If stone fences could talk

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Historic stone fences are monuments of strength. They symbolize the willpower for a better life. Timeless works of perseverance and back forty landmarks that shaped our countryside. Rock solid, like the character and determination that took on the heavy lifting to make a humble living. The metamorphosis of rugged real estate into gentle meadows is the legacy of work ethic, land stewardship and a vision.

Canada was new when these fence lines were drawn, and so too was the ink on the Queen’s Crown land patent. The township’s first private land owners were sworn by her Majesty’s land grant, and a dream.

If these old fences could talk perhaps we would learn more about farm kids in the 1870’s who picked and piled every piece. Their backbreaking labor achieved what machine driven contractors couldn’t possibly quote. No entitlement. No shortcuts. No rest until the job was done. Farm life meant following farm family orders: Venture into the backwoods and scratch open a new farm field.

Form followed function as these fences were never engineered to impress the neighbors. Built to keep livestock in or, at the very least, to pronounce a boundary, stone fences were a practical use of the raw material that interrupted the walking plow that cut the furrows. A blacksmith-made plow point found on Pye Acres helps tell the story.Furrow

Acres of rock surfaced by the frost, lifted by hand, loaded onto horse-drawn stone boats and then strategically stacked. Bring on the cold, then the heat, and the nerve-wrecking black flies, mosquitoes, poison ivy, wild predators and all of the other elements that challenged the young homesteaders’ fortitude. Did childhood even exist for the architects of these stunning stone creations?

Today, the fallow fields of Pye Acres serve as an oasis for wildlife and family recreation time. The smiles and freedoms of the Pye Boys shines as big and bright as the historic stonework. The boys climb up high onto the fences. Their shoes shuffle across the rocks that were painstakingly maneuvered with youthful hands over a century earlier. The boys race each other over grassy drumlins to a home with electricity, running water and every other on-demand privilege that our rural roots simply never imagined.

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A window to the commitment and hardship of this lands’ past is what our countryside home represents. On her 101st birthday, our property’s predecessor enjoyed a cup of tea and the eastern view from our dining room table. No one owned this land longer than Madeline McCarthy. She pointed to fences she crossed, and described the special places  on the property that gave her heart comfort. When Madeline was widowed at age 54, this land soaked up the tears as she privately sat in the fields and mourned for her husband Joe. Solo sits are personal moments of escape and soulful reflection, and it seems that Madeline started a trend.

Nature therapy is the motivation that brings bus loads of high school students to Pye Acres. Since 2006, annual field trips are literally just that. Fields and forests, watersheds and wide open spaces for Cathy to connect her classroom lessons about life sciences to the context of real outdoor life, past and present. Her science students collect plants, mosses and pond water samples to help identify the parts of their world that are sadly estranged from today’s adolescent norm. This is where science and history lessons meet. Cathy’s science lab is delivered against the backdrop of a stone fence where students consider the realities of early settlement and how they would have survived. The field trip concludes with a solo sit – twenty distraction-free minutes to contemplate an idea, process a curiosity and untangle anxiety.

Outdoor experiences provide the power of perspective. Gone are the days of shaping the landscape by hand but the resilience required to turn obstacles into prosperity will never change. Stone fences lead us back to our roots.

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This blog is dedicated to Madeline. 

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Enjoying Every Fishing Moment: DockTalk365 Interview With Robert Pye

Last year, I was scouted by DockTalk365, an educational and entertaining series that profiles anglers throughout the United States and Canada. As part of this interview,  I shared my heartfelt thoughts about family and fishing, as well as a carpe diem expression in honour of my friend Melanie Main. Seize the day!

Melanie is my reminder that outdoor opportunities with family and friends are always a priority. Life is precious. Enjoy every fishing moment.

DockTalk365 graciously promoted the Pye Acres blog so I thought it was time to return the favour with an opportunity for my blog readers to check out “Enjoying every Fishing Moment.”

The interview can be found here: www.docktalk365.com/interview-robert-pye/

Robert Pye's DockTalk interview

This interview was published by DockTak365 on June 14, 2017. The full interview can be found at http://www.docktalk365.com/interview-robert-pye/

 

 

I am the trout fisherman

I am the shadow cast against the riverbank where my Dad used to sit patiently with me. I am the lessons he taught me there about the speckled trout, the current, and the presentation. I am the tenacity of cold finger tips on an early spring morning, fumbling and learning through years of lost hooks, lost worms and lost bites. I am the echo of the sound that fills the trout stream air and every perfect note that drew my heart closer to nature. I am the student of the outdoors, learning how every piece of nature is connected and why my decisions really matter. I am the voice that speaks up to protect special places from plazas and pavement. I am the optimism that always looks upstream, determined to leave an outdoors future for the next generation. I am my son’s fishing hero, tying his line where my Dad once tied mine. I am the tradition that is making another family memory. I am the passion that comes from the stream. I am the trout fisherman.

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The life of Enzo

A year of reflection helps heal the hurt of a sudden goodbye.

A year of four seasons to return to the places and occasions that built Pye family bonds around the love of a devoted young dog. A year to retrace our heart strings from our smiles when we brought him home to our tears when we set him free.

A year ago today, Enzo was released from the pain and tumors that stole his young life.

His short life was an accomplished life. Born to win the laughter and affection of two special boys, and the unleashed freedom to run and hunt the land of great English Setters before him. He was a classic dog with pride and compassion that could be read in a glimpse of his wisdom filled eyes.

A year of remembering Enzo doesn’t stop here. He is the spirit of family time on Pye Acres and the iconic example of life lived for the precious moments we have to share.

We love you Enzo.

The Outdoors Journey

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The White Otter Inn was in my rear view mirror and the rising sun was on my windshield.  I was up unreasonably early to drive home from a late-November OFAH membership meeting in northwestern Ontario. Slowly,  the break of dawn unveiled the full view of an empty Trans-Canada Highway… empty except for the OFAH company Jeep I was driving and a half-ton truck up ahead.  That truck was also flying my organization’s emblem.

Back bumper or top windshield corner, I can spot an OFAH membership decal a mile away. Our bright blue membership sticker is the highly recognizable “I’m proud to fish and hunt” statement affixed to boats, ATV’s, trucks and cars all throughout Ontario, especially in the north.

With a full travel mug of coffee and an extra hour on my side, I had no inclination to pass my fellow OFAH members.  After all, a weekend full of fish hatchery tours, club meetings and conservation topics couldn’t replace this anonymous OFAH membership success story being told, from the shoulders up, with backs against a truck cab window.

With every mile I paid closer attention to the OFAH members sitting side-by-side in the cab of that truck. Their blaze orange hats and jackets made it easy to tell how they were spending the morning.  A father and his son, I predicted. Going deer hunting, I assumed.

I recognized their body language from my own childhood hunting trips, sitting beside my Dad on the bench seat of his old two-toned-brown GMC Sierra. The constant bobbing of two hunting hats to the beat of their discussion made me wish I could hear it. The steady nodding of the driver’s head told me that he enjoyed listening and learning from his son. The enthusiastic expressions from the young passenger told me that today’s hunt was already successful – successful if only from the perspective of quality time between two lifelong hunting buddies.

Simple moments like these that remind us why a passion for hunting comes from the heart. Hunting is about the fulfillment of the journey not the squeeze of the trigger. Hunting builds character and a deeply rooted respect for nature.  Hunting connects us to the family and friends who cared enough to pass down the hunting heritage. Hunting is our identity. It is a core value for millions of Canadians.

National Fishing, Hunting, Trapping Heritage Day

20170720_120625The need to express the importance of our outdoor heritage has always been the OFAH motivation to push for federal and provincial recognition of those who fish, hunt and trap and serve fish and wildlife conservation.

In Canada, on the third Saturday of September, our great traditions are saluted with an official “Day.”  That Day is the new National Fishing, Hunting, Trapping Heritage Day, presented by the Government of Canada.

Even when the occasion has come and gone, our pride in Canada’s outdoor heritage, and the great conservation story of anglers, hunters and trappers, deserves to be told every day.

National Fishing, Hunting, Trapping Heritage Day gives the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and its conservation allies another opportunity to put long overdue public attention on how our members and supporters contribute to our natural resources.

Conservation leadership

Yes, we love to fish and hunt but anglers, hunters and trappers have done more than that.

When wetlands were considered wastelands, it was duck hunters who were the first to demand the protection of wetlands and the international Migratory Birds Treaty.

When some people didn’t care about cold water streams and its value to fish and wildlife, it was trout fisherman who volunteered to plant trees, prevent erosion, built spawning beds and fish ladders.

When an entire industry was built on the decimation of wildlife for commerce, it was hunters who demanded seasons and limits and the prohibition on selling wild meat.

When catch and release wasn’t even a concept, it was fishing club members who built hatcheries and stocked lakes with fish and locally promoted conservation and responsible angling.

When our delicate waterways and forest ecosystems faced the threat of invasive species, it was the OFAH that built partnerships, programs and awareness to stop the spread.

Improving local streams and wetlands, stocking lakes, planting trees, building nesting boxes, picking up litter from rivers and forests, volunteering for habitat restoration programs, promoting hunter education and teaching kids about responsible fishing and conservation are all examples of how the outdoors community makes a difference.

Right now, somewhere in down-to-earth-rural-Canada, there’s a valuable conversation happening between two life-long hunting buddies. Perhaps they are sitting side-by-side on the bench seat of truck as they’re heading into deer camp. Perhaps they’re reminiscing about past hunts, legendary bucks and all the special family memories that the great outdoors provides. Respect for nature and quality time with family and friends is never taken for granted, and National Fishing, Hunting, Trapping Heritage Day helps express our passion for the outdoors journey.

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Melanie Main – Forever in our hearts.

mainfamilyThere are times in life when our hearts call out for the comforts of home.

The crackling of a campfire on a starry summer night; the warmth of new socks or pajamas right out of the dryer; the smell of home cooking when you walk in the door; and the healing power of being tightly wrapped up in a warm blanket.

Melanie’s love is tightly wrapped around everyone here today. Melanie’s world revolves around her family, and her friends. She loves us very much.

Today, we take pride in knowing that Melanie’s extraordinary life will never stop shining thanks to the warm and loving moments that we all personally shared with her.

As her neighbor and friend, I shared with Melanie the secret art of one-liners, quick-whit as well as her first official language, sarcasm.

Melanie had a lot of fun with my struggle to correctly express anything en francis, so we met each other in the middle through the language of sarcasm. Oh, and she was quite fluent in sarcasm, too.

I was always determined to someday impress Melanie with the proper touch of en francis in the conversations we shared.

My moment came. A dinner party at the Main’s and a crowded kitchen with her French speaking family — this was my stage to impress. I refreshed Melanie’s wine glass a little too quickly and a dribble of Merlot hit the counter top. Okay, I thought, here is my chance to impress everyone with my intuitive command of the French language.

“La Serviette!” I proudly presented.

Melanie looked at me with those deep brown sarcastic eyes and said, “napkin, the French word is napkin.”

Well, I tried.

Melanie and I also perfected the art of thoughtful, out-of-the-blue, text messages.

At any point throughout the day, I would simply text this message to Melanie:

I’m just sitting here thinking about you.

But, before she had a chance to reply, I quickly added: I’m also thinking about trout fishing, and turkey hunting…. but somewhere between turkey and trout, you’re kind of on my mind.

Melanie and I were a testament to the power of great friendships – that power gives us an ability to see through thinly veiled sarcasm and accurately read between the lines. Of course I was only thinking of her, and anything I could do to make her smile. Wise-cracks and one-liners were a conduit for caring conversation.

All of Melanie’s friendships were built on laughter and trust which made it possible to paint a picture of her smiling, even when we were miles apart.

We all have special memories of Melanie. When my mind paints special Melanie moments, I see her in some of the places that she loved the best: cheering on the boys from stands at the hockey arena or at the soccer fields, welcoming visitors at the Avalon Acres Sugar shack, tending the gardens and her vineyard, and preparing delicious meals in her kitchen. Melanie’s culinary skills are unmatched by anyone else we know. She is truly a very gifted cook.

Melanie poured her heart into raising a family, and she always made her friends feel like we were part of it.

As Tom reminded me, Melanie was very private. She preferred “look at my family” over “look at me” and her humbleness and down to earth style are the virtues that drew our hearts so close to hers. Although Melanie was very private, there are many things about her that are no mystery. Let’s start with the obvious.

melaniemainMelanie is absolutely beautiful. With a smile that can lift a dark cloud off a mountain top, and eyes that could re-ignite the sun, Melanie’s natural beauty is as timeless, classic and true as her beauty within.

I shall be saying this with a sigh;
Somewhere, ages and age hence,
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost supports a metaphor about Melanie’s journey to Ontario from her home province of Quebec. She fell in love with an Ontario boy, and she traveled west to make their dreams come true. And come true they did. A storybook wedding, countryside lifestyle, sunny vacations, a wonderful job and great co-workers, a special circle of friends, and most importantly, two beautiful boys… Noah and Gabriel.

The love of Tom and Melanie is the world’s greatest example of companionship and romance, partnership and independence, strength and devotion. Tom and Melanie’s chemistry was endlessly transparent. And, we can admit it…. we all loved catching Tom and Melanie holding hands or going extra steps to steal an extra kiss. It’s like they freeze-framed a first date kiss, and then made it more meaningful and magnetic every day forward. They reminded us that love is always worth reaching out for. As family and friends, we love them both for being so in love with each other.

We also love them for bringing to our lives, Noah and Gabriel, two very special boys that Melanie loves forever. Melanie said, “Everything is for my children. Everything is for my children.”

Close your eyes and think of a calendar that only flips backwards in time, and it only reaches back the past 16 months. As we scroll through recent times of treatment and tenacity, battle and bravery, we salute Melanie’s heroic commitment to try to beat this. She said “everything is for my children” and to prove it, Melanie never stopped fighting.

In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev’ry glove that laid him down
And cut him til he cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains.

Melanie’s legacy is the fighter that still remains. She chose action over apathy. She never slowed down for sympathy because she was too focused on the pursuit of hope. As Tom said, “I wouldn’t expect anything less of her.”

Melanie always stayed positive. She never said enough is enough. She never backed down. She just kept smiling. Melanie made us so proud.

In the words of Bono, “The less you know the more you believe.”

Believe is exactly what Melanie did. And the more she believed, the more we believed. “Everything is for my children,” she said, and we cherish Melanie’s reasons to believe, as well.

From Quebec to British Columbia, Melanie’s courage has united her family and friends, as well as her co-workers and a great community of coaches, and teachers, and entire families of children who play hockey or soccer or go to school with her boys. Melanie is once again bringing out our personal best.

Small town values never go out of style and down-to-earth generosity always prevails. Together, we are embracing everything that Melanie taught us about empathy and kindness.

You can see it, you can feel it… Melanie’s gift of kindness lives on in her home where, everyday, support from family and friends comes pouring in. Melanie’s example of sweetness and sincerity lives on at our local hockey arena, on the school bus and in the school yard where children, on there own sweet initiative, are expressing condolences and a desire to be supportive friends. Online, you can also sense the expression of her love where Facebook tributes to Melanie serve to commemorate her place in our hearts.

In the midst of his own fight, Gord Downie Jr. recently talked about how he can see it, how he can feel it… there’s something happening… an opportunity here, he said. Facing our future guided by Melanie’s gift of courage, and her pursuit of hope, is precisely the opportunity Gord Downie is talking about — an opportunity already paved by our very own superstar.

There are times in life when our hearts call out for the comforts of home. This is one of them.

It’s time for home cooking. It’s time for a favorite song. It’s time for the warmth of a fire, the company of family and friends, and comfort of being wrapped up in a soft, warm blanket.

On Thanksgiving weekend, I wrapped a warm blanket around my friend Melanie. I told her, “I love you” and she said “I love you, too.”

Today, Melanie is wrapping a blanket around all of us. She will forever be the warmth and comfort in our hearts that makes us feel at home.

We love you forever, Melanie.

Merci.

Living in Black Bear Country

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A few months ago, Cathy asked me a very important question.

“You are going to hunt for bear this year, right?” she said.

Clearly, she was submitting a request, not an enquiry. I got the message.

Bears are a serious conversation these days. We have plenty of them around. Cathy’s survey of my upcoming bear hunting plans is an equal amount to do with her interest in family security as it is the pursuit of more outdoor recreation and quality food. Bear meat is delicious. We value every morsel of sustainable, organic and highly nutritious wild food that comes directly from our forest and fields.

We’re a family that loves the outdoors and that’s why we built our home in it. Bears are an important part of country living, and it seems that everyone from a country-side bungalow, small town business, family-farm or on a rural school bus route has a bear story to share. Around my neck of the woods, we see bears meandering through fields. We find bear tracks in the mud, bear scat on the trails and huge rocks flipped over by hungry bears scratching for bugs. Bear sightings and signs are everywhere, and at safe distances, they feed our fascination for these legendary omnivores.

However, bear fascination also means bear apprehension, especially when kids and pets are involved. That apprehension is on the rise and we’re not alone. Over 80,000 “Bear Wise” calls and over 18,000 “bear incidents” (aka clear and present bear danger) in the past 15-years means that thousands of rural families (in Northern, Central and Southern Ontario) share our wary attitude about backyard bears.

Every spring, my best friend, Jane, finds a bruin in her driveway. Her smart phone is full of her front-yard-bear pictures. Lately, though, she says “bears cause me nothing but stress.” Instead of taking pictures, she’s texting and calling out warnings to her neighbours. There’s a 400-pound bear in her backyard, a smaller bear in the front yard and a dog that just barely made back in the house in time. This spring, she was visited from five different bears. She can’t walk her dog, and she doesn’t let her nephews and nieces ride their bikes over to visit.

Two years ago, bear stress struck close to home. As the crow flies (or as the bear roams), my family lives only a few miles away from the trail where a sow bit into the stomach of a 53-year-old woman.

Cathy’s confidence in my hunting skills/tenacity aside, she knows that bear hunting is not easy. There’s no guarantee that I’ll kill a bear. Moreover, there’s no guarantee that I’ll put the crosshairs on one of the bears leaving tracks behind our home.

Bear experts say hunted bears are wary bears. While there’s no guarantee that my personal hunting efforts will bring an end to bear stress for my family and neighbors, it’s an opportunity to do what’s right for wildlife management. It’s an opportunity to do what’s right for my family.

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