Saturday, November 12, 2011

Em C G D

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.

winter kindling?

sheep, for example, are not assholes

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

Introducing Firecracker Farm

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 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

Or just click here to order online:

Friday, November 11, 2011

goose sex, cheap dates, and wolf moons

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.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

what a chalkblocker....

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! Buckets of fun!

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!)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

my all-time favorite CAF music videos

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

this farm, now

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.

anyone know where i can see this?

CSA members: Your Wool has Arrived!

Hey there first season CSA members! Your wool has arrived! Expect to receive a package by, or shortly after, Thanksgiving featuring the bulk of your share in yarn and felt. Second Season CSA members, you will be getting letters this winter explaining the process and what's to come in the spring and following fall for your own yarn. Stay tuned! And Below this post you'll see what I call workshop CSA, I'm using that term here because it sure as hell fits. When you pay for a workshop upfront to reserve your spot, you are a member of this community supporting this farm. And if you ever want to buy a generic share in a future workshop of your choice: that is an option too. You will be mailed a letter and voucher paw-printed by Gibson that allows you access to any non-special workshop (Plan B and Antlerstock are the only 'specials" due to the magnitude of these events and speaker costs, etc.)

P.S. There are only 10 spots left for the Preparedness workshop, the first ten have been reserved!
P.S.S. Only One spot left in the wool workshop, first come first serve. More on workshops and classes here!

Monday, November 7, 2011

orion's big dog

Woke up this morning and headed outside to chores at the old time, instead of the saved daylight time. The illusion of an extra-early start to my day was scandelous. by "5 AM" all the animals were fed and watered and both stoves were lit again. I had three hours before I had to sit at a desk chair in someone else's office. I breathed deep, looked up at the stars. I am an excellent putter-offer. A girl takes what she can get.

The stars were rioting, and right above the sheep field Canis Major was chasing Lepus (or so the charts said when I looked them up inside). Canis Major, also known as the Constellation of Siruis, is Orion's big dog. Lepus is a large hare and they scamper below the warrior battling Taurus. I stood out there in my pajama pants, hoodie, and Carhartt vest knowing none of this, but enthralled in the big show. You don't need to know their names or even their stories to start a Monday morning enthralled in the drama. Gibson was with me, looking up at the sheep from the gate. His body quivered, a loaded gun waiting to run up the hill, damn the cold or ice between his paws. Anticipation was thick, the sky was art, the world preserving it in dark and cold. The whole thing was ice and woodsmoke and stars.

Beautiful. I stood out there a while.
A girl takes what she can get.