Saturday, October 28, 2006

Looking forward to...

We're wrapping up the first leg of our adventure on the road, plannning to swing through the homeland before we head south for winter. We'll vote, the van could use an oil change, Aslin's got a dentist appointment, we're out of organic rice and we lost our wool blanket. Along with all the practical "to-dos", we're looking forward to...

Ukiah- I want to relax, get my japanese book, pick up my new game, visit Clearwater, spend time with Shell and Cutie. Actually, there's a lot I want to do.

Aslin- I want to hang out with my friends, see the relatives, visit our pets and change my ear rings.

Brad- Seeing family tops my list, especially lil' Grace, who's birthday we missed. Visiting friends, changing the wiper blades on the van, and having a really good cup of coffee (Vivaci?) are on the list too. I've been wearing the same four shirts for months, so I'm looking forward to changing my gear. It'll be good to catch my breath, take a moment to reflect on where we've been, what we've done, and what's next.

Nora- Aside from spending time with everyone I love and miss, I'm thinking about food. La Libela, Moonlight Cafe, El Gallito, Hi-Spot, Elysian pumpking beer, and delivering a pizza to Joe. I'm also curious to check in on my own garden- did the kale do well? Any tomatoes still hanging on? And books. Dawn, thanks for letting me borrow CoaEM (the best most poorly written book ever). We read everything we brought with us, plus a few 30 cent selections from the library in Kaslo, so I'm planning trips to Elliot Bay, 3rd Place and Left Bank. It could take days.

See you soon?

(Special thanks to Bunny and Lonny for hosting the pumpkin carving festival and photos!)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Good Carrot, Bad Carrot

Deadman's Valley, BC
October 7-20

The day can’t really begin with out tea. Green tea and some of Mendel’s freshly milled hot cereal. And sometimes yoga.

We met up with Paula and Mendel at the farmer’s market in Kamloops. Their stand was packed. We couldn’t find an opening to introduce ourselves, so we went for coffee. The market ended at noon, and at a quarter after 12, we pushed through the customers. “Great!” Paula welcomed us, four (unexpected) days ahead of schedule.

18 kilometers into Deadman’s Valley their driveway twists into the cliffs. Homesteaders drained the lake nearly a century ago, and now, on 6 acres of organic garden they grow 2,000+ pounds of carrots here.

Our first full day at the farm we built a shelter and lay sunflowers across the top. A few dozen friends came to celebrate Sukkot at the farm. After food, wine, blessings, and horseback riding, Mendel called from the house. “Hey, we’re gonna watch Bruce Springsteen...”

The next morning we picked 500 pounds of carrots, shifting sun umbrellas to give shade as we top and sort in the field, all before Thanksgiving dinner. Every day was a variation on the theme- farming, food, family, friends, music and occasionally, an episode of “Deal or no Deal”.

Mosquito netting isn’t fine enough. The little bastards made their way through. Rust Fly. It’s not easily seen until the carrots are washed. The little brown rings and tiny polka dot holes, Mendel shakes his head, cursing. Next year will be different. Next year the fence will be up too. Then the deer won’t come in and eat the tops of the carrots. They don’t stop at the greens, no. Right into the perfect orange tops- even in the beds without the fly.

“Get him, Mugsy!” The deer are bold. Or hungry. They’ve given up waiting for dark to launch their invasion. From up at the green house we watch them avoid the leeks and head straight for the cabbage. We shout, lending moral support to the dog as she barks and jumps. The deer look up at us, leap over the dog and head back through the fields, to the red hills they share with the bears and pack rats.

“It ain’t farming if you’re not doing everything twice,” says Saul. And so we sort the carrots. First in the filed- large, small, strong tops, split/rotten. Again after the wash- small, pounders, rust fly, deer eaten, rotten. We bag the beautiful carrots, trim the eaten and separate the split carrots- juice or horse carrot? Ukiah and Aslin finish the 2-pound bags and return to their hay-stack kingdoms.

Mark washes the beets, Brad pulls the last of the celery root and I'm almost through with the chard. Up in the shop, herbs hang drying. We'll have more anise hyssop for tea tomorrow. In the distance, a truck rumbles. "Who's that?" Brad asks. Saul starts up the hill, to tell the hunters they've made a wrong turn. He runs back for his red jacket. Strangers drinking rye in a truck full of guns, looking for one of the lakes. Mendel always directs them back to the highway. Eli holds onto his red-neck streak "for survival." Paula made hummus, chapattis, tzatziki, a greek freast for lunch. Enough for Ukiah to have thirds.

We took a day away from the fields, traveling up the valley, past the home of this year’s Calgary stampede winner. We visited the place it all began- the home and garden the family first built 35 years ago. The bridge across the creek washed out in ’91 but the root cellar still stands. Up here, the terrain changes every mile, and with it a new micro-climate. Lakes, swamps and past the scrub and sage, nested in the evergreens is Deadman Falls. A sheer drop, which the government of British Columbia would like to remind us, is “undeveloped” and should be approached with “CAUTION.” The fog starts to roll in, and we still have firewood to collect.

I don’t quite have the geometry of wood stacking figured out. Saul had to rebuild the pile of fir I loaded. It wouldn’t be farming otherwise.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Columbia River Wildlife

I think the person:golf course ratio in Canada is about 3:1. Not including mini or "fun" golf. Walking up hwy 95 I listened to the water. I found it, a small stream rushing under a cheerful little bridge, dividing a rolling green lawn. A golf course.

After a georgous day in the warm and diving pools at Fairmont hotsprings, we hiked up to find the source of the creek. Interpurtive signs told of blue heron and osprey. Aslin spotted a woodpecker. Here, in the foothills of the Rockies, we dipped our toes in a miniture Columbia River.

The next morning we walked three miles for cinnamon rolls. I pointed out a pair of black-eared deer and Brad pointed at me, “Your eyes are puffy,” he said.

I didn’t get much sleep the night before. Brad woke me just before midnight. “Something’s going through our stuff.” We have three Rubbermaid boxes- one with tools and two with clothes- that we tuck under the van at night, making space for the fold out bed.

I pointed my flashlight out the window.

A ‘thud’ and rustling.

“Do you think it’s a bear?” he whispered. I thought no, probably an evil squirrel. Like the one that ran laps around the living room, and jumped onto Kim’s leg when Aslin was a baby. I did not want a squirrel tossing our clothes around.

I pulled the curtain further back, my light illuminated nothing. Except our cooler, upside down beside the picnic table, 10-feet from the van. Shit. We’d forgotten to bring the cooler into the van. It was one of those moments, when you wish like anything you could go back in time- even just a few hours. Brad’s light found eyes. The brown eyes of a black bear.

I heard eggshells crunching.

Brad assured the kids, “we’re safe, the bear isn’t interested in us. It can’t get into the van."

I was less sure. The doors of the Volkswagen are thin. The rubber around the windows is quite worn in some places. If a bear could smell rice milk in a closed cooler, maybe it could smell granola in the compartment under the bed. On it's rear legs, a bear could tear through the canvas top to get the grahm crackers. Maybe Scott and Mercedes left bells hanging from the pop-top frame for just this purpose. Or maybe the ringing would only annoy the bear. Brad slept holding the car keys and I reminded my self how to use the fire extinguisher. Just in case.

I tried to think happy forest thoughts. Only the Blair Witch Project came to mind.

I fell asleep, dreaming a ranger came to check on us in the morning, to tell us how irresponsible we were. I woke when the bear came back. Or maybe it was a new bear. Do they ever travel in packs? The horn on the van doesn’t work.

I thought of Yogi Bear and almost smiled.

Daylight came. “Who knew bears liked tofu?” Ukiah noted. The bear also enjoyed our cheese, chocolate, butter and mustard. He sat on the tomatoes.

“He comes around every night,” the campground attendant told us. “They had to chase him off the golf course down at the resort this morning.” Now we know.

We packed lunch and headed for another day at the springs and the river. Here the Columbia is small but persuasive, accepting every loose rock invitation to change course. It jumps four feet west, only to redirect itself after a crowd of fallen trees. We hiked for hours, crossing the mighty Columbia (in single jumps) a dozen times per mile.

After dinner Aslin sniffed the van, “I love that soup smell.” I lit a candle, crossing my fingers that bears aren’t attracted to citronella.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Jar Jar Binx

Mayerthorpe, AB, Sept 18-27

Nara makes space for Jules, keeps her distance. Jules with her big horns and protruding hips leads the rest to the garden. Three pies worth of rhubarb, trampled or eaten before we can chase them back. Into the pen, into the pen, I will them, pointing. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6- all but Nara. I bribe with turnip greens, but she’s onto me, one rectangle pupil focused on my free hand. Unblinking. I reach for her collar, she ducks. I act nonchalant, just adding compost to the pile, don’t mind me. I reach again, she bolts to the lilacs. Apparently she’s always been a little skittish, even before her kid was eaten.

Anna gives us a lesson in milking. One lesson. It takes twice as long as usual. We lost half the milk when Paprika stepped in the pail. In a startling display of faith, Ken asks if we’ll be in charge of goat care when the family goes away for a wedding. Confidence in the goats, or us I’m not sure. “Don’t you think she looks like Jar Jar Binx?” Anna asks. Ruby’s long ears flop, she pushes her nose into the food box. I smile, let the force be with me, and try again to bring Nara to the milking stand.

Chris played a major role in establishing the Canadian Warmblood horse breed. Ken’s working towards a rotation system of pasture management and building with timber framing techniques. Anna’s weaving a willow playhouse for Finn, who’s learning to walk. Wendy’s preparing a women’s retreat, mother-daughter time at the farm’s sanctuary. Mavis, home from a visit in Red Deer, packed tomatoes, apples and rhubarb cake for our drive to Jasper. The 800 acres at Touchstone are home to fantastic scenery, beautiful and powerful horses and one remarkable family.

A week is plenty. On vacation at the ocean or home with out an alarm clock, a week is luxury. On the other hand, seven days on an overdue project- inventory or floor waxing, is hell. And so it seemed that going into the unknown, a week was a reasonable time to spend at a farm with people we knew only through brief emails. Here, a week proved exceptionally short. There are fence lines to clear, a goat house to build (straw bale?), onions to plant, foot baths to plan, horses to groom, a porch to enclose, beets to preserve, a tractor clutch to replace... And Ukiah didn’t finish his documentary on Jar Jar.

Aslin hopes to follow in Benedict, Birdy and Hiromi’s shoes. She’s planning her equestrian internship already. Chris says it’s not so bad in the winter. I’m thinking more about spring. Someday, some season, I do hope we’ll be back.