Monday, October 1, 2012

The First of Holy October!

There was a horse in my backyard this morning. I turned the corner and there he was, black as coal and (I swear it) smirking at me. Merlin lowed his head to take out another bite of lawn. I rolled my eyes. There was a time when a loose horse—any livestock really—would have sent me into a panic. I just walked over to his halter and lead line, grabbed the container of horse cookies and walked up to him. He took the cookie and let me slide the halter over his head and lead him back to his pen. Jasper was there waiting, having never left HQ.

It was a damp and chilly morning, weather I adore. The day was set for pheasant hunting in the damp breeze followed by a ride with friends Patty and Christine. I didn't plan on spending the first hour of that hunt mending fences, but that's exactly what happened. While the horses ate their hay I pounded in new t-posts and fixed the electric wire that was torn down.

The whole morning, at home fixing the horse fence or out stalking pheasants was blustery and glowing. Glowing in the sense that at any minute a cloud could break and sunshine streamed into the forest, illuminating the red maples. All around the chilly woods were oranges and reds and oranges, as if they too knew the Calendar date and put on their church dresses. I was thrilled to be out in it, out with the bluster and the color. It felt like the fall I grew up with, what I missed with such a dull ache for years when I lived in Tennessee. I love that state but it has no idea how to have a properly miserable wet October morning. Brigit bless and pity it.

After the hunt, Merlin and I were picked up by neighbor Christine. She lives just a few miles south near Content Farm. I felt like a kid waiting to get picked up for a play date, and just as excited. I was wearing a green kilt, half chaps, paddock boots, and a favorite sweater. Merlin would be in his western tack. This is becoming my riding kit of choice. The kilt covers my legs from rubbing and the tall half chaps protect my legs. It's a lot easier to get on and off the horse as well, what with the kilts added mobility. Jeans, even stretch jeans, make it hard for me to throw a leg over Merlin. In a kilt I just hop up.

The afternoon ride was a series of quiet thrills. We rode from Livingston Brook Farm over to Maple Lane Farm. We passed stone walls and Bob and Caroline's herd of Haflingers. We went down truck roads in the fields, up steep pastures, and along hedgerows to ponds and trees. It was great fun, and Christine was a great addition to our usual duo. Her horse, a young quarter horse gelding named Dream, was just great. It was their first feral riding adventure away from home and that 15.2 hand superstar did everything she asked, didn't spook once, and looked beautiful in the few rays of Autumn sunlight. Steele and Merlin did just as smartly.

I am so much more comfortable with myself and that horse. When I get on him I just want to run! I adore the sensation of moving swiftly on horseback now, something I used to fear. I got in a few goood jaunts today and it was better than hunting, or mending fences, or nearly anything at all. To think I waited thirty years to canter a horse across a field on a Monday.

Brigit bless and pity me!

pheasants be warned...

First day of hunting season was toady, what a great way to welcome October! I spent a few hours in the misty fields along route 313 watching pheasants fly through the air (took a few shots, but no pheasant dinner tonight) and talking with other hunters. The upland scene is a cordial one, and a younger fellow showed me the best place for luck. He had two beautiful cock birds in his vest and I was envious. Roast and smoked pheasant is a food to behold. I have big plans for pheasant pot pie...

This will be an active hunting season for me. I have my shotgun and my father's deer rifle and look forward to pheasant, goose, duck, and deer in the freezer. I will try my hand at all, but even one or two lucky days makes the sport the thrill and savory goodness it is.

I wish all you fellow hunters good luck this season!

the raw milk debate

A few posts ago I spoke about raw milk and was not surprised at the emails and comments I got in return. There are plenty of people who still think all raw milk is one and the same. It is not. There are two types of raw milk. The kind of milk from factory farms that needs to be pasteurized to be safe to consume, and then there are animals that are actually "pasture-ized" meaning they live outdoors on green grass, in small healthy herds that produce beautiful raw milk. Not all raw milk is created equal. Let's start out by saying just that.

I personally do consume it right from my own goats in the backyard. My little backyard dairy has been an amazing experience with animals and food, making everything from milkshakes to cheese right in the kitchen with milk so fresh the cheese tastes like the spring itself.

There have been several movies and books written about the raw milk debate over the past few years and I suggest all of you watch them. The movie Farmageddon (trailer is above) just came out a few years ago and deals mostly with dairy raids and raw milk. The book, Raw Milk Revolution, also dispels myths and fear mongering we've heard for years.

I will say this. Everyone I know personally know who is strongly against raw milk is because either their doctor told them so or they saw a scary report on television. They do not know any organic dairies personally. They do not know how to milk a cow or how lactation even works. Folks, doctors are not organic farmers and television thrives off fear to sell ads. I'm not saying kids are the elderly don't croak because of disgusting and poorly grown raw milk. I am saying not all raw milk is the same. And don't believe everything you read or hear, and certainly don't believe it without hearing the other side of the story.

My stance on raw milk isn't that people should or should not consume it. That is a personal choice for each of you to make. My stance is simply consumers should be allowed to make that choice. A blanket ban on raw milk goes against our rights and consumer freedom. If you want to buy factory farm, chemically and hormonally treated milk at the grocery store go ahead. If you want to knock on a farmer's door with a half gallon mason jar and fill-r-up, that should be just as legal. I do not believe the government should be allowed to stop people from eating what they want of their own free will. I feel strongly about that. What do you think?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Horse Carts & Driving Goats to Hotel Lovin'

This morning started with loading a pony cart into my pickup truck to go visit Scott, the Blacksmith in Salem. Scott has a shop full of all sorts of curiosities and wonders. There are old gates from an 1800's estate in Brazil, 1940's motorcycle parts, sculptures and projects galore. It's a very modern shop, but the spirit is certainly old timey. Scott has a serious beard that goes down to his chest and I bet when he is working on something of wrought iron he looks likes a man stepping out of history....

Anyway, I called him to check out my broken cart. He inspected it and said it basically needs a new frame and that the old 1940's bike forks had rusted out. It is pricey repair job and I need to weigh fixing the rig or putting that money towards a new one. Either way, nothing is happening just yet. Even if I wanted to fork over the money for new forks, it would be two weeks before Scott even had an opening. He's backed up with customers and projects through Columbus Day and beyond.

On the way home from the Blacksmith's shop I decided to stop at Patty and Marks. As I wound along the beautiful autumn road towards Livingston Brook Farm I saw Patty and Steele driving down the road in her new wagon. The beautiful 4-person vehicle was Deere green and yellow and Steele looked like the King of Draft Horses pulling it under the gray skies. I slowed down enough to talk out the truck window and I told her I'd meet her back at the house.

We ended up going for a ride in her back fields on the new wagon and chatting. It had rained all morning and looked like more rain was on the way, but for the moment we were dry. Steele did amazingly well in his new rig and when we were done with the ride we unharnessed the horse and went inside for tea by her wood stove. A fine afternoon visit with a good friend on a Sunday.

And a Sunday was exactly what I wanted. I wanted an afternoon of rest. I had big plans for cleaning the house and basic chores, you know, just relaxing with my own fireside book. Of course, all that changed. The phone rang. It was Yesheva, my goat mentor and dairywoman of local notoriety. She wanted me to bring down my does to be served. The farmer's doe that had been staying in their extra pen had been bred and gone back to her farm—so there was an opening room at Hotel Lovin'. Yesh didn't call her open pen "Hotel Lovin'" but I did. Because the only reason to stay at Common Sense Farm was so goat sex could happen. Goat sex means kids in the spring and kids in the spring mean milk and income. All good things, and all require a stay at Hotel Lovin'

I did not hesitate. I didn't have large enough dog crates or a stock trailer so I loaded them right into the cab of the truck. It was just three miles to Common Sense so I figured we could pull it off. And we did. I had them down at their big Dairy barn within 15 minutes of that phone call and in the next week they will be bred by a beautiful purebred Alpine buck. This is just the first step in the cycle of owning a dairy animal, but I am excited to be a part of it. The trip did kind of ruin my afternoon plans of laziness, but no one ever said pimpin' was easy.

P.S. I am also proud to say not one pellet of goat poo hit the truck's upholstery. They were better than my dog in the Dodge. Who knew?

Last Day to Enter The Garlic Giveaway!

Annie's Seeds has offered to host a giveaway perfect for you fall gardeners out there. By leaving a comment here you can be entered to win the grand prize that is their Garlic Variety Pack! This is a combination of six quarter-pound packages of heirloom garlic seeds, and trust me, that will do you.

The variety pack is a good idea for any of you shopping for fall planting as well who are new to growing garlic, reason being, you can see what soft or hard variety grows best in your climate and soil. I can't win my own contest so I plan on buying it just to see what comes up. Then next year I can go whole hog with that winning variety and save cloves for the following year.

So enter to win a mess of garlic to plant now under a deep bed of mulch! And even if you don't win, Scott has offered three other runner up winners to pick their choice of a quarter pound of any single variety of garlic offered! Please only enter one comment per person, as to be as fair as possible. Know that comments are moderated so after you hit submit I need to read and approve it and that doesn't always happen instantly! And, as always, if you share it on Facebook you can come back and double your chances to win!

Happy Planting!

Kids and Food Rights

Yesterday's event at the Library went well! Myself, a chicken, and around a dozen kids and their caregivers showed up at the Library on the rainy day. I held the little Golden Laced Wyandotte against my chest as I talked about chickens, feathers, eggs, farms, and anything else the kids wanted to talk about. The kids were whip smart, and knew more about their food than I thought they would. (Not every kid knows ice cream, cheese, and hamburgers come from the same animal!) and everyone got to pet the bird, handle multi-colored eggs, and tell be their chicken stories. When it was over parents came by to ask adult chicken-keeping questions and everyone was kind and patient. I could not have asked for a better first Library experience and I thank Jessica and her young family for inviting me!

On an unrelated note, this is just a reminder to folks coming to Antlerstock that meals will not be provided, as originally intended. This is upsetting to me as well, but as the USDA cracks down on farm-to-table meals I can not legally serve you any food at an event you paid to attend unless it was prepared in a USDA kitchen and I had the license to transport it from there to here. That, or build a fully inspected stainless steel government approved food-preparing kitchen (Which I have not done, I'm working on lumber to build barn walls first.)

Some people think this is paranoia, but as a person who's home is also how she makes her living it is a very real threat. If any local USDA inspector came here and saw me serving chili I could have Antlerstock shut down and a fine that would destroy me. It is happening all over. So right now food is not a part of workshops. I tried to hire some catering companies to feed you instead but the cost was astronomical, everyone's ticket price would have doubled. It seemed most reasonable to have folks pack a lunch. Again, I am sorry. I can offer you a discount on future events if that will help with your costs.

For those who are passionate about farm-to-consumer rights I strongly urge you to join the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, AKA the Food NRA. Cold Antler is a member and part of the movement to get small, sustainable farmed food out of the world of taboo and into the world of normal again. Raw milk back on the table!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

goat sex and auctions

Bonita and Francis, my dairy goat duo, have a big week ahead of them. In the next few days they will be transported to Common Sense Farm where an Alpine buck named (and I am not making this up) Little Britches will serve them up a helping of lovin' If that goes as planned I can expect kidding in early March, and a pair of does ready to freshen and get back into the dairy swing.

I'm lucky my mentor and her herd are three miles away, and that for breeding time I have someone to show me the ropes. It's a debt I hope to pay forward. I am slowly doing just that. Last Thursday CAF friend and Season Pass member, Sarah had me come over to show her how to trim hooves and give CDT shots. It was an easy knowledge to share and I was honored to make the house call. By the time I left Sarah had trimmed a hoof and gave a shot herself. If any of you live close enough for me to run over and help, I happily will.

Right now Bonita is dry. I did my last milking the day I returned from Antlerstock and barely a half pint left her teats. After months of milking her every day it is a weird vacation. There is no freedom like the freedom from a dairy animal, you feel like you could go run the Amazing Race (coincidentally, New York State goat farmers Josh and Brent are...). It's a perfect time to add swine to the farm, the morning pig work will take the place of milking and by the time kids are hitting the good earth the pig will be in the freezer. At Antlerstock I will get my little tamworth/GOS cross piglet and I'll let you guys name him.

I'm off to my first ever auction tonight, over in another part of the county. Some gals hit the bars on Sunday night, some hit the horse-drawn equipment auctions in Washington County. I hope in the next few years Jess and Riley and the clan from Key West are coming over for a Saturday night potluck and talking about their farms with me. I love that some readers want to make this place home as well. I think of you all, and often.

...and for my next trick!

I didn't wake up in the middle of the night last night. I slept the solid, happy, sleep of a person who achieved her small goal. I woke up to more rain (we are in for a spell of it) and was excited to take on the day. I went out with Gibson to feed the critters and returned to coffee and oatmeal. My body was soaked by my mood was airy as a maple leaf on the wind.

There's a chicken in a small cage in the back of my truck. She's one of the Golden Laced Wyandottes I raised from a chick this spring. She's in the truck because in about half an hour we are off to share in a little adventure. This morning is my first ever Library talk for children! I'm heading a half hour south to the Schaghticoke (Skat-eh-coke) Library and really excited about it. I adore kids, specially the ones old enough to talk and too young to stop imagining. I am going to tell kids about farming, chickens, food, and my book Chick Days. It'll be a hoot!

Strike that! It'll be a Bok bok!

Friday, September 28, 2012

What does Cold Antler Farm mean to you?

Bringing Home the Bacon!

If there was ever a testament to the magic in this green world, it is this small farm tucked into a mountain in foothills of the Adirondacks. I just set up the payment for my mortgage online, it will be deducted early next week. Just writing that makes me swell with calming joy. It's a bit late, but I made it.

That fine payment happened after a day of tackling my fear with constant action, but it also happened because of a little tealight beeswax candle. See, I was trying to focus on the steps to take towards meeting my goals—lost in meditation staring at the candle—when I realized perhaps the candle itself was the key?! So I emailed the people on the box, folks I met at the Mother Earth News Fair. Within a few hours I was able to sell an ad to the fine people at Scent from Nature. They sell beautiful, heavy, all natural beeswax candles I adore and meditate with here. The same candle I lit this morning lit the whole day in service to the light. If you get a chance send them a message on their site (link is over there on their ad on the right and in this post) and let them know their support keeps this place going. They signed on for six months and it was what pushed a tittering home bill over the precipice into the world of PAID!

And if that wasn't good enough news, I got kind emails from readers who need design work and logos, a few small donations, and someone who owed me for a workshop paid up as well. This makes for a night of celebration! It is raining outside but the fire is burning bright in this farmhouse! I opened the windows to let out the heat out and let in the cool winds and sounds of rain. I love this combination of indoor comfort and outside bustle. It makes the living room feel like a campsite. I cracked a hard cider and will enjoy my beef soup dinner. Life is good.

And if all that wasn't enough to celebrate, I worked out a fine barter with a local heritage pig farmer just south of Albany. Betsy will be bringing to Antlerstock a Tamworth/Glouchestshire Old Spot cross piglet from her first ever farrowing! The little barrow was a trade for her ticket to the festival and I am thrilled to have her, and the little boy, here at the farm. I best get the pig pen ready!

The day started with fear and I set it aside. I cleaned up the house, had a good shower that scrubbed away all the doubt and worries and set into a day of action. The fruits were plentiful, returned in kindness and sales and pork. I can only say that if it wasn't for this community's encouragement I am not sure I would have had the strength to push through the collar like I was. You are all my Tein Eigan, and I thank you for the flames.

Of course there are October's bills to worry about, but it isn't October tonight! So instead I am going to enjoy my dinner and my apple drink and sit deep into my chair by the fireside. Sometimes you need to rest on the journey and tonight is just that, a comfortable campsite along the road of life.

A comfortable campsite with the promise of bacon by candlelight...

zombieland!

thanks henry

"Whether you think that you can, or that you can't...you're right."

-Henry Ford

rain and snow

I walked around the farm in the light rain, Gibson at my side. The morning was cold enough to require my trusty green Carhartt hoodie over my work kilt. My feet were warm and dry in Meredith's hand-knit wool socks inside my brown rubber boots. A hand knit cap I made myself was on my head, as much for warmth as its weather shedding double layer of Jacob and Bluefaced Leicester. Every step was a splash and as my dog danced around my heavy feet I sighed. Things are getting stressful, scary even. My mind is reeling with fall expenses, bills, projects, and the real world of money. These are the kinds of things that can swallow you if you let them.

I can't allow the doubt or fear to take over Cold Antler. If I do the place just becomes a bubbling pit of bills and sleepless nights. You look up at your ceiling in the dark and all you can hear are the words of doubt people have been telling me since day one. You haunt yourself, and it is worse than any headless horseman (and that's coming from a New Yorker).

I understand the situation as what it is, that bills need to be paid. I tell myself the same mantra, You have always made it work and you always will...You have always made it work and you always will...You have always made it work and you always will.

I find a way through positive thinking and a lot of prayer. My goal for the day is to pay my mortgage so I don't have to even think about it during Antlerstock, so I can just enjoy the October weekend for what it is. I'll spend the whole day trying to make that happen. Contacting sponsors for ads, offering you folks discounted season passes and workshops, selling items on Craigslist, posting of facebook: whatever it takes. I know nothing happens to solve the problem unless you change how you view it, and work your rump off to fix it. So in the honor of attraction and a brighter tomorrow, here is a blog post from December 2012. I know this hasn't happened yet, but perhaps it will.

The first snowfall of the year came down fast and bright, like the ringing of a giant brass bell. What started as a cold, wet rain after dark turned as the cold came on down the mountain. I knew it was snowing as I fell asleep, not from my window's view but from the lack of raindrops hitting the pane above my bed. Snow can be amazingly quiet, even when it is angry. We are alike in that way.

In the morning three inches of perfect blessing covered the farm. This marks the end of the Days of Grace, that holy time here in the Upper Hudson Valley after the leaves have all fallen and before the first snowfall. Up until last night farmers had a last chance to catch up on all the winter prep chores that snow makes more dodgy. Tractors are oiled and under cover. Large round bales have been taken into the field to save on winter square bale efforts. Defrosters are in troughs, larders are stacked, and everyone has enough coffee to make it through the weekend, if not the month. These tasks seem like common sense, but they are mighty. they are what make a morning like this a thing of beauty and repose, and not fear.

I think back to late September when I was so scared. Money was tight, down to my last few hundred dollars. I had no idea how the horse's barn would be walled, heck, I didn't know how I would even afford the lumber. But it got done. That and the firewood, hay, bills, mortgage payments and everything else. Partially thanks to the efforts of the blog, readers at workshops, and a hundred other small measures. But also thanks to the long-awaited book deal that sent me a check in the mail. Opening that envelope at the mail box let me release a sigh so powerful the birch trees swayed as it left my lungs. No book deal is a fortune, but it is enough to cover a few month of expenses and in the world of self-employed farming writers it is heaven sent. I was so grateful to receive it the earth below me rumbled.

I know I have to head out soon to do the morning rounds but a fire comes first. It may seem selfish but it is certainly not. A fire started before the outdoor work starts means comfort promised on my return. I bedded the fire around 10PM last night, setting a think yuletide log on the fire to chew away at. By morning just a a black snake of charcoal remained but the embers below still turned red when I blew on them. With some newspaper, hand-hatcheted elm, birchbark and locust hulls I can start a new blaze in moments. The first heat of the new fire lights up my face and my spirits. To look out glass doors onto a world made new, with elements life fire at your back, you feel lucky in ways Superbowl winners only dream of. Fire now roaring, I head out in wool and wax cotton to tend my animals. They waited long enough.

After everyone else is fed I can come inside and feel that kiss of firelight, shed off my wet layers and heavy boots, and wrap myself up in a blanket on the floor in front of the stove. On top of the bun baker is a tea kettle of water and a percolator of coffee. I just need a bowl of oats and a mug and I can it there and eat breakfast in front of the stove like a child eats her cold cereal watching cartoons on a Satturday morning. I feel that same level of bliss from mindless contentment. I have food, and heat, hot coffee, kind dogs, and a day ahead of writing to do. That time between morning chores and the day's work is also a mini Holiday. A Moments of Grace, if you will. I sit there and enjoy the grog and gruel and take a moment in deep thanks that this is where life has allowed me to canter. I am home. I can stay here a bit longer. It is enough.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Holy Crow! Countdown to Antlerstock!

Just a little over a week to Antlerstock! For folks traveling in for the weekend, remember that Friday night is a casual (workshop free) BBQ here at the farm. It's not part of Antlerstock, just a private party from 6-9PM or so to enjoy a little campfire and talk about the weekend. It's a great place to meet others who are staying at the same hotel or Inn, figure out car pools, relax after a long drive, and talk about the weekend ahead. If you are coming to the Friday night event, please email me to RSVP so I am ready for you.

Note that meals are not provided at this year's Antlerstock. Workshops start at 9:00 AM and go till 5 or 6 PM so you need to bring along your nosh and picnic gear. It never hurts to throw in a blanket or folding chairs! And there is always a midday break if you want to hit a restaurant. I will have bottle water available for those who want it.

There are still 2 spots open for Antlerstock due to cancellation. If you want to be a part of the BIGGEST party of the 2012 year here in North Country October, please email me quick to take the tickets! And if you aren't sure if you want to commit, I will offer them at Season Pass Rate and it will also include NEXT YEARS Antlerstock. The farm could use your support and I'm certain you'll have a big time! Come See Washington County! Shucks, some readers are even moving here because of this little blog!

Last Chance Slots For Workshops
2 spots left for Antlerstock 2012
3 Spots left for Words and Wool Dec 1st
5 Spots left for Fiddler's Rendezvous in Feb
8 Spots left for Dulcimer Day Camp

Antlerstock 2012 Itineray! 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 - Highlanders and backyard Beef + Pigs 101
3:00 PM - Sheep and Wool for the homestead
3:30 PM - Energy and the future, conversation
4:00 PM - Blogs and Freelance for the Homestead
4:30 PM - Wrap Up under the maple tree

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Two Animals

Saturday Morning at the Fair

My Saturday morning at the Mother Earth News Fair was delightful. The rooms at Seven Springs were gorgeous, log cabin style accommodations. My "pet friendly" room was not what people expect (AKA smoking room on the first floor). Instead it was a super clean, smoke-free room complete with a ground-level door out to a dog exercise area complete with doggie baggie stations and bins for clean up. Pretty nice for the traveling dog owner, and nicer still for the hotel not to have canines running amok.

Gibson did a bit of running amok. He loves elevators. Soon as one opens he jets inside, spins around, and just smiles back at you. It's on you to race in with him or else he ends up on some mystery floor and you have the second act of a bad romantic comedy. So I did a lot of running into elevators. There's never a dull moment with a Border Collie on board.

After a team breakfast with the rest of the Storey Authors I started exploring the fair. I walked through the ALBC tents first, to meet the animals who had come along with their farmers on exhibit. There were sheep, llamas, goats, alpacas, chickens, cows, geese and pigs inside that space along with booths to ask any question you wanted about everything from milking techniques to bacon yields. I spent most of my time eyeing a flock of beautiful Leicester Longwools from West Virginia and left with a naturally colored gray ball of roving to try out on my wheel when I got home.

Since I already dropped fifteen dollars, I decided to spend another ten and then call it quits for the day. I got six bags of seeds from Southern Seed Exchange (who was running a special) and pocketed them like magical golden tickets in a chocolate bar. Out of all the things I could buy at the fair—and there was everything from tee shirts to llamas— I was thrilled about a winter harvest of kale, hearty lettuce, and other greens. I think this means I'm growing up.

Shopping done I made my way to the indoor conference room where, believe it or not, eight chickens were going to die in front of 600 people. If that sounds a little horrific or exploitive, it wasn't. This was a demonstration of chicken harvesting equipment and a detailed instruction from Joel Salatin. For those who know me, you know that hearing Joel speak (Even about chicken guts) is a treat and an honor. I look up to that man, very much so. And I wasn't alone in my admiration either, there were literally hundreds of people, from little kids to a few elderly Amish couples listening in on the best ways to process their birds. Everyone had baited breath...

Four Cornish Crosses and four Freedom Rangers were slaughtered quickly and without fuss in an 8-cone, wheel of killing cones. From there they went through some Cadilac scalding and defeathering aparati and were then handed to Joel, who could clean them perfectly in under 30 seconds. I took mental and physical notes and considered the whole workshop a success. The fact that everyone was more interested in actually learning about harvesting the animals and no one was there for the shock value or protest was a huge jump in the DIY community's mindset to me. This is progress, when we can talk about preparing dinner without writhing in our seats worried about the fact an animal had to die so we can eat hot wings. Of course an animal had to die. And the people at the event were not interested in the politics or argument as much as the most humane and ethical ways of going from chick to chicken sandwich. I applaud the whole fair for pulling it off. And Joel made it all seem possible, easy, and was vastly entertaining on stage.

After Joel's talk I met up with Brett and some CAF readers. Meredith and her friend Tara were there, along with some interns from Polyface that were rooming with her outside of Seven Springs. This is one of my favorite things about the MEN fair, it's meeting up with readers in person. Comments and emails are wonderful, but actually having someone show up for a workshop in person at my home or at the fair is the bee's knees.

By this point the Fair was in full swing. At least 20,000 people were milling around, shopping and absorbing classes and workshops all over. It wasn't even lunch yet and the place was swarming with eager people clammoring to take the Urban Beekeeping or Emergency Prepping workshops. Indoor classes abounded, outdoor demos and tent talks lit up the atmosphere. It was like a crunchy Southern Tent Revival, only you know, with alpacas. Brett and I were overwhelmed and headed inside to the conference center area. There was a HUGE gymnasium-sized book store set up and walkways of vendors and more conference areas. Brett and I both wanted to hear a local teacher (local to us in Veryork, not PA) from Green Mountain College talk about common homesteading mistakes. His talk was so packed we sat on the floor between rows of chairs. I could not believe the crowds, even compared to last year.

I think this self-reliance thing is catching on....

More later! I'll write about my talks, people I met, the keynote and sitting next to Temple Grandin for dinner! It was AMAZING!

P.S. I am announcing a spring Herbalism 101 workshop for April later today, taught by a trained herbalist and good friend, author and television personality, Kathy Harrison!

P.P.S. People have asked me about the text ads on the site and if they click on them does CAF get money? The answer is yes, that is how it works. You can click them or ignore them, that's your call.

P.P.P.S. Also announcing a garlic seed giveaway tonight from Annie's Seeds! This blog is ON FIRE people!

A Scottish Morning

now that feels good

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

stacking wood and books

My mornings back home from the fair have a new pace to them. I feel now that I am home and there is nothing to do but prep for winter and keep the farm humming. I am free to really dig in. I have plans to fix the horse cart, get a piglet, and start really focusing on my next moves in my writing career. Change is on the way, and not just the weather, people.

Fall is in full swing and nights are into the 30's now. I wake up to a bowl of oatmeal with a chopped apple cooked in it while it boils. I do it over the stove and it is ready in five minutes. People think it is crazy I don't have a microwave, but I find them intrusive. I like my stove, electric and wood, and cook with them. (And I still technically have a microwave, I'm just using turned on it's side as saddle stand in the tack room.) Anyway, OATMEAL! You add a little cinnamon and maple syrup and you have an amazing breakfast with enough sugar and carbs to stack a full cord of wood, which is exactly what I plan on doing today before it rains tomorrow. Wood as nice as this, delivered yesterday by Bob Ackland of Maple Lane Farm, should not get rained on.

Tonight at 7PM I plan on heading into town to listen to good friend Jon Katz talk about his newest book (his 22nd!) a collection of short stories called Dancing Dogs. He is doing a reading and a signing and I'm sure the place will be packed. His dogs Red and Lenore will be there, and I'm certain Red will perch right next to him and Lenore will fall asleep on the hardwood floor around 100 people. Lenore lets rest stop for no man.

Monday, September 24, 2012

what a beautiful sight...

Season Passes & Antlered Dulcimers

Winter Prep is coming along, and the work to prepare for what is ahead is down to firewood and lumber. I have secured some hay, had the chimneys inspected and cleaned, and got snow tires to replace my balding previous ones on the Dodge. The two big jobs left to do are get more firewood (at least 2 more cords) and order the lumber to finish the horses' barn for the cold ahead. Right now the horses only have four poles and a slanted roof and it suits them fine three seasons of the year, but for harsh snowfall and bitter winds they need some walled protection. I know it'll get done. It just requires figuring out how.

I have only two spots left for Antlerstock this Columbus Day Weekend. You could either pay for the two day event, or buy a Season Pass for just a bit more and not only come to THIS antlerstock, but NEXT YEARS. Antlerstock is always 2 full days with many experts on hand. This year will include professors, authors, homesteaders, farmers, and teachers of all sorts. We're cutting down trees, logging with horses, throwing axes, brewing beer, having campfires, carving pumpkins, and pressing cider (and that's just SOME of what's hapening!). Please come on down and support the farm!

I thought up this idea recently: put the Season Pass on sale, and offer an incentive for folks to take me up on the offer. I am going to offer a discounted Season Pass rate of $350. That means you can come to ANY and ALL workshops for an entire year including Antlerstock ( my two day homesteading extravaganza). If you sign up you will be entered for a drawing to win a TK O'Brien Leaping Deer Dulcimer. They are a $275+ value, made in North Carolina. And if you are already a Season Pass member, your name will be in the drawing as well. A Season Pass is a great gift for a friend with Barnheart, and if you are a part of a pro-CAF couple, then we can work out a two-person discount as well. Please email me to sign up!

Right now you will see a lot of yard sales, workshops, new ads, promotions and things like this on the blog as it's a tight time and this is how I make my living now. I do not expect things to stay like this much longer. I have some bigger things in the works like future book deals and speaking events but while I am getting myself and the animals ready and facing the reality of looming obligations I am going to try every way I can to keep this ship afloat. So I guess what I am saying is please be patient if the pitches and workshop announcements annoy you, they won't always be there! I am hoping by November you'll see a sharp decline and a lot more contented winter writing and webinar updates instead. Until then, I have fires that need to burn, walls to raise for a pair of ponies, and a few banks to make happy.

Tuatha na dá bPréacháin Eitilt, (Of the two flying crows)

-j

Joel & Some Chicks


The Mother Earth News Fair: Day 1

We left for the Fair early, right after chores on Friday morning. This meant getting up at 5:00, going over the whole farm, and then loading up a diesel station wagon for the long drive. My truck was in dodgy shape (sorry for the pun)—and Brett's is so big is requires melted stegosaurus to get 400 miles—so we borrowed his sister's wagon. 50 miles to the gallon can not be beat. We left the farm at sunrise.

It's hard to leave a place that is your whole life. The farm is my home, my business, my livestock, my every energy. It's a place people go on vacation. I can't just head out with a little extra hay and water and feel okay about it. A small army was involved in leaving for the Fair. The Daughtons took on the huskies, saving me the costs of boarding. Patty and Mark Wesner and Jon Katz and Maria Wulf all came by to check on the animals, do chores, and generally keep the place under their safe watch. Brett was driving, a huge kindness. And everything had to be ready for me to return by Sunday afternoon. It was going to be an exciting and exhausting weekend, I was as excited about the little vacation as I was anxious to leave.

The happy travelers were Brett, Gibson, and myself and the road ahead was a minimum of eight hours long (meaning if we kept on without stops). Washington County to the town of Somerset Pennsylvania is quite the haul. Brett had a headache and Gibson refused to stay in the back cargo area on his bed. After a while we just let him perch on the vintage wooden suitcase I had packed my clothes in. He sat like a little sphinx, watching out the window while we passed farms, cities, developments and roadside attractions.

By the time we pulled into the Seven Springs resort it was close to 5;30PM. That's a long day, no matter how much you enjoyed your company. Brett was ready to park and relax, his head was still hurting. But he was right as rain by the time he got a short nap in.

I headed to the resort's bar and met up with fellow Storey folks. Pam Art, Ann Larkin Hansen, Carol Ekarius, and some others I didn't recognize at first were there and invited me to join them for some drinks. It was nice to just finally be there, at the destination, and Guinness was on tap. Brett joined us, and soon a pile of writers, and Storey Staff had collected for dinner. It was welcomed, as Brett and I both subscribe to the anti-road food idea of travel. We had a salad at lunch because we were on the move, not wanting to feel heavy and carb-loaded with five or more hours ahead of us in transit. But by dinner at the Fair we were ready to regret.

The food was amazing. That place really put on the dog! I enjoyed way too much, had a few glasses of wine, and looked around the table. These were people I have known for years now, people with farms and books, with databases and PR charts. These are the folks who also help keep Cold Antler running strong. They are a part of my extended community.

We ended up crashing before 9PM. Gibson was the first to fall, exhausted from the long car ride and rest stop potty breaks. He ate some food and crawled into bed with me. Tomorrow we'd all have to be up around the same time as the day before but for meetings and breakfast talks and then off to the fair to explore and take in the big show. The first thing I was going to hit was the live chicken slaughter/plucking demonstration with Joel Salatin. I could not believe the fair pulled that off. My hats off to whoever greenlit such a real and helpful topic at a convention center.

More to come through the day. I need to meet Bob, who is delivering a cord of firewood here in about ten minutes! People, there will BE HEAT!

pointing fingers at grief

Thank you for the warm wishes about George. It means a lot of get the comments and emails. It's such a simple thing, to send a letter or note saying you are sorry and understand, but it can buoy a person towards a better day. I woke up to a big list of comments to approve and all of them were kind. It was so appreciated, please know that. I wish I could say the same about the emails and facebook messages...

I have no idea what killed George, I found him long gone when I returned from my short weekend away. Plenty of cat owners leave on a Friday and get back on a Sunday and all it requires is a clean litter box and plenty of food and fresh water. George had those things in a house he had been living in for nearly a year. It was a complete surprise to find him gone. You just don't worry about cats, they are their own vessels, self contained units that only need the ingredients of ownership around to be ridiculously content. I think that's why folks love cats so much. You put out a box of sand, a bowl of krunchies, and offer a sunny window and they take those few things and become a part of a life. I worried about the horses, Jazz and Annie, the fences and the sheep but I never thought to worry about George.

Sometimes as a blogger you get worried about sharing things like this. I never used to worry about sharing everything, but I do find myself hesitating now. I worry if I write about losing an animal people will assume I did something to that animal. That loss is failure, as a farmer and as a caregiver. There are people out there who care a lot more about animals in general than their fellow humans writing about them and instantly assume the animal was a victim and the human incompetent. I know this because as soon as last night I got emails telling me what I did wrong and how I should not have animals at all. They are harsh, mean-spirited things to read and I wonder what kind of person take anothers grief and turns it into a pointed finger? I'm an animal, too. Why do "animal lovers" not realize that? They wouldn't kick a dog when it was down, so why me? To readers who read this blog looking for something to criticize, I ask that you back down on this. George was a loving, sweet, and sassy animal and fairly old and overweight. It was his time.

Truth is on a farm with this amount of life there has to be some death. It's a numbers game, the odds dangle in some critters favor and not others. I don't know if it is actually possible to kill a goose, honestly? Some chickens beat the clock and seem to have been here forever. And then some animals that share your bed and start every morning purring into your lap just leave. The only thing we really have after an pet dies is our integrity and gratitude. We do our best, so did George.

I'm going to go back to writing about the farm and the fair. If the transition from grief to excitement seems harsh, that is not my intention. Blog posts are postcards from a person's life. And just like the real thing, everything changes fast.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

george

I will update everyone on the fair soon, but I feel like I should share some recent news. I came home to find that George had passed away. I do not know what from. I'm very sad he is not here now and I wasn't there for him then.

I took this photo Thurday morning, he was in my lap. His sister Lilly is mostly outside now. There are no cats in the house.

I have never been a cat person. I never will be.
But I was a George person.

I'm back!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Follow Us At the Fair!

If you can make it to the Mother Earth News Fair this weekend, I'll see you there! But if you can't take heart. Storey Publishing has launched a website for people attending and who just want to follow the big show with live twitter feeds, author info, videos, contests, schedules and more. Workshops start Friday afternoon and end Sunday evening, it's three days of amazing speakers, shops, books, authors, and lessons on all things homesteading and sustainable living. If you live anywhere around the Seven Springs, PA area (Pittsburgh) make the trip, it's well worth it and I think the whole weekend is something like thirty bucks?!

Now, I may not be updating the blog again until I return to Cold Antler, and for that I apologize. It's just a crazy three days of travel, speaking, events, book signings and dinner meetings. But I promise to return with a full report. And, get this, I'm getting a cord of wood delivered Monday when I get back! Progress all around! So I'll see you guys Sunday evening and all of you enjoy your weekends!

Click Here for The Whole Storey!

blacksmiths and fairs

Forgive me if this sounds like forced colloquialism, but I need to take my horse cart to a black smith today. It's true. One of the wheel's frames bent when I was taking Merlin out on a (possibly) over ambitious trail cart ride through the woods. I was driving and Ajay was my fellow passenger and as we headed up a wooded path by the creek too much weight shifted and part of the frame just bent in on itself. I guess 400 pounds was a bit over the weight limit.

The event was pretty anti climatic, it just kinda flopped sideways, like a flat tire. I got us out and tried to bend it back but at a forced move it just snapped through a rusty bit. So today I will load it up in my truck and take it to a blacksmith I know in Greenwich. I met him before when Patty introduced me to him back when she needed her trailer hitch welded. I think he can repair it by just reinforcing it. I can keep it from happening again by understanding the carts limits. Live and learn.

The blacksmith is one of several stops I am making before the House Sitter arrives and I leave for the weekend in Pennsylvania. I'm looking forward to the Mother Earth News Fair, very much so. I am doing two talks: a workshop about blogs and a keynote about community. Gibson is, of course, coming along and so is Brett. We're sharing the driving and he's going to get a kick out of the Big Show.

I'm only leaving for one full day but it is a circus here getting everything, and everyone ready before I head out. Goats need to be milked, supplies readied, farm sitter's shown around, keys and lists handed out, etc and so on.

Soon as I get back it is full steam ahead on Antlerstock plans and preparations. If you are coming to teach a workshop and have not spoken to my yet about your plans, please please do. Send me an email! And for those attending, remember it is Columbus Day Weekend, and that is fairly soon!

I'll be back Sunday Night!

P.S. Some folks sent emails upset about the new text ads. I am keeping them up for now since they are an asset to the farm already. If the content offends anyone, understand that it is generated by predetermined code and I do not pick the links personally. They should be generated by subject in tandem with the current posts.

it's cold enough to start mornings like this now...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

just, wow...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

happy, happy dog

kismet, crows, and other forces of good!

So I told you about the day with the Washington County Draft Animal Association, but another adventure happened after the parade and it might be an even better story. After the event was over and the horses were back in in their home pastures, Patty and I headed out for a second road trip of an entirely different nature. We were driving west of Saratoga, about an hour from our farms pulling her empty 18-foot long trailer behind her big Toyota SUV. Why the trailer you might ask? Well folks, we were on our way to pick up a new 6 person passenger wagon she bought on Craigslist for Steele. It was a happy drive, both of us talking about the day's events and the club. I started telling her how excited I was about the Mother Earth News Fair this coming weekend when suddenly the car just cried out, lurched forward, and died.

Uh oh.

So there we were next to a busy country highway with a dead SUV and the dead weight of the 3,600 pound trailer. Patty was calm, but worried. It was getting dark and neither of us had much of a charge left on our phones (thanks to using them all day to take videos and pictures of our horses).

But what followed after that inconvenience was nearly magical. We decided to walk over to one of the houses along the road, to ask for a towing referral and possibly a bathroom. Not 50 yards away from our break down was a comfortable looking house in proud condition, neatly kept lawn, that had a wooden sheep sign on the door and the sound of foraging animals clinking their bells around their collars. Could we have actually broken down next to a fellow shepherd?!

We walked up to the small farm's porch and took in the beautiful sight. We were greeted by two handsome, sleek border collies panting at us behind a statue of Buddha just outside the screened porch. Behind the house was a flock of those belled sheep we heard, Border Leicester like Maude! We could see from our new vantage point an older Border Collie watching them outside a wire fence. The house was bright, happy, and comfortable looking. If you had to break down along a stretch of strange road an hour from home, this was the place to do it. Brigit be blessed!

A tall, strawberry blond woman in her late thirties arrived at the door looking confident, if not concerned. I was happy both Patty and I were in our farm digs, her in an embroidered canvas vest that said Livingston Brook Farm and me in a NEBCA tee shirt with a Border Collie on it under the logo. We introduced ourselves as travelers on the road and told her what happened to our rig. She smiled and invited us in and got us a phone book. Soon as I walked inside, my jaw nearly hit the floor...

Her kitchen was decorated with sheep, border collies, and crows. On her kitchen counter a dozen large quarts of just canned tomatoes were drying from their water bath and she had a copy of The Backyard Homestead out on display. We found out her daughter's name was Raven, and she loved the black birds as well. Inside her home (a total stranger!) I felt as comfortable as if I knew this woman my whole life. Whoever she was, she was my people.

We got to talking. Turns out her name was Ann and she was in the same Border Collie Club, NEBCA, that I belonged to! We knew the same dogs, and trainers, and we talked about our dogs and sheep. She had something in common with Patty as well, since she even owned a Percheron once. A horse she loved, rode, and drove. Patty lit up as she saw the horse photos on the fridge. As they talked about old horses and harnesses I just looked around at the magical house. It was full of black crows, horse photographs, taxidermy, collies, sheep, and homesteading paraphernalia. We had been rescued by a card carrying member of my tribe. If someone tells you crows aren't lucky, never believe another word they say. They're angels, them.

We called a tow truck and got a ride back to Saratoga with the Matt's Towing Agency. Then Tim Daughton of the Amazing Rescuing Daughton Family came with his big Suburban to carry us home from our adventure. I love that family and their generous spirit. I knew as soon as we were stranded that a phone call to them was all that was needed. When things go wrong, you call a Daughton. When I called Tim and Cathy, Tim was out digging potatoes in their lower field and within 40 minutes of getting our call he was on the road to pick us up. I don't know how the Daughtons feel about crows or angels but they all have a lot in common far as I'm concerned.

We made it through the mini crisis. The SUV was at the repair shop and the weary travelers had a ride home and so did their ridiculous trailer. The only hiccup was having to stop at a Walmart around 9PM to get the right electric converter gadget for the trailer's lights. I had not been in a Walmart in years and it kinda shocked me, the amount of stuff, harsh lights, and prices. Towels were two dollars? Shirts were Five? I remembered a study Brett Told me about that 90% od items purchased at Walmart find themselves in a dump six months later. I belive it. You don't carefully mend a five dollar dress shirt when you spill wine on it. You mop it up with a two dollar towle and throw them both away...I guess.

Anyway, we bought the electric converter and it will not be in a landfill in six months because it worked and got us legally home. I was back at Cold Antler around 10PM and happy to see my dogs and warm bed.

In all that fuss something pretty neat occurred to me. When bad things happen I am a hundred times calmer than when they aren't. I find this odd. I mean, I can wake up at 3Am like clockwork worried about things that have not happened and may NEVER happen... but put me in an actual crisis and I am relaxed, calm, action-oriented and positive. No part of me worries at all. There isn't space for panic, and I never do. I just work towards the goal which is safety and home. I felt the most normal I have felt in months standing on the side of the road calling tow trucks. It reminded me of when I was working summers at my college as a camp counselor and there was a fire in one of the dorms. My friend, Raven, came to my room knocking and worried. I just grabbed my illegal pet ferret, stuck her in my hoodie, and pulled the fire alarm. I told her we were going to be fine and I didn't see any smoke. Maybe I should volunteer to be a firefighter or EMT? Isn't that exactly the kind of people they need?

So my day started with one kind of adventure and ended with another. The reason I am sharing this story is because it only illustrates how important community truly is. Patty and I are both tough chicks and homesteaders in our own right. We can shoot a shotgun, ride a horse, and grow gardens of food but it still takes love, support, care, and kindness of others to keep the self-reliant going strong.

I am grateful to all who got us home safe, from the stranger with a house full of crows, to the towing man, to Tim Daughton and his tough '99 Suburban. Thank you. May the crows always fly over you in pairs!

the good and bad part

This morning during morning chores I was feeding the sheep near their shed and spreading straw inside for clean bedding (rain all day today so I wanted them comfortable inside) when I backed into a paper wasps' nest sneakily built in the interior walls.

The bad part: I am riddled with stings

The good part: There is no good part. They are wasps.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Sunday Drive

Yesterday's WCDAA ride along the Battenkill River was sublime. An 8-mile round trip along dirt roads raised a story above the clear running water. It was my first time driving Merlin that far, and my first time driving him alone. For once I don't have a story of hardship or rough lessons learned. Instead I have a story to tell about a day out in the early Autumn sunshine driving my pony cart along sun-dappled dirt roads. I had an amazing time with good friends in a new club that embraced me as if I was always their own.

That picture of me and Merlin was taken right before we hitched up. When I look at it, its hard to remember the girl from March who was basically terrified of that beautiful horse. I never felt threatened by his character, he's never even tried to hurt me (and trust me, he could if he wanted to). I was scared of the whole idea of him. Getting on a horse is an act of trust very different than getting in your car or walking across an intersection. They aren't machines, and even the most pleasant animal can have an off day. When I started with Merlin taking lessons in an arena I was constantly worried about that variable, about the possibility of being hurt, thrown, or hurting him. Now if you come over to the farm for a trail or cart ride you see a woman comfortable and confident, but quietly respectful. I know Merlin the way I know my dogs now. I understand his needs, his emotions, his attitude. We went from being a student rider on an out of shape horse to being a team. It took months, a riding stable, outside trainers, friends like Patty and Brett, and an entire club. This is what I talk about when I write about the Tein-Eigan, the Need Fire. A community is what creates an individual and the individual is just a spark of that community. Yesterday I rode bright as a candle. It took a village.

We met at the Arlington Grange at 9:30 Am for the pancake breakfast before the ride. For six dollars a heaping plate of blueberry pancakes, sausage, potatoes, and biscuits and gravy were served up. We drank strong coffee and poured Vermont Maple syrup over our flapjacks. I was sharing a seat next to my friends Melina and Robert who had come up from the weekend to camp along the river, and joined us on a whim. They never plan it, but both of them always make it to Cold Antler when the horses are out. Melina and Robert were with me the day I first met Merlin. They helped move locust logs out of my back pasture with Jasper. I was happy they were here to join for my first ride out with the team. It was fitting.

Robert seemed happy with his twist of fate, pouring syrup as he talked about horses and their plans to buy some land up here. Patty was seated a table over with the Vollkommer's and their extended family. The Vollkommers, Craig and Karen, drive a team of big Belgians in a beautiful wagon. Most members of the Washington County Draft Animal Association drive big teams, but there are a few of us with just a single horse rig. On this particular ride there would be a few solo equine acts. There was Merlin and me, Patty and Steele, and a woman from Warrensburg with a huge Suffolk Punch stallion in a heart-embellished harness. They looked like something out of a fairy tale. I did a lot of gawking.

It didn't take long to get the little red cart out of the back of my pickup. Patty helped me carry it over to where Merlin and Steele were tied to her 18-foot long trailer. Since I don't own a trailer yet, I depend on Patty for any transportation of the horse sort. Today she carried Steele, Merlin, and her beautiful wooden Meadowbrook cart in the trailer, tugged by her trusty Toyota Sequoia. Patty was like a mother hen with me, she seemed nervous enough for both of us. I wasn't worried at all but that was only because I was so comfortable with Merlin and with the road. Patty and her young Percheron started out learning driving together, and it was a lot harder and greater an accomplishment then buying a horse trained to hitch up and go like I did. She and Steele worked for years to get to this point and sometimes it was downright scary when Steele spooked when they started out. I adored her for this kind of care and concern she had, even if it was subconscious. But I knew I was in good hands. Driving Merlin in a light cart was like asking Peyton Manning to pass you a Nerf ball. Patty tied a sunflower and ribbons in Steele's white tail and then shrugged and smiled at me. "Now I have something to look at on the road."

I smiled too. Everyone was smiles. All around us horses were being groomed and fawned over, harness hames raised over heads and set on strong backs. People who came for the breakfast walked around and asked questions and pet our horses. I felt so proud to be a member of the club, so grateful for the blue skies and happy faces.

Steele looked magical and grand, something to behold. His 1800 pounds of muscle and energy tipped with a sunflower was ready for an oil painting. Merlin had a single goose feather tied in his mane, long and gray against the black mane with white stands poking through. When our horses were groomed, we got them tacked up and did some light ground work before attaching the lines and cart. Before I knew it I was sitting there amongst the big horses and wagons, waiting for our turn to join the parade. Herb, one of the older and more experienced teamsters in the club who had a pair of Percheron/Belgian crosses in blue-accented show harnesses came by to do a final check on my harness and rig. He nodded approval and slapped me on the shoulder. He wished me luck with a smile.

"This is it, M," I said to him, quietly so no one else could hear, "Do your best, be safe, know how much I love you, you big lug." and I asked him to walk. He did as I asked, like I knew he would. I kissed and flicked the reins and he trotted. If there was any fear to be had it wasn't mine. Merlin was as smooth and calm as could be. He didn't care about cars passing him, or dogs running out under his feet, or the team of big greys behind us. He just kept up the trot and rolled along the river road. I felt like Gandalf in his pony cart, or some character from the Emberverse books. How did I get here? How the hell was I lucky enough to be out with a beautiful Celtic pony on a sunny autumn day in a smart looking cart? I am not that heavy of a load for a Fell Pony, but I have no idea how he was able to haul that much gratitude for eight miles. It must have weighed 20 stone, at least. We rode along River Road for four miles. I was alone for that first part, just Merlin and I. I fell in line a few carts behind Patty and Steele, with Jan and her team of Haflingers between us. Ray, Jan's husband stood up in their big wagon and shouted back at my cart. He me if I wanted a club member to ride with me? I said we were doing fine. We were. I felt as comfortable as could be behind that big black ass. His crinkled tail swished and his ears flicked back and front listening to the bells and trotting hooves all around us. Merlin didn't even break a sweat the whole ride out. This was a different pony from the one I met who couldn't canter without needing to gag. He stood tall in our gear, used as it was. As he walked and made his way east I kept looking past the river over to Route 313. It was the road I took to work every single weekday not too long ago. It was busy, and cars rushed on towards their weekend plans at a clip our horses could never match. And to watch that from a pony cart on a dirt road was pretty darn neat, and sobering. It was like reading an obituary of a past life I once had. I don't miss those commutes to 313, but I do miss aspects of that life, the people and the memories. Without looking again I asked Merlin to step up and tapped his rump with the whip when he was slow to respond. He picked up his pace and I just looked forward from then on.

We took a break in a small field near the West Mountain Inn, near the town proper of Arlington. I watched Mike's team of Haflingers (we have two teams of these great working ponies) come around a bend and I saw a familiar face! Phil Monahan and his daughter Claire were in a wagon! I waved, thrilled to see them. They had seen my post on Facebook and came down to the Grange, not expecting a ride but happily joining in. I asked Claire if she wanted to ride back with Merlin and I and she literally jumped up and down. I had my first passenger, a second grader. She hopped up and off we went.

We joined the faster moving group for the ride back. Jan's Haflingers lead the way at a near canter and Patty followed with proud Steele holding his head high in a trot. Not to be outdone, we trotted right behind and made the four-mile trip back in about thirty minutes! Merlin was sweating now, but just. He was in the best shape of his life this summer and it showed. Claire talked the whole time about her friends, and horses, and her brother and life in Sandgate. She was great company and mighty brave. She helped me with Merlin's tack afterward and get water for his bucket.

With the teams back, the sun warm, and appetites awake we headed into the Grange to do what we do best as members of the WCDAA: eat. We filled plates once again, this time with chowders and buttered bread, mac-n-cheese and meatballs, and all sorts of cakes and desserts. Everyone, passenger to teamster, seemed thrilled with the event. Nothing went wrong, the weather was perfect, and the food as plentiful as heaven's own rain. I sat back in my folding wooden chair and looked around the room, at these people I didn't even know existed just a few months before. Here I was, a part of something and an accomplished driver. Outside on a trailer a black horse was eating hay next to a big white Percheron and no matter how many times I pinched myself I would not wake up from the dream. He was real. The day was real. I took a sip of my cold drink and joined back into the race of conversation.

Yeah. I felt full.

New Text On the Sidebar

I have added Google's AdSense to the blog, a way to help bring in a little extra income. The text links are on the right side and will update to suit the content on the blog automatically. You are welcome to ignore them, click them, or block them, whatever you prefer. ::Now back to your regularly scheduled programming::

Driving Merlin!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

what a day!

YES!

My manuscript is finished! 61,000+ words about a year of living at Cold Antler Farm and the days that create my year. It's rough, but the most intense work I have ever done. Today I celebrate with Merlin, Patty, Steele, and everyone else in the WCDAA! I'm off to ride my pony cart in a parade and I consider that a well earned respite!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Merlin and Me: First Drive in Our Gear!

Last night Brett pulled Merlin's refurbished harness out of the back of the college's green van. It looked like a totally different beast. When Brett suggested he take the dirty, cracked, and rusty Haflinger Harness I bought off eBay up to his Amish friend, William Beachy I was skeptical. I could not imagine what could be done to clean up the old box of leather and brass. But before me was a beautiful, black, sleek harness and William had replaced any of the parts that had been beyond repair. There was also some new items to behold: a used bridle, new biothane lines, and some other odds and ends. I now had the horse, the cart, and finally the harness ready to go. Tomorrow when Patty arrived we would put it all together for the first time.

Brett was here because himself and 17 of his Forestry college seniors camped here at the farm last night. Cold Antler was a comfortable place to crash between their two day field trip of famous New England forest management sites. It was the perfect opportunity to deliver the harness and his timing could not have been better. He arrived two days before the Washington County Draft Animal Association's ride in Arlington Vermont. On Sunday Merlin and I would be stepping out with the team for our first event as members of the club. Before that happened though, we'd need a harness fitting and crash course. That's where Patty fit in.

By 2PM with the college vans long gone you would think the place would be quiet. But when I stepped outside to check on Merlin I was shocked into a dead halt mid-stride by the sound of bagpipes! The home across the street was hosting a Scottish wedding. When Patty arrived shortly after she laughed out loud, and asked "Did you set this up?!" I shook my head happily. Those pipes were the perfect soundtrack for the day's work. Music of celebration. Above is the video of Merlin listening to the pipes before we tacked up. He seems interested!

Everything we had in cart, harness, and tack (save for the driving lines, whip, and cart tires) was used. The harness came from eBay and the collar used to be Steele's. The cart was bought cheap at auction and painted and restored by Mark and Patty as a birthday present. All together it came to a grand total of $285 dollars and a summer worth of friends and associates scrounging estate sales, soaking old leather in oil, painting old metal and wood, and making personal connections. None of it, NONE OF IT, was even remotely possible alone. Patty and Brett made this rig possible. Brett helped with the leather and Patty with the vehicle. With these two people I feel as grateful as I do unstoppable.

Melina and Robert had sent me a text a few hours earlier saying they were camping and wanted to know if they could stop by to say hi? They were also with me the first time I ever met Merlin and so I had to invite them over for our first drive at the farm. They would adore it. Robert and Melina are both drawn to horses and since meeting Merlin have even taken lessons. Anyway, they were happy to arrive and by the time they pulled into the farm's driveway Merlin, Patty and I were already up the road at a light trot. The wedding was in full swing, the pipes hollering, the sun had come out and all seemed perfect.

Driving Merlin felt as natural as walking. I though there would be fear, or beginner's stumbling, but there wasn't. The cart, the harness, the friends all around me: everything fit perfectly. Little touches like a back name plate with Cold Antler Farm on it made me beam. Below the cart I strapped a vintage roller skate case that held our extra halter, lead, fly spray and rain gear. None of this was up to Show Driving standards but I'll be damned if I didn't feel twenty feet tall.

Tomorrow is the club event at the Arlington Grange. Anyone can come to the pancake breakfast (6 dollars a plate) from 8AM till 10AM and then at 11AM you can see a dozen horse rigs take off in a parade down along the Battenkill River towards Vermont. If there are enough spaces open on team wagons, chances are good you can even ride along and join us! Stop by to meet the club, the horses, take photos and just enjoy a fall day in pure Farm Country. If you do show up, say hello to me and my boy. If you're not sure which team is Merlin and me, just look for the light. I'll be the one glowing.

look at my boy MOVE!

bagpipes on the mountain

My neighbors across the street are hosting a wedding at their grand farm and the hired a piper! From my front door I can hear them clear as bells on my own roof and it is beauiful! What makes it even better is in a few moments Patty, Melina, and Robert will be here to help harness and prepare Merlin for his first ever trial ride on our new cart. So we'll be trotting down the road to the sound of bagpipes, how about that?

Merlin is an old pro, but I'm a new driver. So the practice isn't really for him as much as it is for Patty and I to adjust his new (just out of the shop!) refurbished harness and get him ready for tomorrow's WCDAA ride along the Battenkill River!

Such a great day, photos and video to come!

stubborn love

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Kerrits Winner IS....

LADYRIDER! Age 47, new rider!

please email me so I can mail these out!

update on jazz

Jazz has been well and ill these past few months. Lately, his energy and spirit has been high but his body has been failing him. He has fatty tumors all over his skin, drippy eyes, and irritated ears. He has a lot of accidents indoors. He can't help that; he is afterall, 14 years old. He also had hair disappear all over in red patches with pus-filled pools at his skin. It wasn't mange or fleas, said the vet, but an inhalant allergic reaction. He is on antibiotics and needs a bath twice a week with a special shampoo. All that said, he is doing much better. He smells, feels, and looks better. His skin is now growing white hair back and his eyes are no longer foggy. The vets at Cambridge Valley Vet are amazing.

Annie is exactly the same as the day I met her. Nuts.

then morning comes

I have been dealing with a lot of stress lately. I think the deadline for the manuscript, the Mother Earth News Fair, Winter Prep, and personal ghosts all converged at the same time. I wake up worrying about mistakes I made that are too late to fix, money in my bank account, and arguments that won't heal. I get up at 3AM, like clockwork, and can't stop worrying. I usually have to read or watch something funny to take my mind off things until I fall back asleep. Then morning comes.

I think conviction comes from how you feel when the daylight returns. I may wake up at three and not be able to fall back asleep at all, but when the sunlight hits the farm and the coffee pot starts to bubble on the stove, something changes gears inside me. There is work to be done and not on paper, but physical work to keep the place going. No matter what has haunted me the night before at first light the dogs need to go outside for a walk and relieve themselves. The horses are already whinnying for their morning hay. The sheep see me stir and run down to the gate, joining their baas and bleats into the heckling of the horses. The roosters crow, the chickens strut and coo, and the dairy goats start to stand up on their metal fence rolling their heads around in cries for grain. The pig in the barn snorts and while I can’ see or hear them, I know the rabbits in their cages have empty water bottles and are waiting like monks in meditation for more pellets. It is a circus and a symphony and it does not allow self-pity or concern about anything that isn’t happening right now to make 50 animals content.

With a mug of coffee in my hand and Gibson at my side the day is new and work is my new mantra. I carry hay and feed bags. I dump buckets of clean well water into troughs. Within fifteen minutes the cacophony of desire is quenched and you do not hear a sound outside of chewing cud and the occasional chicken’s cluck. Peace is restored through focus and action. It’s the same recipe my fear needs. If I let my head will with the cries of panicked animals I will go insane, collapse into the farm’s wontedness. But if I act, one task at a time everything falls into place. The electric bill is paid; trash is picked up on time, and the bank who share my truck and house get appeased for another four weeks. All of it can be done; it just requires a head down with ears back, facing into the wind like a fox having to cross a windy hillside. You feel exposed, scared, but you do it because you have to. The alternative isn’t an alternative at all. Because not making those bills means I cannot stay here. I’ve already made up my mind that I will stay here, and my faith in the entire wheel of the year, the holiness, the work and this farm are what keep it possible.

It takes a stroke of luck, faith, and magic to keep this place running. I subscribe to all three and believe none exist without the other. It is my faith that lets me truly believe that magic can happen, and that magic stirs the luck that keeps horses running uphill and lambs appearing on cold nights. It isn’t for everyone, but it is available to anyone, and I hope my life here—if it does nothing else—shares that possibility with people.

Possibility is all we need. It saves people.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

riding in a kilt

Fiddler Check In

Hey there Fiddle Campers! I'm checking in to see how you're doing? Anyone getting stuck or need help, please email me. And remember, it just takes five memorized songs to come back for the potluck in October. I hope some of you can make it. And just to be clear, the songs you learn do not have to be from the Erbsen book. Some folks were really interested in Celtic fiddling, others in French Canadian or old English ballads. Whatever inspires you, get to it. I just wanted to hear how it is going?

I'm thinking of you all because yesterday a camper named Trish sent me a CD of music and a note about her practice. She said she loves playing and I lit up reading her note. It made me think about all of you. I so adored that weekend and hope you are keeping the faith!

Here's a suggested fiddle workout if you want some practice ideas:

10 slow D scales, low D to high D
10 slow D scales, high D to low D
10 D scales, with shuffles thrown in (either order)

5 Ida Reds
5 Ida Reds with shuffling (listen to your CD)

5 Times practicing New song with CD
5 times playing First staff of New Song
5 Times playing Second staff
5 Times playing song whole, try to sound like CD

Inspiration: listen to a fiddle song you love or aspire to play
i.e. Ashokan Farewell, Celtic Aires, or Christmas Carols.

the feel of a place

When I picked up a friend Ajay from the train station in Albany, back in early summer, he didn’t have much to comment on in the city. Albany is like many other northeastern cities and there wasn’t anything of extreme consequence to take note of as we dealt with traffic and on ramps. But as soon as we entered the small towns and winding back roads of Washington County he started paying attention. There is a really specific vibe to my area of the country and I think you can only pick it up if you were born in this eastern region of the States. Ajay quietly looked at the sights outside the truck’s window, leaning out to see them almost as much as Gibson was a row behind him in the quad cab. I didn’t want to say anything because I wanted to hear it from him first and I knew a few examples up ahead who either make him blurt it out or start singing a song from elementary school. As we approached a turn around a high round hillside flecked with dairy cattle and a rail fence we kept driving around the bend till a perfectly nestled white clapboard farmhouse under a big King Oak tree that shaded its already small, covered porch. On the steps were some potted geraniums and a pair of boots. It was (or should have been) a vision of summer. But as soon as I heard the words pass Ajay’s lips, I smiled.

“This whole place feels like Halloween.”

I could not hold in that smile. “I know, I know!” I said, and we started talking about it. The towns around Cold Antler Farm such as Cambridge, Greenwich, Salem and Hebron all have that October vibe. It’s their stately, rolling fields of brown corn stocks and white houses tucked in hidden turns in the road. It’s the wide porches, the horses and cattle, and the big leafy trees that fill their front lawns. If you grew up where Ajay and I did, the landscape looks exactly like a more idealized version of rural Pennsylvania, We knew that the trees would erupt into oranges and reds, the front lawn would be covered in the confetti leaves. We could picture pumpkins and cats on the porch steps, see the Trick –or-Treaters walking by. Every house on every block in these towns looks like the random, indiscriminate “small town” for every Halloween or fall movie ever made. And its not as if the towns here tried to project the brand: it’s just who they always were. I felt it the first time I left my cabin in Vermont to drive into Cambridge, NY and out along route 372 in Greenwich (Which the locals pronounce Green Witch!) and felt that same combination of postcard October mixed with our favorite Holiday. This place hums with the spirit of Halloween. It doesn’t even have to try.

Photo is from National Geographic Traveler, which did a story about Washington County a few years ago. It's charming as all get out, and you can read that article here through a scanned pdf.Sorry, it's not online on their other sites!