Saturday, February 16, 2013

My Sponsor!


Scrappy Farm

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?

Brick Ovens and Carousel Horses

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.

Eight Kilts!

TransFarmer you are the winner! Email me to get your prize!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dirt Hawkin' Part 1

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….

More tomorrow! Part 2!

Redtails & Rabbits

Win A Kobo Mini! Contest Giveaway!

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 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!

Falconry Update: My First Hunt!

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.

It's not Heaven. It's Veryork. Pretty damn close.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


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.

I, Jenna Woginrich, am weather’s bitch.

Worth Sharing Again!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Workshop Date Changes!!!

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?

Sorry for the hassle!

Goose Patrol

Writing in the Morning

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.

Monday, February 11, 2013

King of the Flock

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Tomorrow: First Day of My New Job!

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?


Rabbit Hunting: Level 20 and 75

Snow Beasts

Falconry Update: Phone Calls and Clubs

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.

The New Camera

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!