On a family drive in the country last week, we saw the ghostly silhouette of this house in the distance. We couldn’t resist pulling into the lane to get a closer look; the property looked like something out of The Walking Dead. An old car sat smashed and abandoned right next to the house; driver’s door ajar. A broken tractor, found next to the old bank barn that was barely standing, had a shattered front windshield that looked like it had struck a pedestrian. The entire property was overrun with grass and weeds. I was able to take a few photos before we left. The hair on the back of my neck was standing on end. Something didn’t feel right.
verb (used with object), preserved, preserving.
1. To keep alive or in existence; make lasting.
For the first time in my life, I have finally managed to preserve something other than my marriage. Next, I will attempt to preserve my sanity. But for now, it’s tomatoes.
Canning my own tomatoes was a dream I held onto for years. I imagined one day I would don my grandmother’s apron and set about the task, rosy-cheeked and full of zest. But the years ticked by and my excuses piled up. I was busy with work and kids. “When I find the time I’ll do it!” I’d say. “I’m busy!”
The fact that many “busy” men and women found the time to can did not elude me. That knowledge just added to my guilt each time I opened yet another can of BPA-free, top dollar organic tomatoes.
But, as I now know, the art of canning truly is one of time – and of patience. Both of which I feel I have at this point in my life. Well, time for sure; patience is debatable. And so, with much determination, I decided this year it was going to happen. A phone call to a neighbour found me supplied with all the required equipment, and a much needed boost of confidence.
By the end of the first day I was definitely rosy-cheeked, but not full of zest. And for the record, the rosy “cheekedness” wasn’t all that pretty. It was more of an “Oh my fucking god I hate tomatoes” sort of flush. And my grandmother’s apron? Thankfully I couldn’t find it and it remains folded (and clean) in a chest, somewhere.
It didn’t take me long to realize this canning business would be a love-hate affair. But like the magic of childbirth, after gazing lovingly at my new “babies” all lined up on the table, I’m already forgetting the pain and imagining what I will can next.
The slow, methodical work also gave me time for reflection. Looking out the window above my kitchen sink, washing and slicing the fruit, it was easy to forget my worries. Unexpectedly, I found my late grandmother, Earlene, whose apron I had imagined wearing, standing beside me. And her mother, my great-grandmother Lila-Mae, was there as well.
You see, canning – despite it’s gentrification into the modern world – once belonged solely to women. It was their job to preserve the food that would nourish their family through the winter months, food that was planted by hand and harvested from the kitchen gardens of yesteryear. By continuing on with this tradition of “women’s work,” I found myself bound in spirit with the matriarchs of my past. And not just my family.
I had a neighbour whom I adored when I was a young girl. Jean Humphrey was her name. I spent much of my childhood spare time with her. I remember vividly the tiny cuts on her thumbs after a week of canning. She would slice the fruit and vegetables with her paring knife, cutting against her thumb instead of a cutting board. They were tiny, superficial little marks but I was mesmerized. I asked her if they hurt. No, she replied.
And in my reveries, I also thought of Margaret Mulvihill. She was the woman of the 160-year-old house I now call home (Read their story in the “about” section of my blog). An Irish settler, forging a new life in the Canadian wilderness with her young family. How much canning did she do in preparation for the long, cold winter months? Who stood next to her in her thoughts? Her mother? Her grandmother? Did her mind take her back to the home that she would never see again?
It’s a time of “preservation” here at the farm. I have gratitude for the abundance in my life and I’m proud to carry on this tradition. It wasn’t just tomatoes I was preserving after all; it was my womanhood, and the cherished sweet memories of lives now gone.
So. I’ve been practicing the breathing techniques I leaned at Lamaze class 14 years ago. Deep breath in through the nose, and out through the mouth. With my eyes closed, I think of a better place. A peaceful place, like one without goats for instance. Sometimes there’s a noise on my exhale though; a slight moan. But that’s OK. I’m working through the pain.
Yoga works too. Well, sort of; it works in theory. Take a look at this image of me attempting some “relaxation” yoga with my three-year-old. Yes, that is him. On my head.
So then we come to my goats. Don’t get me wrong, I love my goats. Stella and Beulah arrived at my farm just over a month ago and it was truly love at first sight, despite the big nasty scabs all over their faces. Orf, the vet said. Harmless. Harmless, but disgusting. And the incessant coughing was a bit disturbing as well. But they have since matured into two lovely and healthy baby goats.
Healthy, lovely little goats from hell.
“What are you going to do with them?” I’m often asked.
“Just love them,” I reply.
As time goes on, however, the goats have become more comfortable and a little too confident in their new environment. If I’m going to follow through with the loving, then we have to sort out a few important boundaries!
It became clear early on that the goats cannot be left to roam the property unsupervised. They are capable of clearing vegetation like the locusts of biblical times. I’m OK with that, except when said cleared vegetation is my fifty dollar shrubs. And, every-single-one-of-my-potted-plants.
I decided to put this talent for clearing to work in a positive way. Why not fence them and they can “cut” my grass for me? Cities around the world have adopted this practice for years and it has been very effective. Check out this link for “adopt a goat”: (http://www.today.com/video/today/40380939#40380939)
So, with a new lightness in my step, I made a quick trip to the Co-op and returned with flexible fencing that is easy to install and can be placed anywhere on the property.
After wrestling with the thing for a half hour (it’s all in one piece – posts and all – so it was easy to get tangled), I managed to get the fence in place.
With much excitement the kids (mine) led the kids (goats) to their new temporary enclosure. It was wonderful for the first, say, 10 seconds, until they both slipped through the fence like it wasn’t even there. (Insert breathing technique here)
Long story short, the fence has to be electrified to keep these critters in. And so begins the next segment of my frustrating journey of goat ownership. I’m learning about “fencers,” and the importance of grounding electrical currents. And, not to be tempted to jump over the fence by your daughter after consuming a couple glasses of wine. This is not recommended.
To be continued.