Friday, December 30, 2011

Out of the Old, Into the New

I was meaning to do a bit of a yearly wrap up back around the solstice but my lower gastrointestinal tract and I have been sorting out a couple month long disagreement. Truth be told I think it is a longer disagreement than that but hopefully it is being sorted out now. Actually, I find the coincidence of this uncomfortable disagreement timing out with the transition into the new year (2012 no less, if it is to be a significant year after all) to be kind of humorous.

It has been sort of an uncomfortable year for meany reasons. Even my trip overseas, while amazing, had an uncomfortable personal aspect (not counting the fact that it may have served to catalyze this GI disagreement). It has been the kind of year where we received enough rain to produce more hay than our farm likely ever has before, but the vast majority is of rather low quality of which the cattle must eat a great amount and a lot goes to waste. The same heavy rains followed by wind and heat that gave us that hay, gave us a weak garden where at least half of what was planted was drowned. One patch of peas did quite well, and the bush beans weren't too bad. The greenhouse did alright, small as it is, and we had copious cherry tomatoes. I dabbled with herb growing in there for the first time as well, ending up with some success. I am keen to explore this area and could happily fill the whole greenhouse with herbs I think.

Given the weather through our growing season this year, I am still very concerned that our area is on a drying trend, especially if the windiness continues. For someone interested in growing food for a living this is a disturbing trend. On the bright side, after a couple weeks of January-like weather, the last month has been relatively lovely weather. We've had some very windy days but have very little snow and are able to move the cattle over to the pasture every day where they can scratch on trees and wander a larger area. It is a good thing the temperatures have been so mild because if it was normal temperatures with those winds (as was looking like might be the case when I returned from overseas) this would have been a pretty miserable winter so far.

Speaking of the cattle, it has been a fairly successful year. All of last year's calves were sold at market and did quite well. I would have loved the chance to finish them off this winter and market the beef directly in the spring but the money was needed at the time and Dad is very resistant to try a pre-sell on deposit arrangement. I admit I wonder lately just how big the potential local market is here, or rather, how small. Are people in this area willing to pay enough for food grown in a conscientious fashion?

Now, as the yearly cycle begins anew, some aspects of my future that seemed very unclear are finally beginning to take shape. It is now looking very much as though our time on the side of the lake that I have shared a bit here will be coming to an end over the next two years. I don't really feel comfortable talking about details at this point but, emotional response aside, it is now time to make some decisions and do some real planning for the future. There can be no more plodding along as this year has gone.

The main decision seems to be whether to set up a farmstead on our half section of summer pasture land, or to try to find some land to purchase elsewhere. Returning to school to pick up some kind of technical expertise is a tempting option as part of me wonders if it would not be wise to retain the ability to be mobile over the next 10 or 20 years as the climatic/peak oil situations solidify. The biggest problem there might be trying to settle just what area of expertise to pursue. I've never been terribly good at those kinds of decisions.

But, I have some time on my hands for the rest of this winter so I will have to spend it getting myself a little more focused. I've made some good steps over the past couple of years but there are still some big things I need to work out in this quest for balance.

I want to thank those of you who have been commenting and so supportive. It has been uplifting and is sincerely appreciated. I wish you all a peaceful and comfortable remainder of the renewal season. There's so much that needs doing come spring.

Love to all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Month?

I can't believe its been pretty much a month since I wrote something here. Seems to be a bit of a theme lately. This time I feel a little bit guilty since it feels like most of it was a whirlwind two week and 3 night holiday/visiting/relaxation trip to Scotland, the last known place where most of my blood originates. And then three nights in the middle was a whole other getaway over to Amsterdam.

Hee hee.

Yep, Amsterdam. Mostly just within the inner main tourist hub but still, that's the best part, right? Well if its me, and it was, and its your first time in Amsterdam, and it was, the inner hub is really the only place you need to go. Non-stop picturesque scenery, canals, languages, people on bikes, food choices, sex options, history, new smells, intimacy, art, solitude (somehow even solitude), fashion (in shops and on people), and good lord the coffee shops (pot-friendly and otherwise). Very cool.

Interestingly, to me at least, we (my excellent personal guide, the sister of my brother's wife, and I) stumbled across an Occupi camp late on our last night there. At one point early on I had been wondering if there would be an Occupi-Amsterdam camp so it was a little disappointing to just stumble across it rather late when most protestors would have been in the few tents clustered there. I didn't even take any pictures as I found the idea felt a bit intrusive, seeing as people were sleeping. In another way, though, there was kind of a (I hate to say) false feel to the scene...kind of a theatrical feel. They weren't out in any of the bigger open square type of places so they just seemed like part of the "show". I was tempted to try to get back in the morning, if even for a few minutes, before the flight back to Scotland. No time though, and that was honestly no big deal to me.

The main reason for the trip was just to see my brother and sister in law, and my now year old niece for the first time. Plus, everyone else in the family had had a chance to visit the "old country", so my brother wanted to be sure I had the chance as well. I am very lucky to have such a generous younger brother, especially given some of my behavior as an older brother when we were young.

I didn't spend much time running about the countryside of Scotland, beyond two weekend excursions to cool old castles just outside of Aberdeen. A gazillion pictures were taken at both. Some may well make their way on here. The rest of the time was spent in sheer relaxation and time with family, hanging out at their home or seeing some great restaurants and cool areas in Aberdeen. It was fascinating to spend plenty time with my niece and I just have to say, she is one brilliant little girl that I think might just grow up to rule the world. Seeing as there is already one Queen Sophia, I think she has a good start just in her name.

So yeah, sorry I ran off with no warning. I hope you all can forgive me.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Four More Down

Four more lives lost to selfishness last night. This time it was the oldest son of 2 of my oldest friends, my first 2 roommates. Killed by a drunk driver.

So many bad things happen in this world, I will never understand why people have to cause more of them by being self-centered. Oh and yes, the guy that did it tried to ditch the responsibility and ran for it.

Not much else to say on the matter right now. My poor friends...

Rest in Peace, young Vincent.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


One or two minds may wonder why I have been silent on the growing movement I will just refer to as Occupi. I've been quiet for a number of reasons. Not the least of which was the fact it takes me forever to write on these kinds of topics because there is SOOO much to consider. I mean, there are SO many issues facing our civilization that it seemed to me that protesting Wall Street alone might be a bit of a diversion. Yet there is no denying that our convoluted global financial ponzy sche...ahem...system is a large part of the problem. That many fat cats devoted only to accumulating further wealth and, more importantly, power...simply cannot be a good thing.


I, for one, think it is phenomenal that this awakening has begun. I find hope in the dedication to non-violent protest and in attempting to reach decisions by consensus. I can look at fellow humans with pride as so many are acknowledging our responsibilities to one another, as at least partly evidenced by the efforts to keep these "occupied" areas clean.

I do worry about the often divided nature of mankind in general. How much consensus is possible with the extremes in ideologies among so many people? After all, just how many people see anyone who feels abortion is not a black and white issue as a literal demon? It might be a smaller number than I think, but I now know that it is a far larger number than I used to think possible. That so many cannot be convinced otherwise is, to me, a good (albeit extreme) example of just how far we might be from being ready for moving forward as a conscious, connected species and not just as a group of constantly competing individuals.

But my main worry is that this movement makes some progress, only to fizzle out under the sheer power of the system/machine and as people realize it is a life long process involving real work and focus, this systemic change. This is what eventually seemed to happen after the 60's, as so many radically driven youth slipped back into the materialistic mode that comes so very easy in our modern least it did until we began to peak in energy available to us.

But for what it's worth, while I am not physically in one of those parks I am with you all, wholeheartedly. And I promise I'm trying to do my part, even though I am no longer here so often to report on just what I have been doing or thinking.

May we NEVER cease to strive for a more active consciousness, both individually AND collectively. In this balance would lie heaven, I feel.

Peace and comfort, sisters and brothers.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Shiny, Wheeled Signs of the Times

I've heard it said (and/or written) in many places, that one's driving shows a great deal of their personality. If this is so, and I believe I have written this before, Grande Prairie and the local area is home to one HELL of a lot of self centered, ignorant, impatient and outright dangerous people. At the very least, people seem to have forgotten they are operating a machine that can take lives in an instant.

Every day I am amazed that the news is not filled with stories of driving fatalities (yet bad driving takes multitudes of lives every the research) but even the amount that I do hear makes me sick to the stomach at the thought of taking a life or lives by any sort of negligence behind the wheel. Yet so many others seem oblivious to this, even ripping through school zones or performing multiple tasks OTHER than focusing on the road all while hurtling along well beyond the speed limit.

But here a young family is snuffed while about to turn off to their rural home, there an old man snapped out of existence by one of countless youths obviously too immature for such responsibilities. Although, in fairness, many much older than he are no more mature, as is evidenced by the lack of ability to learn from the mistakes of others.

And it just seems to be getting worse. I feel ridiculous saying this but I remember a time when it seemed that when most people would make an honest mistake in driving, they would make some attempt to show the offended driver that they knew their mistake, felt bad, and would learn from the mistake. Just a couple of days ago I saved a young woman from getting t-boned by seeing a glimpse of her approaching and assuming she was going to blindly dart across in front of me in her little car. She did so and if I hadn't slowed enough, I'd have plowed right into her. She didn't even look at me, just peered straight ahead as if she'd done nothing stupid and dangerous at all.

And then, of course, there are the cell phones...

I think by now, most must be aware of the spike in road idiocy thanks to people talking, texting, surfing, gaming, reading and god knows what else on their phones while driving. So since people seem unable to use common sense in enough numbers so as to not be significantly dangerous to each other, governments are creating laws such as the distracted driving law here in Alberta. Now we can at least make some extra money off some of the idiots who get caught, as with speeding drunk driving laws. But what chance that a real impact in terms of safe driving will be made?

Not much, methinks.


Oh well. Please drive safe and be good to each other.

Sunday, September 04, 2011


I was delighted to learn that during my hiatus, the wonderful MoonRaven awarded this blog (and 2 others) with the Liebster Blog Award.

This award is meant for blogs with less than 300 followers and with the honor of winning goes the duty of awarding it forward, so to speak, to 3 other such blogs. I am not being facetious when I say that I could happily give this award to most of those bloggers linked in the sidebar. However, my choices are:

LindaM at Hello Its Me was one of the first to comment here and I have always appreciated both her readership and her blogging, as well as admiring the moves she and her family are making to move forward into the uncomfortable future while keeping sustainability, community and information sharing as high priorities.

Mark and Anna at The Walden Effect are into year 5 of homesteading and put a lot of work into sharing what they learn and fostering an online community of homestead or sustainability-minded folks and information. My mother's flower garden has many beautiful poppies still blossoming from seeds I received from Anna 3 winters ago. I have been meaning to thank her and share pictures for a long time. This is one at least.

The 3rd I would like to give to my friend Angie at What's She Doing In There? Angie writes about projects in her career as a theatrical artisan, as well as personal projects and her urban garden. Her blog is also a nice window for me, back into the Edmonton theatre scene, in which I worked for over 10 years and which I often miss greatly. People can gain a real insight into some of the magic of theatre by following this great artist and technician.

Thanks again MoonRaven.

Peace and comfort, all.


All day long I have been thinking that I should have ignored the 3 blog aspect of forwarding this award because there was another blog that I really wanted to add. But then I get home and discover that one awardee was ineligible due to having developed too larger a readership (congrats to Anna and Mark!!!) so now I can award the blog I have been thinking about all day and still hold on to the 3 blog limit.

Teresa of Eden Hills seems a most remarkably compassionate person whom I notice makes every effort to reply to each person who comments, and this number seems to be deservedly increasing. I hope she will soon be ineligible for this award as well! I really should have ignored the guideline to begin with.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bad Blogger, No Donut

Holy Crap! Has it really been well over a month since I have bitched, moaned or offered some kind of farm/life update? I must have been soooo very busy or stressed out over the continually darkening future across much of the world, or maybe even celebrating with exuberant jubilation over the opportunities still available (?) in this same world.

Not really, sad to say.

Other than my normal thing, around 8 hours a day out at the farm, I haven't been doing a whole lot of anything important or interesting. Feels a bit like treading water, or waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The rain stopped falling shortly after my last post, other than the odd short shower or brief thunderstorm. This has allowed us to bale up a very nice quantity of hay, all the rain in June and July made for fantastic hay crops in the area. It would have been nice to have a fresh crop of alfalfa, ours are all quite old and diminished to mostly brome grass, but we still ended up with around 200 very nice, round bales.

This picture gives an idea just what I mean by fantastic hay:

That is brome grass, if you are unaware. It typically grows around two and a half feet high. The stuff in the picture is around 8. Now I should say, this is an exceptional patch. Most was around 4 feet this year. But still...pretty damn impressive.

The summer pasture has grown in nicely as well, and 4 cows, 4 calves, a yearling bull, 3 yearling steers and a yearling heifer are getting fat and sassy on thick, tall grass. It would be nice to have about 30 more head over there to take advantage of the good forage but at the same time...just letting it die and decompose will help regenerate soil that has been sorely tested by drought the last few years.

I think that's as far as I'll go in updating tonight. Next time I'll talk about the mixed blessing that has been the garden this year.

Peace and comfort, brothers and sisters. I hope you have been, and continue to be, well and good.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Here Comes The Rain Again

1:30 am and I am sitting here listening to the end of a big thunderstorm. This one was a doozy, louder and flashier than I've seen in years here. And it dumped at least another half inch of rain, or is dumping I should say. Maybe more like an inch. And it was finally starting to dry up a little today...

After several years of dryer than normal, this year has become just the opposite. This is now probably the wettest year I can remember. We've just finished about 4 days of rainfall warnings, with many areas on flood alert and at least one small town actually flooded. One creek that I drive by many days on my way to and from the farm, was flowing right at the edges of its banks.

Thankfully the farm is not in much flood danger. It would take a LOT of water to fill our lake to the point of overflowing, to the point of needing to build an ark if there has been that much rainfall. But it is still delaying grain crop growth and keeping us from getting off what is actually a fine growth of hay. A fine growth that will just go to waste if we cannot get it off.

This is the main dilemma in modern farming. At any scale you are still at the total mercy of nature. And if this is indeed the sign of things to come, are we ever in for some trouble. This is also the ongoing theme of what I have mainly been thinking about these days; just how hard is it going to get to survive even here in Canada?

With our short growing season a failed crop, or inability to harvest, would make for a very long and hungry winter if it was not for food shipped from great distances. This is especially so for people who are relatively remote. Being just north of the 55th parallel, we in the Grande Prairie area do not feel very remote in these days of relatively cheap and easy travel. But take away our cheap energy and we are most definitely in the boonies. It's a long and soggy walk to just about anywhere. We do have a good amount of oil and gas in the ground but its mostly headed out of the area as fast as possible. And all that oil and gas doesn't help anyone without a stable economic situation to extract, process and transport it.

My primary and personal concern is still the weather, however. If this excessive instability IS consistent in the long term, or gets worse, the horrible famine in Somalia is just an example of what is to come.

More on this line of thinking is on the way but its now 2 am and I best try to sleep.

Goodnight Mary Ellen.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pasture 360 Degree View

This is a 360 degree view from the south entrance to our home summer pasture. I say "our" but it belongs to the county now and our lease may end this year. With the potential sale of the home quarter, we've not yet discussed extending our lease. I've written about this before but the main impetuses to selling are rather obviously visible in this video.

Right now this isn't great pasture as the last few years have been very dry and it was only ever marginal, marshy land that couldn't be broken for crops. Even the surrounding fields contain a lot of clay and don't produce the best crops, but they have already been seeded back into hay and with a few years of intensive managed grazing, I think they could be turned into fantastic pasture.

Pardon the shakiness but I can only take video with my Fujifilm digital camera and I was being mobbed by ravenous mosquitos.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Grande Prairie Grass Fed Beef Update

Well, for the first time since I have lived back up here, some 6 and a half years now, we have received a good hard rain. Around 3 days and probably 3 or 4 inches worth. Makes me wish he had a LOT more rainwater storage capability out at the farm. But mostly I'm just very, very grateful for the moisture and trying not to get greedy by hoping for a week or two of nice warm weather and then a few more showers.

I AM hoping that all this rain has been spread around to where it has been needed even more than where we are, places that have been afire or even just parched to the point of real worry about crops, pastures and woodlands.

Around 10 days ago though, we had just an amazingly beautiful day. Clear, calm, hot (especially considering our latitude), and not even too bad for mosquitoes. So lovely that I took my camera along for the walk to move the cattle over to their day pasture. I figured I would take some update pictures of the calves to share here.

These are the first two calves that were born this spring. Both are doing very well but clicking for the larger view should show just how muscular the lighter Blonde bull is getting. Impressive genetics indeed. The heifer is lovely as well, and looking like she will be a good herd addition.

The larger bull here is pretty special as well. A couple of weeks younger than the calves pictured above, this bull is pretty much the same size now. I'd just loooove to have about 20 versions of his mother at about 5 yrs old, or I guess a big pile of gold might be alright too.

Lickerish's bull, the little one of the group, is still lagging behind. He wasn't eating well for awhile but Dad nursed him along and now he is eating as voraciously as his siblings. I am betting that by summer's end he is just about as large as the rest, other than the Blonde who is likely to be massive by then. Click on the lower picture for another good look. That Blonde is one damn fine specimen.

2 of the next 4 beeves which will go to processing are looking good as well. The other two will dress out lean but probably quite light. They are twins whose mother had but one chamber of her udder working. She spent a few weeks trying to "lose" one of them, that one went on to steal from two other nursing cows and actually ended up the larger of the twins. In the wild, if she had managed to both survive and retain fertility she would likely have gone on to mother a line of very hardy animals. However it is highly unlikely that she will be fertile therefore she is likely to be processed. Kind of a shame but these things happen. As I said earlier, in the wild she would likely have been predator food within the first two weeks. With us she will have lived into maturity in the fresh air, on the side of the lake readers can see elsewhere on this blog.

Anyway, that's all for now I think. More to come on our grass fed beef and some ideas for the future.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What's She Doing In There?

It was a really nice surprise to learn that a good friend and co-worker from my years in the Edmonton theatre scene has been operating a blog. Angie Sotiropoulos is an excellent artist and technician who shares some nifty projects both from her career and her home life. Since we have not been much in contact in a few years, it was great to learn that Angie is one of the increasing amount of people who are actively concerned about our planet and trying to live in balance.

For a bit of a peek behind the scenes in the Edmonton theatrical arts community, into backstage theatre itself, and into the mind and activities of a very cool person, I highly suggest that folks visit What's She Doing in There.

Thanks for sharing, Angie, and thanks for giving me a reminder of the community I miss often.

To George!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Saskatoon Boom

Despite the flirtation with further drought, and devastating forest fires to the north and east, we have actually had quite a lovely spring here in our part of the Peace Country. The large amount of east winds over the last half of winter meant that much snow drifted up into the brush and then slowly melted, leading to the potential for a bumper crop in saskatoon berries this year. Fence and brush lines are white with saskatoon blossoms, more than I ever remember seeing before. My parents don't remember so many before either.

This is just one patch of berry bushes just beyond our property. I may upload a video I took while driving slowly, just to give a better idea of the saskatoon explosion happening this year.

A big difference this year from larger snowfall years in the past is probably the fact that we have had no frost this spring(a very rare situation) so provided we continue to get some precipitation here and there we should be able to harvest a huge amount. I have been checking fence over at the summer pasture half section in preparation for moving some of the herd over there, and it looks like there are a lot more berries on the way there.

For those who do not know of the Saskatoon berry, it is a delicious purple little berry kind of like a blueberry. Apparently it is full of anti-oxidants and it also happens to taste amazing. Picking sessions always result in a group of people with full bellies and purple lips and fingertips.

The nice and slow spring thaw, combined with warm sunny days and frost free nights have led to plenty of wild flowers as well. This meadow looks like it has been covered in hail but they are actually tiny white flowers, perhaps some kind of buttercup.

The haze that can be seen in the distance is smoke from the aforementioned forest fires. We have had some good moisture over the last couple of days so I am hoping this put at least a dent in all the burning. I have not written about it but some readers may be aware that a small city about 2 hours from here was 40% consumed by wildfire just about two weeks ago. I cannot begin to imagine what those folks have been through but it certainly does leave me thankful for what we have.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

On The Flip Side

As nice a day as Monday was, in one aspect it was also a fairly typical Monday (in the way that Mondays have a rep for being bad).

My aunt had come to visit for the weekend, and had brought a DVD along with her. On this DVD was some footage that I never knew existed. It turns out that back in the 60's my uncle (Dad and this aunt's brother) had bought a movie camera and brought it to the farm a few times over a 4 year period. So this DVD contained footage of the farm and family from various visits between 1961 to 1965.

It amazes me how different was the land back then. There were FAR fewer trees than now, which surprised me a great deal. We now have great stands of willows where water lies late into the year. Very little of these willows existed back then but the old scraggly (or even dead by now) poplars we see now were young and thriving then. The lake itself looked much more lush and green as it contained more water than now, for more of the year. There was enough water that there is one shot of my father and his little nephew in a flat bottom boat, about to head out to check muskrat traps.

I had no idea this footage existed and I think I enjoyed watching it even more than Dad did. For him, it was partly a reminder of some very very hard work with a much much lower quality of life than now. As an example, the house I grew up in was standing then, and lived in, but they had already had 2 other houses burn down. Then factor in the days of work from sun up to sundown, and beyond, and it is already a far harder life than I live now. But for me, it was a chance to see a bit more of the history of this piece of land that means so much to me.

But, back to the typical Monday story. Obviously I wanted a copy of this DVD, both for my parents but definitely for myself. Not the smallest reason for wanting a copy was the desire to share some of this footage here especially as some of it was footage of harvesting and threshing in operation. So I brought the DVD back here to copy but, as it was my first time doing such a thing, I learned it was a tad more complicated than copying a CD used to be.

The long of it is, I managed to erase the DVD...

My first reaction was a sickening feeling as I envisioned having just erased the only copy of this footage other than the original 8 or 16 mm or whatever kind of film stock it came from. This sense of dread eased a bit as I realized it was not likely that my extended family would put the footage at such risk. Turns out that it had been transferred to VHS and the digital copy taken from that VHS. They still have the VHS tape and the digitalized footage on hard drive so it can be reburned to DVD and all is well. In order to try to make up for the hassle, since I have contacts in the Alberta film community I would try to see if I could find someone local who can digitize from the film stock directly, giving us a much higher quality copy if the tape itself is in good shape...and if it even still exists.

I sure didn't get much sleep that night though, and I will be a lot happier when I have a copy of my own to watch and share.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What a Day!

Monday was a pretty amazing day, though many people would have a hard time believing that. You see, it was NOT a hot, sunny day and it was a day I spent forking cow shit for around 6 hours.

Yet it was a perfect day for barn cleaning and one could not ask for a nicer setting. We got much needed showers off and on all day and I was working just a few feet from the edge of a large marsh lake that holds a nice amount of water considering it was almost totally dry last fall.

And such sights to behold!

I watched several groups of Canada geese that at one point arranged themselves into two which looked for all the world like armadas facing off. I have no idea how they ended up in that arrangement but it was pretty amazing.

There were a couple of actual aerial battles as well. One of these battles is typical on our lake as a little red winged blackbird attacked and drove off a large raven. You often see these brave little birds fighting off much larger birds of prey, either alone or in pairs.

Much more rare, however, was the scrap I witnessed between two sets of Trumpeter Swans. If you have never seen a Trumpeter swan, you are missing out. These birds are massive, majestic, and incredibly powerful. Anyway, I assume the males of the two pairs got into a fight on the water and then both took off in flight, taking the battle to the air. All four birds circled a couple of time, flying fast at each other and circling to come right over my head a couple of times before flying out over the lake and going their separate ways.

Come to think of it, I guess it could have been an older couple driving last year's offspring off a distance to make room for this year's batch. Either way, what a sight.

Of course there was also the smattering of various ducks and seagulls doing their thing but this is a daily blessing that we tend to take for granted. But there was one more rare-ish sight that day. In the morning as I headed out to do chores, I looked up to see a flock of pelicans circling directly overhead. 15 of the graceful birds had come to our lake to investigate. This is the second big flock we have seen this spring (although admittedly it could be the same group), when we normally only see one or two small flocks later on into summer.

What a day!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Heifers No More

I promised that my next post would be of a lighter nature so, for today, I am putting off talking about the ongoing dry conditions and large amount of fire damage in much of northern Alberta. Instead, I have a little spring update that I meant to post 3 weeks ago.

Some time back I mentioned that 4 of our bred heifers were due to calve. Well, they were good enough to wait til my parents returned, and they were also good enough to have 4 perfect little calves. All were born without aid and were healthy and strong. Only one is a heifer though, so the other three will be beef after a year or so of grazing, playing and lounging.

Born most recently was this cute fellow. He is the smallest of the 4 but his mother has a lovely full udder so he is likely to grow quickly. Speaking of his mother, Lickerish (who was introduced in a post last year), comes from one of Dad's best cows. Dad figures Lickerish's mother is around 18 years old. That is VERY old for a cow, and she has had an excellent, quiet-natured calf for 17 of those 18 years. She gave a bull this year so Lickerish may be the last of her genetics on the farm when she goes later this year or next year. We always hate to see such fine animals finally leave.

If anything, Lickerish seems even more quiet now that she is a cow.

This cow had the second most recent calf, delivering about 2 or 3 days before Lickerish. She is another cow that Dad has kept for a very long time, almost as long as Lickerish's mother. She lost her calf last year so she is very, very watchful of her young bull this year. This will be her last year with us and it goes without saying that she will be missed. As this year's calf is a bull, we will have no genetics remaining from her.

These were the first two calves from this year's replacement heifers.

The ginger bull in the front is from one of the Blonde D'Aquitaine heifers that were bought last spring. He is growing incredibly quickly and it will be interesting to see how big he is at weaning. His mother had some udder swelling before he was born and it took a few days to abate. As such, she was a bit of a kicker when he would eat and is also something of an aloof mother. Hopefully she gets a little more attentive in the future but it is clear that she has excellent milk.

The white faced heifer in the rear was the first calf born to this year's replacement heifers. We thought her mother would be the last to deliver as she was the smallest in size and belly. If she grows well, she will be the only one of the four that is kept this year, as she is the only heifer.

So in terms of cattle at least, it has been an excellent spring. It is now around 3 weeks after those pictures were taken and all 4 calves are growing nicely. Its always uplifting to see them tearing around the pasture.

Now we just need some rain so the grass will keep growing so their mothers can keep giving them rich milk and stay healthy themselves.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Dirty Future

Well, the messes are starting to hit closer to home...

The pipeline leak in northwest Alberta, that most North Americans have likely heard of by now, happened around 2 or 3 hours north of me. This 28,000 barrel mess brought immediately to mind the pipeline which runs through our summer pasture property...the lovely little lightly forested piece of wildlife filled wonder that it is. Plus there are 2 pumpjacks operating on the land as well. These land leases have actually been the farm's largest source of income for several years now. I know many farmers now rely on the income from oil and gas activity on their land, most able to close their mind to the myriad of potentially disastrous possibilities. I know Dad thought a great deal before agreeing to accept these leases, and I gave him a very hard time over it as well. But in the end, I agree with his reasoning. They were going through our area no matter what. If we had refused they would have simply put bends in the pipeline or put their pump jacks across the fence and we'd have the danger AND no revenue. So the money was accepted and put to as good use as possible.

But the much larger problem is that these disastrous possibilities are only going to increase in likelihood of occurring as infrastructure that was too rapidly built and installed begins to age and decay. And as peak oil becomes more and more of an issue, the shout for drilling in more and more sensitive areas WILL occur. Last year's Gulf of Mexico disaster was a perfect example, as should be obvious by how quickly that mess has faded from attention. If we cannot shift to demanding less consumption, we will ravage every last corner of this planet for its "resourcees".

Are people waking up quickly enough and in large enough numbers to stave off this ugly, dirty future? Or are we just waiting for another quick fix, happy to sit inside and consume until there is nothing left but to fight over the few remaining scraps?

I will keep working for the former (there is much more that I should do, than I actually do), as I know many will...but I can`t help but feel the latter is what will occur. May we prove this feeling wrong.

More to come on this, I`m sure, though the next post will be of a lighter nature. I promise.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal Pain In The ...

As regular readers are likely to guess, I have had about enough of hearing about the impending "royal" wedding. The only thing I am really curious about is just how many people truly care about this bullshit and are able to feel anything but disgust for the waste that is about to occur. I know some people still buy into the fairy tale but I would really like to know if it is the vast majority that the amount of news coverage seems to suggest. Or are most people like me, wondering why the hell we're supposed to accept that these people are to be so venerated.

But I'm pretty sure that there are a LOT of people who are still caught up in the reality fairy tale. It is just another example of the ongoing and heavily funded cult of celebrity in this part of the world. I can say this though, I live in Canada but I recognize no monarch. I so wish my country would finally grow up and cut its ties to this sadly outdated, even if primarily only symbolic, branch of government.

But I suppose I do have to admit that the dark and/or cynical side of me does wonder if this princess will last longer than the previous one.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Real Wisdom

These words about responsibility and real leadership ring so loud and true to me. They are the message I want to both share and live, expressed by one with many more winters and much more wisdom than I.

I pray with all I am that we take heed.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Mmmm Supermarket Meat

Here is more good news for folks who think modern industrial agriculture provides the healthiest food possible.

Now, granted, I think the amount of samples taken on which to base this research is much too small...but the results are no less worrisome. I`m not sure just what it will take to convince North Americans that extra money spent on food raised or grown by decently paid small scale local farmers is well worth having a few less toys to show off to the neighbors.

Lifting The Veil

Lifting The Veil (viewable on Vimeo by following the link) is a rousing documentary-style presentation that calls to task Obama`s "hope" and "change" rhetoric by summarizing hypocritical appointments to and actions by his administration. Most importantly, this excellent piece is yet another reminder that, and this is an especially important note for we Canadians as we head into yet another federal election, the act of voting is a very small (albeit greatly significant) aspect of being a part of a democratic society. We must wake up and live our lives actively and conscientiously.

There is an excellent segment about halfway through where one speaker makes a remarkably simple yet accurate summation of the current state of affairs; the tiny ownership class of the world population has managed to be able to stop paying laborers higher wages to match higher living expenses and have instead used the massive profits made from keeping labor costs as low as possible to lend the labor class back the shortfalls caused by low wages (WITH interest!), allowing the owner class to profit even more AND granting them greater power over the masses. Realizing this made me work very hard to avoid buying into the typical modern sport of competitive consumption and status hunting.

Also, Chris Hedges fans will enjoy the clip of an excellent speech at the end of the presentation. It alone is worth the watch...reminiscent of the Reverend Dr. King as far as I am concerned. I hope others will find it as share-worthy as I did.

Peace and comfort.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Spring! And Moving Forward?

Well, it looks like spring has finally started to settle in here in north west Alberta Canada. We have had a good week of sunshine and mild temperatures so the snow is starting to melt nicely. The Canada geese and seagulls have started to return; I actually saw the first goose fly over a week ago. The poor thing must have been worried as there is no water anywhere, it would have been looking down at a whole lot of white.

Like I was saying, all this snow has really been melting and you can tell how much wind we had over the last half of winter as some patches are still feet deep and in other places the ground is already coming through. But you can also tell how very dry it has been as much water is seeping straight into the ground, very very quickly. Unless we have a damp spring, in a couple of months it could look like we had little runoff at all. It will take years of this much snowfall to restore local water levels, including our precious slough. We may find ourselves missing all the mud that we will spend the next couple of weeks slopping around in.

My parents made it back from their trip so the farm has been passed back into their hands. No more prime responsibility for me for now, and despite getting snowed in and wrenching my neck BADLY, there were no real reportable occurrences. No spring calves have yet appeared although 3 heifers and one old cow are looking quite close. Given how badly I strained a group of muscles in my neck, its a damn good thing nothing happened. That first day I was in more pain than I ever remember feeling before. Thank goodness my sister was able to help me with feeding the pigs and cattle that morning, as I don't see how I would have been able to do so all on my own. It was a real lesson in just how hard it would be, trying to run a farm by oneself.

In regards to my sporadic blogging, I suppose I should just say right out that it is unlikely that my posting will accelerate here anytime soon, if at all. I had originally meant for this blog to be a place for me to rant and share some of my passions in a relatively anonymous fashion, and to explore my ideas about balance. I still intend to do these things and sometimes will want to do so anonymously. But I am also feeling a need to be less anonymous for various reasons, not the least being my desire to advertise and write about happenings on the farm and that part of my journey. As such, I am trying to decide just how to move forward.

And its not that I have nothing about which to rant or try to foster conversation. Quite the opposite. There is soooo much shit going on out in the real world, so much to talk about, mourn, even to yell about. So much that I often don't know how to start talking about it here. And I think it might be time for me to stop being quite so much of a chicken shit, and say my piece a little more openly.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Poem From My Granny

Its funny how little we often know about people, even those very close to us. For example, I never knew that my Granny was fond of poetry; both reading it and writing it. I can't remember if I found it or if my aunt showed it to me, but I wanted to share this poem that Granny wrote. I do not know when she wrote it but I am guessing it was many years ago.

My home is on a farmstead extending to the shore
Of a shiny little lakesite and who could wish for more
Than the bounty and contentment that such a place affords
With scenery, peace, and freshness as added rewards.

I've been wakened in the morning by the rooster's early call
and been summoned to the barnyard by the calf's discontented bawl
With squealing from the pigsty and the tomcat's hungry meow;
I'm undoubtedly reminded there's lots of work to do.

There's excitement and happenings in a place such as this
From the cheeping of the young turks to the gander's defiant hiss
And George, the cocky rooster, makes you keep your eye askance;
He's eager for a round or two, you can tell that at a glance.

Here's the doleful sound of the seagull, but to harmonize just right
The red-winged blackbird does his part and sings with all his might.
The stately swans and cygnets - birds of every size and hue
Makes the lake seem alive with wildlife the whole night through.

The muskrat cruises through the reeds as her young around her play
And a somber coot with her red eyed pair can be seen any time of day.
The "hilldiver" scurries to and fro with victuals for her two
while the prolific mallard with her brood has even more to do.

There is sewing and reaping from sunrise until sundown
And occasionally things happen to make you wear a frown
But this is secondary to the satisfaction I acquire
When the hungry have been bedded down and I'm ready to retire.

I never knew that Granny felt so much like I do about this place. As long as I can remember, she pretty much only spoke of work that needed doing. I wish I had known this side of her while she was still alive but I'm glad I at least know it now.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Drifted In...Again

Another March day, another blizzard. At least the temperature is not so low this time, but still should see a couple feet of snow from yesterday until tomorrow, plus enough wind to drift us in nicely. This time, however, I am stuck at the farm as opposed to away from it. With the folks gone for two weeks and a snowfall warning in effect, I decided I'd better stay at the farm last night.

Good thing too. Looks like we're stuck here until at least sometime tomorrow.

Damn La Nina. This needs to wind down soon and let spring come or we're going to have to source out some more bedding and maybe even some hay.

Ah well, such is life in the relatively far north.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


This might be the best 10 minute presentation that I have seen to date:

Those who are already awake will find some more good material on the presenter's Youtube channel.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March Ponderings

As I spend my days looking at the several feet of snow still piled high here in mid-March, and knowing there is likely more to come, it seems as though spring may never come. While I know it may be a cool and damp year, I know that spring will indeed return. And I am thankful to only have a long winter to contend with.

In truth, this long winter is a blessing in some ways. While feed and bedding for the cattle grow short, at least I know we have plenty of moisture for replenishing the horribly dried out marsh lake and for growing this year's crops...assuming we are able to get any in the ground.

I will take this winter, however, over the suffering that seems to be occurring in more and more places every day. Almost every day brings fresh news of some social/geopolitical upheaval or of some new catastrophe in the natural world. As I doubt there is much chance of social unrest in my specific part of the world until Peak Resources really sets in, I can't help but wonder when Mother Nature will direct her displeasure with humanity in this direction.

Maybe spring is not coming after all...

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Another SoapBox Update

I can't believe that this is my first post in February. The reasons vary, I think the greatest being the sheer number of big things to talk about. As usual in this part of the world at this time of the year, however, few of these things are happening here. Yet I feel that this is very much as it should be.

One of the aspects of farming in this part of the world (with our current levels of technology) that I really appreciate, is the downtime that comes with winter. If one desires to retain some simplicity in this increasingly complicated world, it is necessary to accept and enjoy this downtime and to use it appropriately. In the past, I have used this time to educate myself in some new areas and to develop outlets like this blog. But this winter I feel I have slipped back into something of an escapist mode.

I see so much rapid change in the world, from the obvious social reform being demanded (and hopefully won) in North Africa and the Middle East, to the increasing social unrest due to exploding inequality in North America, to increasing tension between various nations due to increasing resource scarcities and/or religious ideologies, to climate craziness thanks to a La Nina cycle that might just be strengthened by our industrial activities, to ecological catastrophes that are most definitely the result of our industrial activities and addiction to fossil fuels. I would certainly like to be part of discussions about all of these issues but I often just don't know where to start.

As such, I thought I would stick with the primarily escapist theme and offer a bit of a brief SoapBox update, albeit a picture-less one this time around.

I've been doing a slow vermicompost harvest over the past few weeks and it looks like I'm going to go into spring planting with about 4 10-litre pails of good, moist worm castings. It is a little more moist that I would prefer, but I'm not sure how to do much better in the rubbermaid tub environment. I really hope I can figure out a way to take the next step up in scale. Lord only knows we have the shit to feed a good amount of manure worms. On a side note here, I am now a great fan of the molded packing filler made from shredded cardboard. It makes fantastic bedding, whereas the polystyrine and other oil derived packing fillers are just chemical waste as far as I am concerned. I just tore these molded filler pieces up like I do drink trays and it works like a charm. I hope people understand what I'm referring to here as I have had no luck finding a picture or some kind of reference online, to show what I mean.

While the future of our cattle herd is somewhat uncertain, its age has decreased significantly. A period of melting last week allowed us to take advantage of strong prices and sell 3 old cows. These animals had been on the farm for nearly 20 years so it was somewhat sad to see them go, and it is my sincere hope that they came to as humane an end as possible. One of them was a bit of a knot-head that liked to boss the others around, but the other two were quite gentle and all delivered many many excellent calves. We are now just a few weeks from a nervous period, as 4 heifers will be calving for the first time and I may be the only one around to monitor the activities. It'd be my first time being of prime responsibility at such a time.

Actually, it should be 5 heifers but one of the Blonde D'Aquitaine's we bought last year is having a difficult time conceiving. I think she'd be solidly on the selling list now but for the fact that the bull we have now is young and small and seems like he might still be a bit hit and miss in the breeding department. She seems a bit immature in that area still, being quite skittish when he tries to mount, plus she is quite tall and has what I think is an odd angle of "entry". Her sister, however, is heavy in calf and has filled out beautifully. If she calves well, in a year or two she is likely to be our largest and best looking cow. There will be pictures of her here before too long, likely after she calves.

Our feeder hogs have done nicely too, and are starting to be ready for butchering. Its kind of a bad time as we still have quite a bit of snow and March can be kind of stormy. Thankfully we are not selling at market so we don't have to worry about being docked if they are a but over weight. We are also trying a new butcher that is almost an hour away as we are quite sure the big local butcher did not give us our own bacon last year. The bacon we got was fatty and substandard and there's just no way it came from the fit young animals we delivered. But with the price of fuel spiking again, this could prove to be a costly experiment. Any butchers want to start a small shop in northwest Alberta?

It's getting to be rather late here so I think I will leave the update here. I will see about sharing some pictures soon, I promise.

So for now, peace and comfort to all.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Magic Snow Balls

Every so often, here in the frozen north, conditions are just right for a curious phenomenon (I suggest clicking on the pictures for a larger view).

Nope, we weren't attempting to create winter lawn bowling with snowballs. This phenomenon can sometimes occur when we get a deep snowfall in cool temperatures, followed by a rise in temperature to just above freezing, accompanied by a strong warm wind. As you might imagine, these conditions do not occur with much regularity. The last time I remember seeing this happen, I was probably around 13 or 14 and it happened at night. It was also much larger in scale. So we woke up the next day to fields of snow covered in snowballs ranging from around baseball size up to perhaps volleyball size, all with a long trail marking their creation. I wish I had a picture from back then, but these were taken just a couple of days ago.

Pretty cool, huh?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Snow Day 2

Well, after a night of more snow and no grader work done on the farm road, it was a second day of not being at the farm. It snowed all day and is still coming down so its hard to say if I will even get there tomorrow. Looking out at the parking lot and my buried truck, I'm not sure I'll be able to get out. Just another sign that I should be living out there.

When I do get out there, I can tell I will be blowing a shitload of snow. Having said this, I suppose I have little room to complain as its nowhere near the amount of snow that has fallen out east. And the forecast is for above freezing temperatures later in the week so I will be able to use the tractor to clear a lot of snow away. I may wish I had put the chains on though.

Oh well, we'll see what it will be.

Peace and comfort, all.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Adult Snow Day

So, the phone rings this morning, about 45 minutes before I would normally head to the farm for the day. Turns out there was enough snowfall over night, combined with drifting, that my little 2 wheel drive truck would likely not make it down the road from the highway. So I am having my first day "off" in a few months.

Now while this did make me smile, it was a very guilty smile and I do not really like the time off because it means most of what I normally do has to be done by my should-be-retired using the snow-blower to open the paths and road up so that these chores can be done. Not only that, but its still pretty cold here at -27 C. But at least its not windy like yesterday where the windchill had the temperature down around -37 C (although I swear it felt colder at times).

Still, I must say that I feel an exhilaration being outside even in those conditions, an exhilaration that I do not recall in my youth. Back then it would have been hard to get me outside at all, never mind enjoying it so much. Now, I must point out that in a lot ways we are operating little more than a hobby farm at this point. We are tending to less than 20 head of cattle, 6 hogs, and around 130 chickens. This can still be a fair amount of work though, when real winter returns like this. For example, it will have taken at least 2 hours to clear the driving areas of snow today. This must be done whenever there is enough snowfall or drifting, such has been the case twice this week. I know this kind of thing is faced by farmers all over the north, and I am not complaining, merely pointing out that at this time of year the smaller amount of animals we have does not necessarily mean a lot less work.

From a certain perspective though, I still have things pretty easy. I'm generally only out there for 5 or 6 hours a day during the winter. I was doing just 2 or 3 as that was enough to do the lion's share of the work that needed doing, but when I realized that putting the calves and their mothers back in at night was taking dad around an hour...when it just takes me minutes...I decided to find ways to fill in the couple of hours until the early evening when they need to go back in. So now, to fill in that extra time, I have been building a fire in the wood stove in the old house that I grew up in. I then "cook" up some rolled barley for mom's chickens, giving them a warm meal for their gizzards once a day. This seems to be really helping them to lay more regularly during what is becoming a bit of a cold winter. We have our two male barn cats in the old house while a stray female is around, and they just love it when that fire gets stoked up. One of them sits on the oven door, basking in the direct heat from the oven. The fatter one sits on top of the stove until it gets too hot for his feet, then he gets up on the adjacent pantry, laying up there snoozing and absorbing the less intense heat. I must remember to take some pictures of these handsome, if nosy, young fellows, though I have been meaning to do so for months.

But back to my snow day, after a bit of a guilty nap, I figured I should take advantage of the time home to catch up on some cleaning in the kitchen and general tidying. Nowhere near all that should be done, but some of the blatant tasks. I also had the chance to have a look at my one operating worm bin here at the condo. The few worms I brought out from the farm seem to be doing quite well but I see I must bring some more. I also rooted through the one finished bin, loosening the wet castings up so that some of the moisture can evaporate, as well as fishing out 5 or 6 worms that still remained. It never ceases to amaze me how long worms can survive with very little attention, even in finished castings.

I'm quite excited about the amount of castings that I have for the next growing season. All together I must gave enough to fill one large Rubbermaid tub, although it is all quite wet so could be mashed into quite a dense little clump if that is what I wanted...which I do not. Suffice it to say, there is easily 3 times as much as we had last year, which yielded a very nice tomato patch. In addition, I found a naturally occurring deposit of worm castings in one of our old barns late this fall. These worms had been protected by a thick pile of plywood which had been forgotten and left laying flat over a thick layer of cow manure. So before the snow fell I was able to gather about 6 large sacks of dry fluffy worm castings...just perfect and ready for the garden come spring. This should mean one kick ass garden this year. I'm kind of excited.

Back to my day off. Peace and comfort, brothers and sisters.

Friday, January 07, 2011

A New Year Song

I've had this Youtube video open on my browser since before Christmas, as I waited for the right way to share its meaning for me.

Listening to it again now, I realize that it suits this New Year time quite well. For me, the new year period is a time of reflecting on what has been and what may come. This song just rings with that message.

And then it is a special song to me for another reason as well.

You see, I first heard this song on the local country music radio station, somewhere in the early 90's. It was credited to a new duo on the Canadian music scene, Bourne and Macleod. At the time, the song struck me as quite beautiful and I found Bill Bourne's voice to be very original.

A couple of years later, I was at a nearby summer music festival known as the North Country Fair. I had never heard of this event until a good friend went and returned with many fun tales. The Fair is something very rare in Alberta, a very "hippy" sort of folk-ish little festival in rural Northern Alberta. It's local nickname is actually The Hippy Fair. Turns out that attending this festival was a sort of magical part of what was probably the most fun summer of my life, to date...kind of my summer of '69 I guess. I won't try to share how just amazing a weekend this was, but for now I'll just say that Bill Bourne was performing at this festival so I had a chance to see the top hat and funky glasses wearing musician live. As I recall, he was playing with Shannon Johnson. Anyway, I know I heard him play this song at the festival. I also got to learn that he was as enjoyable live as canned.

Fast forward a couple more years, to my first year working for the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival. Back then the office and technical staff had plenty of socializing/fraternizing opportunities and I had developed a rather large crush on the cute volunteer coordinator. One Friday night we were hosting a fundraiser concert and I went, quite excited at the chance to chat her up a bit. Not only that but one of my favorite musicians of the time, Bill Bourne, was going to be playing. It was sure to be a good night.

Well I showed up to the event and, after chumming with some friends, went looking for the focus of my crush...only to be crushed myself when I found her at a table with some office staff...cuddled up guessed it...Bill Bourne. Suddenly one of my favorite musicians feels like the enemy. I gotta say, that was a pretty uncomfortable moment. I was so put off that I didn't even go over to meet the man.

Anyway, I've never run into him since. Which is surprising in a way, since I have worked with so many other Canadian artists in one way or another. If I had taken the offered gig at the local college though, I'd have worked one of his performance last year.

Funny how these things go sometimes isn't it?

But yeah, it seems like a good song for this time of the year. My thanks to the person who shot and uploaded this video. If only I could find one of Bourne and Macleod themselves.