Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Gladstone Road

Yesterday, when Cricket and I were out driving, we passed this abandoned farmhouse. I had brought along my old Sony camera just in case we saw something worth photographing -- we have flocks of cranes and pelicans, and herons this time of year.

We've passed this house every time we head east so I stopped and took some photos.

The prairies have many abandoned houses like this -- many were abandoned in the thirties, and years ago, when they were not so derelict, you might find kitchen utensils still on the table. Now they are disintegrating, and nothing much is left of the inside.

This house was lath and plaster. It's a two-storey house, with a cement foundation.

I could not see a staircase going to the second floor. The rooms were small, and the hallways were only about 3 feet wide.

It had a little bay window, which was fancy at that time for this part of the world. All the outside work was wood, soffits, and trim were all painted wood.

I try to imagine it as it once was, with a family, decorated for Christmas, or with a Mom out in the yard hanging laundry on this clothesline.

The colors inside were blue, yellow and pink, which were popular here in turn of the century houses. No wallpaper, just paint.

The floors were wood, no sign of linoleum or tiles.

The inside wall of the living room now looks like a map.

So many lives and moments vanished.
A good friend of mine told me he was at a party where the spirits flowed. A school trustee and her husband told him that they had always passed a yard on their road that had a long, intriguing driveway. One summer day they drove up the drive, and found a charming house and yard. They walked up to the door to introduce themselves, and knocked, but no one answered. They went round to the back, and it looked to them as if everyone were nearby, since there were toys, and coffee cups, and a little table outside. They went into the back porch and called out -- the house was furnished, there were pictures, and calendars, and a vintage kitchen and lovely old oak furniture. No one was there. So they left, thinking they would call again sometime.
Sometime later, they mentioned to a neighbour that they had tried to meet the people at that house. The neighbour was surprised, and told them that that house had been abandoned for years, and was completely derelict. They could not believe it, since when they had been there it looked inhabited -- antique, but inhabited. So they drove there again, and found the house in a very different state -- abandoned, empty and decaying.
The woman who tells this thinks she walked into the past.
This story has all the hallmarks of the rural myth, except that I can go to the site, and I can talk to the people it happened to. They are completely unremarkable people and not given to
flights of imagination.
Whatever the explanation, it's an intriguing story. Travelling across the prairies I can imagine finding passages to the past and not even being aware of it, the landscape is so deserted and unmoored from time.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Second Spring

When I last posted we were on the cusp of spring.

I didn't report this, but we had temperatures of 26 degrees some days, and all our snow was gone. But then on April 17, it was 19 C, and the next day it was .3 and snowing. It snowed for three days, and we accumulated more snow in those 3 days than we did all winter.

Today, spring is coming back, and again the snow is melting. I took this picture of a disgusted looking robin last Tuesday. He and his mate were sunning themselves in the morning, after having flown here from some less frigid clime for many days, to enjoy a day of balmy weather followed by a week or so of blizzards and frozen food. I notice there are a really high number of robins this year -- I see flocks of them now which I don't recall having seen before.

Speaking of flocks, this group of waxwings (there were almost 40 altogether) visited my crabapple tree yesterday. I apologize for the distant perspective, but I had some help from the mastiffs once I grabbed the camera and was only able to take the pic from inside the house.

In farm news, we have fixed the front waterer. I needed to get an appliance switch and a blockheater cord, and after some wiring and fiddling about with innards, the thing is working. Next up will be the waterer in the back, which is a more commercial cattle waterer -- most of the parts are available at the Co-op. But it needs some plumbing repairs and the whole element/heating/thermostat assembly will need replacing. Companies supply thermostats with these units, but after talking to farmers you find that they all disconnect the thermostat because it tends to corrode and fail, and instead hardwire the element to the electrical box. Because these units have a float mechanism to supply water instead of a pump, the heating element (which keeps all the plumbing from freezing) is just turned off at the breaker box when it's no longer winter. I guess these waterers are more popular where the weather is milder and the farmers are taken by surprise by frost.

If you are at all interested in birds or the non-human world, I recommend the book I'm reading: The Mind of the Raven. It depicts the fascinating lives of ravens, which are extremely intelligent creatures with complex social behaviours. More complex for example than a group of teenagers on a sofa playing xbox. I've always found the reluctance to believe that animals think both a blockheaded example of human arrogance and a lack of imagination. I remember first encountering that idea (that animals are incapable of thought or reason) in a philosophy class. But since these academic notions are usually hatched from detached observation, I would invite the philosophers to observe a group of people in a mall and ask them to prove the notion that mallgoers are capable of thought simply by observing their behavior. The chattering masses indeed. The missing ingredient in scientific observation, it seems to me, is empathy and imagination. If a scientist can't imagine that elephants communicate on a subsonic level, how can he or she hope even to observe that?

Next time you want to call your cat, look at him and say, "meeee" in a high voice. "Meeee" is a cat syllable that means "come here". It's always useful to know a foreign language.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Llamas in the Mist

We woke up to another day of dense fog. It's like Dian Fossey, or Nicole Kidman's character in The Others (good movie). Either way it feels a bit like being dead.
Rather than venture on the roads, we're doing some work at home, waiting for the fog to lift -- it may not, according to the forecast we may have a possibility of a chance of thundershowers.
"Forecasters" know how to hedge their predictions, don't they? Now they do it with percentages, as if they're bookies. What does 30% chance of precipitation really mean, to us, the non-betting "laymen"? Isn't it just applying numbers to degrees of vagueness, so that you can't say, "well they said it would rain and it didn't". Now all you can say is "well, they gave odds 3 to 1 that it might rain and it may have rained somewhere in the vicinity, so they may not have been altogether incorrect".
How useful is this for extreme weather? Living on a farm, you sometimes really need to know the forecast so you can take evasive action with a herd of animals. You need some lead time. Hearing that there is a 65% chance of tornados isn't helpful. And out here, they pretend to give you the forecast for your region, but instead, give you a forecast for the nearest metropolitan airport, which is usually pretty far off relevant. Well at least I'll know if a tornado is headed for the airport 85 kms away. I'll just make sure the animals don't travel Air Canada that day.
Moving on. I have a new email advisor today. His name is Spookey and he's a wonderful mini-panther that was brought to me by a neighbour whose daughters couldn't keep/didn't want to take care of him anymore. He's very friendly, solid muscle, excellent hunter. He's brought gophers to the door a few times, so we know he goes in for Big Game. A smoocher too, he was attempting to lick my cheek when I was trying to take his photo. Kind of difficult to take pictures of a shiny black face like his, plus he was squirming a lot trying to get really close for a hug. This is the best picture I could get, all the others made him look like an alien or a blur. Not wanting to fuel the fire of ailurophobia, I opted for the best I could get.

And in the Cute category, here's Kylie. As one of the Cops on the premises, she was kept awake with guard duty last night. That slim horned moon that appeared over the northwest horizon last night (I wish I could have taken a picture it was big and very defined for such a sliver) caused all the coyotes in the woods to call and call. The fog that started last night is a powerful sound conductor, and up here on the hill we could hear everything that was going on in the valley -- owls, coyotes, small rodents, rustling, a thundering train. The cops here find this alarming, and have to investigate constantly until I can bear no more, and call them in to listen to music for a while. They eventually go to sleep once I tell them it's OK. But Kylie had to patrol for a few hours before bedtime, so she making up for it now.

And finally, here is my new dressmaker's mannequin, straight from New York. Isn't the internet great, it can take you anywhere, even when it's foggy and you're stuck in the middle of nowhere.
She's wearing the top I've been working on since last week -- it's a pattern from called "Labyrinth", and it's made with a microfibre ribbon yarn purchased on line from The pattern is very easy -- it's worked from the top down, so you try it on as you go, or you put it on Miss Lemon, who is conveniently the same size as moi.
The yarn is "light and frothy" as they said, but it really rubs the tips of my fingers into numbness. [Maybe now would be a good time to start learning to play the guitar.] Anyway, the finished garment fits really well, and the knitted fabric is very elastic and light as a feather. I'm working on long sleeves for it, I should have this whole thing done only 2 weeks from beginning it. The pattern was downloaded online; I highly recommend their patterns. Very professionally published in .pdf. And since it's a download, you pay no tax or duty or shipping/handling. It's not as cheap as buying a pattern in a magazine, but I think it was worth it, because I learned a new method for making something, and it's a method I will use over and over.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

My Sunday so far

Get up have coffee.
Read email. Surf and work on sweater.

Put on soothing music -- "The Scotch Humour" by Chatham Baroque. So far so good.
Let cats out. Let dogs out.
Feed cats.
Fill dog bowls with water. Clean up drool mess after dogs take drink and walk around kitchen.
Post poem on blog for poetry month.
Get dressed, go outside and fill front waterer, back waterer. Feed chickens. Water chickens. Put escaped hen back in enclosure.
Get dog food ready. Let dogs out and in, same with cats.
Feed dogs, feed birds, feed fish.
Vacuum floor of dog cookie crumbs, dog hair, cat hair, feathers, dirt.
Clean kitchen. Do dishes. Put dishes away. Let cats out let cats in, open screen door window so cats can come and go.
Put escaped hen back in enclosure. Renail 3 boards in corral fence.
Collect empty feed bags and boxes and put in fire pit for disposal.
Do laundry.
Close window. Let cats out. Let dogs out. Let cats in.
Put yarn collection in Ziploc bags, attempting to vacuum out air and zip up to save space.
Apparently burn out motor on Electrolux while performing above operation.
Go fetch spare vacuum from barn (Kenmore).
Plug it in, figure out how it works, use it on test areas of carpet.
Open it up to ensure bag is not full, find instead huge mouse nest composed of old bag and contents thereof. Set aside until I can go get Kenmore bags.

Go online to find reviews of vacuum cleaners in case I have to buy new one. Notice that "the Shopping Bags" have filed reviews of Vacuums under V and also Vibrators. Read Vibrator review. Don't recall seeing that episode.
Water horses. Put escaped hen back in enclosure.
Read one chapter of “The Hand-Sculpted House”.
Round up Rustler (Rusty) for his ride with neighbour. Help neighbour saddle & bridle Rusty. Give Daytona compensatory treat.
Take dogs on hike.
Comeback, have coffee, let cats in.
Brush Rusty, water horses. Give horses sweet feed.
Have lunch.
Move the Dally Llama out of front pasture where he was getting picked on by stud, to back pasture.
Collect eggs. Put escaped hen back in enclosure.
Get wood for stove. Fill front waterer again.
Light fire in stove. Make coffee. Write this note. Do more laundry. Notice strange sound coming from dryer, find that exhaust hose has become disconnected due to duct tape failure. Go to barn and fetch gear clamp and screwdriver and reattach exhaust hose to dryer.

Notice Electrolux is working again, must have been overheated.

April is Poetry Month

Because April is Poetry Month, here are two poems I wrote a while back in my sonnet phase.


Just as the Sun takes umbrage with the day
And falls toward her lover, Night, so I
Do fly to you. When occupations weigh
This soul with ritual earth, and enemies
Of flight predate with routine avarice
These errant wings until they seem too bound
And torn to rise above the artifice
Of crumbling ambition, I gather round
My thoughts of you like little stars and rise
Into the face of heaven. There I dream
Your luminous face, beautiful and wise
In constellations for the earth to see
And envy, that I possess with Night
All beauty on earth and all heaven's light.

Love Sonnet 11

If you would press your lips against my heart
Against the soft symmetry of time, if
You would caress it, your absent mouth part
Its rhythms into hours, and stretch the stiff
Monotony of days into nights deep
And yielding, if you would blow its glowing
Blood into ashes, into that thick sleep
Beyond desire and slow patient knowing
Of another, if you would save me from
My heart and the liquidity of time
Melting me away from you, I could summon
An infinity of mornings, long in
Love, a perpetual spring of desire
Between your flesh and my heart's liquid fire.

Copyright held by me.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

No Snow is Good Snow


I went out this morning to check on things and to water the flock, and found this fellow sitting on the fence on the hill that overlooks my western pasture. I checked my photo logs and I have a picture of him from December 4 as well as March 22, which means he may migrate for 3 months. If he doesn't it means he winters here in minus 35 degree weather, which seems unlikely. I know they nest in the valley, and I see the juveniles playing above the wood on my place -- I've already seen 3 young eagles this spring.

My farm is high on a hill, its north fence is atop the southern side of the Battle River Valley. I will take a photo some day of the valley from my northeast pasture and show you -- it's a wonderful view.

I watched him for a while, then I decided to put out some chicken eggs. I routinely clean out the coop of eggs that some of the hens lay on the ground. From time to time they lay too prolifically to keep the nests empty and decide to lay some eggs on the ground or in the food silo. Those eggs I walk out away from the coop to the pasture behind, and put out for the raptors and foxes and other carnivorous parties. One foggy day I saw this eagle sitting on my henhouse, waiting for eggs. At first I didn't know what it was, I thought, "why is there a dog sitting on my henhouse?" Then I realized that he had spied the discard pile and was helping himself to some easy food along with crows, magpies and foxes and coyotes. A different kind of bird feeder! You can't have that in the city!

After cleaning the coop, I went over to the back corral that overlooks the eagle's pasture, and hung out with the boys for a while. As you can see, we have no snow left, and today it was a balmy 6 degrees.
These fellows will be in for a shearing this year. These are just the boys (there are about 12 boys, and about 18 girls in total). I say about because I haven't counted the two geldings

I got into llamas originally because two geldings, Dally & Cotton, who used to be golf caddies, came with this farm when I bought it.

Yes all my llamas have names.

Anyway, once word spread that I accept orphan llamas, people just gave them to me -- sometimes six at a time. They are no longer considered "profitable" and so end up as sausages or dog food frequently -- I rescue the few I can, and they retire comfortably to this farm. Llamas are a bit like cats in their personality. They are inquisitive, and do not flock well, so the cow people out here do not understand them. You cannot herd llamas by horseback, just as you cannot herd cats that way. Llamas run (fast) all over the place and will outmaneuver a horse and rider. Cowboys don't like llamas much.

The best way to deal with llamas is to cajole them, and offer them food. With the corral setup I have here I can move them around pretty easily on my own. They are quite amenable to bribery and sweet talk. Once they trust you, they will let you commune with them quite happily. Mine are very sweet to me. And they keep strangers off my property!

Cotton, who reminds me of Walter Matthau, often helps me handle the unruly young males. One of the studs was hassling a girl I was leading, and I said to Cotton -- "can you help me get him away?" and Cotton ran up to the boy and ran interference for me the whole way through the pasture. I'm not saying he understands English, but he definitely picks up communication, because he's helped me many many times by guarding gates when I'm wrangling.
He's done a good job, you can see the smile on his face.