Sunday, February 26, 2017

Little Seeds

I bought two seed packets yesterday at the hardware store in town. They're from a local seed company and will be planted in containers, a quiet tradition here at the farm at first signs of spring. I will get them in small containers and they'll be crawling up windowsills and flowering by the time spring is actually here in full force. They were on sale for a dollar a packet. Not a bad price for hope.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Part Wolf

When I was in Jr. High (that is what we called middle school in small-town America in the 1900's) I had a huge crush on a boy who seemed unattainable celebrity, even then. He was tan, fit, and had the kind of dreamy hair boys illustrated on the cover of Babysitters' Club books would envy. Friends of mine dated him and for that they were my heroes.

His older brother was in the same class as my cheer-leading sister, three years our senior. In a high school of 400 kids, everyone knows everyone. We were friends the way chubby girls who read too much are friends with boys- which is to say more like golden retrievers then actual human women. I was the non-threatening, unsexualized, funny girl who was supposed to leave the room at parties so my more attractive friends could fool around. I wasn't a monster - but I was me.

At 13 I was built thick, with dark hair and a max height of 5'2". I was into the outdoors and dressed mostly out of the LL Bean catalog-school of inspo and it looked about as flattering as you imagine. I never ever thought of myself as sexy or pretty. I wanted to be - but in the high school play I was cast as the family dog (literally). Point is - I was not the girl on the cover of the Babysitters' Club. I did not run my hands through wavy boy hair.

One time this crush of mine fixed a necklace I was wearing in a computer lab. He stood behind me, gentle hands on my nape as he repaired the latch while I sat frozen. My whole 13-year-old-idiot body shook internally. I didn't know people could do that to each other. Having felt the hormonal shock; I fell hard for this boy who was so nice to a golden retriever. (Little did I know at the time, a pretty breed of dog was too high a bar to set for myself.)

I never dared tell him, or anyone. It was mine to hold close. So later that year at a party when he was waiting for his brother to pick him up I felt lucky to be sitting next to him while we waited for our separate rides. We chatted. I pined. Then my ride came. My sister walked in with a smile and a very fashionable pea coat. He shook his head and laughed to himself behind her. (Know my older sister was perfect in my eyes. She was thin, blonde, and smart as hell. So I got his awe, but didn't get what was so funny?) She headed out back to the car and before I grabbed my coat I made the mistake of asking him why he was laughing?

"Oh, you know. I just was looking at Katie and you, well, you know, the nickname.... Your nickname?"

"What?" (I didn't know I had a nickname.)

At this the boy balked a little. He was self aware enough to realize he walked into something uncomfortable. I put on my coolest we're-just-buddies! voice and told him it was okay to tell me.

"We call you the Friendly Beast. You are so nice and funny and everyone likes you, but your sister is, well, your sister - and you're you."

I didn't cry or say anything back. I just laughed. I was well trained in my role. This is what the boy I liked thought of me. This was what his whole pack of boys called me. I swallowed air and smiled. But that was the first night I ever cried myself to sleep over how I looked.

"Friendly Beast" has always been in the background, the label that explained why every unrequited romance didn't work out. Of course boys didn't want me - I wasn't even human. I was something else. All through my teens this was a part of me. (Later on I did find a boyfriend who was very sweet and put up with a lot of eagerness, but that was a long way from the 13-year-old in computer lab.)

That nickname became my identity. I wish I could say it was some amazing Fuck You to teenage boys who called their girlfriend's bestie a beast - but it was more of an escape. I embraced it as armor and fell in love with werewolves. I had nearly fifty werewolf movies in my collection. When I drew myself, I was a werewolf. If people saw me as a friendly monster then that was exactly what they would get. It was easier to give into the role then fight it.

Genes from a Slovak mother and pan-Germanic father made me short - but strong. This was my only vanity. When other girls in high school had trouble picking up bags of dog food I felt like a superhero not breaking a sweat carrying a fifty-pound bags over each shoulder. In my mind I was a beast. I was the cinematic daughter of Simba from the Lion King and William Wallace from Braveheart. Those were my weirdo-teen idols. They were strong, leaders, animals. I drew that picture of "me" up top in college. I was 21 then and still saw myself as the Friendly Beast.

photo by M. Romais
Now I'm in my thirties. I'm still a beast, but I don't cry about it anymore. What once made me feel manly and monstrous in the worst ways is now a sense of pride. This werewolf ran a 5K yesterday in 16° weather for the hell of it. I felt the pain in my thighs while doing chores this morning, and welcomed it like an old friend. Instead of taking a day to heal I ran some more (14° today!) and did A LOT of pushups after -just to feel that howl inside. What used to bring me shame now brings me so much pride. I love being strong. I love that a hundred pushups is cake. I love that I don't flinch working with a ton of draft horse or worry about throwing hay bales all day. The teenager who used to wish so so hard she would look like Rachael on FRIENDS some day.... well, now that bitch owns a pair of yellow wolf contact lenses. I wear them and mean it.

I am still only 5'2" and weigh around 186 pounds. Even when I was training for the half marathon last summer and running 40-50 miles a week - I never weighed less than 178. At that weight and height, an 8/10 capri is my go-to jean size, but some bitchier critics online think that is a lie. (Listen, my body is a mystery to me, too, but I really am mostly muscle). My waist is 33" and my arms are 15" flexed. I remembered hearing trivia that Ben Affleck's arms as Batman were 17" and was unimpressed. Grrrrrrr, baby.

My body is thick, but that no longer makes me feel less then more conventionally attractive women. I don't want to be a tall, blonde, model who has trouble holding her groceries. I want to be the most kick ass version of me. Which is why I run long races, earned my black belt, ride draft horses, shoot archery, hunt, train hawks and run a farm alone on the side of the mountain. It takes a part-wolf to do all that.

I still deal with the same body issues so many women deal with— and some far more serious than most— but as an adult I am proud of what the Friendly Beast has accomplished. I have no idea what happened to that boy and I honestly don't care. But I hope if he has daughters he raises them to value their own gifts, whatever they might be.  Not everyone gets to be an LL Bean model or even look good in a fleece vest - but we all have something to offer, something to be proud of.

Some of us are a little too feral to make most people comfortable. Some of us are born gorgeous. Some of us get to grow up touching wavy hair. Some of us are friendly beasts who would've killed for Golden Retriever status at their lowest points. Life has a lot of possibilities. What I do know is I no longer doubt there's a person out there who will find me beautiful, as is. I know because one already does.

Me.





Monday, February 20, 2017

Sun!

Hannah and Marnie at Breakfast
A couple days of sunshine sure does a lot to change a gal's mood. So does coffee. I am reporting from a productive morning here, fueled by caffeine and a menagerie of hearty critters in sunny snow. And I gotta say, that sunshine makes all the difference.

The break in the weather has been a godsend here at Cold Antler. Time outdoors feels a little like spring (which isn't too far away)! Chick orders and seed catalogs are on my mind - and as the days grow longer they feel less like wistful pornography and more like tangible reality. Considering that this time last week I was on my third round of raking snow off a precarious roof - that is a delightful turn of events.

Sometime to keep in mind is that things change quick. We all know this, and yet we often are surprised when a day becomes crappy or amazing before our eyes. We have zero control over the weather, the passing of time, or other people's brains - but we do have the ability to throw on a sweater, learn to knit to combat anxiety, and to realize other people's brains are none of our business. So get your armour class up a few notches. The best advice I can offer is to choose to be excited when life sends you the tiniest nod. Also choose to be excited about something else, if it doesn't. If you have food in your stomach, a roof over your head, and the ability to hold someone you love close you're pretty much nailing it. Everything else is preferences or godbothering.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

THIS WEEKEND ONLY!!!!

Offering a half day fiddle workshop for yourself (or yourself and a friend) anytime after June 1 (you pick the date). This price includes the 4 hours of total beginner lessons (come knowing NOTHING at all and leave playing your first song - promise) and YOUR OWN FIDDLE!!! A brand new student fiddle with case and bow. Lambs or kids hanging out with us while we learn together is a total possibility.

One person (dogs welcome, no charge) - $175
Two people - $300

Email Me to sign up!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Come in, sit down.

Welcome new readers and old friends, I often post this: Come in,  Sit Down, which means introduce yourself here on the blog by your name and location, and maybe share a little more about yourself as far as homesteading dreams or goals are? If you don't feel comfortable giving your name online, you could always just leave your location and perhaps a suggestion for the blog. It's a way for me to see who I am writing to and say hello. It makes the place a little more friendly on this side, as you know so much about me, but I know so little about you. A simple introduction makes it feel like I'm talking with a group rather than writing to the sky. If you never comment this post is an exception worth making. You might even make a friend or two...

It's also a way for you guys out there to connect with other folks with like interests. If you're sitting in your Sausalito apartment dreaming of mini angus bloodlines and rototillers you might just see another name from Sausalito a few comments down dreaming about coop plans and explaining his container gardens.... and before you know if you've made a farming friend. The internet is great—you'll never hear me say otherwise—but it keeps us inside a little too much. It should be a tool to network and learn from, not a replacement for three dimensional conversations and relationships. (I am talking for myself right now as much as anyone) and by saying hello here you might just spark book clubs and dinner potlucks, meetups and work parties, farm visits and advice, or just someone to grab coffee with in the Philadelphia Barnes & Noble and pour over the new issue of Hobby Farms together while chatting about why your husbands think chickens are ridiculous.

So come on inside, pull up a chair, and say hello.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Bull!

Before I let the dogs out to run around the farm this morning, I made sure there weren't any rogue bulls on the front lawn. That isn't a joke. Yesterday an automated call came from the local Auction Barn letting neighbors know that a very "agitated" bull escaped and instructions on how to avoid it were also given - as well as contacts to call in case you did happen to see it in your backyard. I live a mile from this barn, so not a far fetched thing to look out for.  Never a dull moment.

Snow storms came and went, leaving this place gorgeous and tired. All the animals and I came through the blizzard and right now as I type thick, wet, flakes are falling outside my French doors, snow-globe style. It's a pretty scene. But even in the quiet reverence of it, I am keeping my eyes peeled like the unwilling matador I might become at any moment...


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentines Day From Us!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Learn The Fiddle (and take one home) for $200

Have you always wanted to play the fiddle or shoot a bow?  I am offering one-on-one classes here at the farm. These are half or full-day events meant for complete beginners in archery or fiddling. You can come not knowing how to read music or nock an arrow, (in fact I prefer it) and leave with a your new instrument or bow in hand. The point is to come with an open mind and a sense of humor. I have yet to have a fiddle or archery student not leave this farm being schooled enough to play a tune or hit a target. This is a chance to learn a skill, support the farm like me, and come see the beautiful mess that is CAF. Right now, you can sign up for a half day with fiddle or bow for $200.

Both day's cost includes the tools needed -  fiddle (plus case, bow, supplies) or longbow (for your right or left hand, string, 3 arrows). If you buy a workshop as a gift in the next few days I'll overnight you a hand-painted postcard to give to the receiver. Classes are set up by you so a day in the spring, summer, or fall you wish to learn and travel here is up to you. Can be set up after the holidays!

If interested email me!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Work Arounds

So I am by myself and the truck won't start. If the wiring doesn't dry out it will need to be towed and repaired. I am holding out hope. I have a feeling my great grandparents have an eye on me; as they lived rurally and had chickens and know all about Fords with bad attitudes. I was low on feed and got a number of a local who delivers feed to a farm door, a two-bag minimum. So I arranged for 40lbs of dog food and a 150lbs of farm feed. What a blessing! I also called the guy who delivers my firewood - a pony trainer named Rob. Rob is moving to Alaska to work with his ponies as a logger in the big North. Before he does, he will be delivering some more firewood as I am getting low as winter winds down. These are work arounds. Farming is rarely ideal. To have a network around you that serves your needs both makes homesteading alone possible (even with a bum truck) and helps support other small businesses. I am happy to pay the small delivery feed to keep this farm going. I am excited for Rob and his journey northwest! Everyone around you has a story to tell. Just ask!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Snow Day

A blizzard hit the northeast today, and this farm got a nice coating of fresh snow. While we didn’t get nailed as much as other parts of the state - a decent 5-8 inches (depending on drifts/wind) came and changed up our usual routine. When snow comes in any measurable amount my chore list gets doubled. Today was a constant rotation of checking on animals, shoveling paths, raking roofs, checking fences, feeding, bedding, water, repeat. Lots of coffee. Meals are fast and infrequent.

Between outside trips I managed to work on my daily minimum of three clients. I wish I had done more. The work is certainly needed since the truck isn’t starting, which happens whenever the air gets really moist. It’s the starter wiring - which is as old as Taylor Swift and needs to be replaced. I just can’t justify the repair right now.

I snapped that picture of Merlin first thing in the morning. We got hit with the snow around dawn, and it came hardest between then and 9AM. Merlin doesn't wear a blanket, never has. He has access to a pole barn (2 actually) but he chooses to be out in the snow most of the time. That thick white covering is there because his body is insulated by a thick coat. His body heat isn't hitting the snow to melt it. He looks like a Game of Thrones character, but really that's the sign of a warm pony. I'm glad I got this pick because moments later he shook most of it off.

Now it's evening and the day is behind me. Around dusk the farm becomes two colors - blue and orange. The color of dying light and the burst of flames from the stove. 

You might notice a specific tone in the posts this winter. A voice based on getting work done, being proud of what’s been accomplished, and keeping on. That’s because I need to hear it. I need to write it to myself. Read it to myself. Check off lists. See it. I tend to either write at the end of the day or early in the morning, and both of those periods need the balm of personal inspiration. I know I am not alone. All of us have some sort of demon nipping at our heels. Some of us are dealing with anxiety over our jobs, relationships, kids, money, school, spouses, illness, family, etc. All of us are fighting our own fights. You might not have farms or blizzards, but you have stories and obstacles. I hope sharing this story shows you what a stubborn person can accomplish.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Family Portrait

Perks

I started using percolators back in college. It was an accident based on my love of antiques and the crew I hung out with in college. Some gals spend their college years experimenting in all sorts of sex, drugs, and other normal youth activities. My crew? We went antiquing. We were weirdos at an art school that was part of a state University surrounded by the Amish. Old junk was cheap and I was barely a person. But I knew I adored every second of rummaging through old things in dusty shops. I was raised understanding coffee was a regular infusion and life necessity - not a simple beverage - and started collecting coffee antiques.

I've had electric ones and stove stop ones. I've used little ones like this perfect one-mug teal beauty that was a gift from a beloved farmer friend. I have one that makes 30 cups a reader mailed me! Coffee is a lifeblood and special drink here. It starts the day with energy and stories and memory. A good cup means a lot. It's something to look forward to when you'd rather stay in bed. It keeps you going.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Thank You

Readers,

Every once in a while I will suggest you consider subscribing to this blog. It's entirely free to read the posts here, 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. Or if you stopped subscribing for whatever reason, you sign back up. This is a time that the farm needs support from those who wish to see it remain the home of Cold Antler.  Please only do so if you feel the writing has value (as entertainment, inspiration, etc) and you can manage it.

Thank you,
-j


Or make a one time contribution if you don't wish to subscribe.
 

Time Travel

The summer I left my 9-5 job is still the longest summer of my life.  I swear time slowed down. The days felt as though all the hours I used to spend indoors at an office had to make up for what I missed. Daylight seemed to last 30 hours instead of 12.

I think I was in some kind of highly-functional shock. I'd never had that amount of time under my control before. I wasn't the kid who took a year off in college to travel. I also didn't move back in with my parents, join the Peace Corps, Armed Services, or move in with a boyfriend. My first job in the real world started a few weeks after my college graduation. I moved there from my college apartment. My entire life was school, college, work. It wasn't until I was nearly 30 that I learned what a summer was.

We're told it's our childhood summer vacations that are sacred. They aren't. You don't have agency, or money, or the ability to do anything without permission. It's just day care, supervised play. Going feral was very different. Quitting a life I had grown to despise for the terrifying freedom of self employment felt like breaking all the rules. It wasn't a summer off from school. It was Lord of the Flies. But instead of a bunch of boys fighting over a shell it was one badass bitch who just bought a British draft horse she didn't know how to ride with an inkling towards falconry.

(2012 is an insane year on this blog, I realize now.)

I look back on that first summer with such fondness. I also have a Time Traveler's excitement of getting it back. It will take sharing a first summer off like that with another person to get it. Like if I fall in love with someone and they quit their job and moved in. They would get to experience exhausting morning chores/milking/fence repairs/poultry moving and what coffee tastes like covered in a humid sweat. Then we'd for a few hours with neighbors and realize only after we're done that it is only 11AM?? WHEN DID TIME STOP! They'll feel it too. This amazement that not even half the day is gone and so much life has been lived. How could we sweat so much? How could a person do that much and forget to eat? And we'll eat great food we know and raised. Then take a break at the hottest time of the day to jump into the Battenkill and feel the entire world's temperature become comfortable again. Maybe a nap in a hammock before afternoon chores. End the long day with a good meal, cold beer, and a fire and music and barely believe we can wake up and do it all again. That summer will be glorious, and get the benefit of edits from my first one - mistakes avoided, better swimming holes, better food, better me.

Being a farmer is like being in any long-term relationship. It starts out with romance and energy and it's hard to believe any other world exists outside it. I have no idea what was happening in the world when I first fell in love with farming. It swallowed everything about me. I was this shy, farm-curious girl just flirting with the taboo of an Agricultural life. Experiments in bees, chickens, rabbits and a rural address were exhilarating changes to a suburban life. The I dove. I jumped into this dream of farming full time without the proper preparations or income to do so safely.

A few years in you realize the honeymoon is over and the little things that excited you and drove you, are now everyday. This is the point in any relationship where things either solidify or fall apart. For me, it was both. I was falling apart but it was the farm that kept me going, standing up, forcing strength from a scared girl. I made bad choices, thought book deals would never stop coming, and dealt with some personal demons I am not comfortable sharing just yet. Some day. That's another book.

I didn't leave. I didn't walk out on this relationship to pursue another lifestyle. I see this happen a lot. I see young women and men dress up in their coveralls and fill their instagram accounts with baby goats and mason jars on hay bales only to be sharing photos from a month in India a year later, or their city loft's new red sofa and french bulldog. I think agriculture was a fad for a few years. I think a lot of people wanted that feral summer. They got it, loved it, and then grew tired of it. That's not a bad thing. The presence this life insists on is insane. My mom always said even soldiers got leave every so often. Farmers do not.

I'm here. I'm not going anywhere. This summer will be (I think?) 6 years of self employment. It has been hard, exhausting, nerve-wracking, and life changing. It turned me into a woman who knows she can count on herself. Who is thicker skinned, harder, and more determined then ever. I am still here.

I am waking up every day now hoping to make a sale (which is really hard. Most people ask and back out) and figure out how to not hate the guy from the bank who drives by to photograph my home from the road to decide what the foreclosure market value is. But if you play hopscotch with disaster long enough you realize you PLAYING. You are still in the game. You haven't fallen. Focus on the next bill. Figure out the next sale. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Don't give up.

Every winter I think about the coming summer. To get there means catching up on so much. But if I can figure out today, and put more money in the bank than I take out - I can hold my head high and keep my promise to my dogs of a full belly, roof, and love. I get through one day at a time. They add up to a life you can be proud of. A life worth fighting like mad to keep.

I want to stay here. I want to keep playing hopscotch a little longer. I only want that game to end when I win it - when solvency is the new reality instead of resourcefulness.

I will get there. I'm certain.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Germ Freaks & Ice Cream

If you are a Germaphobe I am your remedy. Just follow me around for one day as a farmer/falconer/dog roommate and you will see the myriad of horrors the human body can experience and still only suffer one minor cold a year.

This was my line of thinking yesterday as I used a heavy ash walking stick to break open the rib cage of a dead fawn half buried in frozen snow. Blood spattered and got on my lips and eye glasses. I wiped it off with my sleeve and didn't think about it until now. I was too busy trying to help Aya get to the rest of the liver she had started on. Hey, a gal's gotta eat.

We were at Common Sense Farm hunting. After two dives for rabbits (one dive so gorgeous and perfect it will be remembered the rest of my life the way some dancers never forget the first time they saw Swan Lake) Aya had found this treasure. It was fresh. I knew it was fresh because not only did the corpse look good, the liver smelled and looked exactly like fresh liver. A smell and thing I knew intimately from helping out with many livestock slaughters on this farm. Even though I hire people to shoot, gut, skin, and halve my hogs -  I am there to collect pieces I want in bowls. I have been handed countless livers, tongues, and hearts and set them in pretty vintage Pyrex in my fridge, awaiting vacuum sealing later. Sometimes I forget about these treasures, and when new company wants to grab a beer they are surprised to see the heart and tongue bowl. Their level of discomfort is a litmus test for how long they might stick around my life.

Aya Cash had scored big and the hunter in me wanted to snatch her off the carrion and hunt somewhere else. Once a hawk is fed the hunt is over, just like in nature. Release her on a full stomach and the best you can hope for is she'll sleep in some close pine trees and you can bribe her back with breakfast the next morning. Worst case - you never see them again. But that seemed like a horrible lesson to teach a bird I would eventually release. If a wild red-tailed hawk found a stash of protein gifted to them this way OF COURSE they would eat their crop full. This was fine for me. That dive I witnessed was better than 100% of the sloppier game scrambles that ended in meat in the freezer. So I watched her eat what she could and then then she looked up at me. "Oh, you want help?" I smashed into the picked ribs so she could get more. Thrilled, she dove in. Her beak was covered in bright blood and her neck filled up with organs. She was happy. So was I.

Apparently this is not a good week to be a small deer.

I took her off the deer when she was full and hopping around aimlessly. I slid her hood over her head and walking back to the car. She let out a hawky burp/mouth stretch. Hawk breath always stinks but cold deer liver breath might be the worst. We headed home in the truck. I had chores and fires to start.

Once home, I got Aya settled in her mews and handed her a defrosted rat. She was due to be gorged and full. Some falconers keep their hawks thin all winter and I will not. I secretly love the heavy days when all we can do is watch movies together inside. Hunting and flying is great but a fat bird is a great reason to spend a night Binge watching Netflix. The rat meant skin and bones and fur and other goodies needed to create and eject a pellet - important digestive help after a meal of just offal. She happily started eating the rat's face. She was happy. So was I.

I went around the farm and did the usual chores. This means things like clearing frozen mud and pig poop by hand away from electric wires. It means carrying hay and realizing one bale was all dust and mold and throwing it aside for mulch. I never think about the poop or the mold. I just keep going. If humans were so fragile we'd all have died thousands of generations ago - is my thinking.

After these hours of hunting, chores, dead things, poop, and mold I went inside and made a cup of afternoon tea and didn't wash my hands or worry about residual deer blood on my lips. I was grateful for no longer moving. Later that night I would invite my working dogs in my bed —under the covers if they liked — and fall asleep breathing in black silky fur and feeling toenails rake past my naked body. I will not have showered first.

If this all sounds gross, that's fine. I'm not everyone's ideal partner, for sure. But I can assure you there are five sets of clean sheets in this house, which are changed every single time I shower (twice or thrice a week) and I never get sick! Okay, I rarely get sick.  Which seems to be very different from my Facebook feed, which is littered with sick parents of kids or urban friends dealing with the actual germ festival that is a city. People are either often ill or use feeling imperfect one day as an excuse to take off work and lie down. I get it.

Out here things are usually just gross - not dangerous. You get over it.

Part of all this is the mental and physical training a farm grants you. You can't get shit done when you're done every time you get shit on you. I have lost any and all disgust about the insides, fluids, and excrement of animals. So far this winter I got one cold (from other people) this past week, and I still farmed and slept and did all the same stuff. The training comes in here. You can't call in sick to five hogs, eight sheep, two goats, a hawk, a horse, and random bitchy poultry. The dogs and cats still want to eat and be entertained, too. So you just do the same thing slower.

All of this is why I think people who constantly worry about infection or disease from other animals should shadow me for a day. Not to do what I do, but to understand how tough the human system is. How much of that fear is in your head. Face your fears! I'm still alive!

I have limits. I don't roll around in dead animals like Friday will, but I also don't freak out if I have to clean her up afterwards. But I wasn't always this way. I remember listening to Joel Salatin talk at my first ever Mother Earth News Fair about every time they finish butchering chickens they handed out ice cream sandwiches as a treat to the crew. Everyone just dug in. No one ran off to simonize themselves first or rinse their hands. As someone who got Campylobacter from chicken harvesting I cringed hearing this. But I was inexperienced and doing it wrong. (I broke open intestinal fluid and a gall bladder.) Today I would eat the ice cream (as long as my hands didn't have intestinal fluid on them) and be glad the work was done. It took nearly a decade to get there.

Being aware of germs is good. But not living your life because of them is silly. I am proof positive the human species isn't a fragile little dove of certain decay amongst grossness. It's actually pretty cool - hunting with hocks and knowing your bacon's first name. And if all this really grossed you out, you're probably just new to livestock, parenthood, or hunting. Give it some time and you'll also enjoy the ice cream with dirty hands.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Vicious Songs

alexandra-loesser
I was heading down the mountain feeling really good. My truck was running after a morning of not, and the sun was shining. I had a list of work checked off, took some time to really focus on my eyebrow game, and had gotten dressed up nice enough for an evening out with friends just for a trip to get some fuel and groceries. I like looking like I tried. I do it because it makes me feel better. When you work from home it is easy to go hours in what you usually only wear to sleep or work out in. As I sat at my computer working on designs and illustrations — I just hoped no company stopped by. My hair was greasy under a fleece cap. My face and lips a mess of fighting off a cold, peeling dry skin, and ruthless chapping. But half an hour in the bathroom and some slightly-looser jeans and I was feeling glad enough to crank up the truck’s speakers and sing along with My Girl Friday.

Around a winding turn there was a lot of movement in the woods. Black shapes scattered at the sound of Kendrick Lamar coming too fast in a truck too old.  At first I thought it was a flock of turkeys but it turned out to be crows and the mountain’s resident pair of raven. Among that murder I saw a body surrounded by too-red blood. It looked like a dog. Whatever happened to the dog it wasn’t pleasant. The body was about 30 yards from the road. I made a note of it and decided to check it out on my back from town. He certainly wasn't going anywhere and ravens need to eat, too.

It was easy to spot on the way home. I pulled to the side of the road and left the truck running. Friday watched from the window as I made my way into a ditch and across a stream. I knew the landowners and I wasn’t worried about anything but the victim. As I splashed through calf-deep water I thanked my boots for the thousandth time and made a promise to oil them that night if I didn't fall.

I hoped it wasn’t a dog I knew. I didn't want to have to tell neighbors. When I came up to the carrion, I blew out a cheek full of air.

I'm not ashamed to say I was relieved when I saw it was a very young deer. I will always feel relief when I see a dead herbivore as a opposed to a predator, especially a larger canine. A coyote would have to come at me with a knife while I slept in my own bed to dare hurt it. I have shot mangy (literally manged) young foxed that have stolen birds in broad daylight, but never would I dare shoot a coyote. I love those song dogs. I once saw one trotting up a dirt road on this mountain in late summer. It was large as a German Shepherd and moving casually between two walls of goldenrod. When it shook out its coat I gasped at how thick it was and how it caught the sunset and turned flaxen. If Beyoncé was reincarnated as a coyote, this was her. It made me happy for about 2 weeks.

I really do love these beasts. I have laughed seeing their pups play in the middle of my road. I fall asleep smiling at their jocular yodeling. If I hear someone hunts them for sport I instantly want nothing to do with them. It's like hearing someone shoots stray cats from their porch. Coyotes are friends. Dogs are family. Wolves are sacred.

This hunt happened this morning. The blood was still bright and everywhere. If I was the set designer for a CSI-type nature show I would tell the crew to rein it in a little. Too much. It was dramatic and horrible, but the hunter in me felt some serious pride for Beyoté and her family. The canine paw prints were plenty and large. I could see each toenail on the large prints (something you never see in the rounder and far-more menacing) cat tracks. The fawn was fresh and there was no smell. It had no eyes (the crows) but other than that looked healthy and braw. It had on a good winter coat. It was around the side of a Labrador. Born to die.

The pack had taken this small whitetail, dragged it, feasted. I made note of exactly where it was. If Aya saw this from a decent soar she would leave me and land on it. What would take me half an hour to hike to would take her about 50 seconds to fly it and land on. Aya and I were also hunters on this mountain. We'd cause just as much carnage to other mammals. I nodded to the prints in respect, red and silent and perfect. I was glad I didn’t have a camera. I didn’t want to document it that way.

I’m proud of these fellow hunters. They managed what I haven’t in years on this mountain - which is hunting a deer. I also know plenty of my readers dislike coyotes, have killed them, and perhaps feel the need to share some story about poor lambs, goats, or chickens. Please don't. I’m not defending wild dogs I am sharing my feelings about them - and I’m not going to argue with anyone. You can’t argue with someone about how they feel. You can just react.

Before you do that, understand this wasn’t a campaign. It was a moment of country life I chose to share because it moved me. I hope you saw what I saw in your own mind. I hope the next time you see a coyote you see what I see in this stunning mountain pack - breathing August and vicious songs.

*Note - I have never lost an animal to a coyote. They are nervous of my farm and keep away. I have found other deer killed this way on the outskirts of it. Which is interesting since my fat sheep would be A LOT easier to kill than a healthy deer. They also don't get along well with foxes and tend to not share the same territory. Foxes have killed livestock here. Raccoons have killed the most. I am grateful for song dogs as police, crooners, and hunters.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Evil Gods & Pizza



Last night some good friends; Miriam, Chris, and Chris's son Keenan came to the farm for a Game Night. We ate a meal together, caught up, and then after appetites were sated we got out a trio of games to play together. If you aren't away there is a renaissance of board games happening now. Not the old standbys (which I hated and still hate) but clever, weird, culty, and quirky new games.

For example: I'm a fan of HP Lovecraft's horror stories. The game in the video above, Elder Sign, is a about pretending to be a team of Victorian Investigators in an ever-changing museum of horrors fighting evil gods before sunrise. The ratio of luck and strategy are pretty even. The nerd level is off the charts, since it's is a far stretch from passing GO and collecting $200. But you get to slip into a living story and be a character and forget about anxieties for a while.

What I am saying is give these a chance. There are endless how-to videos and live videos like the wonderful Table Top above to see how they play before you invest.

Game Night here is a regular winter occurrence and while I have talked about it before I wanted to reiterate how good it is to get around a table, pour some wine, put away the cell phones and work towards a common goal. If that sounds weird (a common goal? Aren't board games recreational competition?) I thought I'd suggest some team-based board games. These are called Co-Op Games since you need to cooperate as a team to beat the challenge together.  Favorites here are Pandemic, Elder Sign, Forbidden Island, Shadows Over Camelot, and The Resistance. If you never played any of them I strongly suggest the least expensive and most kid-friendly - Forbidden Island.

Right now things in the world are cold, political, and families are stressed. To spend a few hours a week just working to solve a problem and realizing your ability to help and solve a problem - even a fictional problem - is good for the brain and heart. So get a game, order some pizza or host a potluck, and enjoy a night in. We do. We love it.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Get a Logo, Pass an Insurance Card.

Hey guys! I am running a Fire Sale on illustrations/logos for the next 48 hours so I can sign up for the ACA by the deadline of the 31st. I wasn't going to, but I am worried if I don't get healthcare now while it is hard to afford - I won't have it for a long time when it could be even harder to afford. This is not meant to be a political post. Perhaps a better option will come along with the current administration - but to be safe I would rather take advantage of this current option now. After all, I'm not 25 anymore. So message me if you are interested!

Email me at if interested at dogsinourparks@gmail.com 

my old email address (jenna@itsafarwalk.com) is not checked more than once or twice a month.

Documentary!

photo by Sarah Nathan
A few days ago a pair of filmmakers came to the farm. Their names were Luke and Sarah, from NYC and NJ. They set up their cameras and microphones and took a lot of footage of everything from morning chores to running along on a hunt with Aya Cash to learn about falconry. They only stayed a few days, but I think they got what they came for - a combination of interviews, animals, farmland covered in snow and a sassy hawk. It was a kind of vacation for me. My job was to host, farm, and hunt, and while I had a great time - the little things that keep this business running were set aside. Catching up on a lot of work this weekend. Trying to get caught up on all illustration clients today and prep their art to mail. Have a handful of logo clients to check in with. If I'm lucky I'll make a sale

photo by Luke Buck
There is a lot to catch you up with - farmwise. I want to talk about prepping the ewes for lambing, picking breeds for chick orders (earlier deliveries than last year), and getting piglets soon as possible for summer growing.  The way to beat the cold is to plan for warmth. Especially since we are heading into what locals here call Winter's Bottom - the deep end of the pool, guys. Cold stretches ahead in February and then the mess of March hopefully granting some warmer temps for the new lambs. I used to despise spring (and I still hate April) but this many years into the farm I see it more as a celebration of surviving the harder months. It's growing on me. 


Friday, January 20, 2017

Got to Have a System

In the chaos of self-employment you need to have a system. There isn't a boss waiting for me to show up at my desk at 8AM anymore. There's just me. Now my boss is the list of obligations, farm animals, bills, clients, and work ahead. I have said it before - I gave up one steady job I hated for 37 unsteady ones I adore. It's a mixed bag.

Working for yourself means having the ability to blow off a day and just go horseback riding or running - but that rarely happens, almost never in winter when stress and expenses are so much higher on this farm. I think the reason I love summer so much is the heat is free. I am not attached to a wood stove's maw or worried about not being home for 4 hours. The truck runs better in warm weather, too. I hay to bring in hay and firewood, extra calories in the form of feed, and figure out how to deal with ice, rain, bad roofs, etc. I am at war with winter. Summer really is paradise and fall is the fireworks before the darker months. Anyway - ponies and running shoes are not as common a blow off as 67 degree mornings. Mostly because I don't have the ability to enjoy those things when my time is needed elsewhere. So there is a system of literal lists I write every morning Monday - Friday. They are split up into Farm/House/Work/Me and as silly as that sounds - that list it is my real boss.

The Farm portion is a list of all the animals and their needs. Every animal is on it; from feeding loud cats to bringing in Aya for weighing and notes. Between cat chow and hawks there are sheep to deliver second cut hay to, a horse to feed and observe, and geese honking as I do both. There are *hopefully* pregnant dairy goats to fork hay over to and check their water's level and freezing. There are five growing hogs to break fasts, chickens to get corn to, and dogs that demand calories for their work as my all-around farmhands. Most mornings they get fried eggs and a peanut butter biscuit. Friday is starting heat right now so that adds a list of diaper duty for her and keeping Gibson away from her swimsuit area. Fun! Anyway, the animals come first. Once these chores are done I get to check off about 8-10 items off my list. It makes me feel like I am already accomplishing something and being productive.

Inside the farmhouse is another set of To-Dos. There is coffee to start, a fire to light, and weird chores suited to just this house in her current state of scrappy. There are plumbing issues I can't afford to fix right now so I need to bail out gray water from a drainage tub I set up in the mudroom. There is also the everyday tasks of basic cleanliness. I live alone, but make my bed every single morning. This is less about proper living and more of a habit/morale boost. Like brushing your teeth or putting on eyeliner before going out in public - it's just the right thing to do. Surface cleanliness is my religion. One time a writer friend came by and looked around at my house - asking if I straightened up just for him. He meant the odd knickknacks arranged on bookshelves, just-mopped floors, and perceived order of the place. (I was grateful he didn't the place basically needs to be hosed down with bleach.) But it is all just polishing a first impression. Open a drawer or closet and see the real mess. This is also true about my brain. Outside you see some decent eye makeup and a 3-inch heel on my riding boots but inside it is just a clutter of anxiety, excitement, and ruthless optimism bordering on crazy.

I consider the farm part of my job, but when I say "work" I mean writing/design/illustration gigs. The stuff people have paid me money to do. My bare-bones level of clients to work on every day is 3. So far today I've already hit that and it isn't even lunch (which is why I am blogging now and yes I will add blog post to my work list and then check it off, thank you). It took watching four episodes of The Good Place while coloring in an Alberta client's mare and inking her mane strand by strand - but I got it done while thoroughly enjoying Kristen Bell. Not a bad morning.

Now the part of the day I really have to work at: me. This is when I get up from the computer and go for a run, do yoga, meditate, read a book. It's basically break time from animals, changing sheets, and computers. I won't be watching the news today, but I will be checking in with Twitter - which has been a life saver this past year. If you want to see daily photos of the farm - follow me there. I don't do much farm updates on Facebook anymore. I have learned that Twitter is more of a coffee house of like minds and shared ideas and Facebook is more of a Thanksgiving dinner in which everyone is disappointed in me at different levels. @coldantlerfarm

If I get all these lists checked off by early afternoon I go hunting with Aya Cash. Just being out in the woods for an hour or two - hiking and seeing her follow me high in the trees above is meditation in itself. I can't listen to audiobooks or podcasts. There isn't a computer screen playing Pitch Perfect or Braveheart for the 3000th time.  There is just the sounds of her wings whistling though cloven air as she comes back to me. There is just the self doubt and fear in my head. There is just the hope that seems louder, and therefore more real that keeps me going.

A gal has got to have a system.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Beaters

photo by c. oliver
This past weekend was the Martin Luther King Jr Falconry Meet here in Washington County. Falconers from around the state traveled to share in the hunt on a larger scale. I love this event. I love all Falconry Meets and picnics. I wish I could go to more, but the farm keeps me close to her. It's a small sacrifice to hold onto a dream I work on every day.

So what did we do? We do a lot of drinking and eating, but when it comes down to it - it's all about the birds. Hunters meet at a specific location and those of us with birds bring our animals in travel boxes called Giant Hoods. Giant Hoods are light-restricting crates with perches in them (the hawk version of a dog crate). The hawks wait in these hoods while we take turns releasing them one at a time to hunt. The people assembled serve the bird. We walk around the forest and fields flushing game for them. The whole while we are talking, telling stories, laughing. It is a happy scene. I got this photo from the last day of the meet. My friend Jeremy and his bird Tesla returning from a hillside hunt with all the brush beaters alongside him. A beautiful moment.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Perks

One of the perks of sharing my life online and in books is the amazing little treasures mailed here from time to time. Out of all the gifts ever sent (all are appreciated!) it is the hand-knit socks that actually make me squeaky with joy! Thank you, Webster NY! I will wear these to feed a farm, haul hay, hunt with hawks and read books!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Promise


Every night before I turn out the lights the same thing happens. The dogs and I find our favorite positions in the bed and cuddle close. I hold those two collies, and listen to the sounds of them letting go of the day. My dogs rarely nap. They are up and active and with me all day. Their sleep schedule is mine, so when I finally say “to bed” their bodies exhale with this grand permission to not Border Collie for a few hours.

Gibson sleeps so deep that sometimes I worry his heart stopped. Friday - who never ever seems to stop running circles and picking fights with Gibson’s ears - curls into a ball. We are a happy trio. Before I sleep, I look them in the eyes and tell them the same promise.

You’ll never go to sleep without food in your belly, a roof over your head, and all the love you could ever need.

I love my dogs. I really do. But I realized today that I never make that promise to myself. So far I’ve been fed and housed, but I don’t ever give myself the love I need. I’m not talking about friends, family, or lovers. I mean just loving myself enough to let myself stop being a Border Collie. To let go. To sleep knowing that not being hungry and dry is enough for tonight.

You’ll never go to sleep without food in your belly, a roof over your head, and all the love you could ever need. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Manicures - Upstate Style

Dave the farrier is the man. He is intelligent, gentle, and complicated. He understands horses in a way I someday hope to grasp the edges of. He combines personal observation of the animals, popular training methods, hoof care, herd dynamics, natural horsemanship, and folklore. In one hoof-trimming session he will explain both his thoughts on trimming feet, training for road riding, and what the swirl of hair on your horse's forehead means. I can not thank Patty Wesner enough for bringing this man into my life.

Now, that photo looks pretty simple. You see Dave and Merlin, working in the front lawn on some basic manicure work. What you don't see is how Merlin got to the front yard from the fence he usually is behind. Weeks of ice, rain, and snow froze all the gates shut. Some are fixated in inches of solid ice. Dave could have worked with Merlin inside the fence. He has no issue going into a pasture to treat hooves. But on this farm Merlin the Fell is loving alongside Monday the ram. He is protective of them and I didn't want to chance the possibility that he would see Dave bent over trimming feet as a sign of ovine aggression.  So I spent most of my morning chipping away inches of ice at a gate and freeing it. Watch the first song in Frozen. I did that.

Happy to report Dave had nothing but nice things to say about Merlin's temperament, feet, condition, and head swirls. My Moo (Merlin's pet name) is doing well. I miss riding him but right now that just means roads. All the trails are ice-coated and steep and when you don't have health insurance you don't exactly want to risk sliding off a thousand pound animal on a cliff side. But I am getting a lot of time outside thanks to Aya and the slowly-declining rabbit population. So there is that.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

MARCO!

Today I woke up to rain; this odd little break in the cold weather. It was in the forties and soggy and the whole farm looked like someone poured a fish tank of coffee grounds over a white canvas and then let their dog poop on it before throwing it in the river. A slush of grossness. In one afternoon it could turn to a snow globe scene again, but this morning it was unpleasant as can be. To top it all off there was a sheet of ice under this treasure trove so walking around became a full contact sport.

Outside the sheep looked a lot like I felt. Dry sheep look beautiful on green grass. They look warm on fresh snow. But on icy mud they look shipwrecked at best.  Merlin had the dour look of someone stood up on prom night. The chickens however walked around as if it was any other day of the year. I felt a pang of envy for a brain the size of Penny Lincoln's. I fed out some second-cut and suddenly the supposedly-gloomy livestock sprung to life and the Lady Hoggets raced down the hillside and Merlin's ears perked. Amazing how far a little August grass goes with farmyard morale.

Anyway, morning chores really messed with my head for a little while. I don’t mind insane cold in winter or intense humidity in summer, but when the seasons cheat on me like this I get personally offended. This is idiotic. It took some serious caffeine infusions and decent music to get out of the funk.

And snapping out of the funk was 100% necessary. I wasn’t going to spend my day feeling victimized by things outside my control. The older I get the less interesting I find people who allow their emotions and reactions to do all the driving. I said the phrase I often say when I am in a bad mood, "Daddy's Driving" which means exactly that. I heard Pete Holmes say that about his mood and love it.  It means The Adult is in control, not the petulant, childlike feelings.

My earbuds were playing his podcast. An episode I highly recommend listening to because it always makes my mood improve - It’s an episode of You Made it Weird with Kyle Cease. They talk about changing their owns lives, self transformation, anxiety, peer-pressure, motivation -  but all of it from a grounded place. While listening I had already forgotten the mush outside. I was inside now. Back to a warm farmhouse with a fire I already started, one cup of coffee down (another waiting!), and I realized I had won the battle of my bad mood. I did need to crank a record for a little morning dance party (Thank you, Taylor), watch this Disney clip, etc, but you do what you need to when you're picking out how your day will go. All that blended with the little accomplishment of knowing every animal out there on my land had a full belly, a roof, a windbreak, a warm bed, and cold well water - that made me feel better. Sometimes I even start my daily to-do list with every outdoor chore listed and checked off just to feel like I'm already on a roll. I mean, if I am going to act like a child let it be the one that needs this blog - the kid dancing on stage for attention, asking for validation, yelling MARCO! into the void so that a friend I haven't met yet can answer from their own laptop and coffee spot. I'm going to keep being me. I like her.

Farm news is pretty stagnant. It is winter and I am selling pork and lamb shares, lamb fleeces, and fiddle lessons for next year. I booked a couple coming for a private all day Chicken 101 workshop I am pretty excited about. The logos and illustrations are slow but I sure am trying my best to sell them. I have no reason to complain - as I said before - all my problems can be fixed with hard work and some self control. It's a more enviable place to be than a chicken. Chickens can't dance to How You Get the Girl cranked to 11. Keep your little brains ladies, Daddy's Driving.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Hat Trick

A few months back I was on my mountain, hunting with Aya Cash. This was early in our career together and she was in rare form, which was my fault. I had been training her like birds in my past, feeding her mostly out of my hands. For some hawks that can work but Aya's little too hardcore. She learned in a few weeks that the food on my fist was coming out of my bags, pockets - my general person. So instead of waiting like a well-trained dog for her treat she decided she would just take it. She started flying for my hunting pack, pockets, etc - placs where food came from. (This wouldn't be a big deal if hawks didn't come with talons the size of shark teeth that held on with 30lbs of pressure.) It was frustrating as it was encouraging. I had a smart bird who didn't see the point to playing games and wasn't going to ask for permission or wait for an invitation. I respected that. Like with humans, some of the actions that make you the worst students make you the best hustlers. I adapted. I stopped feeding her from my hands and her pick-pocketing stopped out of lack of results, but before it did she managed to steal my hat.

That picture of Aya is at high zoom. She was high in a tree with my favorite wool hat. We were out hunting together, but she wasn't being a teammate. She wasn't flying close to me watching for game. She was doing her own thing, 30 yards away. On our early hunts she would take anything she saw to eat - mice, voles, etc. She connected the thought of a full crop with me, but not like I wished. I wanted her to work with me to take bigger game we could share. Game like rabbits.

Side note: I love rabbit. It was a food I never had growing up, but learned to adore as an adult. Prepared well, rabbit tastes like Super Chicken. Think of the best piece of juicy, white, meat you ever had and now imagine one bite of it makes you feel as full as an entire chicken breast. Rabbit has the highest protein density of any meat so you use it the way you use sausage in a lot of recipes. It's part of ragu, or stew, or pie filling. Anyway - I love rabbit and I love the romance of bringing home game with a hawk on my fist. (So enough with the mice already, Cash...)

Back to that day: I had called her to my fist but instead of taking the command she swooped low and and flew off with my wool hat. She took it high into the trees and at this time there was no snow, just lots of thick roses and thorns. The kind of deep brush that stops hunters in the North East. That — topped with the fact the ground was the same color as my brown hat — it was a goner. I didn't even see where she took it, soon she was out of sight. I sighed. I liked that hat.

So yesterday we were somewhere on the mountain, nowhere near that hat zone, but hunting like a team. It was the kind of human-hawk work the Discovery Channel should have been there to document. She was WITH me. She followed me from brush pile to thorn nest. She might fly up to do some reconnaissance, but mostly she was right there. Together we flushed three rabbits and she saw me spook them for her in ways she couldn't. I was the muscle and she was the bullet. I'd be low on the ground hitting the thorns and poking with them with my big ash stick, she darted her head above, ready to pounce on whatever rushed out. And a while later (after our fifth flush and second hour of exhaustive hiking following a bird in the forest of icy snow) - I saw her dive to the northwest and heard the rabbit death rattle/screech. We had one!

I crawled on my belly under thorns in the snow and jumped over falling logs to get to her. (Anyone who thinks falconry isn't a sport should come work out with us.) When I got to her she had a lovely doe in her talons, already dead. I pulled out the large knife in my pack. A Gerber that was a gift from my friend Tyler who had it on his Bike trip around the world. (I love that it had teeth marks on the grip from when he needed both hands cooking or adventuring). I cut off the rabbit's head in one motion and let Aya eat while I stashed the rest of the game in my pack for my freezer. She ate like the little dinosaur she was. That tiny beak having no problem going through bones. She looked up at me with a rabbit ear poking out of her beak like some horrific cartoon.

I sat in the snow beside her. At this point I was just a body guard. She felt safe eating next to me, knowing no stray owl or fox would mess with a gal who had a giant primate beside her. I hugged my knees and looked up at the blue sky, felt the odd, warm winter air. It was balmy. I was exhausted. Two hours of scrambling after an animal that can fly in three seconds to a place that takes me fifteen minutes and 50 calories to achieve gets you light-headed. So I savored the break. I thanked Frey for the luck and looked around this weird bit of slanted mountain forest.

And there peaking out of the snow, five feet from the bloody hunt, was my hat.

I laughed out loud, which confused Aya but she went back to eating bunny brains soon enough. I picked it up and it was soaked, frozen, and covered with leaves but otherwise looked good! My little pewter hawk was right on the band. No racoon pilfered it and it wasn't even tarnished.

That day I walked down my mountain with a hawk with a rabbit head in her belly, meat in my sling pack, and a long lost hat on my hunting stick like a trophy. It was a fine day.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Matches

There are match boxes all over this house. Pick one up and shake it. You might hear the percussion of hundreds of tiny staves or you might hear the odd rattle of just one. That weird fact about my life still happily surprises me when I come across a one-match box.

There are dozens around this farm. Some of the boxes are fifteen years old, and have traveled with me cross-country in several homes. They are not trash, and no, you may not use them to light a cigarette or start a fire. They are luck pieces, borderline sacred, and I depend on them so very much. 

It always felt wrong to use the last match. Over time I developed a pacing superstition that turned into ritual. When I get down to the last match I set the box aside and only use it in dire circumstance.  My original line of thinking was that last match managed to not be sacrificed. That makes it lucky. Who knows what makes your fingers select one safety match over another? Be it random chance or subconscious mathematics - it made it so it gets a pass. I keep those one-match boxes as little prayers, pocket reliquaries situated around the house as haphazardly as my reckless optimism. They are symbols of hope and therefore they are magic.

There may come a day when I need a last match. It happens. When I am stressed to the point of tears I find one. I grab a candle and find a quiet place to sit down and meditate. Instead of lighting the candle and focusing on the flame I hold the candle in my sweaty hand and close my eyes. I count breaths, trying to think of the air slowly coming in and out of my body. Sometimes that isn't enough and I have to imagine I am surrounded by glass. Like as if I am in a perfect human terrarium. In my mind I am under this dome outside on a green hillside. It is a summer night and I am sitting on soft grass. I can see the stars and even feel the warm wind inside. If it rains I am dry. If monsters try to get in they can only claw and try - I can't even hear their growls behind the barriers. It is a safe place and no one can hurt me while I am in it. I imagine this until my heart rate slows and the work of the next hour seems manageable. (I don't even try to make the day seem manageable, just the next steps.) By this point the candle is usually warm and warped from the hand that held onto it like a flare gun on a sinking ship. I take the imperfect thing and set it down to be lit. I use one of the hope matches, the signal lights. If the candle takes the flame I let out a sigh of relief. I'll be okay. I made it this far. I just need to see the road a little farther up ahead...

I had to light one of these recently. It happened the way it always does. I don't plan for these rituals (I don't plan for anything)  I happen upon one of the single-match boxes and am reminded of my ritual. They always seem to know when they are needed and fall off a bookshelf or are discovered behind dishcloths in a drawer. There isn't any actual hocus pocus involved. The "magic" is understanding that being still, positive, and hopeful when things seem darkest is my real power. It's my responsibility to keep the light on.

When I strike the last match in a box I smile. I am reminded that this is part of who I am. This silly, self-important, prayer. My road to this farm was never lit with torch beams but millions of tiny sparks. As long as I know a few of those flames are hoarded around the house I'm emotionally insured. They are tangible reminders I will be okay. They get me to a place of grounded action.

They are a choice set on fire.

Storm Pony

Fresh

Woke up to a few inches of fresh snow. When I let the dogs out Gibson trotted out with his usual steady determination and Friday used the door itself as a launch pad to propel herself past him despite her smaller size. As she blurred past the confused shepherd, I saw a flash of white as her teeth snapped at the air in front of his face. CLICK! I couldn't not laugh at her moxie. This girl is on fire.

Merlin was a few yards from the front door. He was woolly, chubby, and hungry. Sometimes I forget he's an equine and wonder what prehistoric beast wandered into the sheep fields? He let out his deep voice, which is basically a demand for hay. I don't encourage rude behavior by validating it (unless you're a 40-lb border collie. She gets a pass) so I walked to the barn top get hay and fed the quiet trio of goats instead.

To walk towards the goats means walking towards a freshly-snowed upon barn in morning light. Th wood was once a loud red, but is now faded, quieter. It means crossing over virgin powder as the wind gently knocks loose squalls of snow from trees. Snow globe flakes dance across the scene. Take one step and think "I am still here." Take another step "Please let me stay a little longer." Friday and Gibson race past me, too fast to be dogs. They are silent snowmobiles, kicking ice behind their paws to make themselves shoot faster. "Ann Jumbar, if you are watching keep me brave and optimisic." I pray and I walk. The farm is all blue rays of light and cold yellow shadows. I will start off 2017 with hope.

This is a fresh start for all of us. I hope you woke up warm and grateful. I hope you are surrounded by loved ones. I hope you attain better health, wealth, and hope for what the year will bring. I hope the same for me. As I write this the fire is lit and the house is slowly warming up. The animals are enjoying their breakfast and I am planning out my work schedule. I hope to visit friends later, maybe even raise a glass with them. But right now the coffee is hot, the farm is lovely, and I have much work ahead of me.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Farewell 2016

It was a few days before Christmas when I was sitting in my Dentist’s waiting room. I need to paint the picture here, because it isn’t what you are thinking. My dentist in Arlington, Vermont is an old New England farmhouse turned into a Dentist’s office. It is small, carpeted, and painted in shades of stone-ground mustard. There are no flat screen TVs and the appointments are made in a book. I adored all of this. The rooms are small and cozy since it was someone's home at a point. There are low country windows and wainscoting accompany dental chairs. I love it.

I was sitting in this office when the receptionist walked through with a wrapped present about the size of a toddler. She set it on the carpet.  Soon a woman came in through the front door, all bundled up (it was very cold out there) and hefted it with viking-woman efficiency. I looked at the receptionist quizzically. She explained the woman who just left worked at the Inn across the street and she had the gift mailed and hidden here until the holidays as a surprise. So, the Dentist was in cahoots with the Inn to hide a present. I heard my dr's voice then, saying hello in full winter gear like he was ready to clean off cars or go for a walk. “Don’t worry I’ll be right back, helping this gentlemen to his car on the ice.” Seconds later an elderly couple came out and he assisted them down the sidewalk.

I love living among small towns.

Yesterday, while in Cambridge I was getting into my truck after running some errands in town and I heard my name. I turned around and June, who runs Black Dog Wines, explained that she could get my favorite brand of Mead in stock. We had talked about it briefly last time I was in the shop and I assumed the closest place that carried it was New Jersey. She said to stop in and pick out what I wanted.

I love living rural in 2016. I know this is the last day of this wretched year, but here in small-town New York it wasn’t so awful. Places without booming economies know how to be resourceful, depend on each other, be kind. No one ever treated me different or poorly for my religion or politics. No one made a scary comment about my truck’s stickers and I wouldn’t dare do the same to someone with Trump stickers. We may pray and vote different but like the wise Garrison Keillor says (I paraphrase) “You don’t care much about politics of the person helping you install storm windows.” Agreed.

I was invited to go out on a horse-drawn sleigh ride yesterday (I was working and had to decline, but only around here is that a common invitation) and to two friends' homes for dinner. Tonight is New Year’s Eve and I am certain I will sleep through the ball dropping, hopefully full of rabbit pasties courtesy of my hawk and winter’s bounty. I have been getting this new kind of exercise which those of you who hike or trail run already know, but me (a road distance runner) am not used to. I can run without stopping for miles at a constant pace - but the combination of sprinting in snow uphill after a hawk, bushwhacking into thorns, moving for hours over terrain - it uses so many calories. It makes me want a hearty meal at the end of the day and no snacking before. I feel like some character out of Game of Thrones at night; beside my fire with my perched hawk watching me bite into a thick stew or chicken leg, a horn of mead in hand. You really can be whatever you want when you grow up, ladies.

So I end this year in gratitude, with the resolution to blog more about small, everyday, things. To be kinder to myself and listen better to those I love. And to most of all, know the joy of living in this ten-mile radius of magic that is Dentists hiding presents and invitations in one horse open sleighs.

Good luck in 2017, for us all.

*now edited. Sorry guys I am a writer, not an editor. Do you want more posts edited poorly, or less edited well?

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Rabbits Lucky Day

The Holidays were a blur of friends, excessive calories, and hunting. The past few days have been getting out of that routine and back into the normal schedule of farming, hunting, and work. I don't consider farming (chores, feed pickups, hay hauling, water buckets, etc) work. Work is what is has been most of my life - sitting in front of a screen. That is where I write, design, or watch something while I illustrate. But that time outside - the checking on pigs and goat hoof status - the hay deliveries, farrier visits, and praying the chickens get back to laying eggs - that isn't work. That's my love affair.

I have discovered falconry might be who I am cheating with farming on. I have never had a bird this good. She comes when called, every time (so far) and seems to trust me. This week she was chased off by a mature red tail and I was certain she would never been seen again. Then she came back to me, first just a small dot in the distance and then landed gracefully above me in a tree branch. She knows where her bread is buttered. The second time another bird harassed her she simply came right to me. Who needs to be scared of 4lb hawks when you have your very own primate bodyguard ?I try to take Aya Cash out to fly several times a week. Today we went out twice - over three hours of exhaustive hiking, thorn scars, talon marks, and chasing rabbits. She dove after seven cottontails total. Today the luck belonged to the rabbits. Everyone got under cover or thorns before Aya could snag them.

A serious snowstorm is coming mid-morning tomorrow. I am mostly ready for it. I could have more firewood inside. It will be morning work to get everyone extra hay and feed, but I have what I need to get through the storm. I might even take Aya out to try again before it hits. That really depends more on weather than anything else, but even here on the mountain a few flights before coffee might be the energizer I need to face the storm.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Happy Holidays!


Friday, December 23, 2016

Mending Shirts

I was in the pig’s pen digging the snout-height electric wires out of the fresh snow. The sun was out for few blessed minutes and it made the farm sparkle. As the pigs snuffled at their feed (and spilled their water for the 20th time that hour) I took a moment to in the view. God the place was gorgeous. Not perfect, and certainly not magazine-cover material, but gorgeous. Feeling invigorated by the Vitamin D and optimism, I got up too fast and heard RRRrrriiiiiiipppp. It was my shirt. The sleeve of my (new this year) red flannel had a gash in it the size of a toddler’s fist. Oh well. I had needle and thread inside and it wasn’t a chink in the armor bad enough to bother changing out of.

It’s been a mix of highs and lows at this farm all week. The holidays are tough. I still haven’t managed to get the plumbing fixed and won’t until I make a mortgage payment. As much as I want flushing toilets and drainage I need to cover that first. I am gaining ground a little each day but things like dental bills and emergency visits to the Urgent Care really were a sieve in this month’s income. Not the most uplifting of news but the truth.

As rough as things are here, I have enjoyed the nesting that is candles and a wood stove and Christmas lights. In the evening this place turns into a Hobbit Yuletide Special. I have been knitting (or mending shirts) and watching childhood favorites like Beauty and the Beast and Muppet Family Christmas. I don’t have the tolerance right now for hard-hitting drama or injustice in Documentaries. It’ll be December before I check out Black Mirror, for sure. Maybe it is how much darkness there is in the cold months, but to know that home is this warm and glowing place of comfort has been a balm.

Hunting with the hawk has been exceptionally good! She is unstoppable. The last time we went out rabbit hunting she caught 2 and dove five times! We were granted permission to hunt on the back fields of Common Sense Farm that has generations of established warrens of cottontails. It is a North East Falconer’s Dream! I have been letting her eat her fill of whatever she kills but am going to start teaching her to trade off. This means when she kills something I cover it with a tarp or cloth and hold out something tasty in my hand - like a piece of dark meat already boned and unfunny. Shell hop off her game and take the easy meal and quick as a whippet I take the game and slide it into my bag. That is how we can take another head of game in one hunt. She has the drive for it!

The animals here seem okay in the cold. I haven’t ridden Merlin in ages. I miss it. The dogs have become my tireless friends and follow me all over the house looking for biscuits or scratches, wanting to go outside and run in the snow. They put up with many hours of me sitting in front of the computer designing or illustrating. The irony that I left a desk job to farm and can’t farm because of desk work - it isn’t lost on me. But that’s okay. I am honored to work on the projects I am given, and grateful to be close to my own fire. There is far more to be grateful for than not.