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Sunday, November 3, 2019

Cree Autumn 2009

I was once working on a documentary film with the Crees of Northern Quebec. We travelled to Waskaganish to film the fall goose hunt. Because I’m a talkative sort, I got chatting with one of the elders one morning while we were “enjoying” porridge with moose broth (it’s a thing) in front of the fire at the riverside hunt camp. I told him I live on 200 acres, with a mile of creek, and the geese come in hordes to settle on the water at sunset. My description of the Farmer’s happy hunting ground piqued his interest. A few weeks later, Gordon Blacksmith and his hunting party arrived at our farm.
There were 15 of them in total, in several large Ford pickup trucks, but they weren’t all here to hunt. The men consulted with my husband about the biggest flock sighting in the area, and made plans for the next morning’s pre-dawn hunt. The women unloaded bags and asked about where to do Christmas shopping.

A few young people clambered out of the cab of one truck. And then a very old couple were helped down out of the seats they had been in for the past 12 hours. The white-haired gentleman was introduced as Johnny. His partner Annie hobbled over to me on swollen feet and handed me a soft package wrapped in brown paper. It smelled of smoke. I unwrapped a pair of soft moosehide moccasins, hand sewn and beaded. I was told she had made them herself. What an incredible gift.  I thanked her, and led the way into the house, knowing they would be hungry and tired.

I started calculating beds and bodies, wondering where I would scatter them around the house. It turns out I didn’t need to worry – they headed for the largest bedroom at the end of the hall and laid sleeping bags side by side across the floor. Johnny set his up on the couch in the back room. That’s where I found him sitting, staring at my Gustav Klimt collage of nudes and cherubs. He had a twinkle in his eye.

We had lasagna and salad and garlic bread for dinner and everyone turned in early, exhausted from their day of travel. Most of them didn’t speak English. Gordon translated their soft Cree mumblings for us.

The next morning, the hunters left before the rest of us awoke. My husband took them to the St. Lawrence River, where they hunted and had a hot shore lunch and a nap. At the end of the day, the women started preparing things for the goose cleaning. They asked me to lend pots of hot water and old towels. I gathered the required items and watched from a distance as they headed to the shed, chattering to themselves and shaking their heads.

“The women want to know if you clean your own geese,” my husband reported, snickering. “I told them you don’t clean geese. But they noticed I did the cooking last night so now they are wondering what it is exactly that you do around here.” He ducked in time before I smacked him.

My attempt at baking bannock did not impress old Johnny. He attempted to eat it but it was too tough. Dipping it in his tea didn’t help, as it disintegrated in soggy clumps. He laughed and whispered something to Annie, who giggled like a girl.

The hunters went out every morning and approached the landowners wherever they found large flocks of geese. In most cases, the farmers were very happy to have someone ridding them of the geese that were tamping down their fields and eating their corn. At the end of the week, Gordon and his friends had harvested 80 birds. They packed the cleaned meat into 12 coolers they had brought for the occasion, and prepared to head home. A feast was already being prepared in the community hall, where all of the bounty would be shared.

Before they left, I watched as the youngest hunter stood on the porch and squinted at the sky. He put his hands to his mouth and made a call that mimicked the sound of a goose call perfectly. And then, the flock that was flying past turned as if they had left someone behind, and flew straight over us. We stood in complete silence as they rushed over our heads; the only sound was the beating of their wings.


Feed the birds

I am no ornithologist. I’m not even a twitcher. But I do love to watch birds. When we first put up the feeder at the farm, we received regular visitations by a band of the usual suspects – blue jays. Those greedy monsters gobbled up all of the feed and bullied any smaller bird – humble wren and chubby chickadee alike – so that they had the entire store for themselves. I went through birdseed like crazy and decided I might actually give it up after the first season.

The next year I was working from home so I had a chance to watch the birds more carefully. I observed as the smaller birds hung out in the massive cedar beside the house, waiting for the jays to leave. When the coast was clear, the chickadees literally hopped down the length of porch rail and up onto the feeder, where they filled their beaks with sunflower seeds. I was surprised, because I assumed the smaller birds would prefer the smaller grains of wild seed to the larger seeds. I was very wrong. At the end of the week, a pile of wet, mushy golden seed was left at the bottom of the feeder, desired by no one. I decided to switch to a feeder menu of pure black-oiled sunflower seeds, and that is where the fun began.

I began to notice different birds at the feeder each week. I inherited birdwatching books from an old friend and set up with my binoculars and cup of tea by the window. I learned what to call each new pair and group of chattering, fluttering birdfeeder guests. We had a chime of wrens, a host of sparrows, a flight of barn swallows. This last group had introduced themselves earlier in the year when they dive-bombed us in the swimming pool, gathering sips of water.

One of the most amazing things I have ever seen – not in my own backyard but while sitting by the water – is a murmuration of starlings. These summer visitors from Arizona form a cloud overhead before swaying in a fluctuating, wavy dance that just takes your breath away. It’s a truly amazing thing to watch and it sounds beautiful too – the chorus of beating wings. If you haven’t seen a murmuration, search it online and watch a video. 

Each season we seem to have new visitors to our feeders – so I added another on the back stoop where I can observe while at the kitchen sink. Last year a couple of ruby-throated grosbeaks arrived: she with her subtle markings on a mousy brown coat, he with his dapper outfit of black, white and the romantic splash of blood red on his chest. We get hummingbirds at the wildflowers beside the deck every summer, and we are honoured with a visit from a pair of cardinals at least once every winter. Their red coats flashing against the snow always get a gasp out of anyone who sees them – and they are said to represent a visitation by a loved one recently departed.

Birds are often the subject of romantic imagery and prose. And if you watch them long enough, you begin to learn their different personalities. I can see why birdwatching might become addictive for some people, prompting them to spend all kinds of time and money on the pursuit of rare breeds. I’m just happy to see them enjoying the feed I put out for them, to help feather their nests for new babies and to fatten them up for winter.

It’s time to put bricks of suet out now, to energize the birds who are flying south. They need that rocket fuel to get them through the several thousand miles they will cover to Florida. Soon the main visitor to my feeder will be the woodpecker, who pulls seeds out of the gap in the side of the feeder and then hides them in a crack he has made in our wood siding.

Each weekend morning in the winter, the woodpecker ensures I do not sleep too late. He has chosen the siding right outside my bedroom for his store of winter food. The rat-a-tat-tat of his pecking rouses me from sleep slowly, with dreams of hammering and tap dancing before I open my eyes and realize it’s just that feathered jerk again.

I don’t know much about birds, but it sure is lovely to have them around. And all I have to do is lug a 25lb bag of seed through the door every week or so – a small price to pay for so much beauty.
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“I’m gonna pop some tags…only got twenty dollars in my pocket…”

I just went through my closet and put my summer things away. Anything I didn’t wear last season got put into an old pillowcase for donation. It will go straight to the Salvation Army, where they can likely just hang the clothes and sell them right away to support their programs and services.
Sometimes, if the clothes are more high-end and I want to recoup some of the cost I put into them, I bring them to the local consignment store, To Be Continued. Anything I bring in that sells puts ‘points’ on my account. It’s always a nice surprise to see I have something to redeem when I get to the cash. Many times I check out with new purchases that cost me nothing. If the clothes I bring in don’t sell, I donate them to charity.

I did have a few old t-shirts and stained jeans that I don’t imagine anyone wearing again. Those are going in the donation bin in the Food Basics parking lot. I learned that even if you can’t wear the clothes again, the charity that rents the bin will get cash for recycling the fabric. Your old clothes, towels and bed sheets might end up as the stuffing for a couch pillow or dog bed. I just recently discovered you can also stuff boxer’s heavy bags with old clothing – so I will be donating mine to my son-in-law for his new gym (which is set to open later this year on Maley Street…).

I have found some pretty amazing things at our local thrift stores. I buy dresses one size up, then bring them to my seamstress, Michelle Rodgers on Townline Road, for a fitting. I save an average of $100 per dress or suit this way – and in most cases I couldn’t afford to buy those designer duds retail.
I found a soft, slouchy sweater that goes with everything casual and feels like a cloud. A red leather jacket that just needed the zipper repaired. A tweed car coat for long road trips and weekend workout clothes (my outfit for dancing around the house while I vacuum).

It’s always nice to have an extra pair of jeans – you need jeans for everyday that are so comfortable they feel like sweat pants, jeans for work and going out on the town, jeans for skinny days and jeans for days when you might have overdone it a bit at the buffet table. You need skinny jeans that fit inside your boots and wide leg jeans that go well with heels. But who wants to spend $100 on a new pair? I have found some pretty great jeans at our local second-hand stores, and the cooler weather of fall makes me want to go back and see what else has come in lately.

Which brings me to my great idea: what if someone designed a program where you could notify customers when something comes in that they have been looking for? Many retailers are having to up their game to compete with online shopping. I’m still all about shopping and supporting local when possible – and I love the idea of passing clothing along instead of buying new. It’s better for the environment as well as my bank account. But this is a way I can see second-hand stores evolving. Create a database of customers and their sizes as well as items on their wish list.

More than once I have discovered a treasure trove of recently donated clothing – an entire seasonal wardrobe of coordinating outfits – that fit perfectly. Clearly someone my size had just dropped them off. If we had a customer notification program in effect, I would know about these clothes the moment they came in, and the likelihood of a sale just increased dramatically.

I could also just post on social media when I’m looking for something in particular. I see people doing this on swap-and-sell sites and I think it’s a great way to find what you want in terms of clothing and even furniture, without paying retail. It’s great to know you are also helping someone to sell the things they no longer need – reducing the amount of stuff that goes into a landfill.

So if you’re a medium, sized-8 woman out there and you have some fall and winter items to recycle, let me know! Maybe we can do business.

 Image result for shopping woman with bags

Maybe my clutter sparks joy

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I went to a friend’s house the other day and noticed that, as per usual, every flat surface in the house was covered. In the kitchen, the counter tops were littered with spice and vitamin bottles, cook books, containers of utensils and baskets of gadgets. Knick knacks and tchotchke filled the shelves in the living room. I went into the bathroom and saw that every piece of makeup she owned – every eyeliner, lipstick and mascara – was lined up on display right beside the sink.

I’m not sure why she lives like that. Maybe she doesn’t have enough storage, or maybe she just likes everything out where she can see it. It wasn’t messy – everything appeared to have its place. But something tells me Marie Kondo wouldn’t last ten minutes in that house.

I think I fall somewhere in between my friend and the KonMari decluttering expert. I find comfort in a few simple things: books, family photos, things that were gifted to me, a few pieces of furniture that have been in my family since I was little. The rest I can let go, quite happily – and I have, many times over.

I get some sort of satisfaction out of the seasonal act of sorting clothing and getting rid of things. I don’t throw them out, however. When I decide to give something up, it’s going to the local thrift shop or at least the donation bin where, if it can’t be worn again due to the red wine stains, it can at least stuff a dog bed.

The Farmer does not share my joy of giving things up. He has an attic full of things he will never willingly part with. When we married and I moved in to the farmhouse, I decided to clean out a junk drawer. Big mistake. When I showed my new husband how I had cleaned out some of his cabinets, he said, “Great but where’s my stuff??” Then he proceeded to rush out to the burn barrel (which thankfully was not on fire yet) and rescue bags from the heap.

Moments later he found what he was looking for: a rectangular patch of fabric that had been folded over and loosely hand-sewn down one side. “It’s a glasses case my daughter made me when she was 7,” he explained, tucking it safely into the pocket of his coat. I don’t know where he ended up putting it, but it’s likely safe from my next urge to purge.

I can’t say the same for his hole-y socks, his busted up running shoes or the Henley shirt with the hole in the belly where he slipped with the knife while cutting meat one day. I think it’s safe to say all the joy has gone out of those things and the spark has long ago fizzled out. But just to be safe, I smuggled them to the donation bin when he wasn’t looking.