Monday, October 22, 2012

Living Grass And The Dead Sea

I picked up a truckload of hay from Nelson Greene's farm this afternoon. It was a beautiful drive. Still a little too warm for my October tastes, but I didn't let the sunny sixty-degree afternoon spoil my day. I was determined to enjoy it. I cleaned out the back bed, and called for my farm hand. Gibson jumped up into his spot in the cockpit of the Dodge and we headed north to Hebron.

I rolled down the windows and I hung an arm out my side, and he hung his front paws out his. I turned up the stereo and The Lumineer's were just hitting the final few choruses of Dead Sea, which I adored since the first time I heard it, so I smiled wide and drove on, singing along. What a sweet little song that is. I looked over to Gibson and sang to my smiling dog.

Like the Dead Sea
You told me I was like the Dead Sea
You'll never sink when you are with me
Oh Lord, like the dead Sea

Gibson doesn't sing but he knows when I'm happy and he gets the energy of the joy. He closed his eyes as the truck picked up speed, the wind knocking back his black and white mane around his face. What a grand dog he is. What a beautiful (okay, okay, I admit the weather was lovely if you're into that sort of thing….) day. What a good task we had ahead. An afternoon of loading and unloading fifty-pound bales so that a few weeks from now when frost covers the world my sheep, goats, pigs, and horses have good grass of the summer to munch and roll about it. I like this work for a Monday afternoon. It suits me.

I picked up 17 bales and Nelson helped me tie them down. I handed him a check and he asked if it was okay to cash it today? It's the kind of question that keeps me coming back to his farm as a customer. If I told Nelson to hold it three weeks he would (and he has, trust me), but instead I nodded and told him it was okay. The fine people at AdSense sent along my payment today and it was enough to cover the hay order and my truck payment. What a blessing that was, to have the blog itself earn enough money to feed the animals for a few weeks? Who knew?

My heart is dedicated to change right now. Nothing deep or drastic, just changes I need to keep this place moving well into the future (and me too). New habits, new diet, new books, new projects, and all sorts of things too exciting to talk about just yet. But I can say I feel pretty darn good about whats in store for me. Not to tease too much, but y'all best just stay tuned, ya hear?!

I'm Like the Dead Sea
The finest words you ever said to me
Honey can't you see?
I was born to be your Dead Sea

Getting Ready For A Big Week

I've spent the weekend mostly involved with other folks lives and projects, not my own. It was a nice change of pace to focus on other things. Not because CAF has been a bad place to focus, but just because you gain a little more reflection away from your own messy world.

And trust me, Cold Antler is messy. The rains brought mud, the frosts brought dead grass, and what is left around here to munch isn't much. The horses and sheep are on 100% hay now. Not a bad thing but I need to get more later today. I'd like to pick up 20-30 bales or so. That's a lofty goal for a short bed pickup in one trip, so I might not hit that, but yeesh, ten bales is even enough to help the barn look less empty. Last winter I had the sheep and Jasper to feed. Now with two pregnant goats, a ram lamb, and two horses hay doesn't last as long. I go through 2-3 bales a day! Looks like it'll be a winter of a lot of hay errands. Oh well, I have sources and storage ideas ahead.

Patty is thinking of stopping by this morning to help measure and figure out the best way to close up the horse barn today. It's not heavy work but it does require getting the right lumber and materials and planning a work day to sling it all together. I'm not worried. It'll get done. It always gets done.

If it is going to be as lovely a day as the weathermen are suggesting I think a ride is in order. If I can get the office and housework done, I will saddle up. There's a lot of preparation for this week and the workshop this weekend. I have a house and two guest rooms to prepare, Dave to remind/check in about speaking Saturday night, roosters to catch for slaughter tomorrow, a cookout to organize (bbq chicken I'm guessing?), and horsey logistics to cover. I am thrilled about the entire day that Saturday will become. I have picked out my passages from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and figured out the campfire. I have two spots left for anyone thinking about getting a horse. The workshop covers riding, pulling, driving carts, logging and will have an expert on hand, but mostly it is for dreams who want to stop wishing for a pony and start buying saddles!

P.S. Check out my Facebook for pig shares and updates.

P.P.S. If you are coming this weekend to the farm, bring a folding chair! All I have is hay bales, which are fine but some of you folks might want something less heavy to haul around!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Mariner's Revenge! (classic)

Leave The Light On

Spent yesterday moving Jon and Maria, and it was such a gorgeous day. What might sound like a lot of work turned into a wonderful community event. They had five good friends come to help, all different ages and with different abilities. Kurt and Ben did most of the heavy lifting (I helped with some) and loading up their trailer. Maria and I hefted bags and boxes and delivered luggage and frames and shows and everything else smaller than a chest freezer. Jon organized and helped and set up his new writing office. Two of their friends who are long-time Cambridge families helped carry gear, sort, and provided a full lunch board with cold cuts, sandwiches, and veggies. It was the perfect division of labor, everyone doing their part and happy to do so. And through a day of trips back-and-forth between the farms, furniture arranging, heavy lifting and hard sweats we ended up with a home. A real, honest to goodness, home. That photo is from the pizza dinner we shared last night in celebration. Frieda, Maria's loyal art hound and ex-terror was watching me with mild interest. One of these days I'm going to pet her. Last night wasn't that night though.

I wanted to come back at dinnertime with something special. Since they were making the pizza dinner I was providing dessert. I made a few tiny pies in jam jars quick and as they baked in my oven I grabbed a pumpkin off the porch steps. I was going to carve a smiling face, but changed my mind. Jack-o-lanterns are powerful symbols you know? They were set on porches and front windows as lanterns to the spirits who passed away. In some legends they lit the way home for the ghosts of loved ones lost, so they could spend one last day among the living. I don't really believe in ghosts, to be perfectly honest. But I do believe in memories, and they may be very much the same thing. A light to the past, a torch to invite nostalgia and love. I really like the idea of leaving a light on. Hope's a mighty gift.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Amen, and other Fledgling Birds

Annie's Kingdom

Big Day For New Neighbors

In a little bit I'll be driving my truck up to Hebron to help a friend move. Jon and Maria are leaving their beautiful 90-acre farm to relocate to Jackson, just a pony ride away from Cold Antler. I'm so proud of them for taking the leap, and moving on with their lives. Their old farm hasn't sold yet (and it was reduced to $375!) but they aren't letting fear, or naysayers, or agents, or anyone tell them to wait. They wanted to move in by Halloween and today they are jumping together.

I'm thrilled to help them out, and to know them. Today's a big day.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Some songs are old friends.

Pablo's Gaelic Pancakes

Halloween is a day of quiet remembrance. It has always been that. Traditionally, you are to remember the people you lost since the last closing of the harvest, a full calendar year. When I think about my life and the people in it just a few Octobers ago, and where we are now—it makes me pensive. You're going to get posts this month about big things, because big things are on my mind. Things that are October to me—like memories, death, the farm's sweet year, gratitude and love. I think tonight I want to write about loss and love.

Losing people is as natural as finding them. It happens to all of us, every day. The losing just isn't as pleasant so we tend to give it more of ourselves. We let ourselves punch underwater longer trying to figure out answers out of our hands and hearts. This certainly isn't a personal experience. I'm sure many of you have lost someone you cared for since last October. Some are lost through death, through anger, through success or change of address. Others through slower things like social entropy or dying light. The only thing all these random circumstances share in common is the end result: they are gone. This is October, and it's time to recognize that. Time to reflect. Time to move on.

There are people I lost I think of every day. People I miss so much that the memories cling to my ribs the way coral grows on sunken boats. Even at a confused glance the they remain beautiful and complicated. There are songs and stories that bring them back as if they're sitting right next to me on the couch. I love them so much. I miss them so dearly.

And then there are people I lost whose middle names I can't wait to forget. They aren't anything like coral. They are just rust, and if you don't scrub them off you'll start to break apart before you even realize it's happening. Rust has songs and stories too, but I can't listen to them any longer. Pablo Neruda wrote about people like that, and in his Song of Despair he explained them perfectly. "You swallowed everything, like distance."

So it's October and I feel it is my job to spend the days heading into Hallows' celebrating the people I miss and love and trying to forgive the ones I don't. It's hard to turn grief of into a wake. It's hard to forgive. But if I wanted an easier Halloween I'd buy a slutty maid costume and hit the bar. No, That's not my game. There's nothing wrong with having a frisky and fun Halloween, and I applaud your revelry. But there's nothing I want out there waiting for me in a bar in a Superman costume. And I'm not writing about any of this because I want comments about support, advice, judgment or pity. I don't think I want comments about this at all. It's too close.

Listen, someday I'm going figure out love. I'm not there yet and you won't be reading about Mr. Jenna anytime soon. But I have hope for it, and believe in it, and know it is as real of a possibility in my life as this farm was. And you know what? Someday I'm going to sing Pablo's Sonnet 25 out loud in Gaelic while I make him pancakes. He'll have no idea what I'm saying, but he'll know exactly what I'm saying. You dig?

Who knows. We're all a bunch of Luckless Slingers when it comes to love. We're all hoping we find (or found) that person that makes us smile so loud inside we can't help but sing. I won't settle for anything less than that, and that might mean I never have a partner at all. I'm okay with that, too. I've been single for over ten years. I'm good at it. It's my choice. I'm sure there are people out there to date casually, but I'm not interested in dating for sport. To me it's boring, just binging. I'll wait. Because it's all meaningless and lonely efforts without that song inside you. I know, I tried.

I'd rather be single indefinitely than in a relationship without Gaelic pancakes. I guess it all boils down to those famous words of Paul Virilio:

The invention of the ship was also the invention of the shipwreck.

It's October, people. Take your chances.

Gibson Knows How to Nap

Farm Updates

A lot of plans ahead for the animals of Cold Antler. I thought I'd fill you in on what's in store. Starting with the Testosterone Reduction Program. There are just too many roosters here at CAF (just ask the Fiddle Camp attendees who slept 30 yards from the barn....) So I made a call into Ben Shaw and Tuesday morning Gibson, me, and a crate of seven roosters are taking them to be processed. Three of those boys are HUGE Freedom Rangers that escaped capture during summer slaughter but the rest are just accidental hatchery misfits that happened to be male in a very female workforce. All of them will make Freezer Camp by Tuesday night. That'll reduce the farm to a few choice males and a happy group of hens of mixed breeds.

The goats are bred and back in their pen with Monday the ram lamb. Their fate is pretty blissful. Kidding will be around March 9th and last that week and while no part of me is nervous about Bonita, Francis is a new mom and might need help. I hope Yesheva is back from North Carolina by then as her midwifery might be needed! Monday seems to be growing by the pounds and will make a great table lamb or new breeding ram here at CAF. Since he is only related to one of six ewes it's not out of the question here. Might involve penning away his mother to avoid the line breeding but that is an issue for next fall, not this one. Atlas should return in December or so to revisit his old stomping grounds and serve the flock. I'll have to pen up Joe and Sal to make sure the job gets done right, but that's not hard to do. Just walk into a pen with apples and grain and those boys will follow me anywhere.

Just as Meg Paska warned me during her bee workshop this past year, my hive did swarm and took the queen with her. The bees didn't make it and I never found the swarm so I'll start with a new hive in the spring. Anyone out there who wants to barter a hive for what I can offer, email me. At least I don't have to worry about wintering them over, one less thing to fuss about in a snowstorm.

The horse barn still isn't walled up for winter, and I'm not sure how far along it will get. Right now I just can't get the finances together so I may just get some long boards from Home Depot to reinforce it and some plywood to make a wind break. It won't be pretty as planned but it will suffice.

The piglets have stopped escaping and remain together in their new deluxe pig pen. Between their pig ration in a bag and their main diet of scraps from the house both Lunchbox and Thermos have grown and have grown to trust me. They let me pet them now, specially Lunchbox. In the morning I go into the pen to serve up breakfast and they are always spooning in clean hay together, snoring. I feel like I invaded their personal space but they care little when last night's roasted chicken drippings and some cracked eggs coat their grain. All if forgiven in food.

Jazz is still healing up, but so much better than he was this summer. His skin and hair are all fresh and clean and growing back fuller than ever. His eyes have gone uncloudy and his energy level is high too. He can walk a full mile with his tail in the air. Annie hasn't changed this the day I met her.

Boghadair is a firecracker. Hoo! As I write he is playing with my pant legs and then leaping over Jazz's back to run circles around the kitchen before shooting across the farmhouse to go upstairs. All the dogs tolerate him and his fox clever ways. He's litter box trained, eating like a horse, and so fun to snuggle (until he bites you). I love the little guy. And with winter's call bringing in the mice I am thrilled to have him on board. I caught four mice just last night.... ugh.

Jasper and Merlin are getting all excited for next weekend's Farmer's horse workshop. I think this will be my favorite of the year, not just because this was my Year of the Horse, but because the people who are coming are not equestrians, but dreamers. Folks of all ages and without experience who just feel passionate about the possibility of a horse on their farms (future or present). There will be a young couple who run a CSA and are on the fence about tractors or a team of work horses. There are young couples in their late twenties and thirties who are just drawn to riding and carting. There are people who have owned horses for years, and people who have loved them from afar. And we're all meeting here next Saturday to learn together, work together, and spend a day on two farms with four beautiful horses and their gear. And it all wraps up with a cookout and warm cider by a campfire where I will read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, as it will be just a few days before Halloween! And what could be more fitting than a farming horse workshop in New York in October than that?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Thanks Jennifer!

October Stories

It was warm today, too warm. In the sixties and sunny and that's all fine and dandy in September but come October I want sweaters and snow-kissed nights and a world shutting down for me to turn around three times and lie down in. Instead we got this burst of warmth and light and I supposed the best thing to do was enjoy it. I took Merlin out for a long fall ride through trail, forest, across stream and up a hillside out towards our rode. I love that horse, and what he has given me. He's a book in himself and one I can not wait to write.

We got home and he returned to Jasper and I let them both out into the back pasture. There in that amazing october light they grazed and swished their tails and told the silent stories horses tell with low heads and raised ears. I sat in the grass to listen, trying to hear whatever I could in the warm wind.

Bottling By The Gallon

I'll be bottling beer tonight, around five gallons. Two weeks ago at Antlerstock Adam King did a great and involved introduction to homebrewing and brewed a demo batch of porter for everyone to watch. As a parting gift, they left it here and I was thrilled to accept it. I have some pop-top glass beer bottles and some growlers of various sides to fill with the flat beer. I'll use a siphon and with the help of some table sugar added to each bottle before capping—I'll have carbonated beer ready to drink in a week.

I'm excited about the mini 32 oz. growlers I ordered from Northern Brewer. Once carbonated and ready to drink these will be coming along with me as gifts at Halloween parties and dinners. I love the typography, and of course they are reusable (though they need new lined caps for every filling). If I could get Northern Brewer to support this blog I would, I've ask but never got a response. But I don't care if they do or not because those boys in Minnesota know their stuff. Every kit or recipe I have tried from them has turned out to be the best beer I ever tasted. Soon as these 5 gallons are bottled and carbonating (priming in the lingo of brewers) I am going to brew up another 5 gallons of their sweet stout. It'll take an hour of boiling over the stove in a big steel kettle. It's a fun hour though. I play audiobooks on the speakers and listen to stories (Currently listening to all three unabridged Lord of The Rings Books) while I seep grains, pour malt, add hops and sip my last homebrew while I dream of the current one. It's gotten to the point where there's always going to be something fermenting in this house.

When I was at the Zymurgist in Saratoga a few days ago a scruffy guy in his early twenties came in with the focus of a scientist in a lab coat. He carefully picked out grains by the pound, then the right sealed package of hops and yeast. He was brewing on a whole different level than I was but I sure was intrigued. He would be making a wort from scratch. Wow. I stared at him in awe. He's doing what I hope to do someday, know the craft so well I can just shop for the perfect blend to make a house brew. Though to be honest, what I really want to do is grow my own barley and hops and make my own TRULY Cold Antler blend.

That's a ways off, but for now I am thrilled with my adventures in kits and kettles. And the beer I am bottling today was from a no-boil kit by Munton's. Which means this 5-gallon batch was made from a pre-made wort so easy yo brew Adam showed us in under half an hour. Instead of boiling your own mixed grain/hop wort it comes in a can and you mix it with warm water then add yeast and BAM, you just made beer at home. It's a safe way to get started if homebrewing makes you nervous. Those Muntons box kits and the well known, Mr. Beer starter kits are a great way to get cracking.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Jasper's Luck

Jasper is the luckiest horse in the world, he really is. The little guy may not get all the pomp and glory in words that Merlin does, but trust me, both horses would agree he's been the one kissed by luck.

Jasper came to Washington County via the Cobleskill Amish Horse Auction. A fellow member of the WDCAA, Rob, bought him on a hunch after seeing him trot out into the auction ring pulling an EZ entry cart. He was in full regalia, harnessed and stepping high. In the auction book it had a warning though: very spirited.

The Amish are not looking for Very Spirited Ponies. It's not that they are against personality in their working animals, but ponies aren't used the way a sassy Percheron may be used. Ponies are some children's first ever harnessed and driven horses. They are used as all-purpose ATVs for their kids. A good and well trained cart pony can take a pair of kids to a neighbors for an errand, follow behind the family buggy on the way to church, or let a kid hop on top of bareback to race across a field. This is what Jasper was supposed to do, but he was failing. Too much energy and too much kick in him and that is no good around working animals and children. So he was sold, and sold with that deadly stamp of "very spirited" and no other Amish Farmer would take him.

But Rob wasn't Amish. He was a pony trader, and he knew a good bet when he saw one. He took Jasper home to his pony operation and started letting his (then 8-year-old) son ride him after a period of evaluation. He had his older daughter ride him bareback, and he *tried* to get the horse to buck him or someone off, and he didn't. Turned out Jasper wasn't as much of a monster as he seemed.

It was around this time of Jasper coming to Washington County that I was thinking about getting a horse. I wanted an animal to learn with, something to both cure my fear of taking that first equine step and be useful around the homestead. I think I had the hunch most people new to livestock have, which is to start small. Look at the rise of the Nigerian Dwarf dairy pet, the bantam flock of roosters, baby-doll sheep and the popularity of miniature cattle. I don't think this is an accident, I think people getting into livestock want animals they can handle and house, and it is a lot easier to house a trio of Nigerian Dwarfs than it is a pair of full-grown Nubians. Smaller animals also can thrive in smaller spaces, and with just a 1/4 acre of pasture fenced at the time (the rest was all electric netting) I wanted a pony that could live with and protect the sheep, share their housing and fences, and just sort of melt into my life.

I wanted a horse, but I wanted a Nigerian Dwarf, not a Nubian. I craved an animal to pull a wagon, not ride. I wasn't ready for that yet. Riding a horse around my own farm or down the road seemed something from a movie reel, not reality. Something for people with big walk-in stall barns and white fences and level ground for arenas and miles of fields for pasture. No, what I wanted at this point was a 10-12 hand pony that could live on this farm, be harnessed, and used in cart or lead by the halter to pull things like a small analog manure spreader (meaning a wooden box on wheels full of his own poop and the sheeps' poop and a pitchfork I could fling on the highest field). My goal were humble.

But getting a pony seemed a huge and scary commitment, even if the animal was small. I found a white draft pony online and emailed the seller. It turned out to be Rob and the horse turned out to be in it's twenties and too big, a Haflinger cross. I wanted a younger animal and I explained to him what I was looking for. I told him I wanted a smaller pony I could drive, or ask to pull firewood. Something I could jump on the back of if I really wanted to, but mostly to live with my sheep and do odd jobs. I explained the barns I had, the fencing, all of it. He said I should come meet Jasper.

I did and the rest was history. I met Jasper on a miserable wet and cold spring morning and watched him jump out of a trailer window in a panic, and let me walk up and halter him and lead him back to Rob. I watched him get tacked up in western gear in the downpour as his son road him at a walk, trot, and canter around their backyard. I watched him allow all this, with his calm and even temperament, and I decided he was the pony for me. I paid him half his selling cost on the spot ($275) and arranged to have him delivered by Rob in a few days. I came to Rob's farm as a shepherd and left as a working horse owner. Holy crow. Times were a changing....

I didn't know enough about horses to even know he was underweight and in shoddy condition. To me he was beautiful. That photo above is a few days after I brought him to Cold Antler. He looks like a different animal than the one in the video below. Who knew under that gray winter coat and dirt was this dappled white king? Who knew he had muscle and strength and power? I didn't. But I did know to have vets, and farriers, and plenty of grass and sunshine at his service. He really healed here and looking back at how he started I can see that more than ever. Jasper is one of my greatest success stories. By just being himself, he makes me feel better about myself.

And Jasper lived here and worked here, and he did thrive. But no horse should be totally alone. Jasper wasn't, as he had the sheep and me, but sheep do not make the best companion animals for a pony. When Merlin arrived Jasper's life improved in unspeakable ways! He now had a larger pen, a companion, someone to run and rub against, kick and whinny with. Those two are my odd couple for sure: Merlin is so calm and steady and authoritative and Jasper is all piss and vinegar and goofiness. But it works. It works brilliantly. And now with Merlin being the more trained animal on the farm, he is used for work and Jasper's life is just running, and playing, and bumping heads, and eating out with friends. Merlin is doing nearly all of the work and Jasper is on a holiday, so he may have hit his own personal paradise.

I want to get Jasper in harness on a cart soon. What I know now about driving and horses has given me the confidence to try and I bet soon as J is in a cart he'll do wonderful! But right now he is a party animal, on vacation, and loving every minute of his life. Not a bad way for an Amish reject to turn out.

Making Toast

Pasture Time

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What Does October Mean To You?

Trading It All In?

Back in the high twenties tonight, not as cold as I'd like it but a fine temperature. It's a temperature of change and possibilities. Possibilities like a blustery wind of flurries, or the death of all the pesky flies, or maybe a new type of dough in my woodstove's bread oven. I have been craving soda bread and just watched a man on the BBC use Guinness instead of buttermilk and added baked apples and a cheddar crust. Can you imagine the divine bite! A crusty sweat apple bread loaded with cheese and the savory tang of that black nectar? I have fallen in love with cooking good food. Fallen hard. I now eat less than before but everything is precious, quality, and made with the intentions of wholesome fortifying nutrition. Well, you know, most of the time. I can eat some boozy soda bread too.

Been working outdoors a lot this afternoon. General stuff that needs to be done like picking up any old trash the mud brought to the surface and fixing fences, but also work like turning over the gardens before the earth freezes and sleeps. Most of the hard graft was dumping all the stock tanks and refilling them with buckets of clean well water.

While I did this the sheep and horses grazed together in the back pasture. On these chilly days it sometimes feels like another country or time. A black prehistoric looking horses sharing a meal near prehistoric looking sheep. It warms me up, regardless of how cold the night gets. I'm so drawn to their world, work, and smells. I love the way Merlin smells after a long ride, all sweaty and warm. I love the way the Blackface horn's feel in my hands. I love the cart rides, and lambing season, and the way those new lambs smell against your chest on a cold spring morning. I think about all the choices that got me here, and keep me here, and I try to think of something that someone could offer me that would make me turn over my riding boots and shepherd's crook and you know what comes to mind?

Absolutely nothing.

The Girls Are Back!

The goats arrived last night after 8PM. I was in the farmhouse living room, chomping down on a quIck slice of homemade pizza. I had to use up the veggie's from my morning deconstructed omelet on toast and a veggie-piled pizza was just the trick. I could only eat a slice and a half and that was something I am coming to realize about homemade food. When you make it with care and time, from kneading the dough to crumbling the cheese on top—it fills you more. I could easily house four slices of flat, pizza house pie and not even remember eating it. But the homemade slices were so thick in veggies and pillowy dough one slice was plenty and the second piece was a battle I could only start to enjoy.

This morning was just oatmeal.

But yes! The goats are home and I am thrilled to have them back at CAF. The morning started the way I like it, stepping out on the front marble steps and hearing that happy bleat of Bonita. Somehow, she knows before any other living creature that I am awake and possibly carrying grain. I heard that bleat and just smiled. It's the sound of life feeling correct.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Make A Small Batch of Hard Cider!

Every year my friends and I gather to hand press gallons of fresh apple cider at our good friend Dave's home in Vermont. Sadly, this year a late spring frost ruined our apple harvest and few if any local apples were around in the wild or at orchards to forage or pick. Which meant no hard cider, the real reason we all get together to crush and press.

But today I decided no late frost was ruining my favorite Yuletide drink. I decided to just buy some fresh-pressed cider at Saratoga Apple, get a small fifty-cent package of champagne yeast at my local Zymurgist, and make my own small batch. It's so easy, folks. You should try it. It's not like beer brewing that requires timed boils and measurements. It's more like making wine. You just pour, add yeast, and let it sit. The yeast does all the work for you! And while it does require a small upfront investment in brewing-grade sanitizer, fermentation bucket, airlock, and some yeast it isn't a lot of cash. I think all of those things are under 25 dollars and nearly all of it is reusable for your next batch.

Making a small batch of hard cider is a great way to get into homebrewing in a fearless way, and a great way to support your local orchards. For this small batch kit you need very few supplies, but it will grant you nearly 2 gallons of the good ol' scrumpy ready to bottle for the holidays! Not a bad way to show up to a Christmas party.

To make the hard cider you just need a gallon and a half of fresh pressed cider. You want the kind that has no additives or "nutrition facts" on it. The best place to get it is from a local orchard that presses their own apples and sells it from their farm. Around here, it is everywhere. But even if you live in an urban area I'm sure the orchards ship it to local co-ops and natural food stores. Just make sure what you are buying is plain apple cider, nothing fancy.

Now, to turn that cider into alcohol you just need a few tools and any brew shop online can ship them out to you. You need a small 2-gallon fermentation bucket with a lid that has a grommeted airlock hole in it. Northern Brewer sells these for a few bucks, and I suggest buying one from the pros as they aren't expensive and you are certain to get a fresh and air-tight seal. You also need an airlock, Star San Sanitizer, a pound and a half of honey, and a package of champagne yeast. All of these can be ordered online or found at your local brew shop.

Now, let's make cider! To prepare in advance make sure you set out your cider on the counter to come down to room temperature before brewing. It makes the process faster and the yeast more active if the cider isn't cold.

1. Sanitize you bucket and airlock (just throw it in the bucket) by filling it nearly full with clean tap water and adding in a little over a 1/4 oz of Star San. Cover bucket and seal lid tight. Cover the grometted hole with your finger and shake a little to make sure all parts of the inside lid and sides of buckets get contact with the sanitizer. When done, pour out foamy liquid (foam is okay) and set aside. Do NOT rinse with more tap water. Take out airlock and set it aside on clean plate.

2. Pour in your gallon and a half of fresh cider. Dump pound and a half of honey in after. No need to stir.

3. Pour in half a package of champagne dry yeast. No need to stir that either.

4. Place lid on tight. Check all around so seal is good.

5. Insert airlock in lid. Make sure seal is also good.

6. Set in a dark, quiet place to ferment and bubble.

That's it. It really is that simple. You can make it more complicated if you like and heat up the cider first and stir in warm honey and so on. Mixing ingredients will make it ferment faster, but I am all about spending as little time as possible brewing and more time farming. In about a day or two you will see bubbling coming out of your airlock. That means it is working! Right there in your own home or cabinet you are creating alcohol, and not just any alcohol but really, really good apple ciser (honey based cider is called ciser). When bubbling stops (two weeks to a month later) let it remain in the same place at least another week. The yeast will settle and you can siphon it into sanitized bottles. At this point it is ready to drink but I like letting it season a bit longer. It sits in dark green or brown beer bottles or wine bottles in a cabinet until I am ready to pour it out and enjoy it. But be mindful and responsible folks. Homebrew cider is usually around 12-15% alcohol. So don't down a wine bottle and go drive a school bus.

So, Anyone going to try it?

Jackapple Cake!

I’ve been baking my father’s apple cake recipe and adding my own little experiments with it. I think this one takes the prize, try it this weekend, you won’t regret it.

Jackapple cake

3 large farm eggs
2 ¾ cup flour
3 large apples (go with braeburn or gala, if you get fuji use 4)
No red delicious apples, bake like garbage
¼ cup fresh press cider
2 cups sugar
¼ cup honey, heated
1 stick butter (half melted)
1 ¾ cup vegetable oil
Tablespoon vanilla extract
Tablespoon baking powder

Peel and dice apples and place in a large bowl with 1 ½ cups sugar (set aside other half cup for topping), sprinkle over them a light coating of cinnamon, and mix into a cobbler, then dribble warm honey over and mix that in as well. Set in fridge for 2 hours to let cure. Do not skip this step. When apples are cured, add all wet ingredients (half melted stick off butter, eggs, oil, extract) and mix with large wooden spoon. Add in tablespoon baking powder. Add flour half a cup at a time and stir in batter more than you think you need too. Batter will seem wet and yellow. Good. Pour into greased cake pan. Now melt other half stick of butter, add to it the sugar and some cinnamon and mix them into a wet paste. Use a pastery brush to lather it over the batter, making a sugar crust to bake into the cake. Bake at 350 degrees 30-40 minutes. Check after 27, when knife comes out clean it’s done. Serve warm with stove-top cider.

unexpected holiday

Today has turned into an unexpected holiday. I woke up early and had coffee and a divine breakfast of a slice of pan-friend, whole-grain bread with a happy topple of egg, red pepper, onions, squash and cheese. Inspired by all this seasonal cooking I've been watching online I was a dervish in that kitchen, pan frying up the diced veggies, whipping the eggs, and watching the slice of bread crisp up. It was amazing, so much so I wouldn't even share it with the dogs. Boghadair perched on my shoulder and tried to steal bites right from my lips but failed.

After that breakfast it felt safe to go get some provisions. Gibson and I loaded into the truck to hit the Stannard Farm Stand down route 22. I bought a gallon of cow's milk from their glass bottle exchange, and a hunk of good cheese. They were rick in apples and bought some honey crisps for snacking and baking. Tonight I may make my father's famous Apple Jack Cake (I'll post the recipe in a bit). I was in a foodie mood. The good grub, the new haul, my mind was in the kitchen.

But it can't stay in the kitchen forever, bless and pity it. With the new groceries put up, I went and got Merlin for a rainy day ride. We had some showers in the morning, and more on the way but right around 11 the sky seemed tempered so I saddled up and headed up the mountain. My perfect mountain pony getup is a kilt, paddock boots and half chaps, light sweater and wool knit cap. We did our usual over-the-stream and through-the-woods ride, sliding between walk, trots, and canters. The wind was brisk, but the horse in light spirits. We stopped (as we always do) at the top of the mountain overlooking Cambridge and the mountains of Vermont in the distance.

When we headed home I untacked the lug and set him and Jasper out to graze in the largest back pasture. They run out together kicking their heals and tossing their manes. In the new mist it looks like I'm witnessing some ancient equine rite. The Freeing of The Geldings, nothing else today would be half as splendid.

This truly has been a holiday, even on a gloomy Monday. I'm kind of celebrating, actually. Somehow the horse, truck, house, electric, everything is paid up and on time. This calm of course is just a few days of grace but I am enjoying it. In this homestead a day without financial panic is rare as a Washington County coconut. So I am savoring it. Between that and the gift of the Adsense links I might pull through October right into November. Those little box and text ads are powerful things, providing for the farm in their own way! Oh, here's some swell news, a box of McRea's Caramels came in the mail and if you think I haven't already snuck one in before lunch, then you are dead wrong. I got the sea salt and some other flavors. They are hand made by friends of the Farm Kate and Jason in Boston. They support CAF and I did a little sweet support of my own for them. Mmmm.

In a bit I'll call the farrier and make that appointment and then call about my beloved goats and their return. Right now though, I think I'll have a cup of coffee and sit down a bit. A girl needs to make her holiday last, and pretty sure if I went out to feed the sheep their flushing grain right off I'd be knackered before I even got out the mixing bowls.

shotgun goose (not what you think)

Found this video from the summer and couldn't keep it to myself. This is Ryan and I sharing the cab of the truck after he walked a half mile down the road. The geese rarely stray from the farm but after Gibson "herded" Ryan a bit down the lane he decided to keep waddlin' away from CAF. I drove and picked him up and gave him a lift home.

marathon stationary beasts

It was a busy and exhausting weekend, full of festivals and going-away parties and pancake dinners and late night tea with neighbors. Last night was spent indoors at Common Sense farm saying goodbye to some very special people. It was warm in so many ways, with smiling faces and hugs. And then their were days like Saturday spent entirely outdoors in the cold wind. And that's not a complaint mind you, but it is an acknowledgment. Long cold days outside make you a kind of tired of its own breed. When the wind is bitter and your body craves sleep, fat, and warmth you withstand time outdoors much like a sheep on the hills does, I assume. It's a marathon of stationary activity.

I'm a big fan of long days outdoors and how coming inside to a warm wood stove and some soup and crusty bread can revive you...but my friends, it was a brutal day! I was at the Ackland's locally famous CiderFest at Maple Lane Farm, which was full of hundreds of kind people, amazing just-pressed cider, hay rides in tractors and an entire two buildings full of potluck treats. I was there helping Patty give cart rides in her new green wagon with Steele. I had not slept well the night before so by 3PM in the wind, after being up 12 hours already, I was ready to come home and tuck in. Which is what I did, with gusto, around 4PM. I came home from the day outside, fed the animals and did evening chores and then lit the fire in the bunbaker and fell asleep by early evening watching River Cottage Road Trip. Wild Saturday night.

Over the weekend I found homes for some of my future pork shares and did a lot of cleaning and regular house chores. Bills were paid, parents called, and groceries gathered. I even cleaned out the fridge, and that was a revelation. My fridge insides look totally different than just a few years ago. The inside of it looks like a third world market. Cloth-covered glass bowls of meat and butter and glass jars of milk and cream. There's carrots with tops still on them and heads of broc and soon I hope a few rows of homebrewed porter to join their ranks. There are very few bar codes in that fridge, very little packaging. It's the way my whole life seems to me moving. I mean, you can't slap a license plate on the back of a horse's bum, right? Anyway, I hope to add to the cold larder today and pick up my half of a lamb I split with Patty and Mark from Livingston Brook Farm. My own sheep are not in the meaty way right now, and so we bought a lamb from up in Hebron. I will play around with some masala recipes, also with gusto.

P.S. Goats should come home today or tomorrow, I can't wait. I miss having those two scoffers here. It will be one happy reunion, that is for certain!

P.P.S. Do any Fiddlers want to come up next weekend for the potluck? If I can get four of you or so, I'll be happy to host it but if people are just busy or travel is hard we can do it later in the winter?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

In Today's Mailbox!

Read This Book.

Questions for Non U.S. Readers?

So I am watching my River Cottage over oatmeal and have some questions. These are mostly about the UK (being on my mind watching the show) but I'm curious about other countries too. I am wondering if the US is homesteader and hunter friendly in comparison to other countries based on these questions that come up watching the show. I'm not sure if everything is so by-the-book because of the TV show or laws?

1. Is it illegal in the UK to slaughter animals at home?
2. Is it illegal to hunt without a guide or game keeper?
3. IS there public land for the general public to hunt?
4. Does your town, village, or country offer hunter safety and licenses?
5. Is it hard to get a hunting rifle?
6. If you have a rifle, can you use it to dispatch your own livestock?
7. How much is a quid compared to a pound? Is that the same thing?
8. What does "knackered" mean? Tired? Crappy?
9. Are public gardens and allotments common?
10. Can you keep chickens?
11. Is homegrown food common?
12. Why does Britain use metric units in cooking?

goats and social butterflies

It's 24 degrees outside but inside the farmhouse is a comfortable 62. Not bad for just one woodstove lit an hour ago. I love that this place is heated with wood, and this year I was able to acquire all of my heating wood through donated time and help from friends, barter, and some old fashioned horsepower. This morning, around 5:15AM I went out with Gibson in the lantern light to chop some kindling for this morning's blaze. He chased shadows while I split some seasoned elm. I used the splitting axe and then the hatchet to make the slivers that I start my fires with. So far I haven't used a single "cheater" fire starter compound or ez-light log. I'm proud of that little accomplishment, and the money I save using a little more elbow grease. I can now start a fire on a rainy day in a few moments with just a match. And if that makes me sound like a purist, don't worry. I still start my bonfires with soggy wood and a little liquid boyscout.* Helen Nearing, I am not.

I'm making a pot of oatmeal on the stove, heating up some yerba mate, and thinking about my goats. The girls have been gone a while now and their loud and proud presence has been missed. Funny how just one piece of the puzzle missing leaves it so clearly incomplete? Goats belong on this farm, and their creamy milk could not be more missed. Oh, the homemade soap, and the milkshakes, and the fresh chevre and coffee turned creamy tan....

Bonita and Francis return tomorrow, delivered safely home from Common Sense Farm. Othniel and Yesheva will be coming along, both to bring my two fine does but also to say goodbye for a while. They are leaving for North Carolina for leadership training in their church and won't be back until late January. It's a bit sad for me, as I have always had these two farmers just a few miles away to help over the years. They taught me so much in basic livestock care, of which just a small portion I have paid forward so far. I'll miss them, even if it is just a few weeks. People always warned me having a farm would make me less social, keep me away from people. It has kept me away from some people, sure. But it has also drawn so many new friends and experiences to me it rivals my four years at college, easily so. It's how I met Yesh and Oth, and how you met me. Farming has been my social butterfly, I just needed to open up and let it. The people who email, come to workshops, read this blog, shake my hand... There were more people on my college campus, but then broth is really strong stuff around here. And the folks around the dinner table are lovin' every bite...

*lighter fluid

Friday, October 12, 2012

This Just In: Francis is Pregnant!

I have two knocked-up goats!

Battenkill Books Drive Going Strong!

Battenkill Books is my town's small indie bookstore. The first time I walked in there I was with Gibson, then just a puppy. I had recently moved to Jackson and Connie, the proprietor, was behind the desk. I said hello, she gave me a Happy greeting and then Gibson lifted his leg on some fiction. Any normal bookstore owner would have done the reasonable thing of asking me to leave with my dog. Connie shooshed my apologies, grabbed some paper towels and told me not to worry about it. Gibson, and all kind dogs, were welcomed in the store. I decided I would never buy a book at any other store that day.

When barnheart came out, she hosted our launch party and it was a hit. She's done the same for other local authors like Jon Katz, James Howard Kunstler, and Meghan Mayhew Bergman. She cares about her literary community, and because of her and the other authors blogs, outreach, and support all ships rose with her tide. I'm grateful to her, and her store, and to the other authors I listed. Connie is amazing, using a combination of savvy business sense, fierce spirit, and a true love of books—she is an unstoppable force.

It takes some serious brass to open such a business in a town of around 1,800 people.I would like to support my community as much as possible and will be hosting a contest of sorts. If you call up Connie, or email her, and order any signed book by me, Jon, James Howard Kunstler, or Meghan MB—and tell her it is part of the CAF Book Drive then you are entered to win a drawing from my farm and Storey Publishing. Storey will be giving away a basket of homesteading titles and I am giving away a free Season Pass to any events at this farm for a full year. All you need to do is call or email her, and tell her I sent you. You can order Made From Scratch, Barnheart, or Chick Days and I will sign them for you however you like. Gibson will sign them too if you ask (he hasn't peed in there since that first time) and I can assure you other local authors will sign them to your liking as well. It's a great way to stock up on special holiday gifts like a signed edition of Rose in The Storm or World Made By Hand. You just can't beat Washington County Based Fiction!

So if you want to enter for the season pass and a bunch-o-books, call the fine people at the bookstore and order something from a Washington County Author. You get a unique gift signed just for you by the author's hand, and you could win a bunch more. Either way you end up with something special: a handsome book for yourself and the satisfaction in knowing you are both supporting a small, rural business, authors, and a community on the rise.

Me and the whole W.C. Thank you. Except the cows, who do not talk.

Here are the Books Storey has Donated for the winner!
Chick Days (signed)
Barnheart (ditto)
Made from Scratch (ditto)
The Backyard Homestead
The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals
Chicken Coops: 45 Building Plans for Housing Your Flock
Barnyard Games and Puzzles
The Chicken Encyclopedia: An Illustrated Reference
Root Cellaring
Farm Anatomy

Battenkill Books info:
15 East Main St.
Cambridge, NY 12816
(518) 677-2515
photo by jon katz, who makes meatless pizza

Hugh's The Man

If you raise or cook a lot of farm-based meats then you probably already own a copy of the River Cottage Meat Book. It's my meat bible, the one book I go to regardless of what I am making, from home-ground sausage to glazing a pheasant. But it wasn't until this week I started actually watching (devouring, really) the amazing River Cottage Series on the BBC. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is a chef with a big dream and a beautiful mission. To bring small holding quality food to all of Britain. He's gone from a small 1/3 acre to a 44 acre farm in abut a decade and the shows around his journey have followed the whole way.

I strongly suggest you check out these series, as much for the recipes as the inspiration and politics. You can do what I did and start with Escape to River Cottage or you can just pick any show. All of them are available online in full. All of them have something to teach and share. I especially love the traditions and history incorporated in a lot of the episodes. Things like May Day celebrations, Halloween parties, and Christmas Medieval Feasts with a ten bird roast! (Tuducken, move aside. Hugh fit TEN different birds inside a turkey!)You can also get them through your library or order online (just make sure you order the right discs for your region!).

I can't praise him, his ethic, or his farm enough.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

We Ride Through It

This is an audio post. You don't need to listen to the chosen song while you read it, but if you do it will feel a lot more like how it felt to me. Just open this link and then turn up the speakers a bit, minimize the Youtube screen, and read the post below to a soundtrack. You can always replay the song if you read slower than the music. It loses nothing in the repetition.

The wind was picking up just as Merlin moved from a fast trot into a full out gallop. We were on our way up the mountain, heading towards the farm. All around us the yellow, orange and blood red colors of Father Autumn glow. The new squall of bright leaves surround me and the black horse as we climb upward. Every reach of his feathered hooves goes a little farther. I can sense the muscles in his strong back change and lengthen. I lean to his neck and tell him in a whisper, "home" and he is alive in a way a fiddle is in an Old Time solo. He isn't a racehorse, he's a highland pony and past his prime and so am I. We are moving fast and I am feeling everything in his gait. My left side slides deeper into that stirrup for balance, my body leans forward to meet his own center of gravity. We are a nothing near as graceful as a poem but certainly as comfortable as a chorus to a favorite song. He is my horse, and this is my Holy October, and the world was created for this moment.

As the wind slows down and the last sheet of leaves fall I pull gently back into a trot and then a walk. At his hooves a pile of sugar maple leaves swirl, just touching earth for the first time. It must be a humbling fall. I say a prayer under my breath, as this is the month of reflection and mortality. Merlin is sweating and snorting and flicks his mane a bit as he calms himself into a walk. I pat his neck and sit deeper into the saddle. This is Autumn.

I was in kilt and tall boots, a comfortable sweater around my stout body. A black helmet I used to wear in the dressage ring protected my head. I needed the helmet today as we were out on an adventure. We had just been down at Jon Katz's farm, a three mile ride that involved crossing a small highway and some new grassy fields. Merlin didn't care about the trucks whizzing past his hide but he hated the new, wide, field of grass. He must have felt exposed, or smelled a freshly killed deer. I will never know. I can just ride out his panic. A woman from a few months ago would have been scared at his protests, stomps, and crow hops. But I had come to know this horse the way you know a beloved old pickup truck. I sang to him, a few verses of I Will Go, and took in deep breaths. If I was calm and confident, he would feel better. And he did, and we got within a few yards of Jon's back pasture's electric fence when we realized the only way to come to the front door was to turn around and hit the highway (which I wasn't going to do). Oh well, the saddle bag with the bottle of Slyboro Hard Cider would have to wait till I saw Jon again. He was just back from a book tour, and he and his sweet wife Maria deserved some seasonal booze.

We headed home up the mountain at that walk, which is a mode of meditation in a way. I don't have to think much about his auto-pilot amble but I am ready at any second for a rifle to explode on the mountain and spook him (poachers are rank around here) or a car to meet us around a turn. I accept these possibilities but do not ride like they are going to happen, not really. I accept his each step, and the way the hillside smells like wood smoke and dead leaves and think about my dinner recipe of wild rice and yesterday's pheasant. I am contemplating a glaze of honey and butter and coarse seal salt on a bed of kale, served over wild rice. Merlin will have some of Nelson Greene's hay. He skips the honey butter glaze but not by choice.

I think about the two beating hearts on the road. Me and my three decades, Merlin and his fifteen years. I think about the last flight of the pheasant I shot, about the bright yellow leaves on the road, soon be brown. To so many people Autumn is a time of death and coming fear. Halloween is a cartoon. To me this is the one month in the whole year I can not help but wake up and shake with gratitude that I, Jenna Woginrich, am still among the living. I haven't taken my last flight across the tall grass yet. I haven't fallen from the tree. This is a season of death and somehow, someway, I am able to ride through it. It fills me with a wholesome appreciation. It makes me shake a little, the swiftly passing beauty. October is a red fox trotting through a field of corn stumps. It is a pheasant's bright red and green plumage on the tall grass frost. It is a black horse and rider in a flurry of singing leaves.

This is my Halloween. my Great Holiday, the oldest holiday, the most primal holiday we have as a species that lives in common and hunts by daylight and not because of old Celts or modern costumes. Halloween is my greatest Holiday because if I let it be the festival it once was—it reminds me that I am alive in a way that only *just* surviving near death can invoke. It fills me with hope, rebirth, compassion, forgiveness and reflection. Halloween saunters and ambles through us and washes us with life itself. It has for over 3,000 years. It turns us from the confused and distracted into aware animals. He leans over our tight, stretching, necks and gently whispers,


....and it is all we can do to not stop running.

hold on tight

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Hunting We Will Go!

I love the hunt. I love every aspect of it. I love getting up early in the morning and packing my shotgun in the truck. I love the hugs from friends who arrive with white clouds of breath escaping with their words. I love the excited whimpers of the dogs and the way a mug of coffee feels on the truck ride to the game lands. I love the anticipation, it's my favorite drug. And most of all I love the brisk pace you keep up behind a dog with a nose in the thick brush and the burst of energy a flushed up cock bird explodes with into the sky. There's a few seconds of communication: who's taking the shot, where did it drop, etc. But mostly it moments is pure pumping adrenaline between intense and tempered strides across the landscape.

I was with Holden Daughton, Patty Wesner, and Patty's dog Harley. Harley's a Large Munsterlander and a hell of a tracker. With that dog we had the secret weapon against the hiding birds. He would sniff them out and scare them up into the air where we could take safe shots with our guns. I had my trusty .12 gauge with Upland and Small Game shots. Patty and Holden both had the lighter .20 gauge shotguns better suited to the bird hunting. But my trusty pump Mossberg is my all around gun. I use it for turkeys, pheasants, varmints, and with a riffled barrel and some slugs Deer in November.

We walked across the fields and wetlands for hours, in and out of rain showers, watching the dog and smiling wide as we each got a chance to take home a pheasant for each of our farms. Patty got her bird first, a fat hen. I got to shoot at my bird second, a nice flush and straight line of flight just 10 yards away from me. I managed to just hit him in the bum but he went down and Harley helped us find him when he did. After those two back-to-back successes it took a long time to find Holden's bird. We had just about given up and were practically back to the truck when the biggest cock bird we saw all day shot up into the air and Holden smote it down. Harley retrieved it from the treeline and we three happy hunters went back the truck with grins across our tired faces. We had walked for hours, stood in the chill rain, and had the kind of constant alertness that makes just a few hours feel like a marathon. It was one content ride home to Cold Antler after that.

I love animals and I love hunting them as well. To some that sounds like a cringing contradiction, and I understand that completely. I was, afterall, a vegetarian for ten years before a rare bit of hogget crossed my lips. The transition for me was based on ecology, politics, and how animals live and coexist in this little green world. My place in the scheme of things is a pack animal that hunts by daylight. That is where my bliss writhes and turns up to the sun. Everyone's got that place somewhere and mine usually ends up with a wood stove and a stew pot. To each their own.

After everyone went back to their own farms (after a celebratory brunch at the beloved Burger Den) I went to work cleaning the bird on the tailgate of my truck. There's not a lot of meat on a pheasant, but there is a surprising amount of yellow fat. I cut off the birds head, skinned him (faster and cleaner than plucking), cut off the hefty thighs and breast and set the rest aside to compost. All that was left was feathers, a ribcage, and entrails really. I put it into the compost with a shovel and brought in the two pounds of white meat. I set it in a big pyrex bowl of cold water and ice cubes that would slowly cool the bird down. Soon I'll add salt and bay leaves and make a simple brine to soak it in all night. This brine will soften the tense new meat and make it retain moisture better when it is cooked. My plan is to either make a crockpot pheasant and wild rice soup with potatoes, squash and carrots or make a honey glaze and roast it and serve it on a bed of wild rice with a side salad. Both ideas are making my mouth water a bit as I type this and I suppose the weather will tell. If it is a cold and blustery day tomorrow stew will be the word of the day. If the sun shines and I spend a deal of it on horseback, then a roasted bird by the wood stove will win. Snow is already in the forecast here for Friday with a night time low of 26 degrees!

Glad I have my wood in!

This Just In!

Bonita has been bred! There will be more milk!


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

laying my cards down

It was a long day, as every day has been since Antlerstock ended. A normal person would have taken a few days to rest and relax, but instead the weekend has invigorated me a thousand times over. Since everyone left here Sunday I started learning a new song on the fiddle, helped friends build a new pig pen in my barn, tore down old polyrope and put up a stronger horse fence, rotated pastures and started flushing the sheep for late fall breeding, and other things I can't remember right now. Oh, right, I got a second pig. Alison, a genius reader already named him. Lunchbox, meet your little buddy Thermos.

I just put a Freedom Ranger in the oven. He roasting whole, covered in a massage of olive oil and herbs and sitting on a bed of kale, potatoes, squash and carrots. The whole party is in one huge cast iron skillet and baking as I type. In a few moments with the smells of a cracklin' bird and a roaring fire in the Bunbaker, this place is going to be downright charming. Outside is a little wet and windy, but my jacks carved this weekend with the antlers and crescent moon, and smiling leers are guarding the front door from any sort of discomfort. It's nights like this you stop, take it all in, and breathe deep.

Here I am.

I got an email from Brett in Gaelic. He speaks fluent spanish and thinks my Gaelic learnings is pretty ridiculous (and he's a McLeod) but I laughed when I saw what he wrote. I had to translate it.

Cò an caora sin còmhla riut a chunnaic mi an-raoir?
(who is that sheep I saw you with last night?)

My response:

Ur Mathair
(I am not translating due to tack)

It was a nice laugh. I also got a nice green owl card from California, it arrived and made me light up. A nice Samhain greeting on a cold blustery fall day. And not just any day, but a day hardened by work and ending with a new pig and a chicken in the oven. Tomorrow if the rain holds off I'll take Merlin up the mountain to take in the fall foliage at its peak. Are we supposed to want more? If we are, I'm laying my cards down as is.

And It's Not Even 4PM...

Woke up.
Walked Dogs.
Put Sheep in Pasture.
Fed Critters.
Wrote Words.
Inspected Horse Fence.
Re-wired Horse Fence.
Picked Up A Little Pink Piglet.
Piglet Escaped!
I Caught Him.
Bought Power Drill.
Bought Whisky.
Reinforced Pig Pen.

Friday Night of Antlerstock

Antlerstock started Friday night, with folks coming from all over America to enjoy the weekend of learning, fellowship, and firelight. There were people from just six miles down the lane and as far away as Ohio, Michigan, Maryland, Montana, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Maine, and beyond. And when I say beyond, I mean it. One darling woman named Emily came from Australia! It is an honor in itself to be someone's destination—but when the people who come are as kind and game as this year's bunch—the honor transcends into celebration. I had a wonderful, exhausting, and productive weekend. I hope they all had the same.

Friday night was the campfire, and folks brought a covered dish, baked bread, desserts, or drinks to share. We sat out behind the barn in my firepit area, an open circle of ancient apples and in the shadow of the old barn. I was feeling tired, and happy to not have any workshops or events that night. Before the first folks arrived I had spent the day setting up the portable toilet, unloading over fifty bales of hay with Nelson Greene, fixing the horses fence, cleaning, and preparing. When the night brought me sips of Guinness, hard cider, and a pulled pork sandwich under the stars...I was feeling very content. All around me were neighbors, friends, and old faces from last year's Antlerstock along with new folks I only knew from emails and comments. It was great to finally meet them all in person, shake hands, hear each other's stories and raise a glass to the weekend ahead.

I brought little Boghadair (Bo-yeh-dare) out to the campfire, and he was a hit. Riley brought out his guitar and I had my fiddle. We played some music, simple chords and fiddle slides and long bow strokes. It was end-of-the-day music. The kind you sit and hear feeling grateful you got where you were going. Then Elizabeth took over the fiddle, and Brigit played her drum. The music was a background, not a concert but still a hoot. Kate, who was a student at Fiddle Camp, brought her fiddle and played for the whole fire circle! I was so proud of her, she did wonderful!

Eventually a rain seam opened and we all called it a night. It was around 10PM and all of us were going to be up early to prepare for the morning of backyard forestry, horse logging, sourdough bread making, and soapmaking. In just a few hours Antlerstock would officially begin...

Lunchbox it is!

photo by

Monday, October 8, 2012

Name That Pig!

More on Antlerstock over the next few days, but I want to introduce you to the new pig! He's in his new-and-improved pig pen that Patty, Kate, and Jason helped me build today. The pen was a long time coming, but made necessary when this guy escaped during Antlerstock and had to be caught in the middle of Adam's lecture on homebrewing. He screamed in a way most of the guests have never heard before and poor Riley (who drove from Ontario) got pig-screamed at right in the face. Riley helped me get him back in the pen and secured it best we could with extra field fence used to make a roof (he jumped out the top). But now in his big space with water, hay bedding, and plenty of feed he seems darn content. He just needs a name...

So, suggest a name! We already got a bunch at Antlerstock but I wanted all of you folks who couldn't be here to help with a name as well. The runners up so far are Lunchbox, Sizzle, Spotted Dick, and un cochonnet. What do you think?

P.S. In the video I say the pen is 10x15 feet. But I was wrong, more like 10X12.

Meet The New Kitten, Boghadair!

Photos From Antlerstock!

Andrew of Brown Dog Photo has just sent me a link of dozens of photos documenting the entire weekend. He is an amazing photographer, and you can even buy prints if you like of all sorts of goings on and CAF critters. Just click this link here!

Sal and all photos in the link by browndogphoto

Learning About Harnessing Horses

a few rainy day photos

photos by weez of coyote crow farm

Through The Woods

I am running through the woods behind Merlin in full harness, trying not to lose my grip on his driving lines or tripped by the 300 pound log we are moving out of the forest. I have driven Merlin in a cart moving down the road, ridden him at a canter through hill and dale, but I have never had to hold onto a thousand pounds of equine momentum in a rose thicket while trying not to be crushed by a recently fallen tree trunk. There is too much going on to be scared and too many people watching to stop.

All that is keeping us ahead is my commands and the 15 feet of leather connecting his bit to my hands. the lines are new, not yet broken in and slick as eels. I hold onto them with white knuckles as I dodge the log, jumping out of its way and moving ever forward. Merlin just punches ahead not giving me much trouble but in his own sort of hurry. Speed is his friend and my danger. I feel the rose thorns grab my shirt and tear hole after hole.

He wants to trot and I want him to walk and we are having a spat while people watch us coming closer an closer to the farmhouse. A rose bush catches my red cowgirl shirt and I can hear it shredding into pieces. I feel a loose piece catch and hold me back enough to tighten the lines and Merlin tosses his head as we stop. I am stuck in the thicket and someone (I can not remember who) takes my long-sleeved western shirt off and frees me to go ahead. Merlin bursts forward with the chain and log and all I can think of as we come into the gray daylight of the backyard is I'm so damn glad I had a tank top on underneath...

We got the log up to the chopping station where Antlerstockers who had watched a workshop on proper log splitting techniques were eager to grab the Fiskars and try out their new skills. I am just panting, inside and out, starting to feel the chill of the 45-degree wet weather as my sweat dries off and cools against my skin. I'm in a kilt, rubber boots, and cotton tanktop and for possibly the first time in my life I do not care if my arms look fat. I just moved a friggin' tree out of the forest with a draft horse and it was about to be chopped up for heating fuel. I put my fists on my hips and let out a long laugh mixed with a sigh. I'd been in car accidents, roller coasters, and bad plane landings but none of that could match the rush of moment. I pull myself together as someone comes up to ask about directions to the Burger Den. I try to tell them and can't through the squeals of the new piglet in the barn, trying to escape. My head is in thirty happy places at once, as I lead Merlin to his post to untack him and turn him back into his paddock. A cloud starts to shower us and there in the rain, covered in cold sweat, mud, and blood from my new thorn cuts I am explaining how amazing the chicken tenders are at the Den. The whole place is a frenzy of new and old friends and faces and folks heading every which way to take photos, listen to workshops, and share stories. No one minds the passing shower and soon my arms are clean of all dirt and red. Wet, tired, and happy I take in a deep breath and pull on a dry hoodie.

This was going to be one Hell of an Antlerstock...

photo by weez

Sunday, October 7, 2012

What a Weekend...

Saturday, October 6, 2012

here we go...!!!

Antlerstock starts in half an hour!

Friday, October 5, 2012

can you hear me now?

Here's a photo of earlier in the summer with Brett and I on our mounts Dolly and Merlin. We look shrimpy, but only because Patty took the photo from the back of her 18-hand Warmblood Ellis! (Our draft stock are both 14 hands.) Brett will be here in a few hours to help instruct and join in with Antlerstock, but I wanted to share this story before he arrived.

I got a call from Brett yesterday afternoon. The reception was bad. "Can you hear me?" he asked, a bit fuzzy between the static, "I'm riding home from work on my horse." The phone died out shortly after that but it didn't matter because I was laughing so hard I couldn't talk anyway. Brett got the college he teaches at to allow him to take "his other car" into the office when he teaches. Dolly the Haflinger mare stays at the college's draft horse stables while he teaches and then he can saddle up and ride her home. So how about it, Cell phone calls from horseback!

I love the company I keep these days.

Send a Hallowe'en Greeting!

The Celts believed Hallowe'en was the Agricultural New Year, and so it was their New Year's Eve. Back then their life revolve entirely around farming, and when you live in a harsh four-season climate like the Highlands, you see the year differently. I mean, look at it this way, if you worked your bum off the entire summer just to survive the winter you'd see that timespan as fairly important. When the first frosts came and killed the life in the fields, leaving you only what you had reaped and would feel like the year was over too. That's why the gaeilc word for November 1st's Holiday was Samhain (Sow-an). It translated literally into Summer's End. It was a a harvest festival and a time to remember those who you lost since last winter. A lively wake, and a time of bonfires, music, stories and magic.

I started getting Halloween cards in the mail last week and they keep on coming. It's a nice tradition here, and that I have like minded friends who think Summer's End is a darn good reason to reflect and smile. My cards are lined up in my living room, just where I put my Christmas Cards when that season comes along.

Why not join me in the tradition? Send a Halloween card this year. The person who gets it will be delighted. I always try to stick a small gift like a packet of seeds in with it. I'm much more into the traditional holiday than the modern fun house/gore/garbage. I send seeds and tell people I love them. For a holiday all about food and community, not a bad way to go. If you don't celebrate Halloween/Samhain why not just send a nice fall note card to friends or family for no reason other than to say you love them and am thinking about them? If you want to send a Summer's End greeting here, mail it to:

Jenna Woginrich
Cold Antler Farm
Jackson, NY 12816

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Getting Ready, and Books!

I was standing on a wooden chair in front of my house yesterday, mopping the vinyl siding with a squeegee. This is not something I usually do on my farm. But with Antlerstock coming up I want the place looking its best. Green mold had grown on the creamy white siding from the month of wet weather and it was looking a little too much like a hanging ham instead of a storybook farmhouse (which is what I am going for). So I stood outside mopping my house, wishing I had more red mulch, and trying to figure out how to make soap in the rain.

All in good spirits though, you see. Antlerstock might devour this whole week but it will be a blast and I can not wait. By this time Saturday morning the whole place will be transformed. People are coming from all over America (and the world!) to visit this little 6 and a half acres a writer and her dogs share. I have gotten four people's offer to supply us with tents (Yay!) and the show will go on. So rain be damned and may the Tein Eigen burn on!

It is an unusually muggy day here, humid as a rain forest and gray as moorland. I love it. I love precipitation and I love wet, miserable weather. The more rainy, blustery, and cold the outer world the more my home becomes a sanctuary, a place of happy respite. I just did a pile of chores outside, everything from cleaning out rabbit cages to taking notes in my moleskin about what feed was low and how to stack the hay in the barn. Nelson is brining in a load of 50 bales Friday. By the time people are here from Antlerstock I will have been cleaning, mowing, stacking, and preparing so much all I will want is firelight and an adult beverage.

I have been getting requests for book recommendations. Someone wanted to know what to read to learn more about Scottish folklore and Celtic history and music, another is interested in sheepdog training. If you are interested in Scottish folklore, I suggest starting in the shallow end and working up to the deep end. One of the reasons I am learning Gaelic is to read the original stories and tales as they were written, but diving into a 12th century storybook might not be what you are looking for. I don't have a title for you, but I can suggest a type of book. Find a basic introduction to Celtic folklore and legend. Stories will lead you to other resources and legends and build from there.

And as for dog training I suggest a video or two, instead of a book. Starting with Time Well Spent, by Aled Owen (Gibson's great grandfather is on the cover!). Or the two video series The Shepherd's Pup about starting with a young border collie from the puppy on. If you live in the North East, I suggest joining NEBCA, because it has a library for members and you can rent out videos and books for just the shipping costs mailed right to your door!

And if you just want to read something for entertainment, here is my recent love affair with fiction which was recommended to me by one of you! The Emberverse Series by S.M. Stirling! It is a series of books that take place starting in 1998 in Oregon near Salem and Corvallis. The books are a fantasy series, but not in the dragons and wizard sense, instead one day around dinnertime a white flash lights up the sky and all modern engines, firearms, electricity, steam power and every other modern convenience or invention simply stops working. Cars stop working in the middle of the highway. Planes fall out of the sky. And all of America (and the rest of the world) has to figure out how to restart society in the chaos. What happens in the destruction of one world is a creation of a new one with new religions, new societies, and a sort of Feudal reality America has not seen in hundreds of years. There is A lot of Celtic folklore and legend involved, as one of the surviving tribes is lead by a woman named Juniper Mackenzie, who starts a modern Celtic Clan in the Pacific Northwest. Anyway, it was these books that got me into Archery this spring. Since gunpowder stops working the bow and arrow become mighty once again and are a huge part of their life and culture. You can get all these books on as well (which I suggest for your commute to work or in the gym or doing farm chores). You can get it for free here. They start with Dies The Fire and in paperback I think it is eight bucks.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Antlerstock Weather Forecast

I am hoping for sunshine and clear skies but Antlerstock will happen outdoors in anything short of a downpour. So bring raingear, extra clothes, umbrellas, whatever it is you need to be comfortable out in the wet. The campfire is still on for Friday and Saturday night, but if the weather is really bad and rainy they will be canceled. There will be no indoor workshops at all since it is impossible to fit everyone into the small farmhouse. Everything happens outside so be prepared! I'll be out there with rubber boots and a raincoat!

And the Garlic Winners Are...

Grand Prize Variety Pack:
The Weekend Homesteader!

Three Runners Up:
Molly Piper
Charlotte Boord
Commander Jay

no birds, but a beautiful walk...

harley is on it...

I love the hunt, the whole thing of it. Yesterday morning I walked at least four miles through wild trails, thick brush, and tall trees. There was no one else out but myself in the entire acreage of State Game Land, just 4 miles from my house. It is a beautiful place to hunt and one of the things I love most about our resource policies. Here in America wildlife is a public resource, owned by all taxpayers. You need to apply for a license to hunt (even on your own land) and record what you take to your state's game authority, but it is a system that works. For someone with not enough land to really hunt on, having a public park I am welcome to shine my blaze orange in is a gift.

I walked for a while, hours at least. I didn't see a single pheasant but I was also dogless. A good hunting dog is almost necessary for a decent pheasant hunt. Without one I am hoping my clumsy walk through the forest with my shotgun will shock a cock bird into flying off in front of me. So you walk loaded as your gun, intense and alive. You notice things you would never notice on a casual hike. The way mud sounds when you step heavier into it. How a songbird lands in thatch. How your breath seems to scream compared to the rest of the world. It is poetry, and necessity. The economy of movement is frugal.

I watched a Great Horned Owl swoop just over my head and it reminded me of my father. He used to go deer hunting and once a Snowy Owl flew over him and I never forgot him telling me that story, and how quiet the great bird was.

It was just us predators that day. Besides the owl I ran across redtail hawks and saw the flash of a fox take cover. We were all out hunting. I was hoping for a pheasant, a grouping of doves, turkeys, grouse...anything really. So many critters are in season and fresh game is a journey on foot and in the kitchen. I'm hoping for better luck today. Patty and her dog Harley are going with us, and Harley sure does love to hunt. He's a Large Munsterlander, a German bird dog breed that looks like something out of an oil painting. I'm hoping he flushes out a mess of pheasants, and Patty and I both leave with the promise of dinner. It's wet out there, and warmer than I would like, but I'm as game as the fowl. So here's to good dogs, good friends, and willing birds!

P.S. thank you for all your support in that last post! A flood of positive and encouraging comments and emails came through, as well as folks interested in last-minute tickets to Antlerstock, workshops, and even my Google AdSense report came in from last month! Thanks to my readership I have a jump in morale and next month's bills. I am so thankful! Now come to the farm and celebrate!