buckbrushed

Rian Lougheed-Smith, Dawson City, YT

Listen up!

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I’ll be talking to Sandi Coleman on CBC Radio Yukon’s A New Day tomorrow at 7am PST.  We’re going to chat about life at our home in the Yukon bush, canoe commuting and freeze-up alone with a 3 year old.

You can listen wherever you are (11am in NB, 10am in Ontario) here: http://www.cbc.ca/listen/live/radio1/whitehorse

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In summary…

May1

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Finished our new chicken coop. House and greenhouse full of plant babies. Moved the hens into the garden to take down the weeds while we waited for the rain to stop and for the ground to dry out. I spent quite a few nights hiding from Maggie in the greenhouse, while Chris put her to sleep.

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June

Incredibly sunny and hot. And then, a devastating late hard frost. Six degrees below in mid June. I did a bit of weeping the garden, and then moved on. Eighty baby chicks. The flats of random things I seeded in April and May while avoiding bedtime in the greenhouse paid off. While the corn, quinoa, kale and cabbage all bit the dust, I had whole beds of late calendula to cheer me up. But apparently not cheery enough to take any photographs (other than some lo-fi instagrams) for nearly a whole month.

July

20157154_10155344985715499_7303367388317573145_o.jpgGarden. Garden. Booth at the farmers market selling teas and prints. I was kidnapped for the most epic bachelorette party of all time (the above photo says it all), complete with rafting, costumes, axe throwing, log sawing, Sasquatch inspired burlesque and amazing ladies. The RCMP responded to a call reporting drunk women throwing axes, and then challenged me to a swede saw off.

August

Aug 1

It takes a village to throw an off grid bush wedding you need to canoe to. And also to build an entire building to house said wedding. I’ve lost count of the hands that made it happen. But, we love them all.

Aug 2
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I’m no mathematician, but I’d guess at least 60% of the posts on this blog begin with an apology for the length of time between posts…

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My journal has a similar repetitive style. But, here I am again.  Months later. And in the way of explanations? Life, in the woods, with no running water, a toddler, punctuated with a trip out East, and more life. Well, life would be enough of an explanation, wouldn’t it? And life with a toddler should be more than explanation enough.

It is Spring. Not Spring like on my Instagram feed, with flowers bursting forth, apple and cherry boughs raining blossoms down upon the baby rabbits lounging among the daffodils. Its more mud, dressed with snow, featuring overwhelming notes of dog poo, a compost pile recently overwhelmed with a whole winter’s worth of chicken coop bedding, a two year old face down in a questionable and cold puddle. The windows are overwhelmed with plants. 70 tomatoes by my count, and thats only about a fifth of all the plants.  Just in time- we used the last of our frozen kale and chard a few weeks ago, our onions are all gone and the dried mint, chamomile and lemon balm stores are nearly exhausted.We’re working to get the greenhouse heated, so that they can get the sunshine they’re stretching so hard to reach here inside.  I am so excited everything is growing so well.

And heat in our greenhouse is necessary. All last week the nighttime temperature fell to -15 Celsius, with the occasional dramatic dip to 20 below for effect. The river would get soggy in the afternoons, only to freeze solid again by morning.

Speaking of the river, we have stopped crossing it. Our pantry is full of goods, we’ve stockpiled nearly everything we need. (I say nearly, I never have enough chocolate. And there is always something I underestimate or forget.) Here we will sit and stay until the ice rots, wiggles, budges and breaks. We’ll wait until the logs, the icebergs, the swollen waters pass, and then resume our summer river crossing by canoe. Here’s hoping that another year will show our larger, stronger, more willful daughter has become better at sitting still on her bum in a PFD and listens to everything we say. Don’t worry, if that doesn’t happen, I am not above bribery with snacks. In the first year of her life we survived river crossings with an offering of figs, in the second Annie’s cheddar bunnies were in play, who knows what will be a hit this summer. Any hot tips on snacks enticing enough to still a 2 year old?

It is fun remembering the good in summer, in our (relatively) warm weather. A pantless kiddo playing on the deck, chickens outside sunning themselves, shaking their combs in the breeze for the first time since October, harvesting the first wild offerings of the year, and fingers sticky and stained with cottonwood buds.

Here’s hoping things are growing and greening wherever you are, in the way things do where you are, and that I’ll be back here in less than 7 months.

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In the meantime, I managed to write a piece for What’s Up Yukon this past fall, you can read it here.

And if you’re looking for more consistent content from some amazing women might I suggest you visit Tara Borin at Tara Borin Writes, and J. Madeia’s histoires d’une neorurale.

Where have I been?

Outside. Burning with the midnight sun. Working our day jobs, weeding at night. 

Chasing a naked toddler, feeding our laying hens, making sure the huskies don’t eat the baby chicks (sometimes unsuccessfully) and a million other things. Trying to not wish away this summer with our eagerness for the slower pace of our subarctic fall and winter. We are busy, overwhelmed, but well. More soon.

bright nights

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This time of year, as with most of life, I am torn between two things: being pumped about things getting sunnier and warmer, while not wanting to let go of the best of winter. We are steadily gaining light each day. The long dark is on the outs. This winter has been insanely, disconcertingly warm. Ottawa’s windchill outchilled us by 20 degrees last week. Now it’s colder, -35 this morning.  But it can go ahead and be cold- I am PUMPED about sun. It is strong enough to be WARM now, you can feel its light on your face, on your skin, through the windows. It is marvellous. But, with the sun also comes the realization that our nights are going to be shrinking, in a few months there will be no stars, no moon, no constellations, no northern lights. That age old challenge to greet the new while longing for whatever we’re leaving behind.

Maggie’s feelings are simpler. She yells at the sun. She doesn’t understand why it burns her eyes. “Na, Na, NAH” (No, no, NO.)

Jupiter is that bright blip near the top of the frame in the first shot. Thats our cozy little house in the bottom. The real danger of these drastic changes in temperature, from last week’s highs of -5 to last night’s -34, is when you don’t really notice the temperature has dropped, and run outside without pants to photograph the northern lights, and have to wait through your 20 second exposure with your knees rattling in the  wide open with the north wind rushing by. Unadvised.

A few other random things:

  • I am OBSESSED with sheep. We went on a date last week. To a talk by the Regional Resource Council of the communication of domestic sheep disease to wild sheep populations. We took Maggie with us. I asked nerdy questions. It was terribly romantic.
  • We need all kinds of infrastructure before we take the sheep leap. Fences, shed, somewhere to store hay, feed etc. So in the meantime I am gorging on all things woollen or sheepish. This includes The Sheep Blog (Two words: SHEEP DAIRY), World’s End Farm (some sheep, also flower farm porn from Saipua), and the Woolful podcast (Which is somewhat wool, a bit of sheep raising, but 80% creative ladies talking about trying to make a living doing what they love. It makes me think of all of my friends and brings me back to Ducky’s bar in Sackville NB, too early in the afternoon, my dog on the former church pew bench beside me watching two of my best knit away the afternoon with pints of blueberry ale.)
  • As a concession to my sheep patience, WE ARE GETTING CHICKENS. I have overwhelmed Chris with my enthusiasm, confidence we can brood 75+ birds without electricity in our small small house. Anyone have any hot (literally) tips for keeping baby birds warm without power? I’ve seen some cool setups with hot water bottles, I’ve also seen some that use kerosene lamps, but to be honest open flame + accelerant + bedding INSIDE OUR HOUSE scares the crap out of me. We won’t be receiving our chicks until June, so in the meantime I keep visiting the hatchery site and gazing at their birds longingly. Also I’ve been coaching Maggie to say “chicken” and pushing all the farm themed books on her.
  • Back to podcasts: I LOVE CBC. A lot a lot. I am so proud and happy of our national broadcaster. We listen to it on AM nearly all hours of the day. They have some super cool programs. As it Happens is a personal favourite (Maggie dances to their theme song daily), Unreserved is great, and I love nerding our on writers and company as well as Ideas. BUT- when you only get one radio station because you live in the bush- and when the previous federal government cuts CBC’s budget- you get a lot of repeat programming when you listen 24/7.Which I have been doing since I started my disability leave from work a month or so ago. So, enter podcasts.
    • Greenhorns Radio: Super conversational, incredibly inspirational. A whole bunch of crazy folks trying to make the food we eat and the lives of those growing it good. Lots to learn. Based in the US, interviews a new “greenhorn” every episode.
    • Lore: Ghost stories. Folklore horror. One story an episode with a classy atmospheric piano in the background. Can seem a bit ostentatious at times but I like it.
    • Cavern of Secrets: LADIES. Dropping F bombs. Kind of like the best tipsy ranting moments. Cool women. The Tanya Tagaq episode is my current favourite. You probably shouldn’t listen to that particular episode unless you can have an open mind in relation to the seal hunt and traditional economies. Please listen with an open mind.
    • And of course theres the ones I’m sure everyone already listens to: The Moth, This American Life, Radio Lab, Stuff You Missed in History Class and Stuff You Should Know, and CBC podcasts a bunch of their programs as well. (I would recommend last night’s episode of Ideas featuring a lecture by Stephen Hawking for all the nerds out there. Here.  I am not a math person, but I like to think I understand Hawking’s jokes about colliding black holes. I like to try to understand. Its all kind of mind blowing. Be prepared for existential crises.)
  • I’m mostly channeling my limited energy into daydreaming about future pursuits because being sick is hard. I am starting to feel a bit better, but I am still quite weak. And these are primo skiing, snowshoeing, wood cutting, cheek tanning days. It is really hard to not be out there. So in the meantime, I focus on other things that make me feel good- ideas of a summer full of plants and chickens, and a sheepy future. I’m having to downgrade my usual summer dreaming. I will likely not be in shape by the beginning of hiking season to do any big backcountry, especially not while carrying a toddler, so I’m trying to get pumped instead about car camping adventures. Of which there are some awesome options here in the Yukon.
  • I have been making Maggie’s bum balm since before she was born. I’ve started sharing it with friends and now they want to buy some and/or the recipe. I’ll try to take some pictures and actually keep track of amounts etc (I am the WORST with recipes, I make shit up constantly) so I can share the recipe and process here. Stay tuned! (This probably won’t happen until my next babe free moment, which is why I’m able to chat with you now. Chris took Maggie to work with him. For reals.) But, yes- Butt balm! Also works well as lip balm, burn balm and, now that Maggie can open mason jars, she also recommends it as a light snack, best served by the fistful.
  • I wrote something about excuses for the ma books a week or two ago (I have no idea what day it is.) Please check it out here, and also indulge in all the other ma-wesomeness while you’re there.
  • Maggie is currently most happy while dancing to Basia Bulat’s new album, naked, while eating an apple. FOOL is apparently her favourite track on the album. Likely because a fool is exactly what her mother looks like while dancing along. Anything to make my girl grin.

green

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My mom is putting me to shame. Hauling the laundry and garbage and Maggie to town, doing all said laundry, and then hauling groceries and clean things back to our home in the woods. I definitely come by my stubbornness honestly.

There has also been a lot of sitting around reading, a book a day, which I also come by honestly. And its -30 degrees celcius. There is not anything else to do, aside from stocking the wood stove, and flip through seed catalogues dreaming of greener times.

Though the aurora borealis help us get our green fix. Maggie woke up last night and pointed out the window, signing “light”. This kid has no just how magic her world is, yet.

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hello sunshine

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We are lucky, not everyone in the Klondike gets at least a snippet of sunshine in the depths of winter. But here in our home, even on winter solstice we can catch the few worn out rays the sun throws at us from far far away. But now- oh baby is she bright, and WARM. I can feel her heat. And the snowy trees are shining bright against the northern clouds. The fields are GLITZY. Its probably gloomy compared to most places, but I’m going to take what we can get!

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I hope you’re soaking up whatever sun you have! XO

Winning

My mom dropped everything and flew a few thousand kilometres to come take care of me.

She is the very best.

XO

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Maggie, showing her the ropes.

What do we do here? In the late afternoon as the sun sets?

We look outside at the mountains,

and watch the dogs raid the compost pile.

So majestic.

the new year here

A new year is here. IMG_20151225_001525

So many crazy things have happened. I went back to work. Maggie walks. It took forever for the Klondike to freeze, and so we were stuck on the town side of the river, our poor house lonely and frozen out here with  the wolves howling and us not here to listen. I also found out that I have an autoimmune disease causing my thyroid to overact, which sucks, BUT I am so so thankful to have a diagnosis that explains my anxiety, my weight loss, the lightheadedness, losing my breath and not catching it. For a long time I thought I needed to eat more, to sleep more. I was convinced I was bad at this- how does everyone else do this? How do parents work? Why am I failing. But it is not me. Its something happening to me.

I am working on it. I have a great doctor. I have a great naturopath. I have a great manager at work. Chris has the patience of a saint, He just swears and drinks more than most of them.

20151221_144251We got stuck in Whitehorse two days before Christmas. I was sent down for an ultrasound of my thyroid (it was all totally normal). Maggie and I shopped tip we dropped and drank all the fancy decaf coffees (me, not Maggie.) And then on the morning Mags and I were scheduled to fly home, we flew, we approached Dawson, we saw our house in a small clear pocket in a sea of fog, and we couldn’t land. The problem with big planes, small valleys, and tall hills is that you need a lot of visibility to land, and after circling and searching, we turned around and headed back to Whitehorse.

Three hours later they loaded us onto two teensy planes. I knew our pilot, he flew our food and fuel into the bush camp I worked in the summer of 2011. It was nice to see a familiar face, and I like small planes. I crossed my fingers, I crossed Maggie’s fingers, and again, we got to Dawson, and no go. The patchy cloud had mustered itself into a thick impenetrable blanket. We could see the mountain tops around and nothing else.

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At this point I was nearly losing my mind. I got even closer when we got back to whitehorse and the airline officials notified us that the clouds had miraculously parted for the second plane, it had landed in Dawson, and our luggage was on it.
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I was out of diapers. I was out of snacks. I was out of patience. And then an incredible thing happened. I asked for help, and boy did I get it! A dear friend dropped EVERYTHING (she was throwing a cocktail party in an hour) to come pick me up immediately and drive me to another friend’s house. These folks have rescued me a million times in Whitehorse. The most generous warm souls. I love them. They fed us. They played with Maggie. They called everyone in the neighbourhood to ask if they had size 3 diapers.

We had dinner, we had a bath, we were saved by diaper angels and we had a great sleep. A Christmas Miracle! Chris drove down to Whitehorse to pick us up, to guarantee we would make it home for Christmas.

I am so so so lucky.

We had a wonderful Christmas, we lit lots of candles, listened to lots of music, ATE. We didn’t go anywhere for days.

I am happy for this new year. I will ask for help more often. I will take care of myself more often. I will make Maggie giggle as often as possible. I will thank Chris all the time.

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Thank you for reading, I promise I’m on my way back- you’ll hear more from us soon!

XO

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important things

It is Maggie’s first morning of daycare. I have to go back to work at the end of the month, and while I am INCREDIBLY thankful to have had an entire year to spend with my babe, I am sad to have to fit our lives into the 9-5 framework.

We’re doing our first morning of daycare today, and a few more drop ins to warm Maggie up to the experience before we start full time. She will love it. I think this will be harder for me.

I think I sent her with everything she needed. I tried to stick to the important basics when introducing her to the daycare staff, tried to shut down my nervous verbal diarrhoea, “She has a snack in her bag, please call me if she’s freaking out, her diapers and wipes are here…” …And she’s really smart and she loves dogs and this is her version of signing airplane, she can’t really sign it properly yet, and she loves water, and when she’s really happily asleep sometimes she does this amazing combination of a sigh and a giggle, and I love her more than anything, ANYTHING. She giggled the first time she saw the Atlantic Ocean and screamed for more when I dunked her toes in it, and cranberries are her very very favourite, sometimes she tries to stand up in the canoe holding the gunwales to get a better look at the river, books are her second favourite, and this is the face she makes when she’s pooping, she waved at a great horned owl last night and shouted at the three moose in our field this morning, when you’re walking she likes to touch the leaves as you pass buy… Those things are all really important too. They would also make me seem like a crazy person.

I did it. I kissed her. I left. She could of cared less! There are GIANT mirrors there. There are other babies! There are so many NEW THINGS. And I didn’t cry*. But, I did realize as I walked into the cafe that I am still wearing my pajama bottoms.  I guess pants are also important.

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My sister took this photo of Maggie and I in PEI this past July.

*(Only because I totally cried last night in preparation for this morning.)