View From The Glen

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Hay Therapy

This post was written for a speech I gave a few years ago - I post it now because hay season is upon us, and the tractor beckons...

When we decided we wanted to live and raise our family in the countryside of rural Ontario, I envisioned a large spacious house surrounded by large shady trees and curvy perennial gardens that send flowering vines cascading over stone steps. Andrew envisioned rolling fields and farmland. I contemplated lazy weekends spent reading books on the verandah, a jug of iced tea beside me; my husband contemplated the satisfaction of running a hobby farm and the manly prospects of mending fences, tending cattle, and driving his very own tractor. So when we saw the house and property into which we ultimately moved, I admired the proportions of the large airy living rooms, and Andrew stood on the deck and admired the hay field. We compromised: he didn't get the huge barn, and I didn't get the verandah.

I am basically lazy. I see weekends as a time to kick back and relax. Not so Andrew, who wakes up bright and early on Saturday morning rubbing his hands together in gleeful contemplation of all the things he has to do that day. As I'm standing barefooted in my pj's pouring myself a cup of coffee and shaking cornflakes into bowls for the children, he is dressed and pulling on the ubiquitous rubber boots - or wellies as they are referred to around here - and detailing his litany of what he is going to do. "I'm just going to check on the calf, then I'm going to fix that wire on the tractor and go and finish fencing the other field. This afternoon I'm going to bushhog down by the river and chop down a couple of dead trees. We can turn them into firewood and burn them next winter." I swear his eyes literally light up at the prospect of all that hard labour - while I nod absently and bury my head in the newspaper. It's barely 7.30 am.

This is in the spring. By summer, he's kicked into high gear, and is up - if it is possible - even earlier, bringing me coffee in bed which I drink groggily, only half awake. Which is how I got coerced into driving the darn tractor in the first place. I must first say - and I say this without hesitation - that I am not a tractor person. I did not get excited the day the shiny John Deere arrived in the driveway; I do not thrill to the sound of its roaring engine, and I certainly do not - like some people I could mention - carry around a photograph of it in my pocket. I believe what I said was, "Get a tractor if you want but don't expect me to drive it." Tractors , in my opinion, are noisy, bumpy and more or less to be avoided.

So on this morning in early July, I drank coffee luxuriously aware that it was Saturday and the weekend stretched before me. My mother in law had all three children and I had the day to myself. The Glengarry Pioneer Museum? I thought to myself, as my husband mentioned that the forecast was for rain tomorrow. Lunch at the Priest's Mill with a girlfriend? I was brought out of my pleasant reverie with a start.

"So since you are free today, I thought you could help me with the hay before it rains," said the deep rumbly voice beside me. "I'll let you drive the new tractor," he added, making it sound like a great honour. "You can rake, and I'll bale."

I plead sleepiness for not putting up more of a fight, and by 8 am I was dressed and outside staring up at the big green tractor. I was about to get my first lesson in how to operate the thing, and with a sigh, and a glance at the hay field which loomed large and golden behind the house, I abandoned the last of the pleasant thoughts of what I could be doing this fine day, and prepared to climb into the driver's seat of the tractor.

I drove a standard vehicle for years, so the physical operation of the tractor was child's play. But while the Volkswagen Beetle that preceded my blue mini van kidmobile had a stick shift, that was as far as any similarities go between a car and a tractor. The VW was a smooth ride with leather seats; the JD made me feel like a kernel of popcorn in an air popper, but at least the constant motion kept me from sticking to the vinyl seat. The VW offered a choice between the radio and the CD player; the JD offered a choice between having the throttle loud or very loud. The VW could turn on a dime; the JD with the rake attached had a turning radius approximately equal to that of a transport truck.

I finally raked sufficiently well enough for my husband to let me loose in the field alone. Up and down I went. Up. And down. Up. And down. Once you get the feel for the job, it is quite easy, and it wasn't long before the raking was second nature and I was shifting, turning and piling the hay in tall windrows like a pro. I had been prepared for boredom, even for resentment at losing my precious day, but somewhere along the third row, a funny thing happened. I began to enjoy myself.

For one thing, it's always nice weather when you're raking hay. And when the sun is shining down, and the breeze whispers past your face as you drive, and the sweet smell of freshly cut hay wafts through the air, it's pretty easy to feel optimistic about the world and your life. After a while, you cease to hear the roar of the tractor and it fades into the recesses of your subconscious, allowing you to hear the song of the birds who have forgotten you are there. The rattle of the tractor over uneven ground, likewise seems to recede and the jolts which initially startled you now seem merely comforting - like being rocked. And it is you and the tractor and the earth and the sky. And nothing else. And as you work your way up and down, looking over your shoulder to check the straightness of your rows, you are able to let your mind drift. All the little things that might have been bothering you fade into oblivion and you are alone with your thoughts and your dreams on a pleasant warm afternoon.

People who suffer from stress or anxiety are often recommended to try some sort of therapy - aromatherapy, colour therapy, water therapy. For my part, I recommend hay therapy. By the end of the day I was pleasantly tired, and had a very real sense of satisfaction at seeing the neat bales of hay scattered across the field. There had been so many things I could have done with my day, and in the end raking hay gave me a gift: the gift of spending time alone with my own thoughts. I felt happy. I felt contented. I felt connected to the earth in a way I never had before.

I even offered to help put away the hay, but Andrew, likely wanting my experience to end on a high note, hired a couple of students to do the dirty work, and took me out to dinner instead. The perfect end to what turned out to be, unexpectedly, a perfect day.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Suddenly Getting Country Music

Not a huge country fan here. I liked it enough as a teenager, but don't really listen much.

But last night, I understood suddenly its appeal.

You should know it's boiling hot right now in Ontario, and I got home from work to a house full of wired kids on their first day of summer holidays. We rushed to get their soccer stuff on and rushed to soccer - only to discover it had changed nights to accomodate the school prom.

Had I checked my calendar, I'd have know that.

The air conditioner in my van just broke, so I was driving Andrew's Golf, and on the way home, feeling slightly out of sorts (a feeling not helped by ERik in the back saying "well, it wouldn't have happened if you were more organized!" - he's right, but needs to learn to pick his battles!) so I turned up the radio to hear a country CD mix Andrew had made.

And let me tell you, nothing beats stress like singing along to cranked country music while driving too fast along country roads.

Give me two pina colada, I want one for each hand - yep this sounded good
Set sail with Capt. Morgan, though we never leave dry land - I'm there with you, Garth!

Felt MUCH better when I got home!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Herb Therapy

When friends and family visit they always comment on how laid back and relaxed it is around our house. The trees, the meadow, the wildflowers, the bleating of lambs gambolling in the field....

It's not always that relaxed, of course. They just haven't seen me at 5:15 pm on a Thursday night when I have just got home with the kids, they're busy emptying the contents of their bookbags all over the family room, and I'm trying to fold laundry, get phone messages, make dinner, organize soccer cleats and socks, and get everyone back out of the house by 6pm.

But luckily, this time of year, restorative measures are right out in the kitchen garden. Nothing is more calming than wandering around the garden at dusk, running my fingers through the herbs, and enjoying the wafting aromas.

I can't decide which of these is my favourite aid to relaxation:

or Rosemary?
Of course, they're both trumped by the bottle of Wolf Blass Yellow Label Cabernet that Andrew has opened for me.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Farm Fashion

We dress up for dinner around here.
Sort of.

Grace, our resident photographer, got me snipping scapes in the far back garden to frizzle for Father's Day dinner.
Notice the tailored shirt.
Notice the skirt.

Notice the delicate shoes.
Wait a sec - are those wellington boots?

Personally, I thing wellies add an air of je ne sais quo to any occassion.
Side Note: What I noticed about these pictures is how overgrown the hop yard behind looks. I guess that is why it is the far back garden, where we plant all the unsightly stuff like potatoes, hops, garlic, and corn. I don't usually spend much time looking at it, but now that I have I feel an urge to weed it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Grace took bunch of pictures of the cats the other day.

Good morning, Boys.
This is Amadeus. He is 14. He's the first pet Andrew and I got together. Andrew already had a cat - named S***head, who I promtly renamed Aslan. Aslan was my friend forever because of that. He died just a couple of years back aged about 17.
When we got Amadeus, he was a cute ball of fur who used to attack my already old dog, Laika. She used to hate him.
Amadeus is old now, but in his prime he was a magnificent cat - all 15 pounds of muscle, He also has the softest fur of any cat I've ever know, and he has an annoying habit of jumping on me, kneading my shoulder, and drooling down my arm. Yeah, that's lovely.
And this is his nemesis - King Arthur, otherwise known as Wart.
Go and catch some mice, Arthur.
He's not as kingly as his name suggests. But we had high hopes. He's about 4, and takes off for days at a time. He always comes back though.
Amadeus is ever hopeful. He is a very optomistic creature. I just know if I sit here and look cute, she'll feed me salmon.

He has an endearing face, but it's never worked.


In between these two were a bunch of others. Agamemnon (all our cats have A names) who was eaten by a fisher. Anastasia, who adopted us without telling us she was expecting kittens - she is now living with Andrew's grandma in Kanata. She has the good life - don't tell Amadeus, but I know she gets salmon! Ace - one of her offspring, who just disappeared.


But these orange cats seem to withstand the test of time.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Upper Canada Village

There has been a lot of fuss made recently about changes to Upper Canada Village - an historic village west of Cornwall. There are plenty of runours flying about that it is being sold off, that it will become a theme-park style park, that the historical perspective will be lost.

We go to Upper Canada Village every year, because I really like the pace there. The kids like it too. They have milked cows, watched farriers, had their left hands tied behind their back by a period school marm, and generally enjoyed themselves meandering along the dusty roads. Me, I'm inspired by their gardens, (though refuse to give up my rototiller, a decidedly modern convenience).

This year, the Medieval Festival was held inside the village boundaries, albeit off to one side. It caused a great deal of consternation - that it was purely commercial, that it had no place being held at the village, that it was, in effect, ruining Upper Canada Village.

To which I reply, Rubbish. The Festival was historically interesting, and I think drew more people to the village. We went to see the jousting, and then went around the village, stopping for lunch at the Barn Restaurant before returning for the afternoon joust. It was a great day.

On Tuesday, the kids returned to Upper Canada on a school trip, this time without the Medieval Festival, and enjoyed another great day.

True the medieval festival was a different time period. So what? So is the Victorian Alight At Night Festival the village holds at Christmastime - a festival enjoyed by so many.

I would rather see a few interesting additions to the village on weekends that help make money, than see the village close for lack of resources. And a festival that takes place at the far edges of the village doesn't detract at all from the historic charm of the village - but merely serves as an added point of interest and may encourage people, who may not normally have given the village a thought, to come for a day.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Four Seasons in Rural Ontario

Perhaps, where you live, you are used to Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer.

Not here.

Here, it's a bit different.

We have Fall, Winter, Spring and...Festivals!

Starting last weekend - obviously the Medieval Festival.

Up next is Maxville Fair Days, and from then on there will be a festival pretty much every weekend until summer is over.

Canada Day, Strawberry Socials, community fairs, historic festivals, military re-enactments, musical festivals in small ruined churches, Book Fairs (a personal favourite!), and the two biggies of the summer: the Highland Games and the Williamstown Fair.

Who needs to go away in the summer? There is so much to do right on our doorstep!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Valiant and Victorious

Last year when we attended the Medieval Festival, the knight we liked best, Sir Timothy, won the day.

This year, the kids were thrilled that he was back and even more excited that he was "our" knight, and they cheered him on with enthusiasm.

Before the tournament, each knight picked a lady to fight for and gave her a flower. Sir Timothy picked Grace, and she was delighted.

The games before the joust were all in fun, but the jousting was real. There is no doubt about it: Knights were tough.

Sir Timothy (on Monty - mustn't forget the magnificent horses) narrowly beat this guy (Prince Killam) and won the field. Erik got a broken lance signed by Sir. Timothy. I have no idea what he is going to do with it!

Sir Timothy, along with the other knights and horses, is a member of the Knights of Valour, a full-contact jousting group that has won world championships. They put on a great event.

Great Day for a Joust!

We enjoyed a terrific day at the Medieval Festival on Sunday.

Jousting knights...

Sword Fights...


Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine and her royal entourage...

A fun day for all...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What's In My Purse?

What do you have in there? asked Andrew the other day as I was rummaging through my purse looking for a pen.

A pen, I said.

And what else...?

I get defensive about things like this. Just stuff I need, I told him.

Stuff I need.

Like a pen (or five), my wallet, a paperback novel (mystery) in case I get stuck somewhere.

A hairbrush, some hair ties and kids hair clips for emergencies.

My Ipod, some tylenol I never use, a notebook.

Some scouting forms that need to be filled out. Some scouting badges that have not yet been sewn onto sashes.

My cell phone.

A list of books I want to read in case I find myself near a bookstore.

A Magic marker (aka Tide To Go, which I'm not convinced really works, but which I feel more responsible for carrying).

My Toastmaster's name tag. A small mirror. A lipstick and a chapstick.

Some gum. My two flash drives. Some old grocery receipts. Another hair tie.

A corkscrew. Never leave home without one.

And today, a DVD that needs returning.

Maybe Andrew is right. Maybe I could clean it out a bit.


I tossed out the old grocery receipts and returned the DVD.

That's better!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Hat

Everyone knows Andrew.

Or rather, they know his hat.

Every day, winter and summer, spring and fall, he wears the hat.

This is the third Tilley hat Andrew has bought. I keep buying him new ones for when we go out. Tilley hats may last forever on safari, or mountain climbing or trekking through the dessert. But they are no match for a farmer.

(This is not a paid plug for Tilley, honest. We're just really, really impressed with the quality of their hats, and Andrew is never without one. He even has a smart Winter one now.)

But more than practical, they identify Andrew.

I didn't recognize you without your hat, people will tell him on days when he does forget it.

Although we don't encourage people to wear their hats when public speaking, it wouldn't be you without the hat, is a comment a fellow toastmaster made once.

When driving in Toronto I got a call on my cell from my brother in law. You're two cars behind us he said. How do you know that, I replied? We're driving a different car.

I can see Andrew's hat, said Stephen.

But you truly know the hat is important when you go to move sheep from one pasture to the next.

All Andrew has to do is walk into the field with his hat on, and the animals start to run over. It's the man with the hat. the man with the hat.
And where the man in the hat is, the food is also.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Down on the Farm

When I was in the meadow yesterday I took some pictures of the animals.
These are the two newest calves.
This is Fiona. Let me eat, she's saying.
She's so cute and fuzzy I just want to hug her. Not that I can catch her. She's about the same size as a sheep.
This is Casey, one of the mothers. Don't ask me who her calf is. Could be Ella. Could be the holy terror (the one who chases sheep with a big grin). Andrew would know but he's not here to ask.
And here are some of the sheep.
Sheep are not smart. These sheep are in the field with all the short grass looking over at the meadow with all the long rich alfalfa and timothy. They're trying to figure out how to get over there.
Hint: Try the gate!

And here, having followed The Hat, and therefore enjoying the sweet grass in the meadow, are the rams.
Sir Poppy on the left is senior ram. That means he rules the barnyard. Or thinks he does. The bull thinks otherwise, but they've reached a truce.
Mike is 2 years old. Which makes him the equivalent of a 22 year old human. Which explains why he has a funny looking nose and limps slightly.
You would too if you thought it was a good idea to charge the bull. Daily. Hey, Hughie, you big dummy, I can take you. Biff.
Hughie the bull is very patient. He lets Mike headbutt him, ignoring him as one would a pesky mosquito. But ultimately, he gets fed up, and tosses Mike with an easy flick of his big head.
Doesn't bother Mike. He just tries again. And again. Hence the squished nose and the limp. Not that Mike notices. I sure showed that bull, he's thinking, smugly.
Testosterone. Amazing stuff.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Into the Meadow

I took a walk through the meadow last night.

Yes. The meadow.

This is the temporary gate where Andrew was fencing.

And this is Lady on the other side of the gate, cautiously eying the electric fence.

No Way I'm going near that, she's saying.

She's been there before, up against the electric fence, and now is very wary.

She won't go past, even if I know it's off and go over it.

She won't go past if the gate is open

She won't even go past the place where the fence used to be!!

I mean, honestly! It can't be that bad. Grace has touched it three times.

So this is the dog running down the lane and through the meadow on the other side of the electric fence.

I don't come into the meadow much. This is the view the sheep have all day long. Maple trees lining the driveway. Lucky sheep.

And in case they feel the need for spiritual salve, there is the spire of St. Margaret's across the river.