Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Start to 50% Of My Summer Meals!

Oh Kale, how I adore you. To take a big pile of your curly, clever leaves and chop them up with a clever is a happy act, indeed. I set you in a big wok with warm oil and mix you all up in it with a wooden spoon. For a little kick I sprinkle chicken rub seasoning on you and a pinch of garlic salt until you are a cooked down, glorious, warm slaw. With that same spoon I can push you aside like wet spinach and lay a nice piece of wheat bread in there. It seeps up the oils, too. I take out my savory toast and top it with as much kale as I can and bite into it with eyes closed and a giant smile. Come midsummer this is better than any meat, any ice cream, or any fruit. It is so filling without making you feel hot and heavy. It is delicious, keen to all the human senses. All you need is a bunch of Kale, seasoning, olive oil and a slice of bread for this little bite of summer heaven in about five minutes with only one pan to wash. Divine, folks. Just divine!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Andrew's Common Sense

That adorable face belongs to the newest member of Common Sense Farm, in many way's Cold Antler's bigger brother. I say that because from the month I moved to Jackson and started meeting locals it was the community at Common Sense

Andrew is the first lamb ever born to the farm, the fruit of their tiny flock of three blackface sheep (two ewes, Annabel and Rain and a ram named Cloud). Andrew came as a surprise since they weren't sure the fall breeding would even take! But here he is, a gorgeous ram lamb and named after a homeschool story about a sheep that was so loved and special, and then fed to the community. That is Andrew's fate as well, this being a working farm with Cloud already holding the only open male position on staff. But until that day comes Andrew will live a life many sheep can only dream of among the stone walls, hundreds of acres, friendly people, and constant care. When a flock of four has an 80+ person community on a mansion's property to watch it, it grows up pretty good.

I met Andrew because I offered to do any lambing work they needed with their two girls. This is Anabel's boy and she was nervous when I showed up with my Doctor's bag. I have an old lunchbox that carries things like tools for tail docking and castrating, needles and shots, vitamin paste and other odds and ends. We lifted Andrew out of his lambing jug and mama yelled but between Yeshiva, the farm intern, and myself we got the lamb work done quick. In a few minutes his tail was banded and he had a little anti-toxin to stop any possible infection from the band or ear tag. I was honored to help, and so proud of the job they did with my farm's sheep. I have to share a shot of Cloud, because compared to my ram, Atlas, he is a TANK! If Atlas was Joel McHale Cloud would be the late Michael Clarke Duncan. Both rams brought some new Sottish Blackfaces into our little hamlet, and that isn't to be scoffed at. Atlas managed a pair of twins, too. Not that I'm keeping score or anything!

P.S. Common Sense Farm accepts Organic Farming interns for weekend, week-long, or even longer stays here in Veryork. Work with livestock and vegetables, get fee room and board, and learn what it's like to be a serious food producer. It is a religious commune but the working farm interns are not expected to convert! If you are interested, go look at their workaway profile and read the reviews and get the information to work on their farm.

Thursday, June 27, 2013


Game Night at Cold Antler is an institution now. What started as the occasional game of BYOB Catan is now a league of dedicated friends. The core group is Tara and Tyler (of fame) and Tom (of magnificent beard fame) have gotten into our groove. Last night we played Munchkin which is a card game spoof of Role Playing Games like Dungeons and Dragons. Instead of making a dramatic character and sitting through elaborate stories you just fight monsters, trade cards, yell, threaten each other, bribe, slam your hand on the table, stab your friends in the back, make promises, steal treasures, and try to ask forgiveness instead of permission. It is a riot, and a modern classic for us game nerds. Below I posted the TableTop episode with Wil Wheaton, the game's creator Steve Jackson, Felicia Day and Sandeep Parikh. If you just watch the first few minutes it explains the rules and how ridiculous last night's Game Night was.

I don't know if any of you other farmers, homesteaders, parents, or fancy single people out there have Game Nights, but I can't encourage you to start one up enough. Avoid the games people are used to, set aside Scrabble and Monopoly and try something brand new. Not because there is anything wrong with Scrabble but if you are trying to get new non-gaming friends excited about coming over for a night around one table, things might need to get a little sexier. Fight Zombies in your very own action movie with Last Night On Earth. Bone up on your creative skills killing your horrible family in Gloom. Become a Settler of Catan, trading sheep for wood (Hey, my real life does this?!). Build a rail empire in the early 1900's with Ticket to Ride. These are award winning, super clever, inexpensive games. As someone who HATED board games until I discovered these gems I can assure you it is a whole different ball game. And If none of these games I mentioned mean anything to you right now, you can preview them all on Wil's show on Youtube (free show, of course) and get a feel for them. A good game may cost up to fifty dollars (Munchkin costs 18 bucks, which is less than delivered pizza with toppings) but once you buy it you have so much more ahead of you than cold pizza in tomorrow's fridge. You have endless fun hours with friends, laughing face-to-face, interacting the way movies and dinner parties rarely let us interact.

Games bring out a different and sadly lacking kind of social interaction for us modern folks. We're so used to getting together to have dinner or watch something on a screen, sometimes engaging in playful argument or debate but it's nothing like saving the world from a Pandemic. Hanging out on the porch with a drink is fun, but trying to airluft a Medic to London because Germany is about to infect all Eastern Europe has a lot fore flair. Pandemic is a Co-op game, meaning you play against the game as a team and not against each other. If that isn't your style you can try to steal someone's Laughing and Dancing Sword in Munchkin. Regardless, when you play games you are a group of problem solvers, competitors, and comedians. You are working the brain hard, but doing so between swigs of microbrew and long laugh attacks. Us kids at Cold Antler adored Munchkin, and we'll play it again. It'll become a GN favorite like Catan, Pandemic, Gloom, Ticket to Ride and Zombie Dice have become. Maybe someday we'll even actually beat Pandemic. But probably not. We are all convinced that the only way people beat that game is by accident or because they missed a rule. But SOMEDAY! SOMEDAY, we will save the world. And that's a lot to look forward to on a Wednesday night.

Now go play games. It will be better than you think it'll be. Promise all over.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Only TWO SPOTS Left for Summer Fiddle Camp!

Summer Fiddle Camp is back! After how well last year's camp went, and in anticipation of this winter event, I thought I would announce this year's summer camp early so everyone has time to plan for it. It will be all weekend-long, August 31th and Sept 1st 2013. Join me and a handful of other beginners for two days of the farm, campfire, and fiddles. All you need to start your musical journey is a few basic supplies. I'll even supply the fiddle!

For those with raised eyebrows but skeptic of their own talents - this is a camp for people with absolutely no experience. Folks who never held a violin, can't read music, think they are hopeless cases but still really want to learn. All you need to do is sign up and I'll take it from there. The fee for the weekend will also include an entire beginner fiddle package. Everyone who signs up will get a quality student fiddle, case, and bow with rosin to boot. The only requirements for supplies on your end is to purchase the book "Old Time Fiddle for the Complete Ignoramus" by Wayne Erbsen, a standard electric guitar tuner, and a spare set of violin strings. We'll be learning by feel, by ear, and by a system of music notation called tablature. This means you won't need how to read notes to play, just be able to read words and count to 4.

The weekend will start off with an early morning introduction, how to string, tune, and hold your fiddle and bow. We'll then go into the basic bowing motion and finger positioning on the D-scale. We'll break for lunch and then spend the afternoon learning your first tune, Ida Red. There will be plenty of time for practice, too. Find a place in the pasture with Sal to work out your D-scale. Stand up and play a few notes at the horse gate for Merlin. See if you can balance a chicken on your bow while you drone? (I'm kidding about that last part). Saturday night will include a campfire with live music, laughter, and stories. I'll have local musicians and friends come and you are welcome to bring your own guitar, banjo, or whatever else you'd like to play.

This Comment was recently posted and I am thrilled to share it:

For those wondering ... I have NO MUSICAL TALENT, well, at least that's what I thought; until I attended Jenna's first fiddle camp. I fell in love with the Devil Stick and am now playing songs I never imagined I could tackle. (Check out Jay and Molly on YouTube; I've mastered a few of their tunes) So, if you are on the fence, sign up ...I promise you won't regret it! And the fiddle that is included in your package - it's a pretty damn decent fiddle, too!


Sunday is a day dedicated to learning more songs, droning and shuffling techniques, and plenty of practice time between one-on-one sessions. Enjoy the farm in its late-summer splendor, taking in the sounds and sights of the animals and gardens. There will be a forest tent site behind the barn. Your alarm clock will be my rooster choir. I can also suggest local Inns and hotels for folks not interested in roughing it with port-potties and possible rainfall.

I personally guarantee that anyone who signs up and WANTS to play will leave my farm a fiddler. This is not a hard instrument, and the building blocks you'll find here will be all you need to go home and learn every single song in Wayne's book. This would be a great gift, couples weekend, or graduation present.

Fiddle Camp is a full Saturday and Sunday, 9AM - 4PM
Each workshopper gets a student fiddle package
Each student gets a CAF fiddle Camp T-shirt!
Camping on the farm is an option (it will be August)
Cost will be $350 or $200 (sans fiddle) a person.
Limited to 15 people or 8 couples.

Humble Yummy

So here is a tour of my little garden at Cold Antler. It isn't much, but always growing. There's a row of raised beds and a potato plot, as well as a small extra bed I worked on yesterday. Since I use a shovel, pick, and hoe it takes around two hours to make one 4x4' bed, and I add them as I find time. This year the second tier will expand and a lot more plots will go in with late season greens and as much kale as I can grow. In the video I explain my favorite breakfast of kale and toast, which sounds yucky but is amazing! Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Brie's Got a Dream

Archaeology 101

Was out in the garden with my new hoe (which I broke in three hours) breaking sod and turning in compost when I hit glass. I dug this little gem out of the ground, an old Orange Crush bottle. I have no idea how long it's been there but here's the kicker: I turned it around. On the back all the ingredients were listed. For a bottle of soda a few decades old the whole sum of its parts was: Carbonated Water, Sugar, Orange Juice, Flavor of Peel, Citric Acid, 0.05% Benzoate of Soda, and Color Artificial.
Now, for an eye-opening experience go to any gas station of corner store and see how many ingredients are in a bottle of Orange Crush (or any soda) now. What you'll see is different versions of field corn in several unpronounceable scientific terms. Soda isn't what it used to be and neither are we. And in celebration of my hard work out there in the garden I'll be doing myself a favor and drinking well water instead.

Backyard Fertility & Thank You Subscribers!

I walked into the hardware store with Gibson and everyone asked where he was? I explained that Gibson rolled in enough goose poo to gag a garbage truck and he wasn't allowed in public till that misfortune had passed. No one seemed to mind his absence after that. "I do not miss that," said the woman behind the counter with a nostalgic smile. Sometimes people give you hints to a whole history in one phrase. I smiled back. I think she's the new owner? She had just walked down the loft steps from her office with two giant carafes of coffee. Our little Ace Hardware got a total makeover when it changed hands but my favorite things about it are the following:

1. Farm Dogs Welcome
2. They sell sheep and chicken feed
3. Free Coffee

I was there at 7Am to buy a bag of layer mash, some grain for the goats, and a new hoe. My old one's handle broke yesterday. Probably the third time I broke a hoe in so many years. You think I would learn to invest in a quality tool but I always end up buying some twenty-dollar tool with a prayer. Today I had a nice prospect, an ash-handled job. I put it on the counter and explain the grain I needed and made some small talk. I had been up since around 5:30 so I was loquacious as a toddler. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits and I realized it was Tuesday. Tuesday must be a pretty big business day in town since its the day the livestock auction is held a mile up the road. Hundreds of cars, trucks, and trailers fill the parking lot for the beef and dairy animals up for market. I bet a lot of those farmers need this or that and stop in at the store too.

I left with my receipt and hoe. I'd have to drive to the loading area for the feed. I liked how it felt, the handle. I thought between sod breaking and compost forking I could pick it up and practice my bo-staff techniques I was learning at Tae Kwon Do. There are 12 attacks with the staff and I think I have them memorized. You can bet that later this morning I will be there with my arms strong from morning chores and a good hand milker's grip on the hoe, whirling around with martial arts flair barefoot in the potato patch. Let the neighbors think what they want, I'm a happy woman.

I'm excited to work on the potato patch today. I have a lot of ground to prep and compost to fork in but this year is a little celebration because I didn't buy any of the compost for this patch of spuds. I am using the 18-month old pile of pig bedding and manure and a 12-month-old pile of chicken yard hay to create the organic fertility. This may not seem like a big deal to most, but I am beside myself with excitement to see how this patch of taters grows. I'm so proud of the rich soil I am making here, a gift of the animals (one of their many offerings) that will be reincarnated through my little veg patch. Yesterday I used a heap of it to make mounds around the pumpkins and zucchini. Today It'll be mixed into the soil on the hillside to make a native dirt/compost combo I hope will get the seed potatoes excited. I always plant my potatoes in June, even if that sounds late. It lets me miss the blight and bugs that hurt the chemical-free crop and I don't care if the plant tops curdle in an early frost come October. I can always harvest them up from the earth a little into the cold snaps. That is the plan I am sticking with. In a few months I will be eating hash browns with my eggs thanks to a pile of pig poop, blood, and straw. Backyard fertility, how about it!

P.S. I wanted to thank the 15 folks!!! who signed up to subscribe to the farm. It is such a wonderful thing to help and support the writing. Most folks opted for the five dollar option and that is no small gift. To some people that is a lot of scratch! To others it is a coffee from Starbucks. Either way to me it is a tiny salary you are paying me as a reader out there in the ether for keeping you up to date on backyard manure, Ace Hardware's canine policy, Merlin and My adventures, and much more. I sent you guys an email (two addresses bounced back, so thank you Jackie and Cathy too) but I thank all of you who read, considered subscribing and could not, and all of those who may yet sign up. It means the world to me and makes me feel like what I do here is worth the time. Which really matters, to anyone really. We all just want to know what we do matters, right? SO THANK YOU! We will keep each other going!

Leavin' Photography to the Experts Since 1982

Monday, June 24, 2013

The "Me" in Meat: Part 1

I have to hand it to Vegetarianism, it got me to Cold Antler Farm. My interest in food politics started with animal rights and had I not pulled back the curtain during my college days and started learning about the industrial food system I would not be on my own farm right now. I'm certain of that.

My friend Kevin was a vegetarian and I looked up to him. He was my age but seemed to have a handle on the world I didn't. We were friends a year when I started asking him more about his diet. Without being preachy he explained his reasons and how most of them had to do with animal cruelty. At first I thought by cruelty he meant death itself, the basic idea of killing animals for food. But it wasn't that at all. Kevin wasn't opposed to the food chain as much as he was opposed to the modern industrial bastardization of it. I had no idea what he was talking about.

So I educated myself, mostly through the Peta Website and Vegan activist books and videos. I became a student of the modern animal rights movement, and this gave my life a verve and purpose it didn't really have before. I stopped eating meat and dairy and (of course!) lost weight. This grew my self confidence as well as my activism, feeling like not only could I become a healthier person in the body but in spirit and ethic as well. To keep my ideas fueled I watched the videos of slaughterhouse abuse. I read Buddhist works on kindness and mindfulness in every choice we make. I talked to others of like mind and we all agreed - unnecessary suffering was wrong and eating animals was unnecessary in a modern world with options. To me there was a line drawn in the sand. Caring, decent, people were on the side that said no to eating meat. The other side was taking part in mass suffering and worst of all, didn't care.

I could not help but feel superior to those either too apathetic or weak to give up a base pleasure in the name of animal suffering. And while I wasn't eating animals, I was collecting them. I had two dogs and two ferrets in my first post-college apartment in Knoxville and my own pets ate better than most kids in my neighborhood. And whenever I was confronted with my for choices my answer was plain, almost indisputable to those who disagreed. I told them I didn't eat meat because I didn't have to. There were other choices in modern civilization (I always emphasized the word Civilized here) and if my choice meant some one didn't have to die I would make that choice.)

I soon switched to a Vegan diet and for the next few years bounced between pure veganism and lacto-vegetarianism. I could not imagine ever going back to eating meat. I was happier, thinner, and inspired. I thought animals were happier because of me, and my family was polite enough to hide their rolling eyes when I ate Tofurkey for Thanksgiving or ordered a salad when we went out to dinner. In my mind very meal I didn't eat meat meant some critter was being let free from a cage. I lived this way for nearly a decade. Not once did I miss the taste of meat, nor did I cheat on my diet. When I am dedicated to something, to anything, I am all in.

But when I moved to Idaho back in 2007 things changed for me again. This was my first year learning that chickens came with breed names and personalities. This was the first time I ever planted a real vegetable garden, baked bread, and raised fiber rabbits. I made a connection with my first ever sustainable grass farmer friend: Di Carlin. Meeting her was a revelation. She was the person who made the book, Made From Scratch (my first book) possible because she showed me that a normal, everyday person with zero farming background could raise some of her own food in the backyard. At this point I was eating eggs and dairy so I got chickens from her and suddenly my world shifted in ways I didn't even comprehend at the time. See, the Universe just handed me a whole new animal: livestock.

My chickens were not pets. Di did not teach me that, what she taught was husbandry. From her I learned that chickens were animals in my care and deserved the same amount of attention and affection as any dog or cat, but they were not dogs and cats. They were employees. Employees with a very good human resources department and personal cheerleader, but they were different because we had an agreement neither the house pets or wild life and I ever had to contract. Chickens were "mine" but there were here for a specific reason, to lay eggs. They lived outside the house in a coop, never inside. This is all elementary stuff but remember I was a hardcore vegetarian who never had a relationship with animals in this domestic, professional way. I had never had this distinction made out to me before. I only knew animals as either pets, wild animals, or my fellow human beings. And none of those three versions lived in my backyard and pooped out omelets.

When I started making quiches, egg breads, french toast, and other goodies from my free range hens I realized that there was an alternative to the Battery Cage Horror Sites from Peta. There were these free-range chickens, living a prime life and helping mine too. I tried to think of why there wasn't more backyard chicken propaganda on Peta's site because here I was caring and living with animals and working as a team of human/livestock we both had better lives. I had healthier food and a local source of protein and they had magically escaped (along with all the other hens at Di's place!) from being a bird in some factory farm.

Soon I added a pair of rabbits, a hive of honey bees, and started learning how to garden in small raised beds. Chickens had delivered me this new attitude about food. Eating wasn't a black and white issue anymore, it had the colors of a golden hive and a bursting garden. I still avoided meat but my attitude was changing. When Di was having a slaughtering day at her farm I agreed to help with a 26-bird farm process. All the other people working at plucking and gutting were both delighted and confused that the vegetarian friend of Di's was there. They asked for my reason and I said, out loud, that I wasn't against people eating meat, just the factory farm version of the modern diet. "So why don't you eat this chicken? It was grown in our Idaho backyard on clean food, free ranging" and I mumbled something about how I was still a practicing buddhist and it had been so long since I ate meat it felt weird starting up again. Clearly, the buddhist bit wasn't a good argument. Suffering of sentient beings was the reason most buddhists I met abstained, not the idea of food. By helping with a slaughter and not eating the meat I was in the most odd paradox at all. What was going on with me?

I moved to Vermont after only 13 months in Idaho. My job laid off 80 people when the economy sank in 2008 and I was only unemployed two weeks or so when I had a job interview lined up in Vermont. Orvis needed a web designer and I couldn't think of a better place for a farmy vegetarian than Vermont. Idaho was starting to make me question my choices on diet, what with these free-range chicken meals and ranches. But Vermont would have a plethora of liberal, animal loving, veggie folks right?


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Red & Green

There's a red line across the lawn, subtle and loud at the same time. The arterial blood is sparse but so bright against the June green that I can't help but think of color wheels in my elementary art classes. "Listen up girls and boys, green is the opposite of red." and this was proven on a chart. It made sense to me in ways math never did. I suppose those more mathematically minded were just as confused at the random circle of colors on a chart. At least in math you were trained to know exactly why everything was the way it was. Certainty was a given. Us artists were forced to believe.

The red blood trail is from the necks of the two pigs I had raised since late winter. Their names were Rye and Whiskey, after two libations I very much appreciate as a single writer on a mountainside. They grew up to a fine size and today a team of slaughterhouse workers from Stratton Custom meats (including Greg Stratton himself) arrived in 90-degree heat to kill, skin, gut, and divide the two hogs. This all happened just a cookout was wrapping up. I had company over, friends who co-owned the pigs and wanted to be there for the slaughter. Before the big show we decided to have a cookout and six of us sat outside under the big maple with Standard Farm's Beef Hotdogs and Venison sausage, homemade potato salad (Cathy even made the mayonnaise from scratch) and strawberry shortcake. It was a feast and exactly what we needed in the humid heat of a day suitable for baling hay, not for killing pigs.

But the pigs were killed and the work was good. The line of blood from barn to the driveway was red as could be. All along it chickens picked at it, proving to the world they were indeed omnivores. They ate up the red blades of grass as if someone had poured balsamic vinaigrette on them.

When the company left and the pigs were hauled off to the butcher shop I cleaned up from the picnic and realized I was dripping with sweat from every pour in my body. Two days in a row were spent working outside and in this intense heat. I had earned a sunburn of some account. Blessed on top of that red skin was blood, both mine and the pigs. I had loaded fifty pounds of entrails, heads, skins and hooves into the woods in a garden cart and dumped it where coyotes could sing to it, far from the farm house and chicken coops. But the trip out to that lonely orchard left me bleeding all over and some rose thorns were still sticking out of my skin as walked back to the house. I ignored them. Complaining about scratches was as pointless as complaining about heat. I accept any and all discomfort as normal, part of being the range animal I am. I never prefer to be hot or cold, dry or wet, alone or in company. Whatever life throws at me I just accept and trot through it. It got me this far.

In this case I was ready for a river though. Bloody and tired, sun burnt and dripping, I craved the Battenkill. I jumped in the truck with a book and a towel and drove the five minutes down the road to Pook's swimming hole. It's a parking area near a cornfield where locals go to fish and swim. I was one of twenty two trucks and pulled into an open spot. Children, dogs, and adults were swimming. Tubers and fly fishermen alike kept us company. I didn't have a swimsuit on. I had on the tank and sports bra I was wearing to kill pigs in and a pair of nylon capri pants. I jumped in like the river was where I belonged.

And it was! Cold water, running current, friendly faces. I knew a few folks there and chatted. I swam and fought the flow. I sat waist deep in the running water and read my book. It was the perfect baptism. When I left I had a towel wrapped around my waist and a grin on my face. It was only 4 in the afternoon and practically the Solstice. I had hours of daylight left. If this was October it would only be noon.

I air dried in the hammock, swinging and reading. When I couldn't take being still any longer I grabbed Merlin and changed into a kilt and riding boots. We headed up the mountain and the wind from his gallop dried my river-wet hair. He was soon covered in sweat and so was I and when we stopped in a stream for a drink I leaned over his neck to rub him and tell him how amazing he was. His sweat ran into mine between my fingers and I thought of an old college friend who used to share with us in dorm rooms the utter disgust he felt when he learned (from a play) that horses sweat. I tried to find that disgust and like the math from my childhood its logic wasn't there. Merlin and Jenna were green and red, grass and blood, opposite and necessary. We trotted back to the farm.

A few hours later I was back in the hammock. I had a cold drink, a good book, and Merlin and Jasper were high on the hillside eating grass in the pasture far from the house. I was finally tired. I could feel the wind lift up my thin hair between the cotton ropes of the swing and heard the distant rumbles of thunder. I smiled and curled my spine deeper into the hammock's arms. This day was all mine. The work, the sacrifice, the river, the horse, and now that sound I crave with such hope and force. When I hear thunder I am physically excited. Rain started in drops and then a torrent. I went inside and Gibson curled up at my feet certain I could protect him from the ruckus. I did. I held him close and asked him the same question I always ask him, 'Are you getting all the love you need?'

It's nearly dark now and the rain is over. The fireflies are coming out, gently but with purpose. I once glowed at the prospect of sex, myself. I welcome them in this wild, wet, world. Outside, barefoot and distracted, I realize I have walked across the bloody line on my way to the well to carry buckets to the horses. I check my feet and realize the blood is now gone, washed away. Everything is green again, damp and pumping with life. Fireflies flash alongside stray cries of lightning. I think to myself that I hope there's a thunderstorm right after I pass from this world as well. What could be more of an affirmation of the continuation of energy than an electric storm heard by thousands satiating a whole world?

Fast, fast dog.

How Polyface Farm Began

Slaughter Day

It's Pig Slaughtering Day here at the farm and a bunch of friends are coming over for a potluck-style lunch and to help with the day's work. Some of the people coming are the people who split the cost of buying the pigs and their feed with me. Others just want to be present at the event, and see the process of animal turning into food. I welcome them all. This farm is small, scrappy, and with its faults but no part of me shies from sharing this experience with others.

When I started raising animals for food I was just coming out of a ten-year relationship with vegetarianism/veganism. I felt that I had to talk about meat here in hushed tones, and when I started doing things like the work of today I felt every word had to be measured out in equal parts holy respect and noted sadness. After all, I was about to end sentient lives and doing so in a world where more people consider cows, pigs, and chickens pets they haven't owned yet than livestock. So any form of excitement or joy at a slaughter day felt wrong, even if I had recipes bookmarked and new cast-iron skillets with bows waiting for me to make them sing. To be happy on a day of death felt wrong, disrespectful. That is how my mind was formed as a liberal, vegetarian, spiritual person. Coyotes sang after a kill, not middle-class small farmers. So I wrote only eulogies, trying to defend my choices instead of celebrating them.

Things have changed.

I still feel animals' death should be treated with respect and offer as little stress as possible. I practice this when killing chickens, rabbits, and turkeys and I am there to help when larger stock like hogs are killed. I have traveling butchers come here to the farm to kill the pigs at home, avoiding the drama and fuss of loading into trailers and transporting to concrete-lined slaughter houses. Not all small farmers are lucky enough to take advantage of this, but I am and am grateful for teams like Greg Stratton's who have served this farm a long time. Today the pigs will be offered a giant bowl of food and when they dip their heads to eat they'll be shot and instantly stunned. It ends quickly and in surprise instead of pain. I will never become mindless when it comes to killing animals, but I have come to a place of comfort. It is easier than before, and no where near as upsetting or disturbing. Maybe that's experience or maybe it's because days like today are only one small part of the pigs' stories. There are months of care, interaction, ear scratches, fresh bedding, clean water hauled a bucket at a time before today and there are months of meals shared with friends, amazing recipes, potlucks, bbqs, and memorable meals to follow. I love both sides of today, and find the work ahead of me complicated and necessary to feel that love.

I can't pretend that watching pigs die is in any way peaceful or that I enjoy it. It's hard to do. Specially pigs as sweet and calm as Rye and Whiskey, who served this farm amazingly well, behaving themselves better than any pair of porkers I ever raised and growing larger to boot. But even the sweetest pig does not make me want to return to eating vegetarian again or avoiding bloody days like today. I love animals far too much to not eat them. I respect nature and my role in it far too much to not eat them, too.

Over the next few posts I am going to share a very personal story of paradigm shifts and growth. To some people it will get them upset, angry, or confused. To others what I say doesn't matter at all, since any animal suffering is wrong. But what I want to do is share my own story as a vegetarian-turned-meat farmer and why that change occurred. Also, why I think it is so important that people who care about animal welfare and the environment stop avoiding the good fight by abstaining and start helping those animals by accepting their natural role as hunter gatherers.

Get ready for a big one, folks. But right now I have a potluck to plan and a happy crew of us is taking the S off the word slaughter and planning on having a wonderful afternoon together. Wish you were here, too. It's important, wonderful, and serious work. It's the kind of work that changed how I see the entire world and my place in it. I may have been a lot more certain of the world and how it works when I was a vegan, but I sure wasn't happy in it.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Last Night From The Mountain

Thursday, June 20, 2013

firewood and savings accounts

Homesteading changes you. It certainly changed me. The person I was just six years ago would be a complete stranger to the one I am now. It's made me stronger, braver, more self-reliant, hopeful, spiritual, and brought me to this farm tucked into sharp turn on a mountain road. And while there was nothing wrong with the person I was before chickens and compost became an everyday part of my life, I like this person a lot better. She's less afraid of failure and discomfort. She's more interested in being kind than being correct. She also knows how to saddle a horse and roast a chicken, and let's be honest, folks — personal growth and humility are wonderful but at the end of a a trail ride and a drumstick offer some seriously satisfying tangible reality.

So I have changed a lot, and most of those changes are under the surface. The most action has happened in my head, taking old ideas and stretching them out like a work shirt cranked through an old-fashioned wringer on a washtub. My thoughts on being a vegetarian, politics, relationships, personal freedom, and food in general are so complicated and different from the college graduate I once was reading back over old blog posts sometimes feels like reading someone else's life. Out of all the paradigms that have changed one stands out above all the rest: energy.

When I say energy I am not talking about peak oil or solar panels on the barn roof. No, no no friends. I am talking about raw effort. I'm talking about sweat and horseflesh, axes and garden hoes. I am talking about the effort my body and farm animals' bodies put forth into the world to create. Create anything, really. Be it a stack of cordwood or a newborn lamb, all of it comes from energy expelled and transferred and that is the foundation of my new religion and what separates me from 99% of the people in this country: I think about energy all the time.

That photo of Gibson and a pile of wood is a conversation loaded for bear. What you are looking at is hand-collected and stacked rounds and limbs delivered here one light-pickup truck load at a time by Tim Hoff. Tim's work had a lot of downed and cut up trees sitting around doing nothing so he asked if he could haul them away since he had a friend who heats exclusively with firewood. His boss said sure and the pile has grown over the several Hoff trips to the farm. I am beyond grateful for this amazing gift because what I see is weeks of warm winter nights by a roaring fire and money saved. And Tim knows that. He brings it because he sees energy being wasted and knows someone who could use it. So he loads up his truck and drives the miles to deliver it. And he isn't doing it so I owe him a favor in return, he's doing it because we're a community, and because he's Tim. He's helping because he can, and I would (and will!) do the very same for him.

Over the summer that pile of wood will become split cords. It will be a lot of blisters and sweat, friends and potlucks, and more and more trips into the woods with a chainsaw and a draft pony. But when it gets cold I will know there is heat outside my door, lying in wait for me. It's not coming from some country I couldn't find on a map, or a credit cards swipe from a pipe on some truck. It's coming from the effort myself and my community is willing to offer.

Tonight at Ben Hewitt's talk (which was wonderful) he hosted a community discussion on money and our lives. At one point he said something along the lines of how four-thousand dollars in a savings account (he was just riffing thoughts, not talking about his own money at the time) and I had to laugh. I did. I laughed right in the middle of his talk because I can't even imagine having four thousand dollars to my name, much less sitting in a pile somewhere like that stack of cord word. If that kind of money comes my way it is already owed to the mortgage, late bills, student loans, etc. Anything that comes here goes right back out like a bucket bailing out a sinking boat. I think my bank account is somewhere in the double digits right now if I'm lucky? I have absolutely no idea where the next payment will come from either. It may be an ad sale, or one of you will decide to take up the dulcimer and come here and pay me for that. Maybe an Indie Day will pop up, or a local will email me about buying 5 hens for their backyard? I have no idea. I do have an unwavering faith that something will get me through long enough to tread water. It just has to.

Money is something I gave up, but not like the subject of his book did. I can't live off six thousand dollars a year like the man he writes about, I need to pay a mortgage, pay off bills and debt, etc. But I gave up any security in the form of money. I gave up expecting a regular paycheck, health insurance, a 401k and paid vacation days. I gave up the idea of weekends and days off. Instead make a living through the occasional book contract, workshops, farm events, speaking, ad sales, ad clicks, part time work, and sometimes you guys even donate here. And I do worry about it a lot, but it's not a worry about obtaining it for security.

I'll close this ramble tonight with this thought: I have changed, and I have changed a lot. I changed how I live, how I see the world, how I relate to other people, animals, and even that demon beast we call money. Some of it changed by getting more involved and some of it changed by giving it up, but I'm a whole new animal and that's a fact. I am going to sleep with less than fifty dollars to my name but with a pile of firewood and people in my community like the Hoff family. If I had money I could buy five cords of firewood tomorrow, but no swipe of any plastic card can bring you people like that. And I think that was the heart of Mr. Hewitt's talk. Money is make believe, but people are real.

And that's good energy.

Walking & Talking

Nature Loves Courage

This comic was sent to me by a kind and acute blog reader, Melissa. If you click here you can experience the whole thing (what I posted above is just a snapshot), but I can't emphasize enough that what this comic shares is the most important thing I have learned in my entire life. Following a dream may not be all puppies and kittens, and people are going to blame, scold, and sometimes despise you for it. But at the end of the day Nature does love courage and having the gumption to follow hope can not only lift you up, but let you land in some amazing places.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My Hero!

Goat Cats

My cats live by a maxim all goats know well, something I learned from Josh KP from the Beekman Farm, just south of here:

"If there is someplace to stand around and do nothing that is higher up than the current place you’re standing around doing nothing, it’s worth the effort to move."

My cats are always up in a tree, sitting on bales in the back of the pickup, or watching me enter the house from the top step. They are cavalier about heights, which I am very very afraid of and avoid at all costs. I consider this a rational fear. If I fall off Merlin at a full gallop I only fall 5 feet. But getting on a plane always feels like it could be the last time I leave the ground. At least with a horse fall I have a chance! But my cats, they would happily perch on jet wings if it gave them a better view of a mole 30,000 feet below the ground, fear be damned.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Wet Lawns

It has been a very wet spring around here. If it's not raining it's wicked humid and the sun is shining, making lawns look more like Jurassic Park sets than landscaping. I mowed the grass this morning and it felt like I should have had a machete and rope instead of my little push mower. The job got done and when I was through I raked up what I could of the fresh chop and handed it to the horses over their gate. In the mornings the sheep have free range on the back pasture's lush grass and the horses wait their turn. With little lambs I don't trust the excitable Jasper not to run one over. So While the two steeds were looking over their fence line like inmates at the herd of sheep ripping grass I gave them some take out. They accepted it but you knew it wasn't good as the real thing. They nibbled on it like I handed them a stale Hydrox when all they wanted was a double-stuffed Oreo field. First world horse problem. They'll make it.

The little twins are growing strong and no longer have long tails. They follow mom and can run like the wind when they want to. It's nice having them here, even if they are only staying till the holidays. Which reminds me, I need to call Greg Stratton about the two hogs in the barn. The girls, Whiskey and Rye are ready for their big day. They are large and eating me out of house and home, along with the chickens! I am spending (no joke) $180 a week deeming everyone fed here. Thats mostly going into bags of chicken feed (a fifty pound bag lasts two days) and three bags of pig grain a week. When all these chickens, pigs, and lambs are in the freezer I will be a lot less stressed out about grocery bills.

In contrast, my weekly grocery bill is somewhere around $35 bucks.

I am putting off a very important post about the future of Cold Antler Farm, and what it can manage to maintain. It's not bad news, just realistic news. A year into self-employment and things are rocky, to put it euphemistically. It's not so much an issue about money as it is about space, resources, and time. I would like to offer some of my American Bresse hens and Roosters to those interested in the famous farm bird of Europe, as well as expand the pork to a woodlot operation instead of the barn. I need to figure out new sources of income as well, mostly on the writing side of things. I have a big idea for a new book I am putting the proposal together for but like all "big ideas" in publishing it takes more magic to get it into a contact that it did to find this farm and move into it. But I am staying positive that its going places. I sure have been doing my research for it.

Tuesdays are slow around here, a day to clean and run into town for the Laundromat. I think I'm hosting some guests from Australia later for a game night with Tyler and Tara, so that should be fun. I love a game night and already have a crock pot full of pulled pork handy, so no one will be hungry while trading wood for sheep during Settlers. If that sentence confused you, it's just trading cards. On a blog where the writer actually trades real sheep for firewood it can get confusing, I know.

Sun is on his way back soon, soon as tomorrow. Thats something to look forward to. It'll make the mowing easier at least! And I'm meeting my dad for dinner in Bennington, which is a treat. He's up this way on a business trip and we are sneaking in some family time and a nice sit down dinner. Thursday is Ben Hewitt's talk here in town and after years of swapping emails and reading blogs I finally get to meet the fellow and his family! Very excited, and his book speaks volumes to me. It's called Saved, and it's about letting go of money as a way to happiness. Trust me Ben, I don't think money will make me happy but I do think it'll get the collection phone calls to stop. My goal is to pay off debt so I can find my way into the life this book talks about. It'll be inspiring for sure!

Ben's In Town Thursday! I'll Be There!

When Ben Hewitt met Erik Gillard, he was amazed. Here was a real-life rebel living happily and comfortably in small-town Vermont on less than $10,000 per year. Gillard’s no bum. He has a job, a girlfriend, good friends, and strong ties to the community. But how he lives his life–and why–launches Hewitt on a quest to understand the true role of money and mindless consumerism in our lives. By meeting and befriending people like Erik Gillard, Hewitt realized that their happiness was real. What was he–and the rest of a deeply unhappy population–missing?

Saved is the humorous, surprising, and ultimately life-changing result of Hewitt’s quest, a narrative that challenges everything we know about the meaning of money. Hewitt uses his sharp eye for story, exhaustive reporting, and his own experience living below his means to bring what he learned into an even larger context. How does money really work? How can a bankrupt society move forward? The answers are not what you think, and Hewitt has written an important book for our times.

Thursday, June 20th
7:00 pm
Battenkill Books

Monday, June 17, 2013

Monday Nights Mean Possible Owlbears

Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Part Time Job

I spent today at the British School of Falconry in Manchester Vermont. It's about a thirty minute drive from Cold Antler. It's also the location of my summer part-time job teaching archery to beginners. Today I was there to instruct a family from New Hampshire in a two-hour course in traditional archery. We started with a safety lesson and instruction on stance, arms, draw, and aim and then spent 45 minutes learning to shoot targets in a beautiful open field. As we shot the occasional Harris Hawk swooped by to visit us and I couldn't hide my smile as I told the archers on the line to hold. I thought to myself, This is my JOB now. I work at a place where falconry and forest hikes are something I am paid to do. This never stops amazing me, even a few weeks into the gig.

We shot under cloudy skies but it didn't rain. The weather held off. When everyone felt confident with their mad skills we went for a walk through the forest. There's a trail that leads around curves and bends to 3D animal targets hidden in the foliage. My students got to really use what they learned out there on the target stretch, aiming at large bear and deer targets from platforms and behind posts. It was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I felt like I was on vacation, too!

I found this video online of the British School of Falconry. If you watch it you'll see my new place of work, meet Rob my boss (the English Gent) and get a feel for what my office life is like now! And if you are ever up in this area and want to learn what its like to hike with hawks on your arms, stop by for a lesson. This is the last season the School will be at this beautiful location connected with the Equinox Resort. So come and book a lesson and hawk walk, and you may see my truck parked there too. If you do I'll be out in the archery fields! Make sure you wave!

Announcing Bed, Book, and Bok Bok!

Two days of raised bed gardening, writing, and chickens! In this workshop we'll spend a weekend together making something out of nothing. We'll go through the entire process of turning a patch of lawn into a vegetable garden with nothing but a hoe, some boards, nails, a hammer, and the natural compost from this farm. We'll plant it too, and talk about what is being planted and why. We'll also cover basic ways to turn that hard-working patch of lawn into a three-season salad bar by adding a simple poly-tunnel cover to it. It'll be an outdoor workshop, rain or shine, and together we'll work a little piece of land into something fantastic; a backyard grocery. You can go home and do the same thing on your own turf and have a little backyard salad bar with a plastic cover that can extend the kale, spinach, and lettuce we'll plant right through frost! It's never too late to start a garden, even in late July!

That will be with the bulk of Saturday. The afternoon will involve a rest under the Maple tree to talk about writing, books, and I'll do some reading from stuff I am working on for the future. A little literary performance plus a long Q&A about blogging, publishing, and the genre of farm memoir. That night there will be a campfire (weather permitting) at the farm. No plans but to enjoy each other's company at that. It isn't part of the workshop as much as a private party to enjoy campfire light and fireflies and some fiddle tunes.

Sunday will be a day entirely about things that go Bok. A full day dedicated to backyard chickens! We'll cover everything you need to know from bringing home your first chicks or adult layers to nutrition, health, predators, and butchering. There won't be a live demo of an animal being butchered but there will be a discussion about it and explanation of how it is done and options for those not interested in gutting poultry. Growing your own food doesn't have to be all or nothing. You can pick apples and take them to a mill to be turned into cider. You can buy started six-packs of veggies from a greenhouse. You can pay for a professional to slaughter your fowl. More mindful and agricultural living isn't about doing it all yourself as much as it is knowing where your food comes from. Consider this a beginner's weekend on all fronts!

This is a great workshop for people in towns, urban, and suburban areas. It shows you how to take those very first steps towards a more self-sufficient life. The skills to create a raised bed garden transcend many levels of growing food, and the basics of solid chicken care are the foundation for any future dreams of dairy goats or draft horses. Make this the first step in getting your hands dirty and face smiling. And absolute country living newbies are welcome! You don't have to know a single thing about gardens or poultry to attend, and you may even get the most out of it! So come visit the farm, spend two days working and laughing with amazing people from all over the Northeast (and sometimes farther!) and stay for a hard cider and fiddle tune by the campfire.

Date: July 27-28th 2013 in Jackson
10AM-4PM both days
Cost: $200
Class Limit: 15

photo by jon katz

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Falconry Update! Welcome to the New Age!

For those of you following along in my Falconry Journey, here is an update on all things hawk in my life. Back in April I took the state's written exam for prospective Falconer's. I needed to score an 80 or higher to be allowed to move forward with the process. I studied and studied, and studied some more and I ended up scoring a solid 91 on the test! A few weeks later I got a packet of "next steps" which includes all the requirements I need to prepare to trap, train, and own a bird of prey. I have the summer to build a MEWS (hawk house), weathering area, gather supplies, and get a state game official to come and inspect my property, supplies, and the hawk house. If I have this all collected, built, and signed off on by the state I am allowed to get some paperwork signed by my mentor Ed Hepp and mail in my official license application. Whew. I'm getting winded just writing about it!

It's overwhelming to me, too. But I am just setting it into little steps. My next step is to have Ed come to the farm and exam my property and find the best place to build the MEWS. Once I have his advice in my head, I will save money up and gather the help of friends to build the little 8x8 house for the redtail (or kestrel). That is where my head is at right now. Get Ed to the farm, listen to him very, very, very hard and write down everything he says. He knows more about this sport than any book or exam paper ever could teach me. Once I have his opinion/blessing I will plan the building of the structure.

Once I have the house made I will need to build the weathering area next, which is an outdoor chain link area that sun, wind, and rain can get on the hawk. It needs a special bath tub and perches, but it should be easy enough to create thanks to a dog run at Tractor Supply. When both the MEWS and weathering area are up I need to order some hawk gear like hoods, jesses, a travel box, and a digital perch scale from some outfitters and I'll gather them by and by. I already have some of the gear I need like my left hand gauntlet and a creance. If you have no idea what I'm talking about don't worry. All I'm saying is I need hawk tackle and so far I have a glove and a leash. I already have all the state's hunter's safety requirements and a small game license so that huge part of the process is already done.

I hope to have everything here and ready for State Inspection by early August. Then I can gather my approved paperwork and have Ed fill out the stuff that lets the state know he is taking responsibility for me as his apprentice and will be joining me on our first hunting trips. When all this is done, all of it, I am allpowed to send it all to the capital with a check for $40 and they will return to me a bone fide Falconer's Apprentice State License. It legally allows me to trap and train a wild juvenile red tail hawk and be its keeper while we learn to hunt together.

After a few hunting trips I am free to take my hawk on my arm, saddle up my horse, and ride into the autumn mountains with my black highland pony while a hawk flies overhead! Can you imagine it? I can. And when I do imagine it the Pentatonix and Lindsey Stirling are covering radioactive as the soundtrack. (Thank you, Grace Helbig for the link.) That is one badass version of that song, created with only two stringed instruments, a human beat box, and a few voices. Every time I hear it I want to be cantering Merlin up a hillside in October with my own hawk alongside us, swooping ahead on the trail as as hunt pheasants, rabbits, quail, and squirrels. I shake just thinking about it. I mean, if you're going to be excited about one life, might as well be your own...

And That, boys and girls, is Living Like Fiction!

It's This Kind of Afternoon in the WC!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Hello, Harto!

Hannah Hart's travel show (which is a show about people trying to film a travel show more than a travel show) is amazing. The My Drunk Kitchen Web Series star has created something you should not be missing out on. Why? Not only is it funny as hell, but every city this woman and her crew visits to make a funny video also corresponds with a food drive. This youtuber has collected over 70,000 pounds of food for charity and has been involved in every aspect of food in foodbanks across America. Check out her show and see if you can help out at a local event. It kicks off in San Francisco and is currently, I think, in New Orleans? Here's the first city and mini documentary (just 7 minutes long) about what the show is doing to fight hunger.

A Year Since

It's been one year since I left my corporate job.

Every Day!

You know that saying, Do something every day that scares you? Well, when you run a small farm that isn't always a choice as much as a demand. I'm scared of heights but not as much as my livestock is hungry for hay. Since my pasture space is small I need to feed hay all year round, at least to some of the stock. This late in the season/early in the new season hay is scarce. I find myself crawling up into lofts and ancient barn spaces to find it, like a quest from the old storybooks. This is a photo looking down the handmade wall ladder to a second story loft in an old barn in Cambridge. I climbed it in cowboy boots. I didn't look down. It scared the crap out of me!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

You Alone Up There?

I was driving down my mountain road when I saw a neighbor out for a walk. I knew her by sight as a local but had never introduced myself to her. She was a retiree, out for a mid-morning stroll and enjoying the daylight I was racing to burn. I pulled over and said hello and explained where I lived and made smalltalk. She was polite, of course. Then she asked a question a lot of folks around here ask me. "Is it just you at that place?" and I nod and smile and say yes it is, and without fail the response is negative. Folks look either overwhelmed -eyes rolling up into their heads, or piteous, or some even get concerned. It's the opposite reaction I get from people online. You guys see Cold Antler as something heroic, a dream come true. Around here people see it as a lot of work, and one person at the wheel. It isn't heroic to them at all. It's lonely.

No one ever means anything offensive by their looks or response and I never take it that way. I think the idea of a small farm is so rooted in family and, well, roots, that a single person homesteading seems incorrect, especially to rural people a few decades older than me. I am asked if I am lonely a lot, or rather told this about myself. "Must be lonely up there, Eh?!" and I make some sort of joke or smile. I usually tell them the truth, that I'm too busy most of the time to be lonely. And I am.

I was thinking about this a lot today. If everyone around here is worried about my singleness, should I be? Does it make me an outcast? Do people in town think I'm odd, or broken, or an object to shake your head at while you take off your cap? I don't know. I do know that a love life isn't a part of who I currently am. I'm far too gun shy and suspicious of men and their motives, a self-inflicted wound that's festered through bad decisions and poor judgement . I am smart about some things but when it comes to men I am a fucking idiot.

So am I lonely? I don't think so. I'm anxious and scared a lot, but not lonely. When I get stressed out it isn't people I turn to - animals or writing is where I crave sanctuary.  I was always that way. If I am lonely it is such a part of me it isn't effecting me or considered. I'm lonely the way I'm 5'3" and have green eyes. I don't spend any time thinking about it - I just am those things. It isn't a sad thing at all, though I guess it may sound that way. I'll put it like this. When I am around couples I do not envy them or think about being in their place with someone I love. It never even crosses my mind. It would be like going on a hike and wondering what I am missing out on by not being a tree. I'm not a tree. I don't take part in tree things or tree business. Those things are for trees.

Damn am I happy the comments aren't live anymore.

If being lonely is any sort of hindrance I don't realize it. It's like a backpack I always carry around and just assume that the extra weight was always there. I'm sure when it gets taken off at some point (and it will) I'll understand how it feels to be instantly lighter. Or maybe this will always be a One Woman Farm? Either way is fine with me. Too much can happen in a week, much less a lifetime, to have any sort of plans or made-up-minds. I am grateful to be authentically alone. I'd rather be here than in a relationship I feel trapped in, which I am terrified of and wouldn't wish on anybody.

I guess the neighborhood will continue to feel bad for me for being alone here, or whatever it is they feel. Honestly, it's none of my business what other people think about me. That is their work, not mine. I do know anyone who thinks this much about a three-second response from a neighbor probably isn't in the headspace for dinner and a movie. She's probably in the headspace for a long jog and a bourbon. In that order.

Dave the Farrier & Merlin

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Braveheart Days

The sheep are currently hiding from the rain and muggy bugs in their two comfortable sheep sheds on the hillside. I can't blame them for their lack of verve, it's been a messy few days. With only Sunday afternoon as the exception, the last week has been nothing by rain. Around this farm it's called "Braveheart Days" because any daylight met with wind and rain and general green-weather uncomfortableness seems like weather to watch a that movie in. So look at this picture of the flock, taken on a non-Braveheart Day and just picture the opposite. Picture everyone smelling like wet lanolin and mud up to their shins and not even the gak gak crak of crows to sing to them. In this moist, humid, damp happy there are just the songbirds and robins.

I like Braveheart Days. I like being out in them, doing chores and I like watching them from the vantage point of a warm cup of coffee. It was a busy morning out there today. I did the usual animal and dairy work and then I had to catch three of the Black Copper Maran's I raised from a batch hatched at Common Sense Farm for a friend who needed to replenish his flock. It was me and Gibson out there in the rain and wet leaves of the forest by the farm, but together we have nailed our chicken wrangling to quite the impressive scene. Twice (two of the three birds we trapped!) were caught by Gibson chasing them right into my arms. When it comes to Jenna or the Teeth Machine, most chickens pick Jenna.

I'm working on writing up some new workshops for the late summer and fall and trying to figure out the rest of the month on paper. So far things are coming along, and if all goes as planned I may even make up some late bills today. But besides farm and office work I have no larger goals than a trip to the laundry mat and light jog if the rain stops to a dull roar so I can plod up and down the mountain here. Not a day of big consequence on this mountain, but a day none the less.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Three Best Ways to Get Around

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Stotting, Proking and Pronging

On the level ground around the farmhouse the juvenile chickens are learning how to become chickens. Just a hundred yards away, on the opposite side of my house, the lambs are learning to be sheep. Both species have a verve you just don’t see in their adult forms. Just as the birds are firecrackers, the sheep are little pistols in their own right. The little Scottish Blackface lambs look nothing like the white angels most people picture when they hear the word lamb. Instead they are born into this world like Muppet monsters, all shaggy hair, tiny round horns, big eyes and hooves most people assume they are goats. A few people demand they are goats, and when I call the splotched hairy babies sheep they patiently correct me. I can’t blame these people for their evaluation, Highland sheep are not common around here or most places. You won’t see them in the 4-H tents at the county fair and since most shepherds around here keep sheep for fiber hobby flocks, a rough-woolen breed like the Blackface wouldn’t be very desirable. Scotties are the breed of tartan and tweed, not baby hats and plush jumpers. So when someone compliments me on my darling goat kids I thank them. Some battles aren’t worth the bluster and frankly, I don’t want too many people raising this breed. They feel special to me, a part of this farm.

The twins are just a few weeks old but already they have formed a mob mentality. It doesn’t take lambs long to become brave. On the sloping pasture they stand, their tiny hooves leaving prints in the cropped grass and moss. Their mother is frustrated, munching on last year’s grass in the form of hay while watching the fresh green shoots grow out of reach beyond the fence. Rotating their time between the pastures is necessary though, less the whole place become a soccer field with many, many piles of sheep droppings. The lamb have little taste for the green stuff and are high on warm milk instead, so they don’t mind their scrappy paddock and the piles of dry hay. Instead of sulking over their diet they do as the young chickens do, and form little packs to run around.

Now when the chickens do this, even at a young age, they appear to have some sort of predatory focus. The birds stalk and race after butterflies and bumblebees. The lambs have none of this drive and run and play for the pure joy of it. In past years when there were half a dozen or so babies they'd all clump together at the top of a hillside and run down it as fast as possible, right into their mothers' dinner party without apology or concern about falls or head butts from annoyed parents. They just shake it off and run back up the hill, or across it, and when running grows boring they simply jump up and down, in place, like as if loaded springs have replaced their shins. This kind of pointless, in-place, blissful romping has several names. It’s called Stotting, proking or pronging to the old time shepherds. I don’t question the need for its own gerund at all. The action is so much more than a bounce or a jump. A good stot is nothing like a kid on a pogo stick or a jump rope. It’s higher, oddly and almost magically higher, and it lacks any sort of sense. The little lambs seemed momentarily hijacked of all sense and fear, trying to stay in that place just above their stubby feet in the sky where the world makes more sense. I confess I tried jumping in place myself a few times while watching them, earnest in my need to understand. But I don’t think forethought or reason is involved in the action. You stot because it’s the best thing to do with the moment and you can’t help yourself. Any attempt to suss out the meaning is a sad regression of intent.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Homeschooler Field Trip

A local group of homeschooled children came by the farm yesterday for a tour and introduction to horses! They were all little tykes, under four years old, and full of energy and laughs. They got to see the newborn lambs and baby chicks and during their snack break I harnessed up Merlin and explained how carts and harnesses work. They were so into it, asking questions and petting Merlin's furry head. A few of the brave kids went on a little cart ride down the road with me and their teacher and it was a blast to see them light up and smile as Merlin went from a walk into a trot. What a wonderful thing to share.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Should Heaven send me any son,
I hope he's not like Tennyson.
I'd rather have him play a fiddle
Than rise and bow and speak an idyll.

-Dorothy Parker


My good friends Dona and Brad over at Northern Spy Farm taught me this. I wish I could take credit for it but it is entirely their invention. They call it the Caprinecino, a milky, frothy treat courtesy of your own dairy animals. Now, this recipe comes from Vermont's smallest licensed dairy, the home of a happy herd of Nubian goats. But it would work just as well with your Jersey cow, Nigerian dwarves, or Friesian sheep! So behold, the Farmer's Delight! The Caprinecino!

How to make a Caprinecino (from Dona's Facebook page)

1. Bring fresh water to a boil.
2. Brew tea (or coffee*) of your choice for two or three minutes.
3. Hold cup, mug or in this case glass under teat.
4. Squeeze fresh raw milk directly into your vessel. Put aside.
5. Continue to milk your doe.
6. When you've emptied your girl scoop the froth on top to the desired amount.
6. Enjoy.

Suggestion. Remember to wait for your last girl so you can sit in the paddock and visit with the girls.

photo by Dona McAdams

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Carts & Chocolate

The first time I saw Patty Wesner walk out of her house with a horse collar over her shoulder and a pair of driving lines in her hand, I was in awe. To me the idea that any normal person could hitch and harness a horse and take it for a drive on a public road was a brand of magic I didn't know I was even allowed to witness. Where I grew up no one had horse carts. The only place you could even consider being on one was a ride through Central Park, a pumpkin patch trip at some fancy agri-tourist destination, or some sort of fair or parade. And even then, the only way you were getting on board was if you knew someone or had a lot of money to hand over. No, horse carts were not what middle-class people drove. They drove Ford Tauruses.

It took a few months but Patty taught me how to harness a horse and drive it. I learned with her handsome Percheron Steele and then when Merlin came into my life I eventually learned from him as well. And now just a little over a year later when I got a message on my Facebook Page from a neighbor/ex-coworker from Orvis that she had my favorite chocolate in the WORLD waiting for me, I didn't think twice, I just hitched up the cart.

My good friend James (also a coworker when I worked at Orvis), his wife is from the Czech Republic. Lucy and his daughter Emma just returned from a trip back to the Motherland and brought something very, very special home just for me. KOFILA! My favorite candy ever, ever ever!

Koflia is a milk chocolate bar filled with coffee cream. Lucy's father works at the factory where it is made and every time they head over to the CR they bring back a box for me. Now that I don't work at Orvis any longer the Silk Road to precious trade goods went via my neighbor Nina, who also works at Orvis. She brought the chocolate bars to her home at the base of my mountain and when I saw her little electronic note I told her I would drive down. I meant drive a horse cart, of course.

I love my little red cart and my strong black pony. It took me less than fifteen minutes to get Merlin tacked up, cart loaded with me, and to be at Nina's house a mile from mine. Had I just left my house at a brisk jog it would have taken at least twelve minutes (and that's downhill, not a suburb runner by any means), so to make that kind of time via horse drawn wood and wheels was fantastic.

I drove Merlin into her backyard and tied his haltered lead rope to one of their porch posts. I ran around to their door and knocked. Nina came out to meet me and I asked if it was okay to park on her lawn, pointing to Merlin standing proudly next to her porch railing. She squeaked and told her sons and husband to come outside. The boys, Rowan and Tristan pet the pony and little Tristan came along for a walk in a circle around their backyard. It was a hoot. She handed me a few bars of Kofila and I thanked her over and over. I sat on the back of my little red cart and we just caught up on the local news and stories. The Balloon Festival is this weekend. I know it's a big deal but I hate hot air balloons, the entire concept is terrifying to me. Wicker basket death traps…**shudder*** … Anyway, we talked and laughter and after I wore out my welcome I waved goodbye and headed home with Merlin at a good clip.

When I got home I quickly got the horse out of cart and harness and lead him to his paddock to enjoy dinner and a big drink of water. Jasper was happy to see him return, and the two boys walked side by side out to the field with green grass and room to roll and play tag. I was left with the work of putting away the harness, lines, collar, and gear. As I went about the normal work of it my mind was somewhere in the happy place of pre-chocolate consumption and I didn't realize what I had just done. I had slung Merlin's collar over my shoulder and had his lines in my right hand. I was walking them into my house, now a full-blown initiate into the world of everyday horse cart drivers. Something inside my heart clicked over into a new gear and I couldn't wipe the grin off my tired face. I went inside with a smile bigger than any hard cider or first date ever granted.

Sometimes we don't even realize a dream came true because we're too busy living it. Or, rather, too involved with our chocolate. Either way, that's a fine outcome for a Wednesday night.

Get a Copy of OWF and 3 Workshops!

Hey Folks! For anyone interested, I am offering ten copies of One Woman Farm for sale, mailed right from the farmhouse here in Cambridge. They will be signed, of course, by myself and Gibson. These copies are special though. They come along with a 3-Free workshop certificate inside them that let you (or whomever you give the certificate to) come to three workshops here at Cold Antler. I'll also ad something special from the farm itself in each book. Perhaps a feather, or a lock of Merlin's hair, or a pressed flower. These signed copies and certificates are pre-selling for a flat rate of $100 plus $7 shipping. It's a way to help out the farm and help keep it going as well as to get a special signed copy and an experience at the author's homestead. If you already own a season pass, you can use this to bring along a guest three times or it could just be an awesome discount on any three workshops! I am announcing more soon, for later in the summer and into fall. (This pass doesn't count for fiddle camp or other 2-day special events.)

I am only offering a few copies because I don't want to take business away from Battenkill Books, but I do think getting new people at workshops and events here would be wonderful. So email me if you are interested!

Tangible Acts

The garden is a place I go to when I need to escape, and I mean really escape. It may seem to our romantic sensibilities 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 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 I had removed from 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.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tired Gal

The last two weeks have been a blur. I think the last two weeks of any manuscript deadline is. At least it is for me. I reread, rewrite, reorganize and reevaluate and I feel like the deadline is always hovering right over my head. Combine this with the usual stresses all of us share, relationships, money, and life in general and I become a borderline hermit. I may have explained all this before, and if I have I apologize. I'm just out of sorts and trying to get back into them.

With that said, the farm kept going along through all of this. There are a pair of lambs here and those boys are strong as mini tin oxen. The garden is plodding towards respectable. I have lettuce, onions, kale, peas, broc, chard, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, zucchini and pumpkins planted. My grand ideas for a horse-plowed pumpkin patch and a 1/4 acre of sprawling gardens didn't happen, but planting season isn't over yet. I may not hit the dream goal this season but I am getting in a bit of feedin'earth that is healthy and the house doesn't look like an episode of Hoarders - having achieved that during a manuscript deadline on a springtime farm I feel more accomplishment than I care to admit.

I have much to write about to you guys. I want to talk about this weekend's soap making workshop in the thunderstorm and today's adventures on horseback through the woods, but right now I am climbing back up the writing roller coaster's cranking and clinking chain. I just dropped the plummet fall of an 80,000 word manuscript and haven't gotten back to the creative peak just yet. I am enjoying my little holiday between the deadline and the blog's maw.

But don't worry. You guys know me. Every time I say I'm taking a little break or will post less I start pushing out love letters and manifestos. I'm here. But tonight I am tired.

Yeti, Hanging Out

Monday, June 3, 2013


I handed in my fifth manuscript! Now back to a slightly less-stressful life!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Searching For Ships

There is this legend about the first natives who saw Columbus's ships approaching. The tales says that the scouts watching the seas from the shoreline couldn't actually see the billowing masts and great wooden vessels until they were a couple hundred yards from shore. The reason being that the human mind can't see what its brain has absolutely zero prior knowledge or concept of. It has to suss out the information and get it to the eyes and back. So the ships were invisible, inconceivable to those without the slightest notion of a giant trading ship. A similar legend was told of the Mezzo-American tribes who at first sight of a horse and rider, thought it was one animal instead of two. These are, most likely, hooey. But entertaining and eyebrow raising hooey, and for all we know could be as true as untrue. Point being, the mind sees what it wants to see, what it is trained to see, and what it expects to see. Which is why there is a plethora of ghost hunting shows on television now.

There is some valid science behind this concept though. Scientists call this perceptual blindness, or inattentional blindness. A definition from a study in 2010 describes it as such:

Inattentional blindness is the failure to notice an unexpected stimulus that is in one's field of vision when other attention-demanding tasks are being performed. It is categorized as an attentional error and is not associated with any vision deficits. This typically happens because humans are overloaded with stimuli, and it is impossible to pay attention to all stimuli in one's environment. This is due to the fact that they are unaware of the unattended stimuli. Inattentional blindness also has an effect on people’s perception. There have been multiple experiments performed that demonstrate this phenomenon.

So that's a thing. I'll get back to it in a bit.

Last night was a cool end to a very hot day. The afternoon was a scorcher, exactly like I prefer a summer day. It was in the nineties and humid. I adore humidity. I like being hot and sweaty. I do not air condition my house. I do not try and avoid heat or discomfort. I embrace it. I love the way it forces me to sweat and move like an animal instead of some doughy frump in a morgue. I like the way I can feel beads of sweat leave my brow and coat my back from normal chores and feel the water weight and toxins leaving my body. I swill water and spend as much time in the sun as I can, loving the soupy air. It reminds me of Tennessee, the dark greenness of it all. LUSH is the word! Right now Veryork is alive in ways few places on earth are alive. Every rock is is growing moss, every plant is dripping dew, and every young animal born in the hell of April is learning to pump and lope across forest and hillside alike. It is something to behold, this wet and happy summer. And yesterday I spent it like all my animals did, outside.

I farmed and gardened. I milked the goat and shot my daily quota of arrows. When it got to the point of making me dizzy I rested under the shade of the King Maple with cool water and my unshod feet dangling into the little pool by the well. You spent your whole day in that and your body adjusts. By sunset the lack of sun and light wind had me in a sweatshirt at 80 degrees. My body was so adapted and accepting of the discomfort that the lack of it gave me a chill. So in a sweater and kilt I swayed in my hammock, not thirty feet from the bubbling creek that runs down my mountain road and through my farm. I was reading The Fellowship of The Ring, and stayed out well into dark. A good book can trance you like that, make hours swirl around you until they are gone.

While reading in the dark, in the glow of the e-reader's backlit screen I thought I caught a flash in the corner of my eye. I looked and saw nothing, disregarding it as a glare from my glasses. Then another flash caught my peripheral vision, and then another. I turned to the darkest, wettest, green/black swirl of forest above the stream. I felt like the native looking for the outline of a ship, trying to remember the pace and flash of the holy glow in the distance. My mind strained to call it back, to remember the timing. There was nothing but the rush of my heartbeat and memory. I thought of glass pickle jars with holes punched into their metal lids. I thought of the drive-in movies, and how you knew when the flashes arrived the picture was about to begin. I thought of staring at them from hammocks in Vermont, and from hidden riverside cabins in Tennessee. I thought of Elkmont, the most sacred place in the entire world to me. I thought of standing before a hilltop field by a man I loved, and the disregard for these animals from men I didn't. I thought of all of this, and tried to see the horse and rider through the darkness as two animals. Thunder rumbled in the distance, a common and gentle sound aound these parts and my heart ripped right open.

And then I saw the flash.

And then I saw five more.

And the farm was alive with hundreds of fireflies.

There are places you can go where you can escape discomfort. There are places you can plug in machines to pretend weather doesn't exist. There are people who will tell you that humidity is a horrible thing and should be avoided at all costs. Do not go to those places, avoid plugs when you can, and never believe a liar. Because there is nothing more beautiful in this angry, scary world than a hundred fireflies in the dark of a lightening-kissed sky. Nothing.