It was a tough day.

Hantavirus on the mind, dust in the air, and too many shriveled and desiccated corpses to count. Cleanup day in our farm shed was a sad experience.

We’ve owned our homestead quarter, with a modest set of buildings for nearly ten years. In that time, the best storage building has housed a motley collection of important gear: canoes and kayaks, extra wood for emergency treehouse building, an antique forge and blacksmith’s tools, my Mom’s garden seeder, a farm-size fertilizer spreader.

And, because there is a lot of storage room there, my Christmas decorations.

Like any Mom, my Christmas decorations contain a hefty variety of seasonal offerings of the sticky description. You know the kind: the craft projects muckily but lovingly put together by small fingers, guided by big fingers. Day care. Preschool. Grandma’s house. Kindergarten. With two kids and a few years of creation, this came to a rather large assortment.

Each year, the unpacking and tree hanging would have some disappointments and sacrifices. Those napkin holders got too squished to be recognizable. The glue came off that Santa’s hat, and he looks rather drunk. Oh, look at where you glued those decorations. That elf seems rather well-endowed, doesn’t he?

Age does bring wisdom. And sometimes, the kids would throw things away on their own, surreptitiously adding to the annual pile of cracked and broken balls, tinsel that dry dieted away its bulk, and poinsettia squashed past resurrection.

But this year, disaster. For the first time, our storage shed witnessed a grey tsunami. Mice, mice, and more mice.

There are always mice on a farm. And, unlike the main farm where the cows, farm dog, and farm cats reside, this collection of buildings has no feline presence. The owls do their bit, but they only get the outside critters.

A grain hauling incident with a semi truck put a substantial dent and crack in our storage building in June, while emptying the nearby quonset of last year’s record grain harvest. It is, I admit, a tight fit. One minute of inattention and WHAM! We have a door that sort of shuts. If you pull really hard and hold your nose the right way.

And the mice? I guess they thought that dent and crack was an invitation. A door, just their size. That we were saving them from the owls. We are such thoughtful caretakers of all our farm animals!

My husband, with his keen nose, noticed the infestation. Mice smell. It’s noticeable and nasty. He dutifully laid out two sacks of mice killer — which is obviously tasty, since they both disappeared right away.

But we knew that wasn’t enough. A full-scale cleanup — moving everything, sweeping underneath, checking boxes — had to happen. No less than twenty dead and desiccated carcasses in a 20 by 24 foot shop. Ugh. And I stopped counting somewhere along the line.

The Valley Center dump got a full truck load. There were a couple of boxes of ‘stuff’ — the didn’t-sell-at-the-garage-sale-but-should-in-the-next-one kind of stuff. Those went. I’m not washing mouse pee off old teapots. Yuck. Similarly, car seats. My kids are long past needing them, they are no doubt past their due date anyway, and I’m not putting a kid in one now. Gone. My blankets for covering my garden in spring, old kids puzzles, and assorted cardboard (which, if you’re a farmer, you know procreate and explode when no one is looking) got tossed or burned.

But the real shock, and sorrow, came when I got to my Christmas decorations. My tree, with my home-make tree skirt nestled in, is fine. Whew for that. But the big box, with the years and years of decorations made by the kids, bought by us on holidays, with the stockings and the annual Christmas cards and letters going back many years, had to be tossed. It was heartbreaking.

I salvaged three glass balls that had been individually boxed: one of our house, painted by a friend; one of my Mom and I on our European holiday; and a Pooh Bear ball that was my husband’s first Christmas ornament. The rest, with no less than three dead mice draped and squeezed in, had to go.

Eighteen years of married memories, in the Valley Center dump.

There are two upsides to this story: one, my Mom still has all our family Christmas decorations, which may migrate to my house; and two, my storage shed is, once again, clean and mouse-free.

If you have an ornament to share, feel free. Unless it’s a well-endowed elf. You can keep that.

Prince Albert book launch

Merle Massie signing the last copy of Forest Prairie Edge at the Prince Albert book launch, Coles Bookstore, June 5, 2014. A sellout, and a great crowd.

Local history challenges provincial identity

One of the best interviews and reviews so far of my new book, Forest Prairie Edge: Place History in Saskatchewan.


Thinking of the Great Trek migrants, and what they might say to us today:

Originally posted on Merle Massie A Place in History:

The following was originally published (in slightly edited form) for ActiveHistory.ca 23 January 201. We’re a group of historians interested in thinking about history and its current and future applications.

So, I’m writing a book.

What follows, for your January darn-it’s-cold-and-I’m-ready-for-something-kind-of-fun reading pleasure, is a primer (briefing notes) about the book. Given the growing recognition that Mother Nature remains strong and rather angry about human-induced climate change – kudos to everyone who spent Christmas with no power – I’m writing about human migration.

Drawing lessons from families who pulled up stakes and moved during the Great Trek from one biome (prairie south) to another (boreal north) due to drastic climate and economic problems during the Great Depression and Dirty Thirties, this book is based on history but with an eye to practical suggestions for the future. Imagine me having a conversation with my Grandpa and Grandma: what should I do…

View original 877 more words

Review in the Prince Albert Daily Herald

A great interview in the Prince Albert Daily Herald, in advance of the book launch, reading, and signing June 5th, Coles Bookstore, Gateway Mall, Prince Albert. 7pm.

This past week, Ed White of The Western Producer has written a superb overview of my book, the life of a rural scholar, and a personal blog post that connects Ed with our shared history 20 years ago, as MA students in the department of History at the University of Saskatchewan.

Book review: http://www.producer.com/2014/05/author-aims-to-alter-view-of-forest-edge-farming/

On being a rural scholar: http://www.producer.com/2014/05/rural-living-an-advantage-in-writing-history-book/

Ed White on our shared past: http://www.producer.com/2014/05/impressive-history-2/

With grateful thanks to someone that I have not seen for twenty years — but whose work, interests, and circles (agriculture, and agricultural history) continue to cross paths with my own.

Number One!

ImageEach week, McNally Robinson Saskatoon publishes the ‘top ten’ list of books sold through their Saskatoon bookstore. I have no idea how influential this list is, but like most top ten lists, it has a certain public appeal. Published in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix in the Weekend section, it’s a list that I read every week, just to see what’s new, what’s hot, and what’s sustaining interest.

Imagine my shock and, frankly, glee when my new book, Forest Prairie Edge: Place History in Saskatchewan landed at number one on this week’s chart!


Dissect that number, and the first thing to note is that I had a book launch. At McNally Robinson. With about 50 attendees, many of whom bought a book. So no doubt when next week rolls around, my book will either be much further down the list, or absent altogether. (Sad, but probably true.)

As an aside: my teenagers were wildly impressed that I beat The Fault in Our Stars, by the latest popular author writing teen fiction. I also topped Dan Brown and Maeve Binchy, which stopped my breath.

Nonetheless, I have to think that being on the top of that list makes a statement. It is a statement about the power of friends, family, and colleagues, who came to my book launch and bought signed books. My thanks to each of you.

It is also a statement to the support given by McNally Robinson to local and regional authors. They host book signings, invest in advertising, and draw people in to their store. Their team is upbeat and busy, and all local authors (including me) give them a warm and sustained round of applause. Of the top ten books on that list, five are Saskatchewan authors! Kudos and congratulations to Regine Haensel, Trevor Herriot, Mary-Ann Kirkby, and dee Hobsbawn-Smith.

Finally, putting a Saskatchewan history book at the top of the McNally Robinson list speaks to the power and reach of local and regional history. Saskatchewan stories are our shared history. My book draws on many Saskatchewan stories that don’t usually make it into Saskatchewan prairie history books.

Set in the forest fringe of the province at Prince Albert, my book looks at the way the two halves of the province (forest and prairie) work together. It breaks open the ‘prairie’ narrative we’ve come to expect of Saskatchewan, and turns it on its head. It tells story after story from the forest — changing, I hope for good, the way my readers think about Saskatchewan.

This book explains how I can be from Saskatchewan, but not from the prairie. 

If you pick up a copy, let me know what you think.


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