Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Death of a Chicken, Then and Now

When I first moved to Nova Scotia and married Dwayne, our first goal was establishing a flock of chickens. 

A year earlier, before I'd even met Dwayne and while vacationing alone at our then-summer home on Pugwash Point, I decided having a chicken coop in my backyard was a major sign of success. It meant I'd accomplished something. 

So Dwayne made that dream happen. 

Chickens are a great way to start with farm animals (sadly, despite my greatest efforts, they have not proven to be a gateway to bigger livestock); they are easy to take care of, but there was a bit of a learning curve for me (often involving my Disney-style of chicken keeping and Dwayne's longtime country boy style). Especially when it came to dead chickens. 

It's been over 12 years since we built the chicken coop and moved in an ever-changing flock of hens; we're on our third rooster. Our first one was short-lived; being inclined to fly out of the pen, he was grabbed by a fox on his third or fourth day with us. When it comes to death and the chickens, we've been lucky; we haven't had any issues with marauding raccoons getting into the coop, or the pen, and killing a bunch of hens all at once. We lost one pet hen, Betty, to a fox -- she was snatched out of the yard while Dwayne was mowing the lawn! 

On the other hand, Sasha, who suffered a terrible head injury at the beaks of her fellow hens, survived the attack then survived free-ranging all over the yard as she recovered. That's the hen who passed away of natural causes, but ended up riding around in the back of Dwayne's truck in the days following his stroke. 

That marked the first time I personally disposed of a dead hen. Up until then (2018), I'd always left it up to Dwayne to get rid of the bodies. But the day after he returned home from hospital, I realized what his chore the week before was supposed to be -- and we both realized he'd forgotten to drop Sasha's body off in the woods on the way into town. It was up to me to drive the truck, with Sasha's decomposing body in the back (remember, this was August!), up the old lane and cart her deep into our woods where the dog wouldn't find her. 

I placed her under some ferns and placed leaves over her body. As I held my breath. 

From then on, disposing of the bodies of dead hens was my job, which is why they now get a burial and a little ceremony. 

When I think back to the first time I opened the coop door to see a chicken lying dead on the floor and remember how I freaked out and cried and couldn't deal with the floppy-headed body, it's a source of pride (okay, this might get weird) that I now can pick up a body, place it on the shovel and take it out to the field to bury it. 

Or take it into the woods and place it in a snowy grave where the fox might find it. 

This was the subject of one of my essays in Field Notes, and it keeps coming up: how people in the country, people who live around wildlife, who have livestock live closer to death than people who live in towns and cities. Many of us experience the death of a pet, but the consistency and dependability of death in a rural area is unique, I still believe, and gives us a greater appreciation of life and a better equanimity about death. 

What do I say to a hen I'm burying? 
"Thanks for the eggs. Thanks for being a good hen." 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Never Too Busy For a Walk in the Snow


The new year has started with a rush! 
I'm working to an unexpected and very tight deadline, hoping to wrap it up today and get it sent off.
But this morning, I looked out the window and it was still snowing.
That soft, flaky snowfall that is perfect to walk in, quiet and peaceful and calming.
And I thought,
Seriously? Am I so busy that I can't take 15 minutes to start my day with a walk in the snow? 
Imagine missing out on going for a walk in my favourite kind of weather! 

Never, ever be too busy to go outside and inhale snowflakes. 

Inhale snowflakes.
Exhale snowflakes.

Inhale peace.
Exhale calm.

Inhale happy.
Exhale contentment. 

Friday, January 01, 2021

New Year. Be Happy.


This morning, when I got out of bed and looked out the window, I saw a bright star. Then I saw others, but that first star, that first sighting was enough to jolt me.

Jolt me awake.

Jolt me aware.

Jolt me into remembering.

At the end of 2018, I saw these stars sprayed on this sign post and wrote:

“Life is about moving forward. Whatever is happening, regardless of how hard you cried the night before or how uncertain the coming days seem, it's always about moving forward.

Follow your star – YOUR star, not someone else's. Don't let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do. Be true to yourself.

Life is about moving forward, no matter how many stop signs you think you see. Follow your star. It's shining at you for a reason.”

And I needed to remember that. Just as I needed to remember what my yoga instructor in Vancouver said on the eve of the new year in 2002 (a few months before I would begin my journey back east):

"Make this the year you go towards what makes you happy."

I needed to remember that every year, every day, is an opportunity to let go of what is dragging you down, holding you back, keeping your from being happy.

Like love is an overarching word for compassion, mercy, peace, hospitality, etc., “happy” really means contentment, satisfaction and joy. I needed to remember that I am already happy with my life, even if work seems incapable of moving forward.

This morning, when I was sitting on my yoga mat, I wrote this:

“My biggest struggle now is with optimism and hope. I know I have much to be grateful for, but in one area of my life – work – I am scared. So much is falling apart, or not coming together, that I have no idea what I will end up doing. The fear of NOTHING consumes me.”

So that star in the sky and those stars on the signpost reminded me that I only need to be curious.

Curiousity is a neutral state, vaguely positive, but definitely looking ahead and moving forward. It isn’t about being passive and waiting for something to happen, but curiousity is fuel for the work.

I may not feel optimistic or hopeful, but I am curious.

Curious about what will happen this year. Curious about what I will accomplish this year. Curious about what I will end up doing.

So that is Plan B for 2021: Be curious.

As Albert Einstein said, “I’m neither clever nor especially gifted, but I am very, very curious.”

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

20 Takeaways of 2020


That photo was taken at 1:15 am on January 1st, 2020. Two tired, happy, danced-out people thinking that intentionally partying away the old year and welcoming the new year would make a difference. 

Well, at the very least, I've had the happy memory of that fun night to carry me through this year that did make a difference -- but not in any of the ways we expected! We certainly won't be partying this year, and I do believe bedtime will be a sensible 9 pm. 

When I sat down to think about 2020 and my impressions of it, the ideas came out as words, rather than sentences. So instead of a long essay, here are some thought-provoking ideas (based on my experience with the pandemic from my safe bubble in rural Nova Scotia, my tuning into the news several times a day, and my reading on social media). 

(in no particular order)

1. Sacrifice

2. Hoarding versus care packages

3. Family

4. Neighbours

5. Grief

6. Connection

7. Isolation

8. Essential (services; travel; interaction) 

9. Acceptance

10. Resilience (teachers; students)

11. Courage

12. Death

13. Uncertainty

14. Common good

15. Zoom versus room (online vs. in person)

16. Comfort

17. Fear (abuse; violence; school as safe space)

18. Masks

19. Need vs. want (shopping)

20. Creativity (adaptability; technology) 

For me, when I think back on 2020, I’m conscious of the sacrifices others made for the common good, especially those working in essential services. Health care was obvious, but we suddenly recognized that employees at grocery stores and coffee shops are essential workers, too.

The pandemic reinforced my belief that acceptance is only ever the way forward; resistance and denial are the path of heartbreak, hardship, and grief.

Speaking of grief, the past year also opened up our thinking about letting go – reminding us that loss isn’t just about the death of a person, and we are all affected by grief, whatever the reason is.

In many ways, 2020 made us more compassionate, more considerate, and more aware. At the same time, wow – humanity lost a lot of ground, and squandered its potential, yet again. 

If we are going to learn anything from the year 2020, if we are going to work on anything in 2021, it’s THE COMMON GOOD. That's the way forward, but it's going to take a real commitment to stay changed -- to have seen our potential and to start pushing back on those who want the world to remain the same. 

In 2021, the phrase, "We're all in this together" needs to become a mantra, rather than a cliche. It needs to become imbedded in our cells, in our beliefs, in our interactions and in our policies. 

I honestly believe we came thisclose, we actually reached the edge of that possibility, we saw the shimmer of the other side, and I remain committed to my optimism that we can make the world a better place for everyone.

Perhaps I sound hopelessly na├»ve, and perhaps that's another takeaway for me from 2020: I am more hopeful than ever that we can change, and stay changed. 

Happy New Year, my friends. May this year be kinder and gentler to you, yours, and everyone. xo 


Thursday, December 24, 2020

O Christmas Trees

Here are the trees I painted using the cuts leftover from building our gazebo two years ago, specifically the plywood from making the octagonal roof. 
My little painted trees in amongst my favourite real trees, including the birch tree that has guided my Tree Pose during morning yoga for 14 years. 

So we have arrived at Christmas Eve and it's a beautiful day here in north-western Nova Scotia, bright and cold. Sunshine before rain and wind tomorrow. We have a windchill of minus 13 this morning -- but a high forecasted for 6 degrees! 

I was up early this morning because I hadn't yet written my message for tonight's service and I don't like waiting until the last minute! You never know what can happen so it's always best to have it done. So in the quiet and dark of early morning (after feeding the pets, of course, so they wouldn't harass me), I sat down at my desk with my mug of chai tea and wrote a short message for the Christmas Eve audience. Here's an excerpt: 

~ We heard these words in our opening song, O Holy Night:
“A thrill of hope – a weary world rejoices.”

We are weary, aren’t we? 
Weary of letting go, of giving up, of not knowing. 
Weary of the chaos and confusion, of the uncertainty and anxiety, of the protests and problems, the hatred and the violence. 

So much unravelled this year, in our own lives and in the world. 
Much of it we couldn’t control, and it felt like it was happening all at once. 
It was exhausting, and it’s still exhausting. 

 It feels like the end of the world as we know it.

And here’s the good news: That’s IS the good news. That IS why we are rejoicing this Christmas. 

Because that’s what Christmas is really about. The end of the world as we know it. 
The end of one way of living, and the beginning of a new way. 
The way of love.

Love is an all-encompassing word that stands for a whole lot of more specific words – and actions: 
Kindness. Mercy. Peace. Justice.
Fairness. Compassion. Equality. 
Acceptance. Tolerance.

The WAY of love is also specific: An end to oppression and persecution, an end to poverty and the rich-getting-richer, end of tyranny and war-making, and the end of hoarding abundance. 

This year has opened our eyes – and our hearts – to those who have less, those who are quiet and humble, those who are grieving, those who hunger and thirst for honesty and decency, those who work for peace and justice.

Those who are weary. 

And we, too, are the weary ones. We are shaken out of our complacency, we are seeing with new eyes, we are ready to follow that star – and believe.  ~ 

Even though many of us are in lockdown, or preparing for it, are separated from family and friends, are "stuck" at home with all the same faces since March, there are so many blessings to count. It is better to be grateful than regretful. 
I love the lights at this time of year. My favourite part of the Christmas season is early morning yoga by the glow of the Christmas tree lights. 
And listening to the soundtrack of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" every day since December 1! 

May your favourite rituals of the season bring you comfort. 
May the lights of the season remind you that the real meaning of Christmas shines clearly no matter what is going on in the world. 
May you remember that Christmas is only one day -- but its spirit carries us through every single day.

From my home to yours, have yourself a lovely little Christmas -- be safe, be well, be ready!
Sara xo 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Blessing for the Longest Night

December 21, 2020

Here’s the thing: 
there will always be a 
(even in a year of long, dark nights)

and we are not the first 
nor will this be the last time
to live through
sleep through
hold a hand
a long, dark, cold, lonely night

we lament the cold, the dark, the un-ending-ness
we keen, we cry, we rage, we rant
there is nothing we can do
to stop the turning of the earth
the cycling of the seasons
the passing of the days
the moments flitting by

Here’s another thing:
even the longest, darkest night
has some light in it
a light at the end of the hall
a light next to the bed
a light above the door

there is always a glimmer of welcome
in the middle of a long, dark journey

lights along the street 
guiding us home

lights far above our heads
those infinite eternal lights
that twinkle and sparkle
(to our earthly eyes) 
even when we can’t see them


because our eyes are closed
our heads are bowed
we are looking down instead of up
where there is always
a light shining

even if today is simply not the day
to believe in the light we cannot see
and a tomorrow that won’t be much different

those infinite eternal lights
that make us *gasp* 
when we happen to look up
look way up
(with our earthly eyes)
that speak to us of possibilities
and transformation
and courage

are always there

like breath
and tears
and laughter
a hand to hold
also a shimmer of curiousity 
not if 
but how
we will live through
the longest, darkest night
(even in a year of long, dark nights) 

in the radiance
of the unknown
we linger
we are the light-bearers
(even in a year of long, dark nights)

~ by Sara Jewell

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Angel Socks


As we countdown to Christmas 2020, what some might call "the worst Christmas ever," here is a story about what some might call my "worst Christmas ever" -- yet it wasn't. Christmas is just another day…

Three years after my father’s diagnosis with what we now call Early Onset Dementia (he was 60 years old) and a year after the birth of his first two grandchildren, my mother and I made the difficult decision to place my father in a long-term care facility. It took us a couple of attempts, but finally, in early December, he was admitted to the locked unit for those living with dementia.

My mother deserved to spend Christmas with the grandkids in the United States, so I booked her a flight, and waved her off a week after her husband was settled in, and a week before Christmas.

Despite all suggestions, some rather pointed, that it would be better, I didn’t stay away from the nursing home in order to let my father “get used to it”. The last thing we wanted was for him to believe he’d been abandoned so I spent every morning and every afternoon sitting or walking with him around the unit and in the main hallways.

On December 21st, a Sunday, I went back to the nursing home after supper because the Rita MacNeil Christmas Special was on the television that night and she was my father’s favourite female singer (we’d attended her Christmas concert in Peterborough two years earlier). As the show began at eight o’clock, I sat next to him on one of the vinyl couches in the lounge but we were not alone. All twenty-two of the residents of the locked unit had joined us to watch this Christmas special. The nurses began to dispense bedtime meds and snacks. I looked around at all these now-familiar faces and realized, These are my people and this is my life now: spending a relaxing evening in the secure ward watching TV. I’m not sure if I stood out more for my youth or for the fact I wasn’t wearing pajamas.

It had been eight days since Dad was admitted to this small, 22-bed unit on the main floor and despite my presence, it was obvious missed his wife. Every day he woke up in an unfamiliar room that he shared with a stranger and spent his day surrounded by twenty-two people he didn’t know and couldn’t ever get to know, having his most personal needs taken care of by women who were not his wife. In the course of three shifts, my father could have been looked after by six different women.

I had taped the official George-and-Ellen Christmas card from to Dad’s closet door and one of the regular day PSWs told me she points to their framed pictures on the window ledge and tells him those are his grandchildren.          

I was fine until someone would say it’s going to be a rough Christmas then I’d remember why it should be. Only, it wasn’t going to be rough, at least not for me. Acceptance is a wonderful thing. It allows Christmas to be what it is. The year before, it meant open-heart surgery on my parents’ infant grandchild, George, and a vigil until he recovered. This year, it meant dinner at noon in the Alzheimer unit at a nursing home. Christmas meant visiting Dad in the afternoon and spending the evening with the Warings, long-time family friends who were the only people to invite me for Christmas dinner when I was on my own.

When I arrived at their home, with the families of their four grown boys scattered through the house and dinner not ready yet, Mrs. Waring handed me a glass of wine and invited me to sit down on the couch in the quiet living room. A very bulky hand-knit sock lay against the arm of the couch.

“That’s for you,” she said.

She had filled a stocking for me. I can no longer remember everything that was in it but I think there was foot cream and emery boards, chocolates, and the match to the sock that was stuffed, socks she’d knitted herself.

I call them my “angel socks” even though they aren’t what you’d expect from an angel. They aren’t white with gold thread, they don’t glow, they aren’t winged, they certainly don’t have magic powers.

Or do they? 

Because these socks immediately conjure up this memory of her kindness. I will never, ever forget what Mrs. Waring did for me that Christmas of 2005, for what was not necessarily a difficult time – but a different time.

Few people have the kind of Christmas that is advertised on television, showcased in made-for-TV movies and presented to us in magazines. Illness, disability, and death don’t pause because there is a tree to be trimmed and presents to be opened and a turkey to be cooked. For some of us, Christmas is a time to be passed through as quickly as possible because of sadness, loneliness and stress.

On a Christmas Day when I woke up alone in our house with my traditional stocking still packed away in a box, on a Christmas Day when I sat with my father in a locked unit and realized no one else had a family member visit them, on a Christmas Day when my father didn’t know how to unwrap his few gifts, Mrs. Waring gave me my best ever Christmas gift: the most meaningful Christmas ever, and the lasting memory of what Christmas is really about.