If I wrote you this sentence —I took Merlin out for a ride in the snow today — what would you picture? Would you picture a long-maned black stallion romping through explosions of powder? Do you see something out of an old Idaho western with a cowgirl coming down a mountain pass in a sheepskin jacket? Or can you picture what really happened... Me trying to convince a freaking out Merlin that the three-foot snowbank on the side of the road wasn't quicksand, as he stomped and screamed while a Geo Metro tried to pass us without looking too concerned?
Yesterday was dedicated to the animals' basic needs (and a few of mine, too). With a new level of cold slashing into the county — certain measures I had been taking to fight the weather have been proving inadequate. For instance, every morning I go out and break the ice on the horses trough so they can get to their big gulp. A few good kicks and the ice breaks and all is well in the world. But yesterday morning the ice was thick enough to stand on. No kick would do.
So there I was in my rabbit hat, trying to crack into it with a broken singletree while Jasper stared was a moment Norman Rockwell would have sketched for the Saturday Evening Post. It was as country as could be. Red cheeked, clouds of air puffs, and a horse that would roll his eyes if he could. Classic. After a while I had to pour a tea kettle of boiling water to crack on.
So, yesterday: I bought a floating de-icer. (There goes my notion of not spending money!) For those of you who do not live in this climate, it's a metal buoy of sorts that heats up with an internal thermostat when the water hits a freezing point. It cost thirty dollars and the 75 feet of extension cords cost around the same, but I am thrilled. It means no more breaking chunks of ice or worrying about the horses being parched. Water de-icers are a reality here for winter livestock. The sheep already have a heating element in their big bin of water and the goats have an electric 3-gallon bucket. The pigs (who live in the barn and spill or swill their water long before it could ever freeze)just have a plastic bucket and have yet to complain about the system.
Speaking of pork: my piglets from October are looking so large and good. I'd put them both well over a hundred pounds. I am calling Greg Stratton tomorrow to set up their slaughter day in about 5-6 weeks (possibly sooner). I am keeping 3/4 of the meat from a pig for myself and I bartered the other 5 quarter-shares to friends. I'll be contacting the first pork fellowship shortly to invite them to be at the slaughter if they are interested. I'm sure some are.
Besides water defrosting and slaughter dates: there were other small changes made to the farm. I bought extra mineral bricks, so everyone could take a chunk of multi-vitamin when they so desires. The horses get a big lickable bucket, the sheep get a course block of what I can only describe as the same consistency as fireplace starter logs, and the goats get one like it (With copper and other pro-goat minerals). It felt good to divvy out that little extra winter nutrition. It felt good to set up the horses with fresh water at their whim. And today it'll feel good to get a load of hay from Nelson and set up an order for more. I need to fill the barn up with around 30-50 bales and stack another 15 or so near the woodpile for easy access. That will last a month or so with the horses, sheep, and goats. I offer some to the pigs and they eat it up as well. Who knew? You never hear of grazing pigs but it makes sense.
The woodpile is getting skint. I think I need to order another cord. I will do so soon as I can, but for now I am alright. Most of the time I only need to fire up the living room stove, but soon as the nights dip into single digits both stoves need to be roaring to keep things from freezing and me from yelping. It's a full-time job, heating with wood the way I do, but I like it. It's a good way to live for a farm writer. The woodpile forces me to spend a lot of time near my computer and my animals. Not a bad place to be for a modern homesteader. Not bad at all.
With the last morning of 2012 here on the farm, cold and crisp, I just wanted to take a moment to thank you. To thank you for reading, for buying books, for clicking on ads, for emailing sponsors. Thank you for sending comments and emails (those notes, they make me so happy) and for coming out to the farm itself to take part in the big show. Without this readership none of this would be possible. I don't pretend for a minute that this is a one-woman show. It is a community, online and in the flesh.
Thank you so much.
These past twelves months saw so much change. I started the year as an office employee and am ending it writing to you on a Monday morning from my farm. I left a life behind this year, taking on a new one. There's a horse pasture and barn out there (and a new horse) that wasn't even a twinkle in my eye last January. If it wasn't for one of you encouraging me to email Merlin's owner about a lower price or payment plan I wouldn't even have him. I lost a friend, I lost a dog, I gained new people I can't imagine my life without. I ate dinner with Temple Grandhin and watched Joel Salatin demonstrate the right way to kill a chicken in a conference room at a resort. I finished a book (comes out in October) and that will be my fourth. I had some of the best and hardest times of my life this year. I have been the most scared, confused, and sad in my life but I also learned that as long as you keep positive people and support around you, you can accomplish anything. And when you mix that with a scrappy resourcefulness and a business plan for 2013 including expanding lamb and pork operations and a HUGE garden dream....
Well, you feel good. All of this, all the accomplishments and the plans ahead are happening because of you. As the new year starts I'll share more of whats ahead, changes and apologies, new ventures and dreams. I will be fixing old problems and inspiring myself to get more done. This farm will keep going strong. And as long as you are there to witness it, I won't be shutting the gate anytime soon.
It'll be a cold one. The temperature will drop near zero, tonight. That's cold, friends. The kind of cold that stops you from feeling your toes in rubber boots, hardens fluffy snow drifts into ice caps, and makes people like me turn into full-out Hobbits for a few days. The farmhouse is in full defensive mode, too. There are two wood stoves stoked and roaring, all the electric heaters are chugging, and I have already set out my insulated Carhartt pants and heaviest wool sweater by my bedside for the morning. The animals are ready, too. I just came inside from Night Rounds. I worry most about the pigs, who thrive and need comfort more than any other critter out there. I gave them a half bale of straw to nest. They'll tuck in and fall asleep in their corner of the barn, out of the wind and close to each other. The horses have a windproof shelter now (thanks to Brett and Elizabeth) so they're golden. All the chickens are out of the wind and well fed. The sheep have coats that let them scoff at anything above -40. And Annie is finally getting comfortable around here. So we are as prepared as we can be on this mountain.
I had a good day, spent mostly outdoors. It was a slow morning of chores and wood splitting, but the the afternoon was spent with friends trying out Patty's new 4-person sleigh. (New to her. It belonged to a dairy farmer's grandfather, she bought it at auction.) We hitched up Steele and he did wonderfully. We flew across the foot of powder and how grand that grey Percheron looked! Sometimes I need to stop and realize that here in Washington County we do things on our weekends people usually have to pay for at designated recreation areas. We hitch up, bundle up, and go.
The sleigh is so different than the carts. All the speed without the maneuverability (also a lot easier to tip)—and yet Steele trotted along like he was born in front of that hundred-year-old cutter. I sat in the back right-hand seat. I was covered up from head to toe in wool and my trusty rabbit fur musher's hat—comfortable as possible in the wind and sun of a twenty-degree day. I held the long, black, whip and felt my cheeks turn red. Mark was next to me, just back from a morning of duck hunting. He got some drakes and was on cloud nine. Joanna (our friend and Patty's newest driving student) sat up front and watched hands and lines. I'm so excited to add another gal to our riding club. The more the merrier.
It was wonderful spending the daylight with friends, but it was also so satisfying to get home. I made a quick dinner of scrambled eggs with cheese and veggies and drank enough water to drown a woodchuck in. I think most of the next week will be spent close to home. Here in the North Country we are in for many nights around zero, and when you heat with wood that requires a diligence that doesn't allow for long trips from home to cut though snowdrifts. I'm ready for it. I have my Ax inside by the front door so my hands don't freeze to it in the morning and a stack of kindling ready to go at the first embers of waning heat. I got a box of Long Trail's Hibernator ale, and a stocked pantry. Heat and food will be plenty.
I'm on a tight budget so it'll be up to me to keep my mind and body busy this week without swiping my debit card. Running to bookstores or ordering movies on the internet is out, a luxury for richer times. Instead I'll be reading, visiting local friends, walking Annie, riding Merlin, and taking care of the animals that are my world. You don't need to spend any money to have fun, you all know that. Fun is the feral version of that long-domesticated notion we call "entertainment". Entertainment always costs you, but fun is free. You make it yourself.
This place right now is a winter wanderland, and yes, I mean wander. I have been wandering all over the place, both in my own mind and on foot. Lots of walks with Annie, lots of visits to friends with long talks and open minds. I am thinking a whole lot about this idea of escapism and every time I sit down to write it feels too personal (and you know that must be pretty intense since you guys know nearly everything about me), but it does. I have been thinking about what Cold Antler really is to me.
I can say I love how things are turning out. That's more than most can state in writing. My life may be a little more complicated and wandering than I would like but there is no place I would rather be on this Sunday morning than inside this 1860's farmhouse covered in snow with nothing to do but pick up some hay when the roads are a little better.
I sold three-quarters of a pig yesterday. Not too shabby. That covers the feed for the current pigs. The mortgage has been paid every month since I left Orvis and so has my transportation payments and insurances. I still manage to cover my meager hospital insurance, car insurance, and while I do get behind on some bills from time to time I have a plan of attack and prosperity ahead.
It's not perfect here, not financially or emotionally, but it is always climbing uphill. It feels like I am working towards something big. Every month gets a little easier. Every mortgage payment made (even a few weeks late) shows me I can do this. It does require constant resourcefulness, I can't let my guard down. I need to constantly be figuring out the next bill, the next workshop, the next event, the next book deal, the next ad sale, and so on. I used to not sleep because of that, worrying about how the hell I was going to stay here. But then one day a friend said to me, as confident with his tone as if I asked him to tell me what C-A-T spelled, he said, "I would be fine."
I'm raising a pair of pigs this summer and if you would like to get in on a share or a half, email me. The pork will be ready in the early fall. I'll explain the barter when you email, but the jist is this. If you live close enough to pick up your fresh pork and smoked meats, you can get a share now and watch the story of your bacon from piglet pick up right through the summer into slaughter. You are also welcome to come to the farm and be there when it happens. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want in!
Every day Annie and I go on a walk together. It is usually a mile or two, and we try to keep a pace that has both of us panting. I like it. And I like that it's just us girls. Gibson doesn't go on our walks since he spends at least two hours a day running as fast as possible around the farm while I do chores. He herds poultry and sheep, stares at goats, and taunts the pigs. He gets his jaunt in without trying, but Annie is ten years older, and she doesn't farm. She's a retired sled dog. And since she isn't allowed off leash around here(she sees our backyard as a whimsical, clucking, buffet) - she needs a good long walk everyday. So we walk in all weathers. Annie and I are kinda like the postal service that way.
We used to walk with Jazz. I miss him. But walking with Jazz in his state of sickness meant limiting our adventures to a half mile at best, a slow half mile. Annie might be older, but she can still clip up that hill. Together in the snow we move across the landscape like the happy packmates we are. We jog here and there. I tell her stories. I often sing. I once read that all the medication in the world for melancholy is useless compared to a daily walk and several glasses of water. I think that is true. And the longer the walk, and the more glasses, the better.
More snow today. They are predicting three inches. It's Saturday and I plan on spending it updating the blog with workshops, a yard sale, livestock announcements and stories. But I will also be out there in the wind and snow, walking an old Siberian, and watching her muddy prints appear in the snow as my own prints cover them, step by step. I love that old girl.
I have been accused more than once of escapism. That my life here is a place to hide from the world, hide from my problems. I wonder if anyone else out there with a farm has been accused of the same? Do you think the homesteading movement is an escapist reaction to society? I have my own thoughts and will share them later, but I am curious what you folks think. Please post your thoughts.
I'm offering, until the end of 2012 (So a few days), three last Season Pass Slots for the sale price of $250. That's every workshop for a full year. If you live close by and want to join the farm in events and activities, it's a heck of a deal. If you live far away and want to support the farm, you can donate the Season Pass and we'll give it away here on the blog! I am hoping to sell these soon as possible, so holler if you are interested and understand my intense gratitude for even considering it.
I was watching some videos of a favorite singer songwriter of mine. His name is Josh Ritter, who I'm sure many of you are familiar with. One of my favorite albums of his is The Animal Years, and the song, Good Man, is a gem. That video above this paragraph is the studio version of that song. It's wonderful.
The video below this paragraph is the same song, but it's a live recording. There's no band, no recording studio, and it was filmed with a cheap camera. It's just Josh and his black Gibson, and the performance isn't even complete. It's interrupted with a conversation, lyrics are misplaced, words and sounds muffled by less-than perfect equipment. It's also wonderful.
I don't think anyone who reads this blog would be surprised to hear I like the second version much, much more. I love it. I love seeing his smile, hearing the honest laughter, the mistakes and the quirky questions about how to pronounce a volcano's name. It's not a professional presentation, and folks with an more discerning audio-palate might find it humorous and genuine, but not as good as the studio version. They are right. It's not as good, but that doesn't mean it isn't better.
Some folks take great pride in having an order to things. They thrive on organization, presentation, and appearance. They keep things nice, take care of their possessions, and take pride in what they have earned in this world. They get great satisfaction from peer approval, family approval, and equate this approval to their own level of happiness. There is nothing wrong with this, at all. It's a system that works. It creates peace and law, faithfulness and pride.
And then there are folks who don't share that desire for order, presentation, and appearance. They get little satisfaction from peer approval, family approval, and can not equate it to happiness. They are driven by other ghosts, and hungry for other means of sustenance. There is nothing wrong with this, at all. It's a system that works. It creates art and impulse, temptation and passion.
I have found that the more time I spend living this life, the less patience I have for studio versions. I appreciate their attention to detail, their polish, but I find the order inorganic. A contrivance I can't abide.
I once knew a guy who wouldn't let my dog into his car, because the car was new. That's fine. It's his car. But it was a red flag that he wasn't one of my tribe, and I always acted differently around him. Again, I can't stress enough that there is nothing wrong with keeping a car nice. But that way of living seems less rewarding to me so I do not live it. I love my messy, dented, truck and I'll never care more about a machine than something with a blood stream, not put its presentation needs above things with a pulse. And, honestly, I don't feel as comfortable around folks who "like things nice". Not because of any fault of their own, because I really do think there's validity and goodness to that kind of order in the world. But I will never achieve it past a tidy house and clean sheets, and have no desire to do so. Perfection makes me itchy.
I guess my point is this. There are a lot of versions of songs, and a lot of versions of people. We all find our own way to make sense of the world, and as long as you can love your own version without disdain for the others - you're on the road to making some beautiful music. We don't have to like each other's style, but harmony needs melody. Always.
If you don't care much for music at all, you're beyond my meager help. That's okay too. I am incredibly overrated. But I am happy. And that's something.
You're not a good shot, but I'm worse
And there's so much where we aint been yet
So swing up on this little horse
The only thing we'll hit is sunset
This February the 23rd and 24th will be a winter wool retreat here at the farm. It'll be snowy and cold outside, but even if the weather is frightful there will be a warm pair of woodstoves and fluffy dogs to keep you warm inside the farmhouse. So please, join me in a weekend dedicated to fiber arts. We'll have Saturday entirely focused on sheep and wool. The morning will be about the costs, preparations, and basics of taking on a small spinning flock of sheep in as small a space as a suburban backyard. A pair of Icelandics or Jacobs with a simple wind-proof shed and some field fence can turn any 1/4 acre into a wool production zone. I'll talk about my own sheep, their stories, and how I went from 3 in a rented backyard pen to the snowy hillside breeding flock you'll meet, pet, and see outside the warm windows. Then after lunch we we'll go into washing raw wool by hand, drying it, carding, and spinning with drop spindles and wheels. I'll have a wonderful instructor on hand, Kathryn of NYC to come and teach you the skill with her own wheel and mine. Feel free to bring your own wheels as well and get some hands-on instruction.
So Saturday will be about sheep and wool, and Sunday will be all about knitting. Come and learn even if you don't know which end of your new needles point up. It'll be a day of knitting by the woodstove and enjoying homemade treats. Not as structured as Saturday, but I'll have some skilled teachers on hand to get you started and making fabric out of sheep even if you never did it before. The small goal will be for all of us to learn to wash, card, spin, and knit at some level by the end of the weekend. Come for one day, or both, and enjoy a wintery day at the farm. I'll be working on socks, I can promise you that much!
If you want to sign up, it is $100 for one day, or $160 for the whole weekend. IF you are coming from the city or need a place to stay, here is a list of local Inns and Hotels around Cambridge NY. Email me at email@example.com to sign up, or give the workshop as a gift. If you are giving a workshop, season pass, or some combination as a gift let me know and I will mail you a signed copy of one of my books with a written invitation to the person who gets the workshop or season pass as a gift. I thank you again for supporting CAF, all of these workshops are helping prepare me and the farm for winter!
The storm is here. It arrived last night on the coattails of high winds and black skies. The foot of fluffy snow the weathermen prejudiced did not arrive on this mountain. Instead sharp grains of ice water are piling up like glass filings. The wind is strong and pulling down trees. I have power for now, but I suspect I will lose it as the weight of the ice brings weak limbs down on the power lines—or as we call them around here—comfort on a shoestring.
I did chores this morning in smaller stages, breaking down the outdoor work into three smaller trips. Trip one was before light came, feeding horses in the dark wind. The second trip happened after a fire was lit and the sun rose. After I had a cup of hot tea. I went out and fed the barn crew, who were comfortable out of the fray in the old structure. The pigs, goats, rabbits, and Monday the ram lamb were happy to greet me. The pigs squealed and banged their pen walls as I dumped their chow into their pan. Bonita stood up on the wooden railing to watch, hoping the grain was for her. Francis happily chewed her hay in the stall, out of the weather. Monday was happy to eat his share out in the storm. He was the only animal from the barn who chose to eat outside. Scottish Blackface sheep are the toughest animal on earth, I sometimes think. I have no guilt feeding the sheep last. They are out in the storm walking around like nothing is happening. Atlas is mounting ewes and Sal is glaring at him from his stance of livid impotence. I'd be jealous, too. You need to be a certain kind of man to have a sex life out in an ice storm.
I'm heading out now to bring a bale to the flock. When they are all set I'll have a few more chores here and there: water buckets to the horses and bringing in the rabbits bottles to defrost by the stove, but mostly the day will be spent indoors. I have writing to do. I also want to take time to stretch and savor the need for the simple comforts a storm grants. There's pork in the crock pot, and a loaf of fresh bread will be baked. If the power leaves me I'll still be warm and well fed. There's a stream if mountain water running through the farm, fifty feet from my front door. I feel blessed. I am so grateful to be home, and not worried about a commute or office drama as the snow falls.
It's only three in the afternoon but it feels much later. The past few days of revelry and fuss were wonderful, and I'm grateful for the blessing of the company, but I am tuckered. The last event of the holiday was this morning. Brett and I headed back over to Livingston Brook Farm to meet up with folks from last night for a farm breakfast and wagon ride with Steele. We ate fresh eggs, toast, and bacon from Dick Cheney (the pig was named such) cut farmer style, a quarter-inch thick. After waking up in the forty-degree farmhouse at Cold Antler, eating a meal like this next to a fire was pure joy. There is no happiness like the happiness fostered from voluntary depravity. Or so I tell myself at 3AM when the fires go out!
After the warm meal and copious amounts of hot coffee we bundled up and headed out into the sharp morning. Both the light and weather were harsh. We stuck close together, the four of us who were going on the wagon ride. Four of us helped harnessed the horse. Joanna, a new and dear friend of mine, was learning how to drive in anticipation of getting her first horse this coming summer. She already takes a weekly riding lesson, but is also interested in working with her horse and her up-and-coming farm. So everything was done step-by-step and I listened as Brett and Patty explained things to her. I was quiet, listening and hoping to learn a thing or two. (I learned quite a bit!) It was around 14 degrees and the wind had a bite to it, but all of us were in high spirits. We were well-fueled and well rested and smiling under the winter sun. We were on the road in a matter of minutes, Brett and I in the read of the wagon watching the sky and listening for traffic.
At one point a cardinal flew by the wagon and both Joanna and Patty, who were up on the buckboard, exclaimed in happy praises of it. Patty remarked how beautiful it was and Joanna said she thought such bright colors in a cold, gray, time of year were a true blessing. THey said this with such genuine gratitude and wonder I was instantly touched folks who shine at a passing bird are in my life.
Joanna drove the wagon, learning from the two experienced horse folk in the cart and I sunk into myself a bit. In tights, kilt, heavy wool sweater and knit hat I was a little ball of introspective wool. I watched the world from the back of the horse cart, thinking about much and uncertain of all of it. As good as my holiday season has been a lot of it is hard on me. I have been thinking about a few people who aren't a part of my life anymore. Friend you lose through entropy, people you tell to go away, and the people you wish would call your name. I watched the trees sharpened to comic-like points from the beavers that live by the roadside wetlands and decided I wasn't listening to enough new music. Music heals, and new music that touches or excites you is a quest worth undertaking equal to searching for love or meaning.
Music is love and meaning.
After the breakfast and cart ride I spent the afternoon prepping for the coming snow storm. I ran errands to the bank and feed store, stocking up on provision for myself and over fifty animals. I had big tasks ahead like making sure all the stock was comfortable. But also little tasks. Things like tightening the screws on the roof rake and setting it up near the woodpile for the several dates we'll have with it during the blizzard. I am ready. I have hay stacked, wood stacked, feed in the truck and a crock pot loaded up with a pork shoulder that can be transferred to a dutch oven on the Bun Baker when the power goes out. It's already starting to flicker… We're supposed to get around ten wet and icy inches. This means I'll be outside a few times during the night to pull snow off the kitchen and barn roofs. And it means more night rounds than usual on the flocks and horses. I'm looking forward to facing this storm. It is weekday snowstorms like this that drove me to follow a creative life in the first place. You want motivation to quit your day job? Raise lambs on a mountainside during a blizzard on a Tuesday morning and just try to leave it for an office. You can't. At least I couldn't.
I'll check in during the storm best I can. If you don't hear from me here or on Facebook, it means I'm reading by the fire with a Border Collie trying to crawl inside me to fall asleep. Don't worry about us. We were born for it.
In a half hour or so Brett will arrive with Atlas the ram. He said he wasn't bringing the calf, or the new Mare he named Sadie, but he did have a big smoked ham from one of his pigs and the suitor for my flock of sheep. This is not a bad present, folks. Atlas is a ram I gave him along with three young sheep this past summer in exchange for his help with the horse's pole barn (and by "help" I mean building it). Atlas is his ram now, but to bring it down for a few months to service my flock is a wonderful gift. Another summer of blackface lambs running around the pasture!
Yesterday was a wonderful Christmas Eve here. I tacked up Merlin and adorned in kilt, scarf, and cowboy hat. We walked down the mountain and up the dirt road where my farm's veterinarian lives with her husband and little boy Aidan. They weren't home, but it was still a gift to show up to their barn-cum-house on horseback. Merlin and I headed home and I sang to my Fell, changing lyrics to old carols to suit our Cold Antler Christmas. Merlin knows the way home by heart and was tired from cantering up the driveway and was happy to just amble as I sang to him. It made it truly a "ride." I loosened the reins and just sort of enjoyed the sunshine and the snow lining the mountain road. Being on the east side of the mountain we get less sun but we also keep the snow. Life is about trade off, I suppose. I'm happy with this one.
After our ride I took Annie for her big walk and got ready for the big meal over at Livingston Brook. The farmhouse smelled of crackling' herb-rubbed chicken in the oven and the fire had the place toasty as a Hobbit Hole.
Last night's meal was amazing and today there will be another. Tonight is a sort of Orphan Christmas. All the people there will be good friends, but for various reasons none of us were able to travel to family for the Holidays. It's one of the realities of first-generation new farmers out here. If you leave the area where your family lives and works and start a farm, specially one with animals and a staff of one, travel is impossible. At least it is here for me. Brett's parents live in Mexico, they retired to the little village in the mountains his father proposed to his mother after a west-coast motorcycle tour. His sister lives in Sweden. Patty and Mark have parents down south of New York but also were not traveling. Same for our friends Joanna and Greg, and Bo and Bill. All of us will share in a feast and drinks tonight.
This afternoon friends and visiting and sheep will be having much sex. I'm happy to report I'm excited about both these things. Jon and Maria will be over to enjoy a visit and Brett and I can exchange gifts. I got him lumberjack basics: pancake mix and booze, but other things too. I'll post a picture of the hat later, I promise.
Alright. I'm off to Wassail and Hail. Hope your day is Merry and Bright!
I don't know if or when Brett and Nick are coming. And I also don't know if or when the new horse, Atlas the ram, and cart will be with him either. You can only fit so much into a truck and trailer. He called to check in while I was over at Livingston Brook Farm, enjoying their fireplace and anticipating a grand meal. We were having some of my farm's chicken, Mark's beans and potatoes, roasted carrots, and homemade cranberry sauce. It was a meal to be reckoned with and I had not reckoned since breakfast. So I was ready to eat, drink, and be merry when the phone rang.
Brett sounded happy but exhausted. He wasn't sure what to do with the calf as he had not got it to take to the bottle and he seemed to be nursing from his mother (if he was there to supervise and assist). Or, at least that's what I think he said? Between the new calf, traveling south to Cold Antler, the new horse, PHD work, a storm in the works, finding farm care for the holiday, cooking a ham on time, and everything else–he seemed a bit out of sorts. I told him to do whatever made his holiday more enjoyable for him. If that meant bringing the calf so he could keep an eye on it, do that. If it meant getting a farm sitter and leaving him there, then do that. And If it meant staying home and not worrying about anything but dinner on the table, then do that.
So I have no idea what is in store for Christmas. Brett could show up with Sadie the mare and Atlas the ram in a horse trailer, or a newborn calf. He may not show up at all too. I have a feeling he will. Over the years of knowing him I have learned one solid truth: once he decides to do something, it's getting done. My guess is he'll show up with a ram, a six-pack of stout beer, and a defrosted ham.
That's Brett's story. And here is mine. I am thirty years old and feeling like the kid waiting for surprises under the tree on Christmas morning. Will I get to see a pony? A baby cow? A red shiny new horse cart? Will I get to see the ram I raised last summer? The possibilities are out there and no matter the outcome (pun ahead, sorry)— it's a Wonderful Life.
Sometimes this farm, and all it is to me, seems to be a bridge between adulthood and childhood. I mean that in the best ways possible. A place that connects me to experiences and emotions I lost long ago. We all lose them, never on purpose. You grow too thick a skin while your teens and twenties mess with you. It's self preservation. But as I get older I am learning to appreciate a little wonder and naiveté. It may be dangerous at times, even reckless, but it keeps me feeling alive.
Excited for Christmas morning at thirty? You better believe it.
So McLeod named this little fellow Nick. He's a day-old Highlander bull calf and doing well. He pulled through this morning and Brett got the new mother to let him nurse a bit. If she keeps up the good work he may not have to bottle feed Nick at all. It's still a bit dodgy. A bull calf under the wood stove may still be a possibility. Between the negative temperatures in the Adirondacks and the new mother's flaky caregiving, Brett may feel a lot better having the little guy warm and on a feeding schedule.
To be perfectly honest, I have my heart set on it. I would love to turn the living room into a bovine nursery and bottle feed a red-haired fuzzball while watching old Christmas movies. Between that, horseback riding, hitching up Merlin to a harness, and snow in the forecast this is turning out to be a Christmas for the books!
I got a call from Brett this morning. He was out doing chores, checking on the horses, when he found a brand new Highlander Bull Calf laying wet in the snow. The heifer he recently bought was pregnant, he knew that, but he was told she was due in the spring…
He saw that the calf needed help. The mother wasn't being very attentive and he didn't want to lose him. He brought the little guy inside, cleaned him up, and jumped in the truck to get some emergency calf nutrition at Tractor Supply. If the bull calf pulls through, he will be a bottle calf. A bottle calf can not be left alone while the farmer goes off to have fun kicking his heals up with horses and friends...
So here's where the story gets interesting. Brett is still coming for Christmas. He's just going to bring the calf with him if the little guy pulls through. Being a newborn and on a strict bottle schedule we'll just set up a spot for him in the house. I have gates and a tarp. My floors are linoleum and I have a shovel. So this year there will most likely be a highlander calf in the house with us, drinking from a 2-liter bottle and mooing right under the lit up tree…
Brett raises Scottish Highland Cattle. A long-haired, ancient breed of beef. They are his main livestock on his Adirondack farmstead, along with some sheep and He's also a bonefide lumberjack. It seemed fitting that his stocking feature a blue ox. I just wanted to make sure that Babe was in the proper visage for a Lumberjack named McLeod.
Brett is coming down to Cold Antler for the Holidays. He's bringing his new mount, Sadie (I think he named her Sadie?) the Amish Standardbred. Brett, Patty, Mark, and I will all be out for a Christmas ride and drive with the horses and feasting on our own home-raised hams and roasting birds. There are no barns to raise, fences t build, or roofs to repair. All the four of us plan on doing is enjoying each other's company, our horses, the holiday, and a few adult beverages.
Lamb is also on the menu, I wish it was one of mine, but its from a local farm. I just couldn't slaughter Monday. He's remaining on staff to breed future lambs and be a farm mascot. He has no idea how lucky he is because a cream-sauce braised lamb of leg might be worth the guilt...
I woke at first light to see the roads outside my bedroom window turning white. Compared to the living earth—which is warm in comparison to slabs of pavement—they were a sharp contrast to the breathing mud. It was as if someone had turned my mountain into a game board with a definite track to move pieces along. It was a happy scene, those lovely, portentous roads. I sprang out of bed and checked the weather update.
Just a few inches, but the forecast was calling for inches. I was hoping for this, having done some preparing the night before. I was worried if I got the farm too ready for a snow day I'd junk it. Like Hemingway said, "You lose it if you talk about it," and we all know that's true. Anticipation can be a jinx. If you set aside a ready-to-brew pot of coffee the night before, pick out a book or favorite movie, and volunteer the crock pot for a snow day feast…. it rains. So last night all I did was chop some dry kindling and set it in a metal sap bucket by the wood stove. A humble gesture. Letting Winter know if she wanted to consider precipitation, I could too.
I did the morning chores with Gibson and by the time the hour's work was done the wet grass was collecting white flakes. When the last job was completed and the sheep were eating their hay in a circle of ovine conversation there was enough for G and I to leave tracks. I love snow, but I think I love those hours of the first snowfall most of all. This morning there are errands to run and work to do but for the now all I plan on doing is sipping a cup of hot coffee, lighting a fire, and reading about someplace in a novel. This is how I travel now. I could't be happier with it.
The the world didn't end. Shucks, the power didn't even go out. And of course it didn't. Why would anyone think the world would end on the Winter Solstice? I have respect for he Mayan people, but that was a true act of confundity. The Solstice is one of our oldest holidays of hope - the literal return of the sun. For thousands of years people of so many cultures and religions have organized all of their celebrations of rebirth, hope, and light at this time. What a beautiful thing we have done, too. For all our faults, human beings decided to place the largest holidays of warmth and kindness is the darkest times of the year. Sorry my ancient friends, if you wanted to end it all you should have planned it for April.
But Yuletide is for hope. And I hope all of you are looking forward to time with your beloveds and friends as the light returns. These next few days are for rest and celebration. Savor them.
When I woke up this morning to the howls, literal howls, of intense wind—I didn't think the world was coming to an end—but I did think a few days of electric use would...
I love this mountain home. It's safe, sustainable, and protected the best way a home can be. There's windbreaks, fresh water, and high enough on a mountain that water still needs to run downhill so flooding is nearly impossible. I don't live near any volcanoes, or on top of any fault lines. There's a forest full of game, and farm fields far as the eye can see. For someone who lives a Hobbit Life like me, it's darn near Xanadu. But if you want to live in a homesteader's dream spot it means giving up some things, too. For me, that means reliable electricity. If a tree moves in the wind you can pretty much count on losing power.
Cold Antler Farm is halfway up a mountain. The power lines have to compete with elevation, trees falling, snowy branches, and all the complications that go with it. These aren't complaints. (I'd rather have a stream than reliable electric power any day of the week) but I did want to check in with you folks before the 55+ MPH forces came through. The e-reader and cell phone is charged, and my landline and books don't need to be charged. My 1970's GE plastic wall phone just needs a phone jack to work, no electric plugs. When I lose power I almost always still have a phone.
In the summer power outages are just an inconvenience. In the winter they can be dangerous. After my first winter here I knew I needed to get the house off oil heat and its electric furnace as the main source of comfort. Two wood stoves now keep the place comfortable, and downright too-hot for comfort some evenings. If the power does flick off a few days, even in the dead of winter, the house stays warm and has a cooking top and oven with the Bunbaker, which is a blessing in such events. To cook without having to worry about propane fumes or gas smells, right in your living room, divine! I've made pies, pizza, bread, and even roasted a chicken in my wood stove. I've cooked eggs and made coffee and toast on the top. If the electric well stops pumping there is still an overflow artesian well for the animal's water that will run, and if that stops there is a cold mountain stream right through the property. It's a pain to boil the water 15 minutes to purify it for human use, but the animals drink from the stream all the time without complaint.
I suppose the point of all this is my home makes me feel safe. It's set up to take care of me, and mine, and not just with walls and livestocks and gardens, but things like resources and location. If you're looking into property make sure you are considering things like fresh water sources and what other natural resources are around you. I can say that even just after a few years of living here I have weathered a handful of blizzards, hurricanes, deep freezes, heat waves, drought and all sorts of wonky climate snafus. It's stood the test of time since the Civil War. If if can get through all that and still put up with me and this messy life, I think it earns some proper cred.
If you don't hear from me the rest of the day, you know why! The world didn't end. Nature just wanted to keep me on my toes.
P.S. Happy Solstice, the days get lighter from here on out. More on that happy event later! For now, burn those bayberry candles, light the Yule Log, and enjoy the feast!
I asked this question today on my Facebook page and the response was so interesting. If you were told that tomorrow you could start a new life would you? The situation is as follows:
If you could give up all of your electronic entertainment in exchange for freedom from all personal debt and a life of physical labor outdoors, would you do it? The conditions are as follows:
You join a quasi-communal society where you work 10 hours outside six days a week (off holidays) doing hard, physical labor in a farming setting. Things like plowing, construction, livestock work, weeding, planting, shearing sheep and traveling distances to deliver messages by horse or foot. You do not receive a wage, as meals are prepared communally and your family's house is rent free. You basically work for room and board with the same people you share a house with now, but you each get a $200 a month stipend at the local bookstore to buy whatever books you want. Your evenings are your own. You can read novels, learn spanish, start a chess club, join a music group, or take on a apprenticeship with a craft or trade of your choice. There are no rules about religion and are free to believe as you wish. It is a democracy, where new leaders are voted every three years. This is your new life.
What you give up are things like television, the internet, email, cell phones, and outside communication by electric means. You can write distant family and friends letters, but can't travel to see them (they can come see you). So you get a life free of a desk job and stress from money, but you give up flashy entertainment, travel, and long-distance communication that isn't a letter.
I'd like to take a moment to welcome the newest sponsor to the blog, Amazing Graze Farm! (How great of a name is that?!). Amazing Graze is the joint effort of a couple who both started out as city kids and ended up happy homesteaders. They raise their own meat and dairy, and host a big garden. They loved teaching their friends and customers how to mill grain, can, and make butter but quickly learned they were sending them off to other folks to buy supplies. So they started a General Store, mostly quality hand tools, things you won't find in your local kitchen store. They are a bonefide little mom and pop and sell everything from hair clips to wooden spoons. Check them out at amazinggrazefarm.com and say hello from me when you do! It is folks like them and readers like you that keep this little mountain farm pumping along.
I took Annie out for a long walk today. Well, relatively speaking. It was a long walk for her compared to the ones she has been on recently. For the past year or so walks were set to a half mile since that was all Jazz could manage. Today we did a mile and a half, most of it uphill and at a pace that had us both panting by the time we returned to the farm. In the foggy weather it was invigorating, we even jogged a bit. All that moisture in the air keeping us hydrated and warm. It felt good to run aside a wolf again.
Annie is far from a wolf, but she looks the part. She's eighty pounds of fur, fat, and muscle in a wolf gray coat. She has those prick ears and dark brown eyes and a big open face that looks like a slightly tamer version of her wild relatives. She did well out there on our path. We are so much alike, us two. A little wild and a little too well fed, but hungry for what calls to us. We were a good team out there, getting in shape and feeling our hearts beat faster.
When Annie was tuckered out I let her inside to drink water and nap with Gibson and then walked out to the far pasture to halter Merlin. We tacked up and went for a quiet ride down the mountain road. No goals or training tasks in mind. I just wanted to be on the back of a horse, breathing slow and steady, and thinking about the past week. There was a lot to think about.
I am very much at peace with the decision I made for Jazz. But the lack of him in the house is disorienting. I still call out for him when I grab Annie's leash to go for a walk. I have been walking them together for seven years and old habits die hard. Annie sleeps by the front door a lot. I don't know if it's because she is waiting for his return or because she has been confined to the living room/kitchen with a dog gate (Jazz had some accidents and I wanted to keep him on the non-carpeted areas of the house) and this was off limits before. The front door is the draftiest and coldest place in the house. She could just prefer air conditioning. Either way when I see her there I think of the former. I think about Jazz a lot. Some things can't be helped.
It's almost the end of December. I'm not worried about the Mayans or Chase Bank (far scariest to me), but I do worry about other things. I thought about those things as I turned Merlin back towards the farm and let him run home. As he stretched out his thick legs, reaching for his place of comfort and rest, I tried to stop thinking about them. You can lose it for a little if you know where to hide. If I can find that place in the saddle on a running horse it goes away. So I sank into my seat, my ass a dead weight naturally moving with the hind of the horse. I let my heals drop, my shoulders relax, and I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Before I knew it we had loped home and I was sitting on his back, he standing still in front of the black horse head post Merlin knows is his parking space. It worked. the whole time I was free.
I ran with a wolf, I rode a fast horse, and tonight I'll try to let those moments beside my animals help me stop thinking about the mistakes of the past few years. It's hard. But if there is one thing Jazz's passing truly taught me. Our time is so very short here. Try and run fast while you can. And be grateful every time you aren't running alone.
Thank you to all of you who mailed cards, canned treats (Got the tomato jam, TF!), cookies, gifts, donations and other wonderful messages and comments to the farm. Thank you to all those silent readers who click on the blog ads or support the sponsors. It is things like this that keep me going. And thank you to everyone who is quietly keeping track of me, I appreciate you as well. The holidays are always made better by the support of this community. I see you in my inbox, at workshops, events, and in my mailbox outside. I saw a box of cookies at Battenkill Books yesterday mailed by one of my readers and I beamed with pride in the kindness and love of you folks. You mean the world to me. You're the only reason I am here, living this life.
You may not realize it, but little things like just keeping up with me and shooting the occasional comment or email have such a power of encouragement and validation. If I don't reply, trust me, it is simply from a lack of time and resources to do so, but I read them all and am very very grateful.
I wanted to share this little gift mailed to me from a reader down in Pennsylvania. She sewed up a Maude Stocking! It has that same look of disdain and boredom that I have seen on that horrible ewe every day since I brought her to my farm. I love that sheep, so much. I think this is hilarious and it is hanging over my wood stove!
This is my home on a mountain. We're entering this Holiday Season still thick in the Days of Grace. For those of you new to the blog, the Days of Grace is a time in the farming calendar after all the fireworks of fall leaves have gone and before the landscape is covered in snow. Some call it Stick Season. Other's call it miserable. I like the idea of the Days of Grace, and what it stands for. It's your last chance to fix fence posts before they freeze solid into the earth. The last chance to repair the horse cart or tractor and put it away for a winter slumber (if you're not plowing snow with it). And it's finally time that the work of the garden and canning is behind you. Most farms that aren't a Dairy are quiet this time of year. Chores are basic: feeding and comfort-related. It's a time for fatter wallets and fatter waistlines. As the saying goes, happiness weighs more.
Brett just bought a new Standardbred Mare from an Amish family north of his farm. She's four, and a great driving horse! He is thrilled with her, and sent along their picture. One bad thing, though. She came with the name "Princess" and he wants some help changing it. He thought the community here may have an idea or two. His only requirements are that the name reflect her gender, Amish heritage, and be a little old fashioned. I think he should just call her Dutch.
Yesterday morning I helped Jazz into my truck and drove the mile to our vet's office. I knew it would most likely be his last ride in the truck. After months of decline, painful spinal arthritis, infections, and being pushed around by the other dogs I knew it was time to let him go. The last three nights before his death I was woken up in the middle of the night by his yowls of pain, and the night before I stayed up with him, falling asleep on the floor by his side. I knew, that night, that the vet would be called first thing in the morning.
The vet fully supported the decision. She was wonderful, telling me a story about a Buddhist and her dog and offering tissues and water. The work of ending his life did not take long. He passed peacefully on the office floor, my face buried in the rough of his neck as the vet delivered the heart-stopping syringe. As he was fading the vet told me to tell him how much I loved him, and all I could say was "he knows" and then he was still. When it was all over, the staff gave me a few moments with his body and then told me they would mail me the bill.
I drove home with just his collar and leash. His body remained behind and would get a private cremation later that week. I didn't feel guilty, just hollow. As if someone just took away the ability to feel or react. I looked at the empty passenger side, and the window. On the short ride down Jazz was leaning painfully against it, his eyes glazed over. I then realized I should have cracked the window, or opened it so he could feel the fast air on his face one last time. I didn't think of this one kindness, and broke down into a kind of cry that doesn't let you drive.
After college I was offered a job in the Urban South. I was leaving behind family, friends, and 22 years in the Northeast, which was the only place I knew as home. I had only been on my own two weeks before that wolf was my roommate. I adopted Jazz in 2005 from Tennessee Sled Dog Rescue, outside of Knoxville. I went there with the full intention of taking home a malamute, not a Sibe. Malamutes were my dream dogs, a manifestation of adventure and independence from a childhood of reading Jack London novels. But when I pulled into the driveway of the kennel I saw a flash of red running down the hill. I can still see that powerful blur of color in the rainy mud. A lone Siberian Husky in a sea of giant Alaskans. After looking at dozens of young Malamutes, it was the six-year-old red dog that I wanted to meet. He had been following me around the kennel for the entire tour, his yellow eyes glowing behind a smile. I had never seen a more beautiful and calm animal that looked so wild. He laid down in my lap and was mine. I took him home in my new (to me) silver Subaru Forester.
He was with me through moves of five states. He hiked with me through the Smoky Mountains, pulled me through the wilds of Idaho in a dogsled, Drove on cross country road trips to Pennsylvania, walked aside goats and geese in Vermont, and came of an old and beloved age here in New York. He went from a pet to just a natural part of my life, the care of him as normal as showering or starting up the truck - actions you do without thinking of them as a burden. Jazz was never a burden. For seven years he was my dog. He was family.
This Video was made in 2009, right when I was at my most scared for the the farm. That winter of 2009/2010 I was told I was being kicked out of the cabin in Vermont and had to find a new place for the animals and I. I was broke, worried, and so emotionally invested in agriculture and writing as my calling I refused to give them up. I was certain of just two things: I needed to keep the farm going, and I had no idea how to pull it off. I made it. Jazz was there through it all.
I will always love riding horses more than driving them, but getting in a cart is its own sort of happy. What I love about having a cart horse is I can share horses with so many people. Few people can come to my farm with their own trailer and horse and join me for a mountainside ride through woods and field, but anyone can sit in a horse cart. When I can get ahold of a 2-person cart or cutter I'll be so thrilled to take folks out for a ride when they visit.
Fells and other British Mountain ponies are the horses for me. I hope to own many in this beautiful life. Merlin and I are a team for now, but in the next five years I'd like to add a second, younger pony. A Fell would be ideal but a Dales, Connemara, Galloway, Highland, or any thicker sort of draft pony could melt my heart. Though, to be 100% honest, I think I will always want a long-maned Crow Black Fell pony in my pasture. When something feels right, you stick with it.
Snow is just starting to fall here. I'm watching it from my office window, a little tired from morning chores. In my hand is a green clay mug of warm oatmeal spiked with apple and maple. When I came inside from the first leg of morning work I was famished. So I cut up a Honey Crisp that had been renting space a bit too long in the cupboard. It was just starting to soften, perfect! I threw the chunks of raw apple into boiling water for a lobster-style death before adding the porridge. I added a tiny bit of brown sugar, cinnamon, and maple syrup and ended up with a meal worth staying indoors for. Every bite of apple is soft, at first, but follows up with a crisp center of naturally tart sugars and spices. (That's what the flash boiling did, just partially cooked it.) I'm chew in savoring bites while watching the geese waddle from the barn to the artesian well. They seem to not mind the occasional flake sticking to their down before sliding off. I feel the same way this morning. Most of the chores and feeding are done, but I'll head out there soon after a big glass of water. I still need to bring in firewood and the kindling bucket. I also need to fill up any water sources and do a double check before I retire to the house for a few hours.
Today is all about rest. I have been out on all sorts of adventures these past few days. Friday I drove Merlin on a six-mile road trip with Patty and Steele. It was such a wonderful time, even though some of it was a struggle for me. I could not keep Merlin on the right side of the road, he kept fighting me to track left. Patty made a joke that he probably drives on the left side, sine he's British. I scoffed, thinking he was just being a bossy pony. But when I let him have the left side of the road on a long, safe stretch he drove straight as an arrow in a parade.
Merlin came back home Friday night. Jasper could not have been happier. I'm so glad those horses are here to stand up on that hill outside my kitchen windows, walking through the snow like something out of a legend or another time. I hope to get some photos of this place all lit up and snow-covered later, before any rain steals the joy for that greedy water table.
Yesterday, as you know, was all about the hay. I'm thrilled to tell you I ended up putting away 35 bales and buying 200 pound of grain for the chickens and pigs. No animal needs anything, food wise, on this farm and I am all set to hunker down, which is exactly what I plan to do after last night's party...
Last night was my friends Jimmy and Wendy's Christmas party and it was a blast! He rented a storefront on Main Street in downtown Greenwich. There was a live folk band with some of the best fiddler's in Washington County playing carols and we all sang and toasted each others scotch, nog, or wine. I saw friends I had not seen in months. There were writers and farmers, locals and out-of-towners, and between the meatloaf buffet (as glorious as it sounds! Three types and sides!), singing, and fiddler's envy I came home singing my favorite carol, Good King Wenceslas past the trees barren and waiting for snowfall.
...When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even!
Brightly shone the moon that night!
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath'ring winter fuuuuuoooooooellll....
I woke up with a slight hangover, but nothing hydration and some fresh air couldn't cure right quick. I've got the best medicine on my side: daylight, fresh snow, and a happy tiredness. Banks are closed, the mail does not come, and my only job is to keep the animals here safe and happy. I have a Freedom Ranger in the crock pot who will be a pot pie by nightfall. That will be the day's big accomplishment. I was going to see the Hobbit with friends but we canceled based on weather. It's not fear of bad roads keeping us indoors as much as it is a fear of missing the big show at our homes. All of us wanted to tuck in. Why ruin a day like this by driving around in it! I'm be here with my mug of oatmeal (or chicken pie) reading about Hobbits instead of seeing them in 3D. Watching the first real snowfall kiss and snuggle into every corner of a scrappy farm beats the big screen any day. And this oatmeal, Holy Crow, it sure beats popcorn
I'm invigorated by the coming snowfall! I headed out with Gibson and loaded up 17 bales and just unloaded them into the barn. Heading out for another 15 or so shortly. It felt so good to walk into that sun-dappled barn before the storm and fill a whole side wall wiht Nelson's heavy bales of beautiful second cut. In that barn chickens danced around my feet, Bonita grabbed by flannel shirt's cuff for an ear scratch, and the pigs grunted and scuffled about in their pen. I made a note to clean out the rabbits' pens this afternoon, and then came inside to a cat asleep on a sheepskin by a woodstove and happy old dogs.
Taking care of things, preparing for comfort in a storm, shucks this life makes me happy. My barn was a temple of contentment today, and by the time the snow circles around it the little yellow lamp inside will be a beacon. Enough of my gabbing, off to get more hay!
P.S. I downloaded the free trial for World of Warcraft. I love it! I was a level 12 Worgen Hunter as of last night. For someone who hasn't played any games on her computer, ever, I think that's a decent day's game! I won't be playing it today, what with this hay and holiday parties and such. The farm wins over the computer. Pigs over pixels I always say.
Snow is coming, honest. The weathermen are calling for a few inches and I am getting ready. I'm heading north into Hebron to pick up hay. I'm entirely out of it here, stuck in-between deliveries. So shortly I'll get into some warm clothes, defrost the truck and with Gibson riding shotgun head up the road to my hoofstock's favorite place for take out: Nelson Greene's Farm.
So being out of hay is always a little unnerving. I had plans to have a bunch delivered here last week but that fell through at the last minute. It happens. The last bales were fed this morning. The good news is it was a great year for haying and I have several sources willing to sell me as much as I can afford. With a few inches on the way it would be nice to have a few days stacked up in the barn while I wait for that month-long load to arrive in Nelson's big farm truck. If I can make two trips and get 20-30 bales stacked up today I'll fall asleep a content woman.
Today is all about putting up feed in the morning and heating up the house with the woodstove all afternoon so tomorrow and Monday I can enjoy a few days of snowfall. I'll be plenty busy with a desk-full of design job and writing waiting for me, but today is about making hay. I'm excited to get those bales loaded, and will be relieved when they are dry and set aside in the little barn making roosters happy as night perches.
I didn't hear the news about the children in Connecticut until well into the day, and even then it came the old fashioned way: word of mouth. Mark heard it on the radio on his way home from duck hunting with a friend. He and Patty were talking about it shortly after I arrived at the farm to drive the horses one last time before Merlin returned to Cold Antler. He enjoyed his week at Horse Camp very much.
I don't have much to say beyond this. All afternoon I stayed off Facebook. I did not turn on the radio. I did not look up information online. It was not an aversion due to apathy, either. I am deeply sorry and saddened and my heart goes out to them. I stayed away from the roar of the media because there was nothing I could do but grieve and panic. I was not there to help. I did not know any of the victims. I just knew I didn't want to be one of those people with Cable News live streaming into their TVs to shout the newest updates on death tolls and motives. I do not agree with this celebrity we give to tragedy. It is news the first time you hear it, sadness and silence. It becomes pornography for the fearful shortly after.
I recently watched a documentary called Gamers. It focused on the types of computer games where people from all over the world (we're talking millions of people) log into one virtual world to play together. It's all in the realm of fantasy. Folks can purchase a whole new identity for a thirty-dollar box price and then every month pay a subscription to another universe. For some of these folks it was therapy. To others, their social life. To some it was an obsession as hard to crack as any clinical addiction. I've never played any of these games, shucks I never even played a round of Dungeons and Dragons, but I can understand the appeal. (Let's be honest, shooting arrows from horseback is what I do on Tuesday afternoons.) If someone told me in college I could do it from my dorm room with a million other people, I might have just.
I'm curious if any of you play these games online? Do you think they are a waste of time or another level of community? And how do they differ from following a blog like this and learning different personalities, names, and faces along the way?
I drove over to Firecracker Farm to spend some time with the Daughtons. I missed them, having not seen as much of them as I would have like this past summer. I was in love with horses and they were hard at work on their farm. With winter's rest here, the plan was to enjoy the afternoon with them, as I had a full morning of work here at the farm (and not the sort of work I like). It was a morning of bills and bank accounts. I did a lot of cringing. Nothing tragic but scary at times. When I decided to take on the self-employed life I expected days like today. Some days the sea is calm and you can almost see shore. Others days my finances are more of a storm with thirty-foot swells. Today was a swell day. I was very grateful to close down the accounting browser windows and change into an old flannel shirt and work kilt. You want some perspective on your negative bank account? Spend an afternoon harvesting meat for the table. Suddenly that little minus sign in front of a few digits seems like a lot less of a big deal. I may be in a short-term slump but at least I still have my head. Which is something I can't say that for a few Washington County rabbits…
It was a comfortably warm day out there in the county. We were blessed with clear skies blue as the birds named after it. If it wasn't for the stickily trees and the morning's frost you would think it was October. It was crisp enough of an afternoon to bite into. Or, you know, disembowel.
Cathy's 12-year-old son had his first crop of farm-bred-and-raised rabbits to slaughter today and I was asked to help out. I was happy to help them. The first few times you harvest a rabbit it's good to have more experienced hands on deck. I'm far from an expert but I can get the job done.
Together we killed, skinned, gutted and dunked four big rabbits. We did them in using the broomstick method (I killed the four while the boys watched with interest). When we had four long furry bodies on the grass we set up an impromptu abattoir in her barn and together Ian, Cathy and I went through the techniques and steps and had all the work done within an hour and some change. I know I arrived at 2PM and left before 4. That's not a bad way to spend a little south of two hours. It's not pleasant work but now her freezer has a crop of rabbit to pull out on a cold winter afternoon for stew or soup. I hope she tries Patty's Ginger Rabbit Noodle Soup. It tastes so good you'll want to buy a hutch and some timothy hay in a little bale.
They had to at least weigh in at fifteen pounds of meat altogether, if not more. I think that's grand! And as a thank you for helping out Cathy gave me a chicken from her freezer. One of the Freedom Rangers she raised for her church group this past summer. It was a payment well above the wage owed for a friendly hour of quick work but I thanked her and took it. Since her son Holden has a poultry allergy they wouldn't eat it anyway. So I was happy to oblige. I was down to my last rooster in the freezer and nothing beats free-range farm birds for flavor.
It was a long day for me, and all of this went on after a night without sleep. I think it'll be a rough few weeks leading up to the holiday season. I am a positive person, but a lot of this time of year is hard on me for reasons I don't wish to write about but aren't too hard to understand. I will look forward to all the holly and the holy up ahead these next few weeks but I sure am looking forward to that clean slate we all call January. Snow and a new year, lucky number 13. How about that?
Hey folks? Any of you out there that owe me a balance for a camp or workshop, please send it along via paypal. You can use the donate button on this blog, (it doesn't even require you have a paypal account). It would make a world of difference. Thank you!
I am offering the Season Pass Sale for today. Email me if you are interested in coming to an entire year of workshops for a little more than the cost of Antlerstock! If you live in the same region as me (or even if you don't and love that open road!) it is a wonderful discount and a huge help for this little farm on the mountain. Come learn about dulcimers and fiddling, backyard chickens, prepping your home, knitting and spinning wool, and so much more. This is the last chance I'll make this offer this year so take me up on it, please!
Merlin isn't home at the farm right now. He's over at Livingston Brook Farm having a little fun at camp while Patty and I spend some time working on our driving. It's more fun to practice and learn when other folks are harnessing up. It's also safer going out with others, and in my case, others with a lot more experience.
Yesterday a few of the Daughton boys and their mom Cathy came along and joined us for the training ride. Her homeschooled boys got a heck of a classroom that day! Little Seth and his brother Ian got to learn how to harness, ground drive, and even take the reins (under Patty's watchful eyes) and do a little driving in the buckboard. It was a cold, but beautiful afternoon and I got to watch it all happen from the rig behind them. Merlin did well and I feel like I am really starting to understand then motto of our Draft Club: The more you use them, the better they are. And the better they are, the more you use them!
Over at Livingston Brook Farm the horses don't have water heaters. They have a bubbler. Yup, a cheap fish tank bubble filter that heats nothing at all but keeps the water moving, and discourages freezing. It costs a fraction of the electric bill and does the job. Neat idea, huh?
If you don't me a year ago that I would learn to love a horse the way I have loved cats and dogs, I would have raised my eyebrows at you. It's not that I didn't respect or like horses, but I always thought of them as possessing less character than the carnivores that share our lives. More like a cow with panache. But spending so much time with him, learning his language, even simple things like running a curry comb over his furry backside teaches me something new about him every day. I discovered a personality, and quirks, and know him the way I know Jazz, Annie, Gibson and Bo. Horses have left the world of history and storybooks and the base utilitarian work they do. They've become something more. Something I never knew was there. And I learn more every single day.
Today I learned Merlin and I share the same weakness for love. We were riding out in the countryside near Livingston Brook Farm and passed a fence line with some haflingers. I suspect that at least one was in heat because Merlin changed soon as his nostrils flared. It was all I could do to stay on while he approached the fence, carrying on in loud and desperate neighs and pawing at the ground. He wanted in. He wanted in so bad I was scared to stay on his back. I leapt off and tried to pull him away and he stared daggers at me and started stomping harder. It took a bit of strong work to get him away from the estrogen but we managed. He finally joined me,looking back over his shoulder at the Austrian blondes cat calling back as we turned the corner. Walking side by side, Merlin put down his head and let out a long sigh. I knew that sigh. I sighed it myself quite a few times.
I touched his mane and his brown eyes looked over at me. If a horse can look sheepish he did. "It's okay, Mac." I told him. "I've done foolish things too when faced with attraction." Merlin didn't reply, being a horse, but I slapped his shoulder and told him one of these day's he'd get lucky. There are more mares in the world than one field in Washington County. When we both were calmed down I hopped back up into the saddle and we trotted back to the farm.
Every dog has his day. Every horse has his hormones.
I was outside in the woods behind the farmhouse with Gibson, searching the hillside for a small tree that would do. I had a hatchet in my hand and was listening to Tolkien on audiobook. It was the perfect tool and the perfect story for the job. Together, my dog and I we hiked as Bilbo and his laden pony adventured out of the Shire with a band of Dwarves and a sarcastic wizard. My company was not as grand, but GIbson was doing his best to help me cased the joint. It's a thing, isn't it, trying to find the perfect Yuletide tree? This tree would be brought inside and set in the front window. It would be covered with white lights, antlers, crows and set into a sap bucket full of rocks as a makeshift tree stand. I scanned the understory and tried to locate the perfect contender. I didn't want the fat, squat, trees you see for sale on the roadside. I was looking for a tree that was struggling. The kind of Charlie Brown, hard luck, types no one ever brings home. This was not because I was tying to be intentionally sordid. I just knew I only had one string of lights, a handful of wooden crow ornaments, and a bucket to stand it in. Anything bigger would look barren, but a scrawny tree would look grand.
When I found the winner I chopped it down and cut off the larger branches at the base. With the trunk and hatchet in my left hand, and the boughs in my right I walked home. Gibson ran past me and ran back to me, herding trees was a new thing for him and he felt the urge to excel. I couldn't hide my smile. That dog was such a beacon of light and smiles for me. When he stops dead and whirls around to face me, eyes bright and locked on mine, his mouth open in a smile I glow inside as warm and bright as the bayberry beeswax candles inside. I am getting into the holiday spirit. This past weekend there was a fun local craft fair at Beanheads, a coffee joint downtown. Cambridge Candles was there, a young couple who scrounge out local beekeepers and get the wax to make candles. I bought a whole box of bayberry and tonight the farmhouse is alive it. You walk in and all you want to do is hail wassail and eat figgy pudding.
I'm getting off track! So I took that skinny tree and brought it inside. I took the boughs I cut and set them into the old washing tub/planter by the front door. Simple little decorations, but loud in their holiday cheer. Both got a small string of white lights. Both made my farmhouse look darling.
I have good plans for the Solstice through Christmas. I will be hosting company and hoping the weather grants us some proper snow so I can really show the guests what this place can offer during the longest night of the year. If you haven't walked outside a snowy farmhouse in lantern light with a bowl full of pig scraps while singing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, then you haven't lived.
It was a day of creature comforts like cutting down a tree and decorating, but also a day with some adventure. I went over to Patty's farm where Merlin is enjoying an extended visit. While Patty and Mark were at work I stopped by to enjoy our first ride together since hunting season began a month ago. Merlin let me walk up to him, halter him, and lead him to a place where I could groom and tack him up. I never rode Merlin alone on her farmland. I wasn't worried.
I should have been worried. More on Merlin and the four mares later!
What's a homestead supposed to look like? Is it supposed to be tidy and orderly like a theme park magazine shoot? Is it supposed to be devoid of any name brands and plastic? Should an L.L. Bean model be able to stand anywhere and create a cover shot? I guess it's up to the homesteaders who live there. My life is full and messy, and I think it is reflected in the farm. You will see constant attempts at order feverishly surrounding piles of crap. If you walk into my house I try to keep it tidy, but you walk outside and pieces of old toys from 30 years ago are sticking out of the mud, chicken poo lines the walkway steps, and random tools and feed bags litter like tumbleweeds. There are things being built, broken down, collecting dust and cutting open hands and thighs. I do my best to keep up with it, I really do. But most of the time this place looks like a scrappy farm on a mountain, and let's be honest, that is exactly what it is.
This is what the side of my house looks like. A woodpile that shares space with a clothesline outside the rain. A rain barrel collecting runoff for the livestock. A bag of feed set aside from a downpour. Strands of baling twine, axes set where they were last used, and an old boot from Idaho full of turkey feathers from a death weeks ago. Later today I'll go out there any clean things up. You can bet your bottom dollar it will look just like this again in a week. Farms inhale and exhale messes. You can only clean up those moments when you hold your breath!
And speaking of a lack of perfection! I got some emails and comments from folks about spelling mistakes and grammar on the blog. These were (mostly) kind letters and in good nature. I appreciate anyone who writes me with suggestions, taking time out of their lives to help. But I would just like to explain that the blog isn't a book, a periodical, or an online piece of journalism. Just like my woodpile, it isn't polished and dressed up. It is a living diary. Think of mistakes as little messes of literary baling twine and feathers of impulse. I try to be mindful, but there's no editor on staff here at the farm and I would hate to have one. I love being about to snap a photo, come into my office, write off the cuff and hit publish. The blog It will always display mistakes both in writing and in life. Stick around long enough and you'll see plenty of both. But you'll also see a woman just trying to make a creative, meaningful, life. That is the real point of all this. It just gets delivered as muddy as I am at times.
I have been getting questions about the types of ads on the blog. There are two types, both important to the farm. There are ones that companies go out of their way to sponsor me, folks like the JC Campbell Folk School, Will Moses, and Hoss. They pay a monthly, half-year or yearly fee to be on the blog. And then there are the text links and the square, changing ads that are from Adsense. These are the ones that count your clicks and I get a little pocket change when you go out of your way to visit this page and click on them. Both are so important to this farm staying afloat. The companies that specialize in seeds, candles, tools, and chickens - they are here because they want to be here. If you like reading CAF, they are the reason I'm not being chases away by the bank. The Google ads are here in random ways, those companies don't know they are being featured here, but you do. Participation through clicks is how they work as a form of compensation
Now, if ads both you, you can use adblock software to remove the Google ads. But the ones that are images I place in code will remain. If anyone has any further questions let me know. And if you make the choice to buy some stuff from the folks at Homesteader Supply, Scent From Nature, Rosie's or MyPetChicken (among others!) I thank you. They do, too.
This is my first Christmas as a self-employed woman and the gifting part of the holidays is a little tighter than usual (and usual is pretty tight!) So I have resorted to a little creativity. One of my favorite small gifts for friends and invitations during the season is what I call Warmth Jars. You buy a box of new canning jars (these pictured are Weck, more on why later) and fill them with herbal tea, ground coffee, cocoa, or a candle and let the glass container itself be the wrapping. I tie it up with some twine or wool yarn, but that's as festive as it gets. The receiving party gets a utilitarian container they can use for canning in the warmer months and something they could really savor now in the chilly ones. I always fill it with shelf-storage creature comforts and let the brand-new jar be part of the gift.
So why Weck? I'm switching over to Weck for a few reasons, mostly because of their total lack of BPA. Some canning jar lids have some wicked chemicals in them but Weck jars don't use those metal lids with the rubber bands, they just use glass lids with a disposable rubber ring. They are held shut by two little clamps when they are being set into the canner. They are simple, elegant, and still different enough to give even a seasoned homesteader a little ooohhh and ahhh. I learned about these guys, and their advantages, from the folks over at Mighty Nest who I approached to be a farm sponsor.
Mighty Nest is the company that carries these Weck jars I photographed and am giving this holiday season. They are an eco-minded home goods company with a flair for style and an emphasis on family life, food, and storage solutions. As a new Cold Antler Farm sponsor I urge you to check out their site and if you have a minute, send them a thank you for keeping this place fed, paid, and trotting uphill. Folks like Mighty Nest are what keep this dream alive!
Mighty Nest has a special coupon code for CAF readers, you can use it to get 10% your order from now till Christmas. Just use: ANTLER10 at checkout. You can get the discount no matter your purchase size. But you get free shipping, too, if your order is over $25 dollars. So for around twenty bucks you can get a bunch of Weck for free shipping. That's a lot of Warmth Jars, folks….
The blog of author Jenna Woginrich of Cold Antler Farm. Where pop culture meets agriculture! Here she writes about her adventures following her crazy dream life as a self-employed writer, homesteader, archer, falconer, equestrian, martial artist, hunter, spinner, brewer, geek, and real-life Game of Thrones Extra. She loves movies, music, running far, and eating animals.
On twitter @coldantlerfarm
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