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.