Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Gardening, It's Happening!

I spent a nice afternoon helping out in the greenhouse down at Common Sense Farm yesterday. I sat with my friend Yesheva and we transplanted sprouts into six-packs with their own composted soil. It was simple, dirty, delicate work, like knitting lace out of muddy roots. I got paid in starts, a nice little flat of lettuces and chard, onions and broccoli. I got some of it in my raised beds today and sprayed the perimeter of my groundhog-buffet with Liquid Fence. One can pray, can't she?

My gardens happen between animal births, daily chores, writing gigs and whenever free time allows. So far only little snap peas and kale sprouts are popping out of the ground. It's early here in the North Country, but with the heat of May just around the corner (Tomorrow!) I see a lot of gardening posts in our future….

Miscreant Youth in Jackson

Monday, April 29, 2013

Good Morning From Some Goats!

Jasper the Cart Pony: Part 3

Harnessing Jasper was easy, as always. For all his pomp he has never given me any issues with being harnessed up. At least not on his body. You can hang beaver traps off his flanks and spray paint him yellow and he won't budge. The bridle is another story. He doesn't like taking the bit and I have to use one hand to prop open his mouth behind his teeth and my other to slide it in. He always bobs his head and makes it a big deal out of it but I always win. And once he has it in place he stops acting up. Again this is just more pony shenanigans.

Once he was tacked up came the first test of faith. Tom and I took Merlin's red cart and brought it up behind him. He didn't budge or panic so we slid the shafts up alongside him and he stood well. This was a great little confidence boost for me. It means he is trained enough, and still remembers well enough, what is happening and going on. There was no panic at this, but a lot of curiosity. He sniffed and chomped at the extra-long shafts. After a few corrections he stopped. Another little boost of confidence. I went about the steps of attaching his harness to the cart and took in the issues. The cart was a bit too big, mostly in the shafts length. They jutted out past his chest too far. Not ideal, and it would make turning harder on him, but wouldn't hurt him just walking down the road on a halter. That was the first thing I was planning on doing. Just walking alongside him and seeing how he felt as a load-bearing animal. If he was calm I would have Tom take his head and I would sit in the cart.

With Jasper harnessed and the cart attached we headed out into the road. There was no traffic and the afternoon sun was shining. Jasper, who had been calm as an oxen started to act up. Just having the cart behind him was a loud and awkward change from his daily routine. He crow hopped and threw his head a little but after a few seconds calmed down and walked beside me. I realized around this point how lucky I was having Merlin already trained as a driving animal when I got him. The difference between the two animals in harness was night and day. Jasper was a blazing sun of energy and nerves compared to Merlin's moonlight on still water. But I can't fault Jasper for that. His story makes me think someone else already gave up on him once.

Jasper was bought at an Amish auction down south of me near Cobelskill New York. He was brought into the auction ring driving a small cart, showing the folks in the stands he knew his stuff. But like any horse being sold at auction, there was a reason he wasn't back at the farm where he was trained. The auction flyer said (Rob told me this and showed me the flyer when I bought him) that he was a little wild. Since ponies of his side were used almost exclusively by children learning to drive and for their safe transportation, a spitfire did not belong in that camp. Jasper was too much horse for an Amish ten-year-old and so he was for sale, trained but not dependable. Rob saw a horse with potential in him and bought him. He was right, Jasper is a great little horse but needs slower, patient, and constant training with an adult that can handle his crap. Enter me.

So there I was, almost two years since I bought Jasper and finally heading out into the road on a cart with him. I handed Tom the halter and asked him to hold his head and walk with him while I took the driving lines in the cart seat and tried driving him while standing behind the cart and walking. We did this but only got about four feet before Jasper stopped, threw his head, and started to turn back around.

It wasn't pretty. He was confused, the cart was fit wrong, and I was asking him to do something he had not done in years. Every time he turned around I let him, and then promptly finished the circle 360 degrees so he was always ending up going the same way, which was forward. It was a struggle but eventually he walked forward from behind. It wasn't calm and it wasn't easy but we were walking, stopping, and going forward. Progress.

This whole time Tom was at his head and I was walking behind the cart. If a car passed by jasper panicked. If a tree threw a branch into a trunk of another tree he shot his head to look. It was all new, all dramatic. But he (the two humans) stayed calm and after about ten minutes he was walking.

At this point I decided to go for it and jump in. I sat in the back seat and held the two lines. There I was, in what I call the Gandalf Position. I was sitting in the back seat of a pony cart on a sunny day, facing uphill to a little farmhouse waiting my safe return. With Tom holding his head I asked him to move forward and he did it! After a few steps I told Tom to let go of the horse and it felt like a dad letting go of his kid's handlebars on her first bike ride. Jasper didn't freak out. He didn't panic. He just walked up the hill. It was an amazing end note to our first session and I couldn't have been happier about it! He needs more training, more hours behind the wheels (err, in front?) but I think I have a working cart pony on my hands!

Now he just needs a cart that actually fits him…And guess what?! Tom, Elizabeth and I spent all day Saturday repainting and repairing a little pony cart that used to be used on a donkey just for Jasper! It's been sitting by my chicken coop for years, a gift from a friend that became a forgotten project. But now it is dressed up and after some new wheels and a few little add-ons it'll be road ready and perfectly fit two passengers and a little POA. Not a bad week of work here at Cold Antler Farm, not a bad week of work at all.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Going Out To Dinner

So I have this rule that my personal life, certainly my dates, are never written about on this blog. I respect both my partner's and my own right to privacy that isn't on display or up for discussion online. But some dinner dates are so great, so breathtakingly amazing, that I feel obligated as a writer and artist to share them with the world.

I was taken out to dinner tonight by a middle-aged guy I've been on and off with for the last year. He's smart, tall, and has amazing hair that you kind of lose yourself in if you let yourself touch it. Dark, brown eyes and a knowing grin. A smartass through and though, just like I like them. He's from the UK and while he's not a big talker, he has this way about him that intrigues the hell out of me. I fell for him hard, at first sight, and since he walked into my life it hasn't been the same. I wish the same for every woman, to know this kind of satisfaction, companionship, and use of her thigh muscles….

Merlin was taking me out to dinner.

Yup. I had a dinner date with my horse. It was that golden afternoon light, right before sunset and Merlin was tied up to the hitching post outside my little farmhouse. He was carrying saddlebags laden with a cooler of drinks and dinner, utensils, napkins, and an icepack as well as the gear always on hand during trail ride. You know what I mean, things like a spare halter, lead rope, hoof pick, bug spray, and such. Tied to the top of the saddle bags, behind the saddle, was a wool blanket my mother gave me. I used baling twine to lash it down. This was my kind of night out. I couldn't hold back my grin as the golden rays split through the trees. I hopped onto his back and we reined out onto the road at a trot. We were going out to dinner and we were going on a picnic.

We rode across the street to the dirt path that leads to our trailhead. Once there we walked, trotted, and cantered across field, forest and stream. Merlin would stop to drink and splash and I'd stretch, feeling the heat of the welcomed sun on my face, knowing the season a way few lucky people do. We walked along a running stream, up a steep little cliffside as we headed towards an open hayfield. Once there I hopped off, tied Merlin by a lead top and halter to a small tree, and unloaded the blanket, dinner, and e-reader for my respite. This would be a night to remember....

The meal wasn't fancy, but it was delicious. I ate ravioli out of a ziplock bag and sipped cider as I sat on the blanket. I read a chapter from The Protector's War as I munched. The weather was a perfect seventy degrees. The kind of seventy degrees only people who spent the winter feeding a wood stove on -13 degree nights can appreciate. I savored the food. I sipped the cider like it was nectar from heaven. I read and laughed quietly to myself, listening to the tail swishes and occasional sighs from Merlin. It was my first picnic of the season and it was sublime.

To some people eating out means a restaurant. To me it means this, being outside and so wrapped up in the moment you lose track of time. I spent an hour out there in the grass, reading and occasionally talking to a horse. He was good company and seemed to appreciate the peppermint treats I had in my pocket and cold stream water he got to slurp and splash his heavy feet in. It was a fun night out for him as well. I reciprocate what I can.

We stayed outside until the sun left my eastern side of the mountain and a light chill blew across the field. I had a light sweater in the saddlebags and slid it over my head. I thought about how in a few weeks the fireflies would be out at this time, and I'd be a shell of my former self, exhausted from an afternoon of haying and stacking bales. Summer will hit so fast, and I'm not ready for it. As I secured lashed gear and talked softly in Gaelic to Merlin, I wondered to myself what a moonlit walk home on those trails among the creeks and fireflies would be like? How it would soak into my skin and become a memory I told people about for the rest of my life? When I grow nostalgic at something that hasn't even happened yet, I know it is time to go home. I packed up rest of the picnic into Merlin's panniers and tied off the rolled blanket and we headed back down the mountain to Cold Antler. My stomach full, my horse content, and the road short with chores like milking and chick feeding ahead. Work never stops here, but little vacations like this balance out the anxieties.

I rode home a women heading into chores having just left the best dinner date she had experienced in years. I knew I wasn't getting laid tonight, but damned if I didn't get lucky.

Crash Course in Horse & Cart

Live Like Fiction Book Club
World Made By Hand

This month I chose the novel, World Made By Hand by James Howard Kunstler, for the LLF Book Club. It's the story of the not-too-distant future here in rural Washington County, New York. Kunstler imagines a world not without oil, but without leadership or a functioning government. In the book a terrorist group plants bombs on a series of cargo freighters in a west-coast port and the explosion sends a ripple through our economy we could not recover from. The bombs made it impossible to allow any cargo into the country without being inspected and that process took so long that the businesses that traded goods on said ships started to fall apart. It took forever to get t-shirts and tomatoes in the American stores and international business suffered. After that two bombs took out Washington DC and Los Angeles and that was all it took to break the camels back. The nation collapsed from lack of resources and a functioning economy. Services faded away until the electricity was just the occasional flicker and the government entirely shut down (along with all the services it provided, from welfare to road plowing). Unlike a lot of modern apocalyptic fiction, WMBH doesn't involve zombies or UN plots. It was created by the same situations and enemies we have now. The oil didn't run out, it simply got to expense to get to and the money was all used up elsewhere. America fell back to functioning more like it did in the civil war than now. This all happened in a decade of decline.

What I like about this series is the people. This book doesn't focus on world politics, peak oil, or terror plots. This is the story of a town in a farming community and how it survives. Complicated relationships, traditional gender roles, religious fanaticism and plain old fashioned murder and suicide are what creates the landscape of drama. Some folks found these books offensive. I found them fascinating. I love any story where people figure out how to survive and restart their community, because it gives me hope. And since this book takes place in a Greenwich, NY summer along the Battenkill River it's close enough for me to reach out and touch.

This will be our wrap-up discussion on the book! Feel free to share your ideas, thoughts, insights, and opinions in the comments!

P.S. Next Month's Pick involves a certain James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser....

Jasper the Cart Pony: Part 2

I lead Jasper to the hitching post in front to the farmhouse. He walked beside me, but not calmly. He still associates any trip out of the paddock as a chance to run through the green grass and while he wasn't bucking and fussing, he was straining. If he was a Belgian I'd have lost an arm, but since he's a 450 pound POA, it was mostly just grunt work holding onto him. I got him to the post, tied off his lead rope in what Trainer Dave calls a "robbers knot" and he stood there, staring at me like I dragged him into the Bon Ton and he only came because I promised him a toy later.

This is Jasper's vice. He is rowdy unless bribed and that's my fault. He's rowdy because he spends all his time cooped up in a paddock or fooling around the pasture and gets little mental or physical stimulation besides that. Horses need exercise as much as people do. A vet told me that horses out in a pasture are not being exercised any more than your average person being sat in the middle of an empty football field. The freedom to move around doesn't mean you have the will to do pushups. Merlin, that guy gets plenty of exercise being ridden and driven on a regular basis. But Jasper maybe leaves his little kingdom once a month.

He's in this situation because I got him with the intention to do all the things Merlin and I do, but realized he wasn't a practical riding horse and I didn't have the confidence, equipment, or understanding to train him to drive or feel safe behind a horse cart. So he ended up being a guard animal for the sheep flock, running with them, and when Merlin came into my life he became a pasture pal, a companion for the big guy. Now, this isn't a bad life for a horse. The animal gets all the attention it needs by vets and farriers, plays and eats, and pretty much runs around like a kid at recess. But there's no manners or discipline in this kind of horse keeping, and any manners that may have been laid as a foundation have been ignored through lack of reinforcement.

Jasper, basically, has turned into a spoiled brat.

That all ends now. I know what to do with a harness, a horse, and a cart now. I have been through a full year with Merlin and his antics and after that little Jasper seems a lot, well, littler. He isn't the intimidation he used to be. More of an obstinate teenager I have to put up with until he learns to fly right and stay the course. But to turn a pasture-sour, cranky, spilled horse into a pleasant and useful animal I need to do my part and that means a dedicated training schedule with a foundation in groundwork followed by sessions in harness.

We (I have had help of several friends) have been working with Jasper this whole week. It's tricky because neither the tack or the cart fits him perfectly. Adjustments were made to make it as comfortable as possible but the truth of the matter is I am not spending hundreds of dollars on a custom harness and new cart. We would be using the small work harness and collar, bought used by a friend and bartered to me, and the same little red cart I use for Merlin. The plan was simple:

1. Work Jasper on the ground until he is calm and attentive.
2. Take him to the post and ask him to stand for grooming, hoof picking, and harnessing up.
3. Attach the cart and halter lead him to the road.
4. Start training (retraining?) him to drive with all the distractions of a public (alight secluded) road.

Oh Boy!

The first time I ever hitched up Jasper to train him with the cart, Tom was there. Tom's a good friend and used to livestock, but cautious around horses. He is used to cattle, not equines, and feels horses are more flighty which makes them unpredictable. I'd say in most cases he is right, and certainly with this wily little 11.2 pony walking circles around the hitching post until he had tangled himself around it like a Maypole. Most horses stand calmly when tied up, but not Jasper. He wanted out of there. Perhaps Tom did, too?

Once he was untangled, he stood well for grooming. He let me take off some shedding hair, get combed and brushed out. He let me pick up all his feet and pick them (with some protest) and check his mouth and ears. I have to give him an A+ for the grooming aspect. I decided to wait until after groundwork to put on the heavy harness.

I kept hearing Trainer Dave's voice in my head. "As long as you are getting out of their way, they are in charge. Once a horse has to get out of YOUR way, you are in charge." Getting a pony calm and manageable doesn't take yelling or a club, it takes showing him through their own language you are in charge. With horses, even little guys like Jasper, this means body language. So armed with nothing but a flag on the end of a long carriage whip and his lead rope and halter I took Jasper out into the front lawn to move him out of my way.

At first I just asked him to walk in circles around me, guiding him with the whip. You don't hit the horse, just shake the flag at their back flanks and they move away from it. This in itself is forcing the horse to move out of your way, but it isn't the end game. What I wanted was for Jasper to be totally tuned into me. I wanted him to watch me, calmly, curiously, and anticipate what I asked next. I wanted him to turn and look at me, facing me nose to nose (but at a comfortable distance away from each other) when I asked him to stop. The reason I wanted him to face me was because a horses' threatening end is the rear end. That is where those powerful back legs can crush skulls and fend off predators. If a horse stops and shows you its butt, it's like showing you the middle finger in defiance or because it is scared and defending itself. This is not the kind of attitude you want on an animal you are going to strap a vehicle too and ride down a road with. Here's an example of what I am talking about. Listen to Buck, and watch what he's doing!

It took about fifteen minutes to turn the kicking and fussing pony into an attentive animal, acting respectful and paying attention to me. This is something I needed to know to work with horses, and something I had to be taught. I cringe to think of what would have happened to me if I bought a cart and hitched him to it knowing nothing about groundwork or horse's minds and body language. I may have been fine but more likely I would have had a horse bolt on me, get hurt, and possibly scare me off driving in general. Part of me is glad I waited a bit to work this horse, and maybe another part of me thinks its wiser to wait even longer. Conditions aren't ideal yet. But like Joel said: if anything is worth doing it's worth doing wrong first. I can adjust harnesses and get a new pony cart ready to role (this is in the works, just wait and see!) but today I wanted to see what this little guy was made of. Would he trot down the road? Would he spaz out? Would he know what to do or bolt for the homeland soon as a car came near us? I guess I would just have to find out....

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Gangs All Here

The kids are out with Bonita, and playing with her between milkings. Since they were raised on just bottles and never suckled off of a goat they don't know to get a free snack. No nursing between meals means they can all share a pen. Sometimes they escape, but I'm getting better at kid-proofing the pen.

Jasper the Cart Pony: Interlude!

One of my favorite quotes about farming, well about life in general, comes from Joel Salatin. He always says "Anything worth doing is worth doing wrong first!" And I couldn't agree more. He doesn't mean starting something with the intention of failure or lack of preparation, but just to accept that taking on any new task means accepting a certain level of initial failure. In his book, "Folks, This Aint Normal" (And if you buy ONE audiobook in 2013 it should be him reading that book to you) he explains how in America we don't accept a new hobby or career choice as legitimate unless the person doing it is a prodigy or wealthy from it. People don't play the guitar because they don't sound like James Taylor the first week. Folks consider people who lose money on an investment in a new business as failures. We mock those who make mistakes in attempts at something great. He tried to explain how ridiculous this was, how no one who does anything worthwhile starts out with amazing results. He said something along the lines of, "Imagine if when a baby was learning to walk and fell down we pointed and laughed?" That would never happen, because we understand that its an entirely new endeavor and takes time. We should allow that same kindness to ourselves when we take up jogging, or playing the fiddle, or starting a farm. Folks, we all learn by falling on our ass.

That picture at the top of this post was taken my first ever summer as a horse owner. I bought a cheap carting harness off ebay and a tiny bridle and bit and I had no idea what I was doing. Not really. I mean, I had books and the internet but in the frenzy of actual experience with a horse throwing his head in the air and sweat in your pits you forget all those diagrams and charts. In that photo Jasper's bridle isn't even on right. It's not on in any way that would hurt him, but it's not correct. That harness isn't correct for pulling either, I knew that then but this was what I could afford. I felt that it was more important to actually do the work with the horse, even if limited by supplies and knowledge, than to wait for all the right equipment and know-how to form. I had my little draft animal and I wanted to start the journey of working with him. So I took Joel's words to heart and decided if horses were something worth doing, they were worth doing wrong first.

Now, let me say at no point should your or your animal be mistreated or put in danger or major discomfort because you have a hankering to get to work. Tying rope around your donkey and asking it to pull a sledge is cruel. Jumping bareback on the back of a new gelding because you "always wanted to ride" is crazy. Asking your new sheepdog pup to take on a ram is idiotic. And having your spouse taste-test your new mushroom foraging spoils might get you 20-life. What I am talking about here is simply not waiting for circumstances to be perfect, or waiting until your entirely comfortable to try something new. I sure as hell wasn't comfortable with Jasper or Merlin when I started with them. I think a little anxiety and fear is good, it keeps you respectful of the animal and the task at hand.

Anyway, point is, use your head. And don't be scared to make mistakes and fail. Ever. The story I'm about to share of hitching up Jasper to a cart for the first time since I've owned him isn't perfect. It is riddled with mistakes, poorly fitted gear, and small victories among the frustrations. But you all saw that short video evidence that driving Jasper isn't impossible, just rough right now. But I am keeping that vision of a wizard and a pony cart in my mind. And if I keep those coals burning, and treat the next few months of pony training I might just ride a pony cart to the neighbors yet. I'll even smoke my little pipe along the way.

So read the next pony post with a little compassion, and expect mistakes. Jasper and I are toddlers learning to walk.

Friday, April 26, 2013


Thursday, April 25, 2013

If You Want It

I've learned people don't always get what they want
They don't always get what they deserve
They get what they want bad enough to make happen
And that is always deserved

Workshop FAQ

Folks have been asking me about how to sign up for a workshop and other questions. I thought I would address them here. If you are coming for a workshop soon, please read over this as well, as some things have changed for various reasons. But it is still pretty much just you coming to see me hold forth, share ideas, converse with other farmers and homesteaders, and enjoy learning a new skill with new friends! They are the backbone of this farm, specially while book contracts are scarce as Dodos around here, so your support and attendance is literally what keeps this blog and farm alive. I'm grateful to all of you for coming out to the farm. I love sharing it, so much.

Notes and Changes in Workshops:
Most workshops do not allow on site camping, so if you are coming from out of town you'll have to reserve a room at a local Inn or B&B. Find a list of local places to stay here. I suggest the Cambridge Inn or Rice Mansion! Sadly, our big hotel closed and is looking for new ownership. I miss it.

If you are flying in, the closest airport is Albany, and you'll need to rent a car or get a taxi to drive you the 50 minutes north into Washington County.

How do you sign up? It is pretty simple! You just email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com and tell me what workshop you want to register for. Then you pay via paypal and through email we work out details and somesuch.

Assume all fences and gates are electric! No touchy!

95% of workshops are outside, so dress for time outside. Bring raingear, sunscreen, boots, or anything else you aren't scared to get dirty, sweaty, ruined or chicken poo on. All are possibilities.

Children are not allowed at CAF workshops. With large animals, fences with voltage, and no childcare options on site there is too many dangerous things going on to keep a proper eye on curious hands. Also, my insurance people might throttle me.

Bring notebooks, business cards, "outdoor shoes," and musical instruments! Always better to have these things along even if you don't use them, then to not have them if you need them!

You need to pack a lunch now! Sadly, I can't legally feed you since I do not have a licensed USDA kitchen, I can not prepare food for sale. Always bring a cooler to stash and know there is iced bottled water always here if you don't want to bring a drink.

You can buy a Season Pass for the entire year and this allows you to come to EVERY SINGLE event on the farm for a full 12 months for the cost of about three workshops. If you know you'll make the trip for Antlerstock and maybe one or two others, you both save money, have an open dance card with me, and support this farm. And this farm can always use support!

There are no refunds for CAF workshops! They work like a CSA, you pay up front and then it is your responsibility to come and collect the share. Budget is too tight to refund folks, as workshops are paid for months in advance as far as supplies and planning go. (Like yesterday's order of 5 fiddles from a music shop!) If you can not make a workshop, your credit is good towards one in the future. If this is a problem for you consider a season pass or do not sign up for a workshop!

You use paypal to sign up, and you do not need a paypal account to use the donate button on the blog. It is on the right hand side under the barnheart graphic and regardless if people make a donation or pay for a workshop, both get reported to the IRS as income. They have me well trained, them.

Chickens & Tomatoes

Chickens are a lot like tomato plants. Both need to be started indoors, require care and attention, and taste delicious. Perhaps that’s why they’re both icons in rural America. If there is one thing this nation appreciates it’s something that harkens back to our zeitgeist of a lost agricultural nostalgia that can also be put in a burrito. We are a simple people.

The Best Thing About This April

Jasper the Cart Pony: Part 1

Jasper has been living here at Cold Antler Farm, doing the odd farm chore now and again, but mostly goofing off in the pasture. He was my first ever equine and the day he was delivered (and for months after!) I felt like he was a gigantic and powerful animal. I mean, the largest livestock I owned up to that point was a sheep, so to have an animal in my possession measured in hands felt like I'd just had my farm upgraded.

I bought Jasper not with the intention to ride, but with the intention of doing work on the farm with animal power I felt I was able to handle and control. Looking back, the choice for a pony was more about my ideas about comfort and control, not the reality of it. I thought a smaller horse meant simpler work and less effort. I thought a smaller horse would be cheaper to feed, own, and house. The truth is I needed the same farrier, vet bills, hay, fences, and outbuildings for Jasper as I did for Merlin, but back then the idea of buying a thousand pound, 14 hand riding horse was out of my league. I can honestly say my dreams for Jasper were to stick a harness on him and lead him by a roped halter around the property with a cart or sledge. Ask him to move manure, pull smaller logs to the firewood pile, odd jobs any respectable farmer would use and ATV for.

Well, folks, the only all-terrain vehicles at this farm require fly spray.

So why the sudden urge to drive Jasper when he's been here so long and I already have a larger, better trained, driving animal? Here's why: because when this world throws enough hints in my face I give in to fate. And over the past week I had not one, but THREE people ask me about driving Jasper.

The first was the man who sold him to me, Rob. Rob is a good guy, a father and horse trainer and trader here in Washington County. He has some larger animals but focusses on ponies, his business niche is getting kids and adults smaller animals they need. Rob was one of those people I met, did business with, and never thought I would see again but ended up being a regular character in my life. He is also a member of the Washington County Draft Animal Association where he and his son drive teams of his own self-broke ponies. And last week he showed up at my house for a quick chat since he was driving up my mountain anyway and wanted to ask about Jasper. He arrived in a pink beard.

Now there may have been a time in my life when a jovial man in a dyed pink beard may have raised an eyebrow, but not anymore. After all, I answered the door in a kilt. Our eccentricities meant nothing of import though, because we were there to talk horses. He wanted to know if I wanted help getting Jasper in the cart and was eager to aid me since he had a notion to borrow Jasper for some driving with his matched gray mare. I told him I would be thrilled for the help and he is welcome to pair up Jasper if he wants but I had never once put a vehicle on that horse. Rob nodded, and explained that when he bought the horse from the Amish Auction downstate he was driven into the arena, and sold as a carting pony. Since little appaloosa horses of questionable lineage (specially ones with such a spitfire attitude) aren't popular for hobby drivers or kids, he was a few steps away from the meat trucks. But Rob bought him on the spot, took him home, and his kids rode him like he was a mustang of the wild west. This was a horse that could do things. When I bought Jasper I watched an eight-year-old ride him in the rain and I thought any beast that lets a child boss it around in a thunderstorm, I could handle.

So that was the story of Rob, Jasper and I. But just a few days later my farrier and trainer, Dave, showed up for the horses regular barefoot trimming work and we had a long conversation about Jasper. I adore Dave. If people can be members of your tribe, in a sense that both includes culture, passions, and logic - Dave and I belong to the same group of happy wanderers. We're both Czech, love horses and archery, work for ourselves, and can bullshit for hours about anything under the sun. I met him through Patty, who uses him for her two horses, and she told me long before he ever arrived at the farm that I would learn at least three things from him every time he showed up. I asked if there was that much to learn about horse feet? Patty explained he knew horses and if I paid attention I would get a lot more than a fifty dollar pedicure for my horse. I'd learn how to live with it better, ride better, train better, and be a better person. She was right.

Dave is too nice to tell you to your face your horse needs manners, but he did make it clear Jasper was bossing me around and needed a job to do. He told me this while doing some basic ground work with him, showing me how a horse that won't stand still for the farrier isn't being bad as much as he is being the leader. "He moves you around, and when a horse moves you out of its way he's in charge, no matter who is holding the halter line." was Dave's advice. He showed me how to get Jasper to pay attention to me, not the grass he wanted to eat or Merlin in the paddock. We worked with a long line and a flag on a stick to move him, stop him, get him watching me the way a well-trained dog watches the master who asked him to sit for a cookie. I told him about the visit with Rob and Dave agreed. Jasper needed to be doing something besides running circles around Merlin and rolling in the dirt in the same paddock that never changes.

Then I mentioned both these conversation to Patty, who simply nodded and assured me Jasper already knew what he was doing and would do great. SO that was it. This horse was going to be driven and soon. I had the harness, the cart, and the confidence I didn't have when he first arrived. I had help and eager cheerleaders and so, come hell or high water, that pony was heading down the road….

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

First Time EVER Driving Jasper

Learn The Fiddle, FINALLY!

Summer Fiddle Camp 2013 has 2 spots left. It is Saturday and Sunday August 31st/Sept 1st  and if you and a friend sign up together soon for it I will offer the two spots for $300. Yup, That's $150 a person for the two days, fiddles, and a lifetime of music ahead of you. The farm would appreciate it, as would I!

Email me for details! jenna@itsafarwalk.com

P.S. That photo was taken by Stacey of her campsite here at my farm!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Jasper's Day!

Today is Jasper's Day! Merlin will just have to watch because today we (my friend Tom and I) are going to groom, ground work, harness, and hitch up Jasper to the cart! I'm also going to use him to move some cut timber from the forest behind the house. In all the Merlin limelight this guy has not been used as much and it seems like a waste for such a fine (fingers crossed) cart pony. So pictures and stories to come!

Fiddle Camp Update: DATE CHANGE 8/31-91

THIS JUST IN. Fiddle Camp has moved to the August 31st and Sept 1st! And there is one spot left (or we can squeeze in a couple) for that weekend, too. Come learn and hang out at Cold Antler for a weekend! And if you can commit yourself and a friend today, I'll throw in the fiddles for FREE. I just need to sell the spots. So email me if you want to come learn with a friend, take the last spot, and get a free instrument to boot. contact me at: Jenna@itsafarwalk.com

Growing Better

The garden is a place I go to when I need to escape, and I mean really escape. It may seem to our romantic sides that hopping on the back of a horse and running up a mountain side, or taking a walk in the woods with the dogs would be just as much a break from the stresses of everyday life, but not like thee garden. Nothing is like the garden.Because when you garden there is nothing to mind but the static earth and plants, things that do not buck or whinny, chase squirrels or ask for thrown sticks. In the soil there is just the work of weeding, digging, hoeing and planning and it is done in some deeper recess of the brain that doesn’t require any sort of work to summon.

I bring out a radio, plug into an audiobook, or blast music and my consciousness gives over to lyrics and drama, but the work is on autopilot. I do not think while I pluck out stray grass shoots, nettle, and daffodil spikes. My body is in one place and my mind is in another. I’m lost in a story, singing along with favorite lyrics, or rapt at an episode of This American Life. Sometimes I think going into the garden is like stepping into a chamber that transports me to another dimensions. It’s a place exactly like the one I just resided in but nothing matters that used to. Arguments with friends, late bills, that overly large mole on my left breast….things that wake me up at three AM most nights are of such little consequence in the garden that a blade of stray grass demands more attention. Mostly because the grass is present at the same moment my need to remove it is, and the remedy is a tangible act I can commit and repair without any dispute.

Farm Dog

I have lived with several dogs, been around dog people my whole life, and experienced many breeds and canine activities. I've mushed my own sleddogs, won AKC obedience titles with my Golden Retriever, and helped show Shar Peis in high school. I have hunted with flushers and pointers, fell asleep beside old rough collies, and read all I could of Jack London by the time I was ten. And now I live with what has turned out to be the greatest canine experience of my life: Gibson, the farm dog.

Gibson is here watching baby geese with Patty at her farm. He won't hurt them, he won't bite. Yesterday I watched as Maude literally ran him over and he just got back up and asked for more. This is the same dog who baby sits lambs and goat kids, is kind to all humans he meets, and has shared by bed and kept me warm for three years. I have never had a dog this close, this aware of me, this tuned in to what I need and how I feel. I have never owned a dog I wanted to be as bad as I want to be him. That sounds silly, but it's 100% true. I want to be that alive, that excited about whats outside my front door. I want to run for the hell of it. I want to take life's hits and roll with it. I want to be a healthy, vibrant, panting animal. Whenever I get sad, or things get very hard, or I feel lonely and scared I think of the world as my dog sees it. How could anyone be afraid or alone in a place that makes him who he is?

I want to be a fast, fast dog.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Good Morning!

Good morning from Jackson!

I'm just in from the bulk of my morning chores. I fed the horses and (very pregnant!) sheep, milked the goat, fed the goatlings, entertained a Border Collie, fed pigs, chickens and rabbits, checked under broody geese for goslings, and felt the sun on my back the whole time. Glorious! And in payment for my time and effort I came inside with a half gallon of fresh milk (already strained and in the chiller) and a half dozen eggs. Had I the sense to bake some fresh bread yesterday like usual I would be looking at some amazing second-day bread french toast. Oh well, coffee and an orange it is. Plus, Monday mornings have two hours of TKD training at my dojang and I don't think French Toast would be as tasty post a few sparring matches.

That's all I have for now, more later, just wanted to check in and welcome the day with you. I need to go out there and get the horses fresh water and stop the kids from running into the woods to play Swiss Family Robinson. Yesterday my neighbor informed me they were halfway up the mountain till they called them down. Time for a goat pen!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

I Love this Photo from Fiddle Camp!

taken by Lauren Donovan

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sliver of Heaven

I spent the bulk of the day in this office, writing over 5,000 words for the new book. It was a heck of a tear and took me from around 9:30AM till 3 in the afternoon. when I was done all I wanted to do was actually use my body. So in an act of pure passion I turned off the monitor, put on my running shoes, and headed down the mountain for a three mile jog. (If this to-do list sounds ridiculous, I assure you not all my days are this healthy and productive.) Today this kind of effort was needed. I have been behind in my writing with a deadline rearing its ugly head and running just makes me feel wonderful. Or rather, finishing a run makes me feel wonderful. The actual running at this point feels more like my lungs are trying to escape from my body if I don't throw them up first. See?! Fun!

When I jogged back to my house I was greeted by such a happy scene I had to turn off my audiobook and start filming. The sun lit up my mountain house, and beyond it I could see the sheep on the hillside, hear them bleating. The little goatlings were playing near the porch. I tell you, to call a brace of goat kids and see them run to you might be the most adorable thing you can ask to witness in this pretty world. I was happy to catch it on video for you. Sorry for the quality of it. The screen shakes, the loud creek behind me is droning on, and I'm panting between words. Still, the little video shows a little sliver of heaven cake, at least my version of it.

Season Passes, Still on Sale!

I still have a few season passes at the discounted rate for anyone interested. They are $250, paid via Paypal as a lump sum but it covers any and all workshops for a calendar year from the first one you attend. It's a great way to support the farm! And for all of you out there sending emails, Facebook comments, clicking ads and writing nice things on the interweb about CAF, I thank you too!

Three left! Get 'em while they're hot!

Falconry Update: Test Went Well!

Just a quick update on the Falconry Front. I took the test at the very fancy DEC office yesterday morning and I feel like I aced it. I only wavered on a half dozen or so questions and made educated guesses regardless. I won't get the results back for a month or longer, but I am expecting to pass and get my state-approved Apprentice Falconer License. When I have that in my possession I can start building my mews and weathering area (both summer projects) and collecting the supplies I need to trap a hawk with my mentor Ed. This is where time, money, and patience come into play. I'm prepared to scratch up enough of all three. You get what you are willing to make happen in this world, and nothing more.

Black Leather & Saddle Leather

I have this theory that a large portion of motorcyclists are actually equestrians at heart, whether they realize it or not. They strive for the same feelings of joy, speed, escape, meditation, and fellowship any band of trail riders on their quarter horses feel. But since horses have this stigma of money, land, and effort—many folks who would love to feel leather reins in their hands are drawn to motorcycles instead. To ride a horse is to control great speed, power, and skill—so is riding a bike.

So they forget the horse dream and get a bike. The more into their bikes they are, the more I feel it proves the theory. The constant maintenance, oil changes, washing, waxing, coats of paint, meet ups, riding events, clothing, gas, parts, etc. are probably just as expensive as any trail pony could ever be. And those folks who baby their bikes would do the same intense care and feeding of their steeds. No, it’s not about money, not really, as it is about commitment. The love of the horse and the desire to be a cowboy also contradicts the freedom of not having to return to the coral every night. A bike doesn’t need to go home. It doesn’t need to go anywhere. Which is exactly the appeal. And unlike a horse there is no mind of its own to decide to bolt, buck, or simply get tired and stop.

Motorcycles are super horses, but they are still horses in the romantic sense. The people who ride them can feel that, and know it. It could be a blatant choice, or buried deep in their subconscious, but I stand by my observation that a lot of people in black leather really just yearn for saddle leather.

photo from michaelwilsonphotographer.com

I Envy Them Not

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Falconry Update: Test Day Tomorrow!

If you've been following my journey to become an apprentice falconer, here's where I stand. I have contacted and gone on hunts with liscened General and Master Falconers Dawn and Mark. I have contacted and received my study package and test dates from the NY DEC and have been studying their contents. I also contacted and acquired a mentor, Ed Hepp. Once I had Ed on my side, signed for me, I was able to apply to take the State's big test (I need an 80% or higher!) and if I pass that I will be given the go ahead to build a Mews, Weathering Area, and trap my own passage redtail or kestrel this fall.

As of right now I am just a girl with one hole punched in her Hawkin' dance card though. That punch was getting my application with a sponsor's signature on it. Tomorrow morning is the next big step. I drive an hour and a half north to Warrensburg and sit down to take a huge written exam on all my knowledge gained this far. The test's study guide (that well worn tome in the picture) is over a hundred pages and covers biology, species, hunting, tracking, feathers, flight, health, food, gear, and everything else someone with a basic knowledge of the sport needs to know. I have been reading books, talking to falconers, studying the packet and I hope my preparations are enough. This test is only offered twice a year so I hope I make the grade.

Wish me luck!

Start Today

First Pages In!

A package was dropped off by UPS last night, the first pages of my new book, One Woman Farm! First Pages are computer print outs, and not even bound. The author goes through them one at a time looking at words, pictures, and layout and has a few weeks to get feedback to the publisher. For me this is the first time I get to see my work on the steps to being a tangible book. Its magical, and exciting, and the illustrations by Emma Dibben are perfect for me, CAF, and the tone of the book. I won't have my hands on an ARC until May, but I look forward to that step as well. Exciting stuff!

Spring Sunlight at Dusk

My Mom Mailed it to Me!

A few posts back I wrote about the big, white, book that shaped my childhood. My mom and dad must have read it and this was mailed to me (a total surprise!) this week with a nice note in it from my mom. I was so touched, this truly is a wonderful gift. Thank you so much, PYW!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


After Dave left, waving goodbye from his big truck, I was left standing in the front lawn next to a big, black, draft pony. Merlin was unusually calm for the farrier. He is always willing, but usually his ears dart around and his eyes dash back and forth between tools and the new smells of leather aprons and rasps. So he's not tense, but not relaxed. I suppose he acts exactly like I would if someone forced me into a day spa for a pedicure. Not anxious, but not comfortable. I'm just not that kind of woman. Hand me a bow, a fiddle, or a leash and you have a calmer spirit. Hand me an issue if SELF and stick cotton between your toes and you have a goat tied to a post.

Anyway, point is Merlin was calm. He was gentle the whole time, and when Dave left I started running a curry comb over his dusty back and long mane. I groomed him, singing to him, and I got lost in the meditation of it. Before I knew it I was as drugged by the present as Merlin was and I felt close to him. I wrapped a little of his long mane around my hands and gave him a hug around the neck. As I held onto the thousand pound animal I felt the thickness of the coarse locks around my palm and thought about the ancient marriage rites of the Celts. When two were to be married their hands were bound, tied together and held as they spoke their oaths. Merlin was not a husband, and his mane was not the silk ribbons or tartan of the past but there it was. We were a partnership of a sort, and remain one that only goes stronger. Yes, Handfasted we were. Merlin is not for sale, nor will he ever leave my side. And with that smell of horse in my nose and the feels of long, black, hair between my fingers I told him we would go for a ride.

And we did. We rode easily and calmly, just as we both had been feeling. We didn't go far, but we did venture a bit onto the mountain trails we are so lucky to have access to. I sat deep into the saddle and gave into his canter and just rode it out when he felt up to a gallop. I ride in a kilt, bare thighs against the saddle leather and it is lovely. My calves are protected by chaps and my bum protected by the full-seat breeches I had cut into the kilted rider's equivalent of bike shorts. In a light sweater, in the swirling wind that you only get before rain sets in, we rode. My god, do I love this animal. Do I love what he turned me into: a stronger, more confident, more capable woman who always feels a little tested and a litter braver for sharing my life with him.

I do remember my life before I had a horse. But I don't remember why I lived it.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Farrier Visit Today

Dave, my Farrier (and riding instructor), came out to the farm today to trim the horses' hooves. We started with Jasper, who is a bit touchy about having his feet done and was acting up a bit. He wasn't being bad, just jumpy and not paying much attention to the work of standing still and being seen to. Within five minutes Dave used a plastic flag on a stick to calmly get Jasper to stand like a statue. The little puck was watching him like a child locked on Sesame Street, intrigued and curious. I watched in awe. I asked him, "How did you ever learn to do this?" and he turned to me laughing and said,

"Horses taught me."

Television's Use

Television is a wonderful thing. It brings us art, stories, science, and lets us learn and journey. We can watch the politics of the Seven Kingdoms, hop in the Tardis, or board the deck of a Firefly. So many farmers and homesteaders say TV is garbage but I strongly disagree. I don't have an actual television in my home, but I do watch shows I love on my computer. And folks, a lot of it is amazing, touching, and really important to be. To call all of a medium junk is immature, and foolish. Jerry Springer and Six Feet Under are not in the same wheelhouse, and you sound silly saying so. So let me stand firm as a fan of good television. A geek, even. But when we start treating television as rubbernecking it loses its import.

Yesterdays events were horrific, and when you learned about them you were certainly getting news. But to turn on those horrible cable news channels and soak in it is not news at all. You are not waiting for understanding, or explanation. Brutality doesn't have one beyond the act itself. The news is over after the headline. Unless you are a resident, there to help, or have a loved one at the scene, it nothing but pornography. All you are doing by watching it is turning horror into celebrity. You don't need those penny dreadfuls to be informed. I promise you'll hear all the news about the event whether you want to or not within a few hours.

So when something horrible happens, fight back. Turn off the television and make something beautiful. Paint a picture, read a novel, take a walk, kiss your lover, have sex, tell a story, say a prayer, garden until you bleed or jog until your heart bursts. Do something, do anything but turn on cable news. It is not good.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Greene, Wyeth, & Me

I leaned over the aluminum gate and felt the soft curve of the weathered metal tuck into my forearms. I don’t know what it is about eight-foot metal gates but they seem to be ergonomically engineered for leaning against or over. This could be due to their strength and smoothness, or possibly, because most metal gates are looking over pastures and paddocks where beloved critters reside. So I just can’t help it. I see a sturdy (non electrified) place to ponder or converse and I’m drawn to it. I lift my sturdy 5’3” frame into it and rest all my weight down on top of the four foot gates, usually with a boot stepping up on a lower rung. If you happened to drive by and wave you would not doubt for a second I was reckoning something, or about to dive into a good half hour of racing conversation about farm insurance, second cut hay, or the myriad uses of baling twine. I was poised for non action like a pro.

Now, I’m not the best gate leaner in the county, but I am learning fast. And Friday morning, deep into the maw of April, I was learning from one of the best. I was picking up a truckload of hay from Nelson Greene, the finest hay producer in the area (far as I’m concerned). He’s now in his late seventies and usually under the weather from various respiratory problems he earned after a lifetime of living among cattle, hay chaff, dust and silage. Nelson isn’t in the pink of health, but he is far from most folks I meet his age. He is well over six feet tall and easily two hundred and forty pounds of well worn in farm muscle. He has hands the size of basketballs and the ability to easily lift up a sixty-pound bale in each hand and load it onto my truck. One time he was even able to help me get off a hay elevator as I slowly descended it by simply grabbing my belt and lifting me up in the air and onto the ground. I was so shocked at his strength I think I just stared at him after that. I weight substantially more than a sixty-pound bale of hay and he moved me aside as if I was one of his barn cats. I want to be like him when I grow up.

I have been buying hay from Nelson since the first day I ever had a serious need for it. He never lets me forget the story either. This was back when I first moved to Vermont from Idaho and had just acquiring my first three sheep from a homeschooling family in Hebron. The day I picked up my sheep—and was transporting them back to my farmstead in the back seat of my Subaru Forester—I crested a hill and saw a few men piling beautiful green hay bales into a large red wagon being pulled by an ancient looking red tractor. I pulled up to the work crew, rolled down my windows, and leaned over the passenger seat to ask in a loud yell, “Hey! Do you have any hay for sale?!” to which Nelson, looked down at me and took in the scene of vehicular situation and replied, “Hay!? Do you got any sheep!?” and I laughed and pulled over to strike a deal. I didn’t know then but I had picked up my sheep right in the thick of second-cutting season at Nelson’s farm and if there was one thing he had in spades it was good green hay and plenty of it. That very same evening I unloaded the sheep into their brand new pen and before I even got to lean on my own little livestock fence I had just installed I was back into that Subaru wagon and headed to pick up my first load of hay. We fit six bales into that car and I felt as proud as the day I was handed my college diploma. Which sounds like a ridiculous comparison, but I assure you its accurate. It took four years to learn the skills and pass the exams required by the state of Pennsylvania to make me a Bachelor of the Arts. It took 27 years of my life to get up the nerve to buy animals with hooves and then use a station wagon as a pickup truck.

At my farm these gates are what hold back goats, sheep, and horses. Here at Nelson Greene’s Farm they keep in a happy herd of Angus heifers. And it was here at the same barn I have visited countless times in the past five years I found myself feeling like a local farmer for possibly the first time ever.

I was watching the heifers and without trying, without thinking about the questions I was asking dove into a conversation with Nelson about his herd. Now that I am a few years into an agricultural life I could tell their age, their breed, and knew enough about cattle to see they were pregnant and well cared for. Nelson talked about his girls with pride in his voice, and bragged a little about his $5,000 bull he bought to breed the herd with. He had reason to brag, the lot of them were gorgeous and in the late afternoon’s cloud-cover and light rain felt like a scene from an Andrew Wyeth painting. This all happened without trying, without me feeling in any way like an intruder in someone else’s world. Behind us my dented Dodge pickup was strapped down with twenty bales. I didn’t worry about the rain on them, and I knew my horses and sheep would eat them before any rot could even consider seeping in. So we just relaxed into a weekday afternoon without fuss. I had come a long way since frantically loading a station wagon…

We were friends, Nelson and I, talking about our animals in the gentle rain without any flinch or consideration for anything but our interchange. Rain came down, and cow tails flicked mud, and there we were, leaning against the gate and talking about his plans for a new hay barn, fences, and a herd he hopes to reach a hundred head in the next few years. I kept a poker face the whole time, but I wanted to grin as wide as a Cheshire Cat. Not because anything Nelson was saying was particularly funny, but because he meant every single word he said and every conviction to make those plans happen. This is not a common trait. But hearing Nelson talk I knew I wasn’t hearing pipe dreams or prayers, I was hearing exactly what was going to happen. This is powerful stuff.

Nelson is almost eighty years old. He is in the hospital on a regular basis. He has mornings he can’t stand up, or breathe, and he lives alone. But this man is working hard, and loves his life. He is making plans most people in their thirties don’t dare to dream of without any concern or doubt in his own stability or ability. His life is something that keeps happening because of him, not to him. I love this about him. I really, really, want to be like him when I grow up.

When I waved goodbye Nelson proposed marriage for the 56th time and I smiled and headed down the road with my dog riding shotgun and a heavy load of good hay in the rear. My hair was wet under my wool cap and my sweater sleeves were damp as well. My chest was warm to the core under a canvas vest and I blew on my hands a little to warm them up for the half hour ride south to my farm. I turned on the local country station, sang along to a song I knew all the lyrics too, and was home and unloaded before my old corporate job would have even let its employees off for the day.

My life has changed so much in the past five years. My outlook, my possessions, my knowledge and my priorities: I see the world, people, and how they live in it entirely differently. The Jenna from just a few years ago would have been too intimidated or wary to stand next to Nelson, or even take the chance to meet him. She would have only gone out with a friend, and done so in overpriced technological outdoor shells, freezing cold, with an umbrella. I would not be in a pickup truck without heat and ripped up upholstery. I would be in some compact, fuel-efficient vehicle with a dog crate in the back hatch and I would make fun of the people listening to country music or with bow hunting stickers on the back of their rigs. I would not be wearing a kilt. I would be too scared to do anything anyone would consider odd, unsafe, or irresponsible. I was scared of everything. I was enslaved and happy in my peer-approved little cage of mutual acceptance.

That Jenna was not a bad person. She was doing fine. But this Jenna is the version of me I prefer, and cannot contain the quiet thrill of a wet conversation with a local legend on a Friday afternoon. Nelson’s calves are due in May. I have no idea how to use Adobe InDesign anymore.

I like knowing the first thing more.

Be Kinder to Yourself.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What. A. Weekend.

It's been a wild, feral, amazing, and adventurous weekend here in Washington County! I have so much to write about it will probably take me the rest of the week to do so, but I thought tonight I'd share with you a little video from yesterday's outing. On Saturday six of us humans and two horses went out for an eight-mile road trip in horse carts. Merlin and Steele were our heroes, and together we traveled on the backroads of the county towards the Battenkill Creamery and Gardenworks. This would be a treat any day, but this all happened to be going on during the infamous Tour of the Battenkill Bike Race, a huge event that attracts around 2,000 cyclists to bike between 65-130 miles around the county. So us brave horse drivers and passengers lead our charges through packs of cyclists on busy roads with trucks and tractor trailers and plenty of cheering onlookers in the name of a fun afternoon out with our horses and friends. Here's a video taken of me driving Merlin in Steele's forecart while Mark tells exciting hunting stories. Get ready for intensity folks, I love this little video.

Right now I am back to the office, just like everyone else who is wrapping up their weekend and buckling into another week of computers, desks, phones, and so on. I may work for myself now, but I still work and mostly sitting down at a desk. I have 10k words to write this week, the blog, four design jobs, and (as of just checking now, 987 emails to read since Saturday morning!) Holy crow will this be a brutish Monday morning! I type this with a smile on my face. I'll take the week in the office, and after the running, carting, riding, shooting, friends, drinks, and chores I'll be looking forward to some down time with the clicking of a keyboard and the strong taste of coffee that would scare some people into drinking tea forever.

P.S. I reread that post from over a year ago, when I was struggling with the choice to buy Merlin. Then I look at the woman in the photo just above it, about to head out on a full day in the driver's seat with good friends I only know because I took that chance and wrote this blog. If I took the advice of cautious people I would be much sadder for it. And a lot worse off in all the ways that actually matter. Point being: go get your ponies, ladies. Life is damn short.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Young Love

Friday, April 12, 2013

Biting Your Tail

I originally wrote this and posted it back in February 2012, but while jogging today this song came on the playlist and I couldn't stop thinking about it. I wanted to repost it again, both to restate some truths about this farm and what it is, and to share the music. This song is the best advice I ever received.

I recently talked with a couple from Canada who are coming down for the Plan B workshop in May. I'm excited to meet them, and to talk farm dreams together over a few cold ciders on the porch. While signing them up for the event we were emailing back and forth and through the exchange I was casually asked a pretty tough question. I'm paraphrasing, but what they basically asked was this: what was going through my head pre-Cold Antler that made me take the leap of faith? They are currently renting in the city and worried a mortgage would be too hard to meet on top of running a farm. These are serious concerns, and should not be taken lightly. I thought about that question most of last night. I fell asleep thinking about it.

Later that night I woke up around midnight, worried. I posted that short update about my decision in bed from my iPhone because of all this fuss about Merlin and the general readership of the blog. I was anxious reading emails and comments (some very helpful and kind, other not so much) offering all these doubts about that Fell. I woke up worrying in the dark about things I knew perfectly well how to handle in the daylight. But you know how everything is so much harder alone in the dark? That is how I felt. I fell asleep going back to the barn in my mind, a quiet place that calms me.

May your eyes be wide and seeing
May you learn from the view where you're kneeling
Know the fear of the world that you're feeling
Is the fear of a slave

You know what the funny thing about all that was? Until I read those doubting comments from various people, I had not second guessed that pony or my ability to own him for an instant. I had not made up my mind about him (I have not even seen him yet outside photographs) But the whole discovery of him felt like the Universe had delivered a wish to my front door. It was the same magic I felt when I held my first published book, picked up Gibson at the airport, and closed on my farmhouse. The same certainty through a secret smile of gratitude and answered prayers. I have felt this before, and emailing Merlin's owner was that same feeling of hope manifesting into reality. It was magic, and the fact that the animal in question was named Merlin... Sometimes God laughs while holding our hands.

May you know how the fight was started
Want as much from the snake as the garden
Wear them both like a glove that you can wave

When I was 27 I told myself a Fell would be my 30th Birthday Present (jokingly). I discovered them in the Northshire Bookstore. I was paging through one of those photographic encyclopedias of horse breeds and told myself to pick out my dream horse, as if it was a catalog. I paged through the heavy book and landed on a photo of a stocky, long-haired, coal black pony with his mane in his eyes, feathered feet, in a field with sheep behind him. It read "The Fell Pony" rare, ancient Celtic breed of northern England. Known as the shepherd's pony. That was my dream horse. A draft animal my size, a beast stocky enough to ride but strong enough to pull a big log. Then I read they were so rare in America that less than 50 had been imported since 1980. I closed the book. It was like wishing for a unicorn by staring at a poster on your pre-teen wall.

May your mouth betray your wisdom
May you get what they failed to mention
May your love be your only religion
Preach it to us all

Anyway, at the time it felt like a joke regardless of the breed. I could not even begin to imagine owning a horse. It was a bigger deal and commitment than owning a house. Where I grew up girls with horses were from wealthy families and a toy for the rich. Out here in farm country double-wides have a string of electro-tape around their 1/4 acre lots with a quarter horse. I have learned that horses are a passion and a priority, not a status symbol. And for a girl destined to live and toil beside working animals the rest of her life, they are just another step towards my dirty rendition of bliss.

May you lose what you offer gladly
May you worship the time and its passing
Stars wont ever wait for you to watch them fall

I bought Jasper without a doubt in my mind that he and I had some things in common. We were both scrappy, small, and tough as nails. He needed a home, and I wanted a horse. When I met him everything in my gut said he was right for me, just like everything in my gut tells me I should absolutely not have dairy animals, cattle, goats, alpacas or llamas here. There's nothing wrong with those animals, but they don't feel right and I won't have them here. I am not collecting trading cards. I am planning my farm. My choices are mine and make sense to me.

Now, back to the Canadians in question. There is a reason I am talking about pony books and a lack of alpine goats. How I am considering Merlin, my gut feelings, that sense of magic and possibility—that is how I run this farm. That is how I GOT this farm. There are no spreadsheets, budgets, rainy-day savings accounts, or surgery plans for 14-year-old dogs. What there is instead is a rock-solid faith, belief in my own ability, acceptance of good will from others, and a stubbornness to make it happen that could turn a mule into stone.

On paper I have absolutely no business owning my own land and home, a show pony (any pony!), book contracts, ad sales, a happy blog with loving readers. I have no marketing, writing, or business background in my education. My credit score is a joke. I have only enough money in the bank to cover what needs covering right now and it is all up in the air after that. And yet, I have these things other people don't for one reason and one reason alone.

I ask for them.

I asked Storey if I could write them a book. I asked the realtor and mortgage broker to help me get this house. I asked Red Top Kennels if I could buy a puppy on a payment plan. I asked countless companies to support this blog through ads. I ask for barters. I ask for donations. I ask in ritual, in dreams, in my every day choices and decisions and when I get turned down I ask some one else. When I saw Merlin on craigslist for thousands of dollars I emailed and I asked if we could work something else out? Maybe we will and maybe we won't, but this much I can assure you of:

I would have nothing if I didn't ask for it. From kisses to paychecks, I have asked. And I ask with total certainty the things I ask for will happen. I am not a sheepish asker, no sir. I know that every question is a prayer, and you don't waste God's time. Live your life with faith in what you are trying to achieve and with the intention of harming no one along the way and you can't not succeed in this world. I truly believe this. I live this. I make a decision with utmost certainty and work backwards from there. And when people tell me I am foolish or crazy, I stop listening. I go home and walk up to the top of my hill and look at 6.5 acres of what not-listening-to-warnings can get you.

So my dear Canadian Friends, what are you waiting for? Waiting for enough money to make sure all your friends and parents nod approvingly at your "hasty" decision? Waiting for the market to change? Waiting for a lump sum of cash to fall into your lap. I used to wait too, but then I decided to ask. When I signed the mortgage papers I had no idea how it was going to work out or how I could manage it. The farm was $500 more a month than my rent was, and things were tight then! I just knew it was going to work out because it had too. There was no question in my heart. The money came because I asked for it and was willing to work for it, constantly.

I put down my deposit on Gibson while being kicked out of the house I was currently living in that did not allow any more dogs. My future was completely up in the air. I made the decision for that puppy because he was a powerful choice towards an independent life. I knew, no matter what was going on in my current situation, if I didn't make constant decisions and choices that pointed me towards the future I wanted it would never happen. Foolish? Maybe. But I had paid half his bill by the time I closed on the farm. I was only in the Jackson house two weeks when I picked him up from the airport. The only life he knows is this farm, and every night as we fall asleep together I kiss him on the forehead and tell him he is a dream come true. He is.

There is absolutely no record of careful planning on this blog. Do not expect it, request it, or think a receipt is coming any time soon. Dear hearts, this short life is going way too fast for me. As I am reaching thirty, I am realizing how little time I have left. Some of you a few decades older may laugh at that, but how fast did those decades fly by? I was JUST at my college graduation and it is nearly a decade hence. I have (maybe, if I am damn lucky) thirty more years left to work hard, outdoors, like this. To work around heavy horses and hoes, run a farm, have a family, grab a black Celtic pony by the mane and ride into the forest. This beautiful place is ours too short, and who knows how long I will have here? How long I'll have two working legs and arms? How long a beating heart? If my life makes you angry because it seems totally ridiculous, that's because IT IS. All of our lives are, if we are lucky enough to let them be.

We're the smoke on a burned horizon
We're the boat on a tide that's rising
Both the post and the pig you're untying
Butcher gone for the blade
Someday we may all be happy
Someday all make a face worth slapping
Someday we may be shocked to be laughing
At the way we behave

Now, darlings. Now I want to talk about some very important things.

On Failing
I have absolutely zero fear of failing at this, at ANY of this. I have no fear of losing my corporate job, or my house burning down, or a horse breaking his leg in the field. I am lucky to be 29 as I write this, young enough to accept some serious failure if that is what life throws at me. If I lose my job I'll get another. If my house burns down I'll rent a trailer and rebuild it (that's why I pay for insurance). And if a horse I loved breaks his legs in the field I'll put a rifle to his head and shoot him. I'm not scared of loss, risk, or pain. Life is a sad, messy, and scary place and I accept the dark parts of it as much as the light parts. I refuse to spend a life setting myself up to not face these things are then label it "successful". I know a lot of miserable people with money in the bank and 401k plans who admittedly never really lived a day in their lives. They are already gone.

This is because people make decisions in their everyday lives as if they are planning on eventually running for Governor. As if someday down the line at a great, televised debate their poor choices will be pulled out of the ether and shoved in their faces. As if a moderator in a blue suit will whip out an index card while you sweat at the podium and read to millions of viewers: "Remember in 2009 when you wanted to buy that tractor, so you took out a home equity loan to buy it and build the tractor shed and the farm was foreclosed on 15 months later?! Why should we vote for you based on these horrible outcomes to your decisions?" Most people are terrified of things not working out, and being called out on them. It doesn't have to be a televised debate either. They're scared of being called out at a PTA meeting or dinner party, as if their mistakes are fodder for the sick comfort pot for those too paralyzed to make them themselves.

You can't go through life scared to fail. Lord knows I have failed several times with this farm, on this blog, and in life in general. I failed horribly in matters of the heart that I will never feel comfortable sharing on this blog. I failed my best friend Kevin, and I lost him. I miss him every day. I failed to keep that rental in Vermont because I insisted on this life. I failed at keeping my first sheepdog, Sarah. I failed at owning and raising a pack goat named Finn. I expect to fail some more. So be it.

The very best advice I can give is DO NOT be afraid of this. Do not let utter failure stop you. If your plans fail you will not be stabbed, or put in jail, or burned at the stake. Nothing happens but repairs and remorse, both heal in time. If someone points out a flaw, mistake, or risk then you raise a pint to that lesson and take a long drink. The correct answer to that moderator is "Damn right I got that tractor. Best 15 months of my life on my own land, there on than back of Ol' Green. Shame the farm failed, though." Had that example farm succeeded that tractor would have been just another risky, but correct, decision. Since it failed, it gets thrown in our faces by the other people safely watching from the docks while you set sail for a dream. Docks are miserable places, get off of them. You'll drown dry and standing.

May your hands be strong and willing
May you know when to speak and to listen
May you find every friend that you're missing
There's no check in the mail
May you end it bruised and purple
Know that peace is the shape of a circle
Around and around you go, biting your tail

On Money
I do not have a big savings account or a lot of money. I live paycheck to paycheck alone in an old farmhouse where the mortgage, utilities, upkeep, truck payment, insurance, taxes, and animal care all falls on my shoulders. My office job pays around $440 a week, take home pay. (There are waiters making more money than that.) I I keep my office job because I like it. I like the people, the design work, and I like knowing I have health care coverage in case of an emergency. It is a twenty minute commute and I can bring my dog with me so I consider it a blessing. The rest of my income is earned through Cold Antler. I run classes, workshops, webinars, CSA, yard sales, and go Six Ways to Sunday to get the bills paid. I have always managed to do it, even if just barely. I was scraping by just as tight in the cabin in Vermont with twenty chickens and three sheep on a cheap rental as I am now. Clearly, my expenses have gone up but so has my income. I am on my fourth book, holding a record number of events, and making it all work by the skin of my teeth no matter the time or energy needed to make it happen. I have always had enough, and I believe I will continue to make my choices work no matter what life throws at me. If things got tight I'd take on a roommate, sell antiques, teach music lessons, sell livestock, run more workshops, start public speaking, plan more book tours, and write, write, write till my fingers bleed and my computer lets out on last moan before the screen fades to black.

If supporting a farm that runs like this makes you uncomfortable, then do not support it. If supporting a dream that runs on fumes makes you feel as alive as it does for me, then support the hell out of it. I do the same for others like mine every chance I get.

Little children, the wind is whipping
Short hands on a clock still ticking
Both the egg and the red fox grinning
His belly full for the day

Someday we may all want nothing
And all forget we'll get what's coming
Someday I'll say the world was something
That we just couldn't change

On Being Realistic
I am not interested in what's realistic, never have been. Most people who say "realistic" are just using it as a synonym for conventionally manageable and emotionally safe. Let me tell you what realistic is. Reality is what is happening in your life right now. Not what you can afford. Not what you people tell you is manageable. Not what you have been advised, lectured, or ordered to do. My reality is a small farm full of animals in upstate New York. My reality is keeping the mortgage paid, animals fed, fiddle strung, and inspiration alive and breathing in a way that is always moving towards my true goal, which is an independent and creative life as a writer who pays the bills with her words, workshop and blog, and pays for her groceries in blood, sweat, and tears on her own land. In my fairly eccentric and unconventional reality, Merlin is as realistic as it gets. He is simply what may happen next.

I am a firm believer in jumping into life head first, naked, and scared. What's the point of being alive if you aren't testing your heart rate and taking chances? After all, nothing is safer than a person in a coma in a hospital bed. For me, being vulnerable, being risky, being afraid... this means you are alive. I am this way with my farm, my relationships, myself. If I love someone I tell him. I have yet to be told one loved me back, but one of these days it is going to stick. If I want something I go for it. And if I need something I make it happen or ask those who can make it happen for me. I do this fully aware that I may fail miserably and many might shake their heads. But I wake up every morning excited about my life, which to me is worth all the risks, all these and more. There is nothing stagnant or comfortable here, shit I don't even own a couch to sit on, but that's how I like life. I see my life as a moving animal: always hungry, heart pounding, blood hot and looking ahead. Always, ahead.

May your tongue be something wicked
Know your part in the calf and the killing
See straight through the captain you're kissing
Helm loose in his hand

May your words be well worth stealing
Put your hand on your heart when you're singing
The choir's sick of the song but they've still got to stand

Anway, Sam said it much better in three minutes and thirty six seconds:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Favorite Movie Sequence of 2012


Gibson is never far from me, wouldn't dream of it. As I spend my morning hours in my upstairs office/tack room working on the blog, books, emails and bills he lies down, and waits. Cats walk past. Annie howls for kibble. He doesn't move. I was dancing in the office to that song I just posted (which I have sang drunk more times than sober) and when I yelled out JOHNSON CITY, TENNESSEE!!!! he lifted his head and trotted over. We danced together for a while. And, just in case you were wondering, that is how a woman slays April. The horrible monster is bleeding in a corner for a while.

Part of My Life's Soundtrack

Listen, if this doesn't make you smile from ear to the ear and fall in love with humanity all over again, then you may be a lost cause. Move over so the rest of us can dance.

Time Machine

One of my favorite jokes of all time was performed by Demetri Martin, a clever comedian who I was lucky enough to watch live in NYC back when travel was more of a thing. In one of his bits he had a cardboard box with TIME MACHINE written on it in black magic marker. He looked at the box, and then the audience, and explained that it worked just fine but, "only went forward at regular speed."

If a cardboard box can be a time machine than so can the saddle and light pack of a mountain pony. This is where I go not when I want to move forward or back in time, but when I want to escape it all together. A good horse, a sack lunch, a favorite novel or my Kobo tucked into the panniers with a halter and tie off rope and I am set for the afternoon of lost hours. It doesn't happen often, and may not happen again until post-haying of June. But when it does and I trot my horse up the mountain trails that lead us to grassy hidden mountain fields by streams and sunlight... You won't find me wondering about the time. I'll be lost in the stories of Clan Mackenzie with Mr. Stirling, or with Jamie Fraser, or maybe reading up on a whole new epic I have yet to discover. But hooves and books are what will take me there. It's not a box with magic marker, but the results carry me just the same.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Thunder Here, Now.

Thunderstorms. Fireflies. Mossy rocks. Humidity. Fog at noon. Lantern Light. Waltzes. Trout Streams. Stone walls. Red Barns. Frozen Winter Light. April's Anger and October's Blessing.

This is why I'll never leave the eastern mountains—this blessed line of Appalachia stretching from Maine to Georgia—and pity those who have.

If you want objectivity, read a politician's blog. This here is the journal of a woman in love.


The representative from Farm Family arrived exactly at the time he had specified. He stepped out of a brand new 4-door sedan, black and shiny as Merlin after a long ride. He had on a dress shirt, dress slacks, and a pair of shoes I don't think has ever intentionally stepped on the ground of this mountain farm while I called it mine: loafers. It was not that long ago that such clothing was as normal to me as topsoil and rain, but after nearly a year away from the corporate world the gentlemen looked like an alien. Or, if not an alien and ambassador from a strange land.

To add to the divide, my muddy dog ran up to him and tailing the black dart was a pair of goat kids. Ida and Loki (renamed from Earl) were bounding up to him. Here was the test. Instead of asking Gibson to sit down or stepping back from the kids the Rep simply laughed and smiled and told me, with great reverence, how much he missed the dog he just had to put down. And there I was in the parking lot, talking to a stranger not about insurance regulations or paperwork, but about lost love. He didn't ask Gibson to do anything, and he laughed when Loki butted his knee. And at that moment I knew Cold Antler Farm was in good hands.

We spent the next half hour touring the farm and going over my recent improvement projects required for coverage. Truthfully, they weren't my projects at all, but completed with the help of Patty and Tom, who gave up time and tools to get this place where it needed to be come inspection time. Thanks to them, and the folks who bought season passes, workshops, sent in contributions, friendly emails, and even those of you just clicking on ads…. thanks to you I was able to sign that check and hand it over to the man explaining to me my new coverage and costs. I was able to pull together the 25% upfront cost needed for the new insurance plan and as I type this, just four days short of the deadline, I am covered not as a homeowner but as a farmer. It feels like I just graduated to a new level of agriculture.

To be honest I have been treading water lately, dealing with things and conditions I do not feel comfortable writing about here. I can assure you they aren't chronic, tragic, or any different than the same curves life throws at each and every one of you but sometimes (as you all know) things get heavy and sad and you can either curl up in the fetal position or punch your way through it. I am happy to report I am punching harder than ever, and resemble nothing of a fetus save for my oddly round facehead.

So this is how it seems to work for me? This is how it happened when I bought the farm, which only transpired because I forced out of my rented little haven in Vermont. And the new insurance came when my old providers kicked me out as well. I'm not sure what that says about me, but I am grateful I have the ability to react and land on my feet in a slightly better stance than the one I jumped from. Some people go through life looking and living a lot better and never learn that trick, and for that I am grateful. But not as grateful as I am for you, and to you, the readers of this blog and the thousands of cheerleaders keeping me coming back for more.

There's a lot a head. I have the Plow Days with the Draft Association on Saturday. Archery practice on Sunday, and events like the spring garden overhaul, Poultry Swap, pasture expansion, pumpkin field, new book launch, haying season, and even more ahead. Not to mention a big state-ran Falconry test in just over a week. You have no idea how much I am studying about ornithological feather patterns and nesting sites. Did you know how most Falcons nest only on cliffs save for some random tundra species that shack up in trees? I do. I do because lately I am inhaling hawks whenever I am not milking a goat or hauling water or sitting down in my office.

So much ahead. So much to share. Thank you for sticking with me.

P.S. Anyone who signed up for the Grain Society this past fall, email me so I can mail you your seeds and book please!