Tuesday, January 15, 2013

weather and pigs

I was hanging up laundry on the clothesline yesterday, and fell asleep last night in sheets dried in the sun and calm winds. The days before I rode a horse without a jacket and drove a cart in a light sweater. It has been a slushy and warm snap, I think a lot of you guys have had the same? Well, it's over tonight.

A few inches of snow are in the forecast. I brought some of my dwindling wood pile inside and stacked the wood close to the fireplace. If it is going to be a snow day I am going to roll with it. Tonight I'll load up the coffee pot and have everything I need to be comfortable with morning chores ready to go. I was going to take a class tomorrow morning, but I told the instructor I would mostly likely not make it off the mountain. A snow day on a week day is basically a holiday at this farm. I take time to stop all the worries and plans and just enjoy the fact that I am home with animals, books, and good strong coffee. These things make me very happy.

The pigs are being slaughtered this weekend. I am ready for them to check out. At the size they are at now they are ravenous and I feel like I can not feed them enough. They go through a fifty-pound feed bag in two days, with food scraps and all the hay bedding they can munch. Lunchbox and Thermos had a good run here, complete with comfy nights under the straw, escape attempts, Antlerstock riots, and Christmas Pig Mornings. They were a fun duo but I look forward to enjoying them on a bun or with a side of scrambled eggs, very very much. And I look forward to sharing them with the folks who bartered in for a share and friends who come to visit and enjoy the mountain.

Unrelated: I am on the lookout for a small one or two-horse trailer. If you have one you want to trade or sell, let me know. I can pay some gas money for delivery for local folks. Keep your ears to the ground, please!

P.S. If there are many spelling errors I apologize. It's late for this girl and I have been staring at this computer far too long. Whew, I need a snow day!

Reader Question?

Do you mind the Google Adsense ads on the site? If you do not - would you prefer they all be images or text links?

A Spring Hedonist: Part 2

After my archery practice I was revved up. I had done well enough to feel that spark of accomplishment, however slight. When Merlin yelled out I turned and looked at him and knew before he finished heckling me we were going for a ride. I decided not to waste the fact that I had a horse and trail access at my disposal. I only own 6 and a half acres, but a few months ago I approached my neighbor, Sherif Tucker, about riding on some of his property. He said it would be fine. This was a blessing I didn't fully understand at the time. To have a horse in your backyard, a tack room in your home office (let's be honest: It's really a tack room with a computer in it) and to have access to a wonderful set of trails made my summer unforgettable. It was warm enough to want a taste of it again.

I'd been riding Merlin less during the winter, a lot less while snow and ice covered the ground. When we did go on a ride it was usually just on the road, walking to visit friends on the mountain or just to feel the saddle under me. We'd plod along for an hour while my head wound down. We had not been out on the mountain trails in weeks, and that's a totally different kind of riding. Tucker's mountain has streams to cross, big open fields, steep mountain trails, winding ATV roads, big open grassy hillsides, and steep paths overlooking drop-offs below. It's no mindless road trip. This would be our first time exploring the wild mountain in weeks, the terrain changed after the melt of the recent snows. I was hungry for it.

After our amazing cart ride the day before (when Merlin was an equine saint) I was expecting a pleasant jaunt around the mushy winter woods on a sunny day. The kind of ride you could have your earbuds in and listen to audiobooks while cardinals dashed around you and squirrels scamper about. You know what I mean, right? The kind of trail ride that birds dress you for in the morning. Pretty, mindless, sunny.

I was not like that. It was so much better!

Merlin and I were saddled up fairly quickly. The mud was dry on his long coat and brushed off without fuss. I checked his feet, checked for any sore spots, and lifted our old saddle into place. When all was correct in Tackland, I walked him over to the driveway to mount up. I lead the horse complete with wool plaid saddle pad, saddle, chest strap, and bridle. It was not long ago that I didn't even know what these things were outside of movies and television. Now I can take a horse from a field, halter, groom and prepare him to ride with everything fitting correct. A small, victory.

Here's another small victory I'd like to share. I no longer need a mounting block. Merlin is a good size horse for my own height and weight, so getting on his 14-hand back isn't a mighty feet, but to do it on solid ground feels good. Each jump into the saddle is a bullseye of its own, I suppose. So, I step my left foot up into the stirrup and used it for leverage to rise into the saddle. It's a skill I had to be taught. You need to keep your weight even and correct so you don't bother the animal or put too much pressure on anything. (Cathy Daughton's daughter Jacey showed me when she was here this summer, and I am very grateful!) I did my little gymnastic bit in my stretchy jeans and I was ready to ride. I gave Merlin a little heel and he walked right outside the driveway.

This isn't normal. Merlin usually needs to be coaxed to get started, like an engine that needs to be warmed up before it turns over. I thought this was a great sign, though. He was being biddable. We walked the short distance of road to the wooden gate that lead to the trails. I gave a little more heel and he trotted. With that little bit of speed under me, I got a little cocky. We cantered a little, and practiced going from a walk right into a full run. Merlin was a pocket rocket on four bare feet. I was hooting and hollering and having a blast, just being a passenger on this great thing we call horse.

So now both of us were full of of piss and cider vinegar. I asked him to head up a slight rise that headed into the woods. I wanted to run up it, but he just stood there, and then started to turn around. He realized this wasn't a sprinted sugar high but an actual workout and wanted nothing to do with it. I was firm, and spun him around in enough gentle circles that he got the point that I was the one in charge. I faced him back in the direction I wanted. I gave him some heel and Merlin flattened his ears and lowered his head towards my destination. I could feel his muscles bunch. Shit. This is where Merlin's aggression loses its passivity.

Once he loses an argument he gives in, but he does it with attitude. He took off! Stretching his stubby self into long lopes before he lifted his back feet into a high kick. I felt my body lift out of the saddle! Without thinking, as if the reflex was always inside me, my right hand slowly tightened on both reins and my left hand reached down and gripped the horn as I let my entire body sink into the saddle, heels down as far as they could go in the stirrups. Merlin then transitioned from his angry canter into a trot and flicked his ears at me, almost saying "You're still here?" and then scoffed and softened into a walk.

Jenna 1
Merlin 0

We kept weaving cross the streams, the birch timbers, and the open fields. He was a little amped, but controllable. Then things started getting interesting. When we headed down a slope of mud, we both learned it was just a top layer over ice. It would make him slide a few feet and it felt exactly like it does in a car when it is hydroplaning. Part of me wondered if I should have attempted a full-out trail adventure in the slush and mud, but then I stopped all that silly doubt. What is the point of only riding a trail horse in perfect conditions? The type of riding I partake in is the kind of riding people barely do anymore. Merlin and I are not training for some kind of arena sport or race. It's a lot humbler, a lot more basic. I want to know him as a vehicle in the world. The way people used to know how to ride. The kind of riding where discomfort isn't a deterrent, but an asset. Knowledge you need to know, in body and rein to get across roads, landscapes, and do it in all weathers and seasons. We both need to learn how to deal with mud, rain, snow, fallen trees and shocking surprises. And we got our lesson in that, next...

After a particularly steep slide down a path, both Merlin and I were not paying attention to anything but the ground under his feet. He didn't want to slip, and I didn't either. So neither of us saw the trio of does shoot out of the underbrush just fifteen feet to our left. Merlin exploded up into the air! There was no warning of any if it. Again, I let my body do what it knew to do. I pressed my chest forward, balancing so as to not slide off the back. After his four feet were back on the ground he wanted to bolt, wanted to panic, and with an effort of will I laughed and let out a long breath of air. I pulled his reins back, steady and strong but not in any way that would saw into his mouth. I let my whole body relax and in three strides he started walking again. He blew out air and shook his mane. He seemed confused, caught in a prank. He didn't understand why I wasn't freaking out, too? I made him stop and watch the deer, so he knew both what happened and that it was over. I counted to ten before I asked him to walk home. He was fine. Epona had our back that day, which I knew all along. She got us this far after all. It took some serious mojo to bring me and him together, and it would take something bigger than a deer, a kick, or a pile of steep mud to tear us apart now.

Jenna 2
Merlin 0

So much of riding seems to be a combination of confidence and gut-instinct body contact. You need to know when to sit deep, hold on, let go, and trust each other. Merlin and I had a hairy ride, for sure, but that doesn't mean it was a bad one. We had text-book goofs and some scares but after that little adventure I felt the same sparks of competence I felt when three arrows struck the bullseye in a row. For me, competence builds confidence. I sat tall walking home to the farm. These were skills I didn't know (never dreamed I would know) just a year ago.

That day I was an archer and a rider. Not the best, but not the worst. Sometimes I think it is more about sticking with a thing than it is getting good at it. Give your body time to wrap itself around a thing like a bow or a saddle and it will see you through. It has for me, anyway. And I untacked that horse with a feeling no argument or late bill could stomp out. We get better as we get older, at least if we're working towards something we do.

Jenna 17 Jillion
Unhappiness 0

Luceo Non Uro.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Spring Hedonist: Part 1

It was a taste of bright spring, yesterday. It still is. It's still warm enough here to open the windows and let the wood stove sigh with the break. Fifty degrees! (Baffling stuff, being that I just spent a whole night feeding a fire on a -13 degree sunrise a few weeks ago...)Grinning at the bright light, I chose to not worry over environmental ramifications of a dying winter and headed outside to be a Hedonist. If it was going to feel like spring, by Brigit's Fire, I was going to act like it was spring.

I did chores with Gibson. It was a feat of dexterity, that - sliding up hills on the melting snow. After everyone was content with feed and water, I took Annie for our mile walk down the road. That time outside with my dogs was intoxicating. Watching Gibson rocket past me in a spray of slush in the stranger sunlight was a cinematic treat. Seeing Annie trot happily down the road with her nose buried in the melting drifts, sniffing out critters who lived below — damned if I wasn't catching their buzz. Watching happy animals really alive outdoors made me want to join their ranks. I decided I would be an animal of Spring, too. I went inside and got my bow.

I shoot a recurve now, bought at an outdoor archer's meet up this summer. It has a fifty-pound draw and is adorned with braided hide supports and a gorgeous sewn-leather grip. It's a fiberglass model, a faux-woodgrain. It's a little more forgiving to radical weather changes than a wooden bow, and that suits this hunter just fine. The previous owner went out of his way to make it look like something older. His leather-working skills were something else, and it makes the bow seem magical, special. The bow reminds me much of Merlin, also bought second-hand but one of a kind. My quiver has two Celtic wolves intertwined in knot-worked designed and growling at each other. It looks like something from another time, and another world, yet feels so much like home in my hands. I had not held it in weeks and just gripping my left hand around it to carry it outside sped up my endorphins. I slung my quiver over my shoulder and headed outside.

Standing in the sunshine with a just-strung bow changes your entire mood. I went from farmer to archer and that means something. You carry yourself differently, as a labrador does from a coyote. I slid my leather arm guard over my left, tender forearm. The soft deerskin of my shooting glove hugged the three fingers of my right hand. I forgot how that felt, gentle and strong. I grabbed a trio of arrows and inspected them the way I was taught. I looked for cracks and imperfections, checked their straightness and tips. When I was happy with all three I inspected my bow and stringing effort. When I was content with the quality of all the work I grabbed an empty Blue Seal feed bag and pinned it to some hay bales. It was time to shoot.

I am starting a daily practice regime when the weather allows, and even when it doesn't. Last year I was a new archer and didn't know fletch from feather, but I had a whole summer of beginner's experience and now I wanted more. I knew the gear, I knew the sport. In my local SCA group I was asked to become a Marshal In Training on our archery team, a roll of participation and leadership in the Society. I wanted to do my teammates proud, and I wanted to be deadly come next October's hunting season. This means three things:


I warmed up by shooting the three arrows in ten sets at ten yards. After thirty draws I was feeling the bow come back to me. And I was happy that even if I missed the Blue Bullseye I only missed it by a few inches. This is encouraging to any archer back from hiatus. I made myself shoot until all three arrows hit the bullseye one after another. I am working on short-distance accuracy and slowly gaining distance as confidence and skill grows. I promised myself I would do the same routine everyday, but not quit until 6 arrows hit the center in a row, then 9. When I hit thirty arrows at a bullseye I will move to fifteen yards and start over again. It's a push, for sure, but I'd rather attempt that for hours and fail than settle for just hitting one good shot and coming inside for tea. By the time summer practices come along again with the team I hope to be at a level of skill and practice that raises my score in the East Coast ranks considerably. I attained the rank of Archer last summer, but this year I want to attain the rank of Marksman. It's a huge leap, raising my average score by forty points. I'll do the work to make it happen.

I think I only spent a half hour out there shooting into the hay. But the results I was getting were so motivating. I mean, if a doe walking ten yards in front of me and stopped for a few seconds to eat, I would be a dead doe. My powerful bow would shoot an arrow right through her, I am confident of that. What I'm not confident of is my ability to stalk that well! But that's a skill for another day. When I can set up a series of deer-shaped targets in my woods and hit them all from 10-20 yards I will feel comfortable with my chances come hunting season.

When I pulled the last three arrows out of their happy marks I slid them into their quiver and felt the blunt tip of one poke my ear. I made a mental note to be more careful. If those were broad heads I would have a place to hang an earring….

With quiver over my back and bow unstrung, I headed inside. My waxed bowstring was in my kilt's side-sporran pocket and perhaps it was the talisman that had me walking on air. I wanted this feeling of adventure and Vitamin D to last a bit longer. Merlin whinnied out and I knew what I would be doing next…

I didn't know I would be in for the ride of my life...

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Reins. Kilt. Epona.

Wil Wheaton on Negative Comments

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Shovels & Rope

Their new album just came out, O' Be Joyful. You Civil War buffs already know what that means, don't you? It doesn't matter. It's not a folk band, not a rock band, not a rockabilly duo. It's two people with two old guitars, a snare drum, and a rattle. Sometimes they have a harmonica. Powerful and amazing music coming out of a few sets of lungs. Buy their new CD, it comes with a donkey poster, which you rarely get these days. You won't regret it. Listen to the tracks above, I dare you not to love it.

Singing & Driving

Sunday Saturday Drive

Beautiful day here today. The sun was out (nearly fifty degrees!) and I couldn't help but hitch up Merlin and hit the road. We went down the mountain to my friend/neighbor/livestock Vet's house and I parked the horse outside her front door. Shelly and her husband came out with their new son. She just got back from the hospital Thursday and the newborn came out to meet the horse while her toddler Aidan ran around. Merlin was a saint. Stood strong and quiet while we talked, and we talked for a while. I drove home singing, and when we got close to the house Merlin went into a canter and I screamed a Wooooohhhooooooo! A grand day!

Meet Sunny & Nataya!

A pair of mares, now home on their new farm with Ejay and Kim! I love it when horse dreams come true! And all my congrats to everyone at R'Eisen Shine Farm, members of the readership here at Cold Antler, people making it happen! Join me in welcoming their new family members!

The Plow, The Horse, The Pumpkin Patch

Danvers 126 Half Long Carrots, Dwarf Siberian Kale, Parisienee Round Carrots, Deer Tongue and Speckled Trout Lettuce: Those are the five crops I have planted in my kitchen right now. My first little yogurt container of Kale is sprouting and looking healthy. The rest are under a little plastic greenhouse with a heated mat below it. The seeds, the mini house, and the heating mat all cost less than fifty dollars and I will use that greenhouse all spring long to start early seeds. After this bunch of plants are ready to transplant outside they will be under plastic tunnels (tents really) in the earliest outdoor mini-greenhouses. Kale, lettuce, and carrots are hardy creatures. They can handle an early season with a little babying. Soon as they are outside I will start broccoli, parsnips, and peas inside and then move them to the second series of covered houses. By the time the real outdoor planting season starts I will have food already in a position to be eaten and harvested and instead of spending that time sowing peas and lettuce outdoors I can use that time to build the new raised beds, poly tunnels, and put up a series critter fence. I have big plans for the garden this year. Last year was the summer of the horse. This will be the summer of the salad.

And speaking of horses! I got an email from Ejay and Kim. A young farming couple south of me in the Hudson Valley. They have a small CSA and raise mostly vegetables but also some chickens, I believe, for eggs and meat. They were growing and wanting to expand and the time had come to either invest in a team of horses or a tractor. They came to the Farmer's Horse workshop here around Halloween and less then three months later they did it. Their team of Haflingers are being delivered today! I am so happy for them! Haflingers are smaller drafts, the same size as Merlin. They are around 13.2 to 15 hands, but are powerhouses in the saddle or behind a plow. That photo above I found online is very much what Ejay and Kim will be doing this summer.

I also heard from some of the folks who came to this past Summer's Fiddle Camp, and they were still playing. One woman, Trish, has already mastered some Molly Mason and Jay Unger tunes! She didn't know how to hold the darn thing a few months ago and now is polishing up her Ashokan Farewell, Amazing!

Fiddles and horses, both inspired by a day here at Cold Antler. But see folks, it wasn't me or my farm that did any of that. The reason Ejay and Kim will be riding off into the sunset and Trish will be fiddling by a campfire has nothing to do with this blog. (Though I wish I could take credit for it!) It was those three peoples' desire to take active steps toward their goal. Both signed up for beginner's classes. They happened to be my class, but this applies to anyone who is signing up for their local community college's beekeeping class, or master gardening workshop, or deciding this year's vacation will be a dude ranch instead of Disney to see if the husband and kids could wrap their head around horses? You see what I am getting at? You're head only takes you so far without action, and sometimes it is the simple act of doing something small that inspires a bigger thing.

Sometimes it's buying that book about Dairy Goats and having the balls to set it out on your coffee table in your city apartment. That may give you the nerve to look on Craigslist or LocalHarvest for a dairy near you with goats, and email them for a tour. Suddenly, the animals you just read about a few days earlier are in your hands, their smell is in your nose. That just empowers the idea even more and soon when your lease is up you decide to stay with your job, and stay in the city, but move to a neighborhood with a little backyard. The next year you have gardens, a hive of bees, and a large dog run with a pair of Nigerian Goats you named Rufus and Bowser. Your town doesn't allow livestock, but these guys are your pets with collars and name tags. It's the same thinking that allows pot-belly pigs in high rises. That, and asking for permission is never a good idea in my book. Do what you need to do and if the city takes away your chickens and goats then all the more reason to call the local paper and have the idea brought up so those laws can be changed. If people in downtown Portland, Milwaukee, or Brooklyn can have a chicken and a goat. So can you. If the laws say no, then change them. Being meek about your dreams is the same as giving up on them.

Just thinking about Ejay and Kim, this moment, has inspired me. I have plans to brush hog out a flat area at the edge of my property along the road near the pond. I want to plant a serious pumpkin patch, like a quarter-acre. I have a draft horse, a harness, and I bet I could find a plow used on craigslist or an auction. Who wouldn't want a Black Horse plowed heirloom field pumpkin at their doorstep or in a pie this coming Samhain?

You start living with gardens and horses and you can't stop the plans and dreams from popping up in your head. This idea of the CAF Pumpkin patch wasn't even there when I started typing. But while writing about Ejay and Kim, and looking at that picture, I decided it would happen. And it will. Or at least the effort to make it happen will. It could all go terribly wrong, but so what? If the ground is too wet or the deer eat all the pumpkins then perhaps I have the perfect spot to attract deer to hunt or practice archery (or both!). I'm just excited to work hard and try, the real dream is to be out there working with Merlin and hoping for the seeds to sprout. If I get a pumpkin? Shucks. That's just gravy.

This post started talking about carrots in a hot box in my kitchen and ended with a field of pumpkins.

I love this blog. I friggin' love it.

Photo by Cindy C-H, from Flickr

Want a Farm? Get Radical.

I found this video online, it speaks perfectly to my recent post about the five whys. If you are struggling with a job you don't like? Feel stuck wishing for something that isn't happening. Listen to Lisa.

Friday, January 11, 2013


Gibson has been by my side since he was an eight-week old puppy. We have never been apart more than a few hours, never spent a night away from each other. And so Gibson shares my entire life. When I worked at an office, he was there nearly every day. He's in the truck with me on every trip into town. Everyone at the bank, bookstore, and hardware store knows him by name. And when he isn't by my side through the day's activities he is doing the work of a true farm dog. He helps wrangle sheep, chickens, and boss pigs into corners. He runs like hell. I never knew any animal that could move so fast! He knows the lay of the land, and has taught me shortcuts. He taught me a lot, actually. How to just enjoy rolling in a sunbeam. How to sleep like you mean it. And how to run as fast as possible and fall in love with the pain in your lungs, because that pain means you are still alive.

He's as much a farmer as I am. He knows no life but this one. I have rarely seen an animal as happy, as fit, and as thrilled just to be alive and by my side. He doesn't even wear a collar, never has a leash. He hangs out the truck window with both arms clutching and scratching the side door and lets the wind hit his lagging tongue. This is not great parenting, I know. But I am not my dog's parent. I'm his boss and he is his own dog. He gets his shots, shares my bed, and is offered a proper diet but I like his feral ways. He looks, listens, understands conversational tones and probably has a vocabulary of a fifty English words or more. He's always there with me. Just look down at my knees, and he's at their side.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Smile Before

I was twelve years old when this movie came out. It will always be important to me. This scene is my favorite moment in cinematic history. Well, a part of it is. That walk up the hill is it. From the hug to the last steps, it still gives me goosebumps. Every time I watch it I still feel like that little girl in the big theatre, wanting that feeling.

It all comes down to the smile before the roar, for me. Those few seconds, those are the best. There is nothing more powerful that the feeling of decision. This isn't related to a farm, but that moment is how I got mine.

I Just Walked In On This

Archery Porn

Guess What I'm Doing Today?

Brawlers & Brothels

When I opened the barn door yesterday morning, I wasn't expecting a welcome committee. But right there inside the latched door was Lunchbox and Thermos, looking up at me and snorting. Gibson was at my side, and if you could have seen the look on his face you would have thought someone just filled the barn with a hundred white plastic buckets and flashlight beams (he's really into buckets and flashlight beams).

I slammed the door.


These were not the cute little piglets I picked up squealing at Antlerstock. Lunchbox and Thermos were both around a hundred sixty pounds now. I could hear the chickens inside squawking and flapping around. It sounded like two drunk bar brawlers got into a lingerie shop. Behind the red door was a parade of squeaks and grunts and feathers flying. Gibson looked up at me and then back at the door with his tail wagging. I knew I had to get the porkers back into their pen. In my quick glance I saw their escape hatch. I would have to get inside, round them up, shut the gate they busted through, reinforce it, and then check for damage. I had to do all this while a Border Collie was begging to get into the fray, a horse was heckling me for breakfast, the goats were nagging, the chickens were screaming, and without so much as a pocket knife in my arsenal.


What transpired was nothing short of amazing. I didn't have a pocket knife But I did have a bag of cracked corn. I told Gibson to back up and lie down, then set him into a stay. I asked him to stay the way people say the last phrase of a commencement speech. I really, really, meant it. He looked deflated, but obliged. I then cracked the door open and slid inside, closing it behind me. The pigs were running amok, but turned to look at me as dramatically and quick as a pair of cartoon characters. I could almost hear their thoughts out loud.

"Hey, Hey.... It's Food Lady! She's got the food bag! We already ate all the chicken feed, and a chicken, this place is a beat scene! You think she brought takeout again? Dibs! Dibs! Diiibbbbs DIIBBBBSSS!!"

And they both came barreling towards me. As they ran at me, and the door to freedom behind me, I took the entire bag of cracked corn and dumped it inside their pen. Instead of knocking me over and running away they made a quick corner turn and ran back into their home. I had a few seconds to scramble to re-shut the door behind them and soon as I closed it Lunchbox whirled around to get back out. Suddenly, the cracked corn wasn't as interesting as the Chicken Ranch. This is true for most American males.

I had to hold the gate shut by hand. They had escaped by breaking down the wood board that created the doorstop. It was a simple design, a basic latch, and worked up to the point of over 300-collective pounds of porcine force wailing on it. I needed to get something else to hold them while I went and boarded up their pen door. But the second I left the gate they were on it. Gibson was watching with pure agony of a lie down. A lie down during livestock chaos is border collie water boarding. I called him to me.

The pigs stared at Gibson. They stopped eating, stopped pushing against the door. Whatever was going on between those two species was some deep mojo. Gibson went into his crouch and blinkless stare and the pigs softly grunted, but held back their protest. This gave me exactly 30 seconds to scramble around the barn for a piece of green baling twine and frantically tie it around the posts. The gate was momentarily secure. I told Gibson, "That'll Do!" and he looked up at me like he was rolling on crystal mushrooms. Pigs get him wonky like that.

I got some boards, I got some nails, and I hammered a few planks of scrap wood over the brawlers gate. They ate the corn and promptly took a nap. I am missing one rooster and an entire 20-pound bag of chicken feed. It was a wild party.

I called the butcher and moved the slaughter date up a week.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Last Resort!

What you are looking at is the Last resort. A quickly tied piece of baling twine that was used to hold the escaped pigs back inside their pen while I scoured the snow-covered barnyard for lumber so I could nail their escape hatch shut. Never a dull moment. More tomorrow!

Feeling Trapped & The Five Whys

I get so many emails and letters from folks who wish they could quit their job, change their life, and move to the country but feel they can't. Sometimes these emails are incredibly sad. Some folks say they are too old to start over. Some are dealing with a disease or death in the family that ties them to unexpected care for children or elders. Some people are stuck in prison, literally trapped. These are hard to read.

And yet, these people are never really suffering with desire. Most are at peace with where their lives are. Since they can't do anything to change things at the moment, they let go of their dream a while. The release is a kind of peace, one woman said. I have a lot of faith in these folks, because if they can get through whatever is holding them back now they will be even more resilient and dedicated when they do stick their shovels in the dirt. You don't get discouraged at a bad day at the Farmer's Market when three years ago you spent an entire summer in ICU. They are cultivating a perspective that lasts. It is worth acres of black earth.

Some of the emails I get are in the same sad tone but very, very, different. They come from people who want to farm as well, but aren't because the changes that farm requires seem too hard or complicated. People who have put emotional and social discomfort between them and their dreams, and they feel it is just as much a barrier as a prison wall. These are the hardest emails for me to read, much harder than the former. They always start out with "I love your life and wish it was mine! But!..." and then go through the lists of excuses why it isn't.

I have learned this much: No one can save people in this mindset but themselves. I mean, if a person writes me from an actual prison his limitations can be overcome soon as he is free. But when some one has already decided they can't leave the one they built around themselves - they can not be helped.

If you are unhappy about something you have two choices. Just two. You either can work to make it better, or walk away from it. Fight or let go, that is it. This applies to everything in our lives, from our relationships with our spouses to our jobs. It is true for our health, our weight, and how we let people treat us. You only get different results if you change your actions.

Some of them already own (or have access to) land and want to be full-time farmers. Others are in apartments and cities, but have no idea how to make next month's rent much less move to some brand new rural area. They feel they can't have what I have here at Cold Antler. Everyone tells them they can't. Their whole lives are angry balls of baling twine called Can't.

Yes you can. Of course you can. I promise you can.

The Five Whys

I recently heard about the Five Whys on the radio. The idea is simple: If there is something you want to change about your life and feel you can't, ask yourself why five times. It'll tell you a lot more than you realize. For example:

I don't like my job but I can't leave it.
Because I need the money.
What do you mean, why? Because of bills and the mortgage!
Because if I don't pay them, I could lose my house and fall into debt!
Because that's how this system works. I get money from this company, and then they get my daylight five days a week. And then every two weeks I get money that I use to enjoy myself in the evenings when I am tired and frustrated or on the weekends when I buy things with the money left over from paying for the things the job is required for.
Because that's where I am, and that's the system I am in.

It's been said if the Five Whys always either end with the person feeling validated or trapped. It's never one or the other. They either keep insisting that they are in a situation that makes them unhappy because they have to be—or they have none of those limitations but feel they are so invested in a lifestyle that leaving it would be more trouble and heartache than it is worth. So what does that leave us with? Victims of discontentment and Volunteers for discontentment.

I left my job to be self employed because my job did not fulfill me and I did not like giving up that amount of my life working for someone else's dream. I worked for a nice company, and it was filled with nice people and I can not say a bad thing about that organization. It just wasn't mine. No matter how high I climbed the corporate ladder, even if I somehow became the CEO, it was still someone elses. It was the dream of someone else, the work of someone else. Taking over the steering wheel is not the same as building the car. It took me eight years. It was worth it.

So what's the point of this long post? To realize that if you are willing to be scared, and take risks, and do something bold you can work towards the life you want. It may not be supported by the people who you have been told are the approvers of life's changes. If that is too much to bear, then you will remain stuck. But if you are willing to put yourself out there, make some sacrifices, and do the work you can have anything you damn well please in this beautiful world. Sometimes it takes money, sometimes it takes a different attitude, and sometimes it just takes guts. But money, attitude, and guts abound if you're willing to go after them. If that sounds corny, or eye-rollingly idealistic, I'm not sure what to say to you? Because it is true. I live it everyday and get emails every day from others who are doing the same. Meaningful lives are happening all around us. Better health, better relationships, better love..it's all around us. So go get it.

Jasper the Firecracker!

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.