That year we were only here for the summer. The next summer we came back - and here we still are.
Our little flock of Rhode Island Red hens, how we enjoyed them! We put them in the old chicken house and built a little pen for them so they could get out in the sun and I don’t know who enjoyed the situation more, the chickens or us. I do remember we used to go up to the pen and just stand there watching the goings-on and being delighted with their personalities. Who would have thought a chicken could have so much character?
We left to go back to Toronto at the end of the summer - all too short a summer for all of us I think - and the chickens were given to friends to look after.
We’ve had a lot of flocks of chickens since them, with some memorable characters among them. There was the silkie rooster who stood maybe ten inches high in his spurs and was not going to have anything as ugly as me coming into his pen at any time. He was a good deal easier to deal with when stewed.
There were ducks for a while. There was Walter, whose broken leg we mended with popsicle sticks and who ever after walked with a limp - or so my wife said - I couldn’t distinguish waddle from limp. He had been hatched by a chicken and always thought he was the hens’ answer to a prayer, to the consternation of the biddies. And of course there was Sir Francis Drake, the noble duck, who had strong views on noblesse oblige and looked after Sue, his nearest and dearest, with considerable gallantry.
There were cows too and pigs. There was Brownie, the first of our Jersey cows, who disapproved so strongly when we bought another cow, that she went missing for a whole day and then, after we had all searched high and low to no avail, appeared, standing behind us, as we all stood looking sadly at her empty paddock. I think it was Maggie, later on, who used to finish her short feed and then somehow pick up the plastic dishpan we put her feed into and wear it for a hat. I’d be milking away and suddenly notice she was standing very quietly. I’d look up and there she’d be with the dishpan fetchingly arranged on her horns.
The pigs were the farm’s version of the Marx Brothers - always ready for some mad-cap enterprise from the time they arrived as weaners until around the time they reached shopping weight, at which point we were all happy to see the last of them. Most of them in latter years departed happy, having imbibed a goodly snoot-full of a batch of my wine that hadn’t turned out too well - ‘pig claret,’ we called it.
There were a couple of ponies and a lovely Morgan mare, Gem, and two of her offspring, one of which broke a leg and had to be put down. I’ve always preferred a means of locomotion that included both an ignition switch and a working set of brakes, but Gem was as steady as they come.
We had quite a clutter of ducks at the time and when I went down to do the milking in the evening the ducks would be pressed against the door. Gem, who felt she deserved to be first, would be right there too. The cows would be standing well back. When I flung open the big paddock door there would be a blur of ducks and horse, all headed down the walkway for their food. Gem had the furthest to go but the ducks were not going to be outdone. Gem never flattened a duck or even raised a squawk, even though it looked like she was travelling on a moving white carpet.
And then there were quite a lot of cats, and dogs as well. Burnt and Cinnamon Toast and Pooh-Bah and Thomas Not-a-Tom (aka ‘the Ever-Present Fullness’) among the multitude, and Sephie and Pluto and Baggins, and, most recently, Barney to keep the cats in line. Now even Barney, our great galumphing mutt is gone, disappeared, just after Christmas. What happened we don’t know, although we’ve searched high and low.
I miss them all but right now, especially Barney, the dog who wore his heart on his sleeve (along with burrs, bits of straw, small pebbles, and anything else he happened into).
Words & Images
We moved to our farm in Sussex, New Brunswick from Toronto in 1977, only moving away in 2014.