We had a close encounter of the skunk kind the other day. It had wandered into one of our squirrel traps. Long story short, we managed to release it but not without incident. We didn’t get sprayed, directly, but the odour still stuck to our clothes. They went into the washing machine, we went into the shower, and my husband’s old runners went into the garbage.

It brought to mind the summer of 1977 when I was directing excavations on an island not far from the Village of Duck Bay, just off the western shore of Lake Winnipegosis, Manitoba.

The “Summer of the Skunks” began the day a crew member came running back from the outhouse shouting, “I just saw a skunk!”

We didn’t pay her much mind. After all, she was the one who firmly believed that moths have fangs and suck your blood. Seriously!

Her report was confirmed a couple of days later by a more reputable crew member. Soon we discovered there was not one, but an entire family of skunks co-habiting the island – Mom and Dad, four Teenagers, and the runt whom we named – wait for it – The Squirt! (Da-dum-dump!)

What to do? So far, we hadn’t been bothered. We decided to let well enough alone and see what happened.

We learned that the skunks were as wary of us as we were of them. The first time we met on one of our paths, both turned tail (hmmm, maybe not the best phrase given we are talking about skunks) and ran for the hills, not that there were any hills on the island but you get my drift.

Next, we discovered that, if we clapped our hands really loudly, the skunks would scurry off into the bush. The skunks quickly learned that the sound of clapping hands meant nothing at all so they stood their ground.

So did we.

Eventually, we could pass each other, very cautiously, without incident.

And so life continued. We dug the site. The skunks dug worms and grubs.

Skunks are very interesting creatures. They can’t see well and often blunder into things. We discovered that the morning I opened up the “office tent” to find two of the Teenagers inside. They scrambled back and forth along one wall, coming within inches of the open door, only to turn around and scramble back the way they’d just come. Only by chance, so it seemed, did they stumble into the doorway and run off.

The Squirt, cleaning up

They may not see well but they can smell! The Squirt came wandering through our cook tent one evening as we were eating supper and headed straight for the tub that held our yet-to-be-washed pots and pans. He did a good job of washing, not so good with the drying.

They’re definitely built for digging. Long claws on their forelimbs can rip open almost anything. They’re wedge-shaped – pointy at the nose and widening toward the rear.

When you’re stuck on an island, you learn to devise your own entertainment. One night, that entertainment took the form of Feeding the Family. We had cooked stew for supper and traces were left in the pot. We put the pot out on the ground and, in keeping with our sophisticated reputation, placed a wine bottle (empty, of course; no archaeologist worth his/her salt would waste booze) wrapped in a towel beside the bowl.

The Teenagers were the first to arrive. They encircled the pot and began to lick it clean. Along came The Squirt who tried to nose his way into the tight circle. The Teenagers were having none of it. The fight for a bite of tasty stew intensified. The tails began to rise. The Squirt never did manage to get his share of the stew.

But we were well entertained. And not sprayed.

The only incident happened the day some kids came over from Duck Bay with their dog and ran up into the bush before we could warn them about the skunks. Two seconds later, we heard a bark and then a yelp and the dog came ky-ying back with the kids not far behind. “Lady, there’s skunks on the island!” they yelled.


RIP, egg noodles!

Oh, there was one other incident. The Teenagers broke into our food tent one night. We heard the ruckus but no one was about to go and break it up. In the morning we surveyed the damage. Amongst the shambles, we saw well-munched packages of Baker’s Chocolate and completely untouched packages of egg noodles.

Those egg noodles remained untouched until the day we backfilled the excavated units. We dumped every package into one of the units.

When we returned the following summer, that unit had the tallest, lushest growth of weeds on the entire island!

And the skunks were gone.

(P.S. Three days later, there still remains a faint but distinctive Eau du Pepe Le Peu in our garden.)

#Skunks #MephitisMephitis #Archaeology #Manitoba #DuckBay #LakeWinnipegosis #AschkibokahnFbMb1 #MargaretGHanna #NonFiction #Humour #ArchaeologicalAdventures #WildlifeEncounters

Badgered by Bunnies

Since COVID put a damper on our normal summer travel plans, we decided to plant a garden. A proper garden. Normally, we throw some seed potatoes in the ground and head off with our little travel trailer because potatoes pretty much grow themselves with only a minimal amount of tending.

No, this summer we were going to plant a variety of vegetables: lettuce, radishes, spinach, carrots, swiss chard (why is it “Swiss?”), onions, squash, beans and peas.

“Not peas,” said my husband. “Sparrows eat them.”

“The pods?” I had never heard of this. In all my years growing up on the farm and planting what seemed like mile-long rows of peas and other vegetables – rows seem a mile long when you have to weed them – I had never heard of sparrows eating peas.

“No, they eat the tender little leaves after the peas germinate.”

He was joking, right? I was having none of it. We planted a row of peas.

One morning after the peas – and everything else – had germinated, I went out for my routine garden visit. Yep, everything’s up. But wait, where were the peas? I bent closer. Good heavens! My husband was right! Something was eating the peas!

After a brief consultation, we threw a net over them. That will keep the sparrows out. Nasty sparrows!

A few days later, another routine garden inspection. Good heavens! Something has eaten the beans! Right down to the stalk! Sparrows eat beans, too?

But wait! The spinach is eaten down, too!

I called over my husband. He was mystified. He hadn’t heard of sparrows eating beans, but well, if peas were off the menu, then perhaps they were willing to diversity their diet.

Just then, the culprit hopped by.

The zoologists among you will know this beast as a species of Hare, Lepus townsendii, also called White-Tailed Jackrabbit. Prairie people know it as “varmit.”

According to A.W.F. Banfield’s The Mammals of Canada, Jackrabbits prefer “a variety of green foliage . . . [and] vegetable greens such as lettuce and cabbage.” Add beans to the list. And spinach.

We looked at Jackrabbit. He sat there, chewing his cud, looking back at us with a “What? Me?” look on his face.

“Git!” we yelled. Jackrabbit “gitted.”

We covered all the rows of beans and peas with a garden net. We put plastic fencing over the spinach and lettuce. We covered everything that we thought nasty Jackrabbit might eat.

Bunny-Proofed Garden

Weeding is a bit of a challenge. On the other hand, nothing’s been eating our now-thriving vegies.

Until the cutworms arrive.

(P.S. The zoologists among you will be going “Tsk! Tsk!” about the title because “Bunnies” are not Lepus sp., they’re Sylvilagus sp. To which I reply: Never let a few facts get in the way of a good story.

Or a good title.)

Gardening #Jackrabbits #LepusTownsendii #VegetableGarden #GardenPests #MargaretGHanna #Humour #NonFiction


Going Hog Wild . . .

. . . And That’s No Bull!


Grandpa Hanna (and later my Dad, Garnet) did what prairie farmers can no longer do – operate a mixed farm. In addition to growing grain (wheat, oats, barley, and flax, and later rapeseed now called canola), they raised a few head of milk and beef cattle, pigs, chickens and turkeys – some to eat and some to sell for quick cash when the price of wheat was low or the grain cheque had yet to arrive. However, from time to time, livestock provided more than income.


The four words that farmers dread the most? – Your cows are out! While out, they wandered everywhere, including into town. The village of Meyronne passed a bylaw in 1921 stating that horses and cattle were not allowed to run at large between May 1 and November 15, otherwise there’d be fines to pay. Council forgot to tell the livestock about the bylaw. The Meyronne Independent printed jabs such as “Do you, reader, own any of the livestock that parades up and down, in and out of Meyronne’s streets every week?” The editor obviously forgot that livestock can’t read.

Abe had to pay those fines several times, and sometimes even compensate neighbouring farmers. He paid Mr. Barber $20.00 for damages done by cattle while he, Addie and the family were visiting in Alberta. One Sunday morning, Abe had to retrieve the bull that had wandered into town. That incident inspired me to write my grandparents’ story, “Our Bull’s Loose In Town!” Tales from the Homestead. Escapades did not always end well. Cherry, the cow, got stuck in the mud in the pasture on the Flat. Abe hauled her back to the farm on the stone boat but the next day she caught pneumonia and died.

Abe’s cattle weren’t the only ones to go astray. One morning, Abe found six strange cattle wandering about the farm yard; a few phone calls soon determined whose they were and the red-faced owners quickly retrieved them. Another time, he found a yearling Holstein bull in the yard; Abe took it to the pound for the owner to liberate.

Abe references a few cows by name – Lily, Cherry, Emma, Davidson, Blue, Whiteface and Broncho. The female names lead me to suspect those were mostly Holsteins, large rangy milk cows that, every morning, lumbered up from the pasture to the barn and stood there, bellowing, “Mo-o-o-ilk me! Mo-o-o-ilk me!” Those bellows have a particularly urgent timber to them – there’s no sleeping in when a cow’s needing milked.

Cows, like horses (see last week’s post) needed doctoring, and the diaries contain many references to sick cattle. Dr. Houze was called in only if a dose of aloes and Miracle Wonder (whatever that was) didn’t cure the ailing beast. Not every cow survived. Broncho got very ill after being fed a small amount of feed sorghum one afternoon. Two hours later, Broncho died. Abe suspected the sorghum had been treated with something that poisoned the cow.

Abe didn’t give names to his pigs but I’m willing to bet he called them choice names whenever they escaped. Pigs, being canny, often escaped. Seventeen hogs got out one day and wandered into the village – were they wanting to have words with the butcher, we wonder? Abe had to pay to get them out of the pound. Another pig went on a cross-country adventure on its own; Abe found it two days later at a farm about three miles away. Several piglets once scampered into the school yard just south of the farm — at recess time! — and engendered no end of mayhem. Perhaps they thought the big bad wolf was after them and they would be safe in the red brick school house.

And then there was the Pigs-in-the-Garden incident in the first year of my parents’ marriage. The fence around the pig pen was in need of repair. “Fix the fence,” Mom said on several occasions. “Yes, dear,” my father replied, on as many occasions.

Mom was particularly proud of her garden that summer. She had managed to grow cantaloups and watermelons, no small feat in southwestern Saskatchewan; the gladiolas and dahlias were in full glorious bloom. So imagine her fury when she came home from town to find the pigs wrecking havoc in her garden.

“It wouldn’t have been so bad if they had eaten only one watermelon,” she’d say every time she told the story. But no, the pigs had gone down the row and taken a bite out of each and every watermelon, each and every cantaloup. They had uprooted and munched on every dahlia and gladiola corm.

Mom hit the roof. Dad fixed the fence. The pigs never got out again.


#AnimalStories #HannaFamilyHistory #SaskatchewanHistory #FarmLife #MeyronneHistory #MargaretGHanna #OurBullsLooseInTown #BWLPublishing #Humour #NonFiction

Best Dressed Nest Competition

“Finders Keepers,” mixed media. Melissa Bruglemans-LaBelle, artist

“How does it look, Mitch? Do you think three pieces of Mojo wrapper is too fussy?”

“No, not at all, Madge, they nicely complement the origami paper. You were right about eliminating the feather. It is just so . . . brown! Now, a goldfinch’s feather would be perfect. I regret not getting one of those Tanagers’ feathers when they were passing though last year.”

“Yes, but look at those Swarowski crystals, you’ve arranged them so well, they really set off the curve of the nest.”

“Now if only we could work in those buttons, then we could say we had the competition all buttoned up. Ha, Ha, Ha!

“Oh Mitch, you’re such a card. By the way, I heard Sid is one of the judges this year.”

“Sid? The sparrow from the apple tree? Ya gotta be kidding. What does he know about interior design? He thinks a bit of shredded plastic is haute couture.”

“Yah, I know, you’d think they’d get someone more knowledgeable. At least Jay and Woody are on the panel. They know quality. Just be thankful that old Loon isn’t on the panel again.”

“You’re right, Madge. Look, the judges are leaving the Redbreasts. We’re next.”

“Wait! What’s that cracking noise? Oh no! One of the eggs is hatching! No, not now! That will mess everything up!”

“Quick, Madge. Sit on the eggs and look nonchalant. Here, wrap this fur around your neck. That’ll distract them. Oh, hello judges, come on in. May I give you the tour?”


(“Finders Keepers” was Melissa’s initial submission to Voice and Vision 2019, and “Best Dressed Nest Competition” was my response. This was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. I had originally planned to write a serious piece about how we are easily distracted by shiny things but somehow the magpies acquired the names Mitch and Madge, and you just can’t write anything serious about Mitch and Madge.)


#VoiceAndVision2019 #Melissa Bruglemans-LaBelle #Humour #WritingForFun #Birds #MargaretGHanna


Excerpts from Grandpa Hanna’s diary:

Wednesday, November 14, 1917: dug rhubarb
Monday, November 19, 1917: dug up plants & fruit bushes in old garden. Planted same in new garden in pm.
Thursday, November 22, 1917: planted raspberries

When Abe built the new house clear across the section in 1917, he moved more than the buildings from the old homestead site. All the garden plants came, too. Perhaps the conversation about the move went something like this:

Addie: When are you planning to move the garden plants over?

Abe: Can’t right now. We’re busy working on the barn and the new house. The garden will have to wait till next spring.

Addie: You’re not too busy to scrape out that slough or work on church business.

Abe: That’s different. We need the pond to collect water for the livestock. I’ll move the garden come spring.

Addie: And next spring you’ll be too busy with seeding and harrowing. Then come summer, you’ll be too busy with summerfallowing and breaking new land. Next thing you know, it will be fall and you’ll be too busy with harvesting. You want raspberry jam and gooseberry jam and rhubarb pie, don’t you, so move those plants over now before the snow flies. Otherwise they won’t be grown enough to produce fruit for that jam you like so much.

And so, the garden was moved.

Of course, maybe it didn’t happen that way at all. But given my grandmother’s opinionated and outspoken personality, I wouldn’t be surprised if she had something to do with the timing of the move.


#HannaFamilyHistory #Garden #Humour #HistoricalFiction #MargaretGHanna #OurBullsLooseIntown

Beets (Ick!)

Oh, rosy, ruby, rotund root,
for you I do not give a hoot.
I do not like you if you are
roasted, boiled, in a jar,
or served in sauce some think divine –
you’ll not pollute this plate of mine.

Howe’er, your greens are quite delish.
I’ll let them grace my dinner dish.
Stir-fried with onion, not too much,
A little garlic, just a touch.
Served with butter, salt and pepper,
there’s no dish that I like better.

Stay off my plate, you bleedin’ beet.
I want your greens beside my meat.

But if you’re served as borscht or cake
I’ll have you then upon my plate.


#Poem #Humour #Food #MargaretGHanna