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Learning To Live On And Off The Land

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Recently, my two sons and I.moved out of town and into the countryside, the fulfillment of a dream for me. We re renting a ranch house northeast of Pincher Creek and there s even some pasture available.

But perhaps the most exciting part so far has been the pretty little black Drolet wood stove in the heart of the home. This is the first house we ve ever lived in that actually had a source of backup heat. There is something very primal and intimate about lighting a fire to keep warm. The smell of the burning wood, the act of blowing gently on the embers, the need to monitor the burn rate and add fuel are reminders of both how far we have come, and how close we remain to our roots.

I purchased a cord of wood from a local First Nations man, and I.had a riveting conversation with him about the local flora and fauna near our new home. I.learned more in one hour about my adopted corner of this province than I.have since I.moved here. It was invigorating and renewing, I.fell in love all over again with the notion of living close to, and off the land.

Fittingly, I.am taking a course to earn my possession and acquisition licence. I.like picking berries and making bread, but I.am the head of my household, so it is time I.learn how to stalk and harvest more than just dessert. Equally important, I.want to teach my sons self-reliance. I.want to remove the many degrees of separation between what is on our plate, and how it came to be there.

When I.was a little girl, I.was treated like one, no matter how I.protested. I.was taught to fish when I.was older, but being raised in the city, I.had little opportunity to really learn survival skills. I.would stray from home as far as I.could, I was lucky enough to live near a small patch of woods and there I.would lay out the tools I.had snuck from my father s tool bench to try and craft a treehouse by myself. Of course, I was never successful, but my furtive efforts were always a satisfying thrill.

When I.reflect on my career, it becomes less surprising that I.would depart from the city and move to uncharted territory, leaving family and familiarity 1,000 kilometres away. Though it was the rattlesnakes that initially lured me west, it is the lifestyle and its romanticism that has compelled me to stay.

Even more exciting than the wood stove and the .22 Magnum in my future is the opportunity to run a few head of cattle and a couple of horses. This has been a dream since I first started covering the cattle business. I.did own two cows in Saskatchewan, but those were drought years, and I.couldn t find any grass to rent. After spending nearly a year at a feedlot, I.sold them and their two calves, but I.was very sad to have to do it.

For the last couple of years, it seemed more possible to fly to the moon than it did to run cattle. And while I.know I.will never be able to be more than a hobby rancher, and even that is generous, I.will at least feel as though my coverage of the industry is more legitimate. And I ll have a reason to register a brand here in Alberta. My timing is predictably bad, I.can afford a bred cow these days like I.can afford a condo in Hawaii, and there is no time-share option for cattle. Nonetheless, I have started putting away toonies and loonies and the day will come when I can go to an auction and do more than just report on it.

I know I.have a lot to learn about living out in the country. I.know there is a difference between knowing something on paper, and doing it in real life. And I.know that I.will make mistakes, and I.will fall down trying, but I.will take solace in the fact that there are few eyes out here to see me do it. I will narrate these efforts for your pleasure and entertainment.

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