I stopped in Cambridge to do some errands, starting at Connie's book store to start signing the 175+ copies of Barnheart she had ordered that had just come in. Gibson and I walked into the store, feeling like old friends. Connie was in the back at the register, waving us to her labors: a HUGE stack, mostly pre-orders and my heart raced. My books were next to a stack of Jon Katz's Going Home and his recent children's book The Dogs of Bedlam Farm . Jon was in earlier that morning and I was here to help complete some of the combined orders. Connie said that some CAF readers bought some of his signed works (all of his signed books can be bought through Battenkill Books) and some of my books were sold to his readers. A nice bit of overlap. And it's an honor to be a part of Battenkill Books, a newer, but thriving bookstore in our small town. Connie seems to be glowing these days, thrilled with the success of two local authors. If you bought a book from Connie, you are really making a difference in this town and that bookkeeper's life. Today, as she was passing me copies to sign and reading the instructions, she noted how great it was to sell books this way. "I touch them, you touch them, Gibson touches them..." and explained how warmer and intimate this kind of commerce was. I agreed. As we talked her mother brought in the fabric OPEN sign and commented on the wind. It was really blowing out there....
Things are not normal here. Today the temperature shot to 64 degrees, an unsettling and unflattering anomaly. It might sound like a treat, all that warmth, but in these days of stickly trees, rotting wet ground, and grass that has been frozen and defrosted several times, it is simply fast-forward decomposition. Take a fistful of mud and rotting plants and bugs and stick them in the microwave for 45 seconds and you have what today felt like, all humid and dead. Everyone, from rat to rat-racer just waiting to be drenched in unforgiving rain.
The drive home offered quite a site. Just a few yards off the road on each side were two deer. The grand male on the left, a full 8 point rack held high in the passing car beams. Just beyond him on the other side of the 55-MPH highway was a doe, watching with alert ears and bright eyes. In the dark and wet this looked epic, almost something out of fable. The two star-crossed lovers divided by an angry torrent of destruction. The only way I could've been more proper in that instant was if Papa Capulet was riding shotgun giving his middle finger to the twitterpated buck.
Warm wind makes me excited, like change is on the way. Warm wind out of season makes me even more excited. I'm working on an essay about how farming has changed me, in ways I didn't expect and wasn't prepared for. How it changed my mind about so many things, from what I wear to the office to how I do my dishes... A life dedicated to seasons, animals, and constant change and occasional discomfort might sound unsavory to some, but to me, it is a constant waltz. I am always moving, always breathing heavy, always in love and grateful I just know the dance steps.
Tomorrow the people come to inspect and possibly repair the well. I called my insurance and they'll cover the bent door with a $500 deductible. Not money I have now, but my agent said they can do the paperwork and cut me the check and I can fix it on my own time.
So things are being taken care of here, one step at a time. I want to thank the few of you who contact me about Webinar passes and sent along a payment. You have no idea how much that is appreciated, and needed. And to all of you out there buying books, sharing links, telling stories, giving advice, and helping with morale when things are tight: I thank you. I can't thank you enough.
Storms coming tonight. Heavy rain. The horse is out of the pasture and in the dry barn. The pigs are nesting in fresh hay. The chicken coop is closed up, and the dogs are enjoying rawhide in the living room. Tonight's a special treat since I am enjoying both a fire in the woodstove, and open windows to hear the rain. And since I am taking the morning off from the office to see to the well, I can sleep in a little. Perfect gifts.
Outrun Press is a labor of love, a small publisher of books about working sheepdogs and the culture of modern shepherding. They publish all kinds of books. from training tips and manuals to essays, poems, reflections and even children's books in their catalog. Heather (co-owner and shepherd) has offered to give away any book you want to choose from that collection here on the blog. All you have to do is leave a comment saying which book you'd pick if given the free choice? Heather will send the winner's choice their way! I'll announce the lucky reader's win tomorrow night! Okay guys, Away to me!
Found the morning's egg haul up in 4 bales up in a Jenga collection of hay bales in the barn. I collect them by the lantern light, to the sound of a horse blowing air, pigs rooting though morning feed, and chickens and rabbits having at their morning water and breakfast. When I close my eyes, the music is a sog I know by heart.
How could a woman as lucky as this feel bad about a dented truck and cracked well cap? Only a damned fool would mind such a thing.
I was having a great day at home, in fact I just had a friend over to see the farm and meet the animals for the first time. And soon as he left, I did something I have done countless times on this farm. I drove the truck around the front of the house to the barn to unload the 18 bales of hay I had picked up earlier that morning. But I wasn't thinking, or paying attention, or both and drove too close to the well, and dragged the car door across the cap, contorting and destroying the outside of the door and breaking the cap in half.
The door still works. It locks, the windows work. I don't think it's as "waterproof" now. Damnit, I hate that I still owe thousands of dollars on this farm truck and it looks like something parked at the dump. Between the missing fender flares, scratches, and now a broken door it is a sad site, and not because of the physical appearance, but because it's such a debt hole. I have to either pay to own it, pay to fix it, or pay to make it look like I am trying to do both.
I started the day with such a big exciting feeling, and now a broken door and cracked well remind me that along the way there will be countless setbacks, delays, repairs, and things in the way of that dream. Does anyone know what new door panels cost?
I think about the future of this farm often. What it's purpose is beyond feeding the farmer and supplying some of you with wool? What can a collection of words, hope, and force create beyond a chicken dinner and a knit hat? I have come to this decision:
Cold Antler Farm will remain a working homestead, and continue to feed myself and those who come to take part in the land. But it's also going to become more than that. I am dedicating my writing and labor to the continued inspiration and education of others. I don't want this to be a living history or vacation resort. I want this to be an empowering classroom where anyone, from the upper west side to rural Nebraska, can come and learn these skills, and leave with the confidence and information they need to dig into their own backyards or can their own market-fresh tomatoes. I'll do this through workshops, speaking events, webinars, books, blogs, anything and everything that gets this message out: this life is yours for the taking.
They say you should find something you love, and then find a way to make that your living. So I will. This is an indisputable fact. I am in love with this life, and nothing makes me happier than getting other people started on the same path. When a person picks up their fiddle for the first time, confused and excited, I love the look on their face when they learn the first four notes and can leave the farm playing a tune. I loved watching first-time chicken owners leave this place with a shoe box of chicks and a copy of one of my books. I think it will take a few years to really get the workshop model down, but it already seems to help and connect others to something they crave just as much as I do. So I will keep at it.
I'm not sure what it will take to make it happen, but I'll do it.
This morning I was getting ready to do the morning rounds, and something was on my mind. As my head was gearing up, Gibson was circling me, making frantic lessgooutsideandherdnow noises. I looking for my rubber boots, and when I sat down to slide them on over my jeans, the sheepdog attacked my nostrils with licks and yelps. He is incorrigible. I love him more everyday.
this morning I went out in an oversized men's buffalo plaid work shirt. It's so big it looks like a lumberjack trench coat on me, but it is warm and bright, so I like it. On my head: a white knit hat from my sheep. My brown rubber boots are the cheap kind Tractor Supply sells in a row my size, without boxes or tags. This is my morning uniform: jeans, red plaid, rubber boots, pigtails and a homespun hat. If you look close at the footage, that black streak is actually Gibson, running ahead to all the morning stops before I get to them. It is in this circus, that my mind returns to the question that was consuming me all morning during my boot scramble.
Why did I choose to live this life? What was the original tipping point that had me leave behind the world I was brought up in, that I went to four years of college for, that lead me to corporate careers in, of all things, email marketing. I mean, c'mon, email marketing, what could be farther from working a pony in harness than a desk job on the lowest level of a corporation making coupons on the internet? The mind reels.
I think about being a child, taken every Halloween to a small hobby farm nearby for pumpkin field tractor rides and petting their Nigerian goats. I loved that place, because even as an 8-year-old it felt correct in my New-Kids-on-the-Block lovin' heart. And in college, at Borders bookstores in Allentown (when there was a Borders on McArthur road) I would sit and read copies of Hobby Farm magazine, with a line of sheep on the cover, and wonder who possibly lived like that? Who had found a way to a snowy Tuesday night where their most important task was carrying out a bale of hay to their flock and returning to a warm kitchen for a hot meal, hard cider, and a beloved fiddle. How does a suburban 22-year-old make that happen? Can it happen?
My life has changed so much. It's 5:30 on a Saturday night and I am almost ready for bed. In college I would have been just getting back from the studio, getting into the shower to plan an evening with friends and road trips around the town. Tonight I am full from a dinner of some roasted chicken breast over kale and carrots. Both fires are going, and I know tomorrow morning will include the same chores and errands as today, and I look forward to it.
I love my life here, because evrythig I do is working towards another step of living. All year I am working towards the next thing, the next beautiful thing, that either feeds, clothes, or warms me. I know this spring I will get an order of chicks, and they will turn into thousands of calories of meat and eggs, and I'll use those calories to stack and split the wood that summer, that will burn to keep me warm that winter. Do you see what I mean? Every tomato planted is a can of sauce. Every lamb born is a sweater or a chop. This place, this lifestyle is continusously active in the actual sport of living. And before I lived season to season, among animals and agriculture, I lived selfishly through constant material gain. It left me empty, and scared, and wondering how I fit into the world? You get a farm and you get a purpose. Your religion becomes the next six hours. I look at that article in the Washington Post, and think about all the women and men canning and stacking wood alongside me, states and countries away, and I am proud. This generation does not want push-button gratification. It wants the results of hard work, time, sweat and patience only genuine authenticity can cultivate.
I live this life because I found my passion, and my strength. I walk up to the sheep fields with my black dog and crook, and our biggest goal in moving sixteen sheep from one gate to another so a working pony can spend an afternoon in the sunlight running. I pulled into my muddy driveway to see a gray horse running along a hillside and had to remind myself it was mine. That me and that 650 pound animal had worked as a team through leather and confidence, and made things happen. I love that damn horse, as much as I love anything. He is a part of a story, and a reality, and future that will be scary but okay. No part of me ever thinks things will get worse, not on this farm. Things will get complicated from time to time, but never worse. I learned this much.
In this farmhouse fires burn, alcohol ferments, dogs stretch, and a woman wants. This is a good place. It has forest, pastures, barns, stoves, creeks, ponds, sun, rain and even when it is broken it is green and alive. There is a beloved goose on a nest of eggs and I pray for goslings. There are rabbits waiting to kindle, and I pray for more meat. There are a half-dozen eggs being laid each day, and I am so grateful it makes me shake. Because all my work here is nothing more than the hope that I too make it another season, another month. Farming is believing. It is doing today what will provide tomorrow. No one who does this can say they have no faith, as every seed is a silent prayer for a few more months. What more dare we ask for?
I farm because just writing about it makes my heart race, makes me want to howl. I love this small place, carved into a mountain, hidden from so many things. Tonight I am warm and filled with plans and projects for the morning. I might be asleep by 7PM on date night, but who needs a date when you're already in love.
The new domesticity: Fun, empowering or a step back for American women?
Emily Matchar for The Washington Post I’m planning on canning homemade jam this holiday season, swept up in the same do-it-yourself zeitgeist that seems to have carried off half my female friends. I picked and froze the berries this summer, and I’ve been squirreling away flats of Ball jars under my kitchen sink for months. For recipes, I’m poring over my favorite food and homemaking blogs — the ones with pictures of young women in handmade vintage-style aprons and charmingly overexposed photos of steamy pies on windowsills.
“That’s neat,” says my mother, as I babble to her about pectin and jar sterilization. She’s responding in the same tone of benign indifference she would have used had I informed her that I was learning Catalan or taking up emu husbandry.
My baby boomer mother does not can jam. Or bake bread. Or knit. Or sew. Nor did my grandmother, a 1960s housewife of the cigarette-in-one-hand-cocktail-in-the-other variety, who saw convenience food as a liberation from her immigrant mother’s domestic burdens. Her idea of a fancy holiday treat was imported lobster strudel from the gourmet market.
So many amazing ideas and entrants! I am posting them in two parts. If one of these creations is yours, write a comment explaining what it is made of and why, and say hello to the community. As for the rest of you, start looking and pick a favorite, and through your feedback a winner will be chosen based on the group's favorite design. Remember the main point though: a way to keep glass quart jars warm to carry hot coffee in.
I've been an avid reader of your blog for about three years now. I just started raising small-scale livestock this summer. I was raising a few chickens, American Chinchilla rabbits, and I had a very large food garden. I don't know how frequently you do this, but I've seen it in the past and I thought I would give it a try. It never hurts, right?
I live in Reno, NV. This past Thursday night, Reno was overtaken by a 2000+ acre brush fire, which took my house at around 2:20 am Friday morning. I was only able to get my family (7 people, my parents, my 3 siblings, and my husband), my 2 dogs, and 2 of my rabbits out. I lost seven rabbits. Fortunately, we had given our chickens away to another family last week who was more in need than we. The house was burnt to the foundations, something which the firefighters had never seen before. We were renters and had not taken out a renters insurance policy, so we lost everything. At the link posted below, you can see pictures of what is left over of my house.
I know that you've been through a lot of hard times yourself and that the most helpful thing sometimes is awareness. Could you help us raise awareness? Here's a link to a donation page my husband has set up to help recover some of the basics for our family (http://goo.gl/1eGvy). If we weren't wearing it, we don't have it. This won't replace our house, but it will go a long way to helping us replace the necessities and take some strain off of finding temporary housing.
Austin Hardage is my husband, my parents are not listed, but are Sheryl and Michael Mundy. If you are interested in more information, please feel free to contact me. There's definitely a lot unsaid. I really hope that you can help us get the exposure that will make a difference. If there is anything that I've learnt from reading your blog, it's that you know a lot of really good people.
I have a tiny bit of good news to share: I have dropped 8 pounds. Through a healthier diet, more fruits and vegetables, and 5 workouts a week I managed to easily shed eight pounds. I can't fit into certain jeans (too big!) and I have more energy than I can remember. I feel good, and plan to lose 35 total pounds. Wish me luck!
Until yesterday I had never roasted a turkey, made gravy, cooked cranberry sauce, baked stuffing or a pumpkin pie, but all of it turned out fine. I won't say amazing, but certainly passable. I feel like I am truly coming into myself as a cook and here's why: my entire plan for preparing the dinner was based on searching the internet for recipes, getting the jist of them, and opting to work freelance instead. I found out what went into stuffing, the basics of broth, bread, butter, and herbs and made my own concoctions, always erring on more butter than asked (through the entire meal I went through two pounds!) But from the perfectly browned herb-roasted bird to my adaption of the family pie recipe: all went well. And the gifts of cheese, wine, sides, and desserts from the guests were far-beyond my wildest expectations. Diana brought homemade raw-milk hard cheese, Chrissy and Tyler walked in with beets, brussel sprouts, and yams and Ed and his wife (both chefs) brought a propane torch for their pumpkin creme brulee!
At dinner I said a short grace and we dove in. The whole meal eaten by candlelight, with conversation and laughs. New and old friends, happy dogs, and by 6PM when the world was dark and I was about to start thinking about a bonfire, I realized most of us were too full and warm to consider going out in the cold, wet (we just got an inch of rain the night before) to celebrate the old fashioned way. So I chalked it up as a loss and played a few banjo tunes at the dinner table
After Diane, Ed, and his family left Chrissy and Tyler and I headed to the living room to camp out in front of the woodstove and just talk. They work with me at Orvis, so we had a lot of common stuff to talk about. My night ended all of us enjoying the decadence of full stomachs and a warm fire. The stoves had the house up to 74 degrees by this point and I was almost uncomfortably warm, but too full and drugged on turkey meat to care. So I savored it, this comfort-debauchery, and said a silent prayer of thanks for the food and warmth and friends.
So that was my Thanksgiving, a wonderful new tradition at the farm. And today starts another new one: Plaid Friday. I'll be heading into the nearby town of Cambridge to stop in with Gibson at Battenkill books to sign copies of Barnheart and see the town decked out for holiday shopping. I'm lucky to live three miles from a small town with an arts center, yoga studio, organic food co-op, hardware, feed, and grocery stores. There are also several art and gift shops, and I plan on supporting a few in the coming weeks when the wallet gets a little fatter. But for today I can enjoy the big show and start making my lists of gifts for family and friends, and then later on put the Daughton's farm to sleep for the night. I'm watching their animals while they are away in Missouri to see their new granddaughter. I hope your own days were full of good thoughts, grattitude, and kindness.
P.S. Remember all those jar warmers you turned in? Well I am going to post the ten chosen finalists and let you vote for the winner tomorrow!
It is Thanksgiving morning and this farmhouse is alive with good smells, good work, and woodsmoke! I started my day off with a call to my family (they are very sad I can't be around for the holidays) to wish them well. Right after I placed my brined bird in the over with a butter-herb rub all over the 17 pounds of goodness. I stayed up till midnight baking three loaves of farmhouse white (two for dinner, one for stuffing), and my first-ever homemade pumpkin pie. I used my own butter crust recipe and a heirloom variety of pie pumpkin called a Long Pie. It turned out perfectly, thanks to a recipe that has been handed down in our family for several generations. When I took a bite of the mini "tester-pie" I was 7 years old again in my grandmother's dining room, all I needed to make it complete was a glass of gingerale with a maraschino cherry in it and I had myself a time machine.
I made the cranberry sauce and it is chilling in the fridge, kale and onion stuffing is in the crock pot pre-gaming till the oven is ready to brown it. I only have some mashed potatoes to cook up yet, but that's pretty much just peel, chop, boil, strain, and add all the butter and herbs you can handle. I have some celtic music playing on Pandora, and three dogs wondering when something will drop off the stove or oven so they can stop salivating around this joint.
I'm serving 6 today, and it is my first time ever taking on this sort of holiday meal. My friends Diane, Chrissy, and Tyler will be here, and so will Ed and his family from theslowcook.com. Ed and his family are moving from the DC area to Washington County to follow their dream of farming. When they said they would be up this way and eating Thanksgiving dinner in a hotel I instantly invited them here. They happily accepted and suggested some amazing side dishes they could bring. I didn't realize it off the bat, but hot dang, they are professional chefs! (HAHA No pressure!) But I'm not worried, I can cook, and it should be an amazing day dedicated to good food and good friends. I got a bonfire, wool blankets, and hard cider waiting for after dinner. It will be a grand day.
All the best wishes to you and yours on this special day. Be grateful and kind on this Thursday. Talk slower, love deeper, and open up your hearts to peace.
Gibson is a farm writer's dog. He understands when to be the bullet in the pasture, and when to be calm. Here he is on the floor near the register at Battenkill Books. We spent an hour or so there yesterday, and he behaved well. Shoppers came and went and with exception of a few hugs (Gibson actually wraps his paws and forearms around waists) he didn't accost anyone.
However, if I took this placid pup to the gates of my sheep....watch out.
Thanksgiving is tomorrow and I'm getting ready to feed six people and myself here at the farm. Friends from the office, other farms, and out of state are coming to Cold Antler for some maple/bourbon glazed turkey, homemade pumpkin pie, farm potatoes, stuffing from homemade bread and more. It will be a feast to remember! Tonight the bulk of the baking will be completed, and the turkey rubbed all over with salt and garlic to brine in a bag till the oven calls her home in the early morning. This is my first ever Thanksgiving as a host, and I'm excited.
Stopped at Battenkill Books today after I left the office. I just wanted to check in with Connie, and talk about stopping down on Friday for store support and signing. Talk about great timing! The first box of books had just arrived! Barnheart is in stock and ready for Plaid Friday shoppers! I signed 24 copies right then and there, and so did Gibson (pawprints in animal-safe ink). Those books are on the way to folks all over America. I took a bunch of photos, and a lot were better quality, but this moment of Gibson pawing Connie near the package of books was priceless. Why did he grab her? Because she whispered "Come Bye" and he was certain she had sheep in the office.
So I am just learning about this movement, but I am already in love with it. Celebrate Plaid Friday this year! In an all-out rejection of the over-commercialized, non-local mall shopping that sends wads of cash outside of local creative people in your community, spend this friday closer to home, patronzing local stores and artist for your holiday shopping. Wear your favorite plaid shirt and hit the neighborhood bookstore, favorite town restaurants, and businesses that offer gift cards and put tax dollars right back into your own community.
I'm not the only one out there who thinks the future of our economy is a more local-based system. So why not embrace that in style? And for those of you unable to get out and shop at all, or surrounded only by Big Boc Stores and malls, why not do what Jon Katz suggested on his blog? Support independebnt businesses online. Here is an exceprt from the Bedlam Farm Blog today! Check out Bedlamfarm.com to see what Jon and his wife are cooking up at that creative farm for the holidays. Two word: Awesome Potholders.
We support Plaid Friday, the hottest growing social movement in the country, and a celebration of independence, individuality, creativity and freedom, a growing effort to reclaim the spirit of holidays, and of community. On Friday, we are celebrating the holiday several ways:
- From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., I will be at Battenkill Books, Cambridge, N.Y., (518 677 2515) to help take orders and say hello to the good people who are buying “Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die”,”Meet The Dogs Of Bedlam Farm,” or any of my other books. Call to buy one of these books, get a free video and Bedlam Farm notecard and help support a wonderful independent bookstore, the kind that needs to survive if our communities offer diversity and connection and so we will not all live inside of a box store or mammoth online corporation. You can order books at anytime from the store – they take Paypal – or call the store anytime at 518 677-2515. We are heading for 1,000 books sold by New Year’s and are at the 700 mark. You can also buy Jenna Woginrich’s wonderful new book “Barnheart” from Connie Brooks at Battenkill as well. It will be out this week and is a wonderful story of a gifted and brave young writer’s passion for her own farm. If anyone is in the spirit of Plaid Friday, Jenna is. Call and say hello. I’d love to meet you
It is an unusual thing to wake up in this farmhouse warm. Not that this is an uncomfortable place by any means, but around 2AM the fires go out in the stoves and for three hours nothing heats this place but the air inside it and four wolves. But this morning the air outside was way above freezing, and the house temps never dropped below 63 degrees. Unusual, indeed.
Weird mornings like this aside, the first thing I am to this house is a charmaid. I go out with my boots and grab the black ash can and come inside to scoop out the stoves of their collections and then take it to the rain barrel to be covered in water. I don't take chances with this house. Then I re-light each fire, usually with some fatwood, and then when the fires are crackling at five-alarm blasts, I note the temperatures on the indoor thermometers (55-58 usually this time of year) and head outside to see to the dogs and farm.
My second job is dog waste valet. Use your imagination.
My third job is caretaker. I head out to the barn first and fill Jasper's hay bag and leave a tiny scoop of grain in his bucket. When his stall has been mucked, and fresh bedding laid down, I grab the lead rope and walk up the pasture gate where he is waiting. I walk uphill to him, and at that angle the salt-an-pepper pony looks like a stallion from a storybook. I get closer and we reenact the usual struggle to get him to calmly walk from pasture to stall. I used to think he was a bad horse for being so fussy, but then I realized the only time he gets like this is when I am leading a bored horse to freedom or a hungry horse to open pasture. You can't blame the man for knowing what he wants, and having the spirit to ask for it. He is calm as a lamb walking down the road, in harness, or in the stall or fields. It's the in-between that makes him nervous. We've all been there.
My next stops on the caretaker rounds is the chicken coop. I open the tricky-latch door and as soon as it swings open the honks of geese fill the world. This is jarring when people first hear it, but to be it is a welcomed ruckus. I pour fresh grain into their feeders and refill their water. I go inside the barn again to refill the pigs grain and water as well. The rabbit's get their pellet containers topped off with fresh feed and I check their water-bottle levels. They are at half-mast, which means they can wait till later. With the chickens free, horse chomping, pigs rooting, dogs relieved, and rabbits content...I am down to my last task.
I grab a bale of hay and dump it into a wheel barrow. I carry it uphill to the gate where Jasper once was and scatter the whole thing into four large sections on the ground. My sheep have little cliques and it is important that every caste gets to eat their fill. The sheep are doing well, better than ever. Sal is 100% healed from his foot issues that came this wet summer. Lisette has packed on the pounds due to more grain and mineral access than ever before. Between the minerals, vitamin supplements in their water, and plenty of hay they seem strong and content. Atlas is out and about but I haven't noticed any breeding going on. I think I released him into the flock at the end of one heat cycle and the next one is a few weeks away. That's all the better for me. I'd rather have lambs dropping on grass than snow.
Last ditch chores are seen too. Water carried in buckets from the well to the animal's tanks and buckets. Mineral licks are replaced if needed, eggs are collected, tack is hung up on the hooks in the barn. The farm is ready to meet the day doing it's own work of making wool, pork, horsepower, eggs, lamb, chicken, and rabbit. There are kits and goslings on the way soon, I can feel it. The notion of rabbit pot pie and roast goose this winter sounds amazing. (Don't worry, I will never eat Cyrus and Saro, but I will eat their kids). This whole thing takes about 40 minutes. I return inside thinking 58 degrees is ridiculously hot.
My fourth job is writer. I come inside and see to emails and open up a word document. I am starting a new book this week, my fourth, and I am thrilled to get it going. It's about a whole year on Cold Antler Farm, October-to-October and how the work of farming and living by the seasons has changed me forever, given me new awakenings, holidays, joy and purpose. I think I'll call it Days of Grace.
That is a Sunday for this particular farmer on this particular farm. My jobs change with the seasons and with the farm's needs. In June there are easily twelve jobs on a Sunday morning, most dealing with the garden and new chicks and lambs. But in theses Days of Grace between last leaves dropped and before real snow, I am a charmaid, valet, caretaker, and writer. That is the good work that fills my heart before dawn. I am grateful for it.
Josh Ritter, a favorite singer songwriter of mine, wrote this ballad for his latest album. The studio version is an amazing, powerful, and complicated piece. It has horns and strings and a lot of gritty nostalgia to it. But when I found him playing this solo piece in Notting Hill on a Gibson J-45 (my dream guitar, and the thing Gibson the Border Collie is named after), I just had to share it. Ballads seem to be a forgotten art now. Outside country music and the occasional pop accident, an entire moral story told through song is rare. But here we have a new song, with shout-outs to old songs like Barbara Allen in verse and spirit. Give it a listen, you won't regret it.
And for those of you waiting on pins and needles: The Strumstick Winner is Pit Stop Farm!
More giveaways coming up from New England Illustrated, Outrun Press, Halycon Yarn and more!
It's the first day of rifle season here in Washington County, and the parade of pickup trucks driving up and down the mountain started at 4AM. I have my tags, my father's 308, ammo, and hunting jacket, but I have never shot the gun before and feel I need some time getting comfortable with it before I head out into the woods with it. I'll probably avoid hunting until muzzleloader season, and hope I take a doe. I'm not interested in the bravado or camps, at least not right now, but it does feel a little left-behind to not join in on the first day of the season. All told, I haven't seen a single spike on this mountain, just scrubby does. So hopefully one snowy morning in December I'll take one down. I'd just like to have venison in the freezer.
I'm excited to announce some good stuff. Barnheart comes out in bookstores soon, a few weeks, and Connie at Battenkill Books has already sold 130+ and for that, I thank all of you readers. It is a huge deal.
Trying to make a living as a writer is hard (especially when you write about chickens and sheep, and not forensics or presidential biographies). When you buy a new book like Barnheart at its release it sends a message to the publisher (and the small book stores) that this book is something they should be paying attention to, my name is something worth noting. Events like Connie's, a small-town pre sale, is something new and adventurous for this relatively new bookstore. Between Jon's pre-sale of Going Home (almost a 1,000!) and my humble starts, this bookstore is going into the Holidays in high spirits and so am I.
High spirits are good. I've been having a rough week, but have faith everything will work out for the better. I wrote a long, bitching, post last night (which some of you may have seen, and if so, I apologize) about my own troubles with keeping this place together. I took it down because complaining doesn't pay bills, hard work does. So I will be putting my head down these next few days working on projects and ideas, dealing with advertisers and workshop registrations, and so forth. I'll find a way. I always have.
In other news, I just finished planning an intense workshop with Brett about backyard meat chickens. I did one last year (which he attended) but this year we're presenting it together as a team. I'll cover the animal side (chicken care, raising meat birds, and the slaughtering/butchering demonstration) and he'll be showing everyone how to build a chicken tractor. (A chicken tractor is just a moveable pen that can constantly be dragged to fresh grass so your lawn gets fertilized and the birds always have clean pasture.) So it'll be a combination of husbandry and construction, ending with a farm dinner of chicken BBQ, sides and fixins. We're going to offer a full-day in late June (23rd), and there is no farming experience needed. This is for people thinking about getting started with meat birds, too. Maybe you just want to see how hard it is to go from chicken to drumstick? Or maybe you've raised layers and really want to see what goes into a dozen roasters? Everyone will go home with five meat bird chicks, plans on how to construct their own tractor, and enjoy a campfire in the evening if they wish to stick around. Bring a banjo and sharp knives. Fun!
This time of year brings out the mountain music in me. My hands are all over my fiddle, guitar, banjo, and anything else that makes music. I even have an old accordion in the kitchen now, a recent acquisition, and at night while I wait for my rice to cook or chicken to roast up, I sound like a backup person in the Decemberists. It is a gritty kind of whimsical.
With daylight waning I am indoors most evenings from 7PM till bedtime, so I have hours I didn't have when the sun set around 9PM in June. Back then, nightfall meant sleep. Now it means Dorian chords and instructional books and videos. I have been spending the bulk of these past few nights with my guitar, but every so often I pick up the banjo, and I can't stop my fiddle cravings. These instruments light me up. A few frails on a banjo totally change the house from a quiet, cold place to an alive thing. I can't imagine not being surrounded by instruments, my records, radio stations, and the Pandora channels I have come to love on the tele. Some people aren't into music, and they confuse me as much as people who are not into dogs and fireflies. I'm sure they are fine citizens, but they are not my people.
I think many of us put off buying or learning to play an instrument because we think we need to be amazing at them, as if everyone with a $200 guitar should be expected to play any song on command at a campfire or open mic night. I think owning an instrument is an invitation to creativity and company, and any expectations over that is a burden. It doesn't require your enslavement (another myth), but if you do dedicate a few minutes a day to it, you might be surprised at how much you pick up and what a joy and comfort it can be. I know 12 guitar chords and a few songs and it can make this farm shake when I need to belt out a song, home brewed or a cover. My fiddle (the most over-hyped instrument in the world that is actually simple to play) has been tattooed on my heart. I know some tunes by heart on the banjo, it makes this place swing back in time.
None of these things need an outlet, buttons, or are confined to a car stereo. These are portable sidekicks, best friends, therapists, and canvases. If you want to learn, I urge you to try. Just getting a guitar and propping it in the corner of your living room changes a place, changes you. Because once it is there, music is a possibility, and that makes every day a little better.
This winter I'm hosting an intro to mountain music workshop here at the farmhouse. Come join me and folks from all over the US for a full day on the farm to get acquainted with some of these instruments, try them out, learn how to hold and strum them, and make some new friends, just a few spots left and it really supports the farm, plus we're giving away a beginner fiddle outfit!
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 wood stove 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!
To sign up for one of the 8 remaining spots, email Jenna@itsafarwalk.com
Thanks to the folks at Mcnally Strumstick - www.strumstick.com,, I am giving away one of their beautiful instruments in the key of G (with a soft case)! Strumsticks are as simple as the dulcimer, but with the feeling and twang of a banjo. It is set up so that the entire instrument is in tune with itself, making wrong notes impossible. My Strumstick is always in my pickup truck, at the ready for lunchbreaks at the office, campfires, or any place that needs a little music. My favorite tune to play on it is Wild Mountain Thyme.
To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment in this post sharing what instrument moves you, and you wish you could play. Or, tell the story of how you started playing the instrument you now consider a loyal friend. Inspire those who are toying with the idea of a mandolin or banjo to grab those beauties and start pickin!
Now, for those of you unfamiliar with these guys, check out the site and their videos, because their insrument is the perfect way for the non-musical homesteading-lovin' persons to pluck out some simple mountain tunes without any experience with stringed instruments.
Everyone can only enter once via comment, but if you are willing to share the link to this blog on Facebook, then you may enter a second time posting, "SHARED!" and you'll be in the running again, doubling your chances for one of these amazing little beasties. Winner will be picked Saturday night!
It was raining as I left the office, everything dark and wet. It's still a little unsettling, leaving my day job and discovering upon my emancipation, that the day has already passed. You try not to feel five pounds heavier, but its hard when you're getting pushed down by the time and space of it all. Gibson and I careened toward the farm, and when we arrived he loped off into the woods and I went inside to see to Jazz and Annie. I look forward to seeing those two more than I could ever express. They are my solid ground, through states and years, lives and change, they are my seraphim's with wolf hearts.
Inside the house seemed cold. At 57 degrees it wasn't cold at all, but I had done nothing more than sat in a desk chair all day. Isn't it funny that we call tedium "work" now, because that venerable word is now synonymous with offices and wages. But there is no actual work being done, not in the sense of labor. My office life has it's place and areas of import, but there is no actual work being done. Work is what people digging new sewer lines and planting winter rye are doing. I was indoors, with soft paws, moving things around on a computer screen. It makes you cold when you come home.
So I was craving animal comforts, the real basics: fire, soft things to lay on, warm food, and a big glass of red wine. I got the fires going, but it was the work outside that warmed me. In the rain I saw that every animal was fed, watered, comfortable and dry. It's dark out, but the yellow glow of the barn light's single 60-watt light bulb and the coop was as loud as lighthouses. I switched all the lights outdoors to traditional, old style bulbs. Not the greenest thing to do, but I was tired of the light in my barn feeling like the fluorescent lights above my desk at work. So I went old school, and now there's a warm yellow light in that land of hay, horse, pig and rabbit instead of the white fury of the twisties. I actually replace my standard bulbs less outdoors, the new kind doesn't seem to do well with rain and cold?
By the time the work of keeping this place running another night was done, I was soaking wet but warm all over. I came inside and the house was already up to 60, but felt like 80. I shed my layers and said a silent prayer of thanks that the worst of the rain was starting now that I was indoors. As temperatures drop into the 30's I know that there is dry wood inside to light and heat this farmhouse into the night.
Tonight, that is what I am grateful for. Now, warmed by a mason jar of red wine, I am thinking of the post I wrote about the place I go right before I fall asleep, that always calms me no matter what is weighing on my mind. It's a gray barn, and tonight as I sit here reading an old post, a post older than Jasper and Gibson, I realize how much consistent thoughts can change your life, and how things happen not so much out of work, but out of faith.
Here is what I wrote on December 22, 2009:
Every night, but especially on nights when it's hard to sleep, I lay awake in bed thinking. I'll toss and turn for hours unless I lay still and decide to go to the barn. I don't get up and go outside. The barn is a place in my mind. As long as I can remember I've had the same calming meditation right before I fall asleep. I imagine myself in this same situation and within minutes, I am breathing slower and grateful. I know it works because I can only remember what I'll share with you in a moment, and then it's morning. Maybe it will help some of you when your mind is loud. Here's where I go:
I turn over on my side, close my eyes, and imagine I'm in a high loft of an old gray barn on a rainy autumn night. I've been riding a horse for miles and besides the mare and I, the only other soul traveling with me is a black sheepdog. I have made a handshake deal to rest my horse in the stall below while I sleep in the hay storage above. The owner has offered me three quilts and a pillow and told me I could rest on the loose hay piled in a sheltered corner. I lay the biggest, thickest, blanket down first on a giant pile of hay and create a nest. (Sometimes it feels so real I can smell the dead grass and feel it crinkle under my mattress.) A lantern shines above me, flickering from an old beam. Besides the occasional quiet lightning outside—this is the only light. Outside a constant, inconsequential rain falls. I watch the shadows the lantern casts dance across the gray walls. Sometimes the light sneaks in-between the cracks and paints an old oak tree outside. Below me I can hear my small horse's gray hooves shuffle. She is a night mare keeping nightmares away. I am so weary from traveling the loft feels like heaven. I am so relieved to be dry and warm and have finally stopped moving. I curl my spine and sink farther into the nest. The black dog rests his head in my chest and sighs. We're warm. The mare lays down. Tonight will be okay.
I've imagined this nearly every night before I've fallen asleep for over twenty years. Long before I ever wanted to homestead, or ever considered a Fell Pony, this was my ritual...an imaginary oasis of my most comforting things: shelter, companionship, and warmth. I went to the barn in sixth grade, in college dorms, in cities, and on snowy nights in Idaho. I'll go there tonight too. I feel particularly weary.
Today a small package arrived at the office with a big Storey stick slapped across it. Soon as I saw it, I knew exactly what it was and my eyes lit up like a pet store puppy. It was the first "official" copy of Barnheart, from the first printing. What a thrill, what a quiet thrill. It turned out to be the first thrill of the day as well, since I discovered Made From Scratch made the Beekman 1802 email newsletter as a winter read. Those guys are the best. I emailed them to thank them, and Brent asked if I wanted to feature and excerpt on their site?! I sent it right away!
If you would like, you can order a copy from Connie here in Cambridge at Battenkill Books and Gibson and I will sign it for you. It's a way to help a small bookstore, support the Cold Antler community of Cambridge/Jackson, and get a special message from me. I'm heading down to the bookstore Friday with Gibson to do some Christmas shopping and check on the orders so far. My goal is 200, and I think we are at 125 pre-orders already! So Grab some for the Holidays and help explain to people the origin of your disease!
Battenkill Books 15 East Main St. Cambridge, NY 12816 (518) 677-2515 firstname.lastname@example.org www.battenkillbooks.com
Earlier this morning I was outside in the woods, back beyond the barn where trees crashed to the earth just a few weeks earlier this fall. I had a small saw in hand, a rusty little bugger I didn't take care of properly, but it still did the job. I was out there because I wanted to cut up pieces of a cherry tree's upper trunk that Brett had felled at Antlerstock. The plan was to collect some long, heavy logs and harness jasper to pull them to the wood pile before snow fly. It was a gorgeous late Autumn morning, a perfect example of that time of year known as the Days of Grace. The house was warm from the wood stoves, the sun was starting to warm me, and I had a morning of harness leather and sheepdog training ahead of me.
I also had a headache. Well, a small bruise, to be accurate. I hit my head on a steel beam yesterday heaving myself up into a hay wagon at Nelson's Farm and at the time it didn't even hurt, just surprised the hell out of me. But I spent the rest of the day wondering how hard you had to hit your head to worry about a concussion, and then wondering if it was okay to fall asleep later since I read somewhere that you can't fall asleep with a concussion? By nightfall I decided anyone who had the mental wherewithal to spend the day worrying about a concussion, probably didn't have one, or would have been at the very least in serious pain, nauseated, or reeling. So I popped two ibuprofen and went to bed. As you can all witness, I survived the night. I reckon I just have a bump. I have certainly been knocked around a lot harder than that. When I was competing regularly in Tae Kwon Do tournaments I practically did my taxes in a concussed state, but I was living with my parents back in those high school tournament days. Funny how you suddenly worry more when there is no one around to tell you "Shut up, you're fine."
After I pulled some smaller logs out myself, I found the bruiser I knew I needed some horseflesh to bring to the woodpile. The log was from the truck of a small tree, around 4 feet long and about 12" in diameter. I guessed it weighed around 150 or so pounds. I confirmed this assumption when I tried to move it. I couldn't pick it up. I had to stand it up vertically, and then push it down the hill to the path where I had set the singletree and chains for Jasper. I was about a 1/6 mile into the woods from the house. The path was rough, but I decided the pony could handle it.
I went to grab his harness and lead rope from the barn. I walked it up to him in the larger 2 acre pasture where he had spent all of yesterday and last night. It was mild enough for a pony to need nothing but some hay to rest on if he so chose. Jasper let me snap his lead rope on his halter and walk him to the tie out up on the hill I fashioned out of an old apple tree. Within moments the harness was on, the bit in his mouth, the bridle reins at the ready and chains for the hauling in my left hand.
He was a bit spazzy, but manageable. I couldn't blame him, it had been since Antlerstock that we last worked. But for the sporadic efforts we shared, he did his job without a kick or whinny. We walked into the woods and within a few moments the heavy log I had already wrapped chains around was attached to the pony and we were off. Jasper had to put a little weight into it to get started, but once he had it moving, he didn't even tighten his neck. 150+ pounds is nothing to a brute like him. We walked through the woods in quick fashion and pulled the log up to the woodpile. I removed the chains, scratched him on the head and told him he was the most wonderful horse to grace the county.
When his harness was removed, I let him retire to his stall for a breakfast of grain and cold well water. He seemed happy to be back to a civilized place. And now with him out of the pasture, I could open it up to a few older ewes for Gibson's herding lesson later that morning. But for the now, I was happy to remove his halter and pet his neck as he went about his breakfast in the barn. We had just accomplished something anyone with a riding mower or a pickup truck could have done in half the time, but that wasn't the point. The point was a horse and his girl worked as a team, and did it without a tractor or truck, and it made the grain taste better and my apple and bacon feel well-earned. The log is at the wood pile, and that's a nice bit of work before the day hits the higher sun.
Prior to leaving on a recent extended road trip, I took my father aside and told him that were I to perish behind the wheel and the Iowa or some other state patrol were to return my belongings, he should know that while I was enjoying the twelve-cassette packet titled No Excuses: Existentialism and the Meaning of Life, I was not completely buying the Meaning of Life bit. The amateur study of philosophy is like taking a few laps with a NASCAR driver. You're not qualified to do it on your own, you have no business behind the wheel, but for a few laps or paragraphs you're right there with 'em, and when it's all over, you've learned something. Or, as my local fire chief once said, you've simply exasperated the situation.
And it remains difficult to get a philosopher to deliver a load of pig manure to your garden. So I really should get that truck going. It sits there falling apart with a case of nuclear cradle cap, thirsty for paint and a gas tank that won't leak. The project would give me license to make numerous trips to Farm & Fleet, where the livestock section feels sadly ever more equivalent of a hobby section, but the sign over the drinking fountain that says PLEAE NO TOBACCO JUICE remains, and consequently, so does hope. I don't expect much, and the little pleasures suffice. This morning for coffee I ground four scoops of Farmer to Farmer Guatemalan Medium and when I pulled the grinder cap and sniffed it was all I could do to not flop right over and shake my leg like a dog.
So. The year is planned. Grow a garden and recapture my youth. That, and get my decrepit 1951 L-120 INternational pickup truck running in time for deer hunting season in November.
Tonight I played my guitar for the first time in months. I sat down by the large glass doors under a moon so bright it cast shadows across the floor. Next to the wood stove, on a brown sheepskin, I played the only four chords I need. I played, and sang, my favorite song and it was as if I never let that neck leave my hands. Some things stick with you, and you can't shake them out of your head. I don't think I'll ever forget the lyrics and chords to that anthem. Someday, I will play it on a 1950's J-45 so worn down from years of music that I will feel like a child when I finally pull it against me. Good guitars already understand the whole world. We can catch up to them if we're willing to try.
You can put off your dreams, your desires, your careers, your farms. You can avoid your responsibilities, obligations, promises, and sovereign rights. You can pretend a million things in this world do no matter, and turn your back on them all. But any person who wants to make music and doesn't, for any reason, is a goddamned fool.
I did not pop in a workout video today, nor did I suit up for a mile run. I had been up and about since dawn loading and unloading 42 bales of hay in the barn, hauling 200+ pounds of water, lugging grain, stacking wood, slopping pigs, cleaning out rabbit cages and other various farm chores. I had been "working out" since before daybreak, and decided even Jillian Michaels, the main sadist in my video collection, would let this day without free wights slide. By 2:30 I was dragging ass, and the kind of tired that leaves you wanting nothing more than a moratorium on all forward momentum and something cold to drink. I came inside for a glass of cider and poured it into a pint jar. I drank it like I meant it.
Jars have become my main form of drinking glass, mostly due to their abundance and convenience. I remember being at a library talk in Sandpoint, years ago, and seeing a girl with a quart jar with a slice of lemon in it and I thought it was the "neatest farmy accessory" in the world, and quickly mimicked it. Back then, I was playing farmer because I wanted that woman's life. Now jars are everywhere, and just are, and it makes sense to haul things around in them. It was probably that same for that woman in Idaho. She wasn't coming to the Library with a mason jar to make a lifestyle statement. She was coming to the Library with a mason jar because she was thirsty.
But things like that jar was exactly how I lived my life before I had a farm, but knew I wanted one. I subscribed to farming magazines for my rental coffee table. I wore Carhartt vests, bought a pickup truck, and kept pet livestock. I did all of that not because I was a poser farmer (though I am sure there were some angry and sordid individuals who felt I was), but because I am a firm believer in the fake it till you make it attitude. If you want something, you do what you can with what you have. I no longer worry what locals around here (or hecklers online) think about my legitimacy as a farmer. They can think whatever they want. I know that I'm a farmer. I am a person growing food and raising animals and trying to make the mortgage payments on time just like everyone else with a halter, electric fences, and a commercial plate on their pickups in Washington County.
My point is this: don't let someone else's definition of authenticity validate you. Not the people who roll their eyes at your backyard chickens, and not bloggers like me. Who we are is our business, and a gift we can only give ourselves. If you want to be a farmer, then become one however you know how. If that means magazines and jar water bottles like it did for me, then onward and upward to the hardware store and online subscriptions. If it means saving money, reading library books, and getting an internship at an organic farm, then have at it. Do what feels correct for you, what makes you feel more "real" in your everyday lives (it that is something you feel you are lacking, as I certainly did). And know this, there are a lot of people out there who are unhappy in this world and will jump at the chance to knock you down, correct you, mock, snark, and make you feel foolish for taking small steps towards a bigger life. To those people, I hand them kites and tell them to fly them, and to all of you putting up with it out there, I'll share this quote:
“Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.” ~ William Gibson
We all hear the news and read the headlines, we know the world is a scary place. But I'm not going to start your weekend telling you about that hot mess, I want to tell you about something amazing that happened right here in Washington County last weekend. Read on to see that there are people out there living lives of charity and faith in a scary and unkind world.
Last weekend I was invited to a cookout and campfire over at Firecracker Farm in nearby White Creek. On the southernmost side of Washington County, Firecracker farm sits a few feet from the Vermont State Border. There, the Daughton Family lives a pretty beautiful life on their 5 acres looking over the Battenkill Valley. If you've been reading this blog a while, you may know the Daughton Family, but if not here's a basic history of our friendship.
I met Tim and his Son Holden on a pheasant hunting trip last fall when a mutual friend invited us both out to hunt with the help of his superdog, Cayenne. The hunt was great, and the company was even better. Tim and Holden were great teachers and patient with me in the field. When a missed shot left my hand bleeding from a too-fast safety snap, Tim simply took a glove out of his pocket and handed it to me without question. It was not a cheap glove, and I would be coating it in blood. Tim simply said "I have a washing machine" and smiled, and I was stunned at the generosity amongst the shotguns and flying feathers. Now, I know he was just being Tim.
A few weeks later in the office, Tim approached me to ask a favor. His daughter was getting married down in their recent home state of Missouri and he needed a babysitter. Not for his sons, but for his recent acquisition of a Dairy Cow Calf, a Holstein steer named Tasty.
I watched Tasty here at the farm and was thrilled to do so. It was the one and only time a cow ever spent time at Cold Antler, and feeding the little bottle calf was a lesson in both
So here's why I'm writing about Swiss Family Daughton. I was at their cookout last weekend and it wasn't just some party in the sticks. The Daughtons invited a group of families from their church up to the farm to offer a very special invitation. The people from the city were folks the Daughtons knew didn't have access to big backyards, green markets, or farms. These were people in apartments and used to a totally different world than the one of cows and chickens and piglets the Daughtons had. So they told these families this:
This farm was there's too. It would soon be turned into a working vegetable and grass-fed meat operation, and the families present would be the families fed by the labor of the land. Tim and Cathy did not ask for, or want, money. This was not about writing something off on their tax return or blind charity to puff an ego, this was a combined goal of a husband and wife who felt blessed to have the farm that they had and felt it was their message and work to share it with people they care about who don't. So this spring the family will be sharing their property with an inner city group of their congregation, and feeding them for free. Folks who will be eating off the farm are welcomed to come weed and hoe if they want, but they are not obligated to. In a modern world where people buy land, mow it, fence it, and do nothing with it but tell others they can't even step foot on it, the Daughtons are using the small acreage they have to feed people without soil. They are doing it because they can, and because that's what Daughtons do. If you're bleeding, they'll hand you a glove and if you're hungry they'll hand you some potatoes and a grass-fed burger. Talk about living your faith...
If you want to follow along with the adventures of this farm of believers, visit Firecrackerfarm.com. Say hello with a comment to Cathy (the author and mother of the clan) and share a word of encouragement. This experiment is a living animal for the family as well. They have yet to figure out how things will come together, and maybe some of you have advice or a word of kindness to send their way: I'm sure it will be appreciated.
There are not a lot of people working to take care of others these days. Let's wish Firecracker Farm luck, and strong backs. And for those of you coming to Antlerstock 2012, you'll get to not only meet the Swiss Family Daughton, but (I think) take a trip to their farm for a farmhouse style meal from their own bounty.
All it takes to make this place better, folks, is to decide we're going to make it better. And as for you, Firecracker Farm.
I have some good news for anyone interested in a personalized and signed copy of Barnheart. Connie Brook—who owns Battenkill Books in downtown Cambridge—and I had a conversation. She is going to pre-sell copies of Barnheart and deliver them right to your door. You can also get signed copies of Chick Days or Made From Scratch right now. This is a way to support an independent book store and get the book signed by the author at the same time. Because of the farm, I don't do a lot of touring for my books, so this may be the only way to grab a scribbled-on copy. I am thrilled to do it.
If you are interested, call or email Connie at the number below and she'll take down your information and requests. Then, this early winter when Barnheart comes out, I'll head down to the bookstore and sign them for you. Gibson possibly will too (if you don't mind pawprints on your books Title Pages) and you'll receieve them shortly after they hit the press. I thank you in advance, and hope she gets a stack big enough to inspire her to get those chickens she was talking to me about. Cambridge might be allowing the chooks in town, a big deal in this one-stoplight burg.
Battenkill Books 15 East Main St. Cambridge, NY 12816 (518) 677-2515 email@example.com www.battenkillbooks.com
I was outside the farmhouse around five tonight, and the wind shocked me. It came out of nowhere, pushing my hair into my face and causing my damp hands to freeze up instantly. This was some serious hearkening, folks. It was as if winter just stabbed me with a telephone wire and shouted into a tin can on the other end. I tightened the scarf around my neck and hustled through the remaining chores. It was full-out dark already, and the sheep still needed ten gallons of water for their nightcap, Jasper needed hay, and the door to the chicken coop needed to be closed for the night. A farm needs you in ways that can not be argued against, wind be damned.
When the sheep had their fill I headed down the hill to the coop and peeked my head into the yellow straw lined house. I was spying on my over-sexed geese, seeing if they were in the family way... My suspicions were spot on. In a corner was a nest of giant goose eggs. Saro and Cyrus were giving it the ol' Thanksgiving try. It seemed like every November they start a brood, sometimes with success and sometimes not. Between their morning sexual congress by the mailbox and Atlas's happy adventures, this place has turned into an all-out brothel. I hope the neighbors don't get the wrong idea.
Goose and sheep sex aside, days like today make me think I have a shot at this author/farmer thing. The morning started with a two-hour interview with a journalist from New York City. She was writing a book on the resurgence of domestic arts and DIY culture across America and the role of homemakers. We had a good talk, and I showed her around the farm. By the time she was packed up and waving out the driveway, I realized I had never thought about many of her questions before she asked them. She wanted to know about my thoughts on feminism and homesteading, about the role of women, about trend in suburban moms getting chickens and herb gardens. Some of the answers surprised me, and I realized how much of a traditionalist I am at heart. I might be a woman with her own empire, but at the end of the day I just want to be taken care of, and take care of things. I want this because I feel like it's my biological right as a member of my sex, and because it makes me happy. I don't think wanting to be a wife or mother makes me any less a feminist than wanting to be a welder or an Air force Pilot. Nor do I dare say my desires should be anyone else's. But when it all comes down to it: I'm a simple gal. If I ever find the right man I'll happily get hitched, take his last name, and stay home to take care of the kids and dinner. I got the 14th amendment and a mortgage with my name on it. I'm all set.
After that conversation about a future I don't actually have, I realized I was running late for my lunch date. Every once in a while Jon Katz and I meet up to catch up on our books and lives, and to just chat. We're a lot alike, and share the same belief that stubbornness and determination are the true cornerstones of success in our industry. We met up at the Burger Den to talk about some proposals and books I'm working on, and I got to see some updates for his website and hear about his book tour. He's a NY Times Best Seller taking time to tell a newbie author his tips on intro paragraphs and chapter lists. His guidance and advice is something I have come to not only appreciate, but look forward to. Jon knows me better than most people, and a great deal about my personal life. I was confiding in him about some recent drama and he shared some advice with me today I was ready to hear, but fearful to do. Sometimes you need that. You need to explain a situation in the most basic, honest, and vulnerable ways and see it through another person's logic for it to come out clean in the wash. I feel lucky to know him, he's been a grand friend up here in the brambles of Washington County. Also, he's a cheap date, since our combined bill was under 20 bucks for all we could eat. God bless the Burg'den.
Everyone out there enjoying this Wolf Moon? That's what the Almanac calls it. The November moon is a big bright beam out there, and the last few nights it has been so bright It cast shadows inside the farm house at night. Deer walking around the yard stand out like make believe things in the blue light. Folklore says the night right after the full moon is a time to prayer to remove things from your life that are negative, bad thoughts, fear, guilt, all of it. As the moon wains into dark it's supposed to carry those prayers home. I don't think it can hurt. Wolves after all, are very fast dogs.
Tomorrow: More hay from Nelson, cheese making with some local raw milk I scored, and a lot of time spent writing. I am a girl with a mission, and tomorrow that specifically means dead grass, raw milk, and Microsoft Word. Take that, Louie Pasteur.
Well folks, there is some serious testosterone up in the sheep field right now. Atlas is out of the pen—doing his level best to make new sheep—but I've noticed every time he's about to get his game on Sal comes out of nowhere and butts him away from the ladies. At first, it was comical. Now it's just stopping the necessary sheep love that makes this place tick. So tonight or tomorrow Sal is getting penned up for a while so Atlas can finally swerve in peace and mark those ewe rumps with the orange chalk of victory.
Antlerstock 2012 is already half sold out! If you'd like to come, please email me ASAP to make plans and arrangements, before it is too late! It happens Columbus Day Weekend 2012, and so far only 5 guests from this year signed up to return, so please get your spots while they're hot.
Already added to next fall: Pigs 101, Nigerian Goats, and Sourdough Starter breads! (with pigs, goats, and starter samples and new teachers!)
I drove home from my Vermont day job in a dented, scratched, and fender-missing American pick up truck with a sheep dog hanging outside the window. WGNA is on the radio, Albany's Country Station and I was only mildly surprised that I knew all the words to Aldean's Big Green Tractor, to which I sang loudly with Gibson until Zach Brown's Keep me in Mind came on next, and I sang louder. My 26 minute commute home soon had me passing the little white number 6 school house (Jackson Town Hall) where the voting signs were out and the parking lot was full. I would drive back to vote after 16 sheep, 3 dogs, two pigs, a flock of chickens and a pony were fed and a fire was lit in the living room stove. I pulled into my driveway where an American flag was lit up by a porch light and a 12 gauge shotgun was loaded under my bed. Once chores were done I headed back to town hall to vote for neighbors I knew from phone calls and conversations in town. I pulled up next to my vet's pickup, and let Gibson wait in the truck while I filed in circles with a sharpie under the red, white, and blue privacy banners my taxes (I assume) paid for, and was happy it was whimsical. I came home, worked out, stoked the fire and turned on my "new" $65 EBay eMac in the kitchen to see to this blog business right before I whip up a small pizza and turn on an episode of the West Wing. I have a crush on Josh Linemen, he's my kind of guy. I love the West Wing and I voted tonight because I am my mother's daughter. I farmed because I'm my own woman.
In the fall of 2007 I was on my back deck with a fiddle in Sandpoint Idaho. I probably just got back from the office, on my bike I bought off a neighbor in Knoxville. It was only 4 miles up a mildly-dangerous highway to my rented farm. I had two dogs now, 5 chickens, two rabbits, and a few raised bed gardens. My plans for the night was a quick dinner of pasta and sauce and then a quick run into town to meet some friends at the Panida for the Banff Mountain Film Festival's showing of some seriously intense outdoors films. Everyone else in Sandpoint looked like a Patagonia model. I looked like a girl trying to change from design student to farmer, in awkward clothes and pants that didn't fit right. I started wearing a wool hat I got at an outfitter in town. I was losing the cool I worked so hard to achieve in college. I only talked to friends from the east on the phone.
In the fall of 2005 I was leaving another night at the television network (HGTV) in Knoxville and headed home to my city apartment. Jazz was waiting for me, sitting on the couch in the living room or on my bed or under my Ikea desk from my college dorm room (under my original $1200 eMac). I'd change into jeans and Chaco's and we'd go for a walk around 4th and Gill, my little hipster Victorian neighborhood and call up a friend in town to meet at the Sundown in the City concerts in Market Square. My Morning Jacket, Blues Traveler, Bela Fleck...all sorts of Knox-appropriate bands would play for free in that brick and soil city and I'd jump into Tomato Head for take out and see who wanted to see Amy Mann at the Bijou? Man, I loved that town. I loved that life. I loved living in the middle of all that energy and music and then packing up the Subaru with Jazz and heading into Walland to Brian's house to hop into the back bed of his black pickup and go drive into the Smokies for nothing more than a hike and conversation. When I realized I could take a dulcimer or fiddle into the forest with a dog and a friend, I no longer missed the city as much.
In the fall of 2004 I was just starting my senior year of college. I was in love, at my thinnest weight in years, and driven like a mad woman to become a Philadelphia designer at an achingly-cool design firm. I subscribed to HOW and Comm Arts magazine and was on the phone with this little old man in New Jersey who was custom-making my portfolio, which I would soon be showing off to future employers. I felt like I had art and the whole world by the balls, and all I wanted to do was run into some city and soak in the travel, art, and maybe get a dog. I cared too much about how I looked, what I wore, what people saw me drive, what I listened to, how I ate, who I voted for and what my peers thought was worth paying attention too. I had two ferrets in an apartment. Their names were Father MacKenzie and Eleanor Rigby. Graduation day came and I was the only person in my class heading south. I was terrified in ways you can not even imagine.
Things just change. It keeps getting better. This feels the most correct, though. This farm, now.
The blog of author Jenna Woginrich of Cold Antler Farm. Here she writes about her adventures following her crazy dream life as a self-employed writer, homesteader, archer, falconer, equestrian, martial artist, hunter, spinner, brewer, geek, and real-life Game of Thrones Extra. She loves movies, pop culture, running far, and eating animals. On twitter @coldantlerfarm
And when the children are safe in bed, at one of the great holidays like the Fourth of July, New Years, or Halloween, we can bring out some spirits and turn on the music, and the men and the women who are still among the living can get loose and really wild. So that's the final meaning of "wild"- the esoteric meaning, the deepest and most scary. Those who are ready for it will come to it. Please do not repeat this to the uninitiated. -gs