Far Away

The snow has finally arrived. The magical beauty of a perfect line of thick white snow that uniformly falls from the hydro lines, disintegrating away until only a mist of snow hits the ground. I watched this morning as the mist crept in the low of my small valley highlighting the tip of the hill behind it in a baby blue hue showing promise of the day’s sunshine. The smog inched it’s way behind the evergreen trees that stood guarding it as a solid dark grey silhouette, ladled in snow pushing down on the dormant branches until their breaking point. Even in their sleep the branches win as Mother Nature pushes the snow away with a warm winter breeze, like a mother pushing away a lock of hair from her child’s eyes as they dream. Soon the mist covers the hill and only the tall trees creating the front line remain visible, and the mist waits…waits for the sun to push its hard won mystical barrier far away from her warmth and comfort.

20181217_080754

I like to think of myself as a “bad news first” kinda girl. I am alluded by the ability to contain my wild feelings, even the struggle to focus my thoughts on the last thing I’ve been told is a challenge (I suspect this is why I am a proud simple-minded follower). In hearing bad news first I can simply forget the thoughts that create the feelings around the voice in front of me and focus on the good news about to consume my brain with lovely, addictive serotonin.

It is in this knowledge that I face December 25th. The overwhelming pressure of family. As a dedicated follower my sole mission (and detriment) in life has been to please people. If I had my way, I would be sitting completely alone covered in sunshine on a soft white sand beach listening to waves lick at my bare toes. The exact opposite of pressure. Jason’s family and friends live in Smithers. A simple 2 hour drive, that may as well be in China! Both of our parent families are alone, both stubborn and willful, both deeply rooted in tradition and extensively skilled in using guilt as their ultimate weapon. The children are old enough now to feel this guilt and follow my direction to strive to contain it if they can’t outright fix it. Their overly dramatic father fits seamlessly into our parent families, being closer to their generation than Jason and I are. Christmas for me is guilt ridden, restless pressure with devastation and disappointment surrounding 1 day of useless, expensive celebration.

I didn’t always feel this way. Like a typical child, Christmas was the only day my brother and I joined forces to outwit time. I remember waking him up in the darkness with a tiny nudge of my small finger, together creeping down the steep wooden stairs, avoiding the creaks in the middle of each step. On our way down we would grab our overfull stockings from the hooks on the edge of the stairs where they hung. If something fell out onto the floor we knew we would be busted. With our arms bursting and our excitement palatable, we dangerously maneuvered the second half of the staircase in complete silent darkness. We locked ourselves in the bathroom, turned on the light and dug in! In the midst of our second layer of goodies, past the japanese oranges that hit the floor without a thought, the door flung open and there stood Gramma Lee. Her short, thin white curls creating a halo of tangles above her squinting blue eyes as she tried to adjust to the light. We froze like deer in the headlights, hoping if we didn’t move she wouldn’t see us. A simple “it’s 3 o’clock in the morning…” was enough to get us back to our warm beds abandoning our loot. Dear gawd I miss that woman. She passed away Dec.26, 1999. Christmas has not been the same since.

The problem with the current daily “countdown to The Day” of dramatics is the fact that the good news is overwhelmingly nowhere to be seen. New Years for me is a time of quiet reflection, a life re-focus and a new awareness. By the time New Years gets here I’m still drowning in chores to clean up the physical and emotional messes made by everyone who didn’t get their expectations met. It’s intensely hard for me to focus on my new year beginning on the right foot while I’m still intrinsically caught up in the drama of a family Christmas. It’s like starting off your “healthy eating” day with an earl grey tea swimming in 18% cream and spoonfuls of sugar to wash down those homemade Christmas cookies.

I like to begin my New Years reflection in November. Putting the cart before the horse so I can concentrate my sights on the good news at the end of the Christmas schedule. By December 1st my resolutions are on paper! I enjoyed my last years resolution of speaking about my Dad to my kids. This has been wholly healing for me and I intend to continue this work and improve on the simple short stories to include pictures this year. Maybe by this time next year I can look at and process the cards we received at his funeral.

My other continuing resolution centers on this business. Setting limitations, focusing on whats important and not giving myself away (emotionally or physically) in the process. Specifically I will begin January with yet another new way to complete my invoices. The Google sheets was a nice stepping off point that proved to simply be too labor intensive. Trying to delegate this task was an absolute “no go!”. I am going to try Simply Accounting with the hope that the computer will be able pick up the work I need delegated, automatically creating spreadsheets and invoices.

The resolution that I’m most worried about (and most determined to make habit) is to hold on to me. To live life. I will ground myself in quiet, eat raw food I feel good about, learn a ton of new things, go new places, spend more time with my horses and generally let others own their own needs.  As I am swamped in feeling guilt, pressure and anxiety, I look forward to January 1st. A new year’s day, the day I selfishly book next year’s Christmas, to get away….simply get away….far, far away.

 

Solid

“A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water”                                      Eleanor Roosevelt

Yes, the Smith women are a force to be reckoned with. My Grandfather taught the girls to be strong both mentally and physically. My Grandmother taught them to be dramatic. Sometimes you never know which trait is raising it’s monstrous head…you simply duck before it hits you.

Loma Linda is the physical rock of the Smith family. Her strength doesn’t deceive with dramatics, it simply stands solid in fact, aging with silent grace, grateful for another season, nurturing it’s growing flock and warmly embracing the change that comes with it. Without question Loma Linda Ranch is the essence that all of us strive to emulate.

The un-holy anger of “The Beast” was no match for The Smith Ranch named Loma Linda. In typical female fashion we silence the might of “The Wolf Pack” who protected her and we celebrate the strength of the “woman” she is. The fire burned every living thing in it’s path around the small inlet to it’s mouth where it then followed the creek that runs behind the tiny log cabin. It changed course at that junction simply due to the massive guards put in place by her Southside neighbors and friends. You can see where the fire tried to jump the water as it burned trails through the trees and engulfed the fields before attempting to jump the enormous banks of dirt pushed there to protect the guard around old Loma Linda. The evidence of the fight that ended on the soil of my legacy is humbling, inspiring and devastating.

20181006_112532

The fascinating way the fire burned…it wasn’t your typical raging madman consuming everything…it was sneaky…twisting death trails around wild blueberry bushes until it gained strength on the crisp, dry bark of it’s chosen prey. The spinning flames ate the skin of the tree and then bit deep into the tissue until the base was no longer able to support the seventy years of growth above ground, the majesty of the aspens collapsed taking the fire with them in search of it’s next meal. The flames discovered the open wound at the vulnerable base and it turned in excited circles to devour the aspens flesh as the rings of the tree suffocate and die. The thousand year old root system of the tree stays still and safe in it’s bed of soil, waiting for spring to pop up new shoots and show it’s resilience in defiance of The Beast. As the fire moved swiftly around the property it left a pattern of black scales over everything like a rat snake creeping fluidly through the newly fallen golden leaves from the unaffected tree tops. Like the way the black wing feathers of a crow shimmer and turn blue just for an instant in the sunlight, the scales of the black snake glint off the grey day light in triumph.

20181006_115359

No masculine lunatic exposes itself in The Beast’s movements, only a gentle dancing as it leads with the spoiled attitudes of royalty. Like a Disney movie princess in a seductive evening gown shimmering deep blue and moving with a luxury that only the very rich can afford, then there is a rotating twirl of pure white smoke that engulfs the sparkle to magically become the hard scales of a vicious and demanding murderer. The feminine way the fire burned proves that Nature is the mother of a daughter we call The Beast. Woman against woman never wins. Loma Linda won…but she needed the help of the “Wolves”. The “Wolf Pack” in all it’s masculine glory took on Goliath and then stepped away into the shadows to protect their own families to let Loma Linda shine like she single handedly won. Like a true knight in shining armor the wolves saved the princess and then steps back to watch her shine. Like all good battles, the aftermath is another story.

The after math battle to save the roads and fields from spring flooding is still an egg waiting to be fertilized. The paperwork and government loops will consume our minds over the winter as the “fetus” grows. The hard, exhausting, labor intensive work will begin as the next demon approaches the Ranch on the wings of a new season. But this time we will be ready.

Imagination

 

“Everything that is real was first imagined”            The Velveteen Rabbit

20180910_145106

The rabbit has deep symbolic meanings. They represent fertility and family abundance, Mother Earth and springtime rebirth, new life, new beginnings, creation and growth. A celebration of life. This circle can lead us to further ponder the longevity of generation upon generation and our own personal ancestry, should we have the time to let our minds wander past the adorable wiggly noses, tall splendid ears and tiny cotton ball tail curled around their fluffy bottoms. In true Mother Nature style the double edge sword of that luxurious soft fur and delicate whiskers hides beastly strong teeth and powerful hind feet that wield long, sharp nails ready to take action.

The middle of August Bakers Acres saw an intense influx of animals fleeing the Southside as fire consumed the community. Among them were 19 rabbits. 2 moms, 2 dads, 3 teenagers and a pile of babies. At first we crammed them all into our small rooster house to await the containment of the fire that we assumed would only take a few days. As the hours turned to days, and the days to weeks…the babies grew. We cleaned out our 2 personal permanent bunny houses and moved the group into my garden, separating males from females. Still the babies grew.

Our neighbor Rick and Judy Medley offered their volunteer services to help control our abundant bunnies. Judy designed the first rabbit hutch with 2 stories and Rick used materials taken from their old greenhouse. The thought that they put into this little house with large doors, heavy wire for bunnies tender baby feet, slight slopes for ramps and safe, dry sleeping areas with adorable horse shoe shaped doors is impressive and appreciated. As the bunnies quickly outgrew their overcrowded houses they would chase each other round and round in a flurry of fur and nails. Rick continued to build. Each house that arrived had new additions and changes to better suit my precious rabbit fosters. Rick personally delivered each one stopping to pet the foster dogs who so lovingly greeted him. Judy checked on his progress daily and stopped by the kennel to drop off munchies for the bunnies when she could. Rick and Judy have added a total of 4 rabbit hutches to our collection and because of it, the bunnies are thriving!

Still the babies continue to grow. The teenagers have become adults and have started nesting and  growling at each other, the boys have started pushing their weight around and biting the others fluffy bunny tail.

Sunday was yet another moving day for the group. The 3 female teenagers and the 2 original mothers got moved into the old chicken coop which is a larger house and outside pen. The babies have been moved in pairs into Rick’s special designed houses. As the winter approaches the baby bunnies will be spared their original purpose of becoming dinner as RainCoast Dog Rescue Society helps us spay and neuter as many of the 13 quickly growing babies as we can, so we can rehome them as pets. (250-692-6481 to get your name on the list to adopt these bunnies).  https://www.raincoastdogrescue.com/

I’m so proud of my family. They did not ask for this extra farm work, but they have stepped up and they shine like my own personal north stars! These lessons of giving, hard work, selflessness and gratitude are undeniably beyond my own capabilities and I am grateful for the opportunity to use this horrific situation to demonstrate their kind hearts and keen minds, not only to themselves…but to the world who is watching. Their confidence is contagious.

As the world also watches, some of our heroic Southsiders can head home to their own beds, but we quickly forget the devastation these people will face in the coming month before our long winter sets in. I’m reminded continually of their challenges as I go about my own. As my winter planning falls 2 months behind, I am anxious to get my “to do” list started. The heavy frost this morning only doubles that anxiety. Cleaning chimney’s, servicing fire places, heaters and thermometers,  insulating windows, keeping out unwelcome critters trying to stay warm, sealing and covering tin roofs, stocking pellets, organising emergency lighting and heating, winter shelters, feed storages, heat tape on pipes, protecting trees, door and window seals, claiming space to plow snow, winter hoses, preparing winter water troughs, repairing buildings, fences and barricades for winter protection, plans to divert the spring run off to keep the kennel dry next year…the list is endless. My list is for our little family of animals, and this business. It is unimaginable what the list for the evacuees are…they are back at  work, the children are back at school and their “to do” lists will also include building wood and hay storage, filling that storage with fire wood and food for their livestock, rebuilding fences that took years to build, leveling huge mounds of dirt so they have someplace to plow snow, recouping their homes from the rats that have taken over, rebuilding well houses and water pumps…with little over a month before snow comes, how can they possibly ever be ready for winter?  And still they are simply grateful for their own beds.

The Binta Lake (south of Burns Lake) fire in 2010, saw 40,000 hectares burn in the largest single fire in the province that year. I dealt with distraught people desperately seeking refuge for their cats during this evacuation at our tiny shelter behind the vet clinic where I worked. We had to turn them away as there was simply no room. I started this business in 2012 and the first thing I did was renovate a small structure on the property to house cats and I designed it to match the shelter I so loved. During the China Nose fire in 2014 I took in as many cats as I could from evacuees at no charge. Thankfully it only lasted a few days before people were allowed to go home. This is the second evacuation order due to wild fires where Bakers Acres has volunteered since opening 5 years ago. Evacuations due to fire are not new. How we handle those fires is not new. Evacuation registration is not new, even the forms have not changed in years. Action to save Tweedsmuir park from the pine beetle started in 1995. By 1997 it was out of control and the government simply waited for it to burn. The explanations of cost-efficiency, legislation, management, remote location, and rarity of challenges are not new. In fact they are getting really old. Things need to change. Instead of sitting at our desks and compiling phone numbers for emergency planning, get out to volunteers and see how things are not working, talk about solutions, then do it! Stop talking, stop writing, stop promising, stop excusing. Put on your muddy black rubber boots and do! Do something. Do anything. I was told early on, in this never-ending evacuation, by the RDBN that there was no funding for pets. Paulchen, our chunky monkey diabetic kitty, got picked up after a month’s stay and his “Mom” handed me a form that she got from the evacuation center in Smithers. A form that I can submit to the government for $50 to reimburse me for kenneling costs. Why was I unaware of this? Why are the people I’m helping unaware of this? Government un-preparedness? Government cost savings? Government ignorance?

20180911_164502.jpg

Joey and Paulchen

As I wait with bated breath for someone to come and ask how we can be better prepared for the next evacuation, I imagine that talk turning to action. Action to update registration, action to be fully transparent with concrete plans, action to renovate and prepare physical housing and help volunteers. Action to protect small business from the financial loss a disaster like this takes, action to support, action to be prepared. Simple action.

I imagine a scene where the sun creeps quickly down the hillside turning the shadowed grey trees to bright reds, yellows and oranges in celebration of fall. The brown abundant pine cones at the end of healthy green spruce boughs waiting for a cheeky squirrel to pluck them away and hide them as he chatters and squeaks at anyone daring to stop his harvest. The hardy white frost on the green grass melts with the warmth of the sun and the little bay pony stands huddled beside the stout white sheep for comfort and warmth as they impatiently wait for the sun to reach their backsides. I close my eyes and imagine this for all those people who are instead watching the sun peek through black, dead trees and creeping over huge brown mounds of sod that now cover their winter’s firewood in what’s left of their demolished wood sheds. Farmers whose sheep and goats are gone, replaced by black fields, limbless trees fallen in dangerous criss cross patterns, grey ash and broken/burned fences in a scene from a war lost. I imagine, for them.

Loma Linda

LL38 (2)

Southsiders have been wholly described as “A Warrior Community”, “Honourable”, “Defiant”, “Farmers”, “Strong”, “Heroes”, “Avengers”, “Legends”, “Spirits of Dedication”…

The Fire that threatens everything we know is being called “The Animal”, “The Beast”, “Mother Nature”, “Brutal”, “Devastating”…

We’ve been told to “Stay Safe” and “Pray” while we make our “Romantic Last Stand”. We feel frightened, impatient, abandoned…and blessed. Yes, blessed. Blessed by a windless day, by cooler weather that leaves dew on the ground in early morning. Blessed with our lives and the precious lives of our families. Blessed with protection from simple farmers turned warriors.

“Men follow courage”. William Wallace was a farmer who fought for his freedom and his country with the singular strength of many soldiers. Soldiers weakened by lack of conviction, powerless to summon their school room lessons in the face of “witless” passion. A farmers passion for his family, passion for his livelihood, passion for his freedom.

I was born and raised in Burns Lake. Growing up in this small town we learned quickly that “It’s all about who you know”. We all started primary school at Muriel Mould, moved to William Konkin Elementary and finished our schooling at Lakes District Secondary. That is, all of us, save the tiny multiclass elementary school-house at Francois Lake and the Grassy Plains school that taught all grades on the other side of the lake. Those children were the elite enigma. We wondered what they were taught…did they learn Math and English like we did? As we began highschool we met these elusive creatures at school dances once a month and as the mystery around them faded our yearning to follow them took over. These strong, dedicated and passionate people were born leaders.

A big part of my childhood consisted of travelling around the head of “The Lake” or across it, to visit my Grandfather. We loved riding the ferry and gorging ourselves on special weekend snacks as we travelled across rough dirt roads and trails across fields, past our Great Grandma Cartwright’s house on Isaac Lake and into the lush fields of Grampa’s Loma Linda Ranch.

Great Grandma Nellie and Grandpa Cartwright would see us coming and as the only visitors crazy enough to venture out this far, they would wait on their doorstep to flag us down for a visit. I would love to sit in her kitchen with her lace curtains overlooking her yard that sloped slightly down into the “pond”. She had an old wooden chicken house out back and she loved her chickens. She very often would have a sick or frost bit chicken running around her kitchen that had become a temporary reprieve from the busy chicken house. Often our visits were short-lived due to the time constraints of the day that was quickly getting away from us before we even reached the ranch.

LL

You could see Grampa’s tiny log cabin that sat in the middle of his large fields as we started the slow trek along the hidden trail that was his driveway. At the edge of the farthest fields you could see the rim of trees that hid the banks of Francois Lake. As we got closer to the house the view of the lake disappeared and was replaced by livestock. I watched for a glimpse of the old brown horse called Rocket…a nasty stud that would eat you instead of look at you…but I thought he was wonderous and beautiful (from a distance). Then I would scan the fields for the sweet little black heifer that Grampa Smith called BB. She was our “horse” when we were little.

These weekend days usually consisted of fishing, butchering, gathering wood, cleaning house, eating and exploring! Grampa had an old tire swing that hung in a huge tree beside Mom’s old car that Grampa had stripped for parts. We would climb the hills with Grampa’s dogs Sam and Bambi turning over rocks to expose mice as they scattered and became quick meals for the collie Bambi. Sam preferred porcupine. A quiet walk through the tall grass to the shore of the inlet that was “Grampa’s”, had us balancing ourselves precariously on the huge rock dock that must have taken Grampa many years to assemble and maintain. I loved the swampy part by the old outhouse best as it was teaming with tadpoles…so black it looked like a singular rolling slug with legs and a tail hidden just under the surface. I loved to grab a handful of squirming baby frogs in my hands to feel the tickle on my palms as they tried to swim away. After haying season the barn was full of round bales of sweet-smelling grass so high it made the world seem small. We would climb and wrestle on the bales until we got to the very top when Mom would yell at us to come down and spoil all the fun. That legacy has been handed down to my children as the tradition of our family centers around our Southside leader, Grampa Smith.

As the years flew past we started making our way around the head of the lake over logging roads that twisted and turned, widened and thinned. I loved being the only vehicle on the road as we plowed snow with the bumper of Dad’s truck or weaved our way around large holes full of rain water while we kept a keen eye on the road ahead for tracks of rabbits, deer, moose, bear, coyote and wolves. The fences that held cattle slowly became monstrous barriers for the buffalo that Grampa decided to raise. We went though gate after gate to get to the tiny cabin, though herds of enormous animals that were way too close to the truck for my comfort. Grampa loved to see us coming with loads of Oh Henry, Oreo cookies and Pepsi. His monthly summer trips to town saw his stash of goodies gone within days of his trip.

My Grampa was a stubborn, cantankerous, loud, opinionated, unforgiving…kind-hearted, loving, generous, hardworking, talented, dedicated and devoted man. Oh the stories he could tell! The long days on board the navy ship when he was 17, eating avocados…the Sasquatch that lived just off the driveway on the left hand side, before the second gate…the wolves that came boldly up to his front door only to glamorously adorn his wall…the mysterious unearthly butchering of his prized buffalo…what Art Bell had talked about on the radio the night before…the age old fight with his neighbors…the large Ogopogo beast that would swim into his shallow inlet stealing his fish. He would tell the same corny blonde joke over and over and over. I groan inwardly just thinking about it. He loved rebellious thinking and would argue simply for the sake of arguing. His old school thinking had him sit back comfortably in his leather chair with a smirk and enjoy the doting of his many daughters as they cleaned, fussed, cooked and dictated.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My Grampa Smith’s ranch Loma Linda sits at the edge of the fire line that has been literally guarded by “The Wolf Pack”. A group of Southside farmers protecting their land and their livelihoods with passion. “The Wolf Pack” consists of Grampa’s neighbors, and my elusive Grassy Plains schoolmates. Despite a lifetime of conflict with my excentric Grandfather, Wolfram Hummel was at Loma Linda for hours and hours building guards, protecting the tiny log cabin that is falling apart to save my legacy. My school mate Clint Lambert that I idolized when I was young and avoided in maturity (hoping that he would forget the person I was in highschool if I simply didn’t look at him), took time away from his family, his property and at the expense of his personal rest to watch and put out spot fires in the “Smith fields”. This irreplaceable time pales in comparison to the debt incurred by these warriors as they start-up their superhero machines to dig, pile, pull and clear barricades in a passionate attempt to save their community that is burning.

Loma Linda as of yesterday was standing…but the fire has eaten everything around it… as close as 60 yards from the log building. As The Wolf Pack moves on to chase the flames that threaten their family homes, Loma Linda stands her own guard. Will she stand strong against The Beast? The Wolf Pack has done all they can to save my legacy, the rest is up to Mother Nature’s un-forgiving, stubborn wrath.

https://www.gofundme.com/save-southside

“It’s not the size of the dog! It’s the size of the fight the dogs in!”

Rene Crouse

 

Fire

Panic is defined as: sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior.

 

I don’t know much about anything. “I’m good with dogs”…but still I only boast the basics in a world full of “experts”. I believe this philosophy and my undeniable loyalty to it keeps my humble heart in check.

In times of panic anyone who feels the pain and fear of others can suffer incredibly. I’ve spent my adult life consuming the feelings of people around me foolheartedly believing that if I take on their pain, I can ease it. I’ve learned that sharing their pain does not ease it…but rather increases it until everyone in the vicinity can almost literally grab a handful of anxiety out of the air and keep it safe in their pocket until it is needed in a wild show of dramatics should they choose to increase their spotlight.

My philosophy in being good and proud of individual talents instead of boasting a general expertise in all things is closely followed by my dedication to only worry about things I can control. I achieve this with distraction. Achieve is the wrong word…it signifies success. I am far from successful in this pursuit. I am content to not be good at pushing away all worry and to only be good at the effort of it. We cannot control wildfire. What I can control…my feelings.

Wildly unthinking behaviour comes from uncontrolled thoughts. We have the power to control our thoughts. Our thoughts control our feelings. We can choose to worry, elicit fear or simply swim in the fiery chaos to be the hero, the director, the martyr or the victim. In our human goals to be any of these things…we are simply being selfish. I do not claim to be protected from selfishness…on the contrary…I work very hard to keep this double-edged sword at bay.

I feel safe here. Surrounded by devastating wildfires, palpable fear and unchecked anxiety…I feel safe simply because I selfishly choose to be. In choosing this edge of the sword I protect my heart and in doing so, I allow it to open to the people who need me to “do”. They don’t need me to feel their fear, they need me to protect their animals.

Bakers Acres has taken in (at last count) 23 cats, 10 dogs, 18 rabbits, 70+chickens, 1 turkey, and 8 sheep who are quickly lambing and becoming 10, 11, 12… from evacuees and I am humbled that they trust me with their sole incomes, their precious family members and their last remaining “possession”. I do this around my business. In order to logistically help them, I must continue to work. I cannot give the displaced families the kennel rooms that pay the bills. For this I feel like I’m going to burn in hell. When a train of vehicles arrive in my driveway loaded with animals and belongings with nowhere to go, I can (as of today) only offer paid kennel space. I write that with my teeth gritted and tension in my arms as my heart cracks. It simply is what it is. I cannot change that. I’ve requested money from RDBN to close the business and take in more animals but there is simply no funding for pets.

Same as other local business owners who are serving coffee with smiles on their faces to exhausted, filthy firefighters…knowing that their short-staffed cafes will need endless cleaning to accept the officials in suits behind these hard-working people. Their homes are burning as they smile and heat the water for another strong coffee order, their dedicated employees are at home wetting their roofs with well water and garden hoses in a desperate effort to save their homes…and we can only do what we can do, so we smile.

Here is the part where I ask for donations. The selfish part. The part where I plead for monetary donations so I selfishly do not have to watch anymore desperate people shrink away from another “no”. The panic behind their eyes haunt me. As they turn away from me and turn to each other their conversations become heartbreaking plans to give up their pets that they can not take care of in the back seats of their cars amidst the raging, unstoppable heat.

Donations of cash can be made to Tech North Solutions in Burns Lake. Thankyou to Tech North for their time in accepting, organising and arranging supplies/donations as well as their time in physically coming to care for the animals on the grounds. Etransfer donations can be made to bakersacres2012@gmail.com, please add “Fire” in the comments. Thank-you to Karen Baker (My Mom:)) for accepting and organising emails/correspondence and donations as well as physically coming to delegate, clean, handy-man and “go to” for anything the farm needs. She does this despite her home being on vigilant evacuation alert.

I look to others to be my heroes. I focus on being “good with dogs”, knowing what is in my control and channeling my thoughts so that I can continue to support those that need Bakers Acres, in any way I can.

 

Real

 

“More than doubling its size in the last 24 hours, the Shovel Lake wildfire has grown to 5,000 hectares. The blaze is now listed as the largest out-of-control blaze in all of the province and is zero-percent contained.”

https://www.myprincegeorgenow.com/80914/shovel-lake-wildfire-now-the-largest-out-of-control-blaze-in-bc/

I come from a long line of dramatic people. Oh the stories I can tell (or re-tell) would be enough to curl your toes. Instead of getting into the juicy drama of it all (I’ll leave that to my Mom’s autobiography), I’ve chosen the mantra in my life to avoid drama…at all costs. Anyone who knows me well…is giggling to themselves and shutting off the computer before I’ve even gotten to my point.

Drama follows me. This last week (is it only Thursday?) I’ve dealt with teenage drama’s, the tragic death of our pet bunny, the cancellation of our yearly hay crop, a new appreciation for honest people as I learn the in’s and out’s of digital small claims court, the government costs of hiring an employee, the onslaught of questions regarding my evacuation plans as we prepare for an alert to reach us soon, a dead battery forcing me to remember my Dad’s lessons from 20 years ago and I’ve taken in a teacup chihuahua that has been surrendered as her Dad goes from his assisted living situation into the Prince George hospital. The drama of nurses fighting for him to keep his pet and officials of the home fighting to take her away makes me…redirect and focus on something I can control.

I strive for a simple life…a small home neatly fenced for horses and tons of room for the dogs to run. A self-sustaining homestead that provides everything we need…real carrots, real honey, real eggs. When did our lives become so unreal? So dramatic?

We create drama so we don’t have to pay our bills. Drama to get attention. Drama to get what we want. Drama to conquer. Drama to redirect, protect and extinguish. In all the drama we forget what’s real.

What’s real in my life comes into direct perspective as an out-of-control wildfire creeps over the hill towards us. I know that the hardworking firefighters will protect us…but to be prepared to leave it all…what do I take? Sounds overly dramatic…in reality it’s simple. The animals. I’m prepared with vehicles and kennels to evacuate all animals in my care safely and quickly. The rest simply doesn’t matter.

The definition of drama is simply this…”a situation or sequence of events in real life that is highly emotional, tragic or turbulent, characteristic of a play performed on stage by actors.” Drama lives in our head and on TV, it isn’t real.

What is real? “Real” is not store-bought, but made with love and time. When “real” is lost it does not contaminate the earth but instead brings new life. “Real” is not selfish, material, dramatic or pretty. “Real” is simple, detailed, honest and…elusive.

 

Free

I love deafening silence. The kind of silence that makes the whole world seem immensely vast and open. Silence that fills your lungs with crisp fresh air, untouched by any other creature, only for you. Like your standing barefoot on soft sand at the edge of an ocean with calm salt water stretched as far as you can see. You feel so small, so invisible, so free.

I see exciting changes in my crew lately! My baby Claire is cuddling up and snuggling, wanting her belly rubbed constantly. Her skin is darkening with the hormones flooding her system. Her coat is glowing with red highlights and is slightly coarser to the touch of my fingers. My sweet Georgia is cranky and snippy with the other dogs. She will sit on the back of the sofa and launch herself at anyone even thinking about jumping up to get comfortable. Charlie Brown is following Claire around, protecting her and standing guard over “his” possession. As the girls come into heat the boys start battling.

“Grandpa” Yoshi thinks he is the man and with no social skills he simply doesn’t know when to stop. He challenges Charlie consistently throughout the year. Charlie usually postures himself to disagree and then walks away shaking his head at the old man. When the girls are in heat, the dynamics change. Yoshi and Danika must be sequestered in the bedroom. Which suits “Gramma” Danika just fine. A quiet room away from the chaos and stupidity of battling “men”, arguing over an unseen and powerful, instinctual force.

I’ve got some amazing families waiting for new babies. They want dates. They want to start planning. Unlike other breeders, my dates are approximate. I believe in watching my dogs and letting them tell me when it’s time. Same as humans, we can run the numbers and try to control nature but in the end we have just wasted time, money, hope and faith. (In getting pregnant with my first son we tried for 6 months before we finally got the exciting news. 6 months of calculating, timing, planning…6 months of disappointment. With my second son, we waited another 8 months. It wasn’t until I stopped calculating that Joey was conceived.) Claire is much smarter than I am in these things anyway. She knows when it is time and her determination is unstoppable.

I understand why professional breeders cannot do this type of “calculating”. Their dogs are kenneled, with scheduled time in the yard like inmates on a daily exercise allowance. Unlike “Prison Break” on Netflix where we see the inmates in their little groups around picnic tables, playing team sports or collecting rocks, I’m sure real inmates get very little exercise and are forgotten in small cells to brood, releasing energy anyway they can. For professional breeders, this is a business, they calculate, plan, test, re-calculate and still they hope…the same as me. They pay vets to test hormones, inseminate, x-ray…and they still guess…the same as me.

20180614_131617.jpg 20180515_144751.jpg 20180622_190518.jpg

I believe strongly in nature, following her lead, learning from her, trusting her instincts. Following another’s lead is so freeing. No worry, no planning, calculating or manipulating. Free to concentrate on my hope and excitement, for them and with them. Free to love them wholly and without restraint, even when my dedication to them is seen as silly or ridiculous. Free to learn from them. Free.

Father

Fathers Day. A day when I celebrate them, without them. My Grandpa, Mayor John Baker died when I was 7, my Dad, Michael Baker passed away 2 months before my first son arrived in 2003, and my Grampa Ken Smith left us 9 years ago. As my children head to their father’s house today, I turn my attention to Jason.

20180616_193909(0)

Jason joined me and my boys in 2013. A time of change for me. A job that had me stuck in a windowless room crunching numbers, surrounded by men, noise and sawdust. Having given up my perfect house on the lake to keep peace for my children, I was driven to start my own business surrounded by the animals that defined me and leave the vicious mill environment. These changes were very hard on the children who acted out with disrespect, anger and contempt.

Jason’s appropriate role in the beginning was as an observer, then as my protector. He was very clear with the boys that he was not their friend. Over the years he has gracefully and seamlessly become their “father”. His strong role model for hard work and dedication is second to none. His high expectations cause friction and lessons that are as hard on the children and me as they are on him.

He sees Joey’s love of speed and encourages safe play with close supervision on dangerous machines. He supports Joey’s talent in the hockey net by sitting on hard, cold seats surrounded by this towns social gathering chitter. He sits as a chaperone at school dances swarming with teenage girls giggling and twirling.

Jason has sat as an observer as Michael has become overwhelmed with highschool. He works hard to teach Michael self-confidence and respect for his elders. He role models the proper way to treat women using old school methods of opening the door for me, complimenting me when I don’t deserve it and showing appreciation for my efforts vs. my outcome.

His dedication to Peytanne runs so deep that she literally glows. Her talent in gymnastics is who she is and he supports this above and beyond his requirements. His obsessive compulsions compliment hers perfectly and the nightly routine of facetime has them both imagining new ways to open the conversation. His insistence, against all, of a phone she can text on has taught her essential writing skills.

He is not their friend. He is their father. He supports when it is not convenient, teaches when it is not comfortable, role models when he is exhausted and allows the children to fall while picking them up before they hit the ground. He is honest, clear and patient. He doesn’t look for praise, doesn’t boast, doesn’t dramatise, doesn’t complain. He is our protector, our advisor and our strength. He has an amazing ability to live in the moment and cherish each day for the good things in it. For all these things, I thank Jason.

Frost

June 12. A day just like yesterday. The morning frost that coats the green grass retracts its icy claws away from the border of the early sunshine that slowly and consistently opens up across the front lawn. The newly purchased pepper plants and cosmos are freeze burnt under the cover of darkness as the coldness steals away their promise of a good life.

With my sore back, my butt is firmly rooted on the sofa, surrounded by my favorite “people”, pillows and an electric heating pad. I pushed myself yesterday into grooming one small, well-behaved, little monkey and today I can’t walk without pain. I’ve begun my 4th week of recovery and the tug-of-war battle of my brain against my limbs gives me a physical headache. But here I sit at the computer. I’m still working habitually on converting my filing system over to digital, but what a slog.

Slog. What a great word! I imagine Atreyu waist deep in mud pulling on Artax, his bit and bridle extending his perfect white muzzle high in the air as he fights the desire to sink into the black swamp of sadness. Atreyu yelling at his equine companion to keep fighting and Bastian with his book yelling into the wind behind them. Tears stream down my face as Artax dies…the worst part…my kids refuse to watch The Neverending Story.

2018-06-12 (5)

The movies that helped shaped my life, like Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, The Princess Bride and The Neverending Story are wholly underappreciated! Jim Henson’s mastery of the puppet was second to none! Add in the amazing David Bowie…well…there are no words!  Oh how I wanted to be Sarah with her sweet courage…a trail of amazing creatures following her and testing her every move through fascinating twists and turns. But nope…here I sit…on my butt…watching the frost in my slippers!

Diane and Keith came today to do some tractor chores. My little pony Princess Abby keeps pushing the panels of her enclosure further and further into the field of lush, frost-bitten grasses of spring until she literally collapses the fences and hops over. These big metal panels are tightly held together with huge, super strength elastic bands attached to a metal hook. With the hook firmly rooted in the panel, the elastic band wraps around both posts and slides neatly over the opposite end of the hook. With one band on top and one on the bottom, they are a strong and nifty fencing solution on the farm. Abby a.k.a. fence crawler is a destructor extraordinaire. She pushes until she snaps the bands! We then resort to baling twine around each juncture. At that point she highlights human stupidity by pushing up on the bar that latches the door in the panel on the end. Our only saving grace is that she is completely out of shape, she can only run around the field 2 or 3 times nibbling as she taunts us before succumbing to the halter and being lead back to her grassless prison. Rationing sucks!

While we try to keep Abby off the grass, Diane and Keith lifted our new-to-us rabbit hutch into the garden so our single, elderly bunny can eat all the green things he can get his little munchers on! The two of them are an unstoppable force that makes farm work look effortless. Coming from a wanna-be-farmer, believe me, it’s not efortless! I love their “find-a-way” attitude and hard work mentality. Sitting on my stoop and watching them has my cooped up brain peeling off the tissue from the inside of my skull like a lunatic obsessed with the sound of ripping paper.

I refocus, remember to breathe, and retreat back into uncovering the essential details of life. Like the little pink flowers of my african violet that have finally started blooming again. The delicate dual yellow center of the perfect oblong stigma fanned by 4 petals of shimmer that creeps out from the center in an unassuming pink hue to a bold raspberry that outlines the fringes. I appreciate their detailed simplicity with my tea and a snack. The tightly packed teardrop seeds of my sesame snaps are held together in a crunchy sugar-coating. The seeds vary in color from white to carmel all jam-packed into a tight rectangle of perfection. I try to eat them slowly, breaking off ends piece by piece to pace myself as the seeds get stuck in my molars. I know I’ve lost that battle too when I forget to thrust the short edge of the candy in between my teeth and instead ram the longer edge in that stretches my non-existent lips into a terrifying smile that reminds me of the Joker. Thank gawd nobody is watching!

As we finish up the evening chores and I prepare my dinner of Vector cereal (we ran out of Mini Wheats), I wonder when the frost will end and I’ll be able to plant my herbs safely. All my strawberries have perished over winter but I intend to persevere, learn my lesson…again…and plant them in the ground this year, not in easy to weed pots. Or maybe I will just raid Gramma’s carefully planned, maintained, abundant crops. Decisions, decisions…

 

“Be good!”

 

My Grandpa Smith was a character! A buffalo rancher who lived literally in the middle of nowhere, carried his water, burned his heat, butchered his food. This tall, tough cowboy would not dare show his love in any girl sense of the word, but when it was time to say good-bye until another weekend visit, he would choke a bit and say in his gruff, Sasquatch voice “BE GOOD!”. Gawd how I miss that man!

20180608_100015

Georgia Peaches; “Sweet and Juicy Georgia Peaches”. No, I’m not talking fruit, I’m talking about a pretty little red poodle born as Princess Peach to Polar Lane Poodles out of Saskatchewan. She was just over a year old and as a mature puppy, I felt that I could get a good sense of who she was from the breeder. I wanted a confident, socially mature female. The breeder told me that Peaches was a “beautiful loving girl, who loves to play and run around, but also loves to snuggle in for kisses and hugs.” Sounds like my perfect pup!! When questioned again about her personality (just for my own reassurance) the breeder went into more details. “She doesn’t show any sign of shyness unless it is a bunch of kids coming at her at once.”  “She is very outgoing and friendly.  Gets along well with the other dogs

Although I had dealt with “responsible breeders” in the past, this was the first time I planned to purchase my “perfect puppy”. There were a few red flags for me, Polar Lane did all their own vaccinations. In BC you would not be considered “responsible” if you did this, but this breeder was in Saskatchewan. She did not do genetic testing on her breeding pairs but seemed to know all about the breed and could give many references from many healthy puppy families. How many puppies I wondered. She had no questions for me…none. I wanted a registered poodle. In typical human fashion, “I want what I want” and I quickly explained away the red flags. This was, after all, a professional, responsible breeder, registered with the CKC.

Georgia arrived home in March 2017, and we quickly found out that shy was an understatement. She ran from our approach, would bite if she felt trapped, refused to eat around other dogs, wanted nothing to do with us, the dogs or our house. As difficult as it was for me, I gave her space. All I wanted to do was gather her into my arms and snuggle and kiss her the way the breeder had led me to envision. As the weeks become months she started very slowly to open up, first to the cats, then to Claire, then to Jason. It wasn’t until late fall/early winter that she started to gingerly climb into my lap. I was determined to gain her trust! As long as I ignored her, she sat quietly, soaking up my happy thoughts directed her way but ever vigilant that I might move or try to catch her. I think often about her 2 days travel to get from Polar Lane to Bakers Acres. I feel strongly that any trauma suffered as a result of this journey would have quickly been forgotten with the sedative she was given to make travel easier and my appropriate training to help her overcome her fears. I know that her fear was deeply rooted at a young and impressionable age.

She’s been with us over a year and to this day you can still see how her first year in the “loving arms of a responsible breeder” corrupted who she could have been. She doesn’t like hugs, she still needs the freedom to flee at a moment’s notice. She feels trapped under the covers, no matter how cold the weather is. She submits to the other dogs at meal time to a fault, but cannot be separated from them or the stress of seclusion will ruin her appetite. She arrived in Burns Lake at a full-grown 10lbs with a ziplock bag of Pedigree as the breeders food choice. With careful management she is currently a very healthy 16lbs on a raw, home cooked and high protein diet.

Besides her residual underlying issues my Sweet Georgia Peach a.k.a. Sweet Georgia Brown is a happy girl who loves to torment the sheep by bouncing back and forth and chittering like an angry squirrel until they finally give in and chase her. Her strange sleeping poses have earned her the nickname Pretzel. She is the first to get out of bed, rush down the hallway, grab something she is not supposed to have, before booking it out the doggie door to store her new treasure in a deserted corner of the yard. Georgia loves Bakers Acres pens. The feel of the plastic splitting under her teeth with a satisfying crunch that magically exposes a tiny metal tip that bleeds! Like a Georgia version of Ferrero Rocher exposing the decadent hazelnut center that reminds you of Christmas! In her excitement for a new day she returns to bed to tease “Gramma” Danika who refuses to move so much as an eyelash in response to her wake up call. Georgia taps her front feet in unison 6 inches from Danika and gives a low “erf” from her throat every time her feet land in the soft sheets. As if to accentuate the warning that she could pounce at any second. After failing to rouse Danika, Georgia will try her luck with Claire, who responds with a yawn, a roll on her back an all-consuming face rub for her sleepy eyes into the deepest part of the comforter. Finally Jason makes his way to the kitchen where Gerogia follows at his heels waiting for her special part of the lunch he will so carefully make for the long day journey ahead of him. Her impatience is shown by jumping at his hand, trying to get his attention. Once her tummy is full of naughty treats she sneaks back to bed, curls up in a tight unarousable hedgehog pose as close to my back as she can and pretends to be a rock. At this point there is no moving her. When it’s time to wake me up, her routine starts all over again.

Charlie is another story that begins before Georgia. My intention to “rescue” was waning with my inner desire to have a puppy for Jason. Jason’s birthday present of a tan-colored cockapoo puppy failed miserably as my Henry attached himself to me like a spiral nail in a new 2×4. I decided to respond to a Vancouver ad for cocker spaniel puppies. All he had left were black and white. The chocolate ones had all been spoken for. I thanked him for his time and told him I would wait for the right pup. He counter-offered with the father of the puppies…Charlie. He was being forced to rehome his breeding pair as his wife had passed away and he could no longer look after them. To our utter surprise Charlie arrived on a flight from Vancouver with minimal planning. He hopped out of the airline approved kennel, gave a big stretch and sniffed around the lawn at the airport. This well-rounded pup was happy to follow Jason and I as he lept in the truck and we headed home to meet Henry.

Charlie has amazing recall, a naughty streak when he chases crows he can never catch, he sits at your feet and watches in perfect understanding as you talk to him and he carries everything around in his smug lips to prove he’s the man…but he never chews anything! He licks his lips when he thinks he’s in trouble, sleeps with his tongue hanging out, will look at you admiringly if you scratch his belly. The nickname Char was quickly adapted to Jar Jar Binks or Binky for short. He loves his kids and is calm and patient when they need it, and silly when they need entertaining. He protects them, watches over them, kisses them and claims everyone and everything as HIS.

In tracking down his vaccination records I was lead to his original breeders based out of Sherwood Park Alberta, Kim & Katherine Jensen. I was surprised to see that she had an advertised litter of pure bred, registered puppies from Charlie’s parents. After talking to her, she tracked down Charlie in her files and the information on the same family in Vancouver that I had adopted him from. I was excited to follow Charlie’s lines back to Specialty Kennels where I found pictures of his champion grandparents. I was hooked! I wanted a registered pup! I ignored the red flags that is “responsible breeder” would not only sell an unregistered pup, but did not care that he could have ended up in a shelter only days after his litter of pups had been sold. I also ignored the fact that I could not find a website or even a mention of her breeding practises on the internet. In talking to this “responsible breeder” she promised to look into getting Charlie registered. Her excuse for not registering in the first place was that she sold that litter for almost nothing. No contract, no conditions, no support, no contact.

It was around this time that the CKC dog show competed in Burns Lake. I was fortunate to meet a champion breeder/groomer of cocker spaniels. I learned about the breed, grooming, training, showing, winning and why someone could want to be a part of such an amazing display of showmanship. I also learned another hard lesson about bullying that strengthened my resolve to celebrate who I wanted to be. It’s easy to stand up for yourself when you know who you are. Who did I want to be?

When you try to define “responsible” breeding some of the requirements include: Being “involved in the showing of pure bred dogs.” and “(Responsible breeders) do not sell pups as a for-profit business. Indeed, many reputable breeders lose money,” http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/PETTIPS/DogTip_breedersandpetshops.php  This years dog show in Burns Lake was another amazing display of showmanship, fantastic purebred dogs and…money.

Katherine Jensen at this point was difficult to get a hold of. So I contacted Ethel Jorgensen of Specialty Kennels out of Wildwood, Alberta. She instantly knew who Charlie’s parents were, who his breeders were and she was pleasant, sympathetic and helpful with my quest for knowledge. She went further to send me copies of pedigrees for both Charlie’s parents that she had on file so I could further research his lines. When Katherine Jensen finally did answer the phone, she told me that Specialty Kennels had counselled her on our unique situation and recommended that she ignored me so as not to get in trouble with the CKC. She then opened up to me, as if I had asked, to tell me that Ethel & Jens Jorgensen were not good people and were not “above-board” in selling her Charlie’s parents. This “responsible” breeder then called me a bully and told me never to call her again. So…I contacted CKC. CKC is, after all, the end all-be all, of responsible breeding. They hold their members to strict rules and regulations. Turns out Katherine Jensen was not registered with the CKC when she had Charlie’s litter. As a current member in good standing with the CKC, Katherine Jensen was untouchable and CKC basically told me to pound sand. So much for “Responsible”.

The opposite end of the spectrum is the ever-present puppy mill. The definition in this small town is Karin Adams. Her greatest achievement is being able to pull into your drive way to steal your animals while you are washing dishes in your kitchen. Your trusting horses and dogs never to be seen again. In 2015 Karin and her daughter Catherine were handed 20-year bans on owning animals and ordered to pay nearly $5,500 in restitution (Wow! $5,500! That’s about 2 pups worth! OUCH!) to the SPCA to offset care costs. Karin Adams was also sentenced to 15 days in jail and two years’ probation, while her daughter was given six months’ conditional house arrest and three years’ probation. These two women are known to have public, written complaints against them dating back to 2007 using aliases. To this very day Karin Adams is selling dogs and destroying families visions while she rakes in the cash with her razor-sharp pitch fork. The fascinating thing about this case…I challenge you to find a recent picture of her anywhere on the global internet. We have, and continue to support, protect and enable these women to play their deadly games. After all…when we buy from puppy mills we are rescuing! (Caution: that last sentence is highly suggestible and darkly sarcastic. Parental guidance recommended.) My next question…why have we not publicly created a resource where potential puppy buyers can go to see pictures of puppy mill operators, convicted animal abusers and lists of their aliases. Another warning…if you can’t find them on the internet…they are hiding something!

For puppy mills, I simply have no words.

In the middle of the rainbow sits back yard breeders. Yup…I don’t know the definition of that one either. I envision tiny cage upon tiny wire cage of filthy, sick and diseased animals stuffed into a dilapidated barn, awaiting the sweet release of death like a holocaust child being lead to the “shower”. These are the pet store puppies that look so cute in the windows but have never felt cool spring grass on their baby paws.

What is very clear to me is that we as a society are responsible for enabling, supporting and creating a market that is corrupt. The corruption starts and ends with our choices. Not the choices of the CKC or SPCA or the “Responsible” breeders or Karin Adams. Our choice to “want what we want”, ignore the red flags, label ourselves to bully others, ignore each other to keep ourselves in “good standing”, to say anything for the almighty dollar at the expense of those pure souls who cannot speak for themselves. Those pure, honest and open souls that depend on us to be….good. Just. Be. Good.