A land where beasts rule humans.

The dogs and I took Amelia for a walk this afternoon. The boys are still away, reluctantly returning this evening after a weekend playing with old friends in New York. I wanted to go too. I can presume the fat and bored babe on my chest would have been up for it. Farm doesn’t allow for both Nick and I to leave at once. Farm is a needy, greedy beast. Too many lives dependent on us. Too many nuances to responsibly ascribe to a sitter. 

It is a conclusion I’m coming to belatedly: farmer’s don’t vacation. I have a vague recollection of concerned friends warning me of this. Farmers are poor on disposable money and rich on work to do. I come to farming from the suburban and spoiled life of somebody accustomed to the Getaway. We’ve squeaked out trips away in the first four years. Nothing too egregious; a drive down to North Carolina; Christmas with my parents on the Vineyard; a wintery week on Cape Cod; a handful of summer days with our families.

When we both leave inevitably something goes Wrong; animals develop debilitating case of maggots-in-the-ears, the tractor smokes and sputtesr, a waterline freezes, the dogs kill a lamb. This is not for want of capable farmsitters. To the contrary the help we’ve hired is, historically, overqualified, capable, well-read, respectful and kind.  Rather, the inevitable happens whether we are here or not.  Our Systems are overly nuanced making it rather painstaking to describe solutions over the phone and unfair to the good kind soul who volunteered for a weekend of light farmwork.

As I write, there is a heifer out of the cow pen, eating dropped bits of hay. She is free to the world, able to, should she choose, saunter to town or go shit on the hood of my car [blessedly the latter has happened but the former has not, yet]. One heifer does not an emergency make. An hour earlier, before our walk, three were out. 

Heifers are the most disagreeable of cows as they are full sized and not yet burdened by calf.  This results in a propensity for adventure and mischief [qualities I favor in human women but find unduly troublesome in our cow-nterparts]. My solution an hour earlier was to run at them as a madwoman, dogs in tow, scaring them back into the pen. Now I sit here, at my desk, writing -a beer, nearly empty and aggressively gripped in one hand- watching a new heifer flaunt my attempt at a fence. I’m not alone in my vigil. I can see, from my perch at the computer, the herd watching her from behind the dubious strand of un-electrified poly wire that we blithely thought might keep them at bay. 

The herd is fighting their collective Cow Brain. They know it is our preference that they not cross the fence. They know that when they do they often find themselves chased by a pair of dogs and a madwoman. They know too that one of their number has crossed the fence and seems to be enjoying herself and a fresh bit of hay. They are struggling with all of this logic. We are about an hour shy of sunset at which point it is my hope they forget the temptation and fall asleep. 

A herd of 20 cows galloping through snow is not an easy group to tame with an infant strapped to ones chest.

Clearly the fence needs to be reinforced. But this is why -nearly always- at least one of us remains behind. It would be irresponsible [shitty] to leave a farmsitter with such a likely doomed scenario. 

Because we are required here to supervise such unfolding scenarios we put great stock in our daily walks. Today we went chasing the setting sun in the old hay field. Amelia trotted along attached to my chest, blinking, and occasionally letting out happy sighs while we watched the dogs somersault over one another through the snow. The four of us making slow but good-natured progress. 

We made it to the old hay fields and spun around to face the sun that was already obscured by some taller trees. We blinked, searched our pockets in hopes of a mid-walk treat: a nib of chocolate or a stale almond but came up only with a few bits of lint, an egg shell and a trio of rusty screws.  Disappointed but sated from the walk and sun we set back towards home. Limping stoically through the deepish snow. 

Amelia was asleep by the time we reached the house. I lay her down in her crib. She had lost both shoes, apparently, as I unwrapped the sling to find her only in socks. Fortunately it wasn’t cold -warm by some perverted Vermont standard- so Amelia survived the walk to the far fields without frostbite. The shoes will melt out in May and they will be a happy, forgotten, sodden treasure when they are found.

In the middle of writing to you the cows did overcome their brains and charged through the fence. The break of the levee poured them en masse from the cow yard into the Open Farm. With great resignation I finished my beer,  grabbed sleeping Amelia from her crib, stuffed her into a wooly and sling and ran at them -this time with a shovel so as to appear menacing. One sight of me and they all scurried like bad lambs back to their cow yard. We poured a kettle of hot water on the frozen barn gates and locked them in for the night, leaving the fence-fixing for tomorrow. 

Amelia and I skipped proudly home; I feeling intolerably smug in my role as MotherFarmer and Amelia thrilled with the adrenaline of galloping beasts. It wasn’t until I had undone her from the tangles of the sling that I noticed I had wrangled cows in my underpants. Such is my mental state that I can hold a 7 month old while running through a foot of snow to terrify a herd of cows through the small mouth of the barn gate but I am incapable of remembering or realizing the need for pants.


The Lunacy of February

February is my least favorite month. Fortunate then, for its 28 days. 30, or worse 31 and I would have left Vermont after that first winter. It snows every day in February. A law passed by the state legislature in 1892 requires it so. Coupled with a bone chilling cold and an utter lack of sun we spend hours looking at photos of summer wondering at the possibility.

Snow at this point in our winter has lost all novelty. Oh, its snowing says the mistress of the house as she descends in her pajamas that were yesterday's clothes. Not, Oh! the exclamation when one has found a forgotten stash of Christmas chocolate. Rather, Oh, the resignation when your mate suggests cuddling up to The Walking Dead instead of The Good Wife.

Some afternoons, after shepherding my son from house to car to co-op to car to house the guilt of his winter imprisonment overcomes. There is a break in the snow.  I stuff his chunky appendages into tubes of wool and tunnels of down. I wedge the hand-me-down-woolen blob that was once my son into his sled and pile ratty blankets reserved for this purpose all around him. He is sufficiently shielded from Winter with only the triangle of his eyes and nose visible. The absence of any screaming tells me I can proceed. I tie the sled off to my belt and mush forth.

We ascend the driveway, just a half mile to the top. The mailbox sits there and provides our walk a humble goal. I gingerly unfold the broken mouth. Oh! bills. I'm forever optimistic in my expectation of a package. It is unreasonable as they never come of their own volition and I never order anything online to warrant one.

Disappointed I turn to head home. My small shadow is still stoic and breathing, watching the dogs smell each other's marked trees. I stuff the bills into a pocket that I suspect carries a broken egg. With gloves it hard to distinguish between an egg yolk and an eyeball but my money is on the egg. It will have been the third broken one this week. And we are not a household that can afford such carelessness.

Our chickens are laying one egg a day. 29 hens producing one egg. Curiously, its almost never the same egg. They've decided, collectively, that one egg a day should keep us off their backs 'til spring, so I reckon they take turns. With every $20 bag of organic scratch we bring them I do the humiliating math. Three bucks per egg returned.  If we were better farmers these hens would be stew birds in the freezer by now. We have a soft spot for old layers...and motherless lambs, and mean knobby kneed goats, and 3 legged pigs, and mastitic dairy cows. Farming for us has always been a delicate balance of hoarding lunacy and responsible shepherding.

We are nearly home. I slide in behind Leland and we sail downhill the last hundred meters to the front porch. I roll Stay Puft through the front door. As I begin to unravel the wooly layers the reality of our return to prison hits my tiny son. He screams, a guttural awful noise. I hold him as the angering reality of mid winter courses through. A piece of buttered raisin toast seems to appease him and within minutes he is chewing thoughtfully in front of the fire. I sink  into the sofa on the far side of the cell and look outdoors. Oh, its snowing I say to nobody.

August 30th, 2014

It turns out we weren't legally married on that day.  Getting married requires more timely paperwork than either Nick or I care to complete. Which is to say, not a lot, but the combination of marriage license, visits to the town clerk, and the expiration of said license, proved a powerful and ultimately worthy nemesis for me and my "husband". We got married, legally, just recently on January 1st in the living room of our dear friends Melissa and Brent Jordan in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Which was a good 4 months past the day we will always think of as our anniversary.

The exact date of marriage doesn't matter for our purposes here. Nor does it matter for the purposes of the events surrounding August 30th. Because, with or without the seal of the state, Nick and I committed ourselves to one another on that day. We did so on our land, under two wickedly ancient and twisty apple trees, with our son as our witness.

At the risk of sounding like white laced cliché, it was the wedding I dreamed of. At least it was the wedding my thirty-year-old-bohemian-wannabe-exhausted-mother-frantic-farmer-self had dreamed of.

It was a modest affair. Mostly immediate family and local friends. A handful flew thousands of miles or drove cramped hours to be with us and for that we were humbled. We said our vows in the far northern field, overlooking the farm. Our beautiful friend Brent married us. Our fathers read poetry. Nick's entire family cried. My good Episcopalian family kept it together.  My sister and Jacob played us music they had written for the occasion. Leland insisted on nursing while I read my vows.

We walked the whole gang across the farm and at three long tables ate and supped in the belly of the new barn.

Those tiny sentences seem inadequate to describe the love, the joy, the drink, the music that filled the farm on that fine day. But I am not long for words these days as this absent blog can attest. So I allow here the photos to fill in the rest.

Photos 1-10 by Ben Jacks and Photos 11-20 by Ben Fleishman


Half Diary of June 2014

I'm cheating. Did you know you could back date posts? I do but I can't figure it out. Today is Feb. 7th and I am finally posting the diary of farm observations I wrote back in June. So, I am not backdating but backtracking. I would apologize for such slimy behavior, but I want desperately to write here again with some frequency and to do so I must delude myself into thinking this space hasn't been so deserted.

Reading about the mundanities of June in February feels forbidden and good. It was disappointing to see I couldn't even get through half a month of observations but June is a crazed month and so it is unsurprising. I can tell you, the last 15 days were filled with fireflies, many house guests, and grass that grew like weeds.

June 1st. Buttercup. Dandelions.  Coyotes were very loud tonight. Nick and Hawkeye slept on the porch to keep them back.
June 2nd. Timber-framers are back. Beginning to put together main story of the barn. They've spent the winter notching, sanding and oiling. Now it is a veritable 'game' of lincoln logs.
Planted winter's squash, watermelon, cucumbers, string beans and dried beans, eggplant and peppers. Mulching with one of the remaining round bales per the suggestion of a friend whom I trust implicitly with matters of the garden. Seems very good and thick, but I'm concerned with the heat of the fermented grass against the starts.
June 4th Hawkweed (orange and yellow) and Aster flowering.
June 5th Planted the flower garden.
June 7th very warm June. High 80s. The pond is magnificent. Winnie calved! Bull calf. Will definitely steer him.
June 8th Great Blue Heron stalking salamanders in the pond.
June 9th Built fence. Vetch and clover are flowering. Lupine too. Brush hogged spring pasture. Have had to water the gardens every day. No rain to speak of.
red clover are flowering. Lupine is flowering. Brush hogged spring pasture.
June 11th. Daisies & Bedstraw flowering.
June 12th Mama snapping turtle crossing by Laurel and Henry's. Moved it. They think its the same one they've seen a few years running now.


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.

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