Saturday, July 9, 2011

merck and masala

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.

in the fields!

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?!

Hope to see some of you out in the fields!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Want to Make More than a Banker?
Become a Farmer!

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....."

Read the rest of this article from TIME

American Meat

watching the flock

Thursday, July 7, 2011

...or is my driveway just happy to see me?

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.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

the new guys

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

a methed-out bison

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.

author crush

I have a huge crush on Michael Perry now. Damn.
What a writer, what a life.

Monday, July 4, 2011

1, 2, 3, 4

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.

happy independence day!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

drunk and lovely

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.

P.S. Did anyone get their swap books yet?

medicine to me

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.