6.15.2014

Diary of May 2014



Before June gets too far along I thought it prudent to post the farm ledger for May. May was a hot gorgeous month with very little rain. We are making up for that now in sodden June (but more on that for the next post). Suffice to say, we got sunburned and it felt deserved and restorative after the winter we went through.

To watch the way in which the frozen earth here in Vermont has melted and become so viciously alive again is humbling in a way that hitherto was foreign for me. It is hard to reconcile that just a mere 2 months ago our house was encased with snow and ice. Here we are, as was promised, reddened from sun, not from cold. Sleeping on the porch. Fencing sheep in undies and a t-shirt. Dancing naked on the rocks of the pond. Worshiping the closeness of a sun we forgot could give such warmth.

May was a spectacular month.

May 3rd:  ramp harvest. 20 lbs in 2 hours. It was our first "date". My parents were up and watched Leland.
May 4th: Trevor  up for a visit and Vermont buying trip. Bought all of our ramps. We have vague plans to harvest again but I honestly can't imagine we will without somebody here to watch the babe.
May 9th:  Tractor clutch died, has to be trucked to the shop. Nearly runs Nick right through the back of the equipment shed.
May 10th:  Albert (the bull) breaks out of stall. Mounts Annabelle. Possibly breeds her. Nick's mother visiting and caring for Leland.
May 11th:  With tractor broken and no way to feed out remaining 4 round bales we are putting everyone on pasture earlier than expected. Cows out. Mamas and babies and Winnie in one pasture. Albert and steers in adjacent pasture.
May 12th:  Walked Bella, Annabelle and Busy over to pasture at the neighbors for 2 months. The walk over began as complete chaos but we managed to end rather gracefully just in time for the audience of our neighbors.
May 13th: Found a home for the two doelings and the buck. Going to keep and milk Chickadee, but cannot have a herd of goats, however small. Must focus on the sheep and pigs.
May 14th: Rototilled a new kitchen garden. Just a few paces West from last year's, but I think the combination of the slight change in space and raised beds should result in a dried, healthier garden.
May 15th:  Raleigh (the boar 5 month old) is trying to breed Rose. The height difference may be hard to overcome for a few more months. He is a little pig with tremendously large balls.
May 16th:  (evening) Wicked downpour. The kind of rain that makes you sit up straight in bed. A freight train of a storm.
May 17th:   I found one of our milking Devon mamacows with lying on her side this morning with her horn stuck in the ground. Despite attempts to get her up and a call for the vet she died. Possibly bloat. Possibly grass tetany according to the vet.
May 17th: (evening)  middle of the night Monsieur (our first and oldest rooster) carried away by a fox.
May 18th: Planted potatoes with mom and dad (in mulch, not in dirt?!?!).
May 20th:  Forest flowers abound. Alpine strawberries. Trillium. Spring beauties. Violets. Sheep shearing this afternoon with Mary.
May 21st:  Moved sheep to garden pasture
May 22nd: Asparagus harvest! Bed looks to be in pretty bad shape. Mental note to pay attention to it.
May 24th: My 30th birthday.  Chickadee kidded, 2 boys.
May 26th: Second kid born died but he didn't look good to begin with; planted 36 tomato starts.
May 27th: First kid born died. Selenium deficiency? Asparagus beetles in the asparagus bed.
May 28th: first kale, chard, and arugula harvest. Anxiously searched for morels.  Misha found one, but way past its time. Rumors of a man finding hundreds in the next town over. Angry with myself for not knowing my property well enough yet as to know where she hides her mushroom jewels.
May 29th: Wild chervil is blooming. Fortunately none on found on the farm, yet, but pervasive nearly everywhere we drive.
May 31st:  Took the VW to New Hampshire to see Nick and Lindsay get married. Camped in bus with baby who slept like a....baby.








5.15.2014

Insta-update

This is (frivolous) public service announcement that my Instagram handle has been changed to longestacresfarm.  Much more official with the addition of "farm", isn't it? There you can find me harassing farm animals and tickling my baby. That is, sadly, all for today.

5.02.2014

Declining baselines/ Diary of April 2014


Last summer I read an article in Orion by Derrick Jensen regarding what he terms declining baselines. 
I won't bother going into too much detail about the article as it was succinct and poignant in a way that I will not be able to capture. Go read it instead. To be brief he defines declining baselines as "the process of becoming accustomed to and accepting as normal worsening conditions." Specifically the worsening conditions of our natural world. His personal example is of the euphoric reaction he had to seeing a black bear, a pair of silver foxes and a raccoon in his backyard all in one day. His euphoria is dampened when he remembers that it used to be common (pre-Europeans) for a man to see a grizzly bear once every fifteen minutes in his region. Thus was the richness and density that existed once in the wild world.

In Jensen's conclusion he begs of the reader a more conscious and observant relationship with their natural world. He argues we need to be aware of our natural world so that we can truly love it and when we begin to lose it we can fight for what we loved. Be it in a city or on a farm there are annual events that we always celebrate (cherry blossoms, daffodils, fireflies) and those we may not notice (robins, wild geese, black flies). Jensen requests of the reader to keep a diary of their annual observations to note for when you first see a harbinger of the new season and how many. We need to observe, then love, then feel the pain of loss of our natural world, then fight. Our baseline stops declining; we know what we are missing.

It is a painful request but one I think we should be moved to heed. After such a wild winter of Arctic Blasts and record lows in Vermont and elsewhere, it is so obvious that this climate is changing and so heartbreakingly oblivious we all wish to remain.

I have mixed my observations of the natural world in with that of the farm. In attempts to look back year after year and see the chorus and the dissonance between farm lives and the wild ones. As with climate change the rhythms of our farm too will be forced to change.  It has always been my romantic intention to get an oversized leather bound ledger in which I would sit at a big desk (that I don't have) and write in a sloping penmanship (that I can't sustain) with a silver fountain pen (that I have lost) the daily brief of the farm and of this land. But, this will have to do for now.

Here is my diary for April. It is my intention to keep one for every month of every year. Perhaps I won't bore you with it here, but to record it nonetheless.

April  1st: Nasty ice storm last night and into today. Ardea lambed. Boy and a girl, we brought them to the upstairs part of the little barn where I formed a makeshift jug.

April 2nd: Still very much covered in snow, about 2 feet. Saw a black bear around 5pm crossing the back pasture. There is some snow melt around the base of the apple trees there and it appears he was having a little late winter snack.  Sap running. Black capped chickadees and the occasional raven remain the only birds we see, though morning songs of other birds have begun but unable to identify. Must work much harder at my bird studies.

April 4th:  Heard, but did not see, the honking of a flock of Canadian geese overhead. They must have seen the ice covered pond and the snow on pastures, and thought better of landing. Mud season has begun in earnest on our roads. Driveway holding up well! Twin lambs born today to Otus, a boy and a girl.

April 7th night:  Massive rain, thunder, and wind storm. A few trees down. Much snow melted.

April 11th: The thaw began in earnest this week. About 6inches left to go on front pasture and woods. Back pasture nearly bare. The creek is raging.

April 12th:  First sightings of robins on front pasture. A pair of geese and two pairs of ducks land in the pond. Hawkeye has tried to persuade them to leave, to no avail. The swimming rocks are covered in shit.

April 13th: Four white-tailed does spotted by the apple trees where I saw the black bear. Moose tracks found running along the driveway and then crossing into the woods behind the sugar shack.

April 14th: High of 75F. Ice completely melted. Pastures melted. Snow remaining only in the shadows. North facing woods are draining in earnest. There is a bustling vernal streams that has formed cutting apart the lower driveway. Two vernal pools at the top of the driveway, one draining to the south, the other draining towards the homestead to the north.  Sap still running, our woods are cooler than most. Than man who sugars here expects we will have another week of sap here before the trees bud.

April 15th: We have had very loud geese in our pond every day since Saturday.   Hawkeye is beside himself. Full moon tonight.

April 16th: Nellie lambed. Twin girls. She has rejected the second (born nearly 3 hours after the first). We now have a house lamb.

April 18th: Planted arugula, beets, radishes, carrots, and peas in the raised beds that are workable.

April 20th: The bull broke through the door of his stall. We fear he may have bred Annabelle, which means a young mother and a chilly calf in the middle of next winter.

April 21st: Truly beautiful, summer weather. Took the goats on much needed walk. Still some snow in the forest. Nick foolishly wore Chacos on the walk.

April 22nd: Weeded the asparagus bed, no signs of spears yet.

April 24th: Given 25 raspberry canes, three gooseberries, and one black currant by a neighbor. Planting all afternoon!

April 25th: First peepers beginning their song. Very faint but definitely there.

April 16th: Getting back to splitting firewood. A task that was made much too difficult with all the snow in March.

April 28th: Bella calved, a heifer. Ramps are up.

April 29th: The peepers have begun their chorus in earnest now. It is nearly deafening at night outdoors. The unmistakable greening of the pastures. Especially the south facing cow pastures across the brook. Little bits of clover sticking up through the winter-killed grass.

April 30th: In an act of simultaneous desperation and unbridled optimism, moved the sheep on to pasture that needs the hay seed and manure. 6 hours later, in the dark, I ran the lambs and mamas back into the barn under the nasty attack of an icy downpour.

4.03.2014

identity


Leland will be nine months next week and as I write that I stop and count the months twice, with fingers, to be sure, because it doesn't seem possible. I can't decide if it should be fewer or more than nine. Against my instincts, I yield to the math and move on.  For nine months then, my identity has been (nearly) wholly that of a mother. It gave way to farmer, daughter, sister, and partner. For the past 9 months I haven't been a runner, a friend, a baker, a woman who bathes or a blogger. I have been a mother, and it has required all of me. I've gone running once a month, and blogged even less frequently.  I forget to call my parents, my sister, and my girlfriends. I haven't been a particularly present or supportive partner to Nick. I barely see my animals but for the rare occasion of doing morning chores in Nick's stead.  Then, it is only to toss hay in their braying mouths and stomp on  frozen water buckets, curse the shit, the mud and the shit and finally shuffle back towards the house through the mountain of snow and ice that befell our land this winter.

I won't go into exhaustive detail about how much I love my son, as it is irrefutable that I do. My identity as a mother has become by far my most cherished. Yet, in the past few months, the need to attend to my other identities has grown frantic. I yearn to return to work in the pastures, woods, garden and barn. I ache to work my body to physical exhaustion and pain. I whimper at the promise to spend an unadulterated hour with another adult.

Naturally, the Doom and Gloom of this has been made bleaker by the wickedness of this winter. We have had more snow longer and colder than the Vermonters I ask can remember. I am obvious in my leading questions....This much snow in March isn't common....right? March is always the final winter kick to the nuts isn't it? It was especially wicked here. A neighbor called yesterday to talk trees, but talk turned to weather as it always does around here and he mentioned it was the coldest Vermont March on record (since 1884).  Which is both as unsettling as it is oddly comforting. We survived, with barely enough wood, with the luxury of propane just in case. And while we're at it, warm water on tap. And fully insulated walls. I imagine a colder March pre-1884 would have made little mewing kittens out of us.

But in the past four days Vermont began to succumb to the inevitability of Spring. With temps in the 50s our roads have melted, the fields will be next. We missed a snowstorm last weekend by a matter of 50 miles. Instead we got blessed rain. The thaw has me back outdoors. Shuttling animals around between the two barnyards. Sheep in with cows, pigs in with goats and chickens. Makes more sense than the reverse though the goats are indignant with the change.

We're beginning to plan the daily and weekly schedule of the summer and even talking of enrolling Leland in the local daycare a couple of mornings a week to free me up for more farmwork. I've been running more times in the past two weeks than in all of the 8 months of Leland's life leading up to them. I've got a routine baking English muffins and sourdough every Friday. I'm even planning a few days on the Vineyard with a girlfriend next week.

I'm becoming Kate again. Not just momKate. More KatemomKate. As with every step I have taken since I became a mother, I have found the one of reclaiming parts of my pre-baby life exceedingly humbling.

3.10.2014

Crawling out of hibernation.


I've often thought of writing you. As the days keep running by, despite Winter's interminable stay, not one goes by when I don't think to myself, Ah! That would make a good blog icebreaker!

Like when the mercury barely crawled about zero for a week, and our roads and paths were pure ice. Every time we went to collect eggs one of us would fall, smashing all the precious edible gold every day, for nearly a week. It wasn't much to write on but it was sure entertainment in a bad farm sitcom way. Oh no! Not AGAIN! She exclaims, covered in frozen yoke. [[cue laugh track]]

Or the time I trudged up the cellar stairs with a plastic container fished from the bowels of one of our three freezers filled with the summer's haul. I announced proudly to my mother, Nick, and Leland that I would make chicken liver paté out of its contents, only for Nick to turn and laugh. I had found, not the livers, but my very own placenta, packaged discretely and hurriedly in a yogurt container, thrown into the freezer with the vague thought of planting it someday under a tree (but what sort of tree!?) to commemorate Leland's birth. A warning to all future visitors: It now currently resides in the upstairs freezer as I have become a woman of old bones who doesn't like to walk back down the very stairs I had ascended 10 minutes earlier.  

I thought about writing to speculate on the pregnancies or general fatness of my ewes. The white ewe is the size of a large truck. So flat and wooly on top that it isn't uncommon to see a chicken or two riding her back around the barnyard. I have spent many a breastfeeding (currently, my lone moments for reading) pouring over the lambing sections of our sheep husbandry books. I am a snarl of anxiety and excitement for the arrival of lambing. I am also uncertain as to their expected due date. I (shamefully) blame the baby for my lack of records last year. All I can be certain of is that they will lamb (if they are bred and not just fat) some time between last Friday and May. Which means I am checking their broad backsides and squeezing little sheep teats every morning in hopes of more precise information.

I thought about writing regarding our newest house-pig, Raleigh.  A boar piglet we brought back from North Carolina. He is wickedly cute and is currently a porch gargoyle. Emerging from his kennel stuffed with hay to snort and greet visitors. He and our one-year old German Shepard are bosom buddies, sleeping together on the dog bed and taking walks with each other up the drive way looking for Trouble.

I very nearly wrote you last Saturday when I saw two robins on my drive home, just 15 miles south of our farm. I almost missed them, they floated right up above my window, and then dived away to the side as I sped down the narrow road by the river. I've thought about that pair nearly everyday since, wondering if it was a mirage. Not 500 yards further a flock of snow buntings danced above a hay field thick with a foot of snow ice. They are birds of two separate seasons, requiring two separate kinds of pasture. I must have imagined the robins.  And so, there was little to write to you about there, except for the sad hope of a woman who wants to see spring under the blanket of March.

I stayed away from the blog this winter, because this winter has been about Nick and I and Leland getting to know each other. Watching our son grow has been the incredible lesson in humility and love I had hoped it to be. And that is mostly a private (and beautiful) matter, not fit for here, for me and my hopes of this space. It has been restorative to take this break (with the occasional peak into our lives and the lives of our friends via Instagram).

But I write to you today. Nick is at his new off-farm job, running a lab that tests milk samples for local cheesemakers (hooray for off-farm income!). Leland is sleeping. So are the pigs, the cows, the sheep and goats, and chickens. It is midday on March 10th. Everyone is fed. The snow is beginning to fall again with a week of steady snow promised. There is nothing much to do but revel in the quiet of winter. It is now that we must revel in its beauty, in is unrivaled silence. The rest is not eternal, no matter how long winter wears on. Summer is coming and our days will soon be filled with the physical exhaustion the farm demands. It isn't long now until I find myself, inexplicably covered in cow shit, weeding the tomatoes, and from the tiredness abandon my post to lay prostrate under the July sun. Catching my breath and shirking my garden duties I will surely fish my phone out of my short's pocket to fondle photos of this white and frozen landscape and think, ahh! I long for the rest of winter!

So I took the quiet of today to welcome myself back to this space I hold so dear. I look forward to writing to you again soon.  But for now one of the dogs just let in the aforementioned gargoyle (pig) and he is tearing into a bag of flour.....I must be off!

The above, are photos of our recent trip to my cousin's farm in North Carolina. Not of Vermont in the winter time, no matter how much I wish it to be so.

12.28.2013

December walk


December 19th, 2013

My sister and her boyfriend, Jacob, flew in from California yesterday and came up to the farm to join us before we all pile into one car to visit my parents for Christmas. 

It fills me to have visitors...to see this land populated with our young smiling friends. It isn't a treat we are granted often in the winter. We aren't near any large ski mountains, and the thrill of Vermont in the winter sans alpine ski is lost on many. We've sung our mightiest gospel on the virtues of the snowshoe, the sled, the cross country ski, and the propsect of an après-snowshoe whisky. 

There is also the yurt who has proven a bit chilly for most guests, even with the coax of a pumping woodstove. In that vain we've smashed two couches into our downstairs room, to accommodate the intrepid and rare beast of a winter's guest. Every so often we catch one or two, and take them tromping through the woods, to throw snowballs at them. 

12.16.2013

Winter portraits/ Pictured, Not Pictured

I have lost most of the muscle memory required to write. It has been that long. My thoughts on what to say are so numerous and so cluttered that in order to make mind space and come back to this at all gracefully, I thought I'd throw a softball of a pictured/not pictured post.


pictured: 

1. They are an Icelandic breed. True to their name they remain unimpressed by all winter weather.
2. The chickens, however, appear averse to snow. We ceremoniously open and shut their coop door, morning and night, but not one chicken foot-print outside.
3. After watching my does go through two heat cycles without successfully finding a buck for hire, I caved and bought one on Craigslist. His name is Ferdinand and he is a sweet pea. Even though I swore I would never have a buck again. Here he is, living in my barnyard, ravishing my sweet does.
4. The girls.
5. Rose, in a stable of the new (half-built) barn. I'm intending to breed her this winter, which means in addition to the buck that I am not happy to have, I will soon have a boar. Balls always mean more work and more trouble in a barnyard.
6. Snowy cows.
7. One of this year's steers.
8.  Despite a foot of snow, Hawkeye knows with eerie precision the location of each bone.
9. Tractor, Nick, hay. Every three days. Round bales are the bussom of efficiency.

not pictured: 

1. The hoop house that Nick built, in a tangled, snowy, plastic-y mess. The weight of the snow and my idiocy caused its collapse in the last storm.
2. Fortunately I hadn't had my new life-as-a-mom together enough to plant anything of significance in it. Unfortunately, I never filled out the Warranty card for the hoophouse kit.
3. My unmotherly screaming of F-U-C-K on repeat, like a verbal and angry hyena, when I found #1 and realized the latter half of #2.
4. The tornado of the house. Pre-baby Kate would have been aghast and would have judged very harshly. Post-baby Kate watched with bemusement tonight as a pitbull stood on the futon licking peanut butter from behind a pillow. She was too intent on keeping a quiet house for the sleeping babe that she offered no discipline to the dog nor any attempt to clean up the remaining peanut butter. She believes it to still be smudged in behind the pillow.
5. Leland's second chin. It closely resembles a pelican's pouch filled with fish. I kiss it often.
6. The weather has brought Nick inside temporarily and it is so nice to have the company. It makes me feel like a human again.
7. The moon tonight. The brightness combined with the reflection from the snow. You need little modern assistance to see outside.
8. A meeting on Saturday to plan the second and final part of the new barn. Already planning of things in June and July, how adorably optimistic.
9. Little calves, and kids, and lambs, all growing in their mama bellies (with any real luck). 

11.07.2013

The southern wind. The warm rain.


We woke up this morning to a wind coming in from the South. You can nearly taste the ocean air when it does. It is a warmer wind. And this morning it came with buckets of rain.

It caught me while I moved the animal fencing. In their dwindling days on grass, I give the sheep and goats bigger swaths of pasture at a time. Instead of moving them every three days, as I do in the summer, I move them every other week; walking the little flock in at night for hay and safety from the coyotes.

Last night the coyotes were loud, and near. I stood out on the dark of the porch in my undies and a down jacket barking back at them.  They sound manic, as though they've already found a ewe and are devouring her. One of the men working on the barn, asked me if I wanted them gone. No.  I do not want them shot. I don't even want them to move on to another farm. I love their eerie yips. They electrify the mid-night farm. I do want them to stay the hell away from my sheep. A friend down in the southern part of the state once told me of coyotes taking down a full sized horse on her hill. When they get hungry...

As I worked the heavens began to empty and what had started out as a warm mist became a veritable shower within minutes. I deliberately set each stake of the sheep fence neither hastening nor slowing my pace. I relished the rain, the mud that grew to cover my hands and legs and undoubtedly my brow. Since Leland's birth it isn't often that I am allowed the humble honor of a working man in a storm.

I love the rain. I love when we haven't seen a drop in weeks and then it arrives with fury. The porosity of the soil can't keep pace.  I love existing in it.

I was counting on the downpour continuing for my return to the house. Brave New Mother Returns Home from Farm-work Amidst Downpour to Feed Infant Son. But the rain had stopped by the time I got to our porch, and neither was my son at home, but with Nick talking to the electrician at the barn.

So I came inside, stripped off my wet layers and basked in the racing heart, the red cheeks, the wet hair of a woman who works outdoors.

In the never-ending battle of posting in a timely manner, this was written LAST Thursday. Coincidentally, we have rain again this Thursday, but it is a cold rain, the kind that makes your fingers burn. The above photo was taken today.

10.21.2013

So nice to have you....Hold Leland?

I wrote this post LAST Monday but it has taken me another week to have the presence of time and attention to press the blessed PUBLISH button. 

The hoop house went up this weekend. The sheep were shorn (by a professional who is not me). We had a house-full again. This time Nick's sister and her family. Her sons pictured above are Leland's only cousins. And so we cherish them. It is so much fun to show these city kids around the farm. Having them help me herd the sheep, watching Nick milk.

As good as it was to see Nick's family, I took advantage of their presence like I have with every visitor in the long march we've had since late July. Hi! So nice to have you! Hold Leland for a quick minute? 

I needn't explain my love for this boy. The photo in the previous post should be enough of an explanation. Yet, we struggle with his addition to the working farm. Since he was born and my sister returned to California we have been a one man operation for the animals. One of us, always holding Leland. When he is awake the boy emphatically prefers to be in our arms, without carrier. Most days, this means, that Nick, is feverishly working on finishing the barnyard for winter and I am hopping around the house, garden, and barn doing one-armed chores. When he naps we can lay him in his bassinet and work nearby. Two Tuesdays ago I was able to do this with Nick. We harvested the remnants of the garden before that night's killing frost while Leland slept. The three bushels of carrots I harvested remained in baskets on the porch for three more days until I had the chance to put them into storage after Leland had gone to sleep for the night.

We certainly underestimated how difficult it would be to continue all of our chores and projects on the land with a newborn. Animals and gardens have been ruthlessly prioritized. And so, when visitors come, we slip them the baby and take off at a fastforward pace to Get It All Done.

The days are winnowing. Morning takes hours longer to break than it did when Leland was first born. Winter is very near and soon our pace will come to a natural slowdown with the shorter days. When spring comes Leland will be sitting up on his own and soon after able to crawl making next season a bit more chaotic but we'll have the use of both arms.

10.07.2013


I don't often put up photos of myself in which I am smiling like a jack-o-lantern. BUT that is how this kid makes me smile. Motherhood has made me my most vulnerable and my most happy. I am completely in love with this new part of my life.
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