Seasons of Change

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Today at the Fyfe Farm- can’t wait for the lilacs!

While the seasons change throughout the year I am always most amazed at the transformations that occur when winter turns to spring.

It is probably more profound for those of us who live where there are four dramatically different seasons. That’s not to say I wouldn’t relish life if someone offered me a home on Kauai but I do think I would miss the changes.

The transition of spring to summer feels sleepy and easy. And the change from summer to fall sometimes sort-of sneaks up on you but it usually has no drama. And then fall turns to winter but by then we’ve probably had a bit of snow and cold and the wood stove has already been running for weeks.

Its not the case this time of year.

 

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Spring in western Montana

After a long winter that had more than 3 feet of snow on the ground with days and days of plowing the roads and splitting wood and realizing I had to plow snow again, the changing season is a welcome relief.

Its beautiful, really.

There is actual warmth radiating from the giant, glowing yellow orb in the sky which has brought all of the snow off our heavily-burdened roof tops and is taking its toll with the subsequent melt. The creeks are high.

 

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The creek that runs past our house.

 

Dark, murky water bubbles and churns next to our house, breaching the creek walls and spilling out onto our still-snowy pasture at the far end of the field. I can hear it churning along even when I’m walking the dogs down our gravel driveway that is finally drying up.

The driveway that I plowed endlessly this winter.

 

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The back driveway this winter. We try to keep this one open, too.

We are the last home on the road so if I want to have access to the world its up to me to keep things open. I don’t mind the plowing at all. I have my trusty old friend, Big Red and his kick-ass blade to shove snow from here to there. The Dodge Ram we designed as our wedding gift to each other in 1996 has served us well over the years and even if he had to be plugged in every night during the winter it was worth it to feel him shimmy and rumble and hear him fire up in the frigid mornings after another 7 or 8 inches of snow had fallen.

 

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I love you, Big Red!

It isn’t just a visual awakening that occurs when winter takes off her snowy coat and welcomes the spring. The smell of the pine trees when we snowshoe and now hike out back is magnificent! Its profound how sudden the scent seems to appear although the trees have obviously been there all winter.

The dogs seemed fascinated by the scents they were detecting on one of our first treks after a lot of snow had rapidly disappeared. UB, in particular, was almost clingy with us. Had the melt uncovered mountain lion and bear scents? Had the neighborhood wolves left markings that had been hidden all winter only to be revealed on one sunny afternoon?

 

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Snowshoe trek with UB… (not the day he was so worried)

Not all of the scents are lovely, however. Like the overpowering smell that takes over when we drive up to our mailbox, which is located next to the neighbor who is calving in a small, wet, condensed area.

Or the unmistakable smell of skunk that wafted through the truck as I passed yet another neighbor’s often-targeted house. These are definite scents of spring.

A smell I miss is that of our woodstove. We’ve let the stove go out for the season.

 

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All done for the winter.

The reliable and steady source of incredible, comforting warmth is cool and quiet now and there are no animals congregating at its hearth. When we first moved here 10 years ago, Oscar, Chorney, Boomer, Sport, Cooper and Mulder could be found alongside Cleo throughout the winter on the carpeted stairs next to the stove.

I’ve laid there myself on cold evenings when I was chilled to the bone and Alistair was in Bismarck, wrapped up in any combination of cats and dogs.

Its the stove Loki laid in front of when I joined her and we spooned one last time before she eventually took her final breaths there.

It will sit silently, unobtrusively for the next several months until it is called to duty once more and I won’t smell the smoke from the burning wood which provides a heat like no other.

 

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Just last week.

With the changing seasons comes a change in our activities. The snow shoes and snowmobiles both got some love last week when Alistair was here. If you are an outdoors enthusiast, this is the perfect place to live (once you’ve got the wood split and the driveway plowed). We try to make the most of our incredible landscape.

 

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Our “back yard” forest a couple of weeks ago.

We didn’t make it to the ski hills around us, though, because the transformation into spring was happening even more rapidly in Helena, where the golf courses began to open. Our season has begun!

 

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Also last week!

With the change in our activities we noticed more changes in our own lives. This was the first spring we could drive the hour and half there and play a full, guilt-free 18 holes and then enjoy a lovely supper out before heading home. The previous 2 years, when Helena’s courses opened before any others nearby, we could only do the driving range. Or a rapid 9 holes with a cart.

Loki’s needs, which were never, ever resented, precluded us from being gone from home for so long. I initially felt sad that I didn’t feel any guilt but then I chose to enjoy both our memories and our new ability to spend the full afternoon there.

And I even made par on the par 3 16th hole. Another ball for the wall!

 

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New pink ball-for-the-wall!

Another aspect that makes the turning of winter into spring profound for us is how we manage the farm and day-to-day chores or activities. Something so simple as footwear or outer wear becomes completely different and takes up significantly less time.

There’s the long pants and possibly long johns. The turtleneck. The vest. Maybe the CarHartts. The big heavy coat or the double-layered jacket (depends on whether or not I’m splitting wood). The scarf. The toque. The gloves (the choice again depends on the wood thing… or maybe the hay thing).

Then there’s time you need to start the trucks (if they start) and let them run so that they will be warm and the engine will run smoothly. And don’t forget to unplug them before driving off!

 

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Big Red needed plenty of time to rumble in the driveway before we would get going.

Now, though, as spring has made her entrance into our world, none of the rigs are plugged in and going outside is a matter of slipping some shoes on and maybe a light jacket. If the wind is blowing I’ll grab the toque but only so my hair doesn’t fly around.

Our lives are dramatically different when spring comes around.

And this year, some of the changes are of our own design but they’ve added to the profound feeling that things are really, really different now.

Klaus is gone.

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Klaus… our Jetta… enjoying his final winter on the Fyfe Farm.

 

Our 2009 VW Jetta was part of the emissions lawsuit that was settled late last year. After Klaus made the annual Christmas letter 2 years in a row we were more than happy to send our little car back to VW.

It took a bit of time to organize it all but early last week Alistair fired his old friend up one more time and off we went to Missoula.

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He didn’t seem overly upset about it, either.

And for the last time I followed the little grey hatchback in a different vehicle and although I didn’t feel melancholy I definitely flashed back to several of our treks between Montana and North Dakota over the years. Some changes can definitely make me smile.

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Following Klaus through the middle of Montana in 2015.

One more change putting a smile on my face most of the time is Jockey’s transition to being an indoors kitty. It wasn’t right keeping him by himself in the barn after we had lost Georgia before Christmas so the slow process of making sure everyone got along began and he’s camped out at my feet right now as I type.

 

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He found the bed pretty quickly!

 

 

He’s an enormous cat with big sharp claws but he had kept them sheathed until Sport must have pissed him off. I haven’t witnessed any altercations but Sport showed up with what looked like a bad attempt at a pierced ear the other morning.

Oh, Jockey.

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Sport, today, after several days of antibiotics, doing quite well.

Jockey is making the most out of being a “domesticated indoor cat” and everyone is adapting to the changes.

The changes in the season and the changes in Fyfe Life.

The sun and the ground are warm, the horses are shedding their long winter coats, the color green is peeking out from where the snow has melted and spring is upon us. I’m wearing less layers, the heavy boots aren’t being worn as much, the trucks aren’t plugged in and the wood stove is silent.

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Outdoor reminders of other seasons.

While its still cool enough to have a chicken noodle soup cooking in my crock pot right now I can finally see the bon fire pit and imagine sitting around a smoky, starry night with a wine glass in my hand and UB and Cleo playing in the creek.

And I think of when we had 4 dogs by the bonfire and 3 barn kitties to lock in at night and 5 dogs at the Dog Days of Summer and so many cats to line up every day for soft food and the ferret cage sits there, empty, and the freezer is ridiculously full and I miss couch time with Loki and I feel bad about not feeling guilty when I visit a good friend in the hospital and another good friend for lunch before finalizing the VW buy-back yesterday.

As much as my life has always changed, this current changing season has brought me to a totally new phase in my life. Where many things are the same but I feel quite different. I don’t know why. More mature? Perhaps. Wiser, in some ways, less knowledgeable in others. More prone to tearing up at a commercial that features animals, that’s for sure.

I welcome spring and all the rebirth and growth and challenges in front of me.

Now, lets get those golf courses open!

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Clearly not struggling with the transition.

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Yesterday, finalizing the buy-back of Klaus.

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I’m envisioning it but its still going to take a few days…

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Bye-bye, winter! We’re ready for spring!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still Me. Still Canadian.

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Its not Canada Day today nor is it any holiday my home land has deemed important enough to mark on my wall calendars. Its not the anniversary of my US naturalization and I’m not feeling nostalgic for poutine, maple syrup or Canadian Content.

I can get most of the things I identify with being Canadian right here in the United States. Most things.

I can’t get The Hip.

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My Canadian peeps know I’m talking about the Tragically Hip, our uber cool, exclusively Canadian rock band from Kingston, Ontario. Canadians will also know why today is a gut-wrenchingly special day and that people from the Yukon to Newfoundland will be tuning in to the most poignant concert in our country’s history.

Tonight is the very last night of the very last tour of our iconic band.

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The Tragically Hip. Not my photo.

 

The lead singer, Gord Downie announced this year that he had terminal brain cancer.

Their gift to the only country they’ve ever cared about was a final tour from coast to coast that began in Vancouver this summer. Several of my friends and family have been to the concerts and they all said it was a jubilant, festive celebration despite the gloom and doom of the knowledge we are losing The Hip.

That Gord still wore some crazy assed outfits and still gyrated and moved in a manner that would make Michael Stype of R.E.M. proud and that he could still belt out some massive poetry put to music.

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Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip. Not my photo.

Maybe one reason us Canadians are fiercely protective of Gord and The Hip is because they were ours. They never became mainstream outside of Canada and they never tried to “make it”  globally.

They have a guitar-rich sound with real drums that back up Gord’s distinctive voice. They never changed and despite not becoming huge in Europe or the US they have sold more albums in Canada than any other Canadian band. They sound as good at a backyard BBQ as they do in a small pub, live or through the speakers.

Every Canadian who enjoys The Hip has a favorite song.

I’m all about Ahead by a Century. I like Cordelia, Little Bones and Fiddler’s Green, too, but Ahead by a Century is definitely my favorite. I get it. Like many of their songs you know it within seconds of the first few sounds you hear from the radio or your cd player or now your iPad.

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Classics. Particularly Road Apples.

When we drove up to Saskatchewan last summer for my 10 year veterinary school reunion and turned on CBC radio the first song we heard was by the Tragically Hip. I remember asking Alistair, “How Canadian is that?”

And yet not all Canadians share the love. Alistair would be hard pressed to name a song and he has a wealth of musical knowledge including Canadian artists. Neither of us are huge Leonard Cohen fans, for that matter but we aren’t talking Lenny right now.

So tonight, thanks to CBC radio, even if folks aren’t in Kingston to share the final live performance of the Tragically Hip we can all watch it live, even in the US. (www.cbcmusic.ca)

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Their final tour this summer…

I feel a tad nostalgic writing about an iconic band I saw once years ago.

No, check that.

I feel old.

It has a bit to do with the Golden Girls theme of my last blog and watching my animal companions over the past 2 years age before my eyes.

I look in the mirror and sometimes I’m not sure about the gal looking back at me. Why is there more grey hair than before? Why is there less hair?

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thankful the flash hid a bunch of the grey!

The gal in the mirror has a ton of laugh-lines around her eyes and mouth.

I can attest to having laughed a lot over my 43 years on the planet. Its one thing I enjoy doing, both making others laugh and busting a gut myself.

And while my hair is thinning my ass certainly isn’t. What’s with that? I’m not complaining about my size but it has become a heck of a lot harder to just drop 5 pounds whenever I wanted. (Its the figure skater in me. Puberty in spandex, remember?)

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More laugh lines proudly being made!

And what’s with the tears? This getting older business and perhaps a certain (gasp) maturity that has come along with it also opened up the flood gates. For me to cry watching Olympic athletes perform to the best of their ability and then win a medal for their country is nothing new but dog food commercials? Insurance commercials? Facebook posts that have nothing to do with animals? Who the Hell am I?

I know I’m still me because I can still laugh at myself while the tears are streaming down. And while too much Kona coffee gives me a bit of heartburn (WHAT THE HELL? I used to drink coffee all freaking day and into the night!), I still love my fun meals and red wine.

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Riding around in Norman this year!

And Alistair still seems to love me even after hanging around with me for 22 years.

I am choosing to look at this as a personal evolution rather than me actually changing. I’m shaped by individuals and events that have been a part of my world all these years. I’ve been influenced by news, books, music, sporting events and movies that have all gone through as many eras as the fashion industry has.

But I’m still me.

I’ll continue to listen to music and let it play as the soundtrack to my life in the back of my head while I work on my golf game and my obsession with make-up and bling. I’ll crack jokes and sometimes say them out loud and hopefully it will be an appropriate time to do so.

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2 of the Golden Girls, Phillipa & I a few nights ago.

And I’ll probably cry tonight watching the Olympics and the Tragically Hip concert livestream on my iPad while sipping some wine (cabernet or merlot… which is more appropriate?) and playing with the ferrets with little Loki cuddling up on the couch as she always does every single evening.

I’ll still be the honest, happy, dorky, somewhat naïve, tree-hugging, laughing skater-wife-stepmom-petmom-veterinarian-bookworm-writer I’ve always been. Just with more grey hair. And a bit more girth.

Maybe a dose of maturity isn’t so bad after all. As long as I’ve got waterproof mascara I should be okay.

To quote Gord Downie, “Its been a long time coming. Well worth the wait.”

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Aw, Gord. Fight the brave fight, man.

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Getting ready to film one of Luigi’s videos this spring… because ferrets with accents is just what I do.

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’nuff said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Week

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While my blog title may bring to mind the catchy tune by the Barenaked Ladies, this isn’t about them.

Even though I am Canadian by birth and therefore can lay some sort of claim to the band.

I even saw them once and have the T-shirt to prove it!

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Some of the gang in Bismarck- Shilo, his mom, Raven and Susie

No, this blog is about the week I have had and how everything can change in such a short amount of time.

One week ago I was back in Bismarck, North Dakota, home of the hubby and most of our horses and fields of hay that needed to be cut.

Its that time of year.

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fields of hay during baling

New Neighbor has been a nuisance this year, pestering Alistair about getting his field cut and baled even though the man knows nothing about farming.

(If you recall last summer’s blog about the baling event he also knows nothing about hard work and sweat and how to get a job done.)

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The neighborhood hay bine that cuts the fields of grass and alfalfa and lays it out in rows. Its also a nice, shady spot for Howard’s dogs, Chili and Ginger.

Putting up hay isn’t something you can teach in a 15-minute discussion.

Running our expensive tractor and using Howard’s hay bine and figuring out what to do when & if things go wrong while listening to weather reports and checking weather websites and watching the skies to know when to cut and how long to leave the grass on the ground before baling is something of an art form.

It takes years to learn and try to perfect the skills so you have working equipment and dry (but not hot) hay bales to load into your barn for winter.

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Good hay!

In the end, we didn’t cut our hay. The weather timing wasn’t right with Alistair’s work schedule and New Neighbor still had no clue how to do anything.

Howard also wouldn’t let NN use the hay bine.

But Howard, an exceptional neighbor, cut his field and we stayed in Bismarck an extra day and helped him and his wife and a friend haul bales in the hot summer sun.

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Howard, baling his field while we loaded them up.

Many hands make for light work.

Even little girl hands like my own are useful.

I got to be the stacker.

Meaning I got to ride on the flatbed trailer like a surfer on a giant surfboard along the bumps and corners and sudden brakes, stacking the bales in neat, tidy, tight rows while the men tossed them up at me.

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One of my masterpieces.

The men get to do the heaving of the bales and the negotiating of the nice trucks into and out of the barns.

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Totally NOT my job!

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And he makes it! Go, Alistair!

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This is just a bit too tight of a parking spot for me to negotiate…

Howard has a bale elevator which makes for a better day for your back. We all stacked the trailer loads of hay and then drank water or nibbled popsicles and wondered where New Neighbor was while we debated the merits of a Toyota pickup in terms of guts and glory and talked about their daughter and her baby in Texas and didn’t talk about the daughter they lost and we watched Howard get the baler going again & again after dropping a bale.

And then we would go get another load.

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Just dropped another bale but Howard got it all going again.

Its the kind of work that you sort of enjoy because you are really earning a glass or two of wine later and you know you’re helping out and your neighbors really appreciate it and you are using just about every muscle you have in the blazing hot sun.

Its the kind of sweat that you would get if you sat in a sauna fully clothed for a few hours.

Its the kind of tradition that you don’t celebrate or plan ahead for because you really don’t know what the weather will do or if you will be in Montana or North Dakota or how many people will show up to help and its just something that needs to be done.

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Little girl, after yet another load was stacked into the barn.

I’m so glad we were there to help.

Even if I could feel every muscle in my body for days afterwards.

Its not Pretty Girl work.

Its not sparkly.

Its not something you look forward to.

You just do it because its the right thing to do (which NN obviously didn’t get… he was tinkering around in his garden when we drove up our driveway after 3 hours of hauling bales.)

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Bale moving along on handy-dandy bale elevator with Alistair working the upper levels of stacking inside the barn.

But then we played in our garden, which has been fantastic this year given the amount of moisture Bismarck has had.

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Our ND garden

It has been trampled and crushed by torrential rains and incredible winds twice this year and has withstood frost at least once.

Not everything survived but Alistair replanted when he could and shrugged his shoulders when he couldn’t.

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basil-basil-basil!!!!!

We enjoyed some yummy meals and continue to do so with the produce we brought back to Montana.

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Lovelies for my spaghetti sauce last night!

With all of the animal changes going on at the Fyfe Farm we didn’t need someone to stay overnight because I brought all 3 dogs with me.

Even blind, little Loki.

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Loki snooooooooze in Bismarck. (Insert snoring sounds….)

She lived in and visited our home there throughout all of her life and it always amazes me how she remembers how to navigate inside and outside of the house.

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Loki, UB and Cleo enjoying a Bismarck cuddle with Daddy

They travelled well with me and even though Cleo is mostly deaf she would look up at me from the passenger seat if my singing became too… well… I don’t what it was but it was “too” something given the square-face look she gave me.

But what is a woman of the 80s & 90s supposed to do when Four Non Blondes are belting out What’s Going On?

(Poor Cleo…)

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Non-singing portion of the road trip at our favorite doggy rest stop between Lewistown and Jordan, MT.

And we’re back to Montana and more changes occurred.

Or, had to be made.

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Cooper xoxo

Cooper wasn’t having any fun anymore and it was time to say goodbye.

How did we know?

She didn’t vocalize or try to get into the office anymore. Her weight loss was profound.

She got out of the cat bed when Boomer joined her and laid off by herself in a corner of the kitchen.

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Last month, Cooper enjoying the morning sun on our back deck

She wasn’t going out on the deck with the others in the mornings and that was maybe what clinched it for me.

I laid our 20-something year old companion in her Daddy’s lap and sedated her as she softly purred.

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Cooper Fyfe, back in the day, with one of her many garter snakes

And we remembered all of the special things about our short-haired, all-black, clawless wonder who found us in 1997.

How she would wrap both arms around your neck when you picked her up.

How she smacked the bejeezus out of me when I joined Alistair in ND after the 2 of them had bonded for a month.

How she groomed a terrible open wound on his hand he earned from trying to hold a crazy mare back with a rope.

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Oscar and Cooper, lovers for many years (Bismarck, many years ago)

And how she truly, deeply loved Oscar and wailed for 3 months after we said goodbye to him.

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more Oscar & Cooper shenanigans in Bismarck

Her peaceful presence is missed and our numbers are dwindling.

Its not easy.

Its not sparkly.

Its not something we wanted to do.

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More Oscar & Cooper moments

But its our deal with the animals- donate your reproductive organs at the door and get along and we will give you the best life we know how, with ample food, special treatments, voices, accents, dances, cuddles and kisses.

As good as we can for as long as we can.

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Oh, Coopie!

And more things change around the farm on a daily basis and we know we have some more sadness to handle up ahead.

But not just yet.

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Boomer, Cooper and Oscar a couple of years ago

I have visited the Everything Changes theme before and I think more and more it is why we live our lives in Fyfe Style.

We make the most of every morning together and enjoy the heck out of our days, our animal companions, our golf game, our friendships, our garden and each other.

We work hard so that we can play hard.

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Little Chorney with big sister Cooper… together again.

Because you don’t always know what’s up ahead and we want to be able to look back and remember the wonderful times together- not the things we didn’t do, or the words that were never said.

We want to help our neighbors and love our homes and land and be good people who do good things.

Even if it isn’t pretty.

Or it isn’t sparkly.

Or maybe its challenging and difficult and sometimes it makes us cry.

RIP, Cooper. We’re glad you’re back with Oscar.

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Cleo & UB in Bismarck

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Fun indigo tomatoes in Bismarck!

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How I will remember Cooper-and-Mummy time… RIP, dear Coopie. We miss you.

The Unlikely Crazy Cat Lady

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I’m not sure which is the most unlikely thing about me- the fact I’m a veterinarian or a ‘crazy cat lady’.

We didn’t have any pets growing up and, to be honest, I didn’t like animals.

Dogs smelled ‘doggy’. Cats seemed stuck up. Anything else wiggled or moved funny.

We couldn’t really have pets because we were travelling almost every weekend from fall through spring for figure skating and my brother’s hockey. I understood that and never questioned it. Looking back, it would have been difficult to have given a pet the love and companionship it would have needed.

I never took the time, though, when visiting friends and family, to get to know animals.

Especially cats.

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I didn’t know how they could purr and cuddle and head-butt their way into your heart. I didn’t know anything about how they would know if I was sad or not feeling well, and how they would instinctively sit on my lap or next to me during those times.

I didn’t know how intelligent they were.

Or how great it felt to come home to a bunch of cats seemingly happy to see me.

Or the comfort of sitting on some hay bales with a purring kitty on either side as we all soak up some sunshine.

Or what unconditional love felt like.

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I was, perhaps, a bit of an overly independent kid but I had to be like that,moving away at 12 years of age for months at a time, training for hours on end in an individual sport like figure skating.

So I don’t blame the old Tanya. I get where she was coming from.

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If anything, I feel kind of sorry for her.

But the old Tanya became the new Tanya.

Thankfully, a person can change.

It happened 20 years ago when we lived in sleepy Watford City with our golden retriever, Mitch. We weren’t looking for a kitten.

My step kids brought a white ball of wide-eyed, long-haired, purring kitten-fluff home from the neighbors and placed it on my chest.

I loved her immediately and named her Koshka.

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Koshka taught me so much about cats, even though she was mostly like a little person who lived with us.

Koshka’s little brother, Malchek found us a year later. Although he brought ear mites to everyone (Mitch, Koshka, the ferret…. you can imagine how fun it is to medicate those tiny ferret ears!) we adored him, too.

The neighbors had another batch of kittens (you would think people would figure it out) and Alistair and I took them to our farm. The other alternative, according to the neighbor, was the lake. In a bag.

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I learned all about barn kitties and hunting and dead mice and getting along and watching out for tractor tires. 2 of that batch made the move inside after a tragedy involving antifreeze and the loss of Kosh and Mal.

I learned, for the first time, how my heart could break over such a tremendous loss.

I learned that veterinarians sometimes overlooked what was right for the pets when faced with a sobbing doctor’s wife.

I learned that there are some things I will never forgive myself for.

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Thankfully, I learned how Oscar and Boomer could help me through that grief.

Enter Chorney and Cooper soon afterwards. Beautiful black cats with unique personalities and needs. I learned how a cat like Oscar would take care of a crying kitty (Chorney) through the night.

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I learned that cats can have their own lovers over the years.

Oscar and Cooper disproved the notion that only humans and dolphins will mate for love. They were both ‘fixed’ at young ages but Oscar would still ‘scruff’ Cooper and there you have it.

Cooper mourned Oscar’s loss in January, painstakingly howling for hours during the day.

And all night long.

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She is only now getting through it.

I have chosen to not get ‘over’ my animal companions as we have lost them over the years. Like Cooper, I am getting through the loss of Oscar.

Special Agent Fox Mulder Fyfe wandered onto our farm in Bismarck. I only fed him because I didn’t want the scruffy, beat up, limping, scrappy, orange ragamuffin to die with an empty stomach.

But he kept eating.

And eating.

“What do we do?” I asked Alistair, after he ate 2 cans of soft food in a row.

“Give him another,” he replied.

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His Royal Highness Sport joined our family when one of Alistair’s nurses acquired an allergic-to-cats-husband.

I think she contemplated choosing Sport but in the end we adopted our very first Siamese cat.

Which is a whole different type of cat.

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If you have been around Siamese cats before, you are nodding your head.

Or shaking it.

Or you’re crawled into a fetal position saying ‘no, no, never again’…

Jinxie, a petite, de-clawed, spayed tuxedo lovebug showed up/was dropped off at our farm. She had a habit of getting into open vehicles and driving off with them.

Maybe that’s how she ended up on our farm.

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The Schwan’s guy, Kyle, almost tipped the big yellow truck when she crawled out from under his seat, rubbing her black & white tail against his bare legs one time. She flew out the window as he swerved (likely screaming) and then spent 2 hours getting her from the ditch and bringing her home.

Cartman and Bebe were next, which is when things started to get out of hand.

I had only told my stepkids about the kitties ‘down the road’ because I wanted them to slow down when they were driving there.

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Not bring me more kittens.

Then Mama Cat showed up/was dropped off. It took me 2 litters to catch and spay her but our barn community is full of life thanks to her ‘kids’, Georgia and Mouse.

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They were joined for 3 years by a client’s cross-eyed female Siamese I was supposed to euthanize because they were moving.

Enter Mae Mae.

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Our most recent addition is Jockey- probably a Siamese cross- who moved in with Alistair in North Dakota after he left our neighbors there. Alistair felt bad leaving him when he would come to Montana so he brought Jockey here.

He is, by far, the largest cat on the place.

Clumsy and reckless but endearing and funny, Jockey fits right in.

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Through all of the additions we have had our share of losses: Cartman, Chorney, Mae Mae, Mamma Cat, Jinxie, Hissy Phitt, (Mouse & Georgia’s brother) and, of course, Oscar.

I know a lot of people think we’re insane sharing our world with so many felines but I feel richer for it.

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They helped me get through vet school on cold, lonely, exhausting evenings after learning, palpating, operating, studying and studying some more.

They have been there without judgment or scorn on days when I get the tractor stuck, or I can’t get a vehicle started, or I have no hot water for close to a month, or the snow falls, endlessly, for weeks.

They were always there after sad days at the vet clinic.

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And they’ll continue to be here for me and I will be here for them. Its our little trade-off.

That, and donating their reproductive organs at the door.

And getting along.

And not being Phantom Piddlers.

This is how I grew and eventually changed and said goodbye to the old Tanya. I became an unlikely but very happy Crazy Cat Lady.

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The Life We Choose

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Highway 200, a low-shouldered arrow across Montana has once again brought me to my other home.

Bismarck, North Dakota.

Where there is horizon as far as you can imagine and no mountains to be seen in any direction.

The trip is long but the company was perfect and the weather just right- not too hot, not too cold. The only potential glitch was the “sleeping” lady behind the wheel of her parked mini-van at the rest stop. She had her head back and her mouth gaping open, with the van still running.

Several of us rest-stoppers started to crowd around the van.

“Is she even alive?” one asked.

“I’m not sure,” my MD husband answered.

We continued to crowd. I was worried she would wake up and see us all standing around her, thinking it was a zombie apocalypse and end up dead from a heart attack.

“There- I saw her breathe,” Alistair told us and we all smiled at each other and went back to our own vehicles, to our own adventures, in our own directions.

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Some might say this is a dreary trip to make but I actually enjoy it. I like the sleepy little towns of Circle and Jordan, the section lines, the supposedly-decommissioned missile silos, the random farmhouses that appear after the next rise, and the way the prairies open up once you can no longer see the Rockies behind you.

I like this time of year- the tawney tan hues of yesteryear’s fields, the sagebrush and tumbleweeds amidst brown soil that has finally shed its winter jacket, and the odd blade or patch of green grass that is peeking through.

Grass that is reaching up to the sun for warmth, nourishment… love.

The landscape right now is dotted with cow/calf pairs- Angus, Charolais, Herefords, “Oreo Cookie” cows….

There are a lot of great cow vets out there but I’m not one of them. I like cows. I did do some bovine calls when I first worked as a vet in Bismarck.

I don’t think the cattle farmers thought much of me showing up in the wee hours to pull a calf wearing makeup and my pink Carharts. And my red rubber boots that have bumblebees on them.

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I tried to make the best of it but it wasn’t my thing.

Along the drive I got to watch antelope, sheep, horses and bison grazing in their wide open pastures. I watched farm dogs working with their farmers as we whizzed along highway 200, heading east as dark grey clouds headed north.

As always, I am spell-bound by the Badlands of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Along the Interstate is the south unit of the park where the buffalo roam and the deer & the antelope play. These rugged lands have been shaped over decades by the incredible forces of water and wind.

Lots of wind.

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Wind that blows incessantly on the prairies. Wind that almost has a personality- its like another friend when you live here. When it isn’t blowing, everyone notices it.

Your friend isn’t there.

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Its one of those friends you don’t always want to hang out with, but its still one of the constants of life out here.

Alistair lives and works here for half of every month before coming back to me and Montana to play for the other half.

We have a nice house here that we’ve lived in for about 15 years. Its not grand like our home in Montana but it has served us well.

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It is where our broodmares live and where their foals were born and raised.

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It is where Gareth came to spend his high school years with us.

Its where Whitney and Loki then joined us.

Its where I graduated with my Bachelor’s of Science and eventually recieved the news I was accepted into vet school.

Its where we climb on top of our roof to watch the fireworks on the 4th of July with whatever friends and family are here to join us.

Its where I last worked as a full time skating coach, prepping my kids for competition, choeographing fun routines and helping them prepare for their moment in the spotlight.

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Many of the furry Fyfes joined our family in our Bismarck home- Casey, Harry, Cleopatra, Mulder, Sport, Mouse, Georgia, Jockey and even Luigi.

So much is the same here- the expansive sky that we hot tub under at night sipping wine and scotch; the wooden stairs that Alistair nearly killed himself on 2 summers ago; the broodmares, with our arabians, Susie, Cocoa and petite Jessi, the former racehorse, Katie and reliable old Raven.

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But a lot has changed in the 7 years I haven’t lived here.

We’re getting new neighbors again.

Four farms, all on 40 acres were all that was here when we came to town in the late ’90s. A few of us had kids who grew up together. We all helped each other put square bales up and into our barns. I’ve doctored a few pets and even said goodbye to 2 of our neighbors’ horses.

And now new folks are coming.

And the growth in Bismarck is unbelievable. You’d have to be a fool to not get work here. Every restaurant, hotel and business is hiring, with flashy billboards and fluorescent letters advertising their $12.40/hr starting wages and excellent benefits.

And my mares, Shadow, Willow, and Daisy aren’t here.

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And there are no barn cats greeting me as I swipe at cobwebs when I climb up on the hay bales in our barn.

And one of the young neighbors who grew up with my stepkids is no longer part of the neighborhood- she was one of the ones who joined us on the rooftop. And in the hot tub.

And we are all getting older and more grey and now my North Dakota dentist tells me I need 2 crowns.

Crowns! I’m only 41!

Many things have changed in my home on the prairies.

I am enjoying the new restaurants and the happy feeling of being surrounded by people who have work. I am enjoying seeing my brother-in-law and other good friends & their pets. I have enjoyed the first set of new neighbors and met the ones who will replace them just today.

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I am hopeful that many of our animal companions will journey with me back here when I need to handle these thankfully-painless dental issues. I hope that Loki and Casey will see the farm again, if only to sniff where they used to piddle and rub muzzles with the horses who like them.

I am a lucky woman who has the opportunity to know two very different lives. We choose this life because we aren’t quite ready to give either of them up- the employment and our land vs. the majestic mountains and our relaxation.

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Breathing in the scent of sweet grass and alfalfa vs the pine trees that fill the air in western Montana.

Maybe someday it won’t be like this but for now we will appreciate what we do have, where we have it, and who we share it with.

With all that changes and all that remains the same.

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