Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Merlin, Sit.

Fiddlers' Rendezvous Updates!

I have some great news for those of you coming to Fiddlers' Rendezvous this February. Since there was such an interest, and my house is really only comfortable for a handful of students, I will be moving the camp from my home to our local Opera House here in Cambridge, Hubbard Hall. I moved it because a dozen folks learning how to bow a fiddle the first time needs space. Hubbard Hall means we can spread out, have personal practice room, and be right downtown in the thick of places to grab lunch. You can also enjoy my quirky home's stores and wares. You can run over to the Co-op if you want some seriously good soup and fresh fire-baked breads. You can run next door to Battenkill Books to grab some reading material, or the Hubbard Hall shop for Common Sense soaps and gifts. It is a better place for a musical workshop, but that doesn't mean you can't come up to CAF, too. We can still have a meet up and tour of the farm Saturday, for those who are interested, but as far as having the environment best for learning in: the bigger space is better. There is ample parking, a warm building, and a music store literally across the street. I should warn that guy to stock more tuners, rosin, and strings…We will be starting at 9:00AM Saturday Feb 9th at Hubbard Hall.

If you are coming, please send me an email to confirm again. I need an updated tally for who is getting a fiddle and who is bringing one. Sometimes this information changes over the course of months. Some folks signed up on Facebook, and others through email, and I just need to get my information all in one spot so I can order instruments and get my ducks in a row. So I thank you in advance for catching up with me.

If you are coming you will ABSOLUTELY need to bring:

An electric clamp-on guitar tuner (I suggest Snark tuners)
The book: Old Time Fiddle For the Complete Ignoramus
A spare set of Strings for a 4/4 fiddle
A packed lunch for each day or cash to eat out
A sense of humor!!!! Get ready to smile and have FUN!

If you want to slide in last minute, I think we have a few spots left if you are willing to bring your own fiddle. I can suggest good beginner kits that are around $100-$300 dollars.



Monday, January 7, 2013

Name That Book!

My publisher and I are trying to come up with a title for my next book. We were going to call it Days of Grace, but it turns out that is already taken. So we need a new title. I would love your ideas! Here's what the book is about: a month-by-month tour of seasonal life here at Cold Antler. It starts in October and goes through the agricultural year. It is part memoir, part illustrations, part song and folkways. It'll be a beautiful book, a chunky and personal story of a year with nothing you read here first (unless I posted an excerpt) - You'll read about learning to drive horses and see charts and illustrations and then perhaps find the sheet music to God Speed the Plough all in the same month. So what we need is the name for this CAF-specific journal of the seasons. What you got, Antlers?

The Lamb Plan: 2013

Atlas the ram—who was raised here last year and then bartered to Brett in exchange for help building a pole barn—is outside right now with the flock. He'll stay here two months and in that time he should have performed all the duties a ram should. This means lambs on the ground in late May or early June. The reason for the later lambing is two fold:

1. To make sure there is plenty of grass available for the flock.
2. To make it easier on me, the shepherd.

A later lambing date means the sheep I currently have can be rotationally grazed on the current pasture that exists, as well as help clear land for new pasture in the woods. Since I do not have any specific market dates to meet, I can raise the sheep when I please. It'll be a lot easier on me and the mothers when the days are longer and the weather is comfortable. I know I'd rather give birth on green grass in a light wool sweater than in an ice storm in a full parka. So late spring lambing it is for 2013!

The downside is that means by the time the lambs are eating a diet of mostly grass we'll be well into fall. So it will cost more to feed and fatten them through the winter on hay, minerals, and grain. It's a trade off. I do hope by autumn to just have a handful of sturdy lambs, and to have sold or traded most of the others just after weaning. I find sheep to be worth many times their weight in firewood, lumber, farm services, chimney sweeping, etc. It's a prime currency in these parts. So I want to raise more than my seven ewes can offer...

So here's where it gets interesting! My lambs here are not the only sheep in the plan. In a few weeks I will drive Atlas a mile a half down the road to Bedlam Farm. He'll breed that flock, too. I approached Jon and Maria with the idea a week ago. I asked him if I could bring a ram to his flock and buy back the lambs from him when he wanted them off the grass. I would take care of the lambing work, giving the new babes their shots and take care of tail docking, and then I could buy them back them to sell, barter, or put in the freezer. His wife Maria has five ewes, all beautiful wool sheep. They'll throw a nice group of lambs. I think we have a few things to work out as far as responsibilities go on each our parts but I am fairly sure this will happen. I hope it does.

So the sheep plan this year expands! I will be lambing on two farms and raising a serious crop of meat futures. I may offer lambs and half-lambs as barter. Right now I need to see how the breeding/transport goes and get ready for one intense year of sheep. And before Lamb 1 even hits the grass I have two pregnant goats to get through kidding and back into a milking routine. This sheep stuff is easy, but being a goat midwife and lactation coach has be a bit rattled. More on them tomorrow!

This is going to be quite the summer...

CSA members (years 2 and 3):There were complications with the wool this year, a disaster really. It never got to the mill due to a mistake on my behalf. It meant a long, long wait for CSA members. So I have decided to shear the sheep this spring as usual and then mail the last two years of wool in one lump sum to be processed into yarn and felt. I will then mail out all of the shareholders their wool this summer and that will end the wool CSA experiment at Cold Antler. It costs too much to keep going, and while it is great to offer shares and make a few hundred dollars in one day, it ends up costing me around $250 a share to create and mail the wool, well over the cost I sell it for. It's just not sustainable on this scale. I will keep making and selling wool yarn at workshops, but not in this CSA fashion, simply because the wait for return is so long and folks get upset about that. It's poor customer service at this juncture and if the farm expands perhaps it will come back again some day. If you are a year 2 CSA member and you do not want to wait for the wool and want your money back, please email me. All members will either get wool or a refund if they do not want to wait.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

This Place

A life can change so much in one year. This picture you see, you're looking at my favorite place in the world. That saddle—which I bought at a yard sale years before I ever owned a horse to put it on—is where I go to think, to breathe, to challenge myself, to unwind. It is where I feel adventure, and speed, and real wind, and fear. It is where I learned what human and horse sweat smells like together above a field of crushed lavender and mint. It is where I realized I was stronger and more capable than any degree, or book publication, or horrid breakup ever showed me. It's a cheap, used, saddle on a dark horse. It's the place a new version of me started. I refuse to live without it any longer.

A Gentle Moratorium

I get a lot of advice. It's almost impossible to post anything without getting some sort of comment about how to do it better, how to change it, how to improve. These are certainly appreciated, but not necessary. My friend Jon has a saying, "Advice is never needed, Smart people don't need it and stupid people won't use it." And that's how I am starting to feel about it, as it is becoming overwhelming. I can no longer write or share anything without hearing a hundred ways the internet can do it better. I am certain it can. I'm just getting by with a smile.

So no more advice please! I may be too smart for it, or too stupid for it, but you can bet I won't use it either way.

Winter Quarters

The rescued chicks (two of them) and their mama have been brought inside the farmhouse and are in a wooden chick brooder in my back mudroom, behind the kitchen. It gets southern exposure, and they are a few feet away from a Vermont Castings wood stove, so in winter chicken life, this is the Ritz. The mama hen is a Pumpkin Husley, an import from GReenfire Farms. She is hands down the best mom on the farm. I don't know a breed better to get broody and raise young birds up out in the free range world. SHe's so protective I need to wear gloves around her, and when a cat or dog shows up near the brooder she turns into something out of Jurassic Park. She's doing great, and has two eggs under her that may still hatch. One cracked under her weight and heat and was just yoke, and another was a dud. So two more chances. Time will tell!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Hungry For Change

I am hungry for change. Today I scooped some beautiful black soil out of the worm bin and set it into a quart-sized yogurt container. I sprinkled in some kale seeds. My little recycled planter is in the kitchen under a desk lamp-cum-grow light. I took out the regular bulb in it and replaced it with an agri-bulb of the same wattage. If it takes, you can expect to read a lot more about getting early garden transplants ready. I am even considering putting up some folding tables and hanging grow lights and heat-mats in the basement to get an army of seedlings started. I plan on putting up a few plastic-hooped rows soon as the ground thaws, too. Hot damn, I want some green food in the ground.

I love raising my own meat, milk, and eggs. I feel like livestock is something I understand. I know how to get an egg turned into a roasted chicken and how to turn goat milk into cheese—but I am craving the green life more than ever before. I'm not sure why? I just know I want more of it and I want to get better at it. I don't want this to turn into a vegetable farm without livestock, far from it! I simply want to use more of my land to plant and produce food. I want apple orchards producing, a pumpkin patch, a corn field, wheat and beans. I want a colorful groundhog-proof garden. I want a larder stored tight with canned and preserved goodies from the garden to last the whole winter. This weekend all I can think about is the glossy pages of seed catalogs and the secrets they keep.

What are you guys ordering for your gardens this spring?

P.S. If you think that image of a person-carrot isn't very realistic. You should see what came out of my garden this past growing season!

Ears or Devil Horns?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Winter Walkers

I got a hold of a pair of snowshoes recently and have been having a blast with them. I strap them on, call for Gibson, and together we head out with high poles and high tails to explore the winter woods. We walked out past the goat pen and into the timber and hunting trails, and made a half circle around the pasture fences. I saw deer tracks, so many. I couldn't help but laugh and shake my head. All the deer tracks were right in or past the places I had set up blinds and waited for hours, days at a time. I didn't bag a deer this year but I sure knew where to look. Gibson peed on every patch of deer pee or droppings he could find. It was a lot of peeing. I worry about that dog's kidneys.

We went as far as my property stretches, up the mountainside and I huffed and puffed. Gibson danced through the snow, a thousand times more athletic and less tired. The horses watched me make my silly circle around the outskirts of the farm. They whinnied and kicked as they ran alongside the fence lines to watch the Food Lady. I hollered to them and Merlin's ears shot up like little radar catchers.

After the half-hour trek around the farm - Gibson and I returned to the front door and I stuck the snowshoes and poles in a drift by the front door. If it wasn't for the chicken and goose poo and the rust on the cheap plastic siding it would look like something out of an L.L. Bean Snowglobe catalog. I brought G inside to rest and took Annie out on her walk. We did our usual mile on the road. No snowshoes, just us two gals trotting along the brook. Annie seems to not miss Jazz, and has more energy now that she gets more exercise. I think she's trimming down as well. Just watching her and that big open-faced smile makes me beam. Huskies aren't the dog for everyone, but for me as a young lady just starting out into the professional world alone, they were everything. And now my life is full of border collies, a new puppy in a year or two perhaps. I want a little girl, a companion for Gibson. I'll name her Friday, after a favorite old movie of mine.

So much to write about, so much ahead. I have plans for breeding not just my flock of sheep with my ram, but others. I have pork shares sold right into fall. I have kids to bring into the world from two fat goats, and need to train Francis to be milked. I have a big garden to plan, my biggest ever, market sized - and possibly a poly tunnel to put up. I have a book to prepare for publishing in the fall. Lambs to raise and sell. A horse to get into his own trailer and a proper cart....and more I am not even writing or hinting at yet. I thought of all this on my winter walks with the dogs. And it buoyed the gray mood of the day. It's windy and chilly out there, not a lot of life in the forests or by the road. But there's a girl on the mountain who's very much in love with this scrappy place and the possibilities, meals, and friendships that lay ahead of it.

Luceo Non Uro. Always.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Colder Weather

No sleep last night, and that's fine. I stayed up through the whole thing, feeding the wood stoves until they roared back at me, so hot it hurt to open the door and stand in front of it. My efforts kept the place warm, around 55 degrees as the temperatures dropped 40 degrees below freezing. This is not a complaint, but a triumph. I was grateful and excited for the night fighting against the cold, battling for my comfort. I shared that quote from The Dirty Life because I know it to be true. You live like this, on a farm like this, and you forget about distant comforts. They become another realm, just like she said. That is not a life I miss or want back, sleeping in a warm house without sheep to feed or chicks to rescue from woodpiles. I could not find meaning or happiness there. My work and effort did not make sense. Last night, if nothing else, made primal sense. I would not have traded it in for anything. I'll catch up on my sleep and sneak in a nap today when the thermometer rises above ten degrees and the house is in the sixties. For now it's just the high of woodsmoke and not having to commute to an office.

I feel like my life is starting at thirty.

-11 and Smiling

...As much as you transform the land by farming, farming transforms you. It seeps into your skin along with the dirt that abides permanently in the creases of your thickened hands, the beds of your nails. It asks so much of your body that if you're not careful it can wreck you surely as any vice by the time you're fifty, when you wake up and find yourself with ruined knees and dysfunctional shoulders, deaf from the constant clank and rattle of machinery, and broke to boot. But farming takes root in you and crowds out other endeavors, makes them seem paltry. Your acres become a world. And maybe you realize that is beyond those acres or in your distant past, back in the realm of TiVo and cubicles of take-out food and central heat and air, in a country where discomfort has nearly disappeared, that you were deprived. Deprived of the pleasure of desire, of effort and difficulty and meaningful accomplishment. A farm asks, and if you don't give enough, the primordial forces of death and wildness will overrun you. So naturally you give, and then you give some more, and then you give to the point of breaking and then and only then it gives back, so bountifully it overfills not only your root cellar but also that parched and weedy little patch we call the soul.

-Kristin Kimball
The Dirty Life

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Heat & Food

It is January 2nd and there are chicks in the house! Can you believe that? Soon as I found the two babes and the remaining four, unhatched, eggs I brought them all inside. They are in my back mudroom under a headlamp in a large 50-chick brooder. They (and mama, a tough 2-year old Pumpkin Husley from Greenfire Farms) are doing well. She is sitting on them and the other four eggs and I kinda hope more hatch. Seeing the chicks in this bleak time of year is like seeing a snap pea shoot, or hearing a frail on a banjo in double C tuning—it means spring.

Spring is a while off. I need to plan for so much. Lambing, the new garden, milking goats, acquiring new bees (Meg Paska, nudge nudge) and finishing up edits on my new book coming out in October. Part of me is excited for all that, but another part of me (and if I am honest, the majority of me) is enjoying this winter vacation. Right now my life is all about firewood and chores. Heat and food. That's the name of the game.

I need to figure a lot of things out. More firewood needs to be ordered, more hay delivered, and I am behind on some bills. But plans are in full swing to get ahead of the chaos and I'm writing you from a farmhouse up to date on its mortgage and utilities. I need to remember, when things feel out of hand, how in-hand they really are. I may not be ahead of the game but I am off the bench. Things are getting done, goals being met, and dreams being planned.

It feels good. It feels like the world is rotating and my claw marks are making it turn. I wish that last sentence was mine, but those of you who know my favorite story know that line belongs to another fast, fast dog.

I Heard Them Behind the Woodpile

Merlin's Bow

Pulled a tuff of Merlin's mane out of his curry comb. It was long and when I pulled on it, felt strong. So I tied it up to an antler and slid a cake of rosin up and down the black strands. I played it on my fiddle and it rang out with that sweet music, clear and strong. It sounded better than any bow I ever bought. I am going to make a proper bow out of some green wood and some more of Merlin's hair. I don't know of many black-haired bows but I am excited to create one.

A Winter Tour

Thought I'd film a short tour of the farm. It's taken with my old iPhone, and Blair Witch shaky, but it gives you an idea of the lay of my land. You can see how small this farm's center of gravity is. How all of the animals converge so close to the house. The pastures and forests expand out but my little 6.5 acre slice of heaven really is all about the backyard. You can grow a lot of food and raise a lot of livestock on a little. You just need to learn the right dance steps, the right animals, and find out what works for you.

The Center

My wood stove has become the center of this winter home. It is a three-dimensional scrapbook of the day. Scattered about it - the gear, supplies, clothing, and work of the day. You can look at my stove and see what time it is, what I have been up to, and take measure of my mood from it.

Right now it is still early morning. I awoke around 5AM, almost three hours ago and when I checked the temperature outside from the comfort of my comforter… it was -3. Inside the house was a comparatively blissful 54 degrees. I lit the fires in the house and set a percolator of strong coffee on the top of my trusty BunBaker in the living room. This is how you know it is morning at Cold Antler Farm, the sounds and smells of perking coffee next to a crackling fire.

Last night I cooked dinner in the oven. It was my second night roasting a chicken breast over a bed of kale and carrots, all three brushed with a little olive oil and herbs. Last night the fire baking was intentional, but the night before it was not. I had left a plastic-handled spatula in the oven and pre-heated it without realizing. What resulted was a fire and angry petroleum fumes that made me open all the windows. So I popped the chicken in the cast iron skillet and cooked it right there in the oven below the firebox. I let it bubble and crisp while I chopped wood and did evening chores. About an hour later I had a perfect meal waiting for me in my living room. Brigit's Fire, I love that little stove.

Keep looking! Next to the coffee pot is a cast-iron kettle used to economically steam out water, not to drink tea from. It is a tank of a pot, replacing the humidity in the air that the fire dries out. At the Bunbaker's feet you can see drying socks and gloves, worshipping combustion next to an iron stag. The stag is one of the symbols of blessing on this little farm, and you'll seem them everywhere. Rabbit water bottles defrost from the night before. Hanging on a horse head shaped hook is a damp wool scarf and Merlin's bridle, which was drying from our ride up and down the road yesterday. There is a dutch oven there, currently filled with fire starters and small kindling and a cast-iron sheep sits atop it. On the right side of the stove you can see slightly damp wood drying off in little pryers. To the left, you see the same happening with some new-to-me boots a friend gifted when she got a new pair. They were Patty's and when I tried them on after our sledding adventure this past weekend, Joanna exclaimed, You fit into a size 9 boot? You're 5'2"?! And I exclaimed, "Yes! I'm 5'2" and wear a size 9 and I prefer to go barefoot. I'm a hobbit" And looking at this stove, it only promotes the evidence further.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Magical Moments

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?

It was the latter.
I still love the brute.


Crazy Lonesome!

Cold Updates

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.

S 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.

S 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.

Monday, December 31, 2012

I Thank You

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.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sleighs and Two Degrees

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 asked him how he knew that?

He said, "When have you not been?"

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rake The Roof!

Get In On A Pig!

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 jenna@itsafarwalk.com if you want in!

Walking With Annie

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.

Friday, December 28, 2012

I Love A Good Waltz

Escape to NY

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.

Support The Farm!

Dear Readers,

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.

With Great Appreciation,

Thursday, December 27, 2012

You're Not A Good Shot, But I'm Worse

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

Come To My Woolly Winter Weekend!

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 jenna@itsafarwalk.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!

Maude and the Flock


The Storm

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.

Stay warm. Stay Safe.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

So It Starts...

First flakes are coming down now. Here we go.

Born For It

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.

Brett & Steele

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry and Bright!

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!

Merry Christmas From CAF!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas, Present

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.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Nick (In Brett's Cabin)

Winter Clothesline

Nicolas & Mum

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!

The Christmas Calf

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…

Choir of the Bells!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Scottish Lumberjack's Stocking

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...

First Light, First Snow

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.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Safe As Houses

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!

Barn Tour!

Thursday, December 20, 2012


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.

Would you do this? Why? Why Not?

Welcome Amazing Graze Farm!

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.

Welcome to the farm, Amazing Graze!

Barn Tour!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Running With Animals

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!

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!

I showed it to Maude. This was her reaction.

Home on the Mountain

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.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Suggest a Name!

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.

My Good Boy

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.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Stay with me, my good boy.
I loved you every minute of your life.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Happy Trails

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