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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Sugar Maple Memories

Charlie can't get enough of this classic series.

Charlie can’t get enough of this classic series.

Behind the cover of a Laura Ingalls classic is a seven-year-old boy who is absolutely fascinated with her every word. That seven-year-old boy used to be me, and I’m proud to say is now Charlie.

Like my son at his age, I spontaneously connected to the 19th century homesteading hero. She was like a long lost friend. Every Laura Ingalls chapter cheered on my childhood curiosity about pioneer life.  Simple, honest stories that capture special moments when family and friends help grow gardens, store preserves, hunt deer, harvest fuel wood and make maple syrup. For our little boys, these outdoor heritage connections are innate, especially against the backdrop of a maple bush and a sugar shack.

Maples on Pye Acres go untapped. When the sap drips, we leave Pye Acres to head a mile or so down the road to Avalon Acres. We prefer syrup production in the company of our friends and neighbors, Tom and Melanie, and their two young homesteaders, Noah and Gabe.Many years ago, Tom broke trail to the Avalon Acres sugar bush, gradually adding to his investment in buckets and taps, a wood-fed boiler and a cozy little shack. Like all homesteading skills, maple syrup production is a labour of love.

IMG_20150315_111854_editWhen the warmth of the March break sun breaks the cold grip of winter, the snowy woods provide refreshing comfort. Family and friends arrive, and so does a team of horses. Silver pails on Maples, and the sweetly scented smoke-filled air signals their attention. Add potluck meals and music and the days that Laura Ingalls called the “Sugar Snow” stands the test of time.

Tiny winter boots trek up hardwood hills. The boys are going as fast as they can to lift the lids on nature’s candy. They’re having too much fun to ever consider this hard work. For the boys of Pye and Avalon Acres, homesteader rituals are just a way of life. And, like a recently read chapter from Little House in the Big Woods, another heart-warming pioneer adventure lives on.

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