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October 2006.

Anyone who has seen the movie The Money Pit, with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long, will recall the hilarity as they got a seemingly too good to be true deal on a magnificent old country estate, only to discover that their newly purchased dream was far more dilapidated than it had appeared. The antics that follow as they attempt to restore the old lady to her former glory, all the while sinking deeper and deeper into "The Money Pit", are side splittingly funny whether you have ever owned an old house or not, but to some of us who do, (on a much less grand scale in our case) it is a film which provides comic relief from the reality of living with an aging and ailing home.

On October 3, 2006, we will have lived in this house exactly twelve years. In the summer of 1994 we looked at many farm houses, all shapes and sizes, some with a few acres, and some with larger properties, barns and varying numbers of outbuildings. The one thing they all had in common, aside from being within a one hour radius of the military base where Randy worked, was that anything we had found within our price range needed a considerable amount of work, which also translated into a lot of cash. Still undaunted by the prospect of purchasing an older home that needed work, we were however met with a dilemma. We had not yet found the perfect combination of a home large enough to house a family with five young children, plus a live in grandma and a lot of pets, and with a property which was well suited to our dream of having horses and other livestock. By late summer we despaired of ever finding the right farm, and then one day completely by accident, we stumbled on what was to become Treherne Farm. It was a Sunday afternoon and with the realty office closed, I flipped through the MLS book, unable to locate this apparent gem. (We would later learn that it was an exclusive listing.) A quick stop by the office window revealed photos and the basic details - price, size, number of bedrooms and acreage size. Randy and I could hardly wait for Monday morning to arrive so that we could arrange a viewing. A few hours later we got our first look at her. A two story, five bedroom (one has since been claimed as a family room), one and a half bathroom house built in 1922, (the year of my mum's birth) and recently updated by the current owners. By comparison to everything else we had looked at, it didn't seem possible that this attractive and dignified old place with upgraded wiring and plumbing, was in the same ballpark price wise. Aware that others were looking, we quickly put in an offer, and just as quickly, it was accepted. A few weeks later we were packed and loading up the moving truck!

One of the first jobs the day we moved in, was to set up our two 50 gallon aquariums one above the other on their stand, and get the fish out of the containers and back into their homes. With the tanks in place I set about the task of filling them with water. All was fine until the first tank was half full, when with disbelieving eyes I saw one leg of the wrought iron stand slowly sinking beneath floor level. Frantically bucketing water back out of the listing tank, I yelled for Randy, who went to investigate. I heard chuckling as he surveyed the floor from below. There had been an old stovepipe hole through the original floorboards, and when it had been removed, a thin piece of tin had been nailed over the hole under the carpet. I had placed the stand so that one back leg sat squarely in the middle of it, and as the weight increased, the leg began to press the tin down through the hole. A block of wood in the hole, a couple of solid pieces underneath to brace it, some hammering, and all was well again. Crisis over!

Two days after we moved in, Randy who was still in the army, had to go away for a few weeks. I busied myself with unpacking, organizing, and hanging pictures on the walls. I was blissfully unaware that my dream was about to start unraveling.  It began when the dug well, which the previous owners had told us "never ran dry", gurgled and refused to give up another ounce of water. The following morning we had plenty of water - loads of it running all over the kitchen floor from beneath the very old refrigerator! In fact both of the ancient kitchen appliances had serious problems, so when Randy called home and heard the woeful tale, he suggested I go and buy new appliances, and get an estimate for a drilled well. I was not one to make major purchases without Randy being there, however I realized that he would not be home for weeks yet, so a fridge and stove were purchased and delivered, and a few days later, we had a new 155' drilled well, which though it exceeded the estimate by several thousand dollars, has never let us down. Another $10,000. gone, but we had a reliable source of water, and appliances which did not spit sparks or gush water! Not so bad I suppose.

The cold weather arrived and we began using our wood furnace. Wood heat is lovely, and as I sat here enjoying the toasty house one frosty morning, I heard a strange roaring noise and a loud bang, followed by a terrible clattering in the chimney. I raced to the basement and shut the damper. Once the fire was out, a repair man was called, and he confirmed that the chimney, which we had been told was cleaned at the end of the previous burning season, in fact hadn't been. The resulting fire blew the tiles, leaving no option but to have the damaged tiles removed, and a new metal insert put in. The oil furnace, which we had been told "ran great", blew cold air and had holes in the heat exchanger, and was the next casualty on the ever increasing list of things that needed replacing. 

The winter was uneventful, but lurking in the back of my mind was the septic system We had stupidly taken everything the previous owners said at face value, and so had not thought about having it pumped before the ground froze. Now I lay awake nights in terror, worried that it would back up before we could get it pumped in spring. When April arrived I breathed a sigh of relief, however I breathed prematurely. Removing my laundry from the washing machine one morning, I was struck by a strange and very unpleasant odour. I put it all back into the machine and washed it a second time, but was dismayed that the odour remained. It did not take long to figure out that the waste water was backing up the system right into the machine! Randy was loudly summoned to the basement and holding a bucket up under the main exit pipe in the basement, he unscrewed the cap, only to have filthy water spew forth and shoot forcefully right over the top of the bucket and onto the basement floor. Horrified at what I was seeing, chunks of matter that I didn't wish to try to identify, flying past Randy who was laughing hysterically as he tried to stem the flow, I cringed at this latest disaster, and momentarily, inwardly cursed the previous owners, who not surprisingly, after selling, had headed for the west coast leaving no forwarding address. I was furious with Randy for finding this so humorous, but digging to expose the septic tank while waiting for the pumping truck, ended his amusement. To our shock, the "septic system", consisted of a very old rusted tin box, with a few railway ties for runoff. The pumping completed, we filled the dirt back in and called a contractor to arrange to put in a new concrete tank, and a septic bed. We had been in the house all of six months, and had seen just under $20,000. disappear into our own money pit. We still had a barn to build to house our recently purchased and soon to be delivered ponies. We abandoned the plan to build on the old poured concrete foundation which remained from the original barn, and settled for a smaller pole barn instead.

With most of the major things now replaced, we began working on smaller projects such as painting, and pulling up all the old rugs, every square inch of which had been glued down! Twelve years later we still plod along doing little bits of work here and there. There is not a level floor in the house, which is typical of antiquated farmhouses, but we also began to discover that something as simple as installing a door at the end of a hallway, gives rise to a whole new set of problems with walls and doorways that are not square either. A small job becomes a major one more often than not, but if our enthusiasm at tackling these things is not what it once was, at least the satisfaction of accomplishing them is. 

There will absolutely need to be a new roof in the near future, and we will soon need to start replacing the old inefficient windows, some of which have rotting frames. The old kitchen cupboards need to be taken out and replaced, not for aesthetics, but because a slow water leak has ruined them. New floors would be nice someday but are not a necessity. All in all this house has been somewhat of a nightmare. It continues to be a source of frustration at times, and a drain on resources, however despite all of this, I can still close my eyes and picture it completely finished. Someday it will happen, and every bit of trim, and every new board, even if we go months or years in between projects, moves us a bit closer to seeing the dream fulfilled. 

With all her faults, this old girl is ours. Many beloved pets who have passed on are buried here. Our children have grown up here and Lord willing we will see our grandchildren play here also. The tiny maple trees we have planted will grow and tower over the place long after we are gone. I do hope that whoever inhabits Treherne Farm then, will love and appreciate it as much as I do!

Rebecca  

September 2006.

Well after intending to keep my letter page current through the summer, I have failed miserably! Here we are on the threshold of autumn, and I truly don't know where the weeks and months have gone, but the kids are back at the school books, and the foals will all be weaned at the end of the month. 

Foaling season began early this year with the unexpected arrival of a tiny premature filly on March 5, and along with the task of bottle raising her, the remainder of the foals arrived in quick succession to keep the entire family extremely busy. We are so pleased with the babies this year, and hope that time and work schedules will finally permit us to take some to the shows next year. Debbie thanks for the invite - I look forward to those show weekends together. I will be counting the weeks! Whether I will actually venture into the show ring is another matter, you may have to go find me some nerve from somewhere! : ) 

      

It has been a great summer weather wise, the first year since we moved here in 1994 that we have not had a frost by mid August. Never have we made it to so late in the year without losing the annual flowers to the cold, however despite a light frost on August 30, the morning glory on the archway by the house is as beautiful as ever. I wander outside with my mug of coffee each morning, barefoot along the cool stone path, counting the prolific blooms and delighting in their fleeting beauty. The words of a favourite verse of my mother's often come to mind as I meander about: "The kiss of the sun for pardon, the song of the birds for mirth, one is nearer God's heart in a garden, than anywhere else on earth."  The rising sun briefly illuminates spider webs, heavy with dew, the tiny beads of moisture glinting like diminutive diamonds in the stillness of morning. Delicate adornments on the gate and fence, the breeze soon tatters and tears them apart, leaving the spiders to repeat their work. To the spider it is simply a necessary task which will allow her to trap her next meal, but to me it is another of nature's little wonders to be admired for a moment.

Tiny new toads  hop across the path after a night of devouring insects, to burrow into the cool earth under the flowers for the day. This year has also seen quite a few tree frogs in our garden. We can count on the fingers of one hand the number of these interesting little creatures that we have seen over the years, but for some reason we have had an abundance this year, employing their sticky wee toes to walk up the screen door and climb through the sweet peas.

   Ruby throated humming birds have also been plentiful this year, and no matter how many times I watch these tiny birds coming and going at the feeder and flowers, I will never fail to be amazed by them. Mum often said how astounding it is that such a tiny bird could migrate thousands of miles on a heart the size of a pea, and they truly are tiny miracles. Next year we will hang more than one feeder as there was much competition for a perch, boldly voicing their little squabbles with clicking noises as they arched through the air chasing one another. We even had one baby show up regularly, an absolutely tiny ball of feathers with wings and a long beak, and almost no tail. The hummingbirds seem to have departed now though, and the first flocks of geese have already gone over heading south, beginning the morning after the first frost. 

A small red squirrel kept us amused by moving into one of our birdhouses for the summer and raising a litter of babies. Possibly the same one that raised a litter in our attic two years ago, or one of her offspring. (Reluctant to remove them we had simply waited for them to grow and move out, which they all eventually did.) Mama squirrel could often be seen peeking out of the entrance hole, observing the goings on, perhaps while feeding her brood. She provided much entertainment sitting on the railing and chattering away, scolding Isabelle, our old silver tabby cat as she napped on the sunny verandah. It was a sad day when we realized that mama was no longer around, and we anxiously removed the roof of the birdhouse to find that all six nearly grown babies had expired, apparently not long before. What happened is a mystery. Perhaps the babies died of some ailment and the mother left, or perhaps she was grabbed by the same red tailed hawk that is occasionally nabbing one of our pigeons. Or perhaps Isabelle fancied herself a snack. She is old and does not often hunt anymore, but it is a sad fact of life that cats hunt other creatures, and is one of the reasons we have only one outdoor cat. We were never able to convince Izzy after adopting her, that she should only be an indoor cat. Whatever the cause of the sudden disappearance, we were too late to be of any help to the baby squirrels. Not all endings are happy ones.

  There will be hours to spend yet, watching the goldfish and koi swimming under the water lilies and greedily slurping at the edges of the pond for any missed food pellets, or insects that have fallen into the water. They pass the days eating and sunning themselves, putting on weight which will sustain them through the long cold winter. I have lost count of how many fish there are, definitely more than 60 goldfish of assorted sizes - commons, comets and shubunkins, and about 18 or 20 koi. Their colours gleam as they glide beneath the surface of the jade coloured water, never still for a moment while the sun is up. 

All too soon they and the frogs will be resting, virtually motionless in the deepest parts of the pond beneath the ice, in a state of suspended animation. There will be nothing more than a small bubbling air hole from the circulating pump visible amidst the drifts of snow for many weeks, and then when the first warm days of spring offer to melt away the remnants of winter, the scaled jewels will again surface, assurance that the seasons do not cease to change. Spring will return with welcome sights and sounds, and creature friends who have gone away but for a time.

Rebecca  

 

 

 

 

The Word of God

From desert cliff and mountaintop we trace the wide design,
Strike-slip fault and overthrust and syn and anticline...
We gaze upon creation where erosion makes it known,
And count the countless aeons in the banding of the stone.
Odd, long-vanished creatures and their tracks & shells are found;
Where truth has left its sketches on the slate below the ground.
The patient stone can speak, if we but listen when it talks.
Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the rocks.

There are those who name the stars, who watch the sky by night,
Seeking out the darkest place, to better see the light.
Long ago, when torture broke the remnant of his will,
Galileo recanted, but the Earth is moving still
High above the mountaintops, where only distance bars,
The truth has left its footprints in the dust between the stars.
We may watch and study or may shudder and deny,
Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the sky.

By stem and root and branch we trace, by feather, fang and fur,
How the living things that are, descend from things that were.
The moss, the kelp, the zebrafish, the very mice and flies,
These tiny, humble, wordless things -- how shall they tell us lies?
We are kin to beasts; no other answer can we bring.
The truth has left its fingerprints on every living thing.
Remember, should you have to choose between them in the strife,
Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote life.

And we who listen to the stars, or walk the dusty grade
Or break the very atoms down to see how they are made,
Or study cells, or living things, seek truth with open hand.
The profoundest act of worship is to try to understand.
Deep in flower and in flesh, in star and soil and seed,
The truth has left its living word for anyone to read.
So turn and look where best you think the story is unfurled.
Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the world.

Catherine Faber

 

April 2006.

When our children were small, one of our favourite story books was "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day". The story is as amusing as the title, and though we all kept rooting for poor Alexander, things just kept going wrong for him, even into his second book! Some things in my life seem to be reminders that many things will not go my way, no matter how much I would like them to. One example is the story of "Ashworths and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Bird"!

As the last of five children, I was the only one in my family who had pets. Actually I should rephrase that, I was the only one who had pets that my parents agreed to! In 1965, my father had left England to start work in Canada. (My mum and all of us but my eldest sister would follow a year later.) My parents had never allowed pets, and with dad in Canada, and without mum's knowledge, my sister Sue (child number three) bought a white mouse with her pocket money and sneaked it into the house, where she hid it successfully for about a week. Mum was more than surprised as Sue had never been in any way disobedient or defiant, but the shock over with, the wee mouse became a proper member of the family.

When I went off to school, I met a girl whose family had a pet rat and I was captivated. I began a relentless session of pestering which my parents eventually gave in to, and "Herbert", a butterscotch coloured hooded rat became my very first pet. We had him about four years and I adored him. When he died I was heartbroken, but because of him I have have had a lifelong affinity for these wonderful and highly intelligent creatures. (How anyone could be afraid of them is beyond me) We currently have four sisters, "Ebony", "Peony", "India" and "Willow" 

Following the loss of Herbie, I pestered my way to many more creatures. I had already had fish since the age of seven, and my dad rolls his eyes and recalls how "it started with one fish in a bowl, then the fish was lonely and we needed another, then the bowl was too small and we needed a little aquarium, then we had more space so the obvious thing was to get more fish, and so on", until I had pestered my way from a 2 gallon tank, to a 5, then a 10, and finally a 20 gallon tank! (even 20 gallons is a small tank in our home nowadays! : )

The assorted pets of my childhood included hamsters, mice, newts, a rabbit, a dog, aquatic frogs, all kinds of fish, and any injured or orphaned wild bird or creature I brought home to try to heal or raise and release. The baby squirrel was a story all on it's own! (A horse was never an option since we lived in the city, but I was able to ride frequently at a couple of stables outside Toronto.) There were two things my father put his foot down at however - cats and pet birds. These were the two things he would never allow, no matter how much I pleaded. After Randy and I were married, cats and small birds were both part of the Ashworth household, but something I had always wanted was a parrot. I love them all, Macaws, Cockatoos, and many of the smaller varieties. I fell in love with a particular Alexandrian parrot in a pet shop in North Bay, I was very tempted, but while I was considering the possibility, the bird sold. I told myself I was not meant to have him, and continued to admire any parrots I saw without really feeling attracted to any particular one as I had with the Alexandrian. Until I met Jade! 

In 2004 I was in the pet shop near where I work. I had gone in for pet food of some sort, and then I saw her. A Senegal parrot, one of the smaller parrots but still a nice size. Bright green with a yellow and orange breast and a grey head. She was like a little feathered jewel, and she came to the corner of her cage and cocked her head, asking me to scratch her neck. I obliged, and before I knew it, the shop owner had reached in, and placed the bird on my hand. She was so sweet, very gently nibbling along my arm with her beak, and asking for kisses. I melted and began mulling over how to do this. Her price was nothing like that of a Macaw but still way more than I could possibly justify, even to myself. Then it hit me, I had recently received a pay increase at work which was to be back dated, and the back pay was due in a couple of weeks. Still I would not buy her without going home and speaking to Randy. He was not the least bit thrilled, the last thing he thought we needed was a parrot, however knowing how much I had always wanted one, he agreed. I went back and left a deposit on the bird, which we named Jade, not being sure at the time if it were male or female, and waited for my back pay to come. Finally the day arrived, and Jade was carefully brought home and placed in her roomy cage (formerly occupied years back by a pair of vicious cockatiels) with food, water, new perches, toys, and a swing. Giving her a chance to settle in, the entire family waited their turn to hold and pet this beautiful bird, and for the first few days, her attitude matched her beauty, which turned out to be skin deep. Then if she had had hair, she would have let it down! First she bit me, and everyone in the house thought it was hilarious. I scolded her and she looked almost apologetic, so I forgave her and forgot about it - until she bit me again, much harder this time. The biting became more frequent and very unpredictable, and she had also begun to chomp the children. In sharp contrast, she appeared to absolutely adore Randy, the very person who had not wanted her - oh the injustice of it!! He said it was because he had more neat stuff to play with, and  Jade did have a great time playing with his moustache, beard, glasses and watch, which she eventually broke. But more than that, it was just obvious that she enjoyed being with him, perching on his shoulder, hand or head, and threatening anyone else who got close. Randy became truly amused that he was the sole object of Jade's affection, and I felt cheated. This simply was not fair! I had waited years for a parrot, and now the ungrateful thing had rejected me - ME, who had longed for her! I called my friend Laura, who also had a Senegal parrot, and was a former bird specialist with a large pet company. "You realize it's a done deal?" she said, "Senegals usually bond with one person, and she has chosen Randy. The good news is that now you get to get a bird for yourself!!"  

Grudgingly I began to accept that Jade was Randy's bird, and she became his new pride and joy. I didn't really think about another bird for some time, until on impulse one day (I know - stupid move) I bought a young $29. budgie. This would be my bird, and she was not expensive, so I didn't feel guilty. This too turned out to be a disaster, the little yellow monster, named Miya, hated me too! I was beginning to think that someone was trying to tell me something and gave up. Miya hopped about her cage which sits here by the computer, climbing round her cage, playing with her toys and looking completely innocent. (except when screeching and terrorizing the sweet little finches in the cage next door to hers) I fed and looked after her, even talked to the hateful thing, but it was clear she wanted nothing to do with me. "Fine" I told her, "have it your way." The story of "Ashworths and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Bird" continued. I bought a book about Senegals which explained how jumping or making a noise when they bite just intrigues them and makes them try it again. Well I guess I had become her favourite interactive toy then, but I defy anyone to not make a sound or flinch when that vice-like, razor edged beak latches on to them! I will no longer touch Jade, though I still feed her and clean her cage when Randy has her out of it, but I have to admit that I love to watch her with Randy. She sits on his wrist or shoulder and drinks out of his coffee mug (just what we need, a caffeine addicted bird!) and eats treats from his hand. He can turn her upside down, tickle under her wings, and carry her all over the house with him, and she is completely content. I have told Randy however that he will simply have to live to be 120, as none of the rest of us would touch her! He jokingly tells any of the kids who misbehave, that he will leave Jade to them in his will.

I thought that was it for me and supposedly easy to handle birds, and then just before Christmas it happened again. The same shop where I bought Jade, (I think I went in for bird seed) had several cages of cockatiels. "HA - been there done that, they chewed holes in the T shirt" I thought. One cage however, had just one bird in it, and before I realized it, she was in the corner cocking her head, asking me to scratch her neck. Oh no!!!! I petted her through the bars, and George, the shop owner appeared behind me. "Is she friendly?" I asked, knowing from our own experience that not all "Hand raised" birds, have truly been socialized. Out came the bird, and Randy who was with me that day says he knew the moment I petted her through the bars that we had just bought a cockatiel! 

Not having planned to buy a bird that day, I did not have a cage prepared for her, so with some trepidation, I left a deposit and we went home to get ready for her, and tell the kids. The answer was pretty much the same from all of them - "A friendly bird? I'll believe it when I see it!" Disheartened that the news of this family Christmas present had not been well received, we started throwing about ideas for names for the new addition. The morning of the day we were going back to pick the bird up, I mumbled that we still didn't have a name for her, and without missing a beat, Morgan said "Taboo."  "Why? I asked, to which she replied, "Because any more birds in this house is a taboo subject!" Thinking this was rather funny, we brought home the new bird now dubbed "Taboo", and within a day, the kids realized that there was indeed such a thing as a friendly bird. That poor creature was not put down the first few days she was here, everyone argued over whose turn it was to hold her. If anything she has gotten friendlier, and she squeals at us when she wants attention and isn't getting any! Miya appeared very jealous each time we held the cockatiel, clinging to the front of her cage and screeching at us, but still not letting us touch her. Jade bit Randy for daring to show another bird affection : )  : )  : )  : ) and he now has to be careful not to let her see when he holds Taboo, lest Jade remind him again who is top bird in his life! Miya seemed so desperate for attention now, that we ignored her protests at being caught and began taking her out of her cage for brief periods. The first few episodes resulted in chasing her round the house to catch her before a dog or cat did, or before she landed in one of the fish tanks, but gradually she has calmed down, and will sit on top of her cage (or the  cage of the poor confused finches) while we are at the computer  and sometimes on a hand or shoulder. She bites less now, and at least her bites don't leave us checking to make sure all fingers are still attached. With time she is coming round, but that "Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Bird", will have to be content to have only Randy as a pooping spot, because even though I love her, I know better than to fall for her pretty face, and anyway, my bird story had a happy ending despite her!

Rebecca  

March 2006.

I continually wonder why every last thing we do turns into a huge production that makes us question why we ever wanted a farm in the first place. (something which we never seem to have come up with a reasonable explanation for...other than stupidity!) Since nothing in our lives has ever gone smoothly, there was no reason to assume that a simple three hour drive to a friend's farm and back to pick up our new billy goat would be anything but another attack on our dwindling sanity. 

It seemed straightforward - drive down, place goat in truck, drive home. The pick-up had been arranged the day before, and Randy and I planned to leave home by 7:30am as our friend had to be somewhere later that morning. I was working the evening before, so Randy and the boys were to clean out the pickup and put bedding in it so that Billy would have a comfortable place to ride home. The temperature was approaching minus thirty celcius that evening, and halfway through my shift I received a phone call warning me not to fly up the driveway when I got home from work, as the tractor was dead in the middle. Being a diesel our tractor is sometimes difficult to start when temperatures drop so low, and it had stalled in a place that made entrance or exit by any other vehicle impossible. The mild weather of January had been replaced in early February by howling winds, bitter cold, and absolute heaps of snow. The three foot fence at the front of our house was completely drifted over and out of sight, the driveway was getting deeper and narrower each time it was plowed. There was not much extra room at the sides beyond the width of a vehicle, and the snow on either side was several feet deep. Arriving home at 11:30 that night, I found Randy and the boys bundled up and trying everything they could think of to get the tractor running, but it snorted and protested and firmly refused to budge. I parked the car in front of the motionless machine, and plugged it into the line of extension cords winding their way back to the house. Thank the Lord for block heaters! 

The next morning dawned extremely cold, but sunny and clear for the second day in a row, which was a blessing after some of the storms we had experienced. There was no way however that the tractor was going to start, and liberate the truck we needed for our trip. Perhaps we could go the following week we thought, but with Frank's schedule and Randy's and my own, and the weather, this would not be likely, and mindful that with just a few days left in February, if it got much later in the year the nannies may not cycle for breeding. It would not have mattered much except for the fact that they had not been bred the year before either, and I didn't know if two years off might affect the future success rate. (they say it does for cows...) We were left with only one other choice, which was to transport the goat in the car. We hesitated before deciding this would work.

Several years ago we had owned/leased  a succession of four Ford Aerostar minivans. The last of the two leases was our only vehicle at the time, and had therefore been used for many different jobs. We had removed the back bench seats many times, putting down tarps and bedding, to bring home goats, sheep, piglets, miniature horses, and even Sophie our Jersey cow! When our hay trailer broke we crammed bales of hay into it and despaired of ever getting the bits out of the rug. (We returned that van at the end of the lease, cleaned till it was spotless, Ford would never have known what had been transported in it!) When we got our truck we were thankful to finally have a proper farm vehicle, the days of driving to work and church picking hair and bits of hay off our clothes over with! So when the thought of putting Billy in the car occurred to us, it was not with complete enthusiasm. With no other immediate options, we grabbed a bag of shavings, and a tarp, and were on our way. 

We arrived at Frank's farm on time, to find him finishing his own morning chores, frozen water lines and other cold associated problems taking their toll on his patience. "I'm about to call 1 800 SCREAM" he laughed, "I got up at 4:30 and by 5:00 I was selling the farm!" Frank is one of our very dearest friends, and his sense of humour is infectious. He has an incredible heart for creatures, but like us, inherits more aggravation, expense and heartbreak with them than a person should have to experience. Any conversation we have with him, always gets around to our similar problems and difficulties associated with farming, and yet we wind up laughing hysterically and finding a bright side to almost everything.

Billy was in his shed, hiding from the morning cold. It took a lead rope and some coaxing to entice (drag) him out into the snow. Even a pan of grain was not enough to make up for this rude awakening. As goats go, Billy is a beautiful animal. One must appreciate goats to call a mature male beautiful, but to me he truly is. Heavy and impressive, with a majestic set of curling horns. His pendulous ears proof of his Boer and Nubian lineage. He is chocolate brown with large white dots all over, what Frank calls "party colours", and which will mean colourful babies, always a delight at kidding time. Randy and Frank pushed and pulled the unwilling beast out to the driveway, where he resigned himself to the fact that he was not going to be left alone, and trotted along to the car. We had quite thought that he would fit nicely into the back of the station wagon, but now looking at the open door and this hulking animal we were not so sure. "Well he will probably lie down once we start moving" I said. Billy was not at all enthusiastic about this strange contraption and backed up. Frank took one of his forelegs and placed it in the back of the car, with the assumption that once the front end was in the car, the back end would follow, but before they could get the second foreleg up, the first one was back on the ground. Billy pulled back much harder. Getting into the back seat, I took the lead, and Frank and Randy each grabbed a foreleg and placed it in the car. With the lead keeping him from going backwards, the men gave a heave and the mission was accomplished. The door was closed before he could make a break for it, and thanking Frank we left for home. 

With all the doors now closed, Billy's odour engulfed the car. For anyone not familiar with goats, the stories about the smell are completely true! During breeding season the bucks have a charming ritual of urinating on their belly, forelegs and beard. The resulting odour is repugnant to humans, but very appealing to the does, who subsequently become marked with it. This smell can permeate a large area around the barnyard, and can be very difficult to remove from hands, clothing etc. (Frank actually tells a hilariously funny story of going into a bank branch where he had worked, and being ordered by his co workers to leave due to the aroma of his coat, which he had long been oblivious to!) Over the years we have become accustomed to it, actually not really even noticing it, but in this small space it was nearly overwhelming. The one good thing, is that Billy's back which was touching the car ceiling, although slightly smelly, was not contaminated like the lower half. Billy turned around, investigating this cramped space. His horns went clunk against the back window. Afraid he might actually decide to ram it, I held the lead, my arm draped uncomfortably over the back seat, so that he could not quite touch the window. He looked around, wild eyed as we drove, turning around several times. This boy is big enough to do damage if he panicked, and I prayed he would just lie down. Suddenly - he did! He went down with a sigh (and one from me) into the wood shavings....and stayed there for about 20 seconds! He was up and down like a yoyo all the way to the main highway, probably due to the bumpy snowy road. Once on the smooth road he did settle, getting up and looking round occasionally, and then lying down again. Other than my arm losing all sensation from hanging over the seat, this was not bad, and I gazed around at the lovely winter scenery passing by. Without warning Billy surged to his feet and leaned forward over the back seat. If I had not had hold of the lead, I am certain he would have been in the seat beside me in a heartbeat. Thankful that the tarp underneath him came up and over the seat, preventing his greasy stinky beard and chest hair from irreversibly impregnating the upholstery with the horrid scent, I sat nose to nose with this hulking animal who stood higher than I sat. He eyed me suspiciously, but did not attempt to butt, gore or otherwise rearrange my person. Frank had said he was fairly even tempered (some billies are not) and if ever he were to be nasty, this was his chance, however he just looked ahead to Randy in the driver's seat, and Mike who had come along for the ride, and appeared as though a drive down the highway in a station wagon is a completely normal thing for a goat to do! He turned around and peered out the back window again. I don't know what the driver behind us thought, but I am certain he was inching closer to our back bumper in an effort to establish just what this bulky shape was looking back at him. Eventually Billy lay down again, and the remainder of the trip was uneventful. 

Arriving at the barn with our new family member, the nannies all ran out into the yard to get a look at him. We took him inside for the introduction and immediately Sarah, the old black sheep, butted him hard on the neck. Three times she did this, perhaps thinking she was protecting her adopted goat family from this intruder, and then she looked over at Randy and I, her lip curling into a smile! I know this was not for our benefit, but it sure seemed that way at the time. The other children duly arrived at the barn to take a look. Jessica said all goats are ugly, Morgan plugged her nose and stated that he stunk, as if we needed confirmation of the fact! (goats are not among their favourite of the animals) Leaving the group to get acquainted, we removed the tarp from the car, but even with every last shaving brushed away, Billy remained. I have driven to work several times, and the smell is decreasing, but I fear it will be some time, and perhaps never, before a non farm person could ride in it without detecting something odd...

Less than an hour after we arrived home, the tractor which had sat all morning in the sun, roared to life and removed itself from the path of the truck! I showered, washed my hair, and put on clean clothes, and all evening at work I could still faintly smell goat. It may have been my imagination as my co workers said nothing...or maybe they were just being polite!

The only thing left was to name the boy. Randy suggested "Frank"....Jordan suggested "Stench", and the final choice was - "Frankenstench"! 

Rebecca

February 2006.

Winters can be long and severe in the north, and truth be known, we are actually nowhere near what is REALLY northern Ontario! We live in what is referred to as the "near north". North enough however to get prolonged periods of cold and incredible amounts of snow. At the time I am writing this, winter thus far has not been what I would consider typical for this area. While we do have a fair bit of snow, temperatures have for the most part not been low enough to make the animals stay indoors. The goats are still venturing outside, the horses gallop and kick up their heels in the winter playground, and we were stunned to see a goldfish, sluggish but moving along the surface of the fish pond on Christmas day!!!. The beauty of winter I have always appreciated, it is the cold that keeps me from being out in it more. This year however, I, who DESPISE the usual bone chilling cold of the first weeks of the year, find myself in this milder weather, drawn across to the larger of our two properties, beyond where the large horses and ponies, and the goats and cow are housed, to the quiet woods and clearings at the north end of the farm.

The winter scenery is breathtaking - everything motionless, shrouded in white, making it appear as though all the earth is sleeping below it's thick cold blanket, but the many tracks back there tell a different story. There is a road that winds it's way back through the farm from the highway that divides our two pieces of land, past the barns and the frozen beaver pond, the horse field and the swamp. Back to the very last clearing, from which a trail leads to a great white pine. I have no idea how old this tree is, just that it is huge, and probably a miracle, still standing in the sandy soil after the number of tremendous windstorms we have had in the last couple of years, and which many smaller trees and parts of the roof of our house did not survive! The grand old tree feels like a friend to us, a sentinel guarding the northernmost property line. It has towered there for many a year now, certainly longer than Randy or I have been alive, silently observing the comings and goings of the creatures and the people who have lived here. Tracks of rabbit, fox, moose, deer and wolf, lend exciting images to our imaginations as we see the evidence of how alive the snowy landscape actually is. The tracks criss cross the road and wind their way down trails in every direction. Each time there is fresh snow, it is as though no creature has ever set foot there, and the land stretching out before us is clean, sparkling, and untouched. Yet overnight new foot and hoof prints appear, revealing some of the secrets of the animals who make their homes in the woods and along the creeks. Rarely do we catch a glimpse of them at this time of year, but this makes the scene even more magical, as though we are being permitted a momentary glance into some secret world. We have not just stumbled out of some wardrobe into the land of Narnia, this clandestine place is our very own little enchanted forest, and if for a single moment, time comes to a halt and we are the only people who exist. The one sound in this still place is the crunching of the pristine snow under our feet, and when we stop, our breath hanging in frosty clouds in the air before us, the tranquility is like something from a peaceful dream. 

One feels nearer to God surrounded by the magnificence of His creation, whatever the time of year, however it is a long time since I visited the more remote corners of our farm in it's winter glory, I have a renewed sense of wonder at the season I usually cringe from. I had almost forgotten how spectacular it is, preferring to wait out the bitter months indoors as much as possible. I don't imagine I will be out enjoying it as much once the mercury drops again, but I am grateful for the lull in our normally harsh weather that has briefly lured me out of hibernation!                 

                            Rebecca

Snowflakes spill from heaven's hand, lovely and chaste like smooth white sand.
A veil of wonder laced in light, falling gently on a winters night.

Graceful beauty raining down, giving magic to the lifeless ground.
Each snowflake like a falling star, smiling beauty that's spun afar.

Till earth is dressed in a robe of white, unspoken poem the hush of night.

Linda A. Copp

January 2006.

"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures
from the shelter of compassion and pity,
you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow man."
-- St. Francis of Assisi

Every day that we live is a gift, and I am thankful for each. One lifetime however, doesn't seem long enough to accomplish all that I wish to, and no doubt much of what I desire to do will be left undone at the end of my life, be that one day or many years from now. I can think of all kinds of ways in which people leave significant marks upon this earth: great scientists, humanitarians, politicians, authors, musicians, etc. My own contribution will be quite small by comparison, and I shall never be famous (nor do I desire to be), but I feel no less compelled in what I do, than those who are called to greater things. We think of ourselves as caretakers of this little bit of God's earth that is our farm, and the creatures on it, both wild and domestic. This extends to animals who come into our lives from elsewhere, and though we are just one family, with very limited resources, we do what we can.

I have always had a burning passion for animals. From my earliest childhood I would leap to the defense of any creature that appeared to be in distress, whether it be a stray, a toad tormented by schoolchildren, an orphaned or injured bird, or a stranded earthworm on the pavement after a heavy rain. All creatures being somewhat equal in my eyes, in that each has some purpose in this world, I feel deep compassion for all living things, though I still have my favourites! I do feel that some animals were provided to us for food, but treating an animal respectfully and humanely is always the right thing whether it is destined to be a family companion, or dinner on the table. We humans should have love and compassion for each other, we are commanded by God to love thy neighbour as thyself, but it is so often apparent that many people feel that the earth's creatures, which I am certain the Lord delighted in creating, and which were given to man to care for and have dominion over, are less deserving of concern, because they are "just animals". This attitude puzzles me - distresses me - angers me. 

There are many things I will never understand, but always at this time of year, I wonder more than usual, why people allow their pets to breed more kittens and puppies when the world is already overrun with them, and millions of unwanted animals are thrown away, neglected, beaten, starved, and euthanized (these are sometimes the lucky ones) every year. This to me is either pure ignorance, or total uncaring. There is absolutely no justification for it, though people offer every "good reason" (excuse) in the book. These same people sleep well at night, while people like Randy and myself lie awake and stress about the animals (that should not be our responsibility) that we try to help, and most especially about the many that we are not able to help. Some think that if good homes are found for all the babies, all is well. Think again, you are still part of the problem. The Christmas season is my very favourite time of year, and yet I constantly think of the dogs and cats who are brought into the holiday chaos of many homes at this time of year, and which will shortly be cold, hungry, miserable and alone, grubbing in the streets to try and stay alive, or filling animal shelters later in the year, killed at the hands of their uncaring owners in some inhumane way, or worse - chained in a yard and completely ignored for years on end, a fate sometimes worse than death to a highly social animal like a dog. And why? Because the "family" got bored, tired of having to feed and clean up after it, or couldn't be bothered to train the animal properly? (And for those who think training an animal means finding a mess it made ages before, pounding the animal, and expecting it to associate the punishment with the offence - beating an animal for ANY reason is NOT training, it is cowardly. I witnessed a person years ago when we lived in the city, who thought himself knowledgeable about dogs, beat a Golden Retriever for running off. The dog associated the punishment not with running away, but with being caught, and was only more determined not to be caught next time. People can be so stupid.) Because they don't want the mess or damage a young animal may cause? (and this again is not the animal's fault, but that of an owner who does not learn about, prepare for, and safely/comfortably restrict the access of a new pet to furniture or areas at risk until it is old enough, has been taught, and understands what is expected of it), Because they don't know what to do with the animal when kids head back to school or vacation time comes along, or just can't be bothered any more when the novelty wears off? (well vacations would be cheaper and more care free if we turned our children over to a shelter before heading off too, but would we consider that? Of course not.) SHAME on those who would abandon or neglect the pet they brought into their lives, and who is as helpless, and has no more voice, or control over it's fate, than a small child.

Perhaps this letter is more me venting than anything else, as the frustration with uncaring people can be overwhelming sometimes, and those that I would hope to get through to with this, would likely not take the time to read it anyway, much less take it to heart. But those of you who have taken the time, I thank you. 

The pets pictured below are just a few of the animals we have brought into our home, that other people have for whatever reason, thrown away. These wonderful animals were all abandoned before they came to us, mostly adopted through animal shelters. Each is a treasured member of our family, with their own unique and wonderful character. I look at all of them and am truly baffled that anyone could so cruelly chuck them away like garbage. A person who does this is a pathetic excuse for a human indeed. It is their shame, and their loss...

I often feel that life would have been much easier, money would have been less of a problem, and stress would be far less than it is, had I not been born with this desire to care for animals, but if I could change what I feel in my heart, I would not. The joy that I get from them is more than worth it. I pray that in 2006, people will not only reach out wherever they can to their fellow humans, but that more of us would begin to value and respect all the creatures of this earth. Wishing everyone blessings, and a joyous, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Rebecca

ANGEL

our Christmas Angel from several years back, was abandoned, cold, hungry and frightened. She is now a friendly and loving girl.

JENNA

the most darling and gentle collie who ever walked this earth, Jenna was a stray hit by a car and picked up by the Humane Society, and then never claimed from the shelter. She has been part of our family for almost 10 years now, and is comical! She loves to crawl into ANY basket, box, kennel, or space she can fit into, and as you can see, does not mind sharing her food with the cats! (For some reason our cats all like the Pedigree dog kibble as well as their own cat kibble!)  

 

HALEY and TABITHA

 

were abandoned a year and a half ago at a waterfront park where they were climbing into garbage cans in search of food. We only saw Haley at first, crawling out of a garbage bin with a tiny piece of a dried up crust of bread. She was so starved that she almost choked herself in a frenzy to eat a tuna sandwich that we tossed to her. We followed her into the bush and discovered that there was a second cat, but neither would let us get close. We kept returning to the park to leave food in the same spot in the bushes, and several days later were  successful in live trapping both on the same evening. Sadly, both were pregnant, and both gave birth prematurely. None of the kittens could be saved, and Haley and Tabitha were so thin that there would have been no hope of either cat producing milk for a litter. It was a while before either cat would allow us to touch them, and Haley still resists being picked up, but they have learned to trust again, and are wonderful companions!

 HILLARY and HAMISH

 

were two more Christmas arrivals, who have just had their third Christmas with us! Hillary was hit by a car on the highway in front of an Ontario Provincial Police station and was turned over to a shelter by the O.P.P. She could not be identified and was not claimed. Hamish was abandoned on a country road. It took animal control a week to catch him as he was terrified, but he kept returning to the same spot on the road, presumably where his "family" had dumped him. They are both wonderful dogs, but Hamish in particular is one of THE sweetest and most loyal and sensitive creatures we have ever had the privilege of owning. Someone took the time to neuter him, teach him a few manners, put an expensive embroidered collar on him (with no i.d. of course)  and then threw this gentle giant away. If I were not so utterly disgusted with them, I would actually thank whoever did it, for through their selfish act it was made possible for us to adopt him, and we were blessed with an absolutely incredible dog.

ISABELLE

was abandoned with a new litter of kittens. She spent some time at an animal shelter where the kittens were all adopted, however no one wanted the adult cat. So she came home with us, was spayed, and became our barn cat, only because we could not convince her to be a house cat. She loves to follow us around, and curl up on a lap as soon as someone sits down, and she greets all visitors to the farm with a purr and a rub against their legs. She has now been here nine years, and as she has gotten older, has decided that the house is better in winter! : )

 

 

MURPHY

was tossed onto the side of a road from a car, in the pouring rain, at the age of approximately four weeks. He was turned in by a caring person to an animal shelter, and then fostered by a dear friend of ours who does animal rescue and placement, before we adopted him several weeks later. Murphy has always had trust issues, and only after several years here, did he finally begin to allow us to give him any affection. He is still wary, but does allow pets and scratches, and grins ear to ear when he gets them. He keeps us laughing with his morning constitutional round the barn yard, returning to the house only when he is satisfied that all is as it should be!

SCARLETT and MELANIE

were left in a plastic pet carrier placed at our gate one chilly night in 2004, at the age of approximately eight weeks. They were filthy, smelly, loaded with worms, and had upper respiratory infections. After bathing, worming and much care, two beautiful and extremely affectionate kittens appeared, and have now been here for over a year. Through an odd  twist of fate, we are now virtually certain we know who was responsible for these kittens being left at our gate, but as we can not be absolutely 100% sure, we will say nothing. However...... people are not always as smart as they think they are! : )

Thank you for taking the time to meet a few of our pets. These are happy endings, many others are not. Please spay and neuter your pets, and encourage everyone you know to do the same. Again we wish you all the best in 2006!