Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Remembering a friend


My family lost a close and very dear friend back in February 2007. I think about him everyday. Back when it happened, I even wrote an editorial for one of my magazines about him. My publisher of the time pulled the editorial. He told me no one really cared about happenings in my own life. I disagreed, believing my readers  - mostly farmers – would be able to relate. Even so, I caved and wrote something “more suitable.”

I’ve saved that editorial all these years and I’ve decided to publish it here. The Genius once read it at a Toastmaster’s meeting and all the women cried. So be prepared. And please let me know what you think. It can be hard writing into the silent void of the Internet.

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My family lost a close and very dear friend recently.

My children had known him their entire lives, my husband for the past nine years or so, and I had been close to him (and he to me) for his entire life.

He was a joker and a free spirit who loved everyone. And everyone loved him right back. He was also the kind of friend you could rely on. When life was tough, he’d be there to talk with and lend a shoulder to cry on. He had a rough side, too. He was a risk taker, an explorer with an enthusiasm for life. We used to joke he’d probably die in mid-stride, on route to a new adventure.

Cancer got him in the end; his body shivering with pain, his breathing laboured.

His name was Jasper – Crystal Creek’s Jasper Jynx to be exact. He was my dog and, simply put, one of my very best friends.

Jasper entered my life 12-plus years ago, a headstrong liver and white coloured English Springer Spaniel puppy who cried and whimpered almost non-stop for the first two weeks he lived with me. I almost took him back to the breeder I had bought him from. But I persevered and he soon settled down.

  
If he could be described in one word, I think it would be exuberant – nothing got that crazy dog down. Everyday was a new adventure, every step a new discovery. He was my constant companion. If I went to the store, he rode shotgun. He slept under the covers of my bed at night. And when I went for evening walks on my parent’s farm, he was 20 feet ahead of me. We would walk four miles a day, from one concession to the next and then along a side concession and back again. His flag of a tail was always in front of me, never behind, always urging me on.

When I met my husband, Jasper was there. He was part of my “dowry” (along with a Clydesdale-Saddlebred cross mare named Bobbi) and made the move to my new urban home. My husband, a city boy who had never had a pet dog (which seemed very odd to me at the time and still does), wasn’t very enthusiastic about his new, four-footed housemate. To his credit, he built Jasper a state-of-the art, fully electrified and insulated, heated doghouse (our friends used to joke that all it needed was a computer and Internet access). But the dog didn’t use it for long. Soon, he was basking in the heat or air conditioning of the house. But never the bed – that’s where my husband drew the line.

Jasper and I just weren’t meant for city life. Eventually, my husband and I moved from our cramped city home to a small farm in the country. We hadn’t been in our farmhouse a month before Jasper started cleaning up the new neighbourhood, rousting both an opossum and raccoon family out of our barn and killing a fox.

Nothing gave him more pleasure than to chase barn cats and wild rabbits. The strange thing was, he was always good with the pet rabbits. We once had a massive rabbit break-out – the bunny equivalent of The Great Escape – and it was Jasper who caught them all, one at a time, dropping them at our feet unscathed, with only a few damp hairs and very hurt prides.

When the children came, Jasper was there. He wasn’t sure what to make of them. They smelled interesting but made a lot of noise, especially when he tried to clean their ears. They also didn’t move out of his way. But my husband and I seemed to like the babies so he put up with them. He never growled or snarled when his ears or tail were pulled. He followed the avoidance philosophy – if one of the little critters was bothering him, he’d just get up and leave.


Unfortunately, the kids grew up and became faster. I had difficulty explaining to my tear-stained little boy that Jasper wasn’t meant for riding. My daughter was convinced for the longest time the dog was really her brother. Both kids were also fond of pretending Jasper was their long-lost mother. I hadn’t the heart or the ability to make them understand the dog was actually a male – a neutered male at that. Jasper would roll his eyes and try to keep one step ahead of them as they crawled after him, yipping like puppies.


This past Halloween, my daughter insisted the dog dress as a skeleton, complete with glow-in-the-dark bones. It wasn’t long after that he actually began to resemble his Halloween self, the flesh melting from him. His sleek physique and shiny fur disappeared. We tried changing dog food, thinking perhaps his teeth couldn’t handle the crunchy kibble anymore. We tried soft food and soon shifted to canned. He lost weight while his stomach ballooned.

A visit to the vet before Christmas ended in tears. Tumours were growing near Jasper’s liver and spleen. He hadn’t long to live. We gave him the best Christmas ever, complete with liver pate and shrimp. He had a wagon ride to the bush to chase squirrels and bunnies. He ate ravioli and cheeseburgers everyday. And for the last week of his life, he slept on our bed, between my husband and I.

He’s buried along the windbreak just to the west of our house. We wrapped him in a blanket and buried him with his favourite stuffed toy, Clancy. The kids each said goodbye through their tears and my husband, the man who never had the experience of a pet dog, wept.

We look for Jasper everyday, forgetting he’s gone. The children are rallying for a new dog and we’ll probably get one in the spring.

But for now, we remember and honour our dear friend – Jasper.

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As an update, we did get a new dog in March 2007. Her name is Jorja (pronounced Georgia), Spring Knight’s Jorja on My Mind to be exact. She too is an English Springer Spaniel but so different from our darling Jazzy. She is quieter, more sedate, steadier and less intelligent. But I love her to death and she loves me – as it should be. She sleeps beside my bed every night and follows me everywhere I go. She loves to lie on the bathroom mat when I have a bath and goes camping with us every summer.


The other half of my “dowry” – my horse Bobbi – joined Jasper along the windbreak in the summer of 2010. This is a sacred space to us now; it is not mown and the grass and weeds grow waist high there every summer. They would both like that – Jasper could hunt for mice and Bobbi could pull mouthfuls of grass. Heaven.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The cow whisperer


Okay, so there’s been a lot of grumbling going on at home and at my work (Barb) about me being a slacker on this blog so I decided I should get off my ass and post something.

Based on the limited feedback I’ve received, it would appear goofy stories about my childhood seem to be the favoured reading material. In light of this, I thought I would tell the story of the first farm animal my family ever purchased – Lilah the Holstein 4H cow.

As I believe I mentioned in an earlier blog posting, although my father was a businessman in his younger years, under his shirt and tie beat the heart of a farmer. When I was about five, we moved to a 50-acre farm adjacent to the Hatchley swamp (I’m not joking), located on the southern edge of Brant County in southwestern Ontario. My parents built a house on the property, which had soil that ranged from pure sand to boot sucking clay and produced the largest mosquitoes and snakes known to man. We moved in just days before the Christmas of 1975. The next spring, my father set to work building a barn. I believe he had it finished that summer and my mother spent her holidays from her off-farm job painting the trim around the windows (which came from a bus, I kid you not), swatting bird-sized mosquitoes and killing a steadily growing pile of snakes (a story for another day).

After the barn was completed and hay and straw had been moved into the loft, my father decided we should buy a cow. Now that I’m an adult, I must admit I’m not sure what my father was thinking when he decided we needed a cow, and a milk cow no less. Milking cows is a lot of work – they need to be milked twice a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, for as long as they are giving milk (they usually dry up just before they have a calf, which is typically an annual event on a dairy operation). That takes dedication and skill, skill I don’t think we as a family possessed at that time. But it didn’t matter – I was just a kid then and I was very excited by the prospect of a new animal to maul, even if it did weigh 1,000 pounds.

I’m not sure how the transaction came about or where exactly she came from or even how she got to the farm (I seem to remember something about her walking behind the truck but that can’t be true) but one day Lilah arrived at the farm. Lilah was huge – (well she looked huge to six-year-old me), a large boned, black and white Holstein, a milking breed. And she was fat, huge with a baby calf that was expected fairly soon. I was ecstatic – a two-for-one deal! My mother was leery.

Lilah was moved into the barn and a pen was quickly constructed out of straw bales. A pasture was also made near the barn in the apple orchard using old fence posts and barbed wire. During the day, Lilah would graze in the pasture and at night, she came into the barn. But since there was no plumbing in the barn yet, my father had to lead her down to the pond morning and night for a drink.

The cool thing about Lilah was she had been a 4H calf in her youth, meaning she was halter trained and spoiled rotten. She had been brushed, trimmed and coddled by the dairy farmer’s son and shown at fairs across the region. She was basically a very large cow that thought it was a dog. My mother would watch in horror as my dad tried to lead her to the water. Lilah would jump and buck and kick in her excitement and basically drag my father to the pond and then drag him back to the barn. She would lower her head and moo at him, trying to butt him with her forehead (a common cow behaviour) and my dad would have to hide behind a tree while she worked off her energy.

Lilah even came with her own urban … umm … rural legend: she had saved the life of the dairy farmer’s son by pulling the drowning boy out of an irrigation pond he had fallen in. Who knows if the story was true – I was ready to believe the damn cow could fly – but Lilah did have an interesting skill that not every cow possessed. She was broke to ride like a horse. Every chance I could, I would beg my dad to boost me up on that cow’s back so I could ride her around the field, clutching her built in “handle” – the bony ridge at her withers. She would start off the ride gently but once she had enough, she would take me under a low tree branch and knock me off.


I thought she was wonderful.

Everyday after school, I would jump off the bus, run up the driveway and check on the cow. As the due date of her expected calf drew closer, she was kept in the barn most of the time. One day, I came into the barn and was met by a deep moo and then a smaller little croak. The baby had come! Lilah was laying in the deep straw of her pen and beside her lay a little black and white calf. I was so excited, I jumped into the pen to see the little one.

Now, those of you who have a farming background already know that jumping into the pen of an animal that has just had a baby is a very stupid thing to do. No matter how tame the animal, you just don’t know how they will react to a human being in the mix. I was a na├»ve six-year-old and was clueless about animal behaviour. I curled up beside the calf and Lilah in the straw to enjoy the newest member of the family. And Lilah just lay there, chewing her cud.

About an hour later, my mother came home from work. My older siblings told her all about the new calf. After doing a quick head count, my mother asked where I was. Out to the barn the group marched and discovered me lying in the pen. My mother thought I had been trampled. But I was just curled up beside the calf, both of us sleeping while Lilah watched over us.

The little calf turned out to be a girl – a heifer – and we called her Rosebud in honour of my mother. Unfortunately, not long after her arrival, my dad had to sell Lilah, realizing there was no way we could properly care for this milk-producing machine. A truck came and the pair were loaded.

I cried as they drove down the laneway.