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!
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.
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?
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!
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 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.
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!
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.
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...
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.
Enjoy the story of a young writer living in Washington County with her fancy dogs, sheep, lots of chickens, fiber & meat rabbits, geese, ducks, turkeys, a hive and a garden. Expect to hear a lot about mountain music, the civil war, local food, and my friends along the way. It's a big time folks.
And when the children are safe in bed, at one of the great holidays like the Fourth of July, New Years, or Halloween, we can bring out some spirits and turn on the music, and the men and the women who are still among the living can get loose and really wild. So that's the final meaning of "wild"- the esoteric meaning, the deepest and most scary. Those who are ready for it will come to it. Please do not repeat this to the uninitiated. -gs