Laundry Lingo

It is 8:40am on a day we are chasing cows. It is slightly ridiculous that I am sitting at my desk writing. We have a large crew on the trail, I have lots of mouths to feed. However, everything seems under control. I told myself that if I got the chili in the crockpots by 8:30 I could write til 9. All that is left to do is make coffee and hot chocolate, load up and get to our lunch destination, near Alameda.

The chili is in the crockpots.

I have a guest staying in my laundry room tonight. Therefore it is a bit of a priority to keep working at my regular laundry routine. Usually I ignore it altogether on a chase weekend and maybe for a couple days afterward. However, to make room for the bed I have to get my sorting carts out and I would rather do that with them less full rather than more. So, after getting the crew on the trail this morning and washing up the dishes, I headed down to the laundry room.

I opened the dryer to find a load of dark clothes waiting for me, one of Morgan’s work t shirts was peeking out. The collar was opened right up for view. The tag on the t-shirt was fully visible. It said “KYLE W”, an iron on laundry id tag for the days that my Dad lived in a nursing home. I have this shirt because after he died we came home with alot of his clothes. Russ has been using them for work, they didn’t fit him well enough to be good clothes, and now Morgan is wearing them.

I spent many moments yesterday thinking about my Dad. Mostly the shape of my thoughts was, he never saw this stage of my life, he never viewed me at home on the ranch I share with my family, he never ever saw this side of me. The follow up thought was, “my Dad would be proud of me, he would find it very interesting to watch me do my thing.” He was intently interested in people.

This morning, as I strive to be on top of things, I opened the dryer door to see his name staring at me. Obviously I have handled his clothing hundreds of times over the 16 years since he passed. It struck me odd however that in all the multitude of ways that clothes can tumble and land in a dryer, it all landed in a way that allowed me to be confronted by his memory.

Later as I was getting the chili organized I was listening to Youtube, to a public speaking specialist, he was using a Brene Brown talk to explore the key elements of good public speaking. He used the very opening moments of her speech and so I got to hear the moment when after she was introduced she stepped on stage to raucous applause. It went on and on. The thought went through my head, if my Dad could respond to me right now I think he would be applauding me. The thought gave me goosebumps. As I write this now I it almost brings me to tears.

While I was cooking some messages were zinging back and forth from Nova Scotia. Pictures shared, comments about the day passed back and forth, from people I didn’t even know a couple years ago and even last month at this time. Real live people offering a living presence of kindness and encouragement.

I will always remember my Dad and his cheerleading presence in my life. I am grateful for the ways that others step into the gap. I suspect it is a task that we all face to dance with our grief, our memories, our sense of loss and all that it means and at the same time be thankful and grateful and alert to the multitude of ways that love and care break into our current daily lives.

On that note……Liz Griffin shared a picture she recently took of Morgan on Facebook yesterday. I love it. He is a little bit like my Dad, but he is fully himself and I am blessed to get moments with him every day.

Celtic Solidarity?

Preamble: I am struggling to get this post written and posted. I started it and almost finished it a week ago, so the contents might seem odd, timewise. I am sitting in a waiting room now, Russ is getting his eyes tested and new glasses ordered. Here is what I have ……

After Hurricane Fiona left Nova Scotia we had lots of messages go back and forth with our friends and family there.   Our hearts were so heavy for them.    I had the cell number for one of the family that I only just met for the first time in our recent trip.  Despite not feeling super connected I wanted to check in.  I knew that Gary was a very busy man with lots on his plate but I risked bugging him.   It turned out that Gary is very generous with words and stories and we have been texting back and forth almost every day.  His messages have given me goose bumps as he has detailed how the neighbors are looking out for each other.  His family seems to have an especially tender spot for the widows who need help with generators and dealing with their isolation.  It has inspired me and warmed my heart.  He has also sent me many photos, including this picture of one of the blueberry fields in autumn. I find it so gorgeous.

I find one of the hard parts of having my people going through hard things is the powerless feeling I often have as they struggle. Especially when the distance between us means we can be of no practical assistance.  We simply sit here and wonder and imagine what it’s like.  We pray too, for their strength and their peace amid everything. In some situations, like this one, that seems to be the extent of what we can do.

I think this is why a few days ago I got a somewhat silly notion in my head.  I looked at the earrings I was wearing, I had put them on the last full day we were in Nova Scotia. Russ had bought them for me at the Halifax Citadel gift shop.   As I looked in the mirror I thought to myself, “its time to change your earrings Kathy!” But even as I considered that something in me was already resisting it.  I got thinking, “I am not taking these off until our people all have their power back on.”  Well, Monday morning the message finally came in from Gary, a New Brunswick power man had come in their yard and said, “you can turn your generator off.”  (Can you just imagine how momentous those words would sound after 9+ days without power?) The washing machine was put to use almost immediately Gary told me.  Later that day standing in front of the mirror I contemplated that with the Fentons, the Mannings, and all 3 Brown homes now back on it was time to change my earrings.  But then figured, “no, I am not ready, not yet, my people have power but many still do not.”  I decided then that I would keep them on until every person in Nova Scotia has their power back.  The first thing Gary told me yesterday morning is that 8000 homes in Pictou and Colchester counties are still without.    I will be wearing my Celtic knot earrings for a while yet it seems.

This is all stupid, in a way.  Maybe quite boring as the main subject of a blog post.  But something tells me there is something here.

Do my actions illumine just how very uncomfortable I am when I feel powerless to make a difference?  Yes. Absolutely true about me. Is this common for humans?  I think so.

Do my actions make any difference? No. There is no way my earring choice shifts anything for anyone.

But maybe it’s an act of solidarity. Maybe, when I really analyze the crap out of this, it says “I can’t help you, but if you are dealing with limits I can too.”

Maybe by wearing the earrings bought in Nova Scotia, representing a piece of their Celtic heritage, I am carrying a piece of them on me at all times, maybe thats a tiny form of solidarity.

Maybe it’s a reflection of the wisdom that actions speak louder than words. Maybe the wearing of the earrings and the pondering that goes with that is a form of prayer. I think about the Holy Spirit quite a bit lately. I think about how the Spirit might serve as a courier, taking the love and courage and peace I have to share, from me to those I pray for. (I then trust that God is refilling me so that I have enough for myself and more to share with others.)

That’s all I got written until today….a week later. If my understanding of the Nova Scotia Power Map is correct there are still some without power. I am still wearing the earrings.

If you look it up on Google you will find that the Celtic knot (the symbol used for my earrings) takes on many forms. It has various meanings.

One of its characteristics is that while a Celtic knot may look like it has distinct sections or parts, in fact it is made with one single strand that weaves back through itself and is not tightened, or in other words, is held loosely, it has no beginning and no end.

I really love the symbolism of this. It is a visual reminder of the connection that exists between us and the unique forms our friend and family groups take. The reality of knots that are not tight says something important too I think. Obviously sometimes tight knots are important, I am a rancher, I see this regularly. But the tie that binds friends and family together, across vast distances and through hard times can be held gently, can be a means for our prayers of love, mercy, courage and strength to flow freely.

As I wear these earrings in the days and years ahead they will be a reminder of our trip. They have become more. I am so grateful for our Nova Scotia history, our Brown family there, our Fenton and Manning friends, and the invisible and gently woven strand that connects us to them. In these post hurricane days my earrings have become a testament to love and a reminder to pray.

Weekend Aftershocks

We try not to plan much for the day after a weekend of cow chasing. Today was that kind of day.

Events last week meant we were short one of our trucks for hauling our 2nd trailer for the cow chases. Fortunately for us the Powells lent us a truck for the weekend. This morning we wanted to get that returned. We made it our planned reward to go out for a late breakfast between that drop off and our next thing. A reward for doing the work of the two chase days. I have to say it felt pretty fine to sit at the diner, and it was noticeably great when Christine slid a delicious omelette in front of me. I was being served, after almost a hundred thousand calories passed through my hands enroute to others this weekend, (105 meals at a 1,000 calories per?). After breakfast was over we got a tractor picked up from one field and headed to another to get a load of bales. While Russ loaded the flat deck full of bales I sat in the truck and returned messages. I made him pose with his load when it was done.

Bingo was itchy I guess and is not showing her most dignified self in this picture.

I got a message late last night with a couple more pictures from yesterday.

Maja took this shot. It’s another one with beautiful colors but also records the presence of Judith (on the left), an agriculture worker from Germany, and Jenna on the right. She is David’s daughter and has not been with us on the trail recently. It was great to have her.

As Russ and I had breakfast we talked over how things went on the weekend. Two things might be of interest to readers….

1. Why do we start so early?

Saturday we had a very long ride and needed every hour of daylight to ensure we got the herd to pasture before dark. They made it with 90 minutes to spare. Several years ago complications meant that same ride took til well after dark. That wasn’t the first time we ended in dark but it was the most extreme. It was dangerous and very worrisome. We had riders that day that never ever have come back.

The risk of a dark arrival was not high on Sunday with a shorter distance to cover and moving heifers versus cow calf pairs. Indeed, the crew was back at the ranch and eating lunch by 1:30. I thought to myself “Russ must really live in fear of a complicated chase to get everyone up so early that no sunlight is wasted.” When we talked it over Russ said it wasn’t that. Early October days can get hot, an early start means avoiding the heat of afternoon. Last year this same chase started after we had lunch at the ranch. It got hot. The heat tuckered the cows out. Russ called the Patons to ask permission to break into their pasture and water our cows from their dug-out. They gave their permission. No small thing in a drought year. They had to rest the heifers for about an hour then. Russ didn’t want a repeat of that. So there are a few variables in how things get timed out.

2. Why so many riders?

We actually had a pretty searching conversation about this with the kids at supper. That many people around shapes the experiences of all of us. To my surprise it was Morgan who questioned the practice of a welcome extended to all. He is tired, not the easiest time to draw forth one’s welcoming instinct. The bottom line is we invite the people who show an interest and whoever shows up shows up, although we mostly know in advance who that is for trailer, horse and food planning purposes. We don’t enjoy everyone, we are not angels and none of our crew is perfect. It can get tricky. Every single person on the trail gets stretched in one way or another almost every day.

Yesterday our numbers were pretty extreme, we had almost 1 horse and rider for every 2 heifers on the trail. It turned out to be helpful twice. First when rounding up the herd in the heavy fog we dealt with yesterday. Russ organized the cowboys and cowgirls very strategically to advance across the pasture almost in a formation, allowing them to sweep forward all the heifers that emerged from the fog before them. The second time was when they needed to cross railroad tracks and these young animals were skittish and very hesitant. Russ got the crew to completely surround the herd and contained like that, fenced in so to speak, they gave the heifers time to think about it, settle down a bit and decide it was their own idea to go across. Russ likes this method of dealing with cattle, slow and easy, non aggressive unless neccesary, he feels it’s safer and easier on the animals. I heard some riders talking about it later a little amazed at how Russ made that crew coordinate in those moments without raising his voice much at all. That is not always the case. Russ yells on the trail when neccesary, it’s hard for those of us who are used to his more cuddly demeanor.

As Russ and I sat and talked over these questions he was reminded of past times when he moved animals home. He said this weekend we had one extreme, he has lived the other. Back in the PMU days he moved a herd of horses home from the Manor pasture all by himself. He had seven horses loaded in the trailer that Walter his Dad drove down the road. Russ had played them all out by the time it was done. He had a couple other stories that if you didn’t know Russ or his family you might not believe. These stories should be a blog all on their own. Russell’s summary of it all, “I have done this with both extremes of help, zero and lots, with help is way more fun.”

Maja’s 2nd picture…. a worn out “Coffee” dog. She got kicked on Saturday, she was fortunate to have no lasting effects. She was so goofy on the trail yesterday there was some brief wondering if she was more affected than first thought. She apparently couldn’t decide whether to clean up the ditches or chase cows and often tried to do both.

Post chase days almost always include an episode of lost and found. Today that includes this mug and a pair of Polarized brand sunglasses. Any takers? We also found a strange half grown black and white kitten in the barn. It’s possible it was a stowaway on one of the trailers in the yard this weekend. Anyone know anything about that?

There were lots of readers from Canada, the U S. and Europe that had a look at the weekend blogs. That was fun and encouraging. Thanks to you readers! Feel free to share any blog if you think someone in your circle would enjoy it.

We have a little bit of a break from cow chasing now. Ranch activity over the next bit involves alot of effort to bring hay and straw bales home. I am hoping to get some things off the to do list and get writing. There is alot to be said.

Chase Season 2022 – Day 2 –

Day 2 of this cow chase season had us moving our bred heifers from the McFarlane pasture in the Glen Ewen River Valley to home, a distance of about 14 miles. We had 60 animals to move and 26 riders. A bit of an extreme ratio, however, at one point, when crossing some railroad tracks, everyone was utilized.

Thanks to several riders there are lots of pictures to share.

The day began very differently due to fog that had settled over the entire area. Those traveling to the ranch needed extra time to get here. Russ thought a risen sun would lift some fog, so instead of a 5:30 departure it was 6:30. Instead of me sending breakfast sandwiches to the truck those who were on site came in for coffee and breakfast. It was quiet but fun.

Gina captured this image. This was a very busy porch for that time of day.
Russ enjoyed the breakfast party and was the first to whip out a camera.
Russ got this picture, me in my “office.”
Patrick was the first to send pictures back from the trail. I was stunned by the incredible color, beauty and depth with the fog still in the background.
Patrick grabbed this moment with Emet and Kenzie working part of the herd.
Patrick got this shot of Jim and his grand-daughter Cassie.
Sharon took this picture of her grand-daughter Teanna. Is it just me or does this picture have an epic feel?
The herd out of the pasture and on the trail, from Sharon’s perspective.
Sharon cares about these teenagers as if they were her own. I wasn’t surprised to get this picture from her
Tenley sent me this picture. That is Kenzie White in front of her. We don’t have competitions like this one much but Russ phoned me to tell me that Kenzie was Cowgirl of the Day. She had impressed the heck out of him. When a problem developed she went to long lengths to see it fixed. Russ was beyond impressed.
This is perhaps the most memorable part of this day. Laurie’s grandson Lennox rode with him on the Bar MW trail for the first time. A very special development.
Russ sent me both these pictures of the Connelly and Elliott duo.
Sharon must have sensed this was pretty special too because she grabbed this image from a very fun perspective.
Sharon shared this picture from the truck.
Russ took a video of the hi-way crossing, I grabbed this still shot from it, there is an RCMP member on foot behind. We really appreciate when they help to ensure safety at times like this.
Sharon took a picture of my cowpoke kids.
Gina took this cool picture of Tenley doing one of her riding tricks. The heifers had arrived at their pasture and Gina and Tenley got to hang back, visit (and do tricks😮) as they rode the mile home.
The neighbors have beautiful Belgian horses. They were very interested in the herd.
However Sharon noted they soon needed to run away from the action.
Gina shared this pic of Moo. Our 6 year old Ox is a big help moving the heifers. At times like this I call him “Uncle Moo.”
Gina grabbed a beautiful shot of the valley.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I was working on a late lunch. Pizza. This is a terrifying menu to prep for 30 people. To make it do-able I had worked on getting shells made and in the freezer in the days before. This sight makes me feel proud of my effort.
Jill grabbed this picture partway thru prep.
And…..the reward! A satisfied group of diners!
Everyone had left by 3:30pm. Gina and Coffee cuddling were so cute from my perspective.
A total gift this weekend. Blueberry tarts made by Linda Powell’s sister Debbie, using wild blueberries picked by David’s pal. Shared with us and so very delicious. This contribution made dessert much easier to provide!

Cow Chase ’22 – Day 1 – Pictures of the Day

A big ranching Day here. We moved 140 cow calf pairs about 18 miles, from their summer to autumn pasture. We had 19 riders and the support team. It was a seamless work day, nice when that happens.

I invited the riders to send me their pic of the day. I got several in some cases. I am posting them all with minimal captions. The alarm went off at 4:25am so the pillow is looking very inviting!

Thanks to a great crew of cowboys and cowgirls!

Russell’s pic of the day of Liz Griffin, sporting a hoodie we got her. We were happy to have her back to record a few of our 2022 moments.
Liz’s picture of the day of Russell, this was a sneak peek she posted.
Gina’s pic of the day.
Shared by Sharon.
A Sharon Hubbard pic of Gina.
Sharon’s pic of David
Russell’s pic of Sharon, she has this jacket, identical to our family ones, because we can’t do these days without her. She drives the truck and trailer all the way.
Russell’s pic of David
Russell’s pic of Laurie and our friend Maja, a Norwegian agricultural worker in our area.
Sharon’s pic of Teanna
Sharon’s pic of a great smile on Pat.
Pat, Sharon and Morgan
Rhett and Morgan
Sharon’s picture…is there a rider or not?
Sharon’s capture of a moment to get things adjusted. 3 of the 5 dogs on the trail are seen here.
Sharon at the wheel.
Teanna’s pic of the day. She and Patrick.
Gina’s pic of Jenn and Patrick.
Jill’s pic of her Dad during lunch.
Jill’s record of a little visitor we didn’t disturb.
Maja’s pic of the overall lunch scene.
My pic of Sharon getting out of the wind.
My pic of Russ holding the last bite of the dessert he determined was the best of the day. Their was a semi final round after his first try of everything. This was a new recipe for me, Faye Simpson’s Cornflake Cookies. Num.
I took this action shot of Morgan and Gina.
My pic of Morgan’s height serving him well.
My pic of some of my lunchtime customers getting a break.
Jill sent this pic from the truck she was driving as she helped get vehicles moved from the start of the move to the pasture where they were headed.
My pic at days end….All done and back at the house for supper.
Jill sent me this pic of the action in the basement after supper. There was lots of noise.
Jen grabbed this bonus picture yesterday while Gina was pressure washing the horse trailer in prep for today.

A Love Story

When I was 6 my family loaded up our tent trailer, station wagon, our stuff and my beloved Nanny and we hit the trail. Taking advantage of my Dad’s holiday from being a school principal we headed east.  That meant time with family in Montreal enroute to the Maritimes.  Our destination was Springhill where my Nanny had her childhood, our accommodation was 11 km away where we parked our trailer beside a small white house with a big yard at Mapleton, Nova Scotia.   I remember very little about that holiday, but I remember meeting Logan.  He was my Nanny’s cousin, he was 73, and he taught me how to pick beans.  I really liked him. 

9 years later I would take my first plane ride. Part of our family flew to Halifax where my Dad had a conference.   Nanny came with us again. After Dad’s conference we headed to Mapleton where we visited Logan and his family once more.

My Nanny and I in front, my sister Jan beside me, visiting with the Nova Scotia family. My mouth was still swollen from jaw re-alignment surgery I had a couple months before.
The visit included lots of music. Logan was very talented as you can see here.
Bertha serves a family favorite, Maple Cream, made from sap harvested in the family sugar woods.

Logan’s wife Bertha was so kind to us.  I loved how I felt while there.  They entertained the family from around the district and some connections were forged. 

Seven years later I took French immersion on the south shore of Nova Scotia.  I lived in a dorm there for five weeks.  I tried poutine for the first time, it was presented as a must try Acadian dish.  I was hooked ….but back to the story.

I could not leave Nova Scotia without visiting Logan and Bertha.  I don’t remember how I got from Point de l’Eglise on the south shore to Mapleton but I do remember how sad I was when it was time to leave.  There was no Disney level excitement happening, it was better than that.  I felt so safe, so cherished, so relaxed, so cared for, so… home.  The difference was that at this home I had a Grandpa type guy in my life,  that was a novelty for me.  I loved that.  I loved Logan and I loved Bertha for who she was and how she welcomed me in their world.  During this visit I would make a memorable connection with Norene, their daughter, 8 years older than me. 

The next summer I was back.  I was on tour with Up With People and our cast was in Maine.  I couldn’t bear that I was so close to Bertha and Logan but couldn’t see them.  I asked for special permission to leave the cast for a few days, I rented a car and headed to Mapleton.  It was another special time.  I needed it.  My brother had been given a brain cancer diagnosis and died in the year since I had last visited.  Up With People was amazing but hard hard work.  Logan and Bertha were sanctuary. 

My 1991 visit, standing with Logan and his sister Beulah.

It would be seven years before I saw them again.  An airline strike in ’98 had the airlines scrambling to redeem their reputation and offering great deals on flights.  My Mom and I were caring for my Dad at home, his dementia was advancing.   We got a respite bed in a nursing home for him, I took a week off of my final year of seminary, we recruited my Mom’s sister and the three of us headed back to Mapleton.  Logan was 97 by then, starting to falter, but we sat together in his pipe smoking porch and talked.  Bertha wove her magic and we had another great visit, more time seeing the sights and visiting with the extended family.  

in 1998 – my Mom at the piano, Logan beside her, Cecil in the front. We loved being able to join in the music.

Then I graduated, got ordained, moved to Gainsborough, met Russell, got married, had three kids, and started to become a rancher.  There was no time or money for airplane trips.  That was okay.  The kids were fun and we made lots of trips back to Saskatoon. It was how it needed to be.

Last Wednesday Russ and I boarded a 5am flight in Winnipeg after a brief sleep in the airport parking lot and a 3am check-in.  At 1:15pm we landed in Halifax.  I am embarrassed when I think about the words that flew through my head as the wheels touched down.  I said to myself, “I’m home.”  It’s embarrassing because it makes no sense really, but for what it’s worth those were the spontaneous words that touchdown brought out of me.

We are on the plane home now, suspended somewhere between Toronto and Winnipeg. We had a wonderful but busy week.

Sadly, Logan and Bertha are both gone now.  We got to visit their grave and drove by their beautiful home where their grandson now lives.

We drove to the Northumberland shore where Russ met cousin Norene (Logan and Bertha’s daughter) for the first time and we both met her husband Brian at their cottage.  We walked the beach, talked, picked sea glass and savored the ocean. 

Thru the day Norene and I got to talk about many things, including Bertha’s time of dying, it was good for me. 

Time together in their gorgeous cottage.

We drove to Parrsboro where we met my Nanny’s cousin’s daughter in law Carol for lunch.  Russ and I had spent time with her and her husband Cecil in Saskatoon 21 years ago.

2001 – My sister Jan and I beside Cecil, Russ and my Mom beside Carol.
21 years later, Carol explaining a little bit about the tides at Parrsboro
I think Russ felt very cherished by Carol.

Thanks to Facebook Carol and I have been in close touch for years, she calls me dearie in her comments and I savor that.  Carol organized extra visits for us so we met family we had never met before and got tours of the most amazing farm and the sugar woods.  It wasn’t Logan and Bertha’s old sugar woods but it was close by. 

Gary, one of our extended family (Nanny’s cousins boy), is an expert in berry farming and consults closely with Millen Farms, his niece’s family business. He toured us around their amazing operation which includes pork, chicken, beef, strawberries, blueberries, rhubarb, turnips, corn. They supply much of the berries found in the east coast Costco stores. We had such an interesting morning.
A field full of strawberry plants, one of many.
Russ got to work for a minute in the sugar woods, taking the tap out of this tree and binding it up.
Harold teaching us about tapping locations.
The sugar woods were stunningly beautiful.
I took this selfie in the sugar woods. When I looked at it, I felt like I looked at peace. I felt that way.

A very wow moment was when I sat down directly across from Gloria, meeting her for the first time I saw a clear and striking resemblance to my Nanny.  Gloria is my Nanny’s cousin’s daughter, genetics are really something.  

Carol, Gloria and I

We had four days in Nova Scotia that didn’t arise from my family connections.  They hold other stories that will wait to be told.

I titled this blog “A Love Story” because I feel like somehow it captures the powerful reality of attachment to a place, the reality of family ties and shared family stories and the mysterious way that some people just put down roots in your heart and they can’t be removed, not that you would want them to be.

In a way page 1 of this particular love story happened in 1913, when Nanny first breathed the Springhill air.  It got more interesting for me in 1974 when my feet first settled on Nova Scotia soil and I started to forge my own plot line.  What a treat to review it all today, 35,000 feet in the air, and realize anew how blessed I am.  Paul writes in the Christian Scriptures that love never ends.  I believe him.

Addendum: As I polish this up and add pictures, five days after writing it, I am very aware of the turmoil in Nova Scotia right now. Hurricane Fiona has wreaked havoc, especially around the area where we visited the big farm. Over the last few days our hearts have been so tenderized by the concern we feel for our people there and what they are going through. Love never ends and it keeps our hearts on edge and maybe thats the way its supposed to be.

Circle Time

“Kathy you are in ‘Circle Time’, you might not know it, but that’s a big deal.”

These are the words that Russell spoke as we sat atop our horses in the driveway of Evangeline Trail Rides near Stanley in the province of Nova Scotia.  We were about to head out on an evening ride.  But first there was a pause, after the busyness of saddling up.  A chance to look at each other’s faces and introductions made for those who had just joined in the day.  There was a check in about my stirrups and a last word of instruction where needed.

And we were off….

An evening ride thru the changing landscape of fall in Nova Scotia, making our way past a tidal river and thru the woods….how gorgeous.

After a while we pulled up in an opening and gathered into a circle again.  We lingered longer this time.  Stories were shared, my stirrups got lengthened, we experienced something together. It was different than the procession of horses we had been when we were heading down the trail. 

I was intrigued.

We rode some more.  We went thru an opening in the woods and found ourselves at the edge of the Stanley airport field.  We circled up again. Crystal posed a question.  Crystal.  You haven’t met her yet.  She and her partner Ron own and operate Evangeline Trail Rides. 

Crystal and Ron

Crystal who has always been from Nova Scotia met Russell in 1987 thru family events.  Their paths crossed again in 1990 and then many years passed.  Facebook brought them back onto each other’s radar.   When we planned a trip to Nova Scotia there was certainly going to be a visit with Crystal.  Her big and tender heart was brimming over with a welcome to experience her world.

What is her world? Well…….Crystal is a genius.  She has taken her love of horses and found a way to make a life from it by having strangers come and pay to ride, “Evangeline Trail Rides” is the family business in addition to some ranching.  The work at Evangeline is shared by a faithful group of horse lovers who come help with trail rides and horse care and earn themselves a place in the barn family. 

All of that might just sound like a business model but when you are smack dab in the middle of it and privy to the background stories it is abundantly clear there is so much more going on.  

That “so much more” is something I get excited about.
I used to kinda scoff at the words I am about to tell you, but not anymore.  
What Crystal and Ron look to be nurturing, as clearly as I can see, is community and empowerment.  These are big words, vague words, what do I mean when I say them?

Community… having a place where you belong.  Where people know your name, some of your stories, some of your needs, you have people you share memories with.  The fact that a community exists at Crystal and Ron’s is irrefutable.   As we sat around their kitchen and living room before and after the ride Russell and I were wholeheartedly welcomed into the community.  We weren’t exactly strangers….

In 2019 Crystal started scheming to take a group of her barn friends and travel west to our ranch for a fall cattle move. Flights and hotels for nine women were booked. It was to be an October 2020 adventure. The plan meant that many became Facebook friends with us to get acquainted before the big trip. Then the reality of Covid hit. The trip was canceled but these new facebook friends remained. We have regularly seen their names and gained a small sense of familiarity with them. Spending actual time together now, matching faces and voices to names was fun. There was alot of getting acquainted happening.

I got to meet Crystal’s Dad “Pappie” who Russ had spent some days with in 1990.

At this kitchen party, once it was certain that there was enough space for the telling, we heard the broken toilet story. It was epic in its own right but told with such vivid skill we were able to laugh away all the stress of April 2022 I think.  Russell adds, “what good is a story without actions?” In quiet moments of conversation we were told about jobs and family members, and we found people and places we had in common.  Suddenly the world seemed smaller and more caring.  We shared stories about Covid and getting through it.  We learned, again, that we were not alone.  In short, we experienced the community that Crystal and Ron have been nurturing and tending.

And the other word….

Empowerment, isn’t that the word to use when people are welcomed to push their limits, to learn and learn more, to face physical and social challenges and come out stronger?  For example Crystal invites her teenage barn women to serve as trail guides helping tourists over 3x their age to handle their horses.  Wow. 

These girls in grade 8 and grade 12 do not hesitate to do what needs to be done in the barn or on the trail.

Does a family gain strength and momentum when they are all welcomed to the barn life and over and over again they practice together all the equine, social and emotional challenges before them?  I think so.  It was clear to see when observing the busyness in the barn, as all aspects of horse use and care were handled, that everyone on the team has been given chances to grow their confidence.  Does this matter?  100% YES.  Yes.  Yes.  Yes!

Look at Liz’s great smile. She took many of the pictures in this blog. Her great gram and my Nanny were born in the same year in Springhill. We pondered if we might be related.

I don’t know how Crystal and Ron arrived at this model for how they would run their business.   However, it honestly strikes me as brilliant.  It’s got to be tricky.  Most things that involve creatures that breathe, like humans and horses, are a bit complicated at least some of the time.  But the rewards…..

I think the wisdom that underscores all of this is useful to everyone.   There are things that are accomplished when humans meet in circles.  Isn’t this part of the appeal of campfires?  Isn’t circle time action a huge part of what makes meals at a table such a powerful practice for humans?

When I asked about “circle time” after we were all done, my questions were research for this blog.  The way Russ spoke of it at the start of the ride I felt like I was being allowed into a secret society.  But the experience…. stopping in a clearing and doing the moves to get our horses into a circle had a powerful intentionality to it. There is a time for moving forward and there is a time for circling up.  When these moves were followed up by Crystal’s invitations for stories and conversation I just knew there was more happening.  When I asked a rider about it I was told,  “it’s the foundation.”

What I take from that….. its that seeing each other,  literally seeing each other’s faces and focusing on what we share is powerful.   Its a foundation that allows a business to grow and thrive, humans to feel safe and included, and moments of rest for all.

As I write this I am on a plane, descending into Toronto, we haven’t seen our kids for days and days.  It’s time for the Bar MW version of circle time.  There will be alot of stories to share.  I hope Busterkat will sit in his high chair and Morgan will light a candle.  I hope it will feel cozy.  Cow chase season is right around the corner and soon that table will be stretched out to the max, ready to share circle time with the characters in our world.  I am pretty sure Russ and I will be thinking of Crystal as we savor the stories and moments and tackle the work.

Not Random

Wednesday September 6 – I am sitting in the Smitty’s at Grasswoods Esso in Saskatoon, I only have a few minutes more to write because in 10 minutes friends are arriving to meet me, Russ will be pulling in shortly after.

That single sentence holds two really big stories for us.

The first is that the friends we are meeting we have never actually spent time with in person before.   We will recognize each other through pictures seen on Facebook.  

The second is that Russ and I spent the night at my sisters only a few minutes from here.  At 5am the alarm went off, Russ got himself going and made it to a farm near Vanscoy by 6:30am.  He went to make a purchase of a colt before the owner needed to get to work. 

My sister dropped me off here at Smittys on her way to work.

Am I nervous about this visit?  No, not really, my work as a minister doing pastoral work has prepared me well for sitting at tables with people I don’t know.

The main connection has been between Russell and Margaret.  I have occasionally ……

Here they come.   I can see them coming across the parking lot.

Later on……

The visit is done, Russ and I are zipping down the Yellowhead highway on our way to Shoal Lake, Manitoba.  We have a donkey to buy.  But back to the first stories.

At Easter in 2020 my Mom sent a group text expressing her easter wishes to her kids and grandkids.  After that arrived a follow-up message appeared, from a strange number.  The gist of that was ”I don’t think I was supposed to get this text.”  Something fairly unexplainable had happened.  My Mom had inserted an extra phone number in her group text, but it wasn’t a number from her directory.  The person who received the message had never heard of our family.   How did my Mom do that?  It seems like it was more than pushing one or two accidental buttons. 

Almost five days later……my vehicle is in getting an oil change and I am at the Flying M Diner in Carnduff eating toast and eggs and drinking coffee.   I absolutely love moments like this.  Back to the story……A few members of the family answered this random text, posing questions and trying to figure out how this had happened.  No obvious connection was ever established.    Russ was one of the family who texted back and forth with this stranger.  He still has the same phone he did then, so as we traveled down the road last Wednesday, talking over how it is that we had become friends with these strangers, we could scroll back in his phone and find the original interactions.  It was comical.  It was like Russ couldn’t decide what he wanted.  He told her “have a good life” twice, sounds like a “I’m done” message to me, but then he would send our stranger a picture of new calves that had been born.   They connected over the shared interest in agriculture and by the time a couple days had passed they were facebook friends.  Russ entered the number in his phone and going on the information he had early on titled her contact information “Random Margaret.” 

A glimpse of the first words exchanged.

2020 would unfold as it did.  Margaret and Russell discovered more than ranching and church in common, they found they both love jokes and soon the quips were flying back and forth.  Margaret kept Russell supplied with multiple sources of laughter a day. 

A screenshot from a joke that Margaret sent me.

Soon I became her facebook friend too and became somewhat familiar with the rhythms of her days and the special people in her life.  Margaret read my blog and would send messages at times to speak of what it stirred in her.  We were all definitely developing a solid relationship. 

When my Mom was diagnosed with cancer in summer of 2020 things got emotionally tricky for Russell and I.  Margaret reached out to Russell in a way that said, “I see you.”  When I went to Saskatoon to help care for my Mom she knew how much Russell struggled and how much stress it was for me.  She offered to take me out for coffee, for a break.  I didn’t take her up on that but I knew she was there.  I had several support persons in Saskatoon, but all of us were so emotionally tied into the difficulty of what was being faced.  Having Margaret offer her care, totally objective to the situation, had the effect of feeling like there was a first aid kid available that was just for me should I need it. 

The friendship has carried on for over two years now, through facebook and messenger.  Russ stopped calling our friend “Random Margaret” sometime in that first year.  When his phone dings with a Messenger message he now might say, “I betcha that’s ‘Not Random Margaret’”.   Often he is right.  It is mysterious that as the presence of my Mom in our lives waned another tall and energetic senior lady was in the wings, she helps to keep Russ encouraged and feeling seen. 

Late last Tuesday as we made our way to Saskatoon we were discussing how our impromptu colt pickup trip was going to unfold.   Realizing that we had a bit of time in the morning once our first pickup was done I said to Russ, “do we have time to meet Margaret for breakfast?”  With it being a work day it was a perfect morning to meet our retired friend.  We made the invitation and it all got set up.   It was pretty fun to finally put voices and mannerisms to what we already knew.    Margaret’s husband was part of our time.  I appreciated meeting him more than I realized I would.  I have few elder men in my life, it has always been that way.  The elders I have I treasure, but I just don’t get to see them often at all.   So there was already a spot in my heart for the man I was starting to get to know. 

After breakfast we parted ways and it was later that Margaret send a message, “we forgot to get a picture!”  It feels good to live in the moment and forget about pictures sometimes, but afterwards, a souvenir is nice.    I guess we just lived in the moment. 

The impact of the internet is so far reaching and I tend to think that the drawbacks outnumber the benefits.  However, there are definite mysterious ways that it weaves magic, allowing people to connect, share themselves, and feel encouraged.  Our story with not random Margaret and Larry is one of those things we place in the column titled “benefits of the internet.”  As I wrap this story up, for now, I doubt myself.  Is this that unusual or noteworthy?  I mean people use the internet to meet new people pretty often, it is something most of us have the power to do, is it worthy of a blog post?  I write about it because it’s a way of upholding how valuable the net of human relationship is in our lives.  One thing Russell has taught me is that we never need to be done weaving new threads into the net.  The random strangers that make their way into our days can be sources of blessing and remind us that we are not alone.  The random becomes part of a sturdy net that helps to catch us and at the same time these threads create a beautiful tapestry that keeps life super interesting.  We are blessed.

The sun setting on the end of the day that started with breakfast with Margaret and Larry. We were almost home with our colts Skywalker and Elton John.

May I Introduce You….

The stories coming from the Bar MW Ranch may take on an added dimension over the next few years because of what Russ and I did yesterday.  

Backing up for a second…….you might have read in a previous blog about a grass fire at our Carievale field over the weekend.  Within a day the knife broke on our haybine.  It was felt that perhaps we were pushing our luck and maybe it would be okay to call it quits, the 2022 haying season was over at that point.  There was only a bit left.   Sometimes you just have enough of enough. 

That freed Russ up to do something that he has been scheming to do for much of the summer, a road trip that felt epic to us, in order to pick up a horse and a donkey.  We left the ranch Tuesday afternoon, were in Saskatoon by early evening, had time with one of my sisters and her family and then slept.  Russ was up at 5 in order to get to a ranch about 30 minutes out of Saskatoon by 6:30am.  That is where our Andalusian colt was waiting for him.  The owner wanted to go for a ride with Russ and get the details settled before she went to work, hence the early start.   The horse is actually a stud colt, a year old as of today. 

This is the selfie Russ sent to the family from Dana’s place.

After riding a grown Andalusian horse……

and having a great visit with Dana the owner, Russ was thrilled like he thought he would be, and made the colt purchase. 

Russ caught up with me afterwards, we spent a couple hours in Saskatoon, (the subject of a different blog post, currently under production) then we hit the road headed for Shoal Lake, Manitoba.  That is where we were to find our donkey colt.  Slow drivers and construction on the Yellowhead highway combined with a couple stops in Yorkton meant we were quite late getting to Shoal Lake area.  So the rancher with the donkey to sell loaded two donkeys up, so we could choose one, and brought them with him to the rink in Shoal Lake so he could get to his duties there.  When we found Dan and looked into his trailer it only took Russ one look at the two donkeys, he knew exactly which one he wanted and sealed the deal. 

We then backed our trailer up to Dan’s to make the transfer. 

Russ and Dan held hands in order to create a hoist to get the back legs of the donkey off the ground and the front part moving forward towards our trailer.  Russ is funny in the way he tells of this, he calls it the slowest wheelbarrow race in the world, with a total stranger.   A bit of a visit, use of the rink bathroom and we were off, heading home to the ranch with the supper of champions in our possession……bottled water and Hawkins Cheezies. 

We left Shoal Lake with our load like this, hoping they might become friends.
We stopped to see how our passengers were doing.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I peeked in the trailer and found this sight. How did these two end up in the same compartment? We wonder if Dan made a change in the setup before we left the rink but when we didn’t realize. Weird and fun. They were buds already it seemed.

Now…..what is stirring?  What is the thinking behind these purchases?

The Andalusian……..its a breed known for its beauty and smooth ride.  Russ has never owned one but feels like he would really enjoy the smoothness of it as he continues to reckon with a body that holds aches and pains.  We are not in the habit of spending a lot of money on horses.  We turn basic or spoiled or cheap horses into good ones through love and lots of hours.  This is different.  Russ had to talk me into it because I am cheap.  In the end we were able to give ourselves permission for this splurge by selling one of our older horses that isn’t doing well with cow herd work, its more of a kids horse and putting that together with some money from my Mom.  So we say our Andalusian is a gift from Georgie.  The colt has a beautiful disposition.  I am not a horse person but I loved it from the moment I first set eyes on it.  There is something about it. 

The donkey colt is because we enjoy having mules in our herd but the two we have, Dick and Jane, are getting old.  We decided that we would try to breed some more for ourselves.  Morgan is an avid shopper on Kijiji and he found a few different donkey options. One of them led to a story with surprising twists and turns but ultimately a dead end.  Then this donkey quite close to home, relatively speaking, came up as an option.  We are thrilled with the work Morgan did to find this colt.  Now maybe I should back up a bit.  If you are not used to the terms you might be confused.  We will use our new donkey to breed a mare (a female horse), the resulting animal will be a mule when its born.   

Morgan is getting to be a great horse trainer, this has given Russ courage to get breeding some animals for ourselves, we may even keep our Andalusian stud intact and make more colts with him.  Who knows.  So many unpredictable things can happen. 

Friendly time in the pen this morning after getting back from town.

At the end of our first full day home with our new family members there are a couple things to report:

-Morgan was able to halter the donkey after school today and set a saddle on its back. He was able to lead it around pretty well. Russ felt this was a great thing, Morgan thinks it had some training already put into it and isn’t taking much credit.

-Our donkey gave a morning wake up bray at 5am. Honestly, I didn’t hear it, but Ron did and said it wasn’t too bad, didn’t go on too long. Later in the day we had those donkey calls ringing through the yard at a couple points. There is a new kind of music in the Bar MW yard.

On that “note”………..may I introduce you to our new friends.

“Elton John”

Its bedtime and I am exhausted so the stories of these names are going to have to wait. I am just going to conclude by saying I really really like our new boys.

The Tenderlands – Where there is sparks…..

Its Saturday night.  It has been a good day and a hard day.  Our whole family was in the saddle today as we participated in the Hubbard’s annual trail ride.  That was very good and deserves a whole blog post.  Towards the end of the ride Russ got a call from our man Ron, he was cutting the last of the hay and his cutting knife hit a rock, threw a spark and started a grass fire.  It all turned out better than anyone could have hoped for, no people or machinery were hurt, the neighbors’ cows were not affected.    We have lots to be thankful for.

After Russ got the initial call a series of conversations happened, most extremely brief,  some in person and some over the phone.  It all resulted in the Carievale and Gainsborough volunteer fire departments being dispatched, the nearest truck being hijacked, me jumping off the mule I was riding, and jumping in with Russ and one of the volunteer firemen who was on the trail with us.  We sped south about 30km to the pasture where the fire was. 

We arrived to find the fire departments on site and the fire completely under control.   

They continued to do what they train so well for and the fire was out before too long.  Little smoking hotspots were evident.  Our trail friend Gord had a steel broom he pulled out to start dealing with those.  I asked if he had a second one, he did, so I got to do something, which was a relief. 

I have titled this blog in “the tenderlands” series because of the way this event reminded me of how vulnerable we are.  It is humbling and heartwarming to need so much help and to get it. 

At this point in the late afternoon the temperature was 30 degrees celsius, the firefighter pictured here is in full protective gear. Thank you for being there.

As I stood on the prairie with the steel broom Gord had given me I had two main things I was pondering.  The news of the fire was scary but as I did my bit with my broom I realized I was handling my stress about it by playing the “it could have been worse” game.   I was relieved that the bad news we were reckoning with on this day was not about one of my family, one of my friends, or one of my friends’ kids being injured on the trail.  That is one of my biggest worries.  This fire was hard and upsetting but if I had to choose between being in an ambulance or holding a broom on a smoking prairie, I would choose that broom any day.  Ideally a day holds no big suffering, most of our days are like that.  But we are human and if you will excuse my language, shit goes south sometimes.   This particular storm of it could have been much more serious, much more.  We were given a reminder of how fragile the balance is and how vulnerable we are, but in the end were given a very easy pill to swallow. 

I also found myself thinking about the idea of “stewardship.”  It’s the idea that we are responsible to care for the people and resources that have been entrusted to us.  I am not sure I can put into words what my head is thinking, but bear with me.  The image of a woman with a broom is rather iconic in my mind.  It’s a big part of the tending work that I have done in all the homes I have lived in.  I like sweeping, its rewarding.  Standing on the prairie with a broom in my hand just gave me this very strong sense that I was doing the best I could in that particular moment to care for the land that I have been entrusted with.   It felt like an act of love.  I have a strong sense of love for our animals, but I have not had that feeling arise greatly regarding the land.  Maybe it was because in a very small sense, that land needed me.  I don’t know.  I just know that standing on the prairie with a broom in my hand was stirring and made me think in a new way about caring for our land. 

An aerial shot taken by a drone owned by one of the firemen and sent to us.

That’s all I got.  I am really weary.  It was important to write this tonight, to grab the heart action that was a part of this unexpected part of our day.  While my heart is the realm of the tenderlands, the lands we very literally tend are tender too.  It was a hard day for our Carievale field today.  Thanks to many committed people much harm was prevented.