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.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Happy Ending


I am starting on the fourth year of writing the story of my life on our family ranch. That seems like a long time to me, and I have covered a lot of ground over the years and have many more stories to tell.

I choose the title of the story, Edmond's Bastion, as a way of recognizing the strength and courage that my father imparted to my family when we lived on this farm together. Those were really the "good old days". My children have a deep understanding of family and friends and holding on tight to values and integrity when life pulls you down into the deep waters of grief. I consider them all young adults now and their beauty and goodness is testimony to our lives together. A bastion is also a fortress, a refuge, and for many years, our ranch, in the shadow of Bastion Mountain, has been that. Family, friends and our volunteers from Willing Workers on Organic Farms all have commented on the serenity and welcoming nature of our home.
Very tragically it is no longer a bastion, a refuge, for me. I don't feel that sense of peace as I approach what I always considered the start of the farm, with the hills rolling down towards the lake. I have become a refugee in what was once my home.

The beginning of the farm, the view that I would see and feel intense joy. We used this image for our wedding invitations.

I had discussed possible endings for this tale with my father's sister, Michele, a couple of years ago. She asked that I create a fictional ending where everyone lived happily ever after as I think she already sensed that the reality of our situation would be very challenging to endure.
I didn't agree with her at the time but now I see the wisdom in her suggestion and have decided to end this story in her words, with the last letter she wrote to me.

A portion of the letter that I have translated below;

Hermance, February 03 2011

Dear Caroline

When your parents came to Geneva I had the good fortune to see my brother arrive at the hour of breakfast. It was the only real moments of intimacy between us to share all that had filled our lives. I heard all his worries about the price of cattle and the state of the machines. The strongest memories were hearing him speak of his children, their progress in their studies - he was so proud of your both. He hoped that David would finally be in a good situation because of his diploma and you he always knew you would be there with a solution, to bring relief and help. At your marriage he took Brent into his heart. He believed in your love for each other. I was at the farm a few times before the death of your father and I saw how precious you were to them and how much they relied on you both - how thankful that you were there.
I saw also that your father had confidence in Brent, that he was reassured to know that Brent was learning more and more about farming and was committed to the farm.
This period of sadness at the end of your father's life was also a time where love will help overcome your trials.
You are a strong family.
Dear, I hope that good things will arrive, that your children are happy, and your friends bring smiles and that Brent is kept warm.
I love you, Michele.

Our wedding day - walked down the "aisle" with both parents.

Eddy and his granddaughter, Marlee, 1997.

May everyone be happy.
Remember it is just a story.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Gentle Art of Farming

Edmond, 1948, Avant la machine a traire (before the milking machine)

The Man Born to Farming

The grower of trees, the gardener, the man born to farming,
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout,
to him the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death
yearly, and comes back rejoicing. He has seen the light lie down
in the dung heap, and rise again in the corn.
His thought passes alone the row ends like a mole.
What miraculous seed has he swallowed
that the unending sentence of his love flows out of his mouth
like a vine clinging in the sunlight, and like water
descending in the dark?

Wendell Berry wrote the above poem. It is from his The Mad Farmer Poems collection.  He was a farmer, writer and academic. Berry was a staunch defender of Agrarian values and much of his writings reflect this. Agrarian, as a social philosphy, refers to the belief that a "rural society is superior to urban society, the independent farmer as superior to the paid worker, and sees farming as a way of life that can shape the ideal social values. It stress the superiority of a simpler rural life as opposed to the complexity of city life, with its banks and factories." (Wikipeidia). 

It is easy to be seduced into thinking that the occupation of farming is somewhat superior to other ways of earning a living, and that there is a purity to the lifestyle.  It does not take much research to discover that social and health problems are more abundant rurally than they are in a urban setting. Generally rural Canadians suffer in high volumes from a number of health and social issues; rural residents have a shorter life expectancy and higher infant mortality rates, higher unemployment, higher levels of high blood pressure and obesity, higher levels of arthritis/rheumatism and depression, lower levels of health promoting behaviours. The rates of suicide, accidents and disability are higher for the rural resident than their urban counterparts, and the level of education is lower for rural residents (summarized from www.ubcpress 2011, Health in Rural Canada).

There is clearly much to be done to improve the health of our rural residents. Canadians have a long history of identifying strongly with the rural parts of our country as many of us have ancestors that made their first homes in remote regions. Our national identity is rooted in the wild open spaces of Canada, and it is the wilderness that draws visitors from all over the world to Canada. Our idealizing of the rural lifestyle does seem in contradiction to the health of the people living in these areas. 

The other drawback to the rural lifestyle is the homogeneity of the population as there are fewer immigrant and visible minorities. In recent years there has been a definite shift to Canadians embracing the vitality and diversity of the urban centres which has taken the focus even further away from the struggle in the rural areas. 

Despite the risks my husband and I decided on the rural lifestyle, moving here when our first born was only 3 months old. Fortunately my husband, Brent, had a good start on his farming apprenticeship having learned a solid set of skills in carpentry and general labour through his years as a park ranger. He had some exposure to animal husbandry on a large cattle ranch in his youth, but it was with my father and the years they spent together that deepened his skills, learning about all aspects of cattle care. There were challenges along the way and some steep learning curves. The first time Brent got the tractor stuck he had to endure endless teasing from everyone. 

Brent managed to unearth the tractor after getting it stuck. Circa 1990

Brent was recently interviewed for the local radio station. He was described by the interviewer as a "Renaissance Man" , referring to Brent's expertise in a wide variety of areas. He spoke of Brent's involvement for many years with youth soccer, his current work and his years on the farm. It is true that farm work involves a wide span of skill sets from animal husbandry, mechanics, carpentry, welding and business. The added complexity for the vast majority of farmers other than those fortunate enough to live off private wealth or the very small minority that have self sustaining farms, is the need to add income by working off the farm which adds yet another set of needed skills. I think that this need to be diverse and creative with your skills is one of the most significant advantages to farming. It is good to be challenged in this way; it expands a person's vision who they are and what they are capable of doing. Brent never spoke of the single minded desire to farm that Eddy grew up with, but certainly he quickly demonstrated an ease and joy in the work. 

He may be a "Man Born To Farming".

The farming seed may be sown as Aidan, our son, is showing an interest in farming. He is now 18 years old and is in training to be an electrician, a useful skill on a ranch. Well, one of many skills. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Winter Dick Shot the Bobcat

Often animals are where we don't want them. I really like mice but do not want them running unrestrained in the house. Neither do I want cows in the vegetable garden or goats in the rose bushes, and it is very annoying when rabbits eat your tulips before they can do their big spring show. In the last couple of months we have had a young bobcat move underneath one of our  sheds in the yard. The yard bears testimony to his journey, with crimson snow marking the dispatch of an unfortunate animal. I was surprised by the bobcat's diminutive size and pet cat like appearance, which contrasted sharply with the one that I grew up with. I spent years living with a very large bobcat that had been stuffed into a ferocious stance and held court in my grandparent's living room in the place of honor in front of the fire place.

The bobcat forever immortalized as ferocious.

Caroline Miege, circa 1968.

It was a neighbour, Dick Elgood, that lived at the bottom of the "big hill", who killed the bobcat. He was my mother's close friend and as he was elderby and frail she would often run errands for him in town. She would, at times, take him into town with us and as a way of giving thanks he would treat us for lunch at the Motor Hotel. We were not a family that ate out very often thus it was very much appreciated.

It was winter when Dick shot the bobcat, and unlike when he became stuffed, the animal was in very poor condition, most likely starving. Dick believed that it was in desperation that the animal came to his house and pawed at the window, most likely as he wanted to get Dick's cat that was in the house .

Winter 1968, Dick Elgood explaining how he shot the bobcat.

I have always struggled with the interplay between the wildlife's territory and our desire to protect ourselves and our domestic animals. I am not interested in supplying the bobcat with an endless supply of cats and dogs but also feel that I have no more right to the shed than he does. I hope he will lose interest in his cozy quarters with dinner outside his door and venture back deep into the forest. In the meantime the cat stays in the house and the dog is guarded when outside.

Caroline Miege, Eddy Miege, the Bobcat and Renee Naef.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Long Winter's Nap

I had planned to lay my writing down for a long winter nap, and resume in the spring. However, spring has come early to our farm. Perhaps thoughts of spring have come due to experiencing the intense sun during a winter holiday, triggering my brain to expect to see spring around the corner.

The family on a hot winter holiday, January 2013.

One look into our greenhouse and frame garden convinced me that the plants have started to feel the faint stirrings of spring, the time to write is now, the rest was long enough.

The greenhouse garden.

The winter crop growing in the cold frames.

I had considered not reviving the blog after the winter, but letting the story die. I think that I have paid a price for my writing and it has brought considerable hardship. Writing, despite what most people believe, can be dangerous. Journalism is a good example; the Committee to protect journalists reports that 971 journalists have been murdered since 1992 and 232 are currently in prison. There have already been 6 murders in 2013. Many more are harassed and threatened.
My challenges pale in comparison although I did receive one nasty and threatening anonymous letter. However with computers there is always a signature so in fact it never was anonymous.
I was advised to make a police report but believe the public should restrain themselves when it comes to using the services of the RCMP.

It is the losses in life, accepting the challenge of not winning, and embracing the immensity of  defeat; these experiences bring the greatest gifts. The most significant is the strength to rebuild our life with independence, resilience, and a creative force. As in any sort of death it is helpful to have support. Over the last few years we have had a lot of good company that brought joy as well as practical support. Friends from all over the world, my father's family in Switzerland as well as our Canadian family, guided us with their wisdom and love.

Spring will find us on this currently unnamed farm, with plans for the purchase of animals to fill up the barns, the deer will have to give way to the cows in the pastures that surround our home.

 Death, the passing of an era, leaves it's mark.

Don't expect the end to be beautiful in any way.
It is challenging, fear breaths deeply at this time.
All that you ever were will be thrown before you.
There is a rushing current, a pull to embrace the end,
or the beginning.
There is a lot we do not know.
With all our wise trappings we still live in ignorance.
It is the beginning of time, each death reminds us of birth,
the passage, short or immeasurably long.
Bringing with the years a horror, where some wish a swift passing.
Or a joy of a life well lived.
All of this with the simple but profound breath,
the precious drawing in of air.
Part instinct, the rest desire.
We all share that.
So finally there is a unity, an undeniable bond between us all.
At birth, and then once again at death.

A winter sun, January 2013.