Monthly Archives: October 2015

Happy Halloween – Trick or treat of nature?

We love Halloween.  All things spooky.  We love the fog machines and the costumes that you can buy in the big box stores.  We love the plastic bats and fabric ghosts billowing in the wind that people use to decorate their houses in an attempt to provide a spooky thrill to little children.  We love the eeriness of Halloween.  We love the spine chilling thrills of Halloween.  We love the whole idea of Halloween.

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We were pleasantly surprised how the country has its own Halloween.   It comes with the first chilly winds blowing in from the north.  It comes as the last leaves fall from the trees.  It comes in the night and stays through the early hours of the morning. It comes without the need for any big box stores. It is a spooky treat provided by nature if you are brave enough to be open to its delights.

Nature’s Halloween is in the fog that greets you in the early morning… providing an eerie landscape with distant ghost like trees.

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It is in the pure black darkness of the night where the light of a flashlight only serves to emphasize the absolute absence of light.  Only the brave will wander about in this spooky place!

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Halloween is in the transformational frost on the grasses and flowers creating a mystical world that vanishes in the morning light.

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It is in the moon reflecting on the dark pond creating a spooky tableau… with owls hooting and screeching in the distance.

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Halloween is also in the frost lighting up the spider webs that had sat secretly out of sight overhead during the daylight. Who dare walk amongst the spider webs??

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It is in the dark night creatures who roam the world of darkness. The only thing that gives them away to unsuspecting mice are the bright green eyes that glint in the moonlight.

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And nature’s Halloween is in the bat caught by the morning light before hiding away from sight – like a vampire who didn’t make it back to the coffin before daybreak.

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Halloween comes to the country whether you want it or not!!!

Only thee who is brave enough to walk in the world of Halloween shall survive!

BOO!!!!!

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Photographic Celebration of the Seasons

As I went for a walk down my driveway it struck me how different the scenery was from even a week earlier. The constant change that the seasons bring is something to be celebrated. Nothing is ever dull when you live in a region that has all of the four seasons. Well in Calgary they say there are only two – winter and construction. Out in the country there are definitely all four – winter, spring, summer and fall. It is my birthday month and we are celebrating at the cabin.  It makes me reflect on the past year since my last birthday which we also celebrated at the cabin.  A year of four seasons – a celebration of the seasons.

Winter is definitely a long season. There is usually a blanket of snow on the fields and that means snuggling on the couch with a warm blanket in front of the fire. There is ice skating on the pond, the owls turn white, the frost hangs on the branches and the board games come out of the closet. The walks are lovely and crisp. The world is almost black & white but if you look for the colour it is still there – usually in the sky.

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Spring comes in either like a lamb or a lion – and usually in spits and spurts. The snow melts and then returns, melts and then returns… but slowly the buds appear on the trees, and the baby geese and ducks can be seen on local ponds and creeks with their nervous parents carefully watching over them. The robins come back. The trees blossom. The grass turns green and the colour that was missing in the world comes back in all its glory.

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Summer is the growing season. The ducklings become ducks, the crops grow in the fields, the grass grows and has to be mowed and then the grass grows some more…the crochet set comes out of the closet.  It is a time of flying kites, throwing footballs, fishing at the local pond, walking in the deep grass, and swatting mosquitoes.

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Fall is my favourite season (maybe because my birthday is in the fall) but it tends to be too short. In Alberta it tends to be just a pause between summer and winter – but what a glorious pause it is. It is like nature taunts you with all the possible colours just before they are stripped away in the winter. The evenings are shorter now and there is the occasional evening by the fire. The fields are a hub of activity as the harvest season takes shape.

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The seasons all provide wonderment and are worthy of celebration as we blow the candles out on another year.

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Enjoying the Invisible Wildlife

I imagined that when we came out to the country we would be able to get close to wildlife.  I imagined deer as far as the eye could see and the occasional moose wandering across the fields on a misty morning.  Maybe it was all the childhood Disney movies – but I imagined a world where the animals would be plentiful and absolutely adorable.  Sure, the birds and the bugs are pretty amazing – but I was thinking deer, coyotes, beavers, elk, moose and even the occasional cougar or bear! After hours spent looking out across our land for even a quick sighting of anything with fur or hair – I have come to the conclusion that the wildlife is there but it is invisible.

The wildlife is plentiful and always there – we just can’t see it in the way that I had imagined.  Instead we have to find evidence of its existence through the telltale signs: droppings, tracks, tuffs of fur, and feathers.

I know there is deer.  I have actually seen deer a number of times but most visits to the cabin they remain hidden.  Even when I don’t see deer – I know they are there because I have seen their droppings.

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I know there are foxes.  I have never actually seen one but much like ghost hunters who set up their cameras and microphones in haunted houses and then try to capture evidence of the ghosts who are allegedly haunting the innocent family – we have set up our cameras to capture the invisible wildlife.  One time we captured a fox with our camera who was actually sniffing right around our backdoor.  His ghostly image taunts us – I am here but you will never see me!

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I know there are coyotes.  These we have heard howling away in the twilight, but we have never seen one on our property.  Much like the fox,  we have captured our evidence on film.  Late at night when we are not at the cabin – a coyote has been coming right to the front lawn to eat crab apples off the ground.

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I know there are ring necked pheasants though I have never seen one.  I was out walking in the stubbly field after the crop had been harvested and I found a large number of feathers from an abandoned nest.  After researching the feathers online – I am of the opinion that we have ring necked pheasants.

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I know there are moles – though I have never seen one.  In the morning there are usually fresh mole hills in the fields and pastures.  These industrious animals work all night to dig up fresh dirt but they never show themselves in the daytime.

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I know there are rabbits – quite a few of them – though I have only had the occasional sighting. I know they are there because there are a lot of rabbit tracks on the driveway when we have fresh fallen snow.  Either there is one extremely active rabbit or else we have quite a few.  Our Invisible rabbits.

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My delusional fantasy of regular wildlife viewings has had to be tempered by the reality that for the most part the wildlife is very skilled at being invisible.  I have a new respect for these noble but invisible beasts.

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Grateful for the Photogenic Garden

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Canadian Thanksgiving seems like a perfect time to reflect on my garden.  Thanksgiving is a time of harvest.  Thanksgiving is also a time to recognize all those people and joys in your life for which you are grateful.  Although not one of my greatest accomplishments: I am grateful for my garden.  My garden kept me busy every weekend – planting, weeding, watering, pruning, weeding…weeding.  I loved the whole idea of the garden and that by having it – and caring for it – I was a “gardener”.

We created a very idyllic garden with a fence made of chicken wire attached to posts made from dead trees from the property. We had seen the occasional rabbit on the property and we didn’t want to share our bountiful harvest with these inhabitants or the local deer.  We laid down silvered branches between the various crops to give the garden a country charm.  I painted rocks with all of the various crop names.  I even created adorable little garden signs to identify the garden as a place of creativity and life.  A cute little herb garden was planted as well carefully marked with the same care and attention.  There were some pretty big expectations back in the spring.

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Every weekend when I went to tend the garden I could tell that my plants had grown.  The tomatoes needed to be staked, and the pumpkin plants spread out and started crowding the kohlrabi plants.  I felt such pride in my little garden.  It was full of life and brought me joy.  Why then did it hardly produce any vegetables? My beets never really grew into anything edible, the corn produced “mini corns” and the tomatoes never really ripened on the vines.  I never got one cucumber out of those plants and the zucchini, which should grow plentiful, only provided me about three squashes.  Those giant pumpkin plants that were taking over the garden only produced one pumpkin about the size of an apple.  Was it the unusually hot summer we had? Was it a lack of bees to pollinate my squash flowers? Can a gardener really just have “brown thumbs”? Can you even call yourself a gardener if you hardly produce any produce?

The garden did produce some potatoes, some tiny beets, swiss chard, green peppers, one single butternut squash, a few beans, peas, radishes and some small carrots.  The herb garden did flourish (but with very little tending).  For these I am grateful.  I am mostly grateful that they photographed well – looking all healthy, vibrant and full of colour.

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The garden also came with an asparagus patch planted by the last owners.  These spring time treasures gave me the illusion of being a successful gardener… or at least a “garden photographer” – a grateful brown thumbed photographer.

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The porch always delivers

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On the first day that we went to see the Shire – we met the previous owner who had built the place 35 years earlier.  He was at the property to mow the lawn and was taking a break with a cup of coffee on the porch when we arrived.  I could tell that he was really enjoying his last days on the porch – and he was really enjoying his coffee.  I sat and talked to him about the land, the cabin, why he was selling, what activities they did there over the years and about how much he clearly loved the place.  After chatting for a while, we both just sat in silence and took in the view.  I said to him, “I don’t want to leave.”  He said, “Then don’t.”

He was so right.  It really was that simple.  We bought the place. Since then I have really learned to love that porch.

We sit out there in the morning and watch the sunrise and we sit there in the evening and watch the sun set.  We hang out there and watch the cloud formations over the land.  We watch storms coming and going.  We have seen rainbows, full moons, haze from far away forest fires, and formations of geese and herons migrating south – and then returning in the spring.

You can sit out there and listen to the symphony of birds and other animals.  There are the woodpeckers – the chickadees – the geese.  Particularly in the winter months, you just have to listen for a little while and you hear an owl hooting in the woods.  Most evenings you can also listen to the “conversation” between the wild coyotes and the local farm dogs.

The mating rituals are also loud in the animal kingdom.  In the spring we kept hearing one sound that we couldn’t figure out – and then finally we determined that it was wood frogs. The sound came with a vengeance as they sang out their mating calls and then almost as fast as the sound had come – it died off into the silence over the summer months.

The porch always delivers.  One day I was sitting out on the porch reading a magazine and a hummingbird came to one of our feeders but then it hovered toward me and stopped right in front of my face.  It was taking me in and I was taking it in.  It was a fantastic moment that I will never forget.  Another time a small blue nuthatch bird was on the porch jumping around and also came close up to me. It seemed to be as curious about me as I was about it.

I love that porch. The world seems to be at peace when I am on that porch.  Even my coffee tastes better on that porch.  I don’t want to leave when I am on that porch.

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A Sea of Barley

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I have always loved the sea.  Being land bound Albertans who love the sea – we have made a commitment to try and see the sea at least once every year.  We love the Oregon Coast, Vancouver island, Hawaii and North Carolina.  It was unrealistic to think that we could get land by the sea within an hour and a half from Calgary but the Shire did deliver a sea of barley.  The barley waves and flows in the wind like a golden sea.  When we sit on the porch of the cabin the wind in the poplar trees also delivers the sounds of the sea.  Ok it isn’t a beach and it isn’t really the sea but it is still overwhelming beautiful.

Every weekend when we would head out to our cabin the fields would look a little different.  The green plants slowly changed to golden straw.  Then one weekend around mid October the local farmer had come while we were in Calgary – and he had harvested the barley.  It was suddenly 40 acres of stubble.  The sea was gone. We lease the land out for a percentage of the profits and the money raised pays the property taxes which was an unexpected benefit of buying such a large piece of recreation property.  Having an interest in the profits has made us more invested in the weather.  We now share in the farmers’ concerns about too much snow or too little rain.  Farmers are at the mercy of the weather.  We wanted the farm experience and that includes sharing in the economic risks that farming involves.

This year (our second crop) we switched to a local hobby farmer because the local farmer who had farmed our land for over 35 years was ready to start to slow down and ease into retirement.  The new farmer decided to plant hay.  It was a very dry summer with almost no rain at all until the early fall.  The hay grew in spite of the near drought conditions.  It formed a green sea of waving grass.  Late in the summer the hay was cultivated and rolled into round hay rolls that scattered the land.  We are hopeful that the economics of hay was at least as successful as the sea of barley the year before.

While we love our fields we did still have a vacation in North Carolina this summer – to see the sea.

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A year at the Shire

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It has been a year since we bought a cabin in the country –  the Shire.  For over two years my husband and I shared a hobby  to go out and look at small homes within an hour and a half from Calgary that sat on about 5 acres of land.  Our goal was to find a small country home that would let us dabble in the farm experience.  Both my husband and I had always wondered what it was like to live in the country.  On our many car trips across Canada we would both gaze out of the windows at the amazing fields growing all sorts of crops or scattered with cattle and other livestock.  We both wondered what it would be like to live out on these farms we saw as we passed by – visitors in their land – heading to some other destination.

A year ago we saw a nice house advertised in the MLS that was sitting on 80 acres! 80 acres was surely a typo.  Or so we thought.  When we arrived at the address that was about an hour and 15 minutes from Calgary, there was an incredible tree lined driveway that winded up a hill slowly to the cute little cabin.  Like the famous line in the movie Jerry MacGuire – “You had me at hello”… this place had us at the “driveway”.  Both of us were mesmerized by the driveway which felt like it was leading to an old English country manor.  When we arrived we were equally mesmerized by the beauty of the land that surrounded the well maintained little home.  It was in fact a half a quarter section – 80 acres.  40 acres were covered in flowing fields of barley.  40 acres included a small yard (around the cabin) surrounded by forests and untouched pastures – and a pond with a fairly large beaver dam.

I can’t believe that we did it.  Years of talk. We actually did it!  We bought the farm!

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