On the Cold Antler Farm, Jenna Woginrich writes about her adventures following her crazy dream life as a self-employed writer, homesteader, archer, falconer, equestrian, martial artist, hunter, spinner, brewer, geek, and real-life Game of Thrones Extra.
Through The Storm He Silently Glided Along in Front of Her While the Woods Sheltered Them, 1915. That is the name of the painting above, a piece by Norman Rockwell I had never seen before. It's now my favorite painting of his. A woman and her friend alone in a wild place, being guided through the roughest times by the light that is a black dog. Holy Crow, can I relate.
Things here are pretty okay right now, especially after yesterday. There are some setbacks and concerns: like an entire mortgage payment's worth of funds going to dental work instead of bill and quickly dwindling firewood supplies - but these are battles I know how to fight. I already contacted some suppliers and worked out payments and I am happy to announce tooth number 14 got its root canal yesterday, or most of it...
It's a tooth with three roots, being a molar, and while two of the three were easy to drill and clean and repair, one was a disaster. Old filling material had been compacted up into the actual root and made it impossible to do all three roots in the same visit, so I need to return after January. Good news is the price doesn't change and I'm not paying for 3 root canals (technically, that's what this is) and just the one. Because of this community online I was able to get that medical care. And because of good friends here in town I was even given a ride to the office in Saratoga.
There is some pain I'm dealing with right now but it is manageable compared to what an abscess deals out. And it's the pain of repair, not decay, which is encouraging -with teeth and with life in general.
I've been meaning to write about loneliness. It's a new sensation for me, something I never dealt with before. But writing about it means talking about some LGBT themes and romance and I am not sure if that's something you guys want to read about? Perhaps that's an essay for Autostraddle. But it's a different way of being here on the mountain then ever before: not being okay with being alone. It's not sad as much as it is growing pains. It took me a long time to want to not be alone. That's the real storm - the complexity of learning who you are - and I am glad as hell there's black dogs to guide me.
Woke up to a farm covered with a fresh powdered-sugar shake of snow. Not much, but enough to coat the trees and make the mud from yesterday a little more pleasant. I walked outside and all the truck tire ruts had fluffy shoulders and the bit of pine swag hanging from my front door was frosted. I smiled at the happy start. It's the little things.
Chores went fast this morning. Mabel seemed happy in her blue blanket, which I put on around 9PM last night when the snow squall started and the wind felt harsh. I was out there in a headlamp with the dogs, fidgeting with the snaps that go under the equine belly. Today she seemed easy going as ever, and she and Merlin enjoyed their hay at their eating spot below the lamb pen (who were doing the same).
The pigs were all snug in their nest in the barn and seemed annoyed to be waken up for breakfast, steam coming off their bodies when they emerged from the straw. The dogs ran around me, enjoying the morning chicken bothering and goose baiting while the two cats enjoyed their extra layer of winter fat asleep by the wood stove. We are here in the folds of winter and it's not even the solstice. Feels early. Already went through a cord of firewood and need to get more.
So I talked to Common Sense Farm this morning about buying two more cords over the next few weeks. Another thing to figure out. It never ends does it? And that isn't a complaint as much as a comforting reality we all share. Just when you think things are starting to level out you end up with truck repairs, double the firewood needs, and a root canal.
My root canal is scheduled for this week with an Endodontist in Saratoga. I have about 3/4th the funds together, another $400 to go. Part of me is so grateful it is getting done because my head has been dealing with this ache for the last few days that scares me, not a headache but this bone ache of inner infection. All I can do is take the medication, work on current clients, and hope more sales come in to pick up the slack. So that's the other part, this knowledge that all that money could cover another mortgage payment and bills. I'm angry at my teeth, my genes, the bad luck of having to deal with this some mornings. Right now I am as angry as I am glad Thursday is inching closer. I want these fears and the pain behind me but the fire to catch up is both causing anxiety as it is motivation.
If you want to help out, please consider purchasing a gift certificate for artwork or soap to give as a holiday gift? I can't promise artwork or soap by this Holiday's deadline but the gift vouchers can be printed and redeemed anytime in 2019. It's certainly needed and so appreciated. Send an email.
Someone recently called my truck a piece of junk. They said it the way you'd say any mundane fact—not a drop of cruelty in their tone. They said it as if describing "a slice of bread" or "that brown cat". It was a gut punch.
I agree my 29-year-old truck isn't impressive. It has faded paint, rust spots, and dim headlights. It has no working AC, a wonky cassette player, and hand-stitched holes in the upholstery. It often needs work, rarely starts in the rain, and (until recently) the oil leaked as if it was being held by a colander.
But you know what? I love that truck.
I sought out that truck. It wasn't something I settled for. It was an intentional purchase. As intentional as choosing homesteading over corporate design. Yeah, she's a little rough but so am I.
I wanted that age and model of truck for good while, too. I longed for it. The XL bed, the steel exterior, the lack of anything digital inside. She works on switches, levers, dials and slung luck.
I love the style of late-eighties trucks and how much space they take up, proud and true. They are unapologetic in their utility and comforting in their simplicity. And like raising your own food in your backyard; they are inconveniently old-fashioned. When I drive her to the movies it looks like a lego parked among rows of suppositories. Which is how I feel about modern car design in general. I didn't want to drive around in spaceship. I wanted a machine.
When I emailed the musician who was selling her he told me no one had ever seemed so excited about an old truck before. When I contacted him I had no idea how to pay the $1900 asking price. That is still a lot of money to me. But I told him I would figure it out, just give me the weekend, and I did! I got a micro-loan through Kiva and was able to get the money within 48 hours! That man drove the truck to my farm and delivered it himself. And that was three years ago and I just got home from picking up a load of hay in her. The heater worked. The speakers were playing a podcast. I was so happy and grateful for her.
Piece of junk... Well I own that piece of junk. Her title was paid for that day I met her and I paid off the Kiva loan early. I keep her oil changed, interior spotless, windows washed, and I know my mechanic's number by heart. I have never been so educated on a vehicle I owned before. I understand her quirks and pieces. I own the tools to keep her going and maintain her like any other beast on this farm. She is part of my family here.
She only costs $48 a month to insure and even if she needs $500 worth of work every quarter it is still less than the nearly $500 I was paying A MONTH to have a newer model truck. The 2004 Dodge was bought on a $14,000 loan and needed all sorts of inspections and insurance. I couldn't afford to live like that anymore so when the Dodge started failing and was too hard to make payments on I knew my next vehicle had to be drastically different. Paid in full, simpler to repair, easier to pass inspection, ready for snow and farm. That truck was a prayer.
Scaling back on things was the only way I could afford to stay on the farm. I did it with many aspects of my life. I dropped my insurance and went to Planned Parenthood instead of my old doctors. I stopped using a cell phone and only kept a land line. Money went to bills, loans, and the cost of running this farm instead and that was fine since it was my work, my playground, my grocery store... my entire world. I got my cost of living down to what matched what I could scrap together. And so far, even though I am usually right up against it, it has worked. This May will be nine years on this farm. Almost a third of the way towards ownership as a single woman. No in-laws, no parents, no spouse made any of this happen. This blog, my books, this community made that happen. Which is magic and as amazing as my truck.
My truck got picked on and I felt the need to stand up for her and for me. Be mindful of the words you are saying. Something worthless to you might be the keystone to someone else's lifestyle. Or it could be something they wish they didn't have and being called garbage doesn't help their esteem or heart. Kindness can be the choice to say nothing at all.
When I look at her I do not see a symbol of poverty or failure: I see a decision to stay. I see something I can afford that works as hard as I do. She is my girl and one of the puzzle pieces that allow me to live this feral life that I am so honored to keep scrapping together.
Morning chores were a wonderland! Snow has been falling gently through the night, covering this place in a blanket of powder. Every tree was heavy with inches of snow and the temperature *just a little below freezing, making it comfortable enough to do all the feeding and water buckets in a sweater instead of insulated layers.
The dogs ran and played, bothering chickens and geese, and the horses were coaxed out of their pole barn for morning hay. I got a fire lit, soap orders packed, and soon as all the loose ends of work around here are done I'll be heading into town to See Wendy or Martha at the Post Office.
Most days those ladies are the only people I talk to in person. While I never stop yammering on social media it's rare I get to talk to most people in person during the work day. Town is for the post office, hardware store, laundromat, and occasionally the brewery where my own tankard is on the wall waiting for me to walk in. Cambridge is my village, but it's a few miles from this mountain and the farm tucked around a sharp corner. Yesterday I left to get hay. Today I'll mail out soap and art. But 90% of the time I am here. And that's a good thing. When homesteading is your goal in life and you managed to figure a life where most of it is at home: ding ding ding!
I also wanted to check in and thank everyone who sent words of advice, encouragement, contributions, and emails about the dental situation. I am hoping to get the surgery next week and have tooth 14 root canaled if at all possible. You have no idea how much light it is to get a nice note from a reader, or friendly DM on Twitter in support of the farm. Thank you so much. I hope it is taken care of soon and I can keep the tooth as is. I'll certainly keep you posted. But for now: back to work!
The farm got through the cold snap tired but okay. I am proud of how far I have come when it has to do with bad weather and managing this home. The house's water, heating, and pipes all did fine. Faucets were left dripping on the worst of the nights and I slept downstairs by the fires, tending both wood stoves and keeping things in the right concern. Not a single beast or spirit went hungry, cold, or distressed. The lambs had extra hay in their shed and the pigs were buried in a nest of straw in the barn. The horses were their usual selves: Mabel in her blanket and Merlin with his woolly coat. The dogs shiver when outside too long when it's really cold, being accustomed to household temperatures and not the outdoors - so the only real issue with the cold is two bored border collies (boreder collies?!) but they had chewies and their own indoor missions to keep them occupied. Friday likes to monitor the actions of a baby possum that lives under the crawl space of our kitchen. Gibson watches the windows like a sentry, alerting me of any winter walkers in their down jackets walking down the road. The hawk is almost trained to fly free and came inside twice a day for weighing and health checks. All were well in this storm.
I called and made an appointment for a root canal in early December. The pain is getting unbearable at certain times and my doctor won't prescribe any antibiotics anymore, saying I need to get the surgery. The reality is awful that without health insurance a root canal costs $1300 and the antibiotics cost me $10. A dose of the antibiotics can knock out the infection for weeks but then it returns, worse than before. I know I need to get it done but it means not making a house payment this month, which will knock the farm into the danger zone. I am trying to figure it out but right now I am just letting myself a good cry. It's a cloudy afternoon and bad weather is coming. There is nothing I can do about it today besides go to Rite Aid and get more ibuprofen and avoid eating anything too complicated or chewy.
The good news is that I have the appointment. And if I can't figure out how to pay for it then I can cancel within 48 hours without penalty. The other option is to have the tooth removed for a couple hundred dollars but then I won't have an upper molar (the rest have been removed) and it will cause the entire top of my mouth's teeth to shift.
So why share all this? Because that's what I do. Because that's what I have always done. Across this country people in all sorts of middle-class jobs and lives have to decide between healthcare and regular bills. And because part of choosing (and this was entirely my choice, I am not a victim in any way) to leave a regular paying gig for self-employment and zero health care. That's the cold truth of it. This was my choice. If it means having the molar pulled and messing up my teeth, well, that's what will happen. All I can do right now, today, is work on the jobs I already have and hope some freelance payments make it here sooner than planned. Thanks for reading. Thanks for being there.
Good morning from a snow-covered Cold Antler Farm! Happy to report the truck started, the animals are well, the coffee is peppermint mocha and I am in a very fluffy blue sweater. All I want to do now is light the wood stove and watch Gilmore Girls.
Alas, this woman has work to do. Making two big batches of soap, finishing two portraits, work on two logos, and taking a big load of art and packages to mail at the post office after the roads clear up. I hope your day is just as beautiful, productive, and ends with kind dogs and possibly Gilmore Girls.