Thursday, April 20, 2017

4/20

I never thought today would be so hard. 14 years ago today was my first day in the field rocking my film SLR capturing the 420 scenes, celebrations and marches for freedom with the crew. Matt if you're reading this, thank you times a million for bringing me along. It's also my 14 year friendiversary with everyone's good homie Clay, and his amazing family. Today is the first year since that I haven't talked to him on this day. I miss him. We all do.


Three years ago was the first Toronto march since that I did not attend. It also happened to be Easter Sunday that day, and my mama didn't want to be alone. She invited me over for Chinese food Easter/birthday dinner. It was the first time in years I'd seen her smile (with teeth!), and the last time I ever hugged her goodbye. If only I had known it'd be the last time I'd see her face to face.

...

Yet as I stand here in this garden, they are with me. My mother lives on in the sunlight that shines bright through the rain. Our brother is heard in the excitement in our voices as we rejoice the emergence of new life. I believe it to be true that we live on in the hearts and minds of those who love us.


Today I am thankful for these memories. Today I am grateful to have my bare feet in the soil, watching my garden grow. For my life and everyone who has been a part of it, I am blessed. 


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Talk of the [tiny] town.

I suppose it's hard not to be noticed when you're the new kids in a small town, especially when the overall population is less than 150 people. People tend to be more neighborly, everyone waves as they pass on the road. Our epic transformation of the land we live on has drawn a lot of attention.


Though we live on a dead end road, there are several people that travel along it each day to watch the birds, or pick up hay and firewood from the farms at the end of the lane. Since we started digging, passers by have been slowing down to see what we are up to. We are now known as 'the gardeners'.

Last week a local cyclist, a retired officer, stopped by to chat while we were working the composted manure into our main veggie beds. He asked us how we like living out here, and commented on how we were blessed to have a 'million dollar view'. We talked about gardening and fishing, and how the small town vibes are much more inviting than living in the city. He was happy to see us out there working the land, and said he'd stop by later in the season to see how we're doing.


...

Ten days later, our beds are already sprouting. The landlord noticed our methods (and that they're working) and asked us to help poly a 'small' test patch on his huge farm. He was so impressed by what we could do with our little plot that he had his whole family stop by to take a look.


Even the people at the trading post have taken interest in our gardens, and we've lined up future trades. Our gardens will produce more fresh veggies than we can handle and preserve, so the overstock will be traded for farm eggs and honey. That means come late spring or early summer, ninety percent of our food intake will be from ten feet to a mile away from our home. If that's not eating local, I don't know what is!


Hopefully we will have some fish to add to the freezer too, fresh from the river. Fellow anglers in the area know our vehichle, and stop by to chat when we drive out to our spots. Though we've only been here a few months, this little town has become our home. And I love it!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Bring it Spring


It's been a long, cold and eventful winter, and I'm glad to finally see it's end. At the start of the season I had no idea where I'd be by the end of it, or that we'd get so much snow. Lesson learned, trust the almanac.

Moving out to the valley in the middle of winter was a huge risk for us, but I'm glad we made the move. Though it's not officially spring until tomorrow, we've been busy the past few weeks prepping our garden beds between the last couple winter storms.


The gardens are finally ready for planting. It took a lot of time and hard work to turn our compacted sandy, somewhat grassy yard into a rich, prime place to grow some food. Now that the topsoil and composted manure is turned in,  the grass is weeded out, and the beds are raked into rows, we can begin to sprout our seeds.

A lot of what we have will be started indoors over the next couple weeks, and after last frost the rest can be sown directly into the soil. We have 21 rows total between the two beds to work with, and a few dozen types of seed.

Our landlord was worried at first that we wouldn't have the time to maintain such a large growing space given how much we work, but so far even with shorter daylight hours we've managed to make it happen. It kinda helps that the van has been out of commission for drives to the city the past couple weeks, so I've had to skip out on the landscaping. Spending almost ten less hours a week stuck in traffic has given me more time to focus on other things.

My apprenticeship for instance. When I first started working with metal I wasn't as confident that I'd ever be good enough at it to make a living. But since I haven't been able to go to the city to focus on the landscaping, I've been working full time improving my metal working skills. It's another one of those things I'd never seen myself getting into but I'm glad I did.


Being contractors means setting our own hours, and since my productivity is improving we don't have to spend so many hours at work. We can indulge in occasional journeys down to the river to get our lines wet before work, finish a house, and still have enough daylight hours and energy to go home and play in the dirt.

Our lifestyle out here supports both my longing for a stable home base, and my sense of adventure. For once I'm finally able to get the best of both worlds. I have a place to call home in beautiful surroundings where I can garden and be comfortable, and I'm closer than ever to the wilds. It's taken a while for the reality to set in. Just a few months ago we had no real plan besides making it thorough the winter. And here we are, on the cusp of spring, ready to plant.. putting down roots in the valley. Thank the gods for our home sweet home.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Breaking ground.

It's been a long time since I've had a chance to reestablish Sandy Shores Farm, and I'm stoked for our new location. It's kind of ironic that I'd named the garden long before I even knew I would end up moving to the west. And here I am, on a farm on the river's shore, and our soil here is very, very sandy. Now that we have the first bed turned, we can think about how we will amend the soil.


After the snow melts again that is. It was nice and warm all week, and now we're amidst another big snowfall. We worked a couple hours a day all week to get a good start at establishing the first bed, which is now blanketed in a layer of the white stuff.


Collecting garden tools has been a slow go. All I have so far is the tools I have for work, a shovel and a hard rake. It's amazing what you can accomplish with so little and a lot of motivation. We used a pallet propped on an angle to screen the soil. As we tossed each shovel full of soil at the pallet, the clumps would roll down the slats knocking most of the soil from the grass roots. We could then easily remove the clumps of grass, shake them out and toss them to the side.


It was a long, somewhat tedious process, but every meter of ground we broke into was satisfying. After a few days we could visualize how we would lay out the first bed with our rows. I used my felco snips and a small hand saw to hack back some of the blackberry bramble from the far side of the bed to create a path. We spent the last few moments of daylight each day sitting in our chairs out by the garden to be, watching the sky change colours as the sun sank behind the mountains. What a feeling.


...


I've been trying to finish this post all week. The snow has since melted and we're at it again, building a box for our compost. There's another snowfall warning in the forecast, so we're trying to get done what we can before winter comes back around for it's final blow.


We've been out here for six weeks already. We moved out here when winter was full swing with big dreams for spring. Bit by bit the dreams are becoming our reality. The clocks turn ahead in a little over a week here, which means an extra hour of daylight after work for us to play in the yard.


The weather changes by the moment. When we came outside a couple hours ago it was sunny and warm. The temperature dropped right down and snow is falling up on the hill.


...



We had a thaw and a bit of sun yesterday in between snowfalls, so we grabbed some chicken wire when we went to town. Our landlord saw us out in the yard working, and said the yard looked really nice so far, and gave us the go ahead to start a second bed. We had a bit of an issue there when he said we could do whatever we wanted and then came back around and said we could only dig 8 feet of the far part of the yard. I'm glad he changed his mind.


Since we used our pallet screen to build the compost box, we had to use scraps of wood and the chicken wire to build a new one. We started turning the second bed using the new screen, and though it's taking a little longer, the soil is a lot cleaner. The next step is getting a dump load of compost. Once the snow melts. Again.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

The valley under ice.

Just days after the valley was slammed with an epic snowstorm, the temperature rose as the next system rolled in. Snow turned to rain, but the windchill froze everything on contact. We woke up blanketed in a sheet of ice. We made an attempt to get out of the driveway, only making it to the next property over before having to turn around. With all the ice, snow and slush on the road, gaining traction was impossible.

Shortly after noon, as we'd suspected might happen, the power went out. Our area was one of two hundred other outages across BC leaving tens of thousands of people in the dark. Thankfully I'd just finished my baking for the day, so I had some fresh made snacks to load up in my pack.


With not much else to do, I decided to go for a walk. The rain had subsided for long enough that I could bring my camera out and capture some of the epic scenes left behind by the storm. And meet some of our neighbours in the process.

A couple houses down, one of our neighbours with the farm tractor (the one that dug us out before) was clearing the driveway for the old man at the wood shop. I had a chance to say hello. The old fella struck up a conversation and noticed my camera, and invited me onto his property to get some shots.

He commented on the sheet of ice that coated the barn reflecting the daylight, and insisted I take a shot. He has dozens of bird houses that were strung with icicles all over the yard. Old machinery equipment and a canoe hanging outside his shop looked as though they had been frozen for decades.


As he pulled the door to the wood shop open I felt a pulse of warm air hit me. He had the wood burning stove pumping and it felt nice to be warm. He showed me around, and he had a few customer orders sitting up on tables ready to be stained. There's a local native woman that paints beautiful scenery, wildlife and folk art on panels of wood which he then inlays in his hand made hope chests. Their work is sold to locals in the valley.

After telling me a few stories and showing me every piece of work in the shop and all the types of cedar he uses, he showed me out of the shop. He said if I ever had nothing to do again, I was welcome back any time. I told him I'd be back some day with prints for him.


As I carried on down the road I was joined by an old black lab that lived on the horse farm. She led me down the gravel path looking back every so often as if to make sure I was safe. I stopped a few times to hear the trees splitting under the weight of the ice, sounding off like thunder as the branches and tree tops crashed to the ground. Ice bombs began to fall off the wires above. I'd have to tread carefully for the next mile where several giant trees lined the road along the river.


I made it to the middle of a long stretch of trees when I suddenly heard the cracking right above me. I tucked my camera into my jacket quickly and ran for it. Smash! I looked back to see a huge branch shattered to bits on the road right where I was standing. I thought to myself, now I've done a lot of crazy things to get a good shot, but this might just be up there amongst the most dangerous. My heart was pounding, and I kept on going.


Finally I crossed the bridge over the creek where the old man with the scrap yard was shoveling his driveway. I wasn't expecting him to say hello when I waved, but much to my surprise, we ended up chatting for an hour. I've passed him a few times driving by and I always wave, and he never seems very eager to interact, so I was pretty stoked about our conversation.

After our long talk and the show around the yard of his massive inventory of trucks and parts, I was on my way again. I'd just made it to the end of my road when the plow turned down. I jumped out of the way with an enthusiastic wave, we'd finally be dug out of the mess! Moments after I'd sent a text home warning of the incoming plow, I got one back saying the power had been restored. I took a few more shots and turned back.


Just in time too, when I was about a hundred meters from the house the wind picked up again knocking down all the ice. More rain blew in, and in less than an hour there was no evidence that our world had been coated in ice. I was thankful that I'd made it out for my walk when I did, had I not gone I'd have missed out on a photo opportunity of a lifetime. We don't often get weather like this here, and the conversations I had along the way made it an amazing journey.


Today the sun is out, and the air smells like spring is on the way. I'm so thankful that our roads will be safe again and all the snow is melting, as beautiful as it was. The adventure continues...

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Snowpocalypse 2017

Being stranded anywhere is one of my greatest fears. After a day and a half of nonstop snow, not seeing a single other vehicle drive down our road had me a little nervous. I know it's only a matter of time before it all melts, but we hadn't made it to town yet this week for our run, and our stocks of fresh foods are rather low. We have enough dry goods to last us a few weeks if need be, maybe even 6 weeks if we ration. I know we wouldn't be stuck that long, but I like to be prepared.


It's amazing how something so beautiful and pristine can become treacherous so quickly. How millions of teeny tiny little ice crystals can accumulate into several foot high snow drifts in the matter of hours. It's a lovely sight, and also a little nerve racking knowing we'd have to drive in it eventually. It's been a couple years since I've seen so much snow, and much longer since the BC coast has had a real winter. Not many people in the coastal area know how to handle their vehicles in conditions such as this. Being the first year I've had to drive in winter, I'm handling it quite well.

 
Just when I was beginning to have that sinking feeling that we'd be stuck for a while, one of our farmer neighbours pulled up with his tractor to dig us out. Country life is so much different than being in the city, I'm still often taken aback by the kindness of folks out here. Everyone helps everyone especially when the weather gets crazy. After two whole days of not seeing other humans, I literally jumped for joy to see the tractor digging out our van.

...

48 hours later, the snow finally stopped. We braved the roads to go check in on our job site, as we'd missed out on a couple days' work. Given how far out we live, and the distance we'd need to travel, we didn't leave the house unprepared. The van tote was re-stocked with water and canned goods, an extra canister of camp stove fuel, and a big lunch for the road. We fueled up at our nearest petrol station, putting a little more weight on the wheels. It might sound a little overboard, but if we were to get stuck out here it could be several hours before we'd be able to get a tow. If we ended up far enough off the road [and survived], it could be another day before anyone would find us. Better safe than sorry.

 
After an hour it started to come down again. We left immediately knowing full well it doesn't take long at this temperature for the snow to start sticking to the road, turning it into a slushy slick mess very quickly. Just as we were preparing to leave the job site, a local resident got himself stuck in a snowbank turning onto the road. Lucky for him we were the only people out there, and just long enough to help push him out. We stopped on the way home to grab a steel shovel to keep in the van, no time to shop for any groceries this time. With another foot of snow on the way, we wanted to make it home safely before the roads are buried.

...

I'm happy to be back home. Though the extra long weekend was unintentional, it's nice to finally have some down-time. There's not much else to do besides writing, experimenting in the kitchen, and of course a little Netflix and chill. That's when we're not busy looking out the window... nature never ceases to amaze us. We're so blessed to have the views that we do, not only of the mountains and the sky, but the seemingly hundreds of species of birds that inhabit the valley and river. Owls, geese, heron, dozens of species of duck, hawks and eagles, there's never a dull moment right outside our front door. We watched a few otters chasing each other through holes in the ice yesterday, not a care in the world about the storm.


The winds are picking up again, and the homemade chicken soup on the stove smells fantastic. It's about time I put away the computer and enjoy. Happy Soup-er Bowl Sunday everyone! Stay warm.


x

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Country life.

It's one thing to finally have a chance at a normal life, but it's another thing altogether to be able to build a life out in the mountains. When I first moved west, I'd landed in Vancouver. It was a little overwhelming at first to be in such a big city, but for the first year of my life out here, it was practically all I knew of BC. Driving opened up a world of opportunities for me. This is what I came here for.


Something that I missed the most about my hometown back east was the epic farmer's market. All the goods from local farmers available in one place a couple times a week. Now things are in reverse.. if I want farm fresh goodness, I just travel along my road until I find what I need. Everything else requires a trip to town.

Sunday has become town day. As it most likely is for a lot of the country folk. The few people that we've met so far out in our little community we've run into while going for the weekly grocery run. Of course we forgot to grab freezer bags on our last trip. One of those things you should always pick up if you need them or not! Forgetting things means going without, and the weekly budget must be tightly maintained.


Our cupboards are stocked with dry and canned goods, and the freezer is loaded to capacity with meats divided into portions for the carnivore, and frozen fruits for me. The trading post at the end of our road carries farm fresh eggs from a local farmer, and honey produced in fields we can see from our house. Now all we need is a little time to get down to the river to fish and our gardens, and we're set!

We finally had a clear night during the new moon. I was blown away by the amount of stars we could see from our front porch. It was so beautiful it gave me chills. I mean that could have been from the winter winds but, you know... it was amazing to see. I can't wait for summer nights to lay back in the reclining lawn chair and watch the sky.

Life out in the country flows at a much slower pace than the big city. People aren't so much in a hurry. Instead of cutting you off or rushing past you, people will slow down, hold the door and say hello. It's kinda nice to be more than just another face in an endless sea of people. There's more wildlife here in a twenty mile radius than there is humans, and those human connections aren't so much taken for granted.

Thankfully we will be around long enough to enjoy it for a little while. We were able to make the rent at literally the last minute. We knew coming out here at this time of year that money would be tight and we were taking a risk. A risk we believe was more than worth taking for the opportunity to enjoy the country life.

x