Sunday, March 2, 2014
I went out to the barn the other night and there was Gracie, my favourite sheep, in the midst of birthing. Her lamb’s head had been born, and she was sitting on it. She kept throwing her weight around in discomfort. Flopping from one side to another, I was afraid she would snap the little one’s neck. His head was already quite swollen. When I put a finger in his mouth, though, he sucked. The reflex was strong.
Gracie is quite tame. In fact she thinks she is a dog; not a sheep. She loves people, and she trusts us. I stroked her nose, told her I was going to help, and she baaa’ed in protest. Then very slowly, I helped the lamb bring one high-heeled shoe out alongside his neck. His tongue lolled out, and his eyes rolled back. He was exhausted. I slowly eased the shoulder out. I felt Gracie react to the change in pressure and she moaned, just as a human would. I stopped for a minute to let her catch her breath. Then, grasping the slick wet leg and wriggling fingers in to find the other foot, I pulled steady as hard as I could, careful not to dislocate the limb from the socket. There was no sliding; he was thick, sturdy and had to be pulled every inch of the way. When I finally lay the new lamb down beside his mother so she could lick him clean, he stretched out over half her length in size.
Twenty-five years ago this week I became a mother for the first time. I was an oblivious twenty-year-old, in big glasses and frizzy hair, reading fashion magazines and waiting for my IV oxytocin to kick in. I don’t go into labour: I have to be induced.
I got out of bed, paced up and down the hall, took a shower, did some squats, and waited. The woman in the next room started hollering and my doctor stuck his head in to ask her to please be quiet as she was “scaring the Hell out of the little one” (me). But she wasn’t. I was just excited. The pains started and I decided it just felt like a really hard workout at the gym. Over which I had absolutely no control.
Once things got rolling, it only took a short time for my daughter to be born. I had forgotten at home my “focal point” item to stare at during breathing exercises, so I fixated on a colourful juicebox of Hawaiian Punch instead. When the nurse tried to move it, I hissed. She put it back, where I could stare at it. And half a dozen pushes later, my baby was born. Just over 8 pounds, she had dark olive skin and hair and I thought she was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen. She didn’t cry. She just opened her eyes wide, looked around the birthing room, and yawned. The doctor didn’t make it in time to deliver her; she was caught by the nurse who was on duty at the time at the
– who also happened to be a seasoned midwife from Scotland with over 200 births in
“Oh, this one’s an old soul,” she cooed. “Look at her. She has been here before.”
During feedings, the nurse wheeled a large metal cart with about four shelves of babies on it, down the hall, room to room where they were distributed to their mothers. I listened carefully as the cart came down the hall. Although the crying woke me it didn’t bother me – probably because my baby wasn’t crying. The nurse brought her in to me, laughing. The hot little loaf of bread – just a face emerging from a tightly wrapped blanket roll – had her eyes open wide and she was making fish “o’s” with her mouth. She knew exactly what was coming – milk – and she was probably wondering what all the other babies were screaming about.
That first time she looked at me and really saw me, she had a little smile in her eyes. I saw that little mischevious smile many times over the years, and love seeing it now, twenty-five years later.
Milena has grown into a confident, caring young woman, comfortable in her own skin. That’s all we can hope for in our little lambs, be they four-legged or two.
Posted by Diana Leeson Fisher at 9:01 AM
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Most parents, upon their return from vacation, look for signs that the kids had a party. In our case, the party animals were the cats. Actual felines. We have two self-proclaimed housecats (we didn’t invite them; they just moved in) and two barn cats that are quite feral but reserve the right to come in and eat / sleep / poop in the nice litter box anytime they want. If you suspect the barn cats have entered the house, you cannot close the door to the basement. Otherwise you will be cutting off their access to food, water and, more importantly, toilet facilities. Denying them this access can have disastrous results. My daughter and her husband were watching the house in our absence and I don’t expect them to go hunting for feral cats every time they want to leave so I told them to just leave the basement door open. So the cats had full run of the house. For a week.
When I returned, here is what I saw. A fine cloud of white fur had settled on every flat surface of the house, including the hardwood floor, kitchen table and countertops, couch cushions and throw pillows. The dog’s blanket, once blue and orange, was also coated in fluffy white, leading me to believe this was the bed of choice for the felines last week.
The bread bag featured small bite marks that had no doubt been made by sharp little cat teeth. The butter (left out on the counter for some reason) had paw marks, scratchy tongue tracks and cat hair in it. After throwing these things in the garbage I continued my inspection.
Having played surrogate mama to thirty-seven kittens several seasons ago, (when I was taming them for adoption) Sheila the diminutive housecat likes to continue in this role by carrying small kitten-sized toys around in her mouth. She goes digging in the toy box downstairs and pulls out anything that is about the size of a small kitten. Then she tucks them in strange places around the house. It’s quite endearing, really. After our vacation, nearly every wrinkle in the dog bed contained a small plush toy. They were also deposited on stairs, behind the toilet, on kitchen chairs and there was even a small purple elephant in the bowl of water at the feeding station. I guess she thought it might be thirsty. She does this often. Then she drags the wet toy around the house, leaving puddles on the hardwood floor for me to slip in.
I also found puddles of water around each of the toilets – obviously another favourite place to play on a long winter afternoon.
I guess the red feathers that I bought at the Third World Bazaar look a little too much like a bird because they had been tackled, plucked and left to die on the floor. The bird-watching station on the windowsill next to the outdoor feeder was obviously a popular spot as my candles and other knick-knacks had been pushed aside to make room for someone who left large tufts of fur behind.
Probably the cats’ favourite spot to play in the house is the carpeted staircase. I think they imagine they are ancient warrior cats, defending the plateau of their people as they race up and down the steps, digging their claws into the rug as they go. After a week of this unsupervised play (I usually cut it off after round one as it can be quite destructive), the carpet now has some frayed, loose edges and there is white fur in the creases that even the vacuum cleaner cannot reach. Sigh.
Thank goodness I had the foresight to close all the bedroom doors before I left. I can just imagine what my bed would look like if the cat brigade had had their way with it.
The cats certainly appear to have had a good time with the house all to themselves for a week. But all good things come to an end and it is possible to have too much of a good thing. The moment I opened the sliding door to the back porch, out they all went. And I haven’t seen them since. I guess they have a slight case of kitty cabin fever.
Posted by Diana Leeson Fisher at 10:19 AM
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.” – George Eliot
Posted by Diana Leeson Fisher at 4:12 PM
Occasionally I am asked to tell the love story that turned me into an Accidental Farmwife. Well, you might have heard it before, but in honour of Valentine’s Day, here it goes again.
I first met the Farmer over 20 years ago, when he arrived in Kemptville to teach at the college. My mother, who worked as assistant to the director at KCAT, told me about the long-legged cowboy who had arrived on the scene. I saw him a couple of times in passing at college events, and was always impressed by his big, warm smile.
Fast forward several years, and both our respective marriages had ended. He was in the throes of single parenthood and I was coming home from after three years in
Asia. About two
months after I arrived home, I saw him in the parking lot at the Kemptville
Mall. I waved on my way into the store, where I was heading to try on
Two hours later, when I emerged from the store, his truck was still there. My heart did a little flip. I knew he must be waiting for me, and I was so not ready. I quickly got into my car, sliding down into the seat. He suddenly appeared at my door, his lanky height lowering down to a squat beside my window.
“Hey. I know you’re real busy with kids but if you want to get out and talk to an adult some time, I’d like to take you for a coffee.”
I sputtered something about not being ready to date yet after just arriving home, reuniting with my kids, trying to find a job…and suddenly overwhelmed by the weight of all the challenges before me, and the shock of someone asking me out on a date, I started to cry. The Farmer slowly backed away from the crazy woman in the car.
“Ok well if you change your mind, give me a call…”
To this day, if you ask the Farmer, he will tell you that I said no. I did not say no. I said I wasn’t ready, and that’s an entirely different thing.
Over the next two weeks I drove past the Fisher farm a couple times, and spent a few minutes a day staring at the Farmer’s photo on the college website. Finally, on a hot sunny afternoon in June, I picked up the phone and dialed his office extension. He picked up on the first ring.
“Hi. It’s Diana Leeson. I’m ready to go for that coffee now if the offer is still open.”
“Do you do lunch?” he asked. I told him of course I did, and then he said to meet him at the Edgewater Restaurant in ten minutes. I hung up the phone and looked down at myself. I had spent the morning weeding a flowerbed. I was covered in sweat, dirt and pollen. As I headed to the shower, I yelled to my daughter that I needed help picking out something to wear.
About twenty minutes later I arrived fashionably late at our lunch date. For the next hour we laughed and chatted about our children. I felt instantly at ease in his presence so when he asked for a dinner date the following night I said yes. And the kiss he gave me at the end of our lunch didn’t hurt either. It just about melted my kneecaps off.
Those first few months of dating were a whirlwind as we juggled young teenagers, work and farming schedules and I settled into a new home in Kemptville. But the following spring, the Farmer asked me to be his wife. I was totally taken by surprise, and spent a couple hours arguing with him, telling him I wasn’t a very good investment and asking him how we would manage with five daughters between us. He let me rant, then got a yes out of me. We were married a few months later, on the farm.
I don’t know what made him ask me out that day, but I’m glad he did. He jokes that I was one of the only eligible single women in town so when I arrived he thought he better scoop me up before someone else did. He also says, “you can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket.” Well, the joke’s on him. I feel like I’m the winner here.
Posted by Diana Leeson Fisher at 2:55 PM
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Sunday, February 2, 2014
One of our black Angus heifers, whom I named Ebony, had a little bull calf a week ago Monday. The Farmer pulled the little guy across the snow, and tucked him and his mother into a big pen in the lambing area. Then he went to work.
At the end of the day we found a very weak and tired little calf, curled up on a pile of hay in the corner of the pen. He had apparently been exhausted from chasing his mother around the pen all day. His little body was hunched over: the sign of hunger. My husband got a clean ice cream container and climbed into the pen to approach the mama.
Thankfully, she was calm and relaxed, and didn’t try to kill him. Instead she let him take her valuable first milk, the colostrum. If the calf didn’t get this in his first 24 hours of life, he would not survive.
The calf was fed the thick yellow milk with a big plastic syringe. After a few feedings he struggled to his feet and approached his mother. He nuzzled at the fleshy dewlap under her chin, searching for teats. Wrong end, buddy. When he finally found her udder, she gave him a quick shove with her foot. Not a vicious kick, but a rejection all the same. We watched as this routine played out again and again. I mixed a bottle of milk replacer and we quickly discovered the problem. The calf was gnawing as opposed to suckling on the nipple. No mama cow was going to put up with that – even a patient one.
Eastern Ontario, our
soil is often lacking in the mineral selenium. As a result, at least one animal
born on the farm every season seems to have this problem where they are born
without the instinct or knowledge to suck. The other issue is that there is a
shortage of selenium available in farm supply outlets again this year.
Thankfully we managed to get some. Unfortunately the calf needed it right away
and the Farmer wouldn’t be around to give it to him as he had meetings all day.
I had to learn how to use a hypodermic needle, and fast.
I guess every Farmwife should know how to give a shot to her animals. I should also know how to mend a pair of jeans and the fence that ripped ‘em, apparently. And one day I should probably learn how to shoot a gun, in the general direction of the coyote who keeps trying to carry off my sheep. I just found a terrified ewe cowering in the corner of the barn with a tooth puncture wound on her neck. The vampire is back.
I trudged off to the barn with the needle tucked into my breast pocket and another bottle of milk replacer in the bib of my snowpants, keeping warm. The mama cow let me into her pen, stepping back a bit to let me at her calf, which was once again curled up in the corner, asleep. I took a few seconds kneading and rubbing his long bony legs, trying to find the fleshiest bit of the muscle. He was the size of a full-grown black Lab. The massage woke him up and his empty tummy told him to get to his feet. I had to hold him down to quickly inject him with the selenium. I did it. The calf got up, honked at me in protest, and staggered over to his mother, who again shoved him away with her foot. I backed the calf up into the corner, straddled him, lifted his chin and put the bottle nipple in his mouth. He drank two litres right away and somewhere in the second litre he started sucking.
Next, we had to get the mama to trust her calf, who we named Carlos. The Farmer tied a rope around her kickin’ leg and every time she raised it to hit her calf, he gave it a tug. She mooed a question, then quickly learned that the calf had learned how to get milk without hurting his mother.
They are going to be fine. It’s been another very busy but successful week on the farm, with a happy ending. I hope lambing season goes just as well, later in February.
Posted by Diana Leeson Fisher at 7:13 AM
Saturday, January 25, 2014
Occasionally I get emails from other farmwives around the world. Many of these farmwives were not ‘to the manner born’ but rather married into the farm scene, like I did. Sometimes the messages are hand written on notepaper, folded into envelopes, stamped and mailed to me, a reminder of a time when things were a little slower, and simpler. One of those letters was sent from a seniors’ home. The letter writer said my column reminded her of her early days as a new farmwife: learning to deal with the birth and death of farm animals; that feeling of being exhausted but satisfied after a hard days’ work in the garden or the stable; knowing that your efforts meant something.
Recently another farmwife contacted me after stumbling upon my blog. Killarney Sheffield is enjoying life as a writing farmwife too. Here is an excerpt from her note:
“The life of a farmer’s wife can be pretty tough, always satisfying and rewarding, but I needed more. I always had my showing and horse training career, but found it difficult to work around my role on the farm and five pregnancies, toddlers, diapers and naptimes. I always had an interest in writing and one day I pulled out a pad of paper and penned my first historical romance. Then I penned a second and a third. What did I do with them? Nothing. Yup, nothing. I mean I was just a lil’ ol’ farmers wife with no formal writing training. Who was going to want my books? I fell into a little occasional freelance journalism for a local newspaper. That was fun, but it was often hard to run out and cover a local news story between the kids and the farm. As luck would have it my editor mentioned in passing that he loved my writing and I should consider writing and publishing a novel sometime. Well, that was the kick in the pants I needed to get some courage and submit my novel to a couple small Canadian presses. Imagine my surprise to find they loved it and wanted to publish me! A couple years and seven books later saw me make the leap to a large American press and acquire several awards. Marketing and public appearances are still tough, but now I have this little corner of the world to call my own.”
Killarney’s letter came at the perfect time, because I have been trying to find the motivation to get back to work on my own book. It certainly is hard to find the time to write when you live on a farm, host International students and your day job has you up between 4 and 5am. But I think my biggest problem is that I want to know what the book will look like before I begin. I have ten years of columns now, so no shortage of material. But as three of those years were columns about culture shock in
before I became a farmwife, there is a real divide there and I’m not sure how
to make it flow into a book.
So there you go. For the people who keep asking, “how’s the book coming along?” It’s not that I’m a perfectionist. I’m far from it. I’m just trying to find the book among all those stories in my brain. I’ve got most of them on a usb stick and I keep shuffling them around like a deck of cards or a bouquet of flowers – trying to arrange them into something interesting, and moving.
I believe we all have stories within is. But for some of us, those stories are constantly trying to get out. We don’t feel settled until we get them out and down on paper – or the computer screen. I find this weekly column very therapeutic. It keeps me sane. And one day, hopefully soon, I will take this 100,000 word raw manuscript that I’ve compiled and find the book hiding inside.
Posted by Diana Leeson Fisher at 10:16 AM