My family lived on a Ranch full time from 1993 until 2015. We were a 5th generation family farm.
I am writing this blog to share my experiences living there. It is best to read the blog chronologically by going through the archives, starting with the introduction in January of 2010.
The blog starts with the arrival of my great-grandparents to the farm in 1947 and will follow the families to the present.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Love your Neighbor

A community had developed over time amongst the people in the Canoe Point area.  Friendships were forged that endured for years. My Grandmother, Renee, was fortunate enough to have a neighbor arrive that proved to be a long time companion and walking partner, Lea Berger. They shared their mutual passion of gardening, promoting exchanges of plants over the years.  Lea developed extensive gardens around her lovely home that was set deep into the bay that became known as "Berger Bay".  In the bay was another house that was once the apple packing plant that became the home of the Tapson-Jones.
Renee and Lea were the type of friends that connected almost daily. The essence of this friendship is captured in a letter written by Lea to Renee during one of Renee's trips to Switzerland; "I miss not having you here to discuss all the problems of the every day life. Our wonderful talks in the morning to sort of start the day off".
Berger Bay is beautifully sheltered and has what could almost be called sand. The Secwempec people had used the bay extensively over the years leaving behind a large collection of arrow heads and other reminders of their life there. Human remains were also found tucked into a corner of the bay that were identified as being a Secempec person.
I spent quite a bit of time with Lea over the years.  Her husband died while they were still living on the Shuswap and she perserved for a number of years alone in the house before eventually moving to Victoria.  Our relationship resumed once I moved to Victoria to go to University where we developed a habit of having lunch together once a week.
It is interesting that some houses seem to leave a virtual map in your head and that is the case with Lea's house for me.  I can recall with detail the entire home.  It had a very smart floor plan with a large entry way for wet shoes and coats.  The kitchen was generous with a dining area overlooking the lake.  Lea was an accomplished cook having worked as a chef in a lodge for many years. She made amazing strawberry shortcake.  I loved the charming sun room that gave way to the garden and a lovely view of the bay.  As children we played in the top floor of the house which was under the eaves and set up like a little apartment with a small sitting area.  The house had an outside bedroom which was the perfect place for Lea's nephew to stay.  Unfortunately the house was destroyed in the 1990s to make way for a modern house which was also white with a red roof, paying homage to the original home that stood there.

Lea Berger and Caroline Miege

Canoe Point was still a tight knit community at this time and would remain that way for many years. The road had opened up the Point to easier access to Salmon Arm but the neighbors still relied a lot in each other and were each other's main social contacts during the week.
There is no doubt it is important no matter where you live to be able to trust and call on your neighbor for help.  In an isolated area however it could save a life. There is still no fire service so if there is a house fire it would only be your neighbors that would be called to help.
I have never in my life living on the farm felt so isolated here as I do now.  I wish Mama Lea still lived next door......

The skeletons are coming out of the closet,
I saw one yesterday,
The entire cervical spine, the skull delicately attached.
There is no hiding the truth.
Bare bones remind us that life is short, time precious.
Clenching onto power, fear, all stripped away in the end.
We are all the same,
whether our bones are piled, burnt or buried.
So live carefully with your bones and skin,
wisdom, kindness.
Respect your neighbor,
'Do unto others as you would have others do unto you'
The Golden Rule,
guiding our lives, gently taking us home.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Happy Birthday

On this day in 1964 Betty gave birth to a daughter and after the mandatory week stay in the Salmon Arm hospital I made my entrance to the Ranch.  I gave birth to my three children in the same hospital many years later, and what may have been the same room.
There had not yet been any children residents on Canoe Point.  The population was slowly increasing with the construction of the road but it was still a very small community.  The road was rough and it took at least an hour to drive to town.  It is a 35 minute drive now and a good portion of the route is paved.  The distance to town had to be taken into consideration when going into labour.  As appealing as a home birth is we decided to have our children in hospital which meant leaving for the hospital before labour was too far advanced.  Very dear friends of ours almost gave birth to one of their children in our vehicle as we made the journey into town due to the quick progression of the labour.
Canoe Point has never had a large number of children living here year around.  In summer there is a significant increase in the population to enjoy the Shuswap, but as fall descends people quickly depart.  It is challenging to raise a family here due to the long distance to school and other services.  Betty was alone without the support of other young mothers and children.  I was fortunate when I had children here that neighbors close by also had children around the same age.  I also was able to bring the children to town to enjoy pre-school and other activities which was not as accessible for my parents.
I like to think, being a Leo, that I was a little sparkle of joy to the community. Babies are truly incredible and I can only hope that my arrival brought more love. I know for certain for my grandmother and great grandmother I became a central fixture to their lives, and called my grandmother Mama which is French for Mother. In the bay next to our home Mrs. Lea Berger and her husband Louie had bought the beautiful white farm house with the red roof. This landmark home sat in a deeply sheltered bay that became known as "Berger Bay".  Lea Berger also became a significant person in my life and I called her Mama Lea.  She was appointed to be my Godmother.

Eddy and Caroline in the newly constructed house.  I don't remember if it was my birth or the birth of my brother but my Father did faint after the delivery of one of us.  As he is an epileptic extra precautions had to be taken and he was also admitted to spend the night at the hospital.

From left to right: Grandmother Caroline, Mary Lou Tapson-Jones, Mrs. Woods, Lea Berger, and Caroline.
Grandmother Caroline gorgeously dressed in red for her birthday celebration.  All of these women were year around residents of Canoe Point and I hope that they were helpful to my Mother in her new role.

Grandmother Caroline and Caroline

Eddy, Caroline and Gus

Life brings with it difficult decisions and as I have travelled my many paths I have developed guiding principles to help me with this process. One of the most compelling is asking myself if what I am doing is in the best interests of the children.  I learned about this value first as a social worker and later as a parent it took on a deeper understanding.  Children, like life itself, are with you for such a short time, however your actions can resonate for years. Our simplest actions, such as composting, can be seen through this guiding lens.  Some of my most difficult choices have been made as I have decided it was in the best interests of the children.

My Child

Don't touch the wood stove,
but you did.
The crescent shaped scar on your hand,
a reminder.
Looking for you in clothes rakes, forest paths,
and most terrifying lakeshore.
Pulling you back from busses, cars, motorcycles.
Watching the stairs, hot irons, boiling pots.
A thousand times my heart would be in my throat,
and now, hours, sometimes days, I don't know where you are.
Springing forward with a hope, not a backward glance.
Such a moment of holding, and then a forever letting go.
My child, but not mine.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A call to the water spirits

Shuswap Lake is the 7th largest lake in B.C. and is the major contributor to the Fraser River Watershed. The water in the Shuswap is precious for a myriad of purposes; a habitat for a variety of wildlife and plant species, cultural, drinking water, recreation and agriculture. The Shuswap Lake system has been the traditional territory of the Secwepemc people for over 8000 years.
"Water has always been sacred to the Secwepemc people since time immemorial, as the appreciation of water's life sustaining values have long been part of Secwepemc culture.  As our Stsptekwe (our oral history) teach us, one of the few gifts we received from Old One, our Chief on High, was the Sqilye (sweat lodge) - our place of prayer and meditation and cleansing and healing. Our Tqeltk Kuppi instructed the Fir Bought Spirit and the Water Spirit to assist the Spirit of Sqilye in answering the prayers of the Secwepemc"
The Sacred Healing Powers of Water for the Secwepemc, by Ronald E. Ignace, PHD
The Secwepemc people were still actively fishing and living on the Shuswap when the Fleur-de-Lys and Miege families moved here in the 1938.  I was told that the Secwepemc families would stop in for a visit with the new farm family on their way further up the lake.  At that time the lake was pristine and the fish stocks abundant.
The Shuswap has been victim to it's own beauty and has seen extensive development over the years.  The Shuswap Watershed Project released in June 2009 estimated that "42.8% of the shoreline has a high level of impact which accounts for 174 km of shoreline. Areas of moderate and low impact account for 17.4% or 70.7 km and 31.53% or 128.2 km of the shoreline respectively.  There is only an estimated 33.3 km or 8.2% of the shoreline that is believed to have little or no impact". There has been a corresponding decline in fish stocks due to the degradation of habitat from pollution and disturbances along the waterfront. Of the Shuswap lake population, 70% require shoreline habitat for their survival.  Fish that call the Shuswap home include the rainbow trout, bull trout, lake char, kokanee, whitefish, and 4 of 5 species of Pacific salmon (coho, chinook, sockeye and pink salmon).  The Shuswap Lake produces 19% of the Sockeye population of the entire Fraser River system and is home to the world famous Adams River Sockeye.
Eddy recalls in the "early days" of the Adams River run that the river would be thick with Salmon, giving the impression that the fish had replaced the water.  Fishing would take very little time, assuring that if you set out to have fish for supper that you would indeed have several.  That is certainly not the case today for despite the technology of fish sensors and fancy tackle one always needs a backup plan for dinner.

Madame Naef (Gus's mother) with Renee inspecting the bounty from the lake.

I can smell the fish in the water,
their shimmering skin moving through
that deep coolness.
Those moments when I catch them suspended in air
before they drift back down,
are always breathtaking.
I watch the circle of ripples drift to the shore,
and think of them far below in the green darkness.
In a few weeks I will be walking in the lake,
their babies swimming among my feet.
I would like to dive down and visit with the parents,
but the heaviness of the water scares me.
We are separated by our elements, and I find that strangely sad.
When the storms threaten our home, and the waters are hurled to the sky,
I know they must dive down deep where the water is still, a calmness.
I am happy they they are safe, that all is well in their world.
May that be true for everyone.

Caroline Miege

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Fisherman's Cabin

Tourism had an early start on Shuswap Lake for as early as the 1930s small cabins were constructed along the lakeshore for the "fisher-people" to stay in.  Despite their rustic construction these cabins have endured over the years.  I have had the privilege of living in two of them.
My husband and I met in 1988 at the University of Victoria and by the summer of 1989 I had brought him to the farm.  We quickly installed ourselves in the Fisherman's Cabin, one of the relics from the past that had been constructed in front of my parent's home. The cabin was the perfect romantic home, set on the edge of the lake with trees gathered around it.  Eddy and Betty had also stayed in this cabin as a young couple, using it as their home while their house was being constructed on the hill above.
 The cabin has the perfect antidote for a hot summer day, a large screened porch. There is another room with a very inefficient stone fireplace.  The chimney of the fireplace was a smoke stack from a steam ship that sunk in front of the cabin.  A small stone flagged kitchen completes the cabin.
The fisherman's cabin
The cabin porch as it was in 1989 when Brent and I stayed in it for the summer
Caroline in the summer of 1989. It is fun doing dishes in the Fisherman's Cabin
Brent in the summer of 89.

 The "twin" of this cabin is around the point. It was bought by a couple from States that used it as a summer home, they added onto it and eventually it could also be lived in for the winter.  When we moved back to the farm as a family with a young baby we lived in this cabin, called the Atwater, for a few years.

The Atwater cabin in it's original state.

The Atwater Cabin  circa 1950s

Caroline the summer of 1989.  The screened porch was my favorite place to be in the Fisherman's Cabin. The sleeping corner had a beautiful popular tree nestled around it for many years until a beaver chewed it down.

A summer sleep
under the trembling Aspen.
The leaves clapping their hello, and then whispering my eyes closed.
Delicious the little breeze that skips, jumps over skin.
Everything is still, held by the thick afternoon heat.
The bees sunk low in the nectar of the wild rose, fish in the black of the lake.
The thin skinned earthworms are dug down deep to find the damp earth.
A comfort, a gift, to be safe in this moment.
I in cool cotton, others in flowers, water, soil.
It could go on forever, all of us together, suspended in the warmth
of this day.
If I could kiss this moment I would. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Farmer's Daughter

In May of 1963 Eddy and Betty returned to the Ranch to start their lives there as a family. It was a busy time for them, trying to implement all the wonderful ideas they had gathered during their travels in New Zealand and the construction of a new home.  I was born in July of 1964 by which time the house was ready for habitation, although like most farm houses it was many years before it was actually finished.
Betty, like Renee and Grandmother Caroline before her, had become a farm woman.

"Who is a farm woman? Is it enough simply to marry a farmer, or to live with him, to become a farm woman? What about the full-time teacher, or part-time cashier, who is the legal or common-law wife of a farmer? Must a farm woman also perform farming duties, like feeding animals or driving a tractor? Should activities relating to the enterprise as a whole, such as contributing funds, keeping books, and the doing the ordering be taken into account? Is a farm woman exclusively someone who is the head of a farm enterprise, a co-operator, or an employee of the farmer? Obviously the term farm woman brings to mind all of these images simultaneously." Growing Strong, Women In Agriculture by Michelle Boivin.

The role of a "farm woman" is loaded with legal, social and economic implications.  Women farmers' groups in Canada have worked hard over the years to define the nature of a woman's role on a farm, which is all too often taken for granted.  73% Canada's agricultural production comes from independent family farms, which translates into a significant contribution by women to the economy.
Throughout history women have been the primary gathers, processors, and preparers of food in the domestic sphere, yet this role is often marginalized and rights to land and economic control taken away. For example, in 1981 87% of family farms in Canada still belonged to a single owner, usually the husband.  In cases of divorce  a women's contribution to the business is often negated, and the proceeds are not divided equally. Women are often pushed aside in favor of men in succession planning. (credits to Growing Strong, Dianne Morissette).

It is within this economic, political and social framework that the women on the Ranch have worked.   Renee developed a skill for gardening and that was her primary focus on the farm over the years, as well as the processing of the food.  In the early years when the farm had chickens, geese and pigs she was the one that looked after them.

Renee as a farm woman

 Betty came to the farm as a registered nurse and those skills served the farm and the neighbors over the years.  Betty was integral in the care of Grandmother Caroline when, towards the end of her life, she became bedridden.  There is never just one role of course that a farm woman undertakes;
"Some women operate machinery, some tend to the cows, some act as receptionists, secretaries, accountants, researchers, labour relations officers, personnel managers, sanitary technicians, mechanics, truck-drivers, salespeople, public relations officers, planners, buyers and so on. they call this helping out, running errands, answering the phone".  Les besions de formation professionnelle des agricultrices, Suzanne Dion. There is strong tendency among farm women to underestimate their contributions and fail to see themselves as actual producers.

Betty worked for only a short time off the farm as nurse.  It was Eddy that took on the role of outside work in order to support both the family and to keep the business of the farm viable.  Statistically the salary earned outside the farm is what permits the maintenance of the family farm operation in Canada.  That is certainly true of the Ranch where Eddy logged both on and off the farm, and maintained a custom work business. Both my husband and I moved to the farm with a university education.  My husband had started a career with the Ministry of Employment which he was able to continue in Salmon Arm. He also had served for years as a park ranger and those labour skills served him well in his new farming role.  My husband was able to juggle farm work by maintaining a casual status with the Ministry and taking leaves of absence.  I took on various social work contracts for many years.  In addition to their "town jobs" it is estimated that a farming couple spends anywhere from 40 to a 100 hours a week on farm work.  This double or triple workload is a significant source of stress to farmers.  In a study submitted to the Learned Societies by Linda Craig, lack of profit and financial difficulties on farms were identified as the two most important stress-creating factors among farm women.  It has been suggested that the number of farm suicides is possibly the best index of the seriousness of stress on the farm.  Between 1979 and 1982, suicides accounted for 34.8 per cent of deaths, classified as fatal accidents, on farms (credit to Ginnette Busque, The Needs and Resources of Farm Women)

The other significant impact for the farming woman is the rights to land. Renee was fortunate that when it came to succession planning her parents left her the farm instead of her brother.  These types of decisions do not come without consequences however, and it is not the norm as usually it is the male successor that is favored.  I who am now the fourth generation of farming women on the Ranch.

A Farmer's Daughter

What were they thinking when my great grandparents moved
to this far flung farm.
With so many years behind, and very few ahead.
The work for younger people picked up by them, city born and bred.
Their optimism stuns me.
Now it is I that stands on this piece of earth that my family was so proud to own.
Passed to me and then taken away.
The dirt does not know or care I suspect.
Grass grows just the same, sun and then moon pass over.
All this will continue on, although we will not.
A farmer's daughter, there will always be the desire,
for soil, warm eggs, the rush of a newborn.
Air infused with alfalfa, clover and timothy.
There are entire fields, soft, wind blown,
waving goodbye.
circa 1990s, Caroline Miege