Sunday, May 31, 2015

backwoods auction

It's been years since I went to a rural auction. I'd forgotten how exciting it is to bid on any silly little item, to feel your heart race as your hand seems to bid (unbidden!) against your adversary, driving the price up to the ridiculous. But one person's junk is another person's treasure, and although I didn't come home with the item I most desired, I didn't leave empty handed.

The ad for the auction listed a spinning wheel, so how could I say no? My friend Maureen and I arrived and signed in at the auction "office" (a trailer), receiving our numbers that would allow us to bid. We wandered the farmyard, perusing the many items laid across tables. It's best to play these things cool, because chances are if you were attracted to a particular item, others were too.

We were amazed at the stuff people were buying: an old can of Ajax, rusted jackknives, a dual-cassette tape player, and a box of horrible Christmas decorations. I finally made my way over to where the object of my desire sat.

I'd had the foresight to bring some Corriedale roving with me to test out the wheel. I hated the idea of it being bought by someone who wanted to set it in a corner of their living room as a decorative item. A spinning wheel or musical instrument is a work of art, beautiful to the eye. But they are also tools, created to serve a purpose. If this wheel could spin, I was going to do my best to bring it home with me.

As soon as I sat down and started fiddling with it, this old fellow approached me and asked me if it worked. I drew a little crowd as I worked to pull the fibre through the orifice (using my earring as a hook!). The bobbin wasn't spinning freely so I took "the mother" off and investigated. There was a lot of built up grease (lanolin?) inside the bobbin, and it was stuck fast. 

I knew with some work, it could be a decent spinning wheel. I have a beautiful wheel at home so I didn't really need another, but like my husband with his musical instruments, I like to gather spinning materials around me like children. 

This elderly gentleman kept a close eye on me, then told me he was going to buy it. I wouldn't bid against him, would I? Now, some people would be gullible enough to fall for those twinkly blue eyes and the puppy dog look in them when he expressed his desire for this wheel. I wasn't buying it. I waved him away with a smile, and thus began a day-long interaction with a wonderful, funny, and smart man. I found out through an acquaintance that his name was Henry.

All through the day our paths crossed, till we were bumping shoulders, nudging each other, and teasing about who would get that wheel. He joined me on a bench and asked about our sheep and our children. It turns out he also has a son and three daughters. We talked about the hard work involved in raising children, and the passage of time. He's been married for 57 years and although his wife is now sick and dependent on him, he declared that she was a good wife, a hard worker.

The conversation always returned to the reason we'd both come to this auction: the spinning wheel. His refrain was, "You're not going to bid against me, are you?" I told him I knew what he was up to, that I wasn't born yesterday, and that I wasn't going to budge. 

Then the Mennonites arrived.

As one, our heads swiveled towards this quaint family as they inspected the wheel. It seemed to belong to them, both reminiscent of the simple style of the late 1800s. He looked at me as I looked at him, and we wordlessly agreed: we'd have to form an alliance to beat the Mennonites. We quickly agreed that if he got it, he'd will it to me, and if I got it, I'd teach him to spin on it. We'd have joint custody, and Maureen agreed to be the wheel manager. Henry couldn't have been more delighted by this turn of events if he was a five year old in a candy store.

I had a limit in my mind of how much I'd be willing to spend, but there was clearly a lot of interest in the wheel. As the auctioneer got closer to it, the crown got larger. Henry and I wandered over to where I'd put my bag so that I could show him the roving I'd brought. A woman in a purple shirt who was standing nearby said, "Oh, you're here about the wheel? So are we. We're going to go up to at least $500."

Henry gave me a look that said, "She's bluffing". Still, I knew I'd be out of the running early in the game. Henry looked at her shrewdly, but kept mum and I wondered what he was thinking.

When the bidding began, the Mennonites didn't bite. I wondered if they had noticed something I hadn't. I put up my card every few bids, and as the price rose, Henry stood with his head lowered and his arms firmly crossed across his chest. It was between another woman (not the one in the purple shirt) and me. As the price rose past $100, I shook my head to indicate to the auctioneer that I was out.

Suddenly, Henry raised his card. 

A bit of a collective gasp went up. He continued to stand in his casual posture, head bowed and arms crossed, and as the price rose and the auctioneer would be about to say, "SOLD!", his hand would rise up almost imperceptibly. 

When I finally registered what he was up to, the price was up past $400! I realised then that I was in the presence of a master.

At $450 the tension in the crowd was an almost physical presence; suspense and adrenaline hung like fog in the air. Finally, the wheel went to the woman in the orange shirt for $460.

Henry turned to me with a smile and a wink and I was left to wonder if he ever wanted the wheel at all, or if it was just a game he played to drive the price up. We both threw our heads back and laughed at the joy of attending an auction on a Saturday afternoon, and of meeting a kindred spirit.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Living the Dream

It's funny how a farm just kind of happens, if you have a blithe and open soul and a tendency to say yes. We see our farm as an organic farm, not in the modern sense, but in that it grows spontaneously and naturally, free of our interventions. The universe seems to hear my thoughts, and animals just arrive. Sometimes they aren't with us for long, but we're adding to our bank of knowledge with each arrival and departure.

When we first moved here, the previous owners left us their small flock of Indian Runner ducks. We played farmer for awhile, enjoying the novelty of seeing our ducks running across the lawn to the pond. 

It stood to reason that we should have a farm dog. I was in the deep hormonal throes of my pregnancy with Margot, and Jude and Violet were three and one respectively. I was also working full time. 

Sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn't it? It was. 

The dog was blameless (as dogs often are). I didn't have the time to work with him as I should have and made the very common mistake of taking on a task for which I had little experience AND for which I did no research. I followed my heart, which in most cases only results in pain for me, but in this case, affected the pup as well. 

By the time Margot was born with a heart defect, the pup had grown into a dog, a very unruly dog (again, I take full responsibility, with forgiveness for my loving, open-hearted self). We put a detailed ad in the paper, and a nice bachelor who lived on a horse farm was happy to take our very active dog. We bid farewell to Oscar and wished him a better life than we could give him at that time.

Since then, we've inherited or acquired a flock of hens (see my very first blog post!), various ducks and roosters, a couple of ponies, chicks to raise as layers or as meat, and this Spring, our first piglets. 

When people ask me how we do it, I reflect on the task of raising four children. If, as a single woman, I was landed with four children all at once, I would not have been able to easily adjust. Because my children arrived one at a time, it was a gradual adjustment to the full busyness we experience every day. 

Similarly, our homestead has grown slowly over the years, and we adjust to the various levels of work and expertise involved with animal husbandry gradually. We ask lots of questions, call on those more experienced than us, try home remedies, and trust our guts. We involve our children with shoveling manure, feeding the critters, collecting eggs, and with the eventual demise of our meat birds. 

A few weeks ago a wee Canada Goose gosling crossed my path. It was all alone, with no parents in sight, and I know its sibling had been killed by my friend's dog earlier in the day. I nestled it in my favourite yellow sweater, and brought it home. The next day my sister delivered it to the Wild Bird Care Centre, and the most recent report is that it has been adopted by goose parents! 

As my child-bearing years drew to a close, I still felt that biennial longing that signaled that it was "time" for another baby. For the past year I've been hounding, hinting, and cajoling my husband into the idea that it might be time for us to get a puppy. Our life is drastically different now than it was six years ago. We have three children who are older now, and a toddler who follows the pack. 

I kept my eye on Kijiji but was not attracted to the many strange mixes of dogs that pass as glamour breeds (Rottlabradoodle, anyone?) and cost more than my monthly mortgage. I trusted that the "right" pup would appear when it was, well, right.

Last week a friend on Facebook posted an ad for pups, from just down the road from us. The breed was right, the price was right, and when I called to discover that they were on the farm of some local food-producers I've met at our Farmer's Market, I knew we'd found our pup. I met our pup's parents, and know the people who care for them to be conscientious, respectful, kind people. He's a Great Pyrenees/Retriever/Collie/Lab mix, and I'm about as excited as an expectant mother. I'm giddily reading every dog-training book I can get my hands on, determined to do things right this time.

I am finding the recurrent theme that dogs are happiest when they're allowed to follow the behaviours for which they were bred. Seeing as how our pup comes from guarding/herding stock, I wondered if he would be content with circling the kids and the ponies. I worried about what might happen in September when his herd (the humans) go back to work/school.

A few days later, I got an email from my midwife. It was what she referred to as a "Hail Mary" request. To make a long story short, she wanted to know if we'd take four of her British Milk Sheep to save them from an untimely end. After a quick text to my husband, I was able to answer, "Of course!"

Our latest flock arrived yesterday in the midst of Violet's 8th birthday, and right away my husband went out to buy a new drill to ensure that our fencing is in good order. We feel that we spend as much time worrying about fencing and broken barn doors as we do about the well-being of our many critters. The old maxim about good fences and happy neighbours is a maxim for a reason. 

This little farm is almost full to capacity now. The lawnmower is on the fritz, so the moveable pen that came with the sheep will come in handy. Our ewes adapted quickly to their new home, and endured the curiosity of their new equine herd-mates. The man who delivered them has invited us to learn to shear in the next few weeks and has promised the fleeces to ME (insert giddy squeals of delight). 

I'm a shepherdess! And in a few weeks we'll have a little sheep dog to keep us company and keep our herd safe and together. I have broken fingernails and I need new shoes. The work never ends and our farm is looking less like the picture postcard it did when we bought it and more like a place where people and animals live and work. 

I couldn't be happier. I'm living my dream.