Thursday, 5 August 2021

Summer of the Swallows

 Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come. Lois Lowry

 There’s an old barn in our front yard, a remnant of a school project of bygone years. Its red and white paint is not as vibrant as it once was and the weather-beaten walls have cracks. Much to my chagrin, no creatures have lived in it since I’ve been here. And no amount of wishing lured any birds to move in either. Many years ago it housed a wren family every summer, I was told. The entrance had been made especially small, so only petite birdies would fit. Hanging from a sturdy branch it swayed in the breeze, lonely and empty.

I was tired of waiting for some small bird to come along and build a nest in it, so tentatively suggested to my stepson, Geoffrey, to make the hole bigger. Knowing he was the one who built the bird barn, I wasn’t sure how that would fly. However, remembering the year before when a pair of tree swallows tried their best to get inside, I had to voice my idea.

A day later, the alteration finished, I eagerly watched from my vantage point. Somebody must have told the swallow couple about the new opening –less than a week later they were there to stake their claim. Finally I’ll get the chance to observe a feathered family settle in, raise their young, and admire the fledglings when they leave home. And I would have a front row seat through our living room window!I hadn’t thought of this scenario, but apparently some sparrows seemed to think that, since they live here year round, they should have first dibs on the old house. Year-rounders or not, I was rooting for the tree swallows. After days of bird-bickering and aerial fights, the sparrows gave up and the building continued. For the next few weeks, dried grass and feathers were brought to the barn-house, mostly by the female. For days on end she smoothly glided past our window countless times with a beak-full of building material. From my observation, the male acted as foreman at this construction site, and only stopped by every so often to oversee the progress.

Before long, however, the foreman role changed to devoted soon-to-be papa. He was kept busy bringing food for mama who didn’t venture too far from home and her eggs. I couldn’t wait to get my first glimpse of the babies and was so excited when a tiny head peered out one day. Now both mama and papa flew back and forth all day long, feeding their young. Sometimes three tiny heads were visible at the same time, mouths wide open waiting for juicy bugs.

I once heard fledglings are pushed out of the nest by the parents and was looking forward to seeing how this would play out. Sometimes it seemed one of the babies was wondering the same thing, as it poked its head out of the hole and looked way down to the ground below. I hoped they’d be alright when they’d finally left the nest, especially with a number of dogs around. Since the fledglings were fully feathered, I know it wouldn’t be long until they would leave home. 

Days later as I was folding laundry, I noticed mama frantically darting around the tree. I took a closer look and saw a squirrel, but it seemed like it was merely trying to get to the dog dishes beside the tree. I grabbed my phone and started recording as the squirrel went to the dog’s water dish for a drink, with mama swallow swooping down towards it, trying to scare it away. The squirrel seemed nervous too and soon scurried back up the tree. It stopped suddenly and seemingly noticed the birdhouse for the first time and clambered on top of it. This really sent mama bird into an anxious state, flying around furiously.

As the squirrel made its way to the opening, I thought that there was no way this squirrel would fit through the hole. It worked extremely hard trying to get inside, while I watched and wondered if a squirrel would actually eat baby birds. I was horrified when it actually got part way through the hole. Down went my phone as I hurried outside looking for something long to reach the bird house. By then I was angry enough to want that squirrel dead. Perfect, a hoe stood waiting for me right beside the front door. The squirrel came out of the birdhouse just as I got to the tree. I poked at it with my weapon, as it was trying to get inside the bird house again. It apparently feared my hoe and scampered away from the nest. I stopped on a branch and looked back, probably to see if I was still there.

Then a blackbird joined the battle, siding with mama swallow and me. What a gutsy bird! It chased that scoundrel squirrel through leaves and branches, staying right above it squawking loudly, as it scurried up and down trees and out of sight. I stood watching in awe, still holding on to my hoe. I wasn’t sure what to make of that chase, since just a few days before a blackbird visited the tree, causing some anxious moment for the swallow pair, who seemed to sense danger. Nothing came of it though, as the blackbird simply flew away.

My eyes turned back to mama bird who was still anxiously darting around the tree. Not a sound came from her home. A few feathers clung to the opening, a sorrowful reminder of the harm inflicted by a squirrel in mere minutes. After a while the swallow mama flew away, not even going near her nest. I haven't seen her since. A few hours later I witnessed another somber moment as papa swallow flew around in front of the nest; but he too didn’t go near the opening. I stood by the window in silent lament, as it dawned on me, if I had intervened sooner, ours might still be a happy song.

I know squirrels have to eat too, and have since learned, that they only go after eggs and baby birds when they’re unable to find other food around their habitat. However, it doesn't ease the sadness that the bird family I had the joy of watching for weeks, ended so tragically. Three babies were inside the birdhouse when Geoffrey cleaned it out next day. I, like the swallow parents, could not bear to look at the deceased babies.

Looking at the lonely bird house, swaying in the breeze, makes me sad, especially since I won’t get to watch the young swallows leave their nest. But there is always the hope that another feathered family will call the old barn home one day.



Thursday, 15 April 2021

Re. Upcoming Feedburner Changes

Hello Everybody,

I've lately been notified by Blogger, about an upcoming change to Feedburner. If you're like me, your response was something like this: What in the world is that? You can learn more about it here. This has something to do with following my blog via email. I humbly admit I don't fully understand what exactly that will mean, in terms of you following this blog through email. Maybe it will continue to work, maybe not. It was suggested I migrate my email follower list to some other subscriber service. Where that service might be, I have no idea. Yes, I tried this migrating thing, but didn't get far. (I thought only birds migrate. :) If you think you can help me with this, I will gladly accept. Other than that, the only thing I can suggest, if you follow via email, try to find some other way. I do also share my new posts via Whatsapp. I could also make a blog follower group in email, but then I'd have to remember to share my new posts there, right? :( I'm not sure this would be your best option. 

Let me know what you think. And thank you for following my blog all those years. I apologize for not posting as regularly as used to. I didn't think I'd be as busy as I was when I worked in school full time, at Elm River Colony, but I guess married life has given me plenty to do as well. Lots of blessings for sure - wearing a few hats these days, wife, mom,
grandma and helping my husband raise greenhouse tomatoes. We've started picking. Had my first tomato sandwich of the season this week! Hmmmm! 

How did I get from Blogger changes to tomatoes? Oh well....

Have a great day!

Thursday, 11 March 2021

"Shoveling Sand to Build Castles"

 We’ve been dealing with a pesky pandemic for about a year now. When we were first advised to stay at home, I looked forward to spending more time writing – start the next book, maybe? Always a good idea to dream big, right? I wanted to blog regularly again. Regrettably, that hasn’t happened. Something else I dreamed about doing was writing a newsletter every few months. I think I did one. While I’ve done some writing, but not as much as I imagined. I’m not even sure what all I thought I’d churn out. Still, I am happy with what I did accomplish:

One piece I worked on quite a bit, however, is a research project about two abandoned Hutterite colonies in Manitoba. I started this a few years ago, so it feels good to have it in the final editing stages. At this point I’m still not sure what will happen with it, but I envision a booklet, hopefully in the not to distant future. I know that there are many Hutterites looking forward to reading it, knowing this has kept the wind in my sails, along with the fact that both my grandmothers lived in those extinct colonies, Thorndale (aka Sharpe) and Roseisle.

I also had two short stories published in local newspapers. Work of our Hearts was published in the Manitoba Cooperator and Joy to a Weary World in the Carillon, a Steinbach weekly paper. Both of these pieces are also right here on my blog. After I posted Work of our Hearts, the editor of The Menno-Hof Newsletter, Reunion, out of Shipshewana, Indiana, saw it and asked for permission to use it in an upcoming issue. They kindly sent me a copy!

Every so often, I’m inspired to submit a story or two to Chicken Soup for the Soul. A few months ago I did just that. Who knows what that will yield, if anything? Lately, I’ve also been thinking of entering some writing contest, after a friend sent me some interesting upcoming ones. So far I’ve not ventured down that road.

Last month, being reading month, I gifted some copies of Hutterite Diaries to people on our colony who love to read. Related to that is an interesting story: Michael and I were visiting Rachel, a dear grandma on our colony one evening. She told us about a friend from Alberta
who calls her regularly. This started after the lady read Rachel Basel’s book, My Palmgrove Diary, published some years ago. Thinking about this later, I thought, 'Good for you, Rachel Basel, to have a reader who turned into a phone friend.' Wouldn't it be lovely if they could meet someday.

One day this friend told Rachel about a book which she had enjoyed reading and was wondering about the author. This happened to be my book, Hutterite Diaries, and she was wondering where I had moved to after getting married. Rachel Basel happily told her that I now lived at Crystal Spring. After relating this, Rachel Basel asked about my book, “Why have I never heard about it.” Next day, I made sure she had her own copy. She kindly gave me a copy of her book as well, which I’m looking forward to reading real soon. It's not everyday you get to exchange diaries with someone.

Over the last few months I’ve enjoyed helping our minister, Eddy Vetter organize his library. That is fascinating work because there’s a wide variety of reading material to sort through and shelf: many very old and newer books, newspaper articles going back quite a few years… Anyway, I noticed that there’s a good collection of books by and about Hutterites, but no Hutterite Diaries. “You don’t even have a copy of my book here,” I joked one day. He chuckled and gave me a typical Eddy Vetter response, “Then do something about it.” Hence, one of my books graces that library. 

I used another copy in a Christmas Secret Santa gift exchange. It went to one of our head cooks who told me, “Thanks for the book! I’ll read every word.”

As for my writing resolves, ventures, dreams…. one writer put it this way: “I'm writing a first draft and reminding myself that I'm simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles." - Shannon Hale

How about you? What are you filling your COVID isolation days with?

Sunday, 24 January 2021

T'is the Season

 A few days ago a friend exclaimed, "I have such a craving for a fresh tomato, I think I'll buy myself some." But quickly added, "I know they don't come close to our homegrown ones." 

"Another few months and you'll have some from the greenhouse." I informed her. "We just transplanted 84 tomato plants yesterday. 

"I can't wait!" was her enthusiastic reply.

I was curious, so I did a little bit of research and came up with a slice of 'love apple' history:   

Tomatoes were first cultivated in 700 AD, and originate from wild plants in the Andes Mountains in South America. The Spanish introduced this plant to Europe in the 16th century. The Spanish and the Italians were the first Europeans to adopt it as a food.

Botanists at the time, considered the tomato plant poisonous, because it's related to the belladonna and nightshade. The Italians called tomatoes, golden apples, which suggests they may have been yellow back then. To the French they were pomme d'amour, love apples. 

This delicious fruit was brought to Canada and the US by the Europeans. Thomas Jefferson is said to have raised tomatoes in Monticello in 1781. Next time you feast on a tomato sandwich, you'll know a tad more about this fruit, which is used in a variety of ways around the world.

tomato seeds
  As mentioned in an earlier post, my husband, Michael and I raise greenhouse tomatoes. The season started during the second week of December. While everybody else was busy ordering Christmas presents online or doing curbside pickups, we sat at our kitchen table and planted tomatoes. Well, I suppose not everybody bothered with online shopping and it actually only took us part of an evening to plant one tray of tomatoes. Christmas shopping was just another example of the strange times we’re living in at the moment. And planting tomatoes was a nice reminder that some things are still the same, when we so long to go back to normal.

We start them at our house, since one tray doesn’t take up much room. Plus, we save on having to heat the greenhouse the first few weeks of the season. Although this year it was rather mild. I’m always amazed that a tiny tomato seed grows into a twenty foot vine (We measured one in the fall, when we took them down.) and yields an abundance of fruit. Yes, a tomato falls under fruit. I read a quote from Miles Kington recently: “Knowledge is knowing that tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it into a fruit salad.”

 T’was wonderful to watch our seedlings sprout and grow over the holidays! That is when I was inspired to write a blog post… start a gardening journal of sorts. (I know, took me long enough to finally sit down and do it.) One never knows where inspiration will sprout from.


A few days ago we moved our little plants to the greenhouse and transplanted them. Almost daily you can see changes as they grow. Yes, come March we’ll see the first fruit of the season. For now I can dream about thick slices of tomatoes between fresh slices of  homemade whole wheat bread.

Knowing how much people enjoy our fresh tomatoes, adds to the joy of growing tomatoes!


Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Joy to a Weary World

 Wispy white flakes fall softly, creating a pristine blanket on the ground outside my window. Pavarotti singing, Oh Holy Night, adds to the ambiance. I’m reminded that the timelessness of Christmas lies in God’s gift to mankind and celebrating this real meaning of the season, is what adds sparkle to the traditions and delight upon the first fall of snow. I fondly remember the previous Yuletide, and the wonder of celebrating Christmas with my new family, at the colony to which I had recently moved.

Amid the preparations and festivities of that Christmas, the first rumbles of a deadly virus in China reached Canada. That’s half a world away, I mused, so the grim news did not put a damper on this special time – I enjoyed every aspect, the preparations as much as the family and communal celebrations. Although there were melancholy moments when my mind meandered home, especially to my mom and her frugal ways. “Dos Papier schlogn mir nuch long nit weck!” she admonishes, when we want to discard the gift wrapping on Christmas Eve.

After getting married and moving, I was looking forward to experiencing Christmas in my new community. Back home, I had worked in the school, so I was especially anticipating the school Christmas concert. There was a good mix of German and English plays, music recitals and choir singing. I enjoyed the entire concert, but my favourite was the high school choir. It was evident how much work went into their pieces; every number was performed beautifully – I could close my eyes and envision angels singing, Can You Hear the Christmas Bells?

Another special event has the whole community participating in the manger scene on a frigid Heilig Abend, Christmas Eve. After meeting the Magi at the communal dining room, angels led us to a barn. On the way, we huddled around a fire to sing with the shepherds. Finally, we all gathered in a chilly barn, where Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus were surrounded by a “multitude of angels”. While everybody was settling down on straw bales, sheep and goats were bleating from their pens, adding to the realism already present. Soon we filled the little stable with numerous favourite German and English Christmas songs. The sweet, familiar blend of the whole community of young and old voices singing, Oh, Beautiful Star of Bethlehem brought tears of joy and gratitude.

Early in the New Year, when news of the raging virus in Europe reached us, it was still hard to fathom that it would leave such a devastating trail around the world. It seemed farfetched to think it would ever arrive on our shores. Nevertheless, in late January the virus arrived in Ontario and also in Quebec. Just two months later, it reached our province. Like most concerned citizens, we limited travel, stayed home, sterilized surfaces and hand-washed regularly. As we churned out thousands of masks, to supply two killing plants, I still hoped that the seclusion of living in a Hutterite community and “adhering to the fundamentals” would help keep us safe. That wish was not to be: August found us juggling garden work and sewing masks for ourselves, as some of us caught the virus.

Being in quarantine provided ample time to fret and wonder how long COVID would plague us. Thankfully, that too passed and everybody recovered. Our spirits were especially lifted when heaps of care packages from various businesses and individuals in neighbouring communities were delivered to our parcel drop-off trailer. Among the everyday household necessities like hygiene items and cleaners, there were particularly thoughtful ones like books and crafts for children!  Sometimes good Samaritans bring “peace and goodwill” when it is least expected! 

Now, as we stand on the threshold of another Christmas season, I’m trying to envision how different it might be. Given the increasing cases in Manitoba, we’ll likely be compelled to return to more restrictions. Although we’ll miss attending concerts, singing at communal meals and other get-togethers, I imagine the ordinary Christmas activities will be more meaningful this year. Gathering virtually to hear and reflect on the Christmas story will serve as a reminder to treasure the gift of worshiping in church with our fellow beleivers. With strictly limited visits in recent months, we’ll have a new appreciation for family celebrations. Having a friend drop in for coffee, cookies and face-to-face conversation will be as sweet as traditional dark fruit cake, fig bars and Pfeffernüsse. Each Christmas card sent and received, will be a poignant reminder of loved ones still with us. And the lovely strains of Der Friedensfürst, will resonate peace, love and joy like never before – a soothing balm our corona-weary hearts so desperately need. 

Seid fröhlich alle Völker
Und singet Freudenlieder,
Bringt Ehre und Anbetung, Ihm,
Dem Friedensfürsten dar.
Singt Hosianna, singt Hosianna,
Hosianna bringt dem Gotteslamm.

C. E. Leslie