Thursday, November 30, 2017

Paradise Set on Low

The sun went down and I headed off my mountain perch and back towards the little white farmhouse. It does look small from the farthest edge of my property. Six acres isn't a vast expanse but with elevation and tall trees it's enough to turn a house into a diorama in dimming light. I watched the smoke coming from both chimneys. The mud room stove had been lit to help dry laundry on a line. I am so glad to announce that for the first time in years I have a working washing machine again! My friend Patty helped me install a used one we found online. Eventually I'll get the dryer but the washer is the real treat. I didn't have a deer but I did have just-washed sheets drying and working hot water - two things I have gone without for long stretches in this home. Some days you just gotta let yourself feel rich.

Merlin and Mabel walked out to feet me as I made my way towards the house. Mabel runs this pasture now, as she should. The half Belgian is the largest animal I have ever owned, standing 16.5 hands tall with a neck thick as a maple's truck. I haven't ridden her or Merlin since hunting season began before Thanksgiving. They don't seem to mind. Mabel walked up with her ears watching as much as her eyes. I set the (unloaded) gun against a fence and gave her a scratch behind the ears (which I can only do when she bends her trunk neck to me). This horse would have terrified the girl who learned to ride Merlin five years ago. Together we race through the mountain and she is a dream. I think of the luck that brought her to this farm, and the owner who wasn't right for her. Horses are like dating - timing is everything.

I walked inside to a home lit only by some lamps and firelight from the stove. The dogs were happy to see me and still work-proud from their adventure bringing back lost sheep from down the road. I lifted the lid off the crock pot and the chicken stew inside was ready for some egg noodles to be added. Before I did I plopped a big ladle full over the roommate's kibble. The house went from smelling like stove and damp dog and exploded into savory herbs and broth. It didn't take long to empty my large mug of stew after a hot shower. Paradise is a low setting on a slow cooker and good soak.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Year of the Deer

Hunting has taken over this small life. I am drunk on the hope of finally getting a deer and this felt like it could be the season. Every day I am spending 2 to 4 hours outside. I have not seen any deer on my land, but have on other properties I have permission to hunt on. It's been the usual roller coaster of emotions, excitement, stories and song. Hunting is primal and glorious, but also heartbreaking and (usually for me) more calories spent than gained. The season is well past the halfway mark. I am coming to terms with how low my chances are to make 2017 the year of the deer.

I have been hunting (with varying levels of tenacity) for over five seasons and have so far not taken down a single cervine. The reasons run the gamut from buck fever, to questioning shots, to missing - but the common conclusion is I am very glad I farm meat because if I had to solely hunt for it I'd be eating a lot more potatoes.

These days I wake up, do the chores for the animals, stoves, and caffeine - then I head outside to the ridge on the far piece of my own land or get in the truck to hunt at a neighbors' farm. So far I have taken two shots at does on two different afternoons and neither were true. It's frustrating. It's exciting. Most of all it's that ancient prayer that has driven omnivore primates since the stars were young - to hunt. To come home with the gift of a hundred meals. To provide, to continue, to have a story worth telling.

Take some heart that I am not always coming back empty handed. I come home with small game nearly every time I head out. When deer hopes have passed I'll take a squirrel or rabbit, which is both food for me and my hawk. There's a gray squirrel hanging by the front door now. There are more in the freezer. I am trying to get some of the rabbits in the thickest brush by the stream, but they are so fast and clever. There is a warren under this mountain so extensive I am certain it looks like that underground city in Turkey.

So I am not coming back forever empty - but I want that deer.

I want to have 50lbs or more of clean meat in the freezer for winter. I want to have a story to share around the fire. I want to be able to feed a roomful of friends venison stew or sausage while we snuggle indoors from the snowfall on a Game Night. I want these long years of trying to accumulate in something. So far all I have collected is lessons from mistakes and a less nerves when the beasts do eventually lumber on by. You think deer are silent things, but when you are alone in the woods waiting with all your senses on overdrive they come through the forest like Godzilla. I've never tried cocaine but if it does to your senses what waiting for game does it sounds like a dangerous flirtation with a heart rate that could kill.

I am writing this while taking a break from hunting - a cold, frozen, hailish rain just pummeled the farm and left a weird little coating of tiny white baubles everywhere. It isn't snow, not really, but it might make visibility better so I am heading back out to the far, cold, rocks to perch and listen.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Slugs & Scythe

It's deer season and every moment I have to spare afternof farm chores, freelance, and 1860's-era-farmhouse care and maintenance has been sitting in the forest hoping a deer presents itself. I am out there with my shotgun, because I don't feel comfortable with longer-distance rifles on land so hilly. I won't shoot at something unless I know exactly where the bullet ends up if I miss. So it's a thermos of coffee, slugs in my pocket, and a land-me-down duck hunting camo jacket my friend Mark game me. So far no luck. But even without venison in the freezer (yet!) it is entirely lovely being in the forest without anything but my gear and a worn copy of The Hobbit. I go to my perch nestled beside an old maple and read and wait. Squirrels and rabbits scamper by but none of the cervine traffic that usually trots pass the stream has made it. I think all the local deer are bedding down and waiting for the first week of intense human activity in the woods to slow down. I am hoping my luck changes. I have a doe tag this year I can use in Washington County. If I can get any sex of deer I'll be glad to have it in my winter food storage.

So I haven't been lucky with the hunting, but I have been lucky in the form of new and old friends coming by the farm this week. Leah from Moxie Ridge joined Game Night regulars, Tara and Tyler, last night for potluck and a game of Scythe. It's based on an alternative history of 1920's eastern Europe. In the game an industrial mechanized capital city runs the lives of pastoral people. It's a trip! I did not do too well at conquering a land mass and taking over a semi-feudal people but I did have fun! We had slow roasted bbq pork burritos and Leah's farm cheese. Tara brought some amazing gingerbread and hand-whipped cream topping. We worked on taking over the world through spoonfuls of candied ginger and soft cookie crumble.

I will never forget reading in You Can Farm! by Joel Salatin the importance of staying on the farm if you want to afford to keep it. That making your own fun on your land is just as key to keeping it as paying bills on time. If you dreamed of the farm and country life, don't leave it every weekend. And it's something all four of us have in common as non-traditional people in our thirties trying to make it as entrepreneurs - all around food and computers. It was a good night of camaraderie, hard cider, and much laughter - right here at home.

Friday, November 17, 2017


Just wrapped up a delightful little project this morning, or rather the bulk of it. A reader contacted me a months ago to possibly illustrate and design a children's book for her family. After some chatting she hired me for the job and it was the much-needed scratch to take care of a mortgage payment at the time. She paid up front and left me with the task of breathing life into an old story told for generations. It was nine illustrations (1 full color and 8 inked), layout, and a printable pdf she could create at home or send to a digital printer online for published books.

It was such fun to do, and I had such pride sending off the pdf for her notes and approval. I'm sharing this because it is a happy, small, moment. I went to college for design and illustration. I just used those skills to help support this farm while giving a reader a very special gift for her family. A good morning of work. And now I am off to fly my bird before Washington County prepares for it's biggest holiday: Opening Day of Rifle Season!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Hot Lunch

I woke up at dawn to the sound of gentle rain. I knew it would be a warm start - probably in the 40s - but this afternoon the temperature was supposed to drop fast and possibly growl into snowfall. So I organized the day accordingly. Morning chores went by a good clip. The barn has hay in it and the water hauls were the normal amount. It didn’t really start raining until it was time to feed the pigs. Pigs are the most comfort-loving animals on the farm and demand a warm, wind-proof, and dry place on days like this, but all those rules go out the door when it’s meal time. They came sloshing and slogging through the wet earth to meet me for their morning squash, grain, and well water. By the time I was done I came indoors to a mug of hot coffee and a pair of muddy and tired farm dogs.

I was three clients into my to-do list and preparing for the post office when I got a message via email from my friend Patty. She was in town and wanted to know if she could drop in? I said of course and was extra grateful I had just slid a braided loaf of bread into the oven and had a beef stew simmering in the crock pot. It's rare this house is cleaned up and ready to serve guests at a moment's notice. (Well, the kind of guests who don't mind an ailing hen walking loose around their feet indoors and muddy prints on the floor.) But generally, the place was civilized. It smelled heavenly with the butter-brushed bread in the oven and savory stew in the pot.

A few weeks back my friends Wendy and Clipper came to visit and as a housewarming gift they brought three pounds of their Dexter beef. I had defrosted a pound, browned it in an oiled skillet, and added it to the local squash, potatoes, and onions in a light beef broth. It was the perfect offering for a friend coming in from the rain on a cold morning. I pulled the bread out as the dogs barked to announce her arrival. This was Hobbit-level hospitality and I was beaming.

I offered her lunch and she gladly accepted. She was working a horse farm for a bit to help a friend and was cold from the work there. So we ate and caught up. Nothing special or odd about it, just friends breaking pieces of warm bread and talking about our days. We laughed and encouraged each other, dipping crust in hot stew by the fire.

It was a humble lunch but meant the world to me. My goal with this farm was to create a place that made the people who walked inside feel special, safe, warm, and welcome. Outside was all the world was wind, rain, and gray chill but inside was friendship, steaming bread, and a meat with a first name and three farms attached to it. This is how I want to eat. In this holy way that connects people, animals, and one place. I knew the beef farmer. I knew the land the potatoes had been grown in and the haflinger team that dug them up. The squash was from the tumble by the Hob. The bread was kneaded and baked this moring between farm chores, a load of laundry, and a children's book cover design.

As we talked Muffins the chicken (who isn’t feeling well and is quite old) walked around the living room clucking softly and being ignored by the collies (who assume she’s a very slow piece of furniture). It's a messy and scrappy life, but it is mine the way a dragon's gold is hers. I swirl over it with the happiest of tired slither and smoke.

All of this is the same weight of sand I mentioned last night. The happy weight that leads to lunches on a Thursday morning warm from the rain with a hen at your feet and dogs begging for bread. And good friends that stop in and leave better than when they arrived will me up with a primal sort of home pride. A weary traveler came to my door and hospitality met them.

This was a good day for a hot lunch.

Monday & Gibson

Rare and Sharp

It hasn’t snowed yet, not really. There have been some powdered-sugar dustings. There have been some flurries between footsteps during morning chores. Every few days the wind picks up and the dial turns down low enough that it smells like snow; but it hasn’t happened yet. I so look forward to it.

When it does snow a couple thousand decisions gather together in my heart and collapse like sand in a funnel. Some of the grains are beautiful memories, accomplishments, sunsets, and soft kisses. Some of them are terrible monsters, failures, dead things, panic attacks. They add up one at a time inside me with their tiny weights. Seven years here at this farm (soon to be eight) and the grains add up to a handful. I’m still farming because most of that weight is from good decisions. It’s from good memories. There’s a black stone’s worth of bad weight in the bag and I value it just as much.

So when it snows here I will have that sand-sunk heart. And the weight of it will be just enough to slide into an old armchair with some hot coffee and watch the snow fall. As the world turns mean outside I will have the firewood burning and candles lit. I’ll have a kitchen stocked with hundreds of pounds of stocked food. I’ll have hay in my barn. I’ll have bred does and ewes. I’ll have kind dogs at my feet. I’ll have a hawk ready to hunt when the snow lays like a promise, perfect and still. I’ll have the stories in books that fill me up with adventure and joy.

And I’ll sit with that sand. All the good and bad parts swirling together into that exact moment in stolen time where new snow falls on tired land. I’ll sit with it and know I am okay with all of it. And feeling that way about your life and what brought you to the place you are at right now — that’s a lucky thing. Rare and sharp.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Downright Primal

This week on the farm has been intense and rewarding. Earlier in the week was rain, fog, and that sickly out of season weather that roars in and hits a wall hard before changing. The wet came and left and in the wake frost replaced rain drops. An arctic stream is coming through and this morning while I was outside it was twenty degrees and the grass was covered in sharp frost that crackled as I walked. If I closed my eyes it could have been an extremely crisp autumn day.

Tuesday morning I woke up early, a repeat performance of last Thursday when I needed to get to the chickens to the butcher and the truck wouldn't start. That morning it did, and the whole county could hear my celebratory whooping as the engine turned over. I loaded the birds into the travel crate I had loaned from Common Sense Farm and carried out the ducks I had penned the night before. The butchers were great and I learned that as long as your farm sells under 200,000 birds a year in New York you do not need to go through USDA butchers to sell them in the state. That's great. These birds were mostly for my freezer but when I got home I did some rounds delivering birds neighbors had bartered for. My favorite trade was a duck for some always-needed hay.

I have published six books. And while there is always a sense of accomplishment when you hold that book in your hands, till this day nothing feels as good as handing someone food I grew. It doesn't matter if it's a duck, chicken, leg of lamb or head of lettuce. When you hand it to someone there is this intense shock of reality that what I am giving them will keep them alive. That it is worth so so much to our entire body. A book may matter to them or may not. Food is religion of the body.

I also picked up the dried sheepskins that have been salted and hanging in my friend's barn. They are ready to be rolled up and mailed to the tannery. Between a freezer of birds and a pile of skins hanging to be shipped the farm is downright primal right now.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Soggy Dogs

It's a cold, rainy, evening here at the farm. All the chores are done and I am just warming up from being soaked out there while doing the evening rounds. I'm happy to say it was nice circle. The pigs have fresh, warm, bedding for the temperature drop tonight and so do the meat birds out in their tractors. The horses and sheep are eating hay in the rain and the goats are eating inside the barn doing the same. The dogs are disgustingly muddy and thrilled about it. I had to towel them down by the front door to save the semblance of cleanliness in the living room. Aya is inside on her perch after a large meal. The fire is roaring, been at it all day.

I finished packaging up three soap orders and two illustrations I will mail out this week. I got a load of laundry done. I worked on logos. I cooked a healthy meal. I scrubbed down the shower. I worked with my hands and I drank enough water. These seem like silly things to list but these days all accomplishments are tallied up at day's end. It's easy to feel anxiety about "not doing enough" when life gets stressful. When I write down all the things I actually did do, it feels a lot better.

This week will bring some true winter weather. Nights in the twenties and crispy ice mornings. I need to get in firewood still, and more hay, and earn up enough to mail out a mortgage payment soon. It's the fire in the belly to keep up the tasks, keep up on emails, keep up in general!

I sent off a revised, 11,000 word chapter to my agent yesterday. That's around 35 pages written and edited this weekend and it felt like a marathon completed. Here's to the luck of the words and publisher's whims.

Stay dry.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Feeling Good

I wanted to share this picture Leah snapped of me the other day with her phone. She sent it to me and for the first time in, well, ever - I smiled. I liked the woman in the picture. I liked her sturdy frame. I liked her full face. I liked her round nose, 5'2" height, and 183lbs of muscle and muffin top. For years I wanted to be another, better, version of myself. So many body issues and weight obsessions. But the woman I see in the picture is really smiling and has a rugged feminine spark to her. It took 35 years to get there.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Holiday Gift Vouchers!!!

I am offering my seasonal gift sale of Logos and Illustrations for Holiday Gifts! This is a way to support the farm by purchasing an emailed gift certificate (It's a printable PDF you can set inside a card for actual giving) that allows the receiver to get a custom logo or pet illustration from me. They are on sale through the weekend for half price the regular cost of a commissioned logo or illustration ($100 for a logo and $75 for a full color 9x12" pet illustration) but the catch is the receiver can't start the work until Jan 2018.

So if you want to buy one for yourself at a cut rate and use it in a few months, or you want to stock up on some unique gifts for Yuletide ahead while supporting this scrappy joint - I urge you to email me at

All purchases for gifts go towards the mortgage here. I really want to mail in a payment soon and this seems like a fine way to give that a try! 

Plans Change, Trucks Sigh.

Set the alarm so I would wake early today. I had an appointment for the meat birds I had been raising with a local processor. I know how to butcher a chicken and have done plenty, but when you have over a dozen animals to do (including some downy waterfowl) the small-scale farmstead stops being artisinal and just ill prepared. Butchering birds in any number is so much easier with heated water tanks for scalding off feathers and plucking drums that do what takes half an hour by hand. So for a few dollars a bird I can have it done fast and well and presented in nice packaging for my customers. It's a better deal for my time and money all around. And this morning I had a truckload of birds to deliver for their fate and the packaged birds to deliver via horse later on. Not a bad day of work for a small farm doing its level best to offer good food to her neighbors.

I had borrowed a large chicken cage from Common Sense Farm. They butcher on a larger scale and have the kind of low rectangular poultry crates used for just this reason - to transfer birds safely without being able to pile on top of each other or hurt each other. I called and made arrangements to pick it up last night. I had it ready and all the birds caught, loaded, and set up for transport by 8AM. I used a farm wagon to move them, the ducks, and rando roosters set for the stew pot as well all in the back of my trusty pickup truck to roar down route 22 to their final destination. I loaded up the dogs, grabbed my checkbook, and had my iPod ready to rock and then...

The truck wouldn't start.

It wasn't a surprise. The truck doesn't start when it gets wet outside. So on rainy days you need to run it every few hours so the starting wiring doesn't get moisture inside to cause a disconnection. Or that is what my mechanic told me. We have done 2 or 3 different repairs to try and stop this so far and I thought the last time we nailed it. I guess not. So I tried for an hour to get it to turn over—chickens behind me squawking and ducks quacking and dogs barking—and no luck. I called and cancelled the appointment and made another. I emailed and talked to customers. Everyone took it better than I did. I wanted to cry. I didn't, but I wanted to.

This is a small problem. Later in the morning the rain held off enough that around noon it started right up. I have wheels, all my animals are healthy, and a dry roof over my head but damn if that wasn't an emotional kick in the teeth. I had to unload all those birds and set up their tractors again. While back there I saw how the last windstorm took down some trees. I made a note of them and next time a friend with a chainsaw comes by we'll cut them for some of next year's firewood. A little silver lining in a cloudy morning, for sure.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


This is Rocco, the new Alpine buck for the does! He arrived yesterday in the back of a Jeep and has been delightful every since. He's a little firecracker and very excited to attend to the ladies, which he has demonstrated several time already. Problem is he's a bit short for my tall gals so there will be some assistance needed. To be delicate, we're going to need a goat ramp of sorts. Rocco is up to the challenge.

 He comes from Moxie Ridge here in Washington County. I got to spend a lot of time yesterday with the farmer of MR, Leah. She is trading the buck for some illustration work and we got to talking about our farms and worlds we are trying to create for ourselves. Her Creamery and cheese is impressive as hell. And we shared our stories as we took Aya out hunting and then saddled up the horses for a trail ride. I am so glad to have a pair of mounts like Mabel and Merlin. We walked through the woods telling stories and sharing some plans for a possible Youtube show. So things are cooking.