Search This Blog

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Whatever would possess someone to do that? The love of farming.

It was 32 degrees today. The Farmer went out “at the crack of sparrow fart” as my dear father used to say, before it got too hot, to sow a field. I kept thinking it was a bit warm to be expecting seed to grow. And a bit dry. We have been in a semi-drought condition all spring. But what do I know? Do not question the Farmer. I have learned, even if you do point out the obvious, he needs to decide for himself. He smiled, gave me a kiss on the cheek and headed out into the dusty back forty.
A few hours later he was back to fill up his coffee. The man doesn’t eat before noon but at least he hydrates. He also took a jug of lemonade and a bottle of water. Back out into the heat. What was I doing while he was toiling in the summer sun? I ventured out to refill the dog’s water. I checked on my turkeys. I pulled a few weeds in the vegetable garden, took note of the plants that will need to be replaced due to the drought,  and then I decided it was much more comfortable in the farmhouse.
I spent the morning cleaning floors and doing laundry. The first muggy heat of the day took over the sunny side of the house and tried to push its way inside. I pulled the blinds and closed the windows on the east side. The smell of bacon filled the kitchen, for I planned to tempt the Farmer with a BLT at lunch. I heard the ATV pull up at the gate, then the heavy footfall up the steps to the back deck. The patio door slid open and I saw a dirty arm reach in to grab a towel off the hook. Next I heard a splash, and a yelp. Seventy-six degree water is a bit of a shock when your skin is scorched. Good thing he has a strong heart. And good thing no one can see into our backyard. Farmers rarely take the time to don a swimsuit.
I carried a pitcher of Arnold Palmer (iced tea and lemonade) to the pool, handed it to him and watched as he drank the whole thing. “Are you hungry?” “Yep.” He’s a man of few words when he’s been using every ounce of energy to get a job done in extreme temperatures. I pointed out that he had a completely black face except for the eyes, and he dunked his head and gave it a scrub a few times.
Probably at least once a season I find myself wondering, whatever would possess someone to do that? Working a field in the sweltering, blistering heat of summer. Plowing a path to the barn in the life-sucking, aching cold wind of a winter blizzard. Well, at this point, he’s committed. He has lives depending on him gaining access to the barn no matter how much snow has fallen. And this season, we have realized our cattle herd is outgrowing the pastures. We needed to turn and re-plant a couple fields so they would be happy with their hay again come winter. That will help them make good milk and grow healthy babies in the spring.
But what possesses a city boy to get himself into this position where animal lives depend on him and he will be forced to get off the cozy couch by the fire or out of the cool shade poolside to go and do some muscle-ripping, sweaty farm work? For my husband, it was a summer spent on his uncle’s farm near Winchester. I believe it was a dairy farm. He got bitten by that bug that makes you see the weather, the seasons, and life a different way. The farming bug. Some people are born into the farming life; others come across it by accident. We need more of the latter because we are swiftly running out of the former. Farm families, like all families, just aren’t having as many kids as they used to. Not every kid raised on a farm wants to farm. So this lessens the chances of the family farm tradition continuing to the next generation.
As I set up my stall at the Kemptville Farmers’ Market it’s awfully nice to see so many first-generation farmers embracing the lifestyle, accepting the hard work and hardship, and sowing the seed.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Letting nature take its course

Dear Dad. I was fine until I saw the meme that started, “Dear Dad.” It pictured an empty bench in a forest setting. It said, “My mind still talks to you. My heart still misses you. And I know in my soul you are at peace.” Then the floodgates opened. I cried for half an hour.

This was our ninth Father’s Day without you. I like to think your energy lingers with us and in some ways your spirit remains. But that gives me mixed feelings because if you are still somehow aware of what we are thinking and doing here in life, then you are aware of the fact that I still break down at the sight of your face. I stare at the photo and I can hear your voice. Sometimes it is all a bit too much, so I pace myself.

I allow one memory at a time. I will sit quietly, as in meditation, and wait for a memory to come forward. Then I will enjoy it as a daydream. I can feel the sinewy muscles of your arm over my shoulder. I hear your teasing, gruff voice. I smell your after shave. I have many photos of you but your face is emblazoned on my brain so I don’t need to look at them often. I take some of them out and arrange them in the gathering room for Father’s Day. They prompt memories and conversations. It almost hurts to put them away again. To put you away.

There is no way to get over the grief of losing a loved one. You must let nature take its course. Time seems to numb the pain but it never really goes away and is easily revived. I don’t think you wanted us to cry for ten years after you died, however. I’m sorry. I’m trying. Most of the time, I remember you with laughter. I speak to you when I need reassurance or extra confidence, before a big meeting or presentation. It might be just that I am reassuring myself but I feel much calmer and stronger after those one-way conversations.
Cathy and Mom make a point of going to your favourite places on Father’s Day. They can’t get to some of those places by boat anymore, because we no longer have your boat. So they drive over, and then they hop the fence to the restricted zone. It’s all very espionage-like. They giggle and reminisce and enjoy your presence. I remember thinking I didn’t want to focus a day on trying to connect with your memory because it would just hurt too damn much. I said I didn’t want to join them when they first asked me, because I could just picture myself crying all day. But now I’m wondering if I’m ready. Maybe on the tenth year I will do more than just take out your photo. Maybe I will join Mom and Cathy at your favourite places. If you are aware of us still, I think it would make you happy to see us together for the sole purpose of remembering you. Why else would we be on a snake-infested island with no boat??

We had twenty people for our Father’s Day dinner tonight. It was a raucous event. We watched the baby in the pool, splashing her own face and loving every minute of it. We mentioned your name and raised a glass to your memory.

After dinner we watched the sun set over the field the Farmer just planted. He managed to cut himself on the only dangerous part of the seeding machine, but says he is bandaged up and ok to go away on his fishing trip tomorrow. Fishing and farming and my husband is a happy man. We planted the two middle fields Dad, because the cattle are rejecting the hay that comes off them and they need a replenishing. A fresh mix of clover and timothy and fescue.

Your family is doing well. Your grandson is an athlete and sometimes we see you in his moves. Your granddaughters are beautiful young women, inside and out. You would be so proud of them. Your great-granddaughter flashes me a crooked smile I think you must have given her before she fell to earth. We miss you very much. And we are letting nature take its course. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

What is a peaceful co-existence, anyway?

All over the countryside, farmers are raising your Thanksgiving dinners. We brought our turkey chicks home a couple weeks ago. The Farmer had carefully shored up the convertible horse stalls again. They have been used in the past to raise chicks, birth cattle and protect newborn lambs, as well as their intended purpose which was of course to shelter our two horses. Now that we no longer have horses we use the stalls because they are small and close to the house. So we can easily be roused if there is a ruckus therein.
This morning the call of turkey chicks attracted me to the barn. I noted the Farmer had put a live trap on the back porch in the attempt to catch the fat, lazy raccoon who eats the cat food every night. At first I wondered why the cat’s water bowl was full of mud every morning. Then one night I flicked the porch light on after dark and there she was. The roundest, fluffiest raccoon I have ever seen was crouched there over the feeding station, carefully washing the cat kibble in the water bowl before stuffing it in her mouth. I hissed at her and she gave me a look of disdain, then waddled away.
We need to catch this raccoon, because one night a couple years ago either a skunk or raccoon took all 57 of our chicks in one night. So far she has evaded us by being too large for the live trap. I hate to think we can’t live in peaceful co-existence with all beasts on the farm but sometimes an animal ventures too far into forbidden territory and their basic instincts kick in. Next thing you know, we’ve got a massacre on our hands. It ain’t pretty. I am going to research how to scare away raccoons. It’s for her own good.
It’s getting nice and warm out now, and my daughter wants to take the baby in the pool. The Farmer cleaned and treated the pool, and it’s warming up nicely. The only problem is we have strategically placed bird droppings all around the pool ledge. In the fifteen+ years the pool has been there, we have never had bird droppings on the ledge.
I scraped the poop off the pool ledge, cleaned it with bleach spray and then attempted to place uncomfortable-looking, colourful objects around the perimeter to deter the bird. A pool brush, a dustpan, a few floating candles. It did not deter the birds. They returned, and what they did next really surprised me.
As I watched in amazement, the bird landed precariously on the pool ledge in between the assortment of colourful objects. She carried some sort of sac in her beak. Placing the sac on the ledge, she flew off. Moments later she returned with another sac, and placed it a few inches from the first sac. She continued this activity – or perhaps it was more than one bird helping out – until the north edge of the pool was once again covered in tiny sacs of bird poop. I went online to find out what the heck was happening.
My bird expert friends explained. A grackle has been cleaning her nest by depositing her babies’ fecal sacs on the edge of our swimming pool. Charming, and yet disgusting all at the same time.
The good news is, when the baby birds leave the nest, there will be no more deposits on the pool ledge. I was happy to hear that, because the last time I watched, she was dropping the sacks directly into the pool.
Maybe if we bought a pool blanket the bird would have to take her little bags of poop elsewhere. Because the bird experts say she really wants to deposit them beside a pool of water. She can carry them to the creek as often as she likes and I won’t say a word.
There is one type of animal on the farm who seems to be taking this peaceful co-existence thing a bit too far. The barn cats seem to be confused about their job descriptions. Not only are the birds free to soil the pool unchallenged, but I just saw a mouse walk by.
Farming takes a lot of patience and understanding.