Taber Talk

Sorry not to have written recently, folks. I had hoped my next blog post would be about the design and building of our new-to-look-old t.v. and equipment cabinet, which we are building to look like an old and much ‘distressed’ pie safe for the corner of our living room where Richard has just also completed the other library shelves (other side of the fireplace.)  However, this cabinet is taking much longer than was first thought, due to all manner of diversions, distractions, mismeasurements and general procrastinations. Not to mention the FOURTH major nor’easter that is blowing through here in the last 18 days, which makes it cold for Richard to be in the garage making intricate cuts with his icy fingertips and freezing toes (one which he claims he broke changing his pants and sticking his foot into an empty paint can – ah, the dangers of renovations!)

I am, however, a slightly superstitious believer in ‘signs’.  While wondering what to write about instead this week, I considered featuring Mom’s weaving again, as she has been hard at work on a small mat for a friend and another small one for beside our claw-foot tub, as my original one is getting firmly pasted to the lino, and is another reason I want to return to the original old floorboards in there at some point.  So I’ve taken a few photos of Mom on the loom, and we talked about Aunt Ila and Cousin Linda, both of whom have been weavers in the family as well.  Then I thought perhaps I would explain some of my barnboard designs (Rustic Revivals) which I’ve had some motivation to work on since we are having a July wedding here in the orchard (Richard’s niece) and I’m busy making signs and decor for that.  And as always, the barn board we brought from Ontario came from cousin Pete and Linda Baxter’s farm. (the same wood we used to make over the beam in our kitchen — see the bottom half of:

Or, perhaps I should write, for the second March in a row, about the ordering of our organic seeds in the wonderful brown paper packets, from Hawthorne Farm in Ontario?  Because we ordered a lot more this year, including about $100.00 worth of flowers and ornamentals to help decorate for the wedding (mostly in BLUES, for Blue Belldon, and purples and greens, as those are the wedding colours).  But then those flowers reminded me that Linda (formerly, and rather freakishly, of Hawthorn VALLEY Farm!) had brought me out some honeysuckle seeds from her own plants when she was here in September, which I have now put with the other packets to remind me not to forget them.  We also ordered two packets of ground cherries, which Linda introduced us to, and which we now LOVE!  Then, yesterday, as well as some painting for the wedding, the work on which I want to be mostly finished by mid-April, as that’s when we’ll be busy in the bush and with planting the seed tables in the basement, I was also painting plastic milk containers with dressage letters.  In May I have two competitive eventing riders coming for private training, and I’ll need to line the ‘ring’ ( the only slightly flat bit of land we have, out near the poplar line which slopes down to the brook).  One of the easiest ways to make a dressage ring is to paint the letters on white milk jugs. Of course we ALSO use these for taking water to the livestock all winter, AND to collect maple syrup, but we still have some left over that are in fairly pristine condition. So I painted 8 of them, after peeling off the labels with hot water.  The labels that of course say : “Baxter”.



And lastly, I just finished my murder mystery yesterday and picked up my next library book (mentioned in the last blog for International Women’s Week). This is The Stillmeadow Road, by Gladys Taber.  AS RECOMMENDED BY LINDA BAXTER IN SEPTEMBER!  Right, so that’s it!  Too many signs!  Everything I seem to be doing this week, or considering for blogging, seems to suggest Cousin Linda.  I don’t know why. These signs are rarely explained to us on this plane of existence, but I don’t like to ignore too many of them. Thus, I feel that I should include a bit about one of her favourite, most prolific “living off the land” authors here.


Gladys Taber wrote over 50 books about the simple life in New England, having moved from NYC to a derelict 1690s farmhouse just prior to the Great Depression.   These books all possessed homespun wisdom dolled out with earthy humor and an appreciation for the small things.  I see why Linda loves them now, being already half way through Stillmeadow Road.  Linda is very similar, and would write exactly the same were she to sit down and start typing! (Linda?)  And many of the same things that happened to Gladys and her family and friends are still happening here at Blue Belldon Farm, nearly a century later.  The very same issues that bother Gladys then are those that make me indignant and enraged now – rural development, clear-cutting of land, pollution, food waste, and mistreatment of wildlife and other animals.  While Gladys writes of these things with gentle Christian humility, I post my fury and passion re: these planetary problems daily, on Facebook.  Well, I mean, obviously Gladys’ tactics were too genteel – they haven’t seemed to have had impact on ‘the greedy powers’ 80 years on, so maybe it’s time to GET MAD.

I especially became so when I found out that nearly 20 years ago there was talk of tearing down the beautiful old 1690s farmhouse in which she’d lived and about which she’d written so many in the “Stillmeadow” series TO BUILD A STUPID TREELESS SUBURB!  Luckily, her granddaughter Anne Colby was living at Stillmeadow at the time, and rallied enough national and even international interest to STOP this development and instead to put the local farms into a Land Trust and Historic site. Thank GOD!~ (This wasn’t, however, finalized until just a few years ago!)

Alan Bisbort, of the New York Times, in 2001: Constance Taber Colby, who is a writer and a professor of English in New York, said of her famous mother: ”Gladys was one of the first to write about the dangers of uncontrolled development in Connecticut. If she were alive today, she would undoubtedly be finishing a book on land conservation.

”Her books clearly depict Stillmeadow and its world as symbolic of something larger than one family, one town: a way of life very precious and inevitably endangered.”

Somewhat prophetically, Gladys Taber wrote late in life about a zoning meeting she attended in Southbury. In it she concluded: ”It was a grim picture. Business was bound to come; light industries were already shopping for land. The quiet country farms were already going and developments would take over. . . . Eventually, of course, we will have to have some sort of plan to guide future development. Somehow we must protect the wooded hills, the greening meadows, the clean, sweet-running brooks and the historic white houses — are a precious heritage.”

Anne Colby said: ”I grew up running around over there. I was very lucky to have this place to come to when I was a kid. We want this to be an incentive for other landowners to look for creative options for saving their land.  Tools are available now that weren’t there five years ago. Ten years ago, we could not compete with the developers. For me, Connecticut’s remaining wild places are our sanctuaries, and we need sanctuaries now more than ever.”

Earlier this week Richard inadvertently put his foot in ‘it’, as he is often wont to do.  We were at choir practice in Perth-Andover, led by its beloved mayor, Marianne Tiessen Bell (of the Leamington, ON Tiessens, incidentally).  Richard said to Marianne “Getting ready for some flooding are you?”  This is NOT something you say to ANYONE who lives in and loves Perth-Andover.  But CERTAINLY NOT THE POOR MAYOR!

I wrote about this issue LAST spring, and about Marianne and editor Stephanie Kelly’s efforts to help battle both the fight for keeping historic buildings from damage or demolition AND their concern for the environment, especially as it so affects those living ‘down in the valley’ from  us.

Despite predictions of the Farmer’s Almanac, we seem to have had nearly the same amount of snowfall this year, and it seems to be lingering just as long through what others elsewhere are already calling ‘spring’.  This of course means danger of flooding.  It is sad, not just to see people’s businesses and homes destroyed, BUT to see some of the delightful old buildings that make one truly feel the history – almost as far back as Taber’s New England!  Tell me that these wonderful buildings don’t deserve to be saved, for instance:


But their close proximity to the river means that flooding doesn’t just happen once in a lifetime to them – but rather, many times. And the government isn’t as willing as they ought to be to step forward to assist! (what else is new?)  Having lived in the U.K. , it never fails to amaze me that we aren’t more keen to ‘list’ and maintain buildings of historic value and interest, as they do there, and with SO many more to do as well!  Isn’t it enough that the greed and mistreatment of our land is CAUSING so much of Mother Nature’s need to aggressively ‘fight back’?  But then, not to be able to step forward and say ‘This must be offered assistance?’  It’s just shameful.

Taber says (in numerous places) “I hate to think of the forests that have been laid waste down the years by ruthless cutting.  It takes years to grow a tall lovely tree and not long to chop it down…a tree is a symbol of life and a gift of nature.” Why do we not respect this gift?

And, about preserving historic buildings, she quotes the anonymous poem that I also ‘discovered’ in Concord, Mass., found inside a wall of a seventeenth-century home:

"He who loves an old house
Will never love in vain-
For how can any old house,
Used to sun and rain,
To larkspur and to lilac,
To arching trees above,
Fail to give its answer
To the heart that gives its love?"


But, really, if the object of this particular blog posting is not to lecture to those who rape the land, pave over the countryside, demolish old buildings and landmarks, but instead to introduce you to the simple cherished writings of a woman who loved nature, history and her small self-sufficient New England farm, then I should leave you with one of her more poetic quotations:



Women of the Woods and Wilds

On this, International Women’s Day, I thought I would briefly feature strong women who have helped influence my love of nature, farming, the environment, the outdoors, and the challenges I have made goals in my lifetime.  Any quotes not otherwise credited are from Wikipedia.

As an English Lit. major, I have studied many of the works of two sisters who are (still) widely-read for struggling to eke out an existence as early pioneer women in Canada. “Catharine Parr Traill described her new life in letters and journals, and collected these into The Backwoods of Canada (1836). She described everyday life in her community, the relationship between Canadians, and the natives,  the climate, and local flora and fauna. More observations were included in a novel, Canadian Crusoe (1851). She also collected information concerning the skills necessary for a new settler, published in The Female Emigrant’s Guide (1854), later retitled The Canadian Settler’s Guide.”


In 1852, her sister Susanna Moodie, living a few hours away, published one of my favourites – “Roughing it in The Bush”, which “detailed her experiences on the farm in the 1830s. In 1853, she published , “Life in the Clearings”, about her time in the (then-village) of Belleville.  The inspiration for the memoir “…Bush” came from a suggestion by her editor that she write an “emigrant’s guide” for British people looking to move to Canada. Moodie wrote of the trials and tribulations she found as a “New Canadian”, rather than the advantages to be had in the colony. She claimed that her intention was not to discourage immigrants but to prepare people like herself and her sister, raised in relative wealth and with no prior experience as farmers, for what life in Canada would be like.  Moodie taught her daughter how to paint flowers and Agnes later illustrated  the much-used Canadian Wild Flowers, published in 1868. ”    Because of my degree,  I had to do several courses just in Canadian Literature and found it interesting that Moodie’s books and poetry inspired our famous Margaret Atwood to write her collection of poetry, The Journals of Susannah Moodie, published in 1970.   Moodie was also the inspiration for one of Atwood’s later novels, Alias Grace” and it was at this time that I was getting my B.Ed. in Kingston, and was thus able to meet Atwood as she gave talks there about the Kingston ‘Pen’, where murder convict Grace Marks was held.  Grace was mentioned numerous times in Life in the Clearings, and thus, as a direct result of Susanna Moodie’s writings, there have now been both a television film, a t.v. series (produced by Sarah Polley of Road to Avonlea fame) and a stage play. Sadly, as we have no television, I was unable to watch Alias Grace, but no doubt we shall look it up online at some point.  Interestingly, Moodie was also  a source of inspiration for Carol Shields, who published a critical analysis of her work, Susanna Moodie, Voice and Vision.”  Shields also mentions Moodie in her novel, Small Ceremonies.  So those two sisters were certainly inspiring to many more than just myself!

(I’d like to give a shout-out here to my cousin Linda Baxter, for recommending I read Gladys Taber’s farming chronicles as well – I’ve one of her books waiting for me at the library right now! More on her in another blog…)

Having lived and taught in and around Haworth, West Yorkshire for several years, I have walked the same pathways as the Brontes, heading out from my stone cottage to traipse miles of haunting moors, so well depicted in this other set of sisters’ works.  Especially Emily and Charlotte have always been very inspirational in my love of the wilds, as well as one of the reasons I’m such an Anglophile at heart.  I could write volumes about my experiences of and around the Brontes, and their Haworth village, but I’m sure most of you have read Wuthering Heights, and/or Jane Eyre, both novels which are highly descriptive in capturing their  beloved, untamed ‘wilderness’.



While most people are familiar with the only other portrait of the Brontes (painted by their ne-er-do-well brother Branwell, and which originally included him standing behind them , then angrily painted out in a telling psychological statement) the above is a newly-discovered portrait of them, found just a few years ago and not shown until last year, after much research had been done to authenticate it. It is believed to be by E. Landseer, a frequent visitor to Yorkshire at the time the three sisters were still alive.   

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above, Richard and me when I lived there last, in 2009, outside Haworth’s Black Bull (Branwell’s favourite pub) and just across the street from the Bronte parsonage where the family lived most of their lives.  A quick two minute walk and you’re out on the wild and windswept moors that inspired so much classic writing.

Three women who are inspirational horsewomen were very significant in my outdoor and competitive career. Marie Hearn was a ‘take-no-prisoners’ toughie who let me work for her in her small stables through my late teen years, and it was she who put me on to the (new at that time) National Coaching Certification Program, which for equestrians could take years to fulfill the requirements.  Luckily for me, I was able to take a ‘crash’ course (and for me, that was literal in several instances) and do it all in an intensive 3-month live-in course.  Victoria Andrew, who was responsible for seeing the manuals written for the national course at that time, and who is now considered one of the few top National Master Learning Facilitator/Evaluators of the country was my primary coach.  No one could have whipped me (NOT literally, but she did have me in tears once insisting I CARRY a whip) into being less of a suck, and more someone who could stand the pressures offered by The Great Outdoors and the world of dedicated horsepeople everywhere.  Vicki is truly an inspirational woman to so many in all aspects of education and higher learning, not just in the equestrian field.  Her constant challenges made me a better person as well as coach, and she instilled in me more bravery than I could have imagined I would ever possess.


above (Vicki, to left) coaching me at my first jumper show on Pal O’Mine, in the Ottawa Valley, 1986. She had raised the rail to 3 ft. 3″, higher than we’d jumped previously, because we were about to go into the ring for the jump-off (final round) of the 3 ft. class, and she wanted us to be ‘sharp’.  We were 4th in that class, and a few weeks later I went on to become nationally certified to coach others, which would only ever have happened by being under her stern yet motivating and encouraging tutelage!  Truly a strong woman to remember on this, International Women’s Day!

The third horsewoman I mentioned above is one whom I have written of many times before here in this blog and on social media. This is Kim Walnes. Many of you will know that she and her amazing life are so inspiring that I have gathered a group of filmmakers together to produce a documentary about her, and run the first stage of a group fund-raising to ‘kickstart’ the process.  To read more about Kim and the film project, have a look at the following article, where I am quoted a number of times (in fact, every paragraph in quotes is my own writing, though I don’t get credit for a byline, of course!)

Lastly, while many of you may not think of my mother as a rough-and-tumble outdoorswoman, it may surprise you to learn that she has taken a log-house building course, helped fell and strip many logs to build a cabin (until my father died, aged 47, and those plans were sadly put aside), hiked up into the Alps, lived and worked on a building site in the ‘wilds’ of Sierra Leone, Africa and was the person responsible for my very first love of nature, by both reading (A.A. Milne’s stories of The Hundred Acre Woods and Thorton Burgess’ “Adventures of”… series) AND by introducing us to “Country Walks”.  This was always capitalized when spoken, because they were a big deal.  She would drive myself and my sister (and sometimes Brenda and Lesa Floyd if they were visiting us for that weekend) to a “Back Road” (also, always capitalized as such).  We would hike and explore for hours, and always found new places and sights to talk about for days.  It was also Mom who encouraged me to go into nine months of Katimavik immediately following high school, as it was another experience that would make me strong and show me how much I loved the wilderness (and being a hermit!).  Because of Katimavik I was able to live for three months along the Cabot Trail, on cliffs right above the ocean, see the Northern Lights at their strongest in my three months in the dark winter of Dawson City, Yukon (where I also got to eat caribou and moosemeat, dog-sled and help the museum catalogue in the Robert Service cabin there!) and help a farming family on the prairies of Manitoba!

Now, while Joy and I both STRONGLY despise guns, and I have had a running campaign on FB for years about better gun laws in the States, I do find the following photo amusing, as it is of  “Wild” (albeit horn-rimed-glasses-wearing) Mom in her days of dating my father. (She was trying to impress him by target-practicing with his “pea-shooter”.)  It was taken by Dad, with the house his parents built in the early 1950s  and in which we all lived together later in the 1970s and ’80s,  behind her).  Actually, Joy is standing only 30 or 40 yards from the site of the log house  on which she and my father had chosen to build, which at that time in the mid 1980s had become a lovely pine forest, as planted just after this photo was taken, by my grandfather.

joy, gun

So, here’s to all the strong WOMEN OF THE WOODS AND WILDS who have inspired me to live on two farms in Canada, in a log cabin in the Rocky Mountains of Montana, and in a stone cottage on the windswept Yorkshire moors….  Happy International Womens Day! 

And to ‘celebrate’ the first of 3 Nor’easter winter blizzards we are having right now, here’s me ice-fishing during my ‘wild days’ of Katimavik – in Portage La Prairie, MB:

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