Saturday, September 30, 2006

Bear's Paw Bakery

4 Cedar Ave
Jasper, Alberta

"I have really high hopes for this," Brad nodded to his coffee. It'd been a while since we had espresso and along with our power cord collection, we'd left our little italian coffee pot behind. Expectations were high.

Aslin passed over the veggie sunrise sandwich for a pizza pretzel. "Absolutely perfect. Baked with still just a soft touch of chewy.

Ukiah asked the man behind the counter. The sticky buns do NOT have raisins. "Delicious, but too much bun, not enough sticky. The water is mediocre and the napkins feel rushed."

Fiesta colored dishes invited us to stay an hour. A local artist showed his acrylic works- semi-comic brights- sunflowers, bakers, yellow jackets. I finished my coffee and bought a loaf of whole-grain bread. "What's a 'london fog'?"

Who can resist an earl grey tea with steamed milk and a shot of hazelnut? "It's dangerous," winked the man at the counter.

Ukiah raised his eyebrows, "I think you should probably pass. Didn't you have tea before we got here?"

Michael Jackson sang from speakers above the country wood display, "You wanna be starting something, got to be starting something..."

That afternoon I watched the Athabasca river out the window, coaxing Buttercup between 2nd and 3rd gears through the Rockies. I had plenty of energy for our 6-hour drive.

Note- the bakery folks are connected with The Wee Scottish Inn, in town at the
I haven't stayed there, but am confident in recommending it. (So long as you invite me too.)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Man in black

Favorite Johnny Cash songs of the day...
Aslin- Ring of Fire
Brad- Folsom River Blues
Ukiah- I've been Everywhere
Nora- San Quentin

Yesterday's soundtrack for our drive from Mayerthorpe to Jasper included Interpol, The Police, Buzzcocks, Jesus and Mary Chain, Wolfmother and an hour of Mr Cash.

Today's drive may be less musical. We left our precious collection of power cords (computer, ipod, phone...) back at the farm. We're hoping to catch up with them at the Greyhound station in Banff in a couple days.

The weather is lovely- a high of 21 degrees today. Turquiose water under a soft-cloud sky is tempting. Maybe I'll wade. Aslin will surely swim.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

A work in progress

Take a look at the sidebar, see anything new? Thats right, a links section. I'm still working on it, its confuzing because I need to directly alter the html codes that basically render the entire site and it's template. This post is here to inform you that the links may or may not work and that I am still working on it. Anyway, I/We hope to have some links up soon. -Ukiah

"If you can't say anything nice..."

Millet, AB. Sept. 4-17
We got a little lost on our way to Nordic Place. Communication wasn't clear, I didn't realize D and M's home wasn't actually on the farm. We turned left up the drive. Our jaws dropped.

A rolling lawn edged with geraniums in every color led to a stunning tudor-style home. I checked the address, again. Jake the dog greeted us. After a round of introductions, we headed for the field, a 10 mile drive from the house. I eyed M's water shoes and D's sandals and was assured my flip-flop were appropriate for a farm touch and a quick weeding session. M handed my a butter knife from the kitchen drawer, laughing at her lack of weeding tools. M dropped us off at one end and ducked back into the car, and drove to check the strawberries. D drove the truck, walked a dozen steps in the dirt and settled onto the tractor. I stepped on thorns, stubbed my toe on a rock, pulled my knife from my pocket and watched Elka struggle to pull dandelions with a screwdriver. We watched the sun set form the field. Burnt orange over the RV lot surrounding us.

M and D opened their home to us. They shared their washing machine and protein powder. We relaxed in their hot tub, played a couple games of pool and made good use of our access to wifi. Their house-mate offered us a lesson in horse-care and took the kids for a ride. When a storm rolled in and we pulled our sleeping bags in to the basement, they didn't object. Plus, they gave us a coupon, a trial visit to their time-share at Fairmont. All they asked in return, was our labor.

It was Sunday, the much anticipated and often announced "day off." We were preparing to leave, as were the other wwoofers, so M chewed a piece of original-flavored jerky and left instructions to Tomo alone.
"Today I'll have y ou do my beef jerky...It won't take long...People really like my jerky, it doesn't have msg...You just have to cut it and weigh it..."

I turned my back, reached for the scale and said nothing. Tomo assured us that she didn't need help, that we should finish packing and go. Ridiculous. The quick little task took 5 vegetarians and 2 omnivores about an hour. My hands smelled of teriyaki for days. And still, this was a better job than the tomatoes.

We tried to estimate, maybe a million? Ayumi says "billion." In a rush to beat the frost, we pulled all the tomato plants from the fields. Truckload after load of vines heavy with green tomatoes came back to the house, to the quanset. At first, Tomato Island was funny. Then outrageous, cruel, exhausting and finally, just sad. We pulled tons (literally?) of unripe fruit, sorting and storing on cardboard trays. I tried, tactfully, to raise my doubts about the operation. Beyond that, I was relieved knowing I wouldn't be there to clean up the rotting mess.

The peppers went through the same process. I suggested that in my experience, ripe bell peppers won't keep well in a sun-lit windowsill. A few days later, hours of our work sat wilting, wrinkled, decaying. And something didn't smell quite right.

"You didn't spray Round-Up on those did you?" Andreas asked, loading 100's of bags on to his truck. D shook his head, no. "I can't sell them if you do. Spray the tops and the potatoes will rot, turn to mush... They won't be organic..." We spent days in the potato fields, harvested maybe 40,000 pounds of yellow, purple and red potatoes.

We amused ourselves finding some with little toes or snowman potatoes. I rested my collection of field-finds on the car bumper, to document later. Hours behind the harvester and our forearms were bruised, lungs full of dust but thankfully, no broken fingers. Yet. "All right, two of you can take a break, so whoever is tired, can go home," D announced to the four of us. I pointed out that we were all tired and wanted to explain that we'd just assume stay and finish rather than come again tomorrow. Too late. D snached his cell phone, slammed the car door and I lost my special collection to a passive aggressive fit. "Fine, all of you just go," D yelped. And we did.

That's when I heard the plan. M is a business woman, in five years she hopes to sell the farm and her "preferred customer" farmer's market. The goal is to turn a $1 investment in medicinal herbs into $60 profit. She's got investors. It's a pyramid of sorts. Marketing means phone call when we clean the onions. More calls when we freeze the berries. If she comes out of her office as we prep the beans, we're to push her back in. She'll tell us about her calls twice during dinner, and disappear until the dishes are done.

At breakfast, Ukiah made toast and shook his head. "I'm confused. It's an organic farm but they don't eat organic food?" My own confusion prompted observations, followed by depression and interestingly, a growing sense of compassion. No composting at the field or at the house. 10 car trips to and from the field in one day, sometimes to bring forgotten butter knives. No band-aids, safety goggles or gloves. An extensive collection of self-help books. No other books. A field of shredded black plastic, weed barrier not removed before harvest or after. No mulch. "What is this squash or pumpkin? How do you cook squash?" No speaking directly to the women from Japan ("or Korea, or where ever" as D put it.) No fresh ginger or garlic. No dried dill or nutmeg. No "thank you". No conversation they didn't start.

Time is precious, even on the road. Thanks to our new friends, woofers from Ireland, Australia and Japan, for making it all worth while. Together, we cooked, shared photos, told stories, drove (filthy after hours in the field) to the beer store, and ate chocolate. Their acknowledgement of the surrounding absurdity kept me grounded.

The morning we left, M dumped a 50 pound bag of potatoes, confirming what I'd smelled for days. Their skins weren't broken, they weren't scared. Just disintegrating. Rotten. Mush.

We learned a lot.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


My calendar marks the autumn equinox Saturday, the 23rd. But today was fall.

It's been cold, unseasonably cold and wet for days. Last week's forecast for a return to summer has gone unmet. In Edmonton, on our single-day break between farms, we traded our sun hats for toques and knit gloves. Possibly the best $8 I've ever spent.

Yesterday Aslin celebrated her 10th birthday in the company of horses and the welcoming peole here at Touchstone Farm. Her place at the breakfast table was set with ribbons, a "Happy Birthday" banner hung behind. She joind an equestrian student from Germany, grooming a show horse and caring for a colt with colic.

Mid afternoon, we lost power. And not because all four lights in the riding arena were on. Radiant floor heating with out electricity won't warm the house. The scraps of last year's firewood won't get us through the night. Brad and I went with Chris to cut wood, perhps the trees downed by the beavers.

Power returned in time for Wenday to bake a birthday cake. Aslin blushed, giggling, struggling to find the air to blow our her candles. After dinner we sat around the wood stove. Baby Finn, along with the rest of us, learned "hot" in four languages. "Don't touch, ouch" in german, french, japanese and english.

This morning brought lists- the "to do's" of preparing for winter. We cut and stacked more wood. Today, aspen, birch and spruce downed by beaver, cleaned of leaves and small branches by the goats. Stall cleaning, hay gathering, chainsaw repair, clearing fence lines, chard washing... It might drop below 0 tonight.

Still, time for a late afternoon walk. 800 acres and a river that twists in every direction. Under fences, across fallen trees with eyes open for mosse and hawks. The leaves are turning, fewer reds than soft-greens. Golds. I stepped into a patch of wild chamomile, the kind my sister and I use to collect outside my mom's rock garden. We'd snap the button tops for decoration of our mud pies. I felt the Alaska I didn't know I'd forgotten. Coyotes howl. Close or just echoing over the hills?

I've never seen a barn so big, never stayed in one. Photos from the side, from the front to show the additions. * Camera tucked back in my pocket, a light raindrop hit my nose. Tomorrow, harvesting turnips and planting garlic. And the 200 horses.

* It'll be next week before we get new pictures up. Dial up. Could be for the best, gives me plenty of time to choose my words for our last farm. As co-wwoofer Elka so delicately put it, "So, it's much different than your expectation."

Thursday, September 14, 2006


We're taking a poll.
Dinosaurs, lived thousands OR millions of years ago?

After a week on the farm, we headed for Red Deer. On a day hike at Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary, a migratory bird refuge, we met an older couple. He was using a pocket knife to cut rings of birch bark, she enjoyed the sun and lake view. Within 2 minutes, the man had introduced himself. "Did you ever see 'Dances with Wolves?' I made all those costumes." Except the wedding dresses, they brought in some girls to make those. How old are we? Where are we from. He has socks older than the kids, older than me. He was Ralph Kline's camera man, built his reputation. Apparently before Kline left Canadian Government, disgraced.

We tried to share Alberta enthusiasm, wanted the couple to know how mush we'd enjoyed the dinosaur museum at Drumheller. Amazing, to think of dinosaurs here, to watch their bird ancestors.

Humph. Not a one of those dinosaurs lived more than 4,500 years ago. Died in the big flood they did, Noah's flood. Of course the Canadian government won't give money to the thousands of scientists who recognize the facts. He gave us his web address so we can look into ordering his book.

Outside the Royal Tyrrel Museum, trails through Alberta's badlands trace the paths of legendary paleontologist, marking some of the largest/most diverse fossil beds ever found. Motorized vehicles are prohibited. Unless you want to race your screaming, oil leaking dirt bike a mile or so away from the museum.

Our tour began in the gift shop. Dinosaur claw salad servers, anyone? Books, stuffed toys, sweat shirts and recordings of Canada's own Bryan Adams .

We walked through the Precambrian Era all the way to the Cenozoic, concentrating mainly on the Mesozoic. Moroccan trilobites give way to jawless fish and eventually reptiles. In the Cretaceous garden, ferns, cycads and conifers inspire thoughts of their 70 million year-old cousins. The Koi in the ponds are not as hearty as their armored ancestors. Signs warn against throwing coins in the pond. Dead fish with X-eyes at every pond.

Camarasaura, allosaurs, Stegosaurus... everyone was there. Nests, eggs, ancient coral beds and my favorite, the hadrosaurs. The museum is beautiful, impressive with an onsite lab, and offers a version of history different than the man's. The Palaeoene Epoch and the rise of mammals began some 65 million years ago. The ice age brought polar bears from Asia to North America,. They met camels traveling the opposite direction. And here we are.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Blue Mountain

(8/28-9/3)"Ever been on a real farm?" Frances asked. Sure, a couple times a year to get pumpkins, berries or Christmas trees. At Blue Mountain we were introduced to a more complete picture of a working farm.

Exit at the overpass, 13 miles W, turn left, crest a big hill... We had no idea what to expect at the 140 acre (?) farm. Email and phone exchanges had been friendly, the work sounded interesting, but really, what would it be like to land in the middle of farm life? Half way down the dirt drive, we saw turkeys. We parked beside a raspberry patch, holding the remains of the season and eyed three houses, wondering where to knock. Holding a Beer, carrying a towel, Frances come out the door. "Oh, you're here from Seattle!" She smiled, "it's too hot to work today so we're going to the creek."

Twenty minutes down the road we floated the cooler down a stream, walking through waist-deep water on our way to a small spit of land. A few hours of splashing and conversation later, we knew we'd be just fine at the farm.

In 1974 Kris moved to the farm with his family and basically, it's been operating organically ever since. His parents still live on the farm, but have retired from much of the farm work. Frances has been at the farm for a year, and is "not a farmer"- though she sure plays the role pretty well. During our visit, she was hired as a morning radio host for one of Calgary's largest stations. Niko, five, gave us our first tour of the farm, including turkey poo, Kris's old hockey trophies, broken glass, and how to pick carrots. Also working the farm were Wwoofers Andy, from near by Red Deer, Fabian from Switzerland and on the weekend, Amber from Calgary.

Over the week, we cleared a potato field of 100's of pounds of weeds, including a mustard crop left from the year before. We picked golden, globe and tubular beets, orange, white and dragon carrots. At an outdoor wash station, we washed, re-washed and spun dozens of bags of greens. Of course you can't wash vegetables in warm water, so to avoid "the claw" as Kris calls it, we took turns on the dry end- weighing and bagging lettuce for market. We bunched chard and kale, using twine when we ran out of twists. Weeds and extra vegetables are fed to the animals, wash water is recycled to the green house and herbs. Beyond being certified organic, the farm is truly sustainable. We harvested yellow, green and purple beans in the rain and I will NEVER again think $5/pound is expensive. Sometimes I could recognize the difference between the shelling, sugar and snap peas, but after squatting in the field for a while, they begin to look the same. Brad milked a goat, Aslin collected eggs, Ukiah fed the pigs and we all chased and hid from the turkeys. New experiences all the way around. One wet day, Kris, Andy and Fabian butchered, feathered and skinned 10 chickens. I found myself more curious than disturbed. Blue Mt. supplies food to a couple natural grocery stores and has a stand at a urban green market in Calgary, where local currency is alive and well. (I've known of a few upstarts in Seattle- but nothing ongoing. Anyone have info?)

Along with picking, weeding and animal care came fantastic conversation- The system of higher education in Switzerland, current Canadian/Albertan folk music, the Cuban revolution, grey-water systems, the relation between mosquitoes and bananas, Batman, solar ovens in Morocco, displacement of indigenous peoples... Politics and government were conversation staples. "Tell me about this 'Three Strikes'", Fabian asked, "is it real?"

We learned much, ate well (except the falafel failure- anyone have an easy recipe?), and from a distance, watched snow fall and melt on the Rockies. The generosity of knowledge and space were a welcome introduction to farm life. Thanks much to Frances who suggested a movie night for the kids while Brad and I checked out nightlife in Calgary. There are just a handful of beers on tap at The Point on 17th Ave, but the cast of characters is extensive.

Kris left us with an open invitation, "If things get to crazy down there, you've got a place here. Assuming things are any better in Canada." It's good to have options...

Aslin- I like it at Blue Mt. but it is hard work. We got to see a pig and goats and oh yah, a chicken. We went to the market and it was so cool. Ukiah and I got to run the stand. It was great and big and Frances and I became friends.

Ukiah- Wwoofing... we picked spinach, peas and carrots and fed the chickens and pigs. My favorite thing to pick was the spinich, but I'm not sure it was my favorite to eat. Falafel was my favorite, really good homemade falafel. The people at Blue Mt. are really nice and they have a lot of space (land). Lots of animals here: pigs, goats, chickens and turkeys. We ate a lot of potatoes here. I especially like the Farmer's Market in Calgary. Good brownies and bread.


(8/27- we're a bit behind!)
At the border we were instructed to park the van as an agent would have some questions for us. It was an unexpected rest-stop but after driving a few hours, we stretched our legs on the walk to the office. We hadn't taken advantage of the other rest-stop amenities and once in the interview room were not able to leave, even for the restroom. The Canadian agent asked our names. He disappeared, I assume to search for us in assorted criminal-related databanks.

Lamps in the corners reflected shades of blue. I admired the Canadians, providing full-spectrum lighting for people in this stressful situation. Very progressive. "ZAPP." I hadn't recognized these as bug-lights. I'd missed the giant "Ex-ucator" label on the side.

The agent returned. "Ever been denied entrance to Canada?" he asked and again disappeared.

An hour and a dozen dead flies later, we were on our way.

We spent the night in Cardston. The city park/campground backed to a wildlife preserve and stream, home to skunks, snakes, dragonflies, trout and owls. Aslin swam until dark, I spied through the windows of a closed/abandon restaurant down the road and Brad met a guy in the bathroom. The man was washing vegetables in the sink. "I just picked vegetables from someone's garden..." He offered to share then gave directions for a quick tour of Calgary.

In the morning we learned that Albertans drive ridiculously fast. Or so it seems from our Volkswagen with a broken speedometer.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Question of the day

This morning I was weeding a sea of about 8,000 Rhodiola Rosea plants at a medicinal herb farm in Millet, Alberta. A man from town worked the row next to me. We'd made introductions yesterday. I knew he'd been in the Canadian air force, stationed in Bermuda. He knew I was from Seattle. American.

"Do you think President Bush is being unfairly targeted?" he asked.

I got excited. Maybe the tides have turned in the few weeks I've been away from political news. I'm almost looking forward to checking some on-line sources.

I assured my co-worker that any pressure brought on Mr. Bush is overdue and well deserved. My lack of sympathy came as a surprise. He had assumed we were all in support of the president.

"So you don't think the other party is too hard on him?" he questioned/confirmed.

No. Unless I've missed something wonderful?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Rain, train and elevation gains

August 23-27
Friends told us we'’d need a few weeks to explore Glacier National Park. We made the most of just four days.

Our first night of rain- We settled at Glacier Campground, just outside the park. I heard the drops. Panic. Brad and I were out of our sleeping bags searching for the tarp. (I didn't mention it, but our first morning out of Seattle, we woke to drops of water clinging to the pop-top of the camper. It had'’t rained, but the canvas was wet. Condensation? We opted not to head for home, but searched for Scotch Guard and crossed our fingers.) The van is seven feet tall when the roof is flat and in the dark we could'’t get the tarp across. We climbed back in for a restless sleep. Thankfully, the morning found us warm and dry- with just a few wet patches on the tent.

Much relieved, we headed into the park, following Going to the Sun Road to Logan Pass. Our hike began on an asphalt trail, then boardwalk, and eventually dirt path hugging the side of a rather steep hill. A mile or so into our hike, the tourists thinned and we kept company with squirrels, chipmunks and mountain goats. In the distance, big horn sheep grazed. It seems the temperature rose and dropped 20 degrees with every turn of the trail. Logan Pass sits at about 6,600 ft and climbing the next 460 required intentional breathing. We paused for water and a spectacular view. The lake below, ice cut mountains above, and clouds pink and blue. A tiny yellow bellied weasel studied us, from one side of her rock, then the other.

The next few days we explored the park, swimming and hiking alongside waterfalls. Evenings were back at the campground where an old school lodge was home to dogs Pork Chop and Skeeter, Miss Fanny the cat, and a long time summer resident who shared the story of her trip to Costco. Apparently a mother and her two-year-old child were shopping. He wanted every item and was yelling and the mother wasn'’t doing anything except telling him he couldn'’t have everything. She elaborated, "At that age, he really should be in control. He's going to have real psychiatric problems if they don't get him under control. We use to get those kids at school... I'm glad to be retired..." I think we're all glad sh'’s retired, and hope the serenity of the park brings her some needed peace and compassion.

Aslin- —I went to McDonald Creek and went in the water. It was so ice cold and deep. Once you go numb it does'’t matter. But if you don't like cold water of course it matters. For me personally, it does'’t matter.

Ukiah- We found a couple of rivers today. Unfortunately one went right into a campground. We found another. Introducing: the new and improved river! It's’s bigger, it'’s faster, it's a lot colder! Ice Cold!! I crossed it. It was rocky on the other side. Then again, it'’s rocky on both sides.…

For those interested, there are some charming little cabins at Glacier Campground, quite affordable. We heard trains in the distance and Brad says there'’s one that runs straight from Seattle to the park. The people at the campground will pick you up at the station. A trip I'd like to take sometime, maybe in the winter?