Tonight Frost

We spent the last several hours harvesting the garden vegetables that would be spoiled if they froze: squash, watermelons, sweet corn, and tomatoes.  Tomatoes here are more than likely harvested green, which most of ours still are.  The first year we lived this far north we looked out our window to see friends picking green tomatoes from our plants.  Running to our garden they explained that it would freeze that night and that if we didn’t pick them that we’d lose them all.  They were right.  Bringing them inside and spreading them on top of newspapers and covering them with the same they all turned red in a few weeks and were delicious both fresh and canned.  We had gardened our whole lives but had never needed to harvest green tomatoes before!  Tonight we carried on this thirty year tradition.  Safe in the back of our shed we’ll start working on them next weekend.  Fall has arrived.  We feel it in the air…

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llamapackingMy first degree was in animal husbandry.  But far from raising animals for slaughter, I most wanted to work with draft animals.  I wanted to farm with horses.  After all my work I developed a severe allergy to horses, but instead learned how to train llamas as backcountry packers – which I ran as a guide for several years after we moved back to this area.  And I also learned how to train labrador retrievers, training my first all the way to Master level so that she ran in the Master National in 1997.  When I went south this spring to pick up 700# of cotton for weaving into blankets I also picked up a lab from the man who taught me for four years how to train retrievers.  Jake is three and had already passed through two other owners…I received him for free since my friend, now a professional field trailer, knew that I would do my best to bring the best out of this adoptee.  He came to me with partial and odd training.  He was out of control, barking, thrashing about, and unresponsive.  I started with training at the basics…fetch and heel.  He would pay attention on marks but would go wild, uncontrollable if I tried to teach him any drill.  With the hodgepodge training he had received I sometimes doubted if he could ever learn anything.  But I persisted, quietly and patiently.  Lest you think I was soft with him I was not.  I was teaching to a standard.  And I have a saying.  When we aren’t training then you are on your time…but when we are training then you are on my time and I expect respect and attention.  And lo and behold, he really wasn’t unteachable or untrainable (labs can actually be taught to learn, not just trained).

And without going into much detail so as to bore you, here he is today, six months after he came, running on a blind retrieve.  The point here is to line him up and send him running on a straight line until he either finds a bumper or is stopped by a whistle and then directed by hand motions in the correct direction.  It takes a lot of success at learning smaller elements before they can be built into what Jake demonstrates here.  This is the beginning of his being able to be handled and is quite an accomplishment for any retriever, let alone for an initial dunderhead like Jake, who was given up on by others.  Witness how motivated he is, how much he enjoys his work, how he has learned to work with me, how controlled he is, and just the sheer fun he is having…the distance is 175 yards and dogs don’t see orange…not to mention how well he did with some style.  It thrills me to see a lab learn and to be their teacher.  We will work together for the next ten years to survive on this farm and in this region.  I couldn’t ask for a better partner and I think he knows it.  He’s coming along great.  In the house he lies at my feet all of his own volition. He’s not my buddy…he’s fully a co-worker at the Parkland Worker.

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