Category Archives: Farm Follies

An Era’s End

About a week ago, a crashing noise at 3 AM caused my husband to leap from bed and run outside. At least that is what he told me, and I have to trust him as since summer began my sleep has resembled more of that of a coma victim than the skittish animal that I normally mirror.

That early morning Xandy found the saw mill had finally fallen over.

I took in a quick breath of air when he told me. He responded intuitively with, “Don’t worry, Hon. No cows. No kids. We are all good.”

Over the past few years every time my husband and his father went to set a log to “prop up” the mill, which with each successive year has looked more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa than a sturdy building, we would discuss the fact that the cows liked to hang out in its shade and were prime targets for a collapse.

“And what happens when Kitt gets older and she takes her cousins down to play?”

“Hopefully they can outrun a falling building.”

“Not funny.”

Now those points are moot. The building is down. And out of respect I thought I would spend a bit of time talking about the history of it since we are all a bit saddened by its loss.

The building was constructed in the early 1950s by Charles Orman Brown (affectionately known as “Orm”), my father-in-law Mark’s grandfather and the Brown that purchased this farm. A Lane #2 left-handed sawmill built in the late 1880s or 90s made up the “guts” of the building, and chopped off more than one finger I am told. Mark and Xandy both have all of their fingers, a miracle really as there is NO WAY this thing was OSHA approved. The place was perfect to film a bloody horror flick, big open saw blade and all.

Inside Sawmill

The inside of the mill pre-collapse

 

Orm, a machinist by trade and owner of a foundry in a neighboring town, used the mill for a variety of side business ventures. Over the years the mill has done everything from make cedar shingles, to dowels to wrap communication wire, to mini baseball bats, to siding for houses. Below are just a few of the many products created at the mill:

A mini-baseball bat

A mini-baseball bat

A piece of faux log cabin siding

A piece of faux log cabin siding.

The "bead board" used in the barn

The “bead board” used in the barn

Periodically, rooms have been added on to the original building. Xandy remembers a small sawdust room being added in the 1980s, while Mark talks of his brother Tim not only helping Orm saw, but also helping him build rooms off to the side much earlier than that as Orm passed away in 1967.

Some of the last wood sawed in the mill was used as flooring in our bathroom. As I look at it now even I, who has only lived here for a few short years, grow nostalgic. The book shelf that was one of the first gifts Xandy made me was built with wood from the mill as was the puppet house he built for Kitt. I am sure that everywhere on this farm there are creations that are in some way linked to the mill which once looked like this:

sawmill panaramic

and has now been reduced to this:

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I am sure that there is something in here about time and its inevitability, but I would rather live in this image than think about that right now.

 

 

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Death and the Hen

So, Angel, unfortunately, did not make it. Her death is not really a shock, I suppose. Chickens are fragile creatures.

A couple of years back, I remember a man and his son stopped at the farm. Frantic.

“Do you know anything about chickens?” The father had pleaded. “We bought a bunch, and they are dying.” He opened his trunk to reveal about fifty chicks, half of which were dead. I watched as each minute a chick would stop and die. I had no answer for him then, and I have no answer now.

Things get sick.

Things die.

“It’s O.K.” Kitt said when I told her about Angel.

Her reaction is also not shocking. As we live on a farm, death is a natural part of the landscape. Last year’s pig? She’s in the freezer. That steer you named? The steak you ate for dinner.

I am not sure, however, of what her actual four-year-old concept of death is. Honestly, I am not even sure what my forty-one-year-old concept of death is. Most days, I believe that we are so much more than these suits of flesh that connect us to this plane. Others, I wonder if death is the end. If that last breath we take is our last connection to anything.

“I could never live on a farm,” my mother told me as she tried to nurse the chicken back to health. “All of these animals have little souls. I don’t know how you do it.”

I have thought a lot about this living on the farm. I think about it when I watch our herd leave an older cow to babysit while the rest go to graze. I think about it when I look into the lamb’s eyes as I feed him hay and pet him. I think about it when I have to knee one of our bucket fed calves back because she thinks my vagina is food.

And then I think of Kitt.

I am jealous of her, really. My first taste of death came the summer after my 7th grade year when a classmate was killed in a car accident. Having been at our camp on Moosehead Lake for the week, I had been incomminucado. I learned about her death only after the funeral. I spent the next week or so expecting everyone I knew to die. If death could happen to her, it could happen to anyone, at any time.  I started imagining the horrific demises of all of my loved ones. My father died being electrocuted while trying to fix a paper machine in the mill. My mother died driving home a little too fast on the highway. My sister died crossing the street. Everyone I looked at faded, and I was left with how each would leave me.

Kitt will realize, as she grows, that we all live. We all serve our purpose. And we all die. This idea will become a thread woven into her concept of life, as it is an integral part of my husband’s concept. While he and I may disagree about what happens after this life, I have to admire him for how he lives this one.

I told Kitt this morning that it is time to let the other chickens out of the coop, as they were big enough to start grazing. “Maybe we can get a cat cage so that the cats won’t kill the chickens,” she said. “We can put food and water in it so that they will be all right, too.”

Today I realize that we are all as fragile as that young hen we lost, and while some days force us to realize that death just happens, others have us holding it back in a small wire cage. Leaving it food and water, of course, because we wouldn’t want it to have to look elsewhere to be fed.

 

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Then I Defy You Winter!

So, that damn Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, as most of us know, and we have been in the throes of a long and frigid winter. For one amazing Saturday we were teased by mid-40 degree sunshine, only to have it ripped away from us. This Saturday our thermometer registered -5 degrees (and that was in the sun).

Today is March 2nd and we decided that enough was enough, shadow or no shadow — today we would tap our maple trees. It is a rite of Spring. We put holes in five of the trees on our front lawn which usually (depending on the year) provides sap to make enough syrup to last throughout the year. I have to admit, Xandy usually taps the trees, but this year I thought it would be a fun family activity so I invited myself along.

 

Here I am tapping my first tree.  Online, I see that most people in the 21st Century use electric drills for the holes -- but not us. Our drill is part of the tradition.

Here I am drilling a hole in my first tree. Online I see that most people in the 21st Century use electric drills for the holes, but not us. Our drill is part of the tradition.

 

After the hole is drilled we place the tubing. We don't have those cool pails like the big sugar houses, but this works.

After the hole is drilled we place the tubing. We don’t have those cool pails like the big sugar houses, but this works. We use food-grade five-gallon buckets to collect our sap. If you look close enough you can see that they are wine making buckets. We have a carboy of banana wine fermenting right now.

 

Although I think our tapping right now is wishful thinking as NOAA is predicting the temps not to get above 20 for most of the week, this tree had some sap flowing after we took the drill out.

Although I think our tapping right now is wishful thinking as NOAA is predicting the temps not to get above 20 for most of the week, this tree had some sap flowing after we took the drill out.

 

Kitt by the end product.  I was freezing by this time, but she seemed to be doing just fine.

Kitt by the end product. I was freezing by this time, but she seemed to be doing just fine.

A photographer from the local paper stopped in the dooryard just as we were finishing up and had us pose for some photos.

“I’d rather take pictures of people doing this than shoveling snow,” he said. We nodded with the understanding of just how God-awful this winter has been.

As the photographer drove away, Xandy had an idea.

“You know I have always wanted to tap the telephone pole. Wouldn’t that be hilarious? People would drive by and wonder what the hell we were doing.”

Thankfully, we don’t have any more tubing, or that photographer would have had another pic for the paper. I shook my head walked towards the barn as Xandy and Kitt went off to “feed things.”

I think the critters were getting hungry.

I think the critters were getting hungry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Klutz can SKI (on flatland)

I am a complete klutz.

Just ask my husband. This morning, while trying to get lunch ready for work I dumped 1/2 a cup of coffee in the spoon drawer, and then when I sat down to eat my toast (with homemade strawberry-rhubarb jam) I dropped the last bite of that on the floor (yes, I still ate it — no, I didn’t think about what has been on our floor). This week I have cut my lip twice, once when I walked into the bathroom door, and the other when I lifted a bowl off the top shelf only to be smashed in the face by a stainless steel measuring cup. That one still hurts.

It should be no surprise to anyone, then, that I am not athletically inclined in any way. I bring this up, as being from Maine and having lived for over 10 years in Colorado, everyone assumes that I ski. I chuckle a bit when I am asked and reply with something like, “Ski, are you kidding me? Have you seen me WALK? I tripped UP the stairs this morning.”

O.K., O.K., that is a bit of an exaggeration, I tripped up the stairs yesterday morning, regardless, I have only been downhill skiing once about ten years ago, and I barely left the bunny slope.

My father is nothing like me — check him out in a ski race some years back

Yes, he is a badass. Check out his clothes — he is wearing JEANS. Total Mainer!

Yes, he is a badass. Check out his clothes — he is wearing JEANS, for the love of all that is good and holy. Total Mainer! I may have gotten his looks, but I got absolutely NONE of that talent.

While I do not ski, I do love the outdoors. My husband is well aware of this, and two years ago surprised me with a pair of cross-country skis.

“You said once that you wanted to try it,” he said, “and I had no idea what to get you.” I was honestly ecstatic. It then proceeded to rain all that winter. Before this winter, I had been on the skis twice.

So, I won’t go into too much detail about my first time out this season to Quarry Road in Waterville. This is an AMAZING place by the way. I walk the trails often, but being a newbie skier, I fell A LOT when I tried the ice-covered trails a few weeks ago (before the last storm).

This past weekend, I decided to put my fear aside and enjoy the sun. I pulled out the skis, rounded up the dog, and I headed out into the front pasture. Below are a few of my photos:

It was pretty amazing to see the completely untouched snow.

It was pretty amazing to see the untouched snow.

 

Lakota loved it as well. She is completely in her element in the winter.

Lakota loved it as well. She is completely in her element in the winter.

 

I got to check on the well that Xandy put in for the cows a few years ago. It is pretty amazing that the thing stays running even in this cold!

While out, I checked on the well that Xandy put in for the cows a few years ago. It is pretty amazing that the thing stays running even in this cold!

 

I had to look back and check out my handiwork.

I had to look back and check out my handiwork. I didn’t fall once.

 

This is my favorite picture.

This is my favorite picture. Try not to be too jealous that this is my front yard.

It turns out that I LOVE cross-country skiing on fresh snow. The best part of skiing in our back forty —  no big hills and no other people. I think I am becoming a misanthrope in my old age. Hell, I must be one — who even USES the word “misanthrope”? Anyway, as I am writing this, we are getting about another foot of the white stuff. I sense another outdoor adventure coming on.

On another note, Kitt just got glasses. I’ll update you all soon!

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Snow Day!

Winter has brought a few changes to the farm, and to this blog. Mostly — the winter doldrums (and the start of a new school year) had insidiously worked together to stop my blogging. Well, NO MORE!

First, I would like to welcome you to the new site. Yes, I know, it looks much like my previous site, but please be sure to look again. I have merged the blog with our farm site, so now we are a “one-stop shop” for all things beefy. Be prepared for more updates on farm living, and hopefully soon, new offerings from LongMeadows Farm.

This winter has not been that exciting. The opposite of exciting, in fact. The most interesting thing we have done this winter is spend a Saturday night camping in the kitchen. We pitched a tent and cooked red-hot dogs and s’mores by the fire. You non-Mainers may not understand the appeal of the red-hot dog, but believe me, they are a SPECIAL treat. Kitt asks for them by name, thanks to my father.

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Kitt enjoying kitchen camping. I am glad she is getting some use out of the dance leotard, since she only made it through two dance lessons.

So today is a snow day. As I sit here writing, I am watching a steady stream of heavy snow pass by the window, covering the bare patches that this winter’s rain and ice storms have left. Even though all I really wanted to do today was sit on the couch and stream Disney flicks, I took Kitt out for a stroll and some sledding.

Mid-way through our "walk" I thought about how I could rig up a harness for the dog.

Mid-way through our “walk” I deeply considered the difficulties involved with rigging up a harness for the dog.

Part of the real reason for the walk was to check out what is finally finished — THE COVERED BRIDGE! My father-in-law and Xandy completed the thing last week, and before you do the math in your head — yes, it was January in Maine.

The Finished Bridge

The snow is obscuring the green metal roof. It does look pretty amazing in a snow storm, however.

Kitt checking out the window and the snow.

Kitt checking out the window and the snow.

 

Just as for a juxtaposition, here is the "before" this summer.

Just for a juxtaposition, here is the “before” this summer.

 

The "before" roof.

The “before” roof.

 

FinishedBridgeRoom

The new roof. Honestly, I miss the other view, but thankfully the new roof was a welcome respite from the snow storm.

We finished with some sledding by the river.

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Going…

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Going…

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Well, you get the idea. Don’t worry. I told her to bail if she reached the river!

Wonderful snow day…and a wonderful start to this new incarnation of the blog. Spring is coming. I know this because we have ordered our seeds. More on that later!

 

 

 

 

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Cobwebs in my Soup

A bit ago we had friends for dinner. I apologized in advance to all of them for my lack of housekeeping skills, as we are in an old house and I can never seem to keep anything clean. One of my friends told me not to worry at all.

“I grew up on a farm,” he said. “We had cobwebs in our soup.”

Oh how true that is. No matter where I look or how many times I clean them up — in some corner of my house you will always find this:

Those are not dirt specks. They are dead flies.

Those are not dirt specks. They are dead flies.

And then — in the garage, we have a Charlotte’s Web scenario right now. I was looking for terms about how wondrous our pigs are, but instead only found this little guy eating his lunch:

Spider Eating Fly

I think I counted five spiders of various sizes and colors working to build a system of webs in the corner of our garage. I swear that those weren’t there yesterday.

 

But the ultimate bane of my existence is this godforsaken creature:

I know this looks fake, but I took this morning on the cabinets above my kitchen bar.

I know this looks fake, but I took it this morning on the cabinets above my kitchen bar.

The house fly, I think, is the WORST thing about living on a livestock farm. By August, instead of playing Sudoku on my IPad, I play how many goddamn flies can I swat at once. I am up to three. I am thinking about learning that chopstick trick from “The Karate Kid.”

“It’s a healthy ecosystem,” my husband tells me.

Yum, yeah. Flies landing on everything, laying eggs that form maggots. Healthy.

One just landed on my arm as I am writing this. I want the thing to die a painful death. I guess I can never be a Buddhist now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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August 14, 2013 · 9:27 am

Baby Got Bat

“There’s a bat flying around upstairs,” my husband said to me as he went to bed last night.

“A WHAT?”

“A bat. You really need to get your hearing checked.”

“I heard you. I was just processing. What the hell are we going to do?”

He stared at me blankly.

“Can you close Kitt’s door, so the dang thing doesn’t go into her room?” I called after him as he ascended the stairs to do battle. Or so I thought.

About fifteen minutes later (I had to finish the episode of “Suits” that I was watching, a new guilty pleasure –Xandy can handle the flying rodent, I rationalized), I turned on the hallway light and went upstairs to bed. With each step I took, I glanced around for any creatures of the night. The hallway was silent and clear. Even though Kitt’s door was wide open, I didn’t worry as I assumed my husband had taken care of the problem.

Something still nagged at me, however, and I turned on our bedroom light. My husband looked at me amorously from beneath the covers.

“So you must have gotten rid of the bat.” I said as I approached the bed.

“Nope. I have no idea where that thing is.”

“SERIOUSLY? Only you would think of…” I turned to see the small, black critter clinging to the wall opposite the bed staring at us. “It’s right there!”

“Would you look at that.”

“So now what do we do?”

“No clue.”

The bat didn’t even flinch. It just remained in the same position like a miniature gargoyle standing watch.

“We could go to bed,” he said, and it took everything I had not to scream back at him. The last thing we needed was to wake Kitt up.

“We have to get this thing out of here. They carry rabies for God sake.”

Xandy grabbed a dirty work T-Shirt from the floor and walked towards the bat.

“No. Not that. Grab that garbage can. You can trap it and then we’ll cover the can.”

“With what?”

I glanced around the room. Thankfully, a few days ago I had gone on a TJ Maxx shopping spree and had purchased a new set of sheets. This night I was happy about the wasteful use of cardboard in the sheet packaging.

Xandy dropped the T-Shirt, not entirely convinced that my method would work. He grabbed the small bedroom wastebasket and walked slowly towards the bat, which still hadn’t made any sort of movement. I hoped it were dead. That thought only lasted seconds, however, as the moment the can covered the thing, it started to fly around inside of it. Xandy carefully slid the piece of cardboard between the wall and the can, and moved the can from the wall.

I wondered if bats could chew through cardboard as we descended the stairs. Seconds later our visitor was set free to fly the night sky.

“Hey it worked!” I was thrilled that a plan I hatched actually came to fruition.

“Yeah, well, the shirt would have worked fine.”

I just shook my head. Sure it would have. I thought about changing my profession to animal wrangler, but thought better of it when I actually considered keeping the light on for bed.

“This is totally going in the blog tomorrow,” I told him as we finally climbed in bed for the night.

“Only you would document our sex life.”

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August 5, 2013 · 8:14 am

For All that is Good and Hole-y

My husband loves to dig holes. “I can see my progress,” he says when I ask him just what it is about hole digging that he so likes.

I think about this often as I mow our unending lawns. We have about an acre of them and during the summer the things never stop growing. Xandy HATES mowing the lawn (yes, I get the irony), which I fortunately do not. I, too, like to see the progress as I go from lush jungle to finely trimmed golf green. OK, if you have been by the house you know that our lawn looks more like the hay-field across the street than a golf green, but you get the picture.

Anyway, back to the holes. There are many holes to be dug on the farm. Most of them are due to fallen fencing from our barbed wire fence that is probably as old as our 100-year-old farm. Sometimes, though, the holes are for different purposes.

One such purpose happened a few weeks ago when I noticed a horrendous stench and volcanic-like gurgling emanating from our upstairs bathroom. Both could only mean one thing: full septic tank.

“When’s the last time it was emptied?” I asked my father-in-law when he arrived later.

“Emptied? We never emptied that thing. My father’s theory was stir in a box of RidX every now and again and you’ll be fine.” He chuckled as he mimed stirring the pot like some sort of noxious witches brew.

“UGH! Have you ever stirred it then?”

“Well, no, that would just be silly. But don’t worry, that tank is not that old.”

I knew “not that old” was all a matter of perception in this family, as our “not that old” tractor is a circa 1982. “How old is it?”

“Oh, I suppose about fifteen or twenty years old.”

FIFTEEN OR TWENTY YEARS??? For any of you non-septic tank owners, tanks are supposed to be emptied every three to five. If not, let’s just say you might end up with a wonderfully soupy manure pond in your back yard.

He then went on to tell me that there were actually three septic tanks in our back yard.

Lovely.

So first Mark and then Xandy set to digging — because not only has the tank never been emptied, Mark was not quite sure where the damn thing was. He chose an area dug for a while, and when he couldn’t find the tank moved a few inches and dug some more.

“It’s around here somewhere,” he told his son, and left him to dig.

Xandy was finally able to find the tank about four feet or so down. We both commented on what “six-feet-under” must look like and were pretty happy that we weren’t grave-diggers. Xandy did tell Kitt that he was looking for dinosaur bones when she asked, but all he found was an old toy matchbox from his childhood, which made me doubt my father-in-law’s twenty year timeline.

After even more digging, Xandy finally found one of the two tank covers. We learned when the tank was emptied (don’t worry I won’t talk about that God-awful stench) that he had uncovered the wrong tank cover, so that night he set off to digging again.

Here is the hole:

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At least that is one less chunk of lawn that I have to mow for a while.

Ah, the wonders of home ownership.

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July 28, 2013 · 6:14 am

Hammer those Bees

So my father-in-law Mark has been quite anxious to get into my blog more. I think that he is jealous of all the attention that I have been paying to his son. I have tried to tell him that I am not sure that the type of attention that Xandy is getting is positive, but I don’t think he believes me. Anyway, this is the story he told me today.

I was out fixing fence up the road when this wicked vicious bee attacked. To hear him tell it, there was a swarm, but to go on…the thing wouldn’t leave me alone.

“So what did you do?” I asked.

Well, I started swatting at the damn thing with both my hands. I forgot that I was still holding the hammer, and I smashed myself in the head with it!

“Then what happened?”

That stupid bee still got me in the corner of my eye. Then it flew away! You should tell that story.

This is for you, Mark, and for that damn killer bee, too.

Mark deserves much more than this lame-ass bee story, considering the fact that it has been in the 90s for the last week, and his 70-year-old self has been in the hay fields every single day working his ass off. But I can give him at least this.

 

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July 17, 2013 · 8:43 pm

Once a Cheater

On the day that we were married, Xandy delivered hay. Granted, we eloped, but still.

“It’ll be fast. I promise,” he said and then off he went to the farm, to load up twenty or so bales to deliver to some customer whose own livestock was hungry.

I should have known then.

Being a farmer’s wife means that, especially during the summer, you lose your husband, taken not by another woman but by a darker enchantress — the farm. She offers constant stimulation and a place where there is always something needing to be done and/or fed.

Even before moving to the farm, before we were married, I would often not see Xandy until well beyond dark. He’d come home covered in hay and sweat, with a smile that I knew was not for me. It was his idea to marry in early May so that he wouldn’t “be on a tractor pulling a hay wagon for all of our anniversaries.” Truthfully, I yearned for the days when we would finally be living together on the farm so that I could see him more.

And see him now, I do.

I see him out in the hay fields on a tractor round-baling or on the back of a wagon loading square bales. I see him walking the fence in our lower pasture or opening a new paddock for a herd of cattle that just won’t shut-up — wanting the fresh grass that they see beyond where they are fenced in. I see him heading to the barn with his red bucket filled with warm water ready for the milk replacer that keeps the motherless calves in the barn alive or in his truck driving away to check on the free running cattle up the road.

My father-in-law told me, when Xandy and I were first married, that I should not let Xandy talk me out of a vacation. “We can come and watch the farm,” he said. “Don’t let him tell you that he can’t leave.”

I thought about that for the hour or so that Kitt and I sat and waited for the local 4th of July parade. I realized, as I watched fathers with their wives and daughters walk to find spaces to sit, that it never crossed my mind to ask Xandy to go with us to the parade. As I loaded Kitt into the car, he and his father discussed the haying that they would be doing for the day. I waved and left. Perhaps the reason that I never asked was that subconsciously I knew how miserable he would be. He would go, because I asked him to, and then he would tap his foot and look at the sun, quietly longing to be back where there was work to be done. I would then feel pangs of guilt taking any pleasure away from whatever we were doing.

The number of fathers at the parade actually stunned me. Don’t they know that now that the sun is out, there is hay to be made? I thought about that again when I saw friends of mine with their baby at the library yesterday morning. Together. The library. Really.

In the middle of the day.

Xandy and I often talk about taking a family vacation  or an actual honeymoon instead of just an overnight to Boothbay Harbor which is what we had. Maybe someday we will do that. For now, I plan trips for Kitt and I — as she is too young to help in the hay fields. Santa’s Village sounds fun.

“Won’t it be exciting when Kitt is old enough to hay?” My husband looks at me in gleeful anticipation  as I read to him this post. “Then I can come home from work and you can have all the hay raked and tedded ready to go!”

“Um, yeah, exciting.”

Then I will have lost both my husband and daughter to that temptress. Can’t wait.

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July 6, 2013 · 8:33 am