Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Monster Battles

I just came in from checking on the flock and hawk - all of which were doing well. Most of the sheep were out in the damp air on the hillside. Only Brick, her lamb, and Split Ear were in the shed on the fresh bedding of hay inside. The little guy was curled up with a fat belly. Tomorrow I'll crop his tail and get him some baby shots, but besides that, it will be Brick doing most of the raising. She's my best ewe. She's older and a little surly. She has a permanent Elvis lip curl from a rip she got from thorns a few summers back. I remember Yesheva from Common Sense coming up and sewing her back together as I held her in a shearing position to patch her up. I had my head down the whole time and when I lifted it I got dizzy. It was an intense day of sheep work, but Brick had three beautiful lambs since. Farming is mostly trying.

As far as getting my head wrapped around this issue of keeping the farm, I'll say this much. I write about it here because it's what is happening. And being honest makes me feel less isolated. So I will share the month's progress towards getting out of this ditch. I have learned over the years you can't look at problems as a whole monster. If you are scared of anything - be it debt, a marathon, a relationship, a job interview - anything - you need to tackle one part of the monster at a time. No mere mortal can wrestle a monster and win. But you can learn to trip a foot, or dodge from a claw. You can spend your time being overwhelmed or spend your time figuring out how to beat him.

Today I ran short of my income goal, but I still made a sale. Some of you signed up for blog subscriptions or sent contributions (thank you!), and some just plain emailed me or commented in support. All of these small actions add up to enough ammunition to maybe blow up a big toe on the monster. And since today's goal was "blow off foot" (so to speak) it's start. You don't have great balance without your big toe. It hurts the monster. He's less stable and I'm more confident. Is this metaphor too much? I'll stop.

Point is, some people never think about taking out big toes. They can only see the whole monster. They can't allow themselves to believe in the chance they had. I'm at the point in this dream that it is harder to not believe in myself. The evidence that I will be okay feels real. Losing the farm doesn't. Which isn't to say that it isn't possible, just that I know how to take out toes. If I have enough time and wit and luck by this time next week I may have already sent in a payment, basically putting Gamera in a wheelchair. (I have been picturing Gamera this whole time). Still deadly, but far less of a threat. A giant turtle in a wheelchair is still terrifying, but I can run up the stairs. I gain some advantages when all I could see is impossible.

If all that was too long to read. Here's the gist: Today I woke up scared. Then I went outside to the surprise of the first lamb of the season. A lam on my own farm, one I have managed to pay 20% of the entire mortgage off in my six years. Then later I had a pop tarts for dinner.

Success isn't always a straight line.

Lamb!

This morning in the sunny, early-spring work of chores - I saw a lamb on the hillside. I was not expecting it! Never had my sheep lambed so early, and to see this guy peaking out of the sheep shed with his mother Brick, was encouraging. The farm keeps going. The seasons keep changing. It's my job as steward to keep it appeased as they do. With winter nearly behind us (though I do expect more snow before daffodils) I feel tougher than I have going into any other spring. I treaded water for years unsure of how I could pull this life off. Instead of panicking I always found a way - be it changing how I make a living or changing how I live. For example, when I bought this farm I had a new truck with a huge monthly payment and insurance bill. It cost over $400 to own and drive that beast. Now I own a truck outright and pay $48 bucks a month insurance wise. Other things like giving up a cell phone and its costs, using firewood instead of oil heat, bartering whenever possible, and focusing on design and illustration instead of fighting for a new book deal - all of this is adapting for the love of a dream. The sun is out this morning. My pony is starting to shed. Soon I hope for days of saddles and archery practice and river swims in the evenings. But to have those things means doing the work to keep it. There is no free lunch. I'm a One Woman Farm with a mortgage and college debt and the expense of owning a home all one one set of shoulders. Those shoulders used to be forever slumped. Now they are held back. I made it this far. This is home.

Yesterday I got a letter from the bank throwing down a timeline (one month) to gather a certain amount of payments to stop foreclosure. It was scary. But it wasn't a red letter saying to move out. I have some time. I have skills in design and illustration and an ebook coming out soon. I have wits and friends and people who love me. Most importantly, I have a life I love and that I am willing to work to keep. Right now I have a daily income goal set and a plan. I'll be promoting logos and illustrations like nuts on social media, so unfollow me if that is bothersome to you. Here on the blog I'll keep it more about the daily farm life. The only reason I don't post here is because I am stressed out and can't focus on writing for pleasure about a place I am afraid of losing. As my morale and hope rises, so do the words here. In this case I might have to fake it till I make it, but that's okay. There are lambs and seed packets here. There is enough optimism to sink an airship. There's me. And I am one tough woman.

(P.S. Lamb naming contest going on over at twitter!)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Little Seeds

I bought two seed packets yesterday at the hardware store in town. They're from a local seed company and will be planted in containers, a quiet tradition here at the farm at first signs of spring. I will get them in small containers and they'll be crawling up windowsills and flowering by the time spring is actually here in full force. They were on sale for a dollar a packet. Not a bad price for hope.

Wednesday, February 22, 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.





Monday, February 20, 2017

Sun!

Hannah and Marnie at Breakfast
A couple days of sunshine sure does a lot to change a gal's mood. So does coffee. I am reporting from a productive morning here, fueled by caffeine and a menagerie of hearty critters in sunny snow. And I gotta say, that sunshine makes all the difference.

The break in the weather has been a godsend here at Cold Antler. Time outdoors feels a little like spring (which isn't too far away)! Chick orders and seed catalogs are on my mind - and as the days grow longer they feel less like wistful pornography and more like tangible reality. Considering that this time last week I was on my third round of raking snow off a precarious roof - that is a delightful turn of events.

Sometime to keep in mind is that things change quick. We all know this, and yet we often are surprised when a day becomes crappy or amazing before our eyes. We have zero control over the weather, the passing of time, or other people's brains - but we do have the ability to throw on a sweater, learn to knit to combat anxiety, and to realize other people's brains are none of our business. So get your armour class up a few notches. The best advice I can offer is to choose to be excited when life sends you the tiniest nod. Also choose to be excited about something else, if it doesn't. If you have food in your stomach, a roof over your head, and the ability to hold someone you love close you're pretty much nailing it. Everything else is preferences or godbothering.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

THIS WEEKEND ONLY!!!!

Offering a half day fiddle workshop for yourself (or yourself and a friend) anytime after June 1 (you pick the date). This price includes the 4 hours of total beginner lessons (come knowing NOTHING at all and leave playing your first song - promise) and YOUR OWN FIDDLE!!! A brand new student fiddle with case and bow. Lambs or kids hanging out with us while we learn together is a total possibility.

One person (dogs welcome, no charge) - $175
Two people - $300

Email Me to sign up!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Bull!

Before I let the dogs out to run around the farm this morning, I made sure there weren't any rogue bulls on the front lawn. That isn't a joke. Yesterday an automated call came from the local Auction Barn letting neighbors know that a very "agitated" bull escaped and instructions on how to avoid it were also given - as well as contacts to call in case you did happen to see it in your backyard. I live a mile from this barn, so not a far fetched thing to look out for.  Never a dull moment.

Snow storms came and went, leaving this place gorgeous and tired. All the animals and I came through the blizzard and right now as I type thick, wet, flakes are falling outside my French doors, snow-globe style. It's a pretty scene. But even in the quiet reverence of it, I am keeping my eyes peeled like the unwilling matador I might become at any moment...


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentines Day From Us!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Work Arounds

So I am by myself and the truck won't start. If the wiring doesn't dry out it will need to be towed and repaired. I am holding out hope. I have a feeling my great grandparents have an eye on me; as they lived rurally and had chickens and know all about Fords with bad attitudes. I was low on feed and got a number of a local who delivers feed to a farm door, a two-bag minimum. So I arranged for 40lbs of dog food and a 150lbs of farm feed. What a blessing! I also called the guy who delivers my firewood - a pony trainer named Rob. Rob is moving to Alaska to work with his ponies as a logger in the big North. Before he does, he will be delivering some more firewood as I am getting low as winter winds down. These are work arounds. Farming is rarely ideal. To have a network around you that serves your needs both makes homesteading alone possible (even with a bum truck) and helps support other small businesses. I am happy to pay the small delivery feed to keep this farm going. I am excited for Rob and his journey northwest! Everyone around you has a story to tell. Just ask!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Snow Day

A blizzard hit the northeast today, and this farm got a nice coating of fresh snow. While we didn’t get nailed as much as other parts of the state - a decent 5-8 inches (depending on drifts/wind) came and changed up our usual routine. When snow comes in any measurable amount my chore list gets doubled. Today was a constant rotation of checking on animals, shoveling paths, raking roofs, checking fences, feeding, bedding, water, repeat. Lots of coffee. Meals are fast and infrequent.

Between outside trips I managed to work on my daily minimum of three clients. I wish I had done more. The work is certainly needed since the truck isn’t starting, which happens whenever the air gets really moist. It’s the starter wiring - which is as old as Taylor Swift and needs to be replaced. I just can’t justify the repair right now.

I snapped that picture of Merlin first thing in the morning. We got hit with the snow around dawn, and it came hardest between then and 9AM. Merlin doesn't wear a blanket, never has. He has access to a pole barn (2 actually) but he chooses to be out in the snow most of the time. That thick white covering is there because his body is insulated by a thick coat. His body heat isn't hitting the snow to melt it. He looks like a Game of Thrones character, but really that's the sign of a warm pony. I'm glad I got this pick because moments later he shook most of it off.

Now it's evening and the day is behind me. Around dusk the farm becomes two colors - blue and orange. The color of dying light and the burst of flames from the stove. 

You might notice a specific tone in the posts this winter. A voice based on getting work done, being proud of what’s been accomplished, and keeping on. That’s because I need to hear it. I need to write it to myself. Read it to myself. Check off lists. See it. I tend to either write at the end of the day or early in the morning, and both of those periods need the balm of personal inspiration. I know I am not alone. All of us have some sort of demon nipping at our heels. Some of us are dealing with anxiety over our jobs, relationships, kids, money, school, spouses, illness, family, etc. All of us are fighting our own fights. You might not have farms or blizzards, but you have stories and obstacles. I hope sharing this story shows you what a stubborn person can accomplish.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Family Portrait

Perks

I started using percolators back in college. It was an accident based on my love of antiques and the crew I hung out with in college. Some gals spend their college years experimenting in all sorts of sex, drugs, and other normal youth activities. My crew? We went antiquing. We were weirdos at an art school that was part of a state University surrounded by the Amish. Old junk was cheap and I was barely a person. But I knew I adored every second of rummaging through old things in dusty shops. I was raised understanding coffee was a regular infusion and life necessity - not a simple beverage - and started collecting coffee antiques.

I've had electric ones and stove stop ones. I've used little ones like this perfect one-mug teal beauty that was a gift from a beloved farmer friend. I have one that makes 30 cups a reader mailed me! Coffee is a lifeblood and special drink here. It starts the day with energy and stories and memory. A good cup means a lot. It's something to look forward to when you'd rather stay in bed. It keeps you going.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Thank You

Readers,

Every once in a while I will suggest you consider subscribing to this blog. It's entirely free to read the posts here, see the pictures, and share the adventure. It always will be. But all authors, artists, musicians, and creators depend on the people who appreciate their work to be patrons on some level.

If you own my books, thank you. If you share my blog posts, thank you. If you have come to a workshop or event here, thank you. And if you simply want to kick in $5 a month towards feed and hay - I thank you. It's a small way to both encourage me and help keep the lights on.

Like NPR stations, I'll be here to tune into whether you wish to subscribe and be a patron or not. But I do ask if you enjoy what you read here and do not already subscribe - to consider it. Or if you stopped subscribing for whatever reason, you sign back up. This is a time that the farm needs support from those who wish to see it remain the home of Cold Antler.  Please only do so if you feel the writing has value (as entertainment, inspiration, etc) and you can manage it.

Thank you,
-j


Or make a one time contribution if you don't wish to subscribe.
 

Time Travel

The summer I left my 9-5 job is still the longest summer of my life.  I swear time slowed down. The days felt as though all the hours I used to spend indoors at an office had to make up for what I missed. Daylight seemed to last 30 hours instead of 12.

I think I was in some kind of highly-functional shock. I'd never had that amount of time under my control before. I wasn't the kid who took a year off in college to travel. I also didn't move back in with my parents, join the Peace Corps, Armed Services, or move in with a boyfriend. My first job in the real world started a few weeks after my college graduation. I moved there from my college apartment. My entire life was school, college, work. It wasn't until I was nearly 30 that I learned what a summer was.

We're told it's our childhood summer vacations that are sacred. They aren't. You don't have agency, or money, or the ability to do anything without permission. It's just day care, supervised play. Going feral was very different. Quitting a life I had grown to despise for the terrifying freedom of self employment felt like breaking all the rules. It wasn't a summer off from school. It was Lord of the Flies. But instead of a bunch of boys fighting over a shell it was one badass bitch who just bought a British draft horse she didn't know how to ride with an inkling towards falconry.

(2012 is an insane year on this blog, I realize now.)

I look back on that first summer with such fondness. I also have a Time Traveler's excitement of getting it back. It will take sharing a first summer off like that with another person to get it. Like if I fall in love with someone and they quit their job and moved in. They would get to experience exhausting morning chores/milking/fence repairs/poultry moving and what coffee tastes like covered in a humid sweat. Then we'd for a few hours with neighbors and realize only after we're done that it is only 11AM?? WHEN DID TIME STOP! They'll feel it too. This amazement that not even half the day is gone and so much life has been lived. How could we sweat so much? How could a person do that much and forget to eat? And we'll eat great food we know and raised. Then take a break at the hottest time of the day to jump into the Battenkill and feel the entire world's temperature become comfortable again. Maybe a nap in a hammock before afternoon chores. End the long day with a good meal, cold beer, and a fire and music and barely believe we can wake up and do it all again. That summer will be glorious, and get the benefit of edits from my first one - mistakes avoided, better swimming holes, better food, better me.

Being a farmer is like being in any long-term relationship. It starts out with romance and energy and it's hard to believe any other world exists outside it. I have no idea what was happening in the world when I first fell in love with farming. It swallowed everything about me. I was this shy, farm-curious girl just flirting with the taboo of an Agricultural life. Experiments in bees, chickens, rabbits and a rural address were exhilarating changes to a suburban life. The I dove. I jumped into this dream of farming full time without the proper preparations or income to do so safely.

A few years in you realize the honeymoon is over and the little things that excited you and drove you, are now everyday. This is the point in any relationship where things either solidify or fall apart. For me, it was both. I was falling apart but it was the farm that kept me going, standing up, forcing strength from a scared girl. I made bad choices, thought book deals would never stop coming, and dealt with some personal demons I am not comfortable sharing just yet. Some day. That's another book.

I didn't leave. I didn't walk out on this relationship to pursue another lifestyle. I see this happen a lot. I see young women and men dress up in their coveralls and fill their instagram accounts with baby goats and mason jars on hay bales only to be sharing photos from a month in India a year later, or their city loft's new red sofa and french bulldog. I think agriculture was a fad for a few years. I think a lot of people wanted that feral summer. They got it, loved it, and then grew tired of it. That's not a bad thing. The presence this life insists on is insane. My mom always said even soldiers got leave every so often. Farmers do not.

I'm here. I'm not going anywhere. This summer will be (I think?) 6 years of self employment. It has been hard, exhausting, nerve-wracking, and life changing. It turned me into a woman who knows she can count on herself. Who is thicker skinned, harder, and more determined then ever. I am still here.

I am waking up every day now hoping to make a sale (which is really hard. Most people ask and back out) and figure out how to not hate the guy from the bank who drives by to photograph my home from the road to decide what the foreclosure market value is. But if you play hopscotch with disaster long enough you realize you PLAYING. You are still in the game. You haven't fallen. Focus on the next bill. Figure out the next sale. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Don't give up.

Every winter I think about the coming summer. To get there means catching up on so much. But if I can figure out today, and put more money in the bank than I take out - I can hold my head high and keep my promise to my dogs of a full belly, roof, and love. I get through one day at a time. They add up to a life you can be proud of. A life worth fighting like mad to keep.

I want to stay here. I want to keep playing hopscotch a little longer. I only want that game to end when I win it - when solvency is the new reality instead of resourcefulness.

I will get there. I'm certain.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Germ Freaks & Ice Cream

If you are a Germaphobe I am your remedy. Just follow me around for one day as a farmer/falconer/dog roommate and you will see the myriad of horrors the human body can experience and still only suffer one minor cold a year.

This was my line of thinking yesterday as I used a heavy ash walking stick to break open the rib cage of a dead fawn half buried in frozen snow. Blood spattered and got on my lips and eye glasses. I wiped it off with my sleeve and didn't think about it until now. I was too busy trying to help Aya get to the rest of the liver she had started on. Hey, a gal's gotta eat.

We were at Common Sense Farm hunting. After two dives for rabbits (one dive so gorgeous and perfect it will be remembered the rest of my life the way some dancers never forget the first time they saw Swan Lake) Aya had found this treasure. It was fresh. I knew it was fresh because not only did the corpse look good, the liver smelled and looked exactly like fresh liver. A smell and thing I knew intimately from helping out with many livestock slaughters on this farm. Even though I hire people to shoot, gut, skin, and halve my hogs -  I am there to collect pieces I want in bowls. I have been handed countless livers, tongues, and hearts and set them in pretty vintage Pyrex in my fridge, awaiting vacuum sealing later. Sometimes I forget about these treasures, and when new company wants to grab a beer they are surprised to see the heart and tongue bowl. Their level of discomfort is a litmus test for how long they might stick around my life.

Aya Cash had scored big and the hunter in me wanted to snatch her off the carrion and hunt somewhere else. Once a hawk is fed the hunt is over, just like in nature. Release her on a full stomach and the best you can hope for is she'll sleep in some close pine trees and you can bribe her back with breakfast the next morning. Worst case - you never see them again. But that seemed like a horrible lesson to teach a bird I would eventually release. If a wild red-tailed hawk found a stash of protein gifted to them this way OF COURSE they would eat their crop full. This was fine for me. That dive I witnessed was better than 100% of the sloppier game scrambles that ended in meat in the freezer. So I watched her eat what she could and then then she looked up at me. "Oh, you want help?" I smashed into the picked ribs so she could get more. Thrilled, she dove in. Her beak was covered in bright blood and her neck filled up with organs. She was happy. So was I.

Apparently this is not a good week to be a small deer.

I took her off the deer when she was full and hopping around aimlessly. I slid her hood over her head and walking back to the car. She let out a hawky burp/mouth stretch. Hawk breath always stinks but cold deer liver breath might be the worst. We headed home in the truck. I had chores and fires to start.

Once home, I got Aya settled in her mews and handed her a defrosted rat. She was due to be gorged and full. Some falconers keep their hawks thin all winter and I will not. I secretly love the heavy days when all we can do is watch movies together inside. Hunting and flying is great but a fat bird is a great reason to spend a night Binge watching Netflix. The rat meant skin and bones and fur and other goodies needed to create and eject a pellet - important digestive help after a meal of just offal. She happily started eating the rat's face. She was happy. So was I.

I went around the farm and did the usual chores. This means things like clearing frozen mud and pig poop by hand away from electric wires. It means carrying hay and realizing one bale was all dust and mold and throwing it aside for mulch. I never think about the poop or the mold. I just keep going. If humans were so fragile we'd all have died thousands of generations ago - is my thinking.

After these hours of hunting, chores, dead things, poop, and mold I went inside and made a cup of afternoon tea and didn't wash my hands or worry about residual deer blood on my lips. I was grateful for no longer moving. Later that night I would invite my working dogs in my bed —under the covers if they liked — and fall asleep breathing in black silky fur and feeling toenails rake past my naked body. I will not have showered first.

If this all sounds gross, that's fine. I'm not everyone's ideal partner, for sure. But I can assure you there are five sets of clean sheets in this house, which are changed every single time I shower (twice or thrice a week) and I never get sick! Okay, I rarely get sick.  Which seems to be very different from my Facebook feed, which is littered with sick parents of kids or urban friends dealing with the actual germ festival that is a city. People are either often ill or use feeling imperfect one day as an excuse to take off work and lie down. I get it.

Out here things are usually just gross - not dangerous. You get over it.

Part of all this is the mental and physical training a farm grants you. You can't get shit done when you're done every time you get shit on you. I have lost any and all disgust about the insides, fluids, and excrement of animals. So far this winter I got one cold (from other people) this past week, and I still farmed and slept and did all the same stuff. The training comes in here. You can't call in sick to five hogs, eight sheep, two goats, a hawk, a horse, and random bitchy poultry. The dogs and cats still want to eat and be entertained, too. So you just do the same thing slower.

All of this is why I think people who constantly worry about infection or disease from other animals should shadow me for a day. Not to do what I do, but to understand how tough the human system is. How much of that fear is in your head. Face your fears! I'm still alive!

I have limits. I don't roll around in dead animals like Friday will, but I also don't freak out if I have to clean her up afterwards. But I wasn't always this way. I remember listening to Joel Salatin talk at my first ever Mother Earth News Fair about every time they finish butchering chickens they handed out ice cream sandwiches as a treat to the crew. Everyone just dug in. No one ran off to simonize themselves first or rinse their hands. As someone who got Campylobacter from chicken harvesting I cringed hearing this. But I was inexperienced and doing it wrong. (I broke open intestinal fluid and a gall bladder.) Today I would eat the ice cream (as long as my hands didn't have intestinal fluid on them) and be glad the work was done. It took nearly a decade to get there.

Being aware of germs is good. But not living your life because of them is silly. I am proof positive the human species isn't a fragile little dove of certain decay amongst grossness. It's actually pretty cool - hunting with hocks and knowing your bacon's first name. And if all this really grossed you out, you're probably just new to livestock, parenthood, or hunting. Give it some time and you'll also enjoy the ice cream with dirty hands.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Vicious Songs

alexandra-loesser
I was heading down the mountain feeling really good. My truck was running after a morning of not, and the sun was shining. I had a list of work checked off, took some time to really focus on my eyebrow game, and had gotten dressed up nice enough for an evening out with friends just for a trip to get some fuel and groceries. I like looking like I tried. I do it because it makes me feel better. When you work from home it is easy to go hours in what you usually only wear to sleep or work out in. As I sat at my computer working on designs and illustrations — I just hoped no company stopped by. My hair was greasy under a fleece cap. My face and lips a mess of fighting off a cold, peeling dry skin, and ruthless chapping. But half an hour in the bathroom and some slightly-looser jeans and I was feeling glad enough to crank up the truck’s speakers and sing along with My Girl Friday.

Around a winding turn there was a lot of movement in the woods. Black shapes scattered at the sound of Kendrick Lamar coming too fast in a truck too old.  At first I thought it was a flock of turkeys but it turned out to be crows and the mountain’s resident pair of raven. Among that murder I saw a body surrounded by too-red blood. It looked like a dog. Whatever happened to the dog it wasn’t pleasant. The body was about 30 yards from the road. I made a note of it and decided to check it out on my back from town. He certainly wasn't going anywhere and ravens need to eat, too.

It was easy to spot on the way home. I pulled to the side of the road and left the truck running. Friday watched from the window as I made my way into a ditch and across a stream. I knew the landowners and I wasn’t worried about anything but the victim. As I splashed through calf-deep water I thanked my boots for the thousandth time and made a promise to oil them that night if I didn't fall.

I hoped it wasn’t a dog I knew. I didn't want to have to tell neighbors. When I came up to the carrion, I blew out a cheek full of air.

I'm not ashamed to say I was relieved when I saw it was a very young deer. I will always feel relief when I see a dead herbivore as a opposed to a predator, especially a larger canine. A coyote would have to come at me with a knife while I slept in my own bed to dare hurt it. I have shot mangy (literally manged) young foxed that have stolen birds in broad daylight, but never would I dare shoot a coyote. I love those song dogs. I once saw one trotting up a dirt road on this mountain in late summer. It was large as a German Shepherd and moving casually between two walls of goldenrod. When it shook out its coat I gasped at how thick it was and how it caught the sunset and turned flaxen. If Beyoncé was reincarnated as a coyote, this was her. It made me happy for about 2 weeks.

I really do love these beasts. I have laughed seeing their pups play in the middle of my road. I fall asleep smiling at their jocular yodeling. If I hear someone hunts them for sport I instantly want nothing to do with them. It's like hearing someone shoots stray cats from their porch. Coyotes are friends. Dogs are family. Wolves are sacred.

This hunt happened this morning. The blood was still bright and everywhere. If I was the set designer for a CSI-type nature show I would tell the crew to rein it in a little. Too much. It was dramatic and horrible, but the hunter in me felt some serious pride for Beyoté and her family. The canine paw prints were plenty and large. I could see each toenail on the large prints (something you never see in the rounder and far-more menacing) cat tracks. The fawn was fresh and there was no smell. It had no eyes (the crows) but other than that looked healthy and braw. It had on a good winter coat. It was around the side of a Labrador. Born to die.

The pack had taken this small whitetail, dragged it, feasted. I made note of exactly where it was. If Aya saw this from a decent soar she would leave me and land on it. What would take me half an hour to hike to would take her about 50 seconds to fly it and land on. Aya and I were also hunters on this mountain. We'd cause just as much carnage to other mammals. I nodded to the prints in respect, red and silent and perfect. I was glad I didn’t have a camera. I didn’t want to document it that way.

I’m proud of these fellow hunters. They managed what I haven’t in years on this mountain - which is hunting a deer. I also know plenty of my readers dislike coyotes, have killed them, and perhaps feel the need to share some story about poor lambs, goats, or chickens. Please don't. I’m not defending wild dogs I am sharing my feelings about them - and I’m not going to argue with anyone. You can’t argue with someone about how they feel. You can just react.

Before you do that, understand this wasn’t a campaign. It was a moment of country life I chose to share because it moved me. I hope you saw what I saw in your own mind. I hope the next time you see a coyote you see what I see in this stunning mountain pack - breathing August and vicious songs.

*Note - I have never lost an animal to a coyote. They are nervous of my farm and keep away. I have found other deer killed this way on the outskirts of it. Which is interesting since my fat sheep would be A LOT easier to kill than a healthy deer. They also don't get along well with foxes and tend to not share the same territory. Foxes have killed livestock here. Raccoons have killed the most. I am grateful for song dogs as police, crooners, and hunters.