Sunday, 26 March 2017

A Year of Chickens

We  have recently celebrated the one year anniversary of Charlotte's rather startling arrival in our family. It took us about a month to build her residence after finding her on the side of the road so at this time last year she was still residing in our garage...but she was residing with us and we were beginning to get an inkling about our quirky little hen.
At the start of this year Charlotte surprised us by laying and more importantly leaving her little brown eggs for us to discover and collect each morning.  That lasted a month before she abruptly returned to her old habit of eating a fresh brown egg each morning for breakfast.  She is such a tease. I still relish my morning ritual of collecting eggs though. Even in the brisk -30 temps of winter I loved the routine of bundling up and heading down to the chicken coop to gather fresh eggs. Fresh eggs, fresh start to the day, fresh memories. I grew up with chickens and had wonderful memories of days spent in the coop amidst the gentle clucking of the flock. Making new memories to build upon those old memories is freshly cherished.  And while Charlotte's egg made a brief guest appearance in this ritual, the 87%ers have remained steadfast layers throughout the seasons.  I am starting to think the Hutterites may not know what they are doing because these gals are top notch...even at 87%. It has been a fascinating year of watching chickens go from being mere seconds of ending on a chopping block to happy little backyard layers. Their recovery process has been amazing and a lesson to all.
 I remember well the first day the 87%ers arrived.  From their heads swinging past the chopping block intact and into the dog kennel strapped onto the back of my truck, they bounced along a road for 45 minutes on the way to who knows where with few feathers for warm and overgrown claws that made it impossible for them to stand on a flat surface.  Then they  had to face an outraged little brown hen who insisted that they were not chickens and demanded that I return them immediately.  When I refused and asked Charlotte to roll up her feathered sleeves and get on with teaching these chickens how to be chickens, Charlotte (bless her little chicken heart) got on with the task at hand. Claws were clipped and eventually little new feathers began to appear on these 'non-chickens'.  They watched Charlotte merrily jump out of the coop each morning for a day of foraging in the yard and then watched her hop the two feet back up onto the ledge to get into the coop for nighttime.  Eventually they made their way out of the corner of the coop and started unsteadily walking about.  They tried a scratch or two on the floor.  They grew a few more feathers.  They noticed the laying boxes and would look inside them while they still just kept dropping their eggs wherever all over the chicken coop floor. By the end of the summer they were all hopping out the chicken coop door with Charlotte in the morning to go foraging.  In the evening, one of them was able to hop back into the coop with Charlotte while the rest of them still needed a boost up to the two foot high ledge.  By the end of Fall, all the girls were hopping back into the coop on their own. A couple of them had started laying their eggs in the nesting boxes. They had feathers!  I considered this all to be rather miraculous considering these ladies were born in captivity and kept confined in a tiny cage their whole lives having never been outside or seen the outside or even had space to walk about. I celebrated their recovery.  They had come so far. Charlotte even had them hopping up to the roasting rail in the rafters of the coop.  She had taught them all she knew.  They were laying their eggs in the nesting boxes. We celebrated their chicken-ness.  As we compliment the coop on attaining their goal of chickenhood, one 87%er has reached deep down into her ancestral baggage and has taken it even further.  She is a broody chicken. This has flummoxed Charlotte who is most definitely not a broody chicken.To take it to the most basic level...Charlotte eats her young.  Miss Broody Chicken climbs into the nesting box with the other eggs that have been laid there and then she lays her egg and nests upon them all keeping them warm in the hopes of new life.  The first time I went to gather the eggs from under Miss Broody Chicken she pecked me as mothers are wont to do when they are protecting their young.  She now understands that I will be collecting the eggs every day and she lifts up a wing to help with the process.  I have found up to four eggs in Miss Broody Chicken's nest. To go from a life of bare necessities to a near miss with a chopping block to the demands of a Charlotte teaching the chicken ways and finally to eclipse the teacher and reach into the instinctual yearnings of a hen has been quite the year for this chick. She stoically broods on despite Charlotte leaning in from her nesting box and asking the broody hen what the heck she thinks she is doing over there. "After all the egg is laid and it is time to get on with the day", Charlotte admonishes her.  But Miss Broody Chicken remains on her eggs with the hopes of nurturing life despite her near death experience. I have told her that she is 100% chicken.

Charlotte harassing Miss Broody Chicken to get out of the nesting box
and get on with the day...Charlotte does not understand broodiness.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Our Rose

It must seem like most of my blogs lately have been laments for dearly departed pets.  It feels that way to me anyway.  That is what happens when you decide that all of your children should  have their own pets and those pets all seem to arrive in your lives around the same time...and then they all depart around the same time.  That probably was not well planned by me; however, each of the children's pets arrived in our family in such unique and cherished ways that I have no regrets over any of it even as I say good-bye to our dear Rose.
I try not to play favourites but I will just put it out there that Rose's arrival into our family is my favourite tale ever.  She knew where she belonged and her determination to take her place in our family was fierce and unrelenting and without doubt.  In the end she was not to be denied and in the end we could deny her nothing. She was a grand spirit.
Rose was our first child's pet.  At the time we met Rose we had two older cats and an aging bassett hound that John and I had added to our family when it was just John and I. In 2000 we took the decision to move back to Ontario from Edmonton Alta trucking along our aging pets and three very young children with us...with the fourth child to arrive a year after our move. We moved into our farm in Kirby with its beautiful old barn that echoed silently.  There had not been animals in that barn for many years...except the mice and rats. On our first visit back to Listowel, Aidan our eldest at 4 years was romping and playing in the hay mow at Grandma and Grandpa's when we suddenly heard an exclamation of delight from him.  As he tells it, a little fuzzy ball of grey popped out of a hole in the mow energetically meowing at him.  When he looked down the hole in the mow, he discovered three more fluffy little balls.  We needed cats in our barn.  Grandpa and Grandma did not need any more cats in their barn.  They agreed that the litter of four could move to Kirby as soon as they were weaned off their mother.  Aidan promptly named the little grey fuzzy runt of the litter that had exploded out of the hole into his arms Rose.  He eagerly awaited her arrival in Kirby a month later.
While the intent of the litter was for them to reside in the barn and while the intent of three of the litter mates was to remain happily in the barn, Rose had other intentions entirely.  According to her there had been a massive misunderstanding.  According to John, the misunderstanding was entirely on Rose's part. So while John vehemently declared that the kittens would be barn cats and that our two geriatric adult cats in the  house would remain the only house cats, Rose vehemently declared through the window of the dining room every evening at supper time that she belonged in the house.  Our supper times became a stoic ritual of John eating his meal and kids crying for the kitten while the kitten pasted itself on the outside of the dining room window meowing and crying to be let in.  Not to be deterred in the face of John's unrelenting opposition to her relocating to the house, Rose found a hole into the basement and soon took up her pleading song from the very floorboards beneath John's feet.  In the end, he could no longer take the yowling from under the floor, the crying of the children and yes maybe even the crying from me to please let the poor little kitten into the house. Rose knew to the centre of her core from the moment she exploded out of the hole in the mow into Aidan's arms that she was meant to be his cat and meant to be a part of our the house.
From the moment she entered our house she was Aidan's cat forever and for always.  She was his BIGGEST fan even as the littlest cat we had ever seen. When Aidan would go stomping up the stairs to his room destined for a time out, Rose could be found stomping up the stairs right behind him and hanging in his room until the time out ended.  When Aidan had to cool his jets on the bottom stair and rethink his 'not so great' decisions, Rose would be found sitting on the stair with him vigorously debating the injustice of it all. She played outside with him.  She played in the house with him.  She slept with him every night.
Rose connected with us as a family rather than connecting to the house that we lived in. The first time we went on vacation after Rose joined our family, we hired someone to care for the farm while we were away.  When we returned we were informed that the little grey cat had not been sighted once during our absence.  In great fear that she had been carried off by a coyote or some other such rascal we ran about the farm calling her name.  Eventually we spotted a small grey dot hip hopping across the back field on its way to the house.  It was Rose.  Apparently if her family was not staying in the house then she was not staying in the house either.  Eventually Rose got used to our annual vacation and opted to spend them in the vacant house rather than the woodlot but she was always overjoyed at our return making it clear that she had simply tolerated the vacuous vessel of a house while we were gone.
After Rose joined our family I may have said to John that I thought that each of the kids should have their own pets so that they might experience the bond shared between Aidan and Rose.  John may not have agreed but the pets may have come rolling through the front door of the house anyhow. And somehow that decision may have grown into the idea that each child would have a cat and a dog and then somehow we may have ended up with more cats in the house than children due to one child having a wee cat hoarding issue (ahem Harriet). With the arrival of each new pet, Rose would march through the crowd right up to the new pet.  I never ever heard her hiss but she could certainly meow.  She would give the new pet quite the meowing introduction and then she would reach out with her paw and slap them vigorously several times on both sides of their face and then turn and march off.  She did that with cats and dogs alike.  We always loved witnessing Rosie's introduction to a new pet and even when I decided to add a wolf-like critter to our menagerie last September a much older Rose still  marched up to that wolf River and gave her a good talking to and several slaps for good measure. Despite my best efforts River will still chase Russell and Willie Nelson through the house on occasion.  She never chased Rose.
17 years after Rose joined our family she has left us. We are heart-broken. Her fierce spirit will be dearly missed but we will always remember how we loved our Rose and how she loved us. And that is all that really matters in the end. Rest in Peace Rose

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

My Trip to Iceland

I have always wanted to go to Iceland.  But the only time that John has been there it was a rather bumpy trip on a military aircraft so he has been loathe to return. On our way to Paris we would be routing through Reykjavik. Even though it was only going to be a brief turn around that would not see us even leaving the airport, I was still pretty darn excited to even be touching down in the country.  And I hoped that a smooth landing by the pilot might change John's mind about returning to the country.  In my wildest imaginings, I even hoped for a layover that would leave time for me to go visit the Blue Lagoon.  I packed my swimsuit on the off chance this might transpire.  We did have that smooth landing and everything went as planned with our flight to Paris taking off as scheduled from Reykjavik.  John was starting to entertain a trip to Iceland in the was all going as planned.  Until our return trip from Paris that is.
Our flight was delayed significantly out of Paris and in the end, it turned out that our plane from Paris would be landing right when our plane to Edmonton was supposed to be taking off.  We asked the flight attendant about our chances of making that connecting flight.  She seemed to think it might happen...politely yet doubtfully.  And suddenly all thoughts of the swimsuit packed for the Blue Lagoon went out of my mind because I love a challenge.  Instead I focused on making that connecting flight that seemed all but impossible.
The plane landed and I burst from its doors running up the ramp full tilt with my backpack on and swinging my purse like a Viking with a battle axe. I tore into that terminal to check the gate for our departing plane and even the realization that our plane had docked at the furthest possible point from the plane loading for Edmonton did not dull my enthusiasm for this challenge.  Off I went through the terminal thundering along like I was going into battle and then I began to slow and slow some more...and then my husband (with his bad knee) passed me...and then my daughter who does yoga once a month and calls that a workout passed me...and I came to a stop winded and wore out and I called ahead to them to keep going and that I would just stay in Iceland.  "It seems like a nice place", I said. "C'mon" John said, "get going.  I will run ahead to the gate and see if I can hold the plane."  We knew it was still here because each screen we passed indicated that the status was 'Last Call for Boarding'.  He and Harriet carried on through the terminal while I lumbered on well behind them no longer swinging my purse in the air but rather dragging it on the ground behind me.  I finally got to Passport Control.  I was never so happy to see Passport Control!  You always have to wait at Passport Control.  This was a chance to stop and catch my breath.  But no...the customs agent waved me forward and hurriedly stamped my passport with speed I have never witnessed from a customs agent ever.  It would seem she had linked me to the man and teenage daughter who had gone through before in a great rush to make a flight. She was even laughing.  I do not even want to know what I must have looked like to her. At this terminal when you come out of Passport Control you end up in the Duty Free Shop.  It is like a china shop and full of breakables.  Ohhh, I thought.  I must slow down (even more) as you should never run through a china shop.  But no, the shop lady hastened me on.  'Hurry', she waved.  'Run!'.  Are you friggin' kidding me?!?  I could not believe this.  I wanted to tell her that I was this was not the Amazing Race and that I was merely attempting to catch a connecting flight to Edmonton...No chance of that communication happening as she hustled me through that shop.  Around a corner I went and down another long corridor heaving and gasping as I went.  At the end of the corridor was the check in agent for our flight and just beyond her I could see my husband and daughter already checked in and waiting for me.  The agent scanned my ticket and I staggered past her and bent over and started coughing up a lung.  Over that din, I faintly heard my daughter observe, 'You are just like the chubby bear from The Lorax...'
It would seem that Icelandic people enjoy a challenge as much as I do because they somehow managed to get our luggage onto that connecting flight.  I think John may end up back in Iceland sooner than he imagines because this chubby bear could really use a Blue Lagoon....

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Fresh New Year, Fresh Adventures...Fresh Eggs!?!

Happy New Year!
I know that we are a couple of weeks into the year and these greetings are a little late; however, I have been waylaid with an unusual development on the ranch.  I have never been one to make resolutions in the new year beyond my ongoing goal to live this adventure called life the best that I can live it. I do enjoy celebrating the start of the new year though and we always have a family dinner where we toast the fresh beginning of the year. So on January 1st, 2017, when John came striding up our forest path with a big smile on his face after visiting the chickens, I thought to myself that he was really getting into our New Years Day festivities.  Then he produced the object that had brought such joy to his face...a little brown egg. That brought our entire household to an abrupt halt in our preparations for our New Years day festivities. You see, despite have a little brown chicken called Charlotte, we do not get little brown eggs.  Since the day that the lovely Charlotte joined our menagerie in March of 2016, she has eaten all of her eggs despite my attempts to dissuade her of this habit.  Apparently the hot mustard trick works for every other chicken in the world except for Charlotte.  In the end, we compromised.  Charlotte could eat her egg as long as she did not eat the eggs of the 87%ers or teach the 87%ers to eat eggs. She held up to her bargain and then in late Fall just stopped laying eggs all together. That was fine with us.  Charlotte's personality more than makes up for the lack of little brown eggs.
When the little brown egg arrived on January 1st, I will confess to a momentary delusion in which I believed that one of the 87%ers had somehow genetically modified herself overnight and started laying brown eggs instead of white eggs. January 2nd dawned accompanied by quite the hustle and bustle down to the chicken coop.  And sure enough there was another little brown egg. I was initially skeptical and thinking that Charlotte may be just teasing us with possibilities but we are now over two weeks into the new year with a little brown egg to account for each day. I don't know if chickens make new years resolutions or if this is just the next leg of our adventure with Charlotte but I do know that she has made the start of 2017 pretty darn amazing. While Charlotte remains nonplussed, the 87%ers and I are standing up and cheering for the little brown egg every morning.
Hope everyone else is off to a great start on their adventures in 2017 too!

Sunday, 13 November 2016

The Lessons of an Ass

There is a lot in life that we can learn from donkeys. I remember well when Muffy first came to my childhood farm. As kids we were utterly fascinated by this spotted creature with long ears. We wanted to get close to her and just touch those ears! I remember spending hours lurking in the field, hiding in bushes, and belly crawling across the meadow only to have her step away at the last minute...right before the coveted touch. She never got too excited about it all. She never expended energy running away unless it was absolutely necessary.  She never went bucking off across the field farting like the pony. She just stepped out of reach. It was a situation she did not know and she preferred to watch and learn first.  She did not see any need to make a scene or a commotion or get too buzzed up about any of it. She just stepped away and watched and learned and stepped away. No fuss. No muss. Just stepping away. When I left my childhood farm I lived in the city for many years before I was able to return to a farm of my own in eastern Ontario.    I have never lived on a farm without a horse so after  we purchased my Grandparents farm in Kirby I asked my father if he knew of any decent horses for sale.  And that is how my dear Tiante came into my life.  But anyone who knows horses also knows that they do not fare well on their own so when my father trailered Tiante to our farm he also brought a little spotted donkey with him as a companion.  I was so intrigued to have Muffy back in my life.  It had been years.  Frankly I was shocked she was still alive.  I contemplated those ears.  Muffy stepped away.  They remained out of reach.  But then Tiante decided he liked me very much and Muffy liked Tiante very much and through our mutual friend,  Muffy and I began to get to know each other. Donkeys take a long time to get to know people.  They can be perceived as shy but I think rather that they understand better than most that not everyone is a true friend.  They take their time and they observe.  They make a thoughtful methodical decision on whether to extend the bonds of friendship.  They are not interested in casual encounters or acquaintances.  They save themselves for true friendship. And when they become your friend they are your friend for life...through thick and thin they stand steadfastly with you.  It is a friendship that is enduring and lasting.

I once made the mistake of thinking that donkeys always move slowly.  I well remember when Muffy sorted me out on that front.  I find November to be an appallingly dreary month.  I could never understand what the issue was with February. The days are getting longer.  We are headed toward spring.  In November, we are headed toward the shortest day of the year.  It is my bleak time.  As Tiante and Muffy grew older on our farm, we would need to put them into warm stalls during cold rainy days and the snows of winter.  If it was a blue sky kind of day though, I would take them out of their stalls and put them in the field for the day to enjoy the sunshine.  We had had quite a run of dreary days one November and I was a bit down in the chips about it all. If I remember correctly John was out in Edmonton training for his tour in Afghanistan so I was on my own with four kids, an active farm and a busy job. I was feeling sorry for myself...Finally the sun dawned one morning and the skies were blue.  It took me a while to note this change in weather and even longer for it to occur to me that Muffy and Tiante might enjoy a stint in the sun. It was well into the day before I finally dragged my sorry butt out to the barn to take them to the field. Imagine my surprise when Muffy dragged me across the yard on the end of the lead shank in her haste to get into the sunshine.  The Muffy who normally plods along.  The Muffy who moves slowly when she decides to move at all.  Methodical steadfast Muffy...dragged me through the yard at a full donkey gallop. I sat and looked at her and she looked back as though to say 'get off your ass and get on with it'. I looked around at the blue sky and the sun shining and instantly regretted wasting the first part of this day. While donkey's may seem methodical and slow, I have noticed that Muffy always makes sure that she does not waste her time on anything.  She does not waste her time getting to know silly girls leaping out of bushes and she does not waste away a beautiful sunny day feeling sorry for herself.

Over time our family became part of Muffy's circle. She tolerated alot from us until she did not anymore.  I well remember Aidan ending up in a tree courtesy of Muffy. She had utterly no interest in the civil war charge he was trying to coax out of her.  Muffy is fierce about her friendships and a porcupine that ventured into her field of friends learned that the hard way. I knew for sure that we were firmly under her umbrella when she stood patiently without flinching as we plucked the quills from her forelegs. She trusted us.  We trusted her.  But never was this point more apparent then the morning after John returned from Afghanistan.  As the troops were rotating home out of the battlefield they were sent to Cyprus for decompression.  They are only there for a week so I am not sure that much decompression actually happens; however, they do tour around Cyprus in an effort to let go of a bit of the war mentality.  One of the tours that John enjoyed most was riding through an olive grove on a donkey.  It reminded him of Muffy.  So on his first morning home, he got up early before any of us and went out to the field and sat on Muffy's back inhaling the scents of his Canadian farm.  Muffy stood and just let him be.  This in itself was amazing as Muffy had made it quite clear to us through launching kids into trees and into water troughs that she was a companion only...never to be ridden. She was fine with John riding her that morning though.  Donkeys seem to know that while you may draw a line in the sand, that line can and should move with the sifting of the sand.  We need to be open to changes and the needs of our friends in changing times.

When our family took the decision to sell our place in eastern Ontario and move back to the West, we knew it was the right decision for our family.  I also knew that I would have to say good-bye to my beloved Tiante and Muffy and I knew that would break my heart.  Tiante was 32 years old. An utterly amazing long life for a horse.  He would not survive a trip across the country with us.  I worried that he would not survive the 3 hour trip to my parents farm where he would go for his last years.  I knew that the only way that I could have hope of that would be if his best friend Muffy remained by his side. And so I said good-bye to them both and to my dying day I will not forget the two of them watching me through the slats of the trailer as it pulled out of the lane. It did break my heart.  But they made a new home for themselves on their new farm and they were happy there. We made our new home in the West and we are happy here.  They missed me and I missed them.  I know this to be true as every time I visited them on the farm the greetings would be warm and wonderful.  Muffy was always the first to know I was there.  She would hee haw from the field and Tiante's head would snap up.  They both would run over to greet me with much love and affection.  I feared that one day that would not happen.  I feared they would forget.  But donkeys never forget.  They have long memories.  They make friends for life. And even when they are apart from their friends they hold them dear in their hearts and when they are together again it is as though no time has passed at all. They understand that sometimes we travel different paths and that if we should find ourselves on the same path again if only for a few days then we celebrate those moments together.

I found this picture the other day from my visit with Muffy in September.  John took it of us.  It was spontaneous.  I had not seen it before.  Muffy is older now and can no longer hee haw with vigor.  She still recognizes me and moves quickly to my side.  She steps closer now.  The ears are coveted no more.  And she has most certainly taught this ass a thing or two about life.


Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Sounds of the Forest

A frost warning for tonight had me in the garden as the sun sunk below the horizon. With my arse waving in the air, I was desperately picking tomatoes when I heard a loud snort behind me. Peering through the tomato plant leaves I see a large doe standing there. Slowly I stand upright and turn around and stare at her. She stares at me. I stare back at her. She stares at me. I realize that this can literally go one way or the other way. She snorts loudly again...and then turns and bounds off the other way. Well, I think to myself, that serves me right for planting my garden on the edge of a forest.
An hour later with the sun long gone it was time for me to go pick up my daughter from basketball practise. Our house is in the forest and to reach the truck I need to walk along an unlit path through the forest. Normally this does not bother me as I enjoy the sounds of the forest. I stepped out on porch and deeply inhaled the autumn scents while gazing up at the stars in the night sky. I started off on the dark path and when I was about halfway along I suddenly recalled the deer. Thinking to myself and without saying anything aloud, I wondered what if that deer is waiting for me in the forest alongside this trail? Suddenly Siri on my cell phone spoke up and proclaimed loudly into the surrounding silence of the forest  "Everything will be ok".

I kid you not....

I also kid you not that the talking cell phone scared me WAY more than the snorting deer...

Monday, 29 August 2016

Raising Roadtrippers

Today I waved good-bye to my boys as they left on a roadtrip.  Yep.  I stayed here and waved good-bye ...and that was hard to do for me.    I am a roadtripper at heart. I love to see what is around each bend...the flora, the fauna, the wildlife, the bend of the road through the landscape as the tires hum along the surface. The freedom to turn your wheel this way or that way and to follow the path of your choice.   It feels so weird for me to stay planted here on the ground as the tires hum along the road without me.  But the boys had an amazing summer full of great experiences and memories that were each unique to them. Part of that summer included them each buying their vehicle of choice.  Aidan finally got his SUP board to cruise the Pacific waves and Morgan got his pickup truck to rumble through the snowcapped mountains.  So as plans were being made for them to return to university and I was desperately trying to schedule that Fall roadtrip back to academia into my schedule, it occurred to me and the boys really at the same time that Morgan could use his choice vehicle to take his brother and his choice vehicle back to the coast before he turned northward bound.  And despite  my best efforts to become a necessary part of this plan, I really wasn't and that is the way it should be. This afternoon I am remembering my first roadtrip as an adult.  John and I loading the Honda Civic and striking off across Canada to new adventures. Such vivid memories of roads unexplored, the freedom of time and the rumble of the road.  I love that they are feeling that now too. I remember well how it feels.
Happy Roadtripping Boys,
Love Mom