Monday, August 24, 2020

Rolling With It

It’s going to hit near 90 degrees today, but with a hay delivery around dusk and the first birch leaves falling off the trees… It feels like the start of fall. I know I keep writing about that, but weather really is the biggest news around here. Yesterday was so humid and after my walk with the dogs I took Gibson over to the river to cool off. If I took a picture of the families with beach chairs and swim suits you would swear it was a 4th of July picnic, but like I said, that tired light doesn’t lie. The sun is growing weary and even these last throes at hot days feel half-hearted. But I swam with my old boy and fetched sticks and it felt good, like a last hurrah of August. What a thing!

Hoping to trap a hawk this September and get started with a new bird. I so miss having one to train and hunt beside. This time of year is all about preparing for it and all of that work is almost done. The equipment is ready. The hawk trap and bait ready to set. The mews painted and cleaned and the weathering yard prepped. The freezer is loaded with hawk food and my glove will be oiled tonight and all I need is a bird to go with it! Exciting!

I am feeling good this morning! Like good things are on the way. I don’t know what or how, but my heart just simply feels lighter. There is no special event planned for today. I am sitting in the living room now waiting for some artwork I painted to dry so I can ink it after some outside work. I have a small pile of soap orders to mail. Besides another small delivery of 25 bales of hay I have no plans beyond a trip to the post office. But something about the morning light and how the trees are mostly all still green and the heat of the grass under my bare feet has me smiling. Like things are going to be okay.

So I’m rolling with it. Feeling positive about the day ahead. Feeling like good things are coming my way. Which I will prove in moments by pouring myself another cup of coffee and heading outside to grain the fat happy ewes on the hill with that silly goat. And feel glad that I have working limbs and eyes and a heart to do so, and let that be a morning prayer in motion that carries me through the rest of the day I am lucky to have.

Saturday, August 22, 2020


One of the things I am most grateful for about being a homesteader right now, is winter prep. The work of hay and firewood, saving money and stocking up on winter goods is a timeless and necessary tradition. I know it’s the 21st century. I know that I can order a can of crushed tomatoes on Amazon and get it shipped to my door in days. But the work of growing tomatoes here, harvesting, preparing them, and setting up in the freezer in marked bags feels like panning for gold. It feels like the entire process is safe, because it is mine, done here, and stays here. There is nothing wrong with cans of tomatoes from the store in your larder. Nothing at all! But to be making lists, stacking bales, ordering firewood, and planning sacks of flour for winter loafs is the distraction that has grounded me and became a salve for uncertainty.

So many people are learning to make this winter one to prepare for. Between the pandemic, jobs lost, climate change, and winter storms - all certainly going to complicate things. But here at Cold Antler Farm, I’ve been dancing with uncertainty since 2012 when I left the office and became a full time freelancing farmer. And if you’ve read along that whole time you know how hard and long that road has been at times, how scary, how lonely…

But I made it through. And I’m heading into this winter with some of the earliest prep and the lightest heart I’ve had in years - despite the pandemic and continued uncertainty. Some of that is falling in love and knowing I won’t be going through it all alone again. But mostly it’s the ten years already passed, all of it. The good, the bad, the mistakes, the success, the friends, the trials, the animals, the weather. When you’ve tested yourself and remained in the life you’ve wanted to live, year after year, there is a hard-won confidence in that. Not an arrogance. Not an expectation. Nothing like that. But the constant sting of tiny proofs you can do this, that you did it with a harder lot, that you made it through all that. I will again.

If the hay delivery comes today it’ll be the third 25 bale order this August. Slowly that barn is getting more and more full of that saved green grass. The meat birds we raised as chicks are ready to fill our freezer, and soon a second freezer will join the farm (I hope)! So many summer squash, beans, peas, and other garden goodies have already been canned or frozen. Firewood is stacked for half the winter, and soon as I can swing another order I will. My goal right now is to may the August mortgage soon as possible and then focus on more wood and hay. But progress is coming, and the work of making this small place safe against a scary world is the distraction I need from it. It’s given me a sense of purpose, power, and control in a world we have very little of any of those things. So I am grateful I’m a homesteader. I’m grateful I’m still here. I’m grateful you are reading.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The First Tired Light

I know when to expect the first hints of fall. It isn't when I start stacking firewood or hay bales. It has nothing to do with Halloween candy at the pharmacy or Pumpkin Spice at Starbucks. It'sa much older, truer, method than agriculture or candy. It's when you first notice that the light changes. That what used to be powerful, harsh, and demanding July sunlight has lost its edge. It's older now, the summer I mean, and it feels tired. The pace of the light's run is slower, if that makes sense? Like it's the same strong beast, but carrying a full pack uphill. And on mornings like this, these weird in-between moments, it is both beautiful and terrifying. Last night, really just a few hours ago, I was watching piglets in the dark for my night rounds on the farm. I could see my own warm breath filling my headlamp beam with smoke. I was chilly, wrapped in a flannel shirt. I just checked the weather. A small heatwave is coming back. Temps may even get back to the 90s?! But it's an old man's punch now. It's tired. Fall is on the way.

I am happy to report some good news for this farm. I was able to pay the July mortgage and right now, as I type, the month I am earning towards paying for is the month I am living in right now! Do you know what a relief that is?! To not be trying to catch up and pay for the past while worried about making the future? It is a gift beyond measure. And also, there's a cord and a half of firewood stacked under cover and nearly 50 bales of hay in the barn! I know I am not even close to what I need but compared to even a few weeks ago this is progress. My goal is 100 bales stores, not used for current feeding, by October 1. Along with three cords of firewood stacked and covered. I am halfway there and making it while earning this month's house payment. As horrible as the news is, as scary as the pandemic is; I need to realize among all the anxiety that things are better than they have been in many August's before this. And I made it through those years, too.

So this is good! There are 11 days left in this month to still make this month's payment, to save towards hay and butcher bills. The garden, orchards, larder, and freezer are packed with amazing good food I can prepare here in this kitchen. I don't need to commute to a job off farm today. I don't need to go to some gym. I can run up and down these hills, eat the food I raised, shower with the soap I made, and find peace with the choices that created this life. And I will do in this tired light. I will do so with hope of a farm on the mend, slow as sauce stuck in the jar but irrefutable in it's promise.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Love is a Barter Economy

Good morning from Cold Antler Farm! Things here are slowly working towards a safe and warm homestead for the winter. As you know, I am building up firewood and hay deliveries as I can afford them. I have 25 bales stacked and 5 set aside for current supplemental feeding. I’ll keep building this up as I go through the late summer and fall, with the goal of 200+ bales in secure state for winter. I will need more but that is a good start.

I am also about halfway through August and still trying to pay the July mortgage. My fear of falling behind is amplified by the cost of firewood and hay, and the gamble of not buying in advance all that is needed to make the regular bills on time (or close to it) in hopes that there will still be hay and firewood available to deliver in November, Jan, and March. I think we all know that bet is a foolish one. Between Covid, the economy, and the drought this area has dealt with all summer - there is no certainty of hay as supply and demand are laws as old as rust. And since I can’t depend on a hay bank like years in the past (where I had hay waiting for me in a large local barn stored safely to buy as I go) I need to plan for extra expenses.

So! I can sit and worry or I can ask for help. I am asking for help. The way you can help is to consider (if you are able to, want to, and it doesn’t harm or hinder your situation in any way!) to buy a pet portrait, a logo design, a batch of soap, or a share of pork to pick up or donate at a time in the future to a local food bank. I am trying to drive for sales now so I can not fall behind while preparing in advance for fall. And if you simple can’t do any of that, please consider sharing what this farm has to offer on social media.

I hope all of you are safe and secure in your own homes and farms. I hope no one you know is ill or fighting off this pandemic. I hope we are all in a state of nervous preparations for the winter and not in a state of mourning or loss. But I know that all of us are waking up and fighting for our own lives and battles. If there’s a way I can help, please let me know. I don’t expect you to just support this farm. If you can’t afford a design but could really use a tee shirt for your school - ask me. If I can help I will, for no charge. If your farm needs flyers to stick in mailboxes about egg deliveries - ask me! OR! I could design things you can print and use! I want to be as helpful as I can, be it advice or resources, work, whatever. I want to help the way you have always been there for me, sending encouragement and kindness. Love is a barter economy.

Okay, I am heading back outside to see to the farm. I hope you are able to reach out if possible. I encourage it. You can always email me at dogsinourparks at gmail dot com, and you know where to find me on social media like Twitter and Instagram (No facebook). Thank you for following this story, this farm, this life. It means more than you will ever know!

Help and Subscribe!


Every once in a while I will suggest you consider subscribing to this blog. It's entirely free to read the posts, see the pictures, and share the adventure. It always will be. But all authors, artists, musicians, and creators depend on the people who appreciate their work to be patrons on some level.

If you own my books, thank you. If you share my blog posts, thank you. If you have come to a workshop or event here, thank you. And if you simply want to kick in $5 a month towards feed and hay - I thank you. It's a small way to both encourage me and help keep the lights on.

Like NPR stations, I'll be here to tune into whether you wish to subscribe and be a patron or not. But I do ask if you enjoy what you read here and do not already subscribe - to consider it. Please only do so if you feel the writing has value (as entertainment, inspiration, etc) and you can manage it.

Thank you,

Want to make a one-time contribution?

For a monthly contribution to the blog and to be a regular patron:

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

25 Bales

It's a start. 25 bales were delivered today and put up in the freshly cleaned-out and opened spaces in my small barn. I have another 175 to go to feel content going into winter, but if I can swing a weekly order of 25 for $145 and keep putting them up - I will get there by October. It felt good, regardless of the amount, to be stacking hay in the barn. I was dripping with sweat but smiling like a wolf. Winter will come and slowly I will get ready for her.

Between running, barn mucking, and stacking wood and hay bales I end my days with a cold shower, sore muscles, and a nervous but content smile. I am learning to appreciate my body in a new way. I used to curse and despise myself for not looking like the tall, thin, brunette Carhartt models in the magazines. Not being like those women who managed to look stunningly feminine and beautiful in a loose braid with a bale over their shoulder. Now I know the braids are extensions, the images and photoshopped, and the bale is a prop that weighs fifteen pounds. Their job isn't to do my work. It's to look good pretending to do it.

But this little hobbit body! HOO! This body woke up and ran five miles in a heat wave. It moved hundreds of pounds of muck with a pitchfork. It stacked a quarter-hundred bales. It carried 80lbs of water a turn, uphill, over and over, and did it all for me and my dreams. I may be fifteen pounds heavier than I was this time last summer, but I am fifteen times happier. Part of that is also ending my day patting cellulite and telling her she's a very good girl.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Autumn's Urge

The farm is in full winter prep mode, which always hits hard around this time of year. It's encouraging and bittersweet. Encourgaing to keep moving forward with the plans and preparations needed to get through winter, there's a sense of promise and hope in that. I like stackig firewood, putting up bales of hay in the barn, and starting to plan cider soaked pork roasts and applie pies. Fall is my favorite time of year and always has been. Hell, I already started making pumpkin spice soaps and listening to spooky podcasts of ghost stories and folklore. And while I know it is summer still, and I am currently sitting here by a 1940's Westinghouse fan as I type during a literal heatwave... all I am doing this morning is worrying about winter. Because unlike every other winter since I worked full time on the farm - this winter I am without a hay bank. In years past I could buy hay as I went, getting 20-30 bales at a time. That was a standard truckload and easy to manage as one person loading and stacking small quantities like that of square bales. But this year I need to buy in hay in bulk, pay for it, store it, and do it all soon as possible because there's a shortage from the dry summer. My prices went from $3 a bale I paid as I went to upwards of $7 a bale plus delivery. Now I don't have a lot of critters to feed, but I need about 200 bales to get through the worst of the winter and that is daunting. MY current hay guy has quoted me at $365 for a delivery of only 50 bales. Yikes.

So that is the hay situation. The other situation is firewood, which is at least coming along. I have a cord and a half already delivered and being stacked. Now that is promising! And my firewood is being supplemented with wood from some fallen trees from the summer storms. I am not worried about that, not so far. My goal was to have 100 bales of hay and 3 cords of firewood stacked and ready by October 1. I still plan on that. I just need to ask around, network, figure out possiby some partial bartering. But that is what is at the front of my mind. And once I have those things taken care of I will feel a lot better going into my favorite month. It just means a whole new level of luck, frugality, promotion, and hard work. I basically need to make money every day, spend very little, make up for every loose end, put off anything new, and figure out how to keep juggling thirty balls in the air if I want to keep the home and life I love. Well, can't say it ever gets boring!

So let's look at this positively. I have half of my firewood goal met! I have contacts and emails out for hay! I have the skills to make soap, logos, artwork, teach classes and hunt, forage, grow, and keep plenty of my own food. My work now is to literally keep the lights on, fires stoked, and animals safe and fed. And while this blog seems to only be about barely making it work every month and the stress of doing so - I hope you find encouragment is how I am still here. That in over ten years of uncertainty I am still here. That I figured out how to be a stronger woman, find my footing, learn and grow, be honest with who I am and even found a spark of love that heads me into winter with a little ember in my pocket. And I write about all these worries becuase I feel there's a magic to it. That just putting down the words that I will make a goal and here you all are, my witnesses, that it helps make it come true. So I will keep you up to date on the wood and hay. I will do my best to get that July mortgage payment in ASAP and start saving for August. I will figure out all the bills and stories and find a moment to sit back with a slice of apple cake and run not to relieve stress but feel joy. I will do all the things.

I just need to figure out how.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Claws Deep

If I know you. If I can picture your face, know your house from the street, have talked to you in person for hours... I am thinking of you a lot. I am hoping you are okay, safe, healthy and warm. I hope you are loved and cared for. I wish I could invite you over for breakfast and board games and stories of hunts and hawks and horses... But we are in a pandemic. And I have seen 10 different people, and that's it, for the last 6 months. So know I am thinking of the brewery faces and farmyard luck slingers. I am thinking of trail riders and dice throwers. I am thinking of new moms and fetus landlords and people hoping for love and luck. I miss you all.

If I don't know you. If I can't picture your face, or your home, or have never talked to you in person... I am thinking of you a lot. I am hoping you are okay, safe, healthy and warm. I hope you are loved and cared for. I wish I wasn't so scared of strangers anymore. I wish I could invite you all over again for workshops and campouts. But we are in a pandemic. And I have seen 10 people, and that's it, for that last 6 months. But there are emails I know like song lyrics. And kindness I remember like forehaed kisses. I am thinking of you all. I miss you all.

And while I cannot throw a Lammas bonfire party on my pasture hill to welcome this new moon and month - I can let you know you matter and I hope we come through this softer and stronger. And always, message me if you need to talk. Love is more powerful than many horrific things. Hold fast and claws deep.