I am exhausted. Physically exhausted. It has been a crazy few days here at the farm. I don’t quite know where to start. I guess it’s always good to start at the beginning and the beginning of this story starts with a very long bus ride.
On Friday night I departed Hinton, Alberta (a smallish town near Jasper) and spent the night and half of the next day on a Greyhound bus going to Estevan, Saskatchawan (a smallish town in the south center of the province, 15 miles north of North Dakota). The bus wasn’t all that horrible for being a bus on which one attempts to sleep in semi-reclined positions for moments at a time between the all too frequent stops. It was actually a series of four busses with transfers in Edmonton AB, Saskatoon SK, and Regina SK.
On Saturday around 2:30 in afternoon I finally arrived at my destination; tired, a bit hungry, and really ready to be in one place for a while. But we had chicken butchering gloves to buy and salt licks to pick up and another hour of driving yet to go. I was greeted by Warren (the owner of the farm where I was going to be staying for the next two weeks) and Fabio (not that Fabio, a 20 year old workawayer from Germany) and Ella (Warren and Jaime’s two year old daughter).
I was told in the car that a stomach flu had been making its way through the house. Warren had already been hit and today (Saturday) Jamie (who is also the owner of the farm and married to Warren and mother to Ella) was down for the count. Fabio was yet to get sick, and Ella was only sick briefly and it looked to be unlikely that she would sick again. So this was (searching for the perfect word) nice to hear as I was heading to this unknown place.
We got to the farm. I was shown my room. I got a little tour of the place. Then I was left to relax and unpack until supper time. Quick side note: they call lunch, dinner and dinner, supper – I know, confused me too. I’m still unsure of what the word ‘lunch’ actually means here…
The next day was Sunday, apparently the day of rest. There is no religion in this household, so it must just be tradition in these parts. I couldn’t complain too much, getting a day off the day after I arrive…I’ll take it. I did end up doing a little bit of work in the evening; helping Jamie gather up a portable electric fence, feed the pigs, and milk the cows.
Around 8:00 on Sunday night we all went out and gathered the chickens for the next day’s butchering. I know it sounds disgusting, but I was actually looking forward to the experience. I am a firm believer that if I choose to eat an animal I should also be okay with killing said animal. This would be a first for me, and it was about time that my actions reflected my beliefs.
The chicken wrangling went well. The first few were a little scary, but it got easier. They were a bit drowsy, which made them slower than usual. You just grab one by the legs and then another by the legs and carry them over to the trailer where they will stay until morning. Those suckers were heavy and among the four of us we rounded up just about 100 chickens.
It was going to be an early morning for all, 7:00 wake-up call, so we set off to bed. At 2:00 in the morning I awoke with a funny sensation in the pit of my stomach. A gurgling, twisting, aching feeling that was all too familiar and very unwanted. It was my time. No, not that time. My time for the stomach flu. And it came with a vengeance. I was running to the toilet every half hour to hour and in between runs, I was shivering in bed, under four blankets, with all of my clothes on. I may have had a fever; I did not have the where with all to check. This went on until 7:00 in the morning, when I crawled up the stairs and told Jamie that unfortunately I was unable to stop puking long enough to help kill the chickens. It lasted all day. I think the last time I vomited was at 7:00 Monday night. There was nothing left at that point; all substance had been long gone. Dry heaves are worse, they are much much worse.
I don’t know if it was divine intervention, subliminal deterrence, or simply the flu bug that had swept through this house prior to my arrival, but I did not get out of bed for over 24 hours except to rush to the bathroom. I missed all of the chicken butchering. One night they were alive, the next they were dead, butchered, cleaned, bagged, and frozen. So much for that experience, maybe next time.
Being sick is always horrible, but it is the worst when you are traveling. Feeling awful in unfamiliar places… Not having things that would normally comfort you (7up and saltines)… Telling strangers personal details about your bowel movements… The list could go on. All of this is not so fun.
Tuesday was better. I finally ate some food. I had enough energy to help with some small chores. I even milked the cows in the evening. Not too shabby for how awful I was feeling the day before. I still slept a lot, and was quite weak, but getting stronger with every meal.
Today, Wednesday, I woke up feeling fine. A little tired because I had a bit of trouble falling asleep the night before, but okay. After breakfast I noticed I was a bit itchy. I lifted up my shirt, looked at my stomach, and was shocked to see a bright pink rash spreading across my abdomen and who knows where else. Great. Just what I needed. An unknown rash for unknown reasons, making me itch when I had work to do. I went down to my room to see just how far this mystery rash extended. Splotchy bright pink and bumpy areas included: stomach, chest, arm pits, lower back, and starting to spread down my legs and arms. Wonderful. Jamie gave me some cortisone cream, I don’t know if it did much.
I had work to do and by golly I was going to do it. No more sick days for me. So here is a brief account of all that I did today and why I am so terribly exhausted. First item of the day: helped move the turkeys and geese to a fresh grass area (this entails moving the entire fence and coop and then rounding all those fellas up again), then fed the chickens and gave them fresh water.
We (Warren, Fabio, and I) then went out to Warren’s uncles farm to load up some bales of straw and take them to the barn for winter. There were about a thousand bales in nice orderly rows, just ready for the taking. I had the easy job of driving the truck while the other two threw the bales on the trailer. I can drive just fine, good in fact, normally – in automatic vehicles that is. This truck was a standard, a stick, and it had been at least ten years since I had attempted to drive anything of the sort. It was a rough start, I stalled out quite a few times. Eventually I got it and it was first gear all the way. It is actually quite difficult to drive that slow without stalling. I was finally getting the knack of it on the last load. After the trailer was full, we drove down the lane to the barn.
This is where the fun began. First we had to sweep/scrape all of the old dirty soiled straw out of the loft. Ewww. It was like a giant litter box, and with every sweep of the broom a cloud of dust and who knows what else came pluming up. I cough just thinking about it. I was itching and sneezing and already tired and we hadn’t even started loading the straw.
Then we did just that. Fabio was on the trailer tossing bales down to me, I loaded them on the ladder that brought them up to the loft where Warren was stacking them. This was not terribly difficult work – at first. Each bale weighs 20-25 lbs. but after a while they seem to weigh a lot more. They are also very prickly and by the mid point my forearms had thousands of tiny scratches on them and were stinging like crazy. Halfway through I joined Warren in the loft to help stack the bales. This was even more difficult work because I had to lift the bales up high so they be stacked even higher. Exhausting.
We finally finished that load of 145 or so bales and took a much needed break. Warren and Fabio left to grab a pizza and I lounged in the truck, trying not to itch every inch of my body. After lunch, oops I mean dinner, we were joined by another set of hands in the form of Warrens’ nieces’ boyfriend. So the second load went much faster and I was twice as exhausted by the end. Finally it was quittin time – at least for that part.
We got back to the farm, I washed up a little, sat down for about a half hour and then we started more chores. I fed the turkeys and the geese and the chickens, and collected the eggs. Then I milked the cows. I did all of this pretty much all by myself with Fabio (because that’s how you learn according to him) just watching me. He’s an arrogant little shit, but I was in no mood to argue, so I just did it – ALL – the four cows and cleaning the equipment. So tired. Can’t even make dinner, oops I mean supper. Leftovers it is. The mircowave is my friend today.
So I thought that the rash of this morning was going away. I took a shower, things seemed relatively normal. But as I’ve been sitting here on the couch typing away, I have been getting increasingly itchy. I just looked in the mirror and … it’s back! Yay! Not yay! This is tired drained sarcasm spewing forth. Okay. I need Benadryl. Benadryl will make everything better. Night folks – don’t worry – I will be fine.
Thanks for sticking in there through the end. I hope I didn’t bore you. Or scare you. I know that this is a long and rambling post, but once I started I just had to get it all out. Hope you don’t mind. I know this makes it sound like I’ve had a horrible stay here so far. It’s been challenging, but not horrible. I like the people and I am doing things I’ve never done before. I wish I hadn’t have gotten sick and I wish that I was not itchy from head to heel, but oh well… What can you do?
Stay tuned for upcoming posts on ‘How to milk a cow or four’ and ‘Cheese mmm Cheese’. Thanks and Goodnight!
Thanks for reading!
PS. I will add some pictures tomorrow. I’m to too tired right now and the internet is too darn slow. (Well…it’s Sunday and I’m just getting around to adding the photos. Better late than never I guess.)