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Month: April 2013

The Greening

The Greening

Despite this being my second day home after our month long visit to the UK, I find myself still suffering for a kind of double vision.  I’m here but my thoughts are also overlapping with the recent memories of being ‘back home’.

Spring has finally made herself known here in the frozen north, after a long, long winter, but the greening has not quite caught up with the warm and verdant south west coast yet.  We have a few weeks to go before we can even begin to compete with the spring we’ve left behind.

green-8577 green-8578 green-8579 green-8580 green-8581 green-8582 green-8584As I walked Winnie through our fields this morning, enjoying mild spring weather and the sight of our future hay pushing it’s way past the old brown growth, I felt a tinge of sea air on the breeze.  I was reminded of the joy of rounding a hill and seeing the sea pushing out towards the horizon.

green-8585 green-8587 green-8591 green-8595 green-8598My head is full of plans right now, with spring underway our minds and bodies are all about the farm.  Yesterday Stephen and our friend Shawn worked on finishing the frame to our new hoop house, a massive boon for us this year.  In the afternoon, clad all in summer gear, we trundled en masse to visit our neighbour and the two cows he is looking after for us.

We stood in the hot sunshine and talked about future breeding, how soon the fencing will get done, the relative merits of different bulls; it’s all farm talk all the time and I love it.

But as the poem says, there is a part of me that is forever England.  A part of me that is walking on the headland rather than the fields, that place where I recognise the plants in the hedgerows and where the seasons are what I know.  Here in Canada, a place I love, I am always still learning and will always be taken by surprise. That’s what makes it hard but that is what makes it wonderful.

green-8599 green-8600I’m so happy to be back and getting stuck in to the work here at the farm, this is the time of year when the planning and talk of winter finally becomes a reality.  The pampering I’ve had at the hands of my family has filled my tanks and I’m raring to go.

But. Well of course it’s never that easy to leave, saying goodbye is surreal and sad.  And I think, in truth, there is a part of me that never leaves, that lingers along the beaches and hedgerows because that part of me belongs there.  No matter how much I adore my life here, on a true spring day when the sky soars above and the earth is a carpet of emerald green, there really is no place like home.

Nearly 40 But Not Quite

Nearly 40 But Not Quite

Sometimes there are no words for things.  Usually these are either extremely bad or extremely good, this particular day was the latter. It was a day of so many surprises it felt like my brain couldn’t register them all.  First my sister arrived on the Friday (squeal!) and then took me off to the hairdressers on Saturday morning for a much needed haircut.  She really should be a stylist or something, I don’t know how I’ve managed up until now.

Then, in the afternoon, there was another knock on the door.  My dearest friend was standing on the drive smiling at me, I haven’t seen her in 3 1/2 years (I’ve been counting).  There was squeezing and tears and, of course, cake.  I couldn’t have been happier. But that wasn’t all. As the afternoon wore on the doorbell rang several times and my aunts, uncles, cousins and their children arrived, here to celebrate my nearly 40th birthday.

haitch and neirin nearly 40-8209 nearly 40-8229 nearly 40-8232 nearly 40-8226


Food magically arrived (courtesy of the magic elves in the kitchen who looked a lot like my sister and Dad), years slipped away as we all caught up with the turning of our lives and loves.  I talked until I was hoarse and laughed until I was sore.  I moved from one person to the next never really able to believe that they were all there.  But really that was just the tip of the iceberg, for the rest I am at a loss to describe.

I don’t have words for how I felt when so many of my loved ones travelled across the country just to spend time and celebrate with me.  I don’t have words for how I felt about how hard my sister had worked to organise it all.  I don’t have words for how lovely it was to be surrounded by those I love and miss so much.

nearly 40-8214nearly 40-8207nearly 40-8216Jones love!


A day that will live forever in my memory and in my heart.

Mad Morag and the Perils of Livestock Auctions

Mad Morag and the Perils of Livestock Auctions

It’s been an awfully long time since I wrote. While I wish I could say I’d been doing something terribly exciting, like leading an expedition to chart a lost underground world inhabited by Flumps. Or perhaps had been kidnapped and forced to slowly eat my way through nine hundred pounds of cinder toffee in order to save the world from an alien race intent on crippling the planet with overwhelming dental costs. Unfortunately, no. I’ve just been really really busy and er, buying animals. We promised ourselves a quiet year. A year of consolidation.

Unfortunately, every person has a weakness. For some, it’s drink and drugs. Others get inappropriately turned on by cunningly designed food storage systems that lock together to form a network of frustrating strength and impenetrable complexity. Mine, it appears, is livestock auctions. Like a depressive manga artist with way too much red paint and sadly no more saki, I find it incredibly difficult to restrain myself.

It’s actually all Emma’s fault. Instinctively knowing I was at risk, I’d managed to keep away from auctions for over forty years. But despite agreeing to the “quiet year”, she just had to advance her Plan. I’ve told you all about her Dastardly Plans before and while I understand that many of you remain sceptical, as the months since then have slipped by, the shape of her dark intent has become ever clearer to me.

With a single-minded determination that even the Dark Lord Sauron would be forced to respect, her goal of assuming the position of Herd Master of the Upper Wold is now tantalizingly within reach. You may well ask, how can this have come to pass? Alas friends, she discovered and exploited my weakness. When exactly she learned of my secret, one can only speculate. But the plan she put into motion bore all the hallmarks of her subtle and devious mind and left me with no doubt that, like a faceless Pope On A Rope, I’ve been most cruelly used yet again.

It started innocuously enough with the casual mention of a poultry auction in a nearby village. That should have been enough to alert me that something more sinister was afoot. Twice more the auction was dropped into conversation and it hooked into my mind like a fetid seed finding fertile ground. Now, our Ladies That Lay are getting on a bit and some of them could definitely do with inclusion in the Fernwood Farm PRP (Permanent Retirement Plan). Added to that we now have a waiting list for eggs, so I foolishly agreed to go along, just to see if there was any bargain layers to be had. Unfortunately, like giving a seven year old a homemade longbow and a firm instruction to “go play”, I didn’t stop to ask: what’s the worst that could happen?

Never having been to a poultry auction before, we arrived way too early and wandered through row after row of birds in boxes. Pheasants, turkeys, quail, budgies and everything in between, I eagerly eyed them all up and judging it was the professional thing to do, I drew up a shortlist. Emma merely smiled and nodded, then thrust a wad of used banknotes into my hand. With hindsight, how could I not have seen what was to unfold? But by that time, I was already lost.

Foolishly I hadn’t checked to see where the birds on my list were coming from and by late morning when Emma left to take Huwyl to his drama class, we’d already bought what turned out to be a mongrel rooster and a mite-infested hen from Quebec. Next up were two Ameracauna hens, one of whom turned out to be a diseased cockerel, again from Quebec. Three weeks after buying him, he died in the night. But, still blissfully ignorant of that sad fate, I abandoned myself to the auction fever and returned in the afternoon to buy more.

Four bantams (small chickens, two of whom turned out to be cockerels), two black sexlinks and a suspiciously off-white leghorn later and I was done. Spent, in adrenalin and cash, Neirin and I returned with four unnecessary cockerels, two bantam hens that lay incredibly small eggs and five laying hens, only three of whom lay with regularity. By any standard measure, it was a bit of a disaster. But, Emma had achieved her subversive goal: I was hooked on auctions.

If only poultry was the limit of her ambition! A couple of weeks before she’d persuaded me to “just go visit” a farmer selling a Dexter cow. Dexters are originally an Irish miniature breed and the cow certainly was beautiful. She even had all her papers, kind of like a bovine version of Andrea Corr.  Unfortunately, just like Andrea Corr, she was way out of our price league. The owner wanted a hefty $2,000 for her and while I like pretty cows as much as any man who owns a pair of wellies, I balked at that price tag.

Not to be thwarted, Emma switched her attention to a registered Jersey cow instead. They’re a small breed from the channel island of Jersey that produce copious amounts of fat- and protein-rich milk and don’t come in Irish. Fortunately, they’re half the price of a Dexter probably because they don’t make great meat animals. Flushed with the relief of having “saved” a grand, I chose to forget we have no fenced pastures, no housing, no buried water pipes for winter or in fact infrastructure of any sort to accommodate a cow, let alone a pregnant one who would calve out in October. Simply put, I gave the missus the nod.

She got her first cow, whom we promptly named Wanda.

Alas! If only one pregnant cow named Wanda was the limit of her ambition! I should have realised that a single cow does not make a herd. With all the pieces in place, events were in motion that even Jack Bauer’s breathless antics couldn’t prevent. I’d broken my bovine-purchasing virginity so to speak and Emma had burst apart the restraints of my weakness. So, when she innocently left me all alone in Canada while visiting the UK and Nelson The Farming God called to ask if I wanted to go to a Farm Auction, how, exactly how, was I supposed to decline?

Off I trotted, or more accurately, off I climbed into his unfeasibly large truck and was driven to my impending doom. Now, I’m not sure whether Nelson has been corrupted by Emma and her Dark Plan. Certainly it was Nelson who suggested I might want to check out the cattle auction and maybe find myself a “nice small cow, something you can get started on”. Well, I thought to myself, if Nelson is recommending I go to the auction, it’s practically Farm Law.

First up were some pretty Charolais cows and their calves. If Dexters are the Andrea Corr of the cow world, the Charolais are Paris Hilton. As Nelson’s son informed me, they are pretty but leggy and not what I need. So, we waited for them to pass and then for some insanely large bulls to be sold. Next came a parade of cows of uncertain heritage and sizes. Gary dismissed most of them until his own cow came up for sale, at which point he vanished. Now given I know as much about cows as I do about Palaeolithic cave art (i.e. it’s pretty cool, but best not to touch), I was a little uncertain how to proceed. A couple of old dears were sat beside me and not wanting to be seen to be an utter farming novice in their venerable presence, I gave the auctioneer a nod to nice looking black one. The price quickly exceeded where I was comfortable and I dropped out. The same happened on the next and with no sign of support, I began to worry that all the cows would soon be sold and I’d have to return empty handed and dejected to Nelson.

Oh no, that would not do. So when a pretty little black angus cow came into the ring and the auctioneer said she was about 8 months pregnant and bred to a red angus, with Wayne-like determination I knew she would be mine. Oh yes, she would be mine. The bidding started at $600 and I let it climb to $700 before wading in. Soon it was just me and one other guy. We traded blows up to $975 and I thought I had her. He hesitated, paused, wondering if I had the bottle to go over the grand. Oh yes, mate, oh yes. I can and will.

Now, I can’t be sure, but on reflection I’m fairly certain he was the owner and was simply considering whether I was daft enough to pay over a grand as he bid me up. He must have seen the auction fever glazing my eyes because with a roguish smile he tipped a nod and the bidding was up to $1000. Bastardo. There I paused for three long seconds. The gavel was about to drop when I gave an imperceptible nod. It was all the auctioneer needed and she was mine at $1025.

Like Carl Lewis with a touch of Delhi Belly, I left the auction hall rather quickly when the realization hit that I’d just purchased a second cow. So much for a “quiet year”. Outside I met up with Gary and Nelson and was reassured that my purchase was a good one. Somewhat flush with victory, I informed Emma via Facebook which is the modern way to do it. After all, she left me all alone. What else could she expect would happen?

The cow was duly named Morag, because she’s an Angus and that was the best Scottish name we could come up with. Perhaps it all was Emma’s evil plan. Whatever the case, by the end of the year we’ll have 2 cows and hopefully at least 2 calves – the start of the Fernwood Herd, for certain.

At the Edge of the World

At the Edge of the World

One of the things I have missed, right down to my very bones, has been living by the sea.  There is nothing, nothing, like the feeling of walking along the shore line; the freshness of the air, the openness of the sky, pure bliss.

edge-8125 edge-8127 edge-8133 edge-8135 edge-8139We’d originally only intended to pop to the beach for half and hour or so, but the burning blue sky and the fresh wind beckoned us on.

edge-8150 edge-8155 edge-8163We leaned into the wind, walking up the hillside to the rocky path on the headland above.  Jutting out into the water it felt like exploring our own little island, a miniature England of rugged grasses and endless sky.

edge-8168 edge-8169 edge-8170 edge-8171Time slipped away from us as we moved onwards towards the thinning tip of this mini peninsula.  On either side the land fell away to the rushing waves below, blowing away any thoughts beyond the beauty of our surroundings and the precarious trek to the outermost point.

We held on tightly to smaller people’s hands, walking slowly over rocks polished by the elements and the feet of those making the same journey.  But the sea had a magnetic pull, drawing us all as far as we could go.  Then we stood and regarded the beauty of the light shimmering on the incoming tide.

edge-8177 edge-8179 edge-8183 edge-8187Half an hour turned into two and half, a short walk turning into something of an adventure.  By the time we arrived back at the car we were all feeling a little shaky in the leg department, luckily dinner came wrapped in a salt and vinegar parcel so we were all fed and watered in no time.

I think I found a little bit of myself, up on the cliffs today.  On the way home I was filled with energy and joy, astonished at the beauty of what we had witnessed, grateful for the chance to simple walk and see and feel it all.  As I write this the house has settled into silence, boys (old and young) are fast asleep, weary bodies resting gratefully on comfy beds.

But my tiredness can’t quite compete with the glittering reflections that lit up my eyes and heart.  I can still feel the wind on my skin, making off with extraneous thoughts and leaving only what matters behind.  The joy of the moment, the bliss of nature at her spring time best and of course the view, the most amazing view, from that little place out at the edge of the world.