Monday, January 30, 2017

Evil Gods & Pizza



Last night some good friends; Miriam, Chris, and Chris's son Keenan came to the farm for a Game Night. We ate a meal together, caught up, and then after appetites were sated we got out a trio of games to play together. If you aren't away there is a renaissance of board games happening now. Not the old standbys (which I hated and still hate) but clever, weird, culty, and quirky new games.

For example: I'm a fan of HP Lovecraft's horror stories. The game in the video above, Elder Sign, is a about pretending to be a team of Victorian Investigators in an ever-changing museum of horrors fighting evil gods before sunrise. The ratio of luck and strategy are pretty even. The nerd level is off the charts, since it's is a far stretch from passing GO and collecting $200. But you get to slip into a living story and be a character and forget about anxieties for a while.

What I am saying is give these a chance. There are endless how-to videos and live videos like the wonderful Table Top above to see how they play before you invest.

Game Night here is a regular winter occurrence and while I have talked about it before I wanted to reiterate how good it is to get around a table, pour some wine, put away the cell phones and work towards a common goal. If that sounds weird (a common goal? Aren't board games recreational competition?) I thought I'd suggest some team-based board games. These are called Co-Op Games since you need to cooperate as a team to beat the challenge together.  Favorites here are Pandemic, Elder Sign, Forbidden Island, Shadows Over Camelot, and The Resistance. If you never played any of them I strongly suggest the least expensive and most kid-friendly - Forbidden Island.

Right now things in the world are cold, political, and families are stressed. To spend a few hours a week just working to solve a problem and realizing your ability to help and solve a problem - even a fictional problem - is good for the brain and heart. So get a game, order some pizza or host a potluck, and enjoy a night in. We do. We love it.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Get a Logo, Pass an Insurance Card.

Hey guys! I am running a Fire Sale on illustrations/logos for the next 48 hours so I can sign up for the ACA by the deadline of the 31st. I wasn't going to, but I am worried if I don't get healthcare now while it is hard to afford - I won't have it for a long time when it could be even harder to afford. This is not meant to be a political post. Perhaps a better option will come along with the current administration - but to be safe I would rather take advantage of this current option now. After all, I'm not 25 anymore. So message me if you are interested!

Email me at if interested at dogsinourparks@gmail.com 

my old email address (jenna@itsafarwalk.com) is not checked more than once or twice a month.

Documentary!

photo by Sarah Nathan
A few days ago a pair of filmmakers came to the farm. Their names were Luke and Sarah, from NYC and NJ. They set up their cameras and microphones and took a lot of footage of everything from morning chores to running along on a hunt with Aya Cash to learn about falconry. They only stayed a few days, but I think they got what they came for - a combination of interviews, animals, farmland covered in snow and a sassy hawk. It was a kind of vacation for me. My job was to host, farm, and hunt, and while I had a great time - the little things that keep this business running were set aside. Catching up on a lot of work this weekend. Trying to get caught up on all illustration clients today and prep their art to mail. Have a handful of logo clients to check in with. If I'm lucky I'll make a sale

photo by Luke Buck
There is a lot to catch you up with - farmwise. I want to talk about prepping the ewes for lambing, picking breeds for chick orders (earlier deliveries than last year), and getting piglets soon as possible for summer growing.  The way to beat the cold is to plan for warmth. Especially since we are heading into what locals here call Winter's Bottom - the deep end of the pool, guys. Cold stretches ahead in February and then the mess of March hopefully granting some warmer temps for the new lambs. I used to despise spring (and I still hate April) but this many years into the farm I see it more as a celebration of surviving the harder months. It's growing on me. 


Friday, January 20, 2017

Got to Have a System

In the chaos of self-employment you need to have a system. There isn't a boss waiting for me to show up at my desk at 8AM anymore. There's just me. Now my boss is the list of obligations, farm animals, bills, clients, and work ahead. I have said it before - I gave up one steady job I hated for 37 unsteady ones I adore. It's a mixed bag.

Working for yourself means having the ability to blow off a day and just go horseback riding or running - but that rarely happens, almost never in winter when stress and expenses are so much higher on this farm. I think the reason I love summer so much is the heat is free. I am not attached to a wood stove's maw or worried about not being home for 4 hours. The truck runs better in warm weather, too. I hay to bring in hay and firewood, extra calories in the form of feed, and figure out how to deal with ice, rain, bad roofs, etc. I am at war with winter. Summer really is paradise and fall is the fireworks before the darker months. Anyway - ponies and running shoes are not as common a blow off as 67 degree mornings. Mostly because I don't have the ability to enjoy those things when my time is needed elsewhere. So there is a system of literal lists I write every morning Monday - Friday. They are split up into Farm/House/Work/Me and as silly as that sounds - that list it is my real boss.

The Farm portion is a list of all the animals and their needs. Every animal is on it; from feeding loud cats to bringing in Aya for weighing and notes. Between cat chow and hawks there are sheep to deliver second cut hay to, a horse to feed and observe, and geese honking as I do both. There are *hopefully* pregnant dairy goats to fork hay over to and check their water's level and freezing. There are five growing hogs to break fasts, chickens to get corn to, and dogs that demand calories for their work as my all-around farmhands. Most mornings they get fried eggs and a peanut butter biscuit. Friday is starting heat right now so that adds a list of diaper duty for her and keeping Gibson away from her swimsuit area. Fun! Anyway, the animals come first. Once these chores are done I get to check off about 8-10 items off my list. It makes me feel like I am already accomplishing something and being productive.

Inside the farmhouse is another set of To-Dos. There is coffee to start, a fire to light, and weird chores suited to just this house in her current state of scrappy. There are plumbing issues I can't afford to fix right now so I need to bail out gray water from a drainage tub I set up in the mudroom. There is also the everyday tasks of basic cleanliness. I live alone, but make my bed every single morning. This is less about proper living and more of a habit/morale boost. Like brushing your teeth or putting on eyeliner before going out in public - it's just the right thing to do. Surface cleanliness is my religion. One time a writer friend came by and looked around at my house - asking if I straightened up just for him. He meant the odd knickknacks arranged on bookshelves, just-mopped floors, and perceived order of the place. (I was grateful he didn't the place basically needs to be hosed down with bleach.) But it is all just polishing a first impression. Open a drawer or closet and see the real mess. This is also true about my brain. Outside you see some decent eye makeup and a 3-inch heel on my riding boots but inside it is just a clutter of anxiety, excitement, and ruthless optimism bordering on crazy.

I consider the farm part of my job, but when I say "work" I mean writing/design/illustration gigs. The stuff people have paid me money to do. My bare-bones level of clients to work on every day is 3. So far today I've already hit that and it isn't even lunch (which is why I am blogging now and yes I will add blog post to my work list and then check it off, thank you). It took watching four episodes of The Good Place while coloring in an Alberta client's mare and inking her mane strand by strand - but I got it done while thoroughly enjoying Kristen Bell. Not a bad morning.

Now the part of the day I really have to work at: me. This is when I get up from the computer and go for a run, do yoga, meditate, read a book. It's basically break time from animals, changing sheets, and computers. I won't be watching the news today, but I will be checking in with Twitter - which has been a life saver this past year. If you want to see daily photos of the farm - follow me there. I don't do much farm updates on Facebook anymore. I have learned that Twitter is more of a coffee house of like minds and shared ideas and Facebook is more of a Thanksgiving dinner in which everyone is disappointed in me at different levels. @coldantlerfarm

If I get all these lists checked off by early afternoon I go hunting with Aya Cash. Just being out in the woods for an hour or two - hiking and seeing her follow me high in the trees above is meditation in itself. I can't listen to audiobooks or podcasts. There isn't a computer screen playing Pitch Perfect or Braveheart for the 3000th time.  There is just the sounds of her wings whistling though cloven air as she comes back to me. There is just the self doubt and fear in my head. There is just the hope that seems louder, and therefore more real that keeps me going.

A gal has got to have a system.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Beaters

photo by c. oliver
This past weekend was the Martin Luther King Jr Falconry Meet here in Washington County. Falconers from around the state traveled to share in the hunt on a larger scale. I love this event. I love all Falconry Meets and picnics. I wish I could go to more, but the farm keeps me close to her. It's a small sacrifice to hold onto a dream I work on every day.

So what did we do? We do a lot of drinking and eating, but when it comes down to it - it's all about the birds. Hunters meet at a specific location and those of us with birds bring our animals in travel boxes called Giant Hoods. Giant Hoods are light-restricting crates with perches in them (the hawk version of a dog crate). The hawks wait in these hoods while we take turns releasing them one at a time to hunt. The people assembled serve the bird. We walk around the forest and fields flushing game for them. The whole while we are talking, telling stories, laughing. It is a happy scene. I got this photo from the last day of the meet. My friend Jeremy and his bird Tesla returning from a hillside hunt with all the brush beaters alongside him. A beautiful moment.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Perks

One of the perks of sharing my life online and in books is the amazing little treasures mailed here from time to time. Out of all the gifts ever sent (all are appreciated!) it is the hand-knit socks that actually make me squeaky with joy! Thank you, Webster NY! I will wear these to feed a farm, haul hay, hunt with hawks and read books!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Promise


Every night before I turn out the lights the same thing happens. The dogs and I find our favorite positions in the bed and cuddle close. I hold those two collies, and listen to the sounds of them letting go of the day. My dogs rarely nap. They are up and active and with me all day. Their sleep schedule is mine, so when I finally say “to bed” their bodies exhale with this grand permission to not Border Collie for a few hours.

Gibson sleeps so deep that sometimes I worry his heart stopped. Friday - who never ever seems to stop running circles and picking fights with Gibson’s ears - curls into a ball. We are a happy trio. Before I sleep, I look them in the eyes and tell them the same promise.

You’ll never go to sleep without food in your belly, a roof over your head, and all the love you could ever need.

I love my dogs. I really do. But I realized today that I never make that promise to myself. So far I’ve been fed and housed, but I don’t ever give myself the love I need. I’m not talking about friends, family, or lovers. I mean just loving myself enough to let myself stop being a Border Collie. To let go. To sleep knowing that not being hungry and dry is enough for tonight.

You’ll never go to sleep without food in your belly, a roof over your head, and all the love you could ever need. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Part Wolf

When I was in Jr. High (that is what we called middle school in small-town America in the 1900's) I had a huge crush on a boy who seemed unattainable celebrity, even then. He was tan, fit, and had the kind of dreamy hair boys illustrated on the cover of Babysitters' Club books would envy. Friends of mine dated him and for that they were my heroes.

His older brother was in the same class as my cheer-leading sister, three years our senior. In a high school of 400 kids, everyone knows everyone. We were friends the way chubby girls who read too much are friends with boys- which is to say more like golden retrievers then actual human women. I was the non-threatening, unsexualized, funny girl who was supposed to leave the room at parties so my more attractive friends could fool around. I wasn't a monster - but I was me.

At 13 I was built thick, with dark hair and a max height of 5'2". I was into the outdoors and dressed mostly out of the LL Bean catalog-school of inspo and it looked about as flattering as you imagine. I never ever thought of myself as sexy or pretty. I wanted to be - but in the high school play I was cast as the family dog (literally). Point is - I was not the girl on the cover of the Babysitters' Club. I did not run my hands through wavy boy hair.

One time this crush of mine fixed a necklace I was wearing in a computer lab. He stood behind me, gentle hands on my nape as he repaired the latch while I sat frozen. My whole 13-year-old-idiot body shook internally. I didn't know people could do that to each other. Having felt the hormonal shock; I fell hard for this boy who was so nice to a golden retriever. (Little did I know at the time, a pretty breed of dog was too high a bar to set for myself.)

I never dared tell him, or anyone. It was mine to hold close. So later that year at a party when he was waiting for his brother to pick him up I felt lucky to be sitting next to him while we waited for our separate rides. We chatted. I pined. Then my ride came. My sister walked in with a smile and a very fashionable pea coat. He shook his head and laughed to himself behind her. (Know my older sister was perfect in my eyes. She was thin, blonde, and smart as hell. So I got his awe, but didn't get what was so funny?) She headed out back to the car and before I grabbed my coat I made the mistake of asking him why he was laughing?

"Oh, you know. I just was looking at Katie and you, well, you know, the nickname.... Your nickname?"

"What?" (I didn't know I had a nickname.)

At this the boy balked a little. He was self aware enough to realize he walked into something uncomfortable. I put on my coolest we're-just-buddies! voice and told him it was okay to tell me.

"We call you the Friendly Beast. You are so nice and funny and everyone likes you, but your sister is, well, your sister - and you're you."

I didn't cry or say anything back. I just laughed. I was well trained in my role. This is what the boy I liked thought of me. This was what his whole pack of boys called me. I swallowed air and smiled. But that was the first night I ever cried myself to sleep over how I looked.

"Friendly Beast" has always been in the background, the label that explained why every unrequited romance didn't work out. Of course boys didn't want me - I wasn't even human. I was something else. All through my teens this was a part of me. (Later on I did find a boyfriend who was very sweet and put up with a lot of eagerness, but that was a long way from the 13-year-old in computer lab.)

That nickname became my identity. I wish I could say it was some amazing Fuck You to teenage boys who called their girlfriend's bestie a beast - but it was more of an escape. I embraced it as armor and fell in love with werewolves. I had nearly fifty werewolf movies in my collection. When I drew myself, I was a werewolf. If people saw me as a friendly monster then that was exactly what they would get. It was easier to give into the role then fight it.

Genes from a Slovak mother and pan-Germanic father made me short - but strong. This was my only vanity. When other girls in high school had trouble picking up bags of dog food I felt like a superhero not breaking a sweat carrying a fifty-pound bags over each shoulder. In my mind I was a beast. I was the cinematic daughter of Simba from the Lion King and William Wallace from Braveheart. Those were my weirdo-teen idols. They were strong, leaders, animals. I drew that picture of "me" up top in college. I was 21 then and still saw myself as the Friendly Beast.

photo by M. Romais
Now I'm in my thirties. I'm still a beast, but I don't cry about it anymore. What once made me feel manly and monstrous in the worst ways is now a sense of pride. This werewolf ran a 5K yesterday in 16° weather for the hell of it. I felt the pain in my thighs while doing chores this morning, and welcomed it like an old friend. Instead of taking a day to heal I ran some more (14° today!) and did A LOT of pushups after -just to feel that howl inside. What used to bring me shame now brings me so much pride. I love being strong. I love that a hundred pushups is cake. I love that I don't flinch working with a ton of draft horse or worry about throwing hay bales all day. The teenager who used to wish so so hard she would look like Rachael on FRIENDS some day.... well, now that bitch owns a pair of yellow wolf contact lenses. I wear them and mean it.

I am still only 5'2" and weigh around 186 pounds. Even when I was training for the half marathon last summer and running 40-50 miles a week - I never weighed less than 178. At that weight and height, an 8/10 capri is my go-to jean size, but some bitchier critics online think that is a lie. (Listen, my body is a mystery to me, too, but I really am mostly muscle). My waist is 33" and my arms are 15" flexed. I remembered hearing trivia that Ben Affleck's arms as Batman were 17" and was unimpressed. Grrrrrrr, baby.

My body is thick, but that no longer makes me feel less then more conventionally attractive women. I don't want to be a tall, blonde, model who has trouble holding her groceries. I want to be the most kick ass version of me. Which is why I run long races, earned my black belt, ride draft horses, shoot archery, hunt, train hawks and run a farm alone on the side of the mountain. It takes a part-wolf to do all that.

I still deal with the same body issues so many women deal with— and some far more serious than most— but as an adult I am proud of what the Friendly Beast has accomplished. I have no idea what happened to that boy and I honestly don't care. But I hope if he has daughters he raises them to value their own gifts, whatever they might be.  Not everyone gets to be an LL Bean model or even look good in a fleece vest - but we all have something to offer, something to be proud of.

Some of us are a little too feral to make most people comfortable. Some of us are born gorgeous. Some of us get to grow up touching wavy hair. Some of us are friendly beasts who would've killed for Golden Retriever status at their lowest points. Life has a lot of possibilities. What I do know is I no longer doubt there's a person out there who will find me beautiful, as is. I know because one already does.

Me.





Friday, January 6, 2017

Manicures - Upstate Style

Dave the farrier is the man. He is intelligent, gentle, and complicated. He understands horses in a way I someday hope to grasp the edges of. He combines personal observation of the animals, popular training methods, hoof care, herd dynamics, natural horsemanship, and folklore. In one hoof-trimming session he will explain both his thoughts on trimming feet, training for road riding, and what the swirl of hair on your horse's forehead means. I can not thank Patty Wesner enough for bringing this man into my life.

Now, that photo looks pretty simple. You see Dave and Merlin, working in the front lawn on some basic manicure work. What you don't see is how Merlin got to the front yard from the fence he usually is behind. Weeks of ice, rain, and snow froze all the gates shut. Some are fixated in inches of solid ice. Dave could have worked with Merlin inside the fence. He has no issue going into a pasture to treat hooves. But on this farm Merlin the Fell is loving alongside Monday the ram. He is protective of them and I didn't want to chance the possibility that he would see Dave bent over trimming feet as a sign of ovine aggression.  So I spent most of my morning chipping away inches of ice at a gate and freeing it. Watch the first song in Frozen. I did that.

Happy to report Dave had nothing but nice things to say about Merlin's temperament, feet, condition, and head swirls. My Moo (Merlin's pet name) is doing well. I miss riding him but right now that just means roads. All the trails are ice-coated and steep and when you don't have health insurance you don't exactly want to risk sliding off a thousand pound animal on a cliff side. But I am getting a lot of time outside thanks to Aya and the slowly-declining rabbit population. So there is that.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

MARCO!

Today I woke up to rain; this odd little break in the cold weather. It was in the forties and soggy and the whole farm looked like someone poured a fish tank of coffee grounds over a white canvas and then let their dog poop on it before throwing it in the river. A slush of grossness. In one afternoon it could turn to a snow globe scene again, but this morning it was unpleasant as can be. To top it all off there was a sheet of ice under this treasure trove so walking around became a full contact sport.

Outside the sheep looked a lot like I felt. Dry sheep look beautiful on green grass. They look warm on fresh snow. But on icy mud they look shipwrecked at best.  Merlin had the dour look of someone stood up on prom night. The chickens however walked around as if it was any other day of the year. I felt a pang of envy for a brain the size of Penny Lincoln's. I fed out some second-cut and suddenly the supposedly-gloomy livestock sprung to life and the Lady Hoggets raced down the hillside and Merlin's ears perked. Amazing how far a little August grass goes with farmyard morale.

Anyway, morning chores really messed with my head for a little while. I don’t mind insane cold in winter or intense humidity in summer, but when the seasons cheat on me like this I get personally offended. This is idiotic. It took some serious caffeine infusions and decent music to get out of the funk.

And snapping out of the funk was 100% necessary. I wasn’t going to spend my day feeling victimized by things outside my control. The older I get the less interesting I find people who allow their emotions and reactions to do all the driving. I said the phrase I often say when I am in a bad mood, "Daddy's Driving" which means exactly that. I heard Pete Holmes say that about his mood and love it.  It means The Adult is in control, not the petulant, childlike feelings.

My earbuds were playing his podcast. An episode I highly recommend listening to because it always makes my mood improve - It’s an episode of You Made it Weird with Kyle Cease. They talk about changing their owns lives, self transformation, anxiety, peer-pressure, motivation -  but all of it from a grounded place. While listening I had already forgotten the mush outside. I was inside now. Back to a warm farmhouse with a fire I already started, one cup of coffee down (another waiting!), and I realized I had won the battle of my bad mood. I did need to crank a record for a little morning dance party (Thank you, Taylor), watch this Disney clip, etc, but you do what you need to when you're picking out how your day will go. All that blended with the little accomplishment of knowing every animal out there on my land had a full belly, a roof, a windbreak, a warm bed, and cold well water - that made me feel better. Sometimes I even start my daily to-do list with every outdoor chore listed and checked off just to feel like I'm already on a roll. I mean, if I am going to act like a child let it be the one that needs this blog - the kid dancing on stage for attention, asking for validation, yelling MARCO! into the void so that a friend I haven't met yet can answer from their own laptop and coffee spot. I'm going to keep being me. I like her.

Farm news is pretty stagnant. It is winter and I am selling pork and lamb shares, lamb fleeces, and fiddle lessons for next year. I booked a couple coming for a private all day Chicken 101 workshop I am pretty excited about. The logos and illustrations are slow but I sure am trying my best to sell them. I have no reason to complain - as I said before - all my problems can be fixed with hard work and some self control. It's a more enviable place to be than a chicken. Chickens can't dance to How You Get the Girl cranked to 11. Keep your little brains ladies, Daddy's Driving.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Hat Trick

A few months back I was on my mountain, hunting with Aya Cash. This was early in our career together and she was in rare form, which was my fault. I had been training her like birds in my past, feeding her mostly out of my hands. For some hawks that can work but Aya's little too hardcore. She learned in a few weeks that the food on my fist was coming out of my bags, pockets - my general person. So instead of waiting like a well-trained dog for her treat she decided she would just take it. She started flying for my hunting pack, pockets, etc - placs where food came from. (This wouldn't be a big deal if hawks didn't come with talons the size of shark teeth that held on with 30lbs of pressure.) It was frustrating as it was encouraging. I had a smart bird who didn't see the point to playing games and wasn't going to ask for permission or wait for an invitation. I respected that. Like with humans, some of the actions that make you the worst students make you the best hustlers. I adapted. I stopped feeding her from my hands and her pick-pocketing stopped out of lack of results, but before it did she managed to steal my hat.

That picture of Aya is at high zoom. She was high in a tree with my favorite wool hat. We were out hunting together, but she wasn't being a teammate. She wasn't flying close to me watching for game. She was doing her own thing, 30 yards away. On our early hunts she would take anything she saw to eat - mice, voles, etc. She connected the thought of a full crop with me, but not like I wished. I wanted her to work with me to take bigger game we could share. Game like rabbits.

Side note: I love rabbit. It was a food I never had growing up, but learned to adore as an adult. Prepared well, rabbit tastes like Super Chicken. Think of the best piece of juicy, white, meat you ever had and now imagine one bite of it makes you feel as full as an entire chicken breast. Rabbit has the highest protein density of any meat so you use it the way you use sausage in a lot of recipes. It's part of ragu, or stew, or pie filling. Anyway - I love rabbit and I love the romance of bringing home game with a hawk on my fist. (So enough with the mice already, Cash...)

Back to that day: I had called her to my fist but instead of taking the command she swooped low and and flew off with my wool hat. She took it high into the trees and at this time there was no snow, just lots of thick roses and thorns. The kind of deep brush that stops hunters in the North East. That — topped with the fact the ground was the same color as my brown hat — it was a goner. I didn't even see where she took it, soon she was out of sight. I sighed. I liked that hat.

So yesterday we were somewhere on the mountain, nowhere near that hat zone, but hunting like a team. It was the kind of human-hawk work the Discovery Channel should have been there to document. She was WITH me. She followed me from brush pile to thorn nest. She might fly up to do some reconnaissance, but mostly she was right there. Together we flushed three rabbits and she saw me spook them for her in ways she couldn't. I was the muscle and she was the bullet. I'd be low on the ground hitting the thorns and poking with them with my big ash stick, she darted her head above, ready to pounce on whatever rushed out. And a while later (after our fifth flush and second hour of exhaustive hiking following a bird in the forest of icy snow) - I saw her dive to the northwest and heard the rabbit death rattle/screech. We had one!

I crawled on my belly under thorns in the snow and jumped over falling logs to get to her. (Anyone who thinks falconry isn't a sport should come work out with us.) When I got to her she had a lovely doe in her talons, already dead. I pulled out the large knife in my pack. A Gerber that was a gift from my friend Tyler who had it on his Bike trip around the world. (I love that it had teeth marks on the grip from when he needed both hands cooking or adventuring). I cut off the rabbit's head in one motion and let Aya eat while I stashed the rest of the game in my pack for my freezer. She ate like the little dinosaur she was. That tiny beak having no problem going through bones. She looked up at me with a rabbit ear poking out of her beak like some horrific cartoon.

I sat in the snow beside her. At this point I was just a body guard. She felt safe eating next to me, knowing no stray owl or fox would mess with a gal who had a giant primate beside her. I hugged my knees and looked up at the blue sky, felt the odd, warm winter air. It was balmy. I was exhausted. Two hours of scrambling after an animal that can fly in three seconds to a place that takes me fifteen minutes and 50 calories to achieve gets you light-headed. So I savored the break. I thanked Frey for the luck and looked around this weird bit of slanted mountain forest.

And there peaking out of the snow, five feet from the bloody hunt, was my hat.

I laughed out loud, which confused Aya but she went back to eating bunny brains soon enough. I picked it up and it was soaked, frozen, and covered with leaves but otherwise looked good! My little pewter hawk was right on the band. No racoon pilfered it and it wasn't even tarnished.

That day I walked down my mountain with a hawk with a rabbit head in her belly, meat in my sling pack, and a long lost hat on my hunting stick like a trophy. It was a fine day.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Matches

There are match boxes all over this house. Pick one up and shake it. You might hear the percussion of hundreds of tiny staves or you might hear the odd rattle of just one. That weird fact about my life still happily surprises me when I come across a one-match box.

There are dozens around this farm. Some of the boxes are fifteen years old, and have traveled with me cross-country in several homes. They are not trash, and no, you may not use them to light a cigarette or start a fire. They are luck pieces, borderline sacred, and I depend on them so very much. 

It always felt wrong to use the last match. Over time I developed a pacing superstition that turned into ritual. When I get down to the last match I set the box aside and only use it in dire circumstance.  My original line of thinking was that last match managed to not be sacrificed. That makes it lucky. Who knows what makes your fingers select one safety match over another? Be it random chance or subconscious mathematics - it made it so it gets a pass. I keep those one-match boxes as little prayers, pocket reliquaries situated around the house as haphazardly as my reckless optimism. They are symbols of hope and therefore they are magic.

There may come a day when I need a last match. It happens. When I am stressed to the point of tears I find one. I grab a candle and find a quiet place to sit down and meditate. Instead of lighting the candle and focusing on the flame I hold the candle in my sweaty hand and close my eyes. I count breaths, trying to think of the air slowly coming in and out of my body. Sometimes that isn't enough and I have to imagine I am surrounded by glass. Like as if I am in a perfect human terrarium. In my mind I am under this dome outside on a green hillside. It is a summer night and I am sitting on soft grass. I can see the stars and even feel the warm wind inside. If it rains I am dry. If monsters try to get in they can only claw and try - I can't even hear their growls behind the barriers. It is a safe place and no one can hurt me while I am in it. I imagine this until my heart rate slows and the work of the next hour seems manageable. (I don't even try to make the day seem manageable, just the next steps.) By this point the candle is usually warm and warped from the hand that held onto it like a flare gun on a sinking ship. I take the imperfect thing and set it down to be lit. I use one of the hope matches, the signal lights. If the candle takes the flame I let out a sigh of relief. I'll be okay. I made it this far. I just need to see the road a little farther up ahead...

I had to light one of these recently. It happened the way it always does. I don't plan for these rituals (I don't plan for anything)  I happen upon one of the single-match boxes and am reminded of my ritual. They always seem to know when they are needed and fall off a bookshelf or are discovered behind dishcloths in a drawer. There isn't any actual hocus pocus involved. The "magic" is understanding that being still, positive, and hopeful when things seem darkest is my real power. It's my responsibility to keep the light on.

When I strike the last match in a box I smile. I am reminded that this is part of who I am. This silly, self-important, prayer. My road to this farm was never lit with torch beams but millions of tiny sparks. As long as I know a few of those flames are hoarded around the house I'm emotionally insured. They are tangible reminders I will be okay. They get me to a place of grounded action.

They are a choice set on fire.

Storm Pony

Fresh

Woke up to a few inches of fresh snow. When I let the dogs out Gibson trotted out with his usual steady determination and Friday used the door itself as a launch pad to propel herself past him despite her smaller size. As she blurred past the confused shepherd, I saw a flash of white as her teeth snapped at the air in front of his face. CLICK! I couldn't not laugh at her moxie. This girl is on fire.

Merlin was a few yards from the front door. He was woolly, chubby, and hungry. Sometimes I forget he's an equine and wonder what prehistoric beast wandered into the sheep fields? He let out his deep voice, which is basically a demand for hay. I don't encourage rude behavior by validating it (unless you're a 40-lb border collie. She gets a pass) so I walked to the barn top get hay and fed the quiet trio of goats instead.

To walk towards the goats means walking towards a freshly-snowed upon barn in morning light. Th wood was once a loud red, but is now faded, quieter. It means crossing over virgin powder as the wind gently knocks loose squalls of snow from trees. Snow globe flakes dance across the scene. Take one step and think "I am still here." Take another step "Please let me stay a little longer." Friday and Gibson race past me, too fast to be dogs. They are silent snowmobiles, kicking ice behind their paws to make themselves shoot faster. "Ann Jumbar, if you are watching keep me brave and optimisic." I pray and I walk. The farm is all blue rays of light and cold yellow shadows. I will start off 2017 with hope.

This is a fresh start for all of us. I hope you woke up warm and grateful. I hope you are surrounded by loved ones. I hope you attain better health, wealth, and hope for what the year will bring. I hope the same for me. As I write this the fire is lit and the house is slowly warming up. The animals are enjoying their breakfast and I am planning out my work schedule. I hope to visit friends later, maybe even raise a glass with them. But right now the coffee is hot, the farm is lovely, and I have much work ahead of me.

Happy New Year!