Friday, 8 July 2011

Cow wranglin', hay bale madness, Acadian hospitality and elbows deep in cow.

I coasted into Memracook, New Brunswick on less then a tenth of a tank of gas near dusk.  The sun was setting in the idyllic hills of this quiet Acadian village, quietly beckoning me into its gentle embrace.  After asking for some directions at the local "bit-o-everything" town store, I was guided to a farm house looking down into the quiet Acadian valley.

I rolled into the driveway, anxiously awaiting my reception.  I saw a young, scruffy and wiry young man using a pitch fork to launch clumps of decomposing compost from a trailer onto the lawn below.  I gave a casual wave and knew immediately that the young fellow was Jer, the couchsurfer extraordinaire. 

We exchanged a few pleasantries, and immediately I was struck by his welcoming geniality.  He offered me a bite to eat, which I happily agreed to, my stomach welcoming an alternative to the trail mix bombardment it had suffered on the eight hour drive from Gaspe.

I was quickly introduced to Jer's folks, Leon and Phyliss Gaudet, hardworking Acadian farmers who had been working the land around me for decades.  There was none of the usual awkwardness that is accustomed to meeting strangers, like their son they were warm and congenial  and made this adventurer feel at home immediately.

Retiring, they left Jer and I to converse.  As I talked while Jer cooked and conversed, I realised the kindred spirit we both shared.  Both of us are left wing hippies who really want to find alternatives for making the future cleaner, healthier and happier for our fellow humans.  We talked into the late hours of evening and on into early morning.  I think we both learned a lot from each other.

I was excited about sleeping for the first time in a while.  This was the first real bed I had seen since home and it was in fact better then my rundown twin mattress.  I crawled into bed and slept a solid ten hours without reprieve.

I awoke to an empty house, but could see the hustle and bustle in the fields sloping down away from the house.  I breathed in the clean country air and just sat outside on the deck which circumnavigated the house.  Humming birds buzzed by me and peace washed over me.  Little did I realize I was about to be a willing victim to my first dose of true Acadian hospitality.

Phylis came in and asked if I was hungry, my mind screamed "YES! STARVING!" but I casually replied "I could eat".  She whizzed through the kitchen like the hummingbirds whipped through the warm summer air outside.  After a few minutes I was mowing down on home made meat pies, salad, fresh eggs from the farm and raw milk from the family dairy farm.  My mind and body satisfied, I toured the farm with Jer.

Jer showed me into the barn where about twenty cows awaited their daily milking.  I was introduced to Jer's older brother Justin who was eager to extend even more Gaudet family kindness.  He was more then happy to answer this city slicker's questions about how the farm operated and made revenue. 

Jer got me to hook up a milker to the a cow, and it was the first time I ever touched a cow's utter.  It felt alien and strange, but after a couple of tries I hooked the milker to the heifer, who thankfully allowed my unskilled hands to fondle her so clumsily.  I went with Justin into another barn where he fed the younger, and pregnant cows that weren't milkable.   Justin's insight into the agricultural industry really opened my eyes to the struggles that the farmers currently face, and will be facing down the road.  His intelligence was surprising and his future endeavors involve traveling around the world to learn about farming practices abroad.  His goal is to adapt the family farm so it can be profitable using a more efficient, petroleum free model.  I was fascinated and could have talked to him for hours.  I have so much more respect for what farmers do, the back breaking work they put in and the struggles they face.  I will never look at a glass of milk or a chunk of cheese in the same way ever again.

After the milking was finished I was informed of our next mission.  We were to separate a heifer in heat from the rest of the herd, problem was, this cow was used to the freedom of pasture life and had been accustomed to being outside for months.  I asked Justin what this meant, and he told me that these cows were less docile and more unruly.  "Great" I thought, my trip is going to end with me getting trampled by a group of unruly cattle.

We approached the herd of about two dozen or so cattle.  Jer walked right in like he was a confident gunslinger walking into the town saloon.  I don't know how, but somehow the reddish tinted heifer was charging out of the herd solo.  She ran towards me and I almost peed in my pants but managed to scare her in another direction.  A few seconds later however, the spooked cow had found a chink in our human chain and made her way back to the herd.  Jer went back in, again with surprising bravado and got her out again, this time with a herd mate in tow.  We managed to triangulate on the two cows and kept working her towards the barn.

Eventually we had red-tint and her friend cornered, and the two cows made a break for it, exposing a small weakness in our defenses.  Justin came to the rescue to plug the hole, slipped, and nearly got himself trampled by the black heifer who got away.  He managed to make enough of a racket to scare red-tint back before she would have trampled him down.  Quick to his feet, Justin and Jer worked the cow back to the barn.  After a bit of a cat and mouse in the barn, Justin bridled "red-tint" and tied her into one of the milking stalls.

A heifer in heat is a heifer in need, at least on a farm.  Justin suited up with with his shoulder length latex gauntlets, and after thawing some sperm which he produced from a vat of liquid nitrogen, stuck his arm in the cow's ass, and the insemination tube in the cow's "you-know-what".  After the brief procedure the Heifer was returned to pasture, a much easier task then the one before, and the job was done.

We returned home had a late dinner and it was back out to the barn to stack bales of hay.  Leon, Justin, Jer, and Jeremie, a tough sixteen year old farmhand, were all present to start lobbing 40lb bales of hay.  We stacked and stacked and stacked some more.  When the job was done, we were all covered in a film of perspiration.  My hands were raw and my fore arms scratched up to shit.  Thinking the job was done I naively asked, "what now?"

To my dismay I was informed there were about 300 more bales of hay to stack!

A couple of hours later the job was done, we headed home and hit the "hay".  I think now I know where the expression originates.

The next day, Phyllis treated me to a full tank of gas, and my new friend for life, Jer, told me he too, had a gift for me.  He reached into his pocket and produced three twenties and a ten.  Seventy bucks!!  It almost brought tears to my eyes, after all there kindness and generosity, this!  My faith in humanity is restored a little more each day.  If there were more families like the "Gaudets" on this planet we would be living in paradise.  There aren't words in English, French or any other language that can express the deep gratitude and pleasure that I feel after knowing these people.  If I can be half has kind and generous as these people, I'd have accomplished a great deal in my life.  Thank you so much, all of you.

So I am now arrived in PEI where I will be staying in a camper on the beach.  I have yet again no expectations, other then to stay open and let life and the universe guide me where it may.

After one week of travel, my thousand bucks has only dwindled to $930!! Thanks in part to the magnanimous souls I have met along this road.  Thank you Mitch, April, and the Gaudets.  Merci!

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