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Monday, August 30, 2010

And so we fall...into autumn

“No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace
as I have seen in one autumnal face” - John Donne
They say a falling leaf is nothing more than the summer’s wave goodbye. Autumn is my favourite time of year. “Indian Summer” can bring thirty degree temperatures but the refracted light of the fall in Eastern Ontario is soft and gentle: not harsh and glaring as it was in summer. The evenings are cool and fresh, “good for sleeping”, as we Canadians are apt to say.
We caught Rambi doing the dance with one of the ewes a few weeks ago, so he and his friend Rambo are now trapped in a lambing pen, until December. He may have already taken care of a couple of ewes, so we will likely have a few Christmas lambs again this year. But the bulk of them will be born in the spring, as they were this year. It’s much easier. They’re in the barn for a shorter amount of time before the new grass is up. That means less hauling hay and water to the lambing pens for me.
The Farmer mentioned a few times that he might sell off most of the sheep this year, and slowly move our operations over to beef cattle. I will miss my lambs if that happens but I won’t miss the worry. I get really attached to them and when something goes wrong (like a coyote kill), it keeps me up at night. The Farmer says beef will be easier, but when I say that to other farmers, they laugh. And that worries me a bit too. Must do some more thinking on that one.
All of the stores have fall mums on sale now. I am trying not to buy one in every colour. It’s very tempting. I love love love flowers.
The nasturtiums and marigolds I planted in rows in and around the tomato and potato plants seem to have done their job. The Farmer pronounced it my “best garden ever”. I beam with pride. Even if I can’t get time in the kitchen, at least I can grow something for Sunday dinner. (I’m just kidding – I don’t really like cooking and am quite obviously well-fed by the Farmer).
It’s time to hem the school uniforms, buy the school supplies, and stock up on lunch foods. The Ex is over, the annual Fisher Farm party is over, and it’s all down hill from here – or up hill, depending on how you look at it. I love the changing seasons. It’s how we mark the passage of time.
Our horse is supposed to be pregnant, but we don’t know for sure. She hasn’t been hiding behind the bushes with morning sickness, I haven’t seen her knitting booties the size of dinner plates, and she isn’t requesting pickles and ice cream. She isn’t doing anything different, actually. Misty spends her days in the back meadow with her bff Donkey. She comes up for water, attention, and shelter at night. We will watch her closely, to see if she starts to look like her ankles are swelling. A new foal would be a lovely way to welcome spring.
This summer lived up to its almanac prediction of being a thirty-degree scorcher. Let’s see how winter turns out. The Farmer’s Almanac (not my Farmer) says Winter 2010 in Ontario will be “bitterly cold and dry”. Thanks for the warning. I prefer a snowy winter, because the snow is beautiful, it insulates everything (including the water pipes to the barn) and it gives you something to ski, snowmobile and play in.
For now, I will enjoy the fall. It must be right around the corner, because the tree that is always the first in town to turn (the maple outside Vincent’s salon on County Road 18) is already losing its flaming leaves.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wasn't that a party??

The Farmer and I got married on the farm, three years ago today. From that moment on, my life story veered in a direction that I never would have expected. And I am happier than I ever thought I could be.

Having a wedding at home is a lot of work, because you have to set everything up and tear it down again, but it sure is a lot of fun. We enjoyed ourselves so much, we repeat the party every year.

We don’t repeat our vows every year – the Farmer has had enough time now to realize that his Farmwife does not bake pies or shovel manure and I don’t want to give him the chance to change his mind – but we do repeat the celebration.

Our annual Fisher Farm party is just a chance to get together with family and friends – some that we don’t see all year, because of distance or busy lives or both. Filling our home with people we love is better than Christmas to me – and I get really excited in the week leading up to the event.

I do check the weather forecast, but I don’t get hung up on it. The last two years the heavens have rained on our party and it hasn’t dampened our spirits one bit. I just waited til the ground dried off, then I set out my paper bag lanterns to light a trail from the dance floor to the bonfire. Tiki torches were lit around the gardens, and a line of white rope lights was strung along the clothesline over the dance floor and around the porch. The Farmer obediently constructed, hung, assembled and moved everything according to my direction. Then he thought he would add his own little touch to the decorations: a giant wasp hive.

The Farmer thought the wasp hive – which is about the size of a basketball net – would make a nice addition to our sunroom. He hung it from the rafter, over the door. I knew he had spent the previous two evenings spraying the hive with Bug-Be-Gone – but I wasn’t all that surprised when one and then two slightly intoxicated wasps staggered into the doorway of the hive and then fell out onto the floor.

I had visions of the Mayor sitting down to his meal with a wasp landing on his head. Luckily, that didn’t happen.

The horse and donkey were very entertained watching all the people coming and going, and they seemed to enjoy the attention. They stood at the fence for most of the evening, allowing guests to pet their noses (and feed them bits of apple and sugar cubes). They moved on when stinky cigar smoke wafted through the air after dinner, but appeared again after dark when everyone moved out to sit around the campfire.

The kittens got plenty of attention – particularly HotDog, who narrowly escaped being cat-napped by the Mayor’s wife at the end of the evening.

On that note, we do have at least 5 people-friendly kittens that I would like to see adopted into a good home before it gets cold outside. If anyone is interested, please let me know. I will post photos of them on my blog:

It may be difficult to say goodbye to HotDog, however. He has endeared himself to everyone, including the Farmer. I have caught him watching TV with the kitten asleep on his lap more than once.

We had an early summer this year, and it has lived up to its almanac prediction of being a hot one. I hope everyone had the chance to attend at least one bbq or outdoor party this year. It’s a celebration of our summer season, as it draws to a close for yet another year.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Chicken Chasin' on the Farm.

After about two-and-a-half months, the time had come to send our chickens for processing (aka holiday with no return). So at 5:30 one weekday morning, we headed out to the barn in the early morning mist. The Farmer got into the pen with the little pecking beasties, while I struggled to stack the plastic cages that would hold seven birds each. In my own defense, they were big cages and heavier than they looked.

The Farmer herded the chickens into a corner, grabbed three or four of them by the legs, and brought them flapping and squawking to me. My job was to open the cages and direct their heads into the corners. If you get the chicken’s head into the corner, he stops fussing, I’m told. But they kept trying to wriggle out of my grip and peck me as I gently yet firmly pushed them into place, making room for three or four more. Once I had them in the cage, I put my palm on their soft sides to calm them. I like to think I send my animals off to market or to processing with a peaceful state of mind. And I always try to look them in the eye to say “thank you” for feeding us. Well, not every one of them – but I do make eye contact with at least one before they leave.

I don’t feel like I helped much but the Farmer says I did. He had given himself ninety minutes for the loading job and we were done in sixty. Time for coffee together before he left. I didn’t want him driving through Tim Horton’s with that load of chickens.

With a vacancy in the chicken house, the turkeys were upgraded from their cramped digs in the coop. They seemed to like their new home as it was much more open to the outside, giving them more fresh air and running room. Turkeys get bored: if you leave your stuff – like jackknives and hammers – lying around, they play with them. They are particularly fond of shiny objects. So things are never where you left them.

I much prefer the turkeys to the chickens, because they don’t peck, they are curiously entertaining with their synchronized gobbles and they are always happy to see me. They run over warbling to my side of the room when I hang my leg over the half wall and drop into their pen.

We are getting to know our neighbours very well and vice versa, whether they like it or not. One day Julie showed up at the door and announced that one of her little dogs had the turkeys “hostage”. I thought that odd, because our turkeys were in a pen. “No, they’re not,” she said. Sure enough, the turkeys were running around the barnyard in one big feathered wave, from corner to corner – but they couldn’t cross over to the open field because a fluffy little dog that looked like he would fit in a latte cup was doing a fine job of herding them. The dog knew the gig was up when he saw the two of us approaching, however, and allowed himself to be picked up and scolded.

“Oh, don’t be too hard on him,” I said. “If it wasn’t for him, I would have turkeys all over the field.”

I didn’t know how I was going to get them back in their pen, but decided to start by unrolling the wire fence and stretching it across the opening to the pasture. Then I held my arms out and shooed them toward their pen. And they ran in. One by one, directed by my arms. That was easy.

I pulled the door shut and examined the damage. Obviously one of our cows had busted in. I wedged a piece of wood across the door and told the turkeys to stay put. A chorus of garbles replied.

Never a dull moment on the farm. I guess the neighbours are quickly learning that the bucolic existence they imagined can sometimes be a little more exciting than living in the suburbs. I’m sure they were quite thrilled to look out their kitchen window Saturday morning to see Bonnie and Clyde (aka Horse and Donkey) munching on their front lawn.

So her show dog pooped on my lawn and teased the heck out of my farm dog. As Julie said, I think we’re more than even.

To the reader who sent me his old collection of farm magazines, thank you very much! They are literary antiques.

Monday, August 16, 2010

915 Jig Street, Oxford Mills


Boatin' with Dad

On the long weekend, the Farmer and I decided to escape the farm with the boat overnight. We were heading for the wide open water of the Big Rideau. Mom offered us Dad’s old charts – the very charts that I bought him for his birthday back in the ‘80s. I carefully unfolded the weathered maps and watched as Mom pointed out various locations that I would remember.

“Here is where we rented that cottage when you were sixteen,” she said. “And here is a nice spot to stay overnight in your boat.”

Mom had written personal notes all over the map in her perfect script. And in the bottom right hand corner, Dad had written “Larry A. Leeson” in his familiar scrawl.

“Thanks, Mom,” I said, giving her a hug. I thought of how many times she must have pored over those maps with Dad in summers past.

The Farmer and I hit the road, our little nineteen-foot cutty trailering behind us. In a short time we were in the village of Portland, at the public ramp.

We launched the boat successfully and were booting along toward Rideau Ferry so I decided to make us each a sandwich. I put the maps down for a moment and started slicing kielbasa.

“Hey! What the…” the Farmer yelled, yanking on the throttle. Suddenly we were coasting over a shoal, and the water was just three feet deep. I guess that’s what happens if you put the maps down for a minute and you aren’t familiar with the area.

“Oops, sorry. I wasn’t paying attention. So that’s what those white markers are. They sure aren’t very big, are they? You hardly see them until you’re on top of them.” I rambled on, nervously. I could tell the Farmer’s teeth were clenched under his moustache.

“Let me see that thing,” he said, as he took the map from me.

As we passed each island, I held my finger on the corresponding map blob. I was just thinking how nice it would be if someone had bothered to put water-facing signs on these islands, when we suddenly passed a sign declaring “Davidson’s Point”. I looked at the map. Mom had marked “Dad’s favourite spot” on an island nearby. I studied it carefully as we floated past. I could almost see Dad on the shore, his dog at his feet.

The afternoon sun spilled diamonds all over the water as houseboats, jet skis, cigarette boats and cruisers passed us. We took our sweet time heading back to the dock.

We ate dinner on the Galley patio in Portland that night, and watched as the big boats pulled into the marina, one by one. Some guy I will call Guido the pimp narrowly missed taking out one of the boathouse posts as he backed his cruiser into the parking spot, with the “help” of his equally inebriated idiot friend. Just as they settled themselves and quieted down, the boat carrying their female counterparts showed up. They were no less impaired, and the restaurant guests on the elevated patio held their collective breath as the boat glided into place directly beneath us. Luckily, the revellers were sufficiently tired out from their day of partying and didn’t keep us up all night.

I slept like a rock on our boat.

The next day, we cruised up the opposite shore of the lake toward the Narrows locks. We thought we would sit and watch the boats for a while, so we would know what to do when it was our turn.

As we stepped up onto the dock, I noticed a leather-tanned, shirtless older man wearing well-worn shorts, boat shoes and a gold chain. “That’s what Dad would look like if he had lived another ten years,” I mused. That was his perennial summer outfit. The man was just sitting and watching the boats, and talking to the lock staff as if he knew them well.

Just as the locks opened and the boaters readied themselves to leave, the tanned man appeared beside me. He was chatting with the girl who was turning the big wheel to open the locks.

Something about his voice, his comfortable manner, and the whole boating environment brought memories flooding back. Dad.

The tears came rushing out before I even knew what was happening. My husband gathered me up in his arms and walked me away from the people.

It’s been three years since Dad got sick. Part of me keeps expecting him to show up, especially in this setting, on the water, where he was so comfortable.

It just isn’t fair. He should have been there with us in his own boat, showing us the way.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

and our Gordon Setter. Cody. Encased in ice.

this is a Gordon Setter.

this is what the elegant lady known as "Ember" looks like. sort of.

this is the tail I saw behind the cedar tree. note the curl.

Lady and the Tramp

It was 5:30 in the morning and my dog was barking. There are two problems here. Number one: it’s Sunday. And number two: Cody doesn’t even bark when people come up the laneway anymore. It’s like he’s on work-to-rule or something. So when I heard this barking, I knew something was up. I put on a robe and pressed my face up against the window screen to see down the driveway. Nothing. But the dog kept barking. I grumbled, looked at the Farmer (who was sleeping on his good ear and hearing nothing), and trudged downstairs.

Throwing open the front door, I snapped at Cody, “Shut it! It’s too early! What are you barking at?!”

Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a tail. A very special tail. It wasn’t a fluffy barn cat or farm dog tail. It wasn’t a skunk or squirrel or raccoon tail. It was a thin, black tail, curled up like a fiddlehead. And it was coming from something behind the cedar tree. I took a step closer.

Out from behind the tree bounded a big, black afghan hound. She pranced, danced, sprung and leapt across the garden as Cody bellowed. Then she stopped, sat down in the middle of the driveway about 50 yards beyond the end of his chain, and stared at him while he barked in frustration. For about two minutes she watched as I tried to quiet him. Then, bored of the game, she got up and left.

“Well. Wasn’t she somethin’!” I asked Cody. He seemed to agree, whimpering and retreating into his cave under the porch.

The next day, when the prancing pooch returned to terrorize my mutt, I met the owner, our new neighbour.

“I’m sorry – we lived in Manotick for years and never once did my dogs escape,” Julie explained. “But now, the minute I open the door, she’s off like a shot. She just can’t stay away. I don’t know what she sees in him,” she said, looking at my dog. “And now she is in heat!” The woman was obviously distressed. Has she never seen “Lady and the Tramp”, I wondered?

“Well, don’t worry – he’s fixed,” I said, motioning toward my dusty, tangled, slightly overweight Gordon setter. My neighbour breathed an audible sigh of relief.

Cody looked like he was going to bust a gut. He shivered and shook and tried to stifle a whimper, but it got out anyway.

Ember, as she is called, comes by her grace honestly. She is a very well-trained, champion show dog. She regularly takes part in regional, national and international dog shows where she meets every breed of well-groomed, well-bred, distinguished and dignified dogs. But she wants Cody. He looks a bit like her, with his long black hair. She thinks he is the perfect mate. She appreciates his roughness. She wants to run and play and chase sheep with him. She wants to curl up with him in the dustbowl under the porch. She wants to have little half-breed babies with him. But, alas, it is not meant to be. And if she keeps running through the bushes between our two farmhouses, she will get burrs in her long hair. And so she was put on a clothesline run, just like Cody.

Last night Cody and I went for a walk. We headed down the road, past Ember’s house. He spotted her and she spotted him. She started barking. And jumping up and down. Acting not very show dog-like at all. I hurried Cody past the house. He seemed embarrassed by her display of emotion and gladly followed me away from the scene. Julie came out of the house and we had a chat. She managed to get the dog to calm down. As I turned to leave, we heard a heavy sigh. Ember was lying flat out, with her face in the grass. “Is that the front end?” I asked. All I could see was long black hair. Even her nose was covered. I have never seen a dog do that before.

“Oh. She’s upset,” Julie said. Just then Ember lifted her head and looked at us, as if to say, “I cannot believe that you won’t let me free to come and see him. Don’t I look very, very sad right now?” What a drama queen she is. Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of Miss Ember at the Fisher Farm. Even if Cody is fixed.