Newsletter 2010 – 4 August 2010


Whilst watering the garden the other day, a peaceful and protracted process that leaves lots of room for contemplation, I looked down at a kale bed and suddenly felt I was in a light plane over the African Veldt.  The kale were like little acacia trees over the tawny scrub.

Friedrich from that part of Germany bordering Poland, came back to help us again for a couple of weeks, joining Maarten, a great helper from Dutch Belgium who really enjoyed learning to be around big horses.  Friedrich started a year long Canada and Alaska odyssey here on our little patch last October, and he chose to end it here this August.  He is a fine specimen of a young man, in body and soul.  In reflecting on his trip, he related as to how he felt the best he may have ever felt when he found himself amongst the abundance of wild animals in the far north.  I found this reflection especially interesting, as I have experienced versions of this myself.  More, I have long held the suspicion that this is a deep seated survival instinct from our beginnings, a state of being from which anthropologists say we have not yet had time to really deviate in any significant way involving our deepest programming.  And so it yet remains that in some ancestral way, you know without thinking that you are in “good country” (as Hemingway would put it) when surrounded by clean water, healthy soil, and an abundance of game.  I hope Friedrich can find this for himself again.  (Hell, I hope we can all find this again!) We will miss him, and Maarten both. 

We have had our eye on a certain Clydesdale stallion – Jason – as a potential father to future horses here.  We are very impressed with this stallion.  Not only is he very well put together, he is the first roan stallion we’ve seen.  Clydesdale breeders rarely keep roan stallions (although roan mares are common.)  The trend, as with most everything in our culture these days it seems, has been toward uniformity – black or brown horses with four white feet.  But the Clyde is a colourful horse, and this is the true expression of the breed.  In fact, most of the best Clydesdales are roans.  Jason’s current owner, a longtime “Clyde man” who inherited a working love for this breed from his father, believes that the genes that express all the best Clydesdale traits are actually linked to the roan patterns.  Hence, it is not easy to find a really good bay coloured Clydesdale (think Budweiser), and even more difficult to find a really good black one.  There are lots of both colours in Alberta, and many of them are decidedly not great Clydesdales.  But for many here, if the colour is right, the horse is right.  

Well, it turns out we’re not the only ones with eyes for Jason.  He has been sold to a new owner in South Africa, and scheduled to depart towards the end of September.  This got us motivated to hustle two of our mares out there for breeding this month.  Not the best time of year to breed, but probably our last chance at this stallion. 

I loaded Emma, our blue roan working broodmare, and Gwyneth, our beautiful bay, into the trailer and set out.  Did the trip to eastern Saskatchewan where Jason currently lives in two days.  One forgets how huge a country this is…

I was listening to CBC Calgary on the way there.  A show came on detailing the latest efforts to save the Brazilian rainforest – this time apparently not just from the usual slash-and-burn culprits, but now also from housing subdivisions(!)  They went on detailing the damage going on in the other guy’s backyard, as we are wont to do (a time-honoured tact for  distracting the proles from the hijinx in their own backyards.)  Well, in this case, at least in the cab of my truck, our own backyard could not be ignored.  Because ironically, I was taking this in just as I happened to be driving through what must be one of the most utterly ruined landscapes on the planet.  I’m talking about the environs of Zealandia, Saskatchewan.  It’s not that the place is flat.  There are flat plains elsewhere in Canada that are awe-inspiring in their austerity.  It was the utter domination by industrial agriculture that has triumphed here, the fact that from Highway 15, there wasn’t the remotest vestige of what this place once was to be seen anywhere, despite the fact that this landscape is nonetheless what most people would still term “countryside.”  “Anywhere” is a huge space out Zealandia way, not to find something natural in it.  It was grainfields with occasional farmyards of the sort of sterility I’ve only seen achieved in the grain belt, horizon to vast horizon, ditchline to ditchline.  Not a native tree, not a shrub, not a creek, not a sprig of native grass – nothing natural, in any direction.  I found it absolutely hellish, without detailing the oceans of chemicals this vista had been forced to absorb.  If we left the place tomorrow, I wondered – vanished from its strange face as completely as we have subjugated it – how far would a native grass seed have to blow to take root there?  Would it ever be what it had once been?  Then I remembered hearing that a square metre of native prairie sod, taking into account all levels of life, has as much or more biodiversity than a square kilometre of rainforest.  If so, and even if it’s an exaggeration, then so what, I thought, if there’s devastation still happening in the forests of Brazil?   It can’t possibly be any worse than Zealandia, Saskatchewan, and my bet is that it’s still a lot better down there.  At least there is something left to try and save.  Then I thought two more things:

i)                          Do the farmers here ever look out their windows and think, “My God, how totally appalling!” and if not, (taking into account Friedrich’s reflections,) why not, and…

ii)                        if we can do this with impunity, why shouldn’t the Brazilians?  Someone should ask that of the CBC.  After-all, maybe the CBC has never been to the environs of Zealandia, Saskatchewan.  Not with open eyes, anyway.

Ah well, it’s all good, as they say.  A lot.  Where’s my sandwich?

The mares were dropped off in the paddock with Jason, whom they proceeded to kick the hell out of.  “Being a stud is not all it’s cracked up to be,” quipped his owner.  “They always do this first, and then it’s okay.”

Back here on Small Farm earth, one of the great things about having domestic ducks is that the wild ones that are on the ponds are tamer.  They seem to take some cue from the farm fowl, and get used to us doing our rounds.  We currently have a flock of young Gadwalls – a subtly marked, yet very handsome duck – that zoom off the pond right over our heads to do a circuit of the property and zoom back in for a landing again, dipping and weaving with great competence.  And young teal, blue-wings that do the same – fast and cunning little ducks the size of pigeons.  The bad thing about having domestic ducks is trying to find their eggs.  They don’t care that we want them, or maybe they do, and that’s why we can rarely seem to find them before the varmints get to them.

Maybe next year we’ll outwit ducks.  Good to set lofty goals.

We’ve had some frosts already.  Seems early, even for here.  Nipped the tops of the squashes and the potatoes, and certainly slowed down growth.  But we’re still hopeful that more summer is in store!  Thanks for sharing this one with us…

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