|From Toronto I Greyhound back towards Lake Huron and an hour late and feeling pretty exhausted I met Tony who would be my farm boss for the next two weeks. Tony was very friendly, enthusiastic and was excited I would be his and June's first HelpX Volunteer to play with.
So the majority of my work over two weeks was shoveling things. Tony wanted to make a new plot for next season which meant visiting neighbours to get manure, visiting the local council depot to get leaves, cutting down cedar trees to make fence posts and hitting said posts with a lump hammer while balancing in the bucket of a tractor.
All this was done on Tony's 200 acres of New England-looking Ontario mixed woodland. The area always put me in mind of 100 acre wood from the Winnie the Pooh stories. The trees were in full autumn colours and I spent a lot of time wandering with Tony's dogs, Max and Ceaser through the woods. The poor dogs were leashed so I did feel a little sorry for them however as Max had been sprayed by a skunk a few months earlier the dogs were too remained tethered for evermore on their evening walks.
I smelt skunk a few times in the woods and even long after its had been sprayed it remains a very potent sulphur smell. Max wore the smell for three weeks before Tony and June finally managed to get it off him. So I was warned by Tony, if I see a skunk and he suddenly turns his backside on me and lifts his tail to just drop everything and run as it means either three weeks of seclusion or three weeks of (increased) public revulsion in my travels.
The Bruce Peninsula, the official name for the area was full of wildlife. While there I saw a skunk, two porcupines, the distant head of a probable beaver, a deer's ass, a musk rat, a praying mantis, some eagles, fish, crayfish, snakes, some unexpected bats while moving the wood pile and more commonly, raccoons.
The porcupine was probably my favourite. They will wander across the path ahead of you giving a brief glance in your direction and when you get to where they were they're sat half way up a tree gnawing bark and occasionally stopping to look down at you from up high with a wee smug smile and a wink.
Most excitingly for me, Tony took me out on a beaver lake two different evenings and I was able to learn and practice the correct strokes for canoeing. Quite dimly I had always thought paddling canoes were quite straight forward and just meant occasionally changing which side to paddle from. However, with my new found strokes I can always paddle on one side and with each stroke, steer, which I`m realising can be tremendously useful in a canoe in big watery places.
I also got to meet a strange German guy siting in a boat holding a large gun. I found it quite a chilling experience as he seemed quite unfriendly. So my new found strokes helped me get clear of him. Tony pointed out hunting season hadn`t really started yet and he shouldn`t have been on the property but he also mentioned its very hard to raise these community issues with your neighbours when they have a big gun on their lap and you are in the middle of nowhere. I agreed whole heartedly. Tony also mentioned he had put up some signs saying 'No Hunting' but decided to take them down after the signs became bullet ridden from the more hick type neighbors.
It seems life on the Peninsula is dominated by two groups. The retirement pioneer community like Tony, who retired as a Chemistry teacher bought some land and made his house and the surrounding out buildings (including my long drop) with local material and neighbours help. The other group is the generation farm folk that can often be found getting very drunk and hunting out of season, shooting geese while driving their trucks along rural roads and selling as much of their land for development to the highest bidder. Between these groups is the Toronto tourists which come in vast numbers seasonally, stopping at the highway attractions and motels and generally ignoring the Bruce Peninsula National Park and the Fathoms Five Underwater National Park as these involve leaving your car, (exiting the family vehicle is highly recommend by Parks Canada for visits to the underwater marine park but unfortunately not always followed).
There was one other story, mildly exciting but sadly inconclusive. It may have been better if I had been mauled to get a more complete story however unfortunately I was left unharmed so it sadly feels like a half story. So, I had just had a shower one evening and was crossing between the main cottage and the bunkhouse, my eyes had not yet get used to the dark so I was walking blindly and thinking about nothing when I heard a very loud and guttural growl only feet away. It was clearly a threat and aimed at me. It stopped me instantly (with the exception of my bowels that wanted to start moving). I stood listening wondering, near terrified by the unexpectedness of it all, what was so close still unable to see much of anything so I just listened, I think I started chatting into the dark but have no idea what I was saying then. Then I heard something heavy slowly lumbering away through the undergrowth. I stood and listened until I heard the increasing rustle as it reached the first small branches of the tree line and then listened for a few more minutes as it unconcernedly moved deeper into the woods. Once it had gone far enough I realised I could see in the starlight so quickly went onto the bunkhouse and getting to the bunkhouse and closing the door brought a relief I`ll remember for a long time.
In the morning I went back to where I suspected the animal had been and apart from finding a clear passage through the vegetation was unable to find paw prints. However, after speaking to Tony we both agreed this was my most personal encounter with a black bear and for my remaining nights I never crossed the yard without a torch and would wait until my eyes adjusted to the dark.
So that was my two weeks on the farm. It was a very nice way of life and I was very happy to find an area I had knew nothing about but turned out to be great.
Best Moment: Canoeing along waterlily cleared beaver channels under a purple dusk.
Worst Moment: Almost being hit by a jump starting tractor, almost being hit by a widowmaker that fell while Tony was foresting (badly) and a growl in the dark.