Monday, September 30, 2013

A Sunday Drive

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Apple Picking Help

Merlin and Jasper thought it would be helpful to keep making room in the basket for more apples. So they ate their fill while I used my shep crook to pull down hundreds of the red fruit. It feels so decadent, going outside to your hill with a bushel basket and a hooked stick and coming back inside rich. And to spend a sunny afternoon with them, under that too-blue sky of late September... Luck is all around, getting thicker with the years.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

At My Own Pace

It was a little over a year ago that I was sitting in Patty's front lawn on Merlin's back, on our first-ever western trail ride. Up until this point I stuck to what I knew, which was riding in English style with English tack on and English horse. I had a year of lessons with Riding Right Farm, and three months on Merlin in their arena. I knew this horse as a walk, trot, and canter animal. I knew subtle things about him. I knew how to get him to go from a trot to a walk to a full stop using only my plentiful ass cheeks. I knew English riding and was cocky enough to think I could understand Western. I mean, wasn't Western riding easier? Less finesse? Less effort? I would be a sack of potatoes on a horse right? Just along for the ride in a couch called a western saddle that required no effort on my part. That's what I thought.

I was an ass.

My first time in a western saddle and I nearly broke down and cried. The saddle was mine, bought at a flea market for a hundred bucks. The tears were mine too, and they weren't the happy kind. I cried because I was scared. For years I had sat on horses in English saddles, scant pieces of leather where you connected with the horse through leg, touch and balance. But this western thing was foreign and clunky and I felt like someone had duct-taped me to a chair on Merlin's back and I had no idea how to control him. My legs were gone. I was scared because he was crow hopping and fussing and I didn't know how to stop him. Patty let me get off, and then made me get back on. I hated her for it at the time but now I envy her ability to not laugh at me. I was falling apart because I had no idea what to do. Ignorance made me immobile.

That day we did not trail ride. We didn't even leave her yard. In the end Patty sat me on my horse and lead me around like a kid at the county fair on a lead rope, showing me that a western saddle was just another seat and to get used to it. Then when I realized this, we discounted and jumped into the hot tub with a glass of wine. Go at your own pace, I say.

Flash forward a little over a year later and I am in the woods, on the back of Merlin and sitting proudly in a western saddle. Merlin was at a fast trot, his lazy run, and about to do that thing where his muscles bunch and his rump lifts and I know he is about to run. A pair of Quarter Horses ahead of us are already on the top of a steep rise in the forest, and he wants to join them. So I let him. I accept his offer of speed and give him enough heel that he takes off like a rocket. We have been out here for over three miles and he is still more than happy to spring when I ask or a horse gets out of his sight. I think of that girl crying in Patty's front lawn and smile. We do go at our own pace…

I have come a long way since tears and confusion. That old used Western saddle is now what I use several times a week to ride Merlin around my mountain. It is what I always use. It took a while. It took lessons with my instructor/farrier Dave. It took experience and miles with Patty and Steele. Mostly it took just going outside and tacking up. And now, today, I spent it with other riders in a wild forest, out on a trail ride for hours and miles. It felt wonderful.

The ride with the Cambridge Saddle Club was a nice, long one. At least for me. Over two hours in the saddle, well over five miles. We walked, trotted, and cantered all around a sanctuary owned by an Episcopal Convent of nuns and their church. 600+ acres! The 14 horses that showed up only sported two drafts (Patty and I) but our mounts kept up and at the end of the day Merlin was still ready to canter. He has a lot more verve and power that his short, stout stature shows those who would overlook him as a mere backyard pony. He's powerful, fast, and can run up a hillside just as quick and any quarter-anything. I was so proud of him, and amazed at my own progress. What had terrified me to tears four seasons ago I now had by the horns, or reins, I guess. I spent the day not as these Club member's equal but as a community member. Another one of the horse tribe who rode and laughed alongside them. I doubt my skill matched that of the seven year old on a paint pony in the group, but I didn't care. I was out on a beautiful fall day with my own horse. I was riding up mountains and alongside strangers, making small talk and friends. It was wonderful as it felt.

When we got off our horses and enjoyed a cookout of burgers and dogs, I listened to other riders stories and experiences. It was neat to hear and I was touched at the amount of older riders around me. I was one of the youngest people there (Save for the seven year old), and watching people in their fifties, sixties, seventies and possibly higher out for a five mile mountain ride made me feel like I had another thirty years of this in me as well.

When Patty and I finally got back to her farm it was once again time for her hot tub and congratulations. Five miles in the saddle made for some sore thighs and I was thrilled to soak with a cold beer in my hand under the Indian Summer sunlight. Tomorrow we have plans to drive the horses with the Draft Club but tonight was all about saddles, sore asses, and triumph. A girl deserves a drink when she can go from tears to trails in a year.

I'm happy as can be. I went at my own pace.

17 hands. 14 hands.

Duck Nesting at Dawn

Friday, September 27, 2013

Can We Hit the Goal of 100?!

I got my first look at One Woman Farm a few weeks back and I was stunned. It is beautiful, truly beautiful. It's a fully illustrated hardcover journal with my words and the artwork of Emma Dibben. It is a perfect combination of art and words and the book itself is exactly what I hoped it would be. There are crows and fiddles, sheep and sheepdogs, leaves and fireflies. It's a book you can read along with the seasons, but it starts and ends in October, as my year does. It's a love letter to the life I chose, and I hope you all enjoy having it as part of your own homes and farms. I have a goal of hitting 100 pre-orders for Connie's store, Battenkill Books. So far we have hit 60! You can pre-order a signed copy from Connie and me (and Gibson if you ask!) will sign it. Buying from them is a huge help to my local community as well as a chance to get nationally recognized, as Connie's store's sales are included in the NY Times Bestseller List!

Oh, and did I mention we are throwing a Launch Party for the book! Ask Connie if you can pick it up in person at the event and stick around to say hello to me and Gibson. (If you are coming to the event, please do leave your own pooches at home since Gibson is the jealous sort).

Pre-Order Here!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Selling Stock, Fixing Mistakes.

This morning it was chilly, but not cold enough to welcome a fire. To light a casual morning fire this early in the season has to meet a certain criteria. I have three rules. First, it needs to be cold enough to warrant one, and that means the house needs to be at least 58 degrees or cooler. Second, I need to be sticking around the house long enough for a fire to matter. Lighting it only to leave an hour later is pointless. It won't do much more than look pretty, as it takes coals, not flames, to heat my small house. Third, I can't have a mess of office work to do. I've done this before, lighting a fire and sitting by it long enough to feel emotionally warmer only to head upstairs to the office/tack room for hours and come down to a cold house and wasted effort. So no fire this morning. I had fences to fix.

The fence and pasture issue here is a disaster, it really is. I need to rip out huge sections and re-do it. A task I am not physically or financially prepared to do at the moment. So instead I am always repairing the new, weak sections the sheep discover to leap out of. It is a scrappy compilation of baling twine, wooden boards, bits of wire, and such. I have wired and re0wired the electric fence several times only to see the wooly sheep use their horns or backs to rip it out. What I need is a professional fencer here to get me and estimate, then marry rich. You know, farming.

I kid. I'm a kidder.

I got the trio of escaped sheep in this morning and repaired the fencing. If the two escapists and the lamb that follows them weren't my two best breeding sheep I would have sold them months ago. Their uteruses (uteri?) offer them a get-out-of-jail-free card, literally. But I am happy to say I sold off three sheep already, Atlas is heading back up state to the Adirondacks with them (sold them to Brett) and the two lambs will be slaughter this winter or next spring, depending. They seem two small to right now. That gets me down to eight, and then six sheep. A better number for my pasture. And the pasture needs serious healing from my mistakes, too. I need to fence it off and reseed it ASAP in hopes that it can heal a little before serious frost. Then move all the sheep elsewhere to graze before the damage is even worse.

This sounds like a frustrating update. It is. I will admit I have considered selling every sheep on this farm save for Sal, Maude, and Joseph. They are too old and fat to try leaping fences. It would be a lot better for the land. If I could get down to just those three and the two breeding ewes I would be very happy. Then I could rip out the fence section by section in digestible chunks and repair it.

Enough grousing. I have words to write, wood stoves to ignore, and the horse fence to repair. I found it almost down this morning from where the three escaped sheep tore it early this morning or last night. Once I re-wire the electric and get it somewhere closer to stable and shocking the horses will mind it as ever, but the clock is ticking. There isn't a ruminant alive that doesn't know the grass is greener on the other side.

P.S. Only TWO SPOTS left for Arrows Rising, snag them quick! Winter fiddle camp is sold out. Summer Camp has fifteen spots open to those who want them!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Foghar Beannachd

Antlerborns & Wool Coats

My kitchen sounds like it has Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Every time I walk in there I am greeted with the rattle and burble of two fermentation buckets. They bubble and belch in the corner, and at this point in the process they can't help themselves. So much yeast and sugar is interacting with the cider. A whole world of chemistry is happening and I sometimes find myself just staring at the airlocks, counting time between bubbles like I did as a child waiting for thunder after a flash of lightening. My house is old and every step on the worn floorboard sends a chain reaction to the little tanks, the slightest vibration telegraphed sending them into a fit of air bubbles. It sounds vulgar. It is delightful.

Besides a burping kitchen I have a few fun updates. Eight new Antlerborn chicks arrived Sunday morning! That's what I am calling the unique breed of free-range chicken that is thriving here. They are an autumn-leaf colored mixture of pumpkins and flowers, literally. They are part Pumpkin Hulsey and part Swedish Flower Hen and the mixture has created the clever street urchin of chickens. They are so street-smart, so daring, so predator savvy that out of the 20 Antlerborn chicks that arrived so far only two have died. Thats without brooders, folks. These birds are living under their mothers' wings. And they are growing up into these really sleek and beautiful animals, mostly orange and gray, but with yellows, browns, and reds as well. They happened by accident but who knows, the Antlerborn Chicken may be its own breed someday. It is here.

Also, remember my story about thinking about a warm cloak or jacket while driving Merlin? I was hours from home, in the outdoors, and trapped in a sense. I didn't have any rain or warmth gear with me and if it poured or got cold I was stuck traveling at the speed of a horse I refuse to not pace. Walking a horse with wet tack slowly home while shaking and soaked is not fun. So I noted that next trip out I'll treat it more like a trail ride and carry a raincoat, sweater, gloves, and a first aid-kit. Simple solution. Preparedness is the driving cloak of the future.

However, I am far too romantic to sit still. I looked up "wool cloaks" and "wool jackets" online and found very modern pea coats that looked restrictive of arms and under-layered clothes - or flowing costume capes. Both options used real wool and none were under a hundred dollars. I knew there was a way to make a simple cart-driving/chore jacket cheaper. So I looked up the cost of ordering a few yards of wool cloth. WOW. 100% wool fabric was around 20-30 dollars a yard! So I looked at my daybed in the living room. On the couch was this big wool blanket, dark green and super warm. It's the kind you get at Military Surplus stores or from emergency supply catalogs. This one came from the Ready Store and weighed four pounds, I think it cost twenty dollars. It was a lot more than a yard. So I grabbed some green thread and a needle, a pair of scissors, and looked up a basic hooded cape design online. There were a lot of patterns and basic cut-out ideas but to be honest I winged it. I sewed the hood first, attached it to a small half-circle for wrapping around my body, and then attached two big arms. It fit just like I wanted it too! Super comfy, like wearing a wool blanket and with enough room to go over any sweater or jacket. It'll keep the rain off in my cart for sure or double as blanket for my legs. It's more fashionable then a cape and while it still looks a little "costumey" I'm not wearing it to dinner and a movie, I'm wearing it to feed horses and drive a cart. I'm okay with it. I just wanted to show you the simple design in case any of you want to try the same project. It's a $25 wool cart-driver coat. It's the newest thing with all this chilly weather! Some say it is as warm as under the wings of an Anterborn mother hen!

photo by Miriam Romais

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Eight Miles By Horse Cart

I got a call this morning from Karen, president of the Washington County Draft Animal Association (WCDAA). She wanted to tell me some bittersweet news, the Club's September event— a long, dirt-road drive along the Battenkill River in Vermont—was cancelled. The rain in the forecast was serious, 100% chance of downpour and it would not be fun being a gypsy caravan train of soggy horses in a storm tomorrow. I conceded that point with some sort of affirmative sound and told her it was no matter, my horse was harnessed outside and ready for a drive on this sunny morning. It may rain on our parade tomorrow, but today was still unaccounted for.

Merlin was outside on his hitching post, tail swishing at imaginary flies while he waited for me to walk outside with bridle and lines. He was already wearing his collar and leather harness, looking beautiful in the saturated sunlight. The weather was perfect. There was a warm wind but blue skies. The air was perfect for a light sweater or long-sleeved shirt but no need for a jacket or rain coat. You could tell weather was on the way, but hours off. It was perfect atmosphere for an outing. So I finished the now habitual tasks of bridle, bit, harness and hames and jumped into the little porch-swing seat of my cart. That is literal, by the way. My little red cart is old, made from bike spokes form the 1940's and a porch swing seat welded together with a handmade buckboard seat. Like everything else on this farm it is scrappy but functional. I love it. I flicked the lines and sent us off at a trot. We were heading out on an adventure and the sun was shining.

We trotted along my winding road, maple leaves in all colors at Merlin's feathered feet. I was execotionally happy because I had coffe at my side. I had bought one of those car-window cup holders for the horse cart, and adjusted it into sturdy resignation with a bit of baling twine. In it was the perfect coffee cup for the horse driver. It was made to be totally spill proof and insulated, and it had one button your thumb could press as it hit your lips to let the coffee escape. Brilliant. It was splash proof and I could open and close it with one hand while the other held the lines that communicated with the horse. This may seem like a moot point, but it's not. This adventure was 4 miles one way, probably a few hours until we returned. Rain gear and emergency lead ropes were important, sure, but caffeine was essential. Four travel mugs later I had found my secret weapon. Bring on the wild world, I had my weapon of choice at hand.

We slowed to a walk as the road evened out. I was in no rush today. I had just repaired the bent wheel and had a loaner wrench in the box behind the cart's only seat. The box was just a veggie crate from Common Sense Farm tied up with some twine. It wasn't strong enough for a second passenger but it could hold some groceries. I had a plan to drive on backroads to Stannard's Farm Stand, buy some goods, and come home. I had been telling the folks at Stannard's for months I wanted to cart down but the busy highway made me nervous. I wasn't worried about Merlin being spooked as much as I was worried about people on their cell phones not expecting horse carts in the road while texting, thereby killing us. So we take the long way, making what would be by car a mile and a half in under ten minutes into an eight-mile roundtrip taking over two hours. It was a glorious inconvenience.

We passed cornfields and old farms. We passed dogs barking wildly, neighbors waving from porch swings, and old red barns ready for someone with watercolors and an easel. We passed other horses, and Merlin would raise his head and holler to them in his low voice. Cars passed us. Trucks passed us. People on bikes and motorcycles and ATVs passed us. Merlin just walked or trotted, a perfect gentlemen. When the road was empty I'd let down my guard and sip my coffee, stick one earbud in to hear a bit of the audiobook I am listening to. One ear open to the sound of wind and horse tail, the other lost in a bit of fiction.

Eventually we made it to a busy highway intersection. Route 22 was in front of us and just across the road was our big destination: Stannard Farm Stand. This little farm stand has been my source of just about everything these past few months. If I need cream, butter, flour, meat, honey or vegetables it is right there. My frequent visits make me a pretty familiar face and so when I pulled in with my cart it was welcomed. A worker watched Merlin and stood with him while I went inside to shop. I bought pumpkin pancake mix, a Kutztown Bottleworks Red Cream Soda, a pie pumpkin, a mum, and some corn. The soda really was special as I went to Kutztown University and it is a total coincidence that ten years later I am sipping soda in a pony cart from the place I once lived to study graphic design. I stayed and chatted with the farm stand workers for a while, giving Merlin a good rest. He chewed up the grass and was offered an apple from the stand, as well as one slipped into my kilt pocket for later. With a full cart, a rested horse, and a promise to return again we trotted off for home. The wind was picking up but the sky remained blue. I could feel the rain a few hours away though, it was alive in every leave that turned its belly up to the wind.

While heading back along Fish Hatchery Road at a fast trot I knew we were going to pass the Cambridge Saddle Club's event grounds. I do not know much about this group, but I do know once a month they meet a few miles from my home to compete in a gymkhana for adults and kids alike. I decided to be brave and drive Merlin right into the parking lot and ask if we could watch. I wasn't sure what folks would think of a Fell Pony in a red cart at a quarter horse event. Most of the riders were in cowboy hats and t-shirts, in beautiful western tack, ready to complete in barrel racing timed rounds. I was in a plaid shirt, straw hat, kilt, and driving a pony ready for Middle Earth. All my fears were silly though, as everyone greeted us strangers with smiles. When you love horses you're in the tribe. Two women told me I was welcome to trot my cart right up along the fence with the folding chars and watch from my "stadium seating." I did and two women about to compete with their stunning, sleek, geldings told me all Saddle Club events were casual and friendly. They asked if I was going to enter the trail ride next week and I wasn't sure. "You better go sign up in the club house," one woman said, pointing to a wooden announcers stand, "Entries close after today." Another women offered to watch Merlin while I ran into the stands to sign up. What the hell, I thought. When the world throws an experience in your face the best thing to do is jump in.

So I walked into the announcers stand and just as I was about to say hello a giant Irish Wolfhound greeted me with a sloppy kiss. "That's Connor!" said a women in her sixties, with enough piss and vinegar in her voice to fuel my V-8 truck to Memphis. "He's friendly, come in!" and so I scratched the wolfhound and walked inside. Gloria (the woman who owned Connor) took down my name and eleven dollar fee and signed me up for the ride next Saturday. Looks like I'll be making some new friends. I signed up patty and Steele as well, thinking she'd want the option if nothing else. Before scratching Connor's head goodbye I asked if draft horses were okay? Gloria scoffed out a laugh, "If it has four legs, it's okay!" And I noticed a spotted draft about to take his second barrel outside. This club was something else.

I headed home then, the last three miles taken mostly at a walk. I was in no rush and Merlin didn't need to be dripping with sweat and blowing on a country afternoon. I let myself get lost in thought, and what I thought about was clothing. That may seem weird, but I kept looking at my cotton shirt sleeves. Only in this time in history would a person in a horse cart leave home without a proper cloak. A wool blanket you could wear that stood against the wind, rain, and snow. Something that doubled as a sleeping bag at night or kept you safe from cold sunlight or harsh hail. If I drove around in a cloak today I would look like a nut job.

I'm not saying we should all go out and buy wool cloaks, but I am saying that we are so far removed from the elements in our cars. When you are in a car you are in a fast, little house. It probably has eat and air conditioning, just like home. It has comfy chairs like home. It is instantly convenient. This is not a bad thing, but it isn't a horse cart. In a cart it is just you and the weather, and it seemed foolish as all get out to be an hour from home with the chance of a storm without a rain jacket and sweater. These are things I never leave for a trail ride without, so why didn't I have them along today? I guess the cart felt like my truck in a way, less exposed. But as the wind tore my straw hat off my head I knew that was wrong thinking. Next time I'd be cloaked, and by cloak I mean a poncho and a hoodie. Even I know when my fashion sense can go from whimsical to creepy.

The last few miles we stopped often, mostly to chat with neighbors. People who avoid eye contact with joggers and cyclists go out of their way to walk up to a cart and horse on their road. I obliged every friendly face and we stopped to talk and shake hands. I met three new neighbors this way. It may have been my favorite part of the whole trip, just saying hello on a sunny afternoon. We have lost so much of our ability to look a person in the eye and state a welcome. It matters.

I thought about Patty, too. It was meeting her just two winters ago that made all this possible. She is the one who handed me my first set of driving lines and taught me in her cart with her beautiful horse, Steele. She is the one who helped me evaluate and work with Merlin. She watched me go from terrified and crying to brave and fast. And her encouragement along the way, her positive attitude, and her friendship made today possible. If it wasn't for her I'd still be hoping for my "someday" cart horse. Friend, Someday isn't real. It's the worst sort of lie we tell ourselves. Patty is. If you want a cart horse go find yourself a Patty. They are a magical sort, but they are out there.

When Merlin and I finally did get home I treated him to a rub down, bucket of cold well water, and a little sweet grain. I returned him to Jasper, who had been crying for him since we came into hearing distance and let Gibson out of the house to help me with afternoon chores. The cart ride took most of mid-morning, hours really. But I gained names and faces, plans for next weekend, and got to meet an Irish Wolfhound named Connor. It was all beautiful. And I couldn't help but feel a little sly as the clouds rolled in. I had seen the world from the back of a horse cart today and beat the rain. I didn't have a cloak, and I didn't need it. I was safe and at home, a place where meals and drinks and friends gathered. I have felt blessed many times on this farm before but not so much as this day, which I always longed for in my heart.

A farm, a horse, a cart ride, a community. Blessing abound, and fall is just getting started!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Essentials Packed

Your Last Chance!

There is now just one spot left for Winter Fiddle Camp, I could squeeze in one more if you want to bring a friend but that's it, this farmhouse can only take so much music. There are also just 2 spaces left for Arrows Rising, the beginners' archery weekend in May. I just spoke with the bowyer who is making the bows for the weekend workshop atendees (same bow you see pictured in that photo with Merlin and I). I hope two more folks scoop them up. I also have one spot left for the Dulcimer Day Camp, which has a great turnout of about 8 players on their way here to learn and receive their mountain dulcimers. It has been a hoot tuning them up and getting them ready for their new owners!

Poor Folk

I'm not sure if I ever shared this story? When I used to live in the little cabin in Sandgate, Vermont—before I moved here to Jackson—I did my laundry on the front step of the porch. I was out there, scrubing with my Rub-Lite and singing a tune to my earbuds when a neighbor's car drove by slowly. It's not a common scene these days, at least not in that neighborhood. I waved and smiled and they drove past. I thought nothing of it.

A few days later that same neighbor arrived with a box of canned goods, which he gave me "for the chickens" but all the cans were in good conditions and with long-distance expiration dates. I was confused why anyone would use perfectly good storable food on chickens, who will happily forage for most of their food anyway? I then rememebred the slow drive past, and the laundry, and wondered if he thought I was too poor to use a quarter machine in Cambridge? I realized then the food was for me, not the birds. It was an act of charity, offered in a way that saved pride. Double the kindness but totally unnecssary. Even if I was dirt poor I had a flock of chickens, a huge garden, and wild game was everywhere. How could I possibly be hungry in such a paradise? But people who do not homestead see some of our choices as a last-resort or act of desperation. This was a lesson I needed to learn. Not everyone wants to scrub a plaid shirt by a trio of geese.

I was washing at home that day because I wanted to save the drive into a town. I had parked my car the day before (Friday) and had vowed not to start it up again until Monday morning. I wanted to spend the whole day in my garden, with my chickens, in my cabin with my instruments and huskies. I saw this as a vacation, total luxury. I didn't care if it took twice as long as a machine to wash by hand, wring, and hang on a line. I had an audiobook in my ear and sunlight on my face. It cost me nothing but elbow grease and lunch was thirty feet away in the greatest garden I ever grew. I thought the peopel who had to leave home for food, entertainment, and chores were the poor folk. I was rich as baroness in my own mind.

But I need to be mindful that laundry on the front steps will always be seen as result of poverty or an eccentric choice, something done more out of a whim than as a regular chore. I have a laundromat a few miles away now and I do use it, but on glorious days or days when I do not want to get in that truck I would rather get out the Rub-Lite and listen to more of Kvothe's adventures at the University (Read Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss if you haven't yet.) I am more than okay with people who drive by thinking I am incredibally poor. I'm okay with people thinking whatevcer they want. If you go by available cash I am incredibally poor, living bill to bill and month to month. But I don't feel poor. I feel like a woman on that long weekend vacation every day, even when relaxation is the last thing on me mind (i.e. escaped pigs, panic attacks at 3AM, or late bills). Life isn't perfect, but it is mine. I'm working towards a sustainable career, and eventually getting out of as much debt as possible. And if people want to share their heads with pity as they drive down the hill that's fine.

I mean, I am almost out of canned corn...

Trails & Arrows

I have been taking Merlin out for trail rides as much as possible lately. My reason is that this Sunday is a Draft Club meet up and drive, and if I can't fix my cart I'll be riding Merlin along with the gang. This will be a seven mile trip, all told. Nothing we can't handle but I'd like us both in shape for it. So every day I load him up with some extra gear; saddle bags, cantle bag, horn bags, and me. That's a hefty load and we take our mountain trails which are never, ever flat. It's been good for him, and for me. The more time you spend on a horse the more you learn from each other, and about each other. For example, I know Merlin will take any possible opportunity to eat. We're a like that way. He has at times totally avoided apples on trees and maple leaves in his face long enough to fool me into thinking he is sated. Then at a full canter in an open field he'll stop dead and lower his head for a bite of white clover and that is something that teaches you about a good seat fast. When I ride Merlin I trust him, but I know he is still an animal with his own brain and plans, so I learn to sit deep, heals down, body ready to move with his own center of gravity, to sway and adjust accordingly.

Yesterday I brought my bow along, slung over my chest. I brought one field-point arrow and held it the same way I would hold a dressage crop. I couldn't help but laugh at myself a bit there, a technique for another time and place, but totally useful. I couldn't feel farther from a dressage ring at the moment though. I was in beat up carhartt pants, an old paint-stained shirt, bow on my back and riding a laden pony. We weren't out hunting, just target practice. We'd ride and at a walk I'd drop the reins and try to get Merlin to stop by my butt along, sinking in deep and saying whoa so silently you'd think it was pillow talk. I'm no Merida just yet, there are no handless gallops with a full quiver, but a girls got to start somewhere. I'd shoot at a tree or a post, something I could still get from horseback without getting off. Merlin puts up with it all, long as he can stop and eat from time to time. A war horse he is not. He's a farmer's horse. And that will do.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pig Don't Care

...if you burn the sauce.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Shovels & Rope!

Target Practice

Monday, September 16, 2013

Cider Pressing!

I've got grease on my kilt. It's there because of the tough work of turning the apple grinder. The press we use is a combination animal, part grinder with flywheel and part press. It's from an old New York Orchard's estate sale, dated somewhere around 1865. When my friend Dave bought it from the auctioneer it was falling apart, the old wood rotten and nearly gone, the press rusty and forgotten. But Dave is the kind of man who can build anything his mind can wrap around and he restored the press, cleaned it up, painted it, and now many people call his woodland property home for an afternoon when cidering season comes around. So, you can understand the grease. If you had gears that saw the end of the Civil War you may need some additional lubrication, too.

I always get excited about this day, probably because I am a huge fan of hard cider. There are several store-brands of the hooch I enjoy very much but nothing is as good as what we gather, press, and bottle ourselves. If there is one thing I have learned in all these years of growing and cooking food it is that food with a story always tastes better. When you sit down to a meal with a hunt, a fish story, a day of work or a garden behind it that you know intimately, it always enhances the flavor. If you can manage to share the meal with friends, and have them contribute their own food of story to it, you have a feast no matter what the ingredients. You bring a warm loaf of bread from the oven you baked yourself, possibly from wheat you grew? Set it down on a table next to a crock of soft goat cheese or hand-churned butter and you are the wealthiest people in the world long as you sit and commune in such glory. Being rich has nothing to do with money. Being rich means understanding time and value and having the wisdom to train each to sit down next to you when you ask.

And that is why I brought venison stew and a truckload of apples to Dave's House. The apples were picked here at the farm, but the venison was a gift from the Hoff Family and given to me along with their two bushels traded for some hard cider when it is ready. I was expecting them to deliver the apples, but not the two pounds of ground venison. I am a huge fan of game, and this was hunted by a family member who had more than enough to share (the exact opposite of my hunting story from last fall). I decided to do right by the kindness and set to work in my kitchen with a big round skillet, some butter set to melt in it, and started chopping veggies. I crushed some garlic from Common Sense Farm under the flat side of my knife and diced it best I could. An onion from my garden and some green peppers later I was simmering the best, savory, smells a kitchen can know. While they sputtered and hummed in the pan I took the defrosted meat and added it to a bowl, offering it spices I thought would compliment it. Garlic salt, black pepper, a little turmeric and mace. When the meat was ready I added it to the pan and it browned nicely. I had a meat and veggie stir fry of some serious respect going on, but it was only a meal for two or three? That would not due, since cidering would be around ten people or so. I then did what all smart cooks do in a pinch, added all the content from the pan to a crock pot and diced up some tomatoes from the garden. A lot of tomatoes. I poured in a can of kidney beans and what was left was a loose chili, or a thick stew, depending on your view of the world. Stew sounds more like something a Hobbit would eat, so I called it stew. I packed up the crock pot in the truck, called my dog, and headed to Dave's to start pressing.

I messed up the time and was the last one to arrive, but since I showed up with a couple hundred pounds of apples I figured that was excusable. The well-known process was in full swing, and friends and faces I had no seen in a long time were smiling back at me. This was all good, all of it. Gibson jumped out of the truck and went to inspect the small pressure washing hose Dave made to blast apples clean. I went right to the pressing. My friends Tyler and Tara were there, but also another Tyler who still works at Orvis and his girl, Chrissy. It was great to see them again and some other old coworkers. Dave was there with his wife Sue, as where some new faces. There was a spread of eats in the garage and I added my crockpot next to the apple cider donuts, chunks of cheddar cheese, apple tarts and crumbles, and chips and dip. It was ten AM. Everyone was drinking already. It was going to be a Big Time.

It took a few hours, but we got it all pressed. Taking turns between the grinder, the pressing wheel, washing, hauling, and filling carboys - in four hours we had created 50 gallons of fresh cider where two truckloads of apples had once been. Not a bad trade. We did it as a group, laughing and drinking. We did it with stories and catching up with old friends. The work and day flew and I got to leave with eight gallons of my own, seven for fermenting into booze and one fresh to freeze for cooking. I also filled two of Joanna and Greg's growlers they had leant me, a repayment for their help with picking apples Saturday. Work, favor, and trade have an easy barter stream around these parts. Money is great, don't get wrong, but it is nice trading a pony cart for two months worth of hay when things get tight. Up here an alternate economy runs half our lives. It's a good thing.

I came home around three in the afternoon, evening chores ahead of me and a day of farm, friends, and good food behind me. I had just enough stew left in the crockpot for my own supper, and to make the half cup of broth and meat a little more filling I set some veggies from the garden into that trusty skillet of oil and had a fine, hardy meal. I know my bank account has a balance somewhere in the two-digit range but I wasn't worried. It's hard to worry about such things when you are clearly so ridiculously wealthy. I had a meal, a warm fire, friends, a promise of future libations and most of all - a story.

I slept well last night. Very, very well.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

How To Wash A Border Collie

Tara, Making It Happen!

This is Tara, a good friend of mine and part of the amazing young duo you hear about on the blog all the time. I only met Tara this past winter, but her and Tyler have become fast friends. I feel lucky, honored really, to have them in my lives. It's not often you meet people you feel instantly comfortable with, that you just click like two parts of a timber frame. I can't imagine not having them around. I'm selfishly glad they moved to Veryork. Real glad.

Here's a summary of their story in case you aren't familiar with them: young married couple travels the world for two years on bikes, comes home to America and realizes they can not return to the life they left behindm, chooses to leave suburbia, move halfway across North America, and build an off-grid homestead in Vermont. They are lovers of games, good music, and smart as whips. They make this farm and my life better. And now, the Amazing Tara is publishing a beautiful cook book of photographs, recipes, and stories from life on the wild road. They learned quick that ramen noodles and mac-n-cheese were not going to be their travel staples and so they learned to eat local and fresh foods across the world and preparing them over a simple one-burner stove. The book she is publishing is about bicylce touring sure, but really it is about eating well wherever you are. It would be a great book for anyone, regardless of their interest in travel or bikes because the heart of it is lessons in simple, wholesome nourishment in a world few people take the time to stop and free camp in.

Support Tara. She's great. 'Nuff said.

Read her blog post about the cookbook, here for information on how you can become a part of the Kickstarter Campaign.


More music from the band we watched last night in Vermont. It was an intimate and wonderful performance, the best fifteen dollars I spent all year. Fiddler's: notice that amazing 5-string fiddle and the scroll neck! It was a night of music, stories, singing in english and gaelic, and inspirational to this humble fiddler. Made me come home and tune up my devil box and get it ready for pressing today!

Cidering Weekend is HERE!

It is Cidering Weekend! Time to get out those wool sweaters, dusty scarves, and fingerless mittens. Time to tune the fiddles and guitars. Time to gather wood for a bonfire and start collecting your gear for some stout beers and slow cooked stews. It's time for soup, and time the knitting needles. It's time to get serious about stacking wood and cleaning your gun. It is autumn!

Yes my darlings, the best time of the year has arrived, if a bit early. We are kicking it off here in Yervork with a tradition that has only grown since it started four years ago: a group apple harvest and processing. A whole weekend dedicated to picking, pressing, community and good food. Now, I know some people make pies, or apple butter, or sauce. There are plenty of wholesome and sensible things to be done with apples of any sort, be them orchard, feral, or wild. I do not judge those lifestyle choices—but around here we are in it for the free booze. Hard Cider. Bless and pity those who shake their heads because this is a tradition that is only getting better and better (along with our home brewing skills).

Usually apple harvest happens in early October but due to this year's bumper crop and all the rain and heat of summer - it's been moved up a bit. Yesterday was the day to pick and it was blessedly fruitful. Folks came from all around New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont to help rattle, shake, pick and gather apples from just a few of the farm's trees. I had plans to spend the entire day walking around the farm with horses laden with carts and baskets, nothing short of agricultural pornography, but that didn't happen. Tyler climbed one tree and shook the daylights out of it and in under an hour the truck was bursting. What you see in that picture is mostly Cold Antler Apples, but not entirely. The Hoff family came over Thursday night and dropped off two bushels to add to the coffer. I told anyone that helped I would repay them in a bottle of of scrumpy and it sure is worth an hour of shucking and jiving under some trees. We hit a few more trees and by 4:45 or so the truck bed was neraly spilling over and folks left with as many apples as they wanted. Some left with growlers, asking if they could have them filled with cider. I will do my best to oblige, too. Good work deserves a sweet reward!

While picking (mostly off the ground) apples Tara told me about this concert happening later that night in Arlington. It was a small house concert, just a musical potluck with a sugested donationf or the band. She told me it was a Scottish trio of a fiddler, piper, and guitarist and my mind was practically made up. Sometimes it is hard to get me away from the farm, mostly because by 7pm I am ready for bed, much less a night out, but this was twenty minutes away and the farm chores were already done - fit in between apple trees. So I got cleaned up, put on my favorite kilt, and hit the road. What followed was a magical night of beautiful music, and I had a front-row seat. The band was called Cantrip, a Scottish word that means a "bit of mischief" and it suited them. They played traditional music along with some of their own tunes and the beer was free. I wanted to invite them all over for cider pressing tomorrow, but found myself in that awkward place of knowing you'd get along with new people but too nervous or star-struck to dare ask for more time. I hope to run into them again, as they are pretty local and the piper's wife wants to raise goats and pigs. Time will tell, but for now I am off to finally make my morning coffee and start a crock pot of venison chili for the pressing party this afternoon. But I'll leave you with a little taste of last night!

P.S. On an unrelated note, the Game Warden never showed up Friday. I must have confused the date with next Friday, but I am happy to say the entire Falconry project is ready for inspection and soon as I get my sign off from the Warden I will be mailing my application and fervently checking the mailbox to see if it was accepted!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Eat the World You Want To Live In

Draft Horse Nap at Merck Forest

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Falconry Update!

I need to constantly remind myself that there is no reason anyone should have any idea what I am talking about. My life includes farriers, horse carts, cheese making and medieval archery. It's about fiddles and cider brewing and I make a living talking about it all on the internet. The general public does not know (or want to know) what a dorian chord is, how to measure your work horse for a proper hames, or the difference between a longbow and a recurve. Yet sometimes I expect one of my passions to kindle the public's zeitgeist and I assume a level of understanding. Example: I don't expect people who never touched a horse cart to know what a singletree is, but I do expect them to know what a draft horse is. Another example would be that even if you never touched a fiddle you could tell the difference between OId Joe Clark and Bach. These are commonalities, base understandings. A mathematician could hand me an abacus and ask me to find the sum of seven and ten minus four and I could figure it out, but I would just stare opened mouthed and drooling if they wanted a theorem recited. Point is, everyone's got their own focus and their own world. And most of us can understand just enough of each other's to be polite. It's true in line for Stewart's waiting to pay for coffee when you nod at someone's Yankee's cap (Baseball fan!) and it's true when asking the clerk in the town office for a photo copy of your Small Game License so you can mail in your falconry apprenticeship application to the Capital.

Nope. Hand that lady an abacus 'cause I just asked for a Theorem.

I had been so focused on falconry, so intent on getting the year's worth of tests, projects, and prerequisites in order that this otherwise arcane pastime had become as normal to me as baseball. I work part time at a falconry school. When I drive over to Mark and Patty's local falconers are in the field flying their birds. And so it had just become a part of my life that when then woman stared at me, asking what I meant by "falcon apprentice?" I must have stared at her like she was trying to get me to explain the color blue, or what a crow sounds like. In my own little world I had forgotten, again, that I am the weirdo.

"It's hunting with a hawk. I'm applying for a special license to use a bird instead of gun. "

At this point she lit up, and understood what I meant. She had questions and thought it was cool but didn't realize the same place that handed out deer tags and people licensed their dogs was the place people came for Falconry paperwork. In all fairness, there aren't a lot of us out there. Not compared to deer hunters. So we chatted and smiled and then I headed out of the office with my brand-new 2013-14 hunting tags and the proof I needed that I was a hunter in good standing with the Empire State, which by default showed I had taken the courses on hunter safety.

For those of you who are following my falconry journey with any interest, things are about to get a lot more interesting. Tomorrow a state Game Warden comes to inspect the mews (hawk house), weathering area (hawk run), and supplies I had gathered. The Warden will have a two-page list of requirements that need to be checked off and if I pass he will hand me a signed form of acceptance, and I will have the last part of my application packet ready to mail to Albany.

So what did it take to get this far? If you remember, back in April I took a hundred question test at a DEC office outside the Adirondack park. I passed, with 91% (I needed a minimum score of 80%) and that allowed me to take my next steps in my adventure. I found a mentor, Ed Hepp, a Cambridge neighbor and retired carousel horse carver, and he accepted me as his apprentice. Then a mews was built here on my farm, thanks to the amazing Daughton Family and the Wesner's who gave both their time, tools, and energy to this endeavor. I had traded two goats back in early spring to the Daughtons for their help building the mews (deal was I would provide the wood, they would provide the labor with my help) and I think I got the better deal. I know it, as it took a lot of nights post-office for Tim and his family working on the building. But it is here, and thanks to Patty's birthday present of lumber it cost me very little to erect. I painted it white to match the house and the folks at Common Sense Farm welded me a custom perch. It is damn beautiful, that building. Patty and I finished Tim's hard work just this week and put together a weathering area out of dog kennel panels and deer netting. I am seriously ready to capture a juvenile red tail! Thanks to amazing friends, the people at the falconry school, Ed, Tim, Patty, and everyone else who helped along the way.

Now all I need is the state's approval on what we built together. When I have that in writing I mail it to the special license department in the Department of Environmental Conservation along with Ed's blessing (another mentor-acceptance form), my exam results, proof of hunter's education and small game license and I should be granted the big, big, deal: My Falconer's Apprentice License. When I have that I am legally able to capture, train, and hunt with a red tail hawk under the supervision of my mentor, Ed. I study with him for two years and if after that time he feels I am qualified he will let the state know and I can become a General Falconer. That means I can begin taking apprentices of my own. A long way off but who knows, as there may be some folks looking to me someday to do what Ed is doing for me.

So tomorrow if the Game Warden approves my mews, weathering area, perches, and gear I can mail my application and begin the adventure of a lifetime. I will start to create a partnership with a wild animal. I will learn to think, hunt, and work as a team with something once as impossible to touch as the stars. I will be a Falconer's Apprentice. It feels like it should come with a robe and some incense, no? No, I guess not. But it will come with a pair of chaps for walking through thick brush an a walking stick to make rabbits scurry out of bushes.

Stay Tuned. This story is just getting started! So much is ahead with the story of trapping, training, hooding, learning, fear, joy, and that sacred first hunt together. It is another world, one apart from baseball hats and math problems, but it is mine and I adore it. And sure, people still may be confused as hell when I start talking about jesses, bow perches, and gauntlets but I will be happy to have my hawk deliver them an abacus.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Compared to previous years, this year's pumpkins have been a success! I have four of these beauties (four I can see in the weeds, anyway, so maybe more) crawling around the vines and fence lines. This one is truly a beauty and is ready to be picked. I hope some of the other, greener, gourds will be ready by Samhain for carving and celebration but in the meantime I have this baby to usher in fall.

Sunday I went to the Sheepdog Trials at Merck Forest with Gibson and my friend Miriam, the photographer. I only was able to stay for the morning but the ride there with the chill in the air, the fog, the leaves swirling along the Vermont Roadside and rows of pumpkins and mums for was like waking up. It was like coming up for air after being under water for nearly a year. I felt lighter, physically lighter. All the clutter in my head blew away and there was just that holy, tired light and the silent prayer of gratitude I get another Autumn like this. TO need a sweater and a balefire, to sit against a log stump with cider and a chunk of cheddar, lifting up your hood from your sweatshirt to fend off any chill. The northeast has faults like any other region of the country but we have Autumn down to a science. Next weekend is apple picking with the horses and then cider pressing! Fall is here and my dance card is open for him. Time to waltz. I've said it before and I'll say it again, my heart beats in 3/4 time.

I can not wait for Halloween. Big day. Big celebration. Big, warm, hearts.

Monday, September 9, 2013


Hey there Dulcimer Day Camp attendees! Please email me to confirm you are coming to the event in October. I have a small homework assignment for you, also I need to know who still needs dulcimers or has already acquired them. I have 7 on order.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Rough Sheepdoggin'

Gibson and I don't herd well, nor do we do it right. But we do work together in our own self-taught language to get the job done. Don't ever look to my videos as quality herding, but do look to them as sheep getting into a pen or into a gate wthout any snapping wolf teeth or me running around in circles (that's what Gibson is for). Now, could I just shake grain in a bucket and make them come to me? Sure. But grain costs money, and when you need to get sheep back in a pen as much as I do, you start using your collie more and more. Here he is with some of the flock.

Workshop Schedule!

Here is a list of workshops planned for the weeks and months ahead. I'll be adding back the button on the right side of the blog so anyone can click to see the events at anytime. Workshops are a fun, comfortable, and beginner-friendly environment to learn new skills, meet like-minded people, and support my work here as a writer/blogger/small farmer. You can pay per event or if you live relatively close you can buy a season pass, which costs the price of two or three workshops paid up front for a whole year! Email me at to sign up for a season pass or any workshop at all!

Most workshops cost $100. Special events like Arrows Rising and Fiddle Camp, or other events with instruments or gear cost more ($350). They are non refundable for any reason, however you can always use a missed workshop credit towards any other farm event, forever.

Indie Days!
These are personal workshops, private and full of one-on-one skill teaching time in everything from setting up a sheep fence to learning the fiddle. They are twice the price of a normal workshop but ten times the focus and attention.

Here is a list of upcoming events and workshops at the farm! Some of they are this year's dates of annual events and some are brand new workshops. All day-long workshops are $100 and paid for via paypal to reserve the spot. Weekend events start at $200 and things like fiddles, bows, or other sundries cost extra. For example Fiddle Camp and Arrow's Rising are $350 a person. All workshops are non-refundable, but if you can't make it you can come to any other workshop at any other time of the same value or use that money towards a larger event like Fiddle Camp or Arrow's Rising.

Spring Fiddle Camp! March 28th-29th 2015
March 28th and 29th, a Saturday and Sunday, will be the date of the next two-day Fiddle Camp. This is a workshop for people who love the sounds and songs of the country fiddle and feel they could never learn. It is for people who have never held a fiddle, can't read music, and feel they are too hopeless to even try. Nothing could be further from the truth! In three years of hosting this workshop I have taught many people (left and right handed, to boot!) to begin playing tunes for themselves at home. You will not leave sounding like Charlie Daniels, but you will leave knowing your first scale, your first song, and all the tools you need to teach yourself at home without expensive lessons. If any of you out there did attend a camp in the past, please share your experiences here for those who aren't sure they are suited for it!

May Fiddle Day Camp, May 2nd 2015 SOLD OUT
Same as the weekend long event but just one day, less curriculum covered, but the basics are all there.  Great option for folks who can't make a weekend out of it but want to learn!

Arrow's Rising 2015 June 20th-21st 2015
Ever wanted to learn archery? Hold your own longbow? Shoot in the forest at targets below you and through brush in the woods? Arrow's Rising is a weekend for folks of all shapes, ages, and sizes who want to learn traditional archery and go home with not only a new skill, but their very own handmade longbow made by a U.S. Veteran and craftsman! There will NOT be a fall version of this, so this will be the only archery workshop in 2015.

Goat Weekend! 3 Spots Left!
Soapmaking 101  July 18 and Goats & Soap July 19
For the past few years this farm has hosted an event called Goats & Soap. It is a two-part workshop that starts here at the farm making milk-based soap from scratch and meeting the goats that make it happen. We go through the safety, tools, ingredients and process of making a lye and milk soap and we get to meet my little mother/daughter herd. After lunch we venture to my goat mentor’s farm, Common Sense Farm, three miles south of my place right in Cambridge NY. Yesheva, is there as the goddess of all things Caprine and she knows goats folks. She goes through everything from what to look for in breeding stock, to feed and housing, to bucks and mating season. She is patient and calm and wonderful as an asset. She even has goats for sale sometimes from her herd.

AND GUYS! If you want to come to at least one camp, consider buying a Season Pass. They are on sale now for $300 and that money goes straight to supporting this farm and keeping it going. The sale is only good until Friday, but it gets you every single workshop here, held within a year of purchase, INCLUDING camps and weekend events (but doesn't cover bows or instruments). So instead of coming to just one event like Arrow's Rising 2015 for $400,  reserve your spot now with your season pass, pay for the bow later (up to three months before event) and enjoy all these workshops and more a they appear between November 2014-2015!

To sign up for any of these:

NOTICE: Workshops are non-refundable for any reason. However, if weather or illness prevents you from attending, your credit is good as long as I am hosting workshops here so no money goes to waste!

Good Morning and a Goats Milk!

I woke up this morning and went about the usual morning chores. The temperaturs seem back to normal and the morning was somewhere in the low fifties. What is it about fall that has us reaching for our sweaters on a fifty degree morning of dapple sunlight when in March I would be tempted to don a sundress?! I suppose it depends on what season you are emerging from and after this summer of rain, heat, and sporadic/manic temperatures I find myself wanting hoodies and hot coffee. I'll take it. I'm more than ready for fall, emotionally at least. Physically I have a lot of wood to chop, chimney's to sweep, and still other odds and ends to take care of. I have packages to mail, proposals to work out, logos to finish up and all the other little tasks you never seem to forget or have time for. My life is just like everyone else's in that respect. It's different only in what causes the demands. For instance, right now I can hear Bonita bawling. She isn't due to be milked until this evening but maybe I'll take care of her sooner. She's on a 36-hour milking cycle as her bag slowly declines with the season. By October (or sooner) she will be dry and ready to be bred again. But there's a whole lot of milk, soap, and cheese between here and there. I want to have a stash of her milk frozen and put up as soap for winter before she dries up. I also want to keep enjoying the crumbly, simple, pure and wholesome cheese I make with a few drops of rennet every other day. It's a perfect time of year for the cheese, at least for this farm. Just as the pigs are getting more and more ravenous I am producing enough whey-soaked windfall apples and garden scraps to feed them for free sometimes for days without getting a grain bag open. That's a real gift from this land and the animals on it. Anyone who raises pigs know the real cost isn't the animals or the butcher's bill. It's the feed.

I think I like the idea of having cheese draining over the sink while I head north to the town of Salem to give a talk at a beloved McCartee's Antique Barn. This weekend is a big time around here, as it is the Washington County Cheese Tour! You can drive around our local cheese and dairy farms and get a real taste of the area (pun intended). We have sheep, goat, and cow dairies opening their doors to the public and offering talks and tastings. Local busineses are in on it too and that's why I am heading to McCartee's Barn to talk about my own adventures in dairy. I want folks (most probably have not heard me speak or know much about the farm) to get an introduction to me and my story, and then hear about how easy and rewarding cheese making is. I'll tell them the story that (I hope) happens after I finish this blog post. I'll talk about milking Bonita, taking the warm canister inside to strain into a half-gallon mason jar, and then heating it on the stove in a steel pot. I'll talk about checking the temperature as it crawls up between 90-110 degrees and stirring gently. I'll talk about adding a little vinegar and some drops of rennet and the amazing chemical reaction it causes separating the watery whey from the milk fats. I love this little bit of science and wonder. It makes me bristle sometimes when people use chemical as a dirty word. Water is a chemical, after all. And the reaction in the pot may not include test tubes and explosions that burn my eyebrows, but it still entertains and awes me. Cheese is in the cloth straining within twenty minutes of milking the goat. Now that's some fresh chèvre!

P.S. Gibson will also be out with me at the talk in Salem at 2PM! Come meet him!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Woodland Goats!

I'll Be Talking at the Washington County Cheese Tour Saturday!

This Saturday I am speaking at McCartee's Barn in Salem NY for the Washington County Cheese Tour. It's at 2Pm if you want to come and say hi, get a book signed, or hear me talk about my own farm and adventures in cheese making. I want folks who are out exploring my county's amazing farms to know they can go home with some of that milk that same day and make amazing cheese in less time than they dedicate to their morning commute. Mozzarella takes thirty minutes! I need to ask if I can bring Gibson along or if he should wait in the truck, either way we'll both be out and about! Come say hello and EAT CHEESE!

Cold Morning

Cold morning here, or at least it is for September. 38 degrees and I needed gloves to do the morning chores! I carried out a bucket of corn and whey from yesterday's cheese to the pigs and felt that sting you never expect in September, cold hands. So I went back insinde for a pair of fingerless gloves and used those favorite weapons of mine to tie baling twine on the fence or carry hay bales. It was exciting. Seeing my breath, feeling a bit of wool right next to the skin again... Fall is on his way and I am so entirely thrilled about it. I am working on getting the woodpile chopped in earnest and plans for cidering and apple picking are underway. When I'm not outside with the critters and fixing fences I am in the office here working on some new book proposals. Right now I am not working on any new books at all, only editing and preparing for those books ahead. It's great to have two books loaded for launch but I also like the security of more projects ahead. Wish me luck.

I am a little stressed out about the Mews and Weathering Area getting done soon so I can get the state DEC office to approve the structure. Deadline was really a month or so ago, but I have until Decemember to trap a bird and start training. It's getting the application itself through Albany and back to me in time that makes me a little jumpy. But all I can do is all I can do, which is true for most things. So when the structure is up and ready all I need to do is get it approved, get Ed (my mentor) to sign his Mentor Acceptance, file the last of my paperwork and jump through the last of my hoops. I may just be an Apprentice by snowfly. Wish me luck there, too.

I smell like a pig pen.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

New Fiddle Camp Dates Announced! Registration Open!

If you want to come this late winter/early spring to enjoy a smaller, more one-on-one fiddle experience come to Winter Fiddle Camp! It's going to be held on March 29th and 30th 2014. Winter Camp is special, even if it is a little less conveient travel wise. There is always the rist of date change due to weather delays and such. It will be held here in the farmhouse this year and half the size of summer camp. This means all who attend get a lot more time to work with me one-on-one and do so right in the heart of my homestead. Winter camp includes a camp t-shirt I design as well as a fiddle. I use a student model Cremona that is affordable and sounds good out of the box! It comes with a bow, case, and rosin and the only things you need to bring with you are the text book, a guitar clamp-on tuner, and a spare set of stings in case your fiddle breaks. We start the Saturday morning at 10AM and go until 4PM or so. Sunday the camp starts at 10 and the lessons are over by noon. This leaves an afternoon for people to travel or stay to jam, practice with me, or just hang at the farm a few more hours. I can not stress enough this is for total, hopeless, beginners! If you ever dreamed of being a fiddler and worry you can't read music, are too old, too busy, or just plain scared then come over. We start so basic and everyone is new. By Sunday you'll be well on your way playing tunes.T I heard back from a few students already and they are a handful of songs into the book and have them memorized! isn't that awesome?! They went from being unsure of how to tune the devil box to memorizing jaunty airs in under a week. Fiddle camp is magic. It's yours for the taking and I hope some of you sign up so we can close registration fast! Three of the eight spots are taken already!

P.S. Next summer's August Camp will be the second-last weekend in Augst 2014. If you want one of those fifteen spots, holler! It would be an awesome chirstmas present, and if you want I can ship you a hand-written invitation so you can give it as a gift for the holidays, a birthday, or anniversary. I had two gifted campers this year (meaning they got the camp as a gift!) and they both loved it, both were men, and both left handed. It was neat seeing them shine. One prefered to play it as if he was right handed and the other swapped the chin rest and we re-strung the instrument backwards so it mirrored a right-handed fiddle. We make it work at this scrappy farm, and the music and laughter flows.

Gibson in a Hay Barn

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Threshing Barns and Metal Strings

Fiddle Camp was two days, twenty people, and a very foreboding weather forecast. Rain storms were in our future and that made things a little hairy. Luckily, I have some amazing friends here in the W.C. and was able to get all of us an indoor amphitheater in the form of an 1800's threshing barn! Patty and Mark, good pals and fellow farmers here in the county, let me use their beautiful barn Saturday while the rain cursed and taunted. It may have been my favorite part of the camp, actually. To see an old barn loaded with fiddlers!

While the rain did cancel any camping or campfire plans, it didn't stop the music. Everyone who came was able to accomplish the goal of the camp: to leave with an instrument, one song to play on it, and the realization you are now familiar enough with to continue teaching yourself. Thanks to Wayne Erbsen's amazing book and the dedication of the students this year had some really talented beginners. But I must share with you what I shared with them: learning to fiddle has nothing to do with "beginner's luck" or "natural talent." Yes, some people are more musically inclined and pick up the basics faster, but thinking you can't play some fiddle tunes because you aren't a musician is like thinking you can't drive your car because you aren't a race car driver. You can achieve a pretty respectable fiddle status based on sure stubbornness alone. I'm living proof.

The camp runs like so: people arrive Saturday morning with little or no musical know-how. The first thing I teach them is which side is the front. I'm serious, it really is that basic. And to have a circle of hopeful students all holding their new instruments in their hands with that excited look in their eyes is reason enough to keep running this camp. They start out learning the parts, the bow stroke, and the finger positions and by the time the first day is over they have learned their first song. The next day of camp is about practice, lecture, and a few fiddle techniques such as shuffling and droning with your bow. It seems like a lot to take in, and it is, but the nature of camp is so beginner friendly and everyone is just so eager the days fly. I think Fiddle Camp may be the four fastest days of my year…

I'll leave you with this little concert by Riley of Ontario. He and his girl Jess came down from their little homestead in Canada to pick up their fiddles and learn how to use them. When Riley arrived he had never even pulled a bow across a string but here he is less than 48 hours later jamming with Becca on guitar. He's playing his own improv version of the first tune in the book, Ida Red. (For the record, almost any non-professionally record violin sounds a bit screechy, but in person it was divine!)It's just a ten-second video but it makes me swell with pride for him and all the students who came out for two days to get started on their musical journeys. My darlings, Music is out there for whoever wants it. You just need to ask.

P.S. Winter Camp, which is the last weekend in March, is open for folks to sign up. Three spots are already taken which include the lovely Kathy Harrison! I only allow five more people for this intimate winter camp at the farmhouse, near a roaring woodstove. Last winter camp we had a goat kid born during Sunday's lesson and this year there very well may be kids in the house jumping around while you learn your D scale! Email me if you want to sign up, first reserved first served! Also, The price has gone up $30 to help set off the costs of a tent and porta potty for next year.

P.P.S. If you have photos to share I could post, please email them too!

Back From Camp!

The days leading up to Fiddle Camp were an absolute blur. There was the regular sort of preparation (tuning sixteen instruments, readying the campsites, chopping firewood, and cleaning up the joint) but there was also the mental sort of flux you find yourself in before a big event. People were going to be traveling from other countries, from all over America, and they were coming to my scrappy six and a half acres with the expectation of leaving as musicians. That is one tall order to fill, and some serious customer service expectations. So the days before (and of) Fiddle Camp leave this blog fairly sparse. I'm running around getting all the ends tied up, mowing the lawn, getting things like port potties and last-minute book orders arranged. It's a Hootenanny of the biggest sort.

That said! I have much to write about here! Fiddle Camp, Falconry, hay and firewood, and more. The autumn is coming along and swiftly. Last nights rainstorms were the sounds of summer but left this morning feeling the wet decay of early fall. The lawn is covered in downed, slightly colored leaves. There is that muddy premonition of wet dirt that will soon become stiff with cold nights and frost. I am getting a little worried about getting all my firewood split and stacked but like all things, it'll get done because it has too. This morning after adding fresh bedding to the muddy pigoda I had to run to a welding shop to pick up a custom bow perch the guys at Common Sense whipped up for me. It needs to be wrapped in rope and mounted inside the (almost completed!) mews, but that too will get done. I was going about all these chores, thinking about a life where a Tuesday morning means pig bed-changing services and hawk footrests and tried to remember if Fiddle Camp actionably happened? It did. There is photographic and video evidence! I'll share some of the piled up videos and stories often as I can this week.