Friday, September 13, 2019

Post-Hurricane Dorian Post 1

Leonard, supervising storm games. 
Finally getting a chance to post some photos of the category two hurricane that blew through Nova Scotia last weekend. Our power went out around 3 pm on Saturday and it was three days before it was restored. Our internet connection just came back yesterday afternoon. 
Fortunately, we have a generator so we were able to keep our freezer frozen, and the water pump pumping. I'm not one who wants the house to operate on a generator as if it's "business as usual". For me, the generator is part of the emergency system so I still used the water we had in pots and jugs, I didn't flush every time, and we played Scrabble by candlelight. With a little help from a friend. 
It was nice to be able to watch the news, though, and know what was going on in Halifax. 

Before Hurricane Dorian arrived - Saturday, Sept. 7

After Hurricane Dorian left - Sunday, Sept. 8
What was damaged simply added to our emotionally draining summer.
It wasn't bad enough Dwayne's sunflower crop was half of what it normally is because of a cold, wet spring -- and one final deluge at the end of June. Nope, we had to have a category 2 hurricane hit Nova Scotia just as the sunflowers that did come up were beginning to bloom.

The hurricane also cost us the two blue spruce trees that towered over the back of our house. They didn't snap at the truck; they simply pulled up out of the ground. My husband planted those 37 years ago; not a single bit of rot inside them. They were strong and healthy. I'm sorry to see them go, and I know the squirrels and birds will miss them too.
Dwayne was able to save about five feet of one trunk so that will get a bird feeder in winter and perhaps a bird house for summer.
The good news? The second one narrowly missed smashing onto the gazebo. Can you imagine if wed lost that a mere two months after building it?!


Hurricane winds are hard on the nerves, but this is yet another humbling reminder of what we can't control in our world. The weather will always remind us what really is in charge of our lives.
We also are humbled by the fact we lost sunflowers and trees but not our income -- like the farmers in the valley whose fruit and corn crops were blown to the ground -- or our lives -- like so many people in the Bahamas. 



Friday, September 06, 2019

The Secret of the Bones


Last evening, after shutting up the chicken coop for the night, I wandered over to my father's garden to check out the sunflowers I'd planted there. They finally are beginning to bloom. I pulled some weeds, read Dad's engraved stone, then started to looked up.
It's a poignant time around here because this is the time of year when the entire osprey family, parents and fledglings, leave the nest for good as they begin their migration south.
This is the time of normal leave-taking, as nature intended. This is the second year in a row we've been denied this ritual.

A little voice said to me, "Go walk in the field underneath the osprey nest."
I think I wanted to find a feather but instead I found an answer.

Only several steps in, a well-picked carcass lay abandoned in the grass. I believe it is what's left of the oldest, largest osprey baby, the one we last saw on July 29.



This discovery creates a slightly different narrative than the one we had in August.

I've assumed all three babies perished in the nest after, we believe, their father was killed by someone in the neighbourhood who has a trout pond. The mother -- perhaps injured in some way -- wasn't around much. This meant the three babies weren't getting enough food but it also meant they weren't being protected from the eagles.

I remember, on a few days after July 29, seeing the surviving osprey parent land on the edge of nest.  I can't recall if she had brought a fish with her. She seemed to be looking down in the nest, and at the time, this seemed both sad and gruesome -- she'd be gazing at the bodies of her three babies.
Now I wonder if she was looking for the offspring who'd been alive a few days earlier.

This carcass suggests that baby was picked off by the eagle. Unfortunately, as we learned in the summer of 2015, with an eagle nest right across the river (the result of 2014's Hurricane Arthur knocking down the longtime nest further upriver), our ospreys must be vigilant at keeping eagles away from their nest. One of the hallmarks of this new breeding pair was their attentiveness to the nest; there was always a parent in the nest. They were diligent about driving away the eagles when they flew nearby. But with one parent gone, our baby ospreys were alone for too long and the eagles took advantage.

It's one thing for ospreys to be deliberately and senselessly killed by humans, but another to be taken as part of the cycle of nature. As much as I don't want the osprey babies preyed on by the eagles, at least that makes sense. Nature is beautiful and brutal, and as much as it breaks my heart, at least it's based on primal survival instincts.

I collected everything I found in the area around the carcass and brought it all home (I'd hoped to find the skull but it's been taken away by the eagles or another animal). I wanted to photograph it and share this story. I wanted to show you the skin and claws still attached to one foot and leg. The one to the right I found in another spot.


This carcass has been out in the field underneath the osprey nest for over a month but I couldn't go over there until now. My grief and my anger made it impossible for me to even think of being near that space, let alone discover something like this. For weeks, I've been glancing at the nest -- involuntarily, I can't help myself, the habit it so ingrained -- and thinking of the bodies in there. Wondered if the "death nest" meant no other ospreys would ever want to take it over. And maybe that's better, if no one nests there again. If no one is tempted to fish trout of out the killer's pond.
Yet last night, that small voice told me to go into that space. I didn't find the assurance I need, but I did find a plausible answer to what happened.

What would not have happened if a human hadn't interfered with the normal cycle of nature.
Claws crossed, my friends, for a different outcome in the summer of 2020.



Saturday, August 31, 2019

Taking My Art Back

My field of flowers is on the left. Louise Cloutier's is on the right. Obviously.
I've had a breakthrough.
I remember how to paint. How to paint my way, the way I'm comfortable and confident painting. It's more random than precise, definitely not detailed. It's not the way of the paintbrush, but the way of the hands and the weird tools, with the runny paint and the splatters.
How I love to splatter!

I've been taking Louise Cloutier's art classes at ArtQuarters in Pugwash again this summer, a regular Monday night class and then periodic "One Hit Wonder" classes, which is how the field of wildflowers came to be. Of course I wanted to paint a field of wildflowers!
And after a summer of frustrating art projects which are a reflection of my negative head space and not Louise's teaching, that painting reminded me of how I used to paint when I first moved to rural Nova Scotia. I found it relaxing. But I got away from it; got busy, got discouraged, got distracted. Poured all my creative energy into writing.
But all write and no paint makes Sara an unhappy girl.
Because that's not the only remembering I've done this summer.
There are voices in my head that have nothing to do with writing. 

The Grade Nine Art teacher who told me not to bother taking any more art classes.
The teaching supervisor who told me, in my final practicum, not to bother becoming a teacher.
Twenty-five, thirty-five years later, those statements mean something: they mean a lifetime wasted. They mean not only a path not taken but a path denied. They mean countless of opportunities missed, potential not realized, decisions made based on wrong information.

I am an artist. I am a teacher.
I'm not skilled at either because I was denied the chance to learn by doing. My personality is the type that internalizes, boxes in, keeps quiet. I never told anyone. I wasn't the type to tell my parents and get outraged, to say, How dare he? and I'll show him.
I wasn't the type to say, "F**k you, I'm going to take more art classes, I'm going to become a teacher." But now that I'm 49 years old and living with the ramifications of not being an artist, not being a teacher, now that I'm saying, "I'm too old for this shit", I'm developing that necessary "F**k you" attitude.
The one that says I am and I will be, and I don't care what you say or what you think because
YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME. That's the new voice inside my head. Sure, it swears but sometimes, you need something strong and powerful and shocking. To wake you up. To make you take yourself seriously.
To make others back away and think twice about telling you what to do.

It's unlikely I'll become a teacher, I just don't have the experience or professional development to start now, but I'm going to be an artist. Wait - I am an artist. I'm just going to become a better one.
I'm going to draw and paint again. But with a plan and a discipline.
Thirty minutes a day on drawing. Drawing the same thing every day for a week. I'm going to start with drawing the chicken coop.
I've cleared off my drafting table so I can paint again. I'm going to paint the wildflowers again and again until I've learned something, until I'm satisfied, until it doesn't want to be painted anymore. I'm going to do torn paper collages because they are fun. I'm going to recreate a painting I did the first summer I was back in Nova Scotia, when I first came back, from the west coast, in 2002. Back when I first remembered what my Grade Nine art teacher said to me.

Well, F**k you, Mr. Livingston. The first book I write AND illustrate, I'm dedicating to you.




Friday, August 23, 2019

August Sunshine


This sunflower is growing at the edge of our rock garden. Not the inside edge but on the driveway side. It was "planted" by the birds eating sunflower seeds in the winter. Thank you, blue jays!
There are six other sunflowers scattered around our house that I dug up as seedlings out of our lawn. Two of them are on my mother's balcony.
You can never have enough sunflowers -- just look at its big yellow glory!

It's a good reminder that good things happen when you least expect it, and big, beautiful things grow from small seeds you may not even know were planted.

The expression, There aren't enough hours in the day, takes on a whole new meaning this August. I'm trying to cram an entire summer of creativity into two weeks!
The days start later so instead of waking up with the dawn at 5:30, I'm not getting out for my walk until twenty after six. That means my morning routine of feeding the animals, drinking coffee and eating breakfast, and doing a little reading gets bumped back an hour.

That's an hour I need now!
I've finally shaken my despair over the unnecessary death of the three baby ospreys and over the utter silence from the publishing world about my submissions. I've finally hit my stride with two new book projects, both related to growing up with a funeral director for a father and living above a funeral home for the first twenty years of my life.
I hit my stride just as my summer break from church writing and substitute teaching is coming to an end but the energy of a new and exciting project provides energy for everything. I know how to juggle all three jobs now and part of that is taking it one day at a time. And writing a To Do List every night before I go to bed.

And I don't want to rush the last week of August. It's Dwayne's birthday on Monday so we're going on a little trip to celebrate, and I have TWO art classes next week, plus some novels I can't wait to get into. So I might just take it easy next week, and make the most of the very last week of summer. There's a gazebo with the perfect reading chair right in my back yard...

I shall be like this sunflower next week: big and happy and glowing.
And when September arrives and work gets really busy, I will look at my new book projects and remember how this sunflower came to be: a seed planted "by accident" that grew into a big, beautiful thing.



Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Morning Glory


The rain around midnight woke me, which meant my brain said, "I was just thinking..." and for a couple of hours, I tossed and turned as I worried about my writing career, and its current downward slide into --
well --
into nothingness.
In all the years I've been doing this, this nothingness is worse than rejection. Hearing back from no one, not even people who know me, is worse than being told, "Thanks but no thanks." It also makes it difficult to know when I can send the projects to other publishers.
I'm really worried about not getting another book published. The new book project isn't helping because it's going to be a mess for a long time as I get all the stories sorted out. 
It's not been a good summer for my hopes and plans. I'm starting to think ahead, about what I can do other than the books and the magazine articles, but that only increases my anxiety.

It was unusually dark when I woke up again at six a.m. The dog sat up but I said, "Let me check." I went outside and looked to the east, the direction of our walk, and the sky was clearing. The sun was coming up behind the clouds.
But when I turned around -- the sky was almost black to the south and I saw that the clouds were moving towards the east, and I went back inside and turned on the kettle. "Yoga this morning," I whispered to the dog.

As I stood on the yoga mat, warming up with stretches, the sky in the east was ablaze in orange. I went outside, into the rain, and looked to the east, but the colour was so deep and bright, the camera on my phone wouldn't register it properly.  And when I turned around -- this rainbow arched out of the field.
Like the first snowfall of the year, or a lovely sunset, we always take a photo of a rainbow even though everyone does. Because it's special. Even as familiar as it is, it doesn't happen every day, and a rainbow is always special. Always a welcome sight. Always a moment when our breath catches and we say, "Oh!"
One photo and I dashed back inside out of the rain.

As I stood on the yoga mat, the rain fell harder, then the thunder rolled and the lightning flashed. The dog curled up on the couch and I wrapped her in a blanket as she shivered and quivered.
I breathed in hope and breathed out peace.
This is the only time I feel in control of my dreams, when I feel hopeful: on the yoga mat. This is the only time I feel strong and grounded.
I didn't do Sun Salutations this morning; I did Rainbow Salutations! There is no such thing but I incorporated all my favourite poses into the traditional lineup. Long and strong, spacious and gracious, as one of my yoga instructors used to say. When in doubt, do all your favourites.
When in doubt, breath in hope. Enough to carry me through until the next middle-of-the-night conversation with my anxious self.




Friday, August 09, 2019

Searching For Gratitude


The joy of walking is the engagement of all the senses. The sound of the poplar leaves rustling in the wind. The breeze on sweat-sheened skin. The faint crow of a rooster carrying across the river and the fields. The flash of yellow as a goldfinch flies by, its dipsy doodle flight style as distinctive as its colouring.
Every morning this summer, I've made a conscious effort to listen to the birds' singing as the dog and I walk to Carrington Road and back. This morning, I watched a bird singing and flying over me -- it seemed to be flinging itself into the day, invigorated by the rising sun, by the rain overnight, by me thanking it for its song. It sounded so happy.
My mood is in a low ebb these days so I needed the small boost I received from its energy and its happiness.

As I type, a robin has started singing in the maple tree outside my office window. It's telling a story I wish I could understand. It, too, sounds happy.

When I lived in Vancouver in the late 1990's, the Blackberry cell phone had just become ubiquitous; I didn't have one. I'd walk the dog through the leafy, wide streets of Shaughnessy (the rich part of Vancouver) where it was quiet and few people or cars were around. But occasionally, I'd see someone talking on their cell phone as they walked their dog and I always thought what a shame that was. Walking the dog is the best way to experience the world -- the city and the nature hiding inside that concrete-and-asphalt mess.
We miss so much when we are focused on our cell phone. It's not a big deal inside our house but when we are outside -- there is so much to see and hear and smell. We aren't just missing connections with other humans; we are missing connections will all creatures. We are missing connections with our senses, and therefore our own selves.
I still don't walk with a cell phone. I miss out on beautiful photos of the sunrise but I enjoy them in the moment, knowing that the world doesn't need another sunrise photo posted to Instagram -- but my soul certainly needs that quiet moment of pausing in admiration.

Put the phone down on the kitchen table. Go outside and find yourself this weekend. Especially if everything seems to be going wrong, if your mood is at a low ebb -- that's when you most need the hear the birds singing and see a sunrise with your own eyes.




Wednesday, August 07, 2019

In Other News


How about something completely different than sad news about nature and wildlife?
You may be wondering how my summer of creative writing is going.

It's not.

Can you imagine? We even built a gazebo in early July because we were no longer able to sit outside on any of our three decks because the bugs are so bad now. It's the perfect place for sitting and writing all day, in the shade of the maple tree and totally bug-free! Unfortunately, other writing, the kind that earns income but also the kind that suddenly reveals itself, demanded my time and attention.

It started at the end of June. Because my writing mentor and friend Marjorie had suggested that my memoir about taking care of my father "needed to be out in the world earning its keep", I had spent a couple of weeks reworking that as a Nova Scotia-based story. It was all right, but at the same time, because of something else Marjorie had said, I was trying to work more of my father's life as a funeral director into it.
This aspect -- my father as funeral director -- has been something I've avoided for years; Sheree Fitch first encouraged me to write about it in 2015. I never felt I had enough to say. 
Then one afternoon in late June, I was at the grocery store when the whole "funeral director's daughter" book dropped into my head: theme, format and ending.

Holy shit. That's a major epiphany for a writer. Thank goodness I was in a quiet aisle; otherwise, I might have started babbling to the nearest shopper!
Who would have backed away very slowly...

So I knew I had to add that book to my list of creative writing for the summer.
But as soon as July started, I received magazine work -- three stories that needed to be researched, interviewed and written. I got that out of the way in time to travel to Ontario to interview a couple of people who knew my father when he was a child, and when I was a child living above our first funeral home.
I was looking forward to getting started on the book as soon as I got back -- but the day before I was to fly home, another editor emailed me with two more writing assignments! I just finished writing those today.

So the much-anticipated summer of creative writing turned into a rather mundane summer of regular writing. HOWEVER: There are three weeks left in my summer holidays, before I have to start writing church services and sermons again, and I'm going to work on the revised book about my father AND a middle-grade chapter book about Hazel the funeral home dog.

Neither of which, sadly, I can do while sitting in the gazebo. But that makes it a nice getaway -- our handy little cottage -- whenever I need a reading break. Because as you can see, there are books to read...