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Posts Tagged ‘farming’

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Day five of my Manitoba adventure began early as usual. After getting myself organized for the day I greeted the usual faces seated around the breakfast table in the kitchen. Omelets were on the menu, and like in a fine dining establishment I was asked to choose from the ingredients on the table and a delicious personal omelet was delivered to my plate by our chef de cuisine, Chris. I liked sitting in the kitchen with my new friends. The children were always a welcome addition to the table, bubbling over with enthusiasm for the day ahead and filled with youthful exuberance for the world around them. Even if I still was in the process of waking up, I enjoyed seeing their fresh little faces across from me over another great meal.

Bob J., Ray and I were once again on our own. That day, I was told, we were going to be working with the animals, which was perhaps my favorite facet of farm life. Yay. Ray, always a fount of information, filled me in on our schedule for the afternoon. Apparently several times a year they “drag” the pastures to redistribute the manure. Oh boy. Poop again. They wait until the pasture patties are dry to do this. Ewwwww. Truly I cannot think of a subject more unwelcome to my stomach than excrement but certainly if you raise animals you are going to have waste. Having visited the pig pens with Eva and Dawn and unfortunately finding it necessary to inhale once I’d exhaled, I am here to tell you there was no shortage of animal waste in a farm environment and what there is beyond fragrant.  They don’t call odiferous people pigs for nothing. Whew. Cows aren’t much better I’m afraid. I can remember driving across Kansas turning the corner on one dairy farm after another and wondering if the incredibly strong ammonia stench would ever leave my nostrils. The human body, as amazing as it is in how it processes our intake, certainly could use an adjustment on how it is scented when recycled. I’m thinking lavender or camelia might have been a better fragrance choice. I’m just saying.

Bob J. suggested I wear old clothes, and in particular old high boots. This did not bode well for my day. Sigh.

As I have said there was all variety of critters roaming about the farm compound in addition to the herds in the field. Chickens wandered freely about the yard chucking and pecking at the ground, there were half a dozen goats who made their home there, and probably ten pigs and a litter of piglets in the large pen beyond the barn. When we toured the piggies quarters, Chris mentioned as Eva and Dawn get older they will most likely become active in the local 4-H program. Each girl will raise a pig to be shown at the county fair and then auctioned off to the highest bidder for meat. I wouldn’t make a good farmer. Already I had become attached to several cows and a piglet. Most probably I would become vegetarian if I had to sacrifice one of them for Sunday dinner.

Knowing how to tend to these creatures takes years of training, knowledge handed down older generation to younger over countless decades. There are vaccinations that have to be given, births to be overseen, proper feeding guidelines, as well as weather and sickness to be taken into consideration. The vet came while I was there, a woman perhaps in her mid thirties. Watching her work with confidence with the larger animals was inspiring. The animals seem to almost sense this person is there on their behalf. Always I have admired veterinarians. Unlike physicians tending to humans, vets have to versed in a wide variety of skeletal structures and a myriad of species nuances. I might do well with dogs and cats but the first time someone brought me a boa constrictor with a head cold or a tarantula with a hang nail I’d be outta there. Also, the likelihood of a human patient biting you is probably minimal, but vets must face unhappy patients with both claws and sharp teeth every day. I’ve seen Boo, the Queen of Cats, in action. To say she resists a visit to the vet is to put it mildly. I have to nearly go on a reconnaissance mission to get her in the cage. Funny thing though once I get her into the office the staff seems to be competent enough to keep her calm. She sits there quietly as though that was her usual behavior while they probe and poke at her. Cats, go figure.

Ray also told me you have to be aware how many cows are grazing on your land. Too many can be harmful to the land itself. There are a lot of pitfalls to farming apparently. Luxurious crops could be taken down by extreme weather, drought, insects, and many other variables. I found it all both fascinating and perplexing at the same time. My grandmother grew up on a farm and this experience definitely gave me more understanding of what her life might have looked like as a girl. Often when I was small she commented on how women today were “spoiled”. She said in her time there were no cake mixes, prepared meals, frozen dinners. Women back in the day were in the kitchen cooking their meals from scratch with no help from Betty Crocker.

I’m sure she would have been both pleased and surprised to find me working the farm in Manitoba. On morning five of my visit Bob J. and Ray were going to ride out to the pasture in the tractor. My job would be to follow them on the three wheeler carrying the water cooler, lunch, and some tools. Let me reiterate once again it took me three times to get my driver’s license and years to perfect my driving skills. Not only have I never ridden on a three wheeler but most certainly I’ve never driven one. As a kid I dabbled in boys with motorcycles but never actually drove one myself. The only time I was ever even alone on a bike was when I was in high school. A boy I knew had a Triumph 750. I was expressly forbidden to ride on the back of this machine so naturally that was where I was to be found. Hank, the owner of the bike, stepped off to go into a convenience store. He instructed me to straddle the bike and stand firmly on both feet until he returned. Check. Two minutes after he entered the store I leaned slightly to the right and the rest was history. Thankfully, once again I escaped maiming or certain death but his bike wasn’t quite so lucky. That was the beginning and the end of the motorcycle period of my life story. Not wanting to appear to Bob J. and Ray to be a sissy, in particular after my antics of the previous day when I had fallen through the bush and flown down the side of the hillside. So, the three wheeler it was, the three wheeler it would be. My instructions were simple. “Stay on the dirt road do not drive anywhere near the edge of the road. Do not, repeat do not, put your legs near the wheels while the vehicle is moving. Avoid deep ruts at all costs.” Um, “help”.

I hopped on the beast trying to look poised and confident. Bob J. got the machine running for me and explained the shifting situation. Sigh. Inside I had a feeling this was going to make yesterday’s freefall look mild in comparison. Gamely I inched forward. The snail creeping down the path next me was beating me by a mile. Bob J. and Ray were putting a lot of real estate between us as I chugged along at about 1/4 mile an hour. Finally they stopped and Bob J. jogged back to where I was to check on me. Explaining they had hoped to get to the field sometime before sunset, I was instructed to pick up the pace a bit. Okie. The avoiding the ruts portion of the instruction didn’t make it easy going. Since it was a dirt road there were both rocks and ruts at nearly every juncture. Once again my spine was inching up towards my brain. Bob stuck his hand out the tractor to indicate he was going to stop. I did the same lowering my foot to the ground before coming to a complete stop. Don’t try this at home. Doing specifically what I’d been told not to do my leg hit the back wheel taking off the top layer of skin on my calf. Oh-oh. At first I thought I’d just be quiet about it but since it was beginning to look as if I might need a tourniquet I thought I’d better turn myself in. Thankfully working with heavy machinery regularly they kept a fully equipped first aid kit on board for such occasions. Bob J.’s eyes if rolled any higher towards the heavens would have disappeared inside his head. Sorry.

Once I was doctored to they began the “dragging” procedure which was basically accomplished by a piece of equipment attached to the back of the tractor and, yes, dragged along behind it. Well named, yes? Most of the afternoon was spent tending to one pasture after another. Half the time I rode in the tractor with one or the other of the men and the rest of the time I was on the dreaded three wheeler with instructions once again to try and keep myself out of the ICU. Kay.

That evening after a delicious meal of the fresh fish Bob J., Bob P. and I had provided for the table, we sat outside in the lawn chairs until way beyond the time the sun had gone down for the day.  A fire pit had been filled with wood and a lovely crackling fire burned inside the circle. The girls, allowed to stay up a bit late, were dancing in the flickering light. In the tall grass fireflies made what I was told was a very unusual showing making it a very magical evening.

Sleep, I have to say, came easily during those days. You worked hard, you played hard, then you slept hard. Wish I could put the sleeping hard part into action these days. Particularly since the pandemic my dream state is filled with vivid weird dreams and interrupted nights.

Day six on the downhill slope of my trip comes next. See you then. Stay safe.

 

 

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Day four in Manitoba was all about fishing. We had been allowed to languish in bed until nine if needed and then the plan was to have breakfast, load up our gear, and head to the river. I was not what you might call an experienced angler. Up until I had married my ex-husband truth was I had never cast a line in the water. Actually, that is incorrect. I did catch a flounder as I recall on a rare outing with my first stepfather. When I had excitedly hauled my fish in the boat he told me flounders were bottom feeders not fit for eating and I would need to toss it back. I was to find out years later, flounder was not only tasty but good for you. I was nine. I caught a fish while he, an experienced fisherman, did not. We weren’t exactly close. I’ll save this story for my next therapy session.

My people really weren’t outdoorsy. The one and only time I ever went camping with my mother was in Yosemite. I was a freshman in high school. In order to coerce her outdoors, my stepfather had to rent a high end travel trailer which was where she spent 90% of her time during that week enjoying martinis in her wedgies. Meanwhile, my stepbrother and I were rafting down the Yosemite river, panning for gold, and watching the fire fall at sunset. My mother’s idea of roughing it would be to stay at a hotel without room service. She always described herself as a “hothouse flower” and that is fine. Everyone has their niche to fill. I adore my mum so whatever venue she chooses to make her happy, makes me happy as well.

So, at precisely nine fifteen I arrived in the kitchen at the farm to enjoy one of Chris’s excellent breakfasts. Not to disappoint, I found Ray and Bob J. already seated at the table shoveling in some really delicious looking Belgium waffles. Yum. After clearing the syrup from my lips, I applied lip gloss and sunscreen, grabbed a ball cap for extra coverage, and headed for the decided meeting spot by the barn door. The two Bob’s were already by the truck loading up fishing gear, a cooler, some folding stools, and a water cooler. Though still early, the sun, already hot against my back, was letting me know it was just gearing up for its day.

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The area we were going, as it turned out, wasn’t too much of a drive. The truck could only take us so far, however, after that I was told, we would need to walk in the rest of the way.  Parking under some trees for shade, we unloaded the bed. Bob P. said we had about a forty-five minute hike to the river. Since I was a girl I was given the lighter items to carry such as poles and the tackle box, while the men hauled the heavy cooler between them with the other items piled on top. Sometimes it pays to be female. The underbrush was quite dense in spots and insects were prolific. I had doused myself with insect spray before leaving the house which seemed to keep them at bay. At some points the drop off on one side of the trail was very steep. Several times I nearly lost my footing when stepping across loose rocks and gravel. Holding the poles in one hand and the tackle box in the other didn’t leave me much to balance with. Just when I was starting to feel tired the men signaled to me from up ahead we were going downward from the path. Oh. The bank angled straight down in this area. I could hear the water flowing below and see the river through the gaps in the trees so knew we were getting close to our destination, or at least to the river itself. Yay. Bob J. was first down the side of the hill with Bob P. following close behind. They slid more than walked down the slick slope with the cooler sort of careening along in the middle. Bob J. yelled for me to watch my footing. As the words reached my ears, I took my first step down the hill pushing through a matted patch of greenery.  I stepped into the air beyond where I stood, which was all that was available at the time to step into. Suddenly I was airborne, soaring like a flying squirrel floating from one tree limb to another. Both men watched in amazement as I sailed past them landing with a loud splat in the middle of the river. The impact, thankfully more frightening than hurtful, caused me to release what I was holding as well as all the air in my lungs. Lying there wet, embarrassed and gasping for breath I watched as the bait box bobbed and weaved in the current. Bob J. was quickly in hot pursuit as the poles were beginning to submerge where they landed. Whoops. The only thing wounded on me was my pride and a scrape on my elbow fortunately. After checking me out for injuries and finding me in one piece, the two men just shook their heads. Unspoken but hanging in the air were the words “women, right?”

After all our floating gear was recovered, we located a good spot along the river to set up “camp” for the day. The lush foliage around the water’s edge afforded us some shade, a blessing since the sun now high in the sky was taking no prisoners. Whew. Bob P. helping me load my hook with a fresh worm, I cast my line in the water and settled in to wait for a tug. I have to admit that eviscerating a worm is not my favorite pastime so whether it was more “girl” stuff or not I allowed the men to do the dirty work for me. My ex used to tell me the worms don’t feel a thing. Uh-huh. It didn’t look like it felt good to me, and I’ve never read an affidavit from a worm confirming that it did.

I caught three small fish that day.  When I pulled the first one in Bob P. said it was crappy. Pardon me? Turns out this was not an assessment of my fishing skills but that they were all crappy, or rather black crappie, a popular pan fish and quite delicious when tossed in a frying pan. About one o’clock we opened the cooler and helped ourselves to a lunch consisting of wonderful sandwiches Chris had provided for us. Secretly I was determined to bring her back to California with me to have her cook for me for the rest of my life. Delicious bread piled high with thin slices of meat and fresh vegetables from the garden. Along with her other gifts, Chris had a way with yeast and flour baking them into the most wonderful grainy breads. Our sides were potato salad, coleslaw and a colorful fresh fruit salad, which in the heat was a particularly welcome treat.  The Boys, tossed down a few cold ones and threw in a few fishing stories, while I stuck to the container of lemonade included in the cooler to keep me level headed for the hike back to the car.

Bob P. filled me in some of the missing spots of his life after a brew or two. His wife, Bob J.’s mom, had passed away some ten years back. Like Bob J. and Anna, he told me, he and his lovely Lizzie had been married right of school.  Actually, she was married right out of school with Bob P. leaving school in tenth grade to help his parents with the farm. He had done his time in the military during “Nam”, as he put it, but didn’t offer any further information about his experiences there. A silence fell over him on mentioning that period of his life. Guess that said enough. Sometimes a lot can be revealed in silence. I can still picture the military cemetery where my father was buried. White crosses spreading for miles in every direction. So much loss.

Bob P. knew nothing but farming, and didn’t seem to care to. This land, these crops, his family were to be the patches in the quilt of his life. No more, and no less. That seemed, to my eyes at least, to be sufficient for him. He talked about the rough times, when crops were ruined by weather and money was tight, or when Lizzie got sick, and then when he lost her, but when he spoke of the farm and the land a sort of peace settled over him which I found quite lovely. I would hope I could find that kind of contentment in my life at some point.

A breeze came up as it had every day since my arrival making the trip back to the car less arduous. The three of us talked easier in the cab of the truck on the drive home. Sharing part of you with others helps to form the beginning of the bonds that bring us together as friends. At the ranch the little girls were waiting for me when we drove in the yard. Eva slipped her hand into mine and said she would take me to the much promised puppies. Dawn, not one to be ignored took my other hand and the two girls guided me to an old shed behind the barn. Pushing open the wooden doors we stepped inside. A fan was whirring loudly in one corner where a blanket had been laid out. What looked to be a large hound dog or similar breed lay on top of the blanket next to seven or eight tiny fat bodies all feet and tails looking to be enjoying their afternoon siesta. How sweet they were. The mama, I had been told, was named Ariel after the Little Mermaid. What a gentle lady she was. Checking me out thoroughly and seeming not to find me wanting, she allowed me to kneel down and pick up one of her babies and cuddle him to me. How I love puppies with their little blurry eyes and their sweet milk breath. I wished I could tuck this little man in the folds of my suitcase and take him on the plane with me. The puppies had no names yet, Eva informed me. Chris explained later they name them when they personalities begin to emerge, a ritual the girls are very much a part of. Eventually homes will be found for the majority of the litter. If one stands out as a good working dog he or she may be kept for the farm. Dogs are not pets on a working farm apparently. They are treated well, and loved as part of the group but they do not come in the house and put in their hours along with everyone else. Several cats were present in the yard as well. The felines were there for rodent control and only one, Sam, almost sixteen could be seen languishing on a chair in the family room or enjoying his evening meal in his bowl in the kitchen. He had put in his time working and was now free to take pleasure in his retirement.

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Another wonderful day was put to bed along with tired and well browned me. The day to following would be busy so sleep was essential and it didn’t take long for my eyes to close after turning out the night. I was heading into the midpoint of my trip. Day five was on the horizon.

 

 

 

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iStock_Farmer_field_farm-RGBFarm life, I was to learn, was comprised of work, work, and more work. When you have all variety of animals you are responsible for, there is no day that gives you license to fall out of bed at noon, stretch your arms over your head, and seat yourself at the kitchen table until your coffee gets cold. Each day you wake up early, get dressed, put some fuel in your belly and get after it. Hungry animals cannot wait for you to check how many likes you got on Instagram, or balance your chi with your yoga guru, or watch the news. It’s an entirely different way of life.

Observing my newly acquainted farm family coming together as a team was inspiring to me, still is. Each member worked selflessly for the common good of the whole. I have never thought of it as so before now, but I would suppose a farm, if managed well, may be the perfect socialist environment.

When no seasonal labor was present, three men made their homes on the property. Bob P., was the ring leader of the “boys”, as Chris referred to them, and the elder statesman at seventy five. He kept his clothes in the bunk house located on the far end of the property, a space he shared with additional labor when they were hired on. Bob J., his only son, (a daughter lived in Vancouver), occupied the main ranch house, and Chris, Bob J’s daughter and her husband Ray lived in a large ranch style house about a half a mile down the road. All three men in spite of the age disparity shouldered equal responsibility when it came to labor. I have to say, for a man showing a bit of wear, Bob P. seemed in amazingly good shape. Very little extra overlap showed above his belt line and his arms were still well muscled where visible below his shirt sleeve.

The only woman in attendance, or woman “fully grown” as they say in the south, was Chris. Chris was twenty-six. I knew this only because women of her age feel free to toss their age about like a puck at a hockey match. We older ladies tend to hold that number a little closer to the vest, answering when asked, “40ish”, when fifty is really knocking on the door.  Not to be excluded by any means, were the two youngest members of the clan, Chris and Ray’s daughters, Eva and Dawn, four and two and a half respectively.  All six of them managed an appropriate portion of the work according to age but not really gender.  It became quickly apparent when I came on board my being female didn’t exclude me from getting my hands dirty right along with the males in the group.

In rare moments of quiet, I grabbed the opportunity to take in the gorgeous countryside around me. Manitoba is a prairie province by definition, the land marked with long flat expanses, plateaus, lush soil, and an abundance of rivers and lakes. The front porch swing, often where I found myself after hanging up my hat for the day, allowed me an uninterrupted view of the front yard which stretched to the road and on forward to the horizon. I remember the quiet sitting there. No city noises to break the silence only the soft hum of insects hovering above the magnolia bush and the occasional whir of a farm machine firing up somewhere in the distance. There was something extremely satisfying about working that land.  Would I want to do it 24/7? Not I. Would I do it again for ten days? Tomorrow.

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Bob J. and I knew enough about each other from the numerous phone conversations and email correspondence we had shared to consider ourselves virtual “friends” before I arrived. This rubbed some of the newness off generally associated with meeting someone for the first time.  As we had gotten into our stories over the previous year, he had shared with me the loss of his wife, Anna after a three month bout with Stage 4 ovarian cancer. She had been forty-seven. They were high school sweethearts, married right after graduation. Chris, as I mentioned, was their only child. Anna, Bob told me, had wanted a large family but an emergency hysterectomy after Chris was born made that impossible. Accepting she was to have only one chick, she doted on her only daughter and the two had become very close. The loss of her mother when Chris was expecting her first grandchild had been devastating. Talking to him then, I had no idea I would find myself in a similar situation some twenty-five years later when I lost Rick, but life never reveals many hints of how your story is to unfold.

The first time Bob J. and I found ourselves alone was on my third day on the farm. After a busy morning at the feed and grain, then back to the main farmhouse for a quick lunch, I accompanied him to check on the cattle in the fields. Before Dawn would let me go, I had to promise a visit to her puppies as soon as we returned. For a while we drove quietly. No air conditioning in the truck cab, we rolled the windows down to get some air circulation. It was warm, but not hot outside and a lovely breeze played with the back of my neck. I asked about the cows, questions a person with little knowledge of cattle might need answered. “What do they eat”, “how do you bring them in from the pasture”, oh, and “do they bite”? He laughed when I asked if cows bite, telling me it would be unlikely a cow would bite a human but he wouldn’t suggest sticking my fingers in one’s mouth to test his theory. As we talked I found him very knowledgeable on a variety of subjects. Sometimes I think we tend to lump people under the heading of what they do, before finding out who they actually are. In his spare time, which I’m sure was little, he said he was an avid reader. This would account for the impressive library I’d noticed in the living room. I had also noticed there wasn’t a television. When asked if he had a TV he simply said, “never watch it”. I think that was the first time in years I spent ten days without picking up a remote, and I can’t think of a time I missed it.

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Bob got out and opened the gate leading into the nearest pasture. In the distance a loosely structured herd could be seen grazing near the fence line. I was fascinated by all the calves. I do love babies of all makes and models, and these were no exception. When we got close the cows gathered around the truck checking us out before we opened the doors. Reaching behind the seat Bob pulled out several heads of iceberg lettuce. Handing them to me he said, “give them this they will love you for it”. After several days around the herds they would follow the truck when I whistled out the window. He called me the “cow whistler”. I’m pretty sure it was the lettuce that sealed the deal but he was tell me later the cows appeared to still look for me for some time after I left. Who knew I had cow pheromones?

Checking on the new little ones and filling feeding troughs turned out to be an all afternoon affair getting us back at the main house around supper time. Walking into the now familiar kitchen I was surprised to find no pots on the stove and no tempting aromas to alert my stomach something delicious was on it’s way. Asking where everyone was (and the food??), Bob J. said he’d forgotten to tell me tonight was the night they were to spray the crops. This meant a late night and a barbecue at the campsite afterwards. If I was hungry it was suggested I make myself a sandwich to tide me over. Make? Myself? Funny how quickly one can adapt to being spoiled.  I have always been the one in the kitchen so it had been near bliss for me to have someone else take over the responsibility of meals for a few days. Don’t misunderstand me I love to cook, but even when you’re doing something you love it’s nice to take a break and do something else for a while. Fine. I really got a clear understanding of why men got married at that moment.

Around ten with the little ones tucked in with their grandfather along with another promise from me to see the puppies, Bob J., Claire, Ray and I once again headed out towards the fields. This time we weren’t there to tend to the cattle but rather to the crops planted along the fields farther out. These fields, Ray told me, were mostly geared towards hay and grain for the livestock but they did have several fields of corn and other cash crops as well. I inquired as to whether I should be worried about what they are spraying and got a vague answer in return. Uh-huh. Fortunately I sat high up in the enclosed cab of the tractor with Bob J. What an experience that was. At one point he needed me to drive the tractor while he directed me. Seriously? Are you insane? It took me three shots to get my learners permit. Good Lord. Somehow, either his excellent guidance or once again the business of God taking care of drunks and fools, I managed to edge the huge machine where I was directed without running over Bob J. or doing damage to anything in the immediate vicinity. The full moon shone brightly across the crops giving the spring evening a more fallish feel to it. After several hours ,with Chris and Ray working the other fields, we stopped for the day and made our way in a small caravan to what they referred to as the “campsite”. The campsite turned out to be a very large travel trailer, well equipped I have to say, in a clearing in the middle of the woods. A massive faded striped awning jutted out from the roof with four or five lawn chairs arranged beneath it. A fire pit occupied the center of the open space with rocks forming an irregular circular border. The first order of business was to spray ourselves with insect spray. Oh good, if I hadn’t picked up enough chemicals earlier in the night I surely would have risen to full capacity on this spraying. I could hear the insects buzzing around my ears so figured the spray was perhaps the lesser of the two evils.

Chris began removing covered bowls from the fridge, handing me a plate of hot dogs and one piled with pre-made hamburger patties to take out to “the boys”. Lanterns hung from several tree branches and a fire was crackling in the pit. The additional light illuminated Bob J. at a large barbecue behind a wooden picnic table. Chris and I laid a plastic cloth over the table. Between the two of us we carried out bowls of potato salad, macaroni salad, and tossed green salad as well as buns for the burgers and dogs and all the condiments. Yum. An uncut watermelon rested in a cooler filled with ice alongside several bottles of local wine which we took care of emptying before loading our plates.

What a wonderful way to end another great day. Driving back it was amazing how many stars decorated the night sky without the disruption of all the lights typical in more populated areas. My head hit the pillow around three am. Thankfully, we were allowed to sleep until nine due to the late night and I intended to do as I was told.

Day four would be a break in the action. I understood fishing was on the calendar, and of course those sweet puppies. Yay.

 

 

 

 

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