I felt like a bit of an astronaut a few days ago. Darren and I were doing some much-needed roofing on the main barn. When my grandpa built it in 1957 or so, they used wooden shingles. Can you imagine nailing one shingle down at a time? Over the years the wooden shingles have been drying out and getting smaller and smaller as they age, so the roof leaks. My dad started replacing the roof with tin, which is a fantastic roofing material, but he didn’t quite finish.
We have two panels 3 feet wide to do, plus three small areas that are odd shapes. Earlier in the summer, I went up and did a little work removing the last of the wooden shingles, but it’s unnerving. Because it’s so high, and so steep, it’s really hard to work. There are no good hand/foot holds, and when you constantly feel like you’re going to slip off, you can’t really do anything. Plus, with nowhere to brace yourself, you can’t really put any muscle into anything you do!
So, my safety-bear of a husband attached 2 solid anchor points by installing heavy-duty hooks from the inside of the hayloft. Once we had those, he googled how to make a rope safety harness and bought rope. So, now, we have a way to anchor ourselves so that we don’t have to worry about falling to our deaths. Don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but it would be quite a fall…
The other night we finally got the perfect night to go up there and install those last pieces, so we set about cutting them and getting everything ready. Ladder, check. Ropes, check. Extension cord, check (we were using an electric drill/screwdriver). Special grippy footwear (Vibrams), check. One at a time, we climbed the ladder with our small pieces of tin, drill and harnesses — with tool belts attached. We clicked into our safety lines, but we couldn’t just walk around up there — the roof was too slippery even with the grippy footwear, so we switched to bare feet. How odd to be safety-minded in bare feet! No steel-toed footwear here! But the sweat on our feet was the best grip-enhancer of all. So, we got to work.
We installed a small, simple piece easily enough, and then moved on to a harder one that required one of us to go onto the very top part of the roof. Darren climbed up there, checking out the 2 small patch-pieces that needed to be added, and then a thought occurred to me: we only have one ladder. What if we somehow knocked it down? We’d be stuck on the roof! Neither one of us had our phones! So, for all our planning, and safety, we had forgotten a pretty major one. So, I put my Vibrams back on and went to get a back-up ladder. It was just around the corner, leading into the hayloft. So, with the second ladder in place, we decided to try install a big piece of tin.
Unfortunately, the last piece my Dad had installed had a gash in it, so we had to take that one off and install one of our newly-cut pieces in its place. So, we’ll have to cut one more another day. I climbed down again and got the piece, which we had washed earlier to get the spruce needles and general grime off. The piece was just over 3 feet wide by 99″ long (8’3″) and although it was not overly heavy, it was awkward. I managed to carry it in one hand and go up the ladder. Once on the roof, I got to put it down while Darren positioned himself. When he was ready, I had to bring the piece over to the upper roof and lift it up about chest-high, so we could slide it into position. This sounds so easy but was in reality so hard! I needed to use both hands, and each of my feet were only gripping onto one screw of the roof I was standing on!
A few minutes later, when I was standing on the upper ladder (sorry to confuse you, there are a a lot of ladders involved!), giving direction and encouragement to Darren, it hit me: this is like spacewalking. Astronauts on a spacewalk are tethered to the vehicle they emerged from; we were tethered, too. All an astronaut’s tools are tethered to them; ours were all attached to our tool belts or tied to the roof itself. Astronauts have no friction in space, and so they have to grip with their hands or have their feet anchored in order to apply muscle; same for us. Astronauts have to plan every move carefully and work in teams; so did we.
Now, I can’t say I have a more profound thing to say than this: It was cool, for an little while on a roof, to play astronaut. In another time, another life, I might have been one… but the top of the roof will have to do for me!
So, I’m finally going to update you, my lovely readers, on what is going on with me and my husband on the farm! Thanks for your patience!
This year, my parents decided to move off the farm and into town to officially retire. This is a huge step for them — they’ve lived in this one place for all their married life, which is over 40 years. My dad didn’t want to be one of those old farmers who just doesn’t know when to quit, so he has been downsizing for a few years and this year, they were ready to make the big move.
So, my husband and I decided to take over. Although I love the North, moving back to the farm I grew up had such appeal to me, I just couldn’t turn down the opportunity.
So, we did it! We packed up all our possessions, loaded them into the biggest truck that UHAUL rents, and moved south. What an insane week that was! It took two trips, seven days (with one rest day in the middle) and I think we logged something like 3200 km on that UHAUL!!
We put our house on the market — our real estate agent came by to take photos WHILE we were starting to pack! She did an amazing job staging our home! For as long as this link works, you can see our listing here.
I don’t know how we accumulated so much stuff. It’s crazy. And we don’t need most of it, by far. I am seriously wanting to declutter and so as we unpacked, I started making up boxes of things to give away — I know, it seems like we did it in reverse, but my parents were anxious to move and not have the house on the farm empty for more than a couple of days. So, we moved in haste! Not the recommended way to move! On the first trip, we got away a bit later than planned — those last few things always take longer to load than you think — so we drove all night to get to our new home. We figured we might as well just git ‘er done!
Has living on the farm affected me yet, other than the pleasant rural slang? I don’t think so. I went through a frustrating stage where I couldn’t find anything. I went through an overjoyed stage, where I was like a kid playing on the yard! So glad for some time off, some sunshine (October was so lovely!), and so glad to be with my honey again!
Things have settled in a bit, and although I am still very grateful to be here, regular doses of reality keep me grounded. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have dreams! I have SO many ideas for things we can do on the farm! I want to convert one (or 2?) of the buildings here into a greenhouse, and fix fences and get some sheep to “mow” the grass, and maybe get some ducks and some more chickens (I only have two at the moment)… There is a main barn, several graineries and other small buildings, and a milk house, garage, and large shop space all with wood stoves, and corrals and fences all over the place. I could go in a hundred different directions, but here’s what I think is the biggest, best idea:
I want to turn the farm into a “care farm.”
I want to have animals and a greenhouse that people can visit when they are not feeling well and they need to reconnect with nature. They might be fighting an illness or facing death, or recovering from a stressful incident. The farm will be a place they can go for a walk, see the sheep, cows, and chickens — maybe even rabbits!! — and enjoy the outdoors. Although this is the dream, I don’t have a detailed plan, so I’m really excited to see how it all unfolds!
Contact me if you’re interested in finding out more, or if you have an idea or a desire to help!
(Click for larger version of photos below.)
Happy New Year! So, we have passed solstice and swapped out our old calendars, so Old Man Winter has seen fit to hit us with a vengeance! He has been a little hard on us lately, dishing out temperatures as low as -43 C. We had a snappy little cold snap that lasted several days (see below). For those who don’t know, that kind of cold — anything approaching -40 — is extremely hard on vehicles and machinery.
Our fun began when we noticed how rough the car was starting, despite being plugged in. Let me offer an explanation for my southern friends and followers: “Plugging in a vehicle” actually means plugging in a heater of some sort — usually an engine block heater — which gobbles up electricity in order to attempt to keep the vehicle “warm.” I know I’m overusing “quotes” and I don’t care! “Warm” is a relative thing. When it’s well below zero, the oil which is meant to lubricate the engine and allow it to turn freely and not grind itself into pieces gets really thick. When it’s -40C, it’s most jello than liquid. This makes the engine very slow to turn over and your battery has to work extra hard to get it to turn over enough times to start. it’s a blast, really, to count how many times the engine will roll over before starting — I think the record for my car is 12 times. But it started! So, back to the story.
It was about -25C or so, and although the car had been plugged in, it sounded really rough starting. This led us to think there might be something wrong with the block heater. The obvious weak points are the power cord, plug in, and extension cord, but these all checked out fine. Since my husband is such a snazzy, smart guy, he tested the resistance in the circuit — seemed fine, but this isn’t an indicator of power flowing, just that there is no clear break in it somewhere. A further test was needed, to check how much current was flowing. I helped by holding ends of wires from the multimeter (a device for testing circuits) to the extension cord end and the block heater plug… not the kind of thing you should EVER try to do if you don’t know what you’re doing! Suffice it to say, we discovered that the block heater must be dead.
Drat. Well, what can you do? Start finding out how to get a new one, or look into buying an oil pan heater instead. Oil pan heaters are easier to install than block heaters, and apparently work just as well, or even better, since they heat the oil directly and keep it from becoming jello. Mmmm! 10W-30 jello, my favourite! (Just kidding!)
Long story somewhat shortened, we couldn’t get one very easily. We would have had to buy it over the phone from Yellowknife and get it shipped in by plane, or get a friend in High Level to buy one and then find someone driving north who could bring it. We brainstormed what to do… and then I remembered that I have a buddy heater! It had belonged to Peace Air, before they went out of business, and it’s a great little heater. Pilots put these heaters inside the engine cowlings on planes to keep the engines warm, and they produce quite a bit of heat for their size — not as intense as a hair dryer, but not far off. The best part of all is that they are meant to operate outside, for hours, unsupervised. Perfect.
So, the trick was to figure out how to get the heat to the engine. We quickly figured it would work pretty slick to slide the heater under the car and put cardboard around the bottom of the car to keep the heat in. Well, when we got to it, we ended up making use of the plentiful firewood and piling snow around the car on the sides. We tried to position the heater directly under the oil pan, and considering that the it’s not quite as cold out (only -25C) and there isn’t much space below the car to heat, I think it’s going to work!
So, that’s just one of many adventures we had over the Christmas season! The others involve repairing a block heater plug in -25C (wearing gloves as much as possible!), a malfunctioning defrost heater (or any sort of internal heat), and a truck that wouldn’t start. It might be the starter solenoid, or the starter, or maybe it just couldn’t face the -40’s.
This blog post is dedicated to my friend Jim, and ALL the men and women who maintain our winter roads — grader operators, plow truck drivers, sanding truck drivers, and all the other operators! You rock. I know you work hard to keep our roads passable, and believe me, we “regular motorists” appreciate it! Take care out there.
A few months ago, on one of my little adventures in the bush, I had an experience that I just can’t forget. I had decided to go for a walk to explore the bush along the edge of a clearing. The clearing was roughly square-shaped, and I walked along one full edge, intent on checking out the corner, which had some vague interest for me. As I walked, I was pleased to find an abundance of wild strawberries growing in the clearing! I stopped to pick a few, savouring their intense flavour. Along the way, I came across a little pile of cut firewood; someone was obviously going to come back for that some day. The bush was pretty thick, but to be honest, I wasn’t looking into it much. I was distracted by the strawberries.
As I got close to the corner, I could see that there was a little opening in the trees where a couple of them that had fallen down in a wind. With one more step, a flurry of activity erupted from the bush. Grouse — local people call them “chickens” — flew every which way, as though with that one step into the bush I had tripped an invisible laser-alarm, and they could not sit still. I hadn’t seen any of them until they all moved — their camouflage is excellent — and after they flew away only one remained.
This one, lone bird did the strangest thing, this thing that I cannot shake the memory of. It was crouched on the ground, among the fallen leaves, again invisible against the background. It shuffled forward and I could see it again, and it made the strangest sound — exactly like a puppy whimpering. It did it again, a little shuffle and a distinctive whimper. I couldn’t believe how much it sounded like a puppy. It did it a third time, which allowed me to reassure myself that’s exactly what I was hearing.
How strange, I thought, and then realized that there must be a nest of young ones nearby, not yet able to fly away to safety. I was pretty sure I knew where it was — to my left, behind a log and near the point I had seen all the adults fly away from. I was very tempted to walk over and take a look, but the pitiful display of this lone grouse made me hesitate and ultimately change my mind. It had intentionally stayed behind when the others flew away to sacrifice itself to this strange, upright predator. It drew attention to itself with its cries and movement, making sure I could both see and hear it, the pathetic whimper as if to say “eat me, I’m weak and defenseless — an easy meal.” I just couldn’t satisfy my curiosity — to find the nest and see the little ones — after what this adult bird had done for its young.
But not just for its young; for all the young that were in nests nearby. I knew from the number of adults that there must be at least three nests, and this one stayed behind to save the young of them all. You know, all around the world we see incredible acts of sacrifice by people for their children, but not as often for others’ children. I, for one, had never seen such a display first hand, of an animal so willing to die that it would call out to the predator to ensure its strategy of misdirection and ultimately, its sacrifice, would be successful.
There is not much I can say. It was humbling. That grouse showed intelligence, compassion and courage. And it’s just a bird, with a brain no larger than half a walnut. I guess courage, compassion and intelligence don’t have anything to do with brain size, but it does make me wonder if I have been letting myself off easy, not demanding much of myself lately. My idea of an act of courage these days is to go into a crowded room where I don’t know anyone. Compassion consists of smiling respectfully at strangers, whatever state they are in (i.e. sober or not, poor or not), and my intelligence has been primarily engaged in knitting and dreaming up floor plans for tiny houses. I think it might be time for another challenge. I think it might be time for an extreme compassion adventure! It might even be time for a sacrifice, and damn it, I had better not complain, because I’m pretty sure I won’t be whimpering on the ground, hoping the predator will eat me instead of the children nearby. Wow.
Following in the tradition of blogs everywhere, I have a classic* three-point post today with some interesting and helpful things I learned about my car recently. The first one nearly stopped me in my tracks.
1. Vapour lock: don’t be a victim!
I was part-way through a road trip on a hot day. I had been driving for a few hours when I stopped to get gas. Much to my surprise, after I was all fuelled up, my car wouldn’t start! It tried really hard, turning over and over, coughing and making sounds I’d never heard it make before (of a sputtering sort). But, try as it might, it just wouldn’t start. So, a lady who had come to fill up her truck drove over to the cardlock owner to get some help. I had to wait a while, but I didn’t mind. I didn’t want to be a pest and go bug the guy who was going to help me, so I just putzed around, checking my oil, picking dead bugs out of the front and whatnot.
After about 15 minutes, Mike (not a mechanic, just a regular guy) drove up and we discussed the problem. He suggested that my fuel injectors might be clogged, and that’s why it wouldn’t start. I decided to turn it over so he could have a listen and see if that sounded like the problem. Right before turning the key, I joked, “maybe it will start, just because you’re here!”
Mechanics across the nation know what’s going to happen next — my car started. It wasn’t pretty, but it coughed to life. And the fuel injectors weren’t to blame. A mechanically-minded friend explained it to me later that night — on a hot day, the gasoline in your engine and fuel line becomes vapour and then when you stop, the liquid gas can’t get to the engine. The fuel pump tries to move it, but it can’t, so it just coughs. It is vapour locked. The only solution is to let the engine cool down a bit (which happened as I waited for Mike) so the vapour condenses, and then it will start.
The rest of the story? After my car started, I went to the local mechanic shop, explained things to the mechanic, and got some fuel injector cleaner (I left the car running the whole time, just in case it decided to die again). After driving another 4 hours or so, I stopped to get gas again. I left the car running (which I NEVER do, not even in winter, so it felt very strange), and as I poured the first litre in, the engine coughed and very nearly died again! I was mystified! I added a little more and again, it nearly stopped. So, I said to myself, forget this! I still have half a tank — enough to get home. Once I heard the explanation, it made sense — the cold gas wasn’t mixing well with the hot, vapourous gas, and the car wasn’t able to compensate for the change. Your vehicle has to mix air and gas at a certain ratio for combustion to occur, otherwise, nada. Or should I say “no va?”
2. Don’t brake over bumps.
I helped my friend Michelle move at the beginning of July, and as we were driving out for a second load, I learned something new about brakes. Two of the other people helping Michelle worked at a mechanic shop, and I was yammering on about how I’m getting pretty good at driving on all sorts of gravel roads — loose gravel, packed gravel, washboardy, pot-holey, whatever. I can just tap the brakes and then cruise over most spots easily.
All of a sudden, Karen said “At least you’re doing it right! You’d think people would know that you shouldn’t brake when you’re going over a bump! It wears your brakes unevenly and causes them to wear quicker overall.”
Well, I quietly sat there nodding, but truth be told, I didn’t know that. It was just instinct to me to brake before a bump and then cruise over it, and luckily for me, I had been doing it right. When you brake, it causes your suspension to compress, which makes the brakes wear much worse.
So, now you know: if you are coming up to a bump in the road you need to slow down for — be it a pot-hole, uneven bridge deck, construction, or whatever — slow down first, but when you get to the bump, let off the brakes.
3. Don’t Pass the Pilot Truck.
It happened last year on Hwy 35 near Steen River, and last week on Hwy 1, well, in the middle of nowhere: pilot trucks were put into effect to guide drivers through areas where forest fires were burning near the road. I thought it was just to make sure no one decided to go joy-riding on a quad trail — someone in danger of being charged and convicted under Darwin’s Law — or to make sure people didn’t speed when passing wildland fire fighters. Well, I was wrong.
Last week, driving back to Fort Simpson, I decided to drive through an area where the Department of Transportation had been using pilot trucks the day before. There were no piloting vehicles or road workers around — it was too early in the morning — and as far as I knew, the road was open. As I went by a small fire burning about five feet into the bushes on one side of the road, I noticed a wide, pink stripe across the highway — the mark left by a tanker aircraft who’d dropped his load of fire-retardant on the fire! Now, that made sense — you wouldn’t want to accidentally drive by when that happened! You’d get red, frothy gunk all over your vehicle! But then again, why not just close the road altogether? Why do we need pilot trucks to drive through areas with forest fires burning?
I was telling my story of driving by the fire to a friend, Mickey, who works for the DoT. He “tusk-tusk-tusked” at me, waggled his finger, and explained. The real reason for pilot trucks, he said, is because if your car ingests an ember from a flame into the air filter and catches on fire, you would be stranded with a burning car in an active fire zone! Aaah… now, that would be bad. The pilot truck is there to make sure everyone gets through okay.
So, if you are tempted to pass a pilot truck, or drive through an area with a lot of ash where a pilot truck hasn’t been established yet, just be aware that besides risking a hefty fine, you’re betting that your vehicle won’t catch on fire! Not sure what the odds are on that bet, but I’m not willing to take the chance!
*Ain’t it concise, informative and story-oriented?
I recently finished reading Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat. I bought it at a used book store, and the copyright in my book says 1963, 1973 and 1993, but it must be out of print now. I’m pretty sure my parents hid this book from me when I was growing up. They must have known the effect it would have on me, and they probably didn’t wish to lose their daughter to the wilds of northern Canada for years at a time. Well, they weren’t able to avoid that altogether, but at least I have the technology to keep in touch with them.
Since living in Wrigley, my curiosity about wolves has been piqued. They are often talked about, because they are never very far away. At the airport, which is about 2 km from Wrigley, the wolves were coming onto the runway on the weekends and chewing on the wires going to some of the runway edge lights. When it’s particularly cold in winter, they come closer to town and sometimes attack and eat the local dogs. In December, wolves killed the alpha dog in town — dogs there run in packs and are not very far removed from wild, wolfish behaviour. In fact, some of what Farley Mowat talks about has helped me relate to dogs better, such as reading their facial expressions and understanding that they live by their own, non-human code. They have their own reasons for doing things, because of their canine culture.
I can see why this book is considered a classic! It is an excellent read. Farley is a phenomenal storyteller, and his story is a fantastic one. He is dropped off by a kamikaze bush pilot at an unknown frozen lake somewhere off the map in Northern Manitoba. His mission is to study wolves, their feeding habits and appetite for caribou. He plans to live among the wolves. Does that mean he crawls in their dens? Only once, and his reaction to what he finds within shakes him to the core. He adapts himself to the wolves’ ways — he learns to take wolf-naps so that he can observe them for long periods of time continuously without getting tired. And when the caribou return from their wintering grounds, he discovers, contrary to what the government has been told, that wolves are not responsible for the decline in caribou population.
Fast forward 50+ years, to this year, 2013. What is on the cover of the news/north newspaper this week?
Fifty years have gone by and the problem remains! Farley Mowat correctly identified the cause of the caribou slaughter when he found a field of caribou bones near a trapper’s shack — the trapper was killing hundreds of caribou a year to feed his sled dogs. Back then, they used nearly the whole animal, but now, killing for the sake of killing makes me ill. Trigger happy people should go to a gun range and shoot paper targets, not beautiful, majestic creatures. And there are a lot of trigger happy people in the North, and they think they can get away with it, and they think they have a right to kill what they want, and they do it because their twisted sense of humanity thinks it is fun. That newspaper article speaks of 50+ animals killed with only very small portions being taken for food, a practice very much against what the elders teach. (Wolves, by contrast, kill very few caribou, and only the weak and elderly ones, and, of course, eat it all.)
Part of me desperately hopes they find out who did it all (the carcasses were found in 12 different sites, so it was probably lots of different people), and part of me knows it won’t help. Not unless the local people — the people from that community — decide it is definitely wrong and their internal culture changes. Part of me thinks that if no witnesses will come forward — and who would want to rat on their friends and family? — then the whole community should lose its caribou hunting rights. They have a grocery store; let them buy their meat there. But, that’s our ugly friend colonialism back for a visit, telling native populations what to do and disciplining them like they are children. No, the government needs to stop interfering and the people who live there need to start acting like responsible, life-respecting adults. Own up to what you have done. Admit you feel bad about it (if you do, don’t lie if you don’t). Stop killing just because you can.
I would love to ask one of these trigger happy people “what will you do when all the caribou are gone? Elsewhere in Canada, when the native animals were killed off, domestic animals were brought in. Beef replaced buffalo, pigs in place of antelope. Are you going to become farmers? That will be challenging with the wolves and bears and so much wilderness. Will you cut down all the trees to make fields? Will you grow crops to feed your cows?”
It would be infinitely better if those who live among the caribou could learn to appreciate what they have in them — an amazing, healthy food source — and protect the caribou population, to prevent their extinction. I am a stranger in a strange land; I am not from here. I wasn’t raised among the caribou, among the wolves. I was raised on a farm (which you may have already guessed), so if I want to be an activist, I should do so in the realm where my heritage is — agriculture in Canada. To be an activist here makes me judgmental, as so many environmental activists who go far from home to make a stand are. And I do have some thoughts about agriculture in Canada… but they will have to wait for another day.