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!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

payment for morning chores

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

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

gathering words

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 10, 2012


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

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

The omission is noted.

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

Whatever. I'm going with it.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Gibson at Merck Forest: then and now

away to me!

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

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

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

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