15. Final final chapter

imag3889So much seems to have happened in the final few days, not least the ladies from the clinic getting their breakers saddled and ridden in the arena and then out on a short trail ride. It was a massive achievement in 2 weeks and all credit to them, Genine and Robert. Others had the added complications of trickier horses and/or their own physical and emotional constraints to overcome as well as the learning curve to scale, but still accomplished significant milestones. We didn’t go on this ride as it was a special  moment for the students but had taken Myrte with us on a beautiful ride the previous day into an unvisited part of the station including an excellent canter along the creek bed where I finally started to get my rhythm sorted out.

imag3904We were able to take a slightly slower pace than the first 3-4 weeks, work with Frankie, absorb the sessions the ladies were undertaking and even have some downtime after lunch when the temperatures started to rise and rise. We were still responsible for the horse feeding which gave me the excuse to visit the kindergarten twice a day at least. Emy-Lou is growing rapidly and all her charging around, bucking and rearing on top of mounds, has taught her how to kick! This is going to be sorted out very soon. The little fella has the paddock name of Zen but is still to receive his full title. Historically the names have to begin with RE so we had an ever-increasing list of ideas and wait patiently to see what he will be called. He has been a super little chap, very friendly and inquisitive, possibly assisted by Mum’s initial indifference, unlike Jaz’s protectionism, but also from my initial contact perhaps ‘imprinting’ on him.

imag3862When I went to say goodbye to him and Lily (my soul sister/daughter) he was even more curious than usual and I got covered in mud rubbing and scratching him. We had had a short burst of torrential rain and he must have rolled in a puddle or slipped up because his coat, fortunately quite muddy coloured naturally, was caked in it. It didn’t stop me though because it was such a precious moment when Lily was in labour and came to me for reassurance, of which he was the product. I will never forget that experience and look forward to seeing him (via facebook) grow up into a very handsome lad.

imag3902This was his and Emy Lou’s first rain and when I say rain I don’t mean British miserable cold incessant drizzle. I mean a deluge, sufficient to block internet access via the satellite which can’t penetrate, even moderate, cloud. Whilst we, in the UK, often despair of rain, here in this and many other parts of Australia (although not all as there is bad flooding in South Australia) it is welcomed with open arms, sometimes literally as they can be so pleased to see it. Its not really cold and you dry off again very quickly, unless you get absolutely soaked going to look at the crystal caves!

img_476011431927085The rain had stopped, although the sky still looked very threatening. We had not managed the visit to the caves earlier in the programme as the ladies had been too keen to keep working the horses but the morning trail ride had been the finale so the afternoon was free. 2 trucks were loaded up with most of us in the back as there were only 3 seats available in each cab and 15 people. We used the noodles, most people would recognise these as the long foam cylinders from swimming pools, as seats and back rests. imag3907As we approached the area the heavens opened again, this time with a distinct temperature drop and no-one had any waterproofs. We ran across the country and clambered down quite a steep rocky, sandstone so very uneven, hillside and under the bluff. We wedged ourselves into the crevice just as the rain filled torrents started to pour into our shelter. Depending on where you stood or sat, there were some eroded ledges, you could either stay dry (although all clothes were soaked by now) or have a shower. No-one opted for the latter, intentionally. The ground was littered with lumps of pure white quartz both inside and out but we were more interested in the rain tipping in to the caves over the edges of the ground above illustrating exactly how they are formed.

After running back to the vehicles we had a bit of a white knuckle ride back along the dirt tracks at some speed, taking off over bumps, with those of us in the back leaving the bed of the truck by several inches. We had a loose tarpaulin to cover ourselves but this required holding up so that we didn’t suffocate. We were able to put the noodles to yet another use, albeit a bit feeble, when they were ‘erected’ as tent poles. Their lack of rigidity made this fairly unsuccessful so Krystal and Simone had to hold up the tarp most of the way back. I managed to get clobbered on the shin by the only one which could have been used as an offensive weapon as it had a carabina attached to one end. Back at the house I emerged from the tarpaulin soaking wet and somewhat battered and bruised. People pay good money for that kind of ride at an adventure park!

imag3931imag3927The following day we departed beautiful Bodalla at 6.30am for a stop off at the Texas Longhorn Ranch on the way in to Charters Towers, the first of its kind in Australia. It boasted the longest set of horns, tip to tip, until recently on JR (Johnny Red) as well as the oldest and heaviest beasts of this type along with water buffalo and bison. The highland cattle didn’t even get a mention but I felt very sorry for them in their thick coat in these 30+ degree temperatures and its not even summer yet.

imag3721We said our farewells in Townsville from where the ladies were flying back home. We were, very kindly, put up in a hotel room and enjoyed the room facilities but unfortunately didn’t have time to make use of the pool outside our door. The humidity had hit us when we got out of the car at this coastal city and even at night the temperature only dropped to 22 but still so sticky. It had been very difficult saying goodbye to the animals, particularly Frankie and little Jack Russell, Odi, but when it came to Genine and Robert words were totally inadequate. They have given us an amazing and totally unforgettable experience with so many highs we couldn’t really explain but we hope they know. Love you guys xx

20. Back ‘home’

We were welcomed back with open arms, literally.  A big hug for each of us from Marilyn as we walked through her door, after being rescued spontaneously, but in a very timely fashion, by our Meeds colleagues. It had become a bit of a challenging afternoon and evening, perhaps more so because we knew our stint was coming to end and tolerance may have been on the wane. Anyway, best to leave before something was said or done which could be regrettable. Fortunately Jeanette had determined that we needed to come back sooner rather than later and so brought Eileen and Rika with her after their day’s work at the stockyard. Unfortunately, we were out, in the dark, moving cattle and opening/closing gates on horseback; not overly safe! So Kelly fed them cake before she left to pick up returning Lisa from the bus.

The kitchen table was scattered with the usual detritus of cups, mugs, Thermoses of coffee and tea as well as bits and pieces of food. It was gone 8.30 but we’d not had time for supper (evening meal in Canada) so sat and caught up with the gossip and developments back at the ranch. Finally we retired to our little refuge with Marilyn insisting that we just got up when we were ready in the morning. Carolyn, a new girl to us but who has been here before, had kindly lit a fire to take the chill and damp out of the air. We unpacked again, returning our belongings to their previous positions, remade the beds and finally sat down, heaving a sigh of relief and release of unexpected tension. A quick visit to the loo before turning in revealed the northern lights again, something we’d not been able to see for the previous 3 weeks but this time they were green! Not a spectacular display but lovely and glowing in the skies opposite our door. A special welcome back presentation just for us.

Bruce baling

Bruce baling

We woke to the sunshine streaming in the bedroom window so rose just after 7.30, as the girls were leaving for another day at the stockyard. After a leisurely breakfast chatting to Marilyn and Bruce it was time to get on with some work. I started by cleaning out the fridge and floor. The latter suffering from the effects of numerous cats and dogs as well as humans, but we do take off our outdoor shoes. Next we jumped into the truck with Marilyn and motored around the fields and pastures delivering hay, salt and minerals to cows and horses. On return we collected the assorted fence posts we’d found strewn all over the ground and piled them into one spot so that they could be located under the snow. Our last visit to the North Ranch had included preparing for this inevitable occurrence as open gates were strung up into adjacent trees for easy access over the winter.

Hyrissa and Sara

Hyrissa and Sara

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During the afternoon on this glorious warm sunny day Marilyn suddenly insisted that we should go riding as it was so nice and could be the last opportunity. Roger had gone off to help Bruce mend the baler so we went out to the field to catch Sara and Hyrissa, bringing them back to the yard with me sat on the back of the truck holding the halter ropes whilst they trotted along behind. First time I’ve ever done something like that. Marilyn took Roger’s place and we went off across the fields, a little unsure of our bearings but just enjoying being out on such a beautiful autumn day and feeling very relaxed.

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Jeanette, Hannah, me and Lisa

Jeanette, Hannah, me and Lisa, Roger supervising!

The following day was bale collecting on a massive scale. Kelly came over with Hannah and Lisa to join the 6 of us plus Marilyn with Bruce at the helm of the baler, making both hay and straw square bales. By the end of the day we had collected and stacked over 400 and had to rearrange a further 150 odd which were still in the barn from the previous harvest. The ‘older’ ladies drove the vehicles across the fields between the lanes of bales whilst one team threw them onto the trailer and the others stacked them, both jobs being quite strenuous in their own ways. But, that was only half of the story, we then had to unload and stack them up to the roof in the barn. A bit of competition seemed to develop amongst Eileen, Lisa and Carolyn to determine who was the strongest and then Roger was challenged to see who could throw a bale onto the highest level, to which he was able to avail himself respectably.

Jeanette, Eileen and Rika

Jeanette, Eileen and Rika

Jeanette, just!

Jeanette, just!

IMAG2174IMAG2180One trailer load was taken directly to a neighbour’s a few miles up the road. As we came straight from the field we were just perched on top of the bales, admiring the blue skies above us as we reclined on our load. We all retired to bed quite early and exhausted with aching limbs, spines and particularly hands despite gloves. Rain was forecast for the night and following day so as much as possible had had to be brought in whilst it was still dry. Who knows when the next opportunity will be as it is only 4 degrees today with a biting wind!

24. Meanwhile, back at the ranch

IMAG1545 (1)Things have improved considerably, having changed from ‘I don’t want to stay here for 2 months’ to ‘I don’t mind if we have to stay longer’. Several factors have contributed to this. Tracy’s relaxed attitude has eased the feeling of always getting ‘it’ wrong, being thick or being too lowly. Access to her truck and then Gaylene’s mustang gave us some freedom and opportunities to explore the area before we leave. Being given permission to ride whenever it suits us and until recently, not having to share Dunner has been an enormouse boost, not just the riding itself but enabling us to prepare for the next ranch and hopefully being able to get more out of that place.IMAG1662

Hope you can see improvement

Hope you can see improvement

This ranch being sold has taken the pressure off Gaylene, who is less stressed, but also we do not have to do emergency clearups and facelifts when there may be a viewing at relatively short notice. Ben (her son) has a purpose as he is managing the new property and coupled with the 2 new guys, seems to have made him much more friendly and communicative. We have also repeated some jobs so now know how she likes them done and where all the equipment is kept and can even make useful suggestions, which seem to be appreciated. There have also been periods when we have been left ‘in charge’ of the place which enabled us to realise just how lovely and peaceful it is and how lucky we have actually been.

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Sunflowers from the dung heap!

Having the cabin to ourselves made me realise how much I valued our privacy and independance. Arnaud was a lovely chap and here before us but it is nice not to have to share the living environment; not sure how that’s going to work in other places. Gaylene was kind enough to put the 2 new Italian guys in the basement of the log house (not too shabby for them!) so as to continue to allow us our privacy, just cooking for them as well in an evening. Mattia and Vittorio arrived last week, 19 and 18 year olds from near Bologna. They are a nice pair but spend the day with Ben at the new ranch so we see little of them.


IMAG1669Gaylene has kindly suggested that we move into what she called (for the first time!) the honeymoon suite in the log house for our final weekend. It is the top floor so we will have a full storey between us and the boys! It was a lovely offer although we are quite happy in the cabin. The one main advantage is that it has a huge sunken bath in which we can soak our aching muscles and joints. The precipitating factor is that another new workawayer arrives on Friday, Kate, so she will be in the other bedroom in the cabin (when I’ve finished cleaning it and it has some furniture!) She will be here for 4 months whilst also working as a lecturer at one of the local colleges. She will be able to settle in for a couple of weeks before Isa returns mid-sept into the room we will vacate. These 2, Tracy and Gaylene will manage this site whilst other help will be diverted to the new ranch or Dawson Creek. 4 single, middle aged, peri-menopausal women on one site! Glad we will be gone although I wouldn’t mind being a fly on the wall!

Gaylene wanted to give us something as a leaving present but knew that we don’t have any room in the backpacks as well as no abode to enjoy an object. She is planning a farewell and welcome (to Kate) meal on Friday but also wanted to take some photos of us around the ranch and with Dunner etc. Yesterday evening was beautiful so we had an hour’s notice to do the evening feed, shower and make ourselves presentable for a photoshoot. On arrival at the barn the boys had collected groomed and brushed Dunner and Gaylene sorted us all out into her best Stetsons (although none would fit over Vittorio’s dreadlocks!)

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Roger having a coffee, with MissG

She came armed with 2 backpacks full of camera equipment as it had been a keen interest and we used the golf buggy to whizz around the estate searching for the best light. Dunner was, as ever, very patient and has obviously posed for the camera many times before. We took him down to the log house where Sammy joined in, much to our pleasure. Next stop was Miss G’s pen where even she obliged. We feel very lucky that she given us her trust as she was very wary initally and still is with many people (and the strimmer!). Gaylene has promised to send me a photo of the foal when she is delivered of Lokota and Rocker’s baby, which will look quite odd next to her surrogate mummy. She’s practising now by standing next to Tinkerbell the mini, who is currently in the pen next door and barely reaches her knees.IMAG1692IMAG1694

Our final stage was with Meg and Angel but having finally got Angel to stay away from us when we are working in their paddock she was reluctant to come and be fussed for the camera although did for a short while. We have probably totally confused her now!

22. Orcas off the starboard bow

We decided to go whale-watching. Not something on either of our bucket lists, nor was it recommended by more than 1 person. It was one of the renters who would come out with his morning coffee and chat to us whilst we fed the horses who mentioned that they’d been from Steveston, a suburb of Vancouver and recommended the company he and his family had used. Why not? It was something that we may not get many opportunities to do so decided to take the one presented to us. We arranged a day with Tracy when we could use her truck and liaised with Gaylene when we could go as we were still owed a day off. She kindly suggested we take the mustang as she felt the truck might not make the distance. In the end she wanted the truck as her son had got both his and hers at the other ranch so we had to take the car!

I booked us onto the 2pm boat as that would give us time to work in the morning, if there had been any problems with co-ordinating truck availability and space on the trip. Also it was a good hour’s drive and you had to be there at least half an hour before so that would mean that we’d have to leave around 7am on a day off. I was advised to ring in the morning to ensure that all was clear for the afternoon and as the day dawned beautifully warm, still and sunny I felt no concern. I rang just after 9, when we’d finished feeding (!!) to be told to ring again after 10.30 as they’d had to cancel the morning boat due to high winds and would be getting an updated forecast for the afternoon at that time. We knew there may be some logistical and practical problems but, in view of the sky, never thought about this eventuality.

IMAG1593I rang again at 10.45 and we were on, grabbed our stuff and jumped into the mustang. We arrived in the lovely little town of Steveston 45 minutes later. It is a cross between an active commercial fishing port and God’s waiting room! We checked-in, despite being nearly 2 hours early but wanted to have some time to wander round and enjoy the town and its seaside ambience. Our sojourn along the front took us to the major historic site, a cannery! I kid you not, see the photo. We also spotted, but couldn’t be bothered to explore, a European food store. We then meandered back, watching the boats moor and untie, sell their catch to individuals as well as restaurants and watched people consume their wares. We had brought a packed lunch as advised and had a cooked breakfast after feeding so were neither hungry nor in need of sustenance but had to succumb to a portion of chips but accompanied by a very healthy coleslaw with poppy seeds (which stayed stuck in my teeth for the rest of the day!)

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We returned to the office to find a throng of people instead of the 2 staff we had encountered previously. The boats boasted both a cover and limited numbers as their USPs, this boat only had 24 seats but also some outside space with a couple of benches; there must have been over 50 bodies milling around. Fortunately there were 2 more vesels berthed round the corner so we set off with our allotted numbers, a skipper, Mike and a marine biologist, Rachel.

IMAG1600We headed along the breakwater for what seemed like ages but enabled us to see seals and a sea eagle sat upon one of the light-markers with, presumably her, very messy but huge nest occupying the top of the one adjacent. We were warned that the boat didn’t slow down for seals or porpoises, we were on a whale hunt! These mammals are not tagged so they do have to be found each day and can travel at around 30km/hour if inclined. As the boats hadn’t been out in the morning there was little known about their location that afternoon although there had been reported sightings about 100km south but they were travelling away from us. The trip is advertised as 3-5 hours depending on requirements and no guarantee of seeing the whales but a further free trip if disappointed.

We set of south across the Salish Sea between mainland Vancouver and its namesake island. All the boats from all the companies on these hunts stay in contact to enable as many people as possible to have a positive outcome so we could see the other craft fanning out to our left and right or port and starboard. Our whale hunt was very different from the whale hunting of the past, we just wanted to revel in seeing these magnificent animals, hoping that we were doing them no harm in the process. They are protected and until recently boats were not allowed within 100 metres of them, this has now been extended to 200m but I’m not sure the whales know this!

Roger and I and another couple re-located to the outside deck where we enjoyed frequent drenchings as the boat sped across the fairly choppy water but it was worth it, once we donned fleeces and waterproofs. We scanned the horizon for the tell-tale fins, much like porpoises but bigger. After a good hour Rachel came to tell us that some had been sighted another hour further south so we’d be heading there. We decided to sit back inside for a while as our observation skills were not as necessary as we’d thought, yet. We tore through the archipelago off Vancouver Island, admiring a range of fabulous looking holiday homes nestling on the tree covered cliffs and banks in the glorious sunshine.

IMAG161345 minutes after our one hour warning I suggested to Roger that we climb up to the rather small top deck where we could squat at the front before it got too busy and crowded. We hadn’t been there more than 5 minutes when the couple from the back deck on the other side gave a shout. There they were, orcas off the starboard bow!

IMAG1616Mike approached carefully and we were delighted to see a pod of Mum, 2 bigger juveniles and a smaller one just playing around in the water. They didn’t seem to have much purpose, Rachel said that they might have been chasing a seal underwater but almost seem too random in their movements even for that. As we were the spotting boat we were able to delight in this viewing on our own for well over half an hour before the other boats, who Mike had informed, turned up.

IMAG1618Orcas or Killer Whales as they are commonly known, can stay underwater for up to 2 minutes but that can stress their bodies so it tends to be less than that. They seemed to be toying with us at times as they were all over the surface and then would disappear for what seemed like more than 2 minutes before resurfacing in another direction. Mostly they just arced out the water and back down again but often long enough to see their white markings. On 2 superb occasions one decided to rear up vertically out the sea before sinking back down quite gracefully. As they are hunters they tend to move quite stealthily and even when playing, do not make much of a splash.


IMAG1614I didn’t get any particularly good photos as they are actually quite quick so by the time I’ve pressed to take and the camera has actually taken the image they are disappearing back beneath the waves. Also, I wanted to watch them with my eyes, not through a lens, there are fantastic pictures available on any related website so these photos are just to show our orcas. If any had been clear enough to see the grey marking on their back, just behind the dorsal fin, then we would have been able to identify which ones they were as that is very individual, like a finger print. Rachel was delighted with our display as she says that often they are just dozing or even sleeping so all that is visible is a static fin.

IMAG1621A Vancouver Island car ferry seemed to divert their attention, as they did all the passengers. They came out of their sheltered bay and started to follow in its wake. We were being joined by a variety of other small viewing vessels and we all pursued them along channels between some of the smaller islands, past Orcas Bay actually. They seemed to have a bit more purpose now and even though the ferry docked they continued on a specific route rather than just enjoy the playing around we’d witnessed initially. We had been so fortunate to see that period.

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IMAG1630Finally, after about an hour, they were surfacing less and we’d backed off to allow other craft a better view, but none as good as ours had been, so it was decided we would leave them. We still, had an hour and half journey back which was beautiful in the lowering sunshine. It had actually been a lovely boat trip alone never mind the added spectacle of the whales. This may have been why some people didn’t appear to even leave the cabin!! The wind had dropped and the sea was so much calmer in places that we spotted many seals popping their heads up to have a peruse before almost somersaulting back to the depths. The poor, ‘uninteresting’ porpoises accompanied us for stretches, their relatively tiny dorsal fins paling in comparison with even the baby orca, not evening warranting a photograph on this occasion. What a fabulous day from an inauspicious start and even before that, a chance meeting and throw-away comment. Thanks for the recommendation Reme.

21. Wine Festival

This ranch sits in the middle of the Campbell Valley wine route (tributary of the Fraser). We had spotted the local vineyards on various trips out, there seemed to be one located on each road travelling away from our temporary abode. We had enjoyed tasting some of the products at the farmers market we had attended previously with Johanna from next door and at that time had been informed of the festival being held at Township7. It was an afternoon event of wine tasting and live music, bring your own picnic, what’s not to like?

IMAG1586Checking it out on the map we determined that it wasn’t too far so we could definitely cycle. That would mean that we couldn’t take much of a picnic but with the event being held between 12 and 4pm, we wouldn’t need much to eat after a late brunch. We invited Johanna who was pleased to come but didn’t have access to a bike so we decided to walk. This wasn’t a problem in itself, it was just that I had discovered, in the meantime, that this was a combined event between the 4 local vineyards. Being on foot meant that we would not be able to visit all of them, getting our ‘passport’ stamped and entering us into a prize draw, heyho. We did, however, manage to determine a route which would include Chaberton Winery en route to our initial choice of Township7.

We had a lovely stroll along the 4th Avenue Trail we had taken on our earlier bike ride to the park. At one point our conversation was drowned out by the noise from an aircraft overhead. We are under the flight path to and from Vancouver but this seemed particularly low and huge, not sure what though.IMAG1584

Johanna is a very interesting individual, being Finnish/Ukrainian on her Mother’s side and English/Scottish/German on her Father’s. Born in Hong Kong, where her parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses missionaries, something she rejected at a young age. She is married to a Honduran who unfortunately had to be deported. She is a ‘wellness’ coach and trying to launch a book helping people find health through diet and has a particular leaning towards naturally fermented food, especially yeast which must include wine and beer?! She has lead an interesting life and regaled us with all sorts of tales and on the way back took us through her property next door. She is the administrative caretaker of this huge piece of land which has been left unattended for some time and has become a bit like parkland in itself. Plenty of work there to organise its rejuvenation, in between writing. I suggested goats!

The first vineyard offered a lovely selection of wines to taste and buy (but we didn’t want to be carrying bottles). These were accompanied by lemon custard tarts which Roger was able to enjoy in duplicate. A chap was playing a selection of easy-listening numbers on an acoustic guitar, under a gazebo in the middle of the lawn, surrounded by picnic tables, a very convivial scene for a Sunday afternoon. We soon left though to achieve our primary objective of the next vineyard.

IMAG1589Township 7 was much smaller, more intimate and we arrived just as The Shackletons, a rockabilly duo (one of the reasons for choosing it) finished their first set. On voicing my concern that we’d missed them I was reassured by the double bass player and lead vocalist that they’d be back on again shortly, in a less than Canadian accent. He is from Scarborough and studied music at Leeds! They performed off and on for the rest of the afternoon, an interesting eclectic mix of British and American soft rock with some country thrown in. He came over to chat with us during his next break and had just bought his first property in Canada after being her for 10 years.

The wine we tried was delicious, as was their own sangria but we felt that we shouldn’t adulterate the red on this occasion. We bought a lovely bottle of Sauvignon blanc and settle down to enjoy the music, our picnic, the nibbles provided, the sunshine and ambience literally amongst the vines. Johanna had brought tinned oysters and pickled/fermented garlic along with some delicious apples off one of the trees on ‘her’ land. Perhaps her professional recommendations may not be too boring.IMAG1587

We were quite disappointed when everyone started to pack up and leave but were very interested in seeing Johanna’s property next door but a world away. This ranch is surrounded by tall trees so we see nothing outside, something Gaylene is looking forward to at her new ranch which is much more open. There is even a significant rise at the bottom of this next door plot, not quite a hill, whilst this property is completely flat. We are going to go back for a tour of the woods/arboretum soon.

7. 2nd day off (in 9 days!)

Gaylene told us we could have Saturday off and that we should go to Fort Langley. They (she and Brian) would be leaving early that morning and so could give us a lift to the bus station or FL itself as they were going to pick up 2 previous workawayers from the bus station and take them to Chilliwack show. We would need to be ready at 8.30 after doing the morning feeding (on our day off?!). We set the alarm for 7am, instead of the usual 7.30 on a work day and got up after an interrupted night when we’d been disturbed by a strange noise, rain! the first since we’d arrived in British Columbia. I also woke to the lovely news of the birth of my great niece, Maggie. The feeding was finished just after 8 but there was little sign of activity from the main house so we gathered our stuff together and hung around the cabin, keeping an eye on the vehicles.

At 8.25 we ambled out onto the drive and talked to Doc whilst waiting for them. Brian came out and got into the mustang. He started to drive past us but stopped and unwound the window. Were we about to go walkabout? He’d spotted the backpacks. We informed him that we were waiting for them to give us a lift as they went to collect people from the bus station. He seemed surprised as he was going to pick up his truck, the people were catching the bus to Chilliwack and they weren’t going until the afternoon anyway! He, very obligingly, offered to take us anyway as he didn’t have anything else to do. I struggled into the back seat behind Brian, who is a big bloke, but couldn’t manage to insert both feet so my right stayed on the other side whilst Roger squeezed in the remaining space and Arnaud, the youngest, fittest and skinniest of us all, but was lagging behind, sat in the front. I don’t think these cars are designed for 4 people never mind 4 adults.

The drive to Fort Langley is quite direct so it wasn’t long before we were rolling along the main street looking for a suitable dropping off point. At 8.45 there was little open, although we did notice that the farmers market was setting up. We extracted ourselves from the car and crossed to the information kiosk but were too early even for them. It didn’t actually open all day which seemed a little strange for a Saturday in summer. We had hoped to obtain some information about our return journey as we didn’t expect to be picked up, we didn’t know what time we’d want to leave and the others were going to the show anyway. I still had the number of the taxi driver who’d taken us from the bus depot so we weren’t too concerned.

IMAG1338We ambled down towards the river and bought ourselves a coffee whilst we decided what to do. A movement caught my eye and I spotted a huming bird in the flowers opposite. I thought I’d seen one previously but they are so fast it can be difficult to be sure. See if you can spot it, this isn’t just a photo of a pretty plant. A railway line ran through that end of town with unmanned crossings. The first train looked suspiciously like The Rocky Mountaineer, the trans Canada scenic passenger train running from Vancouver to Toronto, taking 3 days. There were definitely some glass domed tops to some of the carriages. The next train was one of those interminably long ones, common in the USA but presumably, popular here for the same reasons. I counted 72 carriages on the next goods train and Roger spotted ‘Union Pacific’ on a subsequent one. Arnaud exclaimed that he couldn’t possibly live here with all these trains going past so frequently although, by the end of the day we barely noticed them. The historic and recently restored station seemed popular with bridal parties for their post-nuptial photos. It seemed slightly absurd, watching these shenanigans, to think that many stations in the UK are older than this and still fully functioning, not museums. We do take our history for granted.

IMAG1341IMAG1340By this time the farmers market was due to be opening as it was nearly 10am. As we walked back up the main street we were inadvertently entertained by a dog training class occupying the whole of the other pavement. The poor pooch second from the right was the class dunce who had been unfortunate enough but probably deliberately located next to teacher’s pet (haha!).IMAG1345 As we approached the church, holding the market in the car park, we were entertained by a string quintet who seemed to have expanded to a septet by the time we left. The market was quite a small affair and I did resist the wine tasting at this early hour, much to Roger’s surprise. The only stall which really captured my interest was one selling a remedy to make us less attractive to mosquitoes! I felt sure that if this really was the answer then they would be millionaires by now and malaria would be eradicated but hadn’t heard that this was the case. However, having been eaten alive the previous day, first time since Alberta but I’d been weeding in a dark damp area between the house and the hedge and knew it would happen. So belatedly, I tried a sample of the mouth wash which was reputed to make me smell like a plant they don’t like, same principle as garlic presumably.

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We wandered back towards the river, crossed the bridge and found a walking trail through the woods on the other side, this would test my mossie repellent. The weather was rather grey so the Fraser river didn’t look particularly attractive. It is tidal, so whilst not contaminated, it was muddy dirty. The scenes from the view point were not that great, we didn’t even bother to go along to look at one, felt guilty so turned off to the next one to be met with a barricade of bushes! I think the main attraction of this town are the pretty buildings, nice shops and lots of cafes and restaurants, not its location.

Viewpoint!!

Viewpoint!!

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We dropped into the pub on the river and enjoyed starter portions of poutine, which was more than enough as a main course, accompanied by Mike’s hard lemonade (which is basically an alco-pop but less sweet and more refreshing) and caught the last set of the ladies double final at Wimbledon. We asked our friendly waitress about public transport which seemed to be distinctly lacking. One thing I have noticed to be contrary to UK customs but apparently the norm here is that waiting staff clear away your plate as soon as you’ve finished. There is no waiting for the last person to put their cutlery down. Perhaps this is something we can adopt in France to counter the slow eaters when we are waiting to finish the meal and leave.

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We made our way to the one bus stop we’d observed but there were no details of times. As we stood around indecisively a bus actually pulled up and appeared to consider it strange that these people stood at the bus stop didn’t actually want a bus. She was able to inform us that they were every hour though. We still weren’t sure about it as it would take us into Langley where there would still be a $30 taxi ride back to the ranch. Indecision reigns when people are in groups with relative strangers and each trying to be polite. We still had the taxi driver number though.

We ambled over to the other ‘historic’ part of town, home of the ‘Fort’ to find it predominantly a children’s centre. I had read about the Fort to Fort trail and thought that it might prove pleasant enough. When I enquired at the reception desk I discovered that it didn’t start at the Fort, silly me, but at the pub where we’d had lunch not long ago. As we emerged from the building the heavens opened so that was the end of that idea. It would only have been along the other bank of the river we’d walked that morning, taking us from the site of the new fort to that of the old so we didn’t miss much.

Our next task was to find a payphone as none of our mobiles were connected to the unfriendly Canadian networks. Roger felt that the bookshop and cafe looked a likely place and on asking if there was one available, was given the shop landline which he promptly handed to me! There was no reply from our friendly taxi driver! At least we could now fall back on the bus service. The shop owner (we presume) enquired about our success and on describing our lack thereof took it upon herself to book us a taxi and insisted we enjoy a coffee whilst waiting (she is a big fan of York) refusing any payment when our cab arrived.

Our taxi driver was an Afghan which could have proved delicate but he was a lovely bloke, we even got onto the subject of the ruin of his country after we’d discussed the effect of the Greek crisis in the EU and whether the EU as a process, works or not. All this in his 5th language of English in which he likes to debate as it challenges his vocabulary . What was he doing driving a taxi for 20 years in Canada! We were greeted back at the ranch by a concerned Gaylene who, earlier, had found nails in some felt on the ground in Angel’s paddock. Roger was tasked with using the metal detector (just a massive magnet) to find any others urgently even though we were back sooner than she expected. At least it meant we’d be able to do the evening feed!

5. Chilliwack Show

Everyone is off to Chilliwack, except us, although the plan is for us to go on Sunday. This is a big reining show as it is a major city in BC, although we’d never heard of it until the bus stopped there. We are really looking forward to seeing the real macoy.

Lacota

Lacota

Lacota and Bling will be ridden, Esha has gone as their groom/nanny and Gaylene and Ben will be in the saddle. Esha gave Bling a bit of a work out the other evening when it was as hot and dusty as the arena photo illustrates. She is Lacota’s daughter and said to have the same lovely nature which may be true, she’s lovely, but I’not so sure about him. Probably safest with a wall in between. He’s a stallion so I suppose that makes the difference. I was amazed to see Esha shave Bling’s whiskers in preparation, this is in addition to plaiting their manes and tails and wrapping their lower legs which did make them look pretty but I’m not sure about the shaving.IMAG1327

Bling

Bling

IMAG1315The girls have also left, the two friends departed yesterday and Maddison left this morning with her horses. I think Snickers will miss them although she hasn’t worked as hard in a long time. Sammy has abandoned us as well, at least we think he has gone with Ben, otherwise we’ve lost him! It is usually Bella who leads him astray but she has been confined to barracks with us and is heartily fed up with that outcome.

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Sammy in his usual pose!

So we are responsible for these valuable creatures which have been left behind, particularly Angel who doesn’t know her importance yet. Rather unkindly, I had thought what an unfortunate face she had when first emerging from the trailer. There is something not so attractive about the pale eyes in the pale face but apparently this is what makes her so valuable and her long lanky legs which will suit Gaylene. Her lovely nature won me over quite quickly though. I think Meg knows the significance of her responsibility and stands guard over her charge most of the time, apart from this morning when I went to feed them and couldn’t find the baby! She potentially could be a kidnap target but hopefully not and certainly not on our watch. She was hiding behind the shed so it transpired.

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IMAG1326Rocker and Dunner are two retired show horses and now make a lovely couple with Tinkerbell playing gooseberry. Poor Rocker obtained a tail infection which has made most of it fall off, she just has a little tufty stump remaining but is still beautiful. Tinkerbell would much rather be in the paddock with Snickers and Joey, the other minis, as she’d be able to boss them about. Joey, the littlest with the stunted legs which can only go at 50 miles an hour (but need to in order to keep up with everyone) might not take lightly to her though as he always appears to need to compensate for his diminutive stature by taking on the big boys, including the geldings Rio, another lovely show horse and Dunner!

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Dunner, Rocker and Rio with Tinkerbell leading and Joey trying to keep up!

IMAG1332My first job this morning was to hoover the pool after having scrubbed it yesterday, its a hard job but someone has to do it. I was a bit concerned that I had messed up when all the water turned a pale milky colour. It seemed as though I was just scrubbing the paint off so I was keeping my fingers crossed that it would all settle over night and appears have done so reasonably. It was quite amusing to become ‘the pool guy’, a bit character of so many American films. I now know why they appeared to work at a snail’s pace, I always assumed it was too hot to be fast but actually you have to move the vacuum quite slowly, both due to the water resistance but also so you don’t miss too much and have to go over it again. I’d saved the job for early morning, before the pool area became too hot, but we’ve now settled to a very comfortable 24 degrees with some haze reducing the sun’s burn.

IMAG1335Next I tidied up the pergola, trimming the budding vines and honeysuckle. Its a pity we wont be around to enjoy the fruits but can benefit from those of my labour now that the chairs are accessible and clean. I should have taken a before photo to show how overgrown it was.

10. Fire?

When I woke this morning it appeared overcast, as it has on other mornings. I staggered out to the toilet and was met with an unusual, although not unpleasant, smell; it seemed rather familiar but I struggled to place it. I could identify something resembling eucalyptus but I was on the wrong continent. Perhaps it was euthanol which, dredging my aromatherapy memory banks, I vaguely recollected was in some pine oils as well so thought no more of it. Bailey arrived at her normal time and informed us that a forest fire in Jasper, 40km away, was in full flow. What we could smell and the accompanying ‘mist’ was from that. Ray explained that this was the fire which had started a few days ago, probably from when we were subjected to a thunder storm which didn’t actually get all that close to us here. The wind had changed direction overnight so it was blowing towards us, not that we were in any danger. The fire wasn’t actually in Jasper park but the south end of Willmore Wilderness Park, ours, the other end of which we had been in at Eaton Falls, 3 days ago.

The destructive power of fire makes it one of the most high risk occurrences around. In normal circumstances the probability is so low, even though the potential severity of injury is maximal, that we can almost disregard the risk on a daily basis, provided sensible precautions have been taken. In this environment, fires are natural, some would argue necessary. Permits have to be obtained for anything beyond a camp-fire. I’m not clear yet what actually defines this. These assessments take into account the dryness of the area, (very dry at present) the current and immediate weather forecast which usually relates to wind strength but also includes the human factor. If all the fire-fighters are engaged in other parts of the state or even locally but busy, then permits will not be issued. There is an aged argument to say that fire is a natural part of the countryside evolution and can be constructive after complete destruction. Even the Native Americans used to purposely start fires to clear areas both for regeneration but also to establish pastures. Ray can remember clear areas which have been completely and spontaneously forested in his lifetime (and he isn’t that old!) Fires have to be put out now to protect property (and life but the warning systems are pretty comprehensive). It seems incongruous to think that the apparently totally natural environment of acres and acres of tree strewn hillside are the work of man’s interference. This does take some getting your head round. In the meantime it is far enough away for us to not worry.

Our tasks for today included sawing up a tree which fell over in the winds of 2 days ago whilst Ray watched on dismayed. It broke 2 fences but no animals were hurt. It needed to be cut up to get out of the chorale (still not sure of the correct spelling!). IMAG1021These logs can then be added to the massive piles of wood around the ranch which will be used for heating but none of which has been obtained deliberately. Using the chainsaw in this chorale assisted us with one of our designated tasks, to desensitise Arizona and Pebbles. They are Shiny’s babies from the past 2 years and need to become accustomed to people and being handled. Can’t beat a chainsaw for that then! Whenever it was switched off they mustered some courage to come over, very tentatively, to speak to us before charging away when the motor started up again. Arizona is the year older and braver but Pebbles is quite calm in her shadow.IMAG1022

I have started sorting out the floor of the 2nd cabin, I swept away the season’s debris a few days ago and was ready to wash it today in preparation for its first coat of varnish. However on entering it I was met with a mass of bodies of ‘lemmings over a cliff’ proportions. I don’t know if it was the hot weather or the wind but there were almost more than I’d swept up initially. They enter through the open doorway and are then attracted to the light provided by the white tarpaulin roof which is brighter than the doorway so never find their way out again. When I was treating the floor in the previous cabin the continual bumping and clipping onto the ceiling sounded like the incessant pitter patter of rain. It was only when I emerged outside I found that it actually was raining, it sounded little different today so I had to keep checking the skies. Whilst I’m not upset to witness the demise of some of the less savoury characters it is very sad to find the dead butterflies. The only slight consolation is to be able to observe their stunning colours and markings close up.IMAG1020IMAG1019

Between weed-killing and log-sawing we managed a significant amount of weed-whacking (strimming). I was in 2 minds whether to resist my natural urge to try to preserve some of the wild flower clumps or risk looking like I’d only carried out half a job. Fortunately Brenda is of a similar mind to me and was pleased that I hadn’t desecrated the butterfly gardens. Our efforts were further endorsed by the collapse of the strimmer which gave up after a mere 3 refuels and 4 hours of continual use.

This afternoon we took a couple of mounts into the arena again. I chose Sonny, a mustang from southern USA, who had led the trail the other day. I hadn’t realised that he was unused to schooling, pretty much as I was, but we muddled through between us and were reasonably respectable although I was relieved that Roger and Bailey were the only witnesses to my incompetence. He needed the exercise! Roger rode Meg, when she eventually deigned to be caught! She was giving me the brush off for quite sometime, staying tantalisingly out of reach until finally taking pity on me and allowing me to put on the halter…until I realised that I’d picked up one of the baby’s which was far too small. With a huge sigh and a significant amount of long-suffering she allowed me to keep hold of her whilst Roger collected the appropriate article. She had been a show reining horse so had been very highly trained. Roger revelled in her responsiveness, having been more used to bored and reluctant school ponies. It wasn’t long before he had her cantering/loping around the arena. I tried to show Sonny what he could do but as he kept getting spooked by the poo bucket and shadows thrown by the sunlight under the main door each time we passed them, we weren’t quite in the same league although we did manage a couple of spurts.

9. Collecting hay

We left before 8am with the big flat bed trailer hooked up to Ray’s truck on a 2 hour trip to Grande Prairie, the regional capital, to collect a load of hay. Ray had told us that he needed help as there was no power or mechanisation at the barn. It was another beautiful day with the sun streaming across the wooded hill tops. We passed through Cache and beyond the turning to Sulphur Gates into new territory for us. We had previously observed a strange looking mountain face in the distance but were now driving right past a massive open cast mine on one side of the road with all the works on the other including the power station and also some deep shafts as well. This massive scar on the landscape is one of the main industries in the area. Combined with the much more discrete oil and gas wells they serve to make Alberta the most affluent state in Canada. Coupled with the lowest provincial tax on top of the national tax, the residents enjoy some of the highest standards of living in this country. They also have some of the best scenery!

Although we were quite early it appeared to be after breakfast for the wildlife, reflected by the lack of feeding on the grass verges. In fact, we actually saw some workmen! Along a fairly long stretch of the road a pipeline was clearly visible in the ditch. This transpired to be the water for the ever-contentious fracking processes. Even here, where it is fairly well established, there is still a lot of controversy. It has been banned in Nova Scotia so many of their workers have moved to Grande Prairie which has been renamed the capital of NS. Apparently the demand for the replacement water is playing havoc with water supplies as well as disrupting the water table. However, with a large proportion of people working in the power industry, including Rory, it is a very hot topic of conversation and one in which we are not in a position to voice an opinion, just ask questions.

Away from the scar of the mine the scenery returned to the green hills along the side of the Smokey River. The hills gradually diminish in height as we head north on what is deemed to be the scenic route to Alaska for Americans in their massive recreation vehicles. These are, consistently, the size of a bus or coach, frequently trailing a salon car or Jeep. Despite their size, no additional HGV type of license is required, unless they have air brakes, many don’t. Despite the overall lack of wildlife I do spot a large animal grazing the lower leaves of the roadside trees; definitely deer-like but larger and darker brown. Ray told us it was probably an Elk! We are doing very well in clocking up our sightings of Canada’s indigenous wildlife, just a few more of the rarer, less welcome to go.

We pulled into a lot on the south side of town and met Don who has the precious hay. He lead us to his barn and despite Ray expertly backing up the truck and trailer (he used to haul logs in winter) there was still a distance to throw the bales from the barn. Roger and Don starting chucking these 85lb lumps onto the trailer, I’d drag them to the end where Ray would stack them. We didn’t start until gone 10am and the sun beat down on us all through the process. IMAG1014Within the foetid air of the barn even Roger had started to turn rather pink and sweaty. Don, considerably older, took frequent brakes but the work rate was quite high for the conditions. I soon became an encumbrance as the load was progressing towards the rear of the trailer and therefore there was little need for me to drag. I benefited from the lull, Ray and Don were able to use a technique honed from years of experience but poor Roger had all the work to do, including extracting his leg from its intermittent disappearance down holes between bales. Eventually the load was complete. It took a while to tether down adequately and made me wonder at how secure are these very high loads of hay that you see on the roads but Ray wasn’t going to take any risks. After several counts and some negotiation it was determined that 173 bales had been taken and a price agreed. That should last about 2 weeks! Despite Don’s assertion that rain was on its way, given that there were some dark clouds to the north, the whole job was undertaken in blazing sun for 2 hours! Just slightly dehydrated then.IMAG1015

Ray pulled in to a lovely little rest area on the way back to check the ropes. There was a man made lake from digging out the soil to shore up the banks at the side of the road, I forget what he called it but they are quite common. I took the opportunity to use the rest rooms and had my first experience of using a bullet ridden toilet! I can assure you that a metal door offers much more protection than bricks and mortar! I can only assume that the shooter was at the very beginning of their career if they chose a huge immobile target. Guns are common place here; there is a rifle in our boiler cupboard and the ammo is on top of the fridge! I was more than a little surprised and distressed to hear that you can get ‘tickets’ to shoot sheep here! That seemed very unfair and as easy as firing at a public toilet. I explained to our hosts that sheep were a commercial flock and shooting one would not only be extremely cruel but it wouldn’t give one any kudos on the hunter scale. Sheep here are very different. They are wild and elusive, staying out of the way of humans up in the mountains. They are not much bigger than ours but much more wily and have huge curled horns, hence the name ‘big horns’. I doubt we will see any of these (and hope no-one else does).

We limp back into the yard after a very bumpy ride back with a 10 thousand pound (weight) load on the suspension. All that’s left to do is unload it! Fortunately Ray has his loader/conveyor belt ready to take the bales from the truck to the hayloft. IMAG1016Despite mechanisation this process took nearly as long as the loading but only because it works at a fairly slow speed so the effort expended is considerably less with that pace but the heat us not dissimilar as there is still a lack of air in the loft. Lots to drink afterwards is required to rehydrate again, there hasn’t been much need of the waterproofs so far.