Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cat Heart

Yeti and Boghadair are the farm house cats and they are such an Odd Couple. Yeti is a Maine Coon, a large cat twice the height of little Bo, but gentle as a lamb raised at a monastery. Boghadair (Bow-Ya-dare - Scotts gaelic for Archer) was born under the farm stand at Common Sense from a scrappy mother named Smudge and the town's stray Tom, a lanky tabby much like Bogh. Bogh is small but always up for a tug and wrestle. He starts every fight and Yeti doesn't even realize he has claws unless they are stuck in something. One is all fluff and love, the other is all piss and vinegar. They are so different but here they are, nesting together in a heart-shaped tumble by the wood stove. Maybe opposites really do attract?

Monday, December 30, 2013

...And Some Days

...Not much happens.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Wild Life

It was Barbara Kingsolver, the acclaimed author and scientist, who wrote (and I'm paraphrasing here) that most people know animals in three ways: people, their pets (which is to say, mini people), and wildlife. They would never consider chopping off the heads of any of these three, and rightly so. But animals are not just people, pets, and wildlife and those of us who work with animals every day have certainly learned this. Animals are also categorized as livestock (which is human property, legally speaking), or working partnerships such as duck retrieving sporting dogs, harnessed horses, truffle-hunting pigs or ratting terriers. We use animals to carry loads, pull sleds over ice and snow, and to protect our families. The examples are endless, and include both the domesticated and the wild. There are hawks like Italics, trained to take game with a human partner. But there are also reindeer pulling nomad's sledges and elephants carry passengers. Not all roles are ideal. I mean, I wouldn't want to be alligator bait - but the fact remains that human beings have been working alongside other animals since time out of mind, doing everything from hunting wolves in the Mongol Tundras to training ferrets to invade rabbit warrens. It's just not as common as it used to be.

People are not used to needing other species, not really. We no longer depend on horses to get from point A to B. We don't count on a team of beagles to put meat in the pot or a hawk to get enough protein to a lactating mother. And so these skills and practices are seen as primitive or cruel to people who know animals based on their Bichon or Discovery Channel Specials about ivory poaching. The idea of capturing a wild animal is sacrosanct. They will call foul at a falconer while biting into a bacon cheeseburger from a drive thru dollar menu after a day at the mall with a dog in a sweater. The mind reels.

I have received more comments and emails about falconry than any other activity I have ever pursued. Occasionally I get letters from vegans about turning Cold Antler into a petting zoo, or the stray comment about how horses were not put on earth to wear harnesses. I used to get notes about dogsledding, rabbit dinners, and the dangers of herding sheep with a border collie (to the border collie and the sheep, not me). But those sorts of correspondences were rare. But now I get a comment or letter a day questioning falconry, its purpose and ethics, and why I would take an animal from the wild to hunt when I have a gun, a trap, or a grocery store. It has upset people, not many, but enough. Enough to make me explain a few things at least. I hope to offer some perspective.

Folks, Paul Blair died today. The New York Times reported doubt on al Qaeda's involvement in Benghazi. Armed children are being forced to march in the south of Sudan. There's a nationwide manhunt for a cop killer. A Texas man is bragging about knocking out an elderly black man. Two men just died hours apart in Wyoming avalanches. A pregnant teen was murdered on Christmas day in Indiana…. These are the headlines available on Bing's News Section this morning. They are all worth your emotional response, comments, and action. You should read about Paul Blair's legacy playing baseball in a time of such racial unrest and hate in America, his story. You should worry about avalanches if you're of the ilk that hangs out around snow in volume, specifically in volume at higher elevations than yourself. Child soldiers should upset you, I mean, they BETTER upset you. If they don't you might be an android and should be melted for parts. Murder, assault, hate crimes…these are things worth getting upset over.

A falconer in New York State is not.

Yes. I have captured a wild hawk during its first migration. It is now being fed by me, trained by me, and soon it will be let go by me. But here's the thing. When I do let it go it's most likely going to land on a branch 30-60 feet away from me and if I raise a glove and whistle it'll choose to fly right back. Why? I haven't been slipping it Kool-Aid, it's because I have earned the hawk's trust. Italics knows I am not an animal that is going to hurt him, in fact I'm going to help him. I consistently offer food and shelter along with the freedom to leave at any moment he is soaring free. This is because Italics was not out in the wild soaring to Enya songs and landing at random Pow Wows to spread his wings in the name of the Great Spirit. He was a wild animal, doing what all wild animals do every day of their lives: trying not to die. Red-tails have a 90% mortality rate before they reach breeding age around two years. That's not because of falconers. In fact, next time you catch a glimpse of a wild peregrine falcon - you can thank a falconer. Their efforts in protecting, capturing, and breeding the animal is why we didn't lose the entire species to DDT a few decades ago. They are also why the Peregrine Fund exists. Google it.

Falconry isn't slavery, it's codependency. We depend on each other to work as partners for a goal that is mutually beneficial to us both as an evolutionary species. And around this farm that is nothing new. When this blog started I was running sled dogs in Idaho, raising rabbits for spinning wool, chickens for eggs, and bees for honey. Since then I have raised sheep for wool (and sheepdog training), goats for milk and soap, pigs for pork, rabbits for meat, poultry for eggs, and horses to ride and pull. All animals on this land are here for a reason. I either use them for work, transportation, or food. The hawk is also here to be of use. He's here to hunt by my side, and help put healthy meat on the table in the form of game. I can not wait for the chance to go out as a team and flush rabbits, grouse, pheasants, and squirrels. These are things we both eat and enjoy. It is not about sport, but groceries.

I very much like that I am learning this ancient form of feeding myself. It connects me to the ages and has taught me so much about raptors a whole new world of ornithology, flight patterns, nesting habits and identification has opened up to me. I have become an amateur naturalist and learned to appreciate these animals in ways I never even thought possible. I also like the relationship I am creating with this individual. Learning to communicate with a hawk is WILD, a total thrill and if we can get to the point where I can walk into a field and set him free, hike and poke at brush below him while he watches from above, and take game to feed him and myself...that is sublime to me. It seems a lot more natural than a shotgun. It seems a lot less hard on nature than traplines or the noise pollution of rifles. And while hunting is the skill - it is the entire community and process that has me hooked. I have met so many great people, shared meals and stories, was given advice and equipment, leant books and time...the selflessness of this subculture astounds me. It is so beautiful, and I feel blessed to be a small part of it.

And if the idea of a bird of prey living at my property still offends you, well, that's your prerogative. But stop and consider where that lands on the Scale of Import in a world with creeping mortality, child soldiers, factory farms, hate crimes, and crooked politicians? Why, darling, are you wasting your energy on this? We all only have so much anger in us and I would suggest not wasting it on a legal sport practiced by a small minority. Use that disdain to make the world a better place for all animals, starting with your fellow man. That's what I'm doing. Every time I get a complaint about falconry I set a can aside for my local food bank. I figure if people are going to punch under water someone better get something good out of it.

I am so proud of my work with Italics. I am excited to wake up every day and see what he has to teach me. Falconry has gifted me a goal, friendships, and experiences I will never forget. Someday I hope to get to the point where I am the one teaching others how to capture their first bird, or showing a class of students patterns on tails and telling tales of the one that got away in the sunset on a perfect October day. Falconry is beautiful, messy, frustrating, bloody, satisfying, terrifying, and rewarding as hell. It's life bottled up and carried in your pocket, but so much more than a novel or a song, because this life has a bird on the fist and a partnership created out of blood, sweat, and effort beyond most Bicon owner's ken. It isn't wild life, it is a Wild Life. And I sure as hell wouldn't trade that in for a 100% approval rating.

The Florence Foster Jenkins Story

I love this story, I really do. I think it is a lesson so many of us either learned the hard way or are scared to learn at all; that apptitude is not destiny. Those are the words of Mr. Green and he couldn't be more correct. You do not have to be amazing, or every mildly talented, at something to make it your own. You just need to have the drive and zero fear of failure. Not an easy combination but once you realize this very little is impossible.

I am not an amazing writer or an amazing farmer. And a few years ago I was not even mildly talented at falconry, driving horse, riding, or archery. However, I do have the time, effort, and will to learn these things enough to be respectful and competent in them. A perfect example for me: archery. And over the past few years my hours in front of archery targets not only went from a hobby based on a book I read (Thank you S.M. Stirling), but last summer it was my part time job teaching archery at a very respected Scottish School's American branch. I also now teach private and group lessons at my farm. I took passion, turned it into effort, which turned into money, which helps pay for my life here at Cold Antler. I get to help people get started in a sport I love, and they get to go home with a skill and possibly the same tools and passion to do the same. It is a wonderful feeling, and the same satisfaction I get teaching anything here - from fiddling your first tune to milking dairy goats to setting up an electric fence for your first pigs. Teaching beginners is my favorite thing in the world, especially beginners who remind me of my own excitement for life and learning. And Iif you think I care that I occasionally miss the target all together - I don't. I don't care and neither should you. So what if you're not good at a thing. Failing is beautiful. Mistakes are beautiful. Over the years I have learned some hard lessons and some easy ones, but over the years my expeince has grown and in another five years or so this farm will be miles ahead in experience and improvement, I promise you that. Because we don't need to be amazing. We just need to try. We need to have the courage to not care about what others think of our passions. If what you love doing in this world isn't hurting others, brings you joy, and can in some ways make this world a better place - you are obligated to endeavor.

I mean, If Florence can play Carnegie Hall you can totally get a few chickens. Right?

P.S. I really hope you guys are watching the Vlog Brothers. This is one of their videos and they have a couple hundred more doing everything from explaining the state of Egyptian politics to how to apologize correctly. They are kind, hilarious, talented, and the creators of Nerdfighteria. They might be the last best force of good in the media today. Watch them. Also, DFTBA.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Flying Inside, Coming When Called!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Winter is Coming

Yes, indeed it is! That photo is proof and while it wasn't take this morning, it is from a recent snowfall this year. Darlings, I hope some of you read that post title and thought of House Stark. On this snowy day I am going to sit down and have a Game of Thrones marathon. I'm not traveling, not driving into town, not hosting company (though if a game night errupts or walks in on me I would never turn it down), and enjoying hot coffee and good post-holiday holidaying. Winter has come, and this fan is about to geek out.

Merry Little Snowfall

I had a nice Christmas over at Patty's house with friends and I hope you all had just as warm and welcoming a holiday. It was low key and attended by plenty of farmers so gifts were a very special and useful sort. I was given firewood, maple syrup, venison, and a beautiful kilt pin of a horse and cart. I didn't have much extra cash this year but got a deal on steel flasks and everyone who was at Christmas dinner was given one and a small nip of whiskey. I figured a flask is the gift that gives all year...

There's a merry snowfall outside right now, not too heavy or foreboding. When I headed outside for chores there was just the hint of flurries and Gibson raced past me, his feet tearing into frozen ground without even a sprinkling of white dust but now an inch of so is coating the farm and the place has returned to serious winter splendor. It is lovely to look on it, knowing the chores are done.

The house is warmer than it has been in days thanks to a night's watch of the woodstove. I didn't stay up with the intention of tending the stove, I just am not very talented at sleeping at night these days. That misfortune at least boosts the advantage of a more comfortable temperature for napping, which I hope to manage at some point today. I hope to spend this snow day taking care of myself a bit. Which is just what I need. I suppose knowing that is half the battle, right?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


A large box came in the mail this week, and I have no idea who from. It was from a saddlery and inside were several gorgeous saddle pads and horse blankets! It was a wonderful gift for the horses and me, and I will surely use it! I thank whoever it was that sent it. I thought I would share a video of my Christmas Eve Ride with Merlin yesterday, sporting a red pad that came with that haul and jingle bells. It was wonderful to be back on that horse again.

Also in the mail came Meredith Socks (!), coffee, cards, candy, blankets, and stories. Friends stop by from as far away as Germany and as close as next door! The last two days were filled with gifts, kids, chores, cookies, board games, hawk training, and playing music by the fire. I feel so lucky and blessed to have this little scrappy farm be the meeting place of so many wonderful people.

Later today I hope to harness up Merlin in the cart with bells on and ride to some neighbors with some small gifts for the day. I figure it can't hurt to spread a little holiday cheer and I have a beautiful red wool cape which should suit this day with a blue sky and highs in the twenties!

I wish you nothing but a Merry Christmas and hope you all are safe, warm, well fed and content on this day. There are plenty of other days to fuss with the stresses in this world, let today instead be one of good tidings and cheer!

Sunday, December 22, 2013


It has been such a whimsically unsettling day. Actually, it all started last night. I was driving home from Saratoga and the dramatic change into warmer temperatures had filled the dips and hillsides with thick fog. I'm not sure what fog is like where you live but around here it can be as dangerous as whiteout snowstorms. The fog was thick enough to not see the swirling, just a blanket and the only visibility was a few feet in front of me. I drove slow and as the truck gained ground, climbing uphill and out of the settled pockets of fog, it was as clear and pure a night as midsummer. At one point I stopped my car on an arch between two lower pockets and it was impossible to tell if the dip into the white descended 20 feet or two hundred. I felt like one of those old Zen Lunatics standing on the top of Mt. Fuji, the rest of the world below lost in clouds. I drove home, missing turns on my left because even with headlights the green reflective road signs were lost. It took a while, and when I did pull into my drive I could only see the house. The sheep, horses, and pigs were lost in the mist. I came inside from the clammy weather both grateful and tired. I lit a fire, which meant more to me on that oddly warm night than it did just a few days ago when temperatures dropped well below zero. In this fog a warm, dry, place with firelight is more than comfort - it is a beacon.

I did my rounds with Gibson by lantern light with a walking stick and only because I knew the place so well (and had so many tangible landmarks, Hello goat fence) did I not get lost out there. I heard coyotes in the distance, well on the other side of the mountain, and felt a bit of nostalgic dread instead of the usual delight in such a noise. I had the logic in mind to know I was home, safe, and had a hot meal and warm fire, music, and candles waiting for me on this weird Solstice night. But I am a lover of myth, folktales, and stories and I knew it was the darkest, longest night of the year and here I was out in the mist with a a black dog, howling beasts, no cell phone, no visible proof I wasn't in the 21st century…and I felt an odd connection to farmers from the past. Today fog is something to drive through, something to work around. You can ignore it if you choose, laugh at it, give it a name like Carl and consider it local color. But in a different age a bad fog, a nervous horse, a lamp nearly out of oil, and a woods with animals who consider you delicious is not so much fun, and that time wasn't all that long ago. Such nights, specially ones as dark as the Solstice, could be fatal abck then. One mistake like a twisted ankle, a little stress, loss of direction or the unfortunate meeting with a catamount just eight feet above you on a heavy limb were the end of some stories.

But not mine, at least not that night. With the animals seen to I came inside, took off my damp wool sweater and hung it on the horse head-shaped hook near the fireplace. It steamed a little and I set a kettle on top of the wood stove as I ladled out a big bowl of chicken stew for dinner. There is no comfort like comfort earned, or rather, comfort you return to after poor roads, swirling fog, chattering beasties, and damp wool.

I had a bit of holly I grabbed before I came inside. I set it down on my grandmother's old sewing machine by some yellow beeswax tapers. Holly on the Solstice, an old Celtic symbol of blessing and memory. There's the old stories that on the Winter Solstice the Holly King dies in a battle by the sword of the Oak King. Now with the days growing longer and the sunlight starting to push into spring (ever so slowly) the Oak King reigns once again, and he will until his defeat on the Summer Solstice when the Holly King takes back the throne on the longest day of the year. It was once just a way of splitting the year in half, but on a cold and unsettling night like this it was nice having the little eulogy of herbs by the candle. I welcome the Oak King. All farmers do, and have since time out of mind.

This morning the fog was thick, too. Not as much as last night but heavy on the slopes and curves of my land. It was white, just like cloud wisp, and moving fast. It swirled around lamb and ewe and around the feathered feet of Merlin, who bobbed his head for hay and nickered at me for breakfast. I did the chores and came inside to an egg breakfast (thanks to Livingston Brook Farm's eggs, as my birds are shut down till they get word about the Oak King, too. This always takes longer than I'd like...). With the chores done and fortified by the meal I went about lighting fires, cleaning up the farmhouse, and then getting some office work done. It wasn't until noon that I decided to gather supplies and fix the horse cart that I went back outside. It needed a wheel removed and the tube and tire replaced. I worked with Gibson watching. The fog was still there of course. The ground was ice and slush from the storm just a few days earlier but the warm air confused it, sent it dancing. I watched the fog some more in the light of midday and thought about friends who moved here from Missouri and told me how odd it was to see fog in the middle of the day, or last all day, around here. Where they lived fog was morning or evening, but not something you waved aside you as you did chores at lunchtime in the summer. Here fog can come and make itself comfortable whenever the earth and air argue over the correct temperature.

I fixed the wheel and pulled my little cart to the front of the house. I missed driving the cart and riding Merlin and have not done either since before Deer Season, nearly a month ago. I ached for it, and decided if the weather was going to be so freakishly warm I would attack the frozen horse gate with some shovels. I don't want to take wire cutters to the woven wire just to hitch up a horse. I made a mental note to make sure horse gates have a solid foot of ground clearance next time I put one up. We learn as we go.

I started feeling the ever-present dampness all through my body then. I couldn't feel warm, no matter the outside's sickly-tempered air or the sweat I was working up fighting wheels and wrenches. I was nearly ill. I know myself well enough to understand I was at an apex and a choice had to be made. I could decide I was sick and get a hot shower, cuddle up under wool blankets on the day bed, light the fire and head into a pity sleep….or, I could fight back. Feeling validated by the repaired cart I went inside, changed into some martial arts pants and a sports bra and did a Jillian Michael workout video. It was just what I needed. A large glass of water and a good sweat later I felt invigorated; warm as a furnace and hungry as a wolf. No more clamminess -I had defeated it in the honorable combat of weights, sit ups, push ups, and jumping around like an idiot. I stretched and slowly went through the ten forms I know by heart that have taken me from green belt to almost-red belt in one year. I grabbed a bo staff and went through the 12 attacks and defenses, a weapon's form, and then feeling like a warrior I turned on some music and put a defrosted chicken in the crock pot. I covered it with olive oil and chicken rub spices and that was that. It wouldn't be a proper stew (can you tell I am eating a lot of stew these days?!) until around 8PM but I could wait. I loved being hungry with anticipation. I loved the wanting.

Hours past. Outside the fog had cleared and I carried hay to the pigs for a new night's nest. They are fat and happy. Large and strong. All four are due for the butcher in a few weeks but they are not concerned. I threw the hay to them in flakes and they tore it up, carried it around like trophies, rolled and curled into it. I loved the sight of it. I wish I had a flask to raise to them in joined celebration but remembered that I was cutting back on many luxuries and settled for a smile. I left them and tended to the horses, the goats, refilled chicken and rabbit feeders and then headed last to the woodpile to grab a bit more fuel and head inside. Warrior one minute, Stove Stoker the next.

While the stove fired up I turned on an audiobook and listened to Outlander again, perhaps for the third time. The show comes out next year and I wanted to bone up on the first book. As Claire and Jamie told me their story—I got the chicken which had now a few hours to cook on high in the slow cooker—and deboned it. I chopped up kale and set it on top of the boned meat (minus the fat legs and arms) and covered it with a bit of water and more herbs. I peeled and chopped carrots and a yam and set them on the stove to pre boil in broth. It didn't take long to have a full crock pot of greens, vegetables, broth, oil, herbs and meat. Dark had fallen and I had a large mixing bowl of scraps for the pigs. On the top I put the quadriplegic chicken carcass. It usually would be boiled for stock I could stick in a mason jar and freeze but not now. Not with this odd weather, a holiday, and pigs a few weeks from slaughter. They could have it.

I went out in the blue near-dark. Gibson was with me. He is always with me. Did you know that in nearly four years of his life he has never left my side for more than 5 hours? We have never spent a night not curled together? My friend Jon once wrote that you don't get the dog you want. You get the dog you need. I have never needed a dog like I need Gibson. No heartbeat on earth, human or otherwise, has spent this much time aside my own. He means more to me than a dog should. He is different from any other dog I have ever met or owned in his awareness and in-tuneness. A few weeks ago I was at the farm stand down the road shopping and left as a family was walking inside. They had been talking to Gibson in my truck, and smiled a greeting as we passed each other at the threshold. The next time I went to the stand the owner told me they were certain that the dog was about to talk to them. I understood and nodded. Gibson looks into you, not at you. He understands hundreds of human words and reacts to not just english but body language as subtle as glances around the room. If I look at the bobcat head on the wall he runs to it, growling. If I look outside he is at the window. And in the coldness of 2AM in a house heated by wood with a long-dead fire I can practically whisper to him in gaelic "Trobhad, Cu Dona…" and he is against my chest and sighing in moments. I am so grateful, so lucky, so blessed to have him.

And he is with me with the pig bucket in the almost darkness of 3:45PM. I fill have the bucket with pig chow and the other half with the stems, egg shells, bones, carrot ends, shavings and such and make quite the casserole for the pigs. Heavy feed bucket in one hand and water bucket in the other we head to the back of the barnyard in the woods where the pig pen is. There is ice everywhere. I take each measure step carefully but swiftly. As my heel touches ground first I imagine a green root shooting deep into the earth, locking it in place through rubber boot and frost. Then as the foot lands to the ball and toes my paw pad, the toes, all grow roots too and I am unable to fall. You could not push me over if you tried. I could take a kick to the stomach and still stand when I am root walking, and that is why it works so well on ice. I do not fall, even as I gain ground and walk uphill. I dump the bucket and watch the pigs feast, a moment of pure joy. I watch one of the females, the lucky one, lift up the chicken carcass and crunch into it. I imagine the shared joy we both will feel this day knowing the goodness of flesh, marrow, fat and sinew. She almost closes her eyes as she takes in the olive oil, the herbs, the blessed gift of a meal long-anticipated. I watch her and feel a little pity for her. She will never know the trot of gliding down the road in a horse cart, nor the flight across autumn mountain trails on horseback. She will never know the feeling of swimming in a cold river in a heatwave or the warmth of friends by fireside, telling stories on a winter night. And as she eats I think how she must pity me. For the pig sees a human bonded by debt and guilt. She sees someone ashamed of her curvy body in a world of supermodels. She sees a woman wary and scared of men because of her own naiveté too foolish to accept love when it beats down the door. She sees an animal tethered by her mortality, this large stupid human who worries more about bills than her happiness. Our lives, pig and human, are a trade off and while I prefer my side of the bargain I am jealous of the pigs freedom of thought and attachement. There is wisdom in the pen behind the barn. More than I have.

The fog is everywhere again. It falls like a ghost. Suddenly, I can not see the house and only familiar topography gets me home. Inside the house smells like stew and seasoning, is warmed by fire, fueled by hope, and partnered with a dog I do not deserve but would probably cripple myself fighting to protect. It has been just one cycle of daylight and the fog is still everywhere, the weather still whimsically unsettling but on this side of it the daylight is ever-so stronger. Tomorrow, next week, in a month I may find the sunlight with me until 4 or 5PM. This is a victory and I am ready to fight for it. Because even when it gets hard to see, the beasts roar, and the world grows scary there is opportunity in accepting you are capable beyond your wildest expectations.

I walk home in the dark with a black dog by my side. Happy, tired, and aching for comfort. It is a fine place to be in this messy and terrifying world. I may be a fool, but I know my place in it all. Tonight I will turn around three times and lay down inside that sacred niche. It is better to know your purpose through fear than to have none in comfort. For me, living, really living, is in knowing that as I fall asleep and managing not to flinch.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Happy Solstice!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Falconry Update!

I wanted to update you on Italics. Or rather, on our relationship. It's a whole new kind of challenge for me. Hawks are so different from any other animal I have had any experience with. They are nothing like our adoring cats and dogs, nor are they like the livestock or horses. They aren't even like the domesticated large birds I have known in my life, such as Macaws and Cockatoos. They are such focused and solitary creatures totally uninterested in being cute and cuddly or dependable. What a hawk wants is to not die, which means, to eat and not be hurt in the process. At our core, so do us humans. But humans are pack animals, we live in groups, hunt by daylight, and require social hierarchy and a very varied diet. Hawks (with exception to some desert species like the Harris) do not hunt in packs and want to be as far away from other living things they aren't eating as possible. So to take a red tail out of the wild and turn it into a wolf is quiet the task.

I am doing it though. Thanks to the amazing Falconry community around me. I have so many mentors both in person in my own little part of Veryork and online with the very active hawking groups on Facebook. I have been leant books, equipment, stories and advice. I have people I can call on the spot and it makes the difference at this time of training. Right now Italics has learned to eat from my fist, to turn towards me, to walk towards me, and to hop off the perch onto my hand to eat. Next up is flying to me inside the mews and then we'll start working outside with a long hawk lease called a creance. It's small, deliberate, steps and I admit I am doing this slower than most. I am okay with slow progress if it still means progress and I'm not moving backwards in training.

We have had some rough moments. Italics is not a domesticated creature who loves me. He's a hawk, and when I was stupid enough to put my guard down and not hold onto the jesses tight while trying to hood him (something he has recently decided he hates), it took him .078 seconds to grab onto the skin under my right arm and hold on for dear life. It still hurts, and bad. I am just glad I didn't freak out or scream when it happened. I just gritted my teeth and did what my mentor told me. Slowly back him into a wall and when he realizes something is against his back he'll let go. Which he did. And I promptly slid on his hood and ran inside to clean out the talon punctures with an abundance of peroxide and triple antibiotics and whimper, tail between my legs and licking my wounds.

I certainly learned my lesson: Hold. Onto. The. Jesses. When. Hooding. This. Bird.

Such stories are common among new falconers. You only learn your lessons through, well, learning and I don't know a falconer who hasn't been footed. It's like expecting to take up martial arts and not being punched (check), or horses and not being kicked or thrown (check, check), and you don't get into falconry without a talon in your hide every so often (sigh, and check!). I like a life with some offense in it.

So we are good, mostly. I'm excited about some craftsmanship involved in the sport as well. A gathering of falconers is being planned to teach us newbies the art of making out own hoods and jesses. I am really excited to learn to cut, sew, wrap and create my own hoods. You better believe if I make one it'll have antlers on it.

P.S. That is a photo I took with my beat up iphone, next to my lamp post, on our first or second night together. Luckiest. Shot. Ever!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Fiddle Camp - Lowest Rate Ever!

So with the end of the month drawing closer, and the holidays making everyone's wallet's a little thinner - I wanted to offer the last 5 spots of Summer Fiddle Camp for a seriously reduced rate. Come to the farm for two days, get your own fiddle, and learn to play it in beautiful Washington County for $225 dollars. This means I only make around $50 a person for the two day event after t-shirts, supplies, and such but I need to get the spots filled so I can order instruments and budget for other musical events. I hope you consider taking one of these last spots for $125 bucks less then usual cost of $350. You get a heck of a deal or gift to give to a loved one this season and I get to know camp slots are filled! Email me at Jenna@itsafarwalk.com if you want to take me up on it!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Storm Dog

Live Like Fiction Book Club is Back!
Name of the Wind

Get yourself a digital, physical, library or audiobook copy of Patrick Rothfuss's Name of the Wind and have it read for a discussion here on the blog in Middle January! Patrick is the bearded fellow in the episode of Table Top posted below. This is the first book in a trilogy still being written. If you enjoyed Harry Potter, welcome to graduation. The main character is also a student of magic at a special school, but there aren't any owls or spells - more of a selection of sciences combined with Rothfuss's own mythology for the amazing world he built. I'll add a Sword and Laser video about it below so you guys can get a feel for it before you invest and money and time, after all, not everyone has the same taste. But if you like epic stories, this is the series the NY Times said was the only thing worth putting on the shelf next to Tolkien. That is saying something.

Here's a little excert from Patrick's Web Site.

My name is Kvothe, pronounced nearly the same as "quothe." Names are important as they tell you a great deal about a person. I've had more names than anyone has a right to. The Adem call me Maedre. Which, depending on how it's spoken, can mean The Flame, The Thunder, or The Broken Tree.

"The Flame" is obvious if you've ever seen me. I have red hair, bright. If I had been born a couple of hundred years ago I would probably have been burned as a demon. I keep it short but it's unruly. When left to its own devices, it sticks up and makes me look as if I have been set afire.

"The Thunder" I attribute to a strong baritone and a great deal of stage training at an early age.

I've never thought of "The Broken Tree" as very significant. Although in retrospect, I suppose it could be considered at least partially prophetic.

My first mentor called me E'lir because I was clever and I knew it. My first real lover called me Dulator because she liked the sound of it. I have been called Shadicar, Lightfinger, and Six-String. I have been called Kvothe the Bloodless, Kvothe the Arcane, and Kvothe Kingkiller. I have earned those names. Bought and paid for them.

But I was brought up as Kvothe. My father once told me it meant "to know."

I have, of course, been called many other things. Most of them uncouth, although very few were unearned.

I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

You may have heard of me.

Board Games, OwlBears, and Wool Armor

A few weeks ago my friends Miriam and Chris stopped by the farm for dinner and a board game. That's a usual dinner party around here. Everyone brings a dish and after a good meal with friends we get out a box of something wonderful. Those of you who have been reading a while know I'm not talking about Scrabble, Sorry, or Monopoly (though I do respect that lifestyle) - I'm talking about some seriously fun games. Games like Ticket To Ride, Settlers of Catan, Pandemic, and Agricola. These are games that reacquire a fun mix of strategy and luck, some are amazingly complicated (like Agricola - where you recreate the life of a 17th century farmer including building clay houses, feeding your kids, harvesting grains and making pottery) or elegant and easy ( Ticket To Ride takes minutes to learn and is so addicting you will play it the rest of your life). Catan and Pandemic are cult classics. Catan is all about barter and secret plans and Pandemic is a game where all the players work together to save the world from the apocalypse.

I like Role Playing Games a lot. Dungeons and Dragons is a classic (I run a game here in the summer, now on hiatus with an open spot for a fighter) but there are also really cool RPGs in a box like Elder Sign (HP Lovecraft Universe) and Betrayal at House on the Hill (which you explore a haunted house room by room as characters in a movie). There are many other games out there just as cool, just as fun, and just as addictive as these but that would be a totally different blog. Point being; We are a long way from Park Place. If you want to see demonstrations and nerdy celebrities play these games just google "Table Top with Wil Wheaton" and watch some.

Board games were so not the point of this post. I just get excited. Moving on!

So Miriam and Chris show up with some goodies to eat and they have something in their arms that definitely isn't edible. It was a gorgeous> aran sweater, off white and clearly hand-knit. Miriam explained that Chris's mother Margie was having a yard sale and this was going to be a part of it, but she couldn't throw it in the dollar bin after reading One Woman Farm. She wanted me to have it. I am telling you, the tiniest feather could have knocked me over it was that beautiful! The tag stated it was knit in Ireland, sat in storage for a long time, and never put to any use. Now it belonged to this farmer, and I was going to wear the hell out it.

I am wearing it now, but it is no longer pretty. It has also acquired Barnheart, or perhaops my symptoms have rubbed off on it. I have been wearing it over some base layer of long underwear all week. It keeps me warm, so warm. Sometimes I wear it along but it often has a heavy wool-lined canvas vest over it for the ease of pockets and extra warmth. But this sweater, It is now a range animal, just like me. It's quiet perfection has been turned into utility in motion, like a show pony finally hooked to harness. It has black ash and hay flecks in it. It has some pulled strings and coffee stains. It has fed sheep, brushed horses, and carried buckets. It has beaver blood on the cuffs and horse hair on the arms. I wore it two nights ago with a heavy leather gauntlet on my left hand for a moonlit walk with Italics. It does it all, as wool always has. The whole thing has grown a winter coat of sorts, starting to felt and pull where it has the most use. It is beautiful armor and I am honored to wear it. It's as much a part of me now as the farm itself. I love it.

Thank you, Margie and Merry Christmas to you! Your gift made my holiday!

The Hob

Every farmhouse has its center of gravity. Here it is The Hob. Hob is just a british slang term for stove but it was also made popular in the Hunger Games books since there was a big marketplace also called The Hob in those adventures. In the books The Hob was the center of activity, life, cooking, and trade in the Appalachian community of the story. Well, here in this story of another archer who used to live in Appalachian - this little wood stove is my Hob.

The is where all farm life centers, especially on cold mornings like this. It was -6 degrees when I woke up next to Gibson this morning. I heat only with wood now, the furnace only has a few gallons in it at a time to heat hot water for my irregular winter showers. The choice to heat with food is a serious one, and for folks who live alone on farms - a limiting one. But I love it. I love the dedication, the pull indoors, the fact I am literally needed as a human stove-feeder for the comfort of myself and the indoor residents of the farm - which include two dogs, two cats, and the occasionally hawk (he has in indoor perch in my office, too). And today with such cold outside and another 4 inches on the way, I am happy to have this hub of life to call the heart of my home.

It's a Vermont Bun Baker, a small stove but so lined with bricks it really pumps out heat. With dry wood it can get my small living space downstairs (around 600 square feet) ten degrees warmer in around an hour. And it doesn't just warm the house - it humidifies the air with pots and steamers, it heats hot water for tea or cocoa, it dries out gloves and socks, de-ices winter coats, defrosts the rabbits' water bottles and cooks sleeping cats at a low bake from just 5 feet away.

In a minute I'll head out to get the pigs more warm bedding, lots of feed (awesome feed update later!), and fresh water. They are due for the traveling butcher in a few weeks. Knowing they are not only helping the farm out financially but also the food of many close friends and neighbors - I am grateful and careful as I can be with them in this winter cold. Looking forward to bacon and piglets to replace them soon! Some of that bacon, by the way, will be cooked right on this hob.

Told you it was the center!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sleigh Bells Ring!

I had such a beautiful, blessed, and warm day today! The farm is riding out the storm with everyone safe, warm, and happy. All is well here. I have a fire keeping the house in the sixties, warm wool blankets (whoever mailed me the pink tulip blanket, please email me because it is so wonderful and my main source of night warmth!), a crock pot of stew full of goodness from friends farms and my slippers on. Tonight I am watching the first Hobbit movie in anticipation of the new film (haven't seen it yet, it's been to cold for 5-hour travel) and I have a tall glass of my favorite adult beverage: a Haymason. What's a Haymason? It's a pint mason jar with ice half filed with hard cider and the other half whiskey. It is wonderful.

So my snowday was spent seeing to the critters, working upstairs, and then a nice break for a sleigh ride and coffee over at Patty and Mark's farm with Steele! It was so great to be the only other living thing besides deer breaking trails in her fields! The four of us rode, sang carols, and listened to Steele's bells as he trotted across the landscape. What an amazing day surrounded by amazing friends. Tonight I go to bed tired and happy, thanks to all of you.

Getting Easier!

I remember the first time I was shown this house by the realtor and how he was trying to remain calm and positive about the interior. I had a feeling he had shown this place a couple dozen times and it was the trifecta of flooring situations that ruined any possible sales. See, the floor looked like hardwood but it wasn't. There was wood below, which was unmistakable by a couple hundred years of warping and rolling, making a walk from the living room to the kitchen a subtle change in altitude. But the warped floor was masked as well as possible by the linoleum over it. It was made to look like hardwood, but certainly it was just the same stuff inexpensively flooring kitchens around America. The ceilings were only 7 or eight feet high in places, too. It was an old house, carefully restored and loved by the people who were currently selling it. But it wasn't an easy sell. People do not want linoleum in the living room and wonky floors. They don't want just one small bathroom on the base floor when the bathrooms are upstairs and without any plumbing…

But for me, it was perfect. So perfect it just reinforces my belief that everything happens for a purpose. This old house, complete with its fake floors and tiny area of plumbing is perfect for a homesteader heating with firewood. And you know what else is perfect? Linoleum floors. Because last night we got hit with a foot of snow and this girl spend the entire morning in a full set of coveralls and heavy boots raking roofs, feeding, watering, and seeing to critters and came inside an hour later dripping and shaking snow in every direction on the floor. I had to clean the ash out of the wood stove and I had a metal pail and garden spade and I stood there, dripping hay and water, ash and mud, as I shoveled out 5 loads of coals and ash out of the Bun Baker and into a watered-down bucket to set outside. It looked like one of those old-timey movies of people shoveling coals into steam engines. And when I was done there there were pools of muck at my feet, globs of wet ash and coal, mud, hay, and other detritus at my feet. It took one broom, dustpan, and a mop to make it look like new in about two minutes. Bless Linoleum.

So right now the house is clean and the fire is lit. The animals outside are fed and in good spirits. Everyone has water, food, shelter and all the comforts I can offer. As a farmer, especially a farmer on her own in the North Country, I feel like a lottery winner!

My preparations yesterday really paid off. I moved the electric line a foot higher in the pig pen so it wasn't buried in the onslaught. This means the pigs are still confined and the two bales of hay I gave them were turned into a little fort under their little shed. Last night after the first of two roof raking trips - I went outside with a lantern to make sure they were okay and was warmed at the sight of a pile of four 200-pound animals slowly breathing under a dry pile of hay while the wind blew.

It took a few years of winters but I am getting it. There wasn't any panic this morning or last night. Even when the pipes started to stop flowing I knew what to do and moved heaters around, got things dripping, and actually pulled some ice out of the toilet's drainage with some serious plungering… I repaired the roof rake that needed new screws and tightening and I can proudly say my barn, kitchen, and the mews are all still standing and cleared of snow. I brought inside plenty of firewood. I set out several bales of hay under tarps by both the sheep and horse paddocks to save on trips to and from the barn. I made sure I had coffee and hot cocoa stocked along with creamer and marshmallows. I cleared my schedule for the day and the house is warm. I may watch a movie here with the dogs, head over to Livingston Brook Farm for a sleigh ride with Steele and Patty, or just enjoy a clean warm house, a mystery novel, a walk with my hawk, and a crockpot of chicken stew. Not a bad storm day compared to previous years of bursting pipes, broken-down cars, or $350 a month oil heating bills. Today should be turned into a personal holiday, for Brigit's sake. Let us all remember December, in the year 2013, when Jenna finally got her shit together. And it was good.

Guys, it's all good! I have the same food, shelter, and comfort as the animals outside do. I'm rested and ready as a just-mended roof rake. I'm an expert in nesting, like those pigs outside in a perfect ball of hay. I feel good this morning. Really good. And now I'm off to enjoy this snow day.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Out On A Training Walk

Farmer's Easy Chicken Stew

I thought I would share a favorite winter recipe for super easy, super wholesome, Farmer's Chicken Stew. This is done entirely in a basic 6-8 quart slow cooker. You don't even need the stove. Not everyone realizes that for a twenty-dollar investment in a slow cooker they can be having free-range chicken stew for dinner with about 5 minutes of actual work. The bird and stew cooks while you are doing other things!


One small 2-4 pound chicken, whole.
5 or 6 medium to large carrots
4 or 5 potatoes or parsnips (or both!)
Chicken bullion (cubes, paste, or powder works) or pre-made stock
1 bunch of kale
2 onions
Chicken seasoning/rub herbs (I like the very basic store-bought Chicken Montreal Seasoning)
Olive Oil

1. Take your defrosted or fresh bird and rinse it off in the sink. Then place it in the empty crock pot, cover with a coating of olive oil, sprinkle on a generous amount of chicken seasoning and set it to high. In a few hours you will have a cooked chicken. You know it is done when it literally starts falling apart when you touch it. Grab a leg and feel it come loose from the body, almost like only liquid is keeping it together in one piece. If you aren't sure it's done, cut into the breast and check for white meat in the breast. It is a good indication your bird is cooked. Now! If some of you are rolling your eyes at instructions on how to cook a chicken in a slow cooker, I understand. But I am certain there are readers out there who don't realize this is an option while they are at the office or out picking up their kids from school. You can do this with rabbit, game, pork, lamb, beef.... anything really.

2. Remove bird from slow cooker once done and cut off the meaty bits. Put them back into the crock pot with about 5 cups of water. I cut off the legs and wings and put them into the pot too—bones and all—and let them become part of that glorious broth.

3. Peel or slice off skins/outer layers of potatoes, parsnips, kale, onions, and carrots. Cut up into hearty chunks and add to your water/chicken pot.

4. Add stock, bullion, or paste to taste. You should check after a few cubes or teaspoons of flavor how it is coming along. Trust your taste buds and don't be scared to add salt or pepper either. A little ginger and garlic never hurt anyone either. Just saying.

5. Turn on low and let those beautiful beasts get to know each other while you are out doing chores, at the office, running errands or taking a nap. If it starts bubbling, set it to a lower heat or unplug a while.

6. Once vegetables are cooked, meat is tender, and broth is amazing - feel free to add more water if flavors are too powerful or a cream roux (google it ) if you'd like to have a richer body to it.

7. Enjoy. Serve over rice for a more filling meal or in mugs in your truck if you are on the go to get a load of hay! Either way, it is amazing. It is energizing, comforting, and easy to source this time of year from local farms still growing or storing such greens. I got my chicken from Stannard Farm for a little over six dollars (bless them). But I wouldn't hesitate to take out a young Antlerborn or American Bresse for such a fine meal. It lasts for days, is always hot, and laying in wait for me. It keeps this farmer going, that is for sure. What I don't eat in 2 days gets frozen in mason jars with freezer screw on lids. Ready for a quick defrosting in a saucepan of cold water set on the stove at a medium heat to slowly warm up into a hot meal. It's my version of take out.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Best Gifts To Give This Holiday! Experiences!!!

Good Morning! There are still a few weeks to get gifts for the holiday season, and I thought I would offer something special to my readers. Folks who sign up before the end of the weekend for an Indie Day here at the farm (at a date of your choosing) can do so for the following rates. These are discounted to be just a little over the cost of the equipment provided (things like fiddles, bows, and dulcimers will be here waiting for you). If you are a clan member, check the website for even lower rates and a ridicuous saving on some future events.

1. Archery Indie Day!
Come spend a day at the farm and receive personalized instruction in archery. Anyone who signs up will also get a bow, arrow, bowstring, arm guard and finger protection. It includes five hours of instruction and shooting with lunch breaks and a tour. We can even break early for a cart ride with Merlin if the weather obliges. Cost for single: $250, pair: $450

2. Wool Indie Day!
Come learn to turn wool off the back of a sheep into clean, carded, and spinnable wool. Class comes with drop spindle and you get to go home with CAF wool you clean (and some extra to process at home). This is a great class for people considering a small flock and what goes into creating their most awesome gift: yarn! The day also includes a tour of the farm, sheep care, and what the costs and expectations are of raising such animals. Cost for single: $150, pair: $300

 3. Hoofbeats Indie Day
So you can't help it, you can't let go of the dream. You still want a pony. I understand, really I do. And a few years ago I didn't know a saddle horn from a spotted draft - but that can change. This is a day dedicated entirely to a farmstead horse. Learning about the reality of what it costs, hay, farrier, housing, time and energy as well as actual experience with Merlin and me. You will learn to groom the animal, tack up a horse for riding, watch demonstrations in person and get in the saddle yourself. You'll also learn abut the harness, vehicles, and jobs of a working animal that isn't just another pretty car. People who sign up leave with a copy of Storey's Guide to Raising Horses, a curry comb, and set of cotton rope reins. We may tow a stone boat, logs from the woods, or whatever the farm needs. Warning: people that have taken horse workshops here ended up with horses a few months later…. $180/$300

4. Fiddle/Dulcimer Indie Day Camps
This is a super-personalized day of learning the mountain dulcimer or southern mountain fiddle here at the farm. The same pace as fiddle camp, but more one-on-one time. Each Musical Indie Day comes with a student instrument, $250/$450

If anyone requests one of these holiday-rated Indie Days I will send them a card with a signed note from me personally inviting them to the farm for a day and letting them know what the day will entail - so you'll have something to hand over in a wrapped box or envelope come the holiday! Perhaps there is something you want to learn I didn't cover? Such as Soapmaking, Intro to Dairy Goats, Gardening, or Working Farm Dogs? Maybe you want to learn more about falconry, sewing, etc. Prices would vary based on supplies and such.

You can also make it a weekend, or several day event, if you want. Some folks just want to know what it is like working on a small farm for a few days - a haycation! If you are simply interested in working alongside me, asking questions, and learning what it's like living this life we can arrange that as well. There are plenty of close by campsites with cabins just minutes away and folks I already know can option to stay in the guest room here at the farmhouse. If I don't know you, please don't take the cabin thing personally. But a girl just can't invite the internet for a sleepover, I'm sure you understand!

Thank you again for your support, readership, and consideration in possibly making a day at the farm and the skills that come with it a holiday gift! To Sign up or ask questions please email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hunting Partners

They are learning each other, as I am learning to man Italics. Everyday there is a training session in the morning and sometimes one in the evening, too. I have a leatherbound journal I use to record his daily weigh-ins, the weather, attitude and progress. To some falconers our story is moving too slow. I guess I am just trying not to push it. So far he has only been in my life nine days and in that time he has gone from a wild, flapping, scared animal to one that sits on my fist while I do my morning farm chores and eats out of my hand. That to me is a heck of a long journey, even if he isn't flying through the air onto my hand yet.

He doesn't seem to mind Merlin, and Merlin totally ignores him. My next step is to take them on a walk together, Italics on my fist and Merlin's lead rope in my right hand. If they both can handle each other that close moving in a direction I think we are not far off from riding with a hawk. The end game here is to be able to ride Merlin into the fields and hillsides on this mountain and release Italics for the hunt. To come home to the farm with some rabbits or squirrels in the saddlebag will be a mighty day. Though it may be a while off.

With Italics, everything moves slow. Yesterday he started walking up onto my fist to eat instead of just bending over to eat out of my hand. It seems small but the choice to come to food instead of waiting for it to be presented is a huge mental stride for an animal with a brain the size of a pea. My brain is a lot bigger, and it was a huge mental stride for me as well!

My afernoon consists of working on a new book proposal, cloak sewing, and possibly a decent workout. Martial arts is such a big part of my life now, and every day the routine of going through my forms with body and bo staff opens up my heart and mind. It stretches limbs and retracts worries. It is a blessing in my life for sure. I look forward to those quiet times in the afternoon where the farm slips away and it is just me and 21-40 memorized moves. If you practice yoga, tai-chi, dressage or dance you may know what I am talking about?

Speaking of martial arts.... I have one spot left for Arrows Rising, which I hope one of you snags (or gets gifted) as a Holiday gift. It will be a wonderful weekend with all beginner archers! And if you can't make it here on Beltane Weekend I also provide personal lessons in instinctive shooting and can offer Archery Indie Days with a bow and arrow or two waiting for you when you arrive. Same goes for summer Fiddle Camp ( 5 spots left) which can also be an Indie Day with a fiddle in the case waiting for your hungry hands. Email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com for more details!

P.S. Shares of pigs for next summer, 2 shares left. These are live shares, mind you. Email for what that all means if interested.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Are We Snow?

Trees and Geese

I noticed the first flakes when I backed out of the driveway. Gibson was hanging out the window on the passenger side, looking up the way he always does when weather comes. I think he is looking for the source, because he doesn't look at the flakes, but past them. I run a hand along his shoulders and tell him to come back inside as I roll the window up. He stands on the seat, his nose against the windshield with his eyes on the sheep chewing hay a few yards away. He always hates leaving them. I empathize with the sigh he lets out. I feel the same way.

We are just on a short trip of errands, mostly to get a few bales of hay from Patty's farm. I have a few bales in reserve but stocks are low enough to deserve the trip, ergo the truck loaded with a farmer and her sighing dog. The flakes picked up as I rode along the back roads to Livingston Brook Farm and I wondered if we would get a real snowfall? The forecast was sketchy. Soon as I passed over the Battenkill River, the snow stopped. I mentally shrugged and headed to load up a bit of hay. I was told there were two beautiful Canada geese near the front door for Italics, and so after I had a pickup truck loaded with hay I grabbed the two geese and set them int the back of the truck. I'd bring them inside to thaw and use them to help feed and train the hawk that is quickly winning my heart.

On the way home I crossed back over the river and through the woods, and wouldn't you know it - over in Jackson the snow was really falling! It was a bonefide squall and the roads were turning white! Elvis was crooning Christmas Carols on the radio and I had a small bit of beautiful pine bows in a blue bow ready to hang on the farm house front door. I was officially in the Yuletide Spirit. I cranked up the radio and sang with Gibson panting and wagging in the front seat.

I unloaded the hay in the snowfall and Gibson ran around the truck, herding my live geese, who honked and protested the entire time. The snow kept falling and I decided to look up, too. What I saw was not the source, but the promise of more snow and I decided to give into the emotion and celebration of the season. So without further adieu, I went inside and found my cloak, heavy and warm. I wrapped it around me, grabbed a hatchet, and set out into my woods for a pine tree that welcomed the Solstice. It was Iconic. Me and my sheepdog, out into the wild with one small axe, a cloak, and the storm swirling around us! We found a tree and brought it back to the house. There I used the hatchet to cut off smaller branches which I used to decorate the house from top to bottom. I had pine boughs everywhere, hanging from wrought iron and nail - their scent filling the house with the spirit of the season. I put on some music, Celtic Christmas in Gaelic and understood a few of the words sang in the chorus and felt powerful. Knowledge like this is like secret treasures, and every word and candle another smile in my life.

So here we are. A few weeks from the big day. Regardless of your beliefs or lack thereof, the science that soon the days will grow longer is among us. That in itself is a reason to celebrate on this farm. Longer days mean easier days. Less heat, more horse. I look forward to that. Very much, so.

So in the spirit of the season I wish you a happy holiday season, and hope you do the same for me. We have trees, hawks, horses, and hounds at this little farm. We all appreciate any blessing or favor you can send our way.

Also,  comments are back.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Productivity and Squeaking

It was a truly productive day here on the farm, or rather, inside the farmhouse. I spent the day designing logos, sewing cloaks, and catching up on emails and office work. It wasn't exactly thrilling but it feels really rewarding at this side of it all. With a cloak brooched, folded and ready to mail and a set of new designs sent to a business in Tennessee - I am enjoying my evening indoors by the fire.

I have a pile of borrowed hawking manuals to read and gleam whatever I can from. I had two sessions with Italics today, and he is slowly learning to trust me. He eats meat from my hand, he joins me on long walks around the farm and down the road. He knows how to balance himself on my gloved hand. He is okay without the hood in daylight. What he needs now is to learn to come to my gloved hand and hop to it for food. Slowly, ever so slowly, he is learning that I am a safe place and a solid meal. In the next few weeks we'll get to the point where he will fly to me and land on my fist, though that all starts like every other journey does; with a single step. My next goal is to get him from eating off my glove to stepping ontpo it to eat from his perch. It's been one week since his capture and already I feel like we've come so far. He's a wild animal that sits on my fist, eats from my hands, and tolerates me for hours on end. I have had dates not go this well.

He is pretty good, today he was a little chatty. He makes this squeak that sounds more tame than a chicken. Master Falconers have told me these sounds are normal, but some birds are more chatty than others. I'm not sure how many of you have heard hawk chatter so I filmed one of our training walks. Enjoy the banter.

I haven't ridden Merlin since the day before deer season started and it's starting to really make me itch. Right now the trails we ride are all ice and mush (not fun on a barefoot steed) but tomorrow if things are as fair (temperature wise) as they were today I am saddling him up or finally fixing that wheel on the cart because I am getting a little eager with all this time around sewing machines, squeaking hawks, and computers. I need to get on a horse, or behind one at least in a cart. Even if it's just down the road it is good for the soul.

My life, I tell you.

In other news: I am really happy with how the Clan Membership is gaining and the reception from the new Members! Anyone who subscribes to this blog is welcome to join, as is anyone who wants to pay the annual fee the one time. People have been really supportive over at the Clan Blog, sharing advice and stories and creating a community in a safe environment. A few folks already set up tour dates at the farm and some businesses and services are setting up discounts for Clan members. It is coming along better than expected and I am proud of the community over there!

Okay, time for some John Stewart and hard cider. This day is done and I am tired and happy. A good place to be.

One Woman Farm For The Holidays!

Just wanted to let you know you can still order signed (by Gibson, too!) copies of One Woman Farm, Barnheart, Made From Scratch, or Chick Days from Battenkill Books here in town. Email or call Connie to place and order and they can even giftwrap them and send them to a receiver's address to save you the hassle. You're supporting a small business, a small farm, and spreading the Cold Antler Farm hollercall. I think all the books are great gifts but One Woman Farm really seems to catch people's eye and welcome to them to my farm and story in a wonderful way. I hope some of you who already have copies consider ordering them as gifts and those of you who want something special for yourself...Well, don't be a Grinch and TREAT YO-SELF.

Battenkill Books
15 East Main St.
Cambridge, NY 12816
(518) 677-2515

Saturday, December 7, 2013


One Spot Opened Up!: ARROWS RISING 2014!

I am sharing this again to urge anyone on the fence to sign up and join the tribe! So far five women have already signed up, leaving only five spots left. If you are even on the fence or nervous, grab this workshop because it is a life changer. I'm not saying I am a life changer, I'm saying becoming an archer is. You see the world different, you walk taller, you learn a discipline and an art that holds your head higher and allows a focus and meditation few sports can match. You can lose yourself in a run, you can ride a horse for therapy, but your mind is totally open and clear when an arrow is pulled back to your lips. Everyone coming is a complete beginner, so no worries about being worst or best. This is about learning to shoot traditionally and for yourself, and who knows. It may open your world to hunting, or competition, or the SCA like it did for me. Anyway, One spot left and I hope you take 'em fast!

I am happy to announce a new event here at Cold Antler Farm! Hopefully this will become a tradition like Fiddle Camp. On May 3rd and 4th, 2014 I would like to host an absolute beginner's archery event called Arrows Rising. It's two days of learning the skills, techniques, and equipment needed for traditional archery. That's right, traditional is what I said. We'll be learning the recurve and longbow, not compound bows and instinctive shooting. There will be no training wheels or sights, instead just wood and string, arrows, eyes, and targets. The event will include a wooden, artisan-crafted long bow at a poundage and length suitable for beginners. Yup, you get a bow.

This may be the event I am most qualified to teach here, too. As a professional archery instructor, a team member of a traditional archery team, and a safety marshal for the Society of Creative Anachronism I have been teaching and educating beginning archers for some time now. You'll learn not how to pull and release but how to position your entire body, mind, breath, and heartbeat for the target. You'll be among other beginner's as well so no worries

Day One will include an overview of safety, gear, types of bows and arrows. You'll get to know your bow and learn the basics of care and feeding, stringing it with a bow stringer, and how to measure yourself for arrows. You'll get to learn the safe way to shoot with others at a range environment. You'll get the basic lesson of instinctive shooting as well. The day will end with target practice (supervised) and a talk about important books and resources for the new traditional archer.

Day Two will be shorter, but include a group breakfast at the Burger Den followed by a fun tournament with prizes. We'll wrap up around noon or 2PM at the latest and you'll leave not only with your own bow but the knowledge to shoot well, shoot true, and all the skills you need to practice at home or your local archery range (you may not realize you even have a local public range!).

If you want to sign up I am only accepting ten people. I encourage total beginners to traditional archery who always wanted to take up the sport to attend, you really will enjoy it. If you are already an experienced archer, I suggest letting the folks who never touched a bow before take the first slots and you are welcome to attend the tournament Sunday or come and shadow at the talks and practice on Sunday.


Arrows Rising
May 3rd and 4th, 2014
Jackson, NY
Cost: $350 (includes bow!)
No Camping On Site
Workshops are not refundable, regardless of date change, weather, or any other reason, but all sales of workshops are good for credit towards other events of similar value or less long as I am hosting events and farming! Understand this before you sign up, please.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Two Hearts on a Friday Night

Ah, yes. The week is over. The weekend is nigh. There is the sense of freedom, of possibility, dare I say…romance? Certainly here next to the roaring fire with a sheepskin adorned in front of it the wine glasses are clinking and two hearts are thawing near its fiery embrace.

Or, you know, you're defrosting some old pig hearts to feed your hawk.

No, there's no romance here these days. But there is a lot going on. Mostly animal related. There was a goat escape today (just little Ida) which was met with many games of tag. Ida is totally happy to sprint after GIbson and together they run around the side yard and woods, taking turns chasing each other. It's absolutely darling to watch, but soon as Annie emerges from her den (the living room) Ida goes stiff as a deer right before the headlights smack her. Maybe it's Annie's wolfish appearance or perhaps just the strangeness of a new animal? (Gibson is outside as much as I am) but Ida has no interest in Husky Tag. Which, let's be honest, is probably for the best. I'm pretty sure that game would end with a heart attack killing a very happy 14-year-old dog with a goat haunch in her mouth.

I picked up Ida and dumped her gently back into the pen with her mama. Both goats seem happy to be the best-kept animals in the barnyard. And I say that in the sense of the animal's choice. The sheep, horses, chickens, dogs, cats, and humans all have shelter, food, water, and space - but only the goats have the sense to tuck into a warm pile of hay and spend a rainy day inside - coats dry and bellies full. Everyone else - from this human and her sprinting dog to the trotting horses on the hillside - to the chickens by the stream bed searching for salamanders and the pigs in their muddy slush - none of us but the goats act civilized. We all have the same options but only goats keep themselves looking good all the time.

It was such an oddly warm day yesterday, so I took advantage of not having to focus my life around heating the farmhouse. It was a little vacation, and I spent most of it doing odd jobs around the farmhouse, inside and out. The big project coming up is cleaning out the goat pen, which has become not just the goat pen but the Antlerborns' Winter Chicken Coop.

I have a horse cart to fix, just a new wheel, but I've been putting it off like it's radioactive. I'm not sure why. I think because it seems like such a "fun" thing at the moment when there is so much to do to get ready for winter, to sew, to mail, to design. So it sits out there. I'll get to it soon.

Italics is doing well, eating from my fist which is a great sign and that shows real trust between us. It was a big step to get to that point and now it is a matter of slowly adding more experiences and distractions as we work towards better communication. Progress is not fast with this kind of thing, but anything moving forward is good!

P.S. After posting this I got several emails from falconers about not feeding hawks pork or pig organs? I could understand not feeding anything cured or salty, or anything processed commercially, but why is a freshly defrosted antibiotic-free pig heart bad for a bird in small training sizes? Please email me if you know!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Now, The Hunger Games

So I have the bird, the gear, the energy and the will. But what happens first in the training of a hawk has nothing to do with hunting or flying to gloved fists. What happens first is a timeless stand off between falconer and bird. I am calling it The Hunger Games (homage, of course).

When you trap a migrating bird it is already hungry. It has been moving hundreds of miles a day at times, eating just what it needs to keep on the move. My bird was no exception and when it was trapped you could tell he had a mostly empty crop and was on the thin side. He wasn't in the kind of shape where you instantly release him back to the wild, but he wasn't the star quarterback of his high school either. He could use a few meals in him.

But a captured bird, brand new to a human partner does not realize he isn't in danger. He still sees us as big monsters, possibly confused as to why he isn't dead yet. When trapped most birds go into shock, exposing their underside. This is a kind of raptor suicide - it means they give up and want it over with quick. They expect to be eviscerated. But instead they are scooped up, given a new outfit, and brought to their new abode. It's like being kidnapped and put in a hotel suite. You're clad you haven't been BTKed but aren't exactly trustworthy of your abductor. (I know fellow falconers cringe at my comparing raptor capture to kidnapping, but let's be honest here…)

So that is what Italics is in the middle of. He is in this new place, unharmed, and confused. He has been through a lot this Monday and honestly, eating isn't really on his mind. But feeding him is ALL that is on my mind because the first hurdle in training a bird is getting him to eat. And not just eat, but eat from my hands. This sounds simple enough but some of these birds would rather starve to death then let us feed them. They have never shared food in the wild, never ate so close to other predators, and asking them to take some meat from our hands is a huge request. Some birds take up to a week of being on hunger strike to accept a meal and that scared me. Italics wasn't in that kind of shape. He wasn't a fat bird with a big crop full of squirrel meat. Ed said he had about two days in him before we would have to resort to other feeding methods. Some birds never allow you to feed them and they released back to their stubborn lives. The falconer traps again, I assume.

Anyway. I started trying to feed Italics that same day. He wasn't interested. On the second morning, he also wasn't interested and had lost 18g of weight. I started to worry. He wasn't in danger but I wanted to know it would be okay, that he would be okay. That night I went into the mews after dark, lit a candle, and had rich and red meat from a pigeon breast. It was the tastiest thing I could offer, in 2-inch strips. I removed the hood and instead of freaking out or acting up, Italics just regarded me. In the flickering light he saw the food I had to offer him and wouldn't eat it, but he didn't try to bite or foot me. So I took a strip and set it near his beak in an annoying way, and he opened his mouth to snap at it. Some caught in his mouth and he flicked it away.

So this progressed for another hour or so. He accidentally biting into the meat, then flicking it away until I realized the pieces were too big. So I put a pencil-eraser sized bit of meat on my fingertip and rubbed his beak - which he snapped at enough to take part of my finger with it, but it was small enough to taste. He swallowed it! Relief washed over me. This was great. And through that second night he would eat anything that happened into his mount, but would not take food from me. Still, my hungry bird ate a fine meal and was no longer in danger or too stubborn to train. This was great news.

And even better, he didn't object to the hood at all. He let me place it back on his head. This downright surprised Ed. Most birds pitch a fit over a hood, but not Italics. At least not yet in the dark. Daylight may be a whole different story!

Last night I fed him again, and this time he took meat offered next to the beak, actually chose to take it and eat it. I didn't have to trick him. He accepted food from me. The next goal is to get him to take food I set on my gauntlet, right from the fist. To do this Italics has to bend over and show me the top of his head which is a huge act of compliance on his part. It shows that he trusts me enough to put his most fragile part of his body in danger, and feels safe enough to eat from food offered - not dangling near his beak. We will get there, and when we do we can start training in more light, outdoors, and I can start training him to come when called. When I have a bird that returns to my fist when called I can start hunting with him. But there is a lot of chances, plenty of risk of the bird flying off, and other hurdles to cross first. But so far things are going well. We are still in the Hunger Games phase of the story but little by little, we are learning to trust each other. That's enough for me just three days after capture from the wild!

Guinness and Sheepdogs: It's a Beautiful Thing

Last Call!

Please let me know if you are coming to Words & Wool this Saturday!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Capture: Part 2

I returned the next morning to where I last saw him the night before. There he was, on the pole, still sitting and watching the world go by. It was around 7AM and even though we were in a rural area, people were leaving for work, hunting, and school. A big yellow bus drove by and I clenched the wheel of my truck tight enough to whiten the knuckles. I was so close, had wanted this so long, and if a rickety bus send this bird packing I would be back to road spotting. I watched the bird as the bus rambled past. It didn't move.

I drove out of the bird's sight and when I couldn't take it anymore I headed back to the trap site, past hills, ponds, and farms that looked ready for their L.L. Bean photo shoot. When I was within a hundred yards the truck crawled along the road, and slowly the telephone pole came into sight. It was empty!

This was a great sign, and perhaps my hungry bird had headed for the trap. I pulled over and acted fast, getting my gear bag out of the back seat and headed down the slope of the ditch. There he was! And he was certainly trapped. One of the loops on the top of of the cage had been stuck on a talon. I literally had a tiger by the toe. As I gained ground and got closer he flapped his wings and opened his mouth wide, as he leaned back exposing his white stomach. This was sign of shock, and he would be as easy to handle as a kitten. Well, a kitten who might grab me with a foot capable of squeezing with 400lbs of sharp force, but I tried not to think about that.

More traffic was picking up on the road and I didn't want people stopping and asking questions. What I was doing was totally legal, but folks aren't used to seeing weekday morning hawk captures on their way to drop off the kids at school and I didn't want to invite any debate, small talk, or fuss. I wanted this bird safe and on our way to Ed's house. I had done this twice now. I guess Third Time really does pay for all, doesn't it? But this time it wasn't about releasing, it was about gathering. So I came up to the bird and got a closer look. He had one foot trapped but the other was up and lashing out. He was a scrapper. I grabbed a leather fake bird on a string (called a lure to falconers) and let him hold onto that while my left hand gathered both legs to keep us both safe. Within moments I had him off the trap, his talons taped shut, and a length of panty hose with a hole in it wrapped around his body. This seems so barbaric, but it is all about safety. A bird with claws and flapping wings in a truck is a disaster - either the human or the bird will get injured. If feathers broke or he was harmed I would be in big trouble with Ed, and feel deeply ashamed. Which is why I didn't put him in a dog crate or cardboard box, since all he would do is thrash. I slipped a hood over his eyes so the world went dark.

I packed all my gear and got into the truck. I did it. It took weeks, a whole community, friends with binoculars and offered time, and last night's stake out but I had a wild passage red-tail in my possession. I just took one small step for a woman… I thought of Ed's talk about hearing the moon landing the last time he trapped a bird. December 2nd 2013 wasn't as eventful. It was Cyber Monday. I just got one hell of steal….

I held him against my body, his head resting on the crook of my left arm as I called Ed at 7:30 in the morning. His wife picked up and handed the phone to her husband, who sounded a little tired and surprised to be hearing from me. "Ed, I GOT A BIRD!" I exclaimed and he sounded (for the first time ever) genuinely excited for me. "Oh, good! Wow, good good good." and I knew he was as shocked as I was, being so late in the trapping season. We made arrangements for me to head right to his farmhouse in south Cambridge and I told him I was on my way.

The drive to Ed's farm was a blur. I barely remember any of it, just that for the first time in weeks I wasn't looking up. I was looking at this beautiful, scared, quiet animal in my arms. To go from an observer of hawks, a casual appreciator to their companion? Or rather, their hunting partner? This was such an amazing feeling of accomplishment, eagerness, and awe. I knew the bird wasn't very large, maybe 2 pounds? But he felt enormous in my arms. So much potential, so many stories, lessons, mistakes, and adventures ahead. It was like holding a potion, equally dangerous and horrible as it was beautiful. I wasn't scared though. I just wanted him to be okay.

I pulled into Ed's driveway and was rushed inside. It felt like those old clips of ER where people run into the double doors with stretchers to the Operating Table. And there was one, kind of. Right there in Ed's kitchen was a laid out towel, scissors, leather anklets, grommets, jesses, and a tool box. Ed and I weighed the bird while it was still safely wrapped and made note of it (982grams, a little under 35 oz). Ed said it was a large male, noted by the smaller feet than females and his weight. We undid his taped feet and removed the stocking and the replaced my too-big hood with one Ed himself handcrafted. Ed thought it was an old, damaged thing but I thought it was the most beautiful hood I had ever seen. Green and dark leather, beautiful closer ties and a decorative top knot. It fit the bird well.

Ed worked masterfully, the 60 years of experience shining through. He was entirely focused on the animal, not at all interested in me or the story. I have learned that falconers are a friendly lot but the birds always come first. Always. Pat offered me coffee and I gladly accepted. I had not showered, was in 4-day old insulated work pants and didn't even remember to put on a bra. I looked like a homeless person who stole roadkill in pantyhose and scrambled away in her dented truck.

It didn't take long to have the bird totally outfitted in anklets and jesses, hood, and ready to stand on my gloved fist for the first time. I set him up and he sulked, drooping as if someone had set him in a bowl of half-formed Jell-O. But then he stood up, as if his entire life was spend on large monster's hands. Ed was impressed, I think so anyway. He said some birds flop and sulk for hours before taking to the fist. This guy was already perching like a pro.

And so, with my hawk on my fist I was handed a cup of coffee and asked to sit down. Have you ever sat at kitchen table and sipped French Roast with a hawk on your left hand? Me either. At least not until that morning. It was strangely comfortable. Ed and I talked a lot. He wanted to make sure I had a plan for training starting tonight. He had some words of advice and we had the little problem of getting the bird home to my farm…. but we rigged a perch for the passenger side seat of the truck. The bird went from total restriction to riding shotgun in under an hour.

And this is how this adventure begins. Two animals, one goal, and a lot of learning in-between. Right now I have a wild animal in my care, and he will remain a wild animal. He is not a pet, but a partner in the hunt. In a few weeks of training, time, and luck we will go from strangers to pack mates. Two loners learning what it is like to think as a team with the hunt on our mind and big fat hope in our hearts. I like this bird, very much so. I named him, too. I call him Italics. It seemed like the right kind of name for a hawk manned by a graphic designer-cum-author. The word always sounded like a bird of prey to me, anyway. The tilt, the hint of the word Talon, and the almost slinky nature of the word seemed to fit him. And it does. So I have a bird in my mews. And now the real work starts.

Nothing holding me back but fear. Right, Ed?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Capture: Part 1

The first time I ever went hawk trapping I was with two Master Falconers and I was trying to act cool. Outside I kept up the act pretty well. I was mostly quiet, slightly smiling, but generally acting as if it was something mundane like an office carpool trip to an offsite business lunch. I doubt I pulled it off because I was vibrating all over inside my Carhartts. All I kept thinking about was the following two things:

1. I have someone managed to get myself to the point in life where Hawk Trapping is a normal Saturday morning activity.

2. Holy Crow, I could be going home with a bird tonight!

I couldn't help the excitement building up in me. It has taken nearly a year to get to this point in the process. It was early last February when I emailed my state's Department of Environmental Conservation and requested a study/information packet. That simple email was all it took to get a photocopied tome in the mail (my study guide) and forms to fill out asking me to pick a location in the state to take the entrance exam. This was all free, and all just words and paper at the time. I figured if this was something I was serious about I could always take the test and go from there. Taking an exam wasn't going to end with being handed a hawk, but not taking it meant I surely couldn't get started. So I studied. I studied and read books, articles, and watched documentaries. I emailed a friend of a friend who hunted with red tails and I asked if I could tag along. I was starting a dream the only way I knew how: jumping in as if you belonged there all along. So I hit the brush and watched birds dive for rabbits, I studied, and I signed up for a test date in the spring. I was on my way.

I took that exam four months later and scored a 91% (I needed at least an 80% to pass). What followed was forging a relationship with a sponsor, fellow falconers, and starting construction on a mews around my birthday in July. I worked part time at the British School of Falconry this summer and suddenly between the new acquaintances and work, hawks were becoming as normal in my life as horses and sheep. Friends came after work and on the weekends to help build the mews, the weathering area, and what was all paperwork and books last winter was becoming tangible in front of me. As summer wrapped up I finished gathering my supplies and gear. I had a Game Warden inspect the mews and sign off on it as raptor ready. Then it was a matter of waiting for my State and Federal Apprentice Licenses. It took until mid November, but I got them. I was finally ready to start trapping, the last step in preparation and the first step in actually working with a wild bird of prey. All of that had lead to this moment. I was about to head into the fields and forests of Washington County looking for a juvenile red-tail hawk start training.

As we finished loading up the last of the traps, bait, and doubled checked for bottled water and our binoculars - Ed shut the door on the truck and said with confidence, "Well, the only thing holding us back is fear." We drove off looking up.

Sitting in the back seat of an extended cab pickup truck, watching the sky and tree line, while listening to the banter of two old friends was wonderful. I have been new at enough things to know the real learning happens here. Books, videos, and hands-on experience is great but it is the comfortable conversations where I find the real wisdom, warnings, and inside jokes. I listened to them talk, and I asked a lot of questions. I worried at times asking things would sound like I did no research or was more ignorant than my beginner self actually was - but hearing their answers was worth any collateral judgement. You can read about things forever, but hearing an anecdote was gold to me. I can read how-to books forever, what I want is a witness.

We set a few traps for birds we thought might be legal (sometimes it is hard to tell) and on one particular stakeout I asked Ed the last time he went out trapping red tails? He thought about it, and then replied the last time he was out he remembered being in a truck watching a trap just like this, but he was alone. He turned on the radio for company and heard a voice say, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind…"

I beamed. You can't make this stuff up, people.

I didn't catch a bird that day, or even see a legal animal. We saw plenty of red tails but all were adults, and all of them had the signature auburn tail. My bird would be young and have brown and white striped tail, totally different from the matures (which falconers call Hags, short for Haggards - which is the actual term for an adult hawk). It was a little disappointing but not really. I had learned the ropes, and knew what to do if I felt like venturing out on my own. It was a good first step. And it was full of good stories and great people. I felt a part of something I wanted, and that was enough for me.

Over the following weeks I went out trapping more and more. Hours and miles, in every weather, sometimes for long full days of road and branches. Whenever me and Ed had his Jeep loaded up and were about to head out into the wild, he said the same beautiful phrase. "The only thing holding us back was fear." I loved this. It felt like encouragement and permission.

My brain was set to hawk. I could be driving down a highway going 60 MPH and notice a red tail perched on a branch at the edge of a field 400 yards away. They now stood out as bright as polka dots on bar codes. I saw them everywhere. I never saw a juvenile. We all though the same silent thing. It was too late. I got my paperwork too late and the migration had passed.

I started catching birds, and grew as amazed as I grew frustrated. I was getting good at this, learning the timing and the baiting. I had caught, handled, and released two hags at this point. Thanks to the lessons from the backseat, and from tips and tricks learned on the fly, I had the ability to literally take a bird out of the sky. It was an honor and a rush. I learned these birds and how they were put together, how they thought. I knew what it felt like to hold one, to release it up into the sky and have it fly from my arms. If all that testing, building, and paperwork was only for that; it was worth it.

And all this lead up to Sunday night. I was out driving around with company, hoping to capture my bird. My hopes were not too high though as I had not seen a juvenile the entire time I had been out trapping, and I was trapping every single day. I was used to the disappointment and frustration. I did not expect a bird this year at all. But I am far too stubborn to throw in the towel because of negative reinforcement. I'm the dog that is kicked and learns to weave past feet. So, I was still out trying. Friends were with me, supporting me and encouraging me. They had fresh eyes and bright hopes, too. And when a bird was spotted and a car-mate said she saw a barred tail that wasn't red - my body started that excited humming again. This could be it!

Traps were set and we drove off. We returned and saw the bird was on the bait, but not trapped by any means. He just flew away as the car approached. As he took off I saw that tail and finally knew what a juvenile looked like in real life. There was no mistaking it for a hag. This was my bird, exactly what I needed.

So we left again. When we returned, he flew off again. We did this four times and finally we returned the last time to the bait eaten and the bird gone. It was nearly dark and so he was off to roost. I was crestfallen. My friends were, too. But we did all we could and I was encouraged to return in the morning to see if I could get him at first light. After all, he wasn't migrating in the cold dark. He would be there at sun up, and if I was there we might just have our second date.

I returned the next morning with a freshly baited trap and a hot cup of coffee. He was there. Perched on a telephone pole not thirty yards away. I quietly got the trap out of the back of the pickup, set it, and drove away. I watched him in the rearview mirror as the first rays of sunlight filled the valley in South Jackson where both of us dance partners were about to tango.
I gulped.
I prayed.
I smiled.

The only thing holding me back was fear.