Threshing Machine – Circles


Dotted across the Canadian prairie landscape are these metal and wood behemoths.  Skulking through oceans of ripening crops they echo the silhouettes of dinosaurs returning to dust.

‘The Farm’ is no exception.  This threshing machine was last used in the ’70s.  Dad spent a summer restoring her.  In the fall, when the oats had ripened, he invited most of the family and peers from the neighbouring quarter sections to witness her performing the purpose for which she was created.

The oats were cut with an antique sheather and stooked.  The community then gathered.  Everyone had the opportunity to toss the stooks into the thresher, bag the threshed oats, or push the straw to the bailer.  It was a journey into the past, especially when the threshing was all done, the meal was consumed, and the old men sipped dark rum and coke, telling stories of ‘remember when.’  I’ve never experienced such a feeling of community and comradery, before or since.  It was a splendid day of winnowed chaff settling on all those present and words collected in the hearts and memories of those longing for simpler times when work showed a tangible result and God’s providence.

These pictures were taken at the time.  (They were taken with a little Kodak instamatic camera almost forty years ago, I’ve tweaked them as best possible)

14 Fear not, you worm Jacob,
you men of Israel!
I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord;
your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
15 Behold, I make of you a threshing sledge,
new, sharp, and having teeth;
you shall thresh the mountains and crush them,
and you shall make the hills like chaff;
16 you shall winnow them, and the wind shall carry them away,
and the tempest shall scatter them.
And you shall rejoice in the Lord;
in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.  Isaiah 41:14-16

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Red Pine Row


“To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.”  Hellen Keller

When children reached grade six in Northwestern Ontario, at least when I, and at least two of my younger siblings, you went on a field trip to a recently clear-cut forest and planted pine seedlings.  Typically they were red pines.  We spent the day in pairs, one with a shovel to make a T-shaped hole in the earth.  First the supporting line of the T is made.  Then the top, keeping the shovel in the earth, levering it so the base of the T gapes open.  The second person would then insert the seeding and when the shovel was removed the earth would close up on the roots of the inserted tree.  Easy!  Efficient too, years later I have driven past the area that my class had planted over 40 years ago and the trees are strong and tall.

In subsequent years the students’  ‘payment’ for their efforts at reforestation on behalf of the local pulp and paper mill,  would be up to a dozen seedlings.  My oldest sister planted hers at the lake front property.  My youngest sister’s were planted in a line west of the family home to act as a wind break in winter and shade from the setting sun in summer.

A perfect choice because red pines are self pruning.  Dead branches fall from the trunks, so a walk through a red pine forest is a journey through branchless, straight, gradually greying trunks on a thick carpet of long needles beneath a canopy of wind whispering branches, the air perfumed with a clean pitch smell.  Perfect peace.

The needles grow in pairs. As kids we would carefully remove one and then insert the tip of the remaining needle into the void creating teardrop shapes that could be linked into long chains.  Of course this resulted in competitions of who could create the longest.

We would also collect the barely opened cones and shake out the little seeds, removing the small, wing that enables them to whirl to the ground.  We would chew on them, savouring the piney bite that we claimed was breath freshener, even though it was not the most delicious taste in the world.  Squirrels did, so why not?!

Red pines bring to memory soft sighing of summer breezes, rough bark, sticky new cones and God’s delicate symmetry in old ones.  The latter hold the memories of gold and silver spray paint, highlighting open scales, and placed in church floral arrangements for Advent and Christmas.  Take a deep breath, draw the pine scented memory in, be still, rest in God.

19  I will plant in the wilderness the cedar,
the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive.
I will set in the desert the cypress,
the plane and the pine together,
20 that they may see and know,
may consider and understand together,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it.  Isaiah 41:19-20

Bringing in the Sheaves, hay?


Psalm 126:4-6 (MSG)

 4-6 And now, God, do it again—
bring rains to our drought-stricken lives
So those who planted their crops in despair
will shout hurrahs at the harvest,
So those who went off with heavy hearts
will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.
Summer at home brings time to cut, bale and collect the hay.  It was a dry summer, the fields were thirsty, the grasses, clovers and alfalfa were sparse.  Once the fields were done GH concluded he would have to buy 30 plus bales as they only managed half of last year’s harvest.  It’ll be tough winter for him.  He owns the quarter section east of that owned by my parents.  On it he runs a specialty farm, raising elk, bison, and some small deer of some type.  I am unsure of the status of the latter, I heard the wolves enjoyed some last winter.
The well at the bottom of the hill west of the house evokes childhood memories.  It was the western boundary of our hair tangled wild run of endless summer days.  Beyond it was the creek, dangerous, reed choked, muck sucking, dank and smelling of sharp decay.  “Don’t you kids DARE go past that well.  If you end up in the creek you will drown and we will never find you!”  The words were tinged with terror and panic born of a previous experience.
I was four, or so.  Mom and Dad thought I was outside, playing with my sister, 18 months younger.  Dad noticed she was alone, playing in the sand.  “Where’s B?” he asked.  In her clipped, lisp she answered, “I don’ know.  I don’ know,” small shoulders lifting and falling in a toddler’s shrug.
My parents started searching, everywhere, Mom in the house, Dad outside.  My father, exhausting the out buildings and my favourite haunts, hurried down to the creek and walked the length, pushing aside the thick rushes, peering into the few drying pools of water.  No child.  My mother looked in all the nooks and crannies of the 1930’s house – under the beds, in the closets, the basement, bathrooms…  No child.  Panic mode, grandparents living on the quarter section to the south were called.  A couple days earlier, mom had taken us to visit dad at the wood lot, bringing him lunch.  Did I go there?  Dad and grandpa drove up there to check.  No child.  Mom did a second, thoroughly deliberate check of the house.  In our room was a crib that my father had made.  The head board and foot boards were solid, extending all the way to the floor.  Mom found me there, fast asleep curled up in the furthest corner so that when she glanced under it the first time, she didn’t look far enough around the foot board to see me.  All I remember of the incident was the disappointment I felt when I discovered I had missed The Friendly Giant!

Moving the bales together while the truck is delivering the first load.  The hay is in for the year.  The fields look so pastoral when they are all cut and cleaned up.

Loading the truck

My sister delivering the first load.

At Home – familiar images


“Almost all wild apples are handsome. They cannot be too gnarly and crabbed and rusty to look at. The gnarliest will have some redeeming traits even to the eye.” — Henry David Thoreau, Wild Apples

“Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the number of apples in a seed.” — Robert H. Schuller

Mom and Dad have a lovely little apple tree in the front yard.  Spring arrives with the wonder “Is this the year it will produce apples?”  The seasons’ progress can bring any number of events that sabotage the fall harvest.  Frost on the blossoms, the late arrival of pollinators, not enough, or too much rain, or sun, insects, birds, hail, wind, bears, deer, early frost.  Late July the tree was laden, Dad was considering  it time to get the electric fence up to discourage the bears and deer from consuming the ripening fruit.  (He wires it directly into the overhead hydro supply to the house…)  Three days later it proved to be unnecessary.  A huge storm rolled through, one of the most intense I have ever experienced while in the home of my childhood.  More about that in a forthcoming blog.  The next morning arrived with most of the apples resting, soft green globes in emerald grass.  My sister collected them.  She and Mom pealed and cored and baked an Apple Betty (Crumble) out of them.  The fruit was not nearly mature enough, the finished dessert presented leathery fruit, cinnamon flavoured, blanketed between buttery oatmeal and brown sugar.  A valiant attempt to put the fallen fruit to good purpose.  We all tried a portion, but most was still waiting in the pan when we left a three days later.  Maybe next year?

Proverbs 25:11
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.

Going Home


We arrived in Kenora, Ont. on the 7th day of our holidays.  It is so good to come home.  It was hot.  The neighbours were in the fields, cutting, raking and baling the hay.  The smell was glorious.  So many memories of pushing, rolling, and as we got older, throwing those square 80+ pound bales into stooks or onto the back of the half ton truck.  Once you reached the appropriate age you learned how to drive.  I can at least boast I can drive stick, really well.

One of the first places we went to was the lake property.  So beautiful.  The water was still quite high, even though it was the end of July.  Returning we were blessed with the fabulous view of the homestead.  So welcoming.  It is good to be home.  Can’t say it enough.

Psalm 126:6
He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.