Our flock is in lockdown these days thanks to the avian flu, so we moved our mama hen’s broody box from the barnyard into the layer coop’s attached, roofed pen. Now, we thought, she can at least get her babies out for a wander, even if they can’t free range. They can sleep in the broody box at night.
Broody had other ideas though, that evening she tried to put her kids to bed in the main coop rather than the broody box. But to stay warm enough, little chicks need to sleep under momma in a nest. They don’t have feathers yet, except on their wings. We tried to convince mama otherwise by locking her and her family in the broody box for a few more days, but nope.
As soon as I opened the broody box again, off to the main coop they went, to practice going up and down the long ramp. At that point I threw up my hands. Mama clearly wasn’t going to listen to me. Nor could I leave the little family confined to the broody box for four more weeks, until the babies were old enough to roost. It was important that they be out and about with mama, having adventures.
That night when I went out to lock the coop, mama had gotten all her babies inside. I could hear one or two crying up at her from the coop floor. The tears didn’t last long though, by the time I finished chores and went back to check on the situation, all was quiet. Stubborn mama had taught all four of her kids to fly up (!) and snuggle under her on the roost. The roost is a 2×4 laid on its side, so it’s wider than the babies, which helps.
I’m glad my chickens are so adaptable. That’s just what one needs to get through a pandemic, as we have all learned over the past couple years!
On a whim one Sunday, years ago when our girls were little, DH and I went to a liquidation auction in Sooke. Much drama ensued, and we returned home that day the proud owners of several boxes of random Christmas decorations, the entire seasonal detritus of a defunct hardware store. It was our first auction experience and it was a doozy.
When we got to the store that morning we had no idea that we would shortly be participants in an event that would impact all our Christmases to come. We innocently wandered around checking out the goods, DH spotting one or two lots of tools he was interested in. Then the bidding started. As we waited for his lots, the first of two Christmas lots came up. It included everything on one whole side of a two-sided display unit. The auctioneer started off at $30 but no one seemed interested. At all. He wheedled and pleaded but still zero interest. So he dropped to $20 and tried again. Nothing. “Oh why not” I thought to myself “that’s a real good deal plus it will be fun for the kids!”, and I nudged DH to bid. He did! And no one outbid us! And all of a sudden oh my gosh the whole lot was ours!
As we were digesting our delight, and feeling quite the seasoned auction pros, the auctioneer started the bidding at $20 on the second lot, the other side of the afore-mentioned display unit. We held back, pleased with our take (only twenty bucks!!); we didn’t need to bid on this one. A pair of women immediately bid, but no one else challenged. It looked like they were going to get the second lot for super cheap like we did!
The auctioneer kept trying to get something going, to start someone else bidding, but no one went for it. That was when he lost his temper, slamming his hands down on the counter, then pointing at the two women in disgust, “I saw what you did!” he sneered. “Moving all the good stuff into this lot and putting all the crap in the first lot! Yeah, I know what you’re up to!”
“So…we’re gonna go with auctioneer’s prerogative here! Sir?” he snapped, turning to us, “you took the first lot, so I’m giving you dibs, would you like to take the second lot for $20 too? We stared blankly at him for a moment as howls erupted from the two women. The rest of the crowd stood silently, no doubt enjoying the drama. Then… “sure!” we agreed. I mean how could we not? I was on the auctioneer’s side anyway. Naive us hadn’t noticed those two ladies’ pre-auction shenanigans. But the auctioneer had. Probably everyone else had too, and that was why nobody but us bid on the first lot.
The argument went on for a bit, the women loudly protesting about the unfairness of it all, and saying he couldn’t do that, and the auctioneer giving them hell for cheating, and saying he could do whatever he bloody well wanted. It ended with the two cheaters being bounced from the auction. We hung around till the end, happily paid for and collected our two lots, and headed home, feeling like we really did well at our first auction.
We shared our largess with family and friends, and that Christmas, we went whole hog, putting up every speck of those decorations, along with all the stuff we already had. The results were over the top and the kids LOVED it.
Little did we know that we had set the bar so high, we would spend every Christmas for the next 25 years doing the same. It’s just part of our tradition now, and thank goodness everyone pitches in to help. The ladder work especially takes longer than it used to. Some of the decorations have disintegrated over the years, and some I conveniently “lost” (spray snow and window stencils…NEVER again), but we still have plenty of mementoes of that long ago auction in Sooke.
Last year, with one of our three daughters unable to make it home thanks to Covid restrictions, we were more subdued, some boxes stayed under the stairs. But this year, over the past couple weeks, our wonderful children have all pitched in to help, and the place looks crazy Christmas, as always. We are ready, and excited, because this year, with everyone vaccinated and living much closer, we will all be together again. ❤️ I can’t wait. ❤️
The meteorologists warned us well before it arrived. “An ‘atmospheric river’ is on its way!” they excitedly predicted, “and a windstorm!” Rolling our eyes at their hyperbole, we got ready anyway, pulling the foot bridges off the creek, putting the carport freezer up on blocks, moving our vehicles to higher ground. The weather has been nuts this year, anything is possible. We charged all the things; the neck lights and headlamps, our phones and tablets. We filled the potable water jugs, lining them up along the kitchen counter. The well pump won’t run if the power goes out, and we like our tea, so we need plenty of water. We stacked firewood by the door, made sure there was gas for the generator, and that the barnyard crew were well provisioned.
Saturday around noon, right on schedule, it began to pour, and it didn’t let up until 48 hours and 153.9 mm later. More rain at one time than we’ve seen since we moved here almost a quarter century ago. Over the last ten years, only seven MONTHS beat the rainfall we saw in TWO DAYS. We didn’t quite make the top ten, but our Malahat (Island Highway) did.
Now, I love the rain, but this was too much rain, and all the time it fell, my nerves were on edge. When would it stop? Would we flood out? We live in the bottom of a valley, right beside (…like, within six feet of) Goward Spring creek. The barnyard is next to the creek too, further down the property. In other words, we are about as exposed to flood risk as a beach dweller is to a tsunami. And an atmospheric river was flowing.
After dark was the worst, because we couldn’t see what was going on outside. We could only hear the enemy, drumming on the skylights. We took it in turns through Saturday and Sunday nights, putting on raincoats and headlamps and tromping outside to monitor water levels while practicing SAR whitewater safety – “stay far enough away from the rushing water so that if you do slip, you won’t slide in”. That could easily end badly. The water was roaring through our valley so vigorously that we had to shout to talk to each other outside. One of the nights, I forget which, RG flashed her light in our window, doing a bed check, and woke me up. Why was she looking in our bedroom window at 3 in the morning in the pouring rain? She’d been doing the rounds, and DH had left his office light on and the back door unlocked, and she was worried he’d gone out to check on things and fallen in. But he was snoozing beside me. So she went to bed too, and soon after that I got up, and we carried on.
For the last year or so, seeing our weather misbehave more often, and reading about weather events around the world, we have paying more attention to planning for disasters. One improvement that we had been debating was putting a culvert in on the far side of the driveway bridge, to redirect water away from the house if the creek flooded over the bridge and rushed down the driveway. We hadn’t broken ground yet though on that little job, and this weighed on my mind as I watched the rain fall. Were we too late? Had we dithered too long?
But much to our relief our house stayed dry. All our floodwaters went to harmless places. The people who built this house did good when they put it on the high side of the creek. Our little watercourse burst its banks quickly, growing from her usual five feet wide to more than 20. She overwhelmed the driveway bridge, but harmlessly, splitting into three streams temporarily, then rejoining herself and flowing out across the yard in an big double arc that combined again well below the house. She did not come down the driveway towards the house at all.
The coops stayed safe too, the creek banks get quite tall down that end of the place, so there was enough capacity to carry the excess water away with only a bit of flooding on the far side of the creek. It was close though, if the water had risen another few inches, the hen hotel would have turned into a spa.
The property right below us flooded badly. The creek widened into a lake across its entire 200 foot width, and spilled over the public path that runs alongside. Luckily there is no house there yet. Although they are trying to get a permit to build.
The deep ravine at the other end of our lane flooded too, sending water sheeting across the road so that DH’s brakes temporarily failed as he tried to negotiate the corner. All a bit of fun for him, I suppose. Motorsport man would have enjoyed getting out of that little difficulty.
At noon on Monday, the rain finally stopped. What a relief!! And then, literally half an hour later, our valley ringing with emergency vehicle sirens, the creek roaring like a jet engine, and a line of cars strung out along the far side of our place turning around because the road ahead was submerged, the wind started blowing hard. It was surreal. Almost immediately, grove of 3 or 4 big alders crashed down across the roadway, the rain soaked soil letting go without a fight. The power went out and the roadblocks went up. It would be almost 24 hours before the road reopened and the lights came back on.
“It’s a good thing” I thought at the time, “that we’re not trying to run any pumps”. We didn’t need to. Our little creek was a champ, working 24/7 to whisk all that water away down the Colquitz watershed to the Salish sea.
It’s been a week now since the storm began and here on the island things are starting to settle down. Parts of the lower mainland are still a colossal mess. Thousands of farm animals dead, thousands of people with flooded homes, and people missing in highway slide areas. The main routes to the rest of Canada were still closed Saturday morning, three of them finally opened in the afternoon.
Over here on the island, our grocery store shelves are half empty, the feed stores have no feed, and gas is rationed. Our island highway has reopened, single lane alternating, but hey, it’s not closed for 12 hours a night anymore! They’ve managed to stop it dissolving down the mountainside.
Here in our muddy valley, we’re in clean-up mode, and watching the weather forecasts. Another storm is expected this week. North of us this time though, they say. Like many people, we can see the weather is changing, so we will keep doing what we can to be ready. It’s only sensible. We’re not going full tinfoil hat prepper, with big buckets of dried food in the basement and an AK47 in the closet; not even close. We made sure to get pictures of the storm’s impacts, and I am storing these online along with the rainfall stats and my observational notes. Data yields information, which yields actionable knowledge, which yields… we hope, a roadmap to guide next steps. We know now that we don’t need a culvert, for example, and we have the pictures to prove it..
This weekend, as I work around the place, I will keep an eye out for trouble spots. I might take more pictures, make a couple more notes, and I will definitely stake the high water marks where we plan a new bridge over the creek. All jobs best done while the storm’s scars are fresh on our minds and on our environment. Because there will be a next time, and the gods help those who help themselves.
I had read about getting hens to hatch duck eggs, and since I had fertile duck eggs, but no broody duck, I thought I’d give it a try. Spring was turning to summer, and so far, no prolific duck mama had come sauntering out of the bush with a passel of ducklings (also something I had read about).
So I gave a broody Orpington hen a half dozen duck eggs and put her to work. A week later, I went out after dark one evening and candled the eggs to see if they had started developing. Hmmmmm, none had. It seemed our Duckbert might be a dud as a stud. So I disappointedly pulled the duck eggs and gave her some chicken eggs instead. At that point, it was the shortest, straightest road to my Orpington finishing her brood cycle in a timely manner, which would keep her a happy, healthy hen.
Twenty one more days passed uneventfully by, at the end of which mama Orpington produced a most satisfactory passel of chicks. I added a few more chicks out of the incubator and all was well.
When a hen finishes her hatch, she moves the family, lock, stock and barrel, off the old nest and onto a fresh one. Once my hen had made the switch, I moved in to clean out the old, tired nest. And lo and behold what did I discover, tucked away behind the broken egg shells in the furthest corner of the nesting box? A duck egg! I guess I hadn’t got them all, three weeks before, when I had switched out the eggs. Oops. But it couldn’t possibly be alive. Could it?
It was possible actually. Muscovy eggs take 10-15 days longer than chicken eggs to bake. So if my Orpington had been sitting on that egg all this time, and if it WAS fertile, it would be due to hatch within the next week. And it was suspiciously heavy.
I took the egg into the house and candled it. Yep, there was a little duck in there. Damn! What was I going to do with one duck egg? And potentially one duck? Ugh. I was in the middle of tearing out my incubator room, preparing to move to a new one, and didn’t have any other hatches on the go. Singletons were a pain to raise. But I couldn’t just let it die. Sigh. So I unpacked my smallest incubator, plugged it in out of the way in a corner of dear husband’s shop, and placed the egg inside. “The chances of it hatching are slim”, I reasoned with myself. “But I have to let this play out.”
Over the next few days, as we continued with our reno plus the spring farming chore rush, the egg sat there baking in DH’s shop. I forgot to turn it. A bunch of times. It ran out of water (used for humidity) several times too. Daily ten minute cooling as is recommended for hatching ducks? Hahahaha. We were all just so busy. Whenever some member of the family asked, I told them not to get their hopes up and assured them it couldn’t possibly hatch.
Until the day DH came in the house and announced excitedly “there’s a chip out of that egg!” With the egg being in his shop, he’d taken a bit of a proprietary interest in it.
“Oh crap” I thought. “if the damned thing does hatch, what on earth am I going to do with it? I have no incubator room, no brooder. It’s all packed away in boxes!”
By the next day, with my family all eagerly awaiting events, and me warning everyone that this likely wouldn’t end well, the egg had a clear hole in it. It was a hard hatch, as is to be expected when an egg goes through as much as this one had, and it took another whole day before little Duckberta, named for her father, appeared. (We have no idea if she is actually female, she may be renamed to Duckbert the Second at some point.)
Duckberta was quite weak, but rallied enough within 24 hours that I thought she just might make it. We set her up in the laundry room, in a Rubbermaid bin with a grate over it; a heat plate, food and water inside, and stepped around her as we went about our family life. She started in crying pretty quickly. Lonely, as singletons always are.
DH helped, by taking her into his office next to the laundry room, where she snuggled and tunnelled around inside his hoodie as he used his computer. This is the man who generally has nothing whatsoever to do with the farm animals, except driving the hay truck once a year. He has taken a liking to ducks though, and before long Duckberta had him wrapped around her little webbed finger.
After a couple days of ongoing peeping complaints, at times strident, from one lonely little duckling, I realized mama Orpington could spare a child, and I brought Duckberta a little Barred Rock buddy. He quieted her down immediately, and they lived together quite happily for a couple more days. By that point though, we were all getting tired of stepping around a smelly chick brooder every time we went into or out of the laundry room. It was time for a more permanent solution.
I wondered if mama Orpington would take Duckberta under her wing, if she showed up with little Barred Rock? It was worth a try. That night after dark, I took the chick and the duckling out to the hen hotel and slipped them under mama’s skirts where they settled down immediately.
The next day, Duckberta was ambling around the brooder in the middle of a crowd of 17 Barred Rock and Rhode Island Red chicks, just another one of the gang. She didn’t move as quick, and she made more of a mess when she ate, but other than that, she seemed to fit in just fine. Thank goodness. A couple days later when I accidentally spooked mama off the nest one night, I noticed that Duckberta had staked out the prime nest real estate, right under the middle of mama. Evidently she was coping just fine.
There have been a few challenges, like figuring out how to get her the extra vitamin B she needs to grow strong. But we are working things out as she grows, and, a much faster grower, she is now twice as long as the chicks, although not quite as tall. A duck out of water in one sense of the phrase, she has taken to life with her chicken family like a duck to water!
Although the day she comes across her first real puddle or pond, she will likely give her poor dear mama a heart attack by jumping right in for a swim. As ducks do.
Spring is just around the corner, March 20 to be exact. Here in our muddy valley, the first chores equinox of the year, which took place yesterday, is a sure harbinger of spring. Chores equinox happens twice a year; it is the first and last days that the evening chores, which must be done at dusk, are done after one sits down to dinner. I love both the spring and the fall chores equinoxes. This time of year, I look forward to all the long evenings I can spend outside after dinner. In the fall, I look forward to chores being the last outside job of the day, followed by dinner and a snug evening indoors. It felt a little strange walking out there with a full tummy last night, rather than an appetite!
Our little dog Chance is a creature of habit. He is also blessed with a robust internal clock, so that all his days, as far as he can manage them, unfold right on schedule. From the moment he wakes up, to climb sleepily into my lap where he will snooze for another hour and a half while I drink coffee and read the news, (the only time of day he even considers snuggling in the recliner with me) until he successfully wrangles me onto the couch in the evening so he can press first his head, and eventually his entire length, up against my leg and, you guessed it, sleep, each day’s events unfold in the most predictable, most delightful (from his point of view), manner.
At the same time, he can be very adaptable if he so chooses. Nimble in fact. If one day I randomly hand him a dog biscuit as we are coming in from the barnyard, he adds this exciting event to his list, and the next time we come in from the barnyard, he beelines to the closet door behind which the dog biscuits live, where he stands eyeing me with a confident air, genially wagging his tail. If I keep walking, turn the corner and head up the stairs, he quickly deflates, his body language screaming his disappointment, and trails glumly after me up the stairs. He will keep asking for days, if not weeks, every time we come in from the barnyard in the afternoon, before he’ll sadly strike “receive dog biscuit after barnyard” from his schedule. Lord help me if I give him that après barnyard treat more than once in a month! He almost needs counselling to finally let go.
The daily schedule around which Chance’s life orbits consists mostly of events involving food, although specific types of snuggle time on specific pieces of furniture with specific people are right up there too. As is going outside at specific times (ostensibly to relieve himself, but really to yell at anyone, man or beast, daring to use the road in front of our house), play time with Arrow, feeding the horses in the evening, and to cap each day, his chew chew (rubber bone stuffed with tiny treats).
I admit I do indulge him, and yes he is a manipulator. I am quite aware and I do allow this; I take reciprocal pleasure in making my dog happy. Chance’s schedule harmlessly choreographs our days, and has for years. I know that his schedule makes my little rescue dog feel secure, but sometimes his fervent adherence to it still surprises me.
Each day after early morning barnyard (for me, he stays behind snuggling in bed with DH) he and I go into my office where I nudge my computer awake and grab him his daily half a dentabone. I throw it, he grabs it excitedly, and I “change my mind”, chasing him down the hallway and into the living room, growling that I want it back. He dearly loves being chased, he cavorts and practically giggles as he goes. Then I laugh and give up, he plops down and begins to devour his treat. I retreat to my office, shut the door, and start to check my email. After a few minutes, his single soft ‘scritch’ at the door signals that he’s ready for breakfast, which I serve in the kitchen, then back to my desk. Another ‘skritch’ a few minutes later tells me he is ready to go outside. Generally his barking gets him brought inside again, usually by DH, and eventually another soft ‘skritch’ tells me he is ready to take up his position on his six inch foam bed under my work table, where he snores away the remainder of the morning while I conduct my business of the day.
The other morning, I had a deadline and was already working when he got up from DH snuggle time and skritched at my door for his dentabone. Knowing that he would just sit there, softly skritching every few minutes, until I gave him what he was “owed”, I grabbed half a dentabone, opened the door, and dropped it at his feet, then closed the door, sat back down, and got back into my task. Until. Skritch. A minute or two. Then, skritch. “Oh jeez.” I thought, “He’s got to be kidding, it’s not enough to get the treat, he wants me to chase him too?” Realizing that the quickest route to peace was to indulge him, I got up again and opened the door, whereupon he grinned up at me, picked up his half dentabone in his mouth and tossed it high in the air over his shoulder into the hallway, pivoted, pounced on it, took possession, and ran down the hallway giggling, with me in hot pursuit.
“Excellent” I could practically hear him thinking as he plopped down to chew, “that’s done properly now, and rightly so.”
Last Sunday night, a heavy old tubular steel gate that had been hanging, chained and locked, at the end of our barnyard driveway for more than 25 years vanished in the night. All that was left behind was the plastic netting (carefully folded and set aside) that had been zip tied along its base to keep chickens and ducks from wandering onto the busy road, and a couple broken chain links. DH reported our theft to the police, and the fellow who took our report said it was a first for him in more than 3000 calls…usually people enter and exit through gates to steal stuff, they don’t actually steal the gates.
Scavenging a gate from between two fields elsewhere on the property, DH and RG spent much of the day installing and theft-proofing it. Of course, as with any farm chore, the usual number of tangential roadblocks cropped up along the way, each having to be dealt with as it arose. DH’s farm truck battery died at the feed store where he’d stopped to ask them to call us if anyone came in looking for farm gate hangers. RG had to go give him a jump, after one from a kind stranger didn’t work. Then, as well as the new chains and locks, DH had to go buy a new truck battery. Funny how vehicle batteries always die when the weather turns cold, isn’t it. It ended up being a fairly expensive day. Good locks, chains, and truck batteries don’t come cheap.
On the advice of middle daughter, the organized one, I wrote a quick Facebook post and sent it to a couple ‘what’s happening in our community’ pages. My post got lots of attention, so it didn’t take long for the local print and TV media folks to come calling, looking for a story. We indulged each as they came, because of course any publicity just might help. Maybe someone had seen our large (12 feet long!) gate travelling down the road. Maybe someone had noticed a big old gate appear in their neighbourhood. With a replacement looking like it was going to cost north of $300, and the usual insurance deductible meaning the cost would assuredly come out of our own pockets, we really just wanted to get our old gate back.
Lots of folks reacted to the story, we read all the comments, which ranged from sad to mad to everything in between. We enjoyed seeing RG on the evening news – it’s always fun when family is on TV. And that was it, I thought, Muddy Valley Farm’s fifteen minutes of fame. I’d been surprised by the level of interest, and was happy when things started to settle down. I liked the idea of sinking back into quiet obscurity.
The last interviewer who had come by had said as he departed “You never know, it might just turn up, I’ve seen it happen.” I wasn’t holding out too much hope, but thought that if our gate was to reappear, it would come in the form of a call from a good samaritan reporting a gate in the ditch somewhere. Mostly though, I thought that probably we’d just never see our old gate again. Luckily, the gate we’d scavenged to plug the opening onto the busy road wouldn’t be needed between the barnyard field and the Tarzan Tree field until the weather improved, and we could let George and the donkeys out onto grass again.
The week went by quickly, as weeks tend to do, and every morning as I walked out to feed, I’d glance up at the driveway entrance, thinking of what that last interviewer had said, and hoping…on the off chance…
Friday night was a frosty cold one, and the barnyard was gorgeous as I walked out to feed early Saturday morning. I glanced to my right as I crossed the winter field, and saw…something?…what the heck? I set down my buckets and fished for my glasses on their string around my neck, squeezing them on between my scarf and my toque, then peered up the driveway again. The gate almost looked like it had…doubled? Walking more quickly now (could it be??) I dropped the feed buckets at the barn door and headed up for a closer look. Were my eyes deceiving me…or…OMG, the old gate!!! It was back! Leaning against the new gate, it’s chain securely taped (so THAT’s how they kept it quiet!), it was definitely our old familiar gate. The rust spots were just where they were supposed to be, but the metal cash box (which we hadn’t used for years since we stopped selling manure) was missing. I didn’t care, our prodigal gate was home!!!
I pulled my phone out of my pocket, which was not easy as it was nestled under several warm layers, and called DH who was in the house enjoying his morning coffee. “THE GATE IS BACK!!!!” I shouted delightedly. “Really???” he said, and then he laughed and laughed and so did I. We were both shocked. What a head shaker. Then I texted my sister “holy sh!t, it’s back!”, but she never got the message because I accidently sent it instead to a random ex-coworker in my address book whom I hadn’t talked to for several years. Suffice to say I was a little stunned.
By now George was stomping around expressing his strong displeasure at his feed bucket’s delay, so I carried on feeding him and the donks, letting out the ducks and giving them feed and water, then over to the coops to do my chicken chores. When I got back to the house I quickly dashed off another post to let everyone know the good news. One of the nice things about good news is sharing it, so that was fun. Of course the media folks got back in touch for follow ups, and the TV guy is coming back today to interview RG again. I’ll have to congratulate him on his insight.
All in all, it’s been an interesting experience, and I’m thankful for it. Good and bad, these are the happenings that enrich our lives. At its heart though, this is a redemption story. Unknown persons came to our farm, did a bad deed, saw how it affected us, regretted their actions, and then righted their wrong; redeeming themselves in our eyes and, I believe, in the eyes of the universe too. Redemption narratives are as old as humankind, and for good reason; they give us hope. These days, with all that we are living through with this pandemic and everything else that’s going on around the world, a good redemption story provides sustenance to our souls. I don’t know who took our gate, and I likely never will, and it doesn’t matter.
As I said in my second post, we’re all human, and we all do stuff we later wish we hadn’t. And sometimes, we even have the courage to make it right. It couldn’t have been easy for whoever took our gate to return it, but they did so anyway. By doing so, not only did they make my day, they made a lot of other peoples’ day, and they redeemed themselves as well. Gosh I love happy endings. Happy Sunday everyone!
Oh the rain we had yesterday! Our little workhorse of a creek swelled up enormously as she digested her floodwater meal, gulping down every bit of it with her usual aplomb.
My neighbour up on the hill to the NW of us checked in at one point, reporting waterfalls gushing down from the heights above, down to form a “new” pond at the bottom of their place and then across the road and into the valley bottom along which our little Goward Spring Creek runs.
We were watching our creek carefully, as is prudent for those of us who live beside any waterway in stormy weather. As her crest passed around five pm, we still enjoyed a clear foot of space below our permanent bridges, phew! Again I quietly thanked those who put our house where they did, mere inches from the water’s edge and yet safe and dry for many years now.
Fingers crossed our luck holds. Last January we had 262 mm, the highest monthly total in more than ten years but still well off the hundred year high of 358 mm set in January 1953. Our place was built in 1972, so who knows what will happen if another hundred year record breaker comes along. Hopefully we won’t find out!
Our big side-yard hawthorn (Crataegus Oxycantha), British expat and lovable invasive species, has finally succumbed. She had been visibly failing since October and probably long before. Her capitulation was precipitated by the heavy snow load Mother Nature delivered yesterday on the first day of winter.
Always a pleasant neighbour, Ms. Hawthorn graced our side yard for many years. She made herself useful, as both trees and the British tend to do.
Each May saw her don her trademark white-tinged-with-pink floral dress for ten days or so, before flinging it off all at once as the weather warmed. We always enjoyed the resulting petal-storm, so much gentler than yesterday’s frigid blast.
She was a steadfast summer helpmeet too, her hundreds of thousands of tiny shiny serrated leaves collaborating to shield us from the hot sun, as she dabbled her toes in the cool creek, rejuvinating her green frock. In this shady role Ms. Hawthorn silently chaperoned dear C’s graduation celebration, dear K’s wedding shower, and many teen parties and get-togethers over the years.
Every September she produced bountiful shiny clusters of the reddest of red berries, edible, but not very palatable, admired by passers by and relied upon by our local wild bird population.
Her roots must have been imperceptibly loosening as the fall rains softened the bank she stood on because she began to tip over into the yard, managing a full forty five degrees from her traditional upright stance before we noticed that she was losing her grip and moved the hammock out of the way.
We decided to keep clear and let her come down on her own, for safety, worried that if we began sawing, the release of the strain she was under would snap us straight to kingdom come. I expected her to collapse within days of our discovery, but she doggedly hung on, long past Halloween, right through November and a series of heavy deluges, and indeed almost through December, until yesterday.
Presciently, I had taken a quick photo of her as I slogged by on my way back from the barnyard and the lunchtime feed. She was heavy with wet snow as was our whole valley. I had divested myself of my sopping snowy outerwear, poured myself a bowl of hot soup and settled down at my desk to read email when a text came in from Resident Gardener, “that hawthorn broke”.
“Just now?” I asked.
“The one we thought would come down soon” she continued, our conversation following the usual frustratingly disjointed cadence of my texting sessions.
“Ya heard it crack when I was outside just now” RG then observed.
By now I had made it to the bathroom window where I could indeed see that my dear Ms. Hawthorn was no longer peeking over the shop roof, and the adjoining trees’ branches still wobbling with the shock of it all.
“Wow” I excitedly exclaimed to RG, having by then switched over to a voice call. “I just took a picture of her! Should have stood there and waited I guess.”
I ran downstairs and outside, slid into my boots and made my way carefully down the slushy path past the shop until I could see her in all her recumbent glory. I took another quick shot or two, then retreated back into the house and my warm office.
The end of a lovely tree, another casualty of 2020. RIP Ms. Hawthorne. I take solace from the fact that we can look forward to your many inevitable heirs sprouting in your place. May they grow as tall and as buxom and as indefatigably as you grew, until 2020’s latest weather bomb got the best of you.
As a havoc-filled 2020 continues to unfold in all its dismal glory, I am, like everyone else I suppose, doing my best to keep calm and carry on. Pandemic and lockdowns, a crazy president refusing to admit he lost, climate change breathing down our necks, ridiculous conspiracy theories deluding millions. 2020 will surely be a year for the history books, and we’ll all be able to say “yep, I was there…” and have a story or two to tell, hopefully stories where everything turns out ok.
I find that keeping busy helps, and so I do, falling asleep each night planning projects and spending my weekends accomplishing them. There’s work too, to fill my days, and chores, and once or twice a week there’s errands off the farm. It’s thankfully easy to keep busy around our muddy valley.
Yesterday after some deep coop cleaning in the barnyard, I finished tucking in the garlic bed for winter with a thick blanket of leaves; going forward I will focus on raking leaves for chicken pens. I wish the leaves would dry up a bit, the birds enjoy scratching through dry, crackly leaves so much more than damp ones. But it is November after all, so I’m not holding my breath.
November as usual has been cold, and wet, and dark, and yet I love it so much. One of my favourite months, November provides plentiful opportunities for savouring the chill alongside warmth’s sweet contrast; for labouring in the crisp air until I must peel off first one layer and then another to cool myself; for long quiet evenings in front of a crackling fire, listening to the rain tapping on the skylight. One dusky, slightly surreal day last week, heavy clouds dimmed the light so dramatically from sunrise right through to sunset that it felt like a day long eclipse. There’s just so much potential for cozy in November.
November was my mother’s least favourite month. A prairie girl born and bred, she much preferred the sunny winters of her youth. Our rain forest weather was hard on her at times, although she loved living on the coast. Mom’s been gone for many Novembers now, nine to be exact, but of course I think of her often. Like the other day, as I was traversing the soggy, slippery northeast field dragging my empty wheelbarrow pony-cart style, having just spread another load of leaves on the garlic beds.
There was this perfect little puddle, you see. Not a run-of-the-mill mud puddle, rimed with muck and no bottom visible, this was one of those short lived mudless puddles that briefly appear in low spots after a heavy rain. A crystal clear miniature watery valley, a freshwater tidal pool, each blade of grass and bit of colourful leaf litter suspended as if in glass; silent, peaceful, still. It looked to be just perfect for stomping in, so I gave in to my childish impulse. Dropping the wheelbarrow handles, I went all in, swishing the water over the toes of my boots, rinsing a layer of mud away and stirring up the depths into a most satisfactory squishy, muddy stew. Take that, 2020! And then my inner voice spoke up, “For goodness’ sake you silly old woman, you’re almost 59! What are you doing?”
Stomping in puddles is what I was doing, like a little kid. What an idiot I am at times. As shamefulness began to creep over me on its sharp little claws, a stray thought came too, a gift from my mom that made everything ok again. The memory of her advice, given in the toast she made at my 21st birthday party, “Value your inner child, don’t ever grow all the way up. Hold on to her magic because you will need her sometimes.” Yes mama, I will. I do. Love you. Thank you.