense in tugging it down the river now that it was useless to him. So he just heaved it down stream. My mouth dropped. I had seen those coolers at Kmart and they were 39 dollars, perfect for transporting meat to customers or picking up rabbits from Ben Shaw. The decadence of this tanned narcissist astounded me. If there weren't 45 people behind him flowing down stream and playing pong with the "garbage" cooler I would have taken it home, bleached it, put a FarmAid Sticker on it and put it to decent use.
One woman was upset about something that happened at the drop off. She cussed up a storm, just a stream of four-letter words. Now, I am not known for my clean speech, but I do understand a time and place. She was toting a four-year-old girl. "You would think he would have some Mother- #@X%ing DECENCY!?" she yelled to her partner, who ignored her anger. There should be rules about angry cussing on a beautiful river...
You know, writing about other people in a negative way makes me feel both vulgar and squishy. I best stop this fuss.
I watched all this happen while I did my routine. I was on the side of all this action, the tubeless girl with the firefly necklace. I found this spot that is about 4-feet deep, in a weak current about 20-yards long. I can swim a lazy breaststroke with the water, and then fight back against the running water with a cross stroke. It's wonderful. I swim like my mother did (still does) at the Palmerton Pool, my head above water as I do a modified breast-stroke downstream. The view from that alligator position is beautiful. Golden light, green leaves, glistening water. Sometimes I turn on my back and float with the water. Who needs a tube?! My muse is Baloo the Bear, not some aquatic dirigible. When I feel the water pull to hard I stop and swim back. After about 20 slow "laps" I am puffing. Swimming has a way of tricking you into the same exhaustion as jogging. I scurry back to shore as a new boatel emerges from the bend. I had enough of the vulgar and squishy. I am ready to roast a chicken and read under the maple tree.
And so I will. This summer is trotting right through me.
On the 15th and 16th of October, Cold Antler Farm will be one heck of a place to be. The trees will be bursting with color, the fields and pastures around my mountain high in yellow cornstalks and rich with pumpkins.
If you are interested in stopping in for the day, or both days, please do. It'll be a rip snorting time with live demonstrations and outdoor activities, as well as good food and fellowship with people just as motivated as you are to get back into the soil and see how a harness fits a working horse.
As of now Cathy Daughton will be in the kitchen doing a cheese making demo, I'll be walking around the farm working with the animals and doing tours, and Brett will be logging and explaining wood lot management with Jasper in the area behind the barn. There will be plenty going on besides these things. I'll be talking about:
Saturday Chicken Basics Sheep Basics Beekeeping Basics Rabbitry Work Cheese making (Cathy) Backyard Lumberjackin' (Brett) Hand Wool Processing Knitting 101 Canning Pumpkin Carving (for saturday night campfire lanterns!)
Sunday Bread making from Scratch Turkey Slaughter (maybe) Book and Yarn Sales Intro to Mountain Dulcimer/Fiddle Winter Greens/extended growing Merck Forest & Farmcenter Field Trip And More!
Saturday night will have a campfire outdoors (weather permitting) near the twinkling lights of the chicken coop and we'll enjoy good local hard cider, kabobs, and music outdoors under wool blankets on hay bales with the occasional fiddle or banjo keeps us warm. Stories welcome, the scarier the better. Night Coffee will be served, which means strong hot cups spiked with some chocolate and baileys, and if we're lucky the Great Horned Owl that haunts the pasture will perch on the barn roof. Which will be wonderful, since the 15th is just a few days after Blood Moon. Awesome.
I'll wrangle a bonefide photographer for this as well. I'l make sure there's a big photo gallery for you to enjoy.
Sunday will include the activities above, and around 2PM or so we'll all head to Merck Forest for a short fall hike. The views of this place, at this time of year, will be breathtaking beyond my ability to write. You just have to see for yourself. Bring along walking shoes and a hiking stick. we're going to enjoy a walk in the woods.
I can't wait to host this event, and just see this place full of friends and passionate people who want to take home a piece of the education, and experience for themselves. Already folks are traveling from far and wide, and I am planning menus and campfire situations. But mostly, I love being surrounded by my peeps. Folks who can kick back a few dark beers and think raising turkeys is a perfectly logical way to spend a summer.
If you want information on registering, or where to stay overnnight, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
A kind, anonymous reader has given the folks here a neat gift. She is wiling to cover the cost of two people's donation to the Meat Rabbit Workshop, so they can attend free of charge. If learning to raise your own herd for food is something that appeals to you, but the cost was prohibiting, please contact me at email@example.com and we will set you up to come on a full-boat scholarship. Workshop is August 7th at 10 Am, and yes, we will be eating rabbit!
P.S. One spot is taken! P.S.S. Both spots taken, some kids from NYC are coming up!
The cucumbers are thriving here at Cold Antler Farm! I got this haul early this morning, and trying to decide what to do with them all? Pickles? Hummus sandwiches? Gaspatcho? What would you do with a bucket of cucs?
Mowing the lawn at 7AM on a Friday morning was a new experience. It's nothing special—possibly one of the most mundane summer tasks there is—but to do it instead of going to the office felt scandalous. It was like I was playing hooky. By the time it was done (and the rest of the farm fed and watered) I was soaked in sweat. This heat wave has been hovering over Veryork and it's playing Varsity. I have not been running in a few days, and instead, consider existing my workout in this heat.
The insurance guy came and denied my roof claim. He said it was shoddy construction, and not the weather, that caused the warping. But it seems there are some handymen at Orvis who can help. And while they refused payment, I don't think they should be surprised if a power washer shows up at their house...
Cathy Daughton and her boys Seth, Ian, and Holden came over for lunch. They brought BLTs, a bag of chips, watermelon, and a pitcher of lemonade. We sat in the house and munched and after a bit headed down 313 to jump in the river.
The river was fantastic. In this heat the Battenkill became a colorful shanty town of tubes, rafts, boats, and floating coolers. It seemed like everyone who had the ability to be on the water was, and as we ducked and swam in the 'Kill, people floated by on tractor-tire tubes and Huck Finn styled rafts pushed by long sticks. A lot of Bud Light saw it's last moments that day. It was a parade of whimsical refreshment. I could not believe it was free.
I haven't been swimming in years. I don't even have a suit anymore, but I did have a nylon/lycra tank top and some non-cotton hiking shorts and it worked just fine. The river had areas you could sit or stand in, and the water was so clear I could see down to my toes even at 4-feet deep.
Something about that river changed everything. It was still 95 degrees in the shade, but after we had been spying on crawdads a few minutes the outside air became wonderful. At 5PM when we got back to the farm for a cookout (very fancy meal of hot dogs and mac-n-cheese) and fishing in the pond. Tim joined his family, and brought along some serious spin tackle, and the boys caught some nice bass on rubber-worm rigs. Watching them reel them in was better than a movie house.
We ate under the big maple tree, and Tim and Cathy talked to me about their plans for their land, Firecracker Farm. Feeling blessed and inspired, they will be producing a lot of food on their five acres, and this fall, planting a cover crop of rye, slaughtering a steer, getting pigs, and harvesting from their gardens and laying hen's eggs...Not a bad start. Plans for raising meat birds, turkey, and rabbits are swimming in their souls. I can not wait to see what they create. It will be nothing short of wonderful.
The day wasn't all sunshine and ponies though. The blow from the insurance guy was making the whole Staying-home-on-Fridays' gig a little touchy. And the carpenter I am hiring to rebuild the sheep shed requires half the sum to get started. I have enough saved to get through all this, but it will mean figuring out a new book deal or some sort of cushion to get through winter. I read somewhere that choosing to become a writer is a lifelong exercise in resourcefulness.
The vet came late in the afternoon to check on Lisette and her lamb. She handed me some Corrid and instructions, and was pleased with Jasper, which made me proud as hell. When Jasper arrived he was ratty, shedding, and meek. Now he's a galloping soul, strong and kind. He is good (well, not violent) with the sheep and lets me put that stupid harness on him. I feel lucky to have him. Just looking out the kitchen window and seeing him there makes me think I landed in some other time and place. But it's just here, a little backyard I am calling a farm out of stubbornness and direct intentions. I don't think farms are built any other way...
It's a hot one. Nearly 100 degrees, humid, and begging for a thunderstorm that never came. I didn't run tonight, and the main reason for skipping it had to do with the fact that just thirty minutes of basic outdoor chores left me soaked in sweat. I sometimes don't end a run that damp...
Sal is still limping, it seems a little worse. The day after I gave him the antibiotics, he seemed better. Then I stopped giving them to him, thinking he was on the up and up, and he started up again. So tonight I checked him again, and gave him the designated dosage for a 20-stone wether. I no longer think about going into my kitchen drawers and picking out a syringe and needle, loading it with that white Pen G, and walking right up to him and delivering the needle under his muscle. He is calm and lets me. I'll treat him for four days straight and trim his hoof and hope for the best.
Rabbits are the cosmic joke of this farm. They were never supposed to be a large part of it, but no matter how many times I sell them, swear off them, or say this will only be a sheep and egg farm: they keep showing up.
I can't shake them. They simply make sense. In a small space they can produce high quality meat and fiber, are inexpensive to keep, and reproduce quickly. They grow to a finishing weight fast, and are the easiest of all backyard livestock to slaughter. Since the first 2011 litter was born a few weeks ago I have raised nearly 50 pounds of rabbit for the freezer. They will be filling the crock pot all winter, in white wine sauces and thick ragus. It is hands down, my favorite white meat.
They are now a sizable operation here and they've grown on me. It's a satisfying business, mostly because of how fast you get to enjoy your labors. You might buy a pig or two and spend the better part of the year harvesting that pork, (and spending a lot of money to do it). But a trio of rabbits can breed and start getting meat on the table in 8 weeks.
In a few weeks there will be a Meat Rabbit 101 workshop here. It's on August 7th, starting at 10AM. I'm excited to show folks the rabbitry, and will have some stock for sale as well. If you are interested in signing up for this, or the fall workshop (people coming in from all over America!): please let me know!
I start my run down the mountain. I look drunk. I'm twenty-five pounds overweight and even at a downhill shuffle I am awkward. It takes me a while to get to know my own body. Some day it will take less.
A mile in: I am sweating profusely, but my legs are clear. They are moving with the music. Kiss Each Other Clean is on the iPod and I am doing my best to do it justice. I make it to the bottom of the road and cross Route 22. It is the end of the day and I can tell the leaves on the trees are all middle-aged. Still green, but tired.
Between the over-saturated leaves and the dwindling fireflies, I know that summer is finally pushing through its bell curve and will be heading south soon. Yesterday, a dead leaf that blew off a tree in a storm landed in front of the farm house. I walked outside to go to work and it was bright yellow in death. An RSVP from October.
On one of the hottest days of the year I went into the local EMS and bought a thick, bright orange fleece on sale for less than two large cheese pizzas at Jay's in town. In a few weeks I will wear it and match my world. When the Days of Grace come I will wear it to stalk deer. I am an irregular consumer who hopes her material gains can work magic. Summon a season by sheer desire.
I get across 22 and start running uphill, towards Shushan. Now I am pouring sweat. It's hot out, and I am starting to feel like a moving animal. I think about even at 90+ degrees I am not hot when I am still. But when I move, I bust open like a dam.
I nearly sprint down the hill. At two miles I am at the highest point of the run. I have all that distance behind me and I am going home. The music makes me explode into the pavement, I bet I scare any locals who might see me from their windows. I feel my heart pounding, and my whole system is like a steam locomotive of the old times, constant and efficient. This is how a body is supposed to feel, I realize.
The ground evens out and I understand that last mile is all up hill. I cross 22 again, and at the hayfield at the bottom of my road I run alongside a pair of tied dragonflies. I am sick with envy. To be a creature that can have sex while flying through the air with no understanding of death seems unfair on such a cosmic level. Philosophy, democracy, posable thumbs...the hell with them. This pair can use their genitals and wings at the same time.
I run a little faster.
Relationships are on my mind, or the lack of one. I am coming to the realization that in a world of poodles, few folks are interested in bringing home a timber wolf. Hell, even the other wolves are with poodles. I think about that post I made on the blog about my perfect man and laugh. When I posted that I only got emails from parents of twenty-something man-childs and lesbians. I am not complaining, but I have a picture of Sawyer from Lost posted by my monitor at work.
I run a little faster.
I stop thinking about men and start thinking about what I spent my folk's birthday gift to me on: an old, used fiddle off ebay. It sounded amazing on the sample audio, and it was in the back of the truck on a burlap sack waiting for me to tune it up. Before dark I will play Great High Mountain in my kitchen. I will think of Brian, his black truck, and Cade's Cove and probably cry.
I miss Tennessee so much it has caused lines under my eyes.
I am nearly halfway up the mountain now, half a mile from home. Usually this is when I am dogging it so hard that elderly speed-walkers can lap me. But today I am numb to discomfort and the soundtrack is possessing me. I pick up the pace. A red Dodge truck nearly hits me. I jump mid-stride, scared nearly into a bowel movement. My music was too loud and I am wearing a faded, earthy-green tee shirt. It has old-time fiddles, guitars and banjo illustrations on it growing out of a pea garden with the phrase "BlueGrass: Pick it!". I make a mental note to wear my bright purple NEBCA shirt for the next run.
I am within a hundred yards of the pond and I sprint. I turn up the music even louder. I make it to my destination and deliberately collapse my butt into the ground. I put my head between my bent knees, stretch out my arms to my feet and suck in air, rocking back and forth. When I gather myself. I stand up, realize I have just ran three miles without stopping, and promptly throw up.
I just want it to be October. For so many reasons.
It's never what you think it is. I expected to home home to a lame sheep, overheated animals in need of fresh water, more dead chickens, and a destroyed garden. Everything I worried about didn't happen. What did happen was on the left, front side of the barn. Under a canopy of rusted old tools lay the dead body of Winthrop, my favorite rooster.
He died of natural causes. There was no trauma or blood. He had been spending more time in the shade, his crow sounding weaker and weaker. Last night he slept in the hay instead of roosting. I knew it was his time. He passed away in the shade of the red barn on the soft ground on a summer day. Not a bad way to leave the world.
Winthrop was an enormous Light Brahma, kind and cuddly. He howled like a wolf, purred like a wookie, and watched over this flock for nearly four years. Many hens came and went from his watch over this place, but every winter and spring: he was here. He was from my first order of chicks when I made that little cabin in Vermont my home. He lived in two states, engaged in much sexual congress, and got his portrait on this blog, my chicken book, and Tim's photography site. I have a lot of happy memories of that bird. He will be missed.
I'm worried about Sal. The ol' man was limping this morning and for no visible reason. After close inspection of his front hoof that he was avoiding, there was no wounds, blood, pus, foot rot, or even over-grown hoof nail. Out of precaution, I gave him some PenG in case an older wound had gone systemic. I hope he is okay. If he doesn't turn around soon, the vet will be called. Sal is, hands down, my favorite farm animal. I will do what I can to keep him around long as the quality of life is there for him.
Something is killing off poultry at the rate of one or two animals a night. I am down to just one turkey, and larger laying hens. At least a two dozen young birds, maybe more, have gone missing. I keep seeing this small cat hanging around and I set a trap for her this morning. Though it certainly could be something else. Either way, it turns out I am not much of a cat person and don't really want any strange cats on the farm. Period.
Deer are taking over the garden at an alarming rate. The potato patch got a hard hit, half of the plants eaten down. I don't know if they'll make it or not, or if I should cut my losses and dig up whatever I can save...
Rain all day today. I will be at the office, concerned.
I was on the way to herding lesson with Gibson when I stopped into Wayside. The little country store was booming with summer tourist business, and I waved to Erin and Chelsea inside. Erin beamed at me. "Not a lot of people could pull that outfit off!" she said with a light voice. She wasn't mocking me, but complimenting my getup. I was wearing long khaki shorts, a black t-shirt, knee-high black Muck boots, and a big straw cowboy hat. A mala dangled from my left wrist and a large pocket knife gleamed from my thigh pocket. I smiled and told her the only reason I could pull it off was because I didn't care if I could or couldn't. I just liked it.
I am sad to admit it took me nearly thirty years to stop caring what people thought about me. In college I would have been terrified to wear a cowboy hat anywhere outside a costume shop. Now I am just grateful to have something light and airy to keep the sun out of my eyes. If people wanted to laugh, let them. Nothing else happens. They don't ask you for money, or hit you, or even usually have the balls to make fun of you to your face. With no consequences at all, I wear what l please. Let them laugh and scurry home to their peer-approved brands and wardrobe. I'm wearing my goddamned hat.
If anyone ever makes fun of you for your clothes, chickens, canning jars, vehicle, hair, makeup, pets, choices... just look them straight in the eyes and say. "So?" And you will be amazed at the lack of follow-up. If you can get an answer to that, ask again. I have never met a person who could make it to three So?'s.
Look at that tan line Your arms are Hispanic and your legs are Irish!
You don't match, is all. It's funny!
See what I mean? The Jenna of two years ago would have worn jeans because she would be ashamed of her pasty legs. Even though keeping them hidden is exactly what made them pasty in the first place. That Jenna isn't around anymore. Good riddance. She was a chump.
The hat incident reminded me of when I bought the Dodge. After hours of paperwork and fussing at the dealership I just wanted to sign the dotted lines and go home. I had to pick up 12 bales of hay at Common Sense Farm and was way behind schedule. When hands were shook, they told me I had to wait another 30 minutes so they could wash and detail the truck. "Please don't." I asked, and I meant it. I had no interest in a mindlessly clean truck. Within hours it would be loaded with hay, dog hair, spilled coffee and my own sweat. "Oh, we have to. It's our policy!" He said, as if this was some sort of incentive. I explained I did not want a detailed truck. I had absolutely no interest in a detailed truck, whatsoever. I told him about how within 45 minutes of leaving this driveway their work would be covered in hay and mud. Detail someone's new show pony. Not my draft horse.
I had to wait the thirty minutes.
I'm not saying you shouldn't shower or drive around in a filth bucket. When the truck gets too gamey, it gets a ride up to the car wash in Salem for an old fashioned wash, vacuum, and rub down of random varnish and interior tonics. I know my way around an Armor-all wipe. But if you think I gave it a second thought when Gibson leapt up into the front seat just out of the water tub after our 90-degree herding lesson.... think again. Wet seats, as it turns out, are impermanent.
This truck might make it a decade if I am lucky. I'm not getting buried in it, and no U-haul is following my hearse full of material possessions I meticulously dusted and kept tidy. Nothing lasts, certainly not us, and I'm not going to go through the rest of my life with a plastic container of Clorox wipes in the back seat or worried about scratches on my dang truck. Life is too damn short to worry about detailing. I have no patience for it. I'll never get those thirty minutes of my life back.
Here's to stupid hats and wet dogs. May they procure ridicule and scratch cars forever more.
I woke up this morning around 5:37, which is sleeping in. I took my time getting out of day bed, and Gibson (who is never in much of a rush at first light) stretched out his entire body next to mine. His head by mine, his tail at my feet. For a Border Collie, Gibson is huge. 52 skinny pounds, and taller than Jazz at the withers. His coat is starting to really fill in, and what was a scruffy boy at a year has started to grow a mane, doggy facial hair around his ears. He hears Joseph's wet bleat and Jasper's whinny and standing on me thigh looks out the long window to the field. I don't know what he's thinking, but I like to think he's just checking that farm is still out there.
After the dogs were walked and fed their breakfast, I headed out for a three mile jog. Jasper heckled me as I left, but he just wanted apples or grain. He had so much pasture it was ridiculous, and big containers of water. The sheep must have just come in from their dawn breakfast, they were all silent on the hill, chewing cud. And that hill, was slowly healing up. Over grazing had turned it to mud and hard dirt, but with expanded pasture and some seed and rain tufts of green were returning. The last hard downpour didn't move a single slurry of topsoil down into the level spots where I refill their water tanks.
I jog down the mountain, across 22, and over to the dirt roads that pass corn fields and meadows. Deer, tractors, and the rare car pass me by but I barely wave. I get lost out there. My head belongs to recent writing projects, personal strife, music on the headphones and other mental riff raff. By the time the run is over I don't care about any of it but the music. Running is a screening process of priorities. If it doesn't matter as much after three miles it probably didn't matter much at all.
I came home to chores, everything from everyday animal care to mowing the lawn, but I wrapped it all up before 9. They wanted the sun high and hot today, nearly 90 degrees. I wanted all this self/home improvement business out of the way so I could focus on today's real work: books, naps, and a bbq at dusk.
I plan on enjoying this weekend and celebrating it. This past week was the end of the 5-day work week. Starting Monday I will be working 32-hours and being self-employed on Fridays. It won't be a day off, but a day to focus on the farm, workshops, writing, and the business. A full day to focus on home. Now that, deserves some hamburgers and ice cream.
P.S. I'll post a video of Gibson making ice cream later today!
I was on the road before first light hit Washington County. by 4:30 Gibson was riding shotgun, a truckbed was full of critters, and the after-midnight show was still playing on WGNA. We had to get the truckload of chickens, rabbits, and ducks to Ben Shaw's farm by 5:00, so I could be back home, showered, dressed and ready for my sanitized job by 8. That's a lot to get done before you crank open your inbox. (It's not the usual schtick.) The ride to Shaw's was a rolling circus of mist. Every turn looked like a Tim Burton movie set. It made me miss my hometown.
Now that it is nearly 9, I am ready to call it a night. There ten skinny chickens in the freezer (note that Cornishes are no where NEAR the meat of the Cornish Cross) and I will learn some might stew and pot pie recipes this year. But still, ten birds in the freezer, a duck, and a few animals to take into work for coworkers tomorrow. Not a bad haul for an early morning.
Tomorrow morning I'll be getting up before dawn to sneak into the coop in the dark and pull out all the animals going to slaughter at Ben Shaw's farm in Greenwich. I'll load them into the back of my pickup, and by 5AM be on the road with Gibson to drop them off. A dozen chickens are heading for the crates as well as the two ducks and a few rabbits. I have folks already asking when they'll be delivered and space waiting in the chest freezer for what is staying here.
I used to feel this sort of excitement before I got on planes.
I seem to be better at this animal side of the food spectrum then the vegetable side. Sometimes I wonder what that says about me? That I am better at birth and death than I am at slow growth and harvest?
By the time I turn in tomorrow night I will have chickens, duck, rabbits, and some pork in my freezer. Not bad for 6 and a half acres and a full time job. However, besides a thriving potato patch, I don't have much to offer my larder on the vegetable side. My small gardens are once again being eaten down by deer. Sunflowers were chomped in half, pumpkin vines tarnished and bent, and the sole survivors seem to be the Italians. Tomatoes, basil, onions, and zucchini. While it is a 100% better than last year's vegpocalypse, it's nothing to brag about.
I dream of a large garden, a "put-uppers" garden. 50x75 feet with good soil fed with compost from my other adventures here, a sturdy fence, fake plastic owls, electric tops, and netting. A vegetable jail from all the critters that once again might just ruin my Halloween pumpkins.
But not tonight. Tonight I can write down and sketch out those future pumpkin patches, but right now a girl's got to be happy about a chicken roasting over her own carrots and potatoes on a crisp fall Sunday. Which will come. I can almost taste it. My October is on the way.
I have started running again, and I do it every night. I don't go far, just a mile or two, and on the weekends if I'm feeling mighty, three. It's so good to feel my heart pounding again. And on some of these hot, muggy nights I can get in my struggle before a storm breaks. I love this. All that heat and energy working up to a relaxing and refreshing end. By the time the first drops start to pound the clay in the driveway, I'll already be cooled down by a mint soap shower.
Definition is coming back to my calves, and tanned skin is replacing the pasty, bug-bitten, splotches on my gams. It feels like the ritual is fixing things, healing me. I come home heaving, but I also come home smiling. I no longer feel like I've been punched in the stomach walking up a few flights of stairs at work. Extra weight is shedding off, unnecessary on an animal in motion.
After my run last night, a guy came over to price a new sheep shed on the hill. While he was up there with measuring tape and a notebook (Jasper following him around as Quality Control) he looked down at the farm and let out a long, ominous, whistle.... "That roof looks bad...."
It did. The back of the house above the kitchen had been heavy with snow falling from the roof above it. I knew it was a little lumpy, but had never looked at it from this vantage point. Melts and freezes caused it to buckle over that ferocious season. All the damage was caused by the elements, so I am certain the insurance will cover the repairs. I am grateful to be addressing it in the dog days of summer instead of late fall when snowfall is a gasp or two away.
In bigger news: after a few discussions with my office's HR department and my manager, I am going from a 5-day work week to a 4-day work week. I will be responsible to earn that piece of my paycheck on my own through the farm and writing gigs, and I now will have a three day weekend every week. It is one day back in my own hands, and I am thrilled to share that with you (even if it does make me a little nervous). But I have no doubt I will pull it off.
Fridays will be days for writing, with breaks for the farm. Just wait till winter when a snowstorm blows in and my commute is ten narrow stairs of the office....
I just let out a really good sigh. I guess that's how life goes. Some days you find out you need a roof, and other days you realize you just got 52 days of your life back in your own dirty hands.
When your grow your own food, join a CSA, or eat from local farms: you start spending a lot more time in the kitchen. When you start spending less time in supermarkets, it is bound to happen. Going from take-out to eating at home forces you into the transition from the land of processed into the land of ingredients. This is a wonderful fall out.
Cooking has become a huge part of my life now. Something I enjoy almost as much as farming the ingredients in the first place. When you pull a roasted chicken out of the oven you raised yourself, crackling over homegrown potatoes and carrots... you taste everything, you savor that meal in such a bath of gratitude it becomes a 6th taste.
And all this stuff I grow, the majority of it gets cooked in cast iron. I use my skillets to seer steaks, scramble eggs, bake bread, and melt butter. I use it for everything dang it, and when the power goes out, that skillet goes right on my wood stove. I'm a fan.
So in celebration of cast iron (and cooking at home) we're going to have a recipe swap. I'm calling it the Supper Club, because hopefully we'll all be copying each other's skillet recipes to enjoy all through the year. Share your favorite skillet recipe for summer—from meat rubs for the grill to fancy desserts—in the comments section of this post. Once your comment is in you will be entered to win a brand new limited-edition Lodge Skillet. And not just any skillet. You're getting a CAF approved Tennessee Flat Top biscuit baker. That's right, a guitar skillet! It's small, but cool. And not a bad thing to bake a potato in or heat up BBQ sauce over the stove. A second runner up will get a year's subscription to Cooks Country magazine (not a bad second fiddle).
I love sitting with the spectators at a sheepdog trial. I think I have as much fun explaining the course and teaching the lingo as I do watching those teams run. It is not a complicated game, so within a few dogs even a first-timer can start commenting on a nice outrun or a decent pen. They learn what to clap for, pick up the jive. I get shivers when a new fan is born, explaining to her husband the difference between a fetch gate and drive gate, how scoring works, and what the Judge is looking for. It's a drug dealer's high, seeing people eat up the thing that makes you tick and come back next year begging for more.
With my dog by my side, my NEBCA pin on my shirt collar, and my eyes on the field I must look like a competing handler to the new folks in the crowd, but I am nothing of the sort. Gibson and I are rookies in training, just learning the basics and soaking up the conversations by proximity. But damn if it doesn't feel good to sit with your border collie at a sheepdog trial.
Experience aside, I was beginning to feel like a part of the club. I may have never entered even a practice trial yet, but I was no longer the new kid. I had taken lessons from people under that tent with me, drove to clinics, bought a ram lamb from one and was picking up ewe lambs from another. I talked with people I knew about sheep, dogs, and past trials. I knew a lot of folks' first names now, and had handlers I cheered for with gusto.
While sitting there, taking in the big show, I was trying to remember what brought me to herding? At what point did passing for an Open Handler to second-home owning tourist become a huge boost to my ego? I couldn't place it. Like mushing, dressage, and draft horses: this was working with animals. And I don't mean "working with animals" like vets and dog trainers work with animals: I mean physically laboring beside them, doing work a human can not do alone. That teamwork is timeless and perfect. It is what built and created civilization and culture. There is no place a road goes through that didn't once know wagon wheels. To do the work that connects me to my past, to animals, to other people: this was what I wanted to spend my life doing.
Wanted to, being the key phrase. I realized anyone with huskies and a sled could give that a go, and horse stables with lessons are all over the nation....but I didn't realize civilians could get into sheepdog trials. I thought you had to look like James Cromwell, wear tweed, and live somewhere along the Devon Coast. But as it turns out, you just have to be a little crazy and not mind driving. Last year at this trial a handler ran her dog wearing a maroon and gold Sunnydale High t-shirt.
It was at that moment I fell in love with the sport.
It's certainly not the competition that intrigues me. I could care less about winning, but entering, now that gets me going. It's the inclusion in that community, that feeling of being on the team bus again. Sheepdog Trials are a sport, however eccentric. It has its own subculture and quirks, but I adore the history, the individuals, and the variety of people it brings in. The parking lot has Mercedes and Mechanics in it. Hard Scrabble farmers, affluent hobbyists, and dreamers like me make up the scene. All of us dedicated to our dogs, agriculture, and dreaming of some day walking off that field with a smile so big on our faces no level of self control could hide. Today I watched a man score a 92 (out of 100) with his dog and leave the field calmly. I would have been doing a touchdown dance with Gibson circling around me barking. Then picked him up, hollered, and spiked my crook. Not because I wanted to boast, but because I can not fathom that sort of thing ever happening. If it did, the sky might open up and a war dance might be the only thing that could tame it.
I was asked to scribe today, and was thrilled to do so. For those of you unfamiliar with the parlance of the sheepdoggin' world: scribing is a fancy term for score keeping. It puts you in a folding chair right next to the judge. For me, this is like taking the wide-eyed kid with the giant foam finger out of the cheap seats and planting her in the announcer's skybox. While each dog runs the course, you run the stopwatch, mark down the points removed, and listen to the judge's comments. Sometimes they'll make kind conversation, and encourage you along your own path in the game. The judge this weekend was a woman from North Carolina and friendly as hell, explaining new terms to me like "ran across his work." She judged the trial with her clogs off, eating an apple in unshod glory under a big straw hat. Thems my people I said in my head, channeling the last Michael Perry book I read (which was also propping up my plastic chair on the unlevel ground). I had a fine time under that tent.
After scribing, lunch was a godsend. Pulled pork and cole slaw, fire-roasted corn brushed with a buttery herb coating, and vanilla ice cream with raspberries and maple syrup. If maple syrup does not sound like an ice cream topping to you then you are in for a pleasant surprise, son. The three flavors were perfect: creamy, sugary, and tart.
The whole day was familiar and happy. This sheepdog trial is mine. It is the first ever shepherding event I ever attended, and this weekend made it my fourth year. It's become a Holiday to this farmer, and it has always fallen on my birthday. I look forward to the Haflingers and big draft horses. I like catching up with Jim McRae who always does the shearing demo (and is also the CAF shearer).
Things have changed since it started, but all for the better. The crowd keeps growing and the food is now beyond the ol' burgers and dogs. They opened the Sap House to be a farmy craft mall. Come to a sheepdog trial and leave with artisan cheese, yarn, hooked rugs, sweaters and knick knacks. There was a silent auction, syrup tasting, and kids in a big field playing game outside. Not a bad way for a family to spend a Saturday.
During all this hootenanny I saw a pair of little girls run up the the sheep shearing demonstration—each with a stuffed sheep under their arms. Those toys might as well have been Mickey Mouse dolls as they scrambled to Space Mountain. It made me grin, seeing a bunch of kids psyched about a sheepdog trial like that. And let's be honest...Space Mountain only lasts a few minutes. This sheepdoggin' thing scoops up whole lives.
May those plush-sheep-toting rug rats thrive. Thrive and carry on.
My friends Jim and Wendy just left. In celebration of my birthday they brought me a huge Indian buffet, beer, and a sheet cake with the cover of Barnheart on it. We ate, talked books, houses, horses and music and after our stomachs were full Jimmy taught me Ash Grove on the fiddle and Wendy soaked up the music. It was fantastic. The perfect way to end my last day of my 28th year.
I'll post a proper account of my day at Merck Forest's Sheepdog Trials soon, but tonight I will just be posting this video of the country this sporting event resides in. High up in Rupert, Vermont is the site of this contest. And before the horses were out or the place was packed with families and spectators, there was just that vista. The camera does not do it justice. You stand there and only see mountains and forget things like plastic and Velcro exist.
Big goings-on around here this weekend! I'm about to head out the door to the Merck Forest Sheepdog trials. But there's other stuff happening as well. Jon has his book reading at Gardenworks today in Hebron, over at Common Sense Farm they are doing a farm tour/herb walk in their fields. And In Manchester the Vermont Horse Show is cranking up. Quite a day to be outside and about. For being in the middle of nowhere: some times it feels like it's the center of everything!
Tonight my friends James and Wendy are bringing me dinner: Indian Food from Saratoga. What an amazing treat! Nan, chicken masala and lamb samosas after a herding trial. Do the wonders never cease?!
If you want to become rich, Jim Rogers, investment whiz, best-selling author and one of Wall Street's towering personalities, has this advice: Become a farmer. Food prices have been high recently. Some have questioned how long that can continue. Not Rogers. He predicts that farming incomes will rise dramatically in the next few decades, faster than those in most other industries — even Wall Street. The essence of his argument is this: We don't need more bankers. What we need are more farmers. The invisible hand will do its magic. "The world has got a serious food problem," says Rogers. "The only real way to solve it is to draw more people back to agriculture....."
Yesterday was a day of preparation. 150 gallons of oil were dumped into the tank, and two cords of split and read-to-stack firewood was dumped at the end of my driveway. I don't care what anyone else tells you: two cords of wood is a mighty pile. The chickens climbed up to the top of Mount Sawdust and looked proud. Gibson slinked around it looking for the garter snakes who slithered right under it soon as it was dumped. I am beginning to really appreciate the snakes around here. There are so many it is shocking. There's the little garter snakes that hang around the garden and sun themselves on the rocks. There's the big milk snake, Trevor, who keeps the barn fairly rodent free. And there's a black snake I saw the tail-end of in the barn as well, scaring every rat within 200 yards of my chicken feed bins. I like my snake crew. They make me feel like I have my own rodent security force.
Shortly after the folks from McRae's Tree Service headed out and the snakes were happy in their new lair, CAF reader Gordy and his kind wife backed into the driveway with a load of Locust rounds. Holy Crow, it was a whole other cord, waiting to be split! We chatted for a while, and I thanked him with some preserves and a book and was happy to meet him. Seeing a stranger unload a cord of seasoned hardwood because he found you on the internet is quite the sight. Such a primal gift, from a couple who discovered me in such a modern way: online. I like it.
So as of last night I have a good chunk of winter under my belt. Heat is no small thing around here, something to covet. I still have to find a way to get that woodstove in the living room up and running, but I will figure something out. By fall there will be two warm fires in this little white farmhouse, and smoke will puff out of chimneys as the Days of Grace come back. Before you know it, it will be here. And I can look towards that date with a slightly less-anxious smile.
Here's to seasoned wood, kind strangers, and future chimneys.
My riding lesson tonight was clunky, off kilter, and hot. I was sweating and unfocused, and so my mount wasn't in the best of hands. My uneven reins and poor leg yields made for a wobbly-trot and crisscrossing of the arena that made me look like I never sat in an English saddle before. Hollie was positive, patient, and when I did something right she let me know it "Now THAT'S how you make a corner!" but despite her outlook, I felt like a sack of potatoes on a mule tonight. It is time to get serious about my body and mind. Time to get them holding hands again.
Truth is, my body is perfect. It's not, you know, magazine perfect but everything works and nothing is too shabby, diseased, or falling apart yet. I am not down on this mortal coil, but it could use some polishing up. I want to feel amazing in the dressage saddle, and comfortable sprinting up hill to pull Ashe's head out of the fence hole when she cries. I want to be comfortable with myself, and that means putting as much love and attention into my body and mind as I do to this farm.
I came home and leashed up Gibson and we went for a mile run. I wanted to feel my heart again, know it was in there. My three-mile adventure yesterday made it easy to run the first 1.5 miles (the first mile is all downhill) but on this short jog we headed down the mountain, and then turned around and finished going up. My goal was to just keep going. Don't walk, don't stop, don't you dare stop. I slowed down to an 82-year-old's waltz, but I never stopped lifting my feet. By the end of the mile I was pep-talking myself to the finish line.
"Come on, girl. You just cantered (accidentally!) a 15-hand thoroughbred without falling off. You shoved dewormer down a ewe's throat. You earned a paycheck in corporate America. You can make it another 30 yards....right?"
I finished the mile like a methed-out bison and sat right down on the side of the road near my bass pond, sucking air and sweating worse than that trotting gelding. Gibson (who was not even panting) decided I just started my ground game and pounced on me with licks and the kind of wag that moves his hips. I told him he was a failure as a stoic hill dog. He could not have cared less.
Wood is being delivered tomorrow, possibly three cords, and that's a fine start for winter. Saturday and Sunday are a big holiday around here: The Merck Forest Sheepdog Trials and I can not wait. If you're new to this blog, go back to that July 2008 post and read about my first year there, and how it sent me onto this collie course. This will be my fourth year going, keeping score, and chatting it up with the NEBCA scene. Come see Gibson and I, say hello. It's a fun day for the whole family with draft-horse shuttle carts, shearing demos, food, merchandise, crafts and hikes for the kids.
Plus, Sunday is my birthday. Talk about the perfect way to spend it.
One warm loaf of bread, pulled from the oven on this Monday morning. Independence Day, indeed. How proper to have it on the first day of the work week, and to be free of the office on this blissfully humid day. While it was rising I grabbed a fistful and turned it into pizza dough for my first meal of the day, lunch.
Two hands on the black leather of Jasper's reins. Running from his bit, to the shining loops on his surcingle, and then back to my hands. We have much to learn together, but he still lets me harness him, lead him, and walk behind him.
Three miles jogged along country roads, soaking my water-wight logged body in new sweat. To be honest, it was more like 1.5 miles jogged/1.5 miles heaving at a fast walk, But I will get there again. The body learns to heal itself. I am too stubborn to stop running when I know I can get where I am going long as I do not stop.
Fourth day of July. A day to celebrate history and the kind of country that allows a middle-class woman to buy and run a small farm with the aid of luck, hope, and a few good dogs.
I ate fried chicken and strawberry-soaked shortbread tonight. The chicken was the one we had butchered for the workshop in early June, and I learned tonight I am a better roaster than fryer, but it was my first time. I ate the delicious drumsticks on the porch (even if they were a little over-cooked) and watched the new chicks run around the lawn with their leghorn mama. Small batches of new life are showing up everywhere, this small farm is thriving in many ways. I spent the entire day at home, not even leaving once to run down to Stewart's for some ketchup. No sir, this independence day was spent on a small mountain homestead, all of it. I ate food I grew and baked myself. I worked up a fine sweat. I took a long nap out in the yard to let the sun touch me, and did it where no one could see me, and felt scandalous while audiobook stories were whispered into my headphones.
During evening rounds, I heard sighs of thunder. Some storm far away and not really near this mountain, and I liked it. I came inside for a cold shower and mint soap and came out 20 degrees cooler. I poured myself a glass of wine, hugged my black dog, and rested into the arms of the daybed for a movie. Something epic and long, something to make my humble day seem peaceful and sacred in a world turned around by wars and heartache.
The fireflies came out, and they were many. In the recent past those thunder exhales stayed with me as I watched them bumble clumsy. This was my type of fireworks: thunder and lightening bugs. The correct mix of light and sound for a day we all can sit back and be grateful. In 1860, the people in this house were probably full of worry. Same for 1916, and 1944, and 1969. But we can relax here tonight, no children are off to war in this house tonight. No children even exist. A thing that makes my mother sad, but I can only handle so much livestock at once. Plus, I am hoping that's a two-person job when such things come to this red door.
Tonight, just thunder and fireflies, a black dog, and a glass of red wine.
I hope you spent the day with the ones you love, and find yourself tired and happy by the time you hit the sheets. I mean that with all I've got. And for those of you who have served, or have children in far away places tonight: you have my thoughts and prayers, which isn't much from a homesteading Buddhist, but she's all I've got.
The fireflies are getting heavier. I can tell by how they dance. In mid June they filled the sky and flashed like someone had strung faulty Christmas lights all over my Mountain, but now they seem to all be carrying quarters, moving slower, flashing dimmer. Drunk and lovely, they carry on.
I checked my watch. I was certain it was past 6, it had to be. I had been working out the sticky-wet all day between storms. At 9AM I loaded up the Dodge at Tractor Supply with new t-posts, wire fencing, grain, and chicken feed. I had bought electrolyte boosters, syringes, and a new bottle of Safeguard. The plan was to spend the day creating a small sheep pen, laying it down with fresh bedding, green hay, grain, and vitamin water and then somehow catching Lisette and her lamb and sticking them inside. Once inside they would get an oral helping of dewormer (If I could catch them and hold their mouths open long enough to take it) and spend a few weeks in their own spa. It was a last-ditch effort at recovery and well-being, and when they were both healthy and good—sell them off or give them away as pets to folks who wanted heritage-breed lawn mowers and had no interest in keeping them for anything else. These were not to be returned to the gene pool.
It was 2PM.
I was shocked. The timelessness of the gray sky made all day feel like 4PM on a Tuesday. I had just finished setting up the girls in their private Hospital, both let me give them fresh dewormer without fuss and catching them was luck and ease. If these two were to be on the mend, this was step one. Isolation, medication, and plenty of clean water and good feed.
To get to the point of nursing required hours of removing good field fencing from around a dump pile, replacing it with a lesser-quality (but equally deterring) garden fence, and then pounding posts and staples, hauling water and hay, and wrangling sickly sheep. I already felt like it was time to quit and it wasn't even 2:30.... I must sound exasperated, but this is a great thing. To realize that I had more daylight, more time, a whole afternoon to clean up, read, grill, and know the entire farm was running on the right train schedule. If this was a regular workday I would be contemplating afternoon iced coffee and chatting in our bistro. I stood in my lawn, heaving, but smiling. No one ever told this new agrarian that you get more minutes out of your hour on a farm!?
So the big work of the day is done, and so I am retiring to an afternoon of reading, relaxing, and grilling some leftover veggies from yesterday's kabob fest. A good meal and a cold drink, a few chapters of a good book, and I am born again.
Yesterday afternoon I fell asleep in the pasture by accident. I was up there reading, soaking in the view of the mountains between pages. At some point the book was set down so I could shut my eyes for a minute. I lay there, exhausted, taking in sounds of the stream and songs of birds. All the sheep were in the shade of their sheds, far away from where I was resting. Jasper was down by the gate, drinking water farther away than that. I stretched out on the blanket, turned over, and within moments was fast asleep.
I was awoken by the strangest sensation. The grazing of a hoof across my ankle, barely using any pressure at all. It did the trick all right, startled me into consciousness and there standing above me was Jasper. (He looks bigger when you're laying on the ground below him.) The 500 pound pony could have crushed my leg with a hoof and he simply touched me. I sat up, but didn't get up, and he pressed his head against my shoulder. I feel comfortable and safe around this small horse. I know him like I know my dogs, Sal, Maude, and coworkers. He is different than the horses I ride at my lessons, and for this reason. I am with him everyday, we are always together in the pasture. He lets me harness him, lead him, and he will show me how to get around this world with the original horsepower. I regret nothing. He is joy, and when he runs across that acreage, hoofs pounding and head high I feel like I am part of something wild, magical and timeless, a girl who hatched a dragon egg.
I had fallen asleep out there because the day was hot and busy. Meredith, a day intern, came and we threw ourselves into work. We cleaned out the chicken coop, poured a concrete slab, changed out rabbit bedding, ran errands and had an amazing meal of grass-fed beef kabobs with glorious fresh peppers, squash, and sweet onions onions from the farm stand down the road. We worked hard, and ate well, and by the time she left around 4PM I was spent. With the farm recently wound to the correct time: I was looking forward to a book on the hill.
I realized up there that the entire time we were working together I had not one passing thought about anything negative. The work becomes a meditation, and the chores dissolve into the next one. Conversation was light, positive, and happy. Through laughter, sweat, and joint work I felt the same cleansing emotional jog I got building fences with Brett and Diane, pounding posts with James, Chris, and Steve. It is medicine to me, a combination of a light hoof and hard work.
Many have emailed or commented thinking I was talking about my job in that earlier post. I was not. Things are fine there, far as I know.
Plans for the weekend changed. The guy who I hired to deliver me my first full cord of wood didn't show up. Or perhaps he did, and I was on an errand and left. Either way, wood wasn't stacked. And the Pony Cart Pickup of 2011 was moved a few weeks down the road because of a child's birthday party at the location, a blessing actually. Now I have two full days without much plans, save for rehabilitating some weaker charges.
Today I might build a small fenced area for Lisette and her ewe lamb—both are sickly and need special care. Lisette was recovering from her rough Ketosis lambing season, but now has returned to a fame of nothing but bones and skin. Yesterday she was so hot and weak I could walk right up to her and touch her face, feel her weak body, and I had a serious internal discussion about putting her down. Then, at dusk, she was on her feet grazing again. What I do know is she is not a breeding animal any longer, and her lamb, Pidge, is runtish and always ill. On a working farm, even a small one, it is foolish and dangerous to keep animals in your bloodlines. Pidge is always either coughing, gasping, diarrhea-spewing, or slow. She has been caught and medicated, treated, and evaluated endless times with no results. So I am separating them from the flock and getting them both on a course for health. I will have the vet evaluate them and do my best to bring them back to good. But neither will be staying here after they recover. Pidge will mostly likely be slaughtered in the fall and Lisette, if and when she recovers, might do better with a pet flock without the rigors of being part of a breeding flock. If anyone out there wants a sweet Scottish Blackface ewe, let me know and wish us luck.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The blog of author Jenna Woginrich of Cold Antler Farm. Here she writes about her adventures following her crazy dream life as a self-employed writer, homesteader, archer, falconer, equestrian, martial artist, hunter, spinner, brewer, geek, and real-life Game of Thrones Extra. She loves movies, pop culture, running far, and eating animals. On twitter @coldantlerfarm
And when the children are safe in bed, at one of the great holidays like the Fourth of July, New Years, or Halloween, we can bring out some spirits and turn on the music, and the men and the women who are still among the living can get loose and really wild. So that's the final meaning of "wild"- the esoteric meaning, the deepest and most scary. Those who are ready for it will come to it. Please do not repeat this to the uninitiated. -gs