Category Archives: Farm
It is hunting season around here. My neighbour always kindly reminds me, or I might forget. Forgetting wasn’t a possibility the other day. It was so loud that I looked out the kitchen window to see if there was a confused hunter out shooting our sheep. Whether it was target practice or boredom, the dog and I stuck to the roads for our walk.
The kids and I call the woods that I usually walk through, “The Magic Forest.” It’s pure Narnia. Especially in winter. Kids who are ambivalent about walks in general, almost always accept invitations to the Magic Forest. Hunting season is short, but I miss my magic trees. Gravel, pavement, telephone poles, and plastic food wrappers (reminding me that living in the country does make the one immune to self-indulgent stupidity) are just not the same, even without the cars.
The only magic on the roads is when I happen on some of the creatures passing by. Skunks, deer, racoons, rabbits, a family of foxes, wild turkey. I always slow down to look. One night a porcupine stopped to look back so we had a conversation in the dark until he finally ambled off.
I think my favourites are the turtles. Every year in May or June, there is a week when the turtles line the gravel on the sides of the road like vacation destinations. A road just around the corner from us seems to be prime real estate. At dusk, huge snapping turtles dig nests in the gravel and lay their eggs. I always want to explain that the benefits of warm blacktop can’t possibly outweigh the danger of cars. I never see the babies, only mothers in the spring. But despite the fatalities, they keep showing up to lay eggs, so something must be working.
On my unmagic walk, I tried to convince the dog that removing the burr from her tail would make her more attractive. We have been having this discussion for about three weeks now. Turns out she doesn’t care what she looks like. Every time she paused to sniff something, I would give a futile attempt to grab at that burr with my fingers. Bent over trying to grab the burr in motion, my eyes caught sight of a hole. For a second I thought some moron had buried their white plastic garbage in the gravel, but logic prevailed and I took a closer look.
On the side of a most un-enchanted and ordinary road, magic. Turtle eggs. Already hatched. No baby turtles, but I dug out five or six dusty white broken shells and took them home to show the kids. In the dance down here between miracles and madness, mark one for the miracles.
After failed attempts to get my children to even look at pork heart or liver, I fed last year’s supply to the dog. Cleaning out the freezer this week, I found a beef heart. Please note, I grew up with a man who threw whole squirrels on our plates fresh from the frying pan. “That there’s some fine eatin,” he would say. I realize it is a small number of persons who can share my memories of plates around a table each containing a headless, but mostly intact squirrel carcass. Use your imagination and understand that I just couldn’t throw away that beef heart.
Some cultures would count it wisdom, eating the heart of fearless, Charger, the Holstein steer. Charger was named after a football team, but the name fit quite well. He went to the butcher ahead of schedule due to his proclivities for charging after whoever came into the field as well as refusing me exit from the barn one too many times.
In the back of my mind are the stories about all the research going on to get us to eat bugs someday. I question the number of us who would rather eat beetles than starve to death, but it makes the brave heart of Charger seem more appetizing. Not enough to get kids licking their lips though.
Subterfuge was obviously in order. After consideration, I selected chili. Big bowls of hearty beef chili with cornbread. Oldest son would throw fits if he knew. Instead, he had seconds. I imagined feeling a sense of satisfaction about frugal use of resources once I finally started preparing that heart. But that was nothing compared to the actual meal.
I work hard at my cooking. I care about variety, nutrition, presentation. Everything is as much homemade as I can get it. While some meals are met with gratitude, the response to others is somewhere between tepid and disdain. Perfectly good meals full of ingredients they all like are randomly met with staring and stirring. Bathroom trips are requested to unload pockets of food into the toilet. The dog is given innumerable numbers of carrots and small vegetables.
It takes it out of me to put so much effort into a meal, only to hear that the short people don’t think they’re in the mood for it. I don’t provide alternate meals. They eat what’s there or feel hungry. But them feeling hungry is really of no use to me. I can’t even see it.
So back to that heart. Chopped up in little pieces in that chili they were all swallowing. My goodness, I simply had not realized how deeply satisfying it would feel to watch them eat it. Knowing they would spit it across the room if they knew. Smiling, making pleasant conversation while they chewed. Even the next day, I find myself smiling. Knowing young Charger’s tongue sits waiting in my freezer for the next time I need a little pick me up on the justice front.
Mondays is farm project day. It gives my husband and I chance to see each other for free. Also, keep things from falling apart around here. This week the project was to clear the old road that winds through our woods. Now instead of a path you can walk, stepping over logs and around things, there is a clear road to drive a tractor through.
There is really nothing like taking care of the land that you own. It was a nice feeling sitting on the wagon as my husband drove it through our reclaimed road. We were doing a test drive for the birthday party hay ride we are planning later this week. Testing was a good idea. We found two problems. The first, came approximately 5 seconds after I told the driver to trust me to keep his eyes on the road ahead and to trust me to watch behind us, when a tree with serious curvature of the spine made itself known. The wagon, shaped like an L, was completely flat except for a five foot panel at the back. The base of the wagon passed the deformed tree just fine. Unfortunately for us, at about the five foot mark, the trunk grew out into the path. “Stop,” was not shouted energetically enough and the back wall of the wagon was relocated rather quickly to the mud of our new road. Wagon shape has moved from capital L to lowercase.
Problem #2 was more easily solved. Three cedars with trunks four to five inches in diameter made the entrance back to the field a little narrow for our wide wagon. I suggested we wait to get the chain saw, but the manager of the operation decreed that his bow saw would be good enough. A little effort later, he was right about that too. It was a very good day for him.
Getting the old road I’ve been nattering about since spring would have made me happy all by itself, but there was more. As we cleared the path, there was a log lying across it too heavy to pick up. We sawed it in sections and kicked at it. One of the rotten pieces came off the top half of the log as I lifted it. Lying there a Queen bee. I’d never seen one before. But there she was, all groggy and hunkered down for the winter, surprised by all the light. Twenty years ago I might not have stopped, but thank goodness one picks up at least a little common sense along the way. I went and found a tiny see through plastic case that once held fasteners of some kind or another and put her majesty inside so the kids could see when they got home.
Her plastic kingdom is now on the kitchen counter beside the pumpkins, where she will reign somewhat stupefied until further notice.
B2 brought home a list from school yesterday. He was supposed to write down ways that he was unique. The capitalized darkened sentence midway down the page caught my eye. “I am short and proud of it,” it read. The sentence before said, “I have a chicken named Tailless.” I remembered that I was remiss in writing about County Road 21, if I failed to write about Tailless.
In my perfect world, I would always be able to look out the window and see a chicken. Due to the effect on the driveway, my husband does not agree. I go in spurts leaving the coop door open anyway until the foxes catch on. The summer they got 14, we kept the chickens in for more than a year. Then this summer I started letting them out again. At first, strictly as a Sabbath observance. But the need for Sabbath grew until the chickens were out whenever the wind blew.
Foxes, observing the extended Sabbath struck again. They got three and a third chickens in one afternoon – which is when Tailless got her name. She took over sitting on the eggs all day for so long we thought she would never leave. B2 started disappearing into the chicken coop at odd times and taking five times as long to collect the eggs. Turns out he had fallen in love with Tailless and was hand feeding her grain, and stealing her scraps from the house.
“I need money,” he announced one day. “Do you have any work I can do?”
“I want to buy a chicken. It can live with the rest of them, but it has to be mine. Would you sell me one?”
“Ok,” I said.
“How much would a chicken cost me anyway? Tailless. How much would you charge me for Tailless?”
“Two dollars,” I said and his eyes lit up.
“I have that much on my dresser right now!” He tore up the stairs to his room and returned with a toonie. He handed it to me and we shook hands. Then he was gone.
Twenty minutes later, while I was making dinner, he returned from the chicken coop to talk shop.
“It feels so good to own something,” he said, hands shoved in his pockets, standing by the kitchen counter. “I went and told Tailless she was mine. It just feels so good, Mom.” And he was gone again.
Image one is a sleepy Tailless wondering why I am in the coop at night. I cropped it in usual techno challenged fashion to give a better view of her altered shape. Her tail has actually grown back quite a bit. Image two is her in action this morning whereby I learned again that photographing chickens (tailless or otherwise) is quite difficult, as they are always in motion.
Misty the pony: extremely not impressed that we had her best friend shipped elsewhere. Not interested in speaking to humans. Will tolerate them if she gets to speak to an apple or a carrot.
Anabelle the cow: all the change in the air has made her pregnant self grumpy. She takes it out on the sheep. Grazing for a while, drive them all to the next field. Drive some more. Graze. Drive. My children do this to each other also except they don’t eat grass in between figuring out how to annoy each other.
Sheep (population 12) and Chickens (population 43) are happy and content. If it doesn’t work out to be a writer, I think I would like to be a sheep or a chicken.
Cluster flies (population 1500 plus in house alone): They are in their drunken buzzing phase, perpetually disoriented and therefore bumping into things like me. I love our farm. I love our province and our country . . . but boy do I hate those flies. Self calming now involves not only vacuuming them from the windows, but taping the hose nozzle on the vacuum after every killing spree – – otherwise I can’t stop picturing them inside mating like mad and then flying out in droves while I sleep. I look at the little Japanese beetles (population in house of at least 17 too many). . . who apparently aren’t actually Japanese but do belong to the beetle family . . . and I shake my head at how worthless they are. Like lady bugs but NOT lady bugs and they don’t even eat flies. Pathetic.
Rats (population unknown – closer to 0 than a month ago): seem to have either finally developed a taste for the poison we bought for them, or found other quarters. Either option suits us and the chickens they tried to move in with.
After two weeks of searching high and low, and following even the faintest of leads, a man is on his way with a trailer to pick up Shorty. Although I have been praying madly, beseeching, growling, and otherwise making a nuisance of myself at the gates of Heaven, I now feel like crying. The horse I thought might want to kill me now looks innocent and misunderstood. I am reminding myself that this is how he looked right before I let him out last week and he turned into Happy Days, Fonzie/Get away from my woman, in 3 seconds flat. But I feel sad anyway and my thank yous that he is going are softer and less festive than I had imagined.
This is what having children has done to me. They have squirmed in when I wasn’t looking and set about enlarging the chambers of this grinch’s heart. The living ones are obvious enough. Having been away last week, the hugs to prove how much I was missed have almost cracked bones (mine, not theirs). It’s the lost ones that teach me more quietly. Maybe because they can’t talk. Years I have prayed for the gift of tears on the outside. Some sort of acknowledgement that the tears on the inside are real too. I wouldn’t have known that lost babies who never saw the light of day would hold those keys. That they would know how to sit it out inside the depths of me, kneading with tiny fingers at the hardness of my heart until it softened.
So that is me now. All those years of lip biting and tough talk and I am ready to cry at the departure of a danger to hearth and home. Albeit hiding in the innards of a cute little 300 pounds of small horse. I am a shadow of my former strength. A whisper only now of togetherness.
Still wouldn’t trade those tiny fingers. For anything.
This is one of my favorite pictures. It reminds me that friends don’t have to be the same to love each other.
I don’t know what a first post should say so I won’t try to say it. I went out to the barn today to measure from the withers on Shorty the miniature horse. While there I became overcome with grief at the plight of the horses. Best friends. Separated five days ago because of the screaming in the night and bold attempts to take the friendship to another level. Many attempts have been made to sell ill-begotten male horse. He is currently available for free to a good home, although I foresee the day when we will be paying someone to take him. A monthly installment plan or something.
Out at the barn everyone seemed jumpy. Feeling stupid that I am not a horse person, Shorty and I agreed on approximate measurements, whereby I looked at his withers and measured the gate near him at about where it seemed right. I had asked my husband about letting Shorty out again – how long can a mare be in heat anyway? He said, forget it, we just need to get that horse off the property.
It all seemed so sad and wistful and I don’t know, I just know that after I measured the
gate horse (info for the latest person helping us divest ourselves of said creature), guilt took over. Just for a little bit, said I. The husband cannot help that he has no heart. That his eyes cannot see the poor bedraggled animals. Confused. Wanting normal. Not knowing what to do. Innocent boy horse in barn while girl horse grazes depressed or doesn’t even bother, just stands there.
The rest is a blur . . . I let Shorty out – it being the right thing and all. They said hello rather quickly. Mare Misty turned and it became rather evident even to this equine neophyte that she was in heat in a seriously streaming kind of way. Shorty was rather quick on the draw, proving to the naked eye that in fact his diminished stature is rather no trouble at all to overcome with full size pony.
But this was not going to happen. Not on my watch.
I yelled bloody murder and waved my arms. They took off across the pasture for a little more privacy. Not to be outdone I ran, still yelling so as to ruin the mood, to get a bucket of grain. Thought on the way by to grab a broom. Couldn’t shake the warning from the vet that when she is in heat, he won’t take competition. He’ll come after you and mean to hurt you. So there I am, tearing after them in the field, bucket of grain in one hand, broom in the other. They slow down and I call their names, trying to change the tone. Communicate that we are one happy little family again and here I am out with a little treat. Not sure what even made me think to bring one out. Providence maybe.
Shorty noticed. His slow first steps turned into a dead run, so I dumped some grain on the ground and ran to the other side of the round bale. I wasn’t sure if he’d go for the grain or if we’d still be circling the round bale waiting for him to kill me when the kids got home.
He went for the grain. I snuck back to the barn and managed to get the mare to follow me. Kept my broom though. Finally got everybody back to where they were. Came in the house shaking. Took a while to get my heart to stop pounding out of my chest. Still cannot find a chart that lists how many calories I burned this way.
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