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, June 30, 2012

A Clearcut of the Soul

I have grown up close to water and surrounded by the deep green of trees.  In my years away from the farm I found myself drawn to water and a need to wander in the woods.  When I plan holidays they are always by water. Even in the largest cities I would hunt out a park to restore myself in.

 My husband and I spent 3 days in Rome in 2007 and very quickly found this park in the middle of the city.

We went from Rome to Venice where we were of course surrounded by water but hardly a tree.

For many years I wandered around the many acres of forest on the Ranch. I find it very easy to get attached to a tree, and there is an expectation that they will always be there.  Of course, that is not the case. Many of my favorite trees from my past have disappeared; the apricot tree at the top of my parent's driveway, the large tree beside my childhood home that provided a thick cool shade. Trees are like us, they die.

September 1967 finds me standing beside the tree in my yard.

Many years later this tree now provides extensive shade.

I no longer walk the forest paths on the Ranch. It does not feel safe anymore for a variety of reasons. However I remember well the paths that were once old logging roads made by my father many years ago when he used to selective log our property. Now the land is being commercially logged by a feller buncher. I doubt I will recognize many sections of the farm forest if I ever make my way there again.

The loss of the forest has brought to mind some of my favourite trees in and around the property. Our current home was moved onto what was at one time part of the barn yard and thus there were not very many trees. My father helped us rectify this situation by planting a few trees around the house. A couple of these tree were brought to the garden by the conventional method through purchase at the local nursery. The two maples that stand guard on the driveway arrived by unusual means. Eddy dug them out as mature trees using his excavator and moved them to their current location

The two maples that Eddy moved and planted with the excavator

I have loved popular trees since the time that I spent the summers in the Fisherman's Cabin which was located just below my parent's house. It had a beautiful popular tree that leaned gently into one corner of the screen porch. I love the sound the leaves make as they clap together in the wind. The tree was eventually fallen by a beaver. Eddy planted a popular tree in our front yard and we rejoiced at the thought of it's spreading branches with the soft clapping leaves however we soon discovered it was a columnar popular variety, and it stands as a reminder that things are not always as they first appear. 

The popular tree that we learned to live with.

Fortunately we do have a "true" popular tree that absolutely beams with light behind our house. Trees have formed part of our community on the Ranch, and there is an aching sadness as we lose some of our long time friends. Trees provide solace to the soul.

He used the word Solace.
I had not expected that.
So lovely to be surprised, and happy too that he had found comfort.
But what was the distress, the sorrow, that required such a refuge?
Painful to see his sad moving soul, making his way,
Difficult to step back, or should I?
Yet again a reminder to never forget that we all carry sorrows,
close to our hearts, they make our journey with us.
Look to your neighbor.
Long and steady, and remember they too struggle.
Comes briefly, lies gently on a shoulder, and then disappears.
Remember this. Remember this.
It helps us to remain on the gentle path, the way of kindness.
Our neighbor suffers too.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"The Good Old Days"

My Grandfather, Gus, has always loved to talk about the "Good Old Days". I have seen quite a lot of him at his home in Hermance, Switzerland, over the last year. He has just celebrated his 90th birthday. Life has brought quite a few challenges his way along with his advanced age. I find that he is increasingly happy to talk about the past, which has become very golden to him.

Gus, April 2012, at my Aunt's funeral.

I understand this desire to romanticize the past as I tend to do as well as I remember the years that we farmed here with our small children, trying to balance work, the farm and family. The reality was that there were times that we were frustrated and overwhelmed with the challenges, but people don't tend to want to reflect on those feelings.

My father, Eddy, with his grandson, Aidan, checking the cows.

Gus feels that the early years on the farm were the true golden time when they lived very simply and their needs were few. He felt that as they connected to the "outside world" that their expenses increased without the corresponding rise in income. The farm has been through many passages of stress and conflict. Farm property has been sold in an effort to bring in some money. The forest has been ravaged and stripped of profitable wood.The family has threatened to sue others and others have threatened to sue the farm. There have been periods of unrest and abandonment by the farm partners. Gus told me of a time when Eddy went logging for many months off the farm and discussed with the family not returning to the partnership on the farm. The trips to New Zealand often would produce a desire to move there, at one time we actually looked at a farm that was for sale. All of this we have limped through, until the most recent years.

Eddy with his pipe in his mouth and his trademark orange toque, select logging the farm forest. Eddy practiced selective logging on the property for many years.

Christmas 2011, Eddy's grandson asked for an orange toque, like his "papa's". We pay homage to the past, but the "Good old Days" are right now. 

June 2012, in the farm house, celebrating Aidan's Birthday. We don't look to the past, nor yearn or fear the future, but live in the moment. This is a good old day.

The trail of tears I walk,
like the Iroquois before me,
so many have suffered the same fate;
The Roma, Rohingya, Tibetans…..
Driven from their homes and livelihood, the victims of
obsessive hatred, jealousy, harassment.
Their history rewritten, made out to be monsters.
There is no comfort in our numbers.
 A wrong against one is a blight on all.
The wise ask, “what can I learn from this?”
Allow hatred and resentment to perch gingerly on the edge of your chair,
offer them no food or water.
Keep the visit brief and uncomfortable.
Such visitors never last long without nourishment.
Then pick up the threads of your life, your loves.
Wrap that around you tight.
Then all I can add is to seek
In the moment.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Pilgrimage and Death

Pilgrimages can become dangerous, and even lead to death. A pilgrim encounters many perils on the path and life is fragile. My Grandfather, Henri Miege, did not set out to Canada on a pilgrimage. Accounts lead us to believe that he saw the opportunity as an escape from the discomfort he felt toward a love affair that his mother was engaged in.  He had been trained as an Architect and started to gather notice in Europe for his work.  His work centered around a belief that everyday objects should be beautiful. Henri was sponsored by an Uncle that had moved to the Montreal area some years previously. I had never heard of this Uncle until I came across some old immigration papers of my grandfather's where the Uncle was listed as the sponsoring relative. I asked my Aunt for some information about this relative and discovered that even at the end of her life she was reluctant to speak of him. He had been disowned by his family due to a crime that he had committed that out of respect to my Aunt I will not elaborate on. My Aunt remembered this Uncle coming over to visit the family. He would bring such strong smelling cheese that they were not allowed inside the house. My Grandfather must have decided to grant his Uncle amnesty with his family given that he was his only relative in Canada.

My Grandfather and his Uncle would enjoy their strong smelling cheese outside. 

Henri was active working to establish the arts in Montreal, primarily through pottery and some textile and painting. This became his pilgrimage, with art as his shrine. Despite a very meager income as an artist, and later as a night shift employee at Shawingan Chemicals, he put aside money every month in order to purchase a small studio on Melville Island. His eventual goal was to create a Technical Institute of the Arts. He had demonstrated a love for teaching by offering a number of short courses, primarily in textile art. 
Henri made his last payment on the studio on Melville island in May of 1931.  The total cost of the building was $40.00 which he paid in $5.00 installments.  A year later Henri became very ill with pneumonia and died, leaving behind three children under the age of 6. 

The receipt for last payment for the studio on Melville Island, with the hope to one day become the Technical Institute of the Arts. 

The family believe that Henri became ill as he was pushing himself too hard in his efforts to grow his art career and support his young family.  Henri was underemployed as a chemical operator given his training in Architecture. My Aunt always believed it was Henri's intention to return to Switzerland. I am not sure that this was his plan as he was firmly grounded in trying to launch his dreams in Quebec. Life was obviously very difficult for him in Canada yet he did not return to Geneva where he had started to establish a reputation both as an Artist and an Architect.  

A pilgrimage entails remaining faithful to your path despite the dangers and the difficulties.  Henri certainly stayed the course, creating pottery in his new studio, using the ovens at night at the Shawinigan Chemicals to fire his pieces. 

Henri Miege with his young daughter, Michele.  Shawingan Falls, Quebec. 

I know his daughter felt that her father was snatched away from his life at a painfully early age, and did not have the opportunity to full develop his artistic abilities. I take comfort in the courage of his journey,  to not allow the dream to be lost in the face of hardship as demonstrated by his use of the ovens at work to fire his pottery.  

The following poem by Wendell Berry captures this spirit;

The Real Work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.  

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Pilgrimage to the Heart of the Wilderness

“For in their hearts doth Nature stir them so,
Then people long on pilgrimage to go,
And palmers to be seeking foreign strands,
To distant shrines renowned in sundry lands”
Geoffrey Chaucer
The Canterbury Tales

I am a second generation immigrant who is very attached to the family in my “country of origin”. I feel that it is only natural for me to question the wisdom of my predecessors to leave their countries and make Canada their home. My travels to Switzerland often leave wishing my family could be a part of my daily life instead of a long and expensive trip apart.  My family was not driven from Switzerland due to economic hardship or political strife.  Indeed Switzerland prides itself on being the oldest democratic country in the world and for years has held the privilege of being one of the world’s countries that enjoy the highest standard of living. 
Why leave all your family who is predominately supportive, a country that is safe and wealthy, to move somewhere where no one knows you? My first ancestor to make this decision was Charles Fleur de Lys, the founder of our farm.
The family “story” that gave explanation to his departure is that he was hoping to start a printing or book binding business in Montreal. 
Montreal at this time was a city whose main employment was industry. People were preoccupied with carving out an income for themselves and art and culture were not of much interest to the population.  Charles had no hope in starting a printing business and soon found employment with the CPR until his retirement and move to the farm.
It could of only been a pilgrimage,  a restless stirring of the soul that prompted the long journey with his very young daughter, Renee.  His wife, Caroline, would join him many months later. For Charles his pilgrimage to Canada became a religious one as in Montreal he started a Christian practice that would form a significant part of his life.  A story that illustrates his single minded devotion was one that Gus told me recently.  Charles was given the responsibility of delivering milk to the various customers along the lake but would become so consumed in prayer that the boat would drift for hours, the cream going sour, the delivery forgotten.  
My Grandmother, Renee, was unwittingly drawn into this journey.  Too small to protest the absence of her mother, she was thrown into the path that many years later would lead to her own pilgrimage.

Renee Fleur-de-Lys, Montreal.

Renee Miege, 1948, on the boat from Geneva to Montreal.

A pilgrimage involves a long journey with many challenges in order to obtain spiritual enlightenment or reaffirm one's beliefs. Renee's journey brought her to the heart of the wilderness, she was able to explore her love of nature that had laid dormant for years. The farm did become a shrine of sorts to her as she built up the earth around her home, producing an abundance of flowers and vegetables.

Renee and Buster under one of the many flowering shrubs that she planted in her yard.

I choose to think I am on a pilgrimage, rather than being
As a pilgrim I expect to be robbed and beaten.
It has become a spiritual quest with hardships that serve
to deepen faith.
Not destroy.
I am being driven into the face of life.
It is not beautiful.
There is another quality to this journey that cannot be named.
An elusive sense of freedom,
a ripping away of what I ever was or will be.
What is left becomes quieter, smaller.
It is clear I am not safe, nor well.
Sadness has nested, a small bird in my chest, kindness
keeps it there.
I understand now to believe in justice but not to expect it.
My companions are many and varied, some keeping step to a corner,
others, like a heart beat, always there.
Not everyone knows it is a pilgrimage.
That with me always is love,
and a wish for peace.
Not everyone wants to know that.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Pilgrimage

I have started to think of my frequent trips to Switzerland as a pilgrimage, which sets it apart from travelling. A pilgrimage is a quest to renew faith, to discover self and the sacred. Such a journey is deeply sentimental.
For the last 10 years I have tried to see my father's sister in Switzerland every year. Our visits quickly became deeply moving for both of us. Every family has a person that holds the history, the teller of the stories, and my Aunt was such a person. She was the one that could put a name to all the people in the blurry black and white photographs, and each photo would bring a memory about that person to share. She was also my father's confidante and thus has been able to give me insights into my own family. Through her I have a better understanding of my father, what motivated him, his worries and dreams. I am very thankful that she wrote some of these reflections down for me as they serve to affirm my past, our family's place on the farm and the deep love and respect he had for my husband and I.

My Aunt Michele visiting her brother at his home on the Ranch, the summer before he passed away, 1999.

 The end of life brings an intensity of emotions and memories, and I did have the honor to share this time with my family in Switzerland. My Aunt had not been well since soon after Christmas, and as spring came I made my way to her home in Hermance.   It was a true honor to be with her and the rest of her family as she passed. I am so happy that my Aunt was able to stay in her home until her final breath. She loved her house and the village of Hermance. I have become very attached to the village as well, feeling a sense of home as I wander around the cobbled streets. I liked to think of my father and grandmother walking the same paths and gazing upon the same vistas.

One of my Aunt's favorite views of Hermance.

Hermance is surrounded by forest trails as well as a beautiful walk along a river. This is part of the river trail walk.

There will be changes to come as we all adjust to the loss of my Aunt although my pilgrimage to her home will not end with her passing.  I will still be drawn there to reconnect with family and place.

The day of my Aunt's funeral I spend a few minutes napping with one of my second cousins.

It was as if I held my hand on everything at once,
my Goddaughter’s hand, my Aunt’s arm,
the stone where my father’s foot once fell.
The village under that hazy light I love so much.
Love so much.
The long reach of the stony beach and all a deep pounding blue,
leaving me breathless.
The breath swept up along each stone paved path,
up onto the hill above rose colored roof.
The air holding all of us, all this life,
in this single precious moment.
One of those times that you would want to live forever,
In the soft evening air, everything seems to caress you.
As if you are being covered by the most gentlest of kisses.
And you think,
impossible to let this go.