Category Archives: Funny stories

The romance of the revolution

One of the little Mille Fleurs I adopted.

One of the little Mille Fleurs I adopted.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend in the valley gave me her bantam chickens because she was having troubles with a fox. One of her chicken coops is set too close to the edge of her property and the fox was taking one chicken per night. Before she lost them all, she asked if I could take them. One look at the beautiful little creatures and there was no doubt I would be smitten (I think she knew that too!). While quite ‘useless’ to me with respect to chicken and egg sales, they are simply delightful to look at. Not only that, their little crows and peeps are of a different tone from our larger chickens, which only adds to their charm.

I put them in with Elvis and Company in the house that once held Mrs. Mallard and my Muscovy ducks (which we named the ‘Little Goose Coop’) because the chickens are fewer in number and I could keep the bantams separated from the main crew while they got to know one another. In addition, I could also keep them relatively safe. I say relatively, because I too am having trouble with a fox. Luckily, my set up is a bit more fox proof than my friend’s, though certainly not foolproof!

I kept them separate for about two weeks before letting the bantams out to mingle with the ‘big guns’. All was well at first until the little bantam rooster and Elvis were commingled for the first time. Of course, I was worried about the bantam because Elvis is my prize fighter (see Elvis has left the building)–that’s why he has had to be separated from the main chicken house–and I thought the new little guy wouldn’t stand a chance against the heavy weight champion.

Napoleon and his gals searching for nibbley bits.

Napoleon and his gals searching for 'nibbley bits'.

As expected, the minute I let the little Bantam rooster and his gals out of their end of the chicken coop, Elvis was on him. Surprisingly, I needn’t have worried. As soon as the first squawks were heard, Tui (my dog) burst onto the scene and had the fight stalled in seconds, but only for a moment.  The roosters separated only long enough to move the fight to a new location, with Tui in hot pursuit. Amused by the scene, I watched it unfold and repeat itself several times. However, it soon looked like it would repeat itself ad nauseam and I was worried about the little guy, so I finally intervened. I broke them up with a, “Get a new idea, you two!” and they got on with their separate lives for the rest of the day. Peace and harmony were restored to the farm–at least momentarily.

That was two days ago. Yesterday, at the end of the day, the second battle of ‘Brumaire’ erupted again right here on the farm. I had just sat down at the end of a long hot day’s work and was nursing a well earned cold beer, when I heard the call to arms again. Alarmed by the commotion, I got up to investigate looking for the nearest stick with which to break up the battle–but I needn’t have moved. The two roosters were no longer locked in a vicious battle. Instead, Elvis came tearing around the house with the little general in hot pursuit, like Napoleon and his grenadiers driving the Council of Five Hundred from the Orangerie. This action, coupled with the declaration, “The revolution is finished,” echoing across the lawn, left no question as to who the little general was or what his hard-won status would henceforth be: Napoleon is the supreme executive of the old ‘little goose coop’, now re-named the French Consulate.

Note: the original Brumiare was the coup d’etat which set Napoleon Bonaparte on the path to becoming the supreme executive of the French Empire in 1799.

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Filed under Animal issues, Chickens, Funny stories

The delicate art of cooperation

Malcolm in front of his house.

Malcolm in front of one of the goat houses, his is actually smaller than this one.

Each morning I tend to the chickens first. In order of priority, they take the number one spot: because they are the only bread winners on the farm to date, and in order to keep them happy, they need the light on in the morning and the tarpaulin cleared from their nesting boxes so the early birds can tend to their business.

Several months ago one of the chickens (Leona) stopped coming home at night, and instead roosted behind the big red barn on the goat fence and waited for me to pick her up and escort her back home. After a couple of days I began seeing two of them around the yard during the day, Leona and a caramel colored hen (Carmel) hanging out together like the best of friends. Apparently Carmel had decided to join the mutiny and from then on was found perched beside Leona on the goat fence each night.

Leona and Carmel, the original mutaneers.
Leona, the original mutineer in the foreground. I named her for her lion like coloring around her head and neck.

And so the routine continued for several weeks. Finally, I decided to put these two gal-pals (Leona and Carmel) in with the ducks in hopes they would adjust and make like chickens and put themselves to bed. The personal escort service wanted to shut up shop! I moved a new set of nesting boxes in with them so they would have a place to do business, freshened the bedding and hoped they would sign the new contract.

However, despite my best efforts at attracting them to the nesting boxes, nary an egg has been laid in the duck house. In fact there are now four chickens in with the ducks (two more decided they too wanted to live in what I am now calling Amazonia–because of the plethora of female critters uniting for some unspoken cause).

The dog discovered one of the nests in the big red barn, and has been happily taking her lunch out there on a daily basis. But one egg per day for four hens doesn’t add up–there had to be another clutch somewhere. I’ve searched the paddock to see if they’ve got a hidden clutch anywhere but have found nothing. That was, until two days ago.

For the past couple of weeks, when I let the goats out in the morning, they burst on to the scene like race horses out of the starting gate, hell bent for their sweet-feed. Malcolm, however, has been taking his sweet time at getting up in the morning and, because of this, I was worried about him: Did he have sore feet? Was he not well? Was he not warm enough at night? None of the questions explored seemed to be the reason for the slow emergence from his house in the morning and so I watched him more vigilantly than normal, but came up empty-handed–until two days ago.

The eggs that Malcolm was tending to each night where he slept.
The eggs that Malcolm was tending to each night in his house.

I decided to change his bedding and found the answer to his less than quick morning roustings: he’d been sleeping around a vast clutch of hens eggs. There, inside his wee house was the hiding place of the rogue chickens. It seems they hatched a plan with Malcolm. He would keep their secret and take care not to break any eggs and maybe, they would one day come back and try to hatch them.

Apparently Malcolm agreed and took the job seriously. For many weeks now he has been carefully tending to the eggs each night and, despite his diminutive sized bachelor pad, he’s broken not a single egg. There were 16 eggs in the first clutch and it averages between 3-5 every other day now. Instead of the goose that lays the golden egg, I have goat! Now collecting eggs from Malcolm’s house has become part of my afternoon chores.

Yes, I have taken some eggs and put them in the nesting boxes in the duck house in hopes that the hens will take the hint–so far there are no takers!

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Filed under Animal issues, Eggs, Funny stories, Goats, Uncategorized

When in Rome: eating local

Warning: some graphic butchering photos contained on this page.

I have always loved cooking (my grandmother thought I should have become a chef), but the thought of being stuck inside for my work and at such a repetitive, yet highly competitive, job put me off. As a consumer I’ve always loved trying foods from far off places. I’m the only one I know who can go to Mexico, eat like the locals, and gain weight! When I began studying for my Masters Degree in New Zealand, I had the opportunity to do fieldwork with the Aboriginal Australians. While it would have been an amazing opportunity, I eventually dismissed the idea–based on food choices. Being a ‘When in Rome’ kind of gal, I just couldn’t see myself eating grubs (and other traditional bug-type bush food), yet I knew I might have to if I spent months in the bush with the locals of Australia. Bush meat, however, doesn’t revolt me, and while in Australia I have eaten emu, kangaroo and some other ‘bush meat’.

Throughout my ‘worldly travels’, limited as they have been, I have drawn the line in gustatory adventures at bugs. I have seen grubs, grasshoppers, beetle larvae, cockroaches and ants as edible options on different menus, but the closest I ever came to venturing into the culinary arena of bug eating was while in Mexico. Living near Tepoztlan, I came upon a street vendor who cooked amazing traditional fare. One day,he was frying up a huge wok-like pot of chulapines (grasshoppers) and, lured by my trust in his chef-like prowess coupled with my ‘when in Rome’ philosophy, I nearly went for it. He was friendly, the food was obviously relished by others, they smelled tasty,  and I stood there overcome by the wrestling match between my mind and my gag-reflex. In the end I just couldn’t bring myself to try them. Thankfully none of the families I lived with depended upon them for their food, or I might have been forced to eat out of politeness.

When the chance presented itself to come and work with the Nuxalk of Bella Coola, BC,  I jumped at it. I would kill three birds with one stone: a trip home to visit my family that I’d not seen in nearly six years, a visit to my beloved Bella Coola again, an opportunity for my thesis fieldwork, and exotic food that I could cope with. The Nuxalk traditional diet would not encompass anything that repulsed me, or so I thought. Lots of the foods here I had never tried before, but thankfully none of the traditional foods came into the insect category. Living in Bella Coola during the past five years has afforded me the chance to eat all sorts of things I would not otherwise have the opportunity to try: moose, mountain goat, salmon roe, ut, traditional smoked and barbecued salmon (the Nuxalk way), ooligan fish and grease, sopallili (Indian ice cream made from a berry).  I have liked most things, and now much of the above list forms at least part of my diet. However, I have come to discover there are things I can’t get down my gullet without gagging, like ooligan oil and ut. The former is a thick grease they make by rendering down ooligan fish, while the latter is herring roe on kelp. The people go crazy for both items, sometimes travelling for 3000 kilometers round trip to get it (the ooligan run has been wiped out on the Bella Coola River, so they trade with other First Nations people far north of here for their beloved grease).

When a cougar was killed, I offered to help the taxidermist skin and butcher the cat. I had never done that sort of thing before and was pretty excited by the opportunity to learn a new skill. He planned to mount it for the hunter who tracked the cat with him. My friend the taxidermist was exhausted by the end and very thankful I’d been there to help speed up the process. Nevertheless, the job took us several hours late into the night.

The next day, his wife called me and reiterated their thanks for the help with the work. After some pleasantries she got to the point of her phone call: “Would you like a package of the meat?” With all the passion and knowledge of a food critic, she listed off all the merits of cougar meat and lard. She told me the story of how they’d hunted the cougars for years but had never used the meat or lard, and then by economic need, they finally tried it one year and have never looked back. Like nothing else on earth, cougar lard makes the best pastry, and there is no better recipe for cougar meat than stir fried with snowpeas and water chestnuts. I had heard about folks eating cougar here, but I had always turned down the opportunity to partake. Now that I’ve been up-close-and-personal with that cougar in particular, the social qualms I harboured have withered. Once it was all gutted our and laying there, it barely looked any different from a pig–nice, clean, white flesh. With my friend nearly drooling into the phone while spouting off the recipe I reconsidered my position and answered, “Sure I’d like a package.”

Keeping in mind the immense popularity of Vancouverites Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon’s best selling book, 100 Mile Diet, who was I to turn down such an interesting example of local food as cougar, when the offer arose? Where else in the world would I get the opportunity to try this? Suddenly I could see economic development possibilities for our community. I envisioned a highly specialized tourist industry burgeoning around local foods, with high end restaurants sprouting up to cater to a tourist elite who would fly in from far off places (just as our Heli-skiers do) to try the wonders of our local cuisine: Bella Coola Beaver, Grizzly Bear Stroganoff, and the founding specialty, Stir-fried Cougar with Water-chestnuts and Snow Peas!

I have yet to pick the package up or try cooking it, but will keep you posted when I do!

Cougar ready for back cut skinning.

Cougar ready for back cut skinning.

Sorry the images are not clearer, it was late and the lighting not great!

Back splitting of cougar begins at the tail.

Back splitting of cougar begins at the tail.

When a taxidermist field dresses and butchers an animal, they use a back-split technique in order to preserve the skin’s integrity and make it easier to put back together. If you are not going to use the skin for tanning or mounting purposes, this is unnecessary.

Peeling the cougar out of his skin. This is coming around under his fore shoulder and elbow.

Peeling the cougar out of his skin. This is coming around under his fore shoulder and elbow.

Once the skin is off, then the normal butchering process begins. From this point on, it looks like any other animal ready for processing.

Opening the belly, just like you would a turkey!

Opening the belly, just like you would a turkey!

If I had not participated in this whole process, I may have been unable to think of cougar as game meat–not anymore!

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Filed under Animal issues, Butchering, Cougars, Funny stories, Hunting, Locavore, Politicking with predators

Elvis has left the building

High drama in the chicken house again. First, I found a chicken dead and frozen in an odd position. We’ve been having a really cold spell for a couple of weeks, but not so cold he would have frozen to death. The water wasn’t even freezing in the chook-shed, a good sign. But, once dead and not moving, a body does freeze.

I wondered if he’d been beaten up by some of the older roosters but there were no signs of fighting. It looks as if he just gave up and keeled over, no particular reason. We took him to the dump to feed the wild scavengers that rely on that kind of food source to get them through the difficult winter.

Then I noticed a hen with a bare spot on the back of her neck, a telltale sign of an over-enthusiastically amorous rooster. The next few nights I paid closer attention to the spirit of the hen-house, and noticed that the general ambiance had shifted from a congenial cohesive group to several factions and splinter-groups; within days, an overall feeling of disharmony had taken over the chook house.

The next night Pavarotti, my stud-muffin rooster, looked particularly disheartened. He faced downwards towards the wall in one corner, planted his bum to the centre of the room, and wouldn’t even look at me when I entered. I was reminded of Napoleon at Elba: the General had lost control of his army. It was too sad.

That’s it, I thought, enough! Some of the roosters have to go, but which ones? There was such mayhem in the room I couldn’t tell which one, or ones, were the culprit. Although several hens were muttering under their breaths who the perpetrators were, I couldn’t bring myself to convict on hearsay. The investigations would have to proceed judiciously. At least I had a fair idea who would appear in the line-up. I grabbed up four of the bigger fellows–Elvis, Red, and the two Pavarotti look-a-likes–and took them to the old, now empty, chicken house. So began the slow, empirical process of elimination, but I knew from TV that most police work is just a hard slog.

Once the bullies were removed, a collective sigh of relief reverberated through the new poultry barn and everyone happily went to bed. When I went to check the next day, everyone was fine, but oddly, there were now only two roosters in the old chicken house. How is this possible, I wondered? The doors were locked overnight, the windows closed and no fox holes apparent around the building. It was a mystery.

I let the boys out, topped up feed and water, and forgot about them for the rest of the day. That night when I returned to lock them up I heard a pathetic sound coming from under the long, wall-mounted feeder! the Pavarotti lookalikes had wedged themselves into a 4 inch x 6 inch space beneath the feeding tray to hide from the others. It was obvious who the two bullies were! Thanks, boys! I crouched down, coaxed them out from their hiding space, took them back to the new poultry barn to join the others, and yes, they blended in just fine. The three tenors, reunited! Pavarotti gently let them know who was boss, and when he went unchallenged they were allowed back into the group. I felt relieved, and happy for my commander-in-chief, Pav.

All is quite on the western front, now that Elvis really has left the building!

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Filed under Chickens, Funny stories, Just for fun

None of my ducks in a row

ducks-flying1

When we first acquired our land, several of our friends had strong opinions about what sorts of animals should populate our potential farm, peacocks being the first in a procession of not-so-practical-but-well-meaning-or-at-least-decorative suggestions.

duck-wrangler1

Not wanting to be divorced in the first year of owning my first farm, I held back at leaping to satisfy each and every interesting proposition. This was not easy. I have wanted to be a farmer forever, and getting started as soon as possible could lead me to consider the repercussions of peacocks only after I had them installed. The, ‘and then what’ was nearly a secondary consideration, but I knew that mustering up a reasonable amount of self-control and applying a certain critical sensibility to the developments would be paramount to staying married.

Much to my chagrin, it was soon apparent that I was not actually in control of who would make the decisions, nor what species would populate what would soon become known as Howling Duck Ranch. Some friends, undeterred by my non-committal, ‘I’ll have to think about it and consult the other-half’ response, took matters into their own hands.

That was how it came to pass that I arrived home from work one evening to find that I was now the unsuspecting owner of 6 Muscovy ducklings. They were nestled happily in a cardboard box in the garage, all set up for husbanding, replete with water, feed, heat-lamp and a ‘god-father’ beaming proudly as he handed them over to my care. I gazed over at the Other-half with a pleading, ‘Who am I to say no at this point?’ look.

Several weeks later, they were happily relocated from the garage to a dog house next to the pond. We let them out each morning and coaxed them in each night; it was an easy relationship since they loved their pond and also foraged far and wide for sustenance, eagerly supplementing the grain I supplied them with.

The ‘far and wide’ travels began innocently enough, staying within the boundaries of our yard. Soon however, these daily wanderings turned into mini-vacations all around the neighbourhood. Routinely after work I would press ‘play’ on the answering machine to find out where my ducks had been and what they had gotten up to during my absence.

After several days of irregular wanderings, the ducks settled on one particular neighbour’s place. He had a large field that the wild geese seemed to enjoy, and I guess my ducks took special note of this. Then my drake recalled the saying, “What is good for the goose is good for the gander.” Leading his harem to this field as part of their daily indulgence, he would watch while his gals gorged on seeds and greens. I thought it was charming, but my neighbour was not so amused.

For several days the answering machine would spurt forth the same abrupt message followed by an angry phone slamming back into its receiver: “Ah, yaaaa….it’s Krrrus…jor docks arrrrrrrr ovarrr hirrr agayyn!” Slam! I felt like the mother of a naughty child and suddenly realized how my mother always found out what I had gotten up to.

I began to dread the daily pressing of the play button. How was I going to manage my ‘docks’? I didn’t want to clip their wings. Flying was their only chance at avoiding the numerous predators in the valley, so fencing the yard to keep them in was a hopeless idea, but neither did I want to completely cage them.

Instead, I began dutiful daily rounds of running along behind them, clapping all the way, until we reached our property, and hoping they would grow out of this penchant for the neighbour’s field. Eventually, they did cooperate and began finding the few new available pastures: three other neighbouring fields, and the airport runway. Older and braver now (or more foolish), they took to flying off regularly to these fields hundreds of yards from home. The phone message “Your ducks are over here” began to take on not only new accents but also new challenges in getting them home. Our farmlet is surrounded by trees, as are the neighbouring fields, so the further afield they roamed, the more difficult the duck wrangling became.

At first they would venture only as far as the airport, four hundred meters away at the end of our country road. I would go out to the front gate, call, hear a response within seconds, followed by the stirring sight of six muscovy ducks flying towards me in tight formation along the lane at about twenty feet of elevation. With a wall of trees on each side, they looked like Han Solo’s wingmen preparing to attack the Death Star. As they began their descent, they would bank left just above my head, lower their landing gear and come to an inelegant stop somewhere in our yard.

These were my ‘duck whispering’ evenings.

But then came the moment in the middle of my chairing a community consultation meeting at the hospital. The receptionist politely informed me that I had an emergency phone call from the ambulance station just along the highway from my farm. Alarmed at the myriad horrific possibilities, I raced to the phone: “Your ducks are here,” said a paramedic. “Could you come and get them?”

“Actually I’m in a meeting,” I sighed with relief. “Could you possibly walk them home?”

Eventually I was reduced to the urban obligations of motherhood: every evening I did the equivalent of driving my Toyota Forerunner all over the valley calling out my children’s names until they appeared, climbed in the truck and got driven home. However, instead of scanning playgrounds and swing sets I was peering into ditches, sloughs and meadows; instead of calling out names I cupped my hands around my mouth and yelled, ‘Here duck-duck-duck!’ And as they emerged from the fields, I would pick each duck up, load them unceremoniously into the back of the truck and drive them home. Just like children, they would jockey and fight for the best seats: they preferred the backs of the seats where they would stare out the windows and flap their wings proudly as if in flight. As the truck accelerated, so did the flapping; then they’d flop back and forth with each gear change in a desperate attempt to maintain balance and retain their hard won position.

One evening a drake made a frenzied bid for the front seat, wings smothering my face as he pivoted on my shoulder and left his calling-card. I decided there and then that they would not turn me into a hockey mom, and laid down the law about winter ranging.

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Filed under Animal issues, Ducks, Funny stories

Poultry in motion

Turkey plucker in background. Fire heating scalding water in cauldron.

Turkey plucker in background; fire heating scalding water in cauldron in foreground.

Last week I butchered 27 roosters, 8 turkeys and 2 ducks and, until a few days ago, I was doing it all by hand (see Butchering day: turkeys for complete photo documentary of the process).  Several days into the planned massacre, I had a food security meeting at the hospital (it being the only venue in the valley with video-conferencing capability). During the meeting, my mind drifted back to all the work I had to do back on the farm. While I was agonizing about how often I was having to sharpen my knife, it occurred to me that I might just be in the right place at the right time. After all, a hospital is the place where they cut people, in particular their skin, open. Why not use a scalpel?

With that thought I was suddenly anxious for the meeting to end so I could get back to the business ‘at hand’. My mind began leafing through the possibilities of who might give me a contraband scalpel; I mentally listed off the doctors whom I knew well enough to ask and noted, sadly, that all were either out of town or recently retired. While I was lamenting the loss of fruitful connections, one of the nurses walked by as if on cue. Perhaps I would be able to buy one: “Sure, but you might want to consider buying an exacto knife instead,” the nurse replied, listing off the virtues of the exacto knife: they are probably cheaper, just as sharp, not made for one time use, more convenient  and would last much longer. Laughing, he rounded out his thoughts with, “Besides, a scalpel is made for making nice neat incisions that are repairable–not really what you’re after.”

Who knew they were made for one time use? As I left the nurses’ station, I had the good fortune of running into another neighbour who at one time owned a chicken plucker. Convinced I was suffering the preliminary states of arthritis, but suppressing my desperation, I asked him nonchalantly if he still owned the contraption and whether I could borrow it. “It’s actually a turkey plucker,” he said rubbing his chin, then added mercifully, “Sure you can use it.”

Holding his hands in the air and turning them from side to side, he provided me with a quick virtual demonstration of how to use the machine, replete with the final stages of turkey plucking–holding it by the feet and gently letting it roll away from you, careful not to let it go but moving with it as it bounced up and down on the imaginary rubber prongs–and finally we made arrangements for me to pick it up the next day. (I wondered what the other patients thought we were discussing as we stood there in the corridor!)

cutting table, scalding cauldron, and turkey plucker.

The sum total of my processing plant: cutting table, scalding cauldron, turkey plucker, guts bucket, hand washing pots and towels.

The next morning, he and my husband man-handled the great machine onto the brick patio which surrounds our fire pit, where I would be working. After they both left, I got myself organized, then got a chicken slaughtered, scalded and ready for the plucker. I plugged the machine on and it whirred satisfyingly to life. Doing my best impersonation of my instructor, I gently laid the chicken over the turning rubber prongs. With a rapid fire ‘tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk’ (reminiscent of a playing card held on the spoke of my bicycle wheel by a clothes peg), the chicken throttled to life, leaped out of my hands, whisked itself through the plucker with nary a feather lost, and flew through the damp air, pure ‘poultry in motion’, before coming to an abrupt stop on the wet grass on the far side of the machine with an unceremonious ‘thwap!’

Turkey plucker almost winning!

Turkey plucker almost winning!

When I switched dance partners from chickens to turkeys, which are much heavier than chickens, the torque was several magnitudes greater, and once again I was caught off guard as the first turkey made one final attempt at flight. Determined to win, I hung on to his legs for dear life, bracing my gumboots against the machine in a desperate tug-of-war. When I thrust my body backwards in a final heave, the battered and torn turkey, still not exactly featherless, brought the whirling prongs to a momentary halt, and I retrieved my bird. If I’d been working alongside Kevin Costner, I would have earned the right (from the native Americans peering at me from the tree-line) to the name: ‘Dances with Turkey.’ While I lamented the loss of my first investment (battered and torn as it was), my dog Tui smiled smugly at the prospect of several gourmet meals.

Dances with turkeys.

Dances with turkeys.

After a few false starts, I developed a feel for it. Overall, it was a fantastic addition to my repertoire and sped up my processing operation almost threefold! Here are a couple of (not so great) photos of my ‘slightly more high-tech’ but still incredibly low-tech, little operation.

Hanging turkeys ready for killing.

Hanging turkeys ready for killing.

Cooling the meat down quickly after gutting.

Submersing the meat in cold water to cool it down quickly after gutting.

Final checking over for pin feathers and general good condition before bagging.

Final checking over of chickens for pin feathers and general good condition before bagging.

Bagging up final product ready for the freezer.

Bagging up the final product (chickens) ready for the freezer.

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Filed under Animal issues, Chickens, Ducks, Funny stories, How to..., personal food sovereignty, Turkeys

Janey’s got a gun

Because I know next to nothing about guns, hunting or general bush safety, but was about to take a trip to Williams Lake to buy a gun, I  decided to call a friend, Gary Shelton, who happens to be an avid hunter, an ex-hunting guide, an international expert on survival techniques and bear behavior, a renowned author, and a bush safety instructor extraordinaire. Gary is an extremely engaging speaker and I love listening to him speak; my mind paints images as he guides me through the forest of his knowledge.

I asked him about guns in general, and what he thought I should get that would meet my needs. “What you’re going to need is something that will not only shoot a deer or moose, but also be a bear defense weapon,” he said, and gave me a couple of options in styles and makes that he considered suitable for my requirements.

We talked some more about safety issues, my requirements, and the types and styles of guns he recommended. One particularly helpful suggestion was that whatever I get, I should have its stock cut down to meet my diminutive size; he suggested I try out one of his guns that he had cut down for his daughter. (I would not have thought that a gun could be customized in this way.)

Then, being a natural teacher, Gary talked about things to consider when hunting in the bush with someone–all to do with safety. He told me how the landscape of hunting has shifted in the last twenty years and described to me some of the changes in the legislation with respect to hunting and culling of animals. The result of this is an increase in the numbers of bears, particularly in our area: we now have the largest population of grizzly bears anywhere in the world, right outside our doors. I know this! I see them, or evidence of them, on a daily basis.

Gary also praised the bushman skills and hunting prowess of my friend Clarence, and declared: “You and Clarence should have your bear defense strategy all worked out beforehand.” Pardon me, but did you say beforehand? As if the need for a bear defense strategy is part of a lunch list: like, don’t forget your sandwich, cookies, and to take with you some water. Oh, and remember to bring along your bear defense strategy–you won’t want to be without that, if you get hungry.

“The landscape of hunting has changed here in the last twenty years,” Gary reminded me. “Because of the sheer increase in bear population, your chances of running into one have also increased significantly. Not only that: there are far more of them who are no longer afraid of humans.”

I asked him what the ‘bear defense strategy’ should look like and almost regretted it immediately: one  of you should be the lead (this should be the more experienced person), while the less experienced person should be prepared to follow the lead person’s direction. The back-up person is exactly  that: the back-up, ready to follow the lead person’s orders.

In a bear encounter, the second person should move 90 degrees to one side of the lead person (about 6 or 7 feet), so if the need to shoot is determined, neither of you are in the other’s line of sight. The lead person will make the call if there is a need to shoot, when to shoot, and if and when the back-up person should chamber a round. In other words, the lead person will gallantly step aside, calmly watch the horror unfold, and after a quiet but complex calculation say, ‘When.’ Meanwhile, the other person has ‘moved into position’, ‘squared off with the bear’ and is poised to shoot, waiting only for the signal. Oh, and if necessary, shoot well, for the love of god, and accurately–the last thing you want on your hands is a wounded, and therefore even more angry, bear.

It is important that your plan is discussed before going into the woods. It is of no use to start the discussions once the bear encounter situation has begun. The lead person will make the decision as to whether or not there is a need for defense and be making this decision based on the behaviour of the bear. This is very important, because there will be bear encounter situations that never require anyone to shoot the bear.

Of course, each situation will be different, and just because you have a plan does not mean the event will unfold precisely how you imagine it. The above description is of course, the ideal (if you can call a bear defense situation, ideal). However, there may be a situation where you cannot move to the side. In this case, the back-up person will not chamber a round. Under no circumstances should the back-up person (or anyone standing behind another) chamber a round–that is simply too dangerous.

Oh. My. God. These are not things I had considered when I committed myself to learning to hunt, or when I wrote my first happy little post by that name. Nor were they things Clarence had ever talked to me about, not even when out on our first hunt together. Then, I had presumed that if we came across a bear, or any dicey situation for that matter, it would be Clarence’s job to deal with it. My job would be to try not to pee myself, faint, or become hysterical and run rough-shod across the forest, prompting a merry little chase in which the bear would, no doubt, participate lustily.

“So,” I asked Gary, not sure I wanted to hear the answer, “will the gun you recommend be sufficient for this?” He listed the various merits of the guns he was recommending, and why. As politely as possible, I pressed him for a more precise answer: “Well [for the love of God!], which of the ones you have suggested is better for the ‘bear defense situation’, then?”

“Let me put it this way,” Gary said matter-of-factly. “When a bear defense situation goes down, you’re going to wish you both had Bazookas.”

Mental note to self, talk to Clarence!

In the end, I decided upon a Remington 700 series .280 rifle. Last night, Gary ‘pre-approved’ my rifle. What is more, he told me a whole bunch more about the rifle and listed off various merits not even the gun store salesmen revealed. All together, I did even better than I had thought. Now, I’m equipped to go hunting–and will be off for the next week or so!

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Filed under Animal issues, Funny stories, Hunting, Politicking with predators

Woman running fairly close to the wolves

The big 'bad' wolf leaves his tracks in the snow that we follow.

The big 'bad' wolf leaves his tracks in the snow that we follow.

My friend Clarence needed to go to ‘The Lake’, and by Lake we Bella Coola-ites mean Williams Lake–a 458 kilometer trip east of here, one way. Williams Lake has an approximate population of 14,000, and is the home of our nearest stoplight as well as all sorts of goodies that you otherwise cannot get in Bella Coola, like Tim Horton’s doughnuts. So for us, a trip to Williams Lake is a big deal. I asked Clarence if I could go with him. I wanted to buy myself a bigger gun, one that is suitable for deer and moose hunting and, if necessary (but God forbid it be necessary), for bear defense.

Another reason I wanted to join him was for hunting. With a near 1000 kilometer round trip through the best hunting territory in the province, I thought it would provide us with ample chance to hunt on the way back home. When I relayed my thoughts to Clarence, he corrected me in no uncertain terms. “What do you mean ‘on the way back’? My dear, we’ll hunt both ways,” and his thumb motioned away from the center of his chest towards the middle distance and then back again for emphasis, solidifying the plan right there in my driveway.

As it happened, we didn’t get away as early as intended, so the hunting on the way out was limited to looking for animals from the comfort of the vehicle. As we wended our way up ‘The Hill’, our eyes were fixed on the snow on either side of the road, searching for tracks. There were none to be seen, and this disturbed Clarence to no end. “I don’t like what I’m not seeing,” Clarence muttered over and over, speaking more to the goddesses of the ungulates than to me.

We drove along slowly, more intent on spotting some game and/or its tracks than actually getting to Williams Lake. Clarence repeated how he was puzzled by ‘what he wasn’t seeing’. There was nary a deer nor moose track to be seen. We did, however, manage to spot all sorts of predator tracks: wolf, coyote, fox, but no big game. Nor did we see anything ‘legal’, as he put it. That is not to say we didn’t see any animals at all. Before leaving the valley, we met a big boar grizzly bear at the usual ‘pee stop’ at the bottom of the hill–the precise place that I had seen a mother sow and two cubs several weeks before. While peeing, I watched the boar and wondered if he might be the father of the cubs of previous relief. Suffice to say, you learn to pee fast around here.

As we drove on, we spotted a couple of foxes along the roadside, making their way into the forest. There were numerous snow geese and other water-fowl, even a few beavers. The most exciting moment, however, came as we were approaching Riske Creek village. As a big cat came up the left hand side of the roadside incline, I saw him first and called out, “Cougar, cougar, cougar!” and watched it leap from one side of the highway to the other, touching down only once. It was a beautiful sight and only the second cougar I’ve seen in my life, the first being in my driveway early one summer morn.

I was anxious to see what the tracks looked like so we stopped the truck, got out and asked the earth to reveal the missing parts of the story. The cougar had crossed the road from left to right; the prints from his take-off position were clearly marked, and I had seen him touch down only once, almost perfectly, on the centre-line of the road. His landing spot tracks were just as clear, at the other side of the pavement on the right hand side of the road.  “Why that cougar was moving!” Clarence exclaimed, pointing at another set of tracks in the sand, “Look here! He was in hot pursuit of a deer.”

There were lots and lots of deer tracks on either side of the cougar prints, going both ways across the highway and back, and fresh ones right in front of his. As he made sense of the story, something palpable took hold of Clarence; he wanted to track the cougar. Next thing I knew, he was talking about getting his son and their dogs, about how the dogs would be on that cougar in a flash, about how cougars don’t have the wind to run very far, about how it would likely tree very quickly in this country, about where he would place a shot if given the chance, about how he’d placed other shots of cougars past, about how exciting it would be for him to see me ‘get my first cougar’–Oh. My. God!

The more excitedly he talked, the more worried I became. It  sounded like I was going to be hunting a cougar any minute and I wasn’t prepared, emotionally or otherwise. I wasn’t comfortable with the picture of myself running behind Clarence in pursuit of this cougar, struggling to keep up and maintain composure. I didn’t want to be walking deep into these rapidly darkening woods in the paw-prints of the cougar, knowing I may never seen Williams Lake again… let alone my husband… or my farm.

In the middle of my near panic-stricken reverie, Clarence finally worked his way around to sound reason: it was, after all, getting dark, his son was preparing for a moose hunt, he didn’t have his dogs, and he was on his way to Williams Lake to go shopping with a newbie, inexperienced greenhorn. “I might have to come back with my son,” he concluded finally. Thank goodness for small mercies.

While I wasn’t thrilled by the idea of spending the evening rummaging around the plateaus of the Chilcotin hoping to tree the cougar, it was, nonetheless,  interesting to have the earth give up the cougar’s secrets even if only for a short distance.

As we approached Williams Lake, safely nestled back in the truck, we finally did see some deer–all does. We stopped counting at fifteen.They were beautiful, but not legal. Nevertheless, where there are does, there are  also stags, as I was reminded by my hunting partner!

The next day was spent shopping. We had planned to head back to Bella Coola that day. However, over coffee and a Tim Horton’s doughnut, Clarence decided we should spend another night in Williams Lake. No sense in leaving late. No sense in traveling rushed. That will just cramp our ‘hunting’ style. That would be no good, no good at all.

We got away early the following morning and enjoyed meandering our way home, again in search of game. We covered a lot of ground that Clarence was very familiar with and then a bunch of ground he wasn’t. Once again, and even though we were well and truly off the beaten path, we found no sign of deer or moose. We spotted nearly everything but: fox, coyote, beaver, martin, muskrat, geese, squirrel, and more cougar prints in the snow. It was a great experience to find different tracks, try to identify them and have my guesses confirmed or corrected by Clarence.

While the whole experience was fascinating to me, Clarence didn’t really get excited until we came upon fresh wolf tracks. Suddenly, the raison d’etre of the hunt shifted–we were now focused on getting ourselves a wolf. He immediately stopped talking and reverted to sign language. “But I don’t want to shoot a wolf,” I whispered, and looked into the face of utter bewilderment itself.

Why not a wolf? proved to be too difficult to explain in sign language, let alone in a hushed, ‘we’re hunting now’ sound-byte. At that moment, I decided it would be easier to simply go along with the man and hope we didn’t catch up with the wolf–and in the end we didn’t.  But we did see enough of the story to be intrigued: we tracked one set of tracks alongside the road to where it peed on a sapling (three footprints around it), but close by we found another set coming towards us. There was clearly a reunion. We tracked both pairs for a while longer, until Clarence observed the dwindling daylight. I was more than content to stop tracking and take these photos, relieved it was not photos of an ex-wolf in my hands, instead of just my hand and the evidence of his. I only wished I’d taken them when we first came across them, as they were then very fresh and much crisper than is revealed in the photos.

Clarence is an old-time, true-blue hunter. He has hunted everything on legs and probably on wings as well. He is the consummate bushman, and a wonderful person to be with while learning new skills. He is experienced, and his ease with the natural world shines through. He has been our ‘cougar man’ for more than forty years. Whenever a cougar was spotted where it shouldn’t be (too close to a home, looking at children on a swing-set, found in a yard having killed a dog, and so on), it was Clarence that our community turned to.

He has a moose tag that is good for the next two weeks. He had taken the day off to bring his great-grand-son back to go to school tomorrow and stopped in on his way back up to camp. He asked if I wanted  to come up and see the country they are hunting in. Many of his family members will be there–several also have moose tags.  It’s a family thing, an inter-generational thing, a way of life for them–and I am privileged to be included.

Wolf track in snow, toenails showing.

Wolf track in snow, toenails showing.

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Filed under Animal issues, Funny stories, Hunting, Politicking with predators

Yeast wrangling 101

Several years ago, while still living in New Zealand, I wanted to learn more about bread. I went to the library and took out virtually every book they had on bread making and bread baking. There of course were several beautifully done books, and one that stands out in my mind to this day was called The Bread Builders. As I recall, it was exquisitely illustrated providing tantalizing glimpses of far away places, evoking succulent smells of baking breads and heady aromas of wood fired ovens.

The book that taught me the basics of yeast wrangling!

The book that taught me the basics of yeast wrangling!

While that book got my mouth watering, my eyes dancing and my imagination traveling, the book that intrigued me the most was called Classic Sourdoughs: A home bakers handbook, by Ed Wood. In this book, he skillfully describes the art of developing a true sourdough culture, how to feed it, ways of preserving it, and how to use it artfully. There are also a host of wonderful recipes to work your way through on your journey of becoming a bread builder.

Once you have caught your true sourdough, Wood explains, you need never go to the store to buy yeast again. Now that kind of knowledge is a cornerstone in the foundation of true independence–I had to try it.

Of course, while reading the chapter on how to acquire the yeast spores, my imagination got away from me. Instead of the benign creatures Wood described, I pictured something different. After all, the yeast spores I was to catch were not at all like the garden variety you picked up at any grocery store. No, these spores were wild, untamed, unruly.

The microscopic, but voracious, yeast spores my mind conjured up were riding tiny Mustang horses, sporting yellow sombreros a la Speedy Gonzalez, decked out in full gaucho gear, replete with chaps, hand-guns, and cross-their-hearts-ammo belts, galloped through the air, and indiscriminately shot  their guns off. Obviously, this sort of yeast wrangling was going to be a challenge. What I had to do  was figure out how to catch and tame them: lasso, tie down, corral, file steadily into a small bowl, and finally, break and train them to a level of finesse required to enter the culinary equivalent of Grand Prix Dressage.

The process is, sadly, much more sedate. No horse needed. In fact, it is shockingly simple: mix water and flour together in bowl, cover with gauze to protect from flies, set near open window, keep warm, feed often. Voila, a couple of weeks into this mild mannered process, you will have yourself a viable sourdough culture.

I tried it. Within days, I had a bubbling concoction that smelled exactly as you would expect a yeasty brew to smell: like yeast, with light undertones curiously reminiscent of a beer burp. The next step, of course, was to see if it actually raised bread. Wood warns the reader that it may take a few weeks, sometimes several months, of keeping the culture alive before it will make a good bread. In the meantime, he advises, use the part of the product that you pour off, when feeding the culture, to make pancakes and muffins. So I did. If you like sourdough pancakes, but have never caught a true sourdough culture, then you have never truly had sourdough pancakes–and thus you are missing out. The pancakes made from this culture were fantastic, possibly the tastiest I’d ever made.

It wasn’t long before I was brave enough to try making my first loaf of bread with my own sourdough culture. I started with a focaccia so that, I reasoned, in case it didn’t really rise well no one might notice! I needn’t have worried; it worked beautifully. The focaccia was gorgeous, the air pockets well formed and uneven, just like the  better bread from bakeries. I was immediately hooked and never looked back. Today, I scoff at the ‘regular’, store-bought yeast for bread making. Instead, I make everything with my own: a wide variety of breads both sweet and savoury, muffins, pancakes, even chocolate cakes!

This process is the only way to obtain a true sourdough culture, pure and simple. Unlike the more popular version of so called sourdough of present day, the kind that begins with store-bought yeast and adding sugar and vinegar or some such other phony brew, the true sourdough culture dates back through antiquity to ancient Egypt.

The ancient Egyptians were the first peoples to discover this technology, of how to leaven bread. Having studied this, and being a passionate collector of sourdoughs from around the world, Ed Wood founded Sourdoughs International, a company that collect, maintains and sells sourdough cultures from around the world.

He also wrote the above mentioned book, in which he chronicles many of his worldly travels, all in the name of true sourdough collecting. In 1993, Wood collaborated with Egyptologist, Dr. Mark Lehner, to determine how man made his first leavened bread in Egypt, a project supported by the National Geographic Society (National Geographic Magazine, January 1995).

After about a year of continual use of my own culture, I decided to contact Ed Wood from my home in Rotorua, New Zealand, and let him know how much I appreciated his book and how wonderful my culture was. He was intrigued enough to ask me to send him a sample, which he subsequently put through his testing kitchen. He was very happy with the results and said he was surprised at how well it performed; so he offered to buy it from me in exchange for the ability to sell it. ‘You’re not going to get rich off this,’ he laughed, and offered me a some-time-in-the-future commission ‘once some sales have been made’.

Several years later, I returned to Canada and was really glad to have made that ‘deposit’ with Ed at Sourdough International, because not only could I not bring my yeast back home to Canada, but also the yeast that I caught in Bella Coola was lazy. My New Zealand yeast was caught in the volcanic centre of the North Island, which was possibly a factor in its vigour–like Old Faithful, you could count on it to rise! However, with this Northern hemisphere variety I could not raise a decent loaf of bread to save my life. After about a year of unsuccessful Bella Coola yeast wrangling and frustrated bread making, I gave in and contacted Ed Wood again. He kindly sent me a package of my own yeast starter. It was amazing to have this resource–like having my own ‘ark’ or vault from which I could access my own heritage food!

To obtain the Rotorua Sourdough culture, see the following link

Rotorua Sourdough

To learn more about sourdough culture raising

Sourdough International

Classic Sourdough: A home bakers handbook

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Filed under Fermented foods, Food preservation, Food Security, Funny stories, How to..., personal food sovereignty, Preserving the harvest