Saturday, December 15, 2012

17 Put Up So Far!

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.


Making Hay (appear)

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.

Friday, December 14, 2012

road prayers

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 hitched up my horse and said a prayer.

Worgen Level 10!

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?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Comfort & Joy

Rough Seas

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?

A Friendly Reminder

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!

Winter on the Fell

Last Chance: 24-Hour Season Pass Sale!

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!

Driving Forces

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!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Farm Seltzer

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?

Gibson and the New Rooster

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Imperfect Creatures

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.

The Tree is Up! The Bayberry is Burning!

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?

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.

A Little On Ads

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.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Big Easy Express

Mighty Nest, Mighty Gifts

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….

Happy Giving!


People have been asking on Jazz, my 14-year-old Siberian. He's not doing well, not at all. He has been in and out of the vet this past year, dealing with hair loss, infections in his ear, tumors, and losing his role as dominant dog in the house to Gibson. He took the slide down the canine social ladder hard, and slinks past Gibson life a medieval serf. This is the way of dogs though. Age and infirmity are natural reasons to lose your spot as pack leader. But lately, something far more complicated than dog politics has been bothering him. He rarely moves, sleeping the entire day if you let him. He seems to have loss all interest in life, and a walk to the mailbox requires an hour rest. The vet and I are consulting.

You Get What You Get

I wish I remembered the conversation better, but it is hard to wax nostalgic on small talk when you are out in the rain, covered in horse mud, and holding a board in place while a chain saw slices into it a few feet away. I was out with two amazing friends, Brett and Elizabeth, who had donated a wet Saturday morning to put up a wall on the horse's barn. We were joking around, and the banter went something along the lines of me jabbing on Brett for his incredibly detail-oriented and frugal ethic and my membership as chairwoman of the Seat-Of-The-Pants Society. It was all in good fun, but you could tell there was an edge of frustration in my voice. My carpenter ethic isn't anywhere close to Brett's and I knew we only had two hours. Elizabeth just shrugged and told me one of the best things I ever heard about personal interaction with those you hold dear. She said, "You get what you get."

I love that. It is like an injection of sense and perspective about any person you choose to invite into your life. When you take on another life and make it part of your own, regardless if it is a friend, a significant other, an in-law or even a new pet. Folks, you get what you get. You can waste time squabbling about the little things or just sigh and accept them. Ever since Brett and I became friends we've tolerated each other's quirks and differences. And as Elizabeth put it, every so perfectly, a few moments later when Brett was watching me struggle to set a board in place (upside down), "He gets what he gets, too." I burst out laughing.

The three of us got the boards up and reinforced. The wood was maple he milled himself up in the Adirondacks. The lumber was my Christmas present, he said. talk about the apex of handmade for the holidays, the man made a barn wall! Then Brett climbed up on the roof and fixed the few stray pieces that blew off with Hurricane Sandy. By the time the three of us were done the horses had a solid roof, a windbreak built into the mountain, and all of us were dirty, sweaty, and bleeding. It was a long three hours in fine Scottish weather, but it was spent with amazing people. I am blessed to have friends that will give up their weekends to help out this scrappy farm (emphasis on the scrappy), but every weekend and every project it gets a little better. The horse paddock needs a lot of work (right now it is just mud and sagging fences reinforced with electric) but even at this bleak moment in it's history it does the job. It makes it possible for me to live with my dream horses ride them all over this mountain.

Thank you so much guys. I think that wall needs a wreath! And when the snow does fall around here the mud will freeze and the place will look darling. I look forward to that first storm more than I ever did as a kid waiting for Christmas morning. Toys are nice, but a life lived in a way that makes you feel blessed everyday covered in snow makes Furbies about as appealing as the mud on our coveralls.

Here's to friends and sturdier barns!


There are people who wake up every day and give their time and energy to things that upset them. They focus on pundits they can't stand, on politics that make them angry, and reading websites and opinions that fuel their head shakes and rage. They post photos of war and mistreatment and violence. They hoist flags of separation and distrust. These people are suffering, and they gave themselves the cause. You can have sympathy for them, but don't dare offer them any attention or validation. It's like handing a shot of whiskey to an alcoholic. It is an unkindness of the worst sort to perpetuate a disease.

I can not imagine choosing to make yourself angry. I can't imagine abusing myself that way. Value yourself and your practices and instead of pacing at cage bars and snarling, support and rally behind what you believe in. Give your attention and love to the causes and cures that make this world better. Be a force for positivity and you will be amazed at the life that surrounds you because of that choice. Do not waste a minute on the things that bring you down or offend you. You're wasting everyone's precious time. Most of all, your own.

We are defined by the decisions we make.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Slower Highway

Sunday Drive

After the trailer tire blow-out we couldn't return to the parade site last night to load up the wagon. So it stayed in Salem and Patty had the idea of getting dropped off in town with Steele and just hitching him up and driving him the six miles home. Today the two of us and our good friend Joanna had a little adventure trotting home amongst the milk trucks and speeding pickups. But the town sections were just plain fun. This photo was taken by a local antiques's dealer in Salem after we left her barn/shop off main street. Steele did wonderfully. We road down route 22, then 29 and before you knew it we were back at LBF with a tired horse.

The Christmas Parade!

When the pony cart was loaded up in the truck I made one last revision. I went inside the farmhouse and grabbed the two wooden crows that used to hang on Merlin's stable when he was boarded at Riding Right Farm. The crows were a gift, given to me as part of a larger set. I decorate my tree with them and probably will indefinitely. But these two are still attached to the twine the gift was wrapped in. It felt like the thing to do. And putting the pair of storied crows that saw him through those first three months of lessons and introductions seemed important to me. I know enough to go with my gut and I tied them to the back of the cart. As I drove down the back roads of dairies and forested fields to the event I knew they were back there beside the brass sleigh bells, ringing loud and proudly as the sun started to set. A misty fog rained in and it felt good. I am a big fan of subtle precipitation.

The last time I was in a parade I was in a Girl Scout uniform. I remember it fairly well. It was our town's Halloween Parade, and I was in a wolf costume scampering down Delaware Avenue. It felt like someone had blocked off the streets not just from cars, but from the mundane. I was one of the specials, out there to be putting on the show. It's no surprise I grew up to be active in Drama Club and now do a lot of public speaking. It makes me feel a little more alive when there's a spotlight or a soapbox.

So being behind the scenes in the field where the trailers and horses were being tacked up brought up those same old childhood feelings of being part of something grand and special. We arrived an hour before the actual event, and I was feeling a little nervous. In the world of driving horses, your first parade is kind of a big deal. Suddenly that pony and cart you trot through your neighborhood and farm fields goes from the world of pet to performer and everyone expects him to act just as predictably and pleasantly as the new tractor pulling the float of homecoming queens ahead of you. So the pressure is on. You and your horse are to act like professionals, look pretty, and give the public something to point at and smile.

I was in no shortage of support. I was with Elizabeth and Patty. Elizabeth arrived at the farm at 8AM with a cordless drill and a ladder, and helped Brett and I put up a wall of Adirondack milled lumber (Thank you, Brett) on the windiest side of the four-posted shelter. Both her and I had spent most of the day outdoors in the mud and rain, and while the parade was far more whimsical than using power tools the wet chill of the fog and intermittent rain showers felt the same. It was the kind of weather that rattles your insides, makes you seek basic comfort. I didn't have a fireside in my pony cart, but I had a lot of heavy red wool in the form of a riding cape and friends. Sheep and company are really all this girl needs to feel at home anywhere.

As I was tacking up Merlin I got a wonderful gift. Members of the Daughton Family came out from the street side and my heart grew three sizes too big. I miss those guys so much. I haven't seen them as often as I used too. The busier my life got with becoming a full-time writer and farmer the busier I have felt. Add a new horse life into the mix and I was nearly a goner, but to see familiar faces and cameras was nothing short of blessed magic. I gave hugs. Holden helped me check the horse over and attach the last bits of clips and such and before I knew it - it was time for the show.

I backed Merlin up and tried to turn him to the right and he acted weird. He just kept backing up and not turning. This puzzled me, and had I had an ounce of sense I would have asked someone to grab his head and I would double check my work with the cart and harness. Instead the excitement had me giddy and ready to trot so I just turned him to the left and headed into the line up behind a team of heavy Percherons. Patty and Elizabeth had harnessed up Steele to his new wagon and were right behind me. Lights, Camera, Action.

In front of the Percheron wagon was a float themed after Willy Wonka. It was loud and happy. As I waited for the parade to start in my Hobbit cape with my fancy pony, I doubled checked the icicle lights on the tailgate I heard the lyrics chant, "In a world of pure imagination..." and felt like the gods had arranged a memory for me. Everything seemed to be working, everything was lit up and swell. Next to me Christina (another club member) was on her horse Maude. She rode up beside us with her black horse adorned in sleigh bells and holly. She wished us luck and within another quick minute I was asking Merlin to step out and take on the night.

The parade was magical. It was fun, and easy, and stressful and exciting all at once. People gasped at Merlin, pointed and smiled. We were a happy team, and between the music and the twinkling lights and the fog-lined streets it was a dream sequence of the finest order. Just a few slow blocks, but mostly sublime. Steele was behind us and just wanted to trot and act like a young buck does. He reared up a little and the crowd cheered. That photo from last night was a bit of nerves but I never saw an image of Steele looking more majestic!

It was when the parade ended that the real adventure began though. We were off the safe streets of blocked traffic and had to drive our horses and carts in the dark, past idling cars with bright headlights and through town streets. I thought of James Howard Kunstler's World Made By Hand books and how all the Washington County towns had horses and carts on the once car-driven streets. I never felt more like a fictional character in my life. I was lost in that whimsy when the team ahead of us picked up into a trot. Steele and Patty were behind us and decided to pass us since Steele was feeling his oats. I wanted to join in the fun so I asked Merlin to pick up the pace and instead of taking off he decided to kick back his feet. I was terrified. I was within four feet of losing my head to a strong kick and Merlin had never, ever, acted like that in a cart. Never had I seem him be anything but obliging and steady. But he kept crow hopping and acting like he was just about to send me and the cart packing. At this point I just wanted to hold my shit together and get him back to the trailers. I calmed him, got him into a gentle trot on steady ground and he seemed okay. I was shaken. You don't expect to have your horse slam you with his feet in a parade. At least I don't, not with this horse.

When we got back I hopped out of the cart and attached his halter (worn under the bridle - club rule) to his lead rope which was tied safely to the trailer. I got out and inspected that right side. I saw what happened. I forgot to attach the right side hold back. He wasn't pulling even weight, and the shafts weren't even. It must have felt like something was holding him back on his left side, when his right was free to move and run. I bet his acting up was more of a panic to escape the weirdness of the attachment combined with the excitement of the night parade, and it was entirely human error. As I slowly and calmly removed his harness and collar I caught my breath. We did it. We were in our first parade, and no one got hurt. There was close calls, some thrills, and various anxieties and imperfections but we did it. Another little goal met and checked.

We wrapped things up quick and members of the WCDAA chatted around the trailers. Some folks showed up too late and missed the parade. Others forgot equipment and had to sit it out. Everyone had a story of something wonderful or scary that happened. As I was brushing Merlin Jan came by. Jan has a team of very spirited Haflinger mares and they did amazing in the fray. I told her about Merlin's kick and my mistake and she grabbed my shoulders, "You were looking at your horses feet!!" and then hugged me! She said, "Well then! I guess you won't make that mistake ever again!" and I couldn't help but feel better. My shame melted into camaraderie. I think that's the true benchmark of finding a place you belong. Even at your most uncomfortable of moments you get a chance to turn lessons into stories and adventure, well, if the audience will tolerate the spin. Here in the land of dairy, draft horses, deer hunters and shepherds we tolerate a lot of it. It keeps the milk check livable, the horses from scaring us into our living rooms, and the hunts magic with hope and luck.

I ended that parade a little better of a horsewoman, and a hell of a lot better at optimism. Sometimes you need to cut yourself a little slack and sew up the tears in the morning. We loaded our horses and drove off into the night. We, the happy participants, the parade veterans, the survivors!

Lantern Walks & Cold Soup

Folks, I am going to go through the last 36-hours started from last night and going backwards. I'll fill you in on all of the goings-on, starting with last night. Feel free to ask any questions. And I promise not to include any images or mental imagery of full-body knitwear.

It was well-past dark and I was driving in my scrappy truck behind Patty and her entourage. She was pulling hour horses back to her farm after our adventure in Salem an hour earlier. We had just participated in the Christmas Parade and while that was its own adventure we were about to experience another.

We were less than a mile from Patty's farm on a pitch-dark back road when she slowed her rig to a stop and stepped out of her truck. I thought something was wrong with the horses, that she felt a slip or fuss in the back and wanted to check it out. Turns out the horses were fine but the trailer carrying them wasn't. A tire had gone so flat, so fast, that the hot air inside it was swirling around in the headlights like smoke. Patty and I were close to her farm, but when she tried to pull the two vehicles forward it crunched and moaned like the axle itself was being dragged across the floor. We discussed our options and decided to leave her car and trailer on the side of the road and walk the horses back to her farm. Merlin could spend the night at her place and in the morning we would be able to fix the tire.

I am somewhat of an emergency prep dork. In my truck was not only a 72-hour emergency bag complete with first aid gear, a change of clothes, extra socks, food, and water but I also drive with a sleeping bag, flashlights, and jumper cables. It may seem excessive to some, but when you live alone in the country and blow a tired miles from home without cell service, you might be waiting for a while by the roadside. Doesn't hurt to stay warm, have a snack, and read.

So anyway, I pulled out my battery-powered Coleman lantern and was grateful for it. No streetlights out here, and walking a black horse at night on a windy country road seemed dangerous. The moon was a waxing crescent. A mere sliver of itself, barely casting any light. The warm and wet day had left a blanket of fog near the wetlands on the left side of the road. If there was ever a moment to start filming modern day scenes of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, this was it.

But Patty and I had been here before. We've had rough things happen, been stranded on roadsides and understood the immense luck of this flat tire. It happened just a half mile from her farm. So we took or boys off the trailer and walked side-by-side in the hand-held glow back to her farm. We talked about the parade, about the sweet chaos of it all. Both our horses had their moments of naught, but both passed the test with flying colors. They walked along the busy roadsides amongst the flash and pomp and shouting crowds and we were proud of them and ourselves.

As we chatted I kept thinking that what I admire most about Patty is that in her early fifties she is still game to get out there any grab life by the horns. She does this not through the ways you might be thinking, the heroic acts of driving heavy horses and running a farm. No, she does it through her decisions about how she is going to participate in life. Most people go to work and then go home and watch TV. They check email, scamper off to the obligatory family or work event and that's pretty much the sum of it. They have pulses, but that's pretty much the proof of their emotional existence. I did that for quite some time myself.

But Patty does things most people stop doing when they get out of college and she's got me doing it, too. We belong to clubs, and enter shows, and dress up for parades. We attend social experiences no online application has yet to compete with. It's these little events that seem so adorably inconsequential, but they are the kind of things that boil up a hunger for everyday life.

When you choose to take part in life you wake up in the morning feeling like you're going to a rock concert, but instead of watching it you are performing it. It's that pit-of-the-stomach thrill of participation that I think separates the young from the old. And you folks out there practicing for your church concerts, community theatre plays, hunting trips, and SCA meetings (or whatever the club or scene) know that same thrill.

A lot of folks roll their eyes at the idea of being in a club or having a hobby. It's become quaint and nerdy to thrive in a subculture. But I have never known or seen folks happier in this sordid world than the ones who are out engaged in an activity they love and surrounded by support of others who share their passion. It makes all the difference in the darkness.

So we walked the horses home without any feeling of fear or anger or worry. We had just been in a parade, had laughed and joked with people in our Draft Club, and had nothing ahead of us but a hot bowl of Goose Sausage Stew and a wood stove waiting when we arrived back to her farm. It wasn't raining. It wasn't too cold. And somewhere along that dark road I realized the reason we were happy was because we simply chose to be.

Patty changed her entire life to make room for happiness. I did, too. People do this everyday and it is a thousand times more heroic than riding a galloping horse. I think happiness comes not from money or opportunity but from simply knowing when you are not happy, recognizing it without pity for yourself, and changing it. That's the most powerful force in the world. To leave a bad marriage, to seek support and comfort, to forgive and forget. It's those big things, and the little things, too. To take up a musical instrument for the first time, to finally get a passport and book a flight, to get dressed up and go on that blind date. It's the being scared and standing up for yourself anyway. It's the understanding that being happy isn't the same as being selfish. And it's that fine line between being a victim or a volunteer in a bad situation. Happy people are not happy because of circumstance - they are happy because they got out of them. Not that that's easy, but it is an option. Always an option.

You need to be the person who makes you happy. In my experience, the saddest people I know let themselves believe they are responsible for another adult's happiness, that they owe it to them. It is a burden I consider the worst sort of abuse. No one can carry that weight.

That night Patty, her husband Mark, and I sat in the farmhouse and enjoyed that soup with cold well water. We had some complications in our long day but they were nothing but obstacles we both chose to ignore. Tired, content, and free on a Saturday night we just smiled through the conversation. We could worry about the world when the soup got cold.