Monday, December 16, 2013

The Dark SIde

For all the joy and light that come with farming there is a dark side too and it is no joke. I just learned a few minutes ago of yet another friend who succumbed to injuries after being crushed between two pieces of large farm equipment on his Ontario farm. He was forty seven years old with a wife and kids and now he's dead a week before Christmas.

Over the years I've been to way, way, way too many funerals that were directly attributable to farm accidents. Virtually all of the deaths were incredibly gory and with only a couple exceptions they were also almost all preventable. One of our neighbours was crushed to death when his tractor fell off a wobbly jack as he worked underneath in his shop. Two more friends have succumbed to silo gas. A couple more died when they were electrocuted. Another died in a tractor rollover. Yet another died when he fell off a roof. Another middle aged friend was riding on the three point hitch as his dad planted grain. He died after getting run over by a planter and cultipacker combination ten feet behind where his dad sat.

These aren't second hand stories or statistics. These are people that I've known all my life. Young people, or middle aged, mostly college educated, most with families. And that's not all the deaths either, just some that I remembered as I worked my way through writing this piece. I won't even start down the list of injuries; too many to name or even remember.

It ought to be sad that it's noteworthy that my whole family has managed to keep all their eyes and limbs despite a lifetime on the farm. To a degree  it's prudence on our part, but there's a lot of luck involved too.  My friends an neighbours didn't secretly harbour a death wish. They just got complacent and momentarily careless at a time when their luck ran out. It's easy to get complacent around big animals and big equipment. When you work up close with both every day you forget that one wrong move or a spook at the wrong time can put you in a lot of danger. It seems like overkill to switch off the tractor every time you dismount when you've left it running a thousand times and never had a problem. But the truth is that it only takes one mistake to kill you, as all of the people mentioned in this blog found out. Literally, there but for the grace of God go I.  I've made most of the same mistakes that got these folks killed at one time or another. I've either recognized that the situation was dangerous and caught myself in time or I've been lucky or both. For Melissa and for Carter I hope this continues. I'm trying a lot harder than I used to. But so were most of the ones I mentioned above.

They always say at the funerals that these people died doing what they loved and I guess as far as it goes that is true. But dying in a gruesome farm accident decades too early seems like a hell of a price to pay for doing what you love. Not much of a post this close to Christmas....sorry.....but it's what's on my mind and I have to get it off.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Digging Deeper

For those of you who didn't know already, Melissa, Carter and I moved to a home we built on our Lynnville farm a few weeks ago. Moving always seems to come with and create it's own uproar and this moved proved the rule in spades. That said, we are beginning to settle from frantic and frenetic into a more comfortable rhythm as our routines begin to stabilize.

Although we've owned and worked this property for nearly four years my knowledge of it remains superficial in most respects. I can't tell you yet where the first spring flowers rise, nor can I describe how sunlight and shadow move across each part of our land as the days and seasons progress. I don't know what most of it looks like, at least away from the driveway, on a bright midwinters night. I can't yet tell you how the different soil types on this farm and the plants that grow on them respond to light, heat, drought or cold. I don't know where the frost comes first. And that's only the beginning of a lifelong list of stuff I can't tell you. I say lifelong because that's how long it takes to really get to know a farm, and only then if you spend most of your working days upon it. When I'm a used up old man I will, if I'm lucky, be able to tell you this stuff.

That said, the process of becoming intimate with this piece of land has begun. I can now tell you where the sun rises and sets on an October morning, or I could if I were blessed with aptly descriptive terminology. For now it's enough to know that the process has begun. I'm smiling as I begin the process of learning about this land and creating my own memories on it.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Contemplative Weekend

I spent much of this past weekend in a contemplative mood. Partly this was due to the weather, which quite frankly sucked. Early May in the mid-South is supposed to be glorious; it's supposed to feature lots of sunshine, warm days, brief showers, green grass and blessedly cool nights. This May has featured non-stop rain which is why I have time to type out a blog in the middle of the afternoon but really that's another topic for another day.

In between the showers I spent most of my time either fixing on farm equipment or sorting through the large collection of junky equipment that my father-in-law accumulated over his twenty year tenure on this farm. The stuff that I'll use on a regular basis is slowly making it's way to our other farm and the rest is either at the commission sales place down the road or has gone to the scrapyard. It hit me just how empty the equipment shed and yard had become yesterday morning when I went back to take a picture of the newish 8 foot Bush Hog I bought to complement our big one and the small one. This is going to sound like an odd statement, but until about a week ago if my father-in-law had magically re-appeared the place would have looked much as it did when he passed last year. Now it really doesn't. I had the same thought when I sorted through the machinery and other assorted things many years ago when my dad died, and again when I was sorting through his stuff after my ex-wife's father died. Tom and I went to our local equipment dealer many times, mostly to haul stuff home, and part of the ritual was that we stopped at a crappy Mexican food joint to have something to eat each time. I stopped at the same place on my way home from delivering the last load of his stuff and I wish I could say this too brought back fond memories but I had forgotten about the inevitable indigestion and gas that accompanied any trip to that particular Mexican restaurant. It's one tradition I won't miss at all !

Yesterday I had a Facebook message from the neighbour that rent's my old farm in Ontario. He was planting  corn and he worked at it all day and well into the night, taking full advantage of the sunshine and fine weather they are currently having. It's been long enough ago since I've planted that farm that it was almost like hearing a story about a past life as opposed to something that was occurring in real time. One thing I don't miss from farming at the northern edge of the corn belt is the mad rush to get warm season crops into the ground at the first available opportunity in order that they'll have time to mature before it freezes in the early fall.

And so passed my contemplative weekend. Carter hit the terrible two's in full stride a few weeks ago. Full stride is how he takes on most things so I had better take advantage of the few remaining minutes of quiet in my Monday to do something about the tasks on my desk ! Hope all is well with my blogger friends out there.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Pausing Time and Laying Foundations

Carter will celebrate a birthday later this week and I have to say that I am almost comically nostalgic about it.  Although each day looks much like the one that came before it he is changing very quickly. The shy, underweight and wan little boy who arrived home with us early last summer has been replaced by a happy, exuberant, healthy bouncy toddler. As his parents our job right now is to help him get through all the day to day challenges that make up the life of any toddler. Our two favourite words right now are "No." and "Gentle".

It seems like every parent likes to complain about how expensive and time consuming their children are. We are no different. But the caveat for all you non-parents out there is that your children will be as time consuming and as expensive as you want them to be. As parents the very best we can do is to lay a sturdy foundation for him and hopefully he will be smart enough and confident enough to build on it over time. I want Carter to consume a considerable amount of my time and energy, especially right now while we're laying the foundation. We've set up our lives in such a way that it's mostly a joy to spend time together, whether we're at work or at home. Although solid foundations need not be expensive I also want to provide him with stimulation in other ways, some of which cost money. Carter is enrolled in part time daycare with several local children who match him in age. If it all works out as we hope it will he will go through our rural elementary and high school with some of the children as his lifelong friends. Our local primary school is only a mile away from our farm and the high school sits just up the road from it. We did a lot of planning ahead before we purchased our land and we were thinking at least as much about building our lives as we were about building our business.

Carter's favourite thing to do at this moment in time is to initiate family hugs. He climbs up on either Melissa or me and pulls us by the neck until we're all three touching heads together. As we lift him and hug him tight he always laughs with pure joy like he's got the whole world by the tail. He's seldom the only one laughing. I wish those moments could last forever because I feel that way too. I never understood why parents wanted to freeze moments in time but I do now. If I could freeze that one, I would do so.

Happy birthday son. Your mom and dad love you very, very much.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lawyers Guns and Money

I'll be the first to say that I really don't understand gun politics here in the United States. Both sides seem so radically rabid and heavily politicized toward their respective stances that it seems there is no room for any reasonable discourse or middle ground. Every time we have another tragedy involving guns both sides ramp up the rhetoric even more. I find many of the comments on both sides to be equally distasteful. Unfortunately somewhere in the middle is exactly where I stand on the matter which means that whenever I open my mouth on the topic I seem to offend everyone. I like sport shooting at targets and given the number of varmints that inhabit farm country I feel the need to be modestly proficient with most small arms, rifles and shotguns. I currently own seven guns in various calibres and barrel combinations including several rifles, a shotgun and a couple handguns. I'm currently looking at purchasing some sort of tactical 223 to use as a small calibre varmint rifle mostly because tactical actions tend to be more trouble free than some of the lower end non-tactical weaponry. Unfortunately there are none of those to be had right now at any sane price.

I'm going to state for the record that wherever you personally stand on Second Amendment rights is fine with me as long as you can state your position in a respectful manner. America is a big place and everyone is entitled to and encouraged to have an opinion about stuff like this. I have friends who's views range all over the spectrum on this topic and I'm completely okay with that.

I understand that we can't ignore the Second Amendment and in that spirit it will probably surprise you to learn that I'm against banning the ownership of any particular make or model of gun. In fact I question whether gun control is very effective. Farmers like me use and view guns as tools. Having the right tool to do the job makes the work easier, quicker and safer. As most of you know it's hard to dig a fence post hole with a square mouth shovel. Similarly, but for very different reasons it's hard to kill a coyote or a rabid raccoon with a rimfire .22 or a handgun.  Lots of my Canadian friends own lots of  weapons that the government probably knows nothing about and I don't think there'd be any reduction in threat to public safety even if the government did know about them. The truth is that I and people like me could own entire rooms full of automatic tactical weapons, handguns or whatever you want with exactly no increased threat toward public safety. It's my belief that the key here isn't so much which weapons people get to own as it is policing which people get to own them. In my opinion there is a significant fraction of society that isn't mentally stable enough to consistently handle the level of power that accrues to those who own guns. Poor decisions far too often lead to unenviable consequences when guns are involved. In my opinion we'd do well to identify as many of these people as possible and make it as difficult as possible for them to get hold of guns and ammunition. We're never going to win them all but that's still no excuse for doing nothing in my opinion.

Frankly there are a lot of things that worry me a whole bunch more than gun politics anyway. First on that list is a government that spends nearly twice what it takes in every single year while patting us all on the head and telling us it's going to be all right. If I did that in my business every year I promise it wouldn't be all right. My creditors would get nervous and pretty soon the jacked up interest I was paying on my borrowed notes to appease my creditor's nervousness would force me to shut down. The financial crisis in Europe tells me that countries that are heavily in debt face the same situation.  It also scares me to death to learn that less than half the people in this country contribute a single dollar towards federal income taxes. Is it any wonder our economy is in poor shape ? How could it be otherwise ?

That's the end of my diatribe on guns and money. Unfortunately my brain is too tired to introduce lawyers at this point so I guess it'll have to wait for next time.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


I apologize to (both) my faithful blog readers out there on my lack of posts lately. As some of you know Melissa and I have had our share of illnesses, family emergencies and other challenges this fall and winter and of course there is Carter to think about these days too. That said, being a dad is by far the best job I've ever had.

One of my cousins who lives in Toronto now mentioned that everyone he knew was complaining about the relatively deep snow that had blanketed the city over the past several days. He mentioned that he had wet pant legs and feet too but instead of making him angry it made him remember some of the good times he'd had growing up in the little village my family has called home for a very long time. As you may imagine this got me feeling nostalgic too. Relative to Toronto, my little home town gets quite a lot of winter as you might guess from viewing the photo below. Wet boots could and did very easily turn into wet pants and even sometimes wet shirts as we slogged through what seemed like feet of snow for months on end. When I review some of the photos we took, and particularly those taken back in the 1970's we DID slog through many feet of snow for months on end, at least relative to today.

It would be hard to separate the village's history from that of my family because they are basically one and the same. My aunt took the photo above from the driveway of my cousin's home. Prior to his tenancy my grandparents lived in the house when they retired from the farm and prior to that my grandfather's aunt or great aunt resided there. The stone building on the right was my great-grandfather's blacksmith shop. My grandmother was born in the house that comes with the shop and my aunt....the one who took the picture above....lives there now. And so it goes with nearly every house along the half mile main (and only) street. In addition to knowing the current inhabitants and the history of the house in question the chances remain good that I'm related in some way to to a current or former inhabitant. To this day the place retains a very high concentration of families who have roots that they can trace...often without the need to leave their house...for a century or more.

I speak from experience when I say that it's hard to leave a place like that but it's eye opening too and it's not all bad by a long shot. This will not be a surprise to most of you but I learned that most of the rest of the world does NOT work in ways similar to my home town. Some of the ideas that I grew up with and that still seem normal to everyone who lives there are honestly quite strange now that I view them as a (partial) outsider.  I've also learned that success at integrating into a new place is primarily based on one's own attitude. If you expect things to be the same as they were in the place where you left I promise you will be disappointed.

As I mentioned earlier all the talk of snow, sledding parties and skating has me feeling nostalgic for the best parts of my boyhood and the wintry part is pretty hard to replicate when I'm staring out the window at green grass and blooming flowers. But of course green grass and blooming plants mean spring and spring very much is my favourite time of year and always has been. Must run now to check the price of grass seed at our local farm supply store. When today's warm rain settles the ground and it dries out it will be time to start re-sowing the pastures. Hope both my readers are well !