Winter in my World

As March begins our ranch has completed three months of our easier days. Problems and challenges definitely arise in winter, and this winter has been no different, but since New Years the weather has been gentler than normal and mechanical and animal problems that have arisen have been possible to handle without too much stress. That has meant some easier days for Russ and I both. I am not feeling restored exactly, but some things are shifting and that is good.

This morning I pored over our phones for pictures that might remind me of what we have been up to. There are definite themes that emerge. Around Valentines Day there were many experiences that connect to “love.”

This picture was taken by one of my extended family in Nova Scotia. Sarah Barnes has been finding heart shapes in many places and made a facebook album about it that she shared. Sarah gave me permission to grab pictures from her post and use them here.

An amazing fundraiser was held in our community last month, with a Valentines Day theme. It was to support a family who are dealing with a really tricky health problem. The fundraiser was put on by a team of extended family and friends and their effort was incredible. They created a real party and raised a huge amount of money. We had so much fun. As I visited with a friend who is originally from Ontario, she told me, “this would never happen where I grew up.” Her observations made me ponder just how significant our small town loyalty and love to each other is. There is so much history, shared experience, family connection and shared vulnerability (I mean none of us live close to advanced health care, it could be any one of us needing help tomorrow), and so we pull together and an event like we attended happens. Large sums of energy and money were flowing, it was sacrificial, that is love in action.

Our friend Jen took this picture of us. I am wearing a blazer that I bought in 1993 with birthday money from my Nanny. I hold onto it for sentimental reasons and you never know when a Christmas or Valentines event will warrant pulling it out!

The first 5 weeks of our winter rest time held hard stuff. The fire in our shop on December 18th has played havoc with my sense of security. Many mornings since that scary day I have risen and the first thing I do is look out the window to look for any fire. It is not rational but its real. The fundraiser I referred to above involves a family we have connection to in multiple ways, the struggles they hold affect our hearts too. Also, a young woman from our community was involved in a crazy injury while away on her honeymoon, the random-ness of that, picturing her so debilitated, and knowing her husband and family were faced with so much, has felt like a blow. Cory is a very special person. At a young age she already has a reputation for her loving care of the elders in our community as an RN. She makes a big difference. Her injury has been unsettling for our whole community. Remarkably, her recovery is going incredibly well, a testament to the inner strength she is known for and the love and prayers of the many. I think the fire, illness and injury have had a de-stabilizing effect on me, reminders that things can “go south” very quickly. Against that troubling backdrop a vivid good thing happened. Very early in February I said to Russell, “are we going to do a Valentines card this year?” Last year we had experimented with that and had fun. We don’t do so well at Christmas cards. Russ was certain that we needed to do that. With some hesitation in me I brought my laptop to bed, went on the Mixbook site and with a cup of coffee at my side I got to creating a card. I took the morning to do it. It felt like a really creative act and allowed me to think about love and what I believe and how it plays out in our family. The process I worked through and the thought of sharing the card with people had me feeling something I realized I had not felt in a long time. I felt happy. Its sad to say that someone as blessed as I am was not really feeling happy, but there were clouds for me to reckon with that were very real. In the creation of the card, the sun shone through brightly. The first day I dumped a bunch in the box at the post office I felt like I had a miracle in my hands, our efforts were going forth and would be literally touched by people we love in many different places. How could I not smile? Canada Post was part of our team and working its magic again.

We had to work at getting the cards ready in batches. We were under time pressure if we were to have them in mailboxes by the 14th. This was an early morning work bee. I got up first and borrowed Russell’s robe. When he got up and wanted something warm to sit in he grabbed what he could see, my poncho. I love this quirky picture of him, he has an Elton John vibe going on with those fancy reading glasses he is wearing and a draping and fringy garment. He gave me permission to share this photo.
It is our tradition to eat cinnamon buns and bacon for breakfast on Valentines Day. In years past we set the table with a few special touches. With just the three of us home it was breakfast on the counter instead. Thanks to a January 4th trip to Minot, where the Valentines candy displays were up and full of such fun things, I had this twix bar set in my closet just waiting for this day! The kids and Ron and a few of our people in town got treats too.
Russell took this picture of me in the afternoon on Valentines Day. I was entertaining at one of our local nursing homes. It was really a fun time for me. I love singing, the songs were well received, old friends were there and it felt right.

The day after Valentines our neighbor Steven suffered a serious heart attack. After a few days of intensive intervention he passed. This is a shocking and deeply saddening event. He was just 60 and very beloved. I was asked to conduct the funeral. The preparations for that, the anxieties I hold about such things, dealing with the sadness in our own household, all of this… really shaped last week. The funeral was held in the same hall that we were in two weeks prior for the fundraiser. Steven was at that fundraiser. It is his grand-daughter that is so sick. This family is holding so much right now. The ties that bind us mean we are all holding many thoughts, feelings and prayers and the community spaces where we gather hold so many stories and so many memories.

This is another one of Sarah’s Nova Scotia heart images. I post this one here in honor of Steven and his huge heart. It was a privilege to speak of it at the funeral.

Russ and I headed to Brandon this week to pick up springs for our jeep. Russ is getting ready for calving season. The routines of that make his jeep one of his best friends. Also, he has been asking Jill and I to help him make his chaps more workable. They were made with solid leather to the bottom and with age were getting increasingly stiff and messing with his boots. We took heavy scissors and those chaps with us on our parts run to Brandon, I used much of my passenger time making the bottoms into fringe, which will work much better for Russ. I got a blister from my efforts. Is that not love? Meanwhile he drove terrible ice covered roads most of the way home, he kept us out of the ditch but barely. It was one of those warm and windy days where loose snow catches and freezes on the highway and we weren’t expecting it. Russ was thrilled with the chaps renovation.

The chaps

As I finish up this post I am struck by a couple things. This is a heavy post and it contains more info about other people’s stories than I am used to sharing. Maybe that is the truth about this theme, love, it is a heavy matter. We all need it. Its easy and its hard. Its costly. And how do we talk about love without realizing our connection to one another? Other people’s stories are a part of our stories when love is in the mix. (About that……I don’t believe I have shared anything about others struggles that was not already publicly shared, respecting people’s privacy is important to me.)

I have one final image to tie this up, it is one of Sarah’s pictures. Perhaps Sarah’s alertness to heart shapes in nature can be a reminder and an invitation to me, and to all of us, to be alert, on the look-out, for signs of love where they are found, sometimes in surprising places. As we capture them in our minds, our memories, clouds get pushed aside I think. As plentiful as these rocks of infinite shapes are on the beach, there is evidence of love everywhere.

A Big Day

It has been a weird, really weird set of days. The result of all that weirdness is that I have not been able to blog. Today was a bad day, it was also a good day and it has had the effect of getting me back to the blog, back to saying, “here is what its like to be me, ranching with my family.”

This morning our hired man Ron discovered a fire burning in the wall of our shop. That has completely shaped our experiences today. Can I share with you a bunch of captioned pictures? I think that will help to illustrate how it was a bad day but also a good day.

Russ got up before me this morning and was chatting loudly with the dogs when I rather growled from my pillow, “I was hoping to sleep in today.” That was about 6:30. Russ discovered we had no water supply to the house but found that the kettle was full. He brought me a coffee and started getting dressed to go suss out the water situation. I got my head on straight before our outside guard dog came in to tell me about her night and get some love. She was just so dear that I had to take her picture. This was at 6:59am. Within the minute we would get a phone call from Ron that the shop was on fire. We could see the shop easily from our bedroom window but did not see any evidence of fire. Ron was on his way to the wellhouse when he noticed the smell and then the fire as he passed by the shop. Russ called 911 but passed me the phone, he quickly finished getting dressed. Talking to 911 can be frustrating, you just want them to dispatch help but there are necessary questions to get answered. Its also a call you just never want to be making. My tracker watch tells me my stress shot up to 100 at that point.

This next picture is so random but at 7:17 Jill messaged the family chat wondering if someone could send her the recipe for biscuits. I was thinking, “not right now Jill, the farm is on fire.” But then thought again, I was up, I had nothing I could do, why not pull out my recipe file and get it to her. So I sent this at 7:19 and said nothing about what was going on. Its always tricky to know when and how to share hard news. I wanted a few facts before weighing down my far away girls.

At 7:23 the first fire truck pulled in. That is amazing. We are a 12 minute drive from the firestation in Carnduff. The volunteer firefighters woke up, got to the station, suited up and got to us 23 minutes after we dialled 911. It makes my stomach quiver as I write this. It just reminds me of how incredibly vulnerable we felt in those moments. Russ was out there thinking there is no way we can save the shop, we had acetylene, tractors and a skid steer all in the shop. We had our diesel and gas fuel tanks about 12 feet away from the fire, outside, and we had the heating fuel tank for the shop outside but right where the fire appeared to be. The worst case scenarios were running through Russell’s head. This was the picture I could grab from our front door. This picture was taken at 7:36am.

Russ grabbed this next picture from his perspective on the ground. I am not sure what time it was. The shop was absolutely smoke filled. The firefighters wore breathing tanks, when one got close to empty its alarm went off and the sound of that is something we have discussed a few times today. About these volunteers……Russ says, “when they come, they are your friends, neighbors and family, they come with so much love and respect for those they are helping.” They know their stuff and did amazing work, by 8am everything felt so much better.

Russ took this next picture of the firefighters assessing roof status, and the possibility of any fire remaining in the roof I believe.

I could not watch this action non-stop. Just too much. So I bumbled around the house, it had no power by that point, and put stuff away and kept myself busy. I prayed that the firefighters would have the wisdom, safety and strength that they needed. I kept checking back and at one point saw a truck whiz through the yard that looked just like Laurie’s truck. It was. He had heard from work that the fire department had requested water trucks and he came straight out. He is a person whose presence puts the rest of us at ease. I am sure that is why Russell grabbed this picture of him when everyone could breathe just a little easier.

When the fire department left this was the exterior damage. They were so careful to cause as little damage as they could while still rooting in to the fire itself. That huge smoky scene from the hour before looks unrelated to this patch of damage. There the heating fuel tank is, dangerously close. Russ had snuck in and turned the valve off on this tank before the fire department got there. He found it fairly warm.

A wee story: we had a guest in the house this morning. He had never visited our home before. As he rounded the corner from the hall into the kitchen he let out a small gasp, he admired the house. Russ walked him into the living room. With my back turned as I stood at a counter fussing over some coffee preparations I heard Russell say this, “my wife comes from Saskatoon, when she was a girl her family had a cottage where she spent her summers. Then she went and married a rancher. No time for lake holidays. So when we built this house we made her a room that feels like her cabin. And sometimes we have 30 cowboys home for supper, it all works out really good.” It is hard to describe how I felt as I heard those words of Russell’s. It was warm. It was soothing. It was a gift. What I heard in those sentences was the message, “I see her, I want her to feel good, I want to give her what I can.” I kept at my work, and fought back my tears. It was the best moment of my day.

The picture below is our cabin in the early 80s when it was being finished. It looks like we were having a reading party on the front lawn. The big deal about that space was what those big upper windows did for the space.

Back to 2022………the rest of this day has been spent taking care of business. I called in about insurance. I hate those kinds of jobs. Russ handled all he could relating to the fire and then turned to the reality that we had hungry animals to get fed. It was a huge stressor. A major piece in the day unfolding as well as possible is that our electrician re-arranged his life and was back and forth enabling us to keep going as much as possible by re-working electrical realities so that it was possible and safe to power our well house, fuel pumps and eventually light and some power to the shop. We could therefore keep our watering bowls going and our underground lines from freezing and get some heat in the shop. Major. It was -27 with the windchill today. At one point Russell phoned me and said, “when you see Morgan you gotta brag him up. He has done stellar today. He drove through a quarter section that had not been plowed, and didn’t get stuck, he backed into the chute for the first time in his life and didn’t get stuck there either, he got on his horse, went and found the cow and ran her into the corral and he loaded her into the trailer. Pretty good for a guy with a learners license. He was awesome. ” Later Russ called me and said, “I know its been a stressful day but you gotta go outside and see the sundog, its a double, its a little piece of beauty for us at the end of this hard day.” I was on my way out anyways so I went to the end of the lane to grab the picture. I didn’t catch the fullness of the sundog at all because I spotted Morgan backing into the corral to drop off the cow he had loaded at the calving pasture. Our poor cow Mary is having a tough time. She needs some TLC. Morgan handled getting her home. I was able to catch this picture of him in action with his trusty sidekick Coffee dog at his side.

The amazing sky with the lingering sundogs.

Once I got the sundog pic I went and called to Morgan, who had Mary unloaded in that short time, “Morgan, if I could make you any dessert you wanted tonight, what would it be?” There was a pause. From across the corral he called back, “rice krispie cake with brown sugar icing.” I headed straight in to do that. Earlier in the day I had been on the phone with Russell, I said to him, “I am thinking of making you butter tarts, would that suit you?” He said, “honestly, I don’t even care. I am so grouchy. I just wanna go to bed and I have 12 hours work left to do.” He wasn’t nasty, just honest. So Morgan got first choice on dessert action. He was pretty happy with the cake although this picture is not the best depiction of that.

By the time dessert rolled around Russ was pretty cheered up. Jeremy our electrician had worked his magic, Russ had some very supportive phone calls and our cows were fed. One of our friends had delivered hot pizza to us for supper. It was so delicious. The world felt okay. Russ was a little more interested in dessert. When he heard brown sugar icing was being prepped he suggested throwing some cookie dough slices in the oven (we bought a prepped box from Costco), he thought this was the perfect time to try a combo he had been thinking about….brown sugar icing on macadamia nut cookies, I believe he gives this Russ recipe a 9/10.

There were so many many emotions that were a part of our day. The one that breaks through and colors everything is gratitude. Is gratitude an emotion? Is it a perspetive or an action or is it all three? I am not sure. But this could have turned out so differently, we are reminded that every single day a very large volume of things goes right, today was not a day when every thing worked as it was designed to, something buggered up in our shop, but it happened at a time of day when we were pretty quickly able to notice and get help. We got help. So much help. So much help that came from caring hearts. No-one was hurt. We lost very little. We are so grateful.

Sorry this is so long. Just a bit more…..

Russ tested postive for Covid on Wedneday. I have remained negative despite our decision not to isolate from each other. He has been sick but has kept working almost as much as usual. Today he is five days past the start of symptoms so he can be out and about again. Kindv’e handy with 17 firefighters in our yard.

Jill (moved to Regina) and Gina (moved to Toronto) are both doing great and we are so happy, proud and relieved. However, having them both leave for such permanent destinations within 8 days of each other has been quite a bit harder on me than I thought it would be. I believe Russ has only cried once. Morgan is keeping his opinion about all this close to his chest.

Good night for December 18th, signing off from the Bar MW Ranch.

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.