Saturday, May 26, 2012

a day at war

I spent the day with 300 people who care more about what makes them happy than what other people think is silly. I shot a longbow next to marksmen so talented that people parted ways to let them through, reputation as strong as Moses's hands. I spent the day with men in kilts, women in long dresses (or armor), and watching craftsmen work with blacksmith's bellows and Damascus steel. I saw embroidery, and children without electronics listening to stories. I saw dogs running and playing around toddlers and barefoot companions by burning campfires where food roasted and turned. I was hot and I didn't care. I was sunburnt and it felt like blessing. And I tied for my best score ever out there on the archery range and shot enough deer targets to fill my imaginary meat freezer with enough venisons to feed a clan.

Life in the current middle ages is pretty great. And my next big event is War Camp in Warrensburg, NY. A day where equestrians will be out and I'll be damned if I won't be up there with Merlin and a jousting spear in my shaking hands one fine day.

Don't let anyone tell you not to do what makes you shine.

Friday, May 25, 2012

shearing snapshots

atlas shrugged (then got a haircut)

full day

Today was a such a full day. So much happening. Running the gamut from blissful to tragic, it reminds me of why I chose this path. I watched a college-junior WWOOFer intern hold a lamb in her arms for the first time while we delivered it to its new home. I also had to cut a blackface ewe free from a horrible tangle of brambles that had trapped it all night. (She is eating and drinking and will be okay, but terrifying to discover). There was sheep shearing, goat milking, wool carting, lamb chasing, shots, foot trimming, ice cream runs and new friends.

More details tomorrow. I need to get some rest and painkillers (think I really did a number on my back wrestling ewes for the shearing) and get ready for tomorrow's archery event in Albany. Heading south to shoot a longbow in a green dress.

Shearing photos to follow!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Shearing Tomorrow!

Email me if you want to see the big show, 2PM here at the farm. Professional shearers will show the flock a thing or too about haircuts. If enough folks come on out, we'll go out to dinner after or BBQ at the farm!

this is blowing my mind...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The fireflies are back...

May I never spend a summer without them.


A friend asked me on the phone tonight how work was going? A harmless question, but all I could muster as a response was how awkward it feels being inside those walls. It's like the divorce is finalized but we're still sharing the same house for another two weeks. It's cordial, but distant. Both parties knows the other is down for the count and already thinking about what's ahead. There will be an internal job posting soon to replace me, and I am already planning speaking and farming events for weekdays. We're both moving on.

That doesn't mean it isn't scary. The choice to leave the office is one I believe in with all my heart, necessary on so many emotional, career, and social levels it surprises me it took this long in the first place. And yet there are faces I will dearly miss, memories and laughter, strong friendships and connections. I hope we all stay in touch, and remain close friends. If I don't see folks like James, Andrea, Sarah, Bryan, Chrissy and Tyler I'll be mighty sad.

There's also a lot of stress and fear and mistakes I made at that office. Things I said I can't take back, people I am silently grateful I don't have to see anymore, and half-hearted responsibilities and tasks I long ago lost the fervor to care about.

But that's everyone's story, isn't it? My experiences at my job are just like any high school graduate's, summer camp counselor's, or ex band member after a tour. You love some of it, regret some of it, and miss all of it. A corporate office is just another box of dying animals, people trying so hard to matter and expand, even though they already are beings of expanding matter. Well, it all belongs to the backlist now. And there's no way to grow that don't hurt.

I think I'll be writing about this whole transition a lot. It'll help me ride through it. I hope that is okay, as it isn't really about farming or the farm, but it is about how becoming one changes you. Will that do?

1,000 new business cards came today!

with a spelling mistake! isn't getting you here, baby.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

the open door

I was walking back to the farm, covered in sweat from a jog, when I approached the strange mini van parked in my driveway. I'm not used to people showing up unannounced. My farm isn't on "the way" to anything. So far the only ones who had were the local members of the closest Jehovah's Witness congregation. I assumed I was about to be witnessed to in all my cool-downed, pasty sweaty glory when I got a big wave. Stepping out of the van was a jovial woman with shoulder-length gray hair and a big smile. She said her name was Sandy and she was a professor in New Jersey. She wanted to know if she could hire me as a speaker, and bring a pack of college students up to the farm for a lecture, tour, and some farm work?

**Antlered throngs of angel choirs sang**

She said her class would be up from the 11th -15th of June. I was covered in sweat and looking about as attractive as a garden slug but I couldn't stop my big, wolfish grin. I told her I just quit my job and would be available whenever she needed me. She seemed as happy as I was at the idea. Just a week out of the cubicle world and I already had a gig lined up at the farm! I took it the way I take all things, as a sign. A little slap on the back from fate, telling me I made the choice that made my world dance.

We talked a bit, and she gave me her contact information and told me we could work out the ideas about speaking rates. We parted quickly after that because I could see Sal limping on his bad leg (an on and off injury) and the 5 escaped sheep who for the 45th time had used their thick early-summer wool to get through the fences. I sighed and thanked her and set to work. In a few days the flock will be shorn, Jim McRae will be here Friday afternoon (let me know if anyone wants to come for that?). After they are naked that fence will not allow a single escapee.

I digress. Point is the meeting was fast and auspicious as a pair of crows flying over a first kiss.

I came inside and an email was waiting from the University of Vermont, interested in having me take part in a speaker series about food and farming. I was now nearly staggering about. It was late June, between meetings with my publisher about future books, the Meat Bird workshop here at the farm with Brett, and the Greenhorns Premiere at Battenkill Books on the 29th. My dance card was filling up. Filling up suddenly! As if the open door of my choice had let a rush of opportunities in.

Hot dog!

Only 5 Spots Left!

winner of the book giveaway!

Melissa! who posted at: May 21, 2012 9:34 AM

Monday, May 21, 2012

an invocation for beginnings

I adore Ze Frank. I don't know him, of course. But I used to watch/read and follow his site and projects and videos. He stopped doing his bit for a while and now he is back. I found his message just as inspiring to me, as a new full-time writer, as it could be to anyone. Enjoy it. Enjoy it and get started.

the goat dance

When it comes to goats, fences are everything. The same fence that can keep back a team of Percherons, a flock of sheep, and hundred alpaca (alpaci?) is nothing but scoff-fodder for your average goats. Goats climb, tear down, and crawl under wire field fencing. They laugh at t-posts. If your wire isn't hot, even for a few hours, they will know and clamber over it like drunk hunting horses out after a fox. This is the goat dance. The escape, capture, and evading that makes up the reality of adding caprines to your life.

The only way I have found to keep a goat in a pen is to either use panels (read solid) made for sheep and goats with well-spaced metal or wooden fence posts, or electric netting or wire. At my own farm I learned this the hard way. My first goat, Finn, was not happy as the lone goat amongst a flock of sheep and would not stay inside the woven wire fences. He got out and into the road, into poisonous plants, and all other sorts of trouble and made sure the sheep got out too. I didn't have the pen I have now (originally built for a horse!) to contain goats, and so he went to live on another farm.

Now my set up is goat-proof. Inside the barn are large 1x8 inch boards strong and sturdy, three high with about 12 inches between each board. They have woven wire stapled to them in case little Francis wanted to crawl though. Outside a large metal horsegate (also reinforced with woven wire to prevent crawl-throughs) is strong enough to handle any goat arms. And, the fencing all around the outside area is electric. So my goat pen is more of a goat jail, but that's what it takes in small spaces. If I had a 7-acre field it would be a different story, they could roam a little more and be as interested in escaping (at first!), but here at Cold Antler goats have to be smartly contained.

My advice to anyone considering goats, go for it. But consider your fences and barn first. Get an experienced goat farmer, homesteader or Extension agent to check your set up or help you prepare. As someone who learned the hard way, I can not stress enough how much having people with goat experience in my life with Bonita and Francis has improved things. Goats are dear friends and treasures here now, not a hassle. Not something all farmers can say and it took some hard lessons to get there. But you got to start somewhere, right?

book giveaway!

I thought a book giveaway would be a nice way to start off the week. I had a few extra titles after this weekend's workshop and decided to also throw in a copy of Barnheart (signed) and of The Greenhorns (also signed at my essay). To enter just leave a comment! Say hello, say what's growing in your garden, or share a plan for this week on your own farm or home. A random winner will be picked tomorrow morning, this is a shortsale folks! Comment and enjoy four titles to add to your own library or give as gifts.

Now, off to the office!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

onward to archer

Archery practice today. I had my first ever series of Royal Rounds this time. Royal Rounds are official marksmanship tests hosted by the SCA. There's a 20, 30, and 40 yard 6-arrow target shoot and then a timed 30-second firestorm where you shoot as many as you can to scramble for points. My scores, beginner level. But I am really enjoying getting to know my longbow, the goose feather arrows, and the culture and tools of the archer.

If I complete two more rounds, on two separate days, I will be recorded in the SCA records as a bonefide Archer of Record. I'll be awards a hand-forged, metal medal with a pair of black arrows crossed over a circle to show others I'm a student and beginner archer at Society events. As my skill increases, so will my status. It's a fun way to work towards something. And something as useful as archery is welcome around here. For hunting and recreation, it'll be nothing I regret.

Onward to Archer, is how my Sunday ends.

Plan B was AMAZING!

Yesterday in the cool shade of a giant maple tree my farm turned into an amphitheater. Twenty of us sat on the hillside and standing at the base, in front of a row peony bushes and a parade of Geese, James Howard Kunstler talked to us about the future of energy, oil, climate and economies around the world. To some of you, that may sound like a contradiction. This man talking about doom and gloom amongst flowers waiting to bloom on a sunny day, but that isn't Jim's message at all. Jim is all about paying attention, realizing what is actually going on in the world and accepting changes with logic, grace, and a sense of humor.

We laughed, asked questions, engaged with him and Kathy Harrison outside on the freshly mowed lawn. Jim brought a cooler of beer! When I asked why his response was, "I thought people would get thirsty!?" Can't argue with that.

His talk was the post-lunch break event. The whole morning was spent inside and out with the energy and positivity of Kathy, who introduced us into the practicality and ease of being ready for everything from ice storms to economic fall outs. She made us all laugh, shared her own story and her gadgets. She brought along samples of everything from crank radios to dehydrated asparagus and potatoes (which when re-hydrated taste exactly like any other potato. Her whole anthem was about being able to take care of yourself in any scenario, and to understand that no one can do this alone. She wanted us to understand the importance of knowing your neighbors, making connections with people in your community, and actually knowing what is going on in local government and politics. She thinks our selectman and school boards will be a lot more important to us than we can feasibly understand in the next few years. I think she's right.

Everyone left with full stomachs, with signed copies of books by the visiting authors, and smiles on their faces. I think the crew that made it out to the farm yesterday was happy they made the trip. That's something I am quite proud of. Any time anyone goes out of their way to support, visit, or share in this little 7-acres of heaven I am on cloud nine, even when the day's whole concetration was on the uncertain future, I feel pretty darn good on my pile of dirt.

bonita gives a wink...

photo by