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!


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!