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!

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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