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Slowly but Surely

The farm is heading into fall, at least that’s what the calendar says, because the weather is lying. It’ll be nearly in the eighties this week, which is how October used to feel when I lived in Tennessee. I remember riding my bike around Knoxville, sweating under blue skies in late October, back in the mid 2000s. That heat in Autumn made me regret moving to the south, and that was the only thing I regretted about the move at the time. See, I was raised in eastern Pennsylvania in the 80s and 90s. If that means nothing to you, think small industrial towns by rivers, four seasons, mountains, and an equal numbers of churches and bars in every town. And when October came to my small town, it changed everything. Weather was crisp and the sidewalks streets in town were lined with pieces of hard corn, a harmless prank us kids did at night (throw corn kernels at front doors and run away, basically we fed squirrels because unless you were right next to the door you didn’t hear it) and I spent every day looking forward to two things: Pumpkins and Halloween.

I was raised Catholic, but it was more about family tradition and being morally upright than any sort of evangelical or literal belief. Church was who we were, not what we believed, if that makes sense? I think the unspoken rule in our house was “believe whatever you want, but mass starts at 10 and don’t you dare show up in jeans” and so when late October hit us 80s kids were getting dressed up in homemade costumes and set loose as far as we could walk and explore. My town was perfect for this. Streetlights and nice neighborhoods, everyone knew everyone else, and my home was on a main tree-lined street and my mom went all out for halloween with a fully decorated porch and costumes to hand out candy for the kids. Feeling that freedom of dressing up like a werewolf and exploring my town in the dark was exhilarating. And while I loved that magical night, and the candy, it was a small farm’s pumpkin patch that probably hard-wired my future.

I can still remember riding that tractor-driven wagon to the fields to pick out the pumpkins we would all carve for halloween trick or treaters. I remember the way the gray zipped hoodie felt under a polyester jacket. I remember the cider in paper cups, and the small petting zoo with ponies and goats. I remember a giant slide made out of piled round and square bales and some sheet metal. I remember the feeling of being on a farm in Autumn, and how correct it felt.

My happiest childhood memories are fall in that small town and the things we did, but mostly, how the world felt back then. I wasn’t aware of my queerness yet. I wasn’t scared of being different. I wasn’t aware of my body and not looking like women in magazines. I wasn’t worried about anything, and all around me were places and people I felt safe around. And today, here at Cold Antler Farm, I believe I have reached the terminus of that feeling I’ve been chasing since I was a kid. This farm is fall. This place right now, paradise.

I’ve been sharing a lot of sordid, panicked, and generally dark posts since last fall. It’s because this life here is hard, often lonely, and uncertain. A lot of time what I am writing is to both get the feelings out of my head, but also, to talk myself down. This morning I don’t want to write about things I am worried about regarding this farm. You have heard it all. You know how worried I am about money, hay, winter, etc. But I wanted to share what has been happening around here that is good. And how I want this place to become that farm of my memory for others.

Over the last few weeks this place has been preparing for winter and slowly getting by. I have all my firewood for winter delivered! Three cords are outside, half of it is stacked, and I can’t tell you what a relief it is having an entire winter of warmth right outside your kitchen window. The total for winter heating came to $850. That’s late October to March, and I think that’s a hell of an economical way to stay comfortable despite power outages, winter storms, or worries about fuel deliveries or costs. When this place heated with oil alone, I remember, over a decade ago, it costing as much as $450 a month to heat this house and I’m sure it would cost more now. Old houses that were originally built to be kept warm by fire still work. This place has low ceilings, not a lot of square footage, and a downstairs that can be literally closed off with a literal fire door that keeps part of this house toasty and the other part… well, more like that scene in Titanic, but the point is, I stay warm for under a grand a winter. Sure, it involves a constant presence, splitting and carrying logs, and the knowledge of how to burn and tend a fire for heat (that honestly took me years to learn to do right) but this place has it’s heat for this winter.

Also in prep for winter, a slate repair man is coming to check on the old roof and patch any holes.The fact that the giant tree next to the house was trimmed back, with any heavy branches that could snap in an ice or snow storm removed, is also a huge sigh of relief.

The farrier was here last week for the horses. I am so pleased at how impressed he was with my horses feet. He said they were some of the nicest natural feet he’s ever seen. Both Merlin and Mabel have access to about 2-3 acres of this mountain at all times. They can stand on stone outcroppings or up to their fetlocks in mud if they want to. They can walk to streams or up ridges or stand in grass under apple trees. The farrier said my farm perfectly mimics the hard ground and variety of traction horses out west get. After all, no one is out there trimming feet off a wild mustang! But when given the option to live more like wild horses and less like pets in perfect soft grass yards, their feet show it. He was so impressed, and I was so proud. Good feet is half the battle with horses.

The NY Market and Ag inspection happened last week, too. The vets that come are so lovely and kind, and at least this time when they showed up I wasn’t caught in my pajamas writing on my living room floor. I had on hard pants and everything! And the farm passed with flying colors, as it always has. It’s a good feeling.

The pigs have not escaped since! They have ripped out the electric fence once, which I repaired before they got out again. Honestly, that night was awful. But part of the gift of getting past that, alone, and solving your own problems is the wash of relief that it’s over. Yesterday I was walking around this farm in the tired light I love, the leaves starting to change, a little wind picking up, my paint horse in the distance grazing on a green hillside. My pigs grunting, lambs playing tag, goat eating apples with his head up in the air… a perfect moment of peace and bucolic magic that you can only truly appreciate when you know what it’s like grasping your heart in the wet dark crying with PMS.

Yup, things are better.

I still am behind on the mortgage. I still have to get in hay. But summer is paid for, last week I was able to pay the August mortgage and that makes three seasons of 2023 paid and on the books! I wish I had earned enough for September, but honestly, it was luck that even got the firewood in and summer bills paid. I suppose if I did’t get the firewood, repair the gland door, buy any hay, and didn’t get the kitchen floor repaired or tree trimmed or horses feet done I could have possibly caught up with September but those things are crucial and also on a timer. People aren’t selling firewood around here all winter long, and same with hay. I fix and repair things with the help of friends and neighbors when they have the free time to do so. I’m not going to tell my friend giving up a Saturday to level a sagging floor to wait until things are perfect, you know? If I waited until I was a famous writer with enough royalties and book sales to earn my living - well, this house would probably collapse first. So I do what I can as I go. I think that’s what a lot of us working class people do on the uphill climb to middle class. I might never get there, never own a washing machine or dishwasher again, but I got my own place and a pair of horses with great feet in my yard. Choices were made.

Also, I finally, after a DECADE, finally bought a $38 can of green floor paint and painted the plywood in the front dining room area. What a difference it made. On top of that went a $73 purple shad carpet I ordered 3 months earlier when it was on sale (not bad for a 10x8’ fluffy carpet, dog beds cost more!) and after I paid the August mortgage I went ahead and did what I always do when I slay another house payment - got myself a little treat around $20. Usually it’s a book or record. This time: floating candles for the dining room. Honestly, it looks magical around here at night. And with a carved pumpkin I grew, the black kitten, candles and evening lighting… it’s like curling up in the most wholesomely spooky places in the world. My house feels the way a new oversized hooded sweatshirt feels, you know what I mean? Unbelievelbaly soft and comforting, which is all I want in a home.

So this week, my goal is to earn $600 towards the September mortgage and start buying in hay for winter while Derek still has it to sell. Today that means trying to convince people to buy my winter soaps, pork, lamb, and pet portraits. I have a new freelance project from my part-time gig that will cover $200 or so if I can get the word count justified. That leaves $400 out of my hands to figure out and thats not including money I need to spend on feed, groceries, gas, utilities like electric and internet, phone bill, etc. So, like always, I have my work cut out for me. But I have some nice ewes that should throw some beautiful lambs, a good source for my spring pigs. I have my design skills, freelance, and you never know when an email will pop in saying they want 20 bars of soap or a 1/4 pig. I check my email every 20 minutes hoping for that. It got me this far, and Im still here.

And slowly, but surely, things are getting better.

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