Friday, July 29, 2011

Earning luxury

When I was 7 or 8 I was helping my family build a new fence. I was too small to swing the sledge hammer or pull the barbed wire or to do any of the fun jobs like hammer the nails. My grand father, father and brother got those jobs. But I still wanted to be helpful so I got to carry the can of Green Pentox and the paint brush. My job was to paint the bottom of the fence posts that go in the ground so they wouldn't rot.

Preparing for fencing was an annual job and whether you wanted to help or not, you did or had to anyway. We all would head out to the wood lot and find the hackmatack trees (a.k.a. tamarack) and cut them down. The fun job (I use the word fun in that cruel way like piling 8 cord of split wood is fun or hauling 1000 square bales off a field in 30 degree weather is fun) was peeling them. The men (my oldest brother included) got the best jobs, again, and ran the chainsaws and hauled the branches out of the way. The rest of us, under my grand mother's instruction got to peel the logs. Except she had this nifty peeling tool to peel her logs nice and easy. There were only 2 of those tools so my mom got the other, leaving me and my other brother to use a hatchet and our fingers. If you think getting sap on your hand in one little spot sucks, don't ever, ever, ever peel hackmatack trees. My hands turned instantly black and sticky and my fingers hurt from the dirt and sap building up under my nails.  One thing I was sure of is that after all that I did not want those fence posts to rot, because I didn't want to have to get more.

The fence we were building was along side of an embankment that ended in a ditch. The bucket of Pentox was a big gallon paint can. For a little girl like I was, it was heavy. The ground wasn't exactly level. It was recently cleared and mounds and hollows were left from pulling the tree trunks. Weeds and shrubs were growing in with the new access to sunlight. I moved ahead of the men having the post painted and ready by the time they had the previous pounded into the ground. 

I was doing a great job and keeping up. I liked being helpful. I liked the feeling of pride and accomplishment that came with it. A sense of being of value to the family.  Right up until I slipped, and fell down the embankment, landing in the ditch with the entire can of green Pentox poured over my head. Pentox Green is green. It's a stain. It's designed to penetrate the wood. It penetrated me. Despite an hour in the tub with my mother scrubbing me raw, I was green. A bright orange red head with green skin. I looked like some kind of leprechaun. It lasted weeks before finally fading away.

Today, I use black spruce, untreated fence posts, that I buy, already peeled and sharpened. I can swing the sledge hammer if they rot. I gladly will.  It's a luxury I think I've earned.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I'm done!


I'm done!  I can't believe it, but I am finished my project 365!  Remember a year ago when I said I was starting. Yeah, that was forever ago.

A year ago I didn't know enough to know what I didn't know. I thought that the project would be a piece of cake until about day 11.  I was bored and uninspired and had no idea what to shoot.  I can see my progress through the year of pictures, but can't articulate quite what I learned or how that makes me feel. Mostly I feel proud.  I can't believe the task went from a struggle to a habit. Not only did my pictures improve but the days where I just took something to say I did were fewer and fewer. I can't tell you what I learned technically, but I'll offer you this:

A few things you should know before you start your own project 365:
  • A year is both very short and very long.
  • I suggest owning a dog or cat or both. If you don't, then get one - even if you have to rent it.
  • Having kids is crucial to success. If you don't have any, rent them too. You will need them.
  • Have a house with good light.
  • Have interesting things in your house that you can take interesting pictures of when it's 11:30 pm and haven't got your picture of the day yet. That, or do what I did and take pictures of boring things.
  • Plant a flower garden. This will supply you with material to photograph for a good 100 shots anyway.
  • Get a good camera bag because you will be carrying your camera everywhere you go for at least a year. I say at least, because even when you're done, you'll likely still carry it around out of habit.
  • Lenses make great gifts. Ask for one you don't have. New toys always give you new inspiration.
In my year I took 54 pictures of my kids, 20 pictures of my dog, 11 of my horse, 9 of my cat, 7 of chickens and 6 of my cows. If I didn't have these props I don't think I'd be able to complete the project.

In my year I learned a few things about myself too.
  • I don't like taking pictures of people. Especially in public.
  • I like shooting into the light.
  • My dog is very photogenic.
  • I am glad I live in the country because there is a lot of things to take pictures of.
  • I suck at prompts.
  • I can take pictures of kids.
  • I'm not a big fan of textures.
  • I need rain gear for my camera. Being stuck indoors for a week when it's wet and cold kills photographic mojo.
  • I am not very good a picking my picture of the day. Some of my favorite pictures now, I didn't choose at the time as my picture.
The best thing I learned this year was how to capture what I love, the way I see it, so you can see it too.

These are some of my favorites for the year.






















Saturday, July 23, 2011

Welcoming Yesterday

We had the trip planned since we sat down in June and looked at the short eight weeks of summer. The vacation would be short this year, just 2 1/2 days. We wouldn't be far, just 2 hours down the road. Doesn't seem like much of a vacation but we're lucky to have a beautiful national park near by. With cows and chickens it's hard to leave for any length of time because we need a babysitter. My friend was nice enough to do that for us, so we could go at all. She was worried though. Smokey was due to calve any day.  She is not a farmer. She is my friend with good sense and I trust her, but she is not a farmer. Maybe I was a bit worried too.  I prepared her the best I could, but you can explain 30 years of experience in a conversation or on a list.
Friend: How will I know if she calved?
Me: You probably won't unless you look for the calf. She'll be acting different. More alert.
Friend: Compared to what? I don't see her act normal.
Me: That's why you probably won't know unless you see the calf.
Friend: How do I know if the calf is ok?
Me: The mom will be ok. If she's upset something is wrong.
Friend: How will I know if the calf isn't ok?
Me: It will be dead.

No pressure.  There are a gazillion things that could go wrong that could cost the life of the calf and the cow. Realistically, Smokey should calve without any trouble at all. She's done it before, the bull wasn't big, so the calf shouldn't be....But still, that's why we would only be gone from Wednesday morning until Friday afternoon.  Even after our conversation my friend still agreed to babysit for me (she is an awesome friend) with a list of emergency phone numbers including those of my mom (my mom is good for all kinds of births).

The nature of herd animals and prey animals is to hide their young. Smokey hid hers well. So well that my friend had no idea she calved. Without seeing her calve with my own eyes, I can't say for sure when she did, but based on the hardness of the calf's hooves, the dryness of the umbilical cord and the calf's sturdiness on her feet, I say she calved Thursday, perhaps even late Wednesday.  While preparing to leave Wednesday morning I did a final round checking on our critters. Smokey looked to be in early labour.  It didnt' make sense to stay as she may not calve for days even if she was in early labour, but I was surprised to hear my friend say she hadn't calved. 

When we got home Friday afternoon I went straight out to the field. Shady was with me of course. Smokey was grazing and looked a bit thinner. Now Smokey does not like Shady, even when Shady isn't being a pest. Normally though, if Shady keeps her distance and runs through the grass looking for pheasants, Smokey ignores her.  This time Shady went into the woods and Smokey immediately followed. So I went in the woods and watched and waited. Smokey stared down the path under a fallen tree, so I walked that way. Smokey followed. Then Shady burst with excitement, wagging her whole body at something hidden in the tall grass that grows under the trees. That's when I knew for sure. Smokey started calling to her calf in that way momma cows do. A way I can't describe or mimic but is unmistakable and reserved only for talking to their babies. I nearly stepped on her to find her even though Shady had pointed her out. Hidden between trees and fallen branches, on a bed of tall grass, was a pretty little girl. She didn't say a word until I touched her. I got her to her feet, not knowing if she had nursed yet, hoping she had or I'd have my hands full. Once up it was clear she had. On practiced legs with plenty of energy she followed her momma out of the thicket.  If she hadn't nursed she wouldn't have had the energy to be able to stand. If a calf doesn't nurse in the first hour or less of life, they are in trouble. This little (I use the word relatively, as she's about 100 lbs) heifer though was perfectly fine.  The herd, including the horse, gathered protectively around the new addition and I took that as my cue to leave. 

This year is the Y year, so I think I'll name her Yesterday, as she was born yesterday, when I was away.