It’s go time


We are in Everglades City (think population about 300) at the Everglades National Park Visitor Center and it’s completely empty. Nothing is open and there are no rangers. We expected that, given the government shutdown, but it still feels surreal and vaguely apocalyptic. Its just us and the mosquitoes. We are sleeping in the truck tonight and will set out tomorrow morning from a small launch that is functional, but nondescript. Our canoe will be loaded with 55 gallons of water, food for 12 days, camping gear, fishing supplies, first aid kit, and an emergency flare. When we leave, we first need to paddle across a dauntingly large lake (it’s much bigger than it looked on the map) to find a small canal that will lead us to the Gulf of Mexico. In the cold light of day, we are feeling somewhat nervous and wish there was someone around who could answer few questions

It was a good drive down, with the exception of driving through whiteout conditions in Pennsylvania, and a little accident in Tampa in a MacDonald’s parking lot. Gord was backing up at the same time as a little red sports was was below his line of visibility. I didn’t even feel the hit (neither did Gord’s truck) but the little car got its door bashed in. The people were not happy. Fortunately, no one was hurt and by the time the accident report was filled out, they were friendly enough.

As I write, Gord is reading the local rag; a paper called ‘The Mullet Rapper’ about the coming full moon and local black widow spiders. Oh, goodie. The man from the accident also told us that all the super ginormous alligators found in Florida are trucked to the Everglades (he wasn’t kidding). I’m sure that all will be well… truly. But if we’re not out in a month – send help.

Night melded into morning and this a.m. a couple of kayakers were loading into the water at the launch site but they weren’t especially helpful. I took a picture of the launch site but didn’t want to leave our canoe loaded and unattended while we went into town to post this. See you on the flip side. 👍


Adventuring – In at the deep end


Time for an adventure and Cuba doesn’t count. Cuba was a holiday – there’s a difference. On a holiday you know where you are sleeping at night and it generally involves a bed. My adventure this year is shorter and closer to home (because I am opening my blueberry u-pick this summer, there is too much to do to be away for long). I don’t know if my 2 ½ week foray into the wild will be relaxing or harrowing. Quite possibly both. I have started dating a friend named Gord Tennant, with whom I went to high school, and we are going to paddle a canoe through the Florida Everglades.

The Everglades Wilderness Waterway is a 99-mile-long trail that is a series of bays, channels and rivers that takes you through hundreds of mangrove islands, and along the route that early Native Americans travelled, while living off the bounty of the sea. I like the thought of living off of what we catch, but In case the sea doesn’t bequest it’s bounty to us, we are bringing enough food (and water) to carry us through the 12 days we will be unplugged and removed from civilization.

Yes, there are crocodiles, alligators, poisonous snakes and other creatures, but apparently the two biggest threats are, #1- navigating through the brackish, salty backwaters of the intersected canals (we have good navigational maps, a guide book, and a tide chart); and #2 – raccoons. Yep – regular old raccoons. They are so bold and clever that they will actually unzip the tent to get at any goodies inside. And they will decimate your food and water supply if proper precautions are not taken (Gord has an animal proof food barrel that we are bringing).

I am looking forward to this trip. With the exception of a two-day kayaking excursion that I took with my brother, I haven’t done any paddling in many years, so it’s a completely new adventure for me. Gord is an experienced paddler but hasn’t done the wilderness wandering that I have. So we are bringing different things to the table – literally – I think he’s bringing steak for us.

We have totally opposite travel styles. He has always pre-booked, reserved, and planned every minute of a trip, right down to where each meal will be eaten. I wander at will, make decisions as I go, see what comes, and eat whatever is available when I get there. The thought of travelling his way gives me hives, for real. And travelling my way is hell and gone outside of his comfort zone. It will be an interesting adventure on many levels. We aren’t making any reservations or hard fast plans but he is quietly plotting out our route and campsites. However, with the U.S. government shutdown, it means that there are no park rangers to register any backwater campsites with. But no matter, we’ll take it as it comes. We are both excited and eager. And curious.

We leave for Florida tomorrow evening (Jan 10th) in Gord’s truck with his canoe perched on top. Our plan is to drive straight through. When we arrive, we will take a day to rest and stock up before setting out from Everglades City in south Florida. From there, we will paddle down the Gulf of Mexico for a few days before cutting inland.

I won’t be able to keep you updated en route as there is no cell service. But I will try to write a short post along with a picture of the loaded canoe before we start. I have visions of it being weighed down so heavy that the top lip will be level with the alligator’s eyes. I hope the waves aren’t too high. I hope the wind is at our back. I hope we get along well. When we emerge back into the land of services and wifi, I will post pictures, and my journal entries. Let the adventure begin.

T’was the night before Christmas


I love Christmas. I have always loved Christmas. When I was a kid growing up in the North West Territories we had only our immediate family and we became very close. We treasured our traditions. Christmas Eve always started with a bath, followed by new pjs. Then came an extra special family evening with a program, singing from our homemade song books, and fancy snacks. And of course the hanging of the stockings before bed. For us, Christmas Eve was every bit as anticipated as Christmas morning when gifts were opened, one by one, but only after our beds were made, our rooms cleaned, and breakfast was eaten together. We didn’t get many presents, but with five kids, there was always the ‘wow’ factor under the tree. I carried on those traditions with my kids and they added a few of their own. They made a pact that the first one up Christmas morning woke the other two kids, and then the three of them would scamper downstairs together. I was always awake in my bed and listened with pleasure for their excited squeals of delight and their ooohs and ahhhhs when they saw the gifts under the tree. They opened their stockings together before ‘waking’ the parental’s.

For me, Christmas represents heartwarming and cozy family time and I steadfastly refused to believe it would ever change. But my kids have grown up on me and are now living their own lives. Alberta first nabbed Sabrina and Ben, and recently she has also snatched away Colin (damn Alberta with her high wages and great job opportunities).

In truth, our traditions have been slowly evolving over the past couple of years, but I have not allowed them to transition gently. I have railed against the mutiny and clung to our rituals with the same childish ferocity with which a toddler clings to her favourite blankie. But this isn’t Neverland and even Peter Pan couldn’t fight the tides of change forever.

My family are all well this holiday season. Colin is working hard in Peace River, Alberta where, in October, he was hired as a truck and coach diesel mechanic. I recently had a wonderful visit from Sabrina and Ben. They are happy and loving the mountain life in Hinton and Jasper. Max, is in his fourth year at Bishops University, and is the only one with me this Christmas eve/day. It’s just the two of us. It seems I must finally allow our traditions to sail into the realm of cherished memories.

In a preemptive strike against sliding into melancholy this Christmas, I booked a last minute trip for Max and me to Cuba. So here we are. I am writing this post as I stare out on a turquoise sea. Sink or swim right! So we swim! We rest, we eat, we read, we eat some more. And think about how incredibly fortunate we are for wonderful memories, loving family and dear friends.

Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Here and Now


Five times! Five times it rained over my house this season. On a few occasions I literally watched it rain all around me like I was trapped in some bizarre weather vortex, the glorious liquid sunshine just beyond the reach of my thirsty plants. My trusty well held steady (sometimes at the expense of personal hygiene) and my drip irrigation system earned its stripes. But given the Sahara-like conditions this past summer, at my place, if you were not a blueberry plant, you had no water allotment. My grass was brown, my flowers died and my garden was pathetic – but my blueberry plants grew back. There was even a smattering of blue goodness sprinkled throughout my field. But it was a hard race against the birds to harvest the precious berries. I didn’t get the netting infrastructure built. By the time I finished cutting back all the winter kill, my clay fire-baked ground was virtually impenetrable. Next spring I guess.

I just finished planting an additional 300 plants of two new varieties. After a few particularly laborious days I moaned to my son Colin that I was getting too old for this. “You were too old for it two years before you started”, he quipped back to me. Without any further ado I posted an add on kigigi.

“Need strong, physically fit individual to help plant blueberries on a blueberry farm. Hard work! $15.00 an hour cash. Room provided if needed“.

Travis responded back that afternoon. He was a strong, physically fit 35 year old electrician who was travelling across the country. I hired him on the phone and he drove to my place from Sudbury that night, pitched a tent and started work the next morning. I plied him with an abundance of food and we worked well together. However, after the first few days his work became slow and sporadic until he presented me with his wrists, vein side facing up. I stared at them in confusion. They are sore and swollen, he stated. That afternoon Travis moved on and I was back in the trenches planting solo again.

I am moving forward with plans for a soft opening next summer. By then I will have been at this crazy venture for six years and it will be time to earn my first dollar. I’m not sure if I will keep the name, “The Merry Blueberry” (which I adore) or go with “Balderson Blueberries” (which makes more sense in that it also says where I am). Feel free to weigh in with what you think. But one way or another, with a palpitating heart full of promise and the fervent hope that I will actually have some blueberries for sale, I will be open for business next season come rain, drought, hail or snow. Well, maybe not snow. Please, not snow.

Just keep Peddling


On June 9th and 10th I was one of 4,500 riders who participated in the ride to conquer cancer. The 225 km bicycle ride from downtown Toronto to Hamilton to Niagara Falls was a challenge but it was great to be a part of something so worthwhile. I rode with the Wilmot Orchards team with Charles, Robbie, and Joseph, three fine men who have done it for the past 10 years. Over $18 million was raised for the Saint Margaret’s Cancer Research Centre, one of the top five cancer research centres in the world. Deep heartfelt thanks for all of your support and sponsorship. It meant a lot to me.

My daughter, Sabrina, sent me a text the morning we left. It read “good luck, stay calm, ride steady and don’t fill your pockets with cookies”. Later that day I responded back, “pockets full, can’t help it, it’s a sickness”. I was probably the only person there who came home heavier than when I left.

Whether you are waging war with cancer, a sugar addiction, or whatever challenge life is currently throwing at you, the only thing to do is…just keep peddling. Preferabley forward.

Don’t count your Berries before they Bloom


Agriculture is a fierce master. Whether you are rich or poor, meek or strong, an experienced farmer or a novice, the weather rules with impartial disregard. I would dance naked in the field under a full moon if I thought it would help. Hell, I’d dance naked in downtown Perth at midday on a holiday weekend if it would make a difference.

I was out west visiting family when my babies broke dormancy (and when I wrote my last blog). When I returned home and raced out to the field, anticipating to see multitudes of blooms destined to become my first salable blueberries, realization dawned with gut wrenching despair. I saw, instead, row after row of brown, dead branches.

Normally in the fall, blueberry plants turn a gorgeous red as they ‘harden’ for winter. But last year our record breaking heat wave was immediately followed by a killing frost and green leaves gasped their last breath and fluttered to the ground, without the benefit of turning red. Being the novice that I am, I wondered at the time if that would have an impact, but it’s impossible to predict what damage will be done until the plants break dormancy in the spring. That they didn’t get a chance to harden properly, combined with the fact that some stuff didn’t get done last year on account of my broken ankles, the result this spring was disheartening, to say the least.

My friend and mentor Charles (who owns Wilmot Orchards in Newcastle) says that the roots are not dead – that the bushes will grow back, it will just take a couple of years. Two years feels like a long time to me. I know that everyone whose lives are intimately invested in agriculture goes through things like this in one form or another. I have a coaster that reads – we can’t direct the wind, we can only adjust our sails. Well the wind had died and my sails were flapping loose.

After mourning came acceptance. The heavy weight of despair was slowly lifted by a gentle breeze allowing me to adjust my sails, as well as my mindset. The only thing to do is put it behind me and move on. But I’m moving on more slowly. That’s ok – it’s probably better for this aging novice than riding the waves at 50 knots pushed by a gale force wind. I will get as much of the netting done as I can but with so much crop devastation, it’s less urgent. I also have more planting to work on. It will all get done, as my friend Nancy says, in the fullness of time. I’m practicing staying in the present and taking it day by day. The bittersweet moral of this story is – you know what’s coming – don’t count your blueberries before they bloom.

Field of Dreams


I built it and they came – the birds I mean. For the past two years I have been wrestling with what to do about avian protection in my blueberry field. Last year, after one beautiful weekend of picking, the little airborne buggers decimated every berry left on the bushes. My original plan was to overhead net the entire field but the mere thought of the work to build the  infrastructure (not to mention the additional cost) felt darn near soul shattering. I have to dig nearly 150 holes three feet deep, cut trees from the back of the property, transport them to the field and put them into the holes, level them all at nine feet high, build a wire support system on top and then anchor the whole lot into the ground with scary three foot long metal anchors. The netting itself is installed each year before the berries ripen and taken down after harvest.  After resolutely researching  easier options like predator bird scares,  individual row netting, fake snakes and owls, shiny pinwheels, scarecrows, drones and sprays,  I came to the conclusion that  the only surefire and practical protection  from the dreaded starlings, robins and blackbirds is overhead netting (getting the farm to this point over the past four years has been a physical and financial bloodbath – now is not the time to be hesitant). And while this venture will hopefully provide a profitable and agreeable retirement for myself, it is also the realization of a long held dream, a dream that was crystallized in the summer of 2014 during a fateful trip to Philadelphia.

I was recovering from 2 broken ribs and my youngest son Max, who seldom ever asked for anything, asked me to take him to Philadelphia to visit a girl with whom he’d met during a wrestling competition. And so, with the assurance that a three day visit from him was ok with her mother, we set out. I was planning on camping close by while working on my Merry Blueberry business plan. (Unbeknownst to me, Max and Laura’s ‘in real life’ relationship consisted of a 3-minute conversation at a tournament the month before, and unbeknownst to both Max and me, Laura’s family were mega multimillionaires). We pulled into their mansion with eyes wide.  After a short, surreal visit, I was talked into  staying in one of their ‘guest wings’. It all turned out well – Max and Laura were deliriously happy to spend time together, I got a lot of research done, but my biggest excitement was when they found out I was starting a blueberry farm and took us to a local u-pick.  Standing under the gauzy canopy of aqua overhead netting, I fantasized that the leafy domain of berry laden bushes was my own field. With imagined proprietorship, head dizzy with excitement, I watched happy people picking.  My field will be just like this, I whispered breathlessly to myself (still so blissfully innocent and naïve as to what was actually involved in starting a blueberry operation). In that moment, my embryonic dream was activated into a fierce nugget of determination.  Max just smiled and shook his head with resignation. He knows me well.

That suspended spiderweb of aqua netting may not seem like much to the casual observer but it was the cloud into which I poured my vision of the future. So when I found out much later that that particular netting, which so perfectly evoked sky and joy and promise to me, was the most flippin expensive brand of bird netting on the market, I was crushed. Alas, pride and dreams don’t thicken wallets and I was forced to ditch the idealistic picture in my minds eye of a transcendent lacework sheltering my precious crop. But the blueberry gods took pity on me (may I offer you another broken ankle, oh fruity overlords?). After many laborious rounds of international phone tag and wagering, I found a vendor in Windsor, Ont. willing to sell me what I needed at a good discount. Guys. I got my aqua cloud. Now I just have to figure out how to put it in the sky.

So far on this multi-year journey I have been fairly steadfast, but I admit I’m weary. I need to stay the course…walk the line …and all the other euphemisms to coax my battle worn body back into the trenches this summer. I remind myself that my field of dreams is almost, nearly, seemingly on the brink of becoming a reality. And it’s not for the birds.