Life in the country

Location: Newcastle, Ontario, Canada

Born in Toronto, a degree in Psychology at Carleton in Ottawa, ran a photography business for 10 years from a studio in Parkdale, Toronto, apprenticed with a stained glass artist, and, and, and...

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Shifting the focus...

Tim and Owen looking
out the dining room window

Mid-June, 2005
I've noticed the last couple of posts are unfocused. I realized that I was approaching them differently than before. Before I wrote, then looked for images that coincided with what I had written. Later I started looking at images first and got greedy and wanted to put them on and find words later. Doesn't work well for my train of thought so I'm going back to words first.

So, life is different in the country. Is this news only to me? Well, I knew that life was different but I did not know how much I would need to change. I am very visual. I have a hard time keeping in touch with people I cannot see, I liked watching the world go about its business in Toronto where we would stoop sit every morning watching the funny hesitant but rushed march to work for many.

Owen was my student of stoop sitting and a very eager pupil he was. So amazing to have someone NEVER question the validity of what you say. “Stoop sitting? What's that Mama? When do we do it? Why? How long?” Not, “....sounds kinda stupid to me, just sitting there, not even really comfortable on that step, just looking at boring people plod by. Not for me Mama, got trucks to push around instead.” So our studies began.

Finnie a hapless participant who had no say in the matter. Well, actually she has a set of lungs on her that rival Cecilia so that's just not so. More that at the age she was, say five months, she was pretty obliging and just wanted to be with us....always. At first just for a couple of minutes during the small window of time where the front steps were pre-warmed by the sun. Then when that was a good thing by Owen testing his determination by sitting when it was raining a bit, or out back where the activity levels were much diminished, where we'd just wait for something to happen, like a leaf dropping. Totally acceptable activity in the kids' minds. Nice as I liked to observe the world with company sometimes.

Finnie observing the world one way, the doll another.

But back to the change. The country was like sitting on our back stoop. Not as much happened and as much as that's ok sometimes it lacked the luster to have us do it every day like we did in Toronto. So we had to be the creators of our entertainment more, well, sometimes and mostly we needed to learn how to observe in the country. More macro, like spotting a green caterpillar on the underside of a leaf and watching him not move for a bit. Or watching an ant try to drag his dead behemoth brother down underground even though the opening was too small. We needed to focus our attention, squint the eyes a bit more. Then there was scanning. Nicer to do in the country as it was calmer. Scanning in the city was so busy that your senses got overloaded but out our back field the shades of green blending as you moved your head, the trees breaking the predominant hue with black and brown and sharp shapes, then occasionally a movement that wiped your head around. I still miss city stoop sitting though. Nice pastime.

Finnie and Owen in our chariot. This attached to the back of my bike and allowed us to be somewhat spontaneous as the destination was less important than the journey.

Another big thing which I still can't get into the mode of is planning. In the city we could act like sloths for the good part of a day and then up and head out at say, 2 in the afternoon, to see Allen's gardens, or Chinatown, or the museum and still be back in time for dinner. In the country, travelling takes up significant time and therefore you can't just up and go late in the day. Also we found that our uncharted lives did not meet the same scenario when we tried to “drop in” on friends or family. Not working was in conflict with many people who did work or had busy lives. Somehow, in the city, that didn't seem to be as much of a problem, maybe because if we were coming to visit it might only be for half an hour, an amount of time that people could often find. But if they knew we were coming from the country they wanted to give us significant time and that couldn't be found at the spur of a moment. A bit aimless, we blinked at the difference and wondered if we could change. Well, I wondered if I could change. The kids just looked at me, their entertainment director and asked what next? I still haven't got my head around this one. I really like to know how I feel on a given day before I plan things. But I see most people following the more choreographed approach so I try.

Sort of like gardening. Not much happens quickly and I would need to learn to give things time. Patience, Carrie, its growing, doesn't need a poke with that stick or more water or digging up to see if the seed is still there. And most gardeners plan their garden on paper and select their color schemes and think about all the seasons and what they want. I just gathered plants I liked and stuck them in the soil, knowing I could and would move them later if it wasn't the right spot. I was heartened when I started reading, 'Montrose, life in a garden' by Nancy Goodwin. When asked how she gardened she said, from the knees. And she's a real gardener.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Of crows and tourists and forks in the road

June, 2005
Finnie and the crows shared a love of the birdbath water. We could hear the crows cawing over the right to sit in the birdbath. This was a bird I had previously thought a quite cool and interesting bird. I would come to think of them as somewhat malevolent as I would see them tormenting smaller birds and occasionally taking young from their nests. Desperate parents tried valiantly to catch up to these large black birds as they easily escaped with the young in their claws. They would gather in groups cawing menacingly. Intelligent birds, I think but they added an uneasy presence.

Finnie loved to dip her dolly of the moment in the water, or fetch rocks to put in it, or to taste it, even if admonished for doing so.

The flower garden was beginning to resemble a garden. Some flowers were blooming but the sparseness was obvious. Time would fill it out but I was doing my level best to speed things up by planting any flowers that came my way and I could not go by a garden center without stopping to see what they had. I came to appreciate yarrow for its long blooming time and bright spots of color amongst the rest. The one I had was called sunset or autumn or something like that. A strong red, orange color. I had wild roses from my parents cottage, siberian irises from garden centers and from my mom, peonies, roses moved from another part of the property, lavendar, sage and lemon verbena, to name a few.

Siberian iris at full bloom.

A salmon peony. More pinkish than salmony, this was an expensive buy and a bit disappointing but I would wait till next summer to see if it would evolve. I did like its delicate petals though.

Sunset? yarrow. Hardy, long-blooming and rich colors. This plant would grow on me and I would search out more.

St. Vincent resided in a large patch of mint that was planted previous to us. Just a few steps from the deck, I drank alot of mint tea, heavily sugared, reminiscent of the trip to Egypt Tim and I took and where I was proposed to by Tim, in the temple of Queen Hatshepsut.

Unbeknownst to a large group of German tourists that descended on the small 15 x 25 foot temple at precisely the wrong moment. Tim had placed the ring box on a ledge and I had just noticed it, or rather noticed the incongruity of this blue velvet box on the rough-hewn stone ledge in a room with little else in it, looked at Tim and then the tourists entered. Poor Tim, unable to continue, we waited till the tour guide had finished his speech, and the tourists had tromped out, before Tim could try to reestablish the mood and ask the necessary question. Couldn't say no to the lad after an affrontery like that, could I?

Little did we know that that event would lead to two children and living in the country on 17 acres. My gosh, the choices we make and how divergent the different directions become as time and opportunities create such a distance from the original fork in the road.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Golf balls and our personal stairway to heaven

June, 2005
Someone's staircase found in the woods. That a tree would offer a perfect incline to allow one to just walk up it is so darn nice you just have to laugh. Stairway to where? To a place one wouldn't be able to access under normal circumstances, I believe and precisely because of this, worthy of the work somebody put into it. Why haven't I tried climbing it yet, I wonder?

I adore lilacs and want not a single branch of them but so many that the house positively stinks of their fecund aroma. Just take a moment to imagine the smell of burying your face in such a large bouquet, drinking deeply of a rich, dryish, almost lavendar odor filling the nostrils. Breath deeply as the time of their bloom is so short.

Me, in our front forest walk. The previous owners, at one time, considered tree farming. They planted trees too tightly together, thinking they would be harvested before they matured, but then decided against this endeavour. The result is good for us as that was long enough ago that at the front of our property is a now a grove of mature trees large enough to give one the sense of forest without the effort of walking to the back of the property. They also protect us somewhat from the road and its traffic.

The problem though is that some of the trees are choked by their close neighbours. We would need to consider culling them to help them. But the thought of cutting down trees when we wanted more was not something we could quite get our heads around. It was in this mini-forest that I found golf balls and the rhubarb plants we made into rhubarb and strawberry jam.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

inside out…

Late May, 2005

So, as to the light the moth is drawn, so were we to the field. Tim talked about having a back door that made that distinctive wheeeeee.......BANG as the spring stretched and then recoiled. We needed one here since the door opened so much. Partially I would want to recall that eeeeee.....BAM in the winter time. An auditory connection to the summer. Tim made a lower handle for the inside the kids could manage and I screwed a red bell on a string to the outside.

The cats, we had four, became curious and we had to watch ourselves as they would try to escape as well. Cruel of us really, if we could, why not them. They were city cats, indoor cats, had been all their lives. I'd heard stats on the life expectancy of cats indoors and outdoors. Up to 20 odd years indoors, 5 if they went outside. But quality of life should enter the equation. We might need to rethink our position on this but at this point the closest they got was a short leash tied to the porch or sniffing at the door.

We had a rough deck as you stepped out. It had peeling paint and old trellis for screening. I desperately wanted to tear it all down but the floor and have it open. Ideally with steps running all around so lots of people could sit on them and it would make it that much easier to get to the field. But at the time, Finnie was still not completely safe with open heights so we left it. Still the warm boards were inviting and we used it alot. Owen and I are looking out at the field and the beginnings of the flower garden beyond the arbour.

There were two red maples outside our dining room windows. They were in their glory. The young maple saplings mimicked them only in placement. Otherwise scrawny and dwarfed by these healthy red maples, they were what I hoped our silver maple babies would achieve with time. A clothesline had been attached to one how many years ago I could not tell but many as the blue cord had become embedded in the branch it was attached to. I couldn't get it out, couldn't free the limb from this leash for an immobile life.

Meanwhile, the energy applied during the winter to the inside of our house, to unpack, paint, put up lights, fill with stuff, too much stuff, was soon redirected to the exterior. The change was noticeable. Clutter, I should say, more clutter, amassed itself on flat surfaces. Decorating projects were left half done. I could not get interested in indoor projects but could happily tackle two or three simultaneous jobs outside. So be it. Winter could pick up the slack of the interior jobs. Summer was beckoning and I was listening.

Of rhubarb and decaying trees...

Finnie and Owen with the rhubarb stalks from the six, count 'em six, rhubarb plants we found on our land.

May, 2005
Since I was taking care of the children while Timothy was at work I was with the kids always. 24/7. I have not been away from either of them overnight, other than when my parents, Jean and Murray, took care of Owen when Finnie was being born. And that is how I like it. I guess, a bit of time here or there to focus on only one thing would be nice but since that couldn't be relied on I needed to find a way that I could do some gardening and spend great hours with the kids at the same time. It did mean allowing most projects to remain unfinished. My rusty garden tools attest to that. It meant letting the kids help, which they were eager to do. Finnie's help comprised of stepping on new plants, digging holes in newly laid grass clumps, watering freely on us and rarely on plants and I loved her for it. I mean, if she wasn't having fun, none of us were and certainly no progress in the gardens occurred. The same for Owen although he was so determined to really help that I did try to give him sincere jobs that we could note later with Timothy or that he could see himself that he could be proud of. He was especially kind to worms. You know, in trying to deal with that natural urge in little kids to kill ants and bugs, he did seem to isolate worms as worthy of life and rescued numbers of them, often saved from myself, having to lurch to the side to not step on one Owen had deemed in danger by my foot.

It was so easy to connect to how I thought about nature as a child, when I was with Owen and Finnie. I loved mucking about, wasn't afraid of snakes and could imagine myself in a wolfden (while playing under a bush) with the best of them. We would go for walks in the forest, Finnie in our three-wheel stroller I found in the garbage in Toronto (because the brakes weren't working, supposedly), snacks stored below, and books also. We talked of having caches in the woods. Places where we could store some books or toys to play with and then leave there till next time. We never did do it but it was a good idea. We tried to find out where the deer lived in our forest but the closest we got was to some flattened grass patches and if we were lucky, the sound of them disappearing into the distance. One time, we surprised an owl and later Tommy, my friends' son, found a large feather from it, having wafted down to the forest floor after his sudden exit. Sometimes Finnie would fall asleep in the stroller and then Owen and I would play nearby, either under the massive ferns or in an old rotten tree stump of what must have been a huge tree once. So soft now that Owen would clamber up its inside and throw handfulls of soft mulch down from above. Nice for him to change the perspective and be above me. Nice to be able to show him how something once so strong and inpenetrable was now because of rain and insects, something so delicate that Owen's foot treads would knock off chunks with every step.

Finnie, being a year a bit, mosty wanted to just be close to us. But she liked to feel things, rip things, and see things. The forest was big enough for some of her grabs from the stroller, or when she would run amok in the back field. The back field was close to a highway so we could see the cars rushing by. Funny, especially for me as I was off from work, to be sitting back there, listening to bees, watching other people hurry, lying in the lie-down field with my kids. I was very lucky.

Our bunny, brave and curious. We would see him often throughout the summer.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Latent yellow…

May, 2005
Dandelions took over our field. Hard to not redefine one's image of this "weed" when it gave us such splendour, such riot of colour. Finnie liked to rip their heads off and mush them between her fingers. She would learn quickly the butter test.

Owen at the door of the barn. The chariot awaits. Our three wheeled bicycle stroller would take the kids behind us on many trips to the Bondhead cemetary. One of our favorite family jaunts.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Transplanting lives…

May, 2005
Kåre planting some basswood
seedlings culled from the forest.

Some basswood seedlings
and cotyledons in the pot.

May, 2005
For all the abundance of plants and trees indigenous to our land I found myself bringing still more to our place. Small bedding plants for the new flower garden either bought or culled from others' gardens. Many brought plants for me just knowing I was starting a flower garden. I bought organic vegetable and herb seeds from a friend running a hydroponic store in Toronto called GROW. I went to a local garden shop near our old house run by an elderly lady and her daughters. That's where I found the lemon verbena plants with which I had developed a serious love affair. Then, from our old house, since the new owner did not want them, I dug up maple saplings, children of the lovely 150-year-old silver maple that we had to cut down.

They had been put in a planter box filled with mushroom compost and had been forgotten for three years. They now stood about six-feet tall and their roots long since punched through the netting at the bottom of the box.The kids played in our old backyard while I went to work unearthing them. I dug them out feeling quite sure I had compromised the root system too much, but quickly wrapped their root balls and stuck them in the back of the wagon. Off we took to return to Newcastle, trees sticking out the back of our car on the highway.

I planted them on either side of a dirt road leading to the barn. I had learned from Tim's mom Hilary that the best way to plant a tree or plant was to dig the hole, fill it with water, put the roots into the soupy mixture and then fill with soil and compost. That may have saved the trees as this was a summer of hardly any rainfall. It was a VERY satisfying experience to bring part of what was important about our old home to the country with us where these trees, if they survived the transplanting, could thrive unfettered. I later went back to dig up two ancient forsythia bushes with Tim's dad Kåre and brought these out as well.

Tim's dad is a Silvaculturist. Works with silver I thought. No. Works with trees and forests. Quite respected in his field he still travelled abroad after his retirement to give his thoughts on tree management, most recently in China. A good thing I married Timothy as this gave me access to his Dad's knowledge in this area. He came to see our land in late April and stayed into May. We stood there on our front porch proudly showing him our new home. We already knew we were talking to the converted as he is not a city man. He immediately put himself to work. If he was not freeing our many paint-layered windows to allow the fresh air in, he was in our forest collecting tree seedlings to transplant in a section of my vegetable garden. This was in the hopes that we could bolster them and then replant them in our back pasture, slowly over time returning it to the woods it once was. It was extremely satisfying to see Kåre learn something new from our land. He came upon the cotyledon, the sead leaf of the basswood or linden tree. Very different from the later leaves. Unless you knew it you would never guess it was a young basswood. He had never seen this stage of the basswood before and now I knew how to make a silvaculturist happy.

I was beginning to see why farming kept one busy. Two aspects I had not considerd so time consuming and demanding were weeding and watering. It made sense, in our small lot in the city those factors couldn't get too serious but with a new and large vegetable garden, flower garden, ten little maple saplings, many little lilac trees I literally found myself, running from one plant to another, trying to take time when I was not with the kids to keep my new transplants alive. Not knowing what to expect from the land in the form of water I had planted an awful lot at a time when they all needed heavy watering at least daily. Luckily our well water provided most of what I needed but I could be found most any time of the day trying to unknot my lengths of hose or more often, tangled within them myself. I caught Kåre laughing at me one time as he watched me running to check if the kids had enough lunch, then barrelling outside to drag 200 odd feet of hose from the new raspberry canes to the wee maples to the lilacs to the flowers to the vegetables.

And this is where I bow low, scraping really, to the dry ground, in front of Lee Valley. I came in one time looking, again, a little too fervent. A knowing glance from them had me pivoted and placed in front of their irrigation display. Angels wept. Dripper hoses, soaker hoses, all that attached to a mainframe hose that then attached to your garden hose. Merely set it up and turn on your water supply. The time difference? From hours a day of running around to perhaps a total of five minutes to turn on, and then a couple of hours later, turn off the water supply. Life in the garden changed for me that day. Apparently other fervent folk were sharing my reverence of Lee Valley as well as, with the low rainfall, a lot of their irrigation parts were continously sold out that summer.

So, my vegetables and raspberry canes were drip fed water in a slow method that made sure most got to the roots and did not run off. The maples got another cool invention from LV, orange spikes with holes in them that were attached to the opening of juice containers, the large 5 gallon ones, with duct tape. Then the spike was filled with sand and inverted so the spike went deep into the ground near the saplings. The juice container was then filled with water which slowed by the sand would trickle out of the holes in the spikes to water the saplings. It didn't replace me but reduced the panic level.
One could go positively batty about the devices for watering but I hadn't lost the perspective that the plants were where my attention should stay. So I still ran about but it was manageable on a good day. And I haven't even got started on weeding…

Owen and Kåre
studying an acorn
at Orono Park.