Thursday, August 30, 2018

August Fading

Storms all last night and into this morning and August is almost gone. I gotta give her credit though, this summer is leaving us with a bang! Humid and highs in the nineties the last two days making work hot and sweaty and the river heavenly. Yesterday I got as much done as possible in the early hours and then spent a glorious 45 minutes swimming and floating down the Battenkill. Being a weekday it wasn't very crowded but there were still a lot of people looking for refuge from the heat. The water was clear and cool. The air was heavy but not burdensome. And all the while I was a little comforted and grateful for the late heat wave. It made me feel better about not having the firewood in yet. It made the wood stove sitting in pieces in my living room a little less urgent. It made me believe in a little more time. Because time is what slings luck your way. It's what gives you the chance to be resourceful, figure things out, get an idea, find inspiration, or in yesterday's case: float.

I don't know if I'll reach my goals of mailing a mortgage payment and getting firewood in by the end of this month. I only have two days and am only have way there in savings. But I do know that there is no reason to stop trying and I've pulled out of much deeper holes. So today on the farm, now sweaty and writing you post-chores and morning rain - I am here to offer pork and soap, logos and drawings, classes and speaking, books and downloads. Maybe one of you will email me today and inquire about coming this fall to play the fiddle or shoot a bow.

The farm is doing so well, regardless of my own anxieties. The lambs are plump and since the other sheep are gone to Moxie Ridge - all my shepherding attention is on them. Gibson and Friday keep them in line and the horses tolerate them just fine. The piglets are twice the size they were in July and soon will be moving out of the barn and into the woods or the goat's old pen. I haven't decided. The barn may be a better home for them with winters like we have here?

Today I have hay being delivered to be stored in the barn and a long list of outdoor and indoor tasks. Mundane things like fence repair, laundry, and scrubbing down the hawk house. But also illustrating a cow for a customer and working on a logo restaurants logo. I am so glad for a day that lets me use my artistic and physical self. I need to remind myself always that is why I am here. That is why this blog and farm has lasted a decade. That's why I've become who I am proud of being today.

In other news I am back into the fun and effort of writing this little romance novel, which I plan to self publish. It's a distraction and a challenge - and something I have never done before. It's vulnerable and exciting and I'm really trying to work out the story.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Gotta Move This Pork!

The piglets are here and thriving! Doing well and I have sold all but a half share of what I have planned to raise for CSA. I am trying like mad to move this last half pig to help out the farm. I gotta sell the share fast and happy to make a hell of a deal!

If you are interested in getting some pork send me a note! Email me here!

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Offline

The internet was out for a few days, a problem with Verizon and a couple hundred rural customers. It meant checking emails and trying to make sales while using public Wi-Fi at the laundromat (though I did get a lot of laundry done!) or at friends' homes. I didn't really mind it until evening when being alone in a farmhouse without audiobooks, movies, or TV shows streaming felt lonesome and there was nothing to distract me from end-of-the-day anxieties. Same for getting up in the middle of the night. It would be 3AM and there was no twitter to check and laugh at the friends and comedians I follow. For someone who prides herself on living alone on a farm and considers herself somewhat misanthropic at times - it was a kind reminder how much I love hearing other people talk. How much I want to connect with people - even online. It's back and I'm balmed. But I did make sure to spend a healthy time offline today.

This morning started with a ride with Merlin and what I lovingly call the Trash Saddle. It's a comfortable Collegiate saddle someone had thrown into the community potluck area of the dump. A space for space heaters, old claw-foot tubs, vacuums that kind of work, and old siding or building materials. I scooped it up and cleaned and polished it. I added leathers and stirrups. I got a girth that fit it. Now it's my favorite English saddle and today I rode Merlin in it at a walk, trot, and canter feeling comfortable as can be. A win for this Saturday.

The afternoon was dedicated to a hike at Folded Rock, a tough five-mile round trip to the lookout and back. I hated this trail the first time I did it, then adored it at the lookout. I went back with a friend and shared the struggle and view and today I went alone (no dog or friend) to see how fast I could ascend the 1200ft ascent in half a mile. It was tough, but I did it faster than before and instead of talking to dogs or people I just focused on music the whole way up. My arms were glistening, my back was soaked, and my entire 3liter water supply was GONE by the time I made it back to the truck on the humid day. Between the ride and Folded Rock I was beat. I came home and read in the hammock under the King Maple and took a nap.

A perfect Saturday. Ride, hike, read, nap. And now I'm checking in with you. I have my hawk inside tonight to start hunting season training which means right now she is sitting on a perch indoors around human and dog smells and sounds. Later she'll watch a whole movie on my fist, getting used to the hood and being touched again. Every fall she has to be reminded of that first training period back when she was first trapped and trained. Summer has her fat and wild. Time to start slowly dropping weight, getting used to me, flying to the fist, and then hunting by October! It's been a bumper crop year for cottontails so I am excited!

Some updates on the farm: 

 The breeding flock and goats are gone, as you all know. Right now the summer lambs, piglets, and egg/meat chickens are the bulk of the income from the farm right now. There are also my gardens, the geese, the riding horses and the hawk but the production side of things this coming fall and next spring will be raising off-farm reared animals seasonally. I am okay with the decision. Morning chores are already so much faster. I am using so much less hay and grain. It feels like the right choice though I do miss the flock and herd. I will breed sheep and goats again, just not this coming season.

My wood stove is opened up and cleaned out and being taken apart for cleaning and repairs. I bought the flue piece but I can't figure out how to install it. But while I failed at that I did get the gasket rope redone, cleaned the glass, and started scrubbing the rust off with steel wool to prep it for some repainting of stove paint. It's not ready to use yet but it is getting the necessary repairs in time, I hope!

Still no firewood in but I am optimistic. I have placed an order I just need to get the funds to pay for it and have it delivered. But before I do I need to get a mortgage payment out so I am promoting soaps, logos, illustrations, and classes like nuts on Twitter (my largest social media presence). I can say I am 3/4ths of the way there. I may not make it by the end of the month but even if I get close I'll be okay. I just don't want to see leaves changing colors and nights dropping into the thirties without heat, at least some, set up and ready for a cold night. It's less about comfort than it is about anxiety.

 





Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Autumn Is Calling

Proud to share this simple farm meal and to boast a bit. The buttercup squash, sweet sausage, and apples in this easy recipe all came from this farm! To be totally honest, I thought these four plants I bought at the farm stand were "butternut" not buttercup - but found this early winter squash easy to grow! They are a squatty pumpkin shape with a rich meat that is a lot like a butternut - but farmers around here assure me they don't keep as long so enjoy them as they ripen! Which is what I did today.

I halved the squash and scooped out the seeds (set aside for the piglets). Then I diced up some of the squash meat making a bowl to contain those cut pieces and some apples from the trees outside. I had pre-cooked sweet sausage in the fridge and put all the diced fruit, veg, and meat in a bowl. I then melted some butter (third a stick or so) in a small pan and added cinnamon and sugar, as if I was going to brush a pie crust. But I drizzled it all over the squash filling and then set it in the gourd to bake in itself for half an hour or so at 400°.

It was a lovely meal! Took moments and used fresh gifts from the farm as they were ready. Easy to make a vegetarian meal as well. Will certainly be making this at least once a week while the squash calls!

Ten Days!

Okay guys! I have ten days to mail a mortgage payment, get a cord of firewood stacked, and feel solid going into September. If you ever thought about supporting CAF now is a great time to do so! Sales on logos, soap, pork, illustrations, and classes! You can get details on all of this - from Archery 101 classes here at the farm this fall to half a pig for your freezer by emailing me! Thank you for considering!

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Goats Are Gone

Yesterday all the goats were picked up by fellow New York homesteaders Jo and Sam. They have a farm south of Albany and are active in the draft horse community. They were lovely people and took all four goats (three generations of Alpine ladies and Benjen) back to their farm. I helped them load up the goats in the back of their pickup in a safe enclosure and handed the doeling to Jo, which she named Millie. I'm so glad all the goats are staying together and found such a fine homestead to belong to, but good gods does it hurt.

Selling the flock of breeding sheep was a hard step, but since the lambs were still on the farm, still grazing on the hillside, the pain slid off and went back into the work of keeping the farm going. But the goats no longer in their paddock by the barn makes this place seem so quiet and still in comparison. The energy and life of goats is firecracker intense. Their absence is noted like an action comedy switching to a blank screen in a theatre.

So this morning Friday and I headed into the woods for a 4 mile hike in close by Vermont. I got a magazine gig writing some product reviews of outdoors gear and all of it has to be tested on the trail. I worked on illustrations the night before so I at least had covered my AM desk work, hoping that a guilt-free hike would balm my sadness over the goats.

And it did help. Getting outside and getting my body moving always helps. We hiked up to the Lye Brook Falls which were amazing! 125ft cascade hidden in this magical place. The trail was insanely packed for a Monday morning but I couldn't blame the other day hikers. The view was stunning.

I do not regret the choices I've made to scale back. The bank just sent someone here to see if the house is occupied and that fear of getting out another house payment soon as possible growled inside me, solidifying the actions of yesterday. I needed to make these changes and go into winter with less expenses and responsibilities. And as every day creeps closer to September I am reminded both of the import of the decisions I made and the fear I won't catch up. I still need to pay for firewood and get it stacked, which was supposed to happen sometime this week but can't just yet. First thing is keeping the bank a safe distance from the threshold.

I have ten days or so left in the month to get some firewood stacked and mail off a mortgage payment. Here's to figuring it out, fast delivery of freelance checks, new sales, and the luck to manage it all. Hoping for an abundant fall without the scramble against snowfly. Here I go.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Come to Cold Antler & Leave a Fiddler or Archer!

Come to this farm this summer (or fall) for a special trip to see this place and leave with a new skill and the tools to practice it at home. I offer half and full day workshops in either fiddle or archery for beginners. The requirements are easy - come willing to learn with the ability to hold a fiddle or draw a bow, and we take it from there. You don't need to have any athletic or musical experience. These two passions of mine can be taught to anyone with the will to learn, a sense of humor, and the stubbornness to practice at home. I provide the instruments (class comes with your own longbow or student fiddle!) and you leave learning how to play your first song or safely shoot your first bow.

These classes also make great gifts! Want to give your spouse the ability to play a song or shoot a bulls eye? You can buy them from me and get a printable pdf emailed you can set into a card or wrap as a gift. The card lets the gift receiver set up their own date and time for the class at their choice. Classes here include:

Fiddle Indie Day: A student fiddle, spare strings, bow, and case. Class covers care and feeding, tuning, your first scale, your first song, and practicing at home. Play among sheep, goats, chickens and horses on the side of a mountain. Half or full day options - full day includes more practice time, a second song and scale as well.

Archery Indie Day: A palm wood long bow and string. Class covers care and feeding, safety, equipment and range rules, instinctive archery shooting and aim, target practice, and beginner tips and lessons in bow and arrow fitting.  Half or full day options - full day includes more practice time and a woodland field course shooting through cover, down cliffs, and at animal targets on trail.

You can also sign up for both in the same day, which means a morning of music followed by an hour lunch break and then an afternoon of archery. Prices vary by amount of students and times. Base price for a half day with fiddle/bow is $250. Email me to sign up at dogsinourparks@gmail.com

P.S. I also have done custom classes in Chicken 101, Goats & Soapmaking, Mountain Dulcimer, Beginner Horsemanship & Driving, Rabbits, etc. Ask for a custom class if interested!

Friday, August 17, 2018

Shakes Like Thunder

I'm writing to you during a thunderstorm, and it's a big one. I'm expecting the power to go out so I have already lit candles the Kindle is charging so it's ready to play me an audiobook to keep me company in the dark. Gibson is in my lap, always terrified of thunder. Friday is asleep across the room totally unfazed. Besides the distant rumbles and the sound of rain things are calm here. The chores were done well before the storm hit, including sharing the bag of corn cobs delivered by a friend on the way to the town dump earlier. Everyone loves corn on the cob! The goats, the chickens, and even the geese tumble and chomp on them with the same joy us humans do when they are so sweet and picked daily. It was an embarrassment of riches.

This morning started with a talk at a local Science Day Camp for kids. My friend Jeremy and I brought our birds to tell a room of 37 preteens all about hunting with hawks and birds of prey. The kids were wonderful and Aya was a great co-speaker (as was Jeremy)!

Once home I fell into my regular to do list of work.  I'm proud of the to-do list I keep and check off through the day - making categories for work and farm and fitness. Not every day is amazing productivity but every day sees that work is done and even if there's no sales and just bills - I can check off tasks and feel like accomplishments are happening.

Once the farm and client list was sated I decided to mow the lawn. I wanted the work out and I wanted to see the place looking a little more kept. You know how some people tidy up to clean their head before work? I'm like that with the farm these days - if I feel cluttered inside and out - I clean up. This time of year you can't mow enough. The region is so wet that mold grows overnight on leather in your home and rocks have moss thick enough to shear like a sheep. The air is heavy with water and every paw and boot is muddy.

You need to understand that mowing the lawn when you're behind on your mortgage is an act of hope. It's aggressively optimistic. It's saying that you know you'll be okay and you're proud of the place you struggle to maintain. I have no shame in sharing that struggle here, and when things (if they ever do) get easier I hope to share that fairy tale as well. But right now it's a good fight of praying while mowing and waking up to a coffee pot you prepared the night before; intentional acts of care. Hope so loud it shakes like thunder.

A slow day here in a lot of ways. No sales or business, which is a little scary, but also it sure looks like a million bucks. A freshly-shorn lawn, a cleaned up home, a bed with fresh sheets, a belly full of frittata from my own farm's eggs and sausage.... this is wealth even when I'm broke.

And speaking of a bit of wealth: that picture of Merlin?! He's wearing the saddle I found at the dump and cleaned and oiled. It rides great! I took him out on the trails for an hour last night and took this picture of him at sunset. We're still out there together. We're still going strong.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Good Honest News!

Thought I would share a bit of good news here at the farm! The furnace is working! Hot water is back on the daily menu, thanks to some troubleshooting I figured out via Youtube tutorials. Also, the part I need to repair my wood stove came in and is sitting beside it — ready to be installed as soon as I am able to figure out if it's something I can do or if I need a chimney sweep or expert welder of sorts — but it is here!

I called Common Sense Farm about firewood - both pricing and delivery for a dry split cord. I'm behind on firewood preparation but having ANY will be a huge relief as I start ramping up for another mortgage payment. I'll be cleaning the wood shed for the new supply over the next few days and sometime in the next two weeks they'll deliver, so I have some time to save up for it and plan.

And to ice the cake of good fortune: the truck passed inspection this morning! No need for any new repairs or issues. She's working fine and street legal another 12 months!

To celebrate I am saddling up Merlin for a ride this evening. I've been working with Mabel and her solo trail riding training and what I want today is the relaxing comfort of Merlin and the forest. I want to savor this little bit of good, which I know may seem like a low-bar to many of you, but hot water and a sound truck aren't exactly givens in my life. So today I'll raise my glass to a bit of good luck and be grateful for those of you still cheering this scrappy place on!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Mounted Archery Club!

This weekend I got word that a riding barn was hosting regular mounted archery practices right here in Cambridge! I'd attended a clinic by the same amazing people of Apex Mounted Archery last summer, but now the instructor Sara would be making regular visits to Long Shadow's Farm to teach and train people interested in learning the sport. Sara's hosting casual practices for anyone interested in joining the local club. 

We showed up on a rainy Sunday without our horses. Patty—my partner in crime in all things Equine—said we should use the clinician's horses and see if it's something our own mounts could do another day. I agreed (even though I was dying to try shooting at a canter off Merlin!)

At the clinic I rode a quarter horse named Scooter who calmly walked the course as a I shot the first few times, then trotted, and by the end of the clinic I was shooting at a canter! It felt so amazing, and comfortable. That's mostly because this horse had the entire routine down and I felt safe as could be on him. Merlin might be harder to push into a canter on a short stretch and Mabel, well, she might just leap over the fence at the end of the run! But it made me want to try with my own horses for sure. The video in the third slide of this Instagram post is me and Scooter! Watch us shoot at a canter!

Being so inspired by working with these fast horses I decided I wanted to spend more time riding Mabel solo. Usually I ride her with a friend, so she's always out on the trail with Merlin. Alone she doesn't have the same drive or confidence. She is way more stubborn, bucky and barn sour without her BFF. But the only way to get through that attitude is regular work and training. So yesterday we tacked up and rode up the mountain together.

Guys, it wasn't great. She was hard to get going and when asked to canter she straight up bucked. I stayed on, she learned I wasn't going anywhere, and by the end of the ride we were a team but I can't say it was enjoyable like riding Merlin. But there was also a time when Merlin was just as difficult when we were learning each other. Today I'll see if I can get on her again and keep it simple. I'm not going to be one of those people who looks at her horses in the pasture and never rides - oh hell no. Especially if she's got a future in archery!


Friday, August 10, 2018

Incredible Things

I woke up early enough to have farm and work set aside by 8:30 AM. Not the whole day's work, of course, but needs met and the day set into action. I had coffee in the thermos, day pack loaded, and every animal in my care had their bed and breakfast better than most chain hotels. The sun was breaking through the clouds and I was feeling good. My iPod still uses a click-wheel so I rolled into my Road playlist. Here we go!

This morning I had plans with my good friend Tara to hike the Folded Rock Trail. It's a local trail here in the Battenkill Forest, tucked into the Vermont border that shoots up Snake Ridge and winds across a mountain overlooking farmland and fields. I love this cruel trail. In half a mile you climb a thousand feet. It's tough and fast and beautiful. A great workout and fair hike. So I had Tara and Friday and 3 liters of water in my hydration pack. We were off!

We took four hours to climb to the look out and rest. Tara made us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with grain-fueled bread, crunchy pb, and blackberry jam. They were amazing. I took bites as I took in the view and we talked about our lives and stories and wished we had a speaker of some sort to blare an audio book for the focused-descent. Alas, we just had silence and speed. But it isn't about the view or the company or the calories. Hiking is about the .3 seconds you forget you're an animal. It's about the desire for more than desks and AC. It's about primal strides and wanting distance. It's Pablo Neruda and Cameron Crowe. It's hiking while being aware Instagram exists.

The hike was grand. When it was over we stopped at a small footbridge hanging over a creek. We swung our legs like kids, watching the water rush below us. And we caught our breath and took in a moment to be glad we were there together. Tara grew up in the Midwest where mountains and streams like this were rare.  Now we rode them like a carousel horse every day. If I forget this magic I might slip on the next slight of hand. So I nodded and prayed like a wiser beast would.

More on the farm and its changes tomorrow. Tonight I am not sure what music to share as what I listened to driving home tonight was songs I am certain I have shared before. I guess I'll leave you with Ryan Adams covering Blank Space because it is gorgeous and life throws you unexpected beauty all the time.


Thursday, August 9, 2018

Did I Even Make a Sound?

A friend just recently pulled away from the farm, having stopped by to catch up and share some good news. Some AMAZING news! We leaned against their car under the stars, they enjoying a cigarette and me enjoying a drink. Slow drags and clinking ice in a glass, we talked farms and business and they tried to convince me to join in for a local Karaoke Night a few towns over. "Get dressed, we're going out tonight."

I declined on having an early morning, but asked them to stick around a bit to chat. So we did. We talked for a while. Behind them I watched fireflies (the last of the season) burst in tired pumps of light. This was the end of summer and I secretly inhaled the smoke and light at the same time.

I left a group of friends in town just a bit earlier. My close friends Tara and Tyler rode their motorcycle to the Brewery to meet me and Gibson for dinner. My neighbor runs the food truck and Tyler bought me a gyro. At the bar already was a group of friends I met from my time at Argyle Brewery. In-between conversations I'd go behind the counter to wash glasses or refill pretzel bins. Jill was pouring and I always have her back when she's serving. It was as lovely a time as smoke and light in my driveway. Thursday nights are the Celtic Jam night and musicians play old songs and my dog sleeps on the wooden floors and everyone knows his name (rarely do they know mine). My dinner was perfect. My friends were perfect. The night and the music and the web of connections and mattering in a town of 1800 was perfect.

I had a date last night. I'm glad I went out. I feel like first dates earn bright green participation ribbons in society because regardless of how they go - you showed up and tried. I was proud of myself for meeting her. I was also glad to have this community around me I can tuck into like a husky wraps her tail around her nose when curled up into a ball and safe. 

I think I am supposed to feel lonelier than I do? I've been single for so long so I'm not sure? There was never the assumption or inclusion of another person in my life the entire time I dreamed of a farm and made it happen. There's no clawing for companionship, no stress about being alone. I would love to know what it's like to have feelings for someone and have them returned but that ache isn't pressing. Loneliness anarchy might be my superpower.

But if this life of good friends and trying and music and animals and meaning is standard? If being truly happy on a random Thursday night with the slung luck of these people is enough? I can only imagine being wanted by another human being is icing. Some bonus level magic that I will surely hope for but not count on. I don't require it. That doesn't mean I'm not excited for it.

This was a good day. Here's a song from a Broadway Show I listened to on my morning 10K that fits it. I assume most of you are familiar with Dear Evan Hansen, but if not, enjoy.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Hummin' like a Revved Up Truck

Yesterday after a few hours of indoor work I packed up hiking gear and Friday and we headed out for a light hike, a few miles here on the mountain. I'm lucky to have permission from a few neighbors to be on their land with my dogs, horses, and hawks if I please and since there was a threat of bad weather in the forecast I wanted to be closer to the farm. Friday did splendidly. I kept up, about 20lbs thinner that I was in winter thanks to all the miles ran. It was a lovely walk with few bugs or bears (two things I've been running into lately). When the walk was over I came back to the farmhouse to change into a swimsuit as the clouds started to roll into a black froth and everything felt electric.

One of my favorite sentences I could possibly say aloud this summer has to be: "I hope I can beat this thunderstorm to the river." It's been hot and humid here lately and the hours spent indoors or out keep me wanting the relief of the Battenkill. As the afternoon storms dragged through I sat outside under the King Maple with wet hair and a towel wrapped around my waist. I had heard the thunder began as I was floating downstream, feeling the cold water wash off the afternoon hike with Friday. and watched and listened, sipping a spiked iced tea and grateful for the day.

Some good news: I was able to mail in a mortgage payment and cover the truck's recent repairs! I'm basically back to broke but my deed is safe and I have wheels. Hell, I even have a date tonight planned. These are all upswings after a period of rough weather - literally and figuratively. I still have to figure out the wood stove repairs, furnace, and firewood but for the now I at least have a roof and transportation. If sales keep going and luck keeps swinging I may pull off a repaired stove and cord by Sept. Start where you're at, right?

Last night my friends Tara and Tyler came over to do one of our favorite activities: watch an episode of Wynonna Earp and talk. Like, really talk. It's a chance for me to gush about dating and my unrealistic crushes and for them to share their own stories. And it's so important to have people like that, ones you can say absolutely anything to and let your guard down. We sipped cider and sprawled with the dogs in the living room and watched the Earp sisters kick demons around on my ancient iMac and it was lovely as it sounds. It was a grand way to end a fantastic day of farming, hiking, river, and storms. And it made me feel a little better about where my heart and head is at.

Here's this post's song pick: Fool For Love!

Monday, August 6, 2018

36

We pulled into the driveway of Livingston Brook Farm around 9AM, Veronica riding shotgun. The forecast suggested a muggy afternoon and possible thunderstorms but this particular morning was bright as a set of new guitar strings. The sky was all blue and barn swallows. I had just turned 36.

We stepped out of the creaking beloved that is my truck and walked towards the 1700’s farmhouse before us.  I heard a voice from a second-story window holler "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" as we drew near. I looked up to my dear friend Patty and mumbled a thank you as Veronica hit me with some ancillary piece of clothing for not telling her. I'll never be comfortable announcing a birthday for the same reason I'll never care about astrology; it's a holiday I didn't get to choose.

My gift from Patty was my annual dinner and carrot cake that evening but she also agreed to taking my guest out for a horse cart ride to the Battenkill Creamery for ice cream. This would be a morning of harness and horse and quaint travel over country roads and farms. Watch out for the Bucolic Plague, everyone.

Veronica was visiting from San Francisco, her first visit to the farm. We met online and became fast friends. I can’t explain or understand the social media alchemy that lead to her pulling up to my front door in a rental car, but she was visiting Washington County for a few days. I wanted her to experience traveling across a landscape via horse cart and take home a story worth remembering.

We joined Patty in the farmhouse for coffee and breakfast before heading to the barn to halter and harness the horses. Patty has been driving her Percheron Steele for years, but always wanted a proper team. This winter she found a black mare named Ruby on Facebook to pair up with him. Ruby was Amish broke and trained but out of practice and needed someone to put in the time to get her back to regular work. Three solid of months of training had the two horses trotting like a pair of metronomes. Patty is a force of nature.

The adventure started off splendidly. A beautiful day back lit by the percussion of trotting hooves. We traveled the two and a half miles to the Battenkill Creamery, rolling past farms and homes on low-traffic dirt roads. Besides an incident with a barking dog running out to growl at the team (they were not phased) the ride was idyllic. Dappled light and conversation, the pace of the animals' becoming our own.

Soon the road turned towards the pastures around the Creamery. In the heat the young heifers were under the shade of the trees, barely paying attention to the draft horses and the vehicle. I was excited to show Veronica the baby calves kept alongside the creamery while enjoying mint chocolate chunk (which is, hands down, my favorite). And this thought was interrupted by the awkward side-stepping of Ruby, who had somehow managed to snap the pole between her and Steele. My stomach turned and Patty said in a calm voice,

“Jenna get out there and grab their heads.”

I jumped out of the back of the cart and moved to the bridles, holding the horses by their lead ropes and halters. For those of you unfamiliar with horse-drawn vehicles the pole is exactly that, a long shaft of wood (or metal) that connects the wagon to the yoke in front of the horses. It’s the key piece of equipment that pulls a team's vehicle and now it was snapped at a 70° angle shooting up between the horses. The cart was broken down, right in the middle of a road and a delivery truck was heading right for us...

Patty stopped the coming truck and handed Veronica the lines, leaving her alone in the wagon with 4,000lbs of horsepower in her grasp. I don’t know if she understood what she was accepting when she took those lines but she took them and somehow remained calm.

If the horses felt threatened they could have darted forward, dragging her with them after I had been run over flat. I felt my lungs empty and said about sixty silent prayers for safety fueled by the whites of my eyes. Patty wasn't worried, she knew her animals and efficiently and calmly removed the horses from the broken vehicle, by yoke and tug chains, and lead them off the bank of the road.

Veronica got off the cart safety. I stepped aside sweating an inordinate amount for a lady. I can not express the relief I felt at this moment, but it was thicker than any water in the air or fear in my chest. We were okay.

Since that moment in the wagon Veronica has started a new job. I've wondered a dozen times if people asking her questions in conference rooms realized they were dealing with a woman that took the reins of a team of draft horses the way average people accept a passed shaker of salt?

V and I moved the wagon off the road to the side of a barn, each of us grabbing the sides by the metal bars and assigning it safety off-pavement. We chocked the wheels with field stones. Not knowing what else to do I ran to Patty and her team seeking orders.

 Patty's phone was dead. There wasn't another person with a fitting pole close by or available on a Tuesday afternoon. Looked like we would be walking home. I nodded. Patty told us to buy ice cream and bring her a chocolate cone. I ran back to Veronica to report our duties and she swiftly obliged.

We ate ice cream next. This seems inconsequential but it was amazing. On a hot summer day miles from certainty and safety three women ate ice cream in daylight beside each other. We just started walking home, licking cones and enjoying summer in childlike acceptance. Patty with the lines of her team over one shoulder started them towards home. Trailing behind her Veronica and I hiked onward, chatting and enjoying our ice cream. The humidity and temperatures rose. So did my spirits.

I was so proud of Patty. At nearly 60 she was in control of her draft horses like a conductor. She ground drove them, walking behind at a brisk pace my hobbit body struggled to match. I want to be like her when I grow up.

This was a hell of a birthday.

This is the point I should mention that V didn't bring her own boots. She was loaned a pair of second-hand Ariats that fit her well enough (and she had ridden Mabel in the night before) but they weren't meant for hot distance. A few miles into our hike back to Patty's farm, blisters started to haunt her and after many offers to get off her feet and ride one of the horses home, she accepted. Then she was on a Percheron in full harness. And that was that.

I want you to picture this. I want you to picture three women and a team of draft horses walking home on a series of country roads without a cart. I want you to hear the clink of tug chains and feel the sweat falling off your shoulder and onto harness leather. I want you to experience the bite of deer flies and the way living in a deciduous rain forest alters your heart rate. And that music; of hoof and breath and story, making our way safely home on a Tuesday morning.

I will never receive a better birthday gift than this memory. It's inside my bones. Bound to calcium and the force that helps me run up hills tired. It's mine.

After we made it back, fortified by ice cream,  the horses were returned to their paddocks, comfortable and hosed down. Veronica and I headed back to my farm and changed for the river to swim.

By the time I was floating down the Battenkill under the wing beats of cedar waxwings and the flutter of sycamore leaves I was entirely exhausted. I’d been up since 6AM. I’d gone through the morning chores of feeding the stock, hay bale tossing, water hauling and coffee preparation. The dogs had ran and stretched out their limbs and tongues. I had done all that beside them. Afterwards I’d help harness horses. I’d traveled across the landscape in cart and home again on foot. It was time to soak and float and think of nothing but simple comforts like the slight buzz of a can of beer and baby trout avoiding my sandals in clear river water.

That night we returned to Patty’s farm for my birthday dinner, which was pesto pasta and lamb chops. The pesto from Mark's garden of basil and sorrel and garlic. The lamb from Patty's sheep she raised on this same hill horses swish their tails. Old English Sheepdog puppies scuttled about our feet, gifts were exchanged, the stars stretched across half the sky while the other half teased a storm that never came. Patty made me a carrot cake in the time we were absent at the river. She even whipped up a cream cheese icing! I am so spoiled by the luck of this place. You just can't know.

By the time dessert was wrapping up, conversation came back to the wagon parked beside a dairy barn at the Creamery. Veronica and I agreed to follow Patty's truck and trailer and help her load the wagon that night so it would be home safe. It seemed like the least we could do. Once again the three of us were off. It was around 9PM at this point.

So in my 1989 F150 we drove behind her. I chased her brake lights like hope around the curved back roads of Salem, NY. I was tired and happy from the day and grateful for the story and the company. Soon we were all back at the place where fear swallowed me and I choked on prayers. But instead of holding back a team of horses there was just the work of pushing a wagon into a horse trailer. We did  this by the headlights of my truck, loading it up and into the horse trailer without fuss.

And that was my birthday. It was farming and grand hardship. It was horses and rivers. It was new and old friends raising glasses around a familiar kitchen table with fluffy puppies scampering at our feet. It was perfect and broken. I held on to the memories as they happened with white knuckles and clear eyes.

I said last post I’d try to add more music. This song is what driving home happy and tired from loading a horse cart in the dark without a thunderstorm in an 1989 f150 feels like at 36. I can't vouch for the sad lyrics, but the cadence of horse and road and heat and hope feels tired and lovely Regardless, more beautiful music than what I could ever write and fitting to that day's end.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

High Hopes!



Thank you so much guys! The emails have been pouring in! Kindness, understanding, cheers, and advice. It's all been so helpful and makes me feel that this farm isn't an island and never has been. Other people have had the same issues with their furnace. Other people have sold stock they loved, changed life course, adjusted, failed, kept on. To be able to tell a story into a computer in my living room and get an email from Ireland or Vegas or Vancouver.... good Lord, it's nothing short of magic!

So with a lighter heart on a sunny Sunday I'm here to say thank you, for your time and conversation. I promise the next post won't be about something falling apart... Oh, wait, it will be but it'll be a great story with a grand ending. I'll write about my birthday; the day the horse cart broke down at the Creamery and how three badass women dealt with it.  Been meaning to write about that day for a while but wanted the go-ahead from all the women involved.

Also, here's the song I've started every single run with for the past few weeks. Co-written by the amazing Jenny Owen Youngs (for you Buffering Cast fans) and never fails to bolster me when things feel rough. I am going to share more music this August, a song with each post. Music and coffee are the soundtrack and flavor to every day here and they got me this far.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Flooded Furnace

Two inches of rain fell in the last 24 hours, a deluge that made morning chores a water park and flooded this farmhouse's basement. I found out about the basement because I could hear the sump pump revving up over and over, but saw no water coming out from the hose outside? When I went down to investigate I found the old stone and earth floor covered in a few inches of water and the pump's hose stuck inside the wall spraying water back into the basement. Basically the worst fountain ever.

In a homeowner's fury of panic I turned off the furnace, unplugged the pump, and spent the next fifteen minutes trying to repair the hosing (thank you to the loaned short hose off a shop vac) and got the water pumping outside instead of in. Feeling mighty, I headed back to the original Saturday morning plan. I was supposed to assist with a falconry talk in Salem and was already dressed for a presentation and my hawk on perch ready for our ride to pick us up when the sump pump drama happened. Good grief.

I went with my friend Jeremy to the talk (which ended up being canceled due to the rain) and got home shortly after. to my delight the basement was pumped free of water! To my dismay the furnace would not turn back on. I checked the breakers. I checked the motor. Just zero juice. I am hoping that it shorted out from being splashed by the water and not destroyed in the flooding. That furnace is how I get my water heated for the kitchen and bathroom. Right now I have no hot water and the furnace is off.

This is where I needed to step outside for a breather. I just figured out a late mortgage payment. My truck is in the shop again, and I am trying like hell to earn up the cash for that. That alternator repair is why I can't repair my wood stove or buy firewood - with September just a few weeks away. I know I will figure this out. I will handle each problem as it comes. I will be okay. What is killing me is all of these things are falling apart after I finally made the choice to change things here - for the reason of making things easier on myself. Selling livestock, cutting back expenses, after going through those tough choices things have become so much more stressful than they were before I made them...

Send encouragement. Send a nice email. Tweet me a kind word. Message me on Instagram. This is a rough Saturday. I need it the bolster. Or if you have any advice on why this oil furnace wouldn't start up again after the water incident, or troubleshooting, please let me know!

Good news to end on: The sun is shining now.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Ida had a Daughter!!


Thursday, August 2, 2018

Goats Sold

The last days have been a roller coaster. Let me start with the good news: I managed to scrape together that mortgage payment and mail it in. Thank you to everyone who was a part of making that happen through logo and illustration and soap sales! It means I have another four weeks to earn another one.  That's a huge win for this farm, another month paid for and another step towards someday owning this place. It feels good and I need to focus on that.

Other big news: I sold the goats, or rather two of them. I found a home for Bonita and Ida to live together, a homestead in the area looking for a milking doe. They won't go to their new home until later this month when the family returns from vacation but they are leaving forever. I still need to find a home for Benjen.

It's so hard to do this, and so conflicting. I am certain of the choice but Bonita has been here since I practically moved to Jackson. Ida was born here. This place is her entire life. I've been a part of the story of milking, kidding, cheese and soap making for so long and now it comes to an intermission.  That pic from two summer's ago of a little Alpine lass in the living room - that will be a while before I'm there again. It's sad but realistic. I need to cut back on expenses and responsibilities. I need to save and repair and prepare for winter. Not having two different breeding operations and 10 less mouths to feed is a huge step in that direction. It doesn't make it any less sad. It feels like giving up even though logic knows it's reorganizing.

The goat life isn't all that's stopped since I last posted: the truck isn't running. It needs a new alternator, a several hundred dollar repair. Last night it nearly didn't make it back to the farm in a rainstorm and the headlights were almost entirely dim by the time I pulled into my driveway. I need a vehicle and hopefully will have it repaired by Monday but first I need to figure out how to pay for it and then I have to stomach the truth that the cost of this is exactly what the cost of the woodstove repair and first cord of firewood would be.

So, progress on some fronts. Set backs on others. I am trying to be positive and focus on the fact that bills are being paid and changes made for the better. Here's hoping some luck lands in my lap soon. God's body am I ready for that.