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Long Time No Write

But now I have something exciting to share! We were featured in our hometown newspaper, the Taos News. Here is the link: http://www.taosnews.com/news/business/article_87160406-9109-11e4-bc57-9f94cf94aded.html.

And I have a new website for purchasing our newest product – Organic, Sea Salted Goat Milk Caramel Love Bites: http://www.lovebitecaramels.com. A better website will be coming over the next month, but this one is getting the word out and getting the orders in!

I am in the process of deciding whether to combine the two websites, or continue with both. Many changes coming down the pike for 2015.

Happy New Year farm fans!!


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Papa and Isla work on Fred, our Jack-O-Lantern.

Papa and Isla work on Fred, our Jack-O-Lantern.

Ahhhhh….. the season of the honey harvest has arrived! Beeswax candles are solidifying in their forms on the counter. Golden honey drips from crushed comb in the colander. Pit pat, pit pat in the pot. The pints and half pints full of liquid gold continue to collect. And I spend the day following my child and husband around the house with sponge in hand. EVERYTHING is sticky! And what is not sticky is embedded with bees wax.

Randy cuts comb from a frame to crush and drain. In the foreground is the bowl of drained comb. We take this back out to the bees and they do the first stage of honey clean up for us.

Randy cuts comb from a frame to crush and drain. In the foreground is the bowl of drained comb. We take this out to the bees and they do the first stage of wax clean up for us by removing the remaining honey to add to their winter stash. We are left with dry, clean wax!

I actually had to go buy a putty knife just for cleaning up in the wake of chewing, slurping family and friends. But is there anything better than crushing a freshly harvested honey comb between your teeth and letting the burst of sweetness flow slowly around your tongue? This comb crushing has such a satisfying feel as the perfect architecture of the hexagonal cells collapse under the pressure of your jaws. The wax warms with your body’s heat, slowly releasing it’s exquisite stash, which mixes with your saliva, and trickles thickly down your throat. The wax that is left behind congregates into a malleable wad as your chewing continues and every last drop of goodness has been swallowed.

A small bowl sits next to the stack of honey frames that are waiting their turn with the colander and potato masher. This sacred bowl slowly fills higher with teeth imprinted hunks of chewed wax. Next begins the task of melting all the chewed or crushed comb, all the scrapings from the hive boxes and frames, last year’s collection and perhaps even the year’s before. In the process, propolis is scraped off and set aside. This year I melted and cleaned 3 years worth of diligently collected bees wax. It amounted to an impressive quantity for only 1 hive.

Heating water to melt the wax in. There are several containers of collected wax scrapings in this picture as well as the bowl of chewed wax wads. This shows about a quarter of what we have melted.

Heating water to melt the wax in. There are several containers of collected wax scrapings in this picture as well as the bowl of chewed wax wads. This shows about a quarter of what we have melted so far this fall, as well as the disk of clean wax from 3 years ago.

We have also been collecting used pint sized 1/2 & 1/2 cartons for months. Today, Halloween morning, at our daughter’s Waldorf school, with 31 children aged 2 1/2 – 6 years watching attentively, I poured that cleaned and remelted wax into six 1/2 & 1/2 cartons. This hot wax included the chewed wax wads from every child who had sampled the comb that morning, while smearing sticky, happy hands across their Halloween costumes. One pillar candle remained behind for each of the Early Childhood classes. The remaining ones we took home to burn throughout the cold, dark winter on our dining room table.

The beekeeper smokes a worker bee at the Waldorf school to encourage her to gorge on honey.

The beekeeper smokes a worker bee at the Waldorf school to encourage her to gorge on honey in case of a fire evacuation from the hive.

Said worker begin begins the gorging process. This will make her docile and her abdomen too full to bend. She needs to bend in order to sting.

Said worker bee begins the gorging process. This will make her docile and her abdomen too full to bend. She needs to bend in order to sting.

A brave knight and a quiet king wait in anticipation for their turns to gorge.

A brave knight and a quiet king wait in anticipation for their turns to gorge.

Most of 3 year's of wax accumulation now in the form of 6 pillar candles. I plan to stretch out the remaining wax with goat tallow and see how that works for candles.

Most of 3 year’s worth of wax accumulation now in the form of 6 pillar candles. I plan to stretch out the remaining wax with goat tallow and see how that works as a back up.

I love pillar candles. I love the smell of burning bees wax. I am told that bees wax candles purify the air, and it’s easy to believe while watching a small puddle form around the wick like a moat around a castle. The smell alone has a calming effect on all present. Perhaps this is why the Waldorf school uses only bees wax candles – they too must be in on the secret.

And now, as my stuffy, hoarse 4 yr old heads out with Papa for trick or treating on the Plaza, I relax at home, gratefully alone and quiet. My legitimate excuse to bow out was that my bee costume had lost it’s buzz. My stripes were falling off from the 3 hours of beekeeping presentation that morning. After all, an hour with scissors and safety pins is not meant to create a family heirloom.

So I look out the frosty window at what is still left of this morning’s wet snowfall, and type. A small pot on the stove warms a pint of our honey, with 6 of our onions – diced, 6 of our garlic cloves – pressed, the juice of 7 lemons, the zest of 2 lemons, a palm sized hunk of fresh ginger – grated, 3 shakes of our XXX cayenne, 2 tsps of ground cinnamon, and about a cup of our recently harvested propolis. I call this concoction “MacMama’s Miracle Cold Syrup”. As spicy as it is, Little Isla always asks for more. Once strained and jarred, this batch should last us through the year. And hopefully it will get our wee lassie back on her fairy princess feet before the tea candle in Fred the Jack-o-lantern burns out.

A pot of MacMama's Miracle Cold Syrup is brewing.

A pot of MacMama’s Miracle Cold Syrup is brewing.

As a get-well compliment to the cold syrup, a second, larger pot boils up one of our recently harvested meat roosters for bone broth and chicken veggie soup. Soon I will add some of our carrots, turnips, onions, garlic, kale, boletus mushrooms from this year’s harvest, and fresh spices. I feel that cooking with food we grow on our farm, or food we harvest from Nature, gives a certain healing magic to our meals. There is a discernible life force in our farm meals that I do not detect from store bought food. With one family member down with the Halloween crud, I am doing my best to get my Nugget well while keeping the rest of us healthy.

I tear off the form of one of the fresh pillar candles. The glow of the white wick and the scent of sweet honey that this candle emits, brings me peace and tranquility. As Father Sun dips closer to the snowy horizon, Little Willie and Nico crow, Thomas gobbles and Molly barks. A hot bath is running. All is well.

The first candle is released from it's form and lit.

The first candle is released from it’s form and lit. Heavenly!

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(Continued from PartI)

The next morning was all about packing gear, food, personal belongings and loading it into truck and trailer. Packing for a group, multi-day raft trip is never a simple task, especially when a pack of kids will be part of the crew. But we were rolling down the highway by noonish, bound for the Rio Chama put-in below El Vado dam. The sky grew more ominous the closer we got to our destination. Although we had told our friends to go ahead without us, they were still on the bank waiting patiently. I liked thinking they loved us too much to leave but also realized we were the only ones who knew the river. In any case, we were grateful for the help rigging the raft and loading our gear as we raced the fast approaching electrical storm.

As Randy and I like to say – If you want it to rain, head out on a 3-day Chama trip!

Jagged bolts of lightning streaked the grey clouds and booms of thunder rumbled above us. Isla huddled on the porch of the BLM cabin, whimpering in her river clothes and rain suit as I simultaneously sung cheerful songs to her while swinging gear down the bank to Randy. But the pelting rain eventually drove us all under cover. It was the first rain we had seen in a long, long time and we sucked in deep breaths filled with the pungent smell of wet sage and damp earth. I was sure I could hear choirs of angels singing all the way from our garden in Taos!

Lars helps Randy with the loading of our raft.

Lars helps Randy with the loading of our raft.

Despite the storm, by 3:10pm the 3 families and 3 rafts were finally launched and drifting downstream under a bruised sky and light drizzle. We waved to the ever present geese, and oggled at the mud swallow’s nests, hanging incredulously from beneath the rock cliff ledges. A mother mallard tucked herself and her 10 ducklings into the overhanging grass of the river bank as we drifted quietly past. In no time at all we had arrived at the hot springs, across from the ruins of the old Ward Ranch. This historic ranch had been vandalized and burned to the ground the previous year. It had always been one of our favorite stops and left a heaviness in my heart as we cruised past the twisted pile of tin roofing. We tied up and lowered our chilly toes into the hot spring, which immediately surrounded us with it’s stench of sulphur. Happy smiles lined the grassy edge of the steaming pool. 6 yr old Nils and his 8 yr old sister Ella slipped further and further into the stinking, grey muck that was hiding our feet, eventually floating happily on their backs. I gave Randy, who was holding Isla between his legs, a stare that could level a city. My message was clear,”If you even THINK about letting our child into this reeking pool past her knees, the two of you will be sleeping out in the rain!” He got the hint without losing his warm, dry tent space.

Our ever present companions.

Our ever present companions.

Toasty toes for all!!

Toasty toes for all!!

I could smell the sulphur on them 48 yrs later - I jest not! But Ella and Nils sure enjoyed it.

I could smell the sulphur on these kiddos 48 yrs later – I jest not! But Ella and Nils sure enjoyed it.

Wet and chilled, we pulled our flotilla ashore at the next available campsite on river left. Boats were secured onto stout juniper trunks, gear hauled up the bank, and river wing (massive tarp) set up with the group kitchen beneath. Then each family found their own tent spots and changed into warm, dry, evening clothes. In the process 2 perfect snake skins were found, compared and admired by kids and parents alike. Then blessed Amber made all the adults G&Ts, winning our hearts and devotion for the remainder of the trip. Dinner was cooked while Lars serenaded us with his ukelele, the rushing river contributing subtle harmonies. More accurately, a few dinners were cooked. Like I said, we weren’t going to starve on this trip! As we sat in folding camp chairs, laughing and eating hearty platefuls of Mediterranean pasta and brats, the setting sun illuminated thousands of cedar moths that were alighting from the trunks of the massive junipers surrounding our camp site. They fluttered in an enchanted, back lit aura around each tree like millions of tiny fairies come to bid Father Sun adieu. As dishes clunked in the wash basins and dusk began to fall, Brian pulled out his banjo and began to accompany Lars. I was itching for an instrument and could not believe we had left our guitar behind!  However, I donned my headlamp and helped a bit in the vocal department until the insistant cedar moths drove us all to our warm, cozy nests. When Lars pulled out his music book in the morning, dozens of moths had been perfectly pressed and preserved between it’s pages.

2, 4, 6, 8! Who do we appreciate!? Orrin (2), Isla (4), Nils (6) and Ella (8).

2, 4, 6, 8! Who do we appreciate!? Orrin (2), Isla (4), Nils (6) and Ella (8).

Serving up dinner.

Serving up dinner.

Lars serenades 2 year old Orrin.

Lars entertains 2 year old Orrin.

Our second day dawned with promising sunshine and we made comfortable time eating, packing and launching. The morning was spent teaching Ella and Nils to row, watching the flight of osprey and heron, and being escorted downriver by a small flock of Western Tanagers. Their vivid yellows, oranges and reds blew the dull brown dipper birds right off their rocks! Then, in the late morning, we began to smell smoke. We speculated without concern that perhaps the wind had shifted, pushing smoke from any of the many neighboring wildfires into the river valley. Then we heard, and soon saw, a spotting plane… and in another 1/4 mile could clearly make out a dark plume rising over the ridge. It was looking like we had our very own wildfire! The 3 families eddied out to discuss the situation and decided to head on down regardless. Afterall, what else could we do? And we would not truly know the location of the fire until we got further along. Within 30 minutes we were there. And I mean THERE. The fire was RIGHT THERE, already over the ridge and descending into the river valley. Randy used to fight wildfires, so this was not terribly new to him. But it was the closest I had ever been to a wildfire! We drifted past, looking high on the slope, searching for flames. I guiltily hoped to see a tree explode or something equally impressive. Although the smoke rising from the other side of the ridgeline told a tale of hungry flames and fully consumed trees, our side was out of the wind and merely moldering it’s way quietly downhill toward the banks of the river and Leaning Tree campsite, leaving tall, charred skeletons behind it.

Nils was up early for some dawn fishing.

Nils was up early for some dawn fishing.

Ready to load the sunlit rafts!

Ready to load the sunlit rafts!

OK, that is DEFINITELY a plume of smoke downstream!

OK, that is DEFINITELY a plume of smoke downstream!

Passing the Aragon Wildfire as it molders it's way down to the banks of the Chama.

Passing the Aragon Wildfire as it molders it’s way down to the banks of the Chama. Note the helicopter about to fly into the plume.

We pulled over at the Tiger Wall campsite for lunch, crashing the lunch party of another group and a solo BML ranger. The 3 groups stood chewing, eyes glued to the fire and the helicopter with it’s massive water bucket trailing beneath. Repeatedly the chopper would dive down to the river, out of our view, then rise slowly back up, laden with it’s brimming bucket of river water. It would maneuver itself over the worst of the fire, all but hidden in smoke, dump it’s load, then zoom out of the grey-brown plume, it’s empty bucket trailing almost horizontally behind it. We could have watched for hours, but the thunderheads were building and the wind had shifted. It was time to find a campsite.

Isla and Ella watch mesmerized as the fire chopper does it's job.

Isla and Ella watch mesmerized as the fire chopper does it’s job.

Thunder rumbled between the canyon walls as we neared the high, yellow, sandstone cliffs of Chama Wall. Pit pat pit pat came the rain in big heavy drops. I scrambled to get Isla into her rain gear, which is no easy feat, saying a silent prayer that the fire would be extinguished by the storm. It had obviously been ignited by the lightning of the storm the day before – the epitome of a catch 22. We got a bit ahead of the group and pulled over to scout a campsite. It was not ideal – only 1 flat tent site, the rest off camber. So we continued downstream as the group reconvened. Site after site was taken by other groups and the rain continued to drench us. Randy, Isla and I sang rain songs at the top of our lungs to pass the wet miles: Raindrops keep falling on my head… If all the raindrops were lemon drops and gum drops…. Singing in the rain… you name it, but we could not find an available camp site. A commercial group caught up with us and together, we discussed the remaining sites ahead. It was decided we would try for the second site in Huckbay, and they the 3rd. It would be a hard grab (if no one was there already), as the eddy was tiny, the current swift, and we had 3 rafts – one a 16fter.

We were first in line. I perched precariously on the bow, flaked bow line in hand. My heart was beating loudly. “Now!” I yelled, and Randy punched the oars forward, pushing our nose expertly in just behind the grassy point. Rocks groped at the raft bottom, knocking us off course, and we were coming in fast at the bank. The bow smacked shore with a thud and I launch onto the wet grass, landing hard on my knees. I jumped to my feet and leaned back against the taut rope. There are times when my hands feel quite handicapped from my Lyme inflamation, and I was feeling it then as the rope cut hard into my palms. Could I hold it? My feet were slipping in the mud as I caught sight of Sheryl and Lars’ 16fter coming around the point fast. It was all I could do to hold my ground, my hands screaming in pain, but I knew this was our last camp site option for many, many miles. If I let go, our raft would be swept away by the swift current and this site would be lost to us. The two rafts lurched together as Sheryl leapt for the shore, arms outstretched like wings. Then we were leaning back side by side, sliding further into the willows as Brian and Amber burst around the corner, rope at the ready. I grabbed Sheryl’s line and she ran to catch Amber’s. All was chaos as boats slammed together, bouncing off rocks like pinballs! “I can’t hold this much longer! Can some one help me? PLEASE!” I don’t remember who came to my aid, but all 3 boats were finally secured to tree trunks and the 4 kids handed safely ashore.

Isla, staying obediently away from the river under threat of death and dismemberment, stretched full length in the mud, lifejacket and rain suit squelching beneath her, to help Nils excavate a new set of bank steps with sticks and fingernails. I sighed, shook out my cramped hands and stretched my back, and turned to the river to help Randy unload. It was a nice campsite that I had been to before and I was relieved to be here, although I did not remember quite so much docking drama on the first visit. The group kitchen was quickly set up with so many willing hands, the chores heavily lubricated with bottles of Mike’s Hard Limes. The rain lightened, and then stopped, the uke came out, and personal tent setup began. Once our tent was erected and Isla’s dry bag unearthed, I hauled my mudcaked offspring to the river’s edge and dunked her unwilling body into the chilly river on wash cycle. Then I rinsed her lifejacket, rain coat, rain bibs, and rubber boots, all inside as well as out, and carried her shivering form up to the tent. “I want my skirt AND my dress!” Someone needed a snack – FAST! “Not THAT shirt Mom-eye!” Oh dear, where did I put my Mike’s? Finally dry and dressed in the many layered gypsy outfit of her choice, Isla ran off to play with the kids who were careening down the dirt bank one at a time, over and over – even 2 yr old Orrin.

And now – MY turn to change. Ahhh…. dry cotton feels divine after a day in poly rashguards and neoprene. With my attitude completely re-adjusted, I walked happily toward the music and singing under the group tarp, reaching unconsciously to my throat for my neckless.

MY NECKLESS!!! It was gone!

You may be thinking, what’s with all the drama? But this was no ordinary neckless! It was a simple black leather thong, threaded through a green serpentine stone. This stone was ground from a chip left over from the carving of our son Rowan’s gravestone. And inside the stone, was a wee bit of his ashes. I had a lapidary friend shape 6 of these stones and drill out a cavity in each. Then I filled the cavities with a pinch of Rowan’s ashes, and plugged the holes with matching plugs my friend had made, gluing the plugs into place. Then this lapidary ground the plugs flush with the stones’ faces and polished each with loving hands. He refused to let me pay him for his beautiful, tedious work. I gave a stone to each of the people present at our son’s birth, and death: our two midwives, our friend Joanne, one to Randy’s parents, and Randy and myself. Then I had hung my platinum and diamond wedding ring on the cord beside the stone, for with my Lyme inflammation, I could no longer wear it.

I was aghast.

I remembered putting it around my neck before leaving the last campsite, so it was either here, in the raft, or in the river. I searched the ground around the tent, inside the tent, and inside all the river clothes I had just wriggled out of. I searched the ground beneath where each article of river clothing hung drying from tree branches. Randy searched the bottom of the raft, hoping it may have been caught before the self-bailing action flushed it into the stream. In the end, there was nothing more I could do. I filled my travel mug with red wine, took a deep breath, and turned back towards the beautiful gathering of old friends, new friends, and adventurous children that made up our perfect group. The neckless would always be here, most probably on the river bottom, and somehow that seemed appropriate. With this trip being my 10th Chama trip, and marking 10 years that Randy and I had been together, a little bit of Rowan, and the symbol of our marriage, would be forever embraced my the arms of this rushing river.

That, I could deal with.

I distracted myself by learning chords on the banjo and then the uke. And then ate a delicious red Thai curry cooked by Lars. Isla was losing cabin pressure fast, so I excused myself and my whining child and headed to the tent. With teeth brushed, PJs on and dusk settling over our tent, I knew I was not going to make it back out. I laid down beside my daughter and pulled her warm little frame close into my arms, drifting lightly into pre-slumber with my cheek on her matted head. Twice she awoke me with two important questions: “Mom-eye?” “Mmmm?” ” Why are there rocks on the side of the rock steps up to the campsite?” Then back into slumber.  “Mom-eye?” “Mmmpph?” “Why are there waves in the river when there is no rock beneath them?” And then back to sleep. And I slept the sleep of the dead, dreaming of rivers, necklesses, and my mother-in-law.

Day 3 found us awake earlier than the previous morning as apparently the group had followed my example and retired soon after my departure the night before. We packed, cooked, ate and loaded boats as the morning sun worked it’s way down the pine strewn cliffs on the opposite bank. As sunlight finally made it to our tentsite and filtered in through the trees, I searched one last time for any sign of the missing neckless. Then comforted myself knowing it would always be here, waiting for me on my next Chama trip. And my next…

The day proved to be the most glorious yet with warm sun and cool temps for the majority of our river time. Six year old Nils perfected his rowing, tackling his first “rapid” mostly solo. Isla got a turn on the oars, Ella paddled the sit-on-top kayak, and Orrin refused to let mama Amber stop dunking him over the side. Randy and I jumped in for a swim, and water fights commenced by water guns, bailing scoop and well placed oars! We floated lazily through the flat stretch past the Christ in the Desert Monastery, soaking in the expansive view of the open valley rimmed on either side with towering red and yellow sandstone cliffs. Then the rapids picked up after the Chavez launch site and we had a bit more excitement.

A glorious day on the river!

A glorious day on the river!

Nils run his first "rapid"!

Nils running his first “rapid”, which we promptly christened Nils Rapid!

Isla take a turn on the oars.

Isla take a turn on the oars.

Orrin gets a non-stop baptism as we float past the monastery.

Orrin gets a non-stop baptism as we float past the monastery.

Eight year old Ella in the sit-on-top kayak.

Eight year old Ella in the sit-on-top kayak.

Randy told the story to Amber and Brian of how he had only flipped a raft once in his life, and it was on this river, just up ahead on Undercut Rapid. He still blames it on me (although he had been alone). We had just started dating, and he had been daydreaming about the last time we had been together and when he would see me next. That daydream had been harshly interrupted by a screaming right hand turn along a rough grey cliff wall. His raft had been pinned vertically on it’s side and he was dumped into the drink. He had climbed ashore, hiked back upstream, and managed to climb down the cliff to stand on the side of his pinned raft and lever it off the cliff wall. Then he had launched himself from the cliff, landing smack on the bottom of the overturned raft. Quite the super hero feat, and he does his own stunts too!

We all chuckled togther and slipped the rafts apart to prepare for the run through Undercut Rapid. I was at the oars and feeling a bit nervous. I am not that much of a rafter – a canoe is my craft of choice. But here I was, plunging towards a cliff wall that had once upon a time flipped my experienced rafter husband. I pulled back hard on the oars to set up for the right hand turn. OK. That seemed like enough clearance. Pivot the oars, turn the raft to the right and ride it out down the train of haystacks! But the current was still pulling me in towards the cliff. Crap! I’d forgotten it was undercut! I had no idea what was going on beneath that underwater ledge but I was getting sucked closer and closer to that cheese grater of a wall. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain I knew I needed to push the oar handles behind me and wing the blades forward and inside the boat. But it was all happening so fast! I fumbled, felt I did not have enough clearance left for the swing, and instead pulled the oar inboard through the oar lock and across my lap as the cliff loomed closer. But the blade caught in the oar lock and was still protruding about 10″ outboard. I saw in slow motion what was about to happen but was powerless to stop it. Fortunately Randy, seated on the bench ahead of me with his arm around Isla, saw as well and started to duck. The oar blade caught the cliff wall, was push back with tremendous force levering the 6′ shaft and handle of the oar forward from the pivot point of the oar lock! The shaft smacked Randy on the back of the head as he was starting to duck, knocking both he and Isla off the bench and into the forward well! Then the raft hit the nasty sandstone wall and bounced back off into the current. A soon as I could regain control of the oar, I pulled hard to the opposite bank and beached the raft on a gravel bar. “Are you OK sweetie?” I was very shaken and very concerned. Did he have a concussion? Or worse? “That rapid is still trying to get me – and it is still your fault!” he mumbled with a faint smile. “Ow.” I sighed with relief as he rubbed the fast forming goose egg. “I’m going to have a hell of a headache,” he grimaced. I shook my head. An inch or 2 lower and I could have broken his neck. I checked his pupils, calmed the crying Isla (who was fine but rather rattled), and pulled the raft back into the current. And I stoically bore the well-deserved razzing of my attempted spousal homicide for the remainder of the day.

Randy took over the oars soon after as there was a long stretch of rapids that I felt uncomfortable with. We are not talking BIG rapids here, just a lot of technical maneuvering. Being Sunday, the water flow had been cut at the upstream dam before noon, so we were slowly losing flow as we continued downstream. This made for some boney conditions and I was already very shaken up by my nasty mistake upstream. After a late lunch stop on a muddy bar, we packed back up food and folding table and worked our way down closer to the Big Eddy take out. Just before that final bend, Sheryl and Lars pulled over to look at some stunning cliffs freckled with swallow’s nests, and found a snake coiled inside one of the mud nests just at eye level! What a find! Always something magical and amazing awaiting us around the next turn.


What was later identified as a gopher snake, coiled inside a swallow’s nest. The easiest way to exit was definitely a free-fall drop into the river, but I have no idea how this snake managed it’s entry!

We rounded the final bend to behold the worst take out zoo scene I think I had ever seen. I am sure that every group trip on the river that weekend was taking out simultaneously. Cars, trucks, and trailers were lined up forward and back on the access drive and boats and gear were strewn everywhere. It was the epitome of a proverbial yard sale! But we nosed into the fray and added our own chaos, once again racing a threatening afternoon storm. We unloaded, de-rigged and wormed our truck and trailer into position, all the while with thunder bouncing and rolling between the valley walls. Isla shivered on a rock, wrapped in towels and rain gear, watching the proceedings with blue lips. We loaded up the truck and trailer, tied down the raft and frame and pulled carefully past the long line of rafter’s vehicles to park in the lot. Then I could finally get my daughter into dry clothes, with myself close behind.

When we walked back down to the river we found Sheryl had pulled out a whole watermelon and was slicing it into triangles for all! Oh my, sweet nectar of the Gods! As I slurped and gulped unabashedly at the cool, juicy fruit, I noticed a new face amongst our pack of kids. “Well hi there! Who are you?” I asked the sun hat bedecked munchin. The little girl swallowed her mouth full and said “My name is Marian! I am 3 years old,” and her face disappeared once more into the hunk of pink melon which perfectly matched her hat.

Nothing beats chilled watermelon after a raft trip!

Nothing beats chilled watermelon after a raft trip!

After everyone’s boats and gear were loaded, and the requisite group pictures taken, we gave heartfelt hugs all around and climbed into our respective vehicles bound for 3 different towns in 2 different states. We had no idea when we would see the each other again, but planned for it to be in Oct for a 5 day raft trip down the San Juan River. We crossed all appendages that there would be enough water when the time arrived.

Randy pulled our rig through the lot and up to the pit toilets for a final pee stop at the “fancy groover”. Another group pulled in behind us for the same reason, a group we had seen often on the river and been beside at the take out. I pulled out our carton of hard boiled eggs that had made it through the trip. “Want a hard boiled egg from our own chickens?” I called out. “Heck yeh!” was the answer. I opened the carton of multicolored eggs and said, “Your choice, but you can only take 2.” “Let’s see, I’ll take that one and this one.” I pointed to the olive green egg in the man’s dirt-caked, water-logged, oar-callused hand and proudly said,”That is Noche’s egg, and that blue one is Dot’s. They are very nice hens.” “So would that one there be Noche’s too?” he asked, pointed to another olive green egg still in the carton. “Yep!” I replied with a laugh. “But I can’t tell you who these 3 belong to. We have too many hens that lay this tan color.” He walked back to his gear-laden car, reporting to his rafting mates the names of the chickens and which egg was who’s. I smiled, clipped the Nugget into her carseat, and hopped in the passenger seat beside my tired husband.

We drove home through the verdant Chama valley of the village of Abiquiu, following our river downstream, and thinking ahead to our farm life back in Taos. Dot would be waiting, and Noche, and all their friends and relations. Skye was milking the girls as we drove, and we would return to our calm, happy household ready to explode our dry bags and retrieve our everyday lives.

But Rowan’s ashes and my wedding ring would remain behind, forever marking our presence on the Rio Chama of New Mexico, where we would return again, and again…

… year after year.

Our 3 family group, happy, tired, and sunburned.

Our 3 family group, happy, tired, and sunburned.

The Nugget patrol: Orrin, Nils, Isla and Ella.

The Nugget patrol: Orrin, Nils, Isla and Ella.


Sometime during our drive home, a terrible miscalculation was made on a wildfire in Arizona. A crew of hotshot firefighters were sent in to cut line without an adequate safety zone to retreat to. The monsoonal thunderstorms shifted the wind unexpectedly and trapped 19 of the 20 person crew with no exit. They all deployed their fire shelters and were burned over. None of the 19 survived. This same crew had been in our home area fighting our own fires for the 2 weeks prior to this assignment. We were floored by the tragic loss of these fine, brave people. It was the worst tragedy in firefighting history.

We also discovered that 3 fires had been sparked off by lightning in a tight area to the west of the Chama River from the storm we waited through at the put in. The fire we witnessed was named the Aragon Wildfire.

Randy and me, happy to be back on the river again!

Randy and me, happy to be back on the river again!

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“Honey”, I said calmly into the phone, “it appears you left the coop door open. The goats got in, knocked over the chicken feed bins and there is a lot missing. They gorged so heavily that they walked out on their own. You know what happened last time. There is no way I can go.”

And with that sad statement, our annual Rio Chama raft trip was canceled, on the morning of the afternoon we were to leave. The farm was in crisis mode waiting for the life threatening goat bloat to manifest, and we had to bail on our friends who were packed and ready to roll, dependent on us for all the group gear and one shared dinner. We felt numb and way beyond disappointed. And we were in deep fear for the lives of our goats.

Our friend Skye arrived at 9am to help us prep for leaving and clean the house. It was serendipitous that it was she, as Skye used to run an animal rescue farm for many years. Randy arrived back home and Skye kept us grounded, doing what obviously needed doing without direction, while Randy and I stood around paralyzed. “Um, so what do we do?” we said over and over. I got on the internet to research remedies, and emailed my goat mentors in TX. Bloat is very serious and often fatal, and we only had a few hours before it would raise it’s ugly head. I called all the vets in a 100 mile radius (as if I thought they had suddenly decided to treat goats after all), looking for a drenching gun. Next, all the feed stores from Alamosa, CO to Santa Fe, NM. I was ready for a long drive, but there was no drenching gun to be found. I still had the 2cc syringe I had fed our buckling colostrum with, so decided to improvise. I mixed up an olive oil/baking soda slurry, grabbed the turkey baster and syringe, pulled on my overalls, and lead Randy out to the barn. He was feeling horrible, although we both new it was possible the coop door HAD been latched and the goats had worked it open. In any case, I was careful to keep all guilt trips under wraps as he was doing a fabulous job without my help.

We grabbed Fiona first and got her on the milking stand and in the head gate. I mentally reviewed the YouTube video I had watched, and the drawings and photos I had seen on line, grasped Fi’s mouth, pried it open, and shoved in the turkey baster while Randy tried to squirt the contents of the syringe into the open end of the bulbless baster. Ever played the game Operation? Well that’s a start. Now imagine playing Operation while riding on a bucking bronco. You’re getting closer. Needless to say, more oil got on me and Fi then down her gullet. Straddling her out of the headgate with her butt wedged in a corner was only a slight improvement. As we paused to catch our breaths, Randy said “Look at Hazie!” And there was Miss Hazelnut, demurely lapping up the remaining contents of the mixing cup that was actually slotted for her. “Good Hazel!” we praised. We tried holding the cup for Fiona, but were too late. She had already developed an association of that particular smell to the heavy weight wrestling championship she had just won.

We gathered the train wreck of bowls, cups, baster and syringe, called it “a dose each”, and dragged our oily selves back inside. Meanwhile Skye gave each doe accupressure once an hour. It was obviously helping as they both passed gas and berries after each drenching and accupuncture session.

We brainstormed some possible scenarios: Randy taking Isla to the put in and staying overnight in the BLM cabin (where we were all supposed to be staying tonight with our friends) and contacting me the next morning for a status report…. he and Isla could check permits together Friday morning, as that was his job as a BLM ranger…. if the goats seemed OK, I could drive the trailer with raft and gear down to meet them in time for the 12 noon scheduled launch. We decided this was a decent Plan B, but we would pack the gear together first… just in case I COULD join them. But I was settling in for some serious goat drama over the next 32 hrs and had small hopes of seeing a river this weekend.

A few hours later, Skye and I headed out to try to drench the goats once more. She knew the proper wrestling positions and with her securing each goat (this is a relative term of course), and the removal of the turkey baster link, I was able to get a wee bit of the oil mixture down each of their throats with the syringe alone. But it was hell on earth. That made for an easy decision as I could not do it alone once Randy had left for the river, and I assumed they would need many more drenchings.

We fully canceled our trip and sat down defeated, waiting for our goats to bloat.

But nothing happened. The goats continued to be fine. Had they gotten into the coop after they were already full of hay and therefore ate less than we thought? Had the oil, baking soda and accupuncture thwarted the worst of the reaction? Because the last time this happened, they both experienced explosive, projectile diarrhea for 3 days and came close to dying. But currently out in the barnyard, their sides were not even protruding – the most obvious sign of bloat. Needless to say, the chicken feed bins, now considered a “controlled substance”, have been very inconveniently, moved out of the barn and barnyard, forever.

Scratching our heads in wonder, I asked Skye, who had demonstrated her obvious competence with the goats, how she would feel about farm sitting. We had already canceled on our scheduled farm sitter as neither us nor he was comfortable being left in a potentially precarious position. Skye was fine with it. We called up our friends. “Well”, I said, “It’s gone from a 2% chance to a 95% chance that we can still make it tomorrow.”

“Oh,” they replied. “Great! Um, we already invited another family as we needed the group gear that you would have been bringing.” There was a brief moment of awkwardness as we humbly squirmed our way back onto our own trip with tails between our legs. Food had to be quickly discussed once more and we decided to just BRING FOOD and worry about sorting it out once on the river. We were sure, at least, we would not starve.

We went to bed exhausted, overwhelmed, emotionally drained, extremely relieved, and excited once more for the trip. Skye had had her milking lesson (with all her animal experience, she had never rescued a goat in milk) and farm orientation, and we felt confident she could handle it. But we still had to pack!

(Story continued in Part II)

No bloat here! A perfectly healthy, happy, herd.

No bloat here! A perfectly healthy, happy, herd.


Bucky is doing a little teething on his play set.

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Hazelnut was in her kidding window.

I had gathered my kidding kit together: piles of towels, string in case the umbilical cords did not break on their own, betadine and a jar for dipping umbilical cords (and for the unlikely event that I had to scrub up before reaching in to adjust the position of a kid, God forbid), a sharp knife for cutting string and umbilical cords, nail clipper to make my nails super short while waiting, K-Y jelly, a bucket of warm water for washing, a bulb syringe for sucking mucus from the kids’ mouths and noses, and all 3 of my best goat books with my reading glasses on top. Oh yes, and camera, tripod, head lamp and extra batteries for both, and the all-important cell phone. I had a separate bucket ready for mollasses/cider vinegar water for Hazelnut, and a bag of raisins for treats. Hazelnut was 7 years old and had kidded twins twice before without incident, or any human being present. I fully trusted she could do this on her own, but I was NOT going to miss it for the world! I had never before witnessed the birth of a kid and I was ready to snuggle some goat babies in my lap!!

The Thomas Turkey Family are, uh, "assisting" my stall mucking attempts.

The Thomas Turkey Family are, uh, “assisting” my mucking attempts of Hazelnut’s stall.

Thursday arrived with clear skies and the promise from the weather site of another day of strong spring winds. With the kit assembled and piled aside, I focused on the busy day ahead. Molly, our Pyrenees, and I headed out for our Thursday morning hike. It was a lovely spring day and I was giddy with anticipation! Kids! Babies! The first ever on our farm! It was imminent!

We returned home and I let Molly in the side gate. She beelined it for the fish pond to drink next to the trickling waterfall. The wind had begun to pick up, adding the swinging song of the wind chimes to the relaxing backyard sounds. I stood by the back door, devouring a ripe peach, staring out at the barnyard, as is often my habit. As I wiped juice from my chin, I became curious about some strange behavior in the teenager chicken pen. Our 4 month old rare chicken flock of 14 (originally 16), were running back and forth along the fence line shared with the main barnyard. How odd. Suddenly, there was a streak of orange and I saw a small red fox rushing the flock! I yelled out to Randy, stumbled into my slip-on farm shoes, and ran out the door bellowing obscenities! The fox wisely altered course and leapt over the 5′ fence without even touching the top!! I was dumbfounded by it’s agility, and stupefied by it’s courage to attack a farm in broad daylight – with humans right in the house! I was also quite terrified by what I would find in it’s carnivorous wake.

With the fox fleeing up the acequia, we trotted into the enclosure to assess the loss. Gracie, our beautiful lavender Auracana pullet, was stuck in the fence door, having wedged herself while trying to escape. We freed her, and set to counting survivors. Eight was the tally. Just 8 birds left of our original 16. Our rare flock was cut in half. The F-ing fox had obviously been in the pen for some time, systematically eating one bird at a time. He had devoured 6! I was heartbroken and furious! Interestingly enough, at least one of each of the 5 breeds remained – a small consolation prize. It had been a full year since our last predator, a grey fox, had attacked, eating a mama hen and her 14 chicks in the early dawn hours. Since then we had created a Fort Knox of our barnyard and attached 6 Niteguards to it’s perimeter. But they only flash at night – not in broad day. And the teenagers were in a separate enclosure off the main pen.

We had little time to grieve as a friend was coming over to visit the farm in a few minutes. We gave her the tour, told the story of the fox attack, visited over some iced mint tea, and said goodbye. As we waved farewell from our southern window, we saw a smoke plume rising to the south behind Jicarita Mountain in the Pecos Wilderness. The Tres Lagunas wildfire had begun.

Late afternoon was spent preparing for dinner with one of our favorite families. Both of their daughters were heading off to school soon, one to her freshman year in college, and one to her junior year of boarding ballet school. We were desperate to get some quality time in! We had a lovely dinner of grilled shrimp and grill zucchini and salad, and comfortable conversation that only old friends can have. As the meal wound to a close, I headed out to put the animals to bed, closing multiple chicken flaps and checking on Hazelnut.

By God, Hazelnut was in labor!

Laying out my kidding kit on the milking stand.

Laying out my kidding kit on the milking stand.

I made the announcement in the house and Kiersten, who just happened to be the midwife of both of our children, gave a sharp intake of breath, followed by a smile. She was not on call tonight. She wanted to stay. So did her girls. Not only did they once own a goat, all three had experienced a goat kidding; I was in luck!

Treska and Fiona watch labor progress through the stall partition.

Under the eerie red heat lamp, Treska and Fiona watch labor progress through the stall partition.

The long hours of waiting marched forth into the darkness. We lounged in the barn, bundled in dog blankets, Treska, the 17yr old, wrapped like a burrito in Fiona’s as-yet-uncleaned stall. Her head rested against Fiona’s bulging side. “Fifi”, Hazelnut’s yearling daughter, would be entering her kidding window in a bit more than a week. The red heat lamp hung above Hazelnut giving off a bit of welcome heat, illuminating our vision, and allowing the goat’s pupils to dilate to human-like orbs. It was an eerie effect, as if they were constantly surprised. With headlamps we routinely checked Hazel’s vulva for the status report. We dozed. We drank tea. We listened to Hazelnut’s rhythmic moaning as contractions came and went.

But nothing happened.

Around 2:30 am, we gave up and headed inside and Kiersten and her daughters crashed in the guest room. I stretched out on the sofa in my sleeping bag, one ear tuned to the groaning on the baby monitor, one ear stuffed with an earbud as I watched Star Trek, the movie. When Hazelnut would have an especially big grunt-push, I would pause the computer and go give her a check.

Still nothing.

Friday‘s dawn was announced by the startling crow of Little Willie broadcasted throughout the house, compliments of the baby monitor! It was 4:45 AM. I had just begun watching the Sherlock Holms series and almost dropped the computer off my lap! I started steeping a pot of green tea and headed back out for a check. I wasn’t feeling too great. Not a wink of sleep, 2 days of serious wind, a night in a dusty barn, and I could feel the telltale signs of a head cold creeping in. Bad timing.

And still no bouncing baby goats.

The house slowly awoke with smells of coffee and raisin toast. Teenagers stared bleary-eyed from the sofa, coffee mugs warming their fingers. Kiersten and I did morning farm chores, Randy started breakfast, and Isla slept on. Eventually, our sleepy friends headed out to their respective days, Randy took on Isla and Hazelnut duty, and I laid down to get some sleep.

Hazelnut’s contractions spaced out and slowed down. False labor. And a second wildfire started to the southwest, the Thompson Ridge Wildfire up in the Jemez mountains. It was going to be a smokey summer in our high southwestern desert.

Saturday I awoke with a full blown head cold. It was Randy’s work day, but he delayed departure to care for me and Isla. Kaya, Kiersten’s 15 yr old, had planned to come over to help with Isla, so child care was gratefully covered. I slept, watched movies in bed, and slept more. The 2 plumes of smoke increased in height, billowing with the afternoon wind as the hungry wildfires devoured pinon, juniper and ponderosa trees. A smoke-laden dust storm careened through our farm, whipping tree branches against the house and flattening dust devils in it’s violent path. The day could barely have been any nastier.

Hazelnut continued to have light contractions that were spaced far apart. The rest of us were biding our time, waiting for the kidding train to leave the station.

Sunday morning, the worst of my cold had past and I was gratefully turning the corner. Randy came in from morning farm chores with the announcement that Hazelnut had a lot of mucus and glop coming out of her vulva. I hurriedly pulled on my overalls and trotted to the barn. Sure enough, she had blown her mucus plug, or at least I assumed so! Labor was once more underway. Randy headed to work and Isla and I spent most of the morning in the barnyard, petting chickens, turkeys and Fiona, and checking on Hazelnut. “Bloody show” soon followed with stronger contractions and even pushing. Without knowledgable goat support people, and being solely in charge of my child for this first ever kidding, I was feeling jumpy and anxious. Then her water broke! More hard pushes, fierce grunts, curled lips, bellowing…. where was the first kid?

Hazelnut hefts her bulk up on her feet to give a push.

Hazelnut hefts her bulk up on her feet to give a push.

Isla cuddles with a concerned Fiona.

Isla cuddles with a concerned Fiona.

It was then I saw a little ash-grey ear fall from the vulva slit and hang there in the opening. Oh crap! The first kid was trying to come out with it’s head sideways! It was stuck!! SHIT!! “Isla!” I yelled. “Go get Marian, QUICK!” As Isla scurried out the gate, I fumbled for my cell phone. I had been introduced via a Facebook friend to a goat dairy couple in Texas the previous year. So far, they had mentored me through getting the goats and every possible question I had regarding goats. They were indispensable. I had already been on the phone with Christian several times with Hazelnut’s false labor. Together we had deduced that I had inadvertently stimulated contractions when I had milked out her painfully engorged udder that Thursday afternoon.

Christian thankfully answered his phone. “I see an ear Christian – not a nose, but a little ear! It is hanging out. Do I need to go in?” I was shaking. “Yeh, you need to turn it’s head so it’s coming out nose first, and try to hook a hoof with your finger.” I washed my hands and forearms in the bucket of water, almost knocking it over in my nervousness, and doused myself with Betadine as Marian, our housemate, came trotting back with Isla. Christian and I continued our conversation with my ear bud wedged in my left ear and my phone in my right front pocket. I positioned Marian at Hazelnut’s head and squeezed the K-Y on my hand. Deep breaths, left hand on Hazelnut’s flank, I slowly started to explore with my right, past the little ear and into her birth canal. Christian continued to talk me through as I reported back to him everything I could feel. I got the kid’s head turned so it’s nose came out, then it’s eyes, and I continued attempting to hook a hoof. Finally one hoof pulled through, and with another mighty push, the little goat slipped out into my hands. I wiped mucus away from it’s nose and mouth. It was not moving. I rubbed more briskly with a fresh cloth and used my finger to scoop mucus out of it’s mouth. Still nothing. Using a towel, I grasped it’s hind legs, slick with birth fluid, and swung it gently upside down. It was not reviving. I massaged it’s heart and rib cage, then took a deep breath, placed my mouth over it’s nose and mouth, and blew gently. It’s little rib cage rose with my exhalation. As I pushed back down over it’s heart, a tremendous amount of mucus came bubbling back out it’s mouth. I continued CPR. Swung it upside down once more, rubbed vigorously, but the little doeling remained still. Hazelnut turned around and began to nose and lick her little dead daughter. My heart ached. She looked just like her mom and her auntie Fiona. How could she be dead? The first ever kid on our farm!

“Put the kid aside and focus on Hazelnut and the next kid,” said Christian’s voice through the ear bud and my grief. I wrapped the still kid in a towel and set her aside, then gave Hazelnut the bucket of mollasses and apple cider vinegar water. She drank deeply. After 40 minutes more of fierce pushing, I called Christian back. “You’ve got to go back in,” he said. I washed up once more, smeared my arms in betadine and K-Y and began my second intrauterine manipulation. I found the next one’s head in the birth canal, but it’s feet were back like the first, still lodged in the womb. The proper presentation for a goat kid is front hooves leading slightly in front of the nose. I reached slowly through the tightly stretched cervix while Hazelnut bellowed and Marian calmed her as best she could. OK. This one was also right side up, and there was a hoof and wrist, so to speak. I was able to get a finger behind it and pulled forward with the next contraction. One more push and the kid slipped out. Same thing. Non-responsive. I tried even harder to resuscitate this second doeling who resembled her previous sibling to a ‘T’. Hazelnut began to lick her baby but another was coming right on it’s heels! Triplets! I quickly got the second dead kid aside in time to meet the first proper presentation of nose and 2 hooves, in classic position. With a dry rag I grasped the two slippery hooves and pulled with the next push. Out he came. Unresponsive. I repeated for a third time the CPR and upside down swinging and vigorous towel rubbing. Nothing. This little buckling was black, like his father.

I was shell-shocked. I had not expected triplets and I never thought there would be an issue. 3 stillborn kids? How could this be possible? Though my eyes remained dry with disbelief, my heart ached. “I don’t mean to sound harsh MacLaren, but put the kids aside and take care of your doe”, said Christian. “She needs you.” I hung up the phone and turned my love and attention to Hazelnut. More mollasses water, a handful of raisins, heartfelt love and empathy. While she rested, I called Randy at work, then texted Kiersten who was ironically in a grief and loss workshop. I removed the sodden wood shavings. I wiped Hazelnut’s vulva with a warm cloth with Betadine. I petted and hugged her, and I carried her dead kids out of the barnyard.

Randy came home from work, and held me against his strong body for a long time. He picked up our shovel, walked to our northern fenceline, and dug a grave for the 3 kids. Then we collected Isla, who had been quietly present in the barn for each birth, and conducted a little ceremony, tenderly laying each goatling in the arms of the Greatest Mother of all. We said prayers and tossed in freshly picked flowers and sage. Then we filled the hole with our dry, chunky soil and walked back to the house, hand in hand.

Isla looks on as I unwrap the 3rd kid for burial.

Isla looks on as I unwrap the 3rd kid for burial.

Two doelings and a black buckling - all perfect and fully grown. So terribly tragic.

Two doelings and a black buckling – all perfect and fully grown. So terribly tragic.

But as the day waned, Hazelnut continued to labor. I called Christian again. He informed me it was unusual for a goat to experience pushing contractions when passing the placenta. There is one placenta, regardless of the number of kids, and it sort of oozes out over the next 24 hrs. Usually. We discussed drugs to give her (oxytocin) but as we have no large animal vets in Taos, options were limited. But Hazelnut was in such distress and bearing down so fiercely, I was growing very concerned I would lose her. While Randy fed animals and Marian stayed with Hazel, I called as many medical resources as I could, but being a Sunday evening, that was pitifully few. There was one vet on emergency call for 3 clinics, she lived an hour away, and she was being extremely difficult. She said we would have to meet her at the clinic with Hazelnut, but we could not get Hazel to walk, and only barely to stand, with a shaking back end. It would be impossible to move her. As far as human medical resources, my ER doc friend was camping with his boys, and my retired GP friend was rafting the Grand Canyon. Hazelnut’s previous owners were in Hawaii. Even my next door neighbor, a small animal vet, was out of town. And the pharmacy was closed anyway.

I was completely on my own.

As dusk settled on our farm, I returned to the barn. I had a gut feeling and I had to follow it before I lost my sweet doe. “Marian, I’m going back in again,” I sighed with furrowed brow. I washed up a 3rd time, without phone support, and began the slow, careful intrauterine exploration as my goat became weaker and weaker. She bellowed in pain. I steeled my resolve and reached in further. I knew I was her only hope of survival. My finger tips touched something hard that was no placenta. “There’s another kid in here, Mare!” I gasped in disbelief. I closed my eyes and leaned my cheek against Hazelnut’s flank. Her cries faded from my ears and I slipped into an altered state – just me, my hand and this very wedged kid. The cull kept tangling in my fingers making movement difficult, like being caught in a huge spider’s web. I finally realized I was hitting the side of the cervix, so I slipped my arm back, repositioned my fingers and slipped inside the womb. I could not sort out what I was feeling and I was starting to panic. “Breathe,  MacLaren,” I heard from outside my bubble. I breathed, and tried again, my arm being crushed by Hazelnut’s contractions. I still could not find the head, but I had to get this baby out – not for the baby’s sake, who I assumed was long dead, but to save Hazel. “I think it’s a chest,” I whispered into Hazelnut’s fur. I grabbed as hard as I could on what I was assuming was collarbones and shoulders, and on the next contraction pulled, wiggled and shook. A better grip, another contraction, and more of the same. After the third try, the kid busted through the cervix! In the birth canal I found the head which had trailed behind the chest, hopelessly turned back on it’s spine. I hooked a hoof, and the kid slid out.

It was black. That was all I could register. I did not attempt resuscitation. I was shell-shocked and utterly exhausted, but not nearly as bad off as my goat. She was hoarse from bawling, and trembling on her side in a mess of blood and birth fluid. Her head was in Marian’s lap. She was too spent to even look at her 4th and final kid. I wrapped it in a towel without checking the gender, then slipped out into the night air to get my breath. I could not stop shaking and felt near hysterics. I paced across the barnyard and stared up at the stars screaming WHY?! inside my head. I bent over with my hands on my knees and took 3 deep breaths, noticing the faint, acrid smell of smoke from the wildfires stinging my nose. When I stood I saw a pale shape in the goat water bucket. Was that a mourning dove? Had it drowned somehow? I walked over and bent to scoop it out, realized with a knife to my chest that it was another turkey poult! We were now down to 2 from the original 7.  I did not know how much more I could take.

I returned to the barn, slid my back down the wall into the shavings next to Hazel, and laid my blood crusted, trembling hand on my dear goats’ flank. She was breathing shallowly, but calmly, with exquisite relief. She softly moaned out her grief and pain with each exhalation. “I just found a poult drowned in the water bucket,” I said quietly to Marian. She sighed and closed her eyes, stroking Hazelnut’s neck and knobbly head. We sat in the stall in silence for a long time, listening to Hazelnut’s breath, and Fiona’s still-pregnant moans. “You did it MacLaren,” said Marian. “You trusted your gut feeling and you saved her life.” I blinked. Yes, I guess I did. I did the unfathomable. I repositioned kids in utero –  3 times. Only one out of 4 would have come out on it’s own. And I hoped to God I had saved my goat’s life. Time would tell.

Marian stood and stretched and I took her position at Hazelnut’s head, resuming the stroking and love. “Hazel,” I said, gazing deeply into her half open, caprine eyes, “You were a brave, brave mama. You will recover your heart and your body. You will be OK my dear friend. And I vow to you now, I will never, NEVER breed you again. I love you Hazie.” I said as I kissed her on her classic, Roman, Nubian nose.

I administered a weak betadine douche with a turkey baster, per the vet, and let her rest beside Fiona. Then I roamed through the house in a daze as Marian returned to her apartment and Randy and Isla slept. It was many hours before I found the relief of sleep myself, interspersed with anxiety dreams of reaching blindly into a bottomless pit and pulling out a 5th kid.

A small farm miracle of the year's first poppy that morning.

A small farm miracle of the year’s first poppy that morning.

Monday morning, Willie awoke me with his 4:45 AM crowing and I dressed and stumble out to the barn. Hazelnut seemed slightly better but could not stand without shaking terribly, and was still having some mild contractions. She ate her grain rations heartily and drank her mollasses water deeply. She gazed at me with thankful eyes, filled with pain and loss, and moaned hoarsely.

I sat on the porch step holding my undrunk coffee, staring at the northern mountains, vaguely aware of the rising sun. The shovel chunked into the hard adobe soil as Randy worked on the grave for the fourth kid. I could not even join him, nor did I include Isla, as he buried the last babe, and the dead poult, in a grave beside the previous kids. As he walked solomnly back to the house with the towel and shovel, he touched my slumped shoulder and said softly, “Another doeling,” and slipped inside to get dressed for work. The early morning sun glinted off the pond into my eyes and I blinked back my tightly held emotions. Then I returned to the barn and Hazelnut and sat beside my friend. “The last one was a girl, Hazie,” I said numbly. And then the flood gates opened and I sobbed and sobbed for a long time while stroking her reddish brown fur. I cried for Hazelnut, I cried for the 4 lost lives, I cried for the bouncing, playful kids that would never entertain us, and I cried for my son, Rowan, who we had lost at birth. I had remembered his warm, limp weight in my arms with each kid I laid in the grave. I had remembered bathing his perfect body with each stillborn kid I rubbed briskly with my resuscitation attempts; attempts to rivive these beautiful, perfect, furry beings; to magically revive my beautiful, perfect son. Oh God Hazel, I am so sorry! I am so sorry I could not do more! Oh Rowan, I miss you so!


I met the vet at 8:30 AM at the clinic to purchase penicillin and oxytocin shots. The potential of infection was high with my necessary invasions and I still was not sure the placenta had passed completely. I say I “met” the vet, but she actually completely ignored me. There was no “How is your goat doing?” or even “How are you Ms. Scott?”. She did not even introduce herself. It was like salt dumped on my wounded heart.

We poured Hazelnut’s rich colostrum down the drain as, laced with antibiotics, it was undrinkable. I remembered with deep sadness my own colostrum that had leaked from my engorged breasts – nourishment that my baby would never taste.

Hazelnut slowly improved and gained strength. After a couple of days she walked out of the barn to greet us at dinner time. We were overjoyed! I mixed her up a special concoction each evening of her whole organic oats and barley, whole sunflower seeds, seaweed, molasses, diatomaceous earth (for worming as Christian had warned worms could take over a weak goat), acidophilus, and organic live yogurt. Each morning I gave her a bowl of raisins with her penicillin injection. It’s been 6 days since her kidding and I feel certain now she will make it. She is jumping up on her milking stand, and acting alert. Other than being alarmingly thin, she seems quite normal. In another week we can start keeping her milk and get back to drinking and consuming our favorite milk and cheese.

Yesterday I cleaned Fiona’s stall in preparation for her kidding. She entered her kidding window today as she is 5 days out from her due date. Am I nervous? Hell yeah! But I am feeling more calm with each day that passes. My heart is healing as Hazelnut heals, and I am healing at a deeper level from the loss of our own baby, 8 yrs ago. It is slowly sinking in that I truly saved my goat’s life! I am pretty sure I now have more experience with goat kidding than the vet I had called the night of! I notice I am walking a bit taller, my shoulders back and my back straight. I am looking strangers in the eye with a sad, but confidence smile. I hope to God I never have to experience that again, but at least I know HOW, if the need arises, to reposition kids in utero – lots of kids – and deal emotionally with the sad, senseless loss of new lives.

After the last few days of processing and recovery, I finally get it that there was nothing I could have done to save our Rowan either. Nor was there anything the doctors and midwives could have done. Absolutely nothing. And that comes as some relief, as I forgive myself for my own helplessness, and wash away another layer of grief and anger.

Our first poppy at sunset the day after.

The illumination of the setting sun.

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Down in Birdland

My little Nugget with HER little nugget, "Sweetie".

My little Nugget with HER little nugget, “Sweetie”.

The kitchen door opened beside me. Randy walked in juggling 3 cloth grocery bags. “Hi Honey.” I stood to give him a peck on the cheek. Then bent automatically to kiss my daughter Isla who I assumed was in line behind him. But Dot, our house chicken, hopped up on the threshold instead, clicking across the tile floor behind Randy. And THEN came my 3 yr old.

Yes, this is farm life, and it’s spring again here, which means I am working hard on my Poultry Plan once more. And I had high hopes for Dot and her assistance this year. I thought, “Oh, our sweet, sweet Dot…. certainly with her tender personality and loving demeanor she will adopt my feedstore bought chicks?”


So there were the chicks – 16 balls of down and constant peeping. Five different breeds between 1 and 2 days old. I had just brought them home in the cat carrier. How could a potential mother resist those adorable little nuggets of fluff? Dot hopped through the door and I lowered the carrier down to her height…. expecting…. what was I expecting? A tender moment? A cosmic shift as the love and nurture began to flow? Instead, Dot jumped a few inches into the air with a loud squawk, ran in place on the tile for a second or two before her talons found purchase, then ran bucking and flapping into the playroom and around the corner into the bathroom, skidding out on the slick wood floor! I kid you not! I was disappointed, but still in hysterics! So much for THAT plan of flowers and butterflies. So now we are down to hand raising the little sweeties, which for any of you who have done this before know, is a lot of work. That is why Nature invented broody hens.

1st day with the chicks, after Dot squawked "RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY!"

1st day with the chicks, after Dot squawked “RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY!”

The new chicks love their outdoors play time!

The new chicks love their outdoors play time!

Which brings me to Stage II of the Poultry Plan. Well, we DO have a broody hen. She has been broody since mid January!! But the problem is – Isabelle is a turkey hen, and we need a chicken hen. And since Izzie refuses to get out of “the zone”, she has stopped laying her own eggs. So she continues to stare at the inner walls of our broody box, tucking each chicken egg beneath her massive white chest as the chicken hens leave their deposit beside her and hop out to enjoy the rest of their day. And then afternoon comes and we lift Izzie out of the box, take the chicken eggs she has left toasty warm, sigh heavily, and go about the rest of our chores. Izzy takes enough of a break to get some food and water and then hops right back into her now empty nest. Day after day as Winter progressed and Spring began, her mate, Thomas, strutted back and forth beyond her box, hoping, hoping, for a little action. Because this time last year, this Royal Palm turkey pair had been having turkey sex every morning, Izzy had laid a large clutch, sat on 18 eggs and hatched out 5 poults.

Isabelle mothering last years turkey poults

Isabelle mothering last years turkey poults (with a chicken mama sharing the box!)

But not this year. Thomas has lately taken to relieving his sexual frustrations on the pan of scratch, and we are missing our delicious turkey eggs. And what will happen come Thanksgiving with no young poult to harvest for our table? Randy said,”Why don’t you just let her sit on the chicken eggs?” But I feared her weight would be too much – first on the eggs, with their thinner shells, and then on the hatchlings (if any hatched) whose bone structures are certainly designed for tucking beneath a chicken hen, half Izzy’s weight. But it was getting ridiculous as days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and mating season had arrived.

So I have succumbed to his suggestion. All we can do is try, right? And as Izzy is so darn broody I am sure she would mother a litter of puppies, I am going to try to take advantage. Three days from now, I are going to let her keep her daily collection of chicken eggs… and set. We will mark Wednesday’s and Thursday’s eggs with a marker, and go back to removing any daily donation from thence forth. Turkey eggs hatch in 28ish days – chicken eggs in 21. Hopefully that won’t throw her off too much. I read that chicken mothers hear the peeping of their babies through the shells. I wonder if Izzy is fluent in bukbuk-ese by now and will be able to hear their calls.

And being a thrifty, Scottish, opportunist, I am not going to stop there either. I have chosen this particular date of April 17th because on May 8th, 21 days later, a nearby feed store will receive day old Royal Palm turkey poults… and day old guinea keats. And just to test her mothering skills further, I have a box of day old chicken chicks arriving in the mail simultaneously. Yes, you guessed it. I am hoping that Izzy will adopt and raise 3 separate species of poultry, all within a day or 2 of age, only a fraction of which she sat on and hatched herself. The adoption aspect has worked a few times before with broody chickens. I have successfully tucked store bought chicks under the wings of moms who have just hatched a chick or two of their own. I pray to the patron saints of poultry parents that it will work with Izzy too.

And my business plan? Well, I tried last year but was foiled 3 times. 1st the 18 rare eggs I bought and shoved under a broody hen never hatched (actually, were never fertilized as I cracked them open when they were overdue to check). Then I ran out and returned home with 17 store bought babies who were successfully adopted by that mom, but all eaten by a gray fox 5 days later – the mom included. Then another broody hen sat on a clutch of our eggs. At the same time I ordered chicks through a woman in the midwest who promised she’d get the eggs in the incubator on the right date and airship the hatchlings to me. But she never got the eggs going, and never let me know. So we ended up with one chick last year, from our own flock’s eggs, and 4 adult layer deaths. It was a bad year for our birds.

Our one 2012 chick, Noche, who lays a wonderful olive mocha egg!

Our one 2012 chick, Noche, who now sports a gold neck ruff and lays a wonderful olive mocha egg!

My seemingly simple goal has merely been to add more layers and create a more colorful carton for selling. At least these hand raised chicks are doing well. I have 3 Cuckoo Marans who will lay chocolate brown eggs, 4 Auracanas who will lay blue-green eggs, 3 Anconas who will lay white eggs, 2 Welsummers who will lay a dark terracotta reddish-brown egg, and 2 Rhode Island Reds who will give me a dependable supply of light brown eggs. (These will be added to the 2 Americannas and 10 light brown eggs layers we currently have.) Isla has been enjoying the chicks’ company in her playroom, and it’s been great fun watching them explore and exercise in their outdoor play pen. After this next week of cold temps have passed, I plan to move them outside permanently with a house and a heat lamp attached to their pen.

And on May 8th we will find out if turkeys make good adoptive mothers. If not, I guess I’ll be quite busy mothering the second batch by hand. In addition to the poults and keats, the mail order will include 2 Partridge Rocks, 2 NH Reds, and 2 Speckled Sussex – all light brown eggs layers to offset our aging current flock. Also 6 Dark Cornish roos and 6 White Giant roos for meat.

I think you will all agree that Izzy is going to be one busy bird.

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(Continued from Part I, Part II and Part III)

And then it was simply another Back Porch Farm work party.

Day 1: Friends were laughing and cracking jokes and knives were hacking. Bill, Chuck and I made a concerted effort to keep each other’s fingers intact while Randy, Deedee, Drew (who’s arrival I had barely been aware of), and Carrie, with wee Larka asleep on her back, chatted and watched, asking questions when curious. The carcass was hung by carabiners snapped through the hind leg tendons. The biners were then laid over hooks screwed into a previously set 2×4, cantilevered out from the shed wall. The skinning was awkward, but after some direction and correction from the boys, I got the hang of it. I wish I could have had hours to simply study the warm pile of entrails – seriously. It was even more fascinating than I imagined it would be. So many closely working parts. These organs had been in complete dependance on each other, and had danced their dance in perfect synch to keep that body functioning. I felt like I was back in my high school biology classroom on dissection day. It was necessary to follow plumbing in all directions to be sure nothing was punctured or breeched. After all this, I was certainly not going to taint the meat! The guts did NOT just “fall out” as I had read. It took a lot of investigative effort to detach each organ at the right spot, and we (or “I” at least) were also trying to save as much of the white sheets of fat as possible from within the cavity. I had visions of bricks of clean tallow for cooking, soap making and candles.

Hanging the carcass in place.

Hanging the carcass in place.

Bill is cutting around the anus here and tying off the colon.

Bill is cutting around the anus here and tying off the colon.

I am getting started on the skinning.

I am getting started on the skinning.


Chuck, Bill and myself at work.


We are finally in the abdominal cavity.

Carrie and Randy reach into the melee to help hold up sheets of fat and entrails while Chuck saws through the sternum and rib cage below. It was pretty awkward.

Carrie and Randy reach into the melee to help hold up sheets of fat and entrails while Chuck saws through the sternum and rib cage below. It was pretty awkward.

Entrails can finally tumble out freely. The pale pink organ is one of the lungs.

Entrails can finally tumble out freely. The pale pink organ is one of the lungs.

Once the cavity was cleared and the massive liver set aside, Chuck, Bill and I continued with the hide removal. Finally, somewhere on a shoulder, our blades met and the hide fell the the earth. I want to do SOMETHING with it, but I still don’t know what. I have been warned that it is an extremely tedious process to tan a hide, especially without chemicals. I just don’t know if I am up for it. The alternative would be to scrape and salt it and let it dry rigid. Then I could use it for a rug. But do I really want Bucky on our floor? Um, honestly, no. It is starting to look like it will end up as coyote food, although it is still hanging safely on our porch as I write. And then there is Marian, who keeps eyeing it thoughtfully….


Hide is off and we're working on backstraps and tenderloins.

Hide is off and Chuck is working on a backstrap.

Next were the back straps (the strips of muscles along each side of the exterior of the spine) and tender loins (the strips of muscles along each side of the interior of the spine). We were instructed to treat them like gold and not share them with anyone. They were basically our fillet mignons. Then the ribs skirts were sliced off (thin sheets of layers of fat and stringy muscle below the boney ribs). Next were the rumps which meant the entire hind legs, and they were removed whole and hauled off to the prepared table inside the warm house. This is where the roasts would come from. The party meandered slowly back to the porch, away from the melting snow and gray skies, to the warm house, thick with smells of baking bread and pungent stew. It was 11:30 and we had been at it for about 2 hrs. Glasses were passed out and the scotch bottle followed and soon there was the chorus of “Slante!” and “Prost!” and “Cheers!” and a few others. Isla big sistered Larka with tenderness while we all dug into bowls of stew and heavily buttered slabs of hot, einkhorn bread.

I leaned against Randy’s tall, broad form with a deep sigh. I was caked in mud, blood, bile, grease, and melted snow. I was tired. I was relieved. I murmured, “Did you hear what Bill said to me?” He shook his head and waited, his mouth stuffed like a chipmunk’s. “When he cut off the head and looked for the bullet holes, he found the entry hole was dead center below the nob, just where I wanted it. The exit hole was through the center of the lower jaw – also right where I wanted it. He said I split the tongue clean in half.” I smiled shyly as it seemed a strange thing to brag about. Especially seeing as I had no memory of firing the shot. Marian told me later she suspected I had a lot of “help”, said with a glance to the heavens. I heartily agree with her opinion. I can only surmise I was channeling some mighty Amazons warriors that gray morning.

Working on a hunk of rump.

Trimming fat from a chunk of the rump.

Once appetites were satiated, Carrie and I sat down at the meat table, each with a hind leg in front of us, and set to work. Bill and Deedee said their farewells, Chuck took over child care, Randy began clean up and the brewing of a large pot of tea, and Marian (our duplex mate who had collected the 2 young girls under her wing for the first part of the morning) worked out the idiosyncrasies of the borrowed vacuum sealer. After another hour and a half, Marian and I were the only ones left. Randy and Isla had laid down for nap time and everyone else had returned to their own homes. Finally, after the 2 legs were packaged into nice little roasts and a bunch of soup bones, the 2 of us were spent, and said goodbye, she to walk across the courtyard to her apartment, and me, after a bit of this and that, to slip eventually into another hot bath.

Once more in the red glow of the bath candle, I stared out the picture window at the low, moody sky and gray dusk, watching the drops of rain wind their serpentine paths down the misty glass towards Mother Earth. The weather had been above freezing the entire day, melting our snow cover and dumping us into an early mud season of sorts. It was the first day above freezing in many weeks, and would be the first above freezing night as well. It added greatly to the surreal feeling of the day as we had just emerged from a winter lock down of weeks of sub zero temps. But the gloomy, darkening sky did not match my mood. I felt light and relieved and…. proud. And I knew that a full wolf moon was rising above the eastern hills as I soaked my bones and sipped my scotch. How interesting that this goat harvest had surrentipitously fallen on a full moon. Then, with a deep breath, I began my prayers of thanks. I thanked my higher powers for keeping my aim true, for keeping my arm steady, and for letting Bucky pass from this world with the least amount of trauma and suffering that we could offer. I gave thanks for my amazing friends and community, for all the support I had received during the preparation for this day, and for the friends (and even strangers) who had left encouraging comments on my blog and Facebook posts. I could envision this network of support surrounding me for many months prior, like a web of love and understanding… of shared strength.

And then I remembered entreating the Amazon warrior/mothers the night before. I let out a little chuckle. For I realized that not only had I received their help and support, I had become one of them. I had walked across the coals of initiation and passed the test. I was the newest member of the Amazon tribe.

Day 2 saw Randy back at his paying job, Isla set up with a pad and her paints, Marian grinding trimmed fat in the food grinder, and me hacking at the front legs for sausage. Alternately we would assist Isla with “oooos” and “aaahhs” while admiring her Picasso in process, or plop another mound of fat into the simmering crock pot, or ladle off a few spoonfuls of clear, greasy liquid, or drain these ladles into muffin tins through a cheese cloth lined strainer. Once the tallow muffins solidified, they were popped out and moved into gallon zip lock bags to be stored in the freezer. They were clean, white, and odorless. I fantasized mixing them with my melted bees wax, some of our honey, some goat cream I had been slowly collecting in the freezer, essential oils and healing herbs, and whipping out some mighty fine soap and lotion bars. Our hands were already soft as babies bottoms just from working with the dense fat.

Isla and I start on the fat grinding. It helps the fat to melt faster when it's in small pieces.

Isla and I start on the fat grinding. It helps the fat to melt faster when it’s in small pieces.

Sometimes the fat was in dense, waxy hunks and sometimes it was in blubbery sheets.

Sometimes the fat was in dense, waxy hunks and sometimes it was in blubbery sheets.

Marian posing here as the Queen of the Fat. She ground for many hours.

Marian posing here as the Queen of Fat. She ground for many hours as you can see!

After melting for a while in the crock pot, the clear, liquid fat could be ladled out of the cracklins.

After melting for a while in the crock pot, the clear, liquid fat could be ladled out of the cracklins. The cracklins were a mix of deep fried meat scraps, connective tissue, sinew, and etc. left behind once the fat was removed. They did not temp me in the least, although I know some people like to munch on them.

Then the fat was strained through a cheesecloth and metal strainer into a 4 cup measure (merely because it was easy to pour from that).

Then the fat was strained through a cheesecloth and metal strainer into a 4 cup measure (merely because it was easy to pour from that).

Next we poured it into the muffin tins.

Next we poured it into the muffin tins.

And once solidified....

And once solidified….

...we popped them out and stored them in gallon zip lock bags.

…we popped them out and stored them in gallon zip lock bags.

The pile of hacked off sausage meat grew larger while a matching pile of stripped, gleaming bones collected. I found the rib skirts hiding in the platter of fat and set to work trimming them out. Not sure that was worth the effort, it was so tightly layered, each layer of alternating fat and meat extremely thin. A late lunch and naptime for the Nugget separated us from Marian once more and Isla and I got happily horizontal. It wasn’t for nearly long enough in mama’s opinion. Randy had agreed to take the afternoon off from his paying job, so once I was back with the living, I set him to sawing ribs off the carcass that was hanging inside the shed, and hacking sausage makings off the second front leg. I kept up with the fat rendering and our wee lassie.

By nightfall, the house was a greasy, waxy disaster. The tall freezer on the porch was mounded high with bowls and platters of meat and bones. This lumpy burden reminded me of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It’s interior beneath mirrored it’s handicap with a bulging belly of assorted goat meat cuts and bags of rendered fat muffins, nestled around our 1/8 of a local, pasture-raised cow, 2 of our turkey tommies, one last mean rooster, a venison gift from friends, the remaining stores of frozen garden veggies and strawberries, and frozen jars of tomato sauce, homemade soup, bone broths, goat milk, goat cheese, cheese whey, salsa verde, roasted pablanos, (take a breath) and you get the picture! And I was brain dead – not even the energy left for a shower. I was on the get-the-kid-ready-for-bed-march-of-death brigade and tucked my crusty body in beside her with the shortest book I could find. My angelic husband continued to hack meat and clean up way past bedtime. God I love him.

Day 3 began with the arrival of Drew and a nice preliminary chat over black coffee. Isla was playing nicely alone, so Drew snuck out back with a bone saw and began to disassemble the remaining backbone and pelvis. There was only soup bone material left so this job was quick. Then he got on the vacuum sealer while I warmed up the food grinder. Laying out my bowls of freshly ground spice mix, my rendered tallow disks, cutting board, knife, package of organic bacon, wax paper sheets, platter and massive bowl, I pushed up sleeves, donned my apron, and dove in. And I ground sausage meat for what felt like hours. Well, it WAS hours! About half way through, Drew got a hankering to TASTE some sausage. Heck, I had been planning to give a little space between the carcass processing and the actual EATING of it. But he was so enthusiastic, I couldn’t say no.


The sausage set up.

Grinding, grinding, grinding....

Grinding, grinding, grinding….

I formed him up 4 patties with my goopy hands and he popped them into the cast iron skillet. A delightful aroma filled the kitchen as the patties sizzled happily without any extra oil. He cracked open a turkey egg each for each of us and fried them up beside the goat meat. (Holy crap! That was sausage from our goat! From BUCKY!) He was grinning ear to ear with anticipation and couldn’t serve our plates fast enough. I then had a very emotional moment while bracing myself dramatically against the kitchen counter. It was not about Bucky, per se. It was that I was really, truly living my dream life – the homesteading life I had imagined for so many years. Eating our mean roosters was one thing, but one of our goats? I was about to do just that! I was about to sit down with my good friend and my daughter to have a lunch of goat sausage and turkey eggs, which both originated a stone’s throw from the back porch. And just to amp up my fragile emotional state, I cracked a fresh jar of my own canned apple sauce to spoon out along side!

Ooooh baby!

Oh my!

Isla was non-plussed. In fact I had to stop her mid bite to say grace and give thanks to Bucky before chowing down. She said little but kept shoveling. Drew took a bite and then closed his eyes to savor it. “Oh – My – God.” he said slowly. “That is divine.” I was struggling. I stared hard at my plate, I cut off a hunk, I stabbed it with my fork, and I stared some more. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and it disappeared into my maw. My first reaction was a violent shiver from head to toe. Then a slight gag reflex. Then my taste buds found their anchor point in the familiar hint of bacon, and the bite slithered down my throat. And the next bite. And the next. And the egg and the apple sauce and the fresh cup of coffee. I seemed to have developed a mild, full body tremor that was humming from within. Drew summed it up with sparkling eyes when he said, “Wow. I’ve got a little buzz going. That sausage has some potent life force in it.” Yes, that was it! In fact, I wanted to go running around outside and do a half gainer and donkey kick off a play stump in the goat pen! This was Super Food! And it was going to take some getting used to – small portions. I would have to warn my friends when I passed out thank you packages. WOW. I could FEEL it. This was real food – food that I had loved and cared for, food that had had a happy life, food from a very healthy animal, food from my friggin’ BACKYARD!

Isla, sporting her Picassa smock, give the Bucky sausages a thumbs up!

Isla, sporting her Picassa smock, gives the Bucky sausage a thumbs up!

I had DONE IT!!!

And yes, Drew and I finished packaging EVERYTHING that afternoon, including the liver. And all the fat was rendered and the deep freeze is bursting at it’s seams. I have yet to finish cleaning the house, but it will happen this weekend. The massive Kitchen Aid food grinder we borrowed is still claiming the western third of the dining room table, but I am rather getting used to it.

Perhaps with luck, Wes won’t even miss it.

Post Script:

That very afternoon, after nap time had past, Isla and I cleaned up the vacuum sealer, loaded up a jar of our goat cheese and a 6 pack of goat sausage, and headed out into a freshening snow storm to Thomas’ house. It had been his generosity that had provided us with the use of a vacuum sealer. It was a quick pass off and short greeting as I was anxious of the mounting storm, and Isla and I were soon back on the highway headed home. The blizzard quickly turned into a white out and I shifted into 4WD and slowed down to 25. I was acutely aware of the dropping temps, watching the car thermometer like a hawk. 33 degrees. Treacherous driving conditions to be sure. As we slowly took the turn onto our own road, the temp dropped to 32. I was creeping along, dodging pot holes, taking my time. Then, with a completely out of place flash of lightening, and boom of thunder, the LED display dropped once more to 31 degrees. It was literally the first time it had gone below freezing since the morning Bucky was shot. For 3 days the weather had remained perfect refrigerator temperature, between 33 and 41 degrees (which was significant as we did not have a walk in fridge to store the carcass and waiting parts in).

That night it was in the teens once more, and the following night back to sub zero winter weather. It was sunny and biting cold. A fresh, cleansing mantle of snow laid over the mud, ice, and blood of the days before, hiding the evidence, granting us a grateful closure, and allowing us to move forward in our lives.

Back to winter.

Back to winter.

Post Post Script:

Several people have been curious about how Bucky’s demise affected the remaining goats. I had also wondered if we would sense any discomfort on their part. I can say that in the week leading up to the harvest, I had verbally “warned” all 3 goats (Auntie Hazelnut, Cousin Fiona and Bucky) that Bucky would be leaving soon and they all needed to prepare and say goodbye. And I can say that before I led him from the pen on the morning of, I told them all to say their farewells, that Bucky would not be coming back. The shot was taken around the corner of the house, away from the barn and barnyard, and the hanging of the carcass was not in their view.

I feel we must never underestimate what animals understand. I certainly do not think they understood my conversation in human english as I talked to them, but I think on a spiritual, energetic, or psychic level, they got the gist just fine. And I also think animals process emotions in a very different way than humans. They are in the here and now, just like young children. There is food and there is water and they are healthy, comfortable and feel safe. As long as they are cared for properly, they do not worry, or really think about much but when their human will visit again and when dinner is being served.

But back to the question at hand: All the goats were fine and unstressed – including Bucky! I can honestly say he never knew what hit him. He was not anxious in any way when I led him out of the pen. Hazelnut gave her normal quantity of milk the next morning, and Fiona and her never seemed to be “looking” for Bucky. They showed no indication of any sort of distress at all.

I have to say I was very relieved to witness this!


The tally sheet:

11.35 lbs of sausage patties

13.25 lbs of rendered tallow (several pounds went back into the sausage)

14.35 lbs of soup/bone broth/dog bones with minimal meat left (several bones has already gone to Molly our Pyrenees before the weighing)

4.50 lbs of ribs

1.45 lbs of liver (currently researching liver pate recipes)

2.65 lbs of rib skirt (really this should have all gone into the sausage, but we’ll try a stew)

.75 lbs tender loins

3.85 lbs back strap

10.45 lbs rump roasts (I would like to attempt some jerky out of the biggest one)

5.95 lbs of cracklins from the fat rendering which we are slowly feeding to the delighted chickens


68.50 lbs total (head, lower legs, and offal were offered to the coyotes in a distant arroyo. Hide is still being deliberated over as it hangs on our porch.)

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I crunched up the hill in rhythm with my steaming breath, planting my poles alternately, wishing I had found my gaiters in the car. The snow wasn’t super deep, perhaps 6 or 8 inches, but deep enough to find it’s way past the cuff of a boot. Another gust of wind stopped my progress as it whipped my stinging cheeks. I turned away from the blast, eyes tightly closed and watering profusely. The gust quieted and I remained standing still, taking in the winter wonderland scene. Oh! The snow had not been simply blowing off the heavily laden conifer branches. It was coming down again with a will.

And the white out was beautiful!

This was my first moment alone since the Big Event and my mind was deeply engaged, assigning descriptive words and phrases to the jumble of emotions within. I had been dying to sit down at the computer and write, to pour out all my feelings and document my experience of the first 4-legged meat harvest on our farm. But for 3 days after the gun shot, it was all about processing, getting the meat in vacuum sealed bags and into the freezer. Three days!! And each night I had collapsed in bed beside my 3 year old, too exhausted to even consider getting back up for “adult time”. Visions of muscle groups, connective tissue and bone saws flitted behind my red-rimmed lids as I felt my own muscle groups relax heavily against the mattress. I had had no idea how much work it would be. After all, 3 of us processed an entire cow elk in 12 hrs! But, I reminded myself, that was from a skinned and gutted hanging carcass, and with 2 men who knew exactly what they were doing.

WE had started with a walking buck goat, a needy 3 year old child, and had only 2 knowledgeable friends in the fray and only for the first few hours. Thank god for Bill and Chuck, as they helped me angle the rifle barrel correctly, made sure everyone was safe from ricocheting bullets, taught us to skin and gut, and then got us started on how to process the carcass. But that only took us until lunch of the first day. The remainder of the days it was me, with either Carrie, Marian, Drew or Randy, depending on the moment, and all of us completely inexperienced, and continually interrupted by Isla and her constant 3 year old needs. After all, I AM a mother too. We also rendered ALL of the fat in that time which was a massive job – and strong evidence that we had grossly overfed our buckling.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me first fill in the missing parts of the story leading up to the Big Day. If you haven’t been a part of the previous posts, I recommend reading Part I and Part II before you continue with this Post. And here is where my liability waiver comes in: if you can’t handle reading about the killing and butchering of a meat goat, then use your brain, stop reading now, and find a blog about kittens and butterflies.


Nine days ago, four days before the harvest day, a good friend took me to a local shooting range to have me shoot the gun I was to use. This was yet another part of my continued personal preparation for the job ahead. Seemed like a smart notion, considering I had not shot a gun since I was 13, and had never shot a rifle (I am 50 now in case you are dying to do the math). It was a beautiful Mini Ruger 14, .223 caliber, that I had inherited from my father. When Dad was in the throes of downsizing and selling his house to move into a retirement community, his gun collection was up for grabs. Of course my little brother got the majority, many of which were antiques and non-functional for all practical purposes. But I did voice my desire for just one usable gun. I have to say I think I got one of the best. It is stainless steel and walnut, a beauty to behold, and smooth and balanced to fire. It has a magazine that will hold 5 bullets, making it a semi automatic. It will fire those 5 bullets as fast as my finger can tug the trigger in succession. This is not a hunting gun – my dad had carried it on his boat when he had plied the seas around Florida and the Caribbean in his more adventurous years. It was his official pirate gun!

Justin laid out all the safety rules for me and showed me how to load, aim and fire. It was a rush! I LOVED shooting my gun! Here is my target after firing the first 2 magazines:


And a token picture of meself:


After firing 4 or 5 magazines, I dug out a pen and sketched the back of a goat head on the lower part of the target. I wanted to really press home what I was going to do come Saturday. I stood a foot away, aimed, and fired. The lower part of the paper target exploded! VERY different from shooting from 15 yards. I would post a photo of the target at the end of that session, but the bottom is completely gone. At least that showed me it would do the trick.


The next 4 days leading up to the harvest were difficult. I was racked with a vast array of violent thoughts that kept me awake most nights. I played and replayed the pending act, as I imagined it, over and over in my tired brain. I prayed. I asked my higher powers for help. And I spent time with Bucky, scratching him in his favorite places, and reminding him it was almost time to leave.

The night before the Big Day, I was up late, getting a beef stew simmering in the crock pot and starting bread dough rising. I did not want to have to think one iota about feeding our support group the next day. Then I ran a hot bath, lit my red bath candle, poured a wee dram of the Water of Life, and sank gratefully into the dark, steamy waters, glistening with a slick, red sheen from the flickering candle. I breathed. I breathed more. And I began to pray again. I prayed to have a clean shot through the back of Bucky’s skull with an angle towards the lower jaw, to have the courage to take that shot, to have the grounding to stay present and focused on the job, and most of all, to have the grace to keep my heart open and not leave my body. I had a strong desire to entreat some appropriate minor deity to stand behind me as spiritual support. I was rather tickled at what came to mind – the Amazon hunter/warrior/mothers of the distance past – the courageous women of history who bore their children, nurtured them and protected them with a fierce matter-of-factness passed down from generations of mothers and grandmothers before them. These were the true mother bears. And I would need them tomorrow.

The next morning I awoke, fairly well rested, and ready. As ready as I would ever be. I kneaded the dough as my pot of green tea steeped and laid the loaves in pans for a second rise. I stirred the stew and added a bit more salt. I boiled up some oats and raisins for the family and ate quietly, moving through the motions with a peace I did not expect. I was no longer deliberating. I was no longer visualizing. It was all done. Everything was set out and ready. I was just waiting for 9:30am. I sharpened our quiver of knives while the clock kept track.

At 9:26am the first 2 cars pulled in – Bill and his girl friend Deedee (who I did not expect and had never met), and Chuck. Bill was an avid hunter of large game with a great deal of experience. He was also a law enforcement ranger. Chuck was a hunter as well, and a nurse at the nearby hospital. I felt well covered by their presence. Carrie, Chuck’s wife, pulled in a few minutes later and hefted 1 yr old Larka out of her car seat. Carrie had grown up on a farm and had harvested multiple chickens, turkeys, and a pig. Not only was she a tough chick, she was also a mother. My support group was assembled and my courage bolstered. I had my gun handlers, my carcass handlers, my medical professional, and my tough mom. It was time.

I stepped into the bathroom one more time, even though I had already peed twice in the past 30 minutes. I washed my hands, slowly brushed my hair from my forehead, and tied it back from my face. I pushed my pearl earrings through my lobes and looked in the mirror. I smiled, and thought of my old high school friend who is in a woman’s shooting club on the east coast. She target shoots in make up, pearls and a little black power dress. I thought she would be proud of me donning my mother’s pearls for this very special day.

But something was still missing.

I was slightly aware of the kitchen murmur of voices and clinking coffee mugs as I pulled out my top drawer and reached far into the dark shadows. There it was. The little deerskin pouch that I had made from the pocket of my Poppy’s deerskin shirt. And inside was my hawk talon neckless. I had made it after a fatally injured red tail hawk had dyed in my lap, as I sat on the tail gate of my truck on the side of some Illinois highway. In that moment, as I felt the raptor’s soul release and fly free, I was introduced to the second of my 2 totem animals. And it was that experience which guided my pencil, and the tattoo artist’s hand, as together we memorialize this fierce hunter on my lower abdomen in permanent ink. It was also at that moment that I left my vegetarian life and drove on down the road in search of my first burger in 10 years.

I snapped the clasp beneath my ponytail and walked out tall.


It was a friendly but subdued gathering in the kitchen. The smell of strong coffee was tempting, but I needed to stay in the space I was in, unaffected by a blast of caffeine. I avoided eye contact and collected the items I had set out – the bucket to catch the blood (which I wanted to give to the compost pile), the 4 very sharp knives, my 5 bullets to fill the magazine (kept separate from the gun), my water bottle, and a smudge stick and box of matches. I got Randy’s attention and nodded. He nodded to Chuck and all conversation ceased mid-sentence. I walked out to the pen gate, lit the smudge stick, breathed deeply and cleansed myself with the sacred smoke. I emptied my mind and then filled my heart with strength and love. The gate stuck momentarily on the melt-thaw glacier of runoff as I pushed inside the pen. Goats crowded warmly around me with soft breaths, Fiona lipping my coat zipper, Bucky pressing his forehead against my arm, and Hazelnut standing patiently aloof, waiting for me to come to her. I smudged Bucky, speaking to him soothingly, and told all the goats it was time to say their farewells.

Walking with Bucky.

Walking with Bucky. Hazelnut, Fiona, and visiting King Arthur calmly watch his exit.

Then, without further adieu, I looped the rope through his collar, and led him out, grabbing the bowl of grain on the way. Randy was there waiting. He took the bowl from my hand, and followed a respectful distance behind me, knowing full well I was in an altered state. My friends were waiting at the shed where the event was to happen. We threaded the loose end of Bucky’s rope through the eye bolt screwed low in the outer corner of the shed. Randy dumped the grain on the ground and Bucky happily got down to the business of Second Breakfast. I laid my hand on his knobby head and whispered, “Go with god, buddy.” Then I picked up the gun and snapped the magazine into place, saying each step out loud. “Magazine in. Safety on. Chamber charged. Breathe.” There was a short period of readjusting as I discovered I could not get to his head from where I had planned. Turning 180 degrees to shoot towards the east instead of the west, solved the issue, but resulted in a few more seconds delay while everyone readjusted their own positions of safety.

Time seemed to stand still. I raised the butt to my shoulder and the peep site to my right eye. I flipped the safety off, as if in a dream. His knobby, fuzzy head moved animatedly, but in slow motion, changing my own angle of aim. I thought clinically that I was lucky to be 5′-10″ as a shorter person would not have been able to get the barrel between their shoulder and his head. I exhaled. He moved. I exhaled. He moved. He raised his head and looked around, then put his mouth back to the pile of grain. A muffled shot rang out beyond my ear protection and in fast forward motion he was blasted flat again the snow. It was clean. There was little blood. Some unchewed grain fell from his mouth. His eyes glazed over and his legs began to kick – more than I imagined they would. I knew he was quite dead and it was only the muscle twitch of death, but it was still uncomfortable to witness. His head remained motionless and heavy, as if it were a tremendous weight glued to the ground. I knelt beside him, my canvas covered knee sinking into the slush and mud, and laid my hand on his warm, multicolored side. I murmured, “Let go little boy. Let go little one. Be free my dear.”

Kneeling beside Bucky after the shot.

Kneeling beside Bucky immediately after the shot.

Everything was so crisp and clear, so immediate and now. The impossible crimson color of his blood, blooming on the melting snow, his galloping legs reminding me of my old Pyrenees when he would dream, the unusual humidity in the air, the dead silence in the wake of the shot. His legs became still and I reached for the sharpest of the knives, noticing the intricate details of the smear of mud on my sleeve. It took a few passes to breach the fur, but soon his arteries and windpipe were severed and the blood flowed freely. I removed my ear muffs and the world flooded back in. Then the hands were on my shoulders, gently patting my back as the quiet congratulations found their way to my ears. “You did well MacLaren. You did well.” I heard, but I am not sure who said it. It was then I realized I had no memory of pulling the trigger. None at all.

I stood up, blinked, and stepped back. I noticed Chuck taking care of the gun but did not remember giving it to him. I did not cry. But I did need many deep breaths to return from the world I had just been in. A world of extreme focus and deliberation, a world void of emotion, but not of love, a shadowy world of death. And of life. And I was OK. And Bucky was gone – very gone. All that was left of our buckling was a hunk of meat at my feet and days of work ahead. It was over. Finally, gratefully…


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This Morning….

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That would be…. Me. It’s true. I chose to be one today. It was so preferable over my other choice – doing the exact same tasks while whining about it. Might as well embrace it enthusiastically! Yes?

So while Randy went to work (BLM) for a quick check in, and then to the mill for more lumber, I began my day of devahood. First I showered (with Isla) and dressed (while Isla sat on the floor of the shower, water trickling between her shoulder blades, scrubbing the bottoms of her little feet). Then I dressed the reluctant 2 yr old as well. Next I washed the pile of dishes (from last night’s dinner) and cleaned the counter tops (while Isla alternately became either a goat named Gwendolyn or a girl named Gwendolyn). Then I began the prep for the potato leek soup.

First, I sliced and washed the leeks, then Isla helped me scrub the last of our purple potatoes from the fall harvest. I peeled their nobbly, old surfaces, revealing the violet and lavender meat beneath. Isla walked a large potato around the counter tops on it’s dark purple sprout feet. Taters chopped, I sauteed the leeks in olive oil, added garlic, caraway seeds and pepper, and finally the taters.

I love the spring colors of chopped leeks.

Fresh ground pepper, celtic sea salt, caraway seeds, and garlic.

When I say "the last" of the purple potatoes, I really mean it as we are not planning on planting any purple varieties this spring.

Broth from boiling down some very mean roosters.

All was covered in defrosted rooster broth, salted, and brought to a boil, very slowly. Very, VERY slowly, as there are only 2 working units on our old stove top and both are of the most tiniest variety. I think on the high setting, the big soup pot, reserved for group rafting trips, MIGHT have felt a slight… tickle on it’s nether regions. But it gave me plenty of time to deal with the bread.

No-knead bread dough after the first rise.

I pulled the bowl of dough out of the fridge and stretched the sticky batch into 2 hunks. This is my favorite recipe for artisan bread – 4 ingredients and no-knead. But I kneaded each hunk a few times anyway just because I like to. After rolling the logs in some seeds  and cutting some sexy diagonal slices in the bulging mounds, I placed them on the baker’s peel with a sprinkling of cornmeal between. They rose for the second time beneath a clean towel while I went back to the soup. Then Randy arrived with the lumber.

Who can resist a little kneading?

Rising on the baker's peel.

Next was the kale. RG, here to add more time to his work barter, pulled into the driveway, and pushed through the gate with toolbelt slung over his shoulder. I tore chunks of kale off the stems and swished the pile in a sink of cold water, remembering to chop the stems up for the chickens. The soup was FINALLY at a boil, so I piled the kale on top and stirred it in. Yummmm. I love kale. Have you ever had kale chips? I made an entire dehydrator full last summer and they did not even last 24 hrs. Absolutely addictive!

Ripped kale.

Chickens get all the decent scraps - never just "compost" which goes in another container - and always organic.

“Mama? Can you read this to me?” It was the 3rd book from “elsewhere” that I had passed her to keep her from under foot. She was being extremely wonderful in occupying herself so her request gave me a pang of Mama guilt. I had a moment between the next boil (possibly hours with the stove top handicap) and when the bread would go in the oven. So we sat together in our reading nook and read some Aesop’s Fables.

The percussive waves of rhythmic hammering reached my chest. “I’ve got to get back to the cooking sweetie.” “No, my name is Gwendolyn Mama, not Sweetie, said Gwendolyn.” I have no idea how she developed this 3rd person narrative style of talking, but as it’s been in use for a few months now, we are getting used to it. “Yes… ah, Gwendolyn.” The oven was pre-heated enough (about an hour). I slid the 2 loaves from the peel to the pizza stone and filled the tray on the top rack with hot water. Steam issued from the oven as I slammed the door shut! “OK. Where was I?” I said aloud. Set the table, fill the water glasses, and peek periodically out the window as the siding went up, one board at a time. It was looking more and more like a barn every minute. MY barn. I heaved a happy sigh.

Working on the facia board for the upper clerestory roof.

As I washed dishes a second time, I thought back to my email volley with Elana, from whom I was buying our goats. She had decided that the kid “cousin” I could take, in addition to Fiona and her mom Hazelnut, would be Buckbeak. “Bucky” was 1 of 2 goatlings born in the most recent, and final kidding of the spring at the Pieper’s farm. He was actually 1 of triplets, but the second buckling had been stillborn. Bucky and his sister Prim had had a rough start, confused with the bottle and struggling with sucking from the nipple. They had not been sure Bucky would make it at all, even though he was massive for a newborn. But the siblings had made a strong recovery and were reported to be feeding voraciously as of today. Buckbeak also had an impressive overbite which made his appearance rather… dorky, but also quite lovable. As the castration process would begin in another day or so via the rubber band method (I saw that grimace, boys!), his poor confirmation would never pass to another generation. He would, in fact, be passing through our lives for a short year only…. on his way to our freezer. I had hoped for Hazelnut and 2 doelings, as well as a meat buckling. But in all honesty, it could have sent me deep into overwhelm. I have two hands that can hold two bottles. Two kids to bottlefeed makes the most sense. I ran my sudsy hand through my hair absentmindedly, leaving some decidedly goat-like horns behind. Yes. I think I would take Buckbeak. Fiona needs a play mate. And I don’t need more than 2 milking does next year.

Hot from the stone - delicious!

The oven timer said 5 minutes until blastoff. I opened the porch door, which immediately tried to deck me with a blast of warm, springlike wind. I gave one of my famous, piercing whistles and signaled with a double-handed welcoming wave to the boys. Lunch was almost ready. Isla streaked through the dining room, leaving a bubble of wild cackling in her path. “Honey – I mean Gwendolyn! Put your clothes back on please. We’re about to eat.” I glance back out at the 2 Randys, laughing together as one climbed down from the ladder and the other unclipped his tool belt. It made me smile to see my husband and my X-boyfriend in such camaraderie. They were terrifically good friends and had a connection like no other. I was most definitely aware of how lucky I was to have them both in my life.

As the wind blew in the stubbly, dusty, joking men, I ladled out the steaming soup and plopped a dollop of sour cream on top of each helping. I sawed off hot slices of bread and slathered butter on each. The boys wiped their noses and beamed at their bowls. I tied a towel around the neck of my still naked child, sat daintily on my chair (well, I can try at least), and scooped a steaming, purple potato onto my spoon. Being a Domestic Diva really wasn’t so bad after all.

It might look like dishwater and chicken scraps in this photo, but it is actually divine!

And for a finish to the repast, 77% cacao chocolate, fresh strawberries and coffee.

No rest for the weary. After slacking over lunch, the men are back at it as our next winter storm rolls in. Here, the purlins are being set for the southern roof.

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