City girl to farm girl

I think of myself as pretty lucky when I look at all the opportunities I have had to do the things I love. During the summer it’s not uncommon for me to be randomly hoping on a bus or a plane and exploring another part of this wonderful world. Given these frequent chances, it came as no surprise to me when my grandpa called me from Alberta and offered me a summer job. My answer was a big “yes.”

I had only been home for two hours when I received that call — having just finished a five-week French course at Laval University in Québec City — so as my friends came over to welcome me back into Manitoba, I greeted them with the news of my departure. Only four days later I was boarding the graveyard bus to Calgary.

Taking the bus from Winnipeg to anywhere is often perceived to be dangerous. Remembering Tim McLean and the horrendous incident that took place about this time two years ago, I boarded the bus and found a seat closer to the front.

I wanted to be familiar with everyone on the bus so as to try and avoid making friends with the wrong people. I was weary of a few people that made their way to the back of the bus, one of which had been stopped by security when he tried to take a mason’s trowel onto the bus in his carry-on.

I couldn’t decide whether it was smart to make friends with these few people so as to appear to be on their side, or to stay clear of them so they might not notice me at all. As the bus finally pulled out of the depot, the rain started to come down and my worries were washed away for the time being.

It rained through Manitoba. It kept raining in Saskatchewan and continued to rain in Alberta. Reminiscing about the summer of ’06, when I went to the farm to work just like this year, I remember saying to myself, “Never again. I will never come back to the farm to work ever again.” Now the rain was giving me a clue as to all the fun I was going to have.

To begin the fun, the Trans Canada was washed out and apparently it takes two hours to decide that we need to find an alternative route and during those two hours no one can know what is going on. So we sat.

I read for a bit, tried to sleep for a bit, watched the crazies in the back for a bit, but really I just wanted to get back on the road. When the two hour mark was drawing near, we were told that they found an alternative route but it would take an hour longer than if we were able to take the Trans Canada. Excellent, at least we were getting back on the road.

Bright and early on my first day in Alberta my grandpa wakes me up and tells me to get to work. It is 8 a.m. Saturday morning and we only arrived on the farm at 11:30 p.m. the previous night. Here goes nothing . . .

That was a month ago.

Now that I look back on the past four-weeks, there are a few words and phrases that I would like to delete from my vocabulary. The first would be grain-bin or rather the act of cleaning them. My grandfather is a grain farmer and so when I clean the bins, I have to be really thorough — sweeping down the walls and getting the grain out from all the cracks and then shovelling out the last of the grain.

To make my distaste clear, it does not take four-grain bins — each taking about two and a half hours to clean — to realize that you are allergic to dust. The sun beats down on the poor steel bin and heats up the inside. And when I was sweating like I was in a sauna, while sweeping the grain dust off the walls above my head, the little dust flakes made a lovely home for themselves on my porous skin. The mixture of the heat and my itchy arms helped turn bin cleaning days into “angry Tanis days.”

The next word I want to forget is fence. Over the course of a week, I rolled up the electric and barbed wire from four fences and pulled out the posts. It sounds like an easy job and it would have been if it had been done 10 years ago when the wires were still attached to the fence and not buried under the sod and a couple years of dead quack grass. At first I was pulling out the wire by hand, then my grandpa remembered he was sitting on a tractor that could do the same job but one hundred times faster. The tractor helped a lot, but it was still gruelling work.

Another word that I find worth forgetting is mould. I just so happen to be allergic to mould as well as dust. In fact, I am starting to realize that I am allergic to pretty much everything on the farm — dust, mould, cats and spring pollens. So naturally, because of my allergies, one of my jobs was to empty and clean out a mouldy grain bin. This project took four days, during which a cousin and I had to shovel out the grain and practically spoon-feed the auger so that it wouldn’t get clogged from the wet and mouldy grain. The rashes returned and farmer arm and leg muscles were created.

Slowly but surely I became a farm girl. The farmer tan was the first sign, shortly followed by the calloused, cut, bruised and grease stained hands — and I was even wearing gloves! Not being used to the heat, I often wore shorts instead of pants, enabling nature to take its toll on my legs. Slowly, I got used to my skin prickling as the cuts on my arms and legs collected salty sweat, grime and dirt.

It didn’t take me as long to start wondering what the hell I was doing on this farm in the middle of nowhere. In fact, on day one as I was pulling the fence wire out from under the sod, I asked myself what on earth possessed me to situate myself with such gruelling work and isolation.

I longed for human interaction with more people, preferably ones well under the age of 75. I tried to describe why I was not having a splendid time out here in Alberta to a friend from back home and she said, “I think it’s good to have alone time once in a while though.” I told her that alone time was good, but this was more like solitary confinement.

So I have to hand it to the students in the Agricultural department. Good for you. I go to the grocery store and I know that someone had to grow all the food I buy, but it’s just not for me. Again I say to myself, and now to all of you, that I will never come back to the farm to work ever again.