Farm to Fiber Tour

I had planned to be in London taking care of my mother for most of October, but Covid has made any kind of travel impossible. Being here, however, allowed for participation in the Farm to Fiber Tour. I had my doubts: other than peerless views and a lovely barn and adorable sheep, I had little to show by way of actual wool. Past shearings had been sold to Tammy at Wing and a Prayer Farm, and I only had the current shearing’s raw fleece on hand. Battenkill Fibers had spun some of my Shetland wool into lovely yarn that was a rich creamy color. But that was it.

Luckily, my friend and fellow shepherd, Sheila, came to the rescue, and agreed to sell some of her beautifully hand dyed Romney yarn here. So, armed with that, and keeping my fingers crossed for good weather, I joined the tour and set up shop on what promised to be a glorious Fall weekend – one of those picture perfect, upstate New York days of clear blue skies, and sunshine enough to reveal the glory of our foliage season.

Enough visitors showed up to make the effort worthwhile, and the conversations I had with knowledgable shepherds and knitters were so interesting. Truth to tell, I have dropped the ball when it comes to moving on in my learning process of all things wool: washing, carding, and spinning to begin with. This past year of sheeping has been all about the care of my flock itself, and how to do the daily hard work of it by myself – regardless of weather (no small effort, as it turned out, given the Winters of upstate New York).

Meeting practitioners and devotees of spinning, dyeing, knitting, and weaving was inspirational. So, at the end of the tour, while packing up the fleeces and wool I did not sell (Auggie’s and Jasper’s most recent fleeces – Cotswold and Wenslydale – did sell, much to my astonishment), I committed myself to shifting my focus to wool stuff and actually doing all that I was reading and researching how to do.

And then, as though she had read my mind and knew of my new intentions, a friend dropped off a bag of gorgeous marigolds just begging for a dye pot to begin their second life as the source of color for my already spun wool. This week’s work can now begin!

Poetry Friday:”Home” by Warsan Shire

Heidi Mordhorst hosts today’s Poetry Friday round-up at  My Juicy Little Universe 

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (article) | Khan Academy

Today marks the 57th. anniversary of the March on Washington.  Looking at photographs of the signs people carried then, I was struck by how many of them (just about all, actually) are sadly true and relevant today.  We have such a long way to go as a nation to be that “more perfect Union” promised in our Constitution.

Marchers with signs at the March on Washington, 1963] | Library of Congress

I discovered the poet Warsan Shire in a New Yorker profile written some years ago.  She is brilliant, and this poem of hers really resonates with me on this particular day:

Home – Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i don’t know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

Alex and Arnie come to live at the farm

My flock of nine sheep (four lambs from Foster Sheep Farm and five yearlings from Wing and a Prayer Farm) came together nicely last Summer, and I pretty much thought, “That’s it for me – no more sheep!”  Oh, there was plenty of temptation on my Instagram feed, adorable lambs are everywhere, every day.  But, I resisted…until Allison posted these pictures:

…and what’s a shepherd to do?  So, I drove over the hills of Cambridge for a look-see.  They boys had grown a bit, of course, but they were just as adorable.

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And, always a weak spot for me, they came with a story.  Arnie has injured himself somehow, and lost a good chunk of his tongue.  His intrepid and spunky nature showed itself early, for this little fella found a way to eat and nourish himself, nevertheless.  The only drawback to his new way of feeding was that he drools while ruminating – foamy, icky, green drool which gets on his fleece, and because he cuddles with his brother at nap time, he drools on Alex, too.  Allison needed to bathe both boys frequently, and Arnie  needed to wear at coat to protect his gorgeous Cotswold fleece; most likely, Alex would, too.

My buddy Amos, a fine wool Cormo, needs to wear a jacket to protect his fleece – and I find it an enormous ordeal to get those coats on and off.  So, at first, I hesitated.  Allison let me know that I did not need to adopt both boys – Arnie had other sheep to keep him company  Lilac Rain Farm.  When I saw these two together, though, I felt they belonged together – and Arnie’s will to survive pulled at my heartstrings.  Yes, the drool  was unsightly, but coats and the occasional hosing down will help mitigate that.  And the fleece has to be washed before processing, anyway.

You know how this story ends…the boys came to live at Hebron Hills Farm:

As Allison suggested, they’ll start wearing their coats after shearing in late October.  Until then, rain and the garden hose will have to do.

The flock were a bit startled when the lambs first pranced into the pasture on Monday.  A bit of shoving here and butting there went on, just to let the new comers know their place in the hierarchy of sheep order here.  The little ones took it all in stride, and kept trying to ingratiate themselves any way: a friendly nuzzle, giving way at the grain trough or the water tub.  By Thursday they had been allowed into the pole barn when it rained, and were grazing alongside the big guys when it did not; by Friday, Arnie had figured out how to finagle an entire grain trough all to himself:


I now have a flock of eleven, and that’s it for me – no more sheep!

Poetry Friday: “The Work of Happiness” by May Sarton

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Ramona @  Pleasures from the Page 


This Friday feels more hopeful than many Fridays past; I firmly believe that this is due to faithfully watching the Democratic Convention, and hearing words that call to the better angels of our nature.   After three and a half years of watching our democracy being torn down by the people we expect most to protect its foundations, three and a half years of despairing and disturbing news, it was such a relief to be reminded that there are a whole army of good people willing to run for office to restore good government, and an even bigger army of concerned citizens who are willing to work to elect and get these candidates elected.  Joe Biden concluded his acceptance speech with these words: “May history be able to say that the end of this chapter of American darkness began here, tonight as love and hope and light joined the battle for the soul of the nation”, and I said and felt a huge sense of “Whew!”.

Here at the farm I’ve learned to find happiness in small ways – everyday moments of noticing something joyful and moving in the animals and gardens I tend to.  A short stint of teaching summer camp made me realize how much I missed my teaching life, where I found happiness in a “bigger” way: connecting to the young people in my care, and helping to open their eyes to the power of language and of a commitment to social justice.

At the farm, I harvest flowers and vegetables that I’ve grown from seed every day.  I go for walks followed by my beloved flock and faithful dog, pausing every once in a while to scratch a chin, or just take in the view.  When I polish our furniture, I find comfort in the dents and scuffs that mark the chests of drawers, tables, and chairs that we’ve inherited or rescued and refurbished – the signs of the life we’ve shared as a family.  And, I find happiness in the reassuring sounds of nature that is the “silence” of farm life in the middle of nowhere.

I have even learned to find happiness in accepting my need for solitude, for, as the poem says: “But where people have lived in inwardness/ The air is charged with blessing and does bless”.

Happy Poetry Friday, friends!

“The Work of Happiness” by May Sarton

I thought of happiness, how it is woven
Out of the silence in the empty house each day
And how it is not sudden and it is not given
But is creation itself like the growth of a tree.
No one has seen it happen, but inside the bark
Another circle is growing in the expanding ring.
No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,
But the tree is lifted by this inward work
And its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.

So happiness is woven out of the peace of hours
And strikes its roots deep in the house alone:
The old chest in the corner, cool waxed floors,
White curtains softly and continually blown
As the free air moves quietly about the room;
A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall––
These are the dear familiar gods of home,
And here the work of faith can best be done,
The growing tree is green and musical

For what is happiness but growth in peace,
The timeless sense of time when furniture
Has stood a life’s span in a single place,
And as the air moves, so the old dreams stir
The shining leaves of present happiness?
No one has heard thought or listened to a mind,
But where people have lived in inwardness
The air is charged with blessing and does bless;
Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind.

Returning to the blog

I have not had the desire to write for a very long time.  Life on the farm continues in its peaceful way: we’ve moved from the greys and browns of early Spring, to the green lushness of present day Summer.  We’ve had scorchingly hot days, cool and mellow days, and days of torrential rain and lashing wind.  No matter what the weather is, the farm retains its transcendent  beauty.
Likewise, farm work also continues.  We added two Angora goats, and lost all our chickens, had the sheep sheared, and continued attempting to train Bowie. Cat came down with a virus and we almost lost him; Cat rebounded and returned to his nighttime adventures out in the woods and pastures.  The new barn cats settled in, and we are still working on evicting the pigeons in the hayloft.  Raised beds were built, seeds were planted and tended to, and now comes the glorious harvest and celebration of past work done.
All of the above percolated away; I was busy, busy, busy.  But, I was also sinking into a period of blackness.  I wasn’t entirely sure why I felt this way, day after day, but that’s what I felt.  And, just as depression tends to build slowly, the blackness descending bit by bit, extinguishing light or any sense of  light, so it lifts bit by bit.  Small moments of doing and grace, dropping here and there without any prompting, slowly brought me back from the gloom.
This poem has been tucked into my poetry folder for the longest time, and I found it again while searching for another poem, but I thought it expressed the journey I’d been on perfectly:
Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale by Dan Albergotti


Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.
Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires
with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.
Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.
Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way
for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review
each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments
of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.
Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound
of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.
Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,
where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all
the things you did and could have done. Remember
treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes
pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.

Poetry Friday: It’s May by Barbara Crooker

Today’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Elizabeth Steinglass 


April was a month for waiting…waiting for more two or more days of successive sunshine, waiting for news of a visit from my children, waiting for the vet and the sheep shearer, waiting for new medication to kick in, waiting for the rain to cease, waiting for the lilacs to bloom.  Waiting, in short, for today – the first of May.

Often, in April, I read the poem below; on dreary days punctuated by rain, fog, and copious amounts of mud, this poem gave me particular comfort.  Of course, the last lines of the first stanza have added meaning these Covid days, but I’ve preferred to dwell in all the other lines that speak of nature’s gifts and call upon us to cherish them.


A different kind of Easter Sunday


We had a beautiful sunrise, this Easter Sunday.  I tarried a bit longer with my first before-morning-chores cup of coffee just to give this first gift of the morning its due.  I could have tarried longer, the sheep wouldn’t have much minded waiting for their pasture time.  On other Easters, I reflected, there would have been no time to tarry: getting the children ready for church, setting the table for Easter company, trying to fit in sous chef duties, running the vacuum over wherever the dog last chose to sleep…to tarry was verboten.  This is a very different Easter, though – no children, no company, no church.   This is our COVID19 Easter.

I mind most that the children are not home, even though they have chosen wisely to remain in self isolation in their own Brooklyn apartments.   The irony is that I came to know and live the Easter season because of the children.   We were an atheistic family when I was growing up, my father was especially anti-religion, organized or otherwise, and the rest of us fell into line.  I married a man of faith, however, and we agreed to raise our children in the Presbyterian Church.  I did not know the first thing about Presbyterianism and there was much in Christianity that I struggled to understand, let alone accept.  But, I thought it important that the children have the structure and ritual of a religion while growing up.  Rationalism and unbelief offer small comfort in times of greatest need, I had come to learn in the course of my own life.

And so I did my best to get our kids to church, and Sunday school.  All three children had their father’s gift for music, and all three sang in the children’s choirs as they grew up, so there was the driving to and from that, too.   Our church was blessed to have a rigorous and inspiring program, and they learned to recognize and love the beauty of sacred music, as did I.  I believe that I came closest to belief in those moments of hearing such music.  Faith was still out of my reach, but the power of story through music spoke to me, comforted me.  And, it was especially meaningful to look out at the choir and see my family, all contributing their voices to the story telling.

This Easter, I will not hear their voices singing out.  There are no Easter baskets to prepare or egg hunts to organize.  We will be sitting to dinner just the two of us, and the house looks tidy enough as it is – no need to vacuum, dust,  set the best dishes on the table, or fuss over which flowers from the garden to cut for our centerpiece.   But, I am filled with wonderful memories of Easters past nevertheless, and I can still hear the voices of my children exclaiming over finding chocolate eggs and jelly beans hidden in unusual places all over the house.  And, if I listen closely, I can hear them singing…

Poetry Friday: Eating Fried Eggs at Gail’s by Barbara Crooker

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup at The Poem Farm.

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When my children were young, eggs made sunny side up and arranged on toast was considered an awesome weekend breakfast.  I can’t remember now who in our family came up with this moniker, but we called eggs made this way “golden sunshine”.  Three pairs of bright eyes would follow my every move as I cracked each egg as carefully as I could so as not to mess with the central point of this entire endeavor: those perfect, golden, delicious yolks.  Each child had their own way approaching the finished product: Elizabeth cut her toast into perfect strips so as to dip each into the yolks, Ben went to work with his knife and fork immediately to create a plateful of yolky bites of toast, and Olivia carefully saved the yolk for the very end.

These days, my kiddos have more elaborate choices for weekend breakfasts when they come home to visit or take us out for brunch: shakshuka, omelettes stuffed with fancy fillings, creamy frittatas with unusual veggies.  Their “golden sunshine” days are long ago in the past, but I remembered them so very fondly when I read this poem in Barbara Crooker’s Some Glad Morning:

Eating Fried Eggs at Gail’s by Barbara Crooker

Still warm, slipped from under the feathers
of Brownie, Silver, Little Red,
brought inside to be cracked and flipped
in the hiss of hot bacon fat, cooked fast
until the whites harden, grow lacy
around the edges, then slid onto a plate,
yolks intact, until we break them intentionally,
spearing them with our forks, spreading
sunshine all over our plates.

National Poetry Month: The Progressive Poem

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Welcome to day 8 of the Progressive Poem, started by Irene Latham,

the Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem began in 2012 as a way to celebrate National Poetry Month (April) as a community of writers.

Margaret Simon  kindly  volunteered to organize the poem roster for 2020.  And Donna Smith made the whole exercise  a bit more challenging by providing two lines for Irene to choose from for the first line of this year’s poem. So, we have a  “choose your own adventure” progressive poem!

Yesterday, Catherine Flynn offered these two lines for me to consider:

A whispering breeze joins in our song (Option A)


I step onto warm sand, strumming my tune (Option B)

We’ve had two blissful days of Spring with lovely breezes here in upstate New York, after a very long Winter, so that’s where my heart took me.  Here’s the poem so far:

Sweet violets shimmy, daffodils sway
along the wiregrass path to the lake.
I carry a rucksack of tasty cakes
and a banjo passed down from my gram.

I follow the tracks of deer and raccoon
and echo the call of a wandering loon.
A whispering breeze joins in our song

Here are are my two choices for Carol Varsalona at Beyond Literacy Link: 

Adding a melody to follow along .(Option A)

And night melts into a rose gold dawn. (Option B)




Poetry Friday: Early Spring in the Field by Tom Hennen

Heidi Mordhorst hosts today’s Poetry Friday roundup at My Juicy Little Universe.


It’s a moody day here, this Poetry Friday: fog, rain, wind…we have it all, all day. Not surprisingly, the sheep were reluctant to leave the comfort of the barn this morning, and have chosen to protest in groups of two and three all morning when they see me pass within view.

Bowie, our guardian dog, seems utterly uninterested in her job today. Not even the enormous truck carrying sap collected from the woods around us to the maple sugar house up our hill, normally a source of much barking and racing around, can get her to move from her dry spot under the barn eaves.

In the midst of this soggy gloom, I notice that the daffodils are coming up nicely, as are a few crocuses here and there. The pastures are greening, too, and the tiniest of buds have begun to appear on our apple trees. I no longer need my heaviest winter jacket, and even gloves and hat can be dispensed with for most of the day.

The world may be crashing and burning, but Nature remains constant in her promise that after Winter comes Spring.

Early Spring in the Field by Tom Hennen

The crow’s voice filtered through the walls of the farmhouse
makes sounds of a rusty car engine turning over. Clouds on a
north wind that whistles softly and cold. Spruce trees planted
in a line on the south side of the house weave and scrape at the
air. I’ve walked to a far field to a fence line of rocks where I am
surprised to see soft mud this raw day. No new tracks in the
mud, only desiccated grass among the rocks, a bare grove of
trees in the distance, a blue sky thin as an eggshell with a crack
of dark geese running through it, their voices faint and almost
troubled as they disappear in a wedge that has opened at last
the cold heart of winter.