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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Gracie in the Kemptville Christmas Parade

Gracie's turn in the spotlight

For November 22, 2012.
What a gorgeous weekend we just had. Saturday was just a blur, because I had several events to attend in succession, but I do remember it was a lovely, sunny and unseasonably warm day. A perfect day for a parade.
I planned it out in my head but I didn’t really ‘practice’ putting Gracie in fake antlers and blinking red nose, corralling her and putting her into the back of the truck for the big event. I’m lucky it went pretty much just like I imagined.
On Saturday morning at 10am, I walked briskly down the pasture with a bucket of crushed corn in my hand. I called Gracie a few times, trying not to draw attention to the candy I was carrying. Then I tripped on a rock, falling on my knees and spraying corn everywhere. When the majority of the sheep saw that rainbow of golden corn arcing through the sky, they swarmed me. The crush of sweaty sheep bodies was pretty oppressive but I managed to get out from under the huddle. And there was Gracie, standing off to the side, looking at me with, well, sheep eyes.
I held a small handful of corn under her nose so she could eat it. “C’mon Gracie. We’re going to be in the parade.” She (and about 99 others) followed me up to the barnyard. The biggest sheep kept bookending me, trying to block and tackle me the whole way up the path.
The Farmer and his friend came out of the house just then, and helped me to lift Gracie into the back of the truck, where she discovered, to her delight, three delicious bales of horse-quality hay. Many thanks to our neighbour Richard Lavigne for his donation.
“Call me if it all goes horribly wrong,” the Farmer smiled as I drove away. I’m sure he was picturing Gracie getting away from me and running down Prescott Street, stopping only to eat flowers and Christmas decorations.
At the parade loading site, Gracie munched hay and greeted passers-by while we decorated our ‘float’. We would be riding in the back of the Kinlar truck. Note to self: next year put Gracie on a real float, so when she ducks her head to eat more hay, she can still be seen by the crowd. Many just got a view of a fluffy butt.
Thank goodness I remembered to bring a poop scoop and bucket. I have never seen a sheep make such a mess of the back of a truck. She must have had a bad case of the nerves.  I walked beside the truck with my radio co-hosts Drew and Mark for most of the parade, handing out candy. I haven’t been in a parade since my Girl Guide years. It’s a little overwhelming, and if you tried to catch my eye and I walked right past you, I apologize. I was distributing candy canes and apparently I can only concentrate on one thing at a time. Next year I will simply sit on the float with Gracie and smile and wave. The parade became much more enjoyable for both of us when I ran out of candy and did that. Gracie was calmer with me by her side; she stopped bawling and lifted her head to survey the crowd.
Many times I heard “Look! A real sheep!”  I think the fake antlers were a nice touch. Gracie always wanted to be a reindeer. She wasn’t very fond of the red blinking nose, however. Kept trying to eat it.
As soon as we reached the end of the parade route, turned the truck around and upgraded to a regular speed, Gracie put her head in my lap and tried to scratch her antlers off. “Ok you can take them off now,” I told her, patting her head and giving her just a tiny bit more corn.
Back at the ranch, I opened the tailgate and tugged at Gracie’s wool until she was standing on the edge. I lifted her and she half-hopped out onto the ground. With a little “baa” she ran through the gate to meet Philip the ram, who had just been released from the barn to do his fall breeding.
All in all I think it was a pretty exciting day for Gracie. Probably not at all what she imagined when she woke up that morning.

Let the deer hunt begin!

Hunting season is pretty big in this household. The Farmer spends a few weeks preparing deer stands and practicing his aim on ducks and geese, which are in season from September. Occasionally he gets a coyote too, which are always in season—the little lamb-stealers — (insert profanity here).
I’m not crazy about duck and goose but the Farmer makes a mean demi-glace of fruit and spices when he serves wild game. He has his hunting party over for an opening-day feast, at the beginning of duck season and again at the beginning of the deer hunt. Sometimes I think this hunting thing is more about cigars, wine and food than the actual sport of hunting. Oh well. It keeps them happy.
I think it’s important for a couple to have separate interests, so they don’t drive each other crazy. Of course you need to share experiences together but it’s also good to have your own hobbies with your own circle of friends. Hunting is that for the Farmer. It was part of his upbringing and he made it clear when we married that it was his deal-breaker. It’s just part of his lifestyle, and he doesn’t have to go away to a hunt camp to do it.
We have 200 acres of land along a mile of Kemptville Creek. A lot of critters live here. We haven’t seen deer in years, maybe because of the coyotes. But this year we rented some of our land and corn was planted. Now the deer should return. The Farmer was out in his new castle in the corn the other night and saw a buck and three does. He was pretty excited about that.
Not everyone hunts, or even appreciates the value of hunting, so it’s important to be sensitive to others. We will occasionally find discarded beer cases or the carcasses of animals in garbage bags along our road during hunting season. It’s those hunters who give the sport a bad name for the others. You’re supposed to remain unseen and leave no trace behind.
The Farmer brought in a big doe a few years ago. I was told to stay out of the shed where he cleans them – he’s pretty considerate of my nerves. But one morning I was just heading off to work when I heard his ATV return.  I was shocked to see he had a huge deer strapped to the front of his four-wheeler.
I put my hand on her side. Her smooth hide was the exact gray shade of tree bark. I am always amazed that something so big and beautiful maintains such a secretive coexistence with us on our 200 acres. It’s like capturing a unicorn.
The Farmer watched me as I examined the deer. We both had tears in our eyes. It is always a humbling moment, I think, for a hunter. I’m no hunter but I understand the awe, and the mixed emotions. She was so beautiful.
I said a little thank-you to the doe, and stepped away from the ATV. Feeling brave, I offered to help my husband to lift the doe off the machine. When he untied the rope that restrained her, however, one of her long limbs slipped and an elegant high-heeled hoof tapped me. I jumped and screamed. And was consequently banished to the farmhouse. I guess I’ll leave the dirty work to the Farmer.
Last weekend the hunters honed their skills with partridge. Anastasia brought her hunting dog for the first time and he emerged from the brush with a bird in his mouth. It was a proud moment for Rupert, the huntin’ dog.  The hunters sighted their guns and prepared all their equipment for the deer hunt. The weather looks good: cool and damp. That will get the deer moving. There’s nothing sadder than a deer hunter on a warm November day. They like the cold.
My hunter will get up long before dawn (about the same time I get up for my morning show, actually) and pull on about eight layers of clothing before heading down to sit in a tree, his thermos of coffee in hand. He will watch the sun rise and possibly get a deer. And even if he doesn’t, he will be happy. Because for him, the ritual of being outdoors among the wildlife this time of year is enough.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

For a reason, a season or a lifetime.

I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, although sometimes that reason is very hard to find. I also think people come in and out of your life for a reason. Sometimes they are there to help you through a hard time, or to help you see things from a different perspective. And sometimes they leave your life rather abruptly, and you never see them again. Maybe that's because your lives take different paths, or because you just don't have anything in common anymore.

I like it when those people come back into your life again, even for a fleeting moment, so you can see how things have changed between you, and possibly have what they call 'closure'. Like closing the book on that chapter of your life.

When I was a young mom of twenty-one, I met some women who taught me a lot about motherhood and married life. But they had to drag me out of the house to do it. I didn't suffer from post-partum depression, but I spent those first few days at home with my new baby feeling quite bewildered and overwhelmed. I think I was in shock. I had a brand new life looking at me calmly with old-soul eyes, rarely crying, always trusting that I would know how to care for her.

One day there was a knock at the door. I answered it to see a pretty young mom standing there, holding the hand of one child, another on her hip. "Well? Does that kid have two heads or are you going to bring her out so we can see her?"

Ann was (and probably still is) a loud, colourful, beautiful personality that drew people to her. She pulled me into her circle and introduced me to my first friends as a new mom. One of those women was Mia. I think she had five children when I moved out of that townhome development and lost track of her. Now she has seven kids and three grandchildren. Facebook, as much as I curse it somedays, brought us back together.

Yesterday I got to sit and chat with Mia for three hours. We spilled secrets, confided hopes and fears and dreams, shared proud parenting moments and pored over photo albums. We had really good Italian coffee, then Pinot Grigio, arugula salad with pecans, then more Italian coffee. Finally it was time to say goodbye. I hope it won't be another twenty years before we see each other again.

I often wonder about Ann. She was an important person in my life when I needed cool young mom role-models. We don't live far apart, she ended up just about half an hour from where I live now. Our paths have crossed briefly over the past twenty years, once by accident, once by planned visit, once over the phone. I would like to see her again.

The past twenty years have encompassed three different lives for me: young stay-at-home mom, expat foreigner overseas, and now farmwife. Sometimes I can't keep track. I have lost chunks of memory and confused details of one life with another.

Intangible memories can be summoned up alongside tangible things: smells, sounds, sights. The season of fall reminds me of these things from my three different lives: wrapping a baby head to toe and stuffing her in a Snugli strapped to my chest so we can venture out, warm bottle and cup of coffee in hand, to stand at the park and visit with the other moms and children, running from the subway station to the bus stop in a blustery autumn storm in Taipei, the stench of fermented tofu and the perfume of wild orchids following me from the street market, the scent of the outdoors on my husband's cold cheek when he kisses me after coming in from a sunrise hunt in his deer stand.

As I walk the dog and breathe in the smell of the fall leaves, even earlier memories move to the forefront - memories that most of us have, of raking and then jumping into leaf piles, biting into a crisp McIntosh apple, the smell of a pumpkin when you reach in and pull out a handful of wet seeds.

While things turn brown all around us, take a moment to stop, smell and listen to the Earth as it prepares for winter. It's an amazing thing, and they don't have an app for it.