Monday, November 30, 2009

the rabbits too...

I need to find an adoptive home for my breeding pair of angora rabbits if the breeder I contacted does not want them as barter.(Originally it was agreed that a kit would be exchanged for the adoption of Joseph, I am trying to see if she'll accept the pregnant doe.) If she does not want the doe, Bean Blossom and Benjamin will need a new home. Ben will be shorn and have his short coat, but Bean is in full wool coat. Both come with pedigrees and are free to a good home. Email me if you are interested.

This is not a good week.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

a very sad night

Without going into any detail: I regret to announce that I need to find a new home for Finn. It's a long story, but out of my control. It was not my decision. If anyone out there in the New England area wants a trained, kind, wether please email me at He is free to the right home. Finn is not disbudded, but is leash trained and started pack training and was doing wonderfully. He'd be a spriteful and fun addition to any herd. He is up to date on rabies and tetanus shots and as far as I know has no allergies or issues.

This has me very upset. I cared for him very much.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

i miss the farm when i'm away

Friday, November 27, 2009

true vintage

I spent the whole day in a shopping mall with my sister. Usually a day in a mall would be hell, but I found out that the Lehigh Valley Mall has recently added a Guitar Center, and that means one thing to me...I get to play my dream guitar. The whole day of lines, traffic, and yelling children was worth it for that alone. That's me picking away. My sister snapped the photo with her iphone. (Who knew a homesteader could be so happy in a crowded shopping center retail store?) For a few minutes the whole world melted away and it was just me and that soft-shouldered wonder. If you think I'm using dramatic license—you never played one.

The Gibson J-45 is a piece of American history. A gorgeous tobacco sunburst jumbo developed in the mid 40s. It's dark, like me. It's non-electric, like me. And just holding one in my grabby paws made me smile more than I did on prom night. I was smiling because I was playing was the guitar that blues legends, folk singers, and old-time crooners picked alike. It was the dark horse that saw the death of a World War, the birth of a rock & roll, and became the soundtrack to a social revolution. It was there to watch the entire shift in western culture happen. It was in studio apartments in SoHo during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was in the back of dusty trucks in Iowa for the moon landing. It was there to see the Civil Rights Movement and probably strapped to the back of those who marched. She's just been here, all along. Watching us happen and playing the soundtrack along the way. I think the world of her.

Someday I will own one. It'll be older, probably a model from the 60's, but perfect. She'll sit in my future farmhouse and dance in the dusty sunbeams in my barn. She'll be the harmony to my own voice at late night bonfires where my border collies circle the flames like happy sharks. She'll be the avatar of "I made it."

But right now, like so many things, she's a pipe dream. A vintage J-45 costs more than my truck and finding one in good condition in a pawn shop cheap is near impossible. But every week I hunt eBay and look on Craigslist for my lucky break. I carry her picture in my wallet. I wear a small black Gibson charm around my neck. I hope. She's the guitar that is Jenna and I'll call her mine someday, this I am certain.

You know, it's not about owning some fancy possession. It's about becoming a part of that history. It's knowing that you're making music for yourself on all of our collective nostalgia: regardless if we realize it or not. Some day I will play that guitar and lean back into warm arms and know it is exactly where I belong. It won't happen soon, and it won't be easy, but it'll be worth it. When I figure out how to get there I'll let you know.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

happy thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving from Northeastern Pennsylvania! I'm here taking a small vacation from the farm and enjoying a couple of days with the other Woginriches. Neighbors and friends are watching the farm so I can be with my family, and I can not thank them enough. Jazz, Annie, and my parent's dog, Melvin, are enjoying the abundance of food falling on the kitchen floor from all the cooking goings-on. I already baked two quiches and two loaves of bread. This evening I'll bake some apple pies and my Tofurkey. No dog nor human will go hungry today. Impossible.

Alas, no Thanksgiving birds were raised on my farm this season—that was a whole big thing last year. But I thought I'd post a photo of TD anyway from last October. He really was a table bird to be proud of. Incidentally, Chuck Klosterman is in that photo as well. Now he's in my freezer. (Not to be crass, but I'm damn thankful for that particular relocation.)

My father has made the Woginrich family traditional long-neck white squash pie which is AMAZING. The evening will be a fire in the den with the family's four large dogs (two goldens and my two huskies) and we'll do what we do every year: Star Wars Thanksgiving. The Woginrich kids have always watched all three original Star Wars movies after dinner, marathon style. This is done with many, many slices of pie. I can't wait.

It's great to be surrounded by my family—which is hilarious and sarcastic. My brother John and Sister Kate are here roaming around, and friends come and go throughout the day. I forgot how much I missed them.... I think help is needed peeling apples, so I'm going to bolt. But I wanted to check in wish all you guys a Happy Thanksgiving.

photo by Sara Stell

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

new cover for the paperback!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

a lot of pie

I have baked ten pies since Sunday night. That's a lot of pie. It's especially a lot of pie when you work a full time job, tend a full-time farm, and are trying to prepare for the holidays ahead. I thought selling apple pies for Thanksgiving would be a surefire way to make some cash to help with travel expenses. It was, and I'm grateful, but two hours of baking late at night has left me drained. I'm used to the last hours before bed being dedicated to reading, music, sitting...just unwinding from it all. I can farm all day and be totally refreshed if I get my nightly ritual of relaxation. I can do nothing but nap all day and then end it with chores and feel beaten as a junkyard dog. I'd complain more, but it's a silly thing to do.

I'm glad to report the last two are cooling on the rack as I type, and will be delivered to my final customer tomorrow. Each pie had a sugar-top crust with a turkey strutting across the top. Despite all the extra efforts and nights gone to sleep with crust in my hair—they looked good. I'm also happy knowing a few families here in Vermont will be having a slice of Jenna pie after their Thanksgiving dinners. Makes me feel a little more part of this place.

The goslings are doing well. All five are squeaking away, I can hear them even with the bathroom door shut. The cabin smells of wood smoke and pie and I'm properly tired after the day. I'm very much looking forward to a long stretch, a warm bed, and a morning met with hot coffee and cold noses.

Oh, in case I don't write you before Thursday morning, Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hey ho, let's go.

I went to college in Kutztown, Pennsylvania at the State University of the same name. It's located halfway between Philadelphia and Lancaster in an agricultural valley better known for its quilts and produce stands then design graduates—but I received a hell of an education there and think back on my time spent there fondly. Kutzotwn had a large Mennonite/Amish community and on Sunday mornings it was like going back in time. You'd wake up in your apartment overlooking Main Street and hear the trotting of horses heading to services. Late at night the Amish kids (whom I'm pretty sure were coming home from parties wilder than anything we English could pull off) raced down the hill on their bicycles. They could fly. I'd never seen happier teenagers in my life.

I found this picture hidden in my iPhoto files today. It's from 2004, taken my senior year of classes. It's an Amish kid's buggy parked outside the college record store. I remember looking at it with joy while waiting in my red Jetta parked outside the CVS for my friend Kevin to return to the car—secretly wanting to slap a Ramones sticker on the orange triangle on the back. I contained myself.

When I took this photo I was planning on living in Philadelphia. I wanted a loft in Rittenhouse Square. As you know, Cold Antler Farm is a long ways off from center city Philly. Knowing how it all ended up: I can't help but wonder if the local agricultural communities from Kutztown planted the seed in my mind? I do remember always turning my head and feeling a bit of envy when the buggies went by—not so much for being Amish (fairly certain my general attitude would have me shunned in about 27 days...) but for the scaled down ways of living. The animals. The food. The certainty. If I could have a stable under my apartment in Rittenhouse square, I'd do so in a second. And now here I am trying to plan for a future where saddling up my Fell pony to check on the lambs in the south field is my new reality. Or will be, eventually.

I'm pretty sure I was always the same person, the compass needle just needed proper adjusting. Looking at this photo of the buggy outside the record store now perfectly sums me up. The only difference being my Fell pony cart will certainly have that Ramones sticker on the back, and I'll trot him back to the farm, ipod blaring. Hey ho, let's go.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

me and jazz

it's not all work

It's Saturday morning and I just wanted to check in to make a very specific point: homesteading isn't all work. This morning I am sitting here with a hot mug of coffee, quilts on my lap, a Civil War documentary on screen, and enjoying the company of my wolves in a warm cabin. I can still hear the occasional cracking charcoal from last night's fireplace. Inside the pit the ash is all black, but if I kicked up the coals I could light it again with some kindling and warm this place up beyond bliss. The sheep are out in their pasture. They're strutting around eating the last of the green grass and eating their new mineral block and hay. Finn is on his chain, chomping dead leaves and nickering at Juno (my neighbor Ed's fast, fast dog). The bathroom door is shut, and inside are the five goslings in a cardboard box under a warm light. All made it through the night. I slept in till 7.

I had a breakfast of eggs and will soon be on my second cup of coffee. From the living room I can hear a hen on the porch just outside the cabin door. I can't see who it is, but I'm guessing it's one of the ruddy production birds I got from the Poultry Swap this past May. They sound different, trill their clucks. To know a chicken by voice is a weird place to find oneself a few years out of design school....

Don't get me wrong, there is work to do this weekend. A lot of work. I need to buy some hay, write a few thousand words, run errands in town, clean out the goat pen... the list goes on and on. But there is also a lot of time to kick back and just enjoy this little empire I made from my own rib. Time for things like coffee sweetened with a dollop of ice cream (I ran out of creamer) and the Siege of Atlanta. Possibly a few rounds of Down in the Willow Gardens on the Banjo. (I am a woman who loves a good waltz.) So here in my wool socks and heavy sweater, in a cabin hidden at the end of the world, I'll grab my 5-string and prop my feet up and smile. It's not all work on this farm. A lot of this life is paying attention and enjoying the food along the way. If that means the occasional black and blue mark and feeding animals in the rain—fine by me.

Friday, November 20, 2009

it's generally pretty good

When I woke up this morning it was pouring. I'm talking angry, hard, rain. The kind of downpour that does not allow for rain drops—just a wall of water. Hearing that at 4:45 AM, and knowing an entire farm is waiting for you to feed it, is not a comforting sound. I snuggled deeper inside the pile of quilts, pillows, and Siberian Huskies that make my bed. FIve. More. Minutes.

Then I remembered the goslings. Knowing they were in the corner of the coop under Saro listening to this screaming rain made me jump out of bed. I was excited to see them. I threw on my farm clothes, (which means layers of long-sleeved tee shirts, flannels, beat jeans and a heavy wool sweater pulled over my head for good measure). I stopped buying and wearing polar fleece a while ago. When you live with sheep it feels like a space suit.

I went out in the rain under cover of lantern light and checked on my new mother. As I entered the hen house, Cyrus rose up from his slumber, flapping his wings. Two years ago this would have made me nervous, but I know these animals better than my cousins. Toulouse ganders have an impressive wingspan, almost four feet. He hissed and honked like a worried dad. I turned on the coop light and went to check under Saro for the babies.

Now, this wasn't easy. I had to use the lid of the metal garbage can that holds the chicken feed as a shield from Cyrus. Then take my chances with Saro, trying to feel under her and get her to stand up so I could take a fresh count. I pulled off the highwire act and got a new score....FIVE! Now five of her eggs were beautiful, perfect, gray goslings. (Actually, more of a yellow/green but breathtaking to behold.) I picked up one and leaned my back against the wall of the coop. He was clean, soft, so new. He chirped and nuzzled his head into the wool of my sweater. I pulled him close to my heart and whispered him welcome. Yes, I understand that whispering to goslings in a rainstorm isn't exactly normal. But it was such a new part of the day, and such a new life, that talking loudly felt harsh and not saying anything felt wrong. So I whispered to him all Iknew so far.

I told him it's a pretty good world out there. Sometimes it hurts, but it's generally pretty good.

I hit up Tractor Supply on my lunch break. I had called in advance to make sure they still carried brooder supplies in November. (They did.) The clerk on the phone asked why I wanted a heat lamp and chick feeders and I explained I had five new goslings to bring up into this cold world. He said congratulations and told me to bring a box of cigars when I came to buy my stuff. I liked him instantly.

Now it's evening and I'm spending my Friday night being a stay-at-home grandmother. I have the five new kids in a cardboard box in the bathroom and they're currently chirping away under the glow of the heat lamp. Saro seemed fine with letting them go, she's still sitting on her last two eggs and hoping to hatch those as well. Part of me felt bad removing the goslings, but the reality of the situation took over. No new baby without insulating feathers as going to survive tomorrow night when the temperature dropped to 30 degrees. They'd have a good chance if they stayed under Saro, but all it would take to die would be simple separation in the dark. Goslings aren't meant to be raised in winter. This was a fluke. So to ensure every bird gets a fair shot at the world, I brought them inside and to take care of them the proven ways I already know. This small hatching is the first batch to be born at Cold Antler. We've had bunnies, yes, but never any poultry. I was really proud of my pair for pulling this off. Cyrus and Saro have not only fulfilled their purpose in the world—they just proved to me how good of a team they really are.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

we have goslings!!!

Came home from work today to find three healthy goslings under Saro's wing! She still has two more eggs there, unhatched, but what a rush to scoop up this small life into my hands and know it's here only because I set up the circumstances. The mother is doing well, and if anyone is looking for a pair of French farm geese...inquire here. More soon...

...after a long day of antiquing

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

full circle

Don't get excited, Saro hasn't hatched any eggs hatch yet. This is Cyrus as a babe. Someone had asked in the comments of the last post if the chick in my hand was a gosling—so I am posting a photo of my gander at about two-weeks-old. As you can see, even at a tender age, a gosling is definitely not a chicken. I took this photo May of 2008. Only 18 months have passed since then and now my little goslings of that spring are on the road to parenthood.... (Talk about full circle). If eggs do hatch there will be a brooder box this Thanksgiving! Which means while most people are enjoying turkey: I may be hosting geese.

Monday, November 16, 2009

two hands

My hands are not pretty. They're calloused and scared, scratched and worn. I don't know anything about palmistry, but the lines are long and deep . As I write this I can look down and see a black smudge on my knuckle. I lifted the hood of my truck to find out where to pour transmission fluid and got them all dirty. Not all of it washed away in the sink. My pinkie is missing a circle of skin where a piece of firewood took it yesterday. Another scratch crosses the back of my right hand. It's still bright red, fresh from a sharp thin stick that was hiding in the hay. I forgot to wear gloves and that was the price. My nails are all bitten down from stress. Without thinking I bite them while fretting about work and deadlines and someday-mortgages. My fingertips on my left hand are hard from guitar and fiddle strings. My wrists are sore from the mouse I design with all day. When I crack my knuckles it is so loud the dogs lift their heads. I just found a splinter.

My hands are not pretty. They haven't seen polish in years. That's okay. They do good work and run this small farm. They might make a manicurist cringe, but they feed a small empire, chop firewood, plant corn, scoop grains, drive that truck and play an old fiddle. I roll my eyes at the cringing. I'm over it. Sometimes a choice takes a few small sacrifices. I gave up on pretty hands. I turned them in for beautiful ones.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

maude in the fog

backs to the wind

It's been wet, windy, and unseasonably warm here in southern Vermont. The nights are no cooler than 40 degrees and the days are all rain and bluster. The state turned gray and some of my prize pumpkins rotted where they were drying on the once cold porch. Things are changing. I wonder if it's the calm before the real winter hits? Perhaps in a few weeks there will be a coating of ice or snow on this cabin?

While out doing errands I pulled over and snapped this photo of the horses at the Yellow Farmhouse. The small band winters there every year and I pass them and their wooly coats every time I drive down the mountain into town. They all had their backs to the wind and ignored me. I didn't blame them, I felt bad for them. It was a day to be on straw in a barn, not standing in mud in the rain.

I felt bad because I didn't understand yet.

See, yesterday at dusk, while doing my evening chores, something strange happened. It was around 4 and I had just finished refreshing all the bedding in the sheep and goat pens. I wanted my livestock to have a dry, warm, place to retreat on this miserable day. My body was warm from the effort, so to cool down I walked into the chicken coop to collect eggs and re-line the nest boxes with new straw. I was only inside the coop a few minutes. But when I emerged I saw something so peculiar I dropped one of the eggs in my hands. It bounced on the straw at my feet and rolled to the edge of the garden fence.

The farm was veiled in a thick, white mist. It lifted out of nothing and was moving fast across the pasture. At first I thought my glasses had fogged up, so I removed them and wiped the lenses clean, but when I placed them back on my nose it was as I originally saw it. Everything was shrouded over in this white stratus. It smelled clean, not like smoke. There wasn't any smoke around, no chimneys lit nearby—just the fog. The sheep ran into their pen and the goat nickered and I was just stunned by it all. I stood and watched it like a calm ghost was passing by. It sounds creepy, and it was, but it was so beautiful. Then I realized the wind moving the fog was behind me. Like the horses in the field, my back was too the wind too.

Later that night the temperature rose and harder rain came. The mist must have been the hollow getting new air pressure and dealing with the sudden collision of air masses. It's not often people get to watch change happen like that, right in front of them. Usually we just deal with the result: missing out on the beauty of the process. But today I witnessed everything evolving around me. It was magical. A little scary, but magical. And because of this I understood the rain better at night.

You can be scared of what's happening to you, because at first it's so uncomfortable—or you can step back and take it at face value. Had I not chosen a life that forces me to be outside all the time I would have been inside my own shelter, oblivious to the changes around me. I don't want to be a passive character in my own life anymore. I want to watch the big show, even the scary parts. Farming is teaching me more about the world than I ever thought possible. Please don't ever make me turn back to that old life. I don't think I was really alive before. I barely knew the world then. I'm just starting to learn him now.

I watched the fog with my back to the wind and like the horses I didn't want the barn.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

the intensity of sleddogs

deer camp weekend

Driving home past Wayside I had to shake my head and laugh. Outside the country store there were piles of cars and trucks with their drivers standing amongst them in the rain. Everyone was in high spirits though because in the back of those trucks were trophy bucks they took this morning. Today was the first day of rifle deer hunting in Vermont. It should be a state holiday.

I didn't notice it my first fall, but now that I know the culture of this place, I can see deer camp weekend signs like Audubon members can spot wood thrushes. DCW is the first weekend of hunting season. It's celebrated here as an all-out guys' retreat time. A hardcore brodown of blue and white collar crowds alike. The signs are subtle to the uninitiated, but now I see them clear as day. Three guys in line at the gas station with a 24-pack of Bud each: deer camp. The Wayside hot-foods section filled with only paper-wrapped burritos: deer camp. Trucks and ATVs parked along highways and in weird random wood lots: deer camp. Signs on the side of the road that say BUCK CUTTING HERE: deer camp. Baby Blue Toyota Avalons with a 70-pound buck strapped across the trunk: deer camp.

I make no judgments, just observations. I'm not a hunter but I respect anyone who has the gumption to eat local meat—Especially people who harvest it themselves. I do look at the whole first weekend of deer hunting fondly though. Seems the whole state's in a better mood. Vermont has this reputation of being all yoga and volvos, but the real Vermont is a lot more likely to buy deer urine at Cabelas. I say that with love.

Photo of hunters in the 1930s from

Friday, November 13, 2009

we have a winner!

Congrats to the O'Byrne Family of Seattle! They are the winners of the crank radio! (Please email me your mailing address guys.) Thank you to everyone who took part. We'll do one of these a month!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

wishful thinking

This photo was taken last December after our Christmas Delivery run. Every year I make some gift baskets for the neighbors and we mush them door to door. It's the least I can do for these amazing people, who have done so much to take care of me these past two years and never once asked for a thing in return. They are always keeping an eye on this farm. All the houses that surround me make sure all is well at all times. When Saro started laying on her eggs and was no longer seen waddling around with Cyrus—my neighbor Katie walked up the hill to inform me of the horrible loss. She was thrilled to then discover Saro was safe, just indoors on her nest. But it was so heartwarming to know she was looking out for everyone here. All of us, under many wings.

Anyway, in this picture, we just got back from handing out French toast baskets. These grand baskets include homemade bread, fresh eggs, and local maple syrup. It's a fun, inexpensive, homemade gift to give. And if you time it for a weekend, you can bet your winter hay the receivers will be frying up that battered bread the next morning. I don't know any breakfast food as good as fresh-bread, backyard-egg French toast. Why, I'm salivating at the thought right now...

Looking at that photo makes me a little excited. It hasn't really snowed here yet. What did fall barely coated the ground—but when it does come, we'll be ready. I'm looking forward to that first real dump. If I'm lucky it'll happen on a weekend, if I'm really lucky, a Friday night. To wake up on a Saturday with nowhere to be and nothing to do, and just coated in fresh powder in a cabin in the's something else. You sleep in, stoke up a roaring fire, and never leave the place. If you do leave your place by the fire, it's only to chop by the woodpile or tend the animals. It is s a wonderful, wonderful feeling to dedicate your day to such primal comforts. When this little cabin gets covered in a few inches, you'd swear time slows down. One side of a record seems to play for hours. In a few weeks we'll have that. To be on the safe side I'll keep stacking cordwood, order more heating fuel, and have the furnace serviced. All that will get done and we'll be okay. but let's let tonight be about wishful thinking, and possibly French toast for dinner...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

win a hand-crank radio!

If you read this blog, you may be familiar with the term CSA. It stands for Community Supported Agriculture. CSAs depend on their community to keep small farms running. They work like this: you the consumer pay a couple hundred bucks in advance and that pays for startup costs, planting, buying livestock, etc. Then you get a delivery of fresh local food every week of the growing season, as a return for your good faith and investment.

Well, we're going to have a CSA-style giveaway here, but the community is you and the agriculture you're supporting is Cold Antler Farm. Here's how it works, super simple: To be entered in the drawing to win the brand new Eton FR160 self-powered radio all you need to do is tell someone about this blog and comment about how you told them about it here. The plan is to get some new readership, and help the site popularity grow. All I'm asking is you tell one person who doesn't know about this blog, but may like, about it and send them the link. You can do this via email, or over the phone, or waiting for an elevator at the office. Doesn't matter to me, the point is to spread the word about a girl and her sheep and get a few more like minds here and on the forums.

To be entered in the drawing, which will be held this Friday, just place a comment in this post saying who you told and how. Nothing super specific, no names or phonenumbers just to show you did your part to help out the farm by being a little evangelical about CAF. I'll take all the names and pick a winner out of the hat for the radio. What do you think?

Monday, November 9, 2009

just some

It was peculiar day, unseasonably warm. After chores were done and the farm was put to bed, I went inside to make a cup of tea and tune my fiddle. I carried him outside (all my fiddles are hims) and set myself down on the north side of the porch, hanging my legs off the edge while I sat. In lantern light, in the balmy 50-degree wind, I was very quiet and sipped my tea. I sipped tea and watched the dark woods. No sheep or goat broke the silence. They were buried in their evening hay.

I set down my cup and played my fiddle for the forest. Just a few songs as a thanksgiving for the respite from the cold. It was kind of this farm to be warm, and in appreciation I put on a small concert. Tonight my hollow heard my lone fiddle cry out with Pretty Saro, Blackest Crow, and Amazing Grace. I'm not a great musician, but I can play those songs and it pleases me to hear them, which is enough. There is no one to impress.

I don't suppose there will be many more evenings this season like this. We hold onto them while we can.

Somewhere in the second verse of Blackest Crow I watched my shadow on the dead leaves and realized some of it was perfect. Just some.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

the best laid plans

Meet the new girls! Two Buff Orpingtons, two Barred Rocks and a Buff Brahma. All five birds were introduced to the farm today, and so far seem to be dealing with the new digs just fine. They're in the coop with the birthday pullets, the old gals, Winthrop, John, and my two angry, expectant parents. Cyrus and Saro must be hatching soon because they've recently gone from code yellow to red. You walk within three feet of that nest and it's all hisses and honks. I cut them a wide berth

I left the farm around 9 to meet Noreen at her home in Arlington. Arlington is the town right next to Sandgate, and in comparison it's a thriving metropolis (due to having both a bank and a gas station). Sandgate is too small for commerce and petroleum (which is exactly how us mountainfolk prefer it). I drove down the winding roadsin to town smiling. I have found that ever since I started homesteading, I smile more. The truck was running like a song, the sun was out, and I was wearing a favorite black and white flannel shirt on my way to buy livestock. Already the day was a win.

I loaded up the truck the day before with wire cages filled with straw. I covered the crates in an old quilt and lashed them down with rope, making two straw-filled dens safe from wind and chill. It seemed comfortable to me, so I figured the ten chickens Noreen and I were about to purchase would agree. I hoped they'd be comfortable. We'd be depending on them for eggs all winter.

When I got to Noreen's place I found her sitting on her back steps, waiting patiently. I was a little late due to getting caught up in a conversation over at the gas station. Allan, who owns the Citgo, is also a musher and his five beautiful Siberians down the street from me are playmates of Jazz and Annie's. We got into talking dogs and sleds and between that and the steaming cup of coffee I was preparing, I fell behind schedule. I'm always late for everything. (Sidenote: I have discovered that if you walk in ten minutes late with a pie the universe automatically makes you fifteen minutes early.) Sitting on her steps, Noreen didn't look like the Web Production Manager I knew from the office. Suddenly she was an eleven-year-old girl waiting to get on a carousel. She couldn't help herself. Chickens do this to certain people.

And she should be giddy, because she was about to be the proud owner of five young laying hens she'd been wanting for months. She had her heart set on Orpingtons and had been scanning Craigslist for weeks trying to find some for sale. She'd also fallen in love with the vocal and sassy Light Brahmas she already had. So when she found a farmer selling Orps and Brahms she was beside herself. Arrangements were made and away we'd go.

Her favorite hen, Cluck Cluck, a Light Brahma, used to be one of my birds. Now Cluck Cluck lives in the lap of luxury at the Davis Coop, which is a stunning henhouse made in three weekend's by her husband Dave. I took this picture of the establishment because I think it's a beauty. Big enough for a person to walk inside, electric-wired, and clean as a Bed & Breakfast inside. I don't think Dave realizes his true calling in this world yet...

Noreen was about to double her current flock and I was going to get a few more birds to make up for the losses from the summer. I lost so many to a horrid fox, three to some chicken mystery illness, and one rooster to the axe. Even with the five new gals I'd still have a smaller flock than I had going into last winter. But it all balances out because so many of the new birds are just starting to lay. I'll be up to my elbows in eggs by December. Just in time for Holiday baking.

We drove north the Fair Haven, a small town in Vermont about halfway between us and the chicken-delivering family. The farmers selling us the layers agreed to meet us at a gas station. I let Noreen navigate, I just drove, but I quickly realized the conversation in the car was going to be the best part of the trip no matter how great the new chickens were.

Noreen's family has lived in Arlington for generations. The stories she had about the folklore, characters, crimes, rivalries and ghost stories were wonderful. She told me about haunted houses and people thrown into jail. We talked about the feelings native Vermonters have about the influx of flatlanders, and how the populations changed so much in the state. Opinions and stories like this are what make you feel part of a place. She probably thought she was just making conversation as we rolled past the farms and pastures into Fair Haven. Truth was, she was training me to be a local.

We got to the gas station and weren't waiting long before a big green 6-wheeler pulled up alongside my little Ranger and unloaded with a smiling family. They had a big long box all ready to slide right into the back of my truck. I was silently grateful. I had been worrying I'd lose a bird by the highway in the shuffle between trucks and cages, but the new gals were already loaded in their taxi, ready to shuttle down south. Ever the professionals, they let us see the birds and approve them before we handed over the cash. Together we loaded them into the back of my bed and hands were shook. The deal was done and there would be French toast to prove it. We stood around talking about birds, horses, sheep, and shop talk for a while before we parted ways with thanks and smiles.

The more time I spend around Vermont farmers the more I want to become one.

We drove back to the Noreen's and unloaded the birds into her coop. They seemed a little rattled, but bright and healthy. Considering they were just sold, trafficked around the state, and spent four hours in a cardboard box—they looked freaking amazing. As we got them acclimated to the Davis Poultry Estate Noreen's husband, in-laws, and dog came out to see what all the fuss was about. I watched everyone talking and joking together outside, people I hardly know, but felt somewhat part of. Honestly, it warmed my heart to see a family outside and laughing because of a few birds in a backyard coop. I know they're just chickens, but "just chickens" made two women enjoy a sunny day together, tell stories, and see new parts of the state. They also managed to get two generations outside, away from a television in 2009. All those happy faces, smiling over homestead livestock made my heart melt. There's still hope for this world afterall.

A few months ago Noreen decided to get some birds and she's been in love with them ever since. Like every new chicken owner I've come across since getting into this mess, she's never regretted it for a second. She loves the attention she gives them, the eggs they give her, and the life and warmth they give to her backyard. Like me, Noreen's hooked and will never go henless again. Why would you not do something that makes you so happy?

Chickens do this to certain people.

goat morning from cold antler!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

winthrop on the porch

cold knots and warm breath

The thermometer on the porch says it's around 19 degrees outside. I'd say that's pretty accurate since I was just out there trying to let the sheep out to pasture, but hit a roadblock. It was so cold the piece of rope I use to secure the gate was frozen in its knot. I had to cup it in my hands and blow hot breath to loosen it up. Sal stood watching about 3 inches from my face as I did this. Nose to nose, his flaring nostrils sending up just as much smoke as my hot breath. From a distance I bet we looked like we were sharing a hoopka. His eyes darted from the knot to my face, looking impatient. (If a sheep can look impatient. Mine sure as hell can.) When I finally got it undone I opened the gate and plunged my bare hands into my Carharrt vest. Sal and Maude trotted out and Joseph got his head stuck in the fence. He has a way to go yet.

I think the dogs know how cold it is because they have not moved from the bedroom yet. We all slept in and I think most of today will be spent at home, catching up on farm and housework and writing in between. I don't think Jazz and Annie will come out from their den of covers until the urgent need to pee forces them. I won't argue. They can sleep.

Tomorrow's a big day. My coworker Noreen and I are driving to meet a farmer upstate to get some new laying hens. Noreen got her first chickens earlier this summer and man, did she fall hard for those birds. Her husband built her a new coop (possibly the best designed hen house I have ever seen) and it's ready for some new tenants. She's has had her heart set on Buff Orpingtons for months and we finally found someone who's willing to sell us some. (Orps as well as Buff Brahmas and Barred Rocks.) These new birds were born earlier this summer so they'll be laying shortly. What a score.

Between the fox, natural death, and the axe—I'm down to just eight layers and I think three of them are too old to lay. So I'll be getting some fresh feathers tomorrow too. I'll be loading up the truck with some crates and blankets for the trip. Part of me still gets all giddy when preparing for these small farm adventures. I love that I finally have a truck to load and a destination that leads to omelets to pursue. ETD is 9:00 AM so by noon I hope to be home with the new flockmates. Of course, there will be pictures.

A Small Announcement: I'll be giving away a brand new solar/crank Eton FR150 Radio here on the blog this week. It's one of those smaller ones that also has an LED light, cell phone charger, USB port, and weather band on it! You can charge your ipod, get snow updates, see in the dark and rock out on this baby! We'll be having a drawing here. I got a new one recently for the farm kitchen and liked it so much I want to give one away here. More on this soon.

Friday, November 6, 2009

snow, mush, and eggs

It did snow last night, only a dusting. But it was something else to walk out onto my porch last night and see the fat flakes covering the cabin and grass. I grabbed the lantern and let it down on the lawn to take photographic evidence. While doing this, I could hear Joseph crying from the sheep pen and then remembered this was his first experience with the white stuff. It must be confusing to be a black sheep in a snowfall. Especially if you're new at it.

Driving to the office this morning was epic. I noticed all the mountains were capped in white all around Sandgate. It was perfect. Like a giant took a powdered sugar sifter and topped them off. My hollow wasn't high enough to take the hit, but I appreciated seeing the possibility of it all around me.

I'm looking forward to this winter. I'm prepared with wood and heating fuel and the dogsled's already been dusted off. I think (I worry) this will be the dogs' last big season in harness. Next year Jazz will be ten and already he has to place a paw on the bed now to leap up and join me at night. He used to just fly up, like a gazelle. Now he needs a little support. Might be a sign his distance days are behind him. We'll play it by ear and long as he wants to pull, he will. Just not as far or hard—gentler runs, more downhill.

Cyrus, the goose you see here, is the only goose you'll see around Cold Antler now. Don't worry, his girl Saro is just fine but she's pretty damn occupied. She's been sitting on a giant clutch of goose eggs for days now. Some have never known the world away from her down, which isn't like her. Usually Saro sits for a few days and gets bored and leaves, but not this time. She's been stalwart and true. Every evening I carry the water font and feed to her, and she obliges with long gulps. Cyrus waddles up when I do this, hissing the whole time, but in a way gets that this is room service and not terrorism and lets me go. There's a chance for some goslings here and that's exciting. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

it's snowing right now!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

a girl can hope

There's a chance of snow tonight. Just a chance.

knit green review

It's not often I get unmarked packages in the mail, but when I do, It's kind of exciting. It reminds me that people are out there reading this blog, following along, and keeping in touch. I want to thank whoever sent me a copy of Knit Green: 20 Projects and Ideas for Sustainability by Joanne Seiff. It's great! And it was a fun surprise to find it in my mailbox a few weeks ago. I wasn't able to dive into it until recently, but when I did it definitely made me get out my needles and think about turning some of my old tee shirts into something cooler than dust rags. Which is exactly what the book is all about, keeping your projects as sustainable as possible. It's an easy to follow instructional book, and not at all scary for beginners. The author talks to you about knitting, not at you. And the idea that homecrafts and sustainability are holding hands, well, that makes me happy. If you knit, garden, and recycle: this book was made for you. Not for the glitter and glue gun set, but it should be.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

my new lunchbox

It's a 1962 Thermos metal barn lunch box. It has a matching thermos and it's what I use to carry lunch into the office. I scored if off ebay for less than what I'd spend on half tank of gas. Sure, its got some scratches and rusty hinges, but I'm comfortable with imperfection. I like seeing it at my desk while I'm typing. It reminds me that a few miles away, up a winding mountain road, is my farm. I carried this lunchbox from it and I'll carry it back inside—a comfort in stressful times and a nice thought even on the best of days. It's got moxie, and I like it with unapologetic gladness.

Monday, November 2, 2009

finn and his truck

established support

That first day of daylight savings always hits us, doesn't it? I left the office at 5 and barely caught the last blue moments of dying light. Driving home from work I realized I forgot to put the porch light on before I left, meaning the cabin would be dark as all get out when I got home. When I pulled into the driveway I stepped out of the truck and was instantly caught off guard. I felt the rush of moving animals and heard a mini-stampede of hooves about 30 feet to my right. Four white tails flashed down the hill. I didn't even see the does behind the trees. I caught my breath, but hardly. A great horned owl started carrying on somewhere down the other side of the creek. I realized then that crows are my morning birds and owls are my nightwatch. I love my tame poultry, but I also like the company of wilder birds. The song birds are okay, but the talon set makes me feel safe. Did you know seeing a pair of crows is good luck? Probably not since that's a personal superstition of mine, but it's damn true.

The full moon above cast enough glow to stumble around in but I still needed to grab the flashlight I keep in the truck. As I made my way inside I could hear the confused bleats from Finn and the angry baas from the sheep. "Why weren't you here before it got dark, Lady?" they seemed to say. They had no idea where I was an hour ago. I let them bitch, they still got plenty of hay.

I have this flashlight attachment that came with my powertools and I love it. I use it all the time. However, tonight I discovered that you can't carry a five-gallon bucket of water in each hand and a powerful spotlight. I didn't want to be off balance and I didn't want to make two trips either. So I got a little randy and slid it into my shirt, perfectly balancing it within the confines of already established underwire support. Not exactly a class act, but a girls got to do what a girls got to do. I made my way around the pens and coop in perfectly light. Now, had you seen me waddling around the farm in the dark with two giant white buckets and a spotlight in my bra you would've died laughing. I giggled myself. But hell, it worked. I just hope those creepy owls weren't watching.

P.S. If you were a finalist or winner of Fiddler's Summer, can you please shoot me another email with your address? I have not forgotten you. I want to mail you your winnings. Life just got lifey and it took the backseat. I apologize.

all souls

Sunday, November 1, 2009

saving daylight

It's been abnormally warm here in Vermont and most of the people in my hollow seem to appreciate it. I realized while bumming around the cabin that sun-dappled afternoons may not be long for this season. So In a last-hurrah-of-Autumn ferver I leashed up the dogs and took them for a two mile walk in the glow. We passed a lot of neighbors doing the same thing, which made me kind of proud. Us Sandgaters know how to appreciate satiation while it lasts. Jazz and Annie padded beside me like puppies and I didn't even need a coat. A light wool sweater, two dogs, the ipod, and my hiking boots and I was on top of the world.

We did lazy Sunday things all afternoon. I cooked some lunch, did some writing, and when the indoors made me anxious I went outside to carry split hardwood to the wood pile near the house. I bet I held twenty infant fires in my arms and my shoulders are reminding me how heavy fire-babies can be. (I'm pretty sore.) I did the stacking as the sun was at that close, hot, time. I knew it would be dark an hour earlier so I had to work fast. I don't save daylight. I spend it.

Later, I came back to the house and caught Annie panting in the sun on the porch. Jazz had retired to his dog bed in the bedroom but my girl wanted those rays. She sprawled on the planks till the sun was all but gone. I went inside to get back to work instead of joining her on the stoop with a book. I think she knows more about the world than me. I think this all the time.