Tuesday, August 14, 2012

you have nothing to lose

I think there are few things as powerful as the written word. Words can be curses and prayers, sonnets and swears, lyrics and prose. Our language is a gift, and something that stirs things inside us. Words are everything to me, and the reason I am writing you today. Folks, strap into your seat belts because we're going to make magic happen starting now.

When I wanted a farm of my own and had a few months to figure out how to pull it off—I wrote it down. I sat down in a little dirty cabin in Vermont and sketched out in letters exactly what I wanted. I wrote about the sheep and the hillside, the farmhouse and the barn. I wrote about Gibson, and horses, and the commuting distance to work. I did it because I saw it on a movie and I was desperate. Some friends leant me their copy of The Secret and writing down plans was a part of the DVD. Today I can look back at the past few years and attribute most of my manifested life to believing it is possible, thanks to that random video.

I want you to do something right now, right here. I want you to leave a comment stating what you want. And I'm not talking about a new truck or to pass your final exams. I mean the BIG PICTURE. Write down the thing that keeps you up at night, the dream that is stalking you, waiting to pounce. If you are shy do it anonymously. I don't need to know who you are and no one else does either. What matters is that you actually put words down. And when you are done, copy and paste it into a word doc and print it out and put it in your wallet or purse. Carry it with you, not like a burden but like a letter you are going to mail. Have it on your person the same way pockets are on your pants. Do it and see what happens.

You may not realize it, but taking the time to write down a dream is actually the first step in making it happen. You are doing so much more than writing. You are physically turning your thoughts into reality, and if you don't believe me check your back pocket. A real, tangible thing will be there. And while yes, it is a piece of paper it is also so much more. That paper is an action you did to work towards a goal. You build from there, little by little and suddenly the words on your paper are just your life.

When things get scary, or you feel you are losing your destination point, take out that scrap of paper like a compass and point yourself back home. If you can read it, close your eyes and picture it, you are the most powerful force on earth. If I can do this, you can do it. It worked for me and I spent the day with friends in Washington County riding horses on a weekday. I think this blog is the reason why, and not because of the workshops and books, but because every single day I am sharing my hopes and dreams with the world. That is a powerful thing, an ancient practice, and the Need Fire it creates only brings more good into my life. I am so grateful for it, and I want you to have the same. So please, write it down.

You have nothing to lose by sharing your dream. Nothing. Do it and you will be taking the first step towards making it happen. And when you are sitting on your own farm's front porch in a few years, your boss having let you telecommute and your first ever backyard broiler is roasting in the oven filling your house with a scent you thought was only reserved for heaven— you can take a sip of cold beer, reach back into your wallet, take out that faded, stained, and thin scrap of paper and know what it feels like to not only behold a dark horse, but ride it.

truth seekers, lovers and warriors

"Walk tall, kick ass, learn to speak Arabic, love music and never forget you come from a long line of truth seekers, lovers and warriors."
-Hunter S Thompson

I was so touched by the photos Jon took here yesterday morning. It was a barter for a new chicken for his farm. He took over 400 photos, a rapid fire of split seconds caught between Merlin and me. This photo of my reaching down to stroke his neck is my favorite portrait ever taken of me. I almost can't believe it is me, and I think back to that day in my corporate office last winter when I came across his ad online and posted it on my facebook page as a joke. I never thought I could actually own a Fell Pony, or any riding horse of this level because I had been trained through a culture of negativity to not believe it was possible. I was a chump that confused negativity with "realistic" a word so often used to crush people. Reality is a verb, not a precept. It's what you do.

I am reading the dreams of people below and am crying over them, because they make me so damn happy. All these folks just wanting simple things: homes, safety, the ability to love and walk and smile for one authentic moment. No one wants a million dollars or a private jet, they just want their basic needs met and some are struggling to do so.

Holly from Illinois has a great idea and I want to make it happen. We're going to figure out a way to connect local readers to other local readers, wherever you are in the country for a day of Farm Support. We'll pick a day in early September to get everyone who wants to spend a day helping another farmer out and meet new friends. If this is something you would be interested in, either hosting or helping, keep following the blog for more details. I have time to help local farms if you need me, just ask. And I will need help building Merlin's Barn. Maybe some can help with that or loan me and Brett a ladder? Anyway, stay tuned. Inspiration in action is on the way.

fiddle camp update!

So this is who I have listed as attendees for Fiddle Camp. The (f) after your name means you have reserved a student fiddle for yourself as well. Please let me know soon as possible if you should be on the list and aren't, or if I have something else wrong let me know. I have 13 fiddles here waiting for people, based on my paperwork. This is your last chance to order one before camp, so if you need one let me know. I am getting and setting up Cremona Student sets.

Also, if you are attending, make sure you bring along these Four things: your copy of Old Time Fiddle for the Complete Ignoramus, an electric guitar tuner, and bagged lunches. There will be bottled water and access to a bathroom, of course, and we can all go out to lunch if we prefer. PLEASE ALSO BRING A SPARE SET OF 4/4 VIOLIN STRINGS!!! Because chances are when learning to tune they may break and you'll need a reload. So pick up a set at your local music shop or order a set online and stash it with your gear. They cost around twenty dollars, sometimes less.

Campers List!
Diane R and her husband (f)
Sam! (f)
Kate M. (f)
Dawn and Peter
Linda W (f)
Kate N (f)
Brian B (f)
Hwa Su K (f)
Roberta M
Sarah C (f)
Jamie E (f)
Leshem C
Trish K (f)
Ellen (f)
Stacey F (f)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Merlin and Me

photo by jon katz

drought on an urban farm

A long-time reader of this blog has been hit hard by the drought in the American Midwest. She wrote, asking if I would be willing to post about her project to save her urban farm. It got lost in my emails and was recovered tonight. She's raising money to rebuild a food source for her community and perhaps some of us can help?

Click here for more information and to help

upward over the mountain!

One of the best feelings in the world is being on the back of a horse you love as he canters up a hill. Here's a bit of a far shot, taken by Jon Katz when he stopped by earlier this morning. I'll post more later from the shoot, but I just wanted to share this bit of joy before I head out to do my evening chores. A girl and her horse, what a thing to behold!

potato patch!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

three mile soundtrack

1. Carry On. Fun
2. Soul Meets Body. Death Cab for Cutie
3. Some Nights. Fun.
4. Walking Far From Home. Iron & Wine
5. Happier. Guster
6. Folk Bloodbath. Josh Ritter
7. Sound of Setting. Death Cab for Cutie
8. Empty Northern Hemisphere: Gregory Alan Isakov
9. Carry On. Fun.
10. Passing Afternoon: Iron & wine

x marks the shock

I have an X on my right upper arm, just below the shoulder. You know the place, where comic sailors have mother tattooed on their biceps. My X isn't a tattoo though, but it sure is a brand. I got it today when I was stupid enough to go work along the sheep fence without turning off the 30-mile cattle charger I use to keep the woollies in. I was dumping out the dirty sheep's water tank and stand in a pool of muddy water when my shoulder touched the bare wire. I screamed, and I mean I screamed, more out of shock than pain. It was not something I would recommend to any of you nice people. Shucks, I wouldn't recommend it to any of you mean people. It was rough. Lesson learned.

I now have a perfect little red X on my arm though. I kinda hope it sticks.

rabbit for dinner

Yesterday's Meat Rabbit Workshop was small, but packed with information and experiences. In one day we went from the foundation stock and what to look for in your breeding animals, to housing, breeding, kit rearing, and breed types. The day was split into two halves: the morning at my farm where we went over the land of the living—and the afternoon at Livingston Brook Farm where we learned about the land of the dead (more on that later). The entire morning was spent in lecture, either in the farmhouse or out in the barn. The stars of the day were Gotcha the Silver Fox and my chunky Palomino doe who doesn't have a name, but does have eyelashes that would shame a fawn. Everyone got to see a normal mating (Gibson, the little pervert stared wide eyed at this)and we discussed the safest and best ways to bring the little ones up in the world. I tried to cover every aspect of the backyard meat rabbit herd, and what to expect in the experience. We broke for a casual lunch and then packed up into Karen and Joe's Urban Assault Vehicle and drove to Patty's!

Patty taught us all about harvesting the animals. She showed us a simple, quick, and silent way to quickly kill the rabbits using a metal rod like a broom handle behind the animals head, lifting the back legs until its neck is broken in one gentle motion. This isn't easy to explain, but if you youtube search for "broomstick rabbit method" you'll see what I mean. From there she went through her expert method of butchering the humanely killed animals. We went through the system with three rabbits and then stepped inside her beautiful farmhouse to learn about cooking methods and freezer packing. She explained her fool-proof brown and simmer method and showed us how to quarter, butterfly, and best pack the rabbit meat for storage. Patty and Mark were certainly having rabbit for dinner that night, hosting some neighbors from across the road. I bet it was amazing. In fact, I'm certain, as I've eaten rabbit at her place enough times to make the claim!

The day of rabbits covered it all, and I think the brave folks who came out to see the entire enterprise were happy they did. Everyone learned something. Some learned rabbit butchering was NOT for them, and other's got tips and ideas for their future buck and does. I know I came home to a house smelling of Drunk Rabbit Stew, a Cold Antler Farm staple crock pot dinner eaten over buttered egg noodles and it was legendary in taste and scent. My friends Ajay and Geoff came over and each had a serving along with me, both new rabbit conisuers, and both enjoyed it. (I think it is impossible not to enjoy anything with both butter and Guinness in the recipe.) Heck, even the dogs got to enjoy a taste!

I'm a fan of meat rabbits, have been for a while now. It's one of the topics I'll be talking about at the Mother Earth News Fair and will continue to teach and lecture about here at the farm. I think their the perfect backyard protein, maybe even better than chickens. They are quieter, easier to dress and cook, and more people like it than dislike it once they get the gumption to try it out. I think rabbit and venison have become my top shelf meats, my new palate's favorite flavors. I'll keep breeding and enjoying the former, and pray I get an arrow in the later. The good news is even a bad shot can come inside on a cold November night to a bowl of Drunk Rabbit, regardless of the gifts of the hunt. I don't think that's a bad consolation prize at all. In fact, with a side of crusty bread and a wedge of cheese and home brew in a stein, that might be this woman's version of heaven.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

muddy buddies

Friday, August 10, 2012

Gle Mvah!

Well, I'm teaching myself Scottish Gaelic. Don't get too excited because it's what I do for five minutes before falling asleep at night in bed, my bedtime reading. And I'm doing it for no reason other than to better read the old tales and music from that land I love so much, that I'm drawn so strongly to. I have piles of Celtic folklore and tales and don't even know how to pronounce the places and names. I decided to remedy that and its been fun. I'm no expert, heck I am barely capable, but between books and Youtube on my iphone in bed it's not so hard to get into a thing these days. I thought I'd share a basic greeting conversation through my two Scottish critters here: Gibson and Monday, both from ol' Alba (that's Scotland in, well, Scottish). I have the proper spelling first and how to pronounce it in the parenthesis. And if you want to hear it all spoken and explained, click this link here.

Gibson: Ciamar a tha sibh? ( Kimeer a har shiff)
Monday: Tha gu math. Ciamar a tha sibh, fein? (Ha goo mah. Kimeer a har shiff, fee-in)
Gibson: Gle Mvah!! Tapadh leigbh!
(Glay Vah! Tapa lef!)


Gibson: How are you?
Monday: I am well. How are you?
Gibson: Very well! Thank you!

Bonus phrase! m' math cu! (mmm mah coo)
Translation: my good dog (male dog, female would be m' math chu)

Yes, I'm a nerd.

a note about emails


I am very very overwhelmed right now and can't keep up with emails. Sometimes (twice this week) folks emailed me to follow up on older emails and said they were hurt I did not respond. All my lack of response means is I didn't get to the email yet. I try to respond to as many as possible but often I have to prioritize emails for workshops and sponsors above conversational, advice, and barter request emails. I don't mean it as disrespectful, I appreciate all letters sent or shared. It is simply a matter of not enough time. It's only 4:40PM and I have received 324 emails today. About 30 are folks saying hello or asking advice (thank you, by the way)and the rest are blog comments to approve, emails from sponsors and workshop attendees, friends and family, and things like bills and company mailing lists. Between the farm, the book hitting the deadline, and planning for winter and expenses I am just behind, more so then ever before. I just ask for understanding and patience. If I don't respond, please send it again. If I don't respond to the resend, send it again! I am doing my level best.


feeling better, figuring out fall

Daylight did come, and I met the day with a better attitude. I really believe if you're scared and negative all you do is draw more fear and negative things to you. If I'm positive and act in accordance to my own will, things happen for the better. You can call it faith, magic, prayer, or the Mayan 2012 prophecy, I don't care. But I do know that you get what you think about. I chose to think about getting where I need to be.

Here's the situation. My mortgage and car payment are up to date. Merlin's payment is up to date. My student loans and trash pickup are up to date as of today. My electric bill and internet bill is up to date. My home, health, dental, and car insurance is up to date. There is a start to my hay stash in the barn and Patty and I worked out a deal that if I can't buy it all now I can buy hay from her second cutting she stores in her barn, paying as I go through the winter. So I have a backup plan for hay if I can't get it all in before snowfly, but I do want at least a 2-month supply on hand. I'll feel better knowing that its there. So will the animals. I can get a hundred bales, I am almost halfway there already.

Firewood news! I got a week-long farm sitting job($!) for a neighbor down near Cambridge's famous Content Farm and they took down thirty old trees last summer that seasoned all year and they need help clearing it out. They said if I am willing to help with my truck hauling and moving logs and cut and splitting their stove wood I can take home some as well, probably a full cord! Thats a fine exchange of time and labor for heat so I am thrilled. It will cut my boughten wood costs in half.

I need to order a large order of lumber from the mill to finish up the siding on the horse's pole barn, but Brett told me I could ask for all rough-cut, seconds, or scraps and might get a discount. I certainly know it can't hurt to ask the guys at the mill. Anything I can save is money that stays in the bank, to pay off debts and work towards my own freedom. I might be dog paddling while I do it, but my head is above water and that's success in its own right.

All these things are slow progress, but progress. All figure out already, and I knew them in my logical mind but like a comment said in the daylight post earlier, anything after midnight is just pure emotion. It's not about sense, just anxiety.

I feel better, more in control. I know I'll get the mortgage paid on time, and the truck payment on time, and soon everything will be ready and ordered for the barn. I have Brett and Ajay to help with the hard stuff and big plans to make for the Fair and Antlerstock and all of it will come together. I was feeling scared last night, but I don't think I'll go there tonight. A little valerian and chamomile tea and some rest will pull me through to dawn without a fuss.

You can't let despair get a hold of you, if you do you're going down. Negativity hunts in packs like a pride of lionesses. You slow down enough to let one jump on your back and slow you down and in no time a hundred other things weigh you down until you can't even try to swing. You are helpless, punching under water. I am not going there. I have a plan. I made my choice. I'm farming right here, dammit and nothing is going to slow me down.

Lionesses, eat my dust.

Attn: Tomorrow's Rabbit Workshop Attendees

So things are looking good for tomorrow's workshop! We'll meet here tomorrow at 10AM and do morning introductions and a farm tour, have an indoor lecture and then go out to the barn to talk about what to look for in stock and such. After our lunch break (please remember to bring a sack lunch!) we'll field trip over to Livingston Brook Farm (just 10 minutes away) for the slaughter demonstration and tour of Patty's larger rabbit operation. She'll have animals for sale so if you want to leave with your own livestock, bring a cage. She charges 40.00 per Flemish Giant and has other breeds available as well. If the folks attending could email me to go over directions and such, I'd appreciate it!

So bring along your meal, cages if you need them, and rain gear just in case. We'll have cover and a garage for the demo at Patty's but there will be some time outside that your raincoat might help with. And if anyone out there wants to join in there are still some spaces left. Just email me, and we can work out the details. Looking forward to it!

Five Year Anniversary!

So this week marks the 5-year anniversary of Cold Antler Farm. Five years of one person's story, covering three different farms in three different states. I thank you all for reading. You've helped turn a renter's dream into her full time job. It took a few years, sure, but we did it. In celebration of the last five years and many more to come, I thought I'd share the first ever post from back in August of 2007.

Welcome to the blog for Cold Antler Farm. Cold Antler isn’t a place - It’s an idea. Named for my love of cervine symbols in ancient cultures and the poems of Han San, Cold Antler seemed like the perfect name for home. Right now Cold Antler is a retired cattle farm in Sandpoint Idaho. Here I raise chickens (heavy laying hens and some black silkie bantams), angora rabbits and a hive of honeybees. I also tend a few hearty gardens. I live with my two working housedogs, Siberian huskies named Jazz and Annie. They are working pack and sled dogs, and like everyone here at the farm, they do their part. My goal is greater sustainability and self-sufficiency in a world where those two things seem to have gone out of fashion. Being a renter, this takes a little more ingenuity and adaptability than the permanence of a regular farm...

This will be a place that hosts all farm-related posts from my personal blog and specific updates on my upcoming book. Idaho rural living, and local farm events (Like the upcoming county fair later this month!). Readers of Dogcoffin, will see a lot of double posts between the two blogs as this one becomes my main online contact and the coffin goes into a protected or offline mode. So thank you for taking time to check up on the barn at the end of the world and check in often.

small gift, big smile

Yesterday was my lesson with Trainer Dave and Merlin. Some of the Daughton Clan was there including Jacey, their oldest daughter and her new baby girl, Jane. Jacey loves horses, has ridden all her life and was looking forward to some time at the farm to be around horses and trainers again. I was honored to have her along. We learned new things, tricks and steps. Dave said I'm looking better, more comfortable. I told him for me it was time in the saddle. The more I do a thing the more comfortable I am. Every day I ride Merlin I feel I am growing as a person, getting braver and more patient at the same time. Not a bad gift from a black pony on a hill.

When we were done with the lesson, I told Jacey to hop up. She was happy to ride him and I got to see what a lifetime of riding looks like. Merlin was perfect for her and Jacey looked like a pro. When we were done she asked if she could brush him (of course!) and she braided blooms of Queen Anne's Lace into his long mane. There was a real connection there, that woman knows horses. I can only hope to get there some day myself. As a thank you she offered me a little gift, a small hand-painted watercolor.It gave this tired gal quite the big smile. Thank you, Jacey.

daylight on the way

Well, it's three in the morning and I can't sleep. I'm up because I am worried about this fall. I feel like I won't be ready for it, there's so much to prepare and plan for. It's mid August and I have only 42 bales of hay put up and one cord of firewood. I have plans and sources for the hay and wood but the gathering of it all is slow and nail-biting.

I do not regret my decision to leave Orvis, I needed to leave for many reasons and each of those many reasons was justification enough to move on. There are so many exciting things ahead for me: The Mother Earth News Fair and my keynote address there (I'll be talking about you guys, hint hint), Fiddle Camp, Antlerstock, and October herself. I am grateful and I feel blessed. I have supportive and loving friends, and every day is filled with so much beauty it can bring me to my knees, and often does.

But the truth is that 8-5 job was a grounding point, not real security by any means, but it was easier to fool myself into thinking it was because that's what all of our peers and family think it is. Every two weeks money came in no matter what, long as I stayed on the payroll and the truth is, I miss it. Here, every day is open and free but the past month has been dedicated entirely to figuring out how to get my feet on the ground and prepare for winter. It gets scary, especially alone at 3 in the morning when everything seems impossible and daylight is hours away. I don't want to be rich, I just want to know I'm breaking even and the bills are getting paid, wood is stashed, hay is in the barn, and then winter won't be as ominous. I can focus on the firelight instead of the cold. It's a choice to focus on what's good instead of what's bad. I try to be positive but it is hard sometimes.

Having a website like this is hard. If you write about fears concerning money, people think you are asking for it. I'm not asking for anything, and I'd like to make that clear. But I do want to share the part of the story that involves it. Because I think a lot of readers out there want to transition into full-time farming or self-employment and while I would never go back I think there are ways to prepare that make the transition easier. I thought I did those things, but not enough of them. I am learning from my mistakes one 3AM at a time...

Daylight is coming soon. I'm not giving up the good fight.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

I gasped when I saw it!

a boot story

These boots were purchased at Whitman's Feed and Tack down in North Bennington, Vermont years ago. Before I ever took a riding lesson at Riding Right Farm I went to the store and asked if they had riding boots on sale. They did, but only western style. These Ariat men's paddock boots were on sale for sixty dollars. I wore them under a pair of jeans to my first English Riding Lesson and realized pretty quickly they weren't the right gear for the scene. People had on tall boots and shiny black paddocks with half chaps. I was told I didn't have to buy any gear for the lessons, but most people realized that knee-padded breeches and boots or half chaps made a big difference after an hour in an English saddle. My instructors were right, and so I set aside my cowboy boots in my mud room, to be worn another day when I felt I could pull them off.

So the western boots sat. I forgot about them. They stayed out of the way in the mudroom and my summer of riding lessons turned into fall, then winter, and then spring came and my mudroom was full of chickens. Well, if any of you keep or raise chickens indoors as chicks you learn about the dust that builds up everywhere around them. My barely-worn boots turned into chicken dust-piles.

Somewhere around last winter I stopped caring about what people at the office thought about my outfits and wanted to wear my cowboy boots. They were disgusting and neglected, crusty with fecal dust. I decided to throw them in the washing machine and let them dry in the cold sunlight and what was left was a patina of faded, softer leather. I started wearing them because I liked them. Just to the office, or out on weekend work chores. They broke into a perfect form of foot and ankle. I didn't wear them to ride, I stuck with my English garb, but I sure wore them and proudly.

Today after my lesson with Trainer Dave I realized how perfect they are for riding now. They soft ankles and pointed toes, the support and flexibility at the same time. I adore my old boots and I'm happy they grace the sides of a sunburned brown pony on a mountain rode. They might have been bought by inexperience as a mistake but they are now worn true to the cause. They make me feel authentic, and free, and just the sight of them makes my spirit lift. Those boots mean time on a horse, my horse, and the rest is

history. P.S. Unrelated, but true. Boots and Dutch are the best nicknames ever. Aint that right, boots?


vindaloo and headaches

It's been a wild couple of days. In the last 36 hours I ate lamb vindaloo with Brett, rode in a horse cart, rode Merlin, shot clays with my .12 gauge, swam around the ruins of an old grist mill, helped dig fence posts, did chores, worked on my new book, got ice cream, and it all wrapped up last night with me driving down to Common Sense Farm fast as I could after hearing he fell off a 15-foot hay wagon. Amazingly, he was okay. He was checked out and was a little sore, but himself. We
went out for ice cream after at Stewart's.

Before I called it a night I spoke with Ajay over the phone, seeing if he wanted to go to the hospital and how he felt. He said he felt fine, never better, but he had never been this busy in his life before. Technically, he doesn't have a job. He left his old horrible (his words, not mine) insurance gig in the city and is trading labor for room and board in the Commune. He laughed as he explained it. He said he's never had less personal responsibility and more Societal responsibility. He has to get up at 6, work all day outdoors, then also help with meals and moving people and repairing trucks and going on errands. He loves it, can't imagine doing anything but farming, but he's never known how much a person can do in a day until he moved to Washington County.

Boy, did I ever understand that.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

And the winner is...

Sonya Chisenhall! Email me Sonya and I'll mail it out!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

i like this artist. a lot.


Monday, August 6, 2012

riding on my mountain

Merlin and I have grown as a team more in the past three weeks than ever before. Under the gentle and empathetic teachings of Trainer Dave and his western methods of loose rein riding we have been unstoppable on this mountain. Yesterday we went on a two-mile ride. It was a combination of walking, trotting, and cantering the whole journey and I never felt more alive as a rider. We left the farm and headed down the road, weaving along the shaded, tree-lined switch backs on the grassy berms until we hit the junction for route 22. We then turned around, not interested in testing our highway skills yet, and headed back home.

Today we went up the mountain instead of down, up the road until we hit a stretch of fields already cut for hay. They belonged to my neighbor Tucker, who had given us permission to ride on his land, so we stole ourselves. We turned off the paved road and hiked through the forest till a break in the trees opened us up and showed us there are still sights to explore just a mile from our front door. A beautiful vista of mountaintop fields and sunshine lay before us. It reminded me of the balds I used to hike to in the smoky mountains. Such a strange and wonderful thing to climb a mountain and find open land at its top! I could see the famous fire tower, a mile or so up a trail I do not know yet (adventure for another day). I could see mount Equinox in Vermont. I took a deep sign and leaned back in the saddle as we walked slowly through the clipped grass. There was no fear, anxiety, or worry about cars or wildlife. I trusted Merlin and he trusts me and it felt like peddling a bike around, we were sharing his four legs and nothing could stop us.

We did so much exploring. We trotted and cantered through the fields, finding ancient stone walls, shady paths, and droppings from stag and coyotes. We stepped down into steep sections so lush with raspberries I could smell them as the horse crunched some under feet. Merlin, surefooted as the highland-born pony he is, stepped over an old stone wall and out into the second clearing. A great blue heron soared overhead, looking for pools in the mountain stream teaming with brook trout. Bliss, is your wild home land seen from horseback.

This is exactly why I wanted a horse. I didn't care about bloodlines, ribbons, or top hats. I wanted a partner in adventure, a way to move across the landscape. I wanted to go outside my own home, tack up, and head out into the unknown to take on the whole world. I wanted to shown what there was still to explore, to feel him pump up a hill at a gallop. I wanted to be able to ride to neighbors and visit, get to know my local topography, and wave to people I know by first name and talk about the weather. I wanted to use my horse the way people used horses every day 100 years ago. ATVs and cars be damned, I have a celtic pony and I know how to use it.

Merlin and I have explored over three miles of my mountain. There are other people with horses and barns on our journey but we don't ever see them out on the roads? I suppose they are either uncomfortable riding their mounts or don't have the time, but it is something special to trot past the homes of people on the back of your horse while the blue glow of their televisions light up their living rooms. You feel like your out at recess and their still in class. I wasn't even sure why people were inside? It wasn't even eighty degrees today, perfect weather and with a nice wind to boot! I know I shouldn't assume. For all I know folks are ill, or have melanoma. Maybe they just need a day shut in with a movie (I certainly understand that desire to shut off). I honestly don't know, but I can't help but be grateful for my horse and how he makes me want to be outside and living in the green world. He is such a blessing, connecting me with others and teaching me to appreciate a canter up through a wooded field.

I tell you these summer days passed by with saddle, foot, and bow are becoming legend in my own life. I adore every hoof mark, stride, and knocked arrow.

And the very best part?

It's Monday.

you know you're a CAF reader if...

This is how your kid is dressed for the Montreal Highland Games! Thanks, Grays!

checking in with maude

Sunday, August 5, 2012

See You Tomorrow at 6PM!

This is Connie Brooks, owner of Battenkill Books, my town's wonderful bookstore. The Border Collie is Red, Jon's new pooch from Ireland. I love that my downtown district has the following in a two block radius: an organic food co-op, art galleries, a train station converted into a community arts center, yoga classes, a farmer's market, a concert hall, hardware/feed store, and a place like Battenkill books where I can get the newest issue of Mother Earth News, The Believer, and The Coffin Factory in a town of 1,800 people. It is extremely cool for a certain type of person (like me). This is the same town two blocks behind the bookstore Common Sense farm is using hand-powered wheel hoes and neighbors are riding horses down North Union street.

Tommorrow night a good friend is doing a talk at Battenkill Books about his new e-Book, The Story of Rose. If you don't already read it, you should keep up with Bedlam Farm, and tap into Jon's stories and musings on country living with his wife, dogs, donkeys, and chickens. That blog taught me a lot about overcoming fear, negativity, and embracing support and love. Jon is also my new neighbor, as he bought a new farm just down the road. Anyway, He and Connie will be talking about e-books in general, how they effect writers and book stores. I'll be going to support them both, and I hope some of you show up as well. Always a big time in Cambridge.

photo by jon katz

wild rides

24-Hour Kite Stores

I used to do this little social test with new acquaintances to feel out their outlook on life. After I'd known someone a while, or been on a few dates with a guy, I'd tell them I always wanted to open an inner city 24-hour kite store. So that no matter what the time of day, or whatever the income level, people could get a kite and fly it if the wind picked up. Didn't matter if it was in a city park, a ghetto rooftop, or behind kids' bikes as they raced under the streetlights making their own wind. To me, kites mean joy. They are time outside, attention to nature, and simple bliss. I think the world needs more 24-hour kite stores.

So I told this to people and their reaction told me more about them than any match.com profile or conversation. Some people laughed, others raised their eyebrows, some changed the subject and some told me of their fear of heights. But most people had one of two reactions: a positive and supportive one or an instantly negative one. They either thought it was a beautiful and whimsical idea and asked me questions about how I would run it or they would instantly dismiss it as a horrible business decision and a stupid idea. Some people went out of their way to be nice about being negative, "Oh how adorable, but who in the inner city is going to pay for a kite? How could you afford rent? What about the crime rates, etc etc." and they would say this in honey tones just short of patting me on the head with their patronizing voice. Others acted tough and aloof, would cross their arms and then start asking, "So you'd get a big non-profit to sponsor it right? Public outreach and community events and all?" And even in their tough-guy stance they were actually interested and talking about possibilities. Just because someone is acting nice doesn't mean they are, same goes for acting tough.

There are people who live their life as a series of opportunities. They hear new things, new ideas, and they find a way to support and encourage the things they see as good and valuable. If they find something negative or a waste of energy they avoid it and forget about it. Other people choose to live in fear, or on the defensive side of those who they disagree with. They put less energy into encouraging the things they support and more energy into tearing down the things that threaten them. I choose to be the positive type of person. It's why you will never see me write something negative about another person on this blog. I might rail against factory farms or an industry, but you won't see me tear apart a person. I think the only reason I have been successful at this farm (a measured success but I'm still here) is because I do not let negative ideas or people into my life. It's a protection of my spirit and a recipe for happiness. And anyone, at anytime, can decide to be a more positive and encouraging person. Every minute is another chance to turn it all around.

Spend your time with people who fly kites, either metaphorically or literally. You're better off.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

an observation

I've been riding Merlin on my road the last two weeks and I've noticed something interesting. People in cars and trucks seem to see Merlin and me as either an obstacle they drive around (usually at no reduced speed) or something that comes out of nowhere and surprises them around a turn. Both are understandable. But people on motorcycles seem to have a whole different appreciation for another non-car driver and go out of their way to cut a huge berth and make as little noise as possible. They always wave too. Some people in cars never even look at us. Why do you think that is?

what heals you?

I no longer carry conventional health insurance. I gave up the coverage for prescriptions and office visits when I gave up my corporate job, it's part of the trade off for working at home on the farm. Instead I pay $163 a month to Empire Health and that covers hospital care I may or may not need in case of an emergency. So when I feel a little under the weather, I don't call the doc. I go out to the garden. Now it is traditional herbal medicine I turn to and as of last week's upset stomach that meant blackberry root tincture. You see, I had a common stomach problem, one we are all familiar with (the one that involves fast expulsions of food from non-mouth orifices) that lasted too long. I did some research with my homegirl Rosemary Gladstar and found that Blackberry roots tinctures are the remedy. I didn't have blackberries handy, so I ordered some online. A company in the Ozarks mailed me a combination of pressed roots and grain alcohol and after a few doses s in tea three times a day and I was back to normal.

This was not my first adventure in healing myself. Do you remember me writing about the serious carpal tunnel I had? When I still had that health insurance I went to an orthopedic center to get an electronic test through wires and electric shock to monitor the seriousness of my wrists. I was told I needed surgery. Then I mentioned it to one of the elders at Common Sense and he kindly and patiently shook his head at me. He told me his carpal tunnel was so bad he couldn't hold a pencil. Then he started taking 100-mg of B6 and 50-mg of B2 a day and within three months he was back to normal. I've been taking the same and no longer sleep with wrist braces and unless I am typing for a long amount of time I do not even feel pain anymore.

I'm not saying there are supplements or natural cures for everything. I'm not against doctors either. You better believe I am keeping up with tetanus shots and doxy after deer tick bites...but I know a lot of people who heal many things with herbs and vitamins. I know someone who overcame depression with Niacin. And folks who flush Vitamin C through their systems and cure the flu. Many of us calm ourselves down from stress with a cup of chamomile tea or drink mint tea when we get an upset stomach. There are endless and ongoing things to learn in this field. And I have an idea...

I'd like to collect a pile of reader herbal remedies or folk medicines here in the comments. If you have or know of any herb lore or healing arts, share your homemade teas and tinctures here and all of us as a community can take notes. While some of you may be advanced herbalists, some of you may be more like me. So I shared my blackberry root tincture and carpel tunnel cure. What heals you? Share your own remedies and out of all the comments I will send one random winner a copy of Rosemary Gladstar's Herbal Recipes. A wonderful beginner's guide to backyard herbalism and healing! P.S. Hey folks! Today is the last day to share your herbal remedies and stories. I had no idea there was this much interest out there! I'll keep you updated on my own herbal stories but for the now, you have till dusk EST to get in your ideas to win the fancy book. So keep the responses coming! I am taking notes like crazy!

some people get guard dogs...

Friday, August 3, 2012

uphill crawling

The first few weeks of a running program are hell, but somewhere between 4-6 weeks of jogging, five days a week, your body surrenders and finally exhales. It learns to work well under the strain and even enjoy itself in the process. Today was hot and balmy, but I still craved my afternoon soaking. It was around 90 degrees and humid enough to ring out your shirt after walking to the mailbox, but I was only going to the bottom of the mountain and back. The distance down to route 22 was only a mile, two till I got back to my door (the second half all uphill of course). It takes me twenty five minutes or so, but it isn't a race. I only know the time because that's how many songs I need to program on my play list for the pavement. I headed out today and within the first few steps I knew it was going to be a good run. The kind of run that makes people write about them. Thus.

Anyway, I was heading home, climbing up the mountain at a respectable clip when I got lost in the music. I ran with the song, a soundtrack in my pumping heart and I felt the extra air get pulled deep into my lungs as each little hobbit ham pumped and pulled me forward. I think of Merlin when I run. Both of us are not the versions of our species you see on calendars. We're both older, chubbier, shorter, and eccentric for modeling in the horse and human world. Okay, so we're not aesthetic superstars, so what? Just two days ago I was on his back and we were running up this same road together, as a team. We may not be centerfolds, but by Dagda we move like we are alive.

I was half a mile from home when a Subaru passed me, then stopped in the middle of the road about 20 yards ahead of me. I cocked my head to the side, worried they broke down since there was nowhere to go but my driveway and it wasn't the car of anyone who lives on my road. They made a K turn and started driving back towards me and then rolled down the window. I halted my jog and pulled out my ear buds. A kind looking man in his fifties with his wife peered at me with mild concern. He asked, "Are you running because of some emergency? Do you need help?"

I smiled and huffed out that I was fine and I was just running to lose weight, get in shape. This was not a satisfactory answer to the Subaru owners. He returned with, "Oh. Well it's the hottest day of the year, don't hurt yourself" And he drove off. I headed back the last couple of strides home, convinced that I have spent my whole life running uphill with people shaking their heads at me, confused and convinced at the same time I am a nut job.

Maybe I am, but I'm beating my best time at it.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

drought of sanity?

Because I spent 90% of my life within 30 square miles these days, I have not been following the news well. But recently I have been researching and following the conversations going on about the Midwest's corn drought and it is making gears turn. If you are not familiar with the issue here it is in a nutshell.

The USDA has declared that 50% of the corn crop is basically destroyed from the drought. Their exact words are "poor and very poor condition." This is bad news. It effects everyone since corn has gone from on-the-cob to in-everything-in-the-supermarket. Droughts happen, but this one might skyrocket the price of many foods that buy corn to make their product. Things like meat and milk, processed foods and packaged things. More American kids know what a Pop Tart is than a buckwheat pancake so I assume this will ruffle some feathers.

And here's the rub: it is law in this country that 13% of our fuel contain ethanol. So if there are ethanol factories that legally have to obtain this short supply of corn, the supply gets even more dear. So farmers are asking Congress to rethink this 13% mandate because it can only make things worse, and it opens a whole other can of worms, so I ask you:

Should food be turned into fuel?

EDIT: Tomorrow's issue of The Guardian will feature my editorial/comment on this subject. If you aren't following the comments, read them and join in the conversation. This is important!
photo: esquire.com

merlin likes sprinklers

photo from afellpony.com

down in the willow gardens

MEAT RABBIT 101 Next Saturday!

I'll be hosting an introduction to meat rabbits later this summer here at the farm! It will be held on Saturday, August 11th. The 4-hour workshop will explain the basics of setting up a small rabitry for personal use. Patty of Livingston Brook Farm will be doing a detailed butchering demo and will have her beautiful flemish giants and flemish giant crosses for sale. Come learn about the other, other white meat. A friendly and compassionate introduction to backyard meat. Only 4 spots still available!

Here's a great article about raising rabbits for food from the NY Times, lots of great photos!

photo from nytimes.com

Get Your Axe On!

Hey gang! Alex from Old Fed Ax Co. wanted me to tell you guys that you can save $10 off his homestead skills DVD with free shipping to the US and Canada. Offer good till August 6th. Thanks Alex! Click here to go to the offer site. And if you don't want to buy anything, if you sign up for their emails you get a free e-booklet on axes, skills, and homestead safety and its certainly worth the 30-seconds of your time. I love free resources like that.

onion wisdom

I remember an old joke about the 80-year-old man with the amazing garden in his backyard. His young neighbor keeps trying to grow food and he asked his elder, in exasperation, "How do you manage to keep that garden so healthy!?" and the old man explained he stopped putting things he couldn't grow in his garden. This is wisdom.

I am a struggling gardener at the Jackson Farm. I was far better in Vermont where my the garden was fenced, and I only had a handful of animals so most of my time could be dedicated to it. If you go back and look at posts from 2008 and 2009 in July the garden is stupidly bountiful.

Here, I am good (read good to mean, groundhogs and deer do not eat) onions, tomatoes, basil, and garlic. Yes, Italian food. My groundhogs are in no way affiliated with the mafia.

Bonus Tip: do not rub your eyes after picking onions.

winter prep update

Yesterday I made the decision that the 30 bales delivered by Common Sense Farm would remain in the barn, untouched. They are needed for winter and if I want to start stockpiling I need to start now. The hay was delivered as a barter. I have a friend who raises hair sheep in Hebron and I asked Othniel (head honcho on CSF) if he would be interested in trading feeder lambs for hay? Since his farm grows hay, and I could pay cash for the sheep, I would deliver the lambs and he could pay me in more hay than I could buy with the same amount of money I used for the sheep. So if I spent 200 bucks on lambs, he would deliver 300 bucks worth of hay. Everyone wins because I get more hay for my money, the farmer sells sheep, and Othniel gets livestock without spending a dime. So yesterday we talked with the sheep farmer, and put some deposit hay in my barn, and soon two yummy lambs will be delivered to Common Sense.

This is the kind of thing I have been working with to prepare for winter. Ways to save money and still have what I need. I have decided I will need four cords of firewood (I have one now), 200 bales of hay (I have 30), two chimneys professionally cleaned (I know people do this themselves but I am scared of heights, don't own a ladder, and would feel better having someone qualified do it) and some money set aside, just a bit, in case of truck repairs or snow-related complications. That is my goal. Yesterday I chipped away at it and bought 6 extra bales from Nelson Green on the way home from Hebron to use now so I don't have to touch the larger stash. I asked Nelson when his second cutting would be in and he said next week. It was good to see him, and catch up. I had not seen him all summer and last time he was dealing with lung and breathing issues. Yesterday he was on the riding mower in his classic navy blue dickies and work shirt, strong as an ox.

I have some bills to take care of first, but soon as I can wrangle it I will order and stack that first cord of firewood (well, second) and when I have 100 bales of hay put up and 2 cords of wood I'll feel a lot better. I know it was just July but before you know it I'll be driving home from the Mother Earth News Fair in PA and calling Port-a-potty vendors about Antlerstock. A girl has got to act when her gut says act. Right now, my gut is only thinking about dead grass and trees.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

winter is coming

Fall is coming, faster than ever before. That's how it feels to me anyway. Now that I'm self employed and the company money stopped coming in, getting hay and firewood squared away requires a little more resourcefulness. I have two months to get in my 250 bales of hay, 4 cords of firewood, and some money set aside to cover any winter emergencies like truck repairs or snow removal. It's a little scary, actually. Not in a debilitating way, just the amount that has to be done before snowfly.

Today 30 bales of hay are being delivered, which due to limited pasture will be eaten before winter. I'll get one big delivery in the fall and load whatever I can in the barn and then rest under tarps behind the barn. It'll do. Firewood will be delivered a cord at a time as I can swing the wood fee. If anyone out there in interested in workshop barters for hay or firewood, send an email.

What are you doing to prepare your homes for winter?

rip those loaves!

August is the beginning of autumn to me, usually more in hint and spirit than in actual weather. Nothing is shouting FALL! into your ear, instead you notice it like whispers vibrating off the squash vines like a string on a child’s tin can telephone. Walk outside for morning chores and take in the heat, but even the novice to country living and feel the change. There’s less humidity, the first leaves are starting to fade and hang differently. The garden and the forest itself are heavy with the peak of its growth, like a bowl of milk about to tip over and spoil. Senescence is just around the corner and the break-neck pace of growth seems to only apply to weeds, which by this point I have allowed to devour parts of the garden without fuss.

They used to call the first few days of August Lammas, which translates from the old Anglo-Saxon into “Loaf Mass”. Since the summer wheat was harvested before other fall crops, it was the official start of fall to people in European agricultural societies. Which is understandable on many levels, since people are not only bringing in the first big crop, but are bringing in a crop that will be ground, stored, and set aside in casks and sacks to feed their community through the dark months ahead. This made the wheat harvest the first of several insurance policies for winter, and when you are out there cutting sheaves and grinding flour for winter bread I assume its pretty hard to feel like you’re still on summer vacation....

It was a day of work, but also a holy day. People brought loaves made of the first grains of the year into their churches to be blessed and then that sacred Lammas bread was not eaten, but ripped into four equal-sized pieces and placed in the four corners of their barns. There it sat as a happy little sacrificial offering. A tangible symbol of hope for a safe winter and good luck.

And If you think I am one to buck a couple hundred years of tradition, you have another thing coming. On this Lammas full moon, I am baking bread and you better believe the four pieces will be in my barn by evening. One in each corner, which will certainly end up being eaten by for the goats, chickens, and rats but who dines tonight in the red barn, well, that's not up to me. It's up to Lammas.

Next year, I'll be harvesting wheat. Mark my words!

August Johnson is the winner!

Of the FREE instructional DVD from Old Fed Ax Co.

email me, August, and I'll get you in contact with Alex!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

the celtic cow pony?

Yesterday trainer Dave wanted our lesson to be about western riding. It's what he rides, what he teaches, but that wasn't his real motivation with going across the pond, tack wise. Dave always tells me "riding is riding. tack means nothing to a horse" and I believe him. I ride English because it was how I was taught, and because its the culture of riding I come from. It's also the tack I have and what makes me comfortable. I like less saddle and more horse below me. I like the good experiences we have had together, in dressage and at the lesson barn. So I am biased and unapologetic about my love for the English Ride.

Tough shit, said the Universe yesterday. Time to leave that comfort zone behind and try something new and feral. I got a magical trainer and he says its time to git along little doggies. Git, I shall.

Dave had me get my barrel racing saddle I bought at the poultry swap last spring. I have only used it once with Merlin and that didn't go well. It was my second trail ride out ever and Merlin was fussy. I got up on that couch and felt like I had no communication or control, like someone had piled up a leather couch between me and my horse and we were unable to communicate. This is, of course, hogwash but how I felt at the time. It was too new to me, and Merlin was backing up and acting up and I was scared. Patty got me through it, even though my weird English Saddle fetish confused her, and we never went back.

Dave wanted to try a different method of communication and ease with Merlin. So far, Merlin and I have used a tight rein, a D-ring dressage bit, a hovering English seat and a crop. Dave wanted to put on my Easy Rider saddle, and use a minimalist type of bridle called a mecata, with rope reins held loose. His whole method of riding is through feel and mutual respect, using my intention and "feel" and using aids like legs and heels and reins as a last resort. I was a little worried about holding reins loose in one hand and sitting up on that couch again. I didn't understand his "feel" either. But let me tell you something about that first lesson

It was amazing.

A 100% turnaround from last week. I needed a lesson in western saddles and the best way to actually tack him up, but from there on it felt as natural as can be. Merlin was so willing, so good, so happy having his head back and listening to my body. I did not need to use a crop once. I did not need to be rough, or scold or use spurs. Hell, I didn't need to use my heels. In under one hour with Dave at the neighbor's field I could get Merlin up into a working trot from a lazy walk and stop him on a dime using Dave's techniques.

So am I a convert? I think I'm still more comfortable in my English tack, but I think what will work for me and Merlin is going to end up being a combination that suits us both and my goals. I didn't buy that horse to trot in an arena, I bought him to ride out in public, across roads and landscapes. To do that comfortably I think we'll end up combining everything I learned. Don't be surprised if this fall you see a photo of me and Merlin in a mecate headstall with black rope reins over an english endurance saddle with my saddle pad sporting a patch with a celtic circle with two crows in it. We're travelers, us. On the road to a better ride, a better relationship, a better feel.

cowgirl, up!

cat and the fiddle

meredith's socks

Meredith Green is a reader who knits the greatest socks in the world. Actually, a few of you have mailed me knit socks and as far as I am concerned, they are ALL the greatest socks in the world. When a package comes to the farm of a certain bulk and weight, I squeeze it and silently pray "socks socks socks" because a pair of hand knit, 100% wool socks are my homesteader crack. You have any idea how great a new pair of wool socks feel under your rubber boots on a November morning? It's like putting armor on against anything the farm can throw at me. Between their warmth and insulation and the Wellie's waterproofing rubber I feel better outfitted than someone in Gore-tex liner and Vibram soles. I am farm ready. I can step in a 6" puddle of almost-frozen water and poo and come out dry and toasty. And when you come inside from all that and

I'm thinking about this because I have two unworn pairs of Meredith's socks here and I am saving them for the first frost. They sit wrapped in my kitchen just as she mailed them, waiting to be called by name in a little pyrex bowl under the bookshelf. (My kitchen doesn't have a microwave anymore, I moved it to the tack room and turned it vertical to hold my western saddle, but I do have bookshelves!) It's almost August 1st and that means first harvest to me. It means it is time to start buying or trading for cords of wood. It means getting chimney's cleaned and the pony barn walls up. It means getting hay, A LOT of hay, put aside and fences mended. It means getting ready for the big Mother Earth News Fair and then Antlerstock on Columbus Day Weekend. Antlerstock is always a huge party but I am hoping to celebrate that weekend knowing that hay is in, wood is stacked, and I am ready.

I want this to be the winter I learn to make socks. I really, really, do. I can knit, purl, cast on and cast off. I can make hats in the round, and scarves of course. I think I have all the tools I need to learn socks and the darn truth is all I need to do is sit down, start knitting, and pay attention to some books, videos, and knitters. If anyone has any favorite beginner sock resources, the no-fail type, please let me know!

*Random Updates*

I have an update about the Against the Grain Workshop. I am ordering books and printed cloth sacks for the seed distribution, but they have not arrived yet. I will mail out the packages for those taking part in the online or in-person workshop soon as I get them in. I wrote by August 1 but I didn't realize how soon that was, so expect them shortly after, before September. 

Webinar subscribers, you are not forgotten. You will get nine more videos, and your subscription lasts until they are delivered even if it spills over into 2013. Next up is Wool: sheep to spindle and is 20 minutes long or so. Your link will be emailed soon as I have the 5+ hours to finish it up, but since I am working on them every night they are coming along. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

I loved my first western lesson!

Interview with a woodsman + FREE DVD giveaway!

I recently contacted Alex from the Old Federal Ax Co. His life is dedicated to the survival and homesteading skills associated with the forest, and teaches about these things for a living. I asked him if he's be willing to do an interview here and get people who may be interested in being better with their own ax and woodpile. He is a kind supported of CAF and is a sponsor of this site, but he also offers a free e-booklet on his website, Old Federal Ax Co. That all of you can have for no cost to learn some safety and techniques. Go to Oldfedco.com to check out the resources. You won't be sorry!

Also, I will be giving away a copy of his 2 hour long instructional DVD titled, "Ax Skills for the Homestead & Wilderness Survival." I own a copy myself and think its a wonderful asset to anyone out there on the land or anyone who hopes to be someday. To enter to win it, leave a comment here after this post. Ask a question, tell a story, or share your own tips and techniques. Winner will be picked Wednesday! Now, on with the interview!

Alex, welcome to the farm. Could you introduce yourself to the readers, tell us about your work?
Thanks for having me! I'm a survival instructor in Portland, Oregon and I focus on practical survival, primitive skills and tracking. I also teach nature awareness, what I call Intuition in Nature. Ax Skills are also a big part of what I do and teach - axe history, fixing handles, making handles, sharpening axes, technique and safety classes, felling trees, the ax as a survival tool or a homestead tool, you name it.

How did you get started in Survival and Axemanship?
My dad is a carpenter and woodsman so I grew up with axes and tools and ever since I can remember there's nothing I liked to do more than swing an ax. He taught me how to use axes safely, how to sharpen them, and how to replace the handles - then he set me loose.

I actually had some intensive survival training in the Boy Scouts when I was 11 and 14, which turned out to be some strange life-foreshadowing. I got started pretty young in the Forest Service on a trail crew, then the Park Service as a volunteer backcountry ranger then as a firefighter. At age 19 I went to the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS) in Southern Utah. I got seriously hooked on survival and taught there throughout my twenties.

Why do you think a basic understanding of wood—as fuel and a resource for the homestead—is important?
Oh yes! Understanding wood on all levels is so important, as a side note, I recommend Eric Sloane's book, A Reverence for Wood, for those to want to get to know wood a little more intimately. But yes, first knowing the trees and what they mean ecologically from the soil to the squirrels is essential, then the best uses of each type of wood, like what's the best wood for a bow or an ax helve, and that you want heartwood for a bow, but sapwood for an ax handle. Then knowing not just how different woods behave but different parts of the same tree behave, such as boards with portions of heartwood will bend or "cup" over time.

When it comes to fuel, knowing the BTUs and how each wood burns differently will make life a lot easier, such as how pine is a good fire starter but if it's your main fuel source, the resins in the wood will over time cause a dangerous buildup in your chimney. There's a lot to know and it's all important.

Can anyone get good at this skill set, or are some people just better at it?
I do think that some people just have a talent for physical things but practice and technique are the great equalizers. If I had a motto it would be "Let the ax do the work." Lack of upper body strength can be a limitation when using an ax, but at the same time I mostly see people using too much strength - too much tension in the shoulders. Folks need to get a little more Michael Jackson down in the hips - you raise the ax, relax your arms, then drop the hips and all the parts move together fluidly and easily.

An old firefighter joke was that we all had strong backs and weak minds but I would say that the ax is a thinking tool and that there's a smart way to chop or split wood. A person with less strength can be more efficient than a stronger person by going slowly, being systematic, reading the wood, and using good technique.

It is dangerous to work with splitting wood without proper instruction? are injuries common?
I've used sharp tools my whole life, yet the worst cuts I've had are from opening cans of soup. Axes are dangerous if used without experience or education but if people use good technique and learn a short list of dos and don'ts then it's pretty safe. A quick example, the most common injuries are to the feet and legs so boots and long pants are the most important safety items.

Aside from getting a cut from an ax there are many more safety considerations like, hurting your back, cutting your hands on sharp pieces of wood, exhaustion and frustration that can lead to an accident, tripping while carrying an ax, or injuring the tool and creating a few hours more work of sharpening or handle repair. Done correctly, using an ax is a pleasurable experience that can be very safe. For me it's a deeply contemplative activity.

Do you think mastering hand tools is a lost art or something people are finding their way back to in the DIY movement?I think all this stuff is making a comeback in a big way. Portland is sort of a mecca for DIY so I have a front row seat to a huge artisan movement that includes sewing, blacksmithing, urban homesteading, permaculture, craft brewing, bikes, etc. Incidentally, this movement isn't just a subculture. It's been studied in depth and functions as it's own economy in this city.

The technology we have today is such a gift but I think we're also seeing that on a personal level it's only so satisfying and more and more people are getting back to simpler technologies. We're kind of feeling our way back in time with our hands and creating beautiful lives for ourselves.

How important is the quality of your axes? Is it worth the investment to spend a lot as a new backyard lumberjack?
Quality is important but the best axes aren't necessarily the most expensive. Older American-made brands like Collins, Sager, Mann Edge Tool Co., or Plumb that you score at a garage sale, or flea market have the best steel and are the cheapest and best long term solution. And because replacing and repairing handles is a lot easier than you might think, that's what I recommend.

Council Tool is a company I trust to buy an axe from the web, sight unseen. They're one of the last American made brands and are relatively affordable.

An ax is also a surprisingly specialized tool so just having the right ax for the right job is key. A serious budgeteer could get away with a splitting maul and a 3/4 ax. Most ax work these days is splitting rounds with a maul, then the 3/4 ax is easy to carry and can perform any needed field work and also be used like a hatchet for making kindling.

Any last thoughts or advice?
Maybe just that understanding that the ax helve or handle itself is a huge part of the equation and there is a lot of subtlety in picking out an ax with the right handle. Color, straightness, direction of grain, and just the feel of the handle are all things to consider. I guess we're running out of space but I could do an entire interview just on handles.

Thanks so much, Jenna, and happy chopping!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Beekeeping Workshop Raffle!

John Cullam!

His kind response!

"My wife and I were thrilled to attend the bee workshop and this is the topper to a wonderful time! Thank you for the 'day' and for this prize! We will now focus on our BEES and will have all we need to grow our colony thanks to Cold Antler Farm and Jenna for making it all possible!"

Thank you!

beekeeping 101 recap!

Meg Paska knows bees. Listening to her talk about about the ins and outs of beekeeping is like listening to Julia Child talk about braised lamb shank. She is someone who talks with enthusiasm, and it is infectious as all get out. Yesterday she gave a crash course in beekeeping here at the farm and folks from all over the northeast came to hear her spread the gospel of the hive. I mostly sat back and listened (when I wasn't running around doing chores or checking on the dogs) and took in the questions and anecdotes like adding ingredients to the stew pot. Her tales of urban and rural beekeepers were hilarious and educational (i.e some urban beekeepers paint their rooftop hives to look like brick chimneys so no nosy neighbors are any the wiser!) She was amazing, and so where the attendees. All of them excited and new to the world of bees, and you can bet some of them are breaking out in hives next spring...

Here she is talking with us in a general Q&A moment. You might need to turn up your audio, but you can hear some basic rapid-fire question and answers and see some of us sittin' lazy in the side yard. You can't see Gibson because right before I took this video he sprinted through the group of people to check on the rabbit hutch situation. Part of his regular rounds. No one even blinked when he thundered through, but a few laughed. I love that crazy pup.

She went into my hive and I have to admit, I was a little embarrassed at the state of it. I am a hands-off beekeeper who only checks in a few times a year and the last time was over a month ago. My hive had a build up of burr comb, and an unnecessary queen excluder which caused a big problem. apparently the original queen skipped down or died and the bottom of the hive had some queen cells of newly born queens but no new brood. Only a few laying workers existed in the hive and they aren't getting the job done. So what I need is a few frames from a healthy hive with young bees, some brood, and a new queen. I don't know if I can pull it off but I will email and drop off notes in some mailboxes. If I can save the hive, I will.

I only know this because of Meg, who looks at frames the way I look at paragraphs. She can read a hive like a page in the book. She knew within minutes the whole story of my hive, where it was going and how it could be helped. If you want to learn more about Meg, her workshops and her life, check out her site Brooklynhomsteader.com

And now for a whole day of Soap and candles!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

today's frame of mind

anyone in illinois want to farm?

I got this email from a reader in Illinois, and if any of you are local to that area and want to help a fellow greenhorn, why don't you leave a comment or contact her? I'm sure they would appreciate it!


I just bought a small farmstead (5 acres) unused for about 40 years and am reclaiming it over the next year so we can move in and sell products at farmer's market. I know you are very busy...but I was wondering if you ever thought of using a blog entry to promote community for other farmers. This is my problem, too much to do and too few hands! Just me and my 2 sons, age 15 and 4. I was I hoping that some people might be in my same situation and need help while there might be others who are not yet on a farm who might be willing to offer help. You could write of this and perhaps state by state people could support each other.

Probably a crazy thought, but I know no one where my farm is located: Donovan, IL. And thought maybe some of your readers would want to help out me on a designated "Clear the Farm day" And if I am in this "boat" others must be too. Even if it is needed help picking produce/clear land/clean a garage etc...

So boils down to I need help from some Illinois readers/ west Indiana readers and I can return the favor to them in the "Future".

What do you think?
Thanks for reading:)

Holly Young

PS. Green beans, broccoli rabe, swiss chard, peaches, potatoes, chives, rosemary, oregano, cherry tomatoes, purple beans, corn, and eggs are all happening on my city garden, Have 11 chickens and 2 rabbits!

Friday, July 27, 2012

don't burn your face off!

Storms were supposed to ravage the farm last night but they never came. The system passed south and north of us and I was both grateful and disappointed. You know what I mean, happy to avoid the hail and damage but so looking forward to the world twirling around for me a bit. I like seeing the winds pick up, and the trees shiver, and how a dry farm smells when the rain first really hits it. Not too different then water hitting a hot-plate, but smokier.

Rain today. A few possible storms, but mostly rain. The kind of day I stay inside and write and watch Braveheart. I already have a pot of coffee brewing on the stove and another saucepan of water heating up to throw in oats, diced apple, and brown sugar and cinnamon to make a filling (and cheap) breakfast of champions. It also is getting me into the flavors of fall, which for a homesteader means anxiety. I have hay, firewood, and savings to rake in before snow falls and so far I'm working on the August mortgage, but it'll all get done. It always does. Worrying about it gets in the way of accomplishing it. At least for me.

Today is also about getting ready for the weekend of workshops. Tomorrow is beekeeping with Meg Paska and Sunday is the big soap and candle workshop with Kathy Harrison coming to teach the candle part. Kathy you may recognize from National Geographic's Doomsday Preppers. (She was the most normal person on the show, homesteading in the Berkshires.) I met Kathy at the Mother Earth News Fair last year and we hit it off. It's her birthday Sunday, too. I may have to visit the new cupcake shop in Greenwich for her!

I'll be putting together everyone's soapmaking kits this afternoon. They include olive oil and coconut oil in jars as well as gloves and a booklet called "How to Make Soap without Burning Your Face Off." which I think gets to the point pretty darn well. It's out of Microcosm Publishing of Kansas, which makes a bunch of inexpensive and artistic indie booklets on everything from making your own herbal first aid kit to parenting for punks. Like all their titles, it's written in a friendly, and easy to understand tone with all the proper safety steps without filling the soapmaker-to-be with fear. I mean, I get it. Lye is a pretty dangerous thing. But as readers have pointed out before, so is getting into your car in the morning. Might as well make soap.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


I found this lightly used endurance saddle on eBay, darn cheap too. I had been eyeing up this type of comfortable, light, trail saddle for a while and was thrilled when this one was up for grabs for under fifty bucks. It is loaded with rings and straps to use for the trail, for attaching saddle bags and strapping down blankets or jackets. The kind of saddle for me: English, but with a little less class and a little more excited about the trail. I already gave it a name too: Firefly. The black synthetic cover and the yellow stitching reminded me of my glowing friends. The seat looks kind of like a thorax on an insect. I will transfer over my irons and leathers from the saddle I currently use (well loved, but on the small side for me) and give it a try next week. It's the first saddle I ever bought for Merlin and I'm excited to try it out when it arrives!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

monday, gibson, and me in the side yard

tater patch

bags-on-sticks and other miracles

Using the skill set I acquired from the trainer on Monday, I decided to give Merlin a try again today (after a well-earned day of rest to let it sink in for both of us). I decided to follow Dave's method to the letter, and started by tying a plastic bag to the end of a carriage whip and setting it by the farmhouse front door.

With my trusty Bag-On-a-Stick I went upstairs to my office/tack room and brought down my english tack, changed into a pair of favorite Kerrits tights, and set up everything I would need to work with Merlin, from fly spray to helmet, on the grass where I tack him up. Once the setting was locked and loaded with gear and space, I went to get my stubborn pony.

With just a lead rope and halter I did the same ground work Dave showed me, to best of my ability. I made sure that when I moved in a direction, Merlin was moving out of my way and then squaring up to show me both eyes and relaxing before we moved forward with any more motion. If he rested a rear hoof or sighed, I walked up and pet him. If he acted up I waited until he slowed down and relaxed again. Twenty minutes of this and he wasn't blowing or sweating, but watching me. Just learning that when I step around to the right, he best step to the left and keep his front facing me, those big hindquarters safely tucked away.

Happy with our ground training, I started grooming. I am not a fast groom, nor a fast tacker-upper. I check feet and clear the frog of any mud or stones. I brush legs, belly, back, rump, neck and mane. I rubbed his forehead Amy Flemming Style. I then saddled him up, tightened the girth, put on his bridle and walked him to the mounting block (AKA Lehigh Valley Farms milk crate) and hopped on him.

I instantly thought of my riding instructors Hollie and Andrea from Riding Right. In Hollie's book, the very first lesson is "Have a plan before you get on." My plan was this: to have a short, pleasant, ride with Merlin on a quiet country road. To go up the hill a short distance, just to the neighbors driveway (about 100 yards), and then stop him, turn him around, get him past my own driveway and down the mountain a quarter mile or so. Just enough to communicate and enjoy the summer sun and the feeling of being with him. Then stop, turn home, and before I get home turn him back towards the road and have him walk a bit before dismounting a good ways from my driveway (so he doesn't assume driveway = done work). If you can follow that, then you either have horses or aren't giving yourself enough credit for critical thinking skills.

So that was my plan. A short ride where we do all the things we have been struggling with and then end facing away from the farm and dismounting when I please, not him. But first I had to get him out of the driveway. Soon as I got on he started heading towards Jasper, so I did what Dave told me to do, Take his feet out from under him and turned him in a tight circle and gave him a piece of heel when we were facing the road.

He fussed for about 45 seconds and we were out of the driveway! I think I actually Yee Hawed!

We followed the ride plan perfectly. We rode uphill, turned around and then went past the farm a quarter mile or so. I bet we could have gone farther but I wanted this lesson to be all about him getting rewarded for doing as I ask. He did everything I asked, and was a perfect gentleman. I walked him the short way home, took off his tack, and sent him back into the paddock with Jasper and a cookie.

This is such great progress folks. A horse I couldn't even get to leave my yard took me out on a pleasant stroll. And I did it all without needing a trainer or a friend around for support, so I feel brave. Time to celebrate with some lemonade and then some archery in a kilt!