A simple story for Christmas

It has been a while, hasn’t it? Christmas Eve is a splendid time to revisit the blog community, after two years of not writing a blog!

As you may know from my old blogs, my precious Chocolate Labrador, Heidi, died three years ago after a tremendously naughty and nice lifetime of 15 years.  After all, she was a Labrador and all they are capable of is naughty. There wasn’t a nasty bone in her body.

As fate would have it, my children love animals and dogs in particular. Two of my handsome boys have Chocolate Labradors, Bella and Jersey.  There is an open invitation to Bella and Jersey for doggy sitting, sleep overs and occasionally to stay as company when I am alone. I was unbelievably lucky to have a week this past November with Jersey as my companion.  Jersey’s owners run in marathons, so they needed a sitter to run in a Texas marathon. I love doggy sitting and besides it would ‘up the ante’ on my daily physical fitness routine.

The week was everything you might imagine.  We jumped in bed early, curled up with my book and snuggled into the lengthening winter nights.  Jersey adapts well to her surroundings, so by day two she was under the blankets on my husband’s side of the bed with her head and right paw on his pillow.  I have to admit I let her!  I prayed madly to the patron saint of animals, Saint Francis of Assisi, that my son and his girlfriend provided Jersey with regular flea and tick treatments. (It worked!  No fleas!!! Thank you Saint Francis!)

By all measures, it was a fantastic week.  My biggest regret was how quickly the time went. It was already day 7 and I enjoyed my Jersey time like it was a vacation. So, what better way to cap it off but with a nice lengthy walk, not a marathon, but an indicator that I was a suitable sitter for the dog of a marathon runner, who finished her race in under 4 hours.

I live in the country, on a farm. We walked through the farm everyday that week.  We walked in our local park practically everyday. But for as long as I have lived here, which is now 33 years, I have never walked from one end of our road to the other.  It is approximately 5 miles either way, so that would be a round trip of 10 miles; not 26.2 miles that comprise a marathon, but not bad.

It was a cold and crisp day, but we had been spared any snow. Not even a puddle had begun to freeze up yet.  I put on two sweaters, my thick hiking socks, my new skinny jeans, followed by my relatively new Helly Hansen Newport jacket.  Finally, I donned my very lovely new Asics Fluidride Dynamic Duomax GT 2000 sneakers …and out the door we went!!!  We would make our mark that day as distance strollers of the senior citizen variety. In truth, we were fake senior citizens, Jersey is a mere 7 years old and it is really none of your business knowing how young I am.  Agreed?

Jersey didn’t have her regular collar that week, as she lost it hiking with her owners the week previous. Christmas was only a month away and opportunity for enhancing Jersey’s closet was beckoning! I made a mental note to look into colour coordinating collars with my wardrobe for her next visit on Christmas Eve.  Instead, on that November day she was sporting a lovely blue body harness with a red lead clipped onto to the body harness. The colours of the harness and lead didn’t match, but being a dog, I didn’t think she would mind.

I willfully abandoned a colour matching opportunity. My son had instructed me to use the gentle lead (red) when taking Jersey walking. A gentle lead is a fabulous product that is just as it is described, gentle. It effectively signals walking commands to the dog. I also must compliment the designer on the multitude of colours! The gentle lead is also referred to as a head collar which goes around her nose but is not a muzzle. Regrettably, I did not pay enough attention to the demonstration and couldn’t figure out how to loop the gizmo properly. Our other strolls went charmingly with this mismatched body harness ensemble. I gently wrapped the lead around my left hand and we took off as colourfully as a maple tree in autumn.

As we walked, I soaked in the impact of a picture perfect day.  Very little traffic.  The skies were a little grey, but the cloud cover was high, leaving the impression of an endless sky. As we got comfortable with our pace, I unwrapped the lead from my hand to give Jersey more freedom. We went up hills and down again. My Fitbit was just clocking off steps to beat the band!!!! Ah, now I must admit I am competitive.  I regularly complain about my husband’s fitbit giving him more steps than I get with mine. He usually wins hands down on a daily basis. My husband wasn’t about to catch me this day, 10 miles would amount to a clear win on a work day!  Oh, the benefits of dog sitting abound.

Having a wee bit of a safety background, I was alert to the road conditions. Country roads have their own hazards.  The shoulders of this road were very narrow.  This couldn’t meet city codes, surely.  As we crested our last hill, I noticed how deep the drainage ditches were and I tested the shoulder of the road only to find it was soft. Safety first! Spot the hazard, assess the risk, find a safer way, every day! We were already 5 miles down our road.  I decided that at the first opportunity, we would cross to the other side of the road and test the shoulder of the road there.

Out of no where, we spotted a black swarm of birds rising from the field across the street.  I recognized this as Starling Murmuration.  It is well known in the United Kingdom, but less noted in our Canadian neighbourhood. Essentially, it appears as a black sphere that changes its shape as it swirls across the sky above you.  A mesmerizing spectacle.  I instinctively wrapped the lead around my left hand to make sure Jersey would stay by my side.

Documenting the murmuration on my Samsung 4, I felt very fortunate to have witnessed the dance up above.  Realizing the shoulder of the road was soft, Jersey and I decided to cross the the opposite side of the road.  We were practically at the end of the road with 5 miles under our feet!  I was feeling one with nature, gazing once more across the farmer’s field.  This was sheep country, lush green fields with enough for the sheep and the starlings to be well fed before the winter.  There we stood facing the field, toes to ditch, mesmerized.

A sheep moved!

Jersey is a dog, a sheep was scampering away, a dog must respond!  With my left hand, attached to the lead, no ground ahead of me, I had a split second to respond.  That second is quiet detailed, so forgive me for taking sometime to explain.

Jersey’s instinct was to take command of the situation and perhaps corral the sheep. My instinct was to hold  Jersey back.  These are incompatible instincts. She leapt forward to cross the ditch, but gravity being what it is, she went across and down.  My arm attached to this movement sent me forward and down, head first toward muddy, slimy looking ditch water, rocks etc. At some point in that split second, my left fist stopped hanging on to the lead and Jersey was free to scale the opposite side of the ditch and run along the fencing.  I don’t even think she barked. I remembered I had one hand free to protect me and extended the right hand in an attempt to escape the ditch.  As no doubt you are anticipating, my wrist and hand took the first impact, followed by my face sliding over the rocky bottom of the ditch.  My legs were still splayed over the wall of ditch and my Asics super sneakers were dug into the bank.  I remember thinking, this can’t be good. Spitting the mud out of my mouth, I wasted no time getting up. With brown dripping hair, mud caked jeans and soaked coat, I emerged from the ditch. A colour coordinated being that suitably matched the dog!

I had to get control of the situation!  I commanded Jersey to come back,  the way a high pitched whining maniac might try to do.  It was met with the response such maniacs have come to expect. I was ignored.  Jersey paced back and forth on the opposite side of the ditch, wondering how to command the sheep on the other side of the fence.  Sputtering and trying to wipe the mud away from my eyes and nose, I thought of throwing a temper tantrum, but reminded myself instead that one must be dignified and in control. Even so, Jersey remained unimpressed with my command to come back. Resigned to my place in the world, I scrambled down the ditch, retrieved my Samsung 4 and crossed the ditch, remaining upright this time. Jersey responds well when you are next to her, so I did eventually take control.

Several split seconds had passed and there we were back on the roadside of the ditch, facing down another 5 miles.  I guess school must have been over for the day, because suddenly there was lots of traffic.  Some folks even slowed down to have a good look. My hair, my coat, my jeans were a spectacle. My hair had no other choice but to lie flat across the left side of my face, dripping. I had been at the hairdressers that morning.  The back of my head was perfect, the hairspray should be commended. But the spray and the style were unable to withstand the drenching of the ditch!

All was not lost.  Dignity is not just what you look like on the surface, it is the person you are inside! My left hand was in command of a very muddy lead, wrapped tightly around my hand once again.  Jersey walked in step with me, instinctively keeping her eyes to the path below her. My right wrist was throbbing, as if to the beat of our feet.  I looked at the miles ahead and the friendly passerby’s who must have thought I was a bit of mess to be outdoors and in public, but they just didn’t know the inner dignified me. We continued to plod on a little ways.  I occasionally wiped my face, the way windshield wipers wipe the car’s windshield.  I was able to assess how lucky I was, my face was merely chipped in a few places, nothing major.

I remembered my phone.  I called my husband.  He was gone out! Fortunately, he is a twin and his twin was at work and available!

One and half miles of walking later, my brother-in-law rescued me.  He drove Jersey and I back the remaining 3.5 miles to my home. By this point I realized my right wrist had enough for the day, so in a pathetic sort of way, I asked if my rescuer could continue his service. Graciously, he opened the truck door, unlocked the door to my house, unzipped my coat, and unbuttoned my outer sweater that had big metal designer buttons suitable for dignified me.  He then bid me adieu and took off liked a scald cat.

Well, I am happy to report that my son and his girlfriend came home that evening and Jersey went home with them.  My clothes actually came out of the wash in great shape. My glasses were not broken or chipped. My phone has a wonderful video of the murmuration. My wrist is almost as good as new. Jersey has been back for a sleep over.  We have not attempted my 10 mile jaunt, but we will. I promise to be: a) dignified, b) in control and c) colour coordinated, d) stay out of ditches and other nasty places, and, e) use the gentle lead which would have saved the day!

Until now, I did not share this story beyond my immediate family. I thought it would make a good story and consequently be a reason to recommence writing my blog. I offer this as a simple present, a Christmas chuckle in particular, to my friends and all those who liked to read my blog.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and/ or Seasons Greeting to you from Mo!

Collisions with moments of the past

Tonight I attended a gala event associated with an industry conference.  These nights are pleasant occurrences, with the best of the host province’s arts and culture.  This night had local folk music, entertainment, fiddlers and some very impressive rap artists. Sitting beside me was someone new to the industry but unbeknownst to me a person from our family’s past.

As the night wound down, I felt quite satiated. The food was great, the dessert was decadent and the entertainment, as I said, was tremendous.  It was now possible to talk to others at the table. We carried on the ordinary chit chat, right down to where we each spent our careers. Suddenly, a little brown mouse scurried across the banquet floor! I raised my feet to the seat of my chair while I shrieked.

The gentleman asked, “You have spent your adult life on a farm, surely you are fine with mice?” I stared at him quizzically.  I knew this acquaintance had told me he worked in the policy arm of the Department of Agriculture, but I hadn’t realized he knew my family was involved in farming. It turned out that part of his career coincided with an abrupt change in my husband’s business career.

Let me explain.

At the tender age of 17 years, I met my husband for the first time. He was “older” than I, at the mature age of 21 years. He impressed me with his vision of where he was going.  I was mystified that he was someone who grew up in the city, but was embarking on a farming adventure. He was setting out to build a hog farm in the country.  The land was cleared of its trees, rocks were picked, land was tilled, new soil sown for hay and the foundation of two hog barns had been established. He had a big tan coloured truck and a rather attractive tan of his own.  I was a smitten!

Kate, my older sister, had told my mother that this new boyfriend of Mo’s was a bit of a hard ticket. He apparently had numerous traffic accidents and for the first time in my existence Kate wanted to keep me safe! Nonetheless, this new boyfriend won not only my heart, but my grandmother, my mother, sisters and brothers admiration as well.  My father reserved judgment and waited more than twelve months to even say hello to him. Hog farmer or doctor, this new boyfriend was the real deal.

Five and half years later we were married. I moved from the lights and noise of the city to the dark skies and quiet of the country. My first year married was a little on the frightening side. I was used to the sounds of buses, transport trucks, fire trucks and ambulances outside my house. I had traded that noise for an occasional dog barking at night. I quickly learned how to bury my head in the curve of my husband’s back, drape my arm across his chest and snuggle in until the first light arrived in the morning.

My husband’s farm was well established from a production perspective by the time we were wed, but we struggled to make the venture viable.  It took many years and a lot of sacrifice to get it in a sustainable position.  But my husband seemed to be born with all the skills to create a successful farm venture. Throughout that farming career, we also created our family, energetic boys to keep us on our toes.  Our boys had their own unique family stories involving hog farming, their first rubber boots, coveralls, helping Dad in the barns and running their obstacle races around the bales of the hay. They had an idyllic upbringing.

Compared to my husband, I am the naïve one. I thought our life was impossibly challenging when we were first married, then it was a matter of taking control and showing the farm debt agencies we were no fools, then it was clear sailing from there.  But naïve I am no more. Tonight’s encounter with someone from the Department of Agriculture brought 1993 back with a sudden jolt.

In 1993, my husband and I were in our thirties.  Our son’s were 12, 9 and 4 years old. The province was struggling with its deficit and a new government was recently sworn into office. Agriculture was a traditional industry but not a particularly large one and segments of it were considered expensive to support. Unfortunately for us, we were in one of those expensive segments.   We had a disease free hog herd and while seen as an accomplishment and a marketing advantage, it was small and inconsequential.  Dairy and chicken were more mainstays of the province’s agriculture industry.  You could hear the economic storm winds stir around our precious farm. My husband was quietly considering options, but I was naïvely distracted. My days were busy with accounting and raising my children.

By the day of the government’s budget, the writing was on the wall. The hog industry, with the stroke of the budget pen, was to be no more in our province.

My husband was a pillar of strength in the days that followed.  He took quick decisions to save as much capital as he could. He confidently moved with the change, not wasting time lamenting the apparent unfairness. He sold our stock immediately, shipping our breeding stock and growing herd to a farmer in another province.  He then disassembled our equipment and penning and sold that to a farmer, again outside the province. With time on his hands, he and his fellow hog farmers set out to make their case to the governments and their agencies that they had dealt with over the years. Many other people outside our industry added support to our cause. By the end of six months, my husband and his fellow hog farmers had negotiated a suitable deal for our industry’s exit from the province.

What seemed like a nightmare to me at its outset, ended amicably and gracefully. The life lessons gained from this challenge were a reward in themselves. Yet tonight, when this new acquaintance shared his connection with my family’s past, I was bombarded with old unpleasant memories.

I would like to thank this blog for bringing me back to the full story. I wouldn’t change a solitary moment in 1993.  We had an opportunity to rise above the turmoil of that day, tackle the down draft of a bad economy and come out strong enough to set root again. Many of us face the unexpected and hopefully stories like these will give others faith that the sun will rise on a new tomorrow.