The Amazing Women of Mountain Road
By Cam Mather
My daughter Katie gave me a great T-shirt which reads “This is what a Feminist looks like.” I love it and am very proud of it. I’ve always been a feminist but my beliefs grew stronger when I became the parent of two daughters. When the girls were still very young, Michelle gave me a great book called “How to Father a Successful Daughter” by Nicky Marone. The book shares the story of a father, who is an emergency room doctor, who is driving with his son when they are involved in a car accident. The father is killed. As the son is wheeled into the emergency room the attending doctor says “Oh no, this is my son!” When I first read the story, I didn’t get it. How could that be? The father had been killed. The emergency room doctor, of course, was his mother, but my mindset at that time was that “Doctor” meant “male.” The book recommends that it is important for your daughters to see women in unconventional roles. So Michelle and I always made a point of finding female professionals. Our doctor, dentist, lawyer and accountant were female in order to avoid our daughters growing up with the biases that we had.
Recently in one of Katie’s university classes on gender the professor discussed how in our culture when you hear “Doctor, Dentist, Lawyer…” you tend to picture a male. Katie realized that she doesn’t picture males in those roles. That was a red-letter day for her parents.
So I always love to meet strong women, and contrary to what you might think of with a traditional view of rural living, Mountain Road where I live has amazing women on it. Every house from Tamworth to our place is inhabited by an exceptional woman.
In the first house there is Rosie who is a civil engineer who recently moved here from B.C. This summer she booked a cross-Canada journey for her family on the train. This is the definition of environmentally responsible travel. It turns out that Rosie often travels by train for business as well!
Further along the road you’ll find Agnes who is a beef farmer. Agnes is awesome! She loves being a farmer and you can tell it every time you talk to her! Agnes loves sharing her knowledge, which is a real bonus for a citiot (city idiot) like me. She has been unbelievably gracious in giving me straw and hay, and most importantly explaining the difference to me. She also tells what she’s planting and explains the reasoning behind it. This is how I learned that when farmers plant things like wheat, they “underseed” with clover. As I discuss in “The All You Can Eat Gardening Handbook”, clover fixes nitrogen from the air. It also grows fairly low the first year. So while the wheat is growing tall to be cut off by a combine, the clover stays low replenishing the soil. Then you can turn that under and have your soil as healthy as when you started. This is a screen photo capture of Agnes from our DVD called “Biodiesel Basics.” She graciously consented to drive around on her tractor for a part of the DVD. Not only does she control a roundbale with the precision of a fighter pilot, Michelle noted that she was wearing earrings as she did so.
Agnes’ neighbor Mavis is a hardworking, energetic font of general country knowledge. Apart from her daytime job she keeps busy cutting the firewood to heat her house, tends to her horses and chickens and I often meet her at the scrap pile at the local saw mill. She picks up kindling for some of her older friends who are unable to get their own wood. Once when we were picking up a load of manure from her she showed us her Aracauna chickens that lay green eggs! No really – green eggs! I thought it was just a Dr. Zuess thing. Turns out, I do like green eggs. I would eat them in a box, with a fox…
A little further along Mountain Road we meet “Faith” who moved to the middle of no-where with her husband Mike in the late 60’s. When Mike wasn’t creating a well-known cross-country ski park in the 70’s and selling insurance to trailer parks, he was building helicopters. As I understand it Faith started raising her family before electricity poles made it to their house. She must have felt like Catherine Parr-Trail in the early years only nowadays her husband is out buzzing my wind turbine in his helicopter rather than tending to his crops.
Five miles along is our house and my exceptional wife Michelle. Not only was she a great public school teacher, who eventually spent many years home-schooling our daughters, she is a full partner in Aztext Press and basically does all the things that keeps the money flowing. When she’s not running the company she’s hauling big chunks of dead oak across a frozen pond to heat our house. For the last 12 years she has lived in the woods, 4 miles from the nearest neighbor, living with a man whose mood swings are as erratic as the weather in Canada, all the while maintaining her mellow demeanor. When wind turbines break, plumbing leaks, batteries need replacing, generators don’t work, raccoons trash the corn… there is one person (me) running around like a chicken with his head cut off, and one person sipping tea and being the definition of zen. Michelle’s the sort of person who when I finally lop off a limb with the chainsaw will just shrug when I get back to the house, and say “Oh and I guess you want me to take you emerg?” Michelle is the definitive calm, casual person who keeps hysterical people like me from going into shock. I’m not sure I’d still be living in the middle of nowhere without Michelle’s mellowing effect.
Four miles past our house lives Alyce who was born and raised here. She has gone from a luxury 3-seater outhouse (so three kids could go out after dark together) before electricity reached her house as a child, to an air-conditioned house with hot tub and wireless WiFi, managing a large governmental agency, and taking it all in stride. Alyce loves where she lives and she loves her life. When she got her first horse she didn’t have a barn yet and boarded it here. Anytime she visited she was simply busting with joy to be here to see her horse. Once she built her own horse barn and started adding to the stable, every addition was announced with abundant enthusiasm. As she’s taken dozens of her horse riding friends on trails rides past our house, her excitement for horses is palpable.
She has now bought a farm closer to town and has beef cattle. I’ve blogged about how several of her Dexter cows were boarded here for a few months this spring. I’ve always been intimidated by horses and cows, and with horses in particular. If you’re at all nervous around them, they sense it and will gladly boss you around. Since Alyce is absolutely fearless around them they always know who’s boss and behave accordingly. I’ve watched Alyce corralling horses, as I stood on the safe side of the fence, and thought she was either fearless or deranged. That was before she got cows, which convinced me of this as I watched her wrangle them into the trailer. She wasn’t on a horse like in the movies or even on an ATV, she was just walking around the paddock making it very clear to them their ultimate destination and the necessity of them going there peacefully. These cows have horns and about 2000 pounds on Alyce. It’s unbelievable to watch. Terrifying and thrilling, like living next to a theme park with a death-defying roller coaster.
My daughters have been raised at time when they know no limits. And I live in a place where strong woman are the norm, these exceptional women of Mountain Road!