Wet and Green

I write this under grey skies again. Mega-rain expected in the next couple of days. What a country! In early May we worried about the dry spring-now people are worried about all the rain. Actually, so far, I am just fine with the rain. I am my father’s daughter. In one of my favorite photos of him, he is in his yellow slicker, accompanied by his wet dog, happily surveying the overflowing creek. Up until it’s time to actually cut and bale the hay a rancher can hardly get too much rain. Grass likes rain. My aged hayfields need lots of rain to produce any kind of a crop. We managed to slot in calf-processing-vaccinations, ear-tagging, castrating the bull calves, on about the only day it was dry enough last week. We also had the hoof trimmer out to do the over-long toes on seven cows one evening. Not so lucky with the weather that time. It rained during most of the procedure-and it is quite a procedure. Unlike well-broke horses which will stand politely while the farrier holds up one foot at a time, cows must be subdued. This is done by chasing them into a sort of squeeze which immobilizes them and lifts them off the ground . Then each of the feet is tied firmly in place and the long “toenails” are buzzed off with an electric trimmer which sends chips of excess hoof flying like hailstones-much to the dog’s delight. Rather tasty, I guess. Released after about ten minutes the cow gingerly steps to the ground and walks off, amazed that she not only survived but feels much better. I was relieved when this job was done as the rain caused me to fear that either the cow or the trimmer might have an electrifying experience! All was well, however. Now, the garden is growing, the bedding out plants were delighted with the cool, damp transition from their nursery packs, and I’ve even managed to keep most of the lawn under control. What’s not to like? (Ask me that again if we happen to get the 100mm of rain they are predicting for some areas!)

SPRING

Yes, it’s here at last-Alberta Spring. Unpredictable as always. One day still snowing, the next too warm for a jacket. Then too dry. Then really wet. Soon we are complaining about one or the other. But the truth is we have nothing to complain about. All we have to do is turn on the TV news and see what other places must endure. Here, we are engulfed in the many shades of green of newborn leaves. The grass already needs mowing a second time. The flowering plum has burst into a cloud of pink. The air is redolent with the scent of unfolding balsam poplar leaves. Apple and cherry trees are budding. The delicate purple pasque flowers have already come and gone. A “host of golden daffodils” as they were once poetically described, bring their own sunshine to the lower lawn. I go to sleep to the sound of birds still singing in the lingering twilight and wake to them tuning up again. Troops of sassy calves enact cavalry charges across the pasture while their mothers placidly chomp down yet another mouthful of the fresh grass. The garden is planted. The weeds are up. The world is surely unfolding as it should!

Loony

My favorite local restaurant, at Coyote Creek Golf Course, has re-opened for the summer. We went there for supper and sat outside on the patio overlooking the pond where a couple of dozen fat trout swim. There was a visitor at the pond that day, a big, handsome loon. We watched as he-or perhaps she, although she was probably at home looking after the nest as these things tend to go-swam around preening himself, just touring, and occasionally disappearing underwater. Gradually he worked his way closer to the near shore where the fat fish cluster, waiting for handouts. Then, suddenly he dived. Seconds later this streamlined black and white “torpedo” was streaking among the fish, locked on the trail of this or that one like a heat-seeking missile. Twisting and turning, changing direction in an instant, he had become a true denizen of the deep–nothing bird-like about him now! He repeated the dive and chase four or five times while we watched. Although all the fish we saw him pursue were far too big for him to swallow there must have been smaller ones farther out, rewarding his efforts and keeping his interest alive. He definitely kept our interest alive-a real bonus to go along with the tasty onion rings!

Spring? Or is it Just a Fever?

A robin was singing this morning before the sun came up and a lot of the snow is gone-except for that in deep shade or the banks where it has been piled over winter. April has not been a very springy month here with frequent snowfalls and many cool, cloudy days so now I’m really hoping things have turned around. During the miserable weather I was finally motivated to start sorting through the detritus of 40 years in the basement-a dirty, musty uninspiring job! However, even doing that I cannot be swift and brutal in consigning stuff to the trash or bonfire. I have to give everything at least a quick glance. Twenty-year-old income tax receipts remind me of when I bought this or that machine or appliance. Twenty-year-old stubs from calf sales remind me that cattle prices have risen-but not much. Not compared to the cost of electricity which has risen from about $200 for three months to closer to $300 for one month! I think I had better give that job up for a while before I get too depressed and enjoy the outdoors. For many years I cut all my own firewood but about three years of knee and ankle surgeries and their recovery time kept me away from my trusty chain saw. This week I was back at cutting down trees. Okay, I confess, they were small, dead spruces in the back of the yard, only about 20 feet tall, but they needed to be out of there, make excellent wood, and give me much-needed exercise. The cattle business had a great surge one day last week when six calves were born in 24 hours! That was excellent. All were healthy and sassy and got about the business of living and eating with no interference. We are now back to the waiting game. Several other cows are looking “prosperous.”

April 13 Years Ago

THIRTEEN YEARS AGO IN APRIL

(excerpted from Forever Bergen)

The most destructive spring snowstorm in recent years occurred in April of 2000

Journal Entry:

April 26:  Something woke me at 4:20 a.m.  A thud? The clock radio was dark. So was everything else in the room. I stared out the window.  It wasn’t totally dark out there. In fact, it was disturbingly bright. Why was it so white outside?  Gradually, my sleep-numbed brain took in two facts—the power was off and there was a lot of snow out there. Another thud. A crash. Two crashes. More thuds. I could hear the wind howling. Treetops caked in heavy, wet snow were threshing back and forth in a powerful wind and shattering under the strain. Suddenly, the house itself quivered as a treetop hit the heavy triplex power line that feeds the house from the barnyard.

Sometime before six I couldn’t stand being in the house any longer and, flashlight in hand, went out to explore the yard. It was a short exploration as more treetops crashed down all around me. I could stand at the quad shed in the backyard and see ten tops lying scattered in all directions.

There was too much snow for the 4×4 truck so I fed with the front-wheel assist tractor. Then I decided to go to town for lunch as they still had power. Found out that a cow in the corral had just dropped a calf in a snowbank so I dragged it into the barn, changed my clothes again, and headed for town—where by now the power had gone off.  One convenience store was open with the owner making change out of a pile of money on the counter. (The cash register wouldn’t open without power.) Bought some bread, went home and ate it with soup warmed on the woodstove. Finding little to do that worked well by kerosene lamplight (how did people manage for all those years?). I gave up and went to bed early.

April 27:  The weary slog continues. Still no power. More snow overnight and snow flurries during the day. A neighbour whose power is back brought a generator for me to use. Under the snow is mud. Halvor, the bull, was so deep in it by the feeder that I was afraid he was stuck.

And so it went. The power was off for periods varying from two to four days across the community. And, the media wasn’t nearly as excited as it was when Toronto went black for a couple of days. Country people are expected to cope—and we do.

The Old Woman Is Plucking Her Goose

That expression came from my long-departed Great Aunt Nell. She said it whenever we had one of these snowfalls with big, feathery flakes. It’s quite beautiful out there today but, considering it is the second week in April, it could certainly be more spring-like. However this is western Alberta and this is the way it is every year. I am going to forward an old journal entry from 2000. It really wasn’t spring-like that time!