Tuesday, March 31, 2020

From Home

For so many years I have been working from home, in isolation, alone on this mountain. And that was done along side a community of people commuting to jobs, working 9-5s, and living in the splendid modernity of everyday life and conveniences. But now everyone is a homesteader. We are all trying to figure out how to feel safe and sound in our own spaces. There is no novelty or lightness in my work now. It isn't counter cultural. It is necessary, serious, and I feel like the last decade has been training for it. What a ride.

I am trying to make it. I just want to feel safe. But if I am honest, every month for the past 8 years has been this way. Every month I just want to feel safe and figure out another 4 weeks. But there was comfort knowing all of you had it figured out. Or if you didn't, you were in it with me on your own farms. Now things feel uncertain and what we do have is community. Reach out to those around you. Offer to pick up and deliver groceries. Offer to share what you have. All of us need to know we are being cared for in some way. It's what we all need.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

A Better Future

It's been a rough month for all of us. So many things are changing and growing more uncertain every day. I have been doing my best, as I know all of you are doing yours. Today I am working on making soap and transplanting seedlings. I am moving the once-fluffball chicks to a small insulated coop outside. The young goat, whom I am leaning on naming Cade, is growing strong and true. I have horses to train for the summer saddle. I have cleaning and home projects and hope for a brighter spring. I am trying like hell to make sales and orders. I am slowly making progress towards this month. Hell, I even vacuumed out my truck today while at the laundromat. There is something to be said for a clean cab and clean sheets in the same day.

The world does seem smaller. I am listening to James Kunstler's World Made By Hand series again on Audiobook, which is about my corner of New York post apocalypse. There's comfort in the book since my little town is okay, and some people are even thriving. I listen while pulling dead burdock stalks out of the ground and raking and slowly preparing my home and farm for a better future if there's one ahead, which I think there is.

More soon. But for now I wanted you to know that the seasons and farm move on. That I am healthy. That my heart is full and there is much work ahead. That I am trying to be brave but I am still very scared. That a baby goat dancing ahead of you on the trail until it is too tired to walk any more so you carry it home, is a good feeling still swirling out there in the world.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Brighter Notes

The past few days have shown me the beauty of these trying times. The way our small community has come together has been nothing short of magical. From sharing resources like lumber and hay—to picking up prescriptions and groceries for each other—we have been there. And as awful as the reasons are for having to quarantine, we are checking in constantly, making extra trips and phone calls and visits. Some of us are even lucky enough to have someone we care about to ride through this wave of news and frightening symptoms with. Not an ideal reason to cast for gratitude but it's there. I am lucky to be here with these people and these farms.

There are little shards of light poking through. This farm is making soap as fast as it can to make orders, hopefully in time for a mortgage payment before the month ends. I have tuned up my banjo and am tuning my fiddle and taking long walks with the dogs or gentle runs alone to welcome the spring. There are seedlings everywhere. (I have a feeling garden centers won't be selling six packs of vegetables this summer so start planning your gardens now from seed!) and there's a baby Nubian buckling in my arms. A little boy to finally fulfill my dream of a packing goat I had over a decade ago when a less experienced and confident woman bought her first kid at a livestock swap meat. Now I'm a woman with a gentle little baby from a farm I know well and that knows me well. It's making me smile as I type.

I hope you are all safe. I hope you are all warm. I hope you are keeping your hearts light with crafts and music and movement and nature. Life goes on even when it reminds us it sometimes doesn't. Be true and kind and wash your hands. I'll check in more often to share pictures of light and growth among the chaos.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Same Song

The past few days have been intense. I've been preparing the farm for the worst, and by that I mean gathering as much feed and dogwood and other supplies as possible in case the local feed and hardware stores have to shut down. Here in NY there are a lot of stores closing and events canceled and even in rural America everyone is staying home. Being alone makes me feel a little nervous, more so than before. If people get deep into a scarcity mindset it can get tense. I think tense can turn to bad real fast. I am not saying I am expecting Zombie hoards or End Times panic - but it may be hard to be comfortable for a while. I am trying to get ready for that.

I am mostly worried about making it through the coming months. Almost all of my income right now comes from freelance, handmade soaps, meats, and artwork. If people are not in the mindset to purchase anything, even soap, this farm won't survive this. Not when I am working to catch up on late mortgage payments already. I've been right up against it so long in a normal, thriving, economy I don't know what will happen during this Covid Scare and that scares the hell out of me. I am hoping some sort of stimulus or assistance happens for all of us struggling before the world came to a halt. But even if it does it may not be fast enough to save the farm.

So I wake up. I tend my farm. I sweep the floor and light the fires and do the work I've been paid to do. I mail and make soap. I work on writing and design. I am working on pet portraits and writing gigs and trying to earn back what I lost this month on hay delivery and truck repairs (over $700) and that is my life. Also trying to be outside more. Trying to stay away from the news and Twitter much as possible. Trying to feel safe in knowing right now this farm is set for a while.

If you want to order anything from me you can contact me on Instagram, Twitter, or email. MY email is dogsinourparks at gmail dot com. I hope you are all safe. I hope we get through this together. This month started on such a safe note and I thought things would only get better. Now we are all skating on thin ice.

Be kind. Help who you can. Be brave. Wash your hands.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Gibson's Tenth Birthday!

Happy 10th Birthday to Redtop Gibson! A decade together and we have never spent one night apart, not once, your whole life. May we always be side by side. Stay with me, my good boy. I love you more than you'll ever know or need to know.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Cold Antler and Covid

I wasn't nervous about this pandemic until last night. In fact I've been happily avoiding the fervor and believing people were overreacting here in the US. But last night on Twitter, reading though the NBA cancelling their season and about the travel bans to Europe, things felt real and the weight fell hard.

As someone who has basically lived in a self-imposed quarantine for the past 10 years; it isn't the illness that has me worried - it's the people worrying about it.

People in a panic about money will effect this farm. People that are scared about work, child care, or their stocks don't go out of their way to buy goat milk soap in bulk or drawings of pets. They aren't thinking about summer pork or a fun trip upstate to learn archery. Everyone is closing in on their own lives and it's been really effecting small businesses. Yesterday was my first sale in five days. Without a constant hustle towards my bank account this farm doesn't stand a chance so I am doing what I always do - trying like hell.

Try like hell and prepare. I went out and bought 350+ pounds of feed this morning. I also bought two large bags of dog and cat food. I emailed a supplier about delivering more hay. This wasn't because I was worried we'd all be sick and stuck in our homes. It was because I don't know when or how I'll be able to access feed close to the farm if people dive into scarcity thinking and farmers start hoarding feed like I just did.

I don't know if I'm overreacting or not, but I do feel better knowing it is here.

I do know I have food, water, and a roof over my head. I do know I *generally* feel healthy. It's easy to read about diseases and symptoms in a small house all morning and convince yourself (or allow my anxiety to convince myself) that maybe my chest does hurt? Maybe I could cough? I ended up going on a walk outside in the sunshine just to clear my head and get away from this onslaught of bad news. I felt a lot better.

I do have the advantage of working from home. I am lucky I have a set of design and illustration skills I can offer. All I can do to fight my own fear is keep my head down and work. Yesterday I started raking and cleaning out garden beds. Today I will plant kale and onion seedlings. I am making soap after I publish this and I already mailed out art and soap orders this morning at the post office. My work is going on as it has, but that doesn't mean it will keep coming in. Not if I don't stay hyper focused on getting the word out about my business and this farm.

I sold five bars of soap this morning. So that's something. That will cover a third of my phone/internet bill. Maybe one of you will get a pet sketch or logo. that could kick in towards that or even cover some of the new truck repairs done on the brake-lines (I've paid off $263 of that $500 bill so far!). Maybe one of you will plan a fall trip here to learn to play the dulcimer or fiddle? That could save the week. Maybe you'll be temped to stay home and read and download a ebook I wrote. That all keep this small homestead in your thoughts. All of this helps! Whatever you are doing to support this place in these more-than-usually turbulent times, I appreciate it!

Now, back to work. I have soap to make and hopes to send into the sky.

Wash your hands and be kind.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Shovel and hoe

I forgot to turn off the comments yesterday when I posted that. I check the "awaiting moderation" tab this morning expecting the worst. What I found was nothing but kindness. Thank you. I read them and I thank you. I did turn the comments back off because they are a dangerous thing an earlier version of me needed for validation. Now I know the price of that validation is people using it as a free punching bag, and having to feel that sinking feeling every day to moderate comments isn't a fair trade. No one should be able to punch you in the stomach on your way to get a bowl of ice cream, but that's the internet.

The pullets are three times the size of their baby selves. I am repotting the first lettuce and pea starts I planted way to early just to enjoy the bits of green they offer. Today I will start cleaning out the raised beds and moving some of the defrosted compost into them. Maybe I can start moving seedlings in there early if I create a dome of plastic poly around them? Mini green houses to bring the first beautiful fresh salads to this farm? Just thinking about it makes me want to refresh my coffee and get outside with my shovel and hoe.

A lot of friends online are posting kidding and lambing pictures. I love to see them, but it still fills me with a bittersweet envy. There was a time that every piece of me belonged to this farm. I was fine with waking up in the dark to milk goats, wash pails and filter milk, make bread and cheese, carry buckets and move chicken tractors and then maybe squeeze in a ride or hunt with just enough time to do it again. I needed that. I devoured up that life. But now I want small parts of myself for others. To be more helpful and available for friends. For off-farm work and freelance so I can stay here. For dating and romance. And for myself, too. Time to walk in the woods and explore and run and move my body and swim in rivers, not for a 20 minute dip but for hours.

Today I will continue my daily groundwork with the horses. I'll start prepping that first raised bed. I'll walk the dogs. I'll work on art for clients and I'll write and do the normal chores. But I hope to take time to also remember your kindness. And to appreciate the kids and lambs out there others are raising. And to do the best by my own little sounder of pigs, flock of chickens, horses, hawk and fluffy baby chicks inside.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Today while shaking out rugs

When I was studying Zen Buddhism in my twenties I found myself at a small rural temple in the mountains of western North Carolina. Sometimes after a meditation session students could ask the monk who ran the temple questions about our practice. Once a fellow lay practitioner asked about dealing with bad news? How to find peace in trying times?

Our teacher told us a story about a monk she knew who was diagnosed with cancer. How he was asked the same question. How he continued to practice Zen knowing he was dying, and that a life of seeking enlightenment had thrown him this fate. He answered with one sentence.

“The cancer wants to live, too.”

I can count on my hands the times I’ve heard something that made me shake. This was one of them. My entire life no one had ever come to the defense of cancer. It was the one thing everyone agreed was bad. I had run in races to beat cancer. I had lost family and friends to cancer. I knew the pain and horror cancer riddled the world with, and here I was being told about a man who found compassion for the disease that was killing him.

I think about this story more these days. I had forgotten it for a long while.

Today while shaking out rugs in the muddy front lawn a small SUV pulled up. It had professional stickers on the doors, NY STATE AG & MARKETS. My stomach dropped. I knew what this was. A few weeks ago the State Police were here along with Washington County animal control. They were sent because of complaints filed by a person from Vermont who was reporting practices they read about on my blog they felt were bad.

The visit with the police and animal control went well. They were both kind and I always oblige any requests to see my animals, their housing, bodies, food and water, etc. The officers saw no issue with my animals or my farm. They were kind and appreciated my cooperation. I thought I was done with surprise inspections. I was not. Here was another agency. Also here because of an online complaint about my farm.

I was told by the folks in the car they were here on a Swine Feeder Check. That they had gotten complaints and wanted to talk with me and inspect my herd and their housing/facilities. I had to physically control my shaking. I was terrified.

I wasn’t terrified about my animals or their care. I was terrified of the thing I’ve been terrified about my entire life: getting in trouble for something I didn’t realize I was doing wrong. Having a government agency show up unannounced because I write books and a blog was reason enough to be shaken up, but I wasn’t scare of the people with clipboards. I was terrified of the people who sent them. And this was happening now. And this was real. And this was because I choose to share my life online as a public figure.

I put the dogs inside. I talked with the experts. I had to get myself together for the entire farm.

I showed them the barn where the pigs spend most of their time. When I opened the door there stood my two largest males, Gunther and Garth. They were standing under the light I had set up in the rafters, like a spotlight. They stood on a pile of fresh hay. My barn is far from magazine-spread ready but even in this muddiest and most disgusting time of the year my pigs were clean, dry and comfortable. Their water was fresh and crystal clear. They were healthy and hail and walked in and out of their nesting area to watch the man with the white beard and the woman with glasses and a clipboard.

The inspectors took photos and asked questions. I answered everything and explained how this small farm raises a few pigs a year and sometimes breeds them but usually I buy in feeder piglets to raise for my small CSA. They explained what was going on in the state and why they do inspections like this. They were worried I was feeding my pigs garbage because that is what the complaint had told them. My pigs do get kitchen scraps from my farm and baked goods, but I have never in my entire life fed a pig garbage. And there was zero trace of garbage in their barn or paddock. They explained all was okay here and I exhaled but remained tense as a hawk on a wire. I hope I wasn’t rude to them.

They shared pamphlets and information about diseases that could really hurt farmers and pigs. They were kind and listened to me. Over their long visit I started to realize how helpful they were to agriculture in general. What they were trying to avoid and prevent. At no time did I feel scared of them, but I did find myself sharing how scared I was of the people that kept reporting me. They listened.

I know my farm is scrappy, but I am proud of the animals I raise and the life they live. Yet I was still brought to tears a few times. I explained how scary it’s been these past few weeks. How trolls online who never met me or my farm have been sending officers and agencies here, all unannounced. I explained that I was a public figure sharing books and my blog for years, and I have to deal with all sorts of anonymous harassment. They were professional and compassionate. They told me that my farm was doing everything right. They complimented my animals, asked questions about falconry, and left me with helpful information and their contact numbers. When they pulled away I felt like I made two new friends.

I don’t know if your state’s Ag Market people are as good at therapy as New York’s but they might be? Offer to let them inspect your pigs. It’s nice.

Then they pulled away with a wave. I stood there alone. My dogs watching me from the front window. I collected the rugs I was dusting and took them inside.

I felt this anger fill me. I felt my heart race. I knew it was the start of a panic attack. I knew the idea that, once again, strangers were following my life so close they were making sure government agencies inspected my five pigs in hopes I was caught doing something wrong. I felt that anger come into me hard and I saw it. I watched it burn. I came inside and ranted on Twitter because I wanted a witness. And then I realized I needed to stop and process what was actually happening. I needed to sit with this feeling.

I ran for a few miles without music.
I took a long hot shower.
I meditated as I was taught.
Here’s what I decided:

I need to be more compassionate towards the people who dislike me because they are me. We are exactly the same. We are people drawn to the freedom and idealism of homesteading. We are people who love animals. We are fiercely independent, strong minded, driven people who have used one farm to distract themselves from much harder issues in our lives.

I needed this farm like a blood transfusion. I needed something pure and wholesome to flood all the poisoned parts of me. I spent ten years distracted by every aspect of this farm; the animals, the plants, the hobbies, the dream… because I was so scared of dealing with myself. Inside I was a woman terrified to come out as gay. I had so many body issues, yo-yo diets, dysmorphia and disorders. I have a complicated family dynamic. I have dealt with self hate so perfectly distilled there was nothing, no comment or snark site, that could say anything about me I hadn’t said to myself a thousand times over. How does that song go? “Baby I could build a castle out of all the bricks they threw at me.” Only I was throwing most of the bricks. I had built the castle I call Cold Antler Farm out of my own disdain for me. You guys, you were mortar.

So if you are reading this as someone who hates me; I see you. I see you and am grateful for you. Because of my fear of you, because of your constant calls to offices and agencies the animals of this farm are never without the most pedantic care. The kind of care that I am 30 minutes late to any dinner or hang out to make sure everyone has their water topped off an clean bedding before I dare leave this place alone. Because of you I have professionals come to this farm, look me in the eye, and tell me I am doing the right thing and I am okay. Because of you I feel paid attention to. I feel like I matter. I feel seen. I wish it was on kinder terms but I understand what you need from me.

You need me to be wrong. You need this place to be a sham. You need my story to be broken, a lie, a scam. Maybe because you tried to have a farm and life hurt you or ruined that chance? Maybe you tried and failed? Maybe you were too scared to try? Maybe circumstance or choices took away your dream? Maybe you feel sad or isolated? Maybe everything about Cold Antler Farm makes the quiet parts of you shake? I hit a nerve. I made you throw bricks.

I am sorry I caused this pain and anger in you. I am sorry I let you down. I am sorry I am not someone you want to forgive or understand. I don’t know the story you tell about me. I don’t know what your truth is. I do know that I see you, and I appreciate you, and I think about you with kindness.

I hope you are safe, warm, and well fed. I hope you are fueled with meaning and justice seeking by what I write that you hate. I hope that you have found community in others that dislike me. I hope that people who you post about me with ask about your family, your kids, your life? I hope that you have discovered a family and support online like I have. I hope that even if your idea of Cold Antler Farm is a nightmare that it helps sooth the scared parts of you. That distracting yourself from your own life by calling some pig division of NY State gave your day a jolt. I hope that you told your friends about it and they congratulated you for fighting for your beliefs. I hope your are as active and helpful to your own communities and friends offline. I hope that hating me is good.

Thank you for caring so much about my farm. Thank you for caring about my animals. Thank you for going out of your way to make sure all is well here, and that my practices are good. Thank you for keeping me vigilant. Thank you for seeing me.

Thank you for teaching me that the thing I think only wants to hurt me, only wants meaning and purpose, too.
That we are the same.
That we are trying to be good and right.
That thinking of you as my enemy is only going to hurt me.

I see you.
I love you.

I only want you to live, too.

Monday, March 9, 2020

And that your coffee is hot.

Good morning from the warmest day of spring Yet! Despite the rough start to this month I have to confess, this day has my mood and spirits so high I am feeling butterflies in my stomach; the kind of joy that and anticipation that fueled the earliest days of this farm! I woke up in bed beside my two beautiful collies and walked outside to morning chores in a light sweatshirt. The geese and chickens are laying eggs and the first shoots of green life are poking from the earth. Hoo, what a sight! I sang while carrying buckets of water and bags of feed and watched the pigs and horses eat their breakfasts with wagging tails. Everyone seems happier today. I have good reason to be.

This farm is always on the edge. You know that. But last month I was able to pull it off at the last minute and entirely because of luck, a surge in last minute sales, kindness, comments, support and letters. And I mean actual letters in my mailbox sending encouragement and love. And I needed it because a few days after the bank cashed that Hail Mary mortgage check the truck's brakes died and so I ended up writing a check for over $500 to my mechanic to have Taylor back in working order. I smiled writing that check though. As bad as the news was, I had a little over $500 in my account. I had the money to repair her and have wheels again on the farm at the earliest point in the month after all those bills go out. That's a small miracle! And while my bank account is low again, it will be built up over the month with sales and freelance, soap making and art promotion, maybe even the rare speaking event or big article for a magazine. But I will get there. Or at least on this sunny morning I feel like I will.

Which is the biggest gift this farm has given me. As hard as it has been, to know that I have consistently found a way to stay here has been a well of strength and confidence I cannot help but drink from when scared. That is not a boast of ego or solo achievement. IT's the opposite. This farm only exists and continues to because people want to see that happen. They support the farm in a million different ways, from checking my books out of the library or clicking on old youtube tutorials or buying soap or simply reading this. And while that also has it's ups and downs, mostly the internet has been kind and supportive and consistently reading about this scrappy freehold tucked into a mountain. To which I am grateful. Very, very, much so.

So today, after chores I took some time to enjoy this small life with music and mindful sipping of blueberry coffee (which reminds me of Sandpoint, Idaho so so much!) and with that safe and lovely knowledge that every animal in my care is fed and well, I poured a steaming mug of that magical brew into a diner mug, tuned my banjo, and played a small concert of old time tunes to my chicks in the living room. Seedlings of snap peas and lettuce grew in the morning sunlight beside us. The stove behind me, unlit. To know I didn't need a morning fire made the music all the brighter and carrying more promise of the day ahead. I have hopes to take Friday on a local hike a few minutes away from the farm. I'll go after I've done some customer work and I look forward to moving hiking boots on green moss surrounded by melting snow with the same joy I had signing that check. Because what I find the most true joy in isn't the easy things. It's not the banjo music and relaxing moments at all. My joy comes from doing something hard a step at a time and being able to still go home. A hike up a steep mountain path. The ability to cover the cost of a truck repair. Even if both take nearly all I have to offer in energy or money, they can be done. And that is what I feel today. Capable of going forward. Eager to do the work. Hopeful my songs will continue to change for brighter mornings.

And all with a hot mug of coffee?! Is this HEAVEN?


After that bit of church, I started my morning with my daily list. I will start to earn the money that replaces the truck costs, that starts saving for the next mortgage payment, that buys lambs and pasture seeding and chicken feed. And on that list are the small daily goals—from income to work to self care— and every time I check an item off I feel a little safer in this rare sunlight.

So am I okay? Yes. Meaning I don't know how or where or when I'll make this month's bills but that is every month for the past 8 years and I am still here. And all I can do today is keep at my list of work, hope for more sales and readers, and take time to sit quietly and stretch my cold winter body and move in the sunlight that is finally returning to my mountain.

Things are feeling better. I hope with all my heart I retain the energy and love and beginner's mind this farm has given me. I hope your spring is warm with banjo strumming and seedlings and small animals that remind us how new every day can feel.

And that your coffee is hot.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020


February was something to get through. For the shortest month of the year, it felt like an uphill hike every single day. But I got through it. Thanks to a Hail Mary surge in sales, kindness, support, luck and friends willing to drive me around while my truck was in the shop I have gotten myself and the farm through the second month of the year.

I have mailed in a house payment and the bank cashed it. Which means this farm is technically okay for another few weeks and I am on my way towards another payment. Not quite, but on my way. This is still not exactly solvent but compared to my life, health, and story this time last month it is REMARKABLY better. I have six little pullet chicks in the house! I tuned my banjo this morning and was playing a favorite waltz in double c tuning! It's a bright morning after a very dark two weeks.

I am starting to plan for lambs and a goat kid. I am starting to figure out the gardens and kailyard and possibly a pumpkin patch. I have butchers to call and piglets to purchase and fences to mend and a farm that needs love and sunlight. I am so looking at this month of March with more hope and joy. I am excited for spring! (Still hate April) But excited for SPRING!!!