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 aprรจs-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. 


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.


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). 


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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. 


a bit of carolina in vermont

Some friends fit so seamlessly into your life. We marvel how it is so with the Jordans. Has been since we met them on the front steps of our apartment building in San Francisco. Was when we moved in with them when Melissa was pregnant with Everly. Was this way when we lived within arm's reach in North Carolina. Continues to be, with three children between us and only the biannual visits to sustain us. Nick and I to the relative warmth of Raleigh to escape the Vermont winter and they to the relative cool of Vermont to escape the Carolina summer.

This trip;

Melissa cooked us every breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Brent worked invaluable days with Nick on the construction of the new barn.
Everly took it upon herself to close in the mama hen at night and open them up in the morning.
Arlo spent most of his days playing on our '77 VW bus, or on the tractor.

We all dreamt of the summers ahead as the kids get older and as we get thinner and more good looking...and also older.

In the post-college, post-San Francisco world that we live in, the friends we made when we were young, whom we love so deeply are scattered around the globe. Now we are settled in a new town far away from most of our beloveds. Here, we are beginning the awkward dance of two adults trying to make new friends in a town where everyone has known everyone since grade school. We are not making great strides. They will come. We have a lifetime to work on them. In the meantime it is so comforting and renewing to have visits from families like the Jordans. To be reassured that no matter the distance between us, we will forever be good friends.


socializing with humans that are older than 7 weeks.

This morning I instagrammed about how happy I was cleaning the house last night. It's a little pathetic. We've had a house filled with friends, family and your everyday baby-pilgrim. Every time I have a free moment from Leland (obvious disclaimer; I ADORE my son, but I love the moments he lets me put him down) I am drawn to work rather than play. Obviously. There is a not literal, but figurative, ton of stuff to do and be done. From dishes and vacuums to goat fencing, milking and sheep herding. Not to mention my own need for sleep or food or for the painfully slow rehabilitation of my pregnant and child-birthed body in the embarrassing form of running whilst peeing in my shorts.

But if I had a dime for every time I looked up from scrubbing the tub, or washing a millionth load of diapers to realize I was missing out on hangouts or a hilarious ending to a long story or a sip of beer on the pond rocks or a jam session with the guitars.....well I'd probably have at least a couple bucks by now.

So, this week I've been working on embracing the visitors, and the mess of the kitchen, and the mess of my body and the screams of a sticky babe. Looking over the last week I noticed I took a lot of photos...as some form of proof that I was in on the action of the fun. Though, if I was taking photos I mustn't have been participating too actively. Which is another problem altogether. Baby steps.


pictured, not pictured


1. One of my three ewe yearlings.  She and her sisters will be bred next month to a neighboring ram, Galileo. They are looking so good, if a little fat. They are tremendously efficient off even the poorest grass.
2. Goldenrod, bee balm and black-eyed susans. The hummingbirds take to the bee balm, the cows eat the goldenrod. I haven't seen anyone but the goats eat the black-eyed susans.
3. Spider-dew-webs everywhere in early morning.
4. To add chaos to an already full summer, we are building a barn....or rather hiring people to build it for us. Winter is nigh and the animals humbly require shelter from the cold.
5. My gorgeous sister milking my gorgeous -but muddy- cow.
6. These quadrupeds are back from their summer in the Western pasture. It is good to hear their synchronized bleats at bedtime again.

not pictured:

1. My small victory of being the only one who could convince the sheep to jump the stream while we were moving them to their new pasture. It is really incredible to feel useful again out there in the fields. I was an insufferable braggart for the rest of the afternoon.
2. The first raspberry from the 17 bushes that Rachael gave us as a housewarming. Some year, it will be many more.
3. The slow rebuilding of a broken bridge which has effectively made an island of the Western pasture.
4. Nick's pasture management of chickens following cows coming nicely to fruition with beautiful grass recovery and a decrease in cow flies.
5. The solar coop door we now have for the chickens. Opens at sunrise, closes at dusk. Saves feathered lives. Allows farmers a more leisurely cuppa joe in the am and a more generous glass of wine in the pm.
6. Baby Leland who dominates my Instagram feed but who graciously ceded the limelight to the animals for today's post.
7. A river of labor-day revelers that are descending upon us starting this afternoon.
8. All those extra hands for holding, and burping, and bouncing the babe.
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