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.

change your story

I was watching Patty, Steele, and Ajay walk up the Livingston Brook Farm driveway, and couldn't stop smiling. Ajay was on Steele's back, his first time on a horse since the few minutes he experienced it when he was eight. He looked comfortable, proud, and under the watchful eye and advice of Patty, confident. Mark, Patty's husband, walked up aside me next to the trailer Merlin was in. He had been in the garden and handed me a fresh radish, "Take a bite of that!" he said, and I did. The crispy tartness filled up my senses and I nodded to him. He pointed to the pile in the driveway harvested that day. It was enough radishes to fill a commercial gumball machine.

Mark looked at the horse and new rider and said so matter of factly, "You know, this changes his whole story?" And I looked at him, expected more of an explanation. Mark continued, "His story with horses. He said his only experience with horses was riding a pony as a kid for a few minutes. He had no experience, at least nothing substantial. But he can't say that now." And I got it. Mark was right. Ajay, even though he was nervous and as green as it gets when it comes to country living—got up on that draft horse. He did it even though he was scared, and now that he realized there wasn't a landmine in the saddle and was actually controlling the reins enough to make Steele circle, back up, turn, and stop, he looked ten feet tall.

He can't believe he's only been here since Wednesday night. Because our work starts so early (4:45 on a weekday), and lasts till dark, the days stretch out into a dance of sweat, food, meals, and more sweat. Breaks are few and cherished in swimming holes or hot tubs at friend's houses. In a few more days he'll move on to a new farm and start work there. I'm grateful for the help while I have it. I hope he sticks around to do some more riding, hard work, and falls in love with Washington County and our way of life up here. It's sure been wonderful seeing a good friend so happy and tired. <

He is changing his story.

the boys of CAF

Monday seems to go everywhere with us. He's 100% on the bottle so every few hours he eats from a goat's-milk-filled stubby beer bottle with a plastic nipple from the feed store. Yesterday I brought him along to Maria and Jon's Art Show at Bedlam Farm and he walked around wagging his tail and being held and pet by visitors from all over the US and Canada. Jon brings in the crowds, that is for sure. I talked to people from New Jersey and then the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at the same random circle of strangers. They all seemed to soak up Washington County and its beautiful rolling hills. Yesterday Ajay said it reminded him of the Shire in the Lord of the Rings books. I told him it feels like home to me too. I can't imagine living somewhere else. Not anymore.

After Jon's we went out to the Wesners' for dinner (Ajay's first time eating rabbit, which he LOVED) and, of  course, Monday came with us. Gibson did too. It was like brining along the baby sitter. Gibson kept an eye  on that lamb like it was the only thing in the world to him. He even ignored Patty and Mark's rabbit cages (Gibson stares at rabbits for hours so this is a HUGE deal). He watched and herded that little boy right around us. Gentle, never biting, just circling with that beautiful stalking crouch and dead-set eyes. I was so proud of him.

I'm proud of Ajay too. He is doing so great up here. He's working like a dog, no doubt, but in love with Washington County. He agreed to write a post about what it is like and his observations on it all. It'll be a treat, for certain. He's no writing slouch. He's an inspiring novelist and lover of story and song. I'll post a video of him on his git box later, tearing it up for the dogs in the living room.

Ajay's taken up an interest in horses and riding too. He wants to learn, a combination of being around horses and riders so much,  but also watching things like Game of Thrones and other horse-centric bits of entertainment that got him jonesing for saddle time. He's nervous about it, since he hasn't been on a horse since "three minutes when I was eight" he says, but today he will get his first informal lesson. Patty and I will show him how to tack up, and the equipment and parts of the sport. The he'll get up on Steele under the watchful eyes of Patty and learn some basics of communication and steering. I think he will love it. I can't wait for him to get up on that 17-hand beauty and feel what it is like to see the world, my world, from horseback.

Enjoy your Sunday, Friends.