Friday, September 30, 2016

New Logo Client (Loved This One)

Those Who Live By The Sword...

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Rainy Tuesday

It's a very drab Tuesday morning here at the farm. Outside rain has come an soaked the 6 bales of hay I picked up last night. It was a bummer but at least it was only six bales and not sixty. I came home too tired from watching the debates at a neighbors farm and the sky was starry and clear. That's what I get for not checking the weather before bed. Farmers are weather junkies, and I forgot to take my pre-sleep hit.

The good news about drab days is I am always more focused on indoor tasks. Being self employed means being my own pain-in-the-ass boss but at least this pain-in-the-ass boss had arranged for three design clients updates, a content farm, and a list of afternoon work planned out. Being inside on a rainy day makes sense and makes me happy. If I can get through tomorrows task list I can spend the morning taking Merlin for a ride perhaps? I miss that guy. So much hawking on the mind, and paying gigs takes priority over pony rides. But perhaps tomorrow I'll back a breakfast burrito in the saddle bags with a thermos full of coffee and hit the wind.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Fleeces For Sale!

I have several lambs already sold and being butchered in a few weeks. The meat is called for, but the fleeces (tanned hides with the wool on them) are available for $200 to anyone interested in buying one or several. They will be skinned after being slaughtered and the skins cooled, salted, and prepped to to be shipped to a tannery in Pennsylvania. It takes up to six months to get the fleeces back but when they arrive I will ship them to those who buy them. If you are interested please email me at dogsinourparks@gmail.com

Pigageddon Thwarted!

I have been raising pigs here for half a decade now. I love it. I love the animals, their sturdyness, their look, sounds and even smells. Pigs only stink when kept in stinky conditions (or when the quantity is beyond capacity). But in general they are clean, mostly kind, respectable beasts I enjoy watching grow and play and be pigs.

 I started by keeping one or two in the barn and then expanded to an outdoor area with a shelter in the woods. Now piglets come in little sounders of four or five instead of a pair in the barn and I have grown pretty accustomed to their behaviors and lifestyle. But there is always an exception to the rule and this recent group has been driving me crazy. That picture is what use to be my lawn.

They are escape artists of the highest order. If you turned them over you might find little tattoos on their wrists connecting them to some KGB-style secret society of spies. These pigs have escaped every fence, electric netting, wire, and enclosure I have created until recently, and when they are loose do you know what they do? They dig.

That used to be my lawn by the barn. Now it's ready to plant pumpkins or corn. Their rooting was thorough and proper. And the five, 50-lb animals managed it in just 2 consecutive nights! Imagine if they had a week to their cloven schemes! It would look like my home was a construction site.

The good news is I have finally outsmarted them and they are up in the woods in a pen, safely behind a very effective electric fence reinforced with woven wire fencing behind it. I learned this clan needed the doubling down since just a few strands of electrical wire (all I ever needed in the woods with past piglets) was something they either jumped over or scooted under. But these guys are on lock down for good and haven't escaped once since this new protocol was enforced. I am heading out to check on them now, so hopefully there won't be an update here soon about how wrong I was...

My parents are coming to visit in a few weeks. My home and lawn is already not up to their standards but now that the backyard looks like heavy machinery had its way with it I can only imagine the fun conversations ahead.... But really, I don't care. I don't care if the area around the barn looks like a heavy horse plowed it up. It the grass doesn't come back I just scored a pumpkin patch in the spring, and can enjoy some really nice pulled pork while carving those jackolanterns next October!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

33 Degrees!

Good morning from a chilly farm! First morning near freezing here and it isn't even October! I lit a fire and am enjoying some coffee here with the dogs. This is the transition season at this farmhouse. A time to get sweaty and overheated stacking firewood so you can be cozy and comfortable come snow fly. A time where I still sleep in my upstairs bedroom under warm covers, because the upstairs hasn't been shut down for winter (Why heat a second story just to sleep?). I am hoping to order a second cord of wood this week if I can manage, the first cord is nearly all stacked and in. The local farm stand had a 50lb bag of potatoes for sale for $20 so I bought it as part of winter storage. Potato soup tonight by the fire with a scary movie and sweet dog!? Yes, please!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Falconry Isn't What You Think

People who are against falconry are usually against it under the banner of animal rights. They assume the falconer is kidnapping a wild animal and taking it home as a pet or performer. A play thing for the eccentric, and the poor wild bird is the victim. Something akin to circus elephants or magicians’ white tigers. If that was the case I’d be against falconry, too. But it’s not.

Unlike captured animals kept as exotic novelties, falconers don’t ask their birds to do anything other than what they would do in the wild. We let them be hawks.

The best example I can share would be the circus one. If elephants were the subject It would be like like this: A baby elephant is harmlessly trapped and taken to a human village. Instead of her handler teaching her to balance on pedestals or carry people on her back, she would be taught how to find the best snacks. Her handler setting up situations where the little gal had to learn to navigate tall grasses, swim to cattails, and walk around dead trees to discover the best palm fronds. That’s what falconry is. It’s raising an animal to be successful at eating, perhaps even more successful than they would be on their own. Human handlers (falconers) raise the confidence and skill set of a bird, getting it to pursue game it might not even hope to try for in the wild.

The bird isn’t hunting for us. The bird isn’t fetching us game. The bird is just doing what it would do every single day in the wild and letting us tag along because of the mutual benefits. This is not common among all wild animals. I wouldn't want to sit down beside a fresh kill of one of those white tigers. But my hawk doesn't mind the dinner company.

Hunting in the wild is hard, exhausting, and never a sure bet. But knowing this person who took you home will always have dinner on the table is comforting to that avian brain, in a sense. Which is why they come back to their falconers when called even though they are flying free. It’s not returning to a friend, it’s responding to the waiter who called your name for the table you’ve been waiting for. Of course you’ll follow the person with menus against their chest and a smile on their face. You want to eat.

So, You Want To Be a Falconer?

I was driving on the back roads of Salem, a town just north of Jackson where I live. I had been trolling those lanes for days. Watching telephone poles and tree limbs like a real creep. More than one neighbor, pulled up beside me to asked what I was doing and why. I couldn’t blame them. I mean, an 89’ Ford Pickup is slowly rolling past their farm several times a day with a thought-full driver stopping every so often to raise a pair of binoculars… Talk about shady. But whenever anyone asking I was looking for a young hawk to train for falconry, they were excited as I was. The most common response I got was, “Wait? You can do that? Like anyone can get into falconry?!”

Yes.

I trapped Aya on a hot day in the early afternoon. I had spent the morning frustrated, having failed to catch another bird (as I had been failing for 21 days since trapping season started). I had staked out a large female Tail at the Polo Club. I arrived before dawn and watched her sit on a branch for three hours above the white fences where people play (what I am guessing is horse hockey?) on the weekends. All that time and then she just casually flew over the trap without landing on it. No dice. I thought that was my trapping for the day, as I had plenty of work to do at home.

But after lunch I had the urge to go on a local loop. I spotted her hunting on a low power line at the edge of a field.  She was watching the ground furiously, head bobbing, clearly focused on grabbing lunch. I drove by and threw down the trap gently and she was flying to it before I even turned my truck around. After 3 weeks of hope, there she was.

“...anyone can get into falconry?!”

Yes.

Even as the numbers of participants slowly grow, falconry will always be a niche sport. Mostly because you need to go out of your way to practice it; more so than any other sport in America. Just applying to learn took me a year. And before anyone dares let you drive around with a hawk trap to freak out the locals, you got hoops to jump through: You need to take a written exam (and score 80% or higher), build a hawk house (called a mews), get that house inspected by a game warden and signed off on, take a 2-day long hunter’s safety course, obtain a hunting license, gather falconry supplies suitable to the bird you will trap (Redtail or Kestrel), and have an experienced falconer sign on to teach you. So, no one who isn’t serious about hunting with hawks goes through all that trouble and evaluation. The application process is also a screening process that way. So, to answer that common question, yes, anyone who can get a hunting license in their state can go through the process of becoming a falconer. It's just that so few do. It's a pain in the ass and for good reason.

That’s the hard part. That’s the work - the being allowed into the club. The actual trapping, training, and eventual releasing of a wild animal to hunt beside you is the adventure.

And as you build your mews and save up for your first hood and gauntlet - you are expected to read up and study falconry and raptors. Books are suggested and loaned from private libraries. Videos are watched, stories swapped, and events like field meets and small hunting trips are encouraged. This is a subculture that requires immersion. Even the most aloof person can’t be a solitary falconer. We’re a community by default. And if you want to join us it starts by researching your state's hawking club and asking for more information. They can direct you to the application process, local falconers, educational outlets, books, websites and more. In most states you can start at 14.

Right now Aya and I are just days into our story. She is spending a lot of time with me. We watch Netflix and go for long walks. She eats out of my hand, and last night she took a small mouse from my glove and swallowed it down in one gulp. She’s still skittish, but learning that when she sees me there’s going to be some take out. I am her Postmates guy. No one is bummed to see the person delivering Ben and Jerry’s.

Over the next few days we’ll go from learning to eat together to learning to fly to me from a distance. It starts with hopping to the glove for a tidbit of food. Of the following weeks it then changes to a 100 yard flights to the glove. It happens on her schedule, not mine. Right now I am thrilled she’s tolerating me.

More updates on her as training progresses. But my next post is going to be about finally thwarting the landscaping attempts of my piglets - who have destroyed the yard in their rooting and when my mom comes to visit in three weeks she is NOT going to be into it.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Meet Aya Cash!

Meet Aya Cash, the newest addition to the farm. She was trapped a few days ago and is now learning what it is like to be yoked with a primate. We are getting along splendidly. More soon!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Harper & The Fiddle

This is Harper. She's a young Bernese Mountain Dog and possibly the sweetest canine lady I have ever met. I mean that. Because, all the females I have lived with of the canis variety were kind of snarky and hard-edged. Annie was a firecracker. Friday is her own one-woman show. But Harper was just interested in making people feel like the world was pleasant. We need more people like Harper in this world.

That look of adoration towards her owner's face is real. And when she wasn't watching her people learn the fiddle this past Sunday, she was trotting around the house with my border collies showing them how any sorority girl in a brand-new Patagonia jacket moves: confidently. This breed has got some moves, people.

Good dogs are welcome here. So are good people. Lauren and Chris came by for a half day fiddle crash course. They drove in their van from Michigan, just to come to Cold Antler and see the big show. I used to worry that people coming here would see a scrappy place and be disappointed (I don't worry about it anymore). But they didn't mind me sweeping up dog hair mid lesson while they practiced their first scale.  They didn't mind the sagging fences or the piglet that escaped and I had to send Gibson out to deal with either. They seemed to have a fine time and came to learn as a couple and left with a fiddle of their own. It's an honor to show people how to get started with that instrument. If you want to come and learn, just email me. Bring your dog too if she's kind.

Besides fiddle lessons - I have been very distracted by hawk trapping all of September. Trapping season for falconers opens Sept 1st. As of that morning any licensed falconer (of any level of experience) can begin trolling the back roads and lonely farmlands of their home state at dawn. They are looking up. Hungry people watching the power lines as they sip their coffee without ever looking down at it. Trapping sounds violent but it's not. I explain it in more detail here in this Guardian Article I wrote last fall, if you are interested in the details. To summarize - it's obsessive and wonderful.

I have spent hours a day outside watching for the bird that will become my roommate. That's a strange sentence to write in a non-fiction situation. (Writing sentences about my real life that seem like fiction is kind of my life goal.) 

Soon I hope to have more fiddle students and a hawk. I hope to meet more dogs like Harper that make me want to turn into a crazy dog lady and get more puppies. (I won't, don't worry) But I still look forward to the future fiddlers and pups that may travel from far and wide to meet the lady with a jones for a raptor and the intense desire to teach you the D scale on the violin.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Look What Was Hiding in the Squash Patch!


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Get Your Gifting On!

If you are looking for a gift with the coming holidays - you can get a gift voucher (printable pdf for a card or folder) and give the gift of art! The receiver of the gift gets to choose the image or logo they want! Buy it now for the Holidays (to be designed after Jan 1 2017) and it is a THIRD of the price (You can use this sale rate too! Buy yourself a logo for next year now, help a farm gal get ready for winter!)

Run, Farmer. Run.

Everything hurts. This morning when I woke up my entirety ached. I am sore in places I didn't know could be sore - like the arches in both feet and the insides of my elbows. It's friggin' great!

I'm still on my first cup of coffee, having slept in a considerable amount. Yesterday I was done with morning chores while the stars were still in the sky, but this AM I woke up to a gentle rain and gray daylight - thrilled to pull Friday closer and tuck into another round of sleep. I deserved it, dammit. Yesterday I ran a half marathon like a mad woman.

I have been running long distance all summer. Last spring a 3 mile run felt like Everest. Now a three mile run is a warm up. My usual summer outing has been between 7-12 miles! I slowly worked up to it. My body changed alongside it. I am not much thinner, but everything is harder and tighter. I can work outside longer, balance better,  pick up heavy things easier. Clothing is a lot looser even if the scale doesn't budge. Flab got toned and skin got tanned. I am 34 and I have never felt younger and better.

Yesterday morning was the test. I arrived at the race site in Vermont at 7AM. Everyone around me looked like a lululemon model. I looked like me, which is not a put down, but can we all picture a direwolf in tights? That's it.

So I was out of place. There were people with running shoes that cost half of what my pickup truck cost (which was, by far, the oldest vehicle in the parking area). Manchester is a swanky town and I parked my '89 Ford F150 with pig feed and wet hay in the bed next to an Audi and a Lexus.

My ankle that was sprained seemed 80% better. The other foot that stepped on a rusty nail last week wasn't infected. And I had managed to do the hardest part of this whole thing weeks ago - which was registering online and telling people I was going to do it. I can put in the work, running alone whenever you want is easy. What's hard is being certain your body is ready for an appointment. You don't expect to get the wind knocked out of you and turn your ankle and step on tetanus spores a week before your first race. On top of all that, everything had to be okay at the farm and the weather had to work out. They were calling for severe rain and thunder storms the day of the race. Great.

I showed up anyway. Hearing that gunshot that started the timer felt the same way it did when I got on Merlin for my first trail ride outside a school barn arena. Too late now, you are in this. Just go.

And go I did.

What I didn't anticipate was my competitive side making me her bitch. I am used to running alone, with no one tailing me and no one keeping score. But this race had hundreds of people of all sorts of abilities and in my little pod of runners I wanted to be ahead of certain people. So instead of governing my time and adjusting my pace I ran harder and longer than I did all summer on a course I didn't know. It was a drug at the time, and now the muscular hangover makes vodka look like kool aid.

I finished the half marathon at a very humble time of 2:55 - but for a 5'2" woman built like a Tolkien Dwarf with the stride of most adults in a sack race - that isn't bad.  I beat my casual back-road time for 13 miles by 30 minutes!

I feel like this accomplishment lets me relax a bit. I spent the last few weeks anxious about the race, mostly because it was a goal I set and not sure I could manage to complete. I had run 13.1 miles on my own, but the demanded actions of my body being ready at a date and time was a thousand times more nerve racking that farming has ever been. I thought of all the athletes (real athletes whose livelihood depends on their skills) who can't just twist an ankle or step on a nail willy nilly without putting their career in jeopardy.  Or about singers who can't slug a beer or eat cheese before a concert (or an entire run of show) without disappointing ticket buyers. I am toying with command performance as novelty and self-esteem boost. I can't imagine living there. Yikes.

With this race done I am back to focusing on hawks, hunting season, firewood, bills, and life as usual here at the farm. But this was a big accomplishment and the end to a summer season of running like a mad badger. I'll keep running, but I am glad there isn't a race next weekend.

Direwolf in tights. That's me, baby.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Hope Is Exhausting

I am exhausted from driving and hoping. Trapping season is just a bunch of making your way along lonely roads and looking for a very specific treasure - an immature redtail hawk. I have seen dozens but none of them are interested in my trap. The world is so warm and green and while the calendar says September, they still think it's summer. I think I need to cut back on my miles and make less days about hawk sightings and more about catching up on winter prep here. A load of firewood was delivered today, 2 more loads coming this week. It's my first of four cords to budget and stack. So while I may not have my new hunting buddy - I do have plenty of work ahead there to distract me.

The piglets ruined my lawn. It wasn't much to look at in the first place but it is amazing what those snouts can accomplish in one night. More on that later.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Happy to Trot

This weekend was book-ended by hay. Friday I helped Livingston Brook Farm put up their last wagon load (192 bales) in their threshing barn. She wasn't able to borrow the neighbor's hay elevator so it took four adults a lot of body power to stack those bales, many on the loft. We chucked and handed bales over our heads to people standing on mountains of summer grass, turned into happy cubes. Square bales make me so happy. They are bricks of summer hidden away all winter long in these ancient barns. We pack August in the cupboard and pull it out in snow storms. If that isn't magic, I don't know what is.

After they hay was away and the farm chores were done I met with friends at a house in Arlington Vermont. It's been a three-year tradition to watch the band Cantrip play at the bagpipe player's parents house. They have this tiny little concert and it is always gorgeous. Everyone brings a covered dish to a campfire/potluck before and then the house turns into a venue with the upstairs loft being a mezzanine. The stage is a corner of the living room and the house is alive with music. There are parlor pipes, guitars, fiddles, mandolins and flutes. I know many of the songs by heart and have loved this gem since I stumbled upon them a few years back. This year's concert didn't disappoint.

Saturday was all about hawk hunting. No luck so far, not one bird on the trap, but I have seen so many birds! There are hundreds of redtails out there, as well as migrating peregrine falcons, kestrels, eagles, nighthawks, ravens, coopers, broadwing hawks, and more. I have my eye on a few big females and hope to catch one soon and start the training process. I'll probably stay up with the bird that first whole night binge watching something on Netflix with a pot of coffee on the stove.  Any suggestions for some great shows I could absorb quick are appreciated. I just finished Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, Take My Wife, and Harmonquest. It's easy to soak up this stuff when working on illustrations or design work. Bring on the recs.

After Hawk hunting I ended up back at Livingston Brook to take in the crescent moon rise and stars with good friends. We toasted the end of summer. Sitting out there in the brisk air, sharing stories and drinks around the candlelight was the kind of present nostalgia you appreciate as it is happening.  There are a lot of people out there healthier, richer, and prettier than this broad but I wouldn't want to trade my life for anyone elses. Not ever. I just want to get better at this one. I feel there's a way cooler chick a few levels up.

Today was a fiddle day with a mother and daughter from Vermont. They did so well! The pair came around 10AM and in that time they went from opening their fiddle cases and rosining their bows to learning to tune, bow, their finger potions, and their first scale all before lunch. Then after lunch their learned their first song (Ida Red!) and we had time to cover shuffling, droning, slides and vibrato. Some folks just have the touch and these two had it down. And during their lunch break a lovely family from Massachusetts stopped by to pick up their share of pork and an illustration they bought of a wolf from me. They met Merlin, the pigs, the goats and dogs. Friday romped around with their 12-year old border collie mix and they were adorable.

The weekend ended with hay again. Another neighbor was loading their barn and I threw in some muscle where I could. I like that September is about the First Church of Grass. And the next few weeks I hope it becomes Our lady of the Perpetual Flame (firewood stacking).

Love this life and be happy while you got it, kids. These summers are learning to canter. When I was a kid they seemed happy to trot.


Thursday, September 1, 2016

One Gross Chair

I own one upholstered chair and it is horrific. I mean, HORRIFIC. It is the worst shade(s) of brown. The springs are all shot. It doesn't even have the decency to be a solid color. It is adorned with faux "Native American" accents. It came with the house when I bought it and since I couldn't afford replacement furniture, it has remained. it's been here for four different dogs, a handful of barn cats, and one woman who works hard and plays harder. It's been slumped in after hot, sweaty disgusting days in August and shivered in come January mornings before the stove is lit. When Friday was a pup she ate a corner of it. Right now it has a hand-crocheted throw my grandmother made on it. I love and hate this chair. It stays.

I was thinking about this chair while winding down from a day of trying to trap a new hawk. I set up today to do one thing: go driving around and looking for a roommate in the sky. A few years ago that would be an insane dream. Insane to think I would become a falconer. Even more insane to think a week day would mean driving around on back roads and not sitting in an office chair. But that is what I did. I had done the work in advance to clear the day. I had chores done early. I had alarms set to be on the road with a friend by 7AM. I had nothing to do but drive, look up, and hope. It was exhausting as hell.

Which is why I was thinking about this gross ass chair. It isn't nice. There is no argument to be made for it. But it's here because my life has been driven be a set of choices that prioritized Thursdays with hawks above whatever is new at CB2. That is not a knock at the CB2 crowd, either. There is a lot to be said for gorgeous home and an interior that Dwell Magazine subscribers would covet. That home is worth more than mine. That life has value. Those living rooms have choices just as interesting and myriad as any crappy chair with hawk shit on it.

But I can say that nicer things don't always mean a nicer life. My life would make many people miserable. But tonight I sat happy in that ugly chair, re-watching the Season 4 finale of Orange is the New Black and crying at how touching it was. I was petting the sheepdog sitting beside me who was still panting from racing up a dark road to bring back lambs on the lam. I don't ever wish I had a husband here but I shake at the idea of living without a working dog. The things he does for this farm should be on a bronze plaque so big passers by stop to read it.

I'm sure at some point I'll chuck that chair and I won't feel bad about it. Tonight I am fine with it. No part of me ever looks at it and says "Chair, it's time to go" because choices like that lead to spending money on furniture and not feed. My home is scrappy and may never be more - but it is mine. And every fray on that old chair is a reminder of a million little choices that lead to long days like today where you get to feel September happen to you, not around you.

I wish bad furniture on all of you. It comes with interesting Thursdays.

Trapping Season!

Today starts the first day of trapping season, and I spent the morning driving on the back roads of Washington County, looking for a redtail hawk to take home and train as this year's hunting partner. I was with my friend Miriam, who had her camera, and together we rode around in my pickup truck (back from the mechanic! passed inspection!) for a few hours. We saw so many kestrels, a young bald eagle, and one giant female red tail we tried to catch but it wasn't having it. So no luck in the first few hours of the trapping season but hopefully soon.

If you're wondering about falconry and what goes into it and trapping, I wrote this piece last fall for The Guardian about the sport and process. It should cover a lot of questions. This will be my 4th year as an apprentice and my third bird. I am very excited to go through the joy of manning, training, flying, and hunting beside a bird of prey all over again.

Wish us both luck, the bird and I, to find the partner we need!