CHAPTER 13 - O'Keefe Siding
Checking out new locales, Rod and Toni recalled their friends, Nelda and Cyril Batten, had enjoyed their summer cottage in the Okanagan Valley. They had known the Batten's in Pine Falls, where Cyril worked in the accounting office of Manitoba Paper Company - their friendship had developed over the fifteen years the Schuetze's had lived in Pine Falls, and they swapped many holiday memories. The Batten's conversations about the beauty of the upper Okanagan Valley in British Columbia now influenced Rod and Toni's search for a new residence.
In time, at O'Keefe Siding, just over the ridge from Armstrong, British Columbia, they found a two acre parcel that suited them.
Here the highway ran past their front yard, with a beautiful lilac hedge providing privacy and a noise buffer. The house was large by their standards, and in the yard was a building the former owner had utilized as a studio - for she had been an artist and had needed the space for her paints, easel and other equipment. Rod could have used this bright, airy building for his carving, but instead set up his wood working tools and plans in the large basement of the house.
Once again, gardening and the local birds filled many of their hours. Rod built bird houses and feeders and befriended all the feathered creatures who visited their yard. Since open water was in short supply in their immediate area - Round Lake was some three miles distant, and the only open water for miles around- Rod decided to build another lily pool. They had found the one at Longbow Lake attracted many birds, not only to drink, but also to bathe and preen their freshly cleaned plumage. Starting at a low spot where the garden and orchard met, Rod cleaned an area for the pond, (Picture 13 - 1) and gathered and placed sizable rocks on which people, as well as birds, could rest and relax. The surrounding earth was planted with small shrubs and flowers, providing an attractive and tranquil setting for all who ventured there. Water lilies (Picture 13 - 2) floated on the surface of the water, and the blossoms of other flowers, as the seasons passed, were gracefully reflected in the clear water of the pool. In the summer the air was filled with birdsong, the busy buzzing of bees, the rustle of plants in the breezes.
Picture 13-1 The lily pool at O'Keefe Siding
Picture 13-2 The lily pool was a treat for the human eye, as well as a sanctuary for birds
One day as Toni sat at the edge of the pool, pulling a few weeds and dreaming of experiences and years long since gone, she was joined by a flock of cross-bills. She sat perfectly still, and the birds accepted her as part of the natural environment. She marvelled as these unique birds drank - turning their heads sideways to they could collect a little water in their bills and slake their thirst.
Meadow larks came to the pool, wading right in to drink and enjoy the water. They became regular visitors, bringing with them the gift of their trilling song that is so firmly etched in the minds of those who grew up in meadow lark country. The same meadow larks returned season after season; Rod and Toni came to know and listen for one bird who consistently missed the final note of his song. The others trilled the melody completely, but the one bird never touched the final note!
Many birds shared the pool over the years - Rod and Toni once saw a Baltimore Oriole and a bluebird bathing at the same time - a beautiful combination of colour at the water's edge - and a marvellous medley of birdsong to listen to when they flew to the treetops.
With the songbirds came the starlings - those raucous, insidious birds who move into a territory and become so obnoxious that the more desirable birds move on to quieter, more acceptable locales. Rod had no intention of allowing the starlings to decide what feathered neighbours he would have. He planned and built a starling trap, to help rid their yard of these pests. The trap, hanging on the wall of the studio, was a wooden box, about eight inches wide by twenty inches tall. The upper portion resembled a standard birdhouse, with the regular small opening and outside perch. Inside was a spring-loaded trip which immediately sent the feathered visitor into the bottom section of the trap, which was screened. Here the bird had access to fresh air, and Rod could tell at a glance when the trap needed attention. Songbirds were released quickly - returning to their nests and song - perchs. Starlings, on the other hand, met a quick and painless end - thinning out their numbers in that region. Many people who saw Rod's starling trap in action were fascinated with it, but it remained his own invention, his own the only model.
The backyard of their property contained a large garden area with excellent soil. Beyond this was an orchard - apple and cherry trees, and a variety of specialty plants. From these two sources, Rod and Toni produced much of what they ate - the fruit trees and garden were a source of great pleasure as well as food, and much of their time in the summer months was devoted to caring for these areas and the other maintenance work their small holding required.
The farthest portions of their backyard, close to an acre of the land in total, had been terraced many years before. Who had done the work and why, they never knew - (Picture 13 - 3) but much effort had been exerted to produce the terraces that jogged in a regular pattern up the steep mountain side behind their home. Perhaps someone had planned to garden on these narrow benches - or maybe dwarf fruit trees had been under consideration. Whatever the project began as, it ended up as an earthen staircase to no-where, now badly overgrown, slowly reverting to its natural state.
Picture 13-3 Rod working in the yard - the lily pool is just in front of where he is standing, with the terraced slope in the background
Because of their years, the overgrown state of this area and the water rationing that was being strictly enforced at that time, Rod and Toni never made plans for, or altered this part of their holding.
Instead they enjoyed what was there, and the small things they could add to it, or grow on it. One growing season they produced sugar pumpkins (Picture 13 - 4) in such great numbers that the crop had to be housed in the studio - there was no space in the basement or other areas of the house to store them.
Picture 13-4 Rod with some of the huge crop of pumpkins they grew at O'Keefe Siding
As the seasons came and went, nature's beauty found an appreciative audience of two. Spring and summer were glorious months, with flowers and fruit, vegetables and the green grass. Winters were milder than they were accustomed to, and the limited snowfalls made driving and walking easier. Autumn was perhaps their favourite time of the year, when Mother Nature and Jack Frost roved the mountain sides with buckets of glorious colours, splashing gold on the poplars and birch, a mixture of gold and brown over the other deciduous trees, and turning the sumacs to a dazzling red that rippled over the mountain sides, to mix with the green conifers and the golds and browns of the other trees.
The real estate agent Rod and Toni had purchased their property through was very interested in Rod's carving - he asked Rod to bring some pieces into his office, and, on seeing more of Rod's work, encouraged him to enter some of it in the Armstrong Fair. However, Rod had to be satisfied to have his work displayed at the Fair, since his work did not meet the residency requirements for competition. During the time of this exhibition of his carvings, his sister, Irma, arrived for a visit - the exhibition pleased her very much. Even now, Rod remained a favourite of family members, and they were happy to see his efforts given public acknowledgement.
Another visitor Rod and Toni were delighted to welcome was a granddaughter, also named Toni. This was the first extended visit these three shared; their time together was golden, since it was an opportunity for each of them to learn to know one another, to store up memories for the long separations the future would bring to them again.
Rod used the basement of the house as the centre for his wood-working and other crafts. The basement was large; he was not crowded, and the lighting was good. He started crafting a cross-bow; he studied and drew, shaped and smoothed the wood. Rod took his time, it was a labour of love.
He tried his hand at rock polishing. The rock tumbler ran in the basement, close to his other work, and the colourful, highly polished stones pleased him. He did set some rock jewellery, but his first love was carving.
Toni knitted and crocheted, and sometimes experimented with other crafts. They both read a great deal, and they followed televised hockey games avidly.
Rod's pockets always contained something for the birds - he was never without peanuts - and as the birds in Manitoba and Ontario had learned to follow him and be fed, so did the birds of the Okanagan Valley.
A dead tree, shaped like a giant slingshot with the shank planted firmly in the front lawn, dominated the view from their front window. The trunks contained small nesting holes, and birds raised their young there each summer. Since the tree was a unique 'apartment building' for the birds, Rod and Toni left it there, and enjoyed the comings and goings of the feathered residents.
During one winter, a Downy woodpecker set up housekeeping in one of the hollowed out areas. He would arrive at dusk, and leave shortly after daylight. On dark winter mornings, Rod would sometimes see the bird stick his head out through the hole and check on the progress the sun was making on getting the day started. If things were not as far advanced as the woodpecker thought they should be, he returned to his nest for a short nap - then he would leave for his daily food hunting excursion. Sometimes Rod would step out onto the porch and talk to the woodpecker :"Isn't it light enough for you to be up?" - the bird would come and check, sometimes flying away, other times returning briefly to his nest.
In the spring there was no activity around the hole, but Rod and Toni thought it was too early in the season for the woodpecker to have left his winter quarters. Other birds showed interest in using the hole for summer nesting, starting their routine of spring cleaning. They carried each piece of material inside the house to the hole and dropped it onto the ground. A few days later, Rod noticed something white stuck in the opening, and went out to investigate. It was the skeleton of the woodpecker - the other birds had been unable to remove it completely, and so had abandoned the project and found nesting accommodations elsewhere.
Rod completed the cleaning job - he and Toni felt as though they had lost a friend when they discovered the woodpecker had died. He had been one of their special bird friends.
Other birds also used the dead tree. The mountain bluebirds occupied one nest; a family of woodpeckers were housed in the other branch. While the female bluebird was building the nest, she made it quite clear to her mate that she did not want his help, although he was eager to assist her. Sitting down for a rest from her efforts, the male quickly arrived with a fat worm for her to enjoy!
In the Manitoba maple tree at the corner of their house, the Baltimore orioles were building their hanging nest in the branches that stretched towards the house. These nests require special materials to construct, and Rod observed the female struggling to untie a cord he had used to tie up a small walnut tree. The cord was slightly frayed, and to her must have appeared as ideal material for her nest. Rod smiled as he told Toni about it, and asked for some old fabric. Toni gave him a piece of an old flannelette bedsheet - Rod pulled the heavier threads from it and draped them over the cord tying up the walnut tree. He retraced his steps to the house, but before he could enter, the Baltimore oriole was collecting the strings for her construction.
Because their yard was such a haven for the birds - (Picture 13 - 5) the local cats considered it a prime hunting region. Rod and Toni did not have either a cat or a dog and the birds were their source of enjoyment, similar to that feeling others derived from their pets. No one stands by and sees their 'pets' abused - so cats were considered unwelcome in their yard - Toni shooed them away, Rod used an air gun. Even the birds themselves joined in the fray: Toni watched a cluster of a variety of birds pursuing and driving out a cat, who unsuspectingly, ventured into the yard at his own risk.
Picture 13-5 Rod feeding a hummingbird at their lot at O'Keefe Siding
Toni, continuing to observe the birds as she had for many years, noting their habits, the interplay between the species and many other aspects of bird life, wrote an article entitled "There's a Bluebird on our Windowsill". Although she submitted it to a magazine with a large circulation, it was never published.
Eileen , her husband, Peter, and their children came to visit. They all thought it was a beautiful spot for Rod and Toni, but the small grandsons, being typical little boys, made a very quick observation:
"Grandpa, where are your frogs? There are all kinds of frogs at home - how come we can't find any frogs here?"
"I don't know - I guess there just aren't any in this area", was all Rod could think to reply.
The adults thought the question was answered, the matter settled, but small boys have ideas of their own!
At their Alberta home, the boys were accustomed to having any number of frogs available to play with. When they arrived home, they selected some of the larger, prime examples of the various frogs available, packaged them up, and sent them, by Canada Post, to their frog-deprived grandparents in British Columbia! Rod and Toni laughed when they opened the box and found three big-eyed frogs looking at them! Released by the lily pool, the frogs were right at home, and their croaking re-kindled memories of life in the bush. For about a week all relished in the new company - the frogs in their new home, and the grandparents in the enterprising attitude of their grandsons that was now giving them extra pleasure they had not expected. One day they no longer heard the frogs singing - Rod investigated. Although he searched diligently, he could find no trace of them - only a number of snakes now living at the lily pool - and he understood what had happened. They were disappointed, but Nature handles things in her own fashion.
As the days slipped into weeks, and those into months - Toni began to see a change in Rod. His appetite diminished, he frequently was sick to his stomach. He often fell down - bruises appeared on his shrinking frame. For months they consulted with a team of doctors; Rod endured a seemingly endless series of tests, but no diagnosis developed. After nearly eighteen months, the doctors were at the end of their resources and began to hint that perhaps Rod was a hypochondriac - just imagining he was ill. They could find nothing wrong with him. By now he could no longer work in the yard - he could not carve. He was beyond being thin - he was skeletal. Rod became so weak he could not even bathe himself - Toni had to assist him.
Alarmed at the state her parents found themselves in, Eileen, accompanied by Peter, arrived by bus to see if they could help. Eileen wanted to take her father back to Calgary where they were acquainted with doctors in whom they had great confidence. Toni secured permission from the local doctors for Rod to travel, and the four returned to Calgary in Rod' s Mustang (Picture 13 - 6). Arriving at Eileen and Peter's home late in the evening, Eileen immediately called on a neighbour, Dr. Winston, to check on Rod. Dr. Winston, a recent arrival from England, came and examined Rod, talked with him for a while, and prescribed some pills. He also advised the family to have Rod admitted to the hospital the next day, where he would make the arrangements for Rod to undergo a brain scan.
Picture 13-6 Rod and Toni, a few years before Rod became ill
The day following the brain scan, Toni was sitting at Rod's bedside in the Emergency Department, when Dr. Taylor, a neurosurgeon contacted by Dr. Winston, entered and asked to talk with Rod alone. Toni complied. After the examination, Dr. Taylor advised Toni that Rod would require surgery, but since Rod was in such poor physical condition, he preferred to keep him in the hospital and build him up before the operation. The doctor, as gently as he could, told Toni that Rod had a brain tumour, which the scan had shown up, and unless it was removed, he would not live much longer. Relieved that someone had now located the source of Rod's problems, but concerned about the gravity of the diagnosis, Toni had much to think about as she returned to O'Keefe Siding to make the necessary preparations for them to be away for some time. In a small community such as they lived in, considerate neighbours were right on hand to help her out, and to watch over their property in the Schuetze's absence.
As the miles slipped slowly under the wheels of the Greyhound bus destination Calgary, Toni's thoughts reverted to the earlier trip - Rod in the car, the thermos of soup she had prepared and packed to try to feed him on the trip; - how she stayed with Rod when Eileen and Peter stopped for meals - Peter's thoughtfulness in bringing her something from the restaurant for her to eat as they continued their journey.
Eileen met her mother at the bus terminal, taking her straight to the hospital. Rod was still quite weak, but his condition no worse. He was not conscious of Toni's arrival, nor of her presence - the nurses tried, to no avail, to arouse him. The women retired to Eileen's home, and at eleven o'clock that night, Dr. Taylor telephoned.
"I am concerned about Rod - I will have to operate tomorrow morning, and I will need your signed consent to do so."
Toni replied, "You do just whatever you feel you have to do, and I'll sign the papers."
Toni and Eileen were at the hospital early. Toni signed the documents the hospital staff gave her, and then began the wait for Rod to be returned from the operating theatre. Toni was paged to return to the office to supply some more information - and they arrived back at the surgery area just in time to see Rod moved from the recovery room to the Intensive Care Unit. Dr. Taylor joined them shortly, for a post-operative report. The surgery had gone well, the tumour, which had been the size of a golf ball, was completely removed. The pathology report advised him the tumour was benign. All Rod needed now was time and care.
Toni spent each day at the hospital. While she sat at his bedside, she had handwork to do as he slept, and which she laid aside when he was awake or needed attention. She spent the whole day at the hospital, eating her lunch in the hospital cafeteria, and helping Rod with what little food he could, or would, eat. His progress was slow. He had a mishap that complicated his recovery. While his bed was being re-made, Rod was set in a chair - the staff was called away, and in their absence, he fell on the floor, striking his head. Worried about the resulting swelling, Dr. Taylor re-opened the incision to ascertain the state of healing. The swelling of the brain was diminishing, and all other signs were good. He beamed as he told Toni and Eileen that Rod would now recover fully.
Rod began to eat more - Toni encouraged him, and he ate more food than he would have had he been left on his own. As they arrived one day to see him, Toni and Eileen were told he had been transferred to another ward. His new room contained four beds - his three roommates all ambulatory patients. They were up and around, reading and talking, entertaining many visitors, watching their television sets. In short, the ward was noisy; both Toni and Eileen were worried how the extra commotion would affect Rod's recovery. In a very few days he was re-admitted to the Intensive Care Unit, where his recuperation progressed more quickly.
He ate more - he began to walk a little. The next step was physiotherapy. Working on the exercise machines began to restore Rod's depleted strength and independent abilities. Toni's presence buoyed Rod's spirits, and her encouragement and love helped him regain much of what he had lost.
During her many hours at the hospital, when Rod was sleeping or doing things she could not help with, Toni had the time to complete a crocheted tablecloth, which she gave to Eileen.
After Rod's recovery, when Dr. Taylor advised them they could return to their home at O'Keefe Siding, Peter flew them home in his small aircraft. As time passed, Rod found he could no longer cope with the work their two acres required. Toni wanted to assume the task of cutting the grass but he would not hear of it. Since his operation he no longer could drive a car - they had left the Mustang with Eileen and Peter - so they needed to live closer to a larger centre. O'Keefe Siding had been good to them, but now they could no longer handle that residence - it was time to move along to another location.
They consulted their real estate agent friend, and in six months, with money in their bank account, they were once again on the move, searching for another locale, a different place to put down their roots.
Rod's cross-bow project remained with the O'Keefe Siding house - other, newer projects would interest him more when they settled somewhere else.