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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Concern for the cows

I don't get the chance to get up-close and personal with our cows very often. They sleep in the barnyard most nights but at the crack of dawn they fill up with water for the long walk down the pasture. Their days are spent grazing the back meadow, away from pesky sheep, donkeys and horses.

They can see (and possibly smell) the corn crop but they can't reach it. The nearby forest offers a bit of shade and the sun beats down on the middle of the field, perfect for the midday nap. Our cows don't lie close together. Each one has his or her own piece of pasture for personal space. The other day I drove past a farm on Patterson Corners Road that was recently sold. The new owners brought in horses right away, and now they have some cows. I had to take a second look at the first cow, which appeared to be double-wide until I saw two heads, it was two calves lying very, very closely together. Cattle are herd animals and they don't like to be alone, particularly when they have been moved to a strange new environment. My cattle must be feeling fairly secure, then.

At high noon on a hot day, the cattle will usually meander back up the long, winding path they have made through the fields back to the barn. They rarely stray from this path, when the unanimous decision has been made to return to the barn. They head straight for the water trough in the corner, drink their fill and then head back out to pasture. I think of the effort it takes for them to lift and move their huge Mack-truck bodies, especially when they are pregnant. However, if you stand out in the barnyard shaking a noisy bucket of corn and call as loud as you can, you might see a feat of athleticism not often witnessed on the farm.

When inspired (by promise of a treat), those cows can kick up their heels and run like huge dogs. If Betty is particularly excited (because she thinks someone might get to the treat before she does), she adds a threatening hip-twist and kick to the side. This is supposed to remind everyone that she is the leader of the pack, the Queen of the herd and the first to be offered any special snack. It may work on the rest of the cattle but to the rest of us it just looks ridiculous.

When the calves were born in January, we had one that couldn't figure out how to nurse. His mother would give us a worried look every time we entered the barn to feed another bottle to the calf. Normally when this happens you get in the pen and bring the calf under the mother, grab a teat and squirt some in his mouth until he takes a hint and latches on. That trick was impossible with this duo, however, because the mama cow wanted to kill the Farmer the minute he set foot into the pen.

So we raised that calf on formula. Two 2-litre bottles in the morning and another two at night. He survived and thrived on eight litres of fake milk a day. That truly amazed me.

Now when you look out at the pasture you can definitely see that this calf is the smallest of the bunch, but he has plenty of fat on him. And according to the Farmer, he has lots of energy too. Yesterday the cows were calmly grazing when they heard the tractor entering their barnyard. With purpose in their steps, they started back toward the front field. As soon as she spotted the bale of hay on the tractor - the first of the season - Betty broke out into a run. She led the pack for a moment, and then was overtaken by the little one. He is light on his feet, and very fast. He probably had no idea why everyone was running, but he wasn't about to be left behind. Now that he has experienced the whiskey smell and taste of silage for the first time, however, you can be sure he won't forget it.

Because she didn't have a calf on her all season, Ginger is the fattest of the bunch. She is likely going to birth first this time, because she went back into heat earlier than the others too. Hopefully we can get her in the Farmer's new cow chute soon, because we need to cut that collar off her before it turns into a choker necklace.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Walking for a cause close to home.

The first year I did the Terry Fox Run, I didn't know my dad was sick. The next year, he had just found out he was terminal. And as I rounded the bend on the last stretch, I could see him standing near the finish line, waiting for me. By the next Terry Fox Run, Dad was gone.

I tend to daydream, and fall behind on these walks. So I'm usually on my own after the pack leaves me behind. That last year I did the Terry Fox Run, I was left alone with my thoughts, walking through the streets I grew up on. With my Dad. I cried the whole way.

The big fundraising walk to end women's cancers was cancelled in Ottawa this year. So Kemptville planned their own. And even better, the money stays here, in our hospital. I liked the idea of raising money so that women in North Grenville can get their mammograms here, with state-of-the-art equipment, in a comfortable environment. We all have to get these tests done when we reach a certain age. We might as well make the best of it. Kemptville District Hospital has gone one step further: when you come here to get your mammogram done, you will be wrapped in a plush, fluffy robe. It sounds more like a spa than a hospital. I love it.

I was ready to pledge support to the walkers but I had no intention of walking myself - not after that last teary episode. And then Tracy contacted me. I have known Tracy Gourdine-Campagna for as long as I can remember, because our parents used to double-date when they were young and they remained good friends as they raised families. I remember visits to her family farm in Richmond, where they had horses. After high school I lost track of Tracy. But I know that at the age of 19 she lost her Dad, to cancer. He was sick just three months. We have that in common now. Four years ago I lost my Dad to cancer, after just four months of illness. Tracy's mother and sister are also undergoing treatment for cancer now. Tracy told me she would walk with me in the Kemptville fundraiser, and so we signed up for the 10k.
My dog trains me almost daily on our 4k walk so I was pretty sure I could handle the 10k. On Saturday I showed up at the hospital start line and there was Tracy, decked out head-to-toe in pink. Note to self for next year: collect crazy pink stuff to wear. I never quite understood why people would want to form teams, train for weeks and then walk 30 clicks in one punishing day. I get it now. It's all about moral support, the sisterhood, girl power. Save the Boobies! Yes, you are quite welcome to do your fundraising and write a check to the hospital at any time. But doing the walk as part of the group is quite an experience.

Tracy and I did our stretches with the other fifty walkers, motivating dance music pulsating behind us, and we burst out of the starting gate with the others as the screaming horn was sounded. As we rounded the bend on the first stretch through the college grounds and headed into the forest, deep in conversation, we fell behind. Thank goodness for road signs and helpful guides at every major turn. We walked up to the North end of town, grabbed some water at the halfway point and continued through the Ferguson Forest Centre. The sun shone down on us and it was a beautiful day for a walk, and a talk.

As we crossed the finish line back at the hospital, the host from In Stride events announced our names over the speakers and everyone cheered. Well that was fun. The Manotick Village Butcher treated us to burgers, sausages and pulled pork sandwiches. Prizes were awarded for top fundraisers, and the girls wearing the most pink. Masseurs had their tables out to offer massages to the walkers. Everyone took photos, compared notes and said goodbye til next year.

Tracy and I stretched out our tired legs and then headed to the pub for a beer. The only complaint I have about the whole afternoon is that it just wasn't long enough. Next year we are doing the 30k.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

For these things we give thanks.

Thanksgiving. It is no longer the largest gathering at the Fisher farm: our August party wins that title. But it is traditionally the time when the most family members gather together under one roof, to celebrate our good health, good fortune and blessings. It also marks the beginning of another season - my favourite - and so it reminds us of the passage of time.

Everything went off without a hitch this year: the Farmer was up before dawn to prep the 29-lb. bird that grew in our own barnyard. I got up a bit later and started setting the buffet table. We have learned to simplify the routine. In previous years we moved living room furniture out into the hall and onto the porch and set up long dining tables. Simplicity is best. It allows for freedom of movement, and now I feel as though I had a chance to speak with each and every guest.

All five daughters showed up, but I forgot to get a group photo. I will have to remember to do this next time they are all together in the same place, because it doesn't happen as often as it used to. And there is another thing we forgot to do. Because we had a buffet and sat scattered all over the house, we weren't eating together at long tables and we didn't say our Thanksgiving grace. I think I'll say mine now.

I am truly thankful for my health. I have a friend who is going through treatment for breast cancer and she is on my mind every day. I woke up Sunday morning and as I reached to put something in the freezer, my back spasmed. I was in pain most of the day. But I know it's temporary. I am grateful that all of our family members are in good health.

I am thankful that we have very little stress in our lives. We don't commute more than a few minutes to work, we have simple lifestyles centred around the farm, local restaurants and good friends. I rarely even go to town on the weekend. My truck sits unused from Friday to Monday. The Farmer and I are not fans of making plans. We like to take things as they come, leaving our schedules open for possibilities. And we never try to pack too much into one weekend. Life is too short. Weekends should be slow.

I am thankful for good friends, new and old. Sometimes they join our family for Sunday dinner, and sometimes we join them for an impromptu gathering, like we did Saturday at a friend's hunt camp. The camp was back behind a cornfield and a soybean field. I didn't realize we needed to travel a short distance by ATV along the highway, otherwise we would have brought all the necessary identification, etc. After a nice turkey dinner, we climbed aboard the 4-wheeler and headed back up the muddy lane to the farm.

As we pulled up onto the highway for the short sprint across the bridge, a police car pulled us over.

We got our lecture and were left to sweat a little while the officer wrote his report but, in the end, he believed us when we said we originally had no intention of driving near any roadway. We thought we were simply going through a cornfield behind the house. And he said he could hardly hand us a ticket after seeing that ridiculous basket strapped to the front of our ATV, like we were just coming from Grandma's house or something. I am thankful for police officers with a sense of humour. And thank you to our hosts' son, who pointed out the trail along the cornfield, which would eliminate the need to go anywhere near the road. Yeah, that information would have been helpful at the beginning of our visit.

As we head into fall and wake up Thanksgiving Monday with a generous layer of frost on the ground, I am thankful for so many things. We have more than enough, so we share with others. And we are blessed to have others with which to share.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Thanksgiving decor

Enter fall with a float and a fair

On Friday, all the leaves on the farm were still green, pretty much. On Saturday it was a beautiful day and the Farmer decided to take his canoe out to the creek to water-test it.  I watched as he drove the ATV out over the pasture, down the tractor lane and into the cornfield, his handmade cedar-strip canoe bouncing along behind him on the trailer. The soft, refracted light of autumn was shining on the trees, and the leaves seemed to be changing colour before my eyes. I was supposed to be spending the morning writing, but who could resist? Fall is my favourite season. I grabbed my camera, pulled on my rubber boots and headed for the creek.
I followed the winding path that the animals had made down the side of the pasture, followed the tree-lined tractor lane under a canopy of branches and stopped to take some photos of the cows. Mocha came over for her close-up. The calves stopped eating and turned to stare at me. I hauled myself over the gate into the cornfield. The Farmer only had about a half-hour lead on me but he was already out of sight around the bend in the creek. There was no sign which way he had gone, north or south.
I went back to the water’s edge and found a turtle. He posed nicely for a photograph, blinking at the sun. When I bent to return him to his mucky home, I lost my footing and put one boot deep into the quicksand mud. I sat down on the edge of a big old tractor tire to empty my boot just as the Farmer rounded the bend. He has a knack for showing up just as I’m doing something stupid.
I took a few shots of my husband proudly paddling his canoe in the sunshine. It really is a beautiful boat. I managed to climb in without tipping us over and we paddled up the creek.  Passing through a murky spot, we scattered a school of mud pout. As the water cleared again we came across a few mounds of branches and noticed a huge beaver sunning himself. He submitted to a photo session before sliding silently into the water. The lack of rain hadn’t completely dried up the creek but it was very shallow. I acted as lookout as we navigated our way through boulders and the bedrock bridge that the deer use for crossing. It really was the perfect day for a paddle. But after about twenty minutes, my crushed legs were pins and needles. We turned around and headed for home.
Saturday evening we were invited to the Metcalfe Fair by our friends Lynda Parke and Stan Carruthers. Stan is something of a legend in the horsing community in this area. He was featured in the book “Horse of a Lifetime” and he just received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee award for his work with 4-H and the Clydesdale Association. We were treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the work that goes into preparing the animals for competition, the cows and horses standing stock still for a bath and grooming.
As I sat in the lounge for the potential buyers of the 4-H animals, I watched the kids working the crowd.  We met the little girl who became famous last year for bursting into tears as she showed her prize lamb, realizing that it was being sent to slaughter. The woman who bought her lamb last year was so touched she gave the animal back to the little girl to take home. I wanted to buy her little black ewe lamb this year, and was prepared to pay $4 a pound for it, which was pretty much the minimum (but the most we high-rollers can afford). The 100-pound lamb was sold to the same woman again this year, for $12 a pound.
It was impressive to see the kids working so comfortably and confidently with their animals. In some cases, young women were leading 1200-pound steers into the ring for auction. It was somewhat emotional to watch, seeing how they cared for these animals that would be sold for meat. But alas, that is the farming life. At the end of the evening I realized I hadn’t seen a single young person with a cell phone. They had more important things on their mind.
As I looked out my window Sunday morning, I saw orange leaves covering the ground under our first naked tree. Hello fall. I love you.