Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Upward Over the Mountain

Mother, don't worry.
I've got a coat and some friends on the corner.
Mother, don't worry.
He'll have a garden we'll plant it together
Mother, remember the night the dog had her pups in the pantry?
Blood on the floor and the fleas on their paws
And you cried 'til the morning?
So may the sunrise bring hope
Where it once was forgotten
We are like birds
Flying upward over the mountain

Monday, January 21, 2013

Talking with the Butcher

Mark snapped this picture of me talking to the butcher after the pig slaughter. We are going over the cut sheets, slice by slice. Since I am sharing the pork with the people who helped pay for the piglets and feed you need to explain everything from how thick you want chops sliced to how many pieces of bacon per package. It took a good while and Mark caught me perched on a hand-me-down bench from Bedlam Farm.

Live Like Fiction

I live a life I am proud to say sounds like something out of a novel. I spend my days shooting arrows, riding horse carts, and walking through the woods with a dog or ram lamb by my side. I go on small adventures with friends, usually in the saddle, and bigger adventures in my heart and mind. I spend long summer days fishing in a river and then working in the garden or making hay at neighboring farms. I'll do this until I am so hot and tired I need to return to the river for its blessing. I love how it grants tired skin and bones revival. Fall now is a time of holy reverence and thick gratitude, surrounded with cider making parties, farm festivals, and the fireworks of Autumn foliage. Winters are spent wrapped in wool by warm fires, dogs curled up with me on sheepskin as we read the Mabinogion by candlelight with a tankard of stout beer. I can do a spinning hook kick, shoot a bullseye, and holler behind a galloping horse in a red cart up a mountain road. This sounds like fiction, but it is very real. It's possible because I believe in magic and I believe in love. And I have just enough wisdom to realize they are the same thing. No one will ever tell me otherwise.

I'm all heart and music. I'm all dreams and firecracker. I am hope and force, manifest. I know what I am capable of and what I can help others achieve. I know where I am weak and where I need to ask for help. Most of all, I remove myself from negativity and anger. I think surrounding yourself with support and love is the only way to grow happier and to achieve the fictional life of your dreams. For me it is this earthy, Robinhoody, Celtic, farm life. That's me. For you it may be sitting in a cafe in New York City typing your novel, sailing out to the cape in your own boat, or winning the game with that amazing Hail Mary pass. The point is, whatever your fantasy life is, in some way it is already real because it is inside you. It's the wanting that sparks life into our desires. It is the work and positivity that manifests them. Our fictional lives are real because they are avatars of our emotional ones. Few things are as powerful as our feelings. What you put out into the world always finds its way back to you. Always.

And that is why this will never be a place where others are criticized or torn down. I refuse to put any of my energy or heart into such dangerous acts. This will never be a place where anger howls. This blog, like my farm, is a work in progress and always positive. I have learned that anger is a disease, as much as any illness in the body. You need to acknowledge it, heal it, and find a way to remove it or it becomes cancer and your life is taken over. I know so many angry people, and my heart goes out to them. I do not engage with them, it's pointless, but they have my prayers for healing and happiness. You can not keep those prayers for yourself alone. They grow weaker if only self-inflicted.

I think the more positive and good-hearted you are the healthier and happier you and the people around you become. Listen, I know I'm not pretty. Far from it. I'm short, and stout, and thick limbed. I swear my body has the density of a dying sun. But dying suns pack a hell of a punch, folks. I may not ever been a damsel or a princess, wrapped up in someone's arms but thats okay. That's not my story. I am not pretty, but I dare you to tell me I'm not beautiful. A stag leaping across a field is pretty. The dire wolf chasing after it is fucking gorgeous.

So dear friends, live your life like it's fiction. Love like a romance novel, seek like a good mystery, hope like an underdog story and fight like a fantasy warrior.

Non-Fiction people, get out of our way!

A New Day

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Happy Pigs, Good Deaths

There are a lot of sighs on a harvest day like today. You sigh when you hear the first shot of the .22 rifle and watch the animals you knew as piglets drop to the floor and spasm. You sigh when their throat is slit open, and the blood hits the hay like a child spilled a bucket of paint. It's intense, not enjoyable at all. You sigh those sighs and accept them. They are decision exhaled. You own them, and you move on. Better sighs are just around the corner.

Like I said, the sighs that follow are not sad. What happens next isn't delicate, but it is wonderful. You get to see the entire process from dead animal to hanging sides of perfectly split hogs. And when the work is done and the pigs are on their way to the butcher shop you let out the best sigh of all, happy gratitude and relief you pulled it off. Today was a dark day in the story of these pigs, but a bright one for this farmer. It could not have gone better and I'm very glad with the results.

This is my third year with pigs at Cold Antler. I'm proud to say it was my best ever. These pigs had the largest pen, the most sunlight, and well-rounded diet. They grew fast, fat, and true. The guys who were doing the bulk of the work said they were the cleanest, best-looking pigs they had seen in a while. They applauded the clean pen and the fact that the only grime and mud on my pair was on their trotters. They said my place was scrappy, but it was clean as all get out, and that counted for a lot more than sagging fences and visible garbage bins.

I did what I could to help but there wasn't much for me to do besides pile up the heads, skins, and offal I wasn't saving and remove it from the scene. I have lost any squeamishness around this sort of task, not thinking twice about picking up an intestine or lung and setting it aside. Blood is no longer horrific or confusing, but the living form of so many buckets of water I carried. I now know what the smell of a body cavity is like, and it has grown less obnoxious. Today it wasn't bad at all, since not a single piece of offal was pierced or torn. No unpleasant scents of digestion-in-progress wafted around and since the pigs were off feed 12 hours previous they didn't have any last spoils either.

I spent the afternoon puttering around collecting trotters, livers, tongues and hearts. The trotters went into a bucket of cold water and the organs I was saving piled up in a clean heap inside a baking dish. Most of the time we just chatted, and I asked a lot of questions about the knives they were using, skinning techniques, and recipe ideas. It was a lively bunch out there, and anyone who drove by saw not a sordid crime scene but a laughing foursome of friendly people doing some honest work. (Well, one woman drove by slow shaking her head in disgust, but just the one.) I was beaming though. I am really getting the hang of this. It was the cleanest, quickest, slaughter ever at this farm. I can't wait to split up the shares!

When all was done and the fellows were packed up with my porkers I waved them off, and brought the baking dish of saved organs inside. They were wrapped and frozen. I have plans to slow cook the hearts and tongues for Valentines Day as a special treat. (Seems fitting, no? It's inspired by a recipe from Beyond River Cottage!) The livers were sliced open by myself and inspected in detail. They were perfect, that brown/maroon of health. I sighed a long sigh of relief there, and then smiles. I did it. I saw them through.

Feel free to ask any questions about the process, or the deaths. I will answer them openly and honestly. If anyone was upset by the images or story, know that wasn't my intention. The point of this blog is to bring people into what my life is like here and all the goings-on that transpire. Today was about the death of some fine pigs. Soon you'll see baby goats and the first chèvre of spring and lambs running past the thistles on the mountain. But today was about death, and good deaths they were. I'm proud and grateful and very tired. It's one hell of a happy combination.

P.S. And a warm thank you to Mark Wesner, who not only helped me with the pig pen and wrapping up organs for the freezer, but cut me some firewood with his trusty chain saw and shared a Bunbaker pizza with me in the farmhouse! Good friends, good pigs, good help, and good spirits all around today.

Hog Slaughter Day

Pig Slaughter and Firewood

Today is the day the pigs will be harvested. It's unusually warm, or was this morning anyway. As the day goes on the temperatures will drop and the wind will pick up and by the darkness before dawn, we should be well into the single digits. Today I'll be preparing for the cold, stacking firewood and preparing the house. But before any of that (or pig slaughtering) could start I had an errand to run. I needed hay, bad. Down to two bales the horses, sheep, and goats were counting on me.

I was with Gibson, driving north with the windows were down. Daydream Believer came on the radio, and I sang along with it. Gibson wagged his tail. I was in a great mood. Heading up route 22 to fill up a truck with bales, my right-hand man riding blunderbust. The sun was out and the thermometer read 45 degrees. If you are going to kill pigs, this would be the day to do it. No frozen hands today. No sir.

A trio of experienced traveling butchers will be arriving and taking care of everything from the hog's death to their disembowelment, their skinning and halving. I feel blessed to have folks like this a phone call away. Most of the stress of slaughter for these animals isn't the moments of agony in death, but in the transferring to the abattoir. Animals get confused and scared from such change, and may spend a day or two waiting in concrete stalls, cramped or stressed while they wait their ending. My pigs will die in the same place they have spent the last three months sleeping and eating. It will surprise the hell out of them. There are worst ways to go.

It will happen so fast, and be just a sliver of their time here at Cold Antler. I won't pretend slaughter day death isn't horrific, it is. But done right it is quick as possible and from the moment the gun is fired to the animals are bleeding out and gone from this life, is literally two minutes. I don't like watching it, but I always do. I feel it is my responsibility to be a part of the whole process, from piglet in a dog crate squealing in my arms to the day their heads are on a snowbank.

It's a day I look forward to, and I mean that without any harshness or disrespect. Today is the day the work of raising the animals is done and they will serve their purpose. I started the day singing, and I will end it a bit more somber, but not without joy. The death of the pigs is a cause for celebration, feasts, and the promise of more piglets soon. Pork shares help keep this farm going strong.

Photos and more to come throughout the day.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Small Radius

I am told all the time how unrealistic my life is. If you have fallen into the mindtrap that conventional and realistic mean the same thing, than I guess that is true. My life isn't conventional at all. But what really separates my life from most people's isn't the working at home, the animals or the mountain — it's my proximity to them.

My life is mostly lived within a four-mile radius now. Outside of a drive up to Glens Falls for a class or a rare trip into Saratoga or Albany for special provisions, I stay put. This is what really sets my life apart, and in a lot of ways it is closer to how folks in cities live. If you live in a very urban area your world of employment, social needs, entertainment, cabs rides, and basic essentials to human life are a few blocks from your apartment. If you live on a homestead with gardens, a milk goat, and a cart horse it really isn't all that different. The details are, as are the costumes, but the idea of living around your headquarters is the same.

I think for most of suburban and rural America, this kind of lifestyle has grown out of fashion. We are constantly on the move, either for work or play. I know parents of school-aged kids who swear to me it would be impossible to park their car after work on a Friday and not drive it again until Monday morning. Too many play dates, activities, plans and events. One mother told me the only way she doesn't drive forty miles a day is if she is sick. So for some people, their homes have become bedrooms and garages.

I lived like that, too. It didn't stick. Now I go days without leaving the farm, easily a week without going farther than a trip into town. This isn't all that odd around our sort, but to most of modern America the thought of spending weeks in the same place is borderline isolationist. Which is kind of funny since the idea of a motoring society—people who jump into their car and drive for hours a week to commute, shop, eat out, or entertain themselves—are the weirdos in the course of history. It's only in the last hundred years (a blip) that such travel was normal. It's a by product of living in a world of cheap and abundant energy. Before gasoline and jet fuel, travel across the state (much less across the world!) was a rarity. I live my life close to the place that feeds me. It seems quaint and near-mythical in these times but certainly it is the most "normal" way to live in human history for middle classes. At least as far as the records state.

We're supposed to want to travel, constantly. We're being fed the same story over and over: growth and enlightenment happens when you put yourself out of your comfort zone. I agree with this, but I don't think you need a plane ticket to find your center. For some people, getting out of their comfort zone is a temple in India or on the sidelines of a Mongol horse race. For others, it's learning how to take a goat's rectal temperature. You grow when you meet your limits. And our own limits might include jet fuel or hames and harness. It's part of the neat juicy DNA that makes us all different and interesting.

And I know this, but I feel anxiety about my lack of desire for travel outside Washington County. I don't want to leave, and while I know that is perfectly okay and par for my life choices, I still can't help squirming when I read things like Eat, Pray, Love or watch some documentary on Tigers in Siberia. There is a big world outside the Shire and even Hobbits are known to go on the occasional adventure....Perhaps in the future I will crave and desire speaking Gaelic to a man on the Isle of Skye or load up a backpack for a trek across mountains of Korea. Tonight I just want to sit by the fire and plan tomorrow's pig harvest. My adventures are right outside my own front door these days. Why am I being told it's not enough?

My triangle of experience may be less glamorous than Miss Gilbert's, But I think both me and Liz learn about life by seeking spirit and adventure. Her's involved Italian food, Ashrams, and Bali. Mine involves homemade bread, stone circles, and a mountain farm. They both sound like Eat, Pray, Love to me.

Black Belt

This cat is feeling far more comfortable than I am this morning. I am so sore through my back and shoulders it feels like someone ripped my wings off. It's a good thing, it really is. I needed then ripped off.

Yesterday was my first time back inside a Taekwondo school in six years. I had not realized how much I missed it. It was amazing! I spent my entire high school career out of organized sports and instead at martial arts tournaments. I competed in fighting, forms, weapons kata (sai), and breaking. Through college I dabbled a little in some other fighting styles and then when I moved to Tennessee I took it up as an adult. But when farming came into my life, along with a full-time off-farm job it was impossible to find the time to be a corporate designer, farmer, and martial artist. I paid for it, losing muscle and flexibility and gaining weight. I love the farm, I loved my old job, but I do not love how I let myself fall out of shape. Mark my words, I am getting it back.

Yesterday I spent two hours working out and being evaluated as a new student at a dojang in Glens Falls. It was harder than I remember, but still etched in my body and mind. I can not tell you how wonderful it felt to be back on the mat. This is my kind sport, what makes sense to me. I am useless and bored on a softball or soccer field. I have no interest in running around a track in circles. Gyms feel like hamster wheels and work out videos grow repetitive. And folks, not even the kilts could make me join a field hockey team... But being a fighter, hot damn if I don't adore it. Archery, martial arts, riding a horse, these are what I consider my athletic skill set. I admit its a little old fashioned and perhaps not the usual for my gender, but what can you do? We can help what we like, we can't help what we love.

So I love martial arts but it has been a long time since I was back in a martial artist's body. I miss it, feeling thin and confident. My resolution for this year is to get back to my old fighting weight. And you know what? The only way to get there is to fight for it, literally. So several times a week I'll be with the rest of the adult students stretching, kicking, and punching my way home to it. Fitness isn't my only goal though folks, I am going for my black belt. To me a black belt is meaningless if you aren't pushing yourself to the point of breaking, shedding pounds and tears, and coming out the other side looking (as well as acting) like a role model to the younger students. Right now I am not even feeling like a role model to myself, and the dojang and the path back to expert will lead me back home to it.

It's also about keeping my promises. I promised myself I would attain black belt in this short life. I was very, very close at my first school but got involved with a guy and romance trumped tournaments and ranking. Before you knew it I was off to college and and then working in an office five days a week and fell out of practice. I missed it so much I joined a school in Knoxville, but moved to Idaho and did not get to advance to black belt there either. I don't regret the choice to fall out of practice, be it for men or moves, but it's time to get back to my goal.

Design For Winter Camp Shirts!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Cockle Warming

The Woodpile Gang is doing well, and still in the farmhouse where it's toasty. No other eggs hatched, and were discarded after the mother started ignoring them. It's nice having some poultry in the house. Since they are just a wall away from the kitchen I can hear the mama cooing and clucking to her babes. On a shelf above me seedlings are sprouting under their grow light. That's a lot of new life for the dead of winter, and when it is four degrees outside it sure does warm the ol' cockles.

Err, chickles?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gloomy Neighbors

Tonight I went over to Jon and Maria's for some of Jon's famous pizza (kale, potato, and chicken sausage tonight!). It was a great visit, catching up on book and agent news, sharing stories and conversation over a bottle of red... nice, normal, stuff. But when the pizza was put away and the wine was running low in the glasses — the three of us got out a certain card game and the night took a wonderfully dark turn!

We were playing a game called Gloom. Gloom is simple: you win by picking a family of characters out of the deck and then spend your turns making them as miserable as possible. The most miserable family at the end of the game wins. But to make things interesting, you can also use your turn making other player's characters happy. So while I was wishing out wasp strings and mocking midgets to my family, Jon was laying down cards where my miserable characters found love. In real life, that would be sweet. In Gloom, it's bad news. You win when your family has the least amount of self worth. It is hilarious, ever-changing, and better when surrounded by adult beverages...

The real fun of the game is every time you change a character action you have to explain it in one ongoing, horrible story. This forces everyone to do a little web-weaving, and make it up as they go along. Think of it as fiction-jazz. Stories get horrible and out of control, turning the worst news into headlines. Jon took his characters into some hilarious place, including a conflicted clown named giggles finding true happiness in dark places. I talked about characters drowning in bogs and being taunted in private schools. Maria told stories about illustrated ladies on tightropes over vats of shark-infested pudding. It sounds silly, even sad, but it isn't. You get attached to the characters and get drawn into their made-up world in this high-stakes game of horrors. We played a while and pretty much just laughed. The game ended in a tie between Maria and I after she killed off my last character. It was great.

So why share about a card game on a farming blog? Well, because it's the kind of thing folks don't really do anymore. We get together to gossip, complain, converse, and award each other but we don't necessary challenge each other to a story-telling contest. this is something that doesn't require anything but your family and your time. It's a good game for farmers. You don't need anything but a blanket in the hayfield, a few beers, a tired body and reeling mind. (I think a lot of farmers have that in spades!) You can play it by campfire light while out under the stars, or at a booth at your favorite bar over dinner. It's not some confusing board game with pieces to lose or complicated rules. It's really for the story-tellers out there. And if you know someone with a dark sense of humor and a competitive edge, I may have just finished your Christmas shopping.

Tonight was a little competitive, a little dark, and a whole load of creativity. Try it out with some friends, you'll love it. And if you have time to watch the video above you'll get a real taste of the game before you commit to buying it. That show is free to watch on Youtube and reviews all kinds of games. This particular one costs around twenty dollars, but for a game you can play over and over with friends I think it's money well spent!

So that was my night. Any suggestions for equally addictive games out there that fall a little under the radar? Do you have a game the average Scrabble or Trivia Pursuit player may love but doesn't know about? Share it here!


The Fire Garden

This here looks like a pile of logs near a bench, but it is actually much more. It is a stack of heat. I have used mainly wood to keep this place comfortable all winter (comfortable to me, anyway). I like heating a living fire, it's become another harvest on this little homestead. Just like a garden it demands presence and sweat, a lot of work for a promise of a future bounty There isn't a lot of difference in felling trees and planting beans, not when it comes down to the nitty gritty. You are doing the work because someday you will draw comfort from it, primal comfort. A bowl of bean soup by a fire is a poem and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. I am growing suspicious of heat that comes from dials and buttons. It is starting to feel like plastic.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Snow Patrol

Song of the Bow

What of the bow?
The bow was made in England:
Of true wood, of yew-wood,
The wood of English bows;
So men who are free
Love the old yew-tree
And the land where the yew-tree grows.

What of the cord?
The cord was made in England:
A rough cord, a tough cord,
A cord that bowmen love;
And so we will sing
Of the hempen string
And the land where the cord was wove.

What of the shaft?
The shaft was cut in England:
A long shaft, a strong shaft,
Barbed and trim and true;
So we’ll drink all together
To the grey goose-feather
And the land where the grey goose flew.

What of the mark?
Ah, seek it not in England,
A bold mark, our old mark
Is waiting over-sea.
When the strings harp in chorus,
And the lion flag is o’er us,
It is there that our mark will be.

What of the men?
The men were bred in England:
The bowmen—the yeomen,
The lads of dale and fell.
Here’s to you—and to yew!
To the hearts that are true
And the land where the true hearts dwell.

-Arthur Conan Doyle

Practice. Every. Single. Day.

Winter Is Back!

Winter is back, as my friend Maria said in an email this morning. After a few warm days of horsing around (literally) I'm back in a contemplative hibernation state of mind. It is such a calming feeling, being farm in a little house with the snow falling outside. I am trying, though it does take an effort of will, to stop and smell the snowflakes. I'm so used to working on the next project, plan the next workshop, and worrying about when and how next week's feed order will come in that I don't stop to realize what a gift a little house with a woodstove in the woods can be.

There's enough food for everyone on the farm today.
There's enough wood for the fires to burn today.
There's friends on the phone to call today.
There's books to dive into and love today.
There's good dogs with full bellies today.
There's a cat curled up by the stove today.
There's snow falling all around me today.

It's all enough, today.

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?

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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.