RD June Letters 2019

Aligned for resurrection
RD: Talk about coincidences! Just today (Friday, April 12) I picked up a copy of Getting Rid of Alders at our Perth-Andover, N.B., library, and came across the item “Making country butter,” from 1987 by Susan Restino (pg. 72), and just this past Tuesday (April 9) I was helping a friend do a demonstration of old tools to some youngsters, probably mostly under age 11 or so, at this same library, and my friend used an old “... glass jar with manually-cranked rotating paddles” butter churn to actually make a batch of butter! Taberduker! A wonderful read! Then I came across another item in “From Maritime kitchens” about “Tough deer steak,” on page 90, which reminded me of a verse I did way back in 2012. (See “Stainless steel teeth,” below.)

D.C. Butterfield
Kilburn, N.B.

Save the gypsum
RD: Regarding Emily Leeson’s article “Spreading gypsum” in the May issue (pg. 28), I would like to point out that gypsum mined in Nova Scotia for wallboard and agriculture comes at a dreadful cost to one of the most unique and irreplaceable environments in our province, and is not a reason to rejoice. Where mining has not yet taken place, the gypsum cliffs are a remnant of true wilderness. Unlike wilderness designated and set aside by government, the gypsum is a wilderness because there is nothing you can do with it. No one goes into the gypsum. There is no fishing, no timber, and it is too rough to hunt. Up in the gypsum are thin ridges covered in stunted trees. The ridges wander and border sink holes too steep to climb out of. You can’t drive a motorized vehicle into the gypsum – there are no trails except those of deer. You can’t even ride a horse into the gypsum. The only way in is on foot. As you thread your way along a ridge and clamber over the ancient but scrubby trees, the sinkholes on either side are amazing – emerald green with ferns, and so steep and so deep that in the bottom of some the ice stays all summer.

The gypsum cliffs harbour some of the choicest and most rarely seen plant species in the province. The yellow Ladyslipper orchid as well as the Ram’s-Head Ladyslipper mentioned in the article before Emily Leeson’s (“Suing for species protection,” by Zack Metcalfe, pg. 20), favour the gypsum. The Maidenhair fern, if it still occurs in this province, is found in the gypsum. Birds and animals frequent the cliffs if for no other reason than their inaccessibility to humans. The only way so far that we humans have been able to intrude into the gypsum is with the bulldozer and the excavator, and I’m sure that the operators never notice the Ladyslippers.

Bruce Partridge
St. Andrews, N.S.

Armed response
RD: I wish to respond to Phil Thompson’s article “Appropriately armed,” (RD May, pg. 27).

I also was taught to hunt by my grandfather by being given one bullet for a Cooey model 39 and told when I come back with a rabbit then I would get another bullet. I have spent the last 56 years around firearms, hunting, sport shooting, and I am an instructor for the Canadian Firearms Safety Course for both long guns and restricted.

I question his statement about the use of AK47s in the Canadian Arctic. Popular for hunting just about everything, these firearms are Russian built, banned in Canada since the early ’90s, and not very powerful – they fire a 7.62 X 39 mm round.

He also wonders why guns aren’t banned in cities. Not all hunters and sport shooters have the luxury to be able to live in the country, therefore they must keep their lawfully owned property in their home in the city or town where they live.

He speaks about military assault rifles being semi-automatic and not encouraging good hunting practices. As I stated before about the AK47, these firearms have been banned in Canada since the early ’90s. I believe he is speaking about modern sporting rifles, which the media (because of not knowing or caring) call “assault rifles.”

The author speaks of looking forward to inheriting his dad’s Marlin .22 because he has a coyote problem. A rimfire .22 rifle is barely powerful (enough) to humanely dispatch a coyote at close quarters, less than 50 metres maybe. He would be better to invest in a modern sporting rifle in .223 calibre.

He doesn’t mention sport shooting at all. This is a sport that can be taken up at age 12 with guidance and enjoyed the rest of that person’s life, not like other sports, that as the body gets older, the aches and pains can make unbearable to participate in.

The problem Canada is having is not guns. After all, they are a tool the same as a hammer. If a person doesn’t pick it up, nothing happens. The problem is people – people not being taught how to handle firearms, and government and media that use firearm owners for their agenda. Instead of looking at the root causes of crime, they blame law-abiding firearms owners.

In ending, I invite anyone interested to go find someone in the shooting sports and have a range day. I would be glad to take anyone.

Ken McChesney
Afton, N.S.

RD: Just read Phil Thompson’s excellent article about guns, and I agree wholeheartedly with every point he makes. I, too, had a few lessons on a .22 with my father, but never would have killed anything; we just shot at a target. My sister, who lives in Calgary (a city!), is a firm believer that everyone should have a gun – that is the way to protect oneself. When I was heading off on one of my solo trips, she asked me if I was taking a gun. Imagine! (I was going to Wales.)

I have such great respect for the prime minister of New Zealand. She took direct, positive, and useful action after that terrible massacre, which is exactly what needs to but never will happen in the U.S. They prefer thoughts and prayers. People in cities do not need guns, yet they are often the loudest in combatting gun control.

Simply a great article! Thank you for putting the issue so succinctly.

Dianne Powell
Wentworth Station, N.S.

I like trains
RD: First, the white dog. Your latest RD cover (May) is a gem (“Gate crashers,” photo by Rusty Bitterman). After admiring the flock and their far-off shepherdess, I blinked twice at the horn-less left-front animal – why, it’s a dog! A dog very like our Sidney, the Cocker-Golden Lab who died in 1997. Beth blinked twice too – could have been tears.

Is it possible, since he/she looks so sheep-like, that his/her charges find him/her less intimidating, though still boss?

About the train – I found your evocation of rail travel spot on (“Getting aboard,” pg. 6). Two summers ago, I too rode the rails. My first time in years, it was to Kingston, Ont. Had a lovely trip, as much for the ride as the visit. Got to see millions of burgeoning forest trees up close, much less stunted than our wind-buffeted Nova Scotia specimens at their best.

You’re right about the worsening state of our tracks and trains, though; your op-ed may help. Hope so, because highway travel, like air travel, appeals to me less and less. For a landscape painter, nothing is more boring than glimpsing paintable scenes glide by with no chance to do anything but steer and follow signs. I’ve tried snapping pix but they seldom convey what I see, the spirit of a place, let alone its true colours. Riding a train, you at least have time and leisure to take a good look.

One of my early pieces was about such a trip (“Train Ride,” 1977). It’s in my 1989 essay collection Alder Music, which Breakwater Books remaindered several years ago.

Thank you for the memory.

Gary Saunders
Clifton, N.S.

Awesome oxen
RD: First of all, thank you for Rural Delivery. Every issue has at least one thing that delights me, one thing that amuses me, and one thing that annoys me. I call that good value!

And speaking of value, I think you could make a valuable contribution to combating climate change by running some articles about farming with oxen. The climate-related advantages of using these wonderful animals instead of tractors are many. Consider the amount of fuel used in shipping, for example. We bought our calves 10 miles from our farm when they weighed a little over a hundred pounds each; the tractor they’re replacing weighs about 6,000 pounds, and was shipped here from Germany. The difference in day-to-day farm operations is dramatic, too. Running a tractor involves not only the fuel you burn, but also the fuel that was burned in extracting, refining, and shipping that fuel (and building the refinery, and the pipeline, tanker, etc., etc.). Whereas if you grow your own hay, and you do your haying with oxen, that’s that: no petroleum at all. And then there’s the amount of fossil fuel involved in making a tractor versus making a calf.

To some extent, of course, what goes for oxen goes for horses. But – no offense to the horse lovers out there – even though horses are awesome, they’re also expensive and skittish, they’re picky eaters, and they have a great tendency to drop dead if you look at them sideways, whereas oxen are super-awesome, calm, easy to feed, and hardy, and dairy farms will let you have bull calves for a song.

Trouble is, almost no one in Canada knows anything about oxen. Except in the Maritimes. You’re very lucky that way, I have to say. Around here, in Ontario, if we have questions about training our calves, we have to get on the internet; there’s nobody we can talk to in person, and I’ve never seen another team here except at a museum. It’s the same in most of Canada.

Where RD lives, though, there’s a great concentration of people who are knowledgeable about oxen. If you could talk to some of them, especially if they’re using oxen to farm, and publish a few pieces, I think you might inspire more people to consider changing the way they farm. And farming (like just about everything else we do) needs to change drastically and fast.

Jim Gronau
Milford, Ont.

(Jim, it seemed like serendipity to receive your letter, because we happen to have a good story about oxen in this issue. “My yoke of steer” (pg. 42) is actually an excerpt from Glimpses into Old New Ross, a new book by Rev. Canon Russell Elliott, about his boyhood experiences. He discusses some of the unique skills and practices associated with using oxen, and the pleasures of working with them once they are well trained. This was quite some time ago (the sprightly Rev. Elliott is about to turn 102), but the community of New Ross remains a bastion of oxen knowledge and tradition. It is home to Ross Farm Museum, which does a great deal to keep these skills and traditions alive. In fact, the excerpt from Rev. Elliott’s book came to us via Carmen Legge, who is the museum’s blacksmith – and an author in his own right, having published Oxen: Their Care, Training and Use in 2013. Apart from the popularity of competitive ox pulls at county fairs in Nova Scotia, there must be a number of people who are still – or again – using oxen for farming. We urge readers to drop us a note if they know of anyone who is doing so. DL)