Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Bird Watching

Exciting times here along the river! New wild birds showing up, and Canada geese with their babies, and the ospreys working together to feed a couple of hatchlings; we'll start seeing their heads at the beginning of July.

Baltimore Oriole at the hummingbird feeder this morning. 

Rose-breasted grosbeak in our birch tree. 
We also have an American Redstart but I've not managed a photo of it. It has similar colouring to the oriole but it's smaller, like a purple finch.

Five goslings and two very attentive, protective parents in the field. 

Osprey leaving the nest with a fish. One parent remains with the hatchlings.
We know for sure these aren't "our" ospreys, the ones who first claimed the pole in July 2008, then returned the following April to build the nest and hatch out one baby that first year.
For starters, this pair spends more time in the nest together, and right now it seems as if both parents are involved in the feeding the hatchlings. Even when the one -- the male? -- is not on the nest, if he's not fishing, he's sitting on the perch in the field, staying close by.
They also are more skittish, chirping and flying off the nest when we walk over to the mound to plant flowers in the garden near the tree where my father's ashes are buried, and the first time Dwayne mowed over there, I thought one of the parents was going to dive bomb him! Although we are respecting their space, they will have to get used to us. We aren't going anywhere, and hopefully, neither are they.




Friday, June 07, 2019

Putting Down Roots


As I watched the young principal of the small rural school where I sub a couple of mornings a week set up tables in the gym for an upcoming community yard sale, I marvelled at his place in the community.
He's deeply ROOTED. He grew up in this place and returned after university to live there and work at the school he attended.
Everyone knows him.
For me, that is an experience I will never have, not only because I'm an introvert who doesn't put herself out there, but also because I've never stayed in one place very long.

My family doctor is thirty years older than that principal and nearing retirement. But he came from the same small rural community as the principal. At a recent appointment, my family doctor said several of the teachers who taught him in school are patients of his.

I CAN'T IMAGINE THAT.

Except there's this: I grew up knowing that my father moved his young family out of Toronto in order to return to the area where he was born and raised. Yet that knowledge didn't keep me from moving around a lot, even across the country.
I still feel connected to that place where I spent part of my childhood -- the part that really imprints on you and makes you who you are. That's the place I returned to when I left the west coast, because that's where my parents lived. That's where my father died. Yet it never occurred to me to stay there, t put down roots alongside my father's.

What was I searching for?

I have lived on this rural property in northern Nova Scotia for twelve years. It's the longest I've lived anywhere. Even Trenton, Ontario, where my family lived for nearly twenty years, I can only count at most ten years of living there; I went away to university, I lived in Oakville with my best friend for two years, I worked my first job in radio in Bracebridge. I kept returning home but only to catch my breath and relaunch.

What was I searching for?

Thinking about this on a morning walk, I intentionally asked myself if it was time to leave, if twelve years was long enough. And I knew immediately, before the inquiry had even finished, that I am home. I have no urge to leave. There is no reason for me to leave. There is no cycle to my life; I'm not "supposed to" move on after five or ten years.
I feel rooted here on this 72 acre property in rural Nova Scotia. This is my home. This is where my heart is. This is where my spirit roams free, where my inspiration soars like the eagles over the river. I am grounded in this place in a way I only felt at our family cottages -- where there were trees and water and space to breathe.

I caught my breath here, and turned off the launching sequence. (Pardon my mixed metaphors)
This is my home in the world.

But being rooted into this red soil, into this life, into another soul, doesn't mean I don't want to branch out. When I think of "getting away from this place", I don't mean I want to pack up and move. I just mean I want to venture further afield. Through books, I want to meet more people, explore more places, get exposed to new perspectives, be inspired with more ideas.
I miss the chance to network with other writers; just this week, I had turn down another offer to meet someone for coffee because I live two hours from Halifax. I can't find the time to drive 45 minutes to Amherst to buy new underwear!

One of my favourite quotes that I've carried with me since I left Vancouver and landed back in Nova Scotia/Ontario is this one from Simone Weil, an early 20th century philsopher, mystice and political activist:
"To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul."

Perhaps the question I should be asking isn't, What was I searching for? but What did I need? 

And that quiet voice inside me whispers, "Yourself."


(In Googling Weil's quote, I learned she went on to say, "It is one of the hardest [needs] to define. A human being has roots by virtue of his [her] real, active and natural participation in the life of a community which preserves in living shape certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations for the future."

That certainly ties in with how the principal and the doctor experience their life. If I ever get the chance to write a followup collection of Field Notes essays, there is definitely one anchored by this idea.)


Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Be Careful What You Wish For


I've almost reached the tipping point for "Be careful what you wish for" but the upside for being busy writing is that I'm developing some amazing organizational skills. I've always said the busier I am, the more efficient I am so this morning, after walking the dog for an hour, feeding the wild birds, doing the chickens, feeding the cats and dogs, drinking coffee and eating my breakfast...
...I planted the herb garden.
The photo above is only half of it - the rosemary, thyme, tarragon and parsley - because I'm trying to give plants more space when they are little. I have two bad habits when it comes to gardening: planting stuff too close to each other, and planting stuff at the edge instead of in the middle.
Anyway, the basil and oregano is to the left.

And everyone admire the one red tulip that came out out of the five bulbs I planted along there. Why do I bother with gardens?
Twelve years ago, they seemed like such a good idea. I made gardens everywhere on this property. This is perhaps a lesson in quality over quantity, and also another example of my lifelong tendency for "more enthusiasm than skill". But thinking like that makes me feel grumpy, and sound grumpy, and I really do enjoy gardening even if my back can no longer take more than than 20 minutes at a time.
Also, there is a chance the lackluster performance of my tulips has more to do with our cold, rainy spring than my planting the bulbs too deep!

Let's end this post with some big enthusiasm for these two gorgeous tulips - two of the four bulbs I planted in a little end piece to the right of the herb garden. I say good morning to them every day when I hang out the feeders for the wild birds.



Friday, May 31, 2019

Locating The Keystone

My father in Canterbury, England, May 2002
Ten years ago, my father died.
Ten years ago, I started writing the story of how I ended up leaving a life and a marriage in Vancouver at the same time my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
That's always how the story started: with my misery and the early hints of Dad's problems while I lived in Vancouver.
But I couldn't sell that story -- not one of the six versions I ended up writing, including one version through a university writing program. In September 2015, a publisher said, "The writing's fine but the story doesn't grab me," and that was the last straw for me. I couldn't go any further with the story. I couldn't do it anymore; the time had come to put that memoir aside, and write something else.

For two days, I cried my heart out every time I walked the dog. I bent over and cried. I let it out because it was so hard to let it go.

Two months later, I signed a contract for Field Notes.

BUT first, I had coffee and cake with one of my writing mentors, the one who has been part of my writing life in Nova Scotia most consistently: Harry Thurston. I told him about the collection of essays on submission with Nimbus but he didn't want to talk about that; he wanted to talk about the memoir. He had some suggestions and I wrote them down on a napkin. Despite those suggestions -- or really, instructions -- from a cherished mentor, my brain couldn't wrap itself around them, couldn't find the way out of my original thinking about the story and into a new one.

Start with arriving in Pugwash, Harry told me. But I couldn't let go of believing the story started in Vancouver.

This is why some books take decades to get published: Because there's a kind of writer's block that keeps a writer from seeing her project in a new way, especially when she sees a particular pattern unfolding in a particular way. But since Dad's birthday in early March, knowing the tenth anniversary of his death was approaching, I've been thinking about him, about taking care of him, and about how I learned so much about him after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and then after he died.

And sometime in the middle of April, it hit me: the story starts in Pugwash. The story starts with my arrival at that old house on the hill that I'd never been inside, and the story isn't about me and my failed marriage; it's about my father. It's about his life and his living and his dying. And it's about the man I barely knew but came to know through the memories of other people.
I'm a better writer now and I know how to weave in the back story, those little sentences that link Vancouver with Pugwash so that it enhances the story rather than distracts from it.

You see, even though I stop thinking about the memoir, I didn't stop thinking about what Harry advised. I didn't stop turning it over in my brain - start in Pugwash, start in Pugwash - until I finally dug up what was buried underneath my failed marriage story.

I emailed Harry earlier this week to tell him that he was right, and that I would tell the story as it starts in Nova Scotia. I told him that not only have I found the overall point of the narrative, but I found the story that starts the book and that I can write my way towards in the book (the second instruction he gave me that I wrote on the napkin).
He responded most kindly: "Each story requires its own method of telling. There is a keystone which, once found and dropped in, seems to hold the structure together-- first, however, one must find it. I'm so pleased to hear that you have done so. I think the book about your father and the father/daughter relationship will be wonderful in the end. You are a wonderful writer and this is a story worth telling."

So on this, the final day of May, I am looking forward to this project for the month of June.
Sometimes, you have to give up in order to not give up. Or, as early 20th century French writer Marcel Proust once said, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes."



Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Early In the Morning


When I wrote the title of this post, a tune entered my head and attached itself to the words. It's from  an old, familiar church hymn, so I let it weave its way around  my brain until I caught the common phrasing that let me know which hymn it is:
"Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty! Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee..."

I'm not a Bible literalist; I'm a Gospel, be-kind-and-merciful Jesus follower so I don't believe in the Biblical creation story. I don't think I'm walking in world created by God. I don't think I'm walking with God but with the energy of those who have left us, like my father and my dogs Stella and Maggie. The truth is much more fascinating and I don't have a problem with the truth.
Jesus was all about a new truth, a new way and a new life -- that's all to do with ethics and how we live our human lives in relationship with each other (and failing miserably at). There's enough scholarship and research about a new truth and a new way of viewing our world -- that's all to do with science and energy. (We're also failing miserably at taking care of this creation we believe God entrusted to us.)

I don't see God in a sunrise, but I see hope and peace and joy. Dawn reminds us that every day, we get a chance to start over, try again, keep going. Every day, we get a chance to change our behaviour, change our minds, change the path on which we're walking. Every day, we can face the truth -- whatever truth we need to hear and accept -- and become free because of it.

It's been a difficult spring for getting out and walking. A lot of rainy days. So I appreciate mornings like this one all the more, with the rising sun shining through what will be likely one of only a few gaps in the clouds today. It helps to calm my doubts and focus my mind, and heart, on what I want to accomplish during the next 12 hours. It permits me to let go of all that -- the worries and the wishes and the To Do list -- for the one hour I'm on the road. It reminds me that what keeps me awake and worried at 3 a.m. isn't the truth. Or at least, isn't the whole truth.

It's up to me to achieve my potential, to fulfill whatever purpose I have in this life, my "one wild and precious life" as poet Mary Oliver put it. Walking, doing yoga, sitting in stillness are my ways of opening up space inside me to hear what my spirit, my energy wants me to know. Sometimes there's a new truth, a new way and a new path that opens up when we give ourselves a chance, and the courage, to listen to our inner voice.

I love my morning walks. It's a legacy from my father, walking the dog early in the day, and it's another way I stay connected to him -- through our shared energy -- and find the courage to keep walking through each day with hope and peace and joy in my heart.



Monday, May 27, 2019

Making New Friends


It's that time of the year - writing my Field Notes column for the summer issue of At Home On the North Shore. Along with an article about labyrinths. It's a challenging spring to be creating pieces for a summer issue; with more rain than sun, nothing has greened up or bloomed out enough for decent photos.
Everyone's covered in mud and wearing rubber boots.
But what a great photo! There's something so sweet about this child in her rain gear looking at her baby goats (whose names, I can tell you, are Beans and Boots).
This is the daughter of a young woman named Shannon who, along with her husband and daughter, moved onto a property along the River Philip and are working hard to create a property that will support them. The goats are for milk, cheese and butter.


Inside the house, I was green with envy over Shannon's sour dough starter. Right next to a rising loaf of sour dough bread! At some point, there is going to be a sharing - I just have to come up with something with which to barter.
After our conversation and a flurry of messages from Shannon of all the answers she thought of after I'd left, I gave her some unsolicited advice: Document everything! Journal her gardening, journal her chickens and goats and working pony, journey the baking and the cheese making. Write it all down, even if it's just brief notes in the busy months -- she can spend the winter filling out the details.
I think she could publish a book about homesteading.
Of course, I start to think, "Workshops!" but for once I kept my enthusiasm in check. She's a busy woman, building gardens and greenhouses, milking goats and collecting eggs. To be self-sufficient means working every day to build up the resources.


This is Schmidt, her cat. Not only is he big and handsome, as well as polydactyl, he's SNUGGLY. My favourite kind of cat! On my recording of my interview with Shannon, there are periods of me chatting to Schmidt.
Really, I'm a terrible interviewer. Not at all efficient. But come on, look at that face. I'm a shameless snuggler of other people's cats.
I couldn't work Schmidt into the column so let me tell you that he was found under a bushwhacker as a one-week-old kitten. His eyes weren't even open! Lucky for him, Shannon and her family found him -- and that little girl is his best friend.
I love happy endings. So does Schmidt.





Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Time To Sit and Watch the Osprey

Thank you, Odette Barr, for this gift of your beautiful artwork.

Or rather, that title should read, "No time to sit and watch the osprey." If I'm that busy, I need to pause and relax, right?
The weather, however, is utterly NOT conducive to sitting outside watching anyone, so I'm fine with keeping on keeping on in my sunny yellow office. Yep, even me, who doesn't care about the weather and LOVES rainy days for writing, is finally noticing how much it is raining -- mostly because it's keeping me from walking.
Ice all winter, and rain all spring. Definitely growing a Writer's Butt this year!

But that butt is in the chair where it needs to be to get things done. I'm going through a period of intense creative output which is extremely exciting. Although only my magazine writing is for "now", I really feel I'm laying the foundation for a lot of accomplishments in the future.

Speaking of ospreys, this is actually the point of this overdue post: Odette Barr is one of a trio of writers responsible for bringing to literary life a Canada Goose named Camelia Airheart who flies all over the Maritimes, not so much seeking adventure as falling into it purely by accident.
Great fun! I love these books.
Odette, in fact, is the illustrator of the Camelia Airheart books and when I saw her drawing of a pair of ospreys in the latest book, Follow the Goose Butt To Nova Scotia, I knew I needed a print of my own. She dropped it off on Sunday afternoon while out for a finally-a-nice-day jaunt with her partner and their pup.
I'm going to get it reframed behind that special archival glass so I can hang it in my sunny yellow office without ruining the print over time. These are not "our" ospreys, by the way.

And like an osprey with her eye on a fish below the surface of the river, I must dive back into work. The interview for my next Field Notes column needs to be transcribed.