The chickens I had carefully raised from innocent, Easter-greeting-card fluff balls have left their adorable phase. There is nothing attractive about them at this stage. They have feathers, and height, but look like tiny dinosaurs in feather boas. They now boast long, scaly legs, too-large beady eyes, and stalk bugs and get into boxing matches with each other along the hedgerows. There is A few weeks out on grass in the moveable hutches (if they are meat birds) or ranging free around the barnyard (laying hens) has turned them into awkward, miscreant youths. They lack all the happy, matronly, roundness of mature hens as well as their calmness and industry. Instead of sauntering through the fields, cooing between pecks at bugs, these little hooligans are teenagers on the move. They do not walk, but instead they run everywhere. If there’s a chance to make a noise, they make it, and loudly. First-time crowers lift their heads to the sky like wolves and let out moans only a mother could love. They sunbath, but only in short bursts in piles of dry earth where they stretch their fast-growing wings only long enough to catch the shortest acceptable amount of solar love before erupting into a epileptic dust baths. They boldly jump into the pigs’ pen to steal from porcine dinner plates. They jump on the backs of sheep and goats. It is madness and with their new plumage in bright colors combined with their antics it looks like a punk band from the eighties or some anarchists collective took over my otherwise bucolic setting with a mission towards their own idealism. In this case, that idealism is nothing but spent energy and attempts (poor, poor attempts) at sexual congress. The immature males climb on top of the females after displays of bad dancing and horrible crows and make a few stabbing attempts towards the end game but are usually sideways, or too slow, or just embarrassingly inexperienced and the young pullets lose interest and walk away towards the stream or to scratch some design into the gravel driveway.
You know, the more I write about chickens the more it sounds like college...
Everyone's got one. A place that removes even the lightest varnish of self doubt or fear. It isn't necessarily a place that makes you happy, though sometimes it surely does. The point of sanctuary is to feel safe, as if everything that troubles you is on the other side of glass and no matter hard they gnash their teeth they can't get through.
I'm doing okay here. I don't think I've ever felt more overwhelmed. It'll be a relief beyond words to get to June. By June all the edits for One Woman Farm will be done. The manuscript I am struggling with now will have been turned in. Lambing should be over with. I'll have time to think and breathe a bit deeper. I think the root of all my stress is not related to relationships, or money, or deadlines. I think my stress is related to being far too hard on myself and sorely lacking in the care a hard working body needs. Things like rest, meditation, long stretches, lots of water, good healthy food and plenty of sunshine. This is what I need. It'll bring a clarity and freshness to tasks that have become monstrous.
I've been spending a lot of time with Merlin and Jasper. I have needed it. I'm going through something, that's for certain. I have never felt more anxious or dissapointed or unsure of myself. Stuff is just broke, but nothing tragic. Nothing time in the saddle can't place behind glass.
Horses have a way of caring very little about what concerns humankind. And without realizing it, they have a way of making humankind care very little about their concerns.
Join us at Cold Antler Farm on June 29th for a special event. It's the Midsummer Invitational! A small evening archery tournament and potluck here at the farm. Folks who enter will get to shoot twenty arrows at twenty yards for a total possible score of 100 points. The highest score of the day goes home with a black arrow trophy with "As The Crow Flies" written in paint on it with the event name and date. It is however, an Invitational, so folks need to contact me if they want to come and shoot. It is invite only. This year I plan on having friends from my local SCA team, neighbors, and folks I know come out to the farm since inviting the internet to show up with weapons seems like a bad idea….
It's going to be a fun, entry-level and beginner friendly tournament followed by a potluck and campfire. It's not a workshop, this tournament is a fun private party at the farm. But anyone who wants to come along for the event needs to bring a dish! Being a medieval-inspired event, finger food only and try to stay period! There will not be paper plates and solo cups either. There won't be anything to eat off or out of, so come with feastware in wood or clay with a cloth napkin or hankie if you need a wiper. Lacking feastware, bring a water holder to refill (I have a mug tied to my belt) and eat with your hands. I'll have a bbq, breads, and honey cinnamon butter for the potluck.
Tournament begins at 3PM, ends around 6PM and during and afterwards is food and a campfire into the night hopefully with music, songs, and stories!
BEGINNER'S WORKSHOP 10AM-3PM
But, I would like to make the whole day about archery and help get some new brand archers get started. So if you would like to make this weekend a holiday for a new hobby, you can come to the farm in the morning and learn the basics of the bow, arrow, shooting stance, safety, aiming, vocabulary and safety equipment. This is for people who have never attended an SCA practice or class, and who only seen people shoot on television and movies, total beginners! You will need to bring your own longbow and at least six arrows (no compound bows, only traditional longbows and recurves). And if you have no idea where or what to you can ask me when you sign up and I can point you to several great bows at a reasonable price online. Show up at 10AM for a workshop dedicated to the basics of archery, and the care and feeding of bows and arrows, and practice on close targets, working our way up to 20 yards. The workshop ends at 3PM, right when the tournament gets started so you can either head home or stay an compete! Email me if you want to come for the morning workshop at firstname.lastname@example.org - I am limited it to five people, and the payment for the time spent teaching will be a donation to the farm.
Here is the list of workshops coming up in the next few weeks. Come to the farm and learn how to raise rabbits, string a bow, play the fiddle, prepare for the worst and make soap with the best! It's a busy spring here and folks have been asking for an up-to-date list of the goings on. So here it is, along with the links to each event! And you can still get a Season Pass for a full year for about the price of 3 workshops, so if you want to support the farm or just want an excuse to roll in the grass with a border collie, email me to sign up!
Come to Cold Antler for a day dedicated to dairy goats and homemade soap. It'll be a multi-farm adventure - visiting both Common Sense Farm (just three miles down the road) and CAF. Come to learn the basics from the experts at CSF on getting into home dairy. Learn about the breeds, the people who raise them, and what goes into keeping an animal that makes you milkshakes, cheese, and amazing soap.
In the early afternoon we will make a batch of soap, a dairy based recipe of near-freezing goats milk and natural essential oils. Learn how the chemistry and process works as well as how to mix it up with additions like oatmeal, home-brewing extracts, or herbs from the garden. This will be a day of happy barns and happy hands. Come meet the scene and go home with a bar of the day's spoils!
June 2nd 2013
Cold Antler Farm, Jackson NY 5 SPOTS LEFT!
Midsummer Invitational! Archery For Beginners and Tournament Potluck
June 29th 2013
Cold Antler Farm, Jackson NY 5 SPOTS
July 20th 2013
Cold Antler Farm, Jackson NY 4 SPOTS LEFT
I am offering a HUGE discount on season passes for folks who already have them for this past year and want to renew, or for folks who would like to If you are interested in taking up the offer, you can email me at email@example.com and sign up for a full year (or a year tacked on to your current season pass) for just $250. That's the price of just two day,workshops and it goes to help keep this place running. I have three spots to sell at this price. So consider it as a great gift, a treat for yourself, a resource for your own homestead, or just as a way to help keep this show on the road. If you have the means and want to buy it for a local who can't afford it, we could do that as a giveaway as well. Thanks for your time, and now back to your regularly scheduled programming!
Last night, just before dark, I heard the sound of calling sheep. I've lived alongside sheep for years now and over that time I have acquired an ear for what all the different bleats, baas, and cooing mean. This was an all out holler, translated roughly into English:
"Heeeeeeeeey, heeeeey! Hey guys outside the fence! We want to be outside the fence with you tooooo. Heeeeeyyyyyy!"
The sigh I let go of must have weighed six pounds. I was inside, having just finished the last of the milking dishes and had just swept the living room floor. Sweeping the floor is the last chore of the night, something done more out of habit than necessity. The beautiful handmade broom was a gift from my good friend, Raven Pray, of Maryland. Sweeping the last of the dirt, dog hair, and grass clippings stuck in upturned pant legs is the chore that says, "Okay kid, you can sit down now." And that is what I was doing. I must have been teasing fate because the sheep had escaped, were certainly in the public road by this point, and I had to get dressed and head back outside. Goodbye fire. Shut up, mocking broom.
It was colder out, around forty degrees with wind and the weather report was calling for frost. This had me in a frustrated mood. Chores took longer than usual this afternoon while I went about the extra work of watering and then covering all the garden beds I wanted full clemency for. I could see the sheep behind the fences, up in the woods and along the thick bushes and brush by the roadside. I stood outside my house by the lamppost and called to the sheep. "Come here you wooly bags of dim suet!" I yelled, copying the insult from a favorite book. And then the parade headed towards me.
Maude was in front. In her full wool coat she bounced down the hill, the crescent moon above her. Behind her in a perfect goose V were six other escapees. They all trotted with heads high, horns gleaming lamp light, and fluffy coats. I would have been angry with them if they weren't so damn beautiful. Maude stopped a few paces ahead of me, having seen no evidence of grain. I put my hands on my hips and stared at her. She looked away.
"Can we please stay inside until daybreak? Please." And I grabed a bag of chick feed to lead them back into the main gates by the horse's paddock. Merlin and Jasper watched the parade behind me, giving me their own heckles for rewarding acts of anarchy. One by one the sheep came back inside the fence to join Sal and the Cotswolds who didn't escape. Then in the near black of real nightfall I walked up the hillside repairing holes and hatches in the poor quality fencing. What I needed was a clean, fresh, string of electric wire right at nose level. I had a new grounding rod on order at the hardware store and plans to do it this week. But for now it's all about reaction and repairs. I did what I could and prayed it would make it till morning. The last thing I needed was a school bus driver beating on my door to tell me to move my livestock out of the road.
This morning, they of course escaped again. Three times. And right now this blog post is the first writing I have done all day. That's a crime and a pity with two weeks to a manuscript deadline. But a woman needs to vent, so there you go.
There may be frost in the air but as far as the sheep are concerned, it's time to spring.
I took Gibson to the vet today. Last night while I was milking Bonita, I heard a yelp of canine panic and left the chore, midstream, to run outside the barn. I know the sound of fear in Gibson, and this was intense. What I saw was a dog running towards me best he could on three legs, the fourth up in the air wildly kicking back like a cowpony. I thought he ran over some broken shard of glass, or stepped on a thorn. When he ran to me I asked him to lie down and he rolled on his belly, showing me the problem. He had a rusty nail sticking out of his paw.
It wasn't in deep at all, barely really. But the bend of the nail made it impossible to dislodge. I took it out and brought him inside. I washed his feet, checked for a wound and bleeding. What blood there was was less than a scrape. This was more an act of drama than injury, but I was instantly worried about tetanus. I called the vet first thing this morning and they said it was rare for a dog to contract tetanus, but they could check him out and give him a preliminary strike of antibiotics. I set an appointment time.
Gibson was a good patient. The vet staff was kind and patient. We were there just a half hour, mostly talking, and Gibson got his shot. I felt somewhat foolish, all this fuss over a nail scratch. But I knew if any sort of blood poisoning, bacteria, or infection happened to that dog I would never forgive myself. Gibson is the closest I've ever been to another animal, human or otherwise. I raised him from a pup and we have never spent more than 4 hours apart from each other. That sounds co-dependant and crazy-dog-lady scary, but it's more a case of luck and lifestyle than anything else. I once worked at a place that allowed dogs so Gibson came to my office. Now I work from home on a farm, which doesn't allow overnight travel or any fancy vacations, so we are here, together.
I love all my dogs, all I ever owned, but Gibson has become the saving grace I needed during the toughest time in my life. The last year since leaving Orvis, the events that lead up to it and all the personal things swirling around it caused a firestorm of emotion and choices that have had a considerable level of fallout. I don't know how I could have gotten through it without that dog. As I write this he is asleep outside the office door. He is worth $77.50 to save from the threat of tetanus. He's worth everything I own or could hope to own.
If a man in a suit said I could keep my farm or my dog, I would hand him the keys and walk away. There are a thousand farms in this region. There's only one Gibson Mackenzie that has ever existed and I'm the luckiest son of a bitch to have him.
The dulcimer workshop that was supposed to happen in April was canceled due to a lack of interest, and then it was revived due to an influx of interest! I wanted to give you the new date of it: October 5th 2013! And why such a fancy exclamation point after that date? Because it's the same weekend as the Southern Adirondack Fiber Festival! That's right, you can come to Washington County, spend your Saturday morning and early afternoon learning to play the dulcimer and hanging out with me at the farm, and then spend your Sunday at the festival, hanging out with the CAF crew to take classes, demonstration, and buy yarn! It'll be a weekend of music, farm animals, fiber, and fun and as if that wasn't enough it's in October!
Introducing Dulcimer Day Camp!
October 5th 2013
5 Spots left
Come up to the farm this April when the snows are gone and lambs are on my mind for a Saturday dedicated to learning the Mountain Duclimer. Everyone who signs up for the day gets an Apple Creek Dulcimer of their very own. We'll spend the morning learning about the history, tuning, and strumming patterns and the afternoon learning your first songs! You will also leave knowing how to read tabs (so you don't need to know how to read music to attend) and the basics of jamming by chord and ear. Come knowing nothing and leave with an instrument and a few tunes, and the ability to teach yourself more!
Just like fiddle camp you arrive knowing nothing and leave not only with your own instrument, but the knowledge to tune, play, and enjoy it. The dulcimer is a wonderful way for even the most skeptical of wannabe musicians to start with. It is tuned to itself and there isn't really a way to play a wrong note on it. As long as she's in tune, she'll make sweet music for you.
So if you ever wanted to add some music to your campfires, living rooms or farm front porches and and learn to bring home that beautiful music. Meet other beginner's, and enjoy Holy October on the farm. If you already have an older dulcimer then all you need to do is get it checked by a music shop and possibly get it restrung. If you own a newer dulcimer but never really learned, then sign on up and get inspired. You'll be strumming out Shady Grove in no time!
Please email me if you are interested, cost will be $225.00 for the whole day and the instrument, and include a farm tour. Please pack a lunch or plan to eat out in town. CAF Season Pass members just let me know if you want to come along, you only need to buy the book and dulc!
Season Passes On Sale!
To help raise the money for the mortgage, I am offering a HUGE discount on season passes. If you are interested in taking up the offer, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and sign up for a full year (or a year tacked on to your current season pass) for just $250. That's the price of just two day-long workshops and it goes to help keep this place running. I have three spots to sell at this price. So consider it as a great gift, a treat for yourself, a resource for your own homestead, or just as a way to help keep this show on the road. Thanks for your time, and now back to your regularly scheduled programming!
The flock is getting ready to lamb any day now. The mother's all have tight, round bags under their tails and are pawing at the ground before laying down away from each other. I have a feeling lambing will be a chaotic three days here, but not last much longer. It seems everyone is on the same schedule, biologically speaking. Of course, just saying that is taunting circumstance, so perhaps it'll be a long 45-days of lambing, one or two little quicktails showing up at a time.
I like watching the flock this late breeding season. They are all stuck in one paddock, the ground all eaten down to moss with petals of apple blossoms all over like falling snow. They eat and bitch, circle and butt heads. As a woman (albeit, not a mother) I can tell when others who share the gender want more personal space. Atlas the ram seems only interested in food, his job done for a while. He has escaped (and lead three other escape attempts) into the woods so far in search of the lushness all around the fence lines. I guess it's hard to deal with that level of matriarchy inside a fence? But sheep escapes are easy to thwart. A bucket of grain and a lifted bit of woven wire they can shimmy under and they are back inside the safe zone. I have been repairing the weak areas these past three days, trying to stop all the exploration committees, but Atlas is clever. He knows exactly the spots I have missed. Jerk.
I am in the last two weeks of writing a book, behind on the mortgage, lambing is any day now and out of coffee. As you can imagine, stress is at an all time high. Gobson ran over a rusty nail in the woods yesterday and is on his way to the vet this afternoon to get it seen to. When it rains....
I do know enough about myself and this farm to know this is a phase. And all this fear and frustration and deadlines and bill calls will ebb and flow away. Right now I need to focus on the work, and working a little harder to make ends meet, but it'll all be fine. Whenever I feel panic wash over me I just sit outside on my porch and take a deep breath or seven with my eyes closed. I tell myself when I open them I will be surrounded by a farm I built by hand, through nothing but scrappy willm hard work, and the kindness and devotion of a readership all over the world. And when I open my eyes the proof is all around me. It's in the waddling ducklings parading to the well. It's in the sounds of Joeseph the sheep on the hillside. It's in the flickering ears of Merlin, the toss of his mane. It's in a dog with a sore paw, and a house with apple blossoms crowning a rack of antlers, and in the heart of the girl breathing slow on a porch.
Good things are on the way, and the only way out is through.
Staying focused on your goals, and staying grounded in your achievements is important. It's good to work hard, and good to feel that swell of accomplishment. But it's just as important to remain focused on your mistakes, faults, and goals not yet achieved. Being grounded doesn't just mean calm and humble, but keeping two feet poised on firm ground, ready to explode into action. These days I find myself trying to balance between what I have gained and what I have lost and it's a see saw I don't know how to balance. Some things in my life are wonderful, others are horrific, and all the joys and problems seem to stem from the same place: me. So I am trying to stay focused and grounded. There's much work to be done around here. I can't spend all my time worrying about it. Time is too short, and there's too many beautiful things lost in the stress.
Come to Cold Antler this spring for a day dedicated to backyard livestock for beginners! This is a day at the farm for those of you interested in adding animals to your home and garden, but perhaps a little cautious? After all, farm animals add a whole new element to your everyday life, and if you come here you can see, touch, ask, and have questions patiently explained and fears removed. And if you are ready to add that flock of chickens and rabbit hutch: you will get the inspiration and community push you have been craving. Heck, you can get the chickens too..
The long day focus on animals raised for food production, and how their by-products (manure, offspring, etc) can add to your farm. They do this through added income, barter, food savings and by creating nutrients to your soils for vegetable production. (I want folks who come to this workshop to not just understand the value of a rabbitry, but how to use the magic pellets in the garden and use compost tea.) By adding livestock you are creating a full circle for your. Chickens and compost piles create a place to feed food scraps, and their soiled bedding creates new, rich, soils for your plants. Stop depending on outside sources to enrich your life. You have the space, time, and resources to do it yourself, promise.
We're going to focus on chickens in the morning, and everyone who attends is welcome to pick three from a brooder of heritage chicks, all will be dual-purpose heavy breeds for eggs and meat production. You'll get a copy of my book, Chick Days, as well. It's a complete beginner's guide to raising layers for the backyard, but will also help you get your dual purpose flock off the ground. We will discuss brooders, coops, predators, feed and care. Since I firmly believe that poultry are the gateway drug to backyard animal food production - we will focus on them half the day. And if you haven't sat in a backyard holding a chick in your palm while a goat yells at you to scratch her neck, then you haven't lived!
The afternoon is about additional animals that can feed yourself, family, and friends. Get an introduction to rabbits (bunnies may be available to purchase), dairy goats, sheep, and pigs too. We'll tour the farm talking about hay, fences, water options and sharing stories and tips. Since all of Cold Antler's livestock have entry gates within 50 feet of the farm house you can see, touch, and smell what turning a backyard into a farm does to a place: the good and the bad. I will also talk about slaughter, and the options you have as a new farmer. Come knowing little and leave with a lighter heart, a starter flock, a book, and a day spent with fellow new farmers on a beautiful spring day!
This morning I drove with Gibson to the post office in Cambridge to pick up a small package. In a very loud box, no larger than a VCR, were 45 chickens. Babies, of course. Little day-old hatchlings who were shipped express up from Mount Healthy Hatchery in Pennsylvania. It was over five years ago that I picked up my first postal order of chickens on a winter day in Idaho and so many springs and states later it never stops delivering a happy thrill. Chicks, all chicks, are adorable. And to set them into their brooder for the first time ever never gets old. Right now all these tykes are under a heat lamp with food and water and in a few days folks coming to the Backyard Livestock workshop will take them home with them to start their lives as beloved laying hens. I don't know if these little guys know how lucky they are! Shipped to a chicken author's home to be fawned over and then sent to live in free range backyards and coops! They hit the jackpot with us. But alas, nothing in farming animals these days seems to come without controversy or pushback. Some people feel shipping chicks in the mail is animal abuse. Joel Salatin addressed this in a recent book and again in this article from Flavor Virginia Magazine,where he wrote an open letter to vegan and vegetarian animal rights activists about chickens in the mail from hatcheries.
Some people sign petitions to criminalize shipping chicks in the mail. The reasoning goes like this: “I need food and water daily. These chicks spend up to three days in the mail. Therefore the chicks are being abused.”
Can you abide me some farm wisdom? A hen can’t lay more than one egg a day. A clutch is normally seven to ten eggs—that’s about all a hen can keep warm under her body at one time. It takes several days for her to lay that many eggs. She lays one the first day and goes to eat and put on extra weight. She lays egg two the second day, and goes and eats and puts on more fat. When she leaves the nest to eat, the eggs cool off and that retards the embryos’ development.
This early forced developmental slowdown, caused by the hen gorging herself to gain weight for the multiday setting period, brings the first and last eggs laid to similar levels of embryonic development. With her clutch complete, the hen begins setting, losing weight, and almost never leaving the nest. Finally the first egg hatches.
If that first hatchling ventured out to get feed and water, the hen would be forced to choose between protecting the adventurous chick or continuing to set on the almost hatched, critical-temperature dependent embryos still in their eggs. God designed the chicks, therefore, to go without feed and water for three days to let the siblings hatch. Once all of them have hatched, the hen takes them to feed and water. Once the chicks have tasted their first feed and water, they need it several times a day. But this is nature’s protective plan for species propagation. Is that cool, or what?
Lesson du jour: chicks are not humans. And in case you missed it, I didn’t mentioned how hens nurse their chicks. You see, a hen has six nipples tucked under wings…
Today’s level of farming ignorance is unprecedented in history—including all time and all cultures. Never have so many people in a civilization been able to be this far removed from their food umbilical. I think it actually brings into question the sustainability of a civilization that has twice as many people incarcerated in prisons as it has people farming. But that’s another question for another day.
When the only connections people have to the living world is a pet dog or cat, it skews their view toward animals in general. The fact that Americans spend more on pet veterinary care than the entire continent of Africa spends on human medical care should give us all pause.
Sometimes, on the farm, animals die.In that respect, animals are like humans. They don’t live forever. And sometimes farmers make mistakes, or have accidents occur that create a temporary, difficult situation. But I beg my non-farm readers: if you see something that doesn’t look right, be neighborly. Go over and talk to the farmer. You may find out you are ignorant. You may have seen something he missed and he’ll thank you for bringing it to his attention. And you may have seen a mistake or accident. But at least give the farmer the same courtesy and benefit of the doubt you’d want for yourself.
Beyond that, go visit a farm. And by the way, if a farmer won’t let you come and visit, you probably shouldn’t buy food from that farm. Integrity can only be hung on a framework of transparency.
Now go feed some strawberries to your cat.
Joel's comments are wonderful, but one thing he didn't mention to the concerned folks was that these hatcheries that deliver rare breed and heritage chicks in boxes are the main alternative to corporate hatcheries and battery-hen hatcheries owned by folks like Tyson. A sustainable farmer can not order chicks from Tyson breeders unless he is a contracted grower, so he either has to breed his own stock, buy hen-sat chicks from a local farmer, order chicks from a hatchery. Now, for a backyard flock I can provide for you 3-7 home brewed chicks of various breed mixes and unknown gender. But if you wanted a predictable breed of quality laying hen, or fifty of them, you need to call the folks at a place like Mt. Healthy. Same goes for birds raised for meat. So think twice about tsk-tsking mail-order livestock. The people who are doing it are doing it so they don't have to buy animals who lived in cages out of sunlight their whole lives, and are offering a quality of life to those box birds few chickens (less than a .001%) ever could dream of. If I were a laying hen I'd take an overnight plane ride to Cold Antler over a life in a battery cage any day. ANY DAY!
Looks like a few days of rain are in store, much needed . Here are a few members of the flock resting below the blooms of the apple tree before the wind kicked up yesterday. I am not sure if sheep could get degrees in meteorology, but they should be considered. I know with certainty that if my flock leaves green pasture to sit under a stand of trees on a partially cloudy day (meaning they aren't seeking shade) steady rain is heading in. Not a drizzle or a storm, but the kind of rain that comes on hard and lasts for days. It doesn't matter what the weather channel or popular opinion downtown around the Stewart's coffee stations says: when sheep gather under the trees, it's going to rain. So put away your mowers and don't dare think about cutting that hay.
P.S. Not raining where you are? Click here. That may be the most elegant and wonderful thing on the internet.
Thank you to whomever it was that mailed me this coffee maker. I didn't get a return address, or a note in the box, but I sure do appreciate it. As most of you guys know I am a big fan of percolator coffee. This one is a gem.
If you live around the area or want to come up for a special event, my good friends Tyler and Tara of goingslowly.com are hosting an amazing workshop in traditional Norwegian Grindbygg Timber Framing. You want to learn a style of woodworking and construction good enough for the vikings and strong enough to stand the test of time? Then talk to these folks. They have described the workshop like so:
...Master timber framer Peter Henrikson to hand-craft and raise a one-of-a-kind Norwegian Grindbygg workshop in Arlington, Vermont. This unique style of roundwood construction is the oldest known building technique in Norway. Archeological evidence suggests it was in common use during the Viking age—over a thousand years ago (790-1066 AD)!
Yesterday I had an interview as an archery instructor at the British School of Falconry over in Manchester Vermont. The job I was hoping to land was as a part-time instructor, someone who could be called up when guests at the school want to take lessons. It's seasonal, and on-call, but seems like a great way to earn some extra money for Cold Antler. After my two hour trial run with some guests and such I was offered the job!
The School works closely with the Equinox, a local resort famous in the area. The equinox is a beautiful old hotel, kept up in gorgeous shape with a full staff, bars, golf course, several restaurants, activities, and a spa. It's the place where people with deep pocketbooks come and stay when they ski, peep at leaves, or enjoy the month-long Vermont Horse Show held every summer. Archery is just one of the many things folks can do while staying here but as the tourism season ramps up with the temperatures I should be working more. This is good, mostly because anything that can help keep the farm going is needed right now as I've hit a rough patch. A part time job will be a bit of a relief on that end, and something that needed to be pursued.
Some people assume, very wrongly, that this farm is a woman's playground paid for by donations from adoring readers. I know people assume this because they send me angry emails about it. I assure you that isn't the case. I appreciate any and all contribution to the farm, but for example, this week I posted about contributions and they totaled 73 dollars. That was the total haul for the bi-monthly fund drive which I post six times a year (last time was March). That is enough to buy half a month's worth of chicken feed or a week and a half worth of hay bales. It is a HUGE help and I am incredibly grateful for it, but $73 every eight weeks does not a playgirl make. A part time job is appreciated and needed. It'll help add income to how I actually make a living, which is through ad sales, ad clicks, workshops, freelance design, speaking, and writing books.
Anyway, this archery job, I'm so excited for it. I'm excited to help introduce people to bows for the first time, teach them to pull and release, and watch them light up at their first hit in the yellow. It's the perfect part-time gig for me, outside and doing something I love. And the best part of it is all the archery ranges are part of the Falconry School, where I'll get to be around Harris Hawks, eagles, falcons and red tails. I won't be doing any falconry classes but I do hope to listen in from time to time and talk with the handlers. Maybe even get a tour of the hawk barn and meet the animals they teach and hunt with. I just got my results back from my State Falconry Exam and I got a 91%! Not a bad score since I needed an 0% or higher to move onto the rest of the application and written exam. But I am on track. On track to become a falconer, on track to get the mortgage paid, and hoping to announce updates to the dulcimer/fiber fest weekend in September and other stuff. There's a lot going on right now and I feel overwhelmed and stressed most of the time (I'm into the last three weeks of a book manuscript deadline that coincides with lambing and spring planting! YIKES!) but it's all productive stress. Everything gets done. It always gets done. I just feel more relieved when the checks are mailed and the work handed over.
But in the meantime, I will shoot arrows. Shoot arrows and keep the lights on. Decent goals, I think.
This morning I woke up to the beautiful sounds of my mountainside farm. There was the creek water flowing over rocks, and the crowing of roosters, the gobbles of the trio of new turkeys, and the chorus of other hooved beasts waiting for pasture, hay, and cold well water. It's a happy sound, make no mistake, but like any neighborhood your mind knows where sounds belong. I could hear the sheep, but they sounded as if they were right outside my bedroom window...
Because they were.
Yup, sheep escape this morning. The same Gang of Three that always escapes together and I think they do it for the grain they know I will bribe them back into the paddock with. I think this because as soon as I walked outside Knox, Brick Shithouse, and the Old Dam came right up to me. They looked me over for a bucket or a reason, and then with the air of decision, turned around and went back to eating the lawn. I haven't mowed yet so I let them do some edge work for me. Long as they left the garden alone I was okay to shepherd them during the morning commute. So I went inside and got some iced coffee and sat on the front stoop while they bustled about the lawn and the non-escaped sheep watched, complaining, from behind their fences they weren't clever enough to thwart. People drove past on their way to work a little slower this morning.
Sometimes I wonder what the neighbors think of me.
We ate ice cream and watched the race. It was a good break for the drivers and the horses. Neither Steele or Merlin seemed to have worked up much of a sweat but we still had another stop to make and the loop home. I sat on a picnic table with my prize. The ice cream was, as always, delicious. Battenkill Creamery is a little gem here in my county. They sell milk right on the dairy site, nestled in glass bottles with antique labels. You are free to walk out to the calve barns and see a half dozen little Holstein babies romp and play together. Some dairy farmers keep the calves in their own little sheds and confined spaces, but not here. It’s like a raucous summer camp. Tumbling and little bleats abound while their mothers and several other generation watched from the hillside of stream, grass, and rocky ledges. To be so close to your food, to look it in the eye and see it compete for King of the Mountain as a brown eyed-babe, never stops amazing me. Never loses its authenticity. And somewhere mid-scoop while licking the edges of the icy treat I remember that this is not a special event for me, not a paid experience. (Well, the ice cream was a paid experience, but not the countryside trek via horse cart to acquire it.) My life, thanks to a pile of good and bad decisions, had lead me to a place where this is as normal as hopping into the car and going to the mall. I know these people, these horses, this equipment and had the skills to drive me and a friend there unscathed.
We got back into our rigs and said goodbye to our new friends. We waited for a lull in the race, between clusters of cyclists, to head back onto the road. When the coast was clear we trotted off on the road and headed along a popular country highway, Route 30, to Gardenworks.
Gardenworks is an interesting and wonderful place. It’s an old Scottish farm set into some rolling hills. It specializes in You Pick berries, and grows acres of raspberries, strawberries, and blue berries which folks come out and pay for fruit so fresh it was their own hands that plucked off the vines and delivered it to their front door. However, berries alone do not make the operation that is Gardenworks. The large barn adjacent to the berry fields (just twigs and rows now in late April) holds an artisan market and gallery. The barn’s main level is dedicated to local meats, cheeses, desserts, preserves and local art and crafts. The upper loft has whitewashed hanging drywall that displays art among old plows and threshing equipment. If you were an artist who did anything even mildly agricultural this would be the perfect place to display it. And to pull up aside this sunny barn in two horse carts felt correct and happy, something that was simply supposed to happen on a weekend as festive and community-centric as the big race.
I stayed out with the horse while my fellow travelers wen inside to get coffee. Mark, Patty’s husband, eyed the plants for sale outside. It was only April but vegetable 6-packs of lettuce greens and some bright flowers were already available in 6-packs for those eager enough to gamble with the weather. Late April still left a lot of time for frosts around these parts, but Gardenworks knows people around here are thrilled to take a chance on some lettuce after the long winter. I bet they sell out of those six packs by the time the race is over. If I had any room on the forecart to pile in a flat of those blessed greens I would have took them home that instant. I was thinking about this as some folks, tourists to the area for the race, walked over to ask about the horses. We chatted and leaned back a bit towards Merlin’s head, giving him a scratch. As I told the visitor about the horses, the community, and the amazing Nuns of New Skete cheesecake for sale inside I could feel Merlin’s breath and smell his sweat, which had made his underbelly wet. He was breathing deep, working hard, and I took note of it. Breaks like this are good for both the driver and the horse because it gives us time to relax and catch our wits and breathe between the constant reaction and focus of being an animal-drawn vehicle on a road. But stops like this are also good for the people in this county, to chat and smile and share stories and buy coffee. I am grateful for my pickup truck and all the work it does but I don’t have to stop and let it rest. I can move so fast, so concentrated, past businesses and neighbors and never stop to share a mug of coffee or tell a stranger about cheesecake. The pace driving horses gives to your life is a reminder and a gift, one I am constantly grateful for. Having these animals in my life has helped me meet so many neighbors. On my little mountain road that my farm resides on folks do not stop to talk to me if I am jogging, walking my dog, or driving my truck. But if I am on horseback or in a rig they always pull over and ask how the farm is doing, how I am. I think the horses make me seem more open and friendly, nostalgic and timeless. Folks see a rider or cart in the road and perhaps they are reminded of a different time and place and part of them wants a taste of it too. So they roll down windows and wave hello and ask about the new goslings they saw following the geese or the baby goats running with Gibson past the house. We talk with the comfort of old friends, even when we don’t know each other’s first names because the situation of a horse and a country road is enough to infuse us with comfort. It is agreed upon in a smile, and understood without saying a word of confirmation.
After our second rest of the day we get back into the rigs for the last time and ask the horses to trot us home. It is four miles to Livingston Brook Farm and we take it slowly. We have sun on our faces, a bit of weariness in our voices, but it’s all happy forms of wear. If people in cars are in cages, we are range animals. We accept the sunburn, road dust, and pain in line-holding hands because we learned a bit about what traveling really is. It’s not about a means of connecting A to B. It’s not about showing off fancy horses for a local event. It’s certainly not about making good time, saving gas money, or even our horses exercise. It’s about the energy and people needed to see the world, even this incredibly local piece of it. We traveled an eight-mile loop, that’s it, and it took half a day and several stops. It took knowing every part of our harness, our horse, our rigs and the means to make it all moves us from one place to another. It involved time for conversation, song, laughter and stories. It got neighbors to walk up to us, conversations with stores and businesses, and the chance to feel like a scoop of ice cream was deserved calories for road fuel and not a guilt-inducing splurge. That is a lot to gain from a pair of horse carts plodding down the road during a bike race. It’s a lot to gain from anything.
If you want a lesson in proximity, ask a working horse to teach you.
I have decided that every so often I will make a post in honor of reader contributions. Kinda like an NPR fund drive. This is a way for the readership to put a value on the last month or so of words, videos, and photos, and if they are willing, make a small donation to the farm through the link below. This form of reader contribution is really, really important. It is not how I make a living, but it does help keep me and this place going. I thank all of you who make this choice in advance, and if you choose not to, that's fine too. The blog remains free, and always will.
For those of you who love the blog, and either choose not to (or can't) send along a financial contribution there are other ways to support this blog that cost you nothing. Visiting permanent sponsors websites and thanking them for their support, clicking on the changing ads, or coming to a workshop or buying a season pass. And if that isn't your thing a kind email or word of thanks goes a long way. I try to reply and send notes of thanks to as many people as I can. I really do. If you have never received one from me I do apologize. I am working hard to get better at this and make time for it throughout the season.
I have had the donate button on the blog for years, it hides down there below the barnheart graphic. But - as other authors have already stated - this sounds like a charity option. That is not the point. I see these pledges as a way to offer the blogger compensation for a website you enjoy and follow, a contribution toward the effort and expense of the farm.
Yesterday was the banner event, the Poultry Swap! It's held the first Sunday of May, every single year, and this was my five year anniversary at the big show. I arrived early, driving my dented Dodge pickup loaded with stuff and the last male kid I would bring for sale. I had hay bales to set saddles and tack on, a big dog crate to transport the goat there and hopefully transport something else home in. I had the radio blasting, a mug of strong tea on the dash, and I was excited. The Poultry Swap is a riot.
Behind me in a second car of friends was Tyler, Tara and Tom. None of them had ever experienced the Swap and I was excited to introduce them to the fray. WE pulled in together and I paid the casual seller's fee to a lady donning a fanny pack and a smile. She didn't even blink at Gibson, since dogs are as normal at the event as strollers. I pulled my truck into a line of other's our tailgates facing the main thoroughfare of commerce. As I got Loki out and tied on a leash to the back of the truck, I looked around at all the people setting up shop. Next to me was a cage of Sebastopol geese. On my other side were some white-crested ducks and potted plants. Across the road were some rabbits in a kiddie playpen hopping about looking adorable. I saw a craft fair in the distance, and what was that parked alongside them? Food trucks!? The Swap had grown from tailgates and chickens to a full-blown festival. There was fried dough stands, french dries, deep fried Oreos, burgers and breakfast burritos. A fair building was swamped with local businesses and crafts. It was a world away from us scrappy trucks with livestock, but a testament to the growth of the events popularity. When I started coming here when I first moved to Veryork this was a tiny event to sell backyard livestock. Now by the looks of things I wouldn't be surprised if someone with a trailer of off-track race horses pulled up aside me....
No racehorses did appear, but more and more trucks and trailers did. Within an hour of my arrival the crowd doubled and you could buy everything from piglets to puppies. There were plants, yard sales, crafts, food, and any animal under the sun. I found someone with four handsome Bourbon Red Toms and I bought one (I only had twenty five bucks cash on me) but got someone else to buy me another two in exchange for a used student fiddle I had brought along. Talk about a great deal all around! Within two hours the goat kid was sold, along with some horse stuff, and I ended up with a hundred dollars in my pocket! That was enough for gas and diesel for the whole week! I was elated, and three-turkeys richer. There they are up in the truck bed.
Enjoy the story of a young writer living in Washington County with her fancy dogs, sheep, lots of chickens, fiber & meat rabbits, geese, ducks, turkeys, a hive and a garden. Expect to hear a lot about mountain music, the civil war, local food, and my friends along the way. It's a big time folks.
And when the children are safe in bed, at one of the great holidays like the Fourth of July, New Years, or Halloween, we can bring out some spirits and turn on the music, and the men and the women who are still among the living can get loose and really wild. So that's the final meaning of "wild"- the esoteric meaning, the deepest and most scary. Those who are ready for it will come to it. Please do not repeat this to the uninitiated. -gs