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.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Snow memories

I found evidence that our winters have been warmer with less precipitation through historical weather records. Further evidence is the change in our winter activities that we do on the ranch. I started to learn to ski at a young age, but it was many years before I went to a commercial ski hill. All our skiing was done at home. The forest on the ranch has many trails dissecting it that were built by my father when he was logging. These paths were perfect for skiing on and the snow was deep enough to cover the forest floor. At times if the snowfall was a bit sparse then the hay fields could be used, with a giant track made around the perimeter. For a number of years we had an old snowmobile with a professional track setter that we used to set a very good ski trail. The trail system was so heavily used, not just by us, but by friends, that we built a "ski shack" up the hill from the Ranch by the "gravel pit".

The ski shack at the gravel kit, circa early 1980s.

The ski shack became a gathering place for our annual "chili cook-offs" that our friends the Peznicks started on New Years Day. There was a small stove in the lean to that we could use to keep the chili warm and people could enjoy tobogganing as well as skiing. After a few years we moved the chili cook-off party to our home and used our hill in the pasture for tobogganing.

1998, the New Years day chilli cook-off.

New Years Day, friends, family and neighbors gather to toboggan.

The last 5 years we have had trouble continuing with our chilli-cook off tradition as often there is not enough snow to toboggan or ski. I have thought of organizing alternate activities such as volleyball in order to be able to continue the tradition of the gathering. Our family has been the hosts of many events over the years on the Ranch which I view as our commitment to both place and community, and our home is the natural gathering place, signifying our strength as leaders and our right to belong here.

Another measurement of the dwindling snow fall levels on the Ranch is to use the fenceposts as a yardstick. I remember that the snow would often come right to the top of fenceposts and if it was an area where the snowplow would push the snow, then the fence would be completely covered, often necessitating repairs in the spring.

circa 1960s, the snow reaching up to the top of the fence line.

Winter 1965. I am in the makeshift sleigh with my grandmother, Renee, looking on. The snow is getting close to the top wire on the fenceline.

Winter 2010. Compared to the 1980s and before we have more of a dusting of snow than an actual snowfall. The snow never goes up the fenceposts.

My childhood home, circa 1970s. The skis leaning up against the wall give the house the look of a ski chalet rather than a farmhouse.

Eddy did not ski very often with us but here he is, early 1970s, with his niece Sylvie, who was visiting from Switzerland with her son, Loic. They are on one of the many forest trails on the ranch.

The farm does look beautiful under it's covering of snow. Even though the snow is not as deep it still illuminates the landscape.

Winter 2010, my daughter Marlee discovers that there is enough snow to ski in the pasture by the house.

hush, hush
Snow so still, so soft,
hush, let it be.
The traces of our stories, no secrets in the snow.
The little mice feet running about.
The tracks from my daughter’s skis, how far she went.
The big holes from the sliders that fell.
How to love all of that honesty, the every mark in our soul?
Only the birds are spared, splicing through the frozen air.
The rest of us leave our traces for all to see.
My walk, where I stopped, and the tears that went down down
through the crystalline layers to the welcoming earth below,
warming the frozen grasses with a salty kiss.
I know what you will all say, let it be.
My friends, my guides, have faith.
It will all be.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

From the depths of Winter

I have been doing some research into the temperature and precipitation fluctuations in the Shuswap since my great grand parent's arrival here in 1938.  All the photographs and the letters over the early years on the farm made it clear that there was lots of snow and it was cold enough that the lake froze over.
My house sits where my great grandparent's house once stood thus I gaze out onto the same view of the lake that they had all those years ago. It is not frozen, and has not been frozen for many years now.
Through the weather archives I discovered that the first winter that my great-grandparents endured on the farm, alone, without the youthful support of their grandson, the temperatures were consistently well below zero, and as cold as -24. A total of 225.8 cm. of snow fell that winter, lasting well into March. The snow probably didn't melt until late spring.

I have posted this picture before of my great-grandmother Caroline making her way to the house. Once in the house the temperature was dependent on how well the wood stove was stocked. With no central heating the only room that was warm was the kitchen. The house itself was very poorly built so that it is no wonder that water would freeze overnight.

 Charles and Caroline Fleur de Lys were well advanced in their years when they bought the farm. They did not have any preparation for living the rustic lifestyle on the Shuswap as their home in Montreal had all the modern luxeries.  Caroline made it very clear in her letters to Switzerland that she found the absence of running water and bathing extremely difficult to endure. Caroline had to wait 20 years for central heating. It was installed in the winter of 1961 and she joyfully proclaimed in her correspondence that "it is 32 degrees (f) outside and inside all through the house it is an equal temperature of 80 degrees (f)."

The long cold winters on the Ranch are in the past. Climate change is very evident in at least the last 10 years. The last winter we remember the lake freezing was in 1991. We were living in the Atwater cabin which was built directly on the water. Our neighbors skated over the 2 km. of shoreline between our houses to visit us.

1991 - the view from the Atwater Cabin. Before the lake freezes a mist forms above the water.

We started to move back and forth to the Ranch in 1990, moving here permanently in 1993.  In 1993 my parents were about 10 years younger  than my great-grandparents were when they bought the farm and were the lone pioneers for a year. It was evident in the years that followed our move to the farm that there are tasks that are best done by a younger person, which is a problem throughout agriculture where the average age of a farmer is 57.

The winter of 1991 also brought record snow falls. Brent is up on my parent's roof removing some of the accumulated snow. This is a good example of a job best done by a younger person.

 Brent with the snowblower on the top of Eddy and Betty's house roof. We have not had to shovel snow from our roofs for many years. The last time we can remember was the winter of 1994.

Even with our 4 wheel drive vehicles we would often get stuck on the farm or along our Sunnybrae Road. Most of the time we could help each other out. Here Brent is pulling Eddy out of the ditch. Eddy is in the truck with his two little dogs and our black lab, Kia Ora.