Saturday, March 31, 2012

we did it!!!

Over four miles of roads, hillsides, horses, tractors, birds, steep inclines, walking and trotting. I was nervous about it all morning, worried how he (how WE!) would do as a pair out in the farm field wilds. Merlin did amazing. I felt amazing. He and I were a team, and our first trail ride with Patty and Steele was a total success. Merlin had four Haflingers run by him, a 4 ton tractor harrowing a field, a strange new horse, cars zipping by him on the road.... nothing phased him (not much, anyway). It was such a thrill to be moving across farmlands on your own horse. We rode to a vast overlook Patty called "top of the world" and it felt like it was. Team Cold Antler pulled it off!

Thank you Patty and Mark Wesner of Livingston Brook Farm!

dragons, dressage, and our first trail ride

I am trotting with Merlin in a circle around my instructor Andrea. If you are watching us from a distance it looks like a boring activity. All you see is a chubby gal on a chubby black pony making wobbly turns around a suggested center point of Andrea's red hair. Looking at me from above, the circles are even more convoluted. As Merlin and I trot around our teacher, the circle bends and extends, shortens and cuts across as mistake after mistake is made. My mind is trying to remember everything I have been told. I am mentally crossing off a checklist of what I should be doing, and I am managing to correct each body part or posture just long enough to forget to do something else. It's not about finishing school, it's about staying alive. A horse is a 1,000+ pounds of power and if it decides to bolt, rear, or hop a jump there is a reason my weight is back in my seat and my heals are down in my stirrups. Because this posture will keep me on a horse in nearly any situation on the ground. In a dressage saddle there isn't a lot keeping you on the horse. It is smooth and thin over his back. It is up to the rider to stop being a passenger and start being the cockpit.

English riding reminds me of how the characters in the movie Avatar rode those flying dragons. See in that picture how tight his hands are on the "reins"? How high up in his seat he is? How his entire body has to bend, flex, and adapt to the animal below? He looks exactly like a jockey in a sprint, or an eventing rider about to take on a high fence. I try to keep dragon riders in mind as my lessons with Merlin progress. Andrea is trying to get me into the right frame of body and breathe to ride well. As prim and proper as it looks from the outside this style of riding demands total commitment of mind, body, and presence with the animal below. And all my riding lessons are doing is teaching me the language to tell this horse exactly what I want to do. Merlin isn't a dragon, and I'm not a blue warrior, but you can understand this is more than a a trail ride. It's the hardest thing I ever tried to learn...

This video above is where I learn to ride, the arena (indoors and outdoor) Merlin and I take lessons in. It's called Riding Right Farm and its just 10 miles south of Cold Antler. Hollie recently published THE BOOK on the fundamentals of English riding. That's her in the video, and that is her voice too. Her and Andrea are my instructors (started with Hollie, but now am with Andrea since Hollie has off Fridays). Here's a sample of the trot, and how such a basic style of movement can be broken down and explained in various styles and uses. Amazes me.

So back to my lesson: I ride. Andrea reminds me to rest my whip near my own thigh, and I remember this wild card of a 3-foot-long metal rod in my left hand. I try to shorten my reins without dropping the whip, but in the effort to have the proper tension (conversation with his bit, as Andrea says) I start forgetting to close my fingers. Open fingers aren't just sloppy, they are dangerous. If the horse freaks you don't have a lot of time to regain control, and if you get thrown your open fingers may get wrapped up in the leather reins. Imagine a horse taking off at full blast and you being dragged by the reins with three fingers....Bad things have happened to novice English riders with loose fingers. I close my fingers. I try to concentrate.

"Shoulders!" Andrea comments, not unkindly, and I realize how tense I have become in the trot. We are working on leg yields. This means I am using my butt, legs, and heals to move the horse and not the reins. In dressage reins are a last resort, and when used they are used subtly. If I want Merlin to trot in a circle I do have a bit of tension on his inside rein, to offer the flex I need in his neck to retain both his attention and his forward direction, but that is the extent of my suggestion. With his eyes always pointing where I want him to go, my legs and butt are the real commands. Horses move away from pressure, so if I ever-so-gently suggest with my outside leg I want to make a turn inside, he gives to me. I keep doing this and the circle we are making grows tighter around our teacher. "You got it!" exclaims Andrea. But now she wants me to do the same thing with opposite parts of my body to move him out into a wider circle. Oh boy...

My shoulders are still tight. I am reminded to loosen them. I am being explained how to relax without her actually telling me to "relax", which of course, no one does when told. Merlin is a better equestrian than I am, and puts up with my clumsy attempts to communicate. But while I get the leg yield thing for a second, I need to remember 30 other things. My mind reels...Are my heals down? Is my weight balanced? Are my stirrups even? Is my diagonal right? Are the reins the right tension? Is he trotting evenly? Is my butt squeezing the right part of the saddle to match my leg on the other side? Is my whip sinking down to his shoulder? Oh, and I am trying to think all through this while staying on a 1100 pound animal who is more interested in the mule Ashley on the opposite side of the fence, so while I am trying to keep all this in mind while a pro evaluates my competence I am in a mental wrestling match with Merlin, who is far more interested in the possibility of Mule sex than listening to me tell him to turn in a circle. Merlin is bored and horny. Andrea is patience. Ashley is over it. And I am trying with all I've got.

If this sounds confusing, it is.

...But It is also why I ride English. I can't imagine an activity that devours your entire being in such a productive way outside farming. I can not think about bills or the sheep with the cut head. I can not worry about my relationships or the meanings behind texts and emails. These are luxuries of people not working on leg yields. Work does not exist. The Farm does not exist. There is me, and this horse, and this muffled and confusing infant of language between us. Every ride for me is a fight to better speak this tongue. We know such few words right now, and everything is primal. But if we keep at it, ride with teacher's fluent enough to get us to start talking it will result in such a beautiful thing.

Good English riding looks like the rider is doing the easiest thing in the world. But every single aspect, horse and human, has been developed. The saddle, the bit, all of it is minimalistic compared to Western or Driving tack. It's not because it is "better" but because the style itself is about subtly. About the horse doing exactly what you want. And when I say "exact" I mean it. The length of his stride, the curve of his head, the placement of each hoof. And the rider is supposed to be practically doing nothing, because all his chatter of asking commands is in his entire quiet body.

Watch that video above. There are no jumps, no barrels to circle, no cows to rope. There is a just man having a detailed conversation with a horse on solid ground. A conversation so complicated I can not even imagine how he is doing it. I think about how asking Merlin to make a 20-meter circle in trot (in a pace of ohis own choosing) and how damn hard it is to make it look natural and consistent. For me it requires such an effort of will. This man seems like a passenger doing nothing. He is actually asking for every single move. Now that I know what goes into it, the work to get there makes me want to cry. This is poetry.

I know cowboy hats, horned saddles, heavy bits, and woven blankets are what people expect me to be into. That may be exactly why I love this complicated dance so much, because it isn't something I should like. Everyone knows me as the girl with a dented truck, farm, and a cowboy hat but when I get to slip into breeches and high boots, a form fitting shirt and a black velvet helmet...well, I feel like a girl. I feel feminine in a natural and earthy way. and I am backed by all this history of communication and dicispline of a well-oiled machine. I like English riding. Some day I hope to pass as a rider. Right now I am a student.

Hollie, the head instructor at Riding Right here in Cambridge explained everything that is English riding in once phrase. During one of my really frustrating beginner lessons my hands were pulling on the reins like an extra in a bad battle horse movie. She explained that yanking on a rein was like shouting at a horse. "You don't need to shout, he is right there. " She said, and I started to understand her methods. "So breathe, relax, and understand that everyone starts out shouting, but after a few months you advance to talking. And as you start learning true dressage, you ask in whispers. And when you really understand this animal you will just think, and he will know what to do."


That is my M.O.

Toady is Merlin and my first trail ride. We'll be out in Patty's vast fields with her and Steele riding on this overcast and chilly afternoon. I've never ridden Merlin outside the arena so I am a little scared, but I am cautiohsly optimistic. I know this horse and how to handle him. I know how to read him. If I get worried and all we do together is walk a mile into her fields and back and he is calm and I am calm, then that's a wrap. But by this autumn we will be driving, riding, and trotting all over those highland acres, two girls and their horses.

Friday, March 30, 2012

merlin in his stall

bloody sheep

I came home bloody sheep. You can't know how unsettling that sight is. Sal's face was half covered, as if he was william wallace himself, in bright red blood. So was Maude, so were others. My heart felt like my lungs were squeezing it, stopping everything from working. I ran to the flock, panicked, and Sal walked right up to me and calmly nudged my pockets for treats. He was acting like an extra on a monster movie set, in costume, but in reality totally placid. My heart rate slowly returned to normal. He was covered in blood, but it wasn't his.

I scanned the flock and saw a Blackface ewe with more blood than the others. I got closer and saw the skin below her horn (but not the horn itself) had a wide gash in it. It looked like it got the bad side of another sheep's horn, or got slashed by a fence wire...who knows... I have no idea what happened and I never will. I did know it didn't look pleasant. So I went into farm-EMT mode and set up a comfy spot for her in the solitary confinement pen. I wanted her where she couldn't hurt herself any more or get into and more scuffles with the other sheep over grain, minerals or hay. I also wanted her where the vet could easily treat her.

If you think catching a bleeding sheep is easy, then you haven't tried it lately. And that is all I'll say about that.

She's doing better now, and the blood is off the other sheep. The vet said the wound was too old for stitches, but she should heal herself long as it gets proper cleansing, anti-toxin, and to be extra safe some antibiotics to fight infection. I think she'll pull through with one badass scar, but it sure was scary. It is getting easier though, dealing with this side of farming. It is 90% timing and 10% luck.

Has anyone experience with these open wounds on your livestock? Does nature heal well, or did you need to step in with butterfly clips and Neosporin?

April Cold Antler Events

There are quite a few events coming up, and I thought I'd share them here. If you are interested in chickens, movies, or naked sheep: read on! Workshops, Greenhorns, and shearing coming up.

April 7th Breakfast in the Backyard Workshop!
Held right here at the farm, learn the basics of chickens and raising your own flock. A full-day event starting with an egg-centric brunch of eggy breakfast foods and a visit to the brooder
(where your new chicks are waiting for you!) and then a whole afternoon of what you need to know to start them off right, raise them safe, and start collecting eggs of your own before fall!

April 12th Greenhorns Official Book Launch at Williams College!!
Come to Williams College in Williamstown, Mass for this film screening party followed up with a Q&A with the director, Severine. Free grilled cheese sandwiches from Cricket Creek Farm, get your books signed, and enjoy an afternoon of agricultural energy and creativity. Plus, the best Indian Food around at Spice Root (not related to the event but I'll be damned if I'm going to Williamstown and not leaving with some lamb masala!) If anyone is going, let me know!

Usually this is just a private event, but this year I'm making it a potluck. Come help wrangle, shear, and work the wool and bring a covered dish. Enjoy a day at the farm and in exchange for your help you can take funny pictures of me trying to turn my sheep naked. This is not a fundraiser. It is not a paid workshop. You will not learn anything, but you will get dirty. Guaranteed. Email if you want to come help out!

photo by

Thursday, March 29, 2012

skinny love

win a copy of homegrown & handmade!

Deborah Niemann and I met at the Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania this past autumn. She introduced herself and we shared a meal during the chaos and frenzy of all the homesteader pornography going on around us. I mean, what could be more in our element than an event where Joel Salatin is talking about pasture rotation, a girl is making smoothies with a bike-powered blender, and baby alpacas are yodeling in a tent a few feet away?

I met her there and that was our introduction. I didn't know about her book or blog, and that is no fault or shortcoming on her part. I am so behind on the farm-blogging scene it is shameful. (I only read a handful of my neighbor's blogs), but it was nice as hell to meet a fellow farm writer gal in person.

Recently she asked me if we wanted to do giveaways on each other's blogs? She gave away a copy of barnheart, and I am offering a signed copy of her great book, Homegrown and Handmade today. To enter, just leave a comment in the comment section about your own favorite niche in homesteading? Tell us both about your farm, your animals, your cheese, yarn, seedlings, veggies, or dreams? Share some of your spirit and you might be the lucky random winner to go home with some new fine readin'

Here's a excerpt from the book! On a subject we all love!


Perhaps the biggest lie that corporate advertisers sold us is that our time is too valuable to make anything from scratch, whether it is food or clothing or anything else. “You deserve a break today” was named the best jingle of the twentieth century by Advertising Age magazine. Advertisers know they are not selling the most nutritious or delicious food out there. They are selling a lifestyle. You deserve to have someone else cook for you.

Almost everyone believes their time is “too valuable” to be bothered with menial tasks without even thinking about the logic of the statement. If you don’t cook dinner, how much will someone pay you to do something else? Normally, no one is paying me to do anything in my spare time. I can’t work every waking hour of every day, but by cooking from scratch, I can save money, which ultimately leaves more money in my bank account at the end of the month.

In 2008, KFC aired a television commercial in the United States claiming that you could not make seven pieces of chicken, mashed potatoes, and four biscuits for the ten dollars that they charged for the meal. They showed a mom and her two children taking the “KFC $10 Challenge,” going into a supermarket and becoming exasperated as they see the prices of various ingredients. The little girl asks about the price of fried chicken at the deli counter, which is a far cry from homemade. Finally, the mom is tapping away at her calculator and is ecstatic when the total is more than ten dollars. She and her son give each other a high five because they are going to KFC for dinner now.

After watching the ad, I did a little math and calculated that a biscuit costs about eight cents to make from scratch, even when using organic flour. A pound of mashed potatoes would cost thirty to fifty cents, depending upon whether you buy a five-pound or ten-pound bag of potatoes. If you buy a whole chicken and cut it up, you have two legs, two thighs, two breasts, two wings, plus a back and neck. Add breading, which will cost pennies, and you have a bigger meal for under five dollars. In less than an hour, you have saved five dollars as well as the gas that you would have used if you had driven to KFC. Buy an organic chicken if you can afford to spend ten dollars on dinner, and you still will have saved the cost of gas for driving to KFC, and you will have had an organic dinner.

If you look at the makeup of any grocery store, it’s obvious that most of the aisles are filled with ready-to-eat food or mixes. The interesting thing about using mixes is that in most cases they save only a minute or two of preparation time. A simple cake recipe will use eight to ten ingredients. Most cake mixes require three ingredients be added to the mix. If you are not accustomed to cooking, it may take you longer to do things initially, but like anything else you do, you will get faster with time. When I first started making biscuits from scratch, it took me exactly the same amount of time to mix them up as it did for my oven to heat up, which was fifteen minutes. Now, however, the biscuits are mixed up, rolled out, and waiting on the baking pan in half the time.

Although a lot of people look at what we do and think it is a lot of work, I have to admit that a lot of it is just plain fun. I love trying new foods from our garden and watching baby goats bouncing through the pasture. Lots of people love knitting or baking bread. When I was telling a friend about how busy I had been lately, she asked, “When do you do anything for yourself?” I laughed, and explained that everything I do is for me. We do not have to do any of the things that I write about in this book. That means that if I am doing it, I love doing it. Rather than watching television, working out at a gym, or getting season tickets to the theater, I spend my time doing things that are practical and real.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

doin' their job

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

bears out there, son

It's Tuesday night and I do not get home from riding Merlin until nearly 8PM. I have seen to the dogs and their supper (fed the cats too) before I left to ride but the majority of regular farm chores were pushed off until I returned. The ride was chilly, around thirty degrees in the arena, but okay. It was just me and one other woman tonight, a coworker at Orvis named Kathy. I can't help but compare riders to their horses and Kathy and her Warmblood Divine were an elegant pair. Divine is over 16 hands, long, and trots like a Russian ballerina if she had four legs. Merlin and I are, well, Merlin and I. But we share the arena well. I am feeling more and more comfortable with this horse, more comfortable in the saddle in general. Patty, Steele, Merlin, and I might take our first field trip this weekend for a trail ride in Washington County. I'm nervous and excited. To ride across farm fields on the back of my own horse will be a treat. I have a western saddle here, an impulse buy at the annual Poultry Swap last May that was too big for Jasper. It is perfect for Merlin and I might use it. I'm more comfortable in my English irons and simpler saddles though. I can't ever really lose my focus in it. I am a woman who needs focus.

Anyway, I got home and dove into chores. I kick off my paddock boots and half chaps and side muck boots over my breeches. I throw a beat Carhartt vest over my riding clothes. I feel like Clark Kent, swooshing into my farmhouse phone booth to turn from mild-mannered English Pony Rider into Feral Farm Girl. I want to bring my ipod to listen to my recent audiobook (on the second Huger Games book) but resist the urge. My neighbor told me about the large black bear that toppled their feeders and trash the night before. They live less than a half mile up the mountain. And if bird feed smells good to that bear, imagine what molasses soaked sweet grains and chicken grower mash must smell like? Not to mention bee hives, eggs, and compost piles. So I leave the entertainment inside. I want my wits about me. I grab a lantern and head to the barn.

I dump and refill Jasper's water bucket and hand him a flake of hay. I refill the rabbit's waterers and feeders too, and see my chunky Isbar rooster on top of the highest haybale, a few feet above me. It amazes me that the scrappy half Americuana/half Pumpkin roo that is all snow white is the man in charge now. He was born here on the farm, raised from a chick, and now he rules the whole farm. His crow is classic, could be a ringtone if the Corn Flake's box had a cell phone. But the Isbar rooster is up and quiet, like a gray wolf in wait. He stares at me like I burned his passport and he can never return to the Old Country. I wonder if the bear would be half as intimidating in lantern light as he?

I collect six eggs and set them where I can grab them, and then finish up the rest of the chores. The sheep get 160 pounds of water (4 buckets), and their grain bins filled. The fat Freedom Rangers are ready to be slaughtered and I plan on calling up the farmer who takes them this week to set up a drop off time. The 20 new Rangers are in the brooder, and will remain so for a while until the 45 laying hens arrive in a few days for the Breakfast in Your Backyard Workshop. People come from all over to learn all they need to know about a backyard flock, brooder to brunch. It's a big time and they leave with three chicks! This year it is Rhode Island Reds, Dark Brahmas, and Golden Laced Wyandottes. Not a bad trio, those.

I wrap up chores and carry the half dozen eggs into the house in lantern light. For the rest of the evening every animal in my care has dinner and (hopefully quiet and bear free) sleep ahead of them. Inside the tea kettle is hot, and I crave my evening cup of Lyons. Ever since I started running and eating healthier, I don't crave alcohol at night. I don't want a big dinner. I ate hours ago and I just want tea, a blanket, and to hear about the 75th annual Hunger Games disaster on the speakers inside the farmhouse. Soon there will be warm tea, warm dogs, and a good story.

Not bad for a Tuesday night. I even remembered to bring in the trash bins from the curb. So take that, Hungry Bear.

P.S. Book giveaway tomorrow! Homegrown and Homemade!

P.S.S. The wool worked as a seedling protector!

Monday, March 26, 2012

you can hear it in the chimney

It's as if the weather just turned around and into the wind. Last week I was lounging outside on the green grass with Gibson, looking at the first wild violets pop up and the peonies shoot fresh from the wet soil. Lettuce greens are planted in the bed outside, the garlic next to still shooting into the sun. There is a galvanized laundry tub outside and already inch-tall little lettuce sprouts are poking up, just a week or so old. I covered them with a layer of wool, raw wool draped over them gently as to not crush them. My animals might be wolves, deer, and crows but the patron saints of my garden tonight are sheep.

Inside the wood stove is lit and you can tell it is nasty out there because you can hear the wind through the wail of the chimney's draw. I was just sitting there with Gibson, feeding some chunks of wood into the little Bun Baker. I'm proud of that stove. This winter I only used 100 gallons of heating oil and 5 cords of wood (three in barter!). Since last year I used 100 gallons a month, that was quite the savings in heating costs. Wood heat is a lot more work, but feels amazing. You have to earn the comfort, and for us sadistic homesteader types, it fits.

Outside I let the flock into the baby-green pasture. If we are getting the temps they are calling for this is the last night for a bit to gorge on fresh salad. It'll take another week or so of constant sun to get it all back. It's dark out there now, but they are far from the house in the back acres near the property line and woods.

And a quick update on folks who took up the Fiddle Raffle, I am sending the first half of his down payment out Friday! I'll be lighting a candle in thanks that night. This horse is light to me, helping me in ways I haven't even realized yet. And your support has been amazingly kind. Thank you all.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

the original hunger games

merlin's brow

Merlin's tack is nothing to brag about. It comes from a discount online saddlery. We don't require anything posh to learn the dance steps. But I did spurge on this one item back before I even signed any contracts. This is something I do. When I wanted sheep, I bought books on sheep before ever touching the fleece. When I wanted a house, I drew a picture of it with a black dog by my side and carried it in my pocket. And when I wanted this impossible horse, I found a bridle maker to work some magic with me.

This brow band came from England, from a leather bridle maker who stitched beautiful tack around 300GPB a set. Out of my range, but I could afford this one special piece. It was mailed across the ocean to Cold Antler. It came in the mail the same day the cheap bridle did. It is soft and supple to the touch, and white thread shines with a Celtic 4-part knot. A symbol of no-beginning, and no ending. A constant and everlasting connection between two souls. I wear a Celtic knotwork necklace of Epona riding a horse, and he wears this. In Celtic lore there is this notion of Anam Chara, it means soul partners. It doesn't mean lovers, or soul mates like modern cultures talk about them. It means an advisor and mentor, someone to learn from and grow with. People think the term started around the medieval monasteries, when young monks needed guidance and consolation from more seasoned wearers of the cloth. The term has survived to mean everything from childhood best friends to soldiers fighting side by side. I like to see it the old way, as a student and a teacher who care.

If there was ever a Anam Chara for this scrappy farm girl...

it is this horse.

urban homesteading and good company

Last night I was sitting on a sheepskin in my living room when I felt an intense pain in the back of my left knee. It felt as if someone had punched that tender crook, and I kept shifting in my seat while the conversations and homebrew wafted around with woodsmoke and plates of homemade bread and local cheese. I didn't want to make a fuss, and was soaking up the good company of late-staying workshop attendees who came back for the evening's campfire, but due to inclement weather decided to settle for the wood stove and living room instead.

Dang though, my knee hurt.

I didn't think much of it though. The combination of riding, running, and farming created a trifecta of leg pain that week. Everything hurt! Sitting down required a force of will since I spent the morning before in a light seat on the top of a trotting horse for quite some time. A light seat, or half seat, or two-point position means you ride the horse, but your but doesn't touch it. Instead of sitting on your mount you use your thighs brute force and your heals deep in your stirrups to balance yourself over the beast, leaning a bit forward. This is how jockeys and jumpers ride horses, a position for action. However, I am new to this and it smarts. But this knee ache was sharper, different.

I decided to actually look at my knee and discovered a tick enjoying dinner. I headed to the bathroom to fish him out, and when I did was thrilled it was a dog tick, and a new one, and not some well-filled deer tick. No Lyme disease tonight, baby. I cleaned the puncture up and as I was applying some antiseptic I heard Meredith yell out from the living room. An owner of two giant black labs, she knew how tricky ticks can be to wrestle with and asked if I needed help. I told her I had it under control and thanked her, but when she said that my mind relaxed, unclenched. Just being asked by another person for help with such a basic problem was not the usual order of business around here. I didn't even think of asking for help, I just yanked it out and went about basic first aid. But just being check in on reminded me that there were people here, in my house, that cared enough to ask. Being asked if I was okay was such a simple brand of kindness, and if filled me up with a golden and warm feeling. The kind of thing you didn't realize you craved and missed, and when you had it finally let you relax a little. I grabbed an icepack, another cold Honey Brown from the fridge, and rejoined the revelry.

Yesterday was an event to remember. I got up to start baking and cooking at 4, and the last guests left around 10pm! It was a long day, but not in any way that could be considered bad. This is what I love to do, what I hope to continue to do for quite some time.

The workshop was probably the busiest to date. Since the topic was Urban Homesteading, it could cover a large swath of activities. We focused on a little bit of gardening work (planted early-season heirloom seeds) and the basics of starting raised beds. We talked chickens, and rabbits (Patty brought over some different breeds like her Chins and Flemish Giants) and I explained what to look for in breeding stock and handed folks a few week-old kits to hold in their warm hands.

Inside we went through the basics of starting a traditional loaf of bread, and how to prepare for super-easy, no knead crusty breads. We made cheese, and used some just-kneaded dough and pizza sauce to slice our fresh mozzarella over pizza. The day wrapped up while snagging slices of homemade pie and pizza and talking with two women from Albany about starting a vermicompost bin in their city home. I sent her off with a bucket and some red worms. You never saw a woman so happy to find out she had 400 worms in her car on the ride home.

It was a constant motion kind of day. We stopped for lunch and a prize drawing of books, posters, and a free workshop attendance, but besides the new idle moments of eating we were all running around—inside and out—to barn or kitchen. I feel like everyone who came got demonstration and inspiration, and (as usual) people seemed most happy to just relax around fellow folks with their same disease: Barnheart. People talked about their own plans and dreams, shared stories and advice. It always gets me excited too. Excited about the farm, the house, the future ahead. These workshops feed my soul.

Bev from Virginia stuck around after everyone else left to help with the afternoon farm chores. Usually after a summer or fall workshop there is a break period between 4-7 and folks can come back to a casual campfire and music, but Bev gave up her break to help me. What a blessing that was. To have a helping hand willing to refill rabbit water bottles and chicken fonts while I poured the whey into the meat birds grain bowls was such a time saver. It was not the first time that weekend I started to realize how much more could be accomplished, and how much easier it would be, with a roommate or community around. That isn't a complaint, but an observation. I'm not pining or lonely, and I'm too damn hard to live with if I was. But I could really appreciate willing hands.

When all the animals were tucked in for the night, Bev and I headed inside the farmhouse. She asked, as we were walking through my broken-glassed front door if it was weird having strangers over like this? In my home? Helping feed chickens? While walking inside and hanging my hat on my grandfather's coat rack (now covered with an array of waxed cotton jackets, wool hats, arrow quivers, and wool hoods and shawls instead of his proper hat and jacket) I told her no. It really isn't. People who come here all have the same exact interests and dreams. They want to scruff dog's ears while planting peas. They want to hold chickens and rabbits, eat good food. I smiled then, thinking of how the hay delivery came around noon, and Rory Whitman pulled up with 30 bales on the back of his pickup. Not one person didn't help move those bales. What would have taken me well over an hour with a single farm cart took us less then ten minutes. None of the hay got rained on. It is dry in my barn as I type.

I was tired, dog tired really, by the end of the day. But when I am tired and the day's work is done it is so nice to have people and dogs circling around with good food and beer. Last night there was two women from New Jersey, another from Boston, and two from Virgina in my living room. All of them found me online, and from that cold electrical box they found their way to a wood stove's glow in upstate New York. It never ceases to amaze me, how many connections happen with keyboards on lunchbreaks and end up toting hay bales for a character in a book. My leg hurt, my whole body ached, but the barely carbonated beer was sweet and filling and I felt happy as could be. Not a bad life, up on this hill. Not bad at all.

I can't wait to share it with more of you.