Country Girl

When I met my husband, he kept calling me a country girl, because I grew up in Portage La Prairie. Technically it was a small city, being approximately fourteen thousand people. I mean, we had a Timmies, two Seven-11s and a Rotten Ronnies – that qualifies as civilization right? So I’d object and insist that I wasn’t a country girl.

He came out to meet me in person for the first time, and quickly realized I didn’t live out in the boonies, but he still teased me that I was a country girl.

I didn’t even realize I *was* a country girl until I moved to the city.

Now, by “The City” I do mean “The City” and not “The Big City.” Winnipeg is hardly a big city, I realize. It was a trading hub originally, being on the fork of two rivers, but as that, it’s still not a large city. But it’s the biggest city in Canada for five hundred miles any direction, so anyone in Manitoba refers to it as “The City.”

But I did eventually realize that people who didn’t grow up the way I did think about a lot of things differently. The first time I went to Lyncrest airport, my husband, who grew up in “The City” was with me in the car. When I turned onto Murdock road, he asked me several times if I was sure we were going the right way, because we were on a gravel road.

It’s little things. I’m “handy.” My mother-in-law asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and when I said a tool set, my husband told me she didn’t believe me, and asked him if I was serious. Getting a tool bag and tools for Christmas was awesome, seriously, and I totally use them. There’s something to be said for having the tool you need when you need it. One of my co-workers back at the call centre needed a knife one day and swiveled around and asked me first because he knew me well enough to guess I probably had a Swiss army knife on me.  (I did.)

My husband was a boy-scout and sometimes he tells me “a boy-scout is always prepared.” I tell him, “yeah, but a country girl knows how to improvise.”

My dad says the guys he hires to help him with the bees, when they’re city folk, you can tell. There’s a certain ability to think ahead and problem solve that they just don’t have, according to him.

I had an ex boyfriend who told me a story about when he and his army buddies were out on a road trip and ran out of gas. They had a jerrycan of gas but no funnel, so they couldn’t get the gas into the gas tank. I asked at the time, if they’d had a newspaper or magazine they could have rolled up into a makeshift funnel. He looked at me a moment and I realized not one of these army guys had thought to improvise.

Growing up, my dad would take my brother and I out to the shed while he was changing light bulbs on a ladder, just so that he would have someone to call 911 if he fell. Same with when he was shovelling snow off the roof on a particularly snowy winter – he had us on the other end of a rope on the opposite side of the house. Things like that taught us responsibility and caution. Not fear, but caution. To look for ways to make things safer and plan for worst-case scenarios. Very relevant to aviation, I might add.

And the time spent out if the bush. My husband says being out in the bush brings back happy memories for him from boy-scouts, but for me, it’s not just happy memories, it’s home. I spent entire days out wandering farmers fields and bits of bush in rural Manitoba frequently. It wasn’t time where we lined up to be shown something and waited our turn to try or touch it. We did as we pleased. We explored, turned over logs, built things, and were even trusted to manage a small campfire with very little supervision. We got into poison ivy, and brought home wood ticks, caught snakes and toads and picked flowers. It was one hundred percent unscheduled, until my dad honked the truck horn to call us back and head off to the next bee yard.

Of course, later we were expected to help out with the bees while we were out there, but looking back, I see more and more how growing up that way affected me. Being out in a rural area, I don’t feel out of place the way many do. I don’t see the shabby, run down buildings and turn my nose up at the lack of amenities. I talk to country people and the way they talk is familiar. I’m used to the way they get there when they get there, and stay until the job is done.

So despite knowing there will be a lot of new stuff I’ll be learning in the coming year, and knowing there are going to be things that are going to suck like missing my husband (mainly missing my husband!), there is a part of me that feels like I’m going home.

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Imma Duck-bird Now

I went for my first lesson on floats today.

The first time I ever left the ground was in a float plane. My dad had a family friend who ran a fishing resort, and had a float plane – I don’t actually know what kind, but he took my brother and I flying when I was maybe six or seven. I barely remember it other than that it happened, and that the plane was yellow. I was at that age where seeing that plane, I assumed that all float planes are yellow and any that aren’t are exceptions to the rule.

The nearest place to Winnipeg that does float ratings is Interlake Aviation, based in Gimli, and their float plane, a Cessna 172 (they have a Stinson too, but it’s wings are being re-covered) is based on Norris Lake, North of the city. I’d flown over it before – I remember noting it as a landmark as I flew over on my three hundred nautical mile trip for my commercial license.

You know, after the struggle to learn to land a Cessna 152, and then the struggle the figure out the taildragger thing, I was expecting the float thing to be the same. I figured it would be this new foreign thing I’ve never touched on and that I would be a fish out of water, being a bird in water after all. Instead, it felt like the most natural transition in the world.

I showed up, and we did a check over the plane, you know, as best you can when you can’t walk all the way around it.  One of the most interesting things was discovering that the floats were actually attached to what is essentially a roll cage encasing the cockpit. This is because there are no shocks for floats. I imagine whatever shocks they might add with might mess with how the plane touches down on the water. Anyway, we did the usual, checked the oil and took fuel samples. I love how in flight training, they get you to do things yourself as much as you’re comfortable with, right from the beginning. He let me get the plane turned around facing out by myself and then we hopped in.

We started with taxiing. A little bit of put-putting around, and then he demonstrated a “step taxi” – which is like in a motorboat, when you get going fast, and the craft starts skimming over the surface of the water rather than pushing through it. He had me go up and down the lake three times, and I didn’t feel like I was having any trouble. There’s a sweet spot to hold the plane at a certain angle as you’re taxiing on the step, and if you’re too low it’ll slow down, but if you’re too nose high, it will start bouncing up and down. But finding that sweet spot was easy, you can feel it.

Actually, he asked me one or twice if I’d spent a lot of time on the water. I said no, not really. I just grew up 200 feet from a lake I guess. The high school I went to had canoes and we went canoeing for gym class once or twice. Oh, wait, our family had a boat for a while…. You know, I have never considered myself a “water person” partly because I’m one of those people who can’t stop water going up their noses, but I suppose it’s possible I may have had more exposure than other people. It’s possible I take it for granted and assume other people have had as much exposure as myself.

Anyway, after three treks up and down the tiny lake, he figured I had enough practice, and he let me take off. It was a bit of an awkward take-off, but I’ve been told I have good instincts for being in ground effect, and it’s easy to tell the moment you leave the water, so as soon as I was airborne I was fine. He demonstrated a landing, and then he let me try.

My first landing I was over correcting, and he helped me. The second one I managed to do it unassisted. The third one was too nose-down, and it started to dig in – he went to yank the stick back, but I was doing the same thing at the same time to recover, so it was hard to tell if he was doing anything that I wasn’t already doing. I remember so many times on bounces, not getting the power in fast enough, and my instructor putting the power on to recover and telling me “you gotta be faster.” When I finally got the knack for recovering from a bounce by adding power, I was so pleased with myself. But today I was fast already – it seemed like my first instinct was correct. Like I said, it seemed natural. I was even dealing with a fairly noticeable cross-wind and managing perfectly fine.

Lastly was getting back to the dock. The wind had picked up, and I was already having difficulty turning in certain directions. “Lets see if you can get us into the dock,” he says.

Nailed it first time.

I dunno, maybe it was beginner’s luck, and he did give me some advice to start the approach upwind of the dock, but he said it as if there was some question as to whether or not I’d be able to do it. I dunno. It’s been half my life since I’ve been in a boat, and I was never allowed to dock one. Maybe my exposure to boating helped, I can’t tell.

Anyway, I got it up withing two feet of the dock, and climbed out to jump to the dock. The instructor seemed impressed with it. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but he commented on the fact that I’d anticipated how much the plane would move as I jumped, and I guess I seemed very sure-footed. I hadn’t thought I was unexpectedly so, but I got the distinct impression that he thought I was going to go in the drink, perhaps because others have before me.

That said, I will probably end up in the drink at some point, it’s not an if, it’s a when, and it’s not the end of the world. It’s water. I will not melt. I can swim. I’ve even established that I can tread water with clothes on.

Anyway, we were figuring out paperwork, and at some point I needed to make a stop at Gimli, so I figured since I was off, I might as well do it today. And then the funniest thing – the instructor would lead me there in his truck, but he asked me if I was okay taking my car on a gravel road.

Lulz! Okay, I grew up a beekeeper’s daughter (and grand-daughter), and this was my grandpa’s and dad’s car while they were beekeeping. They used it to check on the bees, and too me with them often. The only risk in me driving on a gravel road is me getting all nostalgic for my childhood!

Gods, I forget I’m a country girl sometimes….

End of story: I’m already in love with float flying.

The City

There’s an interesting cultural observation I’ve made since moving to Winnipeg. I never thought of myself as a “country girl”, but since moving to “The City” I’ve realized I really am.

My last boyfriend, before my husband, was in the military. He told me a story once about when he was on the road with some friends and they ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere. They had a jerry can of gas in the trunk, but the jerry can didn’t have a funnel, so they couldn’t get the gas into the gas tank.

I said “Well did you have a newspaper or a magazine or something, that you could use as a funnel?”

He looked at me for a few seconds and then said “shush, you.”

My husband was in Boy Scouts and liked to remind me, “A Boy Scout is always prepared.”

We’ve been together long enough now that he’s stopped, because he knows my response is “Yes, but a country girl knows how to improvise.”

The phrase “The City” means different things to a lot of different people. What I’m talking about is Manitoba, though. If you talk to anyone who lives in Manitoba, outside of Winnipeg, if we say “The City”, we mean Winnipeg.

Part of this is a result of the bare fact that Winnipeg is the largest urban center for… a long ways. The nearest place bigger than Winnipeg, without crossing the border is Edmonton in one direction, and Toronto in the other, and each of those is nearly half a continent away. Gonna throw this link out there if anyone wants to verify this fact: http://atlas.nrcan.gc.ca/site/english/maps/population.html

It’s something I never thought about growing up in Portage La Prairie, an hour’s drive away from Winnipeg. And I don’t think a lot of people think about that. But being a writer, it makes me think harder about how people think about things. Ant then it makes be think about how my own characters perception of things will differ from my own perception, or from other characters.

I think the reason I had a lot of trouble sympathizing with George R. R. Martin’s characters was that they were all lords and ladies and kings and queens. There were no characters that who’s roles I could see myself taking. I find in my own writing, I tend to write more characters who are small people – the “everyman” sort of character if you will. I think it’s because I don’t buy into the whole reality-show-about-how-difficult-rich-people’s-lives-are thing. I don’t have cable tv, and don’t miss it.

Actually I do, but I didn’t have it for about four years and didn’t miss it, and now that I do, I don’t watch it. (Netflix for evar!)

This post doesn’t really have a point or conclusion, it’s just something I’ve realized, and thought about. It’s a little bit about how people think about their own identity, an a little bit about my own identity. I mean, to people outside of Winnipeg, Winnipeg is practically a hick town. To me though, Regina is a hick town. (No, kidding, the last time I was there, all I remember is the teens wandering around with hickies on their necks. Not even joking.)

But the way I think about things is part of my own identity, and you have to remember, as a writer, that’s part of your characters’ identity. I’m a girl who grew up in, not a small town, but a small city. My dad was a bee farmer, and I spent tons of time out of doors, out in the country, wandering around in the bush, exploring abandoned buildings, building fires, building epic snow forts (that’s gonna take it’s own post) and playing with power tools at ages that people consider irresponsible of my parents.

The experiences a lot of people got from things like scouting, I got a lot of that just from tagging along with my dad. Things that a lot of “city people” hire someone to do, like cleaning the gutters, or shoveling off the roof, I wouldn’t think of hiring someone, I would do myself. I get my oil changed at the garage, not because I couldn’t do it myself, but because my dad gets it done there because they can do it more efficiently, and it’s less trouble. I’ve never done it, but I’m sure I could do it if I needed to. And it’s not a prissy rich white girl “pft, I could do it if I wanted to” – it’s a real, I know I could do it. I’m not afraid of getting my hands dirty.

I’ve helped install magnetos, a voltmeter, a fuel gauge float, vacuum tubes, etc, on a plane I plane to fly myself. I’m basically staking my life on work I’ve done myself. No everyone trusts themselves that much. But that trust in myself, I will lay that with my dad. He might not have always been the most empathetic or emotionally supportive person, but he taught me things. Things to keep me safe. Things to make me feel confident walking into the world. Not specific things, but the phrase “come help me with this,” does something to a child.

For example, when my dad would shovel off the roof, he’d tie a rope around his waist and have us hold the opposite end. Us being my brother and I. We, at a very young age – I’m pretty sure under ten years old, were entrusted with making sure my dad didn’t fall off the roof, and if we couldn’t hold the rope, we were to get help. Around the same age, he brought me down to the spare room in the basement and told me, if he was ever working on the electricals, or dropped the hairdryer in the sink or something, and got electrocuted, here, flip this breaker, and it’ll shut down all the electricity in the house.

And sometimes I wonder if it’s that that made me the sort of person that, when something needs to be done, I go do it, or if it’s something inherent in myself. Something I was born with. I don’t know. I often assume everyone is as capable as me, and am surprised when I’m with others and

If someone had asked if I could learn how to install magnetos on a plane, I wouldn’t have hesitated to say yes. Not afraid of machines. My dad had a riding lawn mower, a mini front end loader, a garden tiller, etc. Dangerous machines that could have killed us. He built fires to burn rubbish and such, and let us play with them. We grew up old school, before they wrapped kids in cotton balls. Or at least, before the cotton reached the farmer’s kids in rural areas.

And realizing that makes me think. About what’s shaped me, and from there, what shapes characters. And why I tend to choose the characters I write about. They tend to be small characters, but capable. Not princes and princesses. Everyday, common people.

But it’s also why I write Dieselpunk. The machines. It’s familiar and comfortable.

Like I said, I have no point to make here, really. Just an observation and a couple of anecdotes.