Monday, May 8, 2017

I Need to Light a Fire

I stood in the burbling stream, cleaning the caked mud off my leather riding boots with a hard-bristled old horse brush. The stream is near my farm and winds through it to my small pond full of sunfish and bass. As the green of spring writhes back to life, it's harder to see the pond than it was in winter when I ran across this frozen water chasing rabbits with my hawk. Now it is alive again. From where I stood in the clear water and smooth stones I could barely make out the pond. That comforted me. It was a very long winter here.

As the debris fell away I winced looking at the cracks in the leather. Tonight I would oil them down and let them cure-soak by the fire. It’s May here in upstate New York, but snow is in the forecast tonight and temperatures are dropping near freezing. That is why I spent the last hour carrying and chopping firewood to bring indoors. It’s an odd thing to worry about snowfall in May, but at least the quiet night and fire would give me the excuse to oil thirsty boots.

When I lived another life and worked a full-time office job I bought cheaper boots. I thought this made me savvy and stylish, having options and not spending a lot of money on them. When those boots started to fall apart I threw them away. These riding boots aren’t hand-stitched in some Italian cobbler shop, but they are better quality than those in my past. These boots I am now rinsing off are designed for riding horses, farm mud, and forest trails. They cost over $200 and I buy one pair a year. To make them last that long means regular care and feeding, which I had to learn. Now boot oil and salve is a part of my life as much as toothpaste.

Gibson is watching me scrub the boots with his left front paw slightly lifted. Yesterday while herding sheep he injured it in a too-bold move involving an angry ram and heavy hoof. Had it not been so muddy he might have gotten truly hurt, but I saw his paw sink joint-deep in the mud as it happened. He got dirty, but nothing was broken or even scratched. I asked him to see it and he gently offered the paw. I prodded and poked at the limb while he looked at me. No yelps or hollering, just watching me talk. He would be okay. The boot's cracks would fill. I would be warm tonight. The work of choosing to focus on the present, on what I need to make happen to experience it in the future - that is where my mind is now at 34. Distractions of politics and arguments aren't real as ram hooves & frost warnings. If I let my body and mind do what it wanted all the time - which is worry instead of act - nothing would get done. I am so grateful this farm demands work that picks up this burden of anxiety and replaces it with necessity. You can spend the day worried about anticipated threats (real or imagined) or you can chop wood, herd sheep, scrub boots, and hold paws.

Gibson and I head inside for tea. He isn't limping. In thanks I nod to the giant King Maple in the front lawn where I make regular little offerings of flowers, honey, goat milk, and alcohol to the Wights of the farm and in memory of my ancestors. I think of Anna Jumbar, who sailed to America alone at 18 as an immigrant from what was then Czechoslovakia. If she can board a ship to the New World alone I can light a fire and figure out the mortgage. The flowers at the base of the tree are for her.

Yesterday Friday helped with the sheep instead of Gibson and that was… interesting. She doesn’t have his drive or interest in livestock, but can fake it well enough to pass as a working dog. It only takes a slight stare or run at the sheep for a few lopes to get them moving. They know their pen and the routine of dog and shepherd. She succeeded in getting the sheep in their pen and didn’t get stepped on by an angry ovine - so perhaps she isn’t as bad at this as I thought.

The logical side of me says I should take a nap. Smart farmers are napping after lunch. I had been up since dawn. I had seen to farm chores, milking, pet breakfasts, and several design and illustration clients. By 11AM I was preparing wood for the night’s fire and stacking it by the Hob inside, mentally reminding myself to fill the humidifier on top with fresh water. I had the sheep grazing in field and forest back into their pen and filled their barn with fresh hay for bedding in case it was very cold or snowy tonight. Marnie’s lamb is due any day and I wanted the newcomers on clean, warm bedding if the weather got angry. The pigs had also got extra bedding and were still napping off their breakfast of chow soaked in goats milk and whey when I offered it to them.

I should take a nap, but all I am thinking about is the archery target in front of the barn and the axe throwing target behind it. Every day I want to shoot and throw now. The feeling of sore arms and a stronger back are intoxicating. I have never been a weight lifter, and know nothing about gym equipment, but I know I like feeling strong. I like knowing my eyes, mind, and body can hit a mark and I feel powerful getting a large axe to soar through the air. I beam as it sails head over handle in several rotations,and then THWACK into the locust target! If running is meditation and discipline, it’s these martial skills that are repetition and power. Combined with the work of farming (carrying water buckets and hay bales, hoeing gardens, milking goats, and riding horses) I have developed a very odd sort of body. I’m short, stout, but dense. For years this body made me feel shame for not being thin and boyish like the women on magazines. Now I feel so at home in muscle, curve, and my wolfish femme physique. The boots I now have drying by the front door prefer they belonged to the first woman, though.

It’ll be cold tonight and if I want to be warm I need to light a fire. That simplest of acts is the end of a long line of choices I made. Whenever something I write about seems foreign to you, or idealistic, or something out of a side quest in a video game - remember it’s just choices.

When I was 25 I chose to leave the city and take a job in Idaho. That one choice lead to a rented homestead. At that farm I worked all day 9-5 but had evenings and weekends to keep chickens, rabbits, gardens, and bees. Loving that meant when I lost that job to the 2008 Great Recession my next job would also be rural. And so on. And now those thousand large and small choices mean I am at the end of a long winter tired of making fires to stay warm.

I am grateful it is HOW I stay warm. I like that a living fire roars inside my house, as dangerous as a caged lion. I like that I can sleep beside it on a bed of sheep skins. I like that I can do this while watching Netflix on my tablet. I like the contrarian, ridiculous, old-fashioned, technological life I lead. I like my choices.

I hope you like your choices out there. The good news is, you can always make different ones if you don’t. Sharing my life online for a decade has shown me the best and worst of the internet. A post as bland as this, about scrubbing boots and preparing for a cold night, will insight sighs of envy and contentment from some and emails of rage or pity from others.

What I have learned is the reactions people have to my life have nothing to do with my choices at all. It has to do with the emotions and filters in the readers. It has to do with who has or has not taken mood stabilizing medications. Who is scared they don’t have time to change. Who is inspired. Who is lonely. Who is smug. Who is cheer leading. Who is there. Really all I care about is getting a reaction at all. I want to know I am heard, because when you live alone on the side of a mountain with the urge to write after cleaning muddy boots - all that matters is the listening. My fear isn't threats or bullies online, it's that they stop reading.

I'm personally dealing with a lot of doubt right now as an author. I don't know if writing is something I should keep doing, or pursuing. When I get really worried I don't write here for days. With me, writing has to come from the compulsion to need to be heard, but also that I have something worth saying. I get the tangible, daily, sense of creation and reward from the work of this farm - but the entire point of Cold Antler Farm is to share it. I can't tell if I am on the edge of lighting a bonfire with my writing career or smoldering to ash.

Good Gods, I am going to go outside and shoot my bow. This whole post started with the importance of the present and the avoidance of falling into the pits of anticipatory anxiety. Here I am scared, typing in a house without a fire, worried about the Butcher's bill.

What I do know is the fire is mine to light or put out. This isn't 1985, it's 2017. There are options for publishing outside traditional houses and audiences changing as much as the trends and tastes of our culture. I want someone to hand me a torch and pay me to write a book. Maybe I need to light a fire of my own.

Luceo Non Uro

Cold Antler Farm is free to read. If you feel the writing was worth a dollar, click here for a voluntary contribution. It is appreciated and encourages these endeavors. It's also much needed between books. Thank you.


36 Comments:

Blogger Rene Maillet said...

Please keep writing. You inspire and gift life healing insights. Having lived the dream of a farm for a few years, then having to give it up, I appreciate very much your sharing.

May 8, 2017 at 3:49 PM  
Blogger Rene Maillet said...

In other words, your writing salves my boots as much as yours.

May 8, 2017 at 3:50 PM  
Blogger Sandi said...

Jenna, I love your writing. You not only share what you do, but also your emotions. That is what makes your readers feel like close friends. I once read a book, Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow. The title speaks for itself. Try not to let yourself get discouraged. Just think, in two months everyone will be complaining about the heat! Ignore politics and the other stuff you can do nothing about. Focus on what you do best and carry on! You are very much on my mind and prayers. Sandi K.

May 8, 2017 at 5:26 PM  
Blogger Sandi said...

The book, Do What You Love...,is free for Kindle. I love free! Sandi K.

May 8, 2017 at 6:00 PM  
Blogger Patrice Nelson said...

I love reading about your day by day life on your farm, especially your independence and self-sufficiency. I am living a dream vicariously through your blog posts. God bless you and your farm and animals. I will send contributions when I can. Meanwhile, please keep up the good work. You are loved and and appreciated!

May 8, 2017 at 7:10 PM  
Blogger Jacquie said...

You've got career blahs. That's all. Because your work is your life, it feels more dire. I like the idea you had sometime back about writing a book about becoming a horsewoman. I would buy it. Multiple audiences there. How about a cookbook? Promote it locally. It will come to you. Maybe an online class? There are so many older women out there ready to take chances at the ass end of life. Put together an hour long program and visit schools for a fee. Ag programs have speakers. Book yourself and charge a fee. A good fee. Sell some of that amazing cheese you keep writing about. Is there a fancy farmers' market nearby? Fancy tourist stores? Get your books and cheese in there! You need some buckaroo flow is all. Design some t-shirts! Some hearty kick ass t-shirts! I prefer waffle shirts myself. With a strong woman message. I know you're gritty as all get out, but not everything needs to be so damn hard. I worked at a school once. The insurance was so high I couldn't stay afloat. I calculated my hourly rate. Waitresses made more! And why not damn it. Sometimes we get so wrapped around our high horse we forget that poverty just plain sucks. So sell some merchandise. Summer's coming.

Where do folks with buckaroos live near you? Market the hell out of your offerings. To them. Are there any grants out there for writing? Go after the bucks like you do everything else. You need a break girl.

May 8, 2017 at 7:56 PM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

I appreciate the kind comments so much. The cruel comments come from the same 2 IP addresses, regardless of the names used. Grateful for all readers, but I don't publish the dick comments from those 2.

May 8, 2017 at 8:56 PM  
Blogger S.e. Hardy said...

I read *every* *single* *one* of your posts and books. I have mourned with you and cheered for you. Your earnestness is a constant inspiration - you are a constant inspiration.

May 8, 2017 at 9:33 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Oh you SHOULD publish the cruel comments! You should publish ALL your comments. Then we can ALL read them and comment on the comments :)

May 8, 2017 at 10:37 PM  
Blogger EZ said...

Ffs, don't those 2 people have anything better to do with their lives??? They must be very very sad indeed. Keep it coming, Jenna!

May 8, 2017 at 11:32 PM  
Blogger Danette Whittle said...

Ok I am going to comment again despite my last not being published & it really says the same things.

There are so many things you have to offer folks, my ideas were to rent out bits of land, buildings, maybe people need a place to store their hobby or fix up their car? Could you stable another horse there for someone? Could you rent out raised beds for folks to grow stuff?ok that would bring in small amounts but they add up.

We do Airbnb, it has transformed my income, I have dropped my gardening work to one day a week as the Airbnb has been so busy! People WANT funky different places to stay,they want to stay somewhere where they can absorb some 'experience' from staying, make some memories, whilst there you can sell them a few hours of chicken school or veg growing or fiddle playing,few hours of advice on writing or drawing? you might get the same income from a nightly guest with a few hours coaching as you do from one attending a days course there.

I find inspirational pod casts invaluable for helping me to think differently, to find that different way that changes things & propels me ever on to a new better future.
kind regards
Danette

May 9, 2017 at 4:18 AM  
Blogger Autumn Smith said...

Love this post. Love your determination and love your writing. It helps give validation and inspiration for some of us who are on a similar journey. It creates the place of community that is necessary in this life. Keep on keeping on, friend!

May 9, 2017 at 5:03 AM  
Blogger Allen Thoma said...

Jenna,
You really pulled me in this time by starting talking about boots. In my year here in rural wet western Oregon on my farm/homestead I have already gone through two pairs of cheap ($100) boots and wondering what I am doing wrong that they fall apart so fast. My most recent pair has the leather parts starting to "crack" and I will start oiling them. I also guess that I should buy something better.
DON'T give up the writing!! You are an inspiration for me to try more (this year it's large gardens, rehabbing my pond and back up water systems), next year ducks.
I deeply appreciate your fear for the future and dissipate my days filled to overflowing with chores and projects. How you find time to write so well amazes me. Keep up the good, inspirational life/writing, you are much appreciated.

May 9, 2017 at 6:58 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

THANK YOU SO MUCH for these comments, it really matters. And maybe I should start posting those two IP addresses?

May 9, 2017 at 7:59 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

The only reasons I don't post a comment that isn't a troll account is if the person commenting asks me not to, because they are using the comment as a fast way to get a message to me and realize it may be personal or not appropriate for a public forum.

OR if I feel the message is too personal. If comments make me uncomfortable or demand information on my personal life I don't publish them.

May 9, 2017 at 8:01 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

Per Air BnB - I am not opposed to the idea but have no cabin or spare place to keep people. My living space indoors is around 800 square feet and I do have a spare bedroom, but the idea of inviting total strangers to my house in the middle of the woods as a single woman makes me insanely uncomfortable and scared. Specially, as a public figure.

I think a of Air BnB people aren't single women with a bed one thin wall away from where they sleep. If I had a cabin across the property, that's different.

May 9, 2017 at 8:03 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

I would love to board another horse and advertised that online. As well as offered land and garden space. I find the best use of my skills, time, and service are freelance design and illustration - which I push like mad.

May 9, 2017 at 8:05 AM  
Blogger Ginger said...

Stay warm and hug Gibson for me.

May 9, 2017 at 9:02 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Actually, you could just advertise for single women only to stay at your Air BnB. I know women who travel by themselves who would jump at chance to stay on your farm! It's just a thought.

May 9, 2017 at 10:12 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

I don't feel comfortable having strangers stay overnight in my house. Period.

May 9, 2017 at 10:16 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I really hope you keep writing - I really enjoyed your books so far! Your blog posts are captivating too. I think t-shirts/hats maybe would be a good side line to your design business?

Also - my short stocky calves are envious that you can fit into tall leather boots! ;-) I wonder if there is a brand out there than can truly stand up to hard wear for more than a year? Dubarry maybe...?

I feel a horse book would sell to horsewomen out there - myself included. Everyone can get books on how to adjust your seat or how to condition the eventer...etc, etc. but that real connection - building trust, learning to drive your horse, etc. riding alone...that could work. I know I would read something like that for sure. I could see you writing a bigger work on horses/homesteading/being an awesome, strong woman living a different lifestyle in the style of Chris McDougall's books maybe? Anyway, I'm just blabbing on now... ;-)

May 9, 2017 at 10:58 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

Chris McDougall is a friend! And Laura, try the boots I use - Dublin's Pinnacle Boots aren't cheap but I also have calves and they lace on the size to adjust.

May 9, 2017 at 11:02 AM  
Blogger Dissolved Girl said...

Don't you mean I wish someone would hand me a bunch of money?

May 9, 2017 at 1:42 PM  
Blogger jules said...

Good Gods this is good! I will print it and put it in my Jenna's book. It is worth reading over and over for the inspiration and also how proud of you I feel hearing such talk from you. You go girl! This makes me get off my butt and be grateful for all the day to day stuff I do and sure gives me a paradigm shift. Thanks, Jenna.

May 9, 2017 at 1:47 PM  
Blogger aart said...

Always read, rarely comment...this one struck me tho.
I hear ya.
Solitude can be a solace....
.... or a braintwistingsucking vacuum that can make one want to spew out **all** the words on whatever platform available at the moment.
Depends on the day.....Ride your waves.

May 9, 2017 at 4:52 PM  
Blogger Jessie said...

Since, as you say, you are a public figure with a public blog and books for sale on the public market, wouldn't it be more honorable of you to publish the negative comments? Wouldn't it add to the conversation and give you a more honest reaction to your work? While in school did you always get only positive feedback from your professors? The problem with this country at the moment is that we can't seem to have an honest conversation. We all get offended too easily. We can't take criticism.
Aren't you acting like a dictator when you allow only the "OMG, You are soooo FABULOUS!!!!" comments? I've been reading your blog for some time now and even when you go way back I don't see anyone being nasty, just not always agreeing with the way you do things. I read other blogs where the author gets constructive criticism and it sparks a nice rousing conversation. Of course if everyone is just gonna jump in and be nasty and immature then there will be no conversation to be had.
So that's just my 2 cents, for what it's worth. I'm 99.9% sure you won't publish this comment. My daughter and I have both commented on here before and you didn't publish the comment. I got the impression that We Must Not Question or have an honest opinion about anything you do. Just saying. :)

May 9, 2017 at 8:05 PM  
Blogger Sharon said...

Hi Jenna, this is the best post that you have done in quite a while. At you age, 34, you are still learning and making sense of everything. Life hands all of us challenges. Mine? A difficult marriage, and clinical depression. Career problems, gender discrimination, and I have managed the best I can. Regrets? Sure? I am a strong person and I choose what is best for me. That is all I have...maybe you too? Post or not, it is up to you.

May 10, 2017 at 12:01 AM  
Blogger Pilates Paula said...

Oh, I hope you don't stop writing. Really, really hope you don't. Trolls feed off the interaction and fostering meanness, so personally I think the best thing you can do is cut them off and not publish their horribleness. And if the idea of strangers staying somewhere else on your property isn't nerve-wracking, what about hosting a straw bale cabin workshop and getting others to help construct one? As a single woman I've AirBnB'd alone and would enjoy an overnight on your farm, but as a single woman (without dogs) I don't know if I could sleep well with strangers in my backyard, so that's some soul searching... But really I hope you keep writing all your thoughts.

May 10, 2017 at 8:45 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

It takes me a while to see all these comments, since they don't get emailed to me any more. Some names that are just troll accounts are auto sent to the spam folder as well.

May 10, 2017 at 9:37 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

But to Jessie's question - I have zero problem posting questions or concerns or views that dissent with mine. But when those comments stop coming from a place of general interest and learning and start coming from anonymous names looking to criticize (and only criticize)I stop publishing those names.

I've had people send me letters to my house, criticize my body/weight/hair, my family life, my sex life, and those people who are just looking at me the way America looks at the Kardasians (snarky entertainment) those people don't get to comment. There is a president in this Nation passing laws against immigrants and women's rights and access to care. The fact that there are people who wake up and think "How can I fuck with a blogger today?" astounds me.

If you look back at many posts you'll see people who just have questions about what is going on with the farm, livestock, etc. Some people do just want to be positive. But I don't owe anyone out there a window into unmedicated people who creep me out. I don't even let myself see those comments anymore.

I am not running for Congress. This isn't a public forum about public policy. It's my life shared, by choice, online. I expect my readers here to treat me the way they'd treat me at a book signing or in line at the grocery store. You don't tap the person in line at checkout and say "Hey, I see you have some cheese in your cart. Why do you think it's okay to support an industry clearly part of veal sales and growth hormones, you cheese-bragging bitch?" But you could tap them and say, "Hey, I'm working for a local animal rights group and have some questions about public thoughts and purchases, do you have a minute?" Which would you be more likely to respond to?

Online you get mostly people saying good job or fuck you. That's it. It is rare, anywhere online, to see truly civil disagreement. When it does show up, I do my best to address it like right now. But honestly, 90% of the comments are positive - 8% are those questions and concerns, and 2% are trolls.

May 10, 2017 at 9:50 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

Also - some times people ask things I just don't feel comfortable talking about - like my love life, family situation, personal details or choices, who my accountant is, etc. Don't ask a writer things you wouldn't ask your kid's public school teacher - Yeah, your kid's teacher is a part of your life and you have a relationship based on a shared interest but that doesn't mean you get to bother her about her personal life and choices. Or to make it simpler - don't ask me things you wouldn't want people asking you just because you have a facebook page.

May 10, 2017 at 9:53 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

Per the comment from Dissolved Girl, which is an example of an anonymous snark account. YES. I would LOVE if someone would hand me a bunch of money to write a book. That is called an advance, and it's how authors get paid.

May 10, 2017 at 2:19 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Huh? "Dissolved Girl"? Is her comment here? Did I miss something?

May 10, 2017 at 11:20 PM  
Blogger Little Terraced House said...

Jenna, dont stop writing, everything you say is valid and i love you hear your daily musings. They are important !

May 11, 2017 at 2:54 PM  
Blogger The Farmer's Trophy Wife said...

You write about your farm and life in a way that captures the soul of a country life. I love it. You are in a low, it will end, and finding the bright spots in the everyday is a wonderful way to get through it. I live on a farm too and your writing makes me appreciate what I have more. Don't stop. And good for you only publishing the good comments, we need more good in the world, thanks for being a filter. Anyone who takes the time to do anything negative towards another person isn't worth it. Let them waste their time and energy and don't let them be heard or seen on here...that's what they want is attention. You keep writing about your fabulously cozy life and we will keep reading. I would love another book, what about an "alphabet" book? Each letter inspiring a story or note about the farm? Or 100 stories about the farm and your tips and tricks you have picked up? A book about all the advice you have been given and what has worked and not worked?

May 11, 2017 at 10:45 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

This was a beautiful post. I can almost smell the wood stove and hear the creaking boots. Keep going! :)

May 15, 2017 at 9:30 AM  

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