Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Silk Sky

I was standing outside in a light snowfall tonight, and I was poorly dressed. It was 20 degrees and snowing and I was wearing a three-year-old Carhartt plaid button up and some old cargo pants. The wind hit like a slap. I knew it was temporary so I ignored it. The greatest farming advice I ever received kicked in - don't prefer to be comfortable. The door to my farmhouse was 35 feet away and I had a task to do.

I was standing in front of 1200lbs of half Belgian Draft Horse/half paint. Compared to Merlin Mabel is a giant. I was buckling Mabel’s blanket against her thick coat. I don’t know if she needs the protection, but this is my first winter keeping her and the previous owner kept her blanketed on cold nights last year, so in respect of that person and promise - I cover her. She’s so big. I’m 5’2” and 180lbs. That is the height and weight of one of her rear legs. Merlin fits me like a glove but this mare is a beast.

I would be lying if I didn't admit my fear of her. We are still new to each other, and while we have spent a lot of time in saddle and trail together - I have spent about 500% more time with the British Lad. I would put your 2-year-old on Merlin. I would advise you not to stand too close to Mabel. That's not an accusation, just familiarity. That and a thousand years of sayings about chestnut mares...

I smile as I settled her into the final snaps. I can see the moon over her back. The weather is odd - a light snowfall but misty clouds and the moon looks like it is hiding behind black silk. I pull the hair out of my eyes and adjust the last strap - she’s protected. This is a Tuesday night and I feel lucky and sharp. Before bed I have more chores to do. I will bring in the hawk to perch indoors for the night. I will make a camp bed by the wood stove beside the bird and create nests for the dogs, too. I'll start the truck in the dark, slinging luck that it encourages it to start again in the morning. I'll set all the faucets on drip to keep water moving all night. I'll pour a glass of wine and watch strangers I have no business caring so much about talk about a romance novel - that is my reward for comfortable beasts and a farm on its haunches.

It blows my mind that there are people to which an eight degree night means nothing. They just adjust the thermostat, pour out some cat food, and order take out like any other night. They might consider the weather if they are going out to meet someone for drinks or dinner, have a class or kid to pick up from practice - but basically this single digit night means a slight inconvenience - at most. Here it is an event with more preparation and presence than most Easter Sundays. My only witness is that gauzy moon, some snow, and hope for tomorrow.

I am not sure I am better off but I am happy.

Growing Up Fast!

Warm Fires, Warm Friends!

With January nearly behind me and the long stretch of February and March ahead, I am leaning into the mess that is the remainder of winter. My firewood is almost gone, but I made calls with some locals who have sold to me before and am crossing my finders. I went through an entire cord and a half in that stretch of Winter’s Bottom, running two stoves so hot I nearly burned the place down for a fortnight. Next year I’ll have four cords stacked and ready by October, I hope. Either way it's good to have goals.

But besides that things here are okay. The last few days have been mostly Ice Capades and hilarious if you could see me trying to balance on the sheet of frozen water (formerly known as Cold Antler Farm) every morning. I have those spikes for my boots, but lost one hunting with Aya in the woods and so now I am down to one. So imagine a one-legged spike-hoof farmer balancing two five gallon buckets of water uphill... Some of the falls are fast and hard. Some of the falls are long slides that seem to happen in slow motion. Once I got covered with spilled water and had to change before heading out to visit another farm, but being late due to clumsiness is nothing new.

What is new is how sore I am from starting running again this past weekend. I went seven miles in two days, nothing heroic but a shock to my 35-year-old system. The next two days my thighs were so sore from pumping up the mountain roads it hurt laying down. Glad to say that moment passed, but all weekend was a game of how pain would hit next! Fall? Stairs? Ice? Driving the truck? I promise I’m fine and while it was an uncomfortable weekend it was worth it for two days above forty degrees and to run with music in my ears. The best advice I can offer - make friends witch people who have nice hot tubs. Soaking in the heated water with sunshine on your face is the closest I get to therapy these days and it is more appreciated than I can say.

On a brighter chord; yesterday was so special! I finally got to introduce Patty Wesner (long time best friend here in Veryork) to my old neighbor in Sandgate - goat farmer/photographer Dona McAdams and her husband Brad. Brad wrote an amazing memoir about their farm called Goatsong, which I can’t recommend enough. Dona and I recently reconnected over photography and I wanted these two powerhouse women to meet. So yesterday Patty and I drove there to look at some of her amazing work in her darkroom and studio (Dona doesn’t work digital) and share an amazing meal of their farm’s cheese and preserved garden goodies. We hat melted tome on toast, stewed Italian beans, pickles, and a fresh salad. The coffee and conversation were equally strong. And all of this among the company of the farm’s two stunning black standard poodles. Good weirdo friends are hard to find. When you find some, hold on.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Exhales Joy

I open the front door and in runs two dogs and a goat kid. They were let outside after a large meal to relieve themselves outdoors (which is the rule for indoor quadrupeds, in general). The dogs ran to the overstuffed chair and daybed, but the kid ran right to the wood stove to warm up. Just a few weeks old and his routine is down. His black satin coat shimmers in the flickering firelight. The dogs, just as dark in their own fur, jump to my side and slink close to me like pacing wolves. The chair and bed are too far away from me. I'm exhausted and slump into the chair, and the dogs are by my side like Freyja's cats. The goat sees the attention and jumps into my lap to curl into a ball and sleep. The dogs allow the herbivore on my lap because they know tonight they'll be the ones sprawled on the bed while he sleeps in a pile of hay in his crate by the stove a floor below us. Politics is everything around here. The dogs know they win.

The goat is recovering from a little scare of bloat. Nothing to worry about, as I had seen in in lambs before. It's when too much grain or milk gets consumed with too much air and the belly of the beast swells like a balloon. I mixed baking soda and warm water in his bottle and he was better in 24 hours. Now he's munching on the first-cut June hay delivered from Common Sense Farm and ready for bed. I am also ready. It'll be a cold night but I am okay with it.

The house is warm and the faucets are all dripping. The mare has her blanket and Merlin has his thick coat. The sheep, goats, pigs, and birds all have warm beds of new straw and full stomachs. Everyone is tucked in and content. I am watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix, which is the television equivalent of mac n cheese and a fishbowl of red wine. This day has been exhausting and frustrating, but it ended with comfort and that's more than most have so I am grateful.

No sales today. No new luck. But I am warm and hopeful. I am excited for what could be. I don't know what is worth more than that? So this farm exhales joy, and that is plenty for the day.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Melting Muck

Things here have gone from snowy wonderland to slush palace. The farm is starting to look the way it does much of the time; in transition. And as much as my design-trained eye loves those four glorious days a year (about once per season) that make this place look like a storybook, the animals much prefer the days I cringe at. I see a house that needs power-washing and dog poo peeking out of the snow - but the animals see spring. The slightly longer days, mud, and melt brings life back to the farm. Little bugs start to flutter about and crawl on warmed bark. The chickens are out of the barn and poking around the goats' discarded hay for them. Benjen is outside more - hopping around without a shiver and bothering the adult herd (who want nothing to do with him). The pigs sunbath and sigh. The dogs love the traction their paws grip on the softer ground - no longer ice and deep powder. And the horses are happiest of all - with blankets off and sun on their backs. Mabel rolls in the snow like the world's worst snow angel maker. It might look like a tornado hit but the beasts and bold!

If you backed the writing and publishing of Birchthorn, books have begun mailing out in order of backer amount. Locals and higher-level backers have received their copies or can expect them in the mail soon. Sending out batches every two weeks. Thank you for supporting this project! It's been bittersweet, as I have learned that self-publishing is not for me. There are too many moving parts and easy mistakes and too few agents and legal help involved. I prefer to leave this to the professionals at the National Distribution level from here on out, at least for print. I may consider another ebook at some point.

Today I am taking advantage of this mild weather to go hawking with some new friends I made at the MLK Weekend Falconry Dinner. A teen falconer I helped trap with this fall is also coming along with her parents to hunt with her bird. It'll be a day of ladies on the land, hawks on their fists and chasing quarry in the slush! Not bad for a Sunday afternoon! I'm excited and have coffee and hot chicken stew ready for anyone who needs an infusion of either before the hunt!

Following up on a past post, the person who is cyberstalking the farm has not removed their sites and social media accounts after fair warning. As soon as I am able to afford the legal fees the call goes into the law firm I have consulted with to begin the restraining order process and possible lawsuit. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Flexible, Persistent, Sliding Comforts

One of the gifts this life has given me is constant resourcefulness. On mornings like this when there's a real panic about making it through the weekend and jumping over hurdles to solve problems - this crouched wolf inside me springs into decision. I think the ability to perform under pressure is key to this chosen life. Anything involving animals, agriculture, and weather demands it. It's also necessary to creative lives with auditions, deadlines, and audiences. Constant command performance without burnout is 99% of keeping an operation like a small farm going. And it's the same for a small theater, or a road comic, or a writer receiving rejection after rejection after rejection. It's about keeping what you have while moving towards a goal at a glacial pace. The show must go on.

There's a problem. Okay. Well, Jenna, you can keep pacing around a cold farm house or you can get some coffee, spark a fire, write out a plan, make some calls, and fix it. I do let myself pace a little - then I get to work. This morning was just the case. I made some calls and figured out what I could do right away and even if those things don't work out - there is action in place to start working towards a solution. Sometimes trying is enough to begin change.

That's the biggest secret I can share with you about continuing in tough times while working towards a dream- stay flexible, persistent, and keep comfort on a sliding scale of preference. What I mean by that is know that some options aren't ideal - but can carry you through. Let me explain:

Be okay with being flexible on accepting solutions. Maybe you don't want a rubber raft to float you across the river. Maybe you prefer a nice wooden boat? Well don't wait for a wooden boat when someone offers to loan you a raft right now. Get across, return the raft with gratitude, and keep moving in the direction of your destination. Waiting for the perfect boat to be prepared so you have assurance of security is what stops people dead from following a risky dream. Why cross the water if it isn't safe? The only anwser is because waiting is more painful than that risk to some of us. Govern yourself accordingly.

I've been at this farm eight years come May. It has been rare that the mortgage was current, bills are all caught up, and the place is financially thriving. But I am still here because deep inside me I believe this place will succeed as long as I keep working, growing, learning, and sharing about that story to make it. I do not believe that struggling to keep water running and lights on is my permanent status. That doesn't feel real. Even if it it my current life there is no service to me or the farm in believing it can fail. My optimism and passion for this life is the battery. If that battery dies this place will crumble. I didn't work this hard and long to let that happen. Stay charged.

The last is the most important, at least to this specific life. Comfort needs to be a sliding scale. If I called it quits whenever things weren't perfect here - like hot water being off for months, or plumbing out for a while, or heat or cooling not ideal - I would have thrown in the towel years ago.  Learn to not prefer comfort the way you prefer not to eat fish or wear orange. If eating fish and wearing orange won't kill you - even if you strongly dislike the experience - shut up and deal with it. Sometimes you'll be cold. So be cold. Put on a sweater, run around, sit by the fire and dream of July. Discomfort is temporary as comfort is so I accept it as rare and seasonal. If I want to work from home, have these animals, have this life of hawks and horses and rivers and trails - it means wool hats and a 47° morning in your January living room. It means solar showers some summer days instead of indoor ones. It means eating out of your food stores you bought ahead instead of joining your friends who want to meet up for dinner at a restaurant. It means constantly being aware that I am lucky for this life I chose. I am never a victim of it. I am a fighter protecting it.

During tough times that is how I get through. I needed to write that for myself this morning. Wolf up and start your day.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Needs for Restraint

This morning I woke up to a snow-covered fairy tale of a farm.  I looked out the window and watched the silent flakes fall against the cold glass and hugged my dogs close. I set coffee on the stove, got dressed, and started morning chores. I lit the fires in both the wood stove and my rib cage to get the work done that needs doing.

Besides the animals’ breakfasts - there are freelance clients to work on, errands in town, articles to pitch, book proposals to sell - the life I made here is half creative and half body; a perfect combination that gets me outside, moves my bones, gets sunshine on my face, and gives me a way to express myself and feel useful and needed by others - even if it is just a tail-wagging goat kid that screams for his morning milk.  I am content here, and love this life. And that is what I need to realize when this place is attacked online...

Since this blog began it has had critics. That is nothing new and part of being a public figure. But recently a site has gone too far - moving into the realm of cyberstalking and harassment under New York State Law. This is taken seriously up here, since in the past New York has had slanderous websites and blogs end up in murders, life sentences, restraining orders, and suicides.

In recent months an obsessed person has followed my every move online. I can not use any social media without her watching or commenting under several usernames and accounts. In some cases (twitter, reddit) even creating accounts for the sole purpose of defaming me. She doesn’t only discuss the farm, animals, and my writing - she discusses my dating life, appearance, weight, sexuality, friends, family, and finances. She knows the brand of jeans I wear, shampoo I use, and what my keychains say. This person has not kept her stalking activity online either. She has reported me to my local Police and DEC sending officers to my front door. Her website admits to doing this.

She stalks me in online places that have nothing to do with my books or farm - like those in my religious community. Responding to my posts about my faith with links to her website or accusations. Hating me has become her favorite pastime. A reader sent me a screenshot of them conversing in the comments section stating they can't wait to see my "justice unfold."


People like this assume that making anonymous accounts to accuse public people are protected by their anonymity. That is not the case. Yesterday this page and the person were reported to both the NY State Police and the FBI. Since she resides in another state, it has reached the level of Federal involvement. I will continue to make these reports as long as these pages exist online. Reports warrant a federal investigation and at the very least - a restraining order from me and possibly suit for damages as well.

By the way, these are not anonymous restraining orders/suits. It will be public information that you have spent your time online dangerously obsessing over a woman with intent to hurt her and have been legally forced to stop. I will publish your name and why the restraining order exists.

This type of recourse for authors has legal precedent, and I have contacted a lawyer and spoke to him at length today. He specializes in such cases just like this in NY State. He assures me we have all the information necessary to move forward. I am not taking this anymore. If this site and ones like it remain up, prepare to be served.

I ask that you readers join me in reporting this site and ones like it to Blogger, Facebook, and Twitter as harassment. If these people want to hate me under alias they can do so spaces created for that kind of vile activity - like GOMI. But creating your own website, comments, emails, accusations, false reports to law enforcement, multi-platform stalking, and lifestyle obsession is not what a normal person does. This has gone from snark into abuse and harassment and will not be tolerated any longer. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Get Art! Support Cold Antler!

Hey Readers! If you want to support the farm and get a really cool gift in the process, I am running a sale on illustration gift certificates! You buy now and get a pdf emailed you can print or forward as a gift! This sale is for artwork started in March. Email me then to redeem for a full color, 9x12" hand drawn, inked, and painted pet portrait for $50!!!

Discount if you buy multiples.  Free shipping anywhere in the world! Get a great gift and help keep this farm going!

Email dogsinourparks@gmail.com

House Goat

I woke up to a rooster crowing about twenty feet from my face. Falkor, the Silkie Rooster, was brought in last night because he got his feathers too wet in the stream and was dragging icicles on the ground around his underside. I set him in a cage across the room from the foodstove on clean hay. He closed his eyes and went to sleep, tired from a day of Chickening. I was glad to have him inside to defrost.

He was on top of the Livestock Winter Quarters inside the house. His cage was resting above the hay-lined crate Benjen the Nubian kid was fast asleep in - ignoring the crows of Falkor the way I ignore gentle rain. Beside him was the rabbit who is here on loan. The dogs didn't seem to mind the crowing either and were tucked around me on the daybed, all of us sleeping near the stove on this -6 degree morning. Falkor (now dry and ready to head outside to his ladies) bellowed again and I was up.

When Benjen sees me and the dogs rise he starts to bleat (an improvement from screaming). His little sounds are kind and I let him out of the cage to run around. He wants his milk and so I set some on the stove to warm up while I take care of relighting the wood stove, feeding the yowling cats, and letting the dogs outside to relieve themselves. He is getting very good and kick flipping off the furniture. It's a sight to behold.

The house is a crisp 50° and while it isn't toasty, it's warm compared to mornings at The Bottom. I kept the sinks dripping steady and so far nothing seemed frozen so I set coffee to perk and started my day.

Chores were next. I carried water in buckets to refresh all the animals' stations. Hay delivered to all (even pigs like to chomp on a little hay), grain in bags, and eggs not collected (Chickens are on their winter production holiday). The truck started this morning and coffee is moments away so I am glad. I'm still riding the high from yesterday. Wait till you hear about this hunt!

While out hunting rabbits with Aya Cash she flew away - hundreds of yards across a marsh and we all thought she was lost. It was a group hunt with the Falconry Meet and she had been flying free for an hour or so and had two slips. She was probably running out of gas and the weather was frigid. While not paying attention to the ground and looking for her in the air I slipped (thigh-deep!) into an icy stream. My feet went painlessly numb and I kept hiking through the snow towards her. I ended up calling her with a rabbit-fur lure and she flew back to me from across the wilderness. I wish I could explain that feeling better - how it fills a body so cold it is literally numb and replaces it warmth and excitement - to see a wild animal trust you enough to come home. If I get through my work list we'll go hunting again today. If we're unlucky I have a rat defrosting for her regardless. No hawk goes hungry in this home!

I feed Benjen his bottle and take him outside to pee. He joins me and the dogs running in the snow while I carry in firewood. It's impossible not to smile at his floppy ears and warm face. Soon as we are back inside he runs right to his favorite spot: in front of the stove. His shiny black coat reflects the kiss of flames behind the safety glass. He closes his eyes and I am in love with this farm all over again.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Come Fly The Friendly Skies

This weekend is the 4th Annual Martin Luther King Jr Falconry Meet here in Washington County. It's a wonderful excuse for local falconers (and people interested in falconry) to get together for a few days to hunt, hike, and learn from each other. We share stories, meals, and toasts with full mugs. We talk about the raptors we so enjoy having as part of our lives and encourage others to come into the feathered fold. It's a magical tradition in our sport and I wish I could attend more of these meets. They happen all over the country (I bet there is one or two happening near you this winter!) Yet as a single farmer the idea of leaving for a half day is near impossible much less a long weekend. So I don't travel to any sort of event - bird, book, or vacation-related. But this event is ran by my sponsor, Leigh Foster, and takes place right in my own backyard. I attend the hell out of it!

Yesterday was the kick off. Leigh, Jeremy (friend and neighbor), and myself got to offer an in-studio interview (with birds!) at our local NPR station. Albany feels like a bursting metropolis to me. Walking through the city streets into the radio station (With hawks!) felt like an album cover. You can listen to us in the link above. My radio voice is too fast, but excited!

Because of that interview we got to meet so many new people last night at the local brewery. People who are raising eyebrows of interest at the sport are coming out on these cold nights to meet falconers and ask questions. This is a dream come true for me, for all of us at this event. We want people to know about what we do as falconers and how to get involved. We want misconceptions about the sport, these animals, and hunting out the door. The only way to do that is talking to people.

Last night we (falconers) were talking about how if it wasn't for meeting someone that showed us it was a possibility to make falconry a part of our everyday life - none of us would have even considered pursuing it. My friend James saw a falconry show (by chance) at a mall as a kid. I went to a class as a resort in VT while on a job interview. These were random acts that lead us to an amazing journey most people believe only exists in storybooks. And last night so many children got to learn about our sport, meet us and the birds up close, and get inspired!

I hope if you're local and interested in this sport you reach out to me, or one of us, and find your way. Come fly the friendly skies!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Fallout of The Bottom

Dan the Plumber is here at the farm today. We're trying to get water back into the house. I'm checking in here quick since he just ran into town for parts. It's been two hours so far and while one of the four busted pipes has been repaired, we have more to go. Their position in the wall is tricky. I am really hoping that we can at least get water into the kitchen faucet. It's stressful and frustrating. I didn't realize the damage was this bad but I guess I should be grateful that a repairman is here and the water heater/furnace are okay. It could have been a lot worse. And it sounds like it was for a lot of people around here based on the stories he was telling me. At least I knew how to shut off water to my house when it came pouring out of the walls...

I am happy to report the weather is practically tropical right now. It's almost 50° which is a SEVENTY DEGREE difference from just a few mornings ago. I didn't even start a fire this morning! This flush of warm weather is why we are able to get into the now-thawed pipes. The mare is running around without a blanket and Merlin is rolling in the snow. The sheep are feisty and active. The chickens have finally braved outside the safety of the barn and are walking around the snow-packed paths my chores and dog paws have made. It feels less like a survival camp on the side of Everest and more like a farm again.

I found this photo from last winter this morning. Sal, a favorite sheep of mine, is now passed away. That hurts my heart but what mends it is knowing big paint mare would be in this shot if it was taken this AM. That is the song and verse of a small farm. It changes, animals come in and out of it, and you the farmer take the lessons and stories from all and try to make the place better every year. I miss that kind sheep but I also adore that new horse. I was lucky to have him in my life and to have found her.

Okay, Dan is back and we are going to try and fix this. Wish us luck!

UPDATE: Shortly after Dan got back we got the water working again! At least to the toilet/sinks. The pipes not yet repaired were capped off to be done at a later date. I am so so so glad to have it back!

And if you ever want to pitch in for hay/feed/plumbing or just general morale support or writing contribution you can do so at: https://www.paypal.me/JennaCAF If you don't, that's fine too.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Bottom's Up!

The regular temperatures are back and I am relieved in ways no orchestral soundtrack could understand. Mid morning I was out carrying in firewood and felt the sun on my back, filling up the threads of my long-sleeve dark tee shirt and understood why my horses just stand in the sunlight for hours. It almost felt too warm for long sleeves, which is a crazy thing to think on a 34° day but there you have it.

This morning the plumber came by and cut open some pipes and assessed the damage. Most are frozen, one is burst behind the wall. I have till Friday to defrost the pipes and then he is going to cut into the wall and see what needs to be done. The goal is to at least get water back into the kitchen for cooking/dishes/washing and worry about the shower/washing machine later. I'll be thrilled to have a working faucet indoors again.

Some good news! The water heater in the basement defrosted! The little space heater down there did the trick and even though that basement is dark and has stone walls it felt as good as the sunshine to realize it was okay. I'll take whatever one-less-thing-to-worry-about that's offered.

The emails, notes, letters in the mail, and packages have been so encouraging! Thank you for taking the time to write in. I am doing my best to reply and thank everyone I can.

Photo by Miriam Romais

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Day Twelve Update: Ruined Water

I think I really messed up. When I had the burst pipe I shut the water off to the house and made sure all the of pipes were as empty as possible. Someone online told me that if my water was shut off I should turn off my furnace if that is what heats the water, and so I did.(I assume everyone out there with an opinion on home water repairs knows more than I do.) But now the hot water tank is frozen in the basement and gods know how many pipes are frozen around it.

Having the water heater broken/cracked will be impossible to replace anytime soon. I was trying to just figure out the burst pipe I didn't think the basement, underground and insulated, would also freeze. I didn't think about it at all with everything else going on.

I was up all night keeping the fires going. I am exhausted from double and triple checking everything here. I'm afraid if I fall asleep for too long and the chickens' water bowl freezes or the horse tank runs low and water and some police officer shows up I'll be in trouble or have my animals taken away. So I am outside all the time now, and carrying in as much wood as I can manage along the way. Realizing what would be a minor repair is now possibly a huge home repair is too much. I'm having a good cry about it and I'll go on from there. I need to see if the truck will start (wouldn't this morning but it was very very cold).

I was so happy this morning thinking I had beat this cold streak. That mostly all of us came through it. Now I realize I may have ruined way more than the cold could along. I called a plumber to ask for advice and was told to set up a heater in the basement so I set up a small space heater a few feet from the water tank and will check it every few hours to see if anything is expanding/broken.

I am so tired. Taking a deep breath or twenty. One day at a time.

Day Twelve of Winter's Bottom

Good Morning from a -20° Cold Antler Farm! Coffee is on, fires are lit, and I am so happy to report that all the animals are fine and made it through Winter's Bottom's worst night. The sheep (even my eldest ewe, Brick) and the goats (old Bonita) are okay. The horses were standing waiting for hay at their usual spot this morning. The chickens, pigs, poultry all pulled through and so did I. I didn't sleep much in the night and kept the fires roaring but the house is still only around 45°. Sounds cold, I know, but that is 65° warmer than the temperature outside!

To review since this Bottom started I nearly burned down my house with a chimney fire, had the pipes burst and stop all running water into the house, adopted a baby goat, sailed through firewood like paper through a shredder, had state police inspect me and got through a -20° night and we made it through it all. Ice and fire and now it is time for coffee and naps. Now I can focus on repairing the pipes, the truck, and getting things back to normal around here.

8AM Stats
Outdoor Temp: -19° F
Tonight's Low: 11F
Indoor Temp: 46° F
Truck: Haven't tried her yet
Pipes: Burst. Water shut off.
Toilet Bowl Water: Flushing with bucket, tank empty.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Day Eleven Update: State Police

Someone complained to the NY State Police that my animals were in bad care and should be inspected in this cold. How do I know this? Because an officer just showed up here, unannounced, and told me. He said so from my front door while gesturing to the woolly sheep and the blanketed mare eating hay behind a near fence. "They seem okay to me," was his response after explaining the complaints. Merlin kicked up snow and ran up the hill in a pony explosion of energy. I explained that he was never blanketed because of his thick coat but the mare was, as this was her first winter here and she's new. He nodded. He seemed to realize this wasn't the a bad place to be livestock.

He didn't ask me to but I walked him around the farm anyway. I showed him the horses and the sheep, the barn full of chickens and goats, the water stations and defrosters in the tanks. He apologized for taking up my time and said all was fine and they probably wouldn't drop by again without calling. I am sure they are used to people complaining about public figures (several farming authors live around here) and petty vendettas between locals. They have more important things to do.

It still has me so angry and feeling violated. Imagine if people called the police on you because you shared your story online? I have enough to deal with this weekend, and plenty to worry about besides drop in visits from the police. This all happened as I was inside making soap, pouring it into molds, and planning chicken stew for a late night dinner as I plan on staying up with the farm.

Listen, just because I share my worries on here about the animals doesn't mean they are not well cared for. My worry is about the weather and things I can't change or guard against - not their level of general welfare. You're not a bad shepherd if you're worried about freak lightning during a thunderstorm. You're not a bad parent if your in-laws stop by the day before grocery shopping and all that's in the fridge is take out, milk, and leftovers. But YOU ARE a bad writer if you hold back your feelings and concerns because of what other people think. I write exactly what I feel and that candor and vulnerability shouldn't feel censored by anonymous phone calls. That is how I feel right now. Like being honest is being punished. Like sharing what happens here is welcoming trouble.

I am heading outside to carry in firewood till I'm not so livid. Should take quite the stack...

Day Eleven of Winter's Bottom

When I stepped outside this morning there was a dead chicken laying in the driveway, frozen solid. It was one of the younger jungle fowl birds, the ones that never go indoors and roost in the trees no matter the weather. Her friends were all okay, resting on sheep's backs with warm feet being insulated by wool, but here this one didn't make it. The cold was too long, too much for her. I sighed and set her on the back bed of the snow-filled pickup truck. I spent the rest of morning chores worried I'd come across my elder goat, Bonita in the same state. Or that Merlin would be down in some far stretch of field. Luckily everyone else on the farm made it through the penultimate night.

Tonight is the worst of it. I am most worried about the horses - even with their thick coat and blankets, wind breaks and shelter - it's just so cold. I know horses live all over America in far harsher climates, and that right now in parts of the Midwest there are ponies that laugh and play in -30° weather - but it isn't a contest of statistics - it is about what every animal is used to.

Mabel and Merlin seemed okay this morning, no different than any other morning be it summer or Winter's Bottom. I will be doing my best to get them and the rest of the animals through tonight without any more loss. I am sorry about that young hen but am glad the other chickens in the barn, Eglu and house are okay. I'm glad the four goats, four pigs, and seven sheep are healthy as can be. I'm proud of the dogs, the cats, the horses, and the geese (are geese indestructible?!) and the hawk warm on her perch above me as I type.

May we get through this and focus on repairs and the other half of winter.  May all of you be safe as well, and keep Cold Antler in your thoughts tonight. We can use all the good vibes you can offer.

8AM Stats
Outdoor Temp: -5° F
Tonight's Low: -20F
(-31° F with windchill factor)
Indoor Temp: 47° F
Truck: Started this AM
Pipes: Burst. Water shut off.
Toilet Bowl Water: Flushing with bucket, tank empty.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Day Ten of Winter's Bottom

Yesterday and today have been all about preparing for tonight and tomorrow. Record lows are sweeping in with a windchill making the temperature here as low as -30° tomorrow night. That is scary. And while unloading hay and a new delivery of firewood earlier this afternoon I was talking with two local farmers who told me they have never experienced this length of sustained cold, not since their childhoods. If I already wrote that to you guys, sorry, my brain is freezing.

Part of me is relieved the pipes have already burst and the furnace is shut off. The plumber still hasn't made his way here and I assume it's because there's nothing to be done about any of this disaster 'til the world thaws. And my mind was distracted from home repairs because I had enough to do with roof raking, preparing for the cold, shoveling snow, loading firewood, bottle feeding the goat, illustration/design clients and keeping the house warm. I did get out for half an hour to snowshoe through the forest behind the farm to look at the animal tracks. I wanted to associate some of this stretch with more pleasant memories. Tonight I am feeling very tired, since all day has been constant activity with the fresh dumping of 10 inches on this farm. Everything takes longer when you need to shovel paths to find your barn doors or hay piles. I hope you are all warm and I hope we make it through this killer cold okay. Thank you for checking in. If you have any questions or concerns feel free to contact me on email, Instagram, or Twitter!

6PM Stats
Outdoor Temp: 3° F
Tonight's Low: -11° F
Indoor Temp: 59° F
Truck: Drove into town!
Pipes: Burst. Water shut off.
Toilet Bowl Water: Flushing with bucket, tank empty.

And if you want to pitch in for hay/feed/plumbing or just general morale support you can do so at: https://www.paypal.me/JennaCAF If you don't, that's fine too. I'll be updating here through the worst of this winter weather daily.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Day Eight of Winter's Bottom

Today felt like a tiny vacation from Winter's Bottom. The bank thermometer in town said 30° and while I think it was a little high, it was amazing to be out in the sun and not need a face mask to stop my lungs from hurting.

The plumber still hasn't made it here for an evaluation and while I wait to hear the damage of repairs, I have not only shut off the water into the house but the furnace that heats it. I am hoping that the empty pipes and dormant hot water heater will ride through this coming weekend's record lows better. Saturday night is supposed to hit -20°F. There is no sense hiring someone to come before then to do copper pipe welding just to have them burst again. So I am carrying in buckets for dishes, cooking, and washing sponge-bath style. Today I cleaned up myself, the house, and did a load of laundry at the mat in town and just having clean socks, sheets, and hair made the morale in this house sky rocket.

Speaking of which: I can't thank you enough, those of you who sent words of encouragement, or contributions, kind words, or advice on Twitter.  It's just me here and most of the time this blog feels like writing into the wind so hearing back from you feels like someone out there cares, and knows what is happening, and checks in on me. It means so much.

Snow in the forecast tomorrow, another storm. I have ordered more firewood and hope what I have lasts. I can't believe how fast I am running through it.

 On a farm note: I am worried Rocco - the yearling Alpine buck here is too short to service my does and there might not be kids and milk here from Bonita and Ida in the spring. I have personally assisted in several attempts at breeding Ida and unless he was on a substantial incline piece of ground he couldn't "connect" so to speak. Let's hope at least one of the tries made it. Though Benjen the Nubian Kid is making Winter's Bottom so much more enjoyable. No matter what his bottle schedule, bleats, and companionship make the days brighter.

Also, I really am grateful to be back to daily blogging.  

9AM Stats
Outdoor Temp: 7° F
Tonight's Low: 11° F
Indoor Temp: 50° F
Truck: Starts!
Pipes: Burst. No water to house.
Toilet Bowl Water: Flushing with bucket

5PM Stats
Outdoor Temp: 22° F
Tonight's Low: 10° F
Indoor Temp: 58° F
Truck: Drove into town!
Pipes: Burst. Water shut off.
Toilet Bowl Water: Flushing with bucket, tank empty.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Day Seven of The Bottom

In April of 1815 something happened on a mountain in the East Indies that caused a bit of a fuss. Mount Tambora erupted. It was the biggest event of its kind in over a thousand years. It shot enough smoke and sulfur into the air that the climate couldn't digest it. The sky went dark and dirty low clouds sunk across the landscape like tired ghosts. What little sunlight got through wasn't strong enough to grow crops or let animals know when to breed or lay eggs. And it all happened on one day, in one place, and made ripples that changed the world.

The darkness moved across the globe like a plague. By spring of 1816 something called a “dry fog” was floating across the Eastern United States, right where Cold Antler resides. It was so dark during the day that sunspots could be seen from earth. Do you know what that means? It means there was such a thick fog of pollution you could look directly at the sun and see it blazing with its own eruptions with your naked eye. People were terrified, certain it was the End Times the bible had predicted. And then things got worse.

It was called The Year Without a Summer. The name fit because frost covered New England fields through all of May. Nothing would grow and it SNOWED on June 16th. Frosts continued through July and August. Nothing was able to be produced that year, livestock died from the lack of fodder, and many people starved. This was 1816 after all. You ate what your community produced or could afford to buy in. Farmers left for the Midwest in droves, hoping it would be better. Only those with heavy larders and deep pockets survived. The rest died or fled.

It wasn’t just North America that was affected. While it was snowing that summer in Veryork people in Europe were also experiencing insane weather thanks to the volcano. It was cold, rainy, and otherwise well-off people in southern Britain were begging in the streets. Germany had record spikes in food prices. Rivers turned to ice. Panic was the new normal as people accepted summer wasn't returning and amidst all this chaos some writers thought it would be a good time to get away from the cities. They gathered on Lake Geneva (near the Swiss/French border) to ride out the cold, rainy, summer on a cold, rainy, lake.Writers are the worst.

A man named Percy brought his mistress (at the time) with him to the house he was sharing with his writer friends. Her name was Mary. She was so bored, so dishearten by the awful doomsday summer she suggested a scary story writing contest. There she wrote a book you may have heard of; Frankenstein. And Science Fiction, an entire genre, was born because of a volcano and a lot of dead farmers, cows, and wildlife. 

It all makes a burst pipe seem like a lot less of a big deal...

That’s why I’m sharing this story. Sometimes horrible things happen when Mother Nature gets pissed off and you don't know the reason until farther down the road. Right now all this winter is to me is something to survive, something to just get through. This house is cold, the fires are fighting, the plumbing is shot, and I have a bucket of water near my toilet so I can refill the tank to flush. It sucks, but at least no super volcanoes erupted last April to black out our sun!

A gal's gotta take whatever silver linings she can gather, folks.

I have food. I have water. I have sunlight, friends, and zero need to call for a scary story contest to become the figure head of a literary genre. It's a relief. I am mostly excited just to see this coming Monday when temperatures might rise above freezing for the first time since December 22nd. And I was able to order more firewood from Common Sense Farm, drive the truck to the IGA for water, and right now I'm dry with a roof over my head. If the world could get through that savage year and end up with Science Fiction - I can get my plumbing repaired and keep a blog going. I'm okay. I know when the plumber comes later this week he won't shake his head and tell me "It's world-wide famine" - It's just a burst pipe and the well is sound.

This is nearly the 200th anniversary of The Year Without a Summer and Frankenstein. Read the original again and picture Mary writing in while having an affair at a French lake house during a summer when most people thought the world was ending. You might appreciate it a little more. Or at least it will make this winter a little more tolerable?

Monday, January 1, 2018

A Pipe Exploded

A pipe exploded in the wall. It shot water out of a hole in the drywall all over the mudroom. It covered the mess of mud and melting ice from the groundwater spring and chips of wood from tending the fire. It felt like turbulence - the drop in my stomach when I saw it. I didn't know what else to do so I ran to the basement and shut off all water into the house. That stopped the water from shooting out. I called the plumber who helped me out this summer, a friend of a friend. He said he could come by over the next couple of days. Which means I have no water for anything from the toilet to drinking. So tomorrow I will (if the truck runs) get into town for a few days supply. Get a bucket for the bathroom for flushing. And hire this man to saw into the wall and repair the damage done. I have no idea what that will run or what is going to break next but I really, really, really want this cold to stop. It hasn't been above freezing since December 22nd.

Day Six Update

This afternoon the truck started again! It took 48+ hours on a trickle charger but she started in 5° weather! The good news is I can probably drive her to the shop for her new brake lines/coolant leak repairs instead of paying for a tow. I am on the hunt for firewood that is dry and fits my small stoves and tonight I am just happy that more good happened today than bad.

6PM Stats
Outdoor Temp: -5° F
Tonight's Low: -3° F
Indoor Temp: 61° F
Truck: RUNNING!!
Pipes: 1 of 4 thawed.
Toilet Bowl Water: liquid/needs tank filled to flush

And if you want to pitch in for hay/feed/plumbing or just general morale support you can do so at: https://www.paypal.me/JennaCAF If you don't, that's fine too. I'll be updating here through the worst of this winter weather daily.

Day Six of the Bottom

Last night I fell asleep in a 60° home by a roaring fire. I didn't stay up for Midnight, but I did have a Guinness and a goat in my lap. The little guy is healthy and eating well from the bottle. He was dropped off with a gallon of milk, bottle, towel and his voice. Nubians are famously vocal goats and he's no exception. He was quiet as a mouse until around 2 in the morning when the screaming started. His screams (which sound so much like a piglet I might name him Wilbur)set off the rooster, Chase. So when I was supposed to be in deep sleep I was listening to a goat in a dog crate and a rooster in a cage holler. I woke up around 4AM to feed him and check the water/stoves and all seemed well. The house was colder as we slunk into the deep freeze of the night - but at least the fires were lit and the kid had warm milk in his belly.

I woke up to a different situation. The house was cold enough to see my breathe and the cats had figured out how to remove the plastic window from the top of the chick brooder and ate every chick trying to hatch from their eggs. They also killed the smaller chicks in the living room, including a baby Silkie Bantam I was nursing from a rough hatch. I was livid at the cats and wouldn't look at them, just stared at their full bowl of kibble with glowing eyes.

All the pipes froze. The ground water created a tiny iceberg behind the washing machine that will spill everywhere as the room heats up. As the house woke up the kid started screaming, rooster crowing, and I realized I had no way to make a fresh pot of coffee. In all the events of yesterday I didn't think to do the dishes and prep the pot the night before - failing at my own advice. Friday and Gibson had to be separated since she's in heat and so I had one dog crying to be let out of a crate, a goat screaming like a pig, a rooster crowing (now just walking around the mudroom because to hell with everything) and no coffee.

The good news is this. I just put my head down and got to work. I added water from the tea kettle to the percolator and made a half pot of coffee with old grounds. I put in earbuds and listened to an encouraging podcast while I cleaned out old ash in the stoves, lit fires, carried in wood, checked on the farm (all outdoor animals are okay save for one old hen that passed in the night), did morning chores outside, tended to the hawk and goat kid, and slowly got my life back together. It's 10AM and so far one line of the four water lines is thawed - the kitchen hot water. I filled containers, topped off dog bowls, did the dishes and made a fresh pot of coffee.

Right now I am writing this just to feel like I am doing something else. And because sharing the story of Winter's Bottom helps me feel less alone in it. I so look forward to sunshine, a working truck,  and rising temps indoors.

10AM Stats
Outdoor Temp: -7° F
Tonight's Low: -3° F
Indoor Temp: 46° F
Truck: Still won't start
Pipes: One line thawed
Toilet Bowl Water: Frozen/not flushing