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Monday, May 26, 2014

Gracie's wilderness adventure

It was a long, hard winter for Gracie the sheep. Her lamb was taken to market so she doesn’t have to nurse him anymore but she is still a bit underweight and needs to gain.
The grass on the pasture hasn’t exactly perked up yet. The grass on the lawn, in contrast, is lush and green. Sometimes I let Gracie out onto the lawn for an hour or two. The sweet green shoots of grass are full of nutrients for her. The other morning she was out there on the lawn while I was getting ready for work. The trouble started when the Farmer left for the office.
Gracie saw the big black truck pulling out of the driveway and decided to follow it. She is the only sheep left and she has been adjusting quite well for a herd animal, keeping company with the horse and donkey, but she remembers the truck that took the rest of the sheep away. I told them they were going on vacation and I guess she decided she was tired of being left behind and wanted to go too. She followed the truck around the corner and down the road a bit but got distracted by something on the neighbour’s lawn. I don’t know how long she was there, snacking on their wildflowers, when I got a phone call.
“One of your sheep is on my lawn,” was the report. I went as fast as I could but when I got there she was already gone, “into the forest.”
“That can’t be right. Sheep don’t like the forest,” I said, looking down the road at other possible destinations. Cows love the forest but sheep hate the mysteries of the bush with its myriad hiding places for dangerous predators. They never go in there. And yet there she was.
Halfway up the fence line I could see the cows gathering at the fence. I could just make out the little white fluff ball that is Gracie on the other side of the fence. The forest side. Sigh. This would mean going back up to the house, where I could enter the barnyard and the forest, through the one gate. I had to change into boots. And grab a bucket of sweet feed.
As I trudged and crashed ever-so-delicately through the brush, I thought, it’s true. You can feel a dozen eyes on you. I didn’t see any deer, raccoons, wild turkeys or coyotes, but I’m sure at least a couple of those were in there, watching my rude invasion. Gracie was not answering my constant call. She had made her way all the way down the fence line to where the cows were grazing, hoping to join them on the pasture side, no doubt. Finally I reached her.
“Gracie. Come here.” Nothing. She just stood and looked at me, her eyes wild with fear. I shook the feed bucket – a gesture and sound that had the cows rushing the electric fence. Gracie didn’t budge.
Normally Gracie comes when I call and follows like a dog. That clearly wasn’t going to work this time. I tried tapping her from behind with a stick. She just turned and looked at me, insulted. I tugged on her fleece and half-dragged her over to the fence. I hadn’t taken the time to change into farm clothes and hoped I wouldn’t permanently ruin my dress pants. I contemplated launching her over the fence, under the barbed and electric wire. I stood her up on her hind legs but couldn’t lift her off her feet. She had gained weight, after all. I tried shoving her head down to the ground and showing her the way under the fence but she wasn’t having any of it. She fought me every bit of the way. Then I got an idea.
I flipped her onto her back, the way we do when we are shearing. I held her down with my knee on her shoulder and lifted the fence. Then I very clumsily rolled her under the fence. As soon as her face was on the pasture side, she bounced up and away. Freedom!
Off she ran, to join the cows. Another adventure comes to an end.
I trudged back up through the forest, down the road and up to the house. Then I hopped in the car and went off to work, smelling faintly of mutton.

Singing the praises of our resident beast of burden, Donkey.

I don’t often write about Donkey. He gets a passing mention from time to time but unless he is living up to his name and being a real a**, he doesn’t get any press. I think it’s time to change that. Let’s sing the praises of Donkey. He is mischievous and stubborn but he does have a few redeeming qualities.
First of all, he is never sick. He can eat just about anything and never have as much as indigestion (that we know of, anyway). He is hardy in all kinds of weather, chilling in the shade on a blistering hot summer day and outstanding in his field (get it?) with a snowdrift on his back in winter.
Donkey also seems to have a handle on self-maintenance. When it’s time for his winter coat to come off, he just finds a patch of rough sand or gravel and rolls on his back in it. The extra hair comes off in a cloud of fluff and off he goes, his new shiny coat revealed for summer.
I’m glad Donkey’s constant traipsing over our glacial moraine pasture and its many stones trims his hooves fairly well, because I can’t imagine getting them trimmed. I asked Thad, the only person we know who can trim our untrained Belgian Misty’s hooves and he said he did work on a donkey once but the animal had to be placed in some sort of restrictive cage so that he couldn’t kick the farrier. No pedicures for Donkey.
According to the Internet, Donkeys have been used as working animals for over 5,000 years. I’m not sure how you get them to do any work as they are so mischievous but they certainly are strong and they do like to carry things. I never have any trouble putting the halter on Donkey; he stands stock still, lowers his head and acts like he’s being adorned with a mantle of which he is exceedingly proud. Like he’s the Mayor of Fisher Farm or something. Usually when he gets the halter put on him it’s because he has been chasing sheep and I need to dress him with the long gangsta chain that knocks him in his knobby knees if he tries to run. He seems to like it anyway.
A female donkey is called a Jenny; a male is a Jack. I wish I had known this when I was naming Donkey. Instead I was heavily influenced by my most recent reference: the movie Shrek.
Much like a horse, Donkeys are social, people-loving animals. They need plenty of mental stimulation because if they get bored they get themselves into trouble. Donkey has very dexterous lips. He can open gates and door latches with them. Usually this takes place because he can smell something delicious on the other side of the barrier but often it is just to get to the other side because he knows he isn’t allowed.
Misty is well aware of Donkey’s abilities, and shuffles around anxiously behind him until he has flipped the lock, the switch or the latch on whatever he is jimmying. And when they make their way into the shed without our knowledge, Donkey flips open the lid to the storage freezer like it’s his own personal lunchbox. The scent of molasses fills the air and Misty pushes her way into the space beside him to get her share. One day I walked in and Donkey had his head so far inside the deep freezer his front feet were off the ground. I didn’t get my camera out in time.
If the sheep are ever in trouble, Donkey is the first one to report to the house. He does this sometimes by braying but more often he does it simply by getting in our line of sight, i.e. directly in front of the kitchen window, and just staring at us. Then we know there is something wrong and we go out to investigate.

Perhaps the most important purpose that Donkey fulfills on our farm is as companion to Misty. When her sister died suddenly, she was lost. Then she felt that familiar nudge by a soft velvet snout against her flank. Donkey was there, and she let him fill the gap that her sister left behind. And he’s pretty good for entertainment value too. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

In praise of that magical mystery tour called Motherhood.

I became a mama on March 2nd, 1989. I was a month short of my 21st birthday. Following the birth, my British obstetrician brought me a six-pack of Guinness and told me to drink it. He said it would help bring in the breast milk. I will never forget the feeling when I rather suddenly, with a course of surprising convulsions in the breast area, morphed from a flat-chested recent teenager into a voluptuous, life-giving woman. I shuffled in my hospital slippers into the bathroom to admire my new bust in the mirror. Alas, I only got to keep those as long as I was breastfeeding.
The decision to become a mother, I once read, is like agreeing to have your heart beat outside your own body. And as a mother, you go through phases where you feel extremely close to and fulfilled by your children, and other phases where you feel slightly detached and removed. Motherhood is a mind game, a thrill ride and an epic drama, all rolled into one. We define ourselves by our success and failures, and motherhood can teach us harsh lessons.
Our relationships with our mothers (and with our fathers) help to shape us as people. Our relationships with our children help to shape them into the adults they will be and so on it goes.
I think the biggest lessons in my life have not been the ones I have taught my children but rather the ones they have taught me, as we all went through the phases of child rearing, divorce and blending into a new family.  I am so proud of the independent women they are – not because of my parenting but because of their own strong characters.
My girls and I were recently the models for a Mother’s Day campaign. We were asked to ‘glam it up’ for the photo shoot, in dressy black tops and full makeup, with our best hair. Getting four busy women together at the same time in the same place is a feat in itself. Milena had to be brought in the night before to sleep at her sister’s house in Kemptville. Anastasia was up before dawn as usual so that wasn’t a problem but I went early to Paulina’s place on that Saturday morning because, as a night person, I knew she would need a fire lit under her to get her going.
When I arrived, Milena was running around in search of a hair dryer. Paulina admitted she didn’t own one. Milena, who has her mother’s fine hair, was a bit distraught to say the least. “But I need it to puff my hair up! How can a person live without a hair dryer?!” I offered to run to Giant Tiger to get her one but she adapted. We each chose a black top to wear, as per the photographer’s instructions, and made it just a few minutes late to our appointment at the residence and photo studio of Elenora Luberto ( in the eQuinelle subdivision.
Elenora opened the door with a big smile on her face that said she was happy with our hair and makeup (despite our decision to opt out of the false eyelashes that most of us cannot deal with). Upon inspection of our outfits, however, Paulina and I had to change. Her v-neck sweater was too casual and my button-up blouse made it appear that I was simply late for work.
The photo shoot lasted just over an hour but it gave all of us a better respect for professional models. At the end of the session of arching that back, leaning toward the camera, squatting just so and holding that pose, we all felt like we had just been through a workout with a professional fitness trainer.
Here are some of the comments that I saved throughout the session, first from the photographer: “If I curse, that means it looks goooood.” “No burping, no farting.”
And from my oh-so-elegant and ladylike daughters whilst trying to hold the prescribed pose: “Hey I don’t fart.” “ooops I just burped.”  “My face is itchy…whose hand am I holding anyway?” “My quads are screaming!”
“I smell peanuts.” “I took a biscotti.” “Now I’m hungry. That was my stomach.” “Shut up!” And the prize-winner that cracked us all up: “Someone’s boob is on my shoulder.”
The resulting photos; some serious, some Mona Lisa smile, some busting into communal laughter, are timeless reminders that despite my days of doubt and nights of worry, somewhere along the way my three girls and I turned out okay.