Sunday, September 16, 2018

End of Summer



When we say, "The sky's the limit", what do we mean? Because to see the sky is to see a limitless space. Do we ever consider the sky a symbol for both constancy and change? It is always there yet everything cast upon it -- whether clouds or contrails -- is always moving, never the same. The sky is both our talisman and our goal, our fear and our optimism. The sky's the limit.

I took this photo last weekend when Dwayne and I had a cookout in our backyard. This is what inspires me in rural Nova Scotia: the sky, the light, and the shades of green; the garden, the birds and the animals, sun and wind, the river and the field.
All the elements gather inside me -- earth, water, air and fire -- and through some process, some magic, come out as words. Not chemistry; it's so inexplicable, so impossible, it's alchemy. It is creation.
And in six months, when this same view is white-washed and wind-swept, I'll admire it and absorb it and be inspired by it just as deeply.

Still hard to believe we didn't have an osprey family with us all summer. No one to say good bye to this year. By the end of August, the ospreys "fighting" for possession of this nest -- a new pair and the one believe to be the "abandoned" mate -- had been long gone. Did they disappear about the time Dwayne -- my mate -- had his stroke? I wasn't paying attention.

Do you know what is still my favourite sound while walking across the field under that big blue sky? The whup-whup of a pair of raven wings overhead. I am always amazed at how loud the sound is when the bird flies overhead. When I can hear the wind through those black feathers, I know the sky's the limit.


Thursday, September 13, 2018

Sunflower Man


Be careful what you wish for!
When we were at our family doctor on Monday, we said we hadn't had any referrals for speech or occupational therapy or a swallow test...and now the medical appointments are rolling in.

As the calendar fills up and I don't get my morning walks and the work gets pushed aside, I'm trying to remember that we are lucky to be where we are: together, at home, in the midst of the sunflowers. Dwayne's stroke could have been much worse so a lot of driving around - together - to establish a baseline and a timeline for recovery is not as big an inconvenience as travelling to a hospital every day for several months for in-patient rehab.

Perspective is so important.
So is acceptance. That's our biggest struggle, I think, when it comes to, well, everything: Fighting against reality, being in denial, not accepting what has happened and the changes that have occurred -- all of this causes more problems. It causes frustration for the caregiver and for the person needing the care. It can slow recovery, it can make you sick.

Acceptance has the power to free you. It is what it is. That sounds cliche, almost flippant but it's true.
We cause our own misery when we refuse to accept what has happened and what is happening. We cause our own misery when we refuse to "go with the flow". We cause our own misery when we try to ignore the reality of a situation -- even if it's a situation we don't want to be in. Illness and death are the big circumstances that change everything, and as hard -- as painful and gut-clenching and mind-boggling -- as they are to experience, acceptance is the only way to keep breathing, keep moving, keep living in the "new normal".

I'm not naive -- or in denial -- when I say acceptance is the most important part of living. I learned the power of acceptance when my father has Alzheimer's disease. I learned to accept him as he was each and every day, and I learned to accept the situation, even though none of us, including my mother, wanted to be in that situation. But refusing to accept the disease, and the changes they wrought in my father and in our daily living, merely made everything worse.  Acceptance allows us to live with grace and dignity, and more importantly without fear.
Ah, fear. If we really look at what our denial is built on, we'll find fear is the cornerstone. But acceptance is the great fear-buster. Acceptance looks fear in the eyes and says, "I know what I'm doing. You're not needed."
It is what it is -- the appointments will come and go, the work will get done, the beans will get picked, everything will be "good enough", and it will all happen if we remember to go with the flow, whatever that flow is.


Thursday, September 06, 2018

A Tree Is A Friend In Need


I don't have a credit for this graphic -- I've searched but found nothing definitive; it seems to have been shared around, which is how it came to me.
But I love what it says, and it's how I feel.

An essay I wrote called "The Trees Have Ears" was longlisted for a prestigious writing competition recently. This is the first time my work has made a longlist and I'm grateful for even that recognition of this special piece of work.
The essay was inspired by the clearcutting that has been going on around our rural Nova Scotia home for the past decade (similar to my Field Notes essay, "What Future Does A Tree Have"), and the "body parts" I found in the most recent cut next door to our house.

Here's an excerpt from the longlisted essay that describes my search for the spirit of a tree:

"The clearcut looked like a battlefield and it had been a one-sided war: tanks and machine guns against spears and rocks. The trees didn’t stand a chance.
     The first time I saw the circular, bark-covered hole of wood lying on the mossy ground of the former forest floor, I knew what it was: an ear.
     “I’m sorry,” I said.
     Thankfully, the logging company working next door didn’t have plans to supply the insatiable appetite of Nova Scotia’s biomass boiler, so I have a bag of tree ears, gathered from the clear cut after the machines departed and the trucks hauled the logs away.
     Like a scavenger on the battlefield, I wandered through the remains of the woods, climbing over stumps and limbs, and discovered body parts: ears, elbows, femurs, a pelvis, a heart. I have collected enough to create my own Frankentree.
     What I haven’t yet found is the spirit to animate it.
     I believe trees have spirits. Perhaps I’ve always believed this in that subconscious way we believe certain things about the mysteries of life. It became concrete knowledge for me after a local woodcarver sold me a Stick Santa designed from the branches of an alder bush.
      “The wood is carved green and as the wood dries and cracks, that’s a spirit coming into your house,” Faron Young told me. “It’s supposed to bring you good luck, health and fortune.”
       This was the proof I needed that spirits abide in trees, but I didn’t care about luck, health and fortune. If you could carve a slit in a branch and release a spirit, what happened when you cut an entire tree down in the woods? Where does the spirit go?
     When I interviewed Faron months later for a magazine article, he told me that trees have hearts. He explained that the heart is the hardest part of the tree.
     “When the wood dries, it’s the heart that cracks,” he added.
     In our basement, I looked at the wood piled inside to feed our wood furnace, to keep us warm all winter. The centre of every round log had a crack through it.
     That’s how the spirit escapes. Through the broken hearts of trees.
     But where does it go?"

Right now, as I share this, my husband is planting trees around the pond. My father was a tree planter and I married a man just like my father. 
How lucky am I? 
If we all planted a tree a year, we might save ourselves. For what is a tree but a saviour? 


Friday, August 31, 2018

Solvitur Ambulando



I wish I'd had this term, "solvitur ambulando",
when I was writing the Field Notes essay, "A Walk In the Woods".
Because this is EXACTLY what walking means to me:
solvitur ambulando - "it is solved by walking"

I wrote this phrase on a piece of paper months ago, intending to write about it, but the moment never seemed right so now I can't remember where I came across the phrase; in a book, likely, but I didn't make a note of that (strange) although I'm sure (monster that I am) the page is dog-eared if I ever come across it again.

The point is: This is my phrase. This is my process. This is my life.
Walking. Thinking. Even talking out loud. Working through a problem. Thirty minutes to think about it, turn at Carrington Road, thirty minutes to work it out before arriving at home for coffee.
Sometimes I arrive home in a good mood; sometimes my husband knows we're about to have A Talk.

But whatever is going on, whatever is worrying me, whoever is pissing me off, "it is solved by walking". Morning, afternoon, evening; an hour to Carrington Road and back, or half an hour to the beaver brook and back, five minutes to the pond -- the act of walking, the movement, the surging of blood through the veins, into the brain, it solves whatever the problem is.
I now swear by this process -- this walking and solving -- for my writing; I have learned over the years to step away from the desk and move, to let the motion and the stillness, the focus and the freedom fix the problem.
It is solved by walking. Not by thinking but by walking. That's where the motion and the stillness come in. 

Then there is the walking without a problem, walking when the mind is unperturbed. Oh, the thoughts that are freed when that happens!

And now writing about walking brings up a memory.
There was one walk many years ago now when I lived in Vancouver, after the marriage ended and I was mired in the months of making plans to pack and leave. It was March so the evening was dark and for some reason, the dog (Maggie) and I took a street, perhaps it was just a lane, that we'd never walked before.
It amazed me then, and it amazes me now, that there was still uncharted territory in a neighbourhood we'd roamed for hours every day (solving nothing back then but keeping me sane).
We came out into a parking lot and before us was a church. An Orthodox-something church - Ukranian, maybe? - with a multitude of concrete steps leading up to the huge, wooden front doors.
Someone was inside playing the organ.
So we sat, on those steps, in the dark, in this space we'd never been before -- and I don't think we ever found again -- and we listened, the dog and me, to the music cascading out into the damp evening air.
I remember the walking, I remember the stairs but I don't remember how the music made me feel. I remember I was too miserable, too afraid, too caught up in thinking about my failure and my doubts to let the music seep inside.
What would the music have told me? Now I know: You are free. (Not fear - free. Such a difference when you move a letter around.) Now I know: Inhale deeply. Exhale slowly. Now I know: Keep walking.
But I was wound too tightly to solve anything.

I wonder what the Latin phrase for "it is found by walking" is?

I just Googled "orthodox churches vancouver" and nothing seems familiar. This is memory. Faulty. The night, the church, the music, the steps is a clear memory but altered, obviously. Details changed over time, changed by not thinking about it for sixteen years.
It is not solved by Googling.
And I choose to remember it as it is now, in my memory, rather than worry about what it was. This is, perhaps, why I am now a fiction writer.

I have been waiting for months to write about this phrase, "solvitur ambulando". This is not what I expected to write. I just wanted to tell you about this phrase. I just wanted to say it is true.  I just wanted to say this is how to hear the music.


Friday, August 24, 2018

The Secret Pond

The decoys don't mind the company. 
The geese have flown off to the river, like the osprey, like all migratory birds do at this time of year, this mid-August, end-of-summer muster they do to prepare for the long flight south.
Since the geese and their goslings had made our pond their home all spring and summer, it wasn't until yesterday that I was able to visit
and be
very surprised.
I was not expecting the rocks my husband placed along "the shore" to be
perfect sitting rocks.
I was not expecting there to be a lovely bank of
bullrushes
along one side of the pond.
I was not expecting all the
dragonflies
to be dancing along the ripply surface of the clear water.
I was not expecting
the sparkles.
With all the weeds grown up and the tall bullrushes, sitting on one of the big flat rocks made it feel like I was inside
a secret garden.
There was even enough movement on the water to create a quiet lapping sound.

Of course my mind began to spin: We need a bench. I need a flat platform for doing yoga. We need a pond cabana - finally a place to hang our hammock.
Fortunately, my brain put the brakes on those wild thoughts, returned to take-it-easy, one-day-at-a-time mode. I don't really need any of those things. All I need at the pond is already there: a sitting rock and bare feet and eyes to see and a heart to record the feelings.
Breathing space.
A place of stillness.
A place of magic, of imagination.
A home for my heart in the middle of the field.
The pond! Who knew all this was waiting for us? Who knew, two years after digging a big, muddy hole, we'd have this magical place so close to home?

"We do need a trail cut," I said to Dwayne as we walked away from the pond through the tall weeds.
A secret trail.
To our secret garden.



Monday, August 20, 2018

My Messy Office


I'm working on some story pitches and thought I'd made notes about one in my notebook. Couldn't for the life of me find the notes -- in the notebook or on my desk or on the side table.
My messy office.
My messy life.

And yet:
The fact I watch too much TV and this office covered in notes and magazines and papers and notebooks are what saved Dwayne's life!
Less than an hour before his stroke, after I'd turned on the kettle for hot water, we'd joked about the fact I was going upstairs to clean my office.
Then I sat down next to him to wait for the kettle to boil...and watched the end of the TV sitcom he was watching, and kept watching the follow-up episode because we'd not seen it before...and when it was over, he made a funny sound and two minutes later, I was on the phone to 9-1-1.

Imagine if I'd been upstairs drinking my lemon water and tidying my office.

So what seem like bad habits actually saved his life.
As my friend Colleen Landry, blogger/author/Miss Nackawic 1981, would say: Boom.




Saturday, August 18, 2018

A Rain Day for Resting and 'Riting


We needed this day of rain, a day to curl up under blankets and sleep (if you're recovering from a stroke) and a day to sit at the computer in your office (if you're a freelance writer who still has to work).
The rain is heavy and it's soothing to listen to as it falls through the leaves of the trees outside my windows.

Before the rain, we needed chocolate cake. Aunt Lila's Chocolate Cake with Grandma's Icing, to be specific, the long-time family favourite. The cake pictured above is the second one my mother made since Dwayne came home from the hospital a week ago yesterday. Sometimes the best coping mechanism is a pan of cake and a knife...
Post-stroke recovery strategy: One day at a time, one piece at a time.

Thank goodness for my mother. She has really stepped up, and stepped into the hole created by Dwayne's stroke. Since he's been "semi-retired", he's taken on so many of the household chores -- encouraging me to devote my time to writing and allowing Mum to pretend she lives in an all-inclusive retirement home for one -- but when the tables turned and the carer became the caree, my mother has taken over many of his jobs.
Like vacuuming the black mats that collect so much dirt and cat hair. Like making supper every night since he came home from the hospital. Like going back to the farmers market for a second time this morning to buy the corn and tomatoes she forgot the first trip. Like being a trustworthy sounding board for all the other little unanticipated issues that pop up in the middle of a health crisis.

I DON'T KNOW HOW I'D BE GETTING THROUGH THIS IF MY MOTHER WASN'T HERE TO HELP OUT.
Don't let the flowered gown fool you -- this woman is a ROCK. This is what a true sweet little white-haired lady looks like!


What I remember best about helping her take care of her husband (my father) when he had dementia was her statement about "thinking for two". From what I witnessed and experienced, it's so true and while it's most significant with a neurological disease like Alzheimer's, it applies in varying degrees to other caregiving endeavours. Thinking For Two happens when you are taking care of anyone who is comprised in some way, whether temporarily or permanently, physically as well as mentally: You have to think about them and their needs, anticipate those needs and the required actions as you go about your day. You also are dealing with their fear, their worry, their embarrassment, their pushback, their anger -- all the emotions and reactions that come with being in a state of unwanted incapacity.
All of a sudden, all those normal daily activities -- feeding pets, vacuuming, thinking about what to make for supper, getting your hair cut, get pushed behind the needs of the person who is in need.
And wow! You don't see the division of labour that develops over the course of a marriage until suddenly, you have to do everything. I'm lucky; I'm young-ish and healthy so taking on Dwayne's work has actually been good for me, good for my coping. The physical work, the distraction of the chickens and the gardens has been helpful. Pulling weeds is very therapeutic.
But damn -- we should have kept on with those tractor driving lessons...

I'm fortunate that Dwayne is not physically incapacitated; we just have his somewhat garbled speech to contend with, and we have been told that will come back with time and patience -- and with rainy days and good mothers.