Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Tonight Gibson ended his lesson calmly balancing sheep around me, which he took from a fence to my feet within twenty minutes of (Mostly) controlled work. 180 degrees from yesterday, and I stood the entire time. He is growing calmer.

Half the battle is just going back to do it all over again.

the book of job

Slept in this morning. No yoga, or meditation, or coffee on the stove. In the rush to get to the office on time I just brushed my teeth and packed a bag for the locker room. No point in getting ready on a rainy morning just to show up to the office with wet hair and mascara bruising under my eyes. I threw clean clothes and a towel in a totebag and called Gibson into the truck. I ran around in the rain getting everyone hay and water, and then we left for work just a half-hour after waking up together. I'm used to 3 hours of morning before I leave for the World. This morning was a hot mess.

In the shower I saw my new bruises, nothing drastic. It was more of a morale blow than anything else. I had a rough day and the sheep knock down was the breaking point. The Book of Job starts by explaining he farmed 7,000 sheep. Soaping up in the shower over my new Calico thighs I had a new respect for the man. No wonder he could handle the rest.

But despite the bad day and rushed morning, I am in better spirits. A hot cup of tea after a warm meal and some reading under the blankets had me in a better frame of mind. I spent the night reading from Heike Bean's Carriage Driving and Derek Scrimgeours' Talking Sheepdogs. Both address the novice trainer, and begin with the animal's mind. It occurred to me last night how I am simultaneously trying to understand the minds of prey and predators, sometimes in the same hour. I don't think I ever trained an herbivore before, and assumed my canine mind would translate. It was my second hit in the gut for the night: I'd been talking to the horse as if it had sharp teeth. Then I laughed, realizing Jasper does have his fighting canines, sharp little fangs, where his bit rests. He needs them removed when the equine dentist comes. The appointment was made, and the dental work should make training easier on us both.

One thing I am learning about the Dog and Pony Show is that I expect too much/too fast, and it is crippling our progress. I need to walk out on the field with one, simple, specific goal and leave on a good note. This is something we all know (we being those who train dogs and horses), but in the frustrations of real-time field work I lose this wisdom. I get caught up in the fray, the moment. I have the ability to know this is wrong, but keep making the same mistakes. But I am working on it. Always, working on it.

By the time this horse and dog can work this farm I will be the one changed.

Monday, September 19, 2011

ten horns

Wasn't in the right frame of mind for herding lessons, but went out in the field anyway. After a frustrating twenty minutes of poor handling and a frantic dog, Gibson sent the five horned ewes sprinting directly into me. They knocking me into the ground, the blunt end of several horns hitting my thighs and gut. Winded and bruised, I got up, called my dog, and sat on the hill and cried for a long time.

I'm making tea and going to bed.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

she growled from the station

Tonight I softly sang to Sacred Vision while pounding t-posts into the ground with everything I had.

I think this combination of actions describes me perfectly.

what a dummy

Got a box of tomatoes (seconds) at Stannard's Farm stand for 5 dollars and set them in the back of my truck over a few bags of mulch. Then, as I drove through Bennington I heard the slam of the tailgate opening and watched as the box of thirty tomatoes hurled behind me and landed in front of a Subaru, who didn't even swerve and hit them full force, sending red blobs everywhere.

I came home and unloaded the heavy bags of mulch to do some landscape work and sat down with a plop, forgetting my iphone in the back pocket I was using as my storyteller, an audiobook distracting me. It shattered, glass looking like a bullet hit it. I couldn't afford a new one if an iPhone Store was around the corner from my farm, which it most certainly is not. Some sighs are longer than others.

Minor faults in an otherwise beautiful day. Got the animals trained and seen to, going to spend the evening before dark setting up the new hot wire around the sheep's main pen, give that grass a break from their antics. All that time in the pasture has turned it into moss, it needs some rain and a good week without hooves on it to start growing back to good. Hoping no more losses for this beautiful Sunday evening, but I'm not counting my crows just yet.

surprise in the pig pen!

I don't feel a bit of regret starting a Sunday morning with bacon and eggs when I plan on having mornings like this. I started the day up in the fields with Jasper, working on his driving lessons. Then had a great training period with Gibson and four of the original Blackface ewes. By 9:30 AM I had cooked a traditional North Country Farmer's Breakfast and worked off at least half of it chasing the dog and pony show. But I saw glimpses of progress today. Jasper stopped and remained in place for a while and then walked forward again without turning around. Gibson got the sheep off the fence easily and is starting to learn Come Bye and Away to Me. I spent the morning mowing and cleaning up around the yard, planning to do some mulching and landscaping later on after I rewire and shore-up the sheep fences. I don't want to leave for three whole days and find out the sheep escaped because I didn't take a few hours to lock down on the charge. Last I plan on working in some winter rye into the two raised beds I already turned over for the season. So it goes.

So today is a day of work. Here I go!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

dog and pony show

Quite the goings on today. My morning started at 6AM with chores and morning prep, and after two farm visits from animal trainers (Jasper and Gibson had special lessons today), I went to load up the truck with hay. A whole day outside and twenty-two bales later all I'm concerned about for the rest of this Saturday night is a solid hour of stretching after a warm shower. I don't know if the ancient Yogi's did their asanas in front of Netflix menus? This one does.

I'll write more about the amazing Maggie and Julie tomorrow, but I will summarize today's dog and pony show thus: I have so much to learn. When it comes to driving a horse and training a sheepdog I know such basic information I sometimes worry I took on too much. Today I was constantly reminded how new I am to working animals. How very far I have to travel down this path of sheepdogs and working animals to get to a point of calm daily use and practice. Both will come along with diligence and stubbornness—of which I have plenty.

I used to see people in movies driving wagons and feel so jealously peaceful. It looked exactly like the way I would prefer to get around. I would see the handlers at sheepdog trials and their effortless words to clever dogs and be inspired at the partnership, happily intimidated to join their club. I still feel these things, but I feel them the way I used to watch the Olympics on cable. This is not a bike ride in the park or a stroll down the road with your pooch, this is nothing short of a lifetime of hard lessons, hard work, and determination and acceptance of humility so intense it can set a girl back 5 steps in her spirit.

Today I learned how much I need to learn. There will not be any driving or herding workshops at this farm anytime soon! But someday there will be, maybe a decade down the road if I keep at it and learn a few things from these amazing people and animals.

I am so grateful for the work of these friends, human and animal alike.

Watch the National Sheepdog Finals LIVE!

Watch the Sheepdog National Here Live!!! Hey folks, today you can watch some great runs live on this link, a webcast for the Nationals is streaming and could use our support! Watch Gibson father Riggs take the lead. All our luck from CAF Patrick!

colder mornings

I woke up at 6AM to the near-dark of Washington County. My body was mostly wrapped in quilts and a black dog. But one arm had escaped the covers in the night and was absolutely freezing. It was in the airflow of the cracked window above the bed. Why did I have the window open during a frost advisory? Because my grandfather always said to keep air in a house, all year long, so I do. I check the weather on my phone. 36 degrees, a few ticks above solid water. In preparation for the chill I have a pile of late-season cucumbers and three fat tomatoes inside on the counter. Sunflowers are in a vase. Anything I could save from possible ice-death was brought indoors.I brought in a pot of basil to save from the cold, but Gibson ate most of it last night anyway. You know the ol' saying, while people sleep, border collies dine on pesto.

The house is probably around the mid-to-low fifties as I remain curled up in the warmth of my bed. Nothing tragic or even uncomfortable, but for us getting used to colder weather for the first time this season... well, it takes some adaptations. Under my sheets I packed a frumpy sweater, hat, and a scarf I finished knitting last night. My clothing slept with me for two reasons.

1. My body heat makes them toasty-warm on cold mornings.
2. Knitter lore.

I was told by my friend Sara—when I first learned to knit with her in a college dorm—that you always sleep with your scarf after you knit it. Get through the night together and you know it is actually "done". So I always have. I like the idea that proximity and and body-heat render a process completed. So I sleep around with my outerwear on some occasions. What can I say? I come from a long line of gypsies from the old country. I'm superstitious.

Anyway, this new scarf, it's a long, chunky thing. Over 5-feet long, and knit with yarn that was more akin to thin roving. It was completed in hours due to it's heft, but in it's natural gray it looks like it is from some other century. I wrap it around my neck and slide on my hat before I brave the world outside of my quilts. When all my sheep-armor is on, I head to task one: the wood stove.

Here is the order of importance in this farmhouse: people, dogs, livestock. Being first in that line I ignore Gibson's cries to go out and chase things. He can wait, the person is cold. Instead of taking out the dogs I head to the back mud room where the hatchet and wood is stacked. I splinter off tiny slivers of wood, then smaller splints, and then cut one decent piece into three smaller pieces. It is my pyramid scheme of fire building. I grab some old newspaper and wad it into a tight ball. I set it inside the stove and start making a little piece of sculpture by placing the thinnest slivers of kindling over the paper, and then slightly larger pieces of wood, and then all the way to the three larger chunks. What I'm left with is an airy teepee with paper in the center. I light it with one match and the system worked. Within minutes the wood stove in the living room is howling. I set the percolator on top of it, (for the novelty and the nostalgia of it all) and when satisfied that this room will be a lot warmer. I call the dogs.

All four of us go outside into the chilly air. Four puffs of lung fog coat the dawn. Three familiar pieces of leather in my chilly hands. This is not going to be a brisk walk. After everyone who eliminates outside was empty: we headed back inside. I fed Jazz and Annie and then Gibson and I headed out to do morning chores, the abbreviated version. I went to the barn and got a bale of hay. I load it in a wheelbarrow and walk it over to the pasture gates. I used to just carry it, but years of carrying it have made my back angry and my doc has suggest I take the pioneer crap down a few notches if I want to walk upright at 60. So Barrow it is! I give a quarter of it to Jasper, who spent the night out in the field. And the rest to the 16 sheep on the other side of the fence. I go through two bales a day here, a little grain. That comes to seven dollars a day to feed the hoof stock. I think it's reasonable, since that same amount won't get me 2 gallons of gas for the truck. I get a lot of mileage out of these guys for 3.50 in second cut.

I decide that the way I know a scarf is done is flecked with hay. The morning work baptized it properly. While Gibson explores the scent of two-day-old weasel piss—I head over to the wood pile. I grab a few more pieces that look to be in service of the cause and hold them close to my chest. I call my dog. I go inside, wood under my arms and close to my heart. The farm house is warm now. The fire is roaring and the mornings efforts both bring me back to a climate of comfortable. I am so grateful for the concoction of wood smoke and caffeine, the remedy to any notion the day won't start well.

In a few hours a driving-experienced Haflinger owner, a friend of a friend, will be here and I'll be holding those black reins in the pasture. After that, Julie Williams is coming by to work on Gibson's herding with me. The last task of the day starts at 2PM with a hay-run to Hebron with Diane Kennedy. My day is packed with activities, friends, and errands all close to home, all within a few miles of this stove, these dogs, this land. It feels correct.

Friday, September 16, 2011

take a tour of the new sheep shed

Construction is done on the new 15x7' long sheep shed. A four-sided structure with an open door ready for me to stain it and welcome the elements. It is made of hand-milled pine from Common Sense Farm, down the road. These trees were standing in the forest last winter, and now they are making another kind of shelter for animals. Video shows all sides and inside of the shed, which should serve this farm well. Such a good feeling having this on the hill and the wood stove in the barn. My last goal is (besides finishing paying off those two items) to get the roof repaired in time for snow.

Mother Earth News Fair in under a week!

Looking Into Not-Too-Distant Future, Joel Salatin Sees the Spectre of Animal Rights Haunting Small Farms

CAF readers, this is a piece I found online from Good Housekeeping. I'm posting it because I'm interested in your thoughts and your experiences on the subject. Please feel free to leave a comment below, let me know if you agree with Joel or think he's worried about the wrong scene?

Believe it or not, there's a food issue lurking out there beyond food rights and food safety. Joel Salatin, the Virginia farmer-author-activist is worried that that next issue is animal rights. He's already seeing evidence of it at Polyface Farm, his own farm in the Shenandoah foothills. During a tour of his farm Saturday for 150 attendees as part of a fundraiser for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, Salatin said he's been reported to his local animal control officials by area residents who have had concerns about the treatment of his cattle.

In one case, someone reported him because one of his steers was limping. In another case, he was reported because his cattle were "mobbing"--hanging out close to each other as a herd in a new pasture. In each instance, "We had to spend two days with local vets explaining what we do"...and he was off the hook.

His view of animal rights as an emerging issue for owners of sustainable farms rates a chapter in his upcoming book, Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World. It's due out in early October.

During the Saturday farm tour, Salatin wondered aloud what other problems the animal rights people might find at his farm. He pointed out how, during recent heavy rains, the chickens (who stay outside in mobile structures) got pretty wet, which isn't unusual. "We have days when our chickens are out here in the rain and cold and shivering. I know there are people who would like to go out and buy them L.L. Bean dog pillows."

Joel Salatin explains the workings of Polyface Farm on Saturday, as FTCLDF attendees, and chickens, look on. Might the animal rights folks be better off focusing their attention more on CAFO's and other factory farm practices? They already have, of course, but Salatin speaks to a more ideological tendency.

The problem is a theme of his book: "We live in extremely abnormal times..." And one expression: "In our communities, we have more and more animal rightists."

Among other issues he previewed that come up in the new book:

* The outsized attention being given by government and corporations to food safety, and the disparate approaches between his farm and factory producers. Salatin says he shuts down his operation for two 21-day periods each year, to allow all pathogens to die off. Factory farm operations, of course, refuse to build in such shutdowns because of the loss of income inherent. "They use bleach and drugs and fumigants of various sorts, to try to break the natural cycle," Salatin stated.

* The societal orientation toward removing all risk. "You can't have freedom without risk," he said. He discussed after the tour his challenges conforming with the new food safety standards of a huge food services company like Sysco. He's wanted Sysco to include his food in cafeterias at the University of Virginia, where demand from students for locally-produced food is strong. But so-called safety standards continuously have become so onerous, he's been unable to convince the company to examine his operation. For example, Sysco and others demand delivery by refrigerated truck. Salatin uses large coolers. He monitors food temperatures, and says he maintains constant refrigerated temperatures throughout deliveries, but the big corporations tend to be locked into one way of doing things.

* The growing influence of Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. He said the organization has intervened three different times on his farm's behalf to head off unwarranted regulatory interference. "Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund has clout," he stated.

As a measure of the support for FTCLDF, the organization raised more than $150,000 from the Saturday farm tour and other fund-raising efforts. And membership has passed the 2,000 mark.
Wayne Craig, one of the Wisconsin farmers who lost his raw milk case, as I described in my post last week, told me Saturday, at the FTCLDF event, that the judge made a serious factual error. His farm uses its Grade A license to sell a significant portion, about 90 per cent, of its milk output to a processor. The judge indicated he was ruling against Craig in large measure because he exclusively distributes raw milk to herdshare members. The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund has filed a motion for reconsideration based on the discrepancy.


The enlightened discussion about food safety and illness going on here is in stark contrast to what generally occurs in the mass media. The mass media tend to apply fearmongering of the sort they use for child kidnappings--you never know when the boogeyman will get you. The latest example comes from a major article in the October issue of Good Housekeeping, "Why Your Food Isn't Safe". The feature includes a full page given over to 20 photos of children and adults who died from tainted food--hamburgers, peanut butter, pizza, oysters, spinach. So mysterious is the affliction that four of the 20 died from "unknown" food...though there's no indication how the authorities can be so sure the deaths were even caused by tainted food. Somehow, raw dairy escapes even a mention in the article--don't know how that happened.

sourced from thecompletepatient.com

first loaf from the bun baker!!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

poems could be written

Poems could be written about nights like tonight. I am not a poet, but if given enough time, I could write so many paragraphs about the details and events that lead up to such simple things it could make disclaimer copywriters blush. I am standing in my kitchen in my father's old sweater. I am wearing a hat I spun and knit from my sheep. Dinner was two small bowls of potato soup and bread from the woodstove, chased by hard cider. My potatoes, my onion. Milk, garlic, and cheese from neighbors and friends. A chicken was found dead a few hours ago during chores, killed by a weasel. She had bites in her neck dripping blood in the rain. This no longer ruins a night, it's just a part of it. Rain came, so did cold air. Jasper and I did not work in harness. Gibson did not herd sheep. Tonight I rested and stayed dry, ate soup, and felt supported and happy. I knit chunky wool into a scarf. I watched an episode of Heartland on the Roku box. I snuggled into this cold, rainy, evening the best ways I knew how. And the little things that brought me here: a garden, a flock of sheep, a community, a stove, a chimey, needles and yarn....

This is not being self congratulatory. This is being incredulous.
I can not believe this is the girl from design school. How can she be?

Second Wool Workshop Added

UPDATE! A second workshop just like this will be February 25th! Sign up, three spots already taken! We won't have Joesephs wool, but I will source some raw local wool to use. And I have a lot of alpaca we could work with as well! Come up for a comforting weekend in Washington County!I have an idea for a workshop I think some of you are going to love. If you're anything like me, you love the farm stories, and the pictures, but what you really crave, what you can't wait to feel...is the comfort. I would like to do a January workshop here at the farm. It is going to be a fundraiser for the chimney (which is 1/3 paid off but yet to be installed!), and here is my plan:

I am going to host a wool workshop. We'll all learn how to skirt, wash, dry, card, and spin wool with drop spindles. Then, after we have learned the basics of creating yarn out of sheep, we will sit down and learn to knit in the living room. With the wood stove blazing, baking us warm bread and apple fritters, we'll spend a winter afternoon talking about our farms, animals, farm dreams, and fears. It will be an interactive knitting circle, a catered affair of farm foods and three meals. The full day is about learning to make fabric, sure, but it is also about community, and new friends, and sitting by a wood stove in a warm farmhouse with a border collie in your lap. Learn a skill, see the farm, share in the conversation. It'll be the last weekend in January, and the farm will be covered in snow. Meet the sheep, help with chores, and wear a comfy sweater. It'll be great.

Everyone who comes will leave with a large bag of Joseph's raw dark wool. You will take it home and wash and spin it yourselves. You need nothing but a plastic storage bin and dish soap. You'll also leave with a drop spindle. Ideally, you will leave with the raw materials this farm can offer to help you create an extremely homemade wool hat from a sheep you will have fed hay that same day.

You need no experience whatsoever to come to this workshop with animals, or knitting. Come knowing nothing about wool and leave knitting your first scarf. No animals will be slaughtered and no sweats will be broken. This is a low-key, but highly inspirational day to hang at Cold Antler and smell that bread rising as you knit a row and the snow falls.

Email me if you're interested, Folks who have come to previous workshops and I know, are welcome to board here at the farm for an extra fee. Wake up to snow crows from Fancy the rooster!

Photo of Joseph (your future hat) by Tim Bronson

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

a little help from my friends

photos by Tim Bronson

Announcing New Winter Workshops at Cold Antler!

Mountain Music!
February 4th 2012

This is going to be a fun one. A full snowy day at the farmhouse with an introduction to the mountain dulcimer, southern fiddle, and clawhammer banjo! The morning will start off around the woodstove with dogs and introductions, and then we'll go over the basics of stringed mountain instruments. You'll learn how to play a tune on the dulcimer, bow and hold a fiddle, and the clawhammer strum known as flailing. This beginner's class will be about getting acquainted with the instruments, as well as how to teach yourself. You'll learn my method of self-education that comes from using very beginner-friendly audio/visual aids like tab/cd sets as well as easy practice schedules and tips. I'll point you in the direction of good beginner instruments and anyone who already has a fiddle, dulcimer, or banjo laying around they want some re-upping of inspiration on: bring it along! We'll spend the entire day getting group and one-on-one instruction. and eat some amazing slow-cooked pork and potatoes with apple pie for dessert! We'll have drawing for a mountain dulcimer too, so some one will go home with music in their hands!

Feb 25th 2012

Yup. Just like it sounds! We're going to learn some meat basics, including home sausage making, perfect crock-pot pork BBQ, the herb-buttered oven roasted chicken, and introducing rabbit into your diet. There will also be running conversation over the ethics of meat, and how to support and raise your own even on a small scale. Also, home brewing 101. How to start making beer at home, and includes how to bottle and store. I'm going to get some pros involved in this (Alli and Collin..cough cough) We'll be giving away a beermaking kit from Northern Brewer as a drawing!

Urban Homesteading 101
March 24th 2012

This will be a workshop for those of you in the suburbs or the city who want to take a daytrip out to the farm and learn about what can be done to be more self-sufficient in your own backyards or fire escapes. We'll start the day learning to bake bread from scratch (no bread machines or kitchen aids here, folks!) and cheese making 101. The entire morning will be these two domestic basics: bread and cheese and for lunch we'll be enjoying our morning's creations! (as well as other potluck goodies). The afternoon will go over container and small-space gardening, introduction to vermi-composting, backyard chicken basics, and small-scale rabbitries. Everyone who comes along leaves with heirloom seeds ready-to-plant for early season crops and all you need to make a few pounds of mozzarella at home! There will be a drawing for a small library of urban farm books too!

Sign up for these, or any of the workshops below by emailing me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com

And for anyone interested in other dates of upcoming workshops!

Antlerstock 2012!
October 15th-16th

Black Sheep Wool Workshop
(full, but if people are interested, I'll have a second one)
January 28th 2012

Mountain Music!
12 spots available
February 4th 2012

Urban Homesteading 101
15 spots available
March 24th 2012

Backyard Chickens
(comes with chickens!)
15 spots available
April 7th 2012

frustrations in horse training

Well folks, when it comes to horses I'm a great dog trainer. While Gibson is growing into a working sheepdog, Jasper is another story. Dogs, I get. I started showing dogs in AKC obedience and conformation events in high school. I always lived with and trained my own animals, earning titles, running my sled dogs, living in harmony as a co-species team. But Jasper is (literally) a whole new animal. My riding lessons over the years have made me comfortable around horses and in the saddle, and I can read their emotions and behaviors, but when it comes to learning to be a driving instructor... I just don't have it down yet.

Jasper won't stand still to be harnessed unless he is on crossties or held by the halter by another person. He fidgets, nibbles my clothing, pulls my pocketknife out of my jeans and throws it on the ground. Once in harness, he won't stand still, has to be moving. And he won't move forward from a whoa into a step-up unless he feels like it, 80% of the time he just turns around to walk towards me and gets the chains and traces tangled. So I need to unstrapped them, move him back into position, tell him to whoa and try again. It gets so frustrating I want to scream. Yesterday, we were ground driving without any chains or weight, just me and the reins and he just decided to lie down and roll around in the grass, hooves in the air scratching his back. I stood there like a moron holding the reins, asking "Are you kidding me?" while he showed me his belly and acted like a toddler having a fit in the grocery store. After a while he starts walking on his own and some progress is made, like what you saw in that video, but I think the writings on the wall here: he needs an experienced trainer. And I need to hit the books.

I was in the break area at work talking with a friend about Jasper and I, and the struggles I'm having. I said out loud, but to myself, That I should have apprenticed under someone with cart horses first. Should have done my homework. Should have studied, and prepped, and so on. "That's not the Jenna way." was his response. This is very true.

I'm not giving up. I just need to keep at it, and go about it differently. But I would be lying if I wasn't getting disheartened.The upside to all this is how sound of an animal Jasper really is. He acts the way he does because of my poor handling an inexperience, but even with the confusing commands, wrong bit (we now have a properly fitted driving bit), and new chains and people: he has not kicked, bolted, bit or caused any harm. To put up with me and my learning curves proves there's some patience and kindness in this pony. We'll get through it.

So this weekend, and experienced trainer is stopping by the farm. A Haflinger trainer from a town over, and she'll help me get right with Jasper. In the mean time, I'll train him the most logical and successful way I know how: with help. If I am driving from behind and another person is calmly walking him by the halter, we can make progress. Tonight two friends are coming to the farm, Tim and Geoff, to help train Jasper and Tim will take some photos as well. He hasn't been up to the farm since it was muddy, cold, and lamby so it'll be quite the change with grass and three times the sheep!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

after-work herding practice/chaos

here's a promise

I will never, ever, ever, ever use this blog to bash another blogger or peer.


Monday, September 12, 2011

the new shed has begun!

Update: 8:45PM 9-13-11
The crew put up four front support beams today and sided the back with the rough cut pine. Should I stain this? What kind of stain?

if you are coming to Antlerstock....

Please leave a comment here. I need to know how many copies of the Backyard Homestead to order, and some of you are pairs. Please let me know!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

practice, practice, practice

Here's a short video of ground driving with Jasper, my good friend Brett at the reins. Brett knows how to work a team and I know enough about tack to get by, making for the best ever practice with Jasper out in the pasture. All of us worked up a sweat—and now with a properly-fitted harness, chains, and singletree—I'm ready to get into a serious routine of practice with Jasper. It'll be a half hour a day in harness from here on out, slowly complicating the course, adding weight, and working out near the road and around the farm and woods. I was grateful for Brett's help, and proud of my little pony, who did a bang up job out there in harness.

While out at dinner in Manchester, I asked Brett when he last thought that singletree was used? He said a hundred years, probably. It was the same singletree that was hanging on the side of the farm house as a decoration. The folks I bought this place from probably found it in the barn and thought it was better for ambiance than use. A few years later, some kids are in the pasture training a cart/logging pony with a small dead sumac trunk that fell down in the hurricane. Life rolls.

My new routine:
Sheep herding with Gibson in the morning.
Horse training at night.

Thank God for the internet, books, and instructional DVDs.

my boys


metrics as a measure

People say it's a fierce independence or love of animals and the outdoors that tips parents off that their children are going to become farmers. I think the real red flag out there on the future farmer charts is attention to weather. If you know a child who looks up at the sky, asks about rainfall amounts, checks weather.com, and pays mind to the changing seasons with unusual attention: that's a farmer. I'd put money on it. Same goes for adults who have an urge to homestead or become farmers. You might love fiber or cheese, or always dreamed of hosting a cook out with your own Belted Galloway steaks and microbrews: but dreamers alone do not make farmers. I say the guy in the cubicle on weather.com with a rooftop garden's a better bet than than guy at Outback Steakhouse doodling branding logos on his napkin.

Here's why:

As a small farmer there is nothing that excites, terrorizes, or impacts my life more than weather. I wake up and check it first thing. The farmhouse is set up with a mini weather station in the kitchen, telling me indoor temps, outdoor temps, forecast, barometrics, the works. I own two weather radios I can switch onto NOAA at any moment. And if I am 7 hours into the workday, wishing I was home with Gibson on the hill, it is the weather websites I turn to. Because when I know what it's like outside I can shape my whole day around it, every part of it. I know what boots to put on when I come inside and change and weather I need to put on a sweater and my waxed cotton or a light hoodie and a bandana. I know what the animals will be doing, how they will be acting, where they will be resting when I pull in the driveway. I can already see Gibson's panting and muddy frame, the way the sheep run uphill in poorer weather and how they run out to the far pasture in fair. The weather rules everything around here.

Today will be a mild day, this morning it was cold enough to see my breath. This afternoon I will work with Brett and Jasper in the field. I already know what to wear, how to be comfortable, and how the day will go. It's my rulebook, best friend, worst enemy and addiction, this weather. And I don't know a single person with acres or a herd that could disagree.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

poems, tea, and dogs tonight

Pictures pass me in long review
Marching columns of dead events.
I was tender and, often, true;
Ever a prey to coincidence.
Always knew the consequence;
Always saw what the end would be.
We're as Nature has made us - hence
I loved them until they loved me.

-Dorothy Parker

tired gal

Yesterday after the installation I ended up rushing to my friends' farm for dinner and didn't get home to late, having been happily suckered into helping with Hors d'oeuvre for a wedding for people I do not know. I spent the evening in a restaurant after-hours, with twenty people, laughing and joking around. I filled so many dates with cream cheese I started thinking they were tiny footballs. Drove home with Gibson hanging out the window, me singing to the radio.

Spent today helping friends move (When you have a pickup truck, and most of your friends do not, this is a common request). I love moving, did a lot myself, but today I helped Tyler and Chrissy move in a caravan of friends up the mountains of southern Vermont to the town of Londonderry. By the time 4 PM rolled around I had hauled enough mattresses and dressers up a flight of stairs to earn some sore muscles. Afterwards I enjoyed my gift of a hamburger and beer, and came home to the farm ready to relax. Jasper is fed and in his stall. The poultry are locked in their coop. I herded sheep with Gibson (it's an uphill battle) earlier today, and there was some progress. And now I am going to enjoy some soup and Prairie Home Companion. I heart Lake Wobegon.

The stove is in and I will post photos soon, I promise. But tonight I am keeping it short, without photoshop or extra effort. I am dog tired, can't wait to put up my unshod feet and play that banjo (any of you still playing since spring?). I have some Dorothy Parker to read tonight. That's a treat, no matter who you are.

Tomorrow Brett is coming over to help with Jasper and altering his harness to fit properly. Photos of the stove installation and draft training tomorrow!

Friday, September 9, 2011

small lesson

Favorite thing I learned today:
Amen is Hebrew for Let it be.

Simple and beautiful, that.

chimney men

stove day!

That photo was taken this spring (as you can tell by the flowers), but it took since it was delivered to build up to this day. It is STOVE DAY! My Vermont BunBaker is nearly ready to use and I feel like I just won the self-preservation lottery. A wood stove means a lot to me. It means that without electricity or power to the furnace in the basement this farm will stay warm even on the coldest nights. It means that when both stoves are burning I use less foreign oil, eventually I will use none. The goal is to do a project each year that makes this North Country farm a little more energy independent. This year is wood heat. Next year: solar hot water.

I pulled an apple pie out of the oven and coffee is on the stove. The man from the Stovery in Argyle is here to install the chimney. He's a retired NYC policeman from Long Island who moved to Saratoga County a few years back. We're talking dogs, taxes, stoves, and such. Great guy. He's too professional to accept the coffee and apple pie I made for him and his partner, but I always err on refreshments for anyone who comes and does anything at this farm I can't do myself. They rarely accept, but I think the offer is appreciated.

This stove pipe, chimney, and random stove essentials will mean after today this stove will be ready to light and heat this house. It took 6 months of saving and planning to cover the over $2,000 in parts and the 500 installation fees. That might sound like a lot, but to have two men take half a day to cut holes into walls, climb high ladders, and professionally ensure my house doesn't burn down is worth it to me. I can make 500 bucks if I work extra hard. I can't buy another house. And my insurance won't cover a burned down house if I didn't get my wood stove installed by professionals and inspected by the County. Dems the breaks.

I called the Inspector too, and was quietly proud of myself for having all the right permits and code numbers he needed to set up the inspection. I went through this whole process by the books, got my chimney permit, paid the fees, got the double insulated pipe. I'm trying to do my best by this house and this amazing gift of a stove (well, barter).

Folks are coming up from the city today to film a DIY video project, about what they consider "Superstar DIYers" and I think we'll make cheese or plant some winter rye. I want to make them lunch as well, but not sure what to serve people who can eat anything they want, from any country in the world, whenever they want. So I decided some homemade pizza would work out. Pizza and apple pie are the great equalizers. Unless they have gluten allergies and are lactose intolerant, which in that case all I have is hay and balsamic vinigarettes.

More updates on the chimney (already over estimated costs, oy) and the video folks later in the day. Gibson is amazed at how one man can put a hole in his house.

Thank you to everyone who attended a workshop, bought a CSA share, books, or donated to the farm. This is where your cash goes: into projects like this. The mortgage, insurance, truck payments, and bills are still paid by my day job, but all farm animals, feed, projects, improvements, and extras (including groceries and clothes) are covered by Cold Antler itself.

And now there will be pie in my living room while it is snowing outside. Amen!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

someone tell jake

...that his girl is waiting in Jackson.

soggy place, this

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

why do you do this?

Why do you do this? Why do you raise your own vegetables, meat, mushrooms, and eggs? Why do you want to live in the country? Why are you turning suburbia and the city into food-producing land? Why are you drawn to draft horses and tractors?

Tell me.

an alliance?

I am so happy to share this. Today, just now, was the first time ever Gibson and I worked with the whole flock of ewes! Lambs and ewes together! It was slightly chaotic, but Gibson and I managed to do the simple task of bringing all the sheep in from the far field. He even went back for Pidge, the smallest lamb who ran off away from the rest of the herd. Maude stomped and glared at him (of course), but didn't charge. While it was far from polished, I worked my farm with my stock and my dog. I am thrilled tonight!

Celebrating on this soppy night with French Onion Soup in a bread bowl. But I need to go outside and see to the animals first, I can hear Jasper hollering for evening feed from the kitchen!


face off

Working Gibson with a few lambs everyday, getting him used to sheep, used to working with me. We're slowly forming a partnership on our own land. Ashe, seen here, isn't scared to face off with G every now and again. Gibson never grips, but he does have the dance moves to dodge even the angriest headbutt. He's a lover, not a fighter.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

it's NATIONALS time!

Antlerstock Is Gonna Rock!

So plans are being finalized for the Fall Festival/Antlerstock being held here October 15th and 16th. Saturday will be the main day of workshops, starting at 10AM with: Backyard lumberjackin' and woodlot management workshops presented by Professor Brett, Soap making by Tara Pommer of Texas, Cheese making (hard and soft cheeses) By Cathy Daughton and Diane Kennedy, and Myself doing tours and all the animal classes. There will be a Sheep, Chicken, Rabbit, and bee workshops taught by me throughout the day along with farm tours. I will also do a wool workshop, showing how to go from fleece to yarn as well as knitting lessons. Food will all be locally sourced from Veryork farms (as much as possible), you can expect brunch and a midday meal both days (vegetarian options). Cyrus and Saro will do absolutely nothing but walk around yelling at people. Expect nothing from the geese.

Jack-o-lantern carving stations will be set up at your convenience: hoping to light the farm up with jacks for the campfire!

Saturday night will be the campfire, with hay bales to sit on and refreshments. Please bring WARM clothes and blankets, and if you have a musical instrument, bring her along as well. This campfire is a totally casual "after-party" to enjoy just conversation and music. But there will be also a raffle for a student fiddle kit, and you have to be present at the bonfire to be there to enter into the straw hat.

Sunday morning will be another brunch (starting at 9AM) and series of workshops including a canning demonstration in the kitchen, and basics of food preservation (water bath canning to freezer bags, how to blanch, etc). Bread making from scratch, fiddle and dulcimer beginner introductions, the weekend festival ends with a field trip over to Merck Forest and Farmland Center for a hike in the early afternoon (weather permitting!).

There are only two spots left, folks. Please let me know at jenna@itsfarwalk.com if you would like them!

Kevin Wins!

Kevin of Odd Ducks Farm, you are the new winner of the Week at the Folk School, last winner had to back out due to personal scheduling! Email me!

Monday, September 5, 2011

hard respite

It's pouring out there, and I just missed the deluge. I had been outside for a few hours taking care of Jasper's stall. I turned him out to the pasture and then filled a few wheel barrows with manure and soppy hay. I took note of his housekeeping. Jasper rarely, if ever, went to the bathroom in his indoor stall. He kept most of his dumps in the paddock. The far corner of the stall had a small nest of hay untouched by even mud. His bed.

I spent most of my Labor Day afternoon mucking this stall, giving him some fresh straw for bedding. With the three days of rain coming our way, clean, dry bedding seems important. It's what I would want. He walked back to his paddock without much fuss. He's getting used to his routines and used to me. Someday I will ride that pony. Today, I just flushed his toilet.

I have a little cornish hen in the oven over a bed of new potatoes. If you read this blog for some time, you know them as well as I. I thought a homegrown chicken dinner was fitting for Labor Day. Alongside it: watermelon from the farm down the road, and raspberries over vanilla Greek yogurt for dessert. A feast! And a savory, warm meal of meat and potatoes on a rainy night post a day of farm work. This is comfort pornography to me.

It's comforts like this that best explain why I do this, why I live this life. I am a junky for hard work followed by hard respite. But not just any work or any respite. I love working outdoors, with animals (sometimes in service to them) to grow and raise the food and music I will enjoy when the work is over. This is timeless, in our blood. Not one of us doesn't have an agrarian back in their pedigrees. It was simply how our culture became. So to spend a day in a light rain, dripping with sweat, shoveling horse shit into a wheel barrow in hopes that some day I will harness that pony to a log chain or cart: this to me is good work. This is joy paid for up front, emotional insurance.

I can take the work. (Hell, I'm a sadist for it.) I know after that stall is clean I will walk Jasper into it, hand him a little grain, fill his canvas hay feeder, and pour clean well water into his trough. He will have his every need met. He ran across a pasture, chomped apples, worked with me, and now has his bed and breakfast waiting for him post room service. Same goes for the rabbits, the sheep, the chickens—all of them are fed, watered, with warm dry places to call home tonight. When I go inside to rest, it is only knowing I did right by these animals. An unspoken agreement of mutual dependency sings.

When I sit in my farmhouse—even without anyone to share dinner with—I feel so secured and calm by this work. Sometimes, quite honestly, it is the only thing that makes me feel safe. Between my anxieties and a world and economy falling apart, this 6.5 acres cares for me. It stands up to blizzards and hurricanes. It holds fireplaces and warm dogs. It is worth all of it.

The meal I will eat tonight was known as a chick and a seed. It took months to get here, from people I know and do not know. I know myself and Ben Shaw, who raised and processed the bird, and how much work we both did. But what about the people who bagged those seed potatoes? What about the workers at the Hatchery who shipped that cornish? What about the folks who made that hoe, who sold it to me? There is a chain so endless, even in backyard-produced foods, and you don't have to be a religious person to be in awe, or grateful, or say an honest grace because this meal tonight, is a miracle. This day of Labor, is a celebration.

You grow food and you're forever. A part of past, future, life and death. You are sore, and tired, and to wake up without a kinked back or aching hips might require an hour of yoga before bed, but that's okay.

I hope all of you had a wonderful and safe holiday.

green=knitting likelihood

berries and fried dough

Went raspberry picking yesterday afternoon with my friends Wendy and Diane. The farm of our fruity desires: Gardenworks in West Hebron. It was a muggy, overcast morning at that farm, but the booty was worth it. $3.50 a pound for U-pick berries (and a pound is A LOT of raspberries!), and pick we did. I ended up bringing home around three pounds of the late-summer jewels. I froze four pints in ball jars with plastic lids, and ate the remaining berries fresh. It was hard not to eat them all....I don't think I ever ate a berry as good as those. Nothing compares to the sun-and-humidity seasoned orbs I feasted on while picking in those rows. It was also pleasant being out there with friends, talking, laughing, and getting my mind out of the usual anxieties and stresses anyone feels if they stay cooped up to long. I had not been out since Thursday night and three days of staying home with a bug convinced me I had every disease on WebMD. What I really needed: sunshine, fresh air, laughter, and a Bloomin' Onion.

Yes. a Bloomin' Onion.

After the berries were stored in the cooler in the back of Wendy's car we headed to the charming Schaghticoke (Skat-eh-coke) Fair. It was getting ridiculously hot for September, and both Diane and I kept checking our phones for weather updates. She has a small farm and so do I, so if the upcoming storm the weather apps had been flashing warnings about all morning would be bad, we both had work to do. But the sun stayed out, and we walked around the small fair enjoying the cows, sheep, goats, poultry, horses, and displays. In the NY State Products building one department of Random Agricultural Goodwill that was handing out large 1/2 pound seed packets of winter rye. I grabbed three. I'll cover the entire raised-bed row system I have and let them grow as a cover crop for soil health. I never grew any sort of grains before, but when a gift horse hands you three bags of rye, you say giddyup.

I also managed to eat a third of a fried petal onion (AKA heaven), fried dough with apples on it, ice cream, and lemonade. My quota of fair food is up for the year—and I'm happy to report this morning was back to oatmeal and yogurt—but that was a fine act of debauchery. And as awful/wonderful as the food was, and as hot the evening: it was that time spent outside with friends that made me feel so much better than I had in days (That, and making myself sleep at least 7 hours a night). Not a sustaining remedy, but a good shot of temperance. Everyone once in a while you got to set down the pitchfork and go eat some crap with your friends. Does the soul good.

And as for that storm...what a doozy! Sky went black around dinnertime and what ensued was a few hours of off-an-on pummeling of rain, lightening and thunder. One crack was so loud Gibson dropped his Nylabone and jumped right into my lap on an easy chair. But the power stayed on, and the basement stayed dry, and I felt lucky to be in this place. Safe as houses, they say. They're right.

dairy queens

Sunday, September 4, 2011

dark as night and it's only 6PM

...big storm coming....

real progress

The lawn is covered in leaves, and the king maple out front of the farmhouse is starting to turn orange and red. It's still humid out there, and weird to be hot and bothered among all those signs of fall everywhere. All around this farm, things are changing. Jasper let me slip his halter right over his head yesterday for the first time, and the walk out to the pasture from his paddock went smoothly. This morning I called him from the farthest reaches of the pasture and he came to me, and let me snap his lead rope on him, and we went for a walk down the mountain on the road, even jogging together for a while. I walked him back to the paddock (rain all day today) for some grain and breakfast. He walked right in. This might sound simple, or even boring to some of you, but this is progress for both of us. Acceptance of each of our roles. Being new to horses (new to everything, really) I am still learning how to work with what I hope will become my second vehicle. I used to have these goals of hopping on his back and riding bareback into the sunset up the pasture, or throwing on harness and taking a quick trip into town, but we aren't there yet. Right now we are learning manners, and our names, and who is in charge, and expectations.

It is slow progress, but real.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

no honey no booze

No honey no booze, that's my rap. Sometimes these homesteading projects don't work out. You plain mess it up. I grabbed the mini keg out of the cupboard to bottle today and found a hot mess. The all malt stout I had been looking forward to for the past month— when I pulled it down to eye-level—had a nice topping of mold where bubbles or foam should be. It went bad and it wasn't coming back. I'll dump it and will brew a new batch soon to bottle in a few weeks.

As for the honey? Well, the queen excluder, didn't. The Queen Excluder is like a little screen you put between boxes stacked up on the hive. It is supposed to keep the queen from crawling into the honey production area. But she, or a new queen, got in and started laying eggs in the combs. When I went in today to extract a bit for fall/winter the shallow combs were covered with larva caps. It's a baby house now, and taking honey would be the equivalent of genocide and possibly hurting the future of the hive. I returned them to their place among the frames. I'll wait till next summer for the sweet stuff from my own yard and start getting these guys ready for winter.

Dems the breaks, folks. I have some Saranac IPA in the fridge and I bought a jar of local honey at the IGA. They'll do!

the cotswolds are here!

The Cotswolds have landed! At 2PM yesterday afternoon a black pickup delivered four pedigreed ewes (two mother/daughter pairs) and they have melded in perfectly with the Cold Antler flock. In the video you'll meet Pearl and her gang (Pearl has the Justin Bieber locks) and see Maude right there with them. For the first time in years, Maude is surrounded by gals that look like her, and she was instantly drawn to them. In fact, she was the first to walk up to the new recruits through the fence. Atta girl, Maude!

It was great to welcome the new sheep, and things are the farm seem to be happening at a slow and steady clip into autumn. The chimney gets installed next Friday. The new sheep shed will be up within a few weeks, or sooner. I am going to try and find a home for Lisette and her lamb (free to anyone who wants them). They are on the mend, but not ill, just no longer breeding stock. Lisette needs a barn this winter with constant grain to put on weight, and her lamb Pidge, is 100% back to good, just needs her rump shorn from dirty wool. Besides a dirty bum and needing some heavy calories, these sheep are fine as backyard lawn mowers and fiber, they just are too small for breeding here with Atlas. So if you want them, you are welcome to them. Just email me about picking them up.

Speaking of sheep: no spots left in the Black Sheep Winter Wool workshop, but if enough people are interested, I will post a second in February and source some local wool for us to learn with. I also have four bags of Alpaca wool in storage a reader gave me, and we could spin that as well!

I only have 3 spots left for the Fall Festival, and am excited to report that several states and two countries will be there! Lots of Canadians are braving south as well as Texans, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, Vermonters, Marylanders, Jerseys, Californians and even a pair of Arkansarians (I made that term up, but to me it is an Ozark Librarian). So excited for our two days of Homesteading Celebration!

Friday, September 2, 2011

time to slow down

I am realizing how much I haven't been taking care of myself. Not enough sleep, not eating well, not stopping when I am tired, and filling my days with do-to lists that could cripple an OCD ward. I need to make some time to breathe and stretch and put on some moisturizer and pick up a pair of jeans without holes in them. A few days ago I was so worn out it scared me into slowing down. My body pretty much demanded, without argument, that I rest. So I am resting this weekend.

I'm not going to stop writing or blogging (that would drive me crazy), but I am going to take my activity level down a few notches. I am making more time for me, even if it's just an hour in the morning. The farm here is a beautiful thing, but sometimes it moves forward with pounding hooves and I need to learn to step back or it can trample right over me. I have to remind myself that just because I have all the supplies and daylight to extract honey and bottle two gallons of beer doesn't mean I have to do it. Maybe I can do one each day, over this weekend, and spend a little more time stretching in the morning sun, breathing deep, being grateful, and enjoying healthy meals. I think I need it. Last night was the first time I slept 8-hours straight in years. It made a difference.

Feeling very tired tonight. Not complaining (I hope this doesn't come across that way) I'm plain worn out. It happens every now and again, and if you already have a small farm or wish to own one yourself: you'll probably relate to this silly plight. I expect the first colder nights with woodsmoke and crisp leaves to pull me back into full speed, but right now I could curl up into a dog bed if it was the closest mattress...

Not sure you folks want to hear about this sort of thing? But it is what's happening right now, and since this blog is pretty much a play-by-play of one life, it was shared. Some nights I'll stay up hours typing about loving this farm, and some nights I hope it leaves me alone for hours so I can stand upright without tottering.

Anyone have any suggestions on best ways to unwind? I should preempt that by saying I don't have a bathtub and this is a family-friendly site.

Here's to sleep.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

it's rare that a commercial makes me this happy...

Thanks to Linda on the Facebook group, I saw this ad. Chipolte is one of the few fast food companies in America to source pastured and local foods at their chain. Showing us that even the most corporate of businesses can move towards a better future. Willie Nelson covers Coldplay in this animated short. Enjoy.

where cars can't go

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

the open road

I was listening to a Jim Kunstler's podcast, and the subject of the America's love of spontaneity came up. The conversation was about our national love of instant, personal, gratification (i.e. jumping in our cars whenever we feel like it, doing our housework whenever we wish, etc)—just the freedom our modern lives have in this cushy, air-conditioned, iPad-and-digital cable filled world. And how that all could change so quickly due to economic hardships and energy scarcity. It was a really engaging episode, but it also had me reeling. Why is spontaneous behavior and escape so romanticized in modern society?

Why do we want to be those people on the open road roaring into the sunset with nothing but a suitcase in the backseat? Is it just a luxury of a post-war affluence and their novelty of the new interstate highway system? Did it auto-drip into our craniums from decades of movies and music videos, novels and inventions? Or is whimsical travel part of who we are? I mean, we are constantly being told that escaping responsibility equates freedom. I guess that make sense when it comes to unfortunate emotional/social responsibilities (a bad marriage, an abusive home, etc)—but escaping from good work, solid ground, and healthy food no longer seems like freedom to me.

There is no freedom on a road trip. It is the epitome of bondage. You at the mercy of so many things: money, weather, oil, road conditions, food availability, police officers, traffic laws and so on.Your entire survival is in the hands of other people (and corporations). I think people are confusing rapid speeds out of doors with freedom.

Let me tell you what freedom isn't: Freedom is not an open highway. It is not drilling for oil. It is not having an endless line of credit. Nor is it having your every whim and comfort catered to. Freedom is the ability to wake up, laugh, eat, work, and love without fear. Freedom is walking outside your front door and knowing that if the world around you falls apart, you can make it a little while, maybe longer. It means not being at the whims of the power company, grocery store, and highway crews. For some of us that means a garden, saddle horse, and a flock of chickens. For others it means a thriving community where neighbors know each other by first names and help and support each other. But it certainly isn't something you can achieve peeling off into the sunset. Not unless you're driving home.

What is freedom to you?

illustration from kunstlercast.com

September Sheep Workshop Canceled

Sorry folks. Too many people switched from the Sheep workshop to the Fall Festival (Can't blame them!) so we'll move this to the spring, and cover basics with lambing too.

the cotswolds are coming!

Four Cotswold sheep are coming to Cold Antler, two ewes and their lambs from this past season. They are a longwool breed, and much like Joseph (who is half Cotswold) and here to add more spinning wool to the flock. I want to blend a half blackface/half longwool combo to make a soft outerwear fabric. These guys are needed to up the softness!

Also, I paid off the chimney! I just need to pay the installers to come and build it, but I amover 2/3rd paid off! It'll be installed on the 9th!

photo from ross farm museum, nova scotia

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

old school

just give me the frisbee, lady

hard times ain't gonna rule my mind

Monday, August 29, 2011

a short story

Three-Minute Fiction is a contest NPR runs every once in a while, and this was my entry, but it lost. The rules are simple. You have to write an original piece of fiction that's under 600 words, but the judge of the contest (some author or journalist) decides the rules, and to win you can not break them. This latest was too much fun to pass up. Judge and author Michael Cunningham just had this to say: the first line of the story had to be Some people swore that the house was haunted and the last line had to be Nothing was ever the same again after that. Here is my entry.

P.S. You will notice comments from when I posted this a year ago. I had to remove it from the blog because entries could not be published, in any form, before the winner was announced. So when I knew that I took it down. But my sister asked about it today so I reposted it.

Mark The Frame

Some people swore that the house was haunted. The black dog knew better. Sitting outside on the porch of the old Federal mansion the Saster knew how foolish those words were the moment they came out of those stuttering human mouths. Why they chose to label some homes haunted and others not always annoyed him. He was a black sheepdog, heavy in coat with yellow eyes and he stared at the haunted house the same way all dogs did. Don't they understand that every house is haunted? Filled with the smells of generations of dead animals? Covered in the stains of memories? The mold of nostalgia good and bad?Saster lifted his nose and smelled the dead toddler, the broken wedding vows, the Irish Setter who left one night and never came home. Ghosts circled the wainscoting, turned up the corners of the linoleum. Each past life was an apparition and unless you cut down a tree in the woods that no man or dog had ever pissed on, they were all haunted. Every damn one.

His people were young and new to farming. They brought him here from their last home, smaller and belonging to someone he never saw called Lord. He worked sheep with them and after many conversations and lifting of heavy things they left Lord's house and came here. It was the only farm they could afford, the price low and lonely because the rumors of slamming doors, knocking walls, and footsteps in the halls when no one was in those places. These are things dogs see all the time. They are as normal as rain.

Saster scratched his right ear with his right back foot and shifted back into a proper sit. He watched his people lift the heavy things inside, sign papers, rattle keys, and shake hands. They seemed a quiet happy, but so preoccupied with the ghosts they might see it made every crooked smile a measured success. He worried about them all the time. He couldn’t work sheep with people who thought ghosts were as dangerous as coyotes. He wanted people who understood the world. He had not met them yet.

When the only people left were his, the heavy things put down, and their truck the only car in the farm’s driveway they called him inside as they walked through the old hallways, touching the wallpaper gently as they said his name without looking back. Saster stood up and shook out his hide and trotting towards the door. Before crossing the threshold he lifted his leg and marked the frame with a long stream. He heard the growls of long dead dogs and ignored them as he stepped inside. The living add to every haunting, create them in truth. Urine slid off the red frame. Nothing was ever the same again after that.

a glorious empire

So many of the roads around here are closed, bridges washed away. My commute to Vermont every Monday through Thursday for work just got a little more complicated. I drove south twenty miles and crossed the state line where it was safe before driving all the way back north to the office. Usually it's a straight shot, about twenty minutes in the truck. Today took longer, and afforded me the chance to explore.

I drove across random county roads, 68 took me through Grandma Moses territory. Rolling, dramatic, cow-splattered hillsides dappled in sunshine. Had a Tropical Storm really come through here less than 24 hours ago? It seemed a lie. Storms are not possible things on movie sets, are they? Between Gillian singing Scarlet Town on the speakers and Gibson hanging his thin frame out the passenger-side window, it was something out of a make-believe world. A fantasy I once read about in Borders (when Borders was around) during college, sipping coffee and paging through Hobby Farm magazine between studios. I love this county. I love this state. I love how it heals, and teaches, and puts on a show after a horrible mood. Truly, it is a glorious Empire, this.

I came home a new way too, and it was like driving through some Hobbit village. I found a road called Mylers off 7A and it weaved and ducked through a series of random dirt roads back home. I passed a man driving a draft horse in a John Deere themed forecart. He waved and I smiled. Mark my words readers: We will all live to see John Deere selling green and yellow collars and hames. This world is changing right in front of us, everyday.

I kept going, behind old forests, small dairy and sheep farms. New places, untouched places. Past the Monks and Nuns of New Skete, over small bridges and quiet water. I popped out near 372 at the base of Cambridge. By the time I got home I felt like I learned a few secrets. Like I saw something only yetis and unicorns new about, and it was there all along.

Imagine that?

I had a few chores to do at home. Soon as I got in the door and walked and fed the dogs I grabbed my crook and let the whole flock (minus Atlas, who was in his ram pen) out into the greener pasture. I had to walk the fence line and look for downed trees (though the only downed trees were over my garbage cans). All the rain littered a carpet of green with apples and waving grasses. I let them each eat a few before I went to get Jasper, who had been cooped up in his stall for two days and was so thrilled to run and chomp he flew across the grass. I let go of the lead snap and released him into the gate and felt like I just through a lightening bolt into the world.

I watched him. My whole body felt ten pounds lighter. Maybe it's the yoga practice, or the meditation, or just the fact we all made it through the storm in so much devastation just minutes away, but the happiness was thick. And I felt a little more certain about myself, and things I did not approve of, and how much the attention I was paying to my own body and heart was making me feel better. The other morning during that yoga retreat the teacher said during meditation. "Be at peace. You have support. You are cared for." and all I could think about was this community, both in actuality and online. I glowed on that mat. I was so grateful, for the readers, and the friends, and the animals. This is what I thought about after the storm, out in my pasture, and in that growing strength of my little, battered up, fiddle-strung heart I watched a spotted pony cry out a happy whinny and smiled. Time to make some changes. Time to learn to move and learn to shout like a pent-up pony.

Sun. Stretching. Grass. Survival. Animal. Smiles. Healing.

This woman is learning how to live in the world.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I am so grateful for this house.

That is all.

irene rips apart veryork

I wanted to update everyone on the state of things, Veryork is not in good shape. While Cold Antler is lucky to be built on a mountain side, up high, but my friends near the Battenkill, Hoosick, and Hudson Rivers are in deep trouble. This video was taken just a few towns over, near Bennington Vermont. Facebook is booming right now with images of my area, a lot of it under water. I am posting much of it on my page, so check it for more images and video. But yes, Manchester, Londonderry, Pawlet and other towns around here are being surged. Flood waters are 7+ feet above the flood stage. Covered bridges are being washed away, and cars are floating down the river. The Home Depot I was at two times Friday is now under a few feet of water. I am worried about friends and theirs around here. Two of my friends have been evacuated. I feel both lucky and worried sick. I haven't heard from a few and really hope they are okay.

I am expecting power to eventually go out with winds coming our way, and trees coming down. I have the generator and extension cord ready to go. I will have to be on top of this, because if I let that sump pump alone and it goes off for just ten minutes the water pouring in from the base and the walls will overtake the furnace and more.

I don' think I'll be going into work tomorrow.

strings in the storm

geese love hurricanes

Irene came late last night and this morning I took out the dogs for a constitutional on the front lawn. The wind was light, moving the rooster wind chimes outside the kitchen window, but getting stronger. The sheep are all in their sheds, still eating the big bale I put in late last night. Jasper was given extra as well, and is in the barn. The chickens all took cover, but there are two residents of Cold Antler walking around without a care in the world: the geese Cyrus and Saro, love this constant rain and wind. They have no idea why everyone is hunkered down? It's just a little rain, right?

Still power, no damage here. Hoping that this was a media frenzy that just scared people. Over at Jon's blog he talked about that, the real storm being not the weather, but the hype and fear it caused, and how we fell into it. I agree. I certainly did. Yesterday I ran into him at the Co-op and he said his daughter called him from Brooklyn. "It's a catastrophe, dad. Everyone is out of multigrain bread." That pretty much sums it up.

I'm going to spend the day working on some writing here on the kitchen eMac, and later, going through a large printout of Barnheart and make my last minute changes and edits with a pen, old school. Probably by candlelight if the winds knock down a few trees, which it is wont to do around these parts.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

calm before the storm

This video taken around 6PM, and by the time I was done with my chores the sky was dark and the wind was picking up. Looks like this all starts out with a bang here, the pregame is a series of heavy thunderstorms and the real show starts early in the morning. Prayers and thoughts out there for all in the path, may it be swift and understated.

here she comes

Irene will hit Washington County later tonight and stick around till Sunday evening. I feel as prepared as possible, and will even board up the glass French Doors with plywood if makes me feel safer inside. I have plenty of water, food, flashlights, lamps, and crank radio waiting with me. The dogs seem just fine, to them it is nothing more than Saturday.

Off to a three-hour yoga retreat to breathe and stretch. The perfect storm prep for me at this point. I'll update with photos and news long as I can, but am certain we'll lose power sometime around midnight or sooner. There's no way storm crews will be out in the hurricane repairing either, so check back on Monday for more coverage!

Friday, August 26, 2011

no back up

Everyone is out of generators and the builders from Common Sense Farm canceled the sheep shed. They said they ran into an issue with their hay and a broken mower, and could not install the new barn. I am worried now. Worried about the flock out in 80+ MPH winds in a shabby shelter that barely stands on its own anymore, but with nowhere to put them. There is no space in the barn with Jasper, and I think it would only irritate the horse a dangerous amount to have the sheep trapped in a small space with him where his food is = kicked lambs or worse. And while I don't care about the lights or even the freezer, I am worried we'll lose power and torrential rains will flood the basement, and without electricity the sump pump will not bail me out like it did in the spring during the snow melt episodes. Suddenly, I went from feeling prepared to feeling terrified and vulnerable. I'm worried about the flock, who I was certain just yesterday would be safe under a solid roof...

Update: 3:30PM
I found a small generator! Karen, over at the Salem Agway, had a 1000watt small generator at the store, they held it for me till I came to pick it up, and then the staff showed me what fuel to buy and how to mix the gas/oil. They were amazing, and now even if the power goes off, I'll have a dry basement. I have 10 gallon of oil in the back of the pickup in addition to a full tank of gas. Also, I got a call from the Daughtons and Diane Kennedy: all of them are coming over with scrap lumber and power tools to help shore up the sheep shed and get it secured for the storm. Prayers answered and friends to the rescue! And thank you for all your emails and support! People offered to lend me battery sump pumps, drop off supplies, it is amazing what this internet can do.

I feel ready now! we're going to tough it out!

P.S. IF it gets really bad, Sal and Maude are going into the pig pen, and if you think that's playing favorites...well, you're damn right it is.

Update: 8:30PM
Sheep shed is reinforced, amazingly so. Diane, the Daughton's, and luck got me and the flock in the safe zone. We fixed the walls, reinforced the posts, stuck t-posts on the outsides (thank you, commentators!) and I fed everyone pizza and wings. Tim showed me how to start and shut down the generator, if I need to use it, and I am letting out a sigh now that hits 5.9 on The Richter Scale. Thank you, everyone. From the folks who came here tonight, to the emails, the comments, and the phone calls. All will be well, and if it isn't, I'll be ready.

listen to gillian, darling

Thursday, August 25, 2011

storm dogs

As I write you, I am barely able to see the computer screen. My glasses are fogged up from the heat of my own face, stopped moving, indoors. I just dug a 25 ft long, shallow ditch in a U-shape from my muddiest spot hillside pasture. The ditch is to help move and torrential waters away from the house and well areas, and out into the street and grassier sides. It took a little over an hour. I already popped some ibuprofen. I look and smell like an extra from a Civil War movie (one towards the end) and I am looking forward to that mint shower with a sinful amount of glee.

I will sleep well tonight.

I feel as prepared as I can be for this storm. The news keeps getting scarier, and I am starting to feel it seep in. But I do have four hurricane lamps, plenty of lamp oil, candles, matches, gallons of water, food, flashlights, first aid gear, hard cider and a truck with a full tank. I have a weather radio, cell phone charged, and a non-electric land line in the house. I have neighbors within walking distance, a stream and a gravity fed artesian well (the animals will have fresh well water regardless of power), water tablets and an electric lantern. I have ice packs and a cooler ready to keep meat and food if the power leaves over 24 hours. I have a wood stove if I need to cook. I have a pony in a sturdy stall, and a flock of sheep about to get a brand new shed built by professionals. I do expect us to lose power a few days, so I am loading up with books and knitting projects for the evenings.

I don't know what else I can do but pray it's something less scary than the news is telling me, or winds take it out to sea. A lot can happen in a few days time. Perhaps all this preparedness is foolish or trite. I stopped at the bookstore and the girl behind the counter looked confused when I asked her if she was worried about the storm. "What storm?" she asked. And I felt like Chicken Little.

Well, Chicken Little or not, here's one thing I KNOW I am not doing that would help a lot: breathing. Long, deep, breaths that clear the mind and calm the soul. I have started to meditate more and practice some yoga everyday. It is helping heal my farm-worn body and back, and helping me sleep better at night. I am starting to depend on it, feel new muscles in my arms and legs. I don't look like the woman on the cover of Yoga Journal, but I do feel healthier, and that's a gift. Saturday there's a three-hour morning retreat at Hubbard Hall here in town and I signed up. The first hour is meditation, the second two are restorative yoga. I think it was a wise investment.

I am as prepared as I can be. Keep us Storm Dogs in your thoughts and prayers, if you have any to spare.

red sky at morning...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

freedom fart

Jasper is getting rowdy. He can't help himself. Ever since the new stall and paddock was built he has been moved from pen to pasture regularly. This haltering up, leaving the gate, and walking him to and from a location isn't always easy. When he spends a day or two in the barn he comes out snorting and whinnying in my hands. He's just 11 hands, but strong as all get out. After a summer on grass with all the space and exercise he could crave, he is strong, solid, and if I had the nerve to put a saddle on him there is no doubt in my mind he could carry me across these few acres. He's thick with muscles and alive with curiosity. But even as a pony, he is easily 550 pounds, and that's not always easy for a 5'3" tall gal to carry, even one of swarthy slovak stock.

On grass he is skittish and wants to bolt. He hooves dance, and I am as careful as an electrician in a swimming pool. Soon as he hits pavement or a road, he is calm as a kitten though. A testemant to his days as a working amish cart horse. Pavement means business to him. Grass means college kegger. I can walk him like a swaybacked ol' trail horse on the road, but going across the lawn is like rolling a fat kid over twinkies and asking him to keep his mouth shut.

I refuse to back down or give up though. I move him around, and he knows who is in charge. I hold my ground and work with him every chance I get. Last night at the rodeo I saw these women barrel racing on their quarter horses like champions in a western flick. That is not me and Jasper. If I am lucky, Jasper and I will be able to someday hitch up the little buckboard cart and head the three miles into town.

Tonight I we up to the pasture together, him all excited and fussy, and I focused and determined. I held his hatler in my hand, guiding him tough. When I finally let him out to those acres of green grass and apple he exploded! He leaped into the air, kicked out both back feet to the left, and while both back legs were airborn sideways in glee, he let out a merry fart. I laughed so hard I nearly peed. He then pounded around, blowing off steam, leaping and running like a colt on crystal mushrooms. The sheep watched from behind a fence, happy to be away from that mad man farting amongst the apples. Jasper ran to the top of the hill and rolled around on his back like Gibson does on the living room floor. He then started down at me, resting on his legs like an equine sphinx. If I knew what he was thinking I could conquer the world.

He is a goofball, a free spirit, a jackass, and a piece of work. But I love that pony. And on those occasional calm walks down the mountain road I feel like the luckiest girl in New York. Learning to work as one will be a huge lesson in this life. Stay tuned.