We had a little excitement the other day — hell, we had an alpaca porn show! It started when I went out after sundown to close the barn for Uki and Daisy (the momma and baby — and baby alpacas are called crias), and I thought I saw something black in the barn with them… sure enough, it was Fozzie! He had somehow gotten out of his corral and was in the barn with the two females! Little bugger! Well, little did I know, the “buggering” was just beginning!
I had to get him out again and try to wrangle him back into his corral. All the alpaca books (and breeders I’ve talked to) say that you need to keep the male out for about 2 weeks after a cria is born. So, I opened the gate to his corral and went back to try and separate him from the girls and all three got out of the barn. Hrmf. Well, no sooner were they out when Fozzie started trying to get on Uki. She did what any female alpaca in her position would do, I guess: she laid down on the ground and let him. They don’t do the wild deed stanging up, like horses or cows — they lay down. And I think I know why.
It takes forever! I had read in the alpaca book that it can last as long as 20 minutes, but I’m sure this was more like 45. Little bugger again, I said to myself! So, Daisy (the cria) and I just hung out, with the twilight fading and Fozzie sidling up and up and up onto Uki, and making the most crazy and amazing sounds! “Orgling” it’s called. It’s so strange someone had to make up a word to describe it! It’s like “oh baby, oh baby” in alpaca. Mixed in with strange gasping sounds. Apparently, it’s the combination of orgling and the male grasping the sides of the female with his front legs that makes the female ovulate. So, I think it worked! Way to go, buddy!
It was too dark to take a picture — plus, I didn’t want to leave Daisy unguarded in case any coyotes were around — so, I hope you enjoy this cave-art drawing (by me) of what it looked like. For 45 minutes. (There really should be more cave art in the world, don’t you think?)
The next day, I found the exact spot Fozzie must have jumped over the fence, little bugger. There was fresh broken wood, and Fozzie with a “what’s up?” look on his face kept visiting the spot. (I fixed it right away.)
Now, we’ll know if it worked in a few more days when I let Fozzie back in again to visit Uki. If she spits at him and won’t lay down for him, it means she is pregnant. Isn’t it cool that she knows? I have never heard of an animal like that.
So, there you have it. Porn on the farm. Sex in the corral. Doin’ it, alpaca-style!
Oy, what a life I lead! :-)
The day after I posted about getting the shearing done, and announced that our female alpaca was pregnant, she had her little one!! (It’s been so busy, sorry I didn’t get this posted until today!) Here she is, just minutes old:
She is amazing! She is so perfect, and perfectly alpaca! She’s curious and she often came right up to us to check us out. Her momma would make a little noise — like a cross between a hum and a squeak — and call her baby back.
She is incredibly fast! She runs, but sometimes her back legs try to pass her, and it is the cutest thing! She’s still learning how to use her brakes. She has gorgeous eyes, eyelashes and the sweetest little nose. Every day, she is a little taller, and she’s so alert and curious. She was born with a lot of wool, so she’s fluffy and SO soft.
So, I’m madly reading a book all about alpacas, so I can learn all the finer points of raising them, but thankfully, it’s all been common sense so far. Well, common sense for me since I grew up with sheep, and I bounce things off of Mom and Dad when I need some validation.
This is going to be a great adventure!! Twice a day, we have a little alpaca rodeo when we put them in/out of their little barn. I’ll post more about that soon, and some more pictures!
Some days, you just have to do the thing you don’t want to do.
Death makes you face things and do things that you just don’t want to. You can’t leave it until later. You can’t deny it. You just have to find some strength within — and you always do — to be able to do what you must. And in my case, that was wrap up our sweet, fluffy barn kitty who passed away unexpectedly.
Her name was Stella. I just gave her that name one day last fall. After living at the farm for a week or so, I felt our cute, skittish barn kitty should have a name, and Stella is the name that came to me. She was a little black-and-white cat who lived in the hayloft of the barn. We’d see her sitting out on the edge, catching some sun on a cool October day, but if we even approached the barn too purposefully, she’d be off like a flash, into a hidden part of the hayloft.
We would climb the ladder to fed her every day, and each time, she’d be barely visible, hiding from us. Before too long, though, she be a little more exposed, a little closer, and one of my favourite memories of her was the time she came to the food bowl before I had even gone down two rungs of the ladder — I got to see her up close for once! She was so sweet! Most of the time, though, she would sit on a nearby disintegrating bale of straw and look at us. The look on her face said, “you’re going to feed me again? Why are you being so nice to me?” In a way, it broke my heart that she was so baffled by our care and interest in her. For the last couple of months, however, she just looked at us with caution — as she approached so much of her life, I suppose — instead of confusion. She understood that we would bring her food every day and that we loved her. At least I hope she understood that last part.
A few days ago, Darren found her unmoving in the hayloft. He had gone to give her fresh water, and he didn’t see her at first. Then, suddenly, he saw her, laying with her chin on the straw. When I got home, and he told me that we’d lost her, I went to the barn. I saw her immediately from my spot on the ladder. How strange, since she was never in that part of the hayloft, that I knew. But we knew her so little! We only saw her for a few minutes a day. What was her life really like? We have no way of knowing. We only know that she had lost about half of her ears in harsh winters of the past. We know she had at least one litter of kittens — my mom had told us that, and that’s the only way they’d known she was a she. You just couldn’t get close enough to her.
Was she ever mistreated? I don’t think so. She is — ahem, was — a barn cat. She caught mice, and maybe birds, as her diet. Yet her look improved greatly once we started feeding her regularly. Her coat got fluffier, she seemed to put on some weight, and she looked less scared. But I don’t think she was ever mistreated before. It’s just the way of a barn kitty. She got table scraps once in a while, and other than that, she was independent. She lived out there, all the time, and we live in here, and we just didn’t know her very well.
The first time I got to pet her was after she’d died. Despite all I just said about barn cats, I feel it is such a shame I never got to connect with her, pet her and show her more affection while she was alive. She was so soft, and so sweet, and still warm! It seemed like she had just stopped breathing, and she might start up again any second. What would she do? Would she try to bolt away, suddenly aware that she had let her guard down too much? Or would she sigh and purr and then die again, but this time, knowing for sure that she was loved?
It broke my heart, petting her in the barn that night. But my heart will mend.
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I chose a bright yellow piece of cloth to wrap her in. It seemed the most appropriate for her, but my mood was anything but sunny. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to have to take care of her body. I wanted her to be alive; I didn’t want to be in this situation. Then, quite out of the blue, I thought, “every day, we have new opportunities. and today, this is my opportunity.” What a strange thought to have… and it changes everything. It’s my opportunity to take care of the body of my sweet kitty. Not an obligation, or unpleasant task. It’s my chance, and it only comes once.
I cried quite a bit, still caught up in the “what ifs” and “if onlys.” But, like so many facing death, I consoled myself with “we did our bests” and “I think she loved us.” It’s all we can do, with so many unknowns.
One thing I know about myself, though: I am enough of a realist, or scientist, that it’s okay to console myself whenever I need it. There’s no worry that I’ll fall into a trap of unreasonable excuse-making, although there’s always a hazard of wanting to live in the past and/or feeling sorry for myself. But if I focus on the good bits, I can avoid that.
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So let this be my tribute to you, dear Stella. I have the feeling you enjoyed your time on this earth! I hope you know how much you meant to us. This isn’t the last time we’ll think of you! We’ll miss seeing you in the hayloft every day. Although you are gone, in spring, we’ll bury your body at the top of the garden. We won’t forget you.
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.)
I made my debut into full-time management this summer. Some very good friends of mine who own a store in High Level bought another one in Grouard. It is a convenience store with a liquor store as well, and since it’s right along the highway, we knew that it had huge potential. Down the road a little ways are two cottage/camping areas (Hilliard’s Bay Estates and Shaw’s Point Resort) and Hilliard’s Bay Provincial Park — all very busy throughout the summer months.
I agreed to be the manager for the summer to get the store off the ground, and then in the fall, my husband and I would move to my parents’ farm so they could retire. They had found and were arranging to buy their “dream house” and back in February, Darren and I had decided to take over the farm — but I’ll leave that excitement for another post!
Since April, I’ve been so incredibly busy (hence only one blog post), but nothing compares to managing the store in Grouard. I left my job at the Fort Simpson airport earlier than planned because breakup was coming — that period of time when you can only helicopter across the Liard River. So, I gave just 2 weeks notice to my job and was outta there. For the rest of April and the first half of May, I helped a friend by working at her greenhouse. I know I talked about this in my previous post, but I gotta say again how I loved working at Sunscape! It was hard work at times, but I loved being surrounded by living things and Alex was so great to work for! Not to mention that whenever the sun was out, the greenhouse became gloriously warm and tropical — I could have just moved in there! But, just after Mother’s Day, I was done there and had to quickly get ready for Grouard.
My friends had bought the store weeks earlier, and they’d hired a small army of men to renovate it in order to open for May long weekend. I had been out to the store twice — the first time was to help with inventory, just after they’d purchased the store and then later to help load and move some new counters and shelving to the store. The whole place was painted (even the floor), a back room was opened up and converted into the liquor store, the washrooms were moved and redone, and lots of additional lighting and electrical outlets were installed. When I got there 2 days before we were to open, there was a ridiculous amount of work to do! We had to put stock out, price and arrange it, program the tills, set up the internet and interac machines, clean everything, train the staff, make up price lists for things that weren’t stickered, and on and on. If you’ve ever opened a store, you are probably twitching right now and curling up into a ball on the floor! It is so hectic. And it didn’t let up much for over a month.
The really; long days only went on for a couple of weeks; I opened the store at 8 AM and closed the store at 10 PM and then worked for an extra 2 hours on planning, scheduling and other tasks. But there was always so much to do and no one else to do it, so I worked 14- to 15-hour days all summer. All summer. I did not go paddling until the end of August, and only because someone asked me to teach them how to kayak. I did not have a single day off or away from Grouard from the middle of May to the middle of June when I made a quick trip to Edmonton to pick up the York boat!
My anxiety increased considerably after getting the York boat. Sure, it was a thrill to drive down the highway towing it, and I felt awesome taking corners really wide! I was pretty damn good at towing it. But once I had it in Grouard, I had to do something with it. For a couple of weeks, I towed it to the store every day so people could ogle it and ask questions about it. I boldly put up a sign that revealed my big idea: “York boat day tours, July and Aug.” But I just couldn’t make it happen.
I was exhausted. Every day, I kept the store running — some days, I kept it open, because when staff cancelled or called in sick, I didn’t have anyone else to replace them. So I stayed. I worked double shifts almost every day, for one reason or another. At the end of every day, I was wiped out. I was “keeping it together” by staying diplomatic, polite, friendly, and dealing well with my challenging staff members, but I didn’t have any extra energy — mental or physical energy — to give to the York boat and my dream of offering day tours for the general public.
One time in mid-July, I had a short reprieve. I snuck away to go to my sister’s (a 2-hour drive) for a spa party. I thought it would be good to see some family and get away from the store — maybe get some perspective. But what did that perspective show me? I had become a shell of a person. The chronic sleep deprivation was stealing my humanity. I was a zombie. Everyone around me was cheerful and responsive — or sassy or skeptical, whatever their personality was — and I was just sitting there. I was trying to absorb what was going on around me, but I couldn’t interact properly. I was lagging a few seconds behind everyone else and I just wasn’t myself.
I felt a little better the next morning when I went into town to buy a few things I needed. My runners were completely wearing out after being on my feet so much, so I got some new shoes and sandals. But, I drove straight back to the store and got back into it. Before long, though, I arranged to have a week off at the end of July. The store owners — my friends — could see I needed a break and I couldn’t argue. I knew I needed one too, but how could I take it? We were still having staffing troubles and there was still so much that only I knew how to do! So, I started training the full-time staff on what to do and I started working on the store manual, which I had thought up back in the beginning so everything would run smoothly when I left in September. So, more long hours working on that.
In many ways, the summer was a blur and I have very few clear memories, but a couple stand out. One evening, I came back to the cabin where I was staying, sat down by the fire and broke down. I just cried and cried. Out of exhaustion, frustration, for opportunities lost. A couple of days later, it happened again, and I started to think that maybe I should just quit. Then I could finally get some sleep! Then I could go canoeing or kayaking on the water. But I couldn’t. There was no one to replace me, and I couldn’t let my friends down. Summer is a key window of opportunity for a business like this, and this first summer even moreso to set the stage for what the store would be like with these new owners. You never get another chance to make a first impression, and all that. So there was no way out. I had to finish this gig, or at least, get the staff trained on how to run things without me.
But the brutal scheduled continued, and by the last week of July, I started to think about the ultimate way out, suicide. I just couldn’t go on. I was so exhausted, and I wasn’t myself. I actually broke down in my office at the store one night, the last night before I was to start my week off. I was supposed to go see a friend that night (about an hour and half drive away), but store duties had taken up my time and it was too late to make the drive now. So I cried. I missed her, and I needed to see her so badly, but you can’t argue with time.
Burned in my clearest memory is that night: I cried on the bed, knowing how I could end myself, knowing I had what I needed to do it, but knowing that it would cause such pain to my family and friends, that I couldn’t. But I wanted to. Oh, I really wanted to.
But the battling voices in my head reminded me that I wanted to go to Europe with my honey. I wanted to see those quaint villages in Italy and Greece, perched on hillsides above the ocean. There were places I wanted to see. So, I decided not to check out yet.
The next day, I guess I got up and drove home to High Level. It’s a blur. I don’t really remember how I felt. I know I worked on renovations on the house that week, and saw my honey and got a bit more sleep. Things improved and I never felt as low as I did that night in July. At times I felt outright happy I was still here, that I hadn’t killed myself. I had a changed perspective — that customer who was annoyed because we ran out of Clamato didn’t matter much (we ran out of things lots, we had such great sales). The trees looked more lovely, and the York boat was a non-issue. I still thought about that night in July at times, and it took me a while to shake the experience off. I mean, I had nearly killed myself. I couldn’t just go along like nothing happened, or nothing was wrong.
And the thing is, nothing was wrong with me. The only explanation was my awful lack of sleep. I slept a lot in September and October, and I am back to my old self again — optimistic, positive, easy-going… Very easy-going, if I may say so!
So, that was my summer. :) It was one in a hundred (I hope) and never to happen again. It was an experiment in sleep-deprivation that I would never want replicated. It was an experiment in working 9 days a week — 5 shifts/week on the floor, 2 shifts/week of management stuff and then every weekend is 5 + 2 + 2 = 9. I had so much banked overtime, I am being paid well into the fall, at a full-time rate, to use it all up. It was an exercise in people management but most importantly, it was an opportunity to know myself better. And I met some of the nicest people in the whole world up there, and made many new friends.
I think I lost something that night in July. I’m not sure what it is, but now that I’ve caught up on my sleep, I am more serene and unperturbable. I was already pretty level-headed (although a few staff pushed me a lot!), but now I am different. Maybe my whole emotional scale has been shifted up — I just don’t get angry or afraid for anything now. I am so grateful for where I am now, maybe just because I’m grateful to still be here! Eckhart Tolle writes about losing his ego when he had his near-suicide experience, so maybe that’s true for me too. All I know, is I am grateful for everything that happened this summer, and excited about the future.
I don’t know what I’d do without my intuition.
I am using it all the time, because I am constantly forced to make decisions and judgement calls with little or no information to go on. I’m so far outside my comfort zone, I can’t even see where it used to be. Mind you, because of that, I’m starting to get more *comfortable* here, even though that seemed utterly unlikely just one month ago.
Lots of changes have been going on for me! In April, I left my job up north, in Fort Simpson, and moved back to High Level. I immediately started working at a friend’s greenhouse, Sunscape Gardens. I’ve never worked at a greenhouse before, and I found I really enjoyed it! I got to play in the dirt, transplant all sorts of plants, grow some from seed, and do a considerable amount of heavy lifting. But I love all that! It was hard work, but it was good work, and it was a positive environment and relatively stress-free. Sometimes, my back was aching at the end of the day, and I was usually covered in a fine dusting of peat moss, but that’s my style!
In mid-May, however, it all came to an end. I had agreed a few months ago to help some other friends of mine by taking on the manager job at a convenience store they had just purchased. They did a bunch of renovations and we wanted to open the store before the May long weekend. It was an absolute sprint to get it done, and then the marathon began.
I can’t believe how much work it is! I worked something over 20 days in a row, because I didn’t have enough staff hired and trained to take a full day off. I tried to take a weekend off, and then one of my staff got into a bad car accident and has not returned to work yet! There were a hundred items that needed prices assigned and stickers stuck, food and hardware and camping and toys and fishing stuff and crafts and chips and you-name-it that needed organizing, and there is on-going cleaning, restocking of pop and beer coolers — yes, it has a liquor store. Add to that the challenge of learning how all the suppliers work, how to place orders, how much of something to order, and other managerial stuff like making bank deposits and staff schedules. We sometimes run out of things because I can’t always grasp the volume of things we sell! Choosing what price to put on stuff was a particular challenge when we couldn’t find receipts for things — or they were old stock, so receipts were MIA — and I would sometimes resort to the internet to see what kinds of prices were out there. I had to learn SO much that first two weeks, I went to bed every night exhausted after a 15-16 hour day, only to get up and do it again the next day.
But, it is getting easier! And it is going well. I have good staff, and I hope that soon they will start to see each other as good as well! There’s a little bit of bad-talking going on, which I am working on putting a stop to. I think I’m going to post a sign like this somewhere:
This is a place of positivity!
All of you are so appreciated!
I see the good in each of you,
So please look for the good in each other, too.
I know it is all going to work out great. Sure, some days I am swallowed up in the tasks of ordering groceries, or liquor, or a million other things that demand my attention. But you know, I must be loving it, because I’m still doing it! And I always was a pretty good multi-tasker.
This is just a short-term thing for me, though. In the fall, new adventures await, and in fact, there is more to say about the summer, too, but bed is calling. I’ll try to write more soon, but time goes by so fast!
I’ve slept in three different places in four days here in Fort Simpson. I’m bouncing around because the house where I rent a room has had no water for over a month. The sewer lines are fine — we can let water down the drain — but the supply lines froze one day in March. The village maintenance people tried to thaw them, but after pushing their water-pic-snake down 150 feet, it was still frozen. So, I started hauling empty bottles to work and filling them with water to use at home. I can’t tell you how many times I turned on the kitchen faucet just to exclaim, “right! No water!”
Not having a toilet is the biggest problem. We really take flushing for granted! When faced with what to do about my waste, I am surprised how frustrated I got. Initially, I lined the toilet bowl with a garbage bag and used that for a couple of days. It worked okay. When it was full, I pulled it out and tied it up… now what!?! I knew it shouldn’t just go in the garbage — I took a composting course in February that taught me a lot about microbes — so I thought I would just take it to the sewage treatment plant. And then a rare vindictive streak came out — I could take it to the village office and say, “um, what should I do with this? You take it.” Yikes.
Obviously, I didn’t actually do that. I adapted and found other places to use the washroom. I showered at the firehall, which has just enough hot water for a short shower. I got a larger water bottle for transporting the blessed wet stuff. I made sure I used the toilet before heading home from work. What else can you do? The toilet took about 10 L of water to flush! So I did it rarely.
Human waste. It’s yucky. A friend of mine said that in second-world countries, people have learned to flush with far less water. If you throw it down the bowl, forcefully, it will flush with as little as one litre. So I tried it, with about 1.5 litres. It worked! But it must have been beginner’s luck, because as our time without water went on, I tried several more times and I could never quite make it work. Once, I splashed pee-water all over myself and the bathroom. That was my low point.
I wish I could say I was all zen about the situation: that I accepted what was, gracefully, but really, I didn’t. I was frustrated. I mean, I live in Canada. This should not happen in Canada. Yet I knew it did — last year in Wrigley, perhaps as many as a third of all houses had frozen pipes. But they don’t have underground sewer lines. Everyone uses tank water — a tank for good water, and a tank for sewage (and grey water — anything that goes down the drains). Trucks come by periodically and fill or empty the tanks as needed. But in a place with normal plumbing, I just couldn’t believe this was happening. Yes, I know I’m in the North, but it wasn’t even close to -40 C when it happened.
And it went on and on. The village made some visible efforts in the early days, and then they seemed to forget about us. Later, I heard there were quite a few houses in town that were having the same problem. So, the two maintenance guys ran from place to place, not quite hunkering down at any one house to fix the problem. I don’t think they are terribly inept, just mildly so. I made them cinnamon buns to thank them for their hard work — they had promised a temporary solution would be in place and I thought I wouldn’t be seeing them any more — but it never worked. I guess garden hoses aren’t what they used to be.
Are any of you noticing my awful jaded tone? As I said, I’m not proud of it. I would much rather remember Fort Simpson as the amazing island in the summer, with the ageless water of the Mackenzie River flowing eternally by. It is so peaceful in the evening, and evening just goes on and on. The community garden is an abundance of growth, vegetables, and glorious weeds — some of the best natural remedies!! I have seen the northern lights more times than I can count, and life-changing aurora a couple of times. So, I guess I have the Fort Simpson aurora to thank if I’ve changed! ;)
I’m changing my tune, and that’s important, because I’ll be leaving Fort Simpson soon. I don’t want to go out on an unhappy, frustrated note; I want to leave on a lovely song! My honey and I have some amazing opportunities coming up (which I’ll talk about soon in another post), so it is time to go. I’ll miss this northern land, with its helpful, genuine people. Sure, it’s not perfect — there’s a lot of drinking, a bit of price gouging, and the coldest, darkest winters I’ve ever experienced — but for me, it’s also an oasis of snow, a candle in a dark window, and an incredible pocket of friends.
**If you are in Simpson, please come out to my farewell potluck tomorrow, Sunday, Apr 13, starting at 4:00 pm at the Firehall. :) **