Ready, Set, PLANT! Yes today we are fighting against the cold, the snow, the fickle bitch that is March and planting food. I'll be posting more about container gardening later on today with a talk about soil and cake (it'll make more sense when you read it) but for the now I wanted to encourage you to get out those seeds, peat pots, and planters and get some snap peas (or any peas) in the good black earth. If you want to wait for the post tonight explaining the best way to go about it that's fine but I no matter what, get those seeds planted!
I found this post while looking into older blog entries. I feel it is fitting for reposting after yesterday's beauty. It was written when I was struggling with the decision (or rather, telling the blog readership my decision) to buy Merlin. I knew I was going to have this horse, learn from him and with him, but it was a foolish choice in many ways. He's the best worst decision of my life. And now here I am two years later, driving my own animal in cart down the road without help or fear. It amazes me I have only had him in my life 24 months. I feel like he's always been a part of me. Anyway, here is a post I wrote in response to the folks who told me how foolish I was. It's about a horse, but it is also about this farm. Mostly, it is how I live my life.
February 15 2012
I recently talked with a couple from Canada who are coming down for a workshop in May. I'm excited to meet them, and to talk farm dreams together over a few cold ciders on the porch. While signing them up for the event we were emailing back and forth and through the exchange I was casually asked a pretty tough question. I'm paraphrasing, but what they basically asked was this: what was going through my head pre-Cold Antler that made me take the leap of faith? They are currently renting in the city and worried a mortgage would be too hard to meet on top of running a farm. These are serious concerns, and should not be taken lightly. I thought about that question most of last night. I fell asleep thinking about it.
Later that night I woke up around midnight, worried. I posted that short update about my decision in bed from my iPhone because of all this fuss about Merlin and the general readership of the blog. I was anxious reading emails and comments (some very helpful and kind, other not so much) offering all these doubts about that Fell. I woke up worrying in the dark about things I knew perfectly well how to handle in the daylight. But you know how everything is so much harder alone in the dark? That is how I felt. I fell asleep going back to the barn in my mind, a quiet place that calms me.
May your eyes be wide and seeing May you learn from the view where you're kneeling Know the fear of the world that you're feeling Is the fear of a slave
You know what the funny thing about all that was? Until I read those doubting comments from various people, I had not second guessed that pony or my ability to own him for an instant. I had not made up my mind about him (I have not even seen him yet outside photographs) But the whole discovery of him felt like the Universe had delivered a wish to my front door. It was the same magic I felt when I held my first published book, picked up Gibson at the airport, and closed on my farmhouse. The same certainty through a secret smile of gratitude and answered prayers. I have felt this before and emailing Merlin's owner was that same feeling of hope manifesting into reality. It was magic, and the fact that the animal in question was named Merlin... Sometimes gods laugh while holding our hands.
May you know how the fight was started Want as much from the snake as the garden Wear them both like a glove that you can wave
When I was 27 I told myself a Fell would be my 30th Birthday Present (jokingly). I discovered them in the Northshire Bookstore. I was paging through one of those photographic encyclopedias of horse breeds and told myself to pick out my dream horse, as if it was a catalog. I paged through the heavy book and landed on a photo of a stocky, long-haired, coal black pony with his mane in his eyes, feathered feet, in a field with sheep behind him. It read "The Fell Pony" rare, ancient Celtic breed of northern England. Known as the shepherd's pony. That was my dream horse. A draft animal my size, a beast stocky enough to ride but strong enough to pull a big log. Then I read they were so rare in America that less than 50 had been imported since 1980. I closed the book. It was like wishing for a unicorn by staring at a poster on your pre-teen wall.
May your mouth betray your wisdom May you get what they failed to mention May your love be your only religion Preach it to us all
Anyway, at the time it felt like a joke regardless of the breed. I could not even begin to imagine owning a horse. It was a bigger deal and commitment than owning a house. Where I grew up girls with horses were from wealthy families - toys for the rich. Out here in farm country double-wides have a string of electro-tape around their 1/4 acre lots with a quarter horse. I have learned that horses are a passion and a priority - not a status symbol. And for a girl destined to live and toil beside working animals the rest of her life they are just another step towards my dirty rendition of bliss.
May you lose what you offer gladly May you worship the time and its passing Stars wont ever wait for you to watch them fall
I bought Jasper without a doubt in my mind that he and I had some things in common. We were both scrappy, small, and tough as nails. He needed a home and I wanted a horse. When I met him everything in my gut said he was right for me, just like everything in my gut tells me I should absolutely not have cattle, alpacas or llamas here. There's nothing wrong with those animals, but they don't feel right and I won't have them here. I am not collecting trading cards. I am planning my farm. My choices are mine and make sense to me.
Now, back to the Canadians in question. There is a reason I am talking about pony books and a lack of cows. How I am considering Merlin, my gut feelings, that sense of magic and possibility—that is how I run this farm. That is how I GOT this farm. There are no spreadsheets, budgets, rainy-day savings accounts, or surgery plans for 14-year-old dogs. What there is instead is a rock-solid faith, belief in my own ability, acceptance of good will from others, and a stubbornness to make it happen that could turn a mule into stone.
On paper I have absolutely no business owning my own land and home, a show pony (any pony!), book contracts, ad sales, a happy blog with loving readers. I have no marketing, writing, or business background in my education. My credit score is a joke. I have only enough money in the bank to cover what needs covering right now and it is all up in the air after that. And yet, I have these things other people don't for one reason and one reason alone.
I ask for them.
I asked Storey if I could write them a book. I asked the realtor and mortgage broker to help me get this house. I asked Red Top Kennels if I could buy a puppy on a payment plan. I asked countless companies to support this blog through ads. I ask for barters. I ask for donations. I ask in ritual, in dreams, in my every day choices and decisions and when I get turned down I ask some one else. When I saw Merlin on craigslist for thousands of dollars I emailed and I asked if we could work something else out? Maybe we will and maybe we won't, but this much I can assure you of:
I would have nothing if I didn't ask for it. From kisses to paychecks, I have asked. And I ask with total certainty the things I ask for will happen. I am not a sheepish asker, no sir. I know that every question is a prayer, and you don't waste God's time. Live your life with faith in what you are trying to achieve and with the intention of harming no one along the way and you can't not succeed in this world. I truly believe this. I live this. I make a decision with utmost certainty and work backwards from there. And when people tell me I am foolish or crazy, I stop listening. I go home and walk up to the top of my hill and look at 6.5 acres of what not-listening-to-warnings can get you.
So my dear Canadian Friends, what are you waiting for? Waiting for enough money to make sure all your friends and parents nod approvingly at your "hasty" decision? Waiting for the market to change? Waiting for a lump sum of cash to fall into your lap. I used to wait too, but then I decided to ask. When I signed the mortgage papers I had no idea how it was going to work out or how I could manage it. The farm was $500 more a month than my rent was, and things were tight then! I just knew it was going to work out because it had too. There was no question in my heart. The money came because I asked for it and was willing to work for it, constantly.
I put down my deposit on Gibson while being kicked out of the house I was currently living in that did not allow any more dogs. My future was completely up in the air. I made the decision for that puppy because he was a powerful choice towards an independent life. I knew, no matter what was going on in my current situation, if I didn't make constant decisions and choices that pointed me towards the future I wanted it would never happen. Foolish? Maybe. But I had paid half his bill by the time I closed on the farm. I was only in the Jackson house two weeks when I picked him up from the airport. The only life he knows is this farm, and every night as we fall asleep together I kiss him on the forehead and tell him he is a dream come true. He is.
There is absolutely no record of careful planning on this blog. Do not expect it, request it, or think a receipt is coming any time soon. Dear hearts, this short life is going way too fast for me. As I am reaching thirty, I am realizing how little time I have left. Some of you a few decades older may laugh at that, but how fast did those decades fly by? I was JUST at my college graduation and it is nearly a decade hence. I have (maybe, if I am damn lucky) thirty more years left to work hard, outdoors, like this. To work around heavy horses and hoes, run a farm, have a family, grab a black Celtic pony by the mane and ride into the forest. This beautiful place is ours too short, and who knows how long I will have here? How long I'll have two working legs and arms? How long a beating heart? If my life makes you angry because it seems totally ridiculous, that's because IT IS. All of our lives are, if we are lucky enough to let them be.
We're the smoke on a burned horizon We're the boat on a tide that's rising Both the post and the pig you're untying Butcher gone for the blade Someday we may all be happy Someday all make a face worth slapping Someday we may be shocked to be laughing At the way we behave
Now, darlings. Now I want to talk about some very important things.
I have absolutely zero fear of failing at this, at ANY of this. I have no fear of losing my corporate job, or my house burning down, or a horse breaking his leg in the field. I am lucky to be 29 as I write this, young enough to accept some serious failure if that is what life throws at me. If I lose my job I'll get another. If my house burns down I'll rent a trailer and rebuild it (that's why I pay for insurance). And if a horse I loved breaks his legs in the field I'll put a rifle to his head and shoot him. I'm not scared of loss, risk, or pain. Life is a sad, messy, and scary place and I accept the dark parts of it as much as the light parts. I refuse to spend a life setting myself up to not face these things are then label it "successful". I know a lot of miserable people with money in the bank and 401k plans who admittedly never really lived a day in their lives. They are already gone.
This is because people make decisions in their everyday lives as if they are planning on eventually running for Governor. As if someday down the line at a great, televised debate their poor choices will be pulled out of the ether and shoved in their faces. As if a moderator in a blue suit will whip out an index card while you sweat at the podium and read to millions of viewers: "Remember in 2009 when you wanted to buy that tractor, so you took out a home equity loan to buy it and build the tractor shed and the farm was foreclosed on 15 months later?! Why should we vote for you based on these horrible outcomes to your decisions?" Most people are terrified of things not working out, and being called out on them. It doesn't have to be a televised debate either. They're scared of being called out at a PTA meeting or dinner party, as if their mistakes are fodder for the sick comfort pot for those too paralyzed to make them themselves.
You can't go through life scared to fail. Lord knows I have failed several times with this farm, on this blog, and in life in general. I failed horribly in matters of the heart that I will never feel comfortable sharing on this blog. I failed my best friend Kevin, and I lost him. I miss him every day. I failed to keep that rental in Vermont because I insisted on this life. I failed at keeping my first sheepdog, Sarah. I failed at owning and raising a pack goat named Finn. I expect to fail some more. So be it.
The very best advice I can give is DO NOT be afraid of this. Do not let utter failure stop you. If your plans fail you will not be stabbed, or put in jail, or burned at the stake. Nothing happens but repairs and remorse, both heal in time. If someone points out a flaw, mistake, or risk then you raise a pint to that lesson and take a long drink. The correct answer to that moderator is "Damn right I got that tractor. Best 15 months of my life on my own land, there on than back of Ol' Green. Shame the farm failed, though." Had that example farm succeeded that tractor would have been just another risky, but correct, decision. Since it failed, it gets thrown in our faces by the other people safely watching from the docks while you set sail for a dream. Docks are miserable places, get off of them. You'll drown dry and standing.
May your hands be strong and willing May you know when to speak and to listen May you find every friend that you're missing There's no check in the mail May you end it bruised and purple Know that peace is the shape of a circle Around and around you go, biting your tail
I do not have a big savings account or a lot of money. I live paycheck to paycheck alone in an old farmhouse where the mortgage, utilities, upkeep, truck payment, insurance, taxes, and animal care all falls on my shoulders. My office job pays around $440 a week, take home pay. (There are waiters making more money than that.) I I keep my office job because I like it. I like the people, the design work, and I like knowing I have health care coverage in case of an emergency. It is a twenty minute commute and I can bring my dog with me so I consider it a blessing. The rest of my income is earned through Cold Antler. I run classes, workshops, odd jobs, yard sales, and go Six Ways to Sunday to get the bills paid. I have always managed to do it, even if just barely. I was scraping by just as tight in the cabin in Vermont with twenty chickens and three sheep on a cheap rental as I am now. Clearly, my expenses have gone up but so has my income. I am on my fourth book, holding a record number of events, and making it all work by the skin of my teeth no matter the time or energy needed to make it happen. I have always had enough, and I believe I will continue to make my choices work no matter what life throws at me. If things got tight I'd take on a roommate, sell antiques, teach music lessons, sell livestock, run more workshops, start public speaking, plan more book tours, and write, write, write till my fingers bleed and my computer lets out on last moan before the screen fades to black.
If supporting a farm that runs like this makes you uncomfortable, then do not support it. If supporting a dream that runs on fumes makes you feel as alive as it does for me, then support the hell out of it. I do the same for others like mine every chance I get.
Little children, the wind is whipping Short hands on a clock still ticking Both the egg and the red fox grinning His belly full for the day
Someday we may all want nothing And all forget we'll get what's coming Someday I'll say the world was something That we just couldn't change
On Being Realistic
I am not interested in what's realistic, never have been. Most people who say "realistic" are just using it as a synonym for conventionally manageable and emotionally safe. Let me tell you what realistic is. Reality is what is happening in your life right now. Not what you can afford. Not what you people tell you is manageable. Not what you have been advised, lectured, or ordered to do. My reality is a small farm full of animals in upstate New York. My reality is keeping the mortgage paid, animals fed, fiddle strung, and inspiration alive and breathing in a way that is always moving towards my true goal, which is an independent and creative life as a writer who pays the bills with her words, workshop and blog, and pays for her groceries in blood, sweat, and tears on her own land. In my fairly eccentric and unconventional reality, Merlin is as realistic as it gets. He is simply what may happen next.
I am a firm believer in jumping into life head first, naked, and scared. What's the point of being alive if you aren't testing your heart rate and taking chances? After all, nothing is safer than a person in a coma in a hospital bed. For me, being vulnerable, being risky, being afraid... this means you are alive. I am this way with my farm, my relationships, myself. If I love someone I tell him. I have yet to be told one loved me back, but one of these days it is going to stick. If I want something I go for it. And if I need something I make it happen or ask those who can make it happen for me. I do this fully aware that I may fail miserably and many might shake their heads. But I wake up every morning excited about my life, which to me is worth all the risks, all these and more. There is nothing stagnant or comfortable here, shit I don't even own a couch to sit on, but that's how I like life. I see my life as a moving animal: always hungry, heart pounding, blood hot and looking ahead. Always, ahead.
May your tongue be something wicked Know your part in the calf and the killing See straight through the captain you're kissing Helm loose in his hand
May your words be well worth stealing Put your hand on your heart when you're singing The choir's sick of the song but they've still got to stand
Anyway, Sam said it much better in three minutes and thirty six seconds:
I stood outside at the new 6PM grateful for the stolen light. I had a Haymason in a jar and was watching a pregnant ewe. She was on the hillside, about thirty feet from the rest of the flock and pawing in the clean snow. This is what ewes do before birthing their lambs - a little distance. In her own zone of circling, meditation, and sheepy ways she was showing signs of possible contractions. I sipped the wondrous drink and felt it slide all the way down my throat and into my belly. I was so tired and happy. (tangent confession: every time I say tired and happy it is because the soundtrack to the post should be no surprises by Radiohead. Tangent off tangent: OK Computer might be the most perfect thing created in the last 50 years barring the Kingkiller Chronicles). This was a drink I deserved. I'll explain why later but let me tell you about the deer.
I was watching the distant ewe and deciding wether to set my alarm for 2AM or 3AM when I noticed the doe in the forest. About 60 yards away a beautiful, thick, shiny doe walked through the snow. I noticed her because deer and hawks are something I make note to watch these days and she was swerving between trees and coming in my direction. I kept leaning on the gate and watching. My only movement was the sipping on my drink.
I watched the doe come closer. She knew that good green hay was where the sheep were. From her comfort level and the flocks' nonchalance I assumed she was a regular. She came closer and closer until she had leapt two fences and was a few feet from the sheep. She was about 10 yards from myself. I just watched. I let out a silent prayer I didn't have a cell phone with me or something else to film the interaction of doe, ewes, and confused newborn lamb. I had hard cider and whiskey and a tired body. These are objects of observation not documentation.
Had I a bow I would be eating venison loin right now. That close.
The doe stuck around just long enough for Brick, my newest mother, to send her packing. The mother stomped and hollered, making it clear that the freeloader wasn't welcome. The doe leapt the fence and was on her way. Sal and Joseph (two older wethers) ambled over to me and started nuzzling my drink. I poured some into my palm to let them taste and both enjoyed a sup. Holy Crow, do I ever love sheep. They are calm, productive, grow sweaters, make lamb chops, and enjoy a libation from time to time. Bless them.
It was a warm day here. Really warm. Almost 35 degrees and the sun was shining. I was here watching deer and sheep drama because I had finished evening chores, had just walked 1.6 miles with the dogs. Gibson and Annie were inside eating their kibble and Italics was in his mews eating a pheasant that had been killed by a barn cat at Common Sense Farm. They offered it to me as hawk food and I took it. I could hear the bells on his ankles ring as he tore into the carcass. He went out hunting with me four times this week and deserved a day to just sit in the sun and gorge.
As for me? I was finished with a day of outdoor work. It all started with a shovel and pick axe. I knew if it was going to be so warm and bright I would want to ride or drive Merlin. (by the way, if any of you are new to homesteading or horses, here is a tip: Do NOT casually say at a dinner party that "After such a long winter - I can't wait to feel a horse between my legs" because people take that the wrong way) But to do that, to free Merlin from the paddock, I knew I needed to get the gate dug out from a pile of ice and snow. So I started with axe and shovel, a good 20 minutes of brute force. I realized quickly that this was stupid and got some baling twine and wire cutters instead. I opened a new door in the fence and lead Merlin to the hitching post.
At the post I carried Harness, driving bridle, and lines. I check and picked feet, groomed, and evaluated Merlin. My prediction: a fast and bumpy ride. He had not been worked in months and was used to snow wrestling with Jasper. It took 15 minutes to get him in halter and lead and another 15 to get him on the cart. We headed down the mountain roads at a slow walk.
All went well. Until we turned around. Once he realized he was heading back to snow and hay after just 3/4 a mile he wanted to run. I don't know if you have ever tried to hold back a horse who wanted to bolt in cart, but it isn't fun. I made him walk, whoa, turn in circles, and wait until he was calm. We ended up not just getting home but trotting right past it to get more sweaty up the mountain. It was a good (if unsettling) first session in the cart but I was just happy to be back in the drivers seat. Few things feel as natural and real as driving a horse cart down a mountain road. It was a little affirmation to be back. It felt wonderful.
So here is how I will end this Sunday's Post. I had a grand day. I traveled 2.6 miles on foot and by horse cart. I had tea with friends. I got hay and hit on by the glowing Nelson Greene. I felt the weight of horse collar and harness on my shoulders. I fed a red tailed hawk a feline-murdered pheasant, and felt sunshine and true warmth on my body. I prayed. I sang. I played the tin whistle. I brushed mane and picked hooves. I docked a lamb's tail and hugged a kind dog. I held Gibson close to me and whispered (The following is phonetic, not correct Scots' Gaelic) "Moe Kree, Moe Tie, Moe Koo:" which means "My heart, my home, my dog" and kissed his black forehead. I harnessed a horse. I watched my sheep badmouth a rogue hind. I drank beautiful warm things and wrote this to share it with you. I hope you leave a comment. I thrive off you folks.
I am grateful for these longer days. I am grateful for the new workshops to come and the people I will meet. I am thrilled to milk a goat, tune my fiddle, string my bow and welcome this Equinox. Things are good here. I hope they are good for you as well. If they aren't then I suggest downloading the Name of the Wind on audiobook and Ok Computer as soon as possible. Those things and a little hard cider, bourbon - they add perspective. They are good. Good as any old leather draft harness and blackface lambs. Hold them close, unless you are a fool.
Here is the deal. For all of you out there new to gardening—and all of you people with thumbs so green it could blind a vegan—we're going to grow some food together. We're starting simple with one of my favorite indoor gardening buddies: the snap pea. All you need to do to take part in the challenge is sign up. Once you sign up, you are making a promise to all of the CAF community that you will indeed go out and get some potting soil, a pot, and an agricultural light bulb for one of those old desk lamps you have lying around and grow some food. We're all getting our hands dirty together. And selfishly, I want to learn more about indoor gardening and get some recipes from you fine folks when our peas are hanging heavy on the vine. I think it'll be a fun, cheap, and interesting way to tell winter to go to hell.
We're choosing peas because they thrive in cooler climates (like our winter houses), crawl up windowsills, bloom pretty white flowers, and taste amazing. Unlike other peas - snap peas are delicious eaten whole, pod and all. Now, regardless of all the people out there who will poo poo our early planting - we're going to do it anyway. What's the worse that can happen? Some of ours won't grow and then the rest of us will learn why. But some of us may get to eat something from our own hands for the first time, and share it here. And I think that will be pretty cool. Maybe even inspire them to do it again in May with tomatoes or onions? Success breeds success, right?
We're going to stick all of our seeds into our pots on the same day, March 11th. That gives you 2 weeks to buy, order, or find the few items you need to participate. Really you just need seeds, dirt, a pot and a bulb. I plan on switching out the bulb in my desk lamp with a grow bulb and that's as technical as I'm going to get. A trip to the hardware store and a few dollars should cover this for you.
So that's the plan. Together we'll watch delicious food grow right in our own apartments and kitchen windows. Come March/April we'll swap stir fry and soup recipes, snap photos of our dishes and plants, and have a big time. So what do you say future pea farmers? Eh?
So here's how you sign up:
Post a comment saying you'll do it
Buy some organic sugar snap pea seeds
Buy, borrow, or find some container garden potting soil
Get a grow-bulb if you don't have great indoor light
We'll be soaking our seeds the night before we plant them, and like I said, they'll go under our grow lights/ windows on the 11th. The "challenge" of all this is simple. It is just to take some green action in your life. To take the first steps to a little more self-reliance. If you're already a homesteader or pro gardener, stick around and do it anyway. Teach us new kids how to do it up proper. Show us where to buy seeds, how deep to plant them, all that. I plan on posting updates to the challenge and giving a "snap pea primer" the weekend of the 11th so we're all on the same page.
I don't care where you live, or where you keep your peas, just plant them. Let them rise up cubicles and catering businesses alike. But together we'll figure out peas, and have one garden vegetable under our belts by the time the ground outside is thawed enough to plant more.
So what's the verdict guys? Y'all want to plant something?
I am so happy to announce the first lamb of 2014! This is the big boy born this morning from my youngest ewe, Brick. I would have bet money on twins but it turns out she just had this little muppet inside, horns and all! He's healthy with a big belly full of colostrum and born on a mild night (lucky guy). I discovered him this morning when I was out doing chores and it was like getting shot in the heart with a smile arrow. Just seeing that wobbly, goofy, little guy next to his healthy mother was sunlight in my ribcage. It felt so good to be holding that little squirming heartbeat. To hear the sound of a mother ewe, chortle and whisper sheep secrets to her little one. I inhaled that baby lamb smell, wishing I could bottle it but knowing any artifice of the experience wouldn't be the same. New life! Here comes spring in full force. You know, I had started the morning with prayers and smiling. I had a warm fire, hot tea, and a good dog by my side and here was this amazing gift. I had to share this morning's prayer as it was so properly fitting:
Even in the Cold Time, when everything seems dead,
each moment is born after its predecessor and time
goes on: you give birth even in the poverty of winter.
...Together let us fill the long night with light,
calling all beings to warm themselves by our fires.
He'll get his shots soon and if any of you out there are looking for a purebred Scottish Blackface ram lamb for your flocks I'll refrain from castration. He is for sale if someone wants a breeding animal! Just email me or comment here with information to contact you.
I am hoping that the other Blackface Ewe will have a ewe lamb in her. This farm needs young blood and some of the older males sold off. I want to scale down to a smaller, productive, blackface flock. The only other possibly pregnant sheep is Maude but I'm not sure new life can even spawn inside something so surly. I kid. In truth Maude has never had a lamb, though many a ram has tried. Every spring she gets fat and looks pregnant but so far she's not packing anything but pounds from grain and second cut.
Bonita is t-minus two weeks I'd say! She is round as heck, udders are milking up, and I can not wait to have a kid or two in the house, milk on tap, soap in molds, cheese in the fridge, cream in my coffee…..mmmm.
Blessed, This Spring! Now smile and know we're looking for warmer days ahead!
My friend Taylor, a fellow KUCD alumni, sent me this cartoon she drew inspired by my recent post about Maude. She captured that sheep's spirit perfectly. If March dares to roar at her she will stare daggers and remind him who has been standing on the hill longer than 31 days....
Thank you Taylor! And you can see her artwork here! Both her and I are taking commissions so if you ever wanted the perfect card for the holidays, or a sketch of your favorite cow - we can help!
Some of you may be familiar with me and the animals that make up Cold Antler Farm, but some of you may not? New readers find their way here and are thrown right into my story. Depending on when you met me - that story could be about chickens, new sheep, dogs, cart horses, or even hawks. Since the farm is always evolving I wanted to take a minute to reintroduce myself to you. Old friends, I tip my hat for your patience and new friends, I welcome you to the clan.
Cold Antler Farm is a one-woman operation on a 6.5 acre homestead in upstate New York. The center of its gravity is a compact Civil War Era farmhouse built into a side of a humble mountain. It sits amongst a small empire of fields and fences hugged tightly by forest, streams, and a pond. It sounds idyllic, but it is far from. CAF is a scrappy place held together by hope and force. But don't let the sagging fences or chicken poo on the front steps fool you. This place is paradise. To get there you need to drive four hours north of New York City and find the right winding road off a lonely two-lane rural highway. That is where you will find me ( Jenna Woginrich -31) because that place is my everything.
I wasn't raised on a farm or ever around farmers growing up. Farming wasn't even on my radar until after I had graduated from college with a BA in graphic design. My skills as a designer allowed me to work for any company that needed a designer, so I worked everywhere from the Southern Mountains of Tennessee to the Northern Rockies in Idaho. I lived in cities, towns, and eventually ended up on a retired cattle farm out west. While working full time in an office job I flirted with the idea of growing some of my own food and raising small livestock in my rented backyard. These adventures in mini-steading excited me beyond measure and I was becoming less of the Jenna everyone else knew and more of the Jenna I secretly wished to be: a farmer. It was during this flirtation stage with homesteading that I wrote my first book abourt learning to simplify. My fifth books comes out in a few months. All of my books are about my journey towards home: the animals, food, and experiences along the way.
I kept backyard farming, adding animals and growing more vegetables, until I realized my two worlds were at a crossroads. I had to choose to be a farmer and give it my all or scale back to a few hens again and remain a corporate employee. It turns out that passion has a way of making decisions for you. Because while falling in love with agriculture I became diagnosed with a disease of great consequence—Barnheart—that wouldn't allow me to spent any more time working indoors for strangers. Since then I have never looked back. I have been keeping the animals fed and lights on through a combination of work, wits, and luck. I live a scrappy and creative life beside many animals including (but not limited to) dogs, cats, horses, sheep, goats, poultry, and pigs. I garden, hunt, and keep bees. I trail ride, drive, and travel with my horse whenever I can instead of my dented pickup truck. I am far from rich (usually just scrapping by) but extremely wealthy in experiences, friends, and a love for this life I chose.
Legally, this farm is mine but ownership is something ruled by paperwork, banks, and handshakes, isn't it? Honestly, Cold Antler owns me. Everything I do from the moment I wake up to the time my tired body falls asleep at night is ruled by the needs of the land, animals, and community around me. I wouldn't want it any other way. Homesteading is it. No life in the history of human kind demands so much but gives you such amazing returns. Fresh eggs at dawn, warm milk in the pail, food from the good earth, and the feeling of wind on your cheeks during a nap in the hay. May I receive them without flinching, as the ol' prayer goes.
Here is a video of the farm, me, some of the critters and a taste of my next book:
I am the in a great debt to this place as it brought me the most exciting and wonderful years of my life thus far. I knew nothing about agriculture when I started and now I work draft horses in harness, breed sheep, milk goats, and have the confidence to send my horse at a full gallop up a mountain trail with my border collie running beside me. It took years of mistakes, failures, joys, and wonder to make this place, and the woman I have become. Which is to say a happy woman. Nothing special, just a stubborn, dirty, grinning woman bent on making her life the one she always dreamed of. Keep reading to see where the story flows next. I'll be here.
This is the time of year my goose, Saro, starts laying. I got a wonderful offer from Common Sense Farm to use some of the space in their amazing steampunk incubator (yes, I'll get pictures next time I am there!). While I do have visual evidence that the eggs are being fertilized Saro isn;t the best mother when it comes to setting. She sticks with it for a while and after a few days gets bored and takes off for the stream and forest with Cyrus and Ryan. This leaves the eggs cold or hen pecked after a while of neglect. Last time she sat one gosling made it from fifteen eggs. This year I am hoping to incubate a clutch with better success. that or I will be eating very large, gelatinous, omelets into April.
I ordered Araucanas, Light Brahmas, and Rhode Island Red chicks for early May. Three breeds good for laying, and not too bad in the soup pot either. They will be here for the Chicken Workshop Weekend and hopefully offer some hands-on experience for the guests. I love this weekend coming up. I think chickens are the true gateway drug into backyard livestock. They are easy to care for, beautiful to look at, funny to watch, and pay their way with eggs and meat. They require little space, cost little money, and can eat table scraps you might otherwise throw away. Joel Salatin says (and he means this earnestly) that everyone in the city should get the parrots out of their cages and keep a pair of chickens. They could lay eggs and eat table scraps and create the kind of local system most people only think exists on organic farms far away. But chickens, pigs, rabbits, goats, sheep and horses used to be a common site in the urban world. Why not welcome some of them back?
The reason being (we assume) that not everyone wants to wake up to neighbors' roosters, snorting pigs, and bleating goats. They don't live in the country for that very reason, among others. But I see this attitude changing, more and more. The stereotype of the city as a place without farmlife is fading fast. A new book is out called "City Goat" and while I haven't read it but I sure love the idea. One of my favorite farm memoirs of all time is Novella Carpenter's Farm City, which talks about turning an abandoned lot in rough part of Oakland into a small farm. She gets poultry, pigs, bees, gardens, rabbits and creates community along the way. It's a great story of a beginner's farm that just so happens to take place in the middle of a ghetto. back in 2009 when the book emerged that was an odd thing to see, but not anymore. A lot of my urban readers send photos of their city chicks, apartment rabbits, and rooftop hives. Food doesn't have to be in the country alone. It should always be where the people are.
That said, does it make anyone out there nervous how little most people think about food? How little they have? I'm not talking about poverty, I am talking about everyday people with a 2 week supply of food, max, in their homes. This barrenness is normal now. It is considered fringe thinking to fill a larder with a few months worth of food and you are a militia minded wacko if you store bottled water. But I can't think of anything more normal than eating? Food security (and water security) might be the most normal thing a person could do. So why do so few people have food in their homes? Why aren't there goats in backyards, chickens in parrot cages, worm bins under the sink, and hydroponics in the basement? We live in this amazing time where a person in 600 feet of apartment can feed himself if he is clever and has electricity, a window, and a friend with a roof or backyard to work with. Yet so few do? Is it laziness? Is it such a sense of safety that the grocery store will always be there? Or is real food security always going to be the haven of the eccentrics while cheap fossil fuel flows?
Your grandparents had more than two weeks of food in their house. If they lived in the country they had a lot more, and equipment to hunt, fish, trap and the knowledge to forage. Today we seem to be a people either too busy or too distracted to worry about tomorrow's dinner. Should we feel blessed or cursed?
I'll tell you this much: This farm has more than 2 weeks worth of food.
Cold Antler Farm is not a warm place to wake up at. At least not outside the covers. Under a pile of wool with gibson sprawled beside me there is enough heat to rise bread, but outside this sanctuary the farmhouse teeters around 45 degrees. Because I know how cold that floor is under bare feet and because I have no desire to experience it at the moment — I reach out just far enough to grab the sketchbook on the night stand. Along with a mechanical pencil I sink back under the covers to start the day's list. It is an act of equal parts productivity and procrastination. I'm getting my day planned but doing so in the warmest, farthest, and safest spot from the work. Gibson curls his spine into my belly and lets out a sigh. He is fine with ten more minutes.
I start the list with things I do without even thinking. These aren't tasks, they are habits, but it allows me start off the day with feeling like I accomplished something and that is a morale booster of the highest caliber. So I write things like: feed cats, let out dogs, start fire. You know, things of that nature. I list all the things I do indoors before chores including getting dressed. I also write down the things I probably won't do without the list to guide me. Things like: pray, smile and breathe slowly for one full minute, and think of things you are grateful for. Then I make the list continue to outdoor chores and office work. I block it into sections with breaks that include watching Good Mythical Morning on Youtube with my coffee and fifteen minutes in Azeroth after emails. It's an odd combination of work and rewards. Timeless tasks of feeding horses hay and breeding rabbits followed emails and computer games. I never said I wasn't contrary.
I get the nerve to get up and watch the warm air rise like smoke from the bed. I get dressed quickly into frumpy, loose fitting, house clothes and slippers and head downstairs. It doesn't take long to see that the cats have food, the litter box is cleaned, the fire is lit and the floor is swept of dog hair. I put on a pot of coffee and let the dogs out to relieve themselves. When the fire is going strong I grab a large pillar candle and a prayer book and sit down by the east window where the sun rises. Here is where I truly greet the day. I light the candle and sit quietly and I do something so few of us do anymore. I smile. I sit quietly, breathe deeply, and I just smile. Just 60 seconds of this transforms your day. When I feel calm and my heart is slowly thumping I read aloud a winter prayer by candle and firelight. It ends like this:
I ask for the strength I will need to endure until spring and the wisdom I require to learn from the dark and cold the lessons they will teach. May I receive them without flinching.
I love this prayer. As I recite out loud Annie comes and flops beside me. Gibson (not wanting to be left out) flops on my other side and I feel as strong as Artemis. I am lit by firelight, flanked by hounds, and above me a big deer head glows in the ember light. This is how you start a day. I check all of it off the list and flop on the armchair with a hot cup of coffee to enjoy Rhett & link talk about movie posters. This is going to be a great day.
I check the weather after my coffee and smile at the number. It is warm enough to wear a kilt without tights under it and I get dressed in my favorite, beaten down, green canvas chore kilt and head outside. My only armor is my rubber boots, wool socks, a scarf, a knit hat, and a padded canvas work vest over a wool sweater. 18 degrees might as well be May's glory because the sun is shining and my knees are bare! Gibson is outside with me, running around the way only a border collie can after seven hours of inactivity. Together we are light and ice.
I tend to all the animals, remembering the list and do the extra chores of the day: breeding the Silver Fox rabbits. When the horses, sheep, goats, birds, and rabbits have been seen to I come back inside for a little more coffee and check my knees. They are red as can be but holding up just fine.
I return outside with my falconry glove and a quart of water for Italics. Every morning he needs to be weighed and fresh water offered in his bath pan. He chirps at me in greeting as I enter the mews and I check his weight and smile. He is perfect for hunting. When I got back inside I add it to the list. I'll go hawking after lunch if my work is done before.
With the animals seen to I return inside with a panting dog and a lighter heart. I may drink coffee and watch my morning program before the animals are fed but I wait until after they eat to break my fast. I get three of the eggs from Patty's chickens out of the fridge. My birds aren't laying yet (or are hiding them in the upstairs of the barn), so I am enjoying someone else's bounty. I scramble three with salt and pepper and enjoy every bite.
The following hours are spent in the office with a few breaks to get more water or add more wood to the stove. By mid morning I have brought the temperature up to 58 degrees and I am grinning. I answer emails (240 since last night). I update both the blogs, write more of Birchthorn, work on freelance design jobs, start a book proposal, and promote a workshop for October. I check them all off the list as they happen. A few hours later I am ready to move again.
I make time to slowly move through my 12 Taekwondo forms in my living room. It is more like Tai Chi than kata and I move slow enough to realize which muscles hurt and which need more attention. When I have gone through them all I stretch. I stretch for a long time. It matters. When I am feeling warmer and more flexible I do the forms again, fast, with power and purpose. Artemis, can you see me now? I take the dogs for a mile walk and feel happy to be out in the sunlight with my kilt again. Pants are the worst. I am listening to The Name of The Wind for the 3rd time on audiobook while I walk with my kind dogs. The plows have moved just enough snow off the edge of the road to feel earth under my feet again. It has been a while and I walk on it with a light heart.
It is well after lunch by now and I load up Italics and my hunting gear and head into town. I stop for a sandwich to fuel me for the afternoon hike. We hunt over at Common Sense Farm and when I arrive I am shocked at the cold of the open fields. I live on a mountainside, protected from winds. Common Sense is down in the valley and more exposed. I feel them die off and grab my bird and hunting satchel. We head off into the rabbit thickets.
Italics and I spend about an hour outside together. We are in a wild place. I let him fly free and he perches in a tree to watch me flush game. I do this (without finding any rabbits, the snow is still deep and they are clever) and walk along the trail with my staff. He follows me and I am glad. I call him to me and he flies to the fist three times. We are a team, and I push through brush and pricker bushes. I walk through a knee-deep creek. I feel invincible and happy. The wind is gone and the sun is back and when I raise my fist to the sky my good hawk flies to it and lands with grace. It took a year to feel this, to know this. I could care less if we catch a rabbit. I have caught the moment.
I smile. I am tired. I have been up since dawn. I have worked and sat, punched and kicked, stretched and hiked and now I have hunted. I am ready to end this day's adventure and we head back to my truck. Italics goes back to his carrying crate with a full stomach of food I brought along as a reward for his attention. I head to the mansion where the Commune's majority live.
I walk inside and up the stairs to my good friend Yeshiva's apartment. She's home and her new baby and toddler are napping, her older kids are at school. Perfect timing. She invites me inside for tea and tells me about the mountain lion tracks found in the rabbit thicket. I raise an eyebrow and she shows me the photos, the measurements, the 20 inch span between the strides. A brother called the DEC and they confirmed it, but set up a game cam to be sure. There are lions in these parts! I hugged the mug with two hands and listened wide eyed. It was quite the tale. She told me about the deer they found ruined apart in the woods, the tracks and how far they went around the outskirts of town. I felt like one of the characters in Birchthorn. It was a quiet thrill from the safety of a mansion with a hot drink.
After my visit and tea I headed to the barn at Common Sense to get hay. I only needed a few bales and I climbed up the ladder into the third story of the ancient barn. Ancient, but not in poor shape. I found myself in the glow of the afternoon light streaming in and on my warmed face. The light lit up the peafowl and pheasants n their three story aviary. Birds of storybooks perched on trees and limbs hung from ropes and rafters. I wished music was playing. No cathedral on earth knows the blessed humility of a barn loft in afternoon light.
By now it was nearly 4PM and I needed to return for evening chores and to tend to the fire. I did so and was happy to report the sun stayed with me. When all the animals were taken care of I headed inside to enjoy the evening. All office work usually stops by 5PM and I was thrilled to have nothing to do but pour a little bourbon in a mason jar and stretch out my tired limbs. I still felt that smile from the morning prayer session. I still felt that wash of gratitude. My life isn't perfect, not by a long shot. But today was kind of wonderful. I got to care for my farm, work towards my goals, hike and hunt, and spend time hearing stories of monsters with good friends. I ate good food. I came home with hawk I set free. I am still smiling, maybe because I simply chose to enjoy the day a few moments after meeting it. It was a glorious day and I look forward to doing it again. To starting that cold morning list and taking time to sit, pray, and smile.
You get what you ask for. You just need the courage to ask. Some times it takes a list. Some times it takes a prayer. Some times it takes good friends and holy light. So be it.
That photo was taken last spring and it has me salivating and awestruck. That is my house, my yard, my shepherd. Those are my apple trees in blossom and flowers at my dog's paws. It's the same place I was just a few hours ago during morning chores—near the well—but this morning I needed to break ice in heavy boots to make room for the five gallon bucket. I slipped and fell on the ice (twice: let's hear it for me) and everything is grey. I look outside the office window and I can see the sheep walking down their well-worn muddy path to their hay. The only green in my life right now is a few pea shoots in the living room and the second cut hay I lug from the back of the truck into the animal's paddocks. Both the photo and the hay are proof that June exists, but I remain doubtful. It's been cold here for a very long time.
Here is the view from the office window:
Amazing that this is the same place, and those are the same trees! But it is March, in like a lion and all that. And it very well might end with literal lambs. Two of my blackface ewes are clearly pregnant and I am praying for ewe lambs. My flock has grown old from years of bartering young animals instead of raising them. So right now my youngest breeding ewe is 5 or 6. Not a good thing. Fingers crossed for twin lambs! Same goes for Bonita. Regardless of what pops out of her it will be sold, as I do not need more than a pair of does. But if it is a purebred doeling I can sell it for double what a wether would go for, and money is important and rare these days. This post is starting to sound not only wistful, but sexist. What can I say? When it comes to livestock that offers milk and lamb chops - women rule.
In other spring news I ordered 45 laying hen pullet chicks yesterday! Quite the sign of hope. I offically have birds and bees on their way to me come spring, along with the expected lambs, kids, and rabbit kits this place is going to explode with new life and intentions come snowmelt. I have repair and home-improvement plans down on paper as well as pasture re-seeding and stock selling. All of it will happen because it simply has to. A farm like this only continues the story if you start telling the beginning before you know how it all ends. Not the best way to write a novel, but the only way I know how to live my life.
So right now I have a to-do list to get back to with my morning all planned out. I updated this blog a bit and Clan Cold Antler as well. I got some errands in town, stories to continue, a pair of dogs to walk down the road, and violins to order. With a camp on the way come month's end I need to get everything in order in more ways than just lambing and lists. But I am happy to report that things are slowly happening- at least on paper and in the form of receipts—and for now those checked-off tasks and future critters are the Gospel of Spring. Proof in faith that even if I can't quite realize June is real, I can still believe in it. And belief is a lot more powerful than grey light.
I am sharing this again to urge anyone on the fence to sign up and join the tribe this October! So far the Spring session is sold out, and the only other session offered until next year (or personal Indie Days) is this fall session. If you are even on the fence or nervous, grab up this workshop because it is a life changer. Now, I'm not saying I am a life changer, I'm saying becoming an archer is. You see the world different. You walk taller, you learn a discipline and an art that holds your head higher and allows a focus and meditation few sports can match. You can lose yourself in a run, you can ride a horse for therapy, but nothing compares to the feeling of the bow. Your mind is totally open and clear when an arrow is pulled back to your lips. It is heavenly. Also, take heart in knowing everyone coming is a complete beginner, so no worries about being worst or best. This is about learning to shoot traditionally and for yourself. Who knows? It may open your world to hunting, or competition, or the SCA like it did for me.So sign up for these two amaing days this coming Holy October. Take aim beside me.
I am happy to announce a new event here at Cold Antler Farm! Hopefully this will become a tradition like Fiddle Camp. Columbus Day Weekend, 2014, I would like to host an absolute beginner's archery event called Arrows Rising: October Light. It's two days of learning the skills, techniques, and equipment needed for traditional archery. That's right, traditional is what I said. We'll be using the longbow (not compound bows) and learning instinctive shooting. There will be no training wheels or sights, instead just wood, string, arrows, eyes, and targets. The event will include a wooden, artisan-crafted long bow at a poundage and length suitable for beginners. Yup, you get a bow!
This may be the event I am most qualified to teach here, too. As a professional archery instructor, a team member of a historic archery team, and a safety marshal for the Society of Creative Anachronism I have been teaching and educating beginning archers for some time now. You'll learn not how to pull and release but how to position your entire body, mind, breath, and heartbeat for the target. You'll be among other beginner's as well so no worries, please.
Day One will include an overview of safety, gear, types of bows and arrows. You'll get to know your bow and learn the basics of care and feeding, stringing it with a bow stringer, and how to measure yourself for arrows. You'll get to learn the safe way to shoot with others at a range environment. You'll get the basic lesson of instinctive shooting as well. The day will end with target practice (supervised) and a talk about important books and resources for the new traditional archer.
Day Two will be shorter, but include a group breakfast at the Burger Den followed by a fun tournament with prizes. We'll wrap up around noon or 2PM at the latest and you'll leave not only with your own bow but the knowledge to shoot well, shoot true, and all the skills you need to practice at home or your local archery range (you may not realize you even have a local public range!).
If you want to sign up I am only accepting ten people. I encourage total beginners to traditional archery who always wanted to take up the sport to attend, you really will enjoy it. If you are already an experienced archer, I suggest letting the folks who never touched a bow before take the first slots and you are welcome to attend the tournament Sunday or come and shadow at the talks and practice on Sunday.
SIGN UP BY MESSAGING ME ON FACEBOOK OR EMAILING DOGSINOURPARKS@GMAIL.COM
Oct 11th and 12th, 2014
Cost: $350 (includes bow!)
No Camping On Site
NOTICE: Workshops are not refundable, regardless of date change, weather, or any other reason, but all sales of workshops are good for credit towards other events of similar value or less long as I am hosting events and farming! Understand this before you sign up, please.
Maude is the old girl, my oldest sheep. She's a purebred Border Leicester and knows it. She was one of the original three sheep I ever got (a trade for fiddle lessons). She came with Salvator and Marvin, both of them were half Romney and I don't think Maude ever let them forget it. Now Maude is in her ninth year and while she has never birthed a lamb she still sticks around. Partially because she produced wool and partially because I worry she may do me in with some quick shiv work if I dared try to eat her. Don't let that placid smile fool you. She's a tiger.
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