Monday, July 16, 2012

pony chess

Merlin and I are going through a phase, and it is akin to a spoiled toddler getting everything he wants and just hearing the word "No." The first ride with Merlin was paradise, but ever since that incident with the bear (or whatever spooked him) he learned that balking and putting up a fight means getting his way. We have been playing pony chess ever since. He tries one move, then I try another. I call it "pony chess" because I remember reading about what Jon Katz called "border collie chess" with his dogs, who constantly test and outsmart him in a game of wits. Here's the horse version.

Example 1:
Yesterday he wouldn't go up a road because it involved a hill he didn't feel like going up. He stopped, that was his move.

My move: I turned him around the way he wanted to go (towards home, easy to do) and then backed his big rump up that hill! It took us 15 minutes with breaks and such, but I didn't give up.

Example 2:
He didn't even want to go down the road yesterday. Didn't even want to leave my driveway. That was his stupid move.

My move: I lunged him, walked him down the road, mounted him and rode him back home (which he wanted to do) but then stopped and got him to turn around and start walking away from home. That was a victory of patience, and I should have stopped there and called the day a small success. But I started feeling cocky and decided to ask him to go back off the main paved road to our usual dirt road trail.

Last Example:
His move: He would not go up that road.

My move: Ask with more force, use crop.

His move: Bucking and Kicking, No MEANS NO!

My last move: I stopped him hissy fit. Made him stand. Dismounted, and called Dave and Milt, local horse trainers, to come show me how to show him who's boss, safely.

So we will get through it. I'm not giving up, not stopping work with him, and I am not scared of that blowhard. I just need to be patient and learn how to make my point without causing his hissy fits. And maybe what he needs is a trainer to ride out those fits and STILL get what he wants. Merlin is testing me, probably for a mixture of reasons. But I did not get this horse to look out. We will ride again as a team soon, it'll just take some hard work, stubbornness, and magic and I got plenty of all three.

P.S. That image from yesterday was taken by Raven, a friend who is visiting the farm now. I do not have folks who document the blog for me, like someone asked, but I do hand friends cameras when they arrive! Raven will be posting a guest post later. She's known me ten years, pre and post farmer, and thought you guys would like some back story.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

merlin and i have some things to work out...

Drunk Rabbit (serves 5)

To make a satisfying rabbit dinner for up to five people, follow this easy recipe I created last night. It is an adaptation of a meal Patty Wesner cooked for Ajay and I a few weeks ago, but a little less refined. It still tastes great and makes a hearty meal for ladies and lumberjacks alike.

1 rabbit (2-3 pounds, fryer sized)
a bunch of garden carrots
1 tall can of Guinness
1/2 stick of butter
1/2 cup of olive oil
garlic salt
package of egg noodles
pepper to taste
flour (for thickening meat broth)

Place your rabbit in the crockpot, the whole thing (bones and all) and cover it with the can of draught and the 1/2 cup of oil. Place carrots all around it and sprinkled some garlic salt over it. Set it on low for a few hours (4 here) until the meat is falling off the bone. You are almost done!

Remove the meat from the bone and set bones aside for broth/compost/chicken treats. Place meat back in the juicy beer broth and add your 1/2 stick of butter and a bit of flour to create a creamy texture, like a gravy to your rabbit stew. When you've added enough flour to make your sauce more like said gravy, you did it. You just made some drunk rabbit stew.

You can scoop it into bowls and enjoy it with some crusty bread or, do like the Wesners do, and boil some egg noodles and serve it like a form of farm house stroganoff. If I serve it over egg noodles, I always add butter and garlic salt to the noodles before I serve rabbit over them.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Seed Winners Are!






Last Chance to Win Your Own Fall Garden!

Got word from Scott over at Annie's Heirloom Seeds today. He asked if I'd be interested in a Fall Garden Seed Giveaway? Of course! He's offering five winners a collection of over a thousand seeds to plant in mid-to-late July for harvesting up into snowfly, even in northern climates. The package of seven veggies includes carrots, beets, sugar snow peas, cabbage, spinach, lettuce and broc. What we think of as spring gardening can also be fall gardening, or as I call them "shoulder veg" since you grow them at the shoulder seasons.

If you'd like to be entered to win one of the FIVE SEED COLLECTIONS just leave a comment here. If you want to be entered twice, and double your chances at some free seeds, share it on Facebook and let other people know about the contest and come back here and comment SHARED! and you get two names in the hat!

Winners to be chosen TOMORROW! Let's get planting!

Friday, July 13, 2012

You know you're a CAF reader if:

You have watched every single episode of Victorian Farm on YouTube. Twice.

You know the only "fantasy" element of this picture is the stupid horn.

When you see crows in pairs make, you smile.

When you hear the name Maude, you shiver.

You know more about Merlin than your third cousin.

You have considered buying a kilt to weed in.

You have laughed at a dog who hates dolls in windows. A lot.

You know what a "masonade" is.

You have used the word Veryork in conversation.

Iron and Wine is on your play list.

You can name towns that surround Jackson NY, easily.

"Jenna did it and isn't dead yet" has been said in your household.

Can you think of any others?

the bear on the trail

My life is now one where campfire stories are becoming another word for Tuesday - to which I mean adventures are the new normal.

Today on my morning ride with Merlin we had quite the experience. It started out normal enough. We rode over to the neighbor's property, off the main road and up into the clearings and logging roads on that land. We walked over creeks, past brush and deer, and all was lovely. And then when I asked the horse to turn right into a denser bit of wooded trail, Merlin stone-cold refused. He stood all four feet on the ground, ears up and alert, and no crop, heel, or circling could get him past a certain point. I fought him for a while. Fought him in the saddle doing every trick I knew to get him to obey, but he started to buck and crow hop, rear a bit and snort. I finally decided to trust him and we headed back towards the main road. And as we descended down to the pavement I remembered the picture on my Facebook page my neighbor Manya had sent. Bears were on the move. Her photo was from 24 hours earlier and showed a large bear heading up towards my property. I can't say for certain Merlin saw a bear, but when I relayed the story to Patty she said that was exactly how Steele acted around a bear on a trail ride. Seemed legit.

The rest of the ride was pretty much a power struggle. I tried to get Merlin to focus and go where I wanted but after that incident he was not having it. After forty minutes of this we were both covered in sweat and huffing. I finally got him to turn and stand in the direction I wanted to go, dismounted, and then lunged him for a while on the front lawn to reinforce who was the one in charge.

It wasn't a good ride, but it wasn't a bad one either. Merlin did things that the Jenna from this past spring would have panicked, jumped off, and cried over. But I am growing as an equestrian, learning things I would never learn in a domesticated arena. Things like driving a cart, ignoring cars swiftly passing on switchback roads, and avoiding bears in the distance. My riding skills, however new and humble, have sent my confidence soaring. Because I am constantly faced with challenges and slowly overcoming them. It makes me feel strong and alive. I may very well be in for a life with horses. They fix things, like dogs do, but in ways so cavalier and timeless to our history and character that it is its own brand of healing.

Strength aside: being on the back of any horse, even a pony, that is acting scared and bucking is not a comfortable situation. But I stayed in the saddle, kept him under control, turned him around and got him back to my property. In a way it was a damned successful ride. He wasn't biddable but in an extremely stressful situation he didn't chuck me off his back and we stayed in communication the whole time. And we finished on my terms, not his.

This is growth. This is progress. On paper it was a horrible ride, possibly dangerous. But in my gut it was a test and we passed. We had a bad run and rode it out. And the best part was I never felt out of control. I was scared, sure, but I never once felt like that horse and I were going to part ways. It felt more like a jumbled phone conversation, a dropped call, then a recipe for disaster.

Just a few days ago our ride was a dream sequence. The last two days had their bumps and scares. Tomorrow, who knows? But I will be on that horse in the morning and I will do my level best to set us both up for success. We'll take a new direction up the mountain and keep it short and simple. It will go just fine, because I am setting it up to go fine. At least that is the plan...

In other news, Raven is coming to Cold Antler tomorrow! She's staying for a few days and I can't wait to see her and her little stranger. Raven Pray Bishop (yup, her real name) and I were college friends and now her big belly and her are staying at the farm to catch up and visit and such. For those of you who came to Antlerstock last fall, you may remember her? She won't make it this year (The littler stranger arrives around Hallowmas), but she is still making it up here and I am thrilled.

My life is now very open to hosting visitors, but impossible to be a visitor. Too many chores, animals, plants, udders and pets to leave for more than a few hours. It's hard for family and non-farming friends to understand and causes a lot of strife and conflict (I am sure many of you with homesteads, stables, or farms understand this, too) but for those willing to hop a plane or a train they can revel in the land with me. Raven and I will be doing a lot of reveling. I may not have much blogging time, catching up with her and all, but I will announce the seed winners in the evening

Hopefully, bear free.

dream horses and future mentors

A few recent comments from fellow riders here had me wondering about your mounts and stories? How many CAF readers out there have a horse they ride or drive with? Any of you wish you did? What is your horse's name, age, and breed? How about folks who used to ride, I bet you have a tale or two to tell?

Share your horse tales here. I'd like to learn more about you fellow equestrians, ropers and teamsters out there. Share your town and state, if you don't mind. And those of you brand new to horses, check and see if any fellow readers are in your area. Maybe you could set up a visit via email and ask questions and learn from other Antlers out there? The internet is how Patty and Steele found me!

Workshop FAQ

Folks have been asking me about how to sign up for a workshop and other questions. I thought I would address them here. If you are coming for a workshop soon, please read over this as well, as some things have changed for various reasons. But it is still pretty much just you coming to see me hold forth, share ideas, converse with other farmers and homesteaders, and enjoy learning a new skill with new friends! They are the backbone of this farm, specially while book contracts are scarce as Dodos around here, so your support and attendance is literally what keeps this blog and farm alive. I'm grateful to all of you for coming out to the farm. I love sharing it, so much.

Notes and Changes in Workshops:
Most workshops do not allow on site camping, so if you are coming from out of town you'll have to reserve a room at a local Inn or B&B. Find a list of local places to stay here. I suggest the Cambridge Inn or Rice Mansion! Sadly, our big hotel closed and is looking for new ownership. I miss it.

If you are flying in, the closest airport is Albany, and you'll need to rent a car or get a taxi to drive you the 50 minutes north into Washington County.

How do you sign up? It is pretty simple! You just email me at and tell me what workshop you want to register for. Then you pay via paypal and through email we work out details and somesuch.

Assume all fences and gates are electric! No touchy!

95% of workshops are outside, so dress for time outside. Bring raingear, sunscreen, boots, or anything else you aren't scared to get dirty, sweaty, ruined or chicken poo on. All are possibilities.

Children are not allowed at CAF workshops. With large animals, fences with voltage, and no childcare options on site there is too many dangerous things going on to keep a proper eye on curious hands. Also, my insurance people might throttle me.

Bring notebooks, business cards, "outdoor shoes," and musical instruments! Always better to have these things along even if you don't use them, then to not have them if you need them!

You need to pack a lunch now! Sadly, I can't legally feed you since I do not have a licensed USDA kitchen, I can not prepare food for sale. Always bring a cooler to stash and know there is iced bottled water always here if you don't want to bring a drink.

You can buy a Season Pass for the entire year and this allows you to come to EVERY SINGLE event on the farm for a full 12 months for the cost of about three workshops. If you know you'll make the trip for Antlerstock and maybe one or two others, you both save money, have an open dance card with me, and support this farm. And this farm can always use support!

There are no refunds for CAF workshops. They work like a CSA, you pay up front and then it is your responsibility to come and collect the share. Budget is too tight to refund folks, as workshops are paid for months in advance as far as supplies and planning go. (Like yesterday's order of 5 fiddles from a music shop!) If you can not make a workshop, your credit is good towards one in the future!

You use paypal to sign up, and you do not need a paypal account to use the donate button on the blog. It is on the right hand side under the barnheart graphic and regardless if people make a donation or pay for a workshop, both get reported to the IRS as income. They have me well trained, them.

There are only 2 spots left for Fiddle Camp, Soap making, and Beekeeping coming up. The rest of the slots are filled up. There are 7 spots open for the winter writing workshop and 5 for the Farmer's Horse Halloween Party (which I think I am looking forward to as much as Antlerstock!).

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Can't win 'em all!

Today's morning ride wasn't as much of a success. We stuck mostly to the road and I forgot my crop, so when Merlin got fussy or stubborn I had little to enforce with save my feet and hands. Me slapping his rump has nowhere near the effectiveness of a quick crop slap on the rump. At one point we were trying to move forward down the road when a neighbor's car came (slowly) and while Merlin could care less about cars it took a few seconds to get him back in the driveway.

The good news is we got a lot of car experience. People coming at us, passing us at a walk. Vans going past as he stood still. There were no forested glens but we did get to do a wee bit of exploring on a new dirt road and had I had a crop I could have got him up into a clearing that looked mighty pretty.

Better luck tomorrow!


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

my first trail ride on the mountain

Cold Antler Farm is not a riding stable. There are no stalls, no cross ties, arenas or mounting blocks. But there is the tailgate of a dented Dodge Dakota, a lamppost, and a milk crate. And that was all the infrastructure I needed to head out on my first mountain trail ride with Merlin this morning. It was sublime.

I was scared. I paced about it all morning - with excitement and nerves. Yes, I've been riding him for months, but always with instructors or other riders around. Having other people around made me feel safe, even if it was just emotional insurance. I liked knowing if I got hurt or the horse took off I had someone else to double mount with and ride home. Someone else to help me get my horse back, share in the trouble...

This morning there would just be me and Merlin. There would be no one there to double check his girth or hand me a crop. No one to help me get up if I broke an arm. No one to help me find my lost horse. But if I thought about everything that could go wrong out there I'd go crazy. Who gets into their truck in the morning expecting to get into a head-on collision? No one who functions as a normal person, at least. I didn't want to worry. I wanted to jump on my horse, turn the engine on, and drive.

And that was what I wanted Merlin for: a means of getting across the landscape. By saddle or cart, I wanted alternative, animal-powered locomotion. I wanted to explore with him. Feel leaves brushing against my shoulders on a forest trail. Look up and see birds, watch deer romp ahead of us, take in a deep breath and squeeze in my heels so I could see the world at the pace of a trot. Today was going to be that day, by god.

I loved my time in lessons and in the arena, but this was where my heart was. I wanted to be out where I could just do my own thing, sing to my horse, feel like it was just us out there. It's an escape as much as healing. A way to think things through and think of nothing at all. I feel strong on a horse, confident. He lifts me up, that old boy. I kiss him right on the salt-and-pepper mane and ask him if he is getting all the love he needs? It's the same thing I ask Gibson when he wakes up next to me in the morning. Gibson nuzzles, and so does Merlin. They mean the world to me, those two.

Part of me wanted to wait a few days to ride him, but it was all excuses and I knew it. I had put so much energy, time, and money into learning how to do all this, how to ride. I had been through lessons, trail rides with friends, horse shows even...and now there was just me and my boy. I slid a cell phone in my pocket, strapped on my helmet, and went to the gate to get the lug.

I put on his halter and left the paddock. Jasper was already in another fenced paddock and was not able to handcuff his front legs to the metal gate in protest. Which, based on his wails, was exactly what he wished he could have done. "He'll be back, you big baby!" I said, throwing a hand in the air in dismissal as I walked away towards the front of the house, the only level spot on my property.

I tied a lead rope to the lamppost, loose. He stood nicely while I groomed and checked his feet. Saddling up was a bit, shall we say, interesting? I bought a new girth to use with our old saddle and its new hardware made a jingling sound that, under his belly, made him dance and rear up a bit. It took a while to calm him, but I did, and finished tacking up a few moments later. I had flashbacks to the day I was chucked off his back into a fence due to a loose girth and how scared and freaked out he became at the monster saddle under his belly. I knew what he was thinking, and did my best to calm him. He did calm down.

Once we were saddled up I lead him to my driveway, facing the road. I set the milkcrate by his left side and slid the reins over his neck. I jumped up onto his back and found my irons. And there I was. On my own horse in my own driveway. I listened for cars and when I heard none, I gave him a little heel and we started off on our adventure. I let out a long sigh as we slowly walked into the road. I said a prayer of blessing for whatever was about to happen next, but my Epona charm gleamed in the sunlight around my neck and I had a feeling this first ride was going to be just fine.

The hardest part is getting on. Isn't that always the case?

We walked down the road a short distance, and then crossed at the dirt road that lead to Sheriff Tucker's property. A few weeks ago I walked over and asked permission to ride Merlin on his land, only in the mornings and never when I hear him out there cutting wood or enjoying his won land. He agreed, and I felt rich as a baroness. Not only did I have my horse right in my own backyard, I had a place to ride him that was wild and secret.

The Sheriff has (I think) 130 acres of field and forest and he loves his ATVs. He carved out trails all over his land for them and before 8AM on a weekday we aren't liable to meet anything motorized on a forest path. And we didn't. It was just Merlin and I, walking through the woods together. We crossed open pasture and stream, heard grouse in the woods, and walked and trotted as we explored our mountain together. It was as new to me as it was to him and on that quiet morning it felt like all of America was new and unexplored, and it was up to us to draw up a new, mental cartography. It was exhilarating out there. I felt the way I did when I snuck into the woods at Girl Scout camp as a little girl. I drove my leaders crazy, but I had a blast finding salamanders in creeks while they shouted my name...

Merlin was wonderful out there in the morning woods. He walked calmly and was relaxed enough for the both of us. After a mile or so of trails and exploration, we turned back the way we came and ended up back on my paved road. I decided to walk him down along that for a bit, just a bit. The road was wide and I had not so much as heard a slice of traffic. We walked along the grassy shoulder for about a quarter mile and then he smelled the strong whiff of a dead doe a bit farther down and I couldn't blame him for wanting to balk. For training's sake I made him go a bit more but then turned him around and we headed home, even picking up to a trot as we made the sharp curve that made Cold Antler appear from the trees and back into view.

When we got back to the driveway I had him halt, and dismounted. It takes a lot less time to take tack off a horse than put it on, so it wasn't long before he was brushed out and sent back to his boyfriend. Jasper was thrilled to see him come back. Merlin isn't that into him, but tolerates him.

Tomorrow, we'll ride again. I'm still a bit nervous, but it will get easier. It's worth it soon as you start moving forward in that saddle. Worth all of it.


One the best purchases I made all year was this gadget called Soulra. It is a solar-powered speaker for my iphone and I got it on sale. It's made by the Eton company, maker of high-end crank and emergency radios. But Soulra is not a radio, it's a phone charging station that sends out loud sound across this farm. I can put on the Celtic station on Pandora and the farm is alive with fiddles and pipes. Or, I can put on an audiobook (currently in love with the Emberverse Series. Juniper Mackenzie is my hero!). Since I don't have a television it's like having my own, personal, storyteller and radio stations. I download things from or turn on a Pandora station and suddenly this farmhouse is a campfire or a fiddle festival, all run on nothing more complicated than a small solar panel.*

So there I was in the kitchen, listening to some fine Irish tunes when I turned to look out the window. There was Merlin, standing at the gate of his paddock. I started to cry right there. My Black Beauty, my Anam Chara. So many stories in that one scene, so much hitting me at once. For one, it was a Wednesday morning and instead of sitting at the office, we had just got back from our first trail ride here on the mountain. He still had the shine of sweat on him and in the summer sun, he glistened. He was held back by a gate secured yesterday by Ajay and Patty, after Patty so kindly trailered him over from the boarding stable. That horse barn taught us so much. It trained me and Merlin to be a team, and we even won a ribbon at a horse show there. Patty taught me just as much, and the most important message of all "horsemanship comes from miles in the saddle and hours behind the lines in a cart" and I agree. You learn much in lessons, and you learn a lot in the woods on a mountain too.

And so I look at my horse, and the gate, and think of all those instructors and friends and I cry a little more. I think of Brett and the Daughton boys carrying timbers and building the frame of the pole barn. I think of us stretching fences, running to hardware stores, and sharing stories about our animals and farms over dinner last night.

That black horse outside my kitchen window is so much more than a possession or a pet. He's an entire community of support and encouragement alive in a black mane and steady feet. So many people have touched my life, and grow closer to me, because of that British-born colt who was a stranger when I barely knew myself. And here we are, against odds and reason, past judgment and scolding, sharing our lives at Cold Antler Farm. I adore that horse because of who he is, nothing could be truer. but I also need him because of what he is:


*That sounded like an advertisement, but neither Eton, Pandora, or Apple are sponsors of the blog. I just wanted to share how to have the same experience!

Words & Wool: Saturday December 1

Come to Cold Antler Farm this winter for a special workshop called Words & Wool. It is a knitter's circle and writing workshop dedicated to the small homestead or farmer's blog and the marketing and promotion of it. Come learn straight from the shepherd's mouth how I built, promoted, and expanded my blog. Ask me questions about publishing and writing professionally, learn how to sell or pitch ads and giveaways, bring a sample of writing to talk about and share with the group for a healthy and kind critique. Tell your story with eager ears listening, and a border collie in your lap....At the very least get some ideas for your personal, non commercial blog for your friends and family. It's a day dedicated to expanding your own brand and business, and getting the word out about your own website as another, vibrant, source of income for your farm and family.

And as for the wool? Bring a knitting project! If you are coming along to listen and talk, you might as well have something to work on near the woodstove. Other knitters will be on hand to help, give advice, share patterns and teach you the basics if you are new to the craft. Expect a comfortable day, indoors mostly, at the farm. The class starts at 10AM and goes till 3PM, and if you want to stay after the class for a private party of creamy potato soup and bread fresh from the Bun Baker wood stove you are welcome to it!

Email me if you are interested, cost will be $100.00 for the whole day, and include a farm tour. Please pack a lunch for a midday knitting break. CAF Season Pass members just let me know if you want to come along!

the mother of invention...

I have a headache this morning...

I was told to meet at Patty and Mark's farm by 5 o'clock sharp. I didn't know why, it was a surprise. They emphasized the sharp part, too. (I'm not known for my perfect timing.) But I managed to make it on time and even managed to gussy up into a dress, mascara, styled hair and lipstick. It had been a while since I'd had the occasion to do so and it felt great. Some times all a gal needs is a dress.

We ended up going up to Lake George to eat at a steakhouse and guess who the surprise was? Brett! He drove down from Lake Placid and had a gift bag in hand. So what does a lumberjack get a girl for her birthday? A tree of course. He handed me a fraser fir and explained he always planted a tree on his birthday, it was a tradition.

It was great to see him, and share a meal with everyone at that table. We all ate enough to make puma's envious and I learned how many cosmopolitans was too many. Such a great night. I am so lucky to have this happy pack of wolves around me, and today I get to ride my horse. I'm a little nervous, this is the first time riding him alone outside of the lesson barn, but I am going to do it. We've ridden together for months now and my instructors, friends, and Patty and Steele will be there in spirit. It's a big step for me, that first ride together here.

In other good news, my health insurance application through Empire Medical was approved! So I now have hospital and dental coverage. That was a choice I made when I left Orvis, to apply for state emergency medical care. What that means is if there is any sort of trauma, farm accident, riding accident, car accident, or any sort of reason I end up in the hospital, my bills are covered. It includes things like x-rays and hospital tests and some basic primary care like an annual physical. It's not perfect and it isn't as good as my corporate plan that included prescriptions and vision, but it sure beats nothing. I got both plans through (which was recommended to me from a blog reader, thank you!) which doesn't sell insurance itself, it just is a venue to get the self employed and uninsured in touch with local plans and programs in your state. Kind of like how isn't a bank, but it connects you to them. Anyway, I suggest it to anyone thinking about self employment. My health and dental plans are $175 a month, combined. Not bad.

And since my mother worries: Mom, I didn't go a single day without insurance. My corporate plan ended the last day of June and my current plan started retroactively July 1st! I'm on it, and don't worry.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

jasper meets merlin!

losing arrows

I haven't written much these past few days because I have been dog-paddling with this idea of turning thirty. It surprised me how much it is affecting me, and not in the ways I thought it would. I am not bothered by the number itself. I was always a 42-year-old with a library card in an antique center. It's not vain. What is bothering me is the milestone looking back. Over what has happened since I turned twenty, how much can change in just a decade. How much you can gain, and lose, in such a short time.

I accomplished a lot in my twenties, at least on paper. I wrote books, bought a farm, quit my day job and chased the American Dream into a corner until I smote it with my Stubbornness. I'm proud of this and of everything Cold Antler has become. But you need to realize that what I share here is such a small part of my story, and keep in mind the words of Stephen Levine: "Every person I meet with their shit together is usually standing in it."

Keep that in mind.

My twenties were the vehicle that brought me to where I currently stand, shit and all. I am grateful for them, grateful for all of this. But when I look back at where I was twenty, sitting in a dorm room with a Jetta parked outside in the student lot, reading issues of Comm Arts while trying to memorize serif fonts for a TYpography test to...well, my thirtieth Birthday? Today I'm going to bring a rare breed British dream pony to my own farm in upstate New York. The lines of connection between there and here involve five states, three jobs, and two broken hearts.

I woke up this morning, started a pot of coffee, and wrote a thousand words for my current manuscript between chores and dog walks. I spent time outside feeding baby turkeys, watching a chick follow her mother to the feeder, held a 6-week-old bunny in my hands, milked a happy goat, and then sank into my hammock with a bottle to feed Monday. I felt the chill morning wind on my bare legs and unshod feet. I was swaying in a plaid sun dress, a baby in my arms...

That is exactly what happened this morning and to many of us that sounds like paradise, but this farm is just one piece of the story. I fell asleep the night before crying. These past three years have been the hardest of my life, and not because of bucking hay bales. They've been hard because I spent most of my twenties, and all of my years writing this blog, dealing with anxiety, body issues, fear, and guilt. I lost people I thought I would never lose. I aimed too high, shot too far, and lost some arrows. It happens. I hope it happens less as I get older.

I think my story is no different than anyone else's. Our twenties are about becoming the adult we want to be. They are about finding your footing, getting established, taking risks and falling in love. We make mistakes, learn from them, and hopefully figure out the important distance between guilt and regret.

For my birthday I am giving myself the best gift I can, and it isn't a pony. I'm allowing myself to let go of that decade's ghosts and just be happy. I have all the ingredients, all the abilities to do this. I really believe it's a choice you have to make every single day. To wake up, accept yourself and your life, and choose to be a positive, grateful, useful, and kind part of the world instead of a detractor from others. I want to surround myself with encouragement instead of competition. I want to protect myself from anyone else's fear, guilt, or anger. I want to learn to heal up broken pieces of myself with the long, black, mane of a good horse and my arms around a good dog, and maybe, just maybe, if I let enough light in, a good man.

As for those things that keep me up at night? Well, I'm sure they still will, at least for a while. But as time and good things come to pass you forget middle names and dates of import and you focus on what is in your own hands instead. You focus on good work, and creativity, and make it your goal everyday to make someone else smile, make their life a little easier, and tell people you love them that you do. Tell them over and over because no one can hear that too many times. No one.

In my thirties I want aim true, shoot the proper distances, and lose less arrows in the tall grass. I want to love myself, and others, and find out what it is like to live in this world without looking over your shoulder at the things I can't change. It will take time, but I think the effort will be worth it. I hope you stick around to see it all happen, keep reading, keep encouraging, and I will do the same. Much to come folks, much.

Fireflies, thunderstorms, and crows in pairs,


Monday, July 9, 2012

run dogs, run!

There are few things as beautiful as watching Siberian Huskies, even old ones, run free and off leash through the woods. They become wolves within minutes, but happy ones. Tails high in the air they shuck and jive, dart and bark. I watched them with nothing short of bliss in my heart. I swear Jazz can smile, and as he trotted past his eyes caught mine with a huge grin on his face.

We were out in the pasture that was nearly ready for tomorrow's arrival of Merlin. I finished the fencing, cleaned out the rusty metal and old nails, and the three-mile charger had been collecting sunshine for three cloudless days. Since it was a big, wooded, area with a strong fence (the electric was off) I let the three dogs run around in it while I checked the poly rope lines and sang out loud.

better late than never

This is my last day of my twenties. Tomorrow I turn thirty and to celebrate, Merlin is moving home to the new paddock here at Cold Antler. It took three decades but I finally got a pony for my birthday.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

found this guy hiding in my garden...

new additions!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

last day for questions!

If you have a question about me, the farm, homesteading, livestock or the future of backyard farming in general, ask me a question and I will do my level best to reply right here in the comments!

Rabbit Q&A with Samantha Johnson!

I have been getting requests via email and blog comments for more information and advice on raising rabbits. I saw some comments in a fairly recent post about them from this author, Samantha Johnson, and asked her if she would agree to do an interview here on the blog. I hope this helps answer some of your rabbit questions, and please feel free to ask more questions in the comments section. Hopefully Samantha will take care of your concerns there, and if not, I'll do my best. There's a big rabbit workshop here at the farm in August, and if you are hankering for some hands on time with the buns, that will be the day to come! Enjoy this interview!

1. Why should people consider raising backyard rabbits along with their chickens and veggie gardens? 
 In my opinion, one of the most compelling things about raising rabbits is that they are suitable for rural and urban areas alike. Having raised rabbits since childhood, I can attest to the fact that rabbits are one of the easiest types of livestock to maintain; requiring minimal time and space. At the same time, raising rabbits is a rewarding endeavor, regardless of whether the rabbits are raised for meat, wool, or fancy (show) purposes.
2. For beginners, total beginners, what can they expect to spend to get started? How many rabbits should they buy?
It’s a lot less expensive to get started with rabbits than it is to get started with many other types of livestock! The actual investment will vary, depending on the type of equipment (will you create your own hutches or will you buy cage kits?) and the breed of rabbit that you choose. The small fancy breeds are often more expensive than some of the larger breeds, although this doesn’t always hold true. I always suggest starting with just a few rabbits. Get a trio (one buck and two does of the same breed), and introduce yourself to the world of rabbit keeping without overwhelming yourself with too many rabbits. It’s easy to increase your rabbit population, so it’s safe to start small. I would say that you could easily get started with a trio of rabbits for under $300 (including equipment), and possibly much less. Another option is to choose a few (three or four) rabbits of varying breeds and sizes; this way you can acquaint yourself with a variety of breeds and then evaluate which breed best suits your needs and preferences.
3. What breeds do you suggest?
That will vary depending on your situation and your plans for the rabbits. I have dabbled in a number of breeds over the years from Rex to Jersey Wooly, but I currently focus on Holland Lops and Mini Rex, mainly because I love their size, which is small and easy to handle. I’m also very fond of Dutch rabbits. For anyone with an interest in raising breeding stock or showing at ARBA shows, then a popular breed (Netherland Dwarf, Mini Rex, or Holland Lop) can be a great and rewarding choice. If you are looking to raise meat rabbits, then Californian, Florida White, and New Zealand Whites are commonly chosen and have proven themselves without question. For fiber endeavors, you will need one of the Angora breeds (check out my article on this topic here []). If you want a top-notch, family-friendly breed, the Dutch is a fantastic choice. And if you strictly want an endearing companion with personality plus, you can’t go wrong with a Holland Lop. They are incredibly entertaining.
4. Can you describe the time period from breeding your doe and buck to rabbit stew? How long does it take to raise meat rabbits?
It’s generally a pretty quick process in comparison to other types of livestock. The average gestation for a doe is 28 to 33 days, averaging at 31 days. The length of time from birth until “stew” will vary from breed to breed, but 8 to 12 weeks is common. (Admittedly, this isn’t my area of personal expertise; I keep fancy rabbits.J)
5. What are some of the advantages to rabbit meat or rabbit wool over a backyard egg business?
 A backyard rabbit business can be less labor-intensive than a backyard egg business, which can be a definite benefit.
The rabbit manure is undoubtedly another benefit—in terms of organic fertilizer for your garden, it’s hard to top the quality of rabbit manure. Some gardeners go so far as to say that it’s the best fertilizer you can find. Rabbit manure is extremely high in nitrogen and phosphorus, and while many other types of manure are also high in nitrogen, not all are good sources of phosphorus.
6. Why are Americans generally so squeamish about eating rabbits?
 I think a big part of it is simply that rabbit meat is just not as common. Chicken, beef, and pork abound, and they have achieved mainstream normalcy. Rabbit meat has just not achieved that same level. Or maybe it’s the popularity of characters like the Easter Bunny, Bugs Bunny, and Peter Rabbit. From an early age, we subconsciously learn that bunnies are sweet and fluffy and lovable, and it’s sometimes hard to reconcile that image with meat on a dinner plate.
7. Any last advice? Words of wisdom?
 Do your best to select healthy rabbits of high quality. This will ensure that you start your rabbitry off on the right foot and can save you a lot of trouble and anxiety down the road. Don’t hesitate to ask lots of questions before purchasing, and avoid making hasty decisions. Avoid any rabbits with runny noses or eyes, and look for rabbits that are in good body condition with alert expressions and healthy coats.
And most of all: enjoy your rabbits! Raising rabbits is a rewarding and enjoyable pursuit—they are pleasant to care for and never fail to bring smiles. There are thousands of rabbit enthusiasts across America, why not join the fun?
About Samantha
Samantha Johnson is an award-winning writer and the author of several non-fiction books, including How to Raise Rabbits, The Field Guide to Rabbits, and The Rabbit Book. Her articles also appear regularly in national magazines, including American Profile, Hobby Farms, Hobby Farm Home, Urban Farm, American Gardener, Grow-Cook-Eat, Homemade Bread, Illinois Farm Bureau Partners, Out Here, and Rabbits USA. Her work also appears regularly online, including,,,, and others. Samantha is a horse show judge and is certified with the Wisconsin State Horse Council and the Welsh Pony and Cob Society of America, and she has judged horse shows across the United States.

Samantha resides on a former dairy farm in northern Wisconsin, where she raises purebred Welsh Mountain Ponies and keeps Holland Lop, Dutch, and Mini Rex rabbits. Her hobbies include heirloom vegetable gardening, genealogy, animal color genetics and pedigrees, and politics. You can follow Samantha on Twitter:

Thursday, July 5, 2012

one of my many regrets

Spent the day shopping for and installing the electric element to the horse pasture. Since the horses will have an area that was once (twenty years ago) a tractor shed, there are parts I will need to dig out and clean up of metal and holes, but for now, will fence off with electric polyrope. I bought a 3-mile solar charger and 400 meters of the rope today, along with step-in posts and some other bits like t-post toppers for neither of the beasts cut or impale themselves on the metal jagged tops. It was a few hours out there, repairing, nailing, slamming in new t-posts, and running the poly rope. I'm still not done but the majority of the work is finished and I feel a lot better putting the horses in an area that is as safe as I can make it with some electricity to keep them inside it.

Got some sun, that's for sure. Sunburn and enough deer fly bites to start a moonscape across this working body. Part of being a range animal, I suppose. I have scars and bruises, cuts and bites, tan lines and sweat pimples. But at the end of the day I either jump in the River or get a cool shower and then come home and change into my Thai fishing pants in a clean cotton, and a muslim chemise top and between the castile herbal soap and the loose fitting natural clothes I feel like a field worker from another place and time, the same tired feelings, and the same relief at works end and a clean body. A bit of ale, a dinner to please, a hammock, a fiddle or banjo and a lamb asleep on my chest.

I can't believe I waited so long to quit that job.

groundhog hate reason #4,587

sky flowers

There was no chance I was going to be able to stay up for any fireworks display last night. Not if you bribed me with a pair of Percherons in harness. I was beat. The day had started around 4AM and sang on until just past dusk, when the fireflies danced around the barn and the crows stopped their conversations. Ajay told me earlier in the day that a movie he liked called fireworks Sky Flowers. I like that.

I think the main reason I was sacked was because my day started at 4AM, a bit earlier than usual. Othniel and Ajay, down at Common Sense Farm needed a truck to take to the Albany Wholesale Produce Market at 6AM. Othniel buys food from local farmers he doesn't grow at his farm stand like watermelons, and also gets wholesale orders of food for the 70+ member households at Common Sense's Commune. As you can imagine, we got a lot of food. 150 pounds of new potatoes, 2 large boxes of bananas, 50 pounds of onions, melons, berries and more. It was quite the haul.

By the time I got them home to their day jobs, it was time to get back to mine. Holidays aren't as important to dairy goats with full udders and chickens waiting for feed. I did the usual morning chores, fed Monday, and lead the hoofstock in pasture to the new horse paddock to concentrate their eating where I needed it. If the sheep eat down the high grasses in that confined spot I can see the ground and woodchuck holes even better so I can fill them all in before Merlin arrives in a few days.

Soon as the work was done, I fell into a short but beloved power-nap, about 30 minutes of hard sleep that I meant, really meant. I needed it. A three hour round-trip and a morning's work takes it out of you. Soon as I woke up I took out the dogs for a short walk, fed Monday again, and packed my swimsuit and towels for a Fourth of July celebration over at Livingston Brook Farm.

Mark and Patty are one of six landowners on a 25-acre lake a half mile behind their house. We paddled a canoe loaded with floaties and adult beverages and spent over an hour swimming in the clean, deep lake water by a floating dock. Neighbors joined us and it was a magical time out there on this private island of floating wood in the middle of a tiny wilderness. Great herons and red tailed hawks flew around us or fished on the sides of the water. We talked, laughed, and worked on our farmers tans. If my skin color was an ice cream flavor, I was going from a twist to Neapolitan that day. All my skin was bright white or dark brown. I was hoping for a little strawberry on my pasty legs that sunny day...

I left their farm around 5:30, and drove straight down route 22 into the town of Cambridge. Just past the single traffic light in my town is the Common Sense Farm stand and Ajay was out sitting in a chair hammock with Navid. I knew Navid from his help cleaning out the goat pen the day before with Ajay and decided to stop by. I ended up spending an hour on their wooden farm stand's porch, playing my banjo and lost in conversation. Ajay looked tired too, but already fitter, tanner and happier than I have ever seen him. He was all smiles. So was I.

I got home around 7, milked and chored, and came inside for a quick dinner and a cold drink. It was a holiday to remember, even without the sky flowers.

P.S. My new fiddle arrives today! Not as old or fancy as the one I gave away on the blog, but it is an acoustic/electric combo instrument from Silver Creek and I am excited to have a fiddle again!

learning this on the banjo today

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

independence day

I live in a country where a little girl can grow up to be anything she wants to be. I know this to be true.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

king george's reign

I have mad respect for George. From the first day King George waddled into my house along with his 25 pounds of fat cattitude he has acted like he owns the place. He is proof positive what confidence can grant you. And think about what that means? He lives in a house with three dogs, all over 50 pounds and three times his size. That would be like you and me living with dire wolves the size of an F-150 and sharp teeth the size of our hands...

George isn't intimidated. You want to mess with him, go ahead. He'll just smack you in the eye till you see red and tuck tail and run. He put all the dogs in their places the moment he moved in. I was told if I owned huskies I could never have a cat. They didn't know about George....

have a wonderful holiday, friends...

Homemade Pantry: Alana Chernila

I loved this book. It's perfect for those of us who have started raising an eye at those boxes of pop tarts in the grocery store and don't work on the weekend. We all know how many preservatives, chemicals, fillers, corn and soy by-products and other stuff not meant for consumption by the human animal is in our foods. But that doesn't mean we don't like pop tarts, butter in wrapped bars, cheese, graham crackers and juice in plastic containers? Well, this lady shows you how to make all those things you used to waste money and calories on. Things like salsa, crackers, tortillas, pasta, fruit roll ups, baking mixes, jams, the works. All of it step-by-step and pretty as a picture. You can't ask for more.

It is written in a clear and easy, conversational tone. The photography is stunning. the first chapter (called so cleverly aisles, in this book) is about dairy at home and shows a young girl leaving a gate with a glass bottle of milk while a herd of milk cows watch on and I melted. And the whole, beautiful, book is like that.

Alana is a semi-local, she lives an hour away or so in Western Mass and is going to be doing an event at Battenkill Books. If you want a signed copy of your own, you can email Connie Brooks and she will happily set you up. I bought my copy in the store today, and it has been a long time since I was that content leaving a bookstore with a cookbook!

Homemade Pantry costs something like 24 bucks and I that will buy you about 6 boxes of Poptarts. If that isn't enough to convince you to consider this book I don't know what is.


Monday, July 2, 2012

four steps to paradise

Today after the horses were back in their keeps and the sun rose up high, I came home and swapped out my jeans and boots for a favorite old sun dress. I kicked off my shoes, fixed my straw hat over my eyes, and went out into the garden barefoot with my border collie at my heels. Not far away from him was Monday, bleating for more milk.

We walked across the farm to the small herb garden at the back of the house. It was in need of weeding and some harvesting. Just like all of you gardeners warned, that mint was spreading like a crow's wing in flight. I cut off big chunks with my boline knife, curved like a little hand sickle, and then passed them in my left hand to hold until I could brig them inside to tie up and hang upside down to dry. I grabbed some chamomile and chocolate mint for tea as well. The flowers of the blooming echinaceas were enchanting. The lemon verbena made me want to roll in it. Paradise can be built in a 4x4 herb bed, among other places if you are in the mindset to find it.

We were a happy trio, us farmers. After the herb garden was weeded and watered, I stepped out and headed over to the vegetable patches. Monday followed, still wanting his bottle. He could eat until he exploded. Gibson stuck around the herbivore activity of messing with plants long enough to watch Monday tuck in his legs for a nap amongst the kale, while I went about the work of weeding and pulling out bolted lettuce and rocket. This particular bed was spent. It was just housing bitter greens, and I decided today they would go feed the goats and I would turn and replant the soil with fresh seeds of kale, mesclun mix, and arugula.

The garden bed needs to be fed. Since the soil already brought such beautiful plants into the world I will add some of the black vermicompost from my worm bin and a diluted watering of compost tea. It is powerful stuff, that. A few treatments and the leaves will thrive.

It felt so sweet out there, my bare feet in the cool earth, worms between my toes and a lamb sleeping in the sunlight. My dress would kick up with the occasional wind and just a few yards away Jasper watched with mild interest. Within an hour what was once a festering jungle of elder greens was naked and brown and ready for rebirth. I watered it and felt that new feeling a fresh garden bed grants you, that dirty honest hope. Monday sighed and I gripped my toes deep into the soil, as if holding on with my feet would brand the memory.

I love being on the back of my horse. I love putting on that harness, and driving him down a country road with friends on a sunny day. But there is something to be said for summer afternoons barefoot in paradise. And before I head out to my hammock with a book and a glass of something cold, I leave you with the best advice you will get all day. Follow these four steps to paradise, my dear friends.

1. Lean back in your chair.
2. Close your eyes.
3. Smile and let out a deep sigh.
4. Keep smiling.

like a GLOVE!

Look at that beautiful cart. A new coat of paint, some tires, and a few parts ordered from a working horse catalog and Merlin's $5 auction cart is road worthy! You hear that world, this girl is clamoring for an orange triangle!

sheep medic: update

Looks like I did the job! Tess is standing, baaing, and in better shape than she was before. It was tetanus for certain, and you can read all about it and see photos of Maria,Tess, and jon's dog red if you click here!

happy monday!

As a birthday present Patty hired Milt to join me today in a drive with Merlin, me doing the lion's share of the actual driving. I was the one harnessing, fixing the bridle and bit, putting on the collar, adjusting hames and all the usual grunt work of preparing for the road. Patty was doing the same with Steele, taking her boy out in her large fancy meadowbrook cart while we used the forecart. It was a beautiful ride through the back roads and fields of Maple Lane farm. I got to hold those lines and work with my horse in a whole new way. It feels so great behind a horse in a cart, like how things are supposed to be. Made me want to write up another chapter of Birchthorn, get back in Anna and Lara's heads and Cambridge in 1918...

Happy Monday!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

sheep medic

Just back from Bedlam Farm, where I was helping Jon and Maria with their ewe, Tess. Tess was wobbly and weak, having trouble standing. When Jon explained the symptoms on the phone it reminded me a lot of the Cotswold ewe I turned around from Tetanus a few months ago. I called up Yesheva at Common Sense to double check my diagnose and we both agreed on anti-toxin and penicillin for a few days, with some extra sugar in the water for a kick.

Tess will pull out of it just fine, but to cover all my bases I handed Maria a green candle with a sheep I drew on it. I suggested she burn it for Tess, and between some old fashioned antibiotics and prayer we got our backs covered.

Tess will be just fine. Gibson and I are off to swim in the river now!

photo by jon katz

merlin's five-dollar auction cart!

mountain fiddles for all

I am so excited about Fiddle Camp, coming up in August. The response to the two-day event here at the farm has been overwhelming at times. and a mix of brand new faces and familiar ones will arrive.

What is Fiddle Camp? It's a two-day workshop here at the farm. Folks are welcome to literally camp in the yard, or get a local room at an Inn. They'll arrive with a fiddle waiting for them, tuned and ready to play. Everyone will have a copy of Wayne Erbsens amazing beginner's book and we'll go sit outside under the big maple for talks, demos, and teaching the basics of playing that box of wood, metal, and horse hair. The goal of the workshop is to take people with absolutely no musical background or experience and have them leave the farm as fiddlers. If this sounds like a tall order, well, then you have been hoodwinked into thinking the violin is a hard instrument to play. It isn't.

The fiddle is just four strings held by tension over a wooden box with some holes in it. There are just four basic finger positions to learn to get started, and those same finger positions are the same on every string. In about an hour people will know the entire basic map of the fiddle. By noon the first day, we will be starting our first songs. They will come to know the fiddle as I teach it, like a new dog. It take a little while to get used to, there is some adjustment, but in a few months you won't be able to imagine your life without it. You'll strap it over your back with baling twine to take it out to campfires and friend's bbqs. And when you start a raucous round of Old Joe Clark everyone will be shocked you had it in you, but you won't be. It's a natural outcome of practice and love. No different then letting your water-loving dog off leash and a dock and seeing it dive in.

Musical instruments are just like gardens. They really are. Just like anyone who can follow basic instructions, access sunlight, soil, and seeds can grow a patch of lettuce greens—anyone with a tuned fiddle and some determined effort can grow a song. It just takes learning new moves, understanding a new animal. And like gardens you can be as simple or complicated as you want to be.

Cold Antler Farm isn't Juliard. If you are looking for a professional certification or someone to perfectly place your hands over your bow: that's not happening. This isn't for orchestra, this is for the outback. My fiddle camp is about getting comfortable and making homebrewed music because you just love the sound, mystery, and romance of the fiddle and want some of it for your own.

People aren't coming here expecting to leave playing The Devil Went Down to Georgia. they will leave playing music though. Like a new gardener can hold a seedling in her palm, new fiddlers can saw out simple Old Time mountain tunes with ease after they learn now to hold the dang thing right and use a bow. And we will start that basic of a level. We'll learn how to hold things comfortably, the parts and names of the pieces, how to rosin a bow, how to make music from that rosined bow, and how to care and feed for the new instrument.

It'll be a fun two days. I found a couple who want to come and camp, and they run a screen printing business. They are trading the camp t-shirts for lessons. Another couple of friends are driving over from Ohio, another good friend is coming up from Philly. I have a few last spots left if you want to join in. And if you have a fiddle and want to come for just the saturday intro course from 10-2pm, you can do that too for a lower fee.

I'll make sure to take videos! Now, the rest of you, grab your instruments and play today! The world can use some more music, more goodness. And if someone gives you the hairy eyeball for not sounding like a pro, just play louder, they love that.

jasper's new digs!

Here's Jasper in the front section of the new horse paddock. It's about a 1/4 acre of hillside, brush, woods, and open grass like you see here. There's a main gate leading out, and a smaller gate leading to the sheep sections. I did a sweep of all the old wood and metal and wire and checked for holes before letting Jasper in to try it out. He's a footsure pony, and he has been loving the new grazing! Soon Merlin and him will both be at the gate waiting for fly spray and cookies.

P.S. Got a used driving harness on eBay for a steal, and Patty found a red cart at an auction with shafts long enough for Merlin! It just needs new bike wheels and a scrape and paint job! It was made my a local farmer for his cart horse, farm style, out of old bike frames and wood. I'll post a picture soon! Before you know it I'll be driving up and down this mountain. None of the neighbors will be shocked, but should be happy!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

i know what these kids will want some day...

fences up!

My alarm went off at 4:34 AM and no part of me wanted to get out of bed. I was just tired, not resistant or ungrateful, just plain tired. The last two weeks of heat and labor have whipped me into a kind of pace I am getting used to, but just. I'm getting used to it the way a doggie-paddling labrador chasing a college crew team down river gets better. If 12-hour days of summer farm labor are elegant rowing, I am hell at doggie paddling.

I was getting up early because the night before Brett Arrived from New Hampshire (on the way home from his graduate program, he lives up near Lake Placid) for the Greenhorns screening and panel discussion, and offered to help spend some free time of his putting up Merlin and Jasper's new fence around their new pole barn. the catch: his free hours were 5-8AM and if you think I am turning down help from two grown men to put up rolls of field fence, well, I'm not.

The second grown man was Ajay, of course. I called him from bed, at 4:45 AM and our conversation went something like this:

oh, Hey...

Ughmm huh?

youstillwannacomegiddupfences? membbe?

uhhh huhhh MMmhuh

5:05 - 5:15. ish. i bethere

yupyup ugh huh..



Ajay was at the front steps of Common Sense's main house, a huge mansion three miles of the farm in downtown Cambridge. We stopped at Stewart's and got coffee and breakfast sandwiches for all of us, and I told him Brett was already bracing the fence posts we put in last week and getting the site prepped.

We arrived and slammed into the work. It was a fast-paced, buggy, three hours of pounding in t-posts, stretching fence wire, rolling 300+ feet at a time, installing gates, and cleaning out old metal and wire trash. Brett was a machine out there, a farming workaholic. Watching him with a roll of fencing over his shoulder or nailing in fence staples on an old locust tree is like watching some sort of animal in his natural habitat. British voiceovers could narrate his actions with a telestrator. "And here, we can see a native Lumberjackitus Adirondackus maneuvering his way through the timber. Notice his intent. Stunning." I once told Brett on an earlier work day that if people could be categorized as animals, we would be Dire Wolf people. Out dated, stocky, feral, and carnivorous. That or Badgers, but if I was a Badger People I would be wearing a Dire Wolf tee shirt and really mean it.

And this Badger can howl, son.

Ajay has lost at least 10 pounds since he arrived from his new lifestyle up here and has quit smoking cold turkey. He glows when he works now. It's another person. The combination of intense physical labor outdoors, clean lungs, and organic food from the farm has turned his body so fast into a machine of work. He loves the life in the Community there, the buzz of a big house full of people, non-stop interaction. He craves community the way I crave my quiet.

Both the gents at the farm were friendly and goofy, both know me well, and it was a treat to spend the morning working beside them. By 8:15 we had the job done, and Brett was off to Livingston Brook Farm to work on Patty and Mark's barn floor. Ajay had an ultimate Frisbee game back at Common Sense, and I had an archery tournament an hour north at War Camp. We all hugged and parted ways. I could not thank them enough.

Tomorrow when I head down to see Merlin it will be the last time I hand over a boarding check. Within the next two week's he'll be living here at the farm full time. Him and Jasper will be paddock-mates, and I must admit it is a nice spread. A full 1/2 acre of woods and hillside and pasture, attached with a gate to even more pasture. And I stood out there, looking over it tonight in earnest awe. Just four months ago Merlin was a pipe dream and internet argument, now he's the horse I know better than any other, my own. He's going to be on my farm in a brand new barn and paddock and the Sheriff across the street agreed to let us use his ATV trails in the morning to trail ride on. He owns nearly 100 acres of woods and pasture and it is literally 100 feet from my farmhouse front door. All I had to do was knock on the door and ask.

Do you know what this means? By October I will be able to start my mornings, even weekday mornings, here at the farm stoking the woodstove to fight off the morning chill, and then pulling my favorite flannel or wool sweater on and tacking up my Fell for a quiet morning ride through the forest? By then my current manuscript will be completed and turned in, and my new work will be planning Antlerstock and fiddle camps and figuring out the next adventure.

Fences up. Friends at arm's reach. Farm is thriving.

Life is good.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Attn: Fiddle Camp Folks!

Hey All! If you are coming to Fiddle Camp, I need your t-shirt size and if you paid for a fiddle, I need to know if you want an adult sized instrument (4/4) or a 3/4 sized one (for smaller hands and smaller bodies)? Please let me know soon as possible either in the comments section or via email!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

meet me in montauk

Here is some news! Monday has been sold to a couple in Montauk. They will drive up from Long Island to pick him up and he'll be castrated and kept as a pet with their Shetland ewes. How about that? Monday gets the life of few male sheep, perhaps he'll be their Sal?

francis, too

goat walks

My goats don't have a pasture. They live in a pen with an indoor/outdoor combo run with fences. But goats are browsers, natural herbivores and to them Washington COunty is a large buffet when it is this green. So my goats go on walks up and down the county road, to eat the apple trees and weeds along the sidelines. Bonita is a fan of these walks, and Francis is learning a collar and lead aren't a noose one shrub at a time...

The Need Fire

There’s an ancient tradition in the Scottish Highlands called Tein'-éigin (Tine-Aye-Gan), In English: The Need Fire. Whenever a group of farmers or clansmen felt a particularly bad patch of luck had hit their cattle or community, all the home’s hearth fires were put out and a new fire was started for all. This fire was special, incredibly so. It was a fire for the commons, started not with a match or fuel, but by friction. You needed to light embers with the traditional methods of rope against wood because it was a blaze to be earned. Once it got started in earnest it burned high and wet wood was added to create smoke. Lots and lots of smoke. Farmers would run their cattle or horses through it, a baptism and cleansing, a prayer on the ashy hoof. The smoke was supposed to heal, and all it touched would aid those in need.

After the fire was smoldering, prayers sent up to the likes of Brigit (Saint or Goddess, depending on personal leanings or time period)—everyone grabbed coals and burning logs from the common fire, and took it home to start anew. They lit their own hearths again from that ritual, knowing that the whole clan was there together in whatever happened. They’d deal with the cattle, the limping horses, the bad crops—they were a community and they had the embers to prove it.

I have yet to gather my own clan up here for a Tein'-éigin, but I can assure you this much, they would all come. Everyone will have different ideas about religion, some will have no faith at all, but the Need Fire isn’t necessarily about deity, it is about each person’s trust in the larger community. That as a group we are more and capable of support and the healing of each other than any household or farm alone is. If my farm hosted a Need Fire I’d know Jesus, Buddah, St. Brigit, and Gaia would be present in the hearts of the attendees. Each religion would walk us separately to our bonfire. All those beautiful internal fires of belief just add to its strength. Like different woods create different sparks and slow burns, they come as one under the heat of the moment, the need.

And whether your friends and family actually create a smoky fire in a state park or just meet for coffee, the point and spirit of the Tein'-éigin lives on. It’s about coming together to work through pain. We see examples of it every day: Town Meeting Night over in Vermont, Personal interventions with addicts, prayer groups in church basements, Rotary Club and Girl Scout meetings alike. These are all examples of common hearts and minds coming together in support and change for something bigger than themselves, something better. Perhaps it is the farmer in me, or the romantic, but I can’t see a difference in any of these examples. I see the same hope swirling from the smoke of a 1356 Bonfire in the Highlands and the steam coming off a coffee cup in a church basement’s AA meeting. Strength comes from community support, so does change for the better.

So, dear friends, who would light a Need Fire with you? Who are the members of your clan? If there is something you ache for, or wish to heal, why not gather the support of your people? It took moving to a farming community for me to fully understand the idiocy of self-suffiency. Either in survival or spirit, community is what has the ability to thrive.

You don't have to be a religious person to let the Tein'-éigin burn in your heart. You just need to believe that a better life is something worth believing in. May your clan light the way.

-Excerpt from my upcoming book, Days of Grace.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

merlin won't be going to war...

This weekend is Northern Region War Camp, up here in the shire of Glenn Linn. That's the region of the SCA I belong to, and am an archer in good standing (number 182) with my fellow historical reenactors and craftsman in the Society. I will be at War Camp Saturday afternoon and most of Sunday, but Merlin won't be coming along. No trailer (and lack of practice driving and loading the horse alone) is just a fool's cry for trouble. Maybe next year.

I found this photo of a Fell at an SCA event if you want to see what I mean. Yes, I would totally ride Merlin in a corset. In fact, Fells are popular at such events since they are actually period animals from the area of my persona and time. So not only would he match the time line, he'd match my quiver!

Click here for details on NRWC, bring out the family for classes and demos! The SCA is a great way to learn skills of the past in your area of the country, free. Here is what is being taught at War Camp

photo from flickr, see more from pahz's site here

cowboy up

friend spoken here

I came across this old hobo symbol in a book today. It was painted or carved outside friendly places were ideas and stories were taught and then sent out into the world to be shared. Within twenty minutes of finding that page in the book it was painted on the front walk near the door with a goose feather. Friendship is spoken here, as is friend. Paint it near your own front door if you feel the same way. We know our own, by and by.

This symbol does not apply to groundhogs.

Come one, Come all!

take home monday?

Looking out my kitchen window I can see Monday asleep by the garden. He had a bottle of warm (fresh from the udder to the bottle!) goats milk and then chewed on some grass till life got tiring again. Sun is hitting his wooly back, and the vitamin D is soaking in. Before I leave for town I'll put him back into the large, hay-lined, dog crate in the barn. When I am away he is there, and when I am here he is out in the yard. In a few week's he will be large enough to not slip through the fencing at will and then join his flock. I'll miss seeing that fat belly out in the sunshine, though.

I have been thinking about Monday. He's a bottlefed, socialized, and intact purebred Scottish Blackface. He may be worth more to the farm being sold as a breeding animal than turned into Holiday Feasts. Does anyone have any interest in buying this boy for your own farm or flock? I would be asking $175 and he does not have papers. If you are interested in coming up to CAF to pick him up, let me know. He comes from New England Lines, the sheep of Barb Armata (New York) and Denise Leonard (Mass). Both women are active farmers and sheepdog trainers.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Workshop Giveaway Winners Are....

..Lesa and Kelsey!

still love this

watch your feet, dropping updates!

Monday the ram lamb is scamping along. He's on that bottle, but already nibbling grass and enjoying fresh water too. He's doing great, and becoming the farm's unofficial mascot. I think I'll bring him to the event at Hubburd Hall this Friday. I hope some of you will make it, a free screening of the incredibly important documentary The Greenhorns, right here in Cambridge.

Francis, the new yearling doe with a buckling name (that is how she rolls) had a weird limp last week. Soon as I noticed it I went in with hoof trimmers and inspected the foot. Besides a little growth in the hoof on all of her feet nothing seemed weird or off. She limped another day and I decided to check again and give her a bit of Penicillin as a Just In Case. I cleaned her foot with soapy water to get an even better look. Nothing was wrong, not in touch or smell or anything? The next day it was still there and I called Yesheva to check it out, my goat mentor from Common Sense Farm. She saw the same thing I did (nothing at all) and agreed with the Pro-Pen G shot. It lasted two days and then she stopped limping. I can only guess it was a sore or pulled muscle or a light sprain. Maybe Bonita butted her? Maybe she got it stuck on a fence wire? Maybe she took up Salsa dancing and this was the inevitable fallout due to the fact she's a goat. The world will never know, but my goat is healed. Glory Be!

Bonita is kicking out a little less than a gallon a day. When the Daugton's came by this morning for a pre-slaughter road trip brunch (we both had trucks with livestock to deliver to local harvester Ben Shaw after breakfast) those boys lit up like firecrackers at the offer of cold chocolate goat milk. They used it to wash down their egg and goat milk quiche filled with kale and spinach from the garden. It was a hit. Ian was proud to tell me about the successful mating of his meat rabbits, animals from my farm and Meg Paska's Brooklyn Homestead litter. He has his calendar marked for nest boxes and kindling. He's a natural farmer, that kid. He shouldn't be in 4-H, he should run it.

On the way home from Ben Shaw's farm, I stopped at Tractor Supply and got all the t-posts, field fence, t-post toppers and somesuch for the big fencing day Friday. If anyone wants to come build fences let me know, it'll be an early morning (starting around 5:30 AM), but both Brett and I welcome the help! And when the fences, gate, and ground is cleared of holes and debris I will be ready for the arrival of Merlin. An event so important to me, to bring him home and have him outside my window every day. He belongs here, and will be ridden as often as possible, worked too. I am going to ask my neighbors across the street if I can ride their ATV trails early before they would ever use them, perhaps I will have a nice trail just a few feet from my front door? A girl can hope, eh?

Jasper is a spitfire and being worked twice a week. He's willing in harness, but channels Dennis Leary in every other aspect of life and work.

Ajay was dropped off at Common Sense Farm around lunch and was thrilled with the mansion, the people, the work, and the farm. They were ready for him early and so I took him there and stuck around for a meal with my friends. I'll check in on him all the time, and hope to see him at the movie Friday, too. Brett will be here soon to talk fencing and horse paddocks. I'm trying to get him to get another horse, a matched Haflinger named Milt I have been watching on Craigslist for him.

Jazz is mostly solid. His coat and eyes are failing him, but he is generally active and smiling. Annie is the same as ever, smiling and food lovin' - Gibson starts herding lessons again soon and I bought an Aled Owen video for farm dog training as well. Progress comes as it comes. G and I are in no race to learn. I can say he may not be any trial dog, but every day he works on this farm. He brings sheep, helps me capture chickens, protects Monday, and terrorized Thor the rooster, whom I despise and worry I may eat out of spite.

Also, Expect a webinar (woolcentric) and more Birchthorn soon!

haters gonna hate

"What truly horrifies me is that so many find this book wonderful, and insightful, and think by reading it that they are closer to understanding the animals in their lives and in the world around them. I can't help but wonder if they are blinded by the author's name....writing about a field that she so obviously knows very little about, she has ventured far outside her sphere of knowledge and experience; and threatens to take gullible and unsuspecting readers with her as well."

"She says she loves animals...but fully upholds the human right to own, control, manipulate, mutilate, buy, sell, inseminate, incarcerate, and slaughter animals..."

"I cannot recommend this book to anyone -- although it contains some interesting facts about handling livestock, in other areas it has too many un-scientific personal assumptions, which could in my opinion, cause more harm to innocent beings, the animals."

"Her outlook is sadly insulting to anyone who truly loves animals, and who shows that love daily by doing the least harm possible, including not forcing them to die for us."

"...disingenuous and unfair."

-Amazon reviews of Temple Grandin

Haters gonna hate. There's nothing for it. You'll find just as angry reviews on Joel Salatin, Jon Katz, and my own reviews pages and across the internet. Anyone who deals with people passionate about animals will be accused of such offenses. I have learned to trust myself, and my farm, and walk around with people here who share in the workshops and events and let my life and words speak for themselves. I use the delete button, too. It feels great. I hope Temple does the same.

Ajay's Moved to Common Sense Farm

Thank you for all of your help here as a short-term intern, you worked hard, did amazing things around here. I wish you all the best at Common Sense Farm! And now Brett (Official Lumberjack of Cold Antler) Will be staying for a bit to do fencing and hard work as well. Let's hear it for the boys!

Monday, June 25, 2012

understanding the whole machine

As much as I love riding Merlin, it was driving him that felt the most comfortable. As if it was what we were meant to do together. Sitting in that forecart with the lines, asking Merlin up into a trot felt no different than changing lanes in my pickup. Unlike the automobiles I drive, I understand exactly how I am moving across the landscape. I know the animal, the harness, the way the cart is put together. If any single thing breaks down myself or someone close to me can repair it. I have no idea how to repair the microchips in my truck's computer. Travel may be slower. It feels right, though.

Why have we been taught to want to leave home?

ho, hey!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

farm dispatch: by ajay

So if any of you were wondering about the differences between the city life and the farm life, allow me to shed some light on that subject; there aren't many. How can that be you say? Well in my old life I had to deal with ornery cab drivers. They rarely spoke a dialect of english that I could understand and if I tried to reason with them in any kind of civil way about the route I wanted them to take I would have to listen to a ten minute discourse on why I shouldn't tell them how to do their job, which may or may not end up with me getting booted from his cab. On the farm this happens to be a lot like dealing with Thor the rooster. He speaks a dialect of dinosaur which I completely do not understand, he assures me on a daily basis that I have no Idea how to do my job or anyone else's for that matter and boots me out of his rooster barn for even making eye contact. At least I don't have to defend myself from the cab driver using a steel trash can lid.

In the corporate world I needed an ID card to enter the building where I worked. On the farm my ID card is knowing which wire fences are electrified, spoiler alert: they all are. In my old life I needed an alarm clock to get up and its the same thing here on the farm except that my alarm clock is a border collie named Gibson and all I have to do to hit the snooze button is tell him to get "his" sheep. The sheep themselves are a lot like my former co-workers, it doesn't matter that they're huddled around  a pile of hay instead of bag of bagels in the company kitchenette. The sheep and my former co-workers speak exactly the same dialect.

There's really only a one main difference from the city to the country and it's this. . . you're work is entirely rewarding. It's like taking the sticky plastic cover off of your aunt's Mabell's couch and sitting on it for the first time. It's real. You're hands touch the rich soil and the sun lights up your world like no florescent light ever could. It does take a level of sacrifice to exchange one life for another, even if for just a short period of time. But it's worth it.

Yerba Mate. Google it.