Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Watermelon and Some Dairy Cows

There is a farm on my way to and from work that I drool over almost every time I pass it.

From and artistic perspective.

There are dairy cows and calves in a lovely little rolling pasture with a greying wooden hip-roofed barn and hay and straw bales surrounding it. The pasture is bordered on 3 of the 4 sides by large maple trees and has 2 or 3 large maple trees in it. The pasture backs up to a lovely old clapboard house with a small bunch of flowers behind it and between it and the pasture. There are a couple of old pieces of machinery that the hens wander through. The little calves are just so sweet and darling.

It all begs to be photographed and painted in some way. I want to take photos of everything and hoard them until I can figure out the best way to make that place come to life in some artistic way.

The light is perfect in that pasture at every time of day. In the morning it comes from the front but at an angle. All through the middle of the day it is overhead but still at a slight angle and in the late after noon it comes from the back and a bit off to the side. It hits those black and white cows and highlights every dip and bulge on them. The blacks have blues in them and the whites are golden. The light bounces off of the small rolling bumps in the closely cropped pasture and there are always shadows that show the depth of the land. The trees in the pasture cast lovely shadows on the ground and on the cattle. There is always side lighting. Even the back lighting in the evening is side lighting.

It is a golden place to me.

I have never stopped to take photos until this past Wednesday on the way home from work.

The cattle were all grouped up under a tree near the page wire fence line and were lying down to chew their cuds. There were Canada geese spread all out across the rest of the pasture right back to the treelines. The ground was this living moving mass of green and golden mouse brown with little white bums. I had to stop. I stayed back so I didn't alarm anyone and snapped away.

A hay wagon pulled in across the road and a fellow came over to talk to me. He told me to pull my truck in their driveway so that I didn't get it hit on the shoulder of the road and to take as many photos as I wanted. He told me to go in with them if I wanted to. They were quiet and wouldn't mind me. He gave me permission to sit and sketch there anytime I liked. He offered me a pumpkin and when I declined, saying I had some at home, he offered me a watermelon. Which I took him up on completely unable to believe my luck.

I found out he is milking 6 head right now. The rest are pregnant and dry. He just milks them to feed the calves. And then I realised they are veal calves... I was sad for a minute, they are so young and they will have such short lives. And then it hit me. Although they will have short lives they will be good lives. They are living out doors with each other and their mothers and they have freedom and space.

It drove home to me that quality is more important than quantity.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bulloney - or Say Cheese

Mom and Dad have a relatively young bull on the Ranch.

He's quiet. Well pretty quiet. As far as I know he's never made it his life's mission to hurt anyone. Dad is selling him this fall but it isn't because he's hard to deal with from a temperment perspective. It's just a pain in the butt to have a bull around before calving is over in the spring. You can end up with a drastically early calving season the next year if he gets creative and crawls a fence. It's easier to get a bull after calving is over so that you can decided when his fun starts rather than him.

I was taking some pictures of the herd up the hill towards the west of the house. They were all sort of artistically spread out and the light was just nice.

He was up pretty close and watching me pretty close and made his way up through the trees to the water trough near the house.

When he was done with his drink he decided that he wanted to check out my camera. I tell you he is almost as bad and Mom and Dad's youngest horse who is almost impossible to get a decent picture of unless he is on the opposite side of the fence from you. And then you still can't get a good photo because the fence is in the way. That boy wants to be petted so bad that you can't get far enough away from him to even get his entire head in the frame.

And the bull was almost the same. I'd squat down to take his picture... to be clear there was a 3-rail fence separating us that I was doing my best to get a photo without it being in...this involved me trying to lean between the two lower rails out into his part of the world... and he'd walk up and put his head down and try and smell the camera...and I would lean back into my part of the world.

I did get some photos of him that I liked from that angle and then I got some more traditional bull photos from the side that showed what kind of bull he is.

My artsy shots are fine for artsy things but to show a bull's confirmation you really need a shot from the side. That will show you how long in the back they are, what kind of legs they have, basically give you a good idea of what kind of calf they might throw.

I climbed through the fence farther away from him so that I could get a shot without the rails obstructing the view. He stood pretty quietly for me while Dad urged me to get a little farther out beside him to get the right angle.

In the back of my mind I was thinking that I was getting pretty far from safety and trying to keep mental track of all the tree branches and holes that were between me and the nearest fence but he really is a quiet bull and he let me finish the photo shoot and then hung around for a few more close-ups afterwards too.

He even let me scratch his head. Once. Just for a second. Until he got a little weirded out by this stranger touching him. Until I decided I'd probably tempted fate long enough and that I didn't need a broken arm or a broken camera and stopped.

We sort of mutually agreed we'd both had enough.

Then I squatted down and took another photo and he came over and tried to smell my camera again.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Cud is the Key

The first thing Mom and I did on our little mini 4-wheeler run was to go up to the far west pasture/hay field and check the cattle.

On the way up I had to stop to take some pictures of a gopher who was kind enough to stand up and chirp at me and pose for several minutes.

Mom came back to find me.

When we got to the gate at the top of the hill we looked out over the pasture and saw not a single cow in sight.

Which is a little odd because it isn't that big of a pasture and although it isn't flat as a pancake at the Ranch, there really isn't anywhere for 28 cows, 27 calves and 1 black angus bull to hide. They had either truly accomplished something spectacular or they had all cut and run. And that would have been a problem.

There is one hill at the far end of the pasture that that many cattle could potentially get behind so we decided to run up along the fence and head for that spot to see if that's where they all were.

We hadn't gotten that far when we looked across the pasture and saw a string of calves hot footing it out from behind the relatively small hill created by the dug out being made. They were apparently all having a drink at the same time from the water trough which is filled by a solar powered water pump. The dugouts in the two cow pastures are fenced to keep the water clean and to keep anybody from falling in and drowning.

I gotta say I never would have thought that close to 60 head of cattle could've been hiding behind that mound of dirt.

But they were indeed there.

The cows and the bull all came out from behind it as well.

They headed over towards us and we met them roughly in the middle and tried to count them to make sure nobody small had slipped through a fence somewhere.

Mom and I both got 29 adults right away. No problem.

But we both seemed to keep getting 25 calves.

The little suckers get behind their mothers, or they move or they lie down behind someone else or they are on the opposite side of there mom nursing and she is blocking them from view. We were on one side of the whole herd so Mom drove into the middle of them to see if that would make it easier to get a look around the mama cows. It didn't really help that much.

We both ended up sort of taking turns standing on the seat of Mom's 4-wheeler and counting over and over and over again. We finally got 27. We counted them up twice to make sure we weren't double counting anyone but as Mom pointed out nobody was bellering like their baby was missing so the amount of counting we'd done was probably overkill.

I took some pictures of the cows.

But I like to get a different angle on them

I like to squat down and shoot up at them. You get a nice little angle on their faces.

When I'm standing up they can be a little wary of me. They are quiet animals, except for 2 of them, but they don't know me from Adam. I keep my mouth closed or speak quietly and I try not to make any shocking moves. They generally just watch me but their on a mild sort of alert. If I were to move to fast they'd probably bolt.

But when I squat down I become a curiousity.

I squatted down with my back to the 4-wheeler that Mom was on. She watched my back in case someone got too excited.

And something really cool happens at that point.

They all take a step towards me rather than away from me. The calves come in close. One, Speckles, came in so close I touched his little nose. While I was doing that Mom said I came close to getting licked by another calf. Even the adult cows come up really close to me. If I was standing they would never dream of coming within arm's length but when I squat down like that they come right up to me.

As I was taking pictures of them I noticed that they were all starting to chew their cud and some of them were even lying down. Definitely not stressed. They have to be pretty relaxed to do that.

I'm not sure what they thought I was but apparently they decided that I wasn't a threat and thankfully the bull stayed back and away and didn't spoil it.

He's pretty quiet too but if he'd've decided to come up and check me out I can tell you that I wouldn't have been just squatting there thinking isn't this cool anymore.

But he stayed out of the picture. His photo shoot had been this morning. So I guess he was happy enough with that.

It's funny. Some cows chew with their mouth open. Guess their mamas never told them it's not polite to do that.

We should've waited and counted once the cud chewing began.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

X-Files on 4-Wheelers

After the train with it's mystery man went by we started up the 4-wheelers and headed for the old campground about a half a mile away. My younger brother and I used to ride our bikes over there in the summer to get fudgsicles and revels for ourselves and then bring an icecream treat home to Mom and Dad as well. We'd pedal as hard and as fast as we could on those old bikes. Banana seats and one speed and to brake you pedalled backwards. I tell you the 4-wheelers were alot faster than our little legs were.

And Mom really gave it when she crossed the highway. I was impressed. I would've waited but she just put her thumb to the handle bars and I had no choice but to give it to. Well I had a choice but if my Mom could do it then I could do it too!

The campground was a wreck. It was sad to see it like that. The windows were all broken and boarded up on the office but there was one that was smashed and hadn't been boarded up. So we went inside the old campgound office to look around and it was so sad to see that the vandals had completely trashed the whole thing.

I used to be such an nice campground and if the government had kept it up it would be amazing now because the trees have grown up. The roads were all paved and alot of the sites had electricity hook-ups. Now it's all overgrown and alot of the paving is getting pretty rotten.

But we did see this mysterious sign before we went into the park that said :

Enter at your own risk.

It wasn't on the main gate. It wasn't in the spot where the vandals cut the fence and go in. It was in it's very own spot.

And then when we came out of the old office we saw a fluorescent orange dotted line painted on the pavement.

"Let's follow that," Mom said.

I nodded and we tracked it down to a spot where it led off into what used to be bush but now had been largely cleared of the trees and had all of these odd orange posts with hinged tops and lengths of orange bailer twine tied to them.

We opened one of the tops. They weren't locked although the top did have a spot where there should have been a padlock to prevent prying eyes. Inside was a PVC tube with a screw cap on it and the bailer twine was attatched to that and the outside of the metal post around it.

Someone had thrown down a pair of surgical gloves beside one of the orange posts.

It was very strange.

We took pictures.

We felt like we were investigating some strange scene.

It was like a TV show or a movie.

It felt like a combination of CSI and the X-Files.

We went back to the paved road and kept following the dotted line out a back road that was no longer paved.

And saw even more of those orange posts.

They were all around the old dump from the campground.

We took more pictures.

When we ran into Dad after our fence fixing later on we told him all about it. I found the pictures on my camera and showed them to him. We told him about the bailer twine. He asked if there was a PVC pipe inside. I showed him that picture. Mom and I wondered if they were natural gas test holes or something like that. Mom told him that they were even out by the old dump.

Dad pointed out that they were probably test holes drilled to make sure that the old dump hadn't contaminated the ground water.

My Dad could beat both Gil Grisolm and Mulder with his eyes closed.

Me, maybe not so much....

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Train Graffiti and Hobos

Went to visiti my Mom and Dad last week in Saskatchewan.

My Mom took me 4-wheeling - it was a check the cows, tour the old campground and check fence sort of trip.

It's funny what can make you smile.

As I was following Mom up our road to where we'd have to cross the rail road tracks and then a highway a train came along. The CP Rail runs along the entire south border of Mom and Dad's ranch.

When I saw the engine coming I thought to myself, "I wonder if the engineer's still wave back at you if you wave at them?"

They always waved at us as kids and sometimes they'd even blow the whistle at us too. The caboose guys always waved too and you ALWAYS got to see them because you had to wait for the caboose to go by in order to cross the tracks. And the guys in the caboose always used to wave at us if we were out in the pasture when the trains went by too. You don't always get to see the engineer. We frequently met up with the middle of trains rather than the fronts of them.

Anyways I decided to see if engineers will still wave at you.

I gave him a wave, he waved right back at me and I ended up as excited as a six year old and wearing the biggest grin I had in a while.

I pulled up to Mom farther along the road and we shut off the 4-wheelers to wait for the train to go by.

"I like the graffiti on the trains," Mom said.

"I do to," I said.

I always have liked the graffiti on the trains. I realise that it's vandalism and illegal but it is also often pretty darned creative and cool to look at. And it was really neat to realise that Mom and I both liked something uniquely odd that we'd never ever talked about before.

As we were sitting there I heard a wolf whistle and looked around.

"There's a guy on the train!" I told Mom.

He waved at me and she turned around to look at him too.

"Did you get his picture?" she asked.


I had thought about it but I was so shocked to see this man squatting on the hitch between the two cars and waving at us that by the time my brain processed the steps to take the picture he was too far away to get a picture of him. I settled for taking a long shot of the train across the open prairie a little later on instead. Where I grew up it is possible to see the entire length of a train that is over a half a mile long all at the same time and get it all into one frame on the camera. The sky is that big where I grew up.

We couldn't figure out who he was and what he was doing there. They put a second engine on alot of the trains that run that stretch of track and this train had that extra bit of power but he was at least 10 cars ahead of that second engine. The train was going really slowly so we wondered if he'd hopped on to hitch a ride. But I sort of thought he was wearing a safety vest and we hadn't ever heard of hobos wearing reflective orange and yellow safety vests but if he worked for CP he shouldn't have been where he was in the first place and maybe I imagined the vest. There is a switch about 2 miles from our crossing at an inland grain terminal but the train didn't have any grain cars on it. It was completely full of sea containers.

So we were stumped.

So we enjoyed some more train graffiti while we contemplated our hobo and I waited for the guy in the caboose.

And then I remembered that there aren't any guys in the caboose anymore because they did away with the cabooses a few years ago.

But somehow I still got the customary two waves out of this train!