Thursday, January 30, 2014

Flying Free

Birchthorn! More Story & Its Own Blog

I have completed chapter 2 and you can read all of it over at Birchthorn Blog. What's Birchthorn Blog? I decided it would be easier to read the story in a clean, easy-to-navigate blog instead of trying to catch up between posts about the farm. If you click the link below you will see the completed second chapter. From here on out the story will be mostly new with additions and changes happening to add a little more richness and character development to the folks you have already met. I am going to do my best to add more to the story every Wednesday! So I'll post reminders here when content is upated!

Click here to read it the rest of Chapter 2!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

All. Time. Favorite. Fiddletune.

Cream Eggs of Doom

Just a warning before you get too far into this post. I am going to talk about something very controversial among homesteaders. Possibly, the most controversial topic there is when it comes to livestock. I have seen marriages tried, women cry, and men run in fear. I have seen children bleed, teenagers laugh, and nostalgia kicked into overdrive. This animal (yes, it's one animal) has been either the bane or blessing to farmers across the world and you will either love them or hate them.


Yes. Geese. They are the Cadbury Cream Egg of livestock. They either find them the endearing waddlers of Mother Goose Legends or testicle-snapping manure shoots of fear. And just like Cream Eggs, I have never met a person who shrugs and says "Eh, they;re okay I guess". People either like geese or they don't, and homesteaders either have very colorful and creative reasons (excuses?!) for keeping them as a non-food source or they aren't allowed on the property unless dropped by steel shot from above. Here is my goose story. Why I have them and what they do around Cold Antler Farm. As well as my plans for them in the future.

Since I started homesteading on the East Coast I always had a pair of geese. My reasoning? A parking lot incident in Idaho. I was at my day job at the time (A web designer for Coldwater Creek) and the office was located in a rural setting. Northern Idaho is not shy about it's western roots and I passed people on horseback aside the two-lane roads regularly. There were plenty of farms around and one day a very confused gray goose got stuck in our parking lot. Us corporate folks inside watched from behind glass as this regal animal walked among the SUVs and Subarus with her head held high and totally fearless. She was the kind of gray that glistened in the sunlight and her orange beak seemed plastic and fake, too bright to be real. A few of us brave souls tried to wrangle her, but failed and the whole time I was out there trying to outsmart a goose I kept thinking "If I ever get more land or a place of my own. I am getting geese."

And I did. In 2009 when I moved to the cabin in Vermont I ordered two goslings with my spring chick order from Whitman's Feed Store. They cost eight dollars each (straight run) and were a yellowish green, like big moldy ducklings. That ugly duckling story is true, friends. Very true. And my two goslings were no exception. I raised them by hand and spent a lot of time getting to know them. They turned out to be a pair, a gander and goose, and I named them Cyrus and Saro. Knowing nothing about geese when I ordered them, I treated them like chickens and they seemed happy to share the space with the hens. At night when the chickens roosted on their perches in the converted metal shed by the garden the geese would nest into the floor bedding of hay and pine shavings and tuck in. The only fuss between the species was the occasional tail biting and foot grabbing that happened in a chicken dared to roost above the geese bed. Watch out, little red hen, if you think you can sleep above 25 pounds of French Fury.

Well, those two geese are still here and will be here a long time. Geese can live to be forty years old! Over the years Cyrus and Saro have raised a fair number of goslings, all of which have been sold save one female named Ryan. (Who we thought was a male at first, thus the name). Now there is a trio of geese here at Cold Antler Farm and I can't say enough good things about them. My geese have never chased anyone, bit anyone, or caused any damage. The worst thing they have done is eat kale and lettuce I didn't have adequate fencing around. They aren't eaten for meat, but they do produce amazing eggs that I use for eating, quiche, and baking. (Check out this goose egg bread recipe!) They alert me of any intruders (human or wildlife) on the premises, holler when the mail is delivered, and sleep in front of the chicken coop door at night. That last one is important, since any ten pound fox would need to get past 75-pounds of three foot wing-spanned anger to get to a single chicken. And the best part? Geese are so good at foraging they eat half the feed of turkeys or a similar weight in chicken flesh. They love grasses, green things, and walk in a happy little flock around the farm enjoying the salad bar as they go.

Practical homesteading readers: if you are looking for a cheaper protein to raise than chickens or ducks, these may be the ticket. Goslings can be raised like chickens, in electric netting on green grass in moveable paddocks. Their size and pounds in meat is worth the daily pasture rotation and if that isn't your idea of a fun way tom spend an afternoon, you don't need high security measures once they are adults. Geese rarely stray from their homebase and care a lot more about grass than water. You can raise a small flock of goslings in a brooder, move them to safe electric pens as adolescents, and then let them range freee as adults. While I am sure large enough dogs and predators can take out a grown goose, it has never happened here. No hawk, fox, or coyote is going to take on an angry Cream Egg when fat meat chickens, laying hens, and ducks are plodding about. I personally haven't eaten my geese but that's only because I had a breeding pair and sold most of the offspring. If a big clutch was hatched this year I would have them raised up and set aside for the freezer. But these originals, they remain Goose Patrol around here. Probably for the next thirty years!

So what are your thoughts on geese? Love 'em or leave 'em? Do you raise them as food, eggs, or comic relief? Share your goose thoughts!

top photo from buzzfeed

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My Next Book! Comes Out Spring 2014!

"Few writers can put into words the epiphanies that break upon a mind and spirit communing with a piece of earth. Home, barn, and garden converge in the quietness of agrarian labor to provide transcendent thoughts about living, loving, and learning. Jenna is a master.”

-Joel Salatin, farmer and author

“In this graceful and touching book, Jenna Woginrich reminds us of humanity’s deep connection to season and cycle. This is a book full of humility, inspiration, and the richness of experience inherent to living in harmony with natural forces far beyond our control.”

—Ben Hewitt, author of The Town That Food Saved

“Jenna Woginrich’s life and writing are both marked with a ferocity and passion that are inspiring, disturbing, and mesmerizing all at the same time. This is a powerful memoir of a brave and determined young woman's love affair with a gritty six-acre farm that is every inch her own and her struggles to keep it going.”

—Jon Katz, author of The Second-Chance Dog: A Love Story

“In Cold Antler Farm, Jenna Woginrich lovingly grabs you by the hand and takes you along for the ride of her life. As the caretaker of a menagerie of lively animals and an antique home riddled with personality, she is the sage observer of seasonal rhythms and the compassionate soul studying, questioning, and learning from it all. This book will ultimately leave you torn: you'll be just as anxious to turn the page and learn what comes next while simultaneously wanting to close the book, put it down, and walk away, so as to draw out the eventual conclusion. It's that good.”

—Ashley English

Flock Watching

Monday, January 27, 2014

Goat in a Storm!

My goats, Bonita and Ida, don't seem to mind the snow at all. They always come to the gate when I head towards the old barn. They have my routine down and know when I head inside their breakfast of grain and mineral powder (which I sprinkle a little over their grain every morning) is moments away. I used to buy those big blogs of minerals but found that goats don't do a great job with those, at least mine don't. A mineral block is great for my sheep, since they don't use it as a toy, step ladder, head-butting target, or other shenanigans. A mineral blocks biggest concern by the sheep is rain and show wearing it away before the seven woolies finish it. But the goats? These girls need a little trickery to consume all their daily vitamins. So I sprinkle mineral on top of breakfast and give them hay to eat afterwards. Seems to work better all around.

Bontia will be having kids (or a kid, who knows!) in a few weeks. She is due anytime from late February through March and I am looking forward to both goat kids in the house again and the flow of wonderful milk from that beautiful goat! I'll never forget how nervouse I was that first sip of goats milk a few springs ago. I was convined it would taste weird, as all the milk I had tried before was, well, "goaty". But fresh milk right from the goat, strained and chilled right after milking is amazing. It has the flavor and taste of whole cows' milk but less thickness, most the consistency of 2%. I was thrilled and relieved and from there came milkshakes, coffee creamer, chocolate milk, cheeses, and soaps. When Bonita is in her peak milking (about 2 weeks after kidding) she delivers a gallon and a half a day! I am one woman! That is a A LOT of milk! Even when I am bottle feeding a pair of twins she is producing enough for a small goat army. I'm glad Ida isn't bred, as double the milking and double the kids proved a bit much last year, but I am happy to have a little doeling born on this farm lined up for when Bonita is retired from the Dairy/mama life. She has some seriously good genes, and I am both blessed and thrilled to keep a Bonita Line going on this little homestead.

How about you guys? Do you have goats or wish for some at your farms? Any hesitations or questions I can help with? Think goats milk is gross or the best thing since sliced bread? Share your goat stories!

P.S. Goats and Soap Workshop at this farm in June! learn about backyard goats, soapmaking, visist a larger goat dairy and see CAF! Only 3 spots left!

Low Bake

My friend Mark has a big hunting dog named Harley. Harley is a working dog but he can't help but wallow in a little comfort from time to time. He is known to practically crawl into the fireplace or nuzzle against a hot stove, a habit that has yet to singe his hairs but comes darn close. One day a few winters ago Harley was curled up near the wood stove in the Livingston Brook Farm kitchen and I looked over at Mark, myself a little uncomfortable at the heat shooting from it. Harley seemed happy as a clam, sleeping soundly. Mark shrugged and said, "I guess he's on low bake." I loved that clever comment. I use it all the time for the cats here. While a storm is swirling outside the farm house the cats seem to know where to set up camp. They both find a place right near the Bunbaker and consider it their home for low baking. Sometimes I take that fleece off the old bench there and set it down myself with a mug of something warm and a good book. We all enjoy a low bake around here. Especially on days like today.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Joseph Loves The Camera

Saturday, January 25, 2014

LLF Book Club: Name of the Wind!

I announced the rebirth of the book club last month, have any of you finished Name of the Wind? If so, let's talk about it!

Sheep Update!

Sal has been my sheep since I acquired my first flock in 2008. I was renting six acres in the woods of Vermont and living in a small cabin (around 400 square feet). I loved that place. If I could have bought it, I would have. After living just a few weeks in Vermont I signed up for my local Ag Extension's Sheep 101 class. I had my first flock just a fewmonths later. Sal, Maude, and another sheep named Marvin made up that first trio, which I drove home to Vermont in the back of my old Subaru.

Sal and Maude stayed (and are outside right now). Marvin was missed so much by little girl in the the homesteading family that traded him for fiddle lessons her parents asked for him back. I obliged and replaced Marvin with Joseph, my only black sheep.

The old Guard is still here, and going strong. Sal,Joseph, and Maude are older now but in great shape. They are around 8 years old (Sal and Maude) and Joseph is nearly 5. They are hardy stock though and I suspect they will be around a while longer. They have never had issues with worms, illness, weight loss, or anything as such. The blackfaces I have raised since 2010 have had more of these issues, and I'm sure that has nothing to do with the breeder or the breed, but my inexperience and mistakes. But even though there have been low points in my shepherding career I am immensely proud of the lambs I have bartered, raised, and helped others get their own flocks started. I raised all the sheep that Brett has on his land now, including the lamb that was born this past year from a ewe born here in 2011. Common Sense has a gorgeous flock of Scottish Blackface all from stock born here. Their ram, Cloud, should be the new Dodge Logo. He is a tank!

I only have four blackface in the flock now, having sold off the other four adult sheep in the fall. All of the offspring born so far (since 2010) have been bartered for firewood (sometimes my life is very much like a game of Settlers of Catan). Looking back I wish I didn't trade any of those young ewe lambs at all, and instead culled or sold off the older males and non-breeding ewes. If I had done that instead of using lambs as a form of currency I would have a very different flock. Right now, two of my current blackfaces are male, Monday the ram and a little ram lamb from this past spring. The two females I have are ages 4 and 8. I hope these gals produce some young and healthy lambs this spring, as they were served by Atlas before he headed north.

The plan for the flock is to let the older sheep (they are mostly older sheep now) live out their days and hopefully raise two or three young blackface ewes up for starting all over with a breeding program. This year I am moving all the sheep out of their old paddock on the hillside and reseeding it and letting it rest so it'll be grassy again. In the places near the house where the hay has piled up from winter feeding I will be fencing it off and making a giant potato patch, taking advantage of the natural compost. So what was once a sheep paddock will now be grass and potatoes. I will look into selling some of the sheep as well, if anyone is looking for some elderly lawn mowers at a big discount. Well, all except Sal. He'll be here as long as Brigit lets me keep him. He's my favorite, him and Maude. Those two (oh hell, Joseph, too) aren't going anywhere. They've been with me since I started feeling lanolin between my fingertips. And here they will stay.

P.S. The wool mill I use and I have been in talks recently, and I will finally be sending off the fleeces I have stored all this time to finish up the Wool CSA from previous shearing seasons. It most likely will not be actual yarn until next fall. If you do not want to wait for your wool, email me to set up a payment plan to repay your share. Same goes for Webinars. Or if you prefer, trade in your share/subscription for a workshop. Let me know how to make things right in your eyes and I will.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Made For Each Other

Bacon and Kale. Bless the holy marriage!

Writing With You!

I can not tell you how cool it is to write a story on this blog. That last chapter of Birchthorn got such great feedback. One person with a history of riding Morgan horses corrected the size and color of Pit, the stallion for that time period. Another caught that I had the three women driving to town in a wagon that was just destroyed by the chase. It shows me where I can make things more authentic, more correct, add and change things. The way writing this novella works is like this: I post a draft piece and you guys either read it, skip it, edit it, ignore it, add to it, or whatever you choose. But those of you who help by writing encouragement, excitement, corrections, and questions are really making this happen. To see that a random person in Australia started looking into the Spanish Flu in New York in 1918 and another person from England thinks Birchthorn is Bigfoot. That is great! I love it.

And here is the cool part. I don't know what Birchthorn is either. Not really. But I do know that I hated it when I watched monster movies or specials on TV and it ended with a scientific explanation or bunked hoax. While I don't know if Birchthorn is a demon, an angry earth spirit, a ghost, or a monster of the flesh - he isn't a bear or a case of mass hysteria. He's a pig eating, bone-blackening, fast moving, big clawed creature. And I'm just as excited to learn more about him, Anna, Lara, Meredith, and the rest of the people in Cambridge are.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Quick (cold) Update!

It has been really cold here, daytime highs barely hitting the double digits and nights sinking well into them. Last night I couldn't sleep and spent from 2:45AM until 6AM keeping watch over fires and pipes, heaters and my heart. I posted this to Facebook around dawn:

Still fighting the -11 outside with fire. Pipes are warming with two heaters aimed at them, both woodstove a going. Hope is here in the form of coffee and bacon, come sunlight that is an unstoppable trio. Tried to sleep but too wound so I designed ads for two clients and carried wood in from outside. Jasper watched with interest (no one else was up). Watching a playlist of Rhett and Link videos and laughed out loud at their pasta contest while Gibson curled up against my chest - amazing how much laughter, a good dog, and a warm drink turn anxiety into a solvable problem.

Point being: stay positive, and if you can't- farm it out of yourself through whatever means possible, including pork belly….

By the time I crashed a little after six, I fell into a hard and fast sleep for an hour and a half. I had intense dreams, all about good friends and my own insecurities. One dream had Mark and Patty over trying to fix the french doors by the wood stove. The glass had warped like one of the plastic buckets in the goat pen. As if the cold air had enough moisture in it to expand and warp glass doors. Then I dreamed I drove over to another friends house and everyone was hanging out, my usual local scene, and they explained to me "this just wasn't a Jenna-kind-of-event" and I left, feeling sheepish for stopping by. Now, there isn't a single friend around here of mine that would ever turn me from their homes, even if I was banging on their door at 4AM (especially then) but dreams of isolation and rejection are potent. And I was strung out on the pipes, the lack of sleep, and the cold.

Well, I was up and outside doing chores by 8AM.Thought I would share what is going on here. The basic update is the pipes thawed out, the house is now well above 60 degrees, and the farm animals are fed, warm, and bedded.

The cold and defeated pipe frost was only once accomplishment of the day. I picked up 588 pounds of pork yesterday morning! What a HAUL! 90% has found its new homes in friend's and co-owners freezers. They picked up their packages yesterday and it is always a quiet celebration. It's a promise fulfilled and another person staying away from the factory farmed stuff. I'm not a purist, though I aim to be when it comes to meat in general. And my freezer has my own quarter share tucked away. And it was that fine bacon that lulled me to sleep this morning, a small extra gift from those humble pigs.

Things are a bit of a mishmash tonight, but that's okay. I appreciate all the feedback on Birchthorn and especially the corrections and advice in continuity, spelling, voice and such. Your feedback makes the story better so please comment in those posts if you are reading along.

I'm now on the lookout for more pigs, Arrows Rising sales, sleep, more green vegetables in my diet, and the perfect pulled pork sandwich. Woo. What a 36 hour ride.

Stay Warm, Antlers!

P.S. For those wondering about Italics, he is well. I had a long talk with my mentor and he explained the only thing holding me back at this point was me. I have been overly cautions, over feeding, and doing too much of the same thing with him. The good news is he is well trained, great with people and strangers, and soon as he is ready and I am brave he will be flying free. I'm slower than most falconers in this process but I'd rather be too slow than too fast. So wish us luck!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Birchthorn Continued

From my view on top of the hill I could hear the pounding hooves before I saw the visitors. The clacking across the frozen ice jostled me from my morning break. I was lost in thought, mindlessly picking burdock off my favorite ram between chapters of a book. Morning chores were done and like all mornings they ended on this hillside, watching the flock for signs ill health or other fuss. When I was new to sheep I would stare at them like birds caught in a solarium. Now I just spend time with them. In the summer months I darn socks, mend shirts, or write notes while they amble about, but in the middle of winter it is books that spend time on the hill with me, hands too cold for nimble work. The old ram Sal and I kept each other warm in the tight shed, him chewing cud and I turning pages in the soft light of the open door. Sal tolerated a lot and let me lean against him on the soft dry straw, reading a copy of Pride and Prejudice so dog-eared and batted from mud and rainwater it was read more by memory than by sight. Adam always said the real owners of Ironale Farm were not he and I, but Austen and The Anvil. Knowing that, he named the farm after his two favorite things anyway: blacksmithing and wort brew. I kept the farm's name after he was gone. It sounded stronger than it was and that made me feel safe.

I set down the book and watched the horse approach the low fieldstone wall that made the front gate of the humble white Colonial. The wall was in good repair but the house had seen better days. When I had time to be embarrassed about it I was, especially when guests arrived and I was reading books. Apprehension passed as I recognized the horse and riders. It was Lara and her cousin, Meredith Robertson. The two women were double mounted on Lara's beloved Morgan, Pit. At 16 hands the bay stallion was stunning and barely sweating from the six-mile journey. He shifted into a smooth trot as he regarded the low wall, deciding whether or not to jump it.

Yet there was no feeling of safety when I saw the dark brown haze of Pit and his passengers. I called Anvil back from the far pasture and grabbed my walking stick. The black dog came running like a jackrabbit then walked quietly by my side while I used the crook as a steadying agent down the snow-covered slide. I yelled out, "What's the matter? What's the word?" tucking the book into my thick leather belt behind my back. I made my way to the front gate, Anvil sat beside me, quietly watching everything. I was concerned they had seen the same thing I had the night before. They seemed tussled but not terrified as they walked Pit towards me. Meredith dismounted first, using the stones as a stepladder from the tall animal. Her brown wool cloak held tight around her neck by her now free hands. She was visiting Cambridge from Maryland, near the capital. She thought a quiet holiday in the countryside would do her good. But the look of her was not one of ease. She was white as a ghost between her blond locks and I wondered if perhaps they did see the monster. I didn't know much about Meredith, but I did know she worked in a large hospital as a volunteer and was no stranger to gruesome sights. Lara seemed slightly more composed but still worried. She leaped down from Pit and quickly tied his reins to the hitch post by the front gate, The word IRONALE across it in black wrought.

"We had planned to surprise you this morning by showing up with a thermos of coffee, cinnamon cakes, and this..." Lara pulled a hefty sack with a whale printed on it, the holy word SALT in thick type. "We were planning to rub those sides down and get the hams and bellies ready to smoke. But when we saw what happened down the road, I told my boy to pick up the pace….Then as we passed the smashed pumpkins and bones...we started to sprint here."

Bones? I didn't know what to say, or if I should say anything at all. Admitting I was chased by a folk song monster the night before and gave up seventy pounds of gilt out of blind fear didn't seem appropriate. I asked them what she saw that caused such a ruckus on this fine morning. I tried to smile.

"Anna Caldwell, do you think we made up this tale? We were riding in the same tracks your pony cart left, laughing and enjoying this sunny morning. Until we noticed your wheel tracks stopped. As if your cart had been lifted off the ground into the sky. And not just blown over by windrows or snowfall, but stopped clean. You could've set a book up in the straight edge of that track...."

I stared at them. Trying to keep myself together. I set my shoulder blades closer together and lifted my chin a bit in reply. If the body seemed confident, perhaps the mind could be tricked.

"We stopped Pit and looked around from the saddle. We made a few circles in the snow, and I felt somewhat ill all of a sudden. Then I looked ahead and the forest was just clean and pure as if no one had traveled it in a hundred years. We trotted on and noticed bumps in the snow. Looking closer we saw they were smashed pumpkins and around the smashlings there wasn't a print or track of deer. Can you imagine? So we kept on and the perfect corpse of half a pig lay right there, every rib and shoulder looking like you dipped the sow in acid. But the bones were black, like they were burned, but not a drop of fat or sprinkling of ash. Anna, it was a perfect pile of black bones in snow without a track. So we ran here with decision. And if you don't tell us what happened we'll take you back their ourselves and show you."

My head heard all the words, but my mind couldn't take them all in.

"Anna? ANNA? Are you okay?"

The last things I heard before I fainted was the cry of Meredith as she reached out to grab my tartan shawl. And as the world slowly dimmed into black another verse of the old song carried me into a nightmare.

...The weather he owns it. The forest, his mare. Thunder and wild winds his only true lair. He can not be drowned or burned in a fire And all that he devours gone dark as a pyre...

When I came to, I was on my own kitchen floor. I didn't understand why I wasn't touching the wood and realized Meredith's heavy cloak was acting as a carpet. Lara handed me a glass of water from the crock on the counter.

"Anna. What happened to you?"

I squinted at the sun shooting through the dirty windows. Who had time to clean windows? I sat up, rubbing my temples. Meredith handed me a bottle of whiskey and I gladly accepted it. Lara shot her a look as if she didn't approve and Meredith waved it away and pointed at my face and smiled. "She needs it more than I do.”

Lara smiled too and I felt more comfort than I had in days. The events of last night were so horrifying they didn't seem real once I was inside the farmhouse with locked doors and a loaded shotgun. I had thrown Sir into the stable with all his tack on and nailed a board across the barn door. The chickens and sheep stared at me from their roosts and hillside shelters, they had already been fed before I left the farm and didn't understand the fray at all. I waited for hours to hear banging on the wall and howls of the storm following me home, but they never came. Eventually, pure exhaustion took me over and I fell asleep sitting up in a chair, Anvil's head on my lap.

I knocked back a few more fingers of whiskey and stood up, handing Meredith her beautiful cloak. It was rare I felt such envy, but a riding cloak that warm was a treasure.

"I'm sorry, I fainted. I've been out in this rare sun too long. It's made me daffy. Working for two and all, keeping this place afloat. I just got overwhelmed there for a moment"

"What happened on your ride home last night?"

I tried to think, and came up with a half truth of a response.

"I was riding back with Sir, calm and steady, when a squall of snow came out of nowhere. Covered the road in an instant, and blew out my carriage lights. That scared Sir all up. He bolted from the broken glass and wind. The pumpkins and pork flew off the cart in the breakaway and I'm sure the scavengers picked that meat clean in no time. Probably why no deer touched that squash..." I was actually scaring myself with the confidence I felt in the lie. I had never held anything back from Lara, she'd been my closest friend since Adam and I bought the farm four years earlier. She was the first person to introduce herself, offered to take us for a tour of the town's seed factory and rail station. She showed us the grand Rice Mansion and Cambridge Hotel, sweeping over the bustling downtown freight depot like an emperor over his people. For some unspeakable reason I was protecting the beast just to keep the illusion of sanity in check. "You must have seen the spoils from the cargo and storm." My voice trailed off.

Lara crossed her arms. "And then you butchered and burned a pig, setting it down in the snow in perfect anatomical alignment before trotting home?"

"Frostbite." I retorted as if another voice had my throat. I coughed. "Frostbite, is all. The leftover flesh from the wolves and ravens went black, just like ours would if we left our skin exposed in the cold all night…”

Meredith nodded, Lara cocked her head and looked at me as if something wasn't right in my tone. But she didn't press on. Strange things happened around here and sometimes it was better for all parties to accept the most logical story and go on with life. She grabbed the bottle of whiskey out of my hands, kicked back a dram, and then set it on the table.

"Okay ladies. We still have pork to salt and my coffee is getting cold." she grinned and slapped the bag of salt on the table. I didn't have the heart to tell her the other half of the pig was still in the cart.


After the pork was butchered, salted, and pieces set into the barrel smoker behind the house—I agreed to join them for a trip into town. Since Pit was still wound from their ride (stallions always seem wound) I offered to drive Sir the three miles south to town proper. I was planning on heading into town anyway. Another lie.

This was the main market day at the Freight Depot. The merchants were a mix of local farmers, craftsfolk, and businesses under banners and brightly decorated tables. They had good prices and were always up for barter and bargain but the real reason most folks came to Market Day was the Seconds. Goods pre-purchased and shipped to the city that did not sell were returned to their vendors for a refund. Instead of dragging home a bin of week-old melons they were sold dirt-cheap on Market Day. All sorts of good would be on display in boxes lacked the show of the local merchants but made up for their tatter in low price. Wooden boxes of flowers with shoddy petals and stems - good for drying but not pretty enough for the dinner table. Leather with pockmarks and barbed wire tears, bruised fruits and wilted vegetables. I knew all the yardmen by first name, as many of them did business with Adam when his smithing shop was around the corner. I was eyeing a round of questionable cheddar when Meredith asked if there was a bookstore in town?

"Yes, over there." I said, flailing the wheel of cheese in the direction of Main Street. "Next to the hotel." She nodded and headed off that way and Lara was a few yards to my left, trying to haggle down a bolt of muslin. I tried to keep an air of calm around me, but my head was reeling. I was certain of what I saw, and the verses of the old song kept coming together. I had lied to friends with utter confidence, as if I was in service to Birchthorn himself, and yet I didn't even know what Birchthorn was? All I knew was what the few memorized verses of the song told me, and if memory served me well enough, even the full song didn't explain what Birchthorn was or why he came and left this valley? While mindlessly piling cheese in small cairns on the table tops, I tried to remember where and when I heard that tune so many Octobers ago?

Goff. It was Ronald Goff, the librarian and chair caner. He kept books in his front of shop and his workshop was in back. The man was older now, in his seventies, but he always opened the library part of his home on Halloween night to tell legends and stories of the Battenkill Valley. He had a fiddle and a strange old German zither and he played the zither while his wife played the fiddle and told stories to us while we sat cross-legged on the floor, gnawing candied apples and swilling sweet cider. If he still knew the song, still had those lyrics written down, I might be able to understand what was going on. Any clue, any hint at all of what was happening in these winter woods and to my mind would be a sense of peace. I dropped my cheese.

I turned my head towards the Library and started off, passing the tables of produce carts and ignoring the waves and calls of neighbors as I made my way through the village center, my eyes dead-locked on the two-story house just ahead. Ronald had turned the downstairs into a workshop and lived just above it, as most shopkeepers did in town. If Goff was there—and he very well couldn't be, being a market day—he could tell me what he knew about the song. Something told me that the mystery of Birchthorn was in the music. I was on a mission to understanding the mystery, collect the forgotten verses, and figure out what chased me in that snow storm. I was completely drowning in my own thoughts as I moved across Main Street. I passed two young boys, Trent and Caden playing in the high branches of a sturdy oak that overlooked the train tracks. "Where are you going, Anna?" Trent yelled from twenty feet above my head.

"Library!" I yelled without looking up, waving a hand in the air. "And what are you two doing up in a tree in the middle winter?!" I tried to sound less preoccupied than I was.

"More of a challenge when they are cold and dead-like" was Trent's grinning response. He waved down at me. I wasn't worried about him any more than their mother was, who I saw buying potatoes from a bin moments before. The boys could climb a hundred feet up in the summer if the trees offered the option. This icy endeavor was just a stretch of the legs. They lived on a dairy farm closer to town. Their pastured butted up against the fields where the splendid Cambridge Fair was held, right across from the McClellan Manor. Their father worked the dairy with the boys and their mother worked as the head trainer with the Manor's fine horses. She was a skilled carriage driver and had taught me everything I knew. Before Ironale fell entirely into my hands I worked for her part time. I'd watched her boys grow up on their farm and mine. Trent loved his father dearly, but had a special attachment to Uncle Adam, and was beginning his apprenticeship as a Blacksmith. Caden was more drawn to horses, fast horses in particular. He'd won the sprints at the fair every year since they allowed a 5-year-old to sign up in the youth class. He showed them, went home with ribbon and a sow. He named his first horse after that pig, too. Fair Pig. Not the grandest name for a mare, but I suppose there could be worse.

Sir, hitched to a post off Main Street, watched me in silent concern as I passed him. His head and ears lifting as I quickly walked by. The Ronald’s library was just a few blocks from the train station. Surely I could be there and back before the girls even noticed I had gone? I was a town block away from the clatter of the station when the ballad of filled my ears. Someone was humming. Humming the Ballad of Birchthorn as if it was a dirge, slow and somber. Stopping dead in the street I turned to the direction of the music, just across the busy road. Carriages parted, and there, just off the sidewalk, the Apothecary Rosalyn was humming as she trimmed lavender and rosemary in the window of her shop...

More of this section soon! Just wanted to make sure I got some up today. Just a note: what you see here is a draft, it still needs editing and repairs, and it may change by the time it is published, but I think it is cool to see a novella in progress, coming along piece by piece.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Good Mythical Morning

Every weekday morning I look forward to my favorite morning show. It's called Good Mythical Morning, hosted by Rhett and Link. These two guys have been best friends since first grade (where they met in detention, coloring in pictures of mythical beasts). From that chance meeting over twenty years ago, a best friendship has bloomed. That, and a hilarious and creative series of videos. But what I adore most about these two is just their easy banter, the simple show topics, and the fact that they call their internet audience the "Mythical Beast." It's been a long time since first grade and now these guys are in their mid thirties with kids. They managed to remain close through college, earned their engineering degrees together, and then left those desks to make videos on the web. That is one brave move and I applaud it. They are amazing at what they do! Rhett and Link are my favorite duo in comedy. So watch GMM, subscribe, and support some wonderful guys.

I'm proud of be part of that Mythical Beastdom and if you need something to watch while hgetting ready for work or commuting to the office I can not suggest a better way to start the morning. You'll laugh, you'll learn something, and best of all you'll get to know some funny people making a living online being funny. If you're not into their daily morning show, then enjoy some of their local commericals. Like this one, which they made for a real pharmacy in Indiana.

Water Buckets and Jamie Lannister

In the years I've been homesteading I've relinquished a lot of things most people consider necessities. Some of them I gave up on purose out of simpler alternatives and others simply broke down and I refused to repair them. For example: I have the skeleton of a dishwasher that's just another cabinet now. In my mudroom there's a washer and dryer waiting to be hauled off for scrap. And when I thought my my refrigerator broke down a few weeks ago, part of me was upset at the inconvenience of moving a heavy object, but mostly I was relieved to get rid of another big machine. I got excited at the idea of putting in an old-fashioned out-of-commision fridge from the 1950's (sans freon) and making it another larder. I could use a mini fridge if I wanted a few things cold, like goat milk. No part of me cared if I didn't have a giant food morgue in my kitchen.

What else isn't here? Well, there is no microwave, auto-drip coffee maker, television, air conditioner, washer, dryer, dishwasher, food processor, kitchenaid, or other assorted kitchen and domestic detritus. Instead there are bowls, spoons, knives, and time. I have an oil furnace but it doesn't heat the house, and keeps just enough fuel in it for hot water. I use woodstoves for heat instead. There is no tractor, skidsteer, bucket loader, roto tiller, or riding lawn mower. There isn't even an outdoor pump, hose, or light in the barn. Things here are pretty darn basic. If you want to take water to a goat you carry it in a bucket. If you want a garden bed, grab a shovel. If you want to see the goats at night, grab a lantern.

That said, This is not because I'm against gadgets or conveiences. My days of stomping around waving my Simple Living Flag are over. After meeting hundreds of people, families, and reading shared stories of homesteads across the world I am starting to see the western world's relationship with technology a very personal thing. It's a choice, and whatever mixture fits your life, fits your life. And yet I still see anti-tv posts on farming websites and celebratory posts about giving up ther internet at home. I agree television has a lot of garbage on it, but it also has a lot of art. A lot of literature, history, science, and other great things for education and personal betterment. And the idea of giving up the internet in my dishwasher-free home makes me physically cringe. This would be a very, very, lonely place without you guys to write to every day.

I have found my own comfort level with technology. I am writing you on my computer (which I adore) and have a smart phone in my pocket. I listen to podcasts, post on reddit, and love that I can click a button to download a new audiobook in seconds. This is a contrary combination of the old and new, I know. To some is seen as utter hypocrisy, but I think it's neat. I like carrying water buckets while listening to The Name of the Wind in my earbuds. I like ordering horse harness parts online. I feel grateful to be in a time and place where a woman can live alone, choose her own level of domesticity, labor, and not be burned at the stake for it. Cool, huh?

The things I go without are because it fits my lifestyle, and because it compliments my very specific circumstances at this particular point in my life. I don't think any less of any one for having a TV, a washing machine, or a kitchenaid. I watch TV shows I love on Hulu, use a laundromat once a month, and mix dough by hand most of the time. Remember I am one single person without children or a spouse 0 that gives you A LOT of leeway in the choices of domestic adaptations. I'm also 31, and able to carry buckets of water, throw a pitchfork over my shoulder, buck hay, and swing an axe. What seems as borderline Amish is really just volunatary simplicity in the areas I feel suits me. I know plenty of people who would NEVER give up a washing machine for their family of five but don't have any desire for HBO. (While this girl without a hose can not wait for more Jamie Lannister in her life).

Every one of us has our own preferences, limitations, financial and time constraints. My house is the way it is not because I think this is a superiour way to live, but because I like it. I like hard work, and things taking longer. I like being forced to use my body as much as possible. I doubt I'll feel this way in another twenty years. I also doubt I'd feel this way with a cast on. But right now this kind of life, with harness and shovels, buckets and HBOgo is okay by me. I like my coffee from the percolator on the Hob and I like my audiobooks during barn mucking. I like that a Game Night is just cardboard, beer, and friends around a table but I also never miss an episode of Community. I'm totally okay with this contrarian homestead. It's who I am right now. A gal with one foot in the past and the other in the future. I'm a lucky gal.

So what about you? Do you think a simple life needs less technology, or the ability to pick and choose? Could you live without a dishwasher or would it cause enough fighting to need a marriage counselor? What is your comfort-level with gadgets?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Cold Antler Confidential! What a Workshop!!!

Kathy Jones and I were outside behind the farmhouse just as the snow was starting to fall. We had our bows and quivers on our backs out and were walking to my practice target. The light storm had been predicted all day. I'll admit, for a while I thought it would hinder the workshop, worried about parking or road travel for the guests. But it all worked out and it wasn't until all the guests were driving off that the first flakes fell. I was grateful. Grateful for their safe trips home and for the beautiful display happening all around me. Kathy and I were celebrating. She and I had just spent the day talking to new farmers, dreamers, and future chicken-keepers and we had earned a few shots at the stump. Kathy is a hell of an archer and brought some of her beautiful bows for me to drool over and try. I had a simple self bow, the one I will use for Arrows Rising in hand. As the snow covered our shoulders and found its way between fletching and finger - we started to shoot at the old target against the wooden fence.

As I hinted, these arrows flew in celebration. The first ever Cold Antler Confidential workshop was wonderful! My living room was filled with good friends, farmers, and new faces. I hosted people from New Jersey, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York. We did have a few last-minute cancelations due to the dodgy weather forecast - but for a first shot at such an event it could not have gone better! We started out with introductions and stories. The crowd ranged from recent college grads to aspiring retirees. There were folks with day jobs, part time gigs, and backyards already full of livestock but curious about where to go next. I really liked this mixture of people, everyone with their own questions and hopes. And when introductions were over I introduced Kathy Jones as the first guest:

Kathy and Mary run Windwomen Farm south of Cold Antler, closer to Albany. What started with a few acres and a hunch has grown into a diversified farm with land, animals, and experience gaining speed. These amazing women plan to run a sheep dairy and already make beautiful butter, yogurt, and cheese. Kathy came to talk about everything from passive solar greenhouses to chicken water tanks. And that was just the start of the day!

Following her talk was Cathy Daughton of Firecracker Farm, a family homestead in Whitecreek. Cathy talked about her history with producing her own food from a few chickens in Missouri to raising boys, pigs, and steers up here in Washington County. Like Kathy she answered any question that came her way from "How DO you kill a rabbit?" to the wisdom of steel vs aluminum fencing. Everyone seemed so comfortable with these two women, and the small audience relayed ideas, plans, and questions at happy whim.

After all that I wanted to give Anne Hatton a chance to talk as well. While not started on her full-fledged farm yet - she will. If I know anything about this lady, she WILL! Anne recently moved from Key West to Cambridge NY (only a few miles from my farm!) to a 200-year-old home with several acres. Her two teenage sons and her husband are along for the ride, too. Anne was invited to talk because I wanted folks in the middle of the process to share their story as well. Anne is post Leap of Faith and pre-farm, a precarious and exciting place to be! She also kindly fielded questions and asked a few of her own.

We broke for lunch and folks were given a chance to chat, swap numbers, and see the farm. The sky was blue and spirits were high. I introduced the guests to the goats, sheep, horses and the poultry. Gibson, Annie, and the cat had already made several laps and hands their own. Maude glared at people from the sheep hill, the way only a nine-year-old matriarch can. I imagine Maude to be a mix of Maggie Smith's character from Downton Abbey and a modern biker gang member: grace and anger. That's Maude.

After lunch we talked about how to move past the dream and into action. Me and the other speakers at the event all gave our advice in this regard. We covered extension services, and how you can still attend a sheep workshop if you live in an apartment. We went through internships, loan programs, organizations and opportunities I personally could help folks get started with. Other guests talked about their states Farmer and Landowner match-up Programs and I went through a must-read list of books and websites. There was a lot of note writing! My intention of the workshop was for the people involved to go home with lighter hearts and higher hopes. To see what they want is possible and to see all the ways you can make it possible. We succeeded.

To wrap up the workshop Tara and Tyler of stopped by to talk about their experience buying land, building an off-grid home, and how starting from scratch changes the game plan. Their story is so amazing - World Travelers to Viking Timber Frame Builders and their advice about their own ever-changing goals and adventures was a grand way to end the day.

Cold Antler Confidential was great. But it wasn't great because of my farm, it was great because of the people who make up this community. I am so lucky to have friends around me who care so much about supporting me and others. To have folks from all ages, walks of life, and in various stages of their dreams come and talk openly about their journeys was such a gift to all who attended. The core of this workshop is the casual stories: people opening sitting around a fire telling each other about their mistakes and accomplishments, cheering each other onward, and seeing that they aren't alone in wanting this kind of life. I encourage any of you out there thinking about this kind of lifestyle to attend in April because it really does show you the story behind the farm signs, blogs, and family photos. Having real folks give the real deal on the long roads to their dreams and the good fights to keep make them happening was a knockout success of a day.

I got this email from April of Boston this morning.


Thank you so very much for opening up your home and sharing so much today.  It honestly was such an amazing time.  I loved being around like-minded people and hearing all of the different stories.  I greatly appreciated it.  Keep doing what you're doing because it is fantastic!  And I love your home and land- so beautiful!

And it even ended with arrows, snowflakes, and smiles. Talk about a wonderful day!

Thank you Kathy, Cathy, Anne, Tara and Tyler for giving your time and energy to the day. Thank you to all the folks who traveled and shared their stories. And thank you to Maude, most of all, for not stabbing anyone in the parking lot.

Small Storms

A small storm came in last night around dusk and stayed into this morning. I don't dare say we're into the end of winter, but it feels kinda like it. This past week had days in the forties and nights so comfortable the fire could go out before I fell asleep and still wake up comfortable the next morning. It feels like the end of March instead of mid January. The climate is a fickle thing, as we all know. I am just enjoying these little reprieves of gentles days and gentle snowfalls. You gotta appreciate anything that is too little to shovel but enough to cover up the goose poop.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Farm Update!

I am happy to report my arms are very sore. It's the good sore, too. My morning was spent mucking out the goat barn with my good pal, Joe Hoff. Together just the two of us managed to take out a winter's worth of deep bedding and move down the floor of the goat pen a good foot and a half! There's a mighty pile out behind the barn and I am beaming with pride in our morning effort having created it. Besides the cleaned out pen we trimmed eight goat feet, repaired fencing, rewired the goats pen with a new system, trimmed some burrs out of a lambs fleece and did all the morning chores. That right there is a morning well spent. It's been a week since I did any hard labor and I felt it all right. Joe was a good sport and a fine goat handler while I attended to the pedicures. I'm grateful to have such good friends with helping hands.

Winter around here has the usual hum of daily chores but not as much grunt work. There isn't a garden to hoe and tend, animals being birthed, goat kids to raise up, lambing jugs, or milking chores. It's pretty much a daily maintenance of feeding, watering, minor repairs and checking on the animals. There's a whole different cadence to winter and a lot more time to write.

Speaking of writing, I'm really excited about the response from Birchthorn. I already got emails from publishers about it! I will have more out later this week or next, as it is completed. Right now I am rewriting and adding more to the old stuff from a few years ago. It's like seeing an old college roommate that needs to work out more, still the same but couldn't hurt to have some editing. I say that with love.

Right now the horses are a little rounder than they should be, but that's because they mostly eat, roll in snow, and aren't being harnessed or ridden as much. I do get Merlin out twice a week but mostly it's for the cart and not the saddle. He is barefoot and scrambling up icy hills (and it's all uphill around this mountain) is just not a risk I am willing to take for either of us. But he can work up a sweat in the cart and its parked out front for that very reason. Jasper can't sit still and jogs around the paddock and gets harnessed, too. But not as much. His role really is to be Merlin's friend now. Not a bad deal for any pony.

Besides the horses the sheep and goats are also spending their time eating or sunning themselves. They sit out on the hay they deem better as bedding than food and chew cud. I am hoping at least two of the ewes are pregnant. Most of my sheep are around five to seven years old, which means plenty of possibility for lambs but not as much promise as their younger days. Bonita is certainly pregnant and her little one is due around Feb to March. It's a big window since she shared a pen with a buck for 21+ days in the fall. They could have made bacon day 1 or day 21, or anywhere in between. Yesh down at Common Sense is pretty sure she's well served though, and I never question her goat sense.

The poultry is okay, but slow in egg production. None of the ducks, chickens, or geese are laying eggs or sitting on nests (that I know of). I used to provide 14 hours of light via Christmas Light Timers in the coop but no loinger do so. Not for any reason of import, it's just that I'm okay with giving them an off season. So many people around here keep chickens you can't throw a hoe without breaking an egg these days. I am hoping Cyrus and Saro hatch out a spring clutch. Goslings are adorable, and a great trade for the Poultry Swap in May. If I can trade Toulouse for a Bourbon Red Hen, that would be quite the good outcome for this farm. My two Toms, Lucas and Bob Fedel, are the same as always. Lucas still peeps in my windows and Bob Fedel still limps around. He's been limping since the day I got him. Though he went from barely able to walk to a slight gimp. He flys, perches, and gets around just fine and seems in good spirits. Especially when I get the cracked corn out...

All in all, things are good here and the animals and I are well. The same usual ups and downs persist but I am keeping my head (mostly) above water. This weekend is a workshop I am truly looking forward to, Cold Antler Confidential and it'll be a packed house! It's entirely sold out with only three spots left for the April session. Even if the spots don't sell it sure is encouraging to this woman, to know there's a hunger for heartland. To know others out there feel the way I do about this life, well, it makes sore arms worth it. May I be honored with many more.

P.S. An anonymous donation for workshop passes was made to the farm by a very kind spirit. If you would like to come to any workshop I listed but can't afford the fee, let me know via email and I'll do my best to hand them out to eager hearts.

P.P.S I called about setting up the Makin' Bacon class, need to see if the Salem Kitchen can get us a three-bout block. I even got some emails about pork belly donation and that is grand news! I will also see if I can have some ready in time with the next pair of pigs I pick up. Ever onward.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Birchthorn: Chapter 1

The snow was so thick—and came upon the forest road so fast—that the two carriage lanterns blew out. One went dark with the cry of the wind and the other slammed into my forehead before falling to the ground. I cried out in pain as the thick globe smashed into a rock. The combined sounds of broken glass and my yelp of pain was as biting as the air. Sir —the small Haflinger pulling our shoddy farm wagon—stopped with a jolt. His two front hooves lifting a foot off the ground in a concerned whinny. I could barely see him in this new darkness, and I was instantly unsettled by how much colder a blizzard is when the last flicker of lantern light had left. He shook his flaxen mane, pressed his ears against his head, and stared at the little of the world he could see with blinders on. Other horses would have bolted at such a sudden fuss, but not Sir. That crow hop was the extent of his fit and for that I was grateful. We were but three miles from the farmhouse, stranded in this blinding squall. Had he tore off into the night I’m not certain we’d survive a crash into a tree or being swallowed by a ditch. People have died in weather far better, far closer to their homes. The thought of being alone without my rig was an unspeakable thought in my already pounding heart.

I jumped off the cart; clasping both the doeskin lines in one hand, and walked calmly to his head. I placed the flat palm of my free hand on the length of his nose and whispered to him. My head throbbed from but I tried to focus all my energy on the horse, watching for his nervous ears to twitch back to me. Eventually they did and I let out a small sigh. He was listening, a good sign. He picked up his feet a few times, walking in place while he blew, but otherwise returned to the steady animal I knew. When the horse was calm enough I went back to my cart. The wagon’s bench seat doubled as a storage box. I lifted the lid and fumbled around for the feeling of soft leather, my shoulder bag. Inside the bag (among other things) were some matches, twine, wicks, and oil. It didn't take long to relight the left lamp, but it offered barely enough glow to see the head of my horse. All I had gained was outlines. The britchened rump and the curve of Sir’s neck were suggestions, complicated suggestions at that. The snow had grown so fast and frozen it hit my cheeks like chaff. Along the sides of the road the heavy birches swayed as if they were hollow inside. White trees dancing amongst white snow in the dim light. I watched them, transfixed, and did not realize my world growing slowly quieter. It felt as if someone had pulled sound away from me as if it was a heavy thing dragged off. This was a quiet that didn’t belong. I watched the snow, the trees, the wind whip and slam into branch and earth but not a sound could be heard from the forest. Worried I had hit my head harder than I thought; I grabbed the long staff of maple lashed to the side of the cart. I heard the good wood knocking against the wagon as I worked its way loose from leather bindings. With the stick in my two hands I hit it hard again against the cart’s side and it rang out like a bell. It was the only sound in the woods.

Usually this stick is used to knock apples out of trees, check the depth of puddles, or shoo sheep out of the road but now it had a higher calling. I grabbed a handkerchief from a back skirt pocket and soaked it in all the spare lamp oil I had then tied it to the end of the staff. Lighting it from the bravely burning lantern on the cart it exploded into flame and Sir craned his head around to see what force of nature brought light back to the path again. I tied it to the bench seat and let it burn a few feet above my head. In this wind no ash would burn me, and I just hoped it would last till we got home.

I jumped back onto the wagon bench, and wrapped my old wool blanket back around my legs. My feet were freezing, the wool socks below my slouch leather riding boots soaked with sweat and slush from loading the cart. I had driven the six miles to the Thomason's farm. There Lara and her father helped me load up two sides of pork, a load of winter squash, and a bag of silver coins they owed in barter for heavy logging Sir and I had did at their home over the summer. Mr. Thomason had a fine pair of Morgans at his farm for saddle and carriage, but preferred not to use his only mode of transportation for rough work. We shook on the barter and the deal was struck. Sir was my only horse, but he had worked hard his entire life and was surefooted as an Alpine Buckling. My purse was heavy for the first time in weeks.

When I had left for the Thomason’s Farm a few flakes fell in the afternoon light and I trotted Sir along roads we both knew as well as our pastures. It was as pleasant as a winter day could be. The air was cold but not biting and the wind was calm. There was no sign of storm clouds and the sun shown on the harness leather. A recent snowstorm two days before had been tempered by this sunlight, too, turning the dirt roads into mild slush instead of ice. It seemed like the perfect time to pick up my payment. But I had spent too much time visiting after the cart was loaded and by the time I was ready to trot out of their lane the county skies had turned to blue dark. Clouds came heavy on our first mile home and by the time I had lost the lanterns I couldn’t see twenty feet ahead of the wagon. It was as though someone had cursed us. These familiar roads became a dangerous and strange place and we slowed to a grueling pace. Perhaps it was pride but turning back seemed foolish when we were already halfway home. Ever onward, I clicked and asked Sur to step up easy. Under my breath I muttered what my man used to say every time he was about to do something foolish; "Fortune favors the brave."

I cursed myself for not brining my dog along. He would have been a comfort next to me on the bench, and he could see things in the forest neither horse or woman ever could. As Sir and I slowly made our way through the torch-lit silent storm I tried to only think about home. I knew my stock was already in their barns and shelters. I wasn’t worried about the wood stove going out, as it was well stoked and keeping dinner warm. But the concern for my injured head, the quiet night, and the unease of the storm had my heart pounding and all I wanted was my bed. I felt like a child, scared and needing covers and warm milk. Fortune favors the brave? Hardly. Fortune favors the fortunate. I wrapped my cloak tighter around my body. All I could see was a circle of firelight around the wagon and the shadows started to play tricks on my eyes. The tall trucks of the maples and birches seemed to change in thickness as they swayed. To keep my sanity and keep the wagon steady I started telling myself stories. Childhood stories, for I felt like a child and how could I help but sink into myth on a night like this? My imagination wandered to tales and songs I was told long ago, of a beast that once roamed the wild places where the stonewalls and hedges stopped.

Every town has a tale, something they tell the children at night to mind their parents or stop tugging the cat’s tale. Around here the local monster goes by the name Birchthorn. He is never described in appearance, not in detail at least. That has given storytellers a lot of room for interpretation. Depending on who is telling the tale Birchthorn is giant black wolf, a dark catamount, a mad man, a ghost of an Indian Chieftain, or a red-eyed bull with the froth. Others gave him much more credibility – calling him a demon. They say he crawled out of the sinkholes south of town where the sulfur springs bubble. The stories are silly, and I shook my head as Sir slowly walked on. I had probably just exhausted myself or hit my head too hard. Monsters were not real. Hypothermia was.

Growing anxious, I clicked and kissed at Sir, asking him to move faster. I wanted him to trot but he refused, moving just slightly faster into a longer-strided walk. I suppose it was for the best. Sometimes horses are more sensible than their drivers. At a brisker we moved across the gently sloping road, thick forests of pine and birches on both sides. The only light around us was the yellow glow, like a locomotive campfire hovering above us. It crackled and hissed as the wet wood itself started to burn, and I prayed we could at least make it to the open fields at the base of this mountain before it was gone to darkness.

I pulled the leather hat by the large brim over my knit hat and wrapped the scarf around my head a few times tighter. My skirt was a heavy wool and I was grateful for that as well. I wore it over my canvas trousers more as an attached blanket than out of respect for looking like a proper lady, as I was anything but. I used to be seen as upstanding but ever since I took on the farm alone I had become an outcast, a thing of pity to eyes behind mercantile shelves. I couldn't blame them, I suppose. A woman living alone on a sheep farm in the upper Hudson Valley was a rarity, and certainly not in my original plans, but it was where I had landed so I dug in. The man I was engaged to was gone. Last September when the Spanish Flu was hitting the east coast hard, he demanded taking our best lambs to the city on a barge heading down the Hudson. He said he knew people were sick there, but since all the other farmer's had refused to bring their meat into the city the price they could fetch could build a new stable for that horse I had been dreaming of. He promised he would be careful, and he promised he would not shake a hand or walk into a single home or tavern. He made his handsome deal and then returned with a fever and cold hands. He was dead three weeks later.

So I was alone on our sixty acres with a flock of sheep, collies, and this pony I'd bought cheap at auction. The only financial comfort I had was the money left from the last lambs New York City would ever see from this farm. But I had a good dog, my stock, a garden, books, and a horse that walked through storms….

Sir's official name was Surcoat, because "that was all he was good for" was what the auctioneer taunted as the pitiful animal was brought out into the ring. He was a thin, rib shown, limping ghost selling as foddertrot for poor man’s stew and leather. I bought him so cheap I could have bought a roll of butcher paper and twine instead. I treated him like a sheep, giving him just pasture, water, and sunlight until he healed and was ready to train again. Now the auctioneer calls him the same respectable moniker I call him when I pass his house in town; Sir. He deserves it.

Yet no matter how steady a horse it does not have the eye of a dog, and I wished my large black sheepdog Anvil was with me. Dark as cast iron and tougher than any ram that might charge him, Anvil was a creature to be reckoned with. I felt stronger beside him and on this awful night he could have me singing instead of darting my eyes and praying into the wind. All I could think of was the fireplace in the kitchen and the Dutch oven of rabbit stew on the rack and how far away they seemed as the silent wind grew colder. "Com'on gelding" I whispered, and tried to be more confident as I snapped the lines. He bought it, and picked up his pace into a trot as we left the tunnel of the forest road and entered a clearing of fields. Leaving the dark of the wood aided my calm and I started to ease up as I noticed the snow starting to taper, leaving us as quickly as it came. Fresh white powder covered the fallow land around and more flakes turned large and fluffy, gently falling all around us. The worst was behind us now and I lifted my head with a smile just as the torch went out above my head. I snapped by head to look up at it, staring daggers. It had burned true in the gusts but come calm it died out? I was out of oil and staring was all that could be done about it. I huffed, at least I was close to home. Light was on our side now anyway, a full moon breaking out from the fast-moving clouds. A weight slipped off my shoulders heavy as a sack of grain. We had made it through the worst of the ghostly storm, a story to tell the neighbors grandchildren some day. I had silver, a horse with four good feet, squash, meat, and nothing but an open field of moonlight and calm skies to carry us home.

An animal dashed across the whitened road. It was large as a bear, fast as a horse, and black as the sky. It was also entirely silent and my first thought was it was a shadow, but we were in a white open field. The only shadows were our own. Sir stopped dead in his gait, ears shot up and forward. My head shot up too as I tried to see where the animal went. Sir looked over to his left, into the edge forest several hundred yards away. If that was where the animal was it moved faster than any wolf I had ever known. Sir stared, his eyes unblinking, staring at a single point with such intensity I could see his large pupils dilate until his eyes seemed to turn completely black. He didn’t breath. He didn’t flinch. I could see nothing, but didn't understand why the horse trapped in harness and cart with a large animal in its sight was acting calm as if someone had walked by with a bucket of oats while he was tied to a post. My heart was slamming into my ribcage as I put legend and reality together. Words from an old fiddle ballad played in my mind.

...The cattle won't low and the lambs will not gasp
But when he is near their heartbeats won't last
They never show fear, he won't let them cry
Trapped in his eyes right before they die...
The song played, verse after verse in my mind as I stared at Sir. This was impossible. An animal the size of a yearling steer just raced across the path and Sir had been more terrified by broken glass. I stopped breathing. I listened. I slowly turned my head to the place where the equine gaze laid.

It was nearly impossible to see into the dark forest, or to see what crouched against the field stone fence that shared its border. Guttural and low growls, as grating as a mill grinding corn, shot through my body. They felt like there were inches from my face but the shoulders of the animal we watched was far away. Sir just kept staring, calm as a nursing colt. I felt grateful I still had wet and cold feet under my blanket because the misery of the numbness reminded me I was still alive, still in control of my own mind. If this was what I thought it was, if this was the monster from folksong and legend, we had about three minutes to regard this world before both of us were nothing more than another verse at next Hallow's balefire dance.

"STEP UP AND HIKE!" I shouted to Sir as I slapped the lines and kicked the wagon at the same time. The horse now broken from the spell tore off as if he just remembered what a hundred-thousand generations of herd animals knew before him. He dug his hooves into the ground, the cart nearly flipping over on its side at the turns that lead to the opening into the woods on the far side of the field. Our woods, the road home. He cried out as he ran, making a sound more like a humans moaning scream than anything equine. I turned back to see if we were being chased. Behind us a black blur of seemed to glide at us. It had happened upon us as fast as it had left us, no feet touching ground at first and then powerful long arms exploded from the mass of swirling fur. Jutting out from the circle of black, arms as thick as tree trunks and claws gripping into the ground behind me. It was entirely silent now, silent as the storm that fell before, and it scared me more than the growls I heard in the dark. I could not scream. I could not hear the harness leather or hooves beating into snow. It gained on us. Each long limb grasping closer with every step, but not from its speed. The black beast seemed to pull the road between us closer, causing illusion and confusion along with panic. I knew I had to look away and mouthed a parched silent scream, "HOME HOME HOMMEEE!" And used the lines as a whip to slap Sir’s hindquarters before I released the reins entirely. We were only a mile from home, and I had to trust that the horse would flee to the safest place he ever knew. As the cart swayed and crashed, Sir skittered around corners at a breakneck gallop. I crawled over the bench to where the pumpkins and sides of pork resided. Soon as I got to the back of the cart Sir hit a hearty sapling downed from the wind and the entire contents of the cart flew into the air, pumpkins falling back into the snow, pork sliding off the sides. I nearly slid off myself, but grabbed the leg of the bench as my body swung towards the black fur. I felt hot breath on my exposed calves, my boot flying off into the snow. I looked back to see what was no wolf, catamount, mad man or Indian Chief. It was an animal, yet unlike anything I had ever witnessed before or seen in books. There was black fur, and two empty holes were eyes might have been but seemed barren. If there was a snout, ears, or anything else it was lost to me. The animal moved too fast, loping beside the wagon now, arms as long as its body grasping at nothing as it seemed to hover again instead of touch the snow. I wanted to stare, to take in the beast for what it was, but the chaos of the cart's cargo, the falling snow, the terror of it all forced me to act, not study. Inspired by a wish to see daylight again, I swung my body back onto the cart and pushed my back against the wagon's bench. Using both feet I kicked a side of pork right into the road and watched as the black blur of hair and sound descended on it. I didn't know if I had seconds or sanctuary, so I climbed up to the bench, regained hold of the lines and slapped them hard as I could, forcing Sir to reach farther than he ever had in the months we’ve known each other. We were nearly there. Home was just around these switchbacks, and I was being tailed by a monster I once believed only lived in bedtime stories.

No one would believe me. I knew this as I watched the sweat fly off Sir's neck as we raced up the mountain, past the lights of neighbor's windows. I didn't let him slow down, and I didn't dare let go of my held breath until we were within buckshot of the flock. Sir didn’t come to a stop until the entire wagon was in the barn, causing the sides of the wagon to break off from the slightly smaller doors. I didn’t care in the least, and climbed out of the wagon and fell to the ground. I didn’t have it in my to stand, my legs felt crippled. Anvil had seen the big show and raced down the hill to welcome back the animals he knew so well. I yelled at him to come to the wagon inside the barn and felt sweet relief at the sound of my voice, sound returning in general. Anvil slammed into me with decision and I held his coat like a scared child. "You're sleeping inside tonight. No arguments". Anvil looked up at me with yellow eyes, concerned as a dog can look.

As my dog stared at me, as my horse opened his mouth to pant and blow, as the stars started to come out of the cloud-covered sky, revealing pleasant sheep on the mountain pasture—I realized the storm had not hit here. No new snowfall covered the stones that lead to my front door. The animals seemed as calm as paintings. I held my dog, finally breaking down into tears and then sobs. I rocked there, back and forth beside Sir. I could feel the sweat of his belly falling on my exposed and bleeding arms as I buried my face in Anvil’s shoulders. I could only think of on thing clearly in the mess. The question I asked my father when I first heard the song of the beast as a child.

"Why do they call the monster Birchthorn, Papa? Birch trees aren't supposed to have thorns?" My father stared into my eyes, and with a stare not unlike Anvil's, he put a hand on my frail shoulder and replied;

"And these forests aren't supposed to have monsters.”

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


I am excited to announce that starting this week (and then every following week) I am going to post a section of Birchthorn, starting with the beginning all over again. If you are confused, I'll explain. Birchthorn is a short novel I started on the blog a few winters ago. It is based right here in Washington County, NY around the time of the Spanish Flu Epidemic (1918). It is the story of Anna and her farm, her community, and the odd things happening at the edges of the fields and farmland. There's something horribly wrong with this corner of the world and not understood at all. A creature, once called Birchthorn, is active for the first time in known history. The only evidence of its existence before come from legends handed down to the Native American population from their ancestors that Walked Across Oceans. Some think it is a wolf, others a demon, and some just think it is a figment of the overactive imaginations of group hysteria.

Birchthorn is a folktale, and I'll be telling the tale right here. Since it has been years since I last visited it I will be rereading and rewriting the earlier parts and posting them first. After that every week a new section of the story will be posted here—yours to enjoy, comment on, and share with friends. The plan is to keep posting it until I am down to the last few chapters. At that point I will finish it in private and once it is done start a crowdfunding project to get it turned into a printed book, my first published work of fiction! After talking with Tara and Tyler of Going Slowing about their adventures in self-publishing, it seems like an affordable and profitable way to tell a story. People who contribute to the Birchthorn Project at the lowest level (come funding time) that will get a signed copy of the book before it is available anywhere else. When the books are all printed and mailed I'll maybe offer an ebook as well? I'm not sure, as this is all new to me, but it does excite me and that's half the battle!

I like this as a creative challenge as well, because the only way I'll be successful with this is if I can create a story compelling enough to get people hungry for more. And even if the story is just okay in the end, well, at least I put my energy into something as wild as a work of folklore! Stories are a nice place to live in my free time. And taking this on reminds me of a panel discussion I watched with the folks from Geek & Sundry (one of my favorite channels). Someone is asking advice on how to deal with Youtube trolls and what starts as phscology ends up as a discussion about being creative and the need to be vulnerable. Felicia Day, creator of Geek & Sundry says something like this: If we all took the time to write a paragraph about a cat, every paragraph would be different and that's beautiful. What's important is to create at all, and not stop. I stopped writing Birchthorn because I felt I wasn't good enough of a fiction writer to make something people would enjoy, or critics would praise. But writing Birchthorn for me isn't about literature - it's about adventure. If I can get the same pictures in your head as I see in mine, that AMAZES me. And if we all start to know characters in the book like people in our lives, that is just as wonderful. So I'm writing my paragraph about a cat. Anyway, watch the video and see why I have a crush on Wil Wheaton.

So expect Birchthorn Chapter 1 today And more of it every week or so! And I can not wait to hear your feedback, ideas, and guesses about what is really going on in the story.

Makin' Bacon For Charity!

So I have an idea for the spring: I have been cooking up the plan to run a meat-curing workshop with Erika Tebbens for a while now. Erika will be speaknig at the coming NOFA conference on this same topic. She is wonderful person and I've known her a while now, much to my delight. She offered to do a bacon workshop for the farm and I asked her if she would be willing to do something a little different? If I can secure a day at the Salem Community Kitchen she is willing to teach us all how to cure bacon at home! It will be a few hours of talking farms, pigs, and meat but well worth it. I plan to open it up to around ten or fifteen people and charge $50 a person. Whatever is left over after the cost of renting the kitchen and buying supplies will go to Hefier International, a world-wide organization empowering people to live better lives through animal husbandry.

If you would be interested in joining us in the spring, let me know? If enough people are excited about the idea I'll start finding out what it takes to rent the kitchen and go from there!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Pork Harvest

Yesterday was Harvest Day for the four pigs I have been raising since summer. They had been named Ham, Ham, Jumpies and Commander. Odd names, I know. But I didn't pick them (at least not initially). My friend Joanna's four-year-old niece chose those names for Joanna's new chickens and I figured they worked for pigs, too. So the four porcine members of the farm were called such, HHJC for short.

HHJC were good pigs. Only one break-out attempt that I managed to thwart with some creamed corn bribery to get them back into their electric-fenced pen. That was the only attempt and I am both amazed and grateful that over 800 pounds of pig were held in check by one strand of wire! The pigs lived in the woods behind the farmhouse, close to the horses on a piece of land butted into the hillside. They were under the trees and nestled into a forest windbreak. I'm very happy with the spot and it served them well. Come slaughter day all four pigs were bright-eyed, healthy, and all piss and vinegar. Not one ear had frostbite and not one day went by without lots of bedding to nuzzle into.

This did create a lot of deep-bedding and made the ground-level of their sleeping area rise up a good 3 feet! By the last month I had to lift up the wire, but that was the only perimeter maintenance of their pen this winter.

It shows that it does not take a lot of infrastructure or investment to start raising hogs at home. My set up was built in the summer with the help of Tara and Tyler from Going Slowly and Kathy and Mary of WindWomen Farm. Good friends with strong backs and better hugs make light work. We used scavenged goods from all three of our farmsteads to make a go of it and I am happy to repay them all for their help in gifts of bacon and chops! The structure we called the "Pigoda" wasn't complicated at all. It was a simple roof and walled side. It handled 50-MPH winds, hail, snow storms of over a foot of accumulation and hot days in the 90s. As the weather grew colder this fall, hay bales were added and bedding deepened to create a nest that kept the pigs so deep and toasty that on cold mornings a burst of steam would escape when they popped out of the hay for breakfast! It was a charming sight to behold.

Yesterday a crew from Stratton Meats came. They specialize in farms like mine, traveling to folks with one steer, a few hogs, or some lambs to be killed, skinned, and gutted on site. This is such a gift to people like myself and, in a way, to the pigs. All pigs raised for food are destined for the same end: intentional death for the harvest of meat. But I am grateful I do not have to load my pigs into a trailer in the middle of winter, deliver them to a strange place of cement and high walls and wailing animals, and leave them without being present for their deaths - scheduled by an employee at the business's best time. But with Stratton Custom Meats I am right there. I am there for the shot to the head, for the slit throat, and for the dragged bodies to the traveling abattoirs on the rigs they drive in. I do not enjoy this day and take no pleasure in their demise. But it no longer bothers me the way it did for my first pig. That was really hard. Yesterday was hard, too but not for the same reasons.

I am comfortable with raising pigs for the table. I do look forward to the meals and recipes ahead (and anyone who doesn't like bacon concerns me a little bit)… but come Harvest Day I am anxious until the last pig has left this mortal world. What concerns me the most is a swift ending after a reasonably comfortable life. A life with sunshine and wind, rainfall and mud. A life with buddies to wrestle and fight over kale roots with. A life in the forest, outside, with a big bed of hay and warm bodies to cuddle next to every night. These pigs didn't live in the barn pen like ones I raised before and that offered challenges to both me and pigs - but I liked this set up very much. The pigs did grow slower but they grew true. The folks from Stratton said they would dress out around 150-180 pounds of meat each.

If you are wondering exactly what happens when traveling butchers come: I'll explain briefly. The gentlemen get their pulleys and hoists set up, lay out the knives for skinning, get electric saws plugged in and load their .22 rifles. Then they shoot the pigs in the head to stun them, cut their throats to bleed out, and drag the bodies to the hoists for skinning. Some folks scald pigs and Stratton offers this option but the cost really high. My pigs are skinned and then gutted. Their feet and heads removed and set aside. I keep the jowl meat and tongues, and have kept trotters in the past but not this time. I find I don't like them and no one was sharing the pigs with wanted them either so they went into the woods to be composted with the rest of the beast bits. They are taken far away from the farm. The earth must be fed, too, after all.

The eight halves were taken away about an hour or two after the arrival of the crew. They were wrapped in plastic and delivered right back to the butcher shop to be hung, cut, and other pieces smoked at a local smokehouse Greg uses. It'll be about a week and a half before they are ready for pickup. I'm glad I own a pickup truck, because that is going to be A LOT of pork.

These four pigs lived most of their short lives on this small farm. They grew well, lived alongside me, and became a part of my everyday life. Every pig teaches me another part of the story - that our time is short, far too short. You can spend it laughing in the mud or scared of what's to come. In the end, we all end up feeding the earth somehow. I will prefer to be one of the dirty and laughing.

Thank you, HHJC. You served the farm well and I am grateful for your gifts. Gifts to come soon in the form of meat, but also the fertility you added to the forest, the soil, to the pen you lived in. It may be the home of some really amazing greens in the years to come. Yes, you are gone but energy doesn't leave. It can't. It sticks around and when I do bite into that kale on some distant summer or into a pulled pork sandwich this spring: I will be savoring it with every bite. Good food asks this of you. It demands you listen.

I am all ears.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

How We See The World

A few weeks ago one of my favorite authors and vloggers, John Green, did a video ringing in the new year. It celebrated all the things people should be happy about and celebrate for 2014. John talked about the general state of the world (historically speaking) and how it compared to previous records in violent crime, divorce, disease, infant mortality and other measurable rates of misery. All of these were trending down and social progress was on the rise. It was emotional, beautiful, and inspiring. It made me proud to be part of Nerdfighteria. It basically said: it's okay to be optimistic.

And people ripped it apart.

A video coming from an author, whose amazing novel is about to become a movie, was not received well. People commented in throngs to dispute his facts, rattle cages, and generally tell him the world was not a good but instead a horrible place. They did this because the world they know isn't a good place.

So his brother responded a few days later, with another video (this is how the Vlogbrothers work, they converse back and forth with each other Tuesdays and Fridays)

So I guess it all depends on what you see our world as. Is it a place of misery or a place of opportunity? And while I know there are people suffering all over the world, and that horrible things happen every single day—I choose to think this is a beautiful world. As Hank says, to think otherwise will only hold us back.

P.S. Internet is down at my house, has been a few days. Sorry for the lack of posting. I can say that since Friday I have sewn a hood for Italics, broke an inch of pine board with a spinning hook kick, hung out with amazing and supportive friends, had four pigs slaughtered, and had a several-hour-long conversation with one of my favorite people in the world while talking bows and archery. More soon.

Thursday, January 9, 2014


My time with the four pigs I've been raising since late summer is coming to a close soon, and I am looking for 2 or 3 piglets if anyone local has any to sell or barter. I'm not picky on breeds but all things being equal - I love those Old Spots and Old Spot crosses! They are great baconers!

Farming Support & Thinking About Haycations?

I wanted to update you guys on the workshops and a new idea I have been kicking around. As of this week I have a dozen events up (plus ongoing Indie Days) and I will be adding Dulcimer Day Camp again for the early fall, probably September. That is a lot to plan and hopefully some of the topics interest you guys to make the trip to Cold Antler. I love meeting readers, sharing this scrappy place, and enjoying a house full of conversation, learning, laughing and stories.

Here are some updates: There is only ONE spot left for fiddle camp this August, and there won't be another opening until 2015. I hope one of you grabs it fast. If you're not familiar with Fiddle Camp, it is a weekend here in Washington County for people who have never touched or played a fiddle before. Folks who think they can't play an instrument, but wish they could. You don't need to read music, heck, you don't need to know how to hold a fiddle. Just show up and by the end of the weekend you'll be playing a song. Promise. This will be my fourth time doing this in March and I am starting to get the hang of it!

Same goes for Dulcimer Day Camp (and just like fiddle camp) it comes with a dulcimer. We spend the day in the farmhouse or outside in the pasture learning to pluck, strum, and make that sweet, southern mountain music. No experience needed. That will be in September, and September around here is fall-down-the-stairs beautiful!

Besides music there is a second Arrow's Rising planned for October (beginners archery workshop, comes with a bow!), a workshop for people thinking about a horse someday, chicken 101, farm dreams and planning, and I'm sure I'll add more wool and sheep stuff as well. There are always Indie Days for folks who want One-on-One instruction to spend a whole day learning an instrument, learning to shoot a bow, or just to spend a day around an author, her horse, her hawk, and her hope.

If ANY of these sound interesting, I urge you to sign up! Without workshop attendance there isn't much hope for Cold Antler at this point! So to keep the dream going and to keep the animals stocked in grain, kibble, and hay - send me an email at


$250 a person
$350 a couple

Season Passes get you into any farm event with available space you want. You pre-pay up front and then you have yourself a spot at Arrows Rising, Goats and Soap, and Cold Antler Confidential waiting for you. If you come to just one camp all year, it saves you money. The only thing the Season Pass doesn't include is the cost of instruments, bows, etc. So if you decided you and your partner want to come for Goats and Soap and The Farmer's horse, and Arrow's Rising - you still need to either bring a bow of your own or buy one separate. That's the only added expense: equipment.

As for the thing I am thinking of trying out? Would any of you be interested in spending three or five days working here at COld Antler? It would be a haycation, not an internship. I am not legally set up to host overnight guests like a B&B nor can I legally feed you from my kitchen. But if you want to pitch a tent at a campsite just a couple miles away and learn what it takes to keep 6.5 acres of animals, activity, and awesomeness going strong I am considering getting folks here to work and play alongside me for an extended version of the Indie Day Program. We could probably fit half the workshop topics in five days, I'm sure. If this is something you'd consider, please send me an email with your thoughts?

Lastly, if you want to support the farm and have the means but can not travel here (which I totally understand) you can always buy a local a Day Pass or Season Pass to help someone who can come, but doesn't have the scratch. If you are kind enough to do this I will include a three year or Lifetime Membership to Clan Cold Antler. Yup, being a good person pays off around here. All of this helps in ways you may not realize, even clicking the ad that changes at the top of the blog helps.

I thank you all for your readership, support, emails, stories, comments, and criticism. You're a part of this story, too. I would not be here without out, and I really would like to stay here.