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.

10.04.2013

September portraits


1. Leland at 10 weeks; who is giving us smiles and full conversations of coos, and the beginnings of a laugh. 
2. Winnie; who is grazing freely after milking, and here, helping herself to (what was) a basket of apples on the porch.
3. Hawkeye; my constant companion in the forest and in the pastures.
4. Chickadee; who is nearing the end of her lactation. Savoring the goat cheese and the dulce de leche, and trying to find her a good buck for breeding.
5. My dad; with a thistle seed head for a hat.
6. Rudy; my dear aging pup, who doesn't leave the front porch very often now, but who still loves a good belly rub in the sun.


9.11.2013

shepherd ingenuity


The ladies get a parasol today. Most likely one of our last days of true summer if the 10-day forecast is anything to believe. Going to hit 90s today. I did chores with Leland in the ergo and by the end of it I was a delusional, dehydrated sweaty mess with a crying babe stuck to my shirt. After I cooled him down I threw myself in the pond. So we are spending most of today breastfeeding in front of fans. We might even treat ourselves to an airconditioned trip to town.

9.10.2013

Siena Farm-Raiser

 (photos by Alexandra Roberts

The last farm we worked at before we moved to Vermont was located just outside of Boston. We were hired at Siena Farms to start their livestock program. We started them off with every farm's favorite non-vegetable; the chicken. 

Aside from the eggs, Siena Farms is a vegetable farm with nearly 50 acres in production. They sell to many fine restaurants in Boston, at the farmer's market in Copley square, and at their new farm store in the South End. In addition they run a CSA with options to get their veggies delivered all year round. Quite the feat in an icy New England winter. 

Until this summer, Siena Farms has leased all but 10 of the 50 acres they farm. Leasing farmland can be wonderful because often, you can negotiate a very low price on your lease. The landowner gets their money's worth in the tax break for having their land in agricultural use.  Leasing also carries with it the obvious downsides of un-ownership. The life of the lease may be tenuous, or you aren't able to build agricultural buildings on the leased land, or the landowner tries to micromanage. 

This past summer Siena Farms was presented the opportunity to purchase 26 of the 50 acres they lease, and they took it. They have been preparing to buy this property for several years now and they are looking for a little extra help to make this purchase truly viable for the farm. 

On September 21st they will be hosting a Farm-Raiser in their greenhouse, along with cocktails in the field and live music. Photos above are from last year's practice dinner. The meal will be cooked by two of Boston's finest chefs, Ana Sortun and Barbara Lynch. At $1000 a plate, tickets are not cheap, but for a farm that does a phenomenal job at supplying fresh veg to Boston, it is certainly a worthy cause. If you know of anyone with deep pockets and a passion for local food. Ticket sales for the feast end tomorrow. They are on sale here

Also, I love their idea of glass atop pallets atop cinder blocks for dinner tables. 
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