Category Archives: Just for fun

Back in the saddle

Kit the wonderfully charming horse I leased while living in Regina last year.

Kit the wonderfully charming horse I leased while living in Regina last year.

I finally have my computer back and up and running and should be able to be regular again with my posts. Posting on the blog is not the only posting I’ll be doing on a regular basis again. Yesterday, I went to see a woman about a horse–my horse! I finally got my butt back in the saddle and took a much needed riding lesson. A lesson that involves posting–we’re learning dressage.

I have always wanted to ride horses since being a child but not really had a lot of opportunity to do so having grown up in the city. Consequently, I’m having to give this dream to myself as an adult. My aunt would take me trail riding every year for my birthday and I loved it. Until living here however I didn’t have the time, the money or the resources to support a horse–now they are part of my life.

Four years ago I finally got up the courage to buy myself a horse. Nick is now a 24 year old purebred Arabian with a personality that is larger than life, and not really befitting a horse. “He’s unlike any other horse I’ve had,” said the rancher that sold him to me. “I bet he’d sit on the couch and watch tv with you if you let him” he summed up as I handed over the cash.

Nick was born and bred right here in Bella Coola by a man who once raised cattle on the property I now own. He was then sold to a rancher down south who worked him with cattle before selling him to another rancher (the man who sold him to me) in the Chilcotin. When this fellow got out of the business, Nick made his way down to what he thought would be an easy retirement here in the valley. Until I showed up, he was getting fat and happy in the paddock with his friends.

Then, I began riding him. It was going to be an informal relationship. I was going to take lessons on him and he was going to get exercise, no strings attached. However, from the first day out with him I knew he was different–there was an immediate unspoken communication link that was palpable between us. Until meeting Nick, I had thought a horse was just a horse. I was wrong. After just one lesson on him I found myself feeling confident enough to buy him, and so I did. Finally, I had my very own horse and an Arabian to boot. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven: I still do.

A cross country ride up in the Chilcotin on Shelia.
A cross country ride up in the Chilcotin on Shelia.

Me and Nick ready for our lesson!

Me and Nick ready for our lesson!

Yesterday, we had a rough ride. He was persnickety and let me know he was less than happy about being ignored for several months and now expected to work. My instructor helped work him (and me) through his hissy fits and we ended off nicely together. Despite having a ranching background I think Nick really always dreamed of being a ‘girls’ horse. He seems to love the work of learning dressage and grows about two inches when in the arena. The wonderful thing about him besides the fantastic work ethic (and hissy fits aside) is that he’s a rough and ready 4 x 4 when he wants to be. All that ranching background makes him a nice sound ride when out in the bush: he’s faced down bears, thinks nothing of forging rivers, doesn’t go into a frenzy if a butterfly flutters by or a ruffled grouse suddenly explodes from its hiding place.  He’s exactly what I need in this country. He’s exactly what I’d have come up with if I’d drawn up a wish-list. He’s my one good horse.

Who says you can't teach an old ranch horse some new tricks?

Who says you can't teach an old ranch horse some new tricks?

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Filed under Animal issues, Educational, Horses, Just for fun

The taste of place

The Essence of Canada

Birch syrup rendering over an open fire.

Birch syrup rendering over an open fire.

Well, it wasn’t exactly cost-effective, but we did taste the terroir of our own birch/maple syrup for the first time yesterday. Yes, that word ‘terroir’ extends beyond wine to other earthy products, because syrups do have local flavours, too.

Most people think of maple sugar production as quintessentially Canadian, and located either in Quebec or Ontario. It’s just not an activity one associates with the prairies or here on the western Cordillera–but we did it! We found six birch and three maple trees in our front yard which looked likely producers, and tapped them last week. Over the weekend we continued to clear the front forty, and in the process of burning the small dry sticks and undergrowth, we rendered down our first batch of maple/birch syrup. The rendering ratios are 40 and 100 to one respectively, and because the maples produced more sap, the ratio of syrup was about 40:60, so by my calculations (and believe me, during the day we had time to calculate!) we ended up with a mix of about 20% maple,  80% birch.

My friend Clarence came by and stood amazed at what we were doing, never having witnessed this activity in this valley. As I looked across at my little yellow buckets hanging from their spiles in the tree trunks, I wondered why we are not all harvesting from our woodlots in this serene, labour-free way. Much of our radio news these days is filled with so-called ‘catastrophists’ predicting global economic ruin, and advocating getting out of cities, and I’m glad we are in a place where there is still so much knowledge of how to fend for oneself (Clarence’s friend supplied me with the spiles, buckets and advice on which trees were best), and enough space to do so.

Birch syrup rendering continues inside for the final stages.

Birch syrup rendering continues inside for the final stages.

I had read that you can easily burn syrup in the last stages. Mind you, you can easily boil it all away thinking it’s still just water, because it looks that way for most of the process: no amber colour, no viscosity. We had been away for a few days and weren’t sure how much of the buckets was in fact rain water–but we remained hopeful. After a day’s boiling, I brought the pot inside to complete the task on the stove. Sure enough, miraculously, at about one inch depth the liquid suddenly thickened, darkened, and looked like maple syrup. I took my first, tentative, frugal sip. Delicious! I read that boiling over an open fire imparts a camp-fire, smokey taste, and that’s true; this seems to enhance the caramel flavour, while underneath (almost literally) is an earthy, mineral flavour. I contrasted this with the more ‘clear, crisp’ taste of some birch syrup we buy in Quesnel, a town northeast of us, up on the plateau.

So, after a day and a half, I had about a quarter of a cup of pure gold in a jam jar, and we’d burnt all our windfall sticks and branches. We’d also shared two days outside under grey skies with temperatures heroically hovering just above freezing, but we were able to celebrate our ‘spring’ break pleasantly warmed by the fire and dreaming of future spring days, when the air will smell of turned earth and chlorophyll rather than smoke and birch sugar. My food sovereignty year started with gathering fiddlehead ferns in early April, but this new discovery has extended my growing season into March. My attitude towards time has shifted; as a self-provisioner, it is now geared to food availability rather than the clock and the calendar. I used to regard my year of activity as beginning on May 24, the traditional date for beginning safe frost-free outdoor gardening; with the discovery of fiddleheads it regressed, and now it has regressed even further. My world is measured by food: not only in time, but in space also, because wherever I walk or drive I remember what food I gathered there, or what i might gather in the future–that berry patch, that bend in the river. This must be how animals map their worlds, too. Last week while clearing the front of our property I realized from their trails that bears travel east/west and deer travel north/south, because their food sources lie in those directions (the bears follow along the streams to the salmon rivers via the berry bushes, the deer to the meadows via my vegetable garden). Like the Aborigines of Australia with their songlines, I am making my own tracks across this valley. Like the deer and bears, my map is taking shape along paths of sustenance.

The results of the first rendering of my maple-birch syrup--tiny, but tasty and worth its weight in gold!

The results of the first rendering of my maple-birch syrup--tiny, but tasty and worth its weight in gold!

And while my project of food sovereignty is not always about cost effectiveness, this exercise renewed my appreciation for how cheap our food is: Quebec maple syrup in a jug at our supermarket is about $12. The more self-sufficient I become, the more I learn about how much effort it takes to feed myself. As with other food items  for sale in the store, I now think $12 for a jug of maple syrup is far too cheap for the resources used–even considering the so called efficiency of mass production.

I’m also looking at my land and its resources differently. What only a month ago was a tangled mass of ‘Wine Maple’ (that I was told should get taken out because it is ‘no good for anything’) has become a precious resource to me. I already have a second batch on the stove and will likely make several more batches over the next few weeks. I’m thrilled to have access to this wonderful sweet liquid–one less jug I’ll buy from the store. I feel a sense of accomplishment having added another dimension to my personal food security. I also feel a deeper connection to my land and an increasing sense of place; I now look at those trees on my place and think, ‘I know where you are and what you taste like!’

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Filed under Agriforestry, Educational, Food preservation, Just for fun, Learning to Farm

Writing at Not Dabbling in Normal

I have been reading the Not Dabbling in Normal blog for several months and am continually impressed by the depth of knowledge revealed, and inspired by the community of like-minded people that this blog provides us with access to–via the ether! So, I am both excited and flattered by the invitation to participate as a regular contributor.

One of the best things about that blog is that it is run by like-minded folks who have tonnes of information for the struggling upstarts like myself. I have found them to be more than happy to answer questions when I have needed answers. I have felt both humbled by the depth of experience these folks have and inspired by the supportive encouragement they have afforded me. When you live as remotely as I do, this kind of ether-community is like a warm safe place to land and draw sustenance from.

Note, you can visit them via the above link on their name or I have also put them in my blog roll.

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Filed under Developing Community, Just for fun, Uncategorized

Putting a damper on things

This post is in honor of Howling Duck Ranch’s new friend Mitch, who is presently amidst the worst fires in Australian history!

You’ve been asking how the chickens are doing. You’ll be happy to hear that they are all doing fine! They are especially happy today now that the cold weather has broken finally and they are presently grubbing around the yard in search of tasty morsels. Some of them spent time laying in the sun today, the first we’ve had in ages. While I was taking a break from writing today and enjoying a warm lunch of vegetarian pasta, I looked out the window and spotted Pavarotti being groomed by one of his favourite gals and I thought, “Gee, Mitch would like to see this.” Unfortunately, by the time I got the camera ready, they’d completed the task of sorting out his plumage and were back lounging in the sun. Nonetheless, here is a photo for you; I hope it will help dampen the fires and clear away some smoke so you folks can breathe easier this weekend!

This is the rain we experienced last November-December 2008.

This is the rain we experienced last November-December 2008.

Chickens inside on a rainy day.

Chickens inside on a rainy day.Notice the blue tarp which I roll down over the roosts at night.

You will note that I’ve taken out the chicken roosts on the left hand side. I’m experimenting with one of Joel Salatin’s ideas of using deep bed litter and saving myself a lot of time in mucking out their house! So far, it is working really well. If you want to learn more, read Pasture Raised Poultry, by Joel Salatin at Polyface farms. Link to his website is in the blogroll, or click here to go directly to his list of publications.

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Filed under Animal issues, Chickens, Ethical farming, How to..., Just for fun

A brief update

ant_writingHello folks! First off, thanks for all the comments and advice you’ve so generously shared over the past few months with me. I’m feeling somewhat guilty lately as I’ve not been able to keep up the near daily posts–for various reasons, some under my control and many not. The main reason I’ve been truant of late is that I’m putting together a book! I hope to complete it in the next few weeks. I thought it would be done this week, but thanks to the generous and provocative feedback of some close friends, I’m now adding another couple of sections and chapters. So, I will get back to the more regular posts; it is just going to be a while yet.

In the meantime, thanks to Mitch for the ‘make my day’ feedback about my blog. I will write an update post about the chickens as per you r request, ‘as soon as’. Rest assured, they are doing fine and loving their new home. I will post some updated photos when I get a moment.

I’m thrilled to have happy news to report. Just when I was about to make a confessional report that I’d lost Virginia the kitten, she reappeared! After the first three weeks of having her here, I decided to let her have her first ‘free range, outdoor adventure’ and took her out to the  near barn. She promptly scurried to the back of it, hiding behind 132 hay bales, and wouldn’t come out. Nine days later–with both of us convinced she  was dead (killed by a fox) or had run away–my husband was surprised to find her in the new barn, sitting quietly behind the duck feed, gazing up at him as if to say, “Well where the heck have you been?” She is now  sitting on the couch, purring happily.

And finally, for those Stonehead fans who are wondering what happened to his blog, he has recently confessed that he is taking a ‘grumpy and mean’ break and taken it down temporarily. He’s been being attacked far too personally lately, and so has decided to give himself a rest from the vitriolic bombardment. Here’s hoping his ‘happy and nice’ batteries are soon recharged and he gets back up and running, educating and entertaining us all once again.

And that’s all folks! Back to the galley (and soon, hopefully, ‘galleys’!) …wish me luck.

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Filed under Educational, Ethical farming, Just for fun, Learning to Farm, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolfe?

Virgina in her room with a view.

Virginia in her room with a view.

Around here, Virginia Wolfe is considered ‘the other woman’ since she commands a significant amount of my husband’s attention. He adores both her and Catherine Mansfield almost equally, and spends much time expounding upon their virtues and generally referencing them at every turn in his daily life. He spent many years teaching their novels at different Universities he worked at, and whenever I am struggling with my writing, it is one of those two women he turns to for his  ‘Educating Rita’ type lessons. More often than not, Virginia wins by a hair: “She is the master of sentence structure,” he tells me proudly, as if he secretly had something to do with her ability.

Since building our new poultry barn which allows us to store more animal feed, I have wanted to have a cat around to keep the mice away. Three days ago, Clarence fulfilled my wishes and brought a wild kitten from his place to Howling Duck Ranch for me. It was the only one left of about 30 wild cats he’d been feeding around his home; the others were eaten by the cougar (which was finally killed last week). He’d thought he’d lost all of them until this little gal showed up again the other day, and he offered her to me.

I had not wanted a cat because of the worry about having to train them not to eat my own stock. I’m hoping that because she was raised on Clarence’s place, she won’t be difficult to keep from going after my birds (like me, he keeps a flock of about 100 chickens for eggs)–Clarence wouldn’t put up with a chicken -killing cat or any animal, for that matter.

She is an orange cat with green eyes, a white bib, white and darker orange rings on her tail, and white French tipped toes. Once I had her safely installed in my little old gal’s ‘live animal’ transport cage (that had brought Tatra back to Canada from New Zealand), I began searching for names. Amber… no that’s the name of a gal that runs the local campground; Peaches… no, my friend’s dog has taken that; Kit, as in Kit-cat… no, that was the name of my horse in Regina, Saskatchewan. It occurred to me that my husband might like to come up with a name since he’d not named many of the critters around here; besides he’s really more of a cat person than I am.

While I was cooking dinner and pondering this, the cat meowed. Actually, I have yet to hear a full throttled meow out of her; this sound was more of a peep–well, as close to a peep as a cat can manage. I went to see what she wanted and as I opened the door to the ‘Room of Her Own’, quite involuntarily, the first few bars of ‘Only the Good Die Young’, with only slight variation to the lyrics, escaped my lips: ‘Come out, Virginia, don’t let me wait/You kitty-cat girls start much too late’–and it just seemed appropriate. Virginia. Virginia kitty. Not only would this name satisfy the Literature Professor in my hubby (I rationalized); it also appeals to the Billy Joel fan in me. Besides, rumor has it that Virgina Wolfe said in public that Catherine Mansfield ‘smelled like a civet cat’, which is a pretty catty thing to say about someone!

Virginia kitty.

Virginia kitty, the newest member of Howling Duck Ranch.

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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

A green meme

I’ve been tagged by Dani of The Kitchen Playground for a green meme (1). The list of questions generated for me were not as interesting as hers, but I’m interested to see what gets generated for others! As Dani said, I’m interested in the possibilities this opens, for learning and generating discussion.

Lets wrap up the administrative side of things, here are The Guidelines:
1. Link to Green Meme Bloggers
2. Link to whoever tagged you
3. Include meme number
4. Include these guidelines in your post
5. Answer questions (erm – that bits quite important)
6. Tag 3 other green bloggers.

Green Meme #2

1. Do you use baking soda toothpaste or baking soda shampoo? If not, would you consider it? I use baking soda for all sorts, including toothpaste. Didn’t know soda shampoo existed! I would use it if it were at the Hagensborg Mercantile.

2. Do you make any home cleaning products? Baking soda for most things, I also use vinegar for disinfecting, and both together for drain cleaning.

3. What is your top green issue at the moment?
The politics of food: most green issues are represented and/or revealed in our food production and distribution system. This centralized system is responsible for a lot of the world’s environmental degradation, economic oppression of farmers and rural areas, the unraveling of our societal fabric, atrocious animal abuses, and a host of other problems. If we brought production and distribution of food back to our communities, raised the bar on relevant environmental issues surrounding food production and distribution, and created ethical guidelines for production and distribution (vis-a-vis animal treatment in particular), we’d solve a lot of things in one fell swoop.

4. Given unlimited cash, what is on your fantasy green wishlist? I would make my home completely independent in energy, water, and heat as we were when we built our home in New Zealand. Then I would build an dairy in the valley and employ lots of people, provide our community with good food and dairy products, and raise happy goats and cows on good pasture; I’d raise ‘salad bar’ dairy products and run a large mixed pasture raised farm (a la Salatin).

5. Have you implemented any new green act/behaviour/product this month? Dehydrating and canning more food, thereby using less of my freezer space specifically and being less dependant upon electricity in general.

And to learn a whole lot more, I’ll link to the following informative gals: Little Ffarm Dairy, Throwback at Trapper Creek, and Season’s Eating Farm.

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Filed under Just for fun