Life Changing Days – New Animals

I often ask myself – do rural people – look at life differently than city people?  Sometimes I think we do. When I move into the city – I do not see the same perceptions that I have known on the farm. I don’t presume to know who is right or who is wrong. But I can assume or believe I am right just as others may judge me as wrong.  I see this as respect. I now realize my parents taught me that respect.  I appreciate the lesson.

kitten and puppyPuppies and kittens are born in the spring.  We often found their nests in the bale-stacks.  Our cats are mostly wild barn cats and didn’t allow us to touch them, but our dogs are our friends. I learn the independence of the cat just as I learn the loyalty of a dog.

We had many different animals on the farm.  We lived with the animals, played with the animals but accepted the cycle of what was – is –  in a matter-of-fact manner.  Animals do not live as long as people. Our reality is people need to kill animals in order to eat. Like the wolf, I do not believe we are meant to be vegetarians.

We do not have squeamish stomachs or feel awful on the farm.  It is just the way things are.  Sometimes, when I listen to others later in life, I feel almost guilty. Should I have a different perception?  Should I feel awful, mean and callous. We people cannot/should not change the laws of nature in my opinion. I am a farm-girl.

We separated the calves from those cows we milked. When I am young, cows are brought with their calves into the barnyard.  The children, young and old, help.  We stand around as dad takes the calf away and we scare the cow to stay away.  Cows are often considered to be ‘not too intelligent’ in our world.  But cows – like all other animals – including  people – have instincts. I recall a time my sister cleared a wagon, to get away from a charging cow.  Even cows seemed to have the instinct to go for the weakest link.  My sister is afraid of cows.  But she does her duties, fear or not.  I applaud her courage. She could have won a ribbon in high-jump and racing that day.

Later, as I volunteered to get the cows in all seasons for a chance to pretend I was a cowboy, I leaMarried to Kim  - Wagon on Farmrned an amazing facet about my horse.  In the spring – when cows had their calves out in the pastures, I could put the calf onto my horse’s back and he carefully turned to keep himself between the cow and me.  It was a heady experience to learn my horse would protect me.

Once we were home alone as our parents went into town for groceries. My sister and I were the oldest at home.  Our neighbor called and told us our bull had broken loose and was fighting on the road with another neighbor’s bull.  Instead of asking for help, my younger brother and I started the tractor and went – to drive between them and herd our bull back into his pasture.  When I think of it now – I wonder if it was courage or ignorance.  We knew our horse wouldn’t stand a chance against two raging bulls, but our tractor didn’t feel.  We only did what we had seen others – adults do. There was no one to tell us not to. If need be, I learned I can make my own decisions.  I don’t need to have anyone else tell me what to do.

cattle family

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Life Changing Days – New life

crocus

As the snow melts away, we begin to see life created.  A tiny crocus finds a spot between the banks of snow.  Even the grass is patches of green, sometimes immersed in water for a time, soon dry up with the receding winter.  Pussy Willows line sloughs.  We learn to paint them with colored chalk for delightful bouquets to decorate our rooms.  As the snow leaves the clumps of trees, we see the lacy effect, green hazed buds against the deep blue of the sky.  That deep blue is reflected in the waters of the sloughs.  A breeze causes a rippling effect making me think of fairies dancing on the surface.

Now is the time to remove our burdensome coats for lighter sweaters.  It is the time to exchange our snow-boots for rubber boots.  When we come inside from playing we are often soaking wet.  The smell of damp cloth or rubber is soon dispelled by open windows and the gentle breeze. Mom is busy and we help with our intense spring cleaning.
White clouds drift across the blue skies and once again we study the dome, searching for those elusive forms of animals, space-ships or even people in the white, ever changing pieces of fluff.

Clouds and Green Field

Sometimes my dad goes out and finds the rare patch of ‘tiger-lilies’ on the prairies.  The tiger lily is Saskatchewan’s flower emblem. My dad picks the flowers and always brings back a beautiful bouquet for my mother.  It is sweet to me and romantic.  She reacts as though he has just brought her an expensive bouquet of flowers from a flower shop.  As I grow older I realize there are some who might think that a cheap gift.  But in my memory it isn’t so.  To me it is a gift from the heart that just doesn’t have a price on it. I will always see the love between my father and mother.  That love conquered all problems and troubles they encountered.

We are poor – but we don’t know it.

Flowers

Love Always

Life Changing Days – When spring arrives

A thin layer of ice crusts the water of a melting slough or river. As the sun climbs overhead, surrounded by fluffy clouds, ice and snow melts causing astounding sights of rushing water.  We hear from the big old house, those crashing, cracking booms like thunder.  Drawn to the sight we clamor across the melting snowbanks to watch the spectacular  scene of water showing its’ awesome power. The coulee, normally a trickle of water has become a raging river of broken ice and jammed chunks.  The water is relentless in its’ push for freedom.

Mountain sceneThis is a dangerous time of year – we are all taught this.  Beneath piled, melting snow could be slough or dip, now filled and deep.  The ice, so thick all winter, can crack beneath the weight of a child.

We often tempted this advice.  We would skate on ice sometimes because it was smooth and not rippled by the wind. We didn’t have to shovel off piles of snow to make a rink.  Once my foot fell through and went right up my leg.  I wasn’t touching bottom.  I was stuck.  My two older brothers carefully got me out and reprimanded me for going to that area – they told me to stay away from.  But instead of letting me go to the house to dry out, they ordered me to sit on the grass and dry out.  I was so young – I didn’t know – it would be they, not me, who would have gotten the brunt of punishment.  I just knew I didn’t ever tattle on my brothers without consequences.

Both the snow and the ice are deceptive at hiding dangers.  We can sink down into a snowbank that was once as tall as a telephone post.  This is the time of the year we ride a horse to go to school.  The cutter can sink down as well as a horse and even though a horse may be strong, he can’t get himself and the cutter out if it’s all jammed up.

But I love this time of year.  The air is still crisp, but so much warmer.  And I get to ride a horse to school.  Some of us love riding, some of us hate it.  My sister who is two years older than me – appears to be terrified of horses. Being quick of mind, I pick on this very fast and very young.  I make the mistake of teasing her.  It is a mistake I pay for.  I, superior being that I am, get to ride in the front, controlling the horse. I deliberately set him galloping, even though she begs me not to.  It is fun to hear my sister scream and cling to me. That is, until she slides from the horses back, bringing me with her.

A horse by the waterfall

I have never lost my love for horses.

The horse we are riding is very tall. To a child he is gigantic.  We have no saddle or often no place to crawl up and back onto his back.  My sister then sweetly asks me to boost her up first – which I do. Terrified of horses or not, she is still bigger than I am. After I boost her up is when I realize I have no where to mount.  My sister enjoys the comfortable walk over a mile home, while I struggle, leading the horse at a leisurely pace. I am exhausted when I get home.

My sister is always my champion, protecting me against others, but she is afraid of so much I am not.  But after a time – I learn to respect her for who she is and discover she gives me the same respect in return.  I learn it is not fun or even wise to mock another’s fears.

It became a lesson somewhat like ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face’ for often – making fun of others can backfire.  My family had a phrase or saying for nearly every aspect of life.  I am still amazed at how accurate they can be.

Nola and Mary

Sisters and friends forever.

Life Changing Days – Appreciation for ‘gifts’

Winter on snow-covered houseWe do not hibernate in our Northern Winter. Some might see only vast, cold emptiness in the isolation we live in.  I never do. Reality can be frozen fingers and toes and such a tingle it hurt as the flesh thaws. But reality can be snuggled up by the stove, reading a wonderful novel too.  Life, sometimes pleasant, sometimes not – is always interesting and exciting.  I always take the bad with the good.

We go weeks without seeing others.  But we are a large family.  There is always laughing, playing and sometimes fighting among the siblings. Sometimes I don’t want to fight – so I go outside and play.  Sometimes we are told to go out and play. My brother and I do not see this as punishment.  We never tire of playing cowboys and Indians.  My brother and I jump off bale piles and even the roofs of the outbuildings to catch each other by surprise – just like the cowboys in the stories we read do.

No one comes to tell us we shouldn’t.  No one tells us it is dangerous. No one tells my sister – who might think being sent outside is punishment – she is a coward.  My brother and I don’t.  She is who she is.  We only feel sorry for all the fun she is missing.

My mom and dad don’t fight.  As I am older now and there are more family around – little ones and big ones, I think maybe mom and dad just argue when they are alone.  Then I think maybe adults shouldn’t fight in front of their children.  I am never told this.  I see this.

We have a variety party at school in November.  It is a time all the children and parents gather at the school one night.  We play cards, we play darts and other competitive games.  My dad  has awesome accuracy and is a phenomenal card player.  He wins many competitions.  Prizes are home-made pies and my dad always picks my mother’s pies.  They are in great demand – my mother has been baking pies since she was nine years old for thrashing crews and her nine brothers. It probably isn’t just love that makes dad picks her pies – it is knowledge they are perfectly made too. But it’s nice to dream it’s love.

Baby Jesus and nativity sceneWe have our Christmas concert in December.  We use the money from the variety party to buy costumes, decorations, a tree and yes Christmas presents  for all the children.  Santa visits and that is exciting. But mainly I am intrigued as we turn down the lights and do our pageant of Christ’s birth. It is the highlight of our concert.  The school echoes with the sound of Christmas carols.  A feeling of peace on earth invades. I enjoy the Christmas pageant best.

One night is in January.  It is my father’s ‘name day’.  I do not know that many don’t celebrate a name day.  I only know we do and it’s fun, even for children. We dance, we feast and we enjoy music as friends and family gather together, regardless of the weather outside.

In February we celebrate Valentine’s Day.  We all gather in the school-house – neighbors, parents and children.  Again the harsh winter outside doesn’t prevent us from enjoying life.  It is worth the struggles the cold demands just to gather together.

Once a month we all get together in the harsh winter.  It’s a time to forget hardships and poverty.  It’s a time to enjoy.  But we don’t know we are poor or we must suffer because we are. Always there is beauty around – if we care to look. We are never encouraged to feel sorry for ourselves.

Valentine's Day red roses

Life Changing Days – Lessons of Winter

Across three miles of snow piled roads we trek to our school.  Or if the banks are hard enough we cut across the fields which is a little shorter.  Inside a closed in sleigh we call a cutter – we have no heat, but are sheltered from the wind.  I think we were more fortunate than our horse.  He is outside, struggling to conquer the snow drifts. Snow piles in front of cutter.  He hesitates, then with supreme effort continues to plow through. It is slow going. This is how we go to school.  We don’t know there are other ways to go.  All the children in the neighborhood travel in this manner.  We do know that our family has the longest way to go. But cold is cold whether you are outside for fifteen minutes or over an hour. Some walked and that would be so much more difficult I think.  I am grateful we have horses.Horse in the winter

Sometimes, my parents keeps us home if it is storming or too cold.  We miss many days of school some winters. But what we learn at home is very important too.

When we travel we wear fur coats and do not think we are harming animals like I sometimes hear now. We have blankets to bundle beneath in the cutter. When only the younger ones are going to school – if we are too late – our dad meets us.  If a storm is brewing or it is getting too dark, he meets us.

Sometimes wolves follow us if the horse flounders too much in the snowbanks.  We don’t realize we should be scared.  We aren’t ever told to be scared.  We are taught to keep the horse moving and stay inside.  I peek out the front small window and watch the lean, dark forms running along side the sleigh.  I find wolves fascinating, with glinting eyes and shaggy, silky fur.  So long as the horse is moving, they do not come close.  They look like beautiful dogs.  But I know they aren’t.

 
Gray Wolf in SnowLater I learn my mother’s fear of sending her babies out into the cold.  I see where once again she never let us know of her fear.  Once we no longer go out into the winter’s freezing temperatures, we learn that our skin can freeze after a moment or two in the temperatures we endure.  Since we don’t know this I guess –  we don’t get frost-bit going to school.  Although we do know one of our uncles once lost the tip of his ear from frost-bite.  It teaches us caution, but never the idea we can’t do it.  We must – it is how we go to school.

 
bare tree in winterI also learn to question all that is said or written by others.  Some people find this facet annoying.  But truth is an important part of life.  I learn anyone can say anything they want – true or not. I do enjoy fiction stories including writing them. But the difference between fiction and reality is important to me.

Life Changing Days – Living in a Dome

A coyote howling at the moon

A coyote howls to the moon. A familiar sight, an eerie sound.

The stars come out at night…. flashing, mysterious lights to observe in the cold crisp air of a Northern Winter.  They hang like lanterns, huge and low in the space above. I go out in the darkness of night to look towards their beauty.

The never-ending wind piles drifts of pure white, untouched snow against even the tall weeds in the open fields or around frozen sloughs lined with trees.  The animal tracks are easy to see in the daylight and we learn to recognize them – a bear, a wolf, a rabbit or a weasel.  I imagine I am a tracker and follow them.  I rarely find an animal.  Tracks disappear in drifts of snow.

Sometimes the night is as bright as the day.  I lay down and stare at the skies with awe and wonder.  I see God these times.  There is a feeling that invades when I study the heavens.  If I am alone – I do not feel alone or lonely.   There is no fear of being alone as the banks of piled snow right to the horizons are empty of any threat. But the dome covering me, speaks to me as clearly as though someone is with me.

There are times I lay on the hard snow with a sibling.  We stare at the stars, some huge and bright, some flickering as though the winds, always blowing, reach right into space, trying to blow them out.  We gladly share our knowledge as we spot immediately the big and little dippers.  Then we start challenging – where’s Cassiopeia or Orion’s belt.  Do you see…  The sky is a wonderful sight those nights it is clear.  The frost from our breath comes out in puffs of foggy white.  We are not aware we are nearly frozen, so fascinating is the sky.

We are reluctant to go back inside.  We wait for the Northern Lights.  Sometimes we are blessed with the  sight of dancing lights.  It is magical – even knowing it’s the sun reflecting off the earth in the north doesn’t change the intrigue.

We know that it might be ages before such a clear night is given to us.  Many nights, sometimes weeks are filled with blustery sleet and heavy winds of gusting snow.  Many nights the sky is hidden from us.

A baby moose searching for shelter from the cold

A baby moose searching for shelter from the cold. (Lana, my niece, sent this awesome picture).

Reality come back, sometimes in the form of our mother calling us in. We know our choice is to fall asleep in the snow and freeze to death or go inside. Reality is sometimes harsh. But it brings us back from drifting away in thought.  We do what we must, not what we want to.

I will always be thankful for the nights I am offered the most delightful ways the skies display themselves on an icy clear night.

 

Two wolves touching noses

Life Changing Days – Old House on the Farm

old house on the farmOld house on the farm.

The house sits, unpainted, dilapidated and large in the middle of a neglected yard. There is no time to look after the yard. Nor are there funds available to buy the materials necessary to maintain it.  We are poor – but we don’t realize it.

I have one brother when we are young who is my friend/playmate too. We have the same interests – playing like ‘wild Indians’ my mom says. My dad, always laughing, calls me ‘blonde Apache’.  I carry the title proudly.  Oh the freedom is exhilarating.

Surrounding the house are extremely dilapidated outbuildings, sloughs, rolling prairie and a coulee.  The coulee runs through our neighbor’s property, cuts across the three mile road that leads to the one room, eight grade schoolhouse we attend.  We go to school by horseback, sometimes by cart and sometimes by a cutter (a closed in sleigh).  We never have a motored vehicle ride to school.

Reg, Dusty, Nola, Mary

Reg, Dusty, Nola, Mary

There is no hydro or running water in the house.  It is drafty, with winds blowing through the cracks and poorly sealed windows.  In the winter temperatures can drop to -60 degrees with the wind-chill factor.

But the frost makes the most unique, gorgeous patterns on window-panes and settles onto the nail-heads holding the dry-wall in place.  The house is heated by a wood and coal stove in our huge kitchen. Kerosene lanterns flicker on the huge slate-topped table with the benches and miss-matched chairs around it.  We have our baths right beside the stove, blankets over the chairs are our privacy.  In the spring – new-born pigs are brought in and put into a tub beside the stove.  Their delicate skin glows pink in the light. They are wonderful playmates on the cold nights we can’t go outside to play.

We often huddle around the open oven playing card-games our dad teaches us as soon as we can walk and talk.  The only other heat is the small oil-burner in our living-room which is used only on special occasions.

Goose-down blankets cover our beds upstairs, where the heat is a grate covered hole in the floor.  These blankets, made by our mother,  keep us warm as toast on the frosty nights when coyotes howl to the moon and the snow crunches beneath my feet like broken chard’s of glass.

   ******

Mom and Dad's Wedding Picture

Mom and Dad’s Wedding Picture

 

Our mother was a unique person, loved by all.  I was the fourth of eight children she raised.  I often hear her say, when I was an adult, she wanted to cry watching us as babies, when we first learned to crawl if it was winter.  She says our little fingers were red and chapped, bleeding sometimes with little cracks.  It is a tribute to my mother’s phenomenal abilities -she let us crawl, she let us learn. Now some might think it was cruel.  But it is a memory, tucked away in my mind – a good life lesson.

We were allowed to grow and develop in our own time and our own way.   We were tough as nails –  when the frost was hanging on them. We rarely got sick and never saw doctors except in the case of emergencies. We were independent and allowed to be who we are today.