Friday, July 31, 2009

sawin' out your praises

I woke up this morning to the sound of heavy rain. (It is pouring out there folks.) And the first thing, the very first thing, I did (after stretching and listening for the roosters) was grab my fiddle and welcome the morning with the song Great High Mountain. I played it slow, and then fast. It woke me up, and seemed to be the perfect way to ring in my three-day weekend.

I took off work today because I had a lot of farm and housework to do before my parents arrive in Vermont this afternoon. They are coming up to spend some time here with me and enjoy a cool New England summer. ( I hope the rain ends soon though, as most things worth doing around here involve being outside. Also, wet sheep aren't much of a thrill for anyone). Anyway, I miss them and look forward to their visit. As that rain pelts the red tin roof—I am in no rush to get outside and meet it. The animals were given their last feed and check-in at 11PM. They will be fine under the cover of their sheds and coops till 8. I'm currently making scrambled eggs and waiting out the rain. I'd feel guilty for not seeing them first if I didn't already know they were all warm, safe, and dry in their respected houses. So eggs it is.

So! This wet morning marks the end of our Fiddler's Summer Challenge. If you're new to the blog I'll summarize quickly: FS was a dare. I dared readers of this blog to go out and get a fiddle and an instruction book and start learning a few tunes. A few dozen people took the reigns and tried this; buying, renting, borrowing or stealing violins to start playing along. Over the past few weeks I've received emails, videos, and stories of people and their music. It's been such a joy to learn about people getting through their first tunes. Today I asked that anyone and everyone who joined in to comment on this blog post with a link to a video of their playing. We'll all vote for the best new fiddler and runners up, and those folks will be mailed books and prizes, as they have certainly earned them.

Oh, and before I forget. This photo was taken a few autumns ago at the Old Timer's Mountain Music Festival outside the Smokies in east Tennessee. In Scratch I tried to explain the excitement and comfort of this gathering, but I think photos do it better. These strangers in the snapshot don't know me, or each other, but they pulled up their lawn chairs and instruments and they all started playing mountain music. In a clearing in the valley, under the shadows of those blessed southern mountains, they just played. They shook hands, raised their instruments, and strumed songs written by people long dead. My point is: Fiddler's Summer wasn't about us. It was about keeping those moments, camp sights, songs and memories alive. You may only be able to squeak through a few songs now, but you are a fiddler. You have the will and violin to prove it, and you should be damn proud. Because even if you don't think it sounds good to you, some kid or neighbor may catch you playing on your back deck and fall in love. They'll hear your music and decide they need to learn too. Cold Antler Farm does not enforce safe musical practice. Go out and play with all the friendly and willing strangers you can find. The disease spreads and we're all better for the infection.

Now, post those videos and never stop playing.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

the new antiquarians

Found this article online this morning while checking the news. I think it's wonderful. I'm telling you, I could hang with these cats in Williamsburg, but I draw the line at displaying any taxidermy of pets I once owned. They probably would never willingly shoot and gut a fox though, so I guess creepy is relative. But the article and slideshow are fun, and shows a growing interest in younger folks, (even home decorators) looking back instead of looking forward when it come to homelife. Awesome.

Monday, July 27, 2009

tonight's garden haul

Sunday, July 26, 2009

the fate of monsters

I defeated the giant zucchini in honorable combat. Two big batches of chocolate chip cookies later, I learned the fate of the monster. I used this recipe from and found it easy enough to adapt to my own liking. I like a more cake-like cookie so I only used white flour and no brown sugar. They turned out fluffy and yummy. If you got some monsters of your own to battle, I suggest this quick easy recipe which you can download in a handy pdf format from Kingsolver's site.

I liked baking all morning. A nice melody of eggs from my hens and veggies from my garden. But even two batches wasn't enough to slay the whole beast. I was able to chop and shred two thirds of that beast and gave the other third to Maude and Sal, who chomped it up with sheepish smiles.

the royal wulff

What I love about fly fishing, or I suppose what I love about becoming a fly fisherman, is the history. There are so many stories in the rivers I live near and being new to this sport means I get to experience it all for the first time. I have yet to come across any sport that exhales and inhales in one place like fly fishing does in southern Vermont. Maybe I'm just being overly sentimental because it's what brought me here in the first place, but regardless of my bias, it is undeniable that a rich history bubbles up from under those stream beds. Sometimes I get to experience this history, magic, and culture all in the same night.

Last night was one of those nights. My friend Phil (who also happens to be a gifted fly fisherman and seasoned guide) took me out on a river at dusk. Under a waxing crescent moon (and his patient watch) I learned to improve my casting and choose the proper flies. Thanks to this adventure I caught my first ever trout on a river. The feeling of watching a wild animal thrash and jump from the water on your taunt line is like nothing I've ever experience outdoors before. This was nothing like raising livestock or spotting a deer on a hiking trail. This was me, waist-deep in a fast river, actively participating in the hunt. On the end of my line: a native brook trout. I landed her with a famous dry fly called the Royal Wulff.

The Royal Wulff is used by fly fisherman all over the world. But what I didn't know until last night was this fly was tied by a man named Lee Wulff, a renowned sportsman and conservationist. Lee also happened to be a former Sandgate resident (Who's kitchen table somehow became the main back table at the Wayside Country Store where the locals gather for coffee every morning...I find this fact particularly wonderful) Anyway, this man Lee was a fairly big deal in the history of the sport, and while I know very little about him, his legacy as a resident in my little mountain town rang loudly last night. I felt special, and a little honored to be using some local history to catch fish with a good friend.

I've been fly fishing since the first spring in Vermont, but always by myself, and always a little haplessly. Fly fishing is not like bait fishing. There isn't any waiting around, bobbers to watch, or cans of worms. You're not trapping fish by luring their noses to bloody hooks—You are actively hunting by making a small fake bug on the end of a clear long line look like a living thing just landing on the surface of the water. Now, I took a weekend course with a guided river trip, read books, tried... a lot. But my efforts were all fruitless. I needed to learn from real fisherman over and over. This was not a sport you learned from paper.

When you fly fish you are a puppeteer, tracker, and animal all at once. You do this while always thinking, and moving, and casting, and scrambling up and down the river like a waterlogged nomad. There are no lawn chairs on the banks here. You wear waders and a vest and act like your own boat: your waterproof lower body the vessle and your fishing vest full of gear the haul. You do this mad dance while trying to find the right eddy or pocket where the trout live and will buy your story.

Obviously, this takes some skill. After a year of trying and never landing a single river trout on my own, I decided to start asking for help. Pride is dead. My friends (and bandmates) Steve and Phil came to the rescue.

Over the past few months Steve and Phil have been taking me out to their favorite fishing spots and teaching me. Talk about lucky. These are seriously talented people who have been kind enough to help a friend learn their passion. Just last Thursday Steve leant me a rod to take out on the water this weekend. A very nice fly rod he himself helped design called the Helios. The rod costs more than several of my car payments, but getting to fish with it was like learning to drive on a Bentley. So last night while Steve was away in Maine, I took the Helios out on the river with Phil. Now in the company of an angler and gear far more advanced than I, the three of us rambling up and down the river Lee Wulff himself once fished.

We fished for a few hours and it was wonderful. I caught five! I reeled in brown and brook trout over and over. Phil did the same. I'd hand him the Helios and he'd cast like an artist as I watched from a boulder, letting my feet dangle over the fast river, watching the sun fall away. It was beautiful. Lee once said "The finest gift you can give to any fisherman is to put a good fish back, and who knows if the fish that you caught isn't someone else's gift to you?" and so in the tradition of most fly-fisherman around these parts, I let all of our catches go. Phil kept saying how happy he was to see the river so healthy, the fish thriving in their native waters. I was proud to be outside along a teacher more interested in keeping the experience than the fish. We returned every trout back to the river. I will catch them again someday perhaps, or maybe you will.

I saved the Royal Wulff and will frame it alongside a sketched watercolor of a brook trout. It is now dirty, and the hook broken, but it is special to me now. A little talisman. Call me sentimental but that little fish hook tied up with hair and string was the culmination of generations of conservationists, neighbors, friends and a river. It's the avatar of a perfect Vermont summer night that started hip-deep in cold water and ended with a celebration glass of Guiness in a Bennigton pub. And it's the drug that made a recreational beginner fly fisher into what will certainly be a lifetime of scrambling up rivers and watching trout rise, a fly rod in her hand and a fiddle on the bank.

So last night a famous kitchen table, a crescent moon, patient friends, and a river made me a very happy woman. That water has not seen the last of me.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Fiddler's Summer wraps up here next Friday, the 31st. If you've been taking part in the challenge—please get out your digital cameras and take a short video playing your favorite song. Everyone who submits a video is entered in the contest which we'll all vote to pick a winner (I reserve the right to break ties, however). The top new fiddler gets a gift package from Vermont of CAF goodness. The basket will include a tee shirt from the Wayside Country Store, Maude's raw wool, maple syrup in a leaf-shaped bottle (VT tapped, of course), and a copy of Wayne Erbsen's Southern Mountain Fiddle which comes with a CD. Other prizes will be handed out as well. I have some Storey books here to give out to runners up.

Honestly folks, this isn't a talent show. It's a chance to prove to yourself you did this. Even if all you submit is a slow rendition of Ida Red, that's still a fiddle tune you learned! Do you realize how amazing that is? That just a few weeks ago you didn't know how to hold the thing and over these past few weeks you chose to pick up a new instrument and give it a shot? Even if you are still squawking through your D scale that is epic in its intention. And if you can play one simple song, you're flooring me. Please do not avoid sharing your music because you think someone else will sound better. The fact you took this challenge on earns you a spot at my campfire, and you should be damn proud without worrying about pride...If that makes sense. Post your YouTube links when I make the announcement on the morning of the 31st. Until then, keep practicing!

see how they grow

I wanted to take a photo to show how fast these birds grow! That Rhode Island Red pullet in front is only two weeks old.To her right is the just-hatched Silkie Bantam Chick. (Side by side that pullet looks like a T-Rex compared to the new kids.) The little red poofball between them is how large that dinosaur in front was when I brought her home.

In a few more weeks those five chickens I bought on my birthday will be ready to join their extended-adoptee family out in the poultry house. They won't start laying big brown eggs till snow is on the ground, but that's kind of great since these new irds will start producing as the older one slow down production. I look forward to hearing that new rooster learn to crow by Halloween. I just hope he learns from Chuck Klosterman and not Winthrop (the Light Brahma Wererooster). I don't need another animal making the neighbor's dogs howl back everytime he crows...

i will cut you

You think I can't handle you squash? Huh? You think just because you're eighteen inches long and weigh a metric ton I can't figure out a way to put your overgrown mass to use? Well I can. In fact, I have big plans for you. BIG plans. You thought you were the honcho over there in the squash pit? You thought it was cool to take all your vine's energy while your siblings continued to grow at a modest, respectable pace?

Well sorry buddy, we're not much for inflated egos around here. We're more into zucchini chocolate chip cookies or zapple pie. What, you ask? What's Zapple pie? Well, to be perfectly honest I'm not exactly sure, but while paging through some garden cookbooks I found a bunch of recipes for cooking you down in lemon juice and soaking you in pie spices, and how you can taste just like an apple pie if done right. Which frankly, sounds suspect, but what the hell I'll give it a shot.

I just want you to know you're going down. And it's not just me taking you out: it's this whole gang. 'Cause a lot of folks backed me up here and sent me recipes to make you into everything from brownies to crab cakes. You're in a hot mess. We don't stand for ostentatious squash at Cold Antler.

Friday, July 24, 2009

sal likes silkie bantams

When I stopped at the feed store after work today I heard that wonderful sound of day-old chicks chirping in the back room. I bolted to the front desk to ask Penny if there was any extras for sale? (Usually the hatchery sends a few extras in case any get lost in the mail.) They only had two: a Rhode Island Red pullet and a Black Silkie Bantam.

Now, I have not been around Silkie chicks since Idaho and instantly those feelings of getting my first-ever laying hens flushed into me. It was like an injection of warm nostalgia. I missed Diana and Floating Leaf Farm, and felt like I was once again in her basement during a March snowstorm getting my first order of birds. And good lord, I forgot how small they were... I paid the nice people $3.60 for the little babe and took it home (along with the orphan Red). When I got out of the car I picked up the midget in my warm hand and carried the peep over to the sheep pen. Maude ignored me, but Sal came trotting over, sniffing my hands along the fenceline. I introduced the new bird to the King of Cold Antler. Sal smiled, or something like it.

I would love to host Antlerstock. Maybe a Saturday in October? I have plenty of camping space, a bonfire pit, and a working outhouse with electricity! If not a weekend thing, certainly a Saturday evening with music and fireside. Any takers?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

come in, sit down

Every once in a while I'll want to ask you, the readers, to comment on this blog and check in. Some of you write a lot, and I like it. Over the years I've come to learn some of you, and think of you. I think about Tara in Texas and Tony in Asheville. I wonder about Kathleen in Lancaster and the folks who still check in on me from Palmerton, Knoxville, and Sandpoint.

So you know a lot about me. You know my hopes and dreams, my animals' names, and about my obsessions with fall and coffee. But I'd like to meet you. So if you read this blog from time to time, leave a comment and tell me a little about yourself and where you're from. Tell me why you read this, and if you also dream of some land of your own. And hey, you may find others in your area this way who share a love of homestaeding. Hell. maybe you can make some lunch plans out of this. I however, just want to meet the people who already met me. I think it's nice to know who I'm writing to.

troubles and such

When I left the office tonight my eyes took in the mountains to the west. It looked like a storm was coming, and in the distance low thunder could be heard. From where I park my car I can see down the office's hill into the valley, and beyond that the Taconic mountains that are my home. I liked seeing the dark clouds over there. The wind had picked up and southern Vermont seemed poised for some sort of trouble.

This was fitting because things at the farm are currently troublesome. I have a hen, or possibly a few hens, eating eggs. A serious problem for chicken hobbyists. I also have cause to believe the fox has returned since one of my Jersey Giants is missing all her butt feathers and has a gash in her rump (Now, that's one fast chicken). I also need to recruit some good friends for a working Saturday to repair my sorry fences around the sheep pen, which are sagging and turning sour. I hope to be able to invest in some of that Red Brand stuff I long for every time I walk by it at Tractor Supply.

But problems have solutions. This is how things work. While fly fishing on my lunch break my friend Steve told me about a trapper friend of his who is willing to help me catch this fox. We hope to get him in the next few days. (I have no remorse hanging his pelt from my cabin wall.) And when some money finds me I'll fix that fence with the help of caring friends. And if the hen that keeps eating eggs keeps it up—she'll be dispatched or sold. And as for the storm...well, it has yet to come. But outside the cabin I can hear the wind. I hope the rain covers the garden where pumpkins and corn reach for fall. And since I have a full stomach and payday is tomorrow—I feel a little better about my troubles. They're just a few phonecalls and paid bills away. And the ones I can't buy off will be forgotten.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

the idaho farm

dusting off my dulcimer

Truth is, I don't play the dulcimer all that often. It reminds me too much of Tennessee. A state that wrapped me in its arms and taught me to be still. I miss East Tennessee the way people miss first loves. She is my phantom limb. But it wasn't a place I could be, at least not now. When the southern October came my heart broke. There was no chilly air, no need for hooded sweatshirts. Hot cider, hay rides, and Halloween felt like castrated versions of their northern selves. I barked for frosty mornings. The death of my North East Autumn had me packing my bags for the Rockies in 18 months.

With that said, I have regretted leaving Knoxville everyday since. For that reason the dulcimer just sits on my mantle under an antique child's puzzle of the United States and old license plates from places I used to call home. It collects dust. It just makes me too lonesome for fried pies and Cades Cove. Sometimes items become time capsules through no fault of their own.

But tonight I dusted her off and spent a little time looking through old photos of dulcimer hikes in the Smokies. My roommate Heather and I would pack snacks and some backwards mountain instruments (She had a bowed psaltry. This was before we both became fiddlers) and we'd just find a mossy stream in the woods and play. Usually by one of our friend Brian's favorite fly-fishing holes. Tennessee does this to you. It makes sensible Pennsylvanian design students run into the woods to play 100-year-old songs. After Heather graduated from Design school she moved to Knoxville. She could not help herself.

As the sun went home, I played on the porch for quite some time. I strummed soft slow songs, humming as I did so. The same ones I played in the southern mountains. Annie laid her head on her paws to watch me. (A peaceful dog in candlelight soundtracked to dulcimer music is a poem.)

I played those ballads knowing I could always go back, but with a little wisdom and a sly smile. See, I know if I scramble back into those hills I'll be back in heaven, but come late September I'll be barking for a Vermont Fall. There is no Autumn like a New England Autumn, and Vermont is the First Church of that sacred season. But Fall's not here yet, and I wish I could hide in the groves of Elkmont tonight. I want to be bathed in the light of fireflies. You have not experienced fireflies till you've met them in the Smoky mountains. Trust me on this one.

We always want what we used to have.

Tonight was for Tennessee.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

hey, fiddlers

How's it going? Everyone still practicing?

Monday, July 20, 2009

a monday night

I left the office feeling tired, beside myself with exhaustion. My job isn't physically taxing but it's the sitting (The forever sitting!) that beats me into a chained-dog submission by 5:30. So I made some decisions as I drove home. The most important being my pulling into Wayside's parking lot and grabbing a bar of mint soap. I was going to need that later.

I pulled into Cold Antler's driveway and let out a long sigh of relief. All the birds were strutting along and accounted for. No sign of the fox in quite some time. Reports of slain turkeys ten miles down the road made me believe he'd left my yard for greener (turkier?) pastures. I parked and walked out towards the bleating sheep, feeling the wind hit me. Fresh air, how I had missed you. I grabbed at removable electric netting fence posts as I walked. They bleated louder. They knew I was moving the fencing around to allow them fresh grass to chomp into. I smiled and waved to them, telling them to be patient. Within minutes they were let out and happily chewing up the baby shoots. Behind them the grass was healing and growing again from their last rotation. I like seeing one pasture rise as another falls. Makes me feel okay.

I then walked over to Finn in his brand-new pen. My dear friends, James and Phil, gave me their half-day off work to haul a 6-ft tall old chainlink dog run across southern Vermont. James had it sitting in his parent's backyard collecting weeds and offered it to me as a belated birthday gift. I couldn't believe my good luck. Finn has been aching for a larger cage for days, and I was slightly worried about investing so much for just a few months. But James's gift was perfectly needed and perfectly timed. We just had to figure out how to get it to my place...

So we borrowed my pal Eric's trailer (pulled by Phil's rig) and the three of us loaded up the pen in Peru and delivered it to Sandgate. Now Finn has a safe and larger place to grow up in. Those boys have no idea how grateful I am they are here to help me. They were the same guys who helped build my sheep shed, and came to feed the animals when I nearly broke my knee this past winter. Sometimes it takes a village, and sometimes it just takes a couple of people who care about you. They are good men. The world needs more of that.

So while Finn jumped around his pen I refreshed his water and gave him a scoop of grain to occupy him while I tended to the chickens. As he munched away I called the flock to me for scratch grains and clean drinking water. As I hollered they waddled and flew to where I stood. I collected a half dozen eggs from the coop and decided I'm make a broccoli and cheese omelet for dinner. I was inspired. See, the garden broc was looking delicious from the chicken coop. I could see it through the hexagon holes in wire. And hey, I had been waiting for nights like this all winter and spring. Summer days when I can stare at the yard and plan out a menu. After all, I already paid for the meal in planting all those sweaty days ago. Tonight every bite would be appreciated. Eggs from today's coop, veggies cut right off the stalk....Mmmmm.

But my quiet homily was interrupted. I heard a rustle then a triumphant baa. I darted my eyes up towards the sheep and watched as Sal broke loose through a hole in the netting where I lazily connected it to the garden siderails. He came barreling towards me, right into the coop. He slid inside and slammed his head into the scratch grains in the metal trough I had filled for the birds. I laughed out loud and let him feast. The asshole earned it. Then Maude came trotting in behind him. Birds flying every which way, sheep swilling corn, everyone squawking and kicking hooves. Finn watched in quiet awe from his pen. This all lasted till Sal left the coop to visit his buddy, Bean Blossom. (She took in the whole show from the skybox that is her rabbit hutch.) I just grinned and walked over to the grain bin. I like these kinds of problems. I make mistakes on the farm all the time. But I am learning to watch them happen and laugh at them. Tomorrow I'll fix the fence. Tonight I bribed the sheep back into their pen with some coarse 14 and gave them some hay.

With the farm in line I went inside to greet the dogs. They were wound as all hell. Annie had been watching the whole debacle from the window and hated she couldn't be a part of it. She raced around the cabin and crashed into me when I walked into the kitchen. I had planned to take them out for a short walk and then go for a jog, but they looked like they needed to blow off some serious steam. There was no helping it. They would come with me. I changed into running gear, leashed the dogs, and away we went.

We took our time. My pace of jogging was just the right speed for their fast trot. As the sun set on Sandgate's hills we pumped along the horse fences and looked in on the neighbors' farms. We ran past the pair of snow-white Saanen goat kids just born a few weeks ago. A little later we passed a pair of ponies in their red shed. Everyone else seemed well. The fact that the other animals in town were just as content made me run faster.

I love the way it feels to run with dogs. They do this with everything that they are. As my clumsy feet pounded into the dirt their paws graced the earth like athletes. They lifted me up hills and pulled me down into the hollers. Together we are such fast dogs. To feel your heart race alongside strong paws, clawing into the dirt as they keep time... what a thrill. What an everyday simple goddamned thrill.

We made it two hot miles and then we all stood in the creek to cool off. All of us panting. Then we walked home side by side and I let them dry off on the porch with fresh water as I grabbed that mint soap from before. See, this was the plan. To work outside, run like a fast dog, and then take a cool mint shower. The herbs fill your nose and body with energy, tingles even. As I lathered up the sounds of my young laying hens in the cardboard brooder box next to me filled the bathroom with stupid happy noises. That post-run shower shared in a bathroom with future omelets instantly disolved all the anxiety I felt from the day.

I don't know a better way to spend a Monday night than here at this small farm. Tonight things were good. They won't always be. But tonight, bless its heart, was very good.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

one week old

Saturday, July 18, 2009

old friends

I am in the process of preparing the cabin and farm for weekend company. I have a bread and pie ingredients all over the counter and a batch of cookies cooling on a plate. A hot pot of coffee sits on the stove and I'm listening to an audiobook in the as I scramble around the kitchen to cook, clean, and get the place up to snuff. Soon as all is "snuffed" inside—I can go outside and do the same of for the animals. There are coops and cages to clean, pens to restraw, and rabbits to check in on. Cold Antler is expecting more bunnies any day now. That is, if the last breeding took. My fingers are crossed. A good litter of kits can cover a car payment. I don't think it's any secret that I'm not a wealthy individual, so this small homestead depends on all the animals for their help. Sometimes in the form of selling or trading livestock. Sometimes for help composting the gardens with their waste. And sometimes just for three eggs for breakfast. We're one big codependent community here in our mountain home.

But all that aside, Emily is driving up from Syracuse today. Em and I have been best friends since we shared the same ski life in 7th grade in our hometown of Palmerton, PA. Since we graduated from PHS we've been traveling. I've lived in Tennessee, Idaho, and Vermont and she lived in Alaska, China, Seattle, and New York. While her stories are a little more exiting, mine are a little more comfortable. I can't talk about tiananmen square, but I can tell her to make sure the bathroom door is shut tight so the sled dogs don't eat the chickens. Excitement is relative.

So while the sheep are mowing the grass, and the chickens are out scratching in the dirt I'm going to plod around the place getting everything ready for a visitor. I'm looking forward to pie and wine on the porch tonight, long talks about all the stuff going on in my own everyday and hearing about hers. Good friends do not need heavy upkeep. You can see them once or twice a year and feel as relaxed and easy around them as old hooded sweatshirts. I have missed this sweatshirt very much. Her, and Ajay, and other faces from Palmerton haunt me from time to time.

At least I can promise she'll be well fed. A small farm in July is rich in food.

P.S. Anyone have a few good yellow squash or Zucchini recipes they could share or link me too? It's that time again...

you may be a homesteader if...

You have livestock in the back seat

You have day-old chickens in your bathroom (or kitchen, or spare bedroom...)

You hate slugs

Picking up 50 pounds bags feels like nothing

Your house, office, and home has bailing twine everywhere

You get excited when you see TV commercials at friends' houses (it's been a while)

You drink out of canning jars, a lot

You forgot what grocery store eggs taste like and don't care to find out, thank you

You have corn in your backyard

You really hate slugs

Shopping malls freak you out

People who work at the feed store know your first name

The idea of eating an animal you raised doesn't bother you at all

You buy Christmas light timers in September (for the chicken coop)

You're coffee table has hatchery and seed catalogs on it

You love playing in the dirt

Share some of your own, please!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

radio on

While doing some Shepherding 101 reading I came across a great tip to help with my fox problem. In the book Living with Sheep (which is fantastic, by the way) Chuck Wooster suggests using a radio as an audio scarecrow. The idea is to get your machine tuned to a stream of human voices and hang it from a tree or fence post. The sound helps keep hungry teeth at bay and so far it's been working. For the past few days I've been placing my hand-crank outside in the garden while the birds free range outside their coop. Today I turned it up and grabbed the dogs' leashes for a good long walk while NPR babysat my wild kingdom. So far Terry Gross has done a fine job keeping the chicken snatcher's paws off Cold Antler.

P.S. Living with Sheep was written by a Vermont author. All the photos are these stunning shots of local farms and fairs. Steve Whetmore (from the sheepdog trials) is mentioned in there a few times with his border collies. If you're even thinking about sheep, it's a great easy read. Pick it up.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

calm dogs

Caught Jazz and Annie watching me from the bedroom as I practiced the fiddle in the kitchen. Two calm dogs watching their girl play a few rounds of Cripple Creek. Don't let their quiet fool you—within moments of the snapshot Annie leapt off the bed and plowed into my knees when I told her we could go for a ride to Wayside. Just thought a few paws and some pause might brighten your morning. (I do not apologize for that last corny sentence. Wednesday mornings are a fine time for soliciting day-old nostalgia. It's what gets us to Friday in the office world)...

Good morning!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

mountain goat

a man no more

Yesterday after Finn's hike we both hit the road. I put him in the back of the Subaru (which has now transported chickens, turkeys, ducks, sheep, goats, rabbits, dogs, and coworkers) and we drove the back roads into Rupert. Rupert's a small town, mostly farmers, and that is how my livestock Veterinarian likes it.

Dr. Ceglowski's practice is nestled just outside Hebron, NY (on the Vermont side) with a giant red barn and registered Guernsey dairy cattle. Besides being a full-time Vet—he's a full time farmer. "I like keeping busy," he told me as we went over how to administer needles into the shoulders of goats. I liked him instantly. He's a warm, older, gent with a white beard, glasses, and coveralls. He tends to livestock and pets with great care and a large heart. This past winter he made a housecall to my neighbor's to put Cody, their ailing labrador, to sleep in his own living room. Doc will even look after farrowing sows (something few large animal vets will do around here). And talked happily about helping with piglets just a few week's ago at my neighbor Chris's farm.

So this is where my goat's day went downhill. I had an appointment for a professional castration. Finn's my first goat and I wanted to watch and learn the procedure from a doctor. This is not the kind of thing you "wing"— plus, the little guy needed his shots. So to the doctor we went.

Finn was a champion. He stood for the whole event and when all the crushing (sorry guys) of the arteries above his...goods was done he just collapsed in my arms. He looked up at me breathing deep, shaking, scared to death but calm as a lion. It must have been horrible, but considering the pain he was a saint. He also got his rabies and tetanus shots and a bevy of "goat shots" for fancy goat diseases which I was glad to offer him. Amazingly, the whole time with the vet was only fifty dollars, not bad considering the importance and level of care. I was given a booster needle to take and inject in two weeks.

I have syringes in my fridge. Welcome to living with livestock.

When I got home I placed the kid in his pen with fresh soft straw, water, and grain. He slept like a man no more. While he rested my mind turned to work. (I also like to keep busy) So my neighbor Roy and I moved a ton of sheep shit out of the pen with the aid of his giant orange tractor. Some folks spend a good lot of time bitching about green vs organge tractors and their sussed-out merits. Personallly, if it moves a pen full of mud, straw, and sheep droppings I don't care if it's tie dyed. I'm a practical gal.

Monday, July 13, 2009

finn's first hike!

Finn went on his first ever packing trip today. It was just a half mile with a light dog pack. I filled the panniers with raw wool to give them some bulk and had to make some adjustments based on goat-pack designs, but I figures it out and he was able to move freely with the load in place. Finn did wonderfully. He trotted alongside me and loped up the dirt road as we made our way to my neighbor's forest paths. I had been given permission to hike on their trails, and since it's just across the street from my farm it was the perfect training ground. More later on Finn's big day. Can't say the rest of it was as enjoyable for him...

the garden this morning

good morning from cold antler

This morning feels different. I know it's July but had you told me it was an early September morning, I would've believed you. It was cold enough last night that I lit the fireplace and this morning as I zipped up my blue hoodie to feed FInn and the sheep, it felt like I should come into a house with pumpkin bread in the over. Or maybe I'm just projecting? I can't wait for fall.

By the way, my pumpkins are looking amazing! This year may be the bumper crop I've been working for since Idaho.

Yesterday's trials were great. I stayed till the end and spent most of the day scribing again. Got to talking a lot with the judge who gave me the name of a young couple around Troy who have a big operation and working dogs. He said I should see them, make friends, and see if they'll show me around their farm. They also run dogs in the club. It's a start, whoever they are. A field trip may be in order soon.

No fox yet. I've been hunting without luck, but I know he's still around. I put up a baited Havahart trap and the little jerk dug a tunnel below it to eat the bait from below without going into the cage.... I am dealing with a clever predator.

I took off today, as you well know. I'm sitting here with a cup of coffee so strong it would scare my coworkers. The sheep were extra thrilled to be let out into their pasture on a weekday morning. I even gave them a little extra hay to celebrate the stolen time from the office. (Sal seems to enjoy it, as you can see from that photo.) Soon I'll be getting Finn ready for a short hike and then running off to do some farm errands. I have three new laying hens to pick up to replace from the fox losses and Finn needs some shots at the livestock vet. You know, in case any of you nice people wanted a systematic breakdown of my day.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

riding to the fields this morning

hen delivery

When I got home from the trials, I was met right at the cabin door by Jazz and Annie. Their dark eyes and quiet voices (they rarely make a sound). My dogs met me at the door and smelled the dozens of sheepdogs I'd be working with all day. Tails wagging, nuzzling their wolf heads against my waist. They forgave me and I hugged them. I would not trade them in for the best border collie in Scotland. They're family, and the only constant thing I've known since I first left Pennsylvania nearly five years ago. Everything else changes but these dogs are mine. It's written in stone.

After the dogs were walked and the farm taken care of—I called my coworker Noreen. (Noreen was the woman I went on that chicken adventure at the office a few week's ago.) She'd just constructed her henhouse and run, and was ready to have the birds she bought with me delivered. I loaded four hens in the back of the haytruck and we headed down the mountain into Arlington. You just can't know the fun of hand-delivering laying hens to a first-time owner.

I showed up at Noreen's to find her laying in her hammock. (I like hammock people, for I am one of them) and she was as excited a girl waiting for her prom date. We carried the cage to their new home and placed in the two Light Brahmas, an Australorp cross, and a Red Star. The four hens made their home their own quickly. I hope they start laying for her soon. Noreen did not stop grinning the whole time.

There is something empowering about raising chickens. I know that sounds a little silly, maybe a little dramatic, but it is. Chickens up the ante from the basic garden. They bring in the element of protein right to your backyard (without all the messy slaughter work or ethics of killing). I depend on my flock to cover a lot of meals and help with baked goods and entertainment around here (I don't have a TV). And with new chicks chirping away, and some new adult birds on the way as well...I hope to stay in chickens for a long time.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

the society of lamb and wool

I arrived at Merck Forest and Farmland Center early. My car pulled into the dirt parking lot a little after 8AM. My heart was beating faster than usual. If you're new to this blog (and my story) know that being a full-time shepherd is the dream. There is nothing I want more than to own a little land, raise lambs, harvest wool, and herd with my collies by my side. I was about to enter the world of people I idolize: The Society of Lamb and Wool. A scrappy, but thriving subculture of the 21st century: modern shepherds.

I had emailed a few folks in the club letting them know I'd be there and willing to help, but I had no idea what was in store for me. Volunteering a sheepdog trial can mean a lot of things. Sometimes it means running water bottles and bagged lunches to judges across the field, and other times it means wrestling with Scottish Blackface ewes... (I know. I had done both over the past year.) Just in case I was asked to work the pens, I wore my favorite old boots and put a fresh change of clothes in the car. I would do what I was asked, and I'd do it gratefully.

I also brought my banjo. I did not know if there would be a time and place for music, but I feel that acoustic instruments are like guns or condoms—it's better to have one and not use it than really need one and not have it. I threw my 5-sting in the back and considered myself protected.

Anyway, back to this trial.

I walked the quarter mile through the forest into the open fields. As the trees parted and the morning light filtered through the branches—I stopped to take in the whole picture, like a still from a movie set. A team of horses was coming down the path in front of me, pulling a wagon (taxi service from the parking lots). I sighed the sigh of a woman who had found the life she yearned to live. Relief and panic swept over me like falling in love, which I was.

And it's hard not to fall hard for this world. It really is beautiful. Open Northeast woods with rolling hills of sheep and cattle. Footpaths going in every direction. A fishing pond with children and poles. Post barns with heavy horses in harness outside, waiting their turns to carry their loads. Under the white tents people sat and watched the trial as an announcer explained the course. Sheep bleated from side pens while border collies trotted everywhere—my future partners in labor and crime.

I wasn't there five minutes when Steve Whetmore walked up to me. Steve's been in the New England Sheepdog scene for years. He's one hell of a breeder and trialer. He smiled, shook my hand welcome, and asked me if I wanted to Scribe today? I told him I would be happy to. I had no idea what he was talking about.

I walked down to the judges area and let myself into the trial field to find out. The gate was nothing more than some bailing twine holding a plastic panel. I smiled warmly as I unraveled it to let myself in. This green twine from haybales has found it's way into every corner of my life now. It was only proper to find it at the gates of heaven as well.

Scribing means you sit next to the judge and write down scores as he calls out points being removed. You also keep time. The man of the hour: David Young (a Quebec shepherd and trialer of twenty years). David judged from the bed of his beautiful Ford 250 and I sat next to his tires in a folding chair with a clipboard and a kitchen timer. I was too shy to ask if I could sit in the truck alongside him. (To me trial judges are a form of royalty and pages don't ask to share the thrown.) I knew my role and set the clock for seven and a half minutes. I watched the dogs. I tried to learn all I could.

Scribing a sheepdog trial means you get a front row seat. It's like being the umpires water boy at a baseball game. You sit right by the post (home plate) and as the handler sends his dog out to gather the sheep you watch it all happening right in front of you. David was a friendly and easy-going guy. He answered all my questions and explained when a dog did something exceptionally well or horrid. I quickly realized how invaluable of a learning experience this was, and shut up as he explained about proper outruns and healthy lifts. I am learning this more every year. I watch the dogs like normal people watch fireworks - calm awe and constant wonder. Every time a dog was finished and the handler patted his hip and said "That'll do" my heart stopped. If they only knew how much the chubby girl in the bandana sitting behind them wanted to say those words to her own sheepdog...

I swear to god, in the field above us a man played the bagpipes. Perfect.

I did this all morning. For hours in full sun, I sat by David's truck and watched the advanced dogs work. When another scribe came to relieve me I took a short walk around the farm. I walked past the shearing demonstrations where Jim McRae was trying to explain to come summer vacationers why it's okay for lambs to be weaned from their mothers. Jim was the man who sheared my sheep this past spring. I said hello and chatted with him for a bit before walking up to the hog and chicken pens. Merck focuses on heritage and sustainability. The animals on the land are all historic livestock breeds of New England. Barred Rock hens, Randall Lineback Cattle, and Tamworth hogs. I walked around their pens and houses under the shadow of the giant windmill that generates much of the farms electricity. Grazing animals, renewable energy, farmers and happy people... If Vermont has any say in the future of this country it is very bright one indeed. I'm a proud patriot of this state.

It's hard to believe that last year, while watching this same trial, I was brand new to this life. I walked onto the fields as a spectator last July. Back then the idea of having sheep was ridiculous. Yet here I was a year later and so much has changed. Somehow I managed to get hoofstock and today I am shepherd. (Yes. I only have a few sheep, but I do indeed have them. And I promise you they are only the beginning...) And now after a year of clinics, and trials, and lessons and the failed-adoption of Sarah, I stood before that whole world mildly competent.

I stayed for the whole trial and ended up scribing the last ten dogs. I was slightly shocked to see Donald McCaig come out into the field with his bitch June. I read Donald's book Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men last winter and loved it. I was so very inspired by it. And here before me was the man who's story about finding a border collie in Scotland had kept me company in my cold winter cabin... (They say people never forgot seeing Elvis live? Well, McCaig's kinda like that for me, but with lanolin on his mustache.) I took down his scores like everyone else's. How the hell did I land here? I could not stop smiling.

Tonight as the thunder rolls outside the cabin I'm just plain happy. All the bad vibes from the past week are washed away and replaced instead with this pounding hope in my fiddle-stringed heart. A hope that I too will be a charter member in the Society of Lamb and Wool. But in the meantime I am here.

In the bathroom the next generation of CAF poultry is chirping away. (I can hear them as I write you.) Outside the garden is soaking up every drop of this summer rain. Another litter of rabbits is on the way soon, and so is the possibility of a new black ram lamb. On Monday Finn and I will hit the trail. On Tuesday I'll go back to work refreshed. Everything is happening slowly, but it is happening. And that isn't to say everything is perfect. (Hell no and far from it) But I see no reason to focus on the poorer half of my heart this weekend. Tonight I'll fall asleep tired and happy with kind dogs and a novel by my side.

Tomorrow I'll return to help again. Every day at a sheepdog trial is another step down the right road to life I can't wait to turn around three times on and lay down in. Which I will walk down past trotting horses and their carts in my comfortable boots. I'll find my farm, and when I do I'll meet you there.

i'll tell you all about it

Friday, July 10, 2009

a new year, a fresh start

As a birthday present to myself I brought home a small pile of chicks from the feed store. I went into the store planning to just pick up straw and scratch grains but saw that sign posted by the register: Extra Laying Hens: 2.80 each and ended up driving home with a small box of day-old poultry in the front seat. Since I lost so many birds from this fox it felt like a proper present, the thing to do. As I write you five chicks (four Rhode Island Red pullets and one Golden-Laced Wyandotte Rooster) and a Turkey poult (an heirloom breed called the Narragansett, also from Rhode Island) are chirping from the safety of their bathroom brooder box. The chickens are for Cold Antler, but the turkey is for my friend Phil's Thanksgiving (or Christmas, since it is already July) Table. I'd offer the bird to my own family, but that was a disaster last year. (Not everyone wants to meet their meat...)

Tonight I farmed with a rifle by my side and a loaded clip in my pocket. As I mulched and weeded the garden I let the birds out of their confinement for some armed supervision. No sign of the fox in days, but I am ready when he comes. I have a baited Havahart trap set near the coop (which I rented from my neighbor's gas station for a dollar a day) and have been hunting every morning. I go outside at dawn with hot coffee and my .22 and wait. I have no pity for the fool. I'll hang his pelt on my wall.

There was this moment when I was walking out to the garden with a rifle over my right shoulder and two tomato plants in my left hand and I thought to myself: this perfectly sums me up as a woman.

I propped the gun by the garden fence and let Finn out to romp on his tie-out. I watched the birds scratch and hunt worms and salamanders all around me while I cleaned out their coop. It was a back-breaking few hours of pitchforking old crap-lined straw, but the hard work felt good. I've been stressed out all week, and tired as hell. Not getting enough sleep and over-thinking too much. It was good to just dive into grunt work. I am covered in chicken poo and sweat as I check in with you. I am the picture of disgusting. Happy Birthday to me.

This weekend will be packed with things I love. My farm will be front and center, (there is so much to do here) but I have taken off from work Monday for my own mental health and as another small gift to myself. Instead of the office, Finn and I are heading on a local trail for his first-ever pack hike. It'll be short, and his pack empty, but a beginning none the less. (He's already walking on lead up to a mile every day by my side, and has been borrowing Jazz's dog pack as draft-animal training wheels.) I think It'll be fun. I might make him carry a sandwich for me. We'll do lunch. Clearly, I am a very exciting young person. Lunch dates with ruminants...

Tomorrow morning I am getting up early and driving over the mountain to Merck Forest for the Annual NEBCA Open Sheepdog Trials. I am hoping to either help in the pen or by learning to keep score. (In case I end up in the shoot, loading four sheep at a time onto the trial fields...I'll wear my boots) That day will be wonderful, and probably stir up all sorts of longings for my own lamb and wool farm, a dream that keeps me up at night and makes my stomach turn when I think it might not happen... But maybe someday I'll get my farm, and a good border collie or two by my side. That is the hope. I am big on hope. You have no idea.

Anyway, I'm sure you'll hear all about that tomorrow.

Tonight however, I turn 27. I'm covered in mud, sweat, chicken shit and smell like death—but I am happy. Not blissful. It's been a crap week, but happy. Now, I am going to shower like I have never showered before, slice into the watermellon sitting on my counter, tune my fiddle and guitar and light up the porch with as many candles as I can manage. Tonight I will throw myself a birthday concert. The theme: a new year, a fresh start.

merck trials this weekend!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

gardener's corn

I'm not a great gardener. Truth be told, I'm still a beginner. This year's garden is only my third, but naivete and mistakes aren't keeping my fingernails clean—I keep planting and learning as I go. I discovered when it comes to some veggies I'm hell at raising them. I can grow a fine mess of peas, beans, salads and broccoli no problem. Other types leave me guessing...For some reason I can not grow a heathy heirloom tomato in Vermont. My peppers seem to be stuck in their adolescent stages. And my watermelons and pumpkins never seen to grow beyond softball sizes....

But even with all the failures,. I find some foods are just plain rewarding in their simplicity. Some veggies you can just dig a hole, drop in a seed, and pass the summer watching it turn into something satisfying and delicious. For example: corn.

Corn has become a nearly dirty word in modern food talk. Since it's force fed in feeding lots, pumped into fructose syrups, and filling up puppy chow bags—people don't seem to appreciate it much. I get that. I understand all it's downsizes and know how annoyed it gets Michael Pollan...but I love growing my own. It's one of those foods I seem to have a knack for. Maybe because it already grows like a weed (since technically - it is a tall grass) but even if it has nothing to do with my own skills—I love seeing those stalks rise up taller than I am. It makes this place feel more like a farm to me. Come October I tie the brown stalks to my porch and everytime I walk by the big bushels I am amazed it started with a pile of seeds in my palm Memorial Day weekend.

Sweet corn is an honest trade. You put in a weekend of hard labor, swing that hoe, plant those kernels, and come late summer you have these delicious white cobs that sizzle on the grill or pop between your teeth dripping with butter. The taste of just-pulled-off-the-stalk sweet corn is hard to beat.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

it's on

Four more laying hens were taken today. That's it. The birds will remain locked in the coop all day tomorrow, and stay locked up till I stop this animal. Come dawn I will be up extra early with my rifle. If I have no luck taking the todd that way, I'll set a Havahart trap and call the game warden to remove him. Either way, I need to stop this. That's eight animals under my care dead. It's on.

someone save temptation

This is my favorite song. Ever.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

growing up

Monday, July 6, 2009

the fox and the fall

Yes, the marauder in question is a red fox. I got a call from my neighbor Katie, telling me our neighbor Ed witnessed a fox carrying a duck in its jaws and running down the hill and over the creek. This happened around dawn. As I write you, the chicken coop is latched and locked and I am glad to report no other animals were lost today. I now know what to look for, and hopefully I can stop this fox in its tracks or do something to better fence and pen my birds. I am already taking the dogs out at night to relieve themselves at the poultry house—hoping the scent of wolves will make the red one turn tail. I do what I can.

On a lighter note: The garden is thriving. What a glorious sight! Corn is shooting up towards my waist. The pumpkins vines are thick and dark. Squashes are starting to rise and peas snap into my mouth like sugar water candies. Tonight I dine on a dinner of skillet-steamed broccoli over an egg and couscous stir fry. Homesteaders work like dogs but eat like kings.

And I was able to share some of the bounty this weekend too. Before I drove south to Pennsylvania I loaded the car with my contributions to the family feasting. I brought a giant bag of vegetables and a dozen farm eggs. I baked all weekend. I made pizza and apple pies and a fine quiche with a buttery crust. It's a good feeling, taking care of people's hunger. Giving them something to eat and enjoy you are directly responsible for. I know that's an old song. It doesn't mean it's not true.

This morning when I woke up there was a slight chill in the air. Just enough to cause me to see my breath at 5:30 AM. I watched it rise up into the oaks and watched it come out of the honking geese's bills like smoke. With the solstice behind us each day gets just a little colder, a little shorter... Soon it will be October again and I will be so very happy. A season comes to replace another. My breath is always baited for the falls.

P.S. My camera is fixed. More new photos soon.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

back from vacation

Just in from a three-day vacation in Pennsylvania with the dogs. I was visiting my folks, and away from the farm since Friday morning. Thanks to the help of my amazing neighbors I was able to leave knowing the animals would be taken care of in my absence. It takes a village. It really does.

I had a wonderful time in Palmerton, but when I returned to Cold Antler I discovered my duck and another rooster (Sussex, my favorite, pictured above) had been swiped by the predator. This has me rather concerned since the animal taking my flock seems to come while I'm at work (not in the dead of the night). I am researching my options, but does anyone have any advice for a free-range flock? Is there something I can buy and spray, like a deterrent?

I've never had this sort of problem with birds before. Certainly not in broad daylight. And while I have no qualms shooting a fox or fisher if I catch one around the place—catching such an animal seems nearly impossible since it's happening while I'm earning my paycheck...

Thursday, July 2, 2009

some things i learned so far...

A 40% chance of rain means there's a 100% chance you're still watering the garden.

No day is too hot for a cold creek, iced lemonade, and a westinghouse fan by an open window. (And I lived in Tennessee)

Hoeing never gets easer.
But your body gets harder.

Better to try and fail then not try at all.
I'll take heartbreak over apathy any day.
Heartbrake means you tried.

On winter mornings, a freshly laid egg makes a perfect hand warmer in your pockets.

Pancakes from scratch, fresh egg omelets, and homemade bread are unbeatable. But some days you just want diet coke and fruitloops, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Gardening: worth it.

Old stuff is better.

Some second-cut hay looks good enough to eat.

Patches make favorite jeans last forever. Do not be afraid to sew.

Chickens: worth it.

You haven't met winter till you met Sandpoint, Idaho.

Now, share some of your own.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

broken camera and one man down

I came home from work to the sounds of thunder. Not too far south of the farm the sky was lighting up. I had to move fast if I wanted all the animals taken care of and stay dry in the process. I did my best and was able to feed, water, collect eggs, move out to pasture and stake out my kingdom of the animals. When the night's chores were done I chose to meet the rain on the porch with my guitar. I sat there strumming my Sunburst Epiphone AJ (an affordable knock off of my dream guitar: the lovely Gibson J-45) and sang. I had a rough day at work, and singing in the rain did just the trick. If I was playing a J-45 I'd still play to the storm. Just louder. She'll deserve louder.

I do not baby my instruments. They're draft animals too.

I also broke my camera. New photos are on hiatus till I get another Kodak.

Sad news: Lost a few birds, including the original CAF-VT rooster, Rufus Wainwright. (That's him on the YouTube video graphic on the right hand side of this blog.) No trace of him, just feathers in the yard. I don't know if it's a hawk, yote, fox or dog that took the ol' boy...but he will be missed. He did a good job taking care of the ladies before the young guns took over from last springs (supposedly all-pullet) chick order. I also lost a few hens from the pick-up last Friday. A little bit of entropy as all this rain takes over. You'll have this.