Wednesday, May 27, 2009

SoapBox Thoughts and Happenings

There is so much going on right now. So much to share, discuss, celebrate and try to prevent. I hope folks will bear with me, and maybe even join in.

The smell of election is in the air...again. The CONservatives have been running attack ads against Iggy the prodigal son and then had to announce that it turns out they miscalculated earlier projections and now Canada, too, faces record budget deficits (likely for multiple years). This has the Libs and many of their supporters fairly drooling at another election chance. All three of these situations annoy the crap out of me.

I don't think it says much about a population when one party thinks attack ads against another will work, and it says even less about that population when this does work (even if the negative information presented is true). I wonder if anyone was surprised to learn about our new forecast deficits. Personally, I think we can expect reality to end up around $100B. And as for another election, nothing is going to change federally (for the longterm positive) unless the public gets a hell of a lot more active and considerate locally.

Moving to the landfill situation, I have been meaning to mention that I saw a crew out clearing blown garbage a week or so ago! Trouble is they only cleared about half of the "buffer" area. I suspect this fenced are is some kind of legislated buffer zone but I can guarantee that it is insufficient in size for such a windy area. I'm afraid I don't have updated pictures, I was cultivating the field for dad when I saw the workers so I did not have my camera with me. I sure hope they send more workers back soon though, because they MIGHT have cleared out 1/10th of that which has blown free, so far. As for the trash heap itself, I cannot believe how fast it is growing. I shudder to think of the ooze which will seep from beneath this man-made mountain in the decades to come. Unfortunately, aside from writing here I have not expended much energy into actually trying to solve this problem.

On a lighter note, the lake is still very much full of life...if less than I think should be the case. I went down to the shore late last week (after winter went away again) to dig up some more 20 year old manure and straw/hay which is nicely age-composted. My arrival startled a new gosling daycare that had been resting on the shore. I feel a little bad because I send them swimming off to the safety of the reeds whenever I come down, but it cannot be helped really.

In the last picture, you can see one little fella heading off by itself. It went off with its parents and, being the underdog supporter I am, I couldn't help but wonder what happened to its siblings and suspecting that it'd end up a pretty spoiled little gosling.

The greenhouse is also coming along nicely, although it has been such a cool spring it has required the use of two small heaters that my parents had. Mom was mentioning that in a week or so she will be harvesting the spinach which was first planted, so we should see a fresh crop every 3-4 weeks. I hadn't realized just how quick it comes in. They can see we need to get a larger dome greenhouse which can be used year round. I am thinking about putting some strawbales up around the outside of this greenhouse come august. It would not be pretty but maybe we can keep it somewhat active right into November.

I reset the main compost pile a couple of days back. I was unhappy with the pile's winter activity, or lack thereof, but pulling it apart and repiling it with a nice amount of water seems to be doing the trick. I can't find a compost thermometer up here anywhere though!!

I have also decided to get into vermicomposting (worm composting). Even with a smaller herd of cows we build up a huge amount of manure and straw/hay. We have about a decade of winter barn accumulation sitting in a huge pile in one of our fields and I just started building a new pile today, altho I am aiming more at a windrow with this one. Considering the main local commercial greenhouse brings its castings (worm crap) from about 6 hours away, there is at least SOME kind of market to tap. Plus, breeding a lot of them will provide my mom's laying hen business with some tasty living protein which just so happen to be one of a chicken's favorite foods. I should be able to accomplish this even in winter, by using excess straw bales.

Goodness, what a cohesive and strong planning group could accomplish.

I'm just about finished building the first chicken tractor too. If the wind stays down tomorrow I will be finished then, although I should really paint the whole thing with linseed oil which would take a couple more days. I'll add pictures when it's all finished.

I put in a little patch of garden myself this year. I thought I'd give the Three Sisters a try so I got the folks to pick up some corn, climbing beans and squash seeds. However, I didn't really research that far...or read all instructions for that matter. Sooo, it may not work out so well. I basically did everything but the squash wrong. I planted the beans at the same time as the corn instead of a couple of weeks later. I also planted the corn in groups of two rows instead of single rows or planting all three kinds of seed in individual mounds. Oh, there were some peas added in there as well, I planted them outside of the outside two rows. Ah well, should be interesting to see what happens. I actually think there is space remaining in which I could seed a second patch. I may do so even if it means breaking a bit of new ground.

I think I'll leave it at that for now. Be well and good to each other, brothers and sisters.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


For all my talk about responsible freedoms, sometimes I just can't help but think maybe humanity does need...managing.

We can't seem to find enough common ground to create a sustainable AND free society that doesn't pretty much destroy the natural world. We pretend that we have ended slavery when we have one massive group of people living with only the bare (if that) necessities in order to provide a constantly increasing selection of toys, trinkets and food-like and/or addictive substances to those of us doing the pretending. We kill members of our own species like no other species and we REALLY go to town in killing other species, directly or indirectly.

And instead of changing ourselves, we look to leaders to tell us what to do, to decide how we should fix the problem while we put our heads back in the sand of empty choice and/or religious fervor. We accept more and more restrictions to our right to responsible freedom, in the naive belief that our system has enough checks and balances to protect us. We ignore balance because it is just too difficult and complicated and we'd rather shop or watch American Idol.

I know it's not everyone. I meet some very reasonable people here in the blogosphere, and even once in awhile in the offline world. But most of the time...

Here's an example, albeit small and slightly self involved. Since I am not working right now I have been spending most days out at the farm, doing this and that. I take a back highway which turns into a gravel road for the last 5 miles or so. On this gravel road, at least half of the people I meet as oncoming traffic are driving almost as fast as they would on a highway. Pretty much every large vehicle operator, as in tractor trailer or garbage truck (and there are a LOT of these living next to a dump) or even large pickup/trailer, is driving ridiculously fast. What this means is that they are often flinging gravel along behind themselves. My windshield has taken so many hits since I have been going out there regularly, and I slow down significantly! And its just ignorance on the other person's part. I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't even dawn on them that going so fast leads to dragging rocks along behind.

It reminds me of the Alabama song "I'm In A Hurry".

"I'm in a hurry to get things done,
oh I rush and rush until life's no fun.
All I really gotta do is live and die,
But I'm in a hurry and don't know why."

And there's no real reason for them to go that fast. What is that 5 extra minutes going to get them, especially if going so fast leads to smashing into some animal trying to cross the road or something else? I just don't comprehend why this shit doesn't matter to so many people.

I can't imagine what it would be like going through life and not giving a damn how my actions affected other people or animals or things. I learned to consider what could be the result of my actions, and to avoid causing harm, and it's not like that leaves me frozen and unable to do anything at all.

Ah well, I'm sure I am mostly preaching to the choir here. Just keep living and bettering our examples I guess.

It's certainly not all bad. A stunning sunset tonight makes most frustrations forgettable, at least for a moment.

Peace and comfort to all.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Lucky Day

The weather here has been crappy for a few days, temperatures just above freezing, windy, and some snow yesterday and today. Obviously this kind of dissuades a person from wanting to spend a lot of time working or playing outside. Luckily I did not realize quite how chilly it was outside until I had actually gotten to the farm yesterday. I say luckily because this meant I ended up getting to have a great couple of hours.

I did not stay at the farm long as I just couldn't bring myself to get into working outside in the cold. Instead I headed over to our summer pasture, the half section of land I have mentioned once in awhile before. I wanted to see how the forest canopy was growing this spring after so much of it was eaten off by some kind of caterpillar last spring. It turns out that, so far at least, most of the leaf cover is growing back in this year, tho there are patches which seem to be dead or in some kind of low activity state where there are only a few new branches growing and budding on an old tree.

Shortly before taking these pictures, and just after I had walked down to the lake's edge, I had been startled by an even more startled deer which had been down drinking and not expecting my sudden appearance. I didn't get a picture at the time but I am pretty sure I caught up with he and his friends a bit later on, and I did get a couple that time. It looks like the dugout down by the "lake" (apostrophized because...

...there is not much to the lake itself anymore, I want to have it dredged out) has been something of a party place this spring too. I don't ever remember finding antlers like this before, but my parents said they do.

The cool just kept coming too, no pun intended. The next thing I noticed was an odd looking pair of ducks in the dugout. When I got home, I did some research and learned that this was a very rare species of duck in North America, the Bufflehead. This isn't so terribly surprising I guess, given last year's drought and the fact that the forest on this land has quite a few woodpeckers, whose abandoned nests the tree loving Buffleheads like to use. I was too keen on picture taking and scared the little things off but I hope they return and nest.

As if this hadn't all been blessing enough, as I was leaving I noticed two things, pretty much simultaneously.

Yep, that is a pair of coyotes who are running away from a cow moose laying in the edge of trees. The coyotes are a couple of hundred feet to the right in the picture of the moose. I thought it was a bit odd that a cow moose was laying down there at around 5 pm, until it dawned on me that she was likely a new mother...which was likely also what had drawn the coyotes so close to a full grown cow moose. They'd smelled newborn moose and gone to see if an easy feast could be hand. Realizing she probably had or was having her calf drew the curious and stupid side of me out and I moved upwind and started to sneak back toward her. When I was finally within glimpse of her again, I immediately realized that I was doing no sneaking whatsoever...she was looking right at me and probably had been the whole time.

I was still not quite stupidly close yet but I regained my sense and decided to get no closer. Wanting her to know that I was no harm, however, I stepped out of the trees somewhat. This inspired her to stand up, which made me feel bad and kinda scared me at the same time. Suddenly I remembered just how big a full grown cow moose is. Thankfully I was already moving away from her tho, and she simply stepped a few steps deeper into the tree cover, and watched me. Then from where she had been laying, up stood a very awkward little brown smudge (I had not gotten close enough that I could really see) who tottered back after her. Sure enough, she had a brand new calf with her. So I got the heck out of there, already feeling guilty for my curiosity but happy I had not riled her further.

It turns out that modern technology would have saved me the effort anyway. While I could only zoom in so far with my digital camera, I found that I was able to crop the image afterward on my computer. This allowed a bit of extra zoom which actually resulted in the best glimpse of all. The little tuft of brown at the cow moose's feet, in the following picture, is her new calf.

Stunning I tell you. I am so thankful to have access to this portion of semi-wild land.

Oh, and if you remember the deer I mentioned earlier, that I had startled off from the lake edge...well I think this is him and a buddy later on. There is a third one around but it wouldn't come into frame. Shy I guess.

I have to admit, I don't ALWAYS feel like rushing to share this place with others. Can you blame me?

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Ahhhhh Spring

Just when I thought I couldn't possibly love the lake next to our farm any more, this spring we have a pair of young trumpeter swans which must be nesting nearby. This afternoon the handsome young couple was on the lake edge nearest our barnyard and they were good enough to pose for a few pictures.

As can be seen, I kind of woke them up by accident when I snuck down to see what waterfowl were hanging about. As always, the chicken-shit ducks were out of there first with the geese following closely behind. You'd really think they'd get used to me and my camera. I guess the swans figured they were close enough to me in size or that I was not actually a threat as they didn't even get in the water. One even went to preening itself rather casually and then finally slipping into the water, although not going far. It would seem, from the last picture in this group, that all the preening earned some mocking from the mate.

Meanwhile, back where the work is...the folks' new greenhouse showed up on Monday so we've been baking dirt and I've been building some growing beds. I was expecting the structure to be without a floor but it came WITH a floor so that meant starting again. Luckily I had not yet put the boxes together and I think this may have worked out nicer in the end. Still gotta do some painting tho.

Why have I been baking dirt is what may be being thought at this point. Well, the reason is that I have been gathering soil from barnyard on the edge of the lake which was used to bed cattle in the winter when I was young. Now, at least 15 years later this is some very fertile soil but dad is worried about weeds, and understandably so, although I took this dirt from a cattle wallow spot and nothing has been growing there. So we cleaned the stove pipes in the old house and fired up the stove and started sterlizing soil. Damn does it take a long time and a lot of minding with a 1907 wood stove.

Next project, a chicken coop for mom's 200 laying birds which should be here in a month, and a chicken tractor for the 4 old hens remaining now (hopefully they'll go broody again and can be given some eggs to hatch and raise). Have I mentioned how frustrating I find carpentry? Ah well, it beats sitting under flourescent lights all day. I just wish I had the natural touch with wood like some masters I have known. Sure practice makes one better but one either has that natural touch, or one doesn't.

Oh and Happy Mother's Day to any Mothers who come by!

Peace and comfort to all.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

SoapBox Week in Cuba - Cultural Aspect Part 2

Upon returning, I recalled that a friend from high school had spent grade 11 in Cuba as part of an exchange student program. I remember that he came back speaking very highly of the people he had stayed with during his time there, as well as of the people he had met. I remember his speaking of their kindness and generosity, despite their relative "poorness". From my own much more brief visit, I can only agree with his comments.

After the wedding ceremony, the bridal party and parents of the bride and groom (including yours truly) headed out in two horse drawn carriages for a trip into and through the resort town of Varadero. In town we were brought through a lovely park which contained several lovely restaurants. We ended up stopping in front of one of these restaurants and the chef came out to show a lovely piece of fresh fish and to invite us to see their dining area which was actually a small cave.

Since most were quite hungry by this time and dinner was a few hours off, the group decided to have a bit of a meal in the cave restaurant. I, however, decided to stay outside where I could smoke a couple of cigarettes and wander the park taking some more pictures. I will be forever glad that I did so for a few reasons. By this time I was really noticing a sense of heightened emotions, like my emotions were closer to the surface than I was used to (and I'm usually a fairly emotional fellow anyway). Obviously a lot of this was due to the fact that my little brother had just gotten married but I really do think there was more to it.

So just outside this cave/restaurant several various fowl ranged freely, including a bantam hen and her 10 or so little chicks. I got to watching them for a little while, as she led them back and forth across the lane, teaching them to scratch and peck at grains and bugs and such. It had been a very very long time since I had been around a mother hen and her chicks, I had forgotten just how much of her time is spent in teaching the young. As I said, she kept leading her chicks back and forth across the lane here and I thought it odd that none of the much larger peacocks seemed to be having a go at the baby chicks. No sooner had I thought this, but the runt chick got itself separated from mom and the others as it was unable to jump over the curb. So while the increasingly anxious hen was searching for the one lost chick, the two peacocks had ambled over and were taking pecks at the struggling but stranded runt chick. So despite my belief in nature's balance, I took action and shooed off the attacking peacocks, then helping the runt chick back to the others. This happened 3 or 4 times before I finally regained adulthood and headed off to photo some more of the park, including one of the rattiest (and aggressive) tom turkeys I have seen in awhile. Interestingly, the tom was protecting a flock of a few odd looking ducks and geese, and a couple of bantam chickens, but no hen turkeys.

All of this wandering eventually led me back to where the carriages waited with their increasingly impatient horses and into a conversation with one of the drivers, Enrique. This conversation turned out to be one of those rare sparkling moments in life where you know you have become better for having briefly met this person. Enrique and the other driver, Miguel, had grown up in the area together. Both owned small nearby farms and drove carriages in the resort area. We talked about a lot of different things, much of it Enrique translated back and forth between Miguel and I. It turns out that Enrique has family and friends who have come here to Alberta and have or work on small farms in different parts of the province. He has even been able to come and visit once.

Back at the resort, as we were settling up and thanking Enrique and Miguel for the great trip, Enrique asked me if I would like to come and visit his family on their farm sometime during my remaining time. I was floored by this humble invitation but I could only say that Saturday was the one day remaining which I did not know there was something planned for the day (Friday was the catamaran tour on mom's birthday and Sunday I was going home). It near broke my heart when Enrique kind of slumped at the prospect that I might not be able to see his farm and meet his family. I rather felt the same actually. I cannot explain how moved I was to be invited this way. Since he was often through our resort we agreed to try to run into each other and arrange something on Saturday.

When I mentioned all this to my brother, in asking if there were any plans for Saturday, he said that he'd been wanting to go into the countryside on kind of a non-tour tour of some farms...since he knew I had been hoping to have this kind of experience while in Cuba. So he mentioned the whole situation to the restaurant booking lady at our resort, who he had found to be extremely outgoing. It turns out that she was more outgoing that he realized. Even though I only had Enrique's first name, this wonderful woman got to checking around and trying to arrange for us to visit Enrique's farm. She went so far as to have her husband take her around on their scooter on Friday evening, trying to locate Enrique's farm and set up a visit, since she knew it was unlikely that we'd stumble into each other at the resort.

So come Saturday it had been arranged that this lady, Nivia, would get off work a little early and would set up two cabs to give us a bit of a tour, including a stop at Enrique's farm. One of our drivers was apparently a friend of Enrique's friend Miguel (the other carriage driver) and he knew where Enrique's farm was. Apparently, this farm was near Nivia's home town of Cardenas so after showing us around her fascinating town, we dropped her at her home where she lived with her parents, husband and son. Sadly, her son was not home so we could not meet him but Nivia's parents were two obviously warm and loving people though they spoke no English at all and I not even enough to be able to thank them for having raised such a lovely daughter. This short tour with Nivia was as informative as our entire day in Havana, in my opinion. It was here that I feel I got to see some of the real Cuba, the passion and the history, and the desire to be a part of the world but on their terms and with their own sense of freedom.

In the end, we did not make it to Enrique's farm. There'd been no chance for anyone to confirm our visit and just dropping in (with a group of 8) would have been impolite. We did, however, see the farm (I'm told) as we sped by it just outside of Cardenas. I won't forget him though. Nor will I forget all that Nivia did to try to get us to see his place and to show us around her home town. Or that in this country where useful gifts from tourists are like treasure (I wish I had researched beforehand and known this), this beautiful lady passed ME a gift just as we drove off, as a parting gift from Cuba since I was to leave the next day. I hope her son enjoys the Calgary Flames tshirt that I left through my brother. Thank goodness I accidentally had something gift-worthy to leave behind.

Here's hoping I get the chance to see Enrique, and Cuba, again.

Peace and comfort, all.