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.



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.


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.



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.


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.
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