Saturday, September 8, 2012

the brass ring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

draft power parade

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

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

Friday, September 7, 2012

tell your story

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

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

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

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

photo by jk

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Merck Forest Sheepdog Trials This Weekend!!

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

six miles and a toddler

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

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

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

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

yard sale for winter prep!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cowgirl tip #267

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

Feel 100% better

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

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


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Come for the Rendezvous, stay all year!

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

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

P.S. Never trust a winking goat.

Kerrits Giveaway!

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

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

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

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

thinking about december mornings

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

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

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

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

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

This is the oldest song our people know.

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

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

george and ajay, caught cuddlin'

closer than last week

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 2, 2012

happy feet

Trainer Dave will speak at the Horse Workshop!

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

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

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

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

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

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

visit from polyface interns!

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

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

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

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

true wealth

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

If I Had Wings to Fly

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

Fiddle and Pie Winners!

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

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