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.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Give Death his due......

The Ranch has known many animals over the years and mourned the losses, at times intensely.  Dogs have been the most endearing creatures to share our lives, but pigs, chickens, goats, horses, rabbits, cats, guinea pigs, rats, birds, fish and mice have all found places in our hearts.
Dogs can be a very practical addition to farm life. We have never been able to train a dog to herd, but our Great Pyrenees was very skilled at protecting the home. Our cat most recently has gone missing and if our Great Pyrenees had been alive we would not be worried about a coyote or cougar killing our pets. Dogs are foremost companions and really serve very limited practical purpose. They can't even be relied on to bark when someone approaches the house.
Renee with one of the farm's first dogs.

Brent and I met in 1989, and spent our first summer as a couple on the farm. In the ensuing years, until our permanent move to the farm in 1993, we moved back and forth, spending months, sometimes years on the Ranch. Our dog companion at this time was Kio Ora, who we were hopelessly devoted to.

My horse Griffin who learning to ride was a very rewarding process. We have been forced to give up our livestock and although my husband misses the cows the most, I miss the horses.

Our goat herd, circa 2004.

Murphy, who has been missing for a few days and we are very worried about.

This post and the following poem, by Joan Ward-Harris, is dedicated to my friend Susan who has lost a very sweet dog companion.

---Patience! Time will blur
the aching sorrow
And one day sweetly she will
come to mind.
In gently playful guise; and
having smiled-
Aware and not denying, you
will borrow
From yourself at each new
need to bind
With love a helpless creature
Give death is due
Or else to emptiness be

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Life, Death and Regeneration

October is the month of the Salmon Run, always impressive as the Shuswap Lake stock is one of the largest breeding populations in the basin of the Fraser River.  It is an incredible sight to see the fish make their way up the rivers to their final nesting grounds, and to think of their amazing four year life cycle. Four years earlier the parents of these fish, mated, and laid their eggs and then died. In the spring the tiny fish made their way to the nursery lake, Shuswap, where they spend a year roaming it's kilometeres of deep waters. At the end of that year they headed off down the 480 kilometre trip down the Thompson and Fraser rivers to the Pacific Ocean.  Of the estimated 100 million sockeye that leave Shuswap Lake in the spring of a peak year, approximately 10 per cent are expected to return the the B.C. coast four years later.  The aging process of the salmon is as dramatic as it is for humans, but much faster.  In the 17 day journey as they leave the Pacific to head to their spawning grounds,  their bodies undergo a complete change. In his article "Salute to the Sockeye", Murphy Shewchuk, describes this transformation; "Their deep-sea blue-gray bodies gradually change to a brilliant crimson in their battle against such well-known obstacles as Hell's Gate Rapids on the Fraser and the many whitewater rapids on the Thompson. By the time the Adams River Sockeye reach the mouth of the stream in mid-October, the transformation from blue-gray to crimson is virtually complete. In addition, the male of the species now has become grotesquely distorted with a humped back and a sharped hooked nose on his gray-green head."

During my last visit to Switzerland I was discussing the health of the Salmon stocks with Gus Naef.
He remembered when the "Salmon were so numerous in the Salmon River that by Fall when the Salmon die the people close to the river would fish out the dead fish for fertilizer for the fields".  This was a souvenir from the 1940s, when in fact the Salmon stocks had already suffered a decline due to the after- effects of the Hells Gate Slide. As early as the 1900s there had been habitat destruction in the Salmon River watershed due to land settlement and agricultural development. In the early 1930s there was documentation of obstruction of adult salmon at the outlet of the Salmon River into Shuswap Lake (credits to the Salmon River Watershed Roundtable). The truly remarkable Salmon runs were well before the area was settled as reported by the First Nations. In 1905, Salmond D Mitchelll, a Fisheries Officer, who was investigating salmon utilization of the Salmon River documented the following after being woken up in the morning where he had spent the night in his rowboat; "I was aroused by a commotion, and found the river full of sockeye running from bank to jammed that they were crowded out...rushed up the sloping banks out of the water...struggling flapping fish were rolling down onto the backs of the fish in the river bed below...The boat was on fish, on a red, flapping, squirming mass...They rushed (by)....creating a great noise, like the roar of a storm, or the noise of a thousand wild ducks rising from a lake..."(excerpt from Hume, 1992-credits to the Salmon River Watershed Roundtable).

The Salmon do not come into Shuswap Lake in large number to spawn. We do see small numbers of them, but Gus told me a story that took place in the 1940s in front of the "Atwater Cabin", one of the residences on Canoe Point. The Salmon were not spawning, but they were fortunate enough to see the young Salmon migrating to the ocean. Gus recalls; "by nine o'clock we could see fish swimming head to tail about four feet deep! By seven at night I went there again. At that time the fish were about two feet wide and deep. The next morning the fish were still running but only one fish at a time".

The Salmon River Watershed Roundtable report that "fish are a useful bioindicator of watershed health. Present day rearing and spawning success of coho and chinook appear to be 1-10% of potential. This is largely due to habitat degradation." It is devastating to think that we may lose this incredible being and what that would mean for all of us.  Gus commented on the health of the Shuswap; "The Shuswap has mainly been victim of the humans. I think it was in the sixties when the fishing department decided that Trout and Salmon  were not breeding because other fish were too they poisoned all of the small lakes which flow into the Shuswap".  The widespread use of DDT to control mosquitoes also had a significant impact.  However it is the continued practices of forest cover removal, pollution through grey water, loss of riparian vegetation, rise in water temperatures, active bank erosion, and significant water withdrawals that continue to pose a threat to the health of the Salmon and other fish. (credits to the Salmon River Watershed Roundtable).

The late Roderick Haig-Brown, a well known British Columbia conservationist, author and magistrate, gave a eloquent summary of our current situation in his book, The Salmon, written for Environment Canada in 1974; "The salmon run are a visible symbol of life, death and regeneration, plain for all to see and share...The salmon are a test of a healthy environment, a lesson in environmental needs. Their abundant presence on the spawning beds is a lesson of hope, of deep importance for the future of man. If there is ever a time when the salmon no longer return, man will know he has failed again and move one stage nearer to his own final disappearance."

photo credits to Salute to the Sockeye

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I feel alone in my village

I recently made my pilgrimage back to Switzerland and I spent quite a bit of time with Gus Naef.  It has been many years now that he had to leave the Ranch and live permanently in Hermance, a small village just outside of Geneva.  He has a beautiful home overlooking the Lac Leman, but still pines for his home on the ranch.

View from Gus's house in Hermance, overlooking the Lac Leman.

View from Gus's house on the Shuswap.

I make sure that Gus reads all my posting on the blog and it was wonderful to talk to him and gather further insight into the history. One day we were discussing the lifestyle on the ranch and contrasting it today where, especially in the case of my family, we spend very little time at home. Due to the drastic changes on the Ranch we have had to let go of all our livestock and work full time in town.
Gus commented; "What you say is absolutely true. Today you have a car that can take you here and there. You today live only a few hours a day at home. We were living 24 hours at home or in the fields or bush. This is the difference. I feel very alone here now though I live in a village with family and friends. But today beside the work, people are too busy".
There was a strong sense of community on Canoe Point at that time. People not only worked at home but all the entertaining was done amongst neighbors. There was an open invitation and the "coffee pot was always on". Close friendships developed that endured for many years, surviving even when people had to move away. The friendship that has most moved me was the one between my grandmother Renee and my godmother, Lea Berger.  Everyday they would speak to each other and often they would go on long walks together. There is a soothing quality to a visit while walking and Canoe Point is extremely scenic.
circa 1960s. The view as it would of been for Renee and Lea on their walks.

Share it,
share it all.
The aching heart sorrows of lost love,
the losses that cut you open, and leave you never.
The smaller ones; a failed exam, a bad haircut,
share those too.
See, we are all the same.
Made larger somehow, knowing we are not alone.
A comfort to be together, the shared knowledge of suffering
grows the heart, nourishes the soul.
Makes us larger than life itself. 

Christmas 2006.  Walking is one of our favourite things to do with friends too.

What struck me most during the visit with Gus is although he has surrounded by a village my impression is that he has never felt so alone.  I feel the same way now when I am home on the farm alone, something I really try hard to avoid.

The village of Hermance

August 2011 in Gus's house in Hermance with my daughter, Marlee.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Thanksgiving

There are many things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving weekend. Our garden was harvested by my son Mico and his friend and the crop fit into a large basket, a sharp contrast to the root cellar that my great grandparents and grandparents had, but still a pleasure to eat food that you have grown yourself.
I also find myself reflecting on how thankful I am to have this opportunity to write this story. I have spent literally months coming to an understanding of my family history through the reading of old letters and hours of discussion with different family members.  I have been incredibly fortunate that my grandparents did not like throwing things away, allowing me to have such a complete record of their early years on the Ranch. My yearly visits to Switzerland have given me the opportunity to expand on the history though long discussions with family, primarily Gus and my father’s sister, Michele. The last gift was the many years I spent living on the Ranch as an adult with my own family, further developing the relationship with my parents from the perspective of an adult rather than a child.
Through all of this I have been able to understand better who I am and what brought us all to where we are today.  Not everything is revealed though and life still contains many mysteries. There are hidden corners to every story and secret parts of the heart that I believe are better not to uncover.
As I write this I am thinking specifically of my father and his single minded pursuit of his dream farm. A dream he held, indescribably, even as a child.
It has been a beautiful journey learning more about my father through writing this story. Something else to be thankful for.

When you lay down the rose colored glasses,
then you see there are no heroes.
To love despite the imperfections is the challenge,
allowing yourself to see the person before you.
I think of my father’s indomitable will, the strength of character,
the one-sided perseverance. 
We have all paid the price of his vision.
A trick of birth and circumstance has brought the story where it is today.
Where he clung and built I have had to learn to let go and do nothing.
His word was the law, but no more.
No one can claim to walk in his shoes, nor should they want to.
I listened to every story with my heart wide open, and finally have understood.
Think for yourself, love as much as you can, accept the frailty of being human.
It is with all of this tenderness that I love my father.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The family of Wood

I feel very fortunate that I have had so much opportunity to explore with my family the mysteriers of our lives and how we came to be. My father's sister has been an incredible source of family history and I have spent hours with her going over the events of the past, reflecting on how that may have impacted the present.
We often wonder what motivated Eddy to embrace the life of a farmer at such a young age. There are professions that normally are passed through family, farming being one of the most obvious due to the acquisition of land. My Aunt told me that Eddy had always believed he would return to Canada and become a farmer. There was no indication that his grandparents still living in Montreal would provide him this opportunity until he was already in Agriculture school.  He cultivated this dream with no land and no means to travel back to Canada.  He did not have the support of his family in Switzerland who did not want to lose a family member.  His Uncle Mico, who was a major figure in my father's life, strongly opposed his departure.  He wanted my father to complete his studies which would have included a few years in addition to his Agriculture diploma, in order to become a veterinarian.  Uncle Mico believed that the studies would of provided my father additional security for his future.
It is often the small details of life that bring us the most understanding. One day my Aunt was telling me about my father as a young boy and how he would seek out farms to work on, returning home with clothes that smelt of the farmyard.  Eddy was not allowed into the house smelling like the farm, and was forced to strip down on the doorstep.  My Aunt marvelled that Eddy was the only one in the family that embraced working on a farm and becoming so "dirty". Nobody that we know of in the family history had been farmers. She continued her narration describing an incident that happened when they were small children on their way to school.  The bushes along the path to the school had been trimmed and the branches were left on the ground, soon to be gathered up by the gardeners.  My father flung himself on the trimmings, sobbing for the loss of their life.  It was truly an intense love for nature that he must of been born with.

 Michele and Eddy on their way to school, Geneva.

It was early morning when the bushes were trimmed,
the branches left on the road to be swept up later.
The tightly closed leaves breaking their promise to open.
This you could not bear.
All that life closely bound to the invisible cycle that holds all of us,
the gorgeous fresh green already fading into death.
This is your home, where you stand, and then threw yourself,
sobbing on the broken wood.
Grief for what was lost, as if each bud was a family, friend.
Your heart broke open that day and all of nature entered in.