Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Maude Doesn't Want You Here...

But I do. So who cares what an angry ol' sheep says?! If you are considering buying a class, workshop, or private lesson with me for a Christmas Present for someone, let me know. I will send along a letter you can give in an envelope as a gift and Gibson will sign it as well. An invitation for their very own workshop of choice, Antlerstock weekend, private fiddle or dulcimer introduction, or an afternoon of learning to do whatever it is I can help teach. It's a great way to see the farm, support it, and give a gift that will be pretty hard to forget. Email me if interested!

What I've Hunted So Far

So far this hunting season has not produced a single ounce of venison for the table. I was given the gift of several chances to take some beautiful deer, but my inexperience, hesitation, and general clumsiness had a way of trumping any celestial opportunities granted. So I haven't been able to bag a deer and maybe I won't. It seems like the deer have caught on to our shenanigans and places once crawling with cervine activity are now barren as the harvested corn fields around Washington County. Well, barren of corn. Seems like every harvested corn field in the county is crawling with deer I can't legally shoot. Deer are like men. You see them everywhere you can't have them.

I have been writing about hunting a lot, and that's because I am doing a lot of it. If I am not taking care of the farm or running errands I am in the forest or a tree stand. The Hunt has taken on a mythical veil to me, it's something more than just aiming a gun at a buck. It is hours and hours of silent meditation, but meditation on the edge. Kind of like sitting in the lotus position on the edge of your roof. Probably nothing will happen, but if it does you better be ready, safe, fast, and wolf-quick in your decisions. It's exhausting and frustrating and exhilarating at the same time.

I have also been getting lots of emails and comments with advice. Some say to leave the bucks to the breeding stock and aim for a small doe. Some say get the largest animal you can for your tag, ensuring more meat in the freezer. I read all these comments and emails and smile, because these are tips for people who have the luxury of choice! Darling, I will be lucky as a duck to even get a *chance* to shoot a deer this season and it won't matter to me if it's a ten-point buck or a graying doe on the lam from another hunter. I will take the animal chance, luck, and a good quick death offers (if I am lucky enough to have one). If I do manage to shoot, kill, and gut a deer it will be thanked. It will be professionally butchered. It will feed myself and friends over storied meals of how the beast went down. And it might inspire other women to take up the good sport, too.

I think that attitude is what makes me a hunter, not the actual taking of a life. To approach the hunt with respect, patience (working on this one), and wonder. I saw those poachers shooting at cheap hits from the road and they may have a garage full of deer at their homes, but they aren't hunters. They are killers. Out for the easiest path to results, regardless of law, other people, or safety. To me a hunter is someone who takes life for the table, not the wall mount. It takes it with humility and the understanding that we too will die someday. The words of Kahil Gibran:

When you kill a beast say to him in your heart, "By the same power that slays you, I too am slain; and I too shall be consumed. For the law that delivered you into my hand shall deliver me into a mightier hand. Your blood and my blood is naught but the sap that feeds the tree of heaven."

So I have not managed to take a deer into the mightier hand. I have no antlered meat in the freezer. But I have been hunting and here is what I have tucked away in a game bag close to my heart:

I have sat for hours in the forest and remembered again what a joy it is to simply sit still. I have snuck up on a great blue heron, and looked at its offended eyes before it flew away in wildly loud flaps of its wings. I have shared a tree stand with a chickadee, singing inches from my ears. I know what the sound of a flock of geese sounds like overhead, when its not honking. Their wing strokes are sirens at sunset. I have seen bucks trot, antlers raised to attention, and does coyly avoid my virginal hands as they take aim. I've sat through snowflakes, and sunrises, and watched a baby fawn cry for its mother as it ran across a field in the blue cold dawn. I laughed with crows. I studied owl songs. I stared at tracks, and blood sign, and heard stories of a dozen hunters and their hunts. I have done this, all this, and it is just half a season gone.

I am joining a sisterhood and brotherhood of people who have reconnected with a primal urge, and I am not talking about killing wildlife. I mean the urge to provide for their loved ones and family in the most basic way possible: deeply nutritious food. It is a sport not of death, not really. It's a sport for the survivors. The brave. The patient. The storytellers. And the poacher chasers.

It is timeless.
It is satisfying.
And it is mine.

Art by Rajewel

Hunting Return Party

I have been hunting over at Jon and Maria's farm this season. He has a tree stand out back and it's a dandy place to watch forest and field from. And every time I get back from the woods I am greeted by Maria's flock of wool sheep. They have snazzy coats and a snazzy sheepdog and are friendly enough to walk up to me when I baa at them the way Sal and Joseph baa at me. I think it's sheep for "Heeeey, Laaadddy."

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thank You!

I just got the email from Connie at Battenkill Books that every book by me, Jon Katz, and James Howard Kunstler has been sold out! And she has A LOT of them! Woo Hoo! Thank you to all who called, spoke and chatted with me, emailed, or just shared your support. Little things like a few dollars for a book add up and you made Connie, and all of us local writer-types, mighty happy! Well done, Antlers!

P.S. Over a week of hunting, 20+ hours in the woods, no deer yet.

So Here's My Number, Call Me Maybe?

Cyber Monday Cash Mob

Today is the infamous Cyber Monday. As someone who spent the last eight years working for online retailers, I have seen this go from a catchphrase noted after marketing reports came back from Black Friday sales to a National Holiday. Right now most of us are looking for bargains online, be it at work, school or at home.

I'm not against it, not in the least. I think it's great if you can get a deal online today. I myself got an electric fireplace for my bedroom, to keep the place comfy when I know the woodstoves are too weak to pump heat upstairs. It looks like a little parlor stove with fake flames and I'm sure I'll feel like one of those people in the Amish Fireplace infomercials as I drift off to sleep. But I got it for 50% off. Yay America.

So we all know today is Cyber Monday. But did you know here in the middle of powder-sugar coated farm country there's another big sales event going on? It's Cash Mob day at Battenkill Books. I'll be heading down to the store with Gibson from 12-2PM and you are free to call me up and say hello, and order a signed book while you're at it. You can even tell me what to write in it over the phone and you can listen to me make Gibson put his paw into a stamp pad to sign it as well. (You can *almost* hear his eye's rolling.) And if you already have a signed book of mine, you can get a signed book of Jon Katz's or Megan B. You can order the new scary book from James Howard Kunstler. And if non-fiction about peak oil isn't your bag you can order his novel World Made By Hand, which is about what Cambridge would be like if America's economy collapses and we lived back in the post-oil lifestyle again. I love that book. It's like walking into another dimension, my own county but where everyone gets to town in a horse-drawn buggy and farming is the new aristocracy. It's a trip.

Anyway, You can call or email Connie at Battenkill Books and order anything you like. She will also wrap it and mail it wherever you wish. So if your cousin in Tampa needs a good book, send her a wrapped copy of Rose In The Storm or maybe get your Mother In Law a Kobo? Supporting this little store makes a big difference and keeps me and my local community of writers and booksellers in tip-top shape. And if yuou balk at the idea of helping a distant "local" store, I understand. Think of it this way. Is your local bookstore in the middle of a town of 1800 rural people during deer season? Connie can use all the support she can get!

Contact Info:
# 518-677-2515

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Poachers at Cold Antler

I was in my blind, on my property, watching for a deer and knocking a pair of antlers together when I saw a green Ford F250 slowly drive along my property line. A few moments later I heard two shots a few hundred yards from me and I nearly jumped out of my skin. I was livid. "Are you friggin' kidding me?!" I said through gritted teeth. They had shot towards me, since the deer was between us.

I hopped out of my blind and walked through my property to the road where the truck was driving along. In my bright blaze orange there was no mistaking me for a deer. As I came out of the woods I saw a man in camo walk out of the truck with a gun. I knew now there was a driver and a passenger. They saw me storming down the road and sulked off. I scanned and searched the woods for blood trail or a dead animal and found none.

Thinking that was that, I headed back home through the woods. Knowing my hunt was ruined for the morning and quite mad about it. If there was a deer (and clearly there was since they shot at it) It was dead or long gone. And just as I was packing up my optics and blind cloth I heard another shot, just down the road. Now I was pissed.

I got in my truck and sped down the mountain. There they were. I pulled along side the F250 and a kid in his mid-late twenties stared at me, saying nothing. Brownish red hair dirty under a hat and a scraggly start to a beard. He seemed either in shock or drunk. "You are shooting from the road into private property and towards me in my blind! Now LEAVE or I'm calling the police!"

He just stared at me some more, slowly turned his head forward and drove off. I took a photo of their truck and plate and headed home. But then I felt weird, and decided to wait a little on the road. Sure enough they were heading back. I yelled "Get lost' and they hollered some obscenity back and I then drove home and called the police.

I drove back to where I saw them and saw a buck, laying with his head up and legs tucked under him. As I was walking toward it a police cruiser came up behind me. I waved, pointed to the buck in the brush (the officer could not see him, brown on brown isn't exactly easy to view to a non-hunter's eye). I asked if it was okay to scare him off, because I was pretty sure that was the exact reason they were driving up and down the road with a gun. I walked 30 feet up to him and he took off. I couldn't tell how large of a buck it was. But I was thrilled to see him able to run away. I felt protective of him. He was from my forest, my pasture. If me or another legal hunter with permission took him from the mountain, well okay. But some scumbags taking cheap shots on posted land don't deserve a buck like that. Take cheap shots on your own property.

Right now state and local officers are on the mountain road. They have their plate number and description. IF they have the nerve to come back I hope they get caught. It was scary, dangerous, and stupid.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

This Just In...

I was just walking Jazz down the road and happened upon a buck lounging by my pond the size of an Allosaurus. I have never seen a deer that big. He watched us, and I watched him. He sprang off when I took a step towards him.

Whew. That is the second big buck I saw in the first week of hunting season. Didn't get to take a shot at either, but it is encouraging knowing they are out there...

Want to Learn to Play the Fiddle?
Only 2 Spots Left!

Due to the amazing successof Fiddle Camp I have decided to add a second camp for the winter! It will be Feb. 9th and 10th, a Saturday and Sunday. A chance for people who couldn't make it to the summer camp, or just need more time for travel plans. Since no one will be out in the backyard sleeping in tents "camp" seems like a bad name so I'm calling it the Fiddler's Winter Rendezvous. This one will be only for half the amount people and held indoors here in the farmhouse, but remain the same in spirit!

The Rendezvous will be the same 2 days of instruction for the absolute beginner fiddler. You'll come knowing nothing, not even how to hold a fiddle upright, and leave playing music. You have a 100% guarantee from me. I promise that anyone with any musical ability (or none at all) can come knowing nothing and leave with a song in them and the skills to learn more. You'll learn to teach yourself the beloved mountain reels, aires, gospel and folk songs of the American South. I supply the violin: set up, and ready to play, and you just supply yourself and the text book.

So why put off your dreams folks? Why just listen to those fiddles on the country station and Allison Krauss cds. Start making your own music and do it with a community of support and other adult beginners around you. Spend two days here in beautiful Washington County while the farm is wrapped in winter white and the hotel and Inn rates are cheap! You'll arrive here at the farmhouse mid morning and we'll start with the basics and get you acquainted with your instrument and then spend the rest of the weekend going through the method of learning my ear and touch, the way people learned in the mountains, so that within a few weeks of practice you'll not only be able to hear a favorite song on the car radio, but figure it out on your fiddle too.

The cost for the fiddle, Rendezvous t-shirt (featuring an antlered fiddle), and two days of instruction is $350 a person. It costs a lot less if you bring your own fiddle. But basically, you can come with nothing and leave a fiddler. And if any of you are looking for a Christmas Present from your darling spouse, this could be the one to remember. Learn an instrument, support a scrappy farm, add music to the world.

Proceeds of this event go directly into firewood and lumber purchases for the farm: firewood to heat the place this winter and lumber to build the walls on the pony barn so Jasper and Merlin have some solid 3-sided protection from the north country winter!

Getting Big, Getting Pushy

The pigs are growing how pigs grow: fast and pushy. Lunchbox and Thermos are eating and sleeping machines, ravenous one minute and catatonic the next. But between their bouts of hunger and rest they are social, gregarious, curious and nippy. Lunchbox is much more so, of everything. He comes right up to me for a scratch while Thermos watches from a safe distance, only to waddle up if jealousy and loneliness overcomes his fear. I wonder if how they were raised has anything to do with it? Lunchbox, the large Old Spot cross was born on a small sustainable farm in the pasture. Thermos also came from a small farm, but was born in a cement horse-cum-pig stall in a dark barn with many other litters and siblings around him. Thermos was also on the small side when I bought him and Lunchbox arrived at Antlerstock roaring with personality...

My pig analytical skills are fair at best, and I have no idea how they really feel about their lot here at Cold Antler. But I can assure myself they are comfortable, well fed, and getting plenty of light, stimulation, and the occasional wrestling match. In a few months they'll be harvested to feed myself and five other people. I am keeping 3/4 of one pig and I bartered off the remaining 1 pig and the other in three shares. I did this so I get paid in pork for my time, but other folks can cover the piglets, butchering and feed costs. It's a reality of this lifestyle, you don't reap all you sew. To make it financially viable I can reap a mighty sum of pork, but the lion's share goes to other supporters. The trade off is I get to live with, and get to know these fine animals. I get to be there through their whole lives on this farm and make sure they have a quick and kind death.

The pigs are doing their part and I am doing mine. Being my third winter keeping pigs, they have become part of my evolving notion of the Holidays. It just wouldn't be Christmas without a roast leg of lamb and a bucket of feast scraps for a pair of pigs curled up in the straw in a warm barn lit with soft light in the snow. I now look forward to walking out to that barn with a lantern and hearing their snorts and wuffling while favorite yuletide carols play into the earbuds. Not conventional, I know. But music to my ears all the same.

Rumos of snow tonight. Stay posted.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Stressed Atmosphere

It would be a lie if I told you much past hunting was on my mind right now. I think for the next few weeks—or until I get a kill (whichever comes first)—you'll be hearing a lot about Deer Season. But even though it is the passion of the moment, that doesn't mean the rest of my farm fades away. Chores are still chores, and the animals are restless from the weird mood swings in weather and sounds of gunshots all over the mountain. For example: today it was sunny and warm enough to sit in my deer blind in a light sweater and in a few hours there's a chance everything will be covered in snow. Combine all that atmospheric hootenanny with the fireworks of random gunfire and it's anyone's game around here.

If it does snow, then I am looking forward to some time inside to write, clean up this house, and catch up on emails and design work. I have logos and websites to spiff up, a new prepping workshop* with Kathy Harrison to announce, and the big Wool & Words Weekend to get ready for. I hope the farm will have snow on it by then, even a little. I feel spring and winter workshops could really use the dusting of powdered sugar to hide the burned parts of the farm...

I feel incredibly tired lately. I think it's the early mornings and all this time spent outside, but I also don't sleep well in general and I find myself getting winded doing regular chores. It's not usual for me to feel like that, and it's really unusual now that I'm a month into my workout routine and losing weight. I should feel better than ever, but instead I feel stretched thin. Perhaps it is stress. I think I need to make more time for meditation and organization around here. I haven't cleaned out my truck in a month and it looks like I live out of the back seat. Cleaning, strange as it sounds, always gets me in better mental shape. What do you folks do to create better overall wellness and stress relief? Any advice for the farmer on the hill?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

So Very Thankful

Happy Thanksgiving!

Woke up at 4AM for another morning of hunting, no luck, but I did get this beautiful photo of Defiance texted to me from Patty right before he got rubbed up with oil and herbs and set into the oven! My day will involve pie baking, nap taking, and a later dinner with friends at Livingston Brook Farm. A day of food and friends is a blessing indeed. Both me and the turkey wish you a happy, warm, and safe Thanksgiving! Cheers!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Twenty Feet Higher

I was twenty feet above the world in a tree stand, watching the the forest like a sophomore waiting for her prom date's limo. I was in riding tights, a kilt, and a camo shirt holding my father's rifle and wishing I was ten feet lower. I hate heights. I heard a ruckus towards the hillside and jerked my head. Then, as if someone had read a script's directions, a beautiful buck came into view from stage left. I swear, not thirty yards from where I sat. I slowly switched the safety off, praying hard that the animal would come out into the field below me, offer me the perfect shot. I watched him closely. He was limping but moving fast. He was probably hit in the leg by another hunter, but that didn't seem to slow him down. He was going too fast for me. If he stopped or came into full view I *might* be able to take a shot but anything attempted at that speed with my nerves was going to give him nothing but another limp. When he came within rock-chucking distance my heartbeat had to be loud enough to scare off the chickadees perching beside my head. I started to aim and just as I raised the gun he darted out of sight and into a dip in the field. He moved farther and farther away, towards a road and a house. Any shot at this point would be reckless. Suddenly, as if someone pulled a starting gun only cervine ears could here a herd of does blasted off and away from me. I sighed. I watched him speed off after the other woman, my one chance ruined by my own naivete and low self esteem. Hunting deer was starting to uncomfortably resemble my love life.

I came home and Merlin started hollering soon as he saw my truck pull into the drive. Jasper just stared at me, by his side. It was like watching the Odd Couple if Tony and Felix were in the mob and you owed them money...and, if they were horses.

I guess it was nothing like the Odd Couple.

I promised them hay, but first I needed to cut some kindling and get the two stoves started. I had been out hunting for two hours at a friend's farm and in that time no one was here doing basic things like heating the farm house and feeding horses. I used the axe and hatchet, but it was angry work. I was frustrated with myself. I didn't regret not taking the shot—I was sure it would be a mistake—but I have built up getting a deer to mythic proportions and the closer I got the more it hurt to let them go. Shit. Hunting deer wasexactly like my love life.

There was a lot of sighing tonight, but none of it terminal. There's too much work to be done around here to waste energy moping about. I got the fires started, walked and fed the dogs, chopped firewood, and fed the livestock. The sheep were grateful for their hay, the goats nuzzled my smelly arms, and the pigs looked happier than ever before for their dinner. I may not prove to be a prolific hunter but there was so shortage of food on this little farm. I decided to stop thinking about all the day's little disappointments and nostalgia for men who I was certain did not even remember my middle name anymore and focus on the tangible. I am much better with the tangible.

I came inside and washed my hands with goats milk soap I milked and poured into molds myself. I was wearing a wool cap I knit. My home was heating up with fires I started with wood I used my horse to pull from my forest. These are simple things, but just going through how much of my life is touched by the animals I care for made me swell up with primal happiness. So I didn't have a deer, so what? I did have a story and felt my heart pound. A year ago on this day I wouldn't even be in the position to have a lame pity party over The One That Got Away. Instead of being twenty feet in the air with a deer rifle I'd be two feet from my computer screen making internet coupons. Things were quieter here, lonelier here, but certainly an improvement. What more could you ask for in twelve months than to feel you are moving in the direction of your passion? I gave up the 401k and health insurance to light fires and write you people love letters. How about that?

I chose well.


I have been getting a lot of emails and questions about hunting, and I realized pretty quick I wasn't the only new hunter out there. I thought I'd take a minute and answer a few for you.

The Gun: The gun I use is a bolt-action .308 with a scope. It was my father's deer rifle, and might be the most common deer rifle used by big game hunters. Besides a little cleaning and a new sling (the old leather sling was ripping apart) it's the same gun he spent so much time in the forest with. It's an honor to use it.

The Tags: I have a doe tag, a buck tag, and a bear tag. I could take one of each, but honestly I am hoping to not even see a bear.

The Reason: I have been asked, not judgmentally, why hunt when you raise meat? This is a good question. I hunt because it is a part of my family tradition, my nation's tradition, and because it is an important job for us humans to regulate deer populations since we destroyed their natural predators. I also don't raise deer and venison is a favorite meat of mine, so amazing when cooked well. I also really enjoy it, hunting. I love stalking, waiting, hoping, and the chance of a hundred good meals in a warm house right farm my own backyard. It's why I farm, too.

I feel lucky to live in a time and country where as a woman I can stalk deer, practice my knitting, ride a horse, run for office, or cook my family and friends dinner. I plan on doing all of them (save running for office) this winter!

Advice: People have asked for beginner advice, how to get started. Many people reading this blog are interested in hunting but didn't grow up with it as part of their family history. My advice is pretty basic, find a mentor. Ask a hunting friend or relative if you could join them on a hunt. In New York I am encouraged to bring non hunting friends out with me as long as they stick to the binoculars and snacks and don't shoot or drive any wildlife. It's magic when someone to takes you under their wing. If that's not an option the best thing you can do is become your own mentor. Take a Hunters Safety course this summer (most states require proof of passing one to get your deer tags) and it will teach you so very much. My class included the book Beyond Fair Chase, on the ethics of hunting and it was amazing. And for total beginners just thinking about taking a HS course, pick up a copy of Jackson Landers Hunting Deer For Food. It is the PERFECT book for new hunters, expecting you to know nothing and covers everything from rifles to recipes. You can literally buy this book, a rifle, and take a hunter's safety course and be ready to bag a buck. Jackson is with you every step of the way.

P.S. I was asked about Monday. He is still here, and probably going to be next years breeding ram. Atlas comes back in December around Christmas to rejoin his old flock and breed them, and when he leaves to go back to the Adirondacks, Monday will join his flock.

Let Me Share This View

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

So It Goes

Defiance was caught last night, and set into a dog crate in the barn for his last night on the farm. He was easy to catch. I just walked up to the metal pasture gate he was roosting on and grabbed his legs. My hand slipped, and I held onto the tail for a second before both of his feet were in my tight grip. Twelves hours is the standard time a bird should go without food before slaughter. In the barn crate he would be safe from eating, have plenty of fresh water, and be easy to catch in the morning.

When I got back from hunting over at Patty's farm this morning (no luck, but I did get to shoot at a doe who leaped away unharmed) it was time to get the big job of the day over with. I was not looking forward to it, either. The turkey had grown on me, become a character here and a comfortable presence. Last night I actually lay awake thinking about it, dreading it. I don't care for killing animals, not at all. I do it because I feel this turkey lived a life here most turkeys can only dream of, and him and a large Freedom Ranger from my farm would feed nine to eleven people come Thursday. As much as I hate the death, blood, thrashing and dressing - it comes no where near to how wonderful it feels providing clean, healthy meat for friends and family. The horror of death is short, moments really. But the memories of this holiday will exhale a heavy nostalgia, and bring the kind of flavors and goodness few tables will be able to claim. That is what I was thinking as I brought the knife to his throat. I said a serious prayer of thanks, and slit it open.

He died quickly, faster than any chicken. He was hanging upside down in the barn doorway, the closest thing I have to an abattoir. He bled fast. I cut well and managed to hit an artery without removing the head. The heart pumped out all the blood into a bucket below. The pigs watched in awe. It must have been like porcine fireworks. When he was gone from the world I cut him down and carried him over to the wood chopping area for plucking.

Plucking was a mighty job. It took well over an hour. I did it game style, the body still warm and no dunking in hot water. I didn't have a container of water big enough to dunk him into. It was quiet work, my hands learning every inch of the bird. I guessed he was around 15 pounds. Not bad for a yard bird.

Soon his head, feet, and insides were removed. He had a healthy heart and liver and I managed to not break any intestines or the gall bladder in my work. (This was a skill that took some serious practice over the years.) An hour after his life was ended he was wrapped in plastic and in the fridge. Two days at rest in cool, non-freezing, cold space would be the perfect amount of time for the meat to rest.

I felt sad, proud, and quiet but not in any way regretful. Defiance was here to do a job, and today he did it. Many people will get to enjoy him for several days and I'm happy for that. Farm life is like this, complicated and messy, but in the end: beautiful. Here's to luck on the hunt, and may Venison share my freezer with leftover turkey legs soon!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Tenderloin Shot!

Rescuing Birds & Stalking Luck

Gibson was behind the row of pine trees, slowly creeping towards the cowering Buff Orpington who was stuck and confused in the weeds. I saw her there while doing chores—my eyes and ears super sensitive now that three times a day I am out hunting deer—I doubt I would have noticed her otherwise. She was stuck in the mud and tight stalks of dead grasses. She seemed to have given up. I knew she was one of the new birds right away. She was supposed to be in the barn with her friends, still getting used to the new place, but she must have escaped. There are holes in the barn big enough for a bird to get through. She probably followed the yard birds to the watering area here, by the artesian well, and then realized she was alone in a weird place in cold weather.

I was on the opposite side of her, hoping that when the choice to run towards one of us she would pick me instead of the black and white teeth machine. I told Gibson to "walk up" and then after a step, "Lie down" and he did. The bird took a look at him and my open arms and did not run into them, but instead, tried to dodge past me. I caught her as she made the attempt and Gibson burst through the pine trees, tail wagging. "Good Boy!" I told the farm dog. Together we walked the nervous bird back to the wind-free, chicken chow buffet, safe zone that was my small barn. Bonita watched from her indoor stall as Gibson and I got her settled in with the other birds. "No more exploring for a bit, okay? You're a long way from an Eglu here, sister" I said to the blinking, black eyes. I don't know if the Buff cared to reply to her captor. I shrugged and called my dog as we headed out of the barn. I stopped needing the acceptance or approval of chickens a while ago.

I haven't been writing much this weekend due to it being a Rural Holiday of serious Import: Opening Weekend of Deer Hunting. I spent most of the two days outside in the woods far from my farmhouse and rode, scaring three deer away and cursing under my breath. I hope to get a deer, I really do. I adore venison and have the luck of having drawn a doe tag in my state's lottery. That means I can take a buck and a doe this season, and I'll take either. A buck with a beautiful set of antlers would be heroic, sure, but you can't eat antlers. It's been a beautiful and frustrating introduction to hunting large game this weekend. I usually hunt upland birds, a daylight affair with happy dogs and lots of chatter. You are trying to scare the game when shooting at pheasants or grouse. But hunting deer means silent walking, lots of hours sitting still, and involves about 50% luck. I have three weeks and two farms to hunt on. I think I'll get something, and I have asked and written it down, which to be is as good as factual reality. But Time and luck will tell.

It's cold out there.

The New Girls

These new girls arrived at the farm on Saturday morning, a quad of older layers from a friend who didn't want them any longer as laying hens. I happily took them, since even if they only offer another season of eggs they may be fantastic broody hens for bringing more chicks into the world, or offer enough eggs to be incubated into younger stock. More birds of good laying stock like this can never be a bad thing for my hearty, outdoor, free ranging flock. Safety comes in numbers in many ways, you see. If Darwinism wins out, they'll be the older, slower, and easier to catch birds when the fox comes around. Maybe not the best fate, but certainly an important one. Chickens are wiser than we give them credit for. They know you don't have to be fastest hen in the flock to survive. You just need to be faster than the slowest chicken...

Sunday, November 18, 2012

White Tails

Walk into any public space in America. Walk into a restaurant, or grocery store or market square. Take a look at the people all around you, from the youngest infant to the elders in wheelchairs. Take in that whole scene and know, with every fiber of your being, that every human you are looking at is a better deer hunter than me.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


photo by weez

Open Season

It's the first day of Rifle Season here and the mountain is alive with Gunfire. In the short hour I was out on the hunt (between chores and stoking the home fires) I counted twenty shots and none were mine. I saw the same large doe I heard so many times before, just thirty or so yards off but no clear shot and I was downwind. I watched the ravens mostly. So many are around the farm and so fewer crows? They fly higher than crows and have a guttural Gruk Gruk Gruk sound. I said a little prayer out there that I'd be given a deer, but who knows what the Gods have in mind. I may get lucky this season, I may not. But regardless if venison I shot myself gets into my freezer—I will be living differently these next two weeks. With trucks parked all over the edges of the woods just outside my property that means a lot of people who do not know these woods or neighborhood are out excited with firearms. No riding Merlin, even on the road. I will be wearing blaze orange during chores. If I do get out on a serious stalk it'll be a weekday. I'm not dealing with weekend warriors from out of town. I want a deer but I alsow really have grown fond of my own chest cavity...

It was sure cold out there. Coming inside to the fifty-five degree house was Shangri-La. In a few moments both fires were blazing in my home's humble wood stoves and by the time the sun was halfway through its work the heat would be unbearable for me, somewhere close to seventy degrees. I run hot, as a rule, and like my home around the low sixties so a sweater is always welcomed indoors. I find this is often not the case for guests and so when I am hosting people for dinner I crank those stoves and get the house to hit the big 7-0 and sleep with a window open. To each their own.

This weekend marks the beginning of the holiday party season for me. The Washington County Draft Animal Association has a business meeting/turkey dinner/holiday gift swap I'll be attending. I'm also going to be the turkey's vallet since Patty and Mark (who can't go due to company staying with them for the weekend) are the ones preparing the bird and I will be picking it up as my date. I tried finding myself a companion for the party but had no luck. I guess it's hard for a girl to find a fellow the first weekend of deer hunting season. They already have their eyes on another kind of rack. Their focus is mighty.

Like I said, to each their own.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Now Available For Home Viewing

To say that I enjoyed a movie about Scotland, heavy horses, archery, magic, folklore, wildlife and fighting to follow your heart would be an understatement. Brave was a joy. You can get it now in any way you desire, from DVD to digital downloads. Alba Gu Brath, Mac.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cider is bottled!

What you see here is the haul I bottled from my gallon and a half of hard cider. Not bad! For a few bucks in fresh-press and some basic home brewing supplies I was able to create all of this and just in time for Thanksgiving and holiday parties. All it really took was the cider, champagne yeast, some sanitizer, a fermenting bucket and airlock and some time. I think I did this around a month and a half ago? The bubbling took a whole week to start and then rumbled through Samhain and into November. When the bubbling stopped I let it sit a week to get to know itself better and today I bottled it into all sorts of bottles I had around the farmhouse. (I even put the extra in a little flask for the saddle bags!)

So what to do with the empty fermentor? Get another two gallons of cider and start brewing again! I also have a five gallon batch of sweet stout to get going as well if we want to enjoy it for Yuletide. It makes a great Christmas gift, a growler of homebrew in a cool container. Northern Brewer is selling these red plaid growlers for a few bucks and I hope to make that my main present for friends around here hosting parties and the like. Homemade, homebrewed, homeknit, or home baked is the way to go!

Can You Handle It?

Readers Made My Reader

What you are looking at is a combination of two readers I met at the Mother Earth News Fair and their lives and skills...and an e-reader. I used the alpaca wool from one reader to make the sleeve, and the left-over yarn from some hand-knit socks from another to do the monogramming. Together these two women, and the wonderful people at Battenkill Books, created a little case and machine (I call it the Book 'Gin) to bring a whole new world of reading and education to this farm. I can't thank them enough! I love that my readers are protecting my reader.

I knit up the case because yesterday I was reading it outside and noticed hay and flakes of wood ash on the nice, white, frame of the story. I'm not proud of material possessions, and don't care much about scrapes and scratches but this little thing was expensive and I wanted it to last a good long while. I was wearing a sweater and noticed all the hay and ash on myself, and realized the little gadget just needed a sweater, too. You know, a little homesteader's touch. I gave it my initials (with antlers, of course) and now as it follows me around my farm it is a little safer from horse drool, hay chaff, mud and rain.

happy little sparks

Last night as I was sitting in my living room, talking on the phone with a good friend, I noticed a few red sprinkles of ash outside the French glass doors. It was like I was sitting under a very unenthusiastic volcano. Every few seconds a little poof of red confetti fell down, and while it was pretty I didn't want it to be the preshow of a chimney fire. I went through that last year with the other, older, stove and wasn't interested in a repeat performance...

I walked outside and watched. There was no roar or crazy oxygen-induced whistle of a chimney fire. Just the normal smoke and the happy sparks. I figured it was a piece of the paper bag I used to start the fire earlier, trapped up there and burning off in little coughs. To be safe I closed the flue and stopped burning for the night. The sparks stopped and I fell asleep like a grateful brick. I had been up 21 hours straight and wanted that rest in a primal way.

This morning I woke up to a 20-degree, frost covered farm, and the house was down to 55. Not unbearable, but not comfortable either. I decided to do some inspecting so I went outside and opened the hatch on the cold pipe chimney to see what was going on. A little ash came out, and for good measure I stuck ten feet of chimney brush up there and a little residue fell into my bucket, but not the kind of creosote and gunk that causes fires. Feeling vindicated, I went about the good work of chopping kindling to get the place comfortable.

An hour later the animals were fed and I was outside waiting for a water bucket to fill at my well spout. Both chimneys seemed to be working fine. The two fires would raise the house about twenty degrees in four hours. I'd me sweating bullets before lunch. A small victory, but I felt like a 10th degree blackbelt in home ownership out there.

We learn as we go.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

And The Axe Goes To....

Stargazer 2!!!!!

Email me Ronnie and I'll get you in touch with Alex! Congrats. I am mighty jealous!

LAST CHANCE to Win a BEAUTIFUL Restored Ax from The Old Federal Ax Co!

Alex of Cold Antler Farm Sponsor, The Old Federal Ax C0, has an amazing giveaway for us. He has a hand-restored vintage ax. The vintage steel head has been sharpened and cleaned up and a brand new handle has been added. He also hand-makes canvas covers for the head, protecting it in storage and life of hard use. This ax looks to be a decent-wedged splitting ax, exactly what you need by the woodpile to turn rounds into cordwood. This is a combination of vintage and modern craftsmanship that makes a ax that would last you a lifetime. It's make a beautiful Holiday gift, or a great addition to your current (or someday) homestead. He's also throwing in a free DVD of proper ax usage and care along with this, so not only do you get the tool for the job: but the lessons and skill set. Alex is shipping to the US only, sorry Canada. But enter if you are coming to a workshop here at the farm and I can hold it for you till you arrive!

Also, even if you don't win you can go to his website and download a free ebook for your computer or to print out of safe ax technique, skills and handling.

To enter just leave a comment, and if you share the contest on Facebook with your friends, you can come back and enter again. Just say "Shared!" and I'll make you down as entered twice. Winner picked Weds Night!

P.S. Folks, some of you leave comments three or four times, that's because they don't appear live on the site till I read and review each one for public usage. So if you type something and it doesn't appear, you do not need to do it again.

Comments Online & Face Punching

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

He's Making It Hard To Dislike Cats....


We all know about Black Friday, that day of rampant consumerism and angry mobs running over their fellow men for a half priced Furbie. It's depressing to even think about, but did you know about the alternative, Plaid Friday? Plaid Friday is a movement to get people out of the malls and big box stores and into their local town's shopfronts. By dedicating a day of support to your local community, you can make a huge difference in the lives of your neighbors and neighborhood. I pledge to buy all my Yuletide gifts from downtown Cambridge, my local one-stop shopping center. With several gift shops and services (dance lessons, massage, restaurants, etc) I can get gifts for gift cards for everyone on my list.

In the honor of Plaid Friday, myself and a few other local authors have decided to join up and rally support with a Cash Mob for Battenkill Books! On Monday, November 26th (The famed Cyber Monday of online shopping) you can call or email Connie of Battenkill Books (my local indie store) and get a signed copy of Barnheart, Made From Scratch, or Chick Days with whatever personalized message you want in it from me. GIbson will also sign the books with his paw print, and no other store in America can offer you that!

I know a lot of you like to support your own local stores, as you should. But consider sending a little cash this way as well. Connie's store is fighting the good fight in a small down of 1800 people, using every inch of stubbornness and effort of will to keep her small Main Street shop afloat in an Amazon age. If you live in a fairly large city with an affluent and successful shop, maybe a little of your Holiday gift giving cash can come to Washington County, where you can get something really special, a personalized book from our community of local authors: Me, Jon Katz, James Howard Kunstler, Megan Mayhew Bergman. You already know me, but do you know Jon, Jimmy, and Meg?

Check them out and perhaps a copy of World Made By Hand or Birds of a Lesser Paradise could line your tree's plump and gifty bottom! All these authors will be signing books, from Jon's children's books to Jimmy's Peak Oil Preps!

You can also order Kobos, ebooks, gift cards, prints, and other items at Battenkill Books. And anyone who order's a signed copy of my books gets thrown into a drawing for $250 worth of homesteading books from Storey Publishing! Pretty rad, guys. So what do you say? Anyone willing to support BB this Monday? I'll be there between 12-2PM if you want to call and say hello. We can chat about how good we look in plaid.

P.S. Read Jon's Post on Plaid Friday Here!

A Little Snow, Just a Bit

Heavy, Wet, Snow!

So today was supposed to be a Braveheart Day, which is what I call days of cold rain where dayight chores are done in mud and wool. You can't help looking (and smelling) like an extra in that movie. You work with horses, hay, and sheep and end up covered in mud and sweat. I also happen watch Braveheart on days like this, mostly out of habit and nostalgia. However! The rain the weatherfolk wanted is just heavy, wet, snow here on the mountain. It felt cold enough for snow during morning chores (I spoiled the pigs this morning with extra feed and bedding) and just as I was inside watching Jon Stewart, I noticed snow outside instead of rain?! Its cold out there, too. If the video you can hear more about why ten inches of snow, instead of 1 inch of rain, isn't exactly good news...

But it sure is pretty....

Monday, November 12, 2012

Riding Home

I rode Merlin for a few hours today. We were conquistadors! We traveled past mountain road, trail, and stream. We crossed a highway, trotted through hay and corn fields, and stopped to walk with neighbors and friends. Several goals were met in the saddle today, several bad habits healed and overcome. It was an amazing day on horseback, and in that photo above you can see the traveling we did together. I live halfway up that mountain on the right-hand side we are looking at. Merlin took me there.

I decided to leave my job and felt like my world was falling apart right when Merlin walked into it. I think if I was in a better headspace I would not have bought him, would not have even entertained the idea. But I was fragile, and felt that I needed him. Half a year later I am a totally different rider, different person. Much more has been overcome (and is being overcome) besides a fear of horses.

I didn't realize until I looked back at my actions and attitude how terrified I was of Merlin before I knew him. I was. I was absolutely terrified. I was scared to move above a trot in an arena. I was scared when he acted up. I was scared to do much of anything. I often think back to our first trail ride and how I was shaking until I was on him and we were walking down the road. When it's too late to worry, when is a thing is actually happening, worry becomes useless as gills on a land mammal. It recedes from evolution.

I rode Merlin back in March or April, or whenever it was, scared of a stranger. Today we worked as a team. It took lessons, patience, miles, guts, stupidity, encouragement, stubbornness, and love to make us work. It will fuel us indefinitely.

What They Call For

It was a beautiful morning, out there doing chores, but weird. Unsettling in how warm it was. They want it 67+ degrees here today in the North Country. It'll be sunny and feel like August twilight all day and there's a 100% chance of being on horseback. Tonight they want rain through the day, possibly turning into snow Tuesday when they want it back in the teens.

My old boss used to laugh when I described forecasts as "they want it" instead of "they're calling for" I shrugged. That's how we talked about weather in my part of Pennsylvania. We assumed the weathermen wanted to be correct, I suppose.

That photo is from yesterday, of a mile walk taken with friends out to a lake and back. It felt sublime. A perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The dogs romped and swam in the lake and the us people talked about people things (mostly hunting). It was wonderful, but like I said, felt a little odd. I am more comfortable tucked into layers of sweaters and canvas in November than taking a walk in a t-shirt. These Days of Grace are really leaning in hard, teasing us. I have a hunch this winter is going to be a tough one. I think this is just the calm before the snowstorms. In four weeks there will be frozen water troughs in hand-deep mud and a snowblower puttering past the front drive. That's my fine guess, anyway.

Though I'm not sure basing weather predictions on Mother Nature's subterfuge is an accurate model for forecast—it is what I want. Good enough for the great commonwealth of Pennsylvania is good enough for me.

Farm Boy

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Farmer's Ebook?!

I never thought the day would come that I would own (and love) an e-reader. But a few days ago I was milling around Battenkill Books, chatting with Connie, and saw her new display of Kobo Readers. At first, I scowled. I adore books. I adore picking them up and dog-earing pages and writing notes and giving them away to friends. As someone who makes her own living with words, I buy a lot of books too. I feel it is an economy I want to keep robust, so if you ever visit this farmhouse you will see piles of books in every inch of spare space. They are in the larder, the bathroom, under the daybed, and on coffee tables. What I'm saying is, I love books. Real, paper and ink books.

So I'm scowling at this book gadget display (internally, if not externally at this point) and I'm surprised Connie is even selling them in the first place. I KNOW she shares my paper-book love. So I ask her what the deal is, and she explains something to me that blows my mind.

She explains that Kobo works with and encourages independent book stores. When someone buys a Kobo from her, either at the store or through the mail, it becomes a Battenkill Books Kobo. She gets a 10% cut of any book I download. That may not seem like a lot, but just like the Adsense links on this site, a few small clicks make a Big Difference. My purchases become not only additional reads for me, but supports a wonderful and spirited small town bookseller.

So I bought a Kobo Mini. It's the least expensive of the line, but a mighty tool. It took about ten minutes to link up to my iMac and get rolling. When I had my book account set up there were dozens of books I could download for free. I downloaded White Fang, Pride and Prejudice, and A Christmas Carol in about three minutes after turning it on. My first purchase: Barnheart. What a weird and delightful way to read your own stuff... A homesteader tapping through a digital copy of a book about chickens...

What I love about it is while it's still a gadget it looks and reads like a piece of paper. It isn't backlit, so you still need a reading lamp to see it at night). It works with Wifi, you can shop for new books in your living room on the Kobo, or download the newest NY Times and read the news over coffee. It also as silent as can be. No beeping or stupid pew pew pew sounds. I take it out in the woods when I'm stalking deer and will use it to read turning hunting season. College kids can download textbooks and read quietly in the library.

To those of you who are horrified, I understand. Take heart, as I am still a traditional book person. But I am also an author in the modern world. I think modern professional writers need to be open to changes in publishing, resourceful, and willing to change with the tides. There is a HUGE selection of books out there you can only buy and sell as digital reads. I myself want to publish some ebooks (Birchthorn, The Milk Pail Diaries, Etc), and I want to see what my traditional books like Made From Scratch and Barnheart look like on the digital page.

So you too can have it both ways. You can have a fancy Book Gin like me and still support your local stores. Ask your indie bookseller if they have a Kobo program and if you can affiliate with them. Or, call up Connie or email her at Battenkill for your own Kobo and if you do you, tell her you want to be entered in the CAF/STOREY GIVEAWAY.Anyone who buys a Kobo from Battenkill will get a personal thank you card from me and Gibson (signed by us both). If you order a signed copy of Made From Scratch or Barnheart or Chick Days you will also be entered to win. Storey has donated $250 bucks in Homesteading Gardening books (Seriously, this could be your Christmas Gift List!).

So consider this new and impressive way to support both authors and publishers. It will probably be the only place to read the full story of Birchthorn when it is done. (If you want to know what BT even is...) and if you prefer to support a store closer to home, let them know about this program and direct them to BK books website. Whatever helps indie bookstores I want to be a part of!

Coming Out of the Root Cellar

I have been thinking about the mindset of modern homesteading. Particularly, as it pertains to perception and peers. I think it goes without saying that folks who start producing their own food (urban or rural or anywhere in-between) are an independent lot. Many could care less what the neighbors think about their lawn-cum-garden or interest in wearing hand-knit sweaters and skirts over the latest brand styles...but there are plenty of people who do worry about what others think of them, and I don't think we should avoid talking about our brothers and sisters who are scared to "come out of the root cellar".

I am basing this on the emails I get most often from beginners, which fall into two types. Many come from people who see my life as a fantasy, and enjoy reading it but have no interest in farm life outside of literature. The other half is people who want to start but aren't sure how, and honestly, are apprehensive. They aren't weak-willed people, just dealing with a lack of finances and support. They came into homesteading later in life when they already had a husband or wife, kids, a suburban house, and a lifestyle they want to change but are dealing with rolling eyes and jokes from their social circle. And these are people who really, really, strive for a more sustainable life, but it's hard as all get out when everyone thinks you're acting odd, like a hippie, or idealistic. Some don't want to listen to complaints from their HOA, or hear their mothers in law tell them they are acting like those people on Doomsday Preppers. Others have spouses or parents or family in general who think it is daft to grow strawberries and make jam when it's on sale at your corner shop for a dollar. They feel they are fighting a battle they can't win due to poor location and circumstance. Many give up and go back to Wal-Mart and the mall.

I feel like it's been so long that I've been a part of this culture and lifestyle that I am losing sight of what it is like to get started under peer review. In a lot of ways, my moving around as a single person made it easier. I came into a new rental and town as "Jenna The Wannabe Farmer" and no one even blinked when I showed up to the office in wellies with a baby goat. But I was also working in rural Vermont at an Outdoor Sporting Retailer where people fly-fished and hunted grouse on their lunch breaks. The whole goat thing might not work for an accountant in New Jersey....

I wanted to ask you folks out there in the larger community some questions. And perhaps others who are "in the root cellar" can gain some confidence or ideas. Feel free to bring up any related ideas or stories or questions.

Do friends and family who don't share your lifestyle think less of you for your choices? Do they think this is a passing fad with you?

Do you think changes in our economy or lifestyle will demand a simpler lifestyle for Americans regardless of what they think?

Have you lost any friendships due to changing your life into one of agriculture?

How did you convince a spouse or children to get interested and involved?

Where do you see Homesteading in ten years?

Lastly, do you have any advice or a personal story that could help inspire or encourage a beginner?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

One Hour Ride, One Good Meal

I was sitting in the farmhouse watching Last American Cowboy (an Animal Planet reality series about ranchers in Montana) when I couldn't take it anymore. I was not going to watch people ride horses on my ancient iMac when I could be out riding my own horse. In happy frustration I changed into jeans and paddock boots and threw on a heavy flannel work shirt. I lead Merlin to the hitching post in front of the house, groomed him, and without any groundwork just saddled up and headed up the mountain road.

I just wanted go give him a workout and enjoy the fresh air. My workout would come later (thank you Ms. Jillian Michaels) but while the sun shone at nearly fifty degrees, I wanted to soak up the vitamin D. It was a pleasant ride. We walked, trotted, and cantered up the steep roads, talking to neighbors and waving to cars passing by. Merlin got to brush noses with some quarter horses behind an electric fence and then whinny to another a bit up the road in a paddock. We were met by stray dogs, passed by angry drivers in fast cars, and stopped to talk to folks along the road. It was absolutely delightful.

Of course, I wasn't out in a -10 degree day wrangling angry angus heifers so compared to the television show we just trotted through the daisies, but still. Nice.

I'm happy about the decision I made to buy and work with Merlin. It'll be another year and a half before he is paid off, but when I get the actual ownership papers I will be thrilled. He's had his moments of stubbornness and strife, but at the end of the day he's a nearly bombproof multi-use animal that makes my farm life (and emotional life!) a thousand times better. It's hard to believe he hasn't even been in my life a year...

I came home and untacked Merlin and put him and Jasper out into their pasture to run through the dead grass and kick up their heels. Jasper tour off after a doe, snorting. Merlin raised his head, but was not moved to follow. He worked up a good sweat on the hour-long ride and seemed happy to just stand, drink, and eat.

This cowgirl is going to enjoy a Saturday night at home. I'll be enjoying the barbecued lamb ribs that have been in the crockpot all day simmering over rice and homemade bread. I started this new and wonderful habit of really enjoying one home-cooked meal a day in the late afternoon. It's not so much a diet as it is eating when I am hungry. Eating something I worked hard to raise, source locally, bake or cook. I don't fast the rest of the day, but meals are super light, leaving anticipation and total joy for the star meal of the day: supper.

Enjoy your Evenings, Antlers! I will too!

Fireside Farm Cat

A November Fire!

We were in the new green wagon, sitting on the buckboard and taking turns driving Patty's big gray Percheron, Steele. We had bellies full of ice cream and were talking and laughing. It was a happy scene. If you think a 30 degree day is cold enough to keep Washington County residents away from Battenkill Creamery, well, you don't know us very well.

Both of us enjoyed the few mile trip in the wagon. It was a beauty, and as a new driver I was jealous. It had a nice front seat and a bed in the back that could fit too comfortable adults, a load of hay, or any other gear you wanted to take to friend or field. I had finished my writing work and when I got a call around noon to come over for a cart ride I happily accepted. It was a sunny day, and as we made our way fast farm and field we waved to deer hunters by their trucks going over their game plans and stopped to chat with locals.

We were just taking in the Days of Grace. That's what this time of year is called around here. That window between the last of fall's warm foliage but before the first snowfall. It's your last chance to oil the tractor and repair fences, get in hay and feed, sight in your rifle for deer season, and get snow tires on the truck. It's both a ticking time bomb and period of repose. If you're ready for winter you can just throw some more logs in the stove, sip your tea, and wait for the snow to fall. Some of us with less experience or resources...we're working on putting walls on our horse barns yet. But either way, each team is grateful for the Days of Grace.

So you can imagine our surprise when we crested the Lake road and came into view of Patty's historic farmhouse and saw billowing clouds of smoke. At first, Patty just thought her husband was home from work and burning trash, but from the half mile away we could see if was coming from behind the house and their dog, Harley, was pacing and yelping. This was bad.

Patty had Steele speed up from his Sunday Trot into a full out canter. I was hanging on to the buckboard as she leaned forward to give him a little more chase in his reach. If you have never been on the back of a speeding wagon towards a fire with a ton of horse thundering ahead of you then you haven't known the true meaning of haste. It was wild! It seemed like seconds before we were running up Livingston Brook Farm's driveway and as we got towards the horse tack barn Patty just threw the reins in my hands and sped off the cart towards the fire.

I knew what I had to do. I had to get the horse in the cross ties, remove the cart from the harness, remove his harness, and get him away from the house and into the pasture. I didn't know what was happening so I just went into action mode, and when the cart was removed and the horse secure I ran up to the direction I saw Patty speed towards.

To my great relief, she was on the phone behind the house with a garden hose. The fire was in the woods, not the farmhouse, but it was spreading out over a 30 yard semi-circle downhill. She said that ashes were dumped in the woods in the morning and must have caught on fire. She was calling the local fire department because she didn't want the cold wind moving the foot-tall flames and burning leaves towards the house (which was 2o feet away). She seemed to be doing all she could so I decided to go take care of Steele.

I move the cart out of the driveway so the fire trucks could get up towards the flames. I undid his belly band, but the tug chains up the hooks on his spider, and was unhooking the hame's latch and removing the fifty-pound harness when Patty made her way towards me to help. Steele is 17 hands, I can't see over him when I stand next to him. Patty is nearly six feet tall and could easily remove the harness. I carried it over to the hooks on the wall. She took off the collar and felt collar pad and I put them away in their proper places too. She then lead Steele out of the commotion where he wouldn't be scared of the sirens and lights about to arrive.

The trucks arrived ten minutes later, a man named Seabass in a yellow Uniform with a huge pressure hose was on it in seconds. His one small truck was able to contain the brush fire in moments. It was quit the thing to see. It didn't take long for the response teams to tame the possible danger. By this time Mark was home from duck hunting, feeling a little sheepish about the ashes, but glad to see the house safe. He and Patty chatted with the fire squad, explaining and listening to assessments and soon Patty went inside to cut everyone out there a slice of homemade apple pie with a gingerbread cookie crust. No one turned it down. Seeing a pack of men in uniform with eagles on their helmets eating slices of apple pie was so thick with Americana I expected Harley to run around with sparkers in his teeth.

Since it wasn't lethal, everyone was in good spirits. Which was comforting and beautiful to see. Lessons were learned and neighbors called to ask about the ruckus but within an hour of a speeding wagon ride we were all around the farmhouse kitchen table enjoying adult beverages and laughing. It could have been a disaster, but instead it was a story. A story that included ice cream, horses, farm, and booze so I was grateful as a fat tabby on milk truck day.

It's a different life up here. But no matter where you live, apple pie and doused fires make for a good night's sleep.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Back By Popular Demand: CAF Pancakes!

I love pancakes. I figured out this recipe from adapting a few and it creates the fluffiest, sweetest, pancakes ever. Feel free to add blueberries, chocolate chips, fresh fruit and powdered sugar to top it off. I only use cast iron greased with real butter when I make mine (If you're falling, dive) Enjoy!

Cold Antler Pancakes
1 1/2 cups organic flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanila
1/2 cup sugar
1 farm egg
1 1/3 cups milk

Tun on the range and heat up the skillet at a medium high heat, make sure a good spoonful of butter is melting in the pan and coating it with a good layer. Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the egg and milk. Mix fast and quick and then give it about 4 minutes to set and get fluffy (from the baking powder) in the bowl. When "risen" pour into skillet to the size you like your cakes. You know a pancake is ready to flip over when the middle bubbles. Serve hot with real maple syrup (Grade B, son. Grade B is dark, rich, and get this tastes like maple.none of that flatlander grade A sugar water they sell in gift shops okay?)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Two Fires & A Lockout!

It's a Two Fire Night here at the homestead. For those of you who are new readers (Or confused, sorry!) This little 2-story white farmhouse is heated by two little wood stoves and that is my main source of winter heat. One is in my living room, a chunky rectangle of beauty called the Vermont Bun Baker. It's a stove with a built in bread oven and range. It heats up three downstairs rooms and the main house by itself. It's not a huge stove, only a 14-inch box, but because the living area of my house is 6 small rooms in 1,000 square feet of space it is more than enough to keep me comfortable. In the mud room there is a trusty Vermont Castings Dutch West stove and that was here when I bough the place. It lives within 10 feet of the houses plumbing, all of it. Since the only pipes in the house live here (at the convergence of bathroom, kitchen, and laundry all back-to-back by several walls) it is the real work horse stove. If I lost power, or didn't have any heating oil, it would keep pipes from freezing and the bathroom and kitchen comfortable.

Anyway, tonight is a Two Fire Night because both stoves are roaring as the temperatures drop into the teens. It's a comforting job, keeping them going, and especially comfortable after locking myself out of the house at sunset and needing to call a local tow-service to help me out....

See, I stupidly locked my car with the keys in it. The truck and house keys. I usually hide a spare set outside the house but it turns out I hid it so well I couldn't find them. I called the police, and the police told me to call John.

John's Automotive is a towing company just up route 22, eight miles north or so. John was the man who came and took away the Subaru when it died. I sold it to him as a dead animal and he took it away. He remembered me from two winters ago when I called and said he would be right over. I couldn't believe my luck.

He arrived in fifteen minutes. I kept myself warm by doing all the nightly farm chores and checking on the animals with the time I had to fill. Moving hay and buckets of water kept me warm, but I was happy to see him when he pulled into the drive. In five minutes he opened the door with some aparati-of-rescue and when I asked him how much I owed him, he shrugged, and said "I dunno...twenty bucks?" I just blinked at him. Then went inside to get the truck. I thanked him over and over, and as he slipped the check into his wallet he said, "Well, I made money on that Subaru I bought from you. It's the least I could do." I smiled, shook his hand, and waved goodbye as he pulled out to fix another problem in Jackson. This place, I tell you...

So I'm here inside, warm as a fat cat, and grinning. I had a good dinner of homemade bread and hot soup and am about to tuck into a book and some quilts by the fire. Tomorrow, I'll get some spare keys made and take on some new projects, but for the now, a full stomach and rest.

Stay warm, Antlers.

I'm Proud of Trish!

I got this email last week from a student of this past summer's Fiddle Camp. Trish and her friend Wendy drove up from across the state, no small feat, to attend the two days of instruction. Both always wanted to learn so when they arrived their fiddles were waiting for them. All they brought was their textbooks, tuners, and the will to learn and practice. Now, just a few months later she's blown through the book. She even sent a video (but my email couldn't handle the file size). I'm so very proud of her. Trish didn't win the "best performance" contest at the camp, she was an average beginner, but she had the determination and desire to learn. Now she's learned, literally, every song in the book! When I read these words my heart melted. Let the music flow!

Hi Jenna,

Hope this finds you well. I always enjoy your blog; keep up the good words! I just wanted to tell you that last night I learned the last and final song in the W. Erbsen Ignoramus book, and I've also almost mastered two other numbers from The Irish Fiddler. This is all due to your encouragement and I wanted to thank you for that! You're the best. Happy Halloween!

Trish Kleinfelder

William, War Owls, and The Good Fight.

A few months ago I was at a dinner party talking with friends. Maria, a neighbor, was explaining that she didn't want a Psycho inspired shower curtain in her bathroom. It featured an outline of a man about to stab the person inside with a knife. When I agreed with her, that I wouldn't want that particularly violent decoration up in my house, another person at the table slammed down her fork and laughed, calling me out. "Jenna, your favorite movie is Braveheart?! And you don't want a violent image in your home!" I had no reply to that. I mean, shucks, she was right. Braveheart is an extremely graphic movie, with a whole lot of violence starting with a shed full of dead kids 10 minutes into the reel...

But still, her joke caught me off guard because I never ever actually thought of Braveheart as a violent movie, and I mean that with genuine sincerity. To me it was three hours of romance, and courage, and underdogs fighting against tyranny. It was about one person changing history, a real man, who despite his awful death never gave in to his oppression, even as he was being murdered because of his beliefs...

Yes, it's an epic legend in which violence happens, but I never watched that violence with any shock or discomfort because it was part of the bigger story.

I mean, I raise pigs for food and most of the time with them is delightful. There's scratching ears, hope for delicious meals, and then a period of blood and violence followed by a happy year of shared dinners. I know comparing a pig's life to that of William Wallace is pretty crass, but the point remains the same. Violence is sometimes necessary in a story. It doesn't mean it's the point of it.

Braveheart will always be a story of loss love, hope, and the ability to continue the fight through small odds. The self-sacrifice, the Christ metaphors, all of that isn't part of its appeal to me. That movie is all about hope and unwavering faith. But this is coming from a gal who's mother told her from the time she was ten that she should join the Army...

My mom was right. I am a fighter, not a lover. I was always drawn to martial disciplines and activities. I spent my adolescence in a karate gi, competing through high school and then competing again in Tennessee as an adult. I love horses, hunting, archery, running, and took classes in Japanese swordsmanship for fun. It's who I am.

So you can see I have some bias here. I'm drawn to these stories, and tried to live them in my own humble mythology. In my own head I am, at this moment, fighting for a life of personal creative freedom and better health. And I like, hell I LOVE, stories and legends that make me feel like this healing and change is possible through the motivation of the individual. I recently watched an animated movie called Legends of the Guardians, and loved it. I was told to watch it by a friend, not because of the story, but because of the special effects and artwork. It delivered this in spades (I don't think I've ever seen a more beautiful film) but once again I found myself rooting for the underdog. I fell into the story. There's not a big difference between the real person that was William Wallace and fictional war owls. Not in the context I'm writing about, anyway.

And yet, when I posted about it on Facebook a woman I know with children said she thought it glorified war and didn't like it. This, just like the violence comment about Braveheart, surprised me. Both of these stories include war, death, and intense violence but they aren't about them. The war is a character too, an avatar for change. Sometimes violence is the conduit for change and sometimes it isn't, but deploring such an inspiring message because it includes violence seems, childish. It seems like someone avoiding discomfort despite the bigger story. I hate this. It is the one thing I do not have any patience for. The most popular books in the world ends with the hero getting tortured and killed, that certainly wasn't what he spent thirty years teaching people to focus on....

So, I'm a gluten for punishment who likes shooting pointy things. Yeah. I still I don't want to join the army. Nor would I do well there. I barely made it being told what to do in the corporate world, much less in a society where obedience to orders means life and death.... But again, that's not the point I am trying to make.

I think in this world you're a fighter or you're not. You either decide to take control of your destiny or you hand it over to someone who will. And trust me, there's always someone happy to control you.

That is the real story of humanity. There are fighters and followers: and only you can decide which you're going be. I get emails and comments every day from people who say they want a life like mine. I want to shake the computer and say "Then Go GET IT!!!" I'm not rich, or born into a farming family. I didn't even know what a harrow was until two years ago. I'm on this farm, not because of luck, but because for years it was my single-minded goal I worked towards every friggin' day. And when I realized I couldn't have my farm the way I pictured it, owning a deed and working at home, I chose to live that life in my heart anyway. That's the secret. That's the trick. I stopped being a graphic designer, not in June of 2012, but the day I signed my first book contract in July of 2007. And even though I new it would be a long, rough, road to get to this point I never felt it wasn't possible. I made the decision to just do the work, make the changes, give up the things I needed to give up, and remove people from my life who told me it was impossible.

If you have a dream, you need to fight for it. You need to decide following it is worth the fall out. If you can't stir that effort of will you will, I promise, find yourself living under someone who can do it for you. Too many people out there are letting life happen to them and acting like that's their lot. I've seen these people who let life happen to them. I know some. They turn into monsters. They are dying from a totally curable disease but they let it fester through apathy. It kills faster than dehydration.

You can have a farm. You can fall in love. You can get that job on the 34th floor with the corner office. You can RUN for office. You can become a parent. I don't care what your dream is, it just requires your total dedication to it. That's all. And that means a lot of painful sacrifice, and discomfort, and losing people and all the other crap. But what you gain is a meaningful life, actual wealth. And how lucky are we to live in a time and country where any man or woman who wants it can make it happen. And neither age or income or sex or whatever excuse you want to offer is irrelevant. Because even if your dream has limitations, it still can thrive to the best of your ability. You think you're too old or poor to be a farmer? Whoever told you that, including yourself, was wrong. Buy, borrow, or steal a pack of seeds. Read everything you can (if you're blind or in a wheelchair, the have someone read it to you) and figure out what those seeds need to succeed. Grow it in your sunny window. Harvest it. Sell those tomatoes to some other person who wants them. I promise you, once they know your dream and story support will rally around you. It has to. And in the moment of money exchanging hands to feed another person from food you raised you became a farmer. You did it. Shit, when did a perfect life become the definition of a meaningful one?

Your limitations are in your head. Your possibilities are endless. If you want something, if you can't sleep dreaming about something, if you need something...then for the love of the gods, FIGHT for it. Even if you fail, or get hit by a bus, you spent your blessed time here living for something real. And in the end, that's even more important than the having of it. And when you let that become your reality, you change. Everything changes. And suddenly that life that was happening to you, is happening because of you.

Raise your bows and shine, not burn.

Look Everybody!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Living The Dream

Evening chores were done well, but done in haste. I wanted to get some time to warm up, stretch out, and shower before I met friends for dinner. As I walked around the farm, dolling out feed and checking on the stock I kept looking ump kept hoping for those first flakes…

You see, the first snowfall here on the farm is going to be a big deal, regardless of when it happens. Because for years I have raised animals and made Cold Antler my focus and it wasn't until this very season that I could wake up on a weekday and watch a storm come in from my own farm. If I had one complaint about my day job it was being expected to show up during a snowstorm. I was, of course, capable of getting up and driving to work but I didn't ever feel safe on those roads and I didn't like the idea of being away from a place that might need me. Of all the farm fantasies I had back then, it was being home for a snowstorm during a weekday that topped the scales. To be up on a Thursday morning checking the weather reports, watching the sky, not worried about being half an hour away in another state as the weather howled… If we get an inch or a dozen inches, I will be here. It means the world to me.

If you asked me what success means, to me it means being excited for a snowstorm on a weekday.

P.S. Flurries are coming down!

Best Seat In The House

Words For Mountains

There should be a word in the English language to describe the series of quick events I am about to describe. Some kind of fluent, beautiful, but intense word with connotation of risk and awe. That is what I was thinking as Merlin finished his loping gallop to the top of a mountain hillside, quickly stopped to a fast walk and with barely a flick of my wrist and turn of my head towards the vista before us, pivoted on his back feet to show me my world. It happens fast, the run, the thought, the motion and the turn and the end result is this surge of endorphins and wildness. You feel not like a rider, and not like a horse, but as if you somehow managed to become a part of the weather. You're a force as natural and strong as fast-moving air and thunder. This desire to shout with joy or hug his thick black neck overcame me. I was euphoric up there on the bald earth over looking the purple mountains yawning for snow on their arched backs. He stomped his front feet in place, wanting to continue on but I held him as I closed my eyes in a short prayer of thanks.

I sat there for some time under the cold sky. I tried to will some snowflakes down to the earth but my effort was in vain. You can't rush Mother Nature. She works on her own time. And after all, I'm just one of her many guests enjoying my extended stay. Merlin is too, and as partners we turned back towards the trail and into the woods.

We continued the mountain ride at an easy walk. He was blowing a little, a tad out of shape from the last few weeks of sparse riding since Antlerstock. I had less time in the saddle and decided yesterday and today that the cold was no reason to leave him in his paddock. So yesterday we rode along the mountain road, and today we hit the mountain trails at Tucker's place. Merlin was a gentlemen today, responsive and quick. I was min good spirits, too. I was singing in Gaelic to him, chorus and verse of a song I am learning, and this (along with a loud, orange scarf) was our notice to any deer hunters that we were not, in fact, cervine.

The day was getting colder, as if somehow the closer we got to noon the more it wanted to snow. I was warm on top of the black mountain pony, in layers of flannel and a sturdy, wool-lined, English waxed cotton jacket a reader mailed me from when she lived in England. It fits me as if it was made for me and I felt like an character from some myth on that horse in my wax jacket with shoulder cape for the rain. The rest of my clothes were pretty standard: knit gray hat, cowboy paddock boots, jeans. But that jacket on that pony made me feel like a character from the Gunslinger and The Hobbit combined into one Washington County cocktail...

We returned from the mountain sweaty and starting to feel the chill come back to us from the lack of motion and concentration. I curried his back and put away the tack and returned him to his boyfriend Jasper so I could check on the fire and get back to the writing I was doing between outdoor activity. I had a piece due to HandPicked Nation about Barnheart to finish and deliver. I had my day of snow posts to share (I love this, by the way), and some work on other literary adventures I can't really talk much about now, but folks, there is momentum back in this creative life! I don't have any contracts or new books yet but I am confident I'll be writing more than the four books I have. If Barnheart is my disease of the soul, then writing is my number one therapy treatment.

My afternoon from there on wasn't nearly as exciting as stalking deer and pony mountain stances. I mailed packages at the post office, did some light errands in town. Alli, from Saratoga stopped by to pick up a tent she leant me for Antlerstock, and she brought a pint of beer as a gift and I thanked her. (In hindsight, I feel bad I didn't invite her in for tea but I was out walking the dogs when she arrived and we talked outside the house. Sorry, hun.) But yes, I walked Jazz, Annie and Gibson a half mile and watched Jazz power through it, though I could tell the half-mile was a bit much for his hips. And now I have more writing, and some housework, and bread in the oven waiting to come out and cool. Tonight I have dinner with friends and more farm chores and I plan on popping in a few more times before the storm! So keep reading!

Jasper In a Saddle! Mongolian Superstar!

I have been working with both the horses these past few days. Merlin is getting back in shape from his hay-buffet break since Antlerstock and Jasper is just starting to leave the world of pasture pet into working animal again. Now, Jasper has always been used here and there for light farm work. He's pulled logs, (half this year's firewood) a turkey tractor Brett made, and kept Merlin in line as his companion. But after that talk with Trainer/Farrier Dave I decided to start doing more with this amazing litle horse.

I was told today by a friend about the riders in Mongolia, famously using smaller horses for packing, racing, and saddle. The images online are astounding of these grown men and women on small ponies, racing across the tundra desert! I won't be racing Jasper anywhere, but I did hop on his back yesterday to see how he felt about it. He just kinda stood there and then walked in a circle. He was confused and I didn't have a bridle on him, so there wasn't much direction to give but he seemed just fine. Perhaps Jasper is my Mongolian Superstar! I doubt it, but it sure would be great to have a second horse that children and small adults could ride or pony along with Merlin and I on the mountain.

In weather-related news. Still no snow, but I hear tale of a Nor'Easter? I think that means just a lot of freezing rain, squalls of snow, and *maybe* some accumulation. I hope so. I am dreaming of a white Friday...

photo from this article on the Nat Geo blog