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...




Sunday, August 04, 2019

New Insights Into the Ospreys

The three fledglings from the "Summer of the Ospreys, 2010
One last update before we pack away this sad, tragic story for this year and hope for the best next spring and summer.

Kim is a friend of mine in Ontario and she communicates with animals; she's helped me with my dog and cat companions for over 15 years. I wondered if her abilities could extend to wild birds...
...and they do. By using my most recent photos of this year's ospreys, she communicated with the female.

We spoke last evening and now we know that someone is indeed shooting the ospreys fishing out of his trout pond. There is also a possibility of poisoned fish -- which impacts more than the ospreys. Anything that eats fish (eagles, seals, herons, even ducks and bear, perhaps raccoons) can be harmed.
So what we have here is the worst of humanity. Instead of figuring out a way to protect the trout and avoid killing the osprey, this person is opting for the "easiest", and not entirely legal, solution.

When Kim relayed that the male osprey (of this year) was shot, Kim said the female's heart "is banging in her chest". She also conveyed that the female didn't desert her chicks; she was impacted by a poisoned fish, she was "brought down" and couldn't get airborn. She "said" that an osprey parent does not abandon their babies; their instinct is to survive and get back to the nest.

Through Kim, the female osprey said that stocking our pond with trout just for the ospreys to fish "would be like bringing back the breed". Apparently, shooting osprey who are "stealing" fish is a greater problem than we realize. Trout taste good and that's why they insist on fishing the trout ponds. So we have to entice them to stay close to home. If that's all it takes, bring on the excavator! We'll build a bigger pond.

In a Google search, a website outlining wildlife laws in Canada (isthatlegal.ca) states this about Nova Scotia and "nuisance wildlife":
Owners and occupiers of private property may, where "wildlife is found doing or is in a position where it may cause actual damage to a growing cultivated crop, an orchard, livestock or private property", "use all reasonable methods to scare away the offending wildlife" [WA 28(1)]. Where this fails a permit may be issued by a conservation officer allowing extermination [WA 28(2)].

To SCARE AWAY the offending wildlife. And a permit is need to allow extermination.

The problem is the kind of person who would shoot an osprey is ignorant and won't care. I see this all the time: people (loggers or landowners) who cut down trees in the spring when birds are nesting and laying eggs; people who shoot foxes and owls without first trying to better secure their poultry (we used to shoot foxes but I now regret this, and we don't need to do it anymore because they don't bother us and our chickens are protected). There is no attempt to live in harmony with nature, there is no attempt to have as little impact on habitat as possible. If it's a tree, it's clear cut; if it's a nuisance, it is killed. We shoot first, and never consider what we, as humans invading the animals' territory, can do to avoid killing.

I don't know what we do about people who don't care and who are ignorant (y which I mean lacking knowledge and common sense, or lacking basic decency and morality). This kind of human behaviour actually freezes up my brain; I can't comprehend it, and I can't cope with the anxiety -- and rage -- it creates in me.
I hate feeling helpless.
And so, what I know is this: I can't imagine living here in Nova Scotia without that nest alongside our house, without the provincial bird raising and FLEDGING two or three babies from that nest every summer. We've failed to send SIX new ospreys into the world the past two summers. We cannot let that happen again. Ospreys ARE ENDANGERED in our area. So we will spend our winter making plans to mitigate the behaviour of others. We will protect our ospreys and see our chicks fly off in September 2020.



Wednesday, July 31, 2019

We Can Blame the Weather

On this day, July 31, 2011: An osprey chick takes short flights from the nest. 

Yesterday afternoon, the one osprey parent showed up at the nest and the surviving baby sat up. So as of 4:30 Tuesday, it was alive. The only thing is the parent didn't bring in a fish. She sat on the side of the nest and called.
"She's calling her mate to bring in a fish," Dwayne said.
She eventually flew off, the baby sat up for a while, then it disappeared.
I thought, This is crap. We know it's alive. We know it didn't eat yesterday. Why don't we try to save it?

"If the baby is still in the nest and there is a parent present, by law we can't interfere with the nest," a staff member at Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Brookfield, NS, told me. "If the baby is on the ground, then we could get involved. I know it's hard but sometimes you have to let nature take its course.
"Getting hit by a car or shot by an arrow is not nature," she added as any true and committed wildlife rehabilitator would.

She said sometimes a parent will push a baby out of the nest so we can hope this happens with this one, although prior to this crisis, the oldest and biggest baby hadn't been displaying the usual ready-to-fledge behaviour in the nest: flapping its wings, jumping from side to side to side, jumping up and down.
It was not yet ready to fly.
"We've often had the babies flying by the end of July," I told her. "This year, they weren't doing any of their wing flapping and hopping yet."

Summer 2016 - wing stretching.

"They were late because of the cold, wet spring," she answered. "There have been a lot of osprey nest fails in Ontario this year for the same reason."
They know this from the nests monitored by camera. There are no reasons, apparently, for growing chicks to suddenly die.

I couldn't find any news of this when I Googled but I did find an Associated Press article out of the States from mid-June that stated, "Any bird was in peril of nesting this year." A cold, rainy spring means wet nests, making it harder for birds to incubate their eggs.

The article is about the Midwest and looks at a monitored nest of peregrine falcons but perhaps what researchers found with this year's hatchlings could explain what happened in our nest. Joe DeBold, quoted, leads Missouri's peregine falcon conservation program, and they gathered up a nest of chicks for tagging.
"It was clear that something was wrong with the remaining chicks. They sat quietly on the table, their beaks and eyes swollen... DeBold said they appeared to be suffering from an infection, perhaps from having eaten rancid meat. Without the fully developed immune system of an adult bird, there's little they could do to fight it. And it would be folly for a human to try to rehabilitate them because only the chicks' parents can teach them to hunt for prey from the air, a skill they would need in order to survive as adults."
[article posted online by Associated Press, June 14, 2019, written by Emily Younker]

So there you have it. A possible reason for this crisis, and also a reason to not save the remaining baby. How do we teach it to fish when we are not ospreys?
In the end, we still have no babies launching into the world this summer. The second season no babies from the "Riverview nest" have made it into the world. Having seen them as chicks and celebrated them, I'm devastated, and feel like I am in mourning but it helps to have some answers, even if it's just theories and possibilities.

Summer 2016 - the first fledging takes flight while a sibling and a parent watch.



Monday, July 29, 2019

THE WORST HAS HAPPENED


This is our osprey nest.
See anything missing?

THE ENTIRE FAMILY IS GONE.
All five birds. Gone.

Sometime between Saturday, July 20 and Sunday, July 21, one parent - who we always believe is the male - disappeared.
Yes, again. The mate disappeared. On Sunday morning, while I sat outside reading and watching the nest, the remaining parent flew off the nest three times towards the river, and came back. No one brought fish to the nest at all on Sunday.
No one in that nest - one parent and three large babies - ate fish on Sunday that I noticed. Normally, I see an osprey fly into the nest with a fish as I start out on my early morning walk but no bird flew over me. I thought nothing of that then.

Early Monday, I left for a week in Ontario and when I returned home, the worst news awaited me. No osprey parents at all. The babies were alone in the nest.

Okay, when one osprey parent disappears one spring (2018), it's mysterious and spiritual and symbolic. When one osprey parent disappears the following summer (2019), it's HUMAN INTERFERENCE.
This is no sad coincidence. You don't lose a healthy, attentive male osprey two years in a row.

The problem is we have no way of knowing exactly what is taking our ospreys. Eagle? Fishing line? A boat?
My husband's theory is that someone nearby has a trout pond and the ospreys have been fishing it. Instead of creating a habitat where the trout can hide, the pond owner is simply shooting the osprey. He actually thinks he has a right to protect his trout stock by shooting the provincial bird of Nova Scotia.

And I think the remaining osprey parent is gone too. Gone, as in killed. Because why would she abandon her chicks when the oldest is less than a month from fledging? Perhaps the youngest and smallest chick would perish if the mother couldn't bring in enough fish in a day and the two older and stronger chicks shoved the baby out of the way in order to eat. But I simply can't see why she wouldn't have started to bring fish in, to keep her half-grown chicks alive.


Here she is on the Saturday before I left (July 20) with the two older chicks on either side of her. See how big they are? They are - WERE - so close to learning to fly. By the middle of August, they'd be flying. They'd be learning to fish for themselves. I honestly can't imagine a parent -- even an instinctive, survival-of-the-fittest wild bird -- abandoning its chicks.
But the alternative is no better: She was killed, too.

And thinking of a man pointing a gun at our ospreys and shooting them out of the sky because he's too lazy and too stupid to create a protective habit in his trout pond fills me with murderous rage.
Because it's not just two, probably three, adult ospreys we've lost in the last two years. It's also SIX BABIES. Three eggs were abandoned last spring, and three chicks were left alone this week.

That's what is hardest about this. To look at the nest now and know there are three osprey chicks lying dead in it. Those strong, growing, wing-stretching bodies are still, and baking in the hot sun.
This is so unbelievably cruel. This is devastating.


For ten years, our ospreys came to this nest and made it through the summer. The only threat was the eagle in the summer of 2015, but it took the babies, not the parents.
And now, nine ospreys have been taken out of the life cycle. The circle of life has stopped here.
So I hope they stop coming to this nest. Perhaps we should take down the pole. We can't keep inviting ospreys to live here knowing their lives are endangered. I don't think I can take another summer of no babies getting to grow up and fly away.

*** UPDATE - later in the day:

I was washing the dishes late in the afternoon when I heard an osprey chirping. I went and looked at the nest - there was an adult osprey standing on the side of the nest.
It stood there for the longest time, looking down into the nest.
Then it spread its wings and flew off the nest.

It had a fish in its talons.

IT BROUGHT A FISH TO THE NEST.

So...she is not dead BUT:
She let her babies die. No one brought any fish to the nest since I returned home two and a half days ago. She let her babies die. How could she not have managed to bring one fish a day to them, to keep them alive until they could fly? How could she not have managed to feed herself and her babies when they live right along the river?

I can't answer any of these questions. But this is too much. She came back to the nest with a fish, and found her babies dead. Too little too late.
This is even worse than the eagle snatching the three fledgings four years ago; at least then, we knew what happened. At least then, we had the chance to try and save one.

**** ANOTHER UPDATE:

I have no idea what's going on. All I know is I was back in my office, trying to work, when I heard chirping. Went outside and saw this:



I feel like I'm losing my mind! For ten years, these guys showed up in April, fixed the nest, laid eggs and hatched out two or three babies who learned to fly in August then everyone headed south in September. Now it's just a shit show.

Looks like one of the babies, likely the first born, oldest and strongest one, managed to survive the past two days without food. But will one fish every couple of days be enough?

I'll try to find something else to write about in a few days.

(I told Dwayne that we need to buy a cherry picker so that if/when this happens again, we can simply drive the cherry picker over and toss fresh-caught trout into the nest for them to eat! At least then, we'll feel like we're helping.)

(Another thought: Any chance we could get an osprey-sized camera to attach to one of them so we can see what is happening???)



Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Funny Looking Peanut


Interesting observation: If there are only strawberries available, the squirrels eat them. But if I put out peanuts with the strawberries, the squirrels eat only the peanuts, and leave the strawberries behind.
Another interesting observation: It is unclear if the squirrels actually eat the entire strawberry. I've not seen one sit and eat the entire berry on the railing like they do with peanuts; they often run off with them. And I found a strawberry stashed behind a pot but no one ever came back for it.

One might think I have nothing better to do than sit and watch the squirrels.
One might think feeding them peanuts is expensive enough!