Sunday, January 30, 2011

Great Horned Chicken Killer.mpg

Charles was first out to the barn this morning.  I was getting ready to go out to milk the goats when he came running back in to grab his movie camera.  An owl had killed a chicken right next to the barn, and it was still there, with him filming it, when I arrived on the scene. 

He got some fantastic footage.  To see it, check out Great Horned Chicken Killer on YouTube.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Tobias in the Basement

Tobias in his hot tub

Tobias spent the night in the basement.  When we got home from snowshoeing yesterday, he looked cold and miserable.  Charles picked him up and took him in.  (We know for sure that he's too cold if he lets us pick him up.)  We lit a small fire in the basement stove.  Even with the stove going down there, it doesn't get warm enough to hurt him; it probably reaches 2 or 3 degrees above zero near the floor where he is.

This morning, when I opened the door, I was greeted with a great flurry of "Honk! Honk!"s.  He hates having to be inside and was protesting.  I held the door open for him and he marched back out.  The outside temperature was -14.  By the end of the afternoon, he was cold and miserable again.  We kept his "lake" filled with tepid water, so he spent a lot of time in the "hot tub".  He'll probably have to go inside again tonight.

Only two months to go until the beginning of spring. 

Charlie and Tobias

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Snowshoes, the Lazy Winter Sport

I love exploring on snowshoes.  You just put them on and go anywhere.  No need for expensive equipment or special trails or training.  Just go.  It's not so different from walking, not at all difficult.

Today, we walked along the creek (after chopping holes in the ice to test its thickness).  The creek is like a highway for the wild creatures.  We've seen tracks of fox, coyote, wolf, deer, moose, squirrel, rabbit, vole.  Everyone uses it as a road.  When I first saw all the tracks in the snow, I realized how isolated we humans are.  The forest is just teeming with life that we rarely see.

When you strap on your snowshoes and head off into the bush, you realize how much activity is going on around you.  It's one of winter's gifts, so enjoy it.  Be lazy.  Go out and play in the snow.

Charles enjoys the view

Floyd, Marion, Charlie, and Tobias

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Sally was a totally different goat than Sadie had been.  She was an Alpine, so she looked different.  She was also bossy, demanding, and loud; and she definitely did not settle in easily.  The problem was made much worse by the fact that we needed her milk for our orphans, so we had to separate her from her own kids.   She spent her whole day, if we weren't actually out at the goat pen, standing staring at the house waiting for us to emerge.  Then she would start calling us and not stop until we went over and chased her back into her house.

This went on all summer until we were nearly demented.  I would creep out of the house in slow motion, boots in hand, hoping to avoid catching her attention with a quick movement or a sound.  I'd continue in slow motion until I got out of her sight, then be able to work in the garden in peace for a while.

The reason we put up with Sally (beside the fact that we felt sorry for her) was that she gave gwo gallons of beautiful milk every day.  I've never since had such a generous goat.  We had enough milk to feed all five kids.  Feeding those kids was practically the only thing we did that summer. or at least it felt that way.  We took our duties very seriously, feeding them six times a day to start with.  Between heating the milk, measuring it out, feeding the little ones, then washing and sterilizing the bottles, the process took a lot of time.  The kids thrived, though.

We had decided to keep Sadies's doe kid, who we named Lyla.  Her brother, a Little Black Goat, gradually won our hearts, too.  By the time that we admitted that we loved him so much that we just had to keep him, that name had stuck, and he was known for the next twelve years as Little Black Goat.  The other three kids were butchered for our winter's meat supply.  After they were gone, Sally could live together with the kids and she finally shut up.

That was the only time we've ever totally separated mother and kid.

Little Black Goat affection

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The First Winter

Charles and Marion on Robin

Our first winter in our new home is a bit of a blur in my memory.  I only remember a few things about it.

It was different from all other winters I have spent here in one respect:  I was bored.  Charles had bought a logging horse, a beautiful black Percheron named Robin, in the fall.  He kept her at a fellow horse-logger's place and he spent quite a bit of time logging.  I was alone, in the little house, surrounded by snow, with the two cats for company.  In the evenings, the lack of light paralyzed me.  I couldn't seem to do any work in the house with the limited light provided by the kerosene lanterns we used, so all I could do in the evening was to read for hours on end.  For the first time in my life, I started to feel depressed.

I remember the day I came out of it.  Charles finally figured out how bad things were.  He took drastic action:  he dragged me out of the house and together we built a snow castle.

The grader had by then pushed up huge banks of snow along the sides of the road.  At the corners of our driveway, these banks were especially high.  We chose one of these to make our fort, carving blocks igloo-style and building a tower ten feet tall, with a wall, and a tunnel leading to a chamber looking out onto the road.  It took all day.  It was fun!  We ended up with a wonderful snow castle.

At that time, the school bus came along our road to a point about a mile from our house.  Everyone living past us had to take their kids to that "terminal" in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon.  There were four or five families that would drive by twice a day.  For a week or more after we built our snow fort, cars would stop outside our place and we'd hear requests to explore the fort.  As the cars drove off, we'd hear the kids' voices pleading, "Can we build one when we get home?"  The kids loved us, the parents maybe not so much.

Building that castle broke the spell of negativity I'd been under.  I started to see winter as an opportunity for fun.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Our First Goat

Sally and all five kids

Our very first goat was named Sadie.  We didn't have her for very long, though.  Our first experience was pretty traumatic.  I had decided, by the spring of our first year, that I needed more to occupy me, and that I'd like a milk goat.  Although I'd done lots of reading, I'd never had livestock; and we really weren't ready for it.  We had no barn and no fencing.  Really, no-one should have sold us a milk goat then.  However, we put up a small goat shelter and found a fellow just a few miles away who had a goat for sale.

Sadie was a Saanen in an advanced state of pregnancy.  We knew that it wasn't the best idea to move a goat to a new home at that point, but we had some doubts about the care she was getting where she was, and thought we could care for her better.  We brought her home.  We had good feed for her and she was a lovely, quiet goat who settled in easily.  All seemed well.

Two weeks later, on a dark and stormy night, Sadie gave birth to triplets.  She didn't have any trouble, the kids were strong; we went to bed happy.  When we went out in the morning, though, she wouldn't get up and the kids were obviously hungry.  We spent the day phoning people for advice and trying to coax her with treats.  We learned how to milk a goat that's lying down and borrowed lamb's nipples from one of our neighbours to bottle feed.  By evening, we'd decided that she needed the vet and we bundled her into the truck and headed for town.

The vet diagnosed milk fever, which is a calcium-deficiency problem that can result in death.  It was caused by severe malnutrition.  We'd been right about the care she'd been getting.  What a way to find out!  She got a calcium injection and perked right up, but the vet wasn't optimistic about her long-term prospects.  We went away with supplements and hope.

The next couple of days were a roller coaster of emotions as she improved, relapsed, improved again.  We nursed her constantly, between bottle-feeding the kids with milk from a neighbour.  On the second day, Sadie died, leaving us with three orphans to care for.

The fellow that sold us Sadie was distressed to learn what had happened.  After a discussion with him, we figured out that he had three does together in one pen.  He fed them adequately, but put all the feed in one spot.  Poor Sadie was the lowest goat on the totem pole; she must have got very little of the food.  This guy had only been keeping goats for a few months longer than we had and didn't know any better.  He was already discouraged and was only too happy to get rid of another goat by replacing Sadie for us. 

We came home with Sally, the dominant goat in his herd, with her two kids.  Suddenly, we had six goats: Sally and five kids.  I'd never be bored again.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Building a Small House - Part II

Our house-building began in early July when we poured the foundation walls and was complete in early October when we actually moved in.  We built the house totally by ourselves, other than the actual pouring of concrete.  We both learned a lot.  Charles had built log houses before, but not a frame house.  I had never built anything at all. 

We kept it very simple.  The dimensions of the house are in multiples of the dimensions of a sheet of plywood and the rooms are square.  We made sure it exceeded the building code requirements.  The pitch of the roof is very steep to shed snow.  We didn't skimp on safety items like insulated stovepipe.

For all you women out there who are like me and have never built anything, I would like to say:  This is a liberating and empowering experience.

  • I ceased being afraid of pain.  That summer, I dropped boards on my toes, hammered my thumb, overworked my muscles, etc., and I learned that a bit of pain is not the end of the world.
  • I learned that I'm capable of a lot more than I thought I was.
  • I discovered how helpful my own, intelligent, feminine way of seeing things can be when the man in charge is pushed to listen.
  • I also gained a more enthusiastic appreciation of the special, masculine skills possessed by my husband.
  • I feel a beautiful comfort and confidence that comes from knowing exactly what lies beneath my feet when I walk across my floor.
I highly recommend it.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Marion's Lazy Water System

We use the simplest water system possible.  Charles used crossed sticks and also his knowledge of landscape and vegetation to witch a well.  A neighbour with a small backhoe dug a 12'-deep hole.  After pumping it out and watching it refill over several days, we stacked four 3' sections of 4'-diameter, concrete well casings in the hole.  Then we filled the area around the casing with rocks to increase the well's water-holding capacity.

In the basement of the house, we have 3 connected 45-gallon drums.  I fill them by carrying buckets of water from the well and pouring them into the barrels.  Each barrel has a tight-fitting lid to keep out dust (and mice).  Another pipe carries the water to a hand pump at the kitchen sink above.  Presto - cold running water at the touch of a pump.

A drain leads from the sink to a rock pit outside.  We're pretty careful about what goes down that drain.

A 5-gallon tank on the wood stove holds our hot water.  In the winter, we refill it every time we use hot water for a constant supply.  In the summer, our breakfast fire heats the water for our morning wash and the dishes, then it gradually cools so that by evening we're out of hot water.  (For bathing in the summer, we have alternate methods, which I'll describe when it's summertime.)

About once a year, we add bleach to the water in the barrels and pump it through the system to clean it.

Here's why it's a "lazy" system:

  • The installation cost was extremely low.
  • There is no maintenance required.
  • It never breaks down or freezes.
  • It requires no power supply.
  • It only takes me about 15 minutes a day to haul water, and this keeps me in good shape.  I enjoy being outside, I play with the dog while I'm filling buckets, and I don't need to do any "weight-bearing exercises" to prevent osteoporosis.
The only better system I can think of is a gravity-feed system from a natural spring.  If our property allowed for that kind of system, I'd use it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Astronomy Marion's Lazy Way

I made a lovely discovery when we were living in the little green house.  Each evening, before bed, I would go outside to brush my teeth.  As I brushed, I'd look up at the stars.  The big dipper was, a that time, the only constellation I could recognize.  It was always there, but it moved as the evening progressed.  I watched it, day by day, swinging around the North Star.  I learned how to tell North in a personal way that I'd never felt before, and I also realized that I could tell the time by the position of the big dipper.  If I had been able to stay inside for my tooth-brushing, I wouldn't have understood this.

Later on, when we'd acquired livestock that needed a bedtime feeding, I learned to have the same kind of familiarity with the winter stars.  Orion is my special friend.  I watch him march across the sky all winter long, a bit further west every night, followed in the spring by the constellations of Taurus and Gemini.  By that time of year, I'm starting to go to bed before the stars come out, so it's the winter constellations that I know the best.

Having a routine that gets you outside makes the study of astronomy a natural, easy thing.  You trade the "convenience" of indoor plumbing for the joy of being familiar with the night.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Moving - Part II

At the beginning of June, 1991, we packed all our belongings and our two cats, Rufous and Teline, into a UHaul truck and headed north.  I was a bit worried about the two city cats, but they settled in right away, started hunting, and never seemed to miss their city life at all.  They learned to watch out for the foxes, owls, coyotes, cougars, and whatever other predators might threaten a cat, and both lived to a ripe old age.  At the time we arrived here, they were the only non-human animals living with us.

The insect life of the Cariboo back-country was waking up by the time we started building.  I had never experienced mosquitoes like this before.  It was almost impossible for me to stay still outside; I was continuously waving my arms around, swatting mosquitoes and brushing them off my hair and face.  I was clothed head-to-foot despite the warm weather.  We started getting up at about 4:30 a.m. so we could pick berries until the bugs came out.  Then we'd come home and start our working day.  I finally borrowed a mosquito net to wear over my head for days when I had to hold one end of a level for Charles, but the net was stiflingly hot.

Then, at the beginning of July, the blackflies came out.  The best thing that can be said about them is that they make mosquitoes seem insignificant.  However, I made it through tht month, and in August, the bug situation improved a lot.  These days, either the insect population is much reduced or my tolerance is much increased, because they aren't nearly as bothersome.  I use an insect repellent with DEET when I really need to, but that isn't often.  It's winter now, but when spring comes, I'll describe some of the other, more natural, ways we deal with biting insects.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Moving - Part I

I was a city girl.  I'd always wanted to live in the country, but never done anything about it.  I chose a good partner, though.  Charles could use a chainsaw and axe, he'd hunted and butchered, he could keep a vehicle running during cold winter weather.  He had a pretty good idea of what we'd need to take with us.  Before we left the city, we bought as many things as we could to get started in our new life:
  • a generator for running power tools.  We bought a Honda
  • a gas-powered water pump, also a Honda
  • power tools for building the house
  • a good wheelbarrow
  • a washtub
  • a good pressure canner
  • a wood cookstove ( we found an old one for $75!)
We already had lots of the things we'd need.  After all, we'd been living frugally and practising our new lifestyle for a year, and we'd been haunting second-hand stores collecting stuff like kerosene lamps, crocks, and hand-operated mills and grinders.

At the end of May, 1991, we loaded the pickup truck with our tent and camping gear and our new generator and power tools.  We had quit our jobs and were heading north to build a small cabin to live in while we built our house.

A week later, the job was done.  Our little skid-shack was ready.  We painted it green and it's been called ever since "the little green house".  My mother painted a picture on the side of it.  Believe it or not, at 8'x16' it was big enough to hold all our furniture except the cookstove.  We put up a shelter outside to use as a kitchen.  We were ready to move.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


My definition of a lazy person is: a person who does only the things she enjoys doing, and doesn't do the things she doesn't enjoy doing.  I do my best to be as lazy as I can be.  After all, what is life for if not to enjoy myself?  To be really lazy takes some planning.  If you just leave things undone at random, you often end up making more work for yourself later, or you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation.

I set up my life so that the things that really need to be done are the things I like doing.  I try to leave out the things that I dislike.  For example:
  • I don't like motors, so I don't use them.
  • I love gardening, so I grow my own food.
  • I don't like working for someone else, so I keep my cash needs as low as possible.
  • I don't like housework, so I live in a tiny house.
In the winter I need to spend 10 hours a week at a paying job, and about 2 hours a day on work at home.  Even if I count in the chores at home that I actually enjoy doing, it still only adds up to about 4 hours a day.  That leaves me tons of lazy time, to do the things that make me happy.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Tobias' Lake

Tobias should have flown south for the winter, but at six months old, he's really still a baby, no matter how grown-up he looks.  He doesn't want to leave his family (us) yet.  He'll leave when the wild flocks come through in the spring.

In the meantime, all the natural water is frozen.  We put water out for him every day, and he treats it like a lake.  He likes to dabble in it and pick grains off the bottom. He'll sit beside it for long periods of time, then go wading or maybe have a bath.  Funniest of all, if something frightens him, he'll rush over and go sit quietly in the middle of the lake.  I suppose he feels safe there, surrounded by water that the predators will have to swim across to get to him.

Luckily for him, the dogs keep predators away from the shore of Tobias' Lake.