It's Tuesday at Here at Cold Antler Farm and that's means Game Night! It's a new tradition here, and it is a hit. Farmers, writers, musicians, or just the everyday variety of friends and readers—they come here for a potluck dinner and a game. But don't think you'll get just any sort of meal and any sort of board game, this is a very certain taxonomy of the species. We eat good, home cooked, farm-raised food and the games are not what you will find on most mall shelves. No darling, we play awesome games. The kind of games that win German awards for making you fall in love with meeples.... That's Game Night. We drink and laugh and talk seeds and piglets between sips of hard cider and spoonfuls of soup hand-crafted by a chef fit for a bistro menu. It is high class geek fantastico.
Tara and Tyler of goingslowly.com are regulars. Truthfully they are the co-founders of Game Night and helped make it what it is now. They are recent imports from the midwest, living here in Veryork in a trailer on their recently purchased land, while building straw bale and thatch-roofed house. (These are our people!) Besides being fans of the same games I am, Tara and Tyler are cookbook authors and have graced this farm's table with meals both charming and simple. We have trades wood for sheep over bits of crumbly lemon cakes and shouted over shutgunning Zombies with potato soup in our hearts. Tara has made meals that made me squirm around the spoon with joy, Tyler brought his knife sharpening kit once and made my chef's knife a force to be reckoned with. They make any game or any meal better. Come to Game Night and meet them!
For those of you already writing this off as lame. I get it. If you are (like I was) suspect about board games and convinced they are horrible time sucks and boring traps, I can not suggest Wil Wheaton's Youtube Show, Table Top enough. The games this show features are not your run-of-the-mill games. They are clever, super fun, usually European imports. Some are more about storytelling or role playing and others are really all about dice and chance, but all of them are awesome. I say this as someone who can not sit through a game of Monopoly and avoids any dinner party where Scattergories or Win Lose or Draw is mentioned. I refused to play board games for years because that was all I knew. But now I watch TableTop every Thursday and have bought several of the games featured it in. Each of these fancy games costs anywhere from ten to fifty dollars but I don't see that as anything but an investment. I can buy a game like Catan once and host endless dinner parties with great friends and never get tired of it. The most commonly played games here are Settlers of Catan, Zombie Dice, Tsuro and Gloom. But I just got my hands on that game Agricola, which is as daunting as it is exciting. I am upping my gamer ante with that one…
So tonight is Game Night. It's an institution. I have 4 pounds of pork shoulder in the crock pot and at least six people showing up, possibly eight. (I better sweep up the dog hair). I feel like I'm getting ready for the school dance, all wound up over the chance and laughs.
So folks, consider possibly setting up a homestead game night of your own, wherever you are. It's a great way to really connect with people, learn about them, and enjoy a night. I feel like we don't spend enough time with our friends away from screens and dinner tables. To eat a good meal and then retire for a night of high-stakes laughter, a few puffs of pipe smoke, and harmless ribbing at old inside jokes is a blast. It makes the winter warmer, the food taste better, the community stronger. It's here to stay at CAF.
P.S. Do you know what game is coming in the mail today!? Glen More! The game of living in ancient Scotland and running your farm and clan! Perfect!
Wendy Rogers, the talented watercolorist and (lucky me!) reader of CAF surprised me with this image on my Facebook page yesterday! It is Sal! Holy Crow is this woman an artist. A few weeks ago I was just browsing through people's updates on Facebook and was lucky enough to see a painting she did of a forest in winter's sigh. I was so floored by it, by how it made me instantly feel like I was riding Merlin through the Days of Grace before the snow fell....that I had to tell her how she transported me. Some people write, some act, some build, some hunt and some paint. Wendy paints and we are all luckier for it. We get to see her world!
P.S. She takes commissions! Contact her through the link!
If anyone is interested in a purebred Ram Lamb, not quite a hogget (born near the summer solstice, I have one for sale. I would like to keep him but with Altas here it is tricky. I am moving him away from the expectant mothers in the goat pen tomorrow (if the gates unfreeze!) and letting him try life with the flock but I am fairly certain he won't be as happy playing second fiddle to Atlas as he would be in charge of his own girls. He is in tact, from solid stock of NEBCA member breeders, and was born here. If interested please contact me at email@example.com.
Yesterday afternoon I drove through South Cambridge to the town of Buskirk. A hundred acre farm was my destination, home of Ed Hepp and his wife Patty. Ed's an amazing man, and a total character. He has been working with raptors since he was fifteen years old. He adores the birds and has been a member of the New York State Falconry Association since it started. I am guessing the gentleman is in his seventies, but it isn't slowing him down. He's a hawker, and an artist, a husband and a local legend. I was at his farm because I called him and asked if he could consider being my falconry sponsor. It's asking a lot.
To become an apprentice you need a mentor. The state demands an experienced falconer, at least five years into the sport, sign off on you. It's the first level of screening for newbies like me. If someone thinks you aren't right for the sport, don't have the time, resources, or gusto to make it as a hawker they don't sign you up. I was there to basically ask for faith and time, as a total stranger.
I arrived and Pat met me at the door. She and her home were beautiful, tidy and put together. A Brittany spaniel (I would learn was named Jake) wagged his cropped tail at me and loved me up as I entered the house. I told her who I was and why I was there and she pointed to the workshop-cum-mews outside where Ed was working. I gathered my books, early supplies I had gathered, and study guide the state had sent me, complete with the application Ed would have to sign off on. As I walked outside down the path to his workshop I saw him walking out towards me.
He was gray haired and tan, sturdy and of shorter stature. He walked like someone half his age would walk, confident without seeming arrogant. He walked like a man on his own land, and behind him in a dog run of chain link was a gorgeous Goshawk the likes of which I had never seen in books or online before. Unlike the dog, the hawk did not have a name.
I fell in love with Ed when we were walking from his workshop to the house so he could interview me for the sponsorship. As he smacked layers of sawdust and wood shavings from his worn jeans and jacket, he grumbled about being dirty. I asked him if he was working on his carousel horse carving and he said, without missing a beat, "I do too many things, and none of them well," and there was a smile in his words. If there is one personality trait I share with the man, it's that. I can ride a horse, shoot a bow and arrow, brew a batch of stout, and knit a hat and none of them are mastered crafts. Ed and I are Jacks of All Trades, and I love being a Jack. Ed does too.
After a few hours of talking, touring, and walking through his property Ed signed off on me and accepted me as a sponsor. I could not be happier about that. Ed has been doing this a long time, and has the wealth of experience and stories that I can only hope to learn a fraction of. Monday I mail off my application and officially sign up for the written exam and once I pass that (80& or higher!) Ed can help me pick out a place for my Mews and help me get started on the path to training my own bird. He's really leaning towards a Kestrel for me, I think. I have my heart set on a Red Tail. Truth is I'll be honored and thrilled with anything I am lucky enough to share a few hunting seasons with.
I was outside carrying buckets for the horses when the phone rang, three times in a row. It was Yesheva down at Common Sense Farm. She wanted to let me know their last doe of the season due to give birth, Iris, was in the throes. Did I want to come down and watch and/or help? She said if I rushed I could make it.
I dropped everything and headed the three miles down the road!
I spent an hour in their barn watching not one, not two, but triplets being brought into this fine world! It was a healthy and normal birth, all systems go. It was very much like the sheep, but a lot more vocal and a lot quicker! I got to towel them off, help get them on their feet, and feed them their first tastes of mama's milk. Iris was a trooper and all of her little ones (two does and a buckling) are healthy and already on the bottle. In a week the dairy will be up in full swing again. More photos to come!
We continued this thrashing hike through the slush and ice for quite some time. Us humans covering ground in a fanning group, hitting piles of brush with our big sticks and keeping an eye on Enola. For a hawk she wasn't very focused. At least not this particular afternoon. Dawn seemed only slightly worried when the bird started to fly away from our hunting party. I was flat out worried. I didn't know if flying away was normal? Dawn sighed, and explained that birds have good days and bad. Enola was feeling the warm sun on her wings close to breeding season. She was also at a higher weight than usual. I gave dawn a look that asked for explanation and she kindly did so.
You hunt (falconers say "fly") a bird when it is at flying weight. A falconer with a bird they are hunting with has to be weighed and journaled about daily. The person flying it needs to know at what weight is the bird still active and healthy, fit and well, but hungry. That hunger is important since all falconry training is based on reward and associated humans with dinner. Enola wasn't hungry. A hungry bird will pay attention, do as told. Her performance was that simple. Raptors in this training program pay attention to their vending machines, but sated birds do not. So instead of risking the bird flying off for good (which happens all the time) Dawn pulled out a fake dead pigeon on a string and spun it around, calling Enola's name. The bird's head turned and she flew back across the fields and landed on Dawn's gauntleted hand.
Dawn knew from the hawk's attitude and actions that hunting with her be at best frustrating and at worst tragic. She could simply sly off in search of lust and a big swell of hot air. Dawn returned her to her wooden perch box in their Jeep. Mark and I were rounded up by then following behind her. Their little beagle mix (they call her the Bagel) came up from behind. It didn't take long for mark to get out his young male, Ulfberht out of his box and on his arm. Loaded with a new bird hungry for the hunt, we headed back to the high brush.
What followed was a lot of hiking, briars, cuts and scrapes and a few falls. I am talking about me here, not Dawn or Mark. I am used to my farm and roads but scrambling through the brush isn't something I have done since pheasant season. I caught up quickly though, and before I knew what was happening a rabbit was flushed by Mark and the Bagel! At this outburst of activity all the people yelled HO HO HOOOOO! And at that rally cry Ulf took flight after the bird, deep into the brush past where we could see. Dawn was close to me and I turned to her, excited as could be, "Do you think we got him?!" and she replied with a doubtful shrug.
"I didn't hear a scream…"
Oh right, I was so used to killing rabbits without any sound at all from the broomstick method I didn't realize how loud and wild their screams would be in a full-out ariel attack. Dawn's hunch was right. No rabbit was smote by Ulf's talons, not this flight anyway.
Even though that first hunting flight didn't produce any game it was a thrill to watch. I couldn't believe I was out doing this, talking with and hunting alongside falconers. It was less than a few weeks ago that I decided I was going to take this up. It was a gut reaction, the same one I felt for Merlin, or Archery, or leaving my job at Orvis. So far I have learned to really trust my passion, regardless of the outcome. I don't mean being reckless or taking on more than you can chew, but having the sense to understand bliss isn't a dirty word. I think a lot of folks hold back in life because they worry that exploring a subculture or hobby might make them seem foolish or be mocked. Others think doing something fun is borderline irresponsible. Those are decisions for us to make for ourselves, but this girl has found success living her ridiculous farm life. And here on this sunny winter day I just yelled HO HOO HOOOOOO to a diving hawk with the fervor of watching a fourth-quarter Hail Mary pass.
We kept up the hunt for another hour or so. Ulf had another flight, after another rabbit. That one also got away but at this point I don't think any of us really cared. The sun was shining, hawks were flying, the dog was smiling and we were good and winded from hours of sludge and brush. When we threw in the towel at dudk I asked if I could treat them to dinner at the Burger Den. They accepted and we headed back to Jackson for the best French fries in town.
At the Burgen Den (the local diner near Cold Antler)we sat in the booth, ordered our meals, and while we waited for our food I heard some amazing Falconry war stories. Mark and Dawn laughed and talked about meets in other states, stories of first rabbits, and gave tips on suppliers and gear. I could not have felt more included, more a part of this sport. That's amazing to me seeing as just last month it was something from image searches online and Discovery Channel specials. We talked about where I go from here, basically continuing to study for my written exam and follow along on more hunts. I explained I needed a sponsor and Dawn suggested a fellow in Washington County named Ed Hepp. He was retired now, but still hunting with birds and has been for over fifty years. I knew it would be a long shot, but I'd give Ed a try. The worst he could say is no.
I loved the day, loved the hunt. And I think it showed. Dawn and Mark saw a member of their tribe that day and I did the same.
The cold is back. After a few days of sunshine and highs nearly into the forties we are back to nights in the single digits and midnight runs to the wood stoves to keep the home fires burning. I just finished up my first week of being back into my writer's schedule with the new book, and it is making me realize a few things about myself. The most prominent being that I have a seemingly endless well of energy when it comes to the farm and animals, but creative energy, the stuff of blog posts and books....that has a glass ceiling. I find that I can write in the mornings post-chores for the book and then I need to reload myself with inspiration. I can't go from book-to-blog unless I am copying and pasting content. (Which isn't fair to book or blog reader, honestly.) So I get my word count in every morning and then spend some time doing something outside or totally mindless. I do some groundwork with Merlin (by the by, I need the farrier back here soon...) or I make a cup of coffee and sit down to watch something on Hulu or Youtube to get me excited again. The first week of farm book writing was padded by The Walking Dead. I could watch a new episode every 500 words. If that sounds like bribing myself, it is. And it was somewhat hilarious to go from writing about the sunshine in a spring garden to little Sophia shambling out of the barn...
Point is, I got through my first week. And writing feels natural in this cold spell of winter weather. I find myself being torn between the blog and the book, and you'll know who won that day by how much I wrote to you here. I guess I'm trying to explain that some days content here will be light and others I will let out a landslide of falconry, farm, and garden-planning stories. Please be patient.
Next weekend is Words & Wool, a two-day workshop on all things fiber. It'll be a full house and I am excited about it. I have the spinning instructor coming up from NYC and plans to hop over the fence and sheer some wool right off a sheep for the wool-cleaning and preparing demonstration. I want folks to see wool go from sheep to being spun and knit, all in one weekend. I've been in a knitting slump so I think this weekend of women and wool will be a power punch right in the ol' yarn stash.
Cold Antler Farm is a scrappy place. The fences sag, everything needs improvements, and the layout is suspect at best. But I love it. You can see the front of the house in its winter moldy glory. The plastic siding needs to be scrubbed and my little stepladder/mop idea isn't holding up to proper homeownership levels. So I called the boys at Common Sense Farm to come up in the next few weeks with their ladders and fancy truck and in two hours this house will look a lot smarter. There's about ten odd jobs that require heights I can not do (without crying) so as a woman firmly grounded, I welcome their help. Since we have a barter system between our two farms there's a good chance it will cost me some livestock like spring meat birds but that's fine by me. Cold Antler will always be a scrappy place, but I would like to keep doing my best to make it less so. Hmm, Can you embrace scrappy while trying to fight it?
I was at a Brick-Oven Pizza Party last night with good friends, and in the bouncy conversations the time just flew by. Before I knew it I had an amazing meal and a few drinks, and when a couple I didn't know as well as the others stopped over to chat and politely asked me about my weekend, I beamed up at them from my glass of bourbon and told them I was going to meet my sponsor tomorrow!
They just stared at my glass of booze.
I quickly realized most people associate the word Sponsor with AA and tried to not turn red as I laughed. "No, no no…. I mean my Falconry Sponsor. They guy who may become my mentor! WEll, if he agrees to take me on that is...He lives in south Cambridge and restores and carves carousel horses when he isn't flying hawks!"
At this point the AA meeting sounds more normal...
But the people at the party were all genuinely interested, and had the same questions many of you have. How do you trap a hawk? How do you train it? Where does it live? How long can you keep it? How the heck does one get into Falconry? And so on. I hope to answer all these questions as the process unfolds here on the blog. You are seeing a lot of hawk posts now only because this is the bright light of beginning a journey. I'm excited and so I write about it, read about it, go on trips and gather supplies here and there. Yesterday my packet from the NYS DEC arrived and my application to take the test in April was there. It was a normal hunting license form, but with a forty-dollar application fee and a spot at the bottom for a sponsor to sign off on me to take the written test. The state doesn't want anyone moving forward into falconry, even taking written tests, unless they have an experienced person signed up to teach and guide them. I think that is wonderful.
Besides the study guides and rule books, there was a list of falconers in the state of New York, listed by county with their names and phone numbers. I called a retired man some of my friends know, a master falconer named Ed. Ed lives about ten minutes away from Cold Antler and runs a carousel horse repair and carving studio. I called him and he wasn't home, but his wife said he'll call me back later on in the day. When he did call, I told him who I was and where I lived and that I wanted to be a falconer and would he be my sponsor? There was a pause on the line and then he replied.
"Well, maybe. I'd like to meet you first."
Which was so plain and obvious I know I did turn red, and asked him when would be a good time to come down to his farm. We set up a time today. I am excited to meet this guy, to say the least! I'll get to see his Mews and weathering areas, his birds, ask questions and have him review my supplies. If he signs off on me I can mail in my application to the state and get assigned a test date. It's all one step at a time, and one experience at a time, but it is happening. It surely is.
Hunting with hawks was not what I was expecting. In my mind the falconer walks out into the forest or field with a bird on her arm and enjoys a leisurely stroll while the bird's better eyes and instinct scout for game. I imagined the animal tensing up and focusing like it was casting a spell on some random bit of earth or brush and then the human releasing it like a gunshot in the direction of the kill. This is exactly what does not happen.
When you hunt with hawks, you are more like children being babysat by a raptor. You do start by walking into a forest or field but soon as the hunt starts the hawk is sent up into the sky or a tree branch, and the humans do the work of a good hunting dog. We use sticks and our voices and we thrash about in the high brush hoping to scare the wits out of a cottontail. As we make our way through thorn and briar the hawk simply follows along, watching us, and waiting for our exclamations of quarry. When a rabbit is flushed we all shout, "HO HOOOO HO HOO" like a frat house of Santas rolling on ecstasy, and the bird dives after the prey.
That is what I did today. I was a beater, a dog really, and it was wonderful. I learned what a real hunt is like here in the east. Out west it is very different, with big open spaces and high-flying falcons that dive-bomb 4-5 jackrabbits a hunt. Here a good season is enough rabbits to count on one hand. In the lingo of Falconers' this scrappy version of the sport is called dirt hawking. Because the people get dirty and the cover is tight and the chances you are going to get cut and scratched and fall down in the mud is pretty darn high. I managed all three today and all I was doing was scaring rabbits and taking pictures!
We started on the side of a farmer's woody field in Vermont. In the back of their jeep two wooden boxes that did not allow in any light (very important in bird transportation), were waiting for us. Dawn put on her well-worn black gauntlet and opened the wooden door. INside was her beautiful female red tail, a big girl named Enola Gay. She offered her the gauntlet and Nola hopped right up like she just hailed a cab. Inside the box was a soft ground of fabric and a perch, and it looked a lot more comfortable than my heatless, busted up truck. I snapped photos and asked a thousand questions. I was excited, really excited, and trying to keep cool.
I have never been out on a rabbit hunt with a hawk. I wasn't scared of the bird or the hike, but I wasn't sure how the hell Nola went from a wild creature to this nearly-domesticated looking pet bird? I would find out in the course of the hunt that Nola is far from a pet and not at all domesticated. She simply got a decent paying job helping a human being catch rabbits, and like most people in this economy was just happy for the steady pay. Most hawks in the wild die in the first year, few mature to that soaring red tail you see out along the roadsides. These birds care about one thing: survival. The ones who are trapped and trained to associate humans with a free meal quickly oblige because the alternative is nearly certain death in a bird-eat-bird world. We have this notion of hawks as spirit animals, and they are, but that hawk you see soaring about the sun isn't meditating on the Great Spirit's war drum. It's trying to find some semblance of a meal so it doesn't die. Spiritual interpretation is a luxury of those who know where their next meal is coming from…
With Nola ready and Dawn's falconry game back slung over her shoulder (It looks a lot like a bike messenger bag, but for dead things and quail parts), we headed out to the field. Dawn sent the bird off and it landed in a high branch about 30 yards ahead of us. Mark walked into the field with their Beagle Shiloh and started thumping into the brush with his beater. Between dog and man, a lot of rabbits were getting nervous….
I have a fun idea for a giveaway, and here it is: If you can guess the correct number of kilts I own (not have owned, but own right now in my closet) you will be entered to win a FREE Kobo Mini E-Reader! This is a real simple, paper-like e-reader that anyone with a computer can use. It runs on wi-fi, and also lets you shot for new books (thousands of free titles) and subscribe to newspapers and magazines. So want a Free Kobo? Here's how you enter!
Leave a comment with a number, and then tell someone you know who doesn't read Cold Antler Farm about the blog. Send them a link, leave a post-it note on their cubicle wall, write barnheart.com on a sidewalk in chalk. Just get the word out. The only catch is you need to do it now, so if you told you sister on the phone last night about the blog, that doesn't count and your entry will be disqualified. So that's all I'm asking, some PR work, guerrilla style, and a guess on the kilts. Leave a comment saying who and how you got out the word about CAF and a number and you are entered. All correct guesses who spread the word will be in the E-Reader drawing. Winner will be announced Friday!
This morning I am diving into morning chores and writing, and then heading out for an adventure. I am going out on a hawking hunt! Dawn and Mark, the two falconer's I mentioned a few days ago, invited me. I ran into them at my bank and we talked outside in the parking lot for quite some time. It felt like talking with old friends, even though we are just getting acquainted. I suppose that shouldn't be a surprise, it's not like falconry appeals to the masses, right?. Us eccentrics have to stick together.
So today is my first hunt! I am excited but not sure of what to expect! I was told to meet them in the early afternoon at the Rupert General Store and from there we'll go out into the field after rabbits. They are flying their redtails and I am coming along with my camera. Just in case I get a chance to work with any of the birds, I am bringing along my just-out-of-the-package leather gauntlet. It is the only time in my life I bought a single glove. They don't come in pairs. It has a fancy tassel and fake fleece inside and the guy on the phone said it was what most women wear. Since I'm right handed it goes on my left hand, so my right is free to fuss and do things like adjust jesses and tighten leashes or work training tools.
In other future-falconer news: I called up the office at the DEC yesterday and got my test date in April for my written test. My study packet should be here tomorrow or the following day. Per Dawn's advice I ordered a copy of the California state club study guide, supposedly one of the best there is out there. I have a few weeks to take notes, read books, and get some experience in the field and then I get this one shot to take this exam.
The process of becoming a licenses apprentice falconer isn't hard, it's just involved. It requires a little effort up front but nothing compared to getting ready for a horse or a flock of sheep. I feel prepared, both in mind and spirit. A magazine's senior editor read I was taking this up and wants to follow the process for a story. It all feels like it is falling into place. It really does. And tomorrow I will be out in the tall grass chasing rabbits with folks who hunt with hawks on their arms.
I pay attention to the weather more than anyone I know. My health, my work, even my social life—all these things are connected to the forecast. It is beyond ritual or logic, this weather checking. I own metrological gadgets few normal citizens own. I have rain gauges and barometers and remote-controlled indoor/outdoor setups that compare and contrast conditions from my barnyard to my living room. When I wake up every morning the first thing I do—before I take off the covers or consider a trip to the bathroom—is check the weather. In the dark cold of winter morning a brave appendage reaches out from my blanket den of warmth and clamors for my smart phone. That phone is always close to me, and not because of texts or twitter (those are for people who do not check the weather as often) but because that little black box is so much more than a personal assistant. When you live by the climate like I do, that phone becomes your babysitter, best friend, worst enemy and fortuneteller. Within seconds of clicking on my news I find out everything that is happening to me that day, the next day, and probably into the rest of the week. I would call myself obsessed, but that isn’t accurate. Obsessed implies some sort of control. I am not obsessed. I am possessed. Anxiety is not the same as ownership.
So Fiddler's Rendezvous is on for March now, and I am just awaiting confirmation from Hubbard Hall about available weekends but I am shooting for the 9th and 10th. How is that? Dulcimer Day Camp has to be moved or possibly canceled due to lack of interest. If you are signed up for it (I think only two of you are, so far?) can you please email me so we can work out another date or private lesson?
Bogh is with me most mornings in the office. He perches behind my desk on the saddle stand, making himself comfortable amongst the tack and balls of yarn. Every once in a while I turn around to pet him, check in on him. Sometimes Yetti comes up and takes the same spot. I think it is prime feline real estate. This saddle rack is against a sunny window and above dog level. I think it's the place Boghadair turns to when everyone is making a fuss. I understand. I come here and write for the same reasons.
One of the gritty realities of running any homestead is money. These days you need it just as much as you need chicken feed and a good set of sheep shears. I quit my steady paying job as a corporate web designer back in June and have been riding the wave of self employment ever since. To be perfectly honest, it is has been rough out there. I quickly ran out of the small nest egg of savings I had and had to come up with new ways to pay the bills and keep the dream alive and the farm (generally) in the black with the banks. Things grew scrappier and I realized I needed a little more security. I bit the bullet. Tomorrow is the first day of my new job.
So Monday morning I will be pouring a mug of coffee, getting dressed, and joining the throngs of others heading into the work week. I have a new solid gig, the first real breath of relief I felt in months. But here's the kicker. I won't be starting up the truck or even leaving Cold Antler…. Darlings, I will be making the commute up the stairs to my office where I will be starting in earnest on MY FIFTH BOOK!!!!!
Yes friends! I landed a new book deal, my first deal since 2009! It's with a new publisher but I'm still writing about what I love most: raising food at home. The folks at Roost Books are as excited I am about this new adventure we're taking together. And this new manuscript I am starting tomorrow falls into place just as I am wrapping up the last edits of the book coming out this fall. This is going to be a very busy spring in this little office surrounded by horse tack and taxidermy. One book is being written while another one is getting ready for bookstores come October. And folks, that book coming out in October is going to be a doozy...I just saw a sample of the pages from the guys at Storey and it may be the most beautiful thing with my name on it so far. Every page is designed with illustrations, photographs, song lyrics and quotes. It's a romantic and realistic journal of the Wheel of the Year here at CAF. A book worthy of anyone needing an injection of Barnheart remedy.
Guys, it is so incredibly encouraging, all this. To be so busy creating books, to still have the honor to write them and know that people want to keep reading and publishing my work, even in these sketchy times of fiscal cliffs and what not. To me it says I made the right choice. I left a job that did not fulfill me and I am making it (just!) doing what I love.
So I can't say I've made the big time, that's for sure. The book deal comes to me in three modest payments over the course of the next 18 months and the first one is already spent. I paid the mortgage for one month and paid off three scary little debts that banks were calling me about night and day. The check was enough to get that monkey off my back while keeping the lights on, and I consider that combination a blessing. So when it comes to cash I'm in the same place I always have been of *just* making it, but at least I'm on more solid ground. I think if you can climb out of a little debt while keeping a roof over your head - all the while doing what you love… Well folks, that is success to me. And I feel like the most successful person in the world tonight. I have no idea how next month's mortgage will be paid, but I know it will. I am as certain of that as I am about setting up my tax appointment and taking my vitamins after brushing my teeth. You can bet on some things, you sure can.
And you know how many angry creditors called me this week?
I called a woman from a local Falconer (Falconing?) couple this morning. I know her through a friend. I told her how I knew her, and that we had actually met in 2008 at the British School of Falconry when I first moved to Vermont. I was interviewing for the job at Orvis and not sure if I would get it. But when I saw the Equinox Hotel offered its guests lessons in beginner falconry I jumped at what felt like a once-in-a-lifetime chance. That's a photo the woman I called today took of me with a Harris Hawk. And here I am, five years later, asking her to take some more.
It was a great experience in their large barns learning to call and send away the bird. After we were wrapped up I explained how much it was something I wanted to do and she said to look her up if I ever moved out here. She gave me the copy of the Northwoods Catalog and her number. I never got in touch with her. Being a new farmer, new shepherd, new border collie and horse trainer on rented land made falconry as realistic as joining a roller derby team. Awesome, but too time consuming and too busy a life for it. But now that I'm a full time writer farming at home with a slower pace, I'm ready to at least try. And it turns out one of the guys I used to work with at Orvis who is in my WoW Guild is one of this couple's best friends. I had an in, without even trying! So I called to say "Hello, I'm new and eager, let's be friends" and I am hoping they call me back. There are a few weeks left in this hawking season and I would love to join them on a hunt as a spectator with a camera.
So far all I have done in this new pursuit is got a hold of some books I am reading and taking notes on, called a local Falconer for a blind date, and joined our state's club online. I also applied for the study packet for the Apprentice Test in April, and once I pass that and show a sponsor that I have my hunter's safety and small game license I can start doing things to get my own farm turned into a place a hawk could thrive. This means building a Mews, getting it inspected by a DEC wildlife official, planning a place to hunt, and putting enough hawk food in the freezer. I wouldn't dare have a hawk in the back seat of my truck fresh from a trap unless all these things were in order and all the federal laws were approved and in place. This will all most likely happen over the summer, in stages and steps. But by fall I may very well have a Red Tail on my gauntleted hand. I can see it in my mind's eye anyway, and that's well over half the effort of making it happen. At least for me.
If you want something, anything really, you need to believe it is possible before you dare imagine yourself doing it. That's just the way of things. And when you can imagine it, phone calls and books are the natural next step. People laugh and call you crazy and bother you about it, but ignore them. You do not need approval from anyone to follow harmless bliss. And Before you know it you're in a field with a hawk and a possible new friend, talking about where you'll put your own mews and hearing war stories of amazing chases. All this, of course, applies to all crazy dreams. Half the battle is knowing you want it and climbing the ladder to reach it. And let folks heckle all they want, its probably good for their red blood cell counts. It means nothing. You know you are doing something good for the soul when other people tell you you're nuts.
P.S. I have heard from so many people equally interested in falconry as I am! So I urge you to at least look up your local club and contact them, take that first step. All that can happen is you end up making a contact for later, and you may end up with a packet in the mail like I am... Life's funny guys, roll with it.
There's a new camera here, my first Canon. It's the EOS Rebel. It costs half a mortgage payment and it took me three days and the manual to learn how to take a picture. It was paid for by the folks who read this blog through contributions, and for that I thank you and will repay you with many, many, images in the years to come! The a long time I have been taking photographs with point and shoots or cell phones, but now I have this advanced tool I am learning to use. I confess I know very little about photography, and even less about how to use this thing—but I am excited to learn enough to maintain fighting weight. I hope the pictures show a clearer and more open view of my life and the farm. I hope you get a better sense for this place and the animals in it (myself included). My friend Tara said she would swap photography lessons for fiddling lessons and I think that is brilliant! Wish me luck, Antlers!
The storm passed us, for the most part. About five inches of snow are out there, and most of that was blown around by harsh winds. I know it is a rough morning when I can hear the howling against trees and no owls start my day with their hooting home from highly rounds. I thought to myself, "If it's this wild here, how bad is it on the flats?" and thought of Jon and Maria and Patty and Mark, both with fairly exposed farms compared to my little mountain homestead. But I heard from both farms and all is well.
Chores this morning were extra bitter, but everyone from the lowest chicken and rat to the mighty horses ate their fill of breakfast and well water. The water defrosters made it fine, and the lows only sunk around ten degrees. Tonight will be colder, but the roads will be clear. I plan on spending the day around the house tending to things like pipes and stove wood. There's a crock pot of chili on and leftovers from yesterday's pork barbecue. This place never starves, I'll tell you that much.
Here there is no Fiddle Campers this weekend, and while it is a bummer I feel I made the right call. While conditions here are pretty mundane just a few hours southeast there are reports of over two feet of snow. Parts of Massachusetts put out a driving ban earlier while the road crews worked. Not the best travel conditions to Veryork for folks coming this-a-way. So I have a house full of fiddles and soon as Hubbard Hall gets back to me with weekends in March I'll post the new date. Some local folks may come by tomorrow to pick up their instruments just because they have their hearts set. Today I asked to keep the farm guest free, the driveway isn't even plowed yet.... I'll catch up.
This morning I joined the New York State Falconer's Association as an associate member, and applied to the DEC for the study packet to become an apprentice. What does that mean? It means I will be learning to train, trap, hunt, and live with hawks, something I have wanted to do for a very long time. Falconry has been on my mind a lot lately and the clincher that made me join the club and request the packet was a ride home from Livingston Brook Farm last week. The same folks I see time and time again were off in a field, gauntlets on their arms, working with their hawks. I have no idea who these people are, but I nearly pulled over to talk to them. Point is, they aren't storybook characters or Olympians, these are everyday people just doing something they love. I think my days of driving past things I want are over. If I want something, I fight like hell to make it part of my life.
...And perhaps not surprisingly, falconry is all around Cold Antler. There is an actual British School of Falconry in Manchester, Vermont (about 30 minutes away). I have friends who have friends who do this, know neighbors with Mews and birds they take out. I'm single, I have land, time and space. It costs a total of $40 to take the test and then, well, there isn't much of a cost to it. A licensed falconer traps you a juvenile red tail or kestrel and that is what you learn with. You don't buy giant cages or special gear outside of a leather glove. It's more of a lifestyle commitment than a monetary one. And if anyone can make room for falconry in their life it's the girl training horses and shooting arrows on Tuesday afternoons when she isn't in her office writing.
I think it's time this girl got a hawk. Or, at least try. Anyone surprised in the least?
Folks, after several travelers told me they weren't coming and the weather reports have upgraded to a 100% chance of at least 9 inches of snow, it feels like postponing the weekend is the only responsible thing to do. Yes, I understand that some of you will be upset but I can't chance having people out on the roads in this weather, specially for a weekend of fiddling. We will plan the event for early March instead. Is that possible for everyone?
If you are still coming out no matter what and want to hang at CAF and learn to fiddle, I will be here. You can help batten down the farm hatches and learn in more casual and personalized environment. It'll be us and the wood stove and Am and PM chores. I will happily host and hand out instruments to those who want to come and are already on their way. But for those of you who are fretting travel, fret no more. The event will be rescheduled and we can all set our crock pots, get batteries in our flashlights, and get ready for some serious snow.
I see another summer of arrows and saddles ahead, and the tell tale sign is a black mare named Ebony. She's a draft pony for sale on Craigslist, and while she sounds like a dream (and a perfect match for Merlin) she's not destined for Cold Antler Farm. She's a possible horse for my good friend and neighboring farmer, Joanna.
Joanna is in her mid thirties and neighbor to Patty and Mark. She and her husband Greg are new farmers, and just moved to their land a few years ago. She's got a green thumb and already works on a big farm here in the W.C. She knows the ropes. I got to know her this summer though helping with haying and general dinner parties and hanging out with the Livingston Brook crew. She caught horse fever, and wants a sturdy horse to ride, plow and drive with. Her heart is set on a small draft like a Haflinger or Fjord. She is, however, a little nervous about taking the big step. I understand that, but I also know that the best way to get over hesitation is to blindly dive into the thick of experience. I think Patty and her will check out the mare this weekend and she just might be the third member of our little private riding association.
That sounded dirty. You know what I mean.
As for my mount, Merlin and I are a perfect pair. We're both deeply stubborn and convinced the other one is being a jerk. These last few days I have been working with him, trying to get back into the habit of regular training sessions and riding, but it's tricky. I left the world of arena's and instructors who demand proper alignment and now I am finding myself in the equine version of home schooling. I use the occasional trainer when I get in over my head, but my new coach is my farrier and he shows up in a pickup with a cowboy hat.
I know with Merlin's training sessions I need a plan. If I don't have the entire event set into systematic activities with small goals it is a waste and I get frustrated. Working with Merlin is like climbing a ladder. I can move up, but one rung at a time. When I am patient and methodical, amazing things happen. But if I get frustrated or over my head, I just end up with my butt on the ground.
Today's goal was simple. Do groundwork as long as it takes to have a responsive and calm horse, then mount up. Once mounted, perform a pre-set routine of tasks on the road and then end the session with a big smile. Today we managed to do just that. I had him groomed, tacked up, ground-worked, and we rode much better than the day before. It wasn't perfect, it rarely is, but even when Merlin wanted to argue and do his own thing, I managed to remain calm and patient and get my way. We use a simple snaffle bit, a lot of circling, and my big fat stubborn streak and eventually I win out. I think back to last March when just sitting on Merlin's back and walking around the arena was scary. It took a lot of miles together, but through amazing instruction from many people I have a horse I understand. We are a team now.
I don't know if Joanna will get the mare or not. I do know that she, like many of you, has a big dream and is just apprehensive about the commitment and the trials ahead. I think a lot of folks make decisions based on such fears. I know I do. Everything you read about on this blog, every trail ride and every move cross country. All of it is done out of anxiety. But it's not done with a fear of failure or mistakes, but a fear of regret. I worry a lot more about missing out on experiences than I do about bruises and permission. Sometimes that has worked in my favor, sometimes not. But when it comes to horses I am proud of my giant, crazy, leaps towards the team Merlin and I have built. This time last year he was a pipe dream. Now he's just my pipe.
Snow is coming, possibly a lot. While Fiddlers' Rendezvous is still on, I am curious if anyone will not be attending due to the snowfall? It looks like most will hit Friday night, and our plow teams here are great. Even my farm road is on a school bus route, and stays well kept. But if a large number cannot make it then I will reschedule the event. What say you fiddlers?
Update 9:30AM So I will hosting this camp. Over half the attendees said they are still coming. Brave souls! So if you feel you can't because of weather (I totally understand) let me know through email and if there are enough of you folks then we will host another weekend event, so everyone still learns the devil box.
Playing Gloom by lantern light on the farmhouse floor. We had a game night a few days ago with some friends from goingslowly.com, Tara and Tyler. They are a young couple who are moving to Veryork from Minnesota, bought some land in Vermont close by CAF. Great adventurous friends who appreciate some dark humor in their gameplay. Tara caught this photo of Tom and Gibson in the lantern light. I love it!
Folks who are coming this weekend for Fiddler's Rendezvous, here is the plan. PLease arrive at Hubbard Hall Freight Depot at 9:30 AM in downtown Cambridge. Parking for the Depot is behind Main Street, just turn at the brick building with Bean Head's written on it and you'll see the lot and Freight Depot behind it. If you are in a grassy park-like area that looks like an old train station, you found us.
We are starting at 10AM on the dot, and you are expected to bring the book, your tuner, and spare strings and fiddle if you are not getting one here at the camp. It's a fun time and a great and easy introduction to this instrument but it is a long morning of getting acquainted and learning some basics. We'll break for lunch for an hour, and pick it up again at 1PM. Class usually goes until 3PM after that, and we officially break around 3:30.
Lunch can be bought all over town, with a few options or you can pack lunch. There is no camping at the farm in the winter so you will need to find a local hotel. Suggestions can be found here!
I'll host a short farm tour at CAF for anyone interested Saturday after class. Come and meet the animals and get taunted by geese while Merlin hollers for hay!
Class starts Sunday morning at 9AM-Noon, another break for lunch, and then we finish up again around 3PM.
9:30-12 Noon at Hubbard Hall, Cambridge NY
Meet Your Fiddle!
First notes and scale, first song
Shuffling and droning, thickening the soup
Things here at the farm are sauntering into a plateau of amicable stability. It is such a relief. Yesterday a horse trailer full of hay was delivered and stacked in the barn. The excess was stacked by the house under the shelter of the porch, tucked aside a cord of wood stacked the week before. Outside my kitchen window, it is so highly stacked with grass and timber I can't even see the sunlight. That's a consolation I'll gladly make, because few things lift this shepherd's spirit like looking out a window and seeing proof that summer not only exists, but is still there for me.
It's Tuesday morning. My plans include a trip to my bank before noon and an afternoon of freelance design work with a writing chaser. I try to make time every day to shoot some arrows into the haypile and work out, too. Currently I am on a cleaning tear and this house is being wiped and dusted from top to bottom. It feels wonderful to be shedding pounds and removing (literal) dirt and garbage from my life at the same time. I've taken a pretty serious view of my martial arts education and decided to get as much as I can out of it. In less than a month I have relearned five of the traditional Taekwondo forms, and can now easily do a hundred pushups and hundred sit ups in under twenty minutes. When I start adding more cardio, through twice weekly sparring...well, I can already see the last of the extra weight falling off. It feels wonderful, and I feel renewed. Last night I was fighting with a black belt at the dojang and I could not stop smiling, I just couldn't. Like holding a bow, or sitting in the saddle, sparring feels so comfortable to me, so correct. There's a big AAU tournament this summer in Albany, and I will be entering it. I'm going for the gold, folks. It's good to want things.
It did not take long for the Maine Coon sized hole in my heart to be filled back up. Boghadair, came here this past Samhain. And now Yeti has come to see if Cold Antler will suit him as a new home. He's a three-year-old Maine Coon, and easily twice the size of little Bogh. He's not exactly, um, calendar material. He's a hard luck cat, scraggly as a Disney villain's sidekick. But he is sweet, and has a lot of character. Right now the animals are all a bit suspicious of him, but neither the dogs or Bogh has bothered with him much since he arrived and set up Camp Bathroom. He has a towel to sleep on, a litter box, and food and water and will come out in his own good time.
Meet Darla, the 9-week-old Old English Sheepdog puppy. She might be the cutest little Ewok I have ever seen. She isn't my little girl (I like my dogs a little more crazy), but she came to visit this weekend and her proud new mama (Patty) took her over to the sheep gate. This little dog, who's from a long line of shepherds, stood tall and looked those sheep right in the eyes. Darla (who I call Moneypenny) will be a great addition to Livingston Brook Farm. There she'll be a true farm dog! She'll weave around hay bales and battle with barn cats. She'll run in big hay fields, walk alongside horses and tractors, and learn woods and streams from Harley, their big hunting dog. She has a great life ahead, this little pup.
Having a puppy around has been a real treat. I have had lambs, kittens, chicks, and goat kids around but having a pup squirm and smile in my arms is something different. It's a whole new vibe, and entirely pleasant. I think music explains it best. Having a kitten around is kind of like having a new saxophone, violin, or flute on the table you're learning to play. It's something that will become smooth, sleek, and explosive. But a puppy? A puppy is all Banjo. Banjo, banjo, banjo. All plucks and smiles and clumsy happy sounds. And as you play more and the pup grows up you get something mighty bright and powerful too, just incapable of a cat's level of jazz. And that's fine by me. There's not a lot of room for jazz in my life, some, but not much. I'd rather dance with dogs. I think dog's sleep better at night.
A long wild weekend here. While I recover and get back into my annual Feb 2nd clean-a-thon, enjoying watching Gibson deal with taxidermy. Sorry about the static jitter sounds in the beginning, it goes away fairly soon into the playing.
The temperatures dropped over night, well below freezing, but after the last few weeks anything above twenty degrees feels downright balmy. This morning the house was around fifty five degrees and it felt as comfortable as seventy. I think my body is just adapted to the new temperatures I have given it. My truck doesn't have working heat right now, at least not the vents that push it towards you in any efficient way, and I simply dress warmer inside it and weary toe warmers on my socks for longer trips. I have been wearing kilts so long with tall insulated boots that I am never cold in them, certainly not when temperatures are this balmy! Yet some folks see me with bare knees and think I am nuts.
I'm not nuts, I'm comfortable. It's a lot easier to get on a horse, jump over a gate, and move all around the farm quickly in a kilt than it is in confining jeans or overalls. I wear good riding skivvies below them (full-seat breeches I chop off above the knees) and heavy wool hose under my boots. The kilt guards the soft thighs from the saddle and the breeches keep my rump in place. And I can not tell you how nice it is to see the pleats flowing over the cantle at a canter. I know, technically, that kilts are men's clothing but sometimes even the toughest canvas utility kilt feels like a flowing skirt and I get this spicy dash of feminine happy time. I'm proud to be a tough chick, but I'd rather be a tough chick in a tough skirt. I'm not the overall type.
I think it is fascinating how adaptable us human animals are. Given enough time to grow comfortable, we get there. It's how we happen to be the same species and yet live in so many varied climates and conditions. But someone from the Congo in Lapland and you be there will be some discomfort, but given time and a few generations their grand children will just think of sweaters as boots thick as seal blubber as normal. Put a Lap in the Congo and the sweaters come off, with joy. We're an adjustable lot, us.
I'm excited about tonight! Some blog readers from Minnesota who are moving to Veryork (building a haybale-insulated thatched cabin in my old Vermont stomping grounds!) are coming over for dinner and so is my friend Tom who farms in Massachusetts. I met all of these folks through Cold Antler. Tom met me at the Mother Earth News Fair and Tara and Tyler emailed me months before and said they were coming this way. I met them through coincidence when they happened to already know one of the pig share owners who stopped by the farm on a pickup night last week. We got to talking about games and apparently they are huge Settlers of Catan fans and on their trip cross country they even brought their own copy of the game. They seemed thrilled to find folks to play with in a new town. I have never played before, but I have heard a lot of great things and went over the rules online. Tom hasn't played either but we are giving it a go. Fun!
I have grown to really love spending time with others in games and stories. It seems more in tune with the homesteading lifestyle to enjoy a round of storytelling or card swapping by candlelight than everyone sitting around a screen or spending over a hundred dollars as a party to eat food out we could cook better in our own kitchens. Tonight will be a good meal, with good people, and a proper snowfall outside that suits these winter months instead of that recent scourge we all just wiped off our boots. I'm grateful for all those things.
P.S. For those who ask, I wear kilts from UTkilts.com, if you order one check the sizing chart! They do not work the same as jean waist sizes, so be warned!
P.S.S. Thank you for the contributions! I ordered a low-end Canon Rebel! Hay and wood is also on the way! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Talk about an appropriate gift! A friend sent me a gift certificate to a very geeky online store where I scored this pair of Hobbit slippers on sale. They are so warm and comfy, I don't even mind the busted toenails. Cold floors in the morning? THEY SHALL NOT PASS!
The last two days have been so incredibly strange. The weirdness is the weather. It went from a week so cold that the trap below my shower froze solid, to the last two days of wind and rain and temperatures near sixty degrees. When I woke up this morning there was a literal howling through the downpour. Gibson was at the window, watching the world swirl around his little haven. He looked concerned.
I wasn't worried as much as I was unsettled. It felt like April, not January. April is a creepy month to me, my least favorite month of the year. I have no idea how beautiful October got all the cultural associations with death and fear. October is the opposite. It's teeming with the harvest, with glowing firestorms of colored leaves and ornaments of apples and pears in the trees. No month makes me feel more alive, more grateful, more content. October to me is exactly like the feeling of finally coming home to your lover, leaning back in his seat, and how it feels to find that place curled up against him, your head on his chest. It is bliss and safety, what we all pray to feel. That's October.
But April? April to me is rotting and rumbling earth going through the worst of ugly puberty. It's a necessary ugly period for future blessings. I understand it's role but I can't stand the entire feel of the month. Trees are usually barren and those horrible Easter flowers like lilies come out in people's living rooms; things that smell so putrid only their vulgarity can hide the wafts of embalming fluid and pancake makeup in funeral homes. I hate April. It's too dark for me. A season of zombie-like resurrection, and now my backyard feels like it when it should feel like something out of a Courier and Ives winter scene over a mantle. Take a fistful of wet mud, spit on it, pour some cheap perfume and a rotting egg on top and then set it in a warm place to fester where cat hair and dust give it a smoldering crust…. and you have April.
So, as you can imagine, this feels wrong. But there is some good news, most importantly, that this horror is over soon. Temperatures should drop back into the teens and snow is in the forecast for the next few days. And with the blessings of winter, comes a healthier flock. My sheep are looking wonderful! Even little Grace, the Cotswold with the poor constitution, has made a full recovery and is getting harder and harder to trap and give injections of ProPen to. The goats are fat, and kids are just 5-6 weeks away. And that means fresh goats milk is only 5-6 weeks away! The fiddle weekend in early Feb is packed and I am working on getting last minute preparations in order. The wool weekend is also jammed with folks and I am thrilled to spend two days with fiber, wheels, carders, and my knitting needles here at the farmhouse. Merlin is soaking wet. But he looks like something out of the LOTR set with his locks whipping in the wind and his dark eyes scanning the ground for hay flakes. He had grown so chubby this winter I can't help but giggle at his belly, but it's mostly water weight. After a good ride or cart trip he slims down and the cart shafts don't touch his sides and his girth is too loose for comfort. So it goes!
So, in summary: The weather is gross but the farm is thriving! And I can not thank those of you who contributed enough. It looks like I will be able to purchase a new camera shortly, but I am very interested in your suggestions. Some people mentioned the Rebel, correct? Any others you like that non-professionals like myself can get better-than-average results with? I can't wait to snap more photos and take more videos!
I have decided to announce a pledge drive! This blog is a free site, and will remain so. But it takes a considerable amount of time to write, video tape, and photograph things here. I have dedicated my entire life to the farm and to its documentation. It is now my fulltime job, and I am so grateful to have it. With that said, I depend on your readership and support though workshops, book sales, ad clicks, and contributions to keep the dream alive. I would like to invest in a professional-level camera and update the entire website to look more modern and easier to navigate and search. Pledges will also go to simply running this place. The money will cover things as simple as hay costs and chicken feed - as well as website redesigns and design programs. So today I am running a pledge drive from the readership. You can donate a dollar, ten dollars, or whatever you feel is correct. This is of course, totally optional. If you do not wish to contribute, that is totally fine. I'll still be here regardless, writing to you.
I have had the donate button on the blog for years, it hides down there below the barnheart graphic. But - as other authors have already stated - this sounds like a charity option. That is not the point. I see these pledges as a way to offer the blogger compensation for a website you enjoy and follow, a contribution toward the effort and expense of the farm.
Thank you, so much for reading. And happy pledging!
The blog of author Jenna Woginrich of Cold Antler Farm. Where pop culture meets agriculture! Here she writes about her adventures following her crazy dream life as a self-employed writer, homesteader, archer, falconer, equestrian, martial artist, hunter, spinner, brewer, geek, and real-life Game of Thrones Extra. She loves movies, music, running far, and eating animals.
On twitter @coldantlerfarm
And when the children are safe in bed, at one of the great holidays like the Fourth of July, New Years, or Halloween, we can bring out some spirits and turn on the music, and the men and the women who are still among the living can get loose and really wild. So that's the final meaning of "wild"- the esoteric meaning, the deepest and most scary. Those who are ready for it will come to it. Please do not repeat this to the uninitiated. -gs