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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The other side of the Farmwife life

I am sitting in a Days Inn hotel room in Montreal, waiting for the rest of our crew to arrive so that we can go and get dinner. You might think that traveling with a documentary film crew sounds glamorous but trust me, it is not.
When we are on a shoot and there is no food in sight, I am the go-to person who is sure to have at least one granola bar and possibly an apple in her bag.
When we need something desperately to complete a shoot, such as an extra hard drive for the video camera, I am the go-and-get person.
When we have to pay for meals, hotels, car rentals, flights and other incidentals and the boss isn't with us to swipe his Platinum Visa, mine will do.
I am on the Internet after everyone else has gone to sleep. I am scouting locations, researching backgrounds of interviewees and emailing contacts for appointments and permits.
I am the first one up in the morning, making sure that the weather is fine, our interview subjects are ready, our location is set up and our equipment is in the van.
I'm sure the director is up too, doing her preparations, and the camera men are charging their batteries. The sound guy is fluffing up his microphone and our researcher is already en route to the archives.
But trust me – no matter what they say – I am the busiest of them all.
And if something goes wrong – like, say, the crew gets a total of 3 flat tires on their van while travelling the Route de la Baie James, I am the one to blame. Because I didn't insist on anything better than 4-ply tires from the rental company.
But I love my job. It's different every day. And it keeps evolving. I found my current place of work, gordongroup marketing + communications, through one of my university professors at Ryerson. Peter was in British Columbia teaching a Toronto university course to me in Taipei City, Taiwan. How is that for a small world? When I finally returned to Canada, he suggested I approach gordongroup about writing and editing opportunities. I worked on a few proposals, did some marketing writing for them, and then after about two years of occasional freelancing from home a fulltime position opened up as researcher on a documentary film project.
I had a decision to make. Do I give up my small town job where I am able to eat lunch with my husband every day and run home to bottle feed a lamb if necessary? Yes. Yes, I do. Because it isn't very often that you are given the opportunity to work in an office where everyone is respected as a professional with a unique set of gifts and talents. It's positively empowering.
Within two months of working in research on the documentary film, I was assisting in project management, planning an upcoming film tour. Now, as I finish up my sixth month in the company, I am managing the entire documentary film project. A bit scary, I'll admit. And it's a far cry from my dream of becoming an award-winning novelist, working in my home office and taking all my coffee breaks on the back porch with a view of the pasture. But this job was a door that opened and the Farmer and I decided I should pass through it.
It's wonderful to be able to pursue an exciting career, while coming home to life on the farm. It's busy, for sure. Weekends can be more exhausting than weekdays, when you're mending pants and the fences that ripped them, weeding gardens, cleaning house and mucking out stalls.
“It's almost two fulltime jobs you have,” my friend pointed out the other day, at our staff party on the farm. Some of my colleagues at gordongroup marketing and communications, many of them what we fondly refer to as “city folk”, made their way south on the 416 to the Fisher farm last weekend. We had a pig roast, a live band and a campfire. It was a beautiful day, and the animals were in fine form, coming up for handouts of corn from the visitors.
Yes, life is busy. But you never know what is around the corner: feast or famine, health or heartache? So, to put an old farm saying to good use, we make hay while the sun shines.

Buck-naked Belgians and Lucky Lambs

Ashley is a nudist. She loves nothing better than to doff her halter and run naked, tossing her hair. Good thing Ashley is a horse.
Sometimes it takes us a while to notice that our Belgian mare is, once again, naked. She comes sidling up, shaking her mane as if to say, “notice anything different about me?”
“Well, now, I don’t know, girl. Have you done something different with your hair? No…that’s not it…do you have any new bug bites? No? Are you in heat again? Aha! Your halter is gone! That’s just great…”
The halter is obviously a bit too large for Ashley. She can pull it off her head without much difficulty. This usually occurs while she is scratching her ears on an old piece of farm equipment or nibbling sweet green leaves off one of the highest branches she can reach. The halter gets caught up and after a few tugs, it is off. Sometimes the farm implement has been dragged halfway across the pasture in the process, but it does the trick.
Sometimes we get lucky and find the halter after a quick retracing of horsey steps around the barnyard. We know their usual hangouts. They like to lick trace minerals off the sides of the rusty manure wagon (ick – I know), they hang out in the shady cool of the big barn on a hot summer day, and they scratch their dry, bug-bitten hides on the antique tractor skeleton in the yard. I tried looking in all of these places this morning, and could not find the bright blue halter that was once on my Belgian.
The horses have been spending an increasing amount of time down in the meadow these past few days, as the early morning mist is quite refreshing. I suspect the halter is lying down there, in the row of trees at the pasture’s edge. It’s going to take me a while to find it.
On the other side of the barn, I have thirteen lambs, each around seven months of age. They share a pasture with the cows, because I don’t want them in the same area as the rams. We have recently opened the gate to allow them into the second field, because they had given the front field quite a close shave and needed access to more feed.
The problem with this scenario is that they cannot seem to find their way back to the barn at night.
I am often summoned from the house by that telltale bleating that sounds like someone singing “M-om! I’m stu-uck!” Honestly. It’s a very distinctive sound.
A few days ago I went out to find the source of the call and discovered that five sheep had made it to the second field and five more had climbed the stone wall inside the fence, trying to find a way over to join their herd mates. I played the pied piper, beckoning the little ones back down the field to the gate and around the corner to meet their friends. Once reunited, the lucky 13 bounded off together to find a corner of the barn to snuggle in before dark.
The next day, I went out to the yard just as the sun was coming up, to feed the dogs and cats. Again there was a funny little “ba-ah” song coming from the corner of the barnyard. This time two little lambs had squeezed through the gate to join their elders in the main barnyard. The other 11 were lying up against the fence. Obviously they hadn’t found their way back up to the barn the night before, and spent the night huddled together against the tree. I felt bad. I had been enjoying dinner with my hubby and a friend who was visiting from out of town, instead of checking on my lambs. What kind of shepherdess forgets to check her lambs? Now they would have to be led back to the barn for water. Clearly they couldn’t find the way on their own.
As I trudged through the muddy barnyard back to the house, I saw the mist on the pasture lifting to reveal the Belgians. They were standing shoulder to shoulder, staring in the same direction. I followed their gaze and saw a coyote running along the fence.
I went back to count my lambs. Phew. Lucky 13.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Jim's Cuddy

We went on a couple of camping trips this summer, the Farmer and I, and spent just enough time in the old trailer to come to the realization that it is reaching the end of its days.
I’m sure someone who knows how to repair screens and bring rotting canvas back to life can get a few more years out of it, but that someone isn’t me.
Our main agenda when camping is to get away from the farm and onto the water, so we thought we might look for a boat. With a sleeping cabin. We weren’t actively looking – just strolling through marinas examining the myriad of styles, colours and price tags whenever we were near the water. I was pretty sure we couldn’t afford a boat. Not with me commuting to Ottawa and my little car on its last legs. What I need is a mini-SUV. With a “Farmwife” licence plate. But the more we looked, the idea of a floating camper started to grow on me.
I was raised in the boating life. My mom has a picture of me tucked under the bow of a speedboat in my baby seat. In the photo, I have a smile on my chubby face. I’m pretty sure that was gas or motion sickness-induced, but Mom says I enjoyed the ride. The waves put me to sleep.
For most of my childhood, we took the first two weeks of July and went camping at Bon Echo Provincial Park. Dad bought a boat that was perfect for water skiing. These were the days before wakeboarding, which everyone seems to be doing now. We would get up before 6 to get on the water while it was still unrippled and smooth as a mirror. Eventually the friends that we made at the campground joined us.
At my father’s memorial service last year, more than one person mentioned to me that Dad had taught them to water ski. Even when on vacation, he was a teacher.
Mom joked that Dad had “two-foot-itis”. Every year, his boat grew two feet in length. Eventually, the boat was too big to ski behind, and by the time Mom and Dad were empty nesters they had a complete floating cabin that served them well on long trips. Dad would spread charts of the waterways out on the table and plan these trips well before the start of boating season in May. He loved boating as much if not more than he loved snomobiling.
One day about a month ago the Farmer and I were just slowing down on River Road outside Manotick when we noticed a boat and trailer parked at the end of a long drive. It had a “for sale” sign on it. I commented that I could see a price was written on it.
“Let’s just check how much it’s going for,” I said, and he pulled over so I could hop out and take a look.
Well, that was reasonable. I was expecting it to be more than $10,000, but what do I know? I waved the Farmer over, who took a quick look at the price and then moved on to examining the rest of the boat.
It was twenty years old, but obviously well cared for.
“How much room do you have on your VISA?” he joked.
I jotted down the phone number, and we drove home.
The next day I came home from work and the Farmer was sitting there with a big grin on his face.
“I called the guy,” he said. “And he took me for a test drive. Wanna buy a boat?”
24 hours later we were the owners of a 19-foot cream-and-burgundy cuddy named Shylo. We can change the name if we want to, I suppose, but we don’t feel the need at the moment.
I climbed up on the trailer and lifted the canvas covering of the boat. I breathed in the marine and leather smell. A raft of memories floated in, Dad’s face in every one of them. Suddenly I could see Dad perched on the top of his seat, the wind in his hair, piloting his vessel through choppy waters.
I wondered what Dad would think of us buying our first boat. I told the seller the name of my Dad’s boat, and we chatted about the marina on the St. Lawrence where Mom and Dad had harboured for many years.
A few days later, we had some questions about the boat and called the seller again. This time he asked me, “what was the name of your parent’s boat again?”
“Thumper,” I said, “It had the bunny from Bambi painted on the side.”
“Well, it’s a small world,” the man said. “My son bought that boat from your father.”
Maybe Dad is up there orchestrating things. Maybe he isn’t. But I can’t help feeling sometimes that my father still has a hand in my life, he’s still watching, and he’s still there.
And I have a feeling he’s still on the water, his face turned to the sun.

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