Saturday, December 22, 2012

Scottish Lumberjack's Stocking

Brett raises Scottish Highland Cattle. A long-haired, ancient breed of beef. They are his main livestock on his Adirondack farmstead, along with some sheep and He's also a bonefide lumberjack. It seemed fitting that his stocking feature a blue ox. I just wanted to make sure that Babe was in the proper visage for a Lumberjack named McLeod.

Brett is coming down to Cold Antler for the Holidays. He's bringing his new mount, Sadie (I think he named her Sadie?) the Amish Standardbred. Brett, Patty, Mark, and I will all be out for a Christmas ride and drive with the horses and feasting on our own home-raised hams and roasting birds. There are no barns to raise, fences t build, or roofs to repair. All the four of us plan on doing is enjoying each other's company, our horses, the holiday, and a few adult beverages.

Lamb is also on the menu, I wish it was one of mine, but its from a local farm. I just couldn't slaughter Monday. He's remaining on staff to breed future lambs and be a farm mascot. He has no idea how lucky he is because a cream-sauce braised lamb of leg might be worth the guilt...

First Light, First Snow

I woke at first light to see the roads outside my bedroom window turning white. Compared to the living earth—which is warm in comparison to slabs of pavement—they were a sharp contrast to the breathing mud. It was as if someone had turned my mountain into a game board with a definite track to move pieces along. It was a happy scene, those lovely, portentous roads. I sprang out of bed and checked the weather update.


Just a few inches, but the forecast was calling for inches. I was hoping for this, having done some preparing the night before. I was worried if I got the farm too ready for a snow day I'd junk it. Like Hemingway said, "You lose it if you talk about it," and we all know that's true. Anticipation can be a jinx. If you set aside a ready-to-brew pot of coffee the night before, pick out a book or favorite movie, and volunteer the crock pot for a snow day feast…. it rains. So last night all I did was chop some dry kindling and set it in a metal sap bucket by the wood stove. A humble gesture. Letting Winter know if she wanted to consider precipitation, I could too.

I did the morning chores with Gibson and by the time the hour's work was done the wet grass was collecting white flakes. When the last job was completed and the sheep were eating their hay in a circle of ovine conversation there was enough for G and I to leave tracks. I love snow, but I think I love those hours of the first snowfall most of all. This morning there are errands to run and work to do but for the now all I plan on doing is sipping a cup of hot coffee, lighting a fire, and reading about someplace in a novel. This is how I travel now. I could't be happier with it.

The the world didn't end. Shucks, the power didn't even go out. And of course it didn't. Why would anyone think the world would end on the Winter Solstice? I have respect for he Mayan people, but that was a true act of confundity. The Solstice is one of our oldest holidays of hope - the literal return of the sun. For thousands of years people of so many cultures and religions have organized all of their celebrations of rebirth, hope, and light at this time. What a beautiful thing we have done, too. For all our faults, human beings decided to place the largest holidays of warmth and kindness is the darkest times of the year. Sorry my ancient friends, if you wanted to end it all you should have planned it for April.

But Yuletide is for hope. And I hope all of you are looking forward to time with your beloveds and friends as the light returns. These next few days are for rest and celebration. Savor them.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Safe As Houses

When I woke up this morning to the howls, literal howls, of intense wind—I didn't think the world was coming to an end—but I did think a few days of electric use would...

I love this mountain home. It's safe, sustainable, and protected the best way a home can be. There's windbreaks, fresh water, and high enough on a mountain that water still needs to run downhill so flooding is nearly impossible. I don't live near any volcanoes, or on top of any fault lines. There's a forest full of game, and farm fields far as the eye can see. For someone who lives a Hobbit Life like me, it's darn near Xanadu. But if you want to live in a homesteader's dream spot it means giving up some things, too. For me, that means reliable electricity. If a tree moves in the wind you can pretty much count on losing power.

Cold Antler Farm is halfway up a mountain. The power lines have to compete with elevation, trees falling, snowy branches, and all the complications that go with it. These aren't complaints. (I'd rather have a stream than reliable electric power any day of the week) but I did want to check in with you folks before the 55+ MPH forces came through. The e-reader and cell phone is charged, and my landline and books don't need to be charged. My 1970's GE plastic wall phone just needs a phone jack to work, no electric plugs. When I lose power I almost always still have a phone.

In the summer power outages are just an inconvenience. In the winter they can be dangerous. After my first winter here I knew I needed to get the house off oil heat and its electric furnace as the main source of comfort. Two wood stoves now keep the place comfortable, and downright too-hot for comfort some evenings. If the power does flick off a few days, even in the dead of winter, the house stays warm and has a cooking top and oven with the Bunbaker, which is a blessing in such events. To cook without having to worry about propane fumes or gas smells, right in your living room, divine! I've made pies, pizza, bread, and even roasted a chicken in my wood stove. I've cooked eggs and made coffee and toast on the top. If the electric well stops pumping there is still an overflow artesian well for the animal's water that will run, and if that stops there is a cold mountain stream right through the property. It's a pain to boil the water 15 minutes to purify it for human use, but the animals drink from the stream all the time without complaint.

I suppose the point of all this is my home makes me feel safe. It's set up to take care of me, and mine, and not just with walls and livestocks and gardens, but things like resources and location. If you're looking into property make sure you are considering things like fresh water sources and what other natural resources are around you. I can say that even just after a few years of living here I have weathered a handful of blizzards, hurricanes, deep freezes, heat waves, drought and all sorts of wonky climate snafus. It's stood the test of time since the Civil War. If if can get through all that and still put up with me and this messy life, I think it earns some proper cred.

If you don't hear from me the rest of the day, you know why! The world didn't end. Nature just wanted to keep me on my toes.

P.S. Happy Solstice, the days get lighter from here on out. More on that happy event later! For now, burn those bayberry candles, light the Yule Log, and enjoy the feast!

Barn Tour!

Thursday, December 20, 2012


I asked this question today on my Facebook page and the response was so interesting. If you were told that tomorrow you could start a new life would you? The situation is as follows:

If you could give up all of your electronic entertainment in exchange for freedom from all personal debt and a life of physical labor outdoors, would you do it? The conditions are as follows:

You join a quasi-communal society where you work 10 hours outside six days a week (off holidays) doing hard, physical labor in a farming setting. Things like plowing, construction, livestock work, weeding, planting, shearing sheep and traveling distances to deliver messages by horse or foot. You do not receive a wage, as meals are prepared communally and your family's house is rent free. You basically work for room and board with the same people you share a house with now, but you each get a $200 a month stipend at the local bookstore to buy whatever books you want. Your evenings are your own. You can read novels, learn spanish, start a chess club, join a music group, or take on a apprenticeship with a craft or trade of your choice. There are no rules about religion and are free to believe as you wish. It is a democracy, where new leaders are voted every three years. This is your new life.

What you give up are things like television, the internet, email, cell phones, and outside communication by electric means. You can write distant family and friends letters, but can't travel to see them (they can come see you). So you get a life free of a desk job and stress from money, but you give up flashy entertainment, travel, and long-distance communication that isn't a letter.

Would you do this? Why? Why Not?

Welcome Amazing Graze Farm!

I'd like to take a moment to welcome the newest sponsor to the blog, Amazing Graze Farm! (How great of a name is that?!). Amazing Graze is the joint effort of a couple who both started out as city kids and ended up happy homesteaders. They raise their own meat and dairy, and host a big garden. They loved teaching their friends and customers how to mill grain, can, and make butter but quickly learned they were sending them off to other folks to buy supplies. So they started a General Store, mostly quality hand tools, things you won't find in your local kitchen store. They are a bonefide little mom and pop and sell everything from hair clips to wooden spoons. Check them out at and say hello from me when you do! It is folks like them and readers like you that keep this little mountain farm pumping along.

Welcome to the farm, Amazing Graze!

Barn Tour!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Running With Animals

I took Annie out for a long walk today. Well, relatively speaking. It was a long walk for her compared to the ones she has been on recently. For the past year or so walks were set to a half mile since that was all Jazz could manage. Today we did a mile and a half, most of it uphill and at a pace that had us both panting by the time we returned to the farm. In the foggy weather it was invigorating, we even jogged a bit. All that moisture in the air keeping us hydrated and warm. It felt good to run aside a wolf again.

Annie is far from a wolf, but she looks the part. She's eighty pounds of fur, fat, and muscle in a wolf gray coat. She has those prick ears and dark brown eyes and a big open face that looks like a slightly tamer version of her wild relatives. She did well out there on our path. We are so much alike, us two. A little wild and a little too well fed, but hungry for what calls to us. We were a good team out there, getting in shape and feeling our hearts beat faster.

When Annie was tuckered out I let her inside to drink water and nap with Gibson and then walked out to the far pasture to halter Merlin. We tacked up and went for a quiet ride down the mountain road. No goals or training tasks in mind. I just wanted to be on the back of a horse, breathing slow and steady, and thinking about the past week. There was a lot to think about.

I am very much at peace with the decision I made for Jazz. But the lack of him in the house is disorienting. I still call out for him when I grab Annie's leash to go for a walk. I have been walking them together for seven years and old habits die hard. Annie sleeps by the front door a lot. I don't know if it's because she is waiting for his return or because she has been confined to the living room/kitchen with a dog gate (Jazz had some accidents and I wanted to keep him on the non-carpeted areas of the house) and this was off limits before. The front door is the draftiest and coldest place in the house. She could just prefer air conditioning. Either way when I see her there I think of the former. I think about Jazz a lot. Some things can't be helped.

It's almost the end of December. I'm not worried about the Mayans or Chase Bank (far scariest to me), but I do worry about other things. I thought about those things as I turned Merlin back towards the farm and let him run home. As he stretched out his thick legs, reaching for his place of comfort and rest, I tried to stop thinking about them. You can lose it for a little if you know where to hide. If I can find that place in the saddle on a running horse it goes away. So I sank into my seat, my ass a dead weight naturally moving with the hind of the horse. I let my heals drop, my shoulders relax, and I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Before I knew it we had loped home and I was sitting on his back, he standing still in front of the black horse head post Merlin knows is his parking space. It worked. the whole time I was free.

I ran with a wolf, I rode a fast horse, and tonight I'll try to let those moments beside my animals help me stop thinking about the mistakes of the past few years. It's hard. But if there is one thing Jazz's passing truly taught me. Our time is so very short here. Try and run fast while you can. And be grateful every time you aren't running alone.

Thank You!

Thank you to all of you who mailed cards, canned treats (Got the tomato jam, TF!), cookies, gifts, donations and other wonderful messages and comments to the farm. Thank you to all those silent readers who click on the blog ads or support the sponsors. It is things like this that keep me going. And thank you to everyone who is quietly keeping track of me, I appreciate you as well. The holidays are always made better by the support of this community. I see you in my inbox, at workshops, events, and in my mailbox outside. I saw a box of cookies at Battenkill Books yesterday mailed by one of my readers and I beamed with pride in the kindness and love of you folks. You mean the world to me. You're the only reason I am here, living this life.

You may not realize it, but little things like just keeping up with me and shooting the occasional comment or email have such a power of encouragement and validation. If I don't reply, trust me, it is simply from a lack of time and resources to do so, but I read them all and am very very grateful.

I wanted to share this little gift mailed to me from a reader down in Pennsylvania. She sewed up a Maude Stocking! It has that same look of disdain and boredom that I have seen on that horrible ewe every day since I brought her to my farm. I love that sheep, so much. I think this is hilarious and it is hanging over my wood stove!

I showed it to Maude. This was her reaction.

Home on the Mountain

This is my home on a mountain. We're entering this Holiday Season still thick in the Days of Grace. For those of you new to the blog, the Days of Grace is a time in the farming calendar after all the fireworks of fall leaves have gone and before the landscape is covered in snow. Some call it Stick Season. Other's call it miserable. I like the idea of the Days of Grace, and what it stands for. It's your last chance to fix fence posts before they freeze solid into the earth. The last chance to repair the horse cart or tractor and put it away for a winter slumber (if you're not plowing snow with it). And it's finally time that the work of the garden and canning is behind you. Most farms that aren't a Dairy are quiet this time of year. Chores are basic: feeding and comfort-related. It's a time for fatter wallets and fatter waistlines. As the saying goes, happiness weighs more.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Suggest a Name!

Brett just bought a new Standardbred Mare from an Amish family north of his farm. She's four, and a great driving horse! He is thrilled with her, and sent along their picture. One bad thing, though. She came with the name "Princess" and he wants some help changing it. He thought the community here may have an idea or two. His only requirements are that the name reflect her gender, Amish heritage, and be a little old fashioned. I think he should just call her Dutch.

My Good Boy

Yesterday morning I helped Jazz into my truck and drove the mile to our vet's office. I knew it would most likely be his last ride in the truck. After months of decline, painful spinal arthritis, infections, and being pushed around by the other dogs I knew it was time to let him go. The last three nights before his death I was woken up in the middle of the night by his yowls of pain, and the night before I stayed up with him, falling asleep on the floor by his side. I knew, that night, that the vet would be called first thing in the morning.

The vet fully supported the decision. She was wonderful, telling me a story about a Buddhist and her dog and offering tissues and water. The work of ending his life did not take long. He passed peacefully on the office floor, my face buried in the rough of his neck as the vet delivered the heart-stopping syringe. As he was fading the vet told me to tell him how much I loved him, and all I could say was "he knows" and then he was still. When it was all over, the staff gave me a few moments with his body and then told me they would mail me the bill.

I drove home with just his collar and leash. His body remained behind and would get a private cremation later that week. I didn't feel guilty, just hollow. As if someone just took away the ability to feel or react. I looked at the empty passenger side, and the window. On the short ride down Jazz was leaning painfully against it, his eyes glazed over. I then realized I should have cracked the window, or opened it so he could feel the fast air on his face one last time. I didn't think of this one kindness, and broke down into a kind of cry that doesn't let you drive.

After college I was offered a job in the Urban South. I was leaving behind family, friends, and 22 years in the Northeast, which was the only place I knew as home. I had only been on my own two weeks before that wolf was my roommate. I adopted Jazz in 2005 from Tennessee Sled Dog Rescue, outside of Knoxville. I went there with the full intention of taking home a malamute, not a Sibe. Malamutes were my dream dogs, a manifestation of adventure and independence from a childhood of reading Jack London novels. But when I pulled into the driveway of the kennel I saw a flash of red running down the hill. I can still see that powerful blur of color in the rainy mud. A lone Siberian Husky in a sea of giant Alaskans. After looking at dozens of young Malamutes, it was the six-year-old red dog that I wanted to meet. He had been following me around the kennel for the entire tour, his yellow eyes glowing behind a smile. I had never seen a more beautiful and calm animal that looked so wild. He laid down in my lap and was mine. I took him home in my new (to me) silver Subaru Forester.

He was with me through moves of five states. He hiked with me through the Smoky Mountains, pulled me through the wilds of Idaho in a dogsled, Drove on cross country road trips to Pennsylvania, walked aside goats and geese in Vermont, and came of an old and beloved age here in New York. He went from a pet to just a natural part of my life, the care of him as normal as showering or starting up the truck - actions you do without thinking of them as a burden. Jazz was never a burden. For seven years he was my dog. He was family.

This Video was made in 2009, right when I was at my most scared for the the farm. That winter of 2009/2010 I was told I was being kicked out of the cabin in Vermont and had to find a new place for the animals and I. I was broke, worried, and so emotionally invested in agriculture and writing as my calling I refused to give them up. I was certain of just two things: I needed to keep the farm going, and I had no idea how to pull it off. I made it. Jazz was there through it all.

Monday, December 17, 2012

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

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Happy Trails

I will always love riding horses more than driving them, but getting in a cart is its own sort of happy. What I love about having a cart horse is I can share horses with so many people. Few people can come to my farm with their own trailer and horse and join me for a mountainside ride through woods and field, but anyone can sit in a horse cart. When I can get ahold of a 2-person cart or cutter I'll be so thrilled to take folks out for a ride when they visit.

Fells and other British Mountain ponies are the horses for me. I hope to own many in this beautiful life. Merlin and I are a team for now, but in the next five years I'd like to add a second, younger pony. A Fell would be ideal but a Dales, Connemara, Galloway, Highland, or any thicker sort of draft pony could melt my heart. Though, to be 100% honest, I think I will always want a long-maned Crow Black Fell pony in my pasture. When something feels right, you stick with it.


Snow is just starting to fall here. I'm watching it from my office window, a little tired from morning chores. In my hand is a green clay mug of warm oatmeal spiked with apple and maple. When I came inside from the first leg of morning work I was famished. So I cut up a Honey Crisp that had been renting space a bit too long in the cupboard. It was just starting to soften, perfect! I threw the chunks of raw apple into boiling water for a lobster-style death before adding the porridge. I added a tiny bit of brown sugar, cinnamon, and maple syrup and ended up with a meal worth staying indoors for. Every bite of apple is soft, at first, but follows up with a crisp center of naturally tart sugars and spices. (That's what the flash boiling did, just partially cooked it.) I'm chew in savoring bites while watching the geese waddle from the barn to the artesian well. They seem to not mind the occasional flake sticking to their down before sliding off. I feel the same way this morning. Most of the chores and feeding are done, but I'll head out there soon after a big glass of water. I still need to bring in firewood and the kindling bucket. I also need to fill up any water sources and do a double check before I retire to the house for a few hours.

Today is all about rest. I have been out on all sorts of adventures these past few days. Friday I drove Merlin on a six-mile road trip with Patty and Steele. It was such a wonderful time, even though some of it was a struggle for me. I could not keep Merlin on the right side of the road, he kept fighting me to track left. Patty made a joke that he probably drives on the left side, sine he's British. I scoffed, thinking he was just being a bossy pony. But when I let him have the left side of the road on a long, safe stretch he drove straight as an arrow in a parade.


Merlin came back home Friday night. Jasper could not have been happier. I'm so glad those horses are here to stand up on that hill outside my kitchen windows, walking through the snow like something out of a legend or another time. I hope to get some photos of this place all lit up and snow-covered later, before any rain steals the joy for that greedy water table.

Yesterday, as you know, was all about the hay. I'm thrilled to tell you I ended up putting away 35 bales and buying 200 pound of grain for the chickens and pigs. No animal needs anything, food wise, on this farm and I am all set to hunker down, which is exactly what I plan to do after last night's party...

Last night was my friends Jimmy and Wendy's Christmas party and it was a blast! He rented a storefront on Main Street in downtown Greenwich. There was a live folk band with some of the best fiddler's in Washington County playing carols and we all sang and toasted each others scotch, nog, or wine. I saw friends I had not seen in months. There were writers and farmers, locals and out-of-towners, and between the meatloaf buffet (as glorious as it sounds! Three types and sides!), singing, and fiddler's envy I came home singing my favorite carol, Good King Wenceslas past the trees barren and waiting for snowfall.

...When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even!
Brightly shone the moon that night!
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath'ring winter fuuuuuoooooooellll....

I woke up with a slight hangover, but nothing hydration and some fresh air couldn't cure right quick. I've got the best medicine on my side: daylight, fresh snow, and a happy tiredness. Banks are closed, the mail does not come, and my only job is to keep the animals here safe and happy. I have a Freedom Ranger in the crock pot who will be a pot pie by nightfall. That will be the day's big accomplishment. I was going to see the Hobbit with friends but we canceled based on weather. It's not fear of bad roads keeping us indoors as much as it is a fear of missing the big show at our homes. All of us wanted to tuck in. Why ruin a day like this by driving around in it! I'm be here with my mug of oatmeal (or chicken pie) reading about Hobbits instead of seeing them in 3D. Watching the first real snowfall kiss and snuggle into every corner of a scrappy farm beats the big screen any day. And this oatmeal, Holy Crow, it sure beats popcorn