Here is the link to June when I began this Diary of life on the farm. If you are new to this column, you might find that introduction very helpful to read first. If you have no interest in learning about farm life, raising livestock, or homesteading hints, this may challenge you in new directions. You might pick up a tibit or two of something of interest. This month I journal memories of 50 years ago and driving overland from England to Bombay, India.
Canada Day, July weekend. Lots of visitors arriving. Since I plan to be away for a couple of days this week, I cut the lawn today with the riding lawn mower even thought it barely needed it. I like the garden to look nice on special days, but usually do it once a week. Here’s an earlier photo of my daughter doing it for me.
We have been experiencing a heat wave that has slowed growth so obviously in the grass, and lessened our activities. A couple of men arrived today to cut down some big maple tree branches that reach across the deck and are brushing the sides of the house. One of the farmer’s sons is hauling away those branches, and the girls have left to go swimming in a neighbour’s big pond. I glanced over at the chicken coop, but the ladies have disappeared inside for their afternoon nap. Part of their routine.
I enjoyed a farm auction nearby on Saturday and got a couple of lovely winter horse blankets for $27.50. It was fun bargaining and I had set my limit at $25, but inched it up reluctantly cause I really wanted them. I smiled thanks at the couple who gave in and let me have them. It was a small crowd and no one else was interested.
The blankets smelled quite badly, so I gladly washed each one separately in the bath tub, stomping on them in the wash and rinse, and finding a new way to exercise doing so. The wet blankets were out in the sun on the deck to dry all day and are nicely packed now in the tack box that came with them. Even a couple of fly masks were included. Winter horse blankets easily cost $150 or higher each. I expect only a horseman can appreciate what gave me real joy in my find. The first horse blankets I have ever owned.
Fall seems far away as we enter the heat of the summer, but I am already busy planning for a major event this October. This is my Jubilee Year, 50 years since three major events in my life, and I’m planning something special in memory of that.
I’ve always been happier having a focus, a project, rather than just letting life happen to me. I looked at my finances and paused, but money should not be the deciding factor in doing what I really believe God is guiding me to do. Too often, however, I am not alone in recognizing “I cannot afford that,” without pausing to consider that my need could be met miraculously.
There is a principle here. I need to birth or create a vision inside me before it becomes a reality, then focus on developing that dream bit bit over time. To see something in fulfillment in my own mind long before the physical reality appears. To believe in what I am doing.
People should do this as they start a business. Think of the creators who have brought us the light bulb, or vaccines, who ‘kept on keeping on’ until they found the secret of success. They failed hundreds of times in the process. I think we learn more from our failures than we ever do from our successes.
The greatest miracle in my life (next to the joy in the birth of my children) happened in 1968 when I was in England, after spending a summer on a team in France with Operation Mobilization. I had returned to London for the month-long conference that prepared several hundred young people including myself, who would soon be send out across the world on various teams to share our faith and witness for Jesus.
I had a deep desire to go to India for some time. I became strongly convinced it was God’s will for me to do so. But every participant had to fund their trip. I had no money at all. All my funds had taken me this far, but having been in college for the past four years and with a widowed mother living on a pension, I could not expect help in that direction. I was not allowed to work.
And so, every spare minute I was not in a session, I slipped away to pray for help and provision. I agonized in prayer, desperate, not knowing what to do, but trusting God would somehow find a way to intervene.
The conference ended, and people went home for a week to say goodbye to families. I was billeted with a doctor in Birmingham, serving the Indians in that city. She took me to work with her, and taught me a lot that week.
Everyone arrived back in London at OM’s headquarters. We climbed into the back of one of five trucks waiting to take us across the English Channel to OM’s headquarters in Belgium. I climbed into the last one and heard the others begin to drive away. Suddenly someone ran out of the office and stopped our driver, and sent the truck I was in across the city back to the big church where the conference had been held. The driver told us we might as well get out cause he would be awhile.
I walked inside and someone recognized me and told me I had some mail on the mantel of the fireplace. I picked up the pile of letters and began opening them. The first was a notice I had received an inheritance of several thousand dollars, and each letter had cash– the money I needed for my trip to India.
I am still in awe of that moment and its timing. There was no way that money could have reached me in time had I left with the others for Europe. God made sure I didn’t miss my money, and within a few days, I left on a road trip of a lifetime heading to Asia.
In this photo, I’m the one of the left reaching for the child.
Our journey took us through: Belgium, Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia (Croatia), to Bulgaria to cross the Bosphorus Sea into the Middle East at Istanbul, Turkey.
Onward to Ankara, then across the sandy, barren deserts to Tehran, Iran; up over those huge mountains then down to the shoreline of the Caspian Sea, moving ever onward through Afghanistan (Herat, Kandahar, Kabul) and the Kyber Pass to Pakistan, and finally onto the hot plains of India.
Running ahead of the vehicle at dawn to get some exercise, shopping for food in the market, and stopped by the road to eat it, drinking endless cups of chai. (tea)….getting advice where to go to find our way because back then there was often no roads ahead of us. Fording rivers, often changing tires.
In the middle of the night, high above in the mountains after Tehran, we came to an sudden halt. The only warning was a little sign of squiggles we could not read, propped against a pile of dirt. Our driver was puzzled about it and stopped, and the guys decided to walk ahead. That decision saved our lives. We found the dirt track we had been following dropped off into a black abyss. An avalanche had wiped out the area ahead of us.
Construction work had begun so we were able to turn left abruptly and inch against the mountain wall to get past the drop off. I was sitting upfront in the lead truck as we moved extremely slowly and I was terribly tense, afraid to look out of my window into the black hole just inches away from the tires of our truck…….we made it, as did the truck following us.
I was very disappointed with the muddy shoreline of the Caspian Sea, but what a surprise when we reached Afghanistan to find a beautiful modern highway, built by the Russians.
A treat was a stop in a restaurant for a meal outside the village of Herat. A group of turbaned Afghani men came in and sat against the wall on a raised platform . We girls were at a table in the middle of the room. They laid their rifles across their laps, and stared as us. We got out of there! I glanced at the old fort as we left, wondering if Genghis Khan had passed this way so long ago. To think that Herat is now a big city amazes me as it was a cluster of huts in a village when I passed by. I got a glimpse into history, part of which no longer exists.
Modern Kabul, Afghanistan – oh those mountains!
Outside Kabul University, another girl and I was waiting in the truck while the others went inside. We were parked in a back alley. Suddenly a group of young men came marching up the street, so we slid down to hide, as I locked the doors. In a flash they were all over us, banging the sides with their sticks and rocking the truck a bit in protest, then were gone as quickly as they appeared. Whew.
The Khyber Pass
Our group in the Khyber Pass. I’m back row, 2nd from right
So often on that journey I would wake up in the darkness wondering what country we were in, and what side of the road we should be on. If there were road signs I couldn’t read them anyway. Every four hours we would take turns sitting up front with the driver.
Other times we would lay in the back on top of mattresses over a lot of supplies we were taking to the team in India. Reading, studying phrases in Hindi, singing, great conversations, or sleeping. As we crossed that last border coming into India, I saw a pack of dogs tearing at a buffalo carcass. What an introduction.
The first year I lived in the huge city of Bombay, where water flowed only an hour or two, twice a day, for the millions like us who kept their taps open over barrels to collect the precious liquid. From here I was sent out on teams, living with Indian girls, to the States of Gujarat and Punjab, and later to the office in Bangalore. I answered correspondence courses, gave musical concerts, taught health and hygiene, spoke at endless meetings or went door to door selling Christian publications. For the most part, the people were lovely, very hospitable and frequently wanted to know about the West.
Then up I flew into the regions of the highest mountains of the world in Kathmandu, Nepal. Here I explored the valley on my bicycle after work. For awhile I lived in a private British guest house with Tibetan servants that I talked with about their perilous journey escaping Lhasa in the 1959, barely 10 years previously, when the Chinese overthrew their homeland.
Sadly I was blocked from going to Tibet, because in those days China was a closed country. I tried and got right to the border. But when the guard saw me coming, he cocked his rifle before I was snatched and hurried away…..never mind all that. When I think of my own daughter doing what we did in those days, my heart fails me. Yet, I would do it again, gladly, and I hope to do some of it again, Lord willing. Tibet is my destination of choice in the whole wide world.
The innocence of youth is a beautiful thing. I was naive about the world possibly because I came from a village where the only people who had ever left it had gone to a world war. I believed that nothing bad could happen to me simply because I belonged to God and was on a mission for Him. I must have had a guardian Angel that worked overtime in those days.
Innocent until the day I was walking along a road beside the train tracks in Bangalore with an Indian girl. A man was coming towards me on his bicycle, but suddenly he threw it down and raced away in front of me to throw himself down on the tracks as the train was passing by. The screams of the brakes as it tried to come to a halt was much too late….we rushed over to see his body lying there face down, cut in two, and I stared and stared……finally we pulled each other away and fled.
In excitement I paused to tell someone I knew about what had happened. But a big Brahma tried to kill me because I forgot where I was and slapped it on the rump to get it out of my way. Those horns viciously tried to gore me. I kicked it in the face, yelling, and leaped through the garden gate to escape.
When the animal finally slauntered away, I hurried home, and laid there all afternoon listening to the train whistle blow constantly while the body was removed. I had to cross those tracks the next day to go to work.
I had failed my mission in life, and the depression that followed was deeply serious. A missionary tried to help me understand that I was not responsible for death of that man, a 35 year old clerk whose business was failing. “But if I had only hurried, talked to him, done something, anything–maybe I could have saved him,” my mind screamed at me. No, God loved that man and gave him free will, just as He does every one of us, even the choice to destroy the life He has given us.
I had arrived in India so confident I could handle anything, but how wrong I was. Perhaps it was that woman’s gentleness, her kindness during my terrible suffering, that has made those qualities so important to me now.
How do I explain India? People were everywhere, all the time. Radios blared in Hindi as soon as someone got up (5 am common) jerking us awake, and often the heat was 110F in the shade. Bedbugs or rats were a constant problem. I was afraid to sleep because they were everywhere until we finally got some screening for our apartment. I often slept on top of my desk at first because rats were the size of cats. No wonder, since the family next door fed them daily as part of their worship.
Going out in the early morning, I had to step over people sleeping on the street, hundreds of them. Coming home from work I would suddenly be pelted with dye, and would rush to try to escape the repeated splashings. It was a festival, great fun for kids but not for foreigners, whom they loved to pick on. Or I’d hire someone to carry my suitcase and he’s walk off with everything I owned, when I paused to speak to someone.
While shopping in a market, I would turn to suddenly stare into the face of a snake, just a foot away dangling from someone’s neck, with its owner begging me for some milk to feed it. It was exhausting bargaining for everything in Hindi, and my mouth would get sore doing so. I studied the language daily because no one spoke English other than the people with whom I lived.
I had to bargain for everything, even a bunch of bananas I bought every day. I knew the price; they knew the price that was acceptable, but never could I just walk out and get a simple bunch of bananas without an argument with the same people every day.
We would clean the rice every evening so we could eat it next day, yes, rice three times a day for nearly two years, which was the staple of Indian diet. But first one had to pick out the worms and stones and other debris to clean it. So we hired a local Indian man to shop for us using our ration cards, and that helped. When I moved to the North, I had some relief with chapattis, curried meat and a sweet.
Then Monsoon hit, and wonderful rain arrived in a downpour, and it rained and rained and kept on raining –soon the streets were flooded and a danger to try to cross as it rushed around the corners in a dirty torrent. The rain ended as abruptly as it began within a month or so. I cannot remember that part.
By this time I was so used to living in a cheap Indian sari (I had two), and having a half a pail of water for washing myself and my clothes that day. Everyone ate food with the fingers of the right hand. Rarely did I get to use cutlery and never a fork. The left hand was used for other things and a little can with water was one of them– there was no toilet paper, or if I got a roll, it was so precious, I would use one square at a time.
The missionary helped me in other ways as well. She showed me whether I did it physically or figuratively to take a simple towel, throw it over my head, and for a few seconds I am safe and alone in that darkness space. I cannot explain India’ millions. I could not escape, so I had to learn if I could not change my circumstances, I had to change my attitude instead.
We talk of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder so easily today, but the mind can handle only so much and the body shuts down to protect itself. I was desperate to escape the place I had once been excited to see but I still had another year to go in my contract.
Later, I found a tiny garden in one of the richest hotels in Bombay and would walk in there as if I owned the world to sit for an hour of peace and solitude. I did that as often as I could for awhile. I love my garden to this day for its peace and tranquility and privacy. I wrote a booklet about Lessons From My Garden. God created the first garden. I go to mine whenever I need a moment of quietness and peace, and especially to be with Him.
A telephone call came for me from the Director of the organization I was with because my mother had contacted him, deeply worried about what she was seeing on TV about the riots in Bombay. I reassured him we were okay, just hiding out in our apartment for awhile while riots were going on in the streets. I hurried past burning buses and angry crowds smashing thing to get to our apartment and stayed inside for that week. I was hardly going to tell my mother the danger all around us.
I was sent to Nepal to help me heal, so I began work as a Secretary to help prepare a book for the Asian Market. I typed that book six times during the revisions and followed it right through its publishing, watching each book being hand- stitched. And exploring the countryside while living in a Western environment and dress helped bring me back into balance mentally.
Later I had just flown down from Nepal to return to India, and had taken a taxi from the airport to the train station. I noticed the crowds of men outside with their pitchforks and red flags. The Ticket Master grabbed my hand and yanked me to the women’s washroom where he hid me in a broom closet. The Communists were trying to take over the state. He fled and the riot began when the military train arrived. I stood there for 15 hours in fear listening to the screams, the bangs, the poundings and then silence all night along. The next morning when I heard another train arrive, terrified, I crept out, leaped on board and fled. I learned later that the trains were stopped during the night until most of the uprising was put down.
I want to retrace some of these steps, and am searching for a way to do that. The Middle East is perhaps the most dangerous part of the world right now. The cost of extended travel for several months has escalated almost beyond my reach as a senior living on a pension, unless I rough it very hard, and I just don’t want to do that any more. One can leave Canada for 182 days without losing our free health benefits, and that is something at my stage of life I cannot ignore. Many Canuks head to Florida for the winter. Been there, not part of my plan.
U-tube has been a help, since there are many videos of people travelling the world. I particularly love train trips, since my last one through England, Scotland and Ireland in 2014. So I’ve been watching train travel on U-tube for some time now. But I particularly enjoyed the video of a 2017 trip of those in India who did a 49-day, reverse-trip through 18 countries including China to Russia and down along the Baltic Region to finally reach London. So people are on the move all the time. Want to come?
Just as I feared, a small animal got under the fence into the chicken yard last night because I had not yet put a fence extension on the ground all around the outside perimeter. Fortunately the ‘girls’, the hens, were inside for the night. So I hurried to town to buy more wire, two feet wide, attaching it on the outside by running it part way up the current fence and then weighing a foot of mesh down flat on the ground under railway ties.
Since this incident, one of the chickens keeps appearing outside the fenced yard, but does she really fly over almost 7 ft height of wire? I may have to identify her and clip some feathers off her wings to keep her on the ground. I stopped at a hardware store today to buy black wire in order to support the netting I am planning to put as a cover on top of the chicken yard. The old farmer warned me it may hold snow, but I think I’ve figured out a way to roll it back out of the way in wintertime when the chickens remain in their building.
Another bird is losing her feathers because she is starting to moult. Chickens lose their feathers once a year and grow new ones. But in this case, timing may not be good because I have read that good layers never moult before September.
I also have to block off the highest nesting boxes because the girls use the front lip of each one to sit on at night instead of the roost. Another lesson in understanding chicken behaviour. Nesting boxes have to be below the roost.
While the old farmer was repairing a concrete water trough the other evening, a coon walked by, heading to the barn. We occasionally see them in the daylight, but that is unusual. Coons are a huge problem for farmers.
The seven calves are so cute. I spent an hour with the herd the other morning around 6 am when they came up from the field to the barnyard to get a drink of water. I was studying the pecking order of the herd to find the lead cow. They hang around for about 45 minutes before slowly moving away.
The calves love to jump and play on a big heap of soil that is piled up in the area. And they buddy up sometimes and come racing together into the barnyard, even ignoring their mothers for awhile until a mother cow suddenly misses her calf and bawls to call it to her. They seem to have grown wiser and don’t always accompany their mother in that long walk to the barn and back, lying down in a tree belt to hide from flies.
I noticed the youngest arrival was trying to nurse on a cow from the rear, while she was licking her own calf in front of her. It had some trouble finding its own new mother in that herd, and she didn’t respond to its bawling as it wandered around. So it appears there are some cows who seem relaxed about this while others are not so accommodating, and will butt another youngster away. Getting an ear tag on a newborn is pretty important to identify it and its mother cause the calves are not easy to catch in a few days, and right now they all look the same.
I started Concord grave vines in water in the house, first cutting new stems from the big vine on the arbor, but the leaves died before any roots developed. So I watched a U-Tube video about dipping prepared stems with a few leaves in cutting hormone and placing them in a damp medium, so will see how successful this method is. Using hardwood cuttings from dormant plants takes a full year, so not very interested.
I have to decide where to put in posts and a double cable system to support the plants. There is quite an art to growing grapes. Apparently one cuts back 90% of the year’s growth during pruning time in late winter. During growth time, one trains the stems as two arms to reach out from a centre stem in opposite horizontal directions, first at 3 ft and then much higher as a second tier. The cable supports the weight.
I had a terrific crop of grapes last year, but just like my sweet cherries, the birds ate them this year before they ripened. I hung finch feeders in the arbor where my grape grows, bringing the birds to the discover this lovely fruit.
I realized my original idea wouldn’t work planting grapes against a rail fence in the veggie garden because anything I put on the perimeter would cast shade equal to the the same height of the fence covered by a vine. That shade would extend over half of the garden . Most vegetables need full sun.
As July passes into August let me congratulate my grandson, Zuke Gabriel McLean on his first birthday this past weekend. It was a lovely time of celebration!