The Fella and I went on a Sunday walk yesterday. We took the typical loop, which is about two miles through my family’s property and our neighbor’s pasture. It feels quite remote, with a few impressive vistas overlooking the Bear River canyon. On a clear day one can see the Sutter Buttes and even all the way west to the Coastal Range.

Usually we have a dog entourage with us for these walks, including Lola and some or all of my neighbors’ dogs. Yesterday our escort had a new member.

Me with Zoe the dog and . . . Junebug the cat!

Junebug considers Lola (ahead, in the sweater) to be her big sister.

Wherever Lola goes, Junebug wants to tag along!

Two miles is a long walk for a kitty! I realize they can have pretty large ranges, and Junebug is definitely the master of her domain, but still. How many cats do you know who would take a hike in the woods with you?



In the Freezer

I belong to a local agricultural listserve, where farmers and gardeners of all stripes post about things like late season u-pick tomatoes, kid-friendly farm tours, medicinal herb workshops, and the inevitable free-to-anyone-who-dares renegade roosters.  I doubt I’ll ever post anything on there myself, being as I’m not a real farmer, but the daily emails from those folks nearby who are truly living the life are an inspiration. Plus I might want a rooster someday.

A few days ago I got an email from a local family who raises grass fed beef. I’ve had it before and it’s outstanding. The email was promoting a special designed for people who, like me, want to head into winter with a freezer full of provisions, can’t afford to pay retail, but haven’t (yet) upgraded to a humongous chest freezer big enough to fit a side of beef. In other words, bulk rate for slightly less bulk. Perfect! They had several different packages to choose from. After conferring with the fella and the roomie about splitting the deal three ways, I decided to stick with roasts, stew meat, and hamburger, feeling like these made more sense for the freezer than a smaller amount of fancier cuts like rib-eyes and T-bones.

This morning we bundled up and headed out to the grower’s market to pick up our order. 16 pounds of locally raised grass fed beef! I felt like a kid at Christmas staring into that great big bag.  We also picked up a few lamb chops from another farmer braving the cold under her little easy-up. Their lamb is absolutely divine as well (Chez Panisse uses it!). I felt a little guilty passing by the handful of shivering growers. Although their tables were piled with lovely beets, kale, chard, squash and the like, we were there for meat!

It feels gratifying to buy meat from the farmer that raised it, knowing that my omnivorous diet includes – and supports – humane and sustainable practices in my own community. While it may be considered a luxury to some, I am committed to making it a routine.  It’s easy and affordable enough, living where I do, that I really have no excuse. It’s also gratifying to look in the freezer and see neat packages of my own garden veggies, homemade pesto and tomato paste, and home-dried fruit nestled next to a winter’s worth of local steer and lamb.  There is a bounty in my freezer today, and as we build a fire with wood from our own forest, I pause to thank the land, the animals, and the farmers for everything.

On a Day Like Today

I awoke at my usual time, pleased with the fact that I haven’t yet needed to set an alarm to get up on these progressively darker and colder mornings. If I eventually need to use one I will not now consider it a tragedy. It won’t trigger feelings of dread and despair. I am well settled into my routine, no longer looking over my shoulder for the men in suits to come kidnap me and take me back to the big city. This is really my life now. I got away with it.

It starts with kicking off the covers, slipping on my boots and hoodie, descending the squeaky stairs, pulling open then heavy back door and heading up the path to the barn.  Every morning I use this time, as my sleepy eyes adjust, to assess the day: the temperature, the clouds, the wind, the subtle changes in air pressure that one feels with her bones instead of her skin. Today the oak forest around my house, still festooned in autumn colors, drips with what remains of last night’s storm. Tiny sprouts of grass and wild vetch have appeared, softening the summer-baked red clay with a green winter fuzz that reminds me of the shaggy coats my goats have grown these past few weeks. I pull my hood over my my head.  Lola trots ahead, nose in the air, occasionally stopping for a declaratory wee along the path.

As I approach the barn I hear the hens fretting about the day’s agenda in their usual manner. They jostle on the ladder inside the coop like commuters on a train platform, at once eager and yet grudging, seeming to say “Well, I’d rather stay snug on my roost all day, but since I have to get up, I’m going to be the first one through the door, dammit!”  When I open the door to the run they trudge out, complaining about the weather and the lateness of my arrival and whatever else, until one of them spots a bug and they all pip-pip-pip and get to work as happy chickens again.

The goaties are still waking up and I can hear them beginning to shuffle and stretch inside their cozy stall. When they hear me opening the feed room door and tearing off a flake of alfalfa they let out a few sleepy nenenehs, to let me know they’re ready for breakfast. It makes me laugh when I open the stall and, half a step into their normal stampede out the door they realize it’s wet out and slam on the breaks. Goats hate the rain. “Ah, then again, we’ll take breakfast in bed this morning,” they tell me.

Under the temporary shelter we’ve erected in the goat pen (which provides more dry space for them on rainy days) I fill the buckets with clean water.  It’s ugly and soon we’ll have something more permanent, but such as it is I appreciate being out of the rain as much as they do. Lola waits for me inside the dry feed room. She’s no fool.

These chores are done quickly but without rushing. There’s a rhythm, and like a marching band, we each play our little tune to bring the whole song together. I close the feed room door and head back to the house.  Coffee is gurgling in the pot when I open the back door and kick off my boots. Paul is up early too, writing away, playing his part in the morning song. As I head upstairs with my cup of coffee, I look out the window and notice a tiny ray of sunshine peeking through the clouds. It isn’t a sign or anything, just a shift in the stratosphere. Rain or shine, this day is already underway.