Good news: the permit finally came to build the new chimney, and I was able to send the deposit on the parts with the folks at the Stovery, thanks to a new partnership with a popular artist (more soon), your workshop donations, and a renewed ad from MyPetChicken.com, I scrounged up enough to cover the half-cost of supplies to secure a chimney installation! Now I have to gather together what it takes for the other half and labor, but just having made that deposit and holding the pink paperwork in my hands feels more than halfway there. I know I can pull these fall projects together.
Just two hours of sleep last night. I feel dizzy. Heat lightening kept me up. But I think a calm morning and iced coffee will set me right.
That there is a hill of beans. Well, a sprawling vista of beans, at least. This weekend I was able to put up four quarts of beans (blanching post coming soon), and brew two gallons of all malt stout for the fall. These are the first greens put to the freezer, and it was nice seeing some veg next to all those packages of chicken, duck, rabbit, and pork. A little something, something for the side. I hope to get more so I can add to the freezer bounty. I don't have a pressure canner so it's the only way to preserve these types of veggies. I might even freeze some of my tomato sauce to be safe this fall. Do you folks can, or freeze your harvest/CSA/market greens? What else are you putting up?
On a sadder note, the first litter of kits has come down with the same disease that took out most of last year's young. I'm not sure what it is, but I do know the only surefire way to stop it is to get these guys out on green grass, pronto. So at the first signs of showing ribs and diarrhea, and grinding jaws, these guys hit the grass. I hope it's enough.
Not to sound crass, but jeesh, of all the luck. I deal with a rabbit epidemic days before the meat rabbit workshop. I suppose this is good in some respects, as workshoppers will see how to spot failing health and how to deal with it, but it also has me worried. I want these kits well, and producing into fall. The good news is there are no rabbit diseases a human can get through ingestion (really) and so if they do recover by fall they will be fine for the table.
This morning everyone was fine but still sluggish. Every kit that was in a hutch was put outside. The rest of the herd is doing well in the comfy shade and hay-lined goodness of the barn. My plan is to get a hutch without a bottom I can move it around the lawn and keep them in one safe spot. They will recover, I just need to be quick about containment (of them) and healing of their woes. I am grateful to have the experience to deal with it swiftly.
Oh, and if you're coming up this weekend for the rabbit 101 class, email me for directions and supplies! Looking forward to meeting you all, several from the city!
This weekend I was out in the barn sorting through the two dozen large boxes that had not been touched in over half a decade. They have remained, like a very personal, very short-term, time capsule in storage across four states, since they were originally packed up and moved from the apartment Jazz and Annie and I shared in Tennessee. Some of the items have not been held, smelled, or seen since I graduated from college in 2005. One in particular sliced into me.
I found the Map.
The Map is exactly that, a little piece of oddly-specific, emotional cartography. I painted it during my senior year of design school. It is not a pretty painting, nor would it mean anything to any other person who looked at it, but at one time in my life, it meant everything to me.
I took a large canvas—about four feet long and two feet high—and painted a map on white gesso in black ink. It was not to scale. (I abhor details.) It showed my college campus at Kutztown, the buildings, the field, the farm behind my dorm where I rode horses, the town, the graveyards, the train tracks, and a very special hill in the middle of nowhere.
The only color on the black and white map is a splattering of dots. Each close friend had a color, and when something happened I wanted to remember I painted their color on the map where it happened. By graduation the entire thing was smattered with four years of nostalgia. Friday morning when I opened the brown paper, and uncovered the map, I cried for a very long time. And I cried because of the three dots painted along hillside on the far edge of the map.
One night my best friend and I drove out into the countryside and the stars were astoundingly beautiful. He told me to pull over, and park my red Jetta on the side of the road. We hiked a half mile up a large, rolling green hill. At the top was two copses of trees, and when we reached them, we sat down and took in the whole world, heaving. I'm not sure how long we sat there, on this vista that looked more like a Microsoft screen saver than reality, and just stared at the void. It could have been twenty minutes, or it could have been hours. We ate a light snack of good chocolate, a cold water. I remember feeling safe, and lucky, and how grateful I was that he was in my life.
A few weeks later I convinced another friend to go there with me. I wanted him to experience what I had felt, what me and this other person had shared. We drove out there on warm night, and even made it a third of the way up the hill. But he stopped and turned around. He didn't want to be up on that hill alone with me, and made up some excuse about the police taking his car from the side of the road. The drive back to our college town was heavy and awkward.
As if this all happened yesterday, I am flush with the smell of wet, dark grass and heaving up a hillside in the dark. My eyes dart all over the map and I realize out of all those colors I only talk to one person now, and rarely. Maybe this is just growing up, this growing apart, but it pained me to see a wall of fading memories. The people I hiked up to that hill with were the most influential and deeply-loved people in my life. Neither of them talk to me anymore. Both accounts are my fault.
Some things can not be helped.
I kept the map, and stored it in the attic. But piles of old issues of HOW, Communication Arts, ID, and Readymade were tossed out. Long-ruined art supplies and musty clothes molded and trashed. I saved all the antiques, gifts, and family items of import but all the paperwork, old college assignments, resumes, and design stuff were useless. In the bin went one lifetime to make room for another. This quieter, dirtier, life on a mountain in New York. It is just six years and five hours away from the last but I might as well be in a crater on Jupiter for how familiar it no longer feels. When you are tossing away your old portfolios to make room for your winter hay and a pig, life has changed.
I moved the Map outside, and went back about the business of sorting antiques and possessions. When I went to open the door of a 1960's Westinghouse cabinet, inside was a photograph of that hill. It was water damaged and beyond help. I closed the door and left it there. Some things were so real to you, the actual proof that they exist makes them feel contrived.
Seeing that map, or that photo, did not make me feel like my life here was a mistake. The tears were tears of lost friends and lost time, but not of regret. I can't imagine living the lives of so many of my old peers, in cities or traveling around the world. It is not what I want, or what I envy, but it doesn't change the fact that I miss them. I wish that everyone on that map was coming up here for Thanksgiving. I wish Kevin and Josh, Erin and Rikki, Raven and Nisaa, and and so many more were going to show up at the farm with hot dishes and warm smiles and tell me all about the big wide world, and how it all works from 30,000 feet in the air or an ocean away. I want to sit on the floor of my living room, Gibson at my side and hand-knit hat on my head and listen to stories of dinners in Tuscany and slamming on breaks down the Autobahn. I can see them all here, happy, smiling, all having learned and seen things far beyond my own slight wisdoms. Some have children now, some have been divorced, others have been mugged in Spain. Life has done a little two-step for us all.
I want to hear all this, sip some hard cider, and see everyone from Typography II again. This can not happen, but for what it's worth guys, the invite is always open.
Maybe I'll start a new map, with new colors. I have new people in my life, some very important. I'd like to think I now know who does and doesn't belong on the Hill. I know who I would take by the hand, and share chocolate and the sky with and who I would not.
When I bought Jasper in late April he was not the same horse he is today. An Amish reject from the auction house, bought by a man who trades in ponies in Hebron, and then sold to me based on a gut feeling and my amazement at his good nature. The day I shook the man's hand and put down my deposit) Jasper was dirty, wet, scrawny, and shaggy. It wasn't the trader's fault. He came from a place that fed him as little as possible, and it was the muddiest time of the year. Because I was just amazed that I was buying a horse to begin with, I didn't see his poor condition clearly. I thought he was great. But as friends, blog readers, and fellow equestrians pointed out his overgrown hooves, poor coat, and desperate need of de-worming.
With help from friends, green grass, a good brush and a few visits from the farrier I have a much healthier animal. He and I are still rookies when it comes to working together in harness, but yesterday I needed to slip on a new halter and he let me slide it right over his nose. When he came here catching him to put on a halter was an Olympic event. Now, It is the end of July, and here is a video of the horse I now have.
Up here, they call them tag sales, but in the Tri-State Area—they were and always will be—yard sales. I passed by this barn in Salem yesterday while on my way to Agway. I couldn't resist stopping by. It had all sorts of pretty shelves of glassware and old Texaco Oil signs. The big wagon wheel outside was interesting to me, but I didn't want it unless it had a brother I could use on a horse cart. Everything else seemed boring. The old rush I used to feel around junk wasn't there. I didn't buy anything. I did, however, step outside and spend a long time looking at the garage's walls. Here in the middle of farm countr: people use tools as decorations and make a living selling decorations to tools...
The scythe, the wood drill, pitchforks, etc. All of those things seem to have real purpose, and I could use them all back at Cold Antler. I suddenly wanted to laugh. How lucky we are to live in a time of such abundance and good fortune that hand tools used to grow food are so unnecessary we bolt them to walls! The people I bought my farm from did the same, and I left their installations there because I thought they looked nice and "farmy." I wrote them off as part of the decor.
A few weeks ago Brett and Diane came over to help me install that pasture fence. Brett told me via email he'd bring down a singletree from the college's workhorse supply so I could use it with Jasper for training. After the work was done, meals eaten, and thanks given he left and I realized he didn't leave the singletree? I was a little bummed out, since I had plans to start really working with Jasper. The next day at the office he explained in an email he drove off with it in the bed of his Tacoma because there already was one hanging on the wall outside the farmhouse. Where?! I asked in reply. He said it was up like a decoration, mounted on the wall outside the overhang where I stack lazy hay bales. I turned red with embarrassment in my desk chair.. Me, the wannabe teamster, who didn't even realize she had her own draft horse equipment hanging on the walls of her own farm house.
Spent the past two days cleaning out all the boxes and storage from the barn and putting it to proper use: stacking haybales inside it. I only got 36 in there so far, but techincally, it's not even August yet and I'm not so behind. Per CJ's comments in the last post, I thought about it and decided he was right. Get more each time, save on trips and your own time. I went back and got 29 more bales this weekend. I'll need at least a hundred stacked in the barn by snowfly, and another twenty or so stacked in the loft. While I'm not far from that goal, it feels pretty good to have this big job started, and now the entire lower part of the barn will be put to use as hay storage and winter quarters for a herd of rabbits, horse, and a feeder pig. Pretty standard use as far as barns go, but this early 1900's barn hasn't been used in a few decades.
No new turkeys are strutting under the maple trees. Bourbon Red pickup was moved to later in the week on account of yesterday's rain. Okay by me, since I am in full farm maintenance mode right now. Last night I had dinner at the Daughton's and Tim talked about having our coworker Brett (who repaired homes for years) come to see the damage. It looks like I will have help on the homefront afterall. He told me this while showing me how to use a vacuum sealer for veggie/meat preservation. (I am totally sold on the Foodsaver front now.) While we sealed up airless, plastic bags with wax beans we talked about their farm plans, my own stove and farm issues, and as we sat down to the table for dinner a cool wind and gentle rain blew through the room. Tim said grace, the summer squash crawled up their fence outside, and thunder rolled over the valley. It was beautiful.
I was getting a headache. Something I would usually ignore (or remedy with a glass of iced coffee), but I was hard at work in a place without a barista handy. I was up in the hay maw of the Common Sense Farm, bucking down bales one at a time to load into the back of my truck. It takes about an hour to drive down to their farm, load bales, and drive back. I took eight this morning and if the clouds break and it doesn't look like rain, I'll go back for eight more tonight. I buy hay in short trips, a truck at a time. This year, I planned on calling a delivery in of 100-150 bales by August, but plans changed.
I found out this morning from the Pennsylvanian State Treasury that the $7,000 dollar savings bond I was supposed to get a check this week was actually a clerical error. There would be no check. That money was planned to cover the new chimney installation, fix the roof, fill the oil tank, order hay, buy supplies for the stable, and pay the second half of the new sheep shed construction bill. The rest would have gone into a pretty little savings account, in case the truck needed repairs or sitting for the next oil tank refill. Tough cookies ladie, best grab another bale and chuck it.
My head was pounding now, and I was covered all over with chaff and sweat. I decided to stop at Stewart's on the way home for some iced coffee to clear my head, but suddenly it felt like it would put me around $7,001.87 in the red. I drove home. I had ice and coffee I already paid for waiting for me to brew and clink.
I am realizing how dangerous easy money is. That out-of-the-sky check was depended on instead of real work, or words, or workshops or overtime at the office. I was banking on it, and it wasn't even real. It's okay though. I have enough saved up for the second half of the barn (first half was already paid for in cash), and the half-priced deposit for the Stovery, but hay would be bought fifty dollars at a time, loaded by me on bale at a time.
This isn't a sad post, it's neutral. If anything it has energized me to plan more workshops, write more freelance, sell more ads, and find some sponsors. Knowing that money was on the way stopped me from dogging editors or pitching new books. I was going into winter in a lull of contentment, and it was stopping creativity, resourcefulness, and drive. Today I'll find a way to get some of it back from Egress. I am certain the oil tank, barn, stove, roof, stable, hay, truck payments and mortgage will continue to be taken care of. Not certain on the particulars, but I was never into details in the first place.
Folks, it takes more than seven grand to put this girl under. To that, I raise my home-brewed glass of iced coffee. An as if there was some sort of celebration to my new baptism as a scrabbler, I am picking up three Bourbon Red Turkeys tonight, a trade that was already in the works for pork. Tomorrow will be met with ad inquiries and gobbles.
The plans for the October weekend are looking better and better! I have been contacted by folks who want to do soap making and fiber demonstrations. On top of the already planned wood lot management, timber, cheese making, animal care, and canning workshops it seems like all things are falling into place. I should have fresh cider from pressing the farm's apples in time for this as well, and hopefully, my first silver fox kits. It looks like there will be several stations and workshops going on all at once, in a casual and down-home tone. I only have about 6 spots left, and it is first registered, first served, so if you are thinking about coming up for the October 15th weekend shindig, let me know soon so we can get you registered!
I am often asked how I manage to run a small farm alone while working a full time job. To many people it seems like a lot of work, or impossible. My answer is always the same but never seems to satisfy the people who ask it. I tell them two things: when I started all this I had one red dog in an apartment in Knoxville and it slowly built from there.
The second part: I fell in love.
I attended my first sheepdog trial in the summer of 2008. Less then two years later I had 6.5 acres, a white farmhouse, and a border collie puppy in my arms. What made this happen? It certainly wasn't an inheritance, marrying rich, or because I gave up my day job and found unclaimed dirt. There's certainly nothing wrong with those twists of fate, but they just weren't mine. I'm not from wealthy lines, haven't had any luck in the love department, and everyplace I lived since college I had to pay to take care of. But my point of telling you this isn't to point out shortcomings, it's that you don't need to be a wealthy, lucky, partner-in-crime to have a farm. You need to be resourceful, and stubborn, and believe in sheep.
That's what I did. After that sheepdog trial I was certain I wanted to be a shepherd. I didn't know if I could have sheep on rented land or how to take care of them. All that aside: I got serious about it in my heart. I bought books on sheep care and stacked them in places I would see them everyday. I went to Sheep 101 workshops held by my local extension. I joined the North East Border Collie Association. I bought the Storey's Barn Guide to Sheep (even thought I had no sheep or barn) and hung it up in my kitchen like a calendar. Every day I flipped through facts and charts. I bought a shepherd's crook online. I believed in this possibility with all my heart. It was a spell and a prayer, all of it.
Sheep came a few months later, a surprise trade for fiddle lessons. My landlord allowed them and neighbors and friends helped me build the shed (which is still here in Jackson, and now will house my first ram, Atlas). Supplies to build that first sheep house were less then 200.00. The wood was a kind gift, the t-posts and fencing cheap as they could be. But it lasted long enough.
When it came time to figure out a new home, things were scary, but I never doubted for a minute that there would be a farm. Thanks to you readers, a random USDA homeowners' program, desperate sellers, and buyer's market, and dumb luck—I bought a farm in the spring of 2010. There are now a dozen sheep out there, two new ewes on the way, and a thriving CSA in its second year. People in two countries have knit warmth from the animals I share my morning coffee with. Today a coworker told me about the rabbits she had for dinner, and how her son Jackson even ate the heart and liver. I am a web designer by trade, but a web designer that feeds and clothes people too, even on a small scale.
It fills me with such simple happiness. The work to make it happen has been constant, but it is a warm fog I overlook. The end result—a passing conversation in the women's bathroom or an emailed picture of fingerless gloves—resets my heart.
The list of things I need to do on a daily basis, the animals, chores, gardens, blog and books grew organically over time. If you took that girl from her first sheepdog trial and landed her in this Civil War Era farmhouse (with Civil War Era problems) it would not be the same story. I worked up to my current workload, be it farmwork, officework, and writer work over years of steady addition. What was once a few hens in a backyard in Idaho is now a sheep farm in New York. It happened one small project at a time, over years and across a nation. I am used to my life and what it asks of me. I am grateful for it.
When I moved to Vermont, the idea of owning a flock of sheep was on par with owning my own television network. It was something other people had, sure, but they had some sort of magic beans or knew the right people. My understanding of making dreams happen was confused with money. I thought that as long as I could earn enough, or win enough, or save enough I could make just about anything I wanted come true. This turned out to be absolutely false. Money plays its part, no question about that, but around here all money does is perform tasks and keep the banks happy. It comes and goes in small numbers, exchanged constantly in this community for goods and services. Local carpenters got a chunk today for the building of the new sheep shed. The Stovery needs a down payment for the new chimney. There is a roof to repair, hay to buy, a stable to build, and wood to stack before September comes. If I waited around around till I had 25k sitting in the bank, I still would not have my farm. To me, waiting for lump sum to start playing in the dirt is ridiculous. Starting a farm doesn't take cash, it takes will. If you have enough of the second, the first will find a way to you.
I am telling you this because I want you to see that a breeding flock of Scottish sheep started as a book about sheep care near my toilet. The result you see on these pictures only happened because of that slow addition of hope and force. One weekend it was a book by the toilet. The next there was a potted snap pea in the kitchen window. The next weekend I learned to bake bread. Later that week I'd rent a movie about the Amish from the library and take notes about their canning jars. Nothing happens fast, though it must appear that way when you see it as pictures and posts, or read it all in a few days. Please, never compare your own farm dreams to a weekend read through this blog. This is nearly five years of whittling magic beans out of credit card bills, paycheck-to-paycheck living, long days, and a savings account a 99-year-old could not retire on.
All that said, I am happy. And if a farm is what you want, and you do something (no matter how small) to get there everyday, then you will create it. I know this to be true and I know it from those of you who started reading this blog without land or chickens or cows and now you are running ranches or getting laying hens in your backyards. It is as normal as rain, happiness. You just need to decide it belongs to you and love it with all you've got.
I stood outside and watched for a long time. I didn't see a single firefly. I went from curious, to worried, to sad, and then a slow, happy, smile poured out. I came to one, certain realization: Fall just took his first, panicked, gasp of the year. He's been smothered so long.
I'll miss them, but a girl's got to learn look ahead.
I was just coming back from a bad jog (some are just bad) when I saw Ken's truck backing into the driveway. Ken's my new farrier, and he comes armed. His big metal truck has everything one needs to see to the needs of the equine pedicure. I called Jasper to the horse gate, and he came down the hill at a fast trot. (He's more reliable at a distanced recall than Gibson.) Jasper was fussy, but good enough to work with him. Ken said he could use more regular trimming on his feet, but his body condition was good. I asked him if he knew anyone else with working ponies in our county and he mentioned some folks with Haflingers in Dorset, but as far as everyday harness ponies go, no. His response made me feel scrappy in a good way. Like I was figuring out a little engine for a radio flyer so I didn't have to push it up hills. I like the idea of my ATP.
This morning marked the last morning of Pidge's Corrid treatment. She and Lisette are now back with the flock and the pen was shut behind them, waiting for the weekend to be mucked and prepared for Atlas. Lisette put on some substantial weight. Her ribs can't be seen anymore, her back hip bones no longer jut like folded wings. I was happy to see it. Long as she has plenty to eat and some more grain from here she should continue to heal.
Sal is no longer limping. Amazing, actually. He walked right up to me this morning and I scratched his head. I told him I was happy to see that business shaken off. Then he saw the oral syringe for Pidge, worried it was for him, and scuttled off. I shook a branch of the apple tree and a small bounty fell and rolled down the hill. He seemed elated, forgetting a world with sharp pointy things for a moment.
For just twelve sheep and one pony, my mornings and evenings are full. Keeping them well means regular visits from folks like Ken and, in some cases, special care. Last week I had one sheep getting antibiotics, another dewormer, another Corrid, and another extra grain. It takes equipment and the will to just give a sheep a shot, but also that first medicine: everyday observation. Know your flock, know what healthy is, and keep watch like a black and white dog would.
It'll be warm again today. Everyone has plenty of water and eats. This girl is off to work to enjoy the gym and a hot shower.
Mornings on workdays are an odd routine. I get up between 4 and 5AM (depending on chore-load or weather) and am outside feeding, observing, and occasionally medicating the flock and fowl. Right now the place is in the end of summer long jog towards fall. This weekend the old lettuce will be ripped out and composted and new seeds will go in, a second round. I'll get my first big loads of hay (about 15 bales each) and start making room in the barn for them all. I think this winter I'll need about 200 bales total, and I'd like to have a quarter of that stacked and ready by September 1.
Before I shower and even consider coffee, I need to drench Pidge with her fourth day of Corrid. She's on this routine after vet's orders, and I am hoping it stops her runs once and for all. Friday morning her and Lisette go out of the pen and Atlas goes in. Hopefully she'll recover beautifully out on pasture and hay and be fine for fall breeding. If not, she'll be fine for a french rib roast.
That might sound harsh to some, but to me it is simply how the place has to run. Every day I look out on my flock and beam at the way Knox, Ashe, and last year's Yearling look. That trio is as pretty and strong as any ad in the 2011 Blackface Sheep Breeder's Association's Journal sitting on my coffee table. I know what breeding stock should look like, and I don't think Pidge will cut it. However, I'll do my best to get her there. And if I fail, Lisette will retire to be someone's lawn mower and Pidge will be in the freezer with her fleece in the farmhouse. Future border collie pups will roll on their backs, smelling their first shaggy wool. And if not Pidge, someone's will take that place.
There's no radio on in the morning, not anymore. I used to start everyday with NPR but now I turn on the record player. Johnny Cash is singing Ring of Fire and I sing along. I'd rather start my day singing. I think if Mark in Kristin Kimball's The Dirty Life, who felt the news was nothing but trouble. "It just makes you feel bad and you can't do anything about it anyway." He was right. He also stopped using the word "should" and doing so had made him happier. Yesterday Jon Katz wrote about the angry world of the media, and how it's a choice to be a part of that mess. Be informed, but don't be saturated in it. You'll end up starting your day making angry comments at the television and speeding to work. I can wait till I'm at the office to hear about what starlet has died, or how angry congress is about debt. The farm is too good for that, and my time on earth too short to start my day angry at strangers. I choose Cash.
Annie is spreading her furry stomach over as much floor space as possible in front of the living room box fan. Gibson is upstairs, being Gibson. Jazz is sitting by his dish in the front room. The new table in there has him off his game. He's not sure if it's a strategic coup of the enemy or a new fort to protect his kibble. Canine-ego control of this place is a non-stop battle. Jazz is winning by his riches in dignity. Annie too hot to care. I sing with Johnny.
I'll be out the door for work in about 20 minutes.
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 blog of author Jenna Woginrich of Cold Antler Farm. Where pop culture meets agriculture! 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, music, 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