Tuesday, September 11, 2012

payment for morning chores

In exchange for my morning chores the farm gave me a dozen free-range eggs and a shirt-full of red potatoes planted in June! I'm going to wash off one of these taters, chop up one of the smaller garden onions, crack some eggs and have a fry up! Not a bad trade for half an hour of carrying hay, tussling manes, and pouring water into metal bins.

There's a fire in the farmhouse this morning. Yesterday morning Patty brought Steele over for a ride and as we explored the mountain we could feel the crisp morning air in our conversation, feel the first leaves crunching under our horses feet. The leaves are just starting to change, barely. I hope this Autumn takes his time and lasts a while. I welcome him with all I've got. His wildness, color, warmth, and the oranges and reds that cover his dirty brown skin. He's the love of my life.

gathering words

This is going to be a slower week on the blog, I am finishing up the last six days of edits before the manuscript is due and it has swallowed up most of my time. I will be checking in everyday, either posting an excerpt from the book or photos. It's just going to take a little longer to write about the Merck Trial, trail rides, 3AM fears, concerns, and general news.

Wish me luck and you'll hear a lot more out of me soon!

Oh, and I didn't forget Kerrits winner, I'll announce that today!

2 spots left, and ONLY 2 for Antlerstock in October! Please get them!

Monday, September 10, 2012


I woke up scared and restless at 3AM. Without saying a word of request Gibson knew, and jumped into bed with me from his spot on the floor. He sprawled in the hollow place against my chest, curling his spine into it and I held onto him. I fell asleep to his long sigh and was grateful for the dog. When I woke up I was still holding on and he was still fast asleep.

I live with cats, have been raised with them, but never once has one came to me in comfort and then sighed into me as I held on for dear life.

The omission is noted.

you know you're a homesteader if...

...you run out of coffee creamer so you go outside to milk your goat and before you do anything else you strain it directly into your mug. Hmm, maybe this isn't how you know you're a homesteader as much as it is you know you're a coffee addict?

Whatever. I'm going with it.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Gibson at Merck Forest: then and now

away to me!

It is chilly this morning, and the green grass on the hillside is tipped with cold dew. It's not a frost, not by twenty degrees, but the 50 degree morning was a wake up call. It's September now, and October will bring many mornings that start with a warm stove and nights that end with it, but during the day the black boxes will remain cold and unnecessary. Before you know it those stoves become my real full time job. My life will revolve around words and fire. A primitive and happy combination. Just as I like it.

I am also happy to report both chimneys were inspected and cleaned where needed. The experts at Black Magic came and worked here Friday afternoon and gave me a detailed report. All is ready to light up both wood stoves when the mornings get a bit colder. It's a good feeling, and another checked-off item of import from the list of winter preparation. It was paid for by the yard sale I posted online here, which was a great help and I thank you! With the chimneys ready, hay in the barn, and only firewood left to store and consider I am feeling good about the timeline. As long as three cords are stacked by Antlerstock all will be well. I sometimes feel like Winter Prep updates here a broken record, but it really is the most important song I have to sing right now.

Today I'm off to spend the day at the Merck Forest Sheepdog Trials and catch up with some old faces I have missed. I will be watching, helping keep score if asked. It's something I have missed dearly, the lessons and the excitement of the trials. The outdoor chores are done and coffee is on the stove so all I need to do is get on a kilt and some rubber boots and hit the road with Gibson. This weekend really has been a classic dog and pony show. Monday means back to the computer and hard effort finishing Days of Grace so I can wrap up that project, finally, and get ready for books ahead. If I can land a small book contract by snowfly I will be set for winter and in much better financial shape. It'll happen, somehow. I'll worry about the how's of it later. Those are the kind of details that bury a woman.

Time to go see a sheepdog trial! Away to me!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

the brass ring

I remember riding a grand carousel as a child at the Jersey Shore. It was one of those old fashioned ones, with wooden horses, three rows deep, and (at least in my memory) it was fast. If you chose to ride one of the horses on the outer most edge of the carousel you could try and grab a brass ring, which lowered out of the top of the canopy and it took a perfect combination of reach, effort, and the bobbing of your horse to actually grab it. I was maybe ten years old when I grabbed that brass ring on the back of a white horse. I was one of the lucky ones. When I had it in my sweaty palm I held onto it like it was destined for Mordor, so precious. If memory serves me right I slipped it into my pocket to keep.

I think I stole that brass ring because it was the token of a fantasy, something I knew I could never relive back in Palmerton, my home town. There were no horses on Columbia Avenue. So If I wanted to carry around a tangible memory of time spent on horseback I would need to break the law. I loved that experience, even if the horse was made of wood and leather. I may not have been real but it was the closest I could get, or ever imagine getting. I loved the feeling of moving fast on top of a horse. I felt like something I was supposed to do, that my mind—even as a child—felt was correct. So I held that ring tight and instead of throwing it back into the collection bucket.

What can I say? I'm pretty ruthless when it comes to love.

Today I spent an afternoon sitting with friends new and old in a series of horse-drawn vehicles. It was my first event as a new member of the Washington County Draft Animal Association, and it was wonderful. I arrived with Mark and Patty Wesner and their Percheron gelding, Steele. They were the only people I knew, but I quickly learned people interested in horse power were a friendly and like-minded ilk. It didn't take long to feel comfortable.

If the word "horse people" in your mind brings up images of snotty, upperclass, over achievers: this is not that stereotype. The Draft Association is regular folks, just folks who happen to love traditional modes of transportation and horses, and not everyone has a 401k or even a full set of teeth. These are people who love working horses, mules, ponies, and donks. There were 11-hand Hackneys pulling small metal carts and 19-hand Shires moving surreys with three rows of passengers. and besides that: everyone was different. I loved this about the club. I loved watching museum curators and architects bullshit and laugh with secretaries and truckers. I loved the happy camaraderie, and this unspoken love everyone had for their horses. This was not a scene to probe yourself in. It was one to enjoy yourself in.

We rode a 7-mile trail through paved and dirt roads. We passed farms and other horses, homes and busy intersections. People who weren't driving just road along, as there was plenty of room for passengers and fun. I rode the 3.5 miles out with Patty and Steele and road back with Jan and a wagon full of my county-men. Strangers, mostly, but happy travelers all the same. It is pretty hard to not be amicable on a horse cart on a Saturday.

I remember when I was taking riding lessons one of my instructors said, "There was no such thing as a pet horse. All horses are for sale at a price" and she was of course talking about her world of dressage and hunter jumpers. She couldn't make a living keeping every (or any!) good horse she trained. But at the WCDAA that idea was blown out of the water. Beloved old Shires, Clydesdales, Percheron and Haflingers lined the county roads. These animals would live, work, and die on their owner's farms and become things of Legend. One man wearing a "Lou-King-Good Certified Contractor" t-shirt just returned from a 200-mile road trip with his 6 and 7-year old Percheron geldings. He took his family in a gypsy wagon down to camp in Massachusetts and back home to Washington County. I actually saw them in Cambridge a few weeks ago, ambling up route 22. I was driving back to Cold Antler with Ajay after some errands in town and I remember saying how I loved that horse-drawn vehicles were common here. Not just for parades and Amish folks, it was just another way to get around. I thought of Mary Cricket and her corn cart outside the Salem Agway, and Patty and Steele and I driving for ice cream. This is normal here, and I love the whole damn County for it.

I joined the WCDAA today. I didn't bring Merlin, since I am getting his $99 eBay harness repaired by an Amish man upstate and my little red cart still needs tires, but I still wrote my thirty-dollar check and signed the paperwork. I left the party that day proud as a peacock. I'm a member in good standing. I have a draft pony, and a cart, and friends who know a hame from a singletree. This is certainly not a common hobby, but it is a welcoming one. And next weekend I will be driving my own Fell amongst the big horses in Arlington, Vermont. We have a pancake breakfast at the grange by the covered bridge and then a 7-mile river trot followed by another enormous potluck. It'll be a whole new experience driving Merlin out there. I can't wait.

I'll leave you for the night with this story. Since I was now a member, I was legally able to drive another member's team and so I took the lines from an experienced member named Jan, who let me lead her team of Haflinger Mares down busy roads. I can't begin to describe what it feels like to be controlling two beautiful blonde horses in a pre-thunderstorm wind, carrying a wagon of six people to a feast. It is a sensation that does not belong in this modernity. Something magical, special, and only available to those willing to reach out and take it.

For the first time since I was a little girl, I grabbed a brass ring.

draft power parade

Earlier start than usual today, as I am getting ready to head out on an adventure. Today I'll be taking part in my first Washington Country Draft Animal Association event! I'll be riding in a cart with Patty and her Percheron, Steele. We'll be up in Fort Ann. And if I join the club today, I can ride with Merlin next weekend at the Arlington Vermont Pancake Breakfast and Parade! Photos and tales to come!

P.S. As of last night, I am an AUNT! Welcome to the world Bryce! The little boy is named after the famed canyon, a favorite place of my sister and her husband.

Friday, September 7, 2012

tell your story

I often get emails from people who share their dreams of owning a bit of land and raising their own food. They are magical, hopeful, and always appreciated. What amazes me though, if I get just as many emails from people who had dreams of owning a farm and no longer dream about it. They don't have to. They did it. They closed on their land, got their first backyard chickens, and broke ground on their first garden. I love these emails, and I read them all even if I can't find time to respond. They encourage me, and I need encouragement more than you might realize.

I wanted to just check in with you all. Where are you in your journey? Are you a dreamer at a desk in some city or are you about to head out on your horse to check cattle in the back pasture? Write in the comments about where you are at, both your location in the world and how far you have come in your dreams. Also share where you were 5 years ago. If you never commented before, introduce yourself. You might find that another dreamer is literally in the town next to you, and together your combined Barnheart could fuel each other into action! I know that happened when I befriended Patty Wesner. When I met her last January at a book reading I didn't know her from Adam. She invited me for a horse cart ride/lesson and now less than a year later we are putting together Merlin's red cart to join her in a Sunday drive!

I think your stories of dreaming of a farm will inspire others to let themselves dream, and for those of you who are taking steps to turn your dreams into reality - your stories are ignition sparks. When people read about other couples, families, single folks and such taking the leap, they see they can do it too.

So tell me who you are, where you are from, and where you are at in your own story? I'd really appreciate it.

photo by jk

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Merck Forest Sheepdog Trials This Weekend!!

It's a Cold Antler Farm tradition. I go every year. This year I can only go one day, but I will be there and thrilled to see the dogs and people I have only seen on Facebook this season. This was the summer of Gibson being a farm dog, no herding lessons at all. Mostly because of the work of learning to ride and get Merlin here. But he is young, just 2, and has a lifetime ahead of him (and so do I) to get to that post one day and enter a trial. It's a step I can't wait to take, ribbons be damned.

six miles and a toddler

Went for my longest trip ever on Merlin today. We did our usual 4-mile trail ride at Sheriff Tuckers' property and then instead of going back to the farm like usual, we headed the opposite direction: the half mile down the mountain road to my Dr Shelly's house. As we headed down the wide country road one of the big dump trucks from the construction site up the hill came barreling down the road. Merlin doesn't care about cars or trucks going past him. (I don't think he'd care about an Oliphaunt going past him). The dump ruck crawled past us out of goodwill and safety (bless him) and gawked at the sight. He wasn't staring at me, that's for sure. He was looking at the pony decked out in western tack with the mane down to his elbows. It's not often you see a unicorn around these parts.

We waved by to the truck and turned right up the dirt road that lead to Shelly's house. When we hit the long winding driveway to her property I picked Merlin up into a canter so we could arrive in style. Merlin exploded up the dirt road in a joyful and smooth run and I could not believe this was the same pony who could only trot for 15 minute sat a time when I got him. He's lost over a hundred pounds this summer and our 6 miles left him sweating, but just fine. Most of the ride is just a happy walk, but it sure was awesome to make that kind of entrance!

Shelly was in the driveway and smiled to see us. She said when she heard the running hoof prints she knew it had to be me. "Who else would arrive for a social call on horseback", she said? She was getting her toddler Aidan into his car seat, they were about to head out on an errand. I said I was just stopping by to say hi and we chatted for a while. She thought Merlin was a peach, and Aidan gawked more than the dump truck guy.

I hopped off when I arrived and Shelly gave Merlin some water from a cooler. He drank a bit and cooled down and then Aidan, her son, asked if he could get up on the horse? Sure! I said, and the lad held onto the horn and walked around his mama's front lawn. Shelly said it was his first time on a horse that didn't just stand still under him and I beamed at her. Aidan was glowing, so was his mother. I think we got a future rider up there!

yard sale for winter prep!

The following items are for sale and most can be shipped to the farm. I'm trying by darndest to pull through the month and prepare for fall. Besides usual bills and expenses there are a lot of extras and I am doing everything I can to pull together what I need to prepare me, the farmhouse, the horses, and the animals. I have saddles, sheep, and classes for the yard sale. If you are interested in any of them please email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com

SOLD! Bareback Trail Saddle: Bought new, never used (just tried on). It is brown and has built in saddle bags and black fleece lining. It has a soft padded back and plastic stirrups. $50 plus shipping.

SOLD! English LongbowIt is 72" long, comes with current string and a spare. Hickory, leather hand grip. Handmade. It is $100 plus shipping.

SOLD! 300ft of Red Brand Field Fence: Still in roll. Never used. $100, farm pickup only.

SOLD! 5 pack of homemade goat milk soap: $25 plus shipping

Scottish Blackface ram Lamb $175, Farm pick up only.

LAST AVAILABLE PAIR (2) of tickets to Antlerstock Weekend 2012 Discounted, email me, please!

Three Workshop Pass: For the price of one! Email me, please!

SOLD! Beginner's Fiddle Package:Fiddle, bow, case, and rosin, never used Cremona Student Model $125.00 plus shipping

Four Private 1.5 hour-long fiddle lessons at the farm! $100.00 Email me, please!

cowgirl tip #267

If you keep losing your hat in the wind while riding a galloping horse, simply take two ribbons or pieces of thin saddle strap leather and attach them to your hat right above where you're ears rest. Then braid those long strings into your pigtails and there you have it, a windproof hat!

Feel 100% better

So here's what I want you to do. I want you to click this link, turn up your speakers, and then minimize the screen so you can only hear it. If you are reading this on your phone, then get out your ear plugs or prop this up where you can listen. The song is what matters and what I want to share, so just plain ignore the photo slideshow of someone's trip to Europe. This isn't about a trip to Europe. Well, it could be, but that's not what I'm talking about presently.

Now, with the music up and the screen hidden. I want you to get up and away from your computer, and think about the one thing you want. Whoever, whatever, wherever it is. Listen and think and smile. Picture it and you together. PIcture yourself riding that horse, walking through your own farm's fields, sitting under the stars with someone you love. Keep that picture in your mind this entire song. Play a movie in your head about your perfect day, your perfect activities. Feel the feelings of happiness, and safety, and goodness. Listen and Believe it is yours.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Come for the Rendezvous, stay all year!

Anyone who is signing up for the Fiddler's Rendezvous in February and is ordering a fiddle from me is invited to purchase a season pass for the entire year for another $100. This means you can sign up for a weekend at the farm and learn to play the fiddle, leave with your very own violin in your own case, and come back for any workshop you want in the coming year for the cost of one extra class. It's a promotion of sorts and I am just offering for a short time.

Okay, Bonita says stop the farm hustle and get back to my regularly scheduled blog posts.

P.S. Never trust a winking goat.

Kerrits Giveaway!

The fine people over at Kerrits are hosting a giveaway here at Cold Antler Farm! Kerrits is a favorite brand of mine when it comes to horsing around. They make riding apparel that looks good in the dressage barn or out in the backcountry. You can get suited up for a schooling show or a canter through the powder after a fresh snowfall. Their show clothes aren't too showy and their trail clothes are showier than drab barn coats and canvas jackets.

They have offered a pair of Medium-sized bootleg black breeches. They are made of a fabric called Microcord and that's what they look like- bootleg corduroy pants with knee padding so you can slip some paddock shoes under them and ride western or english and look good doing it.

To enter just leave a comment! To enter twice leave a comment and then share it on Facebook, and return with a second comment here stating you shared it! You don't need to own a horse to enter, as these make a great gift for horsey friends and also might motivate you to take those first lessons. Winner picked Saturday!

p.s. Every pair of Kerrits comes with actual carrot seeds! What a nice treat for homesteading horsefolks!

thinking about december mornings

It's a December morning and the world is still dark. The wood that was seasoned, split, and stacked over the summer and fall lies in wait under an overhang roof on the side of my house. Knowing it is there is comforting. When I wake up on any given day it is the first thing I think of. Nothing else happens on this farm until that first match strikes in the cold morning air and lights the fire that welcomes the day. I hunch down in front of the stove in the corner of my living room. My feet flat on the wooden floor, my knees bent in such a way my rump almost touches the ground as well. I feel like a hobgoblin, or some benevolent grungy house fairy, working the magic that in a few hours will be taken for granted as the normalcy of warmth fills the farmhouse.

There in my crouch, the match lit in my hand, I open the heavy iron and glass doors of the wood stove and light the tinder above last night’s still-warm coals. If I was wise, there is a pile of small twigs, birch and locust bark, and small hatchet-sliced stove wood ready to feed my ignition. If I wasn’t, then it is with a heavy sigh I light a pile of wadded up paper and coat it with some splinters and bark shards from the bottom of the metal wood caddy and hurry over to the cod mudroom behind the kitchen. There lies a dry, indoor stash of wood and so does a little Fiskar’s hatchet. I chop into a piece of cord wood fast, grateful for how sharp the blade it. I am thinking of how short the life of that starter is and so I work fast. I need this new fuel ready to add to the stove before the fire dies out. In no time I have a handful of slim, dry, slices of a pine or birch ready to kindle into a proper blaze.

It doesn’t take long. When the sticks are burning well I slowly add larger pieces, egged on with some more paper or quick-burning bark. I haul in a pile of dry logs small enough to start a proper fire, all softer woods that burn quick and hot so I can add maple, oak, or locust later on after morning chores. The farmhouse is still dark but with a fire started the house is lighter, both in mood and visibility. Since there is no overhead lighting in the farmhouse (save for the kitchen) I like welcoming a winter’s day like this.

I like knowing that the first light that enters my morning I know personally and worked to achieve. I sit there, and like the opening sequence of a favorite television show watch the fire roll through the credits of the endeavor. Kindling: brought to you by foresight! Early flames: staring birch bark and locust hulls! Also staring: Pine shards and stove wood from special guest Finnish Hatchet! Gibson has been by my side this whole time and he’ll lay down with me as I watch the firelight shine off his black coat. He’s so soft, softer than a working dog should ever be. I run my hands over his back and thump his ribs and his tail hits the old floor and we both know it is time to face the work outdoors.

Before I get dressed I walk over to the kitchen and fill the percolator with coffee from the crock and set it on the now churning stove. As a brace team we’ll take on the frozen water, feed bags, hay, and wind chill, but this is easier to do when you know you’ll return to a warm house, hot coffee, and the promise of comfort after deprivation.

This is the oldest song our people know.

Excerpt from Days of Grace, the book I am currently writing
Painting of winter by Grandma Moses, who's farm is 20 minutes south of CAF

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

george and ajay, caught cuddlin'

closer than last week

Yesterday was dedicated to hay. I spent the day preparing for it, talking about it, or moving it around. Nelson Greene came with a crew down to Jon Katz's new place and mine, delivering 250 bales on the back of two large trucks. 200 were going into Katz's barn and Ajay and I would be helping, and 50 were going into my small barn. It was a day of fast and hard work, big checks, and good people. But at the end of it all I have a barn stocked to the gills with beautiful second cut hay, the nicest I have ever seen. Nelson knows his trade, at 80 he's been cutting hay his whole life.

I'm content with what I have right now as far as hay goes. it isn't enough but it is more than I ever had before and I'm comfortable with it enough to move onto firewood and stove work. I ordered one cord I need to pay for, and have had some offers of wood I can take to cut but time and lack of supply is an issue. I hope to have at least one cord stacked here by the 15th, another stacked by Antlerstock. I'll feel mighty good going into that first snowfall with 80 bales of hay and three cords of words lying in wait.

The chimney sweep is supposed to come tonight, probably only doing one of the stoves as that is what the budget allows, but they want serious rainfall and my chimneys' need to be swept outside on the rooftops. It doesn't seem like a safe gig in a torrent so as I spend my morning editing and organizing my book and contacting some business friends I'll be waiting to hear from the folks at Black Magic to see if the gig is still on?

I am writing about the work of a winter morning on the farm for this book and it is both exciting and scary to think about. The effort to be ready for my first full-time winter on the farm is an effort I never experienced before. I just want it all good to go by the time October hits so I can truly appreciate that Holy month. He's coming soon, sooner than I realize and right now I'm not quite ready. But hey (hay!), I am closer than I was this time last week.

P.S. Andrea? I'm talking to the woman interested in signing up for the Fiddle Weekend in Feb? I emailed you and never heard back, please email me at jenna@Itsafarwalk.com or check your spam folder?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

happy feet

Trainer Dave will speak at the Horse Workshop!

I have great news to share! It's about this Halloween and the Farmer's horse workshop! Trainer Dave has agreed to come and be the main speaker, sharing stories and giving helpful horse training, farrier, riding, and horse-purchasing advice to anyone who is coming along. This is truly wonderful, and really rounds out the experience for people coming to learn the basics of living with horses on your farm.

The workshop might be my favorite of this year. It's a gathering of people totally new to equines. These are dreamers, some with farms and some without, who can't shake the idea of plowing a field behind their own team. People who watch documentaries on the Amish the way children watch superheros. People who are trying to understand how to get behind their own set of lines, or in the saddle. I encourage you to come along for this Halloween festival of horsing around! It's an easy, safe, and non-threatening way to introduce yourself to working equines. You can see how they are housed, fed, and what goes into their keeping and training. It's not lessons in driving or logging, but instead a whole day of conversations and demonstrations. Horse Farming 101.

The day will include two farms, mine and Patty's and you'll get to meet several horses and see many hands-on demonstrations about saddles, riding, harnessing and harness types, and working animals! You can hear my story in detail, and hear Patty's (she decided at 39 to buy a horse, and just started driving her percheron 4 years ago! She is cantering into her fifties so don't think this is just for people in their twenties). We've got all sizes covered: Jasper, Merlin, and Steele are on hand to see in their collars, working to pull logs from the forest (jasper!), saddled up for a ride (Merlin), and harnessed up for a cart (Steele).

Dave will end the day giving a talk and doing a Q&A. He's spend his life around horses and rides still. He's the guy in the hat talking to Ajay about Merlin in that photo. He's the natural horsemanship trainer that healed me and Merlin, got me galloping across mountain fields! I love this sweet man, and can't wait for you to meet him.

When the day's workshop is over we'll have a cookout and story-telling around a campfire. I'm going to read parts of The legend of Sleepy Hollow (a tale of hallows, horses, and ghosts! from New York!) and we'll share cider and goodies, wrapped up in hoodies as we share our own horse-powered dreams.

For more information on The Farmer's Horse Workshop, Click Here! Only 5 spots left!

visit from polyface interns!

I Just had a wonderful visit with three folks from the Polyface Farm! Michael, Brie, and Heather. I know what you're thinking, what the heck are people from VIrginia doing up in Veryork? Good question and here is my good answer: MIchael Kilpatrick, the driver of the trio is none other than Michael Kilpatrick of Kilpatrick Family Farm, a popular CSA just north of Cold Antler. He and I have been in touch over the years. I met him when I bought laying hens from him one chilly Thanksgiving Morning, and since then we had bartered graphic design work for firewood and such. He decided at 25 to head south to intern under Joel and the gang and I'm proud of him for taking the leap of faith. He's learning such great stuff, and he'll bring it to his own farm and watch it thrive around him.

Anyway, he was driving up for the weekend, showing Heather and Brie his home farm, and he emailed me to ask if on the way back to Swoope they could stop by CAF? I said sure, I had no plans but chores and editing all day so a nice chat and coffee with fellow agrarians would be a treat.

We had a great time. I gave them the nickel tour and we chatted about both farms (drastically different, but both ran with passion), trying not to step on Monday underfoot or trip over tomato cages in the woods. Heather and Brie were funny and patient with me, listening to me blab on about the goats or Mother Earth News Fair. I asked if they were going and they weren't sure. They'd need a place to crash I think and most hotels are booked up. I think they'll figure it out if they want to go, Seven Springs isn't far from Swoope compared to most places. I hope to see them in September.

When they left, Brie and Heather said it was a dream come true to see my homestead. I couldn't help laughing, since they are pilgrims from my my own Promise Land, Polyface Farms. I look up to that place the way kids in the grandstands looked up to Babe Ruth. I think I was more nervous to meet them than they realized. But soon as they pulled away I went upstairs to make sure I knew where my Polyface hoodie was so I could wear it at the campfire tonight. They'll be in Virginia back at their keep by the time the campfire here is hot enough to roast potatoes in, but I'll be thinking of them. I like that farms have their own little fan bases now. It's a wholesome kind of sport.

true wealth

September is here. The temperatures from August remain but they are tired, nowhere near the punch they had a few weeks ago. Light and wind is changing, the season is moving into the shoulder and exhaling. On the windowsill is a half-gallon mason jar full of red onions, garlic and the smallest new potatoes. It makes me smile to see it, a little piggy bank of honest insurance. Money is a nice thing, but root vegetables behind glass is true wealth.

If I Had Wings to Fly

Trailer for a recent documentary about Old Time music in western North Carolina. I just discovered this, and hope to download it soon to watch. But just the trailer alone made me want to go out into the backyard barefoot in a cotton dress and play my devil stick.

Fiddle and Pie Winners!

Congratulations to Jen (who's 6-year-old son just started violin lessons) You won the fiddle package! And also, congrats to Patty Woodland, who won Ashley English's Year of Pies books! Both of you, please email me with your shipping addresses so I can send out your winnings!

And to all who entered, shared pie and fiddle stories, donated, and supported the farm: Thank you. It is only because of this blog that I can live here, and to you all I am grateful enough to fill a whole October.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

the bow and the pony

Spent the day at Hunter's Moon, an SCA event down in Albany. I achieved my highest score ever during Royal Rounds, and got a bullseye at 40 yards with my new bow! It's the one in the picture, a ffity-pound draw recurve that belonged to Joseph the Bold before me. He hand-sewed the leather grip and decorated it with braided sinew and leather. He seemed torn selling it, said it was a great hunting bow (which is what I plan on doing with it) and many a squirrel saw their demise from it. Joseph always wears a kilt with a sporan decorated with images of Epona and braided horse hair. What is it about archers and horses, I wonder?

Well, anyway. I like the company I keep these days.

I am a bit sore from all the shooting but pleased with the higher scores and having only 4 of 50 arrows I shot miss the foam targets. This is progress. And any day you spend out in the sunshine on green grass with friends is a gift. I certainly appreciated it, and the simple joy of hitting the yellow from nearly half a football field away in a kilt! Word is I may become a Marshal in the Society one day, and might be nominated to become an MIT (Marshall in Training). I hope I am. This is the summer of the bow and the pony.

Friday, August 31, 2012

winter prep continues

Wednesday morning felt like the first real kiss of Autumn. 45 degrees and me walking around in a hoodie. What a feeling to behold. I was outside milking Bonita, watching the first yellow leaves fall in the wind and listening to the chorusing of hens and geese in the woods behind the barn. Gibson, George, and Monday were all staring at the single remaining turkey poult in her little tractor. The other five did not make it. I couldn't help but chuckle as the milk rang into the steel pail. To see a dog, cat, and lamb stare at a little awkward bird from the stanchion was a sight indeed.

Winter prep is still going on. I still need a lot of hay, firewood, and things like oil delivered and the chimney swept. The highest priority item is having professional chimney sweeps come and scale the roof to clean out every bit of gunk in the two chimneys and inspect them for a winter of hard, hard use. I have Black Magic Sweepers of Vermont coming Tuesday and am thrilled to have that task crossed off the list. A lot of folks save money doing this themselves but I am both scared of heights and not comfortable with the task. My chimneys can't be swept bottom-up and so I let the professionals do it. I feel better and ready to burn a comfy fire if I wanted when they leave. I think we'll be smelling wood smoke around here by mid-september.

I ordered a cord of wood from Bob at Maple Lane Farm and am soon making payments towards it. I also have a neighbor who offered to get me wood if we can set up a work day to do it. I need to follow up and check for availability of help.

Good News! Jon and Maria are letting me salvage whatever old barn boards I want from the old barn they are going to tear down. If I can start making walls on the horse's pole barn out of free salvage I'll save a lot of money on lumber costs. That money can go into hay or bills. Every bit counts.

I am making it, just.
I will continue to make it.
I got a good feeling about this winter.

LAST CHANCE to win this fiddle package!
Your support helps!

We did this before as a fundraiser with the banjo and it was such a fun event. It's also a great way to help the farm. I am getting nervous about winter, and to help get things squared away I'm hosting a fundraiser with a prize for a random winner. In honor of this weekend's fiddle camp — you can comment here to win a beginner's package (violin, case, bow, rosin, etc). A lot of people wanted to come and couldn't, so here is a chance to win your own! All you do to enter to win is leave a comment or a small donation! The farm could really use the support, and this way everyone who helps has a chance to possibly take home a great prize.

So, everyone who wants a chance to win, just leave a comment in this post. You don't have to donate to be entered at all. But for those who want to support the farm, please use the yellow button below and mark it "Fiddle Giveaway". Your donation enters you just like a comment does. I won't set any dollar amount for the entry to win the fiddle package. If you want to donate a dollar, then donate a dollar. If you want to donate five dollars, donate five dollars. If you want to donate a quarter, then donate a quarter. Winner will be announced September 1st! Enter now, and THANK YOU!

no donation or purchase needed to win the fiddle. It is a fundraiser with a prize, not a lottery. Winner does not pay shipping costs.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fair Time!

In a few weeks Gibson and I will be at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA. I can't wait! It's a weekend of homesteading lectures, workshops, classes, readings, and livestock shows all surrounded by mountains at a lodge-style resort. There are amazing local food vendors, DIY merchants, book stores, and demonstrations. I'll be giving a Keynote Saturday night, and teaching workshops on blogging and backyard chickens and rabbit. When I'm not doing that I'll be walking around to other events and speakers. I know some of you will be there? I would like to meet up with you guys if we can work it out. I'll be at Joel Salatin's talks and Temple's. And of course you can find me after or before any of my speaking events!

For more information: Click HERE!

mary cricket

Two days a week Mary Cricket (the quarterhorse) and her partner Mr. Thomas sell sweet corn from their cart outside the feed store in downtown Salem. I talked to him about a large order to pick up Friday morning, 4 dozen ears, so I can freeze them for winter. Corn out of a can is paste and water compared to August-picked sweet corn waiting to be called by name.

I have noticed a lot of horse traffic on these roads around the county. I saw a team of Haflingers on its way to the washington county fair on route 29 (not as entrants, but as a vehicle to park), Percherons in downtown cambridge pulling a gypsy wagon, Merlin and I on our mountain road, and Steele and Patty on theirs. And there's folks like Frank who harnesses up to sell corn from his farm. All of us are dodging traffic and trying to listen for engines or leading our horses down busy roads as they ignore the traffic. We're out there.

This Friday before I head into Manchester to meet some friends for sushi I need to head up to Salem to visit Frank and Mary Cricket and get my bounty of ears. Talk about the best of both worlds? We live in strange times.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

welcome, mr. katz!

Hey! Just got word from friend of the farm, author Jon Katz, that he will be speaking and doing an Q & A at the December 1st Wool & Writing Workshop! It's a day dedicated to creativity, marketing, and blogging. Learn more about it in the workshops section of the blog, on the right hand side with the crow and fiddle!

Win a Year of Pies!

Yup. You read that title right. You can win, A YEAR OF PIES. The catch is you need to supply the flour, fruit, and stove. English and me, we're supplying the recipes.

I first met Ashley English online. She emailed me back when her first homesteading books were coming out asking if I could review them, offer a comment? I did read them and was really impressed. Her four books (on chickens, canning, dairy and bees) were all amazing and I am darn proud to have my quote on the back of them. Over the years we have emailed, sent packages, and stayed in touch. I consider her a kindred spirit and friend. Her little one has a hand-knit Maude wool hat and if that doesn't make the English family special to me I don't know what does!

So when she asked if I wanted to offer a pie recipe for her new book, A Year of Pies, I was more than happy to do it. I shared a recipe for a quiche I made after raising my first pig. It has sausage, cheese, and bacon: a hearty meal for sure. It's in the book along with recipes by other bloggers and authors and the whole thing is beautifully photographed and the recipes are easy to follow and taste AMAZING!

I am giving away a copy on the blog today, so if you want to be entered to win, just leave a comment! Tell us your favorite type of pie. Mine is apple, warm with vanilla ice cream! I'll pick the winner Sept 1st along with the fiddle winner! Good Luck!

photo cred: foodinjars.com

Fiddlers' Potluck!

I'm checking in to see how things are going since camp? Have you had time to practice daily? Is staying in tune hard? Have you broken any strings? What did your families think when you came home? I hope things are going well, and I wanted to share an idea that camper Sarah came up with, and I loved. If you attended Fiddle Camp this past weekend, you are invited to an advanced one-day fiddle workshop/potluck at the farm this October. There is no money needed to attend, something much more is required. If you want to come back for the next step in your lessons you need to learn and memorize five songs from your book. It can be any five, long as one of them ISN'T Ida Red! Learn five songs and you are welcome to join us for a catch up and inspirational day at the farm to just talk fiddles, play to together, and we'll learn the basics of playing with a guitar in a jam.

So if you keep practicing, and learn five more songs, then you can come here for the party! It will be October 20th! 10AM-3PM

Oh, and if any of you want to set up a private lesson to learn the fiddle, we can do that as well. You could buy a fiddle from me, have me set it up and readied for you and then spend a few hours going through a crash course to teach yourself. Great for local folks or people who just aren't comfortable in group settings.

george is one of us

Cats and I have a touchy past. I grew up with them, but they were never an animal that connected with me in any way. I always felt used around them, the vehicle for food and litter duty. Their work was vague, their roll even more murky. I like animals to have a distinct purpose: hunt, ride, cart, herd, or be eaten as food. Cats seem to want to be my equal and I'm not supposed to question their motives or work. Like the author S.M. Stirling says, "Cats are furry little republicans". I think they are more like furry little CIA agents. Don't bother them. Don't ask questions. They're on it.

Few cats I have met in my life have been dog-level affectionate with people, and if they were, it wasn't with me. I think that aloofness kept me from ever getting one. That, and I was always more drawn to canines. I still am. To be honest I am probably more canine than human at times. I live for my community, thrive on other pack members, hunt in daylight, love to run and play, need to know my place in life and adore a good steak.

But let me tell you something, this George character? He's growing on me.

George is one of the boys, as dog-like as a cat can be. He comes when called, eats dog biscuits, and roams the farm like a fat tiger on the lam. His sister, Lilly, moved into the barn a while ago and is rarely seen anymore. After 6 months of being too shy to leave the laundry room I left the backdoor open for her so she could enjoy the great outdoors instead of a dank room. She has remained a full-time barn cat ever since. She'll always be a stranger to me.

George is not a barn cat. Not at all. He's a loafer and a lover. There is nothing he enjoys more than eating, pooing, and then stretching out across the kitchen floor making dog and human walk around him. That's where you can find him most of the time. But that changes when the keyboard to my old computers start clacking. When I write he is always just at my feet, purring and opening his mouth in silent meows of inclusion. He makes no sound but I can hear loud as day, "Hey, Lady! Pet me!" and I do. I reach down and get him under the chin and his eyes shut in that way that makes us all think cats can smirk in pleasure.

I never thought I'd love a cat so much. George has proven to me that some cats have the gusto to live with a pack of wolves. I respect the hell out of him.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

ride on

When I left the farm astride Merlin, the sun was starting to yawn and the world was bathed in yellow light. October Light. It is already here and as my black horse's feathered feet trotted along my winding road I closed my eyes and took in a deep breath. These are the last deep breathes of summer. Soon the smells of cut grass, sweat, bug spray, and grilling meats from neighbor's barbecues will be replaced by crisp inhalations of wood smoke and dead leaves. I turned Merlin up towards the dirt road that leads us on a 4-mile round trip through forest, field, and streamside. Back home there was a loaf of wheat bread on it's first rise in a pyrex bowl and a stainless steel saucepan of raw goats milk turning into chevre. I am only getting a half gallon every 36-hours now but it is enough to keep me in cold cereal and cheese. I think Bonita will be bred in September and so will Francis. I think about the logistics of this as the trail gets steeper. Without thinking my body leans forward with my horse's upward climb. The steep road levels out and I lean back. These motions are now as normal and thoughtless as putting on pants.

Merlin doesn't want to go up the steepest part of the dirt road and I know him, and me, well enough to handle his fit. He stops and turns around to trot home and I tsk tsk and smile. In a split second I loosen my right rein, pull in my left gently and spin him in three circles until he stops on his own. I turn him uphill and offer my heal and loosen the reins. He doesn't budge, just turns back around to go to the farm. I spin him again and this time loosen the reins when we're facing uphill and kick the same moment. I use the over/under rope on his horn after he bawks again. It has a piece of rawhide on the end and its a light flick back to his rump and he canters up the steep dirt slope. He has learned, finally, I am more stubborn than he is.

We burst out of the forested road to a bald of grass open and flecked with does. Merlin doesn't care about the deer, he canters past them. Up and up the mountain until we can spin around and take in the last of the green around us. I can see Cambridge, the mountains, Vermont. I try to remember the girl in the dressage show in May, so scared in a small arena. So intimidated by fear. I sat tall in the stock saddle, wind in my hair, my straw hat tight on my head and neck-reined Merlin up the trail. We have come so far in a single endless summer. I no longer fear this horse. We have become a team.

Fall is coming.
Crows are flying.
Black horses are running uphill.
Things are healing.

modest plans

I don't know about where you live, but here Fall is just around the corner. It's the end of August and trees are starting to turn colors, the nights are down into the mid-fifties, and the next things on my to-do list include calling in the chimney sweep and getting some firewood ordered and stacked. Right now I just finished paying off all the August bills, some a little late, but at least they are all up to date. Someone asked me in the hardware store how business was and I told them the honest truth, that I am breaking even. I make enough money writing, selling ads, and running workshops to cover my bills and that's about it. There's some extra money, sometimes, and like last week's trip to Goodwill it went into new clothes. (Well, new to me) I spent 18.50 at Goodwill and got a brand-new pair of nice jeans, two dress shirts, a sweater and a wool skirt. All of it brand names, gently used. New clothes, even new outlet clothes, aren't part of the budget. It's okay by me. I'd rather wear someone else's wranglers on my own horse. Life is all about priorities.

I am spending the afternoon editing another chapter of Days of Grace, and then starting dinner for Ajay and I. He is living just down the road at Jon Katz's place, he got a care taking job there and is currently working like a dog stacking wood and tearing down an old barn on Jon's property. He has a bedroom, a bike, and a strong back. Here in Farm country you don't need much more to make an honest living. Since he is only a mile away I invite him up here to join me for dinner a few times a week. It's nice for both of us. He gets a nice home-cooked meal in exchange for some help with evening chores. I get the chore help, and some company. After dinner I'm brewing some beer in anticipation of fall and Ajay might help. He never brewed before and I think he'll like it.

It's funny how much just a few weeks after leaving my corporate job my life has changed. I have never been this busy, or frantic, or scared about basic things like making all my bills. And yet, I have never slept so well, or had such time to focus on health and well being. I might be stressed out about things, but I am taking care of myself in a way that physically allows me to handle it. I might be jumping into the unknown but there's time to stretch before and meditate after, and that's a sort of insurance all of its own.

I also have time to actually do the things I have been working towards for so many years. Time to saddle a horse and ride up a mountain when I need a mental health break. Time to weed and turn over a garden I haven't given up on yet. And most importantly, there's time to really sit down and edit and write. Really pay attention to sentences, and do the work I am happiest doing. I think my next book is my best ever. I am excited to share it with all of you.

Okay, time to stop putting off the editing and get into the hard work of it all. When my chapter is where I approve it should be, I'll start getting dinner ready. A modest plan, but one worth keeping up the good fight for.

gibson and me

Monday, August 27, 2012

Fiddle Camp: Day 2

Fiddle Camp was so much better than I ever anticipated. The point of Fiddle Camp was to introduce the fiddle as a fun and easy instrument, and teach the basics of the animal so that the campers could go home and teach themselves without lessons. I really think we accomplished that. People came knowing nothing, and left playing a song. There were certainly squeaks and squawks and beginner's nerves, but I will tell you what I told them. Every single person at camp sounded better and knew more in 48-hours than I did my first three-months of learning alone. It was an encouraging thing to witness. It was music to our ears.

In two days we went over a crash course, building confidence and sharing in our musical journey. Saturday was all about introductions and handing out fiddles and tee shirts. Dawn and Peter, two readers who own a screen printing business made us our organic cotton dark brown shirts with the camp logo (crow with antlers) sitting on a fiddler's bow. Everyone loved them and I proudly wore mine too. After tents were pitched and fiddles were by every hay bale or camp chair, we did introductions and started into the concentrated 6-hours of lessons and lectures. We learned the parts of the fiddle, tuning, bowing, the D scale. After that we started the beginnings of their first song. By the end of Saturday some of the students that couldn't tell you a tailpiece from a frog were playing Ida Red (our first song) by themselves. Sunday was about more advanced techniques like shuffling, sliding, more focus on learning songs, droning and such. We took a lunch break at the Cambridge Farmer's Market and a live band featured a fiddler and more than one camper in their crow shirt stopped to watch. It meant something different now, as they were one of them.

The two-day event ended with an optional recital. Folks who had learned their first tune could play in a judged contest for a pile of homesteading books. The winner, a woman from Virginia named Linda who sported beautifully curled white hair and a happy blue t-shirt. She sounded amazing, matching the songs tempo and perfect notes. Just listening to her play under my maple made me so darn proud of her. Listening to everyone did. Watching them grow from a dreamer to a fiddler in two days, one campfire, and one farmer's market worth of time.

Well, done. All of you. If you attended and can put a link in the comments to any photos or stories, please do!

I was happy to teach and found it so rewarding. My style is friendly, goofy, and fun. The whole method is to not take it too seriously, not make the violin into a monster in your closet. We made small goals, learned in little steps, listened to Wayne's recordings and promised to dedicate ourselves to a few minutes of practice a day/ This is the gardening that grows an Old Time Fiddler. And it really is all anyone needs to learn the instrument. Set aside any ideas that it is hard. A lot of things are hard, that doesn't mean you can't do it. When you see a set of stairs you don't need to jump to the top of them, you just need to make one step. Go from there.

So you want to learn? Well, there's a second Fiddle event in February. It's called the Fiddler's Rendezvous and it is limited to ten people. Two spots are taken, eight remain. It works the same as Fiddle Camp in that it is 2 intensive days of learning and you get a fiddle and tee shirt but it won't include camping. You'll need to book a room Saturday Night in a local B&B or Inn but you can enjoy the farmhouse and the woodstove and will have time after the daily intensive to shop the snowy streets of Cambridge, take in an event at Hubbard Hall, or drive over to Manchester or Saratoga for a nice dinner. And if traveling here to learn with us isn't an option, teach yourself. We used Wayne Erbsen's Fiddle Book and CD combo called Old Time FIddle For the Complete Ignoramus. That, and an in-tune fiddle and bow is all you need. We used a Cremona Student model. It is an import, but does sound darn nice and can be grown into and enhanced with better strings and rosin and grow with the student.

Nothing is stopping you from learning to play the fiddle. If you don't have the money for a new student package and book, borrow one from a friend or relative and get the book from the library or inter-library exchange. You can find a way, long as you start asking folks who can help lead you in the right direction. Always ask. Always, always ask. Because you might find a music teacher who can trade lessons for your goat's milk or homemade soaps or canned jams. Perhaps you can work out some sort of skill barter. It just takes some snooping around, but I am certain anyone reading this who wants to learn can email me, search through eBay or Craigslist, order or wrangle what you need and start watching some of Wayne's Free videos at Nativeground.com.

You want into our club, well, pick up a fiddle and join us!

As for this farm: It is time to get back in the saddle, back into winter prep, and back into figuring out the next month. I have just two weeks to finish editing the manuscript for my next book, and then I need to prepare for the Mother Earth News Fair. When I get back from that there is Antlerstock to plan for and then WINTER, the biggest event of the year. So stay tuned, in all aspects, and I will keep this dog and pony showing going as long as I can.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Graduating Class 2012

practice session video!

We're down to the last few hours of fiddle camp. Folks are learning songs, shuffling bows, and droning notes. Here at a practice session I walk around the farm to check in with people learning a new technique. Welcome some new fiddlers to the Cold Antler Family!

sock knitting machine!

fiddle camp hooligans

Fiddle Camp: Day 1

The coffee is brewing and the campers are outside behind the barn, a happy tent city. There are people at this event from North Carolina, Virginia, Vermont, Mass, New York, PA, and Ohio. Last night the ones who were staying here in tents, sat around a roaring campfire with guitars, banjos, and our stories. It was a happyy scene if there ever was one. Ajay sang ballads of the Burger Den and Evil Thor (one of my aggressive roosters) and folks sipped cider and Guinness in lawn chairs under the stars. Everyone seemed happy, and everyone seemed tired.

Our first day of Fiddle Camp turned out to be, in actuality, Fiddle Boot Camp. And I mean that in the way that the day was long and hot, and we did not stop lessons and practice sessions for six hours straight. But I can say this: people came here not sure how to rosin a bow and ended the day learning their first scale, song, and performing in front of other campers. When a quiet camper named Sarah stood up at the end of the day and perfectly played her first tune, Ida Red. Her husband Clay (driver and moral support) told me later he never thought people could pick it up in one day. He was happy to see his girl so very happy, and I was proud of her and everyone who arrived.

People do learn at their own paces, but I've learned from this event that even the person who struggled the most was keeping up. One woman came to me, confused, and pointed to a pile of tabulator in the book asking a frantic question. She talked about her confusion while showing me the finger positions on the fretboard and talking about the string and notes and I wanted to hug her. She didn't get my happy look because she was trying to solve a puzzle, but all I could think of was that 5 hours ago she had no idea what a scale, fretboard, or finger positions was and now she was tuning her own fiddle and learning a song. Even in their fray of frustration and determination there is so much already learned!

I'm heading out to help with coffee, but I will update with more later! So far this camp has been an amazing success and everyone is eager and doing well. Music is in the air and spirits are high!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

wish you were here!

Friday, August 24, 2012

patches for merlin's saddle pad

24 hours to camp!

Fiddle Camp starts in a little over 24 hours. Between then and now is a mess of work to do in preparation. There's 15 fiddles to tune and inspect, a porta-potty to install, campsites to clear, and classes to plan. Parking lots were made with the thanks of Holden Daughton and his brush hoggin' DR mower. People who arrive can park by the pond and walk up the road to the house and a series of places to set up tents and chairs and tables is waiting for them behind the barn.

Folks who are camping, Washington County is in a drought so you can not have open fires. You need to bring camp stoves if you want to cook here. Remember, since I do not have a USDA kitchen I can not legally feed you so you need to bring along any meals you do not want to buy. The Burger Den is just up the road for lunch and dinner and Cambridge has several places and a small IGA to get provisioned up. If you have a camp chair, bring it!

Also, the Washington County Fair is going on so if anyone wants to hit up one of the best Fairs in the state after camp is over for the day on Saturday, I can give you easy directions. It is only 20 minutes from CAF. We can take a group field trip if you like!

So I will see you all with posts from the weekend by and by. It may be too busy to post but I will post videos and pictures. Wish us all luck and happy sawing!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

haying with dire wolves

I asked some friends how to describe an afternoon of haying to folks who never did it before. I was given this perfect reply:

Tell them to dress and prepare for four hours of moving 400, 50-pound, Brill-o pads around in 87 degree weather.

But, you know, the fun version.

That sums it up. Haying is a several step process, and around here it is all done by big machines that cut, row, turn, and bale the long stems of grass. But most people still need help bringing in the loads off the field and stacked in the barn for safe keeping. And that is what Ajay and I were called to do Tuesday. Bob Ackland of Maple Lane Farm has been letting me ride and drive Merlin all over his vast farmland for months, so when he asked for one afternoon to help put up hay I was happy to say yes. Ajay was thrilled. Both of us are farm-work junkies and haying is the marathon of all the events. You are certain to end it ten pounds thinner and drunk from the tiredness, but like any long run you feel reborn after a good shower (or a night at the fair, in our case).

We got to Bob's dressed for the work. When you hay you wear long pants, boots, gloves and (optional) long-sleeved shirts. Yes, it's hot but when you are dealing with the razor sharp chaff and constant scraping of bales against your skin it is a lot less painful having some carhartts between you and the grating. We had on straw hats for the sun, bodies full of water, and then we jumped into the wagon behind Mark Wesner (driving tractor) and our job was to lift and stack the bales in the wagon. We did this for three hours.

You find your role fast when you join a work team like this. I was poor at stacking in the wagon, too much like math for me. So I opted to be the one who picks up the bales from the piles in the fields and puts them in the wagon for others to load. I adored this work.

Mark Wesner watched from the tractor in (I think) surprise at the brute force and constant speed of the work. I am not one to brag but when it comes to bucking hay bales I am gold-medal material, son. It felt like something my body was meant to do. As the day grew longer and we hit over 300 bales I kept at it. There's a stride to hit in haying just as there is in a run or a long trail ride on horseback. You feel a point of poetry of the body, when everything is oiled and practiced enough to pump at peak efficiency. This is the kind of feeling you savor in an afternoon of haying and when you reach it you feel like you will live forever, long as there is decent work to do.

When all was done, we hopped off the last wagon and enjoyed pink lemonade and cookies, brought out by Bob's wife, Caroline. It was heavenly. And Mark said he thought watching me buck up hay bales was like watching someone who had the perfect body for the task, it just worked. He then said, smiling and happy, "You're built like a stone mason!" and Ajay cracked up, laughing. He ragged on Mark, "So THAT'S how you talk to women!" and I laughed. I am what I am. I'm built like a dire wolf, not a deer and so far this stout little frame has taken me some amazing places and done some serious work. I'm grateful for it, not ashamed of it.

But Ajay hasn't stopped calling me "Hay-Mason" since.

oxen and the fair

Ajay and I were at the Washington County Fairgrounds in plenty of time for the Oxen Judging on Tuesday morning. Out of all the events at the Fair, this might be the most intriguing and its because of a geographical oddity. You see, Washington County is dairy country. Line up ten farmers and seven of them deal with the white stuff. Cows, Holsteins in particular, are not dotted across the landscape but splattered across it, Jackson Pollock style. Dairy is so big that our local gas station won the best vanilla ice cream in America award in 2009. I am not making that up. We know cows around here.

So when a rogue clan of dairyfolk decide to do the unthinkable (keep male calves) and raise them up to do work the tractor long replaced I am in awe. It is either hopeless romanticism or die-hard practicality, but either way the fact that people are raising non-milking/non-eating cows and feeding them to be entered in a fair is fascinating. We watched not a pull, but a show. The oxen were walked around the arena and judged on how well they were paired as a team. there were young kids with light whips and aging, cagey looking old timers who's butt you knew fit perfectly into their tractor seats.

Ajay was unhappy with the commentator, who he thought should have more verve to be MCing a huge work-cow event. I shrugged. I thought the judge sounded just like an ox, slow and certain. IN general, I thought the whole thing was great. Just great. Seeing these folks shuck and jive with a pair of oxen they knew as week-old calves now towering over them at 1600+ pounds. Compared to the draft horses they were calm and slow, but what a thing to see them amble about along the fair lanes. You can't call your fair a fair if you don't have to watch your step for cow flops while eating your fried dough.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

heading out to hay at maple lane farm