Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Snow in April

Not at all like April in Paris, I'm guessing.

If I take the April and "it should be spring- what is going on here?" out of the equation- it is beautiful. Like an late autumn first blast of winter. I wish we had more names for snow, for we've had all kinds today- from the big Charlie Brown flaky ones, to little snow pellets that look like polyethylene pellets, to snow that looks like dust in a sunny window. It's come down straight, sideways and backwards, as best I can tell. Right now it's falling heavily, quite intent on covering everything. Across the road looks a little fogged out.

It's bitter and cold and damp and dreary. I've put a big blue tarp over the daffodils that are almost on the edge of blooming. Temp's supposed to drop to -5. We still have the corn stove on for heat and I've had to give up the barefeet for now.

It will be short lived. At this time of year, it may snow but it doesn't stick around for long. The cats check it out before heading out the door in the mornings and a couple have spent the better part of two days inside, sleeping.

Tonight is a Chamber Meeting where we're looking at the New Community Improvement Plan and seeing the current state of a project I'm involved with- mapping West Elgin's cultural assets. Now, there... bet you didn't think life on the gravel road could possibly include cultural assets!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Romance is Gone

I left the city early this evening and headed home. Packed up my laptop case, my coy Cowichan sweater, my purse and drove, literally, into the sunset. As I grabbed my things out of the car, the laptop case was too light.
I'd forgotten my laptop in the city at Starbucks.
Open door, drop things here and there, phone Starbucks, secure laptop.
Honey didn't want to go to dinner, so I climbed back into the car and drove along that charming, now very LONG driveway out to the highway and back to the city.
Not that I didn't have anything else to do tonight but drive another 150 km.

Friday, April 3, 2009

5 Reasons I Love Gravel Road Country

1. It's close and it's far.
We live about 10 minutes from the highway. I consider those 10 minutes, (turn right out of driveway, follow curve, take second left, right at the STOP sign onto the county highway, take ramp, increase speed) like a very long driveway. When I come home, once I get on the tar chip it feels like 'I'm home.' For city friends, it feels like they're heading into nowhere land. And yet, it takes 15 minutes to get to the villages, 45-60 minutess to get to the city. Sometimes the drive drives me crazy.
2. It's quiet and it's noisy.
We can hear the highway from our house, though it's white noise, and when the wind is very still or slightly from the north- almost nothing. Nighttime is a special time, after the birds have calmed down and the crickets or peepers step up. No matter how many birds and critters there are, and there are hundreds and hundreds of birds around, it feels very still and quiet. We might see a dozen vehicles pass by, unless it's planting or harvesting time. A traffice jam is when two cars pass each other going in opposite directions.
3. It's simple and it's complex.
A friend just spent 30 minutes or more trying to decide which lawn care service he wanted for this season. He had information from 4 or 5, all with just enough difference in their service to render the decision somewhat crazy-making. We don't do lawn services in the country. We roll, and then cut and cut and cut. Also crazy-making.
4. It's natural and it's... not
City friends have received quite the education on country living over the past 15 years that I've lived on the Gravel Road. Yes, it's a natural setting. No, country people aren't in better shape, by definition just because they inhale all the fresh air. Yes, we can grow a lot of our own food. No, many don't. They eat pizza and packaged food at least as much as 'normal' people. Yes, we live in farmland. No, we don't all know how all our food is grown. Yes, we live in the fresh air of the 'green' country. No, we're not all rabid environmentalists. Yes, we are close to the ground. No, we can't name all the weeds that grow in our environment, and no, farmers generally DON'T want to eat all the edible weeds they spend a lot of time trying to get rid of.
5. It's easy and it's hard.
Because the population is small ( 5,000 in our 'municipality', which includes two villages of about 1 000 people each, and the surrounding country), it's easy to get to know people and to get involved in the community. One of the first volunteer activities I did was to help with some craft setup at the local fall fair. I joined the community band and have been directing it for 12 years. I started a women's choir, have worked on a Cultural Arts Roundtable to create an online cultural map of the area. The Chambe of Commerce is a great way to work... it's so easy to get involved. It's easy to start something. You don't need to have an advanced degree, or 25 years' experience. You can experiment.
Because the population is small and because it's always the same group of people doing everything, we get a little overdone at times. Things can only get so big. You can only ask so many people so many times. Because the population is small, it's hard to be anonymous unless you do nothing at all. Sometimes it's just hard to get things going.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Walking along a gravel road early in the morning has to be one of the greatest simple pleasures there is. This morning the sun was translucently veiled by the rising mist from an early morning frost. When the the air is still, the white noise from the highway is a distant presence. A couple of planes in the air. Typical.

Just after 8, the school bus goes by. One student gets picked up across the road from us. Other than that, there are few vehicles. Yet, it is noisy. The traffic of thousands of birds sounds forth from the trees at the edges of the fields. In one wood, a gaggle of geese are kicking up a ruckus. In the other one, I can hear a wild turkey.

The air is particularly extraordinary. It's still waking up. It hasn't the feeling of being used yet. Fresh, it seeps deep into my lungs. I'm free from the staleness of the winter house air. Air that I'm refreshing, like a web page gone awry, daily, through a small open window or a cracked open door.

I could walk forever in this light and space. It's different at night and it's now warm enough to enjoy nighttime walks. With tonight being Earth Hour and the sky predicted to be clear, I may well be able to enjoy yet another simple gravel road joy.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Signs of Spring... 100% Chance of

Just about anything-rain, snow, wind, hail...
I have to watch the western sky on a cloudy day before a walk. Today I got to jog home to the rhythm of rain. It's that time of year when winter's claws are still clutching onto spring's soft side. As spring strengthens its hold, winter slides further and further into memory. Until that time, though, it grabs and reaches up, time and time again, throwing all kinds of nasty at us. I had to give up the barefeet this week and pull down the gloves again. The windows are closed and the cats are not amused.

Signs of spring here?

Robins.. not so much. They're a pretty hardy bunch and it can quite easily snow even when they're here. They do strut on the road on a sunny warm day, though.

Tundra Swans- we're on their flight pattern north to the Arctic Tundra. They stop in our area for several days, thousands of them. Their wing song is beautiful as they fly overhead. They're large birds and the sound of hundreds of swans vibrates through the windows.

Killdeer... a true sign of spring. They don't perch on branches. A kind of suit and tie beach bird, they find obscure places on the ground for their well- camoflauged nests. Their sound arrives before they are sighted. Their leaving later in the year is a sure sign that summer is over.

Skunks. Best left alone. Cats seem to have gotten the message.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I Miss My Greenhousey Thing

It's on days like this when I miss the contraption that The Farmer built a few years ago to support my gardening addiction. The 'Greenhouse' as we called it was, essentially that. A plastic structure built on a wooden frame, nailed into the side of the house, it had holes along the wall edges, but it also trapped the sun.
I had wooden benches in there, all my planting supplies, pots and trowels, containers and labels. It was also a convenient storage area for my bike and its carrier, and it served as a drop off/pick up place for when we weren't around.

Once I was ready to start seeds, I could muck about in there for ages, spilling dirt and playing with water to my heart's delight. Then the Greenhouse became, well, a greenhouse, keeping the new plants all cozy and warm. I could sit out there, even on bluster February days when the sun was out and stay warm. On a day like to day, I could open the studio door and let the warmth and the bird songs in. In the spring and summer I put my yard tools inside- even the wheelbarrow.

The cats LOVED the greenhouse. I'd find one or the other of them curled up in the Lee Valley dirt tray or in a bit pot, filled with dirt, that was waiting for plants or seeds. Sometimes, they'd just sit on the bench, head stretched up to the sun.

It's gone now, of course. It went as part of the brick removal Event.
I miss it. I have to walk the bike back to the barn. The plant containers are still in the shop. The cats sit on the doorsill, but when it's cold, it's cold. With all the rearrangements around here, I'm not quite sure how I'm going to manage the seeds and things. I'm sure it'll work out.

In the meantime.. I miss my Greenhouse.

First Day of Spring on a Gravel Road

Around the corner from us is the Thorny Acres Arboretum. It is a huge tract of land owned by a retired doctor couple. They have lovingly cared for the land, planting trees, cultivating environmentally sensitive areas, repairing the fence, providing a relatively safe place for deer, raccoons, wild turkeys, birds, critters and native plant species. They wouldn't let anyone in to walk at all- I asked some years ago- and I've always respected that, though the existence of a fence, a huge piece of land and a NO TRESPASSING sign on the gate have been tempting.

This morning it was frosty cold and the north wind was biting, but the sun was out and the sky was that magical, spotless, clear blue. The sun was just up over the horizon and the air was filled with the spring calls and sounds of thousands of birds. The Gravel Road is a noisy place!

The night world of animals is quite hidden, unless you're out and about at night. Raccoons, I'm assuming, had tipped over the plastic garbage can on wheels, opened the lid and gotten their midnight snack (lock the lid) and all the sunflower seeds were neatly cleaned up from the pieces of wood I'd spread them out from. If it were birds, the shells would still be there. These surfaces were lickety split clean.

At the Arboretum, there are more tell tale critter signs. A winding, narrow swath of dirt brown grass is flattened leading from the 'inside' of the fence to the outside. Dozens of raccoon tracks are frozen in the roadside gravel. Along the road, in the areas that get squishy on spring days, deer tracks. Very lightly impressed into the mud... wild turkey footprints. Places in the fence where the deer can jump over the barbs safely, the wire bent down. A hole through matted grass where the raccoons can get in and out of the arboretum.

I have neither camera nor plaster of Paris with which to record these. But I find it a simple wondrous joy to be aware of these things.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

In the early mornings, the gravel road is rock hard, frozen, solid. There's still some frost in the ground and at nighttime, it freezes, just enough. The early morning is the best time to get out for a walk at this time of year. Although the edges of the road are squishy, the centre, where everyone drives and the two tracks have been driven over time and time again, it feels like pavement.

I love the feeling of the road under my feet. It's quiet, too, although the bird sounds are really loud. I can barely hear the white noise from the 401 a few miles south of us.

The killdeer are back, looking for suitable puddles of gravel and leaves to make their nests, so we know spring is really here. They're a curious bird. Of the sandpiper family, they don't perch. They fly and they walk on the ground. Their nests are highly camouflaged, but on the ground. The eggs blend in with the stones and dirt around and it takes a very keen eye and lots of passing by to detect them. When the eggs hatch, the babies are up and walking. There's no time for them to learn to fly.

I have a choice of going left or right out of the laneway. Sometimes it depends on the wind direction. Otherwise, it's by whimsy. There are miles and miles of roads to walk, but they aren't all open and free for walkers. There are dogs, and not all of them are used to pedestrian traffic. It makes my walk ciruitous, an around the block kind of walk. Around the block on the gravel road is a 6 km walk, an hour and a bit if I hoof it, 90 minutes at a good pace.

Yesterday I broke out the bike! The road was still solid and I took it out for a spin. No helmet, no bike gloves, no bike pants. Just my gardening gloves. It was a glorious 2 km ride, up to the "corner" and back. Made all the difference in the world. Just that first ride. If I get the bike rack out, I can take the bike into the city and hit the trails. But for today, just knowing that I could ride was all I needed.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ah, Spring.. the Sounds of the Birds, the Sight of ... a Skunk

Nothing serious- went looking for a rake in the barn across the road and heard the telltale scuffle of M. Mouffette. Such an innocent, delightful sounding word in French. Mouffette, pantoufle, petite boule de fluff. The English word is so strong and stinky... S..K..U..N..K. Not a delicate vowel to be heard. It hisses and clunks and ends with a thunk.
The rake wasn't there. It must be in the parallel universe reserved for errant garden tools that the Farmer claims not to have seen. It's the same universe that wayward newly washed socks inhabit- the ones that left the bedroom IN the laundry hamper, went into the machine and were never seen again.
I left M. Mouffette alone.
I had been wondering just what had happened to the skunks that used to live under the garden shed that used to be the dog house that used to be the chicken coop where the Farmer's father lived for a short while as he waited for this house to become vacant, some 50+ years ago. They would come and visit my tent in the backyard in summer if I had any food inside.
The backyard has been flooded, twice, this year, connecting to the river that ran from the back field that connected to the pond created by the overflow at the catch basin that was being filled by the overflow from the small field near where the new barn is going to go ( that I'd hoped would be a tennis court or a swimming pool) that made our tar paper house a metaphorical castle surrounded by a moat. Me, its royal inhabitant, a princess in her palace, and Prince Charming... but I digress.
When the backyard flooded, the water was up to the floor of the garden shed, so any skunks there would have been flushed out.
Which brings us to this evening. It has been a long sunny spring yard cleanup day. The cats have been out, the windows and doors open, just a crack and just for a few moments. The shop door has been open, and therein lay a problem.
Diego spends the nights in the shop ( and THAT is a whole other story). He comes when he's called, demands his cuddles, bats my shins if we don't cuddle enough, then settles down for the evening. We've got the routine down.
I called Diego. He came. We went to the shop. I turned the light on and we made our way to his food and water bowl.
We came upon M. Mouffette, sipping from the water bowl.
The good news is that the sound and sight of the skunk did NOT lead to the smell. M. Mouffette remains in the shop, Diego will have to deal with the outside for a night- and we'll start over again tomorrow.
Sometimes on the Gravel Road, you just let well enough alone. Nothing serious. It's just a parallel universe.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Spring is Spring, the Mud is Riz

How unlike March break for it to be sunny and warm! To look at the entire yard and contemplate cleaning it up is too much. I've made a raking list or sections.

I'll be sure to check them off as they get done.

The shells of the sunflower seeds I've been putting out all winter for the hundreds of birds that tease my cats have created a cushy area in front of the office windows. The seeds that have not been de-shelled are now sprouting. I tend to let them go. See how many will get the chance to become sunflowers.

The Egyptian onions are up and I just may clip a few green stalks for dins tonight. Or tomorrow. There are weeds in the garlic beds because I didn't get any straw down. That will have to be remedied. Catnip is up, according to at least one of the cats. The starlings are hell bent on getting their nests firmly in place in the holes around the windows.

What's on your cleanup list?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Country Mouse, City Mouse

One of the realities of living on a gravel road is that 'town' is 10 km drive and 'city' is 65 km away. We subsist on dialup internet service, pay a boatload of cash every month for simple phone service, because we are 3.3 km from the nearest paved road and we can get no newspaper delivery. In town we can get the city's paper, but to get the G&M, for example, we have to drive into the city. I like the Globe and Mail because I get to read about big city things, like Life, Style, Fashion, Culture... none of which I have, apparently. I sit at the kitchen table, a clunky wooden thing, intentionally distressed in the factory and unintentionally marked by cat claws, and read a little a day over the week.

I remember a number of spectacular articles from recent years. One, in particular, by Russell Smith, gentleman's fashionista, was about capri pants- the right kind, the best shape of leg, the length.. everything capri. I find myself in a state of puzzlement that ink and paper and time were spent on this. Yet.. here I am, some time later, still thinking about it and writing about it.

Today, I'm in the city, picking up the G&M, doing high speed internet things, thinking I should be at home picking up branches and pine cones and generally being outside on a glorious day. Have to get some kind of regular routine happening again.

OH, and the starlings are now in the attic, having found a HUGE hole behind the eavestroughs. That's also on the Farmer's List.

Clean Up... set to begin

It's Friday the 13th.. second one this year.. in fact, it's now th 14th as I'm still up. The plan for Saturday is to clean up around the house and then do some work on the septic system. We've had some flooding, due to heavy rains and the catch basins filling up. On Wednesday, we had a moat around the Gravel Road Palace, and me , the Gravel Road Princess, was holed up in the tower. Prince Charming? Nowhere to be found. But the farmer was out and about getting a new tire for the car.

Small thing about high water levels and septic systems. The resulting combination can produce burps in the toilets. Gravity, clearly a good thing.

Friday, March 13, 2009

So, How is the House Coming Along?

The tar paper looked much better than the bricks- in September. On a sunny springish day in March, it's looking like worn out tar paper. There has been wind. There has been rain. There has been sun. Tar paper does not like any of these. The house is looking worse for the wear. Sheets of tar paper have been torn from the house and lie about the yard. The paper that remains is dog-eared, weather-worn, faded and pitiable.

On top of the shabby country chic look, the roof over the vestibule leaked during the most recent flood. There was a dry day between teeming rain and a snow storm. We had 5 guys on the roof, one weilding (professionally) a machete, and another who even knew how to roof, getting a new roof on before sundown. They finished the roof and beer at sunset. It snowed the next day and was cold enough that clean up was an unfathomable option. While most of the old shingles are piled in a tough old red grain trailer behind one of the tractors and sits in the backyard, the smaller pieces of debris remain on the ground. The snow has melted, the crocuses are sprung up among the brick bits and cement leftover from the brick removal process, which also did not get the clean up needed.

While one of the squirrels that was living in the attic that was shooed out and then returned, was dispatched, the second one was doing some renovations the other day, using a saw, I'm sure. I'm expecting a deck or something stylish to be built up there, with the amount of noise that's been leaking through to the bedroom. Rick says it's the an old squirrel. A friend asked how he knew it was an old squirrel... saggy skin? grey hair (it's a grey squirrel)? balding?

While there was the intent to finish over the winter, (and intent does count), the winter was abnormally cold and snowy. The ground was covered and there was not much hope of the walls getting done. Can't hold the farmer responsible for any of that.

It's about 6 weeks til the Farmer gets machinery in the ground.
Stay tuned. Any bets on for it getting done?