Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Winter Break

Bradford made a shopping list for me this morning. I had decided to make the trip to the big town 25 miles to our north, because there was a storm calling for eight inches of snow, and I figured that it would be safe to venture out into the metropolis without hitting the crowds that usually frequent on a Sunday. He wanted me to pick up things to make heart-shaped pepperoni pizzas (he was going to make them- he’s an amazing cook at age nine). My hardest task was to find a heart-shaped cookie cutter in the end of February. “They’re seasonally available,” the Wal-Mart associate informed me; “They might be in the reduced items isle.” Instead, I found a plastic, candy-filled heart that could double as a cutter after Kyle had devoured the chocolate inside.

Yes, I shop at Wal-Mart sometimes. Guess what- three bottles of chardonnay, some toiletries and a heart-shaped box of candies for $15 doesn’t break the bank. It was dead in there, and the employees looked nervous at the lack of shoppers on a Sunday in the winter. I mostly do shop at local stores, but the neighbor down the road had just served this $2.99 bottle of merlot the night before which was decent. He said he had purchased it at Wal-Mart. I wanted to see what the chardonnay tasted like. Good- not like Grigich Hills or anything, but good. Certainly as good as the $9.99 bottle at the co-op.

Back home: the sheep are crazy. We’ve had four sets of triplets. My plan of attack this year is just to try and supplement every ewe’s triplets with a bottle of formula, and so far, it has worked-they’ve all survived. The downside is that we’re supplementing seven babies and feeding two without mothers. They drink three, 8 oz soda bottles filled with formula four times a day. To date, there have been 50 lambs born and only 27 ewes have given birth. We have 21 left to lamb!

Some of the lambs have curly hair; some are black and white splotched; there are two that are muddy brown. I’ve only had one mom reject a lamb, ironically, a black ewe that twinned and had one black and one white lamb. She rejected the white lamb. I tied her up so that she couldn’t turn her head around to see who was nursing (called jugging), and she will reluctantly let him nurse, provided that his sister is also nursing. The other exciting thing is that I’ve had to pull lambs (meaning that the birth was not a natural one and had some complication or other) only three times (of course, we’re only about half-way done…). All of the lambs were saved, and the mothers ended up nursing their babies except for one mother, who is destined for sausage, I fear. We’ve named this lamb Bucket, because he’ll invariably have his leg stuck in the water bucket every time we go down there to feed him. Lambs are cute, but they’re sometimes not the brightest bulbs in the circuit.

The little bantam hen that is a mutt, and could be a cochin or an araucana cross, hatched out her eggs two days ago. They are a mix of maple sugar-brown and creamy buff, some with stripes across their eyes, some with puffy cheeks. I was almost certain that Cassie the Silkie was the father, but now it’s looking more like Poopie Poo is the proud daddy. They’ll be travelling to Randolph with me for the book signing at Cover to Cover on March 14th. I think I may take Henry, the enormous Plymouth Rock rooster, too.

My dear friend Ray Williams helped us load the pigs up for slaughter last Tuesday. When he walked into the barn, he looked around and said, “Whoa!”

Billy, the Peacock was in full display. There were 50 sheep and 50 lambs cavorting in their pens. Petal, the heifer calf was bounding up and down the isles. The cows were busily munching their hay, and Poopie, Henry, Danny and Cassie were all crowing at the top of their lungs in celebration of winter’s retreat from cold and darkness.

Ray was the one who helped me get the two llama girls who are now hanging out with the sheep and overseeing all of the new births. He was a little nervous when I told him that the transfer from the former owner’s trailer to his was going to take place in the Seven Barrels Brewery parking lot in downtown West Lebanon. I think he had visions of llamas galloping down Interstate 89 toward Concord.

“The llamas look like they’ve made themselves at home,” he added, watching their snake-like heads weave in and out of the ewes. Ray’s farm is in Chelsea, bordering a beautiful, treeless ridge, and reminiscent of a western valley scene. He and his wife, Liz have beautiful cattle for beef and tomatoes the size of softballs.

So it’s here, this space between winter and spring, when we’re not really busy, but keeping busy. When I still take naps in the new sunshine that streams through the south windows in the early afternoon. I think this may be the last head of lettuce that I have to buy- having only bought six this year, I am quite happy. The arugula, spinach and mustard that Kyle planted in the hoop houses in the fall is thriving, and the greens that Whit and I planted just two weeks ago are looking enticing. Our break is over- the growing season has begun, and I am only too happy to have it wash over me and carry me into what is to come.

Friday, February 13, 2009

“Every moment before this one depends on this one.”-Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

I turned down a CAUSE request today.
“You’re so strong.”
I didn’t even respond to a WHAT KIND OF MOTHER ARE YOU request,”

I’ve entered the world of Facebook, thanks to my friend Geoff. He has been the driving publicity force behind the chicken book that we’ve just published. He called me one night and told me that we needed a Facebook page for it, and I gave him a long, exasperated sigh. Now, four weeks later, here I sit, maneuvering my way through posts and pokes and offers to join various causes. He’s right; the way to reach a mass number is to follow the mass media trends, and this is it. Daily, my question to Whit has been, “guess who just friended me??”

Just three days after I activated my account, I had a classmate from high school contact me, after 23 years of no communication.

Seriously, the premise behind Facebook is a good one. Keep in contact with one another. On the other hand, it’s a little voyeuristic; anyone and everyone has the ability to see what you’re doing and when you’re doing it. I suppose if you’re using it to stalk an old acquaintance, it’s not that great a use of time.

Interestingly enough, it’s been around for years, and only now are people who aren’t necessarily college aged taking advantage of it. The fastest growing demagogue using Facebook are the aged 35 and olders.

“Eliza ate too many cookies today.”
“Lupe is going skiing with a torn MCL”
“Jim is wondering whether he should sit on the couch and kill zombies or go home and clean”

“It’s ridiculous,” Whitney snorts at me. She’s shelling black turtle beans and listening to the Fruit Bats.
“It’s creepy,” she asserts.

Maybe she’s right- I mean if you’re a shooting star, and sailing into the swell of living, who needs that baggage trailing after you? All those painful memories of sitting on the gym benches during the slow dances at school, or being picked out as the one with hand-me-down clothes. Sitting at a computer to write 25 random things about oneself in the hope that it really matters to someone else might be a waste of time...still it’s fun.

“I’m a firm believer that some people should just remain forgotten,” she says.

“Ohh- I have 18 fans for the book now!” Whitney harrumphs and gets up to put wood in the woodstove. “I’m going to check the sheep,” she says in mock disgust, and out the door she goes.

“You still have time left to go back, you know,” she calls after me.

On the more practical side of things, Kyle has ripped up the hall and Brad’s room, and we’re doing renovations that we’ve put off for 10 years. He re-wired the barn, and the driveway has new gravel in it. Pretty soon, there’ll be no time for house repairs and yard work when the growing season begins.

Today we celebrated the sun’s light that still remained at 4:00 pm while we readied the greenhouse we rent from the neighbors for planting. The air inside should have smelled like spring- warm soil and little seedlings unfurling their green heads from their pots. Instead, it smelled strongly of ammonia and rodents. They kept ducks inside of it all winter, and the snow covering the plastic had shut out the light: a perfect petri dish for mold and bacteria. The place is a mess, and Whit and I have spent almost a week trying to get it back to something that resembles a place to grow plants. On top of the ducks, the floor of the greenhouse looks like a watering hole in the Serengeti- there are hundreds of rodent tracks searching for missed pieces of duck grain. You can actually see little rat footprints everywhere. We have to get rid of them before planting anything, because they’ll eat the seedlings faster than the seeds can germinate.

Whitney spent over four hours shoveling the heavy snow and ice off of the greenhouse’s roof, and now we’ve started bringing in the soil to warm and clear off the planting benches.

This weekend marks one year exactly that we’ve known the Red. In case you missed the picture of her, her hair is a burnt auburn, a flashy contrast to her smile and brown eyes. She showed up last year for the infamous interview that we have for our potential apprentices, which isn’t really an interview, but just a chance for us to meet whomever has decided that they want to spend the summer working hard on a farm with little pay and a not-so-private place to stay. In just one week, she’ll leave for an eventual voyage to Hawaii, headed for the chain of uninhabited islands called the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. It’s the same place I spent almost four years as a biologist and refuge manager. Paradise, really- seabirds and seals and sea turtles and shockingly blue water and white coral beaches. Her biggest regret is that they now have email capacity there. At least there’s no cell phone service yet.

I don’t look forward to when they leave, these people who put so much of their time and effort into Fat Rooster Farm. The hope they harbor in this world of doubt, fear and despair is such a tonic to me. Gets me through the dreary winter months.

The first lambs are being born now, and the first calf of this year is thriving. The greenhouse is teaming with onion life. Every new moment I live again is what has come before. And every moment points to now.

Soon will be spring- the blackbirds, the woodcock’s crazy aerial dance, the Barred owls calling out their territorial song. I better get busy and write my Facebook 25 things pretty quick…