Wednesday, October 31, 2018

On The Hunt!

I released Aya last Thursday south of Cambridge. I pulled over near state game lands, far from anyone's farm, in a tucked in corner of the Battenkill River near a covered bridge. If my bird was Thomas Kinkade, she would have plotzed. She was over 1400 grams and without any anklets or leather attached to her for the first time in nearly free years. She flew up into the trees and took a perch and I waved goodbye and thanked her before driving home. It was sad and lovely. That's what any wild-caught bird could want: three years of safe, professional, training before heading out into the job market. I wish her nothing but luck.

Now, time for a new bird!

Yesterday I spent about five hours in my truck, and the vehicles of friends, driving around Washington County looking for my next hunting partner. It's trapping season until January for Falconers, so all of us without birds (or trying to help others find theirs) get into our cars and load up with traps, coffee, binoculars, gear, more coffee, stories, and coffee. It's possibly one of my favorite parts of this sport: trapping. You wake up with this insane hope to pull a dragon out of the sky, and if you use the skills and mentors you have collected: it works.

Hawks are trapped humanely with a live lure. Basically: a small mammal in a wire dome cage covered in tiny nooses. When the hawk sees the critter it lands on the wire cage and its talons get caught in the noose. As a falconer you only drop such a trap right below a hunting hawk in a tree or on a telephone wire and watch that trap carefully. You do not leave it out of your sights. And soon as the bird lands on it you are right there to wrap it gently in a towel and remove the ties from the talons. the bird is uncomfortable for about 3 minutes tops, and then safely hooded to stop it from panicking and taken right to a falconer's home to be outfitted with anklets, jesses, a leash, bells, and a well-fit hood.  If you want to see this entire trapping and securing process there are thousands of Youtube videos, this one was especially good at explaining it all.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Flying Free

My apologies for not updating recently! Things here have been in full pre-winter preparation mode. Getting firewood stacked, finding a new source for hay delivery (Common Sense Farm doesn't have enough to sell this season), and trying to stay on top of chores, bills, and work. October has been a whirlwind of both wonder and anxiety. The wonder of fall, guests from out of the country, logging with the horse, foliage, hunting, and the joy of my favorite month but also all the last-minute panic of getting ready for winter. So far there's a cord and a half of firewood stacked, and another cord and a half paid for and awaiting delivery! I am still behind on the mortgage but made a payment last week and will work hard as I can towards making another one soon as possible. There are some hiccups in the way to juggle - a root canal, truck repairs for a valve because of an oil leak, new winter tires, and the dogs' annual checkups - but those things will all get done soon as I can. I need to remember that a few weeks ago I had no firewood and a broken stove and now I am writing from a warm house on a rainy cold day, with most of my wood bought and half of it stacked and stored and functioning stove! Huzzah!

Besides the happy struggle I have been really enjoying working with Aya this fall. She's been such an amazing hunter and true partner in the field. But I do think it is time to release her back into the wild well before snowfly and start with a brand new hawk when I can. She's been with me a few years now and it's time for her to be back into the local breeding population. It'll be sad but to see her go but I am proud of her hunting, health, and the work we did together.

I hope all of you in colder places are preparing for winter best you can, excited for white tails and hunting stories, that first snowfall, and the happy hibernation we may hopefully all safely get to the other side of.  This year without the goats and breeding flock will be easier - both for chores and for the pocketbook, I am using half the hay I used to. The lambs go to the butcher in December. The pigs, later in the winter or spring. The farm goes on regardless. This is our good work.

Here's to free birds, gentle winters, and luck finding us all.

Monday, October 15, 2018

It's a Stay Comfy Kinda Day...

First Hawk Hunt of the Fall!

It's a rainy Monday morning and I am in a great mood! Chores are done, the coffee is hot, and I'm about to slip into a hot shower and get some groceries for my guest staying a few days. Having people visit the farm (and those of you doing this a while can understand) and seeing it through their eyes is such a needed thing. It doesn't matter how they see it. My guests can be in love with morning pony rides and swimming in the river on summer days or hating the heat and wishing they just had Air Conditioning. Love it or leave it, you get a new perspective. But having guests come in October is somewhat cheating. Everything is in full color right now - maples and oaks and birches - all swirling with leaves. I have logging work to do with Merlin and the goal of firewood to make. I have a house with good farmed meats, eggs, and just-made soaps to offer in a household with hot water and kind dogs. These are simple things but I can't imagine not loving a fall visit to a farm.

I am hoping to take my friend Ivy out hawking tomorrow, if the bird and weather agree. She's in the country (usually splits her time between England and Germany) for a meeting and some work stuff near me in Manchester Vermont. I think hawking in the woods will be a fine introduction to Cold Antler life! It'll also be Aya's first hunt of the fall since all our work so far has been based around handing, hood training, flights on a creance, and lure baiting. The same work you do with a just-acquired wild bird is repeated (at least by me it is) every late summer into fall. And now on a crisp morning I hope to fly my bird out and about if she's at the right weight. Fingers crossed!

P.S. If you don't follow me on Twitter (and you shouldn't if you just want farm updates) you haven't heard me rave about The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix. It is so good. If you like family drama, light scares, a spooky old house, and a touching story - check it out. I watched the ENTIRE series in two days this past weekend!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Logging With Merlin

I came across a bit of good luck! My neighbor Jared, who lives a few miles away from Cold Antler Farm, said I was welcome to pull out some of the ash he cut this last February to use for firewood. Jared logs with horses and I had emailed him a few weeks ago to ask if he wanted to barter firewood for a logo for his horse-drawn business. (Turns out but he didn't have the time or size wood I needed.) But he did offer to let me take some of the downed, dry, logs! Jared's family used to own my farm and they still own the land around it. Some days he drives his gorgeous team of Percherons up the road past my house to train them, cut timber, and haul it out. So today I hitched up Merlin to his trusty leather harness and we made three trips into the woods next to my farm.

I was using the road he made with his team, happy at the thought of another modern working animal using the road. This was a wild road. A place for time travel. Me and my pony walked up it, his thick black tail swishing with our stride. It was a gorgeous fall day and I tried to do something I have been forgetting to do amidst all the stress of winter prep: stop and enjoy myself.

I took a moment on the trail to simply admire him. This pony, born across an ocean and here a few decades later helping his Hobbit move some logs. For a horse in his early twenties he was moving fast and even trotting along with the logs. He seemed to be enjoying the work of it. There was no bad flies, the weather brisk, the woods new and alive. I was reminded how good it felt to do this: to go from harnessing to commands in the forest. I let myself forget how much I adore driving this beast.

We started with a lighter load of small trees and then worked up to two hefty logs. All brought to the driveway where I'll get a friend with a chainsaw they can cut them into rounds for splitting. Or maybe I'll invest in a tough sawzall or electric chainsaw at some point? I think I can use my hand saw on the smaller ones myself. I'll figure it out, the promise was getting them here in the first place!

So on this fine Sunday I worked my pony and was reminded of the moments I'm trying to keep, but also trying not to get lost in all that when life throws these perfect little chances to be aware how lucky you are just to try. 

I didn't make my goal of making the last summer mortgage payment by the 15th. I don't have a cord and a half of wood stacked yet. But I am a little closer to both of those goals. I have a working wood stove and a cord stacked - that's not nothing. And I bet Merlin and I hauled enough wood for a few nights comfort.  I am waiting for some soap and art sales people said they would pay for to ping in via email. I am still grateful for this magical time I get to be a single woman hauling logs out of a forest path with a pony and getting paid with tech magical banking.

I won the dice roll on timing, for certain.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Too Late

I remember the first time I ever went on a trail ride. It changed everything. It gave me the strength to make life decisions I didn't realize I could make. It was the day I accepted my life wasn't about control, but resourcefulness and reaction. Here's that story.

I had been on trail rides before. The kind where you rent a horse at a dude ranch or resort. I'd even upped that game a little and ridden across farmland with my riding instructor at the barn I took lessons at. But all of those experiences were different. All those previous rides included signing waivers and the watchful eye of professionals. They also involved someone else's horse. I was paying for a taste of an experience I so desperately wanted: to ride and explore the world on horseback with my own mount. The kind of life I read about in fantasy novels and history books.

Those rides taught me a lot but were a totally different from that spring day in 2012 when things changed. Patty Wesner offered to trailer Merlin from the stables he was being boarded at to her farm. There she and I would tack up our horses and go for a ride across her land and a neighbor's. Seems simple right? Nothing fancy. But it wasn't simple. This ride was on private land with a horse I was planning on owning. There wasn't a professional in earshot. We were on our own, in the wild, and all the lessons and dreaming seemed to lead up to this moment. What was it going to be? Two women galloping across the landscape like the opening credits of a movie? Or me strapped into a gurney as the helicopter whisks me away to ICU?

The ride itself was a calm walk and trot. No one got thrown off their horse and the spring weather was overcast but pleasant. I honestly don't remember much about it other than hoping I got home to Patty's farm in one piece. What I do remember as clearly as ten minutes ago was the moment I got on my horse and we started walking down her driveway...

So much anxiety lead up to actually getting into the saddle. This was a big step for me. The entire time I was tacking up Merlin (in all English gear, that was what I knew best) I was clammy. There's a real fear that sets in the first time you venture outside your comfort zone, and I wasn't sure I was good enough to ride beside Patty and Steele. And all of those nerves contorted and swirled inside me. I remember shaking as I lifted myself into the loaned dressage saddle. And then something happened:

It was too late.

From the moment I sat into that saddle and clicked to Merlin to walk and follow Steele, it was too late. I was on a horse. The ride had started. Anything that happened from that first step on was happening during the trail ride I had agreed to go on. All the nerves slid off me like a wet raincoat dumped in a hallway. My brain and body had no use for them. I had a job: to guide this horse well and return to this driveway. There wasn't any use for anxiety here. I had none.

We rode and returned and it was lovely, but it was the click of my brain from anxiety to action that taught me I could do this. I could quit my job. I could someday come out of the closet. I could follow this insane dream... I could do it because the ramping up to the action is the hard part. It is always the hard part - but once I made the leap my brain was just in problem solving mode.  I knew that if I could be brave my mind would follow and lead me safely home. I'd be okay. I'd always be okay because while my fear is a guide, it isn't my leader. It always takes the back seat to decision.

Sometimes being too late is a good thing. 

Sunday, October 7, 2018


It is a rainy fall day here and I am catching up on as much client work as I can handle. Yesterday was much of the same. After Friday's adventures hiking up Mount Antone in Vermont and then riding Mabel with Patty and her mare Ruby, it was time to get to work. It's been overcast and raining ever since that glorious day which has made it a lot easier to settle in with drawings and designs.

There isn't much new to report farm wise other than my wood supply has made it to one full cord stacked for winter! Two more (minimum) to find. It's tough to get them at the size and dryness I need and get them delivered but not too tough. But that one cord is here and the wood stove seems to be mostly working and that is a heck of a thing in itself. Slowly things are feeling a little safer around these parts. My goal is another half cord stacked by mid month.

This weirdly-warm weather has come sulking in like a wet cat and I'm okay with it. Days in the sixties and seventies coming and we have not had a single hard frost yet. This was the gossip at the deli counter at Yushak's Store this morning in Shushan. Everyone thinks it's odd it hasn't been very cold but I am silently grateful I'm not using firewood I don't have yet. If I'm not heating my home into mid November I will be thrilled.

My focus these days is on getting ready for Falconry season with Aya, getting her down to flying weight safely and trained to fly free again soon as possible. I look forward to those days when the leaves are off all the branches and the shrubs are thinner on the ground so hunting is easier for her. Daylight seems to flirt to me these days are coming, it's nearly dark here on the eastern side of the mountain by 6:30PM.

The butternut squash harvest has been wonderful and some of the pie pumpkins are so adorable they seem fake. Pretty happy with the haul of them and the new variety (to me) the buttercups. Roasted squash is a regular menu item. I'm looking for a good squash soup recipe, too!

The pigs and lambs seem content as ever, but I think I'll be worming them all again this week to be on the safe side. The pigs and lambs seem slow to grow and while active and healthy, I'd like to see them all a little thicker.

Right now my mind is mostly on hunting, making sales, paying bills, and stacking firewood. I want another mortgage payment out soon as possible and to start saving for this blasted root canal I need before Yuletide. It'll be the third one in a row in this upper left region of my face. I just can't justify doing it right now, but will soon as I figure things out. But next: more firewood and a mortgage payment - which will be my goal every single month this fall. They are the stairs towards safety.

Friday, October 5, 2018

A Little Better

The house smells like wood smoke and so do I. I just lit a fire in the stove and while playing with the flue rigging smoke got into my face and hair; adding the aroma of a campfire to the sweat and horse perfume I am certain the dogs could already pick up on. It has been a day of hiking and horses and now the lows are going to reach the thirties tonight and so there's a fire. A few weeks ago the stove was out of service and there was no wood here yet, but now things are a little better.

 This morning I knew the news would be hard and scary - so I took the day off of emails and freelance work. A few days of rain in the forecast will make sure I spend the weekend working, but today was beautiful and bright and what is the point of being self employed if you don't get to pick your vacation time or mental health days. So instead of following Twitter news about politics I headed back to Merck Forest to hike up to Mount Antone. I planned the summit hike to take the same amount of time it took before, about four hours. But it took us two and a half instead. I felt like I was flying up those switchbacks and Friday had more energy than ever before. A few months ago we needed to stop and take breaks every quarter mile and my body ached, but now things are a little better.

When I got home from the Vermont mountains I went riding on my own. I tacked up my mare and my friend Patty trailered hers over to join us. She rode her Ruby and I was on my Mabel. Together we explored the trails and fields my neighbor Tucker lets me share for horses and hunting. Mabel was a little punchy and she wasn't thrilled leaving Merlin behind. At a few moments she crow hopped and once she wanted to bolt towards home but I was able to stay calm and control her. What could have been a scary ride was cushioned by the insurance of experience. A few years ago a 16h horse throwing attitude would have me jumping out of the saddle afraid, but now things are a little better.

I have shotgun recoil bruises on my shoulder. After days of trekking through the woods on morning hunts with no luck I finally came home with a full game bag. Into the freezer went three squirrels and a rabbit, food for my hawk who is almost ready to hunt beside me again. The hiking has also made time hunting go easier,  my body is in better shape to move fast and erratically through the woods when it needs to. I am rarely out of breath like I was last season. Running is wonderful but hiking gets you into the kind of shape a stalking hunter needs. I am grateful to the animals that are becoming winter food stores for my bird. A lifetime ago there was no notion of hunting besides a trained hawk as snow starts to welcome winter, but now things are a little better.

We spend so much time comparing ourselves to others. I know I do. But what a foolish way for any of us to judge our happiness. There are so many better businesses, writers, homesteads, hikers, riders, and hunters than me. Countless more attractive, intelligent, and experienced people. I know that. I can spend thirty seconds on Instagram and confirm it. But you know what? When I compare myself today to who I was a few weeks, months, years, or a lifetime earlier.... I am a little better. And I am going to give myself the kindness tonight to be proud of that. I hope you will do the same for yourselves.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Stove Is (Mostly) Repaired!

Happy to report that the wood stove here is mostly repaired! I lit a fire in it yesterday and so far so good! It took three people a few weeks to get through it all but thanks to my friends Patty and Tyler (and their tools and advice) it got done! I needed their helpt to figure out how to remove the broken, warped, old pieces inside but once that was accomplished I was able to do most of the actual repairs and assembling of the stove myself. I'm pretty proud of that! And so grateful for the helpers in my life as they are what really keep this farm moving.

So what happened was this: the stove needed a new back wall, or rather, covering over the back wall to be specific. This is more complicated than it sounds. The back wall has a door for the flue that leads up into the chimney. It has moving parts like the iron flap that opens and closes to regulate airflow, the rod that moves that flap, and the bolts and nuts that keep it all in place. This is what was in need of repair.

The old back piece had warped and melted from seven years of use. The warping made the outside stove walls vulnerable and could really weaken the structural integrity. To get to it I needed to take out the inner walls, the stove bricks, and learn now expert tool wielders like Patty and Tyler used metal cutting equipment and saws to get that old broken piece out! While they helped with that advanced task I used steel wool to remove old rust. I replaced the gasket ropes, cleaned the glass, and bought new bricks to line the inside. I am hoping my work is okay and so far the one fire I did light worked, but I want to have a friend with a more engineering mind check out the changes I made (like three larger bricks instead of four smaller ones) and my rigging of some interior bolts. But all said: I have fire. I have heat! I am one step closer to my goals going into winter!