#wovember 2019, day 19, wool & pets

When Bowie first arrived at the farm, she was just eight weeks old and weighed under twenty pounds.  It was hard to imagine that her full grown size would top 120 pounds of  powerful muscle, although her enormous paws were unmistakable clues as to what her full grown size would be.  I had done my research into livestock guardian dogs and thought I was well prepared for this Maremma/Kangol bundle of lovable fur, but I was wrong.

Livestock guardian dogs are notoriously difficult to train – independence has been bred into them so that they can make those judgement calls about protecting their flocks from whatever threats they deem worthy of their attention.  Bowie has independence in spades, as well as charm and a sly sense of humor.  Training did not, therefore, go as planned, so  I asked my friend Sarah Todd, an expert in training all kinds of dogs,  to help.

Sarah set me straight about a lot of things, the main issue being that I needed to decide whether Bowie was going to be a doggie kind of dog (i.e live in the house and be my companion as I did farm chores) or a working dog (live in the barn with the sheep and be expected to be around them all day and night).  “You are confused,” I remember her telling me, “and you are confusing Bowie.”

Ummmm….gulp…

So, once Bowie had had all her shots, she moved into the barn full time.  It will take time for her to mature enough, both physically as well as temperamentally, to be with the sheep all the time.  Right now, she moves from the pasture where the sheep are to the barn area as she pleases.  Sometimes, she sits with our flock and interacts with them quietly.  Sometimes, she wants to play tag and gives chase.  Sometimes she helps me bring them to and from the barn with skill and intention, sometimes she is more of a nuisance to us all than a help.

She’s become fast friends with Lily, Auggie, Jasper, and Amos.  My Shetlands have boundaries they expect Bowie to obey, and she respects that.  Nothing brings me greater joy these days than seeing Bowie move around with the flock, or hang out with them in the pasture.  Someday they will all be out there at night as well: the sheep grazing, and Bowie keeping watch.

Wool and pets…both still a work in progress at Hebron Hills Farm.

Book quote Tuesday: Edna O’Brien

From Myra: “It is that time of the week again where we share a book quote that seemed particularly striking for us.”

The Country Girls: Three Novels and an Epilogue: (The Country Girl; The Lonely Girl; Girls in Their Married Bliss; Epilogue) (FSG Classics) by [O'Brien, Edna]

“We all leave one another. We die, we change – it’s mostly change – we outgrow our best friends; but even if I do leave you, I will have passed on to you something of myself; you will be a different person because of knowing me; it’s inescapable…”

I’ve been on and Edna O’Brien reading kick, first her memoir, Country Girl, and then the book above.  O’Brien’s depictions of life in Ireland after World War II, particularly life for girls and young women from the countryside.  At  times lyrical, hilarious, and even brutal, the three novels were an engrossing read.  I especially loved the way the novels followed the friendship between two main characters, whose paths diverged and converged over many years, as friendships often do. And I loved the way the quote above illustrates the truth of what happens with some of those we cross paths with through our lives, some deeply and some just tangentially – they leave a mark, they change us.

Sunrise and sunset

I’ve been lucky in that both my careers, teaching and shepherding, have given me the added gift of being able to witness glorious sunrises  due to the ridiculously early start to my days.

In my teaching days, especially in winter, I’d be on my way to school at sunrise.  There was something magical about greeting the very beginnings of a brand new day as it was just beginning, and my brain was teeming with all the “today we must accomplish” things of the day I would be spending with my beloved sixth graders.  Sunrise always gave me moments of transcendent beauty when I could pause, breathe, and be in the moment – moments I could draw upon as the day progressed in its madcap, middle school ways.

These days, I take in the sunrise with sheep, dogs, chickens, and cats.  They surround me as the sun rises, and I take in those first moments of light to the accompaniment of chewing, ruminating (literally), slurping, and clucking.  I like to think that my critters enjoy the beginning of their day as I do – that they, too, feel that gift that each sunrise is: a new day, a new beginning, a new chance to shape something good.

I don’t know that I was really aware of sunsets in my previous life the way that I can be now.  I was always racing home from work to pick up kids, take them here, there, and everywhere, make dinner, help with homework and projects, and then turn to my students’ work and prep for the next day.  But, I am making up for that now.

These days, I take care to pause whatever I’m doing to be witness to the end of the day, as well.  Not every day goes as planned, but the sun remains generous in her shared beauty as she dips away into the horizon, promising her gifts for the next day.

Poetry Friday: The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens

Michelle  Barnes is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup at Today’s Little Ditty

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The farmhouse, winter or 2018

The first blast of winter arrived last week: snow, ice, and bitterly cold temperatures.  I had been preparing myself for attending to farm chores (what I refer to as “barning”) in winter ever since last winter, my first such season spent full time at the farm.

There were practical things to do in preparation: move the chickens to their winter coop, purchase heated buckets so that all my critters could have access to fresh water instead of blocks of ice, and prepare the sheep stall with deep bedding for warmth.

And then there was the mind set preparation: hauling out all the gear necessary to stay warm, to keep the pathways clear, to be ready to trudge over ice.

Each season here in the north east has its distinctive look and feel, and although I love the colors (and warmth!) of Spring, Summer, and Fall, there is something about the stark beauty of winter that I have grown to love since moving to the farm.  The evergreens, lost among the greenery of oaks and maples and birch during the rest of the year, make their presence known with  grandeur.  And the landscape makes itself known in an entirely different way when it’s under a thick blanket of snow, especially on moonlit nights.

I guess I’ve learned to listen to winter…

The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

#wovember: history

One of the #wovember prompts is the word history, which the farm is rich with.  We are still piecing together its history, which is like assembling the many pieces of a complicated puzzle.  Many pieces are missing, and likely to remain so, which means we are left to intuit or simply guess at those missing years.

As far as we know, it was built in 1860 for the son of another farmer, James Patterson, whose house is further up our hill.  Its farming life has seen dairy cows, evidence of which I came across as I was painting the milk house so that it could be a winter coop for our chickens:

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Every once in a while, when the pastures are bush hogged for instance, an old piece of farm equipment comes to the surface: bits of rust encrusted iron tongs, levers, hooks, barbed wire.  They are poignant reminders of all those hardy souls who had to find a way to till this rocky soil and survive.

My favorite piece of the farm’s past is the indoor silo.  The stone outlines of the original silo still sit outside the big barn, and it is thought that sometime during the 1880’s this was torn down so that another one could be built within the barn itself – the fashion of the times, perhaps? some new innovation that the farmer who lived here found irresistible?

Anyway, this silo is a joy to behold whenever I pass by it, which is about a hundred times every day:

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Luckily, the previous owner of our farm had the vision and the foresight to add glass windows and a spotlight so that it is visible at night, too:

I’ve lived in old houses all my life, and opted for them each time we’ve had to move homes, even though old houses come with all sorts of issues we would never have had to face had we chosen a brand new, just-built one.  I love knowing the legacies of these homes, for they were homes to many families before us who left their imprints behind in a type of flooring here, a bannister there, or even a silo that serves no purpose other than as the particular fingerprint of the past.

The long history of a house makes it a home, after all.

#wovember

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First snowfall at the farm!

It’s #wovember on my Instagram feed, and all the shepherds and knitters I follow (my aspirational endeavors) have been posting inspiring stories of what they do and make every day of the year.  At this novice stage of my shepherding life, my stories are limited to three things: enjoying my farm animals, coping with their needs, learning from my mistakes.  Coping and learning take up most of my time, and make for rather boring stories.

For example:I left the business of deep bedding until yesterday, when it was frigid and icy outside.  Mucking out the stalls took all day, with many interruptions from Bowie and the flock, who decided to make a game of my comings and goings with a wheelbarrow full of barn slop.  The compost pile is on the side of the barn that faces our little village, and with all the leaves off the trees I was conscious of being in full view of those who cared to look up the hill and watch the antics…and laugh.  But, I guess that’s part of #wovember, too.

Summer and Fall have flown by, and I have yet to skirt the lovely fleeces gifted by my flock.  The farmhouse has been torn apart for months now with construction, and then my step father passed away, necessitating a long trip to London to help my mother transition into a new stage in life.  The saying goes that weddings and funerals bring out the best and the worst in a family – and I saw a good deal more of the latter than the former, I’m sorry to say.  It’s taken me a month just to sort out my thoughts and feelings about all the events, just as Old Man Winter arrived this past Thursday, with a dusting of snow and frigid temperatures.

Our farm on a hill (a rather steep hill at that) will make winter a challenge, but I mean to continue to cope and learn.  Construction wraps up next week, and I hope to get to those fleeces the week after, and perhaps to salvaging what three-month-old Bowie left of the knitting I’d started in June.

#wovember might have to wait until December for me.

Poetry Friday: The Props assist the House – Emily Dickinson

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We first saw the inside of our 1861 farmhouse on a bleak mid-winter day.  The dirt road leading up the hill to it was icy in parts, and the driveway to the house itself was a challenge to maneuver without slipping and skidding all over the place.  Our broker led us to a side door, the window pane to which was broken.  The storms had fallen off a few windows, and screens hung askew off others.  It was not a promising start, and I could see that our broker was puzzled about why we would want to see even see this house, given that she had just shown us one that was “all done and move in ready”.

The farmhouse had been unoccupied for some time, and we could see our breath in the pale sunlight that filtered through the windows as we went from room to room.  At some point, I think it was when I stepped onto the front porch and saw the view of the Black Creek Valley, I stopped listening to the litany of wrongs that our broker was pointing out at every turn.  By the time we’d toured the barns and walked around the property as best we could, I knew that this was home.  And that this home would require a lot of work.

That work began in earnest this year, my first of living at the farm full time.  Bit by bit, we are addressing that “litany of wrongs” I had found listening to so aggravating and beside the point that first day.  You love a house for inexplicable reasons, especially if it is an old house which speaks to you.  Our broker, lovely person though she was, seemed not to understand this.

The biggest project, we knew, was the kitchen.  Having renovated a kitchen once before, I know what we are in for: weeks of camp style life, untidiness, chaos.  But a part of me looked forward to making new discoveries about the history of the house – which part was added when, and perhaps what this part of the house looked like when originally constructed all those years ago.   And, I have not been disappointed.

For instance, the house was built with a back porch which was later enclosed to enlarge the kitchen, here’s the original clapboard:

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and the many wall paper iterations of the kitchen that followed:

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and the way the original wood stove was taken out to make way for a range:

Slowly, in my minds eye, I am getting closer to envisioning what this house looked like before it became my home.  I feel closer to understanding its soul.

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Poetry Friday: Cherry Tomatoes by Anne Higgins

Join the  Poetry Friday Roundup with Molly at Nix the Comfort Zone.

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We had a very wet Spring which seemed to last well into what should have been Summer.  All that rain delayed the planting of everything from corn to (my summer favorite) tomatoes.  All of the farm stands around us have been bursting with zucchini for weeks now with nary the sight of a single tomato…until today.

Today I came upon a farm stand with a glorious pile of fat fire-engine red tomatoes, sitting next to pint boxes of cherry tomatoes.  I scraped together all the change I had to buy a box (all the change available between the seats and under the mats of the car), which I placed carefully on the seat next to me.

My first thought was to save them for a lovely salad at lunch tomorrow.

But, those tomatoes kept calling to me.

The road home was banked by cornfields on one side, green gold under a perfectly blue summer sky.  Great bales of hay sat basking in the sun on the other side, their just-cut scent still wafting through the air.

So, I had a second thought, the best thought of the day, really.  One by one, I ate each all the way home.

Cherry Tomatoes

 

Suddenly it is August again, so hot,
breathless heat.
I sit on the ground
in the garden of Carmel,
picking ripe cherry tomatoes
and eating them.
They are so ripe that the skin is split,
so warm and sweet
from the attentions of the sun,
the juice bursts in my mouth,
an ecstatic taste,
and I feel that I am in the mouth of summer,
sloshing in the saliva of August.
Hummingbirds halo me there,
in the great green silence,
and my own bursting heart
splits me with life.

 

 

A morning walk with Toni Morrison

 

Author Toni MorrisonI took the dogs out for their usual walk in the woods early this morning, listening to the tail end of a podcast in honor of Toni Morrison.   In it were readings from her works and passages from her Nobel Prize lecture, as well as reflections about her contributions to literature and the power of the written (and in her case, spoken) word.  Ever since I had heard about her passing, I’ve been reading and listening to many such podcasts, although it’s been many years since I’ve read any of Morison’s works themselves.  I cannot bring myself to read Beloved or The Bluest Eye again, books which shook me to my core.  And I cannot find the notebooks in which I’ve copied down quotes from the books I love – there is a box of them somewhere amidst the boxes I have yet to pack when I moved up to live permanently at the farm last summer.  That being the case, podcasts and recordings of her interviews will have to do as a way to personally honor a writer I so revere.

We had reached our half way point when the podcast ended.  There is a gate leading to someone’s hunting cabin at this juncture, and the moss covered remnants of a long stone wall flanking the gate and rambling through the woods until it ends in a mound of rocks and fallen trees.  Early morning sunlight filtered through the treetops and fell gently on a swath of dew laden ferns.  I immediately reached for my iphone, wanting to capture the sight with photograph or two.

Something Morrison had said over the course of one of the podcasts I’d been listening to, came to mind:

“At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint, or even remember it. It is enough.” 

I put my phone away, and just stood as still as I could, savoring the feeling of enough.

Learning with Bowie…

The most challenging aspect of life here on Hebron Hills Farm (apart from the winter, that is) has been our Bowie.

She is now five months old, and rapidly growing into her gigantic paws.  Already, she dwarfs our 14-year-old dog Sophie, and is taller than me when she places her paws on my shoulder (which is is learning not to do).  She has given up on Sophie as a dog companion, and become best pals with Lewis our barn cat instead.  Lewis, in turn, has given up on ever being let into the farmhouse, and has settled into a barn partnership with Bowie.  This entails all sorts of playful rough housing with Bowie, which Lewis tolerates for the most part. Of course, he is perfectly capable of swatting Bowie away with his fearsome claws when the occasion calls for this…which happens with some regularity.

Bowie’s purpose on the farm, ostensibly, is to grow into the work of her breed: to guard our sheep.  As a puppy, though, she is too rambunctious to leave alone with the sheep.  Her playfulness can hurt the lambs, and the yearling sheep are large enough to hurt her.  So, she spends part of each day in a paddock adjacent to the sheep for now, with daily visits to the sheep while on a leash and with me.  Added to all of this is the need to train her to obey commands and be a well mannered member of our farm family.

It’s all been quite a daunting task for me, I have to say, one I must admit to being less than adequate at.  I’ve read one book too many offering conflicting advice and tips, I needed someone knowledgable about dogs and sheep to come to the farm and observe us in action.  Luckily, just the right person happened to live less than 15 minutes away,  Sarah Todd, of Dog Days Farm.

And so both Bowie and I have begun training.  I am learning to be direct and consistent in commands, and Bowie is learning…well, I hope she’s learning…to do as commanded.  She’s smart as a whip, crafty, and utterly charming, and I am learning to resist those charms and stick to my guns.  This means more barn and sheep time and less farmhouse and porch time.  This means guiding her through the paces of  learning how to restrain her natural puppy instincts to play, chase, jump all over people, and teeth on whatever is available – especially my arm and every stick of furniture we own.  This means keeping my wits about me and responding with calm directions when I really want to scream and shout…also, cry.

Time will tell if Bowie is cut out to be an LGD (a livestock guardian dog).  She seems to love the sheep and be drawn to them, which is a great sign.  I need to remind myself about why I acquired her in the first place, and help her to become the best LGD she can be.  This, I am discovering, is easier said than done.