OF THE FARM
Holding on by the fingernails near Landis, Saskatchewan
The knife makes a small cracking sound as it cuts through the vein and breaks the neck. The lamb grunts, making frantic running motions with its trussed legs as the blood spurts out and runs down its side. Small mangy black cats scuffle in from the dark corners of the barn, crouching in the straw in an expectant circle. The lamb raises and lowers its head, rolling its eye balefully upward, breathing hard. The dog Ringo, watching close by its head, leans forward occasionally and tenderly licks the blood from the wound.
“Sheep,” says Gordon Taylor, “take forever to die.”
We wait in silence. It’s June, and the barn is warm and cozy, the air heavy with manure. Old pieces of leather harness and rope and baler twine hang from the low beams; sweet straw piled high in the stalls is bright yellow where the sunlight streams in the door and through the cracks in the weathered boards. The dozen sheep still penned up outside bleat loudly.
The lamb, lying on its side on a small wooden bench, begins to thrash convulsively. “Come on, boy,” says Gordon anxiously, leaning over it in his big white paper apron. “Come on.” The lamb’s eye is big with fear.
“You can’t shoot a sheep. The brain is so far back it’s hard to find. It’s not very humane to do it this way, I suppose, but it’s the only way. I can do a lamb in 20 minutes; this one will take longer because he’s bigger.”
When the lamb is dead, Gordon hooks it to a block and tackle and strings it upside down to a rafter. With a quick stroke, he slits it down the belly and expertly skins it. He tosses the hide aside into the straw and dung.
“You know how much a sheepskin is worth? Ten cents. They sell for $30 in The Bay in Saskatoon. I’ve got a pile of 50 of them going moldy out in the yard; it doesn’t pay us to skin them.”
He ties up the esophagus and cuts off the penis. “A sheep is the only animal you can do this with,” he says. “Usually the urine comes pouring out.” Another stroke and the guts come spilling on to the ground; the cats fight over the liver and the dog sniffs experimentally around the stomach.
“You get sort of hardened to it after a while,” says Gordon, hacking off the head. “Cold blooded. It’s my livelihood. A lot
of farmers won’t do this, get their hands dirty butchering.”
He wipes the carcass lightly with a rag and some water from a little plastic pail. The lamb is left to hang for an hour, then Gordon lugs it to the station wagon, ready to be taken to the butcher in town and cut into chops.
“I killed the ram, the ugly one,” he announces in the kitchen with a big smile.
A few hours later, he goes back to the barn, shovels the guts into a wheelbarrow and dumps them out in the pasture. “The dogs and cats thrive on them,” he says. “We even get coyotes coming in for them, magpies too. If there’s anything left in the spring, I bring it back and bury it in the manure pile.”
The ram will feed the Taylors for 25 meals.
Gordon and Norma Taylor farm 1,200 acres near Landis, Saskatchewan, about 75 miles west of Saskatoon. It’s an average size farm for Saskatchewan. They own 800 acres and rent the rest on a yearly basis from a neighbor who’s moved to the city. They grow wheat, oats and barley, the same as everybody else in the area; Gordon keeps a breeding herd of 150 ewes. Their farm is worth $100,000. The Taylors are poor. In 1971 their net farm income was $2,900, after paying $1,200 in taxes on their land. Gordon earned another $500 working part time in a grain elevator. A total of $3,400 to support themselves and their five children.
“As far as money is concerned,” says Gordon, “it’s nonexistent.”
The Taylors, like many farm families on the Prairies, are slowly being squeezed into bankruptcy. They have dug their fingernails into the soil; they hang on with fierce determination. The struggle absorbs every ounce of their energy and intelligence. Behind their natural cheerfulness and good humor lies a strain of desperation that often brings them close to tears.
Thirty Canadian farmers leave the land every day. They have cut each other’s throats. /continued on page 70
The Taylor family, left to right: Randy, Norma, Jeff, Gordon and Glenna. Missing: Judy and Cathy.
OF THE FARM from page 38
For 25 years, Prairie farmers have fought each other tooth and claw, scrapping over more land, bigger machinery, more bushels of wheat, each man determined to be richer than his neighbor down the road. The survivors find themselves impoverished. Since World War II, in the name of efficiency, the farm population in western Canada has been reduced by 391,000; the result has been, as Manitoba Premier Ed Schreyer describes it, “a rural slum.”
The majority of Prairie farmers are poor; even rich farmers are poor by urban standards. In 1971 the average Saskatchewan farmer made $4,616. It was considered a boom year. That was less money than an urban industrial worker makes every year. In 1970, the year of the most recent agricultural depression, the average farm income across the Prairies was $2,500. That’s less than a farm family like the Taylors would make on welfare.
Saskatchewan farmers are relatively worse off than they were in the Thirties; now, it seems, everyone is rich except them. Inflation is forcing them out. If Gordon Taylor sells $9,000 worth of produce every year, expenses will eat up $6,000. Every year his margin ot profit gets a little smaller. “You have one good year and two bad ones,” he says. “You come up again, but you never come up quite so high.” The squeeze is a deliberate policy of the Trudeau government. (The background to the federal government’s policy is contained in a 1971 working document called Farm Adjustment And Resource Mobility Plan, or Farm Plan. It distinguishes between “progressive” farmers, who are pre-
pared to expand, and “poverty” farmers, who will be urged to take urban jobs or go on welfare. Since poverty farmers — say, those with gross annual sales of less than $10,000 — currently form about three quarters of the farming population, this policy would eventually reduce the number of Canadian farms by about 300,000. Recently, Farm Plan has evolved into the Small Farms Development Program.)
The Taylors live in the old stucco house where Gordon was born. The house has grown wrinkled and middleaged along with him. The stucco is brown and stained; it is chipped away showing patches of tarpaper where Gordon has put in new windows. The house is on a knoll; the land slopes swiftly away at the back to a slough where the sheep pasture in the summer.The farm buildings are unpainted and grey with age.
There are big holes in the Taylors’ living room walls where the plaster has fallen away. The old-fashioned wallpaper is mottled brown and streaked with water stains. Sunlight filters in through white plastic curtains with blue flowers. Color photographs of all the children stand on top of the black-and-white television in the corner. Out in the porch, next to the two freezers, wall-
ED REID’S BIRDS
board and ceiling tile are stacked in cardboard boxes, waiting for winter. “The wallboard isn’t what 1 wanted,” says Norma, “but we got it for half price.”
There’s a sign in Norma’s kitchen which says “My kitchen is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy.” The floor heaves and sags, the pattern is worn off the linoleum and the walls have fingerprints. The refrigerator is ancient, with a big sign on the freezing compartment which reads “Do Not Open!” It’s a homemade, helter-skelter house with rooms in unexpected places; walls have been put up and knocked down to fit the needs of those living in it.
Everybody uses the back door.
The Taylors installed their first flush toilet in the spring of 1972. They still use an outhouse when mud seeps into the well after a heavy rain and the indoor toilet fills up with black water. This winter, Gordon plans to put in the new lavender bathtub and sink that are still crated up out in the porch. Gordon does all the work himself because he can’t afford to hire a carpenter; they borrowed the money to buy the fixtures from the credit union in Landis.
“It’s ridiculous,” says Norma. “After 20 years, we’re still putting the plumbing in. You get a house in town that doesn’t have water and a sewer and it’s condemned.”
The Taylors have been farming for 21 years, ever since they were married. They have made no headway. They have paid income tax only five years; the rest of the time their income has been below taxable level. Gordon drove a school bus for seven years to earn continued on page 74
OF THE FARM continued enough money to buy groceries. His bind is simple and universal: it costs him $17 to grow an acre of wheat; he sells it for $11. The price of wheat in the summer of 1972 was less than it was in 1951, the year he started farming.
The Taylors live off the land. The farm is a family commune; there is no distinction between life and work. Their relationship with the land is profound, primordial; the farm'is a reflection of themselves, the fruit of their labor. Gordon goes about his primitive, menial tasks with joy, a sense of tenderness and responsibility. He would have been at home with Abraham and Isaac; he is a husbandman.
“I try to get up and get the chores done before breakfast,” says Gordon. In summer, he’s up at 5 a.m. peering out the window to see if the wind is blowing. His round, open face is windburned red except for his forehead which stays pale under his yellow plastic hard hat. He’s worn the hard hat ever since he was caught out in the field in a hailstorm and had to huddle for shelter under the tractor. He tiptoes around the kitchen in thick socks and puts on several layers of old clothes, which are stiff and black with grease, and a khaki parka. By the back door, next to the old cream cans and the crank telephone, he puts on high rubber boots and clomps out the door. Ringo, who sleeps in all weather on the concrete step outside, wakes up, puts his nose in Gordon’s hand, and they’re off toward the barn. The sun is just up.
The yard is plain, sparse and barren. Trees in the windbreaks on either side of the yard are stunted and tattered by the wind; many are dead or half-dead where the weed spray has touched them. A few sheep clustered by the barn look up vacant and wide-eyed before tearing panic stricken out to the pasture.
Gordon climbs the low rickety fence and makes his way through the round dark balls of sheep dung toward the chicken house. A loud peeping starts up when he opens the door, sloshes water into a tiny trough and tosses some feed from a bag into the small metal tray. The smell in the little stuffy house is musty, cloying. The chicks, just growing their long white feathers, dash for the tray. There are 50 of them, enough to feed the Taylors for a year, and 15 turkeys for holidays and presents to city friends. In the autumn, the roosters and turkeys will be killed and the new hens promoted to the laying barn; the old hens will be killed and eaten. The cycle will repeat itself the following year. He shuts the door.
In the bam, Gordon pitches hay for the three rams and the old ewes culled out for slaughter. He has two local customers for the mutton; an old ewe, alive, is worth 10 cents.
If the black cow isn’t dry or sour, he
milks her. “It takes about five minutes. Then I turn the calf on and he finishes up. It’s a real good arrangement. I take what I need and he gets the rest.” The cow is bred every year; the calf is raised for two years before being slaughtered and packed away with the lambs and chickens in the Taylors’ freezer.
On his way back to the house, Gordon feeds and waters the 30 hens in the henhouse on the far side of the yard and gathers the eggs from the communal nest. The Taylors get about 20 eggs a day; they eat most of them. Whatever is left over, Glenna, their nine-year-old daughter, sells to neighbors down the road for 30 cents a dozen. “The Avon lady was asking 40 cents for eggs this year,” Norma says. “Maybe Glenna should raise her price.”
The children are expected to be present — washed, brushed and dressed —for breakfast at 7.20 a.m. The oldest, Judy,
is away working in Edmonton. The shout goes up for them just after seven. Cathy, 17, is already ironing her blue jeans; Jeff, 15, and Randy, 13, straggle up from the basement, their long hair hanging in their eyes; Glenna is the last. “Good morning,” Gordon says formally to each in tum. The CBC is on somewhere in the background behind the din of eating and squabbling. Norma is frantically making sandwiches. At precisely 7.55 the school bus arrives to take the children 20 miles to Biggar.
The children have been doing farm chores ever since they could walk. Jeff and Randy started driving trucks in the field when they were five; they learn to run the combine at 12. They all work in the fields in the summer holidays.
As payment, Gordon has set aside a quarter section for the three oldest children; the income from the crops on that land goes directly to them. Randy and Jeff have a couple of ewes; they get their spending money from the sale of the lambs. Gordon backs loans for them at the Landis credit union; they pay them off at 10% interest when the lambs are
marketed. They supplement their lamb money by collecting beer bottles (20 cents a dozen in Saskatoon) from the ditches along the highway. Jeff has already bought one bike and is working on a 10-speed; Randy has paid off a $125 set of drums.
“I want to be a famous drummer and live on a sheep farm,” says Randy.
“We’re trying to avoid slave labor,” says Gordon. “That’s what I was used as. My father said, ‘When I die, you get the land.’ I said, ‘What about the meantime?’ A lot of farmers get stuck in that bind. Past 40, they’re hoping the old man dies.”
The Taylors don’t spend much time in town. They go to Biggar once a week for groceries; Gordon will go in once or twice with a piece of broken machinery or a load of grain. “I haven’t been in the beer parlor in Landis for two years,” he says. “I guess we’re kind of loners. The kids like being alone. Just us. It’s the tranquillity out here. It’s quiet. Yet every day seems to be a little different. The kids say they don’t want to stay in town because they might miss something.” He smiles. “We have a very strong sense of home.”
Spring: the snow goes slowly and it leaves a mess. In the middle of April there are usually still dirty drifts in among the trees, covered with a fine black silt that the wind has blown in from the fields. The new lambs gambol about in the mud. The sheep shearer comes early in April. It takes him three days to do the sheep.
Wool sells for 12 cents a pound. The Taylors get six pounds from a sheep, 72 cents. It costs 60 cents to shear a sheep; the freight for a fleece is 15 cents. A few years ago, when the Taylors went into sheep, wool sold for 40 cents a pound including a government subsidy; last summer, the subsidy was removed.
Gordon heads out to the boneyard where the melting snow has uncovered his sculpture garden — iron tractor wheels, rusty augers, bits of old harrow teeth, the odd bedspring, a cookstove, trucks in various stages of decomposition, a greasy yellow combine, his old green tractor and a moldy 1951 Chev with 190,000 miles which still runs.
“Scrap iron,” says Gordon reverently, “is liquid gold. Most of the stuff we’ve got here is made out of scrap iron. I go to the junk piles around, pick it up from other farms. Anybody that’s thrown away an angle iron or a piece of flat iron, I’ll trade him for some cast iron I can’t use. I’m a scavenger.
“I’m always looking out for a bargain but I never have any money to buy it when I do see it. I’ve been looking for a truck for six years. Something with a good body I can fix up. Something I can more or less salvage from the junk yard continued on page 76
OF THE FARM continued and renovate it.”
He fondly surveys his hoard, his hodgepodge of weathered sheds, his pile of rotting lamb hides. “I am not,” he says reflectively, “a Master Farmer.”
By May 10 the earth is dry enough to start seeding; the temperature is in the low fifties, the wind cold and raw. Under layers of parkas and sweaters, Gordon is still cold. “My ears,” he says, “take a hell of a beating.” He seeds the old-fashioned way, turning the soil over with a disc harrow and lopping the seed in underneath. He seeds the soft wheat first, then the oats and barley and flax in the order they come off in the fall. The tractor covers 60 acres on a good day. (Last year, he seeded 630 acres.) He starts at 6 a.m. and quits when it’s dark.
“1 enjoy being out rubbing cheeks with Mother Nature. Sure, we need money, but this isn’t the thing I farm for. I farm because I like farming. I don’t find it boring. It’s sort of a feeling of satisfaction. I go over that ground and I think of all the things I’m going to do. I have so many plans, things I’d like to make, how I’d like to remodel a piece of equipment. I dream a lot, especially if the weather’s nice. Time just flies. In four hours it’s dinnertime and in five hours you have supper. The time is gone so quickly.
“You watch your neighbors. This is part of farming; I look out and I can see my neighbors going. I don’t want to see a vast expanse with nobody on it.
“I’m usually the last one on the land in the spring. So okay, fine. By the time everyone else is pulling their sprayer out, I get out to seed. I kind of work my way into it.
“But we raise just as many bushels per acre as the guys who are out first. They get all riled up and want to be the first one on. I do the best I can, maybe it takes us three days longer than anyone else. Our machinery is old but we own it.
I haven’t got a cab on the tractor and the truck isn’t new. Prestige doesn’t bother me.”
The land here is sensual, female, a great pregnant belly rolling away to a horizon of breasts and buttocks and thighs and lips, round and smooth but full of surprising creases and crevasses thatched here and there with dark clusters of willow trees. The farm runs on Old Testament time. It’s not Christian and capitalist, ticking off the hours to salvation, but an eternal linking of the sun and earth in a sacred cycle of procreation of which Gordon Taylor, farmer, going round and round the field on his old green tractor, is the centre.
“The days in spring when we’ve just had a rain and the ground is moist and the air is fresh and still, it’s heaven. I guess it’s just the peasant in me coming out when I look back and there’s that beautiful black soil just turned over so
nicely. And the trees. You can look around and see all the trees budding.
“Sometimes I have a little sleep out in the field. I’ll lie down beside the tractor in the sun when it’s cold and in the shade when it’s hot and drift off for 10 or 12 minutes. You get real tired after dinner, about two o’clock. A little sleep keeps me going till 11 p.m. or midnight; otherwise I’m done in.
“I sing a lot on the tractor. It passes the time of day. On a calm night you can hear me for miles. I sing those old songs, the ones Bing Crosby made popular. Up The Lazy River, I really like that, and Mississippi Mud by the McGuire Sisters.”
Gordon will patiently go over his land four or five times a summer, harrowing, spraying, turning the summer fallow. He works a 12-hour day, coming in for dinner and supper, his face and hands black as a coal miner’s from the
fine dust. Haying starts July 1, as soon as the kids are out of school. It’s the hardest job, out by the slough under the blistering sun. Glenna runs the tractor; Gordon and the boys pitch bales.
Harvest starts in late August. The dew is heavy in the morning; if the wind is up, they can start at 8 a.m. Jeff is on the clattering combine, Randy follows alongside in the ancient red truck catching the grain as it cascades out of the funnel. “Combining,” says Gordon, “is a real dirty business. When the wind blows from your back, that chaff comes right at you. That dust just drives you. You get that fine coating all over you and down around your shirt collar and it just itches and then you sweat a little bit, oh boy.”
They eat in the fields, Norma and Cathy pack the lunches — usually just sandwiches and fruit but sometimes a hot stew — and drive out to the field. “The kids think it’s so exciting,” Norma says. “They just love it. We sit in the car or squat down on the ground among the grasshoppers and the dust. If the grasshoppers are bad, I tell them to put a
little butter on them and swallow them down.”
At twilight when the sky turns red the combine lights go on. The wind is down, the air still. The combine roars and lunges along, a gigantic one-eyed dragon, its breath hot and reeking of gas fumes, belching out great clouds of filthy chaff behind it. In the harshness of the truck’s headlights, the Taylors’ faces are black with dust and streaked with sweat; their eyes, rimmed with white, are bloodshot from fatigue.
“It’s beautiful, really beautiful,” says Norma. Beyond the circle of heat and dust, the autumn night is luminous silver-green. From high on the combine you can see, on every rise and knoll, a tiny cluster of moving lights. Trucks, like fireflies, trace out the roads in the darkness with pinpricks of light. A whole city of combines is out there, their lights, like beacons, a signal of shared labor.
The Taylors work steadily, spelling each other off, until midnight or 1 a.m. when the grain is wet and heavy with dew. “This is your wages,” says Norma. “This is your income. All depends on getting this crop in. In that one week or 10 days, you get your whole source of revenue.”
Sometimes there’s no crop to harvest. In 1971 they were 15% hailed out.
“You sell the grain right away, as soon as it’s in the bin. You haul it to the elevator as quick as you can. With the money, you pay the overdrawn cheques you’ve written.”
The Taylors live entirely on credit. They have long-term loans and shortterm loans. “Sometimes,” says Gordon, “our loans are quite a lot past due. In fact, most of the time they’re past due. But we’ve got less debt than anyone else around here. We’re only in debt about $10,000, maybe $12,000. Most people I know are up to $150,000 and more. They get in so deep the bank can’t afford to lose them. Bad as it seems to be, it’s when your debt equals your assets that you’re really in trouble.
“Sure I could buy more land. Heck, I could go into Landis tomorrow and come home with many thousands of dollars without batting an eye. I could have our yard full of machinery, brandnew machinery from a wheelbarrow to a $15,000 self-propelled combine. All I have to do is go in and sign my name.
“We don’t want to end up working for the machine companies and the banks. We’re trying to stay off the wheel.”
After Thanksgiving Gordon fires his shotgun over the sheep’s heads and sends them all tearing up the hill to the barn. He culls out the lambs and begins to slaughter them. He gets $18 for an average spring lamb; when he went into sheep six years ago, lambs sold for $40.
continued on page 77
OF THE FARM continued He doesn’t know how much it costs him to raise a lamb.
“I’m not sure I want to know. I’d see how much money I was losing and this would really dishearten us. What we don’t know doesn’t hurt us.”
So the Taylors eat a lot of lamb. “We like lamb. Thank God,” says Norma, who manages the house. “I’m not that good a housekeeper. I used to run around after Gordon with the vacuum cleaner until he complained that I was driving him nuts. I don’t bake bread. I used to sew a lot, but now the girls wear jeans. It’s the greatest thing that ever happened.”
The family survives all winter on her labor. She preserves and freezes tons of fruit and vegetables from the garden, in the fall she cleans and plucks the chickens. “I have a hard time eating them right after we’ve killed them. I don’t mind drawing them, but I can’t take them with the legs still on.”
Norma used to get the wool money. Now that’s gone, she manages on what’s left over. “You set up a budget and bam! a tire blows on the tractor. Well, that’s $300. It doesn’t matter if we planned to use the money to buy clothes for school or not. If it has to go for a tire for the tractor, that’s where it goes.
“There’s no way to pay women anything. The farm wife is the hired man.”
Saturday morning. The hard white snow is piled up around the old wooden Landis arena. A dozen cars and pickup trucks are drawn up around it like piglets at a sow. In the chill gloom inside, parents stand around the canteen drinking coffee out of white fibre-glass cups or huddle in parkas and big fleece-lined boots on scarred and splintered wooden benches. Their faces are pale and bleary with sleep; they tuck their hands up their sleeves for warmth.
The Landis Peewees, in blue and white sweaters like the Maple Leafs, with a big Landis in scroll across the front, clatter in from the dressing room and skate out on to the ice. A loud Y ay! goes up from a bunch of small boys on the Landis bench. The Landis parents, all sitting on the Landis side of the arena, clap and shout encouraging things.
The Landis players skate coolly around the rink, their faces expressionless, ignoring the applause. Wilkie, the opposition, is in red and white with big crests on the backs of their sweaters that say Victory Motors, Wilkie Co-op and Smith Bros. ESSO. Wilkie skates around near their own bench, eyes down, glancing sideways. Their skates make a crisp, sharp sound on the fresh ice; their voices drift hollow up to the rafters.
The biggest player is four feet tall, including skates; the smallest is so small his sweater hangs down past his knees,
the shoulders sagging off to his elbows. Dwarf astronauts, they are strapped into plastic helmets, shoulder pads, kneepads, elbow pads, mouth guards and jockstraps. “They really don’t need jockstraps,” says Gordon. “They don’t raise the puck that high.” Hockey pants bagging down near their ankles, they glide around like fat snowmen. The oldest is 10, the youngest eight.
The puck is dropped in a flurry of flailing sticks, arms and legs. A Wilkie player, peering out through hornrimmed glasses from under a vast red helmet, slaps the puck down the ice,
trips on his stick and falls down. Four other players trip over him. They try frantically to untangle themselves and stand up while the rest of the players herd down to the other end of the rink. They swarm in the corner.
A Landis forward grabs it with his stick and streaks down the ice for the big breakaway; the desperate Wilkie defenseman runs at him, knocks him down and falls on him.
When time out is called or a goal is scored, the players do slow, gliding turns on the ice, heads bowed, sticks continued on page 78
OF THE FARM continued trailing, just like on TV. They skate fast and strong and fight often. The smallest boys play fanatically; their intense redcheeked little faces glow with excitement. Each player has his own style, his own sophisticated moves. The parents bellow from the sidelines; one mother moos “Come on, Chuck” through the whole game.
Jeff and Randy Taylor were on skates at three, ankling around the small rink Gordon flooded for them in the yard. At four they were playing organized hockey for the Biggar Peewees in the age four-to-six league. At six, they were going to practices in Landis three nights a week and playing games on weekends.
The Taylors drive them back and forth to practices and games; there have been winters when they’ve been in town every night of the week.
“We run a taxi service in the winter for the kids,” sighs Gordon. “We don’t curl. That’s the big social function in the winter time. If you curl, you have to drink. You have to be able to afford the liquor that goes with curling; we don’t feel we can. Most people curl three times a week; there’s a bonspiel about every third week. The bonspiels go day and night. Farmers pick rocks in the summer and throw them in the winter. Some people drink while they curl and after. It depends how conscientious you are about either; some drink through
the whole thing, some party it up after. It can become a way of life. It has, too.”
Nobody around Landis goes to Florida for the winter.
The Taylors quit going to church about six years ago when the little community church closed down. Gordon has dropped out of the Masons. He still belongs to half-a-dozen community organizations; he used to belong to more. Norma has dropped out of almost all the women’s clubs. “Women’s groups,” she says, “mostly exist to eat and collect old clothes.”
Usually they’re out cranking up the old Falcon station wagon to go to a National Farmers Union meeting, scraping the frost off the windshield as they clunk clunk down the road on square tires. The Taylors are dedicated and militant union members; they go to 10 or 15 NFU meetings a month.
“Oh, we don’t get bored,” says Norma, who’s in charge of the NFU campaign to boycott Kraft products, in her region. “There’s no way we get bored. We get tired of going to meetings. Sometimes I wish for a good blizzard so we don’t have to go anywhere. I wouldn’t mind being snowed in for at least a week.” She reads 50 to 60 books a winter; they subscribe to three weekly newspapers and a couple of magazines, every mail brings a batch of NDP and Co-Op literature. They all gather
around to watch All In The Family on TV; Gordon and the boys watch Hockey Night In Canada.
“Oh I’m a hockey fan,” says Gordon, his face lighting up with pleasure. “Toronto, I guess, is my favorite team. I started out listening to the radio. Foster Hewitt was the best player Toronto ever had. Oh when I was a kid, hockey was it. Listening to the broadcast, well, I would sooner have lost my right arm than missed that!”
Gordon potters in the winter, fixing the house, inventing things out of his odds and ends, pitching hay to the sheep snuggled in the stable. In March the lambs start to come and he moves out to the barn for six weeks. He sleeps on a cot next to an oil stove. Every half hour he wakes up to check the sheep, hauling newborn lambs in from the cold and holding them up to suck. On weekends the kids castrate the lambs, dock their tails and douse them with louse powder. Suddenly the barn is bursting with lambs, the sun is warm and big patches of wet earth are showing through the snow. The air is rich with the stench of rotting manure. The sparrows begin to sing again.
“If somebody came along and offered us $200 an acre spot cash, I don’t think I could take it,” says Gordon. “What do we do at 40? What do we do for the rest of our lives? What would we do?” ■