Back Issue Vol: 45-3
And we danced. How we danced! Light on our seventy and eighty year old feet, we leapt lightly over the heads of the multitude of those green capped tiny folk. Violins, small but vibrant, played under the Clapps’ Favorite and Sweet 16’s. The Jonathan, William’s Pride, and Jennifer sounded a high pitched chorus on the western breeze. The trees themselves seemed to shake and shimmy under the stars swaying in the gentle starlit southwest wind.
I am the smith, and I have come a long way since I nearly shattered my first knife. Through thorough application of being thrifty, not overworking myself, and pushing through hard times, I have become a blacksmith for the better. Blacksmithing is an incredible art of ancient origin. In these modern times, it has become almost lost, carried on by a select few. These select few can be strengthened by those who consider pursuing a noble interest and can carry on blacksmithing lore for another generation.
As I walk to the pasture, I pass Arnost, one of my guardian dogs, dozing in the morning sun. He moans a bit in his sleep, a sound that always makes me smile. Behind him, the does graze while their kids mostly sleep. They all look fine. But I still don’t see the kid I’m looking for, so I walk through the pasture gate and check one pile of napping baby goats after another. Behind me, a savage growl interrupts the quiet morning. The hairs on my arms stand up. I swing around. Arnost is fully awake and looking skyward. In one graceful movement he leaps up and runs hellbent past me into the field. His growl grows into a warning howl as he follows something in the sky. I shade my eyes so I can see what has made Arnost so upset. Eagles circle above us. “NO!” I yell.
When I was a child, my father cut all our wood by hand. A neighbor, standing by watching him one day asked, “Why don’t you get a chainsaw? Just think how much more wood you could cut in a day, the extra time you would have to spend with your family, and you could even read your Bible more.” The day did come when my father got a chainsaw, and he did cut many times more wood than before. As he reflected on the conversation he’d had with the neighbor of his youth, he noted that for all the wood he was able to cut with relative ease, he somehow spent less time than ever with his family and certainly didn’t find occasion to read his Bible more.
Despite its rough framing and minuscule size, I have tried to make my garden shed office homey and comfortable. I installed a light fixture, cast off from the house, that gives a nice light, plugged in a small electric heater, stocked some reference books, notebooks, seed catalogs and such. Liz found me a comfortable canvas director’s chair so I can sit up at the workbench (desk). I also have a few meaningful pictures and cards hanging on the walls. One of these is a photocopy of an old black and white photo of George Hjort standing in front of the most impressive corn crop you are ever likely to see. George was of Dutch origin and moved to this farm with his family in 1918.
The Whiplash Teamsters are a Connecticut based loose collection of people who work with oxen. Their name comes from the 4-H club that they sponsor. The kids seem to age out, but their parents and friends stay active. We keep looking for more kids to join and promote our craft. The Fort Hill Farm owners want to expand plow day into a 2 day event in 2022.
These photos were taken over two days this fall, ahead of the threshing on the McIntosh Lazy M Ranch in Terrebonne, Oregon. Their standby binder for several years has been a meticulously maintained John Deere. Recently Mike McIntosh acquired a second binder from the Rumgay estate; this one, a New Champion, is in excellent original condition but has not seen use in many years. A day ahead of the threshing Mike, Jacob and Jamesy allowed me to join them in assembling and assessing the unit for a test flight.
Every bit of length, taper, angle, weight and sharpness contributes to how and for what the axe is used. The temper (hardness) of the metal must be hard enough to hold an edge and soft enough to file and not be brittle. A blunter maul with an abrupt taper blows the wood apart, or bounces off if it cannot penetrate. A sharp bit with a longer taper will cut in and penetrate easier before splitting the wood apart. If it doesn’t fully succeed one must pump the handle to loosen the head and hit it again.
The Small Farmer’s Journal Archives owns the two volume set of The Apples of New York which features many glorious color plates of apple varieties, some of them quite rare. Let us know if there is a variety you want information on. We might have it.
The forge in Rostrevor was in a very old street known as “The Back Lane.” There to the side of its entrance was a circular flat granite stone with a hole in its centre for shoeing cart wheels. And to the side of that a mountain of broken ploughs and other horse implements infringing on the road. As a child I was told very solemnly that somewhere in the heart of it was a broken chariot belonging to Brian Boru. An archway between houses led to a small yard and then the forge itself – a truly medieval barn. A high space with slates that could do with being pointed and a floor paved with thick wooden sleepers and flagged stone.
It is revealing, and curious, that we farming humans live through this long winding string of days on our individual places, so close to the everyday work, that we are oblivious to patterns that have unfolded right in front of us. The slow grind of change blinds us to compromises and bad choices that may have been made. And it also conceals those victories we missed in the moment. So often for us on our ranch we have made decisions and plans for projects and actions that we were unable to do. And the result of not doing it somehow turned into a triumph or a tragedy averted. All that time we were being whispered to by that time. If we missed what time told us in the moment, perhaps the result was a fortune left behind, unclaimed.
The fact that electric or hybrid passenger cars, and even electric powered agricultural implements like GPS-guided precision seeders and planters, are promoted by the media and politics now, could tempt us to jump on this bandwagon and further develop other hybrid technologies for animal traction. However, taking into consideration the current discussions about the sustainability of battery production, their life cycle and recycling, as well as the environmental impact of electricity generation in general, we would partly give up some of the main arguments for the use of work horses, which are their 100% renewability on a local level, and their eco-friendliness, compared to any other source of motive power currently available in our high-tech world.
Two horses or mules working side by side are generally referred to as a team. The customary procedure for ‘driving’ them is to employ team lines which, fastened to the outsides of each of two bits, provides that the teamster may apply varying pressure. With experience, training and maturity, the teamster might learn to softly send messages to each equine, through light pressure at the corners of their mouths, as to preferred direction, speed, and halt.