The Ease Of Summer
Summer is rolling along at a cool windy pace. Yip it is not a hot one so far, lots of rain, which is great for the gardens. We’re still harvesting spinach, lettuce & kale. Most of the tomato plants are knee high & have little flowers on them; this is amazing for the beginning of July. The laying hens are giving us 10 to 12 eggs per day, just enough for personal use & to sell a few dozen a week.
I’ve started swimming at the lake; the fresh spring water is
much nicer than the indoor pool that we use in the winter. I love swimming outdoors,
just came across a phrase for swimming called, wild swimming, meaning you’re
not in an indoor facility. Makes it sounds all wild and dangerous, see now me
thinks it should be the other way around. So, indoor swimming should have a
name to distinguish it from ‘real’ swimming in real water as opposed to
chemically altered water. Such is our times that what is natural is considered
wild or outside the norm.
Robyn found a Hansa Rose Shrub that will grow in our zone & we planted it in the front garden underneath the living room window, it looked like a little stick. We loved having a great variety of roses when we lived in Barrie, but after moving here (zone 3b) we discovered the hard winters killed them of very quickly. This beauty is blooming & is hardy to zone 2, can even live when planted in the North East near the ocean. I am so tickled it has grown & is blooming already. Fingers crossed we seem to have this gardening thing blooming at a great pace this year.
Although it took a lot of money, work & time to restore this
farm (house, barn & fences) to a functioning site of pleasant semi madness.
Looking at it now I can say it was well worth the effort. We recently took our
first holiday in 8 years & had a fantastic time. The people, the place, the
lovely home we stayed in, the generosity of family & friends & time on
the ocean all invigorated and revived us beyond our imagining. I wondered how I
would feel leaving the farm for more than a night & I wondered how I would
feel leaving my birth place after our holiday to return here. For the first time in my life I was
sad leaving here & happy returning. I am used to over the years being
excited to go back to my birth place & nearly crying when I have to leave
it. Like I said we had a fantastic time there, there’s no place on earth like
Newfoundland & the open hearted souls that call her home. I think it is the
farm itself that has got into my heart and soul and has matched the connection I
have with my childhood home.
I am at peace here, there is no doubt. It took many years to
get out of the cities & live among nature. I am so grateful for the entire
journey of my life because all of it has lead me to be who I am today and the
ever windy road has lead me to Pony Springs Farm.
I wander from garden to garden, pick a bit of mint and suck
on it, reach down to cup a deep red rose & my entire being sinks into its lovely aroma.
Throw some weeds to the chickens & watch their sparkling feathers glisten
in the sun. Brush the nose of a soft coated pony & breathe with her slowness
of being. I stand in a green meadow & glance up to the apple tree on the
hill for a moment it is hard to believe this is my life but it is and I am so
very grateful to be alive.
There is a meadow behind the barn, up past the hill. I love
the peace & quiet, only the wind & chirping birds can be heard there.
The poplar trees move like swaying dancers as the wind ebbs & flows through
their spring green tops. I imagine I am back in the meadow standing with arms
raised in a state of bliss.
In reality I am lying on my sofa having over extended
my sacrum & hips with my stretching exercise last evening. It feels as though I’ve been
punched from the inside out & although I have been on a very healthy active
routine for the last year or more I just bloody well want potato chips. My nemesis,
potato chips. I made a frozen blueberry, banana, almond butter smoothie &
greatly enjoyed it but the potato chip demon has set up house in the wee
corners of my tired pain soaked brain & will not relent. So, instead of
getting in the car & driving to the corner store (which is up the highway by about 12 klms) I decided to write an update for my farm
May has been a busy month with spring veg planting (thanks Chris,
Kristen, Alyssa & Cole), cleaning
the chicken coop (thanks Louise for your help), mending fences and daily walks
to the a fore mentioned peaceful meadow behind the hill. Linda brought me a
lovely Bee Balm plant which has a place of honour in the south facing garden at
the side of the house, where it can grow as big as it likes (thanks Linda). The
chickens have started laying large brown eggs and have daily fun with their new
kid size swimming pool in their outdoor garden. They really are so very much
fun to watch. Jackson, our barn dog, went for his seasonal bath & grooming
and is the most handsome boy on four paws. The ponies have shed out most of
their winter coats & are having fun running through the summer pastures
& munching the green grass. I have been swimming 4 times a week & had
added the hike to the back meadow as a daily event until last evening. I have
to stretch my spine every day for pain control, it really does help but last
evening as I already mentioned I over did it. For all the ‘think positive about
crap sooth Sayers’ I’m positive I hurt myself, I’m positive I’m in pain, I’m positive
I can barely move but I’m also positive that the potato chip demon is fading
away as I write.
It fascinates me how changeable the mind can be, how moods ebb
& flow like the tides of the sea and yet I look around this room and
everything is the same as the other day when I felt so happy & grateful for
life. I am reminded we carry our peace or discontent within us and to some
degree on some days it is a choice what we focus on but some days we just bloody
well want friggin’ potato chips. It’s amazing how programmed we can become I’m
bored, I’m in pain, I just want to lie down watch movies & eat junk food. I
feed the chickens organic & non GMO mixed feed because I want them to be
healthy & have as long a life they can. I read the ingredients in the
dogs, cats & ponies feed to be certain to give them the healthiest options
out there. But when I’m challenged physically or emotionally I am compelled by the
desire to put junk in my body. Why is that?
This land here on the farm I take
great care to add what will create life not destroy it, I have recently begun
using some bio dynamic principals. I pray for my land, I thank it for allowing
us to life here, in short I am reverent towards the land & the animals
& even the other humans but I am impatient with myself, why is that?
not worthy of as much value as everything else I honour & respect?
Yes, I think so. Therefore, today I will not eat potato chips. I will rest & allow my body to heal. I am grateful to all my friends & family who have helped us this past month. I am grateful to the chickens for the healthy eggs they give us. I am grateful to the meadow & the swaying poplar trees with their chirping birds for the peace and ease they bring me even when I can only lay on my sofa and day dream of walking among them.
Spring has arrived at the farm. The long cold winter is
over. The snow is all melted. Ponies coats are shedding out & the chickens
are enjoying their daytime runs in the outdoor pen. With help from visiting
family we created spring veg garden beds and planted kale, onion, beets &
spinach seedlings. I pretty much love all of the 4 season’s (yearly events not
the singing group). I am however a bit miffed with winter, it was very greedy
and took up half the year.
been a person who enjoys order and stability. The seasons are not what they
used to be, there is no order, no certainty. You can’t exactly break up with
the weather, you can’t say, “I’m done with you!” and walk away. We live within it;
we are at its mercy. This has become very evident the last 8 years living on
the farm. Farm chores and garden maintenance have to be done no matter the
rain, wind, cold or scorching heat. There are no snow days, you still have to
walk to the barn (probably wearing snow shoes because you’re too tired to start
the snow blower & clear the paths).
Having chronic pain, an arthritis or
fatigue issue means you rest in-between outings, living beings depend on you so
there is no quitting. There is a great
feeling of satisfaction with building fences, fixing equipment, doctoring a
sick animal, growing your own food and working through the joys &
tribulations of a 20 year partnership in the midst of it all.
So, Spring has arrived, early veg are in the ground, animals
are running around outdoors, intermittent sun & rain are hitting my face.
The seasons of the year can reflect the seasons of our life. I am not greedy to
hold onto the season of youth. With age has come the ability to ease into many
situations I would have avoided in younger years. With age has come the
knowledge that we never know what a day will bring. Plans can be fulfilled or
shattered. People can be faithful or break your heart.
My inner life can be peaceful or suddenly upset. We are not static, like the seasons we flow in ever moving circles of existence. Sometimes we loop back to feelings & activities of previous years, sometimes we make a sudden jump into new territory of feelings or activities. It’s all an adventure, the farm and life in general. Why stand still when we can move? Why sway to music when we can dance in the fullness of the sound? Whatever today brings let’s just flow with it, embrace it, survive until we thrive and look forward with ease to the next season.
The hardest time of year to live in rural Canada is definitely the winter. Winter’s here in L’Amable, Ontario are very long, very cold and most years very snowy. That is 3 too many verys.
The first two winters we were here it snowed for days on end and within 2 days we could have up to 6 feet of snow added to the several feet on the ground. The first winter we were here someone said to me, “Where did you move from?”
“Barrie.” I says. “Oh well you’ll enjoy living here because Barrie gets so much snow.” When I saw them the following summer I says, “How much snow do you think Barrie gets” “Oh, well this was an unusual winter.” They says. Well, it seems every second winter is an unusual one, how many do we have to have before it becomes usual. Luckily we had our roof rake and heating cables and they certainly came in handy.
I had a fella come by to snow plow after weeks of doing it myself with shovel and blower and he pushed and pushed with his blade & truck and slipped and skidded and finally he came to the door. You wouldn’t have any sand lying around. Keep in mind there was 8 feet of snow covering everything and more where it had drifted, couldn’t exactly go dig up some sand could we. Well, he thought maybe wood ash would do it. No, none of that laying around either. Well, he thought maybe if I cleared the snow once in a while it wouldn’t be so deep. The entire driveway was cleared the day before and all of this snow fell in the night, he looks out at it and says wow, that’s a lot of snow. Now, you see the thing was, this buddy lived down the road from me. Is it a different climate zone and I don’t know about it? I was nearly crippled from clearing snow and this guy decides to critique my endeavours. He cleared a 1/3 of what was needed and charged twice as much as it was worth if he had done the entire job. Not looking to build brownie points with the neighbours I guess. That was some years ago, we have a great snow plow guy now, Mike has fair prices & always finishes the job.
Another aspect of winter life in rural Canada is the condition of the roads. I did not know we had snow, ice covered roads and everyone accepts it, like it’s perfectly normal. Or that on snowy days you can’t really go anywhere until the snow plow comes unless you crawl by trying to follow one cleared track in the middle of the road and hope you don’t meet someone coming the other way, especially a truck filled with lumber barreling along at break neck speed. I have yet to figure out how the one track is made but that’s how it looks, one cleared vehicle track going right along the very middle of the road. Snow tires are a must and we have them, have learned we also need, and now do have, large box of cat litter in the truck of the car, take it out and use it in the late Spring, as we don’t get spring on March 21st, more like May long weekend.
As I write this it is March 20th. Back in the dark ages of the 80s, when my children were little I would dress them in their new Spring jackets, sneakers and jeans & pretty Spring tops and off we would go to the Toronto Zoo, because it was March Break and that was our outing. There was never snow on the ground, ever, tulips were in bloom and the sweet smell of warm Spring air filled our nostrils. What has happened? This morning it was -10c, there is still about a foot of snow on the ground and more in the bush. I can’t let the chickens out, they’ll freeze their little feet off. There would be no going out in Spring clothes, it’s like there is no Spring anymore. There’s winter and summer, that’s it. So, I’m looking forward to Summer. Now the frost free weeks run from the end of June to the middle of September, so that is our growing season, a very short summer. I’ve had to buy vegetable seeds that are usually planted in the sub-arctic so that I have veggies that are ripe before first frost in September.
This winter the folks on the east coast have got hammered with brutally heavy snow falls, we just experienced the brutally cold temps, endlessly it seemed. For months the outdoor temps never went above -28c and nightly dipped to -35c. Pipes froze in a variety of places, drainage and flowing water challenges kept us busy. I remember the first winter cold snap that saw Arctic temps and someone says, “Unusually cold winter we’re having.” We’ve had 5 of the last 7 years with unusually cold temps, again, I ask, “When do we begin calling it usual?”
So, you might ask, why put up with this? Why not move? Well, climate change is afoot everywhere, nowhere is immune from extreme weather any more. But, most importantly, those 2 ½ months of summer make everything worth it. As well, I do like winter, the first 3 months from November to January are fun, it gets very old after that but we can’t have everything now can we.
I do love rural living! I love being awakened by the sound of the song birds at the feeders and on warm June nights I fall asleep to the sound of crickets and toads coming alive in the bogs. I love walking along the road and closing my eyes and knowing the season by the scent of the air, the earth, the vegetation. I love the absence of what’s missing too, the sound of sirens, the neighbours kids screaming, car horns honking, the stench of smog, the fear of break ins, the feeling of confinement; I love that these are no longer part of my daily experience.Too much cold and too much snow and too much flies well I’ll take these inconveniences over the crowded, noisy, smelly experiences of city life.
Another 5 weeks and I can start planting out the spring seedlings, how cool is that?! Last week there was a mild day and on my walk I closed my eyes to check, Yip, I could smell spring in the air. What does Spring smell like? The earth is waking, the tree sap is running and the air has a slightly fresh sweet smell. You see winter has a clear cold smell, no hint of sap, no wakened earth. These are priceless experiences, they can’t be bought or sold, they can’t be manufactured. That’s why I am here and will stay here, I am settled with this place and part of it. I flow with the seasons, the awakening of life from the sleep of winter is my favourite time of year.
For two years I had been saying (of and on, not every minute of the two years) “ I need to live in the country. I really have to get out of this city. It’s killing me, literally.” We had been looking at properties with a few acres around Barrie. Nothing really fit, too small, too expensive or just too weird. One place listed as a farm had a tiny house, 2 bedrooms that were more like closets, not the walk in kind. No one knew where the well was, certainly not on the property. The owner thought maybe it was on the neighbors property but there was no problem as they wouldn’t think of cutting of the water supply. Sounds reasonable right?! The farm had a barn and maybe an acre. An acre is not a farm.
So, we kept looking. One Spring we went to see a listing that had a few acres, paddocks & barn. The house was on a tilt, the little deck on the front was falling off. The paddocks were under 4 or 5 feet of water, every else were trees. We were told there were horses on the property. I asked where they were as all I could see was a tilting house surrounded by a pond & trees. They were in the woods, of course they were, horses don't like hanging out in ponds. I noticed the properties on either side were high and dry. So, in the Spring all the melt filled up the few cleared acres that apparently function as a farm the rest of the year, maybe? We didn’t return in the following seasons to check that theory out because a pond is not a farm.
I was ready to settle for a country home on an acre of land but my better half had her mind set. “If we’re moving it’ll be to a farm. Otherwise I’ll die here.”“You’ll die here! Like right where you’re sitting, here in the back yard.” I chuckled. With great seriousness and strong intent she says. “I’ll die right here.” “Well” says I, “Let’s imagine your gonna live for a few more years. Where would you like to live.” Somehow the conversation had ended as I was suddenly alone looking at the Maple trees in our backyard. So, the stressful time of trying to find a little farm in the country near the city of Barrie came to an end. It was just all too stressful so we moved on with other things in our life.
September long weekend 2007 we were staying near Bancroft for a mini vacation and decided to take a scenic drive around the area. I was in heaven. Lakes, woods, rocks and a little town with a grocery store, bank, doctors, dentists, book store, cafe, and a few restaurants, little town being the operative word. It was a two or three hour drive from any major city, just a perfect spot. My sleepy heart was waking up. I calmed myself and thought. This place is in the middle of nowhere and we had given up the search some months ago so I went back to just enjoying the lovely view. My better half says, “We’re going to live on this road.” I dared not speak. She was not normally given to prophetic out bursts but on a rare occasion she did have a track record of knowing certain obscure future happenings. We returned home to Barrie, the next morning I got an email from a realtor from Bancroft. Better half had signed us up for emails from this realtor.
Two weeks later we had our farm. A five bedroom house on 79 acres of land, with a large Bank barn , wood shed, chicken coop and several other out buildings. The land has a old heritage apple tree, several pastures and about 50 acres of mixed bush with trails. The house required a tremendous amount of work, the barn wasn’t in very good shape either and transition from city to farm wasn’t as easy as it could have been. My daughter and I lived in the house while it was under extreme renos. Better half commuted on weekends the nearly 3 hour drive from Barrie to Bancroft, until she could find work in this area.
The outdoor wood furnace never heated the house above 15o c that first winter. There was no hot water because the tank drew hot water from the outdoor furnace which no matter how hard we worked never gave us hot water. It was a homemade system that never worked for us. We have since sold it to the neighbors and used the money to put oil in the tank at the side of the house that connects to the furnace in the basement that the previous owner never used and couldn’t vouch for. Turns out it was a nearly new furnace system that has been working just fine ever since. We also installed an air tight wood burning stove in the living room and enjoy the extra heat on those -40c days & nights.
What we didn’t know about farm living before moving here you could probably fill a book with but I’ll give an over view of a few things.
Didn’t know outdoor wood burning furnaces existed and that homemade ones with no electricity to create damper control were beyond our ability to comprehend or operate.
Didn’t know there were multiple seasons of flying pests in one year. We have black flies, that bite like fire under the skin, mosquitoes that swarm like starving zombies, No Seeums (a form of midge) that get through window screens no problem and oh yes, the mosquitoes don’t just have one season out here, if it gets hot then cold then hot again, they come back with a vengeance. June & July we have various types of Deer flies & horses flies. Meaning that Bugmagedon begins in early May and ends sometime in late August. There are weeks on end that we wear fly suits to go from house to barn or to do any gardening.
Didn’t know it could snow nearly six feet in one weekend and when you finally get a path to the barn cleared and part of the driveway passable it would start snowing again.
Didn’t know that a place other than the arctic can have a night time temperature drop so low your outdoor thermometer can’t measure it because it’s below -40o Celsius.
Didn’t know they made clothing for -40o weather. Do now and am very grateful for it all, coats, boots, hats, mitts.
Didn’t know we could build a fence from wood from the mill and screws from the Co-op, but we did and darn proud of it too.
Didn’t know how to sump pump water from a dug well to a stock tank for animals, do so now.
Didn’t know how to chop fire wood & kindling and stack it safely, do so now.
Didn’t know what no till gardening was or how to manage it, do so now.
Didn’t know how to build a shed door, do so now.
The ‘do so now’ list is very long and that is the real benefit of this life. You need it done, you need it repaired, you figure it out and you fix it, maybe not the first time you try but eventually you succeed.
The first few years were the hardest. Work was part time and so economies meant no satellite TV or internet. The best of intentions to start growing our own food and raising meat birds went in fits and starts, some years good, some not so. We had much to learn and it’s the type of learning that comes from doing. No matter how many books you buy and how much research you do, which as it is my nature I did with great gusto. Many things on a farm are learned by the doing of it and this takes time and mistakes before you get in the groove of it. The first culling of the meat birds taught me I’m not made for the killing of living creatures for my food, too much crying afterwards. I have since become a vegetarian and feel much better about it. My better half continues to be an enthusiastic carnivore but cannot eat meat from any being we raise. So, we have laying hens that enjoy a great quality of life and give us yummy farm fresh eggs. We have two ponies, one Newfoundland and one Welsh, that are primarily pets and are well loved and cared for, as well as several dogs and cats.
Work is now full time and we are in a groove here at the farm. We downsized our livestock to create a more manageable situation. Two of our ponies went to a friend’s farm where they are being trained for show jumping and having a greater variety of experiences in the world. I had 48 laying hens but have downsized to just 14. I found a home for the rest with some friends of ours.
This year we are working towards our largest vegetable garden and only time will tell if we are successful. We plow ahead with all of our endeavors and look forward to the next adventure around the corner here at Pony Springs Farm.