Stories of home and hearth : central Alberta, Canada – June-Sept 2013
When the Fishers and I decided to work together last summer, I was to be living out at their farm near the town of Didsbury most days in the week, and touching base with the big city life in Calgary the other days of the week.
I decided it would be fun to bike commute one way by bicycle, about 100km across the open prairies in a day’s time, and would catch a ride with the Fishers back into the city on our weekly trips to the Farmer’s market. In between, I would be working and living at the farm. The work would be divided between online marketing activities, farm work and food prep. Ah, but living… that’s where we needed some luck: my lodgings.
On a large property filled with scattered farm equipment, old sheds and trucks and even a trailer or two the Fishers knew that finding me a spot to call my own would be more a matter of creativity than actual concern. We initially toyed with the idea of using one of the trailers. Then, when the flood hit in June, I had a little room to myself in the main house. But finally, with a phone call that made me smile, laugh and shake my head (at the hilarity of my life) I heard the news from Nolan – “I just went to see the neighbours and they have this old, unused chicken coop that we could turn into a little cabin for you”. I knew that Nolan was very handy in anything construction related, but I couldn’t help but repeat it back to him, “a chicken coop?”. “Don’t worry”, he assured me “it hasn’t been inhabited by a chicken since before the war. There’s no smell. Actually, it’s in really good condition for such a historic structure”.
To top it off, the neighbours were aghast at the thought that I would be living in their old coop and even offered me a room in their own house instead. I thanked them and declined their offer.
Nolan quickly sent me a few pictures of the weather beaten hut with the downwards sloping roof characteristic of poultry residences. I was promised general maintenance on it, a fresh coat of paint (inside and out) and a few equally historic, and perfectly quaint, pieces of furniture for inside the cabin. I mean chicken coop. Sheesh. Honestly, we tried to rechristen it ‘the cabin’, but once a coop, always a coop.
And mine was a real class act.
The windows looked out into the west. One of my favourite memories from that coop is sitting at my little desk and writing in my journal in the evening light. Or I might read from my organic farming manual. Or simply rest and listen to the wind beat the pine branches on my little coop’s head. The light in that cabin was spectacular. Warm and home-like and healing to look at. And the warmth from the sun rays precious like all warmth and stillness in the prairies – by it’s fleeting nature. The sun would drop and it would quickly cool down in my hut. I would light a candle and gaze into the flame wondering at how such a simple thing as four freshly painted walls and a slanted roof could bring me so much joy. There was no electricity, or need for it, in my hut…so I would set my clock by the sun. There was no bathroom of course, but I had my little forest near at hand so a nightime pee was no trouble at all. Once, nature called in the early hours of the morning, as did a coyote in the distance. I came out into the cool night to find the resident collie bright eyed and running about – he was usually quite lethargic during the day – come to rest his head on my knee as I observed the cloudless night and the stars. Sleep is always somewhat tainted whenever you realize the star gazing potential away from the cities. The stillness, the quiet, the peaceful hum of regenerative sleep.
It was the perfect safe haven for my summer farming tryouts. I’d like to say I was resting after a long day’s work but I couldn’t call my days long by any measure – I would be nestled and sleeping comfortably in the coop while Nolan and Kari stayed up late, often past midnight, packing and prepping produce for the market.
I would hover between referring to it as ‘my’ coop or ‘the’ coop… knowing that it would become the children’s play space after the summer. But for a short space in time it was mine – mine to enjoy, and to be in, and to look forward to while biking once a week from Calgary to the farm to arrive at my little home : )
Last summer I got a taste of farming, and a fuller taste of the prairies. The crowning jewel to the experience: living in the most luxurious cabin ever upcycled this side of the moon: my very own chicken coop.