BASTION MOUNTAIN RANCH - TALES OF A FARM FAMILY


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, January 24, 2016

A STORY ABOUT YOUR FATHER

A Story about your Father

As we prepare to leave our community at Canoe Point there are many farewell markers. One arrived after a weekend away, slipped right inside the front door, in true country fashion. This is the land of no locked doors. It was a lovely parcel and card, marking many years of being neighbours. It reminded me of the time when my “emergency to call list” had the closest neighbours listed and then 911. One of the gifts from people that have known your family for a long time are the stories. When I hear “I remember your father…..”,  I feel his presence come into the room to sit and hear the tale as well. For that moment in time he comes alive through the story. The neighbour that left the parcel on the weekend had such a story that he had shared months previously. It had taken place during a time when our herds of cattle had mingled together over the summer on Bastion Mountain. It was late fall and we were doing the “check-in” as the cattle descended back to the barns in the hope of hay to supplement their summer grass diet. My father had a clip board with each cow’s number and a short description (alive, dead, dead calf, healthy calf). All the herd had been accounted for except for one, which my father resolved by stating, “ahhh yes, she has gone East”. The wranglers prepared themselves for a long search, heading East. My Father managed to clear up the cow’s status, no she had not “headed East”, but was in fact “deceased.” My Father never did lose his French accent that he came over from Switzerland with at the age of 18.
It is not only the stories that the neighbours can offer that will bring alive the past, but also simply the sound of a machine. These same neighbours also own one of my father’s most cherished machines, the “Skidder”. I was working in the yard during the summer when I heard a familiar drone. I knew immediately from the cadence that it was the Skidder. Our neighbours have retained it in excellent condition, it really looks no difference then it did when it left my father’s ownership.
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The “Skidder”, August 2015.
There was a fleeting sense of a homecoming as the machine approached the barnyard. It was just so familiar, the sound, the smell. The feeling of anticipation of a project being completed with the arrival of such a competent machine.
The visits to your past that other’s provide when offered in kindness and respect bring comfort and a sense of grace to your present.


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THE OPEN GATE

The Open Gate

The Open Gate
The topic of the article, “How can the diminishing rural population continue to sustain urban B.C.?” has been clearly answered by the exodus from rural communities. Rural British Columbia is no longer in the position to sustain itself, and its days of supporting the urbanites are over. New immigrants are targeting Canada’s three largest cities rather than settling in the rural areas of our country. Our family has joined the ranks of those choosing to leave rural life. Recently we have put our 5th generation family farm up for sale. A historic farm rich in memories with years of family labour invested is no longer sustainable. Rural B.C. days of servitude to the urban population have come to an end; it is now up to urbanites to reciprocate the support they have received from the rural communities stretched over the province.
Many Canadians have a long history of strongly identifying with the rural environment as most of us have ancestors that made their first homes in the remote regions of this country. 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. My great-grandparents left their well established families and incomes in Switzerland and came to Montreal in 1913. In their retirement years, they left the urban comforts of Montreal and moved to an isolated farm on the shores of Shuswap Lake, British Columbia. At that time, in 1948, the only access to their land was by boat from Sicamous, necessitating dangerous winter travel to sell their products and a long arduous trip to secure supplies and medical help. It was from this challenging piece of rocky land that they etched out a living. My husband and I tried to continue the farming heritage, which we inherited, and failed, never rising to the level of sustainable farming.
Our farm is not alone in the struggle to sustain a rural lifestyle. In B.C. “50% of farm sales average less than $10,000 annually and most farm operators rely on an off-farm income”(Smart Growth BC, para. 4). Our farm has always relied on off-farm income. My father did custom machine work and my husband and I worked as social workers. The pressure of maintaining a working farm as well as an “off farm” career can be crippling. Our family faced a myriad of issues that are common among family farms that led to our decision to put the farm up for sale; failed succession planning, shifting markets, lower profit and rising production costs and disease. Despite the hardships, B.C. farms still supply approximately “50 per cent of the province’s food requirement” (Smart Growth BC, para. 3).
Rural B.C. has been the main economic drive of the province as well as a source of food for the inhabitants since it was first populated. The province provided its people with abundant natural food stocks and later, agriculture provided for the nutritional needs of the ever-growing population. The Indigenous people maintained a thriving trade between themselves, which expanded to furs with the Europeans. Commercial fishing followed the fur trading, but it was mining which was responsible for most of the province’s growth . B.C. is dotted with mining towns, some which are now maintained by tourism alone, but others continue to extract the rich deposits from under the earth. Logging was  a strong economic driver but has suffered severely from the “boom and bust” nature of the resource industry, leaving many communities destitute. Most recently, mining is undergoing a similar fate with massive layoffs across the province.
People who live in urban areas often hold an idealized view of rural living created out of the current desire for organic produce, eating local, and the charm of a country market. Our idealization of the rural lifestyle is in direct contradiction to the health of the people living in these areas. Health and social problems are more abundant rurally than they are in an urban setting. 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 and lower levels of health promoting behaviors. 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 (A.M. Williams and J.C. Kulig 2). There is clearly much to be done to improve the health of our rural resident
The poor physical and emotional health of rural B.C. continues onto a weaker economic presence. Historically rural B.C. was the economic driver of the province but currently it is the service sector that the province’s economy relies on. Conversations for Responsible Economic Development-CRED BC, in their June 2014 report, state that B.C.’s economy has shifted from resource based to the service industry. The report suggests that “more than four-fifths of us work in services and over 76% of our GDP now comes from those sectors, while just 3% comes from oil, gas and support services” (McDowell para. 1). It is clear that there has been a shift with the urban centers now being the economic mainstay of the province. Increasingly rural communities are facing a bleak economic outlook resulting in a loss of the younger residents as they leave their home communities to look for work in larger centers. This migration increases the vulnerability of the rural community as the population becomes skewered towards a large number of older residents and the very young, resulting in fewer people working to support families.
Rural B.C. has become a difficult place to live, both in terms of maintaining a sustainable livelihood and also insuring that your family has access to adequate resources such as health care and education. The urban centers have the political power and have gained an economic and cultural vitality that rural B.C. cannot compete with. Rural B.C. needs to bring their concerns to the forefront of the political agenda and find those urbanites that are willing to assist to take action to bring resources to our ailing rural communities. Rural B.C. deserves to be saved. It has done more than its share to support the province and still retains an important economic resource base that, if lost, will negatively impact all of B.C. Urbanites need to lose the stereotypes such as ‘country living’ and ‘red-neck’ and understand the reality of living in today’s rural setting, and from that realistic viewpoint find the common ground to launch the support for everyone in this province despite where they choose to live. It is too late for our family as we lose our farm and move to an urban community, but with action others could be saved from abandoning their rural communities. It is time for urban to support rural.
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love what you eat

Love what you Eat

The habits of farming die hard and are bound by the seasons. So early spring brings the green grass that the livestock so anxiously wait, and what has never ceased to be a miracle, the next generation of the herd. It is with birth that the love affair begins. The calves bring an excitement and energy to Spring on the ranch. They also bring extra work in the form of vigilance over the herd, and expertise when called upon to assist with a difficult birth. It was my husband Brent that took on this role on the ranch in the last few years of our time here. The tools of this trade are simple.
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Brent learned the value of Sunlight soap as a birth aid from my father. He is very committed to this product for birthing, so much so that anytime a human friend or his wife would go into labour he would volunteer the extra assistance of sunlight soap. He has never been taken up on his offer.
The method is to soap the arm well to above the elbow, and then take the chains into the vaginal cavity, looping them around the calves hooves. The best case scenario is that the calf is then pulled out, following the contractions of the mother. At the worst of times the tension of the human strength is not enough, and then the power of a tractor is used. The results of this intervention is not always favorable. Farming is not for the faint of heart.
The amount of effort put into an ailing calf on our ranch almost always far exceeded the actual financial worth of the animal. Small scale Ranchers typically do not have an eye on the bottom line, their actions often not making good financial sense. The calf that I remember best for amount of effort was named Hey Boy. He was first bottle fed and then moved to  a especially fitted bucket. Even today I can conjure up the sickly sweet odour of the powered formula that we used. If a calf was lucky he would receive authentic colostrum  that we would have put aside frozen, but then this would be followed by the artificial replacement to cow’s milk.
The calf was fed far beyond what was sensible. We would follow him for months after the herd was released from the barnyard, moving onto open rage of the mountain range behind the ranch. Every day some one in the family would track down the calf with his feed in the bucket, calling for him, hence his name “Hey Boy”.
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Hey Boy drinking from his custom fitted bucket.
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“Hey Boy” peering through our living room window hoping for an extra feed.
Despite our mutual attachment Hey Boy proceeded to the calf sales in the Fall. I remember feeling sad about his departure to his uncertain future. What is more unsettling is imagining how the calf might of felt, wrestled away from his home and caregivers. The belief that cattle may experience emotion is not a popular one. My father did believe this to be true and maintained he once saw a cow cry when her calf was taken away.
This summer I have spent a lot of time with the small herd on our ranch. There are a few members of the herd that come to me and allow me to scratch their heads. I don’t want anyone to eat them.
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COW GIRLS DON'T CRY

COW GIRLS DON’T CRY

For the last few months we have happily shared our property with a small herd of cattle. It has been a number of years since we have had cattle on our property and it has been absolute joy. I revisited the pleasure of animal husbandry, most of the responsibility and decision making falling to me as I was home the greater amount of time then anyone else in the family. Despite having lived here the majority of my life I have never been in the position of authority when it came to the ranching duties. At the most I have been in the minimal role of a “side kick”, but even that is a generous title.
It was my father, and later my husband, Brent Moffat, that made all the decisions to do with the cattle. A few years ago my Aunt gave me all the letters my father had written to her in Switzerland. I have been reading them slowly and recently came across a passage that spoke to the care of the cattle, as translated from French in a letter written in October 1996;  “As the years go by I know how fortunate we are to have Brent here on the ranch to do the work with the cattle and also to help me with the custom work. I wouldn’t be able to be here without his help. It is a relief to see how he is with the cows and know that he can do all the work that has to be done”. Although I always knew this to be true it was validating to see it in writing. It is challenging to run a multi-generational farm and to support an aging parent with his work in a respectful way. As the only child that moved back to the farm the entire responsibility fell to my family to support the ranching operations. Initially when we moved to the farm there were a number of years where Brent was in an apprenticeship role, learning all that he needed about the care of cattle. The path of the younger generation to assume responsibility of a multi generational ranch is fraught with difficulty. Barbara Kingsolver described it beautifully in her novel Flight Behaviour which featured a young family who lived on the parent’s ranch. As is often the case in farm families they had worked with the parents for many years but were not legally partners. They had bought a park model type house and moved onto the land that they did not own. The protagonist declares that living on the farm with her husband is like being ” kids in the backseat of a car, bickering over the merits of some unknown destination.” These situations need to be resolved using an effective and fair farm succession process. It is not something that can be left until one parent has passed or for a will to address. It has cruel and unfair to have families work daily on a farm that they do not have any legal entitlement to and in the worst case scenario they could be left with nothing after years of investment. 
The challenges of farm succession formed part of the many reasons that I decided to leave the farm. It is now for sale but emotionally I have already left. As part of the decision making process I have examined what made me come back to begin with and if I even enjoy the farming lifestyle. I believe it was more a sense of duty to my parents then wanting to become a farmer. I love animals but I don’t like process of sale and slaughter. After years of gardening I have come to the conclusion that it is only tomatoes, herbs and sunflowers that flourish under my care. I will not drive a tractor. I do not like the isolation.  I don’t like being so attached to a piece of earth and feeling like I can never leave. 
My recent experience with my little herd of cattle helped me to understand that my farming days are over. It has been extremely satisfying to watch over them. moving them about to greener grass, keeping a good eye on their health and reporting back to their owner. However I had not anticipated the attachment, the relationship, and how much I actually enjoyed just being with them. This had not ever happened to me to such an intensity with cattle before thus I was more sad then I could ever believe possible when the owner texted me to tell me that he was going to be picking them up as cattle prices were good and he wanted to take advantage of the strong market. The cattle are going to auction which I know to be a stressful experience, and then for the steers to a feed lot, and then eventually to slaughter. It is heart breaking. 
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My favourite Steer of the herd.
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Giving the Steer a good scratch and pulling burrs out of his hair at the same time.
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The rest of the herd is cautious but still very curious.

The garden starts optimistically enough in the spring with vigorous growth, but by harvest time it is primarily tomatoes, sunflowers and herbs.
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One Comment

  1. Posted August 19, 2014 at 9:10 am | Permalink
    I so love your pictures and your words – – – such a deep process of knowing that land and creatures and also being willing to let it go . . .. . biggest lessons of life i think

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THE RANCH BURN PILE

I believe that one of the unsung pleasures of country living is the burn pile.  This is not a bonfire, but rather a large gathering of various objects, not always wood. In the past when we had access to an excavator the burn pile would be in a deep pit and all manner of things would be disposed of, burned and then buried. There must be dozens of such “garbage” holes around the property. The original farm house was buried in this manner; knocked down by the excavator and shoved into a hole and burned. I have seen my father truly frightened on about half a dozen occasions, one of them was when he was standing on the lip of one of these burning holes and almost fell in. I remember this even when I am throwing things into our less dangerous, level to the ground, burn pile. Fire is so powerful.
Garbage disposal is a world wide problem of course, and acutely felt on our ranch where we have all manner of things requiring safe disposal, including at times dead animals. The early settlers in the area shoved what could not be composted over banks. I spent hours as a child going through these garbage sites collecting the bottles of deep amber and blue and interesting tins that were not too rusty. The garbage of that era is so much more attractive then today with our plethora of plastics.
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My childhood collection of bottles from the farm garbage dump.
It is very satisfying to clean up around your property and home. I have burned a huge amount of personal papers and photos over the last few years, it is such a visual statement of an ending.
This year, as part of our very intensive spring cleaning, we burned a number of outbuildings. The perfect way to spend an afternoon, tractor work and a fire.
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A big burn pile is better than television!
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FARMING WITH DYNAMITE

Yard clean up on a Ranch is a complicated and a never ending task. I have noted that most Ranches and Farms have piles of debris on their property and it is uniformly unattractive. In fact anyone with property beyond an acre or a shed tends to accumulate items, otherwise known as junk. We were unfortunate enough to inherit a massive amount of materials  a number of years ago when the machine, oil and tool sheds were torn down on my parent’s property. A large amount of the contents of these sheds made their way to our machine shed. The local Packrat did it’s best with the sudden onslaught of new material, making piles under the work bench of bolts and tools. The rest of it just sat in greasy, grimy piles, a hoarder’s delight.
The original machine shed on my parent’s property was tidied up once a year by my mother, followed by weeks of complaining by my father, stating he could not find a thing. This took place in the spring, and there was a flurry of sorting, labelling and attempts to discard “stuff”. My father did not like to see things leave his shed, as you never knew when you would need that bolt or piece of metal. A trip to town to gather supplies took a big piece out of a day. I guess given that it should not of been such a shock to discover dynamite when cleaning out my father’s tool shed.
My Father loved dynamite. There were a number of projects in his lifetime that required dynamite, primarily when constructing roads and sewer systems. In the early years of the farm dynamite was used for removing stumps when land clearing. The stumps were blasted out and then hauled away with the horses. Dynamite was commonly used by farmers in the 1900s and could even be ordered through the Sears Roebuck catalogue. 
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Dupont promoted the use of dynamite in a wide variety of areas for farming; clearing away stumps and boulders, breaking up hard packed soil, and instead of plowing. Their brochure claimed; 
“F. G. Moughon, of Walton County, Georgia, reports that he has been raising crops of watermelons, weighing from 50 to 60 pounds each, on land blasted by exploding charges of about 3 ounces of dynamite in holes 2-½ to 3 feet deep, spaced 8 to 10 feet apart.”
Dynamite was promoted to plant and cultivate orchards, make ditches, well and cellars. The literature stated that dynamite could be used to ‘regenerate old, worn out farms”  by turning up “fresh fertile soil”.  
The Project Gutenberg EBook of Farming with Dynamite, by 
E. I. du Pont de Nemours Powder Co.

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org

Title: Farming with Dynamite
       A Few Hints to Farmers

Author: E. I. du Pont de Nemours Powder Co.

Release Date: May 31, 2012 [EBook #39869]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
 My Father stopped using dynamite for land clearing once he obtained a bulldozer. What the dynamite publications never mentioned were the numerous injuries and errors that ensued with the use of this farming method. 
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 When we discovered the dynamite during demolition of the machine shed we contacted the RCMP. They sent out a special bomb unit from Vancouver, arriving in a flurry of Black Suburbans. They were using the disposal of dynamite found by farmers as a training exercise. 
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Boxes that were found, one that contained old dynamite, in the farm’s machine sheds. 
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Circa 1980s, blasting to make way for a neighbour’s dry well. 
 My father’s last blasting project took place in the early 1990s during the construction of a road to one of our upper pastures. It was a complicated project that my husband worked on with my father, taking a number of weeks to complete. I still remember when my father announced triumphantly; “we will have to blast it”, and the road was made. 
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The road has a beautiful view of our farm.
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SEE YOU SOON……À bientôt!

I am a third generation Canadian and feel fortunate to be tied so closely to my Grandparent’s country of origin, Switzerland. I travel there frequently and have forged close relationships to family who have remained in the “homeland”. From my frequent visits I have established patterns of living, rather than visiting. I have my favourite views, walks and bakeries. 
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View from the Bourg De Sous – the street where my Aunt lived in Hermance. This was my favourite route to take to go to the Village.
Much of Hermance is under historical protection thus there are very little changes over the decades. There are parts of the village that are identical to when my father was a young child and would spend the holidays in his Uncle’s chalet by the river. I like this characteristic of Europe where change comes slowly, buildings do not spring up overnight like in North America. The house that was being constructed across the street from where my Aunt lived took two years to complete.
The people change though. I travelled to Switzerland in March of this year after a two year absence. For the first time visiting Switzerland in years I never stayed in Hermance as my Aunt passed during my last visit two years ago, and her house has been sold. Nobody from the family goes to Hermance anymore.
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My Aunt’s house in Hermance, Switzerland.
My visits to Switzerland in the last few years have always been short,  a couple of weeks, so no sooner do I arrive when I have to prepare to say goodbye. There are always tales of previous departures, often including the day when my father immigrated at the age of 18.
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My Father, Eddy Miege, at age 18 in Geneva, Switzerland. The day he left for Canada, 1948.
What is always clear, but left unsaid, is the silent question; why did the family leave Switzerland and why won’t they come back? It is very difficult to understand the drive behind voluntary immigration, especially in the days before Skype and fairly accessible airline travel. When my Father left Switzerland at the age of 18 he did not return until he was 38 years old. In those 20 years of absence all of his nieces and nephews were born without him being there to greet them at birth.
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My father Eddy and his sister Michele, during his first visit back to Switzerland after a 20 year absence.
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My Aunt Michele and I. In the last 10 years I made an effort to visit Switzerland regularly.

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March 2014, holding my Goddaughter, Switzerland.
In the last evening of my most recent visit the family gathered for a farewell dinner. It is always hard to say goodbye. One of my cousins reminded me of something my Father always said when he would prepare to return home; “don’t say goodbye, say see you soon.” It was such a comfort to hear my Father’s words echo back through the years and I too remembered him saying that very same thing. It was as if he was in the room with us as we said “À bientôt!”




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Saturday, January 23, 2016

SNOW DAY THOUGHTS

Snow Day Thoughts


Last weekend on the Ranch was a white out. It snowed heavily all day on Sunday, the world closed in as travel although possible, was not particularly safe. Friends in town that were going to come and visit cancelled. The day became long and quiet. 
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I often reflect on my great grandparents who were the first of our family to settle on this land in 1947. Winters were long for them as well, but especially in the early years as it was a  challenge to meet even the most basic needs such as heat. The original farm house would allow water to freeze overnight. There were further disadvantaged by their age as they were well into their 60s when they relocated from Montreal to Canoe Point. The first winter they were alone on the farm, and then thankfully my father was able to immigrate from Switzerland to assist them. 
On a winter day my great grandparents looked out at the same view over the lake as our home is built on the footprint of the original farmhouse. 
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Winter 1947-48, the original farmhouse
The farmhouse in winter
My Greatgrandmother Caroline making her way into the woodshed.
I am thankful for our warm house and vehicles with good tires enabling me to get into town fairly quickly, even on the worst of winter days. The isolation that my family experienced in the early years was challenging. The majority of their family was back in Switzerland with the only form of communication being telegram and letter. The delay to receive even the most urgent news underscored the huge geographical distance between loved ones. Telegrams were not very efficient as demonstrated by the tragic passing of my grandmother’s son in a car crash outside of Geneva. The first telegram stated he was in a car accident which led the family to believe he was still alive. There was such a  long passage of time before the telegraph arrived giving news of his death that it was impossible to even think of attending the funeral in time. 
The lack of contact from afar did create greater intimacy between the neighbours on Canoe Point. There are so many stories of the kindness shown between neighbours as well as great social events. People knew what friend was approaching by the sound of the boat motor, and later once the road was built, all vehicles were easily recognizable. The bonds between neighbours helped to ease the pain of missing family and friends across the sea. 
It would be extremely difficult for me to go back to the written word delivered on the blue airline paper. I write regularly by email to family in Switzerland and New Zealand. The news of births and deaths arrive instantly, allowing us to grieve or celebrate together. 
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The onion skin thin sheets of airline paper, letters written by my father back to his sister in Switzerland, nestled by computer, the main form of communication I use to communicate to family overseas. 
I also very much appreciate the ease of travel today which closes the distance between people. As I write this my oldest son is in Toronto visiting family, and my daughter and I are preparing to head to Switzerland. 
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Harbour in Hermance, Switzerland.




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