Yoga. Country-Style.

This is a land of well-used chainsaws and  dented pick up trucks.

I never expected to go to  yoga class here.

But I do.  Every Friday morning. Ten minutes down the road to Anne’s place.

Best yoga class ever.

I am no expert, mind you.  I used to go to lunch hour yoga  in the city. The instructor was nice enough and she could chant “relax” 27 different ways.  The place was packed with stressed out civil servants, business men recovering from heart attacks and divorcees.  I learned a Downward Dog from a Sun Salutation. I liked it.  But I could never bring myself to spend $150 on a pair of those uber-cool Lululemon pants.  Even if they do make a certain posterior part of the anatomy look awesome.

It’s different here.

First of all, the road in to Anne’s house is very narrow.  The residents have put up a 5kmh speed limit.  They aren’t kidding.  Slows you right down.

There’s no registration.  It just seems to work out in that yoga sort of way.  Some weeks,the young woman who helps run the engine repair shop comes. You can usually count on the ebullient and very flexible grandma from Snow Lake. Then there’s the lady who runs a virtual executive assistant business up the hill.

You walk into a  living room with 20 foot vaulted ceilings and a view of the lake that reminds you why you live in the country.  Jesse,the black lab comes to say hello.  You leave your money on the dining room table and put your mat down by the wood stove.  Hot yoga. Rural style.

The instructor drives in from Bancroft.  She took one of those extreme winter driving courses and  has a bit of a lead foot.  Class always starts on time.

She’s got a giggle that explodes into a belly laugh. And there’s always something to laugh about.  But she’s on a mission.  In the city we might have been cajoled to relax – here the directive is “abs up….up…up.. hold it.”  I have to admit that at least once a class I look at that grandfather clock  wondering how much longer we have to go. This is usually around the time Jesse the Lab starts to snore.  And I get right back in it.

She wants us stretch. To build those small muscles in our rib cage and in our ankles.  Places you don’t always think about. But a practice to prevent you from seizing up.

Yoga instructors often say to concentrate on a point in the middle distance when you are trying to balance.How could you NOT be serene? And I swear, there is something about focussing on a birch tree across a lake that makes it easy to balance for a very long time.

I still don’t have those fancy yoga pants.  Up here I use a pair of black Stanfield’s waffle weave long johns. No one seems to notice. Or they are too kind to say anything.

Namaste. Or as we might say up here — Na Moose Stay.

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The Art of Welding

I have an amazing brother-in-law.

Like the rest of his family, he had a rough start in inner-city Toronto. He pretty well brought himself up.  It could have gone very wrong.

But Brian is self-sufficient and optimistic. He can fix most anything. And he knows his way around a welding torch.

A while back he was poking around our barn. He found some decorative iron grates from my now demolished house in Ottawa. He slipped two of them into his van and took them home to his workshop in Brighton.

I had vague plans for the things salvaged from that old house.  But the to-do list around here is long. I never noticed.

At the end of one Sunday visit to Brian and Kathy’s we were saying our goodbyes when I bumped into a three foot package wrapped in a black construction garbage bag.

The brothers are always trading contraptions on these visits, but Brian had that look. Mischievous.

“The elves have been busy in the workshop,” he said shrugging his shoulders.  Brian is six foot five. Minimum. Elf is not the first description you would use.

“Open it.”

There were the grates. He had turned them into a reading table.

Brian's Table

Elegant. Solid. Gorgeous. This picture does not do it justice.

“Belongs beside the big chairs,” he said as I swallowed the lump in my throat.

Grate Detail from Brian's Table

You see, as we were planning our kitchen, I pushed for a couple of reading chairs right in the corner.  Sofas in country kitchens are one of my fondest memories from decades in the Maritimes.

“You can’t have armchairs in a kitchen,” Rick had scoffed at the time. He hadn’t lived in Nova Scotia.  I persisted.

It is now the most popular place in the house.  As I do this early morning writing, Rick is sitting in the big chair doing a crossword. Abby Dog is at his feet. It is also Brian’s favourite place to sit when he comes to visit.

And now it is even cosier with a table that can hold newspapers, seed catalogues and Ontario Woodlot Association newsletters.

What more could a girl want as winter approaches.

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Plants, Pickles and Pink Vinegar.

Some people rate a house by its closets.

But nothing beats a good window sill.

By good I mean deep.  Wide enough for a substantial flowerpot. Sturdy enough for a pickle experiment. And roomy enough for a cat or two.

We’ve been working outside more than in for the past six months. Which means that drywall and paint  is still a while away. But our deep window sills are framed and that’s what counts.

Chive flowers ready for harvest.

When our three year old chive plants gave us these awesome blossoms it meant quarts of lovely pink vinegar steeping on the window sill.  Amazing stuff that makes great salad dressing. I’ve put the instructions on the recipe page.

The southern exposure of our diningroom sills have been perfect for overwintering rosemary and thyme.  And last year an errant tomato plant slyly tucked into some repotted basil. Curious, we just let it grow. And we were delighted to harvest  tomatoes in March.

Lime Pickle and Chive Vinegar: Perfect Windowsill Concoctions.

Our two lime trees  have borne fruit in those windows, something that never happened in the city.

And when limes were plentiful (okay, I admit I added store bought) I couldn’t resist making lime pickle from a wonderfully helpful British site appropriately called Limepickle.com

It is one of the tastiest things you can put on a hamburger. Not a big seller in North Hastings woods yet… but most everyone who has tried it – loves it.

Window sills are like little altars that tell stories. Like the large tufts of moose hair we found on a winter walk last year.  Interesting rocks.  Shards of porcelain. Feathers. And twisted remnants of rusted farm implements defeated by the Canadian Shield in years gone by.

And even on days when outside adventures are nixed by drywalling or other grownup responsibilities, there’s always the collection on the windowsill.

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The Bear, The Cougar and Sir Robert Borden

Last winter was great for snowshoeing up here and we cleared a couple of trails that get lots of use.
But I want to use my skiis.
So the other morning on our meadow walk, Abby the Dog and I surveyed a potential cross-country loop.


Let me explain the meadow walk.
Lately on our early morning treks, there has been more than a bit of bear scat. It is pretty fresh, so we know that we have a healthy – take my word for it – black bear hanging around the South Road Farm.

This changes the nature of a morning walk. Instead of an introspective look at the day ahead and an appreciation of  a North Hastings dawn… one tends to make intermittent loud silly sounds to warn orsine neighbours  of an approach. I sometimes try to recite the names of all the Prime Ministers of Canada out loud.  No kidding.

But by the time I get to Robert Borden, Abby has taken off for home and I am on my own.

Rick tries his best to get up and out on a morning walk with us. But seriously – the man is building a house from the ground up and is entitled to a bit of a sleep in.

So the smart plan was to make a trail that runs the woods’ edge and through meadows.  It makes pre-breakfast walks less paranoid.

We hauled out The General,  the indestructible lawnmower purchased for $25 on Kijiji our first year here.  The General is a legend.  In no time this machine can level wild blackberry cane, alder shoots and meadow grass without so much as a wheeze.

Anyone watching  would have thought I was possessed – running a lawnmower swath through a five acre backyard meadow.

But trust me, this is going to work.  Skis don’t get stuck in cross-hatch and when our little utility vehicle Rhonda gets her tracks on she will be able to lay beautiful trail because the snow falls differently on a mown path than on wild wheat and raspberry cane.

The one obstacle was a stone fence that runs an East-West meridian from the house to the river.  It is about three feet high and almost as wide. It is a story for another day.

Did I mention Rick is Dutch/Irish and has that special affinity for moving soil and rocks that characterize those nationalities?

“I’ve been meaning to poke through that,” he said at around 3 p.m.   And by dusk he had it done. A beautiful little pathway through the wall.  He understands rocks.

You may be wondering why we are going through all this work if North Hastings bears are going into hibernation any day now. And you are right.

Problem is, last year I came across another set of tracks that don’t belong to a bear.

“Yup. That’s a cat,” says Gale, our neighbour down the road.  “Ministry of Natural Resources keeps saying they aren’t around but lots of people up here know different.”

 And by cat, I mean cougar.

This area is healthy and verdant.  None of the wildlife looks hungry and that generally means they leave you alone.  I know that. But still, take a look at the photo I took on my phone last year. What would you think?

Now I can ease in to the day without constantly looking up into trees to see if a cat is watching us. The forest walks will be for when Abby and I have a partner.

You’re welcome to join us.  Especially if you remember the Prime Minister before Charles Tupper.

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Prime Minister Harper and the South Road Tractor

You can’t live on land like this, expect to farm it, and not have a tractor.

Mind you, we tried.  An old gas push mower cleared the long grass around the house and even cut paths into the brush. We nicknamed him The General… nothing is too much for him. Last summer Rick used The General to mow a kilometre- long path to the blackberry patch. Uphill. More than once.

And our family vehicle may have leather seats, but its most valuable asset is the trailer hitch and a V-6 engine. You haven’t lived on the edge until you’ve watched your husband force a boulder out of the Canadian Shield.

It takes hours. A good crowbar. And cold beer. More for me than him.

Tilling, moving boulders, clearing bush… 300 acres is work. So we started our search.  New tractors are expensive. It wasn’t looking promising.

That’s when Prime Minister Stephen Harper stepped in.

I love politics.

Let me rephrase that: I have a lot of respect for the political process and for many of the people who spend their careers trying to make it work.

And I have spent decades up close. As a journalist on Parliament Hill and as a parliamentary press secretary.

So in March, when it looked like the Prime Minister was going to the polls, I got a call from the Canadian Parliamentary Affairs Channel.  Would I do a series of half hour television profiles on hotly contested ridings?

I paused to consider.

The pay was decent. We needed a tractor.

Long hours.  But I’d get to meet, interview and write about Canadians who believe in Canada so much that they want to be Members of Parliament.

I’d be five weeks on the road. Hotels have bathtubs. South Road Farm does not have a bathtub.

Deal.

So much got put on hold for those five weeks.  But we made it through.

And the best part?

Here she is.  A Case 680D.  We’ve called her Cassie.  She needs a bit of work.

A Case 680D.. gets a new home.

But she has a bush hog, a tiller, a log splitter and a three point hitch. Trust me, that’s important.

Now we just have to finish the barn so she has a place to stay out of the weather. And The General will always have a warm, dry spot in there too.

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The Sheila

A White Blanket over the Southeast Trail

It’s the first full day of spring on the South Road.  And it’s snowing.

In this household, this is known as “The Sheila”  the last storm of the season.

Years ago, when I worked as a CBC Radio producer in Nova Scotia, a professor of Celtic studies at St. Mary’s University told me the story of The Sheila.  It is a storm around St. Patrick’s Day named in honour of Sheila – Patrick’s wife.  Story goes that she and Patrick had a bit of a disagreement about whether he was going to leave the homestead and meet up with some fellows and share some brew.  He might have had sainthood in his future, but he was a bit of a bad boy that way. She had a temper. And the powers of a sorceress apparently.

So as he was on his way out the door, she pulled a fast one.  Conjured up a storm so intense that no one could venture out.  And that was that.

Now I don’t have an Irish bone in my body.  But I can’t resist a good yarn. So when I got home from work, Sheila and Patrick became a bedtime story. I embellished it with lots of dialogue and a bad Irish accent. My little girls were enchanted by the story of Sheila’s powers. And it has been told for years.

Decades later we still talk about The Sheila.  And my youngest daughter, Rachel, who is quite the storyteller herself, could not believe that friends and acquaintances don’t all know about the origins of this last winter storm.  It has been the subject of a barroom bet more than once. Patrick would be so pleased.

It is a good thing this story took root before the days of Google searches and Wikipedia.  I recently looked this up to find that there are questions about whether there even was a Sheila.

But I can tell you this.  There is always a surprise storm around St. Patrick’s Day. And every little girl needs a good sorceress story in her back pocket.

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Breakfast for the Birds

The wild cherry tree outside the dining room window seemed a favourite spot for blue jays.  The tree had no visible fruit or seed, but every day after sunrise, a dozen jays would swoop in from perches hundreds of feet away.

Many mornings the tea got cold while I watched them.

Just before Christmas, Rick came back from a shopping trip with a humongous bag of birdseed.

“The birds up here have been doing fine without us all this time.  We don’t need to feed them,” I sniffed, a bit imperiously. “And they’re jays. They scare away other birds. Or worse.”

“You like to watch them,“ he replied evenly, with the sack still on his shoulder. It was nicer than a dozen roses.

So the feeder is now in the cherry tree. And one of us is generally out there before breakfast.

The cats think it is ridiculous.

But as long as we feed them first, they don’t make too much noise.

Recently I woke up before sunrise and had snuggled in the comfy chair engrossed in our book club novel as the day dawned.

I looked up to see half a dozen birds in the tree.

Several of them were moving strangely.  Kind of a rocking, bouncing up and down motion.

“Hmmm. Must be a mating dance or something, Got to look that up.”

It had been a cold night.

“I should probably fill that feeder,” I said to no one in particular. But the cats heard me.

So there I was at sunrise. In my Sorels and my housecoat with a yogourt container full of birdseed standing about 100 feet from the tree.

That’s when I realized it.

That was no mating dance.  That’s the movement they make for a certain call.  They were telling me (and the other birds) that the feeder was empty. No one has lived on this land for 40 years. These birds figured out humans in a couple of weeks.

When they hear a noise they scatter and perch in surrounding trees.  I talk to them while I fill the feeder. I am trying to get them used to my voice.

This morning I was out there in my housecoat again.  I dropped the seed on the feeder plate and stood 20 feet away.  Two brave birds went straight to the feeder.  Four more perched in the tree and made another call which must be blue jay for SCORE!

I worry that the jays will scare away the blue birds we had last year.  And I am looking forward to seeing other birds return to the South Road this spring.  But these jays have been amusing companions.  In fact, they are in the tree as I write this.

We will be setting up our ducks and chickens soon.  They have to be fed early too.

But I have made a promise to myself.

I will never feed chickens in my housecoat.

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Revolution 2.0

Egypt is 10,000 kilometres away from the South Road.

But within minutes of Hosni Mubarak turning tail, we knew about it.

My laptop sits on the kitchen counter.  I use it to find recipes, Skype my mom and my sister, research beekeeping, order my seeds and a gaggle of other daily things.

Through Twitter, I have been sharing the thoughts and activities of some very brave, eloquent people in Egypt.  Sometimes a gut-wrenching, nail biting experience.  Certainly one that had me saying prayers for those at Tahrir Square – many of them just ordinary middle class people, just like most of us. It’s been a privilege to be able to learn about what’s going on and what people were thinking, directly from them.

What an amazing world where you can be making chicken stock one minute and look at your computer screen and see a tweet from a woman who you have never met, but feel you know, who says: “He is gone. He is gone. Egypt is free.”  Even before CBC has kicked into live programming.

Wael Ghonim is an Egyptian Google executive turned activist. He was doing well under the status quo.  But then he started to push back.  That’s when he was jailed.  He started a Facebook Page that became a rallying point for Egyptians.  He posted videos, stories of the violence, photographs and calls to action.   But his wasn’t just a cyber protest.  He had thought it through,and was willing to die if it came to it. It had happened to hundreds of other Egyptians since January 25.

I just heard him interviewed.

“I believe in 80 million Egyptians,” he said.  I think he meant that there is a wisdom, a nobility and a will to do right in most of us.  And when people are connected, they can create movements that make the world a better place.

My first journalism job was in a newsroom with electric typewriters, carbon paper and a darkroom where it took hours to get a photograph. Now, when the cause is right, 50,000 people can be called to action within hours of a post. And ordinary people across the globe can bear witness. Talk about power.

Right now I feel a little bit old remembering that.  But so grateful to witness people using social media to change our world.   Yes, I know that there are problems and there will be more.  But still. I hope Egyptians give us the courage to stick together and push back when governments or corporations  don’t operate in our best interest.

There has been revolution in Egypt.  The other revolution is happening right on our cell phones and kitchen counters. There’s no going back.

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Harry’s Mom

Harry’s mom is pregnant.

But back to that in a minute.

Of all the  stories I have shared on this blog, Harry the Moose is the most popular.

My city friends love the story of the moose family that eluded the hunters.  Friends up here smile when we talk about how smart these animals are.  Even some of the oldtimers on the road seem happier that the moose are hanging around, rather than in a nice stew. Surprises me. But it is true.

When Abby Dog and I go on our hikes, we know the family is around.

This snow is perfect for seeing fresh, big tracks.

The tops of young trees are chewed to a point.

And lately we have been finding clumps of moose hair right on the trail. And impressive piles of moose poop too. It was only a matter of time.

Near the end of a walk the other afternoon, we saw movement on the ridge.

Of course, the binoculars were hanging on the coat rack back at the house. So I really had to squint.  But there is no mistaking a moose.  He sauntered a couple of steps.  He looked in our direction.  But then, another movement.  A second moose moved up right beside him.  And then another.

“I thought they were loners,” I mumbled.

Abby Dog sat perfectly still.   She is the best dog ever.

“It’s okay. Let’s get closer,” I whispered to her.  And she understood. That’s when there was a movement in the snow.  A fourth moose had been laying down and got up.  We could see snow on her backside.

When they were all together, they ambled across the ridge path and into the maple stand and down towards the river.  They looked toward us a couple of times but they were not fussed.

Just so you know: A moose that isn’t fussed is quite elegant looking.

When we got to their hangout, they were out of sight.

We found trampled down snow, and then an outline where the moose had been resting, Her head and neck.  A substantial torso.  And long legs.

It seemed so vulnerable and fragile I got a lump in my throat.

The next day I realized why.

We were back up on the ridge. There was no sign of them

But you know that feeling you are being watched?

I looked into the  maple stand and thought I saw what looked like a grizzly bear standing on its hind legs.

“My eyes are really getting bad,” I chuckled.  “The next time those binoculars go straight around my neck. ”

With my next step I realized a moose was staring at me through a stand of young trees. I swear she had a quizzical look on her face.

Then she turned to trot away.  She was almost as wide as she was tall.

Maybe it is a mom thing. I knew instantly she was pregnant.  And I am no biologist, but I think it is twins.  Harry is a twin, so this is quite possible.

And I think the outlines in the snow are because she is “taking a load off” – putting her feet up, as the moms among us can appreciate.  The books say moose give birth in April or May.

My brother-in-law lives down the highway.  He knows lots about wildlife and the woods and he agrees.

“Bring her up some of your potato and vegetable peels,” he advised.  “More interesting than sapling tops.  It would be a treat”.

So that’s what we have been doing.

We know that Moose Mommas have been giving birth up here forever.  And the idea of two people making a trek up to the ridge to leave treats sounds a bit ridiculous. Citified romantic.

But for the past few days this little ritual has a special feeling to it.  I guess we are saying thanks.  For having babies like Harry.  For letting us know this land is healthy. And for taking our minds off revolutions in Egypt,  internet billing and all the other stuff that can crowd your brain.

Moose are amazing like that.

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The Wollaston-Limerick Book Club

Lately, the reading around here has been of the utilitarian kind.

Electrical Code Simplified sits on the table between our “cosy” chairs.  My dad’s copy of Carpentry and Building Construction has replaced Rick’s morning paper. And my pile of Canada Small Farm magazines has a permanent home on our dining room table.

Cosy light and some interesting reading

This household is on a major learning curve. And we have developed a grateful respect for well-written instruction and explanation.

Diagrams and pictures help too.

But still. One of my favourite feelings is the one you get after checking out a novel from the library and head home to put on the tea and find your reading blanket. It is delicious and giggly. Almost never fails.

That’s why the Wollaston-Limerick Library Book Club is such a treat.

Now, I have only belonged to one other book club.  It met so sporadically one of our members nicknamed us The Ditherers. We met mostly at my house. Wine was involved. Cheese too. It was basically an excuse for a group of working women to get together and talk.

Stricter book clubs would have called us directionless. We saw it as relaxing and free-form.

The Wollaston club is different.  We meet once a month in the Library. It is a portable classroom. It has no running water. No toilet. You can understand why tea is only served afterwards.   It starts at 6 p.m. because that’s when Bonnie, the librarian  finishes her shift. We don’t want her driving all the way home and back just for Book Club. We sit around a table designed for 10 year olds. But no matter.

Last month we read James Patterson.  Apparently the best selling author of all time. Murder. Spies. General soul-sucking stuff.

Our group is made up of about 10 people.  There is a mom and her teenage daughter. The town hairdresser. The woman who runs the bakery.  A retired teacher. Some voracious readers. Some not. With one exception,  we hated Patterson.  It was not a good start to Book Club.

But this month was different.

The Ditherers would pick a title and buy it at the bookstore. Here, more of us are on a budget. So this year’s books come from a neat program at the Niagara Falls Public Library. They offer book clubs multiple copies of about 100 titles for the cost of shipping.

So we chose Who Has Seen the Wind by W.O. Mitchell, written in 1947.

There is a tone and a rhythm to Canadian novels.  Even when they are challenging, they are still comforting. I don’t know what it is.

And this was no exception.  It was sepia tinted story of childhood on the Prairies. A good yarn with a bit of existentialism thrown in for good measure. I found myself hurrying through my chores so I could find my reading blanket.

I wasn’t the only one.

On Book Club night we all talked about our wish for less structure, more quiet and lots of open sky for our children and grandchildren -  how small towns give you time to think. Even when you are a kid.

Amazing how people who don’t really know each other can bond over a book. And how a book can inspire so many conversations. We shared stories about taking care of older relatives, attitudes about funerals, characters in our families, and personalities in small towns.

Reading can be solitary. Amusing. It can help you wire your house. But one of the best things about it is the excitement of talking to someone else who has enjoyed the book you just finished. That’s almost as good as cuddling up under that reading blanket. So even with no wine, no cheese or no toilet, the Wollaston-Limerick Book Club is a keeper.

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