Saturday, August 31, 2013

Fiddle Camp!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Pick Apples With Us!

So Apple Cidering is coming up early this year. I blame it on the rain followed by intense heat. I need to collect as many wild apples as possible from the local forests and trails here on the mountain. I'll be asking neighbors for permission for their drops and wild forage as well. But I had an idea. If anyone out there is horse friendly and in good shape, do you want to come for a potluck/apple picking day with the horeses? I can lead Merlin and his cart and pack saddles with Jasper and with their help we can carry out three times as many apples as we could with backpacks or sacks. It would be a fun couple hours of work followed by a shared meal on the farm. This isn't a workshop, or an Indie Day, it's just a community project and while the bulk go to the cidering coffer I see no reason why you couldn't go home with a basket or two for your own home use as sauce or pie fodder. It would be the afternoon of September 14th! If you are interested let me know.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Joel on The Next Generation of Farmers


It looks like chance of rain (thunderstorms) all this weekend. Not a downpour but we could get caught in the rain from time to time. Please bring rain gear and I suggest only camping here Saturday if you have a solid three-season high quality tent with stakes. There are all sorts of local lodging options if you click here. Remember this is an outdoor event, not indoors (we will not all fit indoors!) but if it turns really bad weather wise I'll see if we can head over to a friends barn to stay dry! But I don't think it'll come to that, I just want everyone prepared who is camping on site!

Fall's Trotting Closer

So the fair is over and Autumn is on his way. It's still in the eighties around here, and that's warm, but it is a totally different kind of heat compared to June or July. It's almost September, which even the most skeptical of us have to admit is fall's first breath, and it shows. In June eighty degrees is an angry heat. It's intense. But yesterday after a trail ride with Merlin, even though I was driping sweat and in full sun, it felt a little careworn, that sun. I did drive down the the river to jump in afterward and cool off, but the water was *just* cold enough to be a harbinger of what's ahead and as I sat in a cool pool along the riverbank, reading a book, a yellow leaf floated right onto my thigh. I picked it up and inspected it like a message, which indeed it was. Fall is on the way.

The farm is getting ready at her own pace for winter. I have wood to chop and stack, hay to order, and snow tires to purchase but there's still a few months left before the last gasp of the Days of Grace and I feel like I'm in honest shape for it. I have sheep for sale and such to reduce the herd size and hay needs. I recently got paid a small installment of a book advance and was able to use all of it it to catch up on the mortgage and that allowed a sigh of relief I just can't emphasize enough. Things are tight, but on the mend. That is good news for certain.

Fiddle Camp is Saturday and I have two days to prepare for it! Folks are coming from Canada, the Midwest, and all over the northeast. I have sixteen fiddles in my dining room to tune up! Tomorrow is all about those fiddle, mowing the lawn, and getting the farm ready for company. I'm excited to get people started with their first fiddle, as that is always a hoot. To see somone show up with no idea how to even hold the thing, to open that case for the first time in solid awe of the beast, and then by Sunday afternoon be performing a song and dedicated to practice. Fiddle Camp is a grand event and will probably start to happen here every Labor Day weekend (or close to it) as long as folks are interested. A smaller version will happen this March, so if you are interested in that and learning with a border collie in your lap by the woodstove - email me to reserve a spot!

Starter Flock for Sale!

If you are interested in getting into sheep I am looking to reduce my herd before winter. I can offer you a great starter flock of some young sheep - 2 ewes, a ram, and a wether. The males are Monday and Knoxville (both Scottish Blackface) and get along great - the ram is a litle guy, just over a year and the friendliest of the bunch! Knox is 3. The two ewes are Cotswold ewes, two or three years old. They are a hardy bunch. The entire group is for sale for $450.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Don't Be Herded

You can be whoever you want to be. You can love whatever you want to love. The biggest thing I see holding people back from their dreams and passions is the negative opinions and influences of others. Let me tell you something, friend. Opinions are a fiat currency. They are only worth what you agree to accept. So stop living your life based on other people's Monopoly Money. It isn't real.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Learn Mountain Music At The Farm This October!

If you don't know who this woman pictured is, let me introduce to you the finest Old Time Banjo Frailer in the county! Julie Duggan is a Cambridge art teacher and banjo player, having taught people in camps and clinics all over the US for the past 25 years. She is the woman to get that banjo itch you have scratched. She agreed to come the Saturday before Halloween to the farm for an all day introduction to the 5-string openback banjo. This is old time, frailing, or knockdown style. It's the kind of banjo playing that came out of the Appalachians before bluegrass music came about. It's rhythmic, powerful, and above all fun! You'll need a banjo for the course (none are provided) but you don't need to invest thousands to learn the basics. Email me if you want some recommendations but what matters at this workshop is your enthusiasm! Don't worry if you aren't musical. What Julie needs is people excited to learn.

Here you can see her playing at a mountain music workshop I did a few seasons back. Julie and I talked about what would happen during the day workshop and she will teach us the basics, but also tell a bit of her story about her experience with this instrument that because such a big part of her life. She not only teaches and performs with her banjos but collects them as well.

What I really love about these two workshops are they happens during the heart of Cold Antler Farm's year, Fall. The farm will be ready for winter and there will most likely be a red tail hawk for you to meet as well. It's a happy, special, and beautiful time here in Washington County and I think these workshops will fill up quick! So email me if you want to sign up for this, or the wool workshop, or BOTH!

Open Backs and Hallowed Hearts!
Saturday, Holy October 26th 2013
15 Spots Left
Price: $125

Monday, August 26, 2013


photo by Tara Alan of

Sunday, August 25, 2013

I'm There

I had a very romantic evening planned. I knew most of the day would be the usual grind but these days of Indian Summer were a thunderstorm in time. I needed to savor them while I could. I had decided that tonight Merlin would take me out to dinner. I had a very all the gear I needed to turn it into a picnic already set aside for a dusk ride up the mountain. I had not ridden Merlin in days and it was wearing me down. Riding isan addiction that has grabbed hold hard. I could have a horrible day and something like a shot of whiskey or a dinner out with friends may take my mind off it, nothing cleans the slate for me like the zen trance of being on a horse at a full-out run. I now crave that sensation, sitting into a canter, like a junky craves her next hit. I share this without apology.

The day ahead was mundane, but only until noon. After a morning of laundry, house work, farm chores and email tag I was destined for the archery field. Because of my part time job and the deadline for the mews I had missed weeks of team practice. I was really looking forward to it. Spending an afternoon around people I have known for years, under a warm sun, and doing the sport we all love - is a feeling few people get to experience these days. Today was not only a team practice for my SCA group, but my highest score of all time during Royal Rounds! What the heck is a Royal Round? Well, thanks for asking! A Royal Round is a measure of skill - a series of points based on four targets. The archer gets six arrows and shoots all of them at a 20 yard target, a 30 yard target, and a 40 yard target. When that's done you get a thirty second timed round at twenty yards. I am proud to say that a year into my training I hit 4 out of 6 arrows at 40 yards and can shoot five arrows well in under thirty seconds. I am well on my way to the marksman level of shooting.The marksman level is a score of 40 points on three royal rounds in a twelve-month period. Today I score 35 points, including several bulls eyes. I started with scores around 11 or 12. I think I was glowing out there on the line.

When our team practice was over I was asked to stay afterwards by our Marshal, T'mas. T'mas runs our team and just spent two weeks at the epic Pennsic War (the largest tent city in America, google it) and he wanted to test me for a leadership position as a fellow field Marshal. For an hour he grilled me on rules of safety, equipment inspection, field set up, running a practice, and Society particulars. When we were done he told me he would be contacting his Field Lieutenant to let me know I was a proper recommendation for Marshal. This all sounds very militaryesque because the SCA is not a democracy, it is based on the war practices of the middle ages and my Marshal status would have to travel through the East Kingdom for approval. If the people above us didn't want me, for any reason, I would get declined. That wasn't likely though, seeing our Marshal in Chief was well respected. I was as good as in.

So I drove home from practice downright giddy. My best score of all time and a new leadership role in the team! I had sunshine and a horse waiting for me. My stomach was churning with hunger and I couldn't wait to grill up that grassfed beef and tuck it into some Tupperware with salad greens and sauce for a dinner with a view from the highest point on my mountain. I would celebrate on horseback, the way I wanted to. So when I pulled into my driveway the first thing I did upon my arrival was to grab Merlin from his paddock and bring him out to the hitching post in the front lawn. There I offered him a bucket of fresh water and two flakes of hay and the plan was for him to eat where I saddle him while Gibson and I ran around doing the evening chores. It wasn't until I had delivered Merlin's dinner that I heard that horrible sound behind me….

"Gruuuunt Grunt. Sniff Sniff, grruuuuuunt squeak"

I turned around slow. Horror-movie slow. My worst fear was realized. I was staring at four pigs. They had all escaped. They were snorting at me, covered all over in dirt and mud.

It was an effort of will but I forced myself into a calm. I had learned long ago that panic did nothing to help the re-containment process. If I acted frantic they would scatter. If I called Gibson out, they would scatter. Right now the pigs seemed interested in me and I took that as a good sign. My eyes darted around trying to decipher how long they had been escapees. I had no idea and instead calmly walked over to the buckets I had set aside for evening feeding and filled one with dry cracked corn. My hope was the pigs would see the bucket and happily follow me back to their dinner.

So.... that didn't work.

What is cracked corn compared to a forest!? A forest teaming with grubs and greens, bark and chicken feeders! The foursome of pigs scattered in every direction. Their fifty-pound adolescent bodies completely filled with joy in what a locust tree felt like on their butts, or what a burdock leaf tasted like. My last hope was that routine would be the remedy, so acting like nothing was unusual I walked up to their pen, opened the door, and poured in the feed. I made a big show of sweet talk and bucket rattling and two of the pigs came running right inside the pen to check it out. Miracle of Miracles I said a silent prayer of thanks to the Guardians and quickly shut the gate behind them. They spun around on their cloven feet and squealed like angry teenagers. TRICKED! They stopped eating and paced around the pen, looking for the place they had crawled under the electric wire and lifted the chain fence to escape. I watched them touch the electric wire without so much as a flinch and knew that the fence was weak or down. I cursed under my breath and started gathering heavy rocks and a cut down locust trunk and setting them around the pen to block and non-electric points of escape. By this point I was covered in sweat and had already cut myself open on a wild rose bush. I looked like an extra in a zombie movie, and smelled like one too. I had two pigs still on the lam and two inside their pen angry as hell for having the footballs pulled over their eyes. I had no idea how to get Three and Four inside but I did know I had to make it happen. I had passed the luxury of choice two pigs ago.

I ran back to the house and threw (THREW!) a half dozen eggs from the fridge into a plastic bucket, watching the orange yokes and shells swirl into a pile of goo at the bottom. I ran to the cupboard and grabbed a can of creamed corn and opened it. I poured it into the bucket and even my pitiful human nose could take in the sugar-sweet stench of it. That rich protein and sugar and starch was too much for most omnivores to pass up and I ran back outside to try nothing short of tricking and trapping. By slowly walking up to the two escaped pigs I was able to get one to stick her head into the pail and I grabbed her back feet and lifted her into the air.

Holy Crow, the screams….

That shoat screamed and writhed and if you think it is easy lifting a fifty-pound car alarm around and dumping into a pen you are mistaken. I walked through through a patch of stinging nettle to do it as fast as possible (in a kilt) and started crying as I slowly released Three into the pen. At this point I was beyond anything but action. I ignored the burning thighs and extra cuts from thorns on my chubby arms. I was in the thick of it now. I saw the fourth pig run towards the sound of his three flatmates and instead of tackling him on a rose bush I had the sense to open the gate and pour the egg-creamed corn onto their dry corn. All three pigs inside the pen jumped on it like hungry lions on a limping gazelle and all I had to do for Four was offer him an open gate. He ran inside and I literally prayed out loud in thanks. They were all co-owned, not my pigs alone. If they got lost it would mean telling a lot of friends their pork wasn't coming as planned. I would have to bear the financial burden of replacing any pigs that left for good, something I'm not ready to do. So seeing four pigs back in their pen was a blessing beyond measure. I prayed some more. I'm a pretty religious person, albeit a logical one. I'm not foolish enough to not stop and be grateful for the gift of four returned pigs. It wasn't a gospel chorus though, I had work to do.

I jumped inside to test the wire. It was dead. The electric wiring itself as fine but the old charger was shot. I went into a frenzy of work. I hand dug out all the hay, mud, and poop that was in the way of the wire and chucked it outside the fence. My fingernails made me cringe. The smell was not good. I was hand-shoveling pig crap at sundown, covered in sweat, dry tears on my face and blood clotting over my back. Merlin was still waiting in front of the farm house. I started crying again, this time in pure exhaustion.

It took another half hour but I grabbed an old two-mile plug in charger and set it up to replace the ten-mile charger that was a deadbeat. With the ground cleared around it (note to self, do not bite nails for a few days or you may end up with ringworm) I knew the charge was good. I waited until a pink nose touched it and I heard a squeal of pain that brought nothing but a smile to my face. I ran off to get the pigs their water and poured some of it right on the grounding rod just for spite.

After all this was done I needed that saddle bad. The sun was already gone from the eastern side of the mountain but I knew I could chase it with my black horse. I saddled Merlin and we took off for our trail. When he broke into that first canter I let out a sigh so primal I'm sure Merlin felt it in his spine. We didn't have time for dinner. I had cooked nothing and lost my appetite a new handfuls of pig shit ago. I just needed to ride. We had a short, quick, hard-pumping, hoof-pounding run and I stopped only to take in the view of my valley from the highest point. We shot home and before I took him to his hitch for apples and brushing I trotted him back to the pig pen. He obliged and from horseback I counted the pigs inside the little pen. One, Two, Three, and Four. All were inside. One came up to sniff the wire and shouted when it got a hard jolt. No part of me felt any pity at all. I smiled. If you think that's crule you haven't rewired a charger with the slow burn of nettles on your inner thighs while blood ran down your arms. Peta my ass. The most abused animal on this farm is me, hands down.

I let out another sigh and looked over my kingdom. Six and a half acres of time and story. I was covered in pig shit, blood, dirt, hay chaff, human sweat, horse sweat, and dried tears. I had solved a problem, earned a rank in my archery team, and had ended it all in victory on the back of my anam chara in the forest. I was panting. Merlin was panting. The light was tired and summer was coming to a close. But I knew from that hot seat that I had won a battle that day. I had captured pigs, shot true, earned a leadership position and cried a good cry. I had lost myself on a horse, regained myself in the woods, and was now ready for a very hot shower and a very cold beer.

I walked Merlin back, resting so deep in my saddle no part of Merlin could read it as anything but a saunter. I smelled horrible. I'm sure I looked horrible. Just as I was home from the ride, turning the corner to Merlin's posts, I saw that Brick (my alpha ewe) had jumped the fence and escaped. Gibson was barking up a storm at the felony and I knew my night was just beginning. I let Gibson out to deal with the sheep and I meditated with a curry comb and the damp horse as the sunlight went from whisper to silence. Today was good and it was bad. It was wonderful, exhausting, scary and adventurous. I had spent hours in the sunlight shooting my bow, feeling that tired warmth of Lugh all around me, hugging my bronzed shoulders and telling me that October is just a few more trail rides away. I no longer felt hungry. I was already full. I had fence repairs, hay bales, water buckets, grain, milking, and more ahead of me but this only caused a swell of purpose. I returned Merlin to his paddock and Jasper greeted him with a nip on the shoulder and the two boys ran back to their open pasture gate to graze. I let them relax. I turned back to work.

Happiness is not wanting to trade your life in for anyone else's. I'm there.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Wiffle Ball Bats & The Blob

I was in the kitchen beating a zucchini in honorable combat. It was early morning and had been chopping it into big cubes for a while, listening to a podcast as I went through the list of things I had done so far (chore wise) and what was still ahead. It was not even 7:30AM on a Saturday and I had already fed the sheep grain, gave the horses hay, filled chicken feeders and checked in on chicks (the new dozen are still with us!). I was planning out goat feed and the most effect ways to haul water into the woods for the pigs, but these thoughts were overtaken by squash. This zucchini was a monster. A serious wiffle-ball-bat sized vehicle given to me by my gardening guru friend, Joanna. She knew I was one of six people in America who still wanted people's excess zucchini. I have a small army of pigs to feed, after all.

I filled a 5-gallon bucket at my feed with the cubes of zuch, and created a stock pot of other kitchen finds. Some old cobs of sweet corn, a few windfall apples I collected, and a few far-gone tomatoes. The morning meal was all vegetarian and pretty darn healthy if I do say so myself. I was sipping a large mug of coffee and enjoying that as my breakfast. I must admit, it wasn't anywhere near as splendid as the pig bucket.

I had not slept well. I blame my dreams and a pack of coyotes. I had the same dream last night I have had since I was six years old. While the story and characters never stop changing I always dream the same theme: survival leadership. I do not have sex dreams, or artistic dreams, or dreams about forgetting classes or being naked in public. Ever since I was a little girl I have had these movie-style dreams about some disaster happening (a plane crash, alien attack, world war 3, etc) and having to outsmart and survive it. The first one I can remember took place in my hometown. Remember that old movie, The Blob? I dreamt a purple ooze was coming for us and covering the earth at a slow crawl and everything it touched died. Soon as the purple gunk covered it, it hardened and all behind it was like purple glass. I watched people, horses, wild deer and cars get slowly consumed by the ooze then turned into statues. When I saw it coming for me at a slow slink I did what no one else had thought to do. Right when it was about to hit my feet I jumped and landed on the already hard opposite side. It was a dream but it was also a lesson: when things get bad, stop and think. Also, don't be afraid to jump

Last night's dream was about something involving an attack of monsters and I turned into an Eagle to fly away. It was the kind of dream that was so detailed you woke up exhausted. I did wake up from it, and I was tired as hell, but what woke me wasn't morning chores - it was coyotes. They were on the mountain and moving fast. If you never heard a pack of songdogs sing it is as haunting as it is beautiful. They yipped and howled, crooned and hollered and at one point I swear it was in my own backyard. But come morning light there was no casualties and the cats seemed as comfortable as pharaohs. It was a song of travel, I suppose.

I fell back asleep and woke up hours later, convinced I had missed morning chores. glanced at the clock and read it somewhere around 9AM. That was wicked late, and in a panic I raced outside with gibson to take care of all the chores I could, apologizing to all the animals about the late state. I had to put on a wool sweater, and my breath swirled around my face and from the giant nostrils of the horses. The outside thermometer read 42 degrees. Not normal for August but an appreciated preview of early fall. With sheep, horses, and poultry content I came back inside with a bucket and one of Jo's charity squash. When I got back into the kitchen I read the clock, now with my glasses on. It was 6:48AM.

Looks like I had more time than I realized? I let that reality sink in. It isn't often you get a gift of time, usually you spend all your effort on the subject wondering where it went, not what to do with some you stole. I poured another cup of coffee and planned out the day on paper. I had a Mews to paint, errands to run, hay to pickup, and other chores and sundries to experience. But for now, another cup of coffee would do.

Easier than saving myself from monster glop, at least.

Forget The Phone

Friday, August 23, 2013

Curds & Curly Tails

The pigs had a breakfast of windfall apples from last nights thunderstorm, cracked corn, and whey left over from cheese making. Right now the curd from a farmer chevre is setting on my countertop in a mold and by this afternoon it will be perfect. Simple soft cheeses like this that only take a day to drip, set, and spread over a bagel or crumble over a salad are a staple in places with regular access to an udder. I had some guests here yesterday and when they saw how fast the process was, and how quickly I left the steel pot on the stove alone to turn to curds, they seemed surprised. I literally came inside the house with a pail of milk, strained it, heated it up in a pot, added some lemon juice and some chevre culture and we went back outside to plant kale seeds and tack up Merlin. I call any super fast cheese like this a Farmer Cheese, mostly because farmers doing 200 things at once don't usually have the time make a daily cheese much more complicated. For me this cheve will be offered at Game Night at a Friend's house I was invited to. Served with some crackers or bagels. I'm still not over the humble brag that comes when someone who "can't stand goat cheese" tastes a real, raw milk, soft cheese for the first time and falls in love with it. There is nothing "goaty" about it, at least not in the way people knee-jerk react to that word. It's a bright taste, like new guitar strings sound. There's some tang, sure, but no more challenging than cream cheese.

Anyway, back to those pigs. I love watching them scarf and smile. I love watching them scratch their butts on the metal feeder or their pigoda wall. I love seeing them crunch into the protein-soaked corn as they fish for apples and I love seeing them decide it was all too-much and pile into a heap for a nap. In a few weeks (right after Fiddle Camp) they will move from their pen to their woodland adventure! Right now they have a piglet space that will soon offer an open gate into the forest. I need to build them an extended electric fence or use some netting but however I rig it I am excited for them to see what its like to scratch their butt on a locust trunk!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Heard rumors about my stalker? I caught him on video.

Fiddle Camp Is NEXT Weekend!

Fiddle Camp is next Saturday and Sunday. August 31st and Septemnber first. The instruments are here, t-shirts are printed and the port potty is being delivered Friday afternoon. The farm opens up at 9:30 AM and camp starts at 10AM sharp. (No arrivals or camping Friday, please!). I will be running around like nuts preparing for the event and no one is camping Friday or Sunday night. If you are camping here there will be tent sites available in the woods behind the farm Saturday, but no personal campfires or stoves are permitted. There are also no shower facilities.

There will be a group campfire Saturday night, most likely though. Feel free to bring your guitars or banjos or whatever you play for some jamming. Don't be shy. Being shy is silly, as you are grossly underestimating the general public's apathy and Fiddle Camp ttendee's kindness.

Be mindful of that and bring snacks or food you do not need to cook to enjoy. Meals are not provided due to federal regulations, but you can bring your own feed. Why not get started on the paleo diet and bring some apples and jerky! Or, bring some cash to enjoy my little town's cafes and diners, there are LOTS of eating options in air-conditioned places around town. Camp itself is held outdoors, all day. We will be under the shade of a big maple with plenty of water. I'll have complimentary bottled water on ice. If you do bring food: KEep these well protected in plastic containers or resealable bags because of wildlife such as bears. Also, know you are camping on a farm and that means roosters crowing in your ear at around 4AM. You will be surrounded by wild and domestic animals and if sleep is important it isn't too late to find a room with a shower, TV, and AC! Just email me for a list of local camp sites, hotels, and Inns. all the usual chains are in Saratoga, Bennington, Glens Falls, and such.

You should bring a comfortable camp chair, farm-friendly footwear, and no dogs or children may attend. This is because of insurance reasons and my comfort level. This means no dogs at your tent or cars while you attend camp. I know this is a bummer, but it is too hot and too long a day.

Lastly, make sure if you are attending camp you have your text book, tuner, and a spare set of strings. I'll take care of the rest! And most of all, get excited to meet awesome people and finally start playing the instrument you always dreamed of playing! It's happening this weekend!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


It's Washington County Fair Time! last night the fair opened with the annual Pro Rodeo, which I adore! I was there with Patty, Tara, Tyler, Joanna and Greg. It was a thrill and heartbeater as always. I adore the roping, barrel racing, and the cowboys which make me swoon (can't lie, its a large part of the draw of rodeo for me). My favorite event is bulldogging (aka steer wrestling). This is where a man on a galloping horse leaps off his mount onto a running steer, grabs onto the horns, and wrestles it to the ground in under ten seconds. If they were in kilts on fell ponies I might need to be chained to the bleachers....

If you are reading this and compete in rodeo you just got yourself a first date. I'm 67% kidding.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Threefold Return, New Clutch!

The chicks you see here were born this past winter, the daughters of a Pumpkin Husley that came here from Greenfire Farms two years ago. I found them behind the woodpile, near the house. I heard them peeping (a seriously odd sound for midwinter outdside on a farm). I discovered a nest and broyght mom and little ones inside. They have since thrived, a good deed on my part and a lucky strike for them. I have never met a chicken as good a mother as a Pumpkin, which makes sense being a breed bred for cockfighting that turned out to be a viciously good mama! These two lived in the farmhouse for the winter (this picture was just before the coldest night of the year!) and then went outside in the spring to live with their mama. Over the summer these two learned to steel grain from goat feeders, perch in the safest, highest rafters in the barns, and have been the most successful free range bird I ever raised. I don't know if Greenfire still raises them or not but I am nothing but impressed with them as brooding hens and layers. These chickens only die if they commit suicide. No critter can catch them and they outsmart most of their chicken brethren.

Anyway, one of these little woodpile chicks just hatched out some chicks. I took this video expecting a trio or so of birds from the first time mother, but watch and see how many there really are. Talk about a threefold return! Are you familiar with that karmic phrase? The idea being that everything you do, from smiling at a stranger to punching someone in the face comes back to you times three. It's an old Celtic/Welsh folk saying but it always rings true. You get what you deserve, just more of it. I got repayed this August morning for a kindness I offered last winter. No one said the payment was quick, but it sure was good.


New Light, Miriam Romais's Photography!

Miriam Romais will be visiting the farm for the next few weeks, seasons, a while I think. I'm honored to have her come and share her gift with all of us. She's an amazing and accomplished photographer with her own magazine and studio in New York City. She was drawn to the farm and has been here at 7AM to help with and document chores, ridden with me in Merlin's cart, brought along family and friends to help with group efforts like the mews and fence repairs. To have an artist with a passion to document this messy life who is willing to hand you a rusty fencing tool on a dusty hillside is a gem. I hope to share some amazing work here, like this portrait of Merlin. Stay tuned, Antlers. More to come out of this happy friendship!

New Fences, New Friends, Hobbit Goats

Good morning, all. It has been a hectic week here to say the very least. The mews has a deadline on it and this past week falconry has been the main thing on my brain. My mentor, Ed Hepp, came to see the progress and offer some advice and ideas. His help was very appreciated but his ideas mean longer construction time to create the features he is suggesting. It's a good long-term idea though, a platform shelf inside the mews for the new bird when he/she arrives.

Besides the hawking stuff I have been repairing and reworking the electric fences on the farm. So far I have rewired the sheep and they are staying put (thanks to the help of some new friends, Keenan and Mir!) but for every victory on a small farm something else has to knock you down a peg or so. When I came home from an event in Albany yesterday the goats had escaped and were enjoying the pot of sunflowers I had been waiting to see flower all this wet spring. If they did ever flower the goats ate them.

What I love about goats is they aren't much for wandering. They want to stay close to home and are one of the few animals I trust totally outside the pen. Let me rephrase that. I trust them to STAY around the house and not run off, but not to ignore the vegetable gardens or flowering herbs. Sheep will run across the street to greener pastures and so will horses, but goats are happy to eat your kale right out of your backyard and let those other critters go on adventures. Goats are hobbits.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Mews Progress!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Soggy Bacon

It's pouring here. I mean, RAIN. Chores are done between the hardest downpours and only one at a time. I ran out and fed the horses and sheep first (hay in the truck was closest to them and had to be fed right quick now that it was wet, only two bales so no big waste). I ran inside after that to fortify self and soul with strong coffee. It rained steady for an hour and then I headed back outside to feed the pigs and milk the goats. This morning with all the rain and wind there were windfall apples everywhere! I poured some corn into a metal bucket, filled it with leftover scraps from the kitchen and apples and poured goat milk over top. When you get a half gallon a day you don't mind sharing. I carried that to the wet pigs who are learning that "girl with bucket" is worth paying attention too. In a few days I'll build their first outdoor woodland paddock. I can't wait to see what they do with their wild world!

Two sheep keep escaping from their paddock into the pasture, Gibson rounds them up every day, several times. I think I need another electric wire so they stop leaping over top. Fences are just opportunities to acquire battle strategy, I think.

I trudged along in my wet t-shirt and kilt, dressed in what I consider my own sense of fashion now. I had on my favorite army green canvas kilt, a gray t-shirt, chaco sandals and a knit gray hat. My hair soaked below it but the wool kept the heat in and chill off. My feet got disgusting from the mud and farm but a dip in the well pool had them clean as movie hobbits in no time. I can't say it was all that bad out there: wet sheep, wet dog, wet kilt and wet pigs. Dry Smile.

There are worst ways to spend a Tuesday morning.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Behold a Dark Horse

I watched this video and cried. I was outside after chores, slunk down in the hammock, and I saw it pop up on my Facebook feed on my iphone. It's a performance by Stacy Westfall and her black horse, all done to music without a bridle or saddle. The things she gets that horse to do with barely the slightest signals of leg and body are astounding. As someone who has competed in dressage and ran up mountain trails I understand what is going on and it made me gasp. Then it made me cry. Us humans can't help but see, read, or hear something and then grasp to relate to it. I pray to someday be as talented as Stacy's pinky finger with horses—I have so much to learn—but I already know I will never live without one again. I don't know how the rest of you are getting by without one? They change you. They change everything about you, how you see yourself, how you relate to other challenges and events. A woman with a horse is a strong woman. She's capable and confident and it doesn't matter if she's in a black velvet helmet or a Stetson.

Merlin saved me. More than I realize.

I cried because that ride was amazing, and because I literally just dismounted off my own black horse less then an hour before. It's hard to go a day without riding now, something I try to do once or twice a day. I feel lucky to have a horse outside my door and trails to ride him on that it seems foolish and reckless with my good fortune not to do it as often as possible. I started riding first thing in the morning with some coffee in a thermos shoved into a saddlehorn bag. I used to start my mornings with the news and checking my bank account. This is better. As one of you fine people said on Facebook, "nothing in the news or my bank account will change in that hour". Might as well put myself in a grateful and happy mood while the daylight is young.

I don't know much about Stacy's backstory. I do know that in this video she dedicated that ride to her dad, saying it was his encouragement to try new things that mattered. Think about that? Out of all the things she could have said to a couple thousand people before the ride of her life, it was encouragement that mattered. I can't think of anything more precious. To encourage someone along their path might be the most important thing we can do for each another. Everyday we are given thousands of chances to lighten someone else's load, to create a smile where one didn't exist a second ago. How could we choose anything else?

I hope more than anything that this blog encourages those of you who are on the fence about taking brave steps. I hope you see this broke, confused, imperfect woman on the internet following her dream of a creative life and it makes you feel things are possible. Trust me, that is all I write for. When I get emails that readers finally bought land, or got their first egg, or are making these dramatic life changes I am on fire for them, buoyed and thrilled. That's the whole point of this wild ride, right? To live like you are dying. You ARE dying. I don't care if you're 23 or 89, all of us are on a ticking clock. I know my life seems irresponsible to some of you, that you don't like me or my choices, but I can tell you this much: if my world ended tomorrow I'd know I spent my time making the best life I could for myself. That I did it regardless of consequences, permissions, or pride. I know that I only kissed men I loved and only prayed to gods I believed and I never let fear that they didn't love me back get in the way of either. That matters.

We are defined by the decisions we make.

It's up to you to make the reality you want. It's up to you to not care about what other people's opinions are. It's up to you to leave the marriage, quit the job, run the 5k, or adopt that baby. It's up to you to tell him you love him. It's up to you to say you are sorry. It's up to you to buy the compost, plant the seed, and create the garden between the cracks in the walls. No one is going to do anything for you. No one is going to offer you the opportunities. And if you live a life waiting for perfect moments, the right amount in the bank account, or approval from your family and peers you will never experience the changes you want to see.

The doers make the decisions. You know that right? There's a saying for it, I just heard it today. I was listening to Jack Spirko's podcast and he shared a little sermon about the reality we all live in. It's called The Doacracy. The people who are out there doing the work, they are the ones that get to make the rules. We live in a society that is always asking permission, always. We hand over our authority to the people we were told to listen to, trained to submit to rules. Don't. I have always believed in asking for forgiveness instead of permission, and if you don't believe me ask my mother. So when you hit a wall you need to see it as a challenge, not a deal breaker. You need to understand that your lack of cash, inability to relocate, or responsibilities are only your current circumstances and everything you do in your daily life either changes them or reinforces them. And that bit about encouragement? Sometimes it is up to you to encourage yourself. Sometimes the only one who can see the big picture is the one holding the paintbrushes. Be a doer. Make your life. Ignore those who tell you that you can't. They subscribe to a whole different way of living. It doesn't have to be yours.

This is a short, painful, confusing and heartbreaking life where most of us only have a few decades to really live the way we want to. So get on that horse, call that realtor, or buy that plane ticket. Stop living like you aren't dying. It's going to kill you if you don't.

Ron Finley: Guerilla Gardener

Tacking Up. What We Ride In.

I have been asked what I ride with, meaning what kind of tack I use. I think my set up is kind of original, but I think anyone who has a multi-use horse would say the same. Merlin rides English, western, trail, jumping, dressage and drives. But what I love more than anything is just tacking him up and going for a mountain trail ride and picnic. Our trail rides are fast-paced most of the time. It's a combination of trot and canter, a lot of elevation changes. For this I ride in western tack. I have an old barrel racing saddle and like the style a lot. It feels less like a seat and more like one of those contraptions you get strapped into when you sit on a roller coaster. It's horn and cantle are high, so you feel hugged front and back. I think barrel racing saddlers are made to keep the riders in, and since it is a traditionally women's rodeo sport they seem to fit my body better than the trail saddlers I have tried out. I always, always, always use a breast collar. It keeps the saddle from slipping, and on a draft pony that is a big deal. They are round critters even when they are in peak shape and a slipping saddle feels like you have no control. At least it does for me.

Merlin uses a hand-me-down wool saddle pad in tan plaid. Wendy gave it to me at last summer's fiddle camp and I use it nearly every day. It is thick, wicks sweat, and gives an amazing cushion for Merlin. I have used plain old blankets, thinner synthetic pads, and such but nothing seems to work as well as a real wool pad.

I use a western black leather bridle, 6" snaffle "mule" bit, and a ten foot long pair of black cotton reins. The black cotton is so comfortable for trail riding, thick and beefy to hold. It takes me out of the dressage ring or english lesson mindset, too. Last night I wanted to get back into the lighter English saddle I have and I did, but I still used the big reins and western bridle. Merlin seems to like less pressure on his mouth (I imagine most horses do!) and I give him control of his head while we amble along.

On long outings Merlin has canvas saddlebags and I roll a blanket over his rump behind the cantle. I can pack drinks, hoof pick, fly spray, halter and lead, first aid gear, rain gear, a pocket knife, weather alert radio and whatever book I am reading. Sometimes there is a cold hard cider in a small lunch cooler with an icepack, sometimes there is just ice water. Other times (after a rough day) I just stick a flask of whiskey in my sporran and that's the end of that. I do not suggest anyone ride while drinking but a sip of good bourbon on top of a horse on a mountaintop view never hurt anyone, by god.

So that is Merlin's gear. I always ride in the same thing: cowboy shirt, straw hat, kilt, full-seat breach bloomers, paddock boots and half chaps. I'll get a picture of us together in our updated highlander gear eventually. But I wanted to share what we use here in words (even if the picture is older, showing a plain blanket and our old lesson bridle). If you have any questions or suggestions for good trail stuff, let me know!

Good Morning!

Ah, there is nothing like walking into a sunbeam lit kitchen and grabbing that hot percolator off the stove. THe sheep are on the hill, the horses are swishing their tails by their gate, and the whole day of writing, archery lessons, and design work is ahead of me. I can lean back against the kitchen county, take my first sip of Heaven's sweet mana, and take in a deep whiff of rotting corpses.

Mmmmm. Farm life.

So the critter that killed and stole 44 chicks in one silent death raid is taken care of. He or she is now rotting in the crawl space under my kitchen. I wish it wasn't so, but in all honesty it isn't that bad. It's the not-so-sweet smell of victory.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Autumn's Start

It was nearly dark. I was in the office after just catching up on computer stuff. The work crew had left, a new wall was up on the mews. In two weeks the mews and weathering area will be ready for inspection and I can have my mentor sign off on my application. I'm thinking about this as I look outside the office window at the sheep. A few jumped the *new* electric fence and were in the recovering pasture. I looked down at Gibson, who was already on top of the situation. From my office window he can see all the sheep and was whining as I typed. Time to head back outside.

Gibson and I headed out into the cobalt blue world. The light is already tired this time of year, always stretching and yawning. That's what August light is, tired. It's the glow of Lughnasadh, the first harvest. Once you pass that August 2nd cross quarter you are in the realm of fall and I feel it everywhere, boiling from room temperature on its way up. I can feel Autumn in every breath, the air is tired too. As a farmer and as an old-fashioned agriculturalist I see the year starting and ending in fall, not January. This is the end of a whole year of growth and all the work will pay off in warm stove wood, canned jars of summer vegetables, growing lambs, a strong horse, and soon bonfires that set yellow cornstalks aglow. Before you know it there will be cider pressing and reading The Legend of Sleepy Hollow around the campfire, a CAF tradition. I can not wait.

In the next few weeks we'll be in the realm of September and I could not be more excited. September is to me what Thanksgiving is to die-hard Christmas fans - the beginning of the celebration season! I am a fall junky and in the next few weeks nights will dip into the forties, then flirt with the thirties, and soon I will be calling the chimney sweep and chopping and stacking woof everyday from the growing pile. All the wood for my stove this year came in trade or as gifts, and what a gift it is! I have a friend, Tim Hoff, who has driven over with his son on several occasions to drop off wood left over from trees cut down by his boss or road jobs. All the wood, much of it hardwood, was scavenged but it'll burn just the same. I need to chainsaw and chop it up but I think well over two cords are already outside my kitchen window. That is not a bad start at all.

What Is Falconry?!

I have been writing about this for a while, but never really explained what the reason for acquiring a red tail hawk is! Falconry is hunting, plain and simple. But instead of using a shotgun, riffle, slingshot, pointy stick, bow, or any other man-made weapon - you use a hawk. The hawk is trained to be set free and fly from tree to tree in the forest, above her handler. As the human below walks through the woods in our heavy-footed way that high-sitting hawk can see the rabbits, grouse, pheasants, turkeys, squirrels, and doves below that us people scare off. It takes off to kill it, a fast downward soar called a "flight" and takes the prey with its sharp taloned feet. The human follows the bird, steal its quarry and puts it in a falconer's bag and takes the hawk back on her arm for a possible second hunt.

It is nearly silent, and beautiful, and a partnership between human and animal for a single goal - not unlike working horses, plowing donkeys, and herding sheep dogs. The redtail I trap and train will be a living tool for the hunt, a partner, but not a pet. My hawk will be a wild animal that belongs to the state of New York and the Federal goverment, not me. I am just a "handler" and not an owner, though that doesnt mean a true relationship wont form between us. I can keep the bird here in the mews we are building for a year or five, but eventually she will be returned to nature as a healthy, breeding, wild animal. Red tails can leave humans and do just fine (which is why beginner's start with such hawks. If I mess up the hawk can be free and live its normal, wild life).

If you have any questions just email me, or look at your local Falconry club. There are groups in every state and plenty of handlers who might be thrilled to show you their world, take you on a hawk walk, or show you their mews. It's not a secret society, sport of the wealthy, or animal abuse. It is hunting with a bird of prey and learning stewardship, treamwork, and respect between species. I am so excited for this. What a fall this will be!

P.S. That is Haggis, the Harris Hawk female from the British School of Falconry.

Brazil, Outdoor Shower Stalls, and Venti Coffee Drinks...

I had a friend from Lake George come by the farm yesterday. She's a photographer I met her at my Taekwondo School, a fellow student. She isn't a homesteader of any sort, but grew up around farms in Brazil and wanted to see what my world was like. I was happy to show her the ropes. What happened was a day of activity, everything from harnessing Merlin for a cart ride to loading truck up with hay at Common Sense Farm. She met the pigs (now named Ham, Ham, Jumpies and Commander after the four chickens named by my friend Joanna's neice). She pet the goats, helped me with chores surrounded by poultry and heckling turkeys. She was a trooper, totally out of her normal NYC environment and not even complaining about stepping in chicken poo. Not that I would expect any sort of squeamishness from a woman who I've seen execute a perfect side kick. She's a tough one, and I was proud to show her this place. We spent the whole day getting to know each other outside the dojang. At Taekwondo we would spar and work on forms and techniques but we never really get to chat. It's considered rude to be talking during class, all attention is on the instructor. But my farm is far from the world of martial arts where full attention is considered the norm. Here there are so many things to pay attention to it's almost dangerous to focus on one thing too long! I think she'll be returning over the next few weeks and working on a photo essay, possibly for publication. I'm excited and honored about the possibility. When she left I sent her home with some porkchops, just-dug potatoes, and some breakfast sausage. I could have sent her home with milk and eggs too, if she wanted. I think I am just realizing now this is a Breakfast Farm!

After the full day of work and hosting a guest I came back to my computer to catch up on emails and work. I saw an email from a woman who told me, quite bluntly, that she doesn't see the value in subscribing to a blog for a year - it doesn't offer her enough content. I think I stared at the screen for a full minute with my mouth open. It wasn't her lack of interest in signing up for a paid subscription, that is none of my business really. But her statement that the content wasn't worth the five bucks a month hurt. I know lately things have been sparse here, but that's because I am fall-down-the-stairs busy with a mauscript, new proposal, the farm work, the mews construction, the part time job in Vermont, and special events like the photographer from the big city. This morning I was on the road at 7:45 AM to head over to Tara and Tyler's place to help them get ready for their week-long workshop about timber framing. I was happy to help them (they certainly help me!) but I doubt I will get to blog about helping with a wattle and daub outdoor shower house (though you can see Tara & Tyler's pictures here,) but that's just because I am dog tired. Like the farm itself, writing comes and goes in waves of effort and will. Right now it isn't up the the normal snuff, but I still think if you started at the first of August and went through day-to-day you'd see enough stories, videos, and pictures to be worth a vebti drink at Starbucks?

If you want to subscribe, it is easy to do. If you do not it is even easier to do! You don't have to write me to tell me why or why not, like I said, that is your businness. But for all who do I appreciate it. So much. So very, very, very much. Things here are still a little dodgy but I am pulling through it, being frugal whenever I can, and spedning more time enjoying the food and life I have here than going out. I am waiting with white knuckles on payments due and if I can make it with enough time to order those fiddles and get those camp t-shirts in by the end of next week I will be kissing the ground! Every day I sit down and try my level best to get out thank you notes to a handful of readers, and if you are still waiting for yours please be patient! I'l catch up!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Yeti's Napping Spot

Friday, August 9, 2013

Announcing Two Big Events!
Beginner Banjo & Wool Festival Workshop!

I am really excited to announce these two events, both happening this fall at Cold Antler Farm! The first is a reason for a three-day weekend folks, because Kathryn Zmrzlik will be here Friday October 4th for an all day wool workshop the day before the Southern Adirondack Fiber Festival! Kathryn is the woman some of you may remember from the winter wool weekend I host? Well she wanted to come back and teach again and is taking a day off her work to do just that. This woman knows wool. She's a spinner, knitter, and can look at a fleece out on a table and tell you whether or not it's worth it's weight in compost. She's here to teach us the same, so join me in a workshop entirely dedicated to wool and yarn!

The morning will start out with a tour of the farm and a talk about backyard sheep and what goes into a small flock. That's my contribution to the day. From there we'll take some wool right off Sal and bring it inside to clean, dry, card, and spin with a drop spindle. You can see the entire process done by hand, take notes, and get your fingers wrapped around raw wool, lanolin, clean wool, and a drum carder. You'll also get a chance to try out drop spindles. After that we will break for lunch and when we return Kathryn, spinner and woolcentric woman of wonder, will get out her wheel and some fleeces and show us how to sort out both. First she will demystify the wheel and its parts, use, and care and feeding. Then she'll show us new fleece buyers what to look for in quality wool. This is pretty important information and timely too, because the day after this workshop at Cold Antler will be the opening day of the nearby Fiber Festival. Make the trip up here to not only learn and support CAF, but to spend a day in autumnal farm country among other wool and knitting fans! It's a great festival and with the know-how Kathryn has to offer you you'll be buying fleeces like a pro. Or, at the very least, a VERY educated consumer!

So come to learn, hang out, laugh, and see Cold Antler on Friday and stay in the county for the festival that weekend. A bonefied Washington County Experience if there ever was one!

Fiber Festival Wool Workshop!
Friday October 4th 2013
15 Spots Left
Price: $100

If you don't know who this woman pictured is, let me introduce to you the finest Old Time Banjo Frailer in the county! Julie Duggan is a Cambridge art teacher and banjo player, having taught people in camps and clinics all over the US for the past 25 years. She is the woman to get that banjo itch you have scratched. She agreed to come the Saturday before Halloween to the farm for an all day introduction to the 5-string openback banjo. This is old time, frailing, or knockdown style. It's the kind of banjo playing that came out of the Appalachians before bluegrass music came about. It's rhythmic, powerful, and above all fun! You'll need a banjo for the course (none are provided) but you don't need to invest thousands to learn the basics. Email me if you want some recommendations but what matters at this workshop is your enthusiasm! Don't worry if you aren't musical. What Julie needs is people excited to learn.

Here you can see her playing at a mountain music workshop I did a few seasons back. Julie and I talked about what would happen during the day workshop and she will teach us the basics, but also tell a bit of her story about her experience with this instrument that because such a big part of her life. She not only teaches and performs with her banjos but collects them as well.

What I really love about these two workshops are they happens during the heart of Cold Antler Farm's year, Fall. The farm will be ready for winter and there will most likely be a red tail hawk for you to meet as well. It's a happy, special, and beautiful time here in Washington County and I think these workshops will fill up quick! So email me if you want to sign up for this, or the wool workshop, or BOTH!

Open Backs and Hallowed Hearts!
Saturday, Holy October 26th 2013
15 Spots Left
Price: $125

Rakes: Not Just For Leaves

Looks like today will be a wash out, there's a 100% prediction of heavy rains. I'm scheduled to work at the Archery School today, but since it is an outdoor classroom and basically a vacation destination few people want to spend their vacation time out in a downpour with sharp pointy objects. I have a feeling I'll be told not to come in, but while I wait for confirmation there is plenty to do around here. A rainy day means a chance to clean the house, organize emails, perhaps can some pickels, and of course, write. I'm between books and editing manuscripts so I want to start content on my next book proposal. That train isn't stopping yet. I have a lot more books in me!

I'm at that place as a writer where everything I have coming out is pretty much settled and the work is done, One Woman Farm is at the printers and comes out this fall and Cold Antler Farm (the next book, a larger memoir) is coming out the following spring. It is a good feeling knowing bookstores won't forget my name just yet but as a career it's the last job and already in the hopper, so time to mine some more book deals. If I can get one before winter I will rest a lot easier by the wood stove. This is all going on spec, as you know. But that's how this farm works!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Work Zone!

Following Muses

Things here are moving fast. I am running *just* fast enough ahead of the pack to not get ran over by it! I have been getting a lot of hours this week as at the Falconry School in Manchester. I'm an archery instructor there (in case you are a new reader and have no idea what I am talking about) and the extra cash has been a great help. I get paid an hourly wage, but the real money comes from tips. Some folks tip, others don't, but every day I drive there it is worth it. To get people from not knowing how to hold a bow to shooting bulls eyes at ten yards (I refuse to teach with sights, too!) is such a great feeling of accomplishment. I love teaching, and love that a passion such as archery can turn into more than targets and deer stalking here at the farm, it has become a solid source of supplemental income. I think this is how I will make a living the rest of my life, sharing my passions. I love the bow, the fiddle, the farm and everything that goes with them. If I can make enough money to pay my bills and sit back with a glass of hard cider every so often I will consider myself a wild success! These things are so special to me, so satisfying, and constantly inspire and teach me. I feel so lucky to share it, and share with you who have the same love of horse hair - be it on fiddle strings or on the mane of a cantering steed.

Speaking of my muse…

The last three nights have been all about the muse! I mean, ahem, MEWS! What started as some posts in the ground now has framing, a metal roof, the beginning of a window and a gravel floor. I picked up a half yard of the gravel in my truck Monday and was not prepared for how much gravel half a yard is…. I shoveled it out, bucket by bucket, and got most of it into the ground of the mews. It's a packing gravel, mostly chalky powder and perfect for keeping mice out and hawk feet comfortable. All that is left to do is put up wall,s the windows, double entry-door and make some roosts. Then I can call the State to come and inspect it. When the game warden says my preparations are worthy of applying for an Apprentice Falconer License I can get serious about learning to trap and train with my mentor. It is turning into quite the adventure. The progress is slow, but once I have jumped through the hoops, build the facilities, and made some more local falconer connections I think it'll all flow smoothly.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Donkey Power!

I got to spend some time down at Common Sense Farm today watching their new donkey, Ramona, do what she does best! She's their new cultivator, helping to weed the rows of carrots and beans today. Every once in a while she decides to stop—being a donkey and all—but only for a few seconds. Then she is back at it with Othniel leading and his son running the cultivator. She's a smart one, and a great asset to their farm. When she's done doing her work Othniel's boy hops on her back and rides her back to the barn, a happy sight!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Highs & Lows

Yesterday I had planned to take Merlin out for several miles in our small red cart. I had recently touched up the paint, polished the leather harness, and attached a produce bin to the back bumper so we could carry home a haul of fresh onions, carrots, and greens from Stannard Farm Stand, my closest farm market. I was heading down my road when I noticed my left tire was low on air. I stopped to get a better look and saw the rubber had been ground down to the wires! I couldn't use the cart in this shape and headed home, a little sad. I had been telling the ladies at Stannard I would be coming for weeks. But hey, better safe than sorry.

I ended up going for a trail ride instead, which was glorious. Merlin, Gibson, and I explored the mountain and beat the rain home, just. My Sunday afternoon wrapped up with slow-cooked pork and garden peppers over rice and friends mark and Patty invited me over for post-dinner drinks in the hot tub. It was cool enough at dusk to put on a wool sweater, believe it or not. This morning the farm was 45 degrees! I had spent the day farming, carting, riding, eating my own farm-raised foods, and ended the night with jets on my tired back watching shooting stars. That, my friends, is what we call a High Time in the rural life.

But around here Nature always bats last, as the saying goes. I drove home happy as a clam and Gibson and I did our usually night rounds. Before I headed in with some mint tea and a book (reading Bloodroot, Appalachian magical novel) I lit a lantern and together G and I checked on four sleeping shoats, two calm horses, birds in the coop, bunnies making nests for kindling, and a dozen sheep on the hill. All is well. Last check was on the 50 Freedom Ranger chicks I had inside the house, in the mud room brooder under a headlamp. They were all eating and drinking and happy. A great day in farm country, no?

I woke up and 44 of those chicks were gone.

I know. I know. Horrible. No blood, no sign, no struggle. It was (as someone on Facebook said this morning) a chick version of the rapture. Only 6 little sinners were left, totally fine. I scooped them up and took them to a scrappy makeshift brooder. I inspected the brooder after that and discovered the entry point. There was a hole gnawed into the plywood, about the size of a billiard ball. I was so incredibly crestfallen and angry. If there birds were outside you would almost expect a mass die off, but this was in the brooder I have used for years, inside my home. What happened had to be rats, weasels, martens, opossums or something of the sort that came into the room through the dirt floor behind the washer and dryer. My mudroom was the old farmhouses original woodshed, so there is no stone floor, concrete foundation, or other critter-proof walls. I just never expected to loose so many animals in a day. I put some rat poison inside the empty brooder, not my favorite way to take care of pests but this is war. I'll also put in a small, live trap with bait. This, my friends, is what we call a Low Time in the rural life.

The only good news to this - A friend mailed me a hatchery gift card last month. At least I can get more birds. These were late-season replacements for the other adult American Bresse/Austrolorp meat birds I lost to the raccoon. I am not having a great year of the chicken.

Living this life, with animals and so close to my food and nature is amazing, but it is also a constant emotional gut punch. Every day is an adventure, every day a series of tasks and quests that need to be completed. Yesterday included everything from mucking a pig pen to walking over the crest of a mountain ridge on horseback. It is both ends of the spectrum, pig poo and paradise lost. There are always highs and lows, but the point is to love and learn from both. I wouldn't want a farm that never knew a raccoon or sunset ride. There's a balance here. It keeps me steady.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

To Make a Farm

Dinner To Go

If you are as busy as I am right now, you don't have a lot of time to cook. Breakfast is coffee and some nuts and dried fruit, lunch is something fast from the garden cooked in one wok and set over rice with some soy sauce and spices. Dinner? What do I look like?! There is no time for dinner. If there was, well, by 6PM I either want to be on horseback or visiting with friends. I don't want to cook. It's either hot or I am tired, (at least this week anyway). So I have started eating dinners in jars. They say necessity is the mother of invention, right? So here is my saving grace:

You slow cook whatever meat you choose. Right now it is pork, since I have that in the freezer, but this would work for lamb, chicken, mutton, and beef roasts too. You get the slow cooker plugged in and fill it up with a hunk of meat and flavor agent of your choosing. My recent combinations are bbq sauce, honey, and pork. But a can of tomato basil soup and rabbit or beef with diced tomatoes and kidney beans would be just fine as well. Mostly it is savory dishes, with a tomato based sauce. Add spices to taste, don't scrimp on salt. Let that slow cook all day while you work in home or office, run errands, raise children, whatever it is you do that isn't in the kitchen. Then come dinner time all you need to prepare is some rice (in a rice cooker, stovetop, or microwave) and fill half a jar with the cooked rice. The hot rice, then topped with the hot stewing meats, is all you really need. But here is the kicker: you chop up some veggies from the garden into dicey pieces and because of their smaller size they are able to be cooked (steamed) by the heat of the rice and meat with the mason jar lid closed. I make these meals in jars and can take them to friends houses for a quick dinner, serve them on game night, or wrap one in a towel and put it in Merlin's saddle bag for dinner with a view. It's delicious, super easy, super healthy, super fast. You can use local meats and veggies from your local farmers or your own backyard in an economical way too. Since local meats can be expensive, you can make one prok shoulder last for ten-fifteen meals! These freeze great, right in the jar, and so you can fill the fridge with ten or so and take them out when hungre strikes. Awesome.

Bon Appétit!

Ticker Tape

Recent Clarity

Right now the farm is in full production. Everything I do is happening at once. There are vegetables in the garden that need weeding and harvesting. There are pigs in the pen, who need twice daily food and water checks. There are sheep and lambs in the field. There are two goats, one that needs to be milked regularly. It's all happening around usual farm chores, writing deadlines, appointments and obligations and I do not dare complain. I am busy but optimistic about this autumn. That breakdown last week, the tears and the reality check were necessary for this recent clarity.

The past few days were eventful here. I handed in the second round of edits on my fifth book. If that is approved I get paid a partial advance, enough to cover August and September's mortgage and truck payments. That is a HUGE weight off my shoulders and will have me singing at Fiddle Camp this August. I was so worried this fall would just be about panic and fear but right now things are looking up. Thanks to encouragement from readers (I am behind on replies to your emails but so grateful for them) and your generosity of spirit, time, and resources this farm is still standing, and dare I say it, looking more productive than it has all year. Getting out of that funk, dealing with priorities cleared out my head. It shook out some confusion and helped me get my act together. In the fray of it I didn't realize how many things were falling apart around me. Hedges needed trimming, the lawn needed mowing, things needed to be groomed, cleaned up, just invigorated again. I got out the hedge trimmers, rake, and spent a few days just cleaning things up and clearing things out. I feel like a lot is on the mend that was careworn.

I got to spend Friday mostly doing this stuff. It was a 14-hour outside workday, starting at 4:30AM but by the time late afternoon rolled around I had this place in magazine shooting shape. At one point I just stopped to look at the day's efforts and before I wrote down the next day's to do list I just forced myself to walk back to the pig pen - a creation of friends and forced will - and just watch shoats scratch their butts on posts and roll in the hay. In meditation, or fascination (probably both), I stared at these guys. What I was looking at was hundreds of meals for friends and me. There's a lot of work between here and there, but if I stay true to the path so many great people I truly adore will be fed from a bit of land and work. Including everyone who helped make that pen happen. To think about all that while a little gilt rubs her nose in the dirt and then flops into a pile of hay in the shade was a nice way to end the work day.

And if that wasn't enough to validate my little turning point, I knew I had less then two hours to be at Skidmore College in Saratoga to help Patty and Steele get ready for the Floral Fete Parade. I was going to end this day riding in a horse cart down a main street in city celebrating 150 years of horses, culture, and history. No. No no no. I do not dare complain.

P.S. Here are some photos the local paper took! You may or may not see pictures of me and Steele Making Out in Congress Park....

Also, here is a totally wordless video of some pigs being pigs.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Sing It, Gibby!

Friday, August 2, 2013

That'll Do, Pig.

Gibson walked into the house dew soaked, paw bleeding, and panting like mad. He was smiling and trotted right to his dog bowl for a long slurp. I wasn't worried about his cut, it was just an open wound on his paw, a ripped scab from a minor slice. Farm dogs get beat up a bit, and his feet are no exception. I took a jar of salve my friends Kathy and Mary gave meant and filled the cut with the herbal remedy. By noon it would be a memory.

He and I just had a great little sheepherding moment on the hill. Ruckus, the blackface ewe who is the smartest and wilyist of my sheep, had escaped and needed to join her friends in their paddock. I don't have enough grass to have the sheep on pasture all the time so I do what I call a hay rotation. They are on hay for 2 weeks, grass for one, then a hay/grass combo before they get rounded up for the grass to heal a bit and shoot back up. This girl was breaking the rules, having snuck out to eat the good stuff. Gibson was wonderful. He kept his eyes locked, his movements calm, and helped me convince that sheep without touching her a single time to enter a gate. He's a persuader all right. She ran inside!

With the sheep working on their morning breakfast (a bale from the back of my pickup, a little soggy from last night's rain)m I walked over to the horses. I did let them out to pasture, and Merlin did that beautiful thing where he rears up and tucks his head and his muscles all bunch and mane flies. It's worth getting up before 7AM to see. They started in on some grass while I hopped their fence to check on the pigs.

Yes, pigs! Four pigs were delivered last night by Tom Brazie. Raised by his brother's family the little guys arrived in two pig crates in the back of his green pickup truck. My friends Tyler and Tara and fond of Tom and wanted to see the pigs as well, so they showed up last minute to help us unload the critters. I think since they were both sharing the pork and helped build the pen, they were pretty invested in Cold Antler's Porcine concerns by this point. Not only did they arrive with their fancy camera, but everyone of us carried a pig across the law, into the woods, and into the new pen.

The little guys screamed the entire time we carried them back into the woods but soon as their trotters hit the ground they were silent. It did not take long for them to find their pig chow and get to work eating all they could. I have only raised pigs in singles and pairs, so seeing the level of competitveness was a bit of a shock! They went to town on that pig chow, eating all they could, grunting and pushing the whole time. It is really a happy scene to watch, and the pen is spacious, shaded, and lets in enough sunshine to let them tan if they want to. Right now while they are this size they are staying in the original pen. Soon I will set wiring into the woods and let them explore and be woodland pigs like their ancestors were. I am getting moveable netting (which they are already trained to) and setting it up so they can move around as I please. I do think it is time to invest in a fence tester. I don't want these guys lost in the woods, that would be a real problem. In truth it's why I put off the pastured pigs for so long. You lose a chicken or a sheep, that's sad but recoverable. Each pig is pre-sold and worth hundreds of pounds of meat in a few months. You can't regain that time or effort by starting over 4 months down the line. This is a little risky, but with good electricity and vigilance I think we will be fine. It's worth it for the bacon. Is it ever.

P.S. THIS JUST IN - Got a call from the post office, 50 chickens are waiting for me. Time to get some coffee!

photo by tara of

Thursday, August 1, 2013