Friday, November 10, 2006

Fiddlehead memories

This is Glenn Rudman's contribution to the blog. He spent one wonderful year with us at the farm in 1988.

I have too many fond memories of the farm to reproduce them all here but some experiences stick in my mind. Taken separately, they can seem small, even insignificant; but together they form a whole episode of my life which is greater than the sum of the parts. Perhaps that is how I want to sum up the farm - greater than the sum of its parts.

I first arrived at Fiddlehead Farm in the late-80s as a naive young Englishman of 18 years. I hadn’t seen much of the world and I had only been in Canada two weeks when I noticed an advertisement for the farm at Jericho Beach Youth Hostel, Vancouver. The poster promised a small oasis in the wilderness, working for my keep, log cabins, good people and good food. This was just what I needed.

Over a period of nine months in Canada, I spent nearly three of them at Fiddlehead. I soon settled into the routine of work. Everything from splitting wood to gardening, to helping in the kitchen and fetching the groceries from town - all fuelled by some of the most wholesome food I have ever eaten.

I spent my 19th birthday on the farm and I’m still touched by the generosity offered to me by Linda and her family. During my special day I played some volleyball with another farm guest and made hand-churned ice-cream. In the evening I sat down to a fantastic pizza dinner complete with party hats. The desert included the famous $100 chocolate cake and the ice-cream I had help to prepare earlier in the day. As if this wasn’t enough I was given gifts, including a T-shirt from the Powell Lake marina bar, a bottle of Bushmill’s whiskey and a pair of very silly plastic yellow glasses (sadly dropped in Powell Lake soon after!).

Good, home-baked food was a big part of the farm experience and Linda soon had me baking bread, croissants, overnight coffee cake, pizza and trying my hand at a range of new delights including cheese and cauliflower pie with a potato crust (divine!). I remember playing pool one evening in the main house. At some point in the proceedings someone suggested we make some ranger cookies. Then someone else added that we should make a double batch. I’m not sure how it happened but after the initial enthusiasm and group surge to the kitchen I was left baking the cookies - alone. I didn’t get to bed until about 1am! Thanks guys.

Ranger cookies aside, the gentle encouragement I received in the kitchen did boost my confidence. It probably serves as a metaphor for growing up and testing new ground as a person.

It wasn’t all enjoyable though. It was quite an education to be involved in chopping the heads off chickens and skinning them while they were still warm so that roast chicken could be on the menu. I wasn’t always willing to volunteer but I felt compelled to assist by the simple notion that if I was going to it eat then I had to have a hand in the slaughter. However, I distinctly remember refusing to take the axe to one proud and colourful rooster that was neglecting his duties with the ladies. I just couldn’t do it.

Roast chicken was on the menu the night of the Halloween fancy-dress party. However, Fiddlehead Farm is the only place crazy enough to stage a fancy-dress party where the number of guests would never total more than three. Still, the Hunchback of Notredame (me), Davy Crocket (Timo) and an unnamed witch (Julie) had a great dinner, a few beers and partied till late around the pool table.

No tale of the farm would be complete without a mention of the special animals. Whether there were plans to eat them or not, the farm beasts were an extension of the Scheiber family. Dan (top dog) and Ruben (the best rottweiler in the world) were a part of daily life. Whether it was Dan trying to bite the wheels off the moving tractor or using a dozing Ruben as a headrest on the warm grate above the furnace, the dogs were a constant source of friendship and entertainment. Alice and Sally, the cows, and Barbara and George, the geese, were always around somewhere, although Barbara and George didn’t last long. They were destined for the cooking pot, but they got the last laugh when they turned out to be as tough as old boots.

When I returned to the farm in the winter after a spell of travelling around Canada it felt good to be getting out of the boat and riding up the winding track to that special clearing in the woods. The arrival of snow marked the start of the tobogganing season and much effort was put into ensuring the toboggan run beneath the conifers had ample snow on it for maximum full-speed effect. It clearly wasn’t fun enough to whizz down the narrow run alone with little control, occasionally missing the small rock at the right-hand bend, thereby saving one’s coccyx from another painful battering. It was far more entertaining for everyone go together in one long unsteady caterpillar of recklessness. That way, there was always the added thrill that you would be run over by someone behind you, or better still, ride over the person in front who wiped out on the right-hander. As if this wasn’t enough, night-time tobogganing was part of Fiddlehead life. What form of illumination did we use? Flashlights gripped in our teeth of course! If we arrived safely at the bottom of the run then we would simply collect our toboggans under our arms, trudge back up the slope with glad-to-be-alive smiles on our faces, take a quick sip of Dr. McGuilliguddy’s Peach Schnapps and throw ourselves, once more, down the toboggan run of death!

Adventure hikes on nearby Goat Island, overnight canoe camping trips to Haslam Lake with a cat, fixing the hydro electricity supply, naked log rolling on Frog Pond, Irish coffees, lucrative pine mushroom collecting and splitting endless quantities of logs because you had to, are all part of the Fiddlehead life I remember.

Apart from the happy memories and the new friends, the farm opened my mind to new possibilities and gave me the confidence to tackle some of the challenges I faced when I returned to Britain. Perhaps that time at Fiddlehead affected me more than I dare admit as, since April 2006, I have been living in the Yukon with my wife, Jo, enjoying some of the Canadian ways of life that I first experienced back in 1988.

Long may Fiddlehead live on. If not physically, then in the hearts and memories of everyone who was touched by this very special place.



Anonymous said...

thanks glenn a lovely recollection, and so glad i met you and jo there!

Paul O'Doherty said...

I remember the guy with the bandana in the dinner table photo, I met him there 30 years ago! Randy , I think his name was. I am a nurse now working in ER IN Ireland and still recall those days with great happiness.
Paul O' Doherty