The News from Wolf Cairn Moor 12_06

Discussion in 'Countryside Families' started by Haggis, Jan 4, 2007.

  1. Haggis

    Haggis MacCurmudgeon

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    December came in a bit warmer than usual; in truth it feels more of the normal November weather, and throughout the month we have had weather in the 30’s and even into the 40’s; however, we here in the frigid north do not too much mind losing a month of cold weather, as we have ample despite the reduction. Though this winter has not yet been cold by Northern Minnesota standards, it will nonetheless be long, with the pasture grasses having died back in early September and to remain dormant until the middle of May. The crofter’s greatest fear in the northland is not necessarily the cold, but rather the lack of snow in early winter, a situation wherein we now find ourselves. No snow, or little accumulation of snow, means the frost may have the freedom to reach depths of 4 to 9 feet into the earth, bursting waterlines, destroying or at least rendering useless homestead sewer systems, and perhaps more importantly for us, deep frost will and sometimes does shift a cottage foundation; but we do put bales of hay around our own foundation to try to keep our wee hovel warmer and its footing in place; we carry water to the house from our well, by hand, and use a heavily ventilated privy year ‘round, so worries of frozen or burst water lines are foreign to us in winter as the need for reading material in our outhouse at 50 below zero.

    Tulip was AI bred near the end of November, but came back into heat by middle December which resulted in another visit from the AI gentleman; there was no charge for the return visit, but I had rather she had settled the first time. As aforementioned, we have, and now had, hopes for the milch cows to deliver their calves the first of September, when Herself begins her new school year, then to milk the cows until the first of the following June before drying them off and having our summers away from the lovable brown-eyed ball and chain represented in the family cow.

    My little backyard trap line; “In the everlasting snow-drifts, In the kingdom of Wabasso, In the land of the White Rabbit”, continues to produce a furbearer now and then, and has produced a great number of snowshoe hares; the meat from the latter has lightened the cost of feeding Herself and I, and has done no little to feed the families of our children. It is our hopes to expand our snare line for hares over the Christmas break from school, and if the weather holds in the warmish range we are now enjoying; hopefully, some of the older Grand-Darlings will be able to accompany me on my daily hike in the bush.

    When the trap line was a bit shorter, I would “run” the entire line before I milked in the morning, but now the circuit has expanded a full two-mile hike through overgrown fields, willow labyrinths, and over-mature stands of Tamarack, Popple, and White and Black Spruce; I must now of necessity take my stroll along this line of snares after I milk. If the snow were a wee bit deeper I should want to use my cross country skis, were it deeper still, the snowshoes would be in order, but for now the sine qua non of my daily stroll are my admirably serving, though decade old, “felt packs”.

    It is my habit to take my “shell bag” across my shoulder; it being previously loaded with various sized snares, wire, pliers, and other incidentals useful for the setting of modern restraining snares, catch up 10 cartridges for my little .25-20 rifle, though I’ve never, on a hunt needed or used more than 1 or 2, I shoulder my rifle, and set off. If I were to spend longer afield, I should want my woodman’s pack in preference to the shell bag, and perchance with the shell bag besituated therein, as there is far more room within the pack for extra trapping “possibles an’ fooferah”, flagging ribbon, and an extra compass; my primary compass is ever attached to the zipper of my overcoat, a heavy two-bladed jack knife, and there is room aplenty for an “outers” niceties: a thermos of coffee, matches or butane lighters, a few packets of honey for energy, should I be in want of the same, a quantity of dry tea, a small camera, and of course a pencil and pad for taking an amateur naturalists’ notes, or jotting down some passing philosophical musing. To the right side and on the outside of the woodman’s pack is strapped a light, well covered, Marbles double-bit hatchet of the Nessmukian pattern, and a sheathed hunting type knife with changeable blades, including a saw are ever on the packs’ opposite side. Were I traveling further from home and hearth, or in very cold and foul weather, I will toss a Whitney’s or Hudson Bay wool blanket, of the 6-point size, into the bottom of the pack; and yes, I have spent the night out at 35 below zero.

    The line, though seemingly short, takes an hour and half to two hours to walk, depending on what I have caught, or how many sets I need to make or remake, or as happens far too frequently, I am distracted by way of giving chase after ruffed grouse or hare. Ivan Turgenev, in his; A Hunter's Sketches, wrote of hunting similar wild game and wild lands in Russia, “the moors extend over tens, the forest over hundreds of miles, and that splendid bird, the grouse, is still extant there; there is an abundance of the friendly great snipe, and the loud-clapping partridge cheers and startles the sportsman;” one might say the same of Northern Minnesota’s moorlands, forests, and grouse.

    It gives me the greatest pleasure to read the “sign” in the snow, left by passing creatures about their own business, though I do generally see rather less sign from the animals I’m pursuing than I would prefer, until their legal season of chase has ended when miraculously they are once again found to be plentiful. It is good to be out and getting the fresh air, leaning against the north winds, and walking among the forest giants, while the exercise of the affair, done daily, must be therapeutically valuable; certainly a few mile jaunt taken on a daily basis is more beneficial to one’s health than riding a reclining chair near a warm heater in one’s living room. I cannot mentally conjure a vision even partially comparable to the incredible splendor of a freshly snowed wood, lest it be in the face of Herself, and the faces our Grand-Bairns, nor is there a power so obliging the winter wanderer to see what may be found further into this dazzlingly white, ice bejeweled, hinterland.

    On occasion I will wander into the empty trackless miles of wilderness south of our homestead, in the pretense of following up a grouse or perhaps responding to the Siren’s Song of the Great Out There, as all wilderness wanderers of adventurous spirit are want to do, but I am cautious to not mention these impromptu outings to Herself as she fears for my well being, more so and especially now, after my having a “cardiac event” earlier this month. There is a far different transcendental impression to be felt when afoot in the heavily snowed bush when compared to, say; long canoe trips I have taken in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. When one is riding “shank’s mare” in a dense wood, it is not unusual to have one’s visible travel route limited to a 15 to 20 yard distance, frequently less, while in canoe travel a distant shoreline may be seen miles away; certainly a mature snow-whitened wood, with a closed canopy is not a happy place for the faint of heart, or the claustrophobic; one finds oneself in alone in a very closed and isolated universe where there are no road signs pointing the way to home and hearth.

    Looking back on this past year and all Wolf Cairn Moor has given, is humbling indeed. There was a new calf born to Tulip in April, and, in the natural course of things, rich milk aplenty from Tulip; there might have been two calves but Lucy failed to settle. The General and the 3 Ladies, our Embden geese, gave us countless eggs for the table and raised 14 goslings to freezer age; as a bonus, the feathers and down from these harvested geese will stuff several pillows. Our rabbitry supplied an enormous amount of fat free protein for our and our extended families diet. The croft chickens provided meat and eggs in an amount that defies reckoning. This year’s experiment with ducks has left something to be desired, but the owls have enjoyed, and are yet enjoying them, immensely. The six diminutive piglets, purchased in May, have been feeding the families since the end of October, and there are yet 2 very large hogs in the lot to be butchered in late February; these two oversized representatives of the kingdom of pork will be ground into sausage when they are processed at nearer to 500 pounds. Christmas and Thanksgiving did themselves proud for the two holiday meals at which they were guests of honor, and Thanksgiving even gave us quite a few of her large speckled eggs before her turn at the board on Christmas day. And lest I forget my sweet tooth, the three top-bar hives of bees, despite the severe drought conditions, produced enough honey to enable us to give plenty to family and friends until the next honey flow in June; depending on the temperance of one old curmudgeon’s aforementioned sweet tooth.
     
  2. Haggis

    Haggis MacCurmudgeon

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    The wild creatures inhabiting the forest and fields of Wolf Cairn Moor have been no less giving to the family’s nutritional needs, or the well-being of our bodies and minds. In middle May, Herself began gathering wild asparagus, and as mentioned in my summer letters, we found even more patches of this green goodie while scouring roadsides during our rides on the Harley. The wild blueberries and raspberries did poorly in the drought, but they will hopefully make up for it in coming years. I might have had a black bear for beef, but my overly cautious nature would not let me fire on him, and risk him escaping to die later. White tailed deer are everywhere on our croft but they gave themselves only to Herself and my good son this year, so we are feasting notwithstanding my failures to bag a deer of my own for the table. Many of the resident furbearers, in the form of raccoon, ermine, marten, fisher, red fox, and coyote; have found their way onto my stretchers boards, and soon I will be sending their pelts to the Canadian auction house for the spring sale; though we are thinking of having the pelts tanned and returned to us. The sharp tailed grouse once again managed to stay out of my rifle’s sights, not that it matters as they are few in number, but the ruff grouse were more than willing to stand for a shot, and we have thoroughly enjoyed them at our tables. Our biggest surprise from the wild creatures of our croft has been the snowshoe hares which I have now caught by the dozens in the diamond willow labyrinths. I yet have another 2 months to pursue foxes, coyotes, ermine, and the snowshoe hare, and one suspect’s there will be many more of these critters coming home with me.

    Tonight, as I write this passage, it is Christmas Eve, our Anniversary; Herself and I have been married 35 years on this night. There are sweet carols playing on the music box, Herself is in her realm, beneath the twinkling lights of our homestead harvested Christmas tree, and wrapping presents for Christmas Day; I, as usual, am writing. Later, we will go out to the barn together, and beneath the twinkling lights of the Aurora Borealis give of the cattle each an extra scoop of grain, for legend has it, at the stroke of midnight, on Christmas Eve, the barnyard animals are given the gift of speech, and while their thoughts and conversation will in all probability pertain to a certain “Good Shepherd” born long ago, we harbor hopes that should their thoughts and discussions drift to the lowly shepherds of Wolf Cairn Moor, they will have good things to say of us, one to another. Where, I wonder have these 35 years have gone? It is as though it were yesterday that I took the hand of the wee pallid snip of an auburn haired girl who has now been with me more twice as long as she had been without me. Another 3 ½ decades would have Herself at, ??, well, I darst not tell, but I would be solidly into my 90’s, and all the more content if she were yet sharing Christmas’s with me. Life is always too short, it matters not to what age one might attain, more especially short if one has found and held the other half of one’s heart, but there is a blessed contentment in the finding and in the holding; I am content.

    Christmas was once again a delightful time with family, the 8 foot tree was scarcely visible behind the mound of gifts, and I, secretly harbored more impatience than the smaller children toward the slowness of all hands in the passing out of gifts, and could not wait to see what, if anything more than a whipping switch or block of coal, might be under the tree for me; but I needn’t have worried for there were gifts aplenty for everyone, and the children had all already opened their “personal family” gifts under their own trees in their homes. Our tree was for gifts from brother to sisters, sisters to brother, Mamaw and Papaw to the Grand-Bairns, Grand-Bairns to Papaw and Mamaw, and so on until there was a mighty pile of colorfully wrapped and beribboned boxes all but burying the tree. I am generally, financially speaking, against these yearly “Potlatches”, but am to be found in the thick of it once the buying starts and more especially when gifts are being passed out.

    In addition to all of the gifts of Christmas morning, there were beautiful Holiday cards from friends and family living elsewhere; even my Ohio bother-in-law took the time to email us 4 photos of his big semi-truck, it having been decked out in lights and tinsel for the Holidays.

    Thanksgiving, the turkey we spared on Thanksgiving Day in preference for her flock mate Christmas, began laying eggs in early December. They were of the large, and aforementioned, speckled variety, and she laid an egg nearly everyday until it was time for the Christmas dinner when her egg laying came to an end, and she came to the table. She was not so large as Christmas, weighing 20 pounds dressed, while the Thanksgiving tom had weighed in at 28 pounds; still, it was a magnificent meal, and the bird could not all be eaten at one setting, even by so large a gathering. I did not make so much a pig of myself at the Christmas meal as I had done on Thanksgiving, nonetheless I did make rather generous with my consumption of the Yule Tide victuals, with special attention being paid to the turkey, and each of the pies.

    New Years Eve brought us the first real snow storm of the season. It had already drizzled rain for 24 hours, and the weather turning colder, it dropped 8 inches of snow in an evening; knocking out our electricity and all modern contrivances relying on it as the snow fell. We lit our last oil lamp, the lone surviving oil wick lamp from the many years when our family lived entirely without electricity, and we scrounged up as many candles and candle lanterns as we could find. Our cottage is very well heated via the wood cook stove so we didn’t worry of the cold.

    I had been given a hand-crank weather/AM/FM radio a few years back, and Herself brought it to me for the hand-cranking. I quickly came to the conclusion that the main purpose of the little crank to keep the simple minded occupied until the electricity returns, but all was not lost, after I had cranked for about ten minutes and to no effect, Herself found some batteries to fit the wee radio, and upon turning the dial to the weather station, we were told a “winter storm warning was in effect”, and that we could “expect an accumulation of snow”; so much for enlightenment beyond that to be found by looking out any window. Once upon a time, when we lived without modern noise makers, we could manage without any sounds clear of those of nature, but now we are accustomed to the drone of all things electric, so we turned the dial to AM and found nothing. We then turned the dial to FM and discovered we were receiving 2 channels: one of them seemed to be a “Top 100 Countdown of the Best Marching Bands of 2006”, and the other was very thankfully, Minnesota Public Broadcasting featuring a variety of sonatas and concertos.

    It was like the old days, when our children were small, but back then we didn’t have a hand crank radio; working or otherwise. Herself and I discovered, much to our delight, that we could still read, and by candlelight. It was a peacefully spent few hours; listening to piano and violin, settling in with a good book, and the whole of it in the soft glow of natural light; but all good things, as they say, must end. With the return of the electricity came the return of the phone, and the phone rang off the hook for some time until all of our friends and children were satisfied we were alive and safe. Taken as a whole, it was a very romantic evening, and for my part, I can pleasingly say I spent it with some very agreeable and delightfully lovely company.

    So it goes at Wolf Cairn Moor.
     

  3. heather

    heather Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for sharing -
    You're a wonderfully descriptive writer & I enjoy reading about your "goings-on" :p
     
  4. jessin

    jessin Well-Known Member

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    nice to hear the going ons up there in the far north.
     
  5. Christine in OK

    Christine in OK Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Blessings and Happy New Year.

    If I may ask, how are your daughter and grandbabies doing?
     
  6. bugstabber

    bugstabber Chief cook & weed puller Supporter

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    Thank you, that was nice.
     
  7. ArkansasLady

    ArkansasLady Well-Known Member Supporter

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    wonderful to read a update from the moor.... was wondering how your daughter is doing..

    ~C~
     
  8. ellebeaux

    ellebeaux Well-Known Member

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    Hi Haggis,

    Wonderful newsletter, I could practically hear the snow falling, quiet and lush.

    Is your book available for purchase now?

    B.
     
  9. Haggis

    Haggis MacCurmudgeon

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    Emily is holding on, but she is losing weight. The Docs still have not found a way to control her high blood pressure, so they change her medicine on a regular basis, and she monitors it at home. The Docs are finally making plans to remove her kidneys, after several months of talking, and maybe that will hlep with her blood pressure. Culloden is yet living with us and and doing well, Ian is with my good son, and despite the Autism Spectrum Disorder, he has become one of their family. Baby Eldrid, is now offically a foster child to Daughter #4, (though if the worst happens they are making arrangements to adopt him), is walking everywhere and learning to say words.

    We have always been a close family, but we are trying to spend more time together these days, in family gatherings.

    Thank everyone for thinking of them and for your prayers.
     
  10. kitty32_z8

    kitty32_z8 Well-Known Member

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    Haggis,
    You write beautifully! The way you write takes me back to childhood. Glad all is well.
     
  11. Christine in OK

    Christine in OK Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Thank you so much for the update, Haggis. Let Emily know we are thinking of her.