City Hick: Pandemics, Broken Dryers and Back to the Land

by JaneFairburn on April 12, 2020

First of all, the dryer went on the fritz. That’s a key piece of infrastructure in a pandemic — especially when you and your spouse are self-isolating with four young adults. So being the practical type, and quite frankly, with few other options, I bought a clothesline. But not one of those $19.99 specials from Canadian Tire. I’m talking Lee Valley here – a drilled-into-the-ground, German-made, panzer model – suitable for families with multiple sets of triplets, or a sustained period of well, government-mandated-togetherness-in-familial-bliss.

And it’s the trusty clothesline that brought me outside to the safety of my own back garden, between the edge of the woods and the lake, in the Scarborough Bluffs. Most days, the sun is shining. The sheets wave in the gentle breeze, while the birds croon their spring songs of love. Nature, impervious to the melancholy and gloom seeping into our lives, is waking up, all around us. Hanging out the wash in the loveliness and light has become a gentle meditation in itself.

Here’s an image of a miraculous bluebird, taken by my very talented friend, nature writer and photographer, Ann Brokelman in 2012, see: and

The hard reality is that Covid-19 has blown the top off the deep well of uncertainty that each of us holds quite naturally in our hearts. Though our experiences of the crisis are as different as we are, each of us shares the central fact that we are vulnerable. Every morning when we wake up and begin our day, we step into a metaphorical void. Each of us walks our own tightrope, not knowing with certainty how this is all going to end. So there is angst and there is worry. Many of us turn to the permanence of faith, and the love of family and friends. And some of us, beyond all of that consolation, turn to the clothesline, and the power and solace of nature.

American farmer, poet, and environmental activist Wendell Berry writes,

Background image: Fawn foundling, born on Meadowcliffe Bluff, 2017.

But for now, back to the clothesline. I sited my very own tightrope within full-view of the old lilac bushes, which crowd around a worn, yet still visible indentation in the grass. Deep in the earth is the long-abandoned farm well that rests idle, dug by the McCowan family, who immigrated from Scotland to the Bluffs in the 1830s and began Springbank Farm. In fact, it wasn’t really that long ago – the 1930s and 1940s – that food was being produced on the very land I stand on.

If I stand near the edge of the cliff face and follow the curve of the Bluffs to the east, I can just make out Frenchman’s Bay, and Moorlands, my mother’s family farm, now known as the Petticoat Creek Conservation Area. It was there, in 1912, near the mouth of the Rouge River, that my great-grandfather, William Henry Moore established his estate property and utopian farm as a refuge from city living. The loss of that land has been a powerful theme in my life, and has inspired a new book, Moorlands: An Ancestral Memoir of Loss and Belonging, now approaching completion.

Ontario Farmer magazine, founded by William Henry Moore, vol. XXVII, no.8, August, 1930.

Which got me to thinking again. Why not throw some energy into hens and fresh eggs on the Bluffs? Why not a ginormous garden, so we can have access to our own food and not have to do battle at the grocery store? Our youngest child will graduate with a degree in food and farming from Durham College this spring – I have an ideal partner, and other willing hands, so urban farming it is!

Lachlan’s seedlings and homemade compost, April 6, 2020

The hens, Helga, Bertie and Isobel, are in their coop as I write this. In the afternoon, they’ll be out in their pen in the garden, except when they escape and make a run for it down the street. (I may or may not tell you more about that, once the trauma subsides. Suffice it to say that they don’t do social distancing particularly well…).

Me with Helga — Leader of the trio, and chief escape artist

The kids have already had some amazing success with seedlings, which we are hardening off for April 20, when we should have the hoop house in place and the raised beds installed. With any luck, we’ll have lettuce and radishes by early May!

The kids, hard at work!

Feel free to follow our progress on Facebook, and please, join the conversation!

All best,

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Margie April 13, 2020 at 3:03 pm

Your little farm in the city looks amazing! We started our seedling as well, but we do wish we had chickens right now! Would love to see more city farm stories.


JaneFairburn April 14, 2020 at 6:08 pm

Hi Margie — good to hear from you — thanks for your vote of confidence!


Mary Delaney April 13, 2020 at 5:08 pm

Oh Jane, how wonderful and what fun — family veggie garden and renegade chickens breaking social distancing laws. 😂 Way to rise above pandemic depression!
We’re doing much the same. All our eating tables are covered with seedlings cuz ain’t nobody comin’ to dinner, and daughter’s wedding this week is postponed indefinitely:-( Thank heavens for tiny sprouts to bring me joy.
Glad you’ve rediscovered hanging laundry. A wee bit shocked you weren’t doing it already. Now you can use your dryer for a much higher purpose — hiding presents or snack foods. Don’t tell my husband.
Mary on the Federal (not airport) Lands


JaneFairburn April 14, 2020 at 6:09 pm

Hi Mary,
Jeez. Wondering if I could poach salmon in there on moderate heat/”damp dry” setting in a pinch? (Lake Ontario salmon, of course…).


bob bentley April 15, 2020 at 10:42 am

Hi Jane, you’re doing what I should have done 45 years ago but thought I was too busy, even though my good wife wanted to! I guess you are related to Tony Moore, [age about 77 -80] ? Say hello for me, we went to PDHS together and rode bikes for a while with Don Briggs. I was at Moorelands a few times back then.


JaneFairburn April 15, 2020 at 3:39 pm

I will for sure, Bob — thanks for getting in touch!


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