Thursday, August 29, 2013

Still "Life"

The September Absolute Write blog chain post prompt is 'steampunk/retro future'. I knew nothing about this generally Victorian futuristic blend so did a little research into the Victorian era, also something I've never looked at too closely.

While reading up on the idiosyncrasies of the age I came across something decidedly morbid - the  'memento mori'. When a loved one died you could have your picture taken with the deceased prior to their internment. The photo above is one such picture. Can you tell which sister is living and which is recently deceased? Here's a hint. Photography was in its infancy and exposure time fairly lengthy. Still not sure? Because of the prolonged sitting time required, a living person moves slightly, causing their image to be a bit blurred while the dead person is understandably perfectly still the whole time so their image is in sharp focus. Got it now? Even though she's standing, a seeming impossibility, the recently deceased sister is on the right. Photographers had a specially designed frame that would be attached to the back of the dead allowing the head and body to be held erect for as long as needed. All that was left was to pose the living person alongside the deceased to give it a more natural look. Creepy eh?

When I came across this photo I found it pretty disturbing. Imagine a little girl being forced to have the arm of her dead brother draped across her shoulder. I can see the fear in her eyes. She hates having to do this, poor thing. Makes you wonder what kind of psychological damage followed her the rest of her life. One also wonders how parents could subject their children to something so obviously terrifying.
Anyway, enough of that. I continued looking at Victorian oddities and came across one I think I'll use in a short story for my blog chain post. Trust me, it will be lighter by a long shot!
Not sure when my next post will be but likely not next Monday. I apologize in advance! My son has a bit of a break from his anesthesia residency in Manitoba and will be spending part of his time with us. This post is a bit early as my office/writing space will be turned into a bedroom for the duration of his stay and I won't be posting while he's here. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Guarding the Grub

On our free-range farm, protecting the food supply was a challenge. The little guy up top, called 'Chippy' by our kids, pillaged the grain and sunflower seeds that fed our animals. One day I caught him on the porch bracing his back legs against our wood bin and using his front paws to pry open the lid of the plastic garbage can that held the sunflower seeds. He adored those seeds but so did other more productive members of the farm.

Mice were big grain thieves so we thought keeping them under control might give us some trouble. Little did we know how well our hens would reduce their population and then when we found a family of weasels had taken up residence in the abandoned dog house (for some reason our big dog didn't use it), we knew our worries were for nothing. We'd heard that weasels also killed chickens but they never touched ours. Probably glutted with mice. Cheeky devils too. One day when my husband and I were coming in from the horse field, a weasel ran along beside us with an enormous mouse in his mouth. He stopped, tipped his head to one side and eyed us as if to ask, "What are you two looking at?"


Our small dog, 'Chucky', had a taste for vegies and fruit. Before we fenced off our garden he'd help himself to anything within reach. Peas, beans, strawberries and low-hanging raspberries were his favorites but he was an equal opportunity raider and would also dig up carrots, garlic and onions. After the fence went up he was pretty choked and patrolled the perimeter every morning to nab any peas that grew through the page wire.

Once the hens were released from the coop in the morning they meandered over to the garden area to do a close inspection of every inch of the fence line. They knew that the gate was the way in and would congregate there, waiting for me to open it. I'd have to sidle in and quickly close the gate as they were fast little beggars. I took pity on them at the end of the season though and gave them a good feed on the leftovers.

Perhaps the worst offender was our little Jersey cow, Jackie. There she is in the field with plenty to eat, but oh, no, that wasn't enough. Her appetite for all things green and growing was insatiable. When she heard the lawn mower she'd come thundering down from the upper field and stand by the edge of the fence dripping bucket loads of drool.  Once I had a bag full of clippings I'd toss them over the side and she'd munch on them, eyes closed in glorious contentment. Her interest in the garden and greenhouse was about as much as you'd expect. She'd rub against the wall of the greenhouse and snuffle and drool, big eyes wide and watchful. I thought I'd made it completely safe from her but one morning, just before the corn was fully ripened in the greenhouse (we have a short cool season so can only grow corn inside), I went out to find the corn plants eaten down to just tiny nubs poking out of the ground. She'd finally figured out a way to get inside and had devoured all of them! The only positive thing to come out of it was that she gave us a couple of gallons of cream the next day. Literally.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Cat and the Pipe

First off, sorry I'm late posting. I have an excuse. Friday my computer went on the fritz. Panic being the first order of business, the wires and cables were disconnected from the computer tower, I grabbed it up, it slipped out of my hands - onto my foot. Man are those things heavy. After hopping around for a while the tower made it to the techies and it came back yesterday. Not. Fixed. Long story short, we called our son last night and he had the answer within minutes. So here we are. Back to the cat. No, this isn't the pipe but it's such a cute piece of art I couldn't resist.
A rancher friend of ours had a large number of big gorgeous Belgian horses - around 30 or so. He used the horses to log his property and give sleigh rides in the winter.

Needless to say he had a lot of barn space which meant a lot of mice helping themselves to grain. Barn cats kept the mice under control but as the cat population grew and the mouse population dwindled, fewer cats were needed and one male cat was a mite too friendly with the ladies. The decision was made to handle it, rancher style.
Farmers and ranchers do much of their own neutering. There are simply too many animals to deal with on an ongoing basis to employ a veterinarian for all of them. One tool used for bull calves and goats was an elasticator. It uses a virtually painless method of banding the family jewels with an elastic ring, cutting off the blood supply. They grow numb and eventually shrivel up and disappear.
Our friend decided it was a three-man job; two men to control the cat and a third, himself, to slip on the band in the appropriate place. He couldn't use the elasticator because it was meant for livestock and too big, so it was a hands-only operation. Two men wrestled the cat into position but, with his manhood in jeopardy, the tom fought with ferocity. Cats can make themselves almost fluid and when he started writhing around with all four sets of claws unsheathed for war, it was a hopeless task. They let the cat go to consider an alternate method.
I can't remember who thought of it but they eventually came up with the idea that if they could stuff the front end of the cat into a plastic pipe with only the hind end protruding, there'd only be two legs to manage while the deed was being done.

Not sure how the cat in this picture came to be in a plastic pipe but you can see for yourself how well it restricts movement. The tom was recaught and they managed to shove him face first into the straight pipe ( not the elbow that this poor cat got stuck in) folding back his front legs much as an alligator folds its front legs beside its body to swim. All that stuck out was the cat's hind legs, his tail and the fluffy little dingle balls. Perfect, right?

Not so much. Gallons of blood were spilled in what should have been a simple operation. Even with only two legs and two sets of claws the tom shredded the men's arms into ribbons and they finally had to give the whole thing up because of the pain. The tom cat was released, gave them a single glowering look and stalked off, probably in pursuit of a young maiden to calm his frazzled nerves. Cat - one, three strong ranchers - nil.

(Oh, and to ease anyone who might be worried, the cat in this pipe was rescued just fine)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The House - a Short Story

Come on now. Get back here.

Okay so while you were digging out my foundations hornets flew out of the mud and stung you. Not my fault. And the windows that came weren't the right size. Well, you ordered them. I sure wasn't to blame for the drywallers covering over the electrical pots in the ceiling and then claiming they were never there so you had to cut open the ceiling to find them. And was it my fault the slope on the deck ran toward the house and not away from it so water backed up into the house and soaked the new hardwood floors?

That you decided to  live in a motor home on the property while you were building me and that I wasn't finished until Christmas wasn't my fault. And it wasn't my fault either that the motor home's roof leaked so you had to throw a tarp over the whole doggoned thing in the middle of a rainstorm. It also wasn't my fault that the motor home iced up on the inside and the toilet froze so you had to sprint to the metal porta potty at -30C or that the propane ran out and you had to go outside in the cold to change over the tanks at two o'clock in the morning. And can I help it that the shelter you put up to cover your deep freeze caved in under the snow load and you couldn't get at the turkey you'd saved for Christmas?

I really don't see how you can blame me for all this. I'm as much a victim as you are. Isn't it me that didn't have the proper cover put on my chimney so that bats flew into the furnace and out into the house and then some wise guy decided to use a smoke bomb to drive them from the furnace and blew soot into the whole basement?

We've been through so much together. Come on now. Get back here. I promise nothing else bad will happen. Trust me.

A lot of this stuff really happened to us while we were building our house. Not the one in the picture - our house wants to remain anonymous.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Psycho Chicken

One of the first things I raised on our hobby farm were chickens. A neighbor had too many and gave me a dozen and a friend had too many and gave me a dozen. Being a naïve displaced city dweller I didn't realize that combining two flocks was pretty much a guarantee of chicken wars.

There were no fatalities but the fighting was intense for several weeks and only a few of the 'girls' emerged unscathed. Most were missing hunks of tail and neck feathers and all were pretty bedraggled and worn out. Needless to say, egg production was pitiful.

I had a lot of misconceptions about chickens. I entertained the idyllic idea that my girls would strut gently around the chicken yard, aimlessly pulling worms out of the grass from time to time while clucking in soft tones then hopping up into their nest boxes to lay a single perfect egg each day.

But chickens are not all sweetness and light. Not by a long shot. They act like predatory carnivores much of the time, fighting over meals of hapless mice that have the misfortune to scurry inside the chicken house and pulling worms limb from limb (if worms had limbs) in two and three way tugs-of-war. Roosters act like serial rapists chasing down their screaming victims and grabbing them by their neck feathers while they hop on board to do their thing. It's all very barbaric and violent.

Fortunately they have bursts of charm as well and the Isa Browns in my hen house would submit, without pecking, to having me steal their eggs out from under them. Many of the hens enjoyed being petted. One hen with injured legs endured being packed around all summer from the hen house to the yard and back again and actually purred in my arms. Yes, chickens have a peculiar sound that can only be described as a purr when they're content. It's really quite endearing.

My kids gave names to the more prominent characters in the hen house and one of the most memorable was Psycho. Psycho had earned her name because of a deformed eye. It turned upward and had a kind of unblinking malevolent glare that lent her the appearance of being quite mad. She was extremely bad tempered and started many of the squabbles amongst the hens, forcing laying hens out of their nest boxes and muscling in on the food and water dishes.

One summer afternoon we'd invited friends to a barbecue. The hens were free range and generally wandered around the property at will. They'd wandered our way once the food was cooking and milled about under the barbecue awaiting drippings or any morsels that might fall over the side. This was their normal routine and we pretty much ignored them as they never went near the guests, their only interest was the barbecue.

We'd all loaded our plates with hamburgers and potato salad and were sitting back in comfortable lawn chairs for some conversation when Psycho broke the pattern and made her move. (Afterward my husband said that all he felt was the barest of scratches on his leg). Psycho raced over to him while his attention was not on his plate, ran lightly up his leg, snatched the lettuce from between his hamburger buns and took off without displacing either bun or burger patty, kind of like those guys who whip off tablecloths from a table full of dishes without breaking any. By the time he looked down she was already gone and so was his lettuce. His top bun was slightly tilted but everything else was in place. Across the yard, Psycho was gumbooting it for a safe place to hide and eat her stolen booty unmolested. But the hens, already on high alert, streamed after her clucking and flapping their wings as they went. The chicken wars were on again.

I no longer have chickens but the story of Psycho and the hamburger has been retold many times when I'm feeling lonely for our little flock.