Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Japan and Back

We've been 1/2 way around the world and back since I last blogged here.
We stayed high in the mountains in the middle of Japan with our dear friend Akane.
Here is Lilia on top of Teungu Ewa.
Akane lives in Uenomura, a small village with a population of 2000 that stretches out over 30 km along the Kana River. People live in little pockets where the valley widens. The mountains all around are steep and forested, filled with monkeys, deer, wild pig and bear. Akane has joined the local pack of hunters, and her small freezer was full of wild meat.
The mountain towns in Gunma Prefecture have steeply declining populations. Most people want to live in the cities; teachers and other workers have to be recruited from far away. The buildings are almost all former silk worm houses, the second story had been used to grow silken cacoons. In the 80s the last silk mill in the area closed, and the silk industry has moved to countries where labour is cheaper. The huge houses are left empty.
We met old people who have watched the mountain towns drain out and dry up. Stooped at the waist, they rake the leaves off of the streets and tend their gardens while the neighbourhoods turns to artifacts. Some were so kind to us, welcoming our interest in their lives and despite the language barrier they shared with us parts of their traditional culture. We are so grateful for their generosity.
We met some young folks, glowing exceptions to the trend of outward migration.
In Japanese they say you do a U-turn in life if you go leave your home and then return and build your life there.
Tsune made a U-turn, he and his wife Miho run a high class cafe, Yotacco (meaning naughty kids), in an old silk house. Out back they have a small farm where they grow everything on their menu, down to the soybeans for the tofu and and the wheat for the ramyan noodles.
They have a blog at: http://yotacco.exblog.jp/i21/ (Google can translate into English)
Here Berwyn and Selwyn help to plant the winter wheat while Tsune plows in the background.
If you move away from home and don't return you do an I-turn. (I think the interpretation of turn didn't quite come across right!)
Hokuto and Sachiko are a young couple who have moved from other parts of Japan to Uenomura because it's in the forest and is renowned for wooden crafts. Hokuto is a wood artisan and Sachiko is a calligrapher and together they run a business producing wooden chairs and bowls and utensils.
Here is coffee in Hokuto's mugs.
A father we met in Ueno has lived all his life there. He is a fourth generation mushroom farmer. His six year old daughter was the highlight of Selwyn's trip. His family taught us about farming and hunting and getting along in these mountains.

My imagination has been invigorated by the ways of living we experience there. I am so proud of the young people of Uenomura for sustaining the rural traditions and creating a sustainable community. Despite all our fauxpas, we felt a kindred spirit with our contemporaries in Japan and we will never forget.

Here are Selwyn and I in the first snow on the trail leading up to Tajikaro's Shrine. 400 year old Japanese Cedear tower over the trail that pilgrims have followed for thousands of years.

Thursday, 25 July 2013


Agathe has photographed these two strapping specimens, Bacon and Ham.

They have grown from sweet little piglets into handsome sows, who charge to the fence when we call to them “Here, Pig Pig Pig Pig Pig Pig!”

They're primary purpose is to root out a garden bed from the rocky, root-filled ridge top.
Of course beyond that we hope they will live up to their names.
And for the warm days of summer, we want them to enjoy their lives here with us.
Selwyn and Lillia both love to pass them greens through the fence.
I've come to look forward to the twice daily visits to their pen to feed and water them.
They like to be scratched where the mosquitoes have bitten their thick skin, and they are generally quite affectionate with us.


This is Agathe, she has come from Paris to stay with us for the rest of the summer. She is able to watch our girls so that I can go to work on our property.

Her presence here and work with us has given me the freedom to really work steadily as I haven't much for the six years since Selwyn was born. Together Berwyn and I can do so much in a day. We have a long list of things to work away at before the winter comes and with Agathe's help we will cross a lot off of that list.
She has been making a testament of her adventure here. I am surprised at how able she is to capture tender moments without us even noticing that we are being photographed.

We are grateful to have such a kind and patient helper. And we are grateful for her beautiful photos.  


Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Final Nail

I do love my life mostly out of doors.
That said, we humans are vulnerable in so many ways.
In winter we freeze and in the summer the mosquitoes torment us.
To protect ourselves we've built two fully enclosed shelters here at our place.
The second is a workshop which we started last fall.
We closed it up from the weather in October.
The 16' x 24' space became a cozy place to spend winter days,
just a crisp walk a from our mini family home to the other edge of the property.
Even unfinished, it's had a rich and varied life.
Besides a workshop it's been schoolhouse, guest house, camp kitchen and general purpose clubhouse.

This week the girls helped us painting the final trim and nailing up the siding.
Now she's finished and we can move on to the next project.
If all goes well, we will have built our wash house for the coming winter.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Hit the Ground Running

Each year, we expect the Birches' sap to run any time around Mid April. When it didn't, we were held here, as though our camp was an ice bound vessel - all together in this remote place with limited resources, no way out and lots of time.
Our general happiness depended on what we did while we waited.

Berwyn warms his feet in the secret warmsprings a days snowshoe from our house.
Naomi paints the birds in the bushes


Rennee shovels in wishful attire

Ed Sara and Selwyn share a tale

Lillia and I learn to play Banjo


Ed constructs Bee Hives


And not only did we play a lot of games, but we built the boards for at least two intricate games.

When she came, she wasn't really Spring at all, but Summer. The trees ran hard and fast, and the  season was only 15 days of collecting sap. Even so, we weren't out of camp until the 1st of June.
Summer was immediately upon us and we've had to hit the ground running.
The syrup is all in bottles now, ready to move out. 
Thanks to a staunch crew for sticking it out and making us proud. Even the waiting was ok with this all star crew.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Waiting for Godot

Our faith has been tested.
And then Spring finally, feebly crept in
with her enormous flocks of Sparrows.
The river broke up
the few crocuses whose buds were not frozen by the late frosts finally blossomed
and at long last the birch sap ran.
We were more ready for it than we have ever been.

But the White Witch returns
and returns and returns again.
She buries the flowers.
And she shuts it all down.
The sapsicles hang heavy from the tapped trees.
We pass the time, waiting for Godot.
And the sparrows, in a cold and hungry stooper, fly low and erratic.
Their songs are desperate cries:
“I am still here; I am a survivor against all odds."
They mix with the songs of my daughter Selwyn,
who is pleading with Spring to come for her birthday next week.


Thursday, 18 April 2013

Waiting For Spring

Spring is coming on slow this year, if she is coming at all.
The trail is still solid, skiing is still good, and the snow is deeper than it has been all season.
Haven't even smelled that earthy scent on the wind yet.
The only signs are the swirling flocks of snow-buntings along the highway
and the birches from a distance have taken on the deep pink as they do with the thaw.
 It was warm enough to search for chocolate eggs in the snow and feast around the campfire.
We had our Easter fire, the final bonfire of the season.
Since then it has dropped once more. The syruping crew has arrived, we are ready and waiting and biding our time, trying not to burn all the firewood while we wait.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Handsome Furs

This little fellow found the caribou hides we had stretched out in front.
He has been gnawing bits off
hiss-growling and tik-tiking at us
 before scampering off when we get too near.
I hadn't before realized how varied Pine Marten vocalizations can be.
His coat is extra glossy, perhaps because of the bones he's found in our yard.
Such a handsome fur would've brought in a few hundred dollars this year I imagine,
 but it couldn't be worth more to anyone other than him.

Here is someone else who can't help herself and is inspired to dress beautifully every day.

And here's her footwear of which I too am proud.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

The toll of a cold snap

Its been a cold winter.
It hit -50 degrees Celsius first in November and that burst our min-max thermometer.
The cold kept coming.
While we were away a young wolf curled up and died in our wash tent.
We had a bale of straw in there.
 Her stomach was stuck to her ribs. I'd guess she starved, the toll of a cold snap.
She's probably not the only one. I am glad at least she had a comfortable nest.


Things only work well often enough for us to expect them to.
They give us a few easily felled and bucked trees,
a few smooth rides over the snowdrifts,
and then, try as we might to go easy on them,
the machines always break down.
More often than not something's broken.
I see that every plan involving a machine ought to have a stand in.
Here's our girls waiting patiently while the day comes undone:
Part way down the trail we find the skidoo will need a new carborator.
Maybe we can get one on e-bay.
We limp it back to the road.
Here's the stand in plan to get home:
We leave everything on the skimmer but the fresh produce
and the library book Hop on Pop (Selwyn's nightly reading).

This way of travel involves
more exercise and fresh air than we had in mind,
a picnic lunch in the sunshine in the lee of a strong wind whipping snow up into dunes.
which obliterate the trail but make for excellent sliding.
Five hours later we are heating up our little house in the setting sun.


Friday, 15 February 2013

Post Valentines

I haven't taken many pictures since the downfall of film.
But as my memory seemed a lonely and unreliable place
to keep all these images of my growing children,
I finally bought myself a camera
to document the days, the years, these lives as they fly by.
This blog will share some of those images.
In the backdrop or the foreground, the wilderness we explore and inhabit ought to reveal it's splendor.
And I will recount the trials and joys of our continued attempts to forge a comfortable niche here
living on the edge
of the bluffs overlooking the McQuesten River.
The days are short and the nights long and sometimes bright. This photo was taken by moonlight just before winter solstice by our friend Louis Schilder.  He and my mother skied in for a visit at -30 celcius. Our mini family home, 330 sq feet of comfort in the central Yukon's boreal forest, may well have been the only warm place but for the interiors of the forest creatures for miles in all directions. That is a precious feeling.
My family is with the times though, and when the snow is too deep and the wind drifts it too high for our truck, we come in and out the 14 km trail by skidoo, (all four of us on one for the time being).