Life and Times of Carrie Allison (Part 1 of 2)

Although as a child Carrie Allison completed only the fourth Carrie has a green thumbgrade, I came away from a two hour visit with her feeling I’d been educated in history and wisdom. She was sent from her home in the Merritt area where she was born, to a residential school in Kamloops at age 8 and was educated there until age 12.

Carrie is now 83 and even though her experience in the residential school wasn’t as horrific as what we often hear about in the media, the memories still haunt her. A note of sadness creeps into her voice when she says, “my dreams about it are always bad. In one dream I hearing a baby crying at night, but it is dark and I can’t find it.”

She pauses a moment to reflect, then continues. “I was away from home 10 months at a time. There wasn’t enough to eat and I was always hungry. We ate in the same room as the staff, and we could see they had meat on their plates. We were given only vegetable soup and one slice of bread. At Easter they gave us one egg with our meal. I knew mostly the language of my people, but I was punished if I spoke it. In winter they made us walk to town. My hands and feet got really cold. We weren’t allowed to talk to the boys or even look at them. We were in the classroom half a day, the rest of the day we had to work. The girls cleaned up the dormitories, the priest’s room, the hallways, play room and dining hall.”

Knowing she looks after the diminutive white chapel situated on a bluff overlooking the Similkameen Valley, not far from Hedley going toward Keremeos, I ask why she is still involved with the Catholic faith. Many would have turned their backs on the faith because of the pain caused by the school experiences.

“People sometimes ask me that,” she answers. “I tell them God didn’t do that to me. It was people. I never look back. I tell the kids to always look ahead and try to make something of themselves.”

Carrie never knew her father. Fortunately her mother was deeply committed to her family and Carrie speaks of her as a wonderful role model. “She was very small,” she says. “She tanned hides and traded them in town. She also made gloves and moccasins.”

Carrie recalls clearly the injunction of her mother to “take care of yourself. No drinking. Before you go away, do the dishes and clean the house.”

Now a mother and grandmother herself, she does all she can to pass on the values of the older generation. “Young kids don’t know what we went through,” she says with a perceptible hint of disappointment. “Sometimes I think we should take them back to our time. No electricity, no indoor bathroom. We had to pack water from the river. Mom didn’t have a washing machine so she carried her laundry to the river. She heated water in a tub there and after she washed the clothes, she hung them on branches.”

I sense now that in her mind she is reliving those times. “Sometimes we bathed in the river. In winter we heated water in the tub and bathed there. Those were happy days. I was with my family.”

 

Life and Times of Carrie Allison (part 2 of 2)

In 1942 Carrie’s mother married a member of the Upper Carrie in her homeSimilkameen Band and they moved to Hedley. “The town looked new to me then,” she says. “People dressed up.
I saw ladies wearing hats and white gloves.” She recalls they could flag down the Great Northern train and catch a ride to Oroville.

When she was 12, her stepfather took her to the home of Charlie Allison, at that time band chief. Here she met Edward (Slim) Allison, her future husband. Slim was told by the Indian Agent, “you should be on the band council. You can read and write.” In time, Slim became band chief. When he was in this role, she worried about him. “You can’t please everybody,” she says, again experiencing the concern she had for her husband at that time.

“Slim always gave me the pay from his work at the sawmill in Princeton.” I sense her pride as she remembers how responsible he was about finances. “He told me to pay the bills and if there was anything left, I could give him some.”

At age 40, Carrie attended 3 semesters of academic upgrading. Someone at the school suggested she enter a hair styling course. She accepted this advice and registered for a course in Vernon. For the last two weeks of the course she made the long trip from Hedley to Vernon every day. Having had my hair cut by her many years ago, I still recall her cheery attitude and words as she clipped.

Now at an age when no one would be critical if she retired to a rocking chair, Carrie gives little indication she is ready to slow her pace. In addition to cleaning the little chapel, once a year she hires boys to harvest the weeds from the adjacent cemetery. Records indicate the chapel was likely built in 1901 and she feels a responsibility to those who made it a reality at a time when remoteness of the area made this difficult. “I think of the old people who worked so hard to bring the lumber and windows and other supplies here to build it,” she says. “We should keep it up in their honour.” When there are 5 Sundays in a month, the priest comes and she attends the service. In winter she often invites the people to meet in her home, due to lack of adequate heat in the chapel.

“It is important to preserve the Indian culture and ways,” Carrie says. “I’m learning a prayer in the band language. I don’t want the language to be lost. Not many can speak it anymore.”

On the first Wednesday of each month she attends an elders lunch in Keremeos. She still sews quilts. “I tried making moccasins, but I’m not good at it.”

Carrie is a committed fan of early Country and Western music. “When I was in Nashville,” she tells me, “I saw Johnny Cash, Hank Snow, Earnest Tubb and Kitty Wells.” When I ask if she likes Jerry Lee Lewis, famous for his Great Balls of Fire hit, her response is enthusiastic. “Oh yes. I like him.”

Carrie has experience, wisdom and an enthusiasm for life that many with a Masters Degree would envy.

 

View Looking West From Carrie's House
View Looking West From Carrie’s House

 

Dad’s Upward Path (part 1 of 3)

In Mr. Loeppky I saw one possible direction, a downward path. In Dad I saw another possible direction, an upward path.

By age 12 in the mid-1920’s, Dad was already working on his father’s threshing crew in rural Manitoba. Shortly after the devastating stock market crash of 1929, crops began to fail due to prolonged drought, and work became scarce. As a young man in the midst of the Great Depression, he joined hundreds of other out of work men who leapt into empty boxcars or rode the rods, looking for employment. Often his pay was $1.OO per day, when he could find work.

After his parents lost the family farm in the 30’s, they moved to a small settlement known as Barkfield. For the most part, its inhabitants consisted of two large families, the Martens and the Funks.

At times Dad worked in the bush with the young Funk men, cutting cordwood for which there was a market in Winnipeg. He developed great admiration for their ability with axes and saws. “They were skilled and very quick,” he told me in later years. “I could never keep up with them.”

Dad and the Funk boys became close friends. One day Jim Funk asked him, “are you going to the barn dance tonight?” Dad said, “No, I don’t have anyone to take”.

Mom & Dad's wedding day, Dec. 1, 1939
Mom & Dad’s wedding day, Dec. 1, 1939

“You can take my sister Annie,” Jim said, as though there was no doubt she would agree. Annie was a light hearted young gal with long black hair. She did agree to the date, the beginning of a romance later culminated in marriage.

When World War 2 started, Dad was drafted but registered as a Conscientious Objector. Many adherents of the Mennonite faith were pacifists, one of the primary reasons they had emigrated from Russia. They had left behind established villages, thriving farms and a stable, satisfying existence. A judge questioned Dad as to his reasons and apparently decided his motivation was genuine. He was sent to a forestry camp in Ontario and then to work as a tipple operator loading train cars at a coal mine in Saskatchewan.

In about 1946 Dad bought a Model A Ford and prepared to move the family to BC. All our belongings were in a single truck strapped to the back of the vehicle. With two paying passengers to help cover the cost of gas, our family made the at times arduous trip to Abbotsford, B.C.

Dad’s family had made the move previously and his brother Cornie was working as a heavy equipment operator. Although Dad’s experience with motorized equipment was limited, Cornie got him a job running a bulldozer. When the dyke along the Fraser River was being constructed, he was hired as a heavy equipment operator. Because he refused to work on Sunday, which in the Mennonite faith is considered a holy day, he was let go. His faith would always be important in staying on what I think of as his upward path.

Dad’s Upward Path (Part 2 of 3)

Dad on front-end loader

As a boy, just about all I knew about my Dad was that he operated a bulldozer and lived in logging camps more than at home.  I recall getting up very early on a Monday morning to see him off in his Model A Ford.  I didn’t know where he was going or when he’d be back.  Understanding now how dangerous his work often was, I realize that each time he departed, might have been my last opportunity to see him alive.

I was a teen before he occasionally talked to me about his logging experiences.  One account particularly unsettled me. “I was working for old man Beach,” he said.  “He told me to build a logging road alongside the mountain, pretty high up.  At the bottom of the mountain was a river.  I needed to turn the machine many times to push earth and rock to the outer side of the road.  Each time when I lifted the blade, I could see that river a thousand feet below.” I shuddered inwardly at the thought of that big bulldozer going over the edge, carrying my Dad to his death.

Apparently his employer had an enormous bank account.  On another occasion Dad said, “Old Man Beach told me to build a logging road up a different mountain with a very steep grade.  I knew that even for my cat it would be hard work getting up there. I told him no logging truck has an engine powerful enough to make the climb.  He wouldn’t listen.  He just told me to build the road or he’d find someone who would.  I needed the work so I built him this impossible road.  When the trucks arrived at the bottom of the mountain, the drivers looked up at the incline and shook their heads. ‘Too steep’ was all they said and walked away.”  Mr. Beach showed no concern at learning the road was useless. Dad thought he was spending his money as fast as possible so his children wouldn’t get their hands on it.

In time, Dad bought his own machine and obtained a contract to clear agricultural land.  When I was about 14, he decided it was time for me to learn a trade. He began taking me along to his work sites in summer. I’m still surprised that very soon he was instructing me in the use of 20 per cent dynamite to blast huge stumps out of the ground.  Doing it right made it relatively safe, but I always kept in mind Dad’s dire warning.  “If a stump doesn’t fire, don’t go back to it until the next day. One of my customers didn’t have the patience to wait. His head was blown clean off his shoulders.”  My only complaint about blasting was that handling the dynamite brought on killer headaches.

Dad also instructed me in the use of his heavy McCulloch chain saw, operating a bulldozer and backhoe, and later in driving a dump truck with air brakes.

Working with him, I became aware not only of his skill with equipment, but also his courage.  Several times I watched him building a road along a steep hillside.  He had plenty of experience in this from his logging jobs, but sometimes he manoeuvred the big machine so close to the edge, I felt certain it would tip over and he’d be killed.  For me it was terrifying, but he always reversed the machine just in time.

He was physically rugged and extraordinarily resolute. Whether swinging a 12 pound sledge hammer, welding in a hot summer sun, or getting his bulldozer unstuck from a swamp where an operator had left it, he didn’t complain.  As a teen, this won my respect.  My close friends all referred to their fathers as “the old man.”  I could never do that.

Although I wasn’t yet willing to listen to his words, my future path was being shaped by his actions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dad’s Upward Path (Part 3 of 3)

IMG (2)

As my maturity increased, I realized that underlying Dad’s physical attributes and strong will, there was a deep compassion for people in need.  One evening he picked up his large, very heavy tool box.  I asked him what he was going to do.

 

“John can’t figure out how to replace the clutch on his car,” he said.  “I‘ve done that before. We’ll get the job done in no time.”  Dad hardly knew John, but after that they became close friends.

I came to understand that Dad always put relationships ahead of personal gain.  When he was asked to bid on a large job, he invited his friend Henry to join him.  The contractors told Dad they wanted him to do the work, but Henry’s equipment was too old and he was not welcome. Dad knew Henry would be discouraged if he was left out, so he turned down what would have been his biggest contract ever.

Dad and I worked closely in the bulldozing and trucking business until I was 24.  Although I had enormous respect for him, I did not have the maturity to listen to his words about how to live.  Understanding this, he didn’t attempt to persuade me. In time, it was his example of complete integrity, as much as his courage and skills, that persuaded me to adopt much of his value system. When he lost a valiant battle against cancer at age 95, I said to a friend, “more than anyone else, Dad’s example impacted my life and shaped it. If I ever become half the man he was, I will consider my life to have been a success.” Without realizing it at the time, I had begun to walk on the path Dad walked on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hedley’s “Foundation” Years Part I

In 1973 Len and Jean Roberts, founders of the One Way Adventure

Len Roberts at the Colonial Inn
Len Roberts at the Colonial Inn

Foundation, began with a simple booth at the Cloverdale Rodeo.  They offered camping, cycling and canoeing expeditions. A probation officer liked their vision and on behalf of her Surrey office, negotiated a contract with them to operate an extended program for youths on probation.

Soon probation officers were dropping their most recalcitrant adolescent clients off at the Roberts home.  Sometimes it was with the explanation they would be camping, canoeing, or joining a football team. Len had to inform them their PO had actually placed them in a longterm program of rehabilitation. With these often rowdy youths assembling in the Roberts back yard each morning, anxious neighbours spent a lot of time peeking through slits in closed curtains. They were understandably concerned about their personal and property safety.

Desperately needing a larger, more appropriate place as a base, the Roberts purchased  3 acres with a home and small barn in Surrey.  As their reputation for effectiveness increased, probation officers and social workers clamored for more spaces to send youths  out of control in their home, school and community.

Len quickly realized they would have to get some of these hard to manage youths into a more tranquil and secure setting.  The Gold House and Colonial Inn properties on the outskirts of Hedley were derelict and available and he was able to acquire them .

Just prior to the purchase, the inn was seriously vandalized.  At about this time, one of the young vandals was placed in the Foundation’s Surrey program for other unlawful activities.  Not realizing the Foundation had just purchased the property, and wanting to establish a tough guy image, he foolishly boasted to Len about his part in the vandalism. Len immediately sent him to Hedley to help staff with the clean up and repairs.  The building was named the Camp Colonial Lodge

Eventually 4 programs operated out of the Hedley setting.  The youths were assigned to work projects such as fence mending, building trails, cutting grass etc.  In time there were food prep, mechanics, retail and riding courses.  Rigorous back packing and canoeing expeditions, skiing, rock climbing and rappelling were also part of the mix. Most students attended the Foundation school.  Extremely difficult cases were sometimes sent to Upper Camp, part way up the Tram Line.

While Jean ran the office, Len built the organization.  Needing space for programs and storage, he managed over time to buy several buildings, which were for the most part derelict and empty.  Although not charismatic in the usual sense, he was able to explain his vision, purpose and methods in a manner that appealed to individuals eager to devote their lives to a significant purpose.  The work was often arduous and the pay wasn’t great, but workers continued to come and stay. Several youths, after completing their program, were accepted into a one year training course for young workers starting with the organization. Upon completion the Foundation brought them on as staff.

  

Hedley’s “Foundation” Years Part II

 

Len Roberts & Art Martens at Colonial Inn
Len Roberts & Art Martens at Colonial Inn

The Hedley operation became both the wilderness and administrative centre of the One Way Adventure Foundation.  Liking its highly effective approach combining work skills development, academics and wilderness expeditions, the government contracted for day programs in Penticton, Kelowna and Vernon.

Possibly it was the organization’s success that aroused the ire of a small cadre of elderly men in Hedley.  For several years they plotted against the organization, hoping in some way to discredit it. In 1986 they complained to the two major Vancouver dailies that the OWAF was a cult.  Always searching for the dramatic, one reporter managed to make the allegation a front page story, based entirely on unproven speculation.

 A government inspection team, consisting of men in dark suits, quickly descended on Hedley.  They spent a week meticulously scrutinizing financial records and interviewing youths, staff and residents.  In the end they determined there was no reason for concern and completely exonerated the Foundation. 

In the early 1990’s, a new  government switched its youth programs from a regional to a community model.  Len chose not to go in this direction and reluctantly folded the organization.
   
Now, some 20 years later, newcomers to Hedley might be inclined to ask if the Foundation made any lasting contribution to the community.  In response to this question, a  member of the Hedley Museum Society said, “if it wasn’t for the Foundation, some of our larger structures would not have survived.  They did major upgrades on several empty, neglected buildings.”  
The presence of young staff, usually carrying 2-way radios, helped seniors feel more secure. Also, at that time there was no garbage collection and one program provided this service for staff, seniors and the disabled.   Finding someone to replace a door or toilet, or fix a leaky tap was often difficult..  The OWAF developed a service to fill this need.  Using government grants, they were able to provide training and employment for 10-12 local residents.  
 
Certainly, the most important contribution lies in helping hundreds of young offenders acquire useful skills and develop a more positive self-concept. They returned to their community much more aware and confident of their potential.
 
Although the Foundation is gone, it still lives on in the memories of people who were here at that time. 
  
 

Great By Choice – The 20 Mile March

Cannington Dog Sled Races
Cannington Dog Sled Races
This is the third in a series of posts based on Great by Choice.  Although the book is aimed primarily at the business community, I consider it extraordinarily helpful for leadership in any realm.  I am finding that the 20 Mile March concept is also useful for maintaining a sense of balance in my personal life.  It is a reminder to not become either complacent or overly aggressive in pursuing life objectives.  
 
As noted in the two previous posts, the authors, Jim Collins and Morton T Hansen, compared a number of highly successful companies with less successful companies in the same industry.  Their purpose was to discover what distinguished the top performers from the others.  They refer to the successful companies as 10Xers because they out performed their industry by at least ten times.
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The authors again help us understand the importance of their findings by comparing the strategies of two South Pole explorers, Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott.  Just as he had been meticulous in planning and preparing for his expedition, Amundsen held rigorously to his strategy and schedule once he was on the trail.  He had determined beforehand that he would be wise to travel 20 miles each day, in good conditions and in adverse conditions.  Undoubtedly he and his men were tempted to hunker down in their tents on cold days when the frigid wind blew in their faces.  And almost certainly, they were equally tempted to keep going longer when the weather favoured them.  By exercising discipline, Amundsen was able to conserve the strength of his men and the dogs.
 
Scott, however, did not embrace the 20 Mile March concept.  He pushed himself and his men hard on the good days, then took days off when the weather harassed them.  By pushing too hard, he exhausted himself and his men.  Then, waiting in his tents for favourable weather, he fell behind and eventually lost the race to the South Pole.  On the return journey, he ran out of food. He and his men died of starvation only 10 miles from their next food cache.
 
Collins and Hansen point out the similarities in strategy between Amundsen and Stryker’s CEO John Brown.  When Brown assumed the helm at Stryker, now a leading medical technology company, he set a benchmark to drive consistent performance.  He engrained the 20 Mile March concept (“the walk” as he termed it) into the culture of the company.  If a division fell behind, he would insert himself into it, working almost non-stop, to “help” the division get back on track.  The authors suggest that “you get the impression you don’t want to need John Brown’s help.  He does not tolerate excuses.” 
 
In spite of pressure from Wall Street to grow the company rapidly, Stryker had a self-imposed constraint never to go too far, never to grow too fast in a single year.  John Brown understood that if you want to achieve consistent performance, you need both parts of the 20 Mile March.  A hurdle you have to jump over and a ceiling you will not rise above.
 
The company Collins and Hansen used as a comparison to Stryker, did not employ the 20 Mile March concept.  Its CEO was an aggressive risk taker and for a time it grew with amazing speed, much more rapidly than Stryker.  When adverse circumstances confronted both companies, however, Stryker continued to prosper but the comparison company, like Robert Scott did not survive.
 
Whether in business, community leadership, or in our personal lives, the 20 Mile March concept can enable us to achieve more consistent success.
 
 

Lorraine Lance: Still Passionate About Hedley Heritage Museum

Lorraine Lance
Lorraine Lance

 

Sitting at a large wooden table in the log home of Eric and Lorraine Lance, I felt I had stepped back into an earlier time and a simpler way of life. Built by Eric, the home overlooks the Similkameen River just west of Hedley and allows an extensive view of the valley. It seems an appropriate home and setting for a deeply committed woman who has devoted years and much energy to preserving the area’s history.

As a young woman, Lorraine studied broadcast communications at BCIT. “My goal was to work in news reporting,” she said. When she and Eric moved to Princeton, he worked at the mine and she was employed by the Similkameen Spotlight. She wrote a column on pioneers and recalls interviewing the Rabbitts, a well known pioneer family in the area. She also served as assistant editor for a time.

For her it was “an extraordinarily interesting era.” The mine and mill were both expanding, Princeton was booming and housing was scarce. She remembers vividly living in a 40 foot trailer.

When they acquired the three acres on which they now live, they moved into a small rustic dwelling on the property. Eric began building the log house, at times with her assistance.

Lorraine says it was Ruth Dunham, a longtime Hedley area resident, who encouraged her to get involved with the group that wanted to start a museum. Ruth told her, “everyone can make a difference in the community. It’s your choice.”

Lorraine quickly caught the early vision. When she speaks now of the group’s efforts, it is with a rare passion known only to the totally committed. She explains that the group’s purpose was to preserve the unique heritage of the Hedley area by encouraging and participating in historic building restoration and site conservation. The 1983 Constitution expressed the founders desire to also foster the development of arts and crafts in the community. Initially they named the organization The Hedley Heritage, Arts and Crafts Society. In 1998 the name was changed to The Hedley Heritage Museum Society.

“I wanted to do the museum work,” Lorraine says with just a hint of regret, “but I was always slotted into fund raising.” Although this wasn’t her wish, she believed fervently in the society’s goals and pursued government grant opportunities with a relentless tenacity. She particularly recalls a $20,000 grant, which was used to buy the museum property. Also a Cultural Initiatives grant of $25,000, devoted to constructing the building.

It is evident that Lorraine feels immense respect for the founding group. “It was Helen Moore who gave us the idea,” she says. “She had common sense for what to do. She was the only one who had lived here during the mining days. She knew the history. If anyone can be called the saint of the museum, it is Helen.”

Bernice Hodges, an early proponent, now deceased, was a potter and artist. Vince and Audrey Flynn gave many hours to tracking down photos and obtaining permission to use them. Mike Sanford, a mining engineer, served as society president a number of years. His wife Debra was treasurer during that time. “It was a real team effort,” Lorraine remembers.

Presently Lorraine is dealing with a significant health challenge that prevents her from being active in museum work. Her passion is still evident, however. “The training of volunteers is important,” she says. “They need to understand museums don’t need a lot of heat. Lighting is critical. Pictures can be damaged by light. Only duplicates of pictures should be on walls. Also, water and museums don’t go together well.”

She believes a museum is important because it helps a community retain its sense of history. “It provides us with a better understanding of our rich and vibrant past,” she says.

 

 

Outfoxed By Chickens

When we retired to Hedley B..C., population about 300, I suggested to Linda we acquire a few chickens. She disagreed, saying a few chickens really didn’t warrant the expense of building a hen house. But when we visited a friend’s chicken farm, he let us look at his birds. Red in colour with white tail feathers, they were magnificent. Linda said, “They are pretty. I can understand that you would want them.”

With Linda’s full agreement, I bought 3 chickens, plus a pail of organic feed. During the 4 hour drive to our new home, they sat patiently in a box in the trunk.

I had not anticipated Linda’s change of heart so I had no lodging for them and no fenced off area to control their roaming. Fortunately, there is a perimeter fence. The birds were ecstatic when I released them into our back yard, where they could explore at will. For them it was a bonus to tread on grass, not wire. We were delighted with our new family and immediately began affectionately referring to them as “the girls.”

Their industriousness amazed us. With the zeal of men digging for gold, they scratched furiously anywhere they pleased. A healthy kale plant was unceremoniously uprooted. Wanting to be understanding of their need to grub for insects, I didn’t protest. When I installed tomato cages over the other kale plants, the girls eagerly poked their small heads

between the wires and nibbled until only flimsy skeleton stems remained. Our small potato patch soon had the appearance of a scorched earth war zone. When Linda went to the garden to collect basil, she was dismayed to see they had already harvested the entire crop. The next day I observed them contentedly munching on radish tops. The girls, like locusts in the “dirty thirties,” were consuming our garden at a feverish pace.

They did lay their golden brown, organic eggs faithfully, always under the sheltering leaves of the same rhubarb plant. While this contributed to our sense of having achieved a back to the land lifestyle, Linda and I realized we couldn’t indefinitely tolerate their pillaging of our garden. They had become the dominant force in our back yard and I was determined to assert authority over what I considered our domain.

Entering the Hen House
Entering the Hen House

By the end of that first week I had completed a 4 by 5ft. hen house and a 4 ft high fence. I gently deposited the girls one at a time in their new, more constricting quarters. Instantly aggrieved, they began patrolling along the inside of the confining fence, much like somber faced federal prisoners probing determinedly for a weak link. Their shrill clucking suggested intense inner turmoil. We glanced out the back window uneasily all afternoon, anxious that they adjust to their limited quarters.

When we awoke early the next morning, each had already laid an egg. We were pleased at this, to be sure, but disconcerted by the fact that they had not used the laying box I had placed in their new home. Instead, each had laid a lovely brown egg under the rhubarb plant as usual. The rhubarb plant, of course, was outside their fence! The girls were in the garden, munching peacefully, apparently quite unaware they were committing a

cardinal sin. I patiently carried them one at a time back to their designated space and repaired a weakness in the fence.

The next day we awoke at 6 am, and they were again in the garden, having flown over the fence. I affixed another layer of wire to increase the height of the fence to a full 5 feet. We also clipped the right wing of each girl. I held the bird and Linda clipped with scissors. There was no evidence of pain. When I had again returned them lovingly to their compound, they retreated to the hen house. I assumed it was to sulk, but that turned out to be a naïive assumption. Apparently it was to devise a new strategy. It was becoming evident that these girls had a surgeon’s capacity to focus intently, and they were not quitters.

To my dismay, the following morning they were back in the garden. One of the girls had put her head through a hole in the mesh and patiently worked at stretching the wire until she could squeeze through. The others had followed. I repaired the opening and applied a second layer of wire mesh over the original layer.

All this was to no avail. The following morning we were up early enough to observe them squeeze through a new hole they had made in the fence and run like Olympic sprinters to the rhubarb plant. “Maybe,” Linda suggested somewhat resignedly, “they are driven by an inner compulsion to lay. And they are programmed to lay under that rhubarb plant.”

Linda and I needed to be away for three days. Since the feed and water were in the hen house, the girls required access to it. If they escaped from their quarters while we were gone, would their mentality and skills enable them to get back in?

Reluctantly Linda and I agreed the girls had outfoxed and outlasted us. I created an opening so they could enter and leave their compound as they pleased. When we return, I decided, I will put up a high fence around the garden, and if necessary, we’ll do another clipping. They are good girls so they can have the yard. We will have the garden and the eggs.

A small town perspective on people, community, politics and environment.