Environment, sustainability and silly behaviours.

I really believe we all try to be environmentally conscious in our daily behaviour. That is of course when we are conscious; ruling out the morning after the country dance. You know the morning, where you make the walk of shame past all the critters patiently waiting for breakfast, their heads hanging over or through the fence. A little snicker or snort out of them does wonders to reanimate the guilt complex we all carry with us.

But that is not their intention. No, the farm animals are all optimistic critters. Watching the lambs tear around, the horses galloping across the field and the dog knowing you will throw that stick is a mirror to us all. We work the farms, the ranches, even the hobby farms because we are optimistic of the future, and of the human condition.

But guilt is a powerful motivator. Sometimes it’s the wrong motivator. With sustainability and environmental practices, guilt has crept into country life overshadowing our optimism. It is the guilt we carry when we spray the fields with liquids one step short of agent orange, of knowing our meat chicks came from some willie-wonka-gone-mad factory, and making our perennial mortgage payments to the hardware/feed store.

Somehow, greater forces pushing against our optimism of the future and our optimism of each other has dumped this guilt on us.

Much of that guilt is a result of limited choices imposed on us by those who need us most. Somehow defining the worth of our lifestyle has been usurped by the grocery chains, the sundry manufacturers and suppliers with corporate offices surrounded by blacktop and concrete.  It comes from cities, like the one I have to spend my money in. The town that claims having a few chickens in the urban backyard is the first step towards agrarian anarchy. You know,  democratic rule by friendly folk in coveralls. Heaven forbid; make it a crime.

Mind you, there are the odd city conveniences that we could consider for sustainability. Just the other day I saw a posting for a new “country home”. Three car garage, pool, 3 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms. But it had this neat foot washer by the toilet. They call it a bidet. City folk must use it to wash their feet after walking the dog. Sure be handy after mucking out the steer pen. Save on water too.

Anyway, I say we should push back. It is time for all of us to climb on top of the manure pile (if the goat lets us of course) and shout out to all that we are still the true stewards of sustainability, keepers of the environment.

Pushing back means getting back on the path; walking the walk. Been trying to do this over the last year. Become a bit of a zealot actually.

No more buying lumber or firewood anymore . Saving some trees and recycling pallets.

Firewood pile and pallets

The logs came from an ad I posted in Kijiji looking for firewood in 8ft lengths. Heartwarming to see how many people are willing to put time in to ensure the trees they fall actually find a use.

Steer Shed-Pallet LumberThis shelter (32ft X 8ft)was built from pallets, and a hodge podge of roofing I scrounged. Cost about $35 for hardware. The lumber pile is from pallets. Yes, the wife mentions how nice it would look if cleaned up more.


No more kneejerk travel to the hardware or feed store for brand new stuff. Collected all the junk around the property and organized it. Amazing how many ball valves, roofing screws and fence posts I have.


No more heating up the whole chicken coop. Check out this nifty 1942 brooder plan that saved us a bundle in energy costs. Just brought it up to the 21st century.


Built with plywood from old bleachers, pallet wood framing and an extension cord piece that had been run over about a hundred times. About $8.

No more getting sucked in by the glossy ads for expensive stuff. Ask an old time neighbour how they did it before. Built some nifty sheep feeders from recycled plywood after being invited to study the neighbours feeder. Very little wastage anymore.


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Decided to use pallets for a feeder for the 4-H Steers. Again, minimal wastage.


Of course this means you will have piles of stuff; wood, irrigation pipe, roofing. So what. Your place will actually look like a real country place. That’s not junk. It’s a promise of future projects. Tell the wife you intend to use these to make her life easier. You will get the muttering under her breath, but she will grudgingly let the piles be. I promise.

Way back if you did not have it, or your neighbour could not spare it, you did not need it. I was about to go buy some sheets of styrofoam insulation for our monster guardian dog’s house. As the neighbour was shearing our sheep he asked why I was not using the wool instead. Keep it dry, keep bugs and pests out of it. It will work fine. So I did, and it works fine.

I want to digress for a moment on the value of our old timer neighbours. Yes, they may shake their head knowing that you don’t know much. But they really want you to succeed. You and your children are what will ensure their lifestyle, their communities will survive. They know you are the future. Remember this when you say hi over the fence and out comes a bit of advice on your irrigation or fencing. They want this lifestyle to work for you.

The point here is a true rural lifestyle is a sustainable lifestyle. You are a friend to the environment because you appreciate your neighbour’s advice, you realize the value of all that junk around the place, and you seek out alternatives to consuming, consuming and consuming. That is the point. We are supposed to be the producers. But we have to rethink how to be a producer. Really, it’s simple physics. More going out of our property than coming in. If we don’t have enough going out, time to be creative in lessening what comes in.

Ok, we can exclude from the equation the horses, and the foofie dog we brought with us from the city. These are pets. Some are really expensive pets. But all the rest should be included, including the kids. Are they conscious of this equation? Go ask them; probably have to send them a note on twitter or something.

I mentioned pallets. Been really lessening the input by recycling pallets.

RV Storage Shed Toolshed Floor Toolshed

RV stuff storage shed and tool shed. All of these were built from recycled pallets, floors from old bleacher plywood, and roofing scrounged off kijiji. Biggest expenses: fuel to get the stuff, screws and hardware, and time…lots of time.


This is actually a small storage shed for the boy’s steer grooming -blower, brushes and such. Got tired of seeing the stuff all over the property. Once it was built and everything was in it I realized a major reason why I’m broke. The spray cans! I had no idea there was not only spray glue for steers, but spray glue remover. And spray paint, and a dozen different heads for the clippers, and the correct ball caps…it just goes on…..and on.

Not only that, but I realized I spend more money on makeup for the steers than for the wife. I hear a country song there.

Front GatesPallets make a nice front gate. Had to build it. The ducks were waddling over to the neighbour’s garden. Not a pretty site.

Lamb pen gate and signLamb pen and shelter.

Not being the type to send out the “we have eggs’ email at work every morning and wander around collecting money and cartons, or cruise the parking lot for unlocked cars that I can surreptitiously throw a few zucchini in, I don’t have a lot in the way of produce outputs. We have chickens and lamb for us and our extended family. We use it to barter for other things like beef and pork. The other morning Marie was heading for the car with a frozen chicken in each hand. “Getting my hair done” was her response to my puzzled look. Farm gal on a mission.

We are getting close to the right amount of output. Cherries, chickens, eggs and lamb for the family. A bit for bartering. Considering honey. But still not exceeding the inputs. That is what I am focussing on. They have all sorts of names for it. Sustainability, lessening one’s ecological footprint; I just know that I can do my part by being aware of what is coming on to my piece of heaven, how I am spending money on it and taking the time to see if there are alternatives. We tend to focus on the outputs, it is easier to measure, it can be seen, touched and tasted. But the inputs are just as important.

Sustainability also costs less. For my projects, a lot less. But it always costs more in time. You see, most products we buy is actually a purchase of time. The fast food, the milled lumber, the fancy tractor. And this costs more than money, it costs us on sustainability and the environment. So, I am beginning to realize a good way to look at sustainability is through my time. Not purchasing time is good for the environment. Spending time, not money is the real sustainable practice.

But sustainability goes well beyond just stuff; inputs and outputs. It includes our hearts.


Does Country Need a Superhero?

Does country need a superhero? Cities have them, lot’s of them. There’s Batman, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, and Superman all running around in neon spandex saving Gotham or Star City. But they have lots more. Cities have superheroes that permeate our popular culture and our life through music, finance, movie stars, and literature. Yet they do have an unacknowledged connection to country. Sometimes that connection is good and honest; sometimes it can be dark, really dark.
Yes, country is a lifestyle, but it is anchored in a clear set of values and principles of what is family, what is work, what is a man, and what is a woman. It is a mutual understanding of the equal value of all of these. City heroes deny, even rail against such values, unless of course it provides them money in the pocket.
I have been noticing more and more that the connection has been to portray and use country values for more selfish, urban goals.
Notice that Presidents Choice guy in the big box grocery store TV ads? Youngish, scrubbed looking fella rubbing shoulders with common folk during a picnic out in some field? Thank goodness we have one of the richest people in Canada willing to bring the wholesomeness of country to city folk. That Save On guy out west here does the same thing. Use country to be a hero in the city.

Music is doing it. Rock, hip hop, indie today focuses more on the lashing out of confused masculinity, or the empowerment of women in the cities having to react to these male dolts (actually that is a good thing) than the kind of values you and I take for granted- you know, things like commitment to family and lifestyle, to producing something tangible as a way of life. But these music stars are heroes. Face it. They are anti-country.

I like country music. Go figure. But lately I have tended not to like modern country, or the lifestyles of modern country music heroes. They make a fortune on promoting the same urban values of confused and destructive masculinity and the rightful response of pissed off women as those city singers. Women singers don’t sing about keying the SUV of a good man, and we best not consider the fate of ‘Earl’. Yup, men should drink a lot and work should only be to pay for a weekend of tearing up the country environment in their ATVs. Ever listen carefully to any of these lyrics? It’s like the male and female singers are living in different worlds. Maybe they should sit down and talk. Might provide some clarity to our youth who listen to this.

Best part is how these singers all buy the token 1200 acre ‘ranch’, pay professionals to run it and claim country values from it. Mind you there are wonderful exceptions, best exampled by the song “She Thinks’ My Tractor’s Sexy”. That song means something bigger.

Don’t even get me started on ‘man caves’. Ok, I’m started. These are the last bastions of irresponsibility for today’s male heroes. You know, out in the country these are called ‘the shop’, or ‘the barn’. Their purpose is to ensure the production of the farm or ranch, whether 2 or 800 acres, runs smoothly. Whether to fix the screen door laying on the shop table, or weld up the three-point, they have historically provided purpose and identity to men. It was a place to get things fixed or built for the betterment of family and farm. Even the suburban garages with the table saw and workbench provided that purpose for city folk, but they are disappearing rapidly. Being replaced by man caves.

Now we have men cloistered in some room defining their place in life through the measure of their TV or bar fridge, and knowing which extreme fighter is cheating on his gal. They search for purpose in these rooms, instead of in and out of the house, on the job or part of the community. Stuff we take for granted. Dare I say anti-country?

Even our own literature constantly juxtaposes the city. Magazines, the outskirts of literature, whether Hobby Farm or Mother Earth News focus on how to carve out a country life while maintaining city conveniences. I love these magazines, but city is insidious.

Maybe we could use a superhero to provide identity and purpose for us just like the lycra sporting, padded pantie wearing ones continually saving the cities. Have to get them better uniforms though. How about a contest? Best country superhero outfit. Main rules: no lycra; no padded panties; no capes that could get caught up in machinery.

But I may have just talked myself out of a country superhero. Last thing we want in the country is someone else deciding what’s right and wrong for us rural dwellers. Already have enough of those wandering around. I think we would be better served by paying homage to the real heroes we already have. They are everywhere, but at times we just don’t see them.

They include the neighbour who takes the time to bring your stray lamb back while you are away for the day. He even makes sure the gate is closed. Let’s not forget the gal who says yes every time you need a judge for the county fair.
And we don’t need some rich guy to tell city folk his company cares about the wholesomeness of country. There are companies that show they care and we know who they are. It’s the bank officer who puts time in with a bunch of kids to figure out signing authority for their club; the hardware store that donates extension cords, shovels and wheelbarrows for winter fair; the tractor dealer who delivers the little tractor to clean up after a pony club event, and the music store that steps forward to help with the barn dance. We need to appreciate them more.

Look around for those who step up to the plate, those who quietly respond in time and resources to preserve and promote country life, even more importantly country values. There’s no slick city marketing company behind it. Whether an individual or a company, they do it because they really, really care. Ladies, bake cookies for these people. No, have the kids bake them. That means a lot.

So, instead of letting your kids watch Batman XIV to provide them with the answers to life, instead of subjecting them with a barrage of TV ads that claim country values, have them write and mail thank you cards to those individuals and companies who support them and their clubs. These people need to hear this.

Have your kids get on Google to see what their music stars really represent. How many city kids get to camp in these ranches they all own? For me, it doesn’t matter how these ‘heroes’ give back, it matters if they do or don’t.
In fact, you get on Google and see what the companies you support are doing. Are they supporting the lifestyle they make money on? Is this where you want your money to go?
And when you go to the grocery or hardware store, hunt down the manager and tell her you buy here because they support what you believe in. If they don’t support it, or pretend to support it, consider an alternative.

Sure beats staring up into the skyscrapers in unquestioned adoration of some fancy pants in fluorescent tights.

Oh, and show your kids this:

The Peterson Brothers. Heroes:


And ladies, if your man’s main goal in life is to have the best ‘man cave’ in town, he doesn’t deserve those home baked cookies.

People, Politics and Puppies

Well, I had a weak moment. Realized I had a few minutes to spare in my life. What to do. More time with the family? Nope. Instead I decided to run for regional politics. The horses and chickens get the quality family time anyway. Obviously those who encouraged me to write this blog as a way of finding meaning in life are full of hooey.

So, I am running for the Director Seat, Area J, Copper Desert Country, Thompson Nicola Regional District, B.C.

Sure sounds important. Yup, gonna spend time kissing puppies and patting babies on the head.

But it’s important to me. We are a family that believes in contributing.

I spent last week marshaling the formidable Ron McGivern political machine; a whack of posters and a staple gun. Went to a forum on the new open pit mine being proposed in the area-basically in the back yard of my neighbours in the district. Not happy with the process. I am advocating for a stronger federal assessment process. Have spent a lot of time answering emails on my position for various issues. This is necessary. At the very least it facilitates the dialogue on these issues.

I do not claim I can do a better job than the incumbent. Such arrogance makes me uncomfortable. I do believe I offer a set of skills and attitude, combined with a fresh look at the issues that would serve the region well.

In the middle of all this we are getting a section of the property ready for the two 4H steers coming soon. More animals for Marie to cry over when they head off for slaughter. She cried over the meat birds. I noticed she likes to eat them though.

Have the chicken coop for the laying hens completed and Foghorn is feeling quite at home at 5:40 in the morning. Built the henhouse frame out of recycled pallets I picked up for free.  Foghorn certainly lets the cat and dogs know who is in charge of the chickens. A male in charge of his domain. Good stuff.

Juggling this venture into politics with the projects that have to be accomplished in order to maintain our rural lifestyle has created a frenzied household. It makes all of us pull together more to get the job done.

Everything becomes worthwhile when you are supported. Even cutting loose two 600+ pound calves on the property. I wonder how the horses will take to their new neighbours? I note the puppy is wary of the rooster. No support there.


Well, fall is here. That time of the year where each subsequent morning presents us with a sharper breath of air.  Fall is the season of that gentle but insistent reminder:

“Get winterizing your place, or deal with the nightmares when it’s 20 below.”

It is the time that shows us how our lifestyle is so much at odds with the urban environment. Do people even winterize in the city, or is that left to the contractors hired by the strata council?

The cooler air warrants the evening outdoor fire. Of course the boys jump at the chance to get a fire going. About 45 minutes after supper out comes the marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers. The fold up chairs and wienie sticks move from the motorhome to a place of honour by the fire. Kids, grandkids, even sundry neighbours at times gather. They still won’t let me sacrifice the oldest daughter’s boyfriend over an open flame yet. Dad’s never get any fun.

One of the virtues of rural living is that much of what we do is not based on the clock, but on the season. It is a gentler pace, but one that demands a response to the firm insistence of the coming of fall, then winter.

Mind you, those city folk with a vegetable garden know what I mean. I’ve always appreciated how they scratch out that communion with nature. Urban gardening is the last stance for those city heroes who will not stand down to the onslaught of turf and concrete. My favourites are those who put their garden in the front yard. Radical greenies. Probably eat the stuff to boot. Today it’s carrots and rutabagas. Tomorrow it’s chickens in the city yard! Good for them. Now, just think how much fun that would be for the neighbourhood kids. Way better than those infernal electronic games. Should throw rabbits into that struggle while they’re at it. They have my support.


I digress. Anyway, without realizing it, we move more in harmony with the other creatures around us. The dogs and horses’ fur is getting longer. So is my hair. The spiders are moving indoors. That always provides a chuckle with the daughters.

“Eek! Holy cow! Holy cow! It’s so big. It’s gonna eat me! Help!”

This presents the teenage boys with that virtuous rescue opportunity only available in a rural environment. Yes, a blue job!

“Geez, what a sissy. That’s not big. Get out of the way, I’ll deal with it.” is the response as he skulks about his sister’s bedroom armed with a shoe like some hillbilly ninja.

Spider guts fly leaving the clean up for the sister. Seems that’s not men’s work in his mind. I’ll let the wife deal with that attitude.

The mice are checking out the outbuildings. Obviously the compost bin is just the summer home.

Ron versus the rodents.

It’s an epochal battle that would give Steven Spielberg a run for his money. Out come the traps.

There are irrigation lines to drain and wood to split and stack. The grass won’t sustain the horses much longer so hay has to be hauled in. Never did get the water trough insulated from the plans I found in Mother Earth News. Garden will need tilled soon. Still have to make up a new idler pulley for the tractor.

It’s all on the list. But none of these chores represent a crisis. Not like the “get the lawn mowed before the neighbours complain” pressure. Instead the chores become the gateway to that harmony of seasons.

Many become a family outing. Driving out to the woods to fell and buck up deadwood. The wife and I with the kids in the back seat of the diesel truck head out to meet our in-laws up some forestry road. Gus has the chainsaw. Esther and Marie have lunch and a thermos ready. We only harvest the pine beetle kill. This stuff is dry, probably too dry and does burn fast. But it is free and has to be removed. Incredible forest fire hazard otherwise. You feel good about it, and it’s a day in the woods. When the cold settles more we can have a fire out there and do hotdogs and marshmallows. Have it bucked up and split even before it’s loaded on the truck. When we get home Marie and the kids saddle up and go for a trail ride.  That’s good day.

It’s the same thing with putting away the summer furniture, hauling and stacking hay, and winterizing the motorhome. Again, the fire pit is lit up and the wienie sticks come out.

Fall is that season of quiet busyness that requires everyone to pitch in. It is also the season when everyone is really together, and for a good reason. We begin to lose this as winter sets and everyone, from the horses to the kids hunker down.

I like fall.

What do we do with the kids?

So, what do we do with the kids? The wife and I packed the smaller ones up and moved them to the bucolic tranquility of rural life. It took a while to wean them from the computer. Not that it matters as they are now quite adept at piling wood or putting away dishes while texting.

And we are always enticing the older ones to come and visit. You know how adult kids visit today. They drop by, pull out their cell phones and begin engaging with everyone but you. The other day I came into the living room to find three of them and the wife all on the couch merrily texting and tweeting-other people. Modern day family time I guess.

But as parents we have a responsibility to engage our kids. Whether they are 3 or 27, we feel guilty if we can’t interfere with their daily existence.

Now, when I met Marie my kids had gone through the urban life, soccer, dance and the like. So did hers and they were younger. But she had them in horse 4H also. I had an inkling of what 4H was. A bunch of kids going around in circles on horses, petting bunnies and poking at a 1300 lb. steer with a stick.

Marie was the 4H mom personified. Assistant horse leader in the club, she was the no nonsense organizer. She became President of the district senior council. I’m sure that went to her head. Marie wears a 4H label like a proud veteran waiting to pounce with a story.

So, 4H was part of the package deal with Marie. I dutifully drove the 1979 motorhome to the gatherings, set it up then went home to my list and some peace and quiet.

But 4H is a swirling vortex that sucks you in. One weekend I ended up at a 4H banquet and awards ceremony. All the kids get some kind of award; part of the program. Now, I can assure you I was not prepared for this evening. All I had in mind was free food with lots of desserts. I like free desserts.

It began innocuous enough. There were tables and tables full of food. But wait. Some of the senior kids were milling about the head table. It was about to begin.

We were all ushered up to sing the national anthem. Promote God and country; good stuff here I thought. Then things got serious.

Next on the itinerary was the 4H motto. Everyone got up. Is this chanting? The lights went out and the single candle lit seemed to illuminate the faces of the senior leaders as one. What have I got these kids into? The room exuded awe and reverence. Was this a liturgy? A secret incantation designed to promote a following? Am I seeing groupthink?

The young leaders seemed all powerful out in front. Scanning the large room I noted everyone was serious; hanging on to every word of the chant like it presented the salvation usually reserved for an Amway convention. Even Billy Graham could learn a thing or two from a 4H gathering.

Again scanning the candlelit room I became aware of other things. Not really noticeable with the bright lights of the Hall I now noted a large display case backlit with soft lighting exuding a hum from a compressor hidden beneath. Are those animal carcasses?

Yes they are. Dear Stevie the steer, or rather parts of him were hanging in the display for all to gather and behold.  Jeez, I just saw a kid poking him with a stick the other day. He sacrificed his life for the higher goals of 4H. Is that Fluffy, Mary’s little lamb up there? Did Fluffy rear up her life for that vision of a better world?

Now what? A feast begins. Everyone joins with hearty appetite in the communion of food and drink, even if the drink was orange-ade.

Alright, let’s summarize here. We have leaders held in awe and reverence by young adults known to be swayed by simplistic visions of a better world, chanting of a liturgy, secret incantations, candlelight vigils secreted from the general public, a communion of feasting, and animal sacrifice.

Best thing for the kids.

Did I mention I teach at the local university? In class I can spot the 4H kids in a minute. The young ladies exude confidence and genuine warmth. The young men go out of their way to introduce themselves, looking you in the eye with hand extended out. That’s leader material.

But it’s not only 4H. There are all sorts of groups out there for the kids in the rural environment. I would argue that the rural lifestyle is more social, even personal than what is offered in the city. Whether it’s 4H, a pony club, Young Farmers of America down south or Fall Fairs we have the opportunities to engage our kids with the community. These kids ride the bus together, see each other at the pony club, and get dragged along for a Saturday barbeque at the neighbours where they have to amuse each other. The city compartmentalizes kids in their daily activities with the only connection between activities, whether school or dance is the headphone laden ride in the minivan.

Another neat thing about the rural organizations for kids is that you, yes you have to be part of it. You take them to a meeting or club event, a fair; you get to stay and chat with the other parents, your neighbours. There is no drop off in the minivan with a vague promise to pick them up in two hours. You have to connect. No way out of it. You become a steward of your child’s development. Just try being the hands on parent in a city dance or karate class. Nope, you have to give up that stewardship for the compartmentalized hour or so.

Get your kids into a program. Talk to the neighbours, the local storekeeper for opportunities. Just remember, you don’t get to drive off for that secret skinny caramel macchiato with non-fat milk and an hour of peace and quiet any more.

It’s for the kids.

She thinks my tractor’s sexy.

Wrong. Dumb song. Only appreciated by those who don’t have to repair them out in the field.

Your woman doesn’t care about your tractor. Unless it won’t harrow her riding arena; then expect some whining.

You need a tractor. But how big? Like a small town teenage boy who knows his manhood is measured by the height of his truck and the size of his tires, us men really, really need that tractor that shows our wife, our family and our neighbours what we are made of.

And attachments, it has to have more attachments than that big electric thingy in the front window of the downtown adult superstore.

You know the tractors I’m talking about. We’ve all spent time furtively perusing those hobby farm magazine ads. And just look at those tractor manufacturer websites where you can build your own custom tractor to your needs. Those glossy tractor photos. The pretty fresh faced gal behind the wheel. That’s country porn. Twenty minutes of this and you’ll be nudging the little lady into the bedroom and closing the door.

Yes, I want that compact diesel Kubota in the glossy ads. Certainly would improve my sex life.

But I can’t afford it. It’s that damn ‘to do’ list I make.  If I crossed off most of those projects I could probably afford the down payment. Won’t happen though. Represents the other measure of manhood. Remember I mentioned how we need that chore list? It gives us control. An oversized brand new tractor is like that girl in the bar who helps you spend your paycheck. Lot’s of fun, but you got nowhere.

What I have is a thousand dollar 1982 Allis Chalmers 917 garden tractor.  Bright orange. Manual three-point hitch, no front-end loader and a broken coffee cup holder. Delivers seventeen raw horsepower of inadequacy. I found it on the internet classifieds and my father in law bought it for us as a house-warming present.  Bless him.

It does the job. Sure, I’ve had to do repairs. But this old beater starts in the dead of winter, and the mechanics are basic. The key was to bite the bullet and only get a unit that would do 95% of the work around here a tractor would normally do. It was a difference of thousands of dollars. Yes, I would like a posthole auger. But what is the ratio of use to collecting dust?  It was also a trade off of price to what my mechanical abilities are.

Now if you consider an older basic tractor, a sure fire way to judge its worth is to get on the internet. You see, if something has a motor, us men will form a community around it. Even better, we’ll race it. Just ask the men deeply involved in belt sander racing. They take it seriously, and so should we. It provides a communal bond amongst us men. It’s a solidarity that no woman would understand; and thankfully is not interested in understanding. They just appreciate that these juvenile endeavours get us out from underfoot.

Anyway, there are whole internet communities out there for every brand of tractor you can think of. There are discussion groups, bulletin boards, even classified ads for parts. I bought a rebuilt PTO box from a guy thousands of miles away. He sold it to a fellow “brother in tractors”. Went out of his way to get it to me. Posted a picture of my broken rototiller hook up on the website. In no time I had answers as to what was wrong with it, and how to fix it.

The point is to size up your tractor wants to what you need and what you can afford. Is it something you can fix, or is it going to be winched onto the trailer to take to town every time it breaks down? My 1982 Allis garden tractor is easy to deal with; basic point ignition and a drive train that makes sense. Need a few postholes dug? Get to know your neighbour.

But get on the internet and do your research. Just don’t stray onto the new tractor websites. There’s only two ways to break the vice of that country porn. Either succumb to it at the cost of your wife’s new kitchen curtains for a down payment, and another seventy-one payments to go; or get therapy.

Instead, waste some time on the garden tractor racing websites. Much more fun.

Want to rule your rural domain? Make a “to do” list.

There’s a lot to be said for making a list of projects around the property. At a mundane level it helps us to organize and schedule. I have a running ‘to do’ list. If it has to get done, no matter what it goes in my notebook list. “Honey, could you look at that plug by the kitchen sink?” “It’s on the list dear”.

An excerpt from my list looks something like this:

Fix outlet by sink

Get hot tub running for summer

Install light on side of shanty

Stop losing list

Repair sprinkler in front field

Move wall in henhouse

Stuff insulation in holes in pump house.

Seems fairly innocuous right? It certainly helps us fellows to keep on top of things.

But there is something deeper here. A ‘to do’ list is the key to being master of your hobby farm; of that pipsqueak property that will become an integral part of your identity as a man.

That identity as a man in control of hobby farm hell will be grounded in the notion of blue jobs and pink jobs.

You see, gender is a fundamental organizing principle of the human condition. Now I have little time for those who argue men are genetically predisposed to certain jobs and women can only do other jobs. That’s a load of hooey. Try explaining that to my sister whose job title is Superintendant of Roads. She can drive anything on wheels or tracks, and the men who work for her respect her for it.

But we do organize by gender. Out in hobby farm country there are the pink jobs and blue jobs. It becomes a division of labour that gets things done, sometimes efficiently. It’s everywhere in the rural environment. Junk strewn all over the property? Things overgrown along the road? Fences down? They judge the man of that property. And I notice the judgements are swift and harsh.

You have to control your identity as a man in the rural environment. That means controlling your environment. It will be connected to tools and dirt, so get intimate with both.

Let me give you two small examples of how women take control of their environment. Does your wife sew? Lots of women like to sew. I imagine that’s why they do it. I tend not to question their motives for sewing. I like having buttons on my shirt. I have also noticed they usually have numerous buckets and boxes full of fabric and patterns.

Here’s a challenge. Go ahead, organize them for her. Haul them out and start sorting and classifying the fabric and patterns. When she comes around the corner I suggest you duck.

One of the first things a woman does when she reaches adulthood and gets her own place is to create the plastic container cupboard from hell. You know the one. You stick your head in it and can never find a lid that matches a container. But she can find them. In no time, with the appropriate condescending sigh and “there you go dear” she plops both on the counter with slightly more force than usual. I advise against re-organizing that cupboard. Believe me, it’s already organized. She’s in control of her domain.

You have to do the same thing.

With a ‘to do’ list, her request “Honey, could you look at that plug by the kitchen sink?” now becomes yours. On the list it goes. You control the priorities of that list. You control the scheduling and resource allocation deriving from that list.

When she asks “did you have a chance to look at that plug?” you have the answer. It is an answer that reflects the best interests of hearth and home. You know the priorities. You know the resource needs. You get to say, “It’s scheduled for Saturday honey”.

Now if she gets uppity and asks why, you pull out that list. With the appropriate sigh and condescending tone, you go over the items on that list and explain the priorities, the resource needs.

But it’s deeper than that. Have children? What do you want your male children to see in you? Are you the dad who gets things done? Do you get to explain to your son how you prioritize the chores; how you organize the resources to get things done? Can your son see why this is important for hearth and home? This is an environment to teach your sons to become good men; men who control their lives and domain. You are creating men who know that others depend on them. These are the men who garner respect in the rural environment.

There is little of this in the urban world. Men do not have control of their environment in the cities. Sons do not see how they connect with the larger world. Taking out the garbage hardly represents role modelling. Neither is time spent watching fight shows.

You control the blue jobs. You are the master of your domain. Your neighbours, especially the men folk will note your common sense. Just stay the hell away from the sewing buckets and container cupboard.

And make that list.

Hello from Hobby Farm Hell

I decided that I must not be the only person who occasionally wonders where his head was in the decision to move from the city in search of the better life for family. Don’t get me wrong. I love what the 6 acres have provided my family. All things considered I would never go back to the 1/2 duplex with the neighbours looking over my fence, dogs pooping on my lawn, kids perennially whining “I have nothing to do” which I have learned is code for “let me sit and do video games all day” and other questionable experiences of urban life.

I hope this blog provides some insight, even inspiration to all of us who have jumped into the hobby farm life. A life complete with dysfunctional animals, barely functional equipment, children now afraid to whine “I have nothing to do” lest you pull out the chore list and your loving spouse who quickly and eagerly realized the benefits of gender role stereotyping (That’s a blue job dear”). Especially when it’s below freezing.

I have learned that definitions of what is a hobby farm are far reaching and diverse. Distilled down though, I believe it should have one or both of the following.

It should have animals on the property that would not go over too well in the city. Have dogs? Big deal. That just makes it a country property. Chickens? More like it. Horses? Perfect. Rest assured that the animals don’t need any utilitarian or pecuniary value, just can’t have them in the city. We have horses; 1200 lb fruit flies that follow me everywhere on the property. Had chickens-in the freezer now. That’s another story. Consider a donkey. Never get away with that racket in the city.

It could also include growing things. A true hobby farm has to be growing enough to make your neighbours and coworkers either delight or cringe when they see the plastic grocery store bags full of strange green things. By the way, the first step to hobby farm life is to stop paying for zucchini. For crying out loud, we can’t give it away fast enough. Find one of us-tell us to lie to you. Then believe us. You’re on your way.

Doesn’t matter what you grow. Just has to be too much of it for the family. A fundamental shift in human social evolution was agrarianism. The ability to grow a surplus beyond subsistence. Helped to feed urban folk. Led to big cities. They need us. Taunt them with your surplus.

This is an exploration of this lifestyle hopefully with two outcomes. One, it may enlighten, even entertain with the foibles of this life. Second, it may provide me with some writing therapy in response to the craziness and irrationality of hobby farm hell.

Anyway, I hope to let you know of the vices and virtues of life on a pretend farm. How can we cope with the frenetic dichotomy of rural life after all day at work in the city? What is needed; what is not needed. What to do with kids and spouses. Admittedly, I will be speaking as a husband and a father; as a male, because that is what I am. This means the fairer sex may at times question my interpretation of reality. Get over it-it’s my reality. I do though hope it may help in understanding the quiet desperation of us men in what at times is an overwhelming venture.