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Sunday, August 21, 2016

For the love of books: the region's biggest book fair is on Aug 26-28

My love of books started with Nancy Drew. As a primary school student I would head to the high school in the afternoon to wait for my dad, who taught there. After visiting the cafeteria for a still-warm chocolate chip cookie I would follow the strange maze of half-staircases and cavernous hallways to end up at one of the most modern rooms in the old building: the library.
There was plenty of natural light flowing into the library because of all the windows but the books were kept in the centre of the room, away from the light. If you stood in the centre of the bookcases you were surrounded by a dusty, musty smell that has been filed in my memory among my favourite perfumes and aromas. Dusty books are right up there with Guerlain perfume from Paris and fresh baked bread.
Every day I would sit on the floor in between the bookcases, facing a row of about 100 Nancy Drew books. I began at the beginning. Volume 1, The Secret of the Old Clock. Carolyn Keene brought girl-detective Nancy Drew to life, describing everything from what she ate to how she dressed, what she thought and felt and saw. I was mesmerized. And I read my way through that book, and another, and another, until I had finished the whole series.
When I didn’t understand a word, I went to the librarian, Mrs. Scott. Her nickname was Dusty but she was anything else. Wavy red hair and energy to spare, she bustled me over to the dictionary and had me look each mysterious word up in turn. I still do that today when I meet a new word.
After finishing the final Nancy Drew book in that original series of 100, I asked Mrs. Scott (her real name was Ramona) if there were any other similar books she would recommend. Books with strong female characters I could emulate in my imagination.
“You’ve finished all the Nancy Drew books.” She seemed a little bewildered and doubtful.
“Well…yeah…unless you’ve got more somewhere,” I answered.
When my dad came to collect me that afternoon Mrs. Scott notified him that I, at age ten, had read all the intermediate level Nancy Drew books. The next thing I knew, I was sitting alone in a stuffy office in the back of the library, taking a test to determine my I.Q. The librarian had suggested I be enrolled in classes for ‘enriched’ students from now on, because I was clearly brilliant. I failed the test miserably.
“I told you she isn’t enriched,” scoffed my dad. “She just loves books.” And that was the end of that.
After working my way through the books in the high school library, I got permission to walk to the town library after school.  Sometimes I walked and read at the same time. I knew the path between the public school and high school and college where my mom worked so well, I never tripped. Sometimes I was late for piano lessons, however, because I would walk right by the house with my nose in the book, missing the address altogether and having to double back. I preferred the afternoons I was free to head to the college campus where I would climb a tree and sit there, reading, obscured from the view of the college students passing on the pathway beneath by the thick tapestry of leaves.
Yes, I was a bookworm. I still am. It’s my guilty pleasure, my stress relief and my escape as well as my inspiration and my challenge.
This weekend, North Grenville will once again host the region’s largest book fair. It’s in a huge warehouse at the Ferguson Forest Centre. Money raised at the fair goes to the Kemptville Youth Centre, to help them pay their annual utilities bills.
The books are conveniently categorized so you can find your favourite themes easily. I always head straight for the Canadian female writers. Elizabeth Hay, Camilla Gibb, Alice Munro…but they have tens of thousands of titles every year and they sell for a buck or two so you can afford to venture off into unknown territory if you’re intrigued by something new.

So grab a big tote bag and head to the book fair this weekend, fellow book lovers. You can indulge this guilty pleasure, at least, knowing you are simultaneously doing something awesome for a very good cause in the community. Dibs on the Nancy Drew.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Keep doin' the rural wave

The Kemptville Farmer’s Market is more than just an opportunity for me to sell some books and unload a truckload of zucchini. It’s my social time. I get to visit with people I haven’t seen in years, catch up with close friends and meet loyal readers of this column for the first time. Many thanks to everyone who takes the time to stop by and say hi.
Sometimes I get really good suggestions for columns too. Last week a woman said she would like me to write about the disappearance of the rural wave. Many farmers still do it – it’s a hard habit to break.
When you’re on the road headed to market and you pass another pickup truck, you put two fingers to your temple and give a quick salute. Some of you just raise your hand slightly from the steering wheel. The light effort is symbolic of the casual nature of the wave. It may also be a sign that you are a bit low on energy, as you have been working hard on your farm. Your laidback nature is indicative of your lifestyle. You take your time and live in the moment, aware of your surroundings. The weather determines your daily activities. You’re on farm time. You probably drive a bit slower than city folk as well. What’s your hurry? That kind of wave. That is how it is done. And it seems to be a lost art.
I grew up in the country outside the bustling metropolis of Kemptville when it boasted a population of about 4,000. There were no subdivisions to speak of, and we knew just about everyone in town and the surrounding hamlets. We didn’t live on a farm but we certainly knew how to do the rural wave. It was a comforting gesture. It said, “I know you. We are neighbours. Go safely.” My father in his Chevy Silverado rarely missed the opportunity to wave as he passed someone he knew.
I still get to do the rural wave a few times a week, because I live near a single-lane bridge. If two vehicles are approaching this bridge from either side, you have to decide who will go first. Now let me tell you, it’s a sure sign that you aren’t from around here if you speed up to get across the bridge before the other approaching vehicle gets there. The neighbourly thing to do is to decrease your speed and pull over slightly. When you are close enough to the bridge you decide who is closest and let them go first, obviously. If you both reach the bridge at exactly the same time, it is common courtesy to let the other person go first. Pull over, signal to the ditch and that will indicate to the other person you are letting them go. Sometimes the courtesy volleys back and forth a few times before the final concession is made.
“You go first.” (beckons the other driver with a flick of the wrist)
“No, by all means, you go first.” (a come-along motion)
“Oh all right then, thank you very much.” (driver proceeds across bridge, deploys the rural wave).
I have to admit I don’t recognize half the vehicles or drivers that I used to. We have grown in population and I’ve lost track of who owns what farm. Other than at the single lane bridge crossing, there are only a handful of people I wave to when I pass them on the road. These are family members, and lifelong friends like, for example, Jim Perry. Being a truck dealer he is always in a different set of wheels but I’m pretty recognizable in Dora the Explorer so he usually recognizes me and waves first. As the descendant of a multi-generation farm family, the rural wave is a habit he likely won’t be breaking soon. And yet I’m sure when he recognizes and waves at some people, they probably give him a confused look.
“What? Is my headlight out? Should I pull over?” the uninitiated can be bewildered by the wave. It is probably best to reserve it for those who know its purpose.
But for those you recognize, wave away. You might get a text a short time later, asking you what’s going on, but you can explain you are just being neighbourly. We’re from the country and we like it that way.


Monday, August 8, 2016

Talkin' turkey on the farm

I was heading out to the compost pile early one morning when I felt I was being followed. The cows were already out in the field so it wasn’t one of them. I turned around and no one was behind me – but when I looked down I saw four turkeys standing at my feet. They had followed me across the barnyard to the compost heap and were curiously examining what I was depositing.
“Hey! How did you guys get out?!” They looked up at me and warbled in a perfect chorus. I have no idea how they do that. It’s like they communicate telepathically within seconds and decide they are all going to speak at once. They do it all the time and it freaks me right out.
The Farmer thought the turkeys might like their free range area expanded a bit so he cordoned off a sheltered area in the stable with snow fencing. Then he slid both the back wall and the front wall of the stable open so the breeze can pass through. It’s quite comfy in there, and about ten degrees cooler than outside. We put the turkeys back in their pen for safekeeping at night – we don’t want anyone escaping to wander the yard where they might get picked off by a predator. And it has become apparent that they are quite capable of escaping their snow fencing.
I walked back to the stable, the turkeys in tow. They shuffled along behind me, stopping occasionally to nibble grit and weeds on the ground. Examining the snow fence, I could not clearly see their exit route. There were no gaps in the fence and the bottom had been pinned down to the dirt floor. They must have jumped up and flown over the top. And the Farmer said turkeys with their pin feathers removed cannot fly.
Then I noticed a problem. Their feeders were empty. I dragged a 40k bag of feed off the pile and hauled it into the fenced area. The turkeys followed me in, gullibly. They commented in unison about the new development. They were getting fed. I wonder if they took any credit for collecting me from the barnyard and willing me to do their bidding.
Turkeys don’t eat much but we have a few more birds this year so they are going through the feed pretty quickly. Not as quickly as the cows though – I think our dozen  head and their babes  are halfway through their winter hay already due to the lack of rain and no grass growing on the meadow.
The turkeys have it easy. They seem quite content, and I would like to think they have made it past the age of being targets for raccoons and skunks. I could be wrong there, but fingers are crossed.
I surveyed their domain. The double horse stall had been turned into a turkey pen, and they are quite cosy in there. Turkey poop lines every flat surface – again, a sign that they are able to fly at least a few feet in the air, up to roost. I knocked some of the dung off, shoveled it up, and spread some fresh, dry hay across the spongy floor. Immediately several turkeys appeared on either side of me. They climbed up onto the piles of hay even before I could release it from my fork. I gently pushed them aside with my foot so I could spread the hay out.
“Oh, you like that, huh?” The birds nestled down into the dry hay, preening, cooing and clucking. The brushing action of the hay must feel good under their sweaty feathers in this heat. It dries them off and fluffs them up.
By the time I finished dressing their pen the birds were all shiny and white again. And the four who had escaped to go and find me looked quite pleased with themselves, snuggled together on a fresh pile of hay in the corner.
As I turned to walk away I said “goodbye – have a nice day, birdies…” and they all responded by warbling the same three notes together, simultaneously. I wish they would stop that. Freaks me right out.