Thursday, August 24, 2017

Earning Her Honesty

A few days ago Mabel bit me. Not a full attack by a charging ginger, hoofs a blazing— but a bite. I was tightening her girth (something I have done two dozen times this summer) and she turned her head back and nipped her teeth at my arm. If I had a shirt on I would have felt nothing. But I was in a tank top and the edges of her teeth clicked and pinched my upper arm. She didn’t break the skin, but a solid bruise rests there now from a beast with a skull the size of my coffee table. Not good.

I knew what that bite was. It was a mare saying “Hey, you, stop it. You’re annoying me and you are in my way.” She snapped at me the same way a mare snaps at a colt who has been nursing too long, or a pesky fly at her flank. It was a quick slap. Still, that kind of behavior is unacceptable. It hurt and it made me nervous. Once you are nervous around the horse the color of the world changes for them. Things get a little sharper, darker. They can tell something is wrong the same way a boss walking into your office with a sour look her face would make you raise your eyebrows. Also, not good.

I took a deep breath and got out the training flag. We did half an hour of ground work. The kind of natural horsemanship I have learned from Dave, my farrier and horsemanship trainer. The point was to keep her moving and responding to my gentle suggestions. If she doesn’t respond, a wave of the flag at the end of a 5 foot whip gets her attention. The flag is never used to hit her, just direct her like an air traffic controller. After a while just lifting the flag gets her moving. After that, asking with one hand on the lead rope. When she seemed calm I finished tacking her up and went for a ride. But I was still nervous.

The bugs were bad. The kind of high summer flies and gnats that all the ear salve and sprays can’t deter. She was stubborn and stopped moving all together a few times. The ride wasn’t dangerous but it wasn’t fun. It was petulant and fussy, the equine equivalent of “I donnnnntttwannnnnnnaaaa” But we rode and we got home, untacked, and I set her back with Merlin in the pasture. On paper the ride was a success. I rode my horse and no one got hurt on the trail: check. My goal was to ride my horse and I didn’t waiver. But it wasn’t fun.

That was a few days ago. In the interim I rode Merlin. Merlin isn’t as young, flashy, or fast but he is solid and dependable. Riding him is like sitting back and pouring a few fingers of whiskey with an old friend. I know his every twitch and ear signal. He knows the trails so well I am certain I could do it blindfolded and he would make the big loop around the trails and back home himself. Tuesday I took him and a book and a snack up the mountain. I rode and then got off to let him graze while I read. We took in the view from the mountain before a thunderstorm. This is something we have done hundreds of times. It’s a pure joy owning and living with that stubborn pony that taught me how to ride. I want that with Mabel. And you don’t get that unless you put in the work…

This morning I was nervous again. Mostly, of having another rough tacking up and then that stuttering struggle type of trail ride. I didn’t want to get bit. I didn’t want to feel nervous. But I owe it Mabel and to myself to train and train smart. To give that horse a job and not let her turn into some pasture-bound stranger I pet once a day and throw hay to. I don’t envy horses (or people, for that matter) that do nothing all day but eat.

I was also extra edgy because I was recently reminded how dangerous horses can be. Yesterday morning a friend was sent to the hospital because of their horse. It spooked beside a road and knocked them unconscious. Horses are huge animals, and even Merlin the fell pony is a thousand pounds. I’m 5’2” and while I am built as thick as a jaguar with a jiggle - that’s not a fair fight.

So today I did what my old riding instructor Holly says: Always have a plan. Don’t get on a horse you are training without a plan. And so this was my plan. Do groundwork first. Then, once calm and following my leads, groom and saddle. Do so with her head free so she can bite if she wants to, but discourage any attempts by making the horse move her back feet away from me in a tight circle. If she wants me out of her way then I will show her she is in mine. Remain calm, consistent, and in charge. Then, saddle up and do a short loop on the mountain. The same ride as before in reverse. That was the plan.

And that is what I did and it was lovely. Mabel didn’t bite or buck or act up. She was calm and happy to oblige. The ride was smooth and FUN! We cantered and trotted and took in the mountain as if we had done it a million times. She rode alone for the first time as if she was with Merlin. On rides with friends, she is perfect. Patty and Tyler have ridden her with zero issues but she is so different with another horse on the trail than when she is alone. I want both of my horses to be comfortable riding solo and today I got that. We have come a long way in a short time and Mabel is becoming a true blessing of a mare. It feels good to earn her honesty.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


I lost a couple chickens and a lamb over the past few days. The chickens were lost in a night of raccoon feasting, which thwarted the electric fences and tractor I had built to protect them. The lamb was (I thought) recovering from being weakened by worms. When I found him laying down a week ago I carried him inside, wormed him, medicated him against tetanus, and kept an eye on him closely since. He seemed to be doing far and on the way to a full recovery. He was always thinner than the other two lambs he was brought here with, but well. This morning while doing chores I found him dead. The same lamb that was out grazing the night before. I was crushed. I buried him near Sal, a sheep who was with me nearly ten years. This lamb wasn’t even with me ten weeks. It’s frustrating and it’s sad when this happens. I felt like a failure.

And make no mistake it was a failure. The lamb was in my care and it died. It died because what I did wasn’t enough. And it is important to know that, and feel that, and understand it.

But it is also important to look up at the rest of the farm around you. It’s important that I see two healthy horses with well-trimmed hooves and shining coats pass me by below swelling apples trees at a full canter. It’s important to know the goats bleating in the background are full of grain and relieved from their daily milking. It’s important to see the majority of the chickens, geese, and ducks all well and safe from a night without threats. It’s important to know the piglets and sows are thriving, the dogs and cats are happy, and that I was able to run an easy four miles this morning and still have a few days in the month to earn the money for the bills owed.

It’s important to see the other 90% if the sheep up and healthy as to not confuse decimation (one in ten dead) with annihilation (all dead). One sheep in my care passed away. The other nine are strong. That's still an A- and I'll take an A- in farming any day.

So feel bad about failure. But never let failure stop you from farming or any pursuit of your heart and head. Especially when the evidence of other success is all around you. There are eggs in my fridge, ten pounds of goat cheese in my freezer, and sales made of lamb and pork for future customers. There is soap made from those goats all over North America and more being made and shipped out every week. This is a small, one-woman farm yet it manages to stay afloat through words and art while so many farms and businesses are failing and that is a small miracle. One I am grateful for every single day.

Death is inevitable when your work is the raising and rearing of living things. It comes from disease, harvest for food, or old age. The hope is to pick when it happens and to feed and care for the people in your lives as you do so. It’s always a balance between a curse and a dance, farming. You only keep doing it because you learned thrive between those two outcomes and walk the line.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Summer is almost over...

Thursday, August 17, 2017


This morning was the first morning that felt like Autumn. Leaves have begun to shed off the King Black Maple in the front yard. The light was more saturated and tired. The entire feeling of morning chores was much more red flannel than tank top. I let out a lot of sighs.

It's bittersweet. I love the fall but the weight of winter preparation is always heavy, even when I am more prepared for it than in previous years. I have hay in barns, a house full of provisions, and half of my firewood stacked in waiting.  But all the work of getting out of that fearful place this past June and July is not done. The work of winter is just beginning.

So what is in store? There is the hope of a new book deal, but those sorts of things take time and my agent and I are still working out the last kinks of the proposal. There are piglets to sell, sheep and sows to slaughter, fleeces to tan, and books to mail. There is the constant flow of logo and illustration work (both on sale now, see post below!) and the regular every day sort of work of maintaining farm, house, and home. There was a long stretch without reliable indoor plumbing and that is finally repaired. The truck needed serious transmission work and that is repaired (Thank you to all who were part of that Kiva loan). The farm got some serious improvements to fencing, chargers, and supplies needed for livestock. A new dollar horse prances in the pasture and has made having horses feel new and magical again. Last night Tyler rode Mabel for the first time and they flew, and I mean FLEW through the mountain trails. She doesn't limp anymore like she did the first weekend she arrived. Her supplements, the rolling topography of the horse pasture, and regular work have healed her up, far as I can tell. The farrier agrees, and Dave's word is horse Gospel to me (though he does warn me of the swirl pattern on her forehead).

So I will say things are good. Better than they have been in years. I'm no longer farming from a  place of fear, and feel a slight buoy of spirit at the place finding solvency among all the uncertainties of self-e employment. But catching up to the rest of the runners in a race isn't winning and the race is far from over. But I am thrilled that bills, mortgage, and student loans are caught up (mostly). I am still working on some August bills but it isn't September yet!

I sigh outside because this is just one month and to keep that safe feeling I have fought so hard for I need to keep running. This is all I think about right now. So if these posts seem to be just about making it, and hocking logos and drawings - that's because this is my job. I am as dependable at it as I was shpwing up in my office when I worked a 9-5, only there is no certainty of direct deposit. There is your support, your reading, and the growing of my audience and the earning of patrons. Which is what all creative people do and have done since traveling bards and playwrights. We hope our words, our artwork, our stories compel strangers to buy a book instead of borrow it from the library. We hope you see value in things we make. If my readership is anything - it is proof positive writers are appreciated. After all, I am still here. 7 years, soon to be 8, on my own farm as a single woman. Not a common thing in history, and not special enough to stop working hard either.

If you follow me on social media you'll see the same. My Twitter and Instagram both share pictures and farm updates, as well as some self promotion. So if you need any of those things listed above, or know someone who does - let them know about the design, soaps, illustrations, and classes at CAF! I thank you. Keep on farming, friends. And dear lord, please keep on reading.

Cold Antler Farm is free to read. If you feel the writing was worth more, click here for a voluntary contribution. It is appreciated and encourages these endeavors. Thank you.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Get Started!

Running a logo and illustration sale! The farm is still working towards keeping ahead of bills and improvements going into winter. So to encourage you - right now if you buy a custom pet or farm animal illustration (color, 9x12") or a logo - you can get a voucher for a second logo or illustration to give as a gift for the Holidays ahead. Or perhaps you need two different projects or gifts? Give them both, share, whatever works! I am offering this to three people and will have the illustrations/logos started this coming Monday. So take care of a Holiday gift, treat yourself to some fine logo or artwork, or simply buy one for a rainy day ahead when your farm business plan is set and you are ready to create a brand. It helps keeps the lights on, school loans paid, roof dry, and this farm chugging along.

If interested, please send me an email at

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Sick Lamb, Trail rides, & Soap Orders!

A few days ago I walked out to the field to check on the lambs and saw one, a smaller ram lamb, was down. I thought he was dead and I cursed under my breath and Gibson and Friday ran past me up the hillside. When I got closer I saw he was alive, but weak. I knew it was the transition from his old farm to this one. My soil has tetanus, there are new parasites and animals here, and a young lamb either thrives or fails, rarely one or the other. Sheep are masters at hiding weakness. It is their evolved trick of survival -to seem fine and stoic and strong until they are literally down. It is the shepherds job to know their body weight and score, to make sure they are wormed, immunized, etc. These guys had their shots and were wormed, but nothing is certain in farming. I scooped up the lamb and brought him inside.

I gave him a booster CDT and some anti-toxin, just in case. I added sugar and electrolytes to the water and gave him the entire kitchen to eat, lounge, and have grain in peace. TO my relief he was up and walking in an hour. He was drinking out of the dog bowl and leaving normal feces behind. There was no diarrhea. There was no shakiness. I don’t know how common it is to cheer at solid sheep stool in your kitchen - but I cheered.

The lamb was carried back out to the field that same night, once I had medicated and checked him out and saw him eating and drinking as normal. He was underweight and I suspect it has to do with worms not being treated by the wormer I had used. So I ordered some newer stuff and added herbal wormer as well to their feed of daily grain. The other two are plump and hail. As is Sean, the lamb born here back in late winter.

In other good news, my friend Tyler has taken up the saddle and started riding with me. He had not been on a horse in 20 years, but was so game it was amazing to watch his confidence and ease on the back of Merlin. I rode Mabel, who has been nothing but wonderful after a small adjustment period. Together we galloped (YES, GALLOPED!) those horses all over the mountain. He was a natural and rode Merlin like the whimsical hairy rhino he is. He said he’ll be back to ride this week and I hope to get some pictures.

I used to get all my kicks out of riding alone. I still love it. I took Merlin out by ourselves for a bit today and we are such old friends I can pop an earbud into one ear and listen to an audiobook as we ride on trails we know as well as our own paddock. But there is some real joy, and real wealth of spirit, seeing a new rider you are teaching beside you enjoy your horses as much as you do. You get to see those smiles of a first fast canter up a hillside, or grabbing apples off high branches as you slide below them on the back of a clever beast. Tyler was so great and will only get better.

Lastly, I am making soap like crazy. If you are interested in a custom batch and signed book, do email me at - Takes about 2 weeks to cure and mail, sometimes sooner. I am making around 6 pounds of soap a week right now and mailing it all over the US and Canada. IT fills me with solid pride and the bars are lovely. You can also just order 4 bars of what I have laying around if you don't want to pay for custom designed special orders or books.

Also! I have 4 piglets left to sell and would love to sell them to blog readers, feel free to mail about them as well.

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Yesterday morning I walked out behind the barn to where the pigs and meat birds reside. The pigs were in their paddock, a yard of forest and brush against a hillside with a shelter. The meat birds were in the now tilled-under kailyard. But those meat birds are not just in cute garden fence. They are inside a chicken tractor with a latching door, which is surrounded by electric wiring, inside a cute garden fence. So you can imagine my surprise at seeing 3 birds ripped apart and dead inside.


There was a hole in the roof of the wiring. It was enough to let a raccoon reach in and grab/pull on/eat alive some of the birds I was raising for the freezer. How did they get past the electric fence you ask? Easy. I had forgot to turn it on the night before. One night and one mistake and three birds gone to the wildlife hunger fund. I cursed myself for forgetting. I had a long day and company over and during night rounds I got caught up with the laying hens in the barn and trying to find a missing pullet (she was in the rafters) that I didn't go back into the woods to plug in the meat bird fence.

I've not lost a bird from predators all spring and into summer with the triple fortification system I was so proud of. All it took was a night off for the bandits to test, climb, and find the weakness in the system.

I learned my lesson and patched it yesterday. I also checked all the wiring and clearance. But it is still disheartening, and a failure to those animals. This is part of farming, learning from mistakes - over and over. The point is to not let those mistakes stop you, and to farm better the next day.

This morning all of the birds were fine, whole, and no returning raccoons took any more. A small victory but means the world to those inside a kailyard tractor! 

Friday, August 11, 2017

50lbs of Flour

I have been sharing on social media my plans to set aside four months worth of ingredients for winter. Things like flour, yeast, salt, potatoes, rice, cooking oils, pastas,  etc. Mostly, the kind of bulk commodities that can be boiled or baked into a starchy base and stored at room temperature.

Nothing dramatic, the kind of stuff you can fit in regular kitchen cabinets without a backyard bunker. Food that is generally cheap, but gloriously enhanced with sauces, cheese, meat, and spices. I have been up to this for a few weeks. Freezing goat milk and cheese, buying a few extra cans of pizza sauce, getting flour in 50lb bags from the local Amish market. Basically getting my hibernation nation in order.

Out here in the countryside this is normal, economic, and prudent. Everyone is canning tomatoes, slaughtering livestock, and sighting in their rifles for deer season. But online it seems at best, eccentric, or at worst - launching into a book about "a year of cupboard living!" or a survivalist panic about North Korea.

I think sharing these plans online gave people the wrong idea? This isn't about locking the gates at the first flakes of snow and eating purely out of house, never to enter a grocery store or restaurant until spring thaw. I am sure there will be Game Nights with pizza delivered and the occasional trip into Saratoga or Manchester for a meal out. This isn't about purity of intent or a reaction to fear. It's about feeling safe, comfortable, and hospitable during the hardest months of the year.

I want a farmhouse full of food and a woodshed full of firewood because it makes me feel good. It's emotional insurance, as well as kind to my budget. When the cold months come I want to know that this place is a sanctuary. When there is a foot of snow outside and more storms on the way - I want to know that bread is rising by the woodstove and coffee is perking on top of it - even if the power has been out for days and the roads are impassable down the mountain to town.

The house is heated by two wood stoves. Both allow cooking on their ranges and one has an oven. Electricity makes life easier here and the internet is fun, but it isn't needed to keep me warm, fed, and safe. There are oil lamps, candles in bulk, and food set aside for months. There is a fresh water stream and deep well. There are livestock, seeds, warm blankets, and firewood. If the zombies come, this isn't a bad place to be. I mean,  I am an armed black belt guys. But it also helps (I am sure even more so) that I have three big geese that sleep in front of my main door at night in the lamp light. No one messes with angry geese.

As I write this I see myself wanting to slide into that prepper bravado. Bragging about what a fortress this is. It isn't. It's a country home. But in today's culture a normal country home does seem like a fortress compared to some urban apartments. Look around your kitchen. Do you have enough food on hand to feed yourself today? What if guests stopped by and you were both skint on cash? Having a few jars of sauce, some frozen meatballs, and some cheap linguini ready to whip up means never having to worry about dinner or sharing a meal with a hungry friend? Wouldn't you feel better right now knowing those things were in your presently bare cabinets? Wouldn't it be even awesomer if you had 2 weeks worth of pasta set aside? See where I'm going with this? For me, living with an unpredictable income means food is one less thing to worry about when sales are light. A lot of urban freelancers would do well to live more like country farmers. I know Seamless takes credit cards, but c'mon.

I want to be a safe place for friends and visitors. I want them to know a warm bed, kind dog, and hot meal are here. If you stay at this farmhouse on a winter night you will wake to bacon and eggs, piping hot tea or coffee, a giant library of books, a warm fireside, animals to tend and care for, dogs to cuddle and cats to ignore you - even if the rest of the world is in chaos. I want this not because I expect chaos, but because life is hard enough when trains are running on time. Make it easier if you can.

I want my winter energy to go into creative forces - like writing, design, and illustration. Or to go into the harder work of tending a winter homestead.  It's hard enough making it as a single, self-employed lady. I don't need to worry about being warm, fed, and safe on top of it.

I'm storing up food so regardless of outside forces it means I will be okay - not because I think the world is coming to an end - but because it is just me here. And I want to know I can depend on me through thick and thin.

Thursday, August 10, 2017


I am preparing for winter earlier than ever before. There is a cord and a half of wood stacked and more on order. There is hay set aside in several banks around the area, and plenty in the barn. Over the past few weeks the plumbing and truck have been repaired and the truck passed inspection! I put up 15lbs of potatoes yesterday and am planning for a winter with as little food costs as possible - meaning buying/growing/butchering/hunting 90% of my food and having it on hand. My goal is to go into winter with my only expenses being the mortgage, insurance, and the usual utilities. If my farm and planning can feed me on wholesome, homemade, local food all winter it will be a blessing. So I am looking into bulk flour storage and asking locals about large orders of onions/potatoes/garlic/etc as well as setting aside staples like pastas, oils, sugar, etc and whatever the garden has left to offer. I have already put up 6lbs of goat cheese and several gallons of milk to keep making soap through the winter.

The preparations for all this are exciting and incredibly comforting. I want winter to stop being a time of stress, stop being something to get-through. Instead I want to hit the first snowfall knowing I have four months of comfortable fires and food set aside. I want all the income earned to go towards bills and savings. Common Sense living for sure but I have been playing catch up for so long it is weird to be planning to lean in. It feels like a first date, this farm. It feels like I am looking at it with the eyes of joy instead of fighting to keep it or fear of banks and threats. Things aren’t perfect, not by a long shot, but things are better. I already made every mistake there is to make in homesteading and now the seas are calming and the boat is in the right direction. Still far from land, but out of the storm.

I have been working with my agent to prepare a book proposal for early fall. I am so excited for it, so thrilled to share the story of it. Unlike past books that were just about this farm and agriculture - this one is about my passion for living like fiction. The desire to live a life following my passions inspired by Fantasy novels, games, movies and shows. So I will write about archery, horses, hawks, hounds, martial arts and other activities that don’t have to only live on the pages of Tolkien and Martin.

Life is back to flushing toilets, a working truck, farm improvements, and writing books!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

It's all been worth it.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Letter From Today

I woke up to sunlight streaming into the farmhouse's upstairs windows. Friday was sprawled over the guest pillow to my left, her head against mine as she sighed. She was the only guest in the bed tonight and was making as much use of the joint as possible, stretched out like a yogi, smacking her lips. Gibson was already off the bed and looking out the window at the chickens milling below. The light in the room was telling. It glowed the way daylight does right before it gets tired at the end of summer and even on hot days you know that Autumn is close. But this morning the saturation was still turned up and I felt the pull to be in the river.

I let the dogs out and they burst onto the day with border-collie levels of enthusiasm, cranked to 11. Chickens scattered, the goats bleated, and Merlin whinnied from the far pasture. I fed hay to all hoofs and made sure all pasture and paddock gates lead to fresh water. I checked Aya in her mews and promised her we would fly later in the day. After all the stations were hydrated, coop doors open, and animals content - I brought the dogs inside to their breakfast and grabbed my fly rod.

I was in the knee-deep clear water by 8AM. I watched schools of baby brown trout circle my flies and consider them. I didn’t care if I caught a fish or not, fly fishing is a reason to stand in the middle of a grand summer river and not look insane. I saw trout rise around me, little orcas with their vertical tails slapping as they returned to the cold water.  I cast to them. A bite here, a bite there. I didn’t catch a fish in the river but I spent a lot of time scrambling barefoot over rocks and watching crayfish scuttle around my feet. I felt a swelling of goodness and luck.

I took stock in the day so far: I woke up safe alongside kind dogs. I had coffee that energized and comforted me. I chomped into a protein bar and saved the last third of it to bury in the sand by the water’s edge as an offering to the land and water wights. If I was going to walk into a place I wasn’t caretaker of and expect to take something from it, it was only polite to leave an offering - for safe passage if nothing else. I drew the rune Algiz into the sand and asked that my ancestors keep an eye on me today. I planned on doing some dangerous things later in the day. Things that included fast horses, sharp talons, and editor deadlines.

I spent two hours on the river. I didn’t bring a camera. I cast and saw my strong arms, brown and scarred, and felt lucky they were mine. My rolling cast needs work but was good enough to get a nice small dry fly dancing in a tight space. I know a lot of people enjoy bait fishing but to me it is like waiting for a varmint to step into a trap. I prefer hunting, always, to trapping. I cast to a rising trout. I laughed as big fish swam right past my flies and reeled in to try again. I had a little black box of flies with me, mailed to the farm from a friend on Twitter. I wasn’t about to avoid such a fine gift. I lost track of time.

I drove home without a trout, but happy. I felt revived. On a lark I decided to pull over on my own mountain road and cast into the stream that cascades down the mountain from my farm. I did and caught a brown trout first cast! With my truck growling her pretty growl I held the jewel of a fish. I love the redish spots on a brown trout. I removed the hook and returned her to the mountain after my bit of reverie.

I came home at 9AM to the work of the farm. I grabbed a five-gallon bucket and a shepherd’s crook and headed up the hillside to the apple trees. Friday and Gibson raced around me. I used the crook’s hook to grab tall branches in the trees and shake down apples. They hit the ground and the thump perked the horses ears and they walked over to eat what they could as I filled the bucket. I watched the dogs roll in the dust and pant, laying beside a thousand pound animal with sharp canines 5 times the size of their own without worry. I had raised these dogs to be farmers. Herbivores don’t worry them, regardless of wolf teeth.

I brought the bucket to the pigs. I have eleven pigs now to feed, Holy Crow. I am trying to sell the nine piglets but so far no buyers. The dog days of summer are not when people are thinking about piglets. I dump 30+ pounds of apples in green and red into their wood lot paddock and they chomp greedily at them. I see their mouths drip with cider and watch the little runt steal the biggest apple and run into a bush to eat without competition. While they are busy I check the electric netting and attach a fence tester to it. All levels seem fine. I refill their water and let their breakfast be fruit. They’ll get corn, grain, and kitchen scraps when the sun is father away.

I milk the goats next. I am trying to make cheese every day and freeze it. In a few weeks their milking will start to taper off and then stop all together. I’ll dry them off for breeding season in November. I will need a supply of frozen milk and cheese for winter so I am stocking up. It's work I know by heart and I like it.

I bring the milk inside the house to strain into a 2-liter milk canister. It is steel and shiny. I filter the milk and then add culture to it so over the net 12 hours it will turn into curds and whey. The curds will be salted and herbed. The whey will be poured over corn, apples, and kale stalks for the pigs.

With the morning chores now all done I realize I still feel the pull of summer. Fueled by 2/3rds a protein bar and coffee, I get Merlin from the pasture and tack him up. Last night I rode Mabel at a full gallop up the mountain. It was exciting as hell, since she’s so large and a new horse. It was the first time I rode her above a trot and it was like going up a roller coaster, but instead of the thrill being the fast descent it was the thundering, panting, ascent on the back of a half-ton on sentient power. I whooped. I couldn’t help it.

But today I wanted to ride the pony I knew so well. I changed out of cut off shorts and a tee shirt into bike shorts and a kilt. I love riding in skirts. I got him tacked up and sprayed for flies and hoped it was enough protection. It was so humid at this point we were shiny with sweat before taking a step off the property. I mounted him and we headed down the road. As we made our way to the gates of my neighbor’s property (he let’s me hunt with my hawk and ride my horse on his 200+ acres) I saw my neighbors coming up the road on their bikes. We made small talk. They had traveled into Cambridge (3 miles one way) for breakfast and rode home. From the saddle I told them I had eggs if they needed any and we agreed to barter for a loaf of sourdough bread next time she baked. They rode up their driveway and I gave Merlin some heel and he arched his back and took off up the mountain. I can make a hell of an exit when I am horse-adjacent.

Merlin ran at a full gallop up the mountain, just like Mabel did last night. They can’t help it. It must feel glorious to stretch and grab the earth with their dinner-plate hooves. We road those trails until the bugs were so large and bad we gave up and trotted home. I untacked him and set the gear on the back of my truck, laughing at the sight of my two favorite forms of transportation sharing space.

That was my morning. It was a farm, fishing, milking, piglets, horses and bugs. The next few hours were entirely the computer's. I updated designs for clients, inked illustrations, and checked emails from my agent about my new book proposal and writing revisions. I took notes and worked out deadlines. I made changes to logos and did the quiet work that pays for mornings in rivers and mid-day gallops.

I have 2 weeks to earn the money for the Augus mortgage, which does not come out of the Kiva loan used to upgrade the farm and repair the truck’s transmission this past week. I haven’t made a sale in a week and was feeling nervous. I made a note to follow up with some old emails with people having interest and advertise more on social media. Two weeks isn’t a lot of time, but I’d figure it out. Honestly, I am grateful I am working to pay the current month and not three month’s earlier. It’s enough to buoy my spirits.

I write and submit a monthly column to a Heathen blog. I work on revisions to the proposal. Most of my day is in front of machines. What people see online is horses and animals. They see pictures of chickens and dogs and sheep and fields, but the bulk of my day is sitting on my living room floor in front of an old iMac Jon Katz (neighbor and writer) gave me because it was old to him five years ago. The desktop sits on top of a wooden box. I work through my to-do lists. I download podcasts for afternoon work.

I eat a meal a day around 2-3PM. I use zucchini, kale, and onions from the garden and fry them up in a skillet with some Sweet Italian sausage. It is served over rice with some salt, pepper, olive oil and soy sauce. It is delicious! Everything fresh and local. I make enough to have leftovers for tomorrow, stored in mason jars in the fridge. The milk is starting to separate on the stove top for the cheese. I feel rich. I don’t know how I’ll earn the August Mortgage, but feel rich. I made it 7 years as a homeowner here, five being self employed. It will be paid. It always is.

Afternoon comes fast and hard. I have a full belly and feel like a nap. Instead I call Othniel at Common Sense Farm about firewood delivery. I want 2 cords stacked by Sept 1. I need 4 for winter. I also need to get chimneys swept, and inspected. I email the woodstove company about a warped part of my stove. I scan social media.

With a full belly and the sigh of contentment from the meal I am ready to digest with a thwack. I string up my horse bow and head set up some hay bales for a target. It’ll be just a couple dozen arrows, shot to keep me sharp. I have been listening to World Made By Hand, by J. Kunstler on audiobook and am feeling haunted by it. The book is about my town, right here in Washington County, NY - 20 years after the collapse of America. The characters start the novel fishing in the same river I started my morning fishing it. It’s weird and lovely. The first two books in that series are summer and fall, and I am listening as I realize I live a life not very different at all from the characters in the books.

I shoot arrows. I do another set of rounds on the livestock. A friend with sheep calls me. I hear the phone in the kitchen, a 1970’s rotary phone with actual bells inside. I cringe every time I hear a cell phone mimic that sound for a ringtone. Phones that do not have dial tones should not be allowed to mock their elders. My friend tells she lost her ram to flystrike. I worry for her, asking “Did you remove him from the rest of the flock? Are the ewes okay?!” and we talk and catch up. Flystrike keeps me up at night. She assures me the rest of the flock is okay but they need a ram this fall. I think of all the people I know and make some notes on a pad to call.

The dogs join me every trip outside. I refill water and check fences. I make sure the meat birds have clean bedding and water. Soon ducks and chickens will be in the freezer for winter roasts. I ignore the weeds in the garden. In August all I care about are the squash, a large crop of butternut that go into the larder for storage. In a few weeks I’ll have squash chowder by a roaring fire as the first snowflakes fall, probably around Samhain. How is that just 12 weeks from today? Will I be ready? I wonder if the potatoes I planted will be okay or ruined by the shallow soil at the edge of the old sheep pasture. I make a note to buy in 100lbs of potatoes, 50lbs of flour, and 10 pounds of sugar/salt/olive oil for winter. This house always has 6 months of food on hand. It’s not some weird survivalist thing. It’s knowing that good food is stored and not an expense in the coldest, hardest months. As a self-employed woman I want to know my meals are set well in advance if sales drop as the snow falls. I want a freezer of meat I raised. I want veggies in my larder. I want frozen cheese and milk. I want guests to come to a warm home any day of the long winter with enough food to feed a pile of dwarves and Gandalf himself. If I am lucky I'll take a buck this winter for venison. I know the hawk will get plenty of rabbits, too. Hunger isn't a concern here, even if the world stopped turning. It makes me feel safe and strong.

Thinking of hunting, I take Aya out for some short practice flights. She is getting ready for hunting season in a few weeks, fall is really just an exhalation away. She needs stronger wings, a broader chest, lower weight, and the regained desire to work with me but right now she just wants to stick talons in my face. It’s a little daunting. My goal is five flights to my fist for her evening feeding. They can be just ten yards or less. I want her to remember after a summer of eating, molting, and relaxing that hunger and hunting are back in her world again. If she decides she would rather not fly with me I’ll know soon and release her back into the wild. I’ll trap a new bird and start over. That’s how it goes. But I want to keep her. I want to build on what we started last year as strangers.

Her red tail is almost all grown in. It is a point of pride that I have trapped this scrappy thin bird on a telephone pole last September and here she is now; strong and dangerous in her adult plumage. I set her on a perch outside on the lawn. She looks around the world of the farm with awe. She hasn’t been free to fly in an open space in a few weeks. It takes a few moments but I get a few hard-winged flights out of her. They are sprints to her food, not the glides of an expert flyer. But she only cares about the meat and lands all her marks without a single scratch. It is encouraging.My face remains talonlles, today.

It's late in the afternoon now. I have farmed, fished, hiked, rock-scrambled, designed, illustrated, wrote, emailed, shot arrows, trained a hawk and rode a horse. I wanted nothing else from the hot day but the sweet routine of evening chores. I went about the work of them early. I fed the pigs, horses, sheep, goats, chickens and dogs. Then I came inside and set the 1940’s Westinghouse fan on the ground for the dogs to lay in front of, panting from their running around as I saw to the animals. I was ready to end this day where it started. I would drive back the four miles to the river.

You can park your truck at the river and get into the water where the kayaks and canoes get in. From there you can float and swim down river till you hit the next "beach". It is about 200 yards, not very far. But to jump in and float that distance is heavenly and weightless. I don’t feel like a 184lb woman. I feel like an otter. Under the surface I twirl and swirl among the fish. I can see the sunbeams hit the surface and the lazy carp below. The depth changes from walking to floating deep, but I still see the river bottom. The river is calm, as the storm just passed us last night. I have checked the weather 4 times today and try to think of a life where the weather doesn’t matter? I can’t. My day, my work, my life is tied to it. Thunderstorms are listed for tonight, maybe. I am excited for them as a first date.

Floating in the river on my back I look up. Above me in the sky a pair of redtails soar together. I wonder if Aya is their cousin? What would they think if they knew a relative was hunting varsity with a primate? I watched them until they caught a rise and soared so high they were out of sight.

I swam to a distant shore and walked out, soaked. I didn’t bring a towel. I set up a saddle pad on the bench seat of the truck and drove the four miles home wet. I’m in running shorts, a sports bra and tank top. I’ll be dry in about twenty minutes. The heat of the day is still there but I am air conditioned by the river and feel so tired and happy.

When I get home I strip naked and hang my swimwear out to dry in the sun and put just the worn kilt I went riding in earlier and a clean cotton tank top. That’s it. Those two clothing items and I head to the hammock with a glass of bourbon to feel the sunset on my skin and air dry.

It’s 6Pm on a Thursday night. I will be asleep by 10pm. The next few hours will be spent either at home with a movie or at a friend's farm to soak in their hot tub. I'll probably just stay in and relax. Rain is in the forecast this weekend and I know mornings of fly-fishing and afternoon rides won’t be an option. The only way I’ll get on a horse is with my character in Elder Scrolls Online. Khajits gotta ride, too.

So I am retiring early this summer day. I did the summer things I love, as was my intention. Yesterday I spent so much time worrying about money, winter, love, death - all the things that keeps Game of Thrones interesting but today I wanted to enjoy this weirdo life I carved out of force and hope. I'm sharing it because what's the point of doing all this alone? So thank you if you read all of this. I hope your day was good to you as well. And if it wasn't - there is still time to get pizza and beer and raise a glass to tomorrow.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Dave and Mabel

Last night the farrier came by. Dave Czukrovany is a man who knows horses, and has been trimming Merlin's feet for years. Over that time I have come to value his wisdom and skills beyond measure. I have been using what he has taught me, both through demonstrations and conversations, and it's made me a better rider, owner, and human being.

His methods are gentle and based on how horses think, move, and live in herds. Yesterday was his first appointment seeing Mabel. I wanted to hear his thoughts on the new horse.

Mabel is head shy and has a tendency to pull back in her halter, throwing her head back if she feels scared. This isn't anything abnormal in a fearful horse. Moving their head out of the way is instinct and a noggin is something you want to protect, but as a working animal you wish to ride - it makes things like putting on a bridle tricky. I told Dave about some of the issues I've had with her on the ground (fear of the bit, pulling back when tied, etc) and Dave took her lead rope from my hand and started his dance moves.

He moved her in gentle circles. He was calm and present. He asked for her head and when she pulled away in fear he moved her again, circling in a way that naturally brought her large snout towards him. He would take the neck and nose and sway them, rocking them like a child that needs to be soothed. Within twenty minutes the horse was letting him touch and lead her anywhere. She had ground manners of a demo horse at a clinic.

I listen to Dave talk, train, and trim horses the way parishioners listen in pews. I have so much to learn, so so much. Dave connects with equines in ways I am just starting to understand. It is breathtaking.

I said with a sigh, "I have so much to learn. I barely know anything and I learn that more and more each year..." and he sighed too, and said, "I know nothing." and then kept working masterfully with my horse.