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Archive for July, 2014

I made the CBC nonfiction short list. I was unsure whether to mention it, when the list was announced yesterday. The story is nothing to do with the building or homesteading that remains the focus of this blog. It’s an intensely personal story. Both of these things factored against posting my news here.

Ultimately though: you are all a part of my journey and many have been since the start of this great experiment of ours. You’ve cheered on our victories and encouraged me during times of frustration, and graciously even shared your own triumphs, tribulations, and aspirations. I may not have met everyone face-to-face but you are just as real a community as the one that I live in.

Like all of our adventures, writing is something I’ve embarked on without a clear map or idea of where it’ll take me. This seems a good start though. You can see all five of the finalists for the creative nonfiction prize here, including my own, “Some Distant World.”

Erica and me, Montreal, 1990

Erica and me, Montreal, 1990

One of our last mother-daughter road trips together

One of our last mother-daughter road trips together

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Cow Psychology

I feel like a country girl. I hardly identify with my city roots at all anymore. Having said that, there are times when I am rudely reminded of just how “city” I still am.

So- I’m at the gravel pit collecting rocks (don’t ask) and I suddenly get the feeling that I’m being watched. Lo and behold- I am being watched. Several dozen cows have formed a line a few hundred feet away and are staring at me. Well that’s neat, I think to myself, and continue picking rocks. I pick up some movement out of the corner of my eye and look up again. The cows are stock still but they seem closer somehow.

I go back to my rock collecting, tossing ones that I like into piles to be moved into the back of the truck when I’m done. I’m facing the cows now, and even though my head is down, I definitely see them walking towards me so I look up quickly. As soon as I raise my head they all stop moving. Now I’m familiar with this trick. I use it myself when I see someone I don’t want to talk to. Rather than running off or ducking behind something, I stand completely still, tree-like, and wait for them to pass me by.

I’ve been told this tact is crazy, and probably why it works- not that I’ve managed to blend with my surroundings. I get that now. It occurs to me after finding a few more good rocks that I could have some fun with this. I walk a few steps, the cows follow me, I spin around and they stop. And I walk a few more steps, spin around and they stop. This is awesome! I have a cow posse.

I also have a job to do so I force myself to focus and get back to my rock collection. I’m just about to turn around and heave a very large boulder into the pile when a cow snorts right next to my ear. Naturally I scream and leap into the air. This causes a bit of a commotion amongst the cows and that’s when I realize- I’m pretty close to surrounded by giant beasts.

I’m torn- I’ve always wanted to touch a cow and at least one is definitely within petting distance but I’m also suddenly acutely aware of how fucking big these things are. And they’re skittish for such big creatures. I figure if I make one wrong move again, like screaming and leaping into the air for instance, there’s a good chance they’re going to trample me into the dirt. Right?

I don’t know. But now they’re completely blocking the path between me and the truck. There’s no way I can get to the vehicle without climbing over some cows. And I really need to call someone who might know a bit about cow psychology. What are they thinking? Why are they following me and why are they closing in like this? Should I be nervous or is this an opportunity of a lifetime to seriously commune with some cows?

It occurs to me that cows might not be able to run up hills very quickly (I hope) so I take a few deep breaths and then make a break for the hill in front of me. We’re all on top of the hill now and I’m laughing and thinking about the fact that no one knows to look for me and I didn’t see a single vehicle on my way in- and probably won’t for days.

Now that we’re all on higher ground there is a clear path to the truck, though there’s still a dozen cows down there too. “Lazy ones,” I tell myself, “they’ll never get you.” They wouldn’t even try the hill. I race for the truck and jump inside. The cows kind of saunter down the hill and surround the vehicle. Nicely played cows- you don’t really need speed on your side, do you?

Hey- so guess what? There’s no 3G at the gravel pit. I can’t even call out. Which I guess is okay because I still haven’t figured out who I could call who might know enough about cows to explain them to me. Most of my friends insist that I’m lucky to live in the country but qualify the statement with, “I wouldn’t do it.” I don’t think they know cows. Shane knows about moose (“don’t chase them,” good to know) but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know about cows.

“Think, Brandee, think.” Okay- I could probably honk the horn and that might convince them to leave, if they don’t decide to tip the truck. One is rubbing his giant head on the passenger door as I consider this option. Buuuut, what if they don’t mean any harm and I’m perfectly safe and freaking out for nothing? Suddenly that part of me that races for the water as soon as I see the warning flag go up is thinking, “Scary- for sure- but cool, right?” Definitely.

So I get back out of the truck, slowly. I’m going to hang out with these cows for a while and, if they don’t kill me, I’m going to finish getting these rocks. Because- I might want to do this again. I want to at least reserve the option to do the whole Pied Piper thing again without the cows saying, “nah- she’s an asshole, don’t bother with her.”

Turns out- totally safe. You can hang with cows for hours. They get in the way, for sure, and they’ll shit on your rock piles without a second thought. You can’t talk to them at all. Or you can, but you can’t reason with a cow. Like say you want something that the cow is standing over- tough. You’re not getting it. Or I wasn’t anyway and risk getting kicked in the head. I don’t know if they like to be pet because I didn’t want to freak anyone out, but that’s my goal next time. And there absolutely will be a next time.

Waiting for me to get back out of the truck

Waiting for me to get back out of the truck

in front of the truck

in front of the truck

Hadn't loaded many rocks before these guys showed up

Hadn’t loaded many rocks before these guys showed up

Hey baby cow!

Hey baby cow!

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Three new (very long) gardens

Three new (very long) gardens

I can hardly believe that it’s July already. I don’t really want to think about how late in the year it is, and with so much left to do. Summer is finally here, late once again. No matter though. I started many of our vegetables indoors in the spring and everything is looking very healthy right now. Some of it is seriously nibbled, thanks to the ridiculous number of grasshoppers in the area but luckily I planted enough to share. And I do mean share, and not spare, because if a leaf is only half eaten I will indeed eat the other half.

 

My three sisters garden is coming along, albeit slowly. The corn is doing well. The squash that survived the very late frost we got is doing alright, as are the beans. The dill that I didn’t plant has spread like mad. All of the vegetables are coming along quite nicely. We’re eating salad every day and I predict that we will be for a while to come. Luckily I planted a variety of greens so it’s never boring. Cassandra butterhead lettuce, an assortment of colorful romaine, strawberry spinach, Swiss chard, two kinds of kale, Bloomsdale spinach, and a couple other types I can’t quite recall mean that every day’s dinner is a little different. The rhubarb is insane. I’ve started freezing batches because I can’t possibly (read “won’t”) make as many crisps as it would take to use it all up.

 

If you haven’t planted greens, just a reminder that it’s not too late. I put in my second planting this past week and it’s already coming up. It doesn’t take long to grow greens. And if you’re one of those who prefers ornamental gardens- at least take a peak at some of the varieties before you rule them out. Butterhead would be a lovely border plant, you can choose between green, red (which is more of a deep wine color), and speckled varieties of romaine, and strawberry spinach actually produces small berry-like fruits that are quite pretty and very tasty. It is possible to have a garden space that is both beautiful and edible.

 

No one will be surprised that I haven’t updated the blog in a while. It’s kind of a theme, especially come spring and lasting straight through until fall. We’re, as usual, spending a lot of time outdoors. Plenty of hours on labour. But in truth, I’ve partly avoided writing because I don’t quite feel like sharing what we’re currently up to. Years ago, when we first got together, I remember asking Shane, “Who exactly is supposed to be the reasonable one in this equation?” We examined each other through narrowed eyes, neither willing to take the bait.

 

Years later, we still haven’t quite concluded that argument. I feel like I probably take on the unwelcome task more than he does, though I’ll admit not on any regular basis. And I’ll concede that I sometimes throw an idea out there with the caveat that, “this might sound crazy but,” and if he takes it on, well- it was his idea to actually do it.

 

Anyway- we’re on one of those right now. And as Shane is fond of pointing out, when we come together on an idea- look out, because we’re coming for it. Mmm… anyhow, I don’t plan on telling any of you quite yet what it is we’re doing. Maybe once I feel it’s been a while since anyone asked, “Are you insane?” Until then, the garden is doing beautifully, landscaping shaping up a bit at a time, the house is holding up nicely. How about you? I’ve neglected touching base. Any wild and wonderful things happening in your part of the world- gardens, buildings, activism or other fabulous events?

Several varieties of romaine lettuce

Several varieties of romaine lettuce

A few of our greens

A few of our greens

Thriving gardens and potted vegs

Thriving gardens and potted vegs

Strawberry spinach "berries" taste a little like beets

Strawberry spinach “berries” taste a little like beets

Shane, still finding buried barbed wire on the property

Shane, still finding buried barbed wire on the property

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