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


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

a bowl of apple oatmeal

The apples this year are nothing to crow about. A last spring frost killed many of the buds and only a few red ones shine from the green and tired branches. I can see them up high on the hill where the sheep shed's get the earliest of the morning light the few that remain lay in wait. I walk up there with a shepherd's crook and the sheep a pasture away see me, the crook, and the tree and know exactly what is about to happen. Sal, the oldest and most savvy of the flock, comes leading the flock, baaing as his old legs canter him towards me. Crooks and late summer near the apple trees mean one thing to these critters: falling apples. Soon I am surrounded by my flock and as I get a few winners to plop into my large button-down shirt I am using as a net, the rest fall around me and only know earth for a few seconds before they are gobbled up. The ovines crunch their merry way into bliss and I can see bits of steam leave their maw on the cool morning. Two crows perched on a dead tree look down on us and I wave and smile. All of this is a psalm to me.

Fall is on his way.

The apples were collected because oatmeal made on the stove with fresh apples, cinnamon, Brett's maple syrup and brown sugar is a powerful way to fortify a woman for a day like today. In the next few hours I will meet up with Ajay from the farm down the road, do all the morning chores and feeding, share my breakfast pot, and load up in the truck for the oxen competition at the Washington County Fair. Neither Ajay or I have ever watched oxen in action and we aren't missing the weight pull. Lunch will be served, fair style, and then we're coming home to dress in long pants and shirt sleeves (regardless of the heat) to help a neighbor bring in his hay. Haying is the marathon chore of the summer and the older farmers could use two 30-year-olds to buck and jive in the wagons and help load into the lofts. By dusk both of us will be too tired to eat and will return to the Fair for the pro-rodeo to watch the broncos and bull riders. We'll watch the glory and guts of the rodeo, tired and sore under the lights of the ferris wheel, baptized in hard work from a day of hay and sweat.

But it all starts with a bowl of apple oatmeal.

Monday, August 20, 2012


What you see here is my ranking medal as an Archer in the SCA. It means that I have competed in at least three Royal Round Tournaments on three separate days and am listed on the East Kingdom's roll call of archers. This medal was hand-cast in a friend's forge right in his own backyard. The crossed arrows mean I'm part of a very small group inside and even smaller group and it makes me grin like an idiot even golding it. Even though it's the lowest ranking medal there is in the Society, it stands for so much more. This is my first summer on the team and the practices, friends, events, and experience has been wonderful in making me a better archer. I hope to use those skills from the practices to become a proper bow hunter. I might be the only person in Washington County hunting in a blaze orange kilt with a long bow, but I'll be out there. To a select group of men, that's got to be hot.

In other Archery/Society news I was nominated to become a Marshall in Training (MIT) in our Shire. This means I'll be learning how to safely check equipment, run practices, and lead the team in range commands. Not bad for a girl who picked up her first long bow just a few months earlier.

bookstore dog

Sunday, August 19, 2012

virtual swap meet!

So here's an idea. Let's have a virtual swap meet. It works like this. You post something you need. Then, post what you are looking for. Then offer your email address. When you've done this and we've collected a fair number of comments, we can start scanning what other people have to offer and contact the person who you can make a decent trade with. Email each other, and figure out shipping and addresses, and trade online. I'll start:

NEED: I need a western style saddle pad with good padding and in decent condition. Fleece would be preferred. Color doesn't matter.

OFFER: I have to trade: 4 bars of homemade goats milk mint soap and a 12oz bear of honey from the hive. Email me at if you have said pad!

Okay, Who else needs something?

Antlerstock 2012 Itinerary is Up!

Antlerstock is just a few weeks away and I'd like to gather all the presenters through email to talk. So far I have experts in their field talking about homebrewing beer, Nigerian Dwarf Dairying, Handmade home herbal salves, Sourdough Bread Start making and baking, Backyard lumberjacking and axe work, farm animals in small spaces, soapmaking, draft horses, chickens, and more. It is Columbus Day weekend and so far there are less then 6 remaining spots open. Parking will be a hard thing to pull off so I am hoping folks coming from the campground or Cambridge can carpool. Here is the itinerary so far

Friday NIght: Arrive at 6PM for a casual meet and greet and campfire. Not an official part of antlerstock, but a private party for folks who want to come a night early and just relax, find the farm, and get their bearings. We'll have a cookout, potluck style, so bring a dish and BYOB. It'll be a nice time.

Saturday: Antlerstock begins!

9:30 AM - sign in, morning mingling, and tour
10:15 AM - Backyard Forestry
10:15 AM - Soapmaking
11:00 AM - Sourdough Starter and Baking
11:00 AM - Harnessing up and moving logs with Merlin/Jasper
12:00 Noon - Safe Axe work, chopping and stacking 101

1PM - Lunch Break, bring a packed lunch or drive into town for a meal!
Stay for a homesteading talk under the King Maple

2:30PM - Backyard Rabbits and Chickens for eggs and meat
3:00 PM - Getting Started with Dairy Goats
4:00 PM - Timber Sports talk and demo
4:00 PM - Conversations Under the King Maple: Wrap up
5:00 PM - End of day, enjoy a drive around the WC, welcomed back for a campfire and music at 7PM lit by jack-o-lanterns. Story time and music.

Ongoing daily activities: cider pressing and pumpkin carving.

Sunday: Day 2~

9:00 AM - Horses for the homestead, riding and work
9:00 AM - Salves and herbal remedies
10:00 AM - Hombrewing 101!
10:30 AM - Fiddles and Dulcimer Overview
11: 00 AM - Pruning fruit trees and forestry

Noon - Break for Lunch!

Ongoing daily activities: Optional Tour of Common Sense Farm, Soap Shop and Poultry barn

1:30 PM - Cheesemaking 101
2:00 PM - Pigs 101
3:00 PM - Sheep and Wool for the homestead
3:30 PM - Energy and the future, conversation
4:00 PM - HIghlanders and backyard Beef
4:30 PM - Wrap Up under the maple tree

a day of horsing around

Friday morning Brett and I loaded our horses into the back of his red two-horse trailer and we headed up route 22 to Livingston Brook Farm. It was early, around 8AM and we had an appointment for a lesson at 10AM with trainer Dave. The reason for the early start was a catered breakfast by Mark and Patty. We had a spread of fried heirloom tomatoes, eggs, new potatoes, and bacon: almost every bite right out of their own backyard. We sat around the round kitchen table talking about our farms and horses, stories and work while the horses got to know each other in a pasture just outside the front door.

That video above is Brett and Patty introducing Steele and Ellis to our ponies. It's not easy to see but there's a beautiful moment of equine communion going on when all four animals meet down in the meadow. I was grateful to catch it on camera!

I wanted to thank Brett for all he does for Cold Antler so I was treating him to a lesson with the magical man who brought Merlin back to me. Trainer Dave was going to address some of Dolly's nervous habits during tacking up. Dolly is amazing and responsive once she is in a harness or saddle, but it's the getting her tacked up that is the problem. She moves around, doesn't like the bit, and pretty much runs the show. Dave listened to this story and went to work right away, focusing on ground work and respect. I trust Trainer Dave with all my heart, and knew Dolly would do great. (I already asked him to be the expert speaker at the Farmer's Horse Workshop at Halloween, and he accepted!) While Brett was game for the lesson, I don't know if he expected a huge change in his horse. But by the end of one hour with trainer dave he seemed to have an entirely different animal.

Dave worked Dolly with a lunge line and plastic bag on a stick, his weapons of reason against the herbivore's fussy brain. Dolly had not been pushed around for a while so she required a little bit of extra time, but fifteen minutes into working her Dave was barely touching the line in his hands and Dolly was following him around like a dog. Dave was able to place a saddle pad and saddle on her without much fuss, and less fuss every time he tried it. I couldn't stop smiling at Brett's face, which was constantly beaming in awe at the change as well as taking in every word of Dave's instruction. By the time the lesson was wrapping up Brett was able to tack up his horse without even using cross ties. She stood like a Civil War statue. Patty and I just shook our head's smiling. These animals, and the people around them, are a blessing every day.

When school was over, we tacked up Merlin and Ellis (Ellis is Steele's paddock mate, an 18-hand Warmblood) and joined Brett and Dolly for an adventure. We rode through the woods by the famouse Livingston Brook and then up into the hayfields that span out to a beautiful private lake. We walked our horses right into the water and they splashed and drank as we laughed. We really laughed when Dolly decided to lay down with Brett on her back! It happened like slow quicksand, until she was on her belly. Brett remained calm and just slid off, got her to stand and got back on. (I would have had a fit of panic, most likely). Both got very wet, but no one was hurt. I personally think it was a revenge of sorts for her lesson. (Never mess with a chestnut Mare, folks.) But whatever she had in spite she made up for in how great she was on the trail. That little horse of Brett's was an angel. She put up with a 2.5 hour trailer ride to Washington County, was put up with strange horses, two trail rides, a lesson, and never once gave us a hard time. I think all of our trail horses had a shining moment when a big Farmall Tractor at Maple Lane Farm turned right next to us and went down the road and all of the horses were calm as monks in a monastery. I don't know if that is common, to have such calm animals in such a land of distraction and elements, but we did, and we were darn happy.

And so we rode on, along the paths and tractor dirt roads of Maple Lane Farm across the street and we ended at their barns where four Haflingers were watching us in a starting contest. Merlin and Dolly went right up to the old stone wall to say hello and Brett thought it was a riot, introducing Dolly to some of her clan.

It was an amazing day, full of learning and trotting across roads and farms. By lunchtime we were all tired as dogs and parted with hugs and handshakes. I can't wait to do it all again. And if there was any doubt I was becoming a horse person, well, it was crushed under that mud Dolly laid down in.

Yee Haw!

who changed who?

It is hard to believe that less than six months ago Merlin was a picture in a Craigslist Ad. Now he's right outside the kitchen window. That horse is changing me, or has come into my life at a time of intense personal change—either way he's more significant than a saddle holder. He's this massive, mythical creature that is the symbol of a mythical time in my own life. Merlin met me when I was a struggling office employee scared to so much as canter, dealing with a great amount of personal pain and confusion. Now we are literally galloping into autumn together. Both of us are different animals. I'm a self-employed, full-time creative homesteader and he's a hundred pounds thinner and more trained and utilized than he has been in years. Just a few nights ago I was riding him up into the forested paths and open hayfields on my mountain, Brett and his Haflinger Dolly at my flank. We'd move the horses up and around the mountain, taking turns at the lead and exploring all the paths and outcrops. It was sublime, something that belonged in a movie. And yet, it was just a Thursday afternoon. And when I look back on this blog, just to April or May I see another person all together and I wonder how much a black horse had to do with it?