Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Wearing several hats at once.

One of my favourite amazing bloggers is bon over at Crib Chronicles. She has lately written a post about buying recreational land and the impulse to live a life of self-sufficiency. I started to write a comment about this post but, when I had reached about the one hundredth word mark, realized that what I should be writing was a post of my own. So, please go and read her post about almost buying a cottage. You'll love the writing and be fascinated by her topic. And I will add my bit to the discussion.

When you buy a hundred acre piece of vacant land, it can take over your life. It took over ours.

Our early years as a married couple were a mad scramble as we variously coped with doctoral dissertation, two babies in fifteen months, frequent moves and not enough money. Once JG finished his post doc, however, and settled into a permanent job, once the kids both started school, things, especially our finances, became smoother. And we decided that while a suburb was a fine place to raise and school young children, it was also noisy, crowded and nerve racking. We decided to buy recreational land.

Our first few investigations told us that a cottage on water in our price range came with even more noise, crowding and nervous tension. We started to look for a peaceful place, hopefully with access to water, where we could spend weekends. What we found was a hundred acre plot that had been settled and farmed in the nineteenth century but that latterly had returned to scrub bush. At the end of a rutted track on a dead end road, it was a perfect hideout.

My father, an avid consumer of survival fiction, worried from time to time about how his precious grandchildren would survive come Armageddon. He helped us buy this piece of land, and encouraged me to teach the girls subsistence farming, archery, self defence, all the skills he thought necessary for living through cataclysmic times. My husband was far more concerned with building an insulated cabin for all year weekending, taming the overgrown field and bush, killing marauding porcupines and exploring every nook and cranny of our new-found possession.

We did get books about surviving in the bush, we made (awful) soap and tried boiling down maple sap à la our pioneer ancestors. I tried gardening, but the competition with deer, coons, rodents and birds, on a two-day-a-week basis, was just too aggravating and I continued to keep my kitchen garden in the back yard of our city house. An electric fence, large dogs and a good aim with a twenty-two are the kind of help back woods gardeners need. Living off the land? While cat tail roots may be nourishing, they taste terrible. I was never inspired to see if porcupines were any tastier.

What did happen is that our daughters became very proficient at finding their way through the rocks, hills and swamps, learned to snowshoe and cross-country ski, charmed chickadees to their hands with sunflower seeds and, by helping with JG's various building projects, became competent carpenters. This was some comfort to my father. Later, my land happy husband acquired two hundred more acres of scrub bush, we became maple syrup makers and when he, a research scientist, got an early buyout from his federal government employer, we moved to this land permanently and built a home here. My grown daughters love it here for recreation and peace. I feed the deer and do not compete with them and live in gardenless tranquillity.

It was sometimes difficult, living five days in the city with part time job, two kids, dog and husband (um, not in that order), two days on the land, fitting all the city work into the four evenings, keeping two kitchens stocked, two houses clean and repaired, working with the woodsman husband long hours in the bush, cutting and stacking cabin stove and sugar camp evaporator wood, getting ready for the sugaring season, enduring the long hours of boiling, bottling, checking the lines in the bush for leaks plodding along through deep, soggy snow on snowshoes, lugging the equipment. Twice a week packing, travel out and back, arrange the children/teenagers' lessons and social life around two day absence from their milieux, keeping track of it all, could be frustrating, onerous.

We have friends who made the break complete, moved entirely into rural mode, grew food, raised their children there. Gradually they have adopted some amenities, buy more of what they need, made things easier. We have friends who have always lived here who seize on any and every labour saving device to make farm living smoother (theirs is the garden with the electric fence and all that, a garden where I weed in exchange for produce.) We have retired to 'the bush', and that is somewhat different. I shop in the nearest town for most of our food needs, and while JG happily lives a forest manager's life, I spend my time doing what my interests and age suggest to me, volunteering, reading and writing and photography, the minimum of housework. I no longer help in the bush - my joints and back are too vulnerable and, in truth, I'm not that fond of hoiking pieces of tree around.

As a young wife and mother I did what I had to do. I put myself at the end of every list for twenty years of child raising and for several more of housebuilding so that we could live comfortably here. I am now nurturing, slowly and carefully, my sense of self and my autonomy.

In the end, you see, the land and the dream have taken over only as much of our lives as we allow.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Obsessed with Tulips

the 365 prompt this week was 'texture'.  I became obsessed with photographing a pot of tulips (see prior post) but I did play around with other textures as well.

 201/365  Back lighting.  That should have been plenty of light for the plantcam, you would think.

202/365  Our chimney wall in late afternoon sun.

 203/365  Birch bark

 204/365  Everything was covered with a sprinkling of dry snow.

 205/365  Hoar frost plus snow.

 206/365  Satin smooth tulip petal

207/365  More backlighting, just at dusk.  The composition sucks, but I like the colour values.

Recording Things

Dead white pine.

The branches left after the trunk was tractored away.

 199/365  Fire bug.  Note tractor and JG to the right, scavenging more branches to put on the pyre.

 A few days ago JG cut out a very tall and bushy (open grown) dead white pine. He tractored away the main part of the trunk but left a huge pile of dead pine branches across the back of the field behind the house . I suggested that we build a pile off the maintained grass and set fire to it before the end of the free fire period.This worked so well (photo #3) that he has since cut down two more moribund trees and made lovely bonfires of the lot.

The house has a lot of flowers in it today. A Christmas gift to me was a thing called a 'plantcam'.  I was also given an amaryllis, and tried out my new toy with it, only to find that the wretched thing moved about so much on its stalk through the day, seeking light, that it bobbed in and out of camera range. What I needed, I thought, was a pot of tulip bulbs. Unfortunately, at this point the temperature dropped into the -20º C range and stayed there. I was afraid to try to get a flower from the store to the car to the house. Last week the temperature moderated, I got a pot of fine, deep pink budded tulips, and set up shop.

Only to set the camera wrong somehow. Instead of a 15 minute time lapse video, I got a series of 15 second videos. If I can figure out how to combine them, the result might be interesting. In the meantime, I am enjoying the stills. Somewhat grainy, though, and I am not sure why as I had the plant in front of the big front window facing south west. Ah well, back to the drawing board.

200/365  The Plantcam set-up

 First shot in the series

Second shot, end of first day.  Note that sneaky bloom on the left is creeping out of camera range.

Last shot.  Left bulb still reaching for the sky.  In fact, it looks as if I moved the camera closer, but I don't have any memory of doing so.


Thursday, 10 February 2011


Okay, I got the whole boiling of those jobs done and emailed them off, the second one without its attachments, about 11:00 pm.  Crawled out of bed this morning and when I got around to checking the email, this lack was pointed out to me.  Re sent.  With the wrong attachment as I found out after I got home from not one but two sessions in the dentist's chair and feebly punched up the email. I have now resent with the right attachment (checked it this time) but have not had the energy to tackle the next set of jobs.  One has to be done by noon tomorrow.  Oh, dear.

I do, however, have photos.  One thing about driving an hour in to the city to the dentist and sitting in the chair for two hours is that you have lots of time to brood about what you are going to do with a prompt like 'black and white and red all over'.  Hilarious and inane variations present themselves, distracting you from the fact that the hygienist has just stuck a sharp probe into your tongue.


197/365    Green and white and reeds all over.

 198/365  Black and white and tromped all over.

You should ignore me when I whine.  It was a fantastically beautiful day today and when I left this morning, every twig and branch and needle was covered with a lovely layer of hoar frost and a sprinkle of snow diamonds.  Photos coming later.  Must get Letter to the Editor emailed.  Now!  Just recalled I have a 9:00 am appt tomorrow.

I'm getting too old for this.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011


I'm sitting here in a massive mess of paper and jobs and ... why can't I learn to say no? 

But being disinclined to attack the job of editing a ByLaw or reaming out my freezer, I'm sneaking a few minutes to post a few well edited shots of the highlands in February.  Edited a lot.  In fact, pretty close to black and white and blue all over.

 093/365  Paul's barn from the road.

 094/365  Paul's gate

095/365  The hay bales.

096/365  Footsteps in the snow.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Manual Dexterity

 190/365  Starting off
 191/365  This one should be called 'brute strength'
 192/365  The bear snowman gets his nose patted into shape.

Friday, 4 February 2011

I have a Little Shadow

189/365   the granddaughter's first formal gym meet, floor routine.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Ezekiel saw a wheel a'rollin'

Yesterday I drove into the village for a meeting, running just slightly late as is my (blush) frequent habit. The sun was blazing away on the clean, white snow, necessitating both dark glasses and a lowered visor. But through all this dazzle I could see a big sweep of sky to the north east. There was a bit of wispy cloud and contrail after contrail, some older and spreading, some knife blade new. There must have been close to a dozen in total and one tiny wink of a jet drawing yet another on its route west. I had my camera in my purse. And the title popped into my mind - 'way in the middle of the air'. But I was already so late that I had no time to stop and try to capture what I could see. And, of course, by the time I got out of my meeting it was past noon and whatever atmospheric conditions had preserved so many contrails had changed.

My mother used to fix me with a cold gray eye and quote 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions.' This, usually, when she caught me with my homework undone, the yard not raked or some other task waiting and found me with my nose in a book instead. Although far more diligent than I, she could frequently be caught nose in book herself and so she never really did train me into methodical behaviour. And living for coming on fifty years with a chronic procrastinator has not helped. So it is that nine months after we got home, I am finally getting around to editing and ordering the photographs from our west coast US trip last May.

 188/365 Oregon coast at Astoria

Thinking about clouds and horizons, I started in to edit the Oregon coast photos and picked this one for the 365 project's post today. I had no idea that there was so much sand beach in Oregon - I somehow had the idea that the coast there was rocky. But that's California, or at least the part of it that we drove. This photo was taken at Astoria on one of the sand bars that frame the mouth of the Columbia river. And it makes a nice contrast to the thought of the 15 cm of snow forecast for tomorrow.

I love the ocean. Stuck as I am in the middle of the continent, I don't get to the ocean all that often, but when I do I am enchanted. The beat of the breaking sea on rocks, the long hiss of an incoming roller on sand, the indescribable scent of salt water, the wind off the waves streaming over my face, the light on the waves and the sand, all of these are a glory and a wonder to me. Swimming in salt water is dreamlike - the denser salt water is a support and a caress. I learned to scuba dive off the Florida keys and will sometimes dream that I am flying through the water there, dancing with silvery swirls of fish, watching the corals and sea plants sway. I would love to dive in the west coast kelp forests someday.

And here I sit, nose in the computer, with the morning cleanup undone, an agenda to set and various other tasks waiting. Almost I can sense a cold gray eye behind me.

Here's a nice redition of the song.